Archive for May, 2018

28
May
18

Remembering. And Giving Thanks

GravestonesWhen you grow up – as I did – in the state of Ohio, a mere one state east of the state of Indiana, Memorial Day only meant ONE THING: listening to the Indianapolis 500 auto race on the radio. OK, make that TWO THINGS: add cranking up a batch of homemade ice cream on the back porch to the list. And most of the time there was also a big family picnic down by the river to cap off the day.

As a kid, I always thought of the Memorial Day weekend just a fun-filled beginning to the time of summer vacation. But all of that changed when some of my high school buddies were drafted and went off to the war in Vietnam. If you are old enough to remember that war, you also remember that it was not a war that the whole country rallied around and supported very well.

But despite the Vietnam War’s unpopularity, I remember that each of those young men from my hometown of Hilliard, Ohio who left to go fight were proud to go and convinced it was the right thing to do.

Most of those guys came back. But sadly, several did not. And because this was a small town, I knew the families of every one of the young men who were killed in that war, half a world away, fighting for something they believed in. And from that moment on, Memorial Day took on a whole new meaning for me.

Yes, I have continued to listen to the Indy 500; won this year, incidentally, by an Australian. Yes, I have continued to enjoy homemade ice cream, family picnics, and Opening Day of the community swimming pool. But underneath all of the fun and festivity of the holiday, I found that my eyes had been opened to a new understanding of the true meaning of this beloved national holiday.

And looking back, I realize I also received a new understanding of what this country is all about, too.

You see, before I saw those bright, promising young men of my hometown come home in coffins, the word “sacrifice” was really not part of my vocabulary. I honestly thought a “sacrifice” meant having to wait patiently for an hour and a half for your ice cream instead of being able to eat it from the carton right away.

The young men of Hilliard taught me that the principle of “voluntary self-sacrifice” is the TRUE foundation on which this country is – and has always been – built. Through them, I learned that the real secret and magic of this country is the people who put the needs of OTHERS on a higher level than their own. It is about people who ask, “What can I give?” instead of “What can I get?”Our country is built on the backs of the people who say, “YES!” without hesitation when asked to give 100% of their body, mind, and soul to a cause. Just like these men you see before you here today.

This basic truth is what led President John F. Kennedy to famously state, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

As stirring and as profound as Kennedy’s statement is, followers of Jesus Christ immediately recognize that it is simply a restatement of a message he spoke over 2,000 years ago. As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his coming death, he gathered them around and said to them, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who sacrifice their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”(John 12:24-26, NRSV).

So yes… today let’s celebrate that the United States of America is the land of the free. Let’s remember that this country is the greatest demonstration the world has ever seen of the strength that comes from diversity. It is the “shining city on a hill” rich with natural resources, hard-working people, and an unbreakable spirit.

But without the willingness of men and women to serve and pay the ultimate price for unseen future generations, we are just one nation among many.

With their sacrifices, the men and women buried here gave us the lives we are able to live today. We owe them more than we can ever possibly repay.

Let us each pledge today that we will NEVER, EVER take that gift for granted.

21
May
18

The “Never Enough Club”

productivity-01I wasn’t very productive today.

But then again, I’m on vacation. Productivity is not really expected of people on vacation… is it?

Two weeks ago, on the other hand, I was NOT on vacation. It was a Thursday as I recall… a day that started off with a cup of coffee, a walk of the dog, and a list of items I was eager to complete and cross through.

And yet, I sat back and mused at the end of that Thursday… “What the heck happened? I was a whole lot less productive than I wanted to be today.”

Looking at my sad list of uncompleted items, I was somewhat consoled by the knowledge that lives would not be lost, relationships would not be destroyed, nor would cancer remain uncured as a result of my sloth.

EXAMPLE: I didn’t stop the newspaper or mail delivery in advance of our vacation… a task that absolutely had to be done. But it could just as easily be done tomorrow.

But it made me pause and wonder how often I am guilty of labeling my days as either good or bad based on my own personal level of productivity.

Check a lot of stuff off the list = good day.

Don’t = bad day.

Isn’t that a little bit sad?

I am not saying productivity is something to be sneezed at. Not at all.

We each have a calling to produce SOMETHING in life. And ideally, it is something that utilizes our unique God-given gifts.

Painters produce paintings. Cooks produce meals. Salespersons produce sales. Writers produce strings of coherent words. Clowns produce terrified children.

We each depend on the productivity of others to navigate even the simplest passages of our day. The light bulb you just turned on, the water that just flowed through your showerhead, and the YouTube cat video you just chuckled at were all produced by productive people… folks just like YOU!

What kind of world would it be if none of us produced ANYTHING?

But I have to level with you… there are a couple of places I keep getting tripped up in this whole conversation about productivity. The first is in my tendency to draw a direct connection between my (or anyone else’s, for that matter) WORTHand my level of PRODUCTIVITY. It is hard to ignore the pulsing message in my head that says, “The more you produce, the more you are worth.” 

My second snare comes in my tendency to pass judgment about the overall SCOPE of my productivity. I’m not even sure “scope” is the right word, but here is what I mean; every week I write an approximately 2,500-word sermon and a 700-800 word blog post (or two). But because I am not currently working on either a book or a screenplay, (or both) I regularly feel like a writer wannabe… a poser.

I might visit two or three people in the hospital and pray with them as they prepare for surgery, but because I am not instigating a nationwide movement to provide spiritual care for the elderly and disabled, I feel like a slacker.

I exercise vigorously at the gym at least three times a week; not including daily walks with Rosie the dog. But because I am not regularly putting marathon notches in my belt, I feel like a slug.

It is very difficult to publicly admit these defects in my thinking. As you read them, you immediately see how overly concerned I am with the imagined assessments of OTHERS about my life and me. I am also showing you how difficult it is for me to take Jesus at his word when he says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Matthew 6:26, NRSV).

Here is where you say, “How about practicing what you preach, pastor.”

Are you a member of this club, too? Do you regularly flagellate yourself with the phrase, “never enough”? Do you get twitchy when you take a vacation? Are “to do” lists your highest form of artistic expression?

Well then, come over here and sit with me a moment, my friend. Take off your shoes. Put down your iPhone (unless you are currently reading this blog on it. Then please, continue holding it). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the breeze of the moment as it caresses your face.

Be reminded – as I must continually remind myself – that God’s mercy and love are not production-based. They pour over you like a waterfall… the same as they pour over the woman who runs her own company, competes in Ironman Triathlons, raises four special needs children, grows her own arugula, and is working on a script for Fox Searchlight, all at the same time.

Take as gospel truth the statement that you earned this magnificent extravagance merely by the heroic act of being born.

Seize it.

Revel in it.

Celebrate it.

And then go out and take a slow walk in your bare feet… smiling all the way.

11
May
18

My Mystery Blogger Award

Wow! I am having a genuine Sally Fields moment here. I have just been nominated for my first-ever blogger award… The Mystery Blogger Award by Mitch Teemley (see his work at https://mitchteemley.com/. He is insanely good!). The idea is to give some additional attention to “newish” bloggers and though I have been at this for more than a year, I am very, very grateful.

Myster blogger award

The Rules:

  • Use the logo and list the rules
  • Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself (see below)
  • Answer the questions you were asked (see belower)
  • Nominate other blogs and notify them (see belowerer)
  • Ask your nominees 5 questions of your choice, with one weird or funny question

The Three Things About Me:

  • I am married to the best human God ever created.
  • I am a semi-retired pastor in the United Methodist Church… currently very pissed off at said church for its failure to stand on the side of justice where LGBTQ+ people are concerned.
  • I CHERISH any time I am able to spend with my beloved guitar.

