Oniontown Pastoral: My Favorite Color
“Life is what happens to you,” John Lennon famously sang to his son Sean, “while you are busy making other plans.”
Wife Kathy and I are engaged in planning these days. We intend to sail along the coast of Maine in August and visit Ireland in October, meaning that we’ll celebrate our thirty-fourth anniversary on the water and my fifty-sixth birthday on the Coleman family’s native soil.
I’m giddy about these journeys, but embrace the late Beetle’s wisdom. Who knows what the future holds? How often do “thoughts for the morrow” obscure the blessings of today?
Iman, a Muslim classmate of mine from nearly thirty years ago, constantly acknowledged the future’s fragility by saying “God willing” when talking about her plans. “Insha’Allah,” she would have said back home in Egypt.
A fictional sage put it this way to his impatient disciple: “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”
Since I’m reluctant to speculate about God’s intentions, I generally say, “Who knows?” If you had x-ray vision, you could witness my brain shrugging dozens of times each day, and not only about the months ahead. Facts I base my actions on also have a funny way of taking U-turns.
Yesterday, for example, St. John’s church secretary Jodi brought me two-dozen farm-fresh eggs, each one its own pastel shade of brown or green. Not only are they rich and savory, but they offer a lesson. If I catch myself worshipping at the altar of conventional wisdom, I contemplate the egg. When I first joined the high-cholesterol fraternity, eggs were out and statins were in. Now, a stroll through the Internet informs me that moderate egg consumption is fine. Ironically, statins can pummel your muscles and liver.
So I dip my toast in free-range yolks without concern and depend on my doctor to be sure my liver doesn’t get strangled by Lipitor—which, by coincidence, I pick up at a pharmacy across the street from the former site of Abiding Hope Lutheran Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. I served as pastor there for fourteen years. Just before I left for St. John’s in Oniontown, the property was sold. Once the congregation relocated, the new owner leveled the church building, which was not yet a decade old.
When picking up my pills, I pause in the pharmacy lot to smile and shrug. How I sweated the endless decisions and debates involved in constructing a new sanctuary. How my guts churned over the leaky roof. How worrying about mortgage payments creased my forehead.
Matters of plaster seemed almost as urgent as the care of souls. And now, what’s left? Clumps of earth and lonely puddles. Far from depressing me, though, the abandoned corner of 54th and Peach Streets is as sacred as ever. A truth that feels like worship passes through my aging spirit as I recall watching the wrecking ball swing:
I don’t know about tomorrow
or much of anything.
More often than not, my certainties in life are either neutral or leaden, whereas mysteries and wonder are joyful and light.
Example: Grandson Cole often stays with Kathy and me on Saturday evenings and goes to church with us on Sunday. In what is becoming a morning routine, I lie down beside Cole on the sofa bed as Kathy gets dressed. He sleeps on, and I have nothing to do but look at him and pass strands of his bright hair between my fingers. The gladness is consuming.
During those twenty minutes, knowledge doesn’t count for much. Only essentials deserve a place with Pop and Cole: A loving God is mindful of us; my calling in this world is compassion; and the color I love most is red.
The last of these I never knew until last Saturday. Before Cole and Grandma Kathy went to bed, he asked, “Pop, what’s your favorite color?”
“Gosh, buddy, I don’t know,” I said. “I guess the color of your hair, reddish orange.”
“But, Pop, my hair’s not resh orange.” He was almost stern. “My hair’s red.”
“Well then, Cole, I’ve decided. My favorite color is red.”
In truth, the choice was made for me. I could almost hear God whisper my answer.