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It’s 3am I must be … awake again.

Printed on Facebook as (Issue – but not really <wink>)
Today I’m walking around the DG with a full cart. I’m wearing a mask & gloves. As I line up, I’m the only one in 8 carts. I feel like a dork. I feel irritated. My gloves are off @ the right time, wipe down the wheel of the car, enter through the garage, clothes in the wash as I walk by on the way to the shower. TJ cleans bags, and the “overage” goes on a table. Some see paranoia – others a lack of faith. I can live with that.
Because I’ve seen what a nasty flu can do to a medical facility. I’ve felt the weight of having 8 people you visited in the past few days be hospitalized & been “ruled out” as patient zero. I’ve dropped 14 pounds of fluid in 12 hours because “God would protect me” better than a pair of disposable gloves. – God apparently needed the lesson of no-see-ums taught more than pride in ego-centric faith.
I get it. I’ve gone “electronic” as a pastor, which makes me feel like I’m kayaking in a bathtub. So far, 5 hours into the first 4 minutes of worship for Easter (more written, but not produced). I hold hands with the 3 people in my house to pray. I talk to a little blinking light, or my notes. Turns out, I still feel like it’s all pretend… Let me out! Let me visit! Let me free from this self-imposed pseudo Pauline-prison where the door is open, but I have to remain.
I’ve given up the wind, no more riding. I’ve given up the nights (apparently) to scribbling notes on cards, napkins, in my journal, or one-thumb typing on anti-social media. I’m the designated shopper and my little family needs all I can give them – and so do the people I serve. The ridiculous man-of-God in the DG with a full cart wearing a mask and gloves.
Because I know what a flu can do to a medical facility…
And now I know pastors who led serves one week longer than I did who can’t bury their dead – that caught CV-19 before they realized it was a thing and who sit at home contemplating life without faith.
I know choir members that live with knowing the infected their friends, and in two cases, feel the weight of responsibility for their death – and may not recover enough to rejoin their churches because looking their children in the eye becomes a greater monster each night.
I know nurses living in their garages, so they won’t infect their families, doctors virtually seeing patients, businesses closed, bankrupt, the economy failing, the weight of…
And I’m a doof in a mask buying Taki’s at the DG. A madman roaming the house in his skivvies while his wife disinfects his shoes with what could be iced tea for all he knows. A dad trying to protect his kids, a pastor trying to serve and yes, a human occasionally, just momentarily wondering if life might be better with one of those former friends like cigarettes in my hands, or even worse peering through the bend of a brown 12 ounce bottle.
It would be easier to check out of this, than it is a the DG right?
No more fear or anxiety – no more worry.
No more trying to figure out what level of precaution is appropriate, is it somewhere between a haz-mat suit and flip flops? No more anger at the people that think six feet apart is “I can put my hands in your pockets” close. No more bargaining, “ok, gloves on, then bags in the car or empty bags and how dirty is the outside of the bottle of sanitizer?” No more separation from all but a select few.
I get texts from members more free than I, watch pastors willing to chance the germ factories that are our still-not-cleaned sanctuaries and yes – am jealous – I’m supposed to be doing that. I’m supposed to be out saving the… And God’s hand strikes the side of my face like a bird upside Fabio on a roller coaster (Google it – you’ve got time).
That’s NOT my role in this.
My role is not to enforce the seal on closed church or to report when the “Corona Ice” van cruises the neighborhood (can we get a taco truck up in here?). My role is not to enforce then 10+1 of social commandments, despite the powers-that-be requesting it.

My role? A non-anxious but realistic presence.
A faithful follower that doesn’t run back to human “solutions.”
A guide into worship.
A cheerleader of those that serve in ways I can’t.
And a follower seeking understanding.
What did I hear when God slapped me awake at 1 something?
“For years you have said – I would not ask a person to do anything I am unable to do. You have thought this nobile, and while, in human leadership it may be worthwhile – in the church it is the height of arrogance. There are gifts of the Spirit you do not possess, do not limit that work by your own weaknesses. Do not utter one word against those who are doing MY work.”
(Good news, I don’t have a Messiah complex, I am apparently more Saul/Paul “I know what I’m doing!” SLAP “Ow, ok, so it’s this way then?”)
My role is, not to do MORE, and I think prior-to-pandemic that’s where I was and it only fed the Martyr/Minister in me. But, my role is what it has always been, to use every tool in the toolbox – or in this case every bit of tech in the studio to AFEW.
be AVAILABLE – The people know I’m here when they call (and I’m starting to harass some more often than home warranty companies)
FELLOWSHIP – phone contact started it, now Zooming 3 times a week.
EDUCATE Bible study + two video devotionals we week.
WORSHIP one abbreviated-until-I-figure-out-how-to-pass-a-real-plate service starting with Easter.
And most importantly, realize that this mask in the DG let’s me hug and play with my kids, and dance with my wife in the kitchen – because John Prine said so. It reminds me of the blessings that surround me, in faith and on earth.
Remember, we’re not defeated, we aren’t retreating…
We’re recharging, renewing and reforming.
We’re looking to that horizon, not as a far off Peter Pan (or Luke Skywalker if you prefer) dream, but because…
“I lift my eyes to the hills –
from where does my help come?
It comes from God who made
Heaven and earth
and the love we share from within”
– Chip Andrus
Now –
do what God calls you to do,
be who God calls you to be,
and pray that we’ll sing together soon.

 

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On a side note while I was typing this, my three-year-old daughter stole my spot in bed😂

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Depends on the Day

21

Sundays are typically hard days for me. Not only is everyone in the house about done with each other by mid-afternoon, but it always seems like some time after church all the patience has been poured out of the bottle. And I don’t just mean mine, I mean every single person, dog, cat, seems to walk in the room presenting their last nerve to be jumped on, and we’re active jumpers. I generally think we do better with a plan.

