The dust coming off the building as the hammers and chisels worked away at the painted cement on the brick surface made it difficult to look around much at all. However, the sweat coming off of my forehead and rolling into my eyes made it necessary to stop every once in a while and wipe. (At home later that afternoon the sand and grit that had stuck to my sweaty face gave me a free exfoliation as I washed it away. But it felt good. It felt really good.) During those little breaks, I could look around – even if it was a little blurry.
I looked around and I saw at least four generations represented in the work crew. Youth, young adults, middle age adults and even some into retirement were all working away together to help make a way for a local artist to turn a building into a canvas. There were people on ladders and people working at just one level. There was laughter and there were groans. There was the roar of a bucket truck motor and shouts as people tried to talk over it. There was and eerie silence when the motor stopped and I could hear car horns honking as people drove by, encouraging us in our work to make our city a little brighter.
I looked around and I saw history repeating itself and prepare to repeat itself yet again. The man who led the project said to me, “My dad and I planted those trees across the street thirty years ago. I still remember it like it was yesterday. Now we are getting ready to cut those trees down as part of this project so everything can be seen better; so the whole town looks a little brighter.” If I were standing on this same lot thirty years from now, I am sure I could look around and see one of a number of youth who were working that day tell someone, “I remember the day we worked to clean off this wall so this painting could be done. I still remember the dust like it was yesterday! But now it’s time for a new building so that the whole town can seem a little brighter. I’m just glad I can be a part of this new day.”
I looked around and I saw one of our youth offering a cold cup of water to a person standing on the street. She started to give him a piece of pizza from the lunch we shared before the work began and then thought better of it and gave him the whole box. He took it gladly and humbly and walked away to some of his friends “from the street” to share.
I drove by that lot on my way to the hospital later that day and stopped for just a minute. The work wasn’t complete, that was certain, but I looked around at what we had completed to see what I could see. I looked around again and saw…well, I saw that the Kingdom had come near.
Tonight I am taking part in the weekly Southern West Virginia tradition of “Friday Night Lights.” It is a home game for the Princeton Senior High School Tigers and they will be playing Oak Hill High School. Now, why would I title a post about Mt. Hope, when the opponent is Oak Hill. Well, the truth of the matter is that my Alma Mater, Mt. Hope High School, is no more. 😦
Yesterday, I was thinking about this upcoming game and I happened to be driving by the old hometown, so I drove through for the thirty second tour. I saw my old home – doesn’t appear that anyone is living there these days and saw many of the routes I would have walked around this little town in Fayette County. I even took time to drive up to the old school which amazingly looked a lot like this picture, except that now the school is home to people who are working on the new Summit Bechtel Reserve – a project of the Boy Scouts of America.
All this reminiscing got me thinking about growing up in that small town and what it truly meant to me. While there, I was the middle son of three boys. My younger brother, Kevin, works for the Wirt County School system as a Technology Integration Specialist, after working many years there as the Wirt County Band Director. It has always amazed me that Kevin went on to lead the Wirt Tiger Band for so many years after being a part of the small band at MHHS. (Band was something that all three of the Sears boys had in common in high school and now I live in a town that has one of the premier High School Bands in WV!) Jack, my older brother, works for the Boy Scouts of America in Jacksonville, Fl. (Go figure, another link to this tiny high school that is no more…)
And then there is me – the middle child and the one who went on to yet another area of service – pastoral ministry. Some may say that I chose this particular path because my birth order. I know that it is more than that – I have certainly been called to serve in this way but I know my experience as a middle child often weighs heavy on the way that I lead as pastor. (Middle kids tend to be peacemakers or brokers of deals between parties. Because I know this about myself, I have a tendency to “correct” it by leading more directly through conflict situations along with the help of my great coach.) Although, I must admit…it is always hard to break those old habits!
It is always fun for me to discover “systems” things about my colleagues and partners in ministry and wonder how things from their past work into their present and our future. Daily, I am learning new things about the great people I work with at First Princeton UMC and I can hardly wait to learn about our new Episcopal leader and all the gifts that she will bring to our Conference – who knows, maybe she has a closed high school in her past or brothers and sisters that have impacted her!
My brothers have a wonderful and positive influence on me in my ministry. And even though the three of us no longer have a High School that we can call home, tonight, as I cheer for the Tigers of PSHS, I will be watching for glimpses on those old Mt. Hope Mustangs in the opposing team.
Every week here in Princeton, ministers from many different churches get together and share in breakfast and fellowship. In some ways, I thought I might be cheating the church or my family out of some time by attending these gatherings. They are not mandatory and I doubt that anyone would complain whether I attend or not. (However, I have a feeling that if I was less than dedicated to the group I would have to put up with some well intended ribbing.)
This morning I was especially glad to be among my colleagues as we shared a meal and conversation. Although the time of confession about speeding tickets made me a bit uncomfortable there was a bit of advice from one of my colleagues that I don’t think that I will soon forget.
Funny thing is, I don’t know how we got around to talking about enjoying our day and even enjoying every moment when one of my colleagues said, “I used to work with someone who got upset about the way people behaved all the time. One day I asked him, ‘Where do you get your joy in life?’ Of course, they gave the first response people usually give when a pastor asks a question but this time it was right – ‘God,’ they said. ’Well, if God has given you the gift of joy, why would you let any person or situation rob you of that?’”
I don’t remember the rest of the story from there mainly because I began to think of all the times I have let someone rob me of the joy Christ has given me. I think back to times in churches…times in dealing with my colleagues in ministry…times in public places or even on the telephone…and even, I hate to admit, times at home when I let something or someone rob me of the gift of joy that Jesus gave.
One time, when we lived in Parkersburg, I left the garage door open for a couple of days in a row. Then when the weekend rolled around and I wanted to use something that I stored in the garage I found that it (and a whole lot of other stuff) was missing. We had been robbed. But the main reason we were robbed was because I left door open and kind of said, “Come on in! Help yourself!!”
I guess I am writing this today simply because I want to hold myself accountable about not leaving any more doors opens that will allow me to be robbed again – this time of the joy Christ has given me. Who knew breakfast at Bob Evans could be so enlightening! Thanks friends…