Words to ponder and reflect on

Isaiah 55:6-9 GW

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Time—for nothing and yet for much

It’s been a while since I last blogged. I have had many thoughts and ideas. But I haven’t been able to type.

July 20, 2017: A fall on concrete caused me to break two bones in my left shoulder. The good news— no surgery. But the rehab path is longer than I would like, and there are many things I can’t do.

What I can’t do?

Not as much as I would like. I can barely use my left arm/hand, and any movement causes extreme pain in the shoulder/elbow/arm. So this is my first attempt at trying to use both hands for typing. It’s frustrating for me because of my life as pastor and president of seminary. Many check lists of things to do, but I can’t right now.

One of the things I have loved doing over the past 50 years (post-high school) is reading, averaging 100+ books a year. But even that activity has been off limits. I can’t hold small (empty) plates, (empty) glasses, and certainly not a book to hold and read.

But the last two days I think I have found a work around. I sit in a recliner, pushed back to first “notch.” I put a large but soft pillow in my lap. Then with my right hand I lift the book and position it at an angle in the pillow so that I can read comfortably. I tried several positions and angles. Finally yesterday I attempted to read a little. I managed 15 pages. Tiring, but so relieved that I can do that.

(BTW the two handed typing lasted only the first two paragraphs of this post.)

I haven’t driven since my fall. And it looks like maybe 2-3 weeks before I can attempt that. I can’t buckle myself into a seat belt.

What have I done?

So far I have written about what I can’t do. But one thing I have done is think— a lot. Not the frantic thinking that my vocation demands, but slow, deep thinking. This takes time, not clock-watched time, but mind-resting time. I have needed this for many years, but never seemed to have time to make it happen.

So despite my complaints of what I can’t do, this aspect of thinking has been refreshing. No writing notes (that’s hard to do too). No pattern, demands, but thinking.

One topic is “What is Church?” At our (TAALC) 500th year celebration of the Reformation in Minneapolis, I am teaching on that topic. This isn’t a new topic for me. But it has given me an opportunity to think, think, and think more.

The current pace of “church” and attempts to tinker with the concept have left the church starving to death from lack of refreshing itself in Word and Sacraments. Likewise the church has been trying to implement methods of previous generations, or suffering from jet-lag reaching for the latest method, newest technique, sure-fire way to grow.

And yet…

Yet God has been building His church for almost 2000 years. One of the benefits of the Reformation for us as Lutherans is found in two statements appearing often in our confessions (Book of Concord):

“The church has always taught”

“We believe, teach, and confess”

The thrust of my presentation will revolve around these two expressions. Over the past month I have outlined in my mind the sense of the presentation. Even more I could begin teaching now. But I look forward to being able to write on this in the coming two months, to hone my topic, to be sure that I have expressed what we do “believe, teach, and confess.”

So, in this “lost time of productivity” I have gained what I need most: time to step back, evaluate, examine, reflect—and rest, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. For that I am truly thankful.

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Thank you…

BTW, thank you to the people in the church who have helped—driving me to doctor appointments (60 miles each way), to those who have made our congregation continue smoothly. Thanks to Alex McNally (seminarian) for preaching and teaching here during August. I was supposed to be on vacation, but that plan changed; in God’s time Alex’s planned visit couldn’t have been better timed. And thank you to everyone who has prayed for me during this time. And thanks be to God for the time I needed, but didn’t think I could afford.

More on Fire

Fire has been part of my life from my earliest memories. Our house burned (kitchen area) in 1952. I was three and caught in the kitchen‚ still have a snapshot memory of that. My father rushed in to rescue me. In the process he singed his lungs. My forehead had 2nd degree burns and entire face 1st degree. Being Irish and having that happen, I cannot be out in the sun very long.

I worked on the Maintenance Crew of the School District for four years while in college (1967-1970). One of the men I worked with was also a volunteer firefighter. One afternoon on the way home, the traffic was at a stand sill (yeah, in the country). There was an accident and my friend responded. One car was on fire, and the people were still alive, yet they couldn’t do anything to get out and neither could the fire fighters. Their screams haunted him for years. That stuck with me, too.

I served in the Navy from 1973-1982. I deployed aboard the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) for its last cruise (1975-6). We never had fire drills aboard the ship—Why? Because we has so many real fires that we didn’t need drills.

I worked at Sprint from 2000-2008. When we moved to the new campus (one of the first groups to do so), they wanted “Safety Monitors” (think fire). I accepted the position with one provision: if we ever had a drill, everyone on the floor (about 100 people) had to evacuate, no exceptions. People thought I was bluffing—until the first drill.

