“George of the Jungle” aka Third Time Is a Charm

My family and I were enjoying a much needed vacation at a little resort in the Virginia mountains. Not long after lunch we decided to move from the indoor water park to the outdoor area that included a wave pool and water slide.

I vaguely recall hearing a sound that resembled a gong at the very same moment I recognized a couple of colleagues who were vacationing in the same place came into sight. We were walking one direction and they were headed the other but I certain that I saw them just as that gong sounded.

I really wanted to tell my family that I had spotted them. I really, really, wanted to call out to my colleagues and say, “Hello!”, however, it was then that I realized the “gong sound” I heard was actually coming from the sign post that the side of my head had  made contact with as I walked along.

The sound was followed by a blinding bright light and I really could not understand how whole family was able to see me and grab hold of me when this light was so bright. I couldn’t see them. How could they see me? But they did. And they gently – but laughingly – led me to a place that I could sit down and assess the damage.

My vision cleared quickly and it was pretty apparent that I had suffered no lasting damage, and so I told my family that the only reason the pole and my head met was because I had seen these friends there.

“Was that before or after you smacked your head?” one of my loving, caring, daughters asked.

I didn’t answer but just let it go until we ran into…wait, bad word choice there…until we met the folks I saw a little later in the other part of the water park.

 

 

I love this story about myself, Perhaps my love for it goes back to my childhood love of the cartoon “George of the Jungle.” Perhaps I like it because it reminds me to be humble because its hard to tell when I will next make a fool of myself.

I love this story so much that I used it in my sermon this past Sunday. When church was over, Pam, my mom, and I got into the car to head to lunch. As I drove, Pam said, “You know, Scott, you have told that story before.”

“Of course I’ve told that story before,” I responded. “It’s one of my favorite stories and I have used it everywhere we lived.”

“No,” Pam continued, “you’ve told that story here in Huntington.”

“No way! I’ve only preached seven sermons here. I may not have been updating my story database but there is no way I have used the same story twice in seven weeks!”

Pam was silent.

Later that evening, as I carefully made note of the “Massanutten Head Smack” story being used TWICE at First United Methodist Church in Huntington – July 21 and August 25 – in my now very up to date story database, I could almost hear a gong…almost see a blinding light.

But I could definitely remember that there is nothing that will humble a person more completely than the act of preaching.

To Pam…thanks for setting the record straight. You were right. I was wrong. Bet that happens a couple hundred more times in our lives.

To my congregation…I’m sorry I assaulted you with the same story twice. I hope it was better the second time around.

To poles and illustrations everywhere, I pray I don’t run into you more than once. If I do, just know I will be thinking of my old hero George.

Mugs of abundance

The following is a work of fiction. It is the first installment of many and may at some point cease to exist on this blog and take up residence elsewhere. Any resemblance to people living and or not living is just because sometimes the people I meet are incredibly more interesting than the people who hang around in my head. I try to be nice to the ones who have inspired me. Sure, some of them are pretty poorly hidden, but “Cary” is not me. Trust me. We almost share a calling, but even there things are different.

 

The ancient experienced hands of the retired nurse placed the ceramic mugs with great care on the shelves in the cupboard. An occasional clink, as one mug hit another, was all the new occupant was expecting to hear. There had not been much chit-chat between the volunteer laborer and the new resident. But the music was broken by lyrics he didn’t expect. “You think you have enough coffee mugs, pastor? Looks to me that you could serve a whole bunch of people with all these mugs. How many of you drink coffee?”

“Just two of us.” he said. “It does seem as if we’ve picked up a few extra along the way, though. Guess we like our mugs.”

“Hmph. Guess you do.” was the end of the song. But the music continued.

And that was two churches ago for the preacher. Long before others in the house began drinking coffee and adding to the plethora of caffeine dispensers that crowded the cabinet in their newest, smaller parsonage. He was quite certain that somewhere in the maze of boxes yet unopened there was a treasure trove of mugs aching to be used, long over their own sense of caffeine withdrawal and simply settled in the darkness of their moving paper rest home.

But the four were there.

Mugs

There was the one he had since his time in seminary, the last of a group of four that he purchased from the Baptist House at Duke Divinity. Cary always thought it a bit ironic that one of his most cherished possessions from his days at a United Methodist seminary was a Baptist mug. And yet, every Wednesday and every Sunday, this was the one that made the trip from cabinet to Kuerig. Well, truth be told, it would sometimes come straight out of the dishwasher and make its way to the coffee machine. But on Sundays and Wednesday, Cary needed the reminder that the mug brought with it.

