Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Slow Down

And so it begins. That raucous pace with which we enter and navigate through the holiday season is upon us. I have been experiencing it in full force lately even as I have wondered what happened to the Fall. Since Advent starts this coming Sunday, we are into Christmas music starting this week. I had a rehearsal last night and we began to wade into Christmas music with “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It’s actually a fairly fascinating story to read about the genesis of the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, you should check it out sometime.
On the way home from rehearsal, as I went through my “TO DO” list in my mind, my window, for the second time in a week, got stuck in the down position amidst the rain. I had already spent $500 on it last week and was not looking forward to having to be carless for another day while I waited for the mechanic to fix what should have been fixed a week ago. I’m not a big fan of things not getting done right the first time, so I was a little frustrated.

As I drove home, thinking and saying words that I never should have, I began to play through my day today. I had already had a number of things to get done and now the mechanic would need to be a detour that I was not welcoming. I chose to forego schoolwork in favor of a good night sleep and went to bed early. With a cold/sinus infection in full force, it seemed like the right choice. I awoke in the middle of the night, stressed about the disruption of my schedule today. How would I ever get everything done? Would I be able to?

Feeling somewhat well-rested this morning, I drove to the mechanic, praying that I would maintain my testimony as a pastor and disciple of Christ when I got there. I fought all of my urges to speak my mind and simply replied, “Pretty bad” when the gentleman behind the desk asked me how I was doing. Hey, I’ve got to be honest, right? Thinking that it was a smart thing to arrive early, I soon realized that although they opened at 7, none of the mechanics seemed to be there until about 8. So, I waited for about an hour before they even brought the car into the bay. Frustration continues.

As I thought about it, I really began to wonder what kind of a test this might be. Every holiday season, I find myself preaching the message of slowing down, taking it all in, and remembering what the purpose of these holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, is. It’s not Black Friday. It’s not consumerism. It’s really about thankfulness, family, and redemption. It’s about remembering what we have been given and not taking it for granted. It’s about a gift that was given that we could never replicate, replace, or contrive on our own.

Maybe this detour was God’s way of telling me to “SLOW DOWN” instead of running rampantly into the season. As I sit here at my desk, I can hear the wind blowing outside my open window. The sky is gray and it will probably rain later. The church is fairly quiet as most of the school children have gone home and the office is officially “closed.” I’ve probably forgotten to do something important, but I imagine that it will have to wait. I am taking advantage of the peace and solitude that can be experienced in this moment. The silence of these few minutes is a salve for my wounded and weary soul. I have been tired, frustrated, worn-out, sick, grieving, stressed, short-tempered, and spiritually thirsty. These moments are the exact moments that I have been waiting for. When life becomes hectic and fast-paced, it’s amazing what a few brief moments can do to recharge the soul.

Even as I think forward to Black Friday, I can’t help but laugh at the irony that a day that is supposed to be a good thing for consumers is termed “Black Friday.” Not necessarily the most encouraging of names, a fairly bleak name, but I guess if we consider that consumerism is a fairly bleak path to be on, it sort of makes sense.

Before your holidays get under way, before you make your list of things to hunt for on Black Friday, take some time to write down the things for which you are thankful. Those few moments of reflection will be good for your soul, and chances are, the things you write down will be around much longer than whatever deals you might find on Black Friday.

Here’s my list:

My Family – wife, kids, Dad, brother, extended family

My God – grace-filled and loving

My Freedom – it’s never really free

My Job

My Health

There’s a whole lot more, but that stands as a fairly good top 5 list. Happy Thanksgiving and a blessed Advent season!

Monday, November 21, 2011

What A Difference A Year Makes

Tomorrow morning my sons have their Thanksgiving pre-school program. A year ago, only my oldest was in pre-school and my parents had just moved to Williamsburg. It was supposed to have been the first of many school programs that my parents were to attend. We were all so looking forward to them being so close. There was an air of excitement that morning as my parents arrived to watch their first grandson performing his songs. Programs like that are never about the music so much as they are about the cuteness and belly laughing that come from watching kids do what kids do.

