Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."  
Fannie Lou Hamer, addressing the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, NJ

"Whatsoever you do to the least of my friends, you do to me." Matthew 25:40

No, I don't know how Fannie Lou Hamer felt on that long-ago day in Atlantic City.  I have never been in her position or in her circumstances.  However, I can agree with her words - and perhaps I can even "borrow" them for what I am writing today.

To begin, I am a walking, talking cliche.

I am a white, middle-aged, Southern, Protestant man.  I cannot help any of those things.  But I CAN help what I am going to do about what I think, how I feel, and especially what I am going to do when others express to me - with actions or with words - how life is treating them unfairly.

I can be a friend to everyone, anyone, who needs a friend.

I can champion the causes that matter to me, and I can (hopefully) remain open to learning about new ones that I am unaware of.

Growing up, all I knew was the neighborhoods and the schools and the churches where I lived.  Those were my friends, my mentors, my playmates, my classmates.  If I judged any of them, it was done by how they acted toward me or toward others.  I don't remember judging anyone by any other standard.

When I got older, I am uncomfortably certain that I began judging more and more based on other things.  I am ashamed to admit that, but I am not ashamed to admit that it has caused me to open my heart, my mind, and myself to what others think, feel, and believe.  I am also old enough to admit that many of the stories I have heard over the 60 years I have lived have changed me.  I don't necessarily believe everything I am told or everything I read, but all of it causes me to stop and think about how I really feel.

So for today, here it is: like Fannie Lou Hamer, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
  • I am SICK AND TIRED of the cowardice that our elected officials show when it comes to guns.  I have read the entire Second Amendment, and I often wonder if they have.
  • I am SICK AND TIRED of teachers and public education being the punching bag for everything that is wrong with society.
  • I am SICK AND TIRED of the double-standard that exists in politics; if the left hates a specific politician for a person reason, the right defends him/her - and vice versa.  I think if you are going to condemn one politician for a specific act, you should condemn all politicians for the same specific act.  No fair only defending those you like and agree with.  Wrong is wrong!
  • I am SICK AND TIRED of women not being treated fairly.  They do the same work as men?  Then they should get the same pay as men.  How difficult is that to understand?  Also, men rarely get sexually harassed, but virtually every single woman I have spoken with about this has admitted to me that she has been sexually harassed at some point - some have told me heart-breaking stories.  As my son asked me, "How hard is it for guys not to act like jerks?"
  • Speaking of women, I am SICK AND TIRED of my sister ministers and pastors being treated disrespectfully in their church jobs.  I have never had anyone criticize me for what I wear in the pulpit - especially not my shoes or my hair - but every female minister I know has heard nonsense about the skirt she wore, the shoes she chose, the way she wore her hair.  Seriously?  This is nonsense!  I have also never had people tell me they can't get used to me because I'm a man.  But my sisters in faith have all heard this, sometimes said to them after they have been in the pulpit for a long time!
  • I am SICK AND TIRED of all Muslims being condemned because of terrorists.  In our own country, the Ku Klux Klan is a terrorist organization, and they also claim to be Christians.  Do we automatically accept this?  Certainly not!  So why do we judge all Muslims because of the violent actions of a few crazies?  This makes no sense, especially when I think of all the Muslim people I have been blessed enough to call my friends.  They are gentle, wonderful, faithful people who make me think.  They also pray five times each day (which makes me ask myself how often I have prayed each day!).
  • I am SICK AND TIRED of feeling this way, so I am going to begin speaking out and writing much more.  It does no good to keep it to myself because I am hate conflict.  But my Savior is beginning to whisper in my soul about things being wrong and I am wondering what I can do about it.  I have a voice, I have a pulpit, I have a social media platform or two...and I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I think I'll try this.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Who Was That Masked Man?

"The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground." Genesis 18:1-2

The older I get and the more experiences that occur in my life, the more I am convinced that often the Lord sends people into our lives at specific times for very specific reasons.  Sometimes the people He sends only appear for a moment or two and then leave - never to return.  But while they were there, they did something wonderful and possibly even "saved the day" - to use the cliche.

