This is the time of year when goodies show up in the office. Monday we had chocolate treats with a creamy dark chocolate inside. I had one. Wednesday was chocolate covered cherries. I had one. Today, an 18 inch diameter Christmas plate with holly and ivy plastic wrap tied at the top with a red bow was delivered to the office. Inside were at least a dozen chocolate chip cookies. I have had more than one. Yet for some reason, I was the only one enjoying them.
Parents, parishioners, vendors and students bring treats to the office as we head closer to Christmas. Part of me, the morning workout part, would like the sentiment spread out over the whole school year. Some goodies are plastic wrapped and can be saved for the spring but most get consumed now. The last day of school is this Friday and a lot of this good stuff will get divided up and sent home then. More is given out on various Sundays at our Fellowship time – that is, what won’t get eaten at my desk as I am writing to you.
Yesterday on the radio, the hosts of a sports show talked about tipping guidelines for the holidays. Although mail carriers, garbage collectors and teachers were mentioned, there was nothing about pastors or priests although at times it feels like we cross over into all three of those professions. Nevertheless, one of my favorite “tips” came in the form of a particular bottle of whisky at my first parish. And, I have a bottle of Kahlua that reminds me of the Saint John’s parishioner who gave it to me. At my current rate of consumption, I’ll be thinking of this person for the next eight years.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yet, the mystery of that cookie tray remained and bugged me enough that I finally asked around, “Hey, did you know there are cookies in here?” The response was an unenthusiastic yes. I was told to go read who they were from. I bounced back to the break room and saw the nice Christmas plate of cookies came from our local funeral home. “Oh, mortuary cookies,” I muttered under my breath and walked away.
Besides thinking of how effective a diet campaign would be if one only ate food served by a mortuary, I started thinking why should it matter where these came from. It’s not like they gave us cases of unfiltered cigarettes with a note that said, “See you soon.” But, I have to admit, my enthusiasm for that plate of baked treats subsided and I am not even sure exactly why.
I never wore black until I was ordained. Now the color black makes up a significant portion of my professional wardrobe. When I wear a collar, people tend to get out of the way. It’s like I am a giant plate of mortuary cookies. At my friend’s 50th birthday celebration, I gave a toast. When I was finished, he thanked me and then leaned in so I could hear him over the music and asked why I didn’t introduce myself as a pastor. Maybe it was the dancing, or the spiked punch, but I answered, “Because I’d like your friends to talk to me.” It didn’t work because he had already told his friends about me, anyway.
Some of you know what it feels like from time to time to be like mortuary cookies. A friend in the Navy told me about his first tour in a new leadership role. None of his former buddies wanted to hang out with him anymore. It was a lonely time for him at sea. I have several friends who, once identified as recovering alcoholics, receive a similar cold shoulder – they’re no longer invited to Super Bowl parties, baseball games or even Christmas gatherings. I’m getting to know a police officer in the city and he gets treated the same way. At grocery stores or restaurants when he is in uniform, people get out of his way; he doesn’t get invited to parties, either. Sadly, I know several widows who also get the same treatment.
It seems like the season brings out a variety of emotions and observations. It’s a time for eating sugary treats and party invites and increased police activity. It’s a difficult time to be deployed and also a very difficult time to be in mourning; Jesus is the light for the world to see in such circumstances. But perhaps an appropriate Christmas message for all of us this year might be to treat one another less like mortuary cookies. Maybe we should all act more like our Fellowship time after church where even cookies from a mortuary are appreciated and enjoyed.