A Buffet of Leftovers
by the Rev. Steven L. McKinley (July / August 2005 • Volume 21 • Number 4)
Every now and again at our house, we visit the leftover dishes in the refrigerator and polish off the remains of meals past. We put out a little buffet (I couldn’t spell smorgasbord) with some green beans, some pasta, a little rice, a random meatball or two, and make do with odds and ends. Every now and again your erstwhile columnist needs to clean out the leftovers in his refrigerator of ideas. None of these is enough to make a meal/column by itself, but put them together....
You probably get the same catalogues I do from the same vendors. I’m thinking today about the ones that sell vestments and stoles and robes and chasubles and those wonderful exotic creations called copes and miters and birettas. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Lutheran pastor wearing a biretta. I hope I never do. They remind me of old Bing Crosby movies.) Twice a year I buy a shirt out of one of these catalogues. One short-sleeved shirt in the summer. One long-sleeved shirt in the winter. Black. Tab collar. High fashion was never my thing.
This purchase sets me to looking at the shirts being modeled in the catalogues, and sometimes my eye even goes on to what are referred to as “clerical blouses,” which seem to come in a wider variety of colors than the shirts do. I look at the shirts and blouses on these people, male and female, and I am always driven to the same conclusion: These aren’t real pastors. Don’t take it personally, but they are much too good-looking to be real pastors. I don’t know any pastors who are as good-looking as the people who model the shirts in the catalogues. (I know that some of you out there, male and female, are solid “8s”, but the shirt models are”9+s”.)
But we buy the shirts the way all good Americans buy things out of catalogues, because we allow ourselves to believe for just a minute that wearing that particular plain front rabat the guy standing on the steps on page 49 is wearing, we might all of a sudden look as good as he does. Maybe he is 35 and chiseled with wonderful dark hair just starting to go to gray and I am over 60 and on the plump side and long ago said good-bye to most of my hair, but if I wear what he is wearing, maybe.... So I go hog wild and buy the plain front rabat and put it on and look no better than I do any other day in any other shirt. I’m not sure I would want to buy a shirt out of a catalogue whose models were short, fat, middle-aged bald guys.
Lattes and Worship
I’m surprised we didn’t have more people dying during worship in the old days, the old days being, say, 1990. Some of my worshippers are obviously kept alive only by that venti skim de-caf latte from Starbucks® they picked up on the way. How did people ever survive before they could haul their bottled water into church and take a big swig now and then? When our ushers patrol the pews after a worship service, they inevitably pick up some coffee cups and an empty water bottle or two (along with the random Cheerios®). I have this suspicion (which might just be the grass-is-always-greener phenomenon) that in the historic old cathedral city churches where people wear suits and dresses to worship, this kind of thing doesn’t happen; and out in rural America, not yet sold on designer coffee and bottled water, this kind of thing doesn’t happen. But here in suburbia it is a fact of life.
While we’re on the topic of Cheerios® (as we were only a few lines ago): children at worship. I know that some of the saints in this little corner of the kingdom think that it would be wonderful to have children in church if they would simply sit quietly in the pews with folded hands and act like miniature 65-year-olds. They are not so happy with the real children we do have, who tend to bounce around a lot, giggle, swing on the altar rail, and talk back to the pastor during the children’s sermon. They prefer to worship without children around to distract them. Sounds terribly boring to me. Children bring life to worship, and if we cannot accept their antics as part of them, and them as part of us, then we’re being a pretty poor excuse for an outpost of the Jesus movement. It also seems to me that if we pastors aren’t taking the lead in affirming children as they really are at worship, we’re not exercising responsible leadership.
After the 8 o’clock service last Sunday, Bud and Edith signaled to one of my pastoral partners and me that they wanted to have a private conversation, so we huddled with them there just outside the chancel. They both looked very solemn. Bud did the talking for them, which is unusual in and of itself, since Bud is only one short step removed from being one of those Norwegian bachelor farmers Garrison Keillor talks about. He usually throws words around like they were manhole covers.
“We wanted you to hear this from us before you started hearing it from other people. Edith and I are separating. We were supposed to celebrate our 60th wedding anniversary this summer, but it just isn’t worth it, so we’re each going our own way, even though we are both in our 80s.”
At that moment both my partner and I were hoping the other guy had some good words on the tip of his tongue. Absolutely nothing came to my mind. I was shocked. Speechless. Then Bud started in again.
“But we’ve had a lot of good years in this church, and we wanted to give a little gift before we left, so this week we ordered an automatic external defibrillator for the church. We’ve heard that the church is interested in having one, and we think it’s a good idea. It should be delivered this week.”
Bud pulled out a brochure that described the AED (if you think I’m going to keep typing out automatic external defibrillator, you’ve got another thing coming) and it was indeed just what we had been talking about. Shucks, in the first part of this conversation I had come close to needing the AED myself. We admired the gift and offered our thanks for it. Then Bud had to get in the last word.
“By the way: that first stuff I said about separating. That was all a joke. I thought you guys would get a kick out of it.”
Right. Get a kick out of it.
Edith, who thus far had been standing quietly by, was now shaking her head. “He insisted on doing it this way and told me just to be quiet because he knew I wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face. Sometimes I don’t know what to do about him. He’s old and he’s stubborn, but he’s sure cute for an old guy.”
And off they walked, arm in arm. The AED arrived today.
Which, good friends, about takes us around the block for this month. I’ve given up on being as handsome as the guy standing on the steps in the plain front rabat. But if I play my cards right, I might yet get to be as cute as Bud.
Steven L. McKinley is senior pastor of House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Richfield, Minnesota.