My 2017 Year-End Sermon

(Note: In the early 1980’s, my best friend, Jonas, and his wife, Cyndi, lived for a couple years in an apartment in the Durham Community Church, where Jonas was sexton and completing his linguistics degree. As part of an apparent prenuptial agreement, the couple spent New Year’s Eve and Day with her family. For two years running, they asked me to watch the church—which I did, secretly delivering midnight sermons in the darkened church. I don’t have manuscripts of those pre-computer writings, but I want to jump-start the tradition almost 40 years later. Here is the sermon I will deliver, Francis of Assisi-like to the woodland creatures surrounding the Tiny White Box in the Great North Woods.)

(Full Disclosure: I will likely go off-script after word seven or eight and kind of improvise the rest. Here’s what I would say if I were the kind of person who says what he will.)

I began the year of our Lord two-thousand-seventeen with an accounting goal. I was negotiating my salary with the Liberty House Board of Directors, so had done lots of framing data—we had tripled our previous donation totals—and market research—how much executive directors of similarly-sized nonprofits make. This necessitated a lot of charts and graphs and, oddly, self-reflection. While I was building a case for my salary, I found myself questioning what I really wanted out of life.

As I wrote in an op-ed for the Union-Leader last February, I’d been married to a job and father-figure to a rotating cast of 10 veterans for five years. Life was good, and I loved the job … but. But there was no escape strategy, no time would come when I would move on to do the other things I want to do in life. I’d stay at Liberty House, helping folks find success, increasing the number of folks we fed and clothed, and probably coming up with some crazy but well-publicized ideas that would bring in support. It would be good, but here the good would be the enemy of a potential best, even if I couldn’t yet see what that best might be.

So, while the Liberty House Board was very generous in its response to my request, I decided to work with my friend Gavin on creating the Tiny White Box. (Here the phrase “worked with” can be translated as “stepped back and let Gavin create a labor of love, with me doing little more than offering ill-advised suggestions and giving Gavin 500 dollars here and a thousand dollars there.”) I let the board know I’d leave September 1, wrote the op-ed, then spent seven months doing my Liberty House job while dreaming Tiny White Box dreams, including placing it here on the grounds of Warriors@45North in Pittsburg, NH, about 10 miles from the Canadian border.

Sam (is a dog) and I have loved our first four months here, and we’re looking forward to the next eight or so. Over the next two or three months, I’ll identify (or be identified by) a non-profit somewhere in the country that’s looking for a quirky, visionary leader who’s good at creating community, getting publicity and drawing donations. Whether it’s in Tennessee or Arizona or New Hampshire, just the right place is waiting for me. Whether they know it or not.

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