I have been in a couple of places lately where all the cylinders did not seem to be firing: a warehouse store, a restaurant, an emergency room. What I mean is that people were moving slowly, if at all. If I tried to make eye contact with someone working there, what I mostly got was an immediate glance in another direction or at a computer screen. If I was persistent, I generally got short answers as the person stepped in a different direction.
I have been on the phone lately, talking to a couple of companies that seemed to have more important business to transact than talking to me: an internet store where I needed to make a return, a doctor’s office, a customer service entity. I say I was talking to these customer service representatives, but if I was striving for accuracy, I would say that I was on hold with these folks. And when I was actually engaged in conversation, it seemed to me that there existed a discernible lack of enthusiasm about the issues that had prompted my calls.
I launched a little problem-solving expedition a couple of weeks ago on behalf of a person who needed help getting some services to which we believed she was entitled. This required navigating a monolithic bureaucratic agency. Need I say more?
I entered the drive-through of one of our local establishments not long ago to order a breakfast sandwich and a large coffee – two Stevia, no cream. Twenty minutes later, I had my coffee – with cream and what I would judge to be no sweeteners. I did not drive away with a breakfast sandwich since they had run out. Understandable – it was already 7:30 am.
Now, believe it or not, my intent here is not to gripe or to tell anyone under the age of thirty how it was back in the day. No, what I want to report is that at every one of the establishments I have referenced above, I could also relay other very positive experiences – either eventually during these recent encounters or at some other call or visit. At every one of these enterprises, I have had occasions when someone greeted me with a smile or a cheery voice and worked diligently to serve or solve. Each time before the exchange ended, the person working with me checked to make sure that he or she had done everything they could to meet my needs. And they expressed their hope that the rest of my day would be wonderful, and they did it in a tone of voice that made me believe them.
How? Why? Explain it. I don’t know. Maybe I caught a few brand-new employees who hadn’t yet become cynical and irritated because of all the rudeness they endure on a daily, even hourly, basis. Perhaps. And in truth, I think what we most often pass forward is not the beautiful stuff. Rather, when someone treats us rudely, we are quite apt to treat the next person who walks in front of us in a foul way. Someone lies to us, we probably will be inclined to judge that the next person we meet is lying. Linda and I talk about this from time to time – she works in a world of people who have their hustle on, and yet it is crucial to her work that she not make any assumptions about the person who is walking into Hope Station. Because otherwise, we rob everyone of dignity. We can be strong and determined, but to banish trust and good-will from our encounters with our fellow-human beings is disastrous.
I think from time to time about an old Jimmy Buffet song about a happy streetsweeper:
He said, "It's my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that's enough reason to go for me
It's my job to be better than the rest
And that makes the day for me"
I’m not saying it is easy. I am not saying it comes naturally.
But it almost seems like living out faith to me . . .
being a light for our community . . .
being salt for our world.
Blessings and Peace,
Out at the end of our driveway, Linda has planted a garden where before there was only roots and hardscrabble ground. Looks pretty good, if I may say so. Anyway, I was watering the garden one morning last weekend while Linda was in Florida, when a woman who was out walking her dog passed by. She said, Your wife did a lovely job with the garden. I replied, Thank you. She helped me quite a bit. The woman hesitated before resuming her walk, but I heard her say under her breath, Your wife is the only one I ever saw working on it. Yes, some of our neighbors are busybodies.
The next day, I was out at the Glovers’ farm hoeing in our “Season of Faith” garden. I was using my new 2-prong/hoe with a telescoping, 34-inch handle (Lowes, $17.98) when John walked up, examined my work and said, So you actually can do a little farming. I did not like his attitude.
I ended up talking to my brother and complaining that my farming prowess has not been garnering the respect I feel I am due. I figured Dale would understand since he has completed all of the coursework and has received the title of “Master Gardener.” He keeps all of the Kansas family stocked throughout the summer with okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, squash and such. Anyway, Dale says, You know, Gary, I hear that the federal government pays some farmers not to grow crops. His voice trailed off, Maybe you could get in on that. Third child – need I say more?
