Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Medicare, et al

 My wife and I are both working.  She happens to work for an organization that has good benefits in the health care area, so I have been riding on her insurance for several years, including years that I could have been on Medicare.  I did sign up for part A when it became available to me, but refused part b, drug coverage, and so on.

Now with her retirement coming in a year or so, I am working to get on full Medicare well before my benefits under her employment cease.  To that end, I’ve been talking with SHICK volunteers (SHICK is the Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas program) I’ve been talking with them about how to enroll, the rules and regulations, what I can expect, etc.  By the way, SHICK volunteers in Kansas are knowledgeable, well-trained, easy to speak with, and best of all the service is no charge.

I’ve also done research with several different companies that offer supplemental health coverage including the newer Medicare Advantage plans that one hears so much about on TV at certain times of the year.

In the end, after a year of thought and consideration, I’ve decided to enroll in traditional Medicare part B along with drug coverage, a supplemental plan, and a dental plan.  That decision, however, and its implementation, was not without some angst and a little bureaucratic slowness.

I won’t get into the details, but when one signs up for old age insurance, one practically needs a crystal ball to be able to read the future.  Because, with few exceptions, once one has made a decision on the kind of coverage he or she will have, it cannot be changed, or at a minimum can be changed with financial penalties attached.  Will I need many hospitalizations?  Will I have to take a name-brand medication at some point in the future instead of generic?  Will I need skilled care?  Am I better off to have dental insurance or pay the dentist cash when I need something done?  Is the network I’m signing up for adequate for my needs?  Are my providers in-network for the insurance I am considering?  What happens if I have an emergency when I travel out of state or out of network?  And with these questions are a host of other questions along with multiple places to find answers.

And then there’s the bureaucracy.  Having to work with the Social Security office to sign up for part B, I had to do so the old fashioned way…with paper.  And with COVID, there was no in-person counseling by a Social Security worker.  And no on-line for Part B sign-up.  Sending the paperwork in by mail, I waited a couple weeks without comment from them.  I called.  My paperwork was incomplete, I was told, and they were waiting on the information needed.  Of course, it would have helped had they notified me that the information was missing in the first place.  Sending in the corrected form by FAX (yes, they still have those things), I waited another couple of weeks with no word.  Contacting them again, I was told that they hadn’t worked the FAX’es yet and to be patient.  The actual comment was, the person hadn’t picked up the faxes yet.  Say what?

Contacting them yet again a few weeks later, I was asked to hold the phone after a 20 minute wait to talk to a live person, to whom I explained my situation.  Twenty five minutes on hold after the initial conversation, that person came back on the line, told me he found the form in a stack of papers, walked it through the approval process for me, and I was all set.  Incredulous, I asked him what else I needed to do.  He said “nothing…you’re good to go.”  A few days later, I got the approval letter in the mail.  May that man who did that for me be forever blessed !!

Now that I have part B coverage, I was able to complete the process by signing up for the supplemental, the drug plan, and the dental plan.  I should be well-insured now.

 The one thing that stood out for me during this several month ordeal is, how do people successfully navigate this system who may not have the health care background I have, don’t know about the SHICK volunteers, or don’t have the boldness to call, check on, complain, and generally be a pest until things are done to one’s satisfaction?

How many people are taken in by shysters who hawk substandard insurance policies, sign people up for multiple unneeded policies, or take the money without giving anything in return?  How many know that the Kansas Insurance Commissioner is on their side and will advocate for them in the event of an issue with an insurance company?  How many people don’t understand that when they sign up for a particular plan, there are restrictions on what kind of changes they can make in the future?  How many understand that their medical provider may well NOT be in network for their particular plan and know that they need to check on that before they sign up for a plan that sounds too good to be true (like the one that says they pay you to sign up and send a check to you every month thereafter)?  The list goes on…

 I don’t know how they could make this process any more difficult and taxing.  I think they managed to hit all of the “buttons of difficulty” in this menagerie of rules, policies, paperwork, and decisions to be made.  Thank heaven for the Kansas SHICK volunteers, and thanks be to the man who shepherded my part B application away from the stack of paperwork and through the process of approval.  May you be so fortunate when it comes time for you to sign up.

 Blessings…

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Rebecca

 

Good morning.  It’s Thursday again.

 Rebecca, a good friend and former classmate, corresponds regularly with me by email.  We grew up in the same small town, which means that I knew her family well, and she knew mine.  Intelligent, ambitious, and a truly kind person, Rebecca and I had a sort of friendly rivalry going on in school in terms of grades.  It seems that she usually won that rivalry, but it was all good-natured.

Recently, she suffered the loss of an older sister to cancer and a younger brother to a sudden stroke.  Her mom passed away a few years ago, and her dad has been gone for some time.  She also lost her last uncle recently.  And her husband lost his aunt at the same time as all of this other was happening to her.

