Come Let Me Hold You

Just before the Thanksgiving break, my son's best friend moved away. His dad got a job out East and so the family loaded up the truck and moved to Kentucky. And my son watched them drive away. Brandon and Will have been good buds for over a year now. They were both in the accelerated classes at school, so the friendship had a competitive edge to it. Brandon would come over to our house after school and I'd walk by Will's room and hear them arguing like an old married couple. Neither wanted to give in or admit defeat or any of those other "uncle" phrases. The first few times I experienced this, I reprimanded them and told them to be "nice." Yeah, that was a dad-strike-out; they looked at me like a calf looks at a new gate. That was the way they communicated with each other; competitive, iron sharpening iron stuff. "Nice" was not a category for them; it was a hoot to watch. Best friends.

Will has had a hard week so far. We didn't really know what was going on. He's just been moody and easily upset (redundant, I know). Last night, we were working on multiplication tables and there was a problem he didn't remember how to do. I asked if he was listening to the teacher - "yes, dad." I asked if somebody was talking and he couldn't hear - "no, dad." I asked if he couldn't see the board for some reason - "I could see it fine, dad." I asked if the person sitting next to him was bothering him or cracking jokes..."I was sitting by myself, dad." Oh.

Grief does crummy things to you, huh? Your best friend moves away and all of a sudden, you're alone. The guy who's sat beside you for over a year at school is not in his chair anymore; a vacancy exists in the room and in your heart. The friend you competed with in EVERYTHING conceded and had to go with his family; he conceded and you still lost. That's hard enough for me to comprehend, let alone a nine year old boy. My son is grieving and it's breaking my heart. I can't bring Brandon back. I can't arrange for a new friend to emerge to take his place. We walk through a vale of tears on this earth and the only way through it, is through it. It is a lesson we learn and live. And it makes us stumble and bumble and forget how to do partial product multiplication problems and it causes us to sit by ourselves and be moody and easily upset and redundant. And sad.

There's a beautiful country song that goes something like this: "How can I help you, to say goodbye? It's o.k. to hurt, it's o.k. to cry. Come let me hold you, and I will try. How can I help you, to say goodbye?" Will, it's o.k to hurt and cry and forget your math stuff; but let me hold you, buddy. We'll hurt and cry together. I'll try and help you say goodbye. But it ain't easy. My innocent firstborn, you are beginning to learn of the longing...

I'm open; just don't ask me to text message anyone...

"Fully functioning people are organized, disciplined, and able to get what they want out of life. Organization is out of the question for me; there are too many things going on, and they change so quickly I cannot keep up. The very idea of discipline makes me feel guilty...And as for getting what I want out of life, what I want most is love, and love comes only as a gift. All I can 'do' is be willingly, actively open to receiving the gift."
-Gerald May

I so resemble the statement above. I started a new job a couple of weeks ago; I'm already behind. I'm trying my best to keep dates and meetings on a calendar, but I've already been late a few times. Several around me have those neat little palm organizers that buzz when a meeting is five minutes out or play a nifty ring-tune when they have an incoming call; I've got post-it notes on my car's dashboard and notes "penned" on my hand. Charlie Brown in a land of Lucys. But what I want most out of this life is love and I agree with Dr. May - "love comes only as a gift." So, I'm just trying to be "willingly, actively open."

And you know what? I feel staying "willingly, actively open" may be more difficult than being on time for meetings. It may very well be more challenging than inputting your information into a palm organizer. And the chances are very good that opening yourself to the love you need is infinitely harder than sending out an e-mail message to a group of people while taking a conference call and stirring a latte. All those things go far in the land of efficiency; I'm just not sure they take you very far into the land of love. Don't get me wrong - I'm trying to be more efficient and even figured out my voice mail the other day; but I don't want to bend the knee entirely to that god. And not bowing to that idol puts you on a particular path - the path of pain. Charlie Brown experiences it every time Lucy pulls that football away at the last second and he screams, "AAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH!" But he comes back, every time, and tries it again. Ole' Chuck stays "willingly, actively open" because what he wants most out of life is love. And that's what we love about Charlie Brown. And Gerald May. And Jesus. With arms wide open, as the boys from Creed sing. That's a vulnerable position; but it's the only position that allows you to receive something. Guarding your heart can quickly turn into hiding your heart; a very efficient stance, but one that's shut off from love. I pray on each of you (all three people who read this blog) that your holy-days are "willingly, actively open." There are gifts to be given and received this season. But you gotta have your heart open.


