Sunday, October 7, 2018

All in the Family

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" Psalm 133:1

Image result for arguing

Lately, it would seem that everywhere we turn - especially on social media! - we are a country that is full of people arguing about everything.  The ideal that an on-line community would bring has been horribly, HORRIBLY realized.  Everyone can now engage everyone else with just the click of a computer mouse, and the results can be infuriating, frustrating, and overly-emotional.

What has happened to us?

This is hardly the first time in our country's history that we have had large segments of our population disagreeing over so many things and becoming so emotional about it.  The years preceding the Civil War saw congressmen and senators literally coming to blows on the floor of Congress.  One southerner beat a northerner with his cane until the northerner was unconscious on the floor; worse still, when it was reported that his cane was broken during the attack, hundreds of people sent new canes to the southerner to replace the one he broke assaulting his colleague.  

President Andrew Jackson threatened several political opponents with either a beating or a duel; of course, no one ever took Jackson up on the offer - probably because it was widely known that Jackson had a fierce temper and was a crack shot with a dueling pistol.

Oh yes, we have been this angry before.

But now it is a constant thing, and we seem to ramp up our collective anger each and every time any item of news hits us, whether that news item is trivial or important.  We can no longer have any rational or civil conversation.  We are all slaves to our emotions.

We still have the power to vote our way to change if we so choose.  But we cannot seem to accept that power responsibly.  Instead, it is constantly revealed that no matter which side wins, the other side is plotting and sharpening their long knives for the next fight.

There is a better way, and all Christians are called to it.

When Jesus walked the earth, there was not a single person he would not engage in conversation.  When he did this, he was often blunt-spoken and direct, but he was never mean or hateful.  
  • I strongly believe that he calls us to be the quiet, dignified voice in the conversations.
  • I strongly believe that there are things going on that need our voices and our support.
  • I strongly believe that no matter what our opinions may be, we have a responsibility to come together whenever possible; and when we cannot, we have a GREATER responsibility to be respectful and to turn the other cheek if necessary.
When we act as Jesus would have us act, we disarm the negative and overly-emotional responses by our love.

To do otherwise is to continue to be part of the problem.  And when we do this, believe that Satan and his imps are dancing for joy.

Believe it!  Amen!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Books Books Books and MORE Books!

I was a public school teacher for 29 years.  During that time, I probably read hundreds of books to my students or with my students.  I also read to my own two children, and I now read to my grandson.  

I just love books!

I was raised to read and to enjoy it.  My great aunt, my grandmother, and my mother were all librarians, so I always had good books to read in my house.

When I was a reading teacher, I kept a LONG list of books that I recommended on my teacher web page.  I would add a new title to it from time to time, but every single book on that list had been personally read by me before it was added (no fair taking someone else's word for it!).  I was very proud of that list, and I used it for several years.

During this month of August 2018, I decided to recommend a book each day on my Facebook page.  The books are for children (and possibly other readers too) with lots of details included such as title, author, recommended reading age, brief description, and ISBN number to help in ordering.  You might also notice that most of the books I recommend were not published recently; since I am out of the classroom now, my easy access to new titles and authors is somewhat limited.

So, here is the list (without all the descriptions):

August 1: Wilfred by Ryan Higgins, published 2013, ISBN number 978-0-8037-3732-7

August 2: While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away by Mary Nash, published 1958. ISBN# 978-0590045148

August 3: Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians by Mary Nash, published in 1961, ISBN #978-0316598095

August 4: Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban, published 2016, ISBN #978-1-4521-3260-0

August 5: The Snake Who Was Afraid of People, by Louis Polisar, published 1994, ISBN #978-0938663164

August 6: The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne, published 1957, originally published as two books in 1926 and 1928, ISBN# 978-0525444527 (there are SEVERAL different volumes)

August 7: Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, first book published 1997 (multiple books, multiple printings, even multiple sets of books)

August 8: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, first published in 1939, ISBN# 0-395-16961-5

August 9: The Dress I'll Wear to the Party by Shirley Neitzel, published 1992, ISBN# 978-0590474764

August 10: Company's Coming by Arthur Yorinks, Illustrated by David Small, published 1988, ISBN# 0-517-56751-2

August 11: Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, published 1994, ISBN# 978-0-399-23003-5

August 12: Alexander, and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, published 1987, ISBN# 978-0689711732

August 13: And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss, first published in 1937 (his first book!), ISBN# 978-0394844947

August 14: Frankenstein Moved In On The Fourth Floor by Elizabeth Levy, published 1994, ISBN# 978-0064401227

August 15: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, first published in 1955, ISBN# 978-0064430227

August 16: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, published 1985, ISBN# 0-395-38949-6

August 17: A Wish For Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story by Berkeley Breathed, published 1991, ISBN# 0-590-46368-3

August 18: Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford, first published 1987, ISBN# 978-0763645250 (multiple versions and books)

August 19: Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, first published in 1964, ISBN# 978-0394912417 (41 books in series)

August 20: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, published 2003, ISBN# 978-0060521226

August 21: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, published 1988, ISBN# 978-1416936473 (first in a series)

August 22: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, published 1960, ISBN# 978-0547328614

August 23: Island of the Skog by Steven Kellogg, published 1973, ISBN# 0-8037-4122-7

August 24: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, published 2011, ISBN# 978-1442419810

August 25: If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff, published 1991, ISBN# 978-0060244057

August 26: Hank the Cow Dog by John Erickson, originally published 1982, ISBN# 9781591881018 (71 books in the series)

August 27: Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall, published 1985, ISBN# 978-0395401460

August 28: A Chocolate Moose For Dinner by Fred Gwynne, published 1988, ISBN# 9780671667412 (three books in the series)

August 29: Stellaluna by Janelle Cannon, published 1993, ISBN# 978-0152802172

August 30: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, originally published 1967, ISBN# 978-0370007724.

August 31: Nobody Listens to Andrew by Elizabeth Guilfoile, published 1957, ISBN# 978-0695363451

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

She Didn't Remember...

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. [Matthew 18: 21-22]

A while back, I was going into a store, when I met a woman coming out of the same store.  We both looked up at the same time, and we both recognized each other.  I immediately knew who she was and how I knew her, but she only knew that we had worked together a long time ago; she didn't exactly remember who I was.  I introduced myself and reminded her that we had worked together at one of the elementary school where I had taught.  

From there, we just chatted about how our lives were going, what we were currently doing, and what we had done since we worked together.  It was a very pleasant few minutes, then we shook hands, wished each other well, and went our separate ways.

I couldn't believe it...she didn't really remember me!

The reason I was so stunned was that she was the only person who had ever given me a poor evaluation in my 29 years of teaching.  I was REALLY upset when I received that evaluation, and so was my principal.  But nothing could be done about it; that was the only year I taught in which I didn't receive an excellent rating.  Because of her poor evaluation, it didn't matter how highly my principal rated me.  

Yet...the more I thought about it, the more I remembered a time or two when I ran into this woman in other places, usually the administration building or at some big school district meeting.  Each time I did, we always greeted each other politely and chatted a little.

But it has been a long LONG time since that poor evaluation.  And I think she had forgotten.  And maybe it was time for me to do so too.

Carrying around an old injury, slight, or sin is a STUPID way for anyone to live, especially someone who was taught by the Master to forgive someone who sins against you 77 times.

Hopefully, I am on my way to doing so.  I should start counting soon...


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Revenge of the Nerds

"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."  Galatians 1:10

"Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." 1st Timothy 4:12

Recently I officiated at the wedding of two wonderful young people.  The groom was good-looking, funny, gentle, and completely in love with the bride.  The bride was stunningly beautiful, intelligent, funny, and completely in love with the groom.  It was my honor and my joy to officiate their wedding, and I praised God during my little wedding sermon for bringing those two people together.

