“Was ist los?” On Bonhoeffer and the Church in 2018

And I heard him murmur… “Was ist los?— What’s Up?”

Language is a wonderful thing!  Not all that long ago when you met up with a friend they would say something like “hi, how are you doing?”  And it’s our nature to take the short cut and again ask, ‘how you doin?’ or “what’s up?” or now in a text message or fb private message, ‘sup?’  We all know that “sup?’ = “hi, how are you doing?”  So, if you bump into a friend from Germany and your hear “los?” that really means “GruB gott, wie geht es heute?”  which means, “Hi, how are you today?”  It’s that moment you know you are paying attention with the stuff going on around you.  It’s good to do that.  Many people do.  Every day.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer did.   It cost him his life!

NOTE: this blog entry is a follow-up to a message preached at New Life Lutheran Church in Pearland, TX on Sunday July 15 as part of a series of messages titled, “Stewarding Saints– how ordinary people demonstrate extraordinary faith!

Over 20 years ago, I was speaking with Dr. John Moline, then president at Texas Lutheran University.   Somehow the conversation led itself from college life and church life to a brief acknowledgment of  the importance of ‘self-definition’ and ‘self-differentiation’ in our own lives.  “It’s really the hard work of living,” I said. To which he replied, “Yes, but it’ the most important work, don’t you think?”

Those of you who have been part of New Life over these last 13 years have heard me use this word before…SELF-DIFFERENTIATION.  It is the tendency to recognize your own personal  uniqueness in a group. To pay attention to and find out how I am different from others while living or working in a group… that’s called self-differentiation.  Some said simply… “In self-differentiation we look for ways we are different from the group.”  It’s actually an affirmation that we are all created in God’s own image and each of us has some good things to share for the sake of the whole!

I’m not asking you to write this down… but to listen carefully to some of the ways we do this… and forgive me for my descriptions of how this goes…

Self-differentiation is described in many ways in the following points:

  1. Growing in the ability to see where and how I fit into my family, the position I hold and the power that is and is not given to that position. NOTE: AS AN OLDEST CHILD, I FIT INTO MY FAMILY WITH 3 YOUNGER SISTERS AND A YOUNGER BROTHER AND DIFFERENTLY IN MY OWN FAMILY WHERE I AM BOTH HUSBAND & DAD!
  2. Growing in the ability to be fully responsible for my own life while being committed to growing closer to those I love.
  3. Intentionally developing, at the same time, autonomy and intimacy. In developing autonomy I set myself towards achieving my dreams and ambitions. In developing intimacy, I allow those close to me to see and know me as I really am.  NOTE: THIS IS BOTH RISKY AND NECESSARY AND OVER THE DECADES PAY DIVIDENDS!
  4. Being willing to say clearly who I am and who I want to be while others are trying to tell me who I am and who I should be.  NOTE: I LIKE HOW FORMER BISHOP PAUL BLOM USED TO CAUTION PEOPLE NOT TO “SHOULD ON” OTHERS.  REPEAT THAT SLOWLY.  DON’T “SHOULD ON” OTHERS.
  5. Staying in touch with others while, and even though, there is tension and disagreement.  NOTE: THIS REMINDS ME OF THE QUOTE THAT SAYS, “FAMILY IS THE PLACE WHO HAS TO TAKE YOU BACK WHEN THERE’S NO WHERE ELSE TO GO!”  THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!
  6. Being able to declare clearly what I need and requesting help from others without imposing my needs upon them.
  7.  Being able to understand what needs I can and cannot meet in my own life and in the lives of others.
  8. Understanding that I am called to be distinct (separate) from others, without being distant from others.  NOTE: THIS IS SO CONNECTED TO # 5.
  9. Understanding that I am responsible to others but not responsible for others .  NOTE: PAY ATTENTION TO THE ‘PREPOSITIONS’ HERE.  BEING RESPONSIBLE “TO” SOMEONE IS NOT THE SAME AS BEING RESPONSIBLE “FOR” SOMEONE!
  10. Growing in the ability to live from the sane, thinking and creative person I am, who can perceive possibilities and chase dreams and ambitions without hurting people in the process.  NOTE: THE OLDER ONE GETS, THE BETTER ONE SHOULD BE AT THIS.  FORGIVE ME IN I JUST “SHOULD ON” YOU!
  11. Growing in the ability to detect where controlling emotions and highly reactive behavior have directed my life, then, opting for better and more purposeful growth born of creative thinking.
  12. Deciding never to use another person for my own ends and to be honest with myself about this when I see myself falling into such patterns.
  13. Seeing my life as a whole, a complete unit, and not as compartmentalized, unrelated segments.  NOTE: EVERY TIME I MENTION “WHEN I WAS YOUNGER” IS CONNECTED TO HOW I AM NOW…BOTH FOR THE GOOD OF IT AND NOT!
  14. Making no heroes; taking no victims.  NOTE: THIS CAN ONLY BE DONE WHEN THE FOCUS IS ON THE SELF VS. THE OTHER!
  15. Giving up the search for the arrival of a Knight in Shining Armour who will save me from the beautiful struggles and possibilities presented in everyday living. NOTE: I CALL THIS THE “LOTTO EFFECT’.  THE DATA IS CLEAR… MOST WHO HAVE HIT IT BIG WITH A LOTTERY WIN ARE WITHIN 24 MONTHS BROKE, MISERABLE OR BOTH!
  16. Moving beyond “instant” to process when it comes to love, miracles, the future, healing and all the important and beautiful things in life. NOTE: “INSTANT” IS USUALLY ONLY GOOD WHEN IT COMES TO COFFEE AND EVEN THEN WAITING FOR A FRESH BREWED CUP IS ALWAYS WORTH IT!
  17. Enjoying the water (rather than praying for it to be wine), learning to swim (rather than trying to walk on water).

                                                                    -adapted from numerous internet blogs

So, now that your heads are spinning and you can’t wait to get home to think about this… (and remember… this is my written promise to “send it out” this week…and I just did!) )Today I want to share just a few thoughts about Dietrich Bonhoeffer… who Eric Metaxas labeled a pastor, a martyr, a prophet and a spy! And let me share with you a very little but important bit of his life…

In our day we’d say he was born of upper middle class status.  He didn’t want for much!  “From the time I was 13 years old, it was clear to me that I would study theology,”  Bonhoeffer wrote.  His family thought he would become a musician.   See, even an upper middle class family can “should on” their children.  It’s not new!

And he did study theology.  He was a great theologian.  He left Germany to study further with Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary in NYC just prior to the Nazis invading Poland and Czechoslovakia. His love of music took him to the clubs of NYC.  He loved the music and was also drawn to the preaching and music of the black churches there.  It was also during this time where Pr. Bonhoeffer found himself faced with some self-definition of his own.  While encouraged to remain in America he knew that he must return to his native Germany.   It was 1939.  War was imminent and he was heard saying… 

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America.  I shall have no right to take part in the restoration of Christian life in Germany after the war unless I share the trials of this time with my people.”        

Was is los, church?  How are you doing?  When we peer into the mirror of our own congregation, are we able to hold a similar posture?  How easy it is for any of us to ‘stay away’ from the difficulties churches have in 2018 and yet, we see that Pr. Bonhoeffer provides a model for what to do when we feel like much of what is going on around us is out of our control.  He did what he could control and thus returned to Germany.

Perhaps the most famous quote attributed to him comes from “The Cost of Discipleship.”  NOTE: IN ITS ORIGINAL PRINTING FROM GERMAN INTO ENGLISH THE TITLE WAS TO BE “THE JOY OF DISCIPLESHIP” BUT HIS CONCEPT OF CHEAP GRACE VS. COSTLY GRACE WON OUT AND THE WORD “COST” WAS USED INSTEAD!  And the quote?  This one…

“When Christ calls a person,                                                                he bids that person come and die.”

Bonhoeffer knew this truth all too well, and that is exactly how his life went, resulting in an early end of life and martyrdom. touting the dangers of “cheap grace”.

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living & incarnate.”

So, “was ist los, church?  How are we doing?  Does any of this sound familiar?  If so, is there anything we want to do about it?  Or as he also said, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ”. He knew full well that to be a true follower of Christ would always be costly, and could not come on the cheap. It seems that is a lesson that so few believers today in the very comfortable West have learned.

So, Bonhoeffer went home but he did not align himself with so many clergy (Lutheran and Catholic) who favored Hitler’s Nazi ways and became a key player and was active in the resistance… He said, 

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

He was involved in at least 2 attempts on Hitler’s life.  He was asked by his co-conspirators if God would hold them guilty of breaking the commandment to “not kill.”  Pr. Bonhoeffer did not budge.  God would hold them accountable yet in the midst of trying to save 10s of 1000s of lives they would need to trust the grace of God available only in the sacrifice of Jesus.

He helped train pastors in the ‘underground’ seminary of the Confessing Church.  He fell in love with Maria von Wedemeyer, but their marriage was interrupted by his arrest and that never unfolded.  Again, an ordinary man who did extraordinary things.

He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and executed by hanging in April 1945, 23 days before the Nazis’ surrender. His view of Christianity’s role in the secular world has become very influential.

Bonhoeffer wrote the prayer below while incarcerated in a Nazi prison, uncertain of what his future would hold.

“O God, early in the morning I cry to you. Help me to pray And to concentrate my thoughts on you: I cannot do this alone. In me there is darkness, but with you there is light; I am lonely, but you do not leave me; I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help; I am restless, but with you there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience; I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me… Restore me to liberty, and enable me to live now, that I may answer before you and before me. Lord, whatever this day may bring, Your name be praised.”

A powerful mantra for Christ’s church in 2018. “Was ist los, church?”  How are we doing?”  Will you take some time today and this week to consider how you self-define?  How you present yourself to the cosmos as a follower of Jesus?  Do you need a wake-up call?  Even a gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit may be what you need?  This is just one of 5 individuals you will hear me speak about this summer.  Come next Sunday.  Be blessed.  Be a blessing to others.  Bonhoeffer was and laid down his life for a his friends!  Amen.

NOTE: THE FOLLOW ENTRY IS FROM pbs… AND WAS NOT INCLUDED IN THE SUNDAY PRESENTATION BUT PROMISED IN THIS BLOG…

A Bonhoeffer Timeline

1906

Dietrich and his twin sister Sabine are born on February 4. Six years later the Bonhoeffers move to Berlin where Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer begins teaching neurology and psychiatry. Dietrich enjoys a comfortable, privileged childhood there.

1923

The young Bonhoeffer begins theological studies at Tubingen University. Within four years he successfully defends his brilliant and ground-breaking doctoral thesis, Sanctorum Communio ( Communion of Saints), a significantly new way of looking at the nature of the Christian church.

1930

Bonhoeffer sails to New York and begins a teaching fellowship at Union Theological Seminary. There he meets, among others,  Frank Fisher, a Black fellow seminarian who introduces him to Abyssinian Baptist Church and the African American church experience. Bonhoeffer hears Adam Clayton Powell preach the Gospel of Social Justice there and he forms a life-long love for Black Gospel music.

1931

Bonhoeffer returns to Germany.

1933

Hitler is installed as Chancellor. Two days later, Bonhoeffer delivers a radio address on leadership attacking Hitler. He is cut off the air. In November, Bonhoeffer is ordained at St. Matthias Church, Berlin.

1933

By April the Aryan Civil Service legislation bans Jews from public employment. Ludwig Müller is appointed Hitler’s representative for the Protestant churches and installed as Reich Bishop of the first-ever national church of Germany. The Pope, Pius XI, signs the Concordat, an agreement with the Third Reich not to interfere, in exchange for assurances that Catholic church will not be attacked.

1934

The Confessing Church is organized at Barmen, Germany, and the Barmen Declaration is adopted, insisting that Christ, not the Fuhrer, is the head of the church. Bonhoeffer leaves for England to head a church for Germans.

On August 2, German President Paul von Hindenburg dies. Hitler proclaimed as both Chancellor and President.

1935

Bonhoeffer returns from England to direct the seminary for the Confessing Church in Finkenwalde, Germany. By December, Himmler declares all examinations for the Confessing Church invalid, all training there invalid and all participants liable to arrest.

In September, the Nuremberg Laws are passed, canceling citizenship for German Jews.

1936

In July, the Confessing Church leader and WWI hero Martin Niemöller is arrested. In August, Bonhoeffer’s authorization to teach at Berlin University is withdrawn.

The August Olympic Games in Berlin begin. Hitler is quoted as saying of 4-time gold medal champion Jesse Owens “The Americans should be ashamed of themselves, letting Negroes win their medals for them.” He refuses to shake Owen’s hand.

1937

In September the seminary at Finkenwalde is closed by the Gestapo. By November, 27  pastors and former Finkenwalde students are arrested. Also in November, Bonhoeffer publishes The Cost of Discipleship.

Pope Pius XI issues “With Burning Anxiety,” protesting Hitler’s infractions of their earlier agreement, the Concordat of 1933.

1938

In February Bonhoeffer makes his initial contact with members of the German Resistance. In September he writes Life Together. Bonhoeffer’s sister Sabine, her Jewish husband Gerhard Leibholz and two daughters escape to England by way of Switzerland.

On March 12 Austria is annexed by Germany. In April all German pastors are ordered to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler in recognition of his 50th birthday. On November 9 a nation-wide, organized riot called Kristallnacht takes place, bringing the destruction of nearly 300 synagogues across Germany, the looting of 7,500 Jewish-owned shops, and the arrest of 30,000 Jewish men.

1939

In June Bonhoeffer returns to the United States for second time. He realizes almost immediately that this was a mistake and he returns to Germany on the last scheduled steamer to cross the Atlantic.

On January 1 all Jewish-owned businesses are liquidated by order of Hermann Göring. In March German troops invade Czechoslovakia. On September 1 Germany invades Poland. Great Britain and France declare war on Germany.

1940

Bonhoeffer is forbidden to speak in public and is required to report regularly to the police. He spends September and October working on Ethics.

On April 9 German troops invade Denmark and Norway. In May German troops invade Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. By August the Battle of Britain begins; German Luftwaffe bombs London.

1941

Bonhoeffer is forbidden to print or to publish. He makes two trips to Switzerland on behalf of the Resistance.

In April German troops invade Yugoslavia and Greece. In June they invade the Soviet Union. By September a decree requires all German Jews to wear a yellow star stitched to their clothing. In October the first deportations of Jews from Berlin begin and the first gas chambers are installed at Auschwitz, Poland. On December 7 Japan attacks Pearl Harbor and the United States joins the war effort.

1942

In April Bonhoeffer visits Norway and Sweden. In May he meets in Sweden with the British Bishop Bell, a member of Parliament, on behalf of the Resistance.

1943

In January Bonhoeffer proposes and becomes engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer. On April 5 he is arrested and incarcerated at Tegel Prison, Berlin. Beginning in July Bonhoeffer is intensively interrogated in prison. In December Bonhoeffer writes his Christmas essay, “After Ten Years.”

In January the Casablanca talks begin between US President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. On May 19 Joseph Goebbels, the German minister of propaganda, declares that Germany is now Judenfrei (free of Jews). From November 28 to December 1 Joseph Stalin of the USSR, Roosevelt and Churchill meet at Teheran.

1944

In October the Gestapo arrests Bonhoeffer’s brother Klaus and Rüdiger Schleicher, Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law. Bonhoeffer is moved from Tegel prison to the Gestapo prison at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, Berlin. In December 19 Bonhoeffer writes his last letter to Maria von Wedemeyer.

In January Allied military forces land at Anzio, Italy. In Hungary 437,000 Jews are shipped to Auschwitz. In June Allied military forces land on Normandy coast, France (D-Day). On July 20 Klaus von Stauffenberg attempts to assassinate Hitler at Rastenburg, East Prussia.

1945

On April 3 Bonhoeffer is moved from Buchenwald to Regensburg. Five days later his is moved to the Flossenbürg concentration camp during the night. The next day, April 9, Bonhoeffer is executed at Flossenbürg together with other key figures of the resistance. On April 23 Klaus Bonhoeffer and Rüdiger Schleicher are killed in Berlin.

February 4-7. An Allied conference is held at Yalta from February 4th to 7th to discuss post-war settlements. On March 7 American forces cross Rhine River at Remagen. On April 12 President Franklin Roosevelt dies; Harry Truman is sworn in as president. On April 30 Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his Berlin bunker. By May 2 Berlin falls. On May 7 the German forces make an unconditional surrender.

On August 6 through 9 United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. By August 15 hostilities end in the Pacific.  On November 20 major war criminal trials begin in Nuremberg.

Thanks for reading to the end… I’m still trying to murmur for the good,

Brian

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“I Smell Like Your Grandpa”

       Dad and Becky 1978      And she heard me murmur…                                                                                                                                  ” I smell like your grandpa!”       

“What goes around comes around” is a phrase we often hear.  Smell is one of our greater senses and can take us back to memories both good and bad.  This seemed like one of those times.  Good smells, that is!

Father’s Day conjures up all kinds of memories for me.  My dad worked hard.  Some say ‘maybe too hard’ but his work ethic rubbed off on me long ago and so did his desire to have fun when it was time to have fun.  Those days didn’t come too often back then as America had not yet perfected its ‘culture of leisure’ as a prime value!  Easter Sunday afternoon,  Memorial Day,  Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends were his favorites.  It meant that he could sit out on his patio to take in the smell of the freshly mowed lawn and relax in his long lounge chair and enjoy the aroma of the burgers our mother had on the grill.  And the only thing better than that was to have a slice of Grandma Irene’s, his mother’s, homemade blackberry pie.  Most days you could find him in his work clothes, but when he needed to, he could clean up as good as most yet the thought of putting on a tux was foreign to a kid who grew up in “the projects.” But he did,  and he gladly donned the powder blue for my two sister’s weddings… just a few months apart in 1978.  And on those selected ‘time out’ days he added on a little smell of his own, getting all clean shaved only to be followed by a generous splashing of Mennen’s Skin Bracer, his cologne of choice as he had neither the money nor the flair for English Leather, Brut, Aramis or Macho Musk!  We all knew dad was ready to relax when the room had that green odor of Skin Bracer.

The Bible lets us know that we are to ‘honor our mothers and fathers.’  It seems God always asks us to tend to the difficult!  It’s a commandment of God with no distinction of that honor being offered whether they are alive or not.  I’ve taken the route to live a life that honors my mother and father even though they’ve been gone from my sight for a while.  Like lots of men, as we grow older, and having buried our fathers, there are those times we’d like to sit down over a cup of coffee or a cold Budweiser, my dad’s favorite, and talk about more than sports or the weather. To discuss the things we are passionate about is a rare conversation for most fathers and sons.  To discuss even some biblical images for love and life or stories of justice and all that’s fair in the world is lacking in far too many father and son dialogues. And in this particular year I’ve been provided one of those moments where I’d give up a week’s pay to talk to my dad as it was my turn to put on a tux and get all gussied up for my daughter’s wedding and having dad’s words sure could have come in handy!

My father died in 1987 and in the months prior I had two memorable conversations with him… one face to face and the second over the phone.  The first was when I made a family trip to Ohio in the late summer of 1986.  The class of 1972 was not hosting a high school reunion but a road trip to Ohio gave me chance to show off my beautiful daughter to my relatives and that I had survived five years as a Lutheran pastor.  I say this because I know some of my family thought I’d never last seminary let alone 5 years of ministry and now almost 37 years later… that part of the family grapevine has quieted.  Back to my dad.  We were sitting propped up on his bed listening to the Cleveland Indians baseball game on the radio. There were no cell phone calls or texts to interrupt.  The game was blacked out in NE Ohio and the TV contracts hadn’t entrenched themselves into ‘sport’ as of yet, so we sat there side by side like the good old days listening and talking about life in Ohio and life in Texas.  Somewhere in the middle of the game my dad asks me about stocks and investing.  My first reaction was “Whaaaat?” The kid raised on a farm until age eight, then uprooted from rural New York to a steel town in Ohio to spend his years in grades 8-12 living in government housing raised by a single mom with no college education is asking me about stocks and bonds and investments?  Whoah!  And at age 28 it was not a conversation I was prepared for.  But, it was a try. He always wanted to work til age 62, retire and buy an RV and drive my mother around the country visiting his children in Texas and then Georgia and eventually San Diego and Oak Harbor, WA as my sister’s husband was career US Navy having stints in all those ports!  Putting some retirement dollars in the stock market seemed a path he wanted to take.  I asked him to talk to my friend Mike’s dad.  Zeke and my dad knew each other for years from picking us up and dropping us off from all our sports practices.   I remembered often how Mike’s dad would turn the volume up on the car radio to hear the stock  market report at the end of the day and on our way home from practice.  He seemed to know what was going on.  Call it networking or a favor, it was my best response!

The other conversation was in March 1987.  I called home to my parents to brag a bit about the portable phone I got for my birthday and that I was sitting on my deck in the back yard I helped Henry Abke build while my daughter rode around on her 3 wheeler on same said deck.  He was always proud of me as far back as I can remember in his own quiet way and to my surprise he answered the phone and didn’t hand it over to my mother, which was usually how it went.  We talked about the weather and the Cleveland Indians upcoming season.  March 1st in Texas is way different than March 1st in NE Ohio.  We talked about birthdays and how Rachel’s got skipped that year since she was born on February 29th. This was her birthday call to talk to Grandma and Grandpa.  I tried to get to her to speak on the phone but she was too busy riding.  Had it been 2018 I would have face-timed them and let her talk as she was riding and they could watch her do her circles.  Finally, my dad said, “well, here’s your mother. I love you.”  How many times he said, “well, here’s your mother” handing over the phone with no extra comment of “I love you.”  Even though I never felt unloved by my father, he didn’t say “I love you,” at the end of any conversation, but he did that day.  I told him, “I love you, too.”  It was the last time we spoke.   He died from Legionnaires disease on March 9, a week later.  My friend Mike’s dad, Zeke, died just two months after that and I don’t know if they ever talked about the stock market but Mike and I can revel in the fact that our fathers loved us to death.  What more could a child want?

