Thursday, January 10, 2019

Galileo, Mr. Rogers & Learning to Love My Gay Neighbor

We're Sorry Galileo

Think about this for a moment.  The Roman Catholic Church didn't publicly acknowledge it was wrong in its condemnation of Galileo until 1992.

1992.

He died in 1642, living out his last few years under house arrest.

That's three hundred and fifty years.  Finally, three hundred and fifty years later Pope John Paul II worked up the courage to offer a papal "our bad" (not a direct Latin translation).

Now, let me ask you this:  in those three hundred and fifty years between 1642 and 1992, did the Church's unwillingness to acknowledge the truth of Galileo's theory and findings keep the earth at the center of the universe?  Nope.  Of course not.

The perception of the Church didn't nullify the truth of the reality. 

So, maybe there's another question in here.  Maybe the other question is this:  what makes us hold on so tightly to some ideas?  What makes us cling to some traditions so strongly?

Well, I know the answer to those questions because that's part of my story, and I'll get there in a moment.  But, first I have to talk about Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers

By pretty much all measures, Mr. Rogers is about as good as you can do when it comes to accepting and loving others.  Having experienced firsthand the reality of being taunted and teased as a child for being sickly and pudgy, Mr. Rogers set out to make sure that didn't happen for other children.  Formed and fashioned by the work of Dr. Spock, Erik Erikson and others, Mr. Rogers wanted to create a world where children especially could be free to express how they truly felt, to have their thoughts and emotions verified, and to know that they had value inherit within them.   What he said to Michael Keaton in a 2004 documentary captures his worldview:

"You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know they’re loved and capable of loving.”

So, when Mr. Rogers set out to create a "neighborhood" for children to enter and learn and grow, he set out to make it an inclusive space, a place of differences that were seen, valued and loved.

That's why he sought out singer and actor Francois Clemmons.  Fred wanted Francois Clemmons (that's Officer Clemmons to you and me) to be seen as an African-American man who was to be valued and respected.  At first Francois resisted, knowing how law enforcement officials could be seen by kids like him from neighborhoods like his back in urban Ohio.  But, Fred Rogers insisted.  Fred intentionally wanted people to see Officer Clemmons as a person of dignity and worth.

All of which is great.

Except there's more to the story.  There always is.

It turns out Francois Clemmons was also gay.  He tried to be otherwise, fit himself into a marriage that ended in heartache and frustration, tried to fit the mold others thought he should be in.  And, while Mr. Rogers was willing to push certain issues, this one was maybe a bit too much for a new show.  There was too much on the line.  So, Mr. Rogers politely asked Francois to keep that one little fact about his identity from the public and the press.  No need to raise too much of controversy.

So, for many years, Mr. Rogers went around telling all sorts of people "I love you just the way you are," but Officer Clemmons had to listen to him say that and wonder, "Yeah, but what about me?"

Mr. Rogers and Me

Turns out Mr. Rogers and I share a few things in common, I mean, besides the fact that he too was a Presbyterian minister.

You see, for a number of years, I found myself trying to hedge my bets and have it both ways.  I liked to see myself as open and accepting, but when it came to taking a stand on affirming gay and lesbian individuals, well, that was a bit controversial.  That was a bit too risky.  That's the kind of thing that can blow up your church.  That's the kind of thing that can drive people away.

There's this moment, though, in the most recent documentary about Mr. Rogers' life where Francois Clemmons realizes his friend, Mr. Rogers, really is seeing him and loving him.  Mr. Rogers says that line again to end one of his shows, "I love you just the way you are."  But this time Clemmons realizes his friend, Mr. Rogers, is talking directly to him.  And with a heart that is full (and eyes that are teary), Francois Clemmons recalls how incredibly powerful and life-giving it was to have Mr. Rogers tell him this.  It opened up a wealth of dignity within the man's soul.

