RICK’S BLOG


TRADITIONS

TRADITIONS

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Well, the tree is up, some parties have happened, some snacks have been snarfed…the season is in full swing.  AND, the Christmas music is playing in my car, on my iPAD, on my laptop and on ALEXA!

Oh, how the years have changed; where I used to pull out the LPs in the back of the shelf, now I “download” it all.  Hearing the music, while enjoying decorations and wassail, takes me back to the years that Mom & Dad would pull out the Christmas LP’s.

The first “album” I ever purchased was the FIRESTONE CHRISTMAS ALBUM WITH JULIE ANDREWS (remember those? One quarter with a fill-up?).  For me, Christmas is not Christmas unless I’m listening to Julie (Mary Poppins) belt out those Christmas songs with the London Symphony Orchestra and arrangements by Andre Previn.  They ARE STILL beautiful recordings, but it’s the memories that the music brings to mind, more than anything else, that puts me in the Christmas mood.

Memories are strong motivators.  In churches, it’s memories of days-gone-by that sometimes determine how people feel about certain times, seasons and events in the Church.  It’s the way a song reminds one of a time, that makes that person want to hear it again and again during worship.  It’s the memory of the “way we’ve always done it” that keeps people from accepting change also.

I spent some time this year truly listening to those Julie Andrews recordings, and asking myself, “Do I love these songs because of the memories, or because they are beautiful in themselves?”  I feel that I listened with discerning, critical, and objective ears…and the answer surprised me: “I love them FOR the memories AND because they are beautiful songs in themselves.”

Sometimes God wants us to re-visit our traditions just to affirm that they are GOOD traditions…and sometimes He wants us to accept change, not just because it’s different and new, but because it just might be what is needed at the time.

When I was younger I was a little less traditional (I’m still very untraditional in many ways), but I find myself loving tradition more and more…it’s what I love about Central Christian (along with the wonderful people).  But I pray that I will never let my “favorite things” get in the way of God’s agenda.

Now…back to “Joy To the World” with Julie Andrews!


SONO QUI

SONO QUI

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On a recent trip we were surrounded on all sides by families with children.  As I age, I have a “love/hate” relationship with crowds.  I like to watch people, especially from other cultures, all together, vacationing: multiple languages, ages…I find that entertaining.  On the other hand, especially the older I get, I am not a fan of crowds.  I still like to be around people, but more and more I like to be on the outside looking in, rather than the middle.

My favorite pastime is observing and learning from human nature, and so, as in any vacation, we found a spot where we could sit and observe.  I love watching people interact, I love multiple cultures together in one place (family and friend dynamics don’t seem to change with the culture or language) and I ALWAYS find that if you’re looking for God to speak to you, He will. 

We sat and watched, on a crowded boulevard, as literally hundreds of families, couples, singles passed by shops and cafes.  Some were families, some couples, some singles, some groups of teens or groups of men, groups of women.  Where we were, we could hear English, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, some Russian, and some German (or Dutch?)…in any case it was a beautiful sight…from a distance.

 The children are especially fun to watch, and parenting, even within one ethnic group and/or age, is always a source of conversation. In this case, there were lots of kids.  I began watching one small boy in particular.  He was small, maybe 4 or 5 years old.  He was Italian (I recognized, though could not translate, the language).  He was seemingly alone…that’s why I kept an eye on him – to see if any parent or sibling was nearby.  He had been distracted by a very colorful car, and was looking in to see if he could get inside.

Suddenly, as if realizing he was in a sea of strangers, some 6 people deep, he stopped and looked around – turning quickly one way and then the other – as his face turned from joy to panic.  I could see from his face he was about to cry, feeling what HE wouldn’t have been able to label, but I could – abandonment.

 He shouted at the top of his little lungs, “Papa!”  Again and again, turning, looking, eyes wide with a little fear.  It all happened in an instant, but probably seemed like ages to him.

But then, the tall young father, who had been standing some 2 feet away, his back turned, turned around and their eyes locked.  The little boy stepped to him, and the man easily lifted him up, kissed him and said one of the few Italian words I could translate: “Sono qui.” (“I am here.”).