When I was a kid, my father always told me, “Begin each day with a plan, that way the day doesn’t escape you.” At first, I thought he was talking about the ministry. He’d served in churches for about thirty years before he accepted a position in the regional government, then national church, and finally, ended his career back in the pulpit. But as it turns out – he wasn’t talking about that at all.

He was talking about every morning, begin every day with a goal of what you want to get done and how to accomplish it. Especially If you want to actually accomplish anything. For example – before I get out of bed every morning, I pray. I pray specifically that my knees will work and I don’t fall down because of my knees, then I pray for other things. I do the same thing at night – I don’t to tell you how special I am. But that is the part of the commitment I’ve made to myself – self-care – to pray every morning and every night. See, I have that choice, I have that freedom.

Freedom is a big thing with those in the land of the free and the home of the Dave.

And you’re free to do that or not.

In the book of Joshua, we’re told “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve … as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”

Just like in the time of the prophet, you can make your own choice, all on your own, which gods are you going to follow, the ones from this land or that people? Are you going to create your own from the all-you-can-eat-buffet that is American religion – you know the one where you can support abortion but abhor the death penalty (or is that the other way around?) Where you and your third wife can go picket some bakery that caters to gay weddings without realizing the irony of that? Where you can look up scriptural references on the same phone that servies to bring porn into the house? Don’t get me wrong, I love this country but consistency and integrity left a LONG time ago.

Yeah, I know it’s complicated, my son often wonders how I can preach “do not judge” yet impose stiff penalties on him for failing to honor his father and mother. Because he’s in my charge, I’ve accepted the responsibility to raise him as Ephesians 6:4 teaches, “…do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the disciples and instruction of the Lord.” Well, honestly, there has been a LOT more instruction about the 1st International Church of Bob than following the Good Shepherd. Daddy likes it quiet and gives a little more than dead rats for “fair.”

But all that shifted recently when I saw the movie Courageous which I thought was about something else entirely. It was a little over two hours and no one famous was in it. There were a lot of sub-plots, and she described it as a “weird’ B-movie. I thought it was pretty good given the volume of things they tried to address. But that got me started about the boy on my dad’s shoulders above.

What was my plan for him on Sunday. Honestly – get to church wearing pants, don’t say any of the words dad uses when he’s working in the garage, get home and then let dad take a nap (ride the motorcycle, something “alone.”) My wife usually has plans, because she’s a plan-ER, and the 2 year old – well, she’s chaos incarnate. Add a puppy with an inability to wait to go to the bathroom and a cat that couldn’t give a carp and the afternoon soon hits a high-volume high speed anger-fest. My wife, got bless her. She does her best to wrangle and direct the kids and pets on Sundays, but asking for our house to be clean and quiet is like asking the Ohio River to flow the other way. Unless God intervenes, it’s really just words…

And that brings me to the topic of this particular writing…

Sometimes I see that I’m getting views, but no responses, or “likes” on the Facebook/Twitter lings and I get discouraged, but I guess it speaks to the plan and the courage of what this thing was meant to be. Ultimately, these pages aren’t for me. I have a friend that is a published author now (Hey Bert Fulks!) and frankly – that dude has to work far too hard travelling to share his work with others. He’s going here for a signing, making television appearances, and I realized very early on – that’s going to interfere with my own plans. I take way more naps than he does.

But in all seriousness, I appreciate the four people that follow and read these things, but they’re mainly meant for me to think things through. Maybe it’s the height of arrogance to share those and think people want to see it, but i’ve never been accused of having an isignificant amount of confidence. But these things are part of my plan – plans to write to my son in a way that he might find it (nothing disappears from the net), and now that’s including another son and three daughters. Didn’t plan that when I started writing notes on Facebook.

But I do plan to write – usually at least once a week, and then set a timer to upload. Sometimes that works, sometimes not so much. But why?

Because I have to remind myself of whom I choose to serve, and because if you struggle with that, I want you to remind yourself as well. And I’m gonna share with your a story….

IN a far-away land, a little girl watched this strange man come into town every morning. He would go to the fountain where people gathered their water and he would raise his hands above his head and he would tell them about their need to change and follow God. He would extend an inviation to them to follow him down to the river to be batized. No one ever went.

The little girl watched from her window, day after day, week after week, month after month as the man came into town. Some days he talked about how God forgave everyone that called on the name of Christ or the power of the Holy Spirit, or how gracious God was… and no one went.

Eventually the girl got older and met a guy, she moved out of the house one day, and was gone for years. She had a little girl of her own, and then word reached her that her mother was sick. So, she came home and brought her little girl with her. She smiled as her little girl started watching this old man that came into town every morning, raised his cane over his head and began to preach about God’s love, day after day, week after week, month after month. And no one went with him to the river to be baptized.

Finally the little girl grew up enough to ask her mother why the guy kept doing it, and her mother didn’t know, no one did. So one morning when the three of them were outside, the littlest girl went up to the man and pulled on his robe. She was nervous, but when she saw the light come out of his face when she talked to him, she felt like she was seeing someone special, and that made her feel special too.

“Mister, why do you keep talking about this stuff and people just walk by you, not paying a bit of attention, and why do you ask them to go with you when no one ever does.”

The man licked his lips, “Little one,” he said, “I don’t do this because I want to change them – I do this so they won’t change me.”

