ON ABANDONMENT

abandment-japan-ww2… And I heard them murmur

           …“I can’t believe he’s gone…”

A young boy, Marcus, walked out the side door of his uncle’s home.  While the family gathered for a time of thanksgiving, he left them all behind and soon realized he was in an unfamiliar place.  It was the last time the family would see the nine-year-old boy alive.  ‘It only takes a moment,’ people say.  It really doesn’t matter the uncle is a former NBA star.  When any child goes missing, the prospect of loss looms loud.  In a flash of light everything can change.  It did.  It’s not new. 

Call it Thanksgiving leftovers or a pre-Christmas warning, I can’t shake yet the words from the gospel text from St. Matthew (chapter 24: 32ff) for Sunday, November 27…

  • no one knows the day or the hour… not the angels… not the Son… only the Father!”
  • “Two men will be working in the field… one is taken, the other remains”
  • “Two women are grinding at the mill…one is whisked away, the other is left”
  • “Therefore, stay awake!”
  • “Be on the watch!”
  • “Being a faithful and wise servant is a high calling indeed!” (my take)

Good words to note.  Lest any of us forget.  It seems there will always be occasions for wailing and gnashing of teeth, and whether we walk away from others or someone walks away from us, no one really wants to be caught off all by them self.  So, at the heart of these cautious words from Jesus take note of the ‘heads up’ given to the reality of abandonment!  We were not created to be alone and live in isolation and that’s why it hurts so much when people we care about take leave.  The greater harm is believing we can live well on our own when instead it is just a step closer to our own self-destruction. Every day is a gift; every moment a precious thing requiring our need to stay awake and be on the watch.

Abandonment goes way beyond a young boy walking away from a family gathering… it’s the feeling deep in our hearts that something has gone really wrong and needs tending to.  Sometimes we can control it; sometimes we can’t.  Have you stepped back already to consider the times you have felt abandoned?  Have you given thought to the moments where you have abandoned others?  I’ve got a list here to help… take a deep breath… it’s not very pretty…

  • The death of a grandparent—the one you loved and trusted the most;
  • Parents with young children choose to divorce—there is a kind of ‘death’ all around;
  • A friend moves away and you are present to see the moving van depart;
  • One who lands in jail and has no one come to visit;
  • When “the company” lets you go and you loved your job;
  • Not getting the job we really wanted with no other job prospect in site;
  • When the last child goes off to college or enters the military and the house goes silent;
  • When a woman is sexually assaulted and she is made to think it was her fault;
  • When one is targeted by false accusation or innuendo & no one steps up in defense;
  • When you feel ignored by your church in moments of joy or sorrow;
  • When you’ve ignored the church you are part of or joined with great joy & hope;
  • When a child or close friend dies due to an accident or sudden illness;
  • When you strike out in the bottom of the 9th with men on base & down by 1 run;
  • When drugs or alcohol sink into and take over a relationship or family;
  • When your doctor or dentist or plumber retires and you just don’t like the new one;
  • When the pet we’ve loved for so long is required to be put down;
  • When one’s own health declines and then is forced to move to an adult care facility;
  • When we’ve turned our back on God while we trust God will not do that to us…

Yep, there are many moments and instances when we can feel abandoned and neglected and at the same time need to take ownership of our abandonment of others.  Face it.  We do.  It’s a sign that life matters and that people count and little good comes of it in the long haul.  Keeping watch and staying alert then becomes critical to our sense of safety and security… for each of us as individuals, within our families and for the sake of our communities.

Abandonment is rejection.  Intentional or not. Real or perceived.  Israel may have felt that way between the time of the great prophets and the entry of John the Baptizer.  We know Jesus felt that way on the Mount of Olives the night he was arrested and certainly his cry from the cross about being forsaken helps us know that none of us declare ourselves immune from the pain that comes with being all alone. Even, for a while the disciples felt abandoned by the rabbi and Lord.  So, we watch.  Yes.  We remain alert.

The good news that arises out of the end chapters of Matthew’s gospel is the promise that Jesus will come to us.  It’s his expectation and is a BIG story at one level and an everyday story at another.  The reason we watch and stay alert is so none of us dare miss Jesus’ “second coming” … the biblical promise that he will come again … as judge of the living and the dead… and bring about a kingdom that will have no end… And, yet, Jesus comes to us each day…  present in our morning devotions, sitting quietly at our table when we pray…  ”Come Lord Jesus be our guest…” and is the silent listener to every conversation we have … present in the preaching on Sunday, in the sharing of the peace, and in the bread and wine we consume at his table… so that the serving we do in Jesus’ name will be an action to “least of those” around us because we are doing that for him and ultimately TO him… and in this no one is abandoned by God.  We cannot be.  We are never left alone by Jesus.  He will not allow that.  And will not allow that because Jesus gets that.  So, stay alert.  Be watchful. There are those around us… young and old and in between… who want to walk off by themselves… wanting to turn their backs because it’s harder to understand and easier to blame.  That’s why we need each other.  That’s why looking out for one another is so important.  Life on its own lived out in community is hard enough all by itself.  Walking away… abandoning the ones close by only leads to a deeper danger.  

