Friday, April 30, 2010

This is NOT New York City...I don't think..

 Would it happen in Granbury, America? I certainly hope not. A 31 year old Guatemalan immigrant in New York City recently intervened to assist a woman being attacked on a street in Queens. When he intervened to help the woman, he was stabbed several times.

Video surveillance cameras from nearby apartment buildings revealed at least 7 people walking by the man as he lay in the street bleeding. Some turned their heads to look. Others stopped to gawk, but nobody rendered aid to the dying man. The man had been laying there for nearly an hour by the time emergency worker arrived. By that time, it was too late. He was already deceased.

People living in large cities assume that a person sprawled out on the sidewalk is intoxicated or under the influence of illegal drugs. Is that an excuse not to help someone? Would it happen in Granbury, America? Would we ignore the obvious needs of someone in that kind of trouble?

I am probably not being fair, because Granbury is most certainly not New York. But I am fairly confident that our old fashioned Texas style hospitality and neighborliness would kick in pretty quickly. We are still country people who are accustomed to helping people when they need a flat changed or immediate medical attention. I am thankful to live in a place where we still care about people in concrete ways.

I need to be reminded of the Parable of the Good Samaritan today. The man in need portrayed in the parable had been beaten and left for dead. And it was the religious leaders who passed by without stopping to render aid. I am quick to pat my fellow Granbury residents on the back. They really are great people. But all of us need to be reminded of recent events in New York City and the encounter that took place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho centuries ago.  Granbury, American is NOT New York City...I don't think.  I suppose we are all fully capable of being inhumane.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Heroism on the Bridge

A police officer simply being alert during patrol duties contributed to a woman’s life being saved in Roanoke, VA recently. 28 year old N.D. Comas heard a woman screaming, as he worked with the windows of his patrol car rolled down. She was threatening to jump off a bridge into the path of an oncoming train. She was screaming into a cell phone she held in one hand and had a knife in another hand.

As he ran toward her, she jumped onto a platform five feet below the sidewalk. And then as she prepared for a second jump into the path of the train, the officer grabbed her body with his left hand while he held onto the rail with his right hand. Most of her 140 pound body was over the edge of the rail, as he held onto to her. Other officers soon arrived and helped both the officer and the troubled woman to safety.

During an interview on the bridge after the incident the officer said two things that I find to be significant. He stated: You don’t have the ability to think. Sometimes you just have the ability to react, and that’s based on training. Secondly he noted that he was confident that his partners would arrive quickly and that gave him confidence to hang on and save the woman’s life.

Those are good principles of survival on the streets, but perhaps they have an even greater application. As all of us work with people in a variety of intense encounters, we too should always be prepared to react instinctively without thinking. His assumption that back up would arrive quickly turned out to be a safe one. I would encourage all of us to pay attention in our surroundings. Be alert. I know that I for one am very easily distracted! Someone could be depending on us for their very life in the flash of a split second.

I can’t help but think about these same two principles in regard to all kinds of human relationships as well. When someone in our family is troubled, do we have the ability react without thinking? Do we possess such good relational instincts, that we know intuitively what to do? When someone close to us is really struggling, do we choose to run to their aid? It could make a difference in their life that is hard to fathom.

I am thankful today for alert, well trained, well-conditioned officers who are ready to assist someone in a heartbeat. As a chaplain, I serve with those guys every single day. It is a blessing. I am equally thankful to serve with people who are alert to the emotional and spiritual needs of people who are crying for help. Hopefully if we are paying attention we can help that troubled person long before they get to the railing on the bridge…

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Watching My Own Blind Side

  I finally got to watch The Blind Side for the first time last night. I liked the movie. But I think I liked it for very different reasons. I am sure most people were inspired by the success of a young, homeless kid who ultimately played pro football. And that is an inspiring story! But there was another theme in the movie that stood out to me.
We live in a very segregated world. We don’t like to admit it, but it is true. There is the world of privilege. And that little society is often very white. There is a so called Christian sub-culture within that world of privilege. I am not sure there is anything Christian about it, but it has the outward appearance of piety. Privileged white people flock to neighborhoods far away Da Hood and close their doors each night to the suffering that is going on around them a few miles away.
The movie portrayed another world that is not always so white. It is a world that tends to be more multi-cultural and takes in people of several races. It is the world of the government housing projects in large cities. It is the neighborhoods comprised of sub-standard and dilapidated mobile homes. Illegal drug use is obvious and rampant. Father’s Day in this world can be equated with mass confusion. Gangs have taken the place of the nuclear family.
I liked the movie. I liked it because one strong willed woman was willing to step out of her world and enter another culture. She was willing to be criticized by her racist friends. I liked it because it was one of those rare occasions when the world of privilege and the world of poverty came together. I liked it because one lady did not let race, socioeconomic status, or anything else hinder her from helping a kid in genuine need. I liked it because she practiced piety instead of simply putting on a fa├žade of holiness behind the wall of privilege that keeps those whom Jesus would serve out.
The movie communicated a principle about blind sides in football. But it is also made me realize that I have a blind side that has more severe consequences. I find myself blinded to those around me who have not had all of the breaks I have had in life. Big Mike has amazing protective instincts. I think I could stand to learn a few things from him regarding those living around me who have all kinds of needs. I am watching my own blind side today.

Friday, April 23, 2010

High Maintenance People

I wanted a Suburban and not a minivan. Soccer moms drive minivans. Real men don’t just drive a Chevy Suburban, but they drive a 4 wheel drive Suburban. Of course this was back in the ‘90’.s. More sophisticated SUV’s have since taken the place of my vehicle of choice.
Now I could have easily afforded a pretty nice minivan back in the day, but perish the thought. I bought a 4 wheel drive Suburban that was in my budget range. It was therefore a high mileage used vehicle. That is such a smart choice.

My high mileage vehicle of choice became a high maintenance nightmare. I suppose over a period of three or four years I actually paid for a much nicer car in repair costs. The owner of the auto repair shop went to the Bahamas on a cruise and sent his child to college with the money I spent on that vehicle. It was high maintenance for sure!

I know this sounds really odd, but there is such a thing as high maintenance people too. In order to be classified as a high maintenance person, you don’t have to be old or have accumulated a lot of miles in life experience. It has more to do with emotional maturity actually. Here is the list I plan to share with the church on Sunday in the context of my sermon:

Characteristics of High Maintenance People

• Easily offended

• Demand a lot of personal attention

• Must be the center of attention

• High expectations of other people

• Needy

• Hard to please

• Apt to complain

• Takers and not givers

I have always viewed myself as being extremely high maintenance. When my birthday rolls around, I want the banks to be closed the following Monday. It should be a national holiday. If I have an ingrown toenail, I want Jan to think that I should be admitted to ICU. And I know when I am really sick, that I am as needy as a newborn baby. Perhaps members of the male gender are just high maintenance models period.

I am also convinced we have to grow out of such egocentric leanings. At the Granbury Church of Christ, we will be opening our new Christian Community Service Center sometime in June. The finishing touches are being placed on a beautiful and roomy building. The opportunities to reach out to our community are beyond our comprehension right now. But I know we will fail if cannot grow out of our tendency to be high maintenance people. We must be willing to serve without recognition. There will be times that even basic gratitude will be absent from the picture. Are you a high maintenance person? I am going to dive in head first on this subject Sunday.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mother's Day is Really Approaching..

 Mother’s Day is quickly approaching. It is really not one of my favorite holidays. It is one of those days when I miss my mother more than usual. I even wrote about it last year on Mother’s Day. But I am not dreading it this year. Actually one of the speakers at the seminar this week provided some new and constructive insight regarding this annual holiday.

The speaker was talking about boys and their mothers. As boys become men, they grow to be exceedingly loyal toward their mothers. He cited several examples of this principle. I could totally relate to what he was saying. My boys have become more and more loyal toward their mother as they have become men. They are crazy about their mother.

I have decided that I am going to be grateful for my wife this year on Mother’s Day, because she is the mother of my boys. My boys may turn out to be criminals. They may never hold a real job. It is always possible that they will not even complete their education. They may not find a girl to put up with them. Anything is possible. But their mother will not be to blame.

When the boys look back on their childhood, they will find plenty of faults in their old man, but not in their mother. She spent 18 years at home raising them as a homemaker. She completed her undergraduate degree and some graduate level work before any of them were born. She could have done a lot of things, but she chose to stay home with her babies.

Jan has always modeled exceptional integrity, amazing patience, and consistent kindness. She read to them, tutored them, made costumes, and helped construct science projects. She has attended every event known for children to participate in. Everything was always done without a hint of complaint.

With each passing year, I think she will find that the boys will become more and more intense in their loyalty toward her. This year I am grateful for Mother’s Day. I am actually looking forward to it. I can sit back on the 50 yard line and watch those boys honor their mother. She deserves it. I have about decided that I like Mother’s Day.  As the boys get older, I realize that Mother's Day is finally approaching.  A day when she will finally receive the honor and respect she deserves. And it may not happen on the second Sunday in May!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Premature Judgments!

 I am notorious about two things. I tend to make premature judgments about people and I tend to form an opinion of entire groups without sufficient evidence. Those are not noble qualities. I hate to even admit it. I had something happen today that may cure my judgmental leanings for at least awhile.

I heard a speaker today at the Traumas of Law Enforcement training event who was critical of chaplains. He spoke as if we were ill informed prophets who lacked basis pastoral ministry skills. He further implied that we were clueless regarding law enforcement culture and protocol in the case of a line of duty injury or death.

He was joking when he made a few comments, but I picked up on the truth in jest. Most likely he has had a negative experience with a chaplain who lacked the skills to serve in a crisis setting. I have expressed my frustration with his comments, so I feel better now. What do I do with this information? I learned some valuable lessons today, so I will just list them.

