Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Alternative Way to Celebrate Christmas

It's been a very long time since  have decided to post on this blogl. I really should get back to it.  Here is another one of my musings; I hope it makes some sense to you,

I'll be glad when Christmas Season is over. Heres why: The hype of the season and day never lives up to the planning and the spending and the pomp, etc., I haven't genuinely enjoyed Christmas Day since I was about 12 years old. Back then all I had to do was wait in anticipation for the day and get new stuff, eat and start vacation from school.

Life has become a little more complicated since then.  While I am not truly Ebenezer Scrooge or a Grinch, I do wish that things were just more simple. I agrre that the holiday has become too comercialized. That's factual; no real argument can be made against it. People claim to abhor the presence of Christmas advertisements right after Halloween, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah, and yet they participate as if they are powereless to resist the lure of Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday seductions and Small Business Tuesday, ugh. I will not participate in any event that begins with people being knocked down, shoved, stomped and trampled for an inanimate object. Insanity and greed run amuck.  I have made the decison to celebrate the holiday in the simplicity in which the Savior came; to humble people via humble means, of no reputation, in the form of of a servant.

This year, If I cannot make the gift, I won't be giving it. I love the idea of giving gifts but trolling the malls, shoppes, stores, catelogues and on-line sites for the "perfect" gift annoys me.  It is not necessary.  I am not condemning those who will do it I just want to be free from all of that pressure. I find it telling that we need to remind ourselves repeatedly thyat "Jesus is the reason for the season!"

I cannot see how this exhorbitant spending and indebtedness in celebration of the holiday represents Christ or the purpose for which he came.  I am choosing to make financial gifts to two charitable organizations that in my estimation do the work of Christ on a daily basis.  One feeds the hungry on an international level and the other takes in the homeless, addicted, hungry and sick in Boston, MA.  I do this not to tout some superior spirituality or to claim a higher sensibility but becaue I think it more truly represents the character of Christ as I understand it. Perhaps my sharing this may free someone else from the cultrural pull that starts in late October and begins again on December 26th with all the crap that is now on sale that folk spent top dollar for 2 days before!

This year, on Christmas Eve, I will light my candle, read the nativity story, hug my grandchildren, kiss my wife and go to sleep glad for the incarnation of the Christ who came to make all men free.

God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Chritmas day
To save us all from Satan's pow'r when we had gone astray
O Tidinigs of Comfort and Joy Comfort and Joy!
O Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I really can't stand Christianese! You know what that is don't you? It's the weird way some Christians talk to each other about life and spiritual things. Like saying "Praise the Lord" as a replacement for "Hello and how are you?" Ugh! I never did appreciate that. Sometimes I speak Christianese because it is expected of me as a minister and pastor. I do it but I'd much rather just speak to people in normal every day words.

One Sunday afternoon I was in a local eatery that is frequented by Christians after their church services. As I sat at my table with a bite of chicken in my mouth a woman I know who calls herself "Evangelist" as a part of her name (UGH!) approached me wearing her best Sunday garb.

Praise the Lord!, she said. I responded by saying, "Hello." "I said, Praise the Lord!", she smiled an annoyed smile as she forced the issue with me. I responded again with my previous greeting. "I'm going to teach you how to greet the saints", she replied with more than a hint of indignation. As I tried to enjoy my dinner she proceeded to lecture me on the high importance of the use of Christianese when speaking with other believers. UGH! On her way back to the buffet she saw my wife and informed her of the impromptu workshop she subjected me to. She ruined my dinner! I have never been back. I try to avoid places and gatherings where Christians find the need to create a world of language, tradition and behavior that makes sense only to the group.
It's not that I can't appreciate the need for camraderie and group thinking but I have always found it a little, um..., er... weird; that's all. It is just not a way I choose to live my life.

I also eschew buttons, bumper stickers, religious coffee mugs, magnets, pens, T-shirts and a host of other gadgets and trinkets marketed to Christians. I am not inclined to paste the name of the GOD I serve on objects. I don't condemn people who do I merely resent it when they insist that I do.

