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Thursday
Sep142017

Post Sixty-Nine

 LIVES WELL LIVED

Hospice has been called. The medications are being administered. Cecil is by her side. The outcome is not in doubt. Amy is dying.

Dwell not upon this unhappy circumstance. It reveals nothing of Amy's life, the enormity of her love for others, the power of her compassion to lift the hearts of troubled children and youth, her capacity for creative silliness, or her devotion to her beloved Cecil, and their joint example of fidelity to one another.

Amy is not defined by the circumstances of this moment. Her legacy resides in the hearts of those children who chose to share their deepest secrets with her and in return received the transforming benefit of her understanding and love. Her legacy resides in Flashight Bible Study, and Choir Camp Input curricula that invited young hearts to know God's love and thereby found their way out of troubled circumstances and into lives of hope. The joint legacy of Amy and Cecil resides in their faithful love for one another and in the way they projected authentic joy in the face of difficult life circumstances and trouble. Together they lived above defeat.

Last Saturday, September 9, 2017, I joined with others whose lives have been blessed by Amy and Cecil to present a surprise falshmob concert for Amy. Cecil was in on the ruse. We rehearsed and then we gathered at Amy and Cecil's home to honor Amy in the best way possible. We sang for her. We sang and we cried. We sang and we laughed. We sang some more.

How do you measure a life? A foolish person might say that wealth and possessions indicate God's favor. Some have built religious empires preaching that very message. I say a life is measured in the love returned by the recipiants of the love we give. Amy lives an enormous life. Together with Cecil they could rule the world.

Dave Gladstone

 

Tuesday
Sep052017

Post Sixty-Eight

STANDING IN ANXIOUS SPACE

All pastors are interim pastors. Life itself is an interim experience. The present moment gives way to whatever comes next. Everything is for a time.

Years ago I heard a joke about an old preacher. The aging reverand was asked to recite his favorite passage from the Bible. Without hesitation he replied, "And it came to pass." I think I was supposed to laugh at the old preacher's scriptural ignorance. Now I remember that joke and I marvel at his wisdom and I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in my life. It came to pass.

On July 1 I began my year as the interim pastor for Lexington United Methodist Church. I had asked for the oportunity should the Bishop and the cabinet have need of someone to serve as an interim somewhere. It so happened that the need arose at this congregation located on the beautiful shore of Lake Huron. I knew this church. I went to Haiti with members of this congregation. I admired this church. Saying "yes" was easy. 

Upon arrival I discovered an eager and anxious congregation. I discovered a faith community in love with God, Jesus the Christ, and one another. I found a church excited to serve its community. I sensed a fear within the active members that I might not approve of their way to doing things. I discovered a congregation quite ordinary in its grief over the loss of members and the passing of long respected leaders. I found a church filled with capable, engergetic and interesting people eager for pastoral affirmation.

My wife, Terry, believed in the importance of intentional interim ministry. She worked with others on conference staff to develop a cadre of trained intentional interim pastors. I was not one of those specifically trained for this special work, but the concept and the principles foundational to that work lived in our home. It was common dinner table conversation between us. Taking this interim appointment was a way for me to honor her memory.

Terry taught those serving as interim pastors that their job was largely to be a loving, non-anxious pastoral presence standing in the midst of an anxious congregational system. They were there for a specified time to calm the system, clarify the mission of the church, help them release the tensions of the past and embrace God's holy future.

I find this interim appointment fun and exciting. It has also occured to me that the purpose of the interim pastor differs from that of a regular appointment only in the compact time frame that defines it. All pastors are interim pastors. Life itself is an interim experience. The present moment gives way to whatever comes next. Everything is for a time.

 

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” 
― Bil Keane

 

Dave Gladstone

Wednesday
Jun072017

Post Sixty-Seven

GENERATION TO GENERATION?

At the Michigan Area Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church this past week my son, Carl, was presented with the Harold Stanton Peace and Justice Award for his outstanding commitment to peace and justice through his creation of Motown Mission, his compositions articulating peace making, his peace making theology, and his commitment to Detroit. It was a proud moment and a weepy moment for me wishing Terry was there to share in our joy.

In accepting the award Carl mentioned his great grandmother, Mildren Gladstone, who in the 1950's worked for justice for migrant farm workers in her position as State Director of the Michigan Migrant Ministry. He also cited my status as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and my work with the Inter-faith Centers for Racial Justice as my alternative service. I was honored that Carl would attribute his present achievements to a family legacy of peace making. In truth that legacy is more perceived than actual. His remarks put me to thinking about the role we parents play or do not play in the direction of our adult children's lives.

Carl never knew his great grandmother when she was State Director of the Michigan Migrant Ministry. He never knew me when I took a stand against the Vietnam War. He did know his mother Terry's work with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and her work in conflict transformation in the United Methodist Church. However, I suspect that the legacy Carl described was less a legacy of doing and more a legacy of being. 

There are many others who have done far more than we to bring more peace into the world. There are many who sacraficed far more than we and many who have been much more on the front lines of peace making than I ever was. I certainly could have done more. However, we have been a family that over time learned to live in peace with one another and with our neighbors. We have been a resilient family through unexpected moves, job loss, terminal illness, care giving and unwelcomed new realities. We have kept the drama to a minimum, sought help when feeling overwhelmed, and embraced faith as a radical trust in God who gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

Thank you, Carl, for mentioning your old Dad. You and Mary are carrying on a legacy. Please remember it is a legacy of being more than a legacy of doing.