She wrote to me talking of traveling to Kansas recently to attend the services for both her brother and sister, as well as her husband’s aunt.  At the end of the paragraph she said, “I can’t stand any more losses.”

The kicker to all of this is that Rebecca has for over 20 years been battling multiple sclerosis, an insidious and debilitating autoimmune neurological ailment that causes gradual weakening and disabling of body functions.  Using a walker is difficult for her, as are many of the activities of daily living.  The medications that help suppress the out-of-control immune system also allow other illnesses to thrive that otherwise may have been controlled or eliminated before they could take hold.  I suspect that just getting out of bed and facing the day is a herculean challenge much of the time.

Rebecca told me in the last couple of sentences of her email that, “I thought I could unwind to you…I promise that my next message will be far more upbeat.”

 

I tell this story in order to give you a couple of observations.

On days when I’m feeling less than optimal, which is happening more and more frequently nowadays, I sometimes think about Rebecca and the constant level of pushback she has to give in order to just get through the day.  I can’t imagine the amount of resolve it must take for her to get out of bed and try to have a somewhat normal day.  Nor can I imagine what it must take for her husband and others to care for her and help her with her needs.  Sometimes when I would like to have a pity party for myself, I think of Rebecca and others like her that I know.  That’s all it usually takes.

Second, I really don’t mind being someone who others feel like they can “unwind” to.  I’m getting better, I think, at listening.  And I believe that I can, when asked, most times offer some kind of encouragement.  Sometimes people need someone else that they can confide in, unload on, or as Rebecca said, “unwind to.”

You may be one of those people who others have felt comfortable unwinding to.  You may think that your listening to them doesn’t really accomplish much and is such a small thing; however, in our individualistic society, people are desperate for a relationship where they feel comfortable talking about life and living.  I continue to be amazed at the loneliness many people suffer in a world where they are surrounded by others and have an almost all-consuming desire to actually connect and communicate with another human.  The need for connection is often as strong as the need for food and water.  If you can help fill that need, lower your personal space walls, open your ears, your heart, and your soul…be that connection.

And when you feel like feeling sorry for yourself because of a minor ache, pain, or setback, think of others instead.  Pray for and if possible with them.  Encourage them.  Help them with a need they may have.  Find some way to serve someone else.  Give of yourself.

Have a blessed day today.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Savoring Time

 

Good morning.  I trust your day has begun well, and will end well.

 

As you know, last weekend was the annual Memorial Day celebration.  Many probably used the long weekend as a time to go to the lake, travel, or just relax.   Some used the weekend for its intended purpose…remembering those who have given their lives in service to the nation, and by extension remembering those of our families who have gone before.  The Plank family did some of both, as we usually do.  We visited several cemeteries, placing flowers and plants at the appropriate markers.  We visited about ancestors, recalling their service, their relationship to us, and telling stories about them.

We also gathered together as a family…32 of us by one count…all together.  Yes, it was raining for much of the day.  And so it was a good thing we gathered at a 5 bedroom ranch-style home with a full basement that was on about 3 acres of land with outbuildings and garages where we could be together.  We brought food, ate, told stories, played indoor games, and generally had a good day.

The other thing about the day on Monday was that it was the last day of the month of May.  That may seem to be a non-thing to you, but to me anyway, it was the recognition of the swiftness of the passing of the days.  May, 2021 is in the history books.  And before we know it, June will be gone, followed by July…then August.  The birthdays are coming entirely too quickly at this stage of life…I don’t have that many more to celebrate, and they’re coming all too fast for my liking.

As a child, I thought summers were pretty much endless.  School was out in mid-May, and there were endless days of childhood activities before having to go back to school in the fall.  But, as I got older, those days seemed to go by more and more quickly until now, it seems like those few days of summer quickly give way to fall and winter.  And in the process, one more birthday is marked off the calendar.

In less than three weeks, the sun will be at its most northern point in the sky, and the summer solstice will occur.  That means that the sun will then begin its travel back to the south, eventually bringing the onset of cooler weather and the winter.  It used to be, in my mind anyway, that the time between the equinoxes and solstices…about 90 days…was a long time.  Anymore, those days fly by with hardly time to recognize that they’ve come and gone.

So, as you go through your daily routine this day, stop for just a few minutes, get quiet, and savor the passage of time.  Maybe you will be in a place where you can hear a clock ticking off the seconds.  We have a grandfather clock we can hear in our house.  And if it’s quiet enough in my office, I can hear my wall clock tick the seconds as the second hand goes around.

Normally, this might be a place where I would insert words of vast wisdom and comfort.  However, I have no such words for you now.  Those words just aren’t coming to mind…rather, I’m hearing the ticking of the wall clock as it counts off the seconds…minutes…and hours in the day.  And I’m working on doing that savoring I mentioned a minute or so ago.  Sometimes that’s harder to do than it might seem.

It seems that right now, instead of savoring, I’m thinking of all of the things I haven’t had the time to do in the past few days…how I’m going to work those things in the next few days…and how many of those things may not get done at all.

