Monday, February 11, 2013

Annual Post: When to stay and when to leave

I have nothing specific to write about, but I thought I'd put something down because I have the urge to write.   It's pretty pitiful that my last post here was in 2011...I guess I'm a tempermental blogger, only posting when it absolutely suits me.
I doubt this will even be read for quite some time and that is fine with me.  To be honest, over on the Facebook, I'm friends with so many people that I don't know too well and with so many of my students, I don't ever really feel like sharing or debating or whatever it is we do on facebook these days. So I wouldn't want to write any of this sort of stuff over there.  Anyways, this is already wandering.

So I've been given 3 different job offers in the past 6 months.  I turned down the first two: both promotions, and both with higher salaries.  This third one I'm currently pondering.  A year ago I would have turned down any offer out-of-hand just because I love where I work and what I do.  But in this past year there is a new unsettled feeling in my a change is needed or coming.  So I find myself taking offers like these more seriously.  There will be a day I move on from my current job, but I'm just figuring out if the day is now.

You see, for me leaving isn't so easy.  I have kids in whom I'm invested.  These are kids that, I think, everyone else ignores-- many by their own families.  But I have made our mission not to ignore, but to uplift, highlight, and enrich these kids.  My mission has been to run our bus into the ground picking kids up and expend every resource to get them involved and make them able to participate.  I don't care about  fiscal efficiency, or inconvenience in bringing kids whose parents don't lift a finger to pay for trips or help their children.  I care only that ministry is being done. Would the next person who comes along care for these kids too?  I really pray they would and trust that in God's will all these things work togther for good as long as we keep abiding in that will.

I wonder when I leave if I've left anything that can stand on it's own.  I've tried to train new musicians to lead worship for whenever I'm gone.  I hope that they have the tools they need.  I hope that the youth program would still be robust, taking pains to involve the kids we've drawn in already.  I hope that whoever comes behind has a heart for these students, and for the truth to be spoken over their lives.  I hope they persist with the most annoying middle schoolers or the most attitudinous high schoolers.  I hope they care...really care.  I hope they see the bright future that the darkest life can have.  Lord may it be so.

That's my hopes for when I leave.  Just need to figure out if the time is now.  Like my favorite songwriter Pierce says, "Jim Brown knew something fools don't know.  He knew when it was time to go."  Now I can often be quite a fool, but hopefully I'll be like old Jim and know the time when it comes.

If you read this rambling collection of words, then I applaud your endurance.  See you soon?  (Like March 2015 or so?)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

As it Should Be and As it Shouldn't

I thought I'd post a little update here of what's been happening with me. I'll center it around how I've been feeling about my life's latest events: things just seem to be going exactly as they should be, with maybe only a couple exceptions :)

As it Should Be:

1. My wife, Jess, is pregnant! I've angrily demanded to know from her over and over what caused this, only to finally discover I have the ability to reproduce with my female counterpart. Who knew!? Anyways, it really is existence just how it should be: The love of my life and I now get to take part in the life of a child made from the two of us. What a blessing...doesn't it just feel so much like love as it should be? To me, it does.

2. The other day, the guitar player in our church band came to me and just broke down in tears. He said he wanted to get control of his life and didn't know how to do it. In that moment of gritty reality and desperation, to me, was ministry just as it should be. I think God can really work in someone's life when they are just utterly tired of their own way. So we talked for a while and agreed to meet the next day. When we met, the drummer also stayed and talked, sharing the struggles he had been having with his own faith. It turns out what really spoke to him in our conversation was the idea that "we don't understand in order to believe", but "we believe in order to understand." This is a loose paraphrase from a theologian named Anselm: if you wait until all of your questions are answered in order to have faith in God, you'll never believe. Instead, you must have "faith seeking understanding." By believing, with questions and all, we learn to grow in faith and in bearing with God through all of life's ups and downs. In any case, it was definitely a great "as it should be" moment. I've been praying for these great guys for a while and am so glad that they are at a point of really trying to find out who this Jesus is. It's one of those moments that reminds me why I'm in the ministry business, and it just feels good to see happening.

As it Shouldn't Be:

1. I only have one "as it shouldn't be" story. Our church bought a used 25 passenger bus for only about $4400. After getting it worked on, and getting the advice of a diesel repair shop it seemed like it was going to be a steal. We were sorely mistaken.

At-Bat#1: So on it's maiden voyage in July, the transmission quit shifting when we were on mile 30 of a 250 mile trip. Thankfully, we were so close to home, we managed to get a replacement bus and go to camp. The Bus was 0-1.

At-Bat #2: After dropping $1400 to fix the transmission, the bus comes back to the church. I try to crank it and it doesn't have enough juice...we jump it off and the headlights are way too dim. I call in the problem and the bus gets taken away to be examined again. The Bus was now 0-2.

At-Bat #3: The bus comes back fixed and ready to go. I crank it up last Wednesday and everything seems fine. I start taking kids home across the dark streets of Southwest Escambia. We run for an hour and I have six kids left. The headlights start flickering, a slight electrical/burning smell develops. I pull over in another church parking lot around 9:15pm and take a look. Sparks are dropping below the engine. I turn off the bus and order the kids off, grab the fire extinguisher and spray through the grill and up under the bus. It doesn't help. Y'all, the bus literally caught on fire. Soon, smoke and flame started coming from under the hood. Jets of flame shot out as steering fluid and diesel went up. The kids were amazed as smoke billowed high and thick into the night sky. We stood way off as the fire department arrived and doused the engine. In the end, just the engine compartment burned and not the entire thing. The bus ended its career 0-3.

As far as transport vehicles go, it was one as it shouldn't be. But as the pastor said as he picked up the remaining kids and me in his car, "It is what it is." We did everything we could to make sure it was a good investment, but it in the end it just totally failed. As I drove home that night, I couldn't help but laugh, thinking of that old, cantankerous bus burning in a parking lot. The kids said it "blew up"-- it didn't, but then I guess that's kids as they should be: hyperbolic and vocal.

So, that's my life as of late. Alot of things are good, and some things (well, the bus) have just been a total "wash". But, that's how it is: you win some and you lose some. And that's life as it is, whether you believe it is as it should be or not. I've included a pic of that bus for your enjoyment. Thanks for reading.........Patrick

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Clustercuss: A Confluence of Bad Events

I'm up late right now avoiding typing on "Blood", which is week 3 of our 12-week discipleship program that we are doing with our youth. I'm very excited about this program, but that's for another post for another time. (it does sound pretty inrtiguing though, doesn't it?)

Anyways, I wanted to comment on the seeming phenomenon of bad news seeming to come in groups or clusters. I like to call these (ala Wes Anderson's version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox) clustercusses, or in the singular, a clustercuss. For those more squeamish, I hope its resemblance to another, much more profane "cluster" word isn't too unsettling...but I digress.

Two weeks ago, my wife was feeling bad, so I took her into work late. My job is flexible on some days so I was able to stay around until she was ready to go. On the way to work, I rear-ended someone in a minor fender-bender. But for me this was EARTH SHATTERING. I have driven for 14 years and have never had the slightest bump or contact with any other vehicle. I've prided myself on having my very presence being capable of erecting a forcefield around my vehicle to prevent any collision: how else could I explain my flawless driving record? Well, that hubris came quickly crashing down. It turns out, I too can pay a $166 fine for wreckless driving. Cuss.

That afternoon, I wasn't getting anything done at the office, but soon I got a call. One of my students had an aunt in the hospital just hours away from dying and they had no vehicle to get the family to the hospital. So I loaded them up in the church van, and took them over to the hospital. I found out the next day that this woman, who was only 46, passed away that night. The next morning, I met with our church's young adult director for a planning meeting and he told me his grandfather had died in the same hospital on the same night. (Now, he was 89 and had lived a full life to the end...not so much a tragedy in his family's eyes as the end of an epic and admirable journey. He was indeed an admirable and decent man.)

Then, on Wednesday I find out about three more tragedies: A boy at Escambia High School overdosed on morphine, a boy from West Florida High School was accidentally shot in the head by his best friend, and the step-brother of one of our new students died from an overdose as well. All of these young people were known by people in our youth ministry.

So when I got up to speak on Wednesday night to the kids, I had to change plans. We had five deaths that affected people in our ministry in a single week. So we talked about how as Christians we deal with death, and then we just stopped and prayed for each other. People cried, people prayed, people had some release, I think. I hope.

Finally, on Friday I went to a memorial service for "Will" from Escambia and "Ryan" from West Florida run by the FCA. This FCA meeting is a bi-monthly pancake breakfast that meets in a church gym, and this particular one was devoted to remembering the deceased. One of my students ran the service and did an excellent job. But during the moment of silence, one of the cooks from the kitchen came out, and asked loudly and, to himself, humorously, "Anyone wanna pancake?!" Everyone laughed nervously. I shook my head and looked at my Baptist counterpart shaking his head too. I guess the guy didn't know what we were meeting for...he was just there to dish out pancakes.

So, this is a week that starts with my wreck-- something annoying but ultimately inconsequential. Its slammed by mid-week with 5 deaths--all of people loved, and missed dearly. And it ends with a guy shouting about pancakes, while all the kids sit there wondering why so much bad stuff happens at once.

I remember other clustercusses:

Fall 2001: I lose my two grandmothers in two months. A friend of mine gets mugged and beaten in Dallas. And in the middle of all that, September 11th 2001 happens. Clustercuss.

Fall 2004: My uncle's house burns down. A massive hurricane hits Pensacola. My friend James dies of cancer at the age of 17. And to top all of that, when we go to clear hurricane debris from James' family's house, we forget to bring half our tools, we get attacked by hornets, and it starts to rain on us. Clustercuss.

I don't know why sometimes bad things happen together, but I know that it rains on the righteous and unrighteous alike. And as I sit here watching the news about the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis in Japan, I have to send up a prayer for those people in the middle of their own cluster of bad events.

"Man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward..." Job 5:7

Lord, hasten the day when our troubles cease. Until then, make me part of the solution to solve others' troubles.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reckless Farming

A couple of months ago I heard the District Superintendent (that is, for the Methodist Church) for the Pensacola area share his thoughts on the parable of the sower. For those not familiar, the parable tells of a farmer casting seed on different types of soil: the path, where it was quickly taken by birds; the rocks, where it couldn't take root; the thorns, where it was choked and overwhelmed; and the good soil, where it bore fruit exponentially. He said that Christians always tell this as the parable of the seed-- they ask which kind of soil am I? Will my seed bear fruit?-- But he wanted to redirect our attention to the sower.
His point was our God is a reckless farmer, and as ministers, we need to be too. When God goes and cast seed, he throws in on the path, on top of the shed, over in the chicken coup, some into the creek-- he throws it all over the place.
Compare that to a farmer who goes out to sow, but upon arriving finds huge rocks. So he spends all day clearing the rocks. Then he finds some thorns-- so he goes for hours more pulling out thorns. Pretty soon there's no daylight left, and he hasn't planted anything. As ministers, we want to wait for the conditions to be right, and we often make excuses that we will minister when certains criteria are met, but that is not how we are called to be. We are to be reckless farmers sowing into areas where we couldn't dream of a seed taking root.

Phase Shift: So I've been thinking about this this week. Just a couple days ago, a youth that has been into massive trouble (I can't describe to you all the legal, emotional, and physical ramifications that go with this trouble. Suffice it to say, jailtime is being served by someone else because of this trouble) decides she is leaving us. Not only that, she sees NOTHING wrong with what has been going on in her life. AND not only that, her mother is totally paddling up that certain river in Egypt--what's it called?...oh yeah: de-nial-- and tells her and us that nothing needs to change.
This is supremely heartbreaking. When you can see the answer, and you know the seed's been sown, it's hard to see the birds come take the sapling away. I've been working with this person for over 2 years. But I remember there is hope. There is a Jewish saying that goes something like this: You can't plant a seed in someone's heart. You can only place the seeds on top and wait for the heart to break for them to fall in.

