Thursday, February 24, 2011

Accentuate the Positive

A friend this week expressed fear and uneasiness with all the change and
happenings occurring in the Middle East.  I responded optimistically and
view the changes occurring as a positive.

Many pundits and prognosticators are stoking the flames of pessimism by
pouring the fuel of fear onto the fires of optimism.  

I look at the changes occurring in the Middle East recently to be
just as important as the historical changes that began in Europe in 1989
with the toppling of several communist bloc regimes; the destruction of the
Berlin Wall; reunification of Germany in 1990 and the eventual dissolution
of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

Were there issues and difficult situations to resolve as a result of the
changes in eastern Europe and the end of the USSR?  

Absolutely; civil wars broke out in what was then known as Yugoslavia,
between a vast array of ethnicities and peoples that culminated in new
nations coming on to the map and some old ones being re-established, but Europe
and the world weathered the storms and the pessimistic talk of Europe's
'tinderbox' igniting into a much wider conflict was all for naught. 
There's usual noise out there that makes me think of the R.E.M. tune, 'It's 
the End of the World as We Know It'.

Let's focus on the positive aspects of the changes occurring in the Middle
East.  Let's pray for peaceful transitions and 
let's be supportive of the young people who, because of social
networking via the Internet and the ability to communicate freely with
others around the world, have chosen to make social and political
advancements we Americans all too easily take for granted.      

Of course there will be obstacles, but if we're optimistic and supportive of
those who seek a better life for themselves and their countries, then we
stand a much better chance of working and prospering together in a world
that is becoming smaller and smaller and more connected ever day.

Isn't that a good, positive thing? 
OK...I'm in the mood for that song now:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mission vs. Maintenance

Zion Christian Church, Beaverdam, VA
This past Saturday morning I traveled to Beaverdam, VA.  Beaverdam is a small community in western Hanover County just a bit northwest of the Richmond area.  The men of Zion Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have a monthly gathering of their Disciples Men for a time of fellowship, a morning breakfast and mission.

This scene is played out all over the country on Saturday mornings when men of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) come together at these type of events.  The reason I am taking time to write about this particular group for today's 'Tuesday Afternoon...' post is that the men there 'get it'.

This group of committed men are a perfect example of what it means to exhibit a mission based philosophy. 

Each time I've taken the opportunity to fellowship with this group of men I'm always encouraged by the way they have a clear focus.  This is not a large group.  On Saturday, like most other times I've met with them, there's only about 8-10 men present, but the unique thing about them is that they all seem so involved and in tune with what is going on within their group.  They have a calendar filled with activities.

As I've done in the past, I was there to give them some event reminders and show my support for them as their regional staff director.  After breakfast they began their meeting and as I sat there I listened to the various mission focused actions they are carrying out for 2011.  Here's a few of them:
Special Camp 2010

1-Outreach to Oakridge Correctional Center
2-Three to four prefab construction projects with Elder Homes
3-Support for Craig Springs/Special Camp
4-Support for Hanover Safe Place
5-Support for a shoe fund
6-Providing support to a selected Thanksgiving Family
7-Providing support to a selected Christmas Family

And while I sat there they talked about a lady in the community that needed someone to take a look at her bathtub and there was also someone else that needed something moved and needed help doing that.  Several of the men spoke right up to volunteer and offer their service.

After I had concluded giving my reminders I told the group how refreshing it is to always know that they have a mission focus and not a maintenance focus.  I let them know that their efforts are very much appreciated and that they are to be commended for it.  As I mentioned it's obvious they 'get it'.

These men need no one to hold their hand, no one to give them direction on what it is they should be doing as Disciples Men.  They take action and that action is community focused. 

This is what men's ministry is all about.  They're on a path of mission and spiritual growth through the actions they take within and for their community.  Mission defeats maintenance every time. 

If you participate in a men's group or any other community service or church group, you might want to take a step back and take time to ask yourself if your group practices mission or maintenance. 

I'm very proud to say that I am associated with this group of committed and energetic men.  They 'get it'.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An Elevator Ride

A week or so ago I went to visit a good friend in the hospital.  I had to take the elevator.  As I approached, a couple was disembarking and as they exited I began my entrance.  I reached inside the door to hold it from the outside as suddenly a few other folks came up to the lift.  Soft 'thank you's accompanied the newbies.

As the new arrivals entered the elevator, several more people hurriedly approached hoping to board; I continued to hold the door.  About six or so were now aboard.  I began to move toward entering when another couple of couples and a straggler came for their chance to ride.  My boarding now preempted I felt the door's pressure against my hand in it's attempt to close.  The lone straggler faced me as he quickly stepped toward the entrance asking, 'Is there room'?  All passengers were now aboard.  The door closing provided the only sound in the otherwise voiceless carriage.

As the last of the light from the ground floor disappeared through the crack of the converging doors and as the last of the floor selections were made, the elevator lurched downward ever so slightly.  A gasping sound came from all of us as a bell began to ring.  Someone said, 'Are there too many?'  There was a collective chuckle and wonder as to whether the elevator would lift off.

The bell stopped and the elevator journeyed upward as soft smiles of relief could be felt inside.

I was the first to get off at the second floor and as the doors opened and I made my way out, I said walking away, 'good luck' to which smiles and chuckles followed my exit.

