Kindles

A few days ago I got a box out of the closet in the corner of my office. The faded markings on a address on the box, covered by several layers of packing tape indicated I received the contents while serving in Kincaid, WV as a student pastor in the United Methodist Church. I lived near the church in Kincaid, served a second church in Mossy and attended what was then called West Virginia Institute of Technology. That school, like a couple other of my alma maters, has since either closed or been relocated. It’s hard to tell which from their name and new location. If anyone asks, I tell them I graduated from WV Tech which is a little ironic for a guy who knew his next step in life would be a theological education. Then again it would explain why I justify writing my devotions, studies, blogs and even sermons on electronic paper when creating my “SFD”. (Writers and fans of Ann Lamont will get that. Others won’t want to know.)

That box at some point in time held a hot air popcorn popper but I don’t remember having one of those so I reckon the contents that are currently there were shipped to me in this container. The label says it was delivered to a post office box in Kincaid. Yes. I had one of those but the number meant nothing to me even after seeing it in writing. The postmark is dim that I can’t make out the date but I’m guessing the late 80’s or early 90’s. I’m not so dim as to forget when I went to whatever the name of that school was.

The box isn’t all that important. Nor the mailing label for that matter. But they were interesting to me. In a way they remind me that the contents and I relocate from time to time. We’ve traveled quite a few miles this box and I.

IMG_20171205_124748.jpgInside it are ceramic figures of a sheep, a donkey, an ox (not to any kind of scale, mind you, because I’ve seen an ox and they are scary big) as well as a camel that has been glued together more than once. An angel is in there too as well as three suspiciously Anglo looking “Wise Men from the East” and equally White looking shepherd, Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. Don’t ever tell me that we don’t allow culture to influence our “pure biblical religion.” I will just ask you to show me your nativity set or a copy of the latest Christmas card you bought with a scene of Jesus’ birth on it.

We all make Jesus fit into our culture at times. It’s what we do as humans. Actually, it’s what the Son of God had to do to become one of us as well.

I carefully placed this suspect nativity set on the credenza in my office using some plants left over from my Dad’s funeral a couple of years ago as a back drop. I didn’t think much about the racial and theological implications of the pieces while I was placing them. I handled each one with care because I didn’t want to get the glue out again and because each one kindles in me a love for the group of people who got together decades ago and hand painted each one of these figurines.

I attended United Methodist Temple in Beckley, WV as a youth and young adult. They had a tradition of giving one piece of this set to each child as they grew up among them. When the occasion arose that they had some outlier like me who came late to the party, then they would send them an entire set when they went off to college or left home for whatever reason. The thing is that I knew that these pieces were labors of love. The people who painted and sent them to me were my last true church “home.” I have loved and have been loved by every congregation I’ve served but the fact is that I came out of Temple.

These were my people.

These were my people giving me a gift.

These were my people giving me a gift to remind me of the Incarnate nature of Jesus.

Every year I put them out and remember. Every year I put them away in the same box, with the same styrofoam popcorn – just caught that irony there of the box and the packing popcorn – and I remember the care taken to make sure I got them.

And I take them with me. Always.

Peace!

#ReThinkAdvent
#UnwrapChristmas

TBT – Honey Bees and Root Beer Powder

I stood in the back yard of our little home on Bluestone Road feeling the dampness of the new mown grass tickle my barefoot toes. Normally, I would not venture into the yard barefoot. There were so many honey bees collecting pollen from the enormous amount of clover that grew there that it just wasn’t always bee on clovercomfortable to be barefoot. On more than one occasion I would hobble into the house with a stinger protruding from a toe, or heel and seek the medical attention of Dr. Mom.

Of course, after a while I thought I could handle it on my own and reached down and grabbed the stinger on my own and yanked it out. I soon learned how wrong I was. My foot would swell much worse than when Dr. Mom removed them and then I noticed that she never pulled, she scraped. And thus I learned the secret of removing a honey bee stinger without releasing all the venom into my system.

This day, I didn’t have to worry about honey bees. The clover got cut with the grass and part of me hated that. I had grown accustomed enough to the bees and their stings that I would often chase them and catch them in a jar. (And yes, I would sometimes wait until dark and put some lightning bugs in the same jar hoping for some sort of fight. Alas, they were insect pacifists!)

I walked into the house, leaving a small trail of grass clippings on the tile in our kitchen. I made my way to the counter where we kept all the Kool-Aid® drink mixes and searched around until I found that novelty of 1970’s, “Aunt Wick’s Root Beer Powder.” Aunt WicksThis powder made a passable non-carbonated version of a root beer tasting drink, but I thought its brown and yellow package contained magical botanical powers. I can’t remember why I first tried this, but one day I sprinkled a package or two on the fresh mowed grass and in the morning there was a whole new crop of clover just waiting for the bees. Several times I tried this trick and every time it worked. Of course, I never thought to run a control or two and not sprinkle it on the grass and see what happened. My guess is that the powder did nothing to the clover, however, the added sugar didn’t hurt in attracting bees.

