Thursday, December 1, 2011

Radical Gift Giving: Spending less and Giving More

Thoughtful gifts are just too hard. They take so much time. Especially if you ask for a list from someone, then you can just buy something on their list. It only takes money and a little time. It takes a lot more time to think about a person long enough, and to know them well enough to be able to create a gift for them that cannot be purchased. We don’t have the time. But what if we took the time? What if we really set aside time to think about the people we love and want to give gifts to? It is a risk, I know. But I think it is worth the risk. I am going to try. I will let you know how it turns out. This is what Advent Conspiracy is all about. Here is the link. Check it out for other ideas. Here is how it works.

Think about a person you want to give a gift and walk through their day or week. What is something you can do for them or make or provide for them that you cannot just buy. Listen to the people you love. Giving thoughtful gifts requires knowing what their days and weeks are made of. My mother has a lot of friends in the senior campus where she lives. There is little that she needs in the way of things. But she loves to encourage people and she is a letter and note writer. I am going to make her some cards and stationary and put something on the stationary that is very personal. I do not know what that is yet, but I am going to think about it. Then I will frame one of the cards and give it to her as a reminder of the gift.

I have a friend who has just about everything. She can afford to buy just about anything she wants or needs. What can I possibly give her? She just lost her father last April. I am going to use a picture I have of him and make a collage of some kind using the picture and words that I know describe the kind of father he was. I don’t know if this will turn out. But I am going to try.

The staff at my church has talked. We have agreed that this year we will not buy each other gifts that we really do not need. Instead we are going to pool the money we would have spent on each other and give it to some good cause that we all agree on and can be excited about. We will still celebrate a Christmas lunch together (but maybe drink only water and donate the saved amount toward our Advent Conspiracy offering!) but we will not exchange gifts this year. We will share the gift of giving to others. I think this will be wonderful team building.

It is not too late. Take the time. Give a gift of thoughtfulness. Give a gift of time. Give a gift that cannot be purchased. And then, if you have the heart, give the amount of money you saved as a gift to those really in need. Organizations like World Vision allow you to buy something in honor of someone. Here is the link to their Christmas catalog. The last few years I have given animals in honor of my mom. I gave some chickens in honor of her last year. These chickens (about $40) can provide income and food for a family long after Christmas gift giving is done. I gave art supplies to a child in honor of my daugther who is an artist. I gave vaccinations to a child in honor of my daughter-in-law who is a scientist. There are endless possibilities that are both generous to others, but personal to the recipient.

The Advent Conspiracy folks inspired our congregation to be more thoughtful about Christmas time spending. Since the beginning of November whenever I have been out and about and inclined to spend money on something I really do not need—a chocolate caramel macchiato ($3.95), or another sweater or shirt ($40)—I have committed to going home instead and putting the same amount I would have spent in an envelope for our church’s Christmas Eve offering. Fifty percent of that offering will go to our church benevolence fund to help people in real need, and the other fifty percent will go to provide fresh water for children in Africa. Check out, one of many non-profits providing clean water wells.

As of December first I have about $90 in my little envelope! I am already thinking about the need to carry this commitment throughout the year! What would happen if we all began to take this kind of thoughtful spending/giving seriously? What might God do in us through this kind of giving? I will let you know after the first of the year!

What ideas do you have or organizations do you know about to help make Christmas more about generosity and thoughtful giving and less about spending? Share a comment or give a link below!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lenses for Life

When the proof came I could not put it down. I was holding in my hands the result of an intensive labor of love. Twenty years of labor to be exact. Well, there was a several years hiatus in there somewhere. The labor slowed way down when I began ordained ministry full time in 1996 and then it came to a painful screeching halt when Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease in 1999. We lost him in 2006. But the labor began again in earnest in the spring of 2009 when I began painting his story and preparing to travel to the places he was held prisoner in the Philippine Islands and Japan during WWII, which I did in February through April 2010. From fall 2009 until Spring 2011 almost every spare minute was taken up in writing and rewriting the story. It consumed me.

It started out as an attempt to record my father’s WWII POW story for the sake of our family. I did not want it to be forgotten. It ended up a very personal journey. As I studied, and read, and traveled, and reflected, it became increasingly apparent just how much my father’s experience had shaped me. So much of who I am and what I do echoes my father’s life.

I was not much interested in the kitchen or cooking. I was fascinated with tools and spent most of my time in the garage or outside with my father. I knew what a crescent wrench was long before I knew what a spatula was. I crawled up on the fender of the car and watched my father fix engines. I loved to be with him and I loved to be up high so I was driving nails on the roof long before I ever baked my first cake. To this day I do not know if my attraction was primarily to be with my dad wherever he was or if it was to mechanical and outdoor tasks. I just know that I was with him a lot and I learned so many practical skills. What I did not realize until much later in life was that I also acquired my worldview from him. I saw the world through the lenses my father wore—not physical lenses, but the lenses of his experience as a young man captured and made a prisoner of war just after his 21st birthday. He suffered and survived three and a half years of deprivation and unspeakable brutality.

Yet, the lenses my father gave me allowed me to see a world filled with possibilities rather than a world filled with obstacles. Somehow, though poor, and small, and average in almost every way, my father helped me see a world where I could do anything I set my heart and mind to do. The lenses my father gave me allowed me to smile through life’s ups and downs. He saw the good in everything and everyone. My father helped me to see faith in God as the best lense of all to see the world and others clearly. My worldview was shaped by a man who had survived unspeakable brutality and had escaped death over and over again as a result of these lenses. I learned to see the world and myself through them and as a result am an optimistic, determined (stubborn?), hopeful, God-dependant person.

The book about my father’s story and how it shaped me is available on Amazon (link below) in black and white ($14.99) and a color edition ($30.00). It is a very personal story, but it is also a national story. Men like my father who survived and came home from WWII continued to sacrifice and serve in order to build the life and nation that subsequent generations often take for granted. When my copy of the final book arrives I think I will not be able to put it down. I think I will sleep with it. It is a labor of love. I hope all who read it will think about those who have positively shaped their own lives—given them lenses with which to see the world and themselves as filled with possibilities, full of goodness, and because of faith, full of hope.

When I blogged about my personal journey discovering how much my father’s experienced shaped me, friends who read it encouraged me to write it for a wider audience. I have. If you or someone you know are part of that wider audience who might benefit from a read you can order it from Amazon.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Technology that is Personal?

After twenty years, some of which I was more actively engaged than others, I am very close to publishing a book about my dad’s experience as a POW in WWII and how it shaped me as a person and a pastor. My father died in 2006. His mother, my grandmother, died when I was a young child. And yet the book I am about to publish has my grandmother’s handwriting on the cover. How can this be? The wonder of modern computer graphics! My daughter Anne, who is a graphic artist, designed the cover of my book. I knew she would make it creative and beautiful. I didn't know it would be so extraordinarily personal.

In writing my dad’s story my mother gave me all sorts of materials related to his time as a prisoner of war. Among the artifacts were several telegrams that were sent to my father while he was a prisoner of war in Japan. He didn't receive any of them. They were returned “undeliverable.” At some point after my father was liberated and returned to the United States, my grandmother gave him the telegrams. My mother passed them on to me. I gave all of the documents and photographs to my daughter to scan in order to put them in the book. When I asked her if she would design the cover, the only thing I requested was that she include on the cover a picture of my dad holding me when I was a young child. The rest was up to her. What she did was stunning, and when I first saw it, it brought me to tears.

The front cover background is one of the telegrams with the government stamp with the date Dec 1945 clearly displayed. The closure flap of the telegram is also visible along with the government instructions for delivery. Though technology can be a menace at times, in this case it was a creative gift. The electronic scan of the inside of the telegram allowed my daughter to capture my grandmother’s handwriting one letter at a time. Then she used those letters for the title of the book and my name. The effect is stunning. Stunning because the use of the telegram and it’s written message makes the cover of the book a literal peek into that period of history. Stunning because the story is about how our parents' life experiences shapes us. My father’s mother is part of this string of life-shaping history. Her actual handwriting on the cover of the book is a remarkable testimony to this fact.

The back of the book also employs creative use of technology. My daughter was able to find a picture of the skin of aircraft panels online and use them for the background. This whole area of computer technology amazes me. I have no idea how it works, but it certainly is changing the way we are able to communicate in all sorts of mediums. In this case, for good; it visually communicates the book’s story. History shapes us and especially as it is absorbed through our significant relationships.

When history is communicated as story, it elicits images that can make it very compelling and very personal. Thinking about the power of the cover of my book got me thinking about the gospel. We have artifacts but we do not have actual pictures of Jesus and his time. We have the written story told meticulously from at least four angles in the Gospels. But the “images” of the gospel that bring the story to life and give it authenticity are the people whose lives have been shaped and transformed by the story of Jesus. His life and death and resurrection--the gospel--has shaped their lives. Their stories are the pictures and images of the life shaping-power of Jesus. Like my father’s story, the telegram, and my grandmother’s handwriting, the “images” of people whose lives have been shaped by the gospel story are what make the story so compelling and so personal.

· A man imprisoned for serious and violent crimes encounters the gospel while in prison and is transformed. A serious student of the Bible while still in prison, when he is released he becomes part of a local church and is a dedicated follower of Christ, serving and ministering to the power of the gospel.

· A woman imprisoned by drugs for most of her life and in and out of jail for related crimes had her children taken away two times. After a third time she began recovery. This time she encountered the living Christ in the gospel message and has turned her life around. Now sober four years she has regained custody of her three children. She has completed a certificate program in dental hygiene and is partnering to assist other parents regaining custody of their children. She too is a serving and contributing member of the local congregation, inspiring others to be shaped by Christ.

· A woman abused as a child and in unspeakable slavery to evil for almost thirty years is told by her Jewish psychiatrist that it's a miracle she is even alive. The scars and pain of her early years will never be forgotten. Three Christmases ago she stumbled into an Advent service and began to encounter the Christ of the gospel. She continues in therapy, but her life is now being shaped by the love of Christ and the love of his people who have surrounded her and taught her what love and trust really looks like. She, in turn, is helping to shape the Christian community as she gives her time and talents as an artist to a program for children after school and as a deacon serving others.

All these are stunning examples of the shaping of people’s lives by the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are pieces of history, images that display in living color the power of the gospel story. These lives, like the font of my grandmother’s handwriting, are being lifted up for all the community to see and know that Jesus is alive and shaping lives for eternity. This too is stunning and brings me to tears.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Newlyweds 36 Years Later

There we stood. Side by side in front of the bathroom mirror. In our underwear. Brushing out teeth. If it were not for my husband’s more reserved nature and the potential for Internet misuse (not to mention basic Christian modesty) it would have made a great picture for this post.

As I stood there brushing my teeth, I realized this is marital bliss thirty-six years later. This is true romance at the deepest level. Two people so comfortable with each other that mundane daily routines are causes for deep affection. Thirty-six years ago we could never have envisioned we would be standing here like this. Well, we certainly hoped we would be together thirty-six years later, but young love never contemplates the body thirty-six years later. Never could imagine all the miles and all the experiences shared along the way.

I had just finished a session of premarital counseling the day before. I could not help but wish I could have shown them this picture. This young couple is pretty exceptional. They understand, at least intellectually, that marriage is not primarily about romance and that the ideal peddled in movies and songs is a complete sham. But can they really understand how much marriage is about everyday sharing of things like brushing your teeth? After years of being frustrated by Christian books about marriage (I always had to disclaim two or three chapters) I have finally found an excellent one for modern young couples biblically sound and in touch with reality. It is Are You Waiting for the One? by Margaret Kim Peterson and Dwight N. Peterson, published by InterVarsity Press. I highly recommend it. In fact, I am going to recommend that our church’s student ministries program use it for our teens. The message of the book is epitomized in this statement. “Marriage is a school for character. . . an arena in which we can practice the art of faithfully bearing with one another in the midst of all that life brings.”

Further, the Peterson’s offer a very helpful alternative to the often polarizing choices of headship (where the man holds the power) and egalitarianism (where power is equally distributed). They offer the metaphor of teamwork, mutual “cooperation that relies on each other’s strengths and covers for each other’s weaknesses.” No matter what a couple calls their relationship, the reality of everyday life is lived out through teamwork more often than anything else. This is what I saw in the reflection in the mirror that morning—thirty six years of cooperation, teamwork.

Back to the bathroom mirror picture . . . Both my husband and I are in fairly good shape so with the range of possibilities the reflection wasn’t so bad. But it was the simplicity of the reflection in the mirror and all the everyday moments that it represented that got me thinking. Though some authors and some theologians would press husbands and wives into a one-size-fits-all mold, the Petersons’ book was refreshing because it more accurately reveals the reality of what marriage is like. There is no custom mold for marriage. Just as our reflection in the mirror differs from every other couple’s reflection, so the relationship between and husband and a wife differs with every couple. God has created each one of us unique. Two unique individuals joining lives are going to create unique patterns of living together, but always shoulder to should, side by side, navigating one day at a time.

The reflection got me thinking about how very seldom the long-term commitment of two people living very ordinary lives is portrayed in the media. Actually, though many would find fault with some of the material, the television program Modern Family and the marriage of Phil and Claire comes as close as I have seen. Though they are often challenged by cultural expectations of what their marriage should be, they always come to the realization that what it is—comfortable and ordinary but committed and faithful—is really what matters.

The reflection got me thinking. Flowers and gifts are wonderful. Words of kindness and love are precious. Romance is fabulous. But the everyday ordinary acts of faithfulness are the real warp and woof of a marriage that lasts. Taking out the garbage when it stinks, doing a load of laundry when the bin is overflowing, emptying the dishwasher, working in the yard, filling my car with gas when I have not even noticed it is close to empty, reminding me (forgetful as I am) to close the windows on my car, faithfully (and without complaint) waiting for me when one more meeting goes longer than I anticipated, a new tube of toothpaste appearing in my basket when the last one is squeezed to death—all of these are expressions of affection and commitment that are not glamorous but, like our reflections in the mirror they are who we are and what much of life is made up of. The simple things year after year add up to profound trust and deep comfort.

I will not be able to show to the young couple I am counseling the picture of us standing side by side brushing our teeth in our underwear. But I will talk with them about these things—reflections of love that last a lifetime. I can only hope and pray that thirty-six years from now they will be standing side by side brushing their teeth and looking in the mirror, too, and giving thanks for a marriage that is built on love that is demonstrated through the simple, every day acts of sharing life together, side by side.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thirty Thousand Prisoners Released: Danger or Opportunity?

The anxiety level is palpable. Due to overcrowded pisons and the budget crisis, the state of California will soon be releasing 30,000 prisoners. Some will be released to county jails (also overcrowded) and others will simply be paroled (to a system critically short on parole officers). You get the idea of why there is anxiety and why the result may be dangerous. But how could this be an opportunity?

What if every church in California prayerfully and carefully considered being a host church for one of these prisoners? Many churches are doing prison ministry already, but I know what most smaller church folks are thinking—this would be too hard for us. It is hard. It is very hard. I know because the church I serve is doing it. In February of this year our congregation welcomed a man who was paroled after thirty years in prison. He had been in the juvenile justice system many years before that. We have other people in our congregation who have spent some time in jail, but never this kind of a parolee.

I will call him George. As providence would have it, George found our church through a free Google call service with directory assistance and talked to one of our prison ministry volunteers who just happen to be volunteering answering the phone that day. For three years we corresponded about what might happen if he were released. Like many prisoners, George had come to faith while incarcerated and his life was transformed. He had become a serious student of the Bible and had not had any incidence of violence or crime for 20 years. But each year when his parole hearing came around, his parole was denied. His crimes were very serious ones and spanned most of his life. He was deemed a threat to society. He was a changed man, but the justice system did not believe it.

But through more providence, George ended up with a very attentive young public defender who was a devout Christian and came to believe in George. Through his efforts George was finally released. George was on his way to First Presbyterian Church of Downey. There is no way we could ever be adequately prepared for such a relationship. And, at times, I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Especially the day George met with a group of elders and told them his story—his whole story! I remember thinking and praying , We are not equipped to do this! I heard a voice inside me say, “No, you are not, but I am, and where else can he go?” And so, we submitted to the providence that had brought George to us. Though, I know there is still much work to do, so far God in his grace and mercy is walking with us. George is being greatly blessed, but so are we!

Even a small, resource-challenged church like ours (about 325 active members and friends) has been able to make a difference. Some of the things we have done are simple. The first things we provided did not cost much but were critical for his re-entry. We provided George with a cell phone (and taught him how to use it!) and a thirty-day bus pass. The cell phone made sure that he could contact any one of his support group or his pastor at any time. His lawyer had helped him get a bike. But George was spending hours getting to and from appointments and job interviews. The bus pass helped him to get around much more quickly.

Some of the things we did were more difficult. George was living in a shelter when he was first released from prison. Though it was a roof over his head and one meal a day, there were dangers there for George as well. In his extremely vulnerable situation legally, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, again, would send him back to prison. So, a member of the congregation had apartments and a couple of them were in the process of being updated. This member made one of these apartments available for George. After a couple of months, when George’s character was more proven, this member provided a room for George in his own home. According to this member, George is a hard-working person who contributes to the family and brings a great deal of laughter and joy to them.

We have utilized George for odd jobs around the church. Some he did as a volunteer—he needed constructive use of his time—and other jobs he was paid an hourly rate to begin to provide income for him. In this we were able to see his work ethic and whole-heartedly recommend him as a laborer to others. Another member of the congregation helped George purchase a used truck to accommodate his finding a job.

And, because we know this is a very complex situation, we have partnered with professionals along the way. Professionals and experience with other people that pose some risk in the life of a church helped us. A document called a limited access agreement is drawn up to set the boundaries for the participation of persons who pose any risk to the congregation. And to assist with George’s safe and positive acclimation into the life of our congregation a team of men was formed to be his support at all times. Any time George is on church property or with church members, he has one of his support group with him. This provides risk protection for the congregation but also for George. Due to his long history of incarceration, he is very vulnerable. A simple misunderstanding or misspoken word or an entirely false accusation could result in his return to jail. These wonderful Christian men are always with him to help guide him in the right way but also to protect him from false accusations. This agreement will remain in place until professional counsel says it is no longer necessary.

All this, by God’s grace, has meant that for the first time in thirty years, George is a free man and enjoying the simple things in life that most of us take for granted. But our congregation is being blessed as well. The grace and power of God evidenced in George’s life is amazing! If God turn his life around, God can do anything! George’s knowledge and love of the Scriptures and his eagerness to give testimony to what God has done in his life puts most of us to shame! George has inspired us! George is living proof of the transforming power of the cross of Christ.

So, what if 30,000 prisoners released from prison were to be adopted by 30,000 churches? What if 30,000 churches took seriously Christ’s teaching that as much as we do this for one of the least of these (including prisoners!) we do it for him? What if 30,000 prisoners released is an opportunity for the power of the love of God to be demonstrated to the watching and fearful world? I am just saying . . . What if?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Risky Business

It was really risky. Because the congregation had reached somewhat of a plateau in its redevelopment and because of the serious financial pressure created by the economic downturn of the last three years indicated the congregation would not be able to sustain all three full-time ministry staff, I threw my hat in the ring with the other staff. The “ring” I threw it into was an ad hoc group of lay leaders who were scheduled to meet with a human resources consultant to pray and deliberate about future staffing for the mission and ministry of our congregation. I threw my hat in the ring because I knew I had came to this congregation with a call to turn their self-absorption outward and help them to do mission and ministry so that they would grow to reflect the changed and continuing-to-change community they were in. From 1990 to 2010 the community demographics have completely flipped. Once 70 percent Anglo and 30 percent Latino, the 2010 Census revealed the reversal. It is now over 70 percent Latino and less than 20 percent Anglo!

By the power of God and with the partnership of two other ministers who are Latino and lay leaders willing to take great risks, the congregation has been transformed. A third of its members were over eighty, 98 percent were Anglo, and most were middle and upper middle class. Eight years later we are over 50 percent non-Anglo, 60 percent under fifty and as diverse socioeconomically as anyone can imagine. The congregation has been transformed and much more accurately reflects the surrounding community. But now it needs to be taken to another level of transformation. Though my heart longs for stability and job security, my heart longs even more for this ministry to thrive and make a difference for the kingdom of heaven. I wanted the congregation—very well represented by this lay ad hoc group meeting with the consultant—to be able to openly and honestly deliberate about what kind of leadership the next level of development would need. So I threw my hat in the ring.

I really expected them to thank me for my years of service and the critical role I played in the transformation of the congregation up until now, but to say they needed a very different leader for the future. It was scary. But I determined to practice what I have preached and to trust the Spirit of God working in these lay leaders to discern together what leadership they needed for the future. This is one of the distinctive of reformed theology and significantly shaped the polity of the Presbyterian form of government. We believe God speaks most clearly through his gathered, praying, studying, worshiping people. It is not easy to trust God in times like these when both your professional and personal future is at stake. But I knew that Christ cares for this ministry even more than I do and that he cares for me too. And I had seen the spiritual growth of these lay leaders and their engagement with the tremendous changes that had taken place in the congregation. I had to trust the Spirit of God would lead them. I had to trust that the Spirit would provide for me and my family as had always been the case in the past.

After several meetings with the consultant they asked me to join them in order to inform me about their process and to get my input. What a surprise! I was actually left speechless at first. I am hardly ever speechless! The ad hoc group had determined unanimously—Latino and Anglo members alike—that my particular leadership was still necessary for the next phase of redevelopment. I was stunned. I had already begun to work on networking for other employment. When I regained my speech, I questioned them. I challenged them. My main concern is my very limited Spanish. They remained steadfast in their determination.

A few days later I was in flight to Pittsburgh for a conference and some study leave time, and I read A Future for the Latino Church by Daniel A. Rodriguez. Holy cow! It is full of the affirmation of this group’s decision. The U.S. Latino population is increasingly bilingual and increasingly English dominant. According to Rodriguez the most rapidly growing Latino churches have Spanish-speaking ministries, but they are predominantly English-speaking congregations.

I am so grateful that I trusted these lay leaders. I am grateful to God for their risk-taking spirit and for their dedication to the ministry and mission of our church. I have renewed energy and commitment for what lies ahead. I have very little idea what it is going to look like, but that is exactly where I found myself eight years ago. God was faithful through it all. He will continue to be faithful. That completely changes the risk factor.

For anyone in ministry facing cultural shifts of any kind I would highly recommend Rodriguez’s book. The principles are transcultural and really helpful in understanding the current changing demographics of the United States. If you have other recommendations for a good read on the subject please share that with the readers in your comments.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let's Get Physical

I know. It is the name of a not-so-spiritually-enriching song. But it is the words that come to mind when I think of the deep significance of what my family did yesterday. On August 16 we learned that our grandson due in December had died in utero. On August 18 our daughter delivered this precious little life. He was named Elijah Evan. We determined to mark his life on Labor Day weekend when our immediate family and his paternal grandparents would be present. How do you do a memorial service for a little boy whose life ended at five months in the womb? With just a few family members gathered in the back yard, how could we adequately mark the immense depth of the experience of love and loss? Words are powerful. God’s word is especially so, and there was plenty of that spoken and heard. But with such gut-wrenching pain, with such physically visible sorrow, how could we memorialize Elijah in a way that would be remembered and cherished? I realized in reflecting on what we did, we got physical! For Elijah’s memorial we participated together in some very physical ways.

Our son wrote a song for Elijah. Wow! As Elijah’s father said, “How many children have a song written for them?” This five-month-old, taken-before-he-was-born little boy does! This was such a physical expression of remembering. My son spent a week writing and practicing. He played it on his guitar and he sang it for them. His sister sang with him. It is called “Little Feet.” The chorus says, “Li’l Lijah was just too good for this world” and “his little feet never even made footprints in the dirt.” The songs speaks of our sorrow but also our hope that someday “we will see his little smile and touch his precious face.” It was a physical act born out of sadness and love and hope. We all were in awe. We all were in tears. It was such a physical experience. And the wonder of modern technology allowed my son to record and send the song for Elijah’s parents to keep.

Our daughter wrote a poem. It too was born out of sorrow and loss and hope. In her own reflection time she wondered how she could be so sad about a little boy she never saw. Then she realized she had seen him in her heart and mind. Her poem chronicled all the ways she had seen him. She had seen him in the joy in the faces of his mom and dad preparing to introduce him to the world. She had already imagined him playing with Laurel, our granddaughter born in July. She had imagined him visiting me and me scooping him up in my arms and not wanting to share him! She had already envisioned what future Christmases would be like for Elijah. And she had seen in her heart and mind her own child someday joining these cousins. Her poem was a very physical expression of how such a young and unseen life could create such a visible and heart-wrenching loss. We all “saw” Elijah with her, and as she read her poem we all physically mourned. Beautifully framed and mounted in an originally crafted work of art, the poem will hang in Elijah’s parent’s home, an enduring physical reminder of Elijah.

And we all planted something. On Sunday, September 4, in memory of Elijah Evan, I had ordered an arrangement containing seven separate plants for our church’s Communion Table. I had planned to pot each one to give to different family members in memory of him or to plant them around the yard. My daughter, Elijah’s mother, wanted to plant them. So at the close of our time of remembering, we did. What an incredible experience! Some of us took a turn of the dirt. Some of us helped to water. Under the careful and experienced guidance of Elijah’s paternal grandfather, each of us participated and watched as these plants were given a new lease on life. And two of them were planted next to plants from the memorial service of my father who died in 2006. Elijah’s plants right next to Great Grandpa Davis’—this was such a physical act of hope for all of us. The closing of Elijah’s memorial was very physical.

Through the song and poem written for him and through the plants given new life we will have constant and beautiful reminders of Elijah. These acts promote healing as well. We got physical. It was healing and it was very spiritually enriching.

Everyone has had experiences of loss. Many have known the loss of a little one like Elijah. What are the ways you or others you know have memorialized a loved one that has helped you to remember and to heal? Add a comment and let the readers know.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mercies in the Valley

I have been gone. This blog will explain why. I hope it will also encourage all who read it in their own journeys through the valley of the shadow of death.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It is a deep numbness marked by frequent flashes of pain. To describe it is very difficult. To experience it is excruciating. In an instant giddiness turned to profound grief. One has to wonder about all the capability of modern medicine and its machinery.

We were at an optional (you pay extra) ultrasound to “see” our grandson now almost five months along in utero. Our kids were pretty sure the baby was a boy, but this image would be definitive at five months. We had seen the DVD of the last ultrasound done a month earlier. The technicians can enhance the sonogram image and make it 3-D. They put the whole thing to music and even watching the DVD was quite emotional for me. This little baby, my grandson, not yet five inches in length, was exercising his arms and legs. But it was just a DVD.

Now our daughter and her husband invited us to come with them for this amazing experience in real time. The anticipation was palpable. This technology would allow us to see this little life still in our daughter’s womb. We were all in the room as the technician projected the ultrasound image on the wall larger than life. Almost immediately I sensed something was wrong. The heartbeat we heard was slow, not the rapid heartbeat of an unborn little boy. And the little guy was not moving. It looked like he was sleeping. I wondered, “Do babies sleep in the womb?” I could not remember. The technician had our daughter roll on her side to see if perhaps she could arouse the little man and get a better sound. It did not take long to see this produced nothing more. And then the fateful words came. “Guys, I cannot find a heartbeat. You need to go to the hospital,” she said. And then silence and she left the room. She was just a technician after all, and obviously not trained professionally to deliver such news. No matter the words or how they were delivered, we were all in shock. It happened so quickly. One second we were waiting to see this precious child squirm and to hear that unmistakable sound of life—his rapid heartbeat. The next second we were in grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression—all at once overwhelming our consciousness. I thought I might pass out. Our dear daughter and son-in-law, these wonderful and anxious young parents were suddenly slammed down into the deepest fear and grief. You have to wonder about the capability of modern medicine and its machinery.

It was later confirmed at the hospital. We had lost our dear little December baby. We were not prepared for this. We thought we were past “the time” when these things happen. The following day our daughter’s wonderful doctor confirmed the technicians words but with extraordinary bedside manners. He explained in detail to us all that had likely happened and all that lay ahead of them. He kept apologizing. Regularly, he stopped and said, “I am so sorry I have to tell you these things. “ It was profoundly comforting because he was sincerely communicating that he had some clue about how very difficult this must be for them. Still through it all, now 20 hours later, the numbness was profound. And the occasional flashes of pain seemed to be going deeper. I felt somehow like I was drowning, submerged and unable to get to the surface for air. I was hoping it was a dream and that any moment I might wake up.

It was not a dream. The grief and pain was real. The next day our precious daughter and son-in-law were admitted to the family center to be induced to give birth to their son who the doctor estimated had died sometime in the past week. The sight and sound of live babies were everywhere. The doctor apologized for this, too, but explained the concern now was for our daughter’s health, and her best care could be provided in this place.

The sadness is too deep and raw for me to write much more detail about all that transpired after she was admitted. But in the midst of all the sorrow and pain the mercies of God were scattered all around. We had prayed for two things: as quick a delivery as possible (the doctor had said it could take anywhere from 8-30 hours!), and safety for our daughter. Of course we prayed for strength to make it through, too, but we were certain God would provide this. We had no guarantee of the other requests. Though we know we will need much more of God’s mercies in the days and months ahead, we are profoundly grateful for God’s mercy shown to us. The body of my grandson was delivered just under eight hours after our daughter was induced. And 72 hours after the tragedy began, our daughter was home and resting comfortably with every indication that physically she will heal well.

Our daughter and son-in-law named him Elijah Evan. It means “My God is the Lord.” Our God is Lord. And the Lord’s mercies were all around us. We are profoundly thankful for family close enough to gather together. We cried a lot, but there were also moments of laughter--one of God’s greatest creative medicines. We have been blessed with top of the line adult children who have chosen top of the line life partners—a priceless mercy. Immense mercies in the prayers of family and friends near and far poured over us like fresh rain and the wonders of modern communication meant that we knew of these mercies moment my moment. Throughout the ordeal, the Word of God dwelling in us richly and called to mind by God’s ever present Spirit reminded us regularly of God’s promises. All of these mercies will continue to accompany us in the days ahead.

This is not the blog I had planned to write about my grandson that was due in December. It is the blog that has come. Written through tears I am reminded that the Psalmist says that God stores our tears up in a bottle—valuing each one (56:8). And I am reminded that Jesus loves the little children and the Lord knows us by name before we are ever formed in our mother’s womb (Jer. 1:5). Though we will wait a very long time to hold Elijah Evan, we are confident that he is in the arms of his heavenly father. A dear friend reminded me of another mercy. My father who passed away five years ago and was absolutely baby-crazy, has surely found him and will likely be holding and rocking Elijah Evan for us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Worth Waiting For

I waited a long time for a grandchild. Our son married right out of college nine years ago. I think I was discreet about it—the waiting, that is. They knew how much I love babies. But I knew how much they had in their plans that made having children right away not practical. I just did not know how hard it would be to wait. All my friends sending me their Christmas cards with their couches and laps overflowing with grandchildren seriously tested my patience! It was cute at first. Then, year by year, it became torturous! I think my discretion weakened these last couple of years and I probably not so subtly expressed my longing—if not with my actual words, my face around babies probably said it all! Or maybe it was two Christmas Eves ago at church when I brought a little baby over to my son to show him what one looked like!?

I confess. I had my own selfish expectations. I got married young and when my son married younger, also, I just planned on being a very young grandmother. I am still young, relatively speaking, but not as young as I had planned. I did tell the kids I just hoped they would have children while I could still get up and down off the floor to play! And I guess I did warn them recently that if someone did not have a baby soon I may end up in jail for stealing a small child.

But finally the day came. Last Thanksgiving our son and his wife announced during the Thanksgiving meal that they were expecting a baby! Wow! What a great context for that announcement! And, true to my anxious grandparent’s heart, I already had a baby gift waiting! I immediately went into my little hope closet and got the soft little blanket square with a critter in the middle and gave it to them. I had purchased it two years earlier when I just could not help myself anymore. I had passed by so many sweet baby things. This one I refused to pass by. I bought it and put it away. It could wait with me for the time when my hope became substance!

But in November of 2010 July 4th of 2011, the due date, seemed so far away! I had waited over eight years. I told myself I could wait another few months. I did. It was so worth the wait! She was three days late, but Laurel Ana was born at 9 p.m. July 7th. All fingers and toes accounted for. Healthy lungs to announce her arrival. Though I could not be there, my son sent me the audio of her screaming she was here. Beautiful dark hair. No conehead and no visible marks or swelling from the long hard 24 hours of labor she extracted from her beautiful mother. She is perfect! Really! I know every grandparent says that, but Laurel really is. And she has already shown signs of inner beauty to match her outward gorgeous looks. She is as sweet as any baby I have ever been around and I have been around a lot of them. She has been so alert and observant. Though I know their little eyes do not focus clearly for several weeks, Laurel is sure looking intently at every face and everything put in her line of sight. You can see that she is searching for meaning in her environment and from those who care for her. Her little mouth already trying to make the shapes that make sounds. She rarely cries or fusses. She is pure sweetness.

Her inner beauty was really tested when she was only three weeks old and dragged to her Auntie Anne’s wedding on the 30th of July. Such a trooper! She made it to every party and celebration and was passed around to relatives, young and old, and friends too numerous to count. And rarely a peep out of her! She just searched faces intently, thrilled us with smiles occasionally (you can call it gas if you want, but the timing in response to people smiling at her makes me stick to my story—she was smiling at three weeks!). Then she would close her searching eyes to rest from all the hard work of exploring her new world and all these crazy people called relatives. And I just want to say, her mom and dad deserve a medal for their gracious and generous attitude in sharing this precious young life with so many folks without proof of hands properly cleansed with antiseptic wash or Red Cross training for child care.

Dear little Laurel was definitely worth waiting for. Did I say she is the most beautiful and personable little baby girl I have ever met? Ok. So I am over the top. All discretion aside, being a grandmother who has waited so long there is not time for such silliness. Oh! And I have another grandchild coming in December! This one a little boy. No doubt he will be the most handsome and charming young grandson to ever arrive on planet earth. I bet you can hardly wait for that post!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Communication that Changes the World

Now there’s a bold idea. What kind of communication can change the world? I know communication that can change my mood, and it doesn’t take much! I am familiar with communication that can quickly change a relationship by strengthening or destroying it. And, of course, there is non-verbal communication which can change all sorts of things, especially because it can be so easily misunderstood. High tech communication can change a person’s life in a matter of seconds as has been demonstrated on You Tube. But communication that changes the world?

In order for communication to change the whole world that communication would have to do one of two things. It would have to come from outside the world—a break through kind of communication for all the world to see. Or, it could start with just one person in the world but be communicated so deeply and widely that it could be described as having gone viral. Interesting, now that I think about it, there is one communication that I know of that has both of these characteristics—break through and grass roots viral. It is the incarnation. God becoming human flesh and living among us is exactly this kind of communication.

God, in Christ, came from outside our world. This was God communicating in living color! And, the message Christ brought both by his coming and in his teaching has changed the world, one person at a time—a tax collector, a prostitute, a shepherd, a fisherman, a leper. And it has spread so rapidly and so widely that, indeed, the whole world has been changed by what Christ communicated. The numerical denotation of history hinges on his arrival. The language of love he spoke transcends all languages. Christ’s message has reached the highest mountain and penetrated the deepest jungle. The desire to spread his message inspired great discoveries, spawned empires, inspired the printing press and gave birth to the world’s cutting edge linguistics. The message of Christ—for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son—has changed the world.

The power of this message is what keeps my communication focused on Christ. I can be a powerful storyteller and people will be spellbound…for awhile. I can construct and deliver a creative and compelling speech and people will be mesmerized…for awhile. I can make people laugh and cry and move them emotionally… but they will recover and forget. But when I communicate the love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God can take that communication and use it whenever and wherever and however he chooses because it has eternal power. The word of God always accomplishes God's purposes (Isa. 55:11). Long after the image of my face and the sound of my voice and the passion of my heart fade in the memory of those who hear me, the world changing message of the love of God remains. The incarnational love of God communicated in Jesus Christ has changed the world and one day will change it for eternity.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals . . . he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.‘ “ Rev. 21:1-5

However, the power of the message does not relieve communicators of the responsibility for excellence in how we communicate. For over 25 years Dynamic Communicator’s Workshops has been helping me fine tune my skills in communicating this world changing message. The workshop’s emphasis on clarity, focus and creativity combined with the personal attention and coaching, make it a stand out in the field of communication seminars. The power of the love of God communicated in Jesus Christ in the hands of communicators committed to excellence is changing the world.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Power of Hatred and Forgiveness

I met Col. Glenn Frazier in June in Pittsburgh at the second annual Descendants of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (DADBC) Convention. Like my father, he was a WWII exPOW and survived to tell about it. Unlike my father, he hated the Japanese—all of them. He hated them so much that he could not even stand to be in relationship with anyone who did not hate them too. Though he had been very successful as a soldier and in business after he retired from the military, his hatred destroyed his first two marriages and left him estranged from four children. Colonel Glenn Frazier had reason to hate the Japanese. He had suffered torture and starvation, and witnessed unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the Japanese in World War II. Glenn is a member of the Battling Bastards of Bataan. He survived the Bataan Death March, O’Donnell Death Camp, a Hell Ship, and forced labor in Japan. Glenn had suffered a lot for almost four years. And every day of those four years his hatred grew. Glenn Frazier is a member of the Greatest Generation who fought to secure freedoms every American enjoys. But as the Camp O’Donnell Memorial Cross on at Capas National Shrine in the Philippine Islands states clearly, “Freedom is not free.”

On July 4 we celebrate the birth of the United States of America. We celebrate it wildly with waving flags, fireworks and parades. And, of course, we eat sumptuously with family and friends! All this we are able to do because over the years men and women of the armed services have paid dearly. As the veterans like to say, “All gave some. Some gave all.” My father also was a prisoner of war of the Japanese for three and a half years. So were some 300,000 other men and women. One hundred thousand perished. These ex-POWs understood the cost of freedom and they appreciated every day thereafter and every meal they were able to eat after they returned home. But for Glenn, the survival and return was bittersweet. His hatred of the Japanese tainted every part of his life. He was a free man living in a free country but he was imprisoned by his hatred. His nights were sleepless, filled with horrific nightmares. His days were filled with arguments and tirades with anyone who dared to own a car or anything made by the Japanese. His health was failing and hatred was killing him.

Then along came a young Japanese student. You can read Glenn’s story in his book, Hell’s Guest. But the book does not tell about the young Japanese woman who was an angel sent from above. Glenn told me this story himself when I met him recently at the annual convention of the Descendants of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. Through an extraordinary act of grace and compassion this young Japanese student asked Glenn to forgive the Japanese who had caused his suffering. But she did not stop there. She asked permission to take off his socks and shoes. Then she took a basin filled with water and washed Glenn’s feet. When she was done, she prayed for Glenn to let go of his anger and forgive the Japanese for what they had done. She prayed that he would be freed from the hatred that had imprisoned him all these years. And he was! After this, within three weeks, Glenn’s nightmares ended and he was sleeping through the night. Hatred gone, he began to build relationships with people and to serve joyfully in his church. Glenn’s third marriage is holding strong, and he has reconciled with two of his four children. And Col. Glenn Frazier now takes every opportunity he has to tell people that freedom is not free. America’s freedoms have been won by the suffering and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of men and women. But more important, Glenn takes every opportunity to tell people that the ultimate freedom is the freedom from sin, like Glenn’s hatred and anger, and that freedom is only found in the grace and mercy of God. Spiritual freedom also is not free. But thank the Lord, someone else paid the price! Jesus Christ suffered and bled and died, so that we might be free from all that imprisons us. The love of Christ delivered a man named Glenn Frazier from fifty years of hatred and anger and the wake of destruction it left in his life. Freedom is not free. But Christ has paid the price.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Love Hate Relationship with Technology

Sometimes I love technology. Sometime I hate it. It is a love hate relationship. I cannot live without it and yet, at times, I would like to try! This week my computer decided to shut me out of the network in my office. I cannot access files. I cannot do a lot of thing necessary for performing the responsibilities of my job. Our computer tech person took one look at my computer and said, "I have no idea what happened." At times like this I hate technology. Especially when even highly technical people cannot figure out what it is doing or why.

I am a moderately educated user. I get by. But frequently my computer does things and I have no idea why. I assumed that was because of my relative idiocy when it comes to all things computer technical. But if even our tech guy is stumped, what's a person to do? I also hate computers when I encounter people who have become trapped in the vices it provides. And I encounter a lot of these people. Pornography, sites that prey on people, online affairs and addictions of all shapes and sizes make the computer and the internet high on the list of potential evils.

And yet, I do love the technology as well. Especially this last week. Last Thursday my first grandchild was born in San Diego, California. Laurel Ana was safely delivered at 9 p.m. on the 7th of July, screaming her healthy lungs out! For a variety of reasons, I could not be there. But my son sent me the audio of her birth. On my Iphone I have the recorded sound of my granddaughter announcing her arrival. It is amazing--both her lung capacity and the fact that I was able to hear it (and have the sound to play over and over again)! I love this technology! We live in Los Angeles about two hours away from my son and daughter-in-law and new baby. With Southern California traffic it can take four hour to travel the 100 miles to San Diego! So I cannot run by their home every day or even every other day to see this sweet baby. But thanks to technology we can Skype and see this little family in living color, live anytime they allow us. Two nights ago I watched as my son held Laurel and explained how sweet she was. He said, "She is so cute I just want to squeeze her really tight! But she is so tiny I know I have to be careful." How wonderful is that? Because of this technology that I cannot begin to understand, I can literally see and hear my little Laurel Ana and her wonderful parents every day! I love this technology.

And because of this technology I can also share some of these sacred moments with my extended family and friends. The beautiful picture in this blog of my son hanging over the basinette adoring his little daughter says so much. His wife Jackie sent this picture to me this morning from her Iphone and I was able to share it with all my siblings waiting til the next family reunion to share pictures.

Wow! Its a rough call. Technology can be horrible and it can be wonderful, but because it can enhance connection between us when we are separated from those we love, I think I will go with the, "I love it!"

Monday, July 4, 2011

Of Thee I Sing

My father was a WWII POW. He was in the US Army just 19 months when he became a prisoner of the Japanese during WWII. He was starved and often brutalized and suffered for three and one half years until Japan surrendered in August of 1945. He was liberated about a month later. He did not re-enlist. But he often said, “If my country needed me and I could serve, I would go again.” He was very patriotic. And one of the signs of his patriotism was evident whenever the national anthem was played the tears would roll down his cheeks. Whenever the flag was raised or any patriotic songs were sung or played my father would silently cry. These symbols of our country moved him deeply. He lived to be 85 and I don’t think the emotion ever subsided. I have witnessed this over and over again with the American people, and veterans in particular, in a variety of contexts. Patriotic music moves people—especially people who understand the cost of our freedom.

As a pastor and worship leader it makes me wonder. So often I sit in worship and observe people singing songs about the love of God, the sacrifice of Christ, the price he paid for our sins, the grace and mercy and forgiveness of the Lord, the new life we are given, and yet I would dare to say the majority of people sitting in worship are at least visibly unaffected by what they are singing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not believe that tears are the primary or necessary evidence of heartfelt worship. I am just saying that the contrast between what I see when veterans sing the national anthem and what I see when many Christians sing in worship makes me wonder. It makes me wonder if we understand the cost of our spiritual freedom? I do not see the same level of engagement with the lyrics of the words of worship music as I do with patriotic songs. Animated and enthusiastic is how I would describe patriotic singing followed by clapping and whistling and cheering. Not so in worship in many churches I preach and worship in. And heaven forbid, if someone actually moves or raises their hands during the singing! Even when the song’s lyric’s say “we lift up our hands” few venture to actually do such a demonstrative thing.

The important question for person to ask is, of whom or what do I sing? What makes my heart sing? What gives me goose bumps? What makes me want to shout for joy? What causes me to silently be in awe? These are questions especially important for people claiming to be set free by the blood of the Lamb. Tears will not reveal the answer to all of these questions but they do indicate some level of deeper engagement in the music and its words. The question for me is clear, no matter what the visible signs, who is the “thee” of whom I sing?!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Crossing Cultures With Cupcakes

They moved in to the neighborhood several months ago. The women all wear long, black robes and black scarves that completely cover their heads and necks. Their faces are exposed. My curiosity was piqued by the fact that they often sat out on their driveway in plastic lawn chairs. This seemed like an openness to the neighborhood. But their very conservative dress made me hesitant. I was afraid that I might inadvertently offend them. I had no idea what country they were from or if they spoke English. Later I noticed the women were also sitting on furniture in the garage with the garage door completely open. This too seemed to me to express openness in spite of their dress. The problem was that when I saw them, I was usually working and on my way to the hospital or some meeting—no time to spontaneously stop.

So, I prayed for an opportunity. And I determined that the next time I was home and saw that they were sitting outside or in the garage I would walk over and introduce myself. A long time passed and no opportunity presented itself.

Then on Memorial Day I was working in the yard and noticed their garage door was open. I quickly went inside our house and put some more appropriate clothes on since I was wearing my bathing suit and a short skirt cover-up. I figured this would definitely offend them. Then I remembered that I had a new batch of cupcakes and Rice Krispy bars for our guests arriving later. But I also know I always have way too much food whenever I have company. So I put some of the cupcakes and bars on a plate and covered them with saran wrap. Then I scribbled our names and phone number and address on a Post-it Note and attached it to the top of the saran-covered plate. I said a prayer and walked outside. But all the preparation had taken long enough that my neighbors’ garage door was closed. What to do? I said another prayer and determined there was no turning back. I would have to ring the door bell. I did.

It took them a while to come to the door. I could hear a lot of commotion inside. And most of it was not in English! Finally, an adult woman, dressed in the full black robe and scarf, came to the door, talking on the telephone. I held out the plate and tried to explain what I was doing. The woman smiled but shook her head. Quickly an older man and another woman appeared. The gentleman seemed to understand and said something to the women, and they took the plate of goodies. Then two small children poked their heads out the door. They were speaking English! I was saved! I explained to them what I was doing—welcoming them to the neighborhood. They all smiled and nodded and seemed genuinely appreciative. They closed the door, and I left. I wasn’t sure if my mission was accomplished but I at least was grateful for the opportunity to try to reach across the cultural divide.

Two days later I arrived home from work and found a plate of flatbread on our kitchen counter on the very same plate I had delivered the cupcakes and bars on. My husband, Drew, explained that an older woman, dressed in black from head to toe had rung the door bell and given him freshly baked flatbread. She spoke in her native tongue. Drew said the bread was still warm and delicious—which explained why half of it was already eaten! It was wonderful and a wonderful affirmation of the power of crossing cultures with something as simple as cupcakes. I felt a deep sense of joy over what might be ahead. I am not much of a textbook learner. I am more of a dive-in-and-see-what-happens learner. I could imagine all that I might learn from getting to know these neighbors, including how to show and express the love of Christ to them respectfully and clearly.

A few days later a younger woman came by with two small children and brought a pan of Baklava. She spoke English. Drew told her that an older woman had come by with bread earlier, she said, “Oh! That was my grandmother. She did find the right house!” The two small children were oo-ing and ahh-ing over our pool, so Drew invited them to come swimming sometime. We will definitely follow up on that soon. I think the swimming pool might cross cultures even more than cupcakes!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A More Visible Church

Today four congregations in Downey California were much more visible. Today congregations from four different denominations worshipped together celebrating the birthday of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We did this in a city park. And we got to that park by parading down the sidewalks, each congregation joining the parade as we went along. You have heard of progressive dinners? This was a progressive Pentecost parade. It was a beautiful thing to behold. Men and women, boys and girls of all ages carrying banners and balloons, and wearing red walking (some in strollers and one in a wheel chair) through our city on our way to worship in a park. We were much more visible today. We were outside the walls of our respective buildings. That made us quite visible. But we were also together. This also made us much more visible. Racially and denominationally, Sunday morning is said to be the most segregated hour in America. Not for our four congregations today. We were seen together. And we were enjoying being together.
Once at the park we were much more visible. Our worship was done out in the open, in the round around a park pavilion. Children were running around. Some people arrived early and some late (as usual). Our music was much more visible thanks to a trombone ensemble, a vocal ensemble and everyone singing together. We sang in Spanish, we sang in English, and we said the Lord’s Prayer in many different languages all at the same time. What a glorious Pentecost sound! And what a visible Church! Neighbors near the park, cars driving by, walkers and joggers, people coming to the park for recreation—all saw the Church. There was no traditional sign posting this was the Church. The sign was in our being together. The sign was in our uniting around our one faith in Christ sealed by the one Holy Spirit given to us for life together. The true Church, the one that belongs to Christ and knows no geographic, structurally, or denominational boundaries was gathered and very visible. It was a glorious sight! It was a glorious sound! The tongues of fire were not over our heads. The tongues of fire were in our hearts and the result was that we all heard the good news in “our own language”—the language of our hearts. Today the Church was much more visible.

Of course where there is fellowship of the Spirit there is always food! We shared a birthday cake for the Church of Christ and the Spirit that makes it alive. And there was coffee. Always there is coffee. Worship, cake, coffee—together they made a celebration visible for the community. Today the Church was much more visible. I pray that the Spirit of God who gives us life, and that same Spirit that gathered us in the park today, will send us out into the world with the Spirit’s fire in our hearts so that the Church will be much more visible wherever we go!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blogger Blunder

Blogging begets blundering.  This blogger, in order to post, gets excited about something, feels inspired, or is provoked by some injustice or human foible. In each of these cases it sets me off writing. And I have to strike while the iron is hot, or, I should say, blog while the passion is high. Problem is this creative impulse does not always lend itself to having time to check all the facts and details. 

In my blogging infancy I have been caught blundering. A good friend and colleague and gifted musician has caught me blogging about music beyond my expertise. I am deeply affected by music. But my knowledge of music and musicians is very limited. 

So my blog on the church as global cover stands corrected. Gimme Shelter by Playing For Change features musicians quite famous and instruments quite expensive. Who knew Taj Mahal  was a world class musical veteran or that an old National Steel guitar could look so bad and be priceless? This blogger certainly did not. 

But my friend also graciously suggested the analogy still remains. The diversity of our churches are even richer because of the mix of ordinary and extraordinary players. They may include very gifted (though perhaps not famous) people with gifts that appear common (though really priceless). 

So, I stand corrected. I will continue to blog and continue to blunder. And I will learn thanks to friends who read and respond. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Church as Global Cover

Who would have ever thought that a sampling of amateur musicians from all over the world mixed by a sound artist could make such beautiful and moving music? And, to top the amazement, the piece is a remake of a beloved Rolling Stones classic. William Goodman and Playing for Change accomplished just such a musical feat. The Rolling Stones classic, Gimme Shelter, performed by a mix of professional and amateur musicians from all over the world by the international music collective has brought tears to the eyes and goose bumps to the flesh of millions of listeners—compliments of You Tube, of course. Check it out at or

Listening and watching this video I could not help but think about the church, the kingdom of God. I am not talking about the buildings or the denominations but the incredibly diverse group of people from all over the world who claim the name of Christ and therefore are connected by the Spirit of God. This is the church Jesus inaugurated and spoke about. This is the church that will celebrate almost 2000 years of life on June 12, Pentecost Sunday.

As I watched the Playing for Change video of Gimme Shelter, I was amazed at the variety of people and instruments. The people looked very ordinary and some of the instruments were homemade and some were worn and unimpressive. It reminded me so much of the church I serve. It is full of a great diversity of very extraordinary and ordinary people. And they are from all over the world. We have Filipinos, Mexicans, Guatrmalans, Puerto Ricans, Taiwanese, Venezuelans, and some Swedes and Norwegians as well! None of us are famous for anything or have any notoriety to speak of, we are all very common instruments, some very worn and unimpressive by the world’s standards. But these dear people are making music that is beautiful and moving. They are being led by the Spirit of God to be a church that is very different than most. The older dominantly Anglo members have given full support to the transformation of the congregation so that it is a accurate reflection of the neighborhood. Once a upper middle class professional gathering, it is now filled with single parents, immigrants from many countries, ex-cons, unemployed, and every other common every day walk of life. Together they make beautiful music. They work together to make a safe place for our neighborhood children to have recreation, art and music, and homework support after school. Together they help to repair and rebuild one another’s homes. Together they provide a safe place for someone just out of prison after 30 years of incarceration to find shelter, work, and community. Together they are struggling through very challenging economic times in order to remain faithful to an unusual mission for unusual times. This local congregation is a “global cover” mixed by the Spirit of God. And when combined with the church universal, all across the globe, the music produced cannot be captured on any media no matter how technologically advanced. The global church—ordinary and differently gifted people of every tribe and nation—is the extraordinary symphony directed by God that is marching ever so slowly but certainly toward a new world order. Though Family Radio had the timing wrong. The truth remains. God in Christ is building his kingdom and nothing will prevail against it. And one day, when the Good Lord determines the time is right, all those who claim the name of Christ—the Church—will be gathered singing a global cover song that will ring out for eternity. I, for one, can hardly wait!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Gift of Listening

I just completed two weeks of travel with my father’s WWII POW exhibit. The exhibit is designed to honor my father, of course, but it is also designed to encourage those who attend to remember to thank veterans and service people whenever they have the opportunity. The exhibit also encourages people to tell their own stories. Every person has a story to tell. Certainly, some stories are more dramatic than others, but every person has unique experiences in life that can be very interesting and informative.

At every exhibit I took the time to ask the veterans who attended about their own stories. Often, the response was, “no one is interested in my story” or “no one cares.” I was stunned at how common this response was. When I pressed them a little, almost all of them began to tell me a little of their story. And within seconds, almost every one of them began to cry. Their lips would quiver and their eyes would well up with tears. I was amazed. Very quickly it became clear that people are very touched when someone takes the time to listen. I did not have hours. In most cases I did not have much time at all, but each time I had the opportunity I took a few minutes to listen. It is astounding what people will tell us in just a few minutes if we listen.

Part of their openness to telling their stories, of course, was that some of them had just heard me tell mine. And part of their emotion was that many of these were men who had served in time of war and experienced significant threats to their lives and the loss of comrades and friends. Vietnam vets in particular were emotional about their experiences. The war was such a divisive one in this country and the first to be played out on television on a daily basis. These vets came home not to parades and heroes welcomes, but to derision, criticism, and outright scorn. When I thanked these veterans, they all commented on how infrequently they had heard this.

Politics and wars aside, this experience reinforced for me the deep significance of listening. It is a gift. It is a gift to the one who is heard and to the one who listens. We live in an activity-crazed, frenetically paced time. We simply do not have much time to stop and listen to each other. When we do, people are surprised, and if we really listen, they are nurtured by the attention. But listening is also a gift to the one who hears. Each time I heard a story and looked into the eyes and soul of another human being and heard their story, I felt somehow that I was on sacred ground. Each time I learned something that I did not know before and each time I encountered some part of the image of God.

When my children were little I remember them telling me something and I would respond with a “uh-huh “ or “okay.” Intuitively (and by my body language) they knew that I was not really listening. More than once my children called me on this. They would say, “Mommy, you are not really listening.” They were right. I wasn’t really listening. I was distracted and attending to something else. My recent road trip to do my father’s exhibit has renewed in me a desire to really listen to people. Listening is a gift. And it is a gift that I can give.