Another pet-peeve of mine is fashionese. Fashionese are the non-clerical garb worn by church people that has no function outside of church services or functions. We've all seen these garments. Hats, dresses, suits for men and women that just scream "INAPPROPRIATE SELECTION!" in any venue other than a black church. These are not clothes one can wear to work or for a day on the town without a dozen side glances and more than a few muffled giggles. It just makes me uncomfortable; that's all. If that's your thing, carry on and do you, as they say. Just don't expect everyone to do it.

I don't think GOD wants all his children to become conformists. You know what I mean; everyone one of us does all the same things in the very same way looking all the same as we do them. I believe in transformation not mandated conformity. I believe that the Holy Spirit works in each of us according to the purpose for which we were created. I love the diversity of personality and tradition within church people and respect that there is something to be gained by observing other people's traditions.

If you never see me wearing a Christian button or hear me answer my phone with a scripture don't assume I am less devoted than you. I simply choose to let my life and living speak for me. I hope you understand. If not, all I can say is UGH!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Bearded Angel

When my eldest grandson was 4 years old he was asked by his Children's Church teacher to make a replica of an angel; a messenger of GOD. Dylan drew a male angel with wings and a full beard and mustache. He was 4 years old. He showed it to me at home and I was surprised to see that Dylan had drawn an angel with a very dark, beard and a mustache that not at all colored like the rest of the angel which was light blue. I asked him why he drew the angel with such an unusual face. He tipped his head and examined the angel and said: "I dunno Pop Pop, I think that must be what an angel looks like." Long after the time Dylan ran off to go to bed, I looked at the angel again. It became clear to me. Dylan's view of GOD was deeply impacted by his relationship with his grandfather, the pastor. The mustached and bearded angel's manicured facial hair very closely resemble my own trademarked facial decor. He infused into his drawing the closest thing he knew to GOD. His grandfather. I was humbled and afraid. I never really experienced any flattery from his attribution. I knew far too well how far I was from being in the image of Christ. I am certainly a work in progress. The gospel song, "Please Be Patient with Me God Is Not Through with Me Yet" could very well be my theme song.

For children and for other grown folk who don't know GOD through Christ Jesus, we are the main piece of scripture they'll know. The only church service they see. It's how they will view GOD until they come to know Him for themselves. Just like Dylan knew GOD through his Pop Pop.

Jesus said, "Let your lights so shine fore men that they might see (observe and contemplate) your good works and (in turn) glorify your father in heaven." In this saying Christ gives to his followers an obligation to correct, loving, righteous behavior in the view of those who are not followers or disciples of Christ.

I have tucked the angel away with a number of cards, notes and drawings he made for me. Every now and then I'll pull the angel out and look at it. I am always stricken with the need to be an exemplary man, grandpa and minister in before him.


"When I moved in here I gave you five thousand dollars!" These were the indignant words of my father in response to my request that he replace a deeply sentimental gift to my wife I had made. I gave the gift on the occasion of my wife's gift to me of her kidney after mine had failed from diabetic complications. The gift was a replica of the statue called The Kiss. It is a famous sculpture of a man and woman locked in a nude embrace, passionately kissing. My wife and I called it The Kidney. When my grandson first saw it he was 6 years old. He looked at it studiously and looked up at me with his eyes fixed on mine. He looked at the statue again and circled it in wide eyed amazement, He said; "Pop Pop, why is this in the house?" I laughed and explained to him the reason I purchased it. I asked him if he thought it was a bad thing and he said he didn't know. Despite my grandson's reservations the artwork was a symbol of love, fidelity and sacrifice for my wife and I. It was prominently displayed in our entry way, fittingly so.

In an act of carelessness my father broke the statue and attempted to glue it together in a crude and haphazard manner. When I saw it I was shocked and disappointed. He didn't mention the broken piece of sentimentality. He waited for me to say something to him about it. When I asked him how it was broken he gave an answer that caused me more disappointment and disgust. He had broken a clear house rule and the result was the destruction of a piece of art that held emotional and historical significance for Lynette and I. He quickly told me he would replace the broken sculpture. Okay, it won't truly replace it but, well, okay. It took me a few weeks to determine how much the replacement cost would be.

