Dark Nightcrawler of the Soul

Dark Nightcrawler of the Soul
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There are many benefits that come from being a pastor. Money is not one of them.

According to the Department of Labor, the average clergyman earned just over $48,000 in 2012 and that probably overstates the figure. Why? Because those pastors who work side jobs and volunteer their churchy efforts for free or for next-to-nothing are not included in the category.

Some pastors do OK for themselves and their families. A select few megachurch ministers or heads of larger parachurch ministries make livings that put them in the top tax bracket of American earners.

Last year, the Huffington Post reported on some of these outsized earners. Charles Stanley made just shy of $300,000, Franklin Graham over $600,000, Paul and Jan Crouch about $800,000 between them.

But these are in the small and ostentatious minority.

I know from experience. My dad Bob Lott has been, for as long as I have known him, Pastor Bob Lott, with the not terribly well-compensated positions of youth pastor and associate pastor at various Baptist churches.

The trick for how most Protestant pastors make this work is, the missus gets a fulltime job with good benefits. They cobble together a decent family income between the two salaries.

That means pastors' kids are shuffled off to the often church-run daycare at a discount. Dad didn't want that for his boys. He told Mom to stay home at least until we were in school. He would find a way to make it work financially.

He found a way, all right -- one that is currently making his firstborn son feel about five kinds of guilty.

Dad is a natural born entrepreneur. One of his great loves as a kid was fishing and for fishing you need bait. You can either buy bait or find it yourself.

Perhaps you can anticipate the light bulb here.

As a teen himself and well into my teen years, Dad sold bait as a side business to help pay the bills. He sold most kinds of bait at one point: sand shrimp, crawdads, fish eggs. But the main product was worms.

Earthworms, dew-worms, angleworms, nightcrawlers, I'm sure there are other names. We never fried and ate the things, but worms were, for well over a decade, our bread and butter.

In Portland, Oregon, and then in Tacoma, Washington, Dad established bait routes. We would put up the worms in the garage by laying down a layer of soil in short Styrofoam containers, counting out a dozen worms from huge masses of writhing worms in large wooden boxes, and adding more dirt and a plastic lid.

Then we would drive the small containers around to gas stations, sporting goods shops, any place that Dad could talk into selling his worms. We would either put them in the stores' coolers or in mini fridges Dad supplied.

Of the three brothers Lott, I was the only one who traveled well. So I rode shotgun most weeks. One of my earliest and most persistent memories is of driving with Dad on the bait route. We probably traveled half a million miles together, all told.

The garage was another rich source of memories. The two oldest brothers Lott often quarreled while we were putting up worms and ended up chucking them at each other instead.

One year, we had the great garage rat infestation. We put out poison for them and I brought out my new BB gun. I took a hip shot at a rat crawling across a brace wire on the back wall. The BB missed the rat's head by an inch, but the ricochet almost hit Dad.

I was banned from ever shooting in the garage after that.

Then there's that other memory, the one that's causing so much guilt. In order to sell the worms, Dad had to pick them up first. Earthworms tend to come up at night in large grassy places such as baseball fields, parks or golf courses. Thus the term nightcrawlers.

While we got ready for bed many nights, Dad would put on his gear and go "worming." While we were sleeping, he would crawl around on his hands and knees and pick up worms for a few hours to square the circle, financially.

And now comes news that his left knee, which has deteriorated badly the last few years, is beyond shot. If he doesn't get a replacement soon, even more drastic measures will be necessary. So he is doing physical therapy and should have an operation sometime this Summer.

Dad's knee problems were made much worse by literally crawling on his hands and knees for years, light strapped to his head, picking up worms so that we could have a better life. On the grand scale of parental sacrifices, it could be worse. Dad didn't work in coal mines and get black lung or have something similarly gruesome happen to him.

Still, worms are a funny way to make ends meet for a pastor. After that whole Garden of Eden incident, the Bible took a pretty dim view of any legless creature that crawled around in the dirt.

Job complained, in the poetical language of the King James Version, "I have said to corruption, 'Thou art my father': to the worm, 'Thou art my mother.'" Psalm 22 begins with the abject lament, "I am a worm and not a man."

Dad was never troubled by these wormy metaphors. He pointed out that Jesus called his disciples, many of them fishermen by trade, to come be "fishers of men." And, hey, fishermen need bait, he'd explain.

When he was a youth pastor, he did this grossout sketch involving worms. Two people are fishing with invisible poles and one guy is reeling one fish after another in while the other guy gets skunked.

Eventually, the skunked guy asks the great fisherman, played by Dad, how he is catching all those fish. Dad mumbles something that none of us can make out. Skunked asks, "What?" Dad mumbles again and another "What?"

So then Dad reaches into his mouth, pulls out a bunch of dark gummy worms that to non-expert eyes look like the real thing, and says, "You've got to keep the bait warm."

He caught their attention that day, that's for sure. The shrieks and laughter subsided and the kids stuck around to hear what Pastor Bob had to say.

Jeremy Lott is editor-at-large of RealClearPolitics and author, most recently, of William F. Buckley.

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