So, remember you are free to do what you want to do, take whatever you want from the American Spiritual Buffet (patent and copyright pending) …

… as for me and my house? We’ll serve the Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

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Success: from GHAG to GOD

 

“If that’s what it takes to succeed, I’d just as soon fail.” I still remember saying that to my high-school guidance counselor. He’d just explaned to me that my going to college was going to be a waste of my time and my parent’s money. I’m sure he thought himself witty – but he suggested that I might take up a sport, and then perhaps get a scholarship. He talked about the glory of playing football, or wrestling, or baseball. I was thinking, as for football, I wasn’t big, but I was slow – and THAT isn’t a good forumla. When you’re most “explosive” feature is related to illness? Not good for wrestling, and baseball? The three years I played baseball as a youth can best be summed up in a short story titled, “Taking one for the team – how to get to first base without even trying.” Finally it boils down to one thing – apart from the lack of skill, desire, talent and devotion. I wasn’t about to shower with the other guys. That’s it. It’s why I took gym seventh period (when possible). So, according to him, I was “destined to fail” (which is I guess the kind of guidance you get from a public school counselor in WV). So I gave him the line, “Showering with other young men? If that’s what it takes to succeed…”

I suppose now that we’re in the post #metoo movement, that might be understandable again, but prior to, in the “don’t be a homophobe” phase of public accusation, I was accused of that. Let me assure you, it was more the result of a particular guy maknig fun of me for not develping body-hair and at the same rate as the other guys. I developed a dislike of disrobing in front of other guys. So, I tried to make sure gym was my final class of the day or just stank up the joint for the rest of the day. Which pretty much fed the whole “failure” thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I was just as much a bully with my mouth as I received – yeah I was hurt, but I also hurt. I hurt a LOT of people.

But making sense out of that came later, because, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I made honor role the first six-weeks of the eighth grade. I didn’t get in trouble in class. I didn’t really do much of anything with my Shawn Cassidy bowl cut (ten years after the Hardy Boys went off the air) and thick brown-framed glasses (tortoise shell?). But if you look at the pictures – baby I was a happy kid. I played saxophone in the band. I played soccer, and baseball (outside of school when I just stank up mom’s car on the way home). I was, a good freakin’ kid. But then I decided that playing a solo in the Jazz band wasn’t success. Getting good grades wasn’t a success. Being the teacher’s favorite – not a success. What made you a success?

Gotta have a girl. GAHAG.

My dad used to tell as story about me at the age of five. I was playing in the sand while we camped at the beach. He was sitting in the screen tent with his friend discussing God the universe and everything (probably NASCAR).  A woman walked by in a white bikini, and I stopped playing, looked up and stared… for a while… then asked my dad a question that in today’s non-cis awareness was as inappropriate as it was pressing. I wanted to know why women’s bodies were so different than men’s, and after he answered, I explained that I really liked the difference. I proposed to a redhead in the first grade. I “dated” another girl in second… and by that I mean I gave her something that someone had given me and she accepted it. I never went through a “girls are gross” phase. I liked girls, most of my friends were girls, and my grades plummeted into the “I just don’t want to have to repeat this grade” levels. I was grounded on a regular basis.

And then it started – the “What do I have to do to get girls to like me” phase, and chasing that success can be mind-bending. How do I know. There is a picture of me – somewhere – wearing Oakley sunglasses, a sleeveless crop-top, short-shorts, Chuck Taylor tennis shoes and a painters cap… and I’m break dancing. Two years later? There is a picture of me with a “Kentucky Waterfall” of hair down the back of my head, jeans, a concert shirt, Oakley sunglasses (those things were expensive) and Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. Neon shirts, cut-off jeans, wrestling boots…. guyliner (years before the term was coined) spandex pants under intentionally cut-up jeans) and half-a-can of Aqua Net on my head to my hair closer to Jesus. I did stand-up comedy. I rode skateboards. I played roller hockey. I did a LOT of things in the pursuit of girls – and I was successful, almost every semester, but yet – I was a failure. Because every single relationship (to a person) no matter who it was with or who ended it followed the same course.

“New and Improved” – learning enough about the other person to be what they “want/need” more than the person they’re with/mourning. Not a night in shining armor, but maybe one wearing flannel. This is where I learned out to cook about five things really well.

“Damaged Dating” – This is when you figure out that while you said you really enjoyed opera, and you had every intention of actually enjoying it because it’s only a few hours out of your day, but it makes your teeth itch and you become aware of your body physically aging while you sit in a dark room trying not to stand up and yell “FREEBIRD!” at the top of your lungs. This is why I know a little about a lot of things. I can tell you why you don’t really want to reference Wagner and it makes you feel weird about the influence on Heavy Metal… (Oh, and I’ve seen Armored Saint AND Garth Brooks live).

“Maintaining” – Well, there is a holiday coming up or we’ve already been together x number of months, might as well ride it out. This is how you get and give pen sets. This is also the same level of relationship people have right before graduation (a friend of mine and his wife have been through four graduations together – THAT’S LOVE boys and girls). This is the best possible time for breakups because they’re usually the most “mutual.” Neither is feeling it, and it’s become more trouble than it’s worth. This is where Divorces should be – but most of us hang on for one reason or another and then come to the one that makes headlines.

“Destructing” – This is when you wish you hadn’t combined checking accounts. Rings get thrown into rivers, cars get keyed, pets are kidnapped… This is an emotional escape that isn’t related to abuse. It’s just a relationship that went on too far and now one (or both) of people have to make sure to make a point. This is when friends (that all seem to be mutual) end up lost and divided as well. My favorite example is a friend of mine that, after an incredibly bitter divorce, was left with a ten-year old S-10 pickup, a lawn chair (one of the sweet ones) and a television set… and he was happy. He got to keep his retirement! But seriously, they’d reached the point of their relationship where he was willing to pay any “freedom tax” to get clear. He and his wife haven’t spoken since she tried to lecture him in a Krispy Kreme one day (in a town of a million people, she just happened to follow him in) and he reminded her that, according to the “entire state of Kentucky” he didn’t have to listen to her anymore.

