Monday, May 02, 2005

Sherbucky's Secret

Proverbs 17:22 (King James Version)

22 “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”

I just got back last night from five days at a men’s retreat. In all about a hundred and sixty men attended, including nineteen or twenty from our church. I had a great time.

For me this retreat came at a time in my life when I’m not especially needy. Now it’s not that I don’t have needs, but right now my life is on a pretty even keel. I guess when I think about it my real need right now is to contribute. It’s a good place to be.

What the time meant for me was that I was able to just be myself and contribute in small ways to our group. As I said, it’s a good place to be. It also helped that the guys from our church are very accepting. I’m still a New Englander at heart, spending a good part of my time in a world of ideas and concepts. The guys at church are much more down to earth. Theirs is a world of cutting boards, cutting cows, or cutting pipes. At first glance you wouldn’t think that they’d fit into my world or that I’d fit into theirs. But, God’s grace and a bit of effort makes it so. The beauty of it all is that I think it brings balance to our lives. I once heard it put this way – “If you dismiss concepts and lofty ideals because you believe that those who live in those worlds are out touch or if you dismiss the work of the plumber because his world is beneath your dignity, then neither your pipes nor your theories will ever hold water.”

One of the immediate benefits of being around nothing but a bunch of guys is that the pressure is off. We could belch, pass gass, scratch our crotches, or wear mismatched clothes and no one really cared or even noticed. The getting together was all about being just company and companionship, not polite company. I don’t think I once heard statements like, “You’re not really gonna’ go out to dinner dressed like that, are you?” or “You can’t wear corduroy now, it’s past April 21st!” or “Did you just emit “something that smells like sulphur” near the punch bowl?” There in a collection of pot bellied men those things weren’t even on the radar screens.

The real highlight of the five days for me was rooming with Jim Kegin, our pastor emeritus. For those of you who haven’t read my blog for a good period of time, Jim had to step down from his day to day roles as pastor of our church and his district leadership role for the Foursquare churches in the Midwest. Not too long ago now he was diagnosed with Pick’s disease, which is described, in medical terms, as:

“A progressively degenerative neurological disease similar to Alzheimer's Disease for which there is no known prevention, or cure. Pick's Disease affects the frontal and temporal lobes first, with earliest symptoms showing up as changes in personality and a decline in function at home as well as work. Pick's Disease is frequently first diagnosed as stress or depression and then as Alzheimer's disease.”

Back in December when Jim and his wife, Judy, first announced what the doctors had told them, I wrote about the feelings it brought up in me and everyone else at Victory Fellowship. It all just seemed to be so unfair.

One of the things I really admire about Jim and Judy, though, is that from the day they made the announcement they wouldn’t allow us to wallow in pity. They’ve taken the lead by using a multi-pronged approach to this adversity – accepting it for what it is and seeking as much medical help as is possible, praying for healing, aiding the transition in leadership this has necessitated, compiling the wisdom they’ve gathered over the years, and moving on into this part of their journey of faith.

In the two days before the retreat actually began Jim and I were assigned to do some of the painting that needed to be done to get the campground in shape. It was a perfect assignment for two “thinkers” like us. While Ben Gray, Pastor Mike, Danny Horst and the other guys did the heavy work like tile, cabinets, and sheetrock, Jim and I plied our trade as “arteests,” adding the final touches. I dubbed the two of us “van Gogh and Gaugin.” If you ever get a chance to visit Camp Pomme de Terre and see the lower level of dormitory seven you’ll understand why. It’s impressionism at its very best!

I didn’t get much sleep on Wednesday night. Jim and Pastor Mike, my roommates, had a snoring duel going on. If I were to have to judge the competition I’d have to say that Mike won, more than likely because of a late spurt at about 4:30 am.

