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Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013
Spring CleaningPosted Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at 10:33 AM
Ever have those moments when you wish you could crawl under a rock and hide for eternity because of something you've said?
I seem to have plenty of such moments to spare! Yet, in my four years (so far) of living in Greencastle there is one that haunts me to this day.
It's the worse one I've done and I still can't forgive myself for it.
The university I serve has a wonderful all volunteer choir called Exalt:The Gospel Choir. While composed of members from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, they usually perform vocal music from what's generally labeled as a Christian African American tradition. The congregation I serve has been blessed to have Exalt: The Gospel Choir share in song at least once a year during worship and sometimes twice a year. Their music is always uplifting.
I get nervous in front of people. A seminary professor in Denver told us that we need to step out of the pulpit the Sunday we are no longer nervous because that would indicate we no longer care about what we are doing. After thirty-two years I still get nervous in front of people. And, I have this general pattern of how the nervousness affects me.
I forget names.
I get people confused and call them by the wrong names. I even make up names without realizing it. The more nervous I am the worse "this condition" becomes.
I was leading my first Baccalaureate Service in May, 2007. Exalt: The Gospel Choir had just performed a wonderful selection under the inspiring direction of Jackie Dennis, a brilliant African American student who was graduating that day from DePauw University.
As Exalt was sitting down I spoke of my appreciation of their song and of their voices. And, in front of God and everyone, I turned to Jackie and thanked her for her leadership and direction.
The trouble is, I identified her as Jackie Robinson.
Jackie Robinson was the first black ball player in Major League Baseball. As a kid in the inner city of Evansville I learned to appreciate his gift in sports and his gifts as a great human being. He broke "the color barrier" in so many parts of our American society that his name should be known in the record books of American history for all time.
And even though I'm part Cherokee, this "white guy" called Jackie Dennis by the wrong name that re-enforced any and all racial stereotyping you could identify. I could see the pain in her eyes even as she graciously smiled and sat down. I still wake up at night re-living this horrible mistake in dream after dream.
You don't get a second chance from mistakes like that one.
Jackie and I have become friends and supporters of each other. We've stayed in e-mail contact over the years as she entered the Marines and is now an officer. She was able to return for the last two years of Exalt: The Gospel Choir's annual "Explosion" event but had to miss the 20th anniversary Explosion last Friday evening because she's now stationed in Afghanistan.
We've never talked about my horrible mistake after my apologies three years ago. Somehow she hasn't held it against me.
I've held it against me. I still do.
We carry those types of painful episodes with us in the recesses of our hearts. Not meaning to cause hurt in others, we convict ourselves when we do so even accidently. We let those shadows become cancers that keep us from fully engaging, fully celebrating, in the goodness before us because of some tender self-inflected wound. Usually those we've harmed have forgiven us and moved on.
I know God's forgiven us. But we don't forgive ourselves.
I have an eighty plus year old friend who has been "slapping me in the face" in recent weeks.
"Did God create you to be perfect?" she asks. "If God doesn't expect it from you, then get over it!"
While addressing other matters, she has no idea that her words sink into a corner of my heart rarely exposed to the light of day. She has no idea that her words have given me encouragement, even hope. She has no idea of the healing that is taking place because of her actions to "knock some sense" into me.
We all need such eighty plus year olds in our lives!
And so the final thought: We all carry these internal judgments anchored to our souls. Isn't it amazing that the right person (or people) shows up at the right time? They "slap us around," never realizing that they dislodge what we used to keep us from being fully human and all that God would have us to be.
And in the process, our dreams become our friends and we somehow forgive ourselves of what no one else holds against us as we begin to move onward.
This is called progress.
And second chances.
And spring cleaning!
P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.