Dave Gladstone

Friday
Mar102017

Post Sixty-Seven

THOUGHTS ON FIFTY YEARS OF LIFE

This year marks fifty years since my graduation from high school with the Frankfort High School class of 1967. Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with several of my FHS classmates and I have hope that we will be able to pull off a reunion of some sort before the end of May. I have pleasant memories of growing up in Frankfort, Michigan. However, following graduation I went off to Albion College and returned to my home town only on rare occasions. I find myself a bit surprised at the intensity of my desire to reunite with classmates after all of these years. Nevertheless, the desire burns within my heart.

Fifty years ago I was a young man of great certitude. I was certain of my religion. I was certain of the nobility of my country. I was certain that the world was organized into categories of good and bad, right and wrong, worthy and unworthy, life and death. I was certain that Benzie County was a fair representation of the rest of the world and that I was therefore ready to move out into the wider world with little difficulty.

That certitude began to crumble on a Sunday in July of 1967 when my dad and I took Tom Long and his dad down state to attend a Detroit Tiger double header against the New York Yankees. It was the first day of the Detroit riot/rebellion. Leaving Tiger Stadium at the end of the day we became snarled in the chaos of the uprising with no idea what we were witnessing. What began as an annual baseball adventure became a terrifying experience of urban anger and violence. This was a world unlike anything I knew. It was messy and alien - only we were the aliens.

The disintegration of my easy certitude continued piece by piece. The Vietnam War challenged my belief in the nobility of my country. Working summers with the Michigan Migrant Ministry challenged my assumptions regarding poverty and wealth. Working with the Interfaith Centers for Racial Justice of Metro Detroit challenged my assumptions about white privilege and our legacy of slavery and racism. The sudden death of my father at age 52 challenged my assumptions regarding life and death.

The disintegration of my certitude has continued throughout my life these past fifty years. The experience of being fired from a job I thought I loved; holding my wife, Terry's, hand as a doctor explained the discovery of a stage three tumor; walking with her through surgery and chemo therapy knowing that none of it would change the outcome; losing her after 38 years of marriage; expecting to live the rest of my life alone and then welcoming another love into my life who restores the joy; all of these experiences have worked together to turn my certitude into dust.

Now I am 67 and I have cast my certitude into the trash. I have grown fond of ambiguity and the resiliency it offers. I prefer the mystery of life over the embrace of easy answers. Having been voted (along with Suzie Hughes) the "Most Likely To Succeed" by the FHS class of 1967 I would rather now be known as the "most likely to bounce back." Perhaps this is the reason for my eagerness to meet with old classmates. I want to hear how life has treated them and hear their stories of resilience. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to apologize for the false and I imagine off-putting certitude of my 17 year old self. We shall see.

Dave Gladstone

Wednesday
Jan182017

Post Sixty-Six

A FUNERAL LESSON

I attended a funeral for Dick last Saturday. In doing so I learned about a man who lived a gentle life teaching children in public school for forty years. The sanctuary of the church contained a very significant number of adults who, as children, were nurtured by Dick's teaching and who now wished to honor him. I learned about a man of good humor with a wit that enlivened family gatherings with his children, grand children, nieces and nephews. I learned about a man of tremendous hospitality who, as a docent at the DIA, introduced hundreds of curious visitors to the exciting beauty of art and music. I learned about a man of deep Christian faith and steadfast devotion to his church. I learned about a man who lived out that faith with immense compassion teaming up with his partner to provide for children displaced by the Vietnam war.

 

I hardly knew Dick. I had met him once or twice many years ago. I attended the funeral because I knew his partner, Jim. Jim and Dick lived in a faithful, committed and loving relationship for 53 years. Jim and I worked together years ago. I was the Director of Music in a church. In 1983 I hired Jim as accompanist and organist for that church. Jim brought great skill to the work of helping people sing their faith. My choirs were enlivened by his humor and his devotion to making music that opened the hearts of those gathered to worship. Jim and I clicked as colleagues in ministry. In all of the years since, I looked back upon my time working with Jim as a special time in my ministry. In all of those years I have lived with a vague regret that Jim and I found it necessary to work together without mentioning or acknowledging Dick's place in Jim's life. Perhaps Jim was unwilling to risk that reveal. I was unwilling to ask for it. We worked together under our own version of “Don't ask. Don't tell.”

 

I attended the funeral for Dick last Saturday as a personal act of casting off that regret and allowing my affection for Jim unfettered expression. I attended because, as one who has also lost a spouse to cancer, I know something about the self doubt and immense emptiness that loss brings. I attended because I wanted to be a part of the healing process for Jim. I attended the funeral hoping that doing so would, in some small measure, make up for the dishonesty I have accepted in my life and the pain we as a church have inflicted upon other children of God.

 

At Dick's funeral I discovered a community of faith devoted to God's love revealed in Jesus the Christ. I discovered a healing liturgy confronting the reality of death with the promise of Easter joy. I discovered accepting love that embraced Jim's broken heart and affirmed his fidelity to Dick. I discovered a church beyond doctrinal arguments and judgements. I rediscovered a God of love waiting for my United Methodist Church when it finally moves beyond power and politics and learns to accept all people as children of God.

 

I attended a funeral for Dick last Saturday. I found my way back to a God of love.

Dave Gladstone