FIRECRACKER CHRISTIANS— a real story!

                                                          … and I heard him murmur…

Image result for firecrackers   … did he really do that?”

This really happened. It was back in 1982 when I was just one year out of seminary and serving as the associate pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Taylor, TX. The senior pastor I worked with was David. He was ordained the year I was born. I went to college with one of his sons. He was one of the best preachers I’ve heard in my lifetime to this day and this happened on the Sunday closest to the fourth of July…

The bulletin had the order of service printed, all the announcements and the title of the sermon for that day was “Firecracker Christians,”  I was intrigued. I had known some ‘big shot’ Christians in my life but I had never thought of myself or anyone else as a Christian with the sub-moniker of ‘firecracker.’ Perhaps, a ‘wise-cracker’ but not a firecracker.

So, David goes to the pulpit and reads the text about Jesus sending down “power from on high” and goes on to say some things about Jesus having “all power and authority” so we can get on with “baptizing, preaching and teaching” when it comes to church stuff. And then he pulled out a single firecracker… one of those small skinny half-your-thumb size.. the kind that makes noise but isn’t too, too loud and suggested that many Christians he knows are a lot like it… saying that they have the power to do and live faithfully in daily life and when they get caught serving God and the world they make a little noise and others often notice. Then… to my amazement and the congregation’s… he pulled out a lighter… lit the fuse and tossed it out of the pulpit near the baptism font and it went “bang!” We all gasped and I quickly eye-balled the congregation from my chancel seat to see if anyone went running. Nope. The small cloud of smoke dissipated, and he went on a preachin’…

Now, understand the nave of the church at St. Paul’s in Taylor is a very big box. Two sets of pews with a center aisle (about 130 feet from narthex door to the altar), a high roof and a balcony for the choir and sound system in the back. Plus, of all the sanctuaries I’ve been in in TX, LA, OH, and FL it has the greatest amount of space from the first row of pews to the chancel steps… and the acoustics were very good! So, when David tossed the one firecracker he knew no one was going to be injured, but everyone, including those in the back would hear it and hearts began to beat…

And that’s when he pulled out the string of firecrackers. Back in those days they came in a 24 or 48 pack… connected by one larger fuse setting off one at a time from beginning to end. Again, holding it up and talking about how the church does better when we do things together and how the people of God are always referred to in the plural (i.e Children of God, Family of Faith, Community in Christ, etc) audible gasps of anticipated wonder were heard. No one thought he’d light them, then he did. And like the single firecracker, David threw the string of firecrackers right out into the center aisle, half way from the front row to the altar steps and yep… pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop… the smoke began to rise, the smell of gun powder was evident and the scraps of paper were everywhere. Again, I looked to see if a) an usher would come down the aisle with a fire extinguisher or b) a member of Church Council would stand up and dismiss the congregation… neither happened. And everyone got the point and hoped this was the end. It was not.

Next David pulled out a “cherry bomb.”  Necks began to stretch from the back of the church eye-balling the round red explosive. I was very familiar with cherry bombs, coming from Ohio. That was a teenager’s firecracker of choice not that many years before. And people had to listen… they had to wait… as David suggested that there are Christians who do something extraordinary like start a movement or excel in one particular kind of ministry or how the congregation of 1200 members raised $1200 for the World Hunger Fund, pointing out that one retired female in the congregation gave $1000 of the $1200… meaning the other 1199 raised $200. BOOM! Some Christians are like a cherry bomb… doing something exceptional. Sometimes we know who they are and sometimes we don’t, but we see their good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Yep, by now you can see where this is going… David holds up the cherry bomb… lights the fuse and very quickly tosses it to the same location as his last and everyone waited… BOOM! And trust me … it was loud. Still nobody leaving and still the Church Council didn’t shut the service down. I must admit, sitting on the chancel seat right behind the pulpit gave me a view no one else had. His challenge for all Christians to do something great was noted!

Then I noticed. David had one more firecracker in the pulpit and being the good preacher he was, I know he wanted to offer up a final point to give the congregation something really good to ponder over Sunday dinner. That’s when he pulled out the M-80, that 2 inch rectangle with circular ends about half the size of a shotgun shell and loaded with more gun powder than all the firecrackers he had set off already together. He said nothing. He held it up… lit the fuse… people covered their ears… one row after another like falling dominoes and an older member, Arthur, who always sat in the front row (he wanted to be first for communion!) visibly disappeared as he ducked down in his seat… as David tossed it with a big smile on his face… knowing what was coming next… and as people waited for the fuse to burn down… it finally did and all we heard was … “PPFFFFFFFTTTTT!” Not a boom… just a “PPFFFFFFFTTTTT!” … This one was a dud… a firecracker whose powder had been removed! It was obvious he had carefully cut off one end of the M-80, scraped out its powder and then sealed it back up… so when the fuse got to its end… the M-80 could only go… “PPFFFFFFFTTTTT!” and the irony of the message was that people were not only relieved to not have to deal with the loud sound of an M-80 but also had to hear the news that there are many in the Christian cause who look the part … are all fused up… but when called upon they really have nothing inside when it comes time to serve or push ministry ahead into another chapter.

