Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | March 22, 2011

Still Working in a Coal Mine (rev)

Y’know, there’s a song I rather enjoy singing… and like many guys, I have to say that I don’t get all the lyrics right.

“Working in a coal mine…”

…of course, in my version of the lyrics (“Better than the original! Not available in stores! For no particularly good reason, operators are standing by… “), the song’s next line isn’t “…going down, down…” but morphs to include all of us in the metaphor: “…going downtown…”.

Yeah… my coal mine looks like an office building, but you still feel chained to your desk, get sooty with the black toner ink, shovel car loads of papers from one place to another, and they use it to heat the place. And yeah, it can get mighty hot sometimes. Usually, like the guy at the beginning of the clip, it’s good that we’re all so buff and all so that when we have to take our shifts as the day stretches out and the loads get heavy, we can keep cool taking our shirts off. And our eyes shine!

Now why is this relevant to anyone? Got me there.

Well… maybe not. Seems like the other night I had the oddest dream. I dreamt I was at the bottom of a coal mine. One of the miners looked exactly like Metropolitan Jonah… in fact, he was. And he had his mitre, his cool candle holder thingy and spiffy hat thing going, the blue cape and all… and he was definitely in trouble. I mean he was lying on the ground and we were putting him in a stretcher to carry him out to get some real medical care. He was babbling something incoherently.

Some said he was crazy, and I thought they were probably right. Yeah. I really did. Not sayin’ more on that, but it didn’t really matter did it? I mean the guy was hurting, he was down there in the coal mine with us, and we needed to  make him better. He seemed as big a guy as he looks in the photos… which if you look at the musical video… in a coal mine, we’re all looking small ’cause we can’t stand up. Nobody knew how he hurt himself or what was wrong. Like I said, there were plenty who speculated he was crazy. He was certainly writhing with something, and who knows? Could well be.

We had a hard time moving him at first, but as we got more folks on the job, it started to happen and we were soon outside and carrying him towards the emergency folks. Strange how the sunshine gleams and changes things… again. Of course, that’s where the automatic part of the dream ends and it switches to manual. Y’know the part where you’re half awake and half asleep at the same time where you have this sense of  “What just happened? What is with this dream? Where did it come from and why?” And as much as this is it, it’s also… “How do I get out of here? Make it better or go away?”  We all get these things … and mostly they seem a sign we’re worrying about something…. usually too much. Can even be unrelated, and the brain goes on overdrive and transfers it to everything else.

But y’know, I’m not worried about this Metropolitan thing. Not a bit. It’s  just way above my pay grade and they don’t ask my opinion. Seems very backdoor behind-the-scenes stuff and I’m a newby outsider. I’ll leave them to it. Even the opinionators out there. They can give you what they’ve figured. I keep coming up with zero, or a guy in a stretcher needing to get off to first aid.

But even the random dream generator can throw off some stuff if you sort through it. And the more I looked at it, I came to see that what first looked like crazed rantings might just be the throes of someone in agony, someone in pain. And somehow that made much more sense. Yes, going down into a coal mine is crazy… but if that were all it took, those of us carrying him out would all be just as crazy. So that couldn’t have been it. More likely, he’d hit his doggone head on something, had someone bang on his foot with a pick or a shovel, or gotten too close and gotten some coal dust in his eyes. Just no telling, but there’s enough things that can go wrong for you in a coal mine… you almost don’t need to invent them. Though they did. And I have to admit my dream even had all those neat machine tools they use in coal mines… but like the brochures, my coal mine was strangely clean and antiseptic. And yes, I’m enough of a train and mining nut to know the mining brochures. But the thing that holds this to being a dream and not reality is this precisely… the minimal focus on the details. I mean… we don’t really know these in this saga do we?

So I’m not sure when it’s all said and done that working in coal mine is all that much different from worshipping in a church: Dark places, hard working folks with many often varied motivations – some just as hard on the inside as on the out, and others all broken and soft on the inside. In either, there’s a plethora of things that can really go wrong and hurt you quite badly. But the nuggets we take out of both… really can and do light up the world.

I wish I could tell you how this metaphor ends almost as much as I wish I could tell you that the struggles of our church would end. Like a parent, I wish I could have made this one “better” and “go away”, too, but I can’t. What I do know is that morning will eventually come, and it won’t seem so important, so riveting, and we’ll have breakfast and feel better.

So what do you think? Is it really that maybe our Metropolitan is crazy or ill of mind and spirit as some contend, or is it more likely he’s just hurt…or we’re hurt… or all of the above? What seems foremost in my mind is whether whatever it is that’s going on simply attests to the same struggle so many of us find….where like so many of us (more than we care to admit perhaps), we’re just crazy enough to love this church (unrequited love?) and hurt enough at the same time to know that perhaps something good is going on in ways we can’t comprehend… just as there may be some ill things going on as well we’re not ready to deal with ourselves.  So instead we turn to that easier stuff… the stuff of whatever is that’s going on with the other guy… and there’s no other guy quite so “other” as a Metropolitan.

And of course I am prepared to admit there is far more I don’t understand. But one thing I know, is that once upon a time, someone once said, the path to redemption and wholeness doesn’t come without blood: His, mine and ours. There is no reason we should expect any different here.

In the end, I’d wonder whether we’re working this coal mine, or is it just a faux coal mine and we’re here just to do some singing? Is this more than just another set and we’re really miners looking for nuggets, or is this just another set piece where we  look spiritually buff, but forget the dirt? Can the dirt really stay stuck to my back like one of the photos, give me that authentic “touch” and the look of heavy lifting? or like real coal miners, will I have to stop at the shed on the side of the hill and wash off before I go back out into the wider world? Even my loved ones find me a lot easier with a little soap, some deodorant, and a clean shirt. But what about the dirt inside?

And do I really have no side, and no say in this thing, or is my side in it all that there is in truth? Not sure I want one of course, but that doesn’t mean I’m not merely shirking another important load. Is it really true I don’t even know what they’re arguing about just because they’re not talking all that much, and I’m not mind reading all that well, or is it that I just prefer to walk away and focus on myself… as if we’re not all in this together. And I do mean together because we’re not going to throw anyone out of the boat… much as some seem intent on doing precisely that.

So instead it comes to mind that what I do know is that it’s fast coming up on planting season… and in time enough, we’ll know what transpires by our own fruit and theirs as well. Meanwhile, would you mind reachin’ over there and handin’ me a pick? I gotta get back to work.


  1. Yup. Every “vocation” has its occupational hazards and most of them involve people and the damage to the spirit of the man more so than bodily injury. Well said.

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