Over the years, I’ve learned how to talk like a pastor. However, it never feels like my native tongue. When I’m gathered with other pastors, I am acutely aware of the language barrier that separates us. They are a flock of unrelentingly cheerful sheep; I am an introspective goat, prone to melancholy. I feel like Woody Allen at a fundraising dinner for the All Stars of Jesus.

When I am gathered with other pastors, I routinely wander away from the crowd. I need a little quiet and solitude in order to regain my equilibrium. Happily, my pastoral cohort tends to gather in wander-worthy locations. Sometimes we gather on the Oregon Coast. Sometimes, we gather on the Columbia River.

One day, I slipped away from the conference center which housed my fellow pastors. My feet carried me to the river’s edge. The Columbia is a formidable river. It is wide and windswept, the perfect backdrop for someone who wants to feel small and alone. As I walked along the riverbank, I took pleasure in the aesthetics of place. I called upon God to bear witness. “Behold the smallness of me, O Lord. I’m a blip. I don’t even know what I’m doing. Why am I here?”

The riverbank was sandy. From time to time I saw a dreary nest of beer cans and cigarette butts along the shore. These added to the forlorn atmosphere of my environment. I also saw a smattering of clamshells. This discovery suggested a new metaphor, which I was quick to embrace. Directing God’s attention to the bone-white shells I lamented, “That’s just how I feel. I feel this constant pressure, like a clamshell tightly clenched.” For dramatic effect, I lifted a clamshell from the sand. I was happy to see that both sides of the clamshell were still intact. What a perfect image! “I am clenched like a fist, like a clamshell…”

The clamshell fell open. There was no sign of the original occupant. Only sand was inside the shell. I tried a second clamshell, and found it was in the same condition. All the clams were dead. I caught an inkling of God’s amusement, but I wasn’t ready to laugh along.

How unfair of those clams to ruin my object lesson with their untimely mortality. I insisted, “If these clams were alive, THEN they would be clenched tight. They’re only like this because they’re dead!”

“Dead to self,” God suggested. Then I surrendered to laughter. Instead of moping about my self, I was invited to enjoy the joke. Woody Allen at a fundraising dinner for the All Stars of Jesus is FUNNY! Now, I’m laughing all the time. Sometimes, it even gets me into trouble.

— Mike Huber