RICK’S BLOG


A PERSONAL SOUNDTRACK

A PERSONAL SOUNDTRACK

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So, I’ve returned from a short vacation and returning to work always involves a bit of “mind focusing” – especially after doing NOTHING but sitting on a beach with a cold drink, reading.  So I eventually ventured out in “Mariska” (the Buick) and headed for the office.

After returning home to my own bed at around 1am that day, my mind, eyes, and body were a bit “bleary” to say the least. I backed out of the driveway, re-acquainting myself with the car interior; my mind not being what it was 20 years ago, I had a difficult time even remembering what that big wheel in front of me was for.  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 reached 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.  Had I 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 was with me.

And so it is with the Spirit.

I thought then, as I think now, that in MY life at least, this is much of the Spirit’s work.  This Spirit; Comforter, Teacher, Counselor and Empowerer, “underscores” my life.  You notice, in the pathetic scenario above, no reality changed.  I WAS still driving on a Tuesday, past the ubiquitous empty and run-down homes that occupy the corners of our town.  What had changed was my vision, my foresight, and my confidence.  Because 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!

Now, I’m a musician and that 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 would 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.


IT WAS THE BEST OF DAYS, IT WAS THE WORST OF DAYS

What I have always called, “the best day/the worst day” started 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! 

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 (ah…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.


THE STORY

THE STORY

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Once again, this holiday, I performed with the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra (the “big band” I’ve been singing with for over 19 years).  We have played many “patriotic” gigs throughout the years, and always some Glenn Miller, some George M. Cohan, some John Philip Sousa.  Many times 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 short 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, 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…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) has a story…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 those in power, and to the citizens of this nation.  The story of God is the story of His people and their journey with (or without) Him…and it needs to be repeated loudly and constantly to His children.

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.


GOD & COUNTRY

GOD & COUNTRY

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I am so blessed and happy to live in a country that makes it relatively easy to be a Believer & Follower of Jesus the Christ.  I am thankful every day, as a Pastor, that I do not face the persecution and unfathomable struggles that many of my brothers and sisters throughout the world face daily.  We are truly blessed, in the United States, to be allowed to “live and let live”…though some of us could use a little more practice.

We, as a nation, have rarely had to face what other Christians around the world face, as tension between the church and the government.  Throughout the nations governments and non-Christians resent the fact that a Christian’s allegiance is FIRST given to God, and THEN to the nation.  Here in the U.S.A., although it has turned to a more politicized moniker, being a “Christian” is a label with some influence in the greatest circles of power, or at least a relative comfort level within those circles.  The same cannot be said for many countries outside of the U.S.

Does that make this a “Christian” country?  Although, for some reason, many believe that this nation is a “new Isreal”-type, the nation of the USA is no more “Christian” than Portugal or Australia (as illustrative examples only).  There is a flawed belief there were MORE Christians in political leadership at the dawn of this nation than there are now. But all one needs to do is read a little history to find the percentage was probably the same as it is now.  And what some of those leaders defined as Christ-like-behavior would shock us today.  But there WAS an eager tolerance, in that time, to allow the people of this new country to choose where, when, how or not to worship (unlike the countries from which our colonists came, where religion was forced upon the populace). 

Was this nation founded on Christian principals?  It would seem so, as many would define Christianity and as many interpret scriptures then and now.  But looking at the way some Christians have historically used their faith to justify slavery and aggressive war against other nations, one wonders what the difference is between patriotism and faith.  Again, Tzarist Russia (as an example) and Nazi Germany (as another) would have claimed, and DID claim, that theirs were Christian nations: their concepts about government and “who was in and who was out” were argued using the scripture AND the belief that God blessed their efforts and was “on their side”.

This belief in a “Christian” United States has, unfortunately, given some Christians pause.  Sometimes the Supreme Court of the United States hands down decisions that make some Christians (not all) shudder.  These decisions about marriage, about life before birth, etc. are reminders that this country is simply that…a country. It is not a nation set aside from any other nation, by God, for special “anointing”.  It is a country filled with God’s children…like all of the other countries of the world. 

 And AS God’s children, we understand that our allegiance to God dictates that we pray for, but not worship, our respective countries and their leaders.  We realize that our leaders and lawmakers will do things we agree with and some things we don’t agree with.  We will agree and disagree with our own Christian brothers and sisters also.  As children of God we realize that God and God alone will define what life is, what marriage is, what love is, and who has residency in His Kingdom…many of us would be surprised at His decisions about precisely those things.

Even in the Kingdom, the searching and re-searching of the scripture may lead YOU to define God and other things in ways which might be different from the way I see God.  How then can we expect our nation to always agree with what we individually define as “Christian”?

The laws of this country and the laws of God may at times connect, intersect, run parallel and/or conflict.  That is the reality of life in this Age.  We are promised, however, that in the Age-To-Come, there will be no boundaries, no war, no strangers.  There will be One King, one law, and one peace.  We’re not there yet, but we will be soon…and for now we need to practice not looking shocked at who else is sitting at God’s table (and not being offended when they are shocked to see us.)

We, as Believers and Followers of the One True God, manifested in Jesus the Promised One, have one agenda: to KNOW God.  We have a primary allegiance: to the Almighty Father and His Only Son…and we have one command from Him to follow: love one another as I have loved you.

I love this country, where we celebrate the freedom to worship as we please, we define our faith as we please, we agree or disagree with our country’s leaders as we please.  God help me to remember the millions that don’t have this freedom…and help me love the ones who have not chosen the ultimate freedom that comes from knowing God and His Son.


MICHAEL

MICHAEL

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

I first met him when, as a very young singer, I was making my professional opera debut.  He was assigned to me by the company as my “coach”; leading me in the method of singing the small role that I had.  We quickly 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 did, and do, a lot of stuff.  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, the composer Richard Wagner.  He knew more about that guy than anyone I had ever met, and was writing a book on him…a commissioned work (a publisher payed him an advance to write it…that’s how good he was).

Michael and I would get together regularly, maybe once or twice a month, to eat, drink, and talk about music…his and mine.  He would always have his calendar 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.

Then 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 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, his one and only Christian friend, to know that he was “sick”.  He was afraid that I would judge, that I would condemn…and most importantly, think that I would leave.  Ironic, since he’s the one that left. 

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.

I’m older now…maybe not wiser.  I am, in many ways, more cynical and bitter.  I understand that Jesus tells those 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 “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’m pretty sure that covers everyone.  So how could Michael think that I, whom he knew well, would judge, hate, and abandon him?  Not because of anything I did, but because of what some other “Christians” have done, 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 to remind 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.  There are those “Christians” who think that Jesus’ command to love is conditional.

And yet, though it’s sometimes more difficult to see it, there are those who understand that to know a person’s heart, read a person’s mind, know 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 could, and should, be known as the people who love like no one else, accepting those with whom we agree and share our life-goals, as well as those we don’t.  We can, and will, be the ones 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 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.

And so, if we belong to Jesus, how then should we live?

We can and should be God’s people; people who love others as Jesus loves them – people who remember that Jesus unconditionally loved us…BEFORE we loved Him.


FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT & SAFETY

FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT & SAFETY

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I am remembering a moment, a Christmas Eve in the living room, putting a massive toy of some sort together, as quietly as possible.  It’s something I wanted to get done quickly, it was late and I knew the boys would be up before dawn, wanting to get into the presents.  I was tempted to simply look at the picture on the package and build from that, except that this clever manufacturer had printed instructions that began with:

“Please follow instructions carefully, the designers and manufacturers of this product wish to do everything in their power to ensure your enjoyment and safety.” 

“…to ensure your enjoyment and safety.”

And I had another epiphany.  It was about something that had been in the news during that Christmas Season: The Ten Commandments.  Some city somewhere is going through some sort of thing about a stone in front of the courthouse and a manger scene and a menorah, or something.  Anyway I had either forgotten or suddenly realized the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) are a prime example of “the Designer-Manufacturer’s…wish to do everything in His power to ensure our enjoyment and safety.”

The TEN COMMANDMENTS (or as I like to call it, “THE CODE”) are the pattern for life in this age, written by the One who created this age.  Said another way, “If you want enjoyment and safety here on earth…follow these ten easy steps”.

Following the THE CODE, or any rules and guidelines set by God, don’t get us into the next age of eternity, Jesus makes that clear.  Jesus says it is by our faith that we are restored.  It is a gift from His Father and our Father that we can be restored to the ideal created in Eden, and remain close to God, even into the age-to-come.

We don’t stand next to the Father and walk with Him through eternity because of who WE are, but because of who HE is.

Jesus spent His time as a Teacher on earth trying to re-explain, clear up misconceptions, and help us see His Father in a new light.  He was clear in what was and is expected of those who believe and follow, but His emphasis was on active love between each other…in response to the great gift given to us by His Father, NOT as some sort of test to see if we should “get into heaven.”

THE CODE makes practical sense in this created world.  These are the “directions” for living well, with our Creator and with each other.  I’d go so far as to say, even the most spiritually-insensitive could benefit from living in this world according to the THE CODE.

But again, following these rules have nothing to do with our forever life, or the restoration of it.  The Apostle Paul was also clear that we all fail.  We fail on purpose and/or innocently.  And when we do, Jesus stands to defend us as someone who has worn our skin, seen with our eyes, and walked our path.  The fear of disappointing and offending God, that many of us grew up with, is something that doesn’t come from God, except in the way that we should “fear”, or better said, “be in awe of” Him.  We should appropriately fear and respect a Being with the power to obliterate even our very souls with a blink of His eye…and yet chooses not to.

Does God sit in heaven, yearly “going over the books” and writing or erasing each of our names according to our deeds, good and bad?  I honestly am not there to witness that or see it.  I can only tell you what the scripture, the Spirit, and my own experience with God tells me: He would race across the universe to merely give us a hug.  He is completely and totally wrapped up in us…for us, it’s all about God, and for God life is completely about us.

His concern is not only that we are with Him and He is with us, forever.  But also that while we are here, we have a taste of what it will be like in the age-to-come.  We can do that by following the Designer & Manufacturer’s instructions for creating a better world.

“Please follow instructions carefully, the Designer and Manufacturer of this product wishes to do everything in His power to ensure your enjoyment and safety.”


THE GREEN JACKET

THE GREEN 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 may be surprised what God has tailored for you.


TEACHERS

TEACHERS

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Miss LaClaire, Miss Just, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Van Dyke, Mrs. Goranson, Mrs. Stankman, Mr. McNamara. When Graduation comes around I go through these names and memories again. I may not remember everything they ever taught but I remember every name and face of the teachers I had through Grade School (6th Grade). And when I read the paper and see the names and faces of those Graduating I find it difficult to put my trust in these young kids…if it wasn’t the trust I had in their educators.

If I can remember each name of each teacher I had in those “formative” years AND the names of most, if not all of my Middle School, High School and University teachers…they must have had SOME impact. I thank God for those who teach. It is sometimes a thankless but glorious job to stand at the gate and train those who must pass through to the next leadership time. At times I have an epiphany and think that my parents weren’t so crazy after all when they mourned about MY generation and I think of this great quote:

“I’m trying very hard to understand this generation.
They have adjusted the timetable for childbearing
so that menopause and teaching a sixteen-year-old how to
drive a car will occur in the same week.”
ERMA BOMBECK (U.S. humorist, 1927-1996)

But as much as I remember (or don’t) about those that taught me to read, write, add and subtract…it’s these names that I remember more, and hold even closer to my heart…Pearl Mohler, Della Reibolt, Della Nunez, June Clinebell, Violet Van Hoose, Jean Martin, Eloise Woods…These were my Sunday School teachers from the time I was in the Nursery through my High School years, at HIGHLANDS CHURCH OF GOD in Kennewick, Washington. These women not only taught me the stories of Scripture (using everything from flannel graphs to play dough and puppets) but they LOVED me and when I was at my home church, I was as much at home as I was with my parents in our home. To those remarkable people, all gone except for one now, I give thanks to God.

As the years run by and each new “class” walks through the pages of the Herald Bulletin and through the halls of Central Christian Church, let’s thank God for the people He has placed in our children’s path, to teach, train and lead. Let us always pray for our children’s safety and wisdom for teachers.

As much as we may shake our heads at some of the things we see with each generation, it is good to know that some things haven’t changed in a millennium, and through those years, teachers were always held as precious:

“What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state,
than that of the man who instructs the rising generation?”
MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO

(Ancient Roman Lawyer, Writer, Scholar, Orator and Statesman, 106 BC-43 BC)

“Thank you.” To all at Central who teach, who have taught, who will teach. I also thank those who teach our own Church small groups, as well as those who have taught and are teaching in the public school system…God smiles on you.

“Teach the youth about the way they should go;
even when they are old they will not depart from it.”
PROVERBS 22:6


STAGE SET

STAGE SET

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As a child, I was first fascinated by theatrical productions not because of the performances, but because of the sets.  Now, more than ever, and after several years in professional and community theatre, I am fascinated by the craft of theatrical scenic design and execution.

I am currently in a stage show, a musical, and am once more enthralled by the art of “set design” and construction.  The designers and builders in this current show have done a fantastic job creating a workable “forest” of trees, with some creative material and lights…it IS really something to see, and fun to act on.

To sit in an audience and KNOW, in your mind, that the space you are looking at is simply a box open to the audience, but what you see is a lavish, marble-paneled palace interior, or a forest, or a village green…that kind of “suspension of belief” is a skill and somewhat mysterious gift given to designers who often need to be engineers of sorts as well.

The process of making one thing look like another and putting the audience in a frame of mind, sucking them into the story, is still a wonderful experience for me.

When one takes a trip backstage to see the “magic” revealed, the experience can be, as it is for me and some others, an even more fascinating time.  However, for others, the magic is gone once they realize that what they see is not the truth: that brick wall is a façade of a quarter-inch plastic…that tree is made of papier-mâché, as are the solid-looking-weather-worn stones.  The sky?  Material with blue light on it…and the stars, merely electronics.

