Archive for August, 2021

August 31, 2021

Grief and healing

by Rod Smith

Grief labors long over its healing work. In so many ways it is often never over, never complete. Some losses seem beyond healing. Accommodation is possible. A full life is possible. New relationships can develop. But, the vacuum of some losses is never filled. It is natural to want to rush grief and to want pain to be gone.

Who cannot want pain to be gone? But in rushing grief along, the pain can get buried, and run deeper into the soul only to manifest itself later and often arise later disguised as something unrelated to the initial loss. No matter how long ago your loss may have occurred, welcome the tears that well up within you. Let them flow. Tears are grief’s first agents, first responders in a tragedy.

No matter how long ago your loss may have occurred, welcome your desire to talk about it. Speaking about your loss stimulates grief to continue its unique work. Conversations facilitate healing and recovery, especially conversations with those who have walked a similar path. No matter how long ago your loss or breakup or violation may have been, welcome your desire to write about it and do so.

Words strung together into sentences, then paragraphs, then chapters may well deliver you into realms of peace and on-going healing.

August 29, 2021

Life does its good work

by Rod Smith

I am fascinated by process, time, growth; how life itself gets us ready for life itself. I don’t mean to sound so obscure but let me illustrate: 

When my boys were very young neither they nor I could imagine them leaving, going off into life on their own. None of the three of us was ready for that. It is different now. It’s not that I want them gone. I do not. But I do want them to forge ahead and get on with their own lives. I want them to find adventures in far off countries and to make friends with people I will never meet. I want them both to go to places I have never dreamed of going.

Life prepared me for that transition. I find no resistance within me for it to continue. I thought I would hold onto the boys in some way but I cannot find it in me to do so. That’s what I mean. I am ready, we are ready for things none of the three of us could have foreseen us being ready for.

Life did it. The process did it. This is what I am celebrating. What is bringing joy to your heart this morning? Let me know, please.  

August 26, 2021


by Rod Smith

Readers have been telling me friendship stories. 

I think it is a good thing to reflect on goodness. 

There are two men, Keith Jamieson and Adam Bergesen, whom I want to write about this morning. They were neighbors; men who came almost daily to my mom and dad’s shops at 161 Blackburn Road in Red Hill.

In those days customers stood in front of the counters. Shopkeepers would have to get everything the customer wanted, place it on the counter, wrap items in a brown paper bag, total up prices on scrap paper and then “ring it up” on the till and then cash would change hands.

Sometimes the shop was very busy and so Adam and Keith began to help themselves.

They’d come behind the counter, get what they needed, cut cheese, slice polony, wrap and measure, add up what they owed, ring themselves up, pay, take whatever change they were owed and be gone.

It wasn’t too long before they were able to serve customers to help out when things were very busy. There were times they’d run the shop when dad and mom needed a break.

Adam and Keith loved my parents, recognized their hard work.

I, in return, loved them, but that was very hard for a young boy to understand or admit.

Now I can, and I do.

August 24, 2021

Looking for a therapist — not so quick!

by Rod Smith

Before you go to therapy for your marriage or your general state of unhappiness or your lack of motivation there are a few things you may want to ponder:

  • The therapist you choose is another person, just like you. He or she is no miracle worker. If there are going to be any miracles as a result of your work together they will all come from you.
  • If you are focussed on the therapists success as a person (to see if you can trust him) or if you want to know about her children and how good they are (to see if she can help you with your children) or you want to know about his or her relationships (to know if the therapist can help you with yours) don’t bother. You are not ready to get any help from anyone. Save your money until you really want help.
  • If you have engaged a divorce lawyer but you want to give therapy one last shot in the hopes of seeing what happens or you want to show the courts you really did try and save the marriage, again, don’t bother. If your bags are already packed or your weapons are already drawn there is no therapist who can help you.   

August 22, 2021

Teacher impact

by Rod Smith

Readers told me my observations about teachers were appreciated and that they spread all over the teaching world. This is music to my ears. The thing about teachers is they end up living in your head, well, at least in mine. 