So, again, how great it would be if I could talk to my dad this year.  To tell him how proud I am of my children and give him all the details of the four grandchildren he would have loved to come sit on his lap in the long lounge chair in his backyard.  Along with my prediction of couple of more on the way by July 2019!  I wanted to ask him what to say to a daughter on her wedding day… just before you walked down the aisle. I wanted to ask him…  “what did you say to my sisters, Becky and Janet… just before you walked them down the aisle on their wedding day?”  I asked them and both balked by saying… “I dunno… that was a long time ago… ”  So much for a memorable moment.  But, the wedding was on the horizon and I needed some advice.

In recent months I’ve asked the older men in my life what they said just before they walked their daughter down the aisle.  Some were like my sisters.  Not a memory one.  Some said, “don’t step on the dress,” which isn’t what I asked but describes sometimes how well men listen.  One dad smiled and said, “I told her don’t give your husband cause to have an affair!” Another said, “we can run away right now if you want,” and one kinder dad said he thought this was the 2nd happiest day of his life… the first was when his daughter was born.  Dads get all of that!  But, I didn’t get an answer that grabbed me even though I didn’t step on the dress.  Instead, I took another approach as I wanted to be sure some of the love that was present in me as a gift from my father showed up at my daughter’s wedding!

So, what goes around came back around!  Smell is a powerful sense.  The day before the wedding I went into the local Walgreen’s in Boerne, TX.  I asked for the men’s cologne section but I didn’t see what I was looking for and when I asked the clerk she said, “Oh, that… it’s on another aisle by the razors and blades.”  Sure enough, on the lowest shelf at my ankles was a row with a couple bottles Mennen’s Skin Bracer.  Go for the green, the Irish say!  I did. And on my daughter’s wedding day I got all gussied up, shaved my face and dowsed my cheeks and neck with a hearty handful of the Skin Bracer.  I felt a little stronger in the moment, knowing I wasn’t in this all by myself.  And when I stood at the back of the church, I turned in toward Rachel and I said, “Take a sniff.”  And she did.  Then I smiled and said, “I smell like your grandpa!’  And then we stepped toward the altar and the wedding went off without a hitch!

Happy Father’s Day!  How holy it is when the smell of cheap men’s after shave provokes a good memory of a great dad!  What smelly memories do you have of yours?

murmuring for the good as best I can…

     Brian

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My Mother

 

…and they heard me murmur…

      “I’m kind of missin’ my mom today!”

My mother was beautiful.  Inside and out.  Being the seventh of nine children she had three older sisters to look up to and compete with and three older brothers duck and hide and to fuss with.  Her little sister Audrey and little brother Curt loved her irrationally as well as unconditionally!  She was known at old St. Paul’s in Youngstown, OH as “Doris, one of those Hall kids.”  It wasn’t always a compliment.  I get to blame her outer beauty on her parents… mostly her mother as she looked just like her.  Her inner beauty came from the love and nurture she received at Old St. Paul’s.  Her biggest fault was having compassion for little children… you know the ones having a bad day.  Well, not exactly.

My mother cheated at cards. And board games.  My children caught her changing the rules one summer in the middle of a game when she announced… “When Grandma has a 2 of Clubs on a Tuesday… that’s a wild card.”  Then she played the 2 of Clubs for the win.  I once caught her jumping over the Gumdrop Mountains in CandyLand to beat my little sister. “Mom?” Instant denial. “What?” To this day I’m not certain that she did that to make sure kids knew how to lose in life with some grace or maybe the insecurity that comes from being the 7th of nine children whose mother was killed by a drunk driver or that her father ran away not long after that.  She was very competitive (and I don’t even want to tell you about the time she hit me in the head with a shuttlecock playing a ‘fun’ game of badminton in the backyard accompanied with the comment… “What’s the matter?  Too fast for you?”)  Maybe a bit of both as she put an end to the old saying, “cheaters never win.”  She did, yet, despite her cheating behaviors, she never felt cheated in life.  Just weeks before she died she said to me… “you know that song, ‘Amazing Love’?  I love the line… ‘I’m alive and well, Your Spirit is within me… because YOU died and rose again.’ I AM alive and well!”  Then she smiled… this she said while taking on pancreatic cancer.  Alive and well.  Every day matters.  My mom taught me that.

My mother loved my father with a vengeance.  I use the last term loosely.  They were inseparable.  No other man could compare.  Maybe because they both grew up in broken, pain-filled homes.  Maybe because they quietly made a pact that suggested… “We can do this way better together than with the rules of life we were given.”  Their incompleteness was completely obvious to all and their partnership provided a wall of security for their children and their friends.  Firm. Seamless.  Rooted.  It was shaken only by my father’s death.  I literally had to pry my mother’s fingers from the casket as we prepared to leave the cemetery chapel that snowy March Friday.  “How could someone love someone else that much?” I’ve wondered over the years and lately I’ve wondered would my father have done the same had my mother died first.  His fingers would have been harder to pry away.  That was 1987.  She died ten years ago this past February and for 21 years never looked at another man.  Except maybe Frank Gifford.  But, my father knew that.

My mother was smart.  She played dumb better than most and had a wit and way about her that made you think. I once commented on the looks of a newborn my cousin’s friend brought by the house to show my grandmother.  Oh yeah, when my mother married my father she got my father’s mother, too.  Grandma lived with us always.  A constant source of love and kindness and I never heard my mother and my father’s mother have cross words…  Ok. the baby.  So, when Lynn left I told my mother…”Gee, Lynn’s baby sure is ugly.”  Being clear and direct my mother smiled and said, “Well the first ones usually are.”  It didn’t take me long to figure out I’m the oldest.  And now I think all newborns are adorable!  LOL..  And that time I picked a fight with her when I was nine and announced I was “leaving home” and she quickly pointed out that the stick and red bandana tied off at the end wouldn’t be enough so she got out the small suitcase and suggested I pack a few more shirts and some socks and pants and that I be sure to bring a toothbrush and comb as she had no idea where I was going or how long I’d be gone but wanted me to be prepared.  It turns out I didn’t know where I was going and I was gone about five houses down the street long before coming home. She loved me the next day like she did the day before.

My mother was a teacher, a cheerleader and a coach.  She sat with me by the fireplace (not because it was cold or we needed more light—that’s where the chair was!) and helped me learn Luther’s Small Catechism.  She could still recite the meanings of the 10 Commandments and made sure her children could, too!  She taught the 3rd Grade Sunday School class for years at Old St. Paul’s.  Because of her I still have the nickname of “Brian One-Time” from my HS basketball friends.  You see every time I went to the free throw line for a foul shot just as I was letting go, she’d yell… “one time, Brian”!  I missed 50% of my free throws despite having the best field goal percentage on the team.  Imagine that!  And when my little sister was 13 years old, she coached their girls softball team to a state championship. Truth be told… she had good help.  My dad quietly assisted in the background.  He made practice fun.  Like I said… their partnership was  huge!

And my mother could sing.  She loved to sing.  She taught all of her children (except younger brother David!) how sing the lead and how to sing the harmony while at the same time learning how to dry the dishes at the kitchen sink.  Her daddy was a hillbilly from North Carolina and even though I was raised in church… before I learned “Jesus Loves Me” and “The B-I-B-L-E” I knew all the words to Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”.  Learning harmony is a life skill.  I don’t always have to sing the lead.  I don’t always have to be in charge and lately, when I sing harmony to someone else’s lead… it’s better all around!

My mother was beautiful.  Inside and out.  Heck, she still is!  Just ask me.  Perfectly imperfect and full of love and grace.  The life she lived into set to flames the life she was handed.  Ten Mother’s Days have passed since her death.  Now another Mother’s Day looms.   I still miss her and I’d love walk in the front door of our old house this Sunday and bring her a card and a dozen roses and kiss her on the cheek.  Then we’d go to the kitchen table for a cup of coffee. My father would have added a box of chocolate. Then he would have eaten that box of chocolate with her.  After all, they did so much together.

