Alex

Alex the kitten went home about ten days ago, and I miss him.

At the end of June, Sarah came to us with the news that a friend of hers needed help. I’ve written about this friend before and his struggles to live independently; apparently he had gotten himself a little kitten, barely 12 weeks old. Well, the landlord got wind of it and said, You can’t have a kitten here; the response was, Fine, we’ll move at the beginning of August then to a place that will allow kitty to live there. But then there was the problem of what to do with kitty until then. Which led him to Sarah, which led her to us.

I love cats, I grew up with them, so it was real easy for me to say Yes! But Mary and David are allergic, so we had to discuss it a little first. We decided to put Alex in the media room downstairs, and keep him corraled there so he didn’t get cat dander everywhere (and also kept him away from our dog, Fergie).

Sarah brought Alex home at the end of June, and of course he was adorable. Dainty little “mew!” sounds, and a purr motor that just would not quit. He’s entirely black, and, as you can see in the picture, has no compunction about curling up on my homework and demanding attention.

Alex is one of those kittens that make people fall in love with cats. He loved being with me, even by the end of the time with us curling up on my lap a bit. He would play, he would purr, he would be appropriate with his razor claws and kitten teeth. He didn’t fear us, he didn’t run and hide under the furniture, he accepted us totally and looked to us for love and attention, just as it should be.

I’ve written before about how our pets can teach us about faith: they are totally dependent on us for food, love, and care, and are perfectly happy in that state. In that regard, they teach us what we should look like in our faith with God–recognizing that God alone is the source of all that we are and all that we have, and turning to him for our source of love and fulfillment. Alex reminded me, once again, what that relationship can look like: playful, joyous, and forthright.

Sarah took Alex home in early August, where he will be one of a menagerie of pets in her friend’s new apartment with his other roommates and their puppy, snake, and turtle. I pray we put Alex on a good path, of trusting humans and being able to love. And that’s not a bad month’s work.

Advertisements

“If God is God, then Why do Bad Things Happen?”

This past Sunday, Pastor Don continued his vacation (first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r he had more than a week off, so good for him!), and I led worship once again. This was the culmination of our sermon series on Questions–the ones that people ask, about God and about faith. And this week was the mother of them all: if God is God, then why do bad things happen?

Here’s the link to the sermon itself; below is the picture that was displayed at the beginning of the sermon (so you can see who these people are), and here’s the link the Switch’s song, Symphony, that I reference at the end.

Let me know what you think!

Presentation1

What Mark Has To Say About Followership

When we think about what Jesus did on earth, we come up with a pretty good list: healed the sick, fed the hungry, healed the blind…but on that last one, interestingly, in Mark’s Gospel, there are only two occasions in which Jesus is shown healing a blind man. What does each of those episodes teach us about Jesus, and about how we’re supposed to follow him as disciples?

That was the topic of my second sermon as Associate Pastor at Sydenstricker UMC. This weekend coming up, I’ll also be on duty–and addressing the tough questions that get asked in the aftermath of an El Paso or any of a host of other situations: if God is God, then why does this happen?

Anyway, that’s for next week. Here’s this week’s sermon: click here to listen and then leave a comment–what do you think?

What Would *You* Say?

This morning, I picked up two slugs on my way to work. For those not from northern Virginia, “slugging” is the practice whereby a driver (me) picks up two volunteers from a designated place and thereby forms a carpool that can use the carpool lanes in rush hour. There are longstanding rules to slugging: the driver controls the radio station, no money ever changes hands, no smoking or eating…and, the slugs do not talk, out of respect for the fact that this could be the driver’s one and only quiet time of the day.

This morning’s slugs broke the last rule–and it didn’t bother me. Here’s what happened. They clearly knew each other, as they were discussing their weekends before we really ever got out of the parking lot. The man had been to a garden center over the weekend for season-clearance plants, and the woman expressed an interest in doing that…but then allowed as how this might not be the year to do that, as she’s beginning the process of getting divorced and will be moving.

The rest of the drive was spent with the two of them talking about her situation. Evidently there’s a pre-teen child involved, and a trial separation has been underway, and whether her child would need counseling, and her need to find new friends. It didn’t sound like any significant degree of abuse was taking place, which is a relief, but of course there is always emotional trauma in these situations. I was silent, but my heart went out to the family, especially that child. You see, I was 12 myself when my parents separated; it’s not a stretch to say the effects of that lingered another couple of decades, and affected how I related to women throughout college and into my marriage.

