Thursday, February 18, 2021

Our Human Task


Good morning.  It’s Thursday.

 One would have to be a hermit, disconnected from the world in order to not have some knowledge of the national political situation that has played out over the past several years.  Politics as we older citizens have always known it…the politics of Jerry Ford, Bob Dole, Adalai Stevensen, and John Kennedy, has taken a back seat to the politics of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell.  It’s a different world out there…more caustic, ideological, hard-nosed, and sharp-edged.  That more caustic political tone has caused divisions in the populace.  We seem to be more divided and entrenched in our political silos more than ever before.

 However, there is a large segment of the population that refuses to be herded into one silo or the other.  That group known as Independents is becoming a greater influence in matters political and in setting the agenda for the nation.  Independents like to let it be known that they are not beholden to any political party or ideology, and will support whatever cause or candidate best fits their world view, be that cause or candidate Republican, Democratic, or neither.

 In all of this cacophony of noise, there is an underlying theme which tends to hold together and promote the divisions.  That theme is fear.  Those on the right are fearful that if Joe Biden is elected President, the nation will go down the drain.  Those on the left are fearful that if Donald Trump is re-elected to a second term, the nation will go down the drain.  And Independents fear that if either right or left ideology has its exclusive way, the nation will go down the drain.

 I have news for everyone.  The nation will not go down the drain because Donald Trump wins re-election.  Nor will it go down the drain if Joe Biden wins.  And the same holds true if either right or left ideology has it’s way.  Who is President, who has control of the House or Senate, who is placed on the Supreme Court, who is Secretary of State or UN Ambassador…none of these things will cause the nation to fall.  We’re looking at the wrong things.

 This nation, just as any nation that ever was, is, or will be, will stand or fall because the God of the universe has decreed such.  And if God has decreed a nation’s fall, nothing on the face of the earth can change that decree.  Conversely, if God has decreed more years for a nation, nothing on earth can change that decree.

 There are those who believe they know what God wants for this nation, or for some other nation (and I’m thinking of Israel now) and they are determined to see to it that His desire is carried out…that somehow God isn’t powerful enough to enforce His decrees on His own and has to have the help of humans to see that it’s done as God apparently wants.

 Now, I ask you in all sincerity, does that make sense?  Does God have to have the help of humans who THINK they know what His desire is for the nations to carry out His plan?  The God who created the universe with His word, who upholds all things (that means to keep everything running smoothly) by the word of His power, who calms storms, raises the dead, heals the sick, and even turns water to wine…this God is not powerful enough to effect His will on His own?  He needs US to do it for him?

 And how do we know what God wants anyway?  Who is to say that God wants this nation or that nation to remain in power or to go away?  Does God confide in any human to that extent?  Is there any human who has the mind of God?  Or do we assume God wants what we want…or worse yet, do we use God to justify what we want?

 Whether this nation, or any nation for that matter, stands or falls is ultimately up to the God who created that nation in the first place.  We humans do play a part in His decisions by our faithfulness or our depravity.  God has made it plain over the millennia that He takes a dim view of societal immorality, abuse and neglect of the poor, greed, selfishness, pride, and faith in military power.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  God never changes.  If God took a dim view of those things in nations and societies in the times of the Old Testament and also in New Testament times, He also takes a dim view of those things today in a nation and society.

 It would do us well to get beyond ideology, politics, right and left, and get to the heart of the matter.  How are we as a society measuring up to God’s standards?  And how are we as individuals working to do our part to be examples of God’s love by loving our neighbor as ourselves?  That, friend, is where we need to concentrate our energy and resources.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Miss Karen

Last weekend, we attended a COVID-restricted, masked and distanced funeral in the Kansas City area.  The services were for a woman, Karen, who passed away unexpectedly at her home.  We didn't know her or her husband really well.  Oh, we knew who they were and something about them, but it was our older son and his family...and especially our three-year old grand daughter Estella who really knew them.

You see, Miss Karen, as our grand daughter knew her, and Mister Steve were members of the church they all attended.  Mr. Steve and Miss Karen were retired...Steve from the railroad, and Karen as an office manager.  These two ordinary people…senior citizens...husband and wife...were Estella's surrogate grand parents from before the time she was born, and mentors to our son and daughter in law as they welcomed their first born into their family.

On the one hand, there was nothing really special about the relationship Estella had with Miss Karen and Mister Steve.  Just ordinary grand parent-type stuff…going out for ice cream, coming to her birthday party, doting over her at church.  On the other hand, the unconditional love that has been exchanged between them was palpable, on display, and obvious.  The after-church meals at the neighborhood Culvers restaurant, the times with each other at the church, the outings to football games or other places of interest, the interactions in their homes, the birthday parties, the interest that the two families took in the lives of the other...all of this and more were the glue that brought them together and fostered a relationship that will continue even though Miss Karen is no longer with us.

As I observed others at the funeral and the lunch that I heard the obituary and some things of the life of Karen, I was struck by the ordinary life she lived on the one hand, and on the other the incredible blessing she was to a now three year old girl and her mom and dad, among many others.  Karen wasn't famous.  She wasn't wealthy.  She didn’t have a position of authority.  However, being only who she was...just by being herself...she left an indelible mark on Estella and a huge hole in the church family that she was part of.

As I continued to observe and listen, I took notice of a couple of things that to me were incredibly telling in terms of just who Miss Karen and Mister Steve were to our son and family and how much they meant to each other.

First, the owner of the Culvers where they spent many lunch and evening meals, as well as a couple of the employees of the restaurant, attended the funeral, the cemetery service, and the dinner.  It isn't often that a business goes to that extent for its customers...these two families and Miss Karen especially, were obviously well liked and respected by the Culvers owner and crew.  I honestly am somewhat flabbergasted that this really happened and have no words to further describe my gratefulness for their support.

Second, it is telling that when we sat down for the luncheon meal following the funeral, Mister Steve came to our table and sat next to Estella to eat.  He could easily have been with his family or other church friends more his age.  However, he chose to sit next to this three year old unrelated girl who loves him...and he her...with a kind of bonding, unconditional love that many adults have never experienced in their lifetime.  It was a precious moment I'll always be thankful I was able to experience.  And my guess is that others in the room noticed it as well, and took note of their love and devotion for one-another.

