Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Scilence - a poem


Silence.

A pause between words.

A rest between notes.

A reprieve while the noise of life goes on.



Silence.

The punctuation of life stories.

The time taken to step aside.

The healing between wars of life.



Silence.

Not empty and void, but rich and fertile.

Absorbing the noise around, and giving it time to be heard.

Life is experienced in noise, but understood…



In Silence.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sacred Silence


   And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. – 1 Kings 19:11-12 (ESV)

     “Hello Darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. Because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping. And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sounds of silence. – Paul Simon

    “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses. And He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” - C. Austin Miles



     I’ve just returned from a wonderful time at Camp Bluebird, a twice a year camp for cancer survivors, and the gathering place of some of my dearest friends. There are quite a few activities at camp to keep our pandemonium to a minimum, and on Friday afternoon, I attended a Journaling Workshop. One of the prompts given us had to do with silence, and this prompted the following line from me – “Life is experienced in noise, but understood in silence”. (I know, sometimes I get so deep even I don’t get it!) In this case though, the saying rang true for me, and especially true here at camp. Life is messy, and loud, and exhausting, and confusing, and frustrating, but there for one weekend is peace, silence of life’s distractions, rest. And even if understanding may not be there, the ability to deal with life is a little better at least.

     There is rest in silence. God speaks to us in the silence. He waits for us to push aside the noise and clutter, to rest and listen. He set aside the Sabbath, not because His ego needed it, but to give us the rest He knew WE needed. He begs us to rest. In Matthew 11:28 “Come to me all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

     For a lot of us, silence can be scary. We run from it, trying to avoid dealing with the issues around us, or in us. Truth is, the only way there is healing from the noise around is by going into the silence. We have to stop, rest, and let God speak. In the Quaker tradition, the common practice is to sit in a circle, and rather than having a speaker, to wait until God calls someone to speak. This would put a LOT of pastors out of business. The way I grew up, if there was silence in the Worship Service for more than 5 seconds, somebody forgot something!

     I would encourage you to try this simple exercise. Take some time to be in the silence, away from the noise of the day. Just find a nice, quiet spot, with no distractions, rest and let God speak. Even if you don’t hear Him, rest in knowing He is there. Rest in knowing He loves you completely, eternally. For some this may be difficult, often myself included. Let me give you a scripture, a prompt if you will, to help. Take Psalm 121:1-2.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

     Now don’t just keep repeating it over and over, that’s work not rest. Let the words into your heart and dwell on them. Healing will come. Amen

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Book of Naomi


Merry Christmas! What, too soon? Oh, well…

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s told in the Book of Ruth, but I really think it should be called the Book of Naomi. We don’t often think about her, but she is the one central to this story. She begins it, influences it all the way through, and ends it. So why is Naomi so important? We’ll get to that. Let’s begin.

There was a famine in Judah, so Elemelech and his wife Naomi, travel to Moab with their two sons – Mahlan and Chilion. The Bible doesn’t specify how long they were there, but at some point, Elemelech dies, their sons take wives, Ruth and Orpah (NOT Oprah!), then the sons die as well, without having children.

As it will, life got very tough on these three widows, and Naomi heard the famine was now over in Judah. She decided to return to Judah, but told her daughter-in-laws to stay, since their families were both from Moab. Orpah cried, and begged, and cried again, but eventually hugs and kisses were passed all around, and she went back to her parent’s home. Ruth, however would not leave Naomi’s side, telling her “Where you go, I’m going. Where you stay, I’ll stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” Pretty strong words. So the two travel back to their home. Bethlehem, in Judea.

Once there, Ruth decides to help her mother-in-law out by going to work and harvest in the fields. There was a Jewish law that land owners had to leave a portion of their fields available for immigrants, widows and orphans, so that they could fend for themselves. One of the fields Ruth worked in was owned by Boaz, who just happened to be a kinsman of Elemelech. When Boaz sees her, and find’s out she’s kin, he tells her don’t harvest anywhere else, just there. Go with his servant girls, and harvest with them.

This is where Naomi gets involved again.  (Just like a mother-in-law, right?) Ruth comes back and tells Naomi what happened. Naomi, knowing Boaz is a kinsman, tells Ruth to listen to Boaz, and he’ll take care of her. In the meantime, Boas has told his men to leave her alone. Not only that, but to make sure and leave extra where it would be easy to gather.