Oh well, the thought of “savoring” was good, even if the implementation has been somewhat lacking.

May you receive blessing in abundance this day from the One who created time…and gives us the opportunities to make the most of the time we’ve been given.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Memorial Day Thoughts

 

This coming weekend, the nation will be celebrating Memorial Day.  Years ago, it was always on May 30, but the Congress in 1971 changed the observance of the holiday to the last Monday in May.  This has resulted in a three-day weekend for many of us who work for a living, and has changed how we celebrate the day.

Yes, we still honor those who are deceased, especially veterans of our nation’s military services.  However, we also take short trips, have cook-outs, go to the lake, and do many things having nothing to do with the observance of the day itself.  In fact, Memorial Day has become known as the unofficial start to summer, since many schools have dismissed for the summer by the time the holiday rolls around, and it’s usually warmer and more summer-like by that time as well.  Meteorological summer is also usually marked as the months of June, July, and August, lending more credence to the idea of the beginning of summer.

This year, we will do what we have done for many years.  We will visit the cemeteries where both the Planks and the Vincents are interred, and we will gather as an extended family at one of our homes…this year at our son’s place just outside of Wichita.  We’ll have a cookout, bring side dishes, play games, visit, watch the kids, and generally enjoy the day.  I’ll probably make my “famous” potato salad.  The wife will probably make her “famous” chocolate sheet cake.  We may bring the homemade ice cream freezer filled with frozen goodness, and might even have a couple of surprise items for the family to dine on.

I can recall Memorial Days when it was so cold one had to have a coat on to be outside.  Others have been rainy, muddy messes.  Some have been hotter than the norm.  And a few have been, as the baby bear said long ago, “Just right.”  I don’t know what the upcoming day holds, although the long range weather forecast isn’t bad right now.  But regardless, we’ll gather as a family, reminisce, and celebrate.

As one with a Mennonite background, I don’t have many among my ancestors who have served in the military.  Mennonites, as you may or may not know, generally espouse pacifism along with service to others through programs like the VISTA program, Americorps, and other similar national service programs.

I do have some who have served as combat medics and in other non-combatant ways, and my wife has many relatives who have served in the military in several capacities.  We honor them all as they have devoted a good chunk of their younger lives in service to the nation, regardless of their branch of service or when and where they served.

We need a military that is ready and able to defend us.  We might have a discussion about just what it means for us to be ready and able, and how much that should cost, but the fact is that from time immemorial, nations have had to raise some kind of military in order to assure a measure of peace and tranquility for themselves.  Equally so, nations and their more local governments need police agencies of some kind to maintain the public order and enforce the law.  Again, we might have a discussion on just what that agency looks like, how it functions, and what it costs, but the fact is we need police departments of all kinds to maintain some kind of societal order and peace.

So, while Memorial Day is often a time for relaxation, family gatherings, and the like, it is also a time for sober reflection…reflection on those who have offered…and in many cases given…the ultimate sacrifice for this nation, this society…for you.  This weekend, do your part.  Just stop for a few minutes and reflect on the true meaning of the holiday.  May your weekend be one that is relaxing, fulfilling, and peaceful…because of those who have and continue to serve this society, watching out for our good.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Backyard Thoughts

 

As I often have done this spring and prior years, I've taken advantage of the nice weather and our back patio, sitting in a comfortable chair, watching the goings-on in Pawnee Prairie Park, which is immediately behind us.  We are on the back side of the park, but there is a developed trail about fifty feet behind our back fence that is used regularly and often.  Additionally, there is an entrance to the park about a hundred feet away that is used a lot by the neighborhood.  As I sit either on my lawn chair or on the glider swing, I notice the people  who pass by.  Young, old, men, women, kids, dogs, the occasional skateboard, bicycle, and even folks on horses go by.  Some are walking.  Others are running, jogging, bicycling, skating, and in even one case awhile back, unicycling.

Some are keeping fit.  Others are out to exercise their dogs.  Still others make it a family outing with dogs, kids, and the adults.  Some younger people are running, I think, because they are in some kind of high school or college sport and are keeping in shape.  It's a kind of eclectic bunch that go by our back yard...all sizes, weights, ages, genders, ethnicities, and whatever else might describe a very diverse group of humans.  Generally, they follow the rule of no motorized vehicles in the park, although sometimes the occasional moped or gasoline-powered bike makes it in.

As I watch people go by, I often wonder, especially when I see a young couple, a couple with a young family, or perhaps teens, what their older days will be like.  Many of those people will see the 2080's, 2090's, and even the turn of the century, depending on longevity and a host of other factors too numerous to mention here.  I see a good number of these same young people looking at their phones as they walk, using earbuds of some kind as they exercise, and even some doing the old-fashioned thing of visiting and talking with each other.  And I have to wonder just what it will be like for them, just as I wondered in the 1960's just what it would be like in 2000, 2010, and beyond.