 In a flash, and with yet another thankful prayer to the Spirit, I saw in this moment the picture of what happens over and over I life: I pull away, I am surrounded by the crowd of strangers, I feel danger, I feel abandoned, I cry out…only to find that God has never left my side…He lifts me up, kisses me and says, “I am here.”

 This season of “Immanuel (With us is God)” I am reminded that I may pull away, but HE never does.  As close as a hand, a hug and a kiss…is my God.


JUKEBOX

JUKEBOX

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It’s no secret one of my favorite places to hang out after a rehearsal, performance, church or to write and work (while eating and drinking) is SCAMPY’S.  For those of you not from around Anderson, Indiana, SCAMPY’S is a local, family-owned “pizza/pub” with a rich and generous history.  It’s a local “watering hole” and a great place to eat, drink, meet people and have a great time…owned and operated by some pretty cool people.

I’m there quite a bit; an average of twice a week during the theatre season, and sometimes more.  When my schedule is fuller and I need to combine work and dinner – and it’s late in the afternoon or late at night – I’ll retreat there by myself.  I love the staff, they’re like family now, and I always see some other patron I know.  Then they leave me to my work (the amount of sermons written there in 13 years is astounding). 

In the back of the room is a JUKEBOX.  Now, I say JUKEBOX, and that is “technically” what it is, but JUKEBOXES have changed even since I was a kid.  This one doesn’t require you to stand in front of it and push buttons, unless you want to.  It doesn’t even require change – you can use APPLE PAY or your credit card (handy).  But the awesome thing is the JUKEBOX APP for my iPHONE which connects to the JUKEBOX.  I put money in the APP, select the music (from a vast catalogue of virtually every style) and the JUKEBOX plays.

So, imagine this scenario: there I am, either alone, or with an unsuspecting group, and I start to choose some music which then mysteriously plays throughout the room, and no one knows (usually) who has chosen the songs.

The night I got the APP on my phone, and started to use it for the first time, I forgot there was SCAMPY’S (the bar on the other side) and SCAMPY’S ANNEX (where I was enjoying pizza while trying to figure out the JUKEBOX APP – two different places).  I chose my first, inaugural, song to be played on the new-fangled JUKEBOX – “STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN” which I thought was appropriate, both as a patron and minister.

It didn’t play.

Since it was just a few cents for each play, I chose it again.  It didn’t play.

I looked at the APP, the APP said it was playing…I bought yet another “play” of it before I figured out what you already have – I chose the wrong JUKEBOX.  And while I was sitting in the silence of the ANNEX, the bar patrons next door were enjoying three rounds of back-to-back “STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN”! 

Now, I’m sure that was more than irritating for them, though I didn’t go over and check.  To this day I’m not sure anyone understands what happened.

That experience, however, started me on a journey to “alter the mood of my fellow patrons in the ANNEX” with music.  I’ve walked in where various families, groups or couples are quietly talking over their meals when all of the sudden an energetic song that I’ve stealthily placed in the JUKEBOX queue fills the room.  It’s amazing to see the power of music to change the mood and sound of a room.  People become filled with energy: the sounds are not just louder (probably trying to be heard over the music) but also filled with laughter and a little more energy.

 I’m not making this up, the power of music to alter the essence of a place and person is like seeing the change when a light it turned on in darkness, or a smile appears on a face, or someone you love walks into the room.

While I’ve had fun choosing music at SCAMPY’S, the Spirit takes advantage of that time, once again, to teach.  Though music is a more powerful example, I have seen how a small thing makes big changes.  How a kind word shifts an entire day for someone, how a smile to a stranger changes the way they walk as they pass, and how a “thank you” to a server is the “icing on the cake” for someone who may feel transparent to the many customers they have served that day.

Jesus is right.  The connecting to Him is our connection to each other, and visa versa.  When we “do unto others” we “do unto Him”.  The person who makes others laugh, who lifts others up with their words, who smiles, who thanks…who gives, is a person who connects us with each other, and connects us with God.

Our spiritual ancestors understood that God’s commands (mitzvot) were centered around creating connections with each other and forming or maintaining community, with the understanding that God is loved when we love each other.

