A Birthday Calling

[special_heading title=”A Birthday Calling” subtitle=”by Tim Mooney” separator=”yes”]It was a cold, rainy, drab January fifteen years ago. A fitting prelude to my fast-approaching fiftieth birthday. My then wife, Deborah, asked me if I wanted to have a quiet, personal 50th birthday, you know, something where I could feel sorry for myself, lick my wounds, and enter old age with a whimper. Or, did I want a big party to mark this rite-of-passage and launch myself into the next 50 years with a bang? Which would it be? “A big party,” I said. Deborah said, “We need a theme.” A couple of themes immediately came to my mind:

I’m over the hill, when’s my next pill, or,

Eh? What’s that you say? or,

Party ‘til you drop,

Unless it’s 8 o’clock,

Because that’s when I stop, or, my personal favorite,

AARP: A 1001 uses.

It was all so depressing. Then Deborah said, “How about this: You’re never too old to be a rock star!” In the seconds that passed, there was a battle going on in me. I found a “no” and a “yes” within me. The “no” came first – don’t be an adolescent, you’ll never be a rock star, it’s too much work, you’re too old, you can’t change. That “no” was very seductive, and easy. A “no” asked nothing of me. The “yes” came second, but it came on strong. I was getting older, true, but could I not still pursue dreams, could I not still become? So at my 50th birthday celebration, at a beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I performed a 10-song set of music for close family and friends. I rocked! Ok, it wasn’t the best performance. I botched some words, some chords. And the closest I came to being a rock star was when Deborah’s mom made me wear a rock star wig and a fish-net tank-top. I looked like Rod Stewart. Pictures are NOT available.

But something happened to me. God got my attention. I could try something I hadn’t tried before. I could do things differently than I’d grown accustomed to, and it wouldn’t kill me. I had more resources and energy than I knew. My sense of the future became that much more hope-filled. Less about age, less about nostalgia, less about losing what I once had, or preserving what little I had left; and more about choice, and intention, and moving into a new way of being with joy and passion. Frankly, I felt like a 30-year old again, but with more clarity and wisdom. I was ready to give life another 50-year shot!

Okay, just to let you know, tomorrow is my birthday. I turn 65. That’s one Ulysses S. Grant, one Alexander Hamilton, and one Abraham Lincoln. Sixty five years old. That’s 23,741days including leap years. Gets your attention, doesn’t it?  How do I feel about that? “This is worse than my Mid-life crisis!” Now people have had a lot of fun with that term, “mid-life crisis.” A ton of money has been spent on red convertibles and Harley Davidson’s, face-lifts and tummy tucks, all justified with the words, “Mid-life crisis.”

But a life crisis is real – whether it’s adolescence, mid-life, or when you hit retirement age. It’s a life crisis, because your way of living comes into question; and it is a life crisis because something vital is at stake. The Chinese symbol for crisis depicts what is at stake. It puts the symbol for opportunity and the symbol for danger together: crisis. At 65, I am facing a dangerous time, and a great opportunity.

But there is another birthday to be celebrated. Well, not a birthday, but it is the celebration of a momentous beginning! On Tuesday, Louise Westfall and you, will celebrate 11 years of being pastor and congregation! How exciting! And, Louise just got her second hip replaced, so once she’s healed up, you better get ready to run with her into a brand new future, a future that is both dangerous and an opportunity.[callout_box title=”God responds to our “no’s” with a broad graciousness.” subtitle=””]There’s nothing special about the year sixty-five, or eleven.  But at certain times and seasons, the arcs and trajectories of our ways of being, living and working, run their course, and change comes. It’s inevitable. Careers, relationships, ways of being, and communities of faith, arrive at a crisis: On one hand, the danger is stagnation, becoming too comfortable with the familiar, and living in nostalgia for the glory days of the past. Bruce Springsteen captures this danger when he sings:

Just sitting back trying to recapture, 

a little of the glory of, 

well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister 

but boring stories of, glory days.

On the other hand, the danger is the latest thing, falling into church fads, and throwing out anything 30 years or older. There has been so much change: Covid; the destruction, construction, and cost over-runs on the building; Wil’s departure, my retirement. But right here, there is the opportunity to re-invigorate your life, your ministry, this community of faith. Birthdays are usually when you get to be the center of attention. But some birthday parties, like my 50th, like my 65th and maybe your 11th, are ways of God getting your attention. God calls us into a crisis: a time of danger and opportunity.

Isaiah is called to become a prophet to his people. Three fishermen are called to become fishers of men. God gets their attention. Isaiah had an internal experience, a frightening vision. That’s where God got his attention. For the rough and tumble fisherman, it was a rough and tumble experience. Peter, face-to-face with a near-sinking haul of fish, had to engage the situation with every fiber of his being. God got his attention.

