Archive for the ‘Nation’ category

The Blotches I Suddenly Could See

September 12, 2020

It was late in the evening, which is anytime after 7:00 for me, and I was sitting in a quiet moment of reflection. I thought about the day that had been, the conversations and challenges. The end of another teaching week was just another day away. Day 17 had proceeded without too many glitches and I was anticipating the Friday plan of tired eyes and distracted twelve-year-olds.

As I gazed at my hands I saw them, a couple of age spots, blotches, AARP markers on the backside of my hands that had not been there when I was twenty, or even thirty, but now, at 66, I suddenly could se them.

It’s not that they had suddenly appeared like the Colorado September 8 snowstorm the day after it was 97 degrees in Colorado Springs. No, I realized that the journey of time had slowly developed the indications of my advancing elderliness.

Perhaps it was a God-sign for our times that the thought came upon me. Like so many things in life, the differences and injustices in our culture and in our world that have been there for so long suddenly catch out attention. We see them where we didn’t really notice them. And I realize that events such as pandemics, and 9/11 terrorist attacks, race relations and tensions, financial heartbreak, closed churches, and the hyping of political fears cause the blotches of our world and aged issues of the past decades to stand out.

Like the imperfections on the backs of my hands, the imperfections and imbalances of our world have been there for a long, long time, but in a short focused look we suddenly see them with disturbed eyes.

The thing is they won’t be corrected or erased quickly. Noticeability is simply the first step in redirection. Unlike my skin blotches, however, the bruises of our times can be healed, perhaps slowly and painfully, but they can be “unwounded”.

The Balance of Fear and Courage

August 22, 2020

Fear and courage are two over-used words in these days of hoped-for vaccines, election tensions, and employment uncertainty. They are hyped and griped in the media, echoed in the quivering tones of our voices, and thought about in the aloneness of our homes.

The middle school where I’ve coached for twenty years and substitute taught for the last four called me up on Tuesday to ask me to come and teach a language arts class for the next several weeks…or months. So I said…sure!

It manifested some fear in a couple of family members. Not body-trembling, nail-biting fear, but fear and anxiety about a 66-year-old entering a school building. My fear, on the other hand, was focused on the new Blob monster called “the virtual classroom”. On a laptop screen in front of me all these faces will be staring at me, causing me to wonder if I’m unzipped or have a piece of chive attached to one of my front teeth.

Fear can be a benefit. Cockiness usually leads to some bad conclusion, like the Soviet sub commander in The Hunt For Red October whose excessive opinion of his mastery leads his First Officer to say to him, right before the sub blew up, “You have killed us!” Fear can be a guide that tells us to proceed with caution or reconsider our direction.

Courage is the awareness of fear and the determination to stay the course. Courage demands the possibility of a bad ending of some kind, but also the potential for a beneficial conclusion. Courage is not self-seeking, but rather mindful of the good that can be done for someone else.

Fear is often trumpeted in such a way that it causes us to think that the end is near. Unfortunately, courage is sometimes communicated as if the person portrayed is like the new messiah and has no fear.

At my school this week I witnessed a teaching staff that all had fears and, from what I could see and hear, all had courage. It’s a courage to keep guiding the educational canoes filled with kids. I use that picture of a canoe, having known the unstableness of such a vessel as it moves down a stream…especially with hyper adolescents occupying its paddles.

There are some anxious educators, wanting the best for kids and trying to navigate around all the rocks and low-hanging tree branches as the classroom canoes face the rapids.

As some wise advisor once told me, “Time to put your big boy pants on!” And I would add “And pray!” Psalm 23 seems to be even more relevant each morning about 7:30!

“Though I walk through my virtual classroom of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me!”

Responsibility In The Crosshairs of Freedom

August 12, 2020

There are certain situations in our everyday lives that demand that freedom be put on the back burner. For example, the speed limit on streets and highways is meant to keep every driver and vehicle safe. A crash caused someone driving recklessly not only threatens their life, but the lives of those in other vehicles. And, oh my, most of us have experienced the frustration of backed-up traffic because of one speed demon crashing miles ahead of us!

America is a free country. We say those words and stretch the elastic in the waist band to the breaking point. Pardon the expression, but we try to fit a size XXX of freedom into a 28 waist with no apologies for the cultural bulginess is creates.

Responsibility seems to be a word that we use to overkill with our kids and place in storage for our own lives. It’s more than an issue about wearing masks and washing your hands. It’s a personal and corporate value that is being viewed by more and more people as a relic of The Andy Griffith Show era.

