Hey God, thanks for the disruption

On Friday, February 5, I had lots on my mind and lots to do as I headed to work at Trinity United Methodist Church. But little did I know God had other ideas about my day.

When I walked into the church office, our Preschool Director was there. She quickly introduced me to a young lady sitting in a chair. I did not recognize this person. But, I was told she had gained access into the building, and needed some help.

This young lady who I’m going to name Audrey, did not waste anytime in telling me she had already reached out via e-mail to our senior pastor. Audrey was surprised that she had not heard back from him.

So, I explained that COVID-19 had changed our day to day operations, and most of our program staff works from home.

With that said, I asked Audrey what was her need? I wanted to know if there was a way we might be able to offer assistance.

Quite simply, she was looking for shelter.

 Audrey had been staying at the Regency Inn at the corner of Parham and Quioccasin roads. Her credit card had been compromised in her attempt to pay for lodging.  Audrey believed this breach had been the fault of the management of the motel. 

She further explained it would be the first week of March before she would receive her monthly distribution from some type of retirement account she had. But, Audrey also made it clear touching one of her pockets that she had $250.00 in cash.

I listened. 

My mind was trying to sort out fact or fiction, truth or not quite the truth. But, then Audrey had also tossed God into the mix. 

This whole departure from upstate New York— south was on God’s shoulders. She described her trek like Jesus when he asked his first disciples to stop and drop what they were doing to follow him.

That is what Audrey told me, God had taken over her life, pushed her to follow his leads, and I could detect no hesitation in her commitment. 

Now, hearing all of this, my brain is in a deep struggle.

So, I hit the pause button. 

I asked Audrey to sit tight while I made phone calls to local agencies who might be able to offer her assistance.

At this very moment, I knew that the nonprofits and the systems in place to work with the homeless in the Richmond area were maxed out. But, I had learned enough over the years that it is about getting a homeless person into the system—that is the starting point.

I started with the crisis hotline and left my contact information. 

Next, I called CARITAS, a local nonprofit that we have supported for years. They do practical, good work with the homeless, and now they have a new program and facility designed specifically for women. Left my contact information and a brief description.

Then, I reached out to a caseworker in the Social Services department in Henrico County. One of our Sunday school classes had worked with her in assisting two local families in December.

God must be watching my dials, the caseworker answers her phone. 

I explain the circumstances, and I ask if she has a listing of local motels/hotels that rent to the homeless. She did, and she sent me the list via e-mail.

I saved the last call to our senior pastor. He picked up too. 

Again, I gave him the background, and I asked if he had received an e-mail from Audrey. He confirmed he had received an e-mail from her. However the message only stated these words—“do not be afraid.”

I suggested that we consider putting Audrey in a room at one of the local hotels for five days. I would provide her the key phone numbers so she could get into the local systems, and I would gently explain to her this would be the only financial assistance the church could provide. 

Our pastor agreed, and I headed back to the church office.

Back in the office, I pulled up a chair and explained to Audrey our plan. She seemed pleased, and I handed her a piece of paper with the phone numbers for the two nonprofits we needed her to call.

She was agreeable to this proposal, and once again, I departed to try and secure a room for her close by. I was sensitive to find a place near the bus line and also some restaurants within walking distance.

About three miles from the church at the intersection of Broad Street and Glenside Drive, I located an Extended Stay America. I made a phone call, explained the need, and secured a reservation.

Then, I sat down with Audrey again and informed her about the arrangements that had been made. Audrey reported she had made the two recommended phone calls, and I thanked her for her initiative.

In prepping for the drive over to the Extended Stay, I asked our church office manager to ride with us.

We learned a bit more about Audrey on the drive. 

When we arrived, I found the office, confirmed the reservation, made the payment, and brought Audrey in so she could complete the required registration and be directed to her room.

With that, I made sure she had my information card, I wished her luck, and I departed.

At some point on the ride back to church my phone rang. We were stopped at an intersection, I did not answer the call. But, I assumed it was Audrey. When we arrived at church, I checked the the call, and it had been from Audrey. The message she left was simply one of thanks.

Two hours of my day were gone. 

I spent the afternoon catching up my to do list, and thinking.

I thought about all of the needy people who had trickled into the building during the last ten years. Most, we never saw again despite their promises to repay us. 

