Bad News –
A new pastor, on his first Sunday, preached the sermon and following the dismissal prayer, greeted people at the door as they were leaving. A man in a bright red sports jacket was next in line and before the preacher could say anything he blurted out; “That was a terrible sermon!” Taken aback the pastor tried to figure out his next words but the man left before he could reply. After a while, he noticed the man in the bright red sports jacket in line again. This time he said; “You could not have possibly studied for that message. It was a mess!” Again the pastor was at a loss for words and the man was gone. As the line to meet the new pastor was ending he couldn’t believe the last person in line was the guy in the red sports jacket! “I don’t know if I’ll come back if that’s the best you can do!” Abruptly he walked out the door and this time the pastor watched him get into his car and drive away. The new reverend, obviously shaken by this man’s constant critique saw a group of folks in the foyer, wandered over, and asked’ “What is the deal with the man in the red sports jacket?” “Oh, don’t worry about him replied a parishioner. He only repeats what he hears other people saying.”
Bad news. Sometimes we expect it other times it takes us by surprise. No matter who we are, what we do, sooner or later we get bad news. It may be from our spouse, boss, doctor, friend, co-worker, or stranger. The challenge isn’t what to do if bad news comes but when it shows up. Our choices following an announcement of bad tidings are often more important, and have a greater impact, than the news itself. The space in between the news and the choices we make are critical. This is why wisdom, knowledge, peace, acceptance, clarity should be discovered now. When bad news comes chances are you will do what you know and many times the battle is won before the soldier takes the field.
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Us and Them?
I was in the checkout line this week behind a Hispanic family; a mom and three children. Two of the kids were hanging with mom while one was at a bargain bin admiring a bracelet with glass beads. The mother finished checking out, gathered her things and headed for the door. The problem is she forgot a child, the one admiring the bracelet. The cashier caught my eye and said; “You can come up now.” I smiled, gesturing to the girl and quipped; “I don’t think she’s ready.” “Oh. They do that all the time! Forget their children and leave the store. Come on up.” I wasn’t going to push the girl out of the way and so asked her; “Where’s your mom? Did she just go out the doors?” The little one stared at me and I’m not sure she understood what I was saying or was intimidated by a stranger. She moved and I kept my eye on the door while the cashier scanned my items. She continued to insult the mom and lumped all Hispanics together with condescending phrases; “They all do that, don’t care about their children. When I was growing up my mother would’ve never left me. She always knew where we were but they don’t care.” I finished checking out, retrieved my bag and headed out the door. I was annoyed and concerned.
When I got outside I scanned the parking lot for the mom and sure enough, she realized her child was missing and was heading back to the store. My worry dissipated. My annoyance at the cashier persists now as I am writing about it. I don’t understand how a person can casually dismiss an entire race of people. This child with the bracelet, this mom with her hands full, didn’t need judgment. They needed understanding instead of insults, someone to help the mom not forget her most precious cargo. Moms of all races have their hands full. Moms forget. Moms of all nationalities are burdened with remembering all kinds of things and if they are new to the United States of America there’s more she and her family has to deal with in a nation where a growing section of the community is hostile to them.
Instead of a fist offer a hand. Instead of a look of contempt offer empathy. Instead of judgment offer humanity.
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Beth went to a reunion today and when she came back she smelled. It wasn’t a bad smell but it was a scent of perfume that makes my nose itch, a lot. “Whew, I can tell where you’ve been and who you’ve been around!” I jokingly told her. She laughed and agreed. The smell was so pervasive she changed clothes so I wouldn’t scratch my nose off my face.
Scientists tell us the sense of smell is one of our most powerful. It can conjure memories, warn us of danger, alert us to life and death, repel us, attract us, make us hungry, turn our stomachs, welcome us or tell us to stay away.
The Book of Numbers, in the Hebrew Bible, chapter 15, verse 14 reads; “If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do.”
A lot of talk, arguing, and choosing sides about the families and individuals coming to our national borders looking for a new home lately. They smell of desperation and hope. When they arrive I wonder what they sense about us? Do they catch the scent of kindness, love, welcoming or a scent unpleasing to them and to God? What we do, allow done, to the foreigner, the alien, the stranger, the helpless, the hopeless, among us reveals who we are and the God we serve.
It happened several weeks ago but has happened before many times and chances are will happen again. A stranger, someone we don’t know and not sure we want to, approaches us and asks us for assistance. This last time it was at a gas station when a long, matted hair, holes in his shirt and pants man, with a gas can in his hand asked me to buy him some gas. I always feel vulnerable and suspicious when anything similar to this happens and try to take a look around without being obvious. I was almost finished filling my tank and told him to set his canister down and proceeded to give him enough to almost fill it. When I finished he said; “Thank you,” took the container and went back to where he and another person were sitting. I opened the front door, sat in the driver’s seat and told the story to Beth who had watched from inside our car.
It’s been a rule of mine for as long as I can remember to not ask or demand from someone what they will do with money, gas or whatever when I give it to them. I understand some people take advantage of others and use people’s generosity for nefarious purposes. I know others need genuine help. I also believe in serving angels unaware and there’s no doubt I can’t tell the difference between the three. When I give it is a letting go of the abundance I sometimes have and allow others to use it as they deem necessary.
Assisting another in need is often vague. However, giving to another isn’t about how they use the gift but having a heart that’s willing to help.
He seemingly came out of nowhere! Amidst the first rays of light, the summer haze and the grogginess that often accompanies me on early outings, a stranger took me by surprise!
About a month ago our Siberian Husky was greeted rather harshly by a large dog. During one of our regular jaunts up and down the rolling hills of Manheim this beautiful and rambunctious Golden Retriever, who usually just barks, came out of his yard and proceeded to jump onto Trooper’s back, growling and being rather pushy! Trooper did a good job of staying calm and I was able to maneuver him away from the misbehaving canine. The owner, who came running down the driveway, was doing her best to help. Dogs not liking other dogs are par for the course when you get out as much as we do so the whole event was soon forgotten.
This morning, before 7AM, while the moon was still visible in the sky and the varying colors announced the sun’s ascent I had reached the bottom of the hill adjacent to the yard where the Golden Retriever was “Lord of his domain!” As we began to climb the hill I spotted a man, in a dark outfit, hands in pocket, eyes focused, walking straight toward me. I had not thought about the incident from four weeks ago and was unsure of what and why this was happening. Most roads in this area are not well populated. Lots of cornfields, lots of space, lots of places to bury a body! As a precaution I moved to the other side of the road. This didn’t deter him as he simply adjusted his trajectory. He was getting closer and I wasn’t at all comfortable. My anxiety and suspicion were spiking!
Finally we both stopped and I positioned the Husky between us. He told me he was the husband of the lady who pulled the dog off of Trooper a few weeks ago and wanted me to know that he and his wife were very sorry about the trouble and hoped we both were okay. I assured him everything was copacetic and that this wasn’t the first or last time another dog would act up when feeling threatened or sensed their territory was being invaded. I found out from the gentleman that the Golden’s name was Parker, introduced the man to Trooper and noted that he was wearing a patch on his uniform that read “Hershey.” The Hershey plant in Hershey, Pennsylvania is not far from where we live and I asked him how long he had been working there and if he knew someone named Jim, whom Hershey also employed, and attended our church. We chatted for a few moments, began walking and when we reached his driveway, Parker’s driveway?, I told him thanks again and we parted ways.
As Trooper and I headed home I thought about how weary I was when Jay, the man’s name, first invaded my space. I was very much like Parker; antsy, frustrated and quite hinky. I crossed the road, sped up, eagle-eyed him and if I could’ve barked …? Instead I met a nice guy who is no longer a stranger.
Oftentimes we are quick to be suspicious, expect danger, throw up our defenses when someone or something new comes along. Something we don’t like, someone acts in a way that makes us uncomfortable, anything that disrupts our comfort zone, makes us quickly assume that “stranger equals danger.”
“Serenity and suspicion rarely go well together”.
My early morning run-in helped remind me of this and the need to be mindful of my first reaction. Thanks Jay and Parker, see you soon!
wisdom and comfort,