Thoughts about working dogs (and the ministry of presence)

Today I was shopping at Rural King and I had our dog Bo with me. Until five years ago I had rarely visited Rural King but I like shopping there now because it is one of the few places that allows dogs. So, if I need something that I think they carry, I pack up Bo and we are off.

As we were leaving the store today a women looked at Bo and said, “Is he a working  dog?” Since this is a farm store I assume that a good number of the dogs coming into the store are farm dogs who serve some function. However, we don’t live on a farm and Bo’s main function is to lay curled up beside me on the couch. “No,” I replied, “He’s just a pet.”  “Well, he’s a good lookin’ dog anyway,” she said. She went into the store, Bo and I walked to our truck, and the conversation ended.

But it gave me pause to think.  Bo is an invaluable presence in our lives. He is sometimes entertainment. Sometimes he is a comforting huggable lump of fur and flesh. He welcomes us home with unflinching loyalty.  So, does he work?

In the Bible there is a story about two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is busy doing things for Jesus while Mary is sitting attentively listening to Jesus tell stories. Martha chides Mary for her indolence and Jesus chides Martha for missing out on what is really important. For a couple thousand years this story has challenged people’s perceptions of ministry. Sometimes it is important to actively serve others with our activities and sometimes just being with someone is the more important thing.  In the helping professions we call this second circumstance ministry of presence. Sometimes people need us to do for and with them and sometimes we just need to sit with one another.

For those of us who are in ministry the lines between work and the normal activities of life often blur. If we are at a high school basketball game and someone starts telling us about their latest domestic struggle are we suddenly working? If we go to a community event because we want to it is probably not work but if we go because we ought to represent the church then it may be considered work. Some of these issues get at the very nature of work and ministry. Sometimes it is difficult to say what is work and what is not.

And so I think about our dog, Bo.  He doesn’t herd sheep or cattle. He really doesn’t have any discernible job description. But whatever it is that he does, it sure works for me!

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Thoughts about weekends that leave you tired

This past weekend was a great weekend but it left me really tired going into the week. Let me give you the highlights. On Friday night we attended a wedding in Indianapolis. The mother of the groom was matron of honor at our wedding so it was great to be with longtime family friends to celebrate. On Saturday morning I taught a group of 18 lay people about the importance of member care and how to do it. Also fun and fulfilling. Saturday afternoon we drove two hours to attend a reunion of people with whom I attended elementary school. We had a great time reconnecting but were dragging when we got back home. Sunday morning I preached at a church in Seymour and dedicated their new church building. A wonderful celebration.

That is a long way of saying that we had a busy weekend. We put a few hundred miles on the car, spent a lot of time visiting with friends and some new acquaintances, and participated in a couple of wonderful celebrations. The problem is, it is Monday morning, time to go back to work, and I am tired! I often hear people complain about being too busy and my pat response is, “I’d rather be busy than bored.” I can say unequivocally that this was not a boring weekend!

For most pastors weekends are an elusive thing, anyway. When your primary work event happens on Sunday morning you don’t get many unencumbered weekends. Most of us make do by taking another day of the week off (Friday for me) but this just puts us out of kilter with the rest of the world. All of those Sunday afternoon extended family get togethers are out of play unless your extended family lives fifteen minutes away which is unlikely in a world where pastors tend to move around.

All of this is a way of saying that what the Bible describes as “sabbath rest” is sometimes difficult to attain in our over-committed, fast paced culture. Even when a weekend is filled with fun and rewarding activities we can find ourselves overextended and sapped of energy. Unfortunately, as was the case for me this past weekend, we are not always in total control of our schedules and many things can get scheduled on the same weekend. I could have chosen to stay home and not attend one or two of these activities but I didn’t want to miss out on the fun. And I am glad I didn’t.  But I couldn’t do this every weekend without breaking down. I need time to be revived.

It was, actually, a very fine weekend and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. But I’m drinking an extra cup of coffee this morning and I might close the door of my office and put my head on my desk this afternoon. When you get to be my age, busy isn’t what it used to be!

Thoughts about turning 53 (or how to get older without really trying)

Tomorrow I will turn 53. I didn’t really plan to get this old, it mostly happened while I wasn’t looking.

I knew I was getting older last summer when my wife and I were making hotel reservations for a week long trip we were taking to North Carolina. As the clerk was taking my reservation over the phone, she cheerfully asked, “Do you have an AARP card?” I silently wondered when I had begun to sound like someone who should have an AARP card.  “Does that make a difference?” I naively asked. “Yes,” she chirped, “There is a ten dollar a day discount.” I promptly told her that I did indeed have an AARP card and quickly went online to find out how I could make that statement a reality. For a seventeen dollar investment I saved over sixty dollars on my hotel bill. Even my addled brain could see that was a good investment. And that is how I entered the ranks of older adults. Selling my youthful pride for a cheaper hotel room.

So, ready or not, here comes another year. I stopped paying much attention to birthdays a few years ago, other than the every decade “big ones.”  I get to hear my mom tell the story of how small I was when I was born and how they couldn’t keep a diaper on my tiny posterior. I am not ready for diapers again (yet) but I am sure I have out grown that particular problem.

My family usually asks me what I want for my birthday and I usually reply, “I want us to do something together as a family.” I can imagine the internal groans as they envision what family torture is in store for them this year. But they are mostly good sports about it. Last year we sat in the rain at an Indianapolis Indians game determined to get the most out of my birthday wish experience.  I personally don’t think a few innings of being cold and damp is too much to ask.

Today, I will celebrate my pre-birthday by going to the BMV to get a new driver’s license, since mine expires tomorrow.  It’s not much but it is probably about as much notice as turning 53 deserves!