My Brain Needs An Overhaul

A few years ago, I used to watch a show on television called Overhaulin. The show was basically about stealing a friends beat up car, handing it over to an expert and letting them either restore it or modify it to be better than when it came off the showroom floor. It was a brain drain of a show, but I like cars so there you go.

Post midlife crisis, I need someone to do the same thing for my brain. Like the people on the show I obviously can’t do it on my own and just keep running along with the same worn out thoughts and feelings as the damage slowly worsens. If I keep going like that I’m going to end up in the junk pile.

What brought this up is a conversation with my fiance. I won’t go into the particulars, but the main concern was that I was presented with a situation that I’d been quite a pain about in the past (yes, THAT word) but the situation is different because it’s different people, in a different time and I supposedly have this new mind-set less encumbered by all that baggage – Except that my “auto-pilot” mouth spouted an old rule – forcefully…

… and this is a  problem because it’s childish, self-centered and mean. It was one of the contributing factors to my mid-life crisis – that point that I reached when I looked in the mirror and thought, “I really don’t like myself very much.” In fact, I hated my life, and had finally realized I had no one to blame but myself, I’d inflicted every wound I was feeling either actively or just by going along with whatever was going on around me. I was not an active participant in my own life, and God (even though I preached differently) wasn’t exactly called upon apart from prayers to change it. Passive faith, passive life – and I could count on no fingers the number of people that were happy about it. I hid it well. Except that everyone who knew me knew better – I was lying to myself about that too.

So, I hit “reset” on my situation. In the past two years, I’ve finalized a divorce, moved and then moved again a hundred miles away and changed professions (again).

I “swore” a whole bunch of things that I was never going to do again. And added that to my list of things that I’d never do again from previous experiences. More rules, adding to my list instead of knocking them off. My list of rules for me, and those around me, kept getting longer and longer and what I failed to realize was this was a continuation of the negative pattern – a life needs rules right? No – a life needs order, structure, but set tropes keep you from thinking and when confronted with a new thing, tend to respond in the “old” way, which was for me negative.

Some of them were simple, “I don’t like this… unless it’s this” kinds of things. I don’t want a birthday party because people never buy me good gifts and I don’t particularly like cake. But what that says to other people is, “Hey, I’m a jerk that doesn’t want you to show me love, and I’ll evaluate your gift, given in love, to see if it meets my “this is stuff I want list.” I thought the solution to people saying, “You’re impossible to buy a gift for” was to give them a list – but then I realized, the real solution is being grateful, genuinely for someone taking the time to pick something out. Last year, someone gave me guitar picks, the precise brand/color/thickness that I prefer. Do you know how petty that is? But more than that – do you know how hard it was for that person to find out that information (given that I have a thousand picks laying around of all sorts of styles?) about the two I like. That’s almost stalker-esque, looking at pictures to see “oh, he must like those orange ones and the ones with the eagle, let me find them and make sure they’re the right shape, and this is a .6 and these are a .63 – that must be important. It takes a lot of love to figure that out – and I must be a pretty particular type of jerk to require that level of obsession from someone just to pick out a less-than-twenty-dollar gift. Do I put that much effort into others?

Or how about someone that knows about the only green thing I’ll eat is broccoli, and that I don’t like most kinds of cake. So, for my birthday, a cake was made, intentionally tasting nasty, in the shape of a broccoli sprout. A way of saying, “Here you go, you crotchety old man, a cake I know you won’t like in the shape of a vegetable. Again, a lot of thought and effort for a joke – and it was hilarious, and I found myself laughing about it- while wearing a party hat, and in the back of my head on some level, the rule about cake, birthday parties, gifts… still lurked in the rust of my brain. I actually had a good time at my small birthday party.

What I need is a bead-blaster (or sand-blaster) to get in there and scrape all that rust off, take it down to bare metal,. Because that auto-pilot that runs my mouth is constantly spewing misinformation that other people listen and think of as my “final thought” when it’s actually “before second thought” which was the name of my original blog for a reason. And one of the reasons that this is titled something different is because I really need to keep those “before second thoughts” out of the world until I repair the damage and repaint my brain.

I imagine most of us, if we’re honest have the same difficulty – some call it “baggage” and some call it “don’t someone else’s time” (when you hold a new significant other responsible for the damage done by a previous significant other)…

… a couple years ago, I decided to drastically change my life, and I have. But one of the next steps is to get in my head and clean it out a bit. Starting with the rules. So, it’s time to take a look at these rules because as I’ve tried to list them four times it comes down to one simple foundation – trusting others and allowing myself to feel loved. Who knows, maybe they’ll help me get rid of this rust…

Random, Uncategorized

I Didn’t Have Any Plans (and you can tell from how long this is)

Apparently, you’re supposed to dream things. Then you write down the ones that you want to do, make a list of how to get from where you are, to where you want to be, then you’re supposed to make a time-dependent checklist of when the things on this list are supposed to be accomplished. That is how you become an “achiever.” Well, according to most folks since the second grade, I’m an underachiever. See, for nearly ten years, I have been without a state-able “dream,” without a cohesive “vision,” without a plan and without goals. Not entirely you understand, but on the larger scale, I’ve had no “grand scheme.” And honestly, I’ve been largely happy that way. Life has worked out fine, because it has a tendency to move along if you plan or not. But, apparently this “Dream, Vision, Mission Plan, Goal, work” structure works out well for some people. It used to work well for me, even if I had to adapt.

You see, once upon a time, I had my life planned out. I was going to work at the same church until I retired. Most of the major decisions in my life (who I was going to spend it with, what I was going to do, own a gun/motorcycle/pool etc. already decided) had already been made. But what I failed to realize was that it was just the second story of a life made up of volumes (Book one: Childhood to fourteen. Book Two…” you get it). I did plan some things, that first marriage, the first house, adopting our son… but in March of 2008, every plan I had went out the window, and disappeared so quickly, when I got to the front door to chase it, it was already out of sight. I received notice that I was going to be a dad to a young Vietnamese-born son on the same day my wife let me know she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she was starting chemo in two days. My plans went out the window.

And I never got back into the habit of making them, and until now I always thought it was because I handed the planning over to someone else – but it wasn’t. I just shut down that part of my brain that looked more than a month or so into the future. I started living a life focused on the days, maybe weeks, as opposed to the months and years. What’s the point if everything is going to shift around again. I’ve spent majority of the last decade wandering around waiting to be told what to do (insert generic second-marriage joke here).

But, inadvertently, my “mid-life” crisis, which I didn’t plan for, came out of nowhere and slapped me out of my idyllic existence. I don’t mean “blessed” I mean “blind and coasting” or self-delusional and apathetic. And I have to blame someone for that (because being woke from a dream inspired to created a vision-mission… is kind of like homework. I blamed God. So many people kept telling me, “God is getting you ready…” “God is preparing you for something…” things like that. Then, all of a sudden, I got hit with something that, while it threw me into emotional/spiritual shock, proved to be the beginning of something that I’m still beginning (Book 4?).
It’s one thing to rely on God to lead you – it’s another not to look up and use the brain God gave you. Or if you want to hear it another way – If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything, and I fell. Not in a spiritual way, but definitely in a life way. May of 2017, I was a widower, solo-parent, looking forward to a hate-fueled divorce (that I couldn’t admit was hate-filled divorce) and living in my parent’s basement that they’d converted into an efficiency apartment for me and the boy. Creeping into my consciousness was a thought, a seed of a thought, that was beginning to grow, “This is what a lack of planning gets you.”

It brought about a LOT of hatred for myself and from others toward myself. So – first I had to figure out where I was (mentally/spiritually/physically). I was near 300 pounds (not “single guy” shape at all). I was in shock/angry and mainly hurt. Life had betrayed me – but God hadn’t. Thankfully, because I was raised that way, life and God have always been separate. God is always there, always kind. Life is always there to kick you in the teeth. You can trust God to lead, desire good things, bless – and life to tirelessly work to break you of your faith. Problem? I viscerally, completely and angrily HATED my soon-to-be ex-wife. Blind hate. It creeped out sideways because I couldn’t admit it. I couldn’t forgive, and that made it even worse. I couldn’t “put it all down.” So, I started my journal of hate. Every day, sometimes several times a day, I would write out where I was slighted, where my son was wronged… Why? Because I was already living in hate, so why not document it? Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And in the middle of it (not the end) I realized – I put up with it. I was an active participant in my own imagined demise. If I’d been stronger, the marriage would have fallen apart sooner. The “courage of my convictions” was gone. I agreed to all kinds of stuff just to avoid the argument. I wasn’t being honest, I wasn’t being open, true, I was walking on eggshells – but I made the choice to do that. It was on me. The “journal of hate” was more about self-loathing than anything she was responsible for. On some level, I had to admit that her claims of my not being truthful were (on a level she didn’t know) correct. She was wrong about the content of the deception, but not the deception itself. I was self-delusional, so everything I said to her was a lie on some level. I lost myself a long time before she “lost” me. And yes, most of it related to death of my first wife. I couldn’t admit it, but I did love her and I missed her “well.” I loved her deeply before the diagnosis. We’d had our troubles, but I convinced myself (to make it easier) that I hated her too, before she was gone, but in reality, it was for getting sick, for changing, for not being there, and yes, even for dying even though that brought her the first peace and lack of pain in six years, And I couldn’t admit what a bag-of-dirt that made me. In order for me to live, to avoid making the same mistake over again, I had to admit that to the one person I didn’t ever want to talk to again. So I put that on the back burner.

Because my professional life was taking a hit too. I was a chaplain, more of a pastor, but working as a chaplain. Then, the unthinkable happened. I was moved back into social work, something I quit doing to go to seminary. I had truly stepped back into my twenties. I was living in an apartment, working as a social worker, single… the main differences were I had a ten-year old and the quality of my car and apartment were much nicer. 47 years old, and back to being 22. Somebody pushed “reset” and I was NOT thrilled. I’ve never been one to set the world on fire with my success, I’m more “rambler” than “racer” (as most blog-posters are) even when I’m motivated. I had to get myself in shape for dating, because I realized something that was the major drive in getting married the second time. I had always wanted a family. That realization came when I filled out an on-line dating app and was basically, “are children a problem?” and I thought, “How creepy would it be if there was an ‘actually children are preferred’ button?” (VERY creepy).

Met this woman on-line, ticked all the buttons, religious (even prays in public), doesn’t drink wine by the bottle (she brought a bottle once that still sits unopened in my fridge), and this is important, is slightly crazy. That’s important because I am. Everyone you meet is, the difference is the people that admit it (without wearing their psychosis as a badge of honor or armor) are generally a lot more fun to hang around with than the people that believe themselves to be completely sane. If you can’t admit your a little bit nuts, then the truth is not in you and you deceive yourself. So, she’s fun, and Godly, and all the other stuff… but I was still ambling, and I still had no plans for the future.

January of this year – my dad. My mentor, role-model, hero, all the good things dads are supposed to be, especially if you share a vocation, died suddenly. In less than a second. He was walking down the stairs and then his body was at the bottom in a gruesome scene I wish I could scrub from my mother’s memory. I made it to the hospital too late to say goodbye. But after Lori, my first wife, I made sure that I’ve said what I need to say to everyone. He knew, and more importantly, I knew – no need to hear it again, it had been said. “If something happens to me, make sure your mother is taken care of.” and “You’re a pastor, be a pastor.” I knew his regrets. I knew his sadness, and after ambling through life for the better part of a decade he told me, “The problem with hiding your feelings isn’t that they’re going to come out in a rage – it’s that eventually you find yourself so numb that you wonder if you have any feelings at all.” and the one piece of advice I give to my son at least 3 times a week – “Don’t be like me. Be better than me.”

I did Lori’s funeral in an emotional fog – and Dad finished it for me. His was a spiritual high and I sang him out on a song we’d played together even rewriting some lyrics. I preached a message close to his heart, one that he always needed to hear and frequently shared. I realized, standing in someone else’s church, behind a strange pulpit, with a guitar in my hand, wearing a vest without a robe. Damnit, this is who I was made to be. The clothes don’t make a difference anymore (because I’m an adult) but I got angry. VERY angry, and this time, I didn’t deny it. I let it burn. The only way through it for me. I looked into the gathered people, everyone from his biker friends to pastor’s he knew from 30 years prior and realized what a varied life he’d lived. I sang it, I preached it. He came from the coal fields, was told he wasn’t smart enough and worked hard. He had visions, he had plans, he worked, right up until the wind came out of his sails and he was tired. He’d literally gone from a coal-town church to paid staff at the national church office. Not for his own sake – but to try to serve as best he could.

And I was wasting my time completing forms that were important for reimbursement for a company providing care, in constant conflict with other staff members, hearing from the residents that I was “too busy” to visit with them. Working longer hours, and being told to expect more, working two full-time jobs while they searched for a replacement, then helping train someone that was let go and placed back into the department. I was angry. It was showing. Not directly, but sarcasm became my weapon. Outward defiance, initial refusal to get the poison into the system, then compliance. So I could tell myself that I was a good employee, and they would have reason to believe otherwise. Still “volunteering” for extra, and hating them for it. By this point, social work drained away what passion remained, more meetings, and still higher expectations. I put on weight. Rule changes, “other duties as assigned by…” and weekends disappearing. Time with my son almost gone, that sweet woman that helped my family in the hospital by being there for us, who had helped clean up the gore shoulder-to-shoulder with my mother, with whom I had fallen in love was hearing nothing but anger and invective. Everyone around me wondering, “Is today going to be the day he quits spectacularly?” Friends terminated, other’s quitting. Yet I’m still here… but I had a plan.

The week before Memorial Day, I interviewed with a church over Skype. I had my information out for less than a week. Over the process, I had 108 churches contact me to say, “Would you be interested?” (Love the Presbyterian computer job-search system, it’s like on-line dating without a user-friendly interface). I interviewed with my “top” choice first – always my habit (which carries over to TJ by the way).

On Memorial Day, I sang in a program that I didn’t know I was doing until a few days before, and didn’t know before that day it with my ex-wife. I realized something on the second song. I couldn’t sing without looking at her. We’d been singing/playing together for more than a decade before we got married. I’d ALWAYS relied on her for tempo, cues, and she knew by the look on my face when I didn’t have the note coming and would play it. We made a good team. I found myself smiling. I wasn’t angry anymore, well, not all the time. Since we shared a boss, I don’t know if it was intentional on her part to settle down something she saw – but it gave me an opportunity to ask for a few minutes of conversation.

We had a brief private conversation and I’ll mostly preserve that privacy here. But I can say, I didn’t have a deep well of anger towards myself or her anymore. I’m glad the process went as well as it could have. I will say, I “deceived” her (by her standard) one more time, by telling her the truth, but this time it was purely for my own fun, not avoiding some confrontation. When talking about working together in the future, given that this was our first civil conversation in months. I said, “I don’t even know where I’ll be in two years.” I still don’t know where I’ll be on Memorial Day 2020. But I knew where I wasn’t going to be. I would have been fired for popping off in a public forum one-too many times, which would have led to my Norma Rae moment and being escorted off by police under the watchful eye of one my friends that left 3 days after my final day. . Back-burner Plan: Set the past to rest – DONE.

I already knew I wanted to be in a church, where I have authority, not in chaplaincy where you only have responsibility and accountability. I know myself well enough to know if you say, “You will finish these 20 files before you leave today.” that’s all the work you’re going to get out of me that day. I may knock them out before lunch, but then I’m going to practice my “look busy” skills by carrying a clipboard while I wander around campus taking fifteen hundred “smoke breaks.” And to make sure the point is made, I’m going to drive by the office window ten minutes before I’m “off” waving. Or worse, flaunt your authority in a shared mission. “I’m the boss, my way or the highway” and I’ll play that game until another opportunity comes along. I will play beautifully, and as irritatingly as possible. Juvenile? Yes. Passive-aggressive; almost to a spiritual level. Set yourself up before me, and I will see you fall, while smiling. Seriously, It’s kind of the very core of my vision for solo ministry. To look at earthly kings that think highly of themselves and think, “Hmm, that pedestal seems to have a crack in it, what happens if I do this…” Show genuine humility and vision, and I’ll follow you through hell. Tell me to mind my manners and stay in my lane and I’m renting a monster truck with a BIG horn. That’s what pastor’s do – not just comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable.

Problem, I couldn’t do any of that, and I couldn’t properly search for a new gig as long as I had that one. I worked every Sunday (full-day) and I would be needing to do neutral pulpits on Sundays. So, after a few evening interviews and needing to be open, and since taking one Sunday off necessitated me working an addition 1 and 1/2 days to be accepted, I decided I should quit. But I didn’t. Not until my son looked up at me one Sunday morning and said, “Dad are we ever going to go to church together again?” That was against policy – and if I don’t like policy I could leave. Well, I didn’t like my gig, didn’t like the policies, so I wrote my letter of resignation. The next day a new policy was introduced requiring all managers to do something else that I wasn’t happy about. After the meeting I handed in my notice, “I hope you don’t think this is in any way reflective of todays change of rules – l’ve already sent copies to your supervisors.” Considering the tremendous hole I’d dug for myself, this was a crazy thing to do. First real sign of my truly choosing to reset my life. I didn’t have any prospects, but I had savings that survived the divorce. The only issues are minor now, but major insults to me at the time – but then tried to remember the words of Jesus… something like, “Thou shalt document your visitation, any signs of abuse. Thou shalt conduct the holy memory and dementia screening or thou shalt be out of compliance.” (I think that’s from the book of Second Opinions). The only real problem was working out my notice in the summer – I spent the last month making the following decision, “nap then pool” or “pool then nap.” I know, but doing both at the same time was too efficient for me. Quit job – check

Next goal in the be who I am plan? Find the right church (check) and stay there as long as they’ll have me. I started the interview process with my favorite info form. I kept them as my “compare” to for other interviews. I had several other good churches, but they just didn’t “fit” like this church. Why? Lots of reasons, that I found because of one quote, “We take our mission very seriously, but don’t take ourselves that seriously.” Ok – where can I sign? Seriously, that was it. There are people going through serious things with complicated lives. I know it’s early, but seriously, if we continue to serve God together, hang out until at least 2035. Not nearly as dramatic, I know, but you’ve been skimming for a long time. Goal – find a calling that seems the beginning of shared ministry. Mission Accomplished.

Find a house – bought one, sleeps up to ten. check. Has a pool & room in the garage for 2 cars and a motorcycle.

But here’s the problem. When you do this planning thing, you find yourself doing it more and more, like some kind of psychosis.

I realized in 2008, one of the things I had to grieve was not just the potential loss of my wife, but any hope for a family. I told my wife six months before she agreed that I was ready to start a family. She came around, and we realized that adoption was our option. One of the things that died with her, was that potential, and I think, on some level that was a draw of my second marriage. Three kids? Family. Stability. Out of the chaos comes what I had when I was a kid, us against the world. Our “unit” or “band” in my case. But that fell apart, not because of effort, or planning, but because it was wrong. I figured that out over time, talking to that woman that I met before my dad died. That one that sat with him at dinner as they laughed as mom and I solved the world’s problems. The only time they ever met.

Listening to her talk about not just my kid, but her own, the love she had for them, I found myself, not only interested, not only caring, and listening to my dad’s advice, I let myself care. It help’s that three of them are grown with their own partners/stories to tell. Even if M, reminds me of D when he was a kid, “two speeds, FULL ON and THE SLEEP OF THE WELL JUSTIFIED.” See, TJ fits, she’s seen the “uncensored” me, and been honest, she doesn’t like some of it. I’m not perfect. Which means I don’t have to be “on” all the time. Which means she puts up with a lot of garbage from my mouth. I’ve hurt her with my words, but there is something to the way we interact with each other. Forgiveness. I used to say that Lori made me want to be a better man (which I said before the movie popularized the phrase). This woman – makes me want to serve God better, which will make me a better pastor, husband, father… Watching my mother’s face when the babydoll came flying in from the side only to land squarely in the middle of her plate I realized (as I froze hoping not to be noticed) she’s mellowed. Of course TJ was already “levitating” as mom put it, handling it.

Are they stable? Yes, in a way. But they’re crazy fun, the kind of crazy The Rev. Bishop Tutu says we need in the world, a crazy that comes from love, compassion… my sister and I can sound like we hate each other, but she really loves me, and mom says I have to love her (see?). Seriously we love each other.

I think this year, hanging out with everyone, I found it without making it a condition. I wanted a family, this Thanksgiving we had all of TJ’s kids and mine in the house, my sister and her family – had to split them between two high-chairs, and two rooms (I asked everyone to mix up) and standing on the porch with her listening to the laughs (and the small kids talking to us through the window) and I realized – I’ve ambled way too long. It’s time to make real, substantive save-the-date kind of plans. I know I’ve already talked to her kids, and her dad seems on board, my mom loves her and they hang out about as much as we do when she’s in town. I know she’s reading this. (Hey TJ – don’t overthink. I knew it was right before, I felt that it was right before that moment, but in that moment it was a deeper sense of urgency. I even mentioned it to you at the time).

Dad wasn’t here – but I was, fully present for the first Thanksgiving in a long time, not worried about the family falling apart, the job calling, just hanging out listening and telling stories, trying to cook turkey for the first time. I realized, too, that I was taking my dad’s advice, a new “rule” for my new life.

Because I don’t hide myself away anymore, not even from myself.

New Goals:

Personally: 1) Ask Tammy to marry me (she knows it’s coming), 2) plan a wedding and a reception that is “us” (and since we’re smack-dab in the middle of Louisville and Huntington, y’all better get your selves over here ’cause I’m not doing this again).

Oh yeah, since I have to put them in writing. 1) Pass my paper exam for motorcycle permit 2) go through MST and get my proper license, 3) get insurance quotes, 4) buy the Versys

Professionally: Keep getting better where I am until God says otherwise.

Spiritually: Keep getting closer to God wants me to be because God leads.

Jesus rambled about – with a purpose – surrounded by his band of fishermen & sinners. I have my purpose, I’ve ambled enough, now it is time to formalize the band.


Angry Love

I really want to say so much about our shared political status right now. But I won’t. Not because I don’t have an opinion, not because it wouldn’t offend just about everybody I know (which I enjoy on some level) not out of fear – but out of a sense of responsibility.

I believe the gospel calls us to stand against actions we believe are immoral, unethical, evil. But I also believe, ultimately, it is all beneath the cross. In making a scape-goat, centering it on one individual, we are no better than the rock hurling ‘justified’ that Jesus confronted.

I believe the truly radical change is not any more possible through the system than it would be by a revolution of zealots – I hear the old Caedman’s Call song, “I can hear Jesus, saying put away your sword. I can see Peter, putting away his sword… Love has come, and it’s given me strength to carry on.”

I can not condone or support the justified hate or visions of vengeance that hits me in the core of my sarcastic, all too human mind. I can not support, and will not accept it in silence any more..

What brought me here?

This week, I was priviledged to witness boxes dropped off for strangers so they may know the people calling themselves followers of Christ (in many different denominations) chose to show love. This week, I was priviledged to tour a local free health clinic where people, regardless of the “isms” are cared for by volunteers – health, dental, nutrition… and I was fortunate enough to deliver food prepared by volunteers to those that may not have a hot, nutritional meal otherwise. And nobody cared about anyone’s ‘politics.’ And God saw that it was good.

I write this so it stays out of Sunday’s sermon. Few know my politics, I am simultaneously liberal & conservative (it mainly depends on who is looking) and my hope is that people see me as someone who struggles to walk what I fearlessly talk. Yes, I am a hypocrite. Yes, people judge me. People make assumptions – sometimes because I am bored and want them too, only to make a point later.

But that’s me – the me trying to become what I soon will be – as the Spirit reforms me. I’m not entirely self-centered, but I will not apologize for my confidence in who I am becoming or the faith that shapes it.

I have, at best, about 25 minutes a week of influence, probably only 12 to 17 minutes of authority and I choose not to waste that on earthly kings and suited jesters. I choose not to complain, nor condemn nor condone. I choose to challenge and to comfort with the Word of God. That is MY calling, not to be a pundit, but to be a pastor.

So this week, I make this promise, the same unspoken promise I’ve tried to keep since my first sermon more than 30 years ago.

No politics – only God’s promises.

My authority is borrowed, and I will not cheapen that intentionally.

No politics – only our professions.

My anger is deep, but I will not let it damage my ability to rely on the Spirit to share the Word of the Lord (Thanks be to God).

What got this started?
It would be too irresponsible to share.

But this isn’t.
I have the right to remain silent.
I have the responsibility to shine light into the darkness of the world… And for that, I give up my right.

You see, in the kingdom of heaven there will be no Green, no Libertarian, no Democrat, nor Republican. There will be no liberal nor conservative, nor rich, nor poor… No communist, nor fascist, no nationalist or apathetic. No patriot, no traitor… Because none of that adiaphra (sp?) matters.

If you believe otherwise, feel free to pick up your sword and follow… Um, I guess the earthly kings and jesters.

As for my house?
We will serve the Lord.
With all the Grace we can show and share.
Hypocritically on occasion,
but loved continually.

Love has come!
Love has come!
And it’s given me hope to carry on.

(I now return you to my usually vapid posts)


You can’t stand in someone’s shadow if you’re standing in the light

33The Rev. Dr. A. Michael “Mike” Warren 1940-2018. This picture is the day of his graduation from Union Theological Seminary (Richmond). Mike served churches in Virginia, Mississippi, West Virginia and Tennessee as well as working as an Associate Presbyter for the Salem Presbytery (North Carolina) and in the national church office in the National Ministries Division.

Yesterday, I was installed as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Mount Sterling Kentucky. I made it through the entire day without thinking about the fact that my dad wasn’t there. That he’d never set foot in this church, he’d never preach from it’s pulpit, he’d never meet the people that serve God here. And they’d never meet him. Sure, they’d get to know him through my stories, the ones my mother tells. Or even my son if he ever speaks of him (he’s not known for talking about his ‘mommy’ or his ‘fa’ to many). But before the wave of sadness could crest, it slowed – because this very thing is what he wanted. I know, because he told me. You’re a pastor – be a pastor.

There is an importance in knowing who you are, what you’re called to be. And being that. It’s not nearly as complicated as we make it out to be. Figure out who you are (which often starts by figuring out who you’re not) and then be that. It’s not an original idea to him, but it is still one that can have a profound impact on how we live and our level of happiness as we live it. It really makes the mid-life crisis easy when there are no major shifts to go through. The pre-life crisis carries less stress when you realize that you can always change. But most importantly, it makes the post-career crisis easy if you can look back with much less regret. Be who you were created to be and become who you are re-created to become.

You’ll have much less stress, and much more fun than most of the people around you.


My retired father and my pre-school son in Fern Creek Kentucky.

The Rev. Dr. A. Michael “Mike” Warren on the day he graduated from Union Theological Seminary. He would go on to serve churches in rural Virginia, South-West Mississippi, West Virginia and Tennessee. He served the Salem Presbytery as an associate presbyter and the national office in the National Ministries Division.


How You Do You Do?

Ok, so lets get this straight. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have one. I share it every Sunday, but if that isn’t your thing, I suggest you read on because, I may not be able to answer the “mid-life” or “pre-life” crisis, but I can make it much easier for you. It’s a little disconnected, but you’ll see why that is important (I hope) later. First, let me give you my credentials.

in 1993 I met the woman that would become my first wife. In our twenty-one years together, I changed careers four times, drug her off for schooling twice, and put her through hell while we bought a house that I didn’t like without so much as a counter-offer. Years later, we adopted a son from Viet Nam, she went through various cancer treatments for six years and then in May of 2015, she died. My son was six years old, his mommy was gone. At that point, he became my timeline.

When he was less than one, we picked him up from an orphanage, he was abandoned by his mother hours after birth and left alone on her hospital bed. After 8 months of trying to locate her (she gave a fake name/address for unknown reason and did not identify the father) two people that sounded wrong, looked wrong, smelled wrong and fed him the wrong things. He got used to it. At six, his second mother died in the living room. His dad is freaking out, because he realized, although he’s been his son’s primary care giver for most of his life – he has no idea what he’s doing. Dad’s world is shattered. The boy’s world is shattered – but at least we had the church.

Less than a year later, his dad is dating a woman the boy has literally known all his life. A little more than a year after his second mother’s death, his dad changes jobs because the church can not be the caregiver to the pastor for long – it ruins both. Soon after going back to chaplaincy, Dad is soon after engaged. A few months later he’s living in a new house with a new “mom.” About a year later, things start going weird, a few months later he’s told he’s losing another mom – and he’s most upset about having to leave one of the cats behind and not living next door to his friends.

We moved into a “guitartment.” and we make it work. We still the “exs” (my soon-to-be ex works for the same company I do on a campus cross-town and visits campus regularly, her children with her first husband attend D’s school – or their school depending on which “side” you take). It’s a big ball of stress, but it works, at least it’s constant. Eventually, the “benefits” of the new gig’s schedule disappear, there are daily dreads that increase in weight and disappointment. And then, I start dating another woman, with a months old adopted daughter of her own.

Two months later, my father, my hero, dies suddenly. Not a single person that I work with managed to make it to the services. In fact, one of my best friends who works for the company requests time off just to attend the service and return – is told no. This reminds me of what my dad has been saying since I took the job (and left) the first time – this is not a good fit for you. I am suddenly hyper aware of any slight, rule change, unwritten policy, perceived unfairness and substantive messing over that comes in my general direction. I realize, emotionally, physically, spiritually – this “job” is killing me, and the more “they” make it a “job” the worse I feel. I can physically feel my BP rise when I get close to the building – my already short temper increases.

Eight months later, my son looks at me on a Sunday morning and asks me, “When can I go to your church dad?” And I realize, that he can’t. Not until he turns 14, becomes an official volunteer, goes through orientation and gets the proper shots.  I look down at him and say, “Soon.” The next day, I look my boss in the eye after yet another rule-change management meeting and say, “I hope you don’t take this as a reflection of the changes that were just described in the meeting, I actually wrote this yesterday.” I hand in my letter of resignation, we have a brief conversation and I remain standing.

Three months later, I’m sitting in the living room of my new house almost a hundred miles away, my son is playing an on-line game with friends who lived next door to mom #3 (wife #2) laughing his head off. I’m now a widower and a divorced solo dad. Yet I’m not afraid of that at all anymore. I quit a well-paying job with benefits out of principle. I broke a lease that required the equivalent of 5 months rent. I bought a house while technically unemployed without so much as batting an eye.

How do I do?

I’ve learned this one thing. Life is chaos. No matter how you plan, what decisions you make, life is purely and simply chaos. You prepare and are disappointed, you plan and get screwed over. You break promises and other people break promises to you. You can not guarantee anything – financial stability, health, whatever – if it’s “earthly” then it is, by definition transitory. If you can have one thing that is stable for any period of time, faith, job, family, whatever – take your chances then. Make your changes then. The days of same wife-same job-same house- they’re done. My mom has now moved 4 times since she retired (each time swearing that for the next one, “I will be the one in the box and you two (meaning my sister and I) will be doing all the packing.”

See – here is the thing.

My son’s first mother, wasn’t supposed to give him up. He was  boy, you keep the boys. My son’s mommy wasn’t supposed to die. My marriage wasn’t supposed to die. My love for chaplaincy wasn’t supposed to die. The healthy relationship I had with a previous congregation wasn’t supposed to die. I wasn’t supposed to go back to chaplaincy – only to end up doing social work so that my love of the job died. I wasn’t supposed to tear Lori away from her family to go to school. I wasn’t supposed to leave town. I wasn’t supposed to be able to raise Donovan on my own. I wasn’t supposed to get another church quickly. I wasn’t supposed to use my savings to prop myself up so I could walk away from the job, I was supposed to sit there and take it. I wasn’t supposed to fall in love again… even if I sang that Sammy Hagar song.

Life isn’t “supposed” it is lived.

Lori lived up until the last few days of her life when she was non-responsive. My dad lived until his final moment – a family-held last smart statement.

And 100s of times, I’ve seen people in their last months of life handle things that make my (or my son’s) life experiences sound easy, and they have taught me the one thing. Live every day – right up until you don’t. There are plenty of the living dead out there, walking around in a stupor, job they hate, life they hate, family they… hopefully don’t. Don’t accept your death, or presume someone else’s death, until time of actual death.

How do I do? I live.

And I’m going to live right up until the moment that I don’t.



I’m apparently a small town guy…

I was driving in to the office the other day and I realized – I’m a semi-Appalachian small town guy. I’ve known it for years, but really didn’t admit it. Huntington, a town of around 50,000 was “too big” for me to visit the west end regularly (apart from my first paycheck job at Camden Park). Louisville was a strange anomaly finding it for a seminary that would allow pets, and staying in the area because of the relative safety of knowing the landscape, but I still disliked “going downtown” especially for Jury Duty (I was in the pool for 3 cycles, but mysteriously never ended up on a jury – perhaps suggesting that because of pre-trial prejudice, I already believed the defendant should be “put under the jail after being beaten in the name of the Lord” to the judge during the screening process was a bit much (the prosecutor was willing to let me serve). But the truth is, there is just more to small-town that appeals to me than larger cities and for my sanity’s sake, I’m going to give you some reasons why.

REASONS TO CELEBRATE: In NC we had the Wooly Worm festival that featured races of the creatures up pieces of strings. This sounds incredibly ridiculous, even more that I know there are several ways to “train” your worm. You use the method of intermittent reinforcement by placing a sugar-mixture at the top of the string in random intervals to motivate the worm to climb, that way in the contest, the worm will climb seeking the sweet nectar of, well sweet nectar. This has proven to be successful in the past. Others tend to use the “non-trained” method of blowing air out of their mouths on the bottom of the worm. This motivates the worm to climb faster. This has also won rounds at the contest. Some even mix both. This kind of thing is a staple of small town festivals that are usually much more fun than parades downtown in a large city. Search “Bridge Day” or “Christmas in July” or “Daniel Boone” festivals for events I’ve experienced – and I’m looking forward to “Court Days” in my current town next fall. It’s mainly an excuse to congregate, just to hang out and see people – most happen in the fall a short time before elections too, and you haven’t seen funny until you’ve seen a Senator sitting in an open Jeep duck as six guys wearing coon-skin caps fire off their powder-loaded KY long-rifles.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: “Honey” is not an insult. If you take it as such, you should probably stick to towns large enough to feature a “big-bucks” coffee shop. Fast-food joints with better service than places that work for tips. Granted, the Megabuylowmart parking lot is always crowded, but they also have plenty of human cashiers working to scan your stuff. The special orders I use that give city-staff an excuse to condescend-face me are handled like pros. Four weeks and I’ve yet to get an order wrong at a window or counter. Everyone in the city gives Kudos to the chicken-shack “It’s my pleasure” people – but here it isn’t a matter of training, it’s a matter of raising. I’m “sir”-ed a lot, and “Ma’am” isn’t a short-cut for the b-word. Which brings up another thing. I’ve forgotten what it was like to stand at the fast-food checkout and not hear profanity in the kitchen/drive thru area. I myself am actually cursing less because I’m not surrounded by the constant cacophony of curses.

CONJESTION: My last commute was 26.5 miles. From my 2 bedroom “guitartment” to my place of work. I lived in a small town, but worked in south-central Louisville. My commute ran anywhere from 25 minutes (Sunday mornings) to an average of 1:45 on the weekdays trying to get home. On average, I spent at least 10 hours a week in the car going from my son’s school to work and back home again if I didn’t have to work extra days (which I did towards the end, sometimes upping my average into the eleven or twelve-hour a week mark. Fifty weeks a year, that’s 500 hours a year in the car. I’m fine with “alone” time, but given that people can’t seem to drive in a straight line without crashing into each other on I-71 in Kentucky from the inner beltway to the fourth exit away, it was ridiculous. It didn’t matter the weather, I saw a six-car pile-up (literally) on a clear sunny day. Now, I put D in the car, drop him at school, swing by a local place for breakfast with the gentlemen whose wives want them out of the house for at least an hour in the morning and arrive in the office – about 4 miles and 40 minutes later. Directly, my commute time is six minutes if I get both traffic lights red.

LANGUAGE: It takes more time to have a conversation, and I like that because the conversations are a lot more interesting. There is a lot more creative use of simile and metaphor. “I hate her” becomes something akin to (see, that word right there, that’s an example too) “I haven’t liked her since the third grade, now we hate each other with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.” Sure, I’ve heard “Bless his heart” more than a few times, but yesterday I heard, “Cuter than kittens” when one person showed another a picture of her granddaughter in her Halloween costume. Never heard that phrase before, but it’s pretty clear what she meant by it. “As” and “Like” is used a lot, but not, like, totally, like, as a reason to like stop in the middle of a like sentence. It’s like living in a John Prine song – apparently she is as sweet as Tupelo Honey. I’ve missed this like butter on a bald monkey (if you get that – you get a point).

SHARED PARKING: I park in a handicapped spot during the week, because I have to. Apparently the church shares it’s parking lot with the local bank (we’re “land-locked” here in wonderful downtown Mount Sterling) and the only two spaces available for church staff are handicapped. Now, on the weekends, we don’t park there because they’re needed for handicapped people to come to church… and of course, none of this is written down, you just kind of pick it up when someone lets you know, “It isn’t a problem, but just to let you know…” There’s a grace offered to new people, and they don’t assume you’re “guilty” of anything, so if you’re used to the city-defense for every activity, you’re going to have to adjust because word is going to get around that you’re “kinda Rhude” if you don’t.

A GENERAL LACK OF SIGNS, ESPECIALLY “NO” SIGNS: Back in the city, I was always kind of saddened by visiting one of the big churches that had signs everywhere saying what you couldn’t do. “No Skateboarding, No Roller Skating, No Roller Blading…” that kind of thing. When I asked other people about it, they said things about insurance rates, or problems from ten years ago, or why they were in place, but unless I asked, no one else voiced even the slightest distaste for it. In small towns, when there are signs, they tend to say things like “RESERVED FOR SHEILA’S CUSTOMERS” as opposed to “PARKING FOR SHEILA’S ONLY – VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED.”

NOT GUILTY UNTIL RUMORED NOT ENTIRELY INNOCENT: There is an accountability of an semi-Appalachian small town that isn’t usually present in a larger city. You just can’t act a fool about anything, anywhere. Like it or not, when I go somewhere, I go as a representative of the church (I’m the pastor that doesn’t dress like one already). I introduce myself as tied to the church, and most people know it already. I walked into the local cycle-shop my first week here and, because I’d spoken to a member about picking one up in the spring, Roger already knew my name and what style of bike I was considering. He also knew my circumstance, and offered help with the testing, safety course and that I already had my gear (helmet, armored pants, jacket, gloves, specific-to-style reinforced boots) and what accessories I was likely to look at (nothing more than a top-case or paniers, hand protectors and maybe a crash-bar system plus a ten buck reflective tape rim kit). For crying out loud, he even knew that my focus was visibility/safety over being able to hoon the thing. I’m already a “made” man for the church – so if my order were to be wrong, I’ve got to be as apologetic about asking for it to be made right as they are during the process of making it right. Rumors fly, accept it or be bitten in the backside by it.

HOURS OF COOPERATION: One of my favorites. The Water Company on main was closed down because of Court Days – everything was closed on Court Days while I was trying to move. 24 hour anything is a rarity, and my personal favorite is that personal issues take the lead when it comes to personnel. In the city, a couple hours late because you’re looking for childcare is a sin of epic proportion. Here? I missed an entire day to drive to my old county to vote, empty out my apartment (which I still haven’t finished) and have lunch with my girlfriend Tammy. That’s not a huge deal. And you’ve got to give as often/good as you get. I’ve already been informed by a couple members of the congregation about the weather conditions that will affect their attendance and that occasionally, the office schedule will be rearranged because of the locations/conditions of cows. The assumption is not “They’re slacking off” but “Oh, something must have come up, I’ll try again later.” And my personal favorite is a couple stores down-town that are “staffed” by elementary aged kids who get off the bus at their parent’s business and hang out for the rest of the work-day (not to mention that occasional dog that is in no way shape or form “working.”

BOOK-ISH: Here is something I didn’t expect. I’ve read more in the past three weeks than I’ve read in the past 3 years. I’ve also kept my house “clean” (depending on your standards) more often. Part of it is because I don’t want to live in a house where I have to clean for eight hours in order to have company. But the other part is that I’m not worn out by a long commute. I’m also not worn out by taking care of business. I used to keep my kindle with me, and try to grab 10-15 minutes reading here and there. Like the DMV and County Clerk’s office. Yesterday, I got my registration/car tags, my license changed, registered to vote, payed my city taxes on my house, signed a form authorizing a specific withdrawal from the bank and did it all in twelve minutes. I also walked. I spent more time on the phone with my cable company trying to get my guitartment’s service turned off than I did applying for a loan for my house in September.

Certainly, there are disadvantages to small-town living. The nearest “good Chinese” is about a 40 minute drive one-way, the nearest Mexican has yet to be located. The local big-boxes should be called “Inconvenience stores” because they only have close to what I want (which is a problem in Louisville too, only they could check inventory at another “close” store and you could travel that in less than an hour). I still haven’t found a place that stocks my favorite brand of sweet-tea and the nearest dealer for my car is about a 40 minute drive (I’m due for an oil change and a tire-rotation). But I can brew my own tea and make sure the ratio is up to my preference, and one of the guys knows a guy at the local shop. He called him about my brand-specific oil filter. They don’t have them now, but will on Tuesday, and he’s set it up to keep a back-stock of two at any given time. Why? Because my real estate agent just bought a new car, same brand as mine, and I promised to let her know they had the parts.



On an island, off the coast of a mythic land, stands the New Colossus, “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land-to-land; here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightening, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Emma Lazarus, November 2nd, 1883 – inscribed on a bronze plaque located in the Statue of Liberty’s museum – 1903).

You want to ‘make America great again? Then don’t fall into the soviet trap of building a wall (which a former GOP president mentioned in a famous speech). Live the ideal of a country newly rebuilding from a “civil” war taking the first steps to allow the “thems” to vote. Struggling mightily with inclusion that comes at a snail’s pace. While the hard-liners sought to maintain the exclusive boundaries, other Americans fought to add more voices and votes.

If you are a person of Christian faith – I ask you simply to love your neighbor, and do for the least as you would do for Christ.

If you are not, I ask you to please consider this. If we are “preserving” our country by keeping others from corrupting us, then what are we preserving. If we are ‘great’ then how do we demonstrate it? By caring for our aging? By helping those ravaged by storms? By lifting up those damaged by economic hardships? By treating illnesses? By feeding and housing hungry children? By treating our veterans with kindness and compassion? By educating our children? What are we preserving? Is it worth keeping? Have we solved the problems of hunger, health, race, gender inequality, scorn for others – have we accomplished “United we Stand” or are we dividing for a fall?

If we are to stand for some “thing.” Should we stand for a wall to keep others out – or should we stand for a noble idea that seems to be forgotten?
Light your lamp, not in anger, but rather lift it beside the golden door. Welcoming the homeless, the tempest-tost is not just a Christian thought, it is not “communist” it is not “socialist” it is liberty – for those “yearning to be free.” Yes, we have failed in our history, we have stolen land, stolen people, stolen ideas and corrupted our noble experiment – but we have also struggled to improve, sometimes in spite of ourselves. Which trend do we want to continue? The one that struggles to improve, or the one that seeks to preserve, at any cost, a systemic separation contrary to what our Lady Liberty stands for?

Do not misunderstand me – This is not a call to vote, it isn’t even political to me. It is ideological. Your heart, your mind, your daily life. If you are a patriot, do you stand with Lady Liberty, or wrap yourself in the flag and carry a different type of torch. To me the flag is not a cape that makes us a super-hero, it is a blanket offered to comfort. I am one voice, but I could maintain my silent lips no more.