Tuesday, April 30, 2019

70 X 7

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)

Image result for forgiving 70 x 7

Long ago, before I arrived at my current and first call, this church suffered a terrible schism.  I doubt that there has ever been a GOOD schism, but this one was particularly bad.

Our church was one of the first to split over the proposal to ordain gay people as church officers.  The pastor at that time - and many in the church - strongly disagreed with this, and began to make plans to leave our denomination.  Much was said, done, written, and ultimately forgotten.  And more than ten years later, our church survives with good ministry and faithful people,  But it is at least 1/5 the size that it used to be before the schism.

In the years since I've been here, I have held people as they grieved, cried, and shouted about what happened.  I tried to meet the pastor who was involved in the original problems - which did not work out for either of us.  I ignored snide remarks from other pastors in this immediate area and instead reached out to others who became my sisters and brothers in faith.  I also ignored so-called well-meaning remarks from people in my own presbytery who told me to my face that I had NO business coming to this church for my first call.

It's been quite a load to carry.  I am tired.  I think I'll put it down.

When it comes to dealing with the old hurts from the schism, I am claiming the Scripture verse above from this time forward and forever.

When it comes to helping this church move forward and begin to try some brand new ideas, I am claiming the Scripture again because sometimes I think the past holds us back.

When it comes to helping other churches who experience similar things to ours, I will show them the value and the strength and especially the peace of mind in claiming the Scripture above.

Carrying a grudge is exhausting.

I think I'll put it down.

I have other things I'd rather carry!


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Irony Always Makes Me Laugh

It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened."  1st Kings 18:27

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Genesis 3:19b

Irony always makes me laugh.  This is true whether it is cleverly revealed in a story, in a show, and especially when it happens in real life.

Irony is often a little tricky to clearly define and explain to young writers, but once they have it, they will begin seeing it all around them.

I enjoy irony...and I even enjoy when it occurs at my own expense.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  This is a time when all of us should be reflecting on our behavior, our habits, our faith, and how we can do a little better in our walk of faith.  Living our faith is extremely important to me, even though I am often guilty of not practicing what I preach.

But today it made me laugh!

Here is what happened: I was standing in line at a store waiting to make my snack purchase.  I noticed that a family of Muslims was standing right behind me.  Two of the children were very small and adorable.  I was facing toward the register when I suddenly heard a loud FLOP right behind me and felt something very cold on my pants legs.  I turned around and saw that one of the little girls had dropped her vanilla shake, which exploded all over the floor and all over my nice, black pants.

Now let's see...how could this scene have progressed from here?

1.  I could have turned around and given a big SIGH and then made my way to the paper napkins to clean off my pants.
2.  I could have given the little kids my old "teacher look" which would have frozen them in their spots.
3.  I could have muttered something nasty about little kids - or worse, little Muslims kids! - and I could have used the usual racist garbage that we all hear so much of today.
4.  I could have ignored the obviously embarrassed father who was running to get the napkins to help me clean up.  I could have acted pious and cool...and stuffy.

Instead, I just said, "Whoops!" to the little girl and assured her and her mother with a big smile that it was okay.  When I met the father at the napkin dispenser, he began apologizing profusely, but I just smiled again and told him it was okay.  Then I showed him how easily it came off my pants and shoes.

Finally, when I went back to the counter, everyone seemed to melt out of my way.  I just ordered my stuff, paid for it, and left.  I made sure no one thought it was any big deal from my point of view.

In my car, I began to laugh when I realized how many times in my life I might have reacted with one of the options I listed above.  I have done and said some pretty stupid things in my life, but I try to live what I believe.  That means trying my best, even when it is a little tricky, even when I'm tired or cranky or in a hurry - or embarrassed...

Especially when it's Ash Wednesday, aren't we all supposed to be thinking about how to make ourselves a little better?


Sunday, October 7, 2018

All in the Family

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

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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 flushes...no 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!


70 X 7

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?...