I have to give up the habit. I have to kick the habit of making premature judgments about people based on unsubstantiated evidence. And I most also abandon the tendency to judge entire groups by the actions of one person. I am breaking out in a cold sweat already. This is not going to be easy.

• I should not take myself too seriously. I am passionate about every aspect of my ministry. I tend to get bent out of shape when I feel insulted. I need to loosen up and chill out. Case closed.

When comments like that are made, it is important to talk to the person and find out the root cause of their perceptions. I have actually done this before and as a rule it is pretty productive. If I have the chance, I plan to visit with today’s speaker in the morning. He really is very competent and I do like him!

Tomorrow we are going to hear four hours of lecture on the subject of suicide. That is a serious subject. Over the years I have responded to a number of suicide scenes. I have also spoken with suicidal individuals as well. Hopefully the role of the chaplain will be integrated into the discussion in a meaningful way tomorrow. We shall see!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Christmas in April

Today I had the privilege of attending the first segment of the Trauma’s of Law Enforcement Training hosted by Concerns of Police Survivors at the Ft. Worth Police Department. Today’s facilitator was Shirley Gibson of Washington D.C.

Shirley’s 27 year old son, Brian, was killed in the line of duty by a gunman on February 5th, 1997. He was a 6 year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department in the nation’s capital. Shirley served as the national president for Concerns of Police Survivors from 2004-2006. She was the first parent of a slain officer to fulfill that role for the organization. As she shared her story with us this morning, there were few dry eyes in the expansive training room at Ft. Worth PD. One particular piece of her story stood out to me today.

Christmas is incredibly difficult for grieving families. I cannot imagine the added burden of losing a loved one in the line of duty as a result of felonious activity.  Shirley said they decided to invite some of their son’s fellow officers for Christmas dinner. They focused particularly on officers working on the holiday. Twenty officers showed up that first Christmas in 1997. And then Christmas of 2009 rolled around a few months ago. She told us that there were some 400 guests in their home over the course of the entire day last Christmas. Other officers have joined their efforts in putting together what has become known as Brian’s Dinner. Officers on duty have to get their “to go plate” and get back to their assigned areas to work. The line this past year stretched out into the sidewalk and down the block.

Shirley was very honest with our group today regarding her motives for hosting such a major event. She said having young officers in her home is a source of comfort to her. When they hug her and she can feel their badge, vest, and sidearm, it reminds her of her son. It has become an event that benefits everyone on Christmas Day.

Shirley’s story was inspiring to me on many levels today. But really stands out to me is her desire to serve others as she grieves. Yesterday I preached about difficult people that we all have to face periodically. One category of difficult porcupines as I called them includes those who are injured. It is tempting to become the chronic victim. We therefore expect others to comfort us, serve us, listen to us, and perhaps even caudle us. I am not making light of Shirley’s loss. I cannot fathom what she has been through. I simply admire her desire to serve. Her heart is still filled with pain, but she is out there touching other people’s lives. I needed to hear that today. Shirley gave me the gift of inspiration. It was Christmas in April today.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April 19th, 1995

  How quickly we forget. Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I still remember where I was and what I was doing on that morning. Ironically there were crews that came from New York City to assist in the recovery effort in the days following that tragedy.

Not long after the remainder of the building was imploded I made a visit to the site. A cyclone fence surrounded the lot where the building once stood. There were all kinds of flowers, notes, and stuffed animals attached to the fence out of respect for those who perished in the building. One particular visual image still stands out to me. Spray painted in bold black letters on an adjacent building was the following phrase: We will not forget…

Unfortunately most of us do forget. But not everyone…. Chaplain Jack Poe has served the Oklahoma City Police Dept. on a fulltime basis for as long as I can remember. He was there for the citizens of Oklahoma City and for his officers that day. Tomorrow will be a hard day for him. Another friend of mine is a counselor in a nearby city in Oklahoma. She was called upon to assist with death notifications and crisis counseling in the days immediately following the bombing. Crisis counseling at that time was not the focus of her practice, but it is today. She specializes in counseling emergency responders who have been through highly traumatic events. The bombing totally transformed the direction of her career. April 19th will also be forever etched on her mind.

After the Oklahoma City Memorial was completed, I took my boys to see it. I wanted them to be aware of an important event that affected our neighbors and friends. It was a solemn experience for all of us. I stressed to the boys that there were small children in a daycare facility who were among the victims. In fact, 19 children were among the 168 people who perished that day.

I am thinking about all of the families tonight who were impacted by the event. I am thinking in particular about a number of colleagues who assisted at the scene for days on end. You may recall that it was an alert trooper with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol who stopped Timothy McVeigh on a routine traffic stop on the interstate. I am thinking about that trooper this evening as well. I hope we can live up to the spray painted phrase I saw that day…We will never forget…

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Don't Let that Porcupine's Quills Intimidate You!

