Saturday, December 17, 2011

If Mary said "No."

Luke 1:26-38
Hope UMC
Dec. 18, 2011  Advent 4

This morning we sang, rather than listened to the gospel lesson. It's a story we all know well, and I hope, that as you sang, you also heard this familiar story in a new way, and, perhaps, even heard something you hadn't heard before. A month after Zechariah lost his ability to speak, the angel Gabriel pays a call on Mary, a virgin engaged to Joseph, a descendent of King David. The angel tells her that she is truly blessed and will have a son.

Hold on a minute!” says Mary. “I can't be doing that. I'm still a virgin.”

Nothing is impossible with God” the angel tells her. (Luk 1:35) "The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God's power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God.”

And, of course, Mary says: "I am the Lord's servant! Let it happen as you have said." It's the answer we've heard all our lives. It's the answer we expect to hear. It's the only answer Mary could have given. Or is it? What if it had been different? What if Mary had said: “No way! I'm not risking my marriage, my future, my life! Not for you! Not for anyone!”

We don't think of Mary as having a chance to decline, but she did. God always gives us the option to say “yes” or “no.” Eve could have said “yes” to God and “no” to the serpent. Adam could have said “no” to Eve, and yes to God. Abram could easily have stayed in Haran. Moses (Exo 3:11) said, "Who am I to go to the king and lead your people out of Egypt?" “What if no one believes me?” 'I'm not a good speaker.” All in an attempt to say “no.” The Scribes and Pharisees said 'No” to Jesus, as did The rich young ruler. When God told Ananias to cure Saul's blindness, (Act 9:13) Ananias replied, "Lord, a lot of people have told me about the terrible things this man has done to your followers in Jerusalem. (Act 9:14) Now the chief priests have given him the power to come here and arrest anyone who worships in your name."

(Act 9:15) The Lord said to Ananias, "Go! I have chosen him to tell foreigners, kings, and the people of Israel about me.” For many years I said “no” to the ordained ministry. God gives us the opportunity to say “no.” It is, ultimately, our decision to follow or stand back.

So what if Mary had said “no?” Paul tells us that (Gal 4:4)when the time was right, God sent his Son, and a woman gave birth to him.” So it's possible that if Mary had said “No” we might be singing:

What child is this, who laid to rest,

on Cynthia's lap is sleeping.

We can say “No.” But, like Abram, Moses, and Ananias, (Luk 1:38) Mary said, "I am the Lord's servant! Let it happen as you have said.

The Bible is full of stories of impossibilities, and this, too, is a story of biblical impossibilities. But, what about the impossibilities in our world? What in your life, is “impossible? Peace in our world. Impossible! No way! Won’t happen! True justice for all? Impossible! Never happen. A cure for Malaria? Keep dreaming. Our church reaching our surrounding community and making our world different? Impossible! Restoring relationships, healing past hurts in our lives. A relative or friend entering a relationship with Christ. Breaking an addiction and overcoming past hurts and disappointments? Impossible!

The truth is God expected, and God received a “yes” from Mary. When God calls us, Like Mary, we say to the angel: “How can this be?” Like Mary we find ourselves pondering and wondering over the impossible. But as with Mary, God expects us to answer “yes.” So maybe the question isn't so much “What if Mary had said “no” as it is “What happens now that Mary said “Yes?” The real question for today is “How can the impossible become possible?” C. .S Lewis wrote that “God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.” So, like Mary saying yes to the angle, the first step in overcoming impossibilities is for us to say “Yes” to God. For with God all things are possible, but nothing is possible without God.

In his book, Just As I Am, Billy Graham tells this story.