When freedom and responsibility co-exist and work in rhythm with one another like an Olympic figuring skating duo, it’s a beautiful thing. Most of the time, common sense and community benefit join hands with them, and the local newspaper must rely on news stories like whose house did Billy Bob and Joann Rice have dinner at after church on Sunday, or which 4-H’er was awarded the grand prize for her winning pig at the county fair. The teamwork of freedom and responsibility seldom makes good headlines, but, seriously, wouldn’t we like a few days that would be ho-hum and un-sensational?

It seems in these times, however, that responsibility is often in the crosshairs of freedom. Freedom drives a car smack dab into responsibility’s front window and takes off with items that don’t belong to it.

Freedom gone crazy is like a bear in a honey store. Look out! there’s going to be a lot of licking, broken glass, and beastly entitlement. I can understand bears. It’s the crazies who have mistaken free reign for freedom that I cringe about.

Lean on Me From a Distance

April 4, 2020

Bill Withers passed away yesterday at the age of 81 of heart problems. One of the many songs he had written was “Lean On Me”, the year of my high school graduation, 1972.

His passing at this time in our country’s struggles seems strangely appropriate because it has brought that song back into our minds. It’s a time to lean on one another, even from a socially acceptable distance. The words from the song resonate in our minds and spirits: Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna’ need somebody to lean on.

Each one of us has times where our lean is more pronounced than at other times. Weary health care workers are looking for a wall to lean against for a few minutes. First-responders are in need of a listening ear to lean on. Grandparents lean their ears closer to the phone to hear the angelic voice of their young grandchildren. Pained souls lean into a YouTube video of a church choir singing Amazing Grace.

When Bill Withers wrote those lyrics almost fifty years ago he had no idea that they’d be intently listened to in 2020.

Oh, there are still plenty of people under the illusion that the world revolves around themselves and the purpose of everyone else is to please and pleasure them, but I think this pandemic has brought a new awakening– I guess that would be a reawakening– of how I need you and you need me.

My wife, caring of the need of others, took a half-dozen rolls of toilet paper up to our middle school this week, where bagged lunches were being distributed. Her thought was that those who qualify to receive the free lunches might also need a roll of TP! I walked by the school an hour later just to say hi to a couple of the workers and they informed me that those rolls of TP had not lasted long. They had all been given…quickly!

Leaning on one another, once in a while, means something as simple as that. As Bill Withers sang, “I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.”

 

Realizing What We No Longer Have

April 2, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 2, 2020

                        

When I recently taught 7th Grade Language Arts for 8 weeks, I noticed somber-faced students entering the building at 7:30. Although some were excited about being at school for another day of broadening their educational experience, most were as excited as a skateboarder at a geriatric bingo night.

Many of them longed to be anywhere but a classroom. Some of them had arrived at the notion that their purpose in life was to drive teachers looney. 

And now they are just one example of a long, long list of realizations of how good we, and they, had it! E-learning has been more taxing than their 57 minute class times in the school building. Teachers expect them to still be students and most of them can no longer be convincing when they say to their parents that they don’t have any homework.

Sometimes we don’t realize what we had until we no longer have it. No workouts at the Y! No booth at Red Lobster! No library to browse amongst the rows of books! Our routines have been knocked down like Lego blocks that we assumed were firmly in place, and now new routines, less certain and more like a Jenga tower, are being assembled.

Last Sunday I attended three worship services in different parts of the country- southern Ohio; Champaign, Illinois; and Pleasanton, California. Of course, all three were streamed into my study at home. It was a unique experience, and it made me realize how much I miss the “community of presence” when a church congregation meets together. I was fed the Word and yet I missed the fellowship that touches my spirit.

Grandkids miss grandparents and vice-versa. Waving to one another from the other side of a car window doesn’t do it. In some ways, it elevates the loneliness. 

I miss my writing stool at my local Starbucks and the baristas who I would joke with each day, giving each other new first names that began with our first initial, like Bartholomew for my “B” and “Catastrophic” for the barista whose first name begins with “Cat.” 

I miss the days when you didn’t look at people with suspicion— Does he have it? Shouldn’t those young people not be hanging around there?— or cut a wide berth around an elderly couple walking in the opposite direction.

We realize that things will never, in our lifetime, be what they once were. Our future plans are on hold. Our questions about when we might take a vacation have no clear answers. Our special events just lose some of their specialness when we participate by Zoom.

And I also think, in the midst of these cataclysmic changes, that many of us have come to realize how much of our lives have been revolved around things and events that, in the larger scheme of things, really aren’t that important. Many of us are coming to the discovery that our lives don’t have much depth to them at all. We’re shallow, like multiple text messages that just keep saying “Hi!” and “What’s up?” Perhaps, in the midst of this journey, we’ll dig deeper roots into things that matter…relationships, purpose, and spiritual nourishment. 

I think of the story of Job in the Old Testament. It’s painful, in many ways to read. Job has the good life, things seem to be in perfect harmony for him. And then it all comes crashing down…wealth, health, the respect people showed toward him. But at the end of the story, after Job has everything else stripped away from his life, he finds that nothing and no one can strip away his relationship with God.

Realizing what we no longer have may help us understand what we do have and can’t be taken away! 

Being Out-served

March 27, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      March 27, 2020

                                    

A young woman, consumed with the number of her followers on Instagram, was interviewed by Dr. Phil about her self-centeredness in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. She had partied and been apathetic toward the idea of taking safety precautions to protect herself and, more importantly, others from contracting the virus.

When Dr. Phil directed his anger at her about putting others at risk through her carelessness, she responded that it wasn’t her problem. In fact, she indicated that Baby Boomers, like Dr. Phil, were the problem. 

He had a few things to say to her!

Her perspective, based on narcissism and arrogance, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from those who proclaim to follow Jesus. Instead of placing ourselves on the throne, Christ-followers seek to serve the One who is on the throne. Sometimes that serving is clumsy and misguided, like buying your wife a weigh scale for her birthday thinking it will help her be more healthy, but the mindset is right— seeking to benefit someone else’s life.

In these uncertain times, if too many people with the same attitude as the young woman are populating one side of the world’s see-saw and too few people are helping at the other end we will all suffer from the imbalance.

I still remember a message conveyed almost 25 years ago at a Promisekeepers conference in the Pontiac Silverdome by an African-American pastor named Efrem Smith. He encouraged us to out-serve our spouses. The same principle could be used in regards to out-serving our parents, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers. His point was that our tendency is to think about ourselves, our wants, our needs, who’s going to wait on us, who’s going to bring us satisfaction, instead of figuring out how we can help others to know that they are valued.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote these powerful words that indicate what Jesus’s mindset was:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

  And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!”        (Philippians 2:5-8)

I’ve been blessed to have seen this picture of selflessness modeled for me by numerous people who have been parts of my life. My dad served my mom with patience and care. In her last few years of life when Parkinson’s was limiting her mobility, Dad waited on her as his calling. When Mom was bedridden and the disease had impacted her ability to formulate words, Dad cared for her without grumbling. He did not do it out of obligation, but rather out of his desire to show her that he still loved her. 

That character was evident in many of my professors at Judson College and Northern Baptist Seminary. The willingness to sit and listen to students at lunchtime in the student commons or continue conversations after class over a cup of coffee was the norm, not the exception, as our teachers sought to help us toward maturity of mind and meaningfulness in life.

Serving one another, and seeking to go the extra mile for one another, has become a key ingredient of our marriage. Truth be told, it is so ingrained in our relationship that we don’t think about it when we’re in the midst of it.

Since we’re confined to our surroundings for the foreseeable future, having the nature of a servant is crucial. In fact, the idea for this Words from WW came from Carol. She had remembered me talking about this message by Efrem Smith so long ago. I’m hoping that, in the midst of my failures and shortcomings, that she has felt loved, cherished, and served. 

The Battle Within to Stay Within

March 25, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 25, 2020

                            

The governor of Colorado spoke, a mixture of anger and pleading in his voice. He was asking people to stay at home, practice social distancing, wash their hands, and watch out for one another. As news of the number of infected New Yorkers alarmed us, more alarming were the scenes of people congregating together to play full-court basketball, lay on the beaches, and crowd into Costco.

In New York Governor Cuomo’s press conference, his arteries were about to pop out of his neck he was so angry at some of the citizens of his state. For many, it seems that the pandemic is something that will pass from the news in a few days. No biggie! 

It tells us of the battle within each one of us, the struggle to do the right thing versus our strong-willed determination to do what we want. Each one of us faces it multiple times each day. 

Yesterday was our granddaughter Corin’s fifth birthday. Carol and I drove over to our daughter’s house with presents, but we stayed a few feet away from our grandkids as we celebrated in the driveway in front of their house. Our desire was to hug and embrace the little birthday princess, but our greater hope is and has been, that all of our family is safe and remains healthy. The battle was evident. We’re accustomed to hugs and loving touches, but we had to blow kisses to one another instead.

Scripture talks about that internal struggle…frequently! The Apostle Paul does a personal tug-of-war in Romans 7, where he goes back and forth trying to understand why he has a tendency to do the things he knows he shouldn’t do, while also recognizing his desire to do what is good. 

There’s Simon Peter, who would do anything for Jesus, and then denying he even knew the man. There’s Paul’s categorizing of the sinful nature (“the acts of the flesh) and then the fruit of the Spirit (the characteristics of someone allowing the Holy Spirit to lead him/her) in Galatians 5.

There’s the conversation that Jesus has with a young man in Matthew 19. The young man asks Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life? When Jesus narrows the focus of the discussion down to the man’s obsession with his wealth the line was drawn in the sand. It was a line that revealed what the struggle and, consequently, what his priorities were. The scripture says that “he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

The battle is different for you than it is for me, but it is still that inner tussle for following the ways of God, following what we know is right, versus giving into our hunger to satisfy ourselves in the moment.

The current pandemic has clearly shown examples of self-sacrifice. A 72-year-old Italian priest named Don Giuseppe Berardelli, infected with COVID-19, gave up his ventilator for a younger person who was sick. The priest had been suffering from a respiratory condition for some time and his church had bought the ventilator for him previously. Father Don died two days ago, a week after giving his ventilator up.

Volunteers are helping gather and deliver food, neighbors are checking neighbors, people are praying for one another. The good acts of humanity have been frequently needed harmonies of sweet music.

But our propensity for dumbness and deceit has also been evident. New scams are suckering in desperate people. People are stealing toilet paper from places of business. Stubborn self-centered folk are thumbing their noses at following protective guidelines. 

Crazy people in crazy times!

Let me tell you what my hope is. My hope is that the God of heaven changes hearts in these coming days, causes people to look into the mirror and discover who their number one foe and number one advocate is, and brings us into new and deeper realizations of how precious the gift of life and our loved ones are.

Losing All Our Toys In Order To Find Our Way

March 19, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               March 19, 2020

                             

I first met Bill Dohner at a SonLife conference in Chicago in the early days of 1999. I was talking to a pastoral search committee from Colorado Springs, trying to discern God’s leading. He sat down beside me before our first workshop and we did introductions. 

“I’m Bill from Mason, Michigan.”

“Good to meet you, Bill! I’m Bill from Colorado Springs.”

It didn’t seem like a coincidence. As we became more acquainted, he told me his story. At that time he was working at Cook Communications, but it had been a long journey getting there.

He and his wife, Jeanie, had lived in Tennessee, where Bill’s employment situation had been very lucrative. In his own words, he told me, “We had all the toys! A boat, Ski-do’s, motorcycles, nice cars…all the toys we didn’t need.”

And then his employment situation changed drastically and he was looking for a new job. He thought it would be easy to find one, maybe have to take a reduction in pay, but he wasn’t worried about it. However, no new position was offered. He’d interview and not be the choice. They went month after month, burning through their savings and wondering why God was doing this?

They began selling off their “toys” and realizing that their lives had become a bit out of balance. When their last “toy” was sold, Bill received a call from Promisekeepers, based in Colorado, and was offered a position with the ministry. 

He said to me, “Bill, I’m not saying that this needs to be everybody’s experience, but, for us, we needed to lose our toys before we could see our true Hope.” 

Sometimes there needs to be some kind of loss before we can gain. Sometimes our “toys”, whatever they may be, need to disappear in order for us to become grounded again. Sometimes we trust more in our “toys” than we do in our Shepherd.

Bill’s journey became more and more rooted in faith. Promisekeepers had a cut in staff and that’s when he went to Cook. After being at Cook for a few years his whole department was eliminated and he took a position with Family Ministries in Little Rock. Before the position was even offered to him in Little Rock, he and Jeanie had signed a lease for a house.

Someone from Family Ministries said to him, “Wait a minute! You signed a lease before we even offered you the job?”

“Sure! We knew this was where God wanted us to be and we figured he’d catch you up to it.”

A Culture of Quick Stoppers

January 9, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 9, 2020

                               

It’s funny the things you remember decades later. There’s no reason why a certain conversation or moment in time should stay embedded in your memory, but for some reason it keeps being revisited in your mind.

The latest moment that keeps coming back to me is from an episode of Traffic Court, a TV show on the Columbus, Ohio CBS station one night a week back in the 1970’s, usually right after the news and before Jeopardy. 

Think Judge Wapner for traffic violations!

For some reason I remember one man in one episode. He had been cited for failure to obey a stop sign. He stood before the judge and the judge asked if he had anything to add about his violation. He replied that in Indiana they had something called a “Quick Stop”. It was a stop, just real quick! The judge imposed the appropriate fine upon Mr. Quick and told him that in Ohio a stop sign means stop!

