Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What's In A Name?


Today my wife and I drove down to Florida taking mostly back roads through south central Georgia. We must have passed 100 churches before we hit the Florida line. It was interesting to me to see all of the various church names. Do you ever wonder how churches decide what to call themselves? And do you think that the name of a church can possibly tell us something about the people that attend it?

So, I thought I'd take a stab at describing the folks that attend various churches. I'm a Baptist so, we'll pick on the Baptists here.

Of course there is always the First Baptist Church of __________. Someone has to be first, right? You have to wonder about these folks. High achievers, most likely to succeed types, I would guess. Gotta win at Scrabble or Hearts. And they could possibly be the oldest Baptists in town. Just how did they know that they were THE first Baptist church in their town? There might be some false advertising going on here.

Then there is the Second Baptist Church of ___________. I kinda feel sorry for these folks. Their building contractor obviously didn't get their building up in time to claim that "first" designation. Maybe these folks are also the ones that never received a blue ribbon or a gold star. Nope... red ribbon and silver stars for these poor underachievers. But every Second Baptist church has something in common. When it comes to the flooring choices they all have a runner up the center aisle. Give it a second... you'll get it (I hope.)

I think I may have passed a St. Mary's Baptist Church. These must be believers that are keeping their options open.... just in case Luther got some of it wrong with those 95 theses. They aren't taking any chances.

How about Third Street Baptist Church? You can tell right away that this is a church that isn't going anywhere. No, I mean they aren't going anywhere...they're stuck on Third Street... if they ever moved they'd have to change their name. I'd say these folks are pretty well grounded and know exactly where they stand.

I'm sure I passed a Living Water Baptist Church. I can tell just from the name that these folks are not a whole lot of fun... not the partying type. They certainly don't drink because, after all, they are no longer thirsty.

Full Gospel Baptist Church. These are folks that do not mind getting out of church well after 12:00. I know this because there is no way their preacher can deliver a sermon in only 20 minutes. After all, he is preaching the full gospel. It takes a while.

Free Will Baptist Church is another one I passed, I think. This church might include people that told their parents growing up, "you're not the boss of me." Rumor has it you can sometimes hear folks talk back to the preacher during his sermon with things like "you can't make me" or "I'll take that under advisement."

I may have passed a Free Willy Baptist Church. This church is quite different from the previous one mentioned. This church is very active in missions work primarily in coastal areas.

I even passed a church named Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana. I hear that this church is one of the fastest growing churches in Georgia. Even if you don't understand Spanish, this church is one that you should definitely consider. While most churches serve an evening supper on Wednesday night, this church has theirs on Tuesdays. Reservations are not required however, they request that you let them know in advance whether you want hard or soft.

I really appreciate the small rural churches that name their church simply after their town.... like East Overshoe Baptist Church. That way, as I pass by I don't have to look to see if they have a phone booth sized post office with the town name on it so I can confirm that I am still on the right road. It's like church GPS.

I am pretty sure that I passed Little Hope Baptist Church. Really? Didn't anyone step back from the sign and say, "we may need to rethink that one?"

Forgive my stupid humor. After driving for 8 hours, I'm a bit goofy. No disrespect meant.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Render Unto Caesar...


The other day a scripture verse popped into my head and got me thinking about the relationship between the Church and the government.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus, in an attempt to trick Him, whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, Jesus answered after showing them a Roman coin, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." (Matt 20:21 KJV)

One of the debates over the meaning of this verse is in regards to whether this means that we should pay our taxes, obey laws passed by our government, and acknowledge the authority that our government and leaders represent. The apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Rome said, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Rom 13:1 NIV)

Jesus also had much to say about how His followers were to treat others. Admonitions to love your neighbor (and your enemies,) to feed the poor, and to show mercy and kindness to the alien were things that Jesus told his followers to do. Who were His followers? Who are His followers today? Isn't it the body of believers that we commonly refer to as the Church? Didn't Jesus tell the Church that it was its responsibility to do these things? Does the Church today believe that it is still its responsibility?

Clearly, Jesus (and Paul) made distinctions between the Church and the governing authorities.

Today, there are many Christians in the US that believe that it is incumbent upon the government, through the taxing of its citizens, to fund and implement policies in order to fulfill the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus never told His followers to send money to Rome to accomplish what He clearly was holding His Church (His followers) accountable for. Somewhere along the way, we have, for the most part, replaced the Church with the Government when it comes to taking care of those whom Jesus told us to take care of.

Some Christians argue that the US government should have policies and programs in place to fulfill various social issues because that is what Jesus told His followers to do. But why the government and not our own Churches? And isn't it true that by making all citizens pay for these social programs, we are imposing Christian values on US citizens that may not necessarily embrace Christian teachings? When did the US government become a proxy for the Church?

I am all for Christians (which includes me) to follow the teachings and obey the commands of our Lord when it comes to how we are to treat and take care of those around us that are in need. I'm just a little uncomfortable when we outsource that job to Caesar.

Scriptures marked KJV are taken from the KING JAMES VERSION (KJV): KING JAMES VERSION, public domain

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™. Used by permission of Zondervan

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Three in One



"...God in three Persons, Blessed Trinity." If you have spent any time in a Christian worship service where hymns are sung, you have most likely sung the well known hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy." The last line of the last stanza ends with those declarative words-- God in three Persons. Blessed Trinity.

The Trinity is one of the most difficult of Christian doctrines to understand, much less explain. I certainly am no expert on the subject. The concept of God as being One, yet being Three Persons has been a matter of study, discussion, and debate for as long as there have been followers of Jesus.  The three major monotheistic religions- Judaism, Islam and Christianity part ways when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Those that accept the doctrine of the Trinity understand that God is One, yet three Persons-- The Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three Persons...distinct, yet One. Three in One; One in Three. Difficult to grasp.

When we teach children about the Trinity many times we will try to use analogies. A commonly taught analogy says that God is like the substance we know as water (H2O.) Water above 212 degrees becomes steam... but it is still water. Water that is below 32 degrees we call ice... but it is still water. Of course, in between those two temperatures we know the liquid form of water. See? Three forms of the same thing. Ice, water and steam... all H2O. But, like any analogy we try to use to explain God, this one doesn't work all that well because we are merely describing three "forms" of water. The three Persons of the Trinity are not merely "forms" of God.

I drew a chart that I had seen many years ago that was helpful to me in teaching about the Trinity:
the Trinity

When we say that the three Persons of the Trinity are distinct it means exactly that. God The Father is NOT Jesus the Son. And Jesus is NOT the Holy Spirit just as the Holy Spirit is NOT The Father. But, The Father IS God. Jesus IS God. And the Holy Spirit IS God. And there is only One God.