"One summer while in New Jersey, I was having lunch at a roadside diner when I was greeted by a big, smiling man whose eyes grew large as he studied me. “Hallelujah!” he shouted, grabbing and pumping my hand. “What an answer to prayer! I was just sitting here praying that I might meet Billy Graham, and in you walk! I didn’t even know you were on the East Coast.” He introduced himself as Dr. Theodore Elsner, a preacher from Philadelphia. “I have a great burden on my heart,” he said. “It’s a message that I believe is from the Lord. Billy, you must go on national radio. You know Dr. Maier the great Lutheran theologian and radio preacher from St. Louis is dead, and you’re the man God could use to touch America through radio.” I did not know what to think. Dr. Elsner urged me to contact Fred Dienert, his son-in-law, and Walter Bennett, a Christian who was also a radio agent. Impressed though I was by this abrupt meeting, I did not look up either Mr. Dienert or Mr. Bennett; indeed, I pretty much forgot the whole idea. I was so busy that I could not imagine adding anything else to my plate. A few weeks later I was speaking at a conference in Michigan. Two well-dressed strangers approached me and introduced themselves as Fred Dienert and Water Bennett. I did not know whether Dr. Elsner had spoken with them since he had met me, but their mission was to interest me in a national radio program. I was still president of Northwestern schools, still active with Youth For

Christ, and spinning in a whirlwind of national interest in our evangelistic Crusades. I told Fred and Walter that I appreciated their interest but simply could not do a radio program at the time. My closet advisers - Cliff, Bev, and Grady- concurred; it was out of the question. Later, in Portland, these two extremely persistent men repeatedly lay in ambush to catch me. All they wanted, they claimed, was five minutes of my time. I got so irritated with their pestering that sometimes I took a back elevator to avoid them. I finally told Grady to let them know I was not interested in their scheme to get me into broadcasting. Leave me alone was my message.

"As I came out of the hotel one night, continues Billy Graham, there they were. “We want to say good-bye,” one of them said. “We’re leaving tonight for Chicago.” “All right, fellows,” I said laughingly, “if before midnight tonight I should get $25,000 for the purpose of a radio broadcast, I’ll take that as an answer to prayer and be willing to do a national broadcast.” The thought was so incredible to them that they laughed along with me before heading for the airport.

More than 17,000 people were at the meeting that night. Just before introducing my friend Bob Pierce for a brief report on his travels in the Far East, I told them about the burden Walter and Fred had for broadcasting the Gospel, and the $25,000 condition I had laid down. The audience joined in my laugh. After Bob spoke, I preached and then extended the Invitation to receive Christ. Afterward, in the little room set aside for me in the tabernacle, a number of people dropped by to greet me. Several of them said they believed God had spoken to them during the service about helping us go on national radio. They began to leave cash, checks, and pledges. I couldn’t believe it.!

Billy,” said Frank Phillips when everybody had left, “people have given us $24,000 tonight for radio!” Their confidence and generosity were enough to make me weep. But how could this be God’s answer? It was $1000 short. I told Grady, Cliff, Ruth, and Frank that maybe the Devil could give us that much to mislead us. We agreed to say nothing to anyone else about the funds and went out to eat, which was our custom after the service. We got back to the hotel about eleven-thirty.

There are two letters here for you, Mr. Graham,” said the desk clerk. Postmarked two days earlier, they were from people I hardly knew- businessmen Howard Butt and Bill Mead. Both said they believed we should go on radio and that they wanted to be the first to contribute. And each enclosed a $500 check! Stunned, I bowed my head and said a silent prayer. Emotion so overcame me that I could not think straight. Clearly, the funds had come form God.

Then, when I turned to go to the elevator, who should be standing in the lobby but Walter and Fred! They had been at the airport, they said, but something had told them not to get on the plane. I put my hands on a shoulder of each man. “Sign us up for radio for at least thirteen weeks,” I told them. “God has answered prayer. We have the $25,000. We’ll take this as a step of faith.”

That radio show, that was begun with $25,000 that Billy Graham never expected to see was The Hour of Decision.