I'll not speculate here on what technology, medical advances, transportation advances, and the development of alternate energy sources might be.  And space travel?  Well, we just have no idea, really, about any of this stuff.  So much depends on the condition of the world society in general, and individual societies in particular.  A lot rests on global warming, or lack thereof.  And, of course, things such as pandemics, revolutions, and the continuing specter of nuclear annihilation cause us to give pause to speculating on the future.

I really wonder if the post-Christian era will persist, or perhaps morph into something more sinister.  Or perhaps anti-Christian and anti-religion feelings will moderate or perhaps the pendulum will begin to swing the other way.

These young people are going into a future that is totally unknown, unknowable, and precarious to say the least.  Of course, the same could be said for any era of the past; however, it seems to me that as fast as the world is moving...as quickly as information multiplies nowadays...as much as those in charge of things refuse to look at the long term and concentrate instead on looking good and prospering in the short run...it bothers me to think that these young people are going to be the ones who will have to cope with whatever we older folks  have laid the foundation for, yesterday and today.

If God gives me length of days, I'll be lucky to see 2040.  In many ways, I'm content to NOT live until 2100...to not see the long term effects of some of the disastrous decisions we as a society and a world have already made and are being carried out.  I think there is wisdom in the plan of God to cause an eventual end of years in the current creation.  But I am concerned for those who will go after us...especially my children, grand children, and others I know and love who are young enough to see many more decades of life.

You may think I'm being overly-pessimistic and am really down on life and the future.  I'm not.  There may well be a renaissance of sorts and a social and spiritual awakening either sooner or later.  It's happened before, and can well happen again.  I am, however, trying to be realistic as we continue to interact with our own kids and are also present to be some influence on our grand kids.  They need to know that the future may indeed be unicorns and bunnies.  But they also need to know that the future could hold some of the more ominous things that have plagued mankind for untold centuries.  And they won't be immune just because of technological and scientific advances and knowledge.

So I pray for peace, tranquility, and quietness of life, just as Paul the Apostle told Timothy.  Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  In times of the Roman Empire, this statement by Paul to Timothy is all the more exceptional.  And it applies equally to us as we all live out the length of days given by our Creator, whether those be short or long.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Future Holdings

 

As I often have done this spring and prior years, I've taken advantage of the nice weather and our back patio, sitting in a comfortable chair, watching the goings-on in Pawnee Prairie Park, which is immediately behind us.  We are on the back side of the park, but there is a developed trail about fifty feet behind our back fence that is used regularly and often.  Additionally, there is an entrance to the park about a hundred feet away that is used a lot by the neighborhood.  As I sit either on my lawn chair or on the glider swing, I notice the people  who pass by.  Young, old, men, women, kids, dogs, the occasional skateboard, bicycle, and even folks on horses go by.  Some are walking.  Others are running, jogging, bicycling, skating, and in even one case awhile back, unicycling.

Some are keeping fit.  Others are out to exercise their dogs.  Still others make it a family outing with dogs, kids, and the adults.  Some younger people are running, I think, because they are in some kind of high school or college sport and are keeping in shape.  It's a kind of eclectic bunch that go by our back yard...all sizes, weights, ages, genders, ethnicities, and whatever else might describe a very diverse group of humans.  Generally, they follow the rule of no motorized vehicles in the park, although sometimes the occasional moped or gasoline-powered bike makes it in.

As I watch people go by, I often wonder, especially when I see a young couple, a couple with a young family, or perhaps teens, what their older days will be like.  Many of those people will see the 2080's, 2090's, and even the turn of the century, depending on longevity and a host of other factors too numerous to mention here.  I see a good number of these same young people looking at their phones as they walk, using earbuds of some kind as they exercise, and even some doing the old-fashioned thing of visiting and talking with each other.  And I have to wonder just what it will be like for them, just as I wondered in the 1960's just what it would be like in 2000, 2010, and beyond.

I'll not speculate here on what technology, medical advances, transportation advances, and the development of alternate energy sources might be.  And space travel?  Well, we just have no idea, really, about any of this stuff.  So much depends on the condition of the world society in general, and individual societies in particular.  A lot rests on global warming, or lack thereof.  And, of course, things such as pandemics, revolutions, and the continuing specter of nuclear annihilation cause us to give pause to speculating on the future.

I really wonder if the post-Christian era will persist, or perhaps morph into something more sinister.  Or perhaps anti-Christian and anti-religion feelings will moderate or perhaps the pendulum will begin to swing the other way.

These young people are going into a future that is totally unknown, unknowable, and precarious to say the least.  Of course, the same could be said for any era of the past; however, it seems to me that as fast as the world is moving...as quickly as information multiplies nowadays...as much as those in charge of things refuse to look at the long term and concentrate instead on looking good and prospering in the short run...it bothers me to think that these young people are going to be the ones who will have to cope with whatever we older folks  have laid the foundation for, yesterday and today.

