Thursday, February 22, 2018

I think you’re right!

                Interesting title huh?  Well, I’ve learned that conversation comes easier when parties believe they are right.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately listening to debates, hearing arguments, and reading different perspectives as they relate to the tragic shooting at the school in Florida last week.  My first response is, “I think you’re right.”  I believe it is a mental health issue, a gun issue, a school issue, an education issue, a political issue, a responsibility issue, a faith issue, and a human rights issue.  I think you’re right.
                Part of the struggle I believe is that the responses from the various sides is coming from a place of grief.  Obviously students, teachers, and parents have been directly affected by the actions of the perpetrator of a horrific attack.  Their grief is very real and very evident.  I believe others are grieving because they believe that things can and should be different.  Their grief comes from a place of believing something needs to be done and that things can be better.  There are also those who see how things have changed and have a belief that things need to be like they used to be.  This grief embodies itself in the ‘longing for the good ole days’ mentality.
                Grief is most difficult because of the various emotions that branch from its root.  Certainly sadness is understandable, but guilt, regret and anger are also natural emotions related to grief.  It seems that in much of the conversation and debate that I’ve heard recently, anger is the dominant emotion and it most definitely rears its head in these moments.  I’m mentioning this simply because I think we need some understanding of the emotional aspect currently at play.  I’m also mentioning this because I don’t believe that any of us has a right to tell someone else how they should ‘feel’ (emotionally)… No way would I try and tell someone who was directly affected by such a heinous act how they should feel in its aftermath.
                As the anger has been projected it seems that for some it has led to a process of dehumanization.  It seems this plays out mainly as persons are relegated to a particular group, a particular set of beliefs, or some label that another is able to place on them.  When we do this with someone who we disagree with, it leads us to a place of forgetting that they are human with their own set of experiences and beliefs that shape the story of their life.  When we dehumanize others it somehow empowers us to treat them however we wish.  It has been done to various groups of people based on their race, sex, background, or any other number of attributes, throughout history.
                We should never lose sight in the midst of these troubling times in which we live that we are in conversation with other people.  These are men, women, children, mothers, fathers, someone’s son, someone’s daughter that we are labeling as liberal, conservative, ignorant, intolerant, uneducated, etc…  The politicians have families, some gun advocates are married with children, some who propose tougher gun laws are your nieces, nephews, coworkers, etc…  Simply put, on all sides of any debate are human beings who have different perspectives for any host of reason.  When we dehumanize we lose respect and eventually the ability for civil discourse.
                This past weekend I shared with some folks that I treasure deeply the notion that I believe part of the problem is that we’ve been asking, “What are YOU going to do?”  Personally I’m still a believer in the common good and I believe that maybe the question that needs to be asked is, “What can I do?  This question comes with a couple other parts.  “What can I do?” has to be followed or at least tempered with, “What am I willing to do?”  This in turn may lead to the question “What am I willing to sacrifice?”  This is where it becomes most difficult because no one seems to like sacrifice.  But what if the only way things can get better is if we realize it will cost me something?  I’ll present the following questions, knowing that there are many others that need answering. 
Am I willing to give up the ease that I’ve known in purchasing a firearm?
Can I pay more in taxes if that’s what it takes to fund what needs to be done to make schools safer for students?
Would I be willing to sacrifice my love of action movies and violent video games if the production and distribution of such things is a cause for someone else’s violent action?
How can I help mentor at risk children and adults who some recognize to have violent tendencies or some erratic behavior?
If it’s proven effective to limit the number of rounds a particular firearm can discharge, would I give up my weapon’s ability to discharge a large number of rounds?
Will I help hold lawmakers accountable, that laws that are currently in place and if new laws are enacted, that those laws are enforced correctly? 
Is there a way that I can volunteer my time that may somehow aid in these processes as we continue in the days ahead?
                Again, I’m sure there are many other questions that need to be asked.  In the realm of “What can I do?” only you can answer that question.  I’m sure some believe they need to do nothing and that they need to give up nothing.  Perhaps that may be the case for you.  Others like myself may continue to wrestle with tough decisions, tough choices, and eventually even tough actions.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What if I'm to blame?

