It’s real.

June was a pretty bad month.  It was in June that we found out about Joyce’s cancer.  The thing is I have these nightmares, always have that something bad is going to happen to J and the girls,  usually when they are driving.

I have been wondering for a while when Cancer was going to hit,  I just always assumed that I would be the one to get that diagnosis.  It’s not fair,  for J to have to have this happen to her, and yet here I sit in the waiting area, the Doctor did come out and let me know that the surgery for the port went well, no complications, which is one of those really bitter sweet things.  I’m glad there were no problems putting the port in.  My imagination was going full blast which is not hard any more coming up with all the bad things that were going to happen.  The thing is they just put in a way to easily access J’s veins to pump her full  of poison that if it does it’s job will shrink the cancer so that they can then set up another  appointment for more surgery.

The thing is before today it was something we were fighting but there was this un-realness to it for lack of a better word.  Today though, it all came crashing in again.  This is real, there is not a miracle, the pet scan did not show the cancer suddenly gone.  God didn’t just heal her so we don’t have to do this.  It’s still there, the steps have to be walked.  The treatments start Wednesday, there isn’t going to be a last minute reprieve, there will be no oh wow check that out the tumor is gone.  There will be months of chemo, and surgery and radiation and and and.

The problem that I have right now is how to be what I need to be for everyone in life right now.  How do I take care of Joyce, take care of the girls, take care of the church.  How do I make sure that everyone understands that life is supposed to be all about Joyce right now.  That she is what matters that her well being, and psyche is really all that matters to me.

There are so many things that rush around in my head and heart, that we have to deal with,  that she has to deal with and I know for a fact that I’m not equal  to the task.  that’s the bad part, knowing you’re not equal to the task, knowing that there are going to be entire days when drowning not only will seem possible, but preferable.

This is all real, and today’s surgery just brings the gravity of the situation home in a way that I was able to dodge until today.

Six years ago I blogged my way through almost losing J.  Six years later I’m going to blog my way through cancer.  I’m not sure what that will look like, except I’m fairly sure it will  happen more in the spaces where we wait, in the angst of not knowing, the hardships that will be chemo, the frustration that J will go through in not being able to do what she is used to.

As we move through this time know that we will need…I will need…I just don’t know at this point what those needs will be.

More to come…

 

All Lives Don’t Matter until…

No LIves Matter

Several years ago I was a recipient of white privilege without even realizing it. The thing that brought that revelation home came last week when Philando Castile was shot by a police officer.  He was pulled over for a tail light that was out, he had a job he had a family, there was a child in the car…

Our family had recently relocated to Maryland, we were driving to see Joyce’s parents, as we came through the Deep Creek area the lights flashed behind us, and that drop in the pit of your stomach that you get when you are pulled over for speeding hit.  I didn’t think I had been speeding but who knew, it was dark, the kids were in the car and so I pulled to the side of the road.  The officer came to the window I rolled it down and he asked how I was doing and if I knew that my tail light was out?  Of course I didn’t realize the light was out, because even though I know just like everyone else does  you’re supposed to check those things I didn’t,  who really does?  The officer was really polite, I don’t even remember him asking for my license or registration.  Just a quick warning and an admonition to get that tail light fixed, he went back to his cruiser turned on the lights turned around and went down the road,  I started the old station wagon up and headed on to the in-laws.  Simple as that, but what if?

That’s been the question that most white people are afraid to ask themselves, and like so many questions the reason we are afraid to ask it, usually stems from the fact that we know the answer.  Being white has it’s perks, more-so than any other race in America today. We rail against affirmative action, we judge entire people groups based on preconceived notions of what “those people” are like, or on the actions of a few.  We talk about justice and fairness and the plight of the inner city, we roll though certain neighborhoods and suddenly roll up all the windows and lock all the doors based on one thing the color of the people who are hanging out in their community doing what every white kid of the 80s did on any given Saturday growing up as soon as they got old enough to realize the freedom of the mall and the skating rink.  No one ever pulled up to the doors of the Skate Zone back where I was from and suddenly got safety conscious because of the mob of white teenagers standing in line waiting to get in.

We point to the fact that black on black crime is a huge problem, as if that’s justification for our bigoted views. Even white poor people in America are given more sympathy than black poor people.  The sadness that is large swaths of the Appalachian mountains and the people that live there is huge, but it’s easy to find missions trips and volunteer opportunities to those areas.  Not many moms and dads would have issue with sending their kids to help those poor people in the mountains, but offer the same trip to some of the blighted housing projects inhabited by large numbers of black families and suddenly there are concerns for safety.

As a Christ follower I cringe every time certain famous evangelicals open their mouth in the public arena.  They don’t speak for me, and a vast majority of Christians but they are the ones that get the press, they are the ones that get the air time, and therefore they are the ones that all Christians are judged by.  I feel the same way about white people who say all lives matter in response to the Black Lives matter movement, and the reason is simple.  My interaction with that officer in the tail light instance shows that white lives matter, in a way that Black lives do not, and it’s not just the seeming indiscriminant killing of black men that I’m talking about. There is more to living than the act of breathing.  Every time I roll up the windows and lock the doors when driving through a black neighborhood, I’m automatically devaluing every life in that neighborhood, when I use the absent father argument regarding a kids behavior, and I don’t know if that father is absent, but I base it on their skin color, I’m devaluing black lives.  When I talk about Welfare and really mean to say Black, or Latino people are a drain on society, I am devaluing lives that are not white.

You get the picture.  Living is more than breathing, It’s what we do while we are breathing, it’s how we interact with our world, and those around us.  White people are the only ones I know that can have in their history a propensity to oppress anyone that doesn’t look like them, and when those people groups begin to say enough is enough. When they start to stand up and say “wait, I am a human being just like you are,  I have all the same organs you do, I breathe the same way, I live and laugh and love, the same way you do.  My life matters, everyone that looks like me matters as well.”  The white person gets worried and spins it to all lives matter, because the oppression is all they know.  It’s the way things have always been, and if other people begin to get the same perks that I have, if they get the same respect I have, if that black family starts driving through my white neighborhood and locks their doors, I am going to lose something,  I’m going to lose my sense of place, my understanding of the order of things will be shattered,  my whiteness will be threatened.

What bothers me most is the words I hear people claiming to follow Christ uttering.  Justifying the actions of the police, calling their black brothers and sisters to a higher standard than they are willing to take.  Supporting law enforcement blindly.  All of it strays from this principle found in the Bible.

Faith Heroes Reference

Somehow we have forgotten this, as we have allowed ourselves to be segregated on Sunday morning. When we don’t stand with our fellow Christ Followers, when we blame them, or say well it’s sad but…when we do all of those things we are saying well actually In Christ there is White people and then everyone else, and hey if everyone else would realize that we are right and we have the corner on the market of faith then their lives would be better. If they would just learn their place…

Sure we don’t say those things because again we are afraid to ask that on question.  What if…

What if I really am prejudice, what if I really do see my skin tone as the “right” skin tone?  What if it was my son, or daughter or husband or father that was shot by an officer.  What if…I was honest enough to admit that not only does white privilege exist but that I am so happy that I benefit from it.

What if I found out where the next protest would be, and what if I would head down and stand shoulder to shoulder with another person, because until his or her life matters to me personally, and until I show myself and them that their life matters to me personally, all lives don’t really matter to me?

Holding Hands

Holding hands is so easily taken for granted.
23 and a half years ago I slid my hand across a church pew at Southside in Lakeland FL and she took it. The butterfly’s were huge, but the happiness and excitement were amazing.

You learn a lot about each other in 20 plus years and in that learning you grow not just in love but in something more.

In 2010 I blogged for a month about J being sick. Over the coming months, with her permission of course, I will do so again.

She has been diagnosed with stage 3, invasive, Lobular cancer. We are looking at a fairly involved treatment plan, including chemo, surgery, radiation, shots and pills for 10 years.

We don’t want pity, although I am sure many will give it. We need prayer,support, and friends.

I would also ask that people not tell me, her, or the kids God is in control, that He has us in his hands, he loves us etc. these things while true currently ring very hollow. I know a pastor is not supposed to say that, I know we are supposed to have answers and all that. Well we don’t and I don’t.

Speaking of the kids, if you are reading and interact with them, please don’t mention this till next week even if you want to encourage them. We will be telling the, this week.

Don’t forget verse three…

One would think by now that I would have become desensitized to the ranting’s and ravings of the Christian glitterati…At this point I have heard enough of it, so have you.  With each passing day another “important” famous Christian person is taking a stand for something.

A couple of weeks ago…at least I think it’s a couple of weeks ago, when the whole bathroom thing took over the world of right wing, conservative, values voters, I of course chimed in.  I talked about the fact that as a dad of three daughters we have been making bathrooms unisex or nonsex or non gender or whatever you want to call it off and on for the last 13 years.  This past Thursday I took Amberly to her 8th grade trip to Six Flags, and also had Jo with me as Thursday is Daddy day.  I was again wishing for not just a family restroom but a unisex bathroom with multiple stalls that I could use for the two of us. That incident almost prompted me to make the church restrooms genderless, until I realized that they pretty much already are.  If one is in use people just naturally go to the other, they aren’t that big after all, (the bathrooms I mean.)  Anyway as I’ve already written about this idiotic issue I am going to leave that situation here.

What I want to talk about is an increasingly disturbing trend among “Christian” leaders who for whatever reason seem to have the ear of media, be it conservatives who seem to give them a pass as being an oracle from above, or the liberal media who seems to go out of it’s way to find anyone claiming to follow Christ that also happens to help them beat on the Christian faith as antiquated and unenlightened.  See how I did that, no one is exempt from intolerance.  The problem is Christians should not even attempt tolerance, Jesus was never worried about tolerance,  he was worried about this four letter word called love that we put conditions on but that He just handed out willy nilly…anyway there I go again, talking about how Christians should go above and beyond the whole tolerance thing and….

Ah.  Stupid adult add…anyway back to it.

The thing that bothers me more and more is the ease with which people that have a platform spew and the apathy of people who don’t agree with them in the world of Christianity to just let them do so.

I have such a conflict every year as I pray for and plan for ministry at the church.  I love what Samaritans Purse does with it’s shoe box campaign for kids.  I love how you can actively involve families in not just throwing money at a problem but in being involved in picking out gifts to give to kids who get more excited over a pack of crayons than my kids do over whatever it is they are asking for.  I just can’t support Franklin Graham mainly because he keeps opening his mouth.  Same goes for his lesser known (at least to me) sister who again finds it more important to fight about a bathroom and yell at people that the end is near instead of trying to actively engage the people she claims she wants to see “saved.”

The most recent and again it’s this stupid bathroom issue is Dobson.  Someone that I haven’t really followed for…wow just way way longer than I can even remember seems to find it more important to brand our president a Tyrant and to condone people shooting people for using a bathroom.

All of these individuals spend an inordinate amount of time being outraged and debating bathrooms, meanwhile The State of Homelessness in America report for 2015 tells us that on a single night in January 2014, 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness.  As of 2012 there were 20.9 million victims of human trafficking world wide, with 1.5 million of them happening in the US.  According to the World Alzheimer’s Report 2015, 9.9 million new cases of dementia would be diagnosed with the number of people living with dementia to rise for 46million to 131.5 million by 2050. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System shows 415,129 children in foster care on September 30 of 2014. According to The Sentencing Project there are 2.2million people in prison or jail in the US, incarceration has increased by more than 500% in the last 40 years. What’s my point, well aside from the obvious parallels that can be made to Matthew 25, and what we should be worried about.  There is something deeper at work here, at lest to me there is.

Evangelical Christians like to point to Romans 12:2 when the decide to rant and rave about the direction the country is going.  In case you were wondering what it says, I’ll clue you in.

Romans 122 [widescreen]

This verse, at least in my estimation, is so misused it’s tragic.  Conventional wisdom for the average evangelical that follows this thought process states that the way we don’t conform to this world is to take a ranting loud stand about things that bother us, make us uncomfortable, or demand we see people through they eyes of Christ instead of our own.  It’s easy to stop at do not be conformed to this world…because then we have a cause, we can be the hero to other like minded individuals, in this case “Christians” and the heel to the rest of the world, read martyr to again, other people who think like we do.  But what if we really worked on the rest of what this verse says…what if we worked on allowing God to transform our minds,  what if we were willing to actually work harder at seeing people as individuals instead of as enemies.

What would happen if we went from verse 2 to verse 3, keeping in mind that there is more than just refusing to conform.  That part of conforming to the world is fighting the way the world fights.  What if Christian leaders would take the rest of the verse and allow it to penetrate their lives and stop telling people they have the answer to what it means to have a renewed mind, because if you follow their logic they feel that the only way my mind or yours can be renewed is if we swallow what they say. If we stand up with them for whatever cause they have decided to fight.  That the only way my mind and your mind can be renewed is if we fight the bathroom wars, or the cake wars, or the tolerance wars, or the creationist wars.  I wonder if we would all work at allowing Jesus to renew our minds if things could be different.  I wonder if these and the countless other celebrechristians would be willing to read Romans 12:3 as written specifically to them…

Romans 12:3 (HCSB)
3 For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.

Whenever one of these people gets up and starts speaking for the rest of people who claim to follow Christ I find myself dropping my head in defeat.  Because it’s not about any of the things that they have decided are important.

If we would spend more time doing what Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 (notice how I keep referencing that set of verses but I don’t pop them up here…why not just read it for yourself…)  If we would worry more about loving God and loving people…, there would be no time fight these stupid fights and take these stupid stands because my world would begin to be changed by the love and grace, and mercy and justice of Jesus, renewed and changed not into what I think it should be, but what He designed it to be.