If God gives me length of days, I'll be lucky to see 2040.  In many ways, I'm content to NOT live until 2100...to not see the long term effects of some of the disastrous decisions we as a society and a world have already made and are being carried out.  I think there is wisdom in the plan of God to cause an eventual end of years in the current creation.  But I am concerned for those who will go after us...especially my children, grand children, and others I know and love who are young enough to see many more decades of life.

You may think I'm being overly-pessimistic and am really down on life and the future.  I'm not.  There may well be a renaissance of sorts and a social and spiritual awakening either sooner or later.  It's happened before, and can well happen again.  I am, however, trying to be realistic as we continue to interact with our own kids and are also present to be some influence on our grand kids.  They need to know that the future may indeed be unicorns and bunnies.  But they also need to know that the future could hold some of the more ominous things that have plagued mankind for untold centuries.  And they won't be immune just because of technological and scientific advances and knowledge.

So I pray for peace, tranquility, and quietness of life, just as Paul the Apostle told Timothy.  Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  In times of the Roman Empire, this statement by Paul to Timothy is all the more exceptional.  And it applies equally to us as we all live out the length of days given by our Creator, whether those be short or long.

May God bless you this week as you search out His will for you.


Thursday, May 06, 2021

The Overcomer

 

Good morning.  I’m glad you clicked on this post, and trust your day is going well.

 One of my current friends is a childhood friend from long ago.  Rachel (not her real name) and I went to school together all throughout our elementary and high school years.  She always did just a little better I did in school, constantly out-grading me by just a few points here and there…enough so that I always was in a sort of friendly competition with her…and seldom won.  I also knew her family…her mom and dad, older sister and younger brother.  The whole family was intelligent, hard-working, and successful in life.

 I lost track of Rachel shortly after high school, but maintained a relationship with her mom and dad, as they stayed in Harper, my hometown, and were there when we moved back there some years ago as a young family.  I knew Rachel had become an academic and was in a successful career in that field.  I didn’t know much of anything of her older sister or younger brother, however.

 A few years ago, I heard that her mother had passed away.  Her dad had passed some years before, and her mother carried on for several years on her own.  I found out when the memorial service was to be held, and went to the service to pay my respects to the family.  An ulterior motive was to try to reconnect with Rachel and if possible her sis and brother.

 I arrived a few minutes before services, explained my relationship with the family, and asked if I could go into the area where the family was.  There, I immediately noticed a redhead using a walker, talking to someone.  I can’t mistake that hair…it was Rachel.  I re-introduced myself, we visited a few minutes, exchanged contact information, and attended the memorial service.  I also was privileged to visit with her brother, but didn’t see or visit with her sister.

 Well, to shorten this story a bit, sometime after the service, we reconnected via email…she doesn’t do social media.  My wife and I also visited her and her hubby in Tulsa, and they came to the memorial service of one of our mutual classmates sometime later.  We exchange emails every couple of months or so, or if something unusual happens, we will visit via email about that.  I’ve learned a lot about Rachel’s life and the stories of her family as well in these encounters.

 Her older sister is terminally ill with cancer.  Her younger brother died a short while ago after a stroke and a fall…possibly due to a brain malfunction of some kind.  He had surgery for brain cancer some years ago.  Whether that had anything to do with the fall and stroke, I don’t know.  Her sister has only days to weeks to live.

 Rachel has been battling M.S. for well over 20 years now, and is less mobile than she was at her mom’s memorial service a few years ago.  She had scarlet fever as a child, and has had other maladies hit her during her lifetime.  Her brother and sister were on opposite coasts of the country, and Rachel is in Oklahoma.  She was able to travel to see her sister, but was unable to see her brother before his untimely and relatively quick passing.  She did attend his service.

 Looking at Rachel’s life, I quickly see a woman who has had her share of grief and pain.  Her parents are both gone.  Her older sister is terminally ill, 1,500 miles away.  Her younger brother had a sudden fall and stroke, and quickly passed away.  She has always been less than exceedingly healthy due to the scarlet fever.  And she’s been battling MS and all that comes with it for decades.

 Yet she perseveres.  She continues living life.  She keeps on doing what she can with the physical abilities she has.  And seems to have a decent attitude about it all.  In all of our conversations, the most I have heard her complain is what she said as she contemplated attending her brother’s memorial service, weighing her options and the inevitable difficulties of travel.  I quote:  “All of these factors add to my fatigue, close down my ability to even move, and probably make my walker very difficult to use.  Do I seem frustrated?”

 I don’t know what’s going on in your life.  Nor do I know how well or how poorly you’re dealing with those issues.  And I certainly am not qualified to offer advice.  But what I can do is point you to people like Rachel who continue to persevere even in the midst of what many would consider overwhelming problems and trials.  The human spirit has been created by God to, as the old saying goes, “Keep on keeping on.”  The trials of life and the struggles of living are a part of ourselves and our environment.  We celebrate the Rachels of this life…the overcomers…the perseverers.

