Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Creek Runs Through It

I typically spend my day off doing exciting things like mowing the lawn and catching up on laundry.  But I am not complaining!  After preaching three times on Sunday and teaching an adult class, I am ready for some reprieve.  I thoroughly enjoy the solitude that yard-work and laundry afford.

Yesterday was different.  The preceding Sunday had been a hard one. On that Sunday I commemorated the line of duty shooting death of one of the deputies I served along with dozens of friends in our community.  For whatever reason the two year anniversary of that event was especially difficult.  

While I was mowing behind my fence near the creek one of my neighbors sneaked up behind me.  He asked me to walk across the creek and come look at the new gazebo he just built. As I admired his handiwork, he brought me an ice cold bottle of water.  We chatted about all kinds of things.  I took note of what my yard COULD look with a little more tender loving care.

I finally trudged back to my mower and finished the job feeling quite refreshed. And it occurred to me that the simplest gestures of kindness are sometimes the best.  My neighbor is a positive, kind-hearted, and generous individual. He is also a Vietnam veteran. He went to Vietnam during the peak of American involvement over there. The challenges he faces every day that stem from that experience have caused him to be even more compassionate.  And...he willingly and eagerly listens to me preach every Sunday. 

His simple gesture of hospitality yesterday inspired me to try harder. I am going to be more alert.  I am going to pay better attention to the person who may very well need a kind word or a listening ear. I am going to do better at initiating dialogues with people that are facing all kinds of challenges in their life.  And I also need to be better about keeping cold water chilled during the summer. 

A creek runs through it…our neighborhood that is. But it is by no mean a chasm that separates us.  The life giving water that flows through it is a symbol of the sustenance that true neighbors provide for each other. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Monterey High School Class of 1980 Reunites....

Not many people are fortunate enough to attend two high school reunions.  In fact, I am aware that many consciously choose not show up at any kind of reunion. I attended school in Racine, Wisconsin through the 7th grade.  I will reconnect with friends from that era of my life at the second reunion next month.  Two weeks ago I attended my 35 year high school reunion.  It wasn’t at all what I expected.  There were a few things I was just not prepared for that occurred on that fateful evening in Lubbock’s Depot District.

I was not truly prepared to engage in meaningful conversation with a cancer survivor from my class.  At our 30 year reunion, we signed a huge “card” for her posted on the wall of the venue where we gathered. She was unable to attend the 30 since she was still undergoing treatments.  Navigating through such a heinous disease is not for sissies. As I listened to her perspective on life, I found myself inspired. I felt immediate remorse for the ridiculous things I complain about. As she described the people that walked with her through that chapter in her life, I found my desire to serve others in crisis reinforced.  I was not prepared for that dialogue, because I underestimated the power of one person’s resolve to live their life courageously.

I was not fully prepared for the amount of empathy I would feel for the children of my classmates. Navigating through this crazy world for 20 somethings is not exactly a stroll in the park.   I constantly have to remind myself that the world has changed since all of us graduated from high school in 1980.  As I listened to the challenges that the children of my classmates are facing, I felt a profound connection. I found myself feeling protective and concerned for each child mentioned. One classmate has a son that was recently hospitalized in a heart hospital. Thankfully he is fine. Even though these “kids” are grown I can’t help but feel huge concern for them as they face all kinds of curve balls in life.

I was not all prepared for the range of emotions that the reunion triggered. I went to have fun. I looked forward to laughing over old times. But as it turned out, several of my closest friends from high school were unable to attend.  The reunion therefore was not a time of embellishing old stories. (Which is probably a good thing) Instead I felt a deeper connection to all of my classmates than I ever have before. I realized that I am in the journey of life with them for the long haul.  I am here to love them and love their children. And I am here to ride the roller coaster of life with them. And hopefully by the time our next reunion rolls around, we would have lost too much of our memories to even recall the old stories that really don’t need much embellishing!

I was not prepared for the richness of the reunion, but I am so grateful I went.  I am eagerly anticipating reunion #2 in just a few weeks! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Day I Misled My Students: Reflections on Racism

About 7 years ago I was assigned to teach a middle school age Sunday school class for a quarter. I actually enjoy teaching that age group.  And this group was particularly lively and engaging.  One Sunday I was discussing the conversation that Jesus had with a woman from Samaria.  I pointed out the cultural norms of that day that he plowed over. And during the course of the conversation, I made some applications to racism in more recent years. 

I asked the students if they had studied the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, AL that took place in 1963. I thought perhaps that had been a part of some of their history course curriculum.  But they looked at me like I had flown straight in from Mars.

 I told the story…Four young girls approximately their age had been killed. They were mesmerized.  While I had their undivided attention I proceeded to tell them about my mother’s experience of growing up in the Deep South during a time of serious segregation.  They had not heard of “colored water fountains” or “colored restrooms.” The idea of people of a different race not being allowed to eat at a lunch counter with white people was truly shocking to these young teens.  The next week I brought pictures with me of the four young victims of the church bombing.  It was a somber moment in Sunday school.

It was the teachable moment on that Sunday.  But I made a grievous mistake.  I implied to the students that we are living in a different time.  Schools are no longer purposely segregated.  “Colored” restrooms and water fountains are the subject of history books. I actually think I told them that we are “not like that anymore.”  I was implying that racism was a thing of the past.  I was clearly wrong. I misled those students. 
When I heard the news of that occurred in Charleston this week, my mind raced back to that Sunday school class 7 years ago.  I realize now what I should have said to them is this: Hate will always exist.  Always.  Racism will never be fully eradicated.

 Every generation has a responsibility to do their part to promote peace.  Foolish pride and out of control arrogance will always be destructive.  And it also occurred to me that the individual accused of instigating this horrific crime in Charleston is the same age as those students I taught 7 years ago….I pray that people of all races will come together and serve the families of the 9 victims in a spirit of genuine love and respect.  I am convicted. I will not mislead a group of students in that manner again.