Is the bathroom really that important?

I become more and more amazed as the years go by at the causes people claiming to follow Christ find important.

People on both sides of the bathroom debate exist in “christian” communities. If you have friends and acquaintances on both sides of the debate as I do it tends to get annoying.  What I mean by that is how both sides claim the moral high ground, both claim to be right.  Meanwhile what matters most to Jesus, the person we claim to follow, gets ignored.

I find lately that most of the “important issues” that christians have decided to discuss, debate, and allow to distract and divide them fall into this category.  Think about it the last thing we were told to do by the person we claim, (and increasingly I’m thinking for many it’s more claim than commitment), to follow is as follows

Mark 16:15 (HCSB)
15 Then He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.

I guess I want to know where fights over the bathroom fit into this.  Sure it’s easier to read the above verse this way…

Go into the world that you’re comfortable with and preach the gospel to the people you’re used to, or that you can frighten or brow beat into being just like you…and for the record that happens on both sides of the issues the church has currently chosen to fight about.

As far as the whole bathroom thing is concerned…well my take…I’m all for Unisex Bathrooms.  Sure you would have to retrofit some to offer privacy to all, because let’s face it, privacy in the bathroom is important for any person using it.   As a dad of three girls, all of which were taken on countless dad daughter dates starting from when they were in carriers all the way up to now, bathrooms have been unisex anyway.  If there were stalls for all involved with one common area (the sink) that would be great for me, especially as they got older and wanted the independence but needed the reassurance of their parent.  “I don’t want to go into the boys room daddy, can’t you just come in and shut the door?”  It’s a bathroom, you have one in your house and it’s unisex.  The arguments used against is are funny too mainly because most (not all) of the people making the argument against unisex bathrooms use the scare tactic of “Don’t you want to keep your children safe from predators?”  Also get angry when anyone suggests that gun control is needed to help keep kids safe.  When faced with the logic of background checks etc, they often will point out that people that want do do bad things with guns will still get the guns.  Couldn’t the same logic be put in place here.  Pervs who want to hurt people are still going to hurt people so why regulate bathroom use?

Anyway I digress the point isn’t about bathroom use, or lgbtq and whatever other letters are now being added, or gender pro-nouns, it’s not about conservative or progressive or whatever you want to call it.  It’s about sharing the gospel with a world that needs it, now more than ever.  It’s about becoming more like Christ.  It’s about being able to say that whosoever is a huge word that condemns almost all of us who claim to follow Christ but refuse to live at peace with each other, and to reach out to people who are still trying to fill the God shaped hole in their lives with whatever they are trying to fill it with.  If we could just get that and let God fill in the space, let God deal with the person that he designed.  Let God begin to shape and mold people into his image instead of us shaping and molding them into our own, or our churches, or our interpretation of what’s right and wrong, perhaps then we will be a little further along in hearing “Well Done.”

Thanks for reading…

Cue wailing dusty music…

The Western seems to be a genre that has a hard time being resurrected, not for lack of trying of course, and every once in a while there will be an amazing new western that’s must see, but for the most part the western is remembered fondly.  There is a scene in most westerns though that focuses on wide open desolate places, and the sound track behind them has that lonely forsaken sound.  That’s how I view this space… which is sad because there are reasons to write, but there are also so many things that get in the way and well it gets neglected  and soon is a desolate place that has not been posted too since February.  What’s amazing to me is the tinge of guilt I have felt over the past few weeks when thinking about this space and the few people who read it and have talked about how it has blessed them, or that they like what I have to say or you get the idea, and I realize that there is a connection that has been lost, one that I want to re-establish.

It is in that spirit then that I have decided to boot up Oregon Trail…(you know the game of westward expansion, that saw settlers taming the wilds.) well figuratively anyway and re-connect with myself as a writer and with those that care to read the thoughts that bang around in my head and heart.

Life has been moving at such a breakneck pace lately that I don’t really know where to start in some respects.  Between church ,and home, and school, and house hunting and kids school, and planning for conferences and well the list gets longer and longer and the number of hours in the day gets smaller and smaller and the frustration that comes from all of that builds.  The worst part about it is, I know this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  I know that what should be and what is are far from Gods design for how we are supposed to live.  The idea that we are to take time to rest is build into scripture, just as much as the need and mandate for us to work, so why is it so hard to get the balance right?  Why do I allow myself to do and do and then do some more and then get more involved.  When do I say no?  The answer of course is rarely.  I rarely say no and sometimes when I do say that little word I say it to the wrong people.

