My wife and I capped off a whirlwind holiday season with an all-expense paid trip back to New England courtesy of Heather’s sister-in-law, Kelly. We spent two weeks around Christmas and New Year in picturesque, Loudon, NH. The photo on left was taken by our daughter, Kaitlyn. The trailhead is right across the street from my brother-in-law, Craig’s, house where we were staying. One afternoon we bundled up and took a leisurely walk. Naturally, the scenery was striking. But even amidst the beauty I was aware of the fact that not knowing what was around the next corner irked me as much as it intrigued me. Sure there was a bubbling brook to enjoy, but what if we ran into a bear that liked to drink from that brook? More than once I thought about turning back and heading for the warmth of Craig’s woodstove and the familiar confines of my temporary home. But then, the flip side of my fear – the mystery and wonder of what new beauty might lie ahead, kept wooing me on, and even more, was the knowledge that those I was walking with were pressing on. One sojourner in particular was my 6-month-old nephew, Winston-McGregor. I’m not sure what inspired me more, the confident pitter-patter of his little boot-clad feet rambling over the uncertain terrain, or the trust the child put in his father to keep him safe on the path he chose for him. I think I want to take some of that experience with me as I walk into the year ahead. Sure, I can’t see what lies ahead. And sure, there may be bears out there. But inevitably there is mystery and wonder and beauty to be had. I want to trust that beauty and believe in those I walk through life with knowing that my heavenly Father walks with me.
Wow. Just finished reading a couple of articles about a young woman, Emma Sullivan, who, though 18 according to one article, is still in high school, and who apparently made some disparaging remarks on Twitter about Governor Sam Brownback, while he addressed her and a group of fellow Kansas students during a field trip to a Youth in Government event in Topeka, Kansas. What amazes me is how deeply we as a nation have slid into being a society based merely on the rule of law, rather than rooted in the spirit of the law. Time and again in online posts people were callously insisting on the young woman’s “right” to say what she wanted, rather than caring about the “right-ness” of her saying it, the appropriateness of what she said, or the manner in which she said it.
Not to say that nobody spoke to the issues of personal responsibility and social accountability. Many did. But many were also indifferent to this young woman’s willingness to barbarize someone she disagreed with, and to top it off, they somehow viewed her attitude and actions as noble – as if the ends justify the means to such an extent that it is right and good for someone to use any means allowed by law in every situation. So, since Americans enjoy freedom of speech, words can be used in any combination so long as the goal is a desirable one (in someone’s estimation). In this case, the goal was apparently conveying her dislike of the Governor to at least the 60 or so people currently following her online via Twitter, if not whoever else may decide to check her Twitter account out.
It is not helpful, or healthy, for people to begin making it socially acceptable to verbally assault others simply because they disagree with them. And for a high school student to be told it is within her right to denigrate the office of the Governor, and indeed, the entire political process through hurtful and disrespectful words, while technically, legally permissible, is most definitely not beneficial to the fabric of society. I know, “She’s only one kid,” you say. You know, you can take a sleeve right off an expensive suit by recklessly handling one thread – ruins the whole suit. Obviously, given the numerous supportive and or dismissive comments that accompanied the online articles, there are many, many households making the same mistakes as young Emma Sullivan’s mom: “It's more attention grabbing. I raised my kids to be independent, to be strong, to be free thinkers. If she wants to tweet her opinion about Gov. Brownback, I say for her to go for it and I stand totally behind her.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/27/emma-sullivan-apology-sam-brownback-tweet_n_1115382.html).
Do we have a “right” to treat each other harshly? Hmmmm. Who gives us such a right? Are we able to treat each other harshly? Absolutely. Emma’s tweets and many of the online comments in response to them prove that. Is it right to do so? Not so sure.
You see, a society is not built on, or held together by, “independent,” “free thinkers.” It built on interdependent, good thinkers that cooperatively, constructively, and often compromisingly find a way to graciously do life together.
Too many are conveying a cultural mindset that hovers at the border of what might be considered social pathology – a pure lack of regard for social norms and mores: “So what if what I said was hurtful or disrespectful. I have a right to feel how I feel.” How long can a society honestly hold together if each individual is only concerned with addressing and expressing how they feel with no regard for how anyone else in the room feels?