This really happened!  It’s impact has lasted!

So, after all these years… I think there are still ‘firecracker Christians!’ We have a power within us to enable us to serve. And when we serve together, we get more done. And I’m hoping that I’ve been able to be a ‘cherry bomb’ saint along the way to do something extraordinary in my life and if we are all honest there are still some empty M-80’s around us who we all hope would produce a great BANG for the sake of the kingdom but seem to disappoint when all is said and done.

An Interesting Footnote: Back in those days there was a member of St. Paul’s in Taylor, TX by the name of Alma Lee Holman.  She wrote human interest stories and helped edit “The Southern Lutheran,” the monthly newspaper of the old Southern District of the ALC. She came to me later that week into my office to tell me how much David’s message meant and how timely it was. All I could say was I’d never witnessed a sermon like that ever!  Yet, her appreciation wasn’t just because it was the Sunday closest to July 4… it was because of her recent interview with the Rev. Edmund Steinbring… a pastor I’ve never met but one others said I am a bit like and one I would have had a great friendship with…. And Alma Lee suggested I make sure I read her column in the July 1982 edition… for as she was interviewing Ed and the ‘mission’ work he was committed to she asked him casually, “So, what does a pastor like you do in a mission setting like you are in…?” His response was quick and simple… “I light firecrackers under dead butts.”

LOL… POL (Praying Out Loud), too!

Firecracker Christians? They’ve been around for awhile it seems. The Church still needs them. So, go use your power… rooted in your baptism … being energized in the hearing of God’s Word and by finding your seat at the Lord’s table… and if you are feeling like you’ve lost your power… or something has taken it from you… remember… feelings are just that… feelings… what you do with those feelings will make all the difference! BOOM!

… and I heard him murmur… “did he really do that?”  Yep.

murmuring for the good…

Brian

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ON MARRIAGE (and sometimes divorce)

…and I heard him murmur…

            …” I never thought that this could happen” …

 

NOTE: adapted reflections from a Sunday message on married life upon the occasion of my 25th wedding anniversary)

No one I know has ever entered marriage with the intention to one day divorce. But, it happens. I know this personally. I never thought that it would happen. Yet, it did. As a pastor, it’s never my desire to see people divorce… if it can be avoided… So, these are some thoughts I have about married life that hopefully those who read these words can find some solace, understanding and hope about the difficult work married life can present…

Here’s a little history on marriage…

  • Marriage has been around a long, long time. The Bible speaks of it and the idea of marriage and family have many codes including dowries, daily expectations, behavior, etc. Although, there is no record of a wedding ceremony, many like to think of the first man and the first woman as the first married couple. They lived together, had children, rebelled against God and had to figure out how to live through one difficult day after another. One of the commandments, even, was offered up to provide some sense of boundaries when it comes to couples and relationships. St. John, the gospel writer recorded that Jesus attended a wedding in Cana of Galilee with his mother and his disciples. His presence there points out the ‘miracle’ that marriage is and can be.
  • The word, ‘marriage,’ is of Old English origin. It shows up around A.D. 1250-1300 with a main goal of keeping families allied for power and retaining property with most marriages being arranged even to the point of the bride and groom not meeting each other until their wedding day. Some cultures continue this practice even today. Some even find it a helpful alternative to western ideals of married life.
  • Wedding rings have roots in ancient Rome, with the circular symbol of an eternal commitment to one another. Men did not always wear a ring but insisted a wife wear one. Unfortunately, for far too long, women (and children) were viewed upon as ‘property.’  Perhaps in another post there can be some thoughts about changing perceptions of married life over the past 50 years which are for the good of all!
  • In the 1500’s in an attempt to curb an onslaught of witness-less marriages here, there and everywhere, the Church of England insisted a couple could not be married unless in the presence of a priest and at least two other persons. It was about this time that a Rite of Marriage was included in the Book of Common Prayer. The Roman Church labelled marriage one of its seven sacraments as far back as the 1200’s.
  • Many of the traditions we have in modern marriage have ancient roots. Why is the groom not the ‘best man?’ Why is the bride not the ‘maid of honor?’ Why do bridesmaids carry flowers? Why does the bride’s family sit left of the altar and the groom’s family to the right? And when did wedding reception ‘toasts’ stop being a hoisting of beverages in thanks to God for life and blessing and converted in a sappy history by the bridal party’s relationship with the bride and groom? These kinds of questions will have answers later in this post.
  • Modern marriage continues to morph as it seems less and less marriage is viewed as goal to keep communities stable and better the culture and more and more a way to ‘play house.’ (my phrase). In 2012 it was reported that more children in the USA were born to unmarried parents than to parents who were married. I don’t think this means that the unmarried parents do not love each other or did not desire to become a parent, even… it just means that more people that year chose not to marry before setting up household and starting a family. Since the 1960’s and the advent of ‘no-fault’ divorce laws there have been more divorces than ever before causing a dose of collateral fear in the children of those divorced families to a) delay marriage until much older than their parents or b) not marry at all. And personally speaking… I’m not sure Frank Sinatra’s hit “Love and Marriage” nor Stephen Stills’ “(If You Can’t Be With the One You Love Then) Love the One You’re With” have offered stable grounding for reasons to marry and reasons to remain married.
  • And recently, the Supreme Court voted in favor of same-sex marriage. This decision didn’t start or end any religious rifts among people of faith to say nothing about atheistic or agnostic postures. So, until the global think tank agrees on the reasons for marriage, I believe the concept of marriage will continue to be shaped and re-shaped in ways some will approve, and some will not. The Bible and other religious books of faith each have their say and even then there is not a common understanding of “what does this mean?” Obviously, there is much more that can be reported here concerning the history of marriage but maybe this is a good place to stop for now…

So, what is it that needs to be said ‘on marriage’ from a pastor of almost 40 years who married more than once with an intention of never divorcing but did but is now re-married for 25 years and recently toasted to 25 more years to come? Here goes…

  • Marriage is hard work. The old Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal used to say, “Whereas, marriage is a holy estate and ordained by God it should not be entered into lightly.” At least something close to that as falling in love, being in love and being married are not the same. Getting married is easy. Staying married requires love… the action verb as described in the Bible and not the feeling we get between our legs. It also requires a couple have an arsenal of grace and forgiveness at their fingertips or the tough times that come will only get more difficult. I often laugh with couples these days and suggest they not read 1 Corinthians 13 at their wedding, but rather save it for their first big disappointment after the honeymoon!                                                                           
  • Marriage is the result of some unavoidable realities. At an old workshop on marriage, back in the 20th century, I was presented with the “5 C’s of Christian Marriage.” Those five words were…
    • CHEMISTRY—the biological pheromones coupled with physical attraction and the lust that accompanies it forcing people to ‘choose’ one person over another or not being chosen as the case might be.
    • COMITMENT– that reality when the couple gets a ring, sets a date, buys a dress and orders the cake, invites their friends and family and gets to the moment of “I do.” Note: It’s always a good practice to contact the officiating minister 9-12-18 months prior to the wedding day in order that the pastor, she or he, is available to be present. These days pastors won’t change their vacation planned 9-12-18 months prior. Just sayin.’
    • CHARACTER – this is the stuff of life that points to the minutia of “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others kind of vows… as no one ever really knows the details of those broad marital parameters. How better? How worse? How sick? And as for ‘forsaking’… there are plenty of demons around to thwart a healthy marriage including work, video games and on-line relationships that appear at first as harmless. I heard the story of a guy who spent 3 days in his basement playing ‘Warcraft’ only to find a note on the kitchen table from his wife that she and the two children had left to live with her parents. But, the question is raised… “where does character come from?” Those are the final 2 C’s…
    • CHRIST – the one who has provided us with the ‘model of the Godly life’ and who taught us to love when life is difficult and full of doubt.
    • CHURCH – that body of Christ… that community of faith that is one if not the only institution left to support and affirm family life. It’s the place where we learn and practice love and forgiveness with each other. There’s an old saying… “When you get the person together you get the neighborhood together and when the neighbors are together then the whole world can get together…” and the Church is that place that helps each of us ‘get it together’ when we allow it. The divorce rate of those married “in” the church is just about the same as those “not” married in the church. But, the rates change dramatically for those who get married in the church and stay involved in that church’s ministry and mission. Check it out if you find that odd.
  • Marriage has predictable stages. I’ve recognized five (5) of them.
    • The Honeymoon where everything is wonderful, and couples are prefect and no problems have arisen or seem to be looming. No one has lost a job, no one has been in an auto accident, etc. This can last from 3 days to 3 years. But, it does end.
    • The “I Wonder” Moment. This is when one spouse rolls over in bed at 5:45 am and sees their partner with mussy hair, drool on their lips accompanied with a snore or two and quietly asks the question, “Out of 7.2 billion people walking the planet earth, I wonder why I’m married to this one?” I once shared this idea with my late mother who found the concept inconceivable. “I never felt that way about your father,” she said. “I know, mom” came my reply, “but dad told me once he felt that way about you.” You get the idea. It rolls along with attitudes of regret and outcomes not perceived at first coupled with unfulfilled images of marriage that are mostly never achieved… by anyone!
    • “Mistrust.” This is when things get dicey and you begin to doubt your partner more than you doubt yourself. Someone decides to “go to Vegas”… with friends but not you. It’s when your spouse enters into a new regimen of hygiene or begins to buy new clothes different the ones they normally wear. You find all this odd and this is the time to ask questions as your feelings of mistrust are not right or wrong… they are just feelings that are new to you and should not be ignored. And if you do, it will not be long before the fourth stage of married life arrives…
    • “I Hate Your Guts”. No one wants to own up to this. I hate your guts sounds a lot like “I’m not in love anymore.” But, again, its just a stage that just about everyone I know has experienced. The future requires change. Both persons will want to accept the challenge to “choose to grow.” What happens next makes all the difference.
    • “Make The Call.” Stage five is when a couple either ends their marriage (by mutual consent or the determined inattentiveness of one partner) by calling the attorney OR the couple calls the pastor, priest, rabbi or therapist and ‘falls in love for the first time” as it is always my hope that any couple in crisis would not seek to re-kindle the marriage to recover what it used to be but to find the gumption to create the marriage they never had. I caution couples about this during the pre-marital time we spend together. “What plan do you have when you’ve exhausted all your personal abilities and spiritual / emotional resources and you know your marriage is in need of repair and you can no longer do this on your own?” I ask. “Who are you going to call?” What’s your plan?” This is important because “falling in love” can be like “falling in a hole” and it may take more than one person to help you get out. It’s good to have an attorney but it’s better to stay in touch with your pastor!

What then makes for a solid marriage? Is there something unique about the Christian faith and our understanding that makes a difference? I think so. It’s a prayer-full thing and right at our fingertips each day. And please don’t mock me for the following comments… as this is more than an observation… it is what I have experienced… It seems couples after 3, 5, 7, 10 or 12 years of marriage mostly focus on 3 things…sex, money and kids…and never in the same order which has caused me to ask the question, “Why are all these people so different, so unique and coupled to only one other person and yet they all have the same dissatisfactions?” It is as if one couple after another would come into my office and put paper bags over their faces with holes for their eyes, nose and mouth and say the same things…it doesn’t matter who they are…I just hear the same things… the same issues… the same complaints… It begs the thought and important question I ask every couple…“why do you want to be married?” And before they answer… I share with them my ‘unacceptable’ list… stuff like… “she’s my soul-mate” or “It was fate we were fishing at the same dock on the same day” or “he was cute” or my favorite… “I can’t live without him/her” when indeed they’ve only known each other for a couple of years and certainly have lived quite well without each other. And this is part of this post that my wife wants me to share with everyone…

When I come home from an appointment with a couple for pre-marital conversation, my wife always asks me, “did you ask them the question? Well, did you? You asked them THE question? And did you tell them the answer?” And each time I tell her, “yes, of course. I told them this is the question my wife wants to know… why you want to be married and then she wants me to tell you why you should get married…” as I said, it’s a prayer-full thing… right out of the old green Lutheran Book of Worship… it’s the middle prayer after the vows and exchange of rings and blessing of the bride and groom…

“Faithful Lord, source of love, pour down your grace upon this couple, that they may fulfill the vows they have made this day and reflect your steadfast love in their life-long faithfulness to each other. As members with them of the body of Christ, use us to support their life together; and from your great store of strength give them power and patience, affection and understanding, courage and love toward you, toward each other and toward the world, that they may continue in mutual growth according to your will in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Are you seeing it?  You see, Margo said to me as we got closer to deciding to marry… “you know I don’t need you; and you don’t need me.” That was her lead in to the big question. We seemed to be doing ok as single parents with professional skills… “I don’t need you to serve God and you seem to be serving God just fine without me… so, my question is… “Can we serve God better together or is it better we serve God on our own?” That’s the question I get to ask each couple… Wow! and what a question that is… in fact, it is the best question I can ask couples as they prepare for married life and that’s also when I point out to them the realities of that prayer… that the reason to marry is to love God, love each other and love the world around you… and when a couple commits themselves to that 3-fold bend… then the inevitableness of a long and wonderful marriage is the consequence witnessed by all!

 So, let me be more specific… when leading an adult forum on “personal mission statements” and “family mission statements” I was asked, “what common purpose, common cause, common goal do you two share?” My response was quick… my wife and I are committed to a) raising our children with faith and good work habits; b) seek to find other parents who need support in their family settings and since we have both been single parents, we c) seek out other moms and dads with children and try to help them and even if that means assisting couples now in a “blended” family…which is an entirely incredible job compared to the functions and expectations within nuclear families. For, when this is the starting gate by which we run our faith race together, it creates the watermark for seeing how we are doing…

Something else that deserves mentioning here is somewhere along my life’s path someone said to me… “The things that draw a couple together, over time, become the things that push couples apart.”  You may have to read that again… It’s the observation that couples, in the beginning, are drawn to each other as a way to tending to their own weaknesses…what one consciously or subconsciously sees as a strength in their future partner as a reaction to one’s own weakness and the same for them.  This is a way that couples “compliment” each other in the beginning…but after 10 plus years and having time to share your strengths and weaknesses with each other, you find that the things that drew you together are the things that push you apart…the classic example of this was a women in New Orleans who sat in my office and I asked, “why do you want a divorce?” And she said, “because he’s cocky and obnoxious.” I then asked, “Well, then why did you marry him?” Then she said this incredible thing…”Well, when I married him he was self-confident and self-assured.” I asked her, “what’s the difference?” and she then realized that this was not about him…but about her…it was basically the same behavior, but perceived differently by her own needs and emotions…

And then there’s this… sadly, another thing I have observed is that by the time people come to my office they are way too far removed from a relationship and just can’t seem to find a way to do the difficult work that is necessary.  In turn they decide it’s easier to live in the pain they are currently experiencing rather then enter a new kind of emotional pain that will bring both reconciliation and growth… And let’s be honest, most of us are unwilling to do that kind of work… the painful effort of moving beyond our comfort zones and so the big loser in this is not our partner… but our own self… so, I have asked people to follow some simple rules about married life… 

1) Don’t talk to others about your marriage partner. Talk to your partner.

2) Keep the focus on yourself and not on the other person.

3) Use as many “I” statements as you can… as in “I like the dishes done after dinner” vs. “you need to do the dishes!”

4) Forgiveness is more valuable than “communication.”   Afterall, couples can find it easy to “communicate” when steeped in the “I Hate Your Guts” phase … to yell, be angry, etc. It’s more difficult work but better work to practice forgiveness. It’s more difficult to understand than it is to blame. Or as Eric Clapton sang… “Before you accuse me… take a look at yourself.” Word.

5) There are only a couple of reasons for divorce. Habitual infidelity (usually an affair is an act of anger not one of lust); criminal behavior or undisclosed drug use; or physical violence or abuse of spouse or child/ren.   Just about everything else can be worked through as long a BOTH persons desire to work it out. When one wants in and one wants out, then the marriage is over no matter what the one person who wants it to remain in tact does.

6) My friend, Dr. Pete Steinke once said, “Marriage is the arena that forces couples to work out their own personal demons.” Lately I use term “personal crappola”… the stuff we get from our family of origin that tries to take over when the clashing of family crests ensues… when we aren’t really right or wrong… just exhibiting the way we learned as a child. As a couple lives together and has children, etc each person has to tend to their own emotions and values for the sake of the relationship. To do any less is harmful to self, spouse and children. I’ve said to some lately…when their marriage is in crisis.. but far from over… “if marriage is the arena that you must work out your own weaknesses and shortcomings, do you want to do that with someone you’ve known for 12 years, have 3 children with or do you want to do that with a total stranger, someone you’ve not met yet? Either way, you’ll find yourself, in time, having to deal with it.”

I never thought that my marriage would end up in divorce. I publicly take ownership of that failed relationship. I’m not fully responsible for its total demise but I’ll take my share of the blame. In the same vein, I wondered way back in the 20th century if my marriage to Margo could last. Sides A and B of the same 45 rpm record, perhaps. And it has. I keep telling people… “happiness is an inside job!” and as I have tended to my part of the marriage and Margo has tended to her part of our marriage…  trying to be all in 100% of the time … for each of us vs. the 50%/50% images so many succumb to we are off to another 25 years… one day at a time… just like we did the first 25 years.

When we married in 1994 we gathered some Lutheran teenagers and headed off to Atlanta GA for the ELCA National Youth Gathering. As we found our way to the Georgiadome we saw there would be a workshop for “blended families”… of which ours was but a few months old. The presenter, I presumed was a local Atlanta psychiatrist, who was at the front of the room presenting to be leftover from a German Storm Trooper unit via his wireless lenses and smoking a cigarette with his balding head down waiting for the room to fill. And it did. Standing room only. Full of angry teens and questioning, conflicted adults. Margo and I were somewhat to the back of the room and I stretched my neck to hear him as he began… he put out his cigarette in the ashtray, blew smoke in our faces, introduced himself and said, “If you are here for the workshop on blended families, then you are in the right place… and what I want to say about blended families is this… all blended families are created out of loss. There has been a death or a divorce. The other thing is that each person in a blended family has the opportunity to access personal growth. Are there any questions?” And then the 60 minute impromtu “group therapy” session began… angry teens telling everyone what to do and what not to do and frustrated parents not knowing their boundaries or expectations to which by the end I looked at Margo and said, “wow, we can do way better than this…” and just so you know I’m trying to be definitive here and not sound like I’m bragging… “we did!” We did better than that. So far.

I look forward to Sunday June 2 where people at New Life in Pearland… members and friends of members… will gather after each worship service for a brief but very personal and meaningful renewal of wedding vows.  It’s pretty painless and yet affirming in hope-filled ways… and if you are nearby… please come and take part… and if this post has caused you some grief… I hope you’ll do something about it and if this post has been an encouragement to you… let me know and above all… tell your spouse…

And oh yeah… those old traditions… the groom is not the best man as the best man is kind of like the ‘second’ at a duel.  He keeps in touch with the maid of honor… who often did not even know the bride but had the unformiddable task of “checking” on the honor of the bride and if the bride was found to be a dishonorable woman then she told the best man who then drew his sword to protect the groom as he rode off to find a more honorble bride.  Frankly, I’m glad we don’t do this anymore.  And as for bridesmaids and flowers?  Well, folks didn’t bathe much in those days… perhaps 1-2 times annually and the flowers were good cover for human smells!  Along with that bride’s and groom’s family sit opposite of one another as a result of ancient parties of kings and shieks who chose not to mingle their animals and servants thus providing a center aisle for brides and grooms to walk…

Still murmuring for the good,

     Brian

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Re-Thinking Resolutions— thoughts for another new year

And I heard the young boy murmur…

   “Whattayamean they’ve lived here for over 1000 years?”

 

A reflection on a visit to St. Jerome’s Church/Taos Pueblo, NM

God continually shows us in nature that there will be a resurrection…”

-St. Clement of Rome

Every year it starts all over, doesn’t it? On the festival day of the Baptism of Our Lord, I was able to stop for prayer and a reminder of my baptism at St. Jerome’s Church in Taos Pueblo. I dipped my finger in the receptacle of holy water and made the sign of the cross (Eastern style, of course) and to say to myself out loud “I belong to Christ!”  It was just a brief but holy moment on a Sunday morning, part of a tour to the UNESCO site just south and east of Taos, NM.

My wife, our daughter and two of our grandsons had walked outside the church as I found myself sitting in the front row near a box of lit candles.  Mass was held at 7:00 am that morning. All God’s children there had gathered to sing and pray, eat and drink Christ’s forgiveness together and finally were sent into the world to serve! I was just getting up when all that was going on.  So, alone I took a moment to embrace the silence for some reflective prayer.

It’s a strange thing to know that the brain can think 15,000 times faster than the mouth can speak.  Or more freeing, maybe. So, I didn’t take a long, long time to engage in some thanking to God for my life and for the love of family and church. The rings and circles of my life are vast and interconnected. The timeline encompasses 7 decades!  Faces from my family… my wife, our children and their spouses and our grandchildren, my cousins and their parents who loved them to death, the neighborhood in which I grew up, the friendships I’ve honed from there into high school and to college, thru seminary and in the cities I’ve lived and churches I’ve served…. prayers for all … prayers for light and hope and love and peace… prayers for sustained good health and healing for those who need that and the hopeful desire beyond ability to do good work.  There still is work to do, right?  As a first-born, my humility factor is lacking most of the time.  Even Dr. Augie Wenzel once jabbed at me… “Piety?  Gigee, you have no piety.”  So, I prayed for a little bit of that, too.  After all, it still is the first part of the year and while I’ve not been a fan of new year resolutions for quite some time… taking a moment for “resolving” myself, high in the mountains away from my weekly routines to consider behaving my way into some new thinking was something I’d not done in almost 40 years of Christmassing the congregations I’ve served since 1981.  I’ve never taken time off after Christmas.  The new year always provided a paper and pen for plotting out what comes next.  But, this time it was different.  The fresh snow on the ground served as a reminder that the old has passed away and the new has come… and to be intentional where to step next…resurrection happens!

So, what did my ‘resolving’ encompass?

Work with the end result in mind.  I’m not dead yet and still we pray… “Come, Lord Jesus…” and when the Lord returns… and I trust the Christ will, I want to be caught loving those around me and being guilty of kingdom ideals… feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, visiting the sick and imprisoned, mentoring and coaching 3 generations of men, affirming those who grieve and that those they have loved and have been loved by was but a brief moment but more than that… that it was holy time for the ages.  Or, the alternate route will be… I will be up to this kind of stuff until I have no more breath in my bones.  Recalling each day my brokenness and need of God’s grace, always, helps a whole lot, too.

St. Clement also wrote…

     “God sees all things: therefore let us avoid transgression.”

I cannot change my past; nor should I. Some of my best learnings are from my mistakes and errors. And still I know there’s more learning to come.  God’s grace is big enough to cover all that I’ve done and left undone. And if ‘sin’ is more of being a “bad shot” (from the Greek ‘amarti’a’ referring to bows and arrows) than being ‘bad, then I rejoice in the news that the Lord has offered me a supply of endless arrows in the quiver over my shoulder.  I’m gonna need that on the way to grabbing all of my eternal life…

So, on with the ‘resolving’…. And in the days ahead I will seek to follow the light of Christ. That’s my plan.  And in so doing it is my hope the shadows of life will be behind me. For if my life is full of shadows it will be only a result of my walking in the opposite direction of Christ’s light.  Or… if Jesus really meant it when he said, ‘follow me,’ and I don’t … it will be his brilliant light casting the shadows in front of me as walk away… meaning that I’m the one in the way…

My predictions for the days ahead are few but certain… I won’t be robbing any banks or dealing drugs or trafficking women and children and I can’t control those who seem determined to do so. I won’t be driving my car into a crowd of people or sending death threats to public leaders. Anyone can do those things. Doing those things are quite easy thank you very much.  Instead, I will take a higher, more difficult path… to seek to love God with all my heart and mind and strength and to love my neighbor as much as (if not more so) myself. That’s tough stuff but its stuff that will  show the grit and longevity of faithfulness like it’s important still to honor my father and mother even though my parents have been dead for some time. God’s love has been around longer than 1000 years… and I will do this so that when I join them my children and grandchildren will be able to look at my life with a sense of pride and appreciation and cry alligator tears because they will miss me that much not to say anything about the ginormous task they will have to be just a bit like me…

And, again, of this I am certain… we are all wonderfully and mysteriously connected through the love of God in Christ Jesus, the Lord. And whether you know it or not we have all breathed in and out the very breath of Christ as have all who have come and gone before us. Those air molecules which include the laryngeal sounds… “love God…” …  “love your neighbor…”  “be salt…”  “… be light…” which are ALL real reminders that “God IS with us!”  And those who come after us?  Well, they  will get to do the same…

It’s pretty amazing to think that the Taos Pueblo people have been living in the same corner of God’s kingdom for over 1000 years… centuries before they heard the name of Jesus or St. Jerome.  To this day they have no running water or electricity in their homes. They like the witness of St. Jerome, a dualist in theological terms, one who would approve of the Taos people retaining many of their ancient tribal traditions while embracing the message of Jesus at the same time.  The chapel of St. Jerome is the third church facility on their land since the 1500’s when the Jesuits and Conquistadors came knocking on their pueblos.  It remains simple and beautiful as “holy” is hard to define and lives by its own terms.  And the ruins of the 1800s chapel lie just 300 yards away.  The crumbled piles of mud brick the result of cannon fire from U.S cavalry helping me remember that every generation must learn the ways of peace and that maybe new year resolutions aren’t such a bad idea after all.

I stopped in the Chapel of St. Jerome on the Festival of the Baptism of Jesus. I said my prayers and dipped my finger in the holy water, making the sign of the cross to remember “I belong to Christ.”  I do.  You do, too!

So breathe. In and out. Pause. Rejoice! Look for the light of Christ in your own self as you find that same light in others. The light will always shine on the darkness and the darkness will never win. It’s the trustworthy truth that brightens each day and as for each day… remember… we get them but one at a time… even in the midst of 1000 years!

Murmuring a bit more this year than last,

Gigee

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“Always Reforming”

And I heard him murmur…

Yep, that’s us... “Always Reforming

       
NOTE: An adapted message via Reformation Sunday OCT 28, 2018

       Grace and peace and mercy to you from the One who is, the One who was and the One who is to come… Jesus, Son of God, Savior and source our being… Amen.

Let’s remember who we are and why we are here… 

  THIS IS GOD’S HOUSE ( congregation repeats)

           … WE ARE GOD’S PEOPLE ( congregation repeats)

             … ROOTED IN THE WORD ( congregation repeats)

        …REFRESHED IN THE SPIRIT (congregation repeats)

                  … REACHING INTO THE NEIGHBORHOOD & THE WORLD ( repeats)

A joyful and blessed Reformation Sunday to all of you… the first of the next 500 years…

I’m not sure how your day began this morning but I invite to lean in with your ears and hearts and pray with me Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer…

“I thank you, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

Did you catch that… ‘kept us from danger and harm?’  Are you feeling threatened? Is there danger and harm close by?  Here at New Life in Pearland?  < pause> You could live in Pittsburgh.  Or Charleston, SC or at the border of California and Mexico.

I wanted to have some fun this morning… give you a short Reformation Sunday quiz… and I’m not sure how this will go given what I’m feeling right now, but, let’s give it a try…. I give you a “brand name” slogan and you give me the company…

  • “We Try Harder…” (Avis Car Rental)
  • “Finger lickin’ good…” (Kentucky Fried Chicken)
  • “Have It Your Way…” (Burger King)
  • “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” (M&Ms)
  • “Quality Never Goes Out of Style” (Levi’s Blue Jeans)

Nice going ( for those who got 5 for 5!) Face it…every good product needs a slogan. Branding isn’t new, but it’s always good.  I was challenged a few years ago to come up with a “brand” that described me… and get this… in 4 words or less!  OK?  Think about that… for any of us…complicated and complex that we are to describe yourself in 4 words or less… You ready?  I even called my son, Nathan, a “business” major to test it out… so here goes… “Loves life; lives love.”  He said I came pretty close…

Those in the advertising world spend a vast amount of time, energy, and money trying to come up with something that will stick so that we remember their product in a positive way. This week, we commemorate the 501st  anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Imagine for a moment, those leaders in our faith gathered around a table, trying to come up with a slogan that summed up the reform movement. You could hear Martin Luther lean over to his colleague, Phillip Melanchthon and say, recalling the 95 Theses he had posted, and suggesting the slogan, “Nailed It!

(pause for anticipated laughter — 10:30 crowd laughed a bit louder!)

But, they did… and you can see it here…

Word alone…

Faith alone…

Grace alone…

Christ alone and Glory to God alone…

These are the catch phrases that point to what it meant to be involved in the reform movement of the church catholic… and they call into question now the things we do and say and how we live…where we spend our time and resources… how our living is shaped!

WORD alone… that there are a plethora of ways to live our lives… the word “bible” is Latin for book and there are many books we can learn and grow from… but above all the resources we have… above all the books we can get our hands on … we say the Bible (as God’s Word) is holy and therefore ‘separate’ from all the other books standing above them all and has 1st place in our faith lives and is the book we can turn to as most trustworthy!

FAITH alone… that our acceptance by God is not because of what we do… but because of what God has done for each of us in Jesus… that we are loved and forgiven because of the faith of Christ and his work on the cross and to believe anything less is to short-change ourselves… remember what St. Augustine once said… “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us.” Awesome.

GRACE alone…  and this is hardest for us… it is the most difficult concept for our culture because our world teaches us our worth is based on what we produce… rather than one claimed by Christ in baptism and as one who God calls to be light, salt and leaven… If the quality of my life hinges only on my efforts then like so many, the older I get the less worth my life has as I am bound to mess it up… and without grace that mess will linger… remember, we should be teaching our children and grandchildren the NEW VERSION of the Lord’s Prayer… “forgive us when we mess up as we forgive those who have messed up against us…” for it is in forgiveness that grace finds a home… that yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not yet, so TODAY, then, is all I get… and that’s the place to start… and start over if need be.  Grace does lead us to a “new life!”

CHRIST alone… Again, the world stumbles over this… that Jesus is enough… the one who was from the beginning and from the beginning of creation and is our connection to God and God’s connection to us… as he called himself… “the way,” “the truth,” and “the life.”  It’s when we sing the song… ONE Name… we understand what this means… forgiven of our sins, baptized in the water, filled with the Holy Spirit and that God’s gonna move this place kind of stuff that reminds us that Jesus Christ in never far… that is why we come to the Lord’s Table each Sunday… to be re-fueled for our being the hands and feet of God’s work in the world…

GLORY TO GOD alone…  we are a peculiar people in the western world…we worship all kinds of things that Paul Tillich identified as “ultimate concern” where we place most value … where we invest our time and money… as THE most important thing in our lives…. Like this… we live in a nation that has a baseball world series, but we don’t invite the rest of the world to play in it… and we have actors and actresses who gather together annually to give themselves awards… as if the rest of us can’t think for ourselves who gave the best performance in a movie or play… or when an American tourist visits another country and complains that the people there do not speak English… sheesh…  or this….

Earlier this week Leonard Sweet made the comment… “what will future historians look back and see and say about us… asking … what was it that is most holy to us?  Sadly he said… our cell phones… what is most holy to you?  If HOLY = “set apart” then what is most holy to you?

We don’t use the term “holy” day to day to describe the things of life…except maybe when we use it before the words, ‘smoke’ or ‘cow’ or ‘crap’… But, the church uses the term holy all the time…like in…holy baptism… out of all the baptisms and baths we get in a lifetime the baptism into Christ’s church is most important… the power of God that we have access to daily… or as Luther once said, “Luther, you are worm food… but you are baptized and you belong to Christ…” and then he’d go on with his day… OR holy communion… not just the bread and wine/body and blood of Jesus… we all experience ‘communion’… like going to a baseball game and hi-5 strangers when our team does good… or when we go to a HS football game and all stand up for the opening kickoff… everyone has access to and needs communion… but the HOLY communion we celebrate has marching orders… we eat and drink forgiveness, grace and salvation and Jesus says to us… “you can’t stay here.  Sure it feels great… but I am in you and you are in me and we are with the Father and we can’t stay here… so, go… make disciples… baptize, preach and teach… this is the plan … Love God.  Love yourself.  Love your neighbor.  Be blessed.  Bless others.” There is no plan B.   These are holy orders… for holy living… and we support that kind of holiness through prayer and worship and study of the Holy Bible… you know … face it… When God looks at us… we all look alike… so, who are we to be unlike God and make distinctions that divide?

You see… 100 years from now I hope that Dr. Sweet is wrong… I hope that 100 years from now, future historians will look back on us and ask… “what was it that they held most holy?”  And they will be able to say… “they held each other as holy!”  That we treated each person as a child of God, created in God’s own image to accomplish great things… Do we see each other as ‘holy?’  If so… great… If not, then some reforming will be necessary…

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the phrase “Always Reforming” associated with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Sounds right, huh?  Always reforming? That’s us, right?  Well maybe.  Let’s at least say… “close!”  When we consider the phrase… “Always reforming”… it’s good for us to think about where that phrase came from and how we use it today… for when we do the research we find out the “brand” really is “Always Being Reformed” similar to the ELCA’s brand… “Always Being Made New”… because reform for reform sake sounds more like adjusting to a changing world, embracing whatever life brings when we know that embracing all that comes along isn’t always the best approach (NOTE: not mentioned in Sunday’s message… but eating dishwasher detergent packs and making plans for a Zombie apocalypse come to mind even though I doubt seriously New Life will ever have a “small group” for these …) Luther’s Reformation fell under the category of a good “Texas 2 Step”… his desire to reform was more like a housecleaning than building a new house… he had no desire to start a new church…just a holy passion for dusting off the layers of worldly silt that were covering over the beauty of Christ’s church… taking a look backward in order to find the path to what was to come… 

So, here’s the history lesson… In 1674, about 150 years after the “Reformation Movement” had planted roots the phrase “always being reformed” surfaced in a  devotional written by Jodocus van Lodenstein. He and others were committed to teaching the Reformed confession and catechism, and wanted to see those teachings better applied and more thoroughly understood. Who wouldn’t want that… then or now?  The slogan he presented was:  Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei, that is, “The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God.” It reminded the church, over a century after the Reformation had begun to spread, that the process of transformation and change was meant to be ongoing, and it insists that it is God, through Scripture and the Holy Spirit, who will bring this change about.

So, take your bulletin and cross out the message title… “Always Reforming” as that can be misunderstood and then misrepresented in our living… and after you cross out those two words, replace them with “Always Being Made New.”  That’s why I like the name of our church so much… as when people get here… in a new town where only a handful of us grew up and where almost 2/3 of the church were not raised as Lutherans…we understand a bit better about what it means to have a “new life.”  Our Lord is in the transformation industry bringing reform and new life to all of us… as each day goes by.

Happy 501st anniversary of the Reformation.  May you sense God’s brand and blessing today so that you will be a blessing to others…

New Life; now and murmuring for the good…

Brian

 

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“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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