Professional driver. Do not attempt.

All my life, I’ve always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific. (Lily Tomlin)

Costa Rica 019
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica. Careful: slippery.

Living as we do in a world fraught with potholes and dangerous curves and slick surfaces, how come we aren’t born with a warning stamped on our tiny butts?

I guess babies don’t come with a warning because the PARENTS theoretically are supposed to know what to do with them, but isn’t that one of the great misconceptions of all time: that grownups know what they are doing anymore than kids do? The older I get the more I realize to my dismay that life is pretty much a mysterious mess of dangerous curves and slick roads to everybody all the time, no matter how old or experienced they may be. That is both a comfort, and a bitter pill to swallow.


I doubt that my parents’ or grandparents’ generations were any more with-it than my own is. But it sure seemed like they were. I really thought I would have known stuff by now. But, as my favorite soul-tortured rocker-slash-theologian says “I look around at the friends I used to turn to to pull me through / looking into their eyes, I see they’re running too.” ( Jackson Browne, “Running on Empty,” 1978.)

Clare baby
Professional driver.

You know those “professional drivers” whose disclaimer we see on every single grab-life-by-the-cojones car and truck commercial? I think the advertisers are just trying, as always, to make us feel inadequate, to reinforce our flaws. I don’t think those drivers even exist–any more than do the ads’ perfectly airbrushed, beautiful human beings–except in Mad Men-produced fantasies. (Hence the disclaimer.)

And this, my friends, is the Great Lie. I offer it just in time for your year-end reflections and New Year’s resolutions. The Great Lie originated in some ancient, unknown source like the fires of Mordor, and it translates roughly thus into English: “Everybody has their shit together but you.”

Don’t you believe it, honey. It’s just not true. Furthermore, the Lie does not come from God, who made us and continues to make us. Once we recognize the Lie for what it is–once our eyes and ears and minds and hearts are opened–we can start seeing the actual God’s Truth everywhere. And the Truth is this: you are not alone. God tries to reassure us in myriad ways: through movies, books, songs…and especially in the company of other broken human beings. Some of us find this Truth reinforced in a worship community. When we share our brokenness with others we are reassured that we are not alone on the road. Here is a lovely song about this very thing, from folk duo Over the Rhine. May you find it a nice bit of encouragement.

Good luck with those New Year’s resolutions. If you must make them, go easy on yourself. 

Tip-toeing up to the Holy

The first time I was asked to help serve communion, I declined.

It was at the annual conference of the national association of Episcopal Communicators, that year meeting in New York, and the conference Eucharist was being held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. This was my first time with the Communicators, my first time to New York, and the whole thing just felt so huge, so legendary. (This was back in the post-Bernie Goetz years, so New York still had that crazy-random-dangerous vibe. So, you know, I was understandably nervous.)

As the conference group gathered at the cathedral, an in-charge man named Jim was moving around the crowd recruiting participants.  I don’t imagine he had been told by God to ask me; he was just filling spots. But his invitation to “take one of the chalices” came as a shock.

What I said was something like “Oh. Thanks. Um. No, thanks.” What I was thinking was “Jesus. Are you kidding? Me? Here, in the cathedral? I’m a stranger…I wouldn’t know what to say…people might notice me…I might do it wrong.”  Thanks anyway, but I’d rather not.

Photo: Rick Patrick Photography

Then, immediately, as Jim moved on through the group, I started thinking: Rather not what? Get involved? Take part? I mean, how hard can it be? This is freaking St. John’s Cathedral! It was nice to be asked; nobody ever asks me to do anything. So I tracked Jim down and said, Actually: yes. Thank you.

I have no idea who preached, who presided, or what. But two snapshot-memories are burned on my mind. The first is me sunk deep in a choir stall up front, rehearsing over and over under my breath: the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation? The blood of Christ? The cup of salvation? The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

The second memory is the hands. As I moved with the cup along the altar rail, I forgot to worry about forgetting my part. As the worshippers stood or knelt there, they held out their hands. And these hands–mostly those of strangers–were the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Large and small, callused and soft, nail-polished and plain: there was such sweetness in the way the hands received the bread, and helped guide the cup.

This experience, like the soft blow to a temple gong, has reverberated in my mind, on and on for nearly 25 years. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to serve worshippers at the altar rail. Sometimes they stride up and kneel with a thud and sometimes they seem to be tip-toeing, a little hesitant to bother anybody. But always, the hands they hold out don’t just receive. They create the moment. The liturgy is a work of the people, after all.