When Boys Fall Out the Church Window—The Eutychus Factor

When Boys Fall Out the Church Window–The Eutychus Factor

Eutychus Window       And I heard them murmur… “…is he dead?”

Not quite yet declared a saint, Paul, the late night preacher didn’t see it coming— or going… Eutychus, that is, the young boy falling out of the third story window to his impending death.  The gasps in the room sounded the alarm alerting those gathered that something terrible had happened. It caused Paul to stop preaching and take action and yet here’s a story not about preaching but an image of care-giving and hope!

The same might be said about pastors like me and churches like ours when we hear of the actions of a Dylann Roof.  We’re forced to take a long hard look in the mirror when the uninvited gasps alert his family, friends and church that something unspeakable has happened!  It’s one thing to fall out of a church window fast asleep, late at night, on account of a long-winded preacher; but it is something else to buy a gun, walk into a congregation’s Bible study and shoot the pastor and the others taking part.  Innocence is fractured and fingers point to a thing that is more than despicable. We weep and still an unimaginable window remains open.  Yet, the one thing they have in common is that just about any young man in just about any church is at risk when the rest of the church neglects to keep their eyes on them.  Welcome to the Eutychus Factor, where an age old story can help us be the church in mission in this 21st century!

Anyone who listens to cable news has been exposed to a myriad of details about the Charleston, SC shooting in the summer of 2015—perhaps an information overload and in some respects recipients of misinformation.  But I’m pretty sure most folks have little knowledge of the Eutychus episode in the 20th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  It’s a story we dare not ignore and offers the church some simple realities for faithful work. Take a look…

“And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.  And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing [him] said, ‘Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.’ Then Paul got up and served the Master’s Supper. And went on telling stories of the faith until dawn! On that note, they left – Paul going one way, the congregation another, leading the boy off alive, and full of life themselves.”                           – Acts of the Apostles  20:7-12

At first glance, most pastors get a chuckle from this story.  It’s the proof text for keeping sermons short.  Some have even wondered why Luke would include this saga in the life of the early church.  As noted, Paul had been preaching for hours… late into the night.  They were gathering to share in the Lord’s Supper and Paul was leaving in the morning and most preachers I know want to get their best gospel shots in just before going… But, let’s also hear it for Eutychus and his family for hanging in there after being dragged to church and being made to pay attention to the story of Jesus… but, again, that’s just at first glance.  There IS a greater lesson here.  I really like the reporting that Paul, when discovering Eutychus’ fall immediately stops his preaching and runs to the boy’s aid… down 3 flights of stairs… followed by a crowd!  I’m not sure many preachers these days would do the same.  And then comes the good part…

Paul picks Eutychus up in his arms and prayerfully hushes the crowd.  All the suspicion leads to a fearful shout…“the boy must be dead.”  But, he’s not.  Shaken, twisted and stirred, yes, but not dead and then Paul makes this incredible statement… “This boy still has life in him.” Grace and hope abound; but there is still more… and as much as we don’t know exactly how the boy, Eutychus, entered into the story or exactly where he went and how his life turned out after Paul left town, we know him because we know boys who have ‘fallen asleep’ and slipped through the cracks of congregational life over the years.  Luke points out the action of the faith community to suggest that in tending to Eutychus, his life continued their own joy increased.

The more I read this story, the more joy comes into my life and work and the more I read this story the more I am convinced how we need to share this model with others.  Let me be both generic and specific:

  1. We bring our boys to the font and teach them the faith;
  2. Non-challenging Preaching/Teaching can bring on a ‘deep sleep.’
  3. The world can tempt an alternate life inviting a selfish drowsiness;
  4. Boys fall away, run away, push themselves away. This is ancient;
  5. Chasing them down doesn’t seem to help.  Jesus didn’t.  The Prodigal Father didn’t. Some return.  Some don’t survive themselves.

And then the story tells us:

  1. Eutychus was young and couldn’t sit at the big table or on the floor so he found a place above the rest.  It wasn’t a perfect perch;
  2. The people paid attention to Paul’s preaching but kept their eyes on each other enough to notice that Eutychus fell out the window;
  3. Paul and the others chased after him. I suspect there was at least one older dude who sarcastically asked, “Whose kid was that?” or critically mentioned, “What a slacker…”
  4. Paul’s actions and words speak volumes… he runs down the stairs to check on the boy’s well-being and with no mention of prayer or a laying on of hands but an embrace Paul encouraged the church by saying, “His life is in him.” OR as Eugene Peterson translated… “There’s still life in him!”  Imagine the man who mocked the boy or Eutychus’ parents hearing this.
  5. And then the church ‘cared’ for the boy and it brought them joy!

For those who know the actions of Dylann Roof, can we say with grace and hope, “There’s still life in him!” when we know that he’s not just fallen out the window, but has jumped out the window and landed in front of the bus as well…?  Is it a different story for us if we don’t know the young man in question?  Do we hate the sinner as much as the sin?  Can we cast him confidently to the system that he obviously rejected?  Will revenge help?  Or, knowing that when any young man falls out the window and through the cracks of our congregations we are willing to point out to him and others, “There’s still life!”

