Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Media Fast?

I encouraged the church to participate in a media fast today. Fasting from media would entail refraining from television, internet, video games, and even our cell phones. I am told that a couple of our teenagers start squirming when I mentioned a fast from text messaging. Teens get the bad rap when it comes to being hooked to everything electronic, but that is not fair.

There are retired couples at church that stay glued to cable news constantly. They are especially drawn to shows that have a conservative political bent. Unfortunately the political pundits successfully keep my over 65 group stirred up. It fuels a defeatist mentality that spills into their perception of the church as well the government.

My youngest son took it personally when I mentioned putting the X-Box or the Play Stations up long enough to experience some meaningful solitude. But once again the young crowd does not have corner on the video game habit. I know of 40 year olds that spend more time with a game controller than my teen.

But the bottom line is this: It would do us all good to fast from electronic media for at least 24 hours. It would be healthy to have more personal interaction and less texting. Perhaps we should drive the distance to see one of our friends that we normally only get to interact with on facebook. Turning the television off and reading is never a bad idea. I am going to have some windshield time this week.  It would do me good to turn the radio off…What am going to do without my classic country music?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I am an Organizational Virus

 I am an organizational virus. My contribution to the cause is to complain. I know you have met me before, because I exist in most societal institutions. I am the person at your place of employment who gripes about everything from the work load to the way that the toilet paper is mounted in the restroom. And somehow I manage to worm my way into non-profit organizations that are trying to do something helpful in the community. I am the person who sits on the board of directors and whines about the things I perceive are not being accomplished.

And unfortunately I spread my viral germs at church too. I am that individual that wants things my way. (In the name of the Lord of course…) When things don’t go my way, I resort to complaining in a righteous sort of way. I don’t call it “complaining” at church. I use religious jargon that makes me appear that I am not really a virus.  And sometimes I will fool you!

As an organizational virus, I love to prey on the weak and vulnerable. That is my specialty. When a group is struggling, I am far more effective. I can plow over a weakened leadership team like a Super Bowl bound offensive lineman. I see the vulnerable places in an institution faster than anyone. You would be wise to watch out for me, because I am anything but harmless.

What are you going to do with me? I should remind you that viral infections are deadly. When a person’s body is invaded with a virus, physicians take that very seriously. Doctors know intuitively that there is no such thing as a harmless virus. I know you would like to eradicate me completely, but that may not be possible. What can you do? Here are a few ideas:

Hold me accountable for my words and actions. That means that chronic complaining will not be tolerated. Don’t hesitate to name my bad behavior.
• Don’t be a host. When I gripe at work, ignore me. Don’t host me by agreeing or being sympathetic.
• Force my hand. If I complain about the food, then put me in charge of the kitchen.
• Take away the reigns. Don’t allow me to control the future of the organization. In fact, reduce my power if necessary.
When all else fails, remove me.... Take me off  the board. Exercise discipline at the workplace. Deal with me forcefully. That could be the only language I understand.

Just remember...I am a virus.  And a virus is a disease... You can love the person I inhabit, but don't love me.
My desire is to destroy you.  I am an organizational virus.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stereotypical Homeless People (Part II)

I am way past the point of being effective as a youth minister. But if I was completing my graduate level education today, I would be drawn to a form of youth ministry that urban churches everywhere should consider embracing. Teens’ living in impoverished homes is nothing new. But in more recent years there has been a significant increase of students that are homeless.

On the surface, Granbury appears to be an affluent bedroom community to Ft. Worth. It is also a place that draws retirees, because of the lake and other recreational amenities. But there is another dimension to our community that many fail to recognize. A large percentage of kids are receiving free or reduced meals at school, because their parents are living at or below the poverty line.

And then there is this population of kids that are perpetually on the move…

At the high school, there is portion of the student body that moves from couch to couch at someone’s house in order to have a place to sleep at night. Others are living in cars. If there are parents in the picture, they are totally disengaged from their children’s life. I have been told by educators that there are self motivated students that have no adult guidance at “home.” The fact is: there is not a place that they really call home.

This is not a problem unique to Granbury. A friend of mine from Oklahoma who is a longtime educator noted that the school he serves has hired a fulltime social worker to deal with homelessness among students among other problems. Another friend from Wisconsin cited the fact that there are in excess of 100 students in their school system that are homeless. This is in a city of approximately 100,000 people.

All of us of course wish that the students in our schools could go home to Ward and June Cleaver at night. (Or at least adults who love their kids like Ward and June.) But that is not going to happen. Schools everywhere may have to hire social workers. Churches need to rethink what youth ministry looks like.

I know I am too old to be a youth minister. But I hope that my experience in working in the field with people in crisis can somehow help me to reach out to kids that are homeless. Homeless teenagers are a problem that is not going away. We would be remiss if we choose to turn a deaf ear to those silently crying out for help.

Monday, January 24, 2011

18 Days and Counting...

18 days and counting….

I spent part of my afternoon with a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper’s family at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. He was struck by an intoxicated driver early Sunday morning in Mesquite while placing another suspected drunk driver under arrest. The sprawling medical facility is overwhelming. It is just a huge hospital. I felt like a country bumpkin that had come to town as I entered “Parking Garage #5.”