So, for all the moms out there.  Happy Mother’s Day.  Keep makin’ memories!  For all the moms we miss… happy Mother’s Day to them as well!  How will you honor your mother this Sunday?  Living or not.   I will do my best.  That’s all she ever wanted for me.  And you, too!

murmuring for the good,

Brian

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MARTIN LUTHER’S EDGY SIDE

            And I heard them murmur…

                                                   “… he didn’t really say that did he?

It’s no big secret Martin Luther had an edgy side to his words.  Beer drinking monks who become college professors find the task easy.  In fact, when the Duke Elector hands over the local monastery to you for your family to live in, it’s quite easy to see how a person can take privilege to speak one’s own mind amongst friends.  It is said that when Luther had people at his table for dinner, students would write down his responses to questions about life and death, God and the Pope and the work of priests, etc.  Quite often some of Luther’s colleagues attempted to confiscate the notebooks of those students to keep what positive image Luther had intact.   However, because we have his edgy words, obviously Luther’s colleagues were not totally successful!

As we get ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Christian Reformation, it might be fun as well as in good order to reflect on some of Luther’s edgy remarks.  So, let the celebration begin for this unique man… perhaps you want to add some quotes in the comments below…

ON PRAYER

In our culture most people pray when they need something.  It’s usually not a good scenario.  There are far more people who get on with their day with no thought of God whatsoever.  Luther could not think of beginning any task without spending time in prayer…

 “I have so much to do today, I’ll need to                                                                          spend  another hour on my knees.”

When I first heard this I gasped.  What a joke I thought. I was young.  It fits better in my life  now.  But, I also think that Luther started his day out way different than our own.  For in my life, I get up then walk slowly to the commode.  Luther’s  morning relief was outside or in a chamber pot.  I make the coffee.  He never had a cup of coffee.  The water I use to brush my teeth and shower comes from indoor spigots.  Luther needed to draw water in a bucket!  He would walk the house and light the candles from the taper lit from the embers of  last nights fire.  I have AC and light switches.  Different routines but we all get a morning to pray.  So, I have this idea that Luther began his day in prayer as he went around the house and opened up windows, lighting candles, drawing water from the well out back, etc.  He said it himself by saying he began his day saying the 10 commandments, praying the Lord’s Prayer and reciting the Creed.  It’s a clue and I’ve been wrong before…

ON THE PRIMACY OF THE GOSPEL

We live in a world of ‘know-it-alls”.  Got a Facebook page?  A Twitter account?  A blog?  Good.   There’s a new rule in town.  It’s your blog.  It’s your tweet. It’s your fb post.  You are the expert and you get to tell people off.  Respond  if you want.  Delete as needed. I groan to ponder still what Luther would have written or posted had he access to a laptop and a twitter account. Yet, he was such a realist.  As smart as he was and despite his good intentions, he knew is own shortcomings.  He knew his need for grace and perhaps this is one really good reason why the Roman church continues to hold daily mass…

                   “We need to hear the Gospel every day,                                                                                      because we forget it every day. “

Just once I’d like to look in the mirror and see not my face, but God’s.  A quick glance over the sink.  Was that Jesus?  Nah.  It’s me.  Again. Just like always. I’m so important and without a time to pray and without making a short list of who I need to help today I remain the center of the world.  It’s bad news.  I’m bad news.  Until the Gospel creeps in.  You probably have a mirror just like mine.  It doesn’t talk. I wish it did.  To remind me of the gospel.

ON GOOD WORKS

Luther’s understanding of God changed the more he read his Bible and the more open he was to his father confessor at the Augustinian monetary, Johann von Staupitz.  Luther desired a God who loved him yet thought the love God had for him was determined by the good works Luther did. What a freeing moment when he discovered this…

                    “God does not need your good works,                                                                                         but your neighbor does.”

And just for the record, I’m one of those guys who thinks that von Staupitz was really the heart and soul of the Reformation.  Sure, God called Luther to be a monk.  Lighting bolt in the arse stuff.  But, it was Luther’s confessor who pushed him to seek Christ.  It was Fr. von Staupitz who sent Luther to Rome and got him the job at Wittenberg.  In fact, I think that if it weren’t for him, there would be no Luther at all and he very well may have died a frustrated monk in Erfurt never to discover the grace of Christ. Old ones see where the holes are better than most think.  Fr. von Staupitz did a good work. He loved Luther.

ON IDOLATRY AND WEALTH

The world Luther lived in was vastly different from the daily life we encounter.  Luther had no cell phone or wi-fi nor a laptop or running water or instant light at the flip of a switch.  While the printing press made him a European rock star in the church, he most like never heard of Christopher Columbus who was pretty much a contemporary.  Yet, a person’s heart in Luther’s Wittenberg is no different 500 years later from the hearts of those like me who live in SE Texas or anywhere else in North America.  We all have a God and we all believe in something. What Brother Martin felt important was where a person places their life’s priority… and was caught saying…

“Show me where a person spends their time and                                                           money and I’ll show you that person’s God.”

Ask any 13-year-old in the US of A what they want to be when they grow up … you will hear the #1 answer from most of them.  “Rich and famous.”  The trouble though is that those who become rich and famous seem to enjoy the wealth but dislike the fame.  Gee. Who would have thunk that selfishness and idolatry were related?

ON SIN AND BEER DRINKING.

Looking back on Luther’s life, it is easy to see that he was one who “worked hard” and “played hard”.  Well, in those days, everybody did.  People only played when the work was done.  That is a different concept than our American way of life.  For too many, play and leisure is life’s goal… rather than seeing it as a reward for the hard yet necessary work we tackle day-to-day.  Luther was trained in logic.  Take heed. I’m not sure this is a recipe we all want to hold on to at all cost…

    “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

I’m not sure whether Martin actually said this… if not, I’d like to give credit to my fraternity advisor in college! 

ON FLATULENCE AND THE DEVIL

Luther’s culture had  such a mysterious and superstitious bend.  Lightning, thunder and gargoyles just for starters.  Science has taught us much about the world and God and in many instances tempered those superstitions… like God is angry when lightning strikes your house… we all know better… even though scientists cannot tell any of us when and exactly where lightning will strike!  Good and evil ruled the day and when it came to Luther having any power over the devil he was heard saying this..

                        “But I resist the devil, and often it is                                                                                         with a fart that I chase him away.”

The older I get, the easier it is to chase away the devil this way.  Plus, I think this saying rhymes in German!  Regardless, every language has this sound!  Our grandson is six.  He thinks only boys do that.  And he chases the devil away sometimes more than I!

ON LIFE AS GIFT

When Martin Luther died, on the stand next to his bed was found a small piece of paper.  It was the last of many writings attributed to him.  It was also one of if not the shortest thing Luther wrote.  He knew life was a gift and as he lay dying he wrote…

WE ARE BEGGARS; THIS IS TRUE

Luther wasn’t the scientist that our 6th graders are.  I suppose his efforts within the church, however, added a push of energy to what we all have access to now.  He did know the sanctity of life, however, as a pastor’s work pulls the high and low watermarks of life and death closer more often than those who experience births and deaths from time to time.  Face it, I don’t have to be here.  You don’t have to be here.  But, I am here.  You are, too!   We are here.  We belong to Christ and Christ gives new life.  That’s the deal.  Someone said back at the end of the 2oth century… (my paraphrase) “when the world gets done fighting, it will be the Lutherans who bring people together. They know Jesus well and they know how to stretch out their arms in both directions to bring the world to the table of Christ.  That will be a good day!”  Life is a gift indeed.  Sacred for each generation.  I look forward to that day and hope it lasts a week or more!

