The Gift of Clueless

I drove into Boothbay Harbor on a snowy day in early January, 2020, got out of my car, turned around, held up my car key and clicked. “Beep!”

Someone behind me said, “You don’t have to do that here.”

What?  19,000 miles of locking my car and you don’t have to do that here? 

I drove back into Boothbay Harbor a few weeks later with all I had – 37 boxes that I was having a hard time letting go of and my 1001 assumptions about who people were and how things worked. 

But from that first day, I’ve found that 100% of my beloved assumptions have been, well, wrong.

So many funny things have happened as I’ve been learning about the silliness of my assumptions.

I’ve had a chance to visit only a few people in their homes since I arrived, but when I have gone to someone’s house I’ve had no idea how to get in. What?  You don’t use your front door?  And is it really okay to be wondering around your backyard to find my way in?

I was sent out to pick nasturtiums in the garden before dinner.  After being told what a nasturtium is I picked these tiny little orange flowers thinking this is going to be a very tiny bouquet.  I walked in with my tiny flowers only to learn that the bouquet was indeed cute but alas the flowers were to be cut up for a salad! 

My first winter I asked people at the first snowfall how they were coping with all the snow.  

“Are you kidding?” they said.

In Seattle these three inches would have shut the city down for a week!

Tom arrives on a Sunday morning in spring singing of how warm it is out.

I respond, “Warm?  Its freezing!”  

And yes, the heartbreaking assumption of being so excited to at last find an ice cream shop open after 8 only to learn that alas you cannot get a hot fudge sundae after 8 at Sarah’s Scoops even though they are open until 9.  

Yes, it has been poignant experiences of putting down assumptions.

Rally Day this past Sunday was all planned and going to be great with the kids back for their first day of Sunday School and leading the beginning of the service.  Alas, a phone call on Saturday that there was a case of COVID at the elementary school and 45 kids in quarantine.  “We’re getting good at this pivoting,” Magen said, “We’ve had to do it so many times.  Yet again, all that we assumed was going to happen with the kids – hasn’t.”  

I’d planned to meet Jack for breakfast on Friday and had already thought about what kind of pancakes I’d get and how good the coffee was going to be….and instead of breakfast, sat with him at his bedside in the emergency room at Miles hospital where he’d come in the night before. Our morning coffee conversation took place but instead of over pancakes over the phone the next week in short conversations each day before and after his surgery. 

We’ve all had to put down so many small and not so small plans of what we assumed we’d be doing. When loved ones have been sick and in hospital, we haven’t been able to be there.  The graduation celebrations that “always” take place, didn’t.  The summer camp where we “always” go, closed.  

When a beloved has died, we haven’t been able to do the things we assume to do when there is a death.  Memorial services cancelled.  Grief and gathering disrupted or delayed.  

Its been a strange, disruptive and at its best amazing time for putting down assumptions and welcoming new stories and experiences.  

In it all, I can be just like Cleopas (Luke 24) who meets Jesus walking right there beside him on the road to Emmaus and doesn’t have a clue.  The Jesus he knows is dead and the stories he’s heard about an empty tomb preposterous.  Besides, this person looks nothing like him.  

Like Cleopas I hold my assumptions and stories tight too much of the time. 

And yet, a gift of having my assumptions toppled time and time again has been the wonder of learning that I have something else beside my assumptions – I have my curiosity and wonder. 

In a couple of weeks you will welcome another Stranger from Away.

Your new settled pastor, Todd, comes with lots of gifts and experience and he’s been around the block of life a time or two. Yet when he comes it will be easy to see him as “clueless.” He won’t know how you do things, won’t know where you put things, won’t know all the assumptions you have about how life is “supposed” to work and all the loss and dislocation you feel because they aren’t working that way these days.  He’ll ask questions and you’ll think, “Everyone knows that!”  

Next week you’ll welcome three fabulous new members as well. They too will come with lots of life experience and abundant gifts, and it will be easy to think they too don’t have a clue. 

The great gift of “cluelessness” Todd and the new members will bring won’t last long. All too soon, they will become “one of you” and learn where things are and how things get done around here.  But before everything gets “settled” may you lean into this opportunity to wonder with them about how things work and why. May you be curious with them about why is it you do things this way and wonder with them about different ways ministry and meeting might take place.  

I have no doubt that over time Todd and the new members will learn your traditions and treasure your stories.  

And I wonder, Do your hearts burn to learn their traditions and hear their stories?

Will you in other words be open to surprise, to the gift of new questions, new stories, new ways you never heard of or expected?  

Yes, in the coming weeks, months, years ahead, I plant a prayer that you may be blessed with putting down your assumptions and picking up your Wonder.  To discover, in other words, Jesus in your midst who is always opening up a new story just when we thought the story was over.  

The Door 

You asked me what I would like to have.

More than I would like to have knowledge,

More than I would like to have certainty,

I would like to have a door, opening

into a wide field, filled with the songs

of small birds, filled with light, filled

with dancing and with gladness.

And far across the field, another door

opening into Summer, into wilderness,

a greening of imaginations.

and finally, at a great distance,

another door, opening, opening…                                              

Alex Noble

2 thoughts on “The Gift of Clueless”

  1. Peter, I feel completely and utterly blessed by this reflection and the accompanying pictures. Thank you for your generosity. Carol


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