CLICK HERE FOR BLOGGER TEMPLATES AND MYSPACE LAYOUTS »

Monday, August 03, 2015

Our Guest Blogger ... James Woods

And today we have a guest blogger!  My big brudder (aka: brother) James Michael Woods.  I'm grateful he didn't kill me when we were kids and he had the opportunity.  James has his own blog and this was a part of the product recently...

It’s not easy being eleven years old
And confined to the Impala’s backseat
For twelve
Stiflingly hot hours
With the windows down
And August’s thunder of rushing air
So loud
The AM radio could not be heard
And my nine year old brother
Protesting (accurately)
That I had wantonly
Crossed the invisible line
We had established as the DMZ
Between us on the
Sweltering black vinyl seat.

Dad did not believe in potty breaks
So we drank little
As we counted mile markers
Down US 66
And read Burma Shave signs...
If Hugging on Highways
Is Your Sport
Trade In Your Car
For A Davenport!


Deep into the night
Dad searched for a bargain motel.
They always looked beautiful
Washed in red and blue neon lights
Affixed where gutters should have been.
The cabins typically were walled
In knotty pine
The in-window air conditioners rumbling
Like an idling diesel.
The beds were sometimes equipped with
Magic Fingers
That shook the mattress
For ten minutes
The way a wet dog shakes itself.
Fifteen bucks for the room
And a dime for the vibrating bed.
Glorious!

The black and white TV’s
With "rabbit ears"
Received a station or two
But often had to be smacked on the side
To stop the picture from rolling.
But that didn’t matter.
We were on vacation!
Mom and dad tantalized us
With promises of stopping the next day at
The Ozark Mule Trading Post
Where, if we were good
Could buy a pecan log candy bar (my choice)
Or a box of malted milk balls (my brother's choice)!

The new DMZ was now drawn down
The center of our bed
But that was okay
Because sleeping brothers cross that line
All night long.

Those days live only in memory.

I’ve stayed at expensive hotels
Ate wonderful dinners
And haven’t desired a pecan log
For fifty five years.
The Ozark Mule is in ruins
As well those bargain motels.
Movies can be had on any Smart Phone
And today's kids don’t know
What an AM radio is
Much less "rabbit ears"
And rolling pictures.

My brother and I love one another
And the idea of any DMZ
Between us is laughable.
I spoke with him last night.
(Actually, texting has supplanted voice.)
But we are loyal citizens of the backseat
Where memories of oppressive heat
Fading AM signals
Cheap motels
And too-few potty breaks
Have served to make aging brothers
Become young once more.

I would do every bit of
Those rattling road trips
Over again
With one exception…
There is never to be another
No-man’s land
Between Ron’s half of the Impala
And mine





James, you are far more gifted at writing than I ever dreamed of being.  Thanks for the memories!



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Open Letter To God On The Occasion Of My Sixtieth Birthday

An Open Letter From Me To God...

Dear Unfathomably Huge, Mind Alteringly Loving, and Shockingly Supportive Heavenly Father...


There is so much I want to say and so few keystrokes within which to say it.  If I were to attempt to mention all of the things I would like to thank you for my computer memory would over flow and the knuckles of my fingers would wear out.  (Come to think of it, my knuckles are wearing out anyway.  Since we are on the subject, You think You could help me out with that?)

Well.  Today.  Sixty years.  Really?  I mean, how did that happen?  I do not mind being sixty.  But I feel a little like a guy who decided to drive across the country from coast to coast.  I figure I am three quarters of the way to my destination.  So if I left New York sixty years ago I should arrive in California in twenty more years.  The problem is that should put me around the Colorado/Utah border, and yet I occasionally smell salt in the air. Perhaps I am really around Sacramento?  That would be alright.  My tires (and scalp) are getting bald.  There are much worse things than getting home early.

Anyway, God.  Thank you for all of those years that were pre-cognitive for me.  The blurry years.  Mental images captured in the, as yet, unfocused camera of my brain.  Holding my father's hand and staring across the Detroit River at a far-away-land called "Canada."  I know he was telling me about it.  He made it sound like Narnia.  I've been there now, and it is not.  Mom explaining to me that a "Detroit Tiger" lived across the street.  God, I really had no idea what baseball was.  (If I had, would I have chosen to be a Cub fan?  Doubtful.  We'll talk about that later.)  All I knew was that a Tiger lived in that brick house.  I never crossed Vaughan Street again.

Somehow, by your grace (and I increasingly believe by your predestination) I lived long enough to move to Chicago and become an adolescent.  A place and a time of growing.  Of tall corn fields and even taller buildings.  Moments came into my life that have lasted.  Moments represented by phrases like, bad baseball, senior prom, dates, Jesus loves you, get a job, this diploma is seriously mine?, I do, would you go buy some more diapers, we're moving to St Louis.  And it was all because of you, God.  You kept me alive through a truck accident that should have killed me.  You saw me though nine years of higher education while cutting my teeth as a youth pastor, a new husband, a young father, a school bus driver, a factory worker, and a growing kid of yours.  The fact that I survived is proof that you exist. 

Then came the middle.  At least I assume it was the middle.  We shall see.  There was more youth pastoring, crazy insane ministry situations that broke me and sent me to the wilds of Colorado where you and a wise group of people gently held me for three weeks and literally healed and reformed my soul.  There was grace found within the walls of the home I lived in my with my wife and three phenomenal kids, within the congregation of a church that I loved more than I loved my own soul, and repeatedly in the stillness of a monastery in Minnesota where Godly people taught me about grace and prayer and hearing your still, soft voice.  You walked the woods with me and met me on a labyrinth made of mulch and released me from my past.  And then there was explosion and ugliness and pain.  All couched in sin and pride.  I fought the good fight with every breath until a wise man told me to stop fighting.  To move away from the battle or most certainly die.  Then there was more healing.  And there was Cleveland.  A lonely studio apartment all alone hovering ninety feet above Lake Erie with only you to talk to.  You were in the howl of the wind every night as the winter gale blew in from Canada and the Arctic Circle above that.  There was ... is ... my Towerview family.  Senior saints and young families all coming together to be a sweet fragrant offering of salvation in our community.  Here I find my brothers and sisters who wear uniforms to work every day.  They keep me safe as I walk out my life and I repay them by having their backs in prayer and teaching them your Word.

