Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I saw Michael Moore on C-SPAN recently. It was interesting to see how comfortable the controversial film maker was at sharing from the Bible. He made reference to the last part of Matthew 25 where Christ says I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison and you did not minister to my needs. Moore then said, “You do not get into heaven without a permission slip from the poor.” I find I can't quickly dismiss that thought.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

“I haven't made time to be in God's presence lately, and I've been feeling the negative effects of it.” These are the words of my pastor. My words would have to be: “Throughout my life I have rarely set aside time just to be in God’s presence.” Saying this indicates I know I should do something about it. Unfortunately, I have a somewhat blemished record on turning conviction into action.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Is it safe to admit that good can come out of pain? This morning Angela Clouser thanks God for her family which includes a step dad and a step mom (Barclay Press Daily Journal). Saturday I attended a wedding that involved the creation of a blended family. She has a daughter; he has two sons.

Angela, Leslie, Nathan, and many others have found that when “family” doesn’t match our ideal model, it is grace that gives new life.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. The faithful is what we call the church goers because of their faithful attendance and their claims to being faithful to the Word of God (the Bible). Hometown Friends Church is just one group in a larger network around the world and throughout the community.

My wife and I always sit with her parents. They are always there before us and save a spot just one pew from the back and a little left of center. My father-in-law would not be comfortable with anything described as “left of center,” but it’s probably a good spot for me to sit.

How are the faithful looking this week?

A Christian school up the road a little more than a mile has been in the news. It’s not the way the faithful want to draw attention to themselves. Charges have been brought against a couple of guys who had been coaching at the school—sexual misconduct. When something like this happens it’s pretty embarrassing. Some respond with humble dismay and resolve to work harder to prevent reoccurrence of this type of thing. Another reaction is a vehement, bombastic response that makes me afraid someone is trying to create a space that doesn’t exist between them and the behavior they are condemning.

A few out-of-towners sit with relatives they are visiting for Thanksgiving. I know some of these guests and I start picking out the ones I want to trying to greet at the end of the service.

The faithful like a predictable formula that includes music, some opportunity for congregational participation, and a message from the pastor. Some people really engage with one aspect or another. Others put their minds on autopilot and drift through the hour. At Hometown Friends Church there are four exit doors out of the sanctuary, so no one has to shake the pastor’s hand and say, “Good sermon,” as they conclude their faithful weekly ritual.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The largest headline at the top of the front page this morning was “Deep Discounts Draw Throngs.” Is that the most important thing that happened yesterday? Was there anybody who didn’t know months ago?

People making long term plans for launching a big national media campaign should keep in mind that the day after Thanksgiving is a slow news day.

Friday, November 25, 2005

How many body bags can the American public tolerate as they try to line up with a definition of patriotism that requires a blind loyalty that hears to evil, sees no evil, and speaks no evil? One of the powerful forces that adds to the strength of the U.S. military is the loyalty and honor given to the sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and grandfathers who “served their country” at great cost. Military power is not just the hardware on the front line. It is also the hearts and minds of the people "back home." Our country is filled with people who can’t say a negative word about U.S. military involvement without feeling they would dishonor (and displease) either a living or dead family member. But there are limits and this administration is losing ground on both fronts.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Today we will be doing what we do every year for Thanksgiving. My wife’s sister and her husband unfold a big school cafeteria table in their garage and the family gathers for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

But for more than 2,000 families our war in Iraq has left an empty place at the table and an empty place in the lives of those who loved a fallen soldier. Some of the families use the cause of freedom to paint a purpose on their loss and the whitewash does nothing to heal their wound.

Thousands of families from Louisiana and Mississippi are not celebrating Thanksgiving this year the way they did last year. Katrina has created a new era for them and it’s not a better life. Their President’s bold words of commitment to restoration are beginning to leave a bad taste in their mouths as FEMA assistance is being cut off long before these displaced people are able to find work and housing. They had very little even before the hurricane and now they have less. The homes where they ate turkey last year are now rubble. They will never be confused about whether a Thanksgivings memory was from before or after Katrina.