 In the Bible, I could point to great people of faith such as Abraham, Elijah, the prophets, Esther, Ruth, the Apostle Paul, the Apostle Peter, and of course Jesus Christ as overcomers…perseverers.  And there are countless people in history who have overcome the greatest of obstacles in life to earn that place they occupy in history.

 And there are Rachels even now all around us and among us.  May we always see their examples, emulate their fortitude, and work for their good in all things.  And may God continue to bless not only you who are listening, but all of the Rachels who daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute, overcome.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

It's Good, Now

 Last week was the time for my annual physical checkup.  It's the time when I'm poked, questioned, looked over, and generally checked out.  I don't particularly enjoy these annual visits, but they are necessary since I also take medications that I fully believe have kept me alive to this day, and I must see a provider at least once a year to have those medications renewed, modified, or discontinued...depending on my specific needs.

One of the questions my provider asked me was in general how things were going.  My response to her was, “It's good, now.”  I didn't think much of that response until I left the clinic a little later.  I went out into the cool spring sunny morning and thought back to that short response.  There was a moment when I stopped beside my pickup, not getting in, and just savored life for a moment as it pertained to that response.  “It's good, now.”

Of course, in no way to I wish to hint that life hasn't been good before now.  It has.  However, there's something about this stage of life that is just, well, special.  Yes, I have aches and pains I didn't have some years ago.  Yes, I have to take medications to keep my blood pressure and other aspects of my physical self in line.  Yes, I no longer do some of the things I used to do.  My physical limitations are many more than they used to be.  And I know I have just a limited time left in this body, regardless of the medications and checkups.

But there are also those other things that make life at this stage worth living.  I have great flexibility regarding my work hours.  Or, I could choose at any time to not work at all and be fully retired.  I am mobile.  I can drive a vehicle.  I can walk, and even run a bit if needed.  My mind seems to be working well.  The miracle of lens implants has enabled me to continue seeing clearly.  It's good, now.

More than all of that, however, are some of the more intangibles.  A wife who loves me unconditionally.  Grand kids who I can watch grow and develop into the next crop of leaders and doers.  A church family that I adore.  A walk in the park.  Visiting the in-laws.  Friends on social media.  Emails to and from childhood friends.  Sons and daughters-in-law who are greatly loved and love in return.

Most of all, there is a God who loves me.  A God who has taken away all of my spiritual filth and placed it upon Himself.  A God who upholds the universe by the word of his power.  A God who shows me His awesomeness, patience, and grace daily.  A God who is gently but surely bringing me toward Himself day by day...and preparing me for that day.  A God whose faithfulness is constant and never-ending.  It's good, now.

Earlier last week, I got a copy of Carrie Underwood's new CD, My Savior.  On this recording, she sings twelve of the old hymns, including Amazing Grace, Great is They Faithfulness, Victory in Jesus, Softly and Tenderly, and others.  By the way, if you don't happen to know Ms. Underwood's life story, check it out.

I put the CD into the player in my pickup the day I got it, fully intending to listen to it once, then go back to the FM station I normally listen to…the local public radio station.  At the end of the first time through, I did pull the CD from the player.  NPR news was on when I did that.  I listened for about 10 minutes to the news, then suddenly realized I was tired of hearing the news.  I put the CD back on and have kept it on, letting it recycle time and again.  That CD has been my constant pickup companion for over a week, playing over and over, probably 20 times or more.

There is something cathartic about those old hymns on that CD.  There is something very attractive about listening to those statements of faith, grace, and forgiveness on that CD.  There is something about that CD and about Ms. Underwood’s singing that gently tells me, “It’s good, now,” with each song.

May God bless you this day, such that you can also say, even with all that is going on in your life…”It’s good, now.”

Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Passing of Time

 

Good morning.  Welcome to the April 8th edition of Thursday Thoughts.

 

Years ago, almost in another life it seems, I was a commercial broadcast technical engineer in radio and television.  My job consisted of several facets, among which was keeping the electronic equipment in good repair, doing some on-air work, producing local commercial content, and other duties as assigned in a typical small market operation.  At the time, we didn’t have computers, the internet, cell phones, and all of the electronic trappings of modern life.  We did many things the old fashioned way.  Telephones were connected to the wall or sat on a desk.  They had dials rather than push buttons.  We looked up information at the library or in printed encyclopedia sets and dictionaries.  Computers with memories of up to 16 kilobytes where files were saved on a cassette tape were just beginning to appear in some outlets.

One of my jobs was to be certain that the clocks in the control rooms of the stations were at the correct time.  That was, after all, a critical part of the operation.  We had to know down to the second what time it was so we could insert commercials, take a network show feed, or do whatever else needed to be done in a timely fashion.