So what’s an Associate Pastor to do in that situation? Do I speak up and offer a word? Or maintain silence and just be in prayer for them all? Clearly, from her voice, there is pain about what’s happening; just as clearly, “it’s not my place” comes to mind. If our church had a robust divorced-persons ministry that could be a resource for her, I could have offered that–but we don’t.

What I wound up doing was, when she exited the car downtown, thanking her for coming along for the ride (as is customary), and then adding that I wished her well in her situation. But also left with a nagging feeling–was that enough? I’m supposed to bring healing into the broken; did I fall short?

What do you think?

Last Words

“I won’t get down. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist–” (Gen John Sedgwick)

“I’ll show you, it won’t shoot.” (Johnny Ace, before losing at Russian roulette)

“You’re right, it’s time. I love you all.” (Michael Landon)

Some people, such as the above, have some very famous (if occasionally ironic or even amusing) last words. This is something I was thinking about after attending the always outstanding Dave Alvin concert Tuesday night at the Birchmere; I absolutely love his shows and this happened to be the tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of his iconic album, King of California. The title cut is the story of a young man who leaves his love “east of the Ohio River” to head west and make his fortune, promising to “return to claim your hand as the King of California.” Unfortunately the song ends poignantly with the young man dying of a gunshot wound after killing another man in a fight; his last words are recalling his promise, left unfulfilled on this side of life.

It’s said that people on their deathbeds sometimes catch a glimpse of what’s to come; some report seeing angels up by the ceiling over their bed, for instance. Steve Jobs’ last words were, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” I can only imagine what he saw that impressed him so much. I can’t remember my dad’s last words to me; my mom’s were, “I’m tired.”

Not that I have any plans to need any last words anytime soon, but just as an amusing thought experiment, what last words would one have on coming into the Kingdom in its fullest? Some thoughts (add your own in the Comments):

  • “Huh, it’s bigger on the inside” (Nice Doctor Who reference)
  • “They’re all wearing Astros jerseys.” (Said of those ceiling angels; because heaven will be a home game for my beloved Houston Astros)
  • “What are you doing here?” (And let them wonder whom I’m seeing…)
  • From John 20:28: “My Lord and my God!”
  • “I get it now.”
  • Or just go with the classic: “Jesus.”

What do you think?

“Who, Me?” My Debut Sermon As Pastor

This weekend marked my debut weekend leading worship at Sydenstricker UMC as its newest Associate Pastor. I was thrilled and honored to share the story of how it is I come to be in the ranks of the clergy now, and what Jesus meant in the Great Commission, with everyone at SUMC. Click here to give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Consecration and Celebration

There have been so many “firsts” and “official” moments in the last several weeks, I almost lose track. I became officially a member of the clergy of the United Methodist Church on June 20, when I was approved at the clergy session of Annual Conference. I became the “Rev. Eric Kleppinger” when I was licensed on the 21st, and then on the 22nd, when appointments were fixed, I officially became part of the clergy team at Sydenstricker UMC. I’ve had to post a bio and photo and everything, so it’s really real!

Then came this Sunday, June 30. At the 11:00 service, we had a special consecration service. First Mary was consecrated as a new Stephen Minister, to bring her gifts of caring into the lives of those in need of a little extra help. Then it was my turn.

At Sydenstricker, we haven’t had a tradition of “robing up” in full liturgical vestments, except on major holidays. But for this one, I was presented for consecration in my new robes, and our Senior Pastor, Don, was in his, along with my stepbrother, Joel, a Baptist pastor who came down from Vermont to be a part of the day.

IMG_0149
Don Jamison reads me the charge to care for the people of Sydenstricker
IMG_0166
Don and Joel lay hands on me and pray God’s blessings

All told, I think I can count about 19 people who were there just for me that day: friends, family, you name it, people who were part of my life w-a-a-a-y back in college or even before, and newer friends who have walked alongside me in these more recent journeys. My stepbrother Joel and his wife Aprile from Vermont, my uncle and aunt from Pennsylvania, a dear family friend from when I was in elementary school came from New Jersey… so many loving people. And there were Sydenstricker folk, of course, by the dozens, people who had been there for decades, and people whose lives are just now coming into our circle. I am beyond-words grateful for each person who came, whether from Vermont or Pennsylvania or Springfield. I can see each of their faces in my mind’s eye as I stand at the rail and look out. And it is a beautiful sight, one I will always cherish.

I have absolutely no idea what lies ahead of me…but God does, and he’s called me into something much mightier than I could ever have imagined. It’s exciting, it’s terrifying, it’s humbling, and it’s now a part of who I am.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all I have given you; and I will be with you, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

#letsgo.

IMG_0174
Joel, me, and Don after the service