Saturday, October 29, 2016

Extended essay crisis

The phenomenon of the 'essay crisis' was a recurrent feature of my undergraduate days.  Set weekly assignments to write with deadlines to reach I knew exactly what the targets were.  Always there was much reading material to wade through followed by reflection and then....action, as pen was put to paper.  And that's how it used to be!  Pen to paper.... with every major mistake, paragraph out of order, just plain bad English grammar requiring fresh sheets.

Too often the sequence I followed enjoyed the first parts....absorbing the reading and even reflecting on its contents.  Often I mapped out a structure for my assignment and opened my argument with a confident first page or so.  But then I read it and realized it could do with so much more cogency and flow.  Paper was scrunched into a ball, thrown into the waste paper basket and another start made. Hour after hour, often starting very early in the morning especially on the day it was due.  It is not that I am a perfectionist.  Really. I have always practiced that 'good is good enough' but it does matter that it is at least good!

Why am I recalling those days of 50 years ago?  Because I am in the midst of the same phenomenon. No!? Of course it's not with pen and paper today though I still like to print out sheets for editing by fountain pen. But in other respects it is the same.  I have until Nov 2nd. to complete the last 30 pages of my resource book A New Kind of Preacher/Leader.  I know exactly what the target is. And I am living in the same cyclical pattern...hour after hour.  I have structure but always I want more cogency and flow and liveliness with page-turning wonder etc. etc.!

Carol has been very patient because the essay crisis has already lasted twelve days.  I try and make Sunday a day of rest so that leaves me just three days left.  Who would have thought such excruciating history would repeat itself? Maybe I will let you know what happens next!  It all depends.....

Friday, October 14, 2016

Angel in a jeep

Flying out of Chicago early Wednesday morning meant driving through dense early morning traffic to O'Hare airport in order to drop off the rental car. Already at 7:15 am traffic was choked up in slow crawling lanes.  I decided to avoid the busiest route and drive a road less traveled across the suburbs to join the expressway south of the airport.  Unfortunately, I chose the wrong road! Even less traveled than I imagined! Approaching the expressway I realized to my horror that there was no access to it as we drove straight under.  Stopping in a garage I asked (trying to keep desperation in check) which way was the quickest to the airport.   A man in the queue told me to keep driving until a main intersection at which I should turn right and keep going.  He gave me little confidence by indicating with his hand that it was left we should turn.  Help!

Traveling to the intersection and turning left (!) we joined an enormously slow moving line of vehicles. One traffic stop after another we began to lose heart after several minutes with no evidence that the airport was any closer.  In the lane next to us was a young man in a jeep.  Carol wound down her window and shouted across: 'Is this the right way to O'Hare?'  'Yes,' he answered. 'How much further? we asked. 'About 5 miles....twenty minutes or so. I am going there, you can follow me!,
'' We are going to return this car to you know where that is?'  'Yes' he said as he moved off and we tried to nose in behind.

Following as close as we dared he led us through a maze of roads and eventually passing under a bridge he waved his arm pointing across the road where we saw the welcome sign: Hertz car returns.  We couldn't believe he had actually led us there.   With whoops of joy Carol almost forgot my catastrophic mistake of choosing the wrong road in the first place.  But what a marvelous act of a Carol said:  An angel.   In a jeep!  Sometimes really good things happen, don't they?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Re-entering Carol's world

The car that friends have kindly loaned us has become erratic with occasional asthmatic spasms as the engine threatens to give out and (more worrying still) we face braking problems too.  Carol has refused to drive it (are you surprised) which means yesterday I was her chauffeur.  She went back to hospital to see her doctor for an annual checkup and for her mammogram (courtesy of enforced Medicare enrolment!)  As soon as she entered the main doors a chorus of welcomes greeted her from two friends manning the welcome desk.  Carol was a volunteer in palliative care for 10 years and made such good friendships with other volunteers that conversation immediately hit deep pockets as she asked about family members by name and they reciprocated.  I was stunned as memories worked overtime.  They similarly welcomed me but as an attachment to the main attraction.

Appointments spanned 3 hours so there was time for lunch in the hospital cafeteria.  As Carol asked for a tuna sandwich the server lit up in recognition and showered Carol with welcomes. Paying at the till the clerk similarly shone in surprise and gushed warm welcomes.   When you think that Carol only worked there one day a week and finished there 3 years ago it says volumes about her gift of friendship.

But the icing on the cake was a meeting in the corridor as we were leaving when the Senior Spiritual Advisor to the hospital greeted Carol as a long-lost friend and shared how they had never been able to find anyone else willing to visit the dying as Carol had.   'We really miss you - you are irreplaceable,' he said.  Alongside I glowed at the joy of her being remembered well.

Later we visited three friends in their 80's and 90's at Windsor Manor Park residential community.  Again, the sense of being intertwined in Christian friendship in deeper ways really nourished spirit.  I felt great pride in following Carol as she re-entered her US world.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Forum challenges

I am just coming down from the giddy heights of our forum on Collaboration.  Giddy because it brought together so many former students and other friends that reunions broke out on every side.  And giddy because our main guest speaker opened up a vista of collaboration that surprised/overwhelmed/shocked many.

Paul Allen is co-pastor of Evangelical Covenant Church of Hinsdale.  After last year's forum when I introduced the idea of a new kind of preacher, one of the attendees came up afterwards and said: 'Next year you really ought to invite my Pastor, Paul Allen. He really does collaborate!'  And so we did invite him!

Paul told us his personal story having served in several local churches.  He commented how much church conflict seems to be associated with the person and vision of the solo lead pastor.  Several times in his experience as an associate pastor he had witnessed a breakdown of relationships with the 'person in charge' which caused much hurt.  His own vocational vision grew along different lines. He believed that he was best fitted to become a co-pastor who shared ministry equally with others. He would definitely not become a solo pastor!

For 17 years he has developed this pattern in his Hinsdale church.  As associate co-pastors have come and gone each has stepped seamlessly into co-pastoring sharing the preaching equally (only notifying the congregation of the Scripture and theme every Friday....never the name of the preacher!)  Many others have also emerged in lay leadership to share in preaching too. Paul has developed sermon series based on the Christian year to which he invites the co-pastor and other lay preachers to choose texts leaving him an equal number.  He exulted how such collaboration spills happily over into every other area of church life.  With humility he quoted: 'Every pastor is an interim pastor' as he stressed the need together to listen to God and work in love.

He mentioned Ps 77:20: 'You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron' .  Note, he said, how we often think of Moses as a solo authority figure but, it was by the hand (singular) he worked with Aaron and God!