As an ELCA pastor and one who cares about all three generations of men in our church (the BGUFFS- Brothers, Grandfathers, Uncles, Friends, Fathers & Sons… but that’s another post!) I’m not new to the Eutychus Factor.  I’ve lived it and I loved young men through it and connect with some who are just in the middle… So, yes, this is personal.  Shouldn’t it be?  Was anyone left upstairs when Paul made his dash to Eutychus?  Perhaps.  Probably. Not all care like Paul did. Not all in the ELCA will care enough to keep their eyes on our young men even when we know must.  There’s too much at risk to not care. The ELCA is proud to promote a ministry for youth from the font through their high school years via Sunday School, Confirmation and Camping ministry, LYO and triennial national youth gatherings. Yes, we are really good at this!!!  But we must admit, as a church denomination, the lion’s share of our efforts for the next generation of the church stop there.

        “79% of all the boys will leave the church  in their early teens and twenties–and most will never come back!”

-Rev. Tim Wright

A number of years ago a young man came to my home to do some interior repair work on the leaking pipes and  fractured tiles in the master bedroom bathroom.  I had been the pastor there just a short while.  As I was checking to see if he wanted something to drink he looked up from the tile work and said, “You know, pastor, I grew up in your church.”  I didn’t recognize his family name from the church roster but I responded, “Oh? Well, what happened?”  I was truly curious.  “I went into the Navy,” he said.  “How long?” I asked.  “Five years” came the reply.  He’d been back in town 4 years.  And then I asked again… “While you were gone serving this country, did anyone write you a letter from the church?  Did the pastor ever call or write?  Did anyone send you a “care package” where you were stationed?  Did you receive the church newsletter in the mail each month?  Did the congregation host a ‘welcome back home’ party upon your discharge?”  “No” was the reply to each question.  My heart sunk and I don’t blame him for not coming back to this church.  See how easy it is for one of our boys to fall out the window and through the cracks?  They don’t necessarily have to make headlines to garner our attention.

Yet, our boys will fall away for a variety of reasons both positive and negative.  My colleague, the Rev. Tim Wright in his book, “Searching for Tom Sawyer” suggests ( via data from Michael Gurion) that 79% of all the boys will leave the church (my note: for those boys who are actually churched) in their early teens and twenties–and most will never come back!” Really? 79%.  Do the math at your church?  How many boys age 14-22 in the last 10 years who left home to go to college, take a job elsewhere, enter the military are still connected to your congregation’s ministry?  Go ahead, make a list.  Or how many of those boys ages 14-22 got stuck in the wrong crowd, gave in to video game mania, drank their way into drugs, found their parents divorcing with no warning, experienced the death of a parent, a mentor, teacher/coach or solid rock grandfather and now you are not really sure where they are or how they are or what they are up to? Those young men in both circumstances would now be ages 24-32… the kinds of young men you want to be the next wave of strong faithful mission leaders for your congregation or mine.  79%.

There are plenty of resources and options available to help pastors like me and you and the men of our congregations keep in touch with our young men as they enter into a new season of life.  Plenty.  You won’t have to look far; but you will have to look.  Lutheran Men in Mission has a delivery system available with a phone call or an email. You can find a connection to LMM here www.lutheranmeninmission.org or via Facebook!

Young men have gone to war and died.  Millions upon millions.  Some have gone and come back scarred and less of themselves when they signed up.  We send them when they are young– before they reach the age of 25, the age when their brains have fully developed.  It’s a plan that has worked for us (and for others, too, for thousands of years!) and a plan that has worked against us and it’s the plan requiring us to push them out the window on purpose!  So, no one is innocent anymore and all of us are guilty!  But, take stock in the new windows available to these young via technology at their fingertips and laptops… the sinners and saints in us will need to fight that battle daily… and we will need each other’s help!

“Young men out-dual their female friends…

  • 3:1 in getting expelled from school, they win
  • 2.75:1 in being diagnosed with a learning disorder; again
  • 3:1 they take the trophy for being diagnosed with ADHD; and
  • 85% of all stimulant-addressing meds in the world are prescribed in the USA.
  • 75% of all D’s and F’s are given to boys!               – Michael Gurion

The short list above is worth taking note of… and a reminder that it’s good for the Eutychus in your corner of the Kingdom and the rest of us to keep our eyes on the young men in our churches for a good decade or two after high school.  Why?  They need us!  The world needs them!  Jesus is counting on them!  They will be our congregation’s missional voices and faces.  They will be the hands and feet of God’s work… They will marry someone’s daughter, they will be a friend and partner to another, and someone’s father, a favorite uncle and perhaps even live long enough to be a grandfather.  Falling out the window will happen, but it need not be fatal and it is never the end of the story.

Did you hear them murmur… “…is he dead?”  Perhaps.  But, remember, “There’s still life in him!” And that’s what we will look for.. the life that is in each boy we know… and when we can we will keep the windows closed and latched!