A year later, things look pretty different. My father won't be able to make the pre-school program. He's not eating well. He's not sleeping well. He's not feeling well. He's alone. His life is radically different than it was a year ago. His love, his life, the woman whom he had been married to for over 40 years is gone and he is trying to put together the pieces of his life and negotiate the rough waters of the holidays for the first time in nearly 50 years without the one person that he has shared life with.

It certainly brings new perspective on the holidays. As we so effortlessly transition from Halloween to Christmas, skipping right past Thanksgiving, it seems a good reminder that few things in life should be glossed over as easily as some holidays have been. Especially significant holidays.

I think we'll make it through. There will be a newness to everything. It will be a season full of firsts. We will do the best that we can. We will cry. We will laugh. We will love. That's exactly what Mom would have wanted us to do. Life is different, she is gone, but we are still here.

In many ways, I feel that I have the advantage in this situation because of my children. With young children, every day is an adventure, a new opportunity, a chance to make memories with them. It is hard for my dad to find that same perspective because so much of his life has been lived. That's not to say that there is nothing left for him, it's just harder for him to find that same perspective given the circumstances in which he finds himself.

Over the past few years, holidays have been so different for me. Being a pastor, I have rarely had the opportunity to spend the Christmas holiday with anyone other than my wife and kids. It's a blessing to have them, but sometimes we long for the company of blood relatives. We love our church family and friends, but life is short and nothing replaces family. I have lived so far away from family for Thanksgivings since 2004 that traveling "home" has not really been an option. So, change has been part of the holidays for me, a part that I have had to embrace and accept.

Yes, a year doesn't seem like much, but it can make a world of difference in our lives. Life looks pretty different now, much different than it did 12 months ago. There will be tears and memories will be recalled during the coming days. There will also be smiles, moments of laughter, and new memories made. The spirit of my mom lives on in me and in her grandchildren as well. We miss her, but one day, we'll celebrate together again. Love and miss you, Mom!


It's been a fairly interesting week in my world. I have been recovering from a minor surgical procedure and am looking forward to being at 100% (whenever that will be). The holidays seem to be upon us and I keep asking myself where the rest of the Fall went. September and October are behind us and November's end is close at hand. Not sure how I missed two months of my life, especially when one of those months included the birth of my third child.

After playing Wii with my 5 year old for far too long yesterday afternoon, we went outside and he and my 3 year old rode bikes. The 5 year old still has training wheels on, but I figured that he might be ready to try two wheel riding today. I've got a little hitch in my step, so I couldn't chase him around for too long, but he made some great strides towards riding by himself and there were no major injuries. I giggled to myself as he said, "This is pretty easy." Deep inside, I felt a keen sense of pride.

The boys of the family went to the library the other day and I decided to get some Thanksgiving books out while we were there. Instead of additional consumption of television time after dinner, we dove into a few of these books. The trusted Berenstain Bears book was a major disappointment. Guess my expectations were greater. While reading through one of the other books, my 5 year old began to read some of the words and so I decided to see how much he could read. He read all of the words that were listed on the 2 pages with Thanksgiving terms.

Before bed, I had him read one of those graded readers that you can buy at places like Target and WalMart. He made it all the way through a story about Lightning McQueen and Mater. Again, I swelled with pride, so much so that the glow may have outshined the neighbors' Christmas lights. I was impressed and I was proud.

As I thought about these achievements in my son's life, I began to wonder how long it would be before I began to focus more on the words that he was getting wrong rather than the words that he had gotten right. I wondered when I might become unsatisfied with his efforts of reading 10 pages and push him toward 15 or 20 instead. I wondered if these things were inevitabilities or if they could still be prevented.

We have such a tendency in our society to look at the negative and I am a product of that. Yearly reviews come up in our jobs and we might talk for 5 or 10 minutes about the positive achievements that we have made and spend the other 45 minutes or so talking about all of the ways that we might improve. While I have no problem seeking ways in which I might improve, I wonder if there is more of a balanced approach that we might take.

I want to be an encouragement for my children. I don't want them to be in therapy years from now talking about how hard they tried to win their dad's approval. At the same time, I am a parent and not a friend. If I start as a parent, the friendship will come in later years. That's not to say that there is no enjoyment in my time with my kids, it just means that in the battles that rage, I need to be a parent first and a friend second. I want my kids to know that I am proud of them but I also want them to know that I have high expectations of them because I know what they are capable of.

