“Full” and Ash Wednesday

The word of the day for the #ReThinkChurch Photo A Day campaign is “Full.” In our devotional, Ash Wednesday revolves around the depth of old words. Our devotional journey begins with the reminder that: “Old words whisper out over many pews today.” The old words do resonate throughout this day and throughout the season ahead of us.

The traditional words that might ring through your memories may be “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Perhaps you remember hearing “Repent, and believe the gospel.” Perhaps the words that ring through your memories are not rooted in old and meaningful liturgies. Perhaps you hear are “The journey has begun. Let us journey together with Christ.”

In contemplating the words that ring out through my memory thanks the Photo-A-Day, I remember the words that have historically have little to do with Ash Wednesday, even if they are fitting. I remember two lines from the Wesley Covenant Prayer, which is often shared each January by Methodist congregations. The lines are “Let me be full. Let me be empty.”

“Wheat Sanctuary Window” in Trumansburg UMC

What does it mean to be full? One photo I considered using is the photo I edited of the window with sheaves of wheat from our sanctuary. The reason I would share such a photo is that I want to be filled with God’s love and light to the point where I am gathered in with the harvest. I do not desire to be set aside or blown away by the wind. I want to be gathered in as a treasure. I want my life to be so full of goodness that I would be gathered in with the wheat.

At the same time: “Let me be full. Let me be empty.” I want to be the person that God want me to be. If my life is filled with glorious goodness and obvious giftedness, so be it. If I am easily seen as a person whose life should be gathered in, so be it. Also, if I seek to be faithful but stumble throughout my days, so be it. If I seek to be easily gathered in but end up rubbing all of the other stalks of wheat the wrong way or end up being a cornstalk in the middle of the wheat, so be it.

Ultimately, the old words whisper out. This season is about the fact that God’s grace was necessary. Jesus walked down the road on a journey of redemption and we all need the love that Jesus shared long ago. I would be full, but even if I am empty, God’s grace is truly what I need on this journey.

I think this is the photo that I will end up using today: a tomato growing on a vine in the middle of winter. By all rights, the photo makes no sense. Who grows tomatoes in the middle of winter? Will it even taste the same after spending the winter under a grow lamp? Will it be delicious or weird? Will it become a vibrant healthy tomato or simply fall off the vine one day? Will the flowers nearby ever grow their own blessings or will they fall to the counter in exhausted emptiness? I don’t know. Let it be full. Let it be empty. An excellent analogy and start to a season of both wonder and solemnity.

Hydroponic tomatoes from my home

A Lunch Reflection

“Self-made people, and all heroic spiritualities, will try to manufacture an even stronger self by willpower and determination–to put them back in charge and seeming control. Usually, most people admire this, not realizing the unbending, sometimes proud, and eventually rigid personality that will be the long term result. They will then need to continue in this pattern of self-created successes and defenses. This pushy response does not normally create loving people, just people in control and in ever-deeper need for control. Eventually, the game is unsustainable, unless they make others, even their whole family, pay the price for their own aggression and self-assertion-which is the common pattern.”

BREATHING UNDER WATER: SPIRITUALITY AND THE TWELVE STEPS, RICHARD ROHR

I’m reading through Richard Rohr’s “Breathing Under Water.” I was just sitting down to a grain bowl for lunch after church and read this passage.

I would love to point out where I’ve seen this be true, but I’m not trying to be the kind of person who enjoys such efforts. Instead, I was more struck by the fact that the heroic spirituality pointed to in this paragraph is the very personality the church has tried to groom in me as a minister for years.

Be beyond reproach, be an attractive leader, dress handsomely, lose weight to attract more people, bring your kids to church, start a youth group, have lunch with the other ministers, do this, do that, and above all do everything while being humble yet confident.

I’ve bent over backwards thinking that I should be one way so many times. Maybe my back hurts from all of the spiritual contortions that I have put myself through time and time again.

Fourteen Years of Chinese

After a week of indecision, I have decided to have Chinese today. Fourteen years ago, on Valentine’s Day, I burst into a liquor store with what felt like the stupidest question on my lips. “It is Valentine’s Day, my wife just gave birth two days ago, and we are having Chinese. What wine goes with Chinese food?” The clerk did not know what to do, what to say, and quickly suggested sake before we both remembered that was Japanese.

Fourteen years later and the marriage is over. There is nobody to share Chinese with tonight, but I still remember bringing home Chinese while exhausted. I remember both of us passing out from exhaustion on our couch as our baby slept while swaddled nearby. I don’t even think either of us even bothered drinking a glass of the wine. I remember all of these things and walking exhaustedly to try and help my wife have a nice dinner on Valentine’s Day with food we both loved.

She isn’t here. Those moments are gone, but I still remember pushing my legs to go out to the car and get dinner. I remember the adrenaline crash after getting everyone home safely after the first car ride with a used car seat and then heading out to find my wife the closest thing I could find to a romantic dinner. I do not want to lose the memory, do not want to lose the feeling of “bringing home the bacon” to a family for the first time, and I remember being proud of myself for something that was so simple. I do not want to forget how my child changed my life on that Valentine’s Day or how I found something far more wonderful than diamonds to give to my wife. I’ll have Chinese anyway and I will remember the most beautiful Valentine’s Day I ever experienced, even if I remember through tears.

"What goes with egg rolls?"
The stunned clerk was quite flummoxed
but did a good job
At least, I think that she did
I do not remember now

“More than a Building”

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
Video, photography, accompianment, and poetry all composed/captured/performed/written by me

Poem from the last “Writing Day”

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.

The Calling and a Personal Journey

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.

Aquarium Herbs

My birthday present

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
That fish is totally looking at you.

Poem for Church

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.
The sunrise today.

Still going

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.
A lovely, tempting bench in Stewart Park in Ithaca, NY

Whoops

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.

Stump Poem

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. 
Stump in Stewart Park

A Sad Realization about a word…

I was listening to the news this morning when the NPR podcast that helps me get ready for the day shared a frightening statistic: nearly 40% of Republicans seemingly approved of the use of violence to defend what I will call the “American way of life.” I was a bit upset, so I did some digging. The actual source of the survey reported, “Nearly three in 10 (29 percent) Americans completely or somewhat agree with the statement: “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions.”

All of this was upsetting, but it bothered me on another level that this was listed under the religion section of NPR. 0https://www.npr.org/2021/02/11/966498544/a-scary-survey-finding-4-in-10-republicans-say-political-violence-may-be-necessaR and the included snippets of an interview with the head of the agency (American Enterprise Institute) that performed the survey, the director Daniel Cox connected what was labeled as the White Evangelical church and really questionable beliefs. Cox shared with NPR: ” ‘As with a lot of questions in the survey, white evangelicals stand out in terms of their belief in conspiracy theories and the idea that violence can be necessary,’ Cox says. ‘They’re far more likely to embrace all these different conspiracies.’ ”

Now, I’m white and I believe in the Good News (the “Evangel”), but I do not agree that there is any necessary use of violence in this nation’s politics. I believe in being evangelistic and in the act of evangelism, but the word “Evangelical…” I think that word has been dragged through the mud so often that I cannot connect myself with it in good conscience.

I am thankful for this snippet from the actual survey’s release: “However, although a significant number of Americans—and Republicans in particular—express support for the idea that violent actions may be necessary, there is a notable lack of enthusiastic support for it. For instance, only 9 percent of Americans overall and only 13 percent of Republicans say they “completely” agree in the necessity of taking violent actions if political leaders fail.”

I believe 9% is too high. The church has a lot of work to do, especially when such a large swath of the church has what I see as a troubling relationship with the very political violence I believe we should oppose. Blessed are the peacemakers…

Dim Church

The summer has gone past and fall is fully here at the church. I began working at this church during the heat of July. My first few weeks involved opening doors and windows in an attempt to get fresh air into my office. The heat was occasionally stifling.

Now that fall is here, my office is kept up to temperature with a small space heater that normally lives in the nursery next door. To be entirely honest, it is still plugged into the outlet in the nursery, but the cord fits under the pocket door that separates the two rooms. My office has a bright plant light to help keep my spider and clover plants alive, but the office is generally darker now that the sun spends more time behind clouds.

My office is the only room with lights on as I work. The fellowship hall is dark, the hallways are dark, the kitchen is dark, and the church is generally kept cool and dark throughout the day. If the church were open or if we had an Administrative Coordinator with windows that looked out on the Fellowship Hall, there might be a reason to keep the lights on, but with one person in the building, the environmental and stewardship concerns keep the place dark and cool.