One person on a Sunday morning, we found out was a scammer. There are three other churches  near us, and this person had visited all three and had been successful in securing a nice chunk of change from each.

But Audrey was different. 

She was articulate, bi-lingual, sounds like she had a successful career at a community college, and yet, I wonder what was really going on inside her head. 

The suspicious part of my brain, anchored by Deputy Fife took over. 

Was she on the run? Had she committed a crime? Was law enforcement looking for her? Were her parents and her brother aware of this nudging by God to drop everything and follow him.

Was she a con artist? Had she really been at the Regency Inn? Did she roll some innocent companion for the $250.00? Did she use the God assertion for a soft touch like me, knowing that a church person would easily buy into that line of thought?

Next, I questioned myself. If I was any kind of real Christian, why didn’t my wife and I offer her the hospitality of one of the empty bedrooms in our home? 

Was this God plucking the wiring in my brain? Was he nudging me to second guess my decision making?

Hey Bill, don’t use the Pastor’s Discretionary Funds to help Audrey, put her up at your house for a few days. 

God continued—I thought you trusted me. I thought you cared about people. What kind of heart do you have?

About mid-afternoon, I took a break to check my e-mails, and there was an e-mail from Audrey.

The e-mail was basically a thank you note with a lot of heartfelt dignity to it.

But, there was also a paragraph where Audrey shared an experience in her life. In that experience, she put a stranger up in an empty room in her home. And in that paragraph, Audrey cited verses from the Bible to affirm her reasoning by opening up this room for a stranger.

After reading that paragraph, my brain really tore into me for how I opted to assist Audrey.

Before her checkout date, we exchanged a couple of brief e-mails. One was to confirm to her that I had spoken with a staff person at  CARITAS about her. 

As of this writing, we are four days past her checkout date, and I have not heard from Audrey.

Recently, our youngest daughter recommended that my wife and I watch the movie, The Dig

The story takes place in England just as the British are anticipating war with Hitler’s Germany. A widower with a young son hires an excavator to unearth some mysterious mounds of earth on her property.

There is a scene when her son, Robert Pretty is in distress because he realizes his mother’s health is failing. Upon the death of his father, people had said to Robert that taking care of his mother was now his responsibility.

With his mother’s health declining, Robert sees himself as a failure, that he has let his mother and family friends down. He says— “And I failed. I failed.”(Moira Buffini)

The wise and patient excavator, Basil Brown, who is with Robert in this moment of self-torment says to him—“Robert, we all fail. Every day. There are some things we just can’t succeed at. No matter how hard we try. I know it’s not what you want to hear.”(Moira Buffini)

Screenwriter, Moira Buffini, words about failure ring true to me.

 But they are hard to accept when God disrupts my day with a stranger. 

Because I want life for this stranger and all the strangers in the world to be all right, ok, and safe.

I wonder what these words from Philippians 4:13 really mean to my heart now:  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

After today, I wonder if I really can do all things through him who strengthens me?

How will I react the next time God disrupts my day?

Who knows maybe God is done testing me.

Perhaps, I failed his test today with this stranger.

Second guessing is part of the learning from the unexpected, disruptions, and interruptions in life.

And even though I might be frustrated with myself and God, I think he knows in future circumstances that I will not stop trying to help strangers— even if I fail.

Hey God, even though I don’t understand you—thanks for the disruption.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

“Holler, if you need help”

On Saturday, January 30, 2021, Richmond and the central Virginia area were all wound up.

This being wound up was courtesy of our local television weather forecasters.

 For the last couple of days, they have been whipping us into a frenzy. Chattering with a nonstop obsession, like people who had consumed gallons of coffee and caffeine loaded energy drinks.

Over, and over, and over again, this mantra of excessive repetition kept pounding into our minds this winter weather phenomenon—snow, snow, snow, snow, snow.

I felt like I was listening to a reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells.” Like Edgar with the ringing of ‘the bells, the bells, the bells,’ I was teetering toward the edge of mental instability with the cries of ‘the snow, the snow, the snow, the snow!!’

For me, the only forecast I need to know that snow is on the way is when the huge front in loader arrives in the back parking lot of our church. 

When that massive piece of machinery is dropped off, I know the guys at the company who clear our parking lots believe the forecasters—it is going to snow.