There is Debbie.  Kelli and Joe.  Scott and Amanda.  Chris and Laura.  There is Elle, Paisley, Judah, Liam, Beckett.  My Tuesday night family (they know who they are.)  My Thursday night family.  (They know who they are.)  My breakfast buddy.  My lunch buddy.  The small army of people that I talk to so frequently by text, or on the phone, or in my office, or in our homes.  They all know who they are, God.  And I know who they are.  They are a gift.  From  you, to me.  And I thank you because they keep me sane and walking in a straight line toward your throne.

So, yeah, God.  I'm sixty today.  Entering the fourth quarter.  Plenty more game to play.  Plenty more names to add to those above that I am so thankful for.  But know this, God.  If I've got the timing off.  If it all ends with my "race red" Mustang embedded in the grill of an eighteen wheel truck this afternoon ... I am honored by every moment you have given me.  I am speechless over every person you have sent me way.  (Some in a good way.  Some ... )  Sometimes I am so tired that I just want you to call my name and let me come home, collapse in a chair in your living room, and savor the sweet smells of heaven.  Yes, sometimes life does that to me.  But most of the time I am ready for you to call the next play. I'm ready to run another mission a yard from the gates of hell.  I know if I get back there I will recognize my foot prints from other missions.  It's been a crazy ride, God.  Crazy.

I would be out of line... totally remiss ... if I did not tell you this.  I love you.  With every breath.  Every heart beat.  Every step.  Every thought.  I am so far from perfect, God, that it scares me.  How can you possibly love  me?  And then I remember.  I remember your voice on those nights when you have woken me from my slumber to let me hear you sing over me.  And I look at the moon.  And I remember why you made it.  And I love you all the more....

Monday, June 22, 2015

I Try To Say Good-bye And I Choke ... (spoiler alert: a "downer blog" with a "upper twist")

Father's Day, Circa 2015, has been a little gloomy.  I greatly enjoyed the lunch with my daughter and her family, the hug from Christopher when in invaded his work place, and the extended FaceTime with Scott and Amanda from their home near Chicago.  Debbie treated my like a King, feeding me and encouraging me to do whatever I wanted.  We had a great day at church, complete with bacon at a breakfast the ladies of our lives prepared for the men folk.  You cannot beat bacon.  It was a day filled with very good stuff. 

The truth is that fifteen years ago today was the last time I saw my dad alive.  It was the last time I shared a sentence with him.  My dad passed away from liver cancer on June 23, 2000 in Mtn. Home, Arkansas.  I think of my dad every day and give him more than a passing thought around this time every year.  And this year, even more so.  I suppose it is because the anniversary of my last visit with him coincided with Father's Day.  Honestly, we will have a talk about that some day when I catch up with him.  He could have chosen any other month for his home-going.  He did not have to mess up my holiday.

In June of 2000 I was at Centrifuge with the teenagers of my church.  I called my parents daily to check on them and especially to inquire into dad’s health.  I knew he was not well.  Dad had cancer and he was taking a mild chemo to relieve the symptoms and try to buy him another year of life.  I was with him when the doctor recommended it.  I took him to his first treatment several weeks before.  I could live with that... Another year.  I would make it endless.  I made plans to go there every other week knowing we would laugh and talk and share stories.  The year would last.  I called him from a pay phone(remember those?) at Centrifuge in the middle of the week.  That is when I discovered he was in the hospital.  It seems he had fallen and mom found him on the floor. When we talked he sounded so weak... So frail.  I asked him if I should come and he told me to wait until after Centrifuge.  “Stay there son and do a good job.”  Those were his words.  I did as he said. 

But the week ended.  I returned home, got through the weekend, and went to Mtn. Home.  Dad was still in the hospital and clearly he was in trouble.  My dad was dying.  Not later.  Not in a year.  He was dying now.  I did the only thing you can do.  I sat with him.  

Over the next couple of days he drifted in and out of reality.  He would talk to me, weakly, but coherently.  And then he would be gone in a merciful wash of pain medication.  Scott was with me on the trip and on our last evening there we drove out to Lake Norfolk and engaged in the time-honored tradition of skipping rocks.  Then we drove back to check on dad.  I looked at what he had tried to eat for supper.  He had gently run his spoon through the soft foods in a halfhearted attempt at making me happy.   I took a surgical rubber glove out of the box by his sink, blew it up, drew a smiley face on it, and wrote, “We love you dad.”  Then I tied it near the foot of his bed where he could see it.  Dad was doing well tonight.  Maybe he’d rally and get back home after all.

The next morning, as I walked down the hall of the hospital, God whispered.  He does that.  When He knows I need to hear Him... He speaks.  Generally through impressions and never through an audible voice.  And this time He told me not to expect what I saw last night.  I kind of already knew.  As I walked into the room Dad was incoherent.  He gasped for air.  He wheezed.  I talked to him and I had no idea if he heard or understood.  Soon Scott came into the room.  We spent time in silence and time trying to help dad.  Trying to give him our strength.  Scott left for awhile.  Soon Dr. White came by.  He called me out of the room where he told me that dad’s liver was gone... Totally consumed by the tumor.  He was going to die.  But he had a strong heart and “might rock on for a week or two.”  Then he turned and left.  No “I’m sorry.”  No “Can I do anything?”  No “We are doing the best we can.”  He walked away and left me standing alone in an empty hallway with my hero dying 8 feet away.

I'm the pastor.  I am suppose to be strong.  I have been with other people at this moment dozens of times. This ... was different.

Scott returned and we knew we needed to pray with grandpa.  Dad suddenly woke from his restless slumber.  “Dad... Can we pray with you?”  Dad never talked about things like prayer.  Maybe he prayed.  Maybe he didn’t.  He told mom that he prayed the Lord’s Prayer before going to sleep each night of his adult life.  But he didn’t talk about it.  “Yes.”  It was a reply borne out of a gasp for breath.  I prayed.  I prayed the prayer of my life.  I had prayed it a hundred times by a hundred beds with a hundred dying men.  But this time the prayer took on new meaning.  Scott prayed.  And as we said “Amen” we looked at dad.  He was not looking at us.  He was looking past the foot of his bed.  He was looking up, above the TV, where the ceiling met the wall.  And he said in a strained, hoarse voice... “What is that?”  Scott and I looked up.  There was nothing there.  “What is what?”  I asked.  “What is that?” Dad gasped again and his eyes grew wide.  And we said nothing.  There was nothing where he was looking.  Nothing for our eyes to see.  But dad’s gaze remained fixed to the spot until he lapsed back into a merciful semi-coma.  I have wondered many times what dad saw that day.  Perhaps it was the delusions of a dying man.  Perhaps he saw the city of his dreams.  I don’t know. 

I sent Scott to the store to pick up groceries for grandma.  If dad might “rock on” for another week or two I needed to return home and make a sweep through the office.  I needed to check on my family and make sure they were ok.  I needed to find someplace to breath.

Scott left.  I sat by dad.  He struggled to sit up claiming that he had to go to the bathroom, unwilling to give in to the ever present catheter.  And then he slept.  He sucked air with all of his ability.  I stood by his bed.  I left the room.  I came back in.  I stroked his forehead gently.  I quietly told him how very much I loved him.  I told him how grateful I was for the life he had given me.  I thanked him for the countless hours of work to support his family.  I thanked him for the “Jimmy Jets” my brother and I always called our favorite Christmas presents ever.  I thanked him for being there even when he didn’t know how to speak words of wisdom.  I kissed him gently on the forehead.  I said, “Goodbye Dad.”  And I walked out of the room knowing in my heart that I would never see my father alive again. 

I walked through the hospital corridors.  I thought about going back and seeing dad one more time.  But I kept walking.  I exited the building into the bright sunshine of the parking lot.  I took keys from my pocket and opened the door to my father’s car, the huge, spotless 1978 Ford LTD.  Dad’s pride and joy.  He said when he bought it off of the dealer’s lot that it was the last car he would ever own.  I put the key into the keyhole, totally aware that my father would never do that again.  I turned over the big engine.  The radio was on and tuned to the station that Scott had punched in the night before.  Out of the speakers came the voice of Macy Gray.  “I try to say goodbye and I choke.  Try to walk away and I stumble.  Though I try to hide it, it’s clear, my world crumbles when you are not here.”  I sat in the parking lot for what seemed like an eternity.   Scott and I drove home that afternoon, a Thursday.  I planned on going back on Saturday.  Dad ran to Jesus on Friday.

And so I  suppose it is alright to be a little less than jubilant this Father's Day.  Fifteen years is a big deal.  It is a long time.  A "marker" of sorts on the highway through life.  I was driving from my office to my home for lunch today.  I like silence when I drive.  Today I broke with that tradition and flipped the stereo on.  Talk radio came across the air waves.  Ummm.  No.  Not today.  And so I pushed the button to go to FM.  And there she was again ...

"I try to say good-bye and I choke
I try to walk away and I stumble
Though I try to hide it, it's clear
My world crumbles when you are not here.."

Wow.  Macy Gray.  Fifteen years later ... to the day.  What were the odds...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Death By Pizza

I had a doctor's appointment last week.  My doctor is more than a physician to me.  She has become a friend.  After appointments we generally spend half an hour talking about her job and my job and family stuff.  I told her last week that I am about to turn 60 and I am planning on living till 80.  Any more is a bonus.  I mentioned that being 32 years old if she could stay out of the way of trucks she would most likely out-live me and, thus, I expect her at my funeral.  If I expire before 80 she has some explaining to do.  She told me that this should not be a problem and asked how I plan on dying.  (If nothing else, she can be a smarty pants.)  I told her we all die of something and my cause of death would clearly be "pizza." Or possibly cheese burgers.

That started me thinking.  While my purpose in life is not "eating," it is an appreciated perk.  And so here, revealed for your pleasure, are the "Top Ten Foods I cannot Say 'No!' to."  Warning ... simply reading this list will raise your cholesterol level significantly...

10.  Ok, let's just cut to the chase.  Here's my weakness.  Anything ... (almost) anything ... with a sauce on it.  I break out in a cold sweat.  My hands tremble.  My knees grow weak.  If you put a good cream sauce on a pop-tart it's going down.  Samson had his hair.  I have my sauce.  It's how I live.

9.  Lasagna.  Juicy.  Tomato-y ... Meaty.  Cheesy.  Cut into a brick about the size of your head.  If you don't have a favorite go ... no ... run ... to "Sugo's" in Edwardsville.  Best lasagna on the planet.  And yes, as a matter-of-fact, I have tried them all.

8.  Jay's BBQ Potato Chips.  What do you mean you haven't tried them?  GO.RIGHTNOW.DOIT.  You'll never be the same

7.  M&M's.  Or as we say at my house, W&W's.  And you must eat them so that you always have the same amount of all types of colors at all times.  You know.  In case the M&M Police come and check up on you.  (Option:  Eat all of one color before starting on another color.  Take them in any order as long as the dark chocolate ones are the last one down the pipe.  Yes, it matters.)

6.  A pork roast cooked all day long in a crock pot.  And then when you eat it you douse it in some kind of special potion my mother-in-law concocted.  I have no idea what is in it but I'm pretty sure it starts with ketchup and mustard.  Brown sugar seems evident as well.  This will go down as the signature donation of my mother-in-law to the human race.  (Thanks, Ruth!)

