RICK’S BLOG


NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

So, one of my Birthday gifts, some years ago, was the complete set of an “old-time” television show.  Now BEFORE I tell you what the show is, you need to know that even as a small child I was watching RE-RUNS of this show and NOT the originals.  It’s PERRY MASON, the show that sparked my interest in courtroom and crime dramas and mysteries (thus feeding my longtime obsession with LAW & ORDER…any of the franchises!).

Perry was always so calm and cool, his deductive and reasoning gifts were almost supernatural, his suits were “cool”, his hair was “cool”…his Secretary (Della) was “cool” and his detective (Paul) was very “cool”.  The guilty fell apart under his gaze, Judges bowed to his wisdom, and even his longtime adversary “Hamilton Burger” (Ham Burger…really?) had to accept that Perry was a worthy opponent.

Back then, in the black and white mid-century, it seemed that raising one’s right hand and swearing on a Bible (“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…”) was all that was needed (aside from Perry’s glare) to turn even the most practiced liar into a truth-telling paragon.  If only that really and truly worked.

 What if, every day before any one of us left the house, we placed our hands on the family Bible and said, “Today…I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”?  We, as Believers & Followers, shouldn’t need to do that.

“Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath.  Your ‘yes’ must be ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ must be ‘no’, so that you won’t fall under judgment.” JAMES 5:12

Unfortunately even in (and sometimes, especially in) the Church the truth (outside of the scripture) gets used infrequently when members chat amongst themselves in and out of the sanctuary.  The Church is a community of people, and as such people will talk about people…it almost can’t be helped.  But in doing so, God has clear guidelines that sometimes get ignored.

GENEROSITY INSTEAD OF GOSSIP
JAMES, Chapter 3 has much to say about “taming the tongue”, including the difficulty of doing just that.  However, as Christians and “People of the Word”, our “words” must be right, just and true…especially when thinking and talking about others who are not present.

If you have ever played the game, “Gossip, Gossip” you know how easily the “truth” of the original language can get mangled in simple translation and communication between just a few people.  In PRAYER CHAINS alone, a person’s request for the healing of a “hang-nail” can end up being a brain tumor by the time the request is through.  And what about information that one hears outside the Church about a church member?  Should what one hears at the “Hair Salon” be taken as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  Everyone likes a “juicy” story…but leave the passing on of that kind of information to the “world”…here, in the Kingdom of God, we don’t do that.

Be GENEROUS with your words, and kind.
Sometimes one has to be creative to counter bad gossip (which is usually only partially true, if true at all) with a positive statement…but our JOB as Believes & Followers of Jesus is that we BUILD ONE ANOTHER UP and not TEAR DOWN…whether we are speaking directly TO or ABOUT our brothers and sisters…fellow citizens of the Kingdom.

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” EPHESIANS 5:19

 “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”  I CORINTHIANS 14:12

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  JOHN 13:34

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” is not a scriptural quote, because it’s not enough.  Jesus’ commands go beyond simply keeping silent, He WANTS you to speak up, speak to, and speak about people.  But He demands that you speak in LOVE: building each other up, turning away anger with a kind word, opening doors and not simply being a “fence” against lies – but being a proactive force against untruth, with words of love.

EDITING OUR LANGUAGE, or “And Nothing But The Truth”
Sometimes it’s difficult to edit what comes out of our mouths before it comes out, it takes practice, but once we “elaborate” on the truth we have created a false moment.  Once we take a bit of the truth (or hear it and pass it on) but “shade” and “color” it…we become no better than Satan himself  (who doesn’t lie “outright” as much as he twists the truth for his convenience).

The “lost” in this world will not be “rescued”  if the Church is lost as well.
Believers & Followers: when it comes to your fellow “family” tell the truth, the whole truth, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH. 

When you hear a story that can’t be confirmed, SHUT IT DOWN AND DON’T PASS IT ON.

When you hear negative things said about someone you know in the church (true or not), counter with positive and SHUT IT DOWN, AND DON’T PASS IT ON.

Take EVERY opportunity to believe the best in people, assume their graciousness and goodness and not their bad sides (especially when airing your thoughts out loud to someone else).  And, as always here at Central, if you have a question or an issue with someone; before you talk about it BEHIND their back, talk to their face or don’t talk at all.  Let’s make sure that people around us know we who Believe & Follow will behave differently than the rest of the world.

I’m talking to myself here, as much as anyone else, since I have often been at the other end of misinformed talkers.  But if you think this message is specifically directed at you…it may be.

For the sake of those outside of the Kingdom of God, and for the sake of the building up of His strong Kingdom…speak “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…so help us, God.”

 


MY PERSONAL SOUNDTRACK

MY PERSONAL SOUNDTRACK

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The middle of my week always involves a little “mind focusing”; getting out of the home office and clearing my head.  So I eventually ventured out in “Mariska” (the Buick) and headed for the office.

So, the other day, I backed out of the driveway and started driving around doing some errands; dropping off, picking up, etc.  Once out on the road I realized that my “tunes” weren’t playing…and my mind adjusted accordingly.