Understandably, we are a young nation – merely 230 years old. Of those 230 years, the rise of the adolescent as an entertainment vampire and source of economic empire is only about 60 years in the making. In our infancy, we had the parentage of our European ancestry to hold the seat once we kicked off the training wheels. Well, somewhere along the way we decided it was time to shrug Father Western Civilization off and try to ride like a big boy or girl. Maybe it’s just time for us as a people –a nation – to grow up, just like young Emma Sullivan needs to grow up, and behave like responsible, adult members of society?
“[Thanksgiving] is my favorite holiday. It’s all about the food!” As I came across this post on a popular social networking site, it somehow took some of the relish off of our families’ afternoon dinner plans. I had been enjoying a number of other posts filled with words of thanks and flavored with a generous amount of gratitude towards a Providential God and the gifts we know as friends, family, and fellow human beings, when this particular post appeared. There were two posts, actually, with the “conversation” beginning the night before: “Can’t wait tomorrow is get fat day,” and the above response, “It’s my favorite holiday. It’s all about the food.”
Taken at face value, I was looking square in the face of two people who are at risk of being real turkeys this Turkey Day – which is actually meant to be all about giving thanks, not eating turkey. And being of a melancholy persuasion, my soul-searching gave me pause to consider just what I would be feasting on this Thanksgiving – the goodness of God and multiplied blessings available to me, or the raw materials for someone’s septic system? Can you see how this might dim one’s gastronomic goals?
Of course, feasting has historically been itself a gift from God to people. Throughout the Bible, God insists we take moments to focus on Him and feast as a form of reflection on what God has done for us and as a foreshadowing of what He will do for us in the future. So sitting down to a Thanksgiving Feast, when done from the proper perspective, can absolutely be a literal object lesson in the take-and-give of Thanksgiving.
Ultimately, what really gobbled my goat and gnawed at my gullet, was seeing what I could, if not careful, let not only my Thanksgiving Day, but every day become – “all about the food.” I have three pets: one dog and two cats, plus my son’s dog is staying with us, so I get what a life that is “all about the food” looks like, and it scares me to death to think I could abdicate what makes me human – my ability to think from which flows the responsibility to thank.
When I focus on “the food” – the “stuff” I stuff my stomach with – whether consumable via my digestive system or simply some other materialistic “appetizer” meant to satiate some hunger of my heart, I become something less than fully human. To be human is to be given the gift of reason – that ability to exercise rational thought and with it the capacity for reflection. There is no other creature on the planet vested with this attribute. The Bible describes it as being created in the image of God.
Thanksgiving, even as a human construct – perhaps especially as a human construct – must be about infinitely more than “the food.” We must come to the table with more going on in our hearts and minds than what is going on the brain of a dog on the way to the dish.
So yes, I will enjoy my Thanksgiving turkey today. I will enjoy it not only because it tastes delicious, but because unlike any other creature on this planet, I have been graced with the ability to appreciate the miracle of meat making its way to my table: a life given for my life, the means made available by way of employment opportunities and God-given abilities, the sacrifice of others to share hospitality and serve my needs, the gift of life that lets me give thanks and partake today. I will eat turkey, but I will feast on God’s abundant favor and hopefully “get fat” on faith and the unique human characteristics that make it possible; because, as they say, “You are what you eat.” I pray my time at the table reflects the image of God rather than the instincts of my dog.
I was literally hoping to run into Walmart, grab a couple of items for my daughter’s somewhat impromptu birthday party – which would start in about 45 minutes – and be on my way. I quickly located my quarry and made my way to the checkout counters. Of the roughly thirty checkouts, only about six were open. I scanned for the shortest line and then, realizing that were no short lines, settled into the “Speedy Checkout” line. Ten minutes later I was still watching a woman named, Yolanda, haggle with the cashier and the line hadn’t moved an inch!
Annyywhoo, the other ten people between me and Yolanda moved along quite nicely. While waited, I noticed a gallon of chocolate milk sitting on a closed register station apparently the victim of abandonment at the hands of would-be purchaser.