The Questions I Was Asked by Mitch:

  • What moment or choice in your past do you wish you could undo? That is a toughie, being the active proponent of grace that I am, but I would have to say it was not really using my time at my mother’s bedside during the last moments of her life very well. I was almost entirely focused on myself and MY sadness.
  • Funniest movie/s you ever saw? Deadpool. Can’t wait for the sequel!!! And don’t judge too harshly, but Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein have to be right there, too. (“PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ!!”)
  • Greatest song/s you’ve ever heard? It is Well with My Soul, Love Lies Bleeding/Funeral for a Friend (Elton John), and Whipping Post (Allman Brothers Band).
  • The greatest truth you’ve ever learned? That the ONE THING from which everything else descends and on which everything else depends is LOVE.
  • What are the last words you want to hear before dying, and/or the first words you want to hear after dying? They are the same. I would love to hear the words: “Well done” on both ends… with maybe the phrase, “… good and faithful servant” added to the post-mortem pronouncement.

My nominees:

1.) Weekly Devotion (https://weeklydevotion.com)

2.) Pedantry.com (https://wibble.blog)

3.) Destination Humanity (https://destinationhumanity.com)

4.) Jesusocial (https://jesussocial.wordpress.com)

5.) Defining Yellow (https://definingyellow.com)

6.) Swerve Strikes Again (https://swervestrikesback.wordpress.com)

 

The Questions for you:

  • Other than where you live right now, where else on earth would you choose to live if you could?
  • What person currently living has had the most profound influence on your life? Why?
  • Why do you blog?
  • Dogs? Cats? Something else? Why?
  • What do you believe happens when we die?
10
May
18

Forgive them Father, For They Have Spinned

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:12, NRSV

way-forward-commission-2017-cob-umcom-cropped-623x388Sometimes, my wife really knows how to push my buttons.

When she wants to effectively get under my skin, she calls me SpinMaster. And no, it is not due to my prowess on the stationary bicycle. It is a rather non-flattering reference to my pre-ministry professional life in the field of public relations.

I earn the SpinMaster nickname anytime she suspects I am giving an overly rosy – and misleading – slant on domestic events.

Which is exactly why “SpinMasters” was the first word that came to mind as I read the recommendation the Council of Bishops is taking to the Commission on the Way Forward for the resolution of our denomination’s ancient impasse on human sexuality.

They named their proposal the “One Church Plan.” And when I read the first two words of that title, my immediate reaction is, “What’s not to like about that? We all want to be one church, don’t we?”

Then as I read the details of their recommendation, I realized that title represented a clear case of episcopal spin… concealing the reality of a global denomination willing to engage in a cowardly desertion of a historic opportunity to stand for justice in favor of structural unity.

In another demonstration of the fine art of spin, the plan favored by the Council of Bishops defends its choice, saying that it allows the United Methodist Church to proceed, “… with as much contextual differentiation as possible and as much unity as possible.”

On that, I have to call bullshit.

In this instance, the phrase “contextual differentiation” is merely one more attempt to put rosy red lipstick on a dirty pig. It attempts to disguise the idea that individual churches or annual conferences (our geographical areas) will be able to vote to continue discounting the humanity of LGBTQ+ United Methodists.

The Bishops defend “One Church” by saying that it honors traditional orthodoxy while allowing for “new understandings” of human sexuality.

Here is the 411: “traditional orthodoxy” – i.e., the scriptural warrants against same-sex relationships, codified into the current United Methodist Book of Discipline with the phrase, “… the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching…” (paragraph 304.3, 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline)– is both bigoted and wrong. It is EXACTLY the same statement as if the Discipline read, “… the practice of being an African-American is incompatible with Christian teaching,” or, “… the practice of being a woman is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It is a case of elevating a narrow, culture-bound interpretation of scripture to the status of canon law. Except that United Methodists don’t have such a thing as “canon law.” But you get the point…

If my church goes down the path of allowing individual congregations (or conferences) to hold an up-or-down vote on whether to be inclusive and welcoming or not, it might as well just say, “As a church, we’re really not sure whether it’s OK to discriminate against people over a God-given characteristic, so we’re going to let each church decide on its own.”

This would be exactly the same statement as the one made by President Trump after last year’s Charlottesville, VA protests when he said, “… there are good people on both sides.”

NEWS FLASH, Bishops: Bigotry is NEVER good or acceptable, no matter how you spin it.