Unless you've been living under a rock or on another planet, you've heard the news about Pastor Ted Haggard and New Life Church here in Colorado Springs. It's actually old news; the election hoo-hah has buried the story for now. Oh, it'll surface when the papers need a story, but for the most part, we've moved on...Ted Haggard will begin a process of restoration, guided by a couple of megachurch pastors who evidently know alot about restoration (I hope) and New Life Church will have a new leader christened by the first of the year to guide the church into the future.

I've kept some clippings from the newspapers during those days. I have the text of the letters from Ted Haggard and Mrs. Haggard - letters read to their church this last Sunday. The text is important in this story, but its the images that I've found most substantive. I found it interesting that the photo the paper chose of Ted presents the square jaw and white teeth of a megachurch pastor and national evangelical leader. The photo of Ted's wife is nothing like that; her picture fits her married name - haggard. She presents the eyes of woman steeling herself against winds that are blowing with hurricane force and her mouth looks like that of a little girl about to cry. There were a couple of pictures of their sons in different editions; one son in a group of church members presenting the confidence of his father and two other sons in the backseat of a pickup with looks that resembled those of the disciples when the soldiers came to get Jesus in the garden. These Haggard family pictures, all of them, made me cry.

However, there was one that stopped me in my tracks and made me mad. It was that of the group of pastors who read the apology letters this last Sunday at New Life Church. They were/are men who have had some type of accountability relationship with Ted Haggard over the years. The front and center man in this particular photo is a very successful pastor from down south. He is standing in front of one of those Plexiglas pulpits and his arms are outstretched in a pose I've seen used in statues of Christ - hands extended, inviting or welcoming people. He's wearing one of those fashionable microphones that fit over your ear and run down your cheekline. His hair is coiffed and it appears he's got on several layers of makeup. His suit is tailored with four or five buttons down the front and his shirt and tie are the stuff of GQ spreads. And I thought, "damn." This whole story is about not being able to let the dirt show, not feeling safe enough or brave enough to take off the cuff links and let the demons fly. The pressure to maintain the image of success and flash and suave-vey and confidence and blessed assurance was so great, so huge, that Haggard kept his flesh and blood at bay for years. And instead of an observable humility this past Sunday, that church was led by the gatekeepers of the imago mega. I realize you can be a horse's ass in Levis and a t-shirt, but I saw nothing "new life" about that scene; it was the same "old life' and same "image-laden" leaders who put all their eggs in the baskets of words and looks. I would have ponied-up a C-note if that old boy from down south would've shown up in sackcloth and ashes, weeping like Jeremiah the prophet and scaring a lot more people than he comforted. I'd of stood up and said "amen" if those guys would've said, "You know, enough with this image stuff; we're all bastards here and maybe it's time that you heard that message from us, your leaders, and maybe it's time you know that Ted H. ain't the only pastor who wrestles with demons and loses. Maybe it's time we get off this Americanized-fast-track-to-God-train and stop trying so hard to hold each other accountable and maybe try a little harder to hold each other close, even when the smell is the sulfurized rank of sin." I haven't walked an aisle in years, but a message like that from the polished boys and I would've released the chair and made my way down front humming "ye who are weary come home, with my pocketbook open to give to an orphange or something."