It doesn't matter how impossible we think a task may be, there is nothing God cannot do. The cure for Malaria gets closer each day. Our troops are coming home from Iraq, and the nations of the middle east are clamoring for democracy and justice. A cure for Malaria is closer than ever as vaccines are tested and ways are being found to prevent mosquitoes from spreading the disease. The only thing preventing our church from reaching out to our neighborhoods and changing the world around us is our church. Hurt lives are being healed and relationships are being restored. AA and Celebrate Recovery are conquering alcoholism and addictions. The hungry are being fed and the lonely are finding friends. And through it all, The kingdom is growing as people reach out and embrace Christ.

There is nothing in your life that is impossible with God. No matter how many times you've said “no,” you can still say “yes.” Mary said “yes” and changed the world.  Jon  her and let your world changing “yes” ring loud and clear  AMEN.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thoughts during Advent

Here it is the second Sunday of Advent, and what an Advent it is.  Occupiers protest corporate greed even as stock prices climb.  Merchants report the best Black Friday in several years.  TV, Radio, Print, and the Net keep up the standard encouragment to spend! spend! spend! and we seem anxious to comply.  Money we don't have is flying out of our wallets to prove to those who know we love them that we love them.  It's another "Green Christmas."  And somewhere beneath the piles of wrapping paper and tinsel, a baby waits to be born.  Somewhere beneath the blairing commercials and muzak carols a baby cries unheard.

It seems as if know one knows, or cares, whose birthday it is we celebrate.  But then, no one much cared 2000 years ago.  Only a few shepherds and some pagan priests showed up.  Even those who should have known, didn't: and when they found out they were afraid and tried to kill the child. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.  In spite of years of apathy and opposition, the faithful still hear the voice of the Christchild.  We hear it in every kind deed and generous act performed in His name.  We hear his laughter in every joyful carol and see his smile in every prayer.  The voice may be muted, but it has not been silenced!

Over the years I have struggled to see beyond the secular celebration of the winter equinox.  I have now learned to silence the commercial voices and blind myself to the mercantile merenaries.  And in the silence of my blindness I see and look forward to the new kingdom--to the day when our swords are beaten to plowshares and peace rules in our hearts and in our world.  May you share the vision. And may the Joy of Advent be yours.

Chaplain Dann 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

For All the Saints

Last Tuesday, Nov. 1, the day after all hallows eve, was, and is, one of my favorite days in the church year: All Saints' Day.  All Saints' Day is the day when we Christians remember, recall, and give thanks for the saints who have gone before us; those who have helped mold us and make us the persons we are.

Let me be clear that when I use the term "saint" I am not speaking in the Roman Catholic sense of one who has been set apart by the church for their miraculous deeds and lives of piety and their service to the church.  I am speaking in the Pauline sense of saints as those who believe.  Paul writes to "the saints at Rome" "The saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus" and to "The Saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi."  These are the same saints who inhabit the lives of us all.

The saints in my life have to include my dear friend Don.  I met Don at that awkward time in life when one is no longer a child but not yet an adult--when one no longer lives with one's parents, but doesn't yet feel like a guest in their home.  For thirty years or more Don walked through  the trials and tribulations, the joys and celebrations that make up life; through loves lost and won, school, jobs, the birth of our children we laughed, cried and prayed together.  When I told him I was considering answering a call to ordained ministry he simply replied: "About time."  He was a rock to lean on and an ever willing ear to listen.  He was  a saint of my life.

Another saint who inhabits my life and my soul in Roger.  I met Roger shortly after what can only be described as a failure of pastoral care.  I was 18 or 19 and wrestling with the dichotomy of trying to be both a soldier and a Christian.  The pastor of the church I was attending closed down my inquiry by decreeing that I was to to my duty to my country.   The chaplains on base weren't any more help, they simply handed me the paper work to submit if I wanted to seek a discharge.

Roger, a pastor and the father of friend of mine, took a different tack.  He asked hard questions that demanded thoughtful answers; he assigned me readings from church fathers and current theologians and ethicists;  he called me to prayer and guided my inquiry--not with the purpose of influencing my decision, but simply to ascertain that I came by in  rightly.  To this day I don't know if he agreed with my decision or not--but he supported me, held me accountable, and showed me what pastoral care and counseling are really about.  He showed me how to pastor, and I pray that I have been half the pastor he was.

