Wednesday, November 22, 2017

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
 Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.
 Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever;
  the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever;

 the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,  for his steadfast love endures forever;
 and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 to him who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,for his steadfast love endures forever;
 but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever;

 to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 to him who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures forever;
and killed mighty kings, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 and Og, king of Bashan, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 and gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 a heritage to Israel his servant, for his steadfast love endures forever.

 It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever;
 he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.
 Give thanks to the God of heaven,for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Ballad of Buckeye and Studly

Christmas 1994. Just a few months before my wife-to-be and I were married. We were exchanging presents, as we normally did, with Sherrie and Eddie Johnson, our good friends and the parents of our godsons, Robbie and Terry. As I opened mine from Eddie, I was almost blinded by the bright, red tee-shirt. On the front, in all caps, was one word, "STUDLY". While I won't go into the full story behind that joke, gentle reader, we still laughed a long time about it afterward.

Fast Forward to February 1996, our first anniversary as husband and wife. We traveled to the Smokies with Sherrie and Eddie for a weekend away. One morning, we were walking along a short trail, when Eddie spotted something on the ground. He reached down, picked up a buckeye, and put it in my hand. He said it meant we would always be friends. I keep that buckeye stored away even now.

Eddie Johnson passed away this week after a long fight with a cancer he was told would take him over two years ago. He was a great father, grandfather, son, brother, friend. And true to his word, for 30 plus years, my friend. But he was so much more. He had the heart of an angel, and the mischievousness of an imp.There was nothing he wouldn't do for you, and do it right then, not  "at a later date". He was honest and straightforward with his opinions, and still could love you if he disagreed. When we learned he had passed, it felt like a piece of my heart was gone, and will go one empty from now on. But I'll remember you forever, my friend. That buckeye contract still stands.

Yours, Studly

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What is an American?

"n: a native of America" - Webster's New Dictionary c 1994

A rather concise description from Mr. Webster. It might even be expanded to include "a citizen, native or naturalized, of the United States of America", but somehow even this does not seem to be enough to answer the question "What is an American". My thoughts on this were stirred by a recent speech from former President George W. Bush I had liked on Facebook, and the following series of questions I received from a friend that deserved consideration. These thoughts, as always, are my own, and mostly harmless. 

Here is how our initial conversation went. My initial response to his question "What is an American" was the answer to that question was as diverse as every American themselves. He then asked if it was my understanding that being an American was to be divisive. Were there not some principles in being an American that were absolute, namely:
1. Support of the Constitution
2. Adherence to the laws of the land, and
3. Support of your country and its allies. (Just to name a few principles).

My initial answer was that I did not consider these items divisive, but within them was allowed diversity of thought, and this diversity was both the uniqueness and strength of America. (I might now add that it is a respect for that diversity that brings uniqueness and strength, something that seems to be rapidly disappearing in our culture, something else President Bush made reference to in his speech.)

As to the principles mentioned, and they are quite worthy, I believe they also point to my thoughts on diversity. Notice, I use the word diversity, not division. I believe there is a difference of attitude between those two similar words.

1. Support of the Constitution. Yes, this is an absolute. Yet, through its entire history, its interpretation has been subjective. That is what makes this governmental document so different from any other in history. Even in its creation, debate on what to include was great. Fighting between small vs large states on representation, agricultural vs industrial states as to financial support, should there be a federal bank, monies, militia and courts, or should those be ruled by the states with no federal oversight? Everyone saw it differently, and it almost kept us from becoming a United States. Compromise was finally achieved, but 100 years later these compromises helped to fuel a bloody Civil War. Had our Constitution been a strict, unyielding document, it could have ended this bold experiment. It wasn't , though. It was amended, re-interpreted, and became once again a governing document for the people of its time, not for a time past. It continues to be such a living document, and it is the diversity of opinion that allows ALL men and women to be heard. When voices are shut out of the discussion, we choke the life out of the very thing we love. While the Constitution is the foundation of our government, we are not a government of the Constitution. We are a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

2, Adherence to the law of the land. Again, absolute. Yet laws are meant to protect its people from others, and sometimes, themselves. If a law becomes oppressive, or if those enforcing the law become oppressive, then it becomes a law that, if not bad, is at least broken. The law must then be challenged. This usually takes place in the form of protests, both silent, and sometimes, quite vocal. Usually met by protests just a loud and vocal by those with differing opinions. What should happen at this point, but often does not, is that once protests are made, discussion is needed to correct the law. When neither side will listen, it just leads to more protests, even rebellion of a law used to harm its citizens. According to the Declaration of Independence, that is a right given to citizens of any government. Only by speaking out, can correction be made.

