Monday, December 10, 2007
Wild turkeys wander through my back yard like it belongs to them. A group of six males (flock? brood? gaggle?) waddles through together, looking for chicks. A larger group of females comes a little later, gleaning for lawn bugs in the snow --I suppose they had to stay back and make the beds.
These turkeys are large: market-size. To see a couple dozen of them off your back porch through the sliding glass door, poking around for insects, each gang strutting their stuff for the other, is disquieting. They run like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, bobbing their beaks with mysterious, brightly colored body parts wobbling, making clucky, gobbly sounds. It's not hard to imagine them pecking you to death.
So OK. Here's the worst part: Turkeys fly. THEY FLY! God save us all.
I've seen them fly over the river, so I know it's true. I thought turkeys were incapable of flight. I've been to a turkey ranch. The fences are not high. Thousands of birds eek out an existence behind the fences, kicking up dust and feathers and turkey dung all in one tight space. You'd think that just one of them would say, "OK. That's it. I'm outa here," and spread its stubby wings and take to the sky. But they don't. And I always assumed. . .
So OK. Here's the worster part: Turkeys fly up into tall trees. They "perch" there. God have mercy!
The back of my house sweeps down to riparian woodland. 30-40 foot trees grow out there on the edge of the river, and turkeys roost in them. Imagine one of those frozen turkeys in the open freezer cases at Kroger. Now imagine it with wings, sitting in a tree near your home, watching you. Not a pleasant picture.
I was gazing at the river the other day when two turkeys with great drama flew up into the trees and sat there looking at my home, scouting for small people. So I know it's true. Turkeys fly and perch in tall trees.
My new back yard is no longer the quiet refuge I thought I was getting when I bought the place. I was duped. My back yard is a breeding ground for large, bulky, eerily wattled animals with beaks who live in trees and monitor your every move.
So OK. Now I understand the whole Thanksgiving Turkey Feast thing. I'll grab the cranberry sauce and meet you at the tree line. Bring a gun and some rain gear. This could be messy.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Papa was a pastor, and I grew up thinking that the church building was just as much part of my home as the bathroom, although I didn't work that out in the most graphic of ways.
I recall running through the sanctuary--not on Sunday morning when it was was a sin, but on a weekday afternoon when holiness was looser. The church was like a playground to me, offering much more space than the tiny parsonage next door, and letting Mom have a few minutes of sanity whilst I roamed the property.
My brother and I used to crawl under the pews while the church pianist practiced and the room was dark. She suffered from delusions, and believed she was a former Communist, now a U.S. spy, and she knew that her previous employers would eventually hunt her down. Robert and I would sneak around making creaking noises on the floors, popping up every now and then, and trying to cough like Communists, to watch her jump from the piano bench.
Growing up a PK provides a singular perspective on the church. I have been a pastor for over twenty-five years, and serve as a pastor now. I have seen the church from the inside out.
I have observed the way a church can love a person into faith in Jesus, and I have seen how a church--even the same church--can convince a person to turn around and walk fast in the opposite direction. I can delineate the methods of subversive torture a church can use to ravage its leaders, and I can testify to the wonder of a soul restored and given hope in the midst of darkness and evil and guilt.
As a result, I have a perpetual question on my heart. I live with it every day, and although I hope it will be answered before I die, I do not anticipate that resolution. The question is this: Is the church God's agent for grace?
I want the answer to be yes.
What is your answer?
Sunday, September 02, 2007
Headphones were blaring the Hope College Worship Band CD, Fill the Streets, and "Praise to the Lord the Almighty, King of Creation" was playing and the sound in my ears went to a place in my heart and touched right there where the soft tissue was hiding and BINGO! I fell apart kneeling on the pavement with the Quickrete Patch bottle in my hands.
Why? I think it was these timeless words that finally found the tender place: Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with his love he befriend thee. It struck deep, the thought that his love has been so active in my life, and I haven't noticed. When I look behind me, I see the tracks of his love, the evidence of his work, the skill of his merciful hands.