I turned onto the “main drag”, avoiding a suicidal squirrel, in the middle of the road, staring at mearing me to hit him (her?)…I almost felt like aiming.  Then I started the search through my music lists.

I have an old iPHONE in my car, it contains MOST of my listening playlists; everything from Bach to Billy Joel.  It is magically connected to “Mariska”.  I searched until I came to my playlist titled: “SOUNDTRACKS”.

Now, some of you know this, because (unfortunately for you) you’ve sat through a film with me, in the theatre.  But I am a “movie-soundtrack junkie”.  I love film soundtracks, have my favorite composers, and have collected soundtracks in a playlist.  I thought, THAT’S what I want to listen to today.  I selected and pressed play.  (I DID manage to miss hitting Mr. Squirrel, I believe).  Music from GLADIATOR (Hans Zimmer, composer) began.  For those of you unfamiliar with the soundtrack, it is glorious and epic.  An unrealistically large symphonic orchestra with what must be 20-ton kettle drums and a thousand horns.  It is massive, majestic, soaring…and it reaches into my soul.

Suddenly, I was no longer a middle-aged, out-of-shape man driving to work.  I was a tall and strong, impervious, red-blooded male – guiding my gold-metal carriage of terror along streets that were suddenly beautiful and regal.  Any stray squirrels that happened in my path would be quickly dealt with.  If I had a broadsword in the passenger seat (and I HAVE before, I’m an actor) I would have put it in my left hand and held it high in the open window…all the way to the church office!

The music changed me that much.

In a way, I’m not surprised.  Film scores are the “sub-text” in every film.  Where there is action, music accelerates it.  Where there is deep emotion, music amplifies it.  Where there is deception, music names it.  And where there is completion, music crowns it.  And so it is with me.

And so it is with the Spirit.

I thought then, as I think now, much of the Spirit’s work is like music.  This Spirit; Comforter, Teacher, Counselor and Empowerer, “underscores” my life.  You notice, in the pathetic scenario above, no reality changed.  I WAS still driving past the normal scenery of Anderson.  What had changed was my vision, my foresight, and my confidenceBecause of my personal soundtrack, my outlook on present conditions changed.  In all that ride I was transformed from sad, depressed and blue…to joyful, energized and bold!

As a musician, music is the main language Jesus uses to speak to me – it may not be so for you.  But I know the Spirit is looking to “underscore” your life and change your perspective in whatever way you will listen.

Maybe it IS music.  If so, I highly recommend the soundtrack to GLADIATOR – just keep an eye on the speedometer, and don’t keep your broad-swords in the car.


CROSS FIT

CROSS FIT

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In my office at church I have a wall filed with crosses.  Some are big, some are small, some metal and some wood.  Some are hand-made, others a little more industrial.

When I moved into my office (2007) I had five crosses that I wanted to display, but that was too few to really know what to do with…so I went to a local craft/décor store, where there was a sale on “wall décor” (including crosses) and got the idea for a “wall of crosses” from their display…the beauty was in the way each item was a cross, but each significantly individual and unique…I purchased another five crosses to add to my collection.

Soon after, my Dad sent me two crosses that he had carved upon the occasion of me stepping into the pulpit at Central, I received a couple of “gift crosses” upon my installation and since then have received several more from weddings, etc.  I’ve also started collecting a cross when I travel, if I see an interesting one.  All that to say, my wall now is covered a bit and I’ll need to start moving crosses around to the next wall.  It looks like I’m trying to keep vampires out of the office, at this point.

As I write, I can look up and directly at the “cross wall” and see some beautiful crosses, some crosses that have a meaning because of who gave them, or where I purchased them…but they all have an “intrinsic” value because of their own beauty.

On one hand…The cross: an implement of torturous death.  Even the symbol of a cross could strike a deep and unfathomable fear in the people of Jesus’ day.  This method of execution was devised as to cause as much suffering as possible, while displaying the suffering as a warning to anyone else who might think of crossing the Roman government of the time.  The cross: a symbol, not only of state-sanctioned death, but state-sanctioned inhuman, horrific, torture. It is a symbol that Believers and Followers since have stared at daily without, perhaps, knowing the implications of such a symbol, or feeling the depth of terror that symbol would strike in all of our Believing and Following forebears.  To think that such a symbol would be carved with such love, worn as jewelry, and decorating a Pastor’s wall is almost morbidly-idiotic.

On the other hand God, the “Spiritual Rumplestiltskin”, as I like to call Him sometimes (He “turns straw into gold”) has taken the cross and actually re-created it as a thing of beauty, goodness and truth.  The mere fact that this instrument of torture and death, used on His own Son, has become a symbol for a beautiful gift of freedom and love is also unfathomable.  God, who takes the chaos and makes order, takes garbage and makes jewels, takes the broken things and makes them new…God, who currently is restoring the entire world to newness and prepping it for the Age to Come has done a wonderful thing with this cross.