But wait! There’s more! Besides the incredible moral cowardice demonstrated by this Plan, those of us who pastor local congregations must now look forward to that day when we ask our church to assemble and vote… “Are we going to be a ‘thumbs up to gays’ church, or a ‘thumbs down to gays’ church?”

And then what if it is a 51-49 vote? Or even a 60-40 or 70-30 vote? Will 30 percent of the people – whichever side that is – have to just pick up and leave that church?

And then what if they DON’T leave?

And what about the pastor? If I happen to stand on the opposite side of the question from the “winning” side of that vote, how can I possibly stay and authentically minister to the flock that remains?

Our Episcopalian, our Lutheran, and our Presbyterian cousins have each grappled with this question in their recent histories. Each of their “Council of Bishops” equivalent knew that there was no happy “middle path” that would allow them to remain intact. Each knew that global unity of the denomination was at risk no matter which decision they took.

And yet…  they each decided to stand firmly on the side of justice. They decided to include rather than exclude.

Yes, they each paid a heavy price for that decision in terms of lost members and lost revenue.

But no one ever said standing on the side of justice was easy or cost-free.

Just ask Jesus.

07
May
18

More than skin deep

Tat photo 1“Hey… is that a tattoo?”

The question caught me off guard for a moment. I was sitting there in my car, arm extended, offering my credit card to the woman in the cute little tollbooth there at the front end of the car wash.

“Why yes… yes, it is,” I answered, finally remembering I did, in fact, have a tattoo on my left forearm.

Even though she didn’t ask me to, I went on to elaborate: “You probably can’t see it from your angle, but these are my father’s initials… a lower case “g” and a lower case “b” connected together, with a cross there at the top.”

Glancing in my rearview mirror to verify that there really weren’t too many folks in line behind me, I elaborated on my elaboration… “This is in memory of my dad. His name is Dads logoGeorge Brown and he was a pastor… so we added the cross on top there.”

“Very nice,” she said with a smile as she handed me my credit card receipt. “Sign here.”

Had I been the only one in line at that moment I would have gone on to explain that dad died last year… two days after his 90thbirthday. I would have added that my four siblings and I all got this identical tattoo less than a month before his death and were able to assemble at his bedside there in Everett, Washington and show him what we had done.

I would have also told her that at the moment of the Big Reveal, my ever-eloquent younger brother said something touching like, “Dad, throughout your life, you have made a permanent impression on each of us, so we decided to make another permanent impression as a way of honoring and remembering you.”

I would have told her that we then each shed a tear and hugged him close.Family photo with dad

I would have also gone on to explain that the tattoo is on my left, inside forearm because that is the same side as my heart. It is also there so that I can look down and see it clearly when I am trying to play something on the guitar.

After all, my dad is the one who first inspired my love of music.

Back when I was a young man in my late 50s, I said somewhat whimsically one day, “You know… when I turn 60, I’m going to get a tattoo.”

Of what I had no idea. But I knew it had to be something significant… meaningful… thought-provoking.

That birthday came and went and I remained inkless. I am sure that was mostly because my tattoo had not yet revealed itself to me. But I knew one day it would.

So I waited.

I have to admit; until this moment of inspiration came, I really didn’t “get” tattoos. I was not necessarily opposed to them. In fact, I am the guy who would regularly comment on the ink of the person in front of me in the grocery checkout line.

It was just that I could never “do the math” required to fathom why a person would endure the pain and expense involved to put permanent artwork on their skin.

But then the car wash cashier helped me see how my tattoo could be a portal…

… to a deeper meaning,

… to a cherished memory,

… to an opportunity to connect with a stranger.

And while my study of Christian scripture fails to turn up any evidence of Jesus having any ink (WWJT?), or any policy on those who do, he DOES regularly seem to reveal himself as a fan of things like LOVE, deep meaning, and connection with others.

So… what do you think?

  • Are you tattooed? If so, what themes/images are most important to you?
  • Are you opposed to tattoos? Why?
  • If you do not have one today, do you think you might ever? Why or why not?
  • If not via the tattoo route, what will you do today to promote meaning, memory, and connection in your life?



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