Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pondering my youth and what's really important

Earlier today, it was noted that Farrah Fawcett had lost her battle with cancer. As a someone who graduated in 1976 from high school, Farrah Fawcett became the icon of sexiness. She seemed to be the all "natural" girl. In the television hit "Charlie's Angels", she and Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson brought on a new age of what being a woman was all about. Angelina Jolie owes part of her success to this cheesy 1970's show.

I almost hate to admit I loved that show. These woman were smart and strong and sexy. In an era where I was still being told I couldn't do this or that because "You're a girl" was proved wrong. In an era I was encouraged NOT to go into ministry, in spite of a deep and abiding calling, "Charlie's Angels" was about breaking stereotypes. It was not great television, but for some of us, it was a reminder that when we went against societies expectations, we could succeed.

By late afternoon, Farrah Fawcett was knocked off the front page with death of Michael Jackson, "the King of Pop". I remember Michael Jackson when he was just a kid with the Jackson Five. He was my age. I have to admit, I was not a big fan. I liked his music okay, he did some amazing things in the early days of music videos, however his descent into the bizarre made me turn away from any interest I might have in his music.

Having said all that, I am pondering all the energy and focus on a has-been pop star and has-been TV actress and pin-up girl. Certainly both of these persons are part and parcel of the memories of my youth. Each added to the pop culture in their own ways via television, movies, videos and music. Both are "unique and unrepeatable."

However, there are countless persons who have given far more, done more to make the world a better place, whose names will never be known. Their hair might not be as fabulous as Farrah's, their music may not be as cutting edge as Michael's, they may never make a million dollars, but they live, they love, they share and they make sacrifices in countless ways every day.

In the next few days we will see through CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, and all sorts of media outlets the outpouring of love for these two people who many have never met. Money will be spent on flowers to lay outside homes and besides the stars on the sidewalk in Hollywood. And I will be left to ponder once again how we pour out our love and affection for celebrities and some how miss the marvelous people around us everyday. It is not that I don't appreciate what was offered, and what I gained and what I enjoyed of the arts they shared. It's just that I do not understand offering that kind of adoration for rock stars, sports figures, actors and actresses who do what we over pay them to do. What have they done to deserve such praise and such adulation?

I am probably over analyzing. I just do not get it. Considering the other more pressing issues in our world, the death of these two starts is sad, but not any more tragic than any other person who dies from cancer or dies early from heart failure. When hundreds are being wounded and killed in Iran for protesting, or in Iraq from car bombings, or people are struggling to pay their bills after they have been layed-off, or trying to survive the heat without air conditioning, our focus on these two deaths seem shallow.

At fifty, it is becoming more commonplace to say goodbye to those things of my youth. So, I say goodbye to Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. I do hope their family and friends find peace and comfort in the days ahead. I choose not to focus or "gawk" at the media circus that follows. I will continue to give thanks for those persons day in and day out who give of themselves to make the world a better place.

As I say adieu to one more part of my childhood and youth, I continue to be

Graced to Serve.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers and Those who Mentor

Father's Day has never been an easy for me. I have very few memories of my father. In fact, I am hard pressed to remember anything other than absence. Oh, I have some vague shadowy sorts of memories, but I don't even remember what he looks like unless I look for a picture, of which there are very few.

My mother and father were divorced in the mid-sixties. Long before single parent households were normative. My grandparents drove to Minnesota and loaded my mother and my siblings and I into a station wagon and drove us to Wichita, Kansas. Wichita became my new home. My grandparents were amazing human beings. They had one child, my mother and when they were seventy they brought her and her four children into their three bedroom ranch home. So much for "quiet and relaxed" retirement. We would live with them for the next five years.

The move from Minnesota and was abrupt and most everything was lost: pictures, keep sakes, almost all our toys and dishes and clothes. We moved what we could fit into that station wagon with the seven of us. I have a few things from those years, my Barbies and a small candy box my father gave from one of his trips as a salesman.

My father, for whatever reason, could not adjust. While my twin sister and younger brother and I would wait for a phone or promised visit, he didn't show. I remember him coming to see us only once and by that time a couple of years had passed and the visit was awkward and uncomfortable. He spoke to us by phone once or maybe twice and that was all.

I relate this story not for sympathy, but to share what a profound impact fathers have on their children. In spite of the fact it has been more forty years, there are still tender places around my heart. As an adult and as a pastor, I am aware that my father was obviously flawed and unable to deal with the pain of separation and divorce. Perhaps he just didn't care, but whatever the reason, his choice to be totally absent certainly affected me and if I am honest in some ways continues to affect me.