We often hear, “Everything happens for a reason.”  Which (and I hate to burst anyone’s bubble), is not an accurate quote of scripture. Bad things are generally not something that God plans.  In fact the “reason” much, if not all, of the bad things in the world happen because we’re stupid and make BAD choices. THAT’s the “reason”.  What God does is take the bad and make it good.  God takes the tangle that we’ve created, and at our request, creates a tapestry.

Wasn’t the evilness of the cross part of God’s “plan”? The sacrifice that needed to be made by His Son was necessary.  Were the evil plans and thoughts of those who eventually led Jesus through the streets and to Golgotha all a part of God’s will?  Of course not, and neither were any of those people involved mere robots or puppets without a choice. God knew, because He exists “out of time”.  He could see what was GOING to happen (from our perspective of time) before it actually happened to us, and the evil became beautiful.  It is God to make “all things new”.  It is in His nature (and ours, for that matter) to “re-create”.

And so, I display my wall of crosses proudly.  This evil thing, this wicked idea to make another human suffer the pain and humility of inhuman death has been turned, as all things that are imperfect, wicked, twisted and evil will also turn.

When I look at my wall now, I try to remember the “journey” this cross made, from something designed to torture and kill, to something that is (for me, at least) a gate to the garden.


DANCE AS IF EVERYONE IS WATCHING

DANCE AS IF EVERYONE IS WATCHING

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PALM SUNDAY.  I have some wonderful memories associated with this day and time.  My Dad was the choir director at my home church, for several years, and Palm Sunday evening was often the performance of the annual CHOIR CANTATA (usually one by John W. Peterson…for all of you folks who remember his standards from church choir repertoire in the 1950s & ’60s).  Also, Mom was the resident playwright and director for some truly awesome church productions, complete with soldiers, disciples and angels.  As an only child, I was usually involved in all of that, just because if Mom & Dad were at the church, so was I.  Later, when I was writing music, Palm Sunday and Holy Week became the times when some of my own music was performed at worship…some of those pieces are still some of my personal favorites.

Then, of course, my all-time favorite PALM SUNDAY was more than three decades ago when my oldest son, Cameron, was born (I think that was the only time in my life I’ve missed a Palm Sunday Worship Service). 

It may be just me, but growing up in a church family and experiencing Palm Sunday processionals as a child, just as the weather was warming up, enjoying the “dramatic” and “musical” events…it was (and still is) like Christmas in that no matter what else is going on in the world, this is a time set aside for celebration.

One particular Palm Sunday, during my college days in Seattle when my irreverence during serious occasions was maturing, was quite amusing.  During our worship we began with a processional from the back; first the choir (I was a tenor, in the back row), children with palm branches, and then the Pastoral Staff who were all participating in the worship leading.  Most of the staff at the time (I was the Office Manager at this point) were young, and then there was a more mature woman on staff as well, as our professional Church Counselor.  We all took our places and the service began.  The Senior Pastor stepped to the pulpit and addressed the full sanctuary with words of greeting and led in a responsive reading (the usual, from the Gospels, recounting the Jerusalem processional).

Suddenly, jumping from her seat next to the song leader, our Counseling Pastor, during a calm part of the reading, quickly moved to the center of the platform and started, what seemed like, an odd sort of tap dance (on the carpet).  Everything stopped.  We stared, during what seemed like hours, trying to figure out if she was having some sort of Pentecostal moment (surely not), or spasm, (a very fun and rhythmic one, if that was it) or just what.  When suddenly a small girl in the front of the sanctuary jumped up and yelled excitedly, “A dance!” as she started clapping and “dancing” along with our Associate Pastor.

 Well, by that time, the confused congregation (especially those of us in the choir and close to the front) weren’t certain about what to do.  By that time our female Associate had stopped “dancing” and was watching the little girl.  She then moved down the couple of steps to the girl, took her hands and started to dance with her.  The pianist began to play the song we had just sung and some clapping began.  We began to get caught up in this strange, impromptu dance party, in the middle of what had been a carefully-planned worship service.

The whole thing lasted only a moment.  When the song ended everyone clapped, and our Associate moved to the pulpit to explain that one of the candles had lit a palm frond end on fire and a little ember had floated down to the carpet where it began to burn.  Our vigilant Associate was the only one who noticed.  Thereby, she jumped from her seat, scurried to the burning carpet and began stomping it out with her high-heeled feet.  It wasn’t apoplexy or the Holy Spirit…it was a small fire…which looked to us like a dance from a person for whom dancing wasn’t a part of her perceived nature.

But for that moment a misunderstood action turned into a spontaneous dance party and the agenda was set aside.

Two-thousand years ago, Jesus could have stopped the procession on the way to Jerusalem and given everyone a lesson in WHY He was entering Jerusalem, and WHAT He was going to do. But, for the crowds at least, He let it go, He let them celebrate.  They were misinterpreting what was going on, but Jesus didn’t stop the praise, and knew it was futile to try.  He also understood there is a time for everything, present circumstances don’t override expressions of joy.