When I informed my father of the cost he became visibly angered. It was at this point that he mentioned the alleged five thousand dollars he gave me. It was actually two thousand dollars and that was not unreasonable considering he got a large heated room, kitchen privileges and off street parking. He would have to pay that for a lesser living quarters almost anywhere in the city. My first response to his indignation was anger. How dare he mention what he gave me when he moved into my home? He never paid a dime in child support, rarely even saw me as a child nor did he ever inquire as to my well being! I very briefly contemplated telling him that whatever he gave me was 45 years late and still insufficient! I controlled my temper and told him his attitude was obnoxious and intolerable. A yelling match ensued. Though I didn't tell him that he needed to relocate. I knew he knew it was time to go. It was a relief. For three years he had disregarded house rules, privacy, courtesy and general respect, repeatedly and unrepentantly. I was tired and so was my wife. When he finally told me he had found a place to go relief morphed into exultation. I would have my life and home back.

The relationship with my father was always difficult for me. Before it was difficult it was hardly existent. Though a big personality and hugely popular character in Boston and Cambridge, to me he was a ghost. A figure that quickly appeared and disappeared at different stages of my life. He never knew my birthday. When I was a child he honored the day once. He gave me his white 10 speed white racing bike for my 13th birthday. I had already been given a emerald green, chopper bike with a mile high sissy bar earlier in the week. We never really clicked or bonded. We never had father and son time alone when I was a kid, or teen. I always shared him with his woman or girlfriend for the day or the weekend. I never really got to know him and he certainly never really got to know me; his son. When I was married I asked him to be my "best man" as an act of respect and generosity. The relationship remained strained and distant.

At the time he moved into our home he was at a low point in his life. His health and circumstances had taken a nose dive. I felt sorry for him. I felt guilt about knowing he needed a place to stay and not wanting to offer him to share my space. Though he wasn't much of a father figure to me he was funny and could be fun to be around. I considered him a friend. I truly felt that the time for us as father and son was long gone. There had been too much time, too little regard for his absences and far too many hurts to be repaired. The only hope I held was one of forgiveness and friendship. He immediately became a member of my church and set about to helping me grow the church numerically. He worked tirelessly as a bus driver and unofficial evangelist. He introduce many people to the church and ultimately to the gospel through his charitable acts. At one time he collected food that would have been discarded by a renowned eatery and distributed it to homeless and needy people in the street.

In retrospect the way my father handled the broken statue is the way he handled many issues in his life. He attempted to make things right by his version of glue; humor, money, favors and half hearted apologies. Somewhere deep inside, in a place I don't think he ever really visited, he was in a lot of emotional pain. Whatever or whomever had created whom he was had left a very wounded boy who had grown into a wounded man who created his own wounds on his son. He was never able to have a transparent and real conversation with me about what his absence in my life had cost me. All I ever really wanted from him was acceptance of responsibility for his actions. Because he couldn't do it a gulf existed between us. It was cordial. It was friendly. It was loving but it was a gulf. I tried hard to maintain an attitude of forgiveness about it but it took a lot of prayer and acceptance. Forgiveness is not often a one time event when dealing with family issues or people. We are flawed. We make mistakes. We have good intentions but we so often miss the mark in our attempts. My very difficult relationship with my father did teach me that forgiveness is not merely a principle but a commitment to a truth that can challenge your rhetoric and your faith. I didn't experience much change in the relationship but there was some change in me. I had never intended to forgive my father for his abandonment of me. In some ways my anger around that issue fueled my desire to do what he didn't do but that is really negative in it's impetus. Living with my father forced me to deal with my anger on a daily basis. Would I live with the bitter attitude or would I live out my faith and just accept who he was. It was easier to do the latter and more to the point it was right and righteous.

