Everybody faces tough times and difficult circumstances in life. For some, the pain seems deeper and more severe than for others, the episodes more frequent. But discouragement, disappointment, and pain—whether physical, financial, or emotional—visit us all at one time or another. Bad things happen to good people as well as to bad, the rain falls on both the just and the unjust, and the only constant in all of this is that nobody is immune.
After a lifetime relatively free of trauma, apart from periodic bouts of near-debilitating depression, things changed for me in 2007-08. The bottom fell out, and it was my turn to walk through some dark valleys. They were horrible, awful, painful years filled with one bit of bad news after another. Continue reading →
Four times over the past couple of weeks, someone responding to something I posted on Facebook referred to me as a leader. Each time the term was preceded by an adjective. Twice I was called a Christian leader, once a church leader, and once a spiritual leader. Three out of the four references commended me for my role and service as a leader. The fourth was more along the lines of “You call yourself a leader and still write the stuff you do?”. Continue reading →
About ten years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts. It dawned on me that, although I had made a few changes in my catalog of basic beliefs, most of my worldview, along with its attendant beliefs and convictions, I had inherited from my parents and the community in which I grew up. Was it really logical to assume that the belief system into which I was born was absolutely correct in every particular—that I had been blessed with the right ideas about everything (political, social, and religious) by accident of birth? Continue reading →
When I first pitched him the proposal that I should write a book encompassing the story of his life, Arthur Lough thought the whole idea was absurd. I know he felt this way because of something he said.
I believe his exact words were, “I think the whole idea is absurd. Who in his right mind would want to read the story of my life, unless possibly as a cure for insomnia?”
Leaving aside his implication that my writing style might put readers to sleep, I tried to counter his larger objection. “A lot of people care about you, Arthur. I think many of them would love to read the story of how you moved from Northern Ireland to the States and from fundamentalism to Anglicanism. Besides, our primary purpose would not be to write a bestseller.” Continue reading →
I was twenty-eight, serving as pastor of a small, rural congregation in upstate New York, about 40 miles southeast of Buffalo. I had preached a dozen or more funerals by that time in my ministry, but I had never lost anyone really close to me. Then on a snowy Monday night in January, the phone rang, and I learned that one of the elders in my church, a man who, in less than a year, had become as dear to me as any member of my own family, had been killed in an automobile crash. It was the first time in my life I had ever felt the exquisite pain of grief so intense I could barely breathe. The anguish I felt was almost physical. My heart ached, but though my faith faltered, ultimately I did not lose hope. Continue reading →
I bumped into Arthur at Whole Foods yesterday. I was studying the label on a loaf of flax-meal bread when I heard his familiar voice. “It sure costs a lot to eat healthy, doesn’t it?” he asked, smiling.
“Yes,” I replied. “I have a buddy who refers to this place as ‘Whole Paycheck.'”
We both laughed, then Arthur said, still smiling, “That line would be a lot funnier if I actually had a paycheck.”
“I hear you,” I said. “Still, you look like you’re in a good mood.”
“I am,” he said. “I got a couple of emails yesterday that positively made my day.”
We’ve all been there. We pour out our hearts, about a matter of great personal significance, to someone who appears willing to listen, only to hear, in response, some version of this line: “I’m sorry, but I believe you have mistaken me for someone who cares.”
Perhaps the response has never been that crass or that brazen, but we’ve all encountered folks who, we think, ought to share our concern or our fear or our commitment in a certain matter. Trouble is, they don’t, and the consequence, for us, can be disappointing, if not devastating.
It has taken years, but I finally understand the degree to which this principle has been at work in my own experience. I thought somebody would care. They didn’t. That was my mistake.
My recent blog post titled “It Still Makes Me Wince,” in which I reflected on circumstances related to and arising from my five years (and counting) of unemployment, prompted some specific questions by a few of my readers. I felt they were important enough to warrant a public response.
Question: How many résumés have you sent out; how many online job vacancies have you responded to? How broadly have you “cast your net” in an attempt to find a job?
Answer: In the first year or so after I lost my job, I sent out numerous résumés, filled out a lot of online applications, and responded to job opening ads wherever I found them. It was a new experience for me. Most of those contacts and inquiries did not even result in an acknowledgement of receipt. When I began preparing for Anglican Holy Orders, I essentially stopped looking elsewhere. I have sent out no résumés recently.
On March 22, I posted the following status update on my Facebook wall:
I have progress to report on the possibility of a new church in W or NW Columbus. You will be able to read it in my blog next week, but it is encouraging. I’ve always said that it might be that God was not saying “No” to that vision, but rather “Not yet.” I still believe that is what He is saying. The vision has not died!
I have begun posting announcements of future commitments as a way of holding myself accountable—lest I rationalize my way out of following through on them—and of forestalling my natural tendency to procrastinate. The problem with this pattern, I am finding, is that I post the announcement in a moment of enthusiasm and jubilant potentiality. Later, when the ardor has cooled and the chill of reality has settled in, it is difficult to recapture that original enthusiasm, or even to recall why I felt so optimistic in the first place.
I feel that way, at least somewhat, with regard to the announcement above. I posted it last Friday afternoon, just hours after a conversation which had left me fairly bursting with excitement. Nearly a week later, that enthusiasm has done daily battle with my innate cynicism, and if I had not made the public commitment, I could easily convince myself that any “progress” on this front is so incremental that to discuss it here, and especially to extrapolate future possibilities from it, would be premature in the extreme.
Podcast No. 8 is now available. It is called “The Liturgy Saved Me,” and it is about 7 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening.