Are you an “old hand” at anything? I’m kind of an old hand at walking a dog. I’ve done it off and on for a lot of years and with several different dogs, some easier than others. Back when I had my Westies, I had this wonderful picture in my mind of the three of us meandering through the beautiful campus at Baker University on a Sunday evening, greeting people as a small town pastor would as her dogs waited patiently for wonderful conversations to take place and end. The real picture? Kilmer – he came with that name when I rescued him and would NOT consider anything else. Kilmer liked walking til he didn’t. That was sometimes for several blocks, sometimes for about 50-75 ft. at which point he would simply sit down and refuse to move. If the walk were to continue, I had to carry him. Oh, I tried dragging him a time or two thinking he’d finally give up and walk. Not so much and I ended up looking to the neighbors or anyone driving by like I was cruel and unusual dragging my dog by his harness along the rough sidewalk. Meanwhile, Joe – the other Westie rescue dog and totally unrelated to Kilmer – wanted to run. Not jog, not lope, flat-out run, and not in a straight line. One would not think Westies short legs can run very fast, let’s just say they are way faster than me. So Kilmer is sitting and/or being dragged, while Joe is pulling so hard on his harness that he sounds like he’s choking to death and his airpipe is collapsing. So yeah, that pleasantly peaceful scene of a small-town pastor taking a nice walk on a Sunday evening when everything is harmonious and right with the world, was a painting that remained only in my mind.
Maybe being an old hand at something doesn’t mean what you’ve done for a long time always turns out perfectly. My mom’s an old hand at fried chicken and chocolate chip cookies – she would be the exception to that last statement. One might think I would say I was an old hand at preaching. I have done it for a long time, and what most preachers would tell you is that even as an old hand, it’s a little like walking Joe and Kilmer – there are some days the sermon runs so fast you can’t always catch up to where it’s going, other days it simply sits down and you end up trying to drag something out of it, and then by the grace of God, there are some days like my Mom’s fried chicken and chocolate chip cookies when it works and the picture in your mind is close to what actually happens, and you decide you can keep going another week or two.
Today is Veteran’s Day, and I think about those folk still living who made the decision and invested parts of their lives to military service. I wonder sometimes if they feel like an old hand at knowing the value of living in a free republic in a way that a lot of the rest of us don’t. I’ve noticed that very few folks who’ve served would ever claim to be a hero, even those with awards or medals of bravery. The most common response I receive when thanking a veteran is that they were simply doing what anyone would in the given situation. My Unc in Tucson is a veteran from service in Vietnam. He was a surgeon, and I can’t quite imagine what he likely saw and experienced. While he was overseas my aunt gave birth to one of my cousins and kept things going as so many spouses continue to do until they could all be together again. Not unlike so many others from every war and conflict, those who came home turn quickly to talk about the awareness that many didn’t. The depth of an understanding of life and liberty is one not to be taken lightly.
I wonder if those on the frontline of our healthcare system would say they feel like old hands at dealing with this virus. I saw a post on FB in the last couple of days from a healthcare worker who in essence said that while the rest of the world has kind of moved on, there are no more horn honks or stopping at 7 p.m. each night and clapping, they are still working everyday as hard as they ever have to help individuals and families struck with this virus to try and survive and if not survive, to have quality moments with each other virtually before the end comes. And they talked about how very weary they are as a whole from seeing their colleagues get sick and pass, from the long hours in PPE, and the virus numbers now increasing almost exponentially again. My guess is they would say the either don’t feel like an old hand at it, or that if they do, they wish they didn’t.
Being an old hand at something I hope means we have made such a commitment to something that it is in our very being not to forget the depth of the intellect and the experiential impact that it has had on our lives and the commensurate increase in compassion and generosity that often can go along with it.
I think God is an old hand at being in relationship with humanity, I know, right? God has been and is committed to God’s being in and with God’s people from the very act of creation. So what does that mean? It means we’re not and have never been alone, even when we feel most lost. It means we are loved and forgiven when we most likely don’t “deserve” either one because God isn’t about what we deserve, literally thank you Jesus. It means that while God’s timing isn’t our timing, God’s sacred will and promise are always eternally and faithfully fulfilled, and therein is our hope both within and beyond our lifetimes on earth. It means God understands that most hatred and divisiveness comes from fear, and maybe that’s why God and God’s prophets and leaders and angels say “fear not” in nearly every tense and seemingly impossible situation human beings face throughout the scripture.
Perhaps let’s commit to becoming old hands at fearing not – people who are not like us, who don’t vote like us or spend money like us or live like us or understand reality like “us”. Old hands at not being afraid to decide that love wins because God decided that in Jesus all the way to the cross. Of all things it seemed to the Romans and the world that fear of crucifixion would control everything, including unconditional love and acceptance that Jesus lived, and it didn’t. A cruel death didn’t stop God through Jesus from loving us into that life beyond death.
I want to be an old hand at loving like that, most especially right now. There are days I’m way not good at it, and I fear for our world and our republic and Max and the cats and all the people I love. But then there are other days . . . days when I can see us at our best working toward a world where all God’s children at every age are loved into their best selves without fear or intimidation. That’s the realm of God I want to work for coming to earth even as it is in heaven.
I still have that picture of Kilmer and Joe and this small town pastor meandering across a tree-lined campus in the kind of peace of the final five minutes of a Hallmark Christmas movie. The reality was different, but you know I wouldn’t have traded either dog for anything and the real picture of them still makes me laugh. I like being an old hand at laughing, mostly at my imperfections (it’s called self-entertainment) and the generosity of others to accept them. Maybe God’s waiting for us all to love each other and ourselves in our imperfections, and continues through the Holy Spirit, to give us the power to choose that each day and every tomorrow.
Thank you Veterans young and old for your service to our Republic!