Archive Page 2

11
Jun
18

INDIVISIBLE

Indivisible banner artAll that hard work for the last three months… and suddenly POOF! it’s done.

As I write this, I have just finished singing with the Heartland Men’s Chorus in a concert called, “INDIVISIBLE: Songs of Remembrance and Resistance.”The weekend included one Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon performance at the Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

The concert consisted of two halves: the first half featured the world premiere of a series of songs telling the story of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. As you may or may not be aware, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Washington, D.C. in March 1921 to the memory of those who died in that First World War without ever being recognized or identified. This piece of music was written because this year – 2018 – marks the 100thanniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.WETU photo 1

As we rehearsed this moving and powerful music over the past three months, members of the chorus had an opportunity to talk with a soldier who actually served as one of the guards (they call themselves “sentinels”) at the Tomb.  His testimony of standing by that tomb in the darkness of early dawn with no visitors around was very poignant.  The special bond he said he felt with that soldier who served, fought, and died, all without any kind of recognition touched each of the Chorus members deeply.

The half of the concert was the Songs of Remembrance part. Members of the Soldier’s Chorus of the U.S. Army Choir sang the oratorio with us.

The second half of the concert was the Songs of Resistance segment. It included an ensemble singing Michael Jackson’s hit, Man in the Mirror. We also performed a recently written piece called This Grass, recounting the recent controversies in Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere over the removal of statues dedicated to soldiers of the Confederate army.

But the most difficult piece – both to perform and to listen to – was a number called The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.  In an incredibly creative and provocative arrangement, the verbatim last words of African-American men killed by police officers since 1999 were set to music. There was Trayvon Martin’s voice saying, “What are you following me for?”,Michael Brown pleading, “I don’t have a gun! Stop shooting!”,Eric Garner gasping for breath, pleadingly saying, “I can’t breathe!” and four others.

WETU photo 2The one that I always struggled to sing without openly sobbing was the part of Amadou Diallo. When he was shot and killed in February 1999 in New York City, his last words were, “Mom, I’m going to college.”

It was an incredible concert to be in and – according to my wife – to watch. I loved the music… I loved the staging… I loved the emotion it generated… but what I probably loved most was the title: INDIVISIBLE.

This single word speaks Truth and fills me with hope. It boldly declares that we cannot be divided… despite the best efforts of some to divide and isolate on the basis of color, gender, sexuality, or any other criteria. It speaks of a strong, deep bond in the core of our souls. It defiantly raises a fist and says a loud “NO!” to the forces working actively to pull people apart because of their differences.

And even though it involved three months of damned hard work to learn this music and commit it to memory, I am really sorry to see it end. I wish we could sing this concert in every city in every state. I want to remind TONS MORE folks that our differences are the MORTAR that holds the bricks of our country together… it isn’t some kind of menace or aberration. From the earliest days, we have always understood that the strength of our country is our diversity.

Fortunately, for folks in the Kansas City area, our local ABC television affiliate, KMBC, produced and will air a special documentary on the making of the concert. You can see it on June 20 at 9:00 p.m.

For everyone else I would just ask: take that word – INDIVISIBLE– grab it with both hands… hold it tightly to your chest… let it fill your heart with courage and your spine with steel.

It really is who we are.

05
Jun
18

Be Like Rosie

Rosie mopingMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our nearly eight-month-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

And yes, it is perfectly OK for you to say what you’re thinking right now: she IS, in fact, the cutest dog in the world.

Rosie is very high-spirited and energetic… which is exactly why we chose the name, Rosie. Think of it for a minute: every human named Rosie I have ever known has been spunky, high-spirited, and energetic… for example,

  • Rosie the Riveter
  • Rosie O’Donnell
  • Rosie Perez, just to name a few.

Rosie under chairRosie came to us in early December and is the first dog my wife and I have raised from the puppy stage. I will admit to being more than a bit nervous whether I was up to the task, or how badly we might scar her. But I have to give her credit; Rosie has responded remarkably well to our admittedly erratic efforts at training during this past six months.

And so it was with no small degree of surprise when I was struck earlier today with this sudden realization: as much effort as Joan and I have spent training Rosie, it seems that all this time Rosie has also been working on training US.

I am not sure how many of her lessons we have mastered yet, but here are some of the things I believe she has been trying to teach us since December:

  • THE VALUE OF SPONTANEOUS PLAY. For Rosie, there seems to be no time and no place that is not PERFECT for breaking into a rousing game of “fetch the tennis ball,” or “tug the squeaky toy,” or “chase me around the living room with your shoe in my mouth.” I believe she wants us to know that play can happen ANYWHERE, under any circumstance. She has probably observed that Joan and I seem to spend a lot of time with our heads burrowed into our laptops, or the morning paper, or engaged in somber-toned conversations with one another and wants to shake things up a bit. Even now as I write these words she is eagerly baiting me with a bit of knotted rope she likes to tug.
  • NAPS ARE GOOD… OH SO GOOD. The only thing Rosie does better than eating or playing is napping. She can nap anytime, anywhere, in fair weather or foul, at home or on the road. Her favorite places to nap are tile or marble floors where it is nice and cool. But when push comes to shove, she will nap on any available surface.
  • AN UNABASHED LOVE OF NATURE. It does not matter how long or short the walk is, whether it is raining, snowing or bright and sunny if Rosie wants to stop and sniff a flower, she stops. And sniffs. And sniffs some more. She is also now strong enough to resist my tugging at the leash when I decide she has taken enough time with THAT flower and it is now time to move on. Rosie appears to believe that each flower was carefully crafted by its Creator and deserves her reverent attention.
  • LIMITED SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT. It may be that – as a dog – Rosie lacks the necessary opposable thumbs, or intellectual bandwidth to know how social media forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat work. Or it may be that by eschewing them she is trying to help us see the potential of these applications for the stunting of rich, authentic, and complex relationships with others.

    But I trust Rosie and know she is a lot brighter than she seems. So I am going to go with the latter explanation.

There are certainly others, but I believe this one is Rosie’s most important lesson:

  • UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Of course, Rosie loves Joan and me, her human caretakers, without pretense or condition. But every time we have guests over, or just happen to pass another person on the walking trail, she is absolutely DELIGHTED to see them! Even if she has never met them! She bounces up and down on her hind legs as if to say, “Hi! How are you? It is SO GREAT to see you! Come pet me and play with me!” She shows no willingness to grasp the concept that some people are cranky or odd or even devious. She seems to want to teach us that every person God created (which is all of them) is each an AMAZING, WONDERFUL, UNIQUE creation, worthy of love and respect.

    In that sense, Rosie comes much closer to being an actual Jesus-follower than I am. And I’ve had many more years to work on it!

Needless to say, Rosie has done a LOT better job of learning the lessons we are teaching her than we have done at learning what she is trying to teach us.

Thankfully she is patient and understanding and willing to forgive our shortcomings. I just hope she understands when we gently – but firmly – refuse to learn about the fine art of sniffing other people’s butts.

Abundant blessings;

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?



Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blogs I Follow