There have been, and are other saints still in my life, but All Saints' is about those who have gone before us and who wait to embrace us on the other side of the Divide.  There is not a day that goes by when I don't thank recall, remember, and rejoice in Don, Roger, and the other saints of my life.  Who are the saints who inhabit your life?  Have you thanked God for them today?

Be Blessed.

Friday, July 29, 2011


As I am learning to bake, I am also learning the importance of each ingredient.  While some ingredients can be substituted for, or even left out completely, doing so changes the final product.  A half teaspoon of cinnamon left out of a cookie recipe changes the taste of the cookies.  Too much or too little yeast and the bread doesn't rise properly.  Even something simple like using bread flour when all purpose flour is called for can make a differnce in the taste and texture of the finished product.

It's the same way in life.  While it is sometimes necessary to improvise and play McIver, things work better when we use the right part and the right tool for the job.  God created each of us with different abilities, talents, and interests so that the church will have all the tools it needs to do God's will.  In First Corinthians 12 Paul tells us: "we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do." 

I remember fairly early in my ministry, shortly after I became an Emergency Medical Tech, talking to a colleague who ran the local jail ministry.  "How do you do that?"  I said.  "My hair stands on end, my palms get sweaty, and my stomach churns just thinking about going into the jail."
"How can you go to a car wreck and deal with injured and bloody people?"  She replied.  "My hair stands on end, my palms get sweaty, and my stomach churns just thinking about what you do."  No one person has all the gifts, and we are called to use the gifts we have, not to try and be what we are not.

Each of us is a different ingredient in God's recipe.  Without each of us the recipe won't work right--and when we try to be what we are not, it never comes out right.  Be who you are.  Do what you are gifted to do.  Work with, not against, the other ingredients, and the recipe will turn out just as God intends.

Be blessed,

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I am gaining a whole new perspective on those who have trouble parting with things.  As we downsize our way into retirement, there are many things to be given away, sold at garage sales, or just tossed.  For the most part it hasn't been too difficult.  I thought books would be hard, but culling out things I havn't read since school and things I will never read again has been easy.  So has furniture and such...then I came to that drawer full of old camp t-shirts.  All have been worn, some are ragged, some no longer fit--but disposing of them is hard.  Each t-shirt brings a flood of memories: faces of kids float by in my mind; young people coming to a new understanding of God and Christ; learning to pray for the first time;  the look on a youngster's face when he realized he could become a pastor AND a firefighter.  So many youngsters.  So many faces.  So many young lives touched and even changed.  How can I let go of that?

The truth is I won't let go.  I can't let go.   And it doesn't take a drawer full of t-shirts to hang on.  God has allowed me to touch those lives and let them move on, even while each one stays a part of me.  You see, not only did I touch their lives--they touched mine; and I will never be the same again.  The place my heart calls home includes Camp Sawtooth, Camp McCall, Lake Wallowa, Suttle Lake Camp, Camp Magruder and Camp Latgawa.  The people my heart calls family include the hundreds of children who shared a week at camp with me.  I give thanks for each of them.  And now that we have all-camp t-shirts, maybe I'll only need to keep one.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Proms, Moms, and Graduation.

Well here it is May, time for Proms, Moms, and graduations. It is a busy and exciting time, dresses to be bought, gowns to be fitted, futures to be dreamed of.  It can also be a time of tears as parents realize their young ones are about to leave the nest.   It can also be a busy time for chaplains and pastors as we are asked to write reccomendations, speak at commencements and baccalauretes, and, unfortuantly too often deliver death notices and eulogies of young people.  That's why I am glad to be participating in this year's "Operation Prom Night."  Our fire department stages a drunk driving accident using students from the local schools.  The production includes staging at least one fatality and several critical injuries.  Weather allowiing, we even bring in the life flight chopper.  It's all very realistic, and done to show what can, and too often does happen. I pray that the young folks watching this take it to heart and understand that not only does it happen, it can even happen to them. 