So, may your eyes be clear and your ears wide open and your hands remain strong and your feet be swift to stay connected to each other.  Jesus gave up his life for that.  Abandonment is not in his vocabulary… and yet, in a flash of light everything can change.  It did.  It can.  It’s not new. Be alert.  Keep watch.  It matters.

… And I heard them murmur… “I can’t believe he’s gone…”

Murmuring for the sake of God’s goodness,

Brian

Advertisements
Posted in Because Someone Needs to Say Something! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ORDINARY TIME

ordinary-time-keep-calm

And I heard him murmur… “I’m just wanting to have an ordinary day…”

The church I serve calls this time of year ‘ordinary.’  I listen to my neighbors, I watch the news, I open my facebook page, scroll up the twitter feed and it seems that this time of the year is anything but ordinary.  I get the point.  We must call it something. Hardly anyone anymore has a clue what the 24th Sunday after Pentecost means anyway.  In this day and age, though, why would any of us, especially in the church, be content with being ordinary? Ordinary as in ‘expected?’  Ordinary as in ‘typical?’ Ordinary as in ‘commonplace?’ It seems the world is crying out that we all be so much more. More as in moving from ‘good to great!’  More as in exercising the ‘extraordinary’.  More as in restoring the reality of ‘remarkable’ as a way to describe the kind of life we desire for ourselves and those around us.  Ordinary? Who needs that?  But, maybe that’s the point—that there is such a thing as ‘ordinary’ and what we see and hear about life on the planet these days is not.  And… that ordinary is a thing worth reclaiming.

I like how Webster refers to the term ordinary

  1. a prelate exercising original jurisdiction over a specified territory or group(2):a clergyman/clergyperson appointed formerly in England to attend condemned criminals b :a judge of probate in some states of the United States
  2. (often capitalized): the parts of the Mass that do not vary from day to day
  3. the regular or customary condition or course of things —usually used in the phraseout of the ordinary

Wouldn’t it be great if we could tell our friends and families… “hey, I’m heading out into the ordinary today!” But most folks these days, especially in cities like Baton Rouge, Dallas, Tulsa and Charlotte have to look and duck before heading out in to the streets.  And while I think I know a little bit about the definitions part one and two, the rest of the world is tuned in much better to part three—the customary condition or course of things.  Ah, there it is… what we are all looking for when it comes to our days being ordinary! “Customary condition.” When was the last time someone asked you about that?  Of course that is only if you are content with the way things are… and when no one complains when any of us tries to make it all better.  The angst occurs when people regress and forget that each person on the planet has been created in the image of God and deserves their moment of respect. That would be ordinary.  At least where I come from.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here, though.  Ordinary is not the same thing as dull or boring.  I have an ex-wife who called me boring once, but if you ask my fraternity brothers from college and my friends throughout life they will tell you that I’m anything but that!  So, let me get back to ordinary as I think that is the ‘time of the year’ so many people are yearning for.  It’s like that old saying… “I’m not really sure what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.”  That goes for picking cars, houses, delis, churches and the like.  Somewhere deep inside each of us we have this image of what is best and preferred and it seems no matter what side of the table one sits at there is a call for something better.  But, even at that, I hear few asking that things be ordinary. Maybe we’ve forgotten what ordinary looks like so even when it’s right in front of us, we can’t see it!

I have people tell me from time to time…when I officiate a wedding or funeral or when I’m called on in public to pray at a business dedication or a banquet… “good job, Pastor, that was nice.”  You gotta know that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to a clergyperson like me.  Good job?  That was nice?  Are you kidding?  As if it was expected I’d be terrible at officiating a wedding or leading a family through funeral service?  I guess it could go off the tracks; but I don’t roll that way.  I have my reasons.  And praying in public?  Well, first off Jesus sort of made it clear we not do that… at least that we do not draw attention to ourselves… but why would a minister be expected to pray a bad or inappropriate prayer at a banquet or business dedication?  That’s the ordinary thing I do.  I don’t expect any less; nor does God.  Maybe we’ve moved so far from ordinary that it’s just plain refreshing when it smacks us in the face.

