Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Doing the Best He Can

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…
Bob Butts and I share a common culture. He grew up in MS, and I grew up in “the pocket,” the SW corner of IN, what I call “the MS of the North.” In that culture, you can say anything about a person if you preface it with, “Bless her heart, she’s doing the best she can, but…”
I used to say it about our pastor at Wesley UMC in Mason City, IA, Bill Poland. “Bless his heart, he’s doing the best he can, but he’s just making so many changes…” In fact, I said it about him once when he made the mistake of leaving town and asked me to fill the pulpit that Sunday.
Bill went to too many conferences at places like Willow Hill. There he got ideas, and he came home and put them into practice.
He shut down the organ and got a clavicle, or clavidingdong, or clavisomething… it was sort of a piano, and it sat out where it got in the way when we knelt at the communion rails.
So he took out the rails and made us shuffle up the center aisle to get communion, like prisoners in the cafeteria in The Shawshank Redemption, where somebody gave us a little piece of bread and somebody else put a little cup into our hands and said, “God loves you, and keep moving,” both of which are good sentiments, but you had to chew and gulp fast or you’d miss the little basket to deposit the cups and run into the claviwhatsit.
The clavithing didn’t know any hymns, so we sang praise songs, for which we had no music, since they weren’t in hymnals, and there wasn’t room on the wall for a screen, so we sang them from words in the increasingly lengthy and hard to handle bulletin. The absence of music was especially noticeable because the praise songs didn’t have recognizable tunes, or any tune at all in some cases. They did, however, have questionable to objectionable theology, so I sang only the words I could sing with integrity. Sometimes that was only “Jesus” and “the.” Helen said that standing beside me as we sang was like driving along when the radio went out every time the car drove through an underpass.
And “standing” beside me she did. We stood for everything. We stood so long I grew stalactites. [Winters are cold in Mason City.] If there had been any place to store them, I think he would have taken out the pews, too.
The problem was that every time Bill changed something, attendance went up. It wasn’t because of the changes, though. It was because we loved Bill, because we knew he loved us. He was kind and gracious and generous. We not only liked him, we respected him. He could have handled snakes while doing Gregorian chants and attendance would have gone up. We kept coming back and bringing our friends because worship with Bill was a special occasion. But he was humble, so it didn’t occur to him that attendance kept going up because of him; he thought it was the changes.
Bill was a perfect pastor. [So naturally the powers what am made him into a District Superintendent.]
So, as I explained in that sermon when he was out of town, I complained to God. “God, our pastor keeps making all these changes, and I don’t like them. They don’t make any difference, anyway. Attendance goes up just because of Bill.” And God said, “Bless your heart. You’re doing the best you can.”
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!
You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin, or make it into a movie or TV series.
{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at}


  1. So happy to have found your Blog. Love your writing style and most of all your messages. Thank you for a good start to my day.

  2. John, I am still doing the best I can! We miss you two. Blessings, Bill