Monday over Coffee: Small Potatoes & Zinnias

Need Some Words of Encouragement?


Small Potatoes & Zinnias

Ken Chafin was the pastor of our church for 12 years. After leaving, he led a church in Louisville, Kentucky, then in his retirement, Ken returned to us, taught a Sunday school class, and wrote poetry. Sadly, he died of leukemia only a few years after returning. One of his poems, “A Rhythm for My Life” can be read on a plaque outside Westmoreland Chapel on our campus. Tucked into the middle of the poem, you’ll find these lines:

Let there be a celebration of life,
the building of relationships,
and the nurturing of others.

Let there be unhurried strolls in the woods,
quiet mornings spent on the pond,
poking around country roads.

Afternoon naps in the porch swing,
leisurely meals with friends,
chickadees fed and zinnias grown.

When my wife, Kelly, and I joined South Main, Dr. Chafin had just returned to our church. As a new couple, Kelly and I were without a ‘small platoon’ — without a community where we could weave and become caught up in the crucial social fabric new married couples need as they set out to start a family. Dr. Chafin was a sort of hero of mine —  independent of mind and a legendary preacher — so when he asked us if we wanted to join his new class, it was an easy, ‘yes.’ The next Sunday, we attended for the first time. Kelly and I were both drawn in by his salty style and dialogue-driven teaching, but what was really going through my mind was this: this fellow ought to be speaking to large audiences of big-time leaders and influencers. Why was this brilliant man wasting his legendary teaching skills, wisdom, and talents on a tiny little group of five, six, or seven couples? What could one person really accomplish over a period of just a few short years dedicating his time and attention to a dozen or so young men and women who really didn’t even know what they were doing yet in life? We were just small potatoes. But that’s how it went week after week, receiving all of his teaching, delivered with a platitude-free sense of honesty, authenticity, and clarity. He built relationships among us, nurturing us along. He and his wife, Barbara, invited us to their farm outside Brenham. Folks in the class met up there to stroll along country roads. We spent afternoons on the porch talking with them, sharing leisurely meals. There were flowers on the table, zinnias perhaps. There might even have been some chickadees. Or maybe we were the chickadees.

The late pastor and writer, Eugene Peterson, in his book, The Contemplative Pastor, wrote that God’s character was revealed to us when Christ dwelt not over us, not around us, but actually among us. Peterson points out that, in His short but instructive life, Jesus committed Himself not to an easy, general, or idealized fondness or beneficent rule over a large population of people, but to the close companionship of a small band of not terribly impressive men and women. That is, Jesus — and again these are Peterson’s words — committed Himself to “small potatoes,” going for “the jugular of dealing with specific, often compromised people under His influence, aiming at the transformation of all their motives and modes of living,” with only this: time, truth, and love.

The lives of Ken Chafin and Eugene Peterson point us toward what I suspect Jesus was like — undoubtedly good in a crisis — but fully immersed in the everyday texture of real people’s lives. So it follows that if we really want our own lives to reflect the Gospel, its evidence must emerge from within our everyday lives, or as Peterson puts it: 

…in how we get our kids off to school, in deciding what to have for dinner, in dealing with the daily droning complaints of work associates, in watching the nightly news on TV, and making small talk during a coffee break.

As we move through a hard season, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that our lives are not made up of a long series of worldly weekday moments interrupted every seventh day by a spiritual Sunday, but rather, the sacred is most reliably embedded and on offer to us in our small potato moments.

God— 
 
Help me to become a person who gently, but readily enters into the everyday sounds and silences of Monday; poised to receive the holy offerings inside Tuesday; one who looks for You woven mysteriously inside the loose fabric of Wednesday; committing myself to the small potato moments of Thursday; ready to listen and sit patiently with every eternity-bound human I encounter on Friday; and to pause before the zinnias on Saturday.
 
Amen.

—Greg Funderburk 


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