It was in the fall of my junior year of college.  I woke up late that morning and so I was in a hurry.  I stopped to pick up my friend, Denise, and we headed out to South Austin to the elementary school where we were working at our first field experience in education.  But we were very late!

The roads were wet that morning due to a light rain overnight, and I didn't slow down like I should have.  As we neared the highway, I looked in the rear view mirror to see how awful I looked (remember I woke up late!).  For that instant, I really should have been looking in front of me...because I didn't see the big shuttle bus that had stopped abruptly just a few yards away.  Too late!  Denise yelled at me to look out, I hit the brakes, but we skidded into the back of the shuttle bus.  The seat belts worked by keeping us both from going into the dashboard or the windshield, but they didn't prevent me from going vertical about six inches in my seat and hitting my head hard on the roof.  

Denise and I staggered from the heavily damaged car, but I suddenly felt something running down my head.  I didn't know it at the time, but I had a huge gash on the top of my head and was bleeding profusely.  Denise ran around the car and helped me to the sidewalk.  I could barely talk as she asked me if I was okay and told me to give her my grandparents' phone number.  I don't remember much after that...

Except for one very big detail: a stranger picked me up, put me in his truck, and drove me a few blocks to the UT Student Health Center.  This man - whoever he was - helped me into the emergency room, made sure I was in good hands, and then he left.  I never saw him again.

My head was sewn up, my grandparents arrived, Denise made her way to the Health Center too, and I was taken home.  I spent the weekend in bed at my grandparents' home recovering from the concussion that I also received in the wreck.

By Monday morning, I was back at class, albeit feeling a little shaky.  I ran into Denise on the way to class, and I almost started crying when I saw her limping badly.  Denise had sprained both of her ankles in the wreck, and she didn't even know it until her roommate came to get her from the Health Center.  It took us both several days before we felt normal again, and my headaches finally faded away.

As life returned to normal, I realized that I never knew who that man was who took me to the emergency room in his very nice truck.  No one knew his name, no one spoke to him.  He just saved the day and then disappeared.

With no social media in 1978, I did the only thing I could do: I put an ad in the student newspaper asking for information about that man and thanking him for his help.  No response was ever heard.

He was one of the Lord's people or one of the Lord's messengers or one of the Lord's angels.

In the end, it doesn't really matter.  I am still grateful to this day.

But I wonder who he was...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Day I Dropped the Communion

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."  John 6:35

From the time I was born until I turned 23, I was Catholic.  In the 1960's, I went to St. Louis Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.  I was an altar boy too.  This meant that I had some interesting training that served me well then - and continues today in my own ministry as a Presbyterian minister.

In order to become an altar boy at St. Louis, I had to be properly trained.  I remember my best friend, Gary, and I were trained by his uncle who was the senior priest of that church.  Monsignor Matocha was pretty firm, but we all respected and loved him.  He was very careful and very thorough with us when we were trained.  He showed us the robes we wore, he went through the service and taught us what to do and when to do it.  He impressed upon us the importance of doing our jobs correctly, properly, and reverently.  

As an altar boy, one of our tasks was to help with Communion.  This mainly involved standing next to the priest when the Communion wafer was given and moving a long-handled plate under the person's chin in case the wafer was accidentally dropped.  During our training, Monsignor Matocha told us that if a wafer ever hit the floor, we were to stand over it for the rest of the service, and he would take care of it after church was done.  At the time, I remember thinking, "How can it hit the floor?  That plate will catch anything."

Sure day, the wafer dropped, I missed it, and the Communion wafer hit the floor.  Immediately, Monsignor motioned me to stand over it and not move.  He finished Communion and went back behind the altar to finish the service.  I just stood there not knowing what to do and feeling foolish for missing that wafer with my plate.  I wanted to just pick it up and disappear, but I remembered how seriously Monsignor explained what we needed to do in case it happened.

A few minutes later, mass was over, and everyone was gone.  Monsignor came over to me and thanked me for standing there.  I apologized for missing it, but he just waved it off.  Then as I watched, he performed a short ceremony with prayers and very careful retrieving of that dropped wafer.  I didn't understand it all, but I DID understand that Communion was something to take VERY seriously.

And wouldn't you know it...last Sunday during our own Communion service, I dropped a piece of Communion bread.  Fortunately, it was a piece of gluten-free bread that we carefully put in plastic cups.  I immediately thought of my old Monsignor as I bent over to pick it up.  I also thought of him later when I put that piece of bread and the other left-over bread on our church property for the animals of the earth to eat; that's how I dispose of leftover Communion bread, which is probably much different than whatever Monsignor did with that piece I missed.

Monsignor might not approve of what I did last Sunday, but he would be pleased to know this particular former-Catholic-turned-Presbyterian Minister of Word and Sacrament takes Communion very seriously.


Monday, October 30, 2017

The Gift of Jacinto's Coffee

When my daughter was a baby, she didn't sleep well at all!  Our other child, Dan, was a GREAT baby who slept through the night beginning when he was three weeks old.  But Megan was not an easy baby, and so my wife and I spent the first three or four years of her life zombie-walking through our lives.

We had a plan that worked sort of well.  We would take turns staying up with Megan, so that each of us got a good night's sleep every other day.  On the weekends, whoever stayed up late with Megan got to sleep in and take a nap later on.  This enabled us to survive Megan's baby years without selling her to the gypsies for a handful of magic beans...

But it didn't always work...

One day I was teaching at the elementary school where I worked, and I was having a really hard day.  My students were WONDERFUL that year, and they were extremely patient with me on the days when I was really sleepy.  On this hard day, they had just about exhausted themselves trying to help me get through the morning.  It wasn't going well, to say the least!  I began to feel really guilty because I knew I wasn't doing a good job.  I knew that these kids deserved better than what I was giving them.  I knew how things were going...but I also knew that I was just about powerless to do anything about it.

Later, when I was on my way back to my room for my free period, I passed the school's custodian in the hall.  Jacinto stopped me and asked if I was okay.  (You know it's bad when the school custodian notices how bad you look...).  I stopped and told him that I was up all night with my baby daughter and I was exhausted.  He immediately brightened and said, "Can I make you a cup of my coffee?"  I remember thinking how nice he was being to me, and I also remember thinking, "Maybe a cup of coffee would help."  So I followed him to his little office where he poured a little water into some type of urn, pushed a lever or two, and produced a steaming cup of coffee in about 30 seconds.  I thanked him and took the coffee to my room.

Within ten minutes of finishing that coffee, I began to come back to fact, I felt great!  When my students returned to the classroom, they immediately noticed their old teacher had returned.  We proceeded to have a great day.

After school was out, I searched the school until I found Jacinto and thanked him over and over for that coffee.  "It's my own recipe, but you can have a cup whenever you need it."  I took him up on that offer a few more times before my daughter began sleeping through the night.

Moral of this story: PAY ATTENTION, never know when the Lord will send one of his angels to help you.  He might send one when you least expect it, or when you didn't even ask for help - but you desperately need it.  He might even send one that you didn't expect at all.

And he might even send one with a great cup of coffee.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Hiding Behind the Technology

PCUSA Book of Order F-3.0105:  “… we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which people of good characters and principles may differ.  And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”

Sometime between the early and mid 1990’s, email became a widespread communication tool.  Businesses, schools, churches, and individuals all quickly embraced this wonderful technology, and email became the major method for business and personal communication.

At the same time, email users quickly learned some lessons the hard way:
  1. Once an email is sent, it is VERY difficult to get it back if you change your mind about its content, tone, or destination.
  2. Email can be extremely embarrassing if it is forwarded to recipients that you never intended to read it.
  3. Unless the email is sent from your home computer, any email sent by a church, business or school is property of that entity.  Just because you work there doesn’t mean you own the emails you send.
  4. A mistake in an email can have unintended consequences, especially with the invention of “auto-correct” additions to email software.
  5. What is written on an email can be used as grounds for legal action, personnel decisions, and even admission to colleges!

Before the advent of electronic communication – email – human beings communicated by letter, phone, or face-to-face.  Each was an efficient form of communication that usually forced a rational participant to slow down and think about what was being said or what was being heard.

Email changed all the rules!

Electronic communication is so fast that often the sender does not take the time to review the message and think about what is being said.  It is easier than ever to “hide behind the technology” and not really deal with the other person who is receiving it.  New email users were often cautioned to “be careful and thoughtful” about the emails they sent; this warning was often ignored or quickly forgotten.

