A Couple of Books to Read this Fall

As fall begins to creep in; shorter days, cooler nights, I like to curl up with a good book. There are several I offer to you.

Ugly: My Memoir, by Robert Hoge. This is a great story of courage and love. Robert was born with a large tumor on his forehead, severely distorted facial features and legs twisted and useless. In spite of the odds, his life is filled with struggle, sacrifice, joy and brave faith. Good read for those times in our own life when we think we have a problem or two to solve.

Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance. Another great personal story. This one hit home for me as it tells the story of Scott-Irish immigrants to our county who migrated through the hills of Appalachia. His story is one of fierce family loyalty, serious family dysfunction, and with determination how J. D.’s life moved from the hills, to the Marine Corps, Yale Law and now as a writer. Interesting read particularly in light of our present political circus, I mean crisis, no, no, election!

Last, don’t let the title turn you away, The End of White Christian America, by Robert Jones. Written by an astute observer and full participant of the Christian life, Robert Jones is CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. This is a sweeping historical review of the Christian Faith and its influence upon our country. He then turns his attention on the realities of the changing nature of our country, the Church, and how this can lead us to discover a new path for Christians in the years ahead. Read the book from our bedrock affirmation of faith of death and resurrection. This truth-filled account can lead us to discover a new way of life for the Church and faith in our times.

Happy Reading!

A true Olymic Gold Story!

From Where I Sit…

Are you watching the Olympics?

So much pageantry, so much drama, such great athletes.

There is one athlete that caught the eyes of many, worldwide. Her name is Yusia Mardini.

Yusia was born in Damascus, Syria. She fled her war torn country, along with her sister, Sarah. Their journey took them through Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece, up through the Balkans and Central Europe, to Germany, all the way narrowly dodging capture and death. You have seen the news reports, the pictures. You have heard the rhetoric.

As they fled Turkey by way of the Aegean Sea to Greece, they were crammed into a dinghy built to accommodate 6 people, with 28 other fleeing refugees. On their second attempt to make the crossing, not far from Turkey’s shores, their boat began to take on water in rough seas, their small motor failed. Yusia, Sarah and two young men, the only four on the boat who knew how to swim, jumped into the sea to guide and pull the boat. The two men did not last in this heroic effort, Yusia and Sarah did. They guided the boat to safety.

Their flight took them to Berlin. It was in Berlin where an Egyptian interpreter who helped out at the refugee camp at which she was staying, connected Yusia with the nearby Wasserfreunde Spandau Club and with Sven Spannekreb, a long time trainer for the club.

It was there, where she began training again as a swimmer, hoping to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Coach Spannekreb learned the International Olympic Committee wanted to build a refugee team for this year’s Olympics, he and Yusia realized her Olympic dreams could come true sooner than expected.

Give her a look see. Check out her Facebook fan page and on Instagram. Google her and read about her story.

Her story puts a wonderful human twist on the sad news of a war torn Middle East, massive refugee crisis, immigration rhetoric, fear of terrorism and hateful rhetoric concerning this whole hard reality of our times.

In one interview she said, “I remember everything, of course. I never forget. But it’s the thing that’s pushes me actually to do more and more. Crying in the corner, that’s just not me.” (New York Times, August 8, 2016)

Next time I whine that the going is tough, I hope I remember something of her story.

Next time I will celebrate that we are a country of immigrants, refugees from many lands.

Next time I will remember that the Book tells us to remember that we were once “strangers and exiles” in a foreign land, and that when we welcome the strangers among us, we just may be welcoming angles, or as Jesus put it in Matthew, “Truly I tell you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts…

Author and playwright, Isak Dinesen wrote; All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.

I love a good story. I love to listen to folks tell their own stories.

Many years ago I took part in an Oral History Project at Baylor University. One of my professors, Dr. Dan Hockenberry gathered, trained and sent out 6 of his students to go all over the place interviewing folks who agreed to tell us their “stories”. Mercy, did I ever enjoy that.

As a pastor, I get, especially when a family gets together to plan a memorial service, to hear all sorts of stories about folks.

When our granddaughter Sophie was born, some good folks gave me and Karen a book that encourages grandparents to write down their stories so they can be passed on to another generation.

How about you? What stories can you tell? One way we were trained in helping people tell their stories is to find out when they were born, to move through their lifetime and ask them about this and that. What do you know was going on in the world when you were born? What stuff was “new”? Music, movies, technology? How about social norms? Major events that took place in your life time? What have you seen change?

Thinking about your story, you time and place in history, give a certain perspective to things. It may help us to ponder just what is going on and how much things change even in the short time span of one’s lifetime.

I can’t help but think about my story, all of the things I have witnessed, all of the manifold changes that have taken place in my lifetime. How many of you can remember party lines? Or the first time you sat in front of that new devise, that some thought was a tool of the devil; a TV? Remember atomic bomb drills in your school? How about that first step on the moon? How about all of the social, political, technical, medial, communication changes in the world? How about cell phones, internet, talking cars?  Or how about witnessing the nomination of the first women of a major party to be its presidential candidate?  Or having an African American President?  Didn’t see that coming back in the day.

Can’t help also to think that no matter one’s history, one’s story, there is one story that remains true, the up’s and down’s ins and outs of the human story, grand, tragic, wonderful, and sinful, and the story of God’s love always messing in and out in our story.

Sudden Thoughts and Second Thought

Remember not the former things;
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing,
now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:18-19

If God is real busy, messing around in creation, getting involved in human history, to the point of the very Creative Word of God becoming “flesh and dwelling among us full of grace and truth”…

Does God every get real frustrated because she has not figured out how to perfect his efforts in doing a new thing? Does God ever wonder, “What am I doing wrong that folks on earth just don’t get it? It’s got to be my fault? I’ve got to try harder, change my point of view. What in the name of God am I doing wrong?

Poor eating habits and physical inactivity rank as the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, behind smoking, which at present is the number one cause of preventable death. If current trends continue, obesity could become the leading cause by next year, according to a Center for Disease Control study published July 13, 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Preventable” does that mean I need to stop those folks forcing food down my gut? Or tell that elephant to get off my back so I can get off the couch and get moving? Surely it’s the fault of that no good so and so who just forced me to go by that pack of $7.00 smokes and light one up! Better yet is must be President Obama’s fault.

Yellowstone National Park, the oldest national park, is facing grave ecological challenges from a most dangerous and evasive species; humans. Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, Dan Wank, put it this way, “Humans are the least studied and understood animal in the park.”

How come each and every day, everything changes, but nothing changes at all?

How come it is easier to find fault and blame another for our plight rather than hold ourselves accountable?

When did we begin to believe that our elected officials and political leaders are the only folks who have to be perfect and never make a mistakes; especially if they belong to the political party I do not belong to?

When did we stop noticing what God is up to in our lives, community and world?

4th of July

We the people, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,

These words begin the Constitution of the United States. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, it may be well to pause and reflect upon these words.

They are the most important words in the Constitution. They set the foundation for all of the words and thoughts that follow.

We the people…we know from our history that when written, a great deal of debate focused on just “who” the “people” should be. Some argued only those who held property. Landed gentry, the educated, surly not, some thought, the great unwashed masses. Women certainly were not included in the “people” who could hold office in Congress, as President or on the Supreme Court. The close to a million slaves held in bondage were not counted as “people”.

We also know that as our county moved from 1776 to the present, our understanding of the words We the people have changed. We still wrestle with this notion. It should be of interest to note a nation built upon the history of immigration, is still debating just who the people should be. We can add to this debate any and all classifications, judgements, prejudices, and matters that we use to divide people based on race, gender sexual identity, religion or faith.

of the United States…it may be helpful to note that throughout our history we have argued over the matters surrounding states rights verses federal rights. We fought the bloodiest war in the history of our nation over slavery and states’ rights to allow such an abomination. While the matter of slavery may have been settled, the mark of this original sin still colors our land. We still are wrestling with the role of state verses federal.