Total Solar Eclipse 2017
A little over a week ago millions in the US were fortunate to observe the solar eclipse. What an incredible sight and experience that was, especially if you were able to witness the total eclipse for maximum duration. Maybe you remember all of the warnings about using proper eye protection in order to not damage your retinas by staring too long unprotected from the UV radiation. UV radiation is invisible but can cause a photochemical reaction that can damage the receptors of the retina.

The eclipse reminded me of another analogy sometimes used to explain the Trinity. It is the one I like the best.

Think of the sun as representing God. We can think of the physical star itself as being The Father, however we cannot actually see it (forget for a moment those fancy scientists with all their fancy equipment.) When we gaze up to the sun, we cannot actually see the star itself.... but it is there.
the light of the sun
What we can see is the light of the sun. We can equate this to Jesus. If we want to know what God is, we can look at and see Jesus. Jesus is described in scripture as the Light of the World. Jesus is what (whom) we see... like the light of the sun. But the sun also has power. In addition to those UV rays, the sun also emits an incredible amount of heat... solar energy. We have even figured out how to turn that solar energy into electricity. We can't really see the sun's power. But we can experience it, use it, and feel it.

With the naked eye, no one can see the star we call the sun. It's way too bright to even look upon for more than a couple of seconds. What we can see is the light that the sun emits. The light that chases away the darkness. The light that gives and sustains life allowing all creation to live and grow. The light that saves the world. And we know that the power of the sun is there because we can feel it, experience it, and we see the powerful things it can do. Yes, I like this particular analogy because I am reminded of the presence and faithfulness of God every time I see the sun rise in the morning. It takes away the darkness of night. It gives life. And when I feel the warmth of the sun on my face it reminds me that the Holy Spirit is very much present and provides power and strength.

God in three Persons, Blessed Trinity.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Dunkirk, Texas

Some of you may have seen the movie "Dunkirk." This Christopher Nolan film recounts an event in World War II history that I, quite frankly, was unfamiliar with. In May 1940, German troops had pushed Allied troops right up to the beaches at Dunkirk on the French coast. It's estimated that over 300,000 soldiers were trapped between the powerful German army and the sea. Evacuating 300 thousand plus troops with the limited naval resources available seemed an impossible feat.

Winston Churchill, the new prime minister, ordered the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, Lord Gort, to evacuate as many British troops as possible. And so Operation Dynamo was initiated, led by Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay. A call was put out for as many seagoing vessels as could be found to cross the channel and aid in the evacuation. It was estimated that only 45,000 could be evacuated in 48 hours. 933 vessels were involved in the rescue, 700 of which were "little boats" with civilians at the helm. British boat captains responded in private yachts, motor launches, lifeboats, paddle steamers, and barges. Regular civilians came with whatever they had to rescue the soldiers stranded at Dunkirk. Even a 14-ft open top fishing boat was involved in the rescue efforts. That boat now is on display in the the Imperial War Museum.

Over 8 days, 338,226 allied troops were rescued from the beaches at Dunkirk.

Reuters image
Watching the weather situation in Texas yesterday as a result of Hurricane Harvey, I couldn't help but be reminded of the events dramatized in the Dunkirk movie. The Weather Channel and other news coverage showed the efforts of regular citizens using every manner of floating device to rescue their neighbors from the rising floodwaters.

Boston Globe image






I saw canoes, kayaks, rafts, jon boats, jet skis, air boats, pontoon boats, bass boats... just about anything that would float... brought to the aid of stranded neighbors. These people were strangers last week but are strangers no more.

Dunkirk is a port town in France. But, I think this week it is a city in Texas. Prayers for all those in southeast Texas and other parts of the gulf area affected by this catastrophic storm.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Night They Tore Old Dixie Down

The Band's iconic song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," released in 1969, features Virgil
Caine, a Confederate soldier who served on the Danville, VA supply train which had, once again, suffered destruction of the tracks at the hands of Union Major General John Stoneham's calvary.

The song, written by Robbie Robertson, talks about the last days of the Civil War (or the War Between the States if you are a southern loyalist) and the suffering of soldier and family. It's not a happy song but it's also not a song that overly romanticizes.

The reasons for and legitimacy of the Southern states' secession from the Union are hotly debated... even 150 years later. Many southerners describe the issues of federal power versus states' rights, economic/ tax fairness issues between the northern states and southern states, and political power/representation inequality as being major causal issues in the mid 1800's. No living southerner I know attempts to defend what is clearly the elephant in the room... slavery. It is disingenuous, however, for southern loyalists to say that slavery and the states' decision making power regarding slavery was not the major issue that overwhelms all the other issues. The fact that slavery had some defenders (or, at a minimum, people who were ambivalent) in the north does not change the most basic point. The southern states wanted to maintain the right to allow slavery and even expand it into the newer western states; the abolitionist sentiment in the north had severely strained the relationship between north and south. While slaveholders represented a very small percentage of the total southern population, the benefit of that economic "system" was not something southern leaders were willing to relinquish.

So, the southern states seceded and the war was on. The country, which was then less than 100 years old, was breaking apart and many felt that this could not be allowed to happen. (I believe that neither the Union nor the Confederacy could have survived long term separated from one another.)

Fast forward.... the South is defeated....soundly. The South is devastated both economically and psychologically... that's what happens when you are on the losing end of a war. But the war ends and the country has to be restored. But, in some ways, due to guilt, shame, inability to accept that the south lost, inability to accept that the north won the right to invoke its will concerning the contested issues, and a host of other reasons, the idea of "the lost cause of the Confederacy" arose which attempted to provide some amount of redemption for those that fought against the Union.

Confederate monuments began to be erected shortly after the war ended, and continued for years afterward. In 1911, the year that marked the 50 year anniversary of the war's outbreak, there were a significant number of monuments put up. These monuments and statues honored soldiers like General Robert E. Lee all the way down to soldiers like Sergeant Berry Benson, whose likeness sits atop the Confederate Monument in Augusta, GA. According to Wikipedia, there are over 1500 various symbols of the confederacy on public spaces across the United States. This includes statues, names on schools, roads, parks, bridges, counties, cities, lakes, dams, military bases, and other public works.

Today there is a renewed effort to rid the country of all things that might even suggest that the Confederate "cause" was honorable in any way. Some want to extinguish all visible symbols of the
Monument of African American Confederate soldiers
Confederacy and any persons who fought for or were sympathetic to that cause. Civil wars are unlike other country-versus-country wars. These wars involve a country tearing itself apart. For a civil war to end, the fighting has to eventually stop, even after soldiers stop shooting at one another....especially after the soldiers stop shooting at one another. If not, healing never occurs. In many ways, the racial strife we still see today is due to that war never truly coming to an end. And that's painfully unfortunate. Sadly, slavery in the South was replaced by segregation. And we had hoped that the evil and attitudes of segregation had been beaten into submission 50 years ago.

