Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Halloween

I have always had a strange relationship with Halloween. When I was around 18 months old my mother dressed me up as a clown. I saw myself in the mirror and scared myself. That's probably where it started. Never liked clowns. Never liked Halloween.

Then Stephen King's "It" came out as a movie when I was 11 or 12 and that pretty much sealed the deal. Scary clown, which I already equated to Halloween, and my fate as a Halloween-hater was set in stone. While other kids would go out trick or treating, I was at home giving out candy, and even then I still wasn't a huge fan.

I've just never been one who likes to be scared. There is enough in the real world to be scared about, I've never found the need for it as entertainment. So I've always looked at this time of the year as a 'necessary evil' to get to Thanksgiving and Christmas. All of this change four years ago.

On October 30, 2010, a dear church member and friend named Linda was on her death bed. She had been battling ovarian cancer for about three years. Living a very private life, she had been single all her life. With only a single sister who lived up north, Linda had a few people in her life that she had 'adopted' as her family, but even then only on her terms. It was just her way.   Quiet, strong, proud, and private. 

Thankfully, she had agreed to spend the previous Christmas day with us, the first she hadn't spent by herself in many years. At the time, we couldn't have known it would be her last. She had only chosen to tell a handful of people about her cancer. It was how she wanted it. So I was called to her death bed mid-afternoon, the day before Halloween, a day she knew that I hated. 

I came in, she smiled, shifted in the hospital bed to get comfortable, asked one question of me. 
"What will it be like?" There didn't need to be an explanation or a greeting. We both knew what she was talking about. I'm not even sure what I said, something about it being better than we could ever hope for. And with that she closed her eyes, never to open them again. I would spend the night in her room with her sister, not as her pastor, but as her friend. She held on for a few hours more, moving on to the Kingdom Eternal around 2am on Halloween 2010. I've joked before about it being her parting shot at me, giving me something to think about on Halloween that is different than the rest of the world.

Fast forward to the next year, October 30, 2011, and yet again, I found myself spending the night in the hospital. Only this time, we were welcoming new life into the world as we celebrated the birth of our daughter Gloria Blaine. As Megan went into labor earlier in the day, I remember thinking, "God, I don't want a Halloween baby." Maybe it was more of a prayer than just a thought.

So over the course of two years, a time of the year that I had hated for the better part of 30 years was changed forever. It no longer is a time of dread or something to endure, but instead for me it is now a time to remember a life lived well and to celebrate the blessing that our daughter has brought and continues to bring into our lives.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On Acceptance

One of our junior high Sunday school teachers came up today to prepare for the lesson they will be doing this weekend. (Side note, I am so thankful for faithful servants to serve alongside.) He wrote this on the board.

The idea conveyed in the Acts passage about 'acceptance' has been slamming me in the face recently. 

I listened to a podcast called The Liturgists that was about church unity. The panel spoke about what unites us and how compelled we are to be united, to belong, to be accepted. Please check it out here if you have an hour to spare. It is well worth your time.

Then yesterday I took our eldest to see Dolphin Tale 2 because he had seen a commercial on television. The movie starts and finishes discussing how elaborate the brain of a dolphin is, much like ours as humans. The plot line is all about the attempt to bring two dolphins into acceptance of one another. No spoilers here, you will have to watch it yourself to see if it works out in the end.

We, as human beings, long to be accepted, to find our place and our tribe. This plays out in a lot of ways. Race, gender, culture, economic status, sports teams, religion, and nearly any other way can think of to describe ourselves. We simply want to belong.

When we do not believe that we 'fit in', the consequences can be severe. We react poorly and make bad decisions based upon the perceived 'other' and the threat they possess. In our weak moments, we rally ourselves around a common enemy which I believe to be a negative alternative and one most often driven by fear. We have to resist the temptation to demonize the 'other' simply because they do not fit into our tribe or group.

Instead, I believe when we are at our best, we understand that, like God, we are not suppose to show partiality because someone is different from us, that we are in this thing called life together. And listen, I understand the hesitation. I understand the pushback. "But preacher, what if that person doesn't believe in God like I do or lives their faith like I do or lives a life in sin or doesn't even acknowledge God? What then?" Well, I'm not completely sure.

But here is what I know. I am not to harm them. I am to do good to them. I am to attempt to understand them. I am ultimately to allow God to do God's thing in their life. The clearest revelation of God that I am aware of is love. So yes, I am to love them too. And I think that would go a long way to bringing about acceptance just as we experience acceptance by God.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Part of the Solution

We sing a couple of different songs in our early service at St. Andrews Parish UMC that contain the line, "Break my heart for what breaks yours", referring to what breaks God's heart. I was up late in bed last night thinking about those words because of all the pain and suffering. Earlier I had watched the limited news coverage, but more the online coverage of my Twitter feed of what was going on in Ferguson, Missouri. I thought about the rest of the world that is in pain and hurting because of violence and persecution. I thought about more than a few in our congregation here at St. Andrews that are hurting for a variety of reasons. I thought about the family over at Cokesbury who will celebrate the life of member tomorrow. So yeah, if the prayer is "break my heart for what breaks yours", I'm pretty brokenhearted because I think God is pretty brokenhearted. 