The view in the fellowship hall this morning. I couldn’t actually lower the exposure rate far enough to show how dim inside it really is today…

Honestly, it gets really lonely here. One of the hardest parts of this whole pandemic is often the sense of isolation. In my church office, there is space away from the loud children to focus, but it is quiet and empty without others stopping in to chat or to ask questions about upcoming events that are also on hold. Perhaps it is especially difficult on rainy days like today.

I hope everyone out there stays in good spirits, even if you are facing cold and lonely places. The spring will come again.

Beautiful Bridge

Today is Saturday. I am approaching noon and have been trying to get my brain to engage with “work” for a couple of hours now. Fall is my favorite season and that outdoors is calling to me. Saturdays are difficult in the fall.

Yesterday I took a long hike at Buttermilk Falls. I followed the Rim, Gorge, and Larch Meadow trails around the area. If I had brought more water, I probably would have walked the Bear trail as well, but it was still a nice hike around the parkgrounds. I enjoyed taking lots of photos, although I should have brought a different lens.

Below is one of the my favorite pictures from the hike. I came across the bridge partially down the trail and was completely alone as the sunlight began to stream down into the gorge. It was beautiful and serene.

Race and Faith

This morning I read an article from the Associated Press News that raised some troubling issues. The quote that stuck out to me as a minister was a direct quote of the President. He said : “American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools, cancel culture at work, or the repression of traditional faith, culture and values in the public square, Not anymore.”

The implied indoctrination that was being referenced appears to be the ongoing conversation and education about the ongoing subjugation and subsequent oppression of people of color over the past 400 years that has been highlighted by secular efforts like the New York Times’ 1619 Project and religious efforts like the “Imagine No Racism” Campaign of the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the “Sacred Conversations on Race” Campaign of the United Church of Christ.

As a minister who just highlighted two local denominations’ attempts to wrestle with the cultural sin of racism, it may be obvious where I am going with this post. I reject the authority of any politician to label one set of beliefs as traditional. Even if I agreed with the source of the beliefs (e.g., the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, etc.), I would still reject the assertion of any political leader when they use their office to say that one aspect of faith is traditional.

I can appreciate that many individuals might say that this is being blown out of proportion, but let me lay out several reasons why I am choosing to make this statement at this moment and on this subject.

  • Many people of color are expressing themselves and their experience of American culture. As children of God, their experiences and voices have intrinsic value that should be respected. Giving a venue to those voices does not diminish the voices of others.
  • Each generation begins anew the cycle of learning and growth. Each child will grow into a predominant culture, but each child will also have the chance to work at changing that culture. Gaslighting the expressions of persons of color as they emphasize the events that affected their families is an atrocious way to act towards others. In my opinion, labeling one set of beliefs as traditional and trying to silence the voice of others is gaslighting.
  • Bear with me for a moment here: as a male, I have to be careful of mansplaining things. Even when I have the best intentions, it is very easy to talk over others. This tendency is amplified when dealing with others who have traditionally been silenced. I’m not sure this is a phrase yet, but saying that one Eurocentric view is traditional is a great example of “Whitesplaining.”
How the road forward can look when your viewpoint is dismissed

Folks, it is easy to look at someone who has political power and give them the authority to make pronouncements. It sometimes feels safer to keep your head down and remain silent. Silence is not always the best option, especially when silence leads to the dismissal of others and the diminishment of our society as a whole.

A Story of Sara

So, in preparation for a writer’s retreat this fall, I’m working through “One Day I Wrote Back: Interacting with Scripture through Creative Writing” by Jane Herring. Today I worked on interacting with the story from 2 King 5:1-16 and was invited to retell the scripture from the perspective of the nameless Hebrew slave. I rewrote it in a modern context from my own experience as a grocery store cashier after college who was struggling with debt. I borrowed a few details about practices like using fake names from colleagues who dealt with a lot of sexual harassment from customers while earning minimum wage. I hope you enjoy and remember: creative writing occasionally takes liberties with the source material! Special credit to “Dave” from Trinity Church, Grand Island, who always gave me extra strong coffee when I’d show up 2 hours early for church! What a saint!


I work the weekend swing-shift at the grocery store. A few years back everything was going well until my car broke down on a cold winter’s day. Now I bag groceries, deal with drunk customers, and clean off registers while the day shift sleeps.

