Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Road

"I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone."
"I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!" - the Hobbit

Today I begin a journey  that will take me half way around the world.  An adventure.

I've come to believe that any education worth the time we would invest is an adventure.  Very soon I'll be walking where the Pharaohs walked and I'll know what a pyramid feels like.  Days from now I will be able to describe the breeze that blows on Mt. Sinai and the rain that still falls on the "just and the unjust" in the Middle East.

Growing up, I regularly visited the restored home of Abraham Lincoln.  School field trips, visiting relatives, scouts - more than a few times I walked through the house, touched the walls and imagined time bending to connect my moment with a moment the great man himself walked down those stairs or along that hall.  Very soon I'll be walking down a dusty street in Jerusalem, along a sea shore in Galilee and imagining time bend once more.  I will walk the way of the Cross.  I will walk in the dust of my Rabbi.

I'm getting educated, one step at a time.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In Need of a Sub

If this were a fictional story I'd say the author was a little heavy handed with the symbolism.  But my story is mostly non-fiction so I need to pay attention to these signs.

2012 started with the loss of one of my spiritual mentors, a faithful friend and travelling companion.  Now, in the middle of February, I've lost the other pole on my compass for this pilgrimage.  My good friend George passed away this week.  I just spoke to him on the phone earlier this week - well, I listened while he yelled at me - but it seemed like one of our regular conversations.  Yesterday I found out he's packed up the tent and he's left.

An early encounter with George went like this.  Our church was meeting in a large basement of an old building that had been a Zellers.  On this Sunday we were having a potuck after the service and word was out on the street.  George came in for coffee at the start of the service but couldn't stick around.  While I was speaking I noticed him come in, come halfway down the steps, look around and walk back out.  Finally he came back and I was still talking, probably on my second, "so let me wrap up by saying..." and George asked someone back by the stairs, "GODDAMMIT HOW LONG IS HE GONNA TALK!!!???"  My friend George was hungry and my talking was keeping the party from starting.  My conclusion came much clearer and more quickly.

A couple weeks ago, George and I were out for breakfast.  The routine: stop by his place and load the trunk of the car up with bags of bottles he'd collected, take them to the recycling depot he'd been told never come back to, he'd wait in the car while I did the deal.  Sometimes he would get $7, sometimes $10, this last time he scored $17.  When I got in the car I handed him the twoonie.  "That's all they gave you?!!!" he shouted.  Then I gave him the five and he smiled.  Then I handed him the ten and I'm pretty sure there was a tear in his eye.  And then he asked me, "So whatta ya say you take me out for breakfast at our favourite place, you ol' french toast?"

He either called me a food of some kind or he'd refer to me with something like, "Your blessedness".  On the way to Cora's he'd start to preach or sing a hymn and tell me not to worry that he wasn't going to take over my job but he could.  And each time I'd offer him the chance to sing or preach if he'd come with me on Sunday morning.  He'd brush off my invitation with, "I can't sit for a whole hour!"  And he really couldn't.

At Cora's he would always order the same meal.  This last time though he was swayed by the picture of a special coffee in the menu.  It wasn't the caffeine he wanted, it was the pile of whipped cream on top of the coffee that made his eyes get big.  So our last time out, (which turns out to be last time ever) I ordered that drink to go along with his usual: o.j., plain oatmeal, extra sugar.  He sweet talked the waitress, read words off the walls to me and told me stories about his good friend Joe.  When the coffee arrived he grabbed his spoon and ate the whipped cream by scoops.  Once he was down to the coffee he pushed it towards me, finished.

I tried to engage in some conversation but he was having a harder time than usual hearing me or staying on a single topic.  We came back to one of his favourite questions for me, "How can you believe in Jesus if you can't see him?"  And once again I'd launch into an explanation that bored him about 3 seconds in.  Thirty seconds later he was telling me about Jesus and starting up another sermon which he first threatened to take over my job with and then relented and told me he didn't want my job.

And so it would go until the oatmeal arrived.  He sometimes had scrambled eggs but with only a tooth or two in his mouth it had to be something soft and usually it was oatmeal.  When the oatmeal arrived the ritual would begin.  He would cover the entire serving in about a half-inch of sugar.  (I wish that was an exaggeration.)  Then he would dig a trench with his spoon and pour in the cream that came with it.  The he would start eating by the spoonfuls: 1/4 oatmeal, 1/2 sugar, 1/4 cream.  After the cream that came with the meal ran out he would start opening the little coffee creamers and go through those until he was full.

I can truly say that I've never met anyone more grateful, more thankful and appreciative for a little kindness than my friend, George.  Years ago now I started hugging him when I saw him and that's what he came to expect whenever we met.  Sometimes when we hugged he'd lay his head against my chest, he was shorter than me, and just stay there for a bit.  A bit longer than I was ever comfortable with.

And today I wish I could do it one more time.

Years back I took George to the Liquor store to return some bottles to them.  George didn't drink but he did collect all kinds of bottles.  So there I was, the pastor, standing next to George as we unloaded a pile of whiskey bottles onto the check out lane.  I looked over my should and right behind me was the Roman Catholic bishop for PEI.  The thought came to me that I should explain to the bishop that these weren't MY bottles but it only took me a second to realize that if I could identify with either of these two men it was my friend George.  I saved my explanations and instead turned back to George and cheered as the cashier counted the coins out into his hand.

George has been a missionary to me for the last 8 years of my life.  He's taught me about love, about thankfulness, about taking pleasure in the small things, about opening my heart to the unexpected  apostles of God in my life.  My north and my south feel empty today and I will pray that God uses the weight of my memories of these two friends to continue to provide tension for this journey between heaven and hell.

I've got a lot to learn and I can't afford to lose any more teachers...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Buber Fever

I've got a new crush.

One of the books for this season's module is "I and Thou" by Martin Buber.  I think if I really understood the book I wouldn't have anything at all to say about it.  But I don't understand it all so I'll go on for a paragraph or two.

Buber, a Jewish philosopher, (which is sort of like saying, Jesus, a Jewish carpenter's son) warms my little philosophical heart.  I know I'm reading a translation but Buber still manages, even through time, culture and a different language, to give me a fresh vocabulary for both my thoughts and my experiences.  There's a lot of Buber, I realize now, in Peter Rollins' book from the last module, "How Not To Speak of God".  And having now read Buber, I prefer Buber.  I'm pretty sure Pete Rollins would say the same thing.

Tonight, as I'm typing this, I can't even begin to put into words what this little book has done for me.  I've been prepping my talk for tomorrow and in one half of one paragraph, Buber manages to describe exactly what I was trying to get at about parables without mentioning parables at all.  He writes about ground being so ready for this new thing that with a single touch, it erupts with life.  I'm erupting all over this book.

Buber passed away in 1965 after living many years of a very productive life in Jerusalem.  It's good that he won't be there when I visit in a few weeks.  It will save me the embarrassment of tracking down his address and pacing outside his house, pretending to be "walking by", hoping to bump in to him on his way to the market.  This is how I've handled previous crushes - just ask the Elusive Donna - but this time I will have to content myself with my experience of this brilliant mind through the legacy of ideas he has left behind.

I've got a lot to learn but this I know, Martin Buber knew how to rock a beard!