the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Tying the Gordian Knot

Advent is here, and Christmas is soon to follow. Christmas as a holiday has ceased to have much impact on me. Maybe it's the commercialization that everyone complains about as they drag their kids, kicking and screaming, to every store in town to find just the right gift for uncle Herb or Minnie Lee. A Wal-Mart somewhere had a riot of 300 angry shoppers who had waited in line twelve hours to get the latest electronic gadget that EVERYONE must have in order to be saved. Of course after they have it for five minutes it loses it's novelty and the search for salvation continues in all the wrong places.

Last Sunday I drove about 80 miles to perform a wedding. Weddings and cristenings are the fun part of the job, you know. I never miss an opportunity to join two lovely people in Holy Wedded Bliss. Sandra and I are somewhat of an anomaly these days. We've been married (to each other) for nearly 40 years, and we both have our own set of advice for young couples just starting out about the "secret of a long and happy marriage." But what do you say to a middle-aged couple who both have been married more times than they have fingers on one hand? Well I was there because, being the distant relative of the bride and the only real-live-preacher (sorry Gordon) she knew, of course I was the likely candidate for the task of tying this unlikely gordian knot.

The wedding was held at the trailer of the bride's oldest daughter. We wound our way deep into the forests of rural Georgia, not knowing what we would find. When we got there, on time I might add, the driveway was lined with old derelect automobiles and the crowd had already begun to gather. Since it was a cool and damp day, a bonfire had been lit in the front yard and all the wedding guests were huddled around the fire to stay warm. The trailer didn't have a screen door, and for some reason, the solid door stayed wide open so the guests and their children could come and go at will. There were kids and dogs running in and out of the trailer so that you had to muster up your courage to enter.

It was obvious that I had stumbled into a world that I had never experienced before. Here were people, few of whom had completed high school and fewer still who had a good solid job for all 365 days of the year. Most of the women were barefooted and, even though it was a cool and damp day, as I said, wore only thin cotton dresses. The men wore jeans, boots and shirts. Some wore hats, everyone smoked. I was struck by one young woman in particular. She couldn't have been much older than eighteen although she looked much younger. She had a three year old that she was either carrying or chasing around the yard and she was about seven months pregnant with a second child. She was barefooted. I never figured out which man she was with.

I have never experienced raw poverty before but I sure do know when I come across it face to face. And I had come across it this time. Now I don't know what you might think about the poor. Or if you have an idea of what they are like. Well, they are somewhat like us, you and me. They talked about the weather and about news stories they had seen on TV. They talked about their favorite movie stars and the latest song on the charts. There was not any whining or complaining. They laughed and played. They hugged and shook hands when they greeted you. I felt like an outsider only for the first few minutes after I walked up the drive to the trailer. After I introduced myself all around they made me feel like a neighbor.

The wedding was a great success even though I made an unintentional mistake. When I asked the bride to say her vows I had her say that she took the groom to be her wedded wife instead of husband. Everybody laughed and we went on with the ceremony. I noticed that there was a lot of love in the air that day and in that place. I noticed a kind of peace that I had not seen in the shopping malls of civilization. These are not people that would stand in line twelve hours to buy the latest electronic gadget, but they'd spend days trying to help you fix your roof, or cook you a meal if you didn't have any food in the house. These are people who would spend their light bill money to help a friend in need, knowing that next month the trailer would be dark and cold.

Oh, I forgot to say, the groom had been diagnosed with lung cancer and only has a few months to live. He wouldn't have it any other way than to marry his sweetheart, the one he'd been living with for several years. And I wouldn't have it any other way than to be the one to pronounce them husband and wife.

My God, have I got a lot to learn about life and love.


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