When the alarm went off, I began chasing people out, going to every desk in the unit. Some were reluctant. One Director did not want to go during a drill, I didn’t care. I offered that the Director could walk out, or be carried out. I went to VP and said we all needed to participate in a timely manner.  VP agreed—until a few fire drills later. I broke into an “important” meeting that the VP was having. VP was not happy, and mentioned that he was a VP and far outranked an analyst. I told VP that once the alarm went off I outranked him. We did have a couple fires over the years.

Interestingly after a couple years of training, our unit was always the first safely outside, accounted for, and reported.

When we moved to another building a (different) Director went to the (different) VP and said: I don’t care where you put me as long as Rich is the Safety Monitor on the floor.

I don’t have all the answers regarding fires, I only know from experience that thinking ahead and planning is critical. So when people talk about fire, DO NOT take an indifferent attitude, that doesn’t set well with me and shouldn’t with you.

We have moved 28 times. One of the first things we do is look at the fire escape routes. When we adopted our boys we did the same thing. Telling about fire dangers is not scaring them, it is protecting them They are worth it—you are worth it.

A couple years after the fire I discovered several 2nd cousins on my father’s side (my father never knew his father or any family until he met an aunt and uncle in 1979). There were about 10 of us in the family room talking. I mentioned the fire we had in 1998. I noticed concerned glances going around the room and couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I asked.

They said going back to my great-grandfather, every generation in every family branch, there was at least one fire. So my father had the fire in 1952, mine in 1998. And going back to the 1870s the pattern had held in every family. Sadly my son was in the 1998 fire, so he joins that “heritage.” Yeah, fire has been part of my life far longer than I imagined.

Bottom line: be prepared, be wise. If you have smoke detectors in your home or office, make sure they work, batteries are replaced regularly. If the alarm goes off, get everyone out—right away, if a fire extinguisher is handy and may be sufficient, good, but don’t risk other lives. Two minutes can be the difference between life or death.

June 30 — not on the calendar

There are special days on the calendar that carry much meaning and joy: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, moving days, etc. We may likely mark them on the calendar, as if we could forget them. They help define us and shape us.

Other days are still significant, but carry much different meaning. The focus isn’t joy, but something just as profound. We may not mark the date on the calendar, but our hearts know exactly the date. Etched in memory for good or bad.

June 30 is such a date for me.

Background

We were married in early 1971. One of the first things we did was to make sure we had smoke alarms. Second thing: we changed the batteries on April 1 and October 1, every year. I couldn’t do anything on those two days until the batteries were changed. A private joke between us. Little did we know how critical this would be.

In 1998, our son, his wife, and three grandchidlren (ages 3, 2, 1) had been living with us (in the parsonage) for almost a year and a half. A delightful time of love, and adjustment. Many happy memories amidst the challenges and struggles of melding two families.

June 30, 1998

In June 1998, my wife and I took vacation to Minnesota. At the end of that time, my wife decided to stay with her parents for a longer time. I drove home on June 29, a 12 hour drive capped off with joy at seeing our loved ones again after weeks apart. Our DIL’s youngest brother (age 12) was staying with us at the time, too.

At 4:45 AM the next morning our lives changed dramatically. The snoke alarms in the entire house were going off. The initial fogginess quickly dissapated. Replaced by urgency!

Our son instantly grabbed the keys to get our cars out of the garage and driveway. Our DIL and her brother and I began gathering up the grandchildren to get them outside. We had no time for gathering anything but children—no clothes, no extras, just get them out.

We rushed across the parking lot to the church. Since there were no cell phones, we had to get there to call the fire department. We could not even get near the house by that time. I don’t remember the time it took but eventually the police cars and fire trucks were all over the parking lot.

I remember one fireman said they couldn’t even go into the house for the first 20 minutes because the smoke was so bad. Later one of the investigators noted that had we been two minutes later getting out, we would not have survived because of the smoke.

The Aftermath

Later that morning and afternoon, the sudden change in our lives was further highlighted because we had no place to live (for 8 of us). We had no clothing, no food, nothing. We were in survival mode and even thinking about any immediate needs was beyond us.

By that time I was so shelled shocked I couldn’t think straight. But members of the church were arriving and helping us with minute to minute decisions. Including getting some food for the kids because breakfast was not a top priority initially. These people opened their homes—by afternoon we were separated into three different homes. We stayed with them for the next weeks until I could find a house for us to live in.

So grateful to those three families for sharing everything with us. That became our safe haven. We will never forget their kindness and love, their help in our instanteous need. Thankful for many others who pitched in with immediate clothing needs. We lost all of our household goods as well.

I felt really bad for our son and DIL—they had been saving some household items each month for the time when they would get their own place. They stored all of that in the basement —in the center of the fire. They lost everything. My heart was broken for them.

Both our son and DIL demonstrated how strong they were that day and in the following days. Both acted quickly, but never in a panic. I am so proud of what they did and all that they had been through. Love you both so much. 