So my natural tendency is to ask the question, "What am I going to do about it?" I preach about the fact that we cannot choose our situations and circumstance in life at times because of the decisions and choices of others, but we can choose how we will respond. So I challenge myself in my mind about how I am going to respond to this. It is not easy. It kept me up last night. There is a lot of pain. There is a lot of hurt.

So here's what I have come up with. First and foremost, I am no longer going to sit passively by and let someone spew hatred. If you put that junk out there in conversation or on your feed on Facebook or out there on Twitter, I will respond appropriately and take actions to where I no longer have to see or hear it. And I'm not giving free passes out anymore because 'that's the way it has always been'. You demean another human being because of race, gender, sexual orientation, political belief, culture, where they are from, or whatever it may be, consider yourself warned. That junk don't fly anymore. I'll call you on it. I promise.

The next thing I am going to do is pick up the phone and I'm going to call a local school in the area that I know needs mentors and I'm going to volunteer. Somewhere there is another little guy or gal who needs another positive influence on his or her life. I've got a little time and sometimes that's all I've got. I'm going to challenge my congregation to do the same. Here's the deal, if it can happen in Ferguson, it can happen in West Ashley. And I am not here to say who is right and who is wrong in that situation. Crimes against humanity have been committed. And I am not going to be a part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution.

I'm going to send my kid to school for the first time, a public school, a big school. And I'm going to be fearful that an armed guard has to be at the school at all times. So I'm going to pray for that school. I'm going to pray for our community. I'm going to pray for Charleston and the surrounding areas. I'm going to pray to God that the stuff that is happening in other parts of the world doesn't happen here. But if it should, and it will, because evil is all around us, I'm going to call it out. No longer am I going to hide in the shadows because of the darkness that is around. I'm going to speak light into that darkness. I'm going to teach my children that they matter and they are of sacred worth no matter what the world would tell them. And that they are to treat other human beings as such, that they too are of value and of worth. And that they are no better or no worse than anyone else. And I'm going to ensure that every chance I get to tell them how much I love them, to affirm them, to build them up, I will because, as of right now, the world will beat them down. And so when I coach the soccer team next Tuesday for the first time ever coaching my own child's team, I am going to make sure those 6 little boys feel that same encouragement. That they begin to work as a team even though they don't know each other. That they are bound by the blood that runs in their veins. We are going to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Lastly, when we get the chance, we are going to have dance parties at my house. Like the Delta Rae song says, "I want to dance in the graveyards." It feels like there is a lot of dead-ness around us. We are called to be people of hope, joy, love, peace, and light. Below is a link to the spontaneous dance party that broke out last night in my kitchen. Make sure you turn the volume up to hear the song. Hopefully it'll bring a little light and a little smile to you. I've only watched it about 100 times because I need a little light and I need to smile.

Kitchen Dance Party 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Robin Williams

A few years ago a mentor of mine was asked how he perfected his art as a preacher. He surprised us with his answer that he watched and listened to comedians. Ever since then I have tried to watch and listen to different comedians, still a novice in good comedy for sure, but a follower nonetheless. I love the way they set up jokes or points, follow through with it, and then drop the hook. I also love the art of the callback, referring to an earlier point or joke that was made. Nearly all the ones I listen to, when talking about their trade, allude to the greats, Carlin, Cosby, and Robin Williams.

I didn't know Robin Williams, but I watched enough of his movies and paid attention to his standup to get a feel for him as a comedian. Sheer brilliance. And so there was shock to learn of his passing, especially the way it went down. You just never really know what someone is going through. That fact was reinforced this morning as I drove my kids to school. As chaos ensued because of toys and blankets and music, none of the drivers around me were aware of what was going on in our van. You just never really know. It probably does us well to think about that and to treat others with a certain amount of grace and compassion when it comes to this life we are living together.

Robin Williams' movies were amazing in a lot of ways, but there seemed to be a common theme, especially in his comedic roles. His character always attempted to bring levity, humility, humor, and some would say grace in difficult situations. In Patch Adams, he played a medical professional dealing with the loss of life, staring that reality in the face day in and day out, he attempted to bring humor and humanity where there was none. In The Bird Cage, a family dealing with another family whose lifestyle is different from there own, he protrayed the father character with love and compassion for those who did not see life like he did. In Dead Poet's Society, he played a teacher facing persecution from an administration, trying to challenge young men to open up their minds and their hearts to the world around them, combatting the stiff rigidity of institutional academia. As the genie in Alladinn his humorous character helped a young man attempt to improve his lot in life. In Good Morning Vietnam, his radio disc jockey character brought humor in a time of violence and war, a dark day in our nation's history. And who could ever forget Mrs. Doubtfire, playing a the title character brilliantly in a story about a family breaking apart because of decisions and circumstances. These are the ones he is most known for to my generation. For me, his most endearing role was not found in a comedy, but rather in Good Will Hunting, playing a counselor, who though broken himself, attempts to walk with a young man battling his own demons. Still a bit of humor and grace came from this role as well. And in all these stories, these movies, though times were dark and bleak, his role was always one to bring light into those places through laughter and smiles.