                The violence in Las Vegas a few days ago was heart wrenching.  The sounds and images from the personal videos, and the news casts leave us horrified that events such as this happen in our nation.  While some wrestle with conspiracy type theories, others wonder “where do we go from here?”.  Surprisingly, as of yet, no clear motive has been disclosed.  In our ‘trying to understand’ and ‘need to blame’ the violent act becomes but another polarizing event.   
                Some see the event as another in a long line of violence that could be diminished if our government looked at and passed better and perhaps stricter gun laws.  Others want better controls for folks who may be dealing with some sort of mental illness and their ability to purchase guns.  For many the issue is not about access to guns but instead is a human problem of the heart and the only hope is for persons to have an inward conversion.  Also in consideration are the illegal gun operations that make guns accessible, certain loopholes some find for the purchase of weapons, and also mechanisms that make legal firearms function illegally.
                If you step back for a moment from your particular stance, perhaps you’ll see that the issue isn’t quite as simple nor as cut and dry as we might wish it to be.  These past few days I’ve been asking myself and I suppose I’m asking you who might stumble upon this to ask yourself, “What if I’m to blame?”  Please don’t stop reading if that question rubs you wrong.  Whether you agree or not, all I’m asking is that you hear me out.
                Let me say, I’ve never been opposed to the legal owning and use of a firearm.  Lots of my friends own guns, some love the firing range, many of them are hunters, and I have a shotgun that hangs in my bedroom (it’s only been fired about 3 times).  I know that they cringe when they hear folks talk of stricter gun laws.  It’s stated often that “we can’t legislate morality”, and yet we call for tougher immigration laws, and laws to crack down on drug use and abortion (to name a few).  Perhaps part of the issue is that we don’t mind laws as long as they don’t infringe on my rights, my freedoms, or my pleasures, and instead they help promote my agenda.
                If the issue is a heart issue (which I certainly believe plays a major role) then what do we do?  Many of my fellow Believers would say the heart is at the forefront of this situation.  So we pray and hope that God will do something, after all only God can change a heart.  When violence occurs we often state things like “it’s just going to get worse until Jesus comes.”  In all honesty that’s quite a morbid outlook and perhaps a way of saying, “there’s really nothing we can do.”
                There’s no doubt that violent images are a huge part of our society.  Our nation’s history is riddled with war, and we have often been the perpetrators of violence and not the purveyors of peace.  “What if I’m to blame” for buying into the violent culture instead of being a true representative of God’s Kingdom?  Does it say something about me if my heroes look more like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, or Bruce Willis than they look like Jesus? (and I love Eastwood, the Duke, and Bruce Willis)…  I suppose what I’m suggesting is that it has become much easier to hate than it is to love…and I think that causes lots of problems. 
                I’m not suggesting that anyone reading this is as guilty as the one who pulled the trigger in Vegas or in any other shooting spree.  But I am suggesting that as a people we are all somewhat guilty in our dealing with the violence in our society.  There are no easy answers as to what should happen next, if any legislation should follow, or by what means do we try and change the hearts of people.  I do believe, however, that if any progress is made, it will mean sacrifice.  It may mean giving up a preconceived idea about what will or won’t work.  It may mean giving up a certain privilege, or right, or freedom.  It may simply mean a willingness to listen, respect, and value another whose ideas are totally different than your own.  If we can’t converse civilly, how will things ever progress?  Perhaps consider the following questions?

Does my rhetoric on Social Media and in conversation with others promote civil discussion or does it promote hatred, name calling, and other divisive factions?

The life of Christ models one of sacrifice for humanity…what does my life model?

When someone wrongs me am I quick to forgive or am I quicker to seek retribution?

Is my instinct to love others?  What is the condition of MY heart?