Maybe I’ll ask my sister-in-law if we can set an empty place down at the end of the table just to serve as a visual reminder of lost lives, lost homes, and lost livelihoods.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I’m thankful…
…for plumbing that is so good we can flush the toilet at the same time someone is in the shower.
…I don’t have to defog the car windows every morning because I’m able to park my car in the garage.
…for the view from our bedroom window.
…to live, work, and go to church in the same town.
…I don’t have to milk cows every morning and evening.
…for two great espresso shops near the office.
…I belong to a church that doesn’t have to spend all its energy on sustaining an organization.
…for cheese cake and chocolate.
…for phones and computers.
…for the sense of smell (some of the time).
…I don’t have to get up early the day after Thanksgiving and go to early-bird sales.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I’m thankful my mind wins out over my emotions most of the time. My emotions right now don’t feel like being thankful, but my mind knows I have a lot of reasons to be thankful. I expect my emotions and my mind will be in better harmony after a good night of sleep.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A week ago when I started talking about things for which I’m thankful I wanted to avoid being trite. The majority of Americans would say they are thankful for friends and family. The way my situation is different from many people is that I have way more friends than I deserve. I don’t know how it’s happened, but I find myself in a large network of friendships that is rich and open. I don’t analyze this unmerited blessing, I just enjoy it.

I’m grateful for friends.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Last evening we got together with three other couples for lasagna, pasta with two kinds of sauces, salad, bread, cheese cake, angel food cake, strawberries, and there was more. We watched football, we ate, we talked about our lives, our work, our plans, and we talked about the world around us. We just hung out together for four hours.

Abbie (our college freshman) and Ethan (our high school freshman) went with Cindy and I. One of the other couples has a first-grade daughter who adores Abbie. The eight adults include an engineer, a school teacher, two who work for Standard Insurance, a bookkeeper for a downtown law office, an investigative auditor for the Oregon Department of Justice, a nurse, and a publisher. Cindy and I are by far the oldest.

This is my immediate family and I’m grateful for them.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I’m thankful for what I will call Spirit empowerment. I believe in the holy trinity—God the father, the son, and the spirit. I believe God’s Spirit works in human efforts and at times enriches thoughts and efforts beyond our normal human capacity.

Yesterday I had a lengthy conversation on an issue that has no obvious answer. My friend is looking for ways to help the poor in places around the world where he sends Bibles. He is looking for creative, dynamic self-help methods that will make a difference without throwing money at the problem and without creating institutions. It was a great interaction as we reached out into areas where we both have concerns, but neither of us have answers.

I especially enjoyed the conversation because it was one of those times when my ears, my mind, and my tongue were all working smoothly. Any time this happens I’m confident God’s Spirit is at work.

I’m grateful for the ways God steps in and moves me beyond my natural human capacity.

Friday, November 18, 2005

I’m almost to the middle of the list of things for which I’m thankful.

March 29, 1986, Cindy Arbogast and I stood face to face at the front of Newberg Friends Church and committed our lives to each other in marriage. We had each been in previous marriages that failed. During an open time in the ceremony for admonition and blessing, Jack Willcuts commented about new beginnings being an integral part of God’s creation. Every day has a new sunrise, every month has a new moon, and a series of new seasons comes with each rotation of the earth around the sun. He went on to describe God’s desire and provision for new beginning within human creation.

I’m grateful for new beginnings.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Today at 11:30 is the memorial service for Gerald Wilson at Azusa Pacific University. Gerald died Friday of a sudden heart attach.

A couple of weeks ago on the 22nd anniversary of the death of David Leach, I was touched by seeing the ongoing influence in the life of his son.

Yesterday I learned that a friend lost his mother to cancer.

When I was in the eighth grade, my mother died from breast cancer. Has this had an effect on my life? Certainly, but I’m thankful it has not been a crippling effect. Twelve years ago my daughter, Trina, died of a brain tumor. Of course this has had an effect on my life in ways I understand and in ways I don’t understand.

Death is all around us and sometimes it has a crippling effect on the people left behind. The inability to create a new life without the loved one, the inability to resolve issues that had never been settled, the inability to accept an untimely tragedy, the inability to move beyond anger and resentment: these are some of the death wounds that in certain cases require something more than time for healing.

I’m not thankful for the experiences of death in the circles of family and close friends, but I am thankful that God has been so gracious that I feel unscarred by death.

I’m grateful today for God’s grace in my life as he has helped me deal with death.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I’m thankful for the unique opportunity I had in the late 70s and early 80s to live and work in Jackson, Mississippi. What an adventure for a family of six from Oregon. It started with a divine prompting to explore the possibility of working with John Perkins at Calvary Ministries and turned into a calling to lead the communications aspects of that ministry. I think one of the most important things I learned in Mississippi was how much I really don’t know. I returned to Oregon knowing less than what I thought I knew when I left. I really don’t know much about poverty. I don’t know what it’s like to be black in America. I don’t know how to relate to other races without the subtle (and evil) influences of prejudice. I don’t know where to find all the scares of slavery and I’m clueless as to how they might be healed.

I was blessed by the generous hospitality extended to a yankee, the gracious tolerance of my ignorance, and blunt candor required in order for a diverse but tight-knit ministry to be effective. This was a unique time in my life that created lasting friendships and that made me a better person.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend two and a half years in a racially, culturally, and economically diverse Christian community.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I was painfully shy as a child. This thanksgiving I’m grateful for influences that saved me from debilitating bashfulness. I think the first decade of my life had me headed toward becoming a social recluse. The turn has been gradual, but here and there during my second and third decades a change took place.

When I was a high school sophomore my dad remarried and the McCrackens and the LeBarons became a blended family. The McCrackens were reserved and the LeBarons were outgoing. I did some growing out of my shell during the next three years before moving out on my own.

The fall of my junior year I got a job at the local newspaper. Before that my world was school, church, and the farm. Now a completely new environment was added. The people I worked with were part of a new world I had not known before and I enjoyed it.

Moving to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1978 was another step in shedding some of my timidity. I went to a place I had never been to work with people I did not know. It was a wonderful experience.

I’m not a good judge of how much shyness I’ve overcome and I can’t identify all the good influences that have made a difference in this regard. At some point I realized I admire people who extend themselves to others.

I’m grateful for the influences that help me stick my head outside my shell.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I’m thinking about things for which I’m grateful. The simple ones are the blessing the majority of Americans experience—freedom, the beauty of creation, family, friends, food, shelter (comfortable shelter). But I want to be a little more specific. What are the ways God has uniquely blessed me? Each day until Thanksgiving it’s my intention to identify something for which I’m grateful and write about it.

I’ll start back in my childhood. My life would likely be quite different if I had not grown up in a Christian home. My parents made following Christ look like the right thing to do. They never did things that created a rebellious spirit in me or that caused me to doubt the authenticity of their faith. They followed the shepherd described in Psalm 23 and I did not have to fear evil.

I’m grateful for the Christian influence of my parents.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Today is my wife’s birthday. A quick list of her attributes include: family loyalty, industrious, well-organized, value conscious, compassionate, intelligent, diligent, and modest. Does she like doing the laundry, cooking, and cleaning? No, but she does these things ungrudgingly. I love the integrity she shows in honestly admitting she doesn’t enjoy the domestic chores. She is so good at so many things, I’d hate for her to feel she was required to excel at everything. She intensely loves and cares for our children. She makes herself a valued employee at the hospital with her attention to detail and her thoughtfulness. She gets involved in causes such as the Relay for Life. And she understands me, supports me, and loves me even though she sees my warts.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Twelve days until Thanksgiving and then my love/hate relationship with Christmas moves into focus. I don’t find the Christmas season to be a very peaceful time. There are so many extra things that have to be done.

