a blog about words and faith and life by Cindy Maddox

Archive for November, 2011

My Father’s Gifts

I figured it out today. I did the math. I think I have heard my father preach approximately 1882 times. Over the years, his sermons have taught me, formed me, inspired me, challenged me, and convicted me. His sermons brought the Bible to life and taught me how to live. They also taught me–though I didn’t know it at the time–how to preach. Compare those 1882 sermons to the 90 hours I spent in preaching classes in seminary, and it’s clear who had the greater impact on my own preaching.

I have heard my father preach approximately 1882 times. But in all those 1882 times, I don’t think I was ever nervous. Tomorrow will be a first. Tomorrow my father will step into my pulpit and give a sermon to my people. It’s actually not the first time he’s been there. He participated in my installation service, though he didn’t preach. But at that time, I was new to this church. I hadn’t yet made the pulpit my own. It hadn’t yet staked its claim on me.

This time is different.

It’s not that I don’t like to share. He is preaching, after all, at my invitation. But it will feel weird. It will feel strange to share my pulpit with someone whose theology differs rather significantly from my own. But that’s really not the issue, not the cause for my discomfort.

In my mind I keep seeing him standing there in my pulpit, and I know how he fills a pulpit. He stands there, all 6’3″ of him, handsome and vibrant even at 73, and he looks like every pastoral search committee’s favorite candidate. He wears the mantle of leadership so naturally, like he was made for it and it for him.

I, on the other hand, sometimes struggle with the mantle. When it was first placed on my shoulders it felt completely natural–and at the same time, unnaturally heavy. It’s not that the mantle doesn’t fit me. It does. Sort of. Most of the time. But sometimes I chafe under it and try to shift it around to find a more comfortable way to carry it. Not my dad, though. He is always and ever shall be Pastor Maddox. I’m not. I’m Pastor Cindy. Or just Cindy.

I think maybe what I’m nervous about is seeing my dad–in my mind, the very epitome of what it means to be a pastor–stand in the place where each week I try. I don’t have his presence. I don’t have his authority. Sometimes I worry about that. But then I remember. I remember what I do have. I have my own God-given gifts. I have my own calling. I have a way of connecting with people and connecting the Bible to real life. I have an authenticity in the pulpit that seems to assure people that they’re OK, too. I don’t have my father’s gifts. I have my own.

My dad’s sermons taught me, formed me, inspired me, challenged me, and convicted me. And tomorrow I hope his sermon will do the same for my congregation. My people. The people I claim as my own. The people who have staked their claim on me.

So bring us a word from the Lord, Dad. I look forward to seeing you in my pulpit.

I hate it when that happens

“I’m miserable and it’s all my fault. I hate it when that happens.”

I recently posted this statement on my Facebook page. I was referring to a particularly bad case of poison ivy that I’ve had for the past week. You see, I know I have bad reactions to poison ivy, and I am usually very careful to avoid an outbreak. I wear long sleeves and gloves to work in the yard, and if I don’t, then I wash very carefully with a scrub that removes the plant oils from the skin.

This time I did neither. When I finished working I was so covered in mud that I became focused on getting out of my muddy clothes (and jacket, shoes, and socks), and in the process I forgot my “make sure you don’t get poison ivy” ritual washdown. The result is one of the worst cases I’ve had, requiring a trip to the doctor, a shot, and a prescription, including a discovery of the joys of prednisone-induced insomnia. And so I wrote, “I’m miserable and it’s all my fault. I hate it when that happens.”

This made me wonder–would I be any less miserable if it weren’t my fault? if I had someone else to blame? if it was a random accident or a previously undiscovered allergy? And you know what? I think I would be. I keep thinking, “If only I’d remembered” and “I can’t believe I forgot” and “What was I thinking?” I keep berating myself for my stupidity, which really doesn’t help me survive the itch.

This is not, of course, the first time I have suffered because of my own mistakes. I have made plenty of bad choices in my life and have had to face the consequences of my lack of judgment. I didn’t particularly like those experiences either. It’s so much easier when we can blame someone else.

In those situations where someone else was to blame for my suffering, I learned some important lessons about trust and vulnerability and even how to overcome difficult experiences. But in those situations where I was to blame for my own suffering, I learned even more. There is nothing like sitting smack dab in the middle of a cesspool of your own making that forces you to realize your own weaknesses, your vulnerability to particular temptations, your propensity to choose immediate gratification regardless of the cost. In times like that, your options are pretty clear: if you want to get out of the cesspool, you have to stop making messes. You also have to realize that the public mistakes–the ones that result in your backside being covered in mud–are not nearly as important as the secret ones, the oils clinging to your skin and psyche, invisible until the outbreak.

So here’s to making mistakes. Here’s to screwing up royally. Here’s to waking up to a horrible smell and then realizing, “Oh, wow, that’s me!” Because then you can choose to change. Then you can learn to make better choices. Then you can stop hurting yourself–and others–with your self denial and lack of awareness. Then you really can get to the cause of that itch.

We don’t need to fear making mistakes. We need to fear not learning from them.

And now, if you will excuse me, it is time for me to take my prednisone.

Those who flee the storm

I am sitting at the library. I have been here for the past four and a half hours, sitting on a hard wooden chair, working at a table whose height would not be approved by my physical therapist as “ergonomic.”  While trying to work I have endured math tutoring at the next table, a woman’s multiple calls to her office about tomorrow’s presentation, and a librarian whose booming voice might have suggested a different career path.  I have heard all this in spite of my ear buds plying me with “Sheep May Safely Graze” and “Be Thou My Vision.” This is not to mention the number of passersby who obviously have not been able to shower recently.

I am spoiled. I miss my cushy chair in my private office. But the church building that is home to my cushy chair and my private office has been without power for nearly four days, following the freak October snowstorm that has crippled New England. Most of my parishioners have been without power as well, and we’re all sharing stories and comparing notes on how we’re keeping warm and whether or not our smart phones have service.

Some people refer to it euphemistically as pioneer life. Others call it camping. I don’t care for either one. I don’t like camping when I plan on doing it, much less when it is forced upon me.  But here I am, fleeing the 54-degree temp outside, and I hear a man say to his companion,  “Well, I feel like sitting here and reading, but I hate to stay inside when it’s so nice out. There will be plenty of days this winter when we need to stay in the library all day.”

I try not to complain. I have a home. I will have heat once the power is restored. I know I am blessed.

What caught me by surprise today was not my encounters with the homeless or with wooden chairs. What surprised me was my insistence on staying here. Two colleagues offered me space in their churches. Three parishioners and a friend invited me to their homes. And here I still sit, gathered around a table with an old man wearing three layers of clothes and University of Michigan hat, the big guy in the gray sweatshirt and New York Mets hat, and the hard-working, studious man in the Adidas hat. Others have come and gone.  We are the faithful. We will endure the non-bathers and booming-voiced librarians that disturb us.  This is our table.

I feel strangely united with the people around me, at this table and others around us. We are here because of the storm. We are here because we have studying to do, or work we must complete, or simply because we cannot stand being disconnected in this world of constant electronic connection.

It feels a little bit like church. We come to seek shelter from the storm. We come because we want to learn or we want to serve or simply because we need to be connected. We don’t always have much else in common. We wear different hats. We have different loyalties. But still we come. Again and again we come and sit on those hard wooden seats and feel connected with the diversity of people around us. And again and again we are warmed.

It is now five hours that I’ve been sitting here, and although that is four hours longer than my usual worship service, I still feel the need to give a blessing, a benediction, to my fellow congregants before I leave. So I envision myself standing, as I always do, on the edge of the platform, my arms spread to their full six-foot wingspan, and I say, “Go in peace, my friends, and remember where you find your hearts warmed.”