Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering a Saint, in His Own Right...

My grandfather died, unexpectedly on Thursday afternoon. I had both the honor and the awesome difficulty of co-officiating his funeral. What follows is the manuscript I have prepared over the past few days...

Ecclesiastes famous words, as Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania points out that “Calamity is the human’s true touchstone...” “Calamity, in other words,” Chittister writes, “lets loose the fire that tries the gold, the wind that tests the tree, the water that sweeps away everything in life that is not anchored, not grounded, not imbedded in the firmament of souls. Without calamity what shall we ever be and how shall we ever know it?”

There is no doubt that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. For Grampy, life was a party looking for a place to happen. Life was meant to be lived and experienced and wasn’t meant to be idly wasted. He managed to laugh about everything and celebrate the smallest of accomplishments, whether it was spotting an extra can along the side of the road, while coasting from the home he affectionately called the ‘little house on the praire’ to ‘the camp’ located on Monson Pond--a place he thought was heaven. Or whether it was a graduation of one of his grandchildren. When I graduated from high school, as each name was called, there were cheers. After my name was called there was this loud baritone voice bellowing from the third row calling, “YAAAAY Bubba!” a nickname assigned by my youngest sister, Alexandria, when she was learning to talk and couldn’t say ‘Jordan.’ A stunt that he was very proud of, and that caused the crowd to begin to laugh--and, I have to admit one that made an exciting event even more exciting. It was an event that highlights, in reflection, how important each day, no matter what came, each day was, in his death we are reminded once again how important each day is.

Whether you knew him well or not, you know Grampy loved to laugh. In every situation there was something to find that was humorous. He lived as though he was the most important person in the world, and indeed he was, at certain times, the most important person in the world to each of us. And, it was at those moments that we were all convinced that we were queens, princes, and princesses. That we were on top of the world. It wasn’t so much in the events and situations but the perspective on the situation. Grampy liked to tell stories, and still we are not sure exactly how true some of the stories were, but he enjoyed telling them and no matter how many times we heard them, we would continually be captivated by them. He would be wearing a piece of his costume jewelry, or at least I think it was costume--it could have easily been real, after all Grampy insisted that one of the diamonds would buy the maroon buick that he and grammy had or his pick up. When we were children, Grammy wanted a convertible to cruise around town in. In true Grampy fashion he bought a bright red convertible. Years passed and eventually they got busy with other things and the car was stored for a year or two. When I began undergraduate, I began at University of Maine at Presque Isle and would spend a lot of time with both grammy and grampy. I needed a car and got a job working at the video store and arcade that was in the mall in Presque Isle and set a goal to buy a car. He decided that he would sell the convertible to me-- for a fair price. I bought a bright red Dodge Shadow Convertible for one sales tax, of course. It was such a good deal that the seller, Grampy, registered and inspected it, too. Now, the purchase of this, my first car, lead to a few challenges. Not the least of which was that I learned to drive on an automatic and the convertible was a five speed. So, Grampy decided he was also going to enroll me in “Gordon Glew’s Driving Academy.” He had two lessons. 1) feel the rhythm of the engine and shift when it feels right. 2) when at the bottom of a very steep hill with a traffic light, under no circumstance are you to stop...even if the light is red. To teach me how to drive, he took me out to the end of the Sam Everett Road hopped out of the car and said, “see you at home!” and proceeded to walk home. Looking at the situation I had two choices...1) walk home, abandoning my ‘new car’ or 2) learn how to drive the car, without injuring myself or anyone else in the process. I still have a little whip lash...but I learned how to drive what Grampy affectionately referred to as the ‘limosine.’ 'A true testament to how he viewed life.

When I was even younger, Grampy decided that he and Larry McKinney, were going to take Dad and me on a fishing trip on Fish River. Dad and I were in one canoe and Larry and Grampy were in the other, both with small outboard motors. Grampy was seated in the bow of the boat, in a chair, legs stretched out and about a half of an inch of skin showing. Later that day the strip of skin that had been exposed to the hot sun and thick mosquitos proved to be bitten and burned. On top of the misfortune which seemed to cause him to need to milk the situation for all it's worth, it was hot...really, really hot. I had my bathing suit, so I decided I was going swimming and hopped in the river. Not long after, Grampy, who never swam--I’m pretty sure he didn’t know how to swim, dove in as well. I rushed out to snap a picture and he assured me, up until the last time I spoke with him that no body would believe that, that was him...because he thought it looked to much like a stump.

One, perhaps little known bit of information about Grampy, was that he LOVED to cook breakfast. When we would come to visit he would rise at 5:30am, make coffee and immediately begin cooking breakfast: pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, and his infamous baked potato hash; a concoction only he knew how to prepare. The problem in this situation was two-fold. 1) you had to be up early. If you weren’t up by 6:30am, he’d open the door to the stairwell leading upstairs and start bellowing “rise and shine!” “It’s time to get up!” 2) you HAD to eat it.

There is certainly a time for everything. What I think Grampy would disagree with is that there is a certain time to love. Regardless of time and place it was always a time to love and to share that love by being generous. As is witnessed by his gift--or generous sale, if you work for the IRS, of the convertible.

