RICK’S BLOG


MICHAEL

MICHAEL

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Each June I think about my friend, Michael.  Michael was a conductor, chorus master, lecturer, author, musicologist, accompanist, and my vocal coach when I performed opera.  He was also, more importantly, my friend.

I first met him when, as a very young singer, was making my professional debut in opera and he was assigned to me, by the company, as my “coach”.  He lead me in the style of singing the small role that I had.  Despite our age difference, we immediately became fast friends.  He was much older than he looked, (we almost looked the same age) and so seemed like a “wunderkind”: a brilliant man with a quick wit and energy that made the rest of us look like slackers…and I’ve never been accused of being a “slacker”.

When he learned that I was getting my degree in Music Composition he insisted on hearing every piece I wrote and came to each performance of my new works at the college I attended.  He would analyze each piece, not to judge or criticize, but to ask questions about my choices of phrases, keys, motives, themes and construction…all without ever SEEING the music on paper…just from what he had heard, once.  He made me think about my own compositions in ways I had never thought…He listened.  

He introduced me to his musical love, Richard Wagner.  He knew more about the composer than anyone I had ever met and was writing a book on his favorite composer…a commissioned work (a publisher payed him an advance to write it…that’s how good he was).

Mike and I would get together regularly, maybe once or twice a month, to eat, drink, and talk about music…both his and mine.  He would always have his calendar handy so that he could write down when my next concert was.  We continued to work together at the Opera Company.  And when Seattle Opera commissioned ME to compose a small touring opera for their company, I dedicated it to him…and he accompanied the opera on one of the three Pacific Northwest tours.

One day I called and left a message for him.  He never returned the call.  I called a couple more times over the next few weeks…until at last a female voice answered.  It was a mutual theatre friend of ours.  As I was obviously startled at her voice on his phone, in his apartment, she said, “Rick, didn’t you hear?  Michael is very sick, you know…SICK. He’s been in the hospital for the past three weeks.”

The way she emphasized the word, “sick” was the code back in the ‘80’s, in Seattle, for someone who had AIDS.  I was stunned.  Frankly, I’d forgotten he was a part of the LGBTQ (or what we just used to call, “gay”, community there.  What stunned me was that he didn’t share his illness with me, and we were good friends.

As we continued to talk, she said that he was embarrassed.  He didn’t want me, a “Christian friend”, to know that he was “sick”.  He was afraid that I would judge, that I would condemn…and most importantly, that I would leave.  Ironic, since because of HIS choice to not share this information with me I, in effect, DID abandon him when I could’ve been there.

I attended his funeral a few weeks later.  It was a doubly-sad affair, for me, at least.  To this day I feel like I had no closure.  And I was angry.  Not at him, but at the notion that he believed any Christian would be filled with judgment and hate for him: one of the nicest, kindest, most generous people I had ever met…to this day.

I’m older now…maybe not wiser.  I am, in many ways, more cynical and bitter.  I understand that Jesus tells us, who Believe & Follow Him, that the world and sometimes the Church will “hate” us.  But what really hurts is to think the “world” would hate any “Christian” because many believe “Christians” themselves are filled with hate.  That’s not what Jesus teaches, on the contrary: we are to love our “brothers and sisters” (fellow followers) AND our enemies…I don’t do math, but I’m pretty sure that covers everyone.  So how could Michael think that I, whom he knew well, would judge him, would hate him, would abandon him?  Not because of anything I did, I hope, but perhaps because of what some other “Christian” had done to him, all in God’s name.

I stood on one side of that story long ago…now I stand in both worlds and see both sides.  There are those “Christians” whose FIRST response will always be reminding us of God’s judgment; careful to let us all know that as long as Jesus isn’t here in the flesh to judge the living and the dead, they will be happy to take up that job.  AND, there are “Christians” who believe Jesus’ command to love is “conditional”.

But thankfully, though it’s sometimes difficult to see, there are those who understand that to know a person’s heart, read a person’s mind, and judge a person’s story is something that God and God alone has the power, and the responsibility, to do.  Our job is simple: love them all, and let JESUS sort it out in the end.

I think about what would’ve happened with Michael had the reputation of “Christians” in the ‘80s been as the most caring and loving, the most compassionate and least-judgmental of all humanity.  I try to bring closure to his death by imagining him telling me everything and me just hugging him in response…because he was my friend, and because Jesus is my King.

Central Christian Church in Anderson, Indiana could, and should, be known as the people who love like no one else.  We are the people who choose to treat everyone with love: those with whom we agree, and those with whom we don’t agree.  Then we stand aside and let the Spirit do the work of the Spirit.

We can, and WILL, be those who others see and say, “If being a CHRISTIAN means being like those people at Central, then count me in…when I was hungry, they fed me, when I was thirsty they gave me something to drink…when I had AIDS and was dying, they cared for me, and loved me, without judgment or superiority.”

Each June (PRIDE MONTH) my heart remembers what my head may forget: that Michael is as unworthy as all of us to receive God’s love…and yet God loves Him as He loves us all. God loves us not because of who WE are, but because of who HE is.

If we belong to Jesus, how then should we live?

We are GOD’S people. Jesus is our KING. Our primary allegiance is to THE KINGDOM OF GOD.  With Jesus “breath of the Spirit” breathing through us, we can be people who love others as Jesus loves them – people who remember Jesus loved us, UNCONDITIONALLY, before we ever loved Him.


TELL YOUR STORY

TELL YOUR STORY

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I have now sung with the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra for 22 years.  It’s been a wonderful run.  We have played many “patriotic” gigs throughout the years, as we will this year.  We perform some Glenn Miller, some Cohan, some Sousa.  Many times the venue is a place where there is ice cream, grandkids, lemonade and fireworks.  And of course, one of the highlights is to play the Military Service songs and have any audience members who served to stand at their song.  It’s always a good time.

Once, as I was leaving one of those gigs, at a retirement center, while walking through the crowd, a man stopped me by touching my arm.  He was surrounded by his kids and grandkids.  He pulled me aside and thanked me for the music and asked if I had served in the military (my lack of hair).  I said that I hadn’t, but that I was the son of an Army Veteran.  Then he asked, “Where did he serve, and did he tell you what he did, and share stories?”
“Well, yes,” I said, “He was a peace-time Vet in Germany and Korea…and he told me quite a few things.”
Then he asked me a question that I wasn’t expecting:
“Have you told YOUR children?” He asked. “Because,” he said, “It’s important to keep telling the stories.”
He continued just for a short time, before his family led him away, obviously thinking that he had taken too much of my time.  But before he let me go, he said,
“We need to remember…and we need to tell our children…and they need to tell theirs.”
I walked to my car wrapping my head around this conversation that took less than a couple of minutes, probably…as it affected me.

“We need to remember, and we need to tell.”

In this time and place, with renewed questions about truth in the news media, and Truth in general, is it possible that families and generations become the care-takers of history…as it always used to be?  Is there, or should there be, a responsibility to tell our stories to each generation so that they remember?

Yesterday I listened to an historian on the radio.  He was saying how important it is to remember the story of the United States, because we are “losing our core”, as he put it.  He referenced a relatively new tradition in an African nation, where they get together in their neighborhoods, celebrating their National Day.  Along with the dancing, singing, fireworks, etc.  They “give their testimonies” (tell their stories). These are stories of their own personal survival through the genocide that rocked their people.  These are first-hand stories, and the people who tell them say they are afraid their children and grand-children will forget, grow apathetic and entitled.

A very wise tradition, in my opinion…because it’s true: generations forget.

The Spirit encourages the “telling of one’s story”.  It used to be that the Church carried that tradition out.  In MY home church, Sunday night was a time when the Pastor would regularly ask if anyone had a “testimony”, and someone would stand and tell about a recent “God Moment” they had.  Those times were far more effective on my young mind than reading the Bible…I KNEW these people, I trusted them.  Age and experience has taught me that everyone sees their stories through their own filters, much like today’s blurring of NEWS and COMMENTARY, but I’m not sure that’s all together a bad thing.

The power of someone’s story is evident at Central Christian, when some of our Elders tell THEIR stories, during LENT…it is one of our most moving seasons of the year.

Of course, the stories related to a nation’s history, such as the beginnings of the United States, need to be repeated.  God’s people in the Old Testament told their history and made each generation learn it LITERALLY word-for-word, so that it did not get changed or edited with every telling.  The oral tradition of the Jewish people is legendarily accurate.

EVERYONE has a story.  Have you ever believed you have a responsibility to pass it on?  Remember that as mundane as you may believe your own life is, it may have an impact on someone else that you could never imagine.

Central Christian Church and THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST) have stories…and our histories, or “core” (the reason our church began), needs to be continually remembered.

The story of America is the story of how, who, and why, we were ever formed.  That needs to be remembered honestly and repeated loudly to everyone who will hear, the good AND the not so good of the story & history. And the story of God is the story of His people and their journey with (or without) Him…and it also needs to be repeated loudly and constantly to any of His children who will listen.

Your story; why you were created, your journey, with and without God, needs to be repeated…loudly…regularly…and given freely to each generation…we have a responsibility to remember and tell or we will forget, and repeat our mistakes.

 


THE DINNER JACKET

THE DINNER JACKET

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During my college years, in Seattle, I played the piano and sang – somewhat frequently – to try and make a living while going to class.  I had some “regular gigs” (playing for some ballet classes and playing in the Executive Dining Room of the Rainier Tower every week) AND every-once-in-a-while a special party or wedding.  As payment for one event I did at the historic Olympic Four Seasons in downtown Seattle I went a little “above and beyond” and did some extra playing for the hotel itself on a night when I was there to play for a party – the hotel gave me a dinner for two at their famed Georgian Room.

Now keep in mind that I was barely 21, had only really experienced anything as elegant and elite as The Georgian Room because I was a sometime performer in places like that, meaning: I entered through the back door or kitchen, did my gig and left the same way – not mingling with the guests NOR eating the food NOR drinking the wine.  So this free dinner was not only going to be a new adventure, but also something that otherwise would’ve cost me the monetary equivalent of tuition for one semester at my school; a little out of my range.

I asked a girl friend (as opposed to a girlfriend) to join me.  She eagerly agreed.  She was a performer/student herself and shared the same world as I; dining mostly on ramen noodles, pizza, popcorn, etc.  This was going to be spectacular…we didn’t eat for two days, in preparation.

I picked her up and, being a girl, she looked perfect for the occasion: chic, but not TOO dressy.  I wore my best white button-down, nice linen khakis, freshly-shined brown oxfords…plus (did I say I was younger) I didn’t need AS MUCH HELP looking good as I do now.  I imagined we would turn heads as we, much like Eliza Doolittle at the ball, walked into the Georgian Room.

I admit, I had some expectations (based mostly on the movies and television shows I watched) about what I would experience in such a fancy place; snooty staff, food names I couldn’t pronounce, a lot of “raw” things I wouldn’t want in my stomach…etc.  But the one thing I wasn’t expecting happened at the door to the restaurant when I said we had reservations.

The Maitre d’, (and he really was THE perfect definition of a gentleman) smiled and asked if I had a jacket, since jackets were required in the room.  I had never heard of such a thing.  Shocked, embarrassed and thinking of some extravagant story I could tell about my jacket being stolen right outside as I saved myself and my date from certain death just before entering the restaurant…mostly I remember no response, except “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

The Maitre ‘d gave me a sincere and truly reassuring smile and said not to worry, several gentleman who dined there regularly kept jackets in the cloak room just off the Maitre d’s station.  He sized me up and brought out a green jacket which he helped me slip on.  First, it was perhaps the most comfortable jacket I’d ever worn…perfect fit, and whatever the cut and fabric were I now judge every jacket I’ve worn since by that one.  Second, from that time on we never were treated by him or the staff as if we didn’t belong in that place and time.

Although the jacket wasn’t mine, it fit better than anything I one at the time, and I felt oddly comfortable as we were seated by a large beautiful window, under a chandelier.  Our server couldn’t have been more engaging, welcoming and helpful…pointing out some things we would really like and encouraging us to try some new things…since our dinner was “on the house”.  It was that “night of the green jacket” that I found out crudité just means “raw veggies” and vichyssoise is just cold potato soup…among other things.

By the end of the evening we were laughing, comfortable, surprised, satisfied, …and filled with memories that I still have some 40 years later…I’m assuming it was probably less memorable for my “date”, but who knows?

When we left, the Maitre d, after asking how our evening was, removed my jacket and asked my name.  I told him, he took out a form and found a number on the page that corresponded with a discreetly-placed number sewn in the inside of the jacket, and wrote my name beside it – under the other few names beside that number.

“There”, he said, “when you return, your jacket will be here.”

I learned some things that night, as my Father (in His undeniably supernatural AND natural way) taught me not to make assumptions about anyone or anything, that trying new things (like new foods and new destinations) stretches and invigorates the mind and body.  He taught me that some people have a gift of making others feel good about themselves, and I wanted to find out how to cultivate that gift.

But most of what I learned had to do with “putting on” something I didn’t think of as “mine” and learning that most often, we don’t see ourselves as others see us, we don’t imagine that some experiences, gifts, blessings, are for us…when, in fact, they fit us perfectly.

I know that’s true with Gifts of the Spirit.  I know that it is much easier to see another person’s giftedness than our own.  That’s why I’ve always thought “Spiritual Gift Assessment” tests should not be taken by the person trying to discover their own gifts but by someone else, who knows them well. I know that some people would never see themselves in a certain “jacket” because it is so out of their usual or out of their self-defined comfort zone…only then to have a friend, mentor, or someone they love, tell them the “jacket” truly fits…they should wear it, even if only for a short time and place.

The lessons of THE GREEN JACKET have stayed with me.  There are times  I’ve found myself in a place or time where I’m sure I don’t fit…then, remarkably, comfortingly, someone speaks with the inspiration of the Spirit and says, “Why don’t you just try it on.”

The “green jacket” may represent a change in life, a place in your congregation or family, or what some call a “special anointing” for a specific time or place.  Whatever your jacket is, I say to you: “Why don’t you just try it on.”

You might be surprised what God has tailored for you.

 


REMEMBERED SIN

REMEMBERED SIN

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She was as colorful a person as you would like to meet; my first piano teacher, Mrs. Beardsley.  With a smoker’s cough, low voice, and a pink living room (I especially remember the AMAZING aluminum Christmas tree with pink ornaments and rotating color wheel…this was the ’60’s) and a love for music, piano and her students that was unsurpassed.

When I first began taking lessons, the summer of my Kindergarten year, she would sit at a chair beside the piano bench.  Her manner never frightened or intimidated me, as she exhibited a free-spirited kind of love toward me and all her students in her manner.  Although I’m probably still suffering the effects of second-hand smoke, and scarred by the tales she told of motorcycle-riding through California, and tales of she and her husband when they were young (which was, I have to admit, difficult to imagine…seeing the arthritically-crippled fingers and joints as I sat beside her at the piano) what has followed me through the years is her love, and the type of wisdom that a good teacher passes on; wisdom that goes deeper than the specifics of the lesson itself.

Although there are many stories and illustrations of care, teaching, music and love that I could tell (and have told), for the sake of today I am remembering the times I was learning specific pieces that she herself had played.  There was one, particular, Mozart piano piece that I was learning.  There was a certain passage which was exceptionally difficult, it seemed that week after week it never got any better.  Mrs. Beardsley, frustrated by her crooked, arthritic fingers and inability to adequately show me the fingering and technique used to play the passage, rose from her rose-pink Lazy-Boy (where she had moved in later years) and made her way to a hall closet where there were piles and piles of music, HER music books, from HER lessons as a child.  All the music was catalogued by composer, and she quickly found “our” piece and brought it over.  She sat now beside me and placed her old copy of the piece at the piano.  Written in two hands, one; the fine pencil marks of HER teacher, and one the more childish writing of HER, as a child pianist, were notes, remarks, fingerings and exercises used for this piece.

And then she spoke the lesson I speak to you: “After playing this for so long, I’d forgotten how difficult it had been to learn.  A good teacher needs to remember being a student.”

The Spirit teaches us, through the Scripture and life, that Jesus isn’t interested in remembering our sins.  (And just as a side-note here, remember that in English we have the one word, “sin”, but the Greeks had seven; everything from “forgetting”, “aiming-but-missing” to “out-and-out rebellion against God”…and all those different words are translated into our one word, “sin”).  Once we recognize, and ask forgiveness for, our debts, our mistakes, our defiance…Jesus is good to forgive AND forget.  But my belief is that WE should NEVER forget our mistakes, our bad choices, our sin.

Why?  Because, as Mrs. Beardsley taught me, and is now teaching you, “A good teacher needs to remember being a student.”  A forgiven Believer & Follower needs to remember when they weren’t a Believer and/or a Follower…or else they forget to feel for others and start down the slippery slope of “us and them” mentality.

If a care-giver forgets what it is like to be sick or incapacitated, their care becomes theoretical and academic.  If a minister forgets that he or she wasn’t always a minister, they cease being relevant, to say nothing of empathetic.  All of us who Believe & Follow have the tendency to become narrow in our acceptance, and judgmental in our attitudes…that is obvious in everything we read and observe. Our narrow and judgmental attitudes come when we forget where our journey began.

When we, as Believers & Followers, forget that we used to NOT be Believers & Followers and the only reason we are now is because of who GOD is, and not because of who WE are…then we have no hope of ever reaching any other heart, of sharing any other burden, of holding any other hand in love.  When we lose EMPATHY we cannot give SYMPATHY…when we forget our own struggle, we lose to tools needed to help anyone else in theirs.

And then we cease loving God…because the way we love HIM is by loving each other.  We could all afford to repeat again and again…”remember that you are dust”…not so much to remind us of our mortality, but to remind us that we were are ARE all “students” as well as “teachers”…the journey that someone else is on may be one we have already travelled, or visa versa.

My thanks, again, to Mrs. Beardsley and her legacy…none of us may ever know the wide circles our influence will travel.  Let us continue to learn, to love, to feel the pain and longing of others as if it were our own.