So  – I was successful at getting into relationships, but not very successful in staying in them for more than a semester. So I did something that was heretofore unmentionable to me. I took a year off. I intentionally stopped dating for 12 months. I started figuring out what I liked (playing guitar) and what I didn’t (skateboards, although I still have mine). I had to successfully become “me” in order to find a good match for me. Because here is the thing. The women who were kind enough to spend time with me were, almost to a person, incredible, smart, attractive women. Sure there were a few that did things like ram their cars into ATM booths in the middle of otherwise empty parking lots or dye their hair so blonde they were one step short of “clear.” But the main symptom of the bad relationship was they were dealing with someone that was growing-shifting and changing on almost a daily basis. I still struggle with that (just yesterday I hated pets with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns and today I’m fine with them) and most people do because we’re complex – or at least that is my excuse. When I met my wife TJ, we talked about the most important part of relationships for me and I said that I can’t be in a relationship where their is no forgiveness. If you want to hold a grudge, or if you have a good memory I am very difficult. Because, when I ask for forgiveness, I’m done. Most of the time my guilt is gone, and I haven’t felt shame since 1999. If you want to hang on to it, that will eventually become a problem, because if it comes back up, I probably won’t remember it, and if I do, I will have considered the matter closed. That makes me exceptionally hard to live with.

I also get angry for days… but that’s an entirely different thing.

So, I figured out how to be more successful at relationships – it didn’t guarantee anything other than an awareness of when to jump out of relationship plane singing “I’ve got to be me!” like Bert Convey in Cannonball, but even that is helpful because I know I am capable of great commitment, loving long-term and most importantly, how to managed the ins and outs of love with a partner over time. So, I guess that’s success?

But what about professionally? Oh, I was going to be the first millionaire in my family – that lasted about four months. Door-to-door sales, not really me. “Hi, my name is Rob, can you reject me?” was not really my thing. It was kind of funny if you think about it. I had to dress up every day, go out by myself and be a self-starter, a real go-getter, and our weekly meetings in the office were supposed to jack us up emotionally so we were ready to go out there and win! We were going to be winners – my response, more wha? who? than WA-HOOO!. I got sold, but couldn’t sell. If you designed a job specifically not-for-me, outside sales would be it. I’d have more success as a baby-seal clubber than filler-brush man. I also grew up privileged so I knew some things about stuff.

Example – my mom and dad had a houseboat. Every good weather day we would drive down and enjoy a day on the lake. If we left the dock, we had no air-conditioning and had to bounce around in currents of other more expensive boats. IF we stayed at the dock, dad had to work on it, repair this, replace that… He also had, at one point, a jet-ski – this thing made me believe that money could in fact buy happiness. They’re great things, right up until the moment they break or suck something up in the intake, then they’re a nigh-impossible to move buoy that just floats around heading in the opposite direction of whatever direction you were trying to go. Sailboat – awesome, that thing was great fun. Custom van – cool, but now illegal because our little ones need “safety” not plywood benches with no belts. We had pool memberships (which are great until you date a couple of girls from the pool, then it takes on a very weird vibe). Living at home, I had a lifestyle I could never have on my own (my dad told me to spend every penny from my part-time job because I had more disposable income than I would ever have in my life – he was right).

But I knew I wasn’t going into finance, real estate, or even some career to make money. My first gig out of college? A House parent at a group home. The second? Social worker. Since then? I’ve been in ministry in one form or another. I am not broke, I’m not poor, I’m middle-class. But that’s like my height. I’m either six-foot or five-ten depending on how accurate the tape at the stop-n-steal is when I exit the gas station. Fact is, I don’t know how to make millions, it apparently takes more luck, favoritism, whatever than I’ve got. Plus, by going into mainstream protestant ministry, I’m pretty sure I’ll likely stay somewhere between “unemployed” and “middle-class” until I retire, or drop-dead of a heart-attack. Either way, as long as my family is provided for, I’m good.

Oh, which brings me to another weird thing. I wanted a big family. In my mid-to-late 40s I was single with a 12 year old son. I turned fifty last week, and I have three daughters and two sons. My daughters range from nearly 3 to 31, and my sons from 12 to 26. Last Christmas our house looked like it was out of a Halmark movie… so check that success off.

And that’s really where I’m going with this – and where I’d like to see you go. I made a challenge for myself. Between January 1st and July 1st I wanted to throw out or donate 1,000 things from my house. I’ve more than half-way there. I still have too much stuff. I have too many facebook friends. Why do I maintain contact with people I haven’t talked to in thirty-years? What good does having some cousin’s friend that spouts off hate on behalf of a better world take up time on my newsfeed and end up getting any thought-time in my head?

In preparation for my fiftieth birthday, I did some thinking, and I decided to reclaim something that I thought a long time ago. “If that’s what it takes to succeed, I’d just as soon fail.” Because years into my life I’ve realized the most success I’ve ever had is when I’m doing what I am called to do by God, loving whom God has placed beside me and doing my best to deepen my connection (love) God, my neighbors and myself. Where I have failed, I have done so because I want to do it like someone else, or for someone else, or selfishly for myself. It reminds me of this message from Paul…

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

GOD.

I want to ask you to consider this question that you’ve been asked before “What does success look like?” But that’s too easy. It looks like a Lamborghini Aventador, or a jet-ski. A huge house with a big fense, lots of dogs, motion sensing cameras and motion-operated anti-tank systems. It’s a pool in your living room and apparently eating sushi off some naked woman’s body (I’m uncomfortable with that on EVERY level). Is it bling? Is it abs? Is it a girl (guy, non-binary, transgendered…)? My dad once described being rich as watching someone else mow his lawn (after I’d finished mowing his lawn). But here is what I want you to think on even more.

What does success sound like? Is it the laughter of a child that thinks you look goofy when your hat is turned backwards? Is it the subtle chiming of bars of metal when the wind blows? Is it the absence of sirens around the neighborhood? Is it the sound of the waves hitting the beach, or the hum of an engine? Is it silence? Is it loud music, the wind? What is the sound of success to you?

What does it smell like. Is it the smell of coffee in the morning when you wake up? The smell of dinner when you come home? The smell of clean laundry, or a clean bathroom? Flowers? Chocolates? What is the smell of success?

Is it the taste of a sinful desert? Is it wine? That perfectly crafted-in-a-barrel home-brew that you’ve been working on since you got that kit  three years ago? Is it a hot-dog at the ball-park or is it a yogurt after yoga?