My father is now dead and gone to his eternal reward. Living with forgiveness while he was living made his passing an easier transition for me. I didn't have all the regret, anger, and angst that can accompany a death without forgiveness and resignation. The years and experiences that I did not have with my father will never be. I don't think there is a healing for that. I think there is redemption for it. GOD is able to make all things work out for the good of them that love Him. I have a compassion and connection for others who have similar pain. I work for the betterment of children who also have missing parents; especially fathers. Therein is the good from out of the bad. By the way, he never replaced the statue. All that remains where the object once stood is a scarred wall with bits of glue. Someday I will repair and patch the wall; paint it. Redeem the site.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I cried the other day. I was at a planned work appointment. The appointment was arranged to be on a ship on the historic waterfront of Boston. The Charlestown Shipyard is a beautiful place. The weather was very hot; in the 90's. I thought the breeze would be a welcomed reprieve from the heat. I arrived early. I did so for two reasons. I am notorious for running behind the appointed time for a meeting and I did not want to be one of the minority Negroes who kept the boat waiting. The second reason and the most important one is this: I have a disability. My ambulation has been compromised by the long term side effect of diabetes. I have nerve damage in my feet and severe arthritis stemming from another diabetic condition. I have to be planful about walking. I arrived early to check out the area and to give myself enough time to negotiate the terrain. Charlestown is full of cobblestone walks and streets. Cobblestone is beautiful and quaint but it is hard to walk on.

Proud of the fact that I was the first to arrive I stationed myself under a shelter and awaited the arrival of my co-workers. Eventually they arrived in a festive mood. I, on the other hand, was apprehensive. I wanted to know how far the walk to the ship was. I had already struggled with the walk from the parking garage to the meeting place and as I've already explained it was hot. After a few moments of chit-chat and formalities we all began the trek to the ship. I lagged behind. I am used to moving a little more slowly these days. I've adjusted. What is hard for me is to take the gentle kindnesses of people willing to assist me. I guess it's a pride thing and probably a man thing too. I am both. A very gracious woman and friendly colleague sidled up to me and said quietly; "Let me take your bag". I insisted that I had it all under control and gently refused her offer. My colleague said in a firm and determined voice just above a whisper (in a voice I have heard many women of African descent use so many times before); "Give me the bag". I acquiesced and she carried the bag for me to the ship. I struggled to keep a pace that was relatively swift while others occasionally asked me about my progress and well being. I waved them on and said I'd catch up. I felt old. I felt embarrassed. I was uncomfortable.

An office mate of mine stayed behind with me to ensure that I was not left alone in the oppressive heat with my feet struggling to carry my load over the uneven sidewalk. I misstepped a couple of times and I prayed that I would not fall. I finally arrived at the gate to the plank like ramp that would lead to the deck that would lead to the ship. I braved the ramp. It is no small feat to walk a ramp at a 45 degree angle with a cane. I did it, walking on my heels because my feet cannot grip as they once did. Once on the narrow and floating deck I was even more uncomfortable. The deck wavered with the water and I panicked. I did not want to fall over in the water on either side of the deck. Another co-worker had just pointed out that the water was filled with jelly fish. I peered over the left side to see more jelly fish than I had ever seen in my life at one time! Nervous, embarrassed, I continued on cautiously. I was offered a wheel chair to assist me (get away from me with a wheel chair!). What I needed was a deck that didn't waiver.....or a meeting that was closer to the shore...or a new pair of feet; but none of these were immediate options. I continued on the deck until a small wave moved the deck for the third time. I temporarily lost my balance, quickly regained it and stopped walking altogether. I determined that I was through trying to navigate this walk of horrors and decided to return to my vehicle and go back to my office. I announced my intention and turned around to make the trek back. I asked for someone to get my briefcase and I made it back to the parking lot. I was driven to my car by the co-worker who lagged behind with me. She was sweet to do that.

