Thursday, September 30, 2010

Attitude Adjustment Needed!

Occasionally I need an attitude adjustment. OK, I will be honest…I need an attitude adjustment quite often. There are several strategies I employ to get my attitude back in line where it should be. A round of golf never hurts anything. Sometimes I enjoy playing alone, so I can just take in the beauty of nature as I chase the little white ball. A phone conversation with a close friend moves me in the right direction as well. When I spend part of a shift with one of the police officers or troopers, I generally come home with the realization that my problems are not all that bad. A day off with a good book or a building project always helps the attitude. But there is another strategy that I think has a longer and more profound effect.

This past weekend I realized that my typical attitude adjustment techniques were not going to cut it. I pulled out the big guns. I have forced myself to write down 5 things I am thankful for about my job every single day this week. I in turn wrote a separate list of 5 things I am thankful for in regard to my family and still another list of 5 points of gratitude regarding the community where I live. I practiced this discipline in my hand written journal each day this week. Does it sound like a difficult task?

When your attitude has gone south, it actually sounds like an impossible undertaking. But I found on a few of the days I had more than 5 things in a particular category to list. They had to wait until the next day! I also forced myself to be specific and make sure that each thing included on the list was meaningful and not trite. As the days ticked by, I also practiced another discipline.

After composed the daily lists, I went back and read over all of the entries from the previous days. I think that may have been the most meaningful aspect of the entire journey. It is amazing how quickly we forget. I was saying “oh wow” to myself even over pieces of the lists that were written just a couple of days ago. This approach to adjusting my attitude can be declared a success. At least I think that is the case…Only time will tell if it can make a substantial difference.  I am very hopeful. I find that I am less inclined to be negative, and that of course is a good thing. I have heard the old Hank William’s Junior song entitled: Attitude Adjustment. I do believe my approach is probably much better! I would urge my friends to try it for a week and see what the consequences are!  I am ready to try it for a second week! We shall see what happens.

Of Cops and Compassion...

 I wrote this  piece about 12 years ago.  As I prepared a presentation for the Kiwanis Club today here in Granbury regarding law enforcement chaplaincy, I thought I would re-publish it.

Cops and Compassion
By Chaplain John Knox, 1998
Last week my nine year old said something about a “cop” in a sarcastic tone of voice. I turned to him and told him very firmly that in the future he would respectfully refer to these men and women as “police officers.” He was a little surprised that his dad had gotten so “testy,” but of course he was too young to remember…

The shrill sound of my pager interrupted an otherwise peaceful and lazy Sunday afternoon. When I responded to the page, the dispatcher’s voice quivered slightly as she instructed me to report to the sergeant supervising a scene where a four-year-old had drowned.

My mind raced as I made the 15 minute trek across town. Among other things, I focused on the training I had completed a few weeks earlier with the Wichita Falls, TX police department. At the request of several officers, administrators had agreed to try a pilot volunteer chaplaincy program. Local ministers would take turns being on 24-hour call to respond to crisis situations.

I participated in the initial chaplaincy program offered by the police department for a variety of reasons. I felt the need, like most ministers, to be involved in the community in a meaningful way. The training was both extensive and enlightening. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the words of the dispatcher that afternoon. “Mr. Knox, we have a four-year-old drowning victim.”

I prayed for wisdom and a heart of compassion as the scene loomed in sight. The sergeant informed me that paramedics had not given up hope. They continued to perform CPR until the little boy, and the terrified mother arrived at the emergency room. I did what I could to comfort the family as prayers were answered before our eyes. Later that evening I talked briefly with a scared little four-year-old boy in a hospital gown adorned with little bears.

That spring afternoon in 1990 proved to be both a reality check, and an early indication of things to come. I went home and hugged by nine-month-old baby son a little longer than usual. I also came to the stark realization that perhaps I had gotten into more than I had bargained for. “Do I really want to be “involved” in the community to this extent?”

As I continued to fulfill the responsibilities of a volunteer chaplain, officers invited me to ride with them on their beat. I joined them for briefing, coffee breaks, and lunch meetings all hours of the day and night.

One crisp fall morning in October of 1992, an officer and I were attempting to take a quick coffee break when the dispatcher sent out a “blind call” for the first available unit. Someone had called 911 reporting a baby not breathing. As the officer I was with carefully navigated the patrol car through a busy intersection, he asked me, “Do you know how to do CPR on a child?” I barely had time to respond before both of us jumped out of the car and raced into the apartment.

The officer burned his arm, as he searched for any sign of the child in the unlit bathroom. I looked in the bedroom, and found the lifeless body of a twelve-month-old child. CPR was not needed. He was deceased. He had been drowned in the bathtub full of scalding water. The child’s mother was the perpetrator of this heinous crime.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t vomit at the sight of such a shocking and grisly scene. There wasn’t time. The yellow crime scene tape went up, and the tiny apartment in the housing projects was literally swarmed with investigators, and crime scene technicians in a matter of minutes. I do remember what the officer I was riding with said to me. “The next time someone tells you that all that cops do is sit in the donut shop, tell them about this incident this morning.”

The months went by at a rapid pace, and I slowly got over the initial shell-shock of life on the streets. I continued to ride with officers, and over time they became increasingly interested in using the services of the volunteer chaplains. We were called to the scenes of suicides, fatality car accidents, fires, and a host of other crises. We were also given the weighty responsibility of delivering death notifications. That job is never easy, and it will certainly never become routine.

One Monday evening in 1994 as I watched the 10:00 news with my family, reporters gave an account of a fatality car accident, which had just occurred in a neighboring county. I had the strange feeling that I was about to be responsible for breaking this terrible news to the survivors of the victim. The hunch proved to be correct. I met two rookie officers who were very relieved to see me, at a location not far from the victim’s home. The fears of the man’s family were confirmed as I identified myself as a police chaplain. The speech I had been instructed to rehearse had become all too familiar. “I am sorry to have to break this news to you, but…Is there anyone I can call for you?” This particular family handed me a list of names and phone numbers. It was an adult Sunday School roster. I asked the officers accompanying me to call several of the numbers, and within a matter of minutes, members of this lady’s church family enveloped her with their hugs, expressions of sorrow, and most of all, their presence. I slipped away to allow them some privacy in their grief, and quietly sobbed as I drove back to be with a wife who loved me, and two precious boys.

Unfortunately, not all the people we ministered to had such a report network. I will never forget the 28 year old lady whom I found curled up in a fetal position in the tiny conference room adjacent to the hospital ER in the summer of 1992. Her husband was dead on arrival after suffering an apparent heart attack. She had not even put her shoes on before boarding the ambulance that had attempted to transport him down a road that would hopefully lead to recovery. “Do you have a minister I can call for you?” “No.” Do you have friends I can contact?” “We are new to the area.” “I don’t know anyone…” They didn’t tell us what to say in situations like this in Greek readings or in exegesis courses, so I just held her hand, as we awaited the arrival of out-of-state relatives.