During these next two “weeks of thanks” take the time to “turn on the music” in someone’s life.  It doesn’t take a special skill, you don’t need the JUKEBOX APP on your phone.  All you need to do is remember what it was like when Jesus Himself, or through someone else, turned the music on for you – and do that: smile, thank, embrace, give, and love.

 “Money spent on a JUKEBOX is never a wasted investment.”
Famous Quotes by RICK VALE

 HAPPY THANKSGIVING – turn on the JUKEBOX.


ART FOR ART'S SAKE

ART FOR ART’S SAKE

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It’s possible that many have never heard of Herb & Dorothy Vogel.  Herb was a Postal Worker in Manhatten (he passed away seven years ago), and Dorothy a reference librarian in Brooklyn.  They were a quiet, cute couple (as described by friends) she was “bookish” and he “cuddly”.  They lived for 50 years in a 450-square-foot apartment in NYC, Herb never made any more than $23k-a-year.  And they never used any of his income to live off of…just hers, which was less…minimal.  They lived simply, ate TV Dinners, didn’t indulge in much except for some pets and one other hobby, which they were passionate about…art.

Herb had some training in Art History/Appreciation, as a young man, and introduced Dorothy to the art world (she was a theatre-music gal) on their honeymoon in Washington, DC (1962).  Through the years they slowly, carefully bought art they loved.  They were not investors nor art dealers, they simply found pieces they both enjoyed and made sure that they purchased them at a “good price”.  Along the way they made friends with several of the artists from whom they purchased: twentieth century painters in need of money…for the most part…thus, the “good deals”.  They only purchased things that they would want up on their walls, and could transport on the subway.  They also went about their hobby with a plan, they educated themselves along the way, they enjoyed their friendships with the artists…and continued to live quiet, frugal, unassuming lives.

It was in the ‘80’s that they realized their lifelong passion of collecting could not be housed in their apartment…so they decided to donate.  Herb had already retired, and when Dorothy retired in 1990 they gave their collection to the National Gallery (strikingly, where Herb had first introduced Dorothy to art appreciation) because the gallery was free to the public and has a policy against “deaccessioning”, meaning their art would never be sold.

Workers from the National Gallery came to NYC and unloaded an unbelievable 2400 works from the Vogel apartment in 5 40-foot trucks.  When the gallery realized that the Vogels had not invested, they paid the Vogels an annuity as a “thank you” for their donation…which the Vogels promptly used to purchase more art…they couldn’t help it, it was their passion.

“If we wanted to make money, we would have invested in the stock market.” said Dorothy.

 Their collection is now considered to be the most important collection of 20-century art in the United States…and what the curator of the National Gallery calls, irreplaceable and priceless.

I found this story incredible on many levels, as an artist and a Believer.

The VOGELS followed their God-given passion.  Although I know nothing of their spiritual lives except that they were/are by ethnicity, Jewish.  Their story shows that God gave them a passion that they followed…against the odds.  They were not the “type” of people others in the world might view as “art collectors”…they didn’t care.  They did what they believed in and let others think what they would.

The VOGELS made a plan and worked the plan.  They didn’t just jump in “willy-nilly”. They educated themselves in their passion.  They methodically, economically and prudently enjoyed the fruit of their love of art.  So many Believers/Followers seem to think that God does NOT work hand-in-hand with our minds and heart…that once a passion (a sermon idea, a song, a project) is planted by Him in our hearts that we then just sit back and listen to His instructions and become robots to His suggestions…which is not evident in ANY place in the scripture or ANY life illustration we see today.  God implants a vision/passion and asks us to partner with Him, to hone our skills, to learn and use our brains to polish and construct what He has given us.

The VOGELS left a legacy of beauty…even though THAT was not necessarily a part of THEIR plan.  In the end were they shocked to hear that their small apartment housed the greatest gift of 20th-Century art anywhere in the United States…that will be enjoyed by millions for years to come?  Did they understand that their belief in artists who were NOT getting the attention of critics at the time, inspired those artists to more greatness?  Did they write that down as part of their methodical plan…no.  But God-given passion* (*and love of things beautiful, good and true ALWAYS comes from God, to the Believer and the Non-Believer alike…God does NOT discriminate)is like all energy, power that does not dissipate.