It's his patching. The BIG CRACK in my heart, made by the years, had been repaired. That crack had kept me wary of ministry and leary of church in general, willing to avoid at any cost the ensnarements of personal contact. Could it be that while I was protecting myself, he was at work patching the breach? While I was concerned with keeping the crack away from anything that would make it worse, spread it apart further, and make it hurt more, is it possible that he was gently, faithfully filling it in with his grace?
I'm not worthy of his skill, his artistic work. My failings and weaknesses have made that crack wider, deeper. But his fingers work the mortar of his love into the gaps, and the trail left behind is a testament to his amazing ability.
I fell on the ground, hands and knees bent in humility, sobbing. I don't know if I can do this thing. I don't know if I have what it takes to be "in the ministry" again. But I know this, and will hang on to it:
Monday, August 13, 2007
People have asked me how I feel about that. After all, I've been known to poke fun at the church. I delight in pointing out the grape juice stains and bread crumbs on the blouse of the Bride of Christ, and I will continue to do it.
Only now I'll do it from the inside. Of course, I'm going to be the pastor of the greatest church in the world, not because I'm there, but because Jesus is. And the truth is, Jesus can be found in quite a few churches, often in spite of their idiosyncrasies and their pastors.
God has done some "minor miracles" to get me this far. It was a little miracle that I sent my resume to any church. It was a minor miracle that my resume would garner any attention. It was a miracle that I would believe that I could be both a writer and a pastor. It was a miracle that God sent me to a church that thought it was good, even biblical, to do both.
There have been many more minor miracles, and they continue to occur; gentle nudges in the direction of Bay City/Saginaw, Michigan, where yesterday a warm, friendly, exciting congregation voted to bring in a pudgy, graying, somewhat jaded Joe as their pastor-person.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
Friday, April 20, 2007
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
I came across a couple great quotes from the late Moses Hadas, professor of classics at Columbia University. Hadas was a gifted scholar and teacher, but the quotes that are passed around are mini-reviews of books that he was apparently asked to endorse:
I have read your book and much like it.
Hadas believed the proliferation of books held no particular benefit unless quality attended the writing.
Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I'll waste no time reading it.
My favorite quote, and the one that drew my attention, concerns our insatiable need to answer all the questions:
This book fills a much-needed gap.
As a student in my first year college Bible class, I appreciated the teaching of Dr. Curtis Mitchell of Biola University. Dr. Mitchell offered his approach to understanding the Bible: "If the plain sense makes good sense seek no other sense."
Makes sense to me.
I've developed my own hermeneutic over the years, drawn from that simple instruction, consisting of two rules. The first:
1. If God says it in black and white, you can't make it gray.
God makes a lot of things quite clear, and regarding them he leaves little room for fudging. You can generally say that the whole purpose of Scripture is God's intention to clear things up for us. God's communication is designed to give us "all we need for life and godliness."
The second rule, however, must also be applied to the Bible:
2. If God says it in gray, you can't make it black and white.
Jesus sometimes told his disciples that he was presenting truth in a way that was intentionally unclear in meaning. Why? I can't answer for him, but I trust his motives. God, like any good parent, keeps some things under wraps on purpose.
Heresy often springs from our attempts to, as Hadas put it, fill the gaps. But what if God intended the gaps to remain? What if the gaps have a purpose? What if the gaps are necessary to our trust?
As a father, I have sometimes left gaps for my kids. The gaps are not dangerous, I hope, and I have purposefully not filled them because part of growth and maturity is dealing with the vacancies. Some of the gaps can't be filled by anyone else but the person who faces off with them. Other gaps can't be filled at all, and shouldn't be.
Which turns me back to writing and books. How many books are published that try to fill the gaps?
My prayer is that God would enable me to write truth with passion and skill, using the gifts he has given to craft beauty and reveal truth. Sometimes that means I will expose the gaps. I pray that I can leave them unfilled, free to perform their own work of God.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The first question Coach asked me was, "Ron, do you like sports?" I had to admit to him that I was a passive observer, not anything close to a fanatic. I love it when I can justify sitting down to a U of M game on Saturdays, but I couldn't tell you the names of the players. Coach Gottfried could have turned the car around at that point and found another author for his book. But he took a big chance and we worked together for about nine months to get the story right, to make an impact. And that is what I'm praying.