I just don't see, though, what tearing down all these monuments accomplishes unless it's seen as a way to exact some new punishment for the past sins of slavery and segregation. But then what? Does it solve a single problem? Some may think that we still need to tear Old Dixie down. While tearing down may not create another war with armed soldier combatants, it does run the risk of causing so much bitterness that we effectively launch a whole new civil war. And no one wins that one. Let's allow those monuments to be reminders that we cannot ever do that to ourselves again.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Unequivocal

Crystal clear

Big word. This one will score you big points in Scrabble. It can also score you big points if you are trying to be clear and committed.

Here is how the English Oxford dictionary defines it:

"leaving no doubt, unambiguous"

Merriam-Webster adds the word "clear" to the definition.

Collins English Dictionary says: "If you describe someone's attitude as unequivocal, you mean that it is completely clear and very firm."

Maybe, when you were a kid, your mom or dad instructed you on something important and then asked you, "is this crystal clear?" You knew they were serious and it was important that you understood. Because... there is clear... and then there is crystal clear. Unequivocal is crystal clear.

Some statements deserve unequivocation. Things like apologies. If you apologize and then add the word "but" followed by some further commentary... you may not have truly apologized.

When President Trump commented in response to the threats made by North Korea's Kim Jong-un, he was unequivocal. It was important to give a clear message.

President Trump had the opportunity to deliver a clear message to the white supremacists that gathered in Charlottesville, VA. Yes, they have the First Amendment right to deliver their message even if it is a hateful one. Yes, they have the right to protest and demonstrate. The rights contained in our Bill of Rights can sometimes be messy that way. Calling out a group of racists does not, however, require you to call out another group of people on the opposite side of the argument/ cause that may have responded badly. That's equivocation. And that's what he did.

I condemn in the strongest way the attitude and message of white supremacists. Their message is particularly dangerous. It is dangerous because whites make up about 70% of our population and the opportunity exists for their message to gain traction or to gain sympathizers. We can't allow that to happen. Some of what they say sounds appealing to those who would never consider themselves to be racist. Some can become sympathetic because of the actions and statements of those who confront them. But we can never be sympathetic to white supremacists because, at their core, they believe that another group of people is inferior or undeserving of equal treatment. Many of them identify as Nazis for a reason. History has seen this before.

Unfortunately, they and their predecessors have always been around. Our country has a painful history of slavery and terrible attitudes and actions towards African-Americans. I remember as an 11 year old watching fully hooded KKK members marching through the street in Beaufort, SC. I didn't understand the message and hatred then and I don't understand it now.

Any statement that suggests that "this group is just as wrong as that group" reeks of equivocation.

Condemning racism requires you to be clear. Speak in the strongest of language. No "if, ands or buts"




Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Way Things Used To Be

"Why can't things be the way they used to be?" "I wish we could could go back to the good old days." Have you ever heard anyone say this? My guess is you've heard it a lot recently. Maybe you have even said it yourself. Certainly we all can get nostalgic for times in the past when life seemed simpler. In many cases it is a desire to go back to a time when we were younger... maybe when our grandparents or maybe even our parents were still alive. On the other hand, it may be a time when you felt more comfortable, more in control, more in charge of things.

So if you have a yearning to reverse course and go back to the "way things used to be," I'd be curious to know what time in your past you specifically are talking about. What time in American history do you consider to be the "good old days?"

Unless you are over 100 years old, the earliest a very small number of you may look back on fondly would be the 1930's. Not to give a history lesson here but, I believe the 1930's was one of the toughest decades in our history. The Great Depression began at the end of the prior decade so, unless you were unaffected by the stock market crash, bank closures and job losses, you experienced some serious financial hardships, possible homelessness and hunger during those years. The Great Plains states suffered through the Dust Bowl causing many to lose everything and forcing them to uproot their families and head to California seeking opportunity. Unemployment in the US was as high as 50% for African-Americans (who, if they had jobs, were generally paid 30% less than whites) while the rest of America experienced 30% unemployment. Other minorities in America also suffered as many whites felt that any job held by a minority was taking their rightful job away from them. Lynchings of blacks continued into the 1930's. Congress attempted to pass anti-lynching legislation but it was thwarted by Southern legislators.

Of course, you may mean the 1940's as the times in which you'd like to return. Hitler invaded Poland on September 3, 1939 and World War II began, throwing the world into war in the 1940's. The Japanese surprise attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Within 3 days the US entered the war, declaring war on Japan as well as Germany and Italy. 110,000 Japanese, most of whom were loyal Americans (75,000 were US citizens,) were rounded up and placed in detention camps because of their Japanese ancestry. Over 400,000 Americans were killed during the war. Many more times than that were wounded. Race riots in Detroit and Harlem in 1943 caused 40 deaths and 700 injuries. Racial segregation continued to exist in the 1940's. In 1945, California passed legislation "prohibiting marriage between whites and 'Negroes, mulattos, Mongolians, and Malays.'" Equal treatment for women in the workplace was not practiced nor required in the 1940's. Good times.

You probably mean the 1950's. World War II was over for nearly 5 years but the Cold War was already in full swing. Six months into the 1950's, North Korea crossed the 38th parallel invading South Korea thus beginning the Korean War. Nearly 40,000 Americans died and over 100,000 were wounded in the three years before the cease fire was finally agreed upon. The US began its presence in Vietnam by providing training to the South Vietnamese. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Southern states continue their fight to keep schools segregated. In 1957, Arkansas National Guard troops are ordered by the governor to Little Rock to prevent nine black students from attending Central High, an all-white school. In December 1955, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat (in the "colored" section) to a white man on a Montgomery, AL bus after the whites-only section had filled up. Her act of defiance and the later bus boycott gives traction to the modern civil rights movement. Many look fondly on the 1950's as the US economy rebounded from the war years. Unfortunately, minorities who fought bravely during WWII and Korea were still treated as second class citizens at home. Might have been the good old days for you... not so much for them.

So maybe you are talking about the 1960's? John F. Kennedy, the space race (eventually landing a man on the moon in 1969,) and the explosion of pop music of many persuasions, television, and cool cars were notables of the 1960's. Civil rights legislation passed through Congress banning discrimination in jobs, voting and accommodation. President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to include outlawing the requirement of potential voters to pass a literacy test. Thurgood Marshall becomes the first black Supreme Court justice in 1967. But the 1960's also produces the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba and the resulting Cuban Missile crisis, where the US and Russia were on the brink of nuclear war. US involvement in Vietnam escalates to the point of over 300,000 US troops involved. Over 50,000 would die before the war ends. Assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and presidential hopeful Senator Robert F. Kennedy all occur in the 1960's. Racial tensions remained very high with race riots occurring all over the country. The notion of racial equality continued to be vigorously challenged throughout portions of the United States. So much occurred during the 1960's that itemization of the events seems almost impossible. To say the 1960's were turbulent would be a gross understatement. Were these the the good old days you speak of?