The Kingdom Principle of a seed becoming a tree is evident in this story as well.

What does this mean for me?  It reminds me to: Follow my God-Given passion, use my God-given mind to carve and polish, and know that love of what is good, beautiful and true is never wasted once I’m gone.

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying,
“Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!”
REVELATION 14:13

 


POOR GOD

POOR GOD

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I’m a history buff…I really enjoy “historic trivia”, as you know: interesting but useless information.  Of course, I can’t seem to remember Birthdays, Anniversaries, my license plate number or important stuff like that…but let me read about Queen Victoria’s cousin’s dog and I’ll remember that till the day I die!

Guess what happened today in 1860?  Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. We at Central are kind of connected to this event.  There is a newspaper, in our collection of historic items stored upstairs, on which the front page not only lists our “charter” but also has a schedule of the LINCOLN/DOUGLAS DEBATES in neighboring Illinois, in case anyone wanted to travel by train to get there.

For all the greatness the patina of time has put on Lincoln, I have some southern ancestors who considered Lincoln the “anti-christ”, vilifying him for using scripture to condone aggression…as if that hadn’t been done before.  I’m not sure I agree with that side of my family, however,

God’s name gets used to justify acts that are Godly or not.

Poor God.  I think He can take care of Himself, but truly…He gets blamed for some really stupidly human things.

The scripture was used to argue that all planets revolved around the earth (including the sun) and anyone who taught differently was a heretic.

The scripture was used to argue that the earth was flat, that Jews were evil, that anyone of dark skin didn’t have a soul, that slavery was ordained by God, that women were not allowed to lead or speak in church or anywhere else…and we all know what the scripture is used to argue against these days.

Poor God.

In all of the effort to justify our own prejudices and keep the world around us from growing, from expanding, from changing…we use God as our excuse, and translate the Bible into our own “language”…we use His name in vain as we stamp it on all of our agendas with their conditions and clauses that keep people we don’t like at arms’ length.  It’s been happening for centuries and we still do it…even in church.

Part of the problem is that most of us have a picture of God that is too small.  We have a box that we put Him in, and He won’t be kept in a box.  When He behaves beyond the definition that we have kept in our hearts, we question whether that is really Him.  Is His grace really that large?  Is His Kingdom really that expansive?  Is His love really that unconditional?  Is His reality and His universe really that infinite?

Praise God.

The answer, of course, is to give God back His good name.  That’s what PRAISE is, it is “telling Him who He is”, not because HE needs to know, but because WE need to be reminded.  PRAISE gives Him back His good name.  PRAISE is to be done in front of other people.  PRAISE Him, in front of the people, for the fact that He is NOT the one who says:

“Grace is only afforded to those who go to church.”

“Love is only given to those who follow the rules.”

“Your heart might be in the right place, but if you make the wrong decision or make one too many mistakes I won’t love you anymore.”

No, He’s the one who says, “My grace is sufficient.”  “God so loved THE WORLD…” and “man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.” He is the God who does not “label” us, but “loves” us.

The scripture is just one witness to God.  There are many others: the congregation, the Spirit, nature…for example.  And all of those witnesses, combined, still don’t encompass the entirety of God’s being.  So who are WE to label HIM?  Who are WE to decide who He loves, or what He blesses?

Hopefully we, at Central, have gotten beyond the place where we use the scripture to do anything but find a foundation, a beginning of a wonderful friendship with the One who created and preserves us, who fills us with His own breath and shows us (when we are able to see) His Kingdom on earth, as we follow Him.  Let us never misuse His words to argue our own agenda because we have chosen to be the judge of our fellow travelers on earth.  Let us never assume that God fits into our little box of godliness.  Let us always seek for the wonderful, the surprising, and the untamed God that truly allows us to learn for ourselves that the earth is NOT flat, that it is part of a wonderful universal dance that HE put in place, and that there is more to this life than we will ever know until we sit down to dinner in the age to come.

Let us celebrate the God who doesn’t own a “label-maker”, but loves us because of who HE is, not who WE are.


LIZZY

LIZZY

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I tell this story regularly, so I apologize but I love the story.  I tell it again now because we need to tell our stories and pass them down.  The things we know, the family history we have, needs to be told.  I am also now one of the few who know THIS particular story.  This coming Sunday we honor all of the saints, and so, here is a “saint” I want to honor.

The tiny little girl was called “Lizzy”, her full name was “Elizabeth”.  She belonged to a mother and father who, for reasons unknown, found themselves in terrible debt.  In the days when Lizzy was born debts were settled privately, out of court, in ways that many of us today would find unenlightened and repulsive.  It was, however the way things were done then.  Some debts were paid through servitude.  As it was, little Lizzy was given up by her parents as payment to a debt owed to another family.  She was, before she was one-year-old, a bond-slave; given to serve out her life as a servant to a family that was not her own so the debt of her parents could be paid.

The Moore family, who received Lizzy, were (thankfully) gracious and kind, beneficent and practical.  Lizzy grew up on hard farm work, but so did the Moore children.  All indications were that she was treated well, not poorly, and that the family loved her.  However, she wasn’t the same as the children she was raised beside…she was an outsider.  The Moores were not her parents, and in fact no more was ever heard of her biological parents after they gave Lizzy to the Moore family.  She was, at that point not the member of any family.

But Lizzy discovered someone who DID think she belonged…if to no one else, to him and his heart.  He fell in love with the teenaged girl who worked for the Moore family and lived in their home.  Before she came of age, he asked for her hand in marriage.

And here we are at the crossroads of this story, for Mr. Moore needed to agree upon the marriage…not as Lizzy’s father, but as her owner.  If he didn’t believe the original debt had been sufficiently paid, he would not let her go.  Up to this point, the date of her 18th birthday, she had no life but what she lived vicariously through the family who raised her.  She didn’t even have a last name, she was only Elizabeth Idella; “Lizzy”.  She had no property, owned nothing…but here was a chance.

The beautiful part of the story is that the Moores agreed to the marriage, finding the boy agreeable and a suitable match.  On Lizzy’s 18th birthday the Moore family gave her 3 wonderful gifts: a bedroom suite of furniture, her freedom, and their name…a home, wings, and a name.  No longer would she be known as the “girl who worked for the Moores”, she left for her wedding as Elizabeth Idella…Moore.

I love this story for two reasons.

FIRST: it is a true story which reflects what happens to any of us who accept the gift of life and redemption of debt.  We are all in debt, but God sets us free, He gives us a home to take care of…and then He gives us His name.  He does this not because of who WE are but because of who HE is.  He gives to us because it is in His nature to give, to love, to set free and to embrace us.  How can we walk away from that and not be thankful every day?

SECOND: I love this story is because Lizzy and her husband had a daughter, Mary Elizabeth (so to carry the name of her mother, the bond-slave set free).  Mary Elizabeth married and had a daughter named, Routh Elizabeth…also named after the bond-slave grandmother.  Routh Elizabeth also married.  She and her husband Troy had a daughter and they named her Margery Elizabeth, once again never forgetting the story of the now great-grand-mother who was a bond-slave set free.  And, as you’ve probably guessed, or remembered from my telling of this story before, Margery Elizabeth married a young soldier named, Tom…and they had a son named Rick.

I am thankful today for my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Idella Moore…who lived her childhood out as a slave, paying a debt she herself did not incur, and was given a home, wings and a name…so that I could have the same.  I am also thankful that even though we’ve never met, she has taught be about our Heavenly Father…who also give me A Home, Wings & A Name…He paid my debt and so, I belong, I am free, and I am His.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.”
REVELATION 2:17


STICKS & STONES & GREASEPAINT

STICKS & STONES & GREASEPAINT

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For me, working in the theatre is almost the same as being involved with a church congregation: it’s a bunch of diverse people getting together with a variety of talents and gifts, and one single purpose.  Through the process of designing, planning, rehearsing, building, sewing, and creating, actors “bond” with one another and a new community is formed.  That’s one of the main reasons I love it, and have for most of my adult life.

Theatre also feeds the process of teaching, through observing human nature.  Like I always say, God will speak to you in whatever way you’ll listen.  The theatre, and people involved, have (knowingly and unknowingly) taught me a lot about God, about life, and about love.

I’m currently rehearsing a show, and current situations in rehearsal remind me of situations I’ve had before.  One example, one “epiphany”, recently presented itself to me.  Often, in theatre where volunteers are involved (people with lives outside of the theatre) someone will need to miss a rehearsal and someone else will need to fill in that night.  In one rehearsal I attended, the striking, tall, blonde leading lady with the golden voice was absent and the Assistant Director to the show was obliged to step in, script-in-hand, and sub for her.  The leading lady had a few love scenes, a couple of beautiful songs, and a dance – and the script consistently spoke of her character’s beauty, especially with the line, “She’s an elegant strain of music in the moonlight…with blonde hair”.  Now, the Assistant Director was a round, 55-ish man, balding with a huge mustache and beard…his “uniform” was sweatshirt and jeans.  And no one would want to hear him sing.

During one moment in the rehearsal, one of the actors, in character and speaking with his impeccable British accent, turned to him and said, “You’re the ugliest strain of music in the moonlight with blonde hair I’ve ever seen!”  EVERYONE, including the Assistant Director, laughed.  No one was hurt or offended.

I catalogued the moment.

Everyone laughed.  HE laughed.  Why?  Because it was obvious to everyone, including the Assistant Director in question, that he was neither a woman, tall, blonde, or exactly “beautiful”.  He wasn’t hurt.  Far from it – HE thought it was hilarious.  Everyone enjoyed the joke.  The Assistant Director thought it was funny because he KNEW he wasn’t an “elegant strain of music in the moonlight, with blonde hair.”

Instead, he KNEW who he was.

In my lifetime I’ve been hit with some ugly and ignorant words.  We’ve all heard the “sticks and stones” phrase, even though experience tells us words are powerful, with a power to be used for good or bad.  So how do we protect ourselves against words that hurt, opinions about us that are untrue?  Do we fight back? No.

We have to know who we are.  If someone told me I was an ugly tall blonde woman I’m not sure I would be angry, because the accusation is so ridiculous.  I know I’m not tall, blonde, or female.  They couldn’t hurt me with that “instult” because it is so far from who I actually am that it’s silly.

So, why are we hurt when someone says something unkind to us or about us that is clearly not true?  I believe there are a couple of reasons:
1. We are too concerned about what other people think about us, and
2. We are insecure in ourselves about who we really are and think we need validation from others, to be spectacular. 

When a person decides God is who He says He is, and they realize that Jesus is His Son, and God-in-the-Flesh – and decide to follow Him, they become who HE says they are.  And God calls us His children.  This is the same God who spoke the word “light” and there was light.  When He speaks it…it is so.  He thinks you’re the most spectacular bit of stardust He has breathed life into – that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  Others don’t have the final say about your life, and neither do they sit on the throne of the universe.

But what about the loudest voice of all, your own?  The scripture assumes that we all love ourselves, sometimes. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Assumes you love yourself.  We all know that isn’t always the case.  We are our own worst enemies when it comes to believing in our own significance. What is the answer?

Go back to point one; God decides your worth…but He also inhabits your very soul, because it is worthy of Him.  Or at least HE believes so. 

When I know who I am and where my “significance” comes from, there isn’t a word anyone can say to penetrate that armor of love and truth.  Of course, we need to be honest about our abilities and inabilities, not think TOO highly of ourselves, and not compare ourselves with others.  We have to be able to accept unconditional (which actually means, “unconditional”) love.  And we need to continually, continually, practice life within those parameters – it TAKES practice, it won’t happen all at once.

I thank both the theatre and the church for helping me grow my imagination, share my talents, and for speaking God’s Truth to me…in the language(s) I hear.  With that God-given imagination, and in a very “theatrical” way, I see Jesus at the bottom of that hill in Israel called “Mount of the Beatitudes”. In a moment He looks up at me; one lost man in the sea of thousands on the hill that day, and says, “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.”…

…and I realize, sometimes God has more faith in me than I do in Him.

