For the past several years, I have been in the rotation of religious leaders of Waverly to contribute a column in the town newspaper. My particular column, titled "The Lava Lamp," has often focused on comic approaches to scripture and faith, and I have reprinted many in The Comic Lens. I have very much appreciated this chance to speak to my local community in this way.
My final turn in the clergy rotation came yesterday, and I wrote my last offering of The Lava Lamp. Here it is.
(For those of you wondering what "Bartels" is - it's the retirement community/nursing facility that became both my parents' final residence. If you're wondering what a combine is...look it up and be prepared for your jaw to drop, too!)
A MOST-FOND FAREWELL....
“While God seeks to encounter us always, we most often discover the Divine through unexpected messengers and delightful surprises.”
This is my summation (“elevator speech” if you will) of what the Bible wants us to know. It’s told over and over, in story after story. The message of God’s unconditional love and amazing grace is always coming from the “least likely” character, and the salvation it offers happens in the least likely places, times and ways. This means a fabulous surprise party is always possible! Probable! Believe it or not!
Of course, the culminating example is Easter. God’s Messiah comes back to life after dying on a cross, of all places. So no one at first recognizes him; but when they do, all Hallelujah’s break loose!
The Bible is always reminding us we should forever be on the lookout for a wonder-full Divine encounter no matter what, or where or with whom….
Five years ago, I packed my bags (and put a ton of stuff in storage) after many years of living and pastoring in Southern California to come to Waverly and care for my ailing parents. I went on “family leave” and had no idea how long I’d be living in rural Iowa or what awaited me, except my parents, a few dear relatives and family friends, and some distant memories of holidays spent in Bremer and Butler Counties when I was a kid. (We were the Des Moines ie “big city” branch of the family, much more familiar with suburbs than silos….)
Many people, including myself, wondered how in the world I’d fare after having lived for a very long time in big cities (bigger than Des Moines even!) and immersed in West Coast culture.
It has been just as the Bible promises!!!
My parents have both now left the earthly plane and my caring tasks in Waverly are done, so in late June I moved back to Southern California to there resume full-time ministry. I’m now pastoring at the United Methodist Church of Palm Springs. Yes, it IS a dry heat!!!
This is my final offering of the Lava Lamp. You and your community will always have SUCH a special, blessed place in my heart. I can’t begin to tell you what these five years among you and with my parents have brought me and my family.
But here are 10 favorite unexpected messengers and delightful surprises where God became real in extra-special, joyful measure, and in no certain order:
1) French Pant Suit Fashion Show at Bartels! I collect pant suits, and at the inspired suggestion of the Bartels’ staff, I one afternoon brought a bunch to the facility, staff and residents put them on, I put on some French cafe music, and we had the silliest, happiest event I may have ever been part of (and that’s TRULY saying something!)
2) Bald eagles off the side of the road on Highway 3! I used to think you could only find these majestic, almost mythical creatures in Washington State. Oh boy do I stand corrected!!
3) Bremer County Fair Combine Demolition Derby…Iowa’s largest! I have no words. But then again how could I? I spent my night at the Derby with jaw dropped!!
4) Best takeout ever! You may have your own favorite spots in town, but I’ll never lose my hankering for the veggie pizza-with-shredded-lettuce-on-top you get at the OP, the steamed dishes with super yummy garlic sauce you can pick up at East China, and the spinach and mushroom enchiladas at Tapatio. Just try and match these, Palm Springs, just try!!
5) Cubs win! Cubs win! Pinnacle moment with my dad, World’s Greatest Cub Fan, was getting to watch Game 7 of World Series 2016 with him in his room at Bartels. A couple of days later, Eric VanSickle came by to interview him, and that image - watching he and Eric talk Cubs - is for sure one of my most cherished ever.
6) The nation’s oldest mosque just down the road! Whoda thunk it? Iowa has the greatest Muslim neighbors; I went to visit the Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids and Imam Tawil, and he then graciously came with some of his associates to Waverly to spend time with residents here on on MLK Day 2016. I could not have been more proud to be an Iowan that day.
7) Preaching at Bartels! I had the opportunity to guest preach for many different NE Iowa congregations, but bringing a sermon to Bartels’ residents was always my greatest joy…and challenge. Because so many retired Lutheran pastors (and their most-astute spouses) now live there, I always made sure I was bringing to the Bartels pulpit my “A stuff”! (Thankfully, everyone was always very kind and, at least I think, kept their red pens in their rooms….)
8) Bremwood! Especially special Divine encounters happened during my time as a “spiritual life volunteer” at Waverly’s residential treatment facility for at-risk youth. If you haven’t already, make a point to meet Pastor Dennis Bauer and learn more about Bremwood and how you might become a part.
9) My fabulous extended family! I’ve always known the relatives on both sides of my parents’ family were kind and fun, but I never knew how great they were until I got to live near them and/or the places they grew up and churches they attended. The fact that ALL of my relatives are still active in church, still growing in love, still committed to the gospel for all the right reasons is such a testament to the religious communities that Bremer and Butler counties continue to foster.
10) Main Street construction! I know the traffic problems it’s causing are a huge headache and bring the temptation to violate several of the Commandments, but you don’t know how at-home such circumstances made this Los Angeles driver!! :)
In addition, I thank from the bottom of my heart the folks at the pharmacy, dry cleaners, grocery store, doctors office, condo association, the W, bank…and really on and on…who never ceased to brighten the lives of my parents, and me, with your continued interest in and assistance to our lives. And in getting to share in the laughter and tears of your lives, too.
God bless…and continue delightfully surprising…you all. Us all! And may God continue to use us all to bring fabulous surprise parties… whether we know it or not!! xoxox