One Last Effect

June 30, 1998 will be etched in all our minds as the day of the fire. Happily we had no injuries/burns. Our son and DIL eventually had two more children.

For me it marked the 7th major crisis in 9 months in my life. Three weeks later I had my breakdown—and that has affected me every day since then.

June 30 will not be marked on our calendars, but will be seared into our memories. So thankful to God for saving us that day, for seeing us through the long months afterward.

“See How They Love One Another”

Love— a big topic! The word is often misunderstood, misused, abused, twisted. And yet in the current debacle of love (in both the church and the world), there is a genuine love based on truth. What we in the church can do is to hold to that perfect balance of love and truth, sacrificing neither.

Competing views of Love

If someone is claiming to love, but twisting Scripture to support a false view, then we have to speak truth, calling a spade a spade. If abuse is happening in the name of love, then we can be sure that love is not part of the environment, no matter how loudly someone shouts about it being “Biblical love.”

True love described by Paul is the heart of what love looks like, acts like, and speaks like.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CSB)

As Christians we cannot let the world determine love; Scripture does that sufficiently. The people without faith can see problems in the world, even in love problems. In light of the great needs in the world, one suggestive, even tempting quip, is heard: “Let the Christian churches show their love for the hurting, refugees, persecuted.” There is some truth to that, but not the totality of the problems nor the solution of the problems. In other words, many can see the problems with love, but can’t offer a viable, sustainable model of love.

The starting point for Christian love is not the entire social mess in the world. Yes, the needs are pressing, but we cannot let that dictate what love is and looks like. Rather, the as we look at 1 John, we discover love that begins within the Church and moves outward, not the other way around.

1 John Speaks to the Church

This short post is about beginning in the local Christian congregation. If we cannot love those in our own congregation, then what can we offer the world? People will see our congregation and say, “If that is love, I want no part of it!”

John’s first letter proposes a different agenda for the Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament: “love for one another.” Given the atmosphere, attitudes, language among  Christians (at least in the U.S.), now is a good time to reflect on what John faced and wrote in the first century.

John minces no words about love in the life of a Christian—specifically love for other Christians:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:14-15 CSB)

How is love in our congregations? A real problem for Christians is when our love for others is feigned, and ultimately love is replaced by indifference. What does “cooling love” sound like? In the tone of dialog. In the descriptions of others? Of course, we may not always outright reject brothers and sisters in the faith in the congregation or attack them. We don’t have to. We are too subtle for that.

 How do we move beyond the superficial love?

John writes:

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16 CSB)

Jesus showed exactly what perfect love is. He sacrificed his own life, not for good people, but for sinners, like you and me. He loved in words and in deeds, all in truth. So John asks the first century Christians (and us!) to consider that in our love of other Christians.

If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18 CSB)

So the pattern for loving our brothers and sisters in faith, the very people we meet at worship, on the street, in our homes, is Jesus himself. As you read through the Gospels notice how Jesus loved— openly, freely, deeply. None of his love was based on what the person could do for Jesus, but because most of all the people needed to be loved, uncoditionally. And Jesus could do that—and did that.

John concludes this chapter with a summary of the thoughts above, with one specific addition.

Now this is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps his commands remains in him, and he in him. And the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he has given us. (1 John 3:23-24 CSB)

John adds that we know the Christ and his love remains in us: the Spirit who is given to us. Notice then we not only have the example and reality of Christ loving us, we have the Spirit leading us to live in Christ, to love in Christ.

Such description and hope mean that love is the central aspect of our life together in Christ. God continues to nurture our love by means of God’s Word (John 8:1-32), God’s forgiveness (Matt. 18:15-20), the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-29), and the daily reminder of our Baptism in Christ (Romans 6:1-7). Our actions reflect that love as Christ remains in us.

Thus, Jesus’ love transforms us so that we see the real problems in the world, not just the visually identified problems. Thus, in the church we see the heartache, abuse, neglect, despair, the broken relationships in our midst and respond with both the truth of God’s Word and the perfect love of Jesus as the solution. We speak with one another not “as if we loved them,” but “because we do love them.”

May the observation from a second century pagan become a tribute to God’s love in our midst: “See how they love one another.”

[more to follow]

Forty Years—Changes in Life

Forty years ago this month was a monumental time for me and my wife. I was in the Navy, had just been picked up for regular Navy, had been selected to attend Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey, CA), and we were making plans to move in August. We also had begun the application process for adoption. All of that was put on hold, though.

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That all changed during February 1977. After extensive tests I was diagnosed as insulin-dependent diabetic. I began taking insulin shots once a day. My diet, which wasn’t horrible, changed. I wasn’t overweight, but they put me on 1200 calories/day. My weight went from 165 to 149 in the first month. Eventually they had to move my calorie intake to 2200 cal/day.

