Worried about Ebola? I’m not judging you for that, and I’m happy to explain why I’m not judging you. But before going into detail on that, let me say that not judging you for your anxiety about Ebola is not saying it’s ok to freak out of your brainpan and act like the world is ending. There are, as many people are pointing out, horrendous things that are statistically more likely to happen to us before catching Ebola, and we still power on through life. Is it rational to be debilitatingly afraid of catching Ebola in our country? Nope. But is it kinda rational to be concerned about Ebola and the way it seems be popping up here and there? I think so.
And here’s my thinking on it:
1) Ebola is freakin’ scary. Each time I see a news story and the accompanying image is that shot of a viral strain I flash back to every zombie massacre I’ve seen in the movies. I mean, that image is “T-Cell mutants chewing on my leg” kinda freaky. It’s the same feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I hear another story about that flesh-eating bacteria that someone occasionally picks up here in America… sometimes, there’s just a lot sarcasm and not much comfort in those statistics, ya know?
2) For us in the States, Ebola is largely an unknown thing and definitely a new thing to worry about. It’s true that we normal folks don’t know a lot about Ebola; it’s not something we’ve thought about and dealt with in our lives. There seem to be worse ways to die, but none of them makes Ebola any more palatable as an potential illness in my life. We’ll have a learning curve as a society as we get more acquainted with Ebola, and we’ll calm down as we’re more knowledgable. Until then, let’s cut each other some slack.
3) When we’re dealing with things like Ebola, screw the point game. I’m not interested in what person “slammed” another or what commentator “schooled” someone on Ebola. Acting like this is a game of one-ups is not responsible or constructive. I’m all for facts, really. But when heath care workers are getting sick, and traveling, and we begin to see the stories unfold, it can be troubling and justifiably worrisome. Should we get hysterical? Of course not. Am I an idiot for having a concern about a seriously bad disease popping up around us? Sorta seems sensible to me. Will we sometimes see the authorities taking some strong steps to stay ahead of this? I hope so. We’d rip them apart if they didn’t and Ebola spread even more. I’m glad we are taking strong steps to contain this and working hard to identify Ebola cases. I’m glad we have an Ebola Czar.
So, am I ready to slip on my tin foil hat and go hide in the closet? Nope. Did I freak out and leave town when they brought an Ebola infected patient to a hospital A MILE from my house yesterday? Nope. (I mean, we already figured out years ago that the zombie-apocalypse would probably start from NIH.) But, am I going to laugh at people’s fears and concerns? Nope to that one, too. Again, no fear should be debilitating and no fear should cause us to lose hope. We should be wise and watchful, prayerful and engaged.
The pastor in me wants to remind you that fear is never the best motivation for anything. Even in life’s most difficult times our hope and our joy remain anchored in the love and goodness of God. Yes, life has its anxieties, its moments of terror and exquisite joy, the ups and the downs. Ebola is one of those anxieties, a terror and a down. Let us allow our own anxiety over Ebola to be a poignant reminder to pray for those in communities across West Africa ravaged by the disease. Let’s allow our own awakening to the seriousness of Ebola to be something that moves us to find ways to help and serve those far away neighbors.
Let’s allow one another to be concerned and maybe even a bit fearful about something as horrible as Ebola, and use that concern to become better servants to one another and the world.
So, yeah. That’s me in a clerical collar. I didn’t grow up in churches that used collars. In fact, we didn’t have robes for preachers or choirs either. We did have zippered robe-like things for baptisms, but I guess we didn’t find the clerical clothing awfully palatable. Last Sunday, as we set up a booth at the local farmers market to offer a blessing of the pets for all our neighbors, I wore a collar for the first time in my life.
Please don’t call me Father Todd or Padre. If you know me, then you know that I have a deep respect and sincere affection for priests of many orders whether Catholic, Orthodox or Episcopal. I also have an abiding respect for other traditions of Christianity that use the collar in various forms and ways. You can call me Vicar Todd… I kinda dig on that one.
In recent conversations and readings I have been introduced to the idea of the clerical collar as an invitation to speak with me about things spiritual. It has been regarded by some as a means by which others found them approachable and open for prayer or conversation. I’d like to think that a collar could do that for me, too.