KNOW THE END OF THE STORY

KNOW THE END OF THE STORY

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What I have always called, “the best day/the worst day” actually began the night before.

It was when I was a sophomore, majoring in music performance, at the state university I attended right out of high school. On May 13th (one day before my birthday) I was practicing, after the usual dinner of carbs and soda, in a practice room in the Music Building. The rehearsal rooms were, by design, soundproof to the hallway and each other. But that night, there were a couple of people standing directly outside my practice room door, I could hear them talking as I was packing up to leave. I recognized one of the voices as a friend I was meeting for dinner the next day. I started to open the door to say “Hi”, when I heard her say…

“…remember, tomorrow night at 7pm. It’s a surprise for his Birthday, I’ll get him there by 7:30pm.”

She was throwing me a surprise Birthday party!

Since I had never had a surprise Birthday Party, I was excited. Even more so, since (as a control freak) I like to know about “surprises” before they happen. (I know, that defeats the purpose…what can I say?)

However, even with the knowledge of that good news, the next day didn’t start well. I had a “presentation” to give in my first class, which meant shirt and tie. I woke up late (as usual). I leapt out of my bed and sprinted down the hall to the showers for the fastest shower and shave I had ever done. Back to the dorm room and on with the white shirt, pants…I sat on the bed to slip on both my shoes while tying my tie. Rushing, and doing multiple things to be ready in 15 minutes, I jumped up from the bed where I was sitting – ready to step in front of the mirror and behold my glory – when suddenly, without any time to catch a breath or blink, I was painfully on my back, on the floor.

In my multitasking frenzy I had zipped the end of my tie into my pants. When I stood, I flipped myself on my back and ripped off the end of my tie. After breathing in, I remembered…

…I’m having a surprise party tonight!

OK, so things didn’t seem so bad. I tucked the end of the tie in my shirt, put on a jacket to cover the mangled end of my tie if it slipped out of it’s hiding place in my button-down. Then I grabbed my stack of books and raced to the cafeteria to grab a quick coffee (I was already addicted at this point in my life) before heading to my presentation…

…I’m having a surprise party tonight!

Once I arrived at the cafeteria, I placed my stack of books in a cubby downstairs and took two stairs at a time up to the second floor where the magic bean juice was dispensed. Once my coffee lid was secure I raced (carefully) down the stairs to discover…my books were missing.

Sure enough, someone had taken all my books (a thief who obviously enjoyed reading philosophy, music theory and opera, no doubt). Now I need to add at this point that one of the books was borrowed from my mother. It was one of her prized possessions and I promised her it would be safe, as I tucked it in my car on my way to school from my home, two hours away, some months before.

My first thought was…”I’m dead.”
My presentation notes, my books and my mother’s Christmas Book all gone, with no hope of return. Then I remembered…

…I’m having a surprise party tonight!

And with that thought, the problem was placed in a folder a little further back in my brain and my day brightened despite the shredded tie, my aching back, the stolen books and a presentation that I would have to make up “on the fly”. (a little play on words, considering how my tie got mangled).

The presentation was, miraculously, stunning. (I was carried around on the backs of my fellow students, as they cheered…at least that’s MY recollection). My back recovered (ahhh…youth!) and with every hour of the day, good or bad, in the back of my mind was the constant underscore of a party in my future.

I returned to my dorm room around 4pm to find my wall phone blinking with a message.

(Editor’s note: For the young people: a wall phone is like an iPHONE without the screen or camera. It is, if you can believe it, FASTENED to the wall; immovable. People call, but you don’t know who is calling until you answer. In the case of this particular phone, one could leave a message, and a little light would blink on the wall phone of the recipient…it was a brave new world.)

In any case, I listened to the message and called the number. It was the SECURITY OFFICE on campus.
“Are you missing a rucksack?” they asked.
Not totally certain at that point in my life what a “rucksack” was, I said, “No, but I AM missing some books.”
“Can you describe the books?”
“Well, one of them is big, red, and is titled, CHRISTMAS CAROLS FROM AROUND THE WORLD…inside is the name, Margery Baker.”
“You can come claim your rucksack before 5:30pm today.”

I went to CAMPUS SECURITY. Sure enough, there was a backpack (what Shirley in CAMPUS SECURITY called a “rucksack”) that I didn’t recognize. And after I showed her my campus ID she smiled and handed it to me. My books were inside, along with several other things. That’s right…whomever stole my books had lost their “rucksack”.
“Don’t you want it all?” Shirley asked.

I have to say, as tempted as I was by the idea of obtaining my thief’s stuff: an ANDY GIBB cassette, macramé key chain, WORLDS OF ADVANCED GEOMETRY book, and a corduroy cap, I refrained.

I returned to my dorm room in triumph, saying aloud, “God is good.” (Not realizing at the time, in my spiritual immaturity, that God would STILL be good, even if my books hadn’t been found…since “God, being good.” has little to do with me…but that’s another BLOG).

The party I had dreamed of all day finally came to pass, and it was wonderful. That party had colored my day; causing all that went wrong to be placed in priority after the knowledge of what was happening at the end of the day. It was like knowing that the destination was worth any trouble along the journey.

Even at that point in my spiritual immaturity I realized the Spirit had led me into a Truth that would stay with me: knowing what is at the end of the journey puts everything else in perspective.

Every-once-in-a-while I stand in awe as I look on the lives of the Children of God around me, especially my flock, my congregation. These people who suffer loss, sickness, and circumstances that might cripple anyone else, not only survive, but thrive. They live as if they know what lies at the end of the journey. They let all circumstances, good and bad, all moments, all people, roll over them, through them…with the knowledge that there’s a party at the end of the day.

For those of us who BELIEVE & FOLLOW: how would our experience of each day change, if we knew what was at the end of the journey?

Funny thing…we DO know.


IDENTIFICATION PLEASE?

IDENTIFICATION PLEASE?

Written By:

A BLOG By Pastor Ken Rickett

John 20: 24-29

Now Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the Disciples when Jesus came. So the other Disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

A week later the Disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop being faithless and be full of faith.”

