If you stop to look more than a mere glance It is more than a building. It hides itself well with the bricks so fine but this is not just a church. Real lives change here when people listen and find a kind place with hope. We may not fix things when the world breaks stuff but we listen with our hearts. We share words of home We offer safe space for people who are adrift Not just a building we are a free pier for all who sail on life's waves. Building, dock, or church This sanctuary is offered freely to all I am so grateful and laugh here with joy for this is not just a church In this place we feed those with a hunger both in body and/or soul It is a garden for all of the "bees" who need some nectar or rest It is a warm inn on a wintry road when people need safe shelter It is a rare place where death comes quite near but nobody runs in fear. It is where goodbye is shared with a hope that goodbye is "just for now." It is where we wash the soul with water and ask the Spirit to come. Full of miracles stories with wonder defy explanation here It is made of brick but is more solid than just a sacred building It is a place to find grace It is a place to belong It is more than a building
I struggled to get up today. Life is really hard some times. When you wake up on cartoon day And the speakers sit silently. I had a rough time with coffee. My dishes were waiting alone. There was nobody here but me. Nobody near to share a meal. I washed dishes one or two times. I straightened the countertop stuff. I prepped broth as I do sometimes Then I finally sat to write. The words flow like holy water and I see the Spirit at work. Tears stop about my dear daughter and I see God at work through me. I do not understand how it works
I wrote this poem last week on a day set aside to write my sermon. I really had a very difficult time sitting down to draft my sermon. It was incredibly hard, but when I finally focused, things went really well. The last line is one of the greatest understatements I have ever written.
I really don’t understand how God works through and in me some days. I wake up feeling miserable and worthless. I sit to write with the simple goal of doing my best: I want to use the talents I have to help make the world a better place despite my own feelings. Somehow it works. It flabbergasts me.
There’s a long gap in my blog between the events of the past and the events of the present. A lot happened between those last poems from a while back and the poems of today. I have been on a journey of discovery as my wife separated from me as I came to grips with the fact that my marriage was at an end.
There were a lot of missing poems that were shared between shed tears. Like sand mandalas, those poems were here for a moment and then gone. In many ways those poems blurred the lines between prayer and poetry even more than usual. There were moments of grief, anxiety, and loss.
Over those months of quiet self-reflection and work I came to a point where I finally publicly admitted that I am in recovery from alcoholism which did not begin in the last year or during that silence. I have been open about my family’s history with alcoholism, but had never shared the stories with anyone of how I used alcohol to supplement pain medication during a lengthy period of severe pain and physical therapy where I could barely walk or even sit still from the pain. I didn’t have the life wisdom to realize that I should have gone to a doctor instead of self-medicate on top of prescription medication. That decision was dangerous and doubly-dangerous as my family has a history of addiction. It was foolish.
I have had to come to grips with what part of my life had been shredded by alcoholism, realized that there were problems that had had nothing to do with alcoholism in my relationship, and I have realized that I kept medicating pain of a different kind even after my back healed. I have come to understand that this is a season where I need to be faithful to my identity as a single man who still wants to be a good father, wants a respectful relationship with his former partner, and who wants to find a way forward while choosing both life and the high road through some very dark passes in spite of the choices of others.
One of the most difficult conversations I had during that dark period was a long conversation with my District Superintendent where I shared openly and honestly about the journey I have been on. I shared that I still felt called to the ministry, still felt the Holy Spirit at work, and shared about the journey of recovery which has included working with professionals and a particular anonymous organization to connect all the aspects of my journey into one way forward. I have put in a lot of work medically, psychologically, and spiritually over a period of years to come to this place where I am beginning to see the light of freedom in recovery. I have put in hundreds if not thousands of hours into seeking freedom from the consequences of my biology, choices, and a disease that is not infectious certainly seems communicable.
