Going Down? Till Horses Have Hands

Till horses have hands: Humpty Dumpty reflects on healing and community

As my family, the church I serve (Westminster Presbyterian Church) and a host of medical and physical therapists are already aware, I did a memorable Humpty Dumpty impression on April 29th of last year. Remaining true to my compulsive tendencies toward immediacy and perfectionism I sat atop a 20-foot scaffolding seeking to fix one of our damaged church speakers. Could it have waited until some of our duly qualified building and grounds volunteers showed up to do it? Sure. Might we even somehow have survived without it for another week? Sure. Could I not have found something less perilous with which to occupy my time? Yup. Did I? Well, suffice it to say that I am immensely gratified that, upon completion of a magnificent gymnastic feat that garnered a concussion, a broken pelvis and a shattered left arm, neither the king’s men nor horses put me back together again. That was left to those eminently more qualified and possessive of hands rather than hooves.

Now, I am fully cognizant that many have experienced trauma in their lives vastly more significant than this. Therefore, I briefly reflect on my experience with humble recognition of that reality. Moreover, I’m uncertain how best to reflect on something so life changing without resorting to clichés or pat answers.

Although I love to talk theology, I am no theologian. No, I’m an artist of the post-modern contemplative variety. Artists in general tend toward narcissism (insert look of shock here). We are self-referential and, to a greater or lesser degree, see the world as revolving around us (a fact all the more obvious given an entire article written in the first person). This means that we make great dinner guests but not custodians! If it’s clever banter or a pretty tune you want, I’m your man. If you want a church speaker fixed quickly and without drama, perhaps less so.

Thankfully, artists in professional ministry gradually learn to be aware of their ego-centrism by tempering it with the language of faith. Furthermore, the faith community itself can be a powerful shaping tool for us as well. Their complementary gifts, more objective understanding of who we are (and are not), and their interest in shared ministry offer us opportunities to grow in mutual trust. This has been especially true at Westminster.

In my younger days I might have squirmed at the idea that music and worship ministry could in fact continue and continue well – without me. God forbid! I am the hub of the wheel, the bright and morning star, the gravitational force of the universe around which all things musical must revolve. Please God, anything but this! These days, however, in the throes of middle age and desiring to leave a legacy, I am compelled to proclaim my joy from the rooftops for this very thing. Because the people I am blessed to lead and serve love me and love their church they rose up in my hour of need (closer to 2 months actually) and made the proverbial trains run on time. As a result, I was free to mend without the distracting pressures of weekly worship ministry. This kind of self-propelled passion for “taking care of business” fueled these dear souls. I, along with our entire congregation, were recipients of their herculean efforts. They know who they are. God most certainly does.

Still others came day after day to sit with me, bring meals, swap stories or share encouragement. Numerous times, well-meaning but non-suspecting folks stopped by on one of those unfortunate occasions when I was in so much pain that all I could do was groan pitifully and gaze up at them with my “look-at-what-mighty-things-I-suffer-please-feel-sorry-for-me” eyes. Again, they know who they are. We have agreed that if anyone asks they will remember the story we rehearsed.

I continue to learn from this sordid affair. G.K. Chesterton once said, “if we have not mirth, we will have madness.” Learning to take our life crises seriously yet in stride is a part of our maturation into Christ. Nothing is wasted in God’s efforts toward making us into “little Christs.” If spiritual formation is what we want, then, by God, that is what we’ll receive. Best of all, I got to see just how much the universe doesn’t in fact revolve around me. In the body of Christ we are graced with each other. Some are artists. Some are custodians. Some, perhaps most, know the difference. Therefore, until horses have hands I’ll leave the work of ministry ultimately to God, believing that many hands have helped put this Humpty Dumpty back together again.

H.D. aka Robert Rife

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Going Down? pt. 3-ish

Through days of grey made achingly longer just trying to survive there came an increasing intuition about something. In fact, an audible voice (or, if not, something that makes for a better story) stated quite simply, “you’re on the wrong med.” I know, I also thought it a rather banal thing for God to say after all that much more grandiose fare we read in the Bible. Anyway, the growing sense that something was chemically askew had been a recurring thought for months, even years before, but was quickly squelched in favor of my ongoing survival. A truly shitty present had to be better than some unknown, possibly shittier future.

This time was different. The absolute clarity of the idea penetrated my consciousness with a keenness and confidence that demanded my attention. I quite simply, quit. Even the emotional anguish that followed quickly on the heels of this decision I was never once tempted to think that I had made a mistake.

Instead, my tumultuous and tortured mind drifted to cries of desperation. And, in some cases, well, most actually, they were aimed at God. If I had been tormented with “I don’t give a damn” attitude before, it now chimed in with “I don’t give a flying f**k. I don’t care that I don’t give a flying f**k. I don’t care that I don’t care that I don’t give a flying f**k. I don’t care that my readers are subjected to three f**ks, OK, four f**ks…five in a row.” I wondered, perhaps for the first time ever, whether I would ever feel “normal” again. I began to despair even of life. If this was the best it could offer, I wasn’t particularly interested.

It was in such a sorry state of mind that, on Thursday morning, April 29th, 2010 I determined that the best I would be able to manage for work that day would be to climb a 20-foot scaffold and fix the church speakers. For me, it was a day in infamy.

As luck would have it we blew out the horns in not one but both of our church speakers a few weeks earlier at our annual Celtic Praise service. Thank you. Thank you very much. I, too, am proud of this accomplishment. About three weeks later, replacement parts in hand, I climbed our hastily thrown together scaffolding. It was already Thursday, I was very tired and yearned for an uneventful Friday, my Sabbath. When it comes to the unsexy jobs of music ministry, this tops the list, unless you consider cleaning mouse excrement out of organ pipes. As a result, the line up of volunteers eager to assist was…non-existent.

I could add white-hot self-pity and anger to my already fragile emotional palette. I’d love to call it righteous indignation, but apparently God is standing right behind me. I unhappily engaged in the awkward and dangerous process of dismantling our scaffolding just to set it up from scratch a mere 4 steps higher from the sanctuary floor to the chancel; a process I was doing unsupervised over lunch hour…