Be well, go shine, remember who you are.
And don’t let anyone who’s opinion doesn’t matter hurt you anymore.

 


IN DEFENSE OF REMEMBERED SIN

IN DEFENSE OF REMEMBERED SIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FROSTY PUMPKINS

FROSTY PUMPKINS

Written By:

It’s that time of year again, when I think about this poem: 

WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then the time a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock…”

Mom used to quote this poem, by local Hoosier James Whitcomb Riley, to me when I was young.  I never dreamed that I’d live in Riley’s part of the country, and experience the color of his words in this poem.   Not only that, but I’m kind of surprised that many people here in Anderson don’t know that he lived here (yes, here in Anderson) and was a reporter/writer for the ANDERSON DEMOCRAT (the 1877 Anderson newspaper).  He was despondent over the fact that he could not get his poems published.  And so this unknown poet wrote a poem, entitled “LEONAINIE” and signed it with the letters E.A.P.  A reporter from a rival newspaper in Kokomo linked the poem to POE and it was immediately and widely circulated.  This proved Riley’s point that only famous, published writers EVER got published, and those with just as much talent, but of no fame NEVER got published.  Riley announced the hoax after much national acclaim for “LEONAINIE” and was promptly fired by the ANDERSON DEMOCRAT, not because of the hoax, but because the Kokomo paper got all of the notoriety that Anderson thought it deserved.  Someone, however, noticed the brilliance of Riley’s writing style, and gave him a chance…the rest is history.

Things have a way of working out…and although James Whitcomb Riley gave no claim to being a believer or follower of Christ, this story does remind me that “all things work for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”

When I look at the path we at Central took to get to the place we are now, I am astounded.  I have no doubts that I “love the Lord and am called according to His purpose.”, but sometimes, in the middle of dark times, and frustrating times (as was the case with James W. Riley) when one KNOWS that they’re not doing what they were MADE to do…God seems somewhat distant.

I’m here to tell you that God has better things in mind for you then you could possibly realize, His plans are always perfect, His dreams are bigger than YOUR dreams, and it’s always darkest just before sunrise.

James Whitcomb Riley made his own plans to gain fame, to achieve the recognition that he thought he deserved.  Sometimes I think like that also and rely on my own limited wisdom to move forward.  But in the Kingdom of God, we should always realize that God has ALL the answers where we have few, God sees ALL things where we see but a little, God’s plan is perfect for EVERYONE involved, not just us.

So today…as you experience the “frost on the pumpkin”, think of Anderson’s own James Whitcomb Riley (who, it is said, visited Central Christian Church with a local friend) and remember that you have a destiny, God knows your gifts, let HIM decide when the world should notice…and it will be perfect for everyone!


TRUE COLORS

TRUE COLORS

Written By:

Ah, Autumn in Indiana – the crisp 94-degree air – the bugs which, because of the lack of cold, have grown to the size of German Shepherds.  I keep saying that Autumn is my favorite time of year in Indiana, but I’m going to need to change that to, “It’s my favorite day in Indiana.”

In any case, a few weeks back I stood at the grave of a friend at Anderson Memorial Park, close to I-69.  It actually was a brisk, early fall, day; clear, sunny, a bit chilly and beautiful.  At the end of my prayer for the family, a military service began and I stood listening to a bugle playing taps.  This was a real bugle, and not the “recorded” instruments that are used frequently these days (for lack of musicians who can play the bugle anymore).

As the simple melody played and I reveled in that moment, I looked over the heads of those there to the tops of the trees in the park.  They were already (even weeks ago) starting to change color.  Just the tops, as if a giant paint brush had just barely swept over the trees in that area.  I remembered then I was told, for some reason, the trees in Memorial Park often turn first.  No one is sure why.  Maybe it’s the cool breeze that seems to be present there, maybe it’s the type of trees that grow there.  For whatever reason, there it was: an orange-topped tree reminding me, as I listened to the bugle and stood in a cemetery, that it is often through stress, cold, “change of season”, and yes – death, that our true colors are revealed.