5.  This one is special.  Dad introduced me to tamale's.  He said he had a weak stomach and so he never ate pizza.  But he would eat tamale's prepackaged out of a jar and sold in Detroit grocery stores.  They came in mexican sause and were wrapped in corn shucks.  To this day I cannot turn down a tamale.  I've not been able to find them in grocery stores here so if anyone knows where they are, don't keep secrets!

4.  This will sound odd but ... a lovely tuna sandwich on white bread.  Mix in some diced pickles and light mayo.  Add a leaf of crisp iceberg lettuce.  This meal got me through highschool.  I consumed enough mercury in those four years to name a planet after.  As a matter-of-fact, they did.

3.  Skyline Chile from Cincinnati.  And since I don't live in Cincinnati I have a connection there (Hi, Joe Dills!) who sends me cans of their chili.  I use BallPark's Angus all beef franks, finely shredded cheddar cheese, and diced onions.  Microwave it to melt the cheese and you are set.  (Warning:  Stay away from open flame.  'Nuff said.)

2.  Pizza.  No, not Chicago deep dish.  While I love my hometown pizza it is not my favorite.  I prefer a place found around the windy city named "Aurelio's."  Put some sausage on it.  And pepperoni.  I must have my pepperoni!  And here is the key ... extra sauce.  ALWAYS order extra sauce!  (Lately I've been consuming "Alex's Pizza" from O'Fallon.  Alex is a one man band.  He takes the order, makes the pizza, and serves it.  All by himself.  Usually I stand at the counter and we chat while he tosses my dough in the air.  I love Alex.  He only has one flaw.  He refuses to put extra sause on my pie!  He says it makes it too messy.  This will eventually spell the end of our relationship.)

1.  Cheese burgers.  Oh, yea.  No need to hold the grease.  Add ketchup, mustard, grilled onions, and relish, please.  Oh, and make the cheese "pub cheddar cheese."  Not that fake stuff like they sell on nachos at the ball park.  Worth dying for ... and I just might do that.

Note:  You may have noticed bacon is not on my list.  Bacon is not a food. It is air. It is water. It is ... life.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Hi. My Name Is Ron And I Am Flawed

Life is not all sugar plum fairys and tip-toeing through the tulips with Jesus. We've all been around too long to expect that. I am a pastor and I love God with all of my heart. I am a human being and, as such, I am as flawed as the next guy. But I know it, and I'm working on it. All pastors that I'm aware of fit that description. The ones who drive me crazy are the ones who will not admit it.


I have an Anonymous "friend" who does not like me. That's alright. Sometimes I do not like me much either. But my "friend" seems to be upset that I did not publish a comment that I actually never received. So I did receive the following comment today. I decided to elevate it to actual "blog post" status instead of posting it as a comment. Why? I'm not really certain. I hope this makes "my friend" feel better. Personally I get my worth from Jesus and He likes me a lot. 

"Since you chose not to publish the last comment, I know you saw it. This is concerning. Things don't appear to be adding up mentally. There are people who can help you. If this is how you feel, you need help. Acting like a know-it-all ass of a pastor is not acceptable. Grow up. You are honestly the biggest disgrace to Christians. People at your church are starting to notice. Good luck."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Just Deep Enough To Drown

Michael W. Smith (and about 1,000 other artists) sing a song called, "Breath."  It's message is simple.  "This is the air I breath.  Your Holy Presence, living in me."  That's a good way to live.  A good way to think.  God should be what we take in.  God should be what we let out.  He should be our all in all.

Yet sometimes life overwhelms.  You get tired and run out of things to pour out of your soul for others feast on.  Sometimes you just find yourself subdued.  You struggle to figure things out in your own life or in the lives of others and answers do not come easily.  In this life questions will always outnumber answers.  Then you start second guessing yourself.  "Have I obeyed God?"  "Do I really love Him like I say I do?"  "What did I do to make God stand-off-ish?"

After that comes an even more difficult stage.  After you examine yourself in a very "Job-esque" fashion, and you come to the conclusion that you do indeed obey, love, and pursue God, and He still doesn't answer your questions, grant your requests, or come near ... you find yourself questioning Him.  "WHY doesn't He respond?  After all, you have obeyed Him, loved Him, and pursued Him. He owes you that. Right?"  Silly.  He does not owe you anything.

That is dangerous.  Dumb too.  But it is even more dangerous and dumb to lie about it if that is where you find yourself.  God is God.  So He already knows what you are thinking.  You are busted right off the bat.  All you have to do is entertain the thoughts and ... bang ... guilty.  So you eat yourself alive over that.  Now your guilt is at least doubled.

And you find the chorus going around in your head, "This is the air I breath.  This is the air I breath.  Your Holy presence.  Living.  In me."  But it isn't feeling so true anymore.  You are not breathing in His Holy Presence.  He occupies some far-off place that you cannot reach no matter how hard you try.  You remember that He was close by ... recently.  Or at least a while ago.  Maybe a few years back.  But you KNOW He was there.  So you anchor yourself to that.  You tie yourself off to it so tightly that when the next big wave of your personal storm comes, instead of that "rock of a memory" holding you tightly you actually bash yourself against it.  You bleed from remembering the past and comparing it with the present.

Now your boat is sinking.  You are taking on water.  I mean, you know that you cannot sink.  "He" has a grasp on you that cannot be broken.  You believe that.  You really do.  But you cannot deny that there is water in the bottom of the boat.  With every wave it washes over you.  It never gets so deep that you cannot see the truth.  There is always daylight just above you.  Just out of reach.  And you know there is air up there.  Spiritual air.  You can see it.  You just cannot feel it.  You cannot breath it. And there you are.  Not deep enough to be lost.