When I share something and offer the larger portion to whomever it’s not my goodness you are witnessing. Mrs. Davies (her family owned the dairy) at Red Hill Primary taught me that. Mr. Lendrum was my soccer coach at Northlands Primary. He was a quiet spoken very kind man who loved encouraging his teams. It’s over fifty years later and if I am watching an unkind coach I find myself saying, “We need a little more Brian Lendrum around here.” 

Richard Morey at Northlands Boys High took an essay of mine and put huge red lines through most of it but circled a small portion where he wrote: “Do more of this. This is writing,” and I was on cloud 9. He also made us write everyday. I’m still doing it. Frank Graham at Northlands Boys High believed in me, saw something he really affirmed, told me I was going to be alright although he told me in Afrikaans.

I guess he was right. Mostly.

August 19, 2021

The impossible, the miracle…..

by Rod Smith

A framed Jock Leyden cartoon hung for years in my dad’s Red Hill tea room. Jock Leyden was an ubiquitous sports and political cartoonist who lived in Durban for most of his life.

“The impossible we do immediately. Miracles take a little longer,” read the caption. 

My literal, pre-adolescent brain didn’t get it. I wrote it off as not funny at all. Jokes were supposed to be funny. I get it now. How? When? I get it every time I meet a teacher. Watch them. Listen to them. They are women and men often conquering the impossible in the immediate. Their reward, the miracle, may take decades to unfold.

I have seen it with the women and men who were my sons’ teachers. I have seen it with friends who are teachers. They take what they have got, or not got, and run with it. They often spend their own money, scrounge for materials, take what appears unusable and transform it into material for learning.

That’s a teacher! They take a child who is wild at heart, resistant to books, and help her to turn herself into a leading scientist. They take a recalcitrant boy, love him, encourage him, discipline him, and now call him doctor as he attends to the needs of his teacher’s grandchild.

August 17, 2021

Can I help a friend who is grieving?

by Rod Smith

“Can I help a friend who is grieving the loss of a child or the loss of a spouse?” writes the succinct reader.

I will try to be equally succinct in my reply. Yes.

There are things you can do to help. You can be present, around, on the outskirts. You can be like a very skilled butler, one who is helping and serving and taking care of practical needs and errands and housekeeping matters. You can say very little and listen very much and observe with your kind and patient eyes. These are things you can do. But, you will only be really good at these things if you have taken care of grieving your own losses. The minute your own losses hit you when you are trying to help your friend you will find yourself going into overdrive, into almost ceaseless activity, in the belief you are being helpful.

No. There is nothing you can do. Grief is a private, personal passage. It’s unique to the individual. It is shaped by a specific loss. It’s a road taken alone to an unknown destination in the hopes that a palatable one will unfold and be slowly recognized as it comes into view.

Be there. Do nothing. You will be amazed at how much you can love someone and support someone by being around and doing absolutely nothing.

August 16, 2021

I don’t know what to say

by Rod Smith

When someone you know is faced with difficult or sad circumstances and you don’t know what to say then say that. 

“I don’t know what to say,” is at least the truth.

It’s better than launching some tired cliche you hope will be comforting. The truth, as you see it, is a good place to start. Contrary to common belief, people who are grieving want to talk about the person who has died. It’s often relieving to know it’s ok to speak even about death, and what you miss, and what and whom you lost.

The newly divorced man or woman may want you to name your discomfort with his or her loss of a marriage. The parent who’s son or daughter is in rehab for alcohol or drugs hardly wants you to consider their battling son or daughter invisible.

Then, once you have opened the door by being open to talk, spend the rest of your energy listening. Really listening. Listening, not correcting, not trying to provide false comfort, not trying to ease over or around what is important to the speaker.

If you don’t know what to say be assured the one who is in grief may really want to do all the talking.

If not, well, the silence that may prevail between you is the kind that is truly golden.

August 13, 2021

The After-Sermon

by Rod Smith

I hope you noticed “The After-Sermon” title.

I cannot promise you “Love Boat” or “Who Shot JR?” in print, but I can assure you that almost every Sunday after I have preached at First Presbyterian Church, and after our dogs have dragged me through Trojan Forest and around Baker Park, I am going to write to you in The Courier-Times.

This morning I popped in to see Terry at the New Castle post office to get a post office box number for two reasons: since a young child I have ALWAYS wanted one, and so you can drop me letters in the mail as it was done in the old days.

