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.
Posts By This Author
A.A., a Beautiful Lake, and God-Filled Places
On my way home from working at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., I decided to do something that I’ve dreamed about for many years.
I would visit the lake.
There’s a lake just west of Youngstown, Ohio, that’s been special to me since I was about seven years old. It’s called Lake Milton. I don’t know the story behind how it got its name. But I can share my story of why it’s special.
Some of my friends know that my dad was an alcoholic. He didn’t drink every day, but when he did, he couldn’t stop. And he’d get loud and angry and abusive toward my mom. It was awful and frightening. I remember listening to the arguments and shaking uncontrollably. This went on for several years.
Fortunately, my dad eventually recognized he needed help and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. His sponsor was a funny, kind man named John. He became part of the family — we called him Uncle John. He and his wife, Fran, owned a cottage by Lake Milton. They encouraged us to use it for a week each summer.
Changing Gun Culture: This One's On Us
How many times have we heard news of a shooting somewhere – a school, a theater, a workplace, a military base, a church – and felt shock and disbelief? We feel bad, say a prayer, and move on. I remember seeing the video of the shooting at the church in Charleston for the first time when I got home from work on June 17. I couldn’t sleep that night. I wondered how this could keep happening.
So when the latest shots were fired in Virginia, I was numb. If it’s going to just keep happening – new day, new place, new victims – then why even pay attention? Why become emotionally invested again?
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.
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