On a whim…

Life without whimsy is not much of a life at all; without it, a walk in the dark is no laughing matter.

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A Friend Remembered

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Ann Fearon was my friend. She was friend to my family, to my late wife, and to our girls. To be on the receiving end of her friendship was not to be taken lightly. Her’s was the truest of friendships and she exercised her prerogatives to the fullest. Not too long ago I was reminded of my debt to her. I preached a sermon during the absence of our pastor and afterwards I was complemented for my diction. I was told that my diction (not my content?) was ‘remarkable’. It is to Ann’s fault or credit that I propel each syllable of a word from my mouth. She once told me, “It just won’t do. You can’t say ‘moun’n’. The word is ‘moun-tain’”. So I enunciated, I perfected my elocution and I attacked every syllable of each word with an earnest ferocity such that the alleged perfection ascribed to me belongs to Ann.

Ann was quick to advise me. At times I thought she was too quick to judgement but time has proved her right far more often than wrong. (Frankly, Ann could make me gasp.) I suppose this makes her sound judgmental. Perhaps to some she seemed so but not to me. Maybe that’s because she wrapped even the sharpest things in a laugh. For Ann, laughter was less than a weapon and more of a defense. The world was always a bit brighter when she was around and God knows that our family in general needed all the brightness we could get. And, yes, I know that laughter can carry a hidden weapon far and hard and speedily into the heart. But when it came to Ann it seemed to me that only the inflated ego had much to fear. She was, as they say, a character.

When I told Ann I was planning to remarry she was concerned that I should be sure to have more children. Only Ann would ever be so bold. But her counsel was sound when she, as a surrogate parent, indicated her approval of my choice. Lucy and I have not brought any children into the world but we have in our care a fine boy who, like so many others, became very attached to “Miss Ann”. So, Ann would inspect me, shoe shine (she always approved). Savannah Wildlife RefugeWere my cuffs completely buttoned? (She could not abide a partial job). Was I ‘peeking’ when leading public prayer from the pulpit? (She tattled to me of colleague whose practice was to fiddle with his notes during the benediction on TV.) And, most importantly, didn’t I surely know where the best crab could be caught and didn’t I have the decency to take her, Beth, and the girls there?

Do you know that until her health failed she kept me up to date on so many of my former parishioners. Thanks to Ann, I have prayed without fanfare knowing that God is far better at bearing them up than a noisy/nosey note from me could ever be. She sometime wondered that I did not make the rounds when visiting the region and I explained that I thought little of ministers who did not know how to ‘move on’. Ann seemed to accept that but she ensured that the former congregation was not forgotten to me. Thanks to Ann I have prayed when I heard of their afflictions, considered their grief as my own when they suffered loss. And, thanks to Ann, I celebrated when their news was a joy.

When we moved to Port Wentworth I knew little of the history of that place. It lacked the fine verandahs that line private gardens of old Savannah. It was blocked from any scenic views of the river by pulp mill, sugar refinery, and shipyard. The single most significant non-industrial structure in town was the conglomeration of buildings known collectively as ‘the projects’. What drew us there was not the beauty of the place but the call of God; what kept us there were people of character, people like Ann.

That’s what I most remember and cherish; I remember her character. She was not simply “a character” she had character; She defined character. These days I spend much of my time working with scouting. I talk with my boys about character and how a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. By my count Ann Fearon had that kind of character. Could Ann be trusted? Was she loyal and helpful? Was she perfect? Ann was being perfected as are we all.

Someone once wrote that a pastor needs four kinds of friends. One type the writer described was “the disturber’. Deuteronomy 32:11 describes an eagle whose chore is to disturb her eaglets and compel them to take to the air. She disturbs the soft down that lines the nest and exposes the broken fragments of bones and thorns, and in the discomfort of her young she prepares them. “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.” Ann was the friend who was unafraid to make things “a bit pointy”. She was determined to challenge me. When we left that place she warned me, and I think there was a tear in her eye, “Don’t leave the ministry, you will lose your faith.” I have not left the ministry though it has a shape far different than the one I imagined it might have these eighteen years later. But, no, I have not left the ministry Ann.

So for those who knew her and to those who may well wish they had I offer these words:
Into an un-ending future, to a time beyond time where the God of Eternity reigns is our Ann gone. To the Everlasting God whose kingdom knows no end, to the Savior whose blood was spilt for the least worthy among us, to the Spirit whose fiery breath purges our souls of contempt I give thanks. Ah Great God, in your house, at your table, in Your presence there sit an ever growing number of those whom we love. In your timeless mansion keep a setting at the table for us and keep in our hearts the reminders of their tenderness and your grace.
I think even now, if I listen, I hear the echoes of her laughter and the quiet giggle of another old friend. 

It is the certainty of their peace that helps us bear the longing that fills our hearts in their absence.
Amen

Note: The image of the Savannah Wildlife Refuge is from a Flickr photo stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dizzygirl/

Written by David Wilkerson

6 February 2012 at 8:23 pm

Posted in death, grace, hope

Under Used Talent: Absent Without Leave

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Sitting in church while the words of the gospel lesson wafted about something clobbered me on the head; the under used talent. Momentarily stunned into a moment of reflection I wondered, how often have I sat glumly listening as someone else preached? Even now, days after that Sunday, I find myself retracing events that led from my tenure as senior minister of a large church to the moment when, as a ubiquitous presence in the pew, I was struck by a word flitting about the sanctuary.

When I retired from ministry I was weary. I needed rest. My need for an extended respite was due, at least in part, to choices I made. After all, I took upon myself more than I should have. Now, in retrospect, this is self-evident. I rarely, if ever took vacation. I preached two different sermons every week, conducted two other worship services, and attended to the pastoral needs of a pretty good sized congregation. And there was more. At the time, though, it seemed I had no choice. The end began just after Thanksgiving a number of years ago.

My wife died on a Saturday. It was unexpected. She was gone from us only hours after I called the church officers to inform them I would be late returning from our annual holiday. The aftermath was jumbled. From her parents home I clumsily began making funeral arrangements while struggling with how I could comfort our children. I had not rehearsed what I would do “if or when something happened” and I felt eerily disconnected as though I were talking of and tending to the needs of someone else. I conducted her funeral on Tuesday. Time seemed to accelerate. On Friday of that same week I conducted another funeral. This was for a member who had been a friend to my family during my wife’s illness. Again time skidded and a few days later I preached another funeral. The deceased was the son-in-law of another good friend.

In any season so many funerals so close together would have taken a toll but, as Christmas approached, I felt especially bleak. My young children clustered around me and, I suppose, their proximity alone kept me afloat. As the year turned there were more stresses and little relief. I felt estranged from myself and, whether it came as a shock or a relief to my congregation I cannot say, I retired in July at the ripe old age of 41. I had no prospects for work. In the course of one weekend, I remarried (a scandalous act in the minds of many), retired, and moved what was left of my family from the coastal Georgia to New England; a distance of little over a thousand miles by road and by cultural measure a distance of galactic proportions.

I needed a rest but how much; how long; from what? Here I am years later, pondering the past when, more to the point, I should be perplexed by the future. I am transfixed by a word; I am confronted with an under used talent. The sermon had not even begun when my typical Sunday reverie was interrupted. The intrusion reminded me of something. The gospel can break in on its own. I have learned this from my own, too frequent, bouts of homiletical mediocrity. Many times, despite my ineptitude, the gospel launched an incursion into someone’s life. Its message is not always constrained by the skill of the messenger.

How I got ‘here’ has value but only in so far has it contributes meaningfully to what happens next. When I consider the future I feel I am squeezed between two mutually exclusive realities. On the one hand I ‘am’ a preacher. Perhaps one with some talent? On the other hand, I have no pulpit. In the first place, Jeremiah’s words reveal my own existential crisis, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in” New International Version (©1984) In the second place I am filled with self loathing for the jealousy that I wish to deny but must in honesty confess.

Since then I have been greatly blessed to a degree and in ways I do not deserve. Every day I wake to a home filled with people I love and who, in turn love me. I am stunned by the good fortune that I have a job that permits me to care for them. I discover some measure of purpose as a leader of cub scouts. I do not discount that these are all good things but, well, I owe and am capable of much more. And it is a whispering realization that has broken into into an uproar today.

Oh the nuisance a word can cause. I wish to be the un-afflicted comfortable pew warmer but the the gospel won’t let me go. That this nuisance is not ‘good news’ for me does not mean that, in the end, my torment might not be the source of good news for others. So be it. I relinquish the cherished goal of letting my small talent lie fallow. Though the return that may be earned is diminished from small to trivial through years of neglect, I do here with commit myself to speak – or write- and in so doing to preach.

‘This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death’.

Amen

Written by David Wilkerson

7 December 2011 at 9:52 pm

Posted in Creativity, epiphany, hope, Writing

Tagged with , , , ,

Life in Light

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Sun shines over my shoulder. Cascades of light and warmth spill across me and to the north I see long shadows of myself on the floor.
I cannot look into the light but I know of Light’s embrace. I cannot see God but I accept that God is near all the same.

Written by David Wilkerson

10 February 2011 at 1:18 pm

Posted in hope, life, theology, Who knows?

Winter Blah

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Let me be clear, I love snow. I love seeing flakes accumulate in ominous piles foreshadowing a frozen end of days. I like huge snow-ball sized globs of it falling on balsam and fir lending an air of Christmas to the early days of Lent. I love snow. What I do not love is the deepening chill of night when the air is wet and the wind bores a hole through to my gizzard; the premature sense that this chill is of the grave.

Written by David Wilkerson

8 February 2011 at 6:47 pm

Posted in cold, death, epiphany, hope

Balancing the Books

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When God made Mr. Harold Dempsey’s face he used silly putty. Harold’s face consisted of one rolling wrinkle after another. Shaking his head, we watched; a classroom of  fascinated boys. His heavy jowls waved in counterpoint as he uttered a familiar declaration, “Boys, I would rather God ‘took a mill stone and tied it about my neck’ than to cause you any harm.
I couldn’t imagine what possible harm he might do. Could he infect us and reduce our faces to a similarly drooping state?
“Now boys,” his eyes drooped joining the general sag of his cheeks, “you are innocent today. But someday you won’t be.”Remembering his words today they seem more coherent than they did to my ten year old ears. Innocence was something Perry Mason dealt with. You couldn’t be innocent of something until you were accused of something and, apart from repeatedly misplacing my father’s tools I was clear of all charges.I wanted to move on. Any distraction from the looming lecture would do. Perhaps we could divert his attention to one of the pictures in our illustrated King James bibles. One favorite was Moses with what looked like fresh baked loaves in his arms. Even though lunch was still a few hours away I could look at the picture and smell the bread. Heck I could taste the melted butter and grape jelly.
Yep, it would have been fine with me if we had moved straight ahead to one of those pictures but it was revival season and Mr. Dempsey was duty bound to press his point. “Yes sir, boys, you may be innocent today but soon, maybe sooner than you think, you are going to have to explain yourselves to God.”
By this point I was probably investigating the picture where Delilah was cutting off Sampson’s hair. There was something about Delilah that I couldn’t figure out. And it started near her neckline and I was making progress when Mr. Dempsey’s next words pulled me back to the classroom.“Boy’s! if you don’t give your hearts to Jesus… well I don’t know how else to say it… if you don’t you’re goin’ straight to hell.” There was something about the phrase “straight to hell” that disturbed my “intense” examination of Delilah. I jerked my head up, the bible fell to the floor and Mr. Dempsey looked at my glowing red face.His next remark was a cinematic event. “Well, that’s something you don’t have to worry about… ” the lighting shifted, silence surrounded us and his baritone shifted to bass. He continued, “’til you reach the-age-of-accountability.”Ah, “the-age-of-accountability”, I didn’t know what it was but it was clearly associated with hell. Not that I knew a lot about hell either. I must have known enough. I wouldn’t eat deviled eggs because they were, well, Devil-ed. And I certainly didn’t want to go to hell by any road, curvy or straight.Maybe “the-age-of-accountability” was like ear wax or tooth decay. Maybe it was something that could be avoided, or if encountered, could be undone. Avoided. Undone. If only the weight of our failures could be so easily remedied.Somewhere in my growing up “the-age-of-accountability” snuck up on me. Mr. Dempsey’s warning seemed opaque when I was ten. Now, having begun what is likely the last third of my life, I find myself accountable. I do not fear hell but I recognize that an answer is due. I must account for things done.Even more, though, I must account for things not done. Sartre once suggested that hell is other people. I can’t say I know his hell. The one I know consists of undone kindnesses, unexpressed grace, unstated affection, under appreciated love. This is a hell I know well. It is for these that I can offer no reasonable accounting. It is from this hell that I most deeply yearn for deliverance. 

Written by David Wilkerson

6 January 2008 at 7:59 pm

Posted in grace, hope, theology

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