The 70's saw the end of the Vietnam war and the shunning of many of its veterans. Spit upon and called baby killers, these soldiers never experienced the affection from their country afforded to their WWII and Korean war predecessors. The 70's were when we learned of the Watergate scandal eventually leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon as well as the conviction of many of his top aides including the former Attorney General John Mitchell. In a very controversial move, Nixon was pardoned by President Gerald Ford who had assumed the presidency upon Nixon's resignation. Four students, protesting the Vietnam war at Kent State University, were shot and killed by National Guard troops. The Supreme Court ruled in Roe vs. Wade that a state cannot prevent a woman from having an abortion performed during the first six months of pregnancy. The 1970's sees the Middle East oil embargo causing significant gas shortages and further tensions in that region. Sixty-three American embassy workers are taken hostage by Iran. Popularity of disco music and bell bottoms become widespread in the 1970's...enough said about that. In a hugely surprising election, former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter is elected president in 1976. The economy falls into recession and mortgage interest rates begin a rise that peaks in the early 1980's. Do you want to return to the 1970's?

Rather than continuing this decade by decade itemization, let me ask a question. If you are white and are yearning for things to be "like they used to be," what do you mean? Because I don't hear black people talking about the "good old days." As Americans, shouldn't the good old days be good old days for all of us? If you are white and believe that this country primarily belongs to you, I vigorously reject your thinking and attitude. This is supposed to be a country of us. Stop trying to defend things in our past that are indefensible. Stop trying to find moral equivalences in every situation. Stop using the word "them" with disgust in your voice. Stop relying on politicians to solve what is wrong in our country. Examine your own heart. Be honest. Whites comprise an overwhelming majority in this country. If you are white and have lived in the US your whole life, you have no idea what it is like to live as a minority. You may want to believe that the inequality that minorities experience is entirely of their own making but then I would say you are delusional. If you think that legislation can eliminate this reality you are wrong. No law can make a person respect and perceive another as an equal. But that's what our American covenant with one another says we are to do. The good old days are a work in progress. They are not in the past.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

"Recalculating Route"

GPS Recalculating Route

the trusty road atlas
I guess, by now, just about everyone owns some type of GPS device; whether it's the old school Garmin suction cupped to your car windshield, or your smartphone, or the GPS that came standard on your vehicle (which is obviously much newer than mine.) In the old days, if you were trying to get from Point A to Point B, you had to rely on a map. But even with a map, you had to figure out the best route to take. And then you had to try to not kill yourself and others while you periodically glanced over at the map.

But now, the magical GPS device not only routes you to your intended destination, but it also gives you turn-by-turn directions as you go. How did we ever get anywhere in the old days? Oh yeah, that's right.... we sometimes got lost or went the wrong way.

As a Christian, I strive to live my life in accordance with how God wants me to live. I believe that God has a will for my life and my desire is to live in such a way that I am in His will. Ultimately, God desires to be in relationship with me (you too!) and, because of the saving work of Jesus, I, despite my sin, have been restored into relationship with Him.

I have had conversations over the years with fellow Christians who have lamented to me about some thought, action or direction they have taken that they believe has taken them outside of God's will. And because of that, they struggle with the fear that they may have strayed too far from God and cannot find their way back. They feel like they are off-track...they feel lost. They may believe that God is mad at them and maybe has turned His back on them.

Gotten off track? Who hasn't?
Have you ever disobeyed your GPS? Maybe you deliberately chose to not follow the turn-by-turn direction because you thought you had a better way to get to where you were going. Sometimes we just get busy or distracted and sometimes we just miss a turn. If your GPS is like mine, you likely have heard these comforting words.... "recalculating route." Sure, you have gotten off track but your GPS knows where it is you want to go and it does not give up on you. If you get off route, it simply considers where you now are.... even if you are way off track, and assures you that it can still get you to where you are going.

I think God is a lot like my GPS. If you are seeking God and have a desire to be on the road leading to Him, he'll get you home. He can work with the wrong turns you have made. He can provide a new way to get there even when you deliberately ignore the previous instructions. "Recalculating route." Every time my GPS says that I get the assurance that I can still get to where I am going.

Repent! U Turns Allowed!
Sometimes I have gotten so far off track when traveling that my GPS gives me a very interesting instruction... "at the next safe location....turn around." You know you've messed up when you get that command. "Turn around." You need to do a complete change of direction when you get that one. Most of us are familiar with the word- repent. It's one of those bible words that we don't say very often and we might think it's one of those weighty theological terms. But it has a pretty simple definition. Repent basically means turn around... maybe more specifically- change the way you think. Sometimes I simply need to make some minor adjustments. Sometimes I need to repent!

Can you imagine if, when you got too far off track, that your GPS said... "I'm done with you. You obviously do not want to listen to me and my guidance so you are on your own. Goodbye." What kind of GPS would that be?

Your GPS does not do that.... it will continue, no matter what, to keep working to get you to your destination. God does not give up on you either. No matter how off-track you have gotten, He continues to say, "OK... I can still get you home from there." He's always working to get us home... to Himself.

Next time your GPS says "recalculating route," I want you to smile and think about how your Heavenly Father is there always guiding you to where you need to go.



Saturday, July 11, 2015

We and They. Us and Them

English 101
I have never been greatly proficient in the area of English grammar and composition. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you already know this. I can switch tenses in the middle of a sentence faster than you would have been able to keep up. See there?

We and They. Us and Them. Do you ever struggle with proper usage of these words? We and They are generally used as subject pronouns (We went to the ballpark.... They lost the game.) Us and Them are generally object pronouns (She shared her popcorn with us.... I gave the extra tickets to them.)

We is the nominative plural of I. They is the nominative plural of he, she, and it. Us is the objective case of We. Them is the objective case of They. English grammar and composition. Boring stuff.

One of my favorite records in my music collection is the 1973 Pink Floyd album, "The Dark Side of the Moon." One of the tracks, written by Richard Wright and Roger Waters, is titled "Us and Them."


The opening lyrics say:

"Us and them. And after all, we're only ordinary men.
Me and you. God only knows it's not what we would choose to do."

The meaning of the lyrics are generally accepted to be about war. Two sides to the conflict divided as "us " and "them" when, in fact, both sides are comprised of "ordinary men." And the song eludes to the fact that no one in their right mind would ever deliberately choose war over some other remedy.

I guess it has always been Us and Them. Not just in reference to war. But also human nature.

When we say the word "us" in day-to-day conversation, we usually just mean more than one person with something in common. "Meet us for dinner at Carrabba's." (That actually sounds like a pretty good idea!) Us. You know... US!