In THE Kingdom, at least, there is ALWAYS a reason to dance.

That is, I guess, what the pageantry, music and drama of PALM SUNDAY and HOLY WEEK are for me.  No matter what else is going on in the world, and much of the world around us is in chaos, because of who HE is, and because of WHAT is certain and sure in our future…it IS appropriate to interrupt the agenda and dance.

So…dance as if everyone is watching.


ANNUAL "FERN SUNDAY"

ANNUAL “FERN SUNDAY”

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By request, I am recounting the story of “FERN SUNDAY” (an unofficial observance of my own; the Sunday before Palm Sunday – this coming Sunday, in fact.) 

First, I know this is ST. PATRICK’S DAY, but this is not a “ST. PATRICK’S DAY” story…it’s simply another “colorful” event I remember from my strange life; something to bring a smile and maybe provoke a thought or two during these weird times.  It’s a story of rebellion, of “church politics” and the seed of tradition…and it is set during LENT.

When I was a Freshman and Sophomore in College I had my first actual “church job” that didn’t involve my home church.  I was hired by a very wealthy congregation to be one of four section leader/soloists for their aging choir.  This was the first congregation I belonged to that was not the church of my family, nor was it the denomination I had grown up with.  It was a very enlightening (in a good way) experience for me, and my own formation as a Believer & Follower.

Being one of the few “young” people (read: anyone under 50) at this large and established congregation I gravitated to the other few who were close in age…one was another paid member of the choir, and one was his girlfriend who also attended.  We would gather after worship and chat/mock/chill in the mammoth, two-story, parlor behind the chancel area.

This church building was beautiful.  A former synagogue/temple, it had been “redeemed” as a Christian worship space with magnificent carvings, paintings, stained-glass windows, and an epic pipe organ.  The choir sat in the back balcony with the organist, and so could observe everything.  The worship was traditional to the extreme and well done, but a little stiff and stodgy.  The people were older, much older, than us, but warm, gracious, and very, very thankful for any youngsters that were in attendance, so we always got lots of love and food.

The congregation eased into LENT, a church observance I had NEVER experienced, so I paid attention to every fascinating detail of the “traditional mainline protestant” observance.

First off, the sanctuary was always filled with the most impressively large floral decorations I had ever seen in a sanctuary.  The first Sunday I sang in worship I had assumed there had been a wedding in the sanctuary the Saturday before, there was SO MUCH “flora” tucked into every conceivable place…but no, I quickly found out there was a “flower lady” who took great care each Saturday to deck the sanctuary like the Garden of Eden.  She had a well-known floral shop and used her buying power to procure everything we saw.  I honestly don’t know if she donated or charged the church, but I DO know she was a “force to be reckoned with” as she was in the choir, and also dictated which color stoles the choir wore on which Sunday.  She appeared to be the “Martha Stewart” of the congregation.

In any case, LENT arrived, suddenly and shockingly.  The sanctuary was stripped of greenery AND flowers.  I stood amazed at how large the sanctuary actually was when there wasn’t a forest taking up much of the space.  Dark purple decked the pulpit, the lectern, the windows, and the walls…but even with all of that, the place was “bare Lenten bones”.

The Flower Lady was not a fan of LENT.  She complained, starting on Ash Wednesday, and continuing throughout the 40-day observance, about the “sad music”, the “dull sermons”, and especially the “lack of beauty” (read: “flowers”).  The “youngsters” (me, and the other chosen few) for whom this congregation was new, appreciated the humor of her probably more than the saints who had been attending since the founding of America.  So, when she wasn’t amused, they weren’t either.

It seems that finally, on the Sunday before PALM SUNDAY, she’d had it.  We walked into the sanctuary (the choir was one of the first there each Sunday) to what looked like the bar at the local “Holiday Inn” (not that I ever was ever THERE, but I’d seen pictures): it was wood, brass and ferns, ferns, ferns…everywhere.

 Yes, it seems, without permission, she had taken it upon herself to ease the congregation back into the woodland glade that was the usual setting for us in the sanctuary.  The fact there were suddenly ferns in the sanctuary did not sit well with the Minister, the Board, or the other woman, who understood fully how LENT may be ruined for everyone if it wasn’t “plain and bare” up to PALM SUNDAY.  It began what turned into a yearly struggle (so I’m told, since I moved to Seattle the next year…but kept in touch.)

Oh, I didn’t tell you another important fact…her name was, appropriately, “Fern”.

And so, for me at least, the Sunday before PALM SUNDAY has always been “FERN SUNDAY”.  Here at CCC we have (well, I have) carried on that tradition and placed ferns out, to make sure we’re not all too shocked to worship on PALM SUNDAY when the palms are put out.

I don’t advocate stirring up trouble in church, especially by stamping on people’s traditions (unless moved to do so by the Spirit).  I also don’t advocate one person’s tastes and traditions over the traditions and tastes of the “community” (unless you’re the Pastor, then you can do whatever you want…just kidding).  But what amazes me most about this story is…that I’m telling it.  We put out ferns each Sunday before PALM SUNDAY…and all because of a woman who wouldn’t remember me from Adam, if she is still alive, which I doubt.  But here I am, changed, calling the Sunday before Palm Sunday “Fern Sunday” because of her, and something she did.