There was no way of knowing how long it had been there, but as the minutes trudged on, I began to wonder, “What would happen to the milk? How long would it be left there?” None of the staff took notice of it, and the last I recalled, milk was a perishable item. Then I started to think about how many other items – perishable items alone – might be left to waste throughout the store? And how many Walmarts across the country were rife with such waste? It reminded me of a poem:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
This stunted sonnet points out a painfully obvious truth: failing to take care of the details can have disastrous effects. I could see a soured gallon of once marketable chocolate milk giving birth to a retail rendition of the little nursery rhyme:
For want of a gallon of milk a sale was lost.
For want of a sale a job was lost.
For want of a job a store was lost.
For want of a store a community was lost.
For want of a community a nation was lost.
All for the want of a gallon of milk.
A bit of old wisdom warns, “Whoever can’t be trusted with the little things can’t be trusted with the big things” (Dom’s loose paraphrase of Jesus). Perhaps the “big” struggles we are facing as a nation are connected to the “little things” we are failing to prove ourselves trustworthy of as private citizens? After all, the Board of Directors of Walmart can’t be everywhere taking responsibility for every gallon of chocolate milk left to spoil – that takes a concerned, invested individual. And yes, I turned the displaced dairy product over to a store employee. Decided to trust them to take care of the things they should be taking care of.
I know I am weird, but I love Christmas music at any time of year. And my son has inherited my weirdness. So it was anything but weird today when, as we worked on building a booth for the sound system at our church, we chose a Christmas song list on the iPod to accompany our work.
This particular list had some of the truly golden oldies with selections from such greats as Bing Cosby and Frank Sinatra. One song caused a momentary work stoppage. It was a recording that was put to what was known as a “V Disc” according to the voice coming over the airwaves.
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, a “V-Disc ("V" for Victory) was a morale-boosting initiative involving the production of several series of recordings during the World War II era by special arrangement between the United States government and various private U.S. record companies.” The voice I was hearing identified itself as “General Reynolds of Special Forces.”
The sound and tones of the production – the narration especially – were that of the classic radio broadcasts of the era. As the narration gave way to an introduction by Frank Sinatra with some wonderful words of appreciation and inspiration for the troops overseas, my mind wandered to what the experience was like back when, for better or worse, individuals had a much, much more limited selection of communication vehicles and even of vehicles (e.g. channels or stations) within a given vehicle (radio or television)? What was it like to be part of a nation that, even if everyone in your house, neighborhood, city, or state tuned in to a different station, odds were pretty good you would find a fair number of people who had watched the same channel? And I couldn’t help but think that the nation had a much stronger sense of a collective conscious back when common denominators were much more common. That perhaps we were a stronger nation when we had broadcasts instead of podcasts – when we collectively and consciously came to the tables in homes, at coffee shops, and in school rooms, at the same time from the same vantage point rather than the multitude of disjointed, diatribes coursing across the digital spectrum these days.
After sharing words of encouragement and offering a Christmas blessing, Frank crooned a classic carol, no doubt aimed at bringing war-weary veterans together. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of remorse for a nation that grows increasingly more individual and increasingly less indivisible. It’s not so much the “I” inspired technology that saddens me as the philosophy that is either propagating it or being propagated by it.
The text read something like, “Well, the mink got out. Will find when I get home from work. Just don’t open the garage bay door.” For those of you unfamiliar with minks, they are related to weasels, otters and ferrets, and prior to PETA, were quite popular in the form of a coat.
The back story is that my son somehow managed to find one trapped in a storage building at his place of work, and being the lover of animals he is, he felt it best if he bring it home to observe for a few days and then figure out how to secure its future welfare. A suitable habitat was created and, it was thought, the cute little critter was secured. At least until it somehow became un-secured, and now my garage, which was already packed to the brim with everything from family Christmas decorations to the items my son and his new bride had brought with them in the move from Idaho to Oregon, was this little weasel’s (pun intended) playground.
After much fruitless searching, I was left wondering if perchance, our furry friend had somehow managed to scale the shelving along the wall and make it up into the crawl space above the garage and perhaps from there into the attic space over the rest of the home. Visions of insulation-turned-mink-condominium combined with pest-control and insulation bills began swirling through my mind.