Thinking about our Sunday morning of offering blessings for pets I must admit that I found people’s reactions as either very happy to see us or distinctly not interested in our blessing. There was very little ambivalence. We were all smiles and not at all intrusive. And we had many fun conversations with some of our Jewish neighbors at the market. I was asked twice if I was OK with blessing “Jewish dogs” and I was more than happy to bless them. Heck, I’m pretty sure I blessed at least one agnostic dog. It’s good stuff. More than one person got all smiley and affirmed the movie line/title, “All dogs go to heaven.”
I believe the blessing of the pets was a beautiful thing to do, and I’m glad we did it. I hope we do it again next year to celebrate St. Francis’ feast day and to serve our community. Not everyone wanted their pet blessed by us, and that’s OK. We were a blessing to many pets and their owners, and asked nothing in return. Good stuff.
And I didn’t feel like the fraud I feared I would see myself as when wearing the collar. That came as a bit of a surprise to me. I did my studies ahead of time and learned that many churches and traditions use the collar in many ways, so I wouldn’t be “stealing” from anyone’s rich (exclusive) claim on the collar. I’m also a very informal guy, and I wondered if the formality of a collar would seem ridiculous on me. It felt pretty OK.
I’m not sure what future the clerical collar has in my ministry and life. We’ll see how the Spirit leads. For now, I’m happy to have blessed some pets, and in the process, their humans. I’m so proud of and personally blessed by our faith community at Church in Bethesda who rallied and came together to help bless the doggies, keep the water bowl filled, over-indulge some furry friends with treats, and to offer smiles and hand shakes to our neighbors. It was a community event in every way.
One of the joys for me living and working in downtown Bethesda has been knowing such a diverse group of people on a daily basis. From my wonderful Muslim neighbors to the greater Jewish community of Bethesda, to the many homeless friends I have made and the chances of running into folks from Church in Bethesda or other local groups I’m active with; any given day is filled with such deep relational potential.
It was not a surprise to chat with and share some mutual encouragement with a homeless brother of mine at La Madeleine this morning in Bethesda while having breakfast. It was however not expected that he would follow me out to the parking lot to give me a piece of jewelry, a very nice BORA watch and say, “God laid it on my heart to give this to you.”
Yes, I’m that guy. I’ll let a homeless friend give me a gift. I told him it wasn’t necessary to give me anything, but I did accept the gift when he insisted I have it. I have certainly never helped him, or my family done anything for him, with the intention that I or we would get anything from him in return. We help him because we love him. And he felt the tug to lay a gift on me for the same reason. He said that he felt it was right to give me something for all I do and try to do for him. He also explained that he has connections to get jewelry, so I shouldn’t worry about it setting him back too much. <insert my nervous chuckle here>
I first experienced this kind of humbling when I lived in Kenya way back in 1989 and 1990, and later in Tanzania… people would give us gifts of food and drink when we visited their villages and homes, gifts they could not always afford. We would be presented with a soda, a luxury they often would never have bought themselves. And we learned not to say no to the gifts that were presented to us. It is affirming of a person’s dignity and an act of gratefulness to receive a gift well.
I’m not saying I would ever allow a person to do injury to themselves or their family for the sake of my comfort, but I am willing to be humble enough to receive a gift, even when it makes me feel kinda funny to do so. I think it’s part of being a whole healthy person that one gives and receives. Giving a gift is a great feeling. It empowers the one doing the giving. Giving enriches the gifter as much as the gifted. Giving is healthy. And the dignity of my friend is important to me, so I would never want to injure him by saying no to such a proffered gift.
It’s too easy to judge our homeless brothers and sisters as “other” and not “us.” It’s too easy to forget that they were born with the same factory wire harness that we were, and though we may have walked diverse roads, we are still so deeply similar and connected. My heart hurts when I see someone post a meme on Facebook or hear them make a comment about things like homeless people who have cell phones not having the right priorities in life. You don’t want to be connected with the world? With support structures? With friends?