In order to do that, we needed a standard of reference for the correct time.  The United States government conveniently provided such a standard out of what then was called the National Bureau of Standards…now the National Institute of Standards and Technology…an arm of the Commerce Department of the Executive Branch of the federal government.

Now, for those of you wondering why I’m chasing this particular rabbit, I assure you I have a purpose in mind.  Stay with me here.

The government operates a clock so exact that its error rate is estimated to be one second in well over a billion years.  They make this precise timekeeping available to the public in several forms, one of which is to broadcast time signals by several means.  These signals are available to someone with a shortwave receiver at certain shortwave frequencies.  They are also available through a very low frequency radio wave that is used by what is commonly known as atomic clocks.  These clocks are not really atomic powered…they use regular batteries or are plugged into the electrical wall socket.  They are inexpensive, self-adjust in response to the radio wave, and are accurate to within about one tenth of a second at any given time.  You may well have one or more of these clocks in your home.

Another way to obtain the correct time is to make a phone call to the radio station that broadcasts the signals.  When the phone connects, you will hear the same sounds as you would hear if tuning in to the shortwave signals.  The time will be given second by second with an announcement of the correct time on the minute.  Go ahead and try it.  The number is area code 303   499 7111.

I have this phone number in my cell phone’s directory.  I call it from time to time to reset our grandfather clock we have at home.  When I listen to the time signals coming from this phone number, I am immediately struck by the reality of the passage of time.  The prior minute…the prior hour…the prior second…will never repeat.  Each tick of the second reminds me that time continues unabated, regardless of what I am doing, where I am, or whether or not I’m even alive.  And there’s something that is relentless about time’s passage.  We can’t slow it down, reverse it, or speed it up for ourselves in any meaningful way.  It just continues…continues…continues.

God had something to say about time and the passage of time.  The Apostle Peter, in what we know as his second letter in the New Testament says this about the passing of time.  First of all, you must understand that in the last days some people will appear whose lives are controlled by their own lusts.  They will make fun of you and will ask, “He promised to come, didn't he? Where is he?  Our ancestors have already died, but everything is still the same as it was since the creation of the world!”

These, Peter says, are people who refuse to believe that there will be a time when time itself will be no more, and there will come a day when we will have to account to God for the precious gift of life and time that he has given us.

Peter goes on to say this:  “But do not forget one thing, my dear friends!  There is no difference in the Lord's sight between one day and a thousand years; to him the two are the same.  The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think.  Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.  But the Day of the Lord will come.”

And he continues in the same vein regarding what those of us who are understanding these words should do: “And so, my friends, as you wait for that Day, do your best to be pure and faultless in God's sight and to be at peace with him.  Look on our Lord's patience as the opportunity he is giving you to be saved.”

So, as I close this thought, I ask you again to call the number for the correct time.  Area code 303  499 7111.  That’s 303  499 7111.  Listen to the ticks of the seconds as they go by.  And understand that as relentless as they are now to continue, one day those ticks will cease and the Day of the Lord will indeed come.  Be at peace with your God.  Rest in His promises.  And look forward to that day.

 

May God continue to bless you this day.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

 

An elderly man, a widower, lives in our neighborhood close by.  I’ll call him James, but that’s not his real name.  James uses a walker, and even at that can hardly get around.  It is a major effort for him to drag the trash dumpster out to the street for the weekly trash pickup, and it is all he can do to slowly and carefully get into and out of a vehicle.  He doesn’t drive any more…family and friends take him where he needs to go.

 One night last week, I went outside into our front yard just before bedtime.  My wife had told me earlier in the evening that when she came home, James’s garage door was up, and would I check on it later in the evening.  I often go out at that time of night just to get some fresh air and take in the night sky before retiring.  While outside, I noticed that James’s garage door was still up and the garage light was on.  It was about 11:30 at night, so I knew he had already gone to bed.

 I wondered what I could do short of waking him or calling his son (I have the son’s phone number in the event of an emergency).  I knew I couldn’t go inside the garage and push the button to activate the door, then get out before the door closed.  Nor did I have the PIN code that activates the remote opener on the side of the garage door.  The only other thing to do was to release the door from the opener and manually lower the door.  I knew, however, that when I did that, the next time James pushed the activator button, the door wouldn’t open, but rather the opener mechanism would travel to the other end of its range and hopefully re-connect automatically with the door.  And he would wonder what had happened and why it was the way it was.

 Fast forward to the next day.  As I was pulling out of our drive to go on an errand, I noticed a car in James’s drive.  I knew from prior encounters that the car belonged to his grand daughter, who often comes to the house to do minor cleaning and care for her grand dad.  I wanted to say something to a family member about finding the door open and what I did, so I stopped, knocked on the door, and Lisa (again not her name) answered.

 I have visited with Lisa before.  She has not had the best that life has to offer, but is doing what she can to make her way in the world.  She’s had her share of issues in life and living, both within her family as well as in her relationships with others.  I don’t know enough to know what the exact issues are, but I also know that she often helps other family members such as her grandfather, with basic care needs.  I believe she is medically trained as a certified nurse aide.

