You can take the minister out of the pulpit, but you can't get the drive out. You can't take out that desire to connect, to listen, to walk with someone if only for a little while on their hard journey.
Ministry to me has never been about the pulpit, the robe, "the REV" (although I must say that over a decade of being called Miss or Mrs. while all the men get called Rev. is making it ABOUT the REV.)
Ministry is what we all are supposed to do with that little extra bit we have. Ministry is when you have something left over at the end of the day and you pass it on. Ministry is the time to listen, even if there isn't a damn thing you can do to change anything. Ministry is the baking and delivering of food. Ministry is sweeping someone else's porch. Ministry is using your little bit of power for someone else.
I don't have to be getting a check to be a minister. Neither do you. Sure, to get the robe, the pulpit, and the Rev. you gotta' go through the boot camp of training, evaluation and professional expectations. But to provide ministry? You just need to think about someone else without expectation that they are thinking of you.
Turns out there's been a whole lot of ministry going on in my social circle lately.
The one kidneyed bandit was released from his detention at the hospital today. He left considerably lighter from not having eaten since Sunday and missing one kidney and a baseball sized tumor. I told him that on day one he looked like a victim of the organ harvesting urban myth: man goes into a bar, wakes up in a bathtub full of ice, shivved and missing a kidney. He said he knew that the bartender with a surgical mask looked fishy.
He left wearing his "kidney cancer surivor" t-shirt and grateful for the stream of well-wishers who have kept him afloat in the month when he was diagnosed, fully tested, treated, and probably cured. He has six weeks recovery ahead of him. He's only known about the cancer for five. I am pleased to say that he begged me not to make him laugh no less than three times today. Ministry of long term friendship accomplished, for today at least.
I got off the phone with him and called my carpenter buddy to see if he wanted to come over and watch Spike Lee's documentary "When the Levees Broke" with me. What do Katrina construction volunteers do on their free time at home? Watch Katrina movies, of course.
My carpenter sounded terrible this morning. I thought he was sick again. He doesn't have health insurance, like too many of my friends and family. So I worry about his health in the same way I worry about my children - never fully at ease.
He's not sick. Turns out he found one of his buddies dead.
Bill. Bill died. Bill died in a not very nice natural way, and my buddy found him.
If I could, I would put a big long blank space here. A big wordless space representing the fifteen hours between when I found out and when I found words to say. I don't know how to do that so you will just have to imagine it.
Would it surprise you to know that Bill was a character? I knew him from my door girl/bouncing days. I assisted three involuntary evictions from the premises in my brief career as the paid person at the door of a local dining/dancing/imbibing establishment. Bill was the only one I threw out solo. He was wearing his golfing clothes, his snappy professor glasses, and a lot of alcohol. He was in his late 50s then. After I tossed him, he hung around because he wanted to chat with me. That's Bill for you.
In the years since, Bill has been known to send me a drink just to say hi. If I am dancing when he comes in, he takes a turn with me on the dance floor. He has nice things to say to me, mostly. He thinks the new hairdo with the natural gray makes me look old. He's right. He thought it was great that the carpenter and I went to Mississippi to rebuild. He told me that my kids are adorable. In other words, in spite of Bill's many faults that were all from his drinking problem, Bill ministered to others. He had something left over and he shared it. A drink, a twirl around the dance floor, some encouragement, some kind words.
I hate that he died poorly. I hate that he died alone. I hate that my buddy found him. Most of all, I hate that his quality of life was so dependent on the alcohol that helped destroy his life. But that was Bill. It was his demon to wrestle and part of who he was. Often it worked for him. Equally often it did not. I can say that about all of my coping mechanisms, too.
As for the carpenter, he has one of the biggest, most loving hearts of anyone I know. Bill slept on his couch a lot. Bill fed the carpenter's dog gorgonzola and salami. The dog needed that to the same degree you do. The carpenter teasingly threatened Bill with a hockey stick on many occasions. I did not witness these events but know both well enough to imagine they would have been pretty entertaining; full of blustering, posturing, and oddly used English vocabulary.
The carpenter not only put up with Bill, but he gave him a LOT extra at the end of the day. He loved him. He loves him. And Bill knew it. And Bill loved him, too, though I can't really imagine either of them saying it like that, hockey stick or no. Now Bill has died and the carpenter and his band of wise fools are mourning him.
Why tell you?
There always seems to be confusion about why I write these things out; about my honesty about health, grief, parenting, my own conflicted emotions. One woman I know said she felt like she had been spying on me from reading the blog.
Honestly, if I were not a minister I would not do this. I don't write this about me. Yes, it is my point of view, my crazy huge family, my congregation, my living with chronic illness, my interest in healthy grief and meaningful death. It is my honesty and my experiences.
But I write this stuff down for you.
I have this impression of you, this picture of who you are and what you might be going through. I think about what makes you open this up and read this when you could be dancing, mowing the lawn, trying that new avocado recipe or watching the Sarah Connor Chronicles.
I think you wonder how to give of yourself.
I think you sometimes feel like crap and you don't know whom to talk to or how.
I think you worry about the people you love.
I think you are not comfortable with the idea of people you love dying, or your own dying.
I think you like to laugh.
I think you have dreams that give you comfort but you aren't sure how to make them come to life.
I think you prefer not to be told what to do.
I think you are curious about all kinds of things and you try to keep that curosity alive.
I think you have a big heart but that your mind can't always figure out the best ways to use it.
That's who I think you are. And then I have a day like I had today and I think, I bet you've had days like this. I bet you know what I mean. This is neither the worst or best days of my life but it was a crazy one, a memorable one.
So I write it down. Hope it all works out. It's the end of the day. I had a little something extra to give.
Maybe it is helpful and illuminating. Maybe it is salami and gorgonzola.
Long live the one kidneyed bandit.
Long live the kind-hearted carpenter.
Long live the memories of Bill.
Long live you.