I thank my God every time I remember you… (Philippians 1:3).

I am a part of all that I have met… (Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson).

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Jennie, the long-legged chihuahua mix we have fostered for the past two weeks. We’ll put her on a Homeward Bound truck at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, and she’ll be on her way to a new life in New York. The ASPCA up there will soon have an adoption event, and we’re sure she will find a family who will love and care for her, receiving in return the abundant love and affection this little pup has to give.

We’ve had Jennie for only a short time, but we will remember her fondly and miss her. I think our dachshund Chloe will miss her, too, since Jennie was such a great playmate, though Chloe will also be glad we belong exclusively to her again.

The experience with Jennie reminded me that there are also people that come into our lives for only awhile, but they remain with us. Sometimes we wish they would go away, like the rude driver who cut us off or the apathetic clerk at the store; the frustrated, angry mother screaming at her kid while she also blocks the grocery aisle with her buggy; or the telemarketer who phones at suppertime.

But other times the encounters are welcome and all too brief. We wish we could’ve lingered and savored the conversation with someone we see by surprise when we are out running errands or soaked up a bit more of the smile from a friendly store clerk who greeted us warmly and was helpful on a rushed day. We have a friend for a few years, then life takes us in different directions, and we lose touch. We see people at church or on a board or in a club meeting once a week or less, and the relationships seldom move beyond superficial conversations about business or the weather or maybe music and sports, but we long to talk about what truly touches us in our hearts. Loved ones are taken from us all too soon, and there is so much more we would have liked to have said and done.

God in his providence brings vulnerable and loving creatures like Jennie into our lives, and they are gifts. He also provides the encounters with people of all sorts, for a shorter or longer time, and they too may be gifts. Time and life will teach us what God intended in giving them.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Tomorrow, October 30, I will have been ordained to the Presbyterian ministry 33 years. As I thought about what I’ve learned over all that time, three tired but true cliches came to mind.

1.  People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I first heard that from the Rev. Harvey Jenkins, a friend who also happened to be a presbytery exec, as he critiqued my Personal Information Form (a ministerial resume). A candidate for ordination with long life experience said it earlier this month at a presbytery meeting as she was being examined. It was a nice reminder of what Harvey told me all those years ago.

I recall my first conversation with my pastor in Albany, GA about going into the ministry. I was a deeply introverted kid, and I think I saw the ministry as some kind of dodge of interpersonal relationships. I imagined that I would be preaching to big crowds, essentially hiding behind a pulpit. “I’m not good one on one,” I told him. “Ministry is mostly one on one,” he replied. I blew that off and kept on seeing my anticipated work as mostly academically-flavored proclamation. (Of course, that was the model of ministry I had seen from every pastor I had ever known; not one of them had ever been in our home for a visit, and they all used big words in their sermons.)

Over the years, it’s become clear to me, though, how right my pastor was. Even preaching is a pastoral act. I remember one particularly awful sermon I preached in a little chapel down in south Alabama near the beginning of my ordained service. It was all about Jesus’ process of self-discovery. The people were bored out of their minds. One lady sat in the back knitting!  It was a single Sunday assignment, and I didn’t know the people nor had I been given any information about them, but that experience taught me a lesson for the long haul: sermons are not academic studies, but rather proclamation of good news that impacts the real lives of the congregants. (My ever-practical and wise wife Susan has helped me to see that more than anyone, even down to reminding me to keep my sentences short.) And to know what to say (and sometimes, out of sensitivity, what not to say), you have to know the people. What are they struggling with? What are their joys? Their viewpoints? Their interests? That takes time and conversation and caring. No one is interested in what “the Greek says” unless it makes a difference in their daily lives.

2.  Bloom where you’re planted. As I look back on my years in ministry, I was never until fairly recently satisfied with where I was. I recall complaining how one presbytery official crassly applied the standards of the secular business world, with its corporate ladder and superficial emphasis on looks and charisma, to the church. But really, my carping was dishonest, because I wanted the big church and the prestige and the staff the official equated with success. It took hard experiences to teach me that God places you somewhere in his good providence, and you need first of all to be grateful and secondly to truly be present in that place. Pay attention, enter in, live into the traditions, become a part of things. As Jeremiah advised: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Holding yourself aloof from the real issues, beliefs, and needs of the place you are while a) trying to impose your viewpoint without having first heard theirs and b) making it obvious you don’t value the way things have been done (the “myth” of the congregation) is not smart, and in the end, it will not serve the gospel. 

3.  When God closes a door, he opens a window. The providence of God never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I have experienced it. My position now in Amory, MS is a prime example of how God works. I grieved when my campus ministry career came to an end due to lack of funding. But God opened up the little church a hour away to help both them and me. We have a marvelous relationship of mutual benefit. It’s the sort of place with the kind of people I have come to love: small, authentic, intimate, deeply caring, hospitable. A place where I can use whatever gifts God has given me and maybe make a difference.

Thanks be to God.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

Following this reflection, there is a list of all Lenten posts from writers associated with CCBlogs. Please visit these sites.

 

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:18-21).

 

The wind blows where it chooses…” (John 3:8).

 

Wednesday night, the new episode of the hospital comedy/drama “Scrubs” had Dr. Turk risking a new and experimental procedure, and thus his reputation and livelihood, to give a young man and his father hope. The teen had a 90% chance of being paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal injury, but Turk was determined (against the advice of his colleague and friend J.D., but with the support of his wife Carla) to give the family that other 10%, even at potentially great cost to himself.