It reminds me of the power all of us have to affect the lives around us, for better or worse.  Every word we say, every action we take, is heard and observed…and in some cases, is absorbed.  Words are power, actions speak louder than words, and people are still the greatest influencers of other people.

Fern only impressed this great story on me, her actions and words are not something I aspire to…and, in a way, she taught me how NOT to speak or behave around others. But there are many other people whose words may have been fewer, and actions smaller) who have influenced me even more:

The sixth-grade kid who watched my fourth-grade play and told me I needed to be on stage…
I remembered that.

The shoe salesmen who sold me my first pair of “big boy” shoes, and called me “tiger”…
I remember that.

The first person who looked me in the eye and said, “I love you.”

And I will always remember the five people who greeted me that first Sunday I stepped through the doors of Central Christian Church in June of 2006.

The Spirit is changing the community of faith during this season, almost as if we were all in a cocoon.  I, for one, believe we will emerge with a new appreciation of each other’s smile and voice.  As we learn, during this time, what is truly important, I hope we hear the Scripture’s words about the effect we have on one another – through our words, our prayers, and our love.


OVER THE HILL

OVER THE HILL

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I am literally “feeling” my age these days of 2021 – especially now that I’m on the “other side of the hill”.  Desserts are now replaced with more-friends-than-food at my side, gifts are now the intangible, full moments past and present, decorations are the wrinkles, fat and grey hair that bear witness to all those past intangible, full moments…with thankfulness.

I, for one, am happy to know that I am reaching the point where I have lived longer than I will live in the future years (unless I live to be 126-years-old).  Having never been fearful of death, I don’t, at this point, have any desire to live longer than I should…and in fact, am happier to be the age I am than at any other time in my life.

God has been, is, and will been a friend to me, gone the “extra mile” and continues to shock me with His graciousness which I have still to figure out…as little as I have done for Him in return.

To be a Believer & Follower on the “other-side-of-the-hill” is to look back, to observe God and oneself from a distance, and continue to learn.

I climbed up the hill, aiming to reach the summit quickly…by travelling straight for it.

In my rush to reach the pinnacle, to “grow up”, I missed some beautiful sights.  Sure, I had the strength then to grab an outcropping of rock when I needed to and pull myself up.  Yes, I could look back at the sunset of each day and see what I had accomplished.  Sure,  it’s good to have goals, make a plan and work the plan, but along the way I may have passed up times I didn’t need to move so quickly.  In my effort to go, go, go…I have missed the goal completely sometimes.  God’s request that I love Him is played out by loving those He has placed in my path – and, unfortunately, sometimes the path was more important than those who took up space on the path.

I find that now that I’m on the other side going down instead of up, I zigzag – partially to keep from falling down!  

Now the path is just as steep, but I am going down, not up.  I’ve learned, there is more to be seen and experienced by not racing down the hill.  And the truth is, I’ll reach the bottom when the time is right, till then I should enjoy the path and the people on it…not going straight down but covering the entire width of the hill and all it has to offer.

When I climbed up, my goal was the summit.

Searching for a “mountain-top” experience was often the goal of my younger self.  Now I realize that those experiences happen, are serendipitous and not always a result of planning. I accept them and enjoy them when they come, but as I now see the valley below, I realize that every part of the hill has something to offer.  The path is of God’s creation, He has gone ahead of me, and it is cleared and made especially for me…who am I to deviate from His map?  Getting OVER the mountaintop is the actual goal…partially because the air is so thin at the top, no one could stay there for long.

As my younger self ascended the hill, I had no choice but to empty my pack of things that were too heavy. 

Now that I am over the summit, I’m finding that I do not even miss the things I threw out of my pack…and so, am only holding on to the things that might be helpful to someone else along the way.  I tend to be a hoarder, in part because the things I collect around me have meaning and are memory-holders.  But, in truth, middle age has brought me to the learning stage that tells me how little I need.  And also, my joy, my life, my journey is more fulfilling (once again) when I pay attention to the people on the path…and it’s good to have things with you which connect you with them.  That it may be something they need is just a part of why those things are necessary.  Connection with others is the important thing.

Now that I am closer to valley, I can see that it has a gate. 

The journey on the hill has shown me that there is more than one hill, but I couldn’t see that until I got “over-the-hill”.  When I was climbing, my thought was that my life would end once I got over the summit…now that I AM over the summit, I’m glad to see that there is still more, and there will be more…especially after I walk through the gate in the garden in the valley.

 Thanks to all whose paths cross my path, who walk the path with me, who have carried my pack for me, who have guarded me when I have slept and mended me when I have fallen.  To the ones who travel with me, by blood or by choice, I am who I am because of you and your love.  And to The Shepherd who leads and asks me to follow: I am just beginning to make out the melody You’ve been singing, and look forward to a continuing journey filled with many more years on this path, and unfathomable moments beyond the gate.