For all my saying and knowing that there is a very real and very important God component to church change and growth, I still take everything way to personally.  I still get it in my brain that I need to pick the whole thing up and carry it across the finish line.  I apply that thinking to other parts of life too, actually every part of life if I’m honest.  I don’t relegate God to Co-pilot status, shoot sometimes I shut the cockpit door and tell him to have a ginger-ale while I take care of things.  Which tends to not just push God out but can be very isolating, and give me a false sense of importance.

So there I am, way out in front making choices, saying yes to almost everything, and no to the most important people, and all because there is a need to show people who I not only know what I’m doing, and how to get things done, but that I’m worth following.  Honestly though there are many times that I’m just trying to show myself those things.

All of that rambling brings me back to the beginning of the post and the reason that I am here.  When I’m writing here on at least a semi-regular basis, I find that the balance is better.  I don’t know exactly why that is other than to say that for me getting things out and on the page, allows me to not only wrestle with them but to see how disconnected they are from the truths that I know and get things back in perspective.

So there you have it.  The blog has been dusted off, and should be seeing more use…

Thanks for reading.

 

 

It’s really you not me…

We’ve all heard it.  It’s not you it’s me…

For some reason saying this is supposed to make the other person feel better.  Shoot I’ve said it before, and I’ve had it said to me.  The problem is it’s not true, at best it’s a half truth, mainly because the person ending things is making a concrete decision to end the relationship, but as we all know there are always reasons for the ending, and those are more wrapped up in the other person than many of us care to admit.

When I end a relationship with someone I am making a conscious decision based on many factors, all of which have something to do with the other person. The realization that it’s a cop out was always at the back of my mind, a way to try and take away the fact that in many cases I was being a jerk and didn’t really want to face the fact that the individual wasn’t really meeting whatever need I felt they should meet, didn’t fit in my long term plan, or more likely had begun to bore me and well yea see the whole I was being a jerk at the beginning of this sentence.

The thing is as a pastor of a small church that is working hard at being intentional about building an authentic community (all great buzz words but still true) seeing people who looked like they were going to stick, who even said they were going to stick leave after a few weeks never to return, it’s hard.  Worse still is the realization that I have done the same thing in churches.  Looking at them and sizing them up and instead of just coming out and saying the reasons that I have moved on, I try and soften the blow.  Sure it’s nice to be told that you aren’t the reason for an exit, especially from the church and at times that is true, but that’s not really important.

Pastors are interesting people.  We are supposed to have answers to questions that at times are unanswerable.  We are supposed to be able to speak words of wisdom and encouragment and yea.  You get the idea.  If we really believe what the Bible says in Acts about God adding to the church daily such as were being saved, the need for validation that stems from people coming to church wouldn’t be so important, but that’s just not the case, at least it’s not the case for me.  The thing is I thought I was bigger than that, I have always thought I was bigger than that but the truth is when you’re doing something and have been doing it and you derive your sense of self from it, and it doens’t do what you want it to do, or how hou want it to do it, you begin to quesiton so much of yourself, and you come to the realization that you really aren’t where you thought you were, or where you should be.

The thing is it is me,  it’s me that puts way to much pressure on myself to do the work that God has promised he would do, it’s me who takes it personally when someone doen’st like me, or when percieve they don’t like me, it’s me that looks out and sees an almost empty church.  All of those things pour out of me in imperceptable ways, at least imperseptable to me.

Now having said all of this we have something really cool happening at the church.  It’s completly counter intuitive, in fact it should’t work.  Starting this past Valtentines day we went to two services, most churchs only go to a second service when there are too many people, we went to two services when there were barely enough to sustain one, and in moving to a two service format, we saw an increase in attendance across both services.

Our 9 AM service is decidedly traditional, all hymns, formal readings and calls to worship, I wear a robe to preach, and even though I know all churches have a literugy that they follow (there ya go Father Jim) this service is what I would term more liturgical in nature.  Our 11 AM service is contemporary, differnt music, more laid back, no robe, I use a stool, other ways to interact.  It’s great.

The really cool thing though is that I thoroughly enjoy both services.  I feel a connection in both to the people and to the message that I haven’t felt in the past two years.  So what does all this mean.  I don’t really know.  I know that there are people that have said it’s not you it’s me when it comes to being a part of the church, and I know that may be true, but kind of dobut it, but thats all okay.  One of the things to realize is that we are doing someting very new and differnt for our church, and we are beginning to see God give the increase.

I can’t wait to see what happens next, and to have the opportunity to take you on the journy with us.

Promise I’ll write more in the coming months.