 

Where did he get the idea? From a medical seminar or journal? From talking with experts in the field? No. From watching a favorite TV sports show and hearing about the procedure, called “cold therapy,” being used on a professional athlete with success.

 

Sometimes our best ideas and greatest inspiration come from conventional sources and from talking to the usual suspects, as it were. But other times, if we pay attention and are serendipitously/providentially in the right place at the right time, we may be given the sort of help Turk got. Who knew his watching a few minutes of a sports show on a break would result in a young man in his care being able to walk again? Who can tell if your conversation with someone with radically different views than yours might provide insight you need in a situation later on? Who’s to say that my glance out the window as I drive might not convince me again of God’s good purpose for the world? What if our own imagination, intuition, and/or common sense is/are the place(s) we find the answers we need, if we but trust ourselves as the vessels of God’s Spirit, who blows about like an uncontrollable wind?

 

God is full of surprises. He doesn’t work always in the expected or conventional ways. We need to be open to what he is doing and yet may do, wherever, whenever, and through whomever God chooses to work. As one of my favorite passages from a Presbyterian document says: “We do not fully comprehend who God is or how he works. God’s reality far exceeds all our words can say. The Lord’s requirements are not always what we think is best. The Lord’s care for us is not always what we want. God comes to us on his own terms and is able to do far more than we ask or think” (A Declaration of Faith 1[2]).

 

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

CCBlogs Lenten Posts

 

Don’t Eat Alone     

The Connection     

Pastor’s Post

Faith at Ease     

Holy Vignettes     

I-YOUniverse

Where the Wind     

As the Deer     

The Other Jesus

Mark Powell     

Getting There     

Ellen Haroutunian

Theolog     

Welcoming Spirit     

Living Word by Word

Where the Wind     

Faith in Community     

When Grace Happens

Theophiliacs J. Stambaugh     

Theophiliacs A. Hunt     

Everyday Liturgy       

Available Light     

Work in Progress     

Allan Bevere      

A Diner at the End of Time    

The Painted Prayerbook     

Just Words

The Church Geek     

Breaking Fast on the Beach     

The Pocket Mardis

Reflectionary     

One Hand Clapping     

Unorthodoxology

 

 

Note: Even as I celebrate the “Miracle on the Hudson” and draw lessons from Capt. Sullenberger’s work, I am aware that a commuter plane crashed last night into a neighborhood near Buffalo, NY, killing all aboard and one person on the ground. My prayers are with those families.

 

“Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

 

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7).

 

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger captured the imagination of everyone when he ditched his disabled Airbus airliner in the Hudson, saving the lives of his crew, 150 passengers, and who knows how many other people on the ground who would have perished had his plane crashed into one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. He is a hero, honored by his passengers, his hometown, his family, the President, the Super Bowl, the media, even note-writing strangers from around the globe.

 

Sullenberger’s interview with Katie Couric on “60 Minutes” last Sunday evening showed us again just what sort of man “Sully” is and why he deserves the label that has been put on him by so many. He provides an example of the kind of work ethic, composure, and humble spirit that are so desperately needed in these days. Contrast his demeanor and approach to his work with the outrageous and cowardly behavior of the CEO of the salmonella peanut company, who hid from authorities, then took the Fifth when questioned. Or the actions of the irresponsible fertility doctor who implanted eight embryos in an equally irresponsible woman who already had six children. (She now expects the public to pay for their support.) Or the schemes of the greedy Wall Street bankers and others who have brought us to the worst financial crisis in our land since the Great Depression.

 

Listening to “Sully” on TV and the Internet, I was impressed first of all with how confident and professional he is. In order safely to land his airliner in the Hudson, he had to accomplish simultaneously a number of difficult tasks, like keeping the wings exactly level and the nose up and maintaining a certain airspeed, all while remaining calm. He told Couric: “I was sure I could do it” and “I had a job to do.” What if all of us paid such attention to our work, focusing on doing our tasks well and in a “workmanlike manner,” as lawyers say? What sort of nation, churches, businesses, and families would we have?

 

Second, I was reminded how providence works. Couric said: “There couldn’t have been a better man for the job: a former Air Force fighter pilot who spent nearly 30 years flying commercial aircraft, specialized in accident investigations, and instructed flight crews on how to respond to emergencies in the air.” In the interview, “Sully” observed: “”I think, in many ways, as it turned out, my entire life up to that moment had been a preparation to handle that particular moment.” Isn’t it true that by virtue of training or personality or influence or whatever other resource is uniquely ours, God puts us in places where we can serve effectively and make a difference, whether it’s saving many lives or simply brightening someone’s day with a smile or a kind word?

 

Finally, I felt again the urgency of the need for good news in our world. A note to Capt. Sullenberger celebrated how he had brought a “wonderful day” in a “world that seems to be so full of bad news.” CBS’s “The Early Show” pondered whether the “Miracle on the Hudson” was “luck, fate…or grace.” And “Sully” himself, a reluctant and humble hero, summed up well: “Something in this episode has captured people’s imagination; they want good news, they want to feel hopeful again. If I can help in that way, I will.”

 

Are you listening, all you in the Church, followers of the One who came bringing Good News? Our task, our calling, is not to quibble and argue over words and standards and the maintenance of institutions. It is to bring good news in a world hungry for it; it’s to help people feel hopeful again. That is what “Sully” Sullenberger did in this one extraordinary act of courage, concentration, and competence. And that is our calling every day as our faithful lives demonstrate, and our winsome words proclaim, the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.  

 

Sources:

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/02/08/60minutes/main4783580.shtml?tag=topStory;topStoryHeadline

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4784194n

 

© 2009 Tom Cheatham