My name is Sara, although I wear a nametag with a different name to keep the customers at a distance. If they see me on a different day, I will know who they are if they call out for “Jackie.” I learned my lesson early after one of the Saturday night customers walked up to me on a Tuesday to try and sweet talk me as I tried to eat my lunch in peace. It is bad enough having people stare at my body while I work. I don’t need more of it on my own time.

Sometimes, my job makes me want to scream, especially when the bills come in. I pay minimum balances but the paycheck doesn’t stretch. I’ll never save up enough to get out of here. I’m drowning in debt, cannot afford a car, and will probably live my whole life in walking distance of the store where I spend my evenings and nights. It sucks.

Sunday mornings are the worst. I go to church after my shift and drink enough free coffee to get me through until the service begins. I do my best to stay alert and attentive, but it is very hard when the warm air from the heater hits me after the seemingly endless days of going to bed at sunrise and waking up after twilight. It’d be different if I weren’t swinging my sleep schedule back and forth, but it is hard when the church is full of safe people that remind me of home, the air is warm, and the music is peaceful. Thankfully, I sit by the couple who have grandkids that work retail. They wake me gently with a smile before the offering if I fall asleep. It is hard to sleep with an usher handing you a plate, you know?

So, yeah, I still go to church. I try my best to live out my faith, but it is not exactly easy. So many people come in hammered on Saturday nights. They act as if they are having a great time, and here I am working to just cover the bills for minimum wage. It sometimes feels like I’m the biggest sucker around, but I believe. My faith is at the core of me.

My manager and I talk about it sometimes. She can be nice when things are going well. On quiet nights we sometimes talk for a few minutes after she comes and buys something for her break. Her husband is sick. I feel like she talks to me because she just needs to talk.

It isn’t surprising she talks to me. I’m often alone on the front end as she manages the stocking of the shelves. It can be hours between when we see each other and I’m the person who smiles and does her work quietly because the alternative is… just standing here staring at the clock…

There are nights I am done by 2:00 AM despite my best efforts and those are the worst. Talking with anyone on a slow night is a treat. When anyone interrupts me on those nights, I am happy to see them. I don’t need cajoling to work, smile when she comes up, and I’m not surprised she doesn’t mind talking with me. I’m her easy “no-drama” employee who clocks in on time.

I guess her husband is pretty sick. It has to be rough. All of those medical bills, all of those appointments, and absolutely nothing to show for it. She’s so weighed down by it that it is just painful to see at times.

Back in my hometown, we had this service once a month where people would go to pray for their illnesses and lives. I have been looking for something like that near here, but there was something different about that service back home. It was a holy space: the way the community gathered and prayed together. Even the air felt different in that sacred space of prayer. I only went once for myself. I was heartbroken and didn’t know what to do. When the minister and the church prayed over me, it lifted my soul. I still think about that feeling of peace as their hands hovered over me. The air sparkled with care and… the only way I can describe it is grace. It was a merciful, blessed, holy space.

Perhaps I will tell my manager about the service this weekend. There’s another one coming up pretty soon: last Sunday of every month as it has been forever. Maybe her husband will want to make a trip of it. I’d go with them, but I work Sunday nights. I’ll still be sleeping during the service, hopefully thinking of anything but straightening magazines and finding warm meat stuck behind candy because someone couldn’t be bothered to give it to their cashier.

Night Camp Poem 2

Thunder is coming.
A day of swimming and play
Sets before the storm.
Tonight the heavens will shake
And the earth rejoices.

Rain will fall on us.
The skies will boom with thunder.
Snuggle down and rest-
Dream of games down in the lake.
The sun will come again soon.

Cow Haibun

In the hot depths of a summer afternoon, four cows masticated grass across the road from a parsonage. The pastor joyfully grabbed a camera and set out to take a picture for the background of Sunday’s digital worship service. The sun blazed and lit the pastoral scene.

Quiet murmurings sounds accompanied the cleric as he carefully framed his shot and checked the camera settings. Two cows looked meaningfully at the minister, conferred among themselves with quiet moos, and then arranged themselves for the picture with their compatriots. As a line of sweat dripped from the holy brow, the camera shutter snapped both open and closed: the minister pondered the futility of his pursuit.

Behold the bovine!
A beast that is quite moving
and very solemn…

Slow Cooker Poppy Seed Pork Shoulder

Tonight I prepared a random pork shoulder with ingredients we had around the house. I thought I would share the recipe as it turned out nicely. The recipe is nice but takes time, especially in the prep stage. My thoughts were to combine some of the spices I noticed in Eastern European cooking, especially the Polish recipes from my mother’s cookbook.

