Friday, March 23, 2012

Deader Than A Hammer

You learn to pick-up on the clues. The little hints. My first one came when I entered the funeral home and the 4 funeral directors saw me and scattered like roaches. When they avoid you ... it is for a reason.

I walked into the viewing room at the funeral home. It was empty save for a lone body encased in a wooden casket at the front of the room. The gentleman inside looked like he had lived a hard life. I glanced around for a family. Though the visitation had been going on for half an hour I was the only one present. Odd to say the least. I walked the perimeter looking at a video presentation of the mans life. I read the notes on the flowers. Finally a man in his mid-twenties entered. I introduced myself and asked who he was. It was his father in the box. I asked if I could talk to him about his dad. He spoke two words before walking out. "H*** no."

In a few minutes a young couple entered. They looked hardened. Like life had not been very good to them. Or perhaps they had not been very good to life. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. I introduced myself and discovered that this was another son. I asked the same question and received a somewhat exasperated sigh followed by, "In a few minutes." And they were gone.

I took a seat and waited. The young man appeared alone 15 minutes later. He sat on the same sofa I was one. He let out a masterful 10 second belch that was alcohol tainted. Turning in my direction he said, "Okay. Let's shoot the s***." This wasn't going as I had planned. I began asking questions about his dad and their family. The son was not a student of the King's English. When I asked how many kids were in the family his reply caused him to jab his finger into the air as if he were picturing them. He counted out loud ... "one ... two ... three ... four ... five ... six ... ... ... Oh, h###, just call it four."

Four it is.

I asked what his father enjoyed doing. Did he have any hobbies? "My old man was a Moose. And he was a roofer. He was the best d### roofer I've ever seen. And I'm a roofer myself. He was a good man and he loved God. And Jesus too. Right now I know where he is. He's sitting with my mom up in heaven, drinking some beers and smoken some cigarettes by that stream every one always talk about." I decided not to debate that issue.

This conversation was going nowhere but it was making good time. I closed by asking what his father had died of. "H### if I know! We were sitting up in his room shooting the s### (evidently this family loves to shoot) and I turned to get a drink of my beer. When I turned back he was face down and deader than a hammer." I have subsequently checked and let it go on record that hammers are exquisitely dead. Or as the famous Wizard of Oz quote goes, "and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead." Only in this case she is a he.

Before leaving I asked if there would be any music being performed at the service. The son told me that he had given all of that to the funeral director. I made my way to his office, finding 4 of them fidgeting around a desk, averting their eyes. Afraid to make contact with me. I broke the silence and enquired about the music for tomorrow. That is when everything blew. The laughter was immediate. Loud. Raucous. I moved quickly to close the door. This was the kind of laughter that had them doubled over the desk gasping for breath. I didn't "get" it. Then they gave me the playlist. Tomorrow's funeral "hymns" would include ...

-Bob Seger peforming "Turn The Page."
-Aerosmith and "Dream On."
-The Eagles and that toe tapping favorite, "Hotel California."
-And the benediction would be sung by the Reverend Ozzie Osborn with "Good-Bye To Romance."

No sign of "The Old Rugged Cross."

I cleared my throat, told them that I had seen worse (I have) and that everybody deserves to be served when they are grieving. I would see them in the morning. As I left they were doubled over the desk again ...

The morning dawned rainy and gray. And for the skeptics among you, yes I know that for a fact as I was, indeed, awake for it. At the appointed hour I made my way to the home for funerals and once again found myself alone. Eventually the lead funeral director entered and told me the family would be there in a few minutes. Time passed quickly and uneventfully. Eventually I found myself in a room that smelled of cheap booze and cheaper cigarettes. I read appropriate scripture. We listened to the entire play list. I waited patiently. And finally the time had come. I stood up, walked to the podium, and looked out at the family and friends. Their number was about 20.

What to do.

I don't do this often but I folded my notes, closed my bible, and walked away from the podium coming to a stop between the congregation and the casket. A quick prayer was whispered in the silence of my own mind and we dived in.