 I used my porcupine analogy from a previous blog (March 30th) in a sermon focused on dealing with difficult people last Sunday. I referred to difficult people as the porcupines among us. Tomorrow is Part II of that sermon. I even added another category of porcupines based on a comment in the church foyer following my sermon last week. She noted that chronic complainers should be added the listing of porcupines. I agree and plan to refer to them Whiny Porcupines tomorrow morning.

What do we do with the porcupines among us? When they shoot their quills, it hurts. Sometimes we even get poked unexpectedly. Should difficult people have the right to control our attitude? There are no easy answers, but here is the list I plan to share in the morning.

Porcupines Tempt Us Too….

1. Porcupines tempt us to become vindictive. They make us want to lash out and bite back. It is tempting for us to think: I have quills too and mine are sharper! When we lash back it only accomplishes one thing: it raises the conflict level. Shoving matches usually don’t have a helpful outcome. Patience must carry the day. Being the non anxious presence lead has a great likelihood of fostering peace and health in relationships.

2. Porcupines tempt us to withdraw. It is too hard. People’s problems are overwhelming. We are tempted to withdraw from helping people.

3. Porcupines tempt us to be selfish. Serving others is a lot of trouble. It is a lot easier to spend all of my time on the golf course.

4. Porcupines tempt us to throw people away. When we get our fill of dealing with a difficult person, it is tempting to throw that relationship away. The truth is: the most difficult among also need love the most.

I have to remind myself on a very regular basis not to let difficult people dictate to me. Their actions should not determine my attitude. As a rule, the porcupines I describe in my March 30th blog are in desperate need of love. It would be a travesty for us to give up on them. There are no easy answers, because in some cases tough love is needed. Expressing tough love is another subject for another day. But tomorrow I will be preaching about those quill bearing mammals who come in both four and two legged models.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Middle School Mania

 I experienced something for the last time today. I went on my last middle school trip with one of my boys. I have attended baseball games, football games, musicals, band concerts, choir concerts, speech contests, geography bees, and other events that I cannot recall. I have even eaten lunch with all three of my boys on numerous occasions during their middle school years. But that era is about to end. Mitchell will be a high school student next fall. I will close a chapter in my life that started when Randall entered 5th grade eleven years ago. I have learned a few things by interacting with middle school kids all of these years.

Here is my list:

1. Girls mature much more rapidly than boys both physically and emotionally. It is sort of amusing, but it also creates some real social challenges for the kids. I was acutely aware of that fact during the choir trip today. We need to be reminded of that reality, so we can be more patient with our children during their middle school years.

2. It seems to me that rookie teachers are often thrown into the middle school campuses. My boys have had some very competent young teachers during those years of their education. Randall’s 5th grade teachers were exceptionally good, but they were in their second or third year of teaching at the time. That is the reality. They are very young educators who lack the things that only experience can bring. I am reminded as a parent to be encouraging and supportive of the younger teachers. Be very cautious with the criticism.

3. Middle school should be a testing ground for kids. My older boys tried out things during their middle school years that they did not necessarily pursue for the duration of their high school experience. It appears that Mitchell will follow suit. I regret now pushing Randall to stay in band when he was in middle school. It should have been a testing ground for him. As a rookie parent of a pre-teen, I viewed those years as a foundation for high school extra-curricular activities instead of a testing ground. I do believe now that my paradigm was flawed.

4. I have never backed down from serving as a sponsor, eating with my kids at school, or showing up at their events during their middle school years. I have tried to keep my distance when they needed space, but I still showed up. I have made every mistake known to man as a parent, but that is one mistake I did not make. I would encourage all parents to show up and stay engaged.

As I sat in the back of my truck today enjoying a Subway sandwich with Mitchell and his buddies it occurred to me that it will be the last time to do that when that group of boys is middle school students. They will soon be eating in the back of a truck they drove to school themselves. I am closing an era of my parenting life and getting ready to move on to the next chapter. I am sure it will be equally interesting and very educational as well. The next chapter will include references to having two children in college at the same time. It could be that I will be living in the back of my truck as well as eating in it. I do I know that I am feeling a little nostalgic, because I indeed experienced something for the last time today.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ten Years Ago Today

A construction accident took the life of Tony ten years ago today. Tony was one of the big brothers in the neighborhood where I grew up. We all looked up to him. I ran around with his younger brother. Tony was three years older. His tragic and sudden death left his young wife with several young children to raise. I am thinking about Tony’s family today. I am thinking about his kids, who are now adults. In fact, several thoughts are running through my mind.

I am pondering what it means to be loyal. I like to think of myself as a loyal friend. But does my loyalty to my friends extend to the next generation? If something happens to someone close to me, should that loyalty extend to their children? Do I hug those children at a funeral and wish them well? Do I walk away having concluded that my obligation has been fulfilled? Do I do the proverbial: call me if you need me routine? Actually I know better.