Brian

 

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Where Did the Village Blacksmith Go?”

Village SmithyAnd I heard someone murmur…

Where’d he go?  

        The Village Smithy… he was just here the other day…

 I heard a story about a young man who had just married and his wife was expecting their first child.  He had bought the old blacksmith shop from a man he’d known all his life.  It felt good.  It felt right.  It felt safe.  Good work.  Honest work… a life-long vocation for an eager provider.  All would be good in these early 1900’s!  Three weeks after he took over the shop there was a commotion around the corner.  Shop owners took to the streets and young children went running after the chugging sound to see the large coach on four wheels producing a cloud of smoke.  Life was good, yet life was changing.  Again.

 In grade school, each member of our 3rd grade class was assigned to pick a poem and memorize it.  A skill builder I suppose as we then recited that poem in front of the class.  Go!  First, there was the chore of reading over many poems.  Then I picked one.  Then the memorizing began.  That was the 1960’s. Life was good, yet life was changing.  Again.  Lot’s has happened since then.  The poem I picked was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” from 1840.  Classic.  ‘Everyman’ kind of words.  Reflections on community, family, vocation and stability. Lot’s has happened since then, too!

 To this day, I can recite the first verse to this epic prose.  As I stand gazing in the mirror I see the man I’ve become… aging, gray, less wrinkled than most… yet bulkier than some of my friends… these words make the ‘young boy’ in me surface.  And I wonder if I will ever be to others the hero that Longfellow wrote of here…

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands. 

Hard work is good for the soul, the body and the community in which we live.  Others notice.   They will.  They do.  In fact, they must.  The village smithy is a role model to the town’s young boys.  His presence and placement in their lives year upon year, week after week, and day after day bring a certain stability and confidence for all.  Still, the smithy knows to find rest in the shade of the Chestnut tree!

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

Here’s the blue-collared American.  Hard-working.  Working hard.  My dad was that kind of guy.  He wanted better for his children and he pushed them slowly and with deliberate vision to hammer out a life better than his.  This doesn’t changed.  Parents always want that for their children.  But, some in this generation won’t have it as good as their parents.  There is an ‘entitlement’ flame flickering in their shop and they may not get it until their parents pass it to them when they’re gone.  And that could be long while for many!  I know a couple who are worth millions.  Their children don’t know.  What if we all were sons and daughters of a blacksmith, earning what we can… while we can?

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor. 

 And here is the hero figure not to just his own children but to all who pass by!  The little ones are attracted by danger. The fire invites. The fire can be good and bad… but, this man is one of the town’s protectors!  He controls the fire!  He has good cause.  The next two verses speak of the inner man… his pain, his hope, his reality…

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Where is this smithy today?  Is he there in the church?  Does he listen to the parson pray and preach?  Who will teach his boys not to steal?  Where is the father who tells his son, “this is how our family lives… we do not toss our elders to the ground when we are caught being contrary to all that is right and good.”  Where is the father who teaches justice?  Six bullets for what?  Whose father told his son it is OK to cut off the head of an unarmed man? When is that ever OK?  Will this father tell his boys to watch out for their sister?  Her life is precious; a reflection of her late mother.  Where has this man gone?   Wasn’t he just here a day ago?

 This is what Longfellow wants us to know and trust… the man we see and the man who is hidden is the same.  Intertwined.  Integrated.  We are him.  He is us! I am the smithy.  You are, too!  The life we share has rhythm. There is work.  There is joy.  There is sadness; and we own it… all of it… as God owns our very souls…

Are these last verses about the smithy or about our God?  Or both?  One thing is for sure… this world could use a few more village blacksmiths

Toiling,–rejoicing,–sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

 Oh, did I forget?  This is no parable…. the village smithy was real… he was a Cambridge resident… a man named Dexter Pratt, a neighbor of Longfellow’s… just five houses up the street from his.  Real as real can be.  Can you see him?  Where did he go?

Brian

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“Trust in the Slow Work of God”

the-heavens-2012.jpg… and I heard him murmur…

         … “am I ever gonna catch a break?”

 Seems like life goes non-stop.  Catch a break?  Sure.  Take a break? A must.  Give someone else a break?  Duh! But, as long as we’re living and breathing, there will be just one more thing to do.  Even if that thing is…  ‘stop.’

I’ve always liked Martin Bell’s quote about the church being God’s ‘rag-tag’ army… his words stretch out over the eons from the beginning of all things ’til now…

“I think God must be very old and very tired…. God’s been on the march a long time, you know.  And look at God’s rag-tag little army! All he has for soldiers are you and me.”

 [The Way of the Wolf”]

Ministry never ends, then.  It’s a reflection of God… the one who has no beginning OR ending!  It’s hard work.  For all of us!  We all count! We all are involved.  For better for worse, in sickness and in health, etc, etc.  Someone said, ‘you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.”  True.  Someone also said, ‘you can lead a horse to water and make it awful thirsty.”  True as well.  We live in a world where so many know where the water is.  Yet, so many now are hesitant or down-right refuse to drink.  Ministry IS hard work.  But, as the baptized people of God, we are the “water-bearers” for the thirsty world we reside in and are part of.  Are we part of the solution or perpetuators of the problem?  Do we carry our water jugs into the world?  Do we know where our water jugs are?  What’s in it for us?  Who has tossed their water jug into the streets… now broken into a thousand pieces?  Do we know the ‘source’ of the saving water we bear? It runs shallow to deep! From time to time, there are questions that need to be both asked and answered.

One of my favorite ministry lines is the one you find at the top of this page… from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin… “trust in the slow work of God!”  We must.  I do.  It’s what keeps me going; and it’s the ‘good news’ of Jesus that does this rather than the ‘bad news’ I get bombarded with day after day.  True?  Yes! And get this… on any given Sunday, less than 20% of America is in a house of worship.  That doesn’t seem to be bad news for the 80+%. They claim to have found something more meaningful on those days. On any given Sunday about 2/3 of the members of New Life (the congregation I serve) are not at worship.  But, that’s not news, good or bad… just a reportable fact, as it reflects a major trend in most churches in America like ours. People attend when it’s seems right for them with little concern of God’s commandment of keeping the Sabbath a ‘holy’ day and the rhythm and focus on the balanced life we’re promied.  So, we have to ask… ‘is this helping God’s mission?’ and JFTR… I know where they live.  God does, too!

Our Gulf Coast Synod leadership has adopted a strategy for growing our congregations… one by one… for the sake of our own selves and the world… and that is how it must be… because we will never get the world together, if we can’t get ourselves together first.  This is key to our collective and corporate future… in just a 2 page document…

This is my synopsis…

  •  God desires all people to come into a life‐giving relationship with God and one another.  Christian community is God’s hope for the good of the world;
  • God desires our congregations to grow both in spirit and numbers!  We are led by the embracing of the life of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God is making this growth happen.
  • The time is now for God’s people to embrace the urgency of our purpose in calling men and women into relationship with Jesus, for the good of the world. If not us, who? If not now, when?
  • The diversity of people is a great gift of God who wants to grow congregations that are inclusive and representative of the communities in which God has planted them.
  • Every person has an important “God story” to tell: both the good news of God’s love in Jesus for all, and the story of our own personal faith journey.
  • Effective evangelism is responsive, not intrusive. Listening closely to others guides us in effectively sharing our faith with them.

SEE LINK:  http://worshiptimesmedia.s3.amazonaws.com/gulfcoast/files/2013/01/STRATEGIC-PLAN-FINAL-simple1.pdf

Where I live, New Life Lutheran Church starts its 10th year of ministry at the end of this month. But, our roots are deeper… 1961 and 1969 and 1930 and the 1800’s and the 1500’s and all the way back to Jerusalem… JFTR…   and each person has come with God’s ‘new life’ within them or this ‘new life’ is something to be discovered and treasured as ‘gift!” So, this is our time… in Christ we’ve caught a break… come… someone else is looking for a break… come often… you may miss out on the break you’ve been looking for… and invite…invite relentlessly… and together we will trust in the slow work of God!

… and I heard him murmur…

                           “… am I ever gonna catch a break?”

Sure!  We’re all travelers… sojourners for a brief moment in time… all of us… and all God has for the time being… and  all God needs…

Brian

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Me and Johnny Ringo— filling the holes in our souls

    Bullet hole                           … and he heard him murmur…

                                                     …“I’m your huckleberry…”

 Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.  Hollywood can embellish a good story.  Old John Glenn did go back into outer space but the Space Cowboys (Dirty Harry, US Marshall Sam Gerard, President Coriolanus Snow and Brett Maverick aka Eastwood, Jones, Sutherland and Garner) probably didn’t have to as we have no evidence the Russians ever placed nuclear warheads on a satellite.   And there’s that moment Martin Luther was to have given Duke Frederick a copy of the Bible in German in person.  They never met face to face to speak (although he did dedicate the translation to him!) Even now, others are trying to disprove Noah had Transformers help him build the ark.  The crowds rise and fall on embellishment, don’t they?  We buy the tickets; the movie companies produce the stories!  Yet, as we trust the fact our hearts and minds are being seduced just a bit, we still look for that thread of truth which runs through the stories of our lives.

 In the last 20 years of cinema, the movie Tombstone remains one of my favorites.  It’s an inviting story filled with saints who are sinners and sinners who are saints!  But, despite my affinity to this saga, I rarely yearn to have lived in the days of a wild west and the carving out of the nation this side of St. Louis.  Please understand, however, how much I appreciate the folks who turned deer trails into roads, moved the rocks to clear the land, plunking post oaks in the ground and especially for all those who perfected air conditioning back in the 1920’s. Living in Texas?  YES!  Tombstone?  Not so much. It’s the steady unfolding of life and its details that makes the difference.  Couple that with an invention or two and everything’s up for grabs!  Time tells the story… not the movie makers!

Back in the 1800’s the west was more than wild; it was rugged, dangerous and deadly.  Every day was a struggle, working another pre-dawn to sunset shift to make it to the next. Just one more day; that was the goal.  That was the hope. No one was ‘working for the weekend!’  No wonder why people were hung for stealing a horse;  shot for cheating at cards and even fined for spitting on the street. (Note:  I think the person who first got that ordinance passed had an uncle or cousin who owned and operated a cuspidor and spittoon factory!) The movie, Tombstone depicted the best and worst of the west.  People came to that mining town for opportunity and chance.  A chance for a better life and people coming to that mining town to earn a living from those who were earning a living.  Economics 101.  Quality of life stuff.  Law and order stuff. Gospel and grace added in. Not much has changed.  Sounds like the town where I grew up.  And, Tombstone, like my town and yours, was filled with saints and sinners!

So, who would you be in that drama?  Old Wyatt, a reformed drunk and horse thief turned town Marshall whose name would be unknown had he lived in this generation?  The state police would have nabbed him before he ever left Arkansas.  What about Doc Holliday?  He was raised a Georgia red clay gentleman , whose teen years were interrupted by the war between the North and the South.  His move west was one of necessity and choice as his dentistry practice declined due to his patient’s dislike of him coughing in their faces with his onset chronic tuberculosis. Gee.  Then there was Ike Clanton, a ruffian who ran with a group of thugs called ‘the Cowboys,’ living by a set of rules known only to them.  Yet, there was aspiring actress Josephine Marcus living in Tombstone, too.  She was the daughter of some pretty wealthy Prussian immigrants but ran away as a teenager and was living with the local county sheriff before she met Marshall Earp!  Finally, Johnny Ringo’s name lands on the page.  He was related by marriage to the Younger brothers (cousins to Jesse James!) and solidified his ‘bad boy’ street cred with the Cowboys as well. I find a bit of myself in all of them.  But, here’s where my grumbling unfolds…

 Our world is quick to point out the good guys and the bad ones.  Rarely, do I hear people on the news talk about the good exploits of a rotten person or the perverse dealings of an illustrious squeaky clean do-gooder.  Have you? It’s always one or the other.  Never both.   And why is that important even?  Keep reading.  We all have a beginning and we all have an end.  It’s what happens in the middle that makes the difference.  So, let me get personal.  What makes you do what you do?  What is it that drives you through the day?  How does your list of motivations bring clarity to your hours and moments?  What do others see? We all have holes in our hearts.  They come and go.  Some are larger than others.  What’s that all about?  Maybe there’s a thread of truth here… maybe that’s what makes us more like one another than not.

So, here we have Wyatt and Doc talking about their nemesis Johnny Ringo.  They are all broken in some way.  Fear and death are just up the road. You may remember the conversation from the movie…

Wyatt Earp:  What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?

Doc Holliday:  A man like Ringo has got a great big empty hole, right in the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.

Wyatt Earp: What does he need?

Doc Holliday: Revenge.

Wyatt Earp:: For what?

Doc Holliday: (long pause) Bein’ borned.

 Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Joi2F60Veqo  (at the 1:00 mark of 1:50)

“Revenge?  For what?  For being borned?”  That’s what they said… or at least that’s what the script writers said they said.  How’s that for motivation?  How’s that for perspective? Regret being born?  Well, it was tough times.  It was a live or die world.  But, so is ours.  It’s still tough.  It’s still live or die.  Time hasn’t altered that reality.  It’s just our turn and with the perspective we bring to it!  Is there a line in the sand here, then?  A point of clarity?  A defining truth that helps me be less like Johnny Ringo?  A posture for life that helps me be more than what he seemed he could not be?  A way to live that evades self-destruction? Let me get personal here. Yes.  But, it comes with a price. It would have been better if Doc Holliday would have been an optometrist in order to give Johnny Ringo a new set of glasses rather than a new choppers.  Well, at least that’s how I’m seeing it.

When I was born, I came into the world with nothing.  But, I was born into a world that has everything I need.  Thus my life was full already.  At the core of my baptismal posture is my understanding that in the grace-filled waters of Jesus and the Word and promise of God attached to that water, I have been given everything I need to live well for the rest of my life.  Did you get that?  I’ve been given everything I need and the benefit of walking a life of faith and seeking to be a disciple of Jesus is knowing I have a lifetime to discover all that has been given to me and to experience joy in that journey … a joy Jesus called complete, overflowing and a joy that cannot be taken from us (see John’s gospel)!  No wonder why St. Peter called it ‘inexpressible’ joy (1 Peter 1:8)!  So, then who needs revenge?  Why would one regret being born? If my purpose in life is to be self-fulfilled then I will be in trouble.  If my life’s task is grasping for everything I think I need and in turn holding on to those things which are really not needed at all… then I won’t have much time or space for others.  Can you picture that?  Arms filled with all I don’t need?  A daily pre-occupation with protecting it all?  This only leads to a paralysis of purpose as our hearts and minds cling to all that seems to now be ours vs. a freedom of giving away everything God has provided already.  Could it be that simple?  Perhaps.  It’s battle proven, I think.  St. Augustine put it this way… “Lord, our hearts will remain restless until they find their rest in you.”  I’ve always liked that… like what my old mentor Rev. Dr. Arthur F. Haimerl preached often… “we discover ourselves as we give ourselves away!”  Carry that around a while… then let go!

At the end of the day, Wyatt Earp didn’t have the showdown with Johnny Ringo.  Hollywood said, Doc Holliday showed up instead.  But, even that re-vision is not worth trusting as records show old Doc was 500 miles away in court with his lawyer the same day Johnny Ringo died.  Gee.  But, Ringo did die…  and he died from a single bullet shot to the head.  Ringo’s pistol was in his hand as the body was found under a tree in Turkey Creek Canyon on July 13, 1882.  He was 32 years old.  Wyatt Earp lived with Josie Marcus for 42 years.  He died in 1929.  Time tells the story.

 Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.  Hollywood can embellish a good story.  They always do.  But, my story is mine and yours is yours… So, I’m going to get on with my life now and look for the thread of truth that flows through all of our stories… trusting that some days I will be more of a sinner than a saint and other days trusting God’s grace to keep alive the saint I’ve been made to be already.  No ticket required.  I’ll trust that for you as well…

And may your hearts be filled with joy…

   Brian

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GOD WORKS– even on holiday weekends

God Works CoverAnd I heard him murmur…

“there he goes again… blowin’ his own horn!

 

 

Forgive the self-promotion… I have no publicist.  So, this bit of grumbling is for the good!

First, it’s Memorial Day Weekend… have a care.  Give some thought to all those who sacrificed life and limb to provide for all of the freedom to live out our Christian faith with little fear of repercussion.  Give a care… as I have the freedom to write these words and to ask you to give a care without anyone in the government tracking me down to burn down my house.

Second, I have no publicist… so, happy Summer time… well, in Texas it’s summer…

At the encouragement of one of our New Life Stephen Ministry Leaders… I’ve been asked to put a bit more passion in promoting this book… “God Works“… it’s out, and available… it took so long… 2005 – 2013 to finally take the shape of a devotional guide… the story is in the Introduction… and what I like about it is that the book can be read and used by individuals on a daily basis… 40 days and you’re done, a couple can read it for devotions at meal time, morning or evening… or in a small group of 6-10… as good conversation emerges…

You can get it a number of ways…   here’s 4 of them…

1) from the publisher… Xulon Press     http://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781628714968&HC_ISBN=

2) for Nook from Barnes & Noble             http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/god-works-brian-k-gigee/1117780985?ean=2940149008445

3) for Kindle from Amazon           http://www.amazon.com/God-Works-Brian-K-Gigee-ebook/dp/B00HFUXFXC

OR

4) Just send me a note…  here or via email…. godworks247365@gmail.com I have some copies here at my office.  $20 will get it to you… shipping included! Just send me an land address and I can put one in the mail to you…

Please feel free to share this with your friends…

Have a blessed Memorial Day weekend… God works… even on holidays!

Watch the road… this song will tell you why…

Brian

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“MY FINAL FOUR”– on hoops and Holy Week

           And I heard him murmur…

                  … Wow!  Who knew it would turn out like this?

Peace be with you!  I mean it!  I don’t write these words or ever say them frivolously…  as for some… these simple words are powerfully needed … as in something’s missing…  as in they know… something’s awry…  as in the mystery of life…  now too, too fragmented… so, to hear the words… ‘peace be with you…’ and may they BE the blessing you oh so need to hear!  OR … perhaps the words a friend of yours desires!  Timing IS everything… some say…

Image

God’s a gamer…

As I write this I recognize I am running out of time… It’s March 30th… My article for The Lifeline goes out on April 1 and that means there’s just one day to finalize the news at New Life Church for April and beyond! And if timing is everything, then I recognize, too, it’s the end of March Madness in NCAA basketball tourney and people are now all about the Final 4!  What a tourney for hoops purists!  Bracket busters did their job in the first two rounds… lots of games-down-to-the-wire… and many have agonized (except, perhaps, the Vegas betters!) there is only one #1 seed in the last weekend … but, now the big event is at hand… with a #1 vs. a # 7 and a #2 vs. a # 8.  Who knew it would turn out like this and maybe that’s why it’s ‘madness’ and  as of right now… God only knows who will win!  So, timing is everything here, too!

And as I recognize I’m running out of time… I recognize that Lent is winding down and so I’m risking here some liturgical, evangelical ‘bracketology’ and picking my FINAL FOUR for the last days of Lent and Holy Week!

The last weekend of Lent rolls into Holy Week and the crescendo there is known as THE GREAT THREE DAYS… but I need to add in a 4th…  so, here are my picks…

     #4 Palm Sunday                                                                     #1 Easter Sunday

   vs.          —–>        Good Friday   vs.    Easter  <——           vs.

            #2 Good Friday                                                                      # 3 Maundy Thursday

   V

                    Image

WINS

 I know this is a good bet!  Palm Sunday brings the hope and humility of God as Jesus rides into Jerusalem to face the powers of the synagogue and the perennial presence of the Roman government.  Good Friday wins. It’s ugly dual. Some will mock. People will cry for sure.  One soldier even changes sides!  Maundy Thursday serves up a whole new attitude as the Passover Supper is transformed into Lord’s Supper and yet the sacrifice of foot washing doesn’t hold up to the power of new life that comes from what is now Easter’s empty tomb!  It seems like forever; but it all happens in a flash!  So, then we have the #1 vs. the #2… the power of evil vs. the power of God!  Some scoff.  Some cheer!  Good Friday seems to have it won… gets out in front and darkness is all around and just when you think Good Friday gets the ‘W’… there’s a final breath… there’s an overtime… and another… and the diligent, over-powering grace and steady presence of the glory of God shows its stuff on the third day… and you knew it would happen… and EASTER WINS!

 And now… the risen Christ says to each of us… “peace be with you… I mean it… let the world know…”

 Brian

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The New N Word

Image                  “… and I heard him murmur…

( expletive term with either ending not worthy of typing here)

Forgive me for interrupting here.  I have an opinion about this.  It’s historical.  It’s not a simple topic; but in the end, necessary to address.  And not just for me; this is for all of us! It’s the “N” word.  Lots of chatter.  Thousands of tweets. It’s about our future.  I want to suggest a new one.  After all, our experiences never come in a vacuum; they are the result of the collective moments which have already occurred.  And if each day is new and our world is being transformed instant after instant, I don’t think it’s too late to help the NFL tackle this!

Here’s a bit of history.  My father.  Howard … to most he was “Bud”.  He had no father to speak of and grew up in the ‘projects’ of Youngstown, Ohio’s north side.  He had a group of best friends.  Stan was an Irish buddy.  Carmine aka “Chow” was obviously Italian. Bob had the last name of Skibo, but most remembered his grandfather scratched off the ‘inowtiz’ when he passed through Ellis Island decades before.  The other friend was Charles.  He was black.  These guys played Jr. High and HS basketball together.  They hung out.  They laughed and smiled!  I’ve got pictures to prove it!

Bud and Charles grew up in the same housing project and neither had a dad to look up to.  Charles told me that it was their HS basketball coach who saved their lives and became a ‘father figure’ to them both.  That was from about 1944-48.  Charles went off to play college basketball and became a Methodist minister.  Bud went off to San Antonio to the USAF  landing back in Youngstown for the remainder of his short but productive life.  Charles served the church in NE Ohio. My dad raised his family in the Lutheran Church and the two remained life-long friends. My dad died in 1987.  Charles died in 2012.  I had the good fortune of introducing my son to Charles over a breakfast together in Cleveland, OH in 2003.  It was a holy time, as my son was born three years after my father’s death.  It was the next best thing I could offer… to know his grandfather’s good friend…  we all learned much that day; and now you are getting a picture of what happened and why this is important.

You see, my father exhibited a certain kind of color-blindness and an acceptance of those who looked, spoke or acted different from himself… a posture carried over now from a humble childhood into the neighborhood I grew up in.  That would be 15 years later and you could smell the nationalities at dinner time all up and down the block.  The names were from all over… England, Germany, Ireland, Ukraine, Greece, Scotland and Poland, etc. … short, long, in between names and many hard to pronounce.  And yes, we didn’t always get along and yet, even as children we learned to work through our differences one way or another and no one died over it!  My father didn’t know a stranger and somehow that has rubbed off on me.  After his playing days were over, we attended many more high school basketball games.  Some of my earliest childhood memories were at the South HS Field House watching triple-headers on Friday nights!  I watched his alma mater; the Rayen Tigers win the 1966 Youngstown City Series basketball championship.  And just for fun, sometimes, and for some crazy reason, in an instant, I can still recite the names of the starting 5 players on that team.  Their names?  Dennis Gomez, Bill Nadel, Homer Warren, Danny Piluga and Donald Graham.  That would be one white guy, one Latino and 3 black players.  That was 1966.  I was in grade school! Ok, you’re getting a clearer picture still.

Maybe I’m more fortunate than others to have grown up in a literal “melting pot” community.  Sensing we are different really makes us all the same.  And I find it all being a gift and asset now living in an international community in Texas 40 years later.  Just ask my family.  Ask my friends.  Have you ever heard me use the “N” word?  Try hard.  Have I?  Ask any of my melting pot fraternity brothers from college.  We were from all over Texas and all over the country… and even around the world!  The Brotherhood of Omega Tau included Germans, Swedes, Danes, Poles, a Korean, Iranians, Mexican-Americans, Texians, Browns and Blacks. Seriously, and that was just in my four years (1972-76) attending Texas Lutheran University then College… and somehow that rubbed off on my son 35 years later, during his years at TLU, having roommates who are Latino, Black and Anglo.  Check out his Facebook page.  And maybe, for some, this is just a bit too much to consider for three generations of Gigees, but it is true.  No “N” word.  Why? Simple.