Just deep enough to drown.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mostocolli Life


I know a lot of dead people.  And by that I mean that I have buried a lot of dead people.  As a matter-of-fact, all of the people I have buried have been dead.  You may assume I take the doctor's word for their passing.  Or the coroner's word.  Uh uh.  Nope.  I have my own test I perform.  I do it when I am in the room all alone with the dearly departed.  I would tell you what the test is but then you would have nothing to look forward to if you should need my services someday.  A poll of those I have buried would show that I provide them with their last surprise before the lid is closed and the dirt is thrown.  So I'll just keep my secret.  For now.

After I present my surprise to the dead person, following the "rememberance celebration" (aka: funeral) and immediately in the wake of the dust being returned to the dust, most dead guys families return to their local church where they tell stories, wash their hands, (always wash your hands after leaving a funeral home.  Do not ask me why.  I studied this stuff.  Just wash your hands and be very glad you read this little article,) and then they sit down and eat mostocolli.  Always mosticolli.  Occasionally chicken is also offered but, think about it, every funeral you have ever attended had mostocolli served at the closing bell.  Right?  See what I mean?

I have spent considerable time delving into the question of the mostocolli.  I have talked to ministers of every denomination, funeral directors, church cooks, as well as the people who do the consuming of the "pasta of death."  All have their thoughts and opinions ... none really know why.  And why at every meal.  Every.  Single.  One.  Honestly, most seemed surprised when it dawned on them that they could not think of a single exception to the rule.  I remember after my grandmother's passing, just being a lad of 12 years, I asked my father if I had to eat the mostocolli.  Grandma's funeral was held in a particularly disgusting funeral home in a particularly disgusting town on a particularly disgusting day.  It was the kind of day grandma's are supposed to be buried on.  Thunder. Lightening. Hail. As if that were not enough all of her children were fighting the fight over who-gets-what.  (A time honored tradition in our brood.)  I did not want any stuff.  I just wanted a pass on the mostocolli.  My dad looked down at me from his superior position in the chair next to mine, his hand came up behind me and cuffed me a good one upside the back of the head as he said, "What?  Didn't you love your grandmother?  Shut up and eat your mostocolli."

We live.  We die.  We eat mostocolli.

Today I was at the gym and I was sweating.  I do not like sweating.  But my doctor tells me that for every minute I sweat I will add a minute to the end of my life.  She is the same doctor that told me that bacon will give you worms.  My doctor is a liar.  I think.  But I'm not sure.  And so I sweat.  I glanced  up at one of the televisions in the gym meant to distract you from the pain. Some kind of daytime drama was on.  Clearly they had all come from a funeral because they were in a large hall eating ... mostocolli.  And then the program ended with one of those montage's where they show you all of these pictures of the dead guys life that are intended to make you weepy.  Except that I did not know the corpse.  I guess it was because I was not emotionally involved that I noticed that this guy ... this unlucky dead guy ... had lived the mother-of-all mostocolli lives.  I mean, if those were the high-lights ... I pity those who had to hang around him on the normal days.  He was, putting it mildly, boring. Bland. Dull. A Ho-hum-human.

And that is when the light came on.  They were eating mostocolli because it was indicative of the type of life they were remembering.  The guy had lived a mostocolli life.

Ugh.

I began running a quick check on the lives of some I had buried.  Not all of them. Certainly not YOUR loved one. But the ones who came to mind?  They had all lived mostocolli lives. Every one of them. Oh man. The implications are enormous. You have to work out your own but here is what it comes down to for me.

My funeral meal? Prime Rib.  I want to live my life now in such a way that the cooks will have to dig out new recipes. I want my kids to have call a family meeting before they put me down because they see the need to hire a chef. I want them to have to put together a guest list because they can't afford to feed everybody who wants to come. And I don't want them to come just for the gourmet meal. Oh, no. No, no, no.  I want them to come because they had a blast watching a life lived out that called for this kind of feast. I haven't come close to attaining that. Not yet. I'm hoping I'm maybe about to rise out of mostocolli into Salsbury Steak. I'm not sure which one tastes less. That means there's a very long way to go. To quote my friend, Nathan, I have a massive frown-ey face over that. But like that guy Paul said one time ... "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12 NIV) I'm traveling. From mostocolli to holey-moley.

Give me prime rib and/or give me death!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Going For Broke

Christmas makes me misty eyed.  Oh. Wait.  I got that wrong.  That should say, Christmas leaves me mystified.  Before you have me removed from western civilization, please let me explain.  I love Jesus.  I love everything about Him even though I don't understand everything about Him.  It's just His birthday that leaves me a bit confused.  No, this isn't your typical rant about Christmas shoppers who check their soul at the door when they hit the mall.  They don't bother me, primarily because I do not go to the mall.  I use to think they were pretty cool places.  Not so much these days.  The last mall I liked was an outdoor one in the suburbs of Cleveland.  It was a cozy little place called "Crocker Park."  It is a bit of an enigma that an outdoor place in Cleveland could be called cozy in December.  But it was cozy in that "I love everything about winter" kind of way.  This place had outdoor chess sets on stone pedestals surrounded by faux leather chairs.  I use to watch men ... grown men ... sit in those chairs and play chess as the snow fell.  True, there were big fire-filled heaters blazing near them.  But come on.  The great "north coast" in the winter would make the most hardy St. Louis souls whimper in torment.  Forgive me but I thought it rather wonderful.

But I digress.

The thing that mystifies me about Christmas is that we all seem to embark on this quest to make each one perfect.  No, we cannot control whether or not we will have a white Christmas. (Sorry, Bing.  We haven't figured it out yet.)  We do not pretend to be able to stop the wars or the violence in the streets even for a day.  There will always be things out of our control.  Still, do you feel what I feel?  It's some kind of driving force inside of me that wants to make certain positive memories are made. And that means that everything has to be just right.  In my personal situation, I have to know that I preached the right sermons to our congregation.  I have to know that my kids and my grandkids are happy.  In reality, those fall into two separate and distinct spectrums.  Grandkids fall into the "buy me something" category.  They want the coolest new toy.  (I agree with them!)  My kids, all but one now venturing into their thirties, want that thing called "Cash."  My wife wants nothing and strongly insists that I give it to her.  I, in turn, refuse.  Because that would wreck my vision of perfection on Christmas Day.  So, you see, it's all about me after all. 

I think I digressed again.

I am not in charge of the food and so I cannot make it perfect.  But ... if it is not perfect I do make a note of it and I'll covertly do anything I can to fix that problem next year.  No body wants to remember an uncooked turkey.  (I'm looking at you, Hokkaido.)

I suppose I am looking for laughter.  And smiles.  And genuine joy.  I am trying to distance myself and my family from sadness.  Conflict.  The kind of sarcasm that hurts.  (I love the playful kind.  I suppose, to me, it is all about intent.  Always design sarcasm to make both parties laugh.  Never intend for it to cut or wound.  Well intentioned sarcasm is a gift.  Sarcasm with evil intent can destroy a soul.) 

When I stop and give it room to roam in my brain I think maybe, as one year was grinding into another, I finally grew up.  As a youth pastor for 33 years life usually allowed me to fly rather Peter Pan-ish most of the time.  And then one day my phone became the one to ring when tragedy would strike. It changed everything.  I am not the same person I use to be.  No need to go into all of that.  Let me just say that dealing with the extreme cost that life extracts reminds me of the best advice I ever received about living.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

And the main thing is Jesus.

I cannot help but smile when I see my family walk into my home, safe, warm, happy.  Yet I confess that many times I pretend that I know what they are talking about as conversations whirls around the many venues of popular culture.  I use to pay a lot more attention to that stuff than I do now. I seem to have lost interest.  It is not that I would declare those things unimportant or shallow. Life must be lived and that clearly requires the intentional or unintentional creation of a culture within which to live it.  Still, these days my mind is a million miles away.  The greatest joy in Christmas for me is connecting with the one we often forget we are celebrating. Truth be told, it is not just Christmas.  Most days I seem to crave the Audience of One over the party of many.

I hope to invite Jesus to my Christmas table again this year. I believe He shows up, though I never see Him.  Knowing He is there makes the smiles of my family and friends more vivid.  It makes the food taste better.  It even makes the dead grass - sans a blanket of fresh white snow - acceptable. There is very little that I want or need for Christmas this year.  But there is one thing I passionately desire.  If I get it, Christmas will be perfect.

I am going for broke.  I simply want ... The Main Thing.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Two Windows Away

It is cold outside and the wind is blowing just enough so that the remains of yesterday's 3 inch snowfall was swirling around the parking lot.  As I walked toward my car I watched it dance around my feet and wondered why I was wearing canvas tennis shoes today.  Probably not the best defense against winters first real blast of the season.  The car beside mine was parked a little too closely for my comfort but I slid in between them and managed to get inside and close the door without touching the other vehicle with mine.  As I started the Mustang up I glanced to my left and saw her sitting three feet and two windows away.  Our eyes immediately locked and as they did my brain froze in place.  You know how it works.  When you catch the eye of a stranger the first instinct is to glance quickly away.  Perhaps you nod slightly first, simply to affirm that you wish them a nice day.  I did neither.  At first I was incapable of doing so.  She was African American and no it does not matter.  She could have been Eskimo, Portuguese, or anything else.  It didn't come into play.  What did matter was that she looked thoroughly, completely, and indisputably sad.  Her facial features squealed on her without remorse.  There was a look of defeat in her eyes that seemed to say, "I give up."  Maybe five seconds passed.  Maybe ten.  I really do not know.  Neither of us made any move to look away.  The encounter was long enough that I had time to begin realize that it was unusual.  My right hand was on auto-pilot and it went to the center console and shifted the car into reverse.  At that moment, without thinking about it or in any way putting conscious effort into it, I did what I just naturally do.  I smiled.  And then I realized I was smiling.

Her eyes were still locked in position.  Fifteen seconds?  Twenty?

I took my foot from the brake and began slowly inching backward.  As the left windshield frame finally interrupted this odd moment only one thing was left in my head.  Her expression never changed.  The destitute, broken face before me left my life as destitute and broken as it had entered.  I actually felt pain.  Was it her pain?  I felt frustration.  Was it her frustration?  A brief glance on a wind blown morning is not adequate to reveal the contents of a human soul.  And I acknowledge that I do not know where her sadness originates.  And I will never know.

I wanted to get out of my car and walk to her window.  I wanted to tell her that the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ ultimately makes her misery inconsequential.  I wanted to tell her that the source of her despair could be overcome by a love that moves faster than light and fills up the most light-sucking black hole that outer space has to offer.  But I knew what would happen.  My out-of-the-car presence would simply scare her.  She might use her cell phone to call the police.  Her husband might walk out of the store and think I was accosting his wife.  Bad things would happen if I approached her.

Or maybe not.  Maybe she would lower her window and ask me what I had to smile about.  Maybe I could tell her about the hope that I have.  Maybe I could say something or shine light into her life that would get her through her day.  Or even through her eternity.

I will never know.  I drove away, praying for the person behind those empty eyes.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Because Inquiring Minds Want To Know...

The Top Ten Questions just blazing for an answer before the two become one again...

1.     I wonder if that bedroom wall is strong enough to support a excessively large flat screen?

2.     How cold does it have to be inside the house before frost forms on the patio door?

3.     Is it possible to get to Africa and back between Monday and Friday?  (See yesterday's post.)

4.    What would happen if you ate nothing but hot, buttered, movie theatre popcorn for forty-eight hours?


5.     If a person were to strap a "Go Pro" to his head and somehow render himself unconscious could he maybe videotape the light he finds himself walking toward?  And, if so, would Fox News pay enough for the video to afford a comfortable retirement including paying-off any medical bills incurred?

