Some Things Grow on You

Four summers of my life, my mother helped me pack a footlocker procured from the Army Surplus Store and I was loaded on to a bus with old friends and those who would become new friends for a couple of weeks at Camp Blue Haven. I loved those camp experiences for many reasons. And, to be honest, I detested some of those experiences.

I distinctly remember the bathroom facilities. Those weren’t on my “things I love about camp” list. Very little hot water for showers — probably because someone had figured out that hot water stunted the growth of whatever it was growing in the cracks in the shower floor. But the scarcity of hot water wasn’t the big thing. No, the big thing on my “things I hate about camp” list had to be the lack of stalls for the toilet. That’s a common practice in many pseudo-military encampments — even though Camp Blue Haven was far-removed from anything military. But to this day, I just don’t approve of “open seating.”

Now there was something in the bathroom I dearly loved. There was a small sign posted just above the urinal. I read it and laughed each time I stood there. It was such a great play on words — and utilitarian at the same time. Each word and each punctuation mark so cleverly placed.

We aim to please, so you aim, too, please!

Words to live by. I still think of them each time I . . . well, you know. I do try to suppress my laughter now since, in the absence of the sign, other patrons of public bathrooms wonder.

Well, very little of what I’ve written thus far is what prompted my thoughts of camp and my two great lists. Instead, it was a song I heard this morning.

The Christian camps of my youth were before the advent of what we would later call “Jesus songs.” We sang mostly the old hymns and we sang them a cappella. I loved those old hymns. So you might understand my concern when a new song appeared — literally pasted into the front cover of the old blue hymnal.

“O Lord My God” was “new” to me. In fact it had been copyrighted almost ten years earlier. But in my tribe of shape-note singers, it was new. And I didn’t like it. The range of notes was hard for me, I didn’t know the words by heart, and, irritatingly, those camp leaders thought we should sing it every time we gathered for . . . anything!

Indeed, this set of inspirational words set to an old Swedish folk melody, was on my “things I hate about camp” list. And you can imagine my horror when, on my return to civilization, I learned that all church people, everywhere, had been infected by the insatiable desire to sing this song. For years to come, I was in agony whenever the pitch pipe blew and our leader would launch into this tribute to “awesome wonder.”

But I realized today that, at some moment in my past, all changed. The shift probably occurred some years ago. I saw it today.

As I dressed for church this morning, I was listening to streaming music. I reached down to turn off the Pandora app and head out the door when the introductory notes of “O Lord My God” filtered through the speaker. I couldn’t turn it off. A rush of memories streamed through along with the song and I had this feeling of fulfillment and momentary communion with both God and the many blessings I’ve experienced through my life. And I let it play. And I let the experience sink deep within.

All of this from a song I once detested. All of this from words I didn’t fully understand. All of this because of the truth that we are works in progress and our thoughts and feelings are like clay in the hands of a gifted potter.

If you run up against something — or someone — you don’t really care for today, be patient. Some things might just grow on you. And you’ll be a better person for it.

Dealing With Difficult People

The hotel clerk simply lied to me. As I watched his face when I confronted him with his lie, I saw his eyes narrow and his chin become set. And thus began another real-life opportunity for me in an area I wish I didn’t have to endure — dealing with difficult people.

I had asked for a simple form. “We don’t provide that form,” he asserted.

“You know,” I said, “I’m a frequent guest with this hotel chain — in fact, I have a fancy membership card. I’ve even stayed here at this hotel before. On many occasions, I have asked for the form and received it.”

“Well, my manager told me that we don’t provide that form,” he asserted. “So we don’t.”

“Let me get your full name so that when I talk with your manager, there won’t be any confusion,” I replied.

He shifted his name badge my direction but it had only his first name. “That’s all you need to know,” he said. “And if you want that form you can download it and print it.”

I did just that. When I handed it to him a few minutes later, I could see what he was thinking, “OH! That form!” He slid my keycard across the counter and said nothing.

“Thanks!” I said. “You know, an apology and acknowledgment now would be nice.”

He said nothing. I picked up the key and headed to my room. Within fifteen minutes, I had written and saved the text I would paste into the survey I always get from this hotel chain after a stay. Here’s what it said:

“Your desk clerk, Tim (not his real name), was having a very bad day when I arrived. I hope that you’ll encourage him. Tell him that I understand his difficult position and sometimes he just needs to pause and breathe. Often, the right thing to do is easy to choose when you simply pause and breathe.”

That, of course, wasn’t the first thing I’d written. It was what came to me after I paused and did a little breathing.

 

 

Life and Hope in the Face of Death

Have you ever wondered about how you will leave this earth? Illness? Accident? Simply a last, calm breath from a well-used and mortal body? Have you ever wondered what the face of Death will look like?

I have. Although many folks I know have had these same thoughts and ponderings as they face tumultuous  conditions, my moments of contemplation are from a perspective of relative ease in both my physical and mental being. And perhaps from the human tendency to try to find a dark lining to even the wispiest of clouds.

On this Easter Sunday, I join my Christian sisters and brothers around the world in celebrating the ultimate victory over death. I believe that a Galilean carpenter was the incarnate word. I believe that he walked this earth as a man. I believe that he brought a totally counter-cultural way of living to us all. I believe that he broadened the family of God by making it possible for all people to be accepted into the kingdom. All people. I believe that he brought grace to a planet consumed with a love of judgment. I believe that Jesus was sacrificed as an intimate showing by God that people who love should do things differently. I believe that my Savior, Jesus Christ, was raised from the grave on the third day. I believe that, as he promised, he has gone to prepare an eternal dwelling place for those who believe.

I believe he is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Yet, as I glance through the news stories that bombard us daily about massacres and atrocities against children, women, and men of all faith origins, I do wish that there was a judgment and an iron fist that would stop all of those things. And I wish that the absence of that violence would open the rest of us to a life of giving and helping.

Even though the ugly things of this world are frightening and sickening, I need to remember that my role in this is to release all things into the soft and tender hands of God. Through the sacrifice of Christ, he has shown us that great power comes from the death experiences. Indeed, life and hope are best understood in the dark shadow of the valley of death.

Through the gift of the Savior, I know that I can gaze steadily into the face of Death without fear. In fact, because of the life and the hope we are promised, I feel certain that Death will tremble in that moment.

Broken Bread

I can’t be careful enough, it seems. Broken bread leaves crumbs and remnants.

The problem has been addressed, of course. Sliced bread.

It was the dream of Otto Rohwedder, an inventor from Iowa, to bring such a luxury — and increased neatness — to the bread-consuming public. His idea and his invention, the loaf-at-a-time bread slicer, became a huge success.

That’s why, upon discovering something new that addresses a problem we have that we describe it as the “greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Otto’s genius wasn’t openly embraced by bakers of his time. Pre-sliced bread became stale quickly. So, subsequent technology including loaf-wrapping machines and today’s plastic bag.

In my Christian faith tradition and in my little tribe of believers, an important moment of each worship is communion — a reenactment of the Last Supper in which we break bread and drink wine as symbols of Jesus’ body and blood. And we literally break bread.

I know some groups have moved to individual pieces of matzo or specially-made communion wafers — the pre-sliced bread of the Eucharist. More sanitary and neater. No pesky crumbs from the mechanical process of breaking bread. Please note, I’m not trying to make a theological judgment here regarding communion bread.

My preference, however, is for breaking and crumbs. The pieces left behind cling to me or fall around me. They are reminders that my brokenness isn’t neat and sanitary.

And sometimes I, like the bakers of old, worry that a move away from the breaking process will bring a staleness that insulates me from what is truly divine.

Pain is a result of imperfection, inevitable and obvious in its design. Suffering is what we make from pain, the product of our thoughts and our resignation.

Joey Cope