“Do you have your shopping done yet?”

“The mall was so busy I had to park in the overflow lot.”

“When are you going to put up your outdoor lights?”

“Are you going out of town for Christmas?”

“Have you decorated your tree?”

“I got the greatest stocking stuffers at the early-bird sale.”

These are all a normal part of holiday conversation, but they all relate to doing instead of being. I enjoy some of the doing, but sometimes it’s too much and not for the right reasons.

I’m not a total Scrooge. I love the celebration, the significance, the gatherings, the candle light Christmas eve service, the connections (in person and by mail), and the food.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I’m reflecting on encounters from yesterday and looking forward to new ones today. Yesterday included the young barista at the coffee shop that I’ve known since she was in high school. When I mentioned that I’d heard a certain young man was in love, her face lit up with happiness. She is the object of that love and it makes her happy. The day also included interaction with a person who has it all together—job, family, friends—but painful experiences have cast long shadows that are very well concealed. And then I had the opportunity to tell a high school student that God loves even the students who have been suspended for punching someone in the face, but I wasted the opportunity.

I guess each day has its own unpredictable mix of heavy and light. My life will be enriched today as I have lunch with a young man I don't know very well. This evening we get to enter my granddaughter’s world when we attend the 57th West Union Elementary School Ham Dinner. And I hope I will be insightful enough to recognize an unanticipated opportunity.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I got an unexpected phone call yesterday. A man I know from church was wondering if we might talk about poverty. His active passion is the distribution of Bibles and Bible portions around the world. He collects used Bibles from across the country and sends them to people and organizations in developing countries that need copies of the Bible. Knowing his zeal for distributing Scripture, it was unexpected to discover that in addition to this spiritual concern he is also concerned about the physical and economic needs of the people who receive his Bibles. He’s been looking for ways he might be able to make a difference such as providing literature in his shipments that gives description and instruction for simple microeconomic programs. He understands clearly that the Bible doesn’t just address the soul—it addresses all of life. He’s not able to meet their needs by providing relief, but wants to find ways to appropriate God’s physical and human creation in creative ways that use resources available in these underdeveloped countries in ways that will liberate the people from poverty.

The conversation was as stimulating as it was unexpected.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A couple of days ago a friend sent me a profound book excerpt. A portion of what she sent follows:

“We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print; and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The inter-relatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather—for I believe the heart is infinite—modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.”

This was written half a century ago. The quote is from Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The widow of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh speaks to me today.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Compliments make me start to purr like a cat that loves to be petted. It’s not an audible sound, but a harm feeling created by blood rushing to my ego. I sometimes enjoy a compliment too much. I’ve even said, “What?” as if I didn’t hear just so I could hear it again.

Perhaps I should wear a sign that says, “Please don’t feed the ego.”

Monday, November 07, 2005

I roomed with one of my Republican friends at the recent meetings of the ministry commissions of the evangelical Friends Church. He likes Fox News; I like PBS and CNN. He’s delighted that Tom Daschle was defeated; I was bummed out. He thinks Ted Kennedy is an empty wind bag; I support some of the causes Kennedy supports. He thinks Jimmy Carter hit a new low by speaking out against the President’s Iraq policy; I applaud Carter.

We are both opinionated and since he is more articulate than I am, I dodged and weaved my way around the ring—always fading to his left when he tried to land a political punch.

I’m fond of the Jim Wallis statement that God is neither Democrat nor Republican. My voter registration confirms I’m a Democrat, but I’d like my life to reflect open-mindedness and a search for truth.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

This morning instead of worshipping and learning at Newberg Friends Church, I’m traveling home from Denver. But I do know what the message is about. Last Monday my pastor told me he would be talking about poverty on Sunday. I think he’ll go with what the Bible says is our responsibility to the poor. He asked me if I would give the closing prayer after the sermon. “Fools rush in . . .”—I actually told him I would do it if I were going to be in town. I expect the prayer would have taken the form of a personal confession such as the following:

I confess, Lord, that I’m comfortable with the thing I should be afraid of and afraid of what should be normal. I use the wrong preposition. I’m arrogant, self-centered, and middle class.