Is it the touch of someone you love? The feel of the machine in your hands? The feeling of Cashmere or Angora or whatever my bedspread is made out of against skin (seriously, the cat will NOT get off that blanket). The keys banging away while you type? They keys turning over in your hand? What is the feel of success?

Because success isn’t the candidate of your choice getting elected – that is their success.

Success isn’t another thing that can be sold, stolen, broken or lost.

But success can be finding that song that makes you want to hold your partner in the kitchen and dance while the smell of home-cooked foot fill the air. It can be the entire family going out to eat, or hitting the amusement park, it can be lookin in to an empty U-Rent-Me truck after helping a friend move. Success can be failing to right a blog for month, for reasons that you can’t describe, then suddenly having an idea flash through your head that you manage to get uploaded before the next phone call. Perhaps it is remembering an idea, but not a quote from Carl Sandburg about success being, in large part, getting along with your wife.

Thing is, when you are not conformed to the world, Christ makes you a success with God, and grants you the gift of being free from failure. So, live free. Free to let your mind be transformed and renewed regularly so that you may do what is good and acceptable and perfect. With all due apologies to Mr. Sandburg, I believe their is no greater success than that.

God bless you if you made it this far, and God be with your now and forever – Amen

 

 

Articles, Uncategorized

Building a brand-Son

I admit, being Generation X has it’s advantages. We aren’t nearly as devoted to our things as the Boomers and we use technology as if it is an external tool, not the internal life-blood of existence itself. If I’m planning a trip, I still prefer to use a map than GPS. I like to write in a journal, not on a screen (there is an element of editing that goes in to transferring it to type). My favorite example of the pseudo-tech is that I prefer to read on a small digital device – that is called a “paperwhite” because of the background and letter type. I also like watches, even if I have to do the spinner/button dance to get the date number to match up after pesky months like February. Gen X, for the most part, uses tech, but doesn’t depend on it. Because we just don’t trust it.

Maybe it was blowing out the cartridges in the old NES, or was that the Atari… either way, you can do away with the cords, you can add all kinds of apps, you can even give me a solar-powered energy bank capable of recharging my phone three times in a 12 hours period (which I have and it is awesome), but I’ll use tech as I want to use it. For example, In the past hundred downloads to my library, 7 were produced after 2010. The internet, all of it is a tool. Social media? That’s how my mom sees pictures of her grandkids without me having to go to the drug store and have them printed. Facetime? Every time I get a video call request I think, “Who the … and it is always someone Gen Y or newer.” I get it, your phone has more power than the space program when they launched the shuttle… Me? I found my Gameboy the other day and was super stoked – once I blew the dust out of the cartridge.

My dad was standing in the kitchen watching me watch the microwave about thirty-five years ago. I was complaining that my popcorn was taking too long. He put his hand on my shoulders and assured me that I would have never been able to live in the fifties. He had a transistor radio with a little white earpiece… I had that height of musical freedom, the Walkman complete with the orange-foam covered headphones (I have a picture with me sporting cargo pants, my Levi’s jacket with the headphones around my neck… while at a football game and they were in band, yet for some reason I thought it appropriate.

But what my dad taught me about all this “new” stuff (like cable, portable sources) was that it was all a tool. The music helped move you, sure, but take off the headphones to have a conversation. It helps you focus, great, but people five feet away from your head should have to put up with a tinny-sounding rendition of “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue, and under no circumstances is it appropriate to sing along. Because despite how I think it sounds, when I belt out, “In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man, now I’ve reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can…”(Good Times, Bad Times – Led Zepplin) It sounds more like the witch from Hanzel and Gretel than the lead singer of Greta Van Fleet. (If you got that reference I am tearing up with pride.)

All that kind of stuff, it was a tool – mainly to keep the kids quiet. Long before there were idiots on YouTube, Jackass was a thing. I just think it’s a good thing that Knoxville made his money early because there are things that even Steve-O wouldn’t do trending as I type. And then we found out they weren’t only human, they were broken long before the branding – and I don’t care how much money Bam paid his parents, if he were my kid he’d of been arrested. And I watch it – so I know that this is probably going to sound weird coming from an admitted Gen X-er that normally cares as much about the boomer v Gen Y thing as I do the color of bricks on a house cross town. But at some point, all this media content went from an external tool to an interior life-blood.

Let’s say, my wife, son and I walk into a restaurant. My wife, who is a photographer, notices all the colors and shades first. How have they made their space more welcoming? Where are the lights focused? Are their pictures on the walls? How are people dressed? These are the things that concern her – God love her.

Me? Does it smell bad and is too noisy to have a conversation? That’s it. I may notice if the waitress has that weird “outlined by a spoon” eye-makeup thing going on, or if she’s doing that “I just came from playing sports outside” smoke-eye thing (that I assume reduces glare). But other than that, I don’t care about other people in public settings apart from church and functions I am expected to attend.

My son? Do they have wi-fi and do we have to stay?

And I look down at him and realize – much as my dad had to help me navigate this stuff, I’ve got to guide him and frankly, I’ve been too busy watching Nitro Circus to have much of an impact (It is the most fascinating combination of daredevil Evil stuff with Jackass stuff, plus Travis dries as Subie – so there you have it.

So, I’ve got to guide him. And not in a “you can’t watch that” way, or he’ll do whatever the modern equivalent of turning the wheels in the VCR tuner to get free Cinemax is (if you get that, again, please comment). I have to guide him, and being a guide is a difficult job. Sure, I’ve been on tours, you know the “and we’re walking, we’re walking, on your right is a prime example of a painting from the DaDa period…” and whatever else is said is immediately lost in my head singing, “Da do-do-do, da da-da-da, that’s all I have to say to you.” It’s not the guide’s fault that my brain is full of songs and makes random connections. If fact, if I hear a song, and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition. I’ve even hired guides to take me deep sea fishing. We found the deep sea… fish, not so much, but it didn’t really matter since I was riding the cover of the engine compartment except when I lumbered to the side to hork chum for the sharkies. As a friend, I’ve tried to guide folks through difficult patches in their lives – but apparently asking, “Ok, so we know the affair was a bad idea now, but just for clarification, WHEN did it seem like a good idea?” isn’t helpful.