In our culture where it seems so easy to mock "dear old dad" and make fathers the butt of every joke, I am driven to say, "Fathers, don't you believe it! You are important, you make a difference and your love and your presence and your ability to be there is basic to raising a child." Father's are NOT disposable, they are NOT unimportant. Their blessing and their love and their care makes all the difference in the world.

On Father's Day, I take time to remember those men who stepped up in the absence of my father. My grandfather, my stepfather "Pep", ministers, teachers, professors who fathered and mentored me. The older I get, the more I believe we need a variety of people surrounding us and helping us become all that we were created to be. When fathers or mothers are unavailable then it is up to others to step in and help create a sacred and safe place for children to grow, to learn and become. I will forever be grateful to the community of faith, the men and the women who encouraged me and helped me along the way.

Because of them and their love and care I am

Graced to Serve,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Final Thoughts on Caravan 2009

I had every good intention of blogging once we were back to Wichita. Somehow fatigue and the to do lists took priority. Five days after we returned, I am finally getting around to blog about the experience of caravan.

West Heights United Methodist Church has been "doing" caravan for twenty four years. It started with Rev. Sam Muyskens and have continued with various senior and associate pastors and youth directors making sure the tradition continued. The youth plan, write, and implement a worship service they have created and they "take it on the road."

Forty youth and twelve adults traveled for ten days sleeping on church floors, eating WAY too much fast food, visiting a few sites and figuring out how we will share the worship in very different spaces and very different congregations.

Our congregations varied from a Retirement Center with very active seniors, to a Rehab Center where many slept through the service to a on site living facility for displaced teenagers, to an urban core church, suburban church and a rural church. Each facility had it's own challenges as to how we would set up, sound issues and if we could maneuver all the instruments and have no one fall over cords.

We learned to live together. In one church, where we stayed for two nights there was only one shower......for ALL of us. Another church had no showers, but we were ferried by congregants to their homes. The floor space was often cramped and there were limited electrical outlets and mirrors. However, the hospitality we received was gracious and wonderful.

The theme "Back to Basics" was well received wherever we went. What is basic for us? In this day and age, finding out what is important and good and just and right offers a balance to much of the craziness that is offered. I believe in the words to the song, Back to Basics, "We need to get back to the basics of life. A heart that is pure and a love that is blind. A hope that endures for all times. These are the basics of life."

Learning to love without judgment, having hope that lifts me up when all else is lost, having faith in the God who calls and claims us, that is basic as it gets. I am grateful to have spent the time with these fabulous youth and incredible adults. My hat is off to Kris Meckenstock, our youth director for his incredible organization and leadership.

Graced to Serve,

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Caravan day 3 and 4

I have always questioned the need for “Twitter” when it first came out. I avoided jumping on the bandwagon. A few days before caravan, I signed up as an experiment. I though, well, maybe I can keep folks updated.

It’s worked! I can send short updates from my phone and parents and congregation members and friends can follow us on caravan and know what we are doing in “real” time. My phone doesn’t have enough “power” to do facebook, or at least to do it well. Many of the links on twitter, I can’t open. I can, however, send out messages and have people think about us and pray for us. Since internet access has been sketchy....Twitter has been great to keep track of what is happening each day.

Saturday was a “no service” day. We played in Memphis and had a wonderful time. We went to Beale Street and ate at the Hard Rock CafĂ©. A big hit with the kids, it meant however, no Memphis BBQ. How can I ever do an accurate critique with Kansas City BBQ if I don’t eat BBQ in Memphis? Alas, it must wait for another trip.

We took a tour, with a young man named Jake who is a university student here in Memphis. He sang and talked us around Memphis. We went to Sun Records,and drove by Stax Records, by the WC Handy’s house, Elvis’s apartment and Johnny Cash’s apartment. We learned about BB King and many of the music greats of Memphis. We drove past and stopped outside the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. It was a sobering end to an entertaining tour. It reminded me of what often lies in the heart of any city….true greatness and and deep despair.

We then went to Mud Island Park and walked and played and finished the afternoon with a River Boat Tour on the “Old Man River.” Then to the church to unload and prepare for Sunday.
We set up all the equipment we need in order to share in worship.

After the work is done, each evening we gather as a large group and run down the the bed times and the morning times. There are several wake up calls and a time for breakfast to begin and end. Since the service was not until 11:00 we actually got to "sleep in". Following announcements, Kris Meckenstock leads the evening devotions. Then, everyone breaks up into family groups. There are two adult sponsors (usually a mom and dad, but not always) and ten kids. They gather to work through some questions about the devotions and "rags and brags".