There were a small handful of my dad’s friends who reached out to me in the dark days following his sudden death in 1978. They were kind and helpful. And then there was an even smaller group of men who actually followed through. Ken and Tom took me to play golf on numerous occasions. They were persistent and focused in their efforts. Norm, whom I blogged about recently, helped in other ways.

What does loyalty look like? I know exactly what my obligations are to the next generation. I have some inkling of what those kids are feeling and experiencing for starters. I know that the healing process is a lifelong journey. And I know that the hand of friendship must be extended to the children of friends and associates who have passed on. There are golf games to be played, phone calls to be made, and messages to be sent. It is a high priority matter.

I also need to be reminded on the ten year anniversary of Tony’s death that my role as a law enforcement chaplain is not one to be taken lightly. If an accidental death has occurred, there is a good chance that I will either be notifying the family with law enforcement personnel, or I will be spending the first hours of the crisis with the affected family. It had better never become routine. Every family is unique. Every family deserves the best and most compassionate service possible. I must realize that the way I treat them will be remembered 10 years from now…

I have a lot to learn about loyalty. It has only been in recent years that I have had the opportunity to befriend the offspring of friends. The responsibility I feel toward them is sobering indeed. May God grant me the wisdom to comprehend what loyalty looks like.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Did the Chemicals in the Beauty Shop Do To Me?

Sit on that chair and don’t move a muscle….Those were the words of my mother when I was conscripted into accompanying her to the beauty shop to get her hair fixed. In the 1960’s women did not get their cut, they got it fixed. I am not sure how they broke it during the preceding week, but nevertheless that was the language. Thankfully trips to the beauty shop for me were very rare, but occasionally neither of my dear older sisters was available to supervise me, when my mother’s hair fixing appointment rolled around. So…I had to sit in the chair and not move a muscle.

I think about that formative childhood experience every time I see one or two older men sitting on a bench right outside the style shop at Walmart. It never fails. There is always at least one elderly gentleman perched in that spot waiting for his wife to complete the shopping. I always see them after I have checked out and I am heading to the car. They have such a lost look on their face. I wonder if their wives told them not to move a muscle. I have been tempted to stop and ask one of those men if they want to sneak off to Sonic and get a cold drink. I would promise to have them back before Gertrude finishes the shopping. But I suppose that would be like a stranger offering a child candy.

When I did my weekly shopping at Walmart on Monday, I saw two older men sitting in the usual spot. One of them was wearing a US Navy cap with the name of the ship he served embroidered on it. Both men were obviously two retired veterans waiting on their wives to buy groceries for the week. I quickly pictured those old guys as young sailors fulfilling their duties on a ship. In my mind, they were no longer a couple of old guys who are physically unable to walk through Walmart. It was actually easy this week to envision them in a younger stage of life.

There was a small group of men on active duty with the US Army in uniform visiting with the two retired veterans. They had finished their shopping and saw those guys sitting outside the style shop. So they stopped to talk for a few moments…I wanted to hear that conversation so badly. No doubt the old guys were telling the young ones what it was like back in the day! And that is ok! I suspect the older ones commended the active duty men for their service. And that is a good thing too. There is no telling where their deployment may lead them…I could tell that both groups were enjoying their chance meeting in Walmart. The retired veterans were old enough to be the grandparents of the men on active duty. What could they possibly have in common?

There is a generational chasm in our world for sure. It is incredibly difficult to bring the older and younger generations together. Technology has succeeded in many ways to drive us apart. But occasionally you see those moments of true brilliance. A group of young men in uniform taking the time to talk to the old guys… Such actions bridge the generational gulf that we have to face everyday. And of course they have a lot in common. They both are veterans who deserve our utmost respect.

I am convinced that the chemicals floating around in the air at the beauty shop in 1965 did something to my young brain. It’s what wrong with me today. But I still function well enough to recognize greatness when I see it. And I saw greatness outside the style shop at Walmart Monday…I wonder if Gertrude showed up in time to meet her husband’s fellow veterans? If not she might think he was making up stories about imaginary friends… Oh well…he can tell her that he did not move a muscle while she was gone.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Who Is Making Headlines at Augusta This Year?

 The news read as follows on May 20th of last year: Phil Mickelson's wife, Amy, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the three-time major champion said Wednesday he will suspend his PGA Tour schedule indefinitely. Not long after that somber revelation, Mickelson discovered that his mother was also diagnosed with cancer. It has been a tough year for him.
When Mickelson dropped his last putt on 18 yesterday at Augusta to win the Master’s, I was thrilled for him! The poignant embrace with his wife immediately following his victory touched fans across the nation. One commentator stated: With all of the talk of infidelity swirling around the tournament, it was refreshing to see a husband and wife lovingly embrace at the end of it all in triumph. It just felt right…

And then I took note of the following quote in Bleacher Report today: Phil Mickelson’s Wife Makes Headlines at the Masters. Sports writers are repeatedly noting that it was victory of the family in as much as it was for Phil. It was her first time to be in the gallery to support her husband since her breast cancer diagnosis last year. Her presence appears to have made all of the difference.

I have always like Mickelson. I know I am probably partial to him because he is a lefty. He is good with people and just plain likeable. He is my kind of guy.

I can’t help but admire married couples who choose to weather the storm together. Mickelson abandoned the tour to take care of Amy. That is the way it’s supposed to happen. She underwent major surgery and he was there to support her and help with the children.

It stands in stark contrast to the narcissistic tendencies that destroy marriages. I have even known men who have left when their wives when they were dealing with major illnesses. It is nice to see someone stand by his wife. And it is even sweeter that he won the Master’s today! I like Phil. I hope the remainder of the year on the tour is good for him. But most importantly I hope for the best for Phil and Amy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So Long to the Video Stores!

  Last year our mom and pop video store near our home sold their inventory of movies and closed their business completely. Now this month Movie Gallery is selling inventory and preparing to close their doors as well. The entertainment business continues to change everyday. I recall the days of renting a vcr for the weekend, because we did not actually own one! A few years later dvd’s became the industry standard for movies. . It appears to be a difficult time to be in the entertainment business right now.

Netflix and companies that have copied their concept of mailing dvd’s and providing a form of instant viewing have made the movie rental business obsolete overnight. Red Box should be factored into the equation too. Their economical and simple way of renting new releases is far superior to going to a store that rents the same movie for three or four times the cost. The music industry has undergone very similar changes. The inception of i-pods and various ways of downloading music has made other forms of marketing in that industry archaic.

I find it impossible to keep up with the changes. My kids grasp these things quickly. They introduced me to Red Box, Netflix, and Pandora. I love my Pandora internet radio! (Of course they are completely disgusted with the stations I have assumed on Pandora.) What do I do with this information then  How do I react to sweeping and often complex changes in the entertainment industry? I actually have a single reaction.

A culture that is so accustomed to be entertained in such instantaneous ways comes to a worship service at church with an expectation of experiencing more of the same. I seriously doubt most of us are ready to admit that fact, but it is true. Preachers are taking advantage of all kinds of media forms to communicate religious messages. I can’t help but be intrigued by some of it. I like good videos that have a meaningful message. I appreciate effective graphics. There are just neat things we can do. And quite frankly I really get into most of it!

We also feel some degree of pressure to address an audience that has had all kinds of multi media experiences all week. That may not be such a good thing. I would issue a word of warning to all of us who plan Sunday worship gatherings. If we allow the pressure to entertain a culture whose tastes change like the shifting shadows to drive our worship planning, we will live to regret it. We will end up somewhere we never intended to be at some point. If the entertainment industry cannot keep up with constant barrage of changes, how will churches possibly do the same? Note to myself: Keep worship theocentric. If we can use some technology in a helpful way, then get with it. Worship should be God driven and not entertainment driven.

I don’t think we will close our doors because the message is obsolete. I do think we could have to close our doors because suddenly we are no longer cool. Someone else is doing a better job entertaining down the street. I know it sounds crazy, but in a few years such events could actually happen. How do I keep it about God and communicate to an ever changing culture effectively? That is the question of the hour!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Radiation Oncologist Turned Golf Caddie

  I love to give unique gifts. I prefer giving things that are unpredictable and totally out of the box. Jan has gone on trips that she had no clue I was planning. I have sent packages to friends that they were not expecting. It is so fun to run across some random item in a store and intuitively know that it would make the perfect gift for a loved one. Books that fit the interests of the recipient are always cool gifts. The whole process of putting together the ultimate surprise for someone I care about energizes me.

This week professional golfer Phil Mickelson outdid himself in the clever gift department. As you may recall, both Mickelson’s wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. Phil provided passes to a recent tournament for radiation oncologist Dr. Tom Buchholz from M.D. Anderson in Houston, his family and other hospital staff members. Such tournament passes are very coveted! It was a really nice gesture on Phil’s part. But that was not the sum of the gift by any stretch of the imagination….

Mickelson had Dr. Buchholz caddie for him for three holes during one of his rounds at the tournament. THAT is a cool gift! Professional golfers depend on their caddies for counsel on club choice, slope estimations on the green and a host of other things that can impact their game dramatically. A good caddie is priceless. Who would not want to caddie for one of golf’s greatest players?

When someone has taken care of the people you love the most, there is not much you would not do for them. Obviously Dr. Buchholz has made an impact in the Mickelson family during a very scary time. That family has entrusted the lives of two of their members to this man’s care. Last Sunday in Humble, Texas Phil Mickelson thought of a rather unique way to say thank you to a special person.

