Last Night … June 7, 2013

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Arriving back at my motel room after an exciting evening with the dear souls of Primrose United Methodist Church, along with the visitors who gathered for the occasion, I received a phone call from a friend. She asked me what I had done that evening, and I told her I was finishing up a two-night revival at a church.

She giggled a bit and said, “Boy, that sounds old-fashioned

It got me thinking. For after all, to produce the pucker of the kiss of death on ANY idea, all you have to proclaim is that it’s “old-fashioned.”

So it made me wonder if the two nights I spent in Little Rock, Arkansas, really WERE old fashioned.

  • Is it old-fashioned to gather with people you don’t know, with the aspiration of coming out of the experience a little better?
  • Is it old-fashioned to tap your foot to music and release a tear when a lyric to a song lands with truth on your heart?
  • Is it old-fashioned to share a piece of pizza with a new-found friend, content with the simplicity and never wishing it was lobster in drawn butter?
  • Is it old-fashioned to laugh out loud, without fear of being considered boisterous?
  • Is it old-fashioned to clap your hands in appreciation, and also in praise to a God who has decided to be your Father?
  • Is it old-fashioned to contend and come to agreement that “NoOne is better than anyone else?”
  •  Is it old-fashioned to listen to music you’ve never heard before, and instead of rejecting it because it isn’t in the normal rotation of your tunes, you listen and receive a blessing?
  • Is it old-fashioned to welcome strangers in and work real hard to make sure that when they depart they know how much they are loved and welcomed back?
  • Is it old-fashioned to offer a tank of gas to a traveling group of troubadours so they can make their way up to Illinois?
  • Is it old-fashioned that even though you are the pastor of a church, to get out of your car to wash the windshield of their van, as a symbol of your appreciation?
  • Is it old-fashioned to come to the front of a church and sit in a chair to receive prayer because you’re not quite sure that there ISN’T room for improvement?
  • Is it old-fashioned to believe–and experience–more people coming out the second night of a meeting than were there the first?

You see? You can feel free to call me weird, and you can try to keep up with each trend that comes and goes in our society, but whenever I run across anything that claims to be “new and improved” I ask myself two important questions:

  1. Does it help people?
  2. Does it make us better?

I don’t believe there ARE things that are old-fashioned and others that are up to date. I just believe there are things that bless–and the more you pursue them, the fresher they become … every day.

P.S.: Thank you, Primrose United Methodist Church.

P.S.S. Happy thirty-seventh birthday to my son, Jerrod.

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Lawless… November 4, 2012

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I love this country.

And it’s not because I was born here or I think we’re superior or we are the unique bastion of freedom or we have a divine right to lead the world. I love this country because it is the perfect blending of silly and important.

After all, anything that’s too silly ends up in folly. How do I know that? Because I, myself, have followed that path from time to time and have also seen the United States go through seasons of dumbness. Likewise, if one believes one is very important (by, say, repeatedly using “one” in a sentence instead of “you”) then one (or you) becomes self-righteous, officious and annoying. I am aware of this because I have been guilty of a bit of piety, and my country certainly has been adorned in the robes of ritual.

But what is perfect is when silly and important decide to get together and balance one another, so that nothing is taken too seriously and truly valuable things are given some air to breathe and a chance to succeed. It may be what’s missing during this particular juncture of the nation’s evolution. We’re frightened of being considered silly, so we are taking ourselves way too seriously.

But this condition was temporarily relieved from my mind last night when I was driving home from my set-up near Ashville, Ohio, and saw some campaign signs in a yard advertising: Lawless for Sheriff.

Come on. You’ve got to laugh out loud.

Only in America would such a silly name be associated with something so important as “sheriffing” without the constituency laughing out loud every time they read it or heard it. Only in USA would a man named Lawless feel free to run for sheriff–using his own name–without fear that he would be judged and guffawed right out of the office.

It made me think of other possibilities.

  • How about this one? Frank Critical for Supreme Court Judge.
  • I like this one: Karen Wolf for Dog Catcher.
  • Here’s a frightening one: Bill Terrorist for Director of Homeland Security.
  • Susan Graft for State Treasurer.
  • And of course, my favorite: John Mayor for Mayor.

I think it’s so positive. It gives me such hope that we have achieved the first step in a four-step process, to cease being a nation of prejudice, that we can just relax and enjoy the mixture of silly and important.

The first step is: No difference in a name.

Polish, Italian, German … or even Lawless for Sheriff. It doesn’t seem to bother us that much anymore. There’s even one guy running for office in this state whose last name is Gentile. No one is accusing him of being anti-Semitic. No one is asking if he’s circum … spective. We have made a step.

Look at those running for President. Mitt and Barack. Are you kidding me? This used to be a country with Presidents named Richard, Jimmy, George, Bill and Franklin. Mitt and Barack? Don’t tell me we haven’t made progress.

We have achieved step one, so take heart We might just be ready to go to step two, which is: No difference in color.

We are discussing it–nervously. I think we can do it. We may have to totally ridicule those who still go into the human home improvement store with a color chart, but I think it’s not only possible, it’s a necessity.

And when we get done with Number Two–no difference in color–we might be ready for Number Three: No difference in liberty.

People don’t have to follow my book. They don’t have to line up with my lifestyle. If what they choose to do is not detrimental to other human beings, they deserve the right to pursue it. I know–it seems we are light-years away from that one. But don’t give up. And please, don’t insist that we would be better off by having a Republican or a Democrat in the driver’s seat heading towards this destination. People are people and their prejudices don’t change that much simply because they are trailing behind a donkey versus an elephant.

Once we decide there is no difference in liberty–that our founding fathers truly did envision a land where all citizens would be granted equal justice, then we will culminate in the fourth step: Just no difference.

In other words, all of you are my brothers and sisters. This is how Jesus said his followers would be recognized–that they have love one for another. You can’t have love one for another and believe there’s a difference because of a name. Love is impossible if you’re differentiating by the pigment of someone’s skin. How can you give love to someone if you refuse them the liberty to pursue his or her own happiness? No, love is when we admit that even though we may have many contrary opinions, we are nevertheless all brothers and sisters.

So I drove back to my motel last night with a giggle in my spirit, thinking about Lawless for Sheriff–proud of my country because we are no longer name impaired.

You may think that’s silly. I would agree. And as I told you, silly is halfway to linking up with important …and making this whole dream called America a reality.

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Which came first–the joke or the laugh? … September 14, 2012

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I need a God who laughs.

I’m afraid it’s kind of a deal breaker. If somebody came back from the dead, it’s probably the first thing I would ask. “Did you find the Almighty to be festive?”

I don’t know what I would do if He was serious. For truthfully, prayer makes me sleepy, singing hymns makes me hoarse, and fasting? Well, it makes me hungry. I certainly hope that’s not the best He has to offer.

I think there is good evidence for the contention that God is a rejoicer. Whether it’s a He or a She, you can certainly tell by many of the processes taken by the Heavenly Being–there is a giggle in there somewhere.

That is why I think that the laugh came before the joke.

I think God was laughing when He came up with the joke of humanity. I think it tickled His fancy to create a creature who was endowed with such tremendous potential and spirituality, but also flawed with a predilection towards mediocrity and infested with foibles.

You might ask where I get the idea that God came into this thing laughing. Let me start by asking you, “What was the purpose for creating the heavens and the earth?”  You might make the case that He was bored, but boredom is so boring. I think He was playful. I think He wanted to expand His own horizons by opening the door to new possibilities. I also feel He had a youthful spirit, because after creating the heavens and the earth, He got distracted and didn’t come back again for quite some time.

When He did make His way back to the earth, He found it pretty dormant–and pretty ugly. So He started to work, and after a full season of pouring His energy into the project, He closed out the endeavor with, “It is good.”

Honestly, can you say it is good with a frown on your face? Can you proclaim it is good with a nod and a yawn? How pleased He must have been the first time He saw mitosis, and one cell divided into two. It would make me laugh–watching that little blob of nothing wiggle and squirm until the one became twain. Great fun.

There are so many strange things He made that you have to believe there was an element of tongue-in-cheek involved in the decision. Please, someone explain a platypus to me. And how much knee slapping did He do over including a pouch on the kangaroo?

Yes, I believe laughter came before the joke–and candidly, I am much more comfortable with the notion that God finds us funny than I am with thinking that He is some sort of schoolmaster, looking for opportunities to flunk us out. For I have no problem with the Book of Proverbs citing that God laughs at our calamities. I would be frightened to death if every time we did something stupid God rolled His eyes or marked something down on a chart, or removed some of the furniture from my heavenly mansion. He can feel free to laugh at what I do–and hopefully, by and large, I can follow His example and laugh at myself.

I think we live in a generation when we want people to tell jokes because we know we need to laugh, but because we have forgotten how to laugh at ourselves, we need professionals to bring us comedy, relieving our tension through the experience. I like jokes, but I have much more fun laughing at life.

There’s so much that makes me laugh:

  • Politicians arguing with each other? I’m sorry, it sends me into a giggle fest.
  • Watching religious people do very religious things, hoping to achieve an immense religious result will just take me to a world of hilarity.
  • And how the arts and entertainment community insists on finding the most obtuse story lines and pushing them to the forefront as examples of normal life is enough to make me fall off my chair in uncontrollable good cheer.

I need to know that God laughs. I certainly see plenty of proof that He has manufactured many practical jokes. Take romance, for instance. Was this ever supposed to actually have a flow, or even a rhyme and reason? The humor of our body parts, our interactions, our attempts to be sexy and just the general forced warfare between the sexes–it’s enough to make me (and I think maybe even God) sit back and smile away.

Which came first, the joke or the laugh?

I like to believe that the first time God said, “Let there be … ” it was preceded by a bit of a chortle. After all, if He wasn’t thrilled about what He made, how can he expect me to appreciate it? Yes, I believe the laugh came first, and then God, on the sixth day, created the joke.