Somewhere over the course of the last five or six years, my own heart has changed.  Little by little and bit by bit, any and all insecurities I had about acknowledging the dignity and worth of someone who is gay or lesbian has completely disappeared.  In truth, it goes back even longer than that.  I was blessed to know some really incredible people in my time at DePauw, including some of my best friends and fraternity brothers in Delta Upsilon, who eventually opened up about their sexual identity.  And in recent years, I've been blessed by some of the most amazing people who have been bold enough to share their own stories with me - men and women who tried like Francois Clemmons to put themselves into a mold that wasn't ever going to fit.  It changed me to hear them relay their stories of struggle, of hope, of praying, of yearning, and of eventually coming to see God's love for them unconditionally.

I don't even know how to explain it.  It just happened.  I just found myself sitting there one day with this deep awareness that I had no problem loving and accepting the person sitting in front of me for who she was ... for who he was.  Honestly, it felt like grace.  It felt right.

Our Traditions Are Valuable

But, let's get this straight.  I'm not perfect, and I'm not pretending that I'm settling this debate.  I've spent many years wrestling with the "issue" of homosexuality, and I think I know why.  This is the part that goes back to Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church.

My church family growing up has meant the world to me.  It was there in ways I can't begin to describe.  I can't imagine where I'd be without that community of pastors and mentors and families who were there to support myself and my family during tough times.  And, to feel like I would be betraying that family ... like I would be walking away from that tradition.  Ugh.  That was tough.  That tradition was stability to me.  That tradition was my home spiritually, and I don't say that lightly.

But, at some point, my worldview changed.  I wasn't looking to change my worldview.  At least, I don't think so.  Maybe Galileo wasn't either.

But once you see something, you can't unsee it, as the saying goes.

Our understanding of human sexuality is changing.  It has changed.  That's happening right now in our lifetime.  And I believe the deep invitation coming to us from Jesus is to not shy away from those questions but to enter into them more deeply ... more humbly ... more humanly.  In other word, more like Mr. Rogers.

One Last Word from Mr. Rogers

Now, though, there's one last word for me to remember here.  This one is really important.  Mr. Rogers was right in that interview and what he said to Michael Keaton.  The fact of the matter is that each and every one of us wants to be seen, to be valued and to be loved.  That goes for ... each ... and ... every ... person.  Including my gay neighbor.  But also my neighbor who still finds it hard to see this matter differently.

In the end, "the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know they're loved and capable of loving."

~Wes
 

Friday, November 23, 2018

My First Black Friday: "Save yourself" at Menard's

Keep this in mind.

There's never been a moment in my life when I've thought, "I can't wait until Black Friday."  Never.

Everything about it is diametrically opposed to my worldview and ethics:  rampant consumerism, bait-and-switch ploys that hamstring the economically impoverished, and - most importantly - early mornings.  Plus, large groups of people.  That's the deal-breaker for me.  I once abandoned a New Year's party in high school because the house - by my own estimation - was beyond capacity.  I pushed my way through a huddle of sophomores in the entryway like a salmon swimming upstream.  Keep this image in mind.  It will come around again.

So, I'm not sure what foolishness overtook me yesterday.  With some prodding and enticing from my brother-in-law after our Thanksgiving dinner, I agreed to go with he and his wife and my father-in-law to Menard's this morning.  Drew, my brother-in-law, waved his iPhone in front of me at the dinner table, complete with the Menard's 6-hour Black Friday promo.  Maybe it was the cordless tire compressor.  I could really use one of those.  Certainly, the barn door hardware was part of it.  $39.99!  50% off!  And, I really needed to get a ceiling vent for our bathroom.

Sensing my weakness, Drew threw his upper-cut.  "We can get Square Donuts" on our way.  I'm a sucker for donuts.  Every time.

We circled back to the topic of our Black Friday trip as we said our goodbyes for the night (Drew conscipiously avoiding the words "Black Friday" I now realize).  We agreed upon a time.  I'd pick my father-in-law up at 5:30 am.  We'd meet Drew and his wife at 5:50 and be in Terre Haute by 6:15.  I'd be eating donuts by 6:15 am.

The donuts is probably why I woke up ready to go at 4:30 am.  Definitely.

Sure enough, we get to Drew's house at 5:50 am.  His car is running, and we're back on 40 heading west bound while Brazil quietly rests.  There's hardly another car on the two west bound lanes, and we start joking about how we'll get there to find like ten people in the store - just a few retirees and insomniacs.

Just past Rose Holman I make some joke about the Terre Haute Air Show.  That was one of our last forays over this way, and it was a madhouse.  Traffic backed up for hours, poor planning, and - again - crowds:  all the makings for frustration.  How silly that was of us!  Man, I'll never make that same mistake again.  

Meanwhile, we were driving into a trap.  Everything was about to go sideways.

First of all, there was no Square Donuts.  Of all things, some family had the nerve to honor this cultural holiday by - you know - sleeping in ... and enjoying a quiet morning at home with their family.  I know this because I called the Square Donuts number and was told such.

No worries, though.  We were still in a jovial mood.  Pretty soon, we would be leisurely browsing the aisles of Menard's - picking up our two-pack of Stanley tape measures (25' & 30').  Pretty soon we'd be listening to the "save big money at Menard's" jingle in a cavernous retail store practically all by our lonesome.

This next thing is the best part.

We're approaching Menard's, but not quite there. Off to our right is a darkened retail store, one I had never previously noticed.  But for whatever reason, the entire parking lot was full.  Holly, Drew's wife, says, "That's funny.  Trader Buck's flea market sure looks busy, but the lights aren't on."

Then it hit us.  Trader Buck's wasn't busy.  Menard's was BUSY!  In fact, Menard's was so busy that not only was its parking lot already full, so was Verizon's and La Isla Mexican and Trader Buck's and the U-Haul drop-off place tucked back into the alleyway.

It was a trap!  But before we knew it, we were following a line of cars pulling into Menard's.  Dazed and confused,  Drew, who was driving, bypassed two customers pushing two over-loaded carts.  We nearly hit an Amish woman carrying an armload of Mason jars.  Eventually, after driving out to what I can only describe as the place where Clark Griswald parks the station wagon at Wally World, we realized we needed a plan.  Joe, Drew's dad, volunteered to drop us off.  He would sacrifice his Black Friday deals for us.  Heck of a guy that Joe Cooper.

But first, we drive past the front of the building.  I'm not sure why.  Someone said something about needing to see how long the lines were.  Unfortunately, we were duped it this moment.  The lines looked extremely reasonable.  So, Joe dropped Drew and me off.

The moment I set foot in the store, I knew we had a problem.  The place was teeming with people.  All the carts were gone.  And there was "caution" tap strewn about the front, directing the herds of customers through two designated checkout lines.

Drew and I regrouped in the tool section.  By this point, I literally could not think of any one single item I had planned to purchase.  Not a one.  I stared blankly at the tape measures in front of me.

Thankfully, Drew still had his iPhone and Black Friday promo.  I pulled up the pictures, recovering my wits and made a B-line for the cordless tire compressor.  I turned to Drew like a man desperate to avoid a coming plague or zombie acopalypse, "Where do you think the barn door hardware is?"  A man rolled a cart past me with what had to be a three foot slab of summer sausage.  Scores of people had oversized dog beds hanging over all sides of their carts.  I resorted to my salmon-swimming-upstream strategy.  I stuck to the side aisles, slipping through the masses gathered around the dog toy section.  Up in front of me - near where the barn door hardware was supposed to be - there was something resembling the beer line at a Colts' game.  I would discover only after what was causing this human whirlpool:  Menard's had dropped whole pallets of Chinese electronic items on its sales floor to lure its Black Friday shoppers into a feeding-frenzy of heavily discounted junk.  That is, of course, except for the barn door hardware.  That was a steal!

I made it out alive.  Never mind that Drew and I got separated.  He nearly got suckered into the 5-foot high blue-tooth speaker.  Thankfully, I pulled him out just in time, and I found a sales clerk.  "Where are the shop-vacs?  The ones in the promo," I called out over the blue-tooth record players.  "Down there, aisle 35," he replied.  "Look for the plywood section."  Naturally.