I ask that if you have, or know young people headed out to celebrate their proms you make it clear that they are not to drive drunk or get in a car with a drunk driver--even if it means calling you for a ride.
As the father of two daughters, I always made it clear to them that they could call me for ride home "no questions asked."  I hope other parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and adult friends make the same offer.

As a chaplain there is no more difficult or painful task I perform than delivering death notices.  It is at its worst when it involves a young person who had their whole life ahead of them, only to be cut off by a stupid decision.  I can think of nothing worse to have to say to a mother at this time of year than; "I'm sorry, your child did not survive the accident." Young people are our legacy and our future.  It is up to us to keep them safe.  Talk to the youngsters in your life--and even more importantly, set an example for them to follow.  What we do speaks volumes more than what we say.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two Books.

I guess I didn't realize how long it has been since I wrote anything.  That's what happens when I allow the busy-ness of the world to get in my way.  The world not only gets in the way of this wanna-be blogger, it gets in the way of all of us.  It gets in the way of our most important relationships.  When work, volunteerism, and being entertained (if you could call it that) take precedence over time with God and time with our loved ones, it's time to reasses our values.

A far wiser pastor than I once said: "If you want to know what matters to you, look at two books; your date book and your check book."  In spite of what you may say or think is important to  you, a look at these two books will tell you what trykt important; important enought that you give it your time and money.  It can be a shock when you look at how much time and money you spend on things you claim are not important to you.

So now that I've looked, what do I do?  I know it's a nasty word, but change.  Rewrite your date book to include time with God, time with family, time with friends.  Readjust your budget so that you are spending your money where you really want to--even if it means cooking at home andd net-flixing instead of dinner and a movie.  Don't leave the cook in your family alone in the kitchen while you update your Facebook status, check email, or read my blog--go to the kitchen and talk about your day.  Cut up some carrots, take the dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away, turn of the boob-tube and spend the time together.   Instead of golf with the guys every Saturday, take a Saturday explore. Together, go somewhere you've never really got to know, and just walk around.  My wife and I spent a whole day in downtown Eugene this past month--we found shops, restauraunts, and public art we never knew existed.  It was a marvelous time together.

Read you datebook, read your checkbook, concentrate on what's really important and enjoy the life God has given you.

Chaplain Dann

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Sound of Sound

It's been about a week since I received my hearing aids and I am still rejoicing in the many and manifold sounds of sound.  It's strange how, as our hearing or sight decline we don't realize it until we do something about it.  Like new glasses let us see things we hadn't seen for a long time, I am still hearing sounds I haven't heard for so long I'd forgotted what they sounded like:  the neighbor's wind chime, the creek behind my house babbling, the high range of music, the laughter of children playing in the park, the church bells of churches that aren't next door.  Noise is beautiful.  And while some may find it annoying, I even enjoy the noise of little children in public places.

Of course there are also times when I don't particularly want to hear what's going on--so it's also nice to be able to tune out the world and concentrate on what I want to concentrate on.  When my wife is watching a TV show I don't care about, for example, or when the people in the next booth are engaged in a profanity contest.  There are times when being hearing impaired is a blessing.  But all in all, hearing is the bigger blessing.  How many times did Jesus tell us to "listen up!"  "Listen, then, if you have ears."  "Pay attention to what I say." 

Modern hearing aids are a wonder.  They are small, discreet, effective and not uncomfortable.  At least that's true of mine.  I rejoice in the wonder of learning how to  hear all over again.  God is so good!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Problem With Free Grace

Having been raised in the Protestant Work Ethic, the problem with free grace is just that: it's free.  There's something about free that seems to bother us; for one thing, because we've been taught there's no such thing as a free lunch, we always look for the hook.  I remember working in a leisure ministries progarm on the Michigan thumb one summer.  We were at a street fair giving away helium filled balloons with the name of our ministry on them. I was surprised at the number of parents who wouldn't let their childen take a balloon because apparantly they thoutht we would preach to them or ask for a donation, something. The thought dawned on me that if we have this much trouble giving away balloons, it's no wonder we can't give away grace.