ON CALLING THE CHURCH ‘LUTHERAN’

Lastly, there is this to consider…  near the end when those opposed to the ‘reforming’ efforts of the Church Catholic the followers of Brother Martin got tagged by his last name.

        “The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name,                        and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is                             Luther?  The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone…                           How did I,  poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?”

I graduated from Texas Lutheran College in 1976, the year of America’s Bicentennial.  It was a grand day and a grand year.  I do not recall any of us saying… “Gee, I wonder if we’ll be around  celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation… but here we are… 2017 and we can say… we were there… how good for the world that Martin Luther’s name is still recalled… because he pointed the church to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, October 29 will be the official celebration day for the ‘reformation’ for Lutheran Christians around the globe.  I hope you will find your way to a church that day to hear the gospel’s good news in a fresh way!  Let your Lutheran Christian leaning bring you to the Word and the Table as we make our way into another season of faithful living!  And if I were a mathematician, I might advertise it this way…

 1 monk + 95 theses + 500 years = 80 million Lutherans around the globe!

May you carry on some edginess of your own for the sake of the world…

And I heard them murmur…
 “… he didn’t really say that did he?

murmuring as best I can in times like this…

    Brian

 

 

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HURRICANE HARVEY. HAVOC and HOPE

And I heard them murmur…

… what are we gonna do now?

 

<Some sound bytes and thoughts along the way to & thru a hurricane named Harvey.>

Until recently I didn’t think much about the name Harvey.  I have no uncle Harvey, even though my drunk grandfather called our house once asking for “Harv McGee.”  My dad’s name is Howard.  But,  I do remember Harvey the Rabbit and the actor Harvey Keitel.   When I was a boy, there was  baseball player named Harvey Kuenn and for the NASA folks… everyone knows about Harvey Hubbell.  But, even when you google ‘famous Harveys,’ the list is not that long. This will not be the case anymore in our corner of the kingdom when someone mentions the name, Harvey.  As when that happens, all of us will turn our hearts and minds to a hurricane so named that has brought more devastation to our neighborhoods than any of us can recall.  And stuck somewhere in the middle of that … consider… a recent report indicates just about 1 million people have moved to the Houston metroplex since hurricane Ike hit in 2008.  One million with most having no experience with what a storm like that can do.

It will be a long and arduous recovery for people like us and people that we know and the people they know.  52 inches of rain and the subsequent flooding is a hemorrhoid for each and every one of us!  But, remember.. I’m a church guy.  I get that life is hard.  I get that God is good.  Hurricanes remind us of that.  And at the church I serve … we say this… at New Life people focus their lives using seven helpful verbs…  Prayer and worship are two of them.  This is primary behavior for those who follow Jesus.  We study the Bible as the guide and norm for life.  At New Life, people invite others to come along to join the journey and encourage them each day.  We give of our time and money as a sign of God’s generosity and  we tend to each day as we serve God by serving others.  And for now, we will enter the battle of havoc and hope as this is what appears and rises when a storm like Harvey makes itself know.  It is time to ENCOURAGE and SERVE.  We will still tend to the seven faith behaviors of our Christian lives but for the time being we will keep this reality in front of us.  Remember what Martin Luther wrote… “God doesn’t need your good works; your neighbor does.” And we know what Jesus said when answering the question… ‘who is my neighbor?’

WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

When my own house took on 22″ of water in 1995, I was encouraged by the Lutheran Disaster Relief staff to go back and take a look at the Noah flood story in Genesis.  When 22″ of water drop out of the sky in 24 hours, there’s no place to go and you have some extra time to read.  See Genesis 6:1 – 9:28 for details.  And this is what is worth noting…

As children we are taught the story of Noah and the flood.  God wanted to wash aways the sins of the corrupt world and decided that one righteous man and his family would be enough to start over.  The flood waters came.  Noah and his family survived.  And God gave us a rainbow to remind us the world would never be flooded again.  That’s what children learn.

As adults, we keep reading and find out that Noah wasn’t so righteous after all.  He becomes a man of the dirt, plants a vineyard, makes wine, gets drunk and naked and embarrasses his sons.  So much for the one righteous man.  Noah is just like the rest of us and I conclude we are all in the same boat!

But, there is another piece of that story worth noting.  It’s the part at the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 where the water took 150 days to recede.  Whether you believe literally in 40 days and 40 nights of rain or that it rained for a long, long time… I think paying attention to the 150 day notation is worthwhile.  That’s what the LDR staff was helping us understand.  The water comes and the water subsides leaving much havoc in its wake, but it is in the 150 days that hope rises up and it rises up, not alone, but in community.  Remember… we’re all in the same boat together and it takes more than a weekend to recover and for many even more than 150 days.

 

 

HAVOC is 1000’s of streets in SE Texas looking like this!

COLLATERAL DAMAGE

The havoc from the hurricane is one thing.  What comes after is another.  People try to help and they try to be kind and say things like, “well, it’s just stuff.’  And then comes the reply… “yeah, but it’s MY stuff.”  Point taken.

One man is displaced from his home.  He goes to live with other family and finds himself on an unfamiliar sidewalk, trips and falls injuring his hip and a trip to the ER. Havoc 2.0.

Estimates are over 500,000 cars went underwater.  Two of them to a daughter and a daughter-in-law.  It’s just stuff.  It’s just a car people say.  “Yeah, but it’s MY car“!  Point taken and with the average car costing $33,500 these days that equals over $16 billion dollars of replacement vehicles.  Expect insurance rates to climb.  All. Over. The country.  Expect car dealers to smile.

One person said, “Pastor, had this happened a year and half ago, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.”  That person joined this congregation at the invitation of a friend.  Life was changed.  Forever.  Havoc is struck down by hope as others came to muck out the house and take to the streets stuff not worthy of keeping.

Another person has been heard saying over and over… “I never thought my house could take on so much water.  I am so blessed to have a church that cares so much for others.”  Let that sink in.  For some, there was no where to turn.  So, the house mucking continues.  Day 150, day 149, day 148, etc.  Havoc is being taken out and hope is seeping in.

It could have been worse. I wasn’t sure if I would make it.  I held on to my car for three hours as the waters rose and became swifter. Two boats came by filled with others in a fix just like me.  The third boat rescued me.  It happened so fast.  It could have been much worse.”  I have no picture of this.  But, we can all picture THAT!

While Texas has been showing the rest of the world how to handle a storm like Harvey, and the TV reporters have provided some wonderful images of kindness, care  with neighbor helping neighbor no matter what color or language or how much money they have in the bank, I’ve also witnessed others rummaging through bags outside the Salvation Army pilfering clothes and it’s always suspect when some folks arrive at your house in a pick-up truck or two offering to “haul off your stuff” to a house that was not damaged but with a few good pictures of piles at the street, a good insurance pay-out is nearby. So, yes… we are all in the same boat… we aren’t all as righteous as folks would like us to be.

Then there is this… the predictable response to those in the cross hairs of the storm.

  1.  GUILT.  There is a likelihood that many who experienced little to no damage will begin to feel guilty in the coming weeks as others take a much longer time to recover including those who have witnessed everything they’ve owned underwater… and…
  2. RESENTMENT for those who lost so much and now see their friends and family  going about their merry way as if Harvey had been gulped up by the Gulf of Mexico and never even showed up.