And ever since, we human beings have gladly been providing the punch line.

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Peeking at the Moon … June 9, 2012

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A small motel room–so tiny that the bed is jammed up against the outer wall.

Saturday night … I always find it difficult to sleep on Saturday night. After all these years, I believe I am still the little boy who dreamed of traveling and sharing his message, and I still become giddy in my spirit over the notion that I actually get to do it. I never get tired of it. Sometimes, though, it causes my internal childhood giggle to wake me up from sleep, to play. I don’t want to play. It’s time to slumber and get my much-needed rest.

But the little fellow won’t leave me alone. So after a few minutes, I stop resisting the inevitable and allow my mind to wander. At first the room is dark around me, and gradually lightens as my eyes adjust to the surroundings.

Memories of other sleepless nights … I recall writing a novel and for four straight evenings I woke up at exactly 3:33 A.M. It was cool and spooky, all at the same time. Am I crazy? I think we need cool and spooky. Otherwise, we start believing our lives are the sub-total of our debt and intake.

All at once I noticed the curtain dangling down the window, right at my fingertips. It was one of those thick motel types, made of some polyester and plastic blend–the fumes would certainly kill you if it ever caught on fire. Absent-mindedly, I reached over to pull back the curtain and looked out.

Full Moon view from earth In Belgium (Hamois)....

Full Moon view from earth In Belgium (Hamois). Français : Pleine Lune vue de la Terre en Belgique à Hamois. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And there it was. The moon–surrounded by a great corona of haze–not high in the sky, but directly at my eye level. It surprised me so much that I chuckled. What was the moon doing so low? It looked like it was about fourteen inches from my nose. For some reason it had a Christmas appearance to it–like viewing a Christmas tree and its lights through a frosty window pane. It gave me a chill down to my soul. It was so special.

I don’t know why it struck me with such an intense emotion–but it was so close, so low in the sky–as if it were perched there waiting for me to pull back the veil and gaze. Yes, I am one of those odd birds who believes there are natural phenomenon that happen just for my pleasure. I guess it’s a strange mingling of vanity, faith, hope and childishness. But whatever it is, it’s magnificent.

If you will allow me, it’s like a great game of pretend. When we become grown-ups, we think that the word “pretend” is an immature or even nasty concept. But not so when we’re young.

My Aunt Mary used to come over every Sunday afternoon to visit, and we’d have some sort of meal spread out and she continually brought Brussel sprouts. I was told that I must try Aunt Mary’s Brussel sprouts, so I did. It crossed my mind to tuck them in my pocket or dump them in a nearby waste basket, but I was twelve years old, and by that age you pretty well know when you can get by with things and when you are destined to get caught. So I sampled her Brussel sprouts. I pretended to eat them, though what I actually did was chew a couple of times and then swallow them whole with a big gulp of cold water.

Aunt Mary asked me if I liked her Brussel sprouts, and then she smirked at me and said, “You didn’t try them, did you?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied. “But they were kind of hard … and bitter.”

My mother looked at me, angry. But Aunt Mary just nodded her head and walked away. The next Sunday she showed up with Brussel sprouts again, so I grabbed my cup of ice water and headed off to the table to get my portion of nastiness. But they looked different — the Brussel sprouts, that is. They weren’t as green and they had some sort of sauce on them. It was butter. They were softer, and with the butter, they tasted sweet. I actually liked them. I didn’t need my ice-cold water to swallow them whole–I was able to chew them up.

I glanced over at my Aunt Mary and she gave me a sheepish grin. I smiled back. That day I learned to kind of like Aunt Mary AND Brussel sprouts, and I also learned the power of honestly pretending.

Without pretending, we begin to believe that we can decipher this whole puzzle of life just with the pieces provided. And without honesty, we quickly become deceivers and liars, trying to escape the anger and nastiness of the scrutiny around us. It’s when you blend them.

Because when I was peeking at the moon, enjoying my own personal lunar expedition, I realized that the moon was probably there for everybody, but there was no power in my believing that. There was no exhilaration in my soul if some scientist walked into the room and explained the reason for my close encounter with that face in the sky.

Intelligence is a wonderful thing–until it stands in the way of joy. Then it becomes like your grandma at Chuck E. Cheese, who constantly complains about how loud it is, while noting that the salad bar is only “passable.”

I eventually did go back to sleep — I think. But I always enjoy those moments when I am awakened from the world of sleep to spend a few moments with myself and my desires. What is the greatest atrocity in life? To be absent of any evidence to confirm your dreams.

The moon was waiting for me that night. I believe that. Why? Because it doesn’t do me any good in my life to explain away all the blessings as coincidence.

Maybe we’ve found the definition for faith–to honestly pretend–to dare to continue to pursue a child’s dreams while offering a man’s feelings. I can do that; I can really do that.

I’m looking forward to the next time I’m awakened. Maybe it will be a clock with excellent timing–or a curtain that unveils the moon. I don’t know. But it will give me a chance to honestly pretend, which is the only true reason to continue on.

   

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