So, on Saturday morning, I made a stop at our local hardware store. I was looking for a snow shovel to use at church that was designed to push snow off a sidewalk.

As soon as I entered the store,  I saw all of the snow shovels positioned near the entrance. But, I walked deeper into the store, back to the aisle where all the long handled tools were displayed.

Once in that section, a friendly clerk asked if I needed help. 

I told him no, and further explained I was just looking around.

He responded with, “Well if you need help, just holler.”

The clerk’s comment stuck with me.

Americans, myself included are good at hollering.

We hollered a lot in 2020, and we’re still hollering as 2021 begins.

In truth, we are a wounded and worn nation. Our hollering isn’t going away.

We need help in all kinds of ways.

I see it everyday in my work at our church. 

As Brian Wilson sang in his song “Love and Mercy”—‘a lot of people out there hurting, and it really scares me.’

He was right. At this very moment, there are a lot of people hurting.

We’ve been hollering for a long time about housing solutions for the homeless, jobs for the unemployed, food for the hungry, equity in education, health care, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

The pandemic has pushed these systems beyond their capacities, and in all of those challenges there is one little holler that keeps gulping for air—mental health.

I can’t tell you how many Zoom meetings I have participated in since last March, but I can assure you in a lot of those meetings mental health surfaces. 

The pandemic has frazzled people. Their thinking, emotions, reasoning, anxiety, and fears have been singed by this stress.

The instability created by all that frazzling is significant. There are a lot of people out there hollering—I can’t take this much longer, I need some relief, I need someone to listen, to hear me, to acknowledge me, —I am worn out, broken.

The movie Captain Phillips is based upon the real life hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates. Watching this movie is intense. It is not for a fainthearted viewer.

As the hijackers take over the ship, there is a lot of hollering. When the lead hijacker begins communicating with Captain Phillips, this scrawny, but fiery teenager tells Captain Phillips:  “No problem, Irish, everything gonna be ok.”

At the end of the day that frazzled friend, neighbor, co-worker, stranger wants someone to assure them—“everything gonna be ok.”

As I continue to age, the word snow frazzles me. I no longer have the heart of a kid for it.

But, I will tell you this.

Last Sunday morning with the snow still falling, we ventured out into our yard with some happy guests—two of our grandchildren. They were visiting for the weekend with their parents from Summerfield, North Carolina.

And at some point, I stood still. 

For a few brief seconds, the world was quiet, peaceful, motionless—the snow had silenced the hollering.

Oh, how I wish helping all those who are hurting was as simple as snowflakes falling from a gray sky.

All that hollering out there isn’t going away.

But, maybe we can help.

Maybe, in our hearts, we can be a kinder, more considerate people, as graceful with those who are frazzled and hollering for help as a gentle January snowflake.

The snow forecaster Trinity UMC parking lot photo by Bill Pike

“for the Bible tells me so”

I was a lousy, lousy, lousy high school student. 

I’m sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief when I walked off the stage with a diploma in hand. And, I am just as certain, the faculty and staff of Walter Williams High School silently cheered, or internally asked themselves how did he graduate as I exited the stage.

Thankfully, one institution of higher learning in America took a gamble and admitted me— Greensboro College. 

After granting my admission, it is still hard for me to believe that the director of admissions kept his job. 

Even though he is no longer living, my entry into Greensboro  College had something to do with Don Gumm. Don was the associate pastor and youth director at Davis Street United Methodist Church. Don took me for a tour and an interview. 

Maybe the fact that I was Methodist had something to do with my acceptance. Greensboro College is a Methodist supported school. Perhaps, the school has an unwritten rule, we take all Methodists even if their performance in high school was as low as a submarine snoozing in the deepest canyon of the ocean.

I didn’t deserve to go to college. I wasn’t a troublemaker in high school, I was just a goof off. 

Prior to high school, the last time I worked to my potential was in the sixth grade. Only school year in my life when I made the honor roll and had perfect attendance. 

So it should be no surprise  that on March 24, 1972, I received a Student Progress Report in Dr. W. P. Weaver’s Religion 102 class for failing. So much for the Sunday school classes, vacation Bible school sessions, and the Methodist Youth Fellowship meetings, none of that religion was helping me now.

Somehow, I turned things around in Dr. Weaver’s class and finished with a C.