So, while we all will greatly miss the influence and love of Miss Karen, we are comforted that she and Mister Steve…just by being themselves, offering unconditional love and acceptance…giving of themselves…have, and will continue to emulate the love of Jesus and make a huge difference in their sphere of influence.  And I suspect that a certain three year old, even though she may have only vague recollections of her time with Miss Karen when she grows up, will in turn emulate Miss Karen as Miss Karen in life followed the example of Jesus Christ, who now holds her in his arms forever.

And of course, there's a lesson here for us all.  We don't have to go to extraordinary lengths to make a real difference in the lives of others.  We don't need to be wealthy, famous, or especially educated to have a lifelong positive effect on others.  We can just be ourselves...just be who we are and use the gifts that God has given cause profound and incredible change in someone else's life.  Miss Karen and now just Mister Steve knows what it means to “bloom where you're planted.”  They know what it means to share the love of Jesus Christ.  They are making their corner of the world a better place just by being themselves.  They have been, and always will be, an integral part of our Kansas City family.

Thursday, January 14, 2021



I’ve finished reading a book printed in the mid 1980’s by Cliff Schimmels called “I Was a High School Drop-in.”  Dr. Schimmels, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Philosophy, was a college professor who taught students how to be teachers in secondary education.  Sometimes, as he was lecturing his students, he would realize that when he would teach his students about this way or that way to motivate students to learn, he was only guessing.  As he says on the front flyleaf of the book, “I really didn’t know what high school learners needed or wanted from a teacher…I could never know for sure what was going through the student’s mind.”  So, he decided he would become a student himself to see first hand what it was like being in high school.

He got permission from a principal that he knew to enroll as a freshman in high school.  Teachers also agreed to have him in class as a student.  Teachers were also instructed to treat him as any other student.  Schimmels went through the enrollment process, selected his classes, and started to school as a freshman, not knowing anyone else in the school.  His book is an account of that six week time period when he was a student.

I didn’t have to go far into the book in order to pretty much immediately pick up on the notion of perspective.  As an educator, Schimmels had one perspective on what it meant to teach and learn at the secondary level, and taught his own students in that way.  However, as a student himself, lugging books, being assigned a seat in class, having to study and take tests, navigating the crowded halls during breaks between classes, enduring the physical education class, not having time for lunch, and all of the other that goes with being a student, Schimmels gained a whole new perspective on what it meant to be a student, and more importantly for him, on what he needed to teach and emphasize to his own students at the college level.

He talks of the difficulties in making friends, doing the correct assignments, finding time to read all that he is supposed to read, not having time to shower after phys ed, getting demerits for not bringing his gym clothes to class, standing in lines, understanding the confusing system used to number classrooms, having to carry all of his books around all day because he doesn’t have time between classes to go to his locker, and a myriad of other things that adults may never see, but students are keenly aware of.

One incident stands out.  Schimmels was assigned a locker with a combination lock by the school already on it, and was given the combination to open it.  When, after several days he found his locker and tried to open it, it would not open.  He tried several times, then asked a student passing by if he could help.  The student, a senior, tried as well but couldn’t open it.  They concluded he had been given the wrong combination.

Schimmels went to the office to get the correct combination and was told he needed the serial number imprinted on the back of the lock.  He went back to his locker and found the number, but couldn’t read it because it was so small, and it was likewise awkward to try to hold the lock up, read the number upside down, and write it down all at the same time.  He accosted another older student who was going by, and asked him for help, saying he couldn’t read the number.  “Of course you can’t,” the older student said.  “You take a piece of paper and a pencil and trace the numbers off onto the paper.”  Students, Schimmels said, have ways of coping with the rules, procedures and annoyances that staff never sees or understands.

What Schimmels is experiencing is a different perspective on secondary education.  His Ph.D. has given him one perspective…his experience as a student has given him another, sometimes completely different perspective on the same experience.  Is one perspective correct and the other one incorrect?  No, they are both correct.  They are both valid.  They come at the subject, however, from two completely different viewpoints.  And in so doing they see things differently.

Perspective is present in virtually all of our interactions with our world.  It is shaped by our world view and in turn helps to further shape our world view.  Perspective is why eyewitnesses to the same incident don’t always see the incident the same way.  Perspective is why some people are Democrats; some Republicans, and some are Independents or other political party affiliations.

Perspective is what gives rise to differences of opinion in a committee meeting, or between family members.  It is what drives discussions, debates, ideas, and opinions.  Understanding that someone who may disagree with you does so, not out of spite or evil intent, but because they are coming at a topic from a different perspective is a great way to break down the communication barriers and have a frank and open discussion of differences with a goal of arriving at a mutual conclusion.

The old adage of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes might be appropriate here.  It means before judging someone, you must understand his experiences, challenges, thought processes, etc.  Many times, the best way to do that is to immerse oneself into a situation as best as one can, much as Schimmels became a student in order to see what it was like from a different perspective.

OK.  I need to wrap this up.  Are you beginning to see the value of appreciating the differing perspectives that relate to an issue?  Are you beginning to understand that, “My way or the highway,” is really a rather ignorant and selfish way of interacting with the world?  Giving grace to other opinions and ideas is usually not weakness…rather, it is maturity and good judgment.  Giving grace provokes much better and more productive discussion of ideas than bullying and self-righteousness ever will.

Many people, with good intentions, try to help various social ills such as homelessness, hunger, poverty, and the like.  They come at the problem with their own perspective of what needs to be done without actually understanding the issues at hand.  Before helping the homeless, it might be good to have a better understanding of the homeless culture and all that goes with that.  In helping those who are chronically hungry, perhaps it would be productive to talk with the hungry, understand their struggles, and walk with them for a time as they work just to survive.

And even in the arena of absolutes, where there is just one Way and one Truth, and I’m thinking of the Christian here, gracefully and lovingly discussing Truth with a seeker is much more powerful than forcefully shoving that Truth upon a perspective that doesn’t yet see or perceive.  Beating someone to death with the Truth only results in a dead spirit and dying human being.