I have grown to love the officers, troopers, and support personnel in this field. Over time they have accepted me into their very private world. Some extraordinary friendships continue to form, as each of us fulfill our respective roles. They are indeed special people who indeed do a lot more than just eat donuts.

Ministry out on the streets continues me things that educational institutions cannot teach. I am learning to be more grateful for my family and friends. Life is truly just a mist… I am realizing how foolish it is to be petty or unforgiving. Life is far too precious to waste our energies in such a foolish and ungodly way.

I am now blessed to as a volunteer chaplain in Region I for The Texas Department of Public Safety.  That entials serving  troopers serving in The Highway Patrol, The Texas Rangers, and civilian DPS employees as well.  I am also serving as chaplain for the Granbury Police Department. I have learned a lot in 18 years. I pray for my troopers and officers’ everyday. Why don’t we all pray for these special servants? After all, it could be your home they are racing to, to save a life...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Streetcar Named Desire

I watched this academy award winning movie from 1951,  A Streetcar Named Desire for the first time the other night. I was reminded once again that Vivien Leigh, who of course starred in Gone with the Wind, was a brilliant actress. In this acclaimed movie, Leigh plays the character of Blanche DuBois.

In the plot, Blanche unexpectedly moves in with her sister and her brother-in-law. A very young and strapping Marlon Brando plays the character of the brother-in-law, Stanley Kawalski. Kim Hunter plays Blanche's sister, Stella.  Each of the actors does an amazing job developing the characters. And each of the characters has major issues. Blanche shows up on her sister’s doorstep, because she was quite literally run out of the small town, where she seduced a seventeen year boy. Stanley is a rough and often crude character with little sympathy for Blanche’s problems. Stella is an enabler. She refuses to believe the truth about her sister.

I enjoyed the show. The quality of the acting coupled with the difficulty of the script made it especially interesting. But as the plot unfolded, I started thinking more about the psychology driving the story. Blanche’s character is so troubled. In fact, I think there is no doubt that she was dealing with rather serious emotional problems. No one around her made choices that would ultimately help her.

Stanley is just plain mean to Blanche. His cruel and even violent demeanor toward her just aggravated the situation. A young man named Mitch played by Karl Mauldin is enamored by her good looks and charm. He is unable to help her too, because he is fooled by her outward magnetism. And then there is sweet Stella the enabler. She just refuses to face reality.

As I reflected on the movie, I thought: How can we help someone close to us who is dealing with mental illness? I don’t have the final answers by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a few ideas.

• Reality is our friend. We can’t pretend like nothing is wrong.
• Enabling bad behavior does not help anyone in the long run.
• Being sarcastic, mean spirited, or verbally cruel in any form only makes things worse.
• People dealing with mental illness can be a serious danger to other people as well as themselves. (Such was the case with Blanche’s character)
• Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness.

Tennessee Williams won a Pulitzer Prize for the original play by the same title. Vivien Leigh won the academy award in 1951 for best actress. Kim Hunter won best supporting actress. Karl Mauldin won best supporting actor. Marlon Brando was nominated for best actor. Their roles were challenging, because each of the characters had layers of problems they were facing. In real life, there are no academy awards for dealing with the drama of life. We are called on to do the best we can to serve one another in a spirit of true unconditional love. The actual expressions of such love can be a real challenge.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Carrying Hidden Baggage Aboard...

 I am a little squeamish about checking my golf clubs on commercial airline flights. I have this image of my clubs ending up in Hong Kong, and it takes the airline six months to find out what happened to them. It just gives me the shivers. Several years ago I had the opportunity to play in a tournament during a conference in the Detroit area, so I broke down and checked my clubs, which were neatly packed in their canvas carrier specially designed for such a purpose.

When I arrived in Detroit, I immediately picked up my suitcase off the conveyer belt. So far so good… The conveyer belt stopped, but my golf clubs were no where to be seen. The Hong Kong image once again began to haunt my thoughts. I wondered if my clubs were just invisible and could not be seen by the naked eye. The gracious lady at American Airlines finally helped me locate my precious missing cargo, which had been placed in a corner with other over-sized pieces. Such is the saga of traveling with all kinds of baggage.

I have been reminded recently that all of us travel through life with all kinds of baggage. Commercial airlines have nothing to do with it. We carry baggage around with us caused by broken relationships, parents that abandoned us, untimely deaths, job losses, and a variety of disappointments. And then there is the baggage being carried that was added as a result of childhood sexual abuse, traumatic events, and other issues fueled by a dark world.

When we become romantically involved with someone else, the existence of some of that baggage remains hidden. I think there are a variety of reasons why that is the case. We are afraid that the other person would think less of us if they knew our real story. I would say that it is even more common for the existence of such baggage to be stuffed so deeply in the recesses of our mind that we don’t’ even think about it.

The person we end up marrying in some cases is aware that we are carrying some baggage. And in all likelihood, they are too! But the partner has no clue that there is more baggage that did not appear on the conveyer belt, when the relationship was in its formative stages. Such baggage is hidden in a corner just like my golf clubs. As time goes by, the once hidden emotional luggage appears out of nowhere.

Sweet young ladies discover that their knight in shining armor has serious addictions. Young men with the best of intentions discover after being married for 5 or more years that their bride was the victim of horrific sexual abuse. In some cases, the discovery of the hidden baggage threatens the integrity of the relationship itself. There is no denying that such events take place, but what is the solution?

I don’t have any simplistic solutions. I do know that relationships will be tested when the once hidden emotional suitcases are exposed. And I am convinced that it takes a lot of patience. Honesty is a good policy. A compassionate heart goes a long way. Accountability is a necessity.

I would have been terribly disappointed if American Airlines had failed to discover the location of my golf clubs before the tournament in Michigan that spring day. One of their capable employees came to the rescue! When emotional baggage is discovered too late, the repercussions are more significant than a missed golf tournament. In some cases, trust is destroyed permanently. How I hope that those closest to me feel that they can be transparent with those who truly care for them. I hope that I can serve in a similar fashion to the lady who discovered my missing baggage, because there is no need to travel through life with hidden baggage aboard.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Still Like Family Practice: Part II

As I pointed out in a recent entry, I still like family practice. The fact of the matter is after 23 years of ministry I still like people. (Not all of my colleagues would say that!) Doing the kind of work I do can easily be compared to the role of a physician in family practice. Unfortunately I am aware of physicians who specialize in family practice that are choosing to do something else.

Family practice doctors end up taking a lot of calls after hours. They meet patients in the emergency room. Some of them are delivering babies too. There is even a lot of phone contact with patients in need after normal clinic hours. The intensity of their schedule coupled with increasing red tape associated with both Medicare and Medicaid is prompting capable physicians to choose another specialty in the medical field. Their profession is not nearly as lucrative as what the average person perceives. I know all of these facts to be true, because I have several friends who have been this field for a long time.

I can’t help but pause for a second when I list the causes of family practice doctors bailing out of their specialty. The similarities for those of us serving as generalists for local churches are striking once again. I take my fair share of call after hours. It is not nearly as intense as that of a medical doctor, but it happens. I responded to a death at the emergency room on Christmas Eve one year. I don’t have to do deal with Medicare or Medicaid, but the administrative challenges are more pronounced than they were a few years ago. Technology is indeed a mixed blessing.

Are ministers serving churches bailing out like doctors in family practice? The answer is yes. I find that my colleagues are increasingly drawn to very specialized opportunities in the field of ministry. This includes being a specialist of some kind on a church staff and it also entails working for a variety of para-church organizations and other non profits. In some ways, I don’t blame them.It is appealing to be able to focus on one very specific area and hone your skills accordingly.

I still like family practice. I gladly take the after hours call, because I care about the people I serve. It is a challenge to stay current more than one area. I need to stay current in the fields of homiletics, pastoral care, church leadership, and law enforcement chaplaincy. Someday I may find that I am a dinosaur. But even during an age where mega-churches dot the religious landscape, people still desire to have someone to provide personal pastoral care. It is a new week. I look forward to reporting to my pastoral “clinic.” In my job that could be most anywhere….

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I Still Like Family Practice

I still like family practice. Actually I am not a doctor. (Not that kind of doctor anyhow) But I often compare what I do in ministry for a local church to that of a physician in family practice. I am there with families when their babies are born. And I am there when there are tragic circumstances surrounding the process of childbirth too. And I baptize those same children as the family gathers.

Life marches on. It is fun to celebrate with families, as their children reach important milestones. I have seen kids from church go off to college as National Merit Scholars. I have moved the children of my friends in the dorm. I have gone to watch ballgames and see people’s kids receive all kinds of awards. All of the above entail the perks of my ministry in a local church.

But I am also there when their children are involved in both serious and fatal car crashes. I have sat in a few intensive care waiting rooms with families while they awaited news on their child, who was suffering from some serious disease. It is during those times that people are counting on their minister to be an effective and compassionate family practitioner.

Over a period of 23 years I have officiated at over 150 funeral services. Some of those services have been for small children and teenagers. The funerals I have conducted honoring babies and children are forever imprinted on my heart. Such moments are unbelievably stressful. But taking care of families during those times is one of the most important services a family practitioner in ministry can offer.

And then there are weddings. Twenty three years ago I was doing weddings for couples that were not much older than me. That was fun. And then I started officiating for weddings of students that I had taught at the university or knew from our church youth group. That was enjoyable too. But in very recent years I have started doing weddings for my children’s peers and friends. And that is fun too…At least I keep telling myself it is fun.

When we conduct the rehearsal, I see members of the wedding party standing up there. In my mind, they are still in the 4th grade. They are supposed to come over to the house to watch movies. They are supposed to take pride in not taking showers for a week at church camp. They are supposed to walk across the street, so I can take them to school. I am beginning to think this is no fun at all. I am beginning to question this whole family practice thing…

This afternoon at 4:00 I will officiate at Katie’s wedding. Katie grew up across the street from us. She and Randall’s birthdays are only 11 days apart. She spent time at our house and Randall hung out at her house too. She tolerated my sermons when she was a teen. And she put up with me the year that I was interim youth minister too. Katie is fairly sensitive and Randall can be…well let me just say that he can be somewhat blunt at times. But she is a bride today. And I get to lead the couple in the exchange of vows.

I realize I am getting way to sensitive in my old age, but I am going to do my best to leave the waterworks to the mother of the bride today. I must admit that weddings are still fun. I fully realize that this wave of weddings for the friends of each of my boys will not last. I had better enjoy it. I am very grateful today for what I get to do. In fact, I still like family practice. More on the subject of family practice tomorrow…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Victim of Gawkers...

We all  have the potential to be so self- absorbed that another person’s tragedy is nothing more than an opportunity to be a selfish onlooker...

 The homeless man lay face down, unmoving, on the sidewalk outside an apartment building, blood from knife wounds pooling underneath his body.One person passed by in the early morning. Then another, and another…Video footage from a surveillance camera shows at least seven people going by, some turning their heads to look, others stopping to gawk. One even lifted the homeless man’s body, exposing what appeared to be blood on the sidewalk underneath him, before walking away. It wasn’t until after the 31-year-old Guatemalan immigrant had been lying there for nearly an hour that emergency workers arrived, and by then, it was too late.

I read that news account regarding an event that took place in New York City several months ago. I was reminded still again that tragic circumstances bring out the best and the worst in people. Last Friday when I was riding out with one our Granbury Police officers we ended being summoned to a major accident. One man was seriously injured in the crash. Before emergency personnel arrived an off duty paramedic, who works here in Granbury, was giving the injured man excellent care. He was off that day and his lunch at a nearby restaurant was interrupted, but he responded instinctively and graciously.

On the other end of the human nature spectrum, I never ceased to be amazed at the inclination of people to gawk and generally interfere when an event of that nature has occurred. Traffic is always heavy at this particular intersection, but slow moving onlookers threatened the occurrence of still another accident in the same location. That is a very common occurrence. Thankfully the officers I work with always completely block traffic near a fatal accident scene in order to provide a shield of privacy for the deceased person as well as to preserve the scene for an investigation.

As human beings, we have the potential to rise to the occasion during a time of crisis and make a difference. And we also have the potential to be so self- absorbed that another person’s tragedy is nothing more than an opportunity to be a selfish onlooker. Declare me guilty. I work with people in crisis everyday. But declare me guilty.

I have an uncanny ability to become so absorbed in my own concerns that I am oblivious to those around me who are bleeding on the pavement under my feet. I don’t mean that literally. What I mean is there are people bleeding and hurting emotionally around me. They are facing job losses, serious illnesses, relational breakdowns, and all forms of discouragement. My self-absorption can cause me not notice what is going in their life. In other instances, I indeed observe what is taking place, and I choose to walk by gawking instead of helping. The consequences of ignoring a cry for help can serious.

The Guatemalan immigrant described in the news story was beaten after he tried to prevent a lady from being assaulted. He was stabbed repeatedly. He apparently died before emergency workers were even called. In a sense, he was the victim of a self-absorbed society.

Oh…the good news is that the man injured in the crash I mentioned is going to recover. I am thankful today for servants who are not so self absorbed that they can rise to the occasion!  How about the rest of us? Can we rise to the occasion today?

Monday, September 20, 2010

When I Grow Up....I Want to be Like Joe Bagby

 Joe Bagby is not a big name preacher. He does not serve a mega-church. To my knowledge he has not published any popular books. I doubt if he has been invited to speak at well known conferences over the course of his career. But when I grow up I want to be like Joe Bagby.

Joe serves the 4th and Elm Church of Christ in Sweetwater, Texas. I don’t know how long his tenure has spanned in Sweetwater, but it has been over 10 years. Serving in ministry is a high calling. But unfortunately that high calling can become clouded with big egos and selfish ambition. Ministry conferences have the potential to become spitting contests over the number of members and average attendance figures of each other’s churches. When I stop to think about it, it is all quite ridiculous. I confess that I avoid some professional gatherings, because I grow weary of the competitive environment. Life is too short for unhelpful spitting contests.

While some of his colleagues were busy polishing their egos, Joe chose to serve his community. Sweetwater is a West Texas town situated right off Interstate 20 of about 10,000 people. I did ministry in a town almost exactly that size for 6 years. As a minister in such a community, you have a choice. You can serve your own church and have a little extra time to read and play golf. That is one option. Or you can totally invest in the community. That is the option that Joe has chosen over the years.

He has spent his tenure in Sweetwater building bridges to people’s hearts. He has visited people in the hospital regardless of their church affiliation. (Or lack of church affiliation) He has reached out to all kinds of people in need. He has conducted community oriented Bible studies. He has taken the time to get to know people in his town. In essence, he has embraced the entire town of Sweetwater.

When I was in Sweetwater several weeks ago to officiate at a funeral for a longtime family friend, everyone at the visitation the night before the funeral wanted to tell me all about their friend, Joe Bagby. Interestingly enough not one of those individuals attends the church that he serves…They were all people he had formed relationships with in the community.

During an upcoming city banquet Joe will be named Sweetwater’s Citizen of the Year. It is obviously well deserved. He has served them unselfishly with a heart of true gold. Unfortunately it is doubtful that he will be present to accept the honor. He was diagnosed last summer with in inoperable and aggressive brain tumor. His health continues to deteriorate very rapidly. He is surrounded by family as the end of his life draws very near.

It makes me sad to think that Joe Bagby will not be present to accept such a remarkable honor from those he has served all of these years. But in another way it fits. He has chosen to spend his life in service. Receiving accolades and being the center of attention has not been the focal point of his professional life.

I would even venture to guess that the vast majority of my colleagues don’t know Mr. Bagby. Joe has been too busy serving his community to spend time trying to impress other ministers! But little does he know that there is one minister in Granbury, Texas who is indeed impressed. When I grow up, I want to be just like Joe Bagby…. May God bless his good family during this time in each of their lives.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Damaged for Life!

Why pay $2.00 for a haircut at the barber shop in the Shorecrest Shopping Center, when you can do it in the garage for next to nothing? That was dad’s philosophy of hairstyling when I was a little boy. He found some electric barber clippers in the Sears Catalog and our garage was transformed into a barbershop overnight. Never mind that I have very noticeable and obtrusive cowlicks that resemble horns after a fresh haircut. But what is a 6 year old to do? I did not live in a democracy. My dad was a benevolent dictator.

If you asked me a few years ago, I would have told you that those early haircuts in the garage damaged me for life. Showing up in Miss Erick’s second grade class freshly butchered was embarrassing even for a 7 year old boy. Why couldn’t I have a dad who would take me to the barbershop like the rest of the boys in my class?

As the elementary school years rolled by, my dad must have tired of barbering. I had the privilege of joining him for haircuts at a barbershop located in the Racine Motor Inn overlooking Lake Michigan. Those Saturday runs to see the barber in my dad’s Volkswagon bug were actually pretty memorable. I enjoyed sitting among the men and hearing them talk about what Vince Lombardi was going to do with the Green Bay Packers during that particular football season.

By the time I was a teenager, my sweet Southern mother intervened in the hairstyling priorities in our family. She “allowed” me to go to a very cool hair stylist located in a shop near our home. Barry was skilled in styling men and women’s hair. He taught me to part my hair in the middle and created “wings” on the sides. (That of course was the going look in 1978.) Music from the movie Saturday Night Fever was playing on the radio, as I got my hair styled.

I have never cut my boys’ hair. I did not want to damage them for life. I must say that they have cut each other’s hair at times! But I had nothing to do with that. That was their choice to “buzz” their hair.

In reality I was not damaged for life by my dad’s choice to order clippers from the Sears Catalog. I was reminded of that again recently. One of my good friends commented to me that his dad left his family when he was 2 years old. When his dad returned during the Christmas season to see his children 3 years later, he did not recognize his then 5 year old son. My friend is in his 40’s now, but he still remembers that significant event that took place when he was 5 years old.

At 5 years old, I was getting haircuts in the garage. When Monday rolled around after such weekend butchering jobs, Miss Erick may not have recognized me, but I experienced no real mental anguish. Today I actually realize that I was fortunate enough to have a father around to cut my hair or to take me with him to the barbershop. My dad never saw the disco era Barry hairstyles. He passed away very suddenly early in March of 1978. But he was a good father who tried to be there. Not all of my friends today were that fortunate.

Hang in there dads. Don’t get discouraged. Invest in your kids. Take advantage of every opportunity. Recognize the need that your children have for your love and nurture. And by all means, take your sons to the barbershop.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Folding Like a Deck of Cards

 I wonder if kids still “get sent to the office” in elementary school these days, or if there is some new and innovative way of enforcing basic discipline? In elementary school, Mr. Ginther was our principal. I thought he was at least 100 years old. Actually someone told recently me that a retired Mr. Ginther recently turned 80. He was nearly 10 years younger than I am now during the time period that I had him pegged at 100. That is encouraging.
I did not realize at the time that it takes a special person to fulfill the role of principal at the elementary level. You have to blend solid discipline with gentleness and compassion for children experiencing socialization in a structured environment for the first time. The group of children you are responsible for come from every imaginable home environment. In the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, I do think that there were more stable homes. At least that was the case in our little neighborhood school.

In the 4th grade, our teacher’s name was Mr. Waltenberger. I understand that he retired fairly recently. He was a great teacher. But all of us pushed his good nature to the limit periodically. One of my friends in that class during the 1971-1972 school year chose to push such limits on the day we were asked to compose letters inviting our parents to the annual school open house. In her own words, she describes the infraction in the following manner:

I got sent to the office, because the letter I wrote to my parents for Open House Night was inappropriate. I wrote that they probably really didn't want to be there, etc. Mr. Ginther set me straight. He told me that was not the kind of letter that my parents would want to see. I folded like a deck of cards and rewrote it!

The truth is that we all folded like a deck of cards during visits to Mr. Ginther’s office. He possessed the ideal blend of stern discipline with genuine kindness. As I recall, he would stop and visit with us on the playground during recess. He knew all of our names and he knew our parents too. I recall being in his office on one occasion with a couple of my comrades when he shared his disappointment in our academic performance. He was confident we could better. Of course on the playground we played down the whole thing and referred to him as “Ginther.” But that was all talk. I think all of us down deep respected his concern for us. But boys are not about to admit anything of the kind!

Today principals are under immense pressure to meet state mandated standards of testing. At least that is the case in Texas. There is more paperwork. There are countless emails to answer. There are an increasing number of meetings and endless training events to attend.

I wonder if principals today have time to hang out with the kids on the playground. I hope public schools nationwide have not given up on the ideal of an elementary principal forming relationships with kids. After nearly 4 decades I still recall my interactions with Mr. Ginther. He did a great job creating a secure and positive environment for us to learn about life. As I think about him today, I am reminded of the importance of interacting in a positive way with the elementary age children in my sphere of influence. Untold good can be done in a child’s life!

I don’t get sent to the office anymore, but I must confess that when Jan calls my hand on my periodic bad attitudes, I fold like a deck of cards…

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In a New York Minute...

 I don’t particularly like the acronym DOS, but nevertheless that is the vernacular used in the world of law enforcement to describe someone who is deceased in a location other than the hospital. (Dead on Scene) When I am called to assist on a DOS call, I generally use the phrase “unattended death” when I communicate with a family member or friend of the deceased person.
One night this week I was called to assist the officers on a DOS call. The family I was called on to serve was very gracious. The officers were compassionate and helpful as always. We are blessed with a outstanding group of police officers in Granbury.

Every call of that nature is a little different. The circumstances of the death, the relationship of family and friends to the deceased person, and the age of the person who has died are all unique. If family members are estranged, tensions are often high. If children are involved, the stress and intensity of the situation is escalated significantly. There are no routine DOS calls for service.

I always leave those kinds of situations experiencing some of the same emotions. Serving families who have experienced an unexpected death at their home or in some other non-clinical setting always reminds me that life is precious. Things can change fast. A seemingly routine day can change in a split second. Families are changed forever.

This morning I heard an old Don Henley song on the radio. Interestingly enough I heard the lyrics in a different light perhaps for the first time.

Harry got up
Dressed all in black
Went down to the station
And he never came back
They found his clothing
Scattered somewhere down the track
And he won't be down on Wall Street
in the morning

He had a home
The love of a girl
But men get lost sometimes
As years unfurl
One day he crossed some line
And he was too much in this world
But I guess it doesn't matter anymore

In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Things can get pretty strange
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute

How should we treat each other in light of the fact that things can change in a New York minute? I wonder if the issues we are most concerned about today would matter. Serving families at DOS scenes usually prompts me to do some serious priority examination. This week’s experience was no exception.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Don't Like Change!

 “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” -Arnold Bennett

I hate to admit it, but I don’t like change. I like some semblance of consistency. That principle is not true of every dimension of my life. I enjoy hearing new music. I must admit that classic rock is still the best. I like going to new places to eat. I always return to my favorite mom and pop establishments where everybody knows my name though… I really enjoy meeting new people! But I must admit that I treasure longstanding friendships that in some cases date back to my childhood. I guess I really don’t like change.

Actually there is a particular kind of change that I will never learn to be accustomed to. I value the people I interact with on a regular basis. When the high school principal retired, I didn’t take it too well. She was so good to my boys. I could never say enough good things about the influence she had in the lives of my two older boys. I am quite sure that the principal who assumed that role very recently is going to do a fine job, but I still miss her! I don’t like change.

Quite naturally I become attached to the troopers with the Texas Highway Patrol, and the officers serving the Granbury Police Dept. In my estimation, they need to remain in their respective roles right here in Granbury for the duration of their careers, because I like them. I enjoy working with them. But that is not going to happen. Troopers promote and move to a new area. City officers are hired by Federal and State agencies and move on to new adventures. It is just more change and I don’t like it.

On my more rational days, I have a better outlook about such matters. On those days, I am able to be happy for those promoting in their jobs or opening a new chapter in their lives. Such changes actually prompt some personal growth on my part. I am slowly learning to value every relationship I enjoy for what it is today. It could change in a flash. That person could move away tomorrow. Unexpected death or illness can take a person away from us in a flash. I don’t even like to think about it…

The discomfort of change can become a good thing. Valuing people is important. Being grateful for every single person we are privileged to interact with is essential. A day should not go by that I do not express my appreciation to those whom I have grown to love and care about.

There is another way to view the inevitable transitions of life. When people move away, doors are opened to make new friends. When principals retire, a new person must assume that role. An opportunity arises to get to know and value those individuals. And that can’t help but be a good thing.

I am thankful that I expressed these thoughts. I am feeling pretty rational today. I am choosing not take anyone for granted. I appreciate my friends and the people I work with everyday both in church and community settings. But they had all better stay put and not budge from their present role, because I don’t like change! Hmm…maybe I am not so rational today after all…I will get with some friends tonight and we will go out to eat somewhere.  That will help me retun to a more rational state.  And of course we will go somewhere where the entire wait staff knows my name!

Friday, September 10, 2010

September 11th, 2001: A Day of Contrasts

 When I was growing up, I recall my mother reflecting on where she was and what she was doing when she heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963. My older sisters were in school. I was told that I was in my playpen in the living room at home. I was 18 months old. My generation has another date etched in our minds. September 11th, 2001.

I do recall where I was at 9:00 that morning. I was checking out of a hotel in Oklahoma City as reports of the first jet hitting the trade center were being relayed on the news. That morning I was on my way to be with a family whose 21 year son was critically injured in a car crash the previous Friday. He died the next day.

I found myself in the waiting room of an Intensive Care Unit at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City watching the news regarding all three of the planes. I was with people who all had family members in that hospital unit whose lives were hanging in the balance. A couple hours after the initial news from New York broke a 14 year old gunshot victim was transferred from the Trauma Center on the first floor to the ICU unit where a group of strangers were trying to support one another.

What was I thinking that day? Honestly I don’t remember. I was on information and emotional overload. In looking back on that morning, it occurs to me that I was with a group of people who understood the value of human life at a level that the average person would not comprehend in normal circumstances. Each of them had loved ones who had suffered some kind of major trauma. Their sons had been in car crashes. Their brother was a gunshot victim. The list was pretty lengthy, because the unit was very full that day. There was no shortage of opportunity to minister to friends and strangers alike.

In total contrast, there were people on the other side of the country who had no concern whatsoever for human life. They were willing to board commercial airliners and set off a chain of events that would ultimately kill thousands of people. I still have difficulty grasping that level of evil intent 9 years later.

I would not realize until the next day that the contrasts were not over yet. First responders with the Fire Department of New York and several law enforcement agencies gave the ultimate sacrifice, because they too valued human life. They gave their lives for strangers, as they fulfilled their duties that day.

As I pray today for the families of those heroes and for countless others impacted by the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, I hope that I value other people to the extent that I should. I hope that I display a basic respect for human life in everything that I do.

I am grateful for my calling to serve those who protect and serve. On the anniversary of this event, I am made aware once again of the gravity of my duties. The men and women who put on badges have committed their lives to protect and serve. Basic respect for human life characterizes so much of what they do. Perhaps it would serve me well to remember where I was 9 years ago today. While the men and women were risking their lives on the East Coast to protect and serve, there were servants in Oklahoma City doing the same for those who were in that ICU unit that fateful day…May God bless our public servants today.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Peacemaker or a Conflict Avoider? There is a Difference!

 She is cannot stand conflict. In fact, we call her the "peacemaker" in our family. How many of us have conflict avoiders in our family? How often do we refer to them as the peacemakers? I have members in my extended family that would travel from New York to San Diego via London if they thought it would help them to avert conflict. But are they really peacemakers?

I am preaching on the topic of peacemaking Sunday. In my research this week, I rediscovered some important principles that I actually learned in conflict management training some years back. For starters conflict avoidance and peace making are not synonymous. In some cases avoiding the conflict actually causes it to escalate. It is sort of like having cancer in our body, and hoping it will just disappear without proper treatment as long as we don’t think about it. I also realize there is another extreme as well on the continuum of conflict management.

I love the movie A Christmas Story. There is the famous scene of the little boy getting his tongue stuck to a frozen pole on the playground at school. And then there is another scene where Ralphie has had enough of the school bully. He proceeds to beat up bully Scut Farkus right in front of an entire entourage of friends. Unfortunately conflict avoiders at times reach the same point that Ralphie did. They blow a gasket and everyone around them is shocked! The gasket blowing episode for conflict avoiders in many cases does not seem to be connected to any particular situation or ongoing interpersonal conflict.  They just cannot hold in any longer.

What does peacemaking look like then? I am convinced that real peacemakers avert all out war by being a stronghold of conviction. In other words, they stand up for what they believe. Even though they hate it with a passion, they choose to confront another person’s bad behavior. In the case of a true conflict avoider, you might as well ask them to go get in bed with a coiled up rattlesnake. The very idea of confronting someone probably causes them to break out in a cold sweat. But it is necessary. There are bullies everywhere.

There are even bullies in churches. I am aware of a church where a bully and her henchmen were allowed to have free reign for well over three decades. They got their way by bullying church leaders. No one was willing to stand up to them. The minister during much of that time period is a very gentle and kind individual. Confronting a handful of bullies was not high on his list. Volunteer leaders serving as elders were equally hesitant. Times changed. A new group of volunteer elders entered the picture. One of those individuals paid the Head Bully a visit one evening and took others with him. She started on one of her typical negative tirades and he put a quick stop to it. He gently but very firmly communicated that inappropriate behavior would stop immediately. He never raised his voice. He did not threaten her. He was not mean spirited at all. He was extremely kind, but very firm and to the point. The lady who had reigned as the resident bully had her power taken away instantly. And she responded like Scut Farkus. She tucked her tail and has not been a problem since to my knowledge.

The individual who did the confronting is a peacemaker. He effectively ended her reign of terror. The war is over. I realize in many cases such situations are far more complicated. There are layers of issues to consider. But the principle remains true: Peacemakers must be a stronghold of conviction. They must be willing to articulate their convictions for the overall good of the family or organization.

I find that I have erred on both sides of the conflict equation over the years. There are times that I have taken that plane to London, so that I could avoid conflict. And there have been other times that I have been brutally blunt and overly aggressive. It is a fine balance. The question of the day is: are you a conflict avoider or a peacemaker?  There is a difference you know...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Day the Jeffersons Moved in Across the Street from Archie Bunker (AKA as My Mother!)

George and Louise Jefferson along with their son Lionel moved in across the street from my family on 81st in Lubbock when I was in high school. Do you remember George and Louise? They were introduced to us on national television, when they moved in next door to the ultimate bigot, Archie Bunker.  Actor Carroll O’Connor was masterful in his portrayal of Archie. It was just poetic justice that Archie have someone of a different race living right next door!

Before I share the story about our neighbors, who moved in across the street from us in the late ‘70’s, I need to provide a little background on my mother. She was born in the Deep South in 1927. She grew up in a distinctly segregated world. She graduated from Florida State University long before the Civil Rights Movement got underway. Members of her extended family owned and operated sprawling tobacco farms in South Georgia. In listening to my mother’s description of that world, I concluded that very little changed after the end of the Civil War. Slavery may have been abolished, but every other aspect of their culture appeared to remain intact.

My mother was a racist. I hate be that blunt. She has been deceased since 1991, so she is not here to defend herself! She was not obnoxious about it like television character Archie Bunker, but nevertheless those prejudices were ever present.

When our African American neighbors moved in across the street, I was elated! I thought it was funny. (Those of you who know me well are not surprised by my warped humor.) I started poking her about her neighbors. Are you going to bake them a cake, I would ask? Are you going to show some of that good Southern hospitality that you would naturally extend to someone, if they were Angelo? She found none of my comments the least bit amusing.

As the months went by, she started making what she perceived to be positive observations about her neighbors. She would say: “The Blacks are sure keeping their yard nice.” I would grin to myself, but get a serious look on my face and say: “I thought their name was Smith.” “I don’t recall their last name being Black.” I was pushing my luck with such comments…Years went by and over time my mother slowly warmed up to her neighbors across the street.

Thirty years later I have a different perspective on that situation. I was so busy being funny that I failed to recognize that my mother had come a million miles in overcoming racist attitudes that were such an engrained part of the world that she grew up in. Her uncles that ran the tobacco farms in South Georgia would not have been as benevolent in their attitude toward that situation. The very presence of a family of a different race in such close proximity in her neighborhood softened her racist tendencies instead of exacerbating them.

There is a valuable lesson to be gleaned from this experience. It is important to give people credit for trying. I failed to acknowledge that my mother had come a long ways! I am very intolerant of racism today. In looking back on my teen years, there were ways that I could have prompted my mother to have been more open and kind to her neighbors. I chose instead to hone in on the areas where she still needed some growth! Learning the blend of being patient with each other and at the same time not tolerating bad behavior is a constant challenge. I hope I am better at it today at age 48 than I was thirty years ago!

Racism was a blind spot that my mother really worked hard at correcting during the course of her entire adult life. I hope I am equally inclined to address my blind spots with the same diligence!  But it is a shame that my mother passed away before the movie, Driving Miss Daisy, was released.  Oh..that would have been such great fuel to give her a hard time with!  Woops...there I go again!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Memorial on Wheels...

 In Memory of Wichita County fallen officers…Now where would you expect to find a phrase like that? It seems to fit on a memorial carved out a marble in front of a law enforcement agency. In this case, it is inscribed on the back of a fully restored 1968 Ford Custom that looks exactly like a patrol car used by the Wichita Falls Police Dept in the late ‘60’s. The owners of the replica patrol car found the vehicle on craiglist and completely restored it as a very unique memorial to two fallen officers in Wichita Falls.

Wichita Falls Police Department Officers Craig Fellows and his partner Eddie Rappolee were killed in their patrol car on August 22, 1968 after the wall of a building collapsed on top of their vehicle. The old building in downtown Wichita Falls caught fire that night. The officers were in their patrol car watching for looters after the fire was extinguished, when the wall collapsed.

Wichitans Julie and Jeff Coley purchased the 1968 Ford and went to work creating a memorial on wheels so to speak! What a wonderful tribute to all of the officers in Wichita County, who have given their lives in the line of duty. Several families will be impacted in such a positive way.

As I read the story of the Coley’s project today, I was reminded of an important principle regarding the process of grief. Families do not want their loved ones to be forgotten. And unfortunately it does not take long. When I served as a volunteer chaplain for the Wichita Falls Police Dept. in the early 1990’s there were still officers around who had worked with the two men killed that August night in 1968. Today many of the officers serving that same department were not born in 1968!

A tangible memorial like the restored car is priceless. It sends a strong message to the families of fallen officers everywhere that their loved one will not be forgotten. Even after the passing of 42 years, their sacrifice is still honored by the living. The car will be a great conversation piece in such a positive way.
I am grateful today for historian Julie Coley and her car restoring husband, Jeff.  They are an asset to the Wichita Falls community and a true friend to law enforcement everywhere.

I have a challenge for the rest of us: What tangible reminder of a deceased person can we share with a person in grief this week? It could actually be something very simple. I cannot think of a better gift to give someone who is still reeling over the loss of someone close to them. Of perhaps that person’s loved one died many years ago? Like in 1968….I really don’t think it is too late to reach out now!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The ENTIRE Wedding Party Returns After 50 Years...

  Not many days go by that I don’t observe the consequences of throw away relationships. In working with police officers every week, I frequently observe juveniles who are attempting to navigate the turbulent years of adolescence without the helpful guidance of stable parents. It is not uncommon to see divorced parents acting worse than a couple of unsupervised 5 year olds. The police end up serving as referees in an ugly game that appears to have no end in sight.
It is not uncommon to deal with single mothers who have a constant parade of live in boyfriends that rarely stay around for any length of time. More often than not such individuals have significant criminal history. That kind of behavior of course creates an ideal environment for innocent children to be victims of sexual assault or some other heinous crime. That may sound a little extreme, but I am basing that observation on actual field experiences that I have encountered over a period of two decades. It is more common than you might think.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are very responsible single moms and dads doing a fabulous job raising their children. Several of them are among my closest friends. I realize they are flying solo whereas I have a wonderful partner to help me every step of the way. It is not an easy task, but their commitment to their children supersedes any inclinations they have toward selfish behavior. They are an inspiration to all of us.

During this holiday weekend I have seen both extremes. Friday night I rode out on the night shift with the officers working patrol. It was not an uncommon experience on the night shift. We dealt with adults acting like unsupervised 5 year olds on domestic disturbance calls. All of the involved parties were quite accustomed to throwing relationships away like a paper plate at a Labor Day picnic.

And then yesterday I had an experience on the other side of the relational spectrum. I attended a reception honoring some friends who have been married for 50 years. It was of course great fun to see pictures from their “dating years” that were pre-1960! They were a great looking couple back then and they still are today. This particular reception had an unusual twist to it…

Every member of the original wedding party was present for the reception! They posed for the group yesterday in the same order that they did in 1960 for the wedding for pictures taken at the ceremony. It added a great touch to the events of the day. As I watched all of this unfold, it occurred to me that the couple who were being honored are special people in more ways than one. They are to be commended for their commitment to each other. But they should also be honored for maintaining healthy relationships with friends and members of their extended family who comprised the wedding party in 1960. Throwing away relationships is a foreign concept to my friends who were honored with a beautiful reception yesterday.

Observing notable examples of all kinds of human behavior is pretty helpful. I find that I learn from poor examples as well as good ones. But today I am thankful for my friends who have stayed committed to each other for 50 years, because I am quite confident they have blessed untold lives along the way. It occurred to me after their reception that they have been among those in Granbury who have been dedicated friends from the very first day we moved here. That should come as no great surprise.

I want to be a similar blessing to my friends. As this long weekend comes to a halt very soon, I am thinking the word “dedication” needs to be first and foremost on my mind. It really has been a good holiday. It has been a weekend of extremes…

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"Soda" Drinking Wisconsin Golfers Make National News...

 My childhood friend Bob Schowalter and I spent countless hours at Shoop Park in Racine, Wisconsin playing golf during our late elementary and junior high school years. The first three holes of the course are adjacent to the beach of Lake Michigan. No telling how many of my errant golf balls have since deteriorated at the bottom of that Great Lake.
Bob and I were decent golfers for our age bracket, but I seriously doubt that it occurred to us that we could have played in junior tournaments with other competitors who were our age. The pro never told us that when we were propped up on the bar stools in the Shoop Park clubhouse drinking Pepsi from 16 oz. bottles that were common at that time. (In Wisconsin that is called drinking a “soda.”) Another young golfer from the same area was obviously encouraged to pursue such endeavors. He made national news this week.

Waterford, Wisconsin native Zach Nash won the Wisconsin Junior PGA Tournament that was played in Milwaukee. On August 11th he shot a stellar 77 as his grandparents from Iowa watched. That score propelled him to be the victor in the Boys Age 13-14 Division.