It wasn’t a reminder of all that he has learned. It wasn’t a reminder of his Master of Divinity degree. It wasn’t even a reminder of particular people or places. He used that mug to remind him that truth be told, he wasn’t even close to having all the answers. On Sunday morning, as he got ready to somehow stand before a congregation and preach, he needed that reminder. He was just happy that it only took a mug and not a two-by-four upside his head. And sure, he used it on Wednesdays too as a reminder that when he taught Bible Study, the Bible was usually going to teach him more than he could manage to squeeze out in a lesson or two.

And then there was the brother mug. One of his two brothers got him that one, but truthfully he couldn’t remember which one. Didn’t matter much. He used Brother one day a week to remind himself of them. The three weren’t the best at staying in touch with one another but when the chips were down, they knew that they could count on one another. The mug reminded Cary of them, their differences, their similarities, but especially their connection to one another.  Since the loss of their father, Cary looked forward to the Monday encounter with this mug. He could sip and say a prayer for his brothers. And he needed that grounding as much as he needed the humility he found with the Duke.

He remembered offering the MTSO mug to his buddy, now a Chaplain in the Army, on one of his visits. “What in the world are you doing with a Methodist Theological School of Ohio mug?” was the question Ray asked. Cary shrugged and said, “I got it during a visit of their Course of Study one year. I hope I cleaned it before I filled it. Been sitting on the shelf a long time.”

Truthfully though, this mug got used as much as Duke and more often than Brother. MTSO came out twice a week, typically on Tuesday and Saturday to remind Cary of the two best friends he had in ministry. Ray went to MTSO but his other friend, Ann, went to Candler, or as Cary loved to jokingly call it, “Chandler.” No Candler mug in the mix but it didn’t matter. When he drank his coffee from MTSO he thought of them both, prayed for them both and gave thanks to God that he knew they were always just a call away. MTSO was a good memory mug – laughter from residency, long, late night talks at Annual Conference, and just the memory that these three very different people ended up so close to one another. If someone would have taken wagers on the military haircut Ray and the long haired Cary becoming friends, they would have lost a bundle. It was rocky, but perhaps the rockiness made the friendship that much stronger. Of the three, and sadly there used to be four, but that is a story for another day, Cary is the only one still serving a local church. He acknowledges that the other two do great work for the Kingdom…better work for the revolution that Jesus wishes to bring…than he often manages on his best days.

Friday was the day for the “Brown Mug from North Carolina.” Cary wasn’t sure of the pottery that produced it but it clearly was hand thrown and it was his Friday mug. Given to him by a former Associate Pastor, this mug was Cary’s Sabbath mug. (Yeah, pastors do take a Sabbath day and it ain’t Sunday, that for certain.) Cary uses BMNC because it’s all about grace. The Deacon who gave it to him taught him a lot about receiving grace. They worked well together, but they did so in a difficult place at a difficult time. Her creativity and spirituality helped to keep the church they served very well grounded. Truth be told, Cary wasn’t completely forthright about how bad things were when he brought this Deacon into the mess and that was wrong. And Cary didn’t talk about everything that went on with him while they worked together. It was one of the many wrongs Cary could never make right again. The BMNC was a reminder of that tragic truth of life. More so that despite the wrong, their was peace between Cary and Julia, the Deacon, not because of Cary’s honesty, but due solely to the amazing grace Julia showed.

“It’s a good way to start a Sabbath,” Cary would think. “The bitterness of coffee and the sweetness of grace.”

Yeah, there is an abundance of mugs in Cary’s parsonage. Most of them don’t get used by him. There are others in the house who find the other mugs more to their liking. But these four take up six important places in Cary’s life. And they cover six days.

And that leaves Thursday.

Well, you must wait to hear about Thursday because you don’t quite know enough about Cary to understand. You can rest uneasily, though, that there is a mug for Thursday.  And that mug is the only one he loathes to use.

On Lent

Stone into Bread

Yep… that would be my choice.

Me.

I want it to be all about me.
Caring for my hunger
Miracles that I desire
A place for me in the Kingdom

Forty days
Forty nights

He will rely upon God alone.
He will unveil God’s glory.
He will enter a Kingdom of servant humility.

Me?
He invites to follow… or not to follow.
Forty days – Forty nights.
Step by aching step.