The idea of free grace has come home to roost in my partial retirement.  This week I actually took off the days I am not supposed to work--and I found myself feeling guilty for not working.  Yes, I had accomplished all the tasks I was assigned, and then some--but somehow the idea of being paid (drawing my retirement) for not working is just so foreign to me I have trouble accepting it.  We are supposed to work for what we get--or so I've been taught, and I'm not working for this.

Yes, I know it's supposed to be the reward for all the work I've done in the past; but somehow that just doesn't fly.  I've been working for 47 plus years, and I guess I just can't quite get it out of my system.
I am beginning to see why parents had trouble with free balloons, and why free grace can be so hard to give away.  There is something in us that wants to earn, or deserve, what we have--and when we feel we have neither earned nor deserved it, it's almost like stealing it.  Let's face it, even Christmas and birthday gifts are expected to be reciprocal.  What do we give to deserve God's grace?  Nothing.  It's hard to accept, harder still to understand, but that's simply the way it is.  God loves us not because of who or what we are, but simply because we are.  Like drawing my retirement pension, I guess I just have to learn to be blessed with it. 

Blessings to you.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Going Home

Gee, hard to believe it's been over a week since I wrote anything; of course I was away for 6 days so that may account for it.
I love to travel.  Seeing new places and new things, meeting new people and trying new ways and new foods is a joy of my life.  But it's also great to be back home again.   Which brings us to the question: "were is home."  Usually when people ask this they mean, "where do you live, now?"  But it can mean, where were you born?  Where did you grow up?  or even, "Where does your heart consider home?"  And for me, I think, that's really where home is.   As an itinerant United Methodist Elder, I have lived in 5 different towns in 2 states, prior to that I had moved 14 times in three states.  So where is home?  For most of my life I have considered home the place I came back to at night--wherever we lived at that particular time.  But now, as I retire, and look to settling down in one place for the rest of my life, "Home" takes on a different meaning.

To some extent, "Home" is where family and friends are, where we gather wilth our loved ones to celebrate the sacred and meaningful events of our lives--births, marriages, graduations, holidays, and so forth.  This is why the railways and airlines are jammed at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  But I think 'Home" is more than that.  "Home" is that place to which we are emotionally attatched by bonds of love, friendship, and a shared history.  That's why, as the old saying goes, "It takes a heap of living to make a house a home."

As Fay and I spend the next year and a half transitioning from active ministry to retirement, and moving into our new house, we will be saying farewell to friends we have come to know and love--leaving behind familiar restaurautnts, stores, movie houses, and other services: But we will also be saying "hello" to new friends, beginning a new shared history in a new place, learning new restauraunts, stores, campgrounds, fishing holes, golf courses, movie houses and so forth.  It is, indeed, and exciting journey--but life is change and change is live.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Food for Thought

Every year on my birthday, in October, my wife prepares "The Coffee Cake."  This was the breakfast my mother was preparing when I interrupted her with the announcement that I was ready to be born.  As a child, every year my mother would make "The Coffee Cake" on my birthday. Even after I left home, she continued the tradition. She also made sure my wife had the recipe (it's on the Bisquick box) and Fay has  continued the tradition.  So  for 61 of my 64 birthdays I have enjoyed this special meal.

Did you ever notice how many of our family and public celebrations center around food?  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years (at our house it's take out Chinese on New Year's Eve), Super Bowl Sunday, St Patrick's Day, Shrove Tuesday, the 4th of July and on and on.  Food is central to our celebrations.  When I was in Africa and spoke at a small country church it was expected that I would stay and break bread with the elders of the congregation. 

