Pastor Skills didn’t make me an expert at Water’s Edge Camp

Yesterday was “Pastor’s Day” at Water’s Edge campground. Upon perusing the list of available activities at the camp I was convinced because of my pastoral experiences I would be an expert at a number of them. Below is a list of the activities and why I thought I’d be displaying my particular set of skills developed over 25 years of pastoral ministry (and in parenthesis why I wasn’t quite prepared).

High Ropes Course: Living by faith on a tight church budget and praying that tithes given would match bills received has made me an expert in “Hanging from a thread” (In reality the High Ropes Course is a high flying adventure of zip lining from station to station. No knowledge of church budgets is required).

Climbing wall: “Getting over” the occasional unkind statement; a less-than-encouraging email concerning the cross placement in the sanctuary; or an exiting parishioner’s not so “constructive” criticism has developed a tough pastoral skin.   (The Climbing Wall is a 25-foot test of strength and endurance that concludes with a sense of accomplishment upon reaching the top. No one shouts “that’s not the way we‘ve done it in the past” or posts on Facebook why they are now attending the Baptist Climbing Wall; instead the camp workers encourage your upward goal!)

Canoeing: I’ve been “up a creek without a paddle” so many times sometimes I forget I had a paddle in the first place. (Canoeing the shimmering waters of Sandy Bottom Lake is a serene and enjoyable experience. Paddles are included.).

Paint Ball: Avoiding pot shots about not enough hymns sung makes even an out-of-shape pastor nimble and quick. (The only shots fired in this pretend battle experience are colorful balls of paint from friends whose goal is bragging rights around the campfire before singing the non-hymn Kumbaya.)

Waterslide: I can plunge feet first into deep theological debates with the best of them (The Water Slide is a slippery 30-foot plummet into the cool refreshing waters of the lake formerly known as “the boy’s lake.” A thorough knowledge of the differences between John Calvin and John Wesley’s theory of atonement does not enhance the waterslide experience.)

Blob: The Monday Morning feeling I have after a belly flop of a Sunday sermon. (The Blob is a fun water activity where one is propelled laughing and screaming into the lake. Preaching a terrible sermon is not a prerequisite for the Blob at Water’s Edge Camp).

Thanks Dr. Gardner, Rev. Rob Lewis and the Eastern Michigan District Camp team, you made a great pastor’s day even if I wasn’t an expert in any of the activities!

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What Softball taught me about Phonies

Lesson learned this week: This old guy should not be playing softball. Some old guys can still play. I am not one of them.

On Monday, I went to see Ben play softball for one of Central Church’s teams. They were missing a few players for one reason or another (For example, Justin Shonamon was absent because of the birth of his first child, Mackenzie, the day before the game. “A lame excuse!” said all softball seam-heads just prior to being smacked with a diaper bag by their wives.). When the game time arrived, seven ball players were present. Eight able bodied men are required to start the game. Ten players are needed to fill every position.

I had thrown my glove in the back of the car, just in case Ben wanted to play catch before the game. Truth be told, I was secretly (and stupidly) hoping this scenario might happen. In my deluded dream the headline in this Sunday’s worship folder would read: Pastor Rob’s Softball Skills Save the Day as Central Beats the Baptists!

 The team needed players and Tedd Selby (another dad who happened to be at the ball game) and I were called into duty.

I have not played softball in eleven years. Tedd said he hadn’t played in a long time too. I have no reason to doubt Tedd’s account of when he last played, but I’m pretty sure ten years prior Tedd was a better athlete than yours truly, because playing softball for him was like “riding a bike.” He picked up a borrowed glove and played like a champ at first base. The Tigers may be calling him to replace Miguel Cabrera while the all-star is on the disabled list.

They won’t be calling me.

Wearing my Sperry deck shoes, a polo shirt and walking shorts, I was not in softball ready attire. Sadly, my “uniform” was not my only deficiency.

The team tried to “hide” me at second base. It didn’t work. The first ball hit to me was a little pop up that I cleanly caught and promptly fell head over heels (aka “the beginning the of the end of my softball career comeback”). Another ball went through my legs. Another pop up caused me to fall upside down AGAIN, but I didn’t catch that one. Thankfully the “been-to-a-few-too-many-potlucks” runner on first base thought even a blind nun should have caught that ball and wasn’t running toward second. When it became obvious that I didn’t catch it, his slow as molasses lumber toward second base allowed me to find the ball on the ground, pray a quick prayer of blessing upon my sluggish Baptist brother and weakly toss the softball toward second base. The “runner” was out. No thanks to my fielding, throwing or praying skills.

If my fielding was terrible, my batting was worse. On the first pitch to me I took a mighty swing and missed! This is slow pitch softball. It wasn’t Justin Verlander blistering in 94 mph heaters on the mound. It was some Sunday School teacher from the Baptist church tossing the ball underhand. On another at bat I hit the ball to deep shortstop. To get thrown out the shortstop would either have a rocket of an arm or the runner would be comatose. The shortstop’s arm was not a cannon, but I was out. To say, I am slower than a snail using a walker is an insult to the snails of the world.

Other than not looking like a ball player, not fielding like a ball player, not throwing like a ball player, not running like a ball player and not hitting like a ball player, I did great.

One didn’t have to know softball (read: Karla) to come to her conclusion: “Hey old guy, maybe checkers is more your speed.” My body has been telling me the same things ever since Monday night.

Why confess my less than stellar return to the softball field?

I wasn’t fooling anyone. Likewise, I know people who try to pass themselves off as somebody they are not too. Usually phonies don’t fool anyone (other than themselves) at least not for long. Paul’s instructions were simple: If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. (Galatians 6:3-4) The old cliché is generally true: Your sins will find you out. I was exposed as an over-the-hill, out of shape softball wanna-be. When other phonies’ sins are revealed sometimes the consequences are much deeper and much more painful (than my sore-from-softball bones).

My Point: let’s keep it real (on the softball field and in life). No need to be a fake superstar or a phony follower of Jesus. Remember we believers are all sinners saved by grace. Not perfect. Not always together. Just regular people trying (with God’s help) to love Jesus, love people and (from now on for me at least) not embarrass ourselves on the softball field.