THE BARD

THE BARD

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William Shakespeare. The words attributed to that name are some of my favorite phrases.  I have grown in my appreciation of the plays and sonnets, of the accurate recording of human nature, defined so expertly and beautifully in a language that seems all but lost. I have been honored to perform in and stage direct several Shakespeare plays, and I’ve got to say that simply reading the words do not do them the justice they deserve. The words are written to be heard. 

There is almost no one English writer more quoted than Shakespeare, and snippets of lines from his poems and plays have made their way into our vernacular even today; “All the world’s a stage…”, “to be or not to be”, “what’s in a name?…”, “the winter of our discontent”, “such stuff as dreams are made of”, “all that glitters is not gold”, “the course of true love never did run smooth”, “there’s a method in the madness”, “a lean and hungry look”…and so much more!

Shakespeare is quotable and clever. Watching and hearing the plays reminds me that people haven’t changed all that much since the 1500’s, and the best entertainment still rests upon the masters of words. But there is something interesting about Shakespeare; there is very little evidence that he existed OR that he wrote all of those plays!

It’s true, in fact there is on-going discussion as to whether the Shakespeare of history, a shadowy figure with little or no education, was the true author. Several theories have come forward as to WHO might have written and WHY they would use Shakespeare’s name, but we take for granted that William Shakespeare wrote it all. We take it on faith, because there is very little evidence.

Speaking of faith and Shakespeare is one thing but speaking of faith and the person of Jesus Christ is another. There are several books that seek to prove the existence of the human, historical person of Jesus. The historicity of the Gospels themselves give us more personal, biological information about Jesus than we have on most other ancient historic figures. In fact, there is more evidence of Jesus’ existence than there is of Alexander the Great’s existence. But I believe that God wants us to have some room for doubt so that we can exercise our “faith muscles”.

FAITH, as we know, is a gift of God to be exercised and built up through believing. And what is faith? The best definition, I think, is in the scripture itself, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” HEBREWS 11:1. It is by faith that we flip the switch each evening and turn on the lights in our homes. It is by faith that we turn the keys in our cars and expect the engine to start. Faith is a natural thing. It is also by faith that we pray, read, worship and live, and that is good. It tells us that there are some things in this world that we CAN’T explain. There are some things in our lives that we DON’T have control of. And so, though we may not understand it, it is through faith that we live. The more we “exercise” that faith, the greater and more numerous are the daily miracles.

Believe, exercise faith…live miraculously.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
HAMLET, ACT 1, SCENE 5  (THE BARD)


THE BIOGRAPHY

THE BIOGRAPHY

Written By:

If I attended a wedding and, sitting in the pew listening to the minister, heard and watched him turn to the couple and say, “The most important thing is communication, through the good and the bad, communication with your spouse is the most important thing.”

I would say a silent “Amen”.

But if I then heard and saw the minister continue by handing them a book and saying,
“Here is a biography of your spouse.  Whenever you wish to find out what they’re thinking or how they are going to react, simply read this and you’ll know.  Everything you need to know about your spouse is right here.”
I would…along with most everyone in the ceremony, wonder at the mental health of said minister.
 And perhaps THEN someone wouldn’t be so silent.  Someone (probably NOT me) might stand and say, “Why don’t they just talk to each other…isn’t THAT a better way to get to know someone; a better way to communicate?”  Then, of course, there would be a general hub-bub and the wedding would end in shambles with at least one member of the wedding party, along with the minister, crying and running off.

But seriously, how ridiculous would it be if anyone told me or you that the best way to get to know someone we love, or communicate with someone, is to read about them?  Especially when they are there and can be DIRECTLY communicated with.  And yet, many Believers & Followers of Jesus do that exact thing.

I just heard someone (a faith-filled Believer & Follower) say they had so many questions and found themselves lost…so they searched the scripture for answers to their very specific questions.  Now hear me, this person is by all observances a very wonderful and strong person-of-faith…but part of me wanted to step in and say, “Why don’t you just ASK Him?”

Also hear me when I say, the Scripture is a Holy Book, it is sacred because of its place in our lives as Believers & Followers, it is a great place to find precedent for questions and answers about life. HOWEVER Jesus says in the scripture (and Paul underscores what Jesus says) is that we now have direct access to THE PERSON in this great BIOGRAPHY: God Himself.  All questions, all love, all thanks, could be directed PRIMARILY and DIRECTLY to Him.

The argument many Christians give, AGAINST this idea, is that I can’t trust the voice I’m hearing is God’s – when my “filter” is “human” and “sinful”.  In other words, how do I know it’s God speaking and not just my own voice or imagination?  How do I know I’m not justifying my own agenda and giving God the credit?

The answer? Faith.

The theological argument that says I can’t trust that I’m hearing God speak is one I’d like to try on Moses, Elijah, King David, Joseph, Daniel, Paul…etc.  In other words, I’d like to hear from the WRITERS of the scripture about their process in hearing God.  Surely these guys were hearing through a human and sinful filter as well...how did they know, or did they, that God was speaking and they weren’t just their own voices?