And in truth, that C is probably my grade even today as I continue to work to understand and apply the Bible to my life.

Clearly, I am no theologian, and I really don’t want to be a theologian, but at times I struggle with the Bible.

Who knows, maybe you do too. 

I wonder if that struggle accounts for the 61 translation of the Bible found on the website Bible Gateway?

Does that mean these translations were attempts by theologians and translators to make the Bible a better fit for real life application?

With my brain being the size of spider mite, I do not have the capacity to answer that question. 

But, all these translations are an indication to me— that someone besides me was wrestling to make the Bible relevant—to make sense of it— and all of its “good, bad, and ugly.”

Additionally, I wonder if anyone has ever considered editing out all of the bad in the Bible? Just give us the good. But then, we would miss the stories of hardships, the misery experienced by people. I guess this would limit our learning.

I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with verses from the Bible like these two from James Chapter 1:  “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing, but joy. Because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

How can a trial like life threatening cancer be a joy? 

In that same line of thought, how can dying from COVID-19, being homeless, being unemployed, being falsely imprisoned, a life altering auto accident, abuse of any type, starvation— how can these be “nothing, but joy”?

I do not understand how these severe trials that people encounter everyday can be joyful experiences.

A creature of habit,  earIy every morning, I read the daily devotional printed in the Upper Room. I also spend time reading and pondering the scriptures linked to each devotional. 

Recently, I read the recommended scripture from Deuteronomy 10 verses 17-32. Iread a translation from the 1973 New  Oxford Annotated Bible Revised Standard Version. That translation uses the word “terrible” twice in contrasting descriptions of God:

Verse 17—“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God,”

Verse 21—“He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and terrible things which your eyes have seen.”

Just so you know, in current translations of  the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the Common English Bible the word ‘terrible’ has been edited out.

I wonder what the reasoning was behind this edit? Maybe the editors saw it as a public relations move for God. How can we have a good God and a terrible God?

Remember, I’m no theologian.

And I guess for me that is my struggle, my questioning— if God is so good and if he is there with us in every nanosecond of life—why do these non-joyful things continue to happen to people?

I know. 

God did not promise us a rose garden.  

But, I will wrestle with that verse from James until I croak.

And, to be perfectly honest with you, I struggle with the division that the Bible causes. How we interpret and apply the Bible can often create divides in churches and in denominations. 

I distinctly recall that the Bible directs us to love one another. 

How can we love when some of the scripture interpretations in the Bible divide us?

Again, I will wrestle with this division until my last heart beat—wondering why we can’t overcome our divide with love?

If I even come close to entering the pearly gates, I imagine there will be quite an inquisition as my life is reviewed. 

For certain, there will be lots of black marks by my name. 

At least that’s how Alma Coble, our childcare provider, when I was a kid explained it to me. 

God fearing Alma with no hesitation said when you do something wrong down here on earth, God, Jesus, or your designated guardian angel puts a black mark by your name.

All my black marks will be troubling for sure, but I anticipate hearing a more dangerous question like this. 

Mr. Pike while on earth did you publish a blog called Might Be Baloney

I will answer with a yes.

In those blog posts, did you ever on any occasion question the work of God, Jesus, or the contents of the Bible?

Again, I will answer yes.

And then, there will be an uncomfortable, extended pause of silence. 

In that profusely perspiring pause, eventually, a throat will clear to inquire further, Mr. Pike, why did you question in such a manner?

Silence will reappear. 

Impatience is ticking.

The guardians of the pearly gates are quietly thinking we’ve got him now.

My mind will stumble back to my childhood at Davis Street Methodist Church.

 And I will mumble out this innocent reply: “Yes, Jesus loves me—for the Bible tells me so”.

Failing proof Photo by Bill Pike

Quick run, Mr. Whine is coming!!

At one time in the teacher’s lounge at Lakeside Elementary School, these words were posted:  “Thou shall not whine.”

Sorry boys and girls, but I’m going to break that commandment now.

On Saturday, January 23 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I read the following headline:  ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season sought in Oklahoma. (From wire reports)

Yes, a state lawmaker in Oklahoma wants to create legislation to allow a hunting season that would coincide with a Bigfoot festival held in the forest of the Ouachita Mountains each year. The legislator sees a hunting license for Bigfoot as a boost for tourism.