As I watched my 5 year old ride across the cul-de-sac towards our lawn on two wheels, I was struck with a wave of emotion. Part of it is the newness of the holiday season entered into fresh off the heels of the loss of my mom. There will be grief and sadness but there will also be newness as every day is a new opportunity with my children. But 5 years has gone by quickly, and though I feel like I have spent some quality time with my kids, the magnitude of my responsibility and the benefit of my opportunities became readily apparent to me. My son will only be 5 years old once, am I taking advantage of this time?

I have heard the cliché over and over again about the fact that no one who is on their deathbed says they wish they had worked more. Life is all about balance and I feel like I am constantly walking the fence over getting it right. Milestones are called such because they happen infrequently. I don't want to miss them because those are the things which I, and my children, will hold dear years from now. Sometimes things have to wait. Lawns. Dishes. Reports. Meetings. There are more significant things waiting to be experienced by people who will appreciate them way more. Don't forget to make time for those things. If you happen to see me and I look like I'm forgetting, don't hesitate to remind me. We all need reminding from time to time.

Friday, November 18, 2011


As I sit here at my computer, reading about yet another college sports program being ravaged by accusations of sexual abuse, I am in stunned silence. Our justice system tells us that people are innocent until proven guilty, but these allegations mar the reputation of these programs regardless of the truth behind them. I find it hard to understand why anyone would make up stories like this and instead think that perhaps the bravery and boldness of the few who first spoke up has given courage to others who feel that their stories need to be shared.

As a father of boys, I have thought about the accused as "dirty old men." Once upon a time, that phrase seemed to be reserved for old men who made comments to females passing by, even their "dirtiness" may have been limited to some lewd looks, gestures, or remarks. These recent allegations move past intangible comments or gestures and delve into a new area. That's not to say that rude comments and gestures are innocuous, because they are just as capable of causing harm to the victims, but once the physical boundary is breached, the crime moves into a whole new realm.

It's hard to understand just how a person comes to the place where they think that this kind of behavior is appropriate. In my mind, there are two things that can lead to this: lack of accountability and abuse of power.

Regardless of how strong any of us thinks that we are, we need to be held accountable. When we lack accountability, we open ourselves up to all kinds of potential dangers. If we do not have people around us who can ask us difficult questions and call us out when we begin to do inappropriate things, the slope on which we may find ourselves will be slippery, at best. Accountability means that we submit ourselves to people whom we trust, people who have the potential for reaching down and pulling us out of any pit in which we might find ourselves.

Anyone who has found themselves in a position where people look up to them has most likely experienced the inner emotion that comes from that kind of power. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we have probably all wondered how much we could use (abuse?) the power which we have been given. This possession of power points back to accountability. If we find ourselves in positions of power, we absolutely need people who are looking out for us.

Regardless of your viewpoint of Billy Graham and his ideology, it's hard not to respect the man for the choices that he has made in his life. Early on in his ministry, he made the decision to never travel alone and never be found with a member of the opposite sex (other than his wife) alone. As one considers the life and ministry of Rev. Graham, he resembles Teflon in many ways, any allegations that may have come at him would simply "not stick" because of the accountability and structure that he had set up around him. That is wisdom.

It seems like a lot of allegations of these kind had been reserved for members of the clergy, both in the Catholic and Protestant churches. As the floodgates open and additional allegations surface, it seems that anyone is capable of this kind of behavior. Regardless of what position of leadership we find ourselves in, it is in our best interest to be held accountable. If we keep our behavior in check and have others who are watching us, any allegations that might be lobbed our way will hold less weight simply because we have covered ourselves with people to watch what we are doing.

We might look at the Penn State case and say, "What happened here?" Paterno claims to have confronted Sandusky on his actions, even going so far as taking it to a higher up official who did nothing. Who are the people that act in these positions for us? Do we trust that they will have our best interest in mind, regardless of the price that we might pay if we begin down the wrong road? Friends who are willing to hold us accountable are willing to do so even when it becomes difficult. If the relationship is strong enough, it will endure, even when we are confronted with difficult issues.