Monday, September 25, 2017

I Was Disappointed

                 I was disappointed.  It was just a little while before a softball game.  Our Girls had played softball nearly all Their lives.  But this day seemed different.  It wasn't the normal excitement and I could tell my Daughter had more on Her mind than just softball.  
          "They don't get to play dad," She said.  "It's not because they aren't good enough.  It's not for any reason other than they are just different than Me and haven't always had the same opportunities.  It's like the deck has been stacked against them from the beginning.  It's not fair."  She shared with me how She had taken these concerns to anyone who would listen (turns out not many would).  Not entirely sure what else to do, She had been thinking of a protest...a peaceful, silent, protest.  "I'm thinking of kneeling during the Anthem," She stated as Her voice quivered.
          I know my Daughter and I know She has a huge heart.  I knew that this was no quick decision and was something that She had prayed about and felt that She was being led to do.  We talked about the many in our family who had served in the World Wars, in Korea, and in Viet Nam.  We talked of the symbolic nature of the flag, and the Anthem and that many would not see Her protest as anything other than a stand of hatred against the country that our ancestors had fought for.  Some would see kneeling as disrespectful of those who have served and are still serving (even though kneeling in other settings is a sign of respect, honor, and reverence).  I told Her to consider the fact that some would call Her names.. “liberal, libtard, leftist, and any other host of things that I didn’t care to mention.  It seems somehow in doing so, folks dehumanize one another, and once we do that then we can treat one another any way we choose to.  I shared with Her that even Believer’s could be some of Her harshest critics.  Some will have no idea why You choose to kneel so You will be misunderstood.  Others know why You kneel but You’ll only be seen as an attention seeker, Unchristian,  or unpatriotic and that will mean more to folks than the fact that you realize the injustices in the system You are protesting.  Some will liken You to other protests they have seen, even violent ones.  You will be criticized, praised, cursed, and ostracized.
          “No one truly knows Your heart but You,” I told Her.  “And when it comes down to it, You have to do what You feel is best; what You feel You’ve been led to do.  You have to decide if You’re willing to deal with the onslaught of responses to Your decision.  Simply put, folks have the right to respond just as You have to right to react.”  ……….  we prayed.
          As the team lined up on the infield line before the game started, I wasn’t sure what She was going to do.  I hadn’t told Her what to do.  It was Her choice.  Her right.  She stood with the rest of the team and I thought She had decided to remain quiet.  When the music started for the National Anthem, She pulled Her ponytail through the ballcap that She wore, and slowly knelt.  I was disappointed.  No, I wasn’t disappointed in her…I was disappointed that in a free nation there were still folks that She knew that didn’t share in the same freedoms.  I was disappointed that in a ‘Christian’ nation there still has to be those who speak up for those who seemingly have no voice.  I was disappointed that it seemed there was no other option for Her to be heard.  Even if those were only Her perceptions, I was disappointed that perceptions would be such at this time in our history. 
          Then I heard the Voice.  I’m not sure who it was, just a loud voice.  It may have been another parent, another coach, another player, an announcer even.  I’m not sure and it doesn’t really matter.  “Get that ____ off the field!  She doesn’t deserve to play!”  The expletives were such that I choose not repeat.  Some cheered that anyone would finally have the nerve to speak up against such disrespect.  Some cheered just because the voice was loud and boisterous.  Some cheered because others cheered.  It’s interesting that those cheering and those voices assumed they knew everything that my Daughter had been wrestling with.  It seems they assumed that somehow this was an easy decision for Her.  We had talked of other means of getting her point across and in Her heart of hearts She felt no one had listened.  Now, She had their attention but I knew that their attention would easily be drawn away from Her intended purpose.  I responded the only way I knew.  I walked to the infield line where She remained with tear filled eyes.  I put my arm around Her and knelt beside Her……….. and we prayed.

this is not a true account....just what's on my heart

Friday, September 8, 2017

    A memory of Don Williams

    Many of the Country Music artists that I grew up listening to and even trying to fashion my own voice and style after, have died.  Today, September 8, 2017, I found out that Troy Gentry was killed in a helicopter crash and that the Gentle Giant, Don Williams died after a brief illness.  My condolences to both families.
     Don Williams used to come in to the Catfish House in Clarksville, TN where I worked for a couple of years.  I had seen him a few times but never had the opportunity to interact with him.  On one occasion, he and his family came in to the restaurant to eat.  Mrs. Ellis, who owned and managed the restaurant at the time asked me if I'd like to serve Mr. Williams and his family.  I agreed to do so, also agreeing to not make a fuss over them because one of the reasons they liked coming there was they were treated like everyone else.
     I have to admit that I was quite nervous but the meal seemed to go quite well and I tried to never let on that I had any idea who he was.  After they had eaten Mrs. Ellis informed me that it was Mrs. Williams birthday and she wanted to give her a piece of one of the wonderful pies that were a staple for the restaurant.  With the pie in hand, I made my way back to the table leaning between the couple and placing the pie on the table in front of Mrs. Williams.  I placed my hand on Don Williams' shoulder and said, "You should sing happy birthday to her."  With no hesitation he smiled and said, "Why don't you....I hear you're pretty good."
     Speechless, I turned and walked back to the kitchen.  I couldn't have sung if I had wanted too.  Mrs. Ellis had shared with him my love of music and boy he called me on it!!!  I managed to make my way back to the table after a few minutes and Mr. Williams and I spoke for 30 minutes or more about music, the music business, and my plans for college.
     I don't remember seeing him again for quite some time.  But probably a year later I went into the Dairy Queen in Clarksville and the Williams family was there enjoying some ice cream.  When he saw me, he called me by name and asked me how things were going.  I was impressed that he remembered me and I don't think I'll ever forget him.  Thank you Sir for the music, and mostly thank you for the memory.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How Can We Be Great...?

I must preface this writing by stating that I love these United States of America.  I do not envy the job that any of our leaders have upon them at the moment.  Some have stated in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, VA that we should remember that we are Americans first.  I must state that first and foremost I am a follower of Jesus.  Although I fail miserably, my desire is that my faith leads me in all matters.  My remarks here come as I reflect on my faith journey and where I believe following Jesus has led me.  I know some will disagree; even other followers of Jesus will not share the same sentiments as me.  I certainly do not claim some moral superiority; I’m simply sharing where my prayers, convictions, and my heart have guided my conscience these past few days.  My question is, “How can we be great when we can’t even be good…?”
                There have been times in this nation when we have done great things.  Perhaps we could even compare ourselves to other nations and make the claim that this “Great Experiment” has founded the greatest nation ever.  These United States have produced some of the greatest minds, the best food, the most powerful leaders, and some awesome music.  We boast the strongest military, incredible landscape, and a current resurgence in our economy.
                Our current president campaigned and continues to tout the slogan “Make America Great Again!”  I wrestle with what exactly that means and I’m guessing that different individuals would have their own notions of what a “Great America” looks like.  For some, the slogan may simply be a reminder of the “Mayberry” times of the 60’s.  A “Great America” may be the bee-bop era of the 50’s or the hippie movement, or whatever nostalgic period one picks as their favorite.  I’m sure others believe that a “Great America” has to do with economic growth, military power, and our position and reputation on the world stage.  When asked, many state the commonly held position that America was founded on Christian beliefs and a “Great America” has prayer in school, ‘conservative’ values, and traditional families.  I’m quite certain that what may be great for one would not be seen as great by another.
                My concern is have we ever (at least from a faith perspective) been great?  If, in fact, the country was founded on Christian principles why does our history speak to something much less?  I’m not sure we’ve ever even been good.  Our history speaks to the oppression of Native Americans, persons of color, and women.  There are times when we’ve chosen military might over more peaceful options.  We feel the need to take a ‘pro-life’ stand and yet we favor capital punishment, see healthcare as a privilege, and homeless adults and children die on our streets every day.  Diversity seems to be viewed as a sin, much more so than hatred, bigotry, and racism.  I’m no history scholar but these are not new issues.
                Perhaps a “Great America” would be one where persons don’t have to organize a protest to voice concerns of equality.  Oppressive systems would be a thing of the past.  Incarceration would not be seen as a money making opportunity and the judicial system would handle cases indiscriminately.  The poorest communities would be privy to the same educational opportunities as any affluent neighborhood.  Healthcare and pharmaceuticals would not be a benefit of the wealthy or privileged but everyone would have access to healthcare and needed treatment.  Big money lobbyist would not control the government but the government would truly be ‘for the people.’  The income disparity would lessen and CEO’s and shareholders wouldn’t get mega bonuses while their employees barely make a living wage.  Folks perhaps could stop seeing others as too sensitive and realize the insensitivity in themselves.  The color of one’s skin would not be a factor in the job market, in the courtroom, or in the street. 