Yes, food is central to our shared celebrations.  Unfortunately, what also seems central, and totally unnecessary, is gluttony.  It is not necessary to eat half a 20 pound turkey by yourself to prove you are thankful.  8 bratwursts will not help your team win the Super Bowl.  Two pounds of strawberry shortcake don't make you any more patriotic than the person who only ate 1 six ounce serving.  The only thing gluttony makes you is bigger.

For the Israelites food was also central--hence, when God visited Abraham, (Gen 18:6) Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, "Quick, take a sack of your best flour, and bake some bread."(Gen 18:7) Then he ran to the herd and picked out a calf that was tender and fat, and gave it to a servant, who hurried to get it ready.(Gen 18:8)
the Passover, and Holy Communion are built around a meal.  When the prodigal father welcomed home his wayward son, they killed the fatted calf. 

In a nation that has the capacity to feed the world, gluttony and the waste of food are shameful. When I was about 8 years old, my mother would tell me to eat everything on my plate because children in China were starving.  I have no idea how my eating everything on my plate would help hungry kids across the Pacific, but it is what I was told.  One night my mother put something in front of me that I found particularly odious.  When I didn't eat it she again reminded me of the starving children in China.  "Well, as far as I'm concerned they can have this garbage" I retorted.

My father started to come out of his chair, but my mother stopped him.  "OK," she said, "That's just what we'll do."  When she serve dessert, there was none for Danny.  the next morning I came into the kitchen for breakfast.  There were hot cakes, bacon, syrup, eggs, and milk for everyone except Danny.  As I left the house for school there were only four lunches on the counter: none for Danny.  But I wasn't worried, all I had to do was tell the teacher I forgot my lunch and they'd let me charge a school lunch--of course my mother knew that and was a step ahead of me.  She called the school and told them what she was doing. (Today she would be arrested for child neglect, but back then it was called"experiential education.")  I didn't get a lunch that day.  For Dinner that night Mother cooked my favorite meal--roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding.  I got a scoop of rice.  No soy sauce, no veggies, no meat, just plain rice.
After dinner my mother wrote a check to the church's fund for international hunger in the amount it would have cost to feed me for a day.  I was given the check and told to put it in the offering plate.

Not only did I never complain about my mother's cooking again, I learned a whole new appreciation for food.  Food, like everything else we have, is a gift from God to be used wisely and shared generously.

Eat well, share generously, and be blessed.
He took some cream, some milk, and the meat, and set the food before the men. There under the tree he served them himself, and they ate.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How Long?

Who woulda thought that this blogging would turn out to be almost as hard as writing a sermon?--first a subject must be selected, thoughts organized, and the post written.  I'm now sure this will not be an everyday event, but I will try to come up with some words of wisdom--or at least some words--several times a week.

Today is Martin Luther King Day.  It's also, I believer, the anniversary of JFK's innaugural "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country" speech.  How appropraite that both fall on the same day this year.  Two great leaders, both assasinatated for what they believed; both of who changed the world for the better.  The Tuscon shooting was not a new event, nor is the vitriotic speech that surrounds it.  How sad  that 150 years after Lincoln, 50 years after Kennedy, 40 some years after King, and 2000 years after Jesus, we still haven't learned to disagree peacefully.  That there will always be disagreements is a given: that we must resort to violence to solve them is only a sign of our weakness.  One of my favorite quotations is from "The Foundation Trilogy" by Assimov: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."  I wonder when the human race will develop competence?  Even the protests in Tunisia that ousted a dictator have turned to riots and looting.

Yesterday in worship we sang "Lead On O King Eternal."  I especially appreciate the line:
"For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums;
with deeds of love and mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes."

How long will it be before the kingdom comes?  How long before schools have plenty of money and the Air Force holds a bake sale to buy a bomber?  How long before our tanks are forged into tractors?  How long before we finally learn (in the words of POGO) "We have met the enemy, and it is us."

