An emotional roller coaster

Back in the days of seminary, I remember my mentor in urban ministry, Ray Swartzback, telling me that "ministry was an emotional roller coaster... and there is no other gig filled with as many daily challenges." I think there are harder and more demanding jobs - I used to joke with the blue collar guys back in Michigan and Cleveland that my job rarely involved heavy lifting - and I know there are jobs that demand more sharpness and quick thinking - air traffic controllers and our armed service folk come to mind to say nothing of police, ER/EMT personnel, doctors, nurses and so many more. But doing ministry in connection with real people is a total emotional roller coaster and there is rarely a week that goes by without tears of rage, joy, sorrow as well as little clues of God's grace, deep presence and quiet joy.

Today included a conversation about how our church once hosted a primer African American soprano and her pianist was none other than Samuel Barber! (I am not kidding: I saw the news article and pictures!!) A few minutes later I had a call from the local mortuary wondering whether I would do a funeral for a young suicide - the family had no church ties and the minister at whose church they wanted the service was away - but there were two younger siblings and they didn't know where else to turn. (Of course I would do the funeral - who knows the aching of God better than parents of such a wounded child?)

As I was getting ready to do some visits I got a call about the death of a member's mother-in-law who had been feeling on top of the world 4 days ago so that changed everything. Then there was writing in my study about the importance of beauty for social justice and spiritual renewal, a premarital conversation with a young couple and an evening visit for spiritual direction with a divorced person wrestling with fear, middle age and uncertainty about how to best be open to God. An emotional roller coaster to be sure and I probably forgot some mistakes I made with someone along the way as well as getting a loved one to work (we only have one car), administrative stuff and planning for a leader's retreat this weekend.

Frederick Buechner writes: I believe that we know much more about God than we admit we know, than perhaps we altogether know that we know. God speaks to us, I would say, much more often than we realize or than we choose to realize. Before the sun sets every evening, God speaks to each of us in an intensely personal and unmistakable way. God's message is not written out in starlight, which in the long run would make no difference; rather, it is written out for each of us in the humdrum, helter-skelter events of each day; it is a message that in the long run might just make all the difference...

God speaks to us about ourselves, about what God wants us to do and what God wants us to become - and this is the area where I believe that we know so much more about God than we admit to even ourselves... A face comes toward us down the street. Do we raise our eyes or do we keep them lowered, passing by in silence? Somebody says something about somebody else, and what he says happens to be not only cruel but also funny, and everybody laughs. Do we laugh, too, or do we speak the truth? A friend has hurt us, do we take pleasure in hating him, because hate has its pleasures as well as love, or do we try to build back some flimsy little bridge? All the absurd little meetings, decisions, inner skirmishes that go to make up all our days. It all adds up to very little and yet it all adds up to very much...

It is an emotional roller coaster that has a lot to say. I think of the poem, "Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey," by Hayden Carruth:

Scrambled eggs and whiskey in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren't it fine tonight?

I am grateful that I have allowed to keep trying to do this job for 27 years. I know I get it wrong at least as much as I get it right and am trying to see that even this is a blessing. Made me think of dear Nick Cave's song, "Hiding All Away," from The Abattoir Blues CD. (We did this once in Tucson for Good Friday and it unnerved folk more than anything else we ever played except maybe U2,'s "Numb.") I share it with you because it, too, is an emotional roller coaster and hints that God's presence is rarely found in those places we expect it.


you just never know what you'll find in a google search! I'm Ray Swartzback's daughter and my son found your blog while randomly googling his grandfather. My dad would have loved to read your posts.
RJ said…
Oh my God... how cool is that? Would you be in touch? I loved your dad so much... and your mom, too. He changed my life in so many ways. My email is: Thanks.

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