I mow my own yard these days. I live in one of those neighborhood where many people have lawns and they care for them meticulously each and every week. I have a yard. It gets mowed every week but that is about it. This year, I was thrilled to see that clover had taken over a good portion of the back and side yards. I didn’t remember it sprouting up the previous two summers. (I can also rest assured that no one has been spreading Aunt Wick’s on my yard too. Jel Sert quit making it some time ago.) I was thrilled because I thought I would get a great chance to dodge some honey bees while I mowed or just watch them dance around on a summer afternoon.

The first time I mowed the clover, I saw one single honey bee. One bee.

How sad. I had heard that something was happening to our bee hives. I had seen the prices of honey go up. But I never knew the effect it might have on how I got to view the clover in my yard. Since that first clover cutting, I have seen several more bees, but never more than three at a time. They aren’t dancing around the clover like they did in the seventies. I’d go barefoot anytime in that clover.

I don’t know what has made the honey bees go away. I don’t know what made Aunt Wick’s Root Beer Powder go away.

But on this “Throw-Back-Thursday”, I wish they were both here.

Suspenders

suspendersSometime in my early teen years, I just had to have a pair of rainbow colored suspenders. I begged my parents for this article of clothing until someone finally broke down and got them.

Did I need them because I didn’t like to wear belts? No. Did I need them to keep my pants up? Not really…I usually wore a belt anyway. Why did I need them, then?

Because Mork from Ork wore them.

For those who are not old enough to remember or for the select few who didn’t watch television in the late seventies, Mork and Mindy was a television show about an alien from the planet Ork who somehow ended up living in the suburbs of Denver. And unless Mork had on clothing from his native planet, he almost always wore rainbow colored suspenders. And just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, Mork was played by Robin Williams, an actor who recently lost a battle with depression and ended his life. (As a side note, I try to avoid using the word suicide. I don’t like it for many reasons but you can read more about that on my blog if you really want to do so.)

Robin Williams was one of my earliest role models and heroes. He made people laugh and I found that making people laugh was not only fun to do, it gave an otherwise short and awkward teenager a way to be noticed amongst his peers and even by some adults. For several years I had the very unrealistic dream of becoming a stand-up comic.

That dream led me to do both community and school theater. That dream gave me the drive to actually be employed professionally as an actor – ONCE. That dream of standing in front of people, telling stories and jokes and hearing them respond with laughter is one that kept me going through much of my high school years. Even after I retired the suspenders (but didn’t throw them away, mind you) and had quit idolizing Robin Williams for some other comic I can’t even remember now, I still held on to the dream of making a livelihood out of comedy.

But a lot of life happened between that early dream and where I am today. I consider myself fortunate, very fortunate indeed that at some point in time I realized that there was a different plan for my life. Although I cannot paint a picture of the long road I took to get there in this article, I can at least say with a great deal of certainty that I ended up where I was supposed to be headed all along – in pastoral ministry.

In some ways, I still get to live part of that early dream – I stand up in front up people on a regular basis and I get to tell stories. However, they often are not funny ones and even when they are funny I hope that they point to something else. I hope they point to the God who loves us all enough to send his Son to die for us.

I get a little sad each and every time I hear of someone losing a battle with depression that ends in death. As far as I am concerned, the disease rids people of their ability to make good and rational choices. Instead, they just want the hopelessness to end and can really only see one way out of that hopelessness – to be present with God.

We worship an incredible and awesome Savior. Jesus was, is and always will be part of the Trinity known as God. When Jesus walked among us, he was fully human and fully divine. His death would not have been a sacrifice on his part if he did not have the power to prevent it. Yet even with the power to prevent his own life from being taken, Jesus chose to give it up. Why? So that we could have life that is ever-lasting – both now and after our own deaths.

Sometimes, I am afraid, we concentrate so much on the gift of “life after death” that is a promise of the sacrifice of Jesus that we forget about ever-lasting life that is available to us now. Please don’t jump to conclusions here…I am not talking about people with mental illness forgetting that promise, I am talking about perfectly normal and mentally healthy people forgetting it.

That, to me, is why it is so tragic when someone loses their life to a battle with mental illness. There are so many of us around who have life to spare, who drink from wells that never run dry, who walk on paths made smooth by the grace of God, who have hope beyond measure that we should be able to at least talk about mental illness in such a way that it would offer life and hope to others around us.

I am not offering any grand solution here. Now am I asking you to find some way to be in ministry with those who are mentally ill.

I am asking that we all take a moment and thank God for the life and hope that we have because of Jesus. And maybe in that thankfulness, we will be just a bit more cognizant of those around us who are struggling and we can show them a new way to hope…a different way to be close to God. One sacrificed his own life so that we could all have life abundant! In being thankful, we are in the position to help those who can’t be thankful because of mental illness.

I can’t say that this will work every time, but I won’t stop hoping that it does.

Nanu…Nanu.