We, as Believers & Followers, don’t always make use of the Spirit like we should.  It is the Spirit, not the Scripture (according to Jesus) who leads us into all Truth.  It is through Jesus, not the Scripture, that we have access to the Great Throne.

The Scripture has purpose, it is Holy and Sacred, it is our primary text, as Believers & Followers, regarding who we are and who He is.  I also realize that the Spirit of Jesus the King will speak in any way we will listen, and for some that is through the scripture.  But that should not be our ONLY way to know God, and should not be an excuse for unexercised faith.  It should not be an excuse for NOT praying/speaking directly to the One who leads, teaches, provides, protects and loves us.  I know far too many people who would far rather use the scripture as a rule book than actually have a real conversation with  God, who is far more merciful and gracious than they are comfortable with.  I know far too many people who use the scripture as a “Magic 8-Ball” because it’s easier than trusting their spiritual ears and eyes...because getting to know God in THAT way may compel them to change.

I don’t want to get to that final WEDDING FEAST myself (not sitting in the pew, but standing beside the King) and find that I don’t even recognize His voice, as He holds my hand.  I, for one, will put the Spirit’s voice first.  I choose to hear Jesus sing, and I want to know His Father…personally.


LIFEBOAT

LIFEBOAT

Written By:

I miss traveling.  I love seeing our beautiful world and the people in it. In fact, as wonderful as all the scenery and cultures I’ve experienced are, it’s the people that are most fascinating. I’m an introvert at heart, and I like to sit in the back and see the whole picture, as wide a field as possible.  And when travelling, my favorite thing is find a quiet table, bench, or palm tree…and sit watching people.

We are a fascinating species; all types, all personalities, and yet similar. I, jokingly, like to say that God only has a few “molds” He uses in building us; and so He uses some over and over. That’s ridiculous, of course, as even the most similar are as different as snowflake crystals or sands on the beach – but it’s a fun game. I watch young parents with children. Children seem to be the same throughout the world. I watch older couples, helping each other navigate the tours, the shops, and the uneven the walkways. Then there are the wealthy, the elegant, the plain, and the boisterous. I see the friendly, and the not-so-friendly, the grumpy, and the funny. It’s always a wonderful collection of sameness & difference.

On this day, ASH WEDNESDAY, I am thinking of the ashes, Palm Sunday, people, and the journey each of us together. Our bodies move toward an end, while our souls grow and finally break through. Where our souls travel, when free of these bodies, is taken on faith. We all have an idea as to what will happen when the soul breaks free, and we argue with each other about it; wasting time that could be used to connect to each other, as Jesus has asked us to do.

As for our bodies, we should all KNOW what is going to happen. And not just bodies, but our lands, our homes, our countries, and our kingdoms. It’s not just faith and religion that teach us about this cycle of beginnings and endings…it’s life observed, and history itself. All human things end, whether individual humans or communities of humans, large and small. Hardly anything symbolizes that truth more than ASH WEDNESDAY.

Where do the ashes we use at Central come from? The ashes we use are the ashes of the palms used the prior Palm Sunday; mixed with olive oil which is infused with frankincense and myrrh. Once the palms are burned, ground down and mixed, they are preserved. In fact, at Central, the ashes I’ve used for fourteen years (my Anniversary with you is tomorrow, February 18th), predate me by two to three ministers at least. I have only added some ashes, but they are combined with ashes from Palm Sundays past. The alabaster jar that holds Central’s ashes also holds the representation of at least three generations of parishioners, pastors, elders, deacons, and stories here in the heart of the heartland…and now, it’s all ash.

The palms that symbolize the crowds in Jerusalem wishing for and welcoming what they imagined was an “earthly” kingdom, are now dust – reminding us that the “earthly” kingdom is not what our King came to inaugurate – HIS Kingdom is “not FROM, or OF, this world”. HIS Kingdom doesn’t turn to ash. But our kingdoms, our countries, our homes, and our bodies…do.

We are all headed in that direction. No matter our diversity, no matter our likeness, we all travel to that location. That knowledge alone should cause us to be treat others with kindness, love, patience, and help. The knowledge of the shared destination of all our lives should cause us to live every moment on this earth, in this body, with intention. But does it?

This isn’t really bad news, it’s the way of life as physical life was created to be – but “Life” (with a capital “L”) isn’t defined by things that turn to ash. “Life”, according to what I believe and teach, transcends nations, communities, and human bodies. I believe our souls will land in new bodies that don’t turn to ash, in a land that always remains green, lush, diverse and colorful – like the immortal souls that will inhabit it with our King, Jesus.

My time at Central, in Anderson, and on this earth will one day be represented in the palms I have burned and mixed with ashes from times before, and pastors who have served and moved on, along with their parishioners.  My soul has already started packing for another trip. The Kingdom of MY King has already been created.