Keeping a cell phone going is often a major ordeal for a homeless person who has to prepay for minutes and has no “grace period” when cash is short. You ever paid your cell phone bill late? I think mine is late right now. A cell phone is a “little home” when you have no street address, land line or contant place to belong. Homeless or not, we yearn to participate with life, with those around us. I don’t bat an eye at a homeless person having a cell phone, an iPod, or even a notebook computer. Good grief, considering their anxieties and stresses, why would I begrudge a homeless friend a little chance to enjoy life? Why would I begrudge him or her the chance to joyfully give a gift?
At the end of the day I think I accepted a gift from my friend today for two reasons: 1) giving gifts it is way that people share life and love, and he and I are on a two-way street that I would never want to trade for a one-way street where I’m always the giver and he’s always the taker, and 2) receiving a gift from him renews my hope. I hope that there is good stuff in store for my brother. I trust that there is good stuff in store for him. And as I continue to pray and share life with him, his giving a gift bolsters my excitement and expectation that he is going to be on a good road, seeing better days and knowing joy on joy on joy. Oh God, let it be so.
I have meant to write something about practicing acts of ministry during worship for a while now. At CiB we like to often use our time together in worship services to bless others… usually we choose the children and families at The Children’s Inn located at the National Institutes for Health. We incorporate two things: 1) our use of prayer stations, and 2) their practice of “thoughtful treasures.”
We always have prayer stations set up during our communion (eucharist) celebration and our folks move around through them after receiving the bread and the cup. These stations are meant to facilitate prayer and action, often helping make the things we are talking about a little more tangible and present.
The Inn has a program called “Thoughtful Treasures” wherein each child gets to open a personal mailbox each morning and starts that day with a special treat before all the routine and often painful medical appointments and regimens of the day get going. Many folks and organizations in our area help supply those treasures.
So this last week we prayerfully put notes of encouragement on candy canes, about 90 in all, at a prayer station. Next week we’ll be assembling jingle bell necklaces while we pray for the kids and their families. The candy canes were simply decorated with a mailing label wrapping around the stem which read, “We’re praying for your holiday!” and included our church family’s logo. Often our efforts are “small,” but intentional and uplifting for the recipient.
Other ministry activities we’ve practiced have included letters to encourage orphans in Sudan and letters and cards to our sick members or friends. We’ve also written notes of appreciation to one another, or maybe a coworker or a family member. Ideas for what we do flow from the pastoral staff as well as others in the congregation. The practice fits with our desire to begin enacting the grace of God in tangible ways at all times. And I’ll tell you from experience… this is not a put-off for visitors! Typically, they join in and love it!
I’m sharing all this because I’d love to know what you folks are doing out there… let’s share ideas and inspirations. I’m only positive of three things: 1) we’re not the first folks to do this, 2) we’re not the only folks doing this, and 3) we won’t be the last folks to do this. Share some ideas and practices you are loving to be a part of!
Normally, I’m all about people’s privacy, but this fella came by my coffee shop this morning pushing the most impressively loaded grocery cart I have ever seen in my life. I mean, he chugged this monster up hill, against the on coming, one-way traffic. So, today I wish this dude a very Merry Christmas! He’s in my prayers, wherever he’s going with that massive cart.
Sorry for the low pic quality, it’s a cropped phone shot!
ok, i’m dumb. i forgot to take a picture of the table today before i left the house. i put two coats of stain on it, and we saw right away that there are weird places in the wood… some harsh weather spots, places where a tiny bit of the old finish still existed and some sweet, natural defects and spots around knots. a serious dude would have spent a couple of days sanding first, but not me, baby!
next i put on two coats of polyurethane finish. i bought a semi-gloss and figured we’d work our way to the finish we wanted instead of trying to go high-gloss in one or two coats alone. i think after applying the second coat this morning that we already have the finish we want… not too shiny and evened out from a more spotty first coat.
the second coat will be dry to the touch by tomorrow morning, if it takes 24hrs to dry like the first did. hang this humidity! then, i’ll have to do some minor work on the legs: lots of wood screws, etc.
of course, the weather’s going to pot and it’s supposed to snow on saturday after a couple of days of nasty rain. sheesh. the party might not even happen now, but we’ll have food on the table!