I don’t want to be arrogant and self-centered, but I do want to be middle class. I like my comfortable house, new-enough cars, medical insurance, and my retirement account. I’m not thinking about giving these up. If you see it different Lord, you better bring a big stick, a really big stick.

Now about that self-centered arrogance: I think I’d like myself better if I were quicker to think of others. In the background I have a self-interest calculator that figures: If I do “this” then ultimately I will receive “that.” I’d like to be less concerned about the balance of trade.

I work at hiding my arrogance, but you see right through me. I confess I look down on some people.

Lord, I think I can handle ministry to the poor. I’ll give to the canned food drives, I’ll make tax-deductible contributions, and I’ll talk the talk about helping the needy. But I get scared when I think about ministry with the poor. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds messy.

Prayer of Confession by Howard Childers: “O Lord, that we dare confess anything at all to You before our brothers and sisters here in this church today is proof that we believe that You already know us as we are; that we believe that You are able to do something about it; and that we are willing to step from our worlds of pretense, fantasy and illusion into a kind of “facing-up-to-things-as-they-are” where You can touch us, and forgive us, and love us, and accept us and make us new. This is hard, Lord, but here we are.”

Assurance of Pardon by Kenneth Working: “This statement is completely reliable and should be universally accepted: Christ Jesus entered the world to rescue sinners. He personally bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might be dead to sin and be alive to all that is good. God’s mercy never ends. I tell you, in the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.”

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I want my denomination to be multi-cultural. I’m at a meeting of evangelical Friends in Denver. Church leaders in missions, Christian education, and communications from across the country are meeting. Last evening a half dozen Hispanic pastors shared from their life and ministry. During the past 10 years there has been a significant increase in Friends church ministry among Hispanics in each of our Friends geographic regions. It looks like this is just the beginning. I expect the next five years will show a marked contrast between the growth rate among Hispanic Friends compared to Anglo Friends. Gloria a Dios.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Why am I such a pessimist sometimes? Yesterday in the airport gate area I saw this really big guy, and I don’t mean tall. The first thing I thought was, Oh, no! He’s going to be in my row! Why couldn’t I have though, Traveling must be difficult for him.

It turned out I was one of the fortunate ones with nobody in the middle seat. Perhaps I should spend more time being grateful for a full cup instead of wondering if the cup might be half empty.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

My daughter, Abbie, gave me a nicely-wrapped, DVD shaped package for my birthday. I had no idea what was inside. There were big smiles (probably a little laughter, too) when I opened it—a DVD of the best Tina Turner live performances!

For years my family has teased me about liking Tina Turner. They find it funny and perhaps a bit bizarre. I don’t know enough about Tina Turner to be called a fan, but for some reason I like her. She strikes me as bold, expressive, relentless, and even authentic. What about the sexually provocative dress and demeanor? Let me use movies as a way to describe my response. I’m not offended by a movie that is R-rated for sexual scenes if they are an accurate reflection of life and communicate something that has redeeming value. I find some situation comedies move offensive than some R-rated movies. I expect some people see Tina Turner as a sexual tease, but I’m not one of them.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Last week I watched the Tom Brokaw special “In God They Trust.” I wish it had been less focused on Ted Haggard and his New Life Church. To me the megachurches make facilities, programs, and crowds look like the drawing card. The megachurch is not a representative sample of what it means to be an evangelical. The interview with Jim Wallis helped provide a more complete picture.

I get uncomfortable when I feel an implied fence is being created that encloses a group and quickly looks exclusive. I prefer an open range where all Christians live—each identifiable by spots, stripes, coloring, or other features, but holding in common the lordship of Christ.