Archive for April 2009

Becoming Senior Menu Eligible

April 29, 2009

A new day is dawning! I’m not sure whether to welcome it or dread it, but it’s coming either way.
On Cinco de Mayo I reach 55! I will now become eligible to order off of the senior menu at a number of restaurants. It is the section that, for the past several decades, I have raced by in my decisions of what to have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s the section that does not feature cheeseburgers, southern fried chicken, or a slab of ribs smothered in sweet honey barbecue sauce. No bottomless pasta bowl offers are on it.
I haven’t looked that closely yet, but I don’t believe it has a dessert section in it. I figure that the restaurants assume that extra green beans on the dinner plate are preferable to extra hot fudge on the sundae. It’s the senior version of being given the TV remote control, told you can watch whatever you want, and then discovering there are only two channels. It’s guided freedom.
It has, instead, featured the equivalent of a “No Trespassing” sign at it’s heading by simply saying “55 and Over Menu.”
For some reason I’m not feeling the same way I did when I discovered I was tall enough to finally ride the “Scrambler” at the amusement park. Being able to order a special serving size of liver and onions does not prompt me to begin salivating.
I wonder if the server will check my ID the first time I attempt to get the “turkey roll.”
“Sir, that part of the menu is for those 55 and older.”
“I am! See.”
“Well, I guess you are! Well…you look very well preserved for your age!”
Life is filled with milestones. Sometimes they are welcomed and sometimes they are dreaded. The birth of my grandson was welcomed. My first root canal was dreaded. Both were experienced—celebrated or endured—and both taught me. The first about the celebration of new life and the joy it brings; and the second about flossing better in the future.
“Becoming Senior Menu eligible” reminds me that I’m not getting any younger; that even as I press on towards the purpose God has for my life, and fulfilling the potential He has gifted me with, I am faced with the changes and challenges of growing older. I will not stop pressing towards fulfilling my purpose, but I will survey the path a little more carefully.
A few years ago I was training to run the Pike’s Peak Ascent race, a 13.2 mile run to the top of the mountain, for insane people. I would train by going over to Barr Trail, the trail that is also used for the race, and running usually four to five miles up. When I did that I would, of course, have to turn around and run back down. Running down is harder on you physically than running up because of the pounding your ankles and knees take. The first couple of times I ran down I stumbled several times on tree roots sticking out, or rocky places that one of my feet would clip as I went over it. After a while I discovered that running down wasn’t about how fast I could get back down to the bottom, but rather “how fast I could get back down to the bottom safely.” I found out from experience that there were certain spots to slow down at, or certain places where it was better to pass to on the right side of the trail rather than the middle.
Hitting 55 is like a “life point” where you, hopefully, have become a little wiser, a little slower, a little more limited, but also a little clearer on the direction you’re heading in.
55 on 5/5!
“Waiter, waiter! Liver and onions for everybody!”

The Susan Boyle Effect

April 23, 2009


I admit. I can’t watch it enough!

I’ve viewed Susan Boyle’s performance on “Britain’s Got Talent” probably twenty times. The YouTube video has passed forty million hits.

If you’ve been out of the country—actually out of the world—Susan Boyle is a 47 year old, never-been-married, never-been-kissed, unemployed, church charity worker, who is, at first glance, strikingly unimpressive! Her common appearance is the first thing that hits you. At a school dance she would blend in with the wallflowers. Her companion is her cat Pebbles.

She is so “un-showbizzy” that the audience and three judges wrote her off before she even started singing. If tomatoes had been available the stage would have been slimed…and then the music began!

She sang a song from Les Miserables that her hero, Elaine Paige, had sung. Her performance was better than the one sung by her hero. I keep hit the play button on the YouTube video to that moment when the faces of the judges change from “Why Did I Take This Job” to “Oh! My Gosh!” Three seconds in the audience erupts in applause and astonishment.

It is a classic case of determining a book by its cover without bothering to even read the table of contents. It’s pre-judgment in its finest example. It’s the musical real-life version of the movie Hoosiers, which was based on a true story, but seasoned with a touch of Hollywood to make it that much more entertaining. Susan Boyle was entertaining, talented, but in real time! She’s Napoleon Dynamite with a personality and a smile; the average student who suddenly produces an authentic best-seller. She’s the clarinet player in a group that thinks percussion is where it’s at! She’s the little boy who gives Jesus his lunch in order to help out with the hunger pangs of the multitude. Who would have thought such a sacrifice would touch the whole crowd.