So, how am I, an admitted addict of the internet supposed to guide him?

Well, I look to the model parent (that would be God in my view) then I’m supposed to do something called “Na-Hag.” That’s Hebrew and it has a meaning that doesn’t force people to make the right decisions, but rather to lead people to the right decisions. When he was little, I guess the 22:6 Proverb “Train your child up the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it” was a big part of his life, except when it came to electronics. I pretty much handed him a Kindle and said, “Keep the volume down, Daddy’s going to check his messages” and the went on social media or tried to figure out who that actress was that did that movie that one time in the place with that guy from the TV show that was cancelled after a short run when I was a kid, maybe ten. It was about an Indiana Jones guy that flew a sea plane (it was Tales of the Gold Monkey and it was awesome, not to be confused with Black Sheep Squadron that gave us John Laroquette from Night Court and Ed Begley Jr. or that could have been a Mash Episode where he played the cook – or maybe it was both).

Anyway, how am I, the kid raised on a steady diet of television shows supposed to guide a kid who is just like his dad?

By teaching him, it isn’t the life-blood of existence. It is a tool. It’s a library where, unfortunately, everyone not only has a card but also can write books – or blogs of random lengths kvetching about weird things like Biblical Hebrew and I do that knowing that I could be very wrong, because I didn’t take advanced Hebrew classes in seminary because…. honestly I was more interested in playing Rainbow Six with my friend Andy.

It’s by sometimes choosing to use a map and a compass. To show him that their are ways to do things without the phone. It’s to band electronics on the ride to school (which I did) so we have to talk about things. It’s making “after homework, or after 5:30 whichever comes last” a thing for electronics use. It’s by making him budget the time and limiting it to… well, what still seems an absurd amount of time when you see it written down. It’s by understanding that his need for connection to his friends through that damned game is just as important to him as my need to have my huffy in working order to jump ramps with the kids in what was left of the woods after the new development came through. It’s by taking him to help his brothers and sisters move – but it is going to be hard to top when Shawn drove him through Fort Rucker and a Blackhawk helicopter did a slow flyover barely off the deck.

It’s about getting him journals and pens and encouraging him to write stuff down so when the teachers assign creative writing pieces or “what I did over spring break pieces he at east has some notes to help him make something other than “Luke and I played Fourth-Kite until 2am every night!” Even if it’s only, “I tried pears – not a fan.” It’s encouraging him to read and talk about what he’s read, even if it’s “juvenile fiction” that involves the eighth graders ruling their school for a day because they won the soap-box Derby championship (which of course starts a conversation about what a soap is, because it’s foreign to a 12 year old that uses body wash as if it were somehow precious and so finite that he only has 5 ounces to last for his lifetime).

It’s about guiding him until one of us dies. Which is both sad and true, and teaching him that things that are sad can be true, but you don’t have to focus too much on them.

And teaching him that “Is bigfoot a girl” might be ok, with safe-search on, but “girl big foot” is probably not (I checked, it’s definately weird, but “Bigfoot Girl” is apparently a movie staring Kiana Passmore, who is also apparently a recording artist. That’s a big deal, at nineteen she’s managed to be an actress I’ve never heard of and a musician I’ve never heard of either. But since my main musical influence apart from the Wheels on the Bus kids is Lisa Lobe singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” on Amazon… Oh, and if you know her please thank her for me. Also, I’ve never heard a Justin Beiber song, and apparently, he’s a big deal. But I could be wrong about that.

Which is why I won’t be able to guide him about everything, all the time. I’ll teach him how to use the tools of his era, the way my dad referenced the tools of his. But I’ll be as clueless about some of it as he was to “Dungeons and Dragons” (which was going to ruin lives – apparently) or what the heck was so fascinating about two plumbers trying to rescues a princess. And do this day, I still remember him doing the Ed Lover dance in front of one of my dates… uh-huh-uh-huh, let me clear my throat.

But I do know that one day, I’ll probably be having a conversation with my son, just like my dad did with me, and without much fan-fare or hoopla or any of the other words that are more fun to say than to read (try it), I’ll realize that my son will have reached a point where it’s time, and I’ll reach in to my chest-of-drawers and pull out something that may mean a lot more to me than to him, and I’ll give him these things and tell him to take care of them. I’ll give him his grandfather’s compass (he already has his other grandfather’s set of binoculars) and one of my pocket knives (probably not my bad-ass Blackhawk Helicopter seat-belt cutter glass-breaking survival knife I picked up at Fort Rucker (you can read that back and Yee-Hah at the end if you like, I did).

Then we’ll make some breakfast and I’ll show him how to clean and cook with it. And to make sure he pays attention. The wi-fi will be turned off.

May God guide you, guard you and grant you peace – Amen

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The Effort of Minimalism…

Our house is overrun with stuff, and before anyone points a finger at my wife, please understand the other day I was looking through my DVDs and not only do I have a copy of the complete movie series “The Chronicles of Riddick” but I have TWO! I’ll guarantee you Vin Diesel’s mom doesn’t have two copies of that movie series. I have four motorcycle helmets. Only 1 of them fits my head and I don’t ride two-up. I have a collection of shirts that I never wear, I’m “down” to 23 t-shirts and 12 guitars. Every heard of Jokari? Not Jumanji, Jokari – it was a game with little wooden paddles, a weight, a long elastic cord and a bouncy-ball. It was racquetball for the outdoors… I have two paddles, the elastic band broke sometime and the 80s and I think the ball is still rolling.