Come to think of it, I didn’t get much sleep Thursday night either. Mike had moved into one of the other dormitories and I’d found my earplugs, so I went to bed thinking that I was going to get eight hours or so of interrupted sleep. All went well until about four o’clock in the morning when, through the earplugs, I heard some mumbling. I turned over, thinking that the sound would dissipate. But it didn’t. For some reason I decided to take the earplugs out to see where the sound was coming from and what it was. As soon as I did I could hear Jim chuckling in his sleep. It was quite infectious and I began to chuckle a bit too. Then, at about four fifteen I heard the first of what where to be six words or statements. After laughing a bit Jim said, in low measured tones, “sherbucky.” I waited for a minute or two to see if something else would come to clarify, but it didn’t. Then, for the next fifteen minutes I pondered the meaning of that word – “sherbucky.” “Is sherbucky a concept I missed somewhere in my theology classes long ago?” “Something from Aquinas I’ve never read?” “Is sherbucky a place or a thing?” “Or is Sherbucky a person?” There in the stillness of the Camp Pomme de Terre night there were no answers.

My pondering was interrupted at about four thirty by the following words from Jim, who was still sleeping quite soundly – “Got a ladle for that honey?” His question was then punctuated with a chuckle or two and the silence once again enveloped the room. By now I was wondering about not only who or what sherbucky was, but also whether or not I should be adding a comma between “that” and “honey.” It was all becoming a great mystery to me. I decided it would be best to start writing down the things I was hearing. At about five I recorded these mysterious words – “It’s in Arizona.” At five-fifteen there was this gem – Woo, wah…..Rope a dope.” At five fifteen there was a reminder of sorts – “Gotta get more exercise.” At five forty five it all ended with this masterpiece – “Coke, no joke.”

From that point, until about six thirty, I tried to piece it all together. “Sherbucky…..sherbucky…..It’s got to mean something. But what?” I thought. “And just what’s in Arizona?” “Sherbucky perhaps?” “Or honey?” The mysteries began to deepen. “Woo, wah…..Rope a dope.” “I mean, what’s up with that?”

And so it went until a stroke of inspiration hit me. I had gotten a hold of the stuff that made Dashiell Hamett and Mickey Spillane famous. I had a mystery that needed someone to solve it, someone like Sam Spade.

There, in the pre-dawn darkness I began to create “Sherbucky’s Secret,” my homage to Spillane and Hammett’s literature noir. My hero was Clyde Club, king of the detectives. I could almost see him sitting at his roll-top desk as the story began, sipping week old black coffee, barking at his secretary, the ever loyal, ever snippy, gum chewing Alice, “Hey Alice pull the Sherbucky file for me, would ya?” A while later I could hear him responding wryly to some Brooklyn tough who was trying to, as we say in the Midwest, “pull the wool over his eyes,” as he was looking for leads in the “sherbucky” case. As only Clyde could express it he sneered and asked his adversary, “Got a ladle for that honey?” I could then see our intrepid sleuth finding an important clue. ‘That’s it…..That’s it…..It’s in Arizona.”

After subduing a thug I could hear him explaining his self defense methods. With hands raised, knees bent, he cut loose with his famous calling card just before he leveled the crook – “Woo, wah…..Rope a dope.” It was all over in a flash. Then, as he stood over the fallen thug he had this advice to offer as he walked away – “Gotta’ get more exercise.” Finally, as he was in Arizona trying to piece it all together he found himself in a “gin joint.” As he leaned over the bar he ordered “Coca-Cola, straight up.” The barkeep, not believing what he’d just heard gave Clyde that look, you know, the one that says, “Say it again, Clyde.” In a deadpan that only Clyde could muster up he snorted in response, “Coke, no joke.”

But, try as I might, I could never quite piece it all together. I never could figure out who or what “sherbucky” was. I even tried “googling” it a little while ago. All I got was “Did you mean sherbuck?” and “Your search – sherbucky – did not match any documents.”

I’ll keep on working on it. There’s got to be an answer.

Well, for the rest of the retreat I had great fun at Jim’s expense. On Friday as we were painting I’d occasionally ask him, “So, who or what is sherbucky anyway?” At lunch that same day I asked what was in Arizona. And so it went. It even became infectious enough that the other guys picked it up, re-dubbing Jim from “Gaugin” to “Sherbucky.”

