Two Sermons

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In all of my years of attending church, there are two sermons that always stayed with me, and both were given by my father.

Dad wasn’t your usual minister. Though he was well-versed in the Bible, he rarely quoted scripture and never used it to win an argument. He never tried to convert anybody. In fact, he was never troubled by anyone who disagreed with him about religion; what mattered to him was that people had faith and that they found a way to connect it to their daily lives.

He delivered what they called “the talk” at our church about every two months, on a rotating calendar.

As a child, I was always in bible class while he spoke to the adults. But one Sunday, because my teacher was out sick, I got to stay and listen. He started out talking about me. Now that’s a sure way to get a kid to sit up straight!

He had taken me fishing the day before, just the two of us, and when we got back he told everyone that I’d caught twice as many fish. That was a very sweet lie, when in truth he’d simply caught more on my fishing pole than on his own. He was tending to both of them most of the time, while I wandered down the shore playing in the mud.

That next day at church, he talked about sitting there by himself, watching the water … and how he noticed a caterpillar crawling up the tall grass along the dock. The wind kicked up and the caterpillar fell into the water. Dad watched him absentmindedly for a while, struggling against the gentle waves … until finally he realized he could save it just by dropping his net down to give it something to crawl onto. Ten seconds later, it was back on dry land, getting on with its life.

It made my dad reflect on all the times he’d seen people helping others, and how often a simple act of kindness can mean so much. We are conditioned to waiting until people ask for help, then deciding whether to respond. But often people won’t ask for what they need. Maybe they don’t want to be a burden, or are convinced that help won’t come. Perhaps they don’t know where to turn.

He challenged us to look around, past the borders of our own lives, and notice people struggling. Then find a way to lend a hand.

***

The last time I heard my dad give a sermon, I was an adult visiting home. It happened to be Communion day, and dad began by commenting on the low attendance. That surprised me because he’d never been the type to look down on anyone for not attending, or to insist that sitting in a pew is what makes one a good Christian.

Communion Full.jpgQuite the opposite, he was saddened that so many people were skipping that day because it was Communion.

I need to explain at this point that in our church there is no such thing as not being in “good standing.” After your baptism, you are welcome at any point to attend Communion, drink the wine, and eat the bread. However, like most churches, people who don’t feel they are worthy will pass. And that is what my dad was rallying against.

It’s such a shame, he said, for people who are feeling lost in themselves to forego church because they feel they don’t deserve it. Or for people who feel they have let themselves down to stay away altogether.

Church, as he saw it, was the best place for healing. For finding community. For learning the ways to overcome the aspects of yourself that you’re not quite proud of.

And as church members, he said, we need to remember that the people who shy away from Communion are often the people who need it the most. Reach out to them with love and fellowship.

In other words, put down that fishing pole and lend a hand.

The Two-by-Four Argument

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I’m guessing my nephew is the only child who ever intentionally gave himself a speech impediment to win an argument.

He was a bright little kid, and ornery as the dickens. He loved teasing his mom and would go to great lengths to out-argue her. And, because he was so dang cute about it, we let him get away with almost everything.

IMG_0012.jpgSo, about a month before his 4th birthday, his mom started telling him it was time for some changes. She said that when he turned 4, he had to start sleeping in his own bed. He had to get fully dressed every day instead of running around in his underwear. And, by the way, he also had to wear everything correctly. (He liked to wear his Underoos backward so he could see the Superhero characters. You’ve gotta be skinny to pull off that move!)

The boy was having none of it. He told her a flat no to all her requests.

She held firm and told him that all 4-year-olds wear pants. It was the law.

This is where the kid put his imagination to work. He announced to everyone that he wasn’t turning four. He was turning two-two.

We thought this was going to be short-lived, but he kept to it the entire year. He even refused to say the word four, and replaced it with two wherever possible.

What’s important to know is that he wasn’t reading & writing at this age, so he had no idea what homophones were. He replaced everything that sounded like four, to interesting results:IMG_0006.jpg

  • Instead of “I got this for you,” he would say, “I got this to you.”
  • Forward became two-ward (not t’wards, like we say in the Midwest, but toowards)
  • A forest was a two-est
  • When evil scientists on his cartoons talked about their evil formula,  he repeated back to the t.v., “evil two-mula.”

The amazing thing was that he never sat down to work all this out – it just came naturally out of his mouth. And it all worked so well in context that we adults just accepted the language shift and moved on.

He grew out of all of this, as kids do.

But I hope I’m around when that kid turns forty. I’m curious whether he’ll spend a year being twenty-twenty.