Well, disrespect aside, I think this Season of Faith garden is going to prove to be a blessing – to me, at least. After our Saturday planting session, Linda and I got away to the beach for a couple of days, but on our journey back to Wilson, we traveled on the back roads: NC-50 out of Holly Ridge, staying north on NC-41, then on to NC-111. There are a lot of farms along that stretch. It was near dusk, the end of the work day, and everything seemed quiet. Faint memories floated through my head of some days spent a half century ago at a farmhouse sitting on a couple hundred acres of land between Sherman and Van Alstyne, Texas. Rocking on a porch . . . burning the day’s trash . . . looking out on the fields as darkness fell. Pure nostalgia wrested from no more than a handful of days in my life.
The thing is this: City life has made us look at work in different ways. Something to be done . . . something necessary . . . productive even. But not always something to be embraced. Vacations have become about getting away . . . far away. And I cannot tell you how many of my friends and family members talk for years about retiring before they actually can pull the trigger. I know a barrel of folks, who when they were fifty-some-odd years old with a life expectancy of eighty-plus, could not let a day pass without talking about the day they would retire.
But there I was, standing with my co-workers in a plowed field with a hoe in my hands as darkness began to envelope me. The half dozen rows that we had worked were pretty with the darker, up-turned soil showing and the nut grass chopped out. I even allowed myself a few minutes to wonder and worry about whether it was going to rain. Someone said we even had a couple of peppers on the plants – eight days of a garden and we already had a harvest on our hands. God is good, I know, but that doesn’t even begin to say it properly.
So, I hope you get away for a few days this summer. Away from your work. But I also hope you get to spend a few evenings surveying what you have accomplished here: a mowed yard, a painted fence, a mighty barbeque . . . whatever. And I hope you can taste and see that life is good and work can be holy. And that God blesses all of it. Amen and amen.
And remember one more thing –
I can hoe with the best of them, and don’t you forget it, John Glover.
Blessings and Peace,
#fccwilsonnc #ncdisciples #wanderings #revgarywalling #ccdoc #gardening #ourseasonoffaith #faithblog #allarewelcome #taketimeforyourself #icangardentoo
Linda and I spent a couple of days at the beach this past week. Topsail. The plan was to spend as many hours laying out on the sand as we could without incinerating our bodies . . . eat some seafood . . . and read.
The first afternoon we arrived, we dumped our luggage and headed over the dune and down to the beach. We spent a few minutes trying to erect a little tent we had purchased that would supply a scrap of shade. Then we slathered suntan lotion on our pasty bodies, laid out the beach chairs and plopped down for the duration of the afternoon. But you know what hot summer days in eastern North Carolina mean as well as I do. It was not all that long before we heard some rumbling in the skies . . . off to the north. It got closer and the skies got darker. We probably hadn’t been out more than an hour or so when we saw the first bolt of lightning. A few minutes later, we saw another. Some folks up and down the beach began to close up and head to safer places. And though we did not want to, we decided to do the same. Chairs, towels and tent came up in reverse order, and after a little climb, we found ourselves on the back porch of the cottage watching the rain and the bolts of lightning. The storm made itself known with gusting wind and the sights and sounds of the lightning and thunder. But Linda and I just rocked away peacefully – safe from the storm, inside our shelter.
As the week progressed, and another afternoon storm blew through, I found myself thinking about a story that Garrison Keillor once told entitled, Storm Home.
When I get scared now, one of the ways that I have of quieting myself down is to think back on when I entered Fourth Grade and so didn’t go to Sunnyside School anymore but caught the school bus to go into town to go to Lake Wobegon High School. And Mr. Hedman was the Principal there, and though it was September, he was already thinking ahead to winter and to the blizzards we had every year. And on the first day of school, each of us children who rode the bus in from the country was handed a little slip of paper that said, 'Your storm home is and then a name', and each of us was assigned to someone’s home in town where if a blizzard came during the school day, they wouldn’t try to ship us home on the buses, but we would go to our storm home and spend the night there.