So, when my church thinks of this time of the year as ordinary time, what is it that we think ordinary is?  According to the calendar it would be the time from the Festival of Pentecost to Christ the King Sunday and for those who are not versed in liturgical time that means the Sundays and weeks following 50 days after Easter (often around mid-May) when the Church celebrates its birthing with Jesus’ giving the Holy Spirit power for all time and eternity to the Sunday (around Thanksgiving weekend) before the four weeks of Advent which is, for those of  you not steeped in liturgical language, the time Christians get ready for the celebration of Christmas. Confused? Don’t worry, it won’t last.  You see, the thing is we do this every year.  Over and over.  It’s the ordinary thing liturgical church people do!  Just as the world lives from year to year … January 1 to December 31… with all of its celebrations and resolutions, the Christian Church marches to a calendar that is built around the life and work of Jesus.  And even when I think about this… I have to ask… what in God’s good green earth is ordinary about that?  What God has done in the life and story of Jesus is God’s own move from good to great!  Ordinary?  Expected?  Commonplace? This was the extraordinary shift in the view of life and culture from as far back as anyone can remember… some even call the ‘center of history’…the remarkable moment … the indwelling of Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the universe…the fixed piece of time 2000 years ago by which the Church marks time to do its work in the world.  What seems to be ordinary for those who live deep in the calendar of the culture is not so ordinary for those who mark time re-living the life and ministry of Jesus.  And vice versa?  Sure.  Need a proof text for that?  Well look at Christmas Eve 2016.  That’s December 24… a Saturday where 100’s of 1000’s of worshipers in the greater Houston area and all over SE Texas ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth and the good news of ‘God with us’ (Emmanuel in Hebrew!) will go head to head with the evening Christmas Candlelight service versing the NFL as they have scheduled the Houston Texans to play at home at 7:25 pm.  Can someone explain what is ordinary about that?  But, that’s not the bigger issue here… it’s only a symptom.

“What will the world say about you when there’s nothing left for you to say or do?”

When I listen to the news and I take the negative bent of what I hear as ordinary, then I’ve become complacent about how life should be.  When I watch the 2016 presidential debates (all this year up to last night) and think this is the ordinary way we do this I’m scratching my head for nothing as it’s taken the country a long time to get to the way this election process has unfolded.  I’m not sure why, but when I see it, I’ll know it and lately I think I’ve seen it.  And if you are like me, you don’t like what you have seen.  Parents should be able send their children to the neighborhood store and not be fearful.  It seems ordinary now that they are.  I shouldn’t have to be patted down at the airport to go on church business, but I am and I don’t find that ordinary even though it is my expectation every time I fly.  Children should have the expectation that they go to school to be challenged and learn all they can.  For some that IS ordinary and for others they feel they are being singled out and discriminated against.  There are reasons for all this.  So, just what is this church of mine promoting that is so ordinary that everyone would want to flock to its doors?  Here’s my short answer… the kind of thinking that I share at weddings and funerals and when I pray at business dedication or banquet… and what seems to be ordinary to me…

  1. Not a one of us asks to be here. There’s no sign up sheet for being born.
  2. Life is a gift. We get here when we get here. Most seem to be pleased; at least for a while
  3. Life is not the same for all. We get here where we get here.  Papua New Guinea or Palm Beach or somewhere in between.  It’s not our choice.
  4. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. They didn’t ask to be here, either.  This of course is taught and in church all my life I was taught this is critical to the stability of community.  Some folks get it.  Some don’t. Most can tell the difference of who does and who doesn’t.
  5. There are things we do in life and there are things life does to us. Some of this we have a handle on.  Much of this we do not.  Each one of us can make of life what we want.  Some born into extreme wealth waste their lives away.  Some born in extreme poverty seek a path to learn, grow and thrive. Most can see which of us does and who doesn’t.
  6. There are ancient ways in most cultures to feed one’s body and tend to one’s soul. Again, this is taught.  Things like… “Love God.  Love yourself so you can love you’re your neighbor.”  There’s an old saying, “when the student is ready the teacher will come.” Jesus was a good teacher.  Most knew that.  Some didn’t like it.  Some didn’t like him! Truth is truth no matter what day or what place or what standard one is born into.  If ordinary time is to love God, love one’s own self to love one’s neighbor, then we all have some learning and loving to do.
  7. This life one lives eventually ends. For some, sooner.  For some, later. Everyone finds this out.  What people do with their lives (from Genghis Khan to Mahatma Gandhi… from Moses to Martin Luther to Mother Theresa) for the good and not-so-good impacts us all.

It doesn’t get more ordinary than that, does it?

It is said that Martin Luther used to get up in the morning and recite the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.  Then he would pray for an hour and if he thought the day to be more difficult than most… or ‘out of the ordinary‘… he would pray for two hours.  Daily.  I’m not sure that the world’s movers and shakers start their days like that!.  What will the world say about you when there’s nothing left for you to say or do?  How ordinary will you have become?  Will you have moved from good to great?  Seeking to be extraordinary?  Will others call you remarkable?

May this be ordinary time for you and everyone you know…

     Brian

Posted in Because Someone Needs to Say Something! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

 

Posted in Because Someone Needs to Say Something!, on GRUMBLING | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Because Someone Needs to Say Something! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

Posted in on GRUMBLING | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Because Someone Needs to Say Something! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Because Someone Needs to Say Something! | Leave a comment