I remember one year, a couple of months before Easter during a rather long and deep and gray cold snap, when I was whining on a Sunday morning. I was tired of the cold. I was tired of the gray. I was tired of it getting dark in the middle of the day. I was tired of staying inside and yet didn’t want to do the whole bundle up thing to go out. One of our long-time ushers who had survived several pastors through the years suggested that my whining was not going to help anything. Really?!? I may have shared that I thought it was helping me. And then he, without batting an ornery eye said, “You know it’s going to snow on Easter.”
“Stop it,” I said. “You take that back right now! It’s NOT going to snow on Easter! It can’t snow on Easter! Easter is spring and lilies and sunshine and rainbows!”
“Nope,” he said with a grin.“It’s going to snow on Easter and why don’t we just make a little wager on that.”
Pulling together my full and self-righteous knowledge of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church and everything that’s pure and holy and filled with principle and integrity and everything ethically and morally acceptable in the life of faith, I shared with him that I could not do that. He grinned and said that he was talking about a banana split, and that if it didn’t snow, he would buy, and if it did snow, as he very much believed it would, I would buy. I looked at his spouse. She rolled her eyes and said she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be around either one of us but if we were having banana splits whoever was buying would be responsible for hers as well.
It did. It snowed, quite literally, it snowed. Only it was Palm Sunday instead of Easter. It was icy and slushy and snowy and blowing and cold and he had the biggest grin on his face when he walked into the sanctuary that morning. And I hooted and hollered (it was well before services) and reminded him it was NOT Easter and he simply and calmly and rather smugly smiled and said he believed this might be the best Palm Sunday he’d ever experienced.
I have that now. That story. That usher and his spouse are now giving the saints a hard time in the eternal realm, but I have that story and it comes back to me at random times and fills my heart. I think it’s supposed to be fun, this journey we make together of life and faith. I think in between the intensity and the complexity and the disappointment and the tragedy and even the sorrow, I think there are supposed to be times of just flat out fun.
This usher and I had a bit of a complex relationship over the years. Somehow, he didn’t always agree with the decisions I made, or the words I preached, or how long it sometimes took me to preach them. *snort* And I sometimes had my nose out of joint about the usher team and what they were and were not doing during the course of the morning and where and how people were seated and when the doors were closed or opened and how loudly those things happened right in the middle of other stuff that was going on. AND we both knew pain. They had both a son-in-law and one of their daughters die “too soon”, and he was very often part of the services for other folk at Grace for whom I did services of remembrance and struggled in the intensity of heartbreak that pastors also experience. It was often his comforting arm or knowing grin that would let me know someone “knew” and was there for support.
This thing called church is such a paradox. From the outside looking in, I fear that the general population believes what they often hear and see in the media. That pastors and church folk blame devastating natural disasters on God punishing us for taking prayer out of schools, for not allowing the Ten Commandments to be placed in courthouses, or the common favorite: for growing acceptance of homosexuality. And if that is the witness we are making to people, it perhaps isn’t so surprising that church attendance is in decline. Does the God that Jesus proclaims call us to love God and love neighbor, then rather dysfunctionally and arbitrarily pull a bait and switch by causing hurricanes and earthquakes and tornadoes to punish us? You can love, but only those who look like you, speak like you, act like you, believe like you, and live like you. I’m not certain I’d want to be a part of a faith community like that either.
But we’re not, right? We’re not those people believing in a God who punishes through natural disaster. Do folks know that? Do folks outside our particular community of faith know that? Do we share that? Live that? Witness that? Tell that story? Do we tell the story of being loved and supported and getting frustrated and perturbed with one another, and sharing our vulnerabilities, and getting our “mad” on at each other sometimes and then laughing ourselves silly at other times? And isn’t it better to do all that together? You know, living imperfectly and loving messily, and making mistakes, and laughing and crying and taking leaps of faith and being too scared to and then leaping again anyway? Isn’t that a little bit of who we are and how God loves us? ALL of us?
We had banana splits that year – even though the snow was on Palm Sunday instead of Easter. And we decided because of that we both won. Hmmmm. We decided we both won – maybe that’s a little bit of a definition of grace? How it should have worked, then, was that we bought each other’s banana splits and split *snort* the cost of his spouse’s. But I bet *snort* (sometimes I just can’t help myself) you know what happened instead. Of course, after some verbal wrangling, it was his gift for us that afternoon, and annually from then on. He told me he just took the total out of his annual tithe… Right…
One of the things that appeared in my mailbox after his service of death and resurrection was a gift card to our banana split place. Smile. Sorry Tammy, it’s still sitting tucked in a holder on my desk, not yet spent. I sorta just like catching a glimpse of it once in a while and remembering all that it represents of the ups and downs of being in honest relationships in an imperfect church that is filled with imperfect pastors, imperfect people, and a God who simply loves the stuffins’ out of us so that we can simply love the stuffins’ out of each other.