But when we talk politically, religiously, culturally... well, then "Us" or "We" takes on a completely different meaning. Here's where we start to divide the goats from the sheep.

Have you heard this lately?

"Look what is happening to Us."
"We shouldn't have to put up with this."
"We want things to be the way they used to be. (For Us.)"
"This country belongs to Us."
"We don't believe that."

When there is an Us or a We....there is inevitably a Them or a They that is being silently referenced.

"Look at what They are doing."
"Why don't you ask Them?"
"Do you know what They believe?"
"They started it."
"They are trying to take over."

Maybe there is not a traditional war being fought right now like World War II where the good guys (Us) are fighting against the evil axis powers (Them) but... make no mistake... we are at war in the United States right now. Watch the news. Read the paper. Go on social media (it's not so "social" right now... btw)

We are at each other's throats.
The Supreme Court says that same sex couples should be allowed to marry. So it's Us and Them.
A Confederate flag was taken down in Columbia, SC. So it's more Us and Them.

You wanna pick a fight? Are you angry? At who? THEM?

Our foundational document in the Library of Congress starts with the word "We."

"We the People of the United States..." That's us. All of us.
"...in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States."

How are WE doing these days? How are YOU doing regarding these things?

a more perfect Union...(union means the state of being united)
establish Justice
domestic tranquility
promote general Welfare
secure the Blessings of Liberty

We've got way too much Us and Them right now.

Maybe we all should walk in the shoes of "Them" for a little while and see if maybe we have more important things in common than what we are disagreeing on.

Maybe we are all supposed to be Us.

I think I'll listen to my Pink Floyd album for a while.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sadness

Memorial at Emanuel AME Church (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Paul Ekman, noted American psychologist, has described the six basic human emotions as: happiness, anger, surprise, fear, disgust and sadness. In the 1990's he added the following 11 emotions to his list: amusement, contempt, contentment, embarrassment, excitement, guilt, pride in achievement, relief, satisfaction, sensory pleasure, and shame.

When I heard what happened this past week in Charleston, SC, I, like so many of you, had an emotional reaction. My immediate feeling was surprise. My goodness, nine innocent people in a church studying the bible were gunned down and killed by a young man who had been invited into their circle. Gunned down in a church! Almost immediately I was also (and still am) overwhelmed by sadness. I cannot imagine the gut-wrenching pain that the family and friends of the victims must be experiencing. All of Charleston must be hurting. People all over America are hurting.

As I learned more about who the victims were and who the suspect was, other emotions rose up in me. Nine African Americans were killed by a young, racist white man in the southern United States. A white person was involved in perpetrating violence upon blacks in a church. Unfortunately, this is nothing new in the United States. My mind raced back to my childhood years when I read news stories of black churches being bombed and burned and people being tortured and killed at the hands of racist whites. I am a white man. Even though I cannot grasp and have never known the kind of hatred that it must take to commit such heinous acts; nevertheless, I felt and continue to feel disgust, anger, guilt and shame.

It is tempting to argue that we casual observers have no responsibility in what happened. I am not responsible for the actions of another person. Each of us must account for our own actions. I know that. But, we all contribute to the landscape of our collective environment, even if in only small and subtle ways. It's not our fault we say. We would never do that, we say. We can't do anything about that, we say.

So nothing changes.

I feel such a sadness for what is happening in my country right now. I know all the emotions I experience each day. While my life is by no means perfect, it is a pretty good life, especially when contrasted to what others in our society experience. Honestly, I am usually so focused on what is going on in my little circle, I tend to not think much about others. Or to do much for others. People struggling? It's easier to rationalize that it's their own fault. People hurting? Let someone else deal with it. It's not my responsibility.

Did I contribute to a culture and a disharmony that may have moved this very disturbed, young man over a line that no one should ever cross? I don't know. But if I have contributed in any way, I cannot apologize enough to relieve the guilt and shame that reality would generate.

Those folks in Charleston invited this young man into their circle of friendship and fellowship. Jesus knows something about people within his invited circle turning on Him. And like Jesus, this community in Charleston has demonstrated forgiveness and compassion which leads me to experience something that Paul Ekman never itemized on his list.... hope.

I want us to be better. I want to be better. I want to see as Jesus sees. I want to love as Jesus loves. Lord, help me to be more like You and less like I am right now.

You may not identify with anything I have said here so forgive me because I just needed to write it out. For me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

No Wonder They Don't Bloom

Hydrangea in full bloom
My grandmother was a gardener. Her New Hampshire back yard from late springtime until early autumn was an explosion of color and an experience in sensory overload. Some of my favorite plants were her hydrangeas. Her garden had different varieties, different sizes, and different colors. Those nearly basketball sized blue ones were probably my favorite. My interest was limited to looking and smelling...not weeding, watering, feeding or pruning. I left that to my green-thumbed grandmother.

When Carol and I moved into our current house about seven years ago there were hardly any flowering plants in our yard. Little by little she planted more and more plants including a hydrangea, which, I think, was actually a gift from a friend. It grew larger that first year but never bloomed. We figured it was just too young to bloom. "Next year it will bloom," we said.

This went on for a few years. It became obvious that we just had the bad luck of planting a defective hydrangea plant.... the non-blooming variety apparently. It was still pretty with its bright green branches and leaves, growing fuller every year... just no blue or pink or white blooms like all other non-defective hydrangeas seem to have.

I finally decided to do some research last year on why our hydrangea never bloomed. After doing some very basic study on the topic, I felt a bit foolish after discovering that we did not, in fact, own a defective hydrangea. Our hydrangea had defective owners.

Turns out that different varieties of hydrangeas set their blooms for the next (or upcoming) season differently. Without trying to sound smarter than I am on the subject, let me condense it to this- there are two basic types of hydrangea- those that bloom from "old wood" and those that bloom from "new wood." "Old wood" are the stems and branches grown the prior season. "New wood" is what you see growing in springtime all nice and green. "Old wood" in the dormant season just looks like dead sticks.

If your variety of hydrangea blooms from "old wood" you can't just prune the ugly  "dead looking" branches down to the ground at the end of the summer....that is, not if you want blooms the next year.

So, last fall I asked Carol to not cut back the hydrangeas like she had always done (just like we do with our lantana) to see if my newly found information applied to our bloom-less hydrangea.

Well, guess what?

Our previously "defective" hydrangea
This year we have blooms. LOTS of blooms.

Hydrangeas that bloom on "old wood" set their flower buds for the next year the previous summer. This includes the Mophead, Lacecap and Oakleaf varieties. Paniculates, Endless Summer Series and "Anabelle" varieties bloom from "new wood," meaning; they set their flower buds on the current season's growth.

All this hydrangea knowledge got me to thinking about how we as individuals "bloom." I think, like we saw with our hydrangea, we can sometimes get impatient and discouraged when we don't see results when we think they should come. Maybe it is someone that has struggled or worked hard or prayed and they feel like they should start to see some blooms. And when they don't they just hack everything back down to the ground believing that they are just not going to bloom.  But I think that life can be like those hydrangeas. We may go through a season of life where we believe we are doing everything we are supposed to do to "bloom." And when it doesn't happen that season we hack away... we quit a job, we end a relationship or stop trying, we give up on our teenager, we switch churches or even give up on church altogether.

Or we give up on God. "Why haven't I bloomed by now?" we cry. Maybe we just have to give it some time...let the flower buds get set... and wait for the next season. Not all hydrangeas are the same.

The blooms will come.




Saturday, December 6, 2014

We Can Be Better Than This


Before I get to what I want to say, let me tell you a short story.  I was born in the mid-fifties living in a small town in New England. Our town was multi-ethnic which means that, in addition to the folks like me of Irish/ French Canadian descent, we had people living there that were Italian, Polish, Greek, German and folks descended from several other European countries. However, based on my best recollection, I never had any classmates in my early days in New Hampshire that were Hispanic, Scandinavian, Asian or African American. In fact, the first black kid I ever met was a boy from New York that was part of the Fresh Air program. He was my best friend that summer of 1962. We were inseparable. His name was Jim. I obviously knew that he looked different from me but, I didn't think he was really any different because he enjoyed doing all the same things I liked to do. We climbed trees, caught frogs, played ball, rode bikes, shared Coca Colas and all the other things little boys do. At the end of the summer, when he left to go back home, I remember giving him a hug and was a little embarrassed that I cried in front of everybody.

I don't know what ever happened to Jim. But I have never forgotten him. That summer is engraved on my life. My first encounter with a black person was profound because it was just so normal and natural. A few years later, I moved as a military brat to North Carolina, then South Carolina and realized that things were different in the Carolinas than they were in New England. Forty plus years ago, I landed in Georgia where I live still.

I am a white male born during the baby boomer generation. I am part of the most powerful and influential group of people in the United States today. I don't know what it is like to be in the minority except for those times when I have gone to a foreign country. In America, I’m it. So my perspective on things comes from that reality. I see the world and am seen by the world as not female, not black, not Hispanic, not poor, not all the other things that I am not.

I have never been made to feel different because, for my entire life, I was not different. People that look like me were, and still are, in charge. I'm a man and I’m white. I don't have to provide a history lesson on how our society has treated and considered women in general and people that are not white. The short answer is…differently. Sure, things have changed a lot. Today we say that women are treated equally. We say that people that are not white are treated equally. That’s what we say. And we have said it enough that we believe it. Even when the reality doesn't match the declaration.

When we visited our daughter and son-in-law in Korea I got a small taste of what it feels like to be different. Everyone around us looked Korean (of course) and… different than us. They talked differently. Their habits and customs are different. Some Korean, especially older ones, gave us unwelcome looks on the sidewalks and subway. I wondered what they thought of us. Don't get me wrong; we met many, many friendly Koreans. But what I remember were the looks from those that seemed to not want us there. I got a small taste of what it must be like to be “different”... not in the majority.

My wife remembers being a little girl going downtown with her sister on the city bus with their maid, Louise. Louise was black. The girls always wanted to sit up front and would beg Louise to let them sit there. Louise would tell them that the seats were so much better at the back of the bus and she would walk them back there. She never told them that she wasn't allowed to sit at the front. She just told the little girls in her care that the seats were better at the back of the bus. Different.

Think for a moment what it might be like to be black in America… you are only about 12% of the US population. 88% of America is different than you…76% of what you see are white people, almost half of which are male. Most positions of power and influence are held by white males. 75% of the Senate members are white men, twice the percentage as their population. In the House of Representatives, the percent of white males drops a little to 70%. But, after all… it is the people’s House. But mostly white, male people.

Things are not so good these days. People are marching in the streets all across our country because of recent incidents with police and decisions made by grand juries in Missouri and New York City. Blacks are upset. I understand why. I can probably cite statistics that would suggest that police are justified in their handling of confrontations with blacks since we know that blacks, after all, kill each other at alarming rates and commit crimes at a higher rate than their population would suggest. I could say that people shouldn’t resist arrest or they'll have what’s coming to them. That would be the easy but inappropriate response.

If your wife tells you that a certain attitude or behavior of yours hurts her feelings, you can argue til the cows come home that she shouldn't feel that way because that is not your intention. You can tell her that she should get over it. But that doesn't change how she feels. In fact, that response makes the hurt even worse.

When black people say that they feel like the police, the justice system and authorities treat them differently (more severely and with an assumption of guilt) than they do whites, we can say that it is not true…that is not the intent of the police and others…. that the evidence doesn't match their concern. But that ignores the reality of how many black people feel. And that makes it even worse. We disregard their concerns. We argue and cite statistics. We tell them how many black people kill white cops. Or how many black cops kill white people and how you don’t see people getting all outraged about that. But that misses the point. And it helps nothing.


I wish we could block out all the noise and shouts of racism and just start having some frank, honest, respectful conversations about what we all believe and feel. Talk about what we each see as problems and what we think needs to change. We have to get off the defensive. We have to start treating one another better. We need a change of heart. Early in this blog I told you that I am middle aged, that I am a man, and that I am white. But that isn't my most significant identifier. My bible tells me that I am made in the image of God. That each of us is made in God’s image. I am a child of God and so are you. I need to start behaving that way. And so do you.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Are You Part of a Famous Family?

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Henry Ford
Teddy Roosevelt
William Rockefeller

Cornelius Vanderbilt
Do you ever wonder what it is like to be closely related to a very famous person? I don't mean famous in the smaller sense, I mean famous as in being written about in history books and having documentaries and even movies made about you. Do you ever think about what it was like being the son or daughter of a Vanderbilt or Roosevelt or Rockefeller? What if you were related to Martin Luther King or Henry Ford or Bill Gates?

Bill Gates
Let’s say the famous person was your grandfather and he was an important part of your life for many years… in fact, he is still alive today and he is still an important part of your life. As you matured, you were able to get to know him as more than just a relative or a famous someone that others had heard about…you are able to spend time talking with your grandfather and learning more and more about him. Your grandfather shared things with you that have helped you navigate your life and you know deep in the deepest part of your heart how much you love him and how much you are loved by him. Even though he is extremely well known and famous, to you he is almost like your closest friend and you know that you are a very important part of his very large family. You are aware that his fame came with sacrifice to himself personally but, he was willing to do it because he knew that the people that came after him would benefit from what he did.