This morning, I was standing in the garage looking at the full-sized mattress that I’d leaned against the wall when I moved into the house in October of 2018. It was still in place. It has been moved, because for some reason the plastic cover that protected it was needed for something else. So, now I’m pretty sure that if a colony has been established of some kind of bug, it is now immune to the smell of exhaust fumes and oil. It’s still covering up the extra wood from the flooring the last owners put down, and their paint cans, which of course only document the colors of the paint prior to our repainting every single different color the rooms were painted. They also were kind enough to leave me homework, because the cheap Mega-crap-mart above-ground pool they left behind started the year as an algae farm, cost a few hundred dollars to get into shape and less than three months later could once again qualify for a science fair project. And Project is the perfect word for my backyard. What damage the pool hasn’t caused, the dog finished off, but at least the kids ignore him and he barks all the time to annoy the neighbors.  Anyway, I digress…

Ah yes, standing in the garage, the bit up front filled with boxes of wrapping paper and packing material. The corpses of all the anti-theft plastic wraps and wire-ties were just “stuffed” into the boxes and sorting and filling the regular trash and recycle bins every week is not only tiresome a month later, but barely seems to keep up with the weekly deluge of Amazon boxes (again, me) that flow towards my door.  Of course you to get to them, you have to step over the growing pile of semi-wet-don’t-ask-about-the-smell rugs, towels and chewed clothing (did I mention the puppy?) under them. At this point, I consider investing in “I’m not a Hoarder, I’m just lazy” t-shirts, but that would just mean a trip to the Mega-crap-mart or going back on-line.

The amount of clutter and “stuff” in my house is literally depressing. Forget the old “Mess + Stress = Distress” Distress left town and Depress moved in some time around baby-girl’s kitchenette. How do I know my wife isn’t responsible for the mess? Because she hasn’t been able to go in there since well before I started decorating for Christmas – well before Thanksgiving.

A well-meaning friend suggested I hire a professional organizer. I laughed, because my makeup is Scottish, Hillbilly and Native American. I ain’t payin’ no one to come into my house and tell me I have too much stuff and it’s stressing me out. I can get my mom to do that for free and she’ll make a Lasagna if I can get the boy (or my wife) to ask for it. Hiring a professional organizer is a lot like reading a self-help book with a talk-therapist. Ultimately the responsibility for change is up to you – and you’re most likely the problem. Besides, I already have to hire a “lawn care professional” to mow my lawn, even though I have a perfectly good self-propelled lawn mower over on the… well, last time I saw it, it was… well, maybe it’s. Did I mention my laziness. He’s worth it anyway, he edges and… I think the mower was yellow.

Honestly, I wonder why anyone comes here at all. I had big plans for the garage, maybe a diner booth with a  TV, an area to work on the motorcycle, get both cars in when it’s winter and… instead I’m staring at what appears to be five tool boxes. Three are mine, two are my dads. Sorry Six – my kids got me one for last Christmas but I haven’t had a … did I mention that I’m lazy?

Which brings me to my next point. At some point, I’m either going to move again or worse, my kids are going to go through it and wonder why I still have a copy of the board game “pickup lines” a table-top version of foozeball and four skateboards. Oh, and I’m sure someone will say, “Hey, did y’all know dad had a mountain bike?” They’re just going to bring in a construction dumpster and get rid of it. Hopefully, they will include that consarnded pool.

Intentional Simplicity: Not “Unbridled Sentimentality” I’m not a sentimental guy, except for what I’m incredibly sentimental about. At some point, my son Shawn (soon to be a helicopter pilot for the US Army) will be gifted my father’s compass, so he can always find his way home. My son Donovan will have his mother’s rings to either melt/sell for the girl of his dreams or use them for the hand of his wife (D’s mom died in 2014). The girls will have things as well (not my grandmother’s wooden carving of a flute player) from their mom or from my family. that’s just the way we roll. But mostly my “memories” are held by photos, fridge magnets and t-shirts.

So, it’s time to stop standing in my garage, staring out over my sea of boxes and packing foam that are mixed in with the important stuff. IT’s time to just pick a corner and go until I hit another. I promised myself one wall this week – maybe not all sorted, but at least cleaned up. And what I don’t want, I’ll throw in a bag. Because, I’m tired of this weight (psychological, physical and spiritual) resting on my shoulders. I’m ready to stand up straight again.  After all – “Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, then we shall be content.” – 1 Timothy 6: 6-8

“So may whatever I leave behind at least have a value greater than a wooden statue of a flute player..” R. Warren

  • The “right wall” of the garage after five hours. I didn’t know I owned a battery charger (much less two) or a small air compressor, but now I do.
  •  Since trash day moved from Monday to Friday, I guess the twelve extra bags will just have to stay in the garage for a few more days.

 

Articles, Articles Scripture-Based

An Accidental Exile

When I first got the bike, I was convinced I’d be riding to friend’s houses within a few hours, or maybe go camping. In the last few months though, I realize most of what I’ve been doing is getting intentionally “good and lost.” I just find a road and see where it will go. If you ask me where I’ve been, about all I can say is “south of Ohio, north of Tennessee, east of here.” I’m not too particular, because it’s mainly about seeing things that I’d miss in a car. And it all started because of a realization I made a few years ago. My world was re-shrinking way too soon.

My theory is that when we are children our world is small. What we know is usually our house, our church, our school, our neighborhood and where our family lives. Our friends live nearby and we go where we are taken. Then, as we grow up a bit, we learn to drive and leave the neighborhood, our friends are people with similar interests more than addresses, our schools change, and the world gets larger and larger with each step we take… then one day, that stops, and after a while, it starts shrinking.

It starts slowly at first, and is a “fill in the blank” sentence. “__ used to __ but now __ don’t because ___.” For example, “We used to go to the theater but now we don’t because we can’t find a sitter,” or “I used to play golf but now I don’t because I need knee replacement.” If we aren’t careful, no matter what our age, we may find ourselves the victims of a self-imposed but entirely accidental exile.

Two years ago, that’s where I was headed. I’d pretty much perfected the “work-eat-sleep” pattern and it dawned on me that I was either going to have to invest in an Xbox One and learn how to play video games as well as D (who was 10 at the time) or I was going to have to actually make some plans to get away from the bland-beige walls of our apartment, or I was going to turn around and find myself retired and wondering what happened.