Mine was the Krugers. My storm home was the Krugers, an old couple who lived in a little green cabin down by the lake. And I can see it now because I have walked past it so many times. . . . It was the kind of house that if you were a child and lost in a dark forest and came across it in a clearing, you would know that there was a kindly old couple living there that would take you in and rescue you, and that you were a lucky child who had gotten in a story with a happy ending. . . . I often dreamed of going to see them when things got hard. Blizzards aren’t the only storms, you know, and not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a child. And I often dreamed of going and knocking on the door. And she’d open the door and say, Oh, it’s you. I knew you’d come some day. Won’t you come it. Get out of those wet clothes. Come on into the kitchen and I’m going to make you some hot chocolate. Would you like an oatmeal cookie? . . .
I never did go there. We never had any blizzards that came during the day that year or the year after that. They were all convenient blizzards – evening, weekend blizzards. But they became a big part of my imagination. But I always thought that I could go to the Krugers. And I didn’t, I guess, because all of my troubles were bearable troubles, but I am certain that they were more bearable for imagining that the Krugers were there. (Garrison Keillor, “Storm Home,” Winter – Stories from Lake Wobegon)
The writer of the Second Gospel gives us this story about a storm that blew up on the Sea of Galilee. You heard the story – Jesus is asleep . . . the disciples wake him . . . he calms the storm. And the first thing that I would offer is that it is hard to believe that the story is really about a storm at the beach. As Keillor says, Blizzards aren’t the only storms . . . and not necessarily the worst thing that can happen. Most of us have lived long enough to have been through a blizzard or a lightning storm or even a hurricane, and I doubt we would say that any of those days have been the worst days of our lives. Because most of us have lived long enough to have been through some other storms . . . storms which shook the very ground beneath our feet, but not because of anything that Mother Nature was throwing at us. Illness, loss, fear, pain. Oh, there are other kinds of storms in this life that are much worse than some rain and wind and lightning. And there is a promise in our story that if Jesus is in the boat with us, we will be able to weather those horrible storms . . . that in time, we will again step out on solid ground.
But the other thing that I want us to think about this morning is the question that is put to Jesus in the story: Don’t you care? Don’t you care about us? That, of course, is a crucial question.
Well, I said that Garrison Keillor’s story about his storm home came to me because of the beach storms I rocked through earlier this week, but truth be told, I think the story came back to me because of all the other disturbing events of the week: children crying . . . separated from parents . . . the cages. Blizzards aren’t the only storms, said Keillor, and not
necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a child.
Now before any of you say that that is political and not a proper topic for preaching, let me say that is ridiculous. First, I know that it is political. I know it is political because of all the demagoguery that has been flying around. I know that it is political because there has been so little desire to solve and so much intent to blame. I know that it is political, but here is the thing – it is not only political. Anyone who would tell me that is simply wrong. When we begin to consider how we will treat others, we are in the purview of faith. We are back to wrestling with one of the first questions that we, the created, asked our Creator in scripture: Am I my brother’s keeper? And how we answer that is profoundly an expression of faith.
So let me tell you why the events of this week have hit me so hard . . . have created such anguish. In the end, it isn’t the politics as frustrating as that may be. And oddly, it is not the human suffering, as awful as that seems to be. Not the pain or the hurt. Not those things, because we have known such suffering. The United Nations refugee office reports that 68 million people had to flee their homes last year – an all-time high. 68 million. So, we have seen suffering that far outstrips what we are seeing now on our southern border. Not that we should ever be desensitized to pain and suffering. But that is not what has created such a crisis of faith for me.
It is something else. It is something in the news coverage where people who have had microphones shoved in their faces in diners are saying, Stop trying to make me feel guilty about the children . . . it’s their parents’ fault . . . they shouldn’t even be there . . . I don’t care!
There, that’s it.
I have read it and heard it too many times in the past week from people I don’t know. Christians mostly, I am guessing.
I don’t care.