It’s important to remember that feelings are just that… feelings… and what we do with them… how we respond and acknowledge them … makes all the difference.

A CONFESSION OF SINS

I did hear this on the TV.  There were those who were stranded in their homes while the storm took its toll and there were those (like me) who were outside the storm when it hit and could not return for days by car or plane.  I’ve never thought about owning a boat… ’til  now.  Just sayin’.

This is going to be a long recovery for so many.  We never went back to re-visit the people impacted by Hurricane Katrina 2 and 3 years later.  We just went on to the next story… the next thing and didn’t show care. I hope we can do a different thing for those who are impacted now.”  <network and reporter not singled out.>  We’re all in the same boat.

WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO NOW?

This is the question now worth asking and so is this one…

     … from where will we find our strength to rise up rebuild?

I think Psalm 22:10-11 can help…

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.  The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

 

HOPE isn’t a thing.  Hope has a face.  It is the face of Jesus and the face of Jesus shows up on people like this!

 

This is not a time to point fingers of blame.  Houston had a worse flood in 1935.  Hurricanes bring both havoc and hope.  So, this is a time to point out the places where we lift up our neighbors.  This is the time where we make piles of rubble and create a new life beyond the ruin.   This is a time to be smart and trust the God who never sleeps nor slumbers… a time to trust in God’s strength and God’s peace.  There’s enough hope for all of us and we do not keep it to ourselves.

And I heard them murmur… “Whatta we gonna do now?”  Keep counting the days and watch havoc be overcome by hope.  And if it happens again. We’ll do this again.  We’re all in the same boat!

Murmuring as best I can,

      Brian

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THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!

And I heard my friend murmur…

       “…this has got to stop!

I was in Denver with my 27-year-old son last week when I saw the news of what was unfolding in Charlottesville.  Live and in color and enough to weary my soul.  We were staying in a hotel downtown just 1/2 block away from the U.S Federal Courthouse where the Taylor Swift ‘groping’ trial was in its 4th day.  TV cameras in Denver.  TV cameras in Charlottesville.  Both events important.  Both events worthy of reporting.  Both events have subsided.  For now.  And trust these events are far more than just distracting life interruptions.  “When is all this crap gonna stop?” a friend asked.  “Why is it that people with good intentions, who do good productive work, have to stop and respond to stupid stuff like this?”  Pay $1 for an ass grab, an obvious selfish act vs. pay with your life for a young woman with love of neighbor and a passion for justice seeking to help one crowd quiet another’s acts of selfishness.  My friend is misinformed. It is important.  And my friend is right.  This has got to stop, but it won’t if we stop talking about it.

Should I care that a Denver DJ had to pay $1 for copping a feel of a famous country singer of whom I know little of either?  Frankly, yes.  My 27-year-old son is depending on me to.  As are my grandsons.  Should I care that an organized crowd of neo-nazi haters gather in a quiet college town to intentionally bring disruption to the daily life there and point attention to themselves?  I better.  My son, 2 two brothers and 2 sisters and my grandchildren are counting on it.  And just for the record… their mother and I are counting on them.  Yes, this has got to stop.  But, this an old story that has turned a page with a new chapter with new players and new faces and will happen again in spite of all our collective efforts.  It’s the diminishing factor that I’m looking for.  That ass grabbing and hate mongering will become less and less. And, in time, finally disappear.  Yes, this has got to stop.  So, please, do not stop talking about it.

I work with men.  Men of all ages.  Men as old as my late father, men my own age and men the same ages as my sons.  But, when I see  the young men gathered together, like I did in Charlottesville, spewing hate and coaxing a scuffle, I come to one conclusion… “there’s lots of work left to be done!  Lots!”  America is still not the  ‘kinder, gentler nation,’ the country with “a thousand points of light” former president George H.W. Bush hoped for.  Some seem to think their difference of opinions make them better than others and others are not equal to them.  My Bible and the U.S. Constitution say otherwise.

Why is this important?  Working with men?  Simple.  It’s an inclusive thing.  Men just don’t hang out with men.  They have parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, both male and female, a spouse, children and grandchildren.  Men’s ministry is not exclusive.  Men are everywhere.  They relate to everyone.  They were on both sides of the street in Charlottesville and in both ends of the jury box in Denver. The things that men do impact everyone.  For the good and the evil. Impact is impact.  And what I know now that I wasn’t fully tuned into when I was as young as my sons is that the impact lingers.  For the good and for evil.  So, I’m all for advancing the good and helping diminish the evil.  And I also know I can’t do this alone.

As a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and as an advocate for Lutheran Men in Mission, I must state clearly…  I’m not THE voice of the ELCA.  I am A voice.  I’m not THE voice of LMM, but I am A voice and where I come from your voice… my voice counts.  So, let me point you to a few of my favorite quotes from another voice… Martin Luther… as this is stuff that falls into the category of ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling‘ (Philippians 2:12)…

First,

“God does not need your good works; but your neighbor does.”

What good work is done when one man grabs the buttocks of another woman?  None.  Selfish pleasure reigns.  Superiority seeks its place.  In Denver, humility cost a dollar plus a reputation.  And what good work comes about when young men take over city streets bringing disruption and fear to local residents?  How would anyone refer to this as ‘supremacy?’  Inferiority? Yes.  Oppression turned inside out?  Absolutely, as these actions were leveled in full disregard of neighbors.  As a Lutheran pastor, a husband and father, as a friend and brother I abhor such behavior.  So, maybe my friend was right.  It is an unnecessary distraction from the good and productive things I could be doing.  But, writing this is a good and productive thing, too, I hope, even though I’d rather be doing something else.

To take that further… Luther went on…

“Each one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another.”

Wow.  Doesn’t sound like the Denver and Charlottesville stories. In fact, let me say it like my old mentor, Art Haimerl, said in Sunday messages often… “You discover who you are as you give your life away in love.”  Pretty cool, huh?  Pretty biblical, too!  Or like what is written in the Didache’, the earliest handbook for Christians…

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.”

A great difference.

In Luther’s day he would say (my paraphrase) “be the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker…” all worthy occupations which give back to the community and bolsters the lives of those around you… doing work that is necessary and helpful… so, I take that to mean in this day and time… “don’t be the bank robber, the pimp or the drug dealer…” for it is in this kind of work that life is sucked out of those closest to you… actions that lead to death.  So, in like manner… don’t be an uninvited ass grabber  and don’t go taking over people’s streets because you think it’s a good thing.  Yes, this has got to stop.  Will it? Perhaps.   One man at a time, I like to say… and no man left behind.

And another way Luther pointed to…

“A Christian is the most free lord of all, subject to none; and a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.”

As my friend, Steve Kelly says… “Get it?  Got it?  Good.”

So, Saturday night I boarded a plane to head back to Houston.  “Dad, you ready to preach in the morning?” my son asked.  “I was,” I said.  “Until all this stuff happened and I’ll need to change some things.”  And maybe that’s the point.  This stuff won’t stop until some change occurs.  But, I can only attend to the change in me and I’ll have to pray for the change in you.  But change will be necessary for any kind of diminishing of hate and violence to come about.  I believe we can do it.  I believe it can happen.  And when we all say, “this has to stop,” then it will.  And, still, I will keep working with men… because I can… and because I want to… knowing, eventually, some other selfish guy will grab the back side of an unsuspecting woman or some young men with nothing better to do will march into another town with tiki torches and swastikas to evoke hate and promote disruption.  Face it… we all have better things to do, but at the same time we all better tend to THIS… so, please don’t stop talking about it… our grandchildren’s grandchildren are counting on us…

And I heard my friend murmur… “THIS has got to stop.”

murmuring for the good the best I can…

     Brian

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Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Get Fired Up for God

…and I heard them murmur… “How hot could it get?”

