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The second to the top button on my go-to work shirt—the one that I wear when I want to look particularly professional, the one that I’m wearing today—is loose. The thread is coming undone; the button’s rather dangly and needs to be reinforced. I am not one who sews, although my mother and grandmother did teach me the basics and I made a swell pair of jams shorts back in middle school home economics. All to say, I need to fix it. And I can fix it. But I might not. It’s more likely that I put it off, hurried with other priorities, bothered by other concerns, and the loose little button won’t get its needed attention until I find it unattached in the clothes dryer, perhaps amassed with the dryer lint.
In situations like this, loose button situations, the first thought that comes to mind, “I have to get Grandma to sew it back on.” It is not because I was coddled or spoiled by Grandma, necessarily. No, it’s because for most of my life, Grandma sewed on buttons. It was one of the ways she showed her love. And she was good at it! I remember for instance, not only buttons coming undone, but badly sewn buttons, she would reinforce. Before my freshman year in college I had ordered a coat from a catalog—this was before “online” shopping—and when it arrived she was quite pleased with it but concerned about the quality of the buttons, of them not being well sewed. Factory-made was unreliable. Before sending her little boy away to school she reinforced by hand each and every button on that jacket. And I’ll have you know, the coat eventually became threadbare in spots, but never lost a single button.
It has been almost eight years since my grandmother passed away, but still, the feeling of a loose button underneath one’s fingertips and she is the first to come to mind.
I have been thinking a lot about loose buttons and my grandmother as of late. This coming Sunday afternoon the Classis of Queens, Reformed Church in America will gather, celebrate, and mark an ending of the life of a local congregation, the Glendale Reformed Church in Glendale Queens, New York. For various reasons, the Glendale church’s building is not suitable to hold the service, therefore my own congregation is hosting and happenstance, (can a Reformed person say that) I will be preaching. Although an official service of worship for the Classis of Queens I suspect it will have a small attendance. Members and former members of the congregation have been invited back to mark an ending. In so many ways it seems much like a funeral.
Over the years I have become quite adept at doing funerals; I’ve had lots of experience. As difficult and somber as some of them are, they can also truly be hope-filled occasions, which is fitting as funerals are a witness to the resurrection. A good funeral needs to be balanced allowing one to mourn and grieve while also celebrating and commemorating the deceased person’s life and proclaiming the good news, the gospel promise, the resurrection. But I find myself sometimes, in some funeral celebrations, struggling with a certain lack of honesty that’s present. Maybe it’s the celebratory attitude or kindness and hope or just good manners, propriety, but I’ve noticed that we often—that’s people generally—don’t like to bring up negative things in funerals. We shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, maybe. But sometimes, the negatives are present. Perhaps the old cuss was just mean and nasty his whole life. Can’t we just acknowledge that? Maybe there are real regrets. Can we do something about them?
I bring this up because I’m kind of angry about a church closing. I know there are reasons. The neighborhood changed. The world has changed. People aged and moved away. So on and so on. All that’s well and good. I get it. But I’m angry. And I want to be honest about that.
And I imagine I’m not the only one. Sometimes anger is a part of grief, or the way we deal with our grief. And sometimes anger is entirely separate from grief. Sometimes, I just get mad.
With anger there often comes blame. Blame may have its place. May not be helpful, but certainly has its place. I’ve been thinking about whom to blame. The possibilities are sort of endless.
Which has brought me back to my button. I’ve been thinking about how I’m well aware of this loose button I’m wearing but life is so busy I easily put it off and don’t attend to it. In the big picture, one button is not a big deal. But totaled up, there are a lot of loose buttons out there. Usually, it’s not this one or that one that makes the shirt untenable, it’s an accumulation of missing buttons that finally does it in. We may finally get to the point where we don’t know where we’ve lost the buttons along the way.
This may be pushing the metaphor, but hear me out. It really isn’t one thing, but many things that we in the church need to attend to, little things that add up.
But mostly this isn’t about a dying church or loose buttons, but it’s about my grandma who taught me to sew. In preparing for this upcoming service I’ve been thinking a good amount about the real loss of a local church. But those saints that were formed there are real. And the faith that was nurtured there is genuine. A local church’s life has ended, but it’s people have been sent out and they have learned to follow Christ where they have been sent. They have learned to sew.
Maybe if you wore more than one shirt this kind of thing wouldn't happen, Thomas.