After the tournament was over, Zach went to play golf at another course and visit with a pro that has served as a mentor to him. While they were having a “soda” the pro noticed that Zach had an extra club in his bag. The rules of golf only allow 14 clubs during tournament play. Zach inadvertently had a 15th club in his bag. Apparently it was a friend’s “5 wood” that had been carelessly placed in his golf bag.

The poor kid shed a few tears in front of his mentor when the costly mistake was discovered. But he was quoted as saying that golf prides itself on honesty and players calling penalties on themselves. He ultimately returned his prized medal and the runner up in the tournament was claimed the winner. Zach’s parents and golf mentor Chris Wood commended him for his honesty. There are golfers nationwide tipping their hats to Zach now that this story has made national sports news.

I don’t know Zach, but I already like him. I join a host of golf fans around the country who really hope that this 14 year old has the opportunity in a few years to play some professional golf. I think he will be someone that we can be excited about cheering on in the gallery. But there is another lesson in this story that should not be overlooked.

Talented young people like Zach need mentors. They need mentors who are willing to drink “sodas” with them and talk golf, or tennis, or football…And they need role models who are willing to take an ethical stand when it is necessary.  On that note, I have decided that I like Chris Wood too. He is the head golf pro at Wisconsin’s Rivermoor Golf Club. Head golf professionals at prestigious clubs are busy people, but apparently Wood is not too busy to drink a “soda” with a promising and impressionable young player.

Chris Wood has inspired me to hit the golf course in the next few weeks with a new mission in mind! I need to be alert to young men whom I could drink a coke with and talk golf with. (In Texas, all soft drinks are referred to as “cokes” and not “sodas.”) There will be some striking differences though… The “soda” or “coke” or whatever you want to call it will not be dispensed in a 16 oz. bottle and I am certainly not a golf pro. But I wonder if Bob Schowalter and I could have gone professional, if the pro at Shoop Park back in 1974 had just taken a little more interest in our promising games…The headlines in the Milwaukee Sentinal Journal would have read: Knox and Schowalter Take Junior Golf By Storm! Well…I guess I had better get back to sipping on my soda and quit dreaming…

Friday, September 3, 2010

Reuniting with Your Dreams

 Don’t give up now. I am speaking directly to my mid-life peers in particular. Don’t give up now. I don’t like to admit it, but I am rapidly approaching the five “0” mark. In many ways, I still feel like I am 18. Jan would tell you that I still act like I am 18. But that is another story for another day.

Last July I had the remarkable honor of reuniting with old friends from Monterey High School in Lubbock and forging new friendships with people I barely knew in our class of 630 people. I learned that we all have one important thing in common. Life has not been uncomplicated or painless. We have faced family issues, serious illness, the death of loved ones, job losses, and the list goes on. The illusions are gone. Reality is our friend and we know it.

It is tempting to give up at this stage in life. Life is just hard and it does not look like it is going to get any easier. Slipping quietly off to an island of emotional survival looks tempting. Getting up every morning and going through the motions has its appeal. Our heartfelt dreams can vanish into thin air before we notice their absence. Therefore I will say it again. Don’t give up now. If you are losing your footing, grab something sturdy. The journey that leads to the fulfillment of your dreams is well worth pursuing, even when it appears hopelessly treacherous.

When I finished my BA degree in 1984, I had three great academic and career options laid before me. I was more fortunate than most and I know that now. It was actually pretty miraculous. I ended my senior year in high school by being kicked off the debate team and graduating early because of discipline issues. Who would have thought in 1980 that one of the options before me 4 years later was to pursue a career in ministry? (I would have laughed really loud!)

In recent years, I have second guessed that dream. I have wondered repeatedly if I should have done something else for the past 26 years. It appears that some of the very dreams that propelled me toward ministry will never be fulfilled. The role and the expectations that accompany such a calling continue to change at a rapid fire pace. And to top it off, some of sharpest and most capable colleagues are bailing out of the ship to pursue other career options. They are frustrated and discouraged. I have wanted to give up myself! I think I have moved beyond that point. I have learned a few things in the process.

Don’t give up now. It is the wrong choice. That is the message I would direct to my peers who are approaching the five “0” mark with me. I would urge all of us to go back to basics. What drew you to the particular dreams you have had for your life for decades? Are such dreams and the motivations behind them still legitimate and good? If they are, then there is no reason to retreat to an island that is void of the most important values of your life.

It occurred to me this morning that I need to return to the basics. What prompted me to get into this situation in the first place? I need to do the very things that drove my dreams years ago today. I need to get back to the basics of the basics so to speak!  What propelled you to formulate your important life goals? I would urge a return to those values and thoughts.

Ok…I confess. I stopped blogging and started preaching. But I am unashamed because I don’t want my friends to give up now! Journeying back to our roots to rediscover old friends is great! But I would add that going back to reunite with our original life dreams has the potential to reinvigorate us and provide freshness for the journey. A reunion with our dreams sounds really exciting!  Together we can make a difference. Just don’t give up now.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Give Them a Name and Not a Label

How often do we reduce people to a label? She is an alcoholic. He is a drug addict. He is homeless. She is a special needs child. She lives in the _______neighborhood. The list of labels seems to have no end. Those are actually some of the “softer” labels that we use to describe people. There are others that are purposely demeaning. When I was growing up, immigrants from Mexico were called “wetbacks.” Kids with certain kinds of special needs were referred to as “retards.” Yesterday a colleague shared a cd with me that had an excellent message regarding labels.
The presenter I heard said this regarding labels:

When we reduce a person to a label, we feel justified in dismissing them. In other words, we no longer feel compelled to help them.

Labeling people therefore is not only demeaning, but it is dehumanizing as well. He is just a homeless guy. He smells bad and looks scary. That takes me off the hook. As long as I label him properly, I don’t have to reach out to him. Communicating with someone with Down’s syndrome makes me uncomfortable, so therefore I don’t have to socialize with that person. The existence of labels makes life seemingly less complicated.

I am glad I heard that presentation yesterday. It served as a good reminder. I am going to try to make a conscious effort to refer to people exclusively by their names. If I don’t know a person’s name, I am going to resist referring to them as the homeless guy or the prostitute. Perhaps it would be good to simply ask the person whom I am inclined to label a simple question: What is your name? Many of the police officers I have served with over the years make a real effort to call people they are dealing with on the streets by their name in a very respectful manner. It makes a difference.

I am focused today on going through an ongoing label removing process! Labeling is really no basis for dismissing people. I know I am far more inclined to help someone who has a name and not a label. What labels will you eradicate from your vocabulary this week?