"Thanks for letting me come and serve you today. I know that you hurt. It's in your eyes. But can we talk? I don't like death very much. Neither do you. Neither did Carl (not the real name of the deceased,) But it is something we have to deal with today. And you all know who I am and you think you know what I do for a living. I need you to know that you are wrong. Yes, I am a pastor. But you think that I spend my time telling people that they should be better and that they shouldn't sin so much. I don't really do that. It isn't that I don't think those things are true. It's just that I've been doing this long enough to know that, even if I tell you that, you won't do it. Actually, you won't be ABLE to do it. We're all messed up. Yes, I said we. I'm messed up too. And I've learned that it's far better to tell people that Jesus knows they are messed up but if we will come to Him and admit it, if we will tell Him that we are sorry they we messed up, and tell them that we would really like Him to forgive us for being messed up ... well ... He will. And I think you need to know that. I didn't know Carl. So I don't hurt like you do. But I get to see my fair share of death and I hate it. I also know how to deal with it. You deal with it by looking it square in the eye and telling it that because Jesus loves you and died for your sins you aren't afraid of it anymore. Of course, you can only say that if it's true. And it is for me. Is it for you? If it isn't, I think Carl would want me to tell you how you can fix that."

And it took about 20 minutes. And they cried. Loudly. And some had to leave the room. Some fell from their seats into the arms of those sitting next to them. I didn't let it stop me or distract me. Pagan's really know how to grieve. And that's good. Because it means they are really in need of hope and help. That's where we come in. We get to tell them. With apologies to The Eagles, we will all check out someday. And if we trust Jesus ... we WILL leave. We'll go home. To Him. In heaven. Forever.

And that, my friends, isn't just shooting the ....

Monday, March 19, 2012

Between My Ears

Seldom, if ever, have I written a "request blog." But tonight I make an exception. A very close friend, (Hi, Adam!) listened to my sermon at Towerview Baptist yesterday and was evidently puzzled by the inner workings of my mind. I discussed the episode where the disciples are in a boat rowing their way through a storm while Jesus slept in the back. I had more questions about that event than answers. And so my message was built around questions. It seemed reasonable enough to me. And then Adam came along. He's a very level headed guy. As level as they come. Highly intelligent. Extremely motivated. Completely dedicated. And so when he began wondering about my brain ... well ... so did I. Adam asked me to "blog my day" today. He wanted a blow by blow account of what I encountered and how my brain handled it. Sounded easy enough to me at the time. I decided to enlist the assistance of an app on my iphone called "Voice Memo." All day long as events occurred I recorded my thoughts. And so Adam, I present to you without commercial interruption ... my day.

(DISCLAIMER) You are about to read a "stream of consciousness" essay of how my day unfolded. It isn't always pretty. Names have been omitted or changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty. What can I say? It is what it is...
************************************************************************************************************************************Okay, so I'm starting the day off, job one, showered, cleaned-up. Ready to rock and roll. It's been a normal day so far but that won't last long. It's Monday and on Monday my brain is scrambled eggs. I burn all of my brain power on Sunday and my thoughts are muddled with a side of bacon all day long. I had planned on enjoying a slow morning but circumstances have conspired against me. So I find myself driving to the first hospital of a very hospital filled day. I'm going to visit a gentlemen who is having a pretty major piece of surgery. We'll call him "Burt." Because his name isn't Burt. It's something else altogether. None of your business. The thing that bothers me right now is that he's having this surgery at a place named "Memorial Hospital." This raises the obvious question. Who is the hospital in memory of? And why didn't the poor soul survive? Do you really want to have major surgery at a place named in honor of someone who is in need of memorializing? Is this really a good idea? Count me out. If I'm having surgery I want it to be at "Take Up Your Bed And Walk Hospital." Or maybe, "We Were Wrong About That Mole You Have A Hickey Hospital." In my experience hickeys are preferable over moles. But I digress for the sake of my future as a husband. 'Nuff about that.