Now we came to a critical moment.  Up to this point, everything we had accumulated we could carry with our own two hands.  Shop-vacs, though, are large.  So are pancake air compressors for $74.99.  Same with rolling tool chests.

Drew put his stuff on top of the tower of shop-vac boxes.  I knew what he was looking for:  a cart.  Good luck with that!

I'm afraid to admit this, friends.  Here is your first peek into some of my darker recesses.  There I was in aisle 35 with my brother-in-law and the prospect of this casual morning turning into my final hour. I'm sad to say I could not be my brother's keeper.  "Drew, I'm going to go see if I can check out.  I'll be right back.  And I'll bring a cart if I find one."  That last part was definitely a lie.

I wove my way towards the front, hoping I'd find some lonely sales clerk with one of those Star Trek-like scanners, eager to check me out.  Ever the idealist.  Of course, nothing.  I looked around me and saw a sign pointing towards the appliances.  "Checkout line," it read with an arrow pointing back to some forelorn distant corner.

Do you know that part in A Christmas Story when Ralphie realizes the extent of his predicament - a Soviet-era bread-line stretching beyond sight?

Now I must tell the second awful thing about myself.

I saw a man struggling to keep command of his two carts near the fake Christmas trees.  A ten-foot gap opened between he and the two women in front of him.

Yes, I did precisely what you are thinking I did.  I was THAT guy.

But, I was also THAT guy who happened to be only forty feet from the checkout clerk.

Five minutes later, and I was unloading my meager gatherings (one cordless compressor, one box of barn door hardware, one pair fur-lined Thinsulate gloves, and one 50' Stanley Fatmax garden house.  The garden house was totally an impulse buy.)  Shell-shocked, I never even thought to look for the ceiling vent, the only item I truly needed.

I asked the two women in front of me what time they got there.

"2:30," they said.

"What!  Are you serious?  How much sleep did you get," I asked.

"Three hours."

"You're nuts," I said.

Says the guy who just cut two hundred people to buy an armful of goods.

And who never did get any donuts!

Yup, folks.  This is me.  And this is us.  Welcome to America.  Home of the Black Friday.

By the way, I just checked.  Barn door hardware.  $39.99 online.  Same price as I paid this morning.

Laughs and memories for next year's Thanksgiving, though:  priceless.

Wes










   




Sunday, April 02, 2017

Calling All Inter-generational Missionaries

My sister sent me a message the other day through Facebook.  Somehow, she had caught a glimpse of my friend, Josh Husman, doing his thing on Facebook Live.  Josh and I go way back.  We met each other at DePauw.  Josh stood with me in my wedding.  And, to top it all off, we were also part of the greatest Fuller Theological Seminary flag football team ever created, although the actual documentation on this achievement seems scant.  Then again, we did have an Armenian track star lining up for us at wide-receiver, so there is that.

In any case, there was Josh on my computer screen, dressed in his hipster cardigan, standing in front of an elegant and sharp looking backdrop of neon tube lights.  Around him were the obvious displays of a modern worship band:  a drum set, several guitars in their stands, microphones, and a keyboard.  I may have even spied a banjo. 

Josh's story is an incredible story.  In five years, Josh and his fellow servants have seen a church grow from a small plant meeting in an out-of-the-way office building on the north side of Indianapolis to a congregation with four weekly services.  Oh, and it's also moved from that little office building all the way up to the heart of Carmel, Indiana, taking over an old Borders Book Store.  Inside it is now barn-wood and stainless steel and Kuerig machines and Ikea tables.  

Most church plants don't make it.  Like 80% fail.  But, this church - Mercy Road - is more than making it.  It is flourishing, and it is flourishing largely because it is engaging younger people.  Gen-Xers like me, to be sure, are coming to church.  But, primarily, they're hitting it big with Millenials.  I know Josh well enough to know it's more than just a young church.  Tom Abernathy goes to his church.  Yup, that Tom Abernathy.  That old dude from IU Basketball's glory days.  Still, Mercy Road trend's young.  You don't go there if you like choirs and robes.

Which is pretty much exactly like the church I serve, aside from the barn-wood and the worship band and the the neon tube lighting.  We pretty much trend young, if you count 60 as young.  Oh, well, I guess we do have a Kuerig machine.  We even have two!  And we have a projector. 

Anyhow, this explains why just after lunch, I found myself traveling up the road with three of my church family members up to Autumn Glen, one of our resident local assisted-living communities.  

Allie Peabody lives in one of the smaller condos at Autumn Glen.   She's been back there now for about six months, and normally she would make the short trip to our church on Sundays.  However, a few weeks ago she took a weird step, damaging a ligament in her foot.  She didn't think much of it at first.  Allie is tough, and if you want proof just ask her about the time she coordinated a protest to get a "STOP" sign installed at a local intersection.  She mobilized a crew, got everyone into action, and after the local authorities saw she was serious, they relented to her request.  But, time and age have a way of presenting challenges that are even too tough for people like Allie. 

At least, that's what I'm learning now as a pastor to Allie and others like Allie.  Like John McKee, a ninety-year old man who has worked harder and longer than I can even begin to imagine, who still walks his yard to pick up the sticks before mowing his lawn for the first time in the spring.  John is the sort of guy who puts us young whipper-snappers to shame, but recently his back has laid him low again.  He looked me in the eye today and told me he is thinking about going in for his third back surgery.  He's had four bypasses by the way, too.  One time they even went ahead and just replaced a whole artery in his neck because the old one was growing useless and constricting the blood flow to the width of the lead sticks in a mechanical pencil.  So, yeah, individuals like Allie and John, they've seen a thing or two.

When you sit with older individuals these are the stories that will come up.  It used to make me squirm a bit, but I've since grown to see that there is holiness even in this liturgies of illnesses and aches.  Besides, if mortality proves true, there's a good chance I'm headed down this road too.  i

More importantly, if you sit long enough with the Allie's and the John's of this world, you also begin to hear and see another story unfolding, a beautiful and deeper story.  That's precisely what happened as I sat with Allie and a few others in the library room at Autumn Glen.  We moved past the aches and pains.  We moved back in time.  Allie started telling me about killing chickens once a week for the family dinner, lopping off their heads and plucking out all those feathers.  You saw this fire called dignity start burning in her eyes.

To my left, Juanita took up the slack and added her own story.  For a year, she would take the bus all the way up to Indy, get off at the bus stop and walk thirteen blocks to her employment only to do it all over again each afternoon as she headed back for Coatesville.  So when Juanita tells me about her aching feet again in the future, I'll think twice before I write her off.  I can't say I've walked those thirteen miles in her shoes.

There are times I'm wise enough to shut up and just listen, and what I begin to hear is of a generation that isn't so much demanding respect as wondering how precisely the world has moved on so quickly.

But, as I watched these four individuals come alive in that library, this other thought really took control of me. 

Josh's church needs our church.   

And our church needs Josh's church.

For whatever reason, ours is a culture that compartmentalizes almost everything.  Advertising and marketing trends break us into generations.  Churches often follow suit.  Hands down, though, the healthiest young people that I know are the ones who are gaining wisdom from their elders.  Likewise, the healthiest senior adults I know are the ones who are actively interested in what is really happening in the lives of young people.  I don't mean harping or bemoaning on what is wrong with young people.  That is a different thing.  No, I mean those older adults who are still young at heart and longing to pass on their wisdom and love to the next generation.

I am reminded of a couple Anna and me met while we were out in Pasadena.  We were going to this hip church, for - you guessed it - young people.  Hey, we progress in stages, okay.  It was called Warehouse, and by intention it was the exact opposite of the morning service at the big church.  No choir, no pews, no hymn books, and no grand stage.  Everything was stripped down, and to suit the younger audience, church started at 6 pm in the evening.  Young people like Anna and I didn't start filing into until 6:05 pm at the earliest of course, and when we did, there was a worship band leading us through a series of songs to ease us into the service. 

Near the center of the aisle, though, in the middle of the congregation at Warehouse, there was this older couple, probably in their mid-70's.  He was tall with nicely parted hair and khaki pants and loafers.  She wore casual but classy clothes and often had bracelets or jewelry around her neck.  They stood out among the crowd, and at first I wondered if they had accidentally walked into the wrong room, as if they had come for a Primetimers Bible Study, but took a left where they should have taken a right. 

Not at all.  They were here, I came to find out, because they believed it was important to be there for the next generation.  They believed it was important to see how young people were connecting with God and to be there to support this next generation in their faith.

I don't know that they would have put it this way, but they were inter-generational missionaries.

We need more inter-generational missionaries.

We need mature, older Christians willingly stepping out of their comfort zones to befriend and encourage younger Christians.  And we need younger Christians to embrace ministries of help and service to older adults.  We need younger Christians to embrace opportunities for friendship and to claim a mentor in their lives.

We need to find each other because each generation has so much to give to the other.  We need to find each other because separated as we are, all of us languish.  But, perhaps most importantly, we need to find each other because the future of the church in America may just depend upon it.

Josh's church needs our church.

We need Josh's church.

Let's hope we find each other. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Community: "To Boldly Go ..."

I'm more of a Star Wars guy myself.  That means something if you are a fan of science fiction.  That's all you need to say to some people for them to get you.  For there is a difference, you know, between Star Wars and Star Trek.  It's hard to pin down exactly what the difference is.  Maybe Star Trek is a bit more for the technically inclined.  Maybe Star Wars is more for those deep into Jungian psychology.  Ask my wife, and she says there pretty much the same thing.  She's probably right, but - please, oh please - don't try to tell that to a Trekkie or a guy wearing a Storm Troopers costume at Gen Con.

Anyhow, Star Wars guy that I am, I still couldn't resist seeing the new Star Trek movie that just came out:  Star Trek Beyond.  I read a few glowing reviews, and those endorsements combined with near record heat temperatures made the cool movie theater seem like a perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Turns out it was a great choice.  It turned into one of those moments that mirrored and clarified my life in the way that sometimes only fiction can. 

Without giving away too much of the plot, the story begins in a rather unexpected place for James T. Kirk and his crew:  boredom.  Well, not just boredom.  There's also a bit of relational strain among the captain and his crew.  The life of space adventurers is supposed to be glamorous, adventurous, difficult, sexy, challenging, and rewarding.  Sure enough, when we first meet James earlier in the series, he's a young, hot shot.  He's Tom Cruise in Top Gun:  brash, daring, and ambitious.  But, the James we meet in this film has been at the helm of the ship for awhile.  He's been into the depths of the universe.  He's faced his fair share of challenges, and - for better and for worse - things have become ... well, routine.  Or if not routine, than ... well, complex.  Difficult.

The same is true for the rest of the crew.  The thrill of venturing into unexplored territories and uncovering new mysteries is also, so we learn, coupled with the realities of relational difficulties.  Sure, the crew of the USS Enterprise is boldly going where no one has ever gone before, but they're also having to live in close quarters.  There's the rub.  For communities are made up of individuals, and individuals are prone to testing each others nerves from time to time.  Couples have their spats on board the Enterprise.  Some wonder if it might be time to jump ship for another adventure.  Some even find themselves wondering if what they are doing really is all that important.  It does, after all, feel like things are becoming a bit "episodic" as James puts it early in the movie.  Everyone seems after awhile to playing the role of their typecast.

Of course, the movie is tapping into something all of us have felt at one time or another.  Stay anywhere long enough, and you'll come up against this.  Doesn't matter if it's a job or a marriage or a church or even in a family.  At some point, if you commit to the work of community and unity, no matter what it is, you will face these challenges.  Is it worth it?  Maybe there are other adventures out there for me?  Perhaps I need a change of scenery for my life?

