Monday, September 22, 2008

Literary Life: The Underbelly

"The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs."

The poem is by Clive James. Perhaps I should know about whom he is licking his sweet lips, feasting on the failure of a competitor or adversary. I know not. I was just reminded of it when I realized that Amazon, AMAZON!, no longer has copies of either of my books.

So I jumped to the NavPress website, thinking to contact someone about this outrage—after all, the second book, Every Disciple’s Journey, has been out only 13 months—there to find that my first book, Praying for Dear Life, is on the clearance shelf.

Clearanced. Remaindered. What is the difference?

Stephen Donaldson once said something to the effect that the only way to hurt someone who has lost everything is to give him part of it back, but broken.

I am not overly depressed about it—just about usual—and I guess I knew that soon I would hear from the publisher that neither book has sold well enough to warrant a reprint or new addition or whatever and so I if I wanted I could order multiple copies and a fraction of the cost. I will do that when the letter comes.

Still, that AMAZON is no longer carrying them, new ones, used ones, otherwise. I do not even have the honor of my books in great unsold stacks as Clive James’ enemy’s. Nope. My just seem to have disappeared into the ether or otherwise.

Being a writer is such a wonderful dream and a reality. But having nobody read what you write is almost worse than never having published at all. Almost.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Letterman and Me

“It seems unlikely that now, after years and years of trying under a wide variety of circumstances and advantages and disadvantages, that suddenly I’m going to prevail,” Mr. Letterman said. “You can’t go through life fooling yourself. You have to be honest with the situation. That’s fine.”

The above quote was, and I trust the editors will forgive me, from the New York Times, summarizing an interview David Letterman gave to Rolling Stone. You have to be a big shot for the Times to do a story about an interview you gave to another publication. Anyway, he is talking about his realization that he will never catch and/or pass Jay Leno in the late-night race for viewers.

It struck me as terribly poignant, somehow. Comes a time when he, when I, when we any of us have to face the reality...and in my case, at least, the reality is that many things I once thought would happen are never going to happen. That is no slam on God's providence or God's people--just the awareness that some are blessed to succeed in ways that I am not. I am not to be a part of the greater work of the Kingdom. I serve, but not on the front lines. More like chaplain to the rear guard.

Just today I read about a young pastor, 27, who started a church two years ago and now has 4,000 per Sunday. Critics fume--but I suspect they are mostly envious. He does not do things as I do, but I had 125 in my service Sunday. He does not do weddings or baptisms or funeral, does not visit folk in the hospital. Neither did Paul, or Jesus for that matter. I do do those things, and there are good reasons to think pastors should. But I cannot do what he does. He maybe could, but does not do what I do. He has a great work. I have this little work that affords me time to stand with people in the most important and most dire and most celebratory moments of their lives. I am pleased to do that, am honored to give Holy Communion to folk and call their names as I do so.

I do not discount what I do. I choose to believe Jesus is present in the 125 as much as in the 4,000--in the Upper Room as much as on the hillside, as it were. But I had long imagined for myself something in between the one and the other. Maybe even on the high side of in between. But as Mr. Letterman has said, I have to be honest with my situation.

'Maybe you should teach," someone said. Maybe you should do this or that. Yeah, well, I am soon to be 54. No time to enter into academics. I am running out of time in other ways, too. Meaning, there are only a few days left for starting over or moving on. Either way I am kind of stuck where I am, in a rocky little garden with a mostly dull and rusted hoe. I am not saying I do not see a sprig here and there, a verdant shoot of spirit and life. But one blogger, Mark Crumpler, called me a "garden-variety" pastor. Yep. I have to be honest with my situation.

It is not what I would have expected. I think I could do a bit more for the Kingdom or, absent that, the Church. Instead, I just do what I can. And try to choose, try to work, against bitterness.

My dad died bitter, mostly because his life and marriage and kids did not turn out the way he expected, wanted or would have chosen. When I die I pray that I will die at peace--that if my life was not what I expected or would have chosen, it is what I wanted: to give it as I could for the sake of Jesus.

Wesley prayed, "Let me be employed for you, let me be put aside for you." Which is to say, Let me do a great work for you, or let me do a little work and thank God for those better able and suited to do the greater works. And let me not fool myself into thinking I know better who or what I am than God.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tables and Turtles

You know what I saw this week?

I was on my way to a meeting in Gastonia--to consider, along with a number of my colleagues, what do to in the face of a brother-in-ministry's unconfessed and unrepented sin (and I have been on the other side of that table, long years ago now, but I still have not lost the metallic taste in my mouth and that I am now on this side of the seems a terrible and acknowledged irony)--and there was this poor box turtle trying to cross the Dallas highway. I feel bad when I see turtles on the road. My first impulse, often answered, is to pull over, dodge the traffic and rescue the poor creature. This time I could not find a place to pull over.

Not to worry… one, two, now three cars slowed down and drove carefully around, and I thought the turtle would make it, only then somebody in a champagne colored GMC truck sped up and veered to the right to hit the turtle. Killed him on purpose. Got pleasure, I guess, from that turtle's plight and death.

And all I could think, apart from the demonstration of our perversity, insensitivity and actual sin, is that that is exactly what we do to each other sometimes when we repeat a rumor, or pick up the phone to spread the gossip--or meet at the table . That is just what we do when we turn a deaf ear or a cold shoulder to a brother or sister.

Today we gathered again at the Table, not for judgment but for grace. Not to consider the sins of a brother or sister but only our own. We gather to confess our own sin, we who have no defense other than God's grace and mercy--that is our only plea. We gather as a family, and as a family we realize that when one of us suffers, all of us suffer. When one of us rejoices, all of us rejoice. When one’s heart hardens, it is hard for all of us. Hurt people, don’t you know, hurt people. Hurt people hurt people. When one of us gives or receives a cold shoulder, all of us are chilled. When one sins, we all bear the consequences. But when one forgives…