Have you been asked, “may I see identification, please?” Whether purchasing an item, or signing a legal document, or to show proof of age at any venue, we all show our driver’s license which has a photo or we show an identification document, usually with a photo. Most of the time, being asked for identification is expected and normal.

It came as quite a shock to me just a few short years ago when I was asked for identification for the sole purpose of determining that I was indeed over 18 years of age. “Why in the world….,” I thought to myself, “. . .would anyone ask a white-headed old man with wrinkled skin around his eyes, a hearing aid in each ear, sporting larger than normal ear lobes and wearing outdated 1990s clothing to ‘prove’ that he is over 18 years old?” I dug my driver’s license out from among all the other important cards in my wallet, showed it to the clerk, and I couldn’t resist asking in return, “Do I look under the age of 18?” To my great disappointment, the clerk just smiled and said, “Sorry…store

policy….thank you.” Evidently, my photo on my driver’s license didn’t look like I was a young 18 year old. . . . !

In today’s age identification is a serious matter, no matter what age you may be. Online passwords for computers, cell phone apps, debit and credit cards, bank accounts and other personal data can be at risk if the identification says “This is me!” begins saying that some other person is ME. From the evening news to letters in the mail, warnings are given for urgent updates of passwords, or alerts for a major hacking scheme or scam. Protecting our identification is a major issue these days. “Identification, please” is more than a harmless request, it is a necessity.

Thomas, one of the remaining eleven disciples, was not with the other disciples when the Resurrected Jesus first appeared to them on that first Easter Sunday night. When told about the appearance of Jesus to them, Thomas declared “unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hands in his side, I will not assume that this is Jesus.” To Thomas, “identification, please!” was a necessity!

Lord, deliver us from those who portray Thomas as a “Doubting Disciple.” Not So! Just as Pastor Rick makes us aware of the Greek words in the New Testament, I must do the same. “Stop doubting and believe” was NOT what Jesus said to Thomas. No. A thousand times, no! The word translated “doubting” was apistos (no faith) and the word “believe” was the verb form of pistis. Pistis in Greek is translated “faith” and “faith” means to live as if every fiber of your being is staked on a given fact, and in this instance, faith (pistos) is to live as if Jesus IS both the Crucified One and the Resurrected One, who IS also our Lord and our God! Even the well known verse, John 3:16 says that God sent his only Son, that whosoever has faith in him (pistos) shall not perish! That is, whosoever shall live as if that fact (Jesus is the Son of God in whom there is everlasting life) shall not perish. When Jerome translated the Greek into Latin in the 3rd century, Lation did not have a word that conveys the meaning of the Greek word pistis (Faith) so the best word Jerome could use was the Latin word meaning “to grasp with the mind, to believe with the mind.” Thomas was declaring, “I need positive identification that Jesus the Resurrected One is also Jesus the Crucified One.” Perhaps Thomas is a bit skeptical, but skepticism is not doubting. Skepticism is born, not of doubt, but of pragmatism, the need for validity rather than proof. Proof says nothing more than “yes” or “no”–whereas validity says, “ok, now that I know this fact, it has consequences for how I act and live from now on.”

Thomas was no doubter. He wanted validity. In effect, he was saying, “Does Jesus the Resurrected One look like Jesus who was crucified?” He was asking for identification.

“Was the Resurrected Jesus also the Suffering Servant whose life was laid down for the sake of salvation? I need to know that this Resurrected Jesus bears signs of his suffering!”

Identification, please! Who, besides Thomas, wants to know who Jesus is?

The entire Christian faith is built upon the proper identification of Jesus! Is Jesus the Resurrected One also Jesus the Crucified? AND vice versa, is the Crucified One also the Resurrected One? Either the Crucified One IS the Resurrected One, AND the Resurrected One is also the Crucified One, or there is no Gospel, or Good News, for Thomas nor anyone else.

Unfortunately, the Church has over-emphasized Jesus as the Crucified One at the expense of Jesus the Resurrected One. The Gospels say that Jesus came preaching, “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Rick Vale, in his Palm Sunday sermon properly described the Greek word “metanoia”, which is translated in many versions of the Bible as “repent” but metanoia has a simple image behind it, namely, to turn and go in another direction, following Christ. The Gospel writers did not assume that a person who follows Christ will live without sin, but rather, a follower of Christ is constantly bathed in grace so that the journey can continue. In and through grace, forgiveness and renewal of the mission of Christ comes to us.

Being reared in the South, annual week-long (sometimes 2 week) revivals were common in almost all congregations. Growing up I attended quite a few revivals, and as a Disciples of Christ minister, I have also been a guest speaker for a couple of Disciples congregations during their revival. The emphasis is upon Christ the Crucified One who calls each and every person to accept the salvation offered by the One who Suffered on the Cross. Frankly, there is always a time and place for this message, not only during revivals but in sermons. BUT….

BUT. . .Jesus came preaching, “Metanoia, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The Kingdom of Heaven is both on earth and in eternity. The Kingdom of Heaven is the Reign of the Resurrected One. . .over the Church Universal on earth as well as in eternity. Does the Bible teach that Christ died for your sins so that you can go to heaven? No! A Thousand times, NO! The Bible teaches that Christ died, taking our

sins upon Himself, so that those who follow Him will be raised in a resurrection like his resurrection. I repeat: The eternal kingdom is composed of those who are raised in a resurrection like his!

To be raised in a resurrection like his! There’s the joy! There’s the hope! There’s the promise to every follower! None of us will enter the Eternal Community of God’s people unless we are first raised in a resurrection like his!

No wonder Jesus came preaching, “…., the KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND! George Bullard, my dear friend and a classmate of mine at Mars Hill College created and led a church consultation endeavor for years, and he led several Disciples of Christ programs prior to a couple of General Assemblies. George has always taught that the modern Church has fallen short in preaching the Kingdom of God. He declares, tongue in cheek, that instead of the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth, the. . . . Church came! His point is precisely this: the power of the Resurrection in the lives of Christ’s followers to bring new life and energy has not been accessed and utilized by the today’s

Church . . .