I often wonder how people that are related to very famous people talk about them when people inquire. If someone asked about your famous grandfather, would your first inclination be to recite the many things written about him in the history books? Would you describe his accomplishments and talk about what he has done? Or would you just tell them who your grandfather is to you and share what an incredible influence he has had on you and in your life? Would you talk about his nature and tell about the reasons that you love him so much. Would you describe what it is like to be a part of his family? I wonder. See, I think people that are closely related to famous people see them not necessarily as others see them…not the way the writers of history books and movies see them. They know them intimately.

I don't know about you but I don't have any famous people in my family. You won’t read the name Toomey in any history books. The only “famous” Toomeys I know are/ were Regis Toomey (an actor), Bill Toomey (won the decathlon in the 1968 Olympics), and Pat Toomey (a politician in Pennsylvania.) So the hypothetical question I have posed is not one that I have ever had to address.

But, you know what? I am related to a famous person, written about in history books, portrayed in movies and known the world over. His name is Jesus. And I am a part of His family.


When I talk to others about Jesus do I recite what has been written about Him in history books or do I tell people about the relationship I have and the incredible influence He has made in my life? Are you related to anyone famous?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Futbol and Football



Football?
Football?
Tomorrow morning, the United States soccer team plays Germany. The outcome will determine if one or both of these teams advance to the round of 16 in the World Cup. There will be many Americans glued to their televisions to watch the match. There will also be many Americans that couldn't care less that there is even a sport called soccer.

In most of the world, when you say "football or futbol" they know that you are referring to the sport of soccer. In America, when you say "football," people think of that game played with helmets and shoulder pads on fields with a 50 yard line and goalposts. Every sports fan in America recognizes the names Joe Namath,  Johnny Unitis, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Significantly fewer know (or care) who Pele or Diego Maradona or Neymar or Christiano Ronaldo are.

Regardless, the World Cup is an international sensation. Soccer fans are some of the most obsessed sports fans there are. Correct that...THE most obsessed sports fans. They LOVE their sport.

There is truly no way to compare American football to association football (soccer.) They are completely different games. There are many who describe watching a soccer match to watching paint dry. They don't get what all the fuss is about. Many of the World Cup matches will end 0-0 (that's nil-nil in soccer-speak.) How can you play a 90 minute match and it end in a tie (that's a draw in soccer-speak) they ask. Are you kidding me? Run around for 90 minutes and nobody scores? You find this interesting or exciting?

Another criticism of soccer is all the feigning of injury (called diving in soccer-speak...called "simulation" by FIFA.) I would imagine that rugby players, in particular, get greatly annoyed when watching soccer. Oh look, he was tripped and is writhing around in pain as if he was hit by a truck (rugby players actually do hit you like a truck.) Quite frankly, everyone who watches soccer finds all the diving annoying. Don't blame the sport...blame the players.

Look, soccer isn't American football and it certainly isn't rugby. They are completely different sports. It is not fair to compare them. And enough of the complaints about low or no scoring games. Ever watch a baseball game (America's pastime) that is 0-0 after 9 innings? Don't whine to me about games that can be slow or boring. Soccer isn't the only sport where that can happen.

Here's the thing about soccer. It truly is the world's game. I mean, there is even a team from Algeria...and Ecuador. Not so with football, or baseball, or basketball. Just soccer. And that's why many Americans don't like it. Americans don't dominate soccer like we do the other sports I mentioned. It's not American born and bred.

I watch (and enjoy) soccer once every four years...just like the Olympics. How often do you watch bobsled racing or pole vaulting, or curling, or giant slalom? But you did watch it during the summer or winter games didn't you? As did the whole world. Like I said, the World Cup is a big deal. For a brief moment, the world changes its focus from all the junk going on to watch a team from Iran play a game against a team from Bosnia and Herzegovina (that's one country, not two.) By the way, Bosnia and Herzegovina won 3-1.

Let's be clear though. Come September, this guy will be watching college and professional football every weekend. Maybe I will get lucky and score some tickets to watch my Georgia Bulldogs (that's Dawgs in Georgia-speak) at beautiful Sanford Stadium. But I am perfectly comfortable loving that great sport played every autumn as well as my enjoyment of watching the World Cup. Go Dawgs! Ole Ole Ole!






Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Father's Day and Saving Private Ryan


I was watching the news a week or so ago and they were talking about the difference in the way that Mother's Day and Father's Day are celebrated...basically suggesting that Dads get shortchanged when compared to the phone calls made, flowers and gifts given, and family get togethers that occur on Mother's Day. Dads don't seem to complain though... my experience is that guys aren't really that hard to please.

I enjoy Father's Day because it reminds me of how blessed I am to have the family I have....a wife that loves me, two wonderful adult children and a great son-in-law. I also enjoyed a great lunch, feasting on a medium-rare, 20-oz. bone-in ribeye, baked potato, salad with bleu cheese dressing and steaming yeast rolls. I was only able to eat half my steak and potato at lunch which meant that I was able to enjoy the leftovers later that night. Yum.

Sunday afternoons frequently include a nap after I get home from church and lunch. On Father's Day I decided to watch a couple of movies in lieu of a nap (actually, I think I did both.) I am a big WWII movie fan so I pulled out "Patton" and "Saving Private Ryan" from my modest Blu-Ray collection. I think part of the reason I love watching these war movies is because it reminds me of the generation for whom I have so much admiration and respect. Growing up, the WWII veterans were such an integral part of the town in which I lived. They were the people in my community that I looked up to.

My dad served in the Navy although I don't think he saw much action during the war. His uncle was also in the Navy and was killed when the ship on which he served was torpedoed and sunk in the Pacific. My dad died almost fourteen years ago and, although our time together when I was growing up was limited due to my parent's divorce when I was young, the times I had with him when I was a kid and as an adult remain precious memories. I miss him. Especially on Father's Day.

I often think about my role as a dad and wonder how my kids will remember me when I'm gone. I know I have made so many mistakes but, my earnest desire is and has always been to be a good dad.

"Saving Private Ryan" is one of my favorite movies. There are so many powerful scenes in that movie but, there are a couple, aside from the intense battle scenes, that seem to hit me right in the heart. I think most everyone has seen this movie so, I don't think I need to issue a spoiler alert.

The movie opens with a modern-day scene in the U.S Military Cemetery at Ste. Laurent-sur-Mer, France with an old man (presumed to be a WWII veteran) walking amongst the white marble grave markers...mostly crosses and stars of David. At the opening of the movie, we are not sure who this character is. We learn a little later in the movie that Private James Francis Ryan has lost all four of his brothers in battle and Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall issues orders for eight men from the 2nd Rangers, who have just survived the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, to find Ryan and get him safely back home. But no one knows exactly where he is.

At the latter part of the movie, after Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) has been fatally shot, he pulls Private Ryan (played by Matt Damon) close and whispers in a weak voice "James- Earn this...Earn it." Men have risked and lost their lives trying to find and escort Private Ryan to safety so he can return home and live his life. Captain Miller is telling Ryan to live a life worthy of the men who paid such a high price to rescue him.