The  papier-mâché tree wouldn’t stand a light rain, much less a storm.  The house has only 3 sides and is made of cardboard, some would, some paint…no one in their right mind would actually want to LIVE there.  The stones wouldn’t support a small animal, much less be shelter or foundation for more building.  The set is only a reproduction and real only to the audience…and much of that is in their own minds.

INTEGRITY.  The word describes what is incorruptible, sound and complete.  Integrity is something that truly is, on the inside, what it appears to be on the outside.  If it looks like a tree or a stone, or a brick wall, on the outside…INTEGRITY demands that it BE a tree, or stone, or brick wall on the inside.

A related word, INTEGRAL, suggests completeness, wholeness…trueness.  It’s root from a practice, in Roman days, of filling in the cracks of poorly made, or not so fine, marble columns with wax so that they would appear more perfect (more “integral”).  Of course, later, the hot sun would melt the wax and the buyer would realize that the “good deal on columns” was a bad deal for his house.

Are you what you appear to be?  Do all of us present an “audience side” to those we want to please or “perform for”?  Sometimes we do.  Being “nice” is not what being a Believer & Follower is all about…being “good” is.  Nice is “façade”, put on for some, but not for others. “Good” implies that at our core we have the Spirit of God burning as a furnace and warming from the inside out.  The scripture warns us that a façade will not stand the test of life…eventually what is TRULY in our hearts will come through.  The papier-mâché of our own stage set will wear quickly away…and if there is nothing but chicken wire and cardboard behind it, our friends will know…worse, we will not have the strength to merely walk through life.

 Let’s build from the inside out…start with a good designer, our Heavenly Father.


MOUNT ST. HELENS

MOUNT ST. HELENS

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It was 39 years ago this week (May 18th, to be exact and hard to believe) that Mount St. Helens erupted.  It was a Sunday, early in the morning, I was living in Seattle.  What I remember is that I heard a sound outside my house, like someone had thrown a big ball up against the wall – it was loud enough that I looked out the window.  But the mountain was far enough away that I wouldn’t have seen anything.  The wind was blowing east and the mountain was some hours south of Seattle, so it wasn’t until we were in church that we heard about the eruption.  Later in the day, during an outdoor bar-b-que, a few of us guys got up on the roof of the house (which was on a hill) and looked with binoculars at the ash cloud in the distance.  But we were somewhat unaffected by it all.

My parents, some 4 hours east, were at church. My Mom was a greeter that day, standing at the door and watching a dark cloud in the distance grow larger and larger with every hour.  When the announcement was broadcast that the mountain had erupted and the cloud that all of eastern Washington was seeing was an ash cloud, church was cancelled, and people were told to go home.  No one really knew what the cloud contained; something poisonous?  Something dangerous?  And so, to avoid panic, people were sent home. They had a totally different experience than we did in Seattle.

Then there was the woman with her two kids, travelling close to the mountain in their station wagon when the mountain blew.  Suddenly, she said, the sky was black and all around her was chaos: trees were being stripped of their limbs, lakes were evaporating.  She made her kids lie down in the car and drove as fast as she could, but finally couldn’t see where she was going, and then her tires melted and she was stuck.  Her mind shut down, unable to comprehend what was happening.  Her children were terrorized by the event, and her reaction.

She spoke from her home, weeks later, after returning from the hospital where she was treated for shock.  You see, to HER it seemed as if the world had ended.  Everywhere she looked, everything she saw was black, desolate and alien.  She saw no living creatures but herself and her children. She had no idea if the devastation had consumed the entire world or not.  That experience made her lose her mind a little.  When she and her children were discovered a few hours after she pulled over on the back road she was travelling, she was incoherent, her children were panic-stricken and in shock. She was brought around when she was shown photos of her home and city still intact; when she was shown that the eruption, though massive, didn’t destroy the world.  Even though, from her perspective, the world was destroyed. 

That’s what I took away from the story.  From her perspective the entire world (or, at least, her world) was destroyed.  It was only when care-givers understood HER perspective that they could break through and help her.

We all have trauma, we all have to deal with devastation in our own lives at times.  Sometimes we fail to get the support we need because others around aren’t feeling the same effects of that trauma, as we are.  This should be a lesson to us.  As Jesus dealt with each living being according to THEIR need and THEIR perspective…so should we be able to “put ourselves in their place” and therefore help to bring them out.  Just because you or I may not react in the same way to the same predicament doesn’t mean that another’s pain is less important.  Sometimes we reject the call to care because we don’t think that other person is really “that bad off”.

On May 18, 1980 I was barely affected by the “blast”, as we called it.  While just a few miles away a woman and her children thought their world was gone.

Every day we walk next to someone whose world is collapsing and every day we are reminded, by God, that the way to His heart is to love our neighbor.  Today, this week, watch for, reach out to, and love the ones that God sends our way.