Well, I just made my first stop of the day at a place called "Casey's" for a little caffeine and "High Fructose Corn Syrup." Here's a lesson from Old Uncle Ron for those of you who hang out at hospitals a lot whether you are a pastor or not. Never ever visit a hospital without at least some degree of a foreign stimulant in your system. It's important when you arrive at the hospital that those in charge, particularly those with scalpels, be able to tell the difference between the patients and the visitors. Don't ask me how I know this. Just trust me and get yourself jacked up a bit before you walk through those doors. A little note along the way. I just passed Sonnenburger and now that we've reached the last day of winter and all of the cold is over with you can, according to the electronic sign, order up your firewood by phone. Congrats on that. Let's dial up that number and get our firewood stocked up for summer. Which brings us to the all important question of just how much firewood do you need for summer. And the truth is, nobody seems to know. Darned if any weather man can figure out what's going on. It seems that the jet stream has slipped up so high that it just might flip over the top of the planet and come down on the other side. My personal weather man, Mr. Joseph Dills, is in Spain right this very minute. Obviously he's on a humanitarian mission checking out the jet stream. Maybe he's seeing if the rain in Spain really is falling on the plain. Joe, if you are reading this, we need a shout out. Or maybe the rumors are true and he's really over there running with the bulls. While I can confirm that he's in Spain I can't confirm that he's running with the bulls. Personally, I don't think that would be a good idea. We all know Joe is full of bull himself. This would obviously leave the Spaniards wondering if they should run with Joe or from him. Fortunately, that's not our problem. Love you, Joe.

Okay, we knocked that first hospital down. It's about 10:45. I mentioned that I won't divulge the names of those that I'm visiting. We all know that there are Hippa Rules to protect your medical records from becoming a public spectacle. Your hickeys should be grateful for that. But you might not know that there are also Hippo rules. Hippo rules come into play when you talk about somebody on the world-wide-web that doesn't want to be talked about. They call them Hippo rules because they will hunt you down and beat you like an angry hippo. Again, don't ask me how I know this. I must apologize to Mr. Adam Page. He asked me to please avoid embarrassing elevator moments today. I tried. Really I did. But it didn't work out that way. I was going to room 140 in the central wing. So I got on the elevator and pushed number 1. Nothing happened. It just stood there With the door open. That's when I realized that I was already on 1. Never get on an elevator and punch number 1 if you are already on the first floor. It just doesn't go anywhere. And you feel really stupid afterward. So don't do it. The only win was that nobody noticed. I only confess here for the sake of honesty and transparency. Sorry, Adam. I didn't even make it until noon.

Now we move on to Mercy Hospital. Once again we are left wondering who names these places. From Memorial to Mercy. Mercy is what you beg for when you check in. And now I'm just passing a church where the sign says, "Members wanted. Apply inside on Sundays." To which my thoughts are ... "Hahahahahaha." Yeah, that's going to bring all of the hardened sinners in. They are going to read that and say, "That's cute. Let's go see what's going on at this church." Probably not. Bad plan, guys. You can do better. Let's ratchet it up a notch or two, eh? 10:37 and do you know what happens if you blow into your cars tire gauge? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. So don't do it. Besides, it's dirty. It tastes like Michelin. Just drove by Winstanley Baptist Church. I've heard of that church. Never been there. You can't see it from the road. I wonder what you would do if you drove past and your name was Stanley? Who is Stanley? They've had that name for years. How long is it going to take them to win him? Wouldn't you think that Stanley would just go ahead and give up? Get saved? I mean, if for no other reason than to get his name off the sign? And now I think I had better shut-up before Stanley or someone at the church learns about the Hippo Rules. (Love you, Winstanley!)

Oh, wow! Here's the "Banquet Hall Salon & Spa Barber Shop." You can relax in the spa while getting your hair cut for the big banquet in the other room. This requires a picture ...

Right, so now I'm driving down I-64 and here's another church van with a very cool logo. "Come Grow With Us." That's certain to peak the interest of all the lost people out there. Because they are all sitting around thinking, "I wonder which church I can help grow?" And how amazing is this? At the same time there is a bill board on my right that is advertising " ." Now you tell me. Which one is going to get the attention of those whose eternity is hanging in the balance? I wonder how this poor schmuck got stuck with 23 minutes in hell when every other author gets to go to heaven for a while? Let me add this little disclaimer. No disrespect intended. Just in case the Almighty really did send this fella down below. I guess somebody has to get the tough assignments. I'm a Cubs fan. Enough said.

Well, it's 11:30 and we just experienced the thrill of driving 40 miles to pray with someone only to find that our surgery candidate ... if you are having surgery are you a "candidate?" Or maybe a "victim?" Never mind. We had the thrill of driving 40 miles to find out that they were taken to surgery two hours early. So while I'm an hour early I'm also an hour late. And this is another reason this hospital has us screaming, "Mercy!" If Obama-Care fixes this ... I'm for it.

(Sadly, after this some things went wonky and the day got serious and I had to forego my stream of consciousness journaling. For now. To be continued ... maybe)