                Obviously the list could just go on and on.  The fact is the “greatness” I picture requires sacrifice.  It would take hard work to ever achieve and lots of folks would have to give up some of their comfort, resources, time, and energy.    The point again to consider is what do we think will make us great?  I believe our nation will ultimately be judged on how we took care of the poor, the weak, the most vulnerable among us and what we did to help alleviate poverty, hunger, and other forms of oppression, not just in our own borders but throughout the world.  I suppose some would say the America I envision sounds like Utopia….  I think it sounds “Great.”  

Monday, July 9, 2012

"The Ghost of Flight 401"

After graduation from High School in 1985 I had a trip planned to Tuscon Arizona to visit my sister and her family for three weeks.  This would be my first time on a commercial airline having previously only flown in smaller aircraft.

A few weeks before going on my trip a movie was playing on television that captured my attention.  It was a movie in which an aircraft crashes in the Florida Everglades killing 103 passengers.  The movie starred the wonderful Ernest Borgnine who was one of the passengers killed in the crash.  His ghost appears on other planes throughout the remainder of the movie warning folks of impending danger. 

As I boarded the plane from Nashville to Dallas on the first leg of my trip, I made my way through the 1st Class seating on the American Airline flight.  There was a familiar face sitting in one of the seats in 1st Class and at second notice I realized it was Ernest Borgnine.  To be honest as I made my way back to my seat I found myself asking was that really him or was it the "Ghost of Flight 401" making an appearance...haha

As our flight began one of the attendants came by and asked if I needed anything.  I responded and asked if she'd do me a favor.  I told her that I thought Ernest Borgnine was on the plane and wanted to see if she would find out.  To my suprise she didn't even know who Ernest Borgnine was.  I explained to her which seat he was in and she made her way to the front of the plane.  In a few moments she came back in all seriousness and said, "I asked that gentleman and he said no his name was Jimmy Stewart." 

RIP Mr. Borgnine and thanks for a wonderful memory and a great laugh.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sabbath Moments

Well it's been a busy few days.  I suppose my days are not so unlike anyone else's though.  It's no unique revelation that we live hectic lives, and our busy schedules sometimes overwhelm us.  My past few days have been filled with funeral services, work, and preparing sermons for different worship services. 
I have to admit I'm pretty drained. 
It seems we live in a time though when if we aren't busy then there's something wrong.  I saw a baby walker the other day with all kinds of rattles and buttons on it.  There was even a mobile overhead that was filled with other gadgets as well.  Now don't get me wrong, I believe children learn by exploring all of those things but it just reminded me that "busyness" begins early on and it never seems to end.
But if I could give a little advice or maybe even just permission; find time for a Sabbath.  In fact I want to encourage you to take a Sabbath "moment" every day.  For some that may be a nap, for others it may simply mean a few minutes to read or simply to sit in silence.
I know, silence is scary.  It's in silence that we might have to confront some true feelings, or we might even hear from our Maker.  But being still, having a Sabbath moment, may be the way that we truly experience a holy touch.  The 46th Psalm says, "Be still and know that I am God!"
If you are too busy for those type "still" moments then I would say that you are too busy!  And if you continue on not only is your physical health likely to suffer but your spiritual health will also decline. 
Indeed the Sabbath was made for man and for me that's permission from the Creator to slow down, be still, breathe, and for goodness sake relax.