Identification please! To both the Crucified One and the Resurrected One, there is one and only one response, and that response is the same as Thomas’ response when Jesus appeared….”MY LORD AND MY GOD!” AMEN!


THE LOST SHEEP

THE LOST SHEEP

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Mrs. G. has become one of my favorite teachers, in memory.  I was seven or eight-years-old when I stepped into her class, at Jason Lee Elementary,  she stole my “creative” heart.  Everything we did that year woke my inner artist with the methods she used to teach.  We wrote and bound books (I have two of them) to read to the First Graders, helping them to read.  We made pottery, made butter, made bread, made bricks, learned how to weave, all this to while learning the early history of the Americas, and we wrote, produced, and performed plays that illustrated everything from math, to spelling, to English.

She was, and that class was, very formative for me…obviously building and discovering what are now so many parts of my life. 

One day we took a “field trip”, one of my first.  We traveled as a class to the “big kids school” (the Junior High School) to see a play.  This was one of my first, up close.  It was probably only as good as it could be; costumes and set were probably rudimentary…but for me, at that moment in time, it was an incredible and magic moment.  After the show I went backstage and stood craning my neck to see all the backstage magic: sets, lights, props.  One of the actors came up to me, a girl who played a princess (as I recall), and I asked her a million questions about the stage-craft…really more interested in the everything BEFORE the acting, at that point.  Somewhere during the conversation she asked if I had come with a class of other kids.  It was only then that I realized I had wandered off by myself backstage.  I immediately panicked, knowing they would leave without me; the long walk back to school, the scolding from Mrs. G and worse, from my parents…or the ultimate…I’d be sent to the Principal!

I turned to quickly escape and there was Mrs G.  She looked upset, but bent down and gave me a hug.  She said she was worried and left the other kids on the bus to go ahead as she searched for me through the school, she took me back to the school in her car.

We spoke of it again, many, many years later when she and her husband ended up attending the church my parents attended.  I was an adult, working as an actor, songwriter, church musician…pretty much all skills that were based in what I learned in her class, when I visited my folks and their congregation.  I was grown, married, with kids by this point.  It was a very happy reunion; she hadn’t changed a bit in my eyes. She had saved a couple of my books and gave them to me, and I asked her if she remembered that day at the Junior High Play.  She said she did, that I was her “little lost sheep”.  I then begged her to admit that I was her favorite pupil in all these years.

She said, “You are ALL my favorites…but at that time, YOU were the one in trouble, so I focused on you.”

“What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?   When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders,   and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’   I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.”
LUKE 15:4-7

 Jesus’ shepherd loved ALL the sheep, but at that place and time there was ONE who needed his attention.

Mrs. G loved ALL her students, but at that place and time the person who needed her undivided attention was me.  My life mattered to her, like the sheep matters to the shepherd.  And that has made a great difference in every aspect of my life.


MIRROR, MIRROR

MIRROR, MIRROR

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The older I get (and I mark one more journey around the sun this week) the more I notice (irritatingly) how many mirrors we have in our home.  In my “travels” around the condo, I am horrified to realize how many mirrors we have…in every room!

Mirrors aren’t my friend, at the best of times, and now it seems they are everywhere…lying to me.

Why do I say the mirror is “lying”?  

I look in the mirror expecting to “see” and I can’tI now have to “lean in” to shave!  The GOOD SIDE of that is, just like a filter on a camera, some things look better, prettier, at a distance, or they are “blurred up” a bit.  YOU all look FANTASTIC!  Christmas lights are a wonder, etc.  But on the flip side, the mirror is telling me that I’m losing my eyesight to glaucoma…well, to be honest, the Eye Doctor is telling me that as well.  But no matter WHAT the mirror says, I see perfectly…I KNOW that in my mind, and always will…even when they drag me, screaming obscenities, from the BMV.

I look in the mirror, expecting to see ME and instead I see my Dad.  The GOOD SIDE of that is I think about my great Dad, I hear his voice, I remember some great times, and I miss him, and mourn him, in a healthy way…on the flip side, I know that I’m NOT as old as my Dad, nor will  I ever be.  No matter WHAT the mirror says, I AM 27 years old, and always will be.  I’m not my Dad, I’m his son.

I look in the mirror and expect to see someone I know, someone who lives inside my head…but I often see a stranger.  The mirror lies…that’s not me.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and see an awkward kid who wasn’t good at sports, only moderately doing well in school, unpopular and introverted…the mirror lies, that is no longer “me”.

Sometimes I look and see a failure…the mirror lies.

Sometimes I see a broken man…the mirror lies.

Unfortunately, what I’ve learned through a life of performing and recording is this: in this world, unedited mirrors, cameras, and recordings don’t lie, when it comes to what the world sees.  They are brutal, they are raw, they are ruthless. They are also flat and shallow reflections, looking only on the outside of a person.  They only see a shell.  They also have the ability to trigger lies that we tell ourselves, and lies that the rest of the world has told us.

What I’ve learned as a Believer & Follower is: it’s important that one uses the CORRECT mirror, held by the RIGHT person.

There is one “mirror” that matters in my life, and it’s not one of the 3.5 million that are in my condo…it is my reflection in Jesus’ eyes.  What is seen in this world, on this “physical plane”, is not who I really am…it’s not what is “real” in His eyes…the mirrors here really DO lie about who I truly am.

I am who my God says I am.

And He says:
– I’m whole, not broken
– successful, not a failure
– confident, not awkward
– not a stranger, but HIS child: known, understood, accepted, & loved.

What HE sees, matters.  He sees is my “forever self”, my “real self”, the “diamond hidden within the stone”.   However, in a way, one of the “lies” I mentioned above is actually a TRUTH:  If I choose to let let it be so, if I choose to let Him love me and lead me…

…I can be, am, and always will be, a reflection of my “Father.”

“For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.”
I CORINTHIANS 13:12

 


CROWNS

CROWNS

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One lunchtime, during my college days, I was seated in my favorite corner of my favorite neighborhood café, around the corner from the school, when a friend of mine walked in.  She came over to my table, leading another girl I didn’t recognize.  My friend introduced Sali and I asked them to sit down.  Thus began a “school-year-long” friendship with Sali and our small group of friends. This was a circle of promising singers, actors, dancers, etc. and Sali was a pianist.  My kind-hearted female friend had introduced our little group to Sali because she saw Sali sitting alone those first couple weeks of September and thought she could use a friend.