Lately, I’m thinking that a lot of Indiana people have moved to Colorado Springs because I’ve noticed a lot of “quick stoppers” driving around our streets. 

Let me be so controversial as to say that “quick stops” are an indication of how our culture has changed. What???

A stop sign is a momentary halting of our progress and we have become a culture that does not like anyone or anything to tell us to stop what we’re doing. It’s a ripple effect of our sense of entitlement. Not obeying traffic laws is simply a sign of our self-centered idea that the world revolves around “me!”

Speed limits are seen as being suggestions. 

Okay! I admit it! I have a tendency to go a few miles over the speed limit…to keep from dying! I’m going 49 in a 45 and cars are whizzing by me like I’m stuck in mud. And, of course, there’s the guy who hangs on your bumper to let you know that you’re impeding his excessive progress.

The number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in this country by drivers in 2019 exceeded 7,000. Fatalities and excessive speed has become such a problem in Colorado Springs that the City Council has made it a matter for their attention.

When entitlement becomes ingrained in our culture’s thinking there is a corresponding adjustment to expected behavior. We make exceptions to the rules and many take on an attitude that says the rules don’t apply to them. In essence, the thinking is that rules are for all those other people, but don’t apply to me. 

And, like the Indiana man, we reinterpret what a rule or law means. Don’t get me started on how “Yield” has been reinterpreted, or the emergence of that creation of a crazed road engineer called “the round about!”

And how about texting and driving? One out of every four traffic accidents involve someone who is texting and driving. Wait a minute! Isn’t that against the law? No, it’s just another one of those suggestions from our law enforcement…er, law suggestion people!

My Small Town, Small Church Bethlehem

December 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 15, 2019

                            

I’m not against the mega-church. It has its mission, purpose, and place. A lot of my friends are involved in mega-churches in various locations around the country. I’m just not a big church kind of guy.

Most Sundays I’m sitting in a rock hard pew instead of watching a band rock out on stage. The church I attend is about a 45 minute drive from the half-million people city where we live, in a small town of 500 people. The church is about as unsophisticated and un-seeker sensitive as you can get…and yet there’s something that touches my spirit when I worship there with about 15 other people. 

It’s my small town, small church Bethlehem, off the beaten path and unnoticed, a block from the Methodist church that is equally unnoticed and set back in time.

In our city’s newspaper this morning there was a special section that focused on the demise of the small town. It was like a eulogy for what used to be a main fabric in the Americana tapestry, but is now slipping into being part of a memorable past. There was a yearning in the article for a return to the richness of small town communities and weeping words about its fading away.

The same obituary points could be stated about the small town church. Most of the people who move to Simla, Colorado— the few that would apply to, that is— are either running away from something or arriving to disappear from the hustle and bustle of urban life. 

Most of the visitors who come through the doors of our church aren’t quite sure what they are getting themselves into. There’s no church nursery, children’s church, organist, pianist, or welcome center. The congregation is rarely singing the right notes that the “music machine” is playing and last Sunday we didn’t have a single Christmas carol where the number of verses in the hymnal was exactly the number of verses that the machine sounded out.

And yet I’m drawn to its homespun charm and chatter. The coffee is weaker than even Mrs. Folger’s would make it, and someone’s niece that we’ve been praying for this past year is always referred to in the bulletin as so-and-so’s “neice.” It is a church that functions out of an unwritten but defined structure and readily admits that we’re all cracked pots or crackpots.

It has never been lost on me that the birthplace of Jesus was a small town, a village, and that the first visitors were shepherds from the countryside. It took the Magi, representatives of royalty and the upper crust, much longer to show up.

Perhaps my eastern Kentucky rural roots have had too much influence on my perspective, but I hope small towns and small churches can continue to be part of the spiritual journeys of the folk I rub elbows with on Sunday mornings. 

We’ll worship together on Christmas Eve, a special service that they asked me if they could have. I told them that they didn’t need my permission to have a Christmas Eve service and they replied, “We know, but we need you to speak.”

Okay!

The last Sunday in December a young lady is getting baptized. It prompted two questions that needed to be answered. Who’s going to move the old wooden doors that the baptistry is being used for their storage space; and two, does the heater still work? Actually, the second question was more like “We sure hope the heater works!” Since my tootsies will be submerged in the water, I’m offering up a prayer for warmth as well.

Could it be that, just like in first century Bethlehem, God might bring new life and new hope to the the proclamation of the gospel through the unlikely rebirth of the small town, small church Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, after all, means “house of bread”, and the church in Simla, along with the weak coffee, has cookies just about every Sunday after worship. It’s usually a sweet ending to a morning of being blessed.