Joe Kay is the associate minister at Nexus United Church of Christ, Butler County, Ohio. He also writes a weekly blog at https://joekay617.wordpress.com. His email address is listed on the blog, in case you care to contact him directly.
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In Praise of the Dog Days
Pets are so much easier to get along with than people. They’re not as complicated and unpredictable, not as demanding and challenging, not as mysterious and messy.
People are very messy. And that messiness makes relationships a portal to the divine.
As much as we like to be with our pets, we have to keep going out the door and dealing with people. Amazing people. Frustrating people. Inspiring people. Loving people. Broken people. Confused people. Self-doubting people. Challenging people. Lost people. People who have all the same anxieties and fears that we do. Relationships make us grow into who we are meant to be. And the process is always, always, always messy. If there’s no messiness, there’s not much relationship.
Relationships tap into our insecurities and make them bubble up and out despite our best efforts to ignore them or keep them hidden. They highlight our fears and insecurities in bright, bold colors. They grow and develop in their own time and have their own confusing and confounding rhythms. They challenge us and fulfill us and yes, they make us want to beat our heads against the wall, depending upon the time of the day.
Tattoos, Dyed Hair, and Amazing Grace
Grace has a track record of showing up when we least expect it, touching us in ways we never imagined, urging us to do things we never thought possible. It leads us into unexpected relationships, points us toward new places, helps us get started on significant and much-needed changes. It fulfills us in ways that we never even knew we needed. It takes us to places we never imagined. Grace saves us, over and over. Sometimes, from ourselves. I suppose that’s why we fight grace so much. We love a certain amount of predictability and a feeling of control. We want to do things our way, in our time. We want to stay just as we are.
That’s not the graceful way.
Privileged to Be Here
Finding the Missing Pieces
The nursing home was quiet, which is typical for a late Sunday afternoon. I walked to the end of the hall where Grace lives in a room decorated with clown figurines that make her smile. I knocked at the doorway and announced myself. Grace was awake in bed, but upset about something.
“Oh, Joe! Come in! Can you do me a favor? I’ve lost something and could use your help finding it.”
Grace (not her actual name; I have to change it because of privacy laws) once had bright red hair that fit her personality. The red is gone now; her hair turned a pretty, cottony white after chemotherapy.
And today, something else was missing.
“I can’t find my left boob,” she said. “Would you be a dear and look around for it?”
The Revolutionary 'We'
Let’s talk about we.
You know: The first word in the constitution. The one that puts everything that follows it inside a framework of a collective effort and combined responsibility. "We the people." All of us. Together. Part of something bigger than any one of us individually. Yeah, that word.
Have you noticed that we don’t discuss that idea very much? I wonder why. A lot of Fourth of July posts this year went on lavishly about individual rights and personal freedom. And yes, those are important. But they’re only part of the equation, and they’re not even the starting point. It starts not with me, but with we — a pronoun that is radical and revolutionary.
Packing Hate and Risking Love
The sickness in our society is driven by the way we mistrust and pull away from one another; how we decide to care only about ourselves and our immediate families; the way we choose to serve only those who are like us – same race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, political views.
Everyone else gets minimized and pushed away. We arm ourselves to protect our shrinking little space. We live like moles, wary of predators.
In guns we trust. In fear we live.
From This Day Forward
When I reached high school and started dating, my relatives had a lot of questions: "This girl you’re going to the movies with: Is she Catholic? Slovak? What’s her family’s last name? What does her father do for a living?"
She had to be Catholic, of course. Preferably Slovak. If not, some other nearby nationality. Anything less would get disapproving comments. Those questions may sound odd now, but they mattered back then. The Catholic Church had only recently concluded Vatican II, which tried to bridge centuries of animosity between churches. Accepting Protestants as equals was something new. And many of the immigrants in my neighborhood were trying to preserve the culture and traditions that they brought from Europe. They were afraid of losing their heritage in the new land.
For them, traditional marriage meant choosing someone from the same faith, the same ethnic background. Simply put, they were afraid. Terrified, actually. They feared that if marriage changed, their world would fall apart.
That's why to so many people, my relationship wasn’t about finding someone who fit me — it was more about me finding someone who fit them.
Finding God in Plain Sight
We looked at the famous photo of Earth taken from Apollo 8. If you remember, it was the first time we got to see ourselves from the vantage point of another body in space.
The boys wondered why the photo was so grainy. I told them it’s from the 1960s. They seemed to think those were prehistoric times and started talking about pixels.
I told them that the grainy photo of Earth kind of fits what we do at church. We try to help each other find God in this picture. Sometimes when it seems that God is nowhere to be found, we just have to look a little closer and recognize the divine everywhere.
Lauren Hill and the Morning Fog
As I stepped outside the gym at Mount St. Joseph on the morning of Oct. 23, I immediately noticed the sun working hard to burn off a thick fog that had obscured the sunrise.
And I thought: That’s what Lauren Hill is doing.
I’d just finished talking to Lauren. You might know her story. Lauren was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor during her senior year in high school. She asked God for a little guidance on what she should do with her final year of life.
Ask, and you will receive. She wanted direction. She got it.
Lauren decided to go ahead and attend Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati and play basketball, even though she had only months to live.
The goal was to play in a game and score a basket. As it turned out, she played in four and made five baskets — 10 perfect points.
She also started a foundation to raise money for cancer research, hoping doctors will find a cure for other young people after she’s gone.
Yeah, I know: Spending your precious, limited time helping others instead of worrying about yourself. What a concept.
Grace Bats Last
A bunch of us writers were in Florida covering spring training a few years ago. Our sports editor took us out to dinner. During the conversation, she asked if we ever found ourselves pulling for a favorite player to do well — say, in the ninth inning of a dramatic comeback.
The response was unequivocal and unanimous. No! Never! Not in the ninth inning!
By the bottom of the ninth, the story is written. Ready to be sent out as soon as the game ends. A lot of hard work has gone into those sentences. The home team had eight entire innings to take the lead. Sorry. They had their chances. Now they should just lose quietly. Don’t mess up my story!
For the most part, sports writers hate dramatic comebacks. You have to hit the “delete” key on a lot of hard work. And then you frantically rewrite on deadline, which is the toughest type of writing.
Some time later, though — and this may not come until you’re driving home at 3 a.m. — you let your brain throttle back from hyper drive and say: Wow, that was pretty cool. Even though it drove my typing fingers crazy.
One of the best things about sports is that there’s always a chance for something grand at the end. Something that can take your prose away — and your breath away — in one unexpected moment.
Maybe that’s why fans — OK, and yeah, even sports writers — revel in those incredible finishes. They remind us of the sweetly unpredictable nature of our lives. And how in each of our lives, as Anne Lamott puts it: “Grace bats last.”
I’ve seen that ninth-inning comeback play out many times.
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