  • Boneless Pork Shoulder (1-2 lbs)
  • 1 TBSP Ground Pepper
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Head of Cabbage
  • 1 TBSP Poppy Seeds
  • 1 TBSP Dried Onion
  • 2 TBSP Rice (optional)
  • 1 Clove Garlic, large

First, grind pepper and place with pork into a sealable container. Add bay leaf. Add an equal amount of water to the container. Measure total mass and add 1% of the total mass in salt. So, if you had 1 kg of pork, you’d have 2 kg at the end to which you would add 20 g of salt. This is known as equilibrium brining in the books I have read on food smoking.

The next day, clean, stem, and slice cabbage. Place into crockpot in an even layer. Grind poppy seeds and onion in a spice grinder.

Remove the pork from the brine and let rest. Discard brine and bay leaf. Rub the mixture over the pork on all sides. Sprinkle remaining spice over the cabbage in the slow cooker.

At this point, I ground the 2 TBSP of Rice in the spice grinder for two reasons. First, the rice removed the extra ground mixture from the grinder in an efficient manner. Second, the ground rice helped thicken the liquid that developed in the slow cooker during cooking.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot, sear the meat on all sides until a nice brown. Place the pork over the cabbage in the slow cooker. Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle garlic evenly over the pork and cabbage.

Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. We served the pork and cabbage alongside apple sauce.

Living up to my blog title

I have to admit that this transition from one church to another has been a bit overwhelming lately! Switching from a primarily written leadership at my previous church, to an in-person leadership in a parking lot at my previous church, to a digital leadership in my current appointment has been quite an existential workout over the past two months.

It is hard to imagine that one month ago today we were frantically putting boxes into our cars as my wife and I officially moved to Trumansburg. We still have boxes to unpack and my church office has never appeared so organized. Just yesterday I finally started sanding down the pieces of furniture my wife wanted painted before we put them into their final resting places. There’s still so much to do before we are fully settled!

Catching up with the running train of a church has been an experience, especially as I keep trying new things. As always, it is the odd stuff that sticks out in memory. In my church life, I found myself prone in a creek bed in a gorge earlier this week capturing a picture for tomorrow’s slideshow background. It was a cool picture and definitely worth the silt and creek dust on my clothes..

In my personal life, I took the scooter that I purchased (in a thus fruitless attempt to help me zoom around Syracuse at Annual Conference) to the local skate park to ride around the ramps and pipes with my kids as they each roller bladed, skateboarded, and toddled with a walking bike. I only tripped over my feet and hit the ground once—I was impressed, but still ultimately lost our game of tag.

In my spiritual life, I have found great comfort in using one of the eLearning resources through the Upper Room. I have been reading through Flora Slosson Wuellner’s “Prayer, Stress and Our Inner Wounds” and doing the corresponding eCourse. It has been uplifting to take the time to slow myself down for personal growth.

Wherever you are, I pray that your summer is going well. Rest assured that blogging will become more regular as routine slowly asserts itself in this new place and new space. Blessings today!

A Tree Poem

The trees reach up with deep green limbs
Waving fingers with verdant grace.
Sunlight dazzles in warm still shade.

Silent the song of breathing hymns
Lifted up from a wooden face
Straining to reach heaven as made.
Trees from Taughannock Falls State Park, NY

First Sunday Haibun

I sit in the quiet of sacred space before worship. Nobody will walk in to disturb the stillness—a webcam will connect me with others. I am a latecomer to worship online in the age of COVID-19. A green light will shine and I will look into the two lights of the camera: LED lights look like eyes around a lens-shaped nose.

Decaffeinated French Roast coffee sits with a piece of homemade whole-wheat sourdough for my portion of the love feast. The only copy of the bulletin printed on the church copier sits next to offering plates that will not be passed for some time to come. My drum rests with anticipation for the moment it will ring out while I sing quietly into the only microphone.

There will be no packed house for my first SUnday. The building and I will spend time together as we enter into a new space with me as pastor. Interestingly, I do not feel alone. I prepare to meet today like many ministers have over generations—as best as I can in the place I stand.

I am not alone.
Sitting in the pastor’s chair
the saints surround me.