Every once in a while, it can feel like you are in the middle of the furnace with fire all around you. It’s more than living in Texas in August.  It’s a thing that consumes you and if you are going to come out of the fire, the goal is to not smell like smoke!

I’ve stood near a fiery furnace.  A summer job in college.  Toss in the scrap aluminum.  Don’t lean in too far.  Watch it melt.  Pull off the dross. Repeat. Be sure to wear protective helmet, vest and gloves.  That’s one image.  There’s more.  A lot more!

I’ve stood in the fiery furnace.  Sometimes you don’t even go looking for it.  The door is right there at the beginning of your day and someone tosses you in.  It’s that moment when you realize, “I just got burned.”  It’s not the temperature you worry over; it’s realizing your heart is scorched and your brain is simmering and you can’t think of anything else except asking, ‘How did this happen?’  ‘How long will this tempest last?’  ‘Could it get worse?’  You pray someone shows up with a hose or glass of Irish whiskey.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don’t.  Being alone in the fire is worse.

Then I’ve seen others jump into the fiery furnace.  I knew they knew better, but as the saying goes… ‘she just couldn’t help herself!’  Despite all the will power anyone can muster and even after all the loving warnings from friends and family, there are still those occasions when the encroaching fire beckons.  In that moment of intentional blind and personal abandonment of all that is holy, just and right you fall into it to welcome the pain and pay a price that can linger a long, long time and even create a path from which there is no return.  That’s when you smell like smoke!

Stop for a moment and feel the heat.  Do a quick scan or your torso top to bottom.  Start low.  Look up.  See any scars? Some leftover burn marks from that time or those times you found yourself in the fire?  Now close your eyes.  Take a look inside.  The scars are there, too.  Most likely even deeper than the ones on the outside.  Lost love.  Lost job. A debilitating accident.  Death of a parent.  Death of a spouse. Death of a marriage. The child you thought you deserved.  A doctor’s diagnosis.  Fill in the blank.  The older you get the chances are the more scars you’ve acquired.  “Trials and tribulations, you shall have,” Jesus said.  That was spoken as promise and not be to confused with fake news.   So, don’t be too surprised if you find yourself in the fiery furnace from time to time.  It’s called life.

So, here’s a story.  One I remember as a child, but in all my 36 years of ministry never once preached on. Until August 2017.  In Texas. With a temperature in the 90’s closing in on 100 degrees.  The story of King Nebuchadnezzar and him having Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego tied and tossed into the fiery furnace of unfaithfulness.  Or at least it seemed so at first.  You can read about it yourself in the Old Testament book of Daniel… chapter 3… https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+3&version=MSG.

King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t kill the people he took captive.  He didn’t burn down the town, either.  He was a subtle mind-manipulator and culture shifter.  He found the local leaders.  He gave them good Babylonian food, good Babylonian names and good Babylonian jobs.  The Israelites noticed their leaders thriving and soon made similar adjustments. When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians, right?  Well, except if you are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego… formerly known by their Hebrew names Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah… all pointing out the power and glory of God… the one true God to be worshiped rather than the 90 foot high and nine feet thick golden statue not so good King Neb erected for all of his kingdom to worship.  Narcissism goes way back, huh?  Well, at least moon god worship.

When was the last time you took a bold stand? When was the last time the music got cranked up and you chose not to dance with the rest of the crowd?  You know… “do a little dance, make a little love… get down tonight…” or “you’ve got to fight for the right to par-tay” or ‘if you can’t be with the one you love… love the one you’re with” kind of resistance?  Or did you join in? Many did.  Some of us have the scars to prove it!  What Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did was about the mission of God.  An ‘amen’ moment to stand fast and hold their ground of faith.  No matter what the King and culture dictated, their response was a bold, we can’t be pushed around devotion to God…  a love for the one true God… Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim of Israel… the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!  And that’s when the big stout monks showed up, stoked up the King’s fiery furnace seven times higher, bound the three friends and tossed them into the fire!

And here’s where the alarm bells go off…

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not go quietly into the fire.  Despite King Nebuchadnezzar’s promise of a very painful death for not worshiping his idol, the three men responded in kind… “Can your God save you from me and this inferno?” was the question and the answer was short and sweet. “Yes, our God can save us from the fire!” (and here’s the real important part…) “but even if God, doesn’t… we will never bow down and worship you and your idol.”  What?  “But, even if God doesn’t… ”  Whoah.  When was the last time you heard a Christian in the USofA talk like that?  “Even if God doesn’t” is the key to the mission of God for the three men in the fire and for us…

Can we do that?  What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers?  Can we still live faithfully tending to the things of God?  What if our neighbor doesn’t love us the way we think God wants them to?  Will we still love them as God desires?  For all the times we offer up our shopping list one-sided conversations with God when we deem the moment critical only to get silence from heaven, do we still dare to bear witness to the God who stands with us in the fiery moments of life?  What King Nebuchadnezzar saw in the fiery furnace was not three men bound and in flames, but a fourth face… and all four men walking freely in the furnace.  Unharmed. Unsinged. Unafraid.  Unwilling to worship anything short of their faithful God.  The king spouted these words… “It looks like a son of the gods…” as he noticed the protection Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had acquired.   It seems that Jesus doesn’t just show up when life is good but is present even in the most treacherous moments as well.  The cross and empty tomb testify to this as well!

We are living in a time when up to 2 and 1/2 generations of Americans know little of God and even less of ‘church.’ A time where the mission of God takes a back seat the to 90 foot high 9 feet thick idols we run after in a selfish culture to secure a sense of self-worth and purpose.  And that’s not fake news either.  It’s like what one of my colleagues reminded me this past week… “a mom and dad drive down the street passing the church.  Their children pipe up from the back seat…’what’s that?” as they point to an empty parking lot with 3 crosses in the front yard.  “That’s a church,” said dad.  “What do they do?” the younger brother quipped.  “I don’t know,” said the mother.   “I’ve never been.”  That’s why we can hear on the news of young girl who died following a dare to drink boiling water through a straw and where 5 boys in Florida record a video on their cell phone of a man drowning, taunting him throughout his struggle, not rendering any kind of aid to the man or think to call for help… but after watching him die were heard on the videotape (that went viral) “He dead.  Let’s go upload this and get some lol’s and some ha-has…”  A culture with few values will fall on its knees to just about anything that comes along.

But, I want to point out how the story of the three men in the fiery furnace ends.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego do not die.  They live to give God glory.  They live to serve God another day.  Their witness causes King Nebuchadnezzar to shift his cultural perspectives once more and the 3rd chapter of Daniel ends with these words…

Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him! They ignored the king’s orders and laid their bodies on the line rather than serve or worship any god but their own.

29 “Therefore I issue this decree: Anyone anywhere, of any race, color, or creed, who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be ripped to pieces, limb from limb, and their houses torn down. There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this.”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Daniel also reports that when the three men came out of the fiery furnace they did not smell like smoke.

…and I heard them murmur… “How hot could it get?”

May you find comfort in knowing that life’s fiery furnaces are real.  Sometimes they come on their own; sometimes we jump in head first.  So, tend to the mission of God as we are never alone in the fires of life even if God doesn’t show up in the way you desire…And may you come to God’s house for worship this next Sunday with all your limbs intact and your house standing strong on its foundation.

… murmuring mostly for the good,

     Brian

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