At one point, as I found myself creeping through a darkened garage, welding-gloved-hands holding a flashlight in hopes of picking up the reflection in my mammalian houseguest’s eyes, I actually opened the garage doors simply hoping Mr. Mink would catch a whiff of freedom in the night air and high-tail it out of my life. But then I remembered my son’s caution that our two cats, Zoe and Sassy, might make a tempting treat on the mink’s menu, and quickly reversed course.
In fact, I resolved to give up the search and stop stressing over what “might” happen. I put the mink out of my mind and moved on with my week.
Meanwhile, my son performed daily, searches of the garage. He even searched underneath the entire house. One day passed, then another. I believe it was on the third day that my wife and daughter made their way to the empty drum that had been the mink’s home. Leaning over to peer inside, and yet not in the least-wise expecting to find anything, my wife got quite a start when our wayward weasel popped up to meet her gaze!
And so, after late night search parties, daily excursions, and a fair amount of stress, the mink simply meandered his way back “home.” Crisis averted. I think. We most likely will find his little paw-prints (and certainly some other surprises) in cartons and crannies for years to come.
The day began like a typical autumn morning in the Willamette Valley: cool moist air, gray dreary skies. Under cover of dark, I skittered off to the Silverton Kiwanis meeting at O’Brien’s Café for my formal induction into the club. Meanwhile, the rising sun cast a silver-sable canvas over our quaint community as I made my way up the hill to Silverton Hospital to support a family facing surgery. After we had laughed and prayed together, I hurried back down the hill to rendezvous with a few friends for a “grown-up field trip” to nearby Bauman Farms. The plan was to carpool/caravan our way there, tour the grounds, and test out the gift shop then enjoy a picnic lunch. The morning sky suggested rain; however, we pulled away from our rendezvous-point as the overhead canopy parted before a brilliant blue sky – as if fall was giving way to spring.
We made our way to our destination drinking in the sunshine and each other’s company. There is nothing like connecting with folks whose hearts are alive with a love for God and other people to safeguard your soul from seasons of decline. Not that anything unique took place. We simply spent time together – laughing, conversing, praying, eating – simple parts of the profound gift called community.
By late afternoon, the canopy had closed its curtain again. Silver-sable splashed a slight spray – a sign of the Season’s inexorable grind. A reminder that no matter the season, blue, gray, or somewhere in between, sharing life together is a gift.
There is nothing like a good cup of coffee to start the day – especially on Mondays! This morning, a handful of friends and I pooled a few dollars, purchased a few gift cards, and surprised a few customers at the Silverton Starbucks with a free cup of coffee or two. It was a grind, at first, as the
“0-Dark-Thirty” cobwebs cleared, but once those first set of eyes lit up at the realization that their coffee order was being filled “free of charge,” the blessing of being a blessing in the slightest way, made the early rise and small financial sacrifice worth it. Most of those eyes were first acquaintances; some were old friends like Bretny, a childhood friend of our now College-Freshman-daughter, Kaitlyn. Bretny was on her way to class at nearby Chemeketa Community College. Thinking of her slipping out of Safeway, coffee in hand, on her way to class, somehow brings me closer to my own college student, and I find myself praying someone in Nampa, Idaho, might offer a similar kind gesture along the way she travels. One set of eyes belonged to a young mom whose husband was off to his first day of work in five months. Having to get up early to help him get ready for work and drop the kids off at school was something to be celebrated, and we were given the privilege of sharing the moment, ever so briefly, as we sent her off into the murky, but more hopeful, Willamette Valley morning. The last set of eyes summed our morning up best. They belonged to a mom who had lost her daughter of fourteen years to cerebral palsy just two years ago. We connected with her because of one kind gesture, and she gifted us with a brief glimpse into her story expressing her gratitude through the grandest of human gestures – a hug for my wife, Heather. Smile after smile, our little band connected with people – life’s most precious resource – for a couple of hours on a Monday morning that, honestly, was one of the best Monday mornings I’ve experienced in a long time.