As the trooper recovers in the Intensive Care Unit, he has a wonderful family camped out in the waiting room eager to observe every step of his journey to recovery. Uniformed co-workers are taking turns sitting at the hospital ready to serve his family in anyway they are able. Today they were joined by our DPS regional victims’ services counselor and me.

Somewhere during the course of the afternoon the family told me about a lady who has staked out her spot in the ICU waiting next to them. That ladies husband has been in ICU for 18 days. Apparently there has been no change in that time period in his condition. I don’t know the nature of his injuries or health concerns, but I do know it is not good. The trooper’s family also told me that their “ICU neighbor” has been all alone during the entire 18 day period…

This is not the first time that I have observed someone in an intensive care waiting room all alone. Unfortunately it is way too common. But for some reason today it just hit me hard. I felt for the unnamed stranger next to us who must terribly afraid. And she has no one to share that fear with in a hospital that is intimidating by its size alone.

ICU waiting rooms are busy places. I know from personal experience that you form special bonds with your waiting room neighbors as everyone awaits news regarding the progress of their loved ones. Today the image of a deserted island popped in my head. The lady next to us is surrounded by good people, but in a sense she has been living on a deserted emotional island all by herself for 18 days.

People stranded on deserted islands need to be rescued. I am thankful for several of my friends that volunteer their time to visit perfect strangers in the hospital. But today I am reminded that those visits must include family members too. Who is ready to undertake the service of sailing out to the deserted islands that exist in ICU waiting rooms everywhere? 18 days and counting…

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stereotypical Homeless People?

I abandoned my erroneous assumptions regarding the composition of America’s homeless population many years ago. The book: Same Kind of Different as Me further challenged my view of people living on the streets. (Incidentally I highly recommend the book.) An encounter this past week further confirmed that there is nothing stereotypical about those who struggle to have a stable home environment.

In Granbury, we do not have a significant homeless population. And furthermore as a community we are lacking any kind of shelter or temporary housing for those in immediate need. But periodically such needs arise. One of the Granbury Police officers called me Thursday morning to assist with a homeless man who found himself in Granbury on one of the coldest days of the year.

We were convinced that it had been nearly 24 hours since he had eaten. I took him to my favorite café. (It is a place where everybody knows my name.) While he devoured a hearty breakfast, I went to work to secure a bus ticket to Austin. He apparently had at least some resources in the Austin area. Our conversation on the way to the bus station turned out to be very interesting.

He is a very articulate man. I could tell by his vocabulary and analytical abilities that he seemed to be fairly educated. He told me he only lacked a few semester hours from having a degree in European History. I have no reason to think that is not true. I got him situated at the bus station in Arlington, and made gave him the same amount of money I would give one of my kids for a meal out on the road.

Why is such an engaging individual basically living on the streets? There are two simple explanations and a third one that is more complex. He has struggled with alcoholism for a long time. (He even mentioned attending AA meetings.) There is a probability that he has dealt with mental illness as well. The complexity enters the picture when you ask: why is there no family to help with such problems? I can do a lot of speculation based on years of experience in dealing with such situations, but it is just that…speculation.

I walked away from that experience Thursday thinking about several things. Here a few that might stimulate your thought processes as well:

• There is no such thing as a stereotypical homeless person.
• There are a lot of wonderful people living one step away from being without family, shelter, and other basic necessities of life.
• It is great to live in a community where a restaurant owner treats a genuinely hungry homeless individual like their best regular customer.
• The homeless population is not going away and it is getting younger. (More on that issue in a future post.)

What assumptions do you make about people that are struggling to survive on the streets?  I know for a fact that my assumptions have been duly challenged once again...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Words that Are a Sword to the Heart...

Processing personal criticism is not a favorite pastime for anyone. Critical comments are often delivered in an atmosphere of anger or frustration. Sometimes what is said is not very nice. And frequently it is not communicated in a very polite way! I am currently reading a fictional book that contains a lot of generational conflict in the plot. As I read through the plot, it just makes me cringe to see how easy it is for good people to misunderstand each other. I can’t help but think of a phrase from a popular song released by Mike and the Mechanics in 1989. The lyrics in the song say:

Every generation blames the one before. And all of their frustrations come beating on your door…

And so we criticize and blame and feel frustrated with one another. One of the characters in the piece of fiction I am reading makes this observation in the midst of the family conflict dialogue:
Words can be a sword to the heart. Sometimes there’s truth in them. Sometimes there isn’t. Go over what was said. If there’s any truth in it, you’ll have to decide what to do with it. As to the rest, try to let it go and try to forgive.

That is not bad advice. But when our heart is stabbed with an emotional butcher knife, we are generally not on the frame of mind to accept such counsel. When I am bleeding from a sword wound to the heart, I tend to get angry and sarcastic. My humor is more biting than usual. Once we have taken some time to heal we can objectively consider what has been said.

I have found there is usually some hint of truth in the words of my critics. That is almost always the case. I may not like the tone and demeanor in which the message was delivered, but there is still truth in it. That means I need to determine what defines a constructive response.

But there also times when there is absolutely no basis of truth in what has been said. In fact, I had an experience recently when someone in the Granbury community criticized me something for something I had not done, nor would I ever do. In fact, the accusation was that I had broken the law by not reporting an act of child abuse. That is a very serious allegation, but there was no hint of truth in it. After setting the record straight, all that I can do is choose to forgive the person who is ill informed.

So…good advice to heed. It is far better to work through such difficult matters in the living years.

The question I have for myself is probably a legitimate one for most people: Am I a humble to accept truth based criticism no matterwhat? And am I wise enough to forgive and not allow bitterness to infect the emotional stab? Good questions for a cold Friday in January!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And the Excuses Become More Creative...

Excuse #1-These guys are all younger than me. That was a weak excuse, because it turned out not to be true. Excuse #2-My job does not entail knocking doors down or crawling through weed infested lots in the heat of the summer. Now the excuses are getting better! Excuse #3-When athletic ability was being distributed; the Lord took a break when I was being created. I really like that excuse. Blaming someone else for not being physically fit takes the monkey off my back. My comfort level with those and a host of other equally creative excuses was short lived.

Last week I served on an oral board that interviewed a group of police officers. These officers will be a part of a tactical (SWAT) team for our county. Each of them underwent a rigorous fitness test. And of course each officer did exceedingly well on every single component of the physical fitness exam. One of them did more pushups in a minute that I have done in my life. My role on that board proved to be the event to get me off high center.

Last December I took some actions to prompt weight loss and a greater degree of fitness. Even during the holidays I managed to drop a whopping 5 pounds. Since the first of the year I have done extensive research on what exactly comprises a healthy lifestyle of good eating habits and exercise. The bottom line is: there are no gimmicks.

Here is what I learned:

• Diets fail. Diets have a beginning and an end. The key is committing to a permanent change in lifestyle
• Exercise is imperative.
• Junk food is just what the name suggests…Enough said.
• Accountability is important.

In regard to this matter of accountability, I read a news article this week online about a group of individuals that blogged about their weight loss. One lady lost 167 pounds! Her “before” and “after” pictures were unreal. After reading that article, I squirmed for three days. A little internal voice told me: You can blog about your fitness journey once a week. And another very loud voice told me: Keep this thing to yourself. It is a very private matter. But is that true? The first voice won out, because I hope that my journey back to fitness and a healthy weight will be a source of inspiration to someone else.

I am committed. The lifestyle change has begun. The intensity of my commitment has been notched up significantly since my experience on the interview board. I am journaling about the process everyday, but no excuses are allowed….I am excited about the upcoming days. Who knows what I will have to share next Thursday?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We Held the Plane for You....

I have the opportunity to serve crime victims on a regular basis. And that includes people that have lost someone who have been murdered. The depth of grief that such individuals experience is beyond my comprehension. All of us struggle to determine how we can best meet a grieving person’s needs in the aftermath of such a horrific event.

By now many of you have read the story about the Southwest Airlines pilot who delayed takeoff as a way of ensuring that a grandfather makes it to Denver to see his 3 year old grandson one final time. The little boy was murdered by his mother’s live in boyfriend. Medical personnel chose to leave him on life support until the grandfather could arrive, and say his goodbyes. But there was a timetable for all of this to take place, because organ donation was involved.

The journey to Denver was complicated by long security lines and other typical traveling issues that were totally out of the grandfather’s control. (He arrived at the airport two hours before departure.) When he finally got to the gate, this is what happened according to the news report:

"Are you Mark? We held the plane for you and we're so sorry about the loss of your grandson," the pilot reportedly said. "They can't go anywhere without me and I wasn't going anywhere without you. Now relax. We'll get you there. And again, I'm so sorry."

That commercial airline pilot possesses better pastoral care skills than some ministers I know. His mindset toward one desperate passenger reveals an important life lesson for all of us inclined to serve those that are grieving. People that have experienced a loss need to know that they are not going to be abandoned.

Their world has been rocked. They are shaken to the core of their being. Their life is chalked full of confusion. But life goes on around them as if nothing happened. Security lines at the airport are still ridiculously long. Airlines must still meet their schedules. Unfortunately people in a public setting like an airport are generally oblivious to the excruciating emotional pain of a fellow human being.

But thankfully there are angels among us. There are people among us that are willing to allow their world to stop long enough to extend a hand of compassion and security. That pilot told the distressed gentleman that he wasn’t going anywhere without him. And I think that is precisely what we too must communicate both verbally and by our actions to those around us who have experienced a loss. After clearing the security line, the grandfather found real security through the loving actions of a Southwest Airlines pilot.  Now relax.
We'll get you there....

Monday, January 17, 2011

Where Were You on April 4th, 1968?

It was a cold day in Chicago in 1968 when my father received a fateful call that would prove to be life changing for our family. My mother had no clue who the mystery caller was on the other line, but she overheard my dad say: “I am not married to The International Harvester Corporation.” That little comment unnerved her! He had been employed at International Harvester for 17 years at that point in their married life. But that was all about to change.

A corporate head hunter called that night. By June of 1969, our family moved to Racine, Wisconsin. Tenneco Oil Company had recently acquired J.I. Case Farm Equipment. My dad was employed to be a part of a corporate turnaround team for a struggling company. I knew he was making several trips from our home in the Chicago suburbs to Racine, but I was not aware of what was going on around us.

During his negotiations with The Case Company there was at least one trip to Racine that was cancelled. I found out years later that racial tensions were so high at times in late 1968 and then into 1969 that corporate leaders urged my father and others not to drive into Racine. In their minds, it was not safe.