After reading this story this afternoon, I could not help but think about Debbie. Debbie was the RN with Hospice who took care of my mother during her final weeks on this earth. She was with us when my mother drew her final breaths in 1991. She was like part of our family during that time period. I thought of the nurses in the emergency room who took care of Randall when he was terribly ill at age 5. They were great. I thought of the ob/gyn who took care of Jan when we experienced a miscarriage in 1995.

I am fairly certain that I thanked each of those individuals in ways I thought at the time were appropriate and fitting. But I realized today that perhaps I should invest my skills in clever gift giving more wholeheartedly toward those who take care of my family during times of significant crises. Phil’s choice of caddies at the Houston Shell Open this past weekend has me inspired. Saying thank you is a good thing. Saying thank you in memorable ways makes for wonderful memories on the part of everyone involved.

Monday, April 5, 2010

La Fiesta en La Escuela

  Several years ago I was introduced to a term from writings generated by the Church Growth Movement called the Homogenous Principle. Mega churches like Willow Creek in South Barrington, IL experienced exponential growth, because they evaluated their market, and targeted a certain portion of the population. I realize that a single church cannot touch people from every walk of life. In our situation, we are not geared up at the present time to reach out to people who live in our area who only speak Spanish. (You note I said not at the present time.) The Homogeneous Principle troubles me. I really don’t like it all.

It is all too tempting for churches to find their niche market so to speak to be white, upper-middle class professionals. The church grows for sure. It becomes a very white, very educated, and reasonably prosperous group of people. What would happen if we purposely tried to reach out to people of several races, cultures, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds? I wonder if it would be a mass failure… That is certainly a possibility.

We had a party in our Spanish class today. Three classes came together. We ate traditional Mexican food, listened to Latino music, and learned some traditional Latin American dances. I enjoyed the tacos and the company as well. But I could not help but look around and watch the people dynamics going on in the room.
MY class all sat together. We are a diverse group ourselves! Our group includes two young African American girls, a couple of married students, and a theater major…And then there is me. I am the senior member of our class. I was the old man in the entire crowd today for sure. There was one lady who might have been 30, but the rest of them have probably not celebrated their 20th birthday yet.

I felt very comfortable in the larger group today, but I must admit I too was eager to sit with my own classmates. Does my little social experience at the junior college today reveal that the homogenous principle is inevitable? Not necessarily… Perhaps the opposite is actually true. When our class formed at the beginning of the semester, we were a very diverse group brought together by our common need to take a course in Spanish. Nearly three months have passed now. We are starting to bond at least at a superficial level. Why can that not happen at church? Why can we not take diverse people of all ages from all walks of life and allow the test of time to forge relational bonds that move well beyond the superficial level. You know…I think that can happen.

My little fiesta at school today inspired me in all sorts of ways today.  Diverse groups can bond with each other.  Racial barriers can be overcome.  Age does not have to a hindrance in friendships.  And... I still don't like the Homogenous Principle very much at all.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Simple Easter Message

 Trey Morgan is one of my favorite bloggers. I highly recommend his site. He recently wrote on one of my pet topics, so I am going to share a portion of that particular entry here instead of reinventing the wheel.

Here is what Trey had to say:

It's a well known fact that waiters and waitresses all across America hate working the Sunday lunch shift, because of the way they are treated by "Christians" who eat out after Sunday morning church services. I find that absolutely and positively ridiculous. It's also a common known fact that not only are Sunday lunch "Christians" some of the rudest costumers, but they are also the worst tippers. I also find that ridiculous.
How is it possible that we can sit though a worship service and praise God for being gracious and compassionate to us, and then go chew on the waitress after church for not keeping our glass full? How can we come from church where we've taken communion and thanked Jesus for his forgiveness and then stiff the waiter's tip because he mixed up our order? That just doesn't make sense to me.  Instead, waiters and waitresses OUGHT to be fighting over who gets to work the Sunday lunch crowd, because we SHOULD be the nicest, most compassionate and BEST tipping group of people all week. This past week some friends of mine got together for lunch. After the waitress had done her best to serve she asked them, "Is there anything else you guys need?" They said, "No, we're fine. Is their anything we can do for you?" When they asked, she opened up her heart to them about problems she was having with her family, job and paying the rent. Before long they were all circled around her and were having a prayer for her. With tears in her eyes, she thanked them as they left.Those guys are my heroes because that, my friends, is how we should live and interact with people ... everyday! And you and I need to do the same thing. Oh, and did I mention, my friends threw together a big enough tip to help pay their waitresses rent? Pretty sweet story, huh?

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Church attendance will be up substantially across the nation. I wonder if the Easter worship experience will make an impact in the way that we treat the wait staff at all of the Easter Brunches that will be served.

I want to challenge all of us to make a conscious effort to not only be polite, but to strive to reach out to those who are serving us. I wonder if there is anything we can do for them?