Sali was quiet, but funny, humble but a piano virtuoso.  No one would describe her as a “classic” beauty, but behind her large glasses were large, dark eyes.  In her somewhat dull and baggy clothes she had a very gracious way about her.  When she wasn’t with us, we guessed she “came from money”.  As awkward, socially, as she might have been, she obviously had some good breeding…better breeding than most of us.

 The school year went through the seasons.  After each recital, or performance, we had the obligatory party and Sali was always a part of it.  We liked her, and she liked us.  She didn’t speak much, perhaps thinking her English wasn’t great…although it was.  We couldn’t tell from her accent where this dark-skinned, dark-haired, girl, was from and any question about her family or background was always met with a tactful change-of-subject.

Then there were the little “gifts”.  Each of us experienced, from her, a quiet moment when she would present us with a little token; a scarf for one of the girls, a poetry book, a flower for a teacher…always something thoughtful and unexpected.  We were, in that little circle of friends, happy to be around her although, many times, it was difficult to tell she was even there; always quiet, always in the background.

At the end of the year she was, surprisingly, leaving.  She had been there only that year, and her family was coming to take her back home, she told us.  Then she handed each of us a small invitation, hand-written on simple card-stock, an invitation to a dinner party her parents were having for her before they took her back home with them…they wanted her to invite her “school friends” and she considered us to be her ONLY friends.  She informed us that it was formal.  We must’ve looked a little shocked.  The two of us guys especially.  The girls, of course, were thrilled.  The other male and I “borrowed” school tuxes.

The address for the party was downtown at a large hotel.  We arrived and were, shockingly, ushered to a large banquet hall on one of the upper floors.  The doors opened and we walked in, looking very much like we were there for the prom….while everyone else we saw looked like they dressed this way every day.

The place was filled with well-groomed, obviously important, adults.  There was a champagne fountain, lots of food, and a string quartet.  As we stood there, an elegant woman with a thick accent, and dressed in purple velvet, smiled as she approached us.  She asked if we were the school friends she’d heard of.  We were, we said.  Then she said words I will never forget and still hear ringing in my ears as I write down this story:

“The Shahzadi is over there, she’ll be so happy to see you.”

Yup, that’s what she said: “The Shahzadi…”

With mouths open, we all turned to see where she indicated, and there was Sali, dressed in shimmering blue, her glasses gone, her hair up…and fixed with a small-but-extremely sparkly Eastern-style tiara. 

In a flash we all understood, and we were all befuddled.  Our friend, Sali, the girl who was reluctant to share about her family or background – just happened to be the “inheriting” daughter of some Sultan (we soon discovered).  We met her Dad (the Sultan) and her Mom (Mrs. Sultan), and some of her parents’ friends/dignitaries.

It seems Sali had been given a year of freedom; a year to do what she would like to do, before returning home to marry.  She decided to take one school year, studying the piano (an instrument she had played since early childhood) within the context of a “college”…something she wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.  She wanted to make some “normal” friends, (‘Couldn’t get more NORMAL than us), and she wanted to experience America.  Her aunt lived in Washington State and hosted her there.  I know, it sounds like the plot of a Disney film, but there it was.

One of our circle said it best, as we all sat in the corner table with Sali at the end of the evening – like so many nights at our café: “All this time, you were wearing a hidden crown…and we never knew.”

She was a “Princess among us”.  Yes, ours was a school of the very wealthy and the very not wealthy, of Americans and International students.  But a “Sultana”?  Really?  We were shocked AND started thinking back on our friendship over the year – wondering if any of us had committed some slight that would end up with us losing our heads.  But Sali, with tears and hugs all around thanked us for being her friends, for allowing her to experience “American” college life, and for drawing her into our little circle. Would we have treated her differently had we known? 

I started looking at everyone I knew differently after that:  “Alright, who else?  Are any of the rest of you sultans, or queens, or…?”  If Sali, this quiet, shy, funny, warm, giving, awkward, girl was a “Shahzadi” or “Sultana”…then anyone could be anything!

And isn’t that the TRUTH?  In the Kingdom we are asked to look upon everyone as if they were wearing “hidden crowns”, to treat all strangers with hospitality in case they are “angels”. (HEBREWS 13:2) We are to look at others as if they were “better” than us.  (PHILIPPIANS 2:3-4) I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that many people tend to look at others, and treat them, in just the opposite way.  Often we are taught by the WORLD to make sure WE have good self-esteem, that WE know our own self-worth, that WE are to be cared for first.

But God didn’t create the world to work that way.  He honors us when WE see the hidden crowns everyone else (the good, the bad, AND the ugly) is wearing; when we treat OTHERS (no matter who) as if THEY, and not we, were royalty deserving of respect and love.

Imagine how different these last few years would’ve been if we had seen everyone’s hidden crowns.  But let’s not look back, let’s look forward and start seeing those crowns now…that alone, quite possibly, could change the world.

 


FILLING IN THE GAPS

FILLING IN THE GAPS

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A BLOG by Pastor Ken Rickett

John 5: 1-9
Some time later came one of the Jewish feast days and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. There is in Jerusalem, near the Sheep-Gate, a pool surrounded by five arches, which has the Hebrew name of Bethzatha. Under these arches a great many sick people were in the habit of lying; some of them were blind, some lame, and some had withered limbs. (They used to wait there for the “moving of water”, for at certain times an angel used to come down into the pool and disturb the water, and then the first person who stepped into the water after the disturbance would be healed of whatever he was

suffering from.) One particular had been there ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there on his back–knowing he had been like that for a long time–he said to him,
“Do you want to get well again?”

“Sir,” replied the sick man, “I just haven’t got anybody to put me into the pool when the water is all stirred up. While I am trying to get there somebody else gets down into it first.”

“Get up,” said Jesus, “pick up your bed and walk!”

At once the man recovered, picked up his bed and walked.