I share this now as I was just blown away by a passage I read while preparing for my sermon this Sunday. I was working through the commentary of Ronald Clements in the Jeremiah entry to the “Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching” Series published by John Knox Press. On page 16, Clements writes of Jeremiah:
“The sense of call, with all that this meant by way of reliance upon God and the stripping away of all other social and personal supports, was something that was taking shape over a long and difficult period of time. It had begun for Jeremiah at a specific moment in his personal life and had continued. The experience of inner self-discovery had not ceased since that first day. The sense of call belong too to his private inner world as a part of his personal understanding of God. Yet it had to be a public and openly declared part of his self-understanding, since it alone could explain his declarations and his personal authority to declare them. No one could confirm or deny that he possessed this calling; it was between himself and God.”Clements, Ronald E. Jeremiah. John Knox Press, 2012.
I was blown away by this passage. While reading this commentary, I connected deeply and intimately with Jeremiah in a way that I have never connected before this moment. Certainly, I am not the first pastor to sigh over the direction of American Christianity. I can connect the dots between the political and social forces of Judah in Jeremiah’s day and the the political and social forces in modern American religion. I am not the first pastor to wonder if the rhetoric and posturing of many modern church leaders on television is not the gasp of a system that is about to go into exile. This is not where I felt a connection.
I felt a connection as I remember my past. I remember being a teenager who felt called away from a suicidal grief into the love of God. I remember talking with a youth leader about how I wanted to go into ministry because it was tugging at a deep part of me. I remember being a youth leader and a church intern who just kept feeling the compulsion to go deeper. I remember studying and taking the first steps into ministry. I remember the interviews, the affirmations, and the ordination. I remember all of those moments.
I also remember praying with trusted friends in Malvern, PA, at the Academy of Spiritual Formation as I admitted that I was occasionally mixing drugs and alcohol to get through the pain. I remember talking with close friends about how it felt less and less like a choice. I remember asking them to pray for me as I started trying to get free of that compulsion to drink. I remember being dry and miserable on my own without a single supportive voice. I remember the first time I said: “Hi, my name is Rob and I’m an alcoholic.” I also remember that it took a few attempts to find the courage to say those words. I remember meeting with a sponsor for the first time and sharing stories. I remember the anxiety and fear. I remember the first time I worked through my fear and clearly stated aloud why I always note that we serve non-alcoholic juice when serving communion: I say it because of people in recovery like me.
I remember talking with Pastor Parish Relations Members at my church about the fact that my wife and I were separating and how it partially related back to my own journey of recovery. I remember sharing that I had a relapse and that I had climbed back on the wagon quickly because I was afraid. I remember crying with fear about being honest. I remember how freeing it was to tell people that I attend meetings daily via Zoom to continue to seek freedom. I also know that I have both amends and living amends to make with people I have harmed along the way. I remember almost every conversation with someone I have known for a long time where I have said something along the lines of: “I’ve had to come to grips with something.”
Through all of these things I have never felt my call to leadership ebb. In fact, I have had many people open up about their own struggles and the struggles of others. I have talked with wandering folks who come to my church each time they are in the area because the pastor not only understands the journey towards sobriety but is walking down that same road. I share a cup of coffee with them after church not out of sympathy but out of true camraderie as a sojourner down a similar road. I have even performed funerals for people who have and have not found a way to freedom on that same road. I feel like I am a better minister since I have found the courage to be honest about my alcoholism. Honestly, I feel more hampered by the pain of marital and parental separation than the daily journey of recovery.
At some point I hope I will get to the point where I share with others in those meetings that I’m not only an alcoholic but a pastor. Honestly, that’s almost more scary than sharing with the church that I have a struggle with addiction. According to one study published last year, the national average of drinks consumed in the United States was 17 per week (Survey: Americans consumed 17 alcoholic drinks per week in 2020). It seems less strange to admit that I am just another person struggling with the disease of alcoholism that has been on the rise over the course of the pandemic than to admit to other people that I have a very very close relationship with “the God of my understanding,” especially if that means they might share less freely about their own journey and struggles.
In the meantime, I do feel called to continue in ministry quite strongly. Clements indicates of Jeremiah, the calling that Jeremiah experiences was one that nobody could confirm or deny from the outside. I identify with that description of the calling deeply. The calling is first and foremost internal.