Ruth comes home the next day with even more that the first day. She was even allowed to eat with Boaz and his workers, and bring home a doggie bag for Naomi. At this point, Naomi knows there’s an attraction between Boaz and Ruth. So she tells Ruth, “Ok, tomorrow night, after he’s eaten and made merry (read drunk), go to where he’s sleeping, uncover his feet, and lay down there. When he wakes up, you just do whatever he tells you to do.” She may have been thinking a little “Bow-chica-wow-wow” would occur, since Lot’s daughters did the same thing to him to have a child. (Genesis 19: 30-38) Ruth though wasn’t quite of the same thought. More like BeyoncĂ©’ “Betta put a ring on it”!

Being the type of man her was, Boaz thought the same way, because of how honorable Ruth had acted. He proposed to her, and as kinsman would redeem her, and the line of Elemelech would be restored. Here’s where a wrinkle came in.

You see, in Jewish law, if a man died and left no offspring, it was up to the next of kin to step in for the deceased and forward the lineage, so to speak.  (Deut. 25:5-6) The trouble was, Boaz was NOT the next of kin, so he didn’t have the right to propose. That belonged to another man in the village. So he arranged to meet the close kin the next day in the marketplace. (I love this next part!)

So, they meet up at Starbucks or someplace like the next day and Boaz says “Hey cuz! You remember Elemelech, right? Well, I found out about a parcel of land of his, but since you’re closer kin, I wanted to offer it to you first.” Well, the cuz says sure, I’ll take the land. The Boaz suddenly remembers “Oh, by the way, you also have to marry Ruth, his daughter-in-law, and have a child with her.” (Imagine dead silence here.) Well, cousin had kids of his own, and that would have interfered with their own inheritance, so he said “No thanks, cuz, all yours!” Now that’s the way to do a deal!

That’s pretty much it. Boaz marries Ruth, they have a son, Obed, Naomi gets a grandbaby, and all ends happily ever after.

So why is Naomi so important? Because of that baby boy. At the end of the story, Boaz and Ruth give Obed over to Naomi to nurse and raise. You know she loved that! It got to where the women of the village would say “Naomi has a son!” How many of you grandmothers have been accused of the same thing?? Come on, now.

Well, Obed stayed in Bethlehem and eventually had a son, Jessie. Jessie grew up and had several fine sons and daughters, including one shepherd boy, David. You begin to see the line here? David had sons, they had sons, and so on, and so on, until one upstanding son, Joseph, became the earthly father to Jesus.

Here’s where Naomi comes in. Remember that law of “kinship redeemer” in Deuteronomy? By that law, Obed became legally the offspring of Elemelech, as his own sons had died without issue. This established Obed as a citizen of Bethlehem, and a full member of the tribe of Judah. (Remember, Ruth was from Moab, and would not have had that distinction.)

So, when we say Christ was from Bethlehem - that was Naomi.

So when we say Christ was of the tribe of Judah - that was Naomi.

When the line is drawn from God to Adam to Abraham to David to Christ – that was Naomi. The lineage of the promise of God for the savior of mankind was secured by – Naomi. Not bad for the mother-in-law in the story.

So Naomi, I want to give you the recognition you deserve. You’re welcome.

Oh, and…Merry Christmas.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Colorectal Ditties


This past Sunday, June 3rd, was cancer survivor day. I am happy to be a 10 year survivor of colorectal cancer myself. Being a survivor though is not without its own set of experiences. Often the price of living, is living with a brand new “normal”, one that others don’t see. For those times though, even when things are going really tough, I like to try and laugh at the experience. Not because it is funny in itself, but because to laugh at something takes away its power over you. Other than love, there is no greater power that humans can wield.

In that vein, the following little ditties are for those like myself that are rectally challenged. I give the artist’s names first, not so much to hear the tune, but to apologize to them for what I did to it!

(Gene Autry)

Back to the bathroom again, white porcelain is my friend.

Don’t know when it will come, when it does I have to run

Back to the bathroom again.



(Ray Stevens)

Oh yes, they call it the Streak. I feel a wet spot on my seat.

When I remove my underwear, see the lines showing there,

I know that something has seeped.



(Statler Brothers)

Counting flowers on the wall, while I’m sitting in the stall.

Playing Solitaire till one, on a Galaxy Samsung.

Downloading Stranger Things and watching Season Two

Now don’t tell me, I’ve nothing to do.



(Tennessee Ernie Ford)

You dump Sixteen Tons, what do you get? A butt that’s sore and a seat that’s wet.

You think that it’s over, you get up to go,

Then another load comes and she’s ready to blow!

(Johnny Cash/Sons of the Pioneers)

I see the toilet paper roll, it’s down to just one sheet.

And all the backup paper rolls are just beyond my reach.

I should have changed it out but I just didn’t take the time.

So I’ll sit here till my legs go numb, and I can’t feel my behind.

Yippie-Ky-Yay! Yippie-Ky-Yo!

Where is my be-hind??



Have a laugh today!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Amens

Some of you know that I occasionally will write a poem or a short story. The stories range from somewhat funny to horror (I call it taking the demons out for a stroll) or everything in between. This one falls under the unusual category, much like me! Please enjoy.

Amens by Mark D. Mills
John stood in the doorway of 317 Lockwood Street. He hesitated, took a deep, if nervous breath, and knocked. He stood there for a few seconds, wondering if he might get a pass on this one, then he heard sounds coming from inside. The door opened, and the smell of B.O., early morning beer and cigarette smoke hit John immediately, exploding on him in waves. Before John stood a huge bulk of a man; hair unkempt, face unshaven, and shirtless. The hair on his body, however, more than compensated for any immodesty. Being the type of man to use words frugally (if at all), he simply glared down at John and grunted out “What?”
“Um, yes…” said John. “My name is John Till, and I have a matter to discuss with Mrs. Mary Collen if I may. Is she in, please?”
The human barricade obviously didn’t think much of John, and less of his request. “What you want with Mary? I’m her husband, you can deal with me.” Even as he said this, John heard the implied threat. Still, he had a job to do.
“This is rather personal sir, just concerning Mrs. Collen. I’m here to make amends.”
“Amens? What are you, some kinda preacher?”
“No sir, not at all. Making amends is to try and make right something you’ve done in your past. At the very least, to apologize. May I see her, please?”
The Bulk seemed to be considering it. John thought it was more exertion than he had put out for a while. Finally, the Bulk said, “Sure, preacher, come in. But don’t try anything, or I’ll break you like a twig.” John had no doubt he could keep that threat. “Mary, some guy to see you! Get out here, now!”
From the kitchen stepped a young women carrying a small child on her hip. While still young, she was aged well beyond her years. She looked confusedly at John, then at her husband, not knowing who John was at all. The bulk was walking out of the room. “And hurry up, it’s almost lunch time.” No need to imply the threat this time, it was understood.
“Well, come on in here, Mr….?”
“John Till. No reason you should know that, Mary. I’m afraid I’ve startled you, though, and that is not my intent.”
Mary was more confused than ever. “Ok…well, come on into the living room and we’ll sit down. Oh, can I get you something to drink, Mr. Till?”
“John, please. And a glass of sweet tea would be just fine, thank you.”
Mary set the child in his bouncy chair by the couch, and went into the kitchen for the tea. John looked at the child and smiled. “I hope this helps you, little one. Maybe this will break the chain.”
Mary came back into the living room, and sat the tea in front of John. “Well, I don’t know what you want with me, but I’ll tell you right now if you’re selling something, we’re not buying so don’t waste your time.”
John smiled. He’d heard this same line now several times, and it never lost its sense of irony. “I’m not selling anything, Mary. You might say I’m giving instead. You see, I’m here to make amends for something I did that’s impacted your life. Ask forgiveness, and try to make it right.”
“I’m sorry,Mr….uh, John…I don’t know you, so I don’t know what you could have done that matters to me.”
John took a sip of his tea. There was never a problem he ever had that sweet iced tea couldn’t calm him down, and help him think. It was his elixir.
“What I did, Mary, was years ago. You see, I’m much older than I look. What happened was to your father-in-law, not the man you know, but your husband Charlie’s biological father.”
Mary started. “How would you know him? He died years ago, when Charlie was just 13.”
“Yes, committed suicide, actually. And it was my actions that drove him to it. We were in business together, until I grew to where I thought I couldn’t trust him. Truth is, I grew greedy, and I didn’t trust anyone. I got him kicked out of the company, and took over his assets. He was always a bit mean spirited, but it became more and more so, until he couldn’t even live with himself. That was the reason for his suicide, but it didn’t happen before he transferred his anger with me on the world, and especially, Charlie.”
“I know you felt pity for Charlie when you met him, and eventually even loved him. But Charlie’s hurts were not yours to heal, and his actions he must deal with on his own as well. The reason I’m here is because Charlie’s actions toward you are a result of his father’s actions toward him, and those actions are a direct result of my doing. My first question is…can you forgive me?”
Mary sat stunned. She would love to think this guy was just nuts, but he had so much detail that it frightened her a little. Best to get him out as quick as possible. “Sure, OK, I forgive you if that’s what you need. Now I really got to get to Charlie’s lunch.”
John smiled again. “That’s only half the equation to amending, Mary. Now I need to do something to make that wrong into a right. I know that you worry for yourself, but even more so for your child. Am I correct in saying that money is what keeps you here?”
This was starting to get a little too personal for Mary. “First off, that’s none of your business. Second off, you can look around here and tell there isn’t any money. So unless you’ve got a check there in your pocket, I think you better leave.”
John stood up. Everything was going as expected, and he didn’t need to be here much longer. “Mary, I don’t have a check, but I believe I have something better.” He pulled a piece of paper from his pants pocket. “The top number there is of a personal account I have set up in the Cayman’s, and the bottom number is a direct line to the bank’s director. He knows to be expecting your call. As soon as you do, that money will be transferred to a separate account in your name, to do with as you wish. If you do not call within 7 days of today’s date, it will be divided between several charities that have been chosen beforehand. Again, you may do as you wish, but I believe you would choose a better life for you and your child than my actions have caused so far.”
Mary stood and took the paper. This can’t be true, and yet, she wanted it to be. Mary asked “If I did call, how much are we looking at here? One Thousand? Fifteen Hundred?”
John started heading back to the front door. “I’m not really sure anymore. It has grown some since I set it up. I believe the last time I checked it was in the region of 8 figures, but it may have increased. Good day, Mary, and thank you for accepting my amends.”
John took a look back as he exited onto the front porch. She was still staring at the paper when John heard Charlie shout “Mary, where’s my lunch?” She looked back at the paper, stuffed it into her pants pocket, and went to the kitchen. “Coming, Charlie!”
She would call. John could feel it. And she and the child would break the cycle that had drawn them down for so long. Now there was just one stop left, and this was the hardest one of all.
John went to almost the edge of town, to an old, overgrown field. There had once been a fence surrounding the property, but it had long since fallen into disrepair, now with big gaping spaces allowing access to anyone or anything. John stepped gingerly over the fence, and walked to the middle of the field, stopping by a large willow tree. He had always loved willows. They were so beautiful, but also so sad. Kind of like himself. So many things were going through his mind. There were so many wrongs, there was so much unkindness, so much hate. All without reason. But the hate was gone now. The wrongs had been set right. There was only one thing left, and that was here. John choked up just a little, and whispered “I forgive you.”
The part of the field where John ended up was quite secluded, but if someone had been watching, they would have been surprised. The wind, very calm all day, began to softly move the branches on the willow tree. Next, the man (or was it a shadow) that had been standing there seemed to change shape, as if blowing back and forth with the wind. Then, the sun must have come in from behind a cloud, because there was now nothing there beneath the tree but a simple stone that read:
John Till
1948-2010

Influences


I recently did a challenge on Facebook to name 10 albums that have been an influence on me. As I think back on it, I realize these albums influenced my music, but not necessarily me. I can point to many people and things that have influenced me (yeah, I’m gullible that way) but it’s hard to nail down the how and harder the why. I’m going to try to acknowledge at least some of the people that have. The main problem with that is that every person that comes into your life has made some influence, one way or another. There is no way to give credit to everyone. (Kind of like Oscar Night – you know?) So I’m just going to hit on a few.

One of the earliest religious influences I had, other than my parents, was the pastor at St. John’s UMC (then just Methodist – didn’t go United till 1968. Happy 50th!), Rev. Oscar Smith. (See what I did with Oscar Night there?) He was very personable. He and my dad would go hunting together. His wife and my mom were good friends (and shared the name Leona-her first, mom’s middle). His daughter was only a year or two older than me. I probably spent as much time there as I did at my own house (we were just down the street). I’d spend summer climbing their willow tree and swimming, winter sledding down the best hill in the neighborhood. We would start at the top of the church parking lot, and end up two houses past theirs!

Oscar was also a Shriner clown. I think that’s something I remember better than anything. Because his attitude was one of joy. Going to church wasn’t fearful, or bombastic, or even dull. The Joy of the Lord was his strength, and it showed in the service. Not irreverent, although I wouldn’t have known that at the time, but joyful…fun. Oscar was a man who lived a joyful AND a Godly life, and it came out in everything he did.

I think that’s one of the reasons I place so much emphasis on Love in what I say and write. We have churches that decry the sin in the world (and that should be done!) but in so doing they also launch an attack on those who are sinning. There is a fine line here, between condemning the sin and condemning the sinner. One is allowed and expected of us, the other the province of God alone. That is the difference between in the world, but not of it. Ours is to love every person, regardless, even our enemies. We are given no other option there. And an atmosphere of Love is best grown in an atmosphere of Joy.

Think for just a bit. Does anything in your beliefs allow you to look down on or judge another person? (Not their actions, but the person themselves.) Think hard on this. Hate doesn’t always show itself in broad, Dr. Evil kind of ways. Usually, hate is very subtle. It can be is the casual off-hand comment, the condescending eye roll, the self-righteous smirk. Think “Bless their hearts”. (You in the South know what I mean!) It can be anything that allows us to consider ourselves better than any other person in our own eyes. In God’s eyes, we are all the same. We are ALL His children. We are ALL sinners. Being in that same boat does not allow us the freedom or capacity to judge any other human being. Only God can see the heart, and only God is allowed to judge. And thank God, that judgment is tempered by His Mercy and Grace. Otherwise, we would ALL be TOAST! Remember that, and always try to share God’s Love which He gives in abundance, rather than God’s wrath, which we have no right to.

Anyway, to Oscar Smith, thank you.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

58 Trips Around The Sun


This past week I spent about 20 minutes on the Interstate behind one specific truck. No room to pass him, just stuck there. On the back of the truck was the logo for the company that owned it. It was a tree in a beautifully manicured plot of land. The truck was owned by a casket company! In my mind I thought “Fitting. We’re all just chasing our caskets to the grave. Might as well follow them on the Interstate too!”

58 years is a long time on this earth, although it’s not as long as it used to be. Still, I’ve developed my beliefs, my way of thinking, to the point that I don’t need to apologize if someone believes or thinks differently. I’ve done that, a lot. And at 58, no more. I will no longer apologize for thinking or believing differently. While I will honor anyone’s basic right to believe or feel what they wish (no matter how wrong they are-I’m always right, right?), I’ll stand firm on my own unless persuaded otherwise by logical argument. (Then again, if it’s based on MY logic…well you get the picture!)

I remember, when I was directing, getting the chance to have my old piano teacher to play for me. We were “discussing” a particular song that I wanted to do one way, and she kept playing differently. Finally, she said, “Mark, I’m old enough to play this my way. If you don’t like it, I don’t have to play!” Needless to say, she played it her way!

We spend a lot of time as Christians, it seems, apologizing as well. Sometimes, we should. When things we do are fueled by hate, or oppression, or anything other than Love, then we should not only apologize to the person hurt, but to God for being so far out of His will. This happens WAY too often. But we should never be ashamed to stand up for our faith. Never be ashamed to do what is right in God’s eyes. Never be afraid to live our lives so that we are a “light of the world.”

“You are a light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” Matt. 5:14-16

You see, our job is not to condemn, only God is allowed to judge, or exact revenge. (Matt. 7:1-2) (Rom. 12:19-21) Our job isn’t even to convert, only God can give salvation, God alone. (Eph. 2:8-9) Our task is live so that we are a beacon for others to see what God can do for us, and to us, warts and all. To show how much He loves and cares for not just us, but all men and women everywhere. (John 3:16-17 – yeah you know it, but read it anyway!) We who know His light must walk in that light, so that His light can shine for others. There is a difference between being a light and being a flame thrower. When our actions are fueled by fear, or hate or even just a sense of “judgementalism”, we cover God’s light, put it under a basket, and no one can be drawn to Him. No one can know the inexpressible beauty of His love, His joy, His peace, His security. And that would be the greatest tragedy of all. If our religion were to stand in the way of His salvation.

Back to the casket. We are only given a short time here on earth. I resolve to stand firm in what I believe, and not apologize. I resolve to try to love others as unconditionally as I can, so that God’s love can be seen. I resolve to leave judgement to God, so that He can show compassion, just like He did for me. I will not apologize for loving others as I love myself, and am loved by Him. Call me a stubborn old man (you’d by right!), but as a dear pastor friend once said “There it is if you like it. There it is if you don’t. Anyway, there it is!” (Thanks, Bro. Rock Hardaway – miss you!)

Love.