Hard lessons have been learned by scores of people who had negative email experiences.  Hurt feelings have been caused which could have also been avoided – or at least softened – if the two people had met and talked face-to-face. 

Personally, I have received hateful and hurtful emails from other Christians who thought email was the perfect form to use; I have often wondered if those conversations would have been the same if they had occurred face-to-face or in a phone conversation.  Hiding behind the technology is a poor way for Christians to act!!

A good rule of thumb for email users – whether they are Christians or not – is to remember that old Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And perhaps remember that our Book of Order reminds us to practice “mutual forbearance” toward one another; in other words, be kind.

Write and send emails as if Jesus is looking over your shoulder as you type.


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Dads of God

June 18, 2017 Father’s Day
Sermon: “The Dads of God”

Scripture reading:  Genesis 18: 1-15; 21:1-7

Abraham and Isaac
Isaac and Jacob
Jacob and Joseph
Jesse and David
David and Solomon
Elijah and Elisha
Zechariah and John the Baptist
Joseph and Jesus

In each case from Scripture, you had a righteous father and his righteous son.  Is this just a pattern?  Does it just…happen?  Is it something arranged by God and then left to chance?  I think not.

It would be just as easy to share a totally different pattern, one that shows the non-righteous father and his non-righteous son.  In fact, even using Scripture as a source, it is much easier to find this type of list than the righteous one; the books of Kings are ripe trees full of the rotting fruit of the non-righteous fathers and their non-righteous sons:
Rehoboam and Jeroboam
Baasha and Elah
Zimri and Omri
Ahab and Ahaziah
The last nine kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel

And from the New Testament: King Herod and anyone in his entire family!

In our world, it is not so cut-and-dried as it is in the Bible.  We have fathers who are good, some that are bad, some that are weak, some that mean well, and all kinds of others…just like the general population.  But it would also seem that the role of fathers is being diminished in some parts of our culture.  This is obvious to any teacher; we may hear about fathers in the lives of our children, but it is the mothers who usually show up at the parent-teacher conferences.  Back in my teaching days, it became a pattern that I was surprised when I got to meet any of the fathers of my students; this was true for 29 years.

But our culture is also guilty of sending mixed messages.  On the one hand, we have any expert in family dynamics, or children’s mental health, or in education telling us the importance of the role of fathers in the lives of their children; then on the other hand, we have TV shows on virtually every channel showing us what idiots fathers are.  In the past, we had “Father Knows Best”, “Leave It to Beaver”, “Andy Griffith”, “The Nelsons”, “Make Room for Daddy”, and even “Bonanza”; now we have “The Simpsons”, “Family Guy”, “American Dad” and just about any show on My20.  

What happened to the dads?

Maybe nothing happened at all.  Maybe some are just making fun of an institution because it is secretly funny to do so.  Or maybe some are just laughing at something that is so foreign to them that we can’t recognize it.  Or maybe women have done such a magnificent job stepping up as parents and bread-winners that dads are in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Being a father of two children, a grandfather of one, an uncle to eight, and even a grand-uncle of six myself, I have a problem with this whole group of weak, dumb, clueless, useless dads.  I am not dishing out any blame at all.  But I am still asking the questions.

All I know today is that I am extremely blessed when it comes to dads.  My own dad was and is a very important figure in my life.  What I know about honesty I learned from him because the only person my father ever lied to was himself.  I also had my grandfather who taught me about not just being a Christian, but the uniquely central Texas Presbyterian form of it.

But it didn’t stop there.  I had beloved uncles, neighbors, family friends, church fathers, teachers, mentors, and my own father-in-law.  All these men served me as Dads of God.  They showed me how to live, how to accept what I can and how to fight against what I cannot.  I would not be here today except for them.  I stand on their strong shoulders, and I love and respect them all.  I’ll bet many of you feel the same way about various men in your lives.

I even know of dads who are fathers to children that are not even their own.  They are step-fathers who inherit children when they marry the mother; in many cases, these Dads of God get rid of the label “step” because those children belong to his heart unconditionally.  I have officiated weddings in which the step fathers take a much larger role than the biological fathers, but the children of those dads don’t seem to care.  They know their own dad of God.  The same can be said of adoptive fathers and foster fathers who choose children to be in their households out of love and compassion.

