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!)


Friday, January 26, 2018

Like Sands Through The Hourglass

Please forgive my absence for a couple of months. Many of my thoughts have been hard to hold on to, and many of my musings have been unrepeatable in polite society. (Polite society – isn’t that an oxymoron, or is society itself moronic? You get the picture!)

I come back to this forum because of an anniversary of sorts I had last week. 1/16/2008, when I was diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer. The cancer was removed surgically on February 20th of that year, making me now a 10 year survivor. It’s not an anniversary of my own making. I’ve known some survivors who have been around much longer, and some who have passed in much less time. My continuing on is by God’s grace. (Let me just say, however, Cancer is an evil that falls on the just and unjust. That some have passed is not due to God “cursing” them.)

Why do we place such emphasis on dates in time? Anniversaries, births, deaths, we all have a place to store those dates that mean the most to us. First off, we recognize that we do live in the confines of time, and of that only in the present. Maybe marking the passage of an occurrence in the past, and remembering it at intervals, allows us to feel as if we can hold on to the past, even if only a fleeting moment.

Or is it because we want to recall the emotion associated with that event? (Joy, Shame, Anger, etc.) The event being important enough to need to retain whatever emotion it created. Or maybe it’s simply a need to just remember. To validate who we are by holding claim to those things that made us. For me, I think this last one has the most meaning. 2008 was quite eventful for me: cancer, surgery, ostomy, an introduction to an obnoxiously loud device called a wound-vac, the equally obnoxious tacidurn tape, ostomy reversal, dealing with work/health issues related to all that, getting ordained, losing my dad, and any number of smaller things in between. Lots of marked out dates on the calendar.

So we all have these stone carved historical markers in our lives. It becomes important then how we use them. If we try to hold on to them, without looking forward? We grasp for a past that is no longer in our reach, and the stones become a wall to hold us in and all others out. We cannot enjoy the present (our place in time) because we do not live there, and the wall prevents us from going through.

If we use the past as a foundation to move forward? Then the stones become a road, laid out one stone at a time, and each step forward becomes possible because of each step before. Always moving forward, because if we stop, the present becomes the past, and the stones again become a wall.

A verse to help: Philippians 3:13-14. “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The goal is always ahead, just as we must always grow. If you don’t seem to be moving, there are two possibilities: either God is wanting you to rest (which in Him is also growth) or you’ve got a stone in the way that needs to be repurposed from a wall to a road. The choice is yours.

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!