I applaud Dr. Schimmels for taking on the role of a high school freshman in order to gain a different perspective.  His teaching was forever changed by what he experienced during that six-week period.

We too need to step out of our comfort zones…out of our routine…and out of our world views and experience life through the lenses of others.  Those experiences will enable us to give grace and forgiveness…qualities often sorely lacking in society today.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Unity in Diversity


Good morning.  I had a Thursday Thought already prepared to record for today.  The topic of that thought is “Perspective.”  And although it is, I believe, pertinent to the tragic events of yesterday, my time and yours will be better served with thoughts on the day just past.

 As I was keeping up with the events of the day, I encountered a range of emotional reaction to those events.  Although all were appalled by what was happening, some were afraid the nation would not survive the day.  Others were concerned that the whole of government would become unhinged and even further polarized than it already is.  Still others were distrustful of the media coverage, thinking it wasn’t really what it seemed to be.  A few were worried about the possible loss of life.

 My response to them all was one of acknowledging the truth of what was happening, but being optimistic about not only the survival of the republic, but one of faith in the ability of the republic to quickly regain its footing, repair its wounds, and finish the work laid out before it.  And that is essentially what has happened, as I see it, this morning.  The Congress has done its job.  The Constitution works.

 We may not have been through anything like this, with the possible exception of 9-11, in modern history.  However, our nation’s history has multiple points of contact with lawlessness which has tried to usurp the government laid out in the Constitution.  We not only have survived those points of contact; in many cases, we have been made stronger as a nation as a result of the testing of our national conscience.

 While I in no way diminish what happened yesterday, I was yesterday and remain today an optimist regarding the affairs of the nation.  There are two reasons for that optimism.  The first is that I believe there is a God who orders the affairs of humanity and the nations.  I readily confess that I don’t know exactly how that happens.  Nor do I know why things happen as they do or why God would allow this or that to happen.  But I do believe in the overarching sovereignty of God in the affairs of mankind, and am confident in His wisdom and work.  And ultimately, I rest in His love and bow my knee to Him.

 Second, I continue to have faith that most people will eventually do the right thing.  That those who wield the handles of power will, when push comes to shove, see that the foundation of the Republic remain firm.  Yes, we have problems…great and in many respects seemingly intractable problems.  Yes, we have division and there are those among us who would like nothing better than anarchy.  But I remain hopeful that, as we have done over the years, we will come through this even stronger than before…our Constitution having been tested and having come through that test of fire more refined and pure than before.

 I suppose that part of my hopefulness and optimism arises out of my work at the church.  As a shepherd, my responsibility is to lead a very diverse and unique group of individuals into a flock that is unified under Jesus Christ.  We have all kinds in our congregation.  Politically, we run the spectrum and, I suppose, have a few who aren’t even on the spectrum.  Socially, we have the homeless and the wealthy and everyone in between.  We have all ages, all backgrounds, and are becoming more and more diverse racially.  We have professionals, laborers, the retired, students, moms and dads, and some that defy placing in categories.

 Yet in all of this, our goal is to be united…to be one…to be a congregation of God’s people all having been adopted into the family as sons and daughters of God.  And the work of a shepherd is to lead and encourage that unity in the congregation even in the midst of great diversity.

 And so I encourage you as well…that even though we in this nation have great variations in background, philosophy, opinion, culture, race, and religion…we come together in unity of purpose and heart, with a genuine love and respect for others, to seek the peace and prosperity of our land, and to seek God and His will above all.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Is Attendance Enough?


At the outset, I need to tell you that I received much of the inspiration for this thought from something written by Joshua Hartswigsen, minister of the 151st Street Church of Christ in Olathe, Kansas.  On this the last day of 2020, many of us in Christian ministry look back on the year with frustration, and look ahead to 2021 with concern.  Why frustration?  Why concern? 

The frustration comes from being unable, due to safety and health restrictions, to have normal congregate worship services, classes, fellowships, small groups, and so on.  These kinds of activities are planned specifically to provide opportunity for the church family to gather together, renew friendships, develop relationships, and strengthen each other. 

The concern comes from the fact that when meeting restrictions are lifted, we know we will lose a good percentage of those who had been regular participants in these activities.  There will be many who will have found something else to occupy their time and energy during the times that normally had been set aside for group meetings of the church family. 

Barna research did a study on this very issue.  I won’t go into a lot of the detail on how they conducted the research.  The results were that about 30% of those who consider themselves to be practicing Christians and who agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives, did not attend services if their church continued to hold services, and furthermore did not take advantage of any church services that were on the Internet, either from their own congregation or from another.  They essentially “dropped out” of church during the time of COVID in 2020.  Now, what Barna did not know was whether or not these families conducted their own worship services at home or with other families.  It’s entirely possible that some did. 

But is attendance or viewing services on line a good measure of the faithfulness of a Christian?  We know the Bible has a clear message about the importance of corporate worship and meeting together.  I wonder, though, if we need to take a better look at the assumptions and beliefs we have about what it means to be a Christian. 

Does being a Christian consist of regular church attendance, participation in Bible classes and small groups, and the occasional fellowship meal?  Have we reduced what it means to be a Christian to a set of activities or boxes to be checked off? 

Being a Christian is much more than checking off attendance and participation boxes.  To be a Christian is to commit oneself to a lifestyle that mirrors the life of Jesus Christ.  To be a Christian is to first love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Further, Christian living embraces discipleship, humility, grace, forgiveness, patience, temperance, kindness, joy, hope, fellowship…in other words, puts to practice loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself. 

Perhaps we as church leaders have failed to properly teach and lead by example those in our charge.  Perhaps all too often, we have emphasized checking off participation boxes rather than encouraging our members to emulate Jesus Christ.  After all, it’s easier to check things off of a list than it is to do the hard work of living as Jesus lived. 

While we in church leadership are rightly frustrated by the restrictions of the pandemic, and while we also are concerned about those who have dropped out of any church experience this year, we also need to take a good look at how we have presented the idea of “church” to our flocks.  Do we present attendance and participation as the end-all and be-all of what it means to be a Christian?  Or do we, without diminishing the importance of fellowship and participation, teach, practice, and exemplify love for God and love for one-another? 

2021, hopefully, will be a year of renewal for the church, and an encouragement for Christians everywhere to mirror the life of Jesus as we navigate the unknown future.  Yes, by all means attend services if you can.  Participate in classes, gatherings, and other activities once the restrictions are lifted.  But above all, be a man or woman of grace, humility, and kindness…one who loves the Lord God with all of your being and loves others as you love yourself.

Christmas Eve Thoughts


Today’s thought comes on Christmas Eve, 2020.  I don’t know what your situation is right now, and I don’t know how well you have fared during this extraordinary year.  Perhaps you have been pretty much untouched by the viral pandemic, still have your income, and all is well with you.  On the other hand, you may have had a loved one succumb to the virus, have lost your source of income, are six months behind on your rent, and are wondering whether you will have enough to eat tomorrow.  Or you could find yourself anywhere in between those two scenarios.

My words to you would be different, depending on where you fall on the lifeline.  However, one thing remains the same for everyone, regardless.

This holiday, different from all of the others we celebrate, offers us something that we all desperately need…hope.  Even if you are comfortable now with good health, good income, and good friends, just the fact that you’re human means you also long for some intangibles…things that you can’t see, buy, or touch.  Hope is one of those things.  Not hope in the sense of, “I hope it won’t snow tomorrow,” but hope in the sense of the perception of something greater than oneself that carries with it the promise of a better tomorrow.  For those of us who are Christians, that hope is found in Jesus the Christ.

Greater than ourselves…in fact the very God of the Universe, Jesus Christ embodies the hope that we all so desperately crave.  The promise of forgiveness…renewal…acceptance…love…belonging…assurance…inheritance.  Those things and more, all intangible, but very, very real, are part of the hope that we find in the one whose birth we celebrate during this holiday season.

So, as we gather together at this time in a kind of enforced, distanced way, our thoughts need to be pointed toward the hope of something better…something lasting…something eternally good.  Yes, let’s all hope that 2021 will be a far better year than 2020.  Yes, let’s all pray that healing will come quickly and that those who are in authority make good decisions.  Let’s all pray that civility, humility, and generosity will prevail.  But perhaps the best prayer of all is the one found in one of the last verses of the last book in the Bible…”Amen, come Lord Jesus.”

Monday, December 14, 2020

Successes and Limitations

 Good morning, and welcome to Thursday.  A couple of days ago, the morning at the office began with seeing news reports of the first person in Great Britain to receive the COVID virus vaccine, heralding the beginning of what hopefully will be a slowdown of the spread of this insidious illness.  The day then was punctuated by a shaking and jarring of the office by an earthquake…the epicenter of which was just a few miles away.  Now, I hesitate to make any kind of connection with these two events, and in any case, any connection I might make would be pretty much a figment of my imagination…but let’s pursue this for just a moment.

In what was surely a huge leap forward in the fight against Corona, the human race is beginning the vaccination process that will, in all probability, greatly reduce the chances of contracting this illness.  And even though multiple thousands of people have already received the vaccine, those have all been volunteers in clinical studies to determine the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.  The fact that someone in the general public received the vaccine outside of a clinical study, and that many more will be vaccinated just today, and even more in future days, bodes well for humanity.  It also is a shout-out to those scientists, doctors, and others who have worked tirelessly this past year to bring a safe and effective product to the human race.

On another front, there was an earthquake in the Wichita area a couple of days ago.  Tuesday, just a few minutes before 10am, there was a deep-throated rumbling, accompanied by just a few seconds of minor shaking.  It was over pretty much before anyone had time to process what had happened.  At first, I thought there was an accident at the intersection nearby, or maybe a truck, crane, or some other large equipment had done something unexpected.  But it didn’t take long to realize that it was really a minor earthquake.

Those things have been coming on a rather regular basis for the past few weeks in this area.  I’m not sure of the cause, but they always seem to be over in the eastern part of the county.  And although there was some minor shaking and rumbling, other than a sort of eerie feeling, things quickly got back to normal.

However, there is, I think, a lesson here, and it’s connected with the vaccination of the English lady.  There may be some things we as the human race do well in terms of making life better for us all.  The COVID vaccine, along with many other vaccines, have made it possible to live longer lives in better health than at any time in history.  We have conquered smallpox.  We are working to eradicate other diseases, and our children no longer have to go through the childhood illnesses of mumps, measles, and the like.  Iron lungs are history.

Yet, there are some things over which we have no control, and which remind us of our limitations and inability to control every aspect of life and living.  The earthquake, although minor in nature, was that reminder.  We cannot yet forecast them with any kind of accuracy.  We cannot make them less destructive when they do occur, except to harden our buildings and structures against them.  We have no way to generally prevent them, although we have found that we can reduce their occurrence by limiting our injection of wastes into the earth.  Each earthquake is a sobering reminder that humanity has a long way to go before it can claim to have tamed its environment.  And even if we do manage to learn how to forecast and prevent earthquakes, there will always be something over which we have no control and just have to live with and deal with as it comes.

So, while you are celebrating the coming of the COVID vaccine to the general population, don’t get the smug head thinking that humankind has conquered all.  The moving of the foundations of the earth itself should bring you back into the reality of the fragility of life and our dependence upon a God of mercy and grace…a God who told Job,

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!  Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?  Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,

“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?

Have the gates of death been shown to you?  Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?  Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?  “What is the way to the abode of light?  And where does darkness reside?

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?  What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?   Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?  Can you loosen Orion’s belt?  Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?   Do you know the laws of the heavens?   Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?

So, as we cheer humanity’s successes, let us also understand humanity’s limitations, and give God the

Go your way today and be blessed in the knowledge of God’s providential love and grace.


Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Anne Lamott — Advent


Anne Lamott, an American novelist and non-fiction writer, posts an article on Facebook that she wrote several years ago regarding Advent.  She tells of her quest to find within herself the hope of renewal that Advent promises.  She talks of the belief that if we have enough hope and kindness, that will lead to a better world, one person at a time.  And that even though times may be tough and disappointing, in her words, “We stay awake and watch, holding to the belief that God is with us, is close and present, and that we will be healed.”

 She then says that she wants that kind of belief, hope, and patience to wait expectantly.  But that hasn't happened in her life.  She then says, only half-jokingly, “It’s not that I don’t have a lot of faith.  It’s just that I also have a lot of mental problems.  And I want to fix them all, and I want to do that now, or at least by tomorrow afternoon, right after lunch.”

 She says that she then called several pastors and religious people, asking them for the secret to that kind of hope, but found their answers unsatisfactory, to say the least.  Then, somewhat in desperation, she called a Jesuit alcoholic friend of hers, sober now for over 30 years, and said to him, “Tell me a story about Advent. Tell me about people getting well.”  Her friend, Tom, agreed, and told her this story from his early sobriety period that she recounts here.  There are a couple of places in the story where the language is a bit rough, but bear with me and take it all in.  Here's the story.

 In 1976, when he first got sober, Tom was living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, California, going to the very hip AA meetings there, where there were no fluorescent lights and not too much clapping — or that yahoo-cowboy-hat-in-the-air enthusiasm that you get in L.A., according to sober friends.  And everything was more or less all right in early sobriety, except that Tom felt utterly insane all the time, filled with hostility and fear and self-contempt.  But other than that everything was OK.  Then he got transferred to Los Angeles in the winter, and he did not know a soul.  “It was a nightmare,” he says.  “I was afraid to go into entire areas of L.A., because the only places I knew were the bars.  So I called the cardinal and asked him for the name of anyone he knew in town who was in AA.  And he told me to call this guy Terry.”

Terry, as it turned out, had been sober for five years at that point, so Tom thought he was God.  They made arrangements to go to a place Terry knew of where alcoholic men gathered that night in the back of the Episcopal Cathedral, right in the heart of downtown L.A. It was Terry’s favorite gathering, full of low-bottom drunks and junkies — people from nearby halfway houses, bikers, jazz musicians. “Plus it’s a men’s stag meeting,” says Tom. “So already I’ve got issues.”

“There I am on my first date with this new friend Terry, who turns out to not be real chatty. He’s clumsy and ill at ease, an introvert with no social skills, but the cardinal has heard that he’s also good with newly sober people.  He asks me how I am, and after a long moment, I say, ‘I’m just scared,’ and he nods and says gently, ‘That’s right.’

“I don’t know a thing about him, Tom says.  I don’t what sort of things he thinks about or who he votes for, but he takes me to this place near skid row, where all these awful looking alkies are hanging out in the yard, waiting for something to start.  I’m tense, I’m just staring.  It’s a whole bunch of strangers, all of them clearly very damaged — working their way back slowly, but not yet real attractive.  The sober people I've met back in Berkeley all seem like David Niven in comparison, and I’m thinking, Who are these people?  Why am I here?  All my scanners are out. It’s all I can do not to bolt.

“Ten minutes before we began, Terry directs me to a long flight of stairs heading up to a windowless, airless room.  I started walking up the stairs, with my jaws clenched, muttering to myself tensely just like the guy in front of me, this guy my own age who was stumbling and numb and maybe not yet quite on his first day of sobriety.

“The only things getting me up the stairs are Terry, behind me, pushing me forward every so often, and this conviction I have that this is as bad as it’s ever going to be — that if I can get through this, I can get through anything.  Well.  All of a sudden, the man in front of me soils himself.  I guess his sphincter just relaxes.  Feces runs down onto his shoes, but he keeps walking.  He doesn’t seem to notice.

However, I do.

I clapped a hand over my mouth and nose, and my eyes bugged out but I couldn’t get out of line because of the crush behind me.  And so, holding my breath, I walk into the windowless, airless room.

“Now, this meeting has a person who stands at the door saying hello.  And this one is a biker with a shaved head, a huge gut and a Volga boatman mustache.  He gets one whiff of the man with feces on his shoes and throws up all over everything.

“You’ve seen the Edvard Munch painting of the guy on the bridge screaming, right?  That’s me.  That’s what I look like.  But Terry enters the room right behind me.  And there’s total pandemonium, no one knows what to do.  The man who had soiled himself stumbles forward and plops down in a chair.  A fan blows the terrible smells of feces and vomit around the windowless room,  and people start smoking just to fill in the spaces in the air.  Finally Terry reaches out to the greeter, who had thrown up.  He puts his hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Wow,” he says. “Looks like you got caught by surprise.”  And they both laugh.  Right?  Terry asks a couple of guys to go with him down the hall to the men’s room, and help this guy get cleaned up.  There are towels there, and kitty litter, to absorb various effluvia, because this is a meeting where people show up routinely in pretty bad shape.  So while they’re helping the greeter get cleaned up, other people start cleaning up the meeting room. Then Terry approaches the other man.

“My friend,” he says gently, “it looks like you have trouble here.”

The man just nods.

“We’re going to give you a hand,” says Terry.

“So three men from the recovery house next door help him to his feet, walk him to the halfway house and put him in the shower.  They wash his clothes and shoes and give him their things to wear while he waits.  They give him coffee and dinner, and they give him respect.  I talked to these other men later, and even though they had very little sobriety, they did not cast this other guy off for not being well enough to be there.  Somehow this broken guy was treated like one of them, because they could see that he was one of them.  No one was pretending he wasn’t covered with feces, but there was a real sense of kinship.  And that is what we mean when we talk about grace.

“Back at the meeting at the Episcopal Cathedral, Tom said, I was just totally amazed by what I had seen.  And I had a little shred of hope.  I couldn’t have put it into words, but until that meeting, I had thought that I would recover with men and women like myself; which is to say, overeducated, fun to be with and housebroken.  And that this would happen quickly and efficiently.  But I was wrong.  So I’ll tell you, Anne, what the promise of Advent is:  It is that God has set up a tent among us and will help us work together on our stuff. And this will only happen over time.

This is Jay again.  In the Advent story, WE are the ones who have thrown up all over ourselves.  WE are the stumbling ones covered in feces.  And God is the one who, like Terry, reaches out to us, loves us, touches us, cleans us up, and adopts us into His family.

 And, according to Linus of the Peanuts gang, "That's what Christmas is all about."

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thanksgiving Day

 I'm going to start posting the text of my Facebook weekly Thursday videos here.  I should  have been doing this all along, but of course I never saved the texts...just the videos.  Here's the one for Thanksgiving Day.

This week, I’ll not regale you with my thoughts on a particular subject as I normally do.  Instead, I’ll leave you with encouragement to truly take stock of life and living, with the idea of concentrating on those things for which you are grateful.

It is said that the more things and resources we have, the more we tend to gripe and complain about those things we don’t have.  And that some of the most grateful and thankful people are those who have very little in the way of things and resources.

If you have a place inside to sleep at night; if you are relatively warm in the winter; if you have food to eat; if you have people in your life who you call friends or better yet, loved ones…you really have no reason to complain or gripe.

Enjoy this time of the year when we give thanks not only for the temporal and material, but also for the eternal and spiritual.  God is.  God lives.  And God loves…you.  Blessings.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Drive In the "Country"

Today is a day off for me. And, as I sometimes wish to do, I went for a drive out into the county (I hesitate to say “country” anywhere in Sedgwick County...for me, “the country” would be southwestern Logan County or similar.) to see what was going on away from the city. I thought I would give you a few observations off the cuff.
  1. The road I chose, 215th West, is one NICE paved road...all the way from Goddard to Highway 96. The county has done a really nice job with this and other roads outside of the cities.
  2. There were more sheep and goats in pastures along the way than I would ever have thought would be in South Central Kansas. I don't know if they are being used as simply livestock, as are cattle, or if they are for 4-H or some other purpose. And I suppose that goats could be kept for their value as milk producers. Goat milk in the stores is rather expensive.
  3. The alfalfa is about ready to cut again. It''s blooming, and I expect the mowers and balers to be busy shortly.
  4. Several farmers (or else one super-big farmer) have baled straw this year in those big round bales. I'm not sure where that is going, but there's a lot of it that has been baled.
  5. Those guys who got their corn planted early were able to take advantage of the spring rains. Their corn crop looks good, and some is even tassling now. The guys who were unable to plant until recently will have to rely either on irrigation or the spotty and sporadic rains that come in the hot months of summer.
    And I saw one guy re-planting some beans in an area of his field that looked to be rather poorly populated with bean plants. That may be kind of a crapshoot this fall on getting a crop on the re-plant, if we have an early cold snap or two.
  6. There are some really nice homes in that area. Many probably are owned by “gentleman” farmers or city people who have moved to the county. And there are a few enclaves of home clusters in that area as well.
  7. Colwich is a larger community than I had originally thought. I'm not sure of the population, but it's a nice town. And if there was a church other than the Catholic church there, I didn't see it.
  8. The antenna “farm” that has been part of the landscape in that area since the 1950's is still there and very much a part of the country side. An antenna farm is an area where several radio and television towers are placed in proximity to each other.
  9. People will still wave at you using the steering wheel wave in the country. I think it's not so much as they think they know you as it is an acknowledgment of your presence along with a “thank you” for hugging the side of the road as you pass.
  10. The railroad that cuts through that area is alive and well. They've replaced a lot of ties, dumped new ballast down, and have upgraded crossings. Looks like the K & O is in this for the long haul.
Well, there it is...observations from one guy who took an hour and a half or so drive to see what he could see out in the “wilds” of N.W. Sedgwick County.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

One. Blessing.. At. A. Time.

Good afternoon.  It certainly has been an interesting couple of weeks.  Of course, I could probably say that about pretty much any two-week period of time these last months.  So much has been said about the state of our society, its faults and failures and our need to eliminate racial bias, poverty, despair, and hopelessness.  I sometimes look at all of the problems and issues we are having; then I sigh and relegate myself to the ranks of those millions who see so much problem that they admit defeat before they begin to fight the battles.
Some years ago, I trained to be an EMT…Emergency Medical Technician.  Those are the ones who help staff ambulance services, especially in the more rural areas of the country.  During our training on mass casualties, the thing that was drilled into us more than anything else was the fact that our first response upon arriving at a mass-casualty incident would be to freeze and do nothing because there is so much need we wouldn’t know where to begin.  We learned to begin by performing triage to determine who is most in need, who may be beyond need, and who can wait.  Then we concentrate on one person at a time, and once we begin to attend to that one person, we don’t leave them unless we hand them off to another medically-trained person for further attention.
May I suggest much the same for those of you who long to help in some way, but are unsure where to begin due to the great need that you see?  You first need to understand that you can’t fix everything…you can’t do everything…but you CAN do something.  You can put your energies and resources into something that will make a difference.  And by many of us doing the same thing, we can effect genuine and heartfelt change.
Jennifer White started ICT S.O.S. some ten years ago after learning about human trafficking in Wichita…looking at her own then 13 year old daughter…and determining that she would do what she could to fight that scourge.  She is the founder and Executive Director of an organization that now reaches into all parts of that issue…law enforcement, mental health, prevention, education, physical health, prosecution…and has been the driving force behind much of the progress that has been made in this area.
You may see, as you travel the streets of Wichita, Paxton’s Blessing Boxes installed here and there.  Paxton and his mom began that project four years ago when Paxton was six years old.  Today, there are over 70 blessing boxes in multiple states of the US, many of which are in the Wichita area.  As their web site says, “Everyone involved can make a positive change in a person’s life, ONE. BLESSING. AT. A. TIME.”
There are many, many other organizations, individuals, and groups who have seen the need, decided on one approach to meet that need, and have given time, energy, and resources to help meet that need… ONE. BLESSING. AT. A. TIME.”
You too can provide that one blessing for one person just like Jennifer, Paxton, and a host of people who are even now making a difference.  Rather than expending your energy on Facebook and Twitter posts where you are regurgitating and propagating some meme of dubious value…rather than using the blessing of free speech to divide, judge, and cast yourself as somehow superior, why not actually do something that will make a positive difference?  You don’t have to start a non-profit to do that.  Nor do you have to put food boxes together and stock them.  But you can volunteer for one already established.  And you can check in with your church for opportunities to serve the underserved.
You can put food into a Paxton’s Blessing Box.  You can help Jennifer and her volunteers sort donated goods and re-pack them for fresh-start bags.  You can pick up trash along the river or in a park.  You can volunteer at Botanica, the zoo, The Lord’s Diner, Kansas Food Bank, or some other such place.
Try being kind to those you encounter…the check-out people in the stores, wait staff in a restaurant, your barber or salon worker, the postal employee who sells stamps.  Give them an extra amount of appreciation for what they do.  Tip them well, if tips are allowed.
Shop local businesses as much as you can.  Let them know you appreciate their business and their desire to serve you.  Be willing to pay a little more to buy it from a local business than from Amazon.
Donate to the Homeless Outreach Team of the Wichita Police Department.  They have expenses not covered by city funds.  Find a local charity and support it with your time and resources.
Visit a long term care center when they open again.  Visit with those who live there and establish a relationship with them.  Volunteer at your school when they open again.  They could always use the help.  Or, you can volunteer with Senior Services of Wichita or one of any number of organizations…call 211 and ask for some suggestions of where you might be able to serve.
The opportunities are endless.  You can and will change hearts and lives.  You may never see it in your lifetime, but you can be assured that your compassion and generosity will never go to waste.  Find your niche…and fill it.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

No Answers

Good morning.  I trust you have at least a measure of wellness within you, not only physical wellness, but mental, spiritual, and emotional as well.  We can’t be 100% well in any of those areas because we are human and live in an imperfect creation.  However, we also struggle to improve the wellness-factor for ourselves…and for others as well…as much as we possibly can.  And that brings me to my thoughts for this week.
If you’ve been cognizant of the news this week, you know of the death of an African-American who was being arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  That event has sparked days of protests and sometimes unlawful conduct not only in that city, but in other parts of the nation as well.
You also celebrated, in some way, Memorial Day this past Monday.  Many of us took time to remember those who have gone on before, and we especially were mindful of those who gave their lives in service to the nation.
As far as my world is concerned, there are several things going on that I would rather were not reality.
I am concerned about at least three of my friends who are battling cancer of some kind right now.  The prognosis is uncertain, and I am concerned for their welfare.
There are those in my family who are dealing with unemployment, illness, and other issues of life and living.  They are trying the best they can, but the times aren’t conducive to a quick fix for much of what is happening with them.
I’m thinking of one of my long-ago classmates who has been battling MS for over 20 years now, and slips a little more each week, it seems, into a state of disability and need.
And I’m mourning along with a friend who lost her baby five years ago this week in a miscarriage.  She and the family are having a difficult time this week, remembering the child who is not with them.
And, of course, I am concerned for the COVID 19 pandemic.  We are continuing to move as a world and a nation into uncharted waters, desperately hoping that medical science can find an answer sooner rather than later, and meanwhile are still wearing masks and social distancing.
So, what do we make of all of this?  And especially for the Christian, how do we reconcile what happens in life with what we believe about a loving and compassionate God?
I know I don’t have the answers to these kinds of questions.  I’ve wrestled with them myself for many years and have heard countless Christians give their thoughts on the subject.  Nothing seems to quite gel, however, and I am always left with a feeling of incompleteness and a longing for a better explanation.
Perhaps the best answer that I’ve heard came from the mouth of Ravi Zacharias, recently deceased.  Ravi was a Christian apologist and founder of RZIM Ministries, which is carrying on with the work of Christian apologetics.
"Through the process of suffering, you realize how finite you are and how desperately you need the very presence of God to carry you through,” he said.
This is Jay again.  I know that isn’t a full and complete explanation that many of us would like to have.  Even reading and understanding the book of Job in the Old Testament, where Job dealt with incredible suffering, questioned God about it, and received the answer that has resonated down through the ages…even that doesn’t fully answer the question.  For you see, God’s answer to Job basically was (short version), “I’m God and you aren’t.  Why are you questioning me?”
May we realize just how finite we are.  May we understand how desperately we need God to carry us through the suffering we experience.  May we extend compassion to those we know who are suffering.  And may we continue to praise the God of the universe for His marvelous love, even in the face of the greatest tragedies.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Conspiracy Poll

The publisher “The Atlantic” ran a poll of 2,023 Americans in mid-March asking them whether they believed one or more of 22 listed conspiracy theories. The results are interesting to say the least.
Only 9 percent of respondents didn’t express some level of agreement with any of the 22. Here are several other results:
Conspiracy Believed
The “one percent” of the wealthiest Americans secretly control the government.
Jeffrey Epstein was murdered to conceal his activities.
Genetically modified food dangers are being hidden from the public.
An extra-judicial deep state is secretly embedded in the government.
Mr. Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election and is a Russian asset.
Hillary Clinton provided nuclear material to Russia
Mr. Obama faked his American citizenship.
The threat of COVID 19 is being exaggerated to hurt Mr. Trump's chances at re-election.
The COVID 19 virus was created and spread on purpose.
School shootings are “fake news.”
The number of Jews killed in the holocaust has been exaggerated.
The dangers of vaccines have been concealed.
The dangers of 5G technology have been concealed.

An Old Hymn

I happened to listen to the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” yesterday on-line.  The tune was familiar; however, the first verse was different than what we sing in our fellowship, and was the same as what we used to sing in the Old Mennonite tradition, as I recall.
This morning, I started in on some research to the words of the song, wanting to find the original text.  I found out that the song has been modified many times from the original by several different people, and has at least five verses.  We usually only sing three, and two of those three verses are changed from the original.
I’m not going to put all five original verses in this post.  If you want to see them, see the Wikipedia article on the song.  I will post the first verse, however, along with the verse that we sing in our tradition so you can see the very substantial change in the tone of the entire song, just from the change in the words of the first verse.

Our version:

Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me ever to adore Thee; may I still Thy goodness prove,
While the hope of endless glory fills my heart with joy and love.

