Michael Smith ~ Afternoons, Coffee Spoons, and T.S. Eliot

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“Someday I’ll have a disappearing hairline. Someday I’ll wear pajamas in the daytime.

Oh, afternoons will be measured out, measured with coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot.” – Crash Test Dummies

My library is filled with seminary textbooks and other ministry-related texts. (I went to seminary before the Kindle really caught on.) But my shelves also hold stacks and stacks of other books I have picked up along the way, filled with teachings and principles I was not taught in seminary. So while I have Gregory the Great, folks like Patrick Lencioni and John Maxwell have also made their way onto the shelves.

Then I had a conversation with Ellsworth Kalas.

Much has been said and beautifully written about Dr. Kalas’s impact on many lives. I’ll simply say this: he is the reason I read T.S. Eliot.

Dr. Kalas was known as not only a great preacher, but a great writer as well. He knew how to turn a phrase and craft a statement. When talking about preaching, he admonished me as a student of words and language to open myself up to poetry, fiction, narratives, and other forms of written and expressed word. He said that these different forms of writing would not be a tool to help me, but a tool to change me. He told me I would think differently about language, words, and telling a story. And after all, aren’t we telling a story when we preach?

I am not the most creative or the best writer or preacher for that matter. But spending time in a poet’s world will reveal what life is about. Beyond any book review or helpful ministry-related text I could recommend as a “must-read,” I would encourage you to pull a book off the shelf that has nothing to do with church, leadership, preaching, management, or finance. Let grace, beauty, and truth be revealed to you from the words of those who wish to tell a story, paint a picture with words, and sing a song without music. Then, next time you put pen to paper, add text to a word document, or open your mouth to proclaim God’s love, beautiful words from the poet will help you on the journey.

Take to heart the words of English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the movie Dead Poets Society:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer: That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Spend some time reading something different this afternoon. You just might be given a verse.

 

For I have known them all already, known them all –

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…

T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

 

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Michael Smith is an Elder in the Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is honored to serve as the Senior Pastor of Clinton UMC in Clinton, NJ. He loves his family and is passionate about making new disciples.

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