Perhaps, Representative Justin Humphrey has forgotten or never heard these words from another famous person from Oklahoma, Will Rogers:  “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

In an attempt to insure that my body will be properly prepared for my annual physical in April, I recently purchased a pack of sweet Italian sausages at Kroger. I figure anything I can do to assist my doctor to buy another vacation home is good for the economy.

 Perhaps I missed this change in how foods are categorized, but I was surprised to see a sticky label on the sausage packaging that said “seafood.” 

Photo by Bill Pike

Does this mean these sausages were made in a kitchen environment where seafood was present? 

Or, does this indicate Kroger needs to revamp its food group identification training for employees? Maybe, Kroger should seek the counsel of third graders about food group categories.

And while we are talking about food groups, lets talk about beer, you know liquid bread. 

As a long time follower of the craft beer industry, I am still in shock over the Total Wine insert in the January 17 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch

On page 7 of that insert, three well-established craft brewers had photos of their low-calorie beers. 

Unbelievable, craft brewers brewing low-calorie beers. For brewers who worked so hard to establish their independence and to shun the footprints of the beers made by the big box brewers— this is a disappointment. 

And with the hype of the Super Bowl upon us, here is another disappointment. For some reason, National Football League Commissioner, Roger Goodell, continues to ignore my pleas for changing the rules on how a touchdown can be scored.

 Mr. Commissioner, eliminate the rules that allow a player to score a touchdown by breaking the plane of the goal line or diving to touch an orange pylon on the corners of the goal line. To score a touchdown, a player’s entire body must be in the end zone with the football intact—nothing else.

On Friday, January 22, my wife, the Commander Supreme, ventured to our local post office branch. She was mailing a package to her mother who resides in West Hartford, Connecticut. 

The Commander paid for two-day Priority Mail. As of today’s date, Tuesday, January 26, the package is in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Not counting Friday, this is day four. We could have driven the package up the east coast in one day.

From Richmond to Las Vegas is 2,405 miles, and Las Vegas to West Hartford is 2,621 miles, and of course, Richmond to West Hartford is a mere 452 miles. 

I am truly thankful for our postal workers. And, I am sure some postal executive has a reasonable explanation for Richmond to Las Vegas to West Hartford, but I’m not buying any explanation that defies the logic of real fifth grade geography.

And I know you will be disappointed that you missed it, but Monday, January 25 was National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. I’ll be sure to mark that on my calendar for next year.

But alas, keep your composure, don’t be too downhearted because the most important national appreciation day will be here on Sunday, December 26, 2021—National Whiners Day.

According to the website National Day Calendar, National Whiners Day was established in 1986 by Reverend Kevin Zaborney. 

The good reverend created this day with the hope of encouraging people to be thankful for what they have instead of being unhappy “whining” about what they do not have.

I know that I’m a whiner.

But in truth, I have no right to whine.

Here are some reasons, I should not whine.

Believe it or not, and despite my still growing list of  imperfections, I know that I am surrounded by love. Some people in our world will never experience love.

I can go to my kitchen sink, turn on the faucet, and pour a glass of clean, fresh water. Not everyone can do that in 2021.

A long time ago, in the first grade at Elon Elementary School, my teacher, Mrs. Hughes, taught me to read. Try as we might, illiteracy has not been solved.

Within easy driving and walking distance to our home, there are six grocery stores. And yet, food deserts are plentiful in our community.

I live in an imperfect country that sometimes struggles with its understanding of freedom. But, I am free to write this gibberish. In some countries that freedom doesn’t exist.

Sure, whining might make me feel better.

But here is the question I need to ask myself—is my whining helping to solve any of the millions of challenges we face?

I know the answer is no.

I need to stop the energy burn on whining. 

That energy must be redirected.

I wonder if I can do that?

Photo by the Commander Supreme

Hey Jimmy, how are your “psychological insults”?

In the spring of 2020, I submitted an article to the American School Board Journal for publication consideration. Surprisingly, the article appears in the February 2021 issue of the magazine, as a part of their Online Only section. 

If you are interested in reading the piece—Hey Jimmy, how are your “psychological insults”? here is the link: https://nsba.org/ASBJ/2021/February/psychological-insults.

Thanks for your time, be safe, Bill