But there was something that I noticed at the rehearsal dinner, at the wedding, and at the reception and dinner and celebration that came later: just about all the young men who were there - the groom, the groomsmen, and their male friends - had been nerds at one time (or were still nerds today).  And they had married (or were with) beautiful young women who were clearly having a great time with them.

In high school (and probably in college too), it seems that young men who are nerds are often teased and belittled.  The standard image is that these young men are not good at dating and often struggle to even talk with women; their jokes don't work outside their group; the pretty young girls seem to be attracted to the athletes; the nerds spend way too much time playing video games and only dreaming of beautiful young women being attracted to them.

Obviously...something in this narrative is out of whack!  Because if it is true, then there is NO explanation for what I observed at this wedding.  Nerds (and perhaps former nerds) were with beautiful girls who clearly were glad they were there.  If you didn't know any better, one might believe that someday nerds become fine young men.

I believe that everyone gets a chance to grow up.  Sometimes high school (and even college times) can be great times to learn about yourself and to try new experiences; but they can also be lonely times when self-esteem is often manufactured and false in order to protect oneself.

That's a shame...because those nerds were sure having a good time at this wedding.  They were hilarious, they looked great, and many of them were REALLY good dancers.  And the beautiful young women who were with them had a wonderful time.

The bottom line: be yourself.  You can be no other without living a lie.  Give yourself a chance, young people.  Grow into the person the Lord intended you to become.  Be careful, be bold, but be yourself.

And all you young male nerds out there: there are beautiful young women who might someday be attracted to someone just like you.  

I know it can happen.

I just saw it....and it was wonderful.

Love always wins...even for nerds.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Pay Attention When The Game Is On...

"For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." 1st Thessalonians 5:2

Back in my seminary days, there was a wonderful local tradition in the seminarians' apartment buildings.  Each month a group of folks would gather in one of the basements to play a Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament.  It cost each participant $7 to get in the game, but all the money went to the local food bank.  So this was not a game about taking anyone's money.

Also, each monthly tournament went on until one group of seven players were left.  At this point, the game continued at just one table until there was a single winner.  The higher you finished in the tournament, the more points you earned in the yearly contest.  At the end of the school year, the player with the most points was awarded a crimson jacket.

For the two years that I lived at seminary, one player had not only won the crimson jacket, but he won it two years in a row and was heading to his third!  J was a really REALLY good poker player.

I was flattered when I was invited to play in this.  I admired all the details, the fun, the tournament rules, and especially the camaraderie.   But it was clear to me that I was way out of my league with these guys...they were MUCH better at poker than I was.  Still, it was fun and I looked forward to it each month.

I began to watch J carefully as each month passed by.  He could win even as he was laughing and joking with other players all over the rooms at the different tables.  He could win when it seemed he was going to lose.  He could pull out a card that made the entire table yell with either delight or groan with realization.  He was dramatic, cocky, hilarious, and fun to watch.

But one time...just one time...I caught J not paying attention...

He came in late one night and almost missed the opening hand.  The rule was that if you were not in your seat when the game officially began, you could not join it late.  J was rushing to get there and just barely made it in his seat as the time keeper announced the beginning of the tournament.  J missed his usual warm-up time where he teased and joked with his friends in the room.  He missed getting his plate of snacks and his drink.  He even missed putting on his official crimson jacket.  So it occurred to me that J was not focused on the game.  I began to wonder if I could use that distraction to my advantage.

Sure enough, as one hand progressed, I knew I had a really good flush.  Funny thing about one ever sees them coming.  A flush is a hand in which all the cards are the same suit, but not necessarily in any order at all.  Most folks in poker are looking for a pattern, but most ignore or dismiss a flush.  You really have to pay attention to see it coming...and J wasn't really paying attention.

I decided to play the hand aggressively as if I might be bluffing (but I wasn't!).  As the individual cards were turned, I kept raising and everyone else kept folding - except J who was putting in his chips as I raised but only because someone at the table reminded him to (he was still looking around, greeting everyone, and joking with the whole room).