6.     If I were to trade away my Mustang and Debbie's Trailblazer could I walk away with a new Charger and maybe a reasonably re-conditioned 1972 Pinto?  Preferably orange.

7.     Is tuna fish suppose to be green and can I eat it anyway?

8.     What would a gallon of gas and a Zippo do to the mole hole that just popped up outside my garage wall?

9.     Is it possible to do anything to my roof to make it visible from the International Space Station?

10.   Costco sells caskets and they seem to have one on clearance.  Imagine:  "Temporary Coffee Table!"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

The hamster was eaten by the dog.  The dog died.  The children moved out.  Debbie is on a train to Chicago.

I am home.

Alone.

For a week.

This is the stuff dreams are made of.

(Disclaimer (aka:  The Fine Print)  I love my wife.  I communicate with my kids pretty much daily.  The dog was old.  The hamster should have stayed in his hamster house.  It's all good.  Whatever events unfold this week cast no disparaging shadows upon those I care very much for.  But history must be allowed to ... shall we say, "unfold," ... at its own pace.)

My DVR is full of the things that I love watching.  That which does not involve baseball or blowing stuff up probably starts with the words, "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon."  This is not dangerous stuff.  Well.  There is that documentary about serial killers.  They say it is to teach you how to be one without getting caught.  I'll probably just delete it.  (Bwa-ha-ha-ha!)

Perhaps I will trade-off the car this week.  Emma The Mustang is up there in years.  Her rag-top is beginning to fray around one edge.  A new top costs $3,000.  Not gonna wait for that to happen.  Maybe that new Charger I've had my eye on wants to follow me home.  Hey ... it has a Hemi.  Do I need to say anything else?  Debbie would be so ... pleeeeeased.

Since I availed myself of the new Illinois law to obtain a "Conceal Carry Permit" I should probably invest in another fire arm that uses cheaper ammunition than my current model.  You know.  So I can be a responsible citizen and spend more time at the range.  It's the right thing to do.  Ever seen "Machine Gun Preacher?"  Me neither.  But it sound really good.  I've never been to Africa.  Can a guy leave for Africa on a Monday and be back before the next Saturday?

So much to do and so little time...

Woops.  Christopher just called.  Pork Steaks at his house in an hour!  Maybe I'll just stay a dad/husband/preacher-without-a-machine-gun.  Stay tuned.  The week is just beginning. 


Friday, July 04, 2014

America

'Merica.  Independence Day, 2014.  238 years since the "Declaration of Independence" came into effect.  Contrary to popular opinion I have not personally witnessed the passing of all those years.  But I have lived through 59 of them.  And I have learned some things along the way. 

My father told me when I was a child that he neither needed nor planned on leaving the United States ever again.  He had seen as much of the world as he desired to see.  His view was from beneath the brim of a steel helmet.  Dad learned about northern Africa, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany through the lenses of WWII.  Unfortunately, when dad thought of the rest of the world he pictured death and destruction.  And that really is not true.  Deep inside, dad knew that.  He was wrong.  Yet I understand why he felt that way.  He was plucked up from his comfortable, safe, Arkansas, a rifle was placed in his hand, and he was sent off to free a place he most likely had not even read about.  My dad had a 4th grade education.  There isn't much European history taught to 9 year olds in Arkansas. His head must have been spinning with the realization that the ocean is wide and there were people on the other side waiting to kill him.  And he didn't even know why.  But dad was right about America.  There is a reason why our current headlines center around immigration.  It seems that everyone  wants to come here.  And, it only follows, that there is a reason why they want to come.  Honestly, I don't spend a lot of time wondering or worrying about how the rest of the world views the United States.  I am too busy viewing it as Home.

Having said that ...

I'm sick of paying an increasing amount of my income on taxes.  But I sure do enjoy the highways and the clean water and the snow removal, and the police protection, and the fire protection, and the national parks, and the safe bridges, and the ... you get my point.  Right?

I'm weary of "leaders" who keep a list of talking-points on their sleeves, as though the rest of us cannot think past the rhetoric thrown our way, like treats fed to a dog to keep him pacified.  Leaders do not do that.  Politicians do.

I'm hungry for someone to take the reins again.  Point us in the right direction.  Address the issues that threaten to crush us and make us just like every other country.  Someone who will smile a determined smile and say, "Here is what we need to accomplish and here is how we are going to do it."  And I want the direction they point me in to be a noble direction.  I will vote for that.  I will support that.  I will pray to God for that.

I do not have a recollection of my dad owning a house that did not have a tall flag pole adorned with the Stars and Stripes.  And at the end of every day, as the sun slipped below the horizon, he or my brother and I could be found in the front yard, respectfully lowering the colors, folding them into a tightly stretched triangle, and stowing them away until the next morning.  My country was built on the shoulders of my father and men like him.  I have poured my life into trying to better and preserve this nation by bringing the King of Kings to the forefront with every breath I take.  When I sing, say, or pray, "God bless America," I do it from a place of deep belief and conviction.  I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God first.  He blessed me by making me a citizen of the United States of America second. And I honor this day as a way of saying "Thank you" to the one who put a beating heart in my chest and to those who have kept it that way, dedicating themselves to the preservation of my home away from Home.

America.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dope

Yeah.  Okay.  How did that happen?  I just officially became one of "Those People."  You know.  Them.  The ones that begin a blog and then a month later you find them writing, "I haven't blogged for a while.  But I'm back and I'm going to write every day from now on."

And you know they are lying.

So I'm not saying that.  I am not a slave to my blog (though I love it dearly.)  My blog is a slave to me.  It is my own personal space.  You are a guest.  (Wipe your shoes.)  Some years back I wrote multiple times each week.  In those days I was not a Senior Pastor who was expected to provide fresh insight into God's Word several times within any seven day time frame.  I have found that some of the creative energies I formerly poured into this blog now get poured into sermons.

