Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Some Random Thoughts On The Eve Of My 62nd Birthday

Am I a fool at this late date

To heed a voice that says 
   that you can be great

I heard it young, now I hear it again…

John Gorka, Morningside

This song by John Gorka kept playing in my head this morning as I did my six miles to Starbucks and back. Tomorrow I turn 62, not a spectacular date, like 65 or those years ending in zero. But I have been thinking about it, more so than most birthdays.

Someone recently told me that “60 is the new 40,” whatever that means. I said, “Great! I guess that means we all have to work another 25 years.”

To be honest, I’m not counting my years to retirement, nor looking to do it any time soon. I think I’ll work until my job is through, then find another way to serve.

I have been thinking about what I am doing with my life for the last couple of years. Like Gorka’s song, I’ve been hearing something inside me that I heard when I was young. It’s not that I want to be great, not even have any illusions of greatness. But I want to make a difference. I always have. My greatest fear for many years was that I would get to the end of my life and, after having the proverbial passing of my life before my eyes, I would think “None of it made any difference.” Then I would die. My teen years were about being a rebel. Ask my family. Or the the high school administration that kicked me out of school a record 23 times. My 20’s and 30’s were concerned with making a difference. I became a United Methodist pastor for many reasons, one of which was I thought the church was in the business of making a difference in the world. I thought that through this system, the UMC, we could make a difference. Bring justice, forgiveness, hope, peace, love, acceptance. “ …to proclaim good news to the poor…. freedom for the prisonersrecovery of sight for the blind…to set the oppressed free... to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) This system called the United Methodist Church, and all the churches that were a part of it, would be making a difference in the world.

Somewhere along the way, I gave up on the system. Institutional survival seemed to be the highest order. As one denominational leader told me, “Of course we have to focus on keeping the church alive. If the church dies, then so do all the ministries it supports. It’s like we’re a ship at sea. Your first order of business is to keep the ship afloat.” So much for that “he who seeks their own life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake and the gospel, will save it.” Who said that?

I never gave up on local churches, though. In them I saw, for the most part, people who wanted to make a difference in this world, too. So I looked to them, and focused on them. Institutions, by their very nature, look to preserve themselves. Years ago a very good friend, an older gentleman who I dearly loved, but disagreed with on almost every thing political, asked me if I knew what the number one priority of any political party was. He then told me, “To get in power.” He then asked if I knew what the number two priority was. He told me, “To stay in power.” Serving people, he said was way on down the line. Same goes for business. Same goes for church hierarchy.

But I have found joy and peace in the churches I serve.

Another song lyric went through my head as I walked.

So you pretend not to notice
That everything has changed
The way that you look
And the friends you once had
So you keep on acting the same
But deep down in your soul
You know you, you got no flame
And who knows then which way to go
Life is short even in its longest days

John Mellencamp, Longest Days

(Why is it that the musicians that I listen to most these days are names John? John Gorka, John Mellencamp, John Denver, John Mayall, John Coltrane, John Lennon, John(athan) Munn, Johnny Cash, Johnny Nash, the list could go on. For my friends named John, don’t get a big head. Your name is also what we call a toilet.)

Mellencamp seemed pretty depressed. Might be because of his heart problems. But whatever it was, I know some of his feelings. Life is short, even in its longest days.


Something in me has come alive that I felt in those early days. I want to make a difference.

Things have gone pretty well for me lately. I have a lovely wife who loves me far beyond comprehension. I have reconnected with some friends from the past, one back to the summer of 1972, and another who was born 8 days before me and is one of my heroes. A few clergy friends have stuck by me through thick and thin, and many others have tolerated me. A few have even forgiven me, which speaks worlds for them.

I have been very fortunate in the churches I have served. I have loved every one of them. Not every one has had the same measure of success (however you would measure that), but every one is one I would go back to. Not so with many of my minister friends. Some have had such painful experiences they will not even go back to a particular town. I have been very lucky. Or blessed.

And the church I serve now is incredible. (See my reflection, 13 Reasons Why I Love My Church.) I do not know when my time here will end, but it will be a good place to end.

Not that I want it to end soon. This stirring, this desire to make a difference, burns deep within me. Gorka’s voice rings in my head-

Don't want to waste what I have to give
 In all of the time that I've left to live  
Don't want to waste what I have to give
In any of the time that I've got left
 I can do more than I thought I could
 Work brings more luck than knocking on wood
There's random bad and random good
 Work brings more good luck, good luck
 Good luck

I hope it’s true that 60 is the new 40. I want those extra 25 years. Maybe I can make a difference. I plan to try.

Happy birthday.

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