Though my paraphrase is loose, that's the saying I'm thinking on today. This person's heart will one day have to break. All of our hearts have to break at some point. Otherwise, nothing will ever change. Until then, we have to keep being reckless farmers.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Going Back to Squares One

Have you ever gotten so familiar with a skill, discipline, game, profession, or something thereof that you forget how to reduce it down to its most basic rules and elements? So when someone new comes along and says, "explain 'X' to me," you find you really can't just basically explain "X" anymore without going into the whys and hows of how it all fits together. My "X" in this area lately is music. I can't just tell someone a rule to memorize without telling them precisely why it works this way. And quite often, I almost can't put it in words. The things I used to know as patterns and acronyms have become part of my intuition, and I'm so interested in the revolving music planet that I can't explain to someone what a tree looks like on that planet. Now, let me stop right there...I AM NOT AN AMAZING MUSIC THEORIST OR VIRTUOSIC MUSICIAN. But for my part of it, and for the youth that I try to teach how to play in a band, I'm finding it's hard to recapture from my mental reflexes, and from acquired intuition those initial rules that build the musical world. I bring this up because I am interested in honing an important skill: the skill of passing on something I am passionate about to those who come after me.

I sometimes have also found this same trouble for me in explaining the gospel or Christianity to young people. Again, I am not claiming to be an amazing, wise spiritual person. But, I'm just simply saying that it's hard to tell someone how to take their first steps on the journey when you are aware of every obstacle that could come, every turn that could lead astray, every oasis on the path etc. You can't just explain ALL of that from the get-go.

I used to be able to give the textbook answer for why we forgive, or why we believe in Jesus. I used to be a great apologist, coming up with theologically sound arguments for how God works and how the Bible works. I feel that I'm not good at explaining any of that anymore. It's no longer rules or statements or mental gymnastics for me. It's my deliverance, my passion, the air I breathe. Kids ask why I believe: I used to cite maybe the chances of Jesus' story being true or other incidental things, but now I can only say, I've never encountered any other faith that so accurately describes who I am as a sinner and how I am delivered from it. I can only share about what's happened in my life. I used to see God/faith as making sense; now I see it as truly beautiful (which to many probably seems like pure nonsense).

That's all good for me, but the balance I want to strike is how to continue where I am in my walk of faith, but still know how to speak the language of those who are just starting. I hate to sound condescending-- trust me, I have a loooong way to go! I just wanted to share my current thoughts and see if you've felt the same. How do you explain something that has become so integral to your life and actions?

I'll try to write more...sorry for the long delay!!!!! Patrick

Saturday, May 23, 2009

When It Gets Real

My normal work is the facilitating of spiritual growth in teenagers dealing with-- mostly-- petty issues. No doubt, these issues are important because they shape the adult that that young person will become. So patiently and wisely (uhh, really?) I parse through their emotions and get to the nugget of the issue, apply the biblical/ life principle that they need to pick up on and try to tell them how to move on from there.

But this week, twice, I have had to deal with kids going through...well...real stuff. Stuff that requires legal authorities type stuff-- you get me? So I was thinking in mid-conversation tonight, "Man this is getting real, son." In the middle of trying to take care of the spiritual welfare of these persons I am also thinking of my legal obligations to report what they are telling me and what is the proper next step. It's odd, because at first I take moment and think, "Wait, is this one of THOSE situations where I need to notify authorities etc?" And then looking at it in every possible shade I come to the conclusion, "Yes." It later seems odd that at first I question like this, because in hindsight it just seems obvious.

Anyways, these two moments from the past week have made me think about "when it gets real", when in a serious situation you question what you should do. At first you think "Oh well, that car looks abandoned." But then you realize, "But it could be a recent crash and I really should check it." When stuff gets real we want to rationalize, take any other way out but the hard one. But finally, after a little wavering, you know what you have to do: act.