And so there is a certain irony that exists. As we look upon our loss of such a bright and beautiful man who filled our homes and theaters with much laughter and joy, but was also a man who battled his own darkness. Many know of these things, depression and mental illness, and a variety of other things that ail us as humanity, others simply feel the effects as such. And so a man who spent his whole life making us smile and laugh in the end leaves us sad because he felt too alone to reach out for help from someone else. 

So here's the thing. Somehow, someway, we must never forget that we are never, ever, ever alone. No matter what. We might not always be able to laugh, hell, we may not even be able to smile. But we must know that we are in this thing called life together, and all of us hurt. All of us. We are not alone. 

May God rest Robin Williams' soul, and the soul of everyone who finds too much darkness in life to carry on, and may we, all of us, begin to be the people who offer hope, peace, love, and laughter to a hurting world.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Epic Family Roadtrip

So here's a little recap from the Epic Family Road Trip.

Some crazy numbers from our trip.
Total miles: 4,650
States visited:13
Gas Money: $705.80
Bathroom stops: yeah right, like we could keep count
Days we saw rain: 2

We really did expereince amazing weather and very limited traffic issues.

IHG's favorite experience: The Alamo

GBG's favorite experience: Shootout at Boot Hill 
(she didn't like it, but cannot stop talking about it)

Megan's favorite experience: Bud Jones' Taxidermy (summed up the whole trip)

Brad's favorite experience: Westcliffe Rodeo

Some cool moments: seeing a lightening storm from afar in NW Texas, walking onto the field at Texas Stadium, IHG writing a report of the Alamo on his own, shaved ice in Chattanooga, talking to the sous chef at Franklin's BBQ about Charleston restaurants, campfire at the cabin, driving into Texas and seeing 75mph sign, dinner in Houston at Crawfish and Noodles, visiting Community UMC in Westcliffe, stumbling upon the Black Bison Pub in Syracuse, KS, driving up after my hike on my birthday and being greeted by my wonderful wife and children. They made me a cake:

And then, of course there was this:

What an amazing time. I am so thankful for the time away to be able to spend it with my family. I am truly blessed and loved every part of it, even the tough moments. I don't want to call it a 'once in a lifetime trip' because I hope to have many more like these, but it will be hard to top this one. It will sure be fun trying though.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Last Hurrah

I will admit, I am anxious to be home. In spite of that feeling, we spent the day as if it was our first on on the trip, meaning we did whatever we wanted to do and were not worried about time.

Leaving Nashville, we made our way to Chattanooga, TN, which was just going to be our lunch destination. We found our way to the part of the city called the North Shore and to a restaurant called the Brewhaus, a German place over looking the river. Pretty cool place.

GBG trying to figure out what to order.

Kids were ready for some food.

One of the cool things about this part of Chattanooga is that there are dance steps on the sidewalk. So we had to try it out. 

GBG doing the Mambo

Then we had to walk a little ways across the river.

And then a visit to the splash pad at the river front park.

After our visit, we made our way to Atlanta for a great dinner with Abby at Chateau Siagon, a Vietnamese place, which was amazing. (Thanks Abb!) And then it was on to Augusta for one more night away. 

Tomorrow, we pull back into our normal life in Charleston, SC (whatever that looks like), but I can promise you, this trip has provided us an opportunity to explore and be crazy and has drawn us closer together. People would roll their eyes and mumble something about us being crazy when I told them what we were doing before this trip. "18 days on the road? With two young kids? Sounds like..." Looking back, I can honestly say that our experiences have been far more amazing than I ever could have imagined and I would not want to change one part of it. Ok, so maybe I would check to see if the Big Apple Inn in Jackson, MS was open on Mondays. But other than that, I wouldn't change a thing. It has been a blast. And the bar is set incredible high. We figure four years from now we can look to do it all over again, maybe with a northern route next time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Four states in one day

Waking up in the mountains of Missouri, we were able to appreciate the beauty of where we were a little more. After breakfast, we briefly played in the Current River which ran next to the park where we stayed. 

We then loaded up and started to make our way back east. The only place we really got out today and enjoyed was our lunch stop. Our travels found us at the spot where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers come together. This has been an extremely important place throughout the history of our country, from the Native Americans, through the explorers, and into the Civil War era. Here the kids are putting their feet in the convergence point. The green on the right is Missouri, the land beyond the two boats on the left side is Kentucky, and we are standing in Illinois. Three states in one spot.

The unfortunate thing about the place is that it is not kept up at all. I suppose the state of Illinois is responsible for it, but chooses to not really do anything with it. As important as it has been throughout our nation's history, you would expect more. It honestly looks like a place you would hide a body or go to make a drug deal. And yet, we saw probably a dozen people come to visit it while we were there (and not for the reasons mentioned).

After lunch, we plowed on through Kentucky and ended our day at Megan's aunt's house in Nashville. Thanks to Auntie M and Uncle Larry for having us and for some great hot dogs and hamburgers. We are so blessed to have a great family to spend a small bit of time with throughout this whole experience.

Slowly but surely we are making our way eastward. And a few days from now home.