Surely, I could be reappointed or even stripped of a title, but that’s different from having the authority to confirm or deny a calling. As the Bishop said at my ordination, ordination was a recognition of what God has done and what God is doing in my life. Ordination was an affirmation of what God was doing and recognition that God was at work in a special way. That journey has not changed and that calling has never ceased. It still burns deeply within me.
I wish I could put into words how strange it is to be called to leadership and authority while daily admitting that I am powerless to straighten things out on my own. The power was never mine, but it often feels easy to assume I am more powerful than I am, which many of my colleagues likely understand. I personally have come to believe it makes me a better leader as I am quite clear on the fact that the power I hold and wield as a minister does comes from God and not from my own strength.
So that’s the story of the long absence between posts. Yes, I am in recovery. No, I’m not ashamed of admitting my need for God to work in my life every day through the process. Yes, I am allergic to alcohol and I have a disease. No, having a disease is not the end of the world. This disease is a disease and not some moral failing or mark of worthlessness. Good people that I have come to trust tell me that there is a solution and I believe that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Truly, I live each day with hope and courage that comes from being on my knees and asking for help each time I wake up in the morning to the snuffling sounds of a dog and each night that I go to sleep alone. God is with me on this journey and that journey will continue 24 hours at a time for the rest of my life. I am okay with that journey and I will keep walking.
As the years continue to tick beyond control, two things have become abundantly clear to me. Tou cannot take things with you from this life to the next. No matter how fancy the ring or how great the object, time strips away most things. For this reason, this is the moment when we should enjoy the blessings of this life. It is far better to enjoy the moment in which we live than to mourn years past or to long for a future that is beyond today’s reach. I believe Qoholeth smiles across time as the choice is made to enjoy the moment.
Truth embodied in a piece of plexiglass. Spaces for herbs and plants to grow above fish that will dance and nibble among the roots. Basil globes, flowers, and spider plants now dip their roots among the waters as curious fish nip and taste the roots that hang down through the clear lid. Above, an energy efficient bulb shares light and warm with fish and plant alike. Even in the coldest winter, a new symbiotic relationship dawns between the herbs and their hungry neighbors.
Basil roots stretch down
as their bright leaves reach up high:
Fish nibble away
I wrote this poem for use in worship this coming Sunday as we deal with the grief of resuming virtual worship again.
Go deeper into the Light When you are scared of tomorrow, and when nothing seems to turn out right, trust the Keeper of both day and night. When your heart is full of sorrow, go deeper into the Light. Choose trust when all seems amiss. When it all seems to have gone wrong the easy choice would be to just hide. The Spirit waits for us to confide and listens to our hearts' sad song. Choose trust when all seems amiss. Reach out and take a friend's hand when it is easy to just cry and bury heart in your grief or fear. Dear friend, you and your life are too dear to wander lonely paths and sigh: Reach out and take a friend's hand.
My jeans are too thin. My legs love to move. My back will be sore if I stop moving. I should not sit there and look out over a stream that will run while I stop moving. I do like to rest but my jeans are thin. Winter here is cold if you stop moving. I walk down the trail No yellowed wood path as I seek to live and I keep moving.
Yesterday I knew, I knew, I was thirty nine. Body, heart, and soul. I was sure I had one more. How could time flow so quickly? A friendly voice spoke Had I done the math? Did I? Of course I was sure I was so sure that I knew, I knew, I was thirty nine. As the shower rained, curiosity nagging, I checked on fingers. The fingers say I'm forty. I knew I was thirty nine. It seems so stupid that I forgot my own age, but who really cares If I add a syllable or see who I am inside? I am who I am and I don't dwell on my age. The tree was happy as the colorful lights shone and celebrated with me.
The words still echo. How do you excise a voice that you once let in? Her words a cancer that sap my strength and being as brittle bones ache. The rings of past growth show that I have done great things. You cannot erase the depth of the good in me through your angry assumptions I hear the kind words. "There is nothing wrong with you. You have a disease. You are still a good person with holy heart, soul, being... " "Someone must like you." Yes and I am beloved and I will go on.
I stand in stillness.
The snow falls beautifully,
but you are not here,
How long were you not with me?
Why was I never enough?