“Susan Boyle” is a story of the value that we so easily yank away from someone. It’s an example of the pecking order of life that people even exercise in front of a TV screen, or, in this case, an internet web site. How quickly we settle on first impressions! We tend to assign a value before opening the box.

The majestic moments in this situation are how quickly the audience and judges put the brakes on where they thought this was going, and turned the bus around.

It’s a heartwarming story that really does elicit tears. And yet in the midst of this incredible happening to an average middle-aged woman there have come doubters. Today I noticed that the skeptics surfaced, insinuating that it was all staged. It’s as though no one can so quickly change a hissing, ridiculing audience. Our world is more prone to think the worst of people than allow Cinderella stories to play out.

Susan Boyle, unintentionally mind you, has become a person of hope and realized dreams. In her a multitude of people see that perhaps their lives can find fulfilled purpose and realize what they only dreamed of. Our world infrequently allows average people to make vivid lasting impressions.

Susan Boyle has given us cause to celebrate and re-assess our value. Perhaps for a few moments it has caused us to slow our judgmental attitudes down long enough to hear the hidden sweet sounds of life that drift by us unnoticed.


April 16, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. April 15, 2009
“I Just Don’t Get It!”
I admit! I’m naïve in a lot of ways. I remember a date during my high school days that I’m still haunted by. I walked the young lady to her front door at the end of our date. The front porch light was on. She asked me if I would like her to turn it off, and I replied “No, that’s okay!”
Another high school memory is from driver’s education. I was driving for the first time and as I turned the corner I just about gave my teacher a heart attack since I was looking at the center of the steering wheel instead of the road. For some reason I thought the crown symbol in the center of the steering wheel needed to be in the upright position for the car to be going straight…which it did…but I hadn’t thought about what I was to do if a pedestrian was crossing as I was focused on the crown!
So…I admit, I’m naïve!
But I just don’t get almost all of the Christian programming I see on cable TV religious channels! Or there are a few that are more than worth their weight in gold…like Charles Stanley, Ed Young, and a couple of others, but a large percentage of them just leave me shaking my head.
Did I mention that I’m naïve?
I’m perplexed by the prophesying! Not that I don’t believe in prophesy, I just have an uneasiness about how a person can prophesy about approaching calamity one moment and then ask for money in the next moment.
I’m confused by “the production” of a worship gathering that is filled with the glitter, but no glory. There are a lot of hallelujahs, but I’m missing the Holy.
We have about ten Christian channels on our satellite TV plan. Some nights I flip between them until I can’t take it anymore. I am more drawn to The Weather Channel!
In analyzing my uneasiness I think…I think…I’ve been able to narrow things down to three points, although they are all from my point of view. Assuredly, countless people will disagree with me.
• The absence of spiritual “authenticity”– I don’t experience a connection with God as I view the worship happening on my TV. That is not to say that worship isn’t happening in that location, but I’m just not drawn to praising Jesus by watching it happening. Perhaps it’s the switching from one camera angle to another to another. One moment you’re watching a singer on stage and the next you’re watching a lady in the congregation praising God with her hands in the air, and the next you’re seeing the guitarist in action. The “production” is effective in one way, in that it looks like a television production, but for me it creates a mindset that says I’m watching simply that…a television production.
• The Un-Targeted Target Audience– As I watch the production I can’t avoid the question: Who is their target audience? Religious broadcasting is marketed in a way that its viewership is mostly Christians, while it promotes itself as reaching non-Christians. Their funding comes from believers, so there is an obvious lean towards keeping the Christian viewer interested enough in the program, and believing enough that non-Christians are watching the production. I could be wrong…
• The Re-discovery of Creativity– Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in Dallas, made the statement in a Leadership journal interview, “We want people to come and hear the Gospel, but it’s also about creativity. I think church should be the most creative place in the universe.” Creativity has been put in the storage cabinet most of the time in our churches. It’s the strange cousin that we don’t like to talk about. It makes us feel uncomfortable at certain moments, ask probing questions the next, and, God forbid, remember scriptural principle in different images, and with more than two of our senses- hearing and seeing. When I flip channels to religious programming I see an emphasis on the glitter and what one talking head (the pastor) is presenting, but an absence of fresh revelation.
Like I said, I’m naïve. I just now found out what “lol” stands for. I thought it meant “little old lady.”
When it comes to religious programming, however, I just don’t get it!

April 9, 2009

WORDS FROM W.W. “The Suspicions of Good Intentions”

There’s a paranoia that is gripping more and more of the inhabitants of our communities. It’s a suspicious paranoia about people who desire to do good. The tragedy is that this suspicion is not unwarranted. There have been a number of experiences in recent years of so-called “Good Samaritans” who have cheated people out of money and possessions.

Without going into a lengthy story, a couple of months ago I was approached by a young man and sixty-ish woman who were looking for financial help. As the story goes, her Social Security check was late in arriving and they just needed a little money to get some groceries.

Just didn’t feel right! Maybe it was the fact that she was standing there smoking a cigarette with a 7-11 Big Gulp in her other hand that made me a little pessimistic about the need, but I just…kept…walking.

Rip-off artists are in greater numbers these days than artistic artists. (I’m not sure if “artistic artist” is really a title or not. It’s kind of like saying “he’s a baking baker” or “she’s a drawing cartoonist.”) We’ve all been burned by somebody. There are so many checks that have gotten lost, evidently, in the mail! And they seem to strangely get lost after we’ve forked over the money loan to the other person.

Can you feel “the burn”?

And so the ripple effect is that good intentions are scrutinized, analyzed, and even rejected. It was evident in the wide range of reactions that people from our church received last Sunday when we went out into the neighborhoods around our church building and gave out packets of flower seeds. It was intended to be a gift to our neighbors as a way of saying “Happy Easter.”

Some people were touched and deeply appreciative.

Others responded that they attended a different church. Understand that the purpose was not to get them to change churches, but simply give them a gift that could be used to help beautify our neighborhood, but…some church folk immediately went to the “I attend another church” trump card.

Some people weren’t interested.

At one house our people heard a number of people talking inside, rang the doorbell, and then heard the people inside debating about who was going to get up and answer the door. Nobody did.

A couple of people said they weren’t interested in giving a donation. Hey! We hadn’t even hinted that we were interested in receiving a donation. They just assumed that since they were receiving a gift that we were going to ask for money.

It’s a new challenge for the people of God. It’s not that we’re “do-gooders.” It’s that we desire to do good, to help others. Good intentions are a good thing. Jesus himself said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45)

But, of course, people were a little wary of the early believers. Acts 5:13 says that “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” But then it goes on. “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought their sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” (Acts 5:14-15, NIV)

There will always be the suspicious, the doubtful, even the bittered, but there will also always be the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Over time, and through an abundance of prayer, the suspicious may very well take notice of our good intentions. It may not even be noticed until later…later as in, we’ve already passed by and they are simply looking at the backside of our shadows as we’re helping the next person along the way.

April 3, 2009

WORDS FROM WW April 2, 2009
“Serving Strange People”

We just got back a few days ago from San Francisco where we spent a week vacationing. I’m trying to take more seriously the idea that vacation means “vacating”, as in the premises. From the view of things there were a lot of people who were vacating last week to San Francisco instead of from San Francisco.
We experienced a variety of people and, quite honestly, a lot of strange people. One man pretended to be a bush. He sat beside a lamp post with a bush in front of him. As someone passed by he would suddenly shake the bush and scare them. People were giving him money!
There were an abundance of street performers singing…dancing…performing magic…doing skateboarding stunts…playing the violin…drawing portraits. And there were a few people there leftover from the hippie movement- or shall we say never moved on from the hippie movement.
This past week we had several people from our five neighborhood churches meet together to talk and strategize about a project we’re doing together at the end of April in our neighborhood called “Community Hands”. We’ll go to homes in our neighborhoods and do simple work projects for our neighbors, tasks like clearing brush and leaves from yards, washing windows, etc.
There are very few people in our neighborhoods who attend one of the five churches. It’s not meant to be a “Build Our Attendance” effort. Instead it is just a small effort at serving our neighbors. It’s meant to be a visible expression that we have been called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. With two of the three grade schools closest to our churches closing at the end of this school year, there’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in our area. The people of God have an incredible opportunity to serve our community in non-threatening caring ways.
About a week ago a man was shot in the face by his girlfriend five houses away from one of the neighborhood churches. The house was discovered to be a place where drugs were prevalent. As our pastors talked about it, one of us mentioned that it’s kind of a wake-up call. There’s a shooting right down the street from us and its drug-related…we can’t ignore the presence of the Deceiver. There’s an evident mission afoot that seeks to move people and communities away from God. Perhaps another way of saying it is that there is a mission to cancel the presence of peace and promises of hope.
And so we’re going to go and serve some strange people and say with our actions and efforts “Jesus does make a difference. He does give hope.” We probably won’t encounter people disguised as bushes, but we may encounter some folks who have started trying to hide behind the bushes in front of their homes. Hide not to scare, however, but hiding because they are scared.