Our first response to God’s call, often, is “No.” Isaiah senses his unclean lips, his overall unworthiness in light of God’s glory. Woe is me! I am lost! And Peter tells Jesus, “Get away from me, I’m a sinner.” These “No” responses to God’s call appear throughout scripture. Moses said, “No, not me, try my brother.” Jeremiah said, “No, I’m too young.” Throughout scripture God’s call is first met with a “No” – out of fear, and then a “Yes,” out of love and purpose and life.

Gratefully, God responds to our “no’s” with a broad graciousness. In Isaiah’s vision, one of the seraphs takes a burning coal, touches his lips, and instead of being burned (danger) his guilt is wiped away (opportunity). Jesus does not go away from Peter (danger), but invites him, “Do not be afraid,” (opportunity).

Our second response God can be a “Yes.” Isaiah says, “Here I am, send me.” Peter and the other fishermen leave their nets, their lives, to fish for people. God always calls us. We hear it better some days than others, and we resist it, and are drawn to it, at the same time. Sometimes we say “no,” sometimes we say, “yes.” But God still calls. And it changes our lives, even if you feel your life has done enough changing, thank you very much, or that – you know – you’re old enough now, 65, and you’re done with changing!!

The call of God is unique. How to find it? I can only say listen very closely to what moves you, what draws you. Scripture helps us notice the quality of God’s call: to love kindness, do justice, walk humbly, bear the fruits of the Spirit, let the oppressed go free, seek peace. But the specifics of your call will be found in the details of your life. Pay attention to the after-affects of your “yes’s” and your “no’s.” Is your “no” out of fear, or is it coming from someplace deep within that says this isn’t me? Is your “yes” in order to please, to go along? Or is there a sense of rightness deep down in it for you?

I am deeply grateful I said, “Yes,” to the call to be your Parish Associate. I have loved my time with you. And, as 65 got closer and closer, there was a deeper call that kept getting louder and louder. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s here. It’s time to be a full-time artist. Danger and opportunity.

How is God grabbing your attention? The experiences of joy, awe, love, longing, peace, tragedy, difficulties, birthdays, anniversaries, become the means through which God’s call comes to us. What is your response? Is there a “no” within you? If so, you are in good company. But don’t chase the “no” away; let it have its say. What is that “no” all about? Is it rooted in fear? Or is it rooted in knowing that something else is more right for you? What do you notice about God’s gracious response? How has God touched your lips with forgiveness, your heart with acceptance, your mind with hope? In what ways are you hearing Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid”? To what is God asking you to say, “Yes!”

“You’re never too old to be a Rock Star” was a fun theme for my 50th birthday, but I’m dead serious when I say it helped me navigate my ongoing mid-life crisis. It helped me see it more as an opportunity than something to be feared and dreaded. The opportunity to reinvigorate, recreate your life, ministry, and community together is before you. Louise has two brand new hips! You will have new bathrooms, conference rooms, elevator, new partners in building use. Central is at the Heart of Denver. Danger, yes, and, opportunity. Say “yes” to God and the new thing God is doing here.

I don’t know how to say thank you enough. You welcomed me, trusted me, worked with me, got to know me, laughed at and with me.  You put up with my no-hair-on-the-top-but-lots-of-hair-on-the-face period, and you’ve put up with my year-long-grow-the-hair-long period.  You planned, taught, and helped me teach classes, you shared your stories and struggles with me, revealed you longings to me. You gave me rides when I wasn’t allowed to drive. Your prayers held me up as I underwent brain surgery and recovery, and your meals fed me in rehabilitation, you drank beer with me at Theology on Tap, revealed your heart to me. I love you, and cherish you.  Thank you.

I want to sing one more song for you. I wrote this song after my divorce, when I finally could see what love asked of me, when I recognized I wasn’t ready for love.  The song keeps reminding me that love asks everything, and it keeps inviting me, and you, to say Yes to love, over and over again.  The song is titled, “Loved by Love.”

Tied down, roped in, so safe and secure,

Promises made, vows spoken, we were so confident and sure.

But love, it’s a can of worms, Pandora’s box on speed,

Love it’s like herding cats and it’s a paradoxical need.

Are you ready to be loved by love? Are you ready to fall in love with love?

Love’s no panacea for all your insecurities,

Love will throw you into the thick of things and it will bring you to your knees.

You think you want love ‘cause it’s the magic pill for all your pain,

But love, it will break your heart, and transform everything.

Are you ready to be loved by love? 

Are you ready to fall in love with love, fall in love with love, with love?

I’ve heard love makes the world go ‘round,

But love will turn your world upside down.

Without love you’re lost for sure,

But are you ready to be found, to be found, to be found, 

By love, found by love, by love?

Love is not a game to play; it’s not a simple thing.

But when it grabs you by the lapel,

You’ll finally know what it means to be a human being.

Are you ready to be loved by love? Are you ready to fall in love with love?

Are you ready to be loved by love, by love?

Are you ready to fall in love with love, fall in love with love, with love?