Grandpa’s Navigation

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When I was little, I thought my grandpa had installed an advanced navigational system in his car. This was crazy, as it was the 70’s. Not only did we not have computers, we didn’t even have LED screens. Heck, even the radio was a twist-dial that only got AM!

Nevertheless, when GPS was developed a couple decades later, I was more surprised than anyone else. I had never realized that this sort of system didn’t exist until suddenly everyone was talking about it.

How did I wind up at this absurd notion? Let’s consider the evidence:

Whenever we went anywhere in his car, grandpa would insist on going out to “get it ready” at least 5-10 minutes early. Sure, in the winters we had to warm up those old cars for a good while before you put it in gear. But I naturally assumed he had a purpose to this the rest of the year, too.

As soon as we piled into the car, grandma would ask, “Now, are you sure you know where you’re going?”

Rather than a yes or no answer, grandpa would say, “Don’t worry. We’ll get there.

As a grown and married woman, I now realize this translates to, “I’ll point the car in the general direction and hope things turn out alright.”  But as a kid, I figured he had some sort of ace in the hole to help him make that statement with such certainty.

And now here’s the kicker: when we got to the next town, grandpa’s turn signal would start blinking a good quarter mile before the actual turn!

I didn’t know anything about cars in those days. I had no idea he was nudging a lever to turn the signal on because I never saw him do it. So I got the notion that the signal was telling him when to turn.

This felt true because almost every time, when grandma would say, “Your turn’s coming up – you have to slow down!” grandpa would suddenly sit up straight, looking as alarmed as anyone that he was coming up on the turn too fast. I figured he hadn’t noticed that his blinker had been going for several minutes.

Grandpa always had a confident air about finding things, the same relaxed, no-worries approach of people nowadays who are using GPS. No matter how convinced grandma was that we’d taken a wrong turn, he’d always maintain that we were fine, right on time, gonna be there in any moment. And when we finally reached it, even if the house we were visiting suddenly appeared to be on the opposite side of the street of where they’d both been looking, he’d shift into park with a flourish and and give grandma a jaunty grin.

Yes, kids, in our day we didn’t have fancy computers with accurate navigation. We got by on cockiness, patience, and luck.

Oh, and it helped that none of the passengers could pull up maps on their phones to prove we were going the wrong way.

 

Walk of Fame

It was my first professional job after college and I was eager to make a good impression. Gawky, self-conscious, and shy, I had been hired at a newspaper that I’d always respected. They had 100 people on staff, about half in the offices, so I assumed I was just another face in the crowd, easily forgotten.

Because I started on the swing shift, there was never a spot in the parking lot when I arrived and I had to park a block away and walk down the sloping hill to get to the office. This would have been fine except that I quickly realized that half the office faced the bank of windows which I had to walk past, and so few people used that sidewalk that any movement out there automatically drew the eye of every bored worker.

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This was especially bad for me because I was so clumsy I often stumbled when I walked fast. So each morning I began my day by strolling slowly past all the people I hoped to one day impress, trying to watch my posture and not do anything embarrassing.

That aim was short-lived.

I remember it vividly, walking down the hill one clear summer day about two weeks after I took the job. An odd sensation came over me, one of impending doom. I heard a wooshing sound and sensed something coming at my head.

In one of the rare cases in my life of acting on instinct, I dropped to a squat, high heels and all, and brought my hands up in defense.

My attacker missed me and kept aiming right at the building.

It was a redwing blackbird dive-bombing my head. I had no idea that bird attacks were real outside of Hitchcock movies. Apparently the darned thing had hatchlings in a nest just a few yards beyond where I was walking and it took me for a predator.

All of this I learned later. At the time, I crouched on the sidewalk, incredulous, wondering what in the world I’d done to deserve that.

Then I realized I’d done this right in front of the office. And I still had to walk in the main doors and trudge past 3/4 of the staff to get to my desk.

I stood up tall and traipsed along as though nothing odd had just happened. Just outside the door, I took a deep breath and thought, “I hope no one noticed that.”

Yeah, right.

Two steps in, I realized that everyone in the office was talking about it. Someone had spotted the bird coming at me and called everyone’s attention to it in the split second before I reacted.

The girls at the front desk said something along the lines of, “You poor thing.” Most people grinned or chuckled and got back to work.

But this one guy in the far corner of the office shouted out, “Nice bird dodge!” and started slow-clapping me.

I scurried to the back room, not acknowledging a soul, and got right to work. I thought if I didn’t say anything, it would die. Nope. I was “the bird girl” for my first two months there.

It could have been worse. I’m not known for my reaction time, let alone avoiding disasters, so I’ve always been thankful that I managed to not get head-splatted by a nasty bird that day.

In retrospect, “Nice bird dodge!” is one of the cooler things anyone has ever shouted at me.