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The first Navy lawyer I spoke with said that I would be out of the Navy within 3 weeks—get prepared. My doctor was much more supportive; he advised me to go through a medical board evaluation. Over the next 6 months I went through 5 medical boards (each at a higher level) to see what my status would be. Each board reversed the previous board’s decision. So first board (NAS Miramar): recommended full unlimited sea duty in the Navy. The next one (don’t remember specific command): No dismiss from Navy immediately. Back and forth for 6 months.

In mid August the final medical review board met in Washington, DC, consisting of five members: three line officers and two medical doctors. The vote: 3-2 approving me for full unlimited sea duty. That meant I was the first person in the Navy to serve on unlimited sea duty while still taking insulin. Many were shocked, although my wife and I had trusted whatever decision would be from God, we were relieved.

So how did we celebrate? Had a great evening out. We began packing for our move to Monterey at the end of the month.

Oh, I also had another kidney stone! Yep, when the Intelligence detailing officer (the one responsible for assignments) in DC called me, he had to call the hospital. He was shocked. He said something to the effect that why would I mess up all that everyone had done by ending up in the hospital??? Ah, sir, that was not in my plan of the day!

We moved a week later. I drove the moving truck, and apparently it helped the stone move, because that first week of orientation at NPGS I was back in the hospital (Ft. Ord Army hospital). Surgery was not successful. But the stone finally shot out two days later at 1 AM in the hospital. Got out of the hospital and began classes at NPGS that week.

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The Rest of the Story

In 1980 I was serving at Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic (FCTCL) as intelligence instructor. By this time God was moving me to consider seminary. In late December 1980 my wife and I agreed that I should do so. However, I had to serve another 1 ½ years because of NPGS commitment.

In the first week in January, 1981 I forgot to take an insulin shot. I checked the urine and it was ok. I went another day, and then another. I was due for a doctor’s check up (every month since Feb. 1977) that next week. He ordered the usual blood tests and my blood sugar was normal. The Dr. said, well, we might consider dropping your amount of insulin (I wasn’t on a real high dose to begin with). With fear and trepidation I told him I have not taken insulin in 10 days. I was prepared for the slap on the back of my head. Instead, he was enthusiastic and wanted me to go two more weeks, checking urine every day.

So in January, 1981 was my last shot of insulin. I have been insulin free since then, and blood sugar tests throughout the past 36 years have been normal. While I was still in the Navy I had to have monthly checkups. If the doctor was new, he began researching my records and claimed that they must have done the tests wrong initially. They wanted to explain how this could happen medically. My reply was: I think God healed me. Every doctor said, “That’s a lot more believable than anything I can do in explaining.”

That dramatic change allowed me to start seminary in September, 1982, without the worry of insulin and the complications of diabetes.

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Yes, a lot has happened in the last 40 years. Thank God for all of that.

Nostalgia in music

I have been a country music fan my entire life. We received our first 78 record player in 1951. A few months later we got a record Lefty Frizzell, “Mom and Dad Waltz.”

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I was not quite 3 years old and could’t read. But I loved that the song so much that my mother placed a large X (in pencil) so I knew which side to place up to listen to the song. I played it so often, I knew the words by the time I was 3, and sang my heart out. Note: I am not a good singer, but at age 3 who cared? That song began a 65 year love of old (now) country and bluegrass music.

Mimic Nostalgia

Over the decades I have listened to recordings of it. I have listened to many who have tried to mimic the sound of Lefty. But it still doesn’t quite make it. When the internet came along I checked out this song very early. Loved it again like 1952.

But mimic nostalgia leaves me feeling a little disheartened. Obviously I have to ask myself, can I ever listen to Mom and Dad Waltz apart from Lefty himself? For several decades I decided I couldn’t.

Nostalgia, New Again

About two weeks ago I as I was listening to Jamie Lin Wilson (superb singer I heard live in back porch series a year ago), I noticed another singer with her: Brennen Leigh. Excellent singer. And then found out she had recorded some of Lefty’s songs, including Mom and Dad Waltz.

Of course, I listened! I purchased through iTunes immediately!!

As I listened there was something intriguing about her voice and song choices. Yes, it was nostalgic but her voice also is contemporary. And she didn’t try to mimick. Rather, she has a voice that rings true, brings out the soul of the song in her own way. She is spot-on in her singing, in her instrumentals (great guitarist). Listening to her sing the song was like going back 64 years and capturing that moment for me.

Not often I write about music, but this song has a special place in my heart. And Brennen Leigh reignited memories and joy. Thank you.

Mom and Dad Waltz by Berennen. Check out many others that she sings.