Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Archimedes Principle

When I was young I would often take baths, things that are now reserved for times when I have sore muscles or need to think. For me, a shower is something that gets one clean, while a bath lets you reflect on just how dirty you were in the first place.

The other day my mother emailed me to say that the longtime pastor of her church, Bill Barrett, had died. I was raised in the church, but stopped going while I was in my teens. As I got older, I became rather jaded with organized religion as it always seemed like the people in charge were the ones that least espoused the teachings of the church. My visits to church were reserved to special occasions like holidays and funerals.

I don't recall when I first met Pastor Bill, but I had an instant respect for him. Upon reading his obituary I learned that he came to the church in his twenties. He was a man who knew how to speak to both the believer and the non-believer, a skill that is sorely lacking in most pastors.

The day I heard from mom was long and I came home feeling rather beat. I went upstairs and turned on the water in the tub, as hot as I could stand it, and lay there sweating for a long, long time. And then I did something I hadn't done since I was a child. I kicked open the drain and let the water flow out... a whirlpool forming between my feet. As the water level dropped, I sank lower and lower and felt the weight of my body return. The last trickle escaped between my shoulder blades and my body felt leaden there on the floor of the tub.

Pastor Bill was like that bath. He would never overtly point out faults or shortcomings. In fact, it was his kind and gentle nature, his pleasant spirit and giving soul, that prodded me to be a better person. I don't think I ever sat through more than one or two of his services, but that was never his style of preaching. His ministry was giving one on one while helping you deal with grief or pain or just giving a hand with something. I recall he was one of the few people in a position such as his that ever gave me true comfort in a time of need. He buoyed those around him, making their lives better, their loads easier to bear.

With him gone, I don't feel any cleaner, but I certainly feel heavier. And though I wouldn't necessarily call myself a believer, I will always be a member of Pastor Bill's church.