Playgrounds and pulpits and that’s-what-she-said

Play   Well, it was a wonderful weekend. The time change provided an extra hour of sunlight in the evening, which pleases nocturnal types like me.

Temperatures finally crept above freezing and started thawing the Midwest-sized ice cube that February left behind. Even better, when the snow was reduced to puddles, little green plants could be seen poking out of the defrosted dirt.

Also over the weekend, I got to preside over communion at our church for the first time in my role as associate minister.

Wait, have I left that part out until now? The being-a-minister part?

Yeah, I have. And there‘s a reason why I‘ve essentially been hiding in the vestry closet. I’ve wondered how people outside my wonderful little church would react to it.

Some weeks ago, I mentioned to another sports writer that I‘m now a card-carrying minister. He responded, “Does it mean we can’t make that’s-what-she-said jokes anymore?”

Yes, go ahead. I love a good that’s-what-she-said joke.

But that’s what I mean by the reaction. You’re not sure what to expect. Some will say it’s perfect. Others get uncomfortable and pull away or start looking at you differently.

Here’s the thing: I totally get it. I’ve done the same thing and felt the same way.

There are so many inspiring, passionate, compassionate people leading churches, synagogues and temples. Trying to help people recognize the divine around them and within them. Encouraging love and healing and joy.

And then there are the others, the ones who burn Korans, picket funerals, refuse to bake a cake for someone who is gay, and shake down their congregations for donations to buy new rotary blades for their helicopters. (I’m not kidding about the helicopter blades. True story. Google it.).

It’s no wonder that many people see a collar and start eyeing the nearest exit.

Also, there’s that whole pedestal thing. A lot of people like to put church leaders on them. Me? I don’t like heights. They make me very nervous.

I’m no saintly anything. Like everyone, I have a stew of selfishness and insecurity and doubt in the pit of my stomach much of the time. OK, all of the time.

Truthfully, I don’t have any big answers for the big questions, other than that maybe we should really, really try to love ourselves and as many other people as we can, as deeply as we can, as often as we can.

And when we don’t know exactly what that means in any given circumstance, maybe we should ask for a little help and then listen. We’ll eventually get an answer, though it may not be the one that we wanted.

That’s just how it goes.

As I struggled to wrap my head around this minister thing, it occurred to me that I’ve had one job that prepared me for it in some ways. One summer when I was in college, I worked as a playground director for the city of Cleveland.

I was assigned to a working-class neighborhood on the city’s east side. I organized games, led kids in weekly crafts projects such as building a birdhouse, and basically looked after them. I tried to keep their playground free of broken glass or anything (or anyone) that could harm them.

In a sense, being a minister is like being a playground leader.

You remind others that it’s a great day, and it absolutely must be appreciated and celebrated in some way. You try — within your limited role as a human — to make a safe place for people to gather and just be themselves. You make sure that everyone is invited — no one excluded from full participation for any reason.

When someone falls and skins their knee, you wipe the tears, put a little germ killer on the scrape, and cover it with a bandage to start the healing.

You offer a bottle of water to whoever is thirsty. If they’re hungry, you remind them that they have snacks in their backpacks. And that they should share whatever they have with whoever doesn‘t have anything.

When they’re scared, you reassure them that their loving parent is always close by. You can just dial them up and they’ll be right there before you can count to one, ready to scoop them up and give them a hug that makes everything all better.

If they’re bothered by something and need to talk, you offer to be their ear. And you offer them your shoulder if they need it. And maybe a reassuring kiss on the top of the head, too.

You also join in the many games. Especially the fun parts where everyone says: “We all fall down!” And then you all fall down together and get right back up together.

That’s kind of what the job entails, when you get right down to it. It’s not about enforcing rules. It’s about getting caught up in a spirit that leads us to laugh and love and play together gracefully. And to care for one another. All of us. All the time.


Because as far as I can tell, that’s what She says.

    (Note: Below is a photo of one of my most precious keepsakes. It’s from that summer on the playground. One day, I was demonstrating how to build a birdhouse and cracked the roof in half while hammering the final nail. The kids saved a piece of the roof and inscribed it to me as a gift. They called me coach and printed their names on the back. Isn’t that cool? I wonder where they are now and how their lives have gone. I hope they are OK. And loved.)


Author: joekay617

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