It is precisely here that I need to keep remembering that this place called struggle and that town called boredom is not a trap.  It is not something to escape.  It is the place we learn to die to our obsessive need for the "new" and "promising."  And it is the place where we begin to invest ourselves into something that goes beyond us.  It's where we have the choice to really be invested in our real community, not just some false or self-fabricated notion of what we want our marriage or church or school system to look like.  Here we come to what Walter Wangerin Jr. refers to in his great book on marriage as our reality, the person or place or community we are actually called to love and not just some wistful notion of what we wanted to love.  

I know I'm not alone in my experience of this step in "growing up into Christ."  Like many of my friends who are truly trying to root ourselves here in Greencastle and truly seeking to make this place a better place, I know that the so called easy option of moving onto another church or community is a short-cut that doesn't really go anywhere.  It's a "chute" that can actually lead us to regress.   

Personally, I'm facing it as a pastor.  Eight years into providing ministry to this place, I've been here long enough to see incredibly moving moments of grace, of healing, and of new life.  For all the bad press ministry gets about over-work and little pay, nothing in my mind can ever compare to the unbelievably gift it is to hold a four-month old child in my arms and proclaim the absolute depth of our faith:  God has uniquely made and knows this child, and God lovingly has already prepared everything needed for this child's life and salvation.  Nothing can surpass the joy of being so close to both God's glorious love and the precious, tender, vulnerable reality of being human.

But, of course, eight years also can make you realize that you're no longer the savior and that despite how present God is in this community, that doesn't mean that miracles are happening at every turn.  No, some challenges - like the perpetual weeds in parking lot - seem to always linger and refuse proper treatment.   Relational strains occur.  The easy work has already been done.  It becomes challenging not to typecast people. 

Now, what is left is the hard, important and daily work of community.  Or, as Henry Ford says it, "Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success."  So it is that truly good pastoring, I'm discovering, is just like any other work of community.  Perseverance and grit and steadfast love are a lot more important than passion or feelings or thrills. 

Here, too, is the genius of Star Trek Beyond.  When we are faced with these moments of boredom and strain, we have a choice.  We can flee the boredom for something more attractive.  We can pine for a new job.  We can subtly start looking beyond our marriage for something to satisfy us.  We can begin to think that our better life lies in some community behind or before us.  OR we can make a re-commitment and double down on being a part of this marriage, this community, this job. 

Of course, the beauty of movies and parables is that they give us images to locate these types of moral decisions, and Captain Kirk's decision is clear enough.  Is he going to be a member of this ship?  Is he going to remain committed to his crew?  Will he go down with this ship even if it means giving up his own freedom and future opportunities?  Will he continue to boldly go into that place that is even more unknown, challenging, and at times significantly more frightening than the depths of outer space:  deeper into community?

The deep satisfaction at the end of this movie is the firm reminder that the investments we make in each other and towards something bigger than ourselves are of extreme worth.  They do matter!  The ship must be staffed.  The crew needs to continue to do its job, no matter how mundane the job.  The crew must persist in its bold hope and belief in its mission - especially when the threats of evil and crushing nihilism seem just too near and overwhelming.

Community matters.

Unity matters.

Being an invested member of life and living for others matters!  It is how we truly mature in Christ Jesus.

It takes great courage.  Tremendous courage.  Heroic courage, even.  The type of courage that is big enough for the big screens, even if most of us do it in homes and churches and jobs that aren't going to make the big screens.

Kudos to all of my friends out there with me who are making those courageous decisions to double down on being invested in this particular place of Greencastle.  I see you in the struggle.  We're all in it in some way.  And I just want to say it's worth it.  It's definitely worth it.