One of my favorite dad stories involves Senator John McCain.  His wife came home from an overseas mission trip in Bangladesh with a small orphan girl.  The little girl had such a severe cleft palate that it was feared she would starve to death because she had such difficulty eating.  When McCain met his wife at the airport, he asked her, “Where is she going?”  Mrs. McCain replied, “To our house.”  Senator McCain later reported that he knew better than to cross his wife when she had that look in her eye.  Senator McCain’s aide later reported, "I remember John's face. That day he was not the tough war hero senator. He was like every other new father, full of love and emotion."  And it didn’t take long before McCain fell in love with that little girl who is today his daughter, Bridget McCain.

Because in this case, McCain was a Dad of God.

I have two children of my own that I love more than I can put into words.  I need them…but whether they know it or not, they also need me.  I had hundreds of students who were in my various school room classes; to many of them, I was their dad because I was the only male in their lives…that was a responsibility I took very seriously.  And I know of dozens of others who serve as role models, substitute fathers, and surrogate fathers to children who would otherwise go without their love and example.

But just as the Lord’s anger burned against those kings of Israel and Judah who turned against him and did evil in his sight, I think the Lord’s anger also burns against those dads who shirk their responsibilities and neglect or hurt their own children.  Far too often, this scenario appears in our society; often it makes the news in the form of dreadful, lurid lead stories in the headlines, or the sad, pitiful stories of children who lacked firm, loving care during the times of their lives when they truly needed firm and loving care.

What should we do about this?  What should we even think about this?

I can only imagine how disappointed our heavenly father would be if we ignored our responsibilities to be Dads of God.

I can only imagine the face of the Lord on Judgment Day if we have neglected one of our own children.

I can only imagine the need of a child who has no father to love him or her.

That’s why I praise the Lord so strongly and so loudly for those fathers who show up, step up, and act as dads of God for the children of the Heavenly Father.

They are truly blessed…and so are their children.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Day Grandaddy Cried

"...and he will live forever and forever.  Hallelujah!"
from "The Hallelujah Chorus"

It was on Easter Sunday sometime in the early 1980's.  I had gone to church with my beloved grandparents at University Presbyterian Church in Austin.  It was a GLORIOUS service, complete with lots of wonderful things to see and hear - especially the music!

At the end of the service, the choir director turned to the congregation and announced that they were about to sing "The Hallelujah Chorus" and anyone who knew it and wanted to sing with them could come up and join the choir.  I hesitated despite the fact that I knew the tenor part of this song very well, but my Great Aunt Ruthie jumped up and grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the pew.  She whispered, "I know that you know this!  Let's go sing with them!"  

Who could resist Great Aunt Ruthie?  So I quickly found the tenors and joined their section.  Someone handed me the music, the organ began to play, and we sang our hearts out.

It was a beautiful experience.  I get chills even today whenever I think of it.  When we reached the last line, we held that last "Amen!" as long as we could possibly sing it.  The thunderous applause went on and on.  It was fun!

Great Aunt Ruthie beamed at me from the soprano section as we stood there a moment before exiting the front of the church.

At this point, I managed a look at my grandparents.  To my shock, I saw Grandaddy wiping his eyes with his handkerchief.  It was not something in his eyes...he was crying!  I hurried back toward their pew as all of us began to exit the church.  I caught up with him and I asked him what was wrong.  He leaned down and murmured just loud enough for me to hear: "They played that song at Pop's funeral in 1939.  They did it again at Mom's funeral in 1966.  That song gets to me every time."

I had no idea.  But now the song has a similar effect on me.

At Grandaddy's funeral in 1994, the choir of University Presbyterian Church sang "The Hallelujah Chorus."  They did it again at Grandmother's funeral in 2005.  

So today, whenever Easter approaches and I remember that song, it gets to me too.  Because just as Grandaddy loved his parents, I loved him and Grandmother.  And all of us love Jesus!

And I praise the Lord - with loud "Hallelujahs!" in my heart - whenever I think of them.

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."   Fannie Lou Hamer, addressing the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlant...