Posts Tagged ‘community

23
Oct
19

GLOW

support groupMy wife GLOWs.

Every fourth Thursday of the month.

From 5:30 to 7:00.

And because she GLOWs, we glow (and grow) together as a family.

You see, GLOW is the name of the women’s cancer support group Joan attends at a nearby church. In an amazingly providential stroke, it turned out that there was a GLOW meeting last year on the exact same day she received her cancer diagnosis.

She has been going (and GLOWing) ever since.

GLOW is not necessarily a reference to the fact that many of the group’s members have undergone radiation therapy for their cancer. It is an acronym. It stands for God Loves Outrageous Women.

The GLOW Girls are indeed outrageous. Outrageously optimistic. They are also fierce. They are funny. They laugh together and they cry together. Sometimes they go to lunch together.

They also pray together. A LOT.

When the GLOW Girls gather on the fourth Thursday of the month, they share information with each other. For example, one woman got a lot of relief for the neuropathy in her feet from acupuncture. So she shared the name and phone number of her acupuncturist.

They share their joys, and much too regularly they share their sorrows.

I have never personally found myself on the receiving end of devastating news like a cancer diagnosis like Joan has. I have, however, gone through the devastation of a divorce. I have felt the anguish and soul-searching and the sting of a hundred “what ifs” that are all part of that terrible journey.

Divorce plunged me into moments of searing loneliness… a loneliness so deep I felt like I would never emerge from it.

And because of that experience, I also know what it feels like when someone extends a hand into that loneliness and says, “Hey there. I see you. I know what’s happening. I’ve been there.”

It felt a lot like what I imagine a drowning man might feel when grabbing hold of a life preserver.

At some point along the way, every one of us will have to travel through a dark valley. Those valleys will each be different and unique, but they will share some basic characteristics. They will frighten us, they will arouse anger, they will shake our faith to its core.

They will also try to isolate us and make us feel alone and defenseless.

When the time comes for your dark valley, I pray you will also be blessed by the gift of a supportive community… just like I found with my friend. Just like Joan has found with the GLOW Girls.

Honestly, though, communities can’t cure you. They can’t take your pain and fear away. They can’t magically change the dire nature of whatever it is you are facing.

But they can remind you that you are not alone. They can serve as a tangible, flesh-and-blood representation of the loving Creator who walks beside you through this dark moment.

They can help you laugh. They can help you cry. They can join you for lunch. They can recommend a good acupuncturist.

They can also help you carry your impossible burden, just like Paul tells us we are supposed to do: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).

 

… and they just might help you glow a little when things get really dark.

14
Jun
19

Coming Out

hmc_full-color-portfolio-image_585x400I like to sing.

Correction; I absolutely LOVE to sing.

And so it was with real joy and excitement that I accepted my friend’s invitation three years ago to audition for a group called the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC). My friend had just been hired as the new artistic director of HMC. He knew of my love of singing from long-ago church connections and decided to reach out to me.

Heartland Men’s Chorus hails from Kansas City and is a civic singing group which has been in existence for 33 years. Oddly enough, the Chorus is made up almost entirely of males. I say almost because we admitted our first female member two years ago. 

HMC performs three concerts per season, including a Christmas program, a spring show, and a summer show. One of the three concerts is usually a “pops” concert of some kind while the other is often connected with a social justice cause.

An example of the latter was our spring 2017 concert titled “Indivisible… Songs of Resistance and Remembrance” which included the song, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This haunting piece took the actual recorded last words of seven unarmed black men shot by law enforcement officers (including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin) and set them to music.

Our concerts almost always include 13-14 intricate, beautiful, harmonious numbers, they last for over two hours with music that is 100 percent memorized. 

All the singers (except for the occasional professional “guest soloist”) are volunteers, yet prepare and perform like professionals. 

Oh… did I also mention that Heartland Men’s Chorus is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus? 

And even though I am a straight, middle-aged, married guy, they have welcomed me warmly.

It may have been that I imagined – when I first began singing with them – that the singers in the chorus would have a lot to gain by singing with me. I am, after all, a pastor, an open, progressive thinker, and a solid lower bass. 

Little did I suspect that it would instead be me who gained the most from our association.

For example, I gained a much greater appreciation of how to blend my voice with others. 

But I also gained an understanding of what it means to live a courageous life… daring to declare your true, God-given identity to the world knowing it might cost you friends, family, job, and even physical harm.

With the chorus I have gained an understanding of the correct way to shape different vowel sounds for maximum clarity.

But I also gained an understanding of the life-saving importance of having a safe, accepting community where people don’t have to guard every word, thought, and gesture.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus has taught me a valuable lesson about the level of work it takes to prepare a performance that people willingly pay hard-earned money to see.

But it has also taught me that a common mission can unify a group of people that once might have seemed impossibly disparate. 

We had an absolute BLAST preparing and singing last week’s concert: “Rock You… a Wild Ride  Through the Music of Queen.” The soloists were absolutely on point. The harmonies were tight and melodious. The backing band kicked serious booty.

But most of all, I was overjoyed to be able to be part of a group of people who had the courage to stand up in front of the world and say, “Check it out! This is who I AM! I am not ashamed of that and you will never convince me there is any reason I SHOULD BE ashamed.”

It is now up to me to continue to live that lesson in my everyday life.

29
Jan
19

You Belong

ice-cream-bikeThree doors down from the house I grew up in lived a family named the Thompsons.

There was Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson (that was back in the time when kids didn’t know adults’ first names) and their three sons.

If you were one of the kids who got invited to hang out at the Thompson house, you knew you had really MADE IT.

You see, the Thompson family was in the ice cream business. They maintained a fleet of those big three-wheeled bicycles that carried a big freezer in the middle and a line of jingly, chimey bells on the handlebar (see photo). And if you DID get invited to hang out at the Thompsons, you knew it meant unfettered access to free Creamsicles, Fudgesicles, Bomb Pops, ice cream sandwiches, and all manner of frozen confections.

And yes, I am proud to say that I was a regular guest at Chez Thompson. That is, right up until the day when I committed the cardinal sin of actually ASKING them if I could have a Fudgesicle. You see, Thompson house protocol dictated that while ice cream might be offered, it was never REQUESTED.

It was a moment that provided me with one of my earliest memories of how it feels to BELONG… and then – in the twinkling of an eye – to NOT belong anymore.

And although it would be a stretch to credit this insight to my experience with the Thompsons, it amazes me to this day how much of my life has been a search to BELONG.

People much smarter than me have recognized the need to BELONG as a universal human longing.

We want to feel a sense of belonging in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in formal and informal groups of every kind.

But I don’t know… do you think it’s possible to overemphasize belonging? Can we concentrate so much effort on where we “fit in” that we start to make belonging an end in itself?

History is replete with examples of the damage that is done when we start putting a lot of energy into trying to figure out who belongs and who doesn’t.

Taking a quick inventory of my own belonging, I have discovered that I am part of an uncomfortable number of DOMINANCE groups. Here is what I mean by that: I am white… I am male… I am a Baby Boomer… I am American… I am middle class… I am Christian… I am college-educated… I am straight… I am married… I am a homeowner… I am able-bodied and of (mostly) sound mind… I am an oldest child.

I could go on, but you get the point. If there is a group that has been granted privilege and position in today’s world, I belong to it. And for most of those groups I just listed, I did absolutely nothing to qualify for entrance.

I just showed up.

Which is why I just want to take a moment to appreciate the courage of people who – for one reason or another – often find themselves on the outside looking in.

 

I have never personally experienced having doors slammed in my face because of my skin color or my gender or my religion or my nationality or my sexual preference or my physical ableness. I cannot imagine the ongoing pain of regularly hearing – directly or indirectly – “Sorry… you just don’t belong here.”

As a pastor, I can console you with the reassurance that every person matters equally in the eyes of God. I can show you the places in the Bible where God tells the Israelites to welcome the alien and the stranger, or where Jesus goes out of his way to include people that everyone else turns their backs on.

Because it’s all true.

But I can’t help wondering if that reassurance helps at all.

Dear God, please grant these your comfort. Help them know the warmth of your loving embrace. Fortify them for the days ahead and let them experience the wideness of your welcome.

And maybe, while you’re at it, break open the hearts of the privileged just a little wider.

AMEN.

18
Sep
17

Try to Remember…

remember-clip-art“Sorry. I forgot.”

Boy… If I had a dollar for every time those words have come out of my mouth, I would have a LOT of money.

But then after I got that money, the challenge for me would be remembering where I put it!

It is a rather annoying part of my make-up I’ll admit. Forgetting can certainly increase friction on the home front – “Oh, sorry, honey… I forgot to ask her! Sorry, sweetheart! I forgot to bring that inside!” etc., etc.

Forgetting also increases gasoline expenditures… with all of that turning around and driving back to the store for those three things I forgot to buy.

And let’s not even start on the conversation about someone forgetting to renew his or her (actually, his) passport until TWO DAYS before a recent trip out of the country.

In my defense, I can say that I don’t discriminate in my forgetfulness. I forget big things, I forget small things; I forget things about people who are close to me, I forget things about casual acquaintances. I forget the names of black people, white people, gay people, straight people, American-born and non-American born people, Republicans and Democrats alike.

And this forgetting thing somehow doesn’t seem to DECREASE with the accumulation of birthday candles on my cake either… hard as that might be to believe.

It does trouble me, yes. It troubled me enough, in fact, to have some neurological tests done recently. (Weirdly, they came back saying my brain is perfectly OK.)

 But as troubling as MY forgetfulness is, I find myself significantly more worried about OUR forgetfulness. And by OUR, I mean humanity’s.

In the past thirty days we have experienced more than our fair share of calamitous events in this part of the world; two monster hurricanes that wreaked havoc and devastation… wildfires scorching thousands of acres of forest and destroying homes in the American west… and a giant earthquake just to our south in Mexico.

In every one of these situations, we saw incredible outpourings of heroic compassion. People who were complete strangers reached out to help their neighbors. I remember sitting in spellbound awe listening to a radio story about a man in Texas going from house to house to house in his bass boat helping people get to shelters, saving their pets, and delivering aid.

Money has been pouring into the American Red Cross and other assistance groups since even before the first hurricane hit. People in little churches and towns all around the country have been reaching out as if to say, “I may have never met them, but those are my brothers and sisters there in Texas and Florida and Oregon and Washington and Arizona whose lives are being torn apart by these disasters. I need to HELP!”

But then… Even before the waters have begun to recede… we forget.

  • We forget the humanity we share.
  • We forget the fragile nature of life on this planet.
  • We forget we live in a nation that once said we find “strength in diversity.”
  • We forget we are each made of the spiritual DNA of a loving, compassionate God.
  • We forget the “Love one another” commandment from John 15:5… or else we have edited it and added our own little caveat that says, “… but only in times of dire emergency.”
  • We forget the deep joy that comes from carrying our neighbor’s burden … and then also double forget Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” that is found in the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

diverse gatheringBut some things we remember all too well…

Sadly, we seem to remember to pick up the fears, prejudices, and mistrust of other people that we momentarily laid aside when the storms hit.

  • We “remember” the monumental importance of staking out our positions and platforms and defending them against all manner of heretical critique.
  • We remember who the “insiders” and the “outsiders” are and we rush to reinforce our walls of protection.

It’s funny; hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes seem to remind us who our neighbors are.

But guess what… they’re the same people when the sun is out and the day is calm!

Let’s try to remember that.

Abundant blessings;

04
Apr
17

Play Ball!

Play Ball imageAhhhhhhhh!

That sound you just heard is the same sound you hear when a thirsty, parched man is finally able to take a deep, satisfying drink of cold water.

It is also the sound I make – totally involuntarily – when the cold cruelty of winter sports finally fades away and BASEBALL SEASON returns to grace our land.

Because let’s be honest… the only thing sweeter than seeing green leaves budding on the trees is seeing the green grass of a baseball field come into view.

Believe it or not, some even describe the opening day of baseball season as something akin to a religious experience… a trip to the ballpark as a pilgrimage… the stadium itself as a CATHEDRAL!

But of course, those are the real die-hard baseball fanatics. Not the calm, reasonable people like you and me.

If you really pressed me hard though, I could probably come up with a few examples of things that America’s Pastime has in common with the faith we gather to practice in houses of worship all over the world. For example:

  • THREE! The number three is fundamental to baseball and faith. Of course, the Christian faith is based on the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (“… baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” 28:20, NRSV). Baseball is filled with threes: three strikes, three outs, three times three innings (or nine if you must), three times three players on the field, three bases (home is a PLATE), three outfield positions, and more.

  • TRADITION! Tradition is an essential part of both baseball and religion. A reverence for the practices and beliefs of the past is seen as integral to sound faith practice and sound baseball appreciation. (“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.” Psalm 119:33, NRSV). Change happens slowly in both baseball and faith matters. Meticulous records are kept in each, chronicling the important moments for future generations.
  • TIME! Other games are governed by a clock. They consist of 15 minute quarters, 20 minute halves or a 90 minute total limit. Not baseball. The passage of a baseball game depends on completing certain pre-determined tasks… not the ticking of a clock. In a similar way, the church has always been clear that time is marked differently in the realm of faith. Kairotic time in the church is defined as, “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” Or, in other words: God’s time. (“He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17, NRSV) And as we know… God’s time is not at all the same as human – or football – time.
  • FAITH AND HOPE! “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” is the way Yogi Berra – great Yankee catcher of the 1950s – used to say it. What Yogi meant was; until the very last out of the very last inning is recorded, there is always a chance for either team to win the game. Spectacular comebacks happen all the time in baseball. Just like in real life. Until any of us have breathed our last breath, there is always hope for us. (“Now faith is the conviction of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1, NRSV).

    And, as the Chicago Cubs demonstrated for the world last year, faith may take a long time to be rewarded, but it is never out of place.

  • COMMUNITY! When baseball season gets into full swing (and sometimes when it is not), you can travel around Kansas City and see people wearing their blue Royals hats and T-shirts… proud to cheer for our hometown team. And remember 2015… the year of the World Series championship? Whether or not you went down to Crown Center and squeezed in with 800,000 of your friends and neighbors, we all felt as if we BELONGED together. The same thing happens when we are part of a faith community. We each feel a kinship and a sense of belonging to something much larger than ourselves. (“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26, NRSV).
  • And after the disappointment of the Royals Opening Day loss to the Minnesota Twins, we are reminded of that other great commonality between baseball and faith: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get rained out. But regardless of what happened yesterday, we go forward with hope and expectation to the events of today.

Of course it goes without saying that there are some significant differences between baseball and faith… the biggest difference being that, as enjoyable as it is, baseball is a game played for our amusement: Faith is about life and death… and eternal life and eternal death.

In the end, I suppose you could say that the final parallel between baseball and faith is that both have the same ultimate objective: to make it HOME. SAFE.

Play ball!




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