Friday, January 20, 2012

The Question has Changed!

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness.” -Thomas Merton

The question has changed.  And it is has changed significantly.  At one time, people would say: What can you do for me?  That sounds pretty selfish, does it not? It does not even come close to the sentiment that President Kennedy expressed decades ago in his famous quote: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."  That speech was delivered on January 20th, 1961 in his inaugural address to the nation.

The question has changed.  Now people say: What can you do for me today?  What can you do for me at this very moment?  There are serious implications of this shift toward a more specific query. The intensity of self centered thinking in our culture has been raised exponentially.

The question has changed.  Roots no longer matter.  Never mind that you have been an exceptional leader in the community for decades.  And forget the fact that as a public educator you have touched thousands of lives over the course of a long career.  And church leaders are not immune.  Years of loving pastoral provided by a minister that really cares is not valued to the same degree it would have been as recently as ten years ago.

The question has changed. What can you do for me at this very moment?  People demand instantaneous service on their terms. If you are unable to produce, then you are tossed aside.  The search for greener pastures begins immediately. You are not valued as a consistent contributor. 

The question has changed. But that does not make it right.  We all need to be reminded of such basic virtues as loyalty and respect.  A leader’s track record of commitment and hard work should be worth something.  Impulsive, loud, and immature voices should not be allowed to carry the day when an organization is in crisis. I concur with Thomas Merton.  People should be valued for what they are and not exclusively for what they do.  And furthermore people should never, ever be appraised for what they can do for us…right now. President Kennedy's thoughts from 51 years ago might just be worth pondering today...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Borderline Juvenile Delinquents

I don’t recall ever having any serious discussions about future career plans with my friends when I was in high school.  I do recall joking around that I was going to be a billionaire and live on a yacht. That thought of course remained a joke.  And I also distinctly remember standing behind a podium in the speech and debate classroom and mimicking a preacher.  My friends called me “Brother John.”  The content of my so called “sermons” was beyond irreverent.  There are some things that it just not too wise to tease about.  I was given a divine lesson there! Who would have ever thought? 

Those of us that traveled together on the speech and debate team at Monterey High School in Lubbock from 1978-1982 were mischievous, close knit, and at times downright crazy. Some of us were borderline delinquent. Other teammates served as a collective conscience. But our loyalty to each other was unquestioned.  Time has proven that to be true.  After over thirty years, most of still communicate with each other on a very regular basis.

There really were no earnest exchanges about career goals.  But my friends and fellow teammates have all done very well. Several are working in various facets of the business world.  One teammate owns a business in New York City and another one is a sales manager for a large auto dealership here in Texas.  Still another teammate is an engineer for NASA. The list could go on. 

What I find interesting is that several of us have been given the opportunity in our professions to reach out to teenagers that are mischievous, crazy, and fully delinquent. Paula has been teaching for over 22 years.  She has the gift of influencing  kids that are living on the edge for a variety of reasons. I know for a fact those students are highly unlikely to do anything that Paula did not do, or that I did not incite her to do back in the ‘70’s. As a minister and as a law enforcement chaplain, I am privileged to work with kids that are troubled in every imaginable way.  And then there is Ruben. 

Ruben has been the missing link for a long time now. Most of us found each other via facebook or a class reunion a long time ago. We have worried about him for years. We all wondered what happened to Ruben.  Last week I found out. 

  Out of the blue he sent me an email that touched me to me to no end.  Ruben is fine. He is married and has a wonderful son.  He is a successful attorney.  And he too is in a profession that is reaching out to kids that have crossed the line from just being borderline delinquent like we were. In his most recent email he says this:   When I was a baby lawyer, I tried all different areas of law, including running my own practice.  Over the past 14 years, I have been practicing exclusively in the area of law that I truly love.  I represent indigent juveniles in Juvenile Court.  I work for the Juvenile Public Defender.

It has been a blessing to reconnect with Ruben. And in the process I have learned some important lessons. 

  1. I have learned to never give up on that missing person. You never know who may reappear in your life and when.  
  2.  I have also been reminded not to give up on borderline juvenile delinquents or downright irreverent teenagers.  It could be that God is preparing them for something very special.  One thing is for sure…the kids they serve someday will get little past them! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thank You Laura Kaeppeler

Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, was crowned Miss America last night.  I don’t make it an annual habit of watching the Miss America pageant.  But Laura’s crowing caught my attention for two reasons. She is from Kenosha, Wisconsin.  I lived in Racine just 19 miles north of Kenosha from 1969-1975.  And...I was intrigued by her platform at the pageant. Her platform  focused on children of incarcerated adults.  Her father was sentenced to a federal penitentiary on mail fraud charges, as she was getting ready to start to college.

As a law enforcement chaplain, my role is not focused on inmates or their families in most cases. I end up serving citizens that are the victims of heinous crimes, and the officers that deal with such individuals. I am with those same officers when someone is arrested.  I have seen small children scream hysterically as mom or dad is cuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car.   It was good for me to hear our newly crowned Miss America say: There are estimated 2 million people with a parent in jail.  She brings awareness to a group that is often forgotten. And I think she put a topic out there that most people would rather not talk about!

Ms. Kaeppeler’s success underscores another important principle.  Families have serious struggles. Fathers fail their children in appalling ways. But families that are willing to keep the failures out in the open not only recover, but end up thriving. When she approached her family about her chosen platform topic, they supported her even though they knew it would bring them under public scrutiny.

I am excited about Laura’s crowning last night.  I think her honesty and empathy for a group of our society that we don’t want to think about is commendable. But the mindset of her family is particularly inspiring to me.  I know all too well that I am inclined to hide my faults in order to portray a positive image. Honesty and humility trump the desire for any kind of image.  Laura Kaeppeler and every member of family have taught us that.   Congratulations to a brave and equally beautiful young lady from Kenosha, Wisconsin

Friday, January 13, 2012

You are Needed on the Sidelines Coach...

Nobody has been blessed with good mentors and coaches to the extent that I have.  I have worked with some incredibly talented and patient professionals over the years. My internship with Willard Tate at a little country church in Hamby in 1986 and 1987 was an experience I will never forget. Willard was a great role model. He was ahead of his time in a lot of ways.  8 years in Wichita Falls as an associate minister in two different roles was highlighted by working with one of the most talented mentors in ministry that has ever entered the profession in my opinion!

As I worked on both of my graduate degrees, Dr. Charles Siburt walked alongside providing academic, professional, and personal encouragement that has been truly priceless.

As 2012 gets underway, I am facing some painful realities. Willard Tate is deceased. I still think of him often and recall in detail my final conversation with him not long before his death.  Dr. Siburt is facing an extremely serious illness that has him hospitalized in Dallas at this very moment receiving an intense and aggressive combination of six chemo therapies.  Thankfully my longtime mentor from Wichita Falls Larry Suttle is healthy! I had lunch with him today.  But Larry is at that that time in life where he is caring for his aging parents.  It comes as no surprise to me.  He is doing it with a lot of grace and patience. I realized at lunch today that I am not the 25 year old kid that sat in his office for the first time almost 25 years ago.

It has occurred to me over the past few days that it is my turn.  It is my turn to come in from the field and be stand on the sidelines as a coach. It is time for me to be the coach and mentor. Quite frankly I really don’t relish the idea. I am perfectly content to just play in the game! 

I have always counted on Dr.Siburt to be there when I needed good counsel. He always knew just what to say.  And he never spared my feelings!  He just called it straight. He has consistently kept me from doing foolish things over the years. Now I must be the responsible one.  Now I must be the rock for of Gibraltar for someone else. 

I readily admit I am not ready for this responsibility.  I still feel young and immature. I am still making so many mistakes. I have a lot more to learn. Am I really prepared to send the plays in for someone else?  

It is excruciatingly painful to watch Charles suffer. But I have realized this week the best gesture of friendship I can offer to him is to step up to the plate and offer those close to me what he has given me over the years. I learned from the best. 

Surely good shall develop from his loyal investment of time in my life and ministry. I was privileged to visit with him in his office the week before Christmas. He told me he was proud of me and that he loved me. I am going to keep that image close as I prepare to stand on the sidelines.  I am hearing the call.  A simple call to be the coach on the sidelines for the next generation. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Passing Notes in Church: A Long Held Tradition Continues...

Once upon a time teenagers passed notes to each other in church.  There is no doubt in my mind that there are 60 year olds out there today who were chastised by their preacher from the pulpit for their use of this mode of written communication in a worship service.  But that day is long past.  Teens text message each other during church now.  In fact, I suspect there could be a few adults using their smart phones for something other than the Bible app in a church service.

Believe it or not the long outdated practice of note passing was resumed during my sermon last Sunday. If you don’t think that is unusual, then consider this additional factor: the culprits confessed afterwards.  I obviously don’t expect such juvenile behavior from 80 year old adults, but what can I say?

As it turns out, they had a good reason for note passing.  My 80 year old couple observed a young man in his 20’s sitting in front of them during the service.  Somehow they ascertained quickly that he is hearing impaired.  So they passed notes with him during the entire worship period.  The elderly gentleman I am referring to is originally from Long Island.  It is a true shame that our young guest will never hear his distinct accent that enthralls everyone when he speaks publicly.

The young man handed me a note after church that said:  I want to be a part of the church here. I understand that you do not have an interpreter, but that is ok…
Actually it is not “ok.” We will figure something out.  But I can’t help but think that he felt warmly welcomed by my older couple.  I wonder if the tone of the note he handed to me was partially prompted by the attitude and mindset of my elderly note writers. I don’t know.  But I do know this: When people have a loving attitude, communication barriers are not going to hold them back.  I never thought I would say this, but I am:  I am grateful today for people willing to pass notes in church.