Original version:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

I don’t know why the words were changed, and the “melodious sonnet” and “flaming tongues above” were deleted from our version.  I suspect that someone thought that the original words were too fanciful, or perhaps too figurative.  However, in my estimation, the entire message of the song is reduced by the substitution of words.
I see the hymn-writer coming into such a state of thanksgiving and praise in that first verse…thanksgiving and praise for the grace that floods in streams never-ceasing, that he longs to break out in a heavenly song known to the angels of heaven.  And I might even use the word “ecstatic” to describe his feelings at the time he sings this verse.
The altered first verse, however, quickly brings one back down from the “streams of mercy” thought to one of something more down-to-earth and practical.  And while I indeed am filled “with joy and love,” there’s nothing ecstatic or supernatural about my experience.  It’s…well…practical.
You may well have different thoughts about these verses than I have.  The words in this post are my own.  And that’s OK.  You may not be able to relate well to “flaming tongues” and “sonnets.”  But you need to know that the original writer of the song had specific thoughts and ideas in mind…and someone else has modified those thoughts and ideas to suit his or her own taste and belief.  That’s not, unfortunately, an unusual occurrence with older hymns.  Many have suffered the indignity of having words, thoughts, and entire verses altered, removed, or added because of someone’s personal belief and preference.  Obviously, you can detect my bias here toward singing the hymns as written.
In any event, know that we don’t sing the “old songs” just because they’re old.  We sing them because they’re good, powerful, grateful reminders of God and His relationship with His creation.  Don’t dismiss the old songs just because they’re old and traditional.  Use them.  Use them in your worship, thanksgiving, and adoration of God the Father and Jesus Christ our redeemer.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Two Good Men

Last evening, I watched a KPTS (our local public televisions station) program called “One-On-One.” It is an interview show where the host interviews a person from the area. That person may be a politician, business person, volunteer, media personality, and the like. It is usually one who is fairly well-known in the Wichita area.
The edition that I watched last night was an interview with Merril Teller, retired chief meterologist for KWCH, the CBS affiliate in Wichita. Many of you will remember Merril. He's doing fine in retirement, and seems to enjoy being able to “go and do” without the burden of work.
Teller has been with KWCH since 1981. He has seen huge changes in both the television media as well as the way weather is presented on the air. His 38 years of work at the same station (although it has changed hands several times and call letters as well), is seldom equaled anywhere in the broadcasting industry.
The host asked Teller a question that took him back to the early years of his career when KWCH was dead last in the Wichita market. It was not a good time for the station. It was a time of old, outdated equipment, large turnover of employees and talent, and generally not a good place to work.
Merril reminisced that the turnaround came when a couple of guys from Hays, Kansas purchased the station, poured a lot of cash into it, brought in new management, and made the station much of what it is today...number one in the market. Those two guys were Ross Beach and Bob Schmidt, who at that time owned the Hays and Goodland television stations as well as several radio stations and cable television franchises.
Merril hasn't been the only one who has credited Beach and Schmidt for the turnaround at the station. Several of the personalities who have since retired from there have credited them with bringing the station back from the brink.
I knew Mr. Beach and Mr. Schmidt. I worked for them for several years at both Hays and Goodland. They were great to work for. They cared for their employees, gave us everything we needed to succeed, and kept the stations in good equipment. They were personable, approachable, and well-respected in the community. The culture in their world was one of honesty, integrity, ambition, drive, and compassion. In later years, they engaged in several philanthropic endeavors, including a revamping of the Hays-located Sternberg Museum and the establishment of the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center on the campus of Fort Hays State University. It is no accident that their purchase of KWCH brought about change that resulted in hurtling that station to number one in the market.
This post, unlike most, has nothing to do with religion...but rather is one that looks at two good men who were able to effect profound change for the better wherever they were, through the timeless principles of honesty, fairness, integrity, and compassion. Those principles, contrary to what we see much of nowadays, are not outdated or passe. They continue to work whenever and wherever they are invoked. Use them. Believe in them. Let them guide you in your daily life.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Freedom Is Calling. So Is the Cage.

Last weekend I read an article in the latest issue of Christianity Today titled, “Freedom Is Calling.  So Is the Birdcage.”  Sandra McCracken, the author of the article, talks of driving down a highway recently, and seeing a truck that was carrying poultry in open-air cages.  No doubt they were going to some kind of poultry processing facility.  She then said that on some days, she feels like one of the birds on the poultry truck…caged in the confining circumstances of daily living, barreling down the highway of life on an open-air truck to who-knows-where.
We Christians often find ourselves in the same place as Ms McCracken.  We don’t wish to be like the poultry in the cages, but sometimes we find ourselves there due to life circumstances.  Overwhelming sadness, uncertainty of the future, unrelenting workload, the breakdown of normal living, and sometimes our own stubbornness can keep us caged up like the birds on the truck.  And sometimes we wake up in the morning and have no clue how we got to that point in life.
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.”  Paul reminds us of the truth of the freedom in Christ in Galatians.  In that same letter, he says, “It is for freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Our freedom in Christ doesn’t depend on the uncertainty of life and the breakdown of normal life and living.  These past couple of months have certainly been a time of sadness, uncertainty, and life that certainly isn’t normal.  We may feel like we are somehow caged up in the circumstances of the day, unable to function as we would like.  Our emotions may be on a kind of roller coaster, especially if we are temporarily out of work, if we aren’t sure if the place where we work will open again, or if we are having difficulty maintaining some kind of family normalcy.
Those emotions…those ups and downs…those experiences are normal in a situation such as the one we are in right now.  However, as Christians, let us also remember that we have a freedom that transcends the freedom of not having to stay at home or not being able to patronize a local business.  We have a freedom that helps temper the emotional roller coaster and the experiences of day to day living.  We have a freedom that cannot be taken away by a virus, a government order, or the loss of a job.
Our experiences may fluctuate from day to day…and that’s normal.  Our true freedom, however, remains secure in Jesus Christ.  He is the key.  He is the open gate.  He is the one that calls us out of the cage and into the freedom of eternal life…both now and forevermore.