So take the ashes and remember: we are all on the same physical journey, and it might be your responsibility to show (without words, but with action) someone else the way to “the lifeboat.” On the way, offer your hand, your smile, and your love, because Jesus asks you to. Also, as different as we all may be, and no matter where we started – we’re all in the same “life” boat.

Every moment has its time.
Every person has their place.
Don’t rush past either.
In doing so, you may also rush past
God’s desire for you to either
EXPERIENCE or BE the miracle.


POINT OF REFERENCE

Here’s a story from a few years ago: I have a friend, let’s call her, “Dawn” (because that’s her name).  She and her family don’t live in Anderson, they live in a smaller town in close proximity.  She used to come to Anderson only to do her grocery shopping at PAYLESS.  So, if she wants to find anywhere else in Anderson, as happened a few weeks ago, she asks…

“How do you get there, from PAYLESS?”,

…because THAT is her point of reference; her “portal” to all the other wonderfulness that is Anderson.

It is a funny story and we all laughed about it…AND I told her that I’d be using it in an upcoming blog…because, what she is finding now that she travels to Anderson for other reasons (like attending a CHURCH FILLED WITH AWESOMENESS), she relies less and less on her “first frame of reference” and sees the relationship of places and neighborhoods within the town.   Some of those places are actually easier to find and reach if you don’t start from the parking lot at PAYLESS.

 There is nothing wrong with having a point of reference.  Without it, Dawn would not have seen or found quite a lot…but now her mind-map is expanded, she has a clearer idea of the layout.  Her point of reference is always there, and may help her in the future, but she is less reliant upon it…as a portal to the rest of the world of Andersonland, it has served it’s primary purpose…and now it has a secondary one: to be there when she needs help discovering something new and can’t find it using the other places she has discovered.

I know you’re all wondering where this is going, and what possible life lesson I learned from this.  Well, there are probably many, but the one that keeps coming back to me is that PAYLESS is (for Dawn) to Anderson, what ritual is to relationship (for Believers & Followers).

When I was in college and running out of classes that I HAD to take, and looking for classes I needed, to fulfill credit obligations…I found a fascinating class: “RITUAL FOR ARTISTS”.  This class, taught by a psychologist and musicologist, was all about the human need for ritual, and the places it serves us well.  When I’m talking “ritual” I’m not necessarily talking about spiritual ritual, I’m talking about what we do as individuals and in groups that form a “comfort level” of sameness for us.  For instance, most of us do the same things in the morning, to get ready for the day, in the same order as we have done them for years…with additions of pill-taking (for those of us grown-ups) and care items for others, it pretty much stays the same.

And what about “pew-sitting”…I know for a fact that most of the people reading this, who attend Central (and probably any other church) sit in the same place, approximately, every Sunday…these are individual and corporate rituals.  Rituals are comforting because they are something we control, and because they don’t change…but they are not, at least in the church, anything more than a “portal” and “point of reference” for the greater things.

 The positive point about a worship service that offers something new every week is “interest”…but when the liturgy (definition: a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted”) is taken away, people become so tense and uncomfortable that the new thing is often seen as something not of “interest” but of “danger”.

“Ritual” in the worship of God, is a doorway that leads us to a place where we can seek out what we need.  As we find ourselves more and more comfortable with the places we’ve found, the new knowledge of God and how that connects each of us together…we find that our “point of reference” changes, and ritual (which is always there) becomes less and less important…or more precisely, becomes exactly what it should be.

The problem lies when the only place we go is PAYLESS.  In other words, many churches rely so much on ritual that IT becomes the destination, not just the point of reference.  Don’t be fooled, this happens in high and low churches.  This even happens in churches that don’t believe they have ANY ritual.  I grew up in a congregation that believed “ritual” to be a bad word…but we had our own ritual in worship, and people learned quickly how important it was, if it was ever strayed from:  Pre-Service Music, Opening Prayer, Opening Hymn, Special Music, Pastor’s Prayer, Sermon, Closing Song, Altar Response, Postlude…in that order, every Sunday of my life growing up!  It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I hope that I learned to look beyond the ritual and find the relationship with God.

Rituals – point of references – and portals are something all of us need.  For those who attend worship, the rituals of Central Christian Church give us comfort, like a big front door, or a fire in the fireplace…but we are not defined by our rituals. All of them; the times and places of songs, scriptures, prayers, thoughts, communion, are only the points-of-reference to a greater thing, to more knowledge, to a larger community. They are doorways to the heart of God.  Hopefully, we ALL take the journey from RITUAL to RELATIONSHIP.

A philosophy I follow says this, which I believe is Truth from God:

When one does away with God, one is left with goodness.
When one does away with goodness, one is left with morality.
When one does away with morality, one is left with ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith, and the beginning of chaos.
Therefore, God concerns Himself with the depths
and not the surface,
with the fruit,
and not the flower.

Thanks to Dawn, for her unwitting lesson in finding God’s heart;
from RITUAL to RELATIONSHIP… 

…and all from the unlikely place of the PAYLESS parking lot in Anderson, Indiana.