Then it is time to settle down, get quiet and lights out. And it works! We have fallen asleep in good time...but we never have enough time to sleep. I guess that is what early morning bus rides are catch up on sleep.

The Sunday morning service went well. The Arlington Advent Presbyterian church is awesome! Their hospitality is a gift to us.

The day ended with a trip to Graceland and some laser tag. Now to settle down and for another night. Tomorrow we are off to Jacksonville.

As I look around and see these amazing kids, I am grateful to be

Graced to Serve.

Day 2 of Caravan

Today began bright and early. In fact, we were on the bus on time without a hitch. Seven a.m. in the morning and we were “all together” in one place. We headed to Arkansas.

One of the caravan traditions is quiet time first thing in the morning. For the first hour or so, all is quiet, no noise, and no pranks to allow for some extra sleep. Then we watched a movie until it was time for lunch.

While on the bus, we had what is called “story time”. Everyone has an opportunity to share a story from the day before or something we might have done that day. We heard all about the “hammerhead sharks, the rip tides, the killer turtles” that were encountered on Thursday at Turner Falls State Park in Oklahoma. Who knew such ferocious creatures lurked there. Our caravaners, of course, carried on bravely and were able to exit the Falls victoriously.

Today we went diamond hunting at…. Youth Dude, Kris, found seven diamonds that they registered at the crater. The rest of us didn’t find anything. Then it was on to Hot Springs for our second service at the Oak Lawn United Methodist Church. We did a full service and it went well. It was wonderful for people to come out on a Friday evening to worship.

Then it was off to fast food, where I had a lovely char broiled Whopper Jr. We landed at the First United Methodist Church, which is a beautiful facility. The gymnasium has a walking track above. It is set up for a contemporary worship service. Their traditional services are in the sanctuary.

This building we are staying in has the gym, a kitchen, a Children’s learning center, youth workout room, hangout room and classrooms for children and youth. It is a welcoming and delightful place.

Tomorrow, I will post about the evening rituals as we settle down for the night.

Graced to Serve.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

First Day of Caravan

This morning we began the first day of worship caravan. At West Heights, this is a MAJOR tradition for our youth. Since January, they have been retreating, working together to come up with a theme, with biblical texts, music and prayers and dramas to portray the biblical stories.

This year's theme: Back to the Basics. They are using words like Rejoice, Reveal, Renew, Rethink, Remind, Recreate and others to focus on what is important. The dramas are based on Daniel in the Lion's Den, David and Goliath and Moses and the burning bush. The focus is on God providing and being there in all adversity.

Our first service this morning was at 8:15 a.m. at the Georgetown Center. It was a great experience for the kids and the folks that lived there. It was a beautiful day to play and swim and hang out at Turner Falls State Park. We are spending the night at First United Methodist Church, Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Tonight we had a rehearsal to work out some rough spots in the music. Nothing major, just some polish here and there. The kids have had a ball! Those who have been on caravan before say, "this is the best day one ever!" Perhaps because we were not so rushed to get some where...or spend too many hours on the bus at one time. There has been some sleeping, some movie watching, some swimming, some reading, some "tweeting" and some great bonding.

The underlying theme of trust and faith is a wonderful one to take on the road. The world is changing, bad things happen, but God has been there throughout the ages to support and lift our the people of God.

Some of us are "tweeting" or "twittering" throughout the day. If you want to know some of what is happening in real time....go to You do not need to be a member. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and type #whcaravan in the search box. It will bring up Chris Brown, myself, Deb Wiens and some responses from West Heights folks. It's a new way to stay in touch and know what is happening on the road.

I will continue to blog as I have Internet access and "tweet" when I can. Continue to lift us in your prayers.

Honored to be with these awesome youth and
Graced to Serve.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Some thoughts before Caravan

For twenty four years, West Heights United Methodist church youth have gone on caravan. The youth prepare the worship service, write the scripts, learn the music and have a one hour worship service that can be adapted to a thirty minute or forty-five minute service depending on their opportunity to share it.

Tonight was "dress rehearsal" before we leave tomorrow morning bright and early and return on Saturday, June 13. This is my third caravan and I am privileged to be asked to go along. The trip is long, exhausting, exhilarating and exciting.

It is always difficult to leave, to put things in order, to pack and to try and get my head around the trip. I love going and it is fun to have this time with our youth. This year it may be a bit more difficult.

Wichita is still reeling and in turmoil over the murder of Dr. George Tiller in his church. The community has rallied together. I did not know Dr. Tiller, so I had no intention of going to his service. Attendance at his memorial service is for his family and friend and co-workers and neighbors and church community.

However, because of what occurred there is an Interfaith Service on Friday. My colleagues are setting it up. It is being c0-sponsored by Interfaith Ministries and my good friend, Rabbi Moti Rieber and the Mid Kansas Jewish Federation, among others.

It has come to the attention of many that the church and pastor, whose names I will not post, from Topeka will be protesting on Saturday at College Hill United Methodist Church, Reformation Lutheran Church, Hebrew Congregation and Congregation Emanu-El. This nameless group of hate-mongers will bring their vile signs to my brothers and sisters at their house of worship. This group of persons will attempt to disrupt Shabbat services, and a memorial service. While I would not attend the memorial service, I would attend Shabbat services at Congregation Emanu-El to show my love, my support and my care for that faith community.

Since I can not be there, I will be lifting these persons on the wings prayer. That the God of Grace and Love and Peace might surround these faith communities with comfort and strength. I will continue to lift up Dr. Tiller's family and friends as they walk this "valley of the shadow of death."

This disturbing event will not be forgotten. There will be much healing and much work for people to do. We must not let hatred and violence rule. We are called to be a people working toward reconciliation and safe haven for those who need it.

As I leave, I know that there are many already doing this work. Certainly there will be much to do on my return. I go, knowing my place is with our forty youth and ten adults. I am grateful to be part of West Heights, but also to be part of greater community of faith, of Christian and Jews and Muslims and other spiritual traditions who are working toward what is good and true.

I continue to be,
Graced to Serve.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Power of Words

When I was a child we used to chant, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." I most often chanted that when someone was calling me a name. Somehow in some way, if I used those "magic words" whatever hurtful, insulting or hateful things people were saying wouldn't matter.

Truth be told, it never worked. The names hurt, the words were painful for all that I attempted to be strong. Those persons who called me names or laughed at me or mocked me, knew the power they held.

As a preacher for 27 years, I know the power of the word. Words can comfort a grieving soul, words can inspire people to do great things. Words have the power to give voice to deep held emotions and beliefs. Words can share the depth of love and of faith.

Words also have the capacity to wound, to destroy and to incite persons to acts of hatred and violence. In that way, words are not neutral. What we say as human beings matter and matters deeply.

Not all persons are Christians, but followers of Christ have an interesting understanding of the power of words and the Word. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took the commandments from the Hebrew Scriptures and said paraphrased, "You shall not kill, but any one angry with their brother or sister or insults them or calls them 'fool' is liable." Jesus goes on to say in the fifth chapter of Matthew that what we do in our hearts and minds is just the same as if we physically acted out those thoughts.

When we say hateful, violent words, when we wish ill or death or violence on another human being it is the same as if we actually lived out the action. I believe in a very real way, those who have posted on web sites, opinion lines, those who have passed out flyer's and leaflets, and gone on radio and television spewing hatred, spewing prejudice and encouraging violence have a responsibility when their words are taken seriously and acted upon.

For years, certain groups have said horrible things about Dr. George Tiller. They have stalked clinic workers, Dr. Tiller and his family, they have passed out leaflets in neighborhoods where workers lived. Those leaflets have been filled with ugly language, hateful language and included pictures and names and addresses. Web sites have called Dr. Tiller horrible names and spewed vitriol that I would not begin to repeat.

The past two days comments on cnn, msnbc, fox, Wichita Eagle and Kansas television stations have been filled with a vileness that stunned and sickened me. In the online world where anonymity rules, some people really believe they can say anything they want and it does not matter. The more shocking, the more hateful, the more likely a reaction will occur. After a few glances, I have made a conscious choice not to read any more.

For people who claim the name Christian, words matter. We are held responsible for the actions that occur because of what we say and do. We are called to a higher way of being, one of love, one of peace and one of grace We can deeply disagree about our faith and how we live that out, but that does not leave any room for name calling, the hurling of insults or anonymous posts.

As a preacher, because I know the power of words, I find myself "filtering" rather than saying things that will had fuel to the fire, and promote more hatred and violence in the world. Words are somtimes "too easy" and I must be careful. A turn of phrase, a cutting edge to my voice, a slightly veiled insult does not promote what I believe is good and true. So, I continue to attempt to use my words to bring peace, love, justice and grace into the world. I know that words will break hearts and spirits. I will not use my words to incite anger and violence. I will lift up Dr. Tiller's family, his co-workers, his church family in my prayers as they walk through this difficult time of grief.
Publish Post

Graced to serve.