Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Following the Thread, part 2

When the moon hits your eyes
like a big pizza pie
That's Amore
When the world seems to shine
like you've had too much wine
That's Amore

When the stars make you drool
Just like pasta fazool
That's Amore
When you dance down the street
With a cloud at your feet
You're in love
When you walk in a dream
But you know you're not dreamin', signore
'scusa me, but you see, back in old Napoli,
That's Amore
(words and music by Harry Warren and Jack Brooks)

Is that really love -- drunken, drooling, dancing dreaminess? I'm in favor of such delight. Woozy romance has fallen
rather out of favor in recent years -- maligned as the shaky, ephemeral foundation on which to build a genuine relationship. "Love," it is insisted, "is a choice, not an emotion." Fine. But even green leafy vegetables and high-fiber foods cooking can have a scent that attracts the hungry and makes the eating a culinary experience rather than mere nutritional fortification. Sure, emotions rise and fall; sure, romance flares and fizzles, but I wouldn't subscribe to any effort to do away with them altogether.

It could be that we savor the experience of romance precisely because we recall the rattling, metallic echo of its absence. Hunger pains, after all, lead some to scrounge a little more urgently for food. Would that the world could see a little bolder scrounging for real love!

Romance, I know, is not the same thing as love. But it might well be its scent. Romance, if I read the dictionary right, is about the celebration of, the honoring of, something -- or someone -- that has come to have significance for the person involved. Hormones may well be involved, but surely the celebration of another is more than that. And isn't love birthed in the recognition of another's precious value? I'm thinking we could do with a little
more romance than we are accustomed to nurturing. Maybe the approach of Valentine's Day, while triggering flowers and chocolates and who knows what other expressions, could also be the stimulus for taking stock of all those relationships whose vitality we treasure, and celebrate -- romance -- them as well.

They may not all be the drooling kind, but if one just so happens to be..
...drool away. Tissue is cheap.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Dangerous Wisdom of Those We Know Well

Yesterday's reading for many in the church told the story of Jesus' less than positive reception among the home folks. After the obligatory head patting -- the nice young man who had been away, now returned amid exclamations about how much he had grown, questions about whether he always wears his hair like that and what exciting job he has managed to land -- Jesus offers a few reflections on their scheduled reading of the day. It didn't go well. The thoughts were not well received. They tried to throw him over a cliff. In the midst of it all, Jesus muses, "No prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown."

What have we said about experts? A briefcase and an address at least 50 miles away. The mileage requirements may vary, but the conclusion is often sound: distance imputes credibility. Or as someone else has put it, "familiarity breeds contempt." It doesn't always happen this way -- how many organizations prefer to promote from within? -- but the wisdom of our own comes at a discount. At least twice in my ministry I have heard adults from one generation vent frustration over advocacies rebuffed by an older generation with the observation, "But you taught me to think this way. I sat in the Sunday School classes you taught and took to heart what you said. How is that now you oppose this?" Ah! Unruly children.

It all makes me wonder about the unnoticed wisdom lurking under my very nose -- from those I know the best or see most often -- and what it takes to seriously consider an opinion or view I am prone to reject. What does it take for me to recognize and honor a prophet -- home folk, or not?

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Enlarging Grace of Agitation

That Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with his rivals is the very premise of Doris Kearns Goodwin's stunningly beautiful book, Team of Rivals. That he did it less as a shrewd political tactician than as an humble statesman seeking the best for his country is the more awe-striking lesson I retain as I finally turn the last page. Having populated his inner circle with those jealous for the job they, themselves, had coveted, he went about the even more strenuous task of listening to them, drawing honest counsel from them, and deferring to their particular expertise. It was, after all, the particulars of their expertise on which he believed the nation would depend. A few of the rivals became deep and abiding friends. Some simply became colleagues. One, at least, remained, to the end, a rival and was ultimately replaced for allowing his personal ambitions to supersede his public responsibility. Even then, however, Lincoln respected the considerable gifts and wisdom of this political mosquito whose incessant buzzing had created such distraction. When the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court died and Lincoln considered how to fill the vacancy, it was ultimately to this same rival that the President turned. It wasn't sentimentality that drove the selection, nor certainly affection. Lincoln later told a confidant that he "would rather have swallowed his buckhorn chair than to have nominated" this particular candidate, but he believed it was right for the country. Following Lincoln's death, another of those rivals-cum-colleague, William Seward, reflected on Lincoln's surprising Cabinet choices, concluding, "a Cabinet which should agree on every such question would be no better or safer than one counsellor (sic)" (p. 747).

It occurs to me that our culture must soon be chairless. If Lincoln opted to utilize the right people, regardless of their political fidelity and pedigree, rather than eat the chair he would have preferred, our practice by contrast has devolved into eating the furniture rather than risking the advice and counsel of those with whom we may not agree, and maybe not even like -- even at the expense of what is right or what is good. It's easy to point at politicians, where the promotion of political hacks and cronies is, sadly and tragically, assumed. But while employment and promotion are rarely my privilege, my practice of gathering wisdom is seldom more noble. I, too, tend to surround myself with echoes, rather than alternate voices. Thusly validated and seconded, I proceed on my merry, if impoverished, way, convinced of my sagacity and narrowed by my naivete.

If an intellect, like a rock, is polished by agitation, how dull my thinking must be. And how humbling.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Following a Loose Thread of Love

I'm saving all the love
That I'm supposed to give to Jesus
So that I can give it all to you
And the Lord's gonna be jealous
But he ain't never seen you let your hair down
...I'm gonna give it all to you
("Saving all the Love" by Joe Firstman,
from the 2003 album The War of Women)

Ah! Love. I was preparing the Bible study for tonight's high school youth group meeting and came back across this song. I had forgotten about it, having purchased the album after accidentally seeing the artist in concert a few years ago. Don't ask me. There is just something appallingly, blasphemously funny about it that gives me a kick. I'm odd that way.

Anyway, the Bible study for the youth group. The curriculum session is focused on the difference between "love" and "compassion," but I stalled out with the whole notion of love. Valentines Day is coming up, after all, and it seems a relevant topic. We invent so many terrible ways of loving that a little remedial reflection could come in handy. Just for starters I would suggest that the songwriter, while delightfully clever, has gotten one thing fundamentally wrong. There really is no inherent conflict between love for Jesus and love for another. As I recall, he rather advocated the idea. I know, I know: hypothetically speaking there is that insidious danger of idolatry lurking behind every box of candy and bundle of roses. But as a species we seem far more likely to love each other too little than too much. I'm all for us letting our hair down a a little if that would help such a transformation along.

My concern for the songwriter, however, is less over his muddled spirituality than with the ego-centrism that has a way of masquerading as devotion. "I love you" too often means "I love me and you are one of the ways I indulge myself," which quickly becomes more about consuming another rather than honoring them.

So, what is love and how might we both celebrate and practice it? I have a few ideas that I hope to feather out between now and February 14. In the meantime, I'm hoping the high school kids can set me straight tonight.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Less "Off" Than "Open"

Monday is an odd day of the week for a preacher who isn't scheduled to preach on the next upcoming Sunday. Most Mondays are usually spent reading more carefully the designated bible reading and revisiting the sermon title listed on the sign in the lobby and beginning the Sisyphean project of rolling the next homiletical stone up the hill. It is a character-building regimen, often exhilarating and sometimes wearisome.

But next Sunday is laity Sunday for our car on the ecclesiastical train, and by some novel stroke of providence, a layperson from our congregation is actually filling the pulpit. My pulpit services will not be needed. So without the press of an impending sermon to prepare, what do I do?

The list, given any thought at all, isn't hard to populate. Since, as my retired minister father once pointed out, "Sunday comes around with ruthless regularity," I could always get started on the following week's pulpit offering. Or I could give some attention to the seasonal planning that routinely gets denied. Or there is the pile of books that only gets taller. Or...

As the Personnel Committee would be quick to remind me, it's not like preaching is the only thing I do. There is, I might defensively assert, plenty to keep me busy. There are calls I could set up -- visitors to connect with; absentees to check in on, grieving and convalescing I could comfort or encourage. I could actually push back from the desk, back out the car and head over to any one of the many care centers where members unable to "come to church" would be thrilled to see the church "come to them."

Or I could, in the midst of it all, recall that my worth is not integrally linked to my pastoral production, close the door, bow my head, and center into the leading, enlarging Spirit of the one who called me here in the first place; the Apostle's admonition to "pray without ceasing" having received about as much attention lately as the shut-ins.

And who knows, that same Spirit could even waft into my soul some clue about which, of the many options available, might beckon my renewed energy, passion and attention...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pastoral Care for the Anonymous

Last Saturday it was a baptism; today it was a funeral. Neither involved lives that I had heretofore known. Strangers, opaque in anonymity, reaching out for help. I'm not sure how they keep finding their way into my pastoral care; it's not like I advertise free Saturdays. It is also true, of course, that neither is truly anonymous. They are well-known to families of people -- parents and children, neighbors and grandchildren, classmates and co-workers and doctors and friends. Illness they had in common; cancer -- one battling it, the other succumbing to it. Anonymous, then, to me, but known to and beloved by others.

The funeral preparations started out comically enough -- a call from a funeral director; a family without clergy connections; a son from out-of-town who wanted the best for his mother who, "er, uh, would like to visit with you a little before deciding for sure whether you'll be involved."

"You mean I need to audition," I translated.

"Well...yes," the funeral director admitted. I could tell she was embarrassed. We've worked together more times than I like to count. Serving a church with a sizable elderly membership, I have single-handedly pronounced benedictions over acres of cemetery real estate. The funeral director knows me, but the bereaved son does not, and that, I could appreciate, was what mattered. So, I phoned, we sat down the next day, and apparently I passed. Perhaps it was the bow-tie or the maybe the Texas twang; perhaps it was that I didn't drool and could form complete sentences -- or perhaps he was, by that time, simply desperately resigned. Whatever might have given him permission to exhale and relax, we moved forward from there. Stories, memories, laughter, tears. A single mother, a tough and determined Iowa lady; a woman who rolled with more than her share of punches -- a divorcee, a widow, a veteran of three kinds of cancer, and more.

And before very long, she wasn't anonymous at all; hardly, to me, even dead. Though I had never known her, she had come to live in the fertile relational space between us; in the lives touched and animated by devotion, by determined hard work and protective, encouraging, embracing love; and she had come to live in the moment of amazing and profound grace that invited me into the stories past and now unfolding in eulogy, hymn, prayer and farewell. And I was humbled to be a part. Honored and blessed.

May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord's face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May the Lord look upon with you a smile
And give you peace.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Straightening out the Boiler -- and More

The timer control on the boiler somehow got confused -- just how is beside the point -- a problem, given the kind of weather we've been having. Specially configured little screws strategically apportioned around the clock-wheel flip the boiler "on" or "off", depending on the screw, allowing for some measure of conservation during the building's fallow hours. At least in theory.

Unfortunately, actual practice is another thing. Studying the wheel we observed four "on" screws consecutively affixed -- "on" in the wee small hours of Monday morning; "on" again late that same afternoon; "on" again on Tuesday and then "on" again Tuesday evening. We were "off" for awhile on Wednesday morning -- presuming, I suppose, a weekly hump-day warming trend -- and then a few more "on" triggers paused briefly by intermittent "offs." I think we have worked out the erraticisms into a more regularized alternation, but the mix-up has been a bit humbling.

It's not that I had misapplied the screws. Thankfully, that's not my area of responsibility. It's that the screws reflected so metaphorically the pattern of my life, and the lives of those around me: mostly "on" -- on, on, on, on -- and only erratically given permission to be "off."

On, on, on, on...off...on, on, on, on...

If the building has seemed perpetually ill-tempered under that scenario, why would I expect my life to be any different? I have to believe the concept of Sabbath was meant to challenge and correct that obsessive and excessive pattern. On, but also off -- rhythmically, routinely; like the tide's ebb and flow, or the lung's filling and expelling.

On, but also off.
Talking, but also listening.
Giving, but also receiving.
Loving, but also being loved.
Waking, but also sleeping.
Or, as in the case of the boiler, heating up, but also cooling down.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Prayerful Power

He waited in the after-worship line to speak to me -- to lodge, as it were, a complaint. It stemmed from the fact that in the previous Sunday's "Prayers of the People" I had prayed for snow. I confess that, on that score, it had been more "Prayers of this Person" rather than "People." A week later, my prayers were being answered. And thus the impetus for his complaint. "I've been praying all this time for 50 degrees, and one little time you pray for snow and all my efforts are for nothing. I see who gets heard."

Prayer is, I'll have to agree, a mysterious and even dangerous thing. Years ago, Garth Brooks looked around at the goodness of his life, reflected on all the times he had asked God for the success of relationships that would have led to very different ends, and thanked God for "unanswered prayers." I might quibble with the word "unanswered" -- "no", after all, is an answer -- but I understand what he was getting at. I think about all the dumb, self-centered, short-sighted things for which I've prayed -- earnestly, desperately -- and today give just as earnest thanks that I didn't get my way.

Neither my friend in his after-worship complaint, nor me in my during-worship supplication was being theologically serious. Neither one of us imagined God actually giving our climatic preferences real consideration. But it does give me pause to consider more carefully those elements more authentically offered in prayer. The older I get, the more I realize how little I comprehend what is best for me -- to say nothing of the world around me. To pray for specific turns of events seems a little presumptious.

But some prayers seem safe -- for peace, for example; for courage and faith and the strength to forgive; for the vision to see the face of God in others and the transparency to reveal that face, myself; for the will to love both neighbor and self in concrete, as well as philosophical ways.

And, on occasion -- just in case God might be feeling generous -- a dash of snow in winter.

Just teasing.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Baptism, Revisited

We have been to the water, Richard and I. Metaphorically speaking, we have stood...
On Jordan's stormy banks...
and cast a wishful eye
to Jordan's fair and happy land
where my possessions lie.

In reality, the baptistry wasn't all that stormy, but the water was warmer than I had anticipated -- almost bath-like, in fact; or womb-like, given the birth that was transpiring. And it was good. As I mentioned earlier, I had my misgivings. I was prepared for a perfunctory "splash and dunk" magical "solution" to a sick man's impending death, in the company of the requisite words that would would "tie up all the loose ends."

But as it unfolded, the actual experience was something else. We gathered -- family and candidate; wife, sons, daughters-in-law and granddaughter -- soberly; friendly, to be sure, but more than a bit awestruck it seemed. Richard and I left the others, changed our clothes, shared a prayer, and descended into the water. The others were out there, nearby and watching, but Richard was somewhere else: focused in on the experience and the breathtaking immensity he was experiencing it to be. Remembering out loud the promise of John 3:16, I asked him the question -- what we, in the church, refer to as "the Good Confession." It took him a moment to respond -- not, it became apparent, for indecision or lack of conviction, but for emotion. "I do," he finally managed to whisper; words that recall the marriage vows that, in their own way, they are.

We prayed; we ascended; we dried and dressed; we gathered around the table where we prayed again and ate and drank in remembrance. We stood silent, except for the various tearful sniffles. We stood in the silence, knowingly aware that what we had participated in together was not mechanical at all; not, as I had surmised, a desperate attempt to "put one's affairs in order," but the very encounter with the holy that I so deeply value.

And on this chilly, snowy, interrupted Saturday morning, it was blessedly, tearfully, joyfully good.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Welcome, My Friend, To Life

There are plenty of reasons to be circumspect -- even reticent -- about the baptism scheduled for tomorrow. For one thing, it's single-digit cold outside and the thought of stepping down into a tank of water in the midst of a chilly Saturday-morning sanctuary isn't all that appealing. I don't think we'll have to break through any ice, but I hope the Lord doesn't mind a little goose-pimpled flesh.

For another thing, I don't know this man. He comes to my ministrations by way of a retired colleague who met the man in the hospital -- which brings up the other little piece of this scenario. The man is dying. My understanding is that dusk is settling in on life as he has known it, which is to say that while this isn't quite literally a deathbed conversion...it's close.

Who am I to judge? And the truth is, I don't. While the thought of a leisurely Saturday morning curled up by the fire with a book is alluring, I have coated up and warmed up the car for far less. And ultimately I'm simply not in the business of turning down baptisms. It's not that I believe the dunking is magic. I trust that God's grace is expansive enough to welcome home a repentant and reconciled soul whether or not it has passed through the requisite volume of water. It's just that I value any occasion that brings someone into deep and conscious reflection about the meaning of life, the experience of love, and the glorious awe of eternity.

And if it takes the nearness of death, so be it. While I might choreograph it all a different way, this is the way it is happening. And so, in the name of God our heritage, our help and our hope, I'll descend with him into the water and offer us both into the waiting arms that are, if nothing else, grace.

Welcome, then, my new friend whom I haven't yet met, not to death...

...but to life.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Addicted to the Signs

My new driving obsession is gasoline -- prices, that is. My eyes now automatically snap to the sign of any station or convenience store that sells this nectar of our addiction. My interest is not abstraction; it's financial, plain and simple. Accustomed now to merchants climbing ladders to change those numbers sometimes multiple times in a day, my gaze flits between sign and dashboard guage, weighing any drop or increase against my needle's indication of need. When to stop? When to drive on? Generally speaking, all the attention is wasted effort. I stop when the car is empty. If it happens to occur at an hour of price decline, the benefit is holy grace or coincidence or luck -- depending on one's belief -- but rarely calculation. As often as not, I've filled my tank the day before prices plummet.

I recall hearing, a few years ago, the distinction between "concern" and "influence." My "circle of concern" is wide and includes all kinds of things -- from a loved one's health to the war in Iraq; from the plight of displaced workers to the slow-running drain in my sink. My "circle of influence," however, is much smaller, confined as it is to that upon which I can actually act. I can do something about my drain; my ability to influence another person's health is quite a different thing. The tricky -- but essential -- task is discovering what elements within my circle of concern reside also within my circle of influence, and to expend the best of my energies there. "Concern," after all, can become little more than socially acceptable, but impotent, dissipation. Nothing, with the possible exception of my frustration or self-satisfaction, has changed. Empathy and sympathy are certainly not unimportant, but I suspect that on that Great and Glorious Day I'll not be asked for what, during my lifetime, I felt sorry, but about what did I try to do anything constructive, redemptive, healing, enlivening.

I'll keep watching the gas signs; it has become, at this point, a form of recreation -- of gathering near useless information. Though it may concern me, I have precious little influence on the price my local Quick Trip charges for gas, and when I need it, I need it. I have considerable sway, however, over how much of the stuff I guzzle. I can simply close my eyes and drive (so to speak), or I can slow down -- or better yet, pull over, get out...

...and walk.

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Monday, January 8, 2007

How Does the Light Shine On?

Epiphany has begun, which among other things means that we have "undecorated" the church. "Christmas," in other words, "is over." There is always a melancholy gloominess to that effort. We have enjoyed the lights in the trees and garlands and the room without them seems dimmer. But like department store promotions, time moves on. "The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has not overcome it," but what the darkness can't accomplish, a change of season seems to effortlessly manage. Still, some glimmering remains.

Epiphany is a strange confluence of biblical themes -- like the varied rivulets that cut their way through the rural landscape of disparate parts of Iowa, finding common stream in the Des Moines River which animates my adopted hometown. In Epiphany there is the story of Jesus' baptism (a river story of its own); there is the heady, puzzling story of Jesus' transfiguration; but at the beginning of it all is the visit of the Magi and their pursuit of the light they have discerned. Whatever else that light might have been, it presumably struck these wise ones as representing something compelling to seek after.

So there, again, is the light. What for the Magi was a guide, and in the baptismal and Transfiguration stories a dawning comprehension is, throughout them all, a transforming illumination. The purpose of light,come to think of it, is not to look at -- not something merely to gaze into or enjoy -- but to see by.

"To see by." Indeed, then, the light does shine on in my mind and my soul, even after the mini-lighted decorations are put away, for in the light of this coming, I simply am not able to see the life around me the same again.

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Friday, January 5, 2007

A Day Truly Made in Heaven

Singer-songwriter David Wilcox sings a song that one by one holds up for admiration the various attributes of a loved one -- sense of humor, hopefulness, compassion, willingness to listen, a taste for what will last. Ultimately, however, at the end of each stanza, he concludes that it is this person's kindness that he loves best. Perhaps the most romantic thing I have ever done (although that doesn't set a very high bar), perhaps the most heartfelt thing I have ever done was to learn the song and sing it on the day that I proposed to the woman who is now my wife. Now into our 10th year of marriage, I still adore her kindness, but have long since given up as hopeless the game of reducing my affections to a single favorite.

Today is her birthday -- the number of which is her business to tell, not mine -- and though she'll have some opportunity to unwrap a thing or two in celebration of the occasion, the gift, I'm almost wordlessly able to express, is mine. A smile so bright and warm it's as though the sun itself inhabits her face; an indomitable hope, a capacious heart, a radiant spirit, a playfully inquisitive affection for discovery...

...and, yes, kindness. Life in my company has afforded her more than ample opportunity to practice forgiveness, though her patient and thoughtful generousity in proffering it betrays little need for continuing improvement. But then creating the relational space in which all kinds of people can start over is part of the music she regularly and artfully makes.

Whatever else, then, today is about -- celebration, remembrance, laughter and pampering -- it is most of all a day of throat-lumping gratitude. It is her birthday, and for such a birth I haven't a clue how to adequately give voice to my thanks. I doubt this is what the psalmist had in mind when he affirmed it, but the words have taken on special and particular meaning for me these last ten January fifths:

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118)

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

"...the hopes and fears of all the years..." are met in crowbars and sledgehammers

I've read enough Brother Cadfael mysteries to comprehend that monasteries aren't always chanting pools of spiritual and fraternal placidity. Monks are, after all, people with all the complexities, emotions and frailties that designation implies. Still, I was surprised by the small news notice that appeared in the waning days of Advent titled "Rebel monks hole up at chapel after clash at Orthodox sanctuary." The short paragraph went on to describe the conflict in Thessaloniki, Greece between "rival groups of monks" -- a description that already seemed jarring -- "carrying crowbars and sledgehammers" that had to be subdued by police after seven people were injured. And what, you might ask, is the rub between these two prayerful fellowships? A "long-standing dispute between legally recognized monks and a rebel monastery that opposes Orthodox Church efforts to improve relations with the Vatican" (The Des Moines Register, Friday, December 22, 2006).

God knows we can't tolerate any improved relations -- especially between church bodies! Next thing you know we could find ourselves engaged in something ominous, like real dialogue; then -- and this gets really scary -- maybe even genuine understanding. Before you know it, we could find ourselves mired in an inextricable morass of tolerance, respect and -- perish the thought! -- peace. Better for those with their prayerful ears to the ground to nip such an ominous eventuality in the bud with their crowbars and sledgehammers. After all, if such a tectonic shift in global affairs and human interactions were to actually materialize, what would be next? Wolves living with lambs? Calves and lions and fatlings together? Cows and bears grazing side by side? Lions eating straw alongside the ox?

What would the church -- and its monastic constituents -- have left to pray for, hope for, work for? It's as though we would be out of job.

Now there is an Advent prayer, made even more vivid in the bright light of Christmastide.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Weddings, Snowy Chapels, and New Year's Resolutions

We found ourselves talking about weddings. Having discovered the tidy little amphitheatre in the woods behind this cozy Vermont inn (www.weathersfieldinn.com) -- a perfect matrimonial setting -- we inquired of innkeeper Dave on the subject. "We're selective," he responded. When prodded for an explanation, he hinted that, after a series of unpleasant experiences, he and Jane now virtually interview those who inquire about booking their nuptials at the inn. "We mostly do older couples who have their act together."

I nodded with understanding. "When I was graduating from seminary, I couldn't wait to do weddings, and dreaded doing funerals."

"But that quickly flipped," Dave interrupted.

"Yes," I confirmed. "People involved in funerals tend to be genuinely present and focused on large questions and attentions. They are interested in substance rather than show."

"While young, first-time brides," Dave dryly interjected, "are all consumed with whether the mashed potatoes will match the wedding dress, and whether the bridesmaid's' dresses will coordinate with the table cloths."

And so went our commiseration about the nonsensical distractions of youth. But I suspect we both knew that inane preoccupation with what simply doesn't matter is a malady without respect for age.

As I point my wheels into the untracked expanse of a new year, my first resolution is to lighten up, and seek a tighter discrimination between what matters and what simply doesn't. And second, to be more patiently forgiving of those who, like me, often get the two confused.

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