~Wes




Sunday, April 03, 2016

Colonial Williamsburg


"We're really doing it," I said to my kids while leaning over Anna in the fifth row of the Jamestown theater.  It was copying a great line from Dumb & Dumber, the only appropriate way to emphasize this momentous occasion, a family trip we've been talking about since last year, a trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  

We had discussed making the trip this past fall, but once that didn't work out, I made sure to get it on the calendar for this spring.  By mid-February we finally had our lodging taken care of, thanks in large part to my in-laws and a time-share exchange program they've held onto through the years.  About a month ago, I started researching things-to-do while here, and three days ago, we set out about 9 o'clock in the morning from our home.  For the trip out, we took it in stages, traveling all the way down to Beckley, WV the first day and covering just over 400 miles.  By sheer luck, I managed to book a room at a Holiday Inn that was a mere 1/2 mile from a West Virginian attraction we knew absolutely nothing about.  But, just prior to leaving I made a call to a kind couple in our church to see if they woulld keep up the rhythm of our Sunday morning Bible study in my absence.  They were happy to do so, and in the course of our conversation, he revealed to me a lovely little place called Tamarack, a type of artisan and craft market right near Beckley.  That was the lovely little find that mere 1/2 mile from our hotel.  So, after grabbing dinner at Panera and relaxing in the pool Thursday evening, we took our time getting on the road Friday and spent part of the morning strolling through the wares at Tamarck.

Friday's drive was a bit shorter, but seemingly more difficult.  We had to push through the steeper climbs of West Virginia, crawling up and hurtling down as we marveled at the earlier ancestors who pushed over these passes on foot and on horseback.  By mid-afternoon, though, we were driving on the outskirts of Richmond, and we ended up at our condo at the exact hour of check-in.

Truth be told, Anna and I have actually been here before, although it seems like ages ago now.  The day after we were married, we landed on the runway of Newport News airport and spent the next week (our first together) at the Marriot's Manons Club just on the western edge of Williamsburg.  This time we are on the eastern side of the city, and we traveled with more cargo this time, of course.  

Today, we set out early after packing our lunches.  My goal:  tackle Jamestown first thing, eat lunch in the cargo on our way to Colonial Williamsburg, buy tickets for Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, and then spend an hour or so getting our bearings in the streets of Colonial Williamsburg.  Surprisingly, things pretty much went exactly as planned, and except for the fact that we didn't pack enough warm clothes, we had a great first day out exploring.  We stepped aboard a replica of one of the three English vessels that landed on the James River back in 1607.  We toured the simulated Jamestown fort, including a lively conversation with a well-informed and engaging blacksmith.  We witnessed another pair of colonists fire off a few rounds from their muskets.  We walked through a simulated Powhatan camp, with their more "integrated" living systems - much more to Anna's liking.  And we stumbled upon a few wild Wellsummer rooster that immediately brought back memories of good ol' Thatcher.

Colonial Williamsburg turned out to be much more fascinating than anything I had envisioned, and I'm already looking forward to returning tomorrow.  We stepped off the shuttle into the heart of the city, and immediately climbed the steps into the Magazine, the munitions storage on the opposite side of the courthouse.  Up in the Magazine, an period-actor dressed in the style of a British soldier gave us the tid-bits and history of arms development in the colonies, and he happily answered Wyatt's question about the efficacy of the bayonets by saying that they were quite effective, especially because their triangle shape made for wounds that "would not easily close."  

From there we walked about the streets, pausing at the gallows and much longer at the colonial garden.  Anna and Elise already have plans to return there first thing tomorrow, and we took many pictures of old ingenuities that Anna wants to employ in her own garden.

Lastly, I persuaded everyone to go listen to James Madison in the Hennegan theatre.  There were dubious, and I'm not sure the kids enjoyed his whimsy and whit.  But, Anna and I thoroughly enjoyed this man's ability to so thoroughly immerse himself into the language, the thinking, and the times of America's youngest years.  Plus, his description of the challenges of creating a just democracy without inevitably succumbing to either the tyranny of an unruly populace or the soul-sucking decrees of a heavy-headed empire seemed only too relevant.

We are eager for tomorrow's trip back to the Colony.  The fireworks start at 10:15 am with a public protest on the Capital steps regarding the imposition of taxes from the ruthless British parliament!

Until then ... We return to our rest.

Wes