It may be good to pause and raise the question, “Just what is and how does representative democracy look like and work with well over 350 million “people?” How can we be the United States? Is it time for us to draw our boundaries not according to rivers but geographical regions of common influence and interests? If you can answer these questions, please, please, share it with the rest of us, and by all means, run for elected office!

in order to form a more perfect union…these words should be very familiar to the church. A more perfect union reminds us that there are none that are perfect, no not one, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We struggle and press on for a more perfect union, with God, neighbor and self. This is part and parcel to the Reformed Faith.

For our nation, these words may well remind us, we are not perfect, either as a country, or as a people, we have our faults and failings, we make mistakes; but we press on, seeking, working, praying, serving to become a more perfect union of some 350 million people. Or as great popular theologians have put it, #@!@!!*&^% happens, grace abounds.

We must be honest with our past as a nation. The only way we can change our past is by lying about it. Telling the truth, learning from our history, unwashed, can help us move into a more perfect future. By recognizing we are not perfect, but working on it, may call each of us to a higher commitment of citizenship. And, by recognizing elected officials are not and never will be perfect, we can tell them to stop pandering and lying and appealing to our worst fears, and begin to call us into a struggle to work for a more perfect union.

Tears of Rage, Tears of Grief

Last week, Karen and I were in Vancouver, Canada, on a bit of a vacation. We began our time off on the day news broke of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.

There is no way I can put into words a thought or two that has not already been expressed. I can add my words of rage and grief. I can regurgitate the words of others. Add any new words, no.

I would, instead, add tears from my heart for the victims; their family, loved ones and friends; tears from my heart for all of the officers, emergency workers, nurses, doctors and any others that had a role to play in this tragedy. And, tears from my heart for the family of the perpetrator, and for him as well, Lord, have mercy, for I know it is so hard for me to have mercy in the face of such evil.

I would, instead, allow a time of silence to invade; to listen to the tears of rage and grief that are flowing from the Heart of God. Oh, how the sins of the children must wound God’s parent heart.

When will we ever learn?

June 6, 1941

John McManus, Curator’s Professor of Military History a MU, in his book, “The Dead and Those About to Die, D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach” tells a compelling story of a day we should all ponder and never forget.

I can’t help but to ponder that in spite of the facts contained in this award winning book, that according to McManus, everything that could go wrong did go wrong on D-Day; from the weather that played havoc with plans, the large meal many ate before boarding the boats and landing craft, the sheer weight each man carried, the “wax long underwear” they wore underneath a wool uniform that was to protect them from mustard gas, the inability of men to swim because of weight, wool and underwear that trapped both waste and water, the off target airborne landings and air bombing runs, the disruption of communications, and the terror of unrelenting enemy fire; in spite of all of the mistakes, miscalculations, you name it, it went wrong, this day marked the beginning of the downfall of Nazi Fascism and the end of WWII.

The title of his book comes from the cry that rose from the beach, men frozen in fear, death all around, Colonel George Taylor yelled, “There are only two men on this beach, the dead and those about to die! Get up and get going!” It was these words we must never forget, it was the courage of men in face of death that did not fail.

No matter how hard we try and plan, no matter our best intentions, things go wrong. This should remind us and call us to humility and allow us to measure ourselves, our leaders, our elected officials, teachers, doctors, lawyers, pastors, (the list goes on, you can add to it) you name it we should be careful what we expect from others; and reflect on those things that truly guide and direct human efforts. Courage, sacrifice, no greater love is there that this, we must not ever forget, especially when we are so trapped in fear we just don’t know what to do.

Get up and get going! Sort of what Jesus told his disciples on several occasions, especially on that first Resurrection Day.