I had the privilege of spending and hour or so with a truly unique group of people today. They came from all walks of life – retirees, blue collar workers, medical professionals, high school students, young, old, high income, low income, no income they came – over twenty strong with one purpose in mind: to dedicate themselves to travelling to Suriname, South America, at their own expense and to raising $15,000.00 to pay for the materials they will need to help a community make much needed repairs and improvements to their place of worship and center for service to the community and the home of the family that serves and shepherds them.
It reminded me of a moment in the movie, Pearl Harbor. When Lt. Colonel James Doolittle is observing Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett’s characters, and the other brave men who volunteered to try and do the impossible: Successfully launch bombers from the deck of the aircraft carrier, USS Hornet, make the flight to Japan without enemy detection, and execute a bombing raid on Tokyo itself.
Against the back-drop of their bravery, under the shadow of perhaps the greatest military tragedy our nation had ever faced, staring into the face of the towering threat of Imperial Japan, and undoubtedly awash in the temptation to doubt, Doolittle experienced something on the deck that day that gave him hope: “We’re going to win this war, Jack. And you know why?” he asked his fellow officer. “Because of them [the bomber pilots]. Because they’re rare. Because at times like these you see them – stepping forward. There’s nothing greater than the heart of a volunteer.”
Doolittle’s Raiders weren’t going to singlehandedly win the war. Militarily, the impact of their effort was infinitesimal. Spiritually, however, they put into action, the faith of then president, Franklin D. Roosevelt: “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this pre-meditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
Today, under the shadow of another terrible tragedy, staring into the towering threat of economic uncertainty, tempted to doubt, I watched a new crop of volunteers step forward and found my own faith lifted by the greatness of their hearts.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
I know that all around me every day people I know, many whom call SCN “home,” practice the words that are preached from the “Good Book” be it from the SCN pulpit, from pulpits across the country and around the world, or proclaimed to their heart during times of devotion or intimate Christian conversation. However, I confess that I often fail to either recognize this wondrous obedience or simply overlook it. This afternoon, as I found myself enjoying a little slice of heaven, I saw it – people practicing what had been preached. And it was good.
I was scrambling about the SCN Campus as usual – trying to connect with as many people as possible as they made their way through the multitude of exits our little building has, when I found myself in a familiar place – the parking lot – attempting to extend the SCN “foyer” beyond its actual 8x10 border. As I turned from a quick word of encouragement offered through a truck window, I connected with Obed who was attempting to get through the slight traffic jam I had created. “Where are you headed?” I asked. “We are going to the restaurant,” he replied. Since the restaurant Obed owns is closed on Sundays, I thought he and his family were planning to dine at another establishment in town. But Obed quickly explained that he had connected with another SCN family and invited them to his restaurant for a private luncheon of sorts. Then Obed extended the invitation to me and my family, and then to another member of SCN. Soon, it became an open invitation as we invited two other couples to come along. We sat down, Obed took our orders, and he and his family cooked and served our meals. And then, he did something none of his 14 guests expected; he told us the meal was on him.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:8-10
When you practice what is preached, people are touched by God’s love in simple, yet profound ways, and pastors are privileged with front row seats as God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Welcome to Daily Grinds
I chose “Daily Grinds” for a name because everyone has them. For some they show up at the workplace, for others it is on the freeway, maybe at school. “The Grind” comes to us all at some point, and in some ways at every point in our lives. Of course, these grinds aren’t always bitter and burdensome. Sometimes the daily grinds are evidence of the most positive moments in our lives – the satisfaction of a difficult job well done, confidence hammered out on the anvil of much preparation. And sometimes, quite unexpectedly, "the grind" gifts us with moments of grace – some monumental like the birth of a child, others more mundane, like a great cup of coffee and some casual conversation with a good friend. In fact, I came across a website for a coffee company in New York called, The Daily Grind, that confirmed my inspiration. Perhaps sifting through the “grounds” of my day-to-day will give you a glimpse into your own Daily Grind.
Just your average guy (ok - a little below average in the height department!) that is trying to make my way in this world. I have been the pastor of SCN since 1998 and just celebrated 22 years of marriage to my wife, Heather, (obviously way above average in the wife department!) on September 2nd. Aside from sardines and anchovies, there isn't much I don't enjoy in life.