I hope if I'm ever in a "real" situation that requires quick action I won't question or rationalize, but just go with what my gut knows to do. It's hard to say if I would. This week I had the luxury of time when confronted with hard situations.

I learned a few years ago, when it comes to not making trouble, don't do anything that you have to justify to yourself. Like when I was a kid, "It was ok to bash up that car with a rock because it looked abandoned." In general, that initial pause in your consicence is a good meter. Don't do anything stupid.
But on the opposite end, the end of response, I have found this week that it gets more complicated. You have to take in the details, interpret them, and then plot a course of action. Also, you think of the personalities involved, how likeable they are, or are not, what they stand to lose by you acting.
But I believe my maxim for my repsonse to others' stupidity, neglect, abuse, criminality, (insert attribute here) should be similar to how I govern my own actions: Don't justify others' actions to yourself; their actions speak for themselves. This isn't profound, really. But when you are faced with having to make someone face the consequences of their actions, you (or I at least) can start to think, "Oh but this is a nice person who messed up" or "this was maybe a momentary mistake".
Evil is evil. You can't reduce it. You can't appease it. You must bring it to the light. You must do the hard thing.

This is all fairly incoherent. None of this is easy for me. But I wouldn't trade what I'm doing right now for anything. We, as Christians, are called to bring freedom to the captives, to release the ones in darkness, to bind up the brokenhearted. Noone said it would be easy.

These kids will rise. They will overcome. They will be free.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Sums of Our Parts

I went to the doctor the other day for my first physical since I was a kid. I'm now on insurance and therefore can get onto the mainstream medical grid. Yes , I can now say goodbye to my homemade treatments of kerosene and vinegar for infections and rashes, and chaws of tobacco and saliva for, well, everything else. True medicine has arrived.

Anyways, they weighed me, hooked me up to an ekg, took my blood pressure, drew blood, and the doctor felt different nodes checking for lumps, and made me did the "cough thing" while I stood there naked. Not pleasant.

As I was talking to the doctor I realized his vision of me was strictly a physical one: white male, 27, 163lbs., etc. To him, whatever virtues I may have, and whatever qualities there are in my personality were inmaterial. The issue was were my parts working or were they not.

I realized this is the opposite ethic and focus for what I do day to day. I try to look past physical stature and appearance and see what's happening underneath. A person, after all, is much more than just a physical body. However, I was reminded of a truth about our spiritual lives by these thoughts. We are indeed spiritual AND physical beings and the two worlds certainly do tie together.

I came to the realization that a spirtual discipline I have never considered was thinking on and coming to grips with my physicality's ultimate failure. I'm not being macabre, it's just the the world death rate holds pretty close to 100%. So I started to think, how will my spiritual life work when these physical parts stop working? Will I still have as much faith? I know I focus mainly on the spiritual in people, but I must acknowledge the physical's role.

In our day and age, when 60 is the new 40 it's easy to bury thoughts of death and mortality, but a short time ago people had to face death more suddenly and more often. I remember seeing in Europe paintings of saints done in the 17th century-- as they prayed some would be holding a human skull. It was a common practice in art, showing that the saints often meditated upon their own mortality in light of God's eternity:

I recall another art piece where there were skulls hidden in the image-- you could only see them from a certain angle. Anyways, it just seems that where we try to bury, deny, and outrun our own mortality, there used to be more of an honest acknowledgement of it. They were comfortable enough with death to show people praying with skulls in their hands, for goodness' sake. I think such an acknowledgement today would be a good thing.

So as I went running that night, I was thankful for the legs that carried me, and having clear lungs with which to breathe. But even in that jog I thought of my doctor's visit, St. Francis praying with the skull, and the day ahead when I will be able to run no more. I must remember to be thankful for health and yet acknowledge my health's eventual end. But this isn't pure tragedy--we are much greater than the sums of our parts.