Peace and blessings

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pain and Rejoicing

It's Saturday, and this aftermoon I am leading a memorial service for a lady who was near and dear to my heart.  It is times like these that make pastoring weigh heavy on my  heart--but no, I wouldn't change what I do for anything.  I think that people don't realize the honor they pay their pastor when they allow us into their families at the most sacred moments: births, weddings, hospitalizations, anniversaries, and even deaths.  These are the times that are most sacred and most intimate in a family's life, and to allow an outsider in is a sign of honor, of love, of trust, and respect.  I can only pray that I live up to it all.

A seminary professor once said we shouldn't get too close to our flock--for in doing so we open oursleves not only to their hurts, but to the pain of eventually leaving.  My response was, and is, that if I don't hurt when they hurt, cry when they cry, laugh when they laugh, experience their joys as well as their pains, then I havn't really been much of a pastor.  Yes, I have both experienced and shared a  lot of pain; but I have also experienced and shared a lot of joy.  I have wept.  I have rejoiced.  And through it all, I have experienced, and hopefully shared, the love of God in Christ.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Just Some Early Morning Thoughts

Epiphany, the coming of the light into a darkened world.  What better symbol of the darkness than a blank screen demanding to be filled with words of wisdom? Or at least words that someone might find worth reading.  I never really thought much about being a "blogger" until just the other day when I wrote my first post.  Something about the meanness of our socio-political dialogue left me so disappointed that I had to do something.  So I wrote.

But I'm not really what you'd call a political junkie.  I don't spend hours listening to the pundits pontificate whatever it is they spout forth.  I'm a pastor--by calling and by nature.  My compelling need is to help; to comfort the afflicted and, when necessary, afflict the comfortable.  Which got me to thinking that perhaps that's the root of the problem with our national dialogue.  The comfortable are too comfortable, and the afflicted are too afflicted.  With the demise of the middle class, the divide between those who have more than the need and those who are somehow surviving, has become so vast that they don't even speak the same language.  Both sides are talking--make that shouting--but neither side is hearing.  And the result is a world that is becoming more and more out of whack.

What can we say to a world where, in Oregon, apples grown in Chili and New Zealand cost less than apples grown in Hood River?  What can we say to a world where many of us literally loose more money in our couches than the poorest folks in the world earn?  What can we say to a world where schools cancel art, music, drama, and speech while building multi-million dollar sports arenas?  What can we say to a world where we pay entertainers many times over what we pay teachers?  What can we say to a world where insuring obscene bonusses to CEO's is more important than providing health care to babies and the elderly.

I'm not sure we can say anything.  In a world that no longer hears, all we can do is do.  We can buy the more expensive local apples.  We can gather up that loose donate it to groups who are making a difference in the lives of the poor, the oppressed, and the powereless.  We can demand our schools put education ahead of athletics--and not support the athletics until they do.  We can stop supporting firms that pay their CEO's unrealisitic bonusus.  We can turn off the tv, read a book, attend local, live theatre.  We can learn to entertain ourselves--to play and instrument, or sing, or draw, or whatever it is we always wanted to do.  We may not be able to change the world, but we can, at least, improve our part of it.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In the wake of events in Arizona, as non-political as I claim to be, I find myself increasingly disgusted with the nature of political dialogue in this nation.  Now I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, but there is no need to be disagreeable.  And there is certainly no need to incite violence.  The pundits claim that their use of what they call metaphorical language is not responsible for for what happened, only the shooter is.
This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to avoid responsibility for their words.

We have long known that if you tell a child he or she is "worthless" long enough and loudly enough, they will believe it.  Words have power.  It is the power of words that keeps the O'Reillys, Palins, Becks, and Olbermans of the world in business.  They may not have been directly responsible, but gasoline on a fire only increases its ferocity.  To deny that they have any responsibility is to deny words have power.  And to deny that words have power is to deny reality.

And now to the other side of the coin.  How do we forgive the young  shooter?  How do we forgive those who incited him?  Forgive we must, the Lord we worship requires it.  I have said many times that forgiveness is the hardest thing we do as Christians--and the most important.  I'm not sure how I will forgive all those who broought us to this place, but with God's help, I will find a way.  I pray you may too.