But I have heard it from people I do know. Friends. People I love. Facebook has become an awful thing where people seem to be able to rant about anything. I don’t care! I even heard these words: They are not our children. Where do we come up with words like that? Not them . . . us. Church people. People of faith. Christians. I ask again – where do those words come to us – because I cannot fathom that they come from scripture? What came to my mind was a time when Jesus said, Let the children come to me and do not forbid them, in the face of the disciples saying, they are not even supposed to be here.
Leave the politics out there.
We are in God’s sanctuary now, and I am left to wonder – as a Christian . . . as a person of faith . . . as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: what is happening, to us – to our souls, to our goodness – that we could say such a thing?
I don’t care!
They woke him up. He was sleeping, but they woke him up. And in their heart of hearts, they cried out to him, do you not care?
It is a question that we ask him . . . it is a question, I am sure, that he asks us. It is a question that is hanging there still.
#fccwilsonnc #ccdoc #ncdisciples #dontwecare #idontcare #storms #stillingthestorm
A sermon preached by Rev. Gary Walling to the congregation of First Christian Church, Wilson, North Carolina on June 24, 2018.
Linda likes to power wash.
She borrowed William Wooten’s power washer over the recent Memorial Day weekend and spent two days spewing water out of a wand that she was pointing at any sign of dirt or mildew that came into view. She started on a fence we intend to paint, but before she was done, she had cleaned the front porch and sidewalk, the back patio, the carport, the driveway, a fair amount of the brick on the house, the grates on my barbeque grill, a birdhouse and three birdfeeders, and one of our neighbor’s dogs who was out for a walk. It is a fine looking Golden Lab, by the way, whose coat has taken on a lovely sheen.
During the two days, I asked at least a dozen times if I could have a turn, only to hear her say “no” an equal number of times. My job was to keep running to the gas station to fill
up our 1.5-gallon gas can – a size, in retrospect, that was nowhere near adequate. Otherwise, I kept myself occupied by mowing, trimming, blowing, cleaning gutters . . . and getting a fine case of poison ivy. Something about the results of the weekend struck me as unfair.
My whole life, my sisters have told me that I have been simple minded since birth. My brother never says anything like that; he just looks at me and shakes his head. As do my children.
Linda generally just gives me a sweet smile. Which she can do since she is not battling a case of poison ivy.
Anyway, that is pretty much the reason that I was up at 4am this morning, sitting in my recliner. Couldn’t sleep. I was busy itching and wondering how long I had to wait to put the next layer of calamine lotion on my hands. That gave me a couple of hours to listen to the talking heads explore the Roseanne Barr tweet storm/rant/cancellation.
And while my sisters may be correct about my simple-mindedness, even I can grasp that comparing an African-American woman to an ape is offensive, racist, deplorable and
perhaps another thirty or forty adjectives, adverbs and nouns. I am slightly reassured that I am not seeing much of a defense being mounted. Her words, after all, ought to embarrass
family, friends, political parties, Hollywood personalities, educational institutions, and most particularly any person who believes in a God who created all of us. Lastly (and least of all), the tweet in question gave Ambien a bad name.
Okay. I’m done. Probably one rant does not deserve another, but there I sat with nothing to do but itch. After a half hour, I reached for the television remote, flicked a button and settled in to listen to the talking sports heads assure me that my Cleveland Cavaliers have no chance to beat the Warriors. I feel another rant coming. The best basketball player in the
world suiting up in burgundy and blue.
So, I just sat there in my recliner until the light of dawn began
to glow. Mostly, I just thought about how nice it would be if we could power wash souls as easily as we can hose down a driveway. There are some stains that need to be hit and hit hard. And I know just the person to do it. I’ll go for the gas. But we all know that the blemishes, discoloration and mildew on the inside of us is harder to clean than whatever dirt settles on the outside. I rather imagine that is what Jesus was suggesting when he said, Listen and understand: it is not what
goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.
To be sure, we live in a rough talking time. But we, of all people, need to understand that the words that come out of mouths can do immense harm.
Blessings and Peace,
#ccdoc #ncdisciples #fccwilsonnc #poisonivy #couldntsleep