We grieve...we have grieved as if there is no hope and as if there is much hope. The man, the myth, the legend, Gordon Glew has passed from this life to the next. On my 5 hour drive from Boothbay Harbor I talked with friends on the phone. The first friend I talked with, after telling her some stories, there was an extended silence. Then she said, “well, it sounds like your grandfather was upset that the world didn’t end on May 21st and so he had to go give Jesus a hard time.” Still, we grieve. We hold onto the good times, the times of collecting bottles, or buying red hot dogs at Irving, or even taking his grandchildren to buy a Sam’s Club cola for 35 cents and then going to McDonald’s for a hamburger...because it was cheaper. A couple of us thought we were criminals as we smuggled our contraband into the restaurant and quietly sat at the table.

We have been bruised and battered, the long road of declining health and the sudden death of Grampy have left us bruised and battered on the inside, some of us developing a hard calloused exterior--the last couple of days have been tough, very, very tough. There have been tears shed, arguments had, there has been uproarous laughter as we, as a family, have remembered “Brother, Husband, Dad, and Grampy.” Now is the time to grieve, to grieve ‘the man, the myth, the legend.’ In our grieving, we remember--we tell stories and speak of the great gift that we had in Grampy and the legacy he set in motion on March 1, 1930.
God did a good thing in the life of Grampy. As Alfred Lord Tennyson so eloquently wrote, “God touched him, and he slept.” After a lifetime of long, hard work, seldom complaining about the tasks which were set before him, he sleeps a well deserved sleep. Verse 15 of Ecclesiastes says, “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.” There is hope in the promise of everlasting life, of comfort, of rejoicing in the gift of the life of Grampy. A life that was well lived. On my drive north I saw a bumper stickers--there is a lot of truth in bumper stickers, so I tend to try to pay attention to them, when I can. It said, “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “Holy Crap, what a ride!” I can guarantee that Grampy entered his eternal life skidding sideways, totally worn out, and shouting “YEEEEHAWWW, What a ride!”

The Obituary is here:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Movin' on up...

The proverbial wheels have begun turning and in exactly one month from today I will preach my final sermon as a clergy person of the Boothbay Region United Methodist Cooperative Parish, in the pulpit of First United Methodist Church of Boothbay Harbor, Maine. As I am preparing for this final Sunday, which happens to be Pentecost, I am simultaneously turning my thoughts to my new congregation, Sudbury United Methodist Church.

Moving is an occupational expectation as a United Methodist Minister. In fact, settled ministry, or the one church/one preacher model that we have become so comfortable with is a relatively new invention in the United Methodist system. In the early days of American Methodism circuit riders would be responsible for dozens of Methodist Societies and would ride from town to town preaching, supplementing the work of the laity and administering the sacraments.

I can’t say that I would like to move back to circuit riding, as much as I enjoy traveling and staying busy with 3 churches and having to share them with another pastor by swapping off each week I have found it difficult to create and maintain that deep relationship that a congregation and a pastor develops with every congregation.

This year has offered a lot of really great opportunities for learning both about myself and about the inter-workings of churches in a traditional fishing village on the coast of Maine. I’ve learned that congregations rarely care if you’ve carefully exegeted a particular passage of scripture, mostly because the word outside of the Academy is a strange, foreign one that needs careful explanation. They care if you’ve prepared well for Sunday morning, yes, but more importantly they care about whether God loves them and they really need to hear, from their preacher’s lips, that God does love them.

I’ve learned that it is easy to get bogged down with budgets and financial issues and that those things can scare even the greatest of people. We live in a time that is not friendly to the local church. People are leaving in droves, the majority of churches in Maine are facing hard decisions about who they employ and what ministries they continue to support. When we focus solely on our budget and the amount that is being put in the offering plate on Sunday morning, we forget why we exist. We forget that the church exists to glorify God and proclaim that Christ is risen! Yet, that is difficult to do when a congregation is worried about whether they are going to be able to pay their pastor, organist, or secretary that week. Further, it is difficult to ‘deny [ourselves], take up [our crosses] and follow [Christ]’ when we focus on our money problems by holding on tight to what little we do have instead of giving it away so that others may share in the abundance of God’s blessings. If, instead of wallowing in our own problems of not enough we as the question, ‘what is it that this community needs that God is calling us to provide?’ we begin to share the good news and in ways that not only feeds those who have not heard the Word before but also feeds the disciples who are serving.

Finally, I’ve learned the important words of the prophet Micah, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God...” (Micah 6:8) The prophetic vision of justice is one that can’t be laid aside if we are to be actively engaged in the ministry which God is calling us to. Instead the church must be on the front lines of justice and in the face of injustice proclaiming God’s love for everyone--that all people, no matter what, are the recipients of God’s love. That unless we are willing to march with union workers, fight for just healthcare coverage, and stand up and protect migrant workers we are not doing our job. What’s more, I have learned that to do so is to take a risk. That risk will make your heart pound, will make your body shake, and if the weather is cold enough threaten frost bite; but, it is the church’s calling to stand in solidarity with the oppressed when rights are threatened. It is the pastor’s responsibility to connect the church to the front lines in a way that does not push aside those who disagrees with the cause, but invites them into the conversation and makes the church a wellspring of conversation and debate, allowing people to speak their mind lovingly, to worship and pray together, and then take to the world their theologically sound interpretation of the issues and causes.

As I pack boxes and separate out stuff that will go to the thrift shop and stuff that will move with me the Sudbury, I can’t help but thank God for, what Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver describe as, ‘this odd and wondrous calling.’