I've thought about this experience and the human interaction, albeit ever so brief, with that small group of strangers on the elevator.  What brought us all together to be at that moment in time?  What was it about the incident that caused us to make the comments we made?  Could we have easily been completed silent throughout?  I've smiled to myself and to others while thinking back on and sharing the experience.

So many people these days don't say 'hello' in passing, don't know their neighbors and if they do and something is amiss most folks are afraid to approach or ask if everything's OK.  Do we not want to get involved?  Are we afraid of intruding on someone's privacy?  Maybe that neighbor just wants someone to listen to them about the bad work week or some other home situation that might be weighing them down.

First it was radio, then television, follower by the computer, the cell phone and all the other technological gadgetry all causing us to veg within the walls of our abodes.  The front porches of our homes, if we even have one, have only a bench that we might refinish from time to time and some chairs covered with dust and pollen, but no people to fill them.

Our conversations are brief and rarely meaningful or thought provoking anymore.

Thankfully I am a part of a men's spiritual discussion group that meets once a week.  We're a committed group that devote a couple hours a week to talking and contemplating various topics including this one.

Did you encounter a stranger today?  On your way to work, at lunch on the way home?  When was the last time you talked to the person in line at the grocery store, the pharmacy or an elevator?

When was the last time you took time to gather with friends, to break bread and have meaningful conversation?

Oh...the friend that I went to check on...he was doing fine...we had a nice visit and a nice talk.

Feel free to share your conversational experiences and encounters here. 


PS- My son, Gabriel is five months old now.  Of course he's not yet really talking, but then again, his emerging happy personality is saying a lot.

What I'm Listening To This Week- 
This week I've been listening to Santana.  Here they are in 1969 at Woodstock. I think Carlos all too often is overlooked as one of the world's guitar greats.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly

Dzil na odillii Sunrise
As the Creator painted on the canvas sky that Wednesday July summer morning of 2002 little did Kim and I  know that a man's pain and faith would make such a lasting impression on me.  His story is one that pops into my mind very often with or without the prompting of the words of the prophet Micah.  This weekend I was reminded of the scripture and this story during Sunday morning worship at Trinity.

As I've shared here on more than one occasion, Kim and I are part of the Navajo Work Camp Program.  We travel to the Navajo Nation to do community service work as people of faith. We hope to share our good works with the Dine people and to learn about their culture and faith experiences in a cultural learning setting.

That first year for Kim and I was so exciting as we were going into an unknown world that we both possessed a heart felt passion for sight unseen.  We knew no one else among the group of campers and so we had no idea what to expect.

Early on it was apparent that one gentleman in our band of travelers, George, was a bit standoffish, unusually quiet and not very approachable.  I remember that Kim and I even mentioned it to one another.  We commented on how this man seemed to have no real interest in being part of the group.  We had prejudged him and labeled him.  Why would someone with an attitude like his come on the trip if he didn't have the same sort of zeal and interest that we did?

Monday and Tuesday's community work had been rewarding.  We were learning lots about the Dine people and their culture.  However, by the end of the day we'd realize that we were also learning about ourselves.

Midweek we took time to immerse ourselves further into the history and the beauty of the landscape with a day trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park; the site of Chaco Canyon.  Again, we noticed George and how he seemed aloof.

Later that evening we came together as we do each night during the week for a time of reflection and sharing of our experiences and encounters.  Everyone is divided up into small groups at the beginning of the week and each group is responsible for conducting an evening vespers time.  That night it was the turn of the group that George was part of.

There may have been a prayer to start things off, but all I remember now is the picture of George, sitting there stone-faced with a bible in his lap.  Slowly he began to read the following:

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6: 6-8 (NIV) 

As he finished, tears began to well in eyes and then he began to tell all gathered there in the circle about why he was there.  You see, several weeks earlier, George's wife, secretary at the church where they attended, had suddenly died of a heart attack.  We learned that George's pastor, Steve, one of the leaders in our group was the reason George among us.  At Steve's persistent coaxing, George finally, but reluctantly, relented and decided to go.  George's reluctance, as I've already mentioned was very evident those first couple of days.

His quiet voice filled the large community school room.  Everyone sat silent listening to him pour out his grief.  Around the room the sniffles and tears being shed soon became audible.  George was in pain, but his pain and grief were checked by his faith.  At some point George had had the opportunity to be alone and ask God the question, 'what do you require of me'?  He said that he'd had conversation with his deceased bride and God and that in both instances he received the same answer.  He knew had to move on with his life and that all would be OK.

'To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.'  

George understood that he was right where he needed to be with other Disciples committed to walking humbly with God.  This was after all George's first mission experience. 

We lost touch with George, but as I said, the impact of the story was great.  Then one day in November 2005 I was thumbing through a copy of the now sadly, defunct 'DisciplesWorld' magazine.  I began to read a piece of how a giving loving couple had traveled to New Orleans in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina to help out in whatever way they could.  The man was asked by the writer how was it that he and his wife were able to give so much of their time to the recovery effort as apparently they'd been back and forth to home several times in their RV.  The man answered, saying 'it was where God intended for him to be' to help others in their time of need.  The man, now remarried was our friend, George Smith.  You talk about a lump in your throat as I finished reading that article? 

I've had the opportunity to talk to George since then on one occasion and thank him for giving me such a spiