Am I Welcome Here?

August 26, 2014

Last Sunday Pastor Allen’s sermon centered around the question Jesus posed to his apostles: “Who do you say I am?” The answer, from Simon Peter, was “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” Pastor then went on to ask how many of us would be willing to make that claim. Would we unhesitantly stand by that assertion if asked by a friend, neighbor, or family member? What would our answer be if asked by a total stranger?

Naturally, my mind wandered on to other (hopefully related) thoughts. Would I not only say the words… but would I openly demonstrate my belief? If so, how?

I decided that I should do something my good friend, Ed Terry, did whenever he facilitated Bible study sessions. He would always leave an empty chair reserved for Jesus. Ed wanted everyone to know his Lord and Savior was always welcome. In my case, I thought we should always set an extra place at our dining room table – complete with dinner plate, drinking glass, silverware, and napkin.

I then remembered my bride and I had invited about 25 people to join us for dinner on Sunday. We’d be lucky to have enough room for those folks without reserving a space for another invited guest who may or may not show up.

On the drive home I shared my thoughts with my bride. Before I give her response, let me add another thought.

I have always loved “Fiddler on the Roof”. I have been deeply touched by a number of the songs and have felt the joy and agony of raising a number of children who have made me extremely proud most of the time, and a few times left me extremely disappointed. Being bearded and a bit overweight, I also identified with Tevye as a man who strived to do the best for his family.

But the one thing that has always stuck in my mind was the closeness between Tevye and God. Was it the prayer belt that reminded him that God was always present? Or was it simply his firm belief in the Supreme Being?

Whatever the case, I always admired a man who could maintain a constant dialogue with God. As often as I have tried to constantly remind myself of God’s presence in my life, I fall short. I forget He is there until I find myself in a hopeless situation and need to quickly ask for His guidance and help.

So, when I suggested to my bride that we should do something to let God know He (or She) is always welcome to join us for dinner or any other occasion, she reminded me that we already do. We have Nativity sets throughout the house; we have religious paintings, crosses, and Bibles in almost every room; and our bookshelves are full of books dealing with religious topics and spiritualism. Guests do not have to sneak a peek anywhere to recognize that we are Christians.

So, I guess our answer to “Am I welcome here?” is a resounding “YES!” But now that I have put it in writing, there should be no doubt. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.


Give me Your Tired, Your Poor

March 26, 2010

I’m not sure how old I was before I realized the family I grew up in was poor. I knew they’d lost a house during the depression, and I knew we didn’t have a lot of extra cash. I also knew that the men my father worked with at a meat packing plant would often stuff meat into his shirt before he left for home.

In fact, I believed my father to be a bit on the pudgy side until the day I saw him open his shirt and pull out several packages of meat. I was the youngest of four boys and the meat cutters he worked with wanted to be sure we were well fed.

At the time, my father was working as a maintenance man. I construed that to mean he was a janitor. My Big Sister is offended by that definition. “Daddy worked hard all his life!”

I totally agree with the old lady’s remarks, but considering that most of the repairs done on our home were accomplished by Mom, I’m not so sure Daddy knew how to maintain anything. But that’s getting off the subject.

The key thing is that my parents were proud to proclaim that (aside from the meat) they never took a handout. Government welfare had begun under President Franklin Roosevelt, but the vast majority of the poor folks in this country were too proud to take a handout. That’s why the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and other jobs programs were so successful. People didn’t want a handout – with the shame that came with it – they wanted a hand.

Jesus once said, “The poor will always be with us.”

Growing up in that proud, but humble home, I was stunned as I worked my way through college as an enumerator for the R.L. Polk company. I, and a number of others, would go door-to-door seeking information for the City Directory (and mass-mailing lists). Because of my size (I was six feet tall and a tad over 200 pounds in those days) I was sent into the poorer neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. I was shocked by the number of people who told me they were not employed, but living on P.A. (Public Assistance – Welfare!).

One day I got to talking to a boy who was about eight years old. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to be on Public Assistance.” He proudly told me.

That’s when I first realized the damage our government had done. They’d removed the shame. The shame had nothing to do with being poor. Being poor is not shameful as long as you’re doing whatever you can to subsist. Shame comes from taking the money or goods that someone else worked for. That was a shame my parents fervently avoided.

And here was a young man who had no shame. He was proud of the fact that he, like his parents, would rather work the system than work for his living.

My father lost a number of jobs during the depression. In desperation, he ordered baby chicks and raised them under the back porch of the home where my family was living. He sold some of the chickens and fed others to his hungry brood – two boys and two girls at that time.

He tended the chickens at night… after working ten to twelve hours at whatever labor he could find. At times, he even took care of some of mom’s sister’s families… causing those families a bit of shame.

I was a middle-aged adult when I learned that a number of my aunts and uncles avoided my parents in later years because they felt resentment that Mom and Dad had food and a little bit of money when they had none. Resentment is something that grows out of shame. Rather than leaving the pain remain inside, humans have a tendency to direct the emotions outwardly. “It’s their fault that I feel this way!”

That’s exactly what has happened with welfare recipients. Instead of feeling ashamed that they have to rely on the labors of others, they turn it into resentment that the others aren’t being as generous as they should be. Those rich folks aren’t giving their fair share.

Several years ago our government took it a step farther. Because people were “embarrassed” having to use food stamps – and being recognized as lazy people living on the dole – the government turned to modern technology. The politicians claimed it was a money saving move. Politicians like to say they are saving the tax payers’ money even when they are doing something completely different.

The solution is known as an EBT card. It looks like a credit or debit card, but the EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer. It’s interesting that they use the word “Benefits”. That’s a term that is normally applied to the fringe benefits that are earned as part of employment. This implies that even people who refuse to work are entitled to benefits.

Now, for the whining Liberals who have been offended by some of the things I’m saying, let me say that there truly are poor people who, for one reason or another, cannot work and earn their own living. It might be mental or physical problems, but the problems are legitimate. I have no problem with these people and agree that the government should step in and help… if their church affiliation is unable to do so.

My problem is with the people who refuse to work and see Public Assistance as a career path. Then, when they are shown on television picketing and demanding a raise, I lose all respect for them.

Speaking of television… Karl Marx called religion “The Opiate of the Masses”. It’s a shame to say this, but religion has been replaced by the television. Perhaps that is why our government has slowly but surely converted our country toward Marxism. EBT cards were just one baby step toward the redistribution of wealth.

How much of a giant step was taken by the Health Care Reform act? And what do student loans and Pell Grants have to do with health care? It makes me wonder how many other unrelated ear marks are buried in the pages of this monstrosity.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But don’t give me your freeloading low-lifes who have no shame in taking what I and other good people have worked hard to attain.

Instead of inventing new ways to redistribute the wealth of our citizens, we need to discover a way to bring shame back into the mix. Pride in accomplishment must be reborn or our Republic is dead.


Pretending can Make a Difference

March 8, 2010

Baptism of our grandson, Daniel

This photo was not taken at our current church. I used it because I wanted a photo with a religious flavor.

Sometimes I like to let my imagination wander freely. This is just such a time. I invite you to join me in my daydream.

I imagine coming to church one Sunday and not seeing Pastor Kerry prior to the service. He’s usually in the narthex talking and laughing with the regulars, but on this day he’s nowhere to be seen. I figure he’s in his office talking to someone about something important and I see no reason to interrupt. I simply take a bulletin from one of the ushers and casually walk in to find a seat.

As I walk along I greet my friends and try to acknowledge and say hello to anybody I don’t immediately recognize. Some of those folks might have been members long before Lu and I joined, but my memory is short; if I haven’t seen them lately and have never been formally introduced, they are strangers to me. I feel a little bit guilty about that. After all, we’re supposed to be a church “family” and I should know all of my kinfolk.

Greg, our organist, has started playing the prelude and the crucifer (or is it the acolyte?) has entered to light the candles. Pastor should be coming in to make the pre-worship announcements, but he’s still not to be seen.

As I look over my shoulder to try to determine the reason for the delay, I see a middle-eastern man enter. He is wearing a white robe like I’ve seen the Saudi royal family wear, but he’s not wearing one of those Arabian head scarves. He has shoulder length (rather scraggly) hair and a long beard. His feet are bare and he has a look of total serenity on his face. In fact, I’d almost say his face has a glow to it… as does the rest of his being.

The man walks to the altar, turns and sits on the top step. He then looks out at the congregation and smiles. “Peace be with you!” he says. We, like the well-trained Lutherans we are, respond by saying, “And also with you.”

For the longest time he simply sits there looking around and smiling. Finally he begins to speak.

“Thank you all for coming. My father and I love seeing you here every week. We love hearing the singing… especially from those of you in the back who don’t have very good voices. We recognize that you’re singing from the heart and that’s the sweetest music of all.”

As he continues to chat with us, we quickly recognize that he is, indeed, the Risen Savior. He is Jesus Christ himself!!!

And now we have no idea what to do! Is this the Second Coming? Does this mean the world is about to end? Is this what was prophesied in the book of Revelation? Should we bow down, or prostrate ourselves in the presence of God? What should we do? How should we act?

And Jesus, reading our minds, says, “Don’t praise me in words. Don’t praise me in song. Don’t praise me at all in these ways. Just love one another as I have loved you, and honor my father always.”

Finally someone summons the courage to ask, “Why are you here? What does it mean?”

And Jesus responds, “As it is written in the Gospel of Matthew, ‘Where two or more are gathered in my name…’

“I am here every week. You just seldom recognize me.”

Then Jesus stands and walks around as he speaks. “Look around at your friends and the strangers in your midst. They’ve all come for various reasons. Some come because they feel obligated; others come because they don’t think the service could go on without them. Most come to see their friends and to enjoy the fellowship, the music, and the communal prayers and meal.”

“Many of you truly do love one another as I have loved you, and hopefully, one day, all of you will feel that way.”

Jesus then walks toward the back of the sanctuary. As he nears the doors, he stops and turns.

“The church is much more than the weekly services. Those of you who are involved in the various ministries have already recognized that the more you put into your church, the more you get out of it. I invite you all to get more involved. I invite you all to take the time to get to know each other better. Let there be no strangers in this congregation. All of you must reach out to others so you truly are a family.”

Then Jesus adds the clincher, “I truly am present anytime two or more of you gather in my name. However, most of the time you fail to recognize my presence. I often feel ignored and left out. Please work on that!”

“As I leave, please recognize that it is only my body that is going away. My spirit, and my peace, I leave with you.”

And then he is gone. That’s when we recognize that Pastor Kerry is sitting in the back of the sanctuary. He stands and says, “I don’t think we can do anything to top that. Go in peace and serve the Lord!”

We all stand and say, “Thanks be to God!” Then we all go into the Fellowship Hall to discuss the miracle we’ve all witnessed.

If we pretended that this really happened, would our congregation grow stronger? I like to think so. So, let’s pretend!

NOTE: The members of Christ the King Lutheran Church know I got lazy today. I wrote this piece a while back and it recently appeared in our church’s monthly newsletter.


The Truth about Homosexuality – as I see it

September 16, 2009

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) recently determined that homosexual pastors should be permitted to be pastors of churches as long as they are in long-term committed relationships, and their congregations want them to be their pastors.

That has about half of the Lutherans of the ELCA upset. Many of them continue to believe that homosexuality is an abomination (according to the Bible) and such people should repent or be thrown out of the church regardless of whether they are pastors or simply members of the congregation.

A few years ago my bride and I attended the weekend conference of the Southeastern Synod. The subject of homosexuals was a major part of the discussions and we heard some extremely impassioned speeches on both sides of the issue.

From my perspective, the people who were most strongly against gays in our midst were people who had not made the distinction between homosexuality and pedophilia.

As a young man, I failed to make that distinction as well. In fact, I was ignorant in regards to both, and that ignorance almost got me thrown out of college.

During my first semester, I and a group of other young men were invited to join a group sponsored by our English professor. During our first gathering at his home, he explained how one of his professors had taken him and some fellow classmates under his wing and taught them some basic social skills that he found very useful later in life. He was simply passing on the favor.

He also freely passed around the alcoholic beverages. Of course, each was a specific type of cocktail. He was teaching us what to expect when we ordered such drinks – when we became old enough to drink legally! Most of us had never tasted anything other than beer. So this was a good thing… or so we thought.

The professor also served us various sorts of finger foods and taught us the proper way to balance our glasses and appetizer plates.

This went on about twice monthly. There were six or seven of us in his group. Then, he announced that he would invite each of us to come alone and he would serve dinner. His explanation – he couldn’t afford to feed us all at once.

When my turn came, I found an invitation had been slid under the door of my dormitory room. The professor admonished me to not tell anyone where I was going because that might cause my friends to be jealous. At that point, I felt a strange sensation in the pit of my stomach. Something didn’t seem right, but I didn’t know what it was.

I confided in a friend and told him if he didn’t see me in the morning, to come looking for me. Then, I went off for my appointment.

The professor immediately offered me alcoholic beverages and I refused. I lied and said my stomach had been upset. We then sat down to a very nice gourmet dinner. Later, he explained that it was probably too late for me to return to campus and invited me to spend the night. When he told me I’d have to sleep in the same bed as he and I could wear some of his silk pajamas. I lied again. I told him I’d made prior arrangements to spend the night with a friend who rented an apartment off campus.

Believe it or not, I still had no idea what was motivating that man. Growing up, my friends and I had often called each other ‘queer’, but to me, it was simply something kids called each other.

It wasn’t until I found myself sitting in the Dean of Men’s office that I learned the true meaning of the term. Someone had reported the professor who was immediately fired for serving alcohol to minors. But they also knew he was homosexual and they wanted to know what went on between me and him.

I told the Dean of Men exactly what happened. Then, I asked what exactly did homosexuality mean. I’m sure the look on my face as he explained some facts of life to me made him realize I was being totally truthful.

As a result of that experience, I came to distrust anyone who displayed the slightest hint of homosexual behavior and mannerisms. As I saw it, that professor was preying on my innocence. In my mind, that had to be what all homosexuals do.

I should also point out one other thing that happened to me when I was young. In fact, this event took place when I was very young. I was in the first or second grade and walking to school when I men pulled up beside me and offered me a ride. I had no idea who he was, and had been repeatedly warned by my parents. I ran up on the porch of the nearest house and began banging on the door. The stranger quickly drove away.

Now, that I’m grown (and hopefully a little wiser) I realize that the man who offered me a ride was a pedophile. He may or may not have been homosexual. He might have been a married heterosexual with children of his own. But he, like all other pedophiles, preyed on small children.

And that is the first point of my argument. Gays are not necessarily pedophiles. My college professor was ‘courting’ me and the others. He saw us as attractive young men and was hoping to win at least one of us over. When I gave my feeble excuses, he accepted them and let me leave without any trouble. A pedophile would have forced himself on me.

At that Synod meeting, most of the arguments against gays insinuated that gays are pedophiles. If we are ever to treat homosexuals with the respect they deserve, we have to make a clear distinction between being gay and being a pedophile.

This does not mean I don’t have adverse feelings about gay pride parades and the like. The ‘flaming’ behavior is not something I appreciate in any group. I don’t like the ‘in your face’ attitude coming from any minority group. If you want to be treated as equals, act like the majority of us act. With all minority groups, I think they should have every right that the rest of us have – nothing more and nothing less. Some of these groups, however, seem to want more. But that’s a debate for another day.

Now, allow me to share another personal note. I have lots of relatives, but I want to focus on two. One is an openly gay man and the other is a less than open drug addict. We continue to hope that the drug addict is recovering, but he has told so many lies in the past that it’s difficult to believe anything he says.

The gay relative is living in a committed relationship. He and his partner are also business partners and run a very successful enterprise. He is a joy to be around and one of the most loving individuals I know. He would give anyone the shirt off his back without hesitation.

With the drug addict, the opposite is true. One time he was arrested for shop lifting. He had his toddler daughter with him and was using her to distract the storekeeper. It didn’t work. Imagine the heartbreak of that child watching her daddy being arrested.

Which of these men are worthy members of society? Which of them gives me the greatest pride? Is there any doubt what my answer to both questions would be?

Many people point to the Bible and say that homosexuality is an abomination. Most of that is reflected in the writings of the Apostle Paul. And many Biblical scholars believe that Paul was homosexual. He often reflected on his sinfulness without stating specifically what his affliction was.

Paul was not married. In the Jewish culture of the time, an unmarried man was very uncommon. That’s why some scholars believe that Jesus may have been married; otherwise, he might not have been able to build the following he amassed.

While the Greek and Roman cultures of the time had no problem with homosexuality (and pedophilia for that matter), the Jewish culture thought otherwise. Thus, Paul had to keep his secret to himself.

Finally, science has proven that homosexuality is not the result of a conscious decision. The genetic make-up of gays indicates that they were born that way. If one truly believes that God does not make mistakes, the thought of an abomination seems rather absurd.

Neal Boortz, a radio talk show host that people either love or love to hate, has a standard retort to callers who insist gays consciously make the decision to be gay. He simply asks them, “When did you decide to be heterosexual?” If we all must ask ourselves whether we want to be gay or straight, when did we make that decision? I think it is a perfectly fair question. Since no straight person can answer it honestly any more than a gay can, we should accept the fact that we are genetically programmed one way or the other.

In summary, would it bother me to have a gay pastor? No. Would it bother me to have a pedophile as a pastor? You bet! I would run that second guy – or gal – out of town on a rail… after applying a liberal amount of tar and feathers.


Who Needs Miracles?

April 12, 2009

It is Easter Sunday and I have some questions for all of us:

Did Jesus really have to die on a cross and arise from the dead to get us to accept his message?

Did Jesus really need to change the water into wine to convince us that we should love one another?

Did Jesus really need to walk on water to get us to recognize the love of God?

Did Jesus really need to feed the thousands with a few loaves and fishes to make us realize that the Kingdom of God is in our own hearts?

Did Jesus really have to heal the leper, give sight to the blind, and cast out demons in order for us to believe the things he had to say?

Did we even listen to what He had to say?

I believe Cecil B. DeMille and other Hollywood film makers have led us astray. Unless the Mississippi River is parted to allow a baby to be saved from drowning, we don’t see it as a miracle.

All we have to do is look at that new born baby and think about the complexity behind his or her birth – that’s the miracle!

Walk across a room with a full glass of water and think about how your brain and body react to each step to keep you from spilling the water. Then think about what it would take to create a robot that could achieve that same control.

Personally, I think we spend so much time contemplating the miracles that we lose sight of why Jesus came to earth.

Several years ago I was asked to write the words for a song. I was encouraged to put myself in the shoes of someone else and write words accordingly. The people who requested this knew that I spent a lot of time with the homeless; they expected something from that perspective.

I did a lot of praying on this, and found myself writing the following words:

———————————————————–

I know I have been there to share your pain; I’ve shared in your happiness too.

I’ve walked by your side through sun and rain, nothing have I refused for you.

I have put your needs above my own, fed you and dressed you it’s true.

My life I have lived for you alone, now this, I’m asking of you.

Don’t praise me in words, don’t praise me in song

Don’t praise me at all in these ways.

Just love one another as I have loved you

And honor my Father always… always.

I died on the cross to give you life; I’ve shown you that death has no sting.

I’ve born all your burdens, all your strife; I’ve proven my Father is King.

Now I ask that you do as I do. Sing your praise by doing God’s will.

Your actions will tell me all about you. So this I’m asking you still

Don’t praise me in words, don’t praise me in song

Don’t praise me at all in these ways.

Just love one another as I have loved you

And honor my Father always… always.

————————————————————————————–

The words were later set to music by a friend from Puerto Rico, Angel “Cucho” Garcia. We performed it once in front of a group involved with Cursillo. They liked the music, but felt the words were too harsh. They insisted we should be praising God and Jesus.

I beg to differ. Anyone who constantly says, “Praise the Lord” and ignores the teachings of Christ is a person who continues to miss the message.

Jesus put it as simply as he could.

Love God, and love one another.

If we all followed those two simple commandments, there truly would be peace on earth.


Recognition versus Humility

April 10, 2009

If you are recognized for your humility – and enjoy being the center of attention – have your forfeited your humility for the sake of recognition?

As Christians, we are encouraged to be humble. In fact, according to the Bible, we are challenged to walk humbly with our God.

Being humble means not being proud or haughty, nor arrogant or assertive. A humble person is a submissive person who allows him or herself to be ranked low in the pecking order.

Right off the bat, I have problems with one of those things we’re not supposed to be, and one of the things we are supposed to be.

If we are not assertive – not to be confused with aggressive – and are submissive, people will walk all over us. As Americans, we are taught that is bad. Anyone who has ever been bullied would agree there are times we must assertively refuse to be submissive.

But is that Christian behavior? Or are we rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s?

If we look at the behavior of Jesus leading up to his Crucifixion, we should all be humbled. He refused to be assertive and insisted on being submissive. After all, hadn’t he taught his disciples to turn the other cheek?

Jesus taught his followers to forget about the Law of Moses when it came to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If he honestly believed everything he had proclaimed, he had no choice but to humble himself and allow his own death.

When Jesus set his life – and death – as an example, it sounds silly to quibble over words like assertive and submissive. When we put things in perspective, we should be truly humbled.

I stated earlier that it is difficult to be humble. This is especially true for Christians. Personally, from time to time I feel as though I may have achieved perfect humility. Then I realize that my very thoughts are far less than humble… and I have to start working on it all over again.

There’s a monastery in Conyers, Georgia where the monks have devised a method to ensure the humility of their brothers and themselves. Every couple of years, they change job assignments.

These men are totally self-sufficient and built all their structures themselves: from the main church to the guest-house, to the dormitory, to the bookstore, greenhouse, and bakery. When necessary, they hire a contractor to come and teach them how to do something. Then, they complete the project themselves.

To avoid any monk suffering from the sin of pride, they don’t allow anyone to do a job too well. As soon as everyone feels comfortable with his assigned duties, the duties are re-assigned.

Thus, a monk goes from baking the best bread around to maintaining the plumbing. The plumber is put in charge of the kitchen and must prepare meals for his fellow monks as well as any guests.

The electrician is put in charge of the book store and the carpenter is sent to the greenhouse. The man who had become a world renowned expert on Bonsai plants is put to work baking bread and the monk who had been taking care of the landscaping is sent to the guest-house to clean rooms and make beds.

I spent a weekend at the monastery during a changeover of duties. It is not a pretty sight. The place is total chaos for a few weeks while each monk learns his new job. Many hours are spent tracking down the former experts and picking brains. Eventually, all the monks learn their new jobs and days begin to run smoothly again.

To the credit of the monks, they all are diligent about learning their new trades. Eventually, they become experts at whatever it is they’ve been assigned to do. That’s when it’s time to shuffle the deck once more.

I often wonder if Mother Teresa was able to maintain her humility in the face of all the accolades she received. If she was able to accept the recognition and stay humble, she deserves to be elevated to sainthood.

Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever make it.