Here's a recent article about Coach in the Jackson Sun. Amazon has the book, Coach's Challenge, available for pre-order. It will be on the shelves in September.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
My writing friend Patrick Borders at Emdashery introduced me to a great website, giving me several good minutes of outright laughter. You've seen them in the dentist's office, the insurance office, the church office - those motivational posters with beautiful photos and encouraging words. The folks at Despair.com finally had enough motivation and encouragement and started looking at the dim side of life. Here are some samples:
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Lots of reasons:
- It's devoid of sexual exploitation and physical violence. I can watch it without blushing or getting nauseated from seeing the autopsy from inside the cadaver.
- It offers an amazing picture of our culture, for good or bad.
- It is generally good music. Taylor Hicks and Catherine McPhee made me smile just to hear them sing.
- It is a study in human interaction and relationships.
However, it amazes me more every year how deluded so many people are concerning their abilities. Ten thousand singers showed up in Minnesota to try to get one of a handful of golden tickets moving them on to the next round of competition in Hollywood. Out of those, how many really had a chance?
Simon Cowell and the other judges can be ruthless and rude. But more often than not they are simply saying what should have been said by someone else. I get angry listening and watching the train-wrecks. It is sad, and it could have been prevented. Instead of Cowell being the one to put up a wall in front of the careening engine of a contestant's false hopes, it ought to have been someone who knows them, loves them, and from whom they can hear the truth. I get angry at parents and family members who have lied to these people.
The very obvious truth screams out from the screeches and a-tonal "music" of aspiring Idols: the people in their lives who should have yelled "STOP!" were instead shouting praises and compliments and cheering the doomed singer on along the route to catastrophe.
Why? Here are some thoughts:
- We have misinterpreted encouragement. To encourage does not mean boosting confidence where there is no foundation. If you don't have wings, it doesn't matter how much I tell you, "You can do it! I just know you can fly! Don't be afraid. It's really not as high as it looks. You've got what it takes." Without some ability to fly, you're still coming in for a rough landing, with lots of pain and suffering that could have been avoided if I'd just said, "Maybe we need to stop and think about this."
- We have decided to be nice instead of being honest. American Idol has been around for a while now. It doesn't take a whole lot of smarts to know that average singers don't have a chance, much less someone who can't carry a tune in a bucket. But for many of these sorry contestants, there was no one in their lives who loved them enough to be honest. They just wanted to be nice, and they continued to lie to their faces so as not to make them sad. So they let their karaoke friends, or brothers and sisters, or children run headlong into Simon Cowell, who is forced to do the dirty work for them, with ugly results.
- We have lost the fine art of giving rebuke. We just don't know how to do it anymore. Even when I use the word "rebuke," images of yelling and berating and verbal abuse come to mind. But that's not what rebuke really is. Rebuke, in the Biblical sense, is correction conducted within a loving, grace-filled environment for the building-up of the other person. When's the last time someone rebuked you? When's the last time you offered rebuke? How'd that go?
- We have lost the willingness to receive rebuke. Even if we knew how to give it out, it is questionable if we could find anyone willing to listen. Rebuke is not seen as a loving act; it is considered rude and socially inept. In our culture, rebuke doesn't share the same characteristics as encouragement. But it should.
So the trains keep on rolling down the tracks, and we grimace at the carnage we can envision as the speed picks up and the wall looms close.
Garrison Keillor tells the story of his mother catching him pretending to be Buddy Holly in his bedroom. He asks his mom, "Am I a good singer?" She answers, "You're a good enough singer." Keillor sings regularly on his Prairie Home Companion show, but he's still just a "good enough" singer, and he knows it. He didn't get where he's at because of his singing prowess. He'd be Simonized on American Idol.
Trains need brakemen who are wise and can stop the engine before the wreck. If you love someone, it's OK to stop them. Dreams, aspirations, goals - all of that is good. But don't let someone you care about dream themselves into a nightmare.