The “N” word is learned.  Sure, all words have a history, but the original N word has been corrupted.  A result of fear and ignorance.  Thus, racism is taught and perpetuated.  Prejudice is modeled verbally and with actions that reach many levels.  So, in my world, the “N” word is always derogatory.  It does not build up.  It seeks to separate. It is hostile and an outright violation of old Martin Luther’s understanding of God’s commandment to ‘not bear false witness against a neighbor.’  Now, there, I’ve brought God into the whole thing.  I did say this was historical. Have we forgotten the ‘ancients’ knew you could bury a hatchet but words have a greater power and once spoken they don’t ever go away? Have we forgotten?  The power of word?  So, I think Luther got it right when he pointed out our respect for God is what fuels our respect for those around us and we do that by building up names and reputations rather than tearing people down.  Staying in touch with God, then, is key!  It is the way we honor the lives of those around us… who also have been created in the image of God!  Thus, to rely on name-calling only demonstrates our failure to love God, self and others.  [ side note: I guess that would be a good rule of thumb for our politicians, too.  Huh?]

So, I’ve tried to listen to the voices of the NFL… I’m glad they are doing something… whether a penalty flag should be thrown or not… or whether a verbal warning should be handed out… or whether there should be a distinction between the N word ending in ‘ger’ or ‘gga’.  That last part may be a stretch but, at least they are trying to do something about this!  I’ve tried to listen, but somehow, more us will need to and more of us will need to speak out. There are no winners here and in football or basketball or politics … or wherever and be it the N word or the B word or the F word… when spoken… when the name-calling persists… we all lose!  All of us!

So, let’s ask ourselves, what good comes of using derogatory and labeling language when it comes to establishing and maintaining friendships?  Strengthening community?  The N word… or any other term…  Any good?  Any?  Even in jest!  The old adage, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is … well… just not true. Words do hurt.  Sticks and stones do for sure… but sticks are kindling for a warming fire and stones can be used to build a home… after the bruises go away… But, again, let us listen to the ancients… that once a word is spoken… it stays out there…  and as the good words which build up linger… alongside them the cutting words do, too! The pain bounces off one after another… bringing wound upon wound regardless of one’s color, age, sex, education or economic status.  And trust me; I can make a long list of nasty names if I want. Just give me moment as the melting pot world has tried to coach me on being racist and derogatory.   I just choose not to.  My choice.  My moment of self-regulation.  So, is that the clue?  Just not using the N word?  Keeping one’s mouth shut? Refraining from engaging in the wounding of others?  Tending to one’s own heart and mind and making a choice that benefits others, honoring their hearts and minds rather than choosing to tear them down?  Perhaps.  Perhaps, it’s a start.  What do you think?

So, I’d like to add this to the conversation… and here’s what’s real… whether one is the CEO of the company or the one who empties the CEO’s trash can.  Whether one has the status of a Trump, a Gates or a Buffet (Jimmy or Warren—take your pick!) or is the one who rides the back of the garbage truck hauling off their trash… when a person gets cut… the color is red… blood red… for all of us and it hurts… and when the CEO’s 10 year old daughter is diagnosed with cancer, the pain is just as profound as the custodian’s news of his son being arrested. Or, when a Trump or a Gates or Buffet buries his mother, the loss is equal to the death of the mother whose son picked up the trash.  Pain is pain and in life it comes on its own terms.  So, we need not go around inflicting it on each other as that’s what we really have in common… the pain of life… a pain deeper than any N word or other hurtful term can produce…  a pain that life dishes out with no respect to any of us, diminishing our togetherness in ways, at times, we have no words for at all. And just as racist remarks and derogatory comments seek to separate and divide … and we experience the human groans and trauma of our souls, maybe the NFL should hand out penalty flags for all of that… for all the moments we have failed to address the deeper pains of humanity, and for our daily neglect to love God with everything we got and to love our neighbors as ourselves… to let the penalty flags fly for our individual, corporate and global lack of respect toward others refusing to believe we have all been created in God’s image!  Thanks, NFL… really!  This isn’t a simple thing!  And thanks to all seek out the best in others and lifting up the good results that come as we respect the God-image within our own selves and the God-image within others… so more will see the larger, more important moment at hand…

And that brings me to the new ‘N’ Word.  Or words…  Never.  No.  Nope.  Nah.  Nein.  Nada.  Nyet. Nary.  Not worth repeating. No word at all!  Take your pick and know our silence and refusal to repeat it won’t be the only way.  But, it’s a start and now is the time.  It is a new season for the NFL and hopefully for us. It’s the future I want to be part of.  “Teach your children well” is not just a song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young! It’s a message we all need to sing!  I’m proud to be my father’s son and I’m proud of my father’s grandson.  We all have a choice. They’ve made theirs.  I’ve made mine.  Let’s tell the world… now

    Brian

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