3. Support of the country and its allies. Absolute. But is blind support a true support of country? There was a song by Ken Medema years ago, called "I See America". The chorus went like this:
I see America through the eyes of love.
And long for all her people to be free.
If you can, put your hand to the job,
There is work that must be done.
Till freedom's song is sung from sea to sea.

Does speaking out against a wrong we perceive a rejection of our country? Or is it more patriotic to try and speak out against the flaws we see in country we love? While I don't agree with the methods of protest many are using right now, my charges against them are that the reason behind the protest is getting lost in the controversy of the method. If true discussion and solutions were made to correct the problems, the method of protest would be unnecessary. And support of our allies? That has unfortunately always been somewhat wishy-washy. I have a rather global view of support, much like WWII, fighting for a common cause kind of way. But even then, men such as Rockefeller, Kennedy, Lindbergh, and even Henry Ford, wanted no part of that little spot of trouble in Europe. We go from global, to nationalistic, to global again like a person in a revolving door. So I'm not sure we have a true support of allies, at least not one that's locked down, and like everything else here is fluid and changing along with its people.

Finally, being an American, to me, is intensely personal. It is, at various times a source of pride and sorrow, and sometimes even shame. Each person sees their place as an American through their own eyes Which brings me back to my original statement, that to be an American is as diverse as the individuals themselves. E Pluribus Unum - Out of many, one. And thank God our Constitution and laws were created to be flexible and adaptable. A society, or government, where the people are at the mercy of a rigid law, can only fail. But a law meant to serve and protect its people, will stand forever.

What is an American? A servant of his country, with open eyes, ears, and heart. A person his country serves equally. With Liberty and Justice for all.

Monday, October 16, 2017

In A World Of "Me Too"

I sure you have seen the numerous posts on Facebook and Twitter that are just the words "Me Too". It seems to me that every few (very few) posts, another individual has posted these words. They are not shares, but each is a post by a different woman. The number of these posts is enormous, and each makes my heart burdened, ashamed, and angry. Here's why.

Each individual post represents a woman that has been sexually harassed or assaulted. Every. Single. One. So many dear friends where I had no knowledge of the pain they had been holding in. So many cases of being treated as less than the truly wonderful people that they are. How is it, in 2017, we can allow such conduct? How can we even allow the conditions to exist that allow it? Because (and I speak mostly to the men here, but also the women), we are purposely blind to it. We chose not to see. It's a society of, "If we don't look at it, or talk about it, it isn't there." But it is. It is.

We also use the "excuse" of women dressing provocatively, or sending "signals", to excuse the man from his crime. We even use this as a defense in criminal trials! The truth is, a sexual predator attacks because of power, not lust. He tries to have control over someone he perceives as weaker. This is the case in the molestation of both women and children. The clothes and the actions are not the motivating factor. Power and control is, and he lusts after that more that the target of his attack. No means no, people, and yes you CAN stop. This "excuse" just doesn't wash.

For those that have posted "Me Too" please forgive my not seeing your pain. To be treated as you have been is unacceptable at best, and bestial at worst. You deserve a safe place to be treated as the equals you are, and I hope at least I always treat you as such. To others reading, make an effort to be that safe haven for others. To be less, is to be less than human.

To those that have been and are attackers, please seek help. Your need for power signifies a great deal missing in your own psyche, and you are dangerous to others, and to yourselves. Both men and women are created in the image of God. To treat someone so crudely is to defame God, and you will be called accountable not only to those you have harmed, but accountable to God Himself.

Finally, to those very brave souls aligning themselves with the "Me Too" effort, and sharing their pain, and also to those whose pain is still too great, may God grant you strength, and peace, and healing, and true love to fill your souls.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Back from Camp Bluebird

"The counterweight to grief is community." - Nashville Mayor Megan Berry

The words above were spoken by Nashville's mayor regarding the horrific massacre in Las Vegas this weekend. They had also been spoken by her husband just weeks earlier at the funeral of their son, as Nashville citizens shared in their loss. How grief attacks, along with fear, is by isolating a person from comfort. By internalizing the pain, rather than have a safe place for their grief to be shared and ministered to, we sorrow alone. With so many things going on in our world, that is just too heavy a burden to bear.

This statement strikes me personally this week. I've just returned from another weekend at Camp Bluebird, a camp for adult cancer survivors. We share sorrow and tears, joy and laughter (much, much laughter), we hug, sing, dance, and generally cavort. The weight of cancer is lifted by the community created. We all share equally each other's burdens. Not because we should, not because we have to. Simply because we love. And our own burdens are lifted in the process. I believe there is no power greater than the power of love, and that the power of love in community of others is unstoppable.

This doesn't eliminate the cancer. It doesn't stop the passing of dear friends, or the sadness of their loss. It does stop the grief and sometimes hopelessness from taking control. It allows us to remain stronger than that which assails us. The freedom to be more than the disease that has bonded us. That joyful release is unlike any other, and it happens because of our community. Camp Bluebird.

I pray for everyone to experience that community of love. I pray that God's church returns to that community of love, rather than the judgmental nature that seems to prevail. I pray for all my beautiful Bluebirds. Prayers and Bluebird Hugs to you all!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Living Hope

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" - I Peter 1:3-4

Christians are supposed to be a happy lot. always smiling, always cheerful. Turning cheeks wherever we go. Smurfily dancing and "la-la"ing through the oversized flower garden of life. (Unless you try to touch our guns, or states rights, or individual rights, or national pride, or whatever else little niche we deem so important that our Christianity is used as it's proof, to the point where the niche is more important that the Christianity...these we guard like a Bengal Tiger over a fresh kill!)

OK, my sarcasm is on a roll here. But Christians are expected, by the world, to be happy. And we do have reason to be. So why are there days when I feel dead inside?
(In God's usual sense of humor, the moment I wrote those words, an ice cream truck was at the office, and there were freebies for everyone!)

The question still remains though. There are times when life seems overwhelming. Multiple pressures from all directions hammer us into a battered, broken pulp. Those times when it seems the only thing pulling us through the day is the end of it. When we look down, face in our hands, and cry "How long, O Lord, how long?"

The trick, it seems, is not to look down for too long. I'm not saying to ignore what's around you; that would be a lie. Even David knew "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand", but he also knew "but it will not come near you". (Psalms 91:7) He could cry out, saying "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1) then "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me". (Psalm 23:4)

What kind of faith can produce such hope?  It seems like just wishful thinking. Can it be because the hope is not in our own selves, but in someone else? Not a relic of history, but in the living, breathing presence of Jesus? In the power of Almighty Father God? In the omnipresent Holy Spirit, with and among us? It is a LIVING HOPE, that carries us when we no longer have strength. Urges us on when we do. Our hope is not an impersonal ideal, not a platitude or gimmick. It is Jesus, the Christ, living presence of God. He is alive. And in His arms, in His love, so are we. 

So, even when all seems lost we "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ." (Philippians 3:14) And when we're hanging off a cliff and at the end of our rope, don't bother looking into the chasm below, but look up to the one pulling us out!

Friday, September 1, 2017

There's A Fly In My Primordial Soup

I read this week where they are remaking the book and film "Lord of the Flies" with an all female cast. As one would expect, this has not gone without controversy. First, many are upset with Hollywood that a script for an all female cast is being written by two men. OK, I can see that. Second, many women are upset at being presented as becoming so vicious and violent. They counter that women would not behave that way. They would separate into natural groups and exist peacefully. My wife is still laughing at that one.

So let's start with the assumption that there would be tension, even violence, with the caveat that it may manifest in different ways that men would exhibit. That would still prove William Golding's original premise correct. Without control, people will fall to their basest instinct. This would be true for men or women, black or white, red or yellow, or any other groupings that can be considered. In essence, if you're human and you know it, clap your hands. (Clap, Clap)

This is the Bible's premise as well. All are broken, and have been since the fall of Adam. I speak a lot about God's love, and His forgiveness and grace. My favorite verse is from Isaiah 61:1, and quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19. "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted." But for there to be healing, there must first be something broken. And we are, all of us. Even after He puts his new heart within us, we will sometimes slip and fall short of His goals. No one has ever achieved His perfection. And yet we seem to see perfection in ourselves, and notice the shortfalls in others. Remember the verse about the mote in the eye? (Matt 7:3)

I'm seeing much more groupings of hatred than I ever remember before. It's not that these didn't exist, but I think the barriers, the CONTROL, that held them back is no longer as strong, and the hate has become bolder. To stand against this, and we must stand, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the same pattern of hate. That only creates more. An eye for an eye only causes two people to be blind. So how do we fight hate with love, if all of us are on the same broken playing field?

The love we need only God can provide. Only He loves not because of what we have done, but because of Whose children we are. Only His love can be greater than hate, His light greater than darkness. To find it means to empty ourselves of pride and bigotry, and to think of people, not groups. Individuals, not generalizations. Love each person as God loves you, quirks, faults, and all. (And I mean YOUR quirks, faults, and all. I of course am faultless.) See how easy it is to forget. 😃

Next time someone or something causes hate (not necessarily anger, there is a difference) to rise in you, make sure to step back and breathe. Pray. Ask how God would want you to approach it. Listen to what HE says. Take that fly out of your soup, and Go with God.