Mother’s Day Monologue: Hell is Real.

I had the privilege of serving as Pastor of a church in Lexington, Kentucky for several years.  Each Mother’s day, instead of an official sermon, I would write and perform a monologue. Reading through an old moleskine recently I found my notes and thought I would post the yearly monologue here.
[An elderly man walks on stage with a cane in hand. He is in his living room. He sets his cap on a stand, drops his cane in the holder by the door, and shuffles to the tweed couch with a crocheted afghan draped across the back.  He slowly bends over, and feeling for the landing below, gently lowers his frame down on the couch.]

[he stares off into the distance as though looking back through time….and then finally, slowly begins to speak in careful, thoughtful tones.]  I remember when we took our firstborn Son to church on mother’s day 35 years ago.  Oh my wife and I had been trying for 20 years to be obedient to the Lord’s command to “go forth and multiply”….but it seems like God thought it might be more interesting to wait until we reached our 40’s to become parents.

Which wasn’t necessarily a bad idea….by the time you reach your 40’s some things just aren’t as big a deal as they would’ve been in your 20’s or 30’s….you’re not as interested in impressing others with your parenting skills and you start to be thankful for what really matters to a new parent in their 40’s, namely, that being a new parent in your 40’s has not killed you yet.

Our first Mother’s Day at church came when our son, Michael, was 2 years old. Now due to an unfortunate baking  accident, my wife was wearing a wig at the time.  We were sitting in the middle of the crowded church listening to the Minister talk about Mothers and about how “HELL IS REAL!”  It seems it did not matter what the sermon was on any given Sunday, he could always bring it back to the fact that, “hell is real!”

This Mother’s day he was talking about the story of the birth of Moses. How Pharaoh had condemned all of the Hebrew males to be killed to reduce their numbers. Jochebed gave birth to Moses and hid him for three months to try to protect her boy from the world around him – a world that didn’t care a lick about him. To everyone else he was nothing but a slave child….but to Jochebed….he was her boy.

Well as the story goes, she realizes she can no longer hide Moses, but she wasn’t done protecting him either.  So she made a basket, put her son inside, and took that basket to the river….and gently let it go.  The basket floated slowly from the river bank, spinning as it gradually picked up speed….and then disappeared round the bend.  And Moses’ Mother experienced what I reckon every Mother goes through when you’ve done all you can do to protect your child, and yet there comes a time when you simply must let them go….and trust that God is somehow in the middle of it all.

Well the preacher went on talking like this and our boy was getting restless.  You see we didn’t have a nursery back then….kids were expected to be in church and listen no matter how old they were….So that they would also learn that “hell is real” I suppose. Well our boy was not going to sit still any longer. He climbed on to my wife’s lap and started pulling on her necklace, he then moved to her dangling ear rings, and tried to grab for her eyebrows.

Now if my parenting skills were keener back then I would’ve taken the boy from her, but right about the time I though of it, our son’s little hands moved up my wife’s face until he came to her hair.  He yanked that wig as hard as he could and pulled the side of it clean round to the front and over her face.  My wife started to flail around as though she were drowning. She tossed our son at me as she got her head together.  You could hear gasps and giggles rising all around us.  It was about this time when the preacher cried out from the pulpit, “and make no mistake about it my friends, hell is real!” Through grated teeth my wife whispered sharply at me, “you don’t have to tell me hell is real….I just experienced it!”  “Honey, I’m sure no one noticed” I whispered back.  “Why didn’t you just hand him to me if you couldn’t control him?”

Needless to say it was not the most uplifting Mother’s Day service….we left quietly….my wife put that wig away and never wore it again.  But make no mistake about it, Mother’s are the protectors of the family. Seems my wife would go through any pain, put up with any discomfort, rejection, and sorrow, just as long as our son didn’t have to. Sometimes I think the title, “Mother” is given out a little too easy these days, but my wife….she earned it.

moses' mother

Course there came a time when we had to let Michael go, not because we wanted to mind you, but because he insisted, and an 18-year-old can wear you down….but my wife….she never stopped watching….even if it was from the sidelines. And our boy, well he went off and lost his head as far as we were concerned. Did all the things you don’t speak about in public places.  I can’t tell you how many times I would pass by our bedroom and hear the muffled cries of my wife praying for the our Son, praying that he would be protected, that he would remember how much he was loved, and that he would realize he could always come home….still trying to protect him, as she watched him spin around, pick up speed, and disappear around the bend, into a world that didn’t care whether he lived or died. You see to everyone else our son was just another man lost in the world….but to us he was our boy.

She’s been gone for 10 years now….my wife….and each Mother’s day I like to gather with friends and family to honor her memory and tell the story of her life. My son picks me up so I can go with him to church and I….[The ringing of a rotary phone interrupts him and he reaches to answer]….Hello?….oh morning Michael….yes I’m ready….just waiting for you….well that sounds nice….I hope we can get a table….course we could if you would keep your preaching short this year like I told ya….I can’t help it I get as restless as a child anymore….ok….I’ll be on the porch watching for you…[Places the phone back down on the receiver]….Guess I better get out there….Happy Mother’s Day.

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Lessons from my Attack: The Church & False Advertising Part II

After my shower I sat down on the couch and rubbed my newly trimmed face as I laughed about what had just happened. (Oh, if you didn’t read the beard story, you should probably do that now. Consider this the scene at the beginning of the second movie where you flashback in order to understand the back story. I know, part I is kind of long and rambling, but it may help part II make more sense….maybe).

That experience reminded me of a comedian who once had a bit about the names we give to neighborhoods, and how those names have nothing to do with the place where we live. So you live in the “Pheasant Hills” neighborhood where there are neither pheasants nor hills. Or you rent an apartment at “Willow Run”, where there are no willows for miles.

Sometimes the church does this with the names we come up with. I cannot explain it any better than Jon Acuff does on his site, “Stuff Christians Like”. (Take a look, I’ll wait). We call ourselves “Life Church” though we are the deadest place in town. We use terms like “Grace”  but we only offer it to ourselves, or “Community” when we have no intention of sharing life, real life, with the people who attend there. Our church signs and local paper advertisements speak of our place of worship as “a loving place” when it’s members are feuding and gossiping; we declare, “all are welcome” but if certain parts of the “all” would ever come and visit, they would quickly learn they were not part of the “all” the sign meant….you get the idea.

Day after day in a million different ways, through our signs, logos, bulletins, and vision statements, we make claims about who we are — we put certain things on the menu, but when push comes to shove, we are not ready for the person who enters the building and actually asks for it.  We fumble, make excuses, defer, and then we say, “well, I think we’re done here, what do you think?” And like a beard trim gone bad at Great Clips, the person just wants out, realizing very quickly that we use words like grace, and faith, and hope and love and community, and a hundred other “church words”, but we have no idea what to do with them.

But church criticism is easy. What about me? What about you? Am I experiencing and walking in any of the things that I talk about? The things I put up on the menu board? Grace, hope, love, faith, hospitality (love of stranger), joy, peace, patience….power….Jesus. Ultimately, most people will not be repulsed by a cliché church name, but they will be by another cliché disciple who knows the way to live, the cost to live, but still refuses to live it. The church is people. People who have surrendered their all to the Lordship of Jesus….right?

So what do we do? Where do we go from here?

That’s tomorrow’s post…..baaaaa duuuuummmmmmmmmmm

PS. Minutes after I posted yesterdays thoughts, I received a very nice tweet from Great Clips looking in to my experience. You see they are good people, and I just want them to know if they (or their lawyers) are reading this, that I will still continue to visit their
establishment for a great haircut at a comfortable price.   And if anyone wanted to find them they could go to www.greatclips.com and set up an appointment online today….I think that’s all I agreed to say. I know one thing, I am not going to mention the hack job with the beard and the clippers….unless there are some free haircuts involved….eh?….Great Clips?….happy customer is a return customer?…Talk it over and get back to me.

Attacked at Great Clips: The Church and False Advertising Part I

First a story about growing a beard (nothing like a good beard story to suck you in)

Each year I grow a beard….it gets pretty big.  

I wish I could say the beard was some kind of statement, or my attempt to survive the cruel Virginia winter, or even regular prep for any opportunity to play a devious biblical character. But I’m pretty sure my reasons for growing a big beard have more to do with laziness, novelty, and….ok maybe the opportunity to play a devious biblical character.

When I get a haircut.  I go to Great Clips.

It’s perfect for what I need. I feel like the fancier places have too many unspoken rules I don’t know about – it’s like being a part of a secret society.  Plus my hair cutting needs can be easily addressed with clippers and a #4 guard.

Around Christmas time, I decided to get a hair cut.  So I went to my closest shopping center, walked in, sat in the waiting room, and studied the shampoos on the shelf. I then looked at the menu board they have hanging over the register.  As I look over the options and prices on the menu, I notice something that catches my eye, “beard trim”. I never knew that was an option, I’ve never had my beard trimmed by someone else….but suddenly, I was interested.

In a few minutes, an older gentlemen called my name. I walked back to the chair and sat down. I am very uncomfortable in a hair-cutting situation. I can stand up and speak in front of hundreds of people, but I dread sitting in that chair for the 12 minutes it takes to get a haircut. I don’t know the psychology behind it, but to me it is awkward and extremely uncomfortable. Maybe if I were there every week for a wash and perm it would be different.  All I know is that by the time he tapes my neck off with that white paper and straps the cape on me, I have exhausted most of the small talk I was preparing while I waited to be called back.

So out of desperation, I throw out a question, “so….I see on the menu you guys do beard trims?” “Yes,…are you thinking of getting your beard trimmed?” He asked as he stared at my beard, trying to decide if his clippers were up to the task. “Oh I don’t know” I replied….and then silence.  He finished my hair and then asked, “so, do you want us to trim that beard for you?” “that beard” implied it was some kind of parasite that had attached itself to the bottom of my chin.  The thought of not having to clean up a bathroom full of fur was pretty appealing, so I said, “sure, why not, let’s go for it.” There was a slight hesitation from the man, as if I had called his bluff, and now he actually had to go through with it. He looked uncomfortable, and I can’t blame him, cutting this beard is like taking a push mower to a row of hedges. So he prepared his instruments on the table in front of me, and got to work.

That’s when I quickly learned the man who stood before me had never trimmed a beard in his life.

He began hacking away at my face, hair flying all around me. Several times he would try to go too deep too fast, and you could hear the clipper motor bog down, trapping the clippers in my beard for a moment. I started to laugh and fought to keep it internal, my shoulders shaking gently. The clippers moved to my upper lip. and as he swept upward, the teeth of the hair guard would catch my right nostril. Multiple times I could feel the guard go up inside my nose. I jerked back each time, but he remained silent….focused….clueless.

After cutting huge swaths in my beard, he then moved to the fine trimming, creating even, symmetrical lines with the stubble that remained on my face. Only I watched him as he trimmed too far down on one side. His choices were to either trim it off completely or just leave it and hope I enjoyed making a statement about beard conformity. He tried to lower the other side, but it wasn’t helping.  At a certain point, he just stopped, looked at me in the mirror and said, “well, I think we’re good here, what do you think?”

Now I should have pointed out that I could see several tuffs of hair that he missed all over my face, like some sort of mangy dog. I probably should have mentioned that the roller coaster outline he created on each side of my face was not the style these days.  And maybe I should have asked for a tissue to stop the internal bleeding in my nostril from his erratic trimming. But instead I looked in the mirror, smiled, and said, “yep, that will do.” I just wanted out. As I walked past the waiting room, I could feel the pity-filled stares of those who watched the entire ordeal.  I wanted to shout at them, ” I was once like you!!” “I am a man, I’m not an animal!”

I drove home, pulled in to the driveway, and walked inside. My wife was the first person I saw as I  came in the door. “Wow, you got your beard cut off!” “Yeah, but look at it” I said. She started to walk closer to me and then stopped short once she could see what I was referring to. She stared at me with compassion, in the same way that Esmeralda looked at Quasimodo. “Oh….what happened?” she reached to touch it but I pulled away. “I’ll be in the bathroom shaving” I said as I stormed out.

Isn’t it interesting that this company offered a service on a menu board that they were not prepared to provide to an actual customer?

Isn’t it strange that this worker thought he was providing a “good” beard trim when he was actually providing me several nights of flashbacks and night sweats.

Isn’t that exactly what the church is like sometimes?

I’ll explain what I mean….tomorrow (dum dum duuuuuummmmm)