Decanting Souls

Jan asked, “Will we decant mom on Sunday, then?”

The week was full of boxes crammed with scrapbooks, photos, and correspondences — scattered through the house, the storage building, the pool house and workshop: detritus of Barbara K. Johnson’s life.

We laughed hard to hear little Jill write her mother in the hospital, that she neither believed her brother that mom was in the hospital, or worse, was having a baby and it was another boy.  It was funniest when Jan read, “And please do NOT call him Douglas” to the youngest, Doug.  So my dearest Jill held strong opinions at age nine and could articulately express them.

We each mutely read the neatly typed letter wherein Philip, their dad, said he had not had sexual relations with the woman he had run off with over the weekend, and he would return as pastor if all could be forgiven.

Steve quietly sorted the box with all of the bills that Phil returned unpaid to the hospital, pharmacy, and utility company after he left for good with the woman and emptied all of the accounts.

And I was struck by the probability that all great fiction, all award winning plays are barely recognizable shadows of authors’ families, or the shattered family of friends, or the shattering family at home.

And all these years later, the siblings taking cues from the astounding woman of God they had as mother, these siblings who had visited the man of unpaid bills in the nursing home as he wept and laughed with them, were choosing what will go to flame tonight in a bonfire of vanities, joys, and deep realities.  And they cho0se what to give to children and grandchildren.

Doug, who happens to be an award winning woodcarver has carried out one last wish from Nana, Barbara, and carved a final resting box for her ashes, kept safe in the plastic bag in which they were delivered over a year ago.  And on Sunday we will decant her ashes, as reverently as the siblings decanted the correspondences, savored them, laughed and wept over them.  We will decant them into Doug’s box preparing them for February when these four proud children of Barbara K Johnson will head to a windswept cemetery in South Dakot to send her ashes on a slow journey of becoming one with the dust of Alcester from whence she came.

And that will be the end of it, unless you know anything about Jesus and final banquets at the juncture of time and eternity, where we will decant life in the limited way we know it here, as an aperitif toward heaven.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me is one of the best hours on radio.  Paula and company keep it fresh and crazy funny, and I love it.

But we have a spectrum of places where we don’t want people to tell us or spoil it for us.  Just before a punch line, just before the big plot reveal — don’t tell me for all the right reasons, thank you.

That some child made my polo shirt, or that someone was poisoned making my smartphone, or that someone is dying of cancer thirty years early for working in a factory without safeguards for air and has cancer — wait.  Wait.  Don’t tell me.

A hundred years ago, courageous journalists exploded the layers of horror/guano surrounding beef in the stockyards, steel making, and even later migrant farm workers sipping water from puddles and running to bushes with a five year old child to the bathroom — as both were working.

And a lot of people said, “Wait”.  Never tell me.

Here is the inversion.

Some students thought about people needing to get investment money to change their tiny portion of the world, and started Kiva.  It has exploded.

Never before has the world had more tools at your disposal to make a profound impact — anywhere.

So, rather than bury your head in the sand and cry, “Wait” as in “Don’t tell me ever”: hold your breath and while you are conjuring an astonishing response to something that needs to be quashed, changed or obliterated whisper, “Wait.  Wait”  I am coming up with a life changing response, not just a funny line.  “Don’t mess up my innovating.   Please.”innovating


I am doing Mike’s funeral

When Keith, one of the pastors at LifeChurch, called to tell me that Sharon had asked for me to help at Mike’s  funeral on Tuesday, I did not hesitate.

I said yes.  Without having to think about it. Mike and I never went hunting, fishing, movies or bowling together.  He loved all of those and did them often.  He cooked on a local TV show, and he cooked for me once, on a retreat for 60  university students.  He didn’t drop by the house or my office at the university.  He never intruded where he wasn’t asked.  He came to our open houses, and was funny.  He possessed that sarcastic-tinged, pithy humor I treasure in others.

I said yes because it will be an honor.  And I owed him.  When I first became a pastor, I had some men running sound in the service who loved that church, loved the worship, and might miss a switch or two in the service.  Feedback or silence when you are speaking or preaching is SO distracting.  I wanted to add visuals in the worship, and that made the job more dicey.

Mike told me that he “noticed” that problem.  Now, in church work, many people notice everything that goes wrong or goes against their grain according to color, sound, whatever.  Some smile.  Some not so much, and then they walk away having served notice that I could do something about that, now that I had been enlightened.

When Mike “noticed” the sound challenges, he was saying something radically different.

He was saying, “I noticed your sound challenges.  You need something more consistent, and — I can do something about that.”  And he did.  For years.  When we added a second service and needed sound there as well.

When some products became available and the church needed to buy them, or they might just show up in the sound booth.

Equally important, Mike served notice when he was taking his boys hunting and fishing.  Hunting/fishing/sons was one term, and mike prioritized for them.  As a father, I took notes.

He never volunteered to teach or do a host of other jobs, but what he “noticed” he followed up to make it work. That also showed up in his wife and daughter.  They are amazing and accomplished in what they set their hands to do.  That showed up in his sons, they do very different jobs, but they approach those jobs with excellence — with consistency.  What they notice, they do well.

And all of them, like Mike, think that living out the gospel, living out your faith, serving when you “notice” something needs to be done, IS being a Christian.

So, when someone helped me “notice” that someone else might speak at Mike’s funeral, I smiled to myself, told the pastor “Absolutely” and swung by the house to see the family, because I can do something about that.

I Cannot Compete with in iPhone

I cannot compete with an iPhone. 

I mean, I am funny sometimes, but I cannot pull up twenty comedians out of my vault, living and dead, and do their funniest gigs for you.  An iPhone can do that on YouTube for days.  Days. 

I enjoy talking — for awhile, but I can’t compete with chatrooms, tweets, and texting that go nonstop on every imaginable topic under the sun. 

I enjoy games on most days for a little while, but I cannot compete with people who will play Words With Friends all day, and all night, and on weekends, and with people I don’t even know. 

I know many constellations, but I can’t point my finger like I point my iPhone at any cluster and have it image the constellation, name it, and ask if I want to know more about it.

I know lots of people, but my Facebook keeps up with them to the minute round the clock and their newest images and comments and likes.  My Facebook is better at it than I am. 

I have used email from the days when it was on DOS (children, ask your parents or their parents) and now that is not enough if you can tweet and IM. 

So, let’s put the phones in a pile on the table.  First one to look at his or her phone picks up the tab for coffee or lunch. 

Let’s play like we are funny, without showing some $#$**# thing on the phone.  Let’s talk and look at each other and listen with our eyes and our ears as if there is more conversation in that interaction than in a text. 

Actually, I might just send you a letter and doodle in the margins, if you are really rich to me. 

You can’t compete with an iPhone, either.  Work at the old things, listening, talking, being there, taking time for a long, langorious conversation. 

— Don’t call.  I am out of reach for a day.  My phone needs extra time to charge.