Jim handled all the ribbing with his customary humor and grace, much like he’s handled this period of adversity in his life. It was a wonder to behold.

As it has been since December this has been a time of transition for Jim, and he’s handled it all with great dignity. I believe that’s important for him and also important for those who have stepped into the roles he once filled.

The retreat leaders spent some time honoring Jim for his work over the years and talking about the transition that has taken place. As I listened to all the talk of change and new things, I was struck by something else in all of this. Yes, there is transition, there’s no denying that. But even in all the change there are still important things that Jim needs to contribute to the greater good. It’s his wisdom and grace under fire.

On Sunday, before we left for home, I shared with him about things I’d been sensing during our five days together. There was a small portion of Holy Writ that struck me as quite appropriate. I’ts from Joshua:

Joshua 13:1 (New International Version)

Joshua 13

Land Still to Be Taken
1 “When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, "You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.”

The first half of the statement seems to be an acknowledgment of sorts. “You are very old.” In the King James version the description of the aging process is put this way – “stricken in years.” I wondered what Joshua must have been thinking as he heard those words. Maybe memories of great victories raced past his mind’s eye, memories of Jericho and Ai, memories of great victories over the Amorites and the Anakites, memories of the day the sun stood still, memories of victories from the north to the south. Perhaps he was also thinking, on hearing the acknowledgement of his advancing years, that he was going to be lost in the transition, that his best days were now passed, that he was going to have wonderful memories of those days, but no real future.

I think it was at about that time that the Almighty reminded Joshua that “there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.” It’s was God’s way of saying to the great man, “Yes, Joshua, there is transition, but I still have a lot of work left for you to do. The years have advanced on you, but it’s not over for you by any stretch of the imagination.”

I shared my thoughts with Jim and told him that I sensed that the wisdom he’d compiled over the years needed to be documented and that the need was critical. “The generation ahead of you is going to need it,” I said. “There are going to be times coming up when the younger leaders will stumble and they’re going to need your wisdom to pick themselves up to keep moving on.”

There was a lot that happened in those five days, but for me nothing was more vital than those times I was able to share with Jim. I got to see God’s grace working in a very powerful way in his life. The shared laughter was indeed like medicine, the wisdom given, by way of transition, to a new generation of leaders was transformational.

You know, I doubt that I’ll ever finish the mystery of who or what “sherbucky” is. But something greater, more powerful was revealed in its place. It was the power of a merry heart and how, by God’s grace it is transforming Jim Kegin. While I can’t predict the future, I sense that his transition is going to be very active, very alive. Jim needs to press on with that work …..and so do we!


Lucas Stephens said...

Thank you, Phil, for writing this. What an excellent writer and linguist you are. I am quite impressed with the manner in which you respectfully shared the fun and the respect, so well. I, too, am grateful I had the chance to share that same room with you, too.

Pastor Mike said...

Thank you, Phil, for a fine tribute to an extraordinary man - my mentor and father-in-law - Jim Kegin!

Anonymous said...

Minister James Warden said, This morning I was completing my acknowledgments in my book: One Hundred Reasons Why Born Again Believers Cannot Lose Their Salvation: Salvation by Grace Explained, and I wrote Jim Kegin's name in it in appreciation for his ministry, and decided to look him up on the internet. I met Jim as a college student in 1982, and worshipped in their home and newly built church while it was under construction. Jim allowed me to preach my first sermon in his church, which still is amazing to me for the simple fact that I am an African American which didn't make a bit of difference to him. He took me under his mentorship and he boldly told his congregation that if they had a problem with it then they could leave. He was always a compassionate and gentle man, and preached the gospel from his heart. I was touched by your article and God's guidance of me to your website at such a time as this. I will keep Jim & Judy in my prayers. Thank you Jim for being faithful, fair, fun, and frank. I wish I could give you a hug.