Messing up: Part 1
The pancakes I made for that breakfast were plain awful. I pride myself on making good breakfasts – a different menu for each of the six breakfasts I make every week.
“Opa, when are you going to make pancakes for us?” asked grandson Tobias a few days earlier. “I love your pancakes,” added granddaughter Matea. In my small Leamington based family I am rather famous for them. This is a rather small cheering section, I admit. But the grandkids ask for them every time they come visiting. For Tobias and Matea I still use gluten free Almond milk, though they are gradually growing out of that allergy. For the rest of us I use regular milk. Two bowls of batter are ready, both richly sprinkled with wild blueberries – blueberries I have handpicked on Sagamok First Nations land north of Massy, Ontario. These blueberries came at a high personal cost. In my eagerness to approach a loaded bush of blueberries I failed to notice the wasp nest on the rotting tree stump several meters away. Alas, four painful stings accompanied my hurried retreat. Those blueberries were very precious. And they were nicely colouring the batter in each of those two bowls.
The griddle was hot, ready for five pancakes at a time, two for the grandkids, three for their parents and Oma. They look “interesting”. There is a bit of a “thunk” when I turn them over. They don’t rise like they usually do. And they look a bit “splotchy”. I serve them. They eat them. Quietly. No “What great pancakes, Opa.” Glum silence. I make a few more. Same thing. Thunk. Silence.
Only later in the day does it finally occur to me what went wrong. While checking our egg supply I was surprised at how many there were still left. The lights went on. “I forgot the eggs”. I’ve made pancakes hundreds of times. How could I forget the eggs?
But why did that omission, small, really, in the larger scheme of things, bother me so much. Those gathered around the table still ate those heavy lunks of fried dough. No one complained – unless glum faces are complaint enough. Why not just laugh and move on? But it nags at me. I messed up. I forgot the eggs.
There is a thought here somewhere, perhaps a lesson to be learned. Maybe it was time that my grandkids too realized that grandparents also mess up sometimes. And for me? Well, messing up is nothing new to me, and almost inedible pancakes are among the smallest of my mess-ups. And maybe it’s okay that my pride was pricked and that I wasted my precious blueberries making pancakes that “thunked”. My grandkids don’t love me less for it.
Messing up: Part II
I was messed up. The church I was pastoring was messed up. We had come through a long process of discernment wounded and broken. All our careful planning, our rigorous processing, didn’t prevent our very human tendencies to try to win the battle whatever the cost. That cost was very high. No one won the battle. We felt broken. I felt broken. (The longer story is told in my book The Pastor-Congregation Duet published by Friesen Press, 2018).
God’s healing came as a surprise, and as a gift. Maybe God’s healing always comes as a surprize and gift. We didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve it. The healing wasn’t instant. It took a long time. But it was deep, and it was profound
Maybe this was also true in the New Testament churches – both the messing up and the healing. The church at Corinth was in constant conflict and turmoil. There were leadership battles, worship battles, social prestige battles (the rich flaunted their wealth, at, of all places, the communion table). How did that church even survive? How did our church even survive?
Paul keeps on naming the human and sinful reality of the church at Corinth, but also the love and grace of God. Paul, mind you, is also often in conflict with other early church leaders. He and Peter are angry with each other. He doesn’t trust Barnabas. Paul is also a wounded, and sinful, human leader – as we all are.
In our story in Toronto, church and pastor felt wounded, broken, discouraged – and maybe finally open to God’s grace-filled healing.
The one reality is that we humans do mess up. We mess up our relationships, including our family relationships. Is there any church that can claim never being messed up? We humans are really messing up our created world. Our political structures are in constant upheaval and mess. To be human is to mess up. To be human is also to deny our responsibility for the messes we make.
The other reality is that God is bigger than our messes. God does hold us accountable. The prophets of the Old Testament name this loudly. There is no soft pedaling our alienations – from each other and from our environment and from God. And yet our prophets, and our Scriptures, dare to claim that we humans were made “in the image of God”, that we are deeply loved by God, that God’s project with us humans is forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, restoration. God is at work in the messiness of our lives.
God’s healing did come as gift and surprise to me and to our church. The shock to me was whom God sent as messengers of that healing when I didn’t see it. I was greeting people after a difficult, intense, painful, emotional “lament” worship service where we cried out our brokenness before God. I felt exhausted, empty. Two first time guests became God’s messengers to me – to us. “A church that can be this honest, this transparent, this real, is one I want to be a part of,” they both said.
They were angels to me that morning.
I was totally surprised by the intensity of my emotional reactions this morning. My brother sent me an email which brought me back to my roots and to memories long buried.
I grew up on a farm in Rosemary Alberta. It’s been years since I have been physically or emotionally back home. That rural community seems to be a part of my distant past. I have been thoroughly urbanized, quite content to live in the biggest city in Canada. At times, in my life, I have reflected on how growing up on a farm, and attending the Rosemary Mennonite Church, helped shape my work ethic, my values, and my spiritual journey. Realistically I am no longer emotionally connected to the place of my growing up.
I had uncles and aunts and cousins whom I felt close too living in the area. They provided strong family bonds. My grandfather was the Aeltester (bishop) of the German-speaking immigrant church (I was 4 years old when he died). Now I have only 2 cousins left in the Rosemary area. The family connections have thinned.
Some years ago, I felt some inner turmoil while I was in a rather heated letter writing debate with a few folks from the Rosemary church who were very distressed about my openness to Christian gays in the church. The Rosemary Mennonite Church has more recently left the embrace of the Conference of Mennonites In Alberta, supposedly over this issue. I am aware that the theological and ecclesial gap between my growing up church and I is rather large.
Yes, emotionally these Rosemary roots have thinned and faded. Until this morning. My brother sent me notice of Alvin Lepp’s death. Alvin Lepp was 10 years older than I. But I felt I knew him quite well. I have memories of him in the left back row of the church choir, which my father conducted, face lit with pleasure, singing in his deep bass voice. When I came back to Rosemary from college one summer and formed and conducted the male choir, he was an enthusiastic and very affirmative singer. It was Alvin who bought our family farm, a year after my dad’s death and after my mother realized that she couldn’t run the farm by herself. He it was who remodelled our old house and made other improvements to the farm.
And it was Alvin who played a very significant role in a very momentous episode in our family story. Our indigenous adopted daughter, at 19 years of age, was looking for her family roots. It was Alvin, because of his “mission” work on behalf of the Alberta Conferences of Mennonites on the Siksika nation, who had the personal contacts and relationships there that helped our daughter almost immediately get into contact with her birth mother and larger birth family. Thank you, Alvin from the bottom of our hearts.
Emotionally I am back in Rosemary this morning. Alvin’s funeral will be this afternoon. I wish I could be there. I give thanks for the roots I have in Rosemary, Alberta. And I ponder how our “roots” still keep us connected in invisible ways to the place of our beginnings -- long after we think we have left them behind. Do any of you identify with having tenuous, and yet strong roots to home?
'‘Tis a New Year. We have laid the old year to rest, with some regrets, but with a feeling that there was more to celebrate than there was to wish away. I basically don’t make New Years resolutions. Either I am too lazy to make them, or maybe realize that I won’t keep them anyway. But, based on my experience a few weeks ago, I am pondering the need for some remedial social awareness. I have never really followed youth culture, and need to confess that I am totally out of touch with the realities of that world – technologically and musically. Can someone my age really change? Should someone my age make any resolutions at all?
My burning light moment of “out of touch-ness” happened several weeks ago. I confess that I had no clue. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe I just got stuck in the past. Maybe I’m just oblivious to the contemporary scene. I had no clue who I was playing hockey with.
Our son Mark invited us over for a visit in Kitchener. We wanted to catch up on the trip Rachel and Mark had just returned from – a trip to Europe to visit their daughter Lorena who is studying in France. Mark specifically invited us for a Tuesday visit. Tuesdays is when he plays hockey with a bunch of other clergy – an ecumenical group of hockey enthusiasts. They play in Tavistock every Tuesday morning. Mark invited me to play hockey with them.
I soon realize that I am by far the oldest one there – most retired clergy know when to hang up their skates. But I am warmly welcomed anyway. Coming to the arena I did notice a big black vehicle and several people in official looking uniforms – maybe guards of some kind. I payed no attention. The comaraderie in the dressing room was welcoming. These clergy though are mostly quite young. What am I doing here? One of these young clergy is quite exuberant. He is in the far corner. At one time he even starts singing. I like the spunk these soon to be teammates on the ice show.
We warm up on the ice. Then I’m told that they always start each game with a prayer. Maybe clergymen also need to remind themselves that they should not get overly competitive. This young man who had started singing in the dressing room now launched out in a loud, enthusiastic prayer. Time to play hockey.
These young clergy are way faster than I am. It turns out that I am on the same team as the “singer-prayer”. He is actually a rather good hockey player. He scores a few goals. I don’t.
The game finishes. Mark and I head back to Kitchener, chatting happily, feeling good about the physical exertion just expended.
Sometime later I get an email from Mark. “Do you know who we were playing hockey with yesterday? Do you know who the “prayer” was? It was Justin Bieber.
My only consolation in not recognizing Justin Bieber was that Mark didn’t recognize him either. Maybe I need to include my son in a joint program (resolution?) to include remedial social awareness in “our” journey into 2019.