Friday, September 13, 2013

Episode 13: Walnuts and Jesus' Drop Kick

This week's episode of this Missourian Life comes from the amazing Sarah Nichole Klaassen.  Follow her blog here: Living and Other Mysteries.

A couple of years ago I decided to harvest walnuts.
I’d forgotten about one magical early October afternoon until Dr. Emilie Townes reminded me with a comment from her formal installation as the new dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School: “After all we’re in Nashville where the song ‘Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life’ has deep theological meaning.”
How a phrase can spark a memory.
We’d just moved to Missouri. I was unemployed and looking to expand my domestic skill set, and (more importantly) walnuts were free.
I did just enough internet research to be dangerous and then I started picking up the green-hulled specimens in our yard. It grew from there. On my walks around the neighborhood I would keep an eye out for walnut trees, which it turns out are everywhere.
I tried to be subtle, but to Jamie’s embarrassment, I walked a few steps into many a yard to glean.
In retrospect, perhaps it had gone too far when we pulled over by the side of the road on an apple-picking trip to north central Missouri. In my defense, without my single-minded pursuit of free nuts, this never would have happened:
We parked on a gravel road turn-off, crossed the highway, waded through the ditch to the walnut jackpot, and began to fill our bucket. As time passed, we became more bold and ventured from the ditch into the plowed under field. Not long after, an elderly man from the house next door headed our way.
I thought: Crap. We’re trespassing. We’re in trouble.
Turns out not. He’d noticed our peculiar quest and invited us to head over to his place next. He had two trees and a ground full of nuts.
We crossed back over the ditch, got the car, parked in his driveway. Not always being good at small-talk, I sometimes feel a bit awkward in these kinds of social encounters with strangers. Fortunately he spared us the trouble and headed inside. We started to gather and a few moments later heard music. Our hospitable stranger had brought out his cigarettes, a lawn chair, and a guitar.
I almost laughed out loud. My first thought: is this really happening? Why yes, yes it is.
The genre was classic country, and the one song I remember:
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
The deep theological meaning that day was less about football metaphors and the Christian life and more about hospitality and the divine power of saying yes.
I have to admit that the walnuts didn’t turn out so well, but that’s another story, because that day we left fully satisfied.
Ah the tales we can tell of this Missourian life.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Episode Twelve: On Theme Songs (or how the Avett Brothers Helped Name My Call)

I am constantly in search of a soundtrack for life. This is not news to those of y’all who know me.  I often think in song lyric snippets, categorizing life under appropriate song titles (i.e. this is a Patty Griffin’s Heavenly Day kind of afternoon, or a David Wilcox Everything is Holy Now sort of moment). Life, at least for me, is best lived when set to music.

I have been getting to know the Avett Brothers lately. We have been spending a lot of quality time together during my 60 miles of daily driving between the cozy house on Ripley Street in Columbia and good old Westminster College.  My daily drive is quite lovely--winding roads, country landscapes, old barns, grazing horses.  It’s the kind of drive that prompts you to think and reflect. There is space during these drives to truly listen--listen for the subtle thoughts you’ve been unaware of all day because of your busy running from meeting to meeting, listen for an instinct or impulse that’s been working its way to your conscious awareness, listen for wisdom, listen for something outside of yourself.

It was in the midst of my listening, while driving to work on a Tuesday morning--the sun streaming through the car windows, the green of late Missouri summer dominating my view-- that I first heard my vocational theme song. The song that with every word says yes, this is why I do what I do.

It was brought to me courtesy of my new friends and commute companions, the Avett Brothers.

“If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected/decide what to be and go be it/

There was a dream and one day I could see it/like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it/and there was a kid with a head full of doubt/so I’ll scream ‘till I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out/

There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light/and in the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what’s right/and it flies by day and it flies by night/and I’m frightened by those who don’t see it.”

I am called to serve the church, I am called to lead God’s people, I am called to ministry, because I believe, with my whole heart, there is enough love, enough light, enough hope for us all.

I believe there are those in desperate need of this love, this light, and this hope.
I know, with all of my being, that it’s my call, my privilege, my gift, to take part in the work of sharing the love of a deeply compassionate, fiercely welcoming, inherently redemptive God.

Most days I still cannot believe it is actually my job to find those places of “darkness,” those "kids" with “heads full of doubt” about their own worth, their own beauty, their own value and to “scream (or preach, or teach, or affirm) ‘till I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out.”

So thank you Avett Brothers--thank you for keeping me company each and every day and thank you for gifting me with a long awaited, ever elusive, vocational theme song, for reminding me just why I do what I do.

Now my loves, I pass their wise charge on to you: “decide what to be and go be it” (and then find the vocational theme song that goes along with it).