Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Best of Times, Worst of Times

I am always glad to hear when someone has read something I have written and found it to be helpful or meaningful. Doesn't happen too often--either because I have so few readers or have written such unhelpful and unmeaningful stuff or both. Today, though, I had such a moment...

In my study group, one of our older members told of another group in which he takes part, a kind of mentoring and support group (ours is a lectionary study group), and that one fellow in that group has been going through a terrible time. He seems to have been charged with or accused of some impropriety and has been away from ministry for a while, though now he has finished a time of counseling and renewal and may be preparing to re-enter the fray. Anyway, my friend told me this morning that in a recent meeting the damaged pastor confided to him that he had discovered a book that really helped him: Praying for Dear Life, by yours truly.

Tears came to my eyes immediately, both remembering my own prodigality--some 15 years ago now--and knowing that the book the fellow read was born out of similar tragedy and hope.

I lost so much. I gave up so much, really. In truth, I threw so much away. But the horrible aftermath of that debacle was so intertwined with hope as to conceive the book I wrote some years later. Tragedy and hope, like egg and sperm, joining and gestating in the darkness of exile, birthed and raised in the wilderness between liberation and promise.

It is my baby, that book, and I am proud of it as parents are proud of their kids. When no one can see how special my baby is, I grieve--for the book and myself. But on those rare occasions when others seem to appreciate it as I do, a least a little, it makes my day. The best of times.

I said more or less all that to my friend.

He got a funny look on his face and said, "Well, now, I will have to unmake your day." And he proceeded to tell me that the damaged fellow had no idea who I was or that I was a colleague of his only one district removed. In other words, we are in the same conference of ministers, attend the same meetings, are supervised and superintended by many of the same people, and yet he had no idea who I was or where I serve or anything.

I thought of that logion of Jesus: prophets are not without honor except in their own home, but of course I am no prophet, or the son of a prophet. I am just a "herdsman," a "dresser of sycamore trees," which is to say, I am a garden-variety pastor, one of the little guys, and so no surprise that though he pitches his tent only a little ways over from me, he does not know who I am.

What is a surprise is that he has read me (when many, even of my friends, haven't). What is a grace, and the profoundest of joys, is that what he has read, apparently, has spoken to his heart --my spirit bearing witness to his spirit that we are both children of tragedy, children of hope, children of God.


Mark Crumpler said...


Add my name to those blessed by "Praying for Dear Life." I so much appreciate your skill as an artist with words. I admire your commitment to and struggles with prayer. I and hold the deepest respect for garden-variety pastors. My Dad is one. I am one also - an associate who thought that by age 46 I'd be in a significant (= large) pulpit. I am not. My boss holds that spot. I gather smaller groups and write short daily reflections for the congregation and do weddings and funerals. But I love being a pastor, even if it isn't quite what I pictured in seminary. Anyway - thanks for your fine book. May the blessings multiply and circle back around to find you when you least expect, when you're looking the other way.

Tom Steagald said...

Thanks, Mark.

Actually, I took the "garden variety" adjective from a post you did regarding this very book a year or more ago. I hope you did not mind. It seemed so much the truth to me then, and if anything, more to me now, that I put it in my profile!

I read your posts rather often. I think you do a very good work for those who attend.

Yeah, not quite what I imagined for myself at 54, but I am so blessed in so many ways. I need to remember what the rabbis said, praying to want what I have rather than have what I want.

I love Buckhead. I spent a good amount of time at PRUMC. My good friend Larry Adams helped me regain (sort of) my sanity.


Rich said...


Shelia and I have both read your book. I received a blessing and a challenge from it. I struggled for several months with my own inability to rise before the sun and gather myself for prayer. Actually I still do. Now when you speak of garden varity pastors my mind turns to Shelai or Clyde Faulkner who want to plow up the parsonage yard and plant gardens. Grace and Peace

Anita said...

Well, just remember what I told you years ago as I was reading it...you went to bed with me every night and put me right to sleep! (Just Kidding, Jeeze - go stand in line at Panera or something) :D