I learned a long time ago to never say never. While I could claim that I am incapable of the kind of behavior that has surfaced in recent days, I know that my environment can dictate much. Malcolm Gladwell wrote, "all of the results strongly suggest that our environment plays as big - if not bigger - a role as heredity in shaping personality and intelligence." Given the right (or wrong) circumstances, we may be capable of things that we did not think possible, yet another reason for accountability. While it might be an inconvenience for us to change things in our lives to incorporate this kind of accountability, I can guarantee that the inconvenience would be minor compared to finding ourselves in a place where we have done irreparable harm to ourselves and others. It's all a matter of perspective, and frankly, I would much rather a minor inconvenience that impacts me versus a major inconvenience (or worse) that impacts many others as well

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Truth Is Out There

I have been thinking a lot lately about the notion of truth as well as standards in regards to that truth. We are constantly bombarded in the media with stories of court cases where both sides are attempting to convince a judge or a jury that their version of the “truth” is the right one. Our society has promoted a relativism in which truth is no longer an absolute but is created by individuals based upon personal preference, level of comfort, and experience.

What happens when we find ourselves in a place where truth is defined on a person by person basis? How do we establish a standard to which to hold people? If truth is relative, what (and who) is the ultimate authority that defines this truth?

In a democracy, we would most likely say that our government, which is by the people and for the people, is the defining body, the final authority on what “truth” is. But what is the standard that they hold? Do they hold a standard? Does that standard move or is it constant?

As a follower of Christ, I believe that God’s Word is the ultimate authority for Truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” This is an absolute which is not easily digested by a relativistic culture. But it does not change, regardless of the flawed people who claim to adhere to the Truth of Scripture, regardless of their imperfect interpretations, clouded by a broken and fallen nature in a broken and fallen world.

My major concern over a “floating truth” is that there is nothing that pins it down. There is nothing that makes it stable. There is nothing that guarantees that it will be there five minutes from now. It changes, which seems to be somewhat contrary to the definition of truth. If truth is ever-changing, how can it really be truth?

I am not a philosopher, nor am I the son of a philosopher. I don’t claim to fully understand the different theories that philosophers through the ages have posed to answer these questions. What I do know is that if truth is ever-changing, the future cannot be bright. If definitions can be redefined based upon what makes me or someone else comfortable, they are unstable, and we are in serious trouble!

There are some who believe that the answer to this is that we become a “Christian” nation. I have visions of the Crusades in my head, people being forced to attest to a specific viewpoint for fear of their life. While I don’t think it would ever come to that, there are some who would read that and say, “So, what’s wrong with that?” That’s as troubling to me as the idea of a flexible set of rules.

There are others who see no problem with a society where truth changes as often as the weather. I would gather that the moment that it began to cause them any discomfort or pain might be the moment that they take issue or exception with it, but that may be presumptuous of me.

Regardless of the extreme viewpoints, I know this one thing for sure: we are on a slippery slope when truth can be redefined by my level of comfort with it. If I project the path down that slope, I fear where standards and lines will be drawn. There are three children that I love deeply who I know will be impacted by that future and that slope. And to be honest, it scares the hell out of me. My imagination can contrive some fairly dark depths to which that slope leads and it pains me to think that they would be affected by that.

If you are one who believes that truth is relative, ask yourself whether your opinion of it would change if there were negative consequences for you. While you might not think that this could be a possibility, is there really something there in a relativistic society to prevent it from happening? After all, truth is relative and subject to change, so are laws and legislations, right?

If you are one who believes that “Christianizing” our culture is the solution, try to project out that path for the future. While those of us who follow Christ are called to make disciples, leading someone to meet Christ is far different than forcing them to do so.

I don’t have the answers, but I know that something is broken. The truth is out there, it’s just a matter of which version of the truth you are willing to accept. If it is constantly being changed and redefined, there’s a lot of instability there. Unstable systems will prove to be volatile and even explosive. They may operate in a ruled and controlled environment for a time, but eventually, the instability will prove too great. Caution: contents under pressure