So, I decided, by the time I was fifty, I would have a motorcycle. A promise made to myself that I actually kept. And it’s amazing how large the world has become. But, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson. Wherever YOU go – there YOU are. As Canadian musician/motorcyclist Neil Peart put it in (The Healing Road) “You can ride, but you can not hide.” Despite Mr. Peart’s apparent agnosticism, I realized that there is nothing wrong with the size of the world, so long as we remember the majesty of God. THAT’s what I lost in my self-imposed exile, and suddenly I went from reflecting on the front of the psalm to the last passage (my “traveler’s version”).

“I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? It comes from God who made heaven and earth. God will not allow your foot to slip. Do not forget – God does not slumber or sleep. The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is the shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil, God will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.”

This is why I should never try to rewrite/rename scripture. My “traveler’s version” which I had crafted and was proud of, was still lacking in comparison to the “real” version. Because in the psalm, it’s pretty clear. It doesn’t matter if you are staying in, or going out, the Lord will guard you.

If you’re a person whose world is expanding, enjoy the new sights, smells and sounds. If you find yourself in that stage of life where it seems to be simplifying, hold on to what is good and leave behind the things that were not. If you’re somewhere in the middle, then enjoy the new as well as remembering where you’ve been. The Lord is guarding us all, and the Lord does not rest.

May God bless you and keep you –

 

Articles, Articles Scripture-Based

And just like that – nothing was ever the same again

Motorcycle

It’s been six months since my last on-line confession. Because it’s taken me that long to write this. Mainly because it took a wonderful freedom offered by my wife TJ in order for it to happen. And the last vestige of it is in this picture, taken in the fall of 2019. In it, I’m wearing my father’s motorcycle jacket. And it was the last time I wore it to ride. When I picked up my new jacket, I didn’t even know why I was compelled to buy it. But I get it now. And Christmas day, as I slipped down the driveway wearing it for the first time I carried nothing of my past life. Nothing from my father who died in January of 2018, no momento of his years on his own motorcycles. Only in my memory. I now live in a different town, doing a different ministry, with a wife he’d met once. With daughters he never met, a new son as well (we don’t do steps or halfs in this family). Blessings all.

I think I can finally put my finger on it. It started on an afternoon in May, in 2014. The day I told my son that his mother, my wife of seventeen years, had died while he was in school. I went numb and five years later, in May of 2019. One month after marrying TJ, I found the last edge of the hole that had been in me for five years. A hole that is separate from the pain of my second marriage and divorce, and the loss of my father, the perceived betrayal of friends. And only today did I realize, while reading Neil Peart’s description of dealing with his own grief after his daughter and wife died, do I understand it. When I look back, their is a psychological disconnect from “that guy.” I share his training, his memories, his experiences, and no matter the distance, as the drummer extraordinaire explains, “I could ride – but I couldn’t hide.”

And I tried. I tried in a way that was nearly textbook “how not to handle grief.”

I denied it, and went crashing into situation after situation, and enough ink has been spilled about that. I had to get out, I had to look at the man I was and say, “Sorry man, the new volume you thought you started? It was just the postlude to the first part of your story. The next book can only begin when you embrace, not what you were, but the next phase of your life, take with you the things that are good, but leave the bad behind.”

I had to come through it, and I was fortunate that I not only had friends that came back in my life from before I met Lori, but reclaimed friends that knew her before cancer, and those that knew her as she fought for more than the six official years of her diagnosis. People who helped me put the puzzle together, to see each piece as a part of a hole, and truly embrace what it was. A flawed, but ultimately good marriage where vows were lived and God was present. Yes there were struggles, but there were also so many laughs. And closing out the year at her mother’s house, with my son shooting BBs in his grandmother’s yard, seemed a fitting way to reintroduce those two to each other. To take with him the things that were good, and leave the bad behind.

And none of it would be possible if it wasn’t for my wife TJ. Who carries her faith in front of her and demands those around her honor and acknowledge it. Who not only professes the importance of family but backs it up with her actions. There are not halfs or steps in this family. Warrens, Johnsons, Williams, Hohmans, Rollins, Heltons, Clarks, Olszewskis, Bouchers, like it or not, we’re the same family now (and we travel together too). D is overwhelmed, he’s not used to having four brothers and sisters and I don’t think it’s even hit him that he’s an uncle – but that’s ok, mom is still working on the great-grandmother thing. And it is a beautiful thing.

Because it taught me something that made the other guy obsolete. For all the grief that could be carried, there is an overwhelming level of love. For all the sorrow, there is much more joy. If you let it be. And that’s why it’s taken so long to write. Because it wasn’t something that was active, it wasn’t planned, it was simply something that snuck up and overwhelmed.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, in the eighth chapter, verse 18, he writes, “For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

The people who have claimed the gift of grace are not to be replaced, nor are they to be forgotten, but none of them would wish loneliness or isolation. Lori specifically asked that I find someone that would be a good mother to Donovan (that wouldn’t let him go to Duke). My father spent years in conversation preparing me for the time when he was not. He saw it, on the horizon, and wanted me to be the one to remind the family that as he sailed into the distance, his boat getting smaller with each moment, there was someone on the shores we can not see excited to see his catamaran getting larger, ready to welcome him to the kingdom (a bit of prose that we joked about, for it’s truth and for the level of corny). My grandfather who told his stories, the hundreds of friends that I’ve overseen services for, and for all of those that passed too far away to be visited.

And so, I proclaim to you this truth…

Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12: 1)

Any loss brings about a moment, where you know, just like that, nothing will be the same again. But do not remove yourself from the love that surrounds you, from the possibility of love coming into your life. For God so loved the world…. and loves you.

May you persevere, until the present sufferings give way to glory, and may it be revealed in a way that leaves no doubt of God’s love for you.