December 7th, 2004

Stuff

"Don't close your eyes, don't close your eyes,
this is your life...
Is it everything you dreamed that it would be?
When the world was younger,
and you had everything to lose..."

Jonathan Foreman, Switchfoot, From Beautiful Letdown

Life is nothing like I thought that it would be when I was younger. I envisioned preaching to thousands, or at least hundreds, in a large auditorium with droves of people streaming to the altar under the weighty conviction of my astounding preaching. Instead God is making me a pastor of a small band of elderly people who need a "Preacher" and seem puzzled by my brilliant attempts at exegesic teaching and expository preaching. They smile and nod alot and let me know they like me even though they are not sure what I'm trying to say.

They have this thing in the South called a "Preacher". He is this larger than life heroic man of God who holds some mystical power to fix anything that may be wrong with a persons life. He may be walking in righteousness or a bit of a scoundrel but it doesn't matter. He is a "Preacher" and he can do anything. I have always carried my Bible with me and years ago made a practice of using my lunch hour to read it while drinking coffee at fast food places. This has led to many oppurtunities over the years to say "No, I'm not a 'Preacher' just a Christian" to people who take my Bible as an invitation to approach me.

It never stopped them from pouring their hearts out or confessing thier sins to me. Some have just cried and told me what they were going through. One, a reserve soldier in his 40's, had just lost his wife unexpectedly. Another, a woman in her 30's, was caught in adultery and didn't know how to get out. Some just were trembling and scared of the things going on in thier lives and it was almost as if they just wanted to be near a "Preacher" to escape the darkness for a while. Maybe see if I thought there was still hope for them.

I would always minister to them as well as I could but I also felt insufficient and helpless at times. I hated the ignorant religious approach they took as though this thing called a "Preacher" was so powerful that he could simply absolve them of thier sins, or at least go to God for them like some kind of priest. I grew to resent the title and enjoyed more an more saying to people, "No, I'm not a preacher" sometimes adding "I work for a living".

I became a "Preacher" the first time I had to visit someone when I took this church back in July and here's how it happened. The Deacon mentioned that one of the older ladies in our church (Nette McClain) had a husband (Wimp) who was sick. I offered to visit him, was encouraged, and stated that I would. Word spread unbeknownst to me and it touched off a crisis that I picked up on when the Deacon said a few days later, "Uh, I think it would be nice of you to visit them and don't worry about Nette, she never thinks her house is clean enough, or that things are quite right, she's a little nervous, but don't worry I'm pretty sure everything will be OK".

I found the house in a section of town called Pepperell Village, a small "Company Town" built around a textile mill back in the last century now just a Suburb of our Walmart Super Center. I parked and approached the house to find Nette and a couple other ladies sitting on the screened in porch. I nervously said hello, explained why I was there, and was offered a seat. It was such a surreal scene. A shady little street, tiny white house with a screened in porch. Elderly Southern ladies conversing and acting like a bunch of nervous school girls. Teasing each other about the way thier hair looked with the "Preacher" being there, or using each others full names and then the other one chiding "Now you didn't have to tell the 'Preacher' my real name is "Nattie Lou".

Everyone was also nervous about how Wimp would react to me because he has alzheimers and has good and bad days. They were all afraid he would have a bad day and just when the "Preacher" had come to see him. He came out and we talked and I told him who I was and prayed for him. We made a lot of small talk. I tried to leave and he stopped me saying "Sit down now 'Preacher' we aint even had time to take an offering yet" to a round of giggles from the ladies. It was so weird. It was like a holiday for them. It had been so long since they had a "Preacher" in thier house and they would not let me go. I finally got away feeling like "Whew! I pulled it off. I fooled them into thinking I'm a "Preacher".

Something else was happening though. For the first time I started to realize that maybe I had been taking my relationship with God for granted all these years down here. Keeping people at a distance, not allowing them to make me into something I didn't think I could be, for fear of dissappointing them. Maybe I did have something to give. Like the time in 5th Grade when the coach handed me a glove and said "You ever play first base?" to which I answered "I've never played softball." But somehow when he gave me the glove and said "You're my first baseman" it transformed me. I found thier need for me called something out I didn't know was there.

Since then Wimp has been moved to a nursing home and I see him once a week or so. When I prayed over him before leaving this last time I just broke down in tears. I was asking Jesus to watch over him and he latched onto that and kept praying over an over again "Yes, please Jesus. Please".
When I left he said, like he always does, "Listen here old fella, you come by anytime, anytime. I always love to see you. I always love to see you". I walked out to my car just overwhelmed with it all. They have gone so long in this church feeling like no one loves them and no one is watching over them. And my coming to be their "Preacher" has made them feel like God cares about them.

It's like Djere's latest quote on the Djereometer, I haven't ended up where I intended to be, but I think I am where I'm supposed to be.