Ole' James Dobson pulled out of the restoration team today; he said he was just too busy. My guess is that James knew the dirt was dirty with Ted and getting closer to him would probably result in more frequent trips to the dry cleaners. He was raised with the notion that you're known by the company you keep and he didn't want to keep that kind of company. Keep it clean, keep it coiffed, keep it button-downed and clear as Plexiglas. Forgive us, Father, for we know what we do and keep on doing it; know what we see and keep on supporting it; know what we hear and keep on listening. We just don't know ourselves.

(read at my father's twenty-years as pastor celebration)

If I choose not to become attached to nouns – a person, place, or thing – then…my heart cannot be broken because I never risked giving it away.
– Terry Tempest Williams

Over the span of their lives in ministry, my parents have intentionally chosen to become attached to nouns – people, places, and things. And for the past twenty years, they’ve become attached to you – a town called Nashville with a Main Street and the Scrappers and the Tastee Freeze and Fourth of July celebrations and Christmas musicals complete with camels and donkeys and Vacation Bible School one more time and Night’s Out for Ladies and a drama group who took the show on the road and a church campus that has extended its boundaries over the years. They’ve become attached to some dreams, some of which have come true - owning their own home complete with a bluebird feeder in the backyard and the occasional gift of a visitation of ducks during the breakfast hour. Some dreams came but faded - mornings and evenings of donning boots and a hat and feeding a horse and handling tack and being humbled by the achingly beautiful smell of a barn and the realization that God does indeed know the desires of our hearts. They’ve sat with you as pacemakers were installed in your parents because mom or dad was moving too slow and they’ve prayed with you over sons and daughters because the kids were moving way too fast. They’ve guided you in getting some of those sons and daughters successfully down the aisle into holy matrimony and they’ve stood beside you when what God hath joined together, man or woman or something, put asunder. They’ve held your hands as you’ve put parents, friends, and children in the ground and said though tears, “dust to dust” and they’ve hugged your necks as the very next Sunday saw the dedication of a newborn baby and you said through tears, “It is not a slight thing when those so fresh from God love us.” They rejoiced with you when prodigals came home and they wept with you, and sometimes wept at a distance, when the prodigal never came to his or her senses and still remains in the far country.

They have chosen to risk giving their hearts away and they have known great joy. But they have also known great heartbreak. They have seen with their eyes and touched with their hands the pain that comes with being attached to nouns. And by the mercies of God, they keep choosing to stay attached.

The temptation over the years in ministry – well, how about…in life - is to stop becoming attached, to shut your heart down, to close the windows to your soul and say, “No more nouns! It hurts too much!” But the example my parents have lived out is that of risky business - staying openhearted. Now be careful and don’t romanticize it or superspiritualize it; it’s not easy (some call it the battle) and it will test your faith in both God and man. To live with an open heart will present many days when you’ll be convinced that nobody cares and, in the words of Annie Dillard, that even “God doesn’t give a hoot.” But it is the way of the Christ-life; it is the path that is walked with the rhythm of three steps - faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is LOVE. For you see, there was a moment in the mind of the divine when God said, “I will become attached to nouns – I’ll become flesh and blood and bone and sinew and hair and spit; I’ll attach myself to the dusty streets of a place known as Palestine and not stray far from her borders; I’ll even attach myself to a group of people probably best described as gypsies, tramps and thieves. I will give away my heart and know great joy, but in the giving I know that it will also be broken and betrayed and forsaken…and I will one day allow myself to become attached to another noun, a tree, and I will willingly let them bleed me of the blood that will cover the sins of the world. For God so loved this world, that He became attached to nouns…That’s really what my parents have done these twenty years – they’ve loved you. And you have loved them back.

The gospels record the Lord saying, “If you want to show me how much you love me, then love other people.” I’m gonna’ roll the dice this morning and bet that the same applies to honor – “If you want to show me honor, then show it to other people.” And so we honor God today by honoring two people for what the world would diagnose as attachment disorder; however, we know that giving away your heart is really the way of the cross. And the way of the cross gets us all where we really want to be - “it is sweet to know, as I onward go, the way of the cross leads…HOME.”