I’m what they call a “second career” minister. Actually, it’s like my fourth career—careers that have literally consumed decades. All through the 80’s I am a rock & roll DJ and program director on the radio. In the 90’s, I work in promotion and marketing for major record companies in the music business. Now I get to say, “at the turn of the century” and sound like my grandma—but in the aughts, I work again in radio and television. This time, I’m in the advertising sales management end of it instead of content. By the time I finish seminary, I don’t actually start working as a minister until 2010.
I’ll never forget when I get the call to ministry. It’s the fall of 2003. You don’t forget a thing like that, I assure you! I’m happy to tell you about that sometime if you’re curious, but it’s too much to go into here. Anyway, here comes the call to ministry and it’s time to tell the kids. I’ll never forget my son Blake’s response. He’s in middle school at the time and all of a sudden, he sees himself as a “PK” (preacher’s kid). He says, “Oh that’s just great, Dad! Now, everywhere I go people are going to ask me to pray!” And he isn’t happy about it.
OMG, don’t ask me to pray!
And I understand. Blake’s reaction to prayer or the idea of it is in no way out of the ordinary. I think we all understand the pressure.
What do I say to God? How do I say it to God? Do I have the “right” words? What’s the “right way” to do it? Where should I be when I do it? Do I have to get down on my knees? Every time? Do I have to talk out loud?
Will God even hear me?
Who am I praying to?
(There’s a little trinitarian snapshot for you…)
How does that work?
Is there anybody listening anyway?
It’s enough to make your brain hurt!
So I’m having a conversation with this guy a couple years ago, and he tells me a story about weeding the garden in his backyard. Turns out, his wife overhears him. She comes out the back door and says, “I can hear you through the kitchen window, who are you talking to?”
He says, “Just talking to myself.”
She teases him about “not answering” himself or “let me know if you get any answers.” etc. etc.
I can relate. I talk to myself all the time. And I tell him that I do.
Maybe you do, too!
It’s okay—you’re not crazy.
I think it’s prayer! Seriously. Like we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re talking to ourselves, that nobody’s listening.
I don’t think God misses a word.
No matter how we’re saying, thinking, seeing, sitting, standing, loving, touching, squeezing. Whatever!
God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Universe, Allah, Great Spirit, Light, Smoke, Fire, Clouds, Sunshine, Rain.
From whatever pronoun you use for yourself to whatever pronoun you use for God, I think God by any other name is still God.
And I think that God is always listening.
Always in all ways.
So, give it a shot.
Think about it. Don’t think about it. It just is.
Don’t worry about the words you use or don’t use or what you say out loud or don’t say out loud. Don’t worry if you’re just listening.
Don’t worry at all.
It’s all prayer.
Always in all ways.
God never sleeps.
Grace and peace,
As I think about the year ahead, probably like you, I wonder what it’s going to be like on the other side of the pandemic. I seriously doubt we’re gonna wind the clock back to January 2020 and everything returns to normal, just like it “always was.” I doubt that very much.
In fact, I don’t want it to be like it “always was,” like the old normal. I want a new normal. I went into the pandemic worn out by what looks to me to like identity politics. Politics became—maybe even replaced—religion, and people were and really still are firmly dug into and planted in their ideologies with minds closed off not even agreeing to disagree. Just being disagreeable!
I’d like to see our culture become decent and compassionate for each other at a greater level than it has been historically. I’d like our culture to get closer to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King vision of the Beloved Community where “all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.
Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”
I like to see communities working toward that!
I like to think of Jesus as being that kind of community organizer with you and me—if we’re “following Jesus”—becoming that, too.
What does that look like?
Well, it’s up to us to figure that out.
I think a lot of it starts with knowing your neighbors.
Do you? Do you know your neighbors?
We were talking on Zoom in the Monday night Bible study this week about noticing our neighbors out walking. Families being families out on the roads and streets. Even in the cold weather! I’ve seen families out walking and riding bikes together in all kinds of weather since the start of the pandemic in my old neighborhood in Madison and now in the apartments where I live in Florham Park.
Well, I’m going to ask the hard question again, do we know our neighbors?
Chances are pretty good that we don’t.
Maybe it’s time to reach out. Even just driving by, let’s stop and put the window down and introduce ourselves! Mask and everything! I’ve tried to do that as I stop in to get coffee at the Coffee Potter or at the Pulled Fork Bar-B-Que place (good food there, by the way) up in Long Valley. As I venture out in the Fairmount area when I’m here at the Community House, I’m trying to get to know some people in the community.
It’s hard! I know it is. It’s been hard for me to get to know just the few of you that I’ve been able to get to know coming to church in person for that short time before we stopped doing in-person worship again before Christmas. It’s hard putting names with foreheads and eyes only. I’m sure it’s not just me, but that’s hard! At least it’s a start.
Maybe when we re-open we could have a big cook out at the Community House and true to the name, invite the whole community out to come together again. What a great way to reach out! We would get one of those big bounce houses for the kids. I might even climb in there myself just for old time’s sake. That would be fun!
Anyway, the new normal is something I’m thinking about on this gray winter day at Fairmount Presbyterian Church Community House. What does it look like on the other side? On earth as it is in heaven?
That’s up to you and me with a little nudge from the Spirit.
Come Holy Spirit, come.
Grace and Peace,