So I asked God.  He said sermons are more important than blogs.

My creative wells do run a bit shallow sometimes.  But then, so does my intellect.

I digress.  On to more interesting items...

My greatest difficulty at the moment is the insane speed of time as it rushes toward June.  That month contains both Father's Day, and my birthday. 

Father's Day is a piece of cake.  I am a Father three times.  And so I have earned the steak and the cake.  Grill me up a red one and make the other one chocolate.  (Please know which is which.)  That should hold me through the day.  Being a dad has always been one of my favorite things to be.  When the kids were kids ... you know ... little ... I told them what to do and they believed that I knew everything.  Now they are adults.  I don't tell them what to do and they believe I don't know anything.  Take last week for instance.  Chris bought his son, Judah, new shoes.  He put a picture of the shoes on FaceBook.  Some one left a comment that his family always has "dope shoes."  It seems that I managed to live to a ripe old age, spending 33 years as a youth pastor, without ever hearing the word "dope" used to describe shoes.  Or any article of clothing.  A dope was anybody who knew less than I did about any topic.  And so I googled "Dope Shoes."  When I brought that up for discussion at our Thursday evening family meal last week they pretty much fell off their seats laughing.  At me.  What kind of dope doesn't know what dope means?  And so I took a random sampling of people in the restaurant.  (I am prone to do things like that, much to my kids horror.)  Sure enough, everybody knew that "dope" means "cool."  Everybody but me.  Hey, I can live with the laughter.  The only person with a lower opinion of me than my kids is me.  And that isn't mere poor self-esteem.  That's a firm grip on reality.  But the problem is ... nobody asked me what popped up when I googled "Dope Shoes."  If they had asked, they would have found out that "Dope" is also a clothing line.  For real.  Check it out.  http://dope.com/ .  Shirts, hats, sweats, backpacks.  They are all right there.  I'm quite certain there is a particular market in mind for these clothes.  Still, they do exist.  So asking what "Dope Shoes" are ... is pretty logical.  They will never agree but I win this one.  And I'm feeling rather smug about it.

The birthday issue is a bigger challenge.  I am going to be 59 next month.  But that's a blog for tomorrow.  Maybe.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Pool Walking With Becky

I have taken up "pool walking."  This means I am officially old.  I am sure that comes as more of a shock to my system than it does to yours.  It hasn't been that many years since I was running 5 days a week.  I hated the act of running but I loved what the endorphins did to my body and my state of mind.  Unfortunately, I got addicted to it and to using weight machines.  Yeah.  Really.  I know you can't tell it by looking at me today but it's true.  Getting addicted to something is seldom a good thing.  I was using it to burn stress and it turned out that I was so driven to run that it created a stress of its own, simply complicating my own unique set of personality disorders. Genius on my part, huh?  My doctor tells me I have to work out or I'll die and if I die she'll lose a good portion of her income.  She's more concerned about that than I am.  In order to do something that resembles exercise and yet has mercy on arthritic joints I have taken to strolling through 50 laps in the pool at the gym about 4 times per week.  I have learned that you don't sweat as much as you do on a treadmill.  If you begin to perspire, just take a dunk.  Problem solved.  Last Friday I wound up sharing a lane with a 70 year old woman named Becky.  I had lapped her a few times (stud that I am) before she struck up a conversation about the weather.  I slowed to her pace and we found ourselves talking about life.  She asked "what do you do" and so I told her I pastor a bunch of wonderful ragamuffins like myself.  She briefly got quiet and then she opened up.  It seems she had surgery a year ago and has been having emotional difficulties since then.  Why?  She is convinced while under the effects of anesthesia she gazed into hell.  I told her if I had seen into hell I would have emotional difficulties too.

Have you ever noticed that all of those who have "near death experiences" see a happy place with a bright light that they feel drawn to walk toward?  I don't mean to sound like a skeptic but ... I am skeptical.  So I guess that makes me one.  It was refreshing to talk with someone who walked away with the smell of sulfur in her nose.  No, I don't want her losing sleep but I do think if everyone were honest some of those bright lights many see would emanate from flames licking at their feet.  So much for happy thoughts, huh?

Becky and I talked for half an hour.  We talked about loving God and knowing Jesus.  I spelled it out pretty clearly and she assured me that she does both.  And so it was my honor to lead her through some scriptures that made it clear that she had no reason to fear the fires of hell.  Before she left she told me how glad she was that we had met and that she would surely see me at church.  I'm not holding my breath but you never know.

Funny thing about God.  Sometimes he uses you when you are standing in a pulpit talking to a couple hundred people.  Sometimes he uses you when you are stripped down to a swim suit walking in a pool with a stranger.  I like that about Him.  He's completely unpredictable.  I prayed with a man working in a drive-thru once about his pregnant teenage daughter.  That was cool.  It would have been cooler if he had gotten my order right...

Hey, just a side-note.  If you are even remotely interested I have started a new blog.  Here's the long story that I will make very short.  In 2001 I had a year of sickness.  It was a lousy year.  Still, in the middle of it God showed up.  Big time.  I kept a journal throughout that year and when I got well my amazing kids had it bound into book form for me.  Since then I have kept it pretty much to myself.  I've been realizing how the events of my life 13 years ago have, to a large degree, shaped and molded me for better or for worse into the man I am today.  And I have been a lousy steward of the things I learned way back then.  So my new blog will be the publication of that journal.  Pretty much one chapter a day.  If you are interested the web address is www.churchaintforsissies.blogspot.com.  If you should go over there please remember that the first entry appears on the web site as the last entry.  That means you have to scroll to the bottom and read that post first.  Then the one above it.  Then the one above it ... etc.  The first entry at the top will always be the most recent entry.  It makes sense in a convoluted way.  Anyway, all of the blog will be up in a couple of months.  I'm simply posting it in bite sized chunks.  All of the names except for mine will have been changed because I'm too lazy to get peoples permission to use them.