—J B Phillips The New Testament in Modern English

In 1982 Dennis Jones and I co-authored a 212-page history of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Richlands, NC, as a part of the congregation’s centennial celebration. It was not an easy undertaking. You see, 47 years of board and congregational minutes were missing! How in the world did we fill in this huge gap? Writing this book was every bit as difficult as we feared and yet far easier than we could have ever hoped. Difficult because we struggled at first to get written, documented data. Difficult because only a few older members were still living who were active in the church in the early years of the missing minutes. Difficult because a few families

had left the congregation in the late 1960s and formed an independent congregation; thus, a loving, generous spirit in telling that story was absolutely essential. And easy because we discovered that a resource or two turned out to be a gold mine of considerable information.

How DID we fill this gap? First of all, Charles Crossfield Ware (1886-1974) was General Secretary (now called Regional Minister) of the North Carolina congregations in the Christian Church (D.O.C.) from 1915-1952. A historian and prolific writer and gatherer of data from congregations, Ware wrote books about Disciples  congregations and articles (such as editing the NC Christian, a monthly newsletter, very similar to the Indiana Christian), filing letters and notes of historical interest, etc., proved to be invaluable. Ware had included in the newsletter such items as dates of baptism and the names of those baptized, significant events in the life of various congregations including Richlands congregation, the installation and resignations/retirements of ministers across the Region, and ordinations of new ministers, some of whom were from the Richlands church. After Charles C. Ware retired in 1952, he spent the next two decades building up a Discipliana collection of NC congregations that is now housed at Barton College at Wilson, NC.

Secondly, members within the church (or their parents) had saved newspaper articles about church events with the dates written on them, or they had an old bulletin or two, or they had old pictures of a Sunday School class or a CWF or CMF meeting or event. Since the church building had been built several decades earlier, older pictures showed some of the decor of the fellowship hall or sanctuary or classrooms. In short, the missing 47 years were filled by resources from people! AND filled with an incredible number of stories about the mission and activities of the church during those years of missing minutes. From Charles Ware to the Regional Minister Charles Dietze who was serving at the time of the writing of this book, the present and former members, even some of the townspeople shared their stories, and their emotions, and their joy.

How are the missing gaps filled in our lives? Every one of us has surely “missed out” on something! Having lost my parents when I was young, I was reared by maternal grandparents and deeply loved, filling the gap. The wider families of my mother and father filled the gap. And when I was grown, they were able to “let me go” and fulfill my own dreams and hopes through college, seminary, career, and certainly my own family. The people in my home church filled the gap. They recognized my gifts and abilities. They offered tons of encouragement. They gave me some leadership roles such as a committee membership and teaching a Sunday School class. Thus people filled the gap! They always do. And I benefited from their ministry of care and nurture. And I was encouraged to minister by helping others to fill in the gaps!

The Gospel is Good News because the power of God fills missing gaps! A man waited for 38 years beside the pool of Bethsaida to be healed of his crippled legs. It was said that the first person in the pool after it bubbled up (which was occasional) would be healed; but because the crippled man could not move quickly, someone else beat him into the pool. He persisted in hope. Then one day Jesus came and that which was missing was restored. Jesus ministered to the man with a deep need.

In a real sense the ministry of Jesus was spent “filling the missing gaps” in the lives of people. From the days in which Jesus called the twelve to “follow me,” Jesus seemed to be driven to fill in the missing gaps in people’s lives, and for his three year ministry, the 12 disciples were trained for the mission of filling “missing gaps.” Such, however, was a mission that would not be grasped until after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And then, wow, did the disciples preach, teach, heal, and guide as they filled the missing gaps!

In the Book of Acts, telling of the beginning and early years of the Church, Phillip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who has not heard the story of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected and present through the Holy Spirit. There was a missing gap here and Phillip told the story. In fact, in many places in scripture, this story of Jesus was told and people became followers because there was a missing gap in their lives. Crowds followed Jesus because they sensed that Jesus could fill an emptiness, a gap in life. This “gap” can be best described as having “a yearning for the Holy and Merciful God.” In his condemnation of the religious elites of his day, Jesus was saying to them, “You say you know God and His way, but you are missing something. . .you are missing the deepest part of God. . .and that deepest part is God’s mercy and love.” 

Run that thinking out. Christianity grows because people have chosen to follow Jesus, and in so doing, they fill the missing gaps in their lives with the presence of the Living Christ as revealed through the Holy Spirit. AND we minister to each other as Christians in an effort to fill missing gaps—gaps not due to unbelief, but gaps due to the pain and anguish and imperfections of life. . . or gaps that yearn to be filled with more teachings that enable us to see the magnificence and majesty of a faithful life.. . or gaps the need to be filled with the sheer, raw joy of “being there” for a person in pain, whether it be emotional or physical pain.

Of course, the 47 years of history at that church in which I co-authored its history was NOT missing. It was there. Dennis Jones and I realized that there were thousands of other stories that we did not hear about or read about- – -stories of how the faithful people of that congregation filled the gaps of each other and the community and world. You see, missing minutes of board meetings is not the same as the mission of the congregation—which was never missing. If the truth be told, we live our lives with a sense of “something missing.” And it is amazing how our faith and our oneness as a people of God continually fill the missing gaps as we seek, learn, fellowship and worship together. And yes, we live our lives unaware that something may be missing, and this is when a brother or sister shares something with us in love. As a minister for 43 years, there were a few situations and circumstances in which I was unaware of something missing, but no one dared to share it with me. (Most of the time, I heard my mistakes shouted from the rooftops). Boy, do I ever wish that people would have told me, “Ken, so-and-so took what you said/did or didn’t say/didn’t do in a wrong way” OR “I don’t think the Bible Study class got your intended point” or “I don’t think the board grasped the significance of what you were explaining.” Jesus did not talk about “wholeness” aimlessly; but rather Jesus lifted up “wholeness” as a spiritual blessing that comes to those whose “missing gaps” are filled. Ministry is “filling the gaps.”

Maybe the Church of the 21st Century can best understand its calling, its role, its ministry as “filling in the gaps.” Sounds like an empowering image to me!