Thanks Trey for an inspiring and timely reminder!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Calling All Control Freaks

 I feel quite certain that a lot of us have experienced vacations that can be likened to the experiences of Clark Griswold and family, who are portrayed in National Lampoon’s box office hit, Vacation. All of the best laid plans go by the wayside and things just don’t come together. And of course all of us no doubt have a Cousin Eddie among the ranks of our family. I have a different idea for a vacation.

I suggest that we cast the image of Clark Griswold and family aside. Forget about trips to Wally World this year. My friends Terry and Druscilla have this vacation thing down to a science. It goes something like this: After leaving your home, you drive to the nearest major intersection. At that point, you flip a coin. Heads you turn left and Tails you turn right. This process can continue until you finally reach a stretch of highway that seems suitable. My friends ended up at the Grand Canyon on one occasion. A fun trip to Florida ensued during another adventure inspired by the flip of a coin.

A trip fueled by spontaneity is very appealing to me. There are new places to see, new friends to make, and new mom and pop establishments in which to eat. I love the idea of getting up each morning not knowing where I will be sleeping that night. Now my sweet little bride of almost 26 years cringes when I mention a vacation of this sort.

Jan is quick to point out that Terry and Druscilla had to spend the night in their car with their three small children during a trip to Florida. Apparently there was no room at any of the inns on that run. Of course I am quick to counter that objection by saying: I bet those kids have never forgotten that trip! I am still ready to fill my truck with gas and get a quarter of out of my pocket.

I recognize that we need structure and order in our lives. Mrs. Knox has provided structure and order for three very unstructured boys and a rather unpredictable husband for a long time now. She seems to take it in stride. She has not experienced a total breakdown yet. She has not even raised her voice to any of us over the years. We really should reward her for her faithful commitment to a house full of wackos. Perhaps I should book a cruise. Maybe a trip to a resort in Mexico… Traditional alternatives just don’t sound appealing. I think I will just encourage her to pack a few bags. When she asks where we are going, I can just flash a toothy grin and brandish a shiny quarter. If I survive that interchange, it will be the vacation of a lifetime!

In all seriousness, all of us need to let go and allow life to unfold. Even those of us inclined toward a more spontaneous way of life can be control freaks in our own way. We are so intense. We plan, control, structure, arrange, and prepare. It never stops. It seems to foster a self imposed kind of stress. Maybe it would be a good idea to get the quarter out on a fairly regular basis? I better stop there. I am about to send all control freaks over the edge! But enjoy the holiday weekend.  And enjoy some spontaneity along the way!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Full of Praise and Full of Themselves

 Full of praise and full of themselves…That is the phrase that occurred to me today as I reflected on still another story of a prominent speaker whose interpersonal skills are severely lacking. I frequently hear people tell me how stunning and wonderful some speaker is that they heard at a church or at a seminar somewhere. And sure enough those individuals are generally outstanding orators. In many cases, those skilled speakers are lacking in the people skill department. My favorite story in that regard involves my former employer.

Colleagues and friends alike laugh at me today when I tell them that I worked for two brothers who owned a wrecker service and auto repair shop. It was a great job for a young married graduate student in the field of theology. When we were not busy, I would grab a few moments to review Greek vocabulary words or study church history. I actually learned a lot when I worked for Robert and Wade.

Robert owned the wrecker portion of the business. He was honest, dependable, and very particular about people’s vehicles. As graduation loomed, Robert got me aside one day to dispel some advice. He told me: “When you get your own church, you better speak to your members.” I nearly started laughing. What do you mean, I asked him? He proceeded to tell him that he arrived early every Sunday to handle some of the preparations for the weekly worship service, and the preacher would walk right by him without acknowledging him. Robert found that kind of behavior to be offensive. He then proceeded to tell me that he made _________ speak to him! I nearly lost it at that point! Robert was a hard working, blue collar kind of guy who simply wanted the preacher to extend some common courtesy. What is wrong with that? Not a thing!

Ironically that particular minister was in high demand as a speaker. People thought he was an exceptional speaker. And the truth is…he is a great orator. But he lacked some basic interpersonal communication skills. I realize the case could be made for professionals who are truly introverts. I am married to an extremely strong introvert. She has chosen over the years to work hard at being friendly with people in a public setting.

It is not uncommon for speakers who are in high demand to spend a majority of their time addressing audiences in a variety of settings. They miss out on the daily ministry duties that the rest of us are exposed to. They don’t get to meet the little 2nd grade girl whose mother is in jail. I met her today. They don’t get to work with families who have lost a loved one. I do that almost everyday. They miss getting to visit someone in the hospital facing a serious illness. They don’t get to hear the stories of family conflict, marital troubles, and lost jobs. They travel about and get pumped full of praise by eager audiences. But in the process of missing out on the daily interaction with real people with real needs, they commonly end up full of praise and full of themselves.

I am thankful today that I get to serve people every single day with a variety of concerns. It keeps my feet on the ground. I am already too full of myself. I don’t need any help. When my good church members tell me about some stunning speaker they want us to invite in, I will just smile to myself. And I will probably think about Robert….