Fast  forward our life as a family in Racine to the fall of 1974. I was a 7th grader at Jerstad Junior High School. Racial tensions once again broke out on our campus, and in a more pronounced way at Horlick High School a few miles from the junior high campus. School was dismissed early for a couple consecutive days. The anxiety on that occasion was set in motion by court ordered bussing by the Federal Government. Schools were too segregated, so the government used bussing a means of desegregation.

Today our nation demonstrates it respect to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King. I was too young during the Civil Rights Movement to remember much about it. I was not born in 1955 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I was just over a year old when he delivered his famous speech; I have a Dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963. But I am thankful that I am old enough to have experienced some of the realties of godless racism.

I don’t think my children have a racist bone in their bodies. They have always assumed that it is normal for people of all races to go to school together. And that is good. But I am thankful that I experienced racial difficulties at least on a surface level as a child. It causes me to appreciate key leaders in history like Dr. King, who forced us to reach for the normalcy that my children have grown up with. I also realize that racism is still alive and well in some quadrants of our society, and that too causes me to be grateful that I experienced what I did as a kid. I hope such experiences cause me to be a better proponent of peace and equality.

Where were you on April 4th, 1968? I was in Kindergarten in Arlington Heights, IL. Believe it or not they had Kindergarten back then. That was the day that Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, as he tried to promote peace and equality… Perhaps the more important question to pose is: What are you doing in 2011 to promote peace and equality?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

When Was the Last Time You Purchased A Real Album?

The first vehicle I bought with my “own money” was a 1979 Chevrolet Silverado. I was really proud of that truck. In an earlier post, I described Plains National Bank’s president, T.J. Wallace setting up a car loan for me that I was able to sign for with my own signature as an 18 year old kid! The pristine used truck did not have an 8 track player. It had the latest and greatest cassette tape player! I was so proud.

Cassette tapes have long since gone by the wayside. I think I threw away my collection of 8 tracks at some point. I also had a pretty decent collection of albums too. I think they were probably liquidated at a garage sale for ten cents a piece. Consequently it was a walk down memory lane when I bought some old school albums with my 14 year old today at a used bookstore. He recently secured a record player, so he is eager to collect albums to play on it. One of his purchases today was Billy Joel’s Glass Houses album that was released in 1980. (I listened to it on cassette tape in my newly purchased truck.)

Young people that comprise the Millennial Generation continue to intrigue me. They are of course tuned to and in some cases chained to everything that is wireless. Their social lives are controlled by technology that could not have been envisioned in the late 1970’s. But they are also into retro as well.

14 year olds are intrigued by real albums. And they have music from several decades on their i-pods. I really think they are open to different kinds of music and experiences too for that matter. They are willing to try new things in ways that I don’t think my peers would have done three decades ago. There is an openness there that I am fully aware has the potential to be destructive, but it is also really good too.

Who would have thought that I would be listening to the Glass Houses album with my 14 year old son over 30 years after its release? And would have thought he would enjoy listening to Simon and Garfunkel? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Millennial Generation.

This week I am going to purposely listen to music from another era. And perhaps I should be willing to embrace styles from a different time like they are willing to do. (That could be taking it too far…) I think I do need to consider ways that I could be more open to different generations and cultures. I am way too set in my ways. What will I do when that 14 year old leaves home in a few years? I may need to adopt a teenager, so I won’t become hopelessly out of date.

No Statute of Limitations on Gratitude!

 There is such a thing as a statute of limitations on certain crimes. When enough time has passed by, you can no longer be convicted of that particular infraction. But there is no statute of limitations on gratitude. As long as the person who needs to be appreciated is still alive and well, they can still be thanked.

My father died rather suddenly when I was 15 years old. Such an event has a way of putting a teenager’s life in an instant emotional tailspin. Neighbors and friends are gracious. They bring in food and ask to be called if anything is needed. And we appreciated all they did. But there was one gentleman who went the extra mile.

Duriug the 1970's Tom was the lead salesman at the Case Farm and Industrial Equipment dealership where my dad served as general manager. He was proficient in that role. He had a strong clientele base to which he sold backhoes, bulldozers, excavators, and forklifts. But on the weekends, Tom took a 15 year old kid to play golf periodically. I am thankful to say that I was that kid. Business interests took Tom to other cities, and I soon became an adult with my own life. It has probably been 32 years since we played golf together.

Thanks to facebook I was able to connect with Tom’s son today. His son shared his dad’s email address with me. After over 3 decades, I finally sent an email and expressed my heartfelt gratitude. I think I may need to take a trip out West to see my friend Tom. It seems only fitting that lunch needs to be on me.

If you need to say thank you to someone, don’t wait 30 years. Many of the employees that worked for my dad during that time period are deceased now. I am just grateful that there is not a statute of limitations on gratitude. And I am equally thankful that Tom is still around to thank.

Friday, January 14, 2011

It is Time for Some Internal CPR

 "The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives."
-Albert Schweitzer

You wake up one morning and realize that you are just going through motions of life. You go to work every morning. You take care of the children. You drop off your shirts at the dry cleaners to be pressed and your car at the repair shop for needed maintenance. You grab something for dinner on the way home and maybe even stop for an overnight dvd from Redbox. There are of course ballgames to attend and workouts at the gym that are squeezed in somewhere. In some cases, all of these events are being duly posted on facebook, or shared on twitter.

You wake up one morning and realize that something has died. The dreams and ambitions that you once held dear have been cast aside. The realties of life have impeded the process of reaching those goals. Doctor bills or home repairs have gobbled up the resources set aside for tuition at the university. The daily grind has drained the life out of the dreams that you could clearly articulate to those closest to you a decade or two ago.

You wake up one morning and realize that it is a tragedy to simply go through the motions of life. It is time for change. It is a time to think out of the box. Reordering priorities gets top billing. There is more to life than participating in routines that have the potential to become meaningless.

You wake up one morning and realize that it is time to breathe new life into the vision you once held for your life. Dreams respond well to internal CPR. But such internal CPR is hard work. It requires a different way of thinking. It necessitates risk and faith.

You wake up one morning and realize that something inside of you has been revived. But once the internal CPR is completed, a change in lifestyle becomes paramount. Engrained habits must come to the surface and be considered for possible eradication. You dare to dream again. And you realize that a tragedy has been averted, because what was dying inside of you now lives again.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ready To Throw Those Stones of Judgment?

 I read an interesting article today in which a man described seeing an Amish family at a museum. The Amish of course are known for living lives of extreme simplicity out of religious conviction. Some Amish sects do not use any kind of modern inventions like a car, or even a tractor for agricultural work. Their dress is characteristically simple. The movie Witness featuring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis gives some insight into the culture of the Amish.

The man visiting the museum was rather amused when he noticed the Amish family all wearing Nike brand tennis shoes. The young Amish boy he observed was jamming to some tunes on his i-pod! The author made this point as a response to that encounter:
I thought it telling that these folks were still holding on to some of their values and tradition of avoiding the world, but at the same time they had succumbed to some “new world” ways. And there appeared to be no rhyme or reason to what they accepted and what they rejected.

His response was: If they have Nikes on today, their Gap jeans will soon be sliding halfway down their fannies…

He may very well be correct in his analysis. But I have a different take on his experience. It occurs to me that the Amish do not have a corner on the market when it comes to inconsistent behavior. We are ALL inconsistent.

I would like to think that I am compassionate and fully of mercy when someone is in crisis. But that is not entirely true. I encountered a situation today where I felt very little patience for a person who is in serious trouble. If the truth be known, I am inconsistent.

It is tempting to poke fun of an Amish boy listening to his i-pod as his head is bobbing to a Green Day song. He is an easy target. But it would be unwise for me to pick up any stones of judgment to throw at him. I too am inconsistent.

I am marking it down in my journal today: Think before judging. Inconsistent behavior is not limited to those I that I am inclined to pick on….

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When the Unthinkable Happens...

Is it mental illness? Is it the overly negative political atmosphere that our country finds itself in at the present time? I don’t know the answers to those questions as they relate to the recent shooting rampage by 22 year old Jared Loughner. I have a few theories, but that is what they are…theories. I would go as far to say that some of the political rhetoric in the aftermath of this tragedy is out of line. I am convinced of one thing for certain. The kind of violence that left six people dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona fighting for her life is not likely to end. We should always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Interestingly enough I am serving on an oral review board later this week that will collectively interview a group of police officers that have applied to be a part of a county wide tactical team. I was asked to be a part of the board, because of my training and experience in the area of Critical Incident Stress Management, as it is used in the law enforcement field. I am honored to serve the top notch officers that are striving to have a position on a team with a limited number of slots. Each of them is highly qualified. They have already undergone significant physical and logistical testing to reach this point in the process.

We live in a violent and scary world. The kind of tragedy that took place in Tucson could happen anywhere. The formulation of specialized tactical units in law enforcement agencies is imperative. Well trained officers with the proper equipment can make a huge difference when a critical incident arises. Well trained tactical units in many cases can help diffuse volatile situations, and thus enhance the safety of citizens everywhere.

I join the rest of the country in praying for each of the families affected by the event in the grocery store parking lot in Tucson. It is overwhelming to think about actually. But I am thankful today for the men and women in law enforcement willing to do extensive training and stay in excellent physical condition, so they can serve their community when events that we would like to consider unthinkable actually happen. They are truly God’s servants.

Monday, January 10, 2011

No Pressure! A Good Word for Teachers...

  I was getting ready to deliver my sermon for the second morning service yesterday when I was approached by one of the members at church. Guess who is here today, he said? I am not sure I wanted to know… He proceeded to tell me that my undergraduate Spanish professor, Dr. Mary Perez, was present.

No pressure of course!

I had no reason to feel pressured. I was not planning on delivering my sermon in Spanish. But I still felt the butterflies doing back flips in my stomach. I wanted Dr. Perez to think that I was a competent professional. Her proficiency as a professor had a huge impact on me as an undergraduate student.

I often tell people that I feel like we covered two years of Spanish curriculum in one. Mary is that good as a teacher. I postponed taking my two semesters of a foreign language until my senior year. I dreaded it. And then it ended up being one of my favorite courses. The instructor of a course has a lot do with that.

Mary was extremely well prepared for each lecture. No time was ever wasted in a class period. She captured every single minute. I am pretty easily bored, but for some reason her enthusiasm for the subject generated my undivided attention.

I did wonder at the time if I would ever use the Spanish I was learning in the classroom. Quite frankly I did not use it much for a number of years. But 13 years ago I started traveling to Mexico every year to lead medical mission trips. In recent years, I have used my Spanish more extensively in my role as a law enforcement chaplain. Last year I finally made the commitment to work aggressively toward becoming fully bi-lingual.

University professors and public school teachers must get awful frustrated. There are so many discouraging aspects of their profession. Teachers really do make a difference. I am so thankful today for Dr. Perez. She provided an excellent foundation for me to continue to build on, as I become proficient in Spanish. My message to teachers today: Don’t give up. You are doing a lot more good than what you might think.

Perhaps next time Dr. Perez hears me preach I can do it Spanish! Never mind… That is just too much pressure!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Make Love Stay?

 Last year was a time of reconnecting for me. In some cases, such reconnecting led to much needed reconciliation. Apologies were issued and forgiveness was extended. But mainly it was a time of resurrecting childhood and adolescent era friendships. The experience was rich and fulfilling in a way that is difficult to describe.
Perhaps the richness is rooted in the time of life in which we find ourselves. Many of us are watching our children begin, and in some cases complete their undergraduate education. A few are even planning weddings for their children. Some don’t have children, but they feel many of the same emotions at this particular stage in life. As some of us prepare to close the chapter in life of having children at home, we are privileged to reopen the narrative of our own childhood through the process of reconnecting.

I feel very indebted to a small handful of friends who have instigated both formal and informal reunions. Their efforts have ranged from suggesting friends on facebook to actually planning reunion events that in some cases occurred out of state. What would we do without those who have the ability to connect people?

In the case of my classmates, the all class reunions are probably over for another five years. Keeping up with people on facebook is not as difficult as the more archaic methods of correspondence, but it too takes work. As I reflect on that realty, I am reminded of an old Dan Fogelberg song from the time period of my teen years.

The title of the song is: Make Love Stay.  It was released by Dan Fogelberg in 1983.  The lyrics to the chorus are as follows:
Now that we love
Now that the lonely nights are over
How do we make love stay?

The tone of the song has a definite romantic overtone that quickly captures the heart. But I think the sentiment behind it has application for friendships too. Now that we have figured out that we really do love and care about each other, how do we make love stay? I think that could be stated in another way: Now that we are old enough to value the people from all of the chapters of our life, how do make love stay?

I don’t have a simple answer. But I do have a few ideas bouncing around in my head! My hope for this year in regard to such relationships is pretty simple: I desire for the friendships from every period of my life to grow in depth, loyalty, and significance. I have a sneaking suspicion that can happen. In fact, I really believe that love can stay…

Friday, January 7, 2011

Never Satisfied....

 I am impossible to satisfy. I suppose I have no clue what it means to be content. I have whined for over three weeks now about my two college age sons staying up all night and sleeping all day. We have clashed about curfews and trips into Fort Worth. I decided today  it was time to send both of them packing to their respective university campuses.

I met both of them at Walmart this afternoon to stock them up on groceries. A new microwave and coffeemaker somehow ended up in the basket along the way. I even think the lady that checked us out felt some empathy for me. I proceeded to fill both of their cars with gas and head home.

But then it came time for my college senior to head out. I hugged him and told him I loved him. I won’t have to wonder what time he is coming home tonight. He will be back at his apartment. When he pulled out of the driveway, I knew at that very moment that he had most likely spent his last long Christmas break at home with us. By next Christmas, he will have graduated. He will be ready to experience the real world.  He will be gainfully employed...I hope!

I really have no clue what it means to be content. I am overwhelmed with sadness. I read a piece that a good friend shared this morning entitled: “An Eleven Step Program for Those Thinking of Having Kids.” I laughed so hard. It brought back a flood of memories. When my firstborn drove off this afternoon, my mind raced back to that more innocent time.

I recalled watching The Arsenio Hall Show late at night as I walked a baby with colic. I thought about changing my very first diapers. And I recalled taking him out of church and watching the trucks barrel down Hwy 287 in Wichita Falls. And of course I remembered trying to explain to him that he could not act like David killing Goliath, when he threw a rock at a kid on the playground during his Kindergarten year.

I must learn to the secret of being content. I have some idea of what that secret is actually. The secret of being content is to be thankful for what life brings during a particular period. That time will vanish and it won’t be repeated.

I will never be a skinny 27 year old with a thick head of brown hair holding a baby again. The secret of being content is to enjoy going to Walmart with two knuckleheads before they load their cars and head back to their temporary homes. The secret of being content is to be thankful.  Tonight I am finding the desire to be content to be very satisfying… Tomorrow I will send the second one back to his dorm.  I hope the desire to bve content will return then!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I Am Afraid that You Will Leave Me....

“Part of me is afraid to get close to people because I'm afraid that they're going to leave."

That is a pretty interesting comment, but I think it is very honest. People are kept at a safe relational distance, because of the fear of abandonment. What can be said to the person who has been terribly damaged relationally? How does a person who has been abandoned by their spouse ever trust someone again? How can a child that has been bounced from one foster home to the next learn to have deep and meaningful friendships? I don’t know the answers to such questions, but I do think that basic loyalty is one of the greatest gifts that we can give another human being.

Dealing with a person that has been abandoned or betrayed is not easy. In some cases, they smother anyone that reaches out to them. That gets complicated. In most situations, that individual is simply afraid to get close.

In responding to people that have been damaged, I simply try to be consistent. I continue to call and continue to make contact. I don’t mean that I push myself on that person. My approach is very low key. I found that is works fairly well. Relationships grow slowly and steadily.

Years ago the police called me to the Emergency Room at Wichita General Hospital in Wichita Falls. A lady in her 20’s had lost her husband, who went into cardiac arrest at their home. He died in the ER a short time later. I will never forget seeing her curled up in the fetal position in the tiny family conference room adjacent to the ER. She was all alone. When I made contact with her, I asked who I could call on her behalf. She had no one. There was no local family to contact, no friends, no church affiliation, and no neighbors. She was truly alone. I was at a loss of what to do. After finally tracking down some out of state relatives, I recall looking her in the eye and saying: I am not going anywhere. I will stay with you until your family arrives.

In dealing with people who fear abandonment, I think that is what we must convey to them. We must communicate that we are not going anywhere. We are not going to leave them. But I think such communication is done primarily non-verbally by our actions and not our words…. Loyalty takes time and patience.

Incidentally the quote about being afraid to get close to people is attributed to a man named Brian Hugh Warner. But you don’t know him by that name. You probably know him by his stage name: Marilyn Manson… Now you know the rest of the story!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It Could Have Been My Child....

 It could have been my child….That is the though that crosses my mind tonight, as I reflect on the loss of Officer Jillian Smith who served the Arlington, TX Police Department. She was protecting the life of an 11 year old girl from an armed and extremely dangerous perpetrator when she was killed in the line of duty. The man killed the girl’s mother as well. He then turned the weapon on himself, and took his own life.

I have never threatened my wife. I don’t intend to start either. But I know that one of my children could be placed in imminent danger at any moment. One of my kids could end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time when an armed individual starts acting in an aggressive and life threatening manner. I have served as a law enforcement chaplain for 21 years. I know without question that other officers would make the same choice that Officer Smith did. They would lay their lives down for a total stranger. It could be my child that they are called to serve and protect.

I hope we entertain such thoughts before we gripe and whine about a well deserved speeding ticket that we received. And I hope we are aware of the constant danger that exists for such servants before we gripe about them taking a quick lunch break at a local restaurant while on duty. I would especially not advise anyone to tell a female officer that they were expecting a “real officer” to show up to take their report. (By the way that really happens) And I would certainly not call that same female officer “honey” in some sort of condescending tone when she is trying to help you.

24 year old Jillian Smith will most certainly not be referred to as “honey” by the community she served. Citizens in the City of Arlington are calling her “hero.” It is well deserved. An 11 year old girl is safe tonight, because Officer Smith laid down her life for a stranger. I think she is a hero too, because I know it could have been my child…

Do You Know When to Show Up?

I have read lots of books on leadership over the years, and for the most part they have been insightful. But theories proposed in books will never be a substitute for real life examples. Today I heard a story that reflects the essence of leadership.
The most difficult hours for a police officer working patrol during on nights are from about 4:00 a.m.-6:00 a.m. By that time, even the serious revelers have gone home. As a rule, reports stemming from activity earlier in the shift have been completed. And during the winter, it is just cold and lonely out there on the streets doing building checks in dark allies. That of course is especially the case on Christmas Eve.

This year on Christmas Eve I was made aware that a police administrator, who normally works behind a desk during the daylight hours Monday through Friday, came out in uniform to cover patrol duties for the city he serves beginning at 4:00 in the morning. The young officers working the 12 hour shift that was scheduled to end at 6:00 a.m. were cleared to go prepare for the arrival of Santa Claus with their small children. That same leader in the department covered the sparse calls for service until 9:00 a.m. Christmas morning, so the day shift officers would have three extra hours to open presents with their children.

A young officer with a 2 year old at home relayed this story to me today. My response to him was: That particular member of the department’s command staff showed us all by his actions what leadership is all about. He quickly agree and added this thought: He stated: A lot of leaders have good intentions to do something like that, but few actually follow through and do it. He is right! I could not agree more.

This incident demonstrates two principles of leadership for all of us to take with us as 2011 begins:

True leaders lead by example. Serve those under your command or people that work for you in a way that is not expected. Roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work.

• True leaders don’t just talk about. They do it. I don’t know if members of either shift knew that the second in command of the entire department was coming in at 4:00 a.m. on Christmas morning to cover calls. It does not really make any difference. What makes a difference is…He showed up!
Do you know when to show up??

Monday, January 3, 2011

That Old Guy Driving that Car is Driving Me Crazy!

 The Battle of the Bulge which began on December 16th, 1944 and continued well into January of 1945 in the Ardennes Forest was the final major German offensive during World War II. The Americans suffered over 70,000 casualties, and some 19,000 deaths during the bloody battle. The fighting of course took place in bitterly cold weather.
I recall telling an old WWII Vet several years ago that I had watched the movie: The Battle of the Bulge on television. His response: I was there, son…. Unfortunately the opportunities to visit with World War II veterans are becoming less and less all of the time. I cherish such privileges now like never before.

Thursday morning I will officiate at John Thomas’ funeral service here in Granbury. John was born in 1923. When he was 18 years old, he hitch hiked to Ft. Worth to sign for the US Army Air Corps. His dream was to be a pilot. Quite naturally John was terribly disappointed when his eyesight kept his dream from becoming a reality. But there was a war on, so he was accepted to the Army Air Corps do maintenance work on the bombers being deployed to Europe prior to the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in June of 1944.

John was fortunate. His unit came under heavy artillery fire during the Battle of the Bulge. He braved the cold by wrapping his feet in newspaper. But he survived. His two buddies that accompanied him to Ft. Worth to enlist actually became pilots. But they were not as fortunate. They were both killed in action.

Officiating at funeral services for World War II veterans has been one of the real privileges of my career. They are a special group of people. One of these days I will no longer have that honor. All of them will be gone. The youngest veterans among that group will turn 86 this year.

I think it would serve all of us well to take a few extra moments to speak to the older gentlemen in the grocery store wearing caps that signify the ship they served on during World War II. Let’s pause before we get impatient with them in traffic. Don’t rush through the halls of the nursing home. Take a few moments to speak to the old guy who resides in a wheel chair and shakes uncontrollably.

Tomorrow I will prepare for John Thomas’ funeral service. I already miss him. What a blessing it has been to rub shoulders with members of The Greatest Generation.   Tommorrow I will think twice before getting bent out of shape with the old guy in the car in front me, who is about to drive me crazy with his slow driving!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Calculated Hypocrisy: The Masks We Wear -Part I

 I enjoy disarming people. I find it to be a challenge. I take pleasure in breaking down the barriers that impede personal interchanges that are genuine. I interact with very polished professional people every single day. They are intelligent and articulate. I consistently learn something from such individuals’. But they can also be full of phony bologna. (In Texas we call phony bologna something else actually…) And that is precisely why there is a need for disarming.

When I intermingle with someone whose interpersonal communication is very polished, I immediately go into disarming mode. I know intuitively that it takes forethought and practice to be refined in the way we talk to another person. When I am visiting with someone who is very polished, I find myself going into disarming mode. If I can disarm them, then my time with that person can be characterized by authenticity.

I used this quote in a sermon recently: The carefully spoken word may be calculated hypocrisy. I have found that to be true. When every word is weighed, it is not always coming from the heart. It is just good to let our guard down and speak plainly and simply from the heart.

Who can you disarm this week? Do you work with someone who appears to be very polished on the surface? Don’t you wonder what is really lurking in their heart? Underneath the shiny veneer that same individual may be in great pain and in need of a kind friend. The refined surface is nothing more than very well done acting otherwise known as calculated hypocrisy.

People are good at putting on masks. The educated and bright among us are especially proficient at creating facades. But it is all an act. The polish is a very thin outer layer of their personality. Someone must disarm them.

I would issue a plea this first week of a new year to do what it takes to gently pull back the masks and break down the facades. Give someone the freedom to be themselves around you! Allow your friends the freedom to speak spontaneously and from the heart. I don’t want those around me to feel compelled to put on some sort of an act, because it can turn into calculated hypocrisy.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I Don't Talk to Her Very Much: Is Their Hope for Reconcilation?

There is always hope for reconcilation when one party is willing to extend the hand of love and forgiveness.

Riding out on a part of a shift with one of the police officers I serve with is always a learning experience. When I rode on a patrol shift recently, the officer was I accompanying took a young man to the county jail for an offense. (I will not disclose the day it occurred or the nature of the infraction for privacy purposes.) The officer asked him repeatedly both before placing him under arrest and during the booking process at the jail if there was someone who could be called on his behalf. In this particular case, if a responsible adult had come to our location,  his arrest might have been prevented. He seemed reluctant to share such information. In fact, he told use there was nobody we could contact on his behalf. He never mentioned his parents, and since he was not a juvenile there was no reason to inquire about them. But while he was being booked into the jail his mother called...

She was obviously concerned about her son. We asked him: why didn’t you tell us that your mother lived here? He said: “I don’t talk to her very much.” I was overwhelmed with sadness for the poor kid. (And yes he is still a kid in my eyes.) He has a strained relationship with his mother for undisclosed reasons. It made me wonder if he had burned his bridges with his mother, or if she too was irresponsible?

As I drove home in the wee hours of the morning following that experience, I thought about my own boys. I think my boys love and value me. But when it comes to their mother, she is “Saint Mother” in their eyes. They adore their mom. And of course she has earned that kind of respect and esteem over the years.

I have been around the block enough to know that breakdowns occur. My heart broke for a lady who carried that young man in her womb years ago. She nurtured him as an infant and no doubt did what mother’s do for their children, as he grew up. (Based on what scant information we had that at the jail I am fairly certain the above facts are true.)

My heart goes out to moms and dads everywhere whose relationships are strained with their children.  I know that parents make grievious mistakes in as much as children do. I pray that 2011 will be characterized by reconciliation and heartfelt reunions. I would urge those same mom and dads not to give up hope. And I would hope that parents struggling with such breakdowns would be surrounded by supportive and encouraging friends. When that young man is released from jail, I also hope that he will “start talking to his mother more...

I would ask today:  Who are you "not talking to very much" right now?  What can you do to initiate contact and make it better? Make that call today. Compose that email. There is always hope for reconcilation when one party is willing to extend the hand of love and forgiveness.  It sounds like a good way to begin a new year.