In winter, it takes a lot of energy for a tree to keep leaves green (making chlorophyll) AND on the tree.  Lack of sunshine and water during the cold months prods the tree to “make some choices” about what to keep and what to let go.  As the green pigment dissipates, other colors are suddenly revealed, before the leaf drops of completely…some say these are the tree’s TRUE COLORS. 

I’ll speak only for myself now.  I believe that we, like trees, are going to show our “true colors” when our seasons change, when stress/winter comes, when the things that have supported our life are suddenly, or little-by-little, gone – we become who we truly are.

There, in Memorial Park, it was easy to compare a life that had been housed in a fragile body to that of a tree that had been green all summer – but now, with the passing of body that LIFE was it’s real self because the body had died. 

Here, in my office, I’m thinking about what I learn and teach as an Advocate for God.  The Spirit, the words of Jesus, and the example of those wise men and women who have taught and written over the centuries are all saying, “to gain your life, you must lose it” and “to find yourself, you must die to self”.  These are difficult lessons to understand, much less practice – but I think they are necessary.  I believe there is so much of us that has been put on us since birth in this world, and so much struggle to maintain the shell of our bodies which surround our souls, that it is difficult for us to see what our Father originally designed us to be; our “true colors”. 

Jesus talks a lot about “giving up” to “gain”.  But what a person “gives up” isn’t theirs to begin with, and when Jesus compares our lives (and His) to a seed that must die in the ground to become a tree – isn’t that the entire purpose of the seed?  Isn’t it our purpose to be the essence of who we are designed to be, and not all the insecurities, influences, self-motivated injuries, and world-expectations we seem to collect and cover ourselves with?

What is MY “chlorophyll”?  It is my ego.  Ego isn’t always bad, it’s just not truly who I am…it is self-identity (which is false), a paradigm built up by what I’ve experienced (which is inaccurate) and a persona built by the voices of those around me and THEIR expectations of me (which is deceptive).  If I could get rid of all that, would my “true colors” – the colors I was painted when created – be revealed?

I think the answer is, “yes”.  We see it whenever a friend is at the “end of their rope”.  Suddenly some things just don’t matter anymore.  I see it on sick beds, I see it when someone has experienced a sudden and tragic loss.  I see it when everything is gone: house, home, finances, love…it seems that when stress (cold) and lack of vision (sunshine) are combined with a new chapter of life (season) a person’s TRUE COLORS are revealed.  Sometimes the colors aren’t so pretty.  Sometimes they are – it’s what we call “character”.

How then do I live?  I’ve found that each week and day I should assess what I cling to.  Is it a “thing” (souvenirs and knick-knacks that hold memories), a “belief” (a philosophy or teaching that may not be exactly true or healthy – OR WORSE, something that keeps me from re-examining what I believe is true), a “person” (I need all the friends I can get, and I want to be able to act-in-love to everyone – but to surround myself with, and listen to, certain people is like taking poison a little at a time – you know it’s true)Next, I remind myself that my worth is only defined by the fact that God loves me and calls me by name.

Yes, I have work to do.  Yes, I have things I probably need to hold on to – but these are the things, beliefs, and persons that help me let go; the outside influences that encourage me to be the original, immortal being God first imagined and designed

I don’t know exactly who that person is right now, but I’m learning.  The reason I assess and practice all this NOW is because I’d rather not wait until I come to the end of my rope to let go.  I’d rather not be hit with the cold wind and lack of sun that reveal my true colors.

As you can tell, I was a philosophy minor in college.  But I truly believe that most of what we do for Jesus is “peel back” and “uncover” and “let go”.  I believe our true selves, like the autumn colors in Anderson, start at the top, at the head and heart, and gradually reveal themselves throughout our entire beings – when we “die to self.” 

Maybe the trees in Memorial Park turn first because in that place God wants to remind us something.  My friend Dick, whose grave I stood beside as I listened to TAPS, is in that forever home now.  He is looking out at, what I believe, is the New Earth as it was originally designed and created.  Maybe it’s just me, but I believe the trees in that new place are dazzling gold, orange and red…I think that  place is eternally Autumn…

…because there, in the New Earth & Heaven – in the realized Kingdom – everything and everyone glows in their true colors.