He wasn't paying attention to me at all...and then he looked down and saw that it was just the two of us...with a large pile of chips on the table and just one card to turn.  THEN J began to play the way he usually did, but he was too late.  He raised me but I knew he was bluffing.  I saw his raise and raised again, pretending I was bluffing and trying with all my might not to smile.  Then he raised my raise!  Ordinarily, I would have folded and given him the pile...but something told me he was bluffing because he hadn't been paying attention and now I had him.  I told myself, "Hang in there, Plunkett...he doesn't have anything!"  Sure enough, we got to the end of the raises and I said, "All in" as I pushed all my chips to the middle of the table.  He began to laugh and joked with me about how he just KNEW I was bluffing.  I allowed myself a smile and he pushed all his chips to the middle and said, "Call."

Then I turned my cards over revealing a beautiful flush that easily beat his two pair.  I removed all the chips from the table, stood up and shook his hand.  By tournament rules, J had to exit the table because he had no chips left.

I played pretty well that night and even made it to the final table before losing quickly.  (Like I said, those guys were really good poker players.)  The next month, J made sure to be seated at my table, and he was able to quickly dispatch me from the tournament.  There were no hard feelings on our part, for which I was truly grateful.

But each time I remember that evening, I am always reminded of how the Lord cautioned us to be on alert, to "pay attention" so that we would each be ready when He returned in glory.  To be caught unaware or off guard would be the worst thing any of us could do.

To be caught off guard in a harmless poker game is one thing; to be caught off guard when the Lord returns could be disastrous!


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.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Worst Of All Time

"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

(The following article may be my opinion...but there are certainly a LOT of presidential historians who agree with me!)

If you ask any American in any setting to name the greatest President, he or she might have a hard time identifying just one.  Our country is very fortunate; we have had many great Presidents, and many of the others have done great things - while not always getting the credit they deserved.

But if you ask that same American to name the worst President of all time, he or she might not even hesitate to answer.  

Any conversation about the worst American President is bound to anger or frustrate someone.  In modern times, just about every President was loved or hated; there wasn't much middle ground.  If this conversation involves someone with a calm demeanor, he or she might admit that even a hated President might have some good qualities;  for instance:
  • President Bill Clinton was a master politician who worked with Congress to pass a lot of legislation that helped our country.
  • President Ronald Reagan was a master at communicating with the America people.
  • President Barack Obama never had a personal scandal during his 8 years in office.
  • President George W. Bush responded forcefully following the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and calmed the American people.
  • One political "enemy" of President Theodore Roosevelt remarked when he died, "You had to hate him an awful lot not to love him."
So it's even possible to call up something good about a President that many might hate.

But for my money, the worst President of our country was the 15th President: James Buchanan.

If you do just a little research, you will find that Buchanan should have been a very good President.  He had a sterling political background serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as serving two different Presidents as ambassadors to Great Britain and Russia.  But for whatever reason, Buchanan is known today by many Presidential experts as the worst President of all time.

When Buchanan was elected President, the country was on the brink of the Civil War.  Everyone knew it and many had tried to stop the war from coming.  Buchanan stood in the perfect position to try to do something to stop the war...but he did virtually nothing.

When he declared that he would not seek the Presidency in 1860, no one was upset.

He eventually supported Lincoln during the war, and he died in 1868.

It is an incredible thing: he knew the war was coming, he was the President and he had some power and influence to stop it...but he did nothing.

It should serve as a lesson to every single President that followed him:  DO SOMETHING.

It should also serve as a lesson to every single Christian: DO SOMETHING.

The Lord has put each of us in the place we are with the skills we possess.  He calls every single one of us to serve, to try, to do our best.

He never calls anyone to just sit and do nothing.

Because if we do that, we run the risk of being judged as the worst of all time...and possibly not just by our fellow humans.

All in the Family

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" Psalm 133:1 Lately, it would seem that everywhere w...