When I finally paid my parking fee which was $9.00 for 90 minutes. I sat in my car and wept. I cried because I was embarrassed, I cried because I was angry. I cried because I felt humiliated and defeated. I cried because I felt sorry for myself. I cried because I felt that my needs were not considered in the planning of the meeting. I cried because I was mad at myself for not following my instinct the night before to cancel my appearance at the meeting believing the walk would be prohibitive. I was mad at the doctors who didn't catch the diabetic syndrome happening in my feet and discharged me from the hospital with a broken foot that collapsed two days later, (That's a whole 'nuther story boys and girls). I was even a little mad at GOD for a minute. I don't know why, really. I guess I needed someone to blame and HE seemed convenient. I quickly repented and asked HIM what I could learn from the incident. I am not sure. I am thinking about it. I know that my own disability has made me much more aware of other people's struggles with architecture; stairs, hallways, the lack of seating in public places, etcetera. It has made me a more compassionate person. Isn't that what our troubles are designed to do in a sense? 2 Corinthians 1:4 says that we comfort others with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted; That comfort comes from GOD. Some experiences are not for us. They happen to us but they are not specifically for us. Is is possible that my disability has a greater reason than diabetic complications or an arrogant doctor's error? I think so. I never paid much attention to the fact that so many churches with the sign "ALL ARE WELCOME" under the church name have made no provision for the elderly, the sick or the disabled to enter those buildings. I am now acutely aware. I am more patient as people cross the street while I wait at a light. I notice high curbs and have assisted others in managing them. I once saw a man struggling to get his wife from her wheelchair into their car. My heart was touched and I (along with my cane) assisted the elderly gentleman in his task. I was his hero that day. It reminded me of how GOD's grace works in us. We are not perfect; no not at all, but what HE has deposited can be a blessing to someone else.

For the Christian our troubles work within us a work that is far greater than the immediate happening of trouble or disaster or disability. If we are wise we will allow the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us on the inside. I am indeed different on the outside but I am much more transformed on the inside because of the lessons I've learned through the adversity I've experienced over the past 10 years or so. Like the old saints used to say; "I wouldn't take nothin' for my journey."

I've stopped feeling sorry for myself and I am in a more reflective mood. In my refection I can see the hand of GOD at work on my behalf in the two women who assisted me. They were like goodness and mercy that morning. I thank GOD for them and today they are in my prayers of thanksgiving. I feel blessed. It's my turn to comfort someone else. Thanks for listening.

Monday, March 31, 2008

House Dresses and Cigarettes....Confessions of a well meaning, religious bigot

As a very young pastor I attended a national pastor's conference designed to support pastors whose churches are located in the inner city. I was expectant, excited and full of zeal. The first year was a life changing event for me. I was able to meet and hear a message from a pastor that I greatly admired. Pastor E.V. Hill whose approach to preaching had deeply influenced my own was a guest speaker. The entire weekend was a magnificent experience for me. I wept the entire time as the LORD did so many wonderful things in my heart and life.

What a difference a year makes. The following year I attended the same conference. This time a discouraged, depressed, tired and sick pastor attended the conference. I declined to attend with friends this time; preferring to travel alone so I could think, meditate and pray. I could also be there without the distraction of my friend's desire to shop, sight see or visit friends.
I kept asking GOD to please make sure someone was there to minister to me. I needed support. At the time my denomination had no routine means to support, train or counsel pastors or ministers on the local level. There was an annual conference but you could die of spiritual thirst waiting on that yearly meeting. My whole prayer was for the LORD to arrange for someone to minister to me.

I arrived at the first meeting on time but not in time to get a preferable seat. As I stood surveying the building an usher approached me and escorted me to the front of the congregation; first row; right side of the church. As I took my seat, I noticed a rubenesque, woman with a pleasant demeanor and a perm that needed a touch up desperately. The most remarkable thing about this woman was the fact that she was wearing a shift. For those of you too young to know, a shift was a house dress with no sleeves and a simple wrap-style or plain buttoned down front. These dresses were typically worn around the house as one cleaned, cooked or enjoyed leisure time. I immediately thought; "Who is this lady in this great big ol' meeting in a house dress?" She smiled as I took my seat directly in front of her. At some point during the service I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and heard indiscernible words in a clear pattern of fervent prayer. Someone was praying for me. I turned to see it was the lady in the house dress. After the service this lady made a point of speaking to me and asked my name. That evening in my hotel room, I prayed with tears for the LORD to send someone to me to encourage me, give me a "word" or some sign that He was still with me in this role of pastor. I suppose I wanted one of the internationally famous pastors to recognize my need and say something that would transform my life and ministry. Didn't happen.

The next day I was again led to my seat by an usher. I was seated this time directly in back of the lady with the bad perm. She was wearing another house dress. In this morning session. The speaker encouraged the people to share prayer needs with those around them. Immediately the house dress lady turned to me and she took my hands and asked what I would like to pray about. I couldn't even speak. I closed my eyes and just froze. The tears seeped through my closed lids as I tried to formulate words that could explain my needs to this stranger. She began to pray. Her prayer addressed the needs of my life. Her prayer was a balm for my pain and disillusionment. I also prayed for her and we embraced. The following day I was seated before her and she sought me out. As we began to talk, I realized that it was through this very different lady (at least from my perspective) that GOD has answered my prayer for someone to minister to me. My expectation was entirely different; foolish, limited and bigoted. In my interactions with that lady and her very real compassion for me that I saw very clearly the beauty of Jesus. Through this woman of GOD my soul was lifted and I was hopeful and refreshed in the Holy Spirit. GOD used this white woman from New York to bless a black man from Boston. In doing so he addressed a bias I had regarding clothing and judging the value of people based on appearance. Through this experience He also revealed the limited view I had of the sources of the grace of GOD.

Another instance of GOD correcting biases and false expectations was my reluctant attendance to a three day conference at a catholic conference site by a beautiful lake in Massachusetts. I initially resisted the invitation because, well.... they were catholic. I had visions of statues, Mary veneration, smoke and rosary beads. My friend assured me that the meeting was multi-denominational and was not strictly catholic but I didn't want to take the risk. I never really made up my mind to go until I was actually in the car heading towards the southern part of Massachusetts with the friend that invited and eventually demanded that I attend. Too late to change my mind, I wondered as I peered over my sunglasses peripherally at my excited friend. Yeah, too late came the response from my conscience and we careened on to the "reluctant weekend".

The first hour of this new experience was extremely uncomfortable. No one there looked like me. I was the speck in the cup of milk as we say in my collective community. A colloquial reference to being the only Black/African American in a roomful of White folk. Some of the songs that were sung I knew, the scripture references were familiar, of course. I was surprised to see that during free time that was allotted for the prisoners, oops, I mean, participants to get to know one another there were more than a couple of people who were smoking cigarettes. I thought: "Don't these heathens know they are in a church function on a church site for a spiritual retreat?"
As soon as my thought was complete one of this ill-informed people walked up to me with cigarette in mouth uttering a greeting. I pretended not to understand what I had heard in order to signal to him that he should remove the offensive sign of his spiritual immaturity. We then introduced ourselves. During this little get-to-know-you attempt the man claims that he has a "word from the LORD" for me. My mind immediately put up a barrier! "You ain't got no word for me with that cigarette hanging out of your mouth brother!, was my initial thought. He immediately began to speak of things that he could certainly not know about me from a very brief introduction. It soon became clear to me that the LORD was using this man to encourage me abut the weekend. The unlikely prophet also foretold some things that came to pass in my life. Hmmmmm.

I believe Elijah, the prophet also had a similar experience as recorded in scripture . He is running from the death threat issued to him by Jezebel the Queen and wife of Ahab the wicked king of Israel. He eventually ends up depressed, hiding in a cave with a warped perception of his ministry and whom the LORD was using. Elijah's ministry was one that was accompanied by signs and wonders. Just before the death threat he called down fire from Heaven in a battle between the Priests of Baal and the Prophets of the LORD. We find Elijah in the cave having an expectation of GOD's presence in his life to be like it always was. There was a lightening storm, an earth quake and a hurricane while Elijah was in the cave. The Bible says each time one of those great events happened Elijah went to the mouth of the cave and expected to hear GOD's voice; like he always did, in the great wonders. GOD was not in any of those experiences. It wasn't until a gentle breeze came by the cave that Elijah finally heard the LORD's voice. When he heard the voice of GOD it put in perspective his misperception of who was being used by GOD. ("I alone am left as a servant of Jehovah! 1 Kings 18:22, 19:10"). I think also, it must have broadened the vision of Elijah's ministry. He found out there were 7 thousand other faithful people still serving the LORD! In the direction recieved he was given instruction concerning his nation, another nation and the next generation; his mentor, Elisha.

Being open to the Sovereignty of GOD is somethimes a hard thing to do. He keeps switching things up. Just when you think you 've got HIM in a box he breaks the box and your perceptions. He does this so you can trust in HIM and not methods, and what worked "the last time." Our relationship with the LORD keeps unfolding. Sometimes that is very uncomfortable. It continues to be revelatory and expanding to our hearts and experiences. I continue to try to be open to the way the LORD wants me to take. I try to learn from the people he places in my path; though sometimes I feel like some of them are just in my way. (Smile) The experiences I had with the lady in the house dress and the smoking prophet enlarged my understanding of the Body of Christ. They also opened my heart to those who were not like me. I'm also learning HIS ways are not my ways! I'm in a learning mode and the lesson is making me exactly who my Heavenly Father wants me to be and with that I am comfortable.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I Miss my friend Clarice. Clarice Winbush Thousand. I can see her now. Tall, stately, a mess of silver hair worn as a crown, mouth open, smiling, or talking or fussing or praying or getting somebody told. Clarice was my friend. In many ways a role model, a mentor and a confidante. She was a mother and a big sister to me. I met Clarice Thousand 21 years ago. I was introduced to her on the phone. We spoke briefly and made a time and date to meet and visit a church in Western, Massachusetts. I didn't know what I was in for. Clarice was funny and comfortable to be around. She immediately started calling me Jim. I hate that nickname. I never allow anyone to call me that.....ever. I can't explain why but I allowed my new friend to call me......"Jim", ugh!

Clarice was, er... um, how can I say this...? Oh, okay, she was bossy; with a capital B. Initially, this proved volatile. I can be quite ah, um, directive, myself and not at all inclined to be told what to do. In the early stages of the development of our friendship we had many arguments. We argued about scripture, people we knew in common, social issues, religious beliefs and the time of the day. It was a part of our dynamic. She liked to argue and so did I. The hard part was that neither one of us wanted to be wrong. This eventuated several phone call hang ups and mutual bad tastes in respective mouths. Funny thing though we always came back to each other in love and mutual respect. I respected Clarice and she respected me.

Clarice and I were not close in age. Clarice was the same age as my deceased mother. In fact, My mother, Mary and Clarice had a similar vocal cadence. It felt familiar. Clarice had a habit of talking so long when she was making her point that she ran out of breath on the last few words and had to force them out. She and I had a simpatico that I am sure few understood. I started calling her "Motherfriend" and she started calling me her son. She also embraced my family. She became friends with Lynette. They had many tearful conversations about life as women in the ministry. Clarice was a great encourager to Lynette or "Annette" as she sometimes called her. She always inquired about my children and I inquired about her son, Jason.

Clarice was a real evangelist. I know this. Clarice never went anywhere without telling somebody that Jesus loved them. She did it by showing love. Clarice loved the people on the street. As she told me, one of the great frustrations of her life was her belief that the church had failed to reach out to the common person on the street. I had visited Clarice's home many times and observed her interactions with the residents of her very large apartment building. Clarice appeared to be the building chaplain and minister-at-large. She was the resource lady, the sunshine lady, the building counselor and the building mother and grandmother.

I had several hospitalizations over the years when she visited me and took over the care of her son by giving directions to the nurses and several doctors. If questioned, she replied with haught and clipped speech; "I am a retired nurse...when will you have this done?" It was too funny to watch her in action. Once while in the rehabilitation hospital in Cambridge, the city of Clarice's residence, I was on heavy pain medication. I tried all morning to pray but kept falling asleep. I couldn't gather my thoughts to pray. Lying flat on my back, the tears of frustration and pain ran down the sides of my face and disappeared into wet spots behind my ears. "LORD, I'm trying to pray and I can't. I'm trying to get to you and I can't , please help me." I drifted off to sleep. I was awakened by Clarice coming in to my room with gifts. She brought books, diabetic candy, tapes, and a portable communion set. She told me that she had planned to come and see me the following day but that GOD spoke to her and told her to come that day. Clarice was my intercessor that day. She prayed in my stead and then prayed for me. She served me communion and chastised the nurses for leaving me on my back for so long. Just what I needed.

When Clarice was hospitalized with a very serious block in her carotid artery I visited her the evening before the surgery. I brought her a book by her favorite author, Max Lucado, a card and some flowers. We talked and prayed and sang praise songs in her hospital room. I asked her if she was scared and she acknowledged some fear. We prayed together again. Clarice sent me home with , "I'll see you in the morning!" I worried all night whether she meant that in the literal sense or in the sense that so many faithful believers in Christ have used that phrase. I worried that I may have seen Clarice for the last time. I prayed for her and I cried at the thought of losing my close friend. Clarice pulled through and recovered. I later told her of my concern over her final words to me. We laughed and breathed a sigh of release that GOD had answered both of our prayers and the prayers of so many more her knew and loved Reverend Thousand, as she was known.

Clarice loved crafts. She loved to decorate and make things for people. She made baskets for special days and got joy out of making people happy. The year before she died I made a commitment to give Clarice money for gasoline for her car. Gas was expensive and she loved to drive and she deeply valued her independence. Clarice chastised me by telling me I didn't need to give her money so often. I told Clarice she was not in charge of my benevolence choices and to shut up and take the money. She smiled and we embraced, laughed and caught on on things, advised and encouraged one another. In her later years Clarice became a true source of encouragement. She visited my church, preached in my stead during illness, gave me her observations, and advised me wisely.

In the last few months of her life I became very aware that Clarice was not well. She was again hospitalized for retention of fluid. I questioned her about her kidney function since we were both diabetic. Clarice down played the correlation between her hospitalization and her kidney function to me. Deep in my heart I knew something was wrong but I wanted to believe otherwise; so I did. Soon after that, I saw Motherfriend in my office at my work place. Her countenance was very dark, her gait was unsteady and she seemed to struggle for breath. Again, I asked Clarice if she was really alright. She proclaimed her belief in GOD as a healer and tried to allay my concerns. She was not successful. I presented to Clarice the gift I had called her to receive. It was a large basket of items I had handmade especially for her. Much of it was in her favorite scent; Lavender. Clarice was so excited to receive the gift and the other little surprises tucked inside. Again, we talked for a very long time and we parted as always; embracing and professing our mutual love. Before she left she told me I needed to lose some weight. "I'm gonna tell Lynette not to even mess with you until you lose that belly!" She fell out laughing and walked down the hallway. That was the last time I saw Clarice. Lynette and I called her on her birthday and sang to her but I never heard from her again. I saw her again at her funeral but it really wasn't her. No animation, no humorous commentary. Even though it was Clarice's service. She was not in there; except in the hearts of those not as as those without hope. I am confident that I will see her again.
Clarice brought many things to my life and I hope I did the same. She once said to me, "Jim, that's why I like talking to you, I can be real with you and I know you won't judge me". Clarice gave me the same thing. Unconditional friendship. Love. In several conversations I had with people who with with Clarice in the final moments of her life I was told that in her semi-conscious state Clarice repeated these words: "Love is a verb, it's an action word. " I smiled at the recollection of these words. I'd heard Clarice say these words many times befoire. I recognized them as her own.

'Bye, Clarice..... I miss you Motherfriend. I'll see you in the morning.