I can’t wait to see who lands a letter in the mailbox first.

It’s PO Box 808!

Why? Well, I see you as being part of our larger congregation, even if we don’t know each other. I want to care about you and hear about what you love about New Castle and about life in general. I want to know what’s bothering you, hindering you. I want to connect with you week-by-almost-week.

When I say “being part of our larger congregation” I don’t mean First Pres. I mean all the pastors in the region. I know you probably have a church and I am sure you are well pastored. But, I am sure that if you asked every pastor in the region, he or she will tell you he or she thinks similar thoughts to those I have just expressed. I did not seek their permission and nor do I want to speak for them, but I think I can safely say we want to care about you if you are part of our respective church communities or not.

It’s in our bones.

It’s pastor-DNA.

My plan with “After-Sermon” is to write about what it’s like to be new around here – which you are for at least the first 40 years – and what it means to try to be a good neighbor. I also want to write about pastoring a community of people who are far more loving, cooperative, accepting than I find it possible to be without a lot of prayer, determination and focus.

For today, I want to teach you a new word: siyabonana.

It’s a Zulu word.

It means “we see each other” but it’s the kind of seeing that is deeper than looking, deeper than surface. It’s more than a casual glance and it is mutual, two-way, at least.

Let’s practice saying it.

It’s easy. The “siya” part is just like any Hoosier would say “see ya.” The “bonana” portion requires you to say “banana” like the Queen of England. If you can’t quite get that, pretend you are Prince Charles or Prince William or Sir Winston Churchill asking for a banana and you have it: See-Ya-Bonana.

I want this column to be about “Siyabonana.”

I want you to see me.

I want to see you.

I invite you to write to me and I have specifically chosen the old way of paper and an envelope and a stamp because it’s the way many people would still very much like to communicate.

No, I do not want you to leave your church and come to ours. No pastor worth his or her salt wants people to move from one church to another.

No, I am never going to ask you for money.

No, I am not going to ultimately ask you to sign up for an expensive trip to Israel or a bus ride to Noah’s Ark Park which I think is somewhere in Illinois, maybe Ohio or Missouri.

There’s no plane trip or bus trip or monetary tip up my sleeve.

There’s no book, no video series, no catch, no small print. I may recommend a book on occasion but it won’t be mine.

How do I know?

I don’t have one.

“The After-Sermon” will try to be encouraging, insightful, and sometimes about serious matters like parking meters and donut moguls and then sometimes it’ll be about matters of faith.

Since I am on the topic, if you don’t attend church anywhere, then, yes, I want you to attend church somewhere.


Why? Well, because being in a group of people who care about you and about whom you can care is good for all of us, by golly, it’s good for America. It’s good for the whole world.

Caring does wonders for people. You already know that. Mutual caring makes us all better people. Mutual caring makes us all better Hoosiers, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, it makes us Better Everythings.

You don’t need me to tell you that. Being with other people often and caring for each other, as churches usually try to do, is soup for the soul.

Have a fabulous week.

I’ll see you in the paper next week if we don’t first run into each other at the Farmers’ Market or Cafe Royal or maybe at the Kroger’s self checkout!


Rev. Rod Smith is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New Castle.

August 11, 2021

A handful of axioms

by Rod Smith
  • Define yourself before someone else does. There is always someone willing to have that pleasure for you.
  • We are all to be treasured, honored, and valued. Our worth has nothing to do with economic status or educational status.
  • Bitterness and cynicism always poison the bearer and are never helpful. Few things distort a future as powerfully as holding onto past disappointments.
  • Truth and vulnerability expressed in mutual and respectful relationships are always helpful. Not everyone you meet deserves your vulnerability. Some people really are out to get you.
  • Know what you want even if there is no chance or little chance of getting what you want. Knowing what you want will somewhat steer you from really unwise choices although nothing is foolproof.
  • Watch your words, make them sweet, in the event you have to eat them.
  • Humble yourself before life does it for you. Life has a way of addressing arrogance and pride even if it sometimes takes its time.
  • Stay out of control and keep most of the rules of polite society. Don’t fall into guilt traps usually set by people who have no vision for their own lives.