 We talked for a few minutes about James, his health, etc., and I also told her about the garage door incident, which she said she would report to her uncle, a son who has primary care responsibilities for James.  We visited for a few minutes at the front door, and then I felt the urge to ask her a question.  I said, “Lisa, are you OK?”

 Immediately, her facial expression changed and she started shedding tears, crying.  I felt rather like the typical man, thinking maybe I shouldn’t have said anything to her about that and began to apologize.  She said through her tears that no, it was all right for me to ask.  I asked her if she wanted to talk about it, and she simply said, “No one has ever asked me if I’m OK.”

 I asked, still in kind of a shock and in a fumbling way if there was anything I could do and I think I repeated my request to Lisa that I would be willing to listen if she was willing to talk.  She just told me that she needed strength.  I then asked her about her concept of God, mainly because I couldn’t recall what she had said in prior conversations about that, and she only said, “I know he’s there.”

 I wasn’t sure what to do then, but I knew also that she and I had talked in the past about faith, spirituality, and related topics, that she was receptive to those conversations.  I also told her that I was a minister during those conversations.  So I asked her if I could pray with her, and pray for her later as well.  She readily agreed, and we had a prayer session right there on the front porch.

 She seemed somewhat relieved as I left, and as I got back into my vehicle and went about my business, I thought about that encounter and what it was that made me ask that question.  To this day, I don’t know the answer to that.  I do know, however, that I don’t normally ask that question of others, and am thinking that I may need to ask it a little more often.

 We often say, “How are you?” and expect to hear a “Just fine,” even when things aren’t so fine.  But when we say, “Are you OK?” that for many people portends a different level of interest and demands a more honest answer.  And when we ask the question in that way, we need to be ready as God’s people to do some ministry right then and there…because we never will know just why it was that the person we’re talking with was brought into contact with us, and we’ll likewise never know what the answer will be until we ask.  So, as I found out in asking James’s grand daughter Lisa, we need to be ready for any answer.

 The Bible talks about being readyThese verses don’t directly address the scenario I was part of, but they do express the principle of always being ready to give a proper response.  In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

 May God continue to bless as you seek out ways to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made

 

Good morning.  It’s Thursday again.

 

About a week and a half ago, we had guests at our place and I was helping the wife prepare dinner in the kitchen.  We had something baking in the oven for the meal, and it was time to take it out of the oven.  As I reached in to take out the dish, the back of my hand brushed against the hot edge of the oven.  The area was about an inch and a half long by about half of an inch wide.  It didn’t look too bad at the time…just red.  I put some water on it and went ahead with the prep for the dinner.

 Later on, the red place started to look a little more sinister, and eventually a rather elongated scab formed on the burn.  I kept the area clean, bandaged it from time to time, and although I’ll spare you from having to see photos of it or showing it to you now, live, will tell you that it has just about healed.

 OK, you say.  What in the world does this have to do with a Thursday Thought?  Just this.  I’ve been watching that area on the back of my left hand with interest over the past days as a protective layer was formed over it, new tissue grew, skin grew over the wound, and healing is nearing completion.  I’m sure there will be a scar of some kind there, but just observing my body healing that wound has been an almost spiritual experience.

 I’ve never consciously told my body what to do in order to heal that area.  I have no clue what is actually going on on a molecular or cellular level in that place on my hand.  I’ve not had any conscious part in the actual healing process…I only have tried to keep it clean and covered it when I felt I needed to do so.

 Blood vessels, nerves, skin, underlying tissue…all is being created, rebuilt, and retro-fitted as I watch.  Dead tissue is being carried away and disposed of.  Germs and viruses trying to enter the breach are being killed off.  The protective covering gets smaller by the day, and now is covering only the deepest portion of the burn area.  That place on my hand is a veritable repair shop with tools being used there that are beyond anything I know or understand.  There is an itching sensation in the area, which I know is a symptom of the healing process.  In a short time, my hand will be “good as new,” and the only thing I will notice there is a small scar where the outer skin has knit itself together.

 When the Bible says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that we were “knit together in our mother’s womb,” and when I look at what’s going on on and inside of the back of my hand, I begin to understand that there is something special and wondrous about this house of clay that has been prepared for me.  That there is something or someone beyond this life and beyond this existence that has inserted a wisdom into the universe from another place…because there is nothing in this sphere of existence that can conceive of, create, and sustain the wonder that I am seeing on that place on the back of my hand.

 It’s no wonder that humanity itself is called to humility…to walk humbly.  What we don’t know and what we can’t do far, far exceeds what we do know and can do as human beings.  And when we acknowledge that fact…when we understand our dependence…when we realize that we are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made,” we will have taken a giant step toward being the humans that the Creator has always intended for us to be.

 Blessings.

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 followed...as 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 us...to 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

Perspectives

 

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.