The ending scene goes back to where we were in the opening scene. The gentleman, who we now know to be the old man-James Ryan, is there to find the grave of Captain Miller...the one who led the men who risked and lost lives so that he could live. He is very emotional and his wife comes up to his side. Ryan turns to his wife and says, "Tell me I've led a good life." "Tell me I'm a good man." I don't know how a husband and father can watch that scene and not be moved.

Ending scenes

I watched this movie on purpose on Father's Day. Because, as a dad (and husband,) the same desire and reassurance that James Ryan was seeking at the end of the movie, I seek. I want to know that I have led a good life. I want to be a good man. I want to be a good dad. And I want to live a life worthy of the sacrifice that was made for me. And made for you, for that matter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

She loves you (yeah, yeah, yeah!)


50 years ago last night, the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show and 73 million people tuned in to hear the Fab Four sing their sensational music that had exploded onto the American music scene. I was 8 years old and glued to our black and white Philco television set, mesmerized by this new sound and look.

Last night, several of my friends on Facebook were commenting on the Grammys' 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles that was televised on CBS. I was torn between watching Olympic figure skating or watching some of today's most talented musicians pay tribute to Paul and Ringo, the surviving members of The Beatles, as well as paying tribute and acknowledging the incredible contributions of John and George. It was a great night to reminisce. But not everyone that grew up during that time were Beatles' fans. Some preferred other bands or musicians of that day while others may not have been really into music much during that time in their lives. Fan or not, I am sure that the contribution that The Beatles made to modern pop music is acknowledged nonetheless.

I wrote a blog a couple of years ago soon after Don Cornelius of "Soul Train" fame had, sadly, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I wrote then:

Music is an incredibly powerful thing. Every culture has music traditions and, just in my lifetime, I have witnessed the way that music can influence the world around us.

The segregated American society that made up a large part of the 20th century is an historical fact, painful though it is to be reminded of. But there has been one thing that seems to have transcended the racial divide that existed and, in some ways, still exists today...and that is music. From the white, Celtic-influenced Appalachian music that birthed bluegrass, rockabilly, and country music....to the gospel music sung in rural churches, to the black, rhythm and blues music from the Delta, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit...the combination of all which birthed what we call Rock and Roll music. The soul music sound of African-American Detroit artists, on Barry Gordy's Motown Records kept the dance halls rocking and swaying to some incredible music and vocal harmonies.

The older, white generation didn't embrace much of this music...sometimes because it was just so different from the music they enjoyed but also because of racial prejudice. Sadly, many included the "N-word" in describing this new music. But for the younger Baby Boomer generation, I believe the blending of these musical genres and the appreciation for and enjoyment of these new musical sounds went a long way in bridging the racial divide.

As a white kid that loved the likes of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers; I also loved the sounds of the Coasters, the Drifters, Sam and Dave, Ray Charles, James Brown, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes, Wilson Pickett, and Marvin Gaye. And just when rock and roll seemed to be losing its way, along came the mid-60's British invasion of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Kinks and dozens of others that had listened to all that America had blended together musically, and reintroduced it to us.


Whether or not The Beatles were your favorite band in the 60's matters not. Like other forms of art and food and fragrance, we all have our personal preferences. Thank goodness we have so much to choose from. I enjoyed last night because it brought back a flood of great memories. Thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo. 

Oh, and my favorite Beatles song? That's a very tough one. There are too many to list but two songs have likely had more plays on my iPod than the others- "No reply" and "I don't want to spoil the party" (and they are both from the Beatles- For Sale album.) What is your favorite?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Amazing Grace


Sin. You realize that this word really has only one definition, right? I mean, we can use it in our day-to-day conversation in ways that somehow muddy up its meaning. “Did you eat any of that chocolate dessert? It’s absolutely sinful!” [Cake isn't sinful.] “It’s just a sin that everyone wasn't able to get into that concert…it was that good!” [Inability to get into a concert isn't a sin.]

Here’s the thing about sin. None of us avoid it. All of us commit it. But here’s another thing… we seem to be more concerned [maybe even obsessed] with the sin of others than our own. [Jesus used the illustration of the speck in someone else’s eye versus the log in your own.] Do I have a log in my eye? Of course I do. But I like it better if I can rationalize that the speck is in my eye and the log is in yours.

Hey, Westboro Baptist Church- do you want to demonstrate in front of a place where sinners are? Then why aren't you carrying signs out in front of my house? I mean, there are only three of us here right now but... my house is occupied 100% by sinners.

By the way, have you seen the “Official Sin Grading Scale” that ranks sins from top to bottom…from least to first? I bet it’s an even better read than Letterman’s Top 10 List. I’m kidding…there really isn't an official sin grading scale. But there IS an unofficial list. We all have made one. The thing is…my most common sins are (fortunately) not in the top 10 on my list (I’m glad I’m using my grading scale otherwise….geesh I’d feel pretty filthy and unworthy.)

The trouble is that Sin # 8,341,890 on my list had the same effect on my relationship with God as Sin #1. It means that I am 100% disobedient. I know, I know…this doesn't quite seem fair...to us. Sin #1 is far more detestable (to me) than Sin #8,341,890. But I’m not the One that has been offended. I don’t get to set the standard. The One who created me does. Tell one lie and I am a liar. Lust one time and I am an adulterer (that’s right…adulterer.) Think one immoral thought and I’m a deviant. Withhold one thing from someone in need and I am a thief. And murderer? By Jesus’ standard, I am that too.

The good news? The REALLY, REALLY good news? God does not condemn me for my sins. Why? Because of the saving work of Jesus on the cross and my acceptance of His gift of grace, my sins yesterday, my sins today, and my sins tomorrow are forgiven. I have been pardoned. You might not forgive me for my sins and I certainly can understand that. I too struggle with the sin I see all around me. I want people to stop sinning. I especially want myself to stop sinning. I can definitely relate to Paul who wrote in his letter to the church at Rome: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do. But what I hate, I do." (Romans 7:15 NIV) But, I come back to this point…why am I so concerned with the sin around me and seemingly less concerned about the sin within my own heart? Maybe it makes me feel better about myself. Thankfully, God hasn't deputized me to be His law enforcer. If He did, my first action would have to be locking myself in jail... marking a swift end to my career in law enforcement.

58 years ago, when I was born unexpectedly early in a little town hospital in Maine weighing only 3 pounds; for some reason, God saved me from most certain death. The priest had been summoned to baptize and pray some last rites over me. But I was spared. 29 long years later I asked Jesus to take my life and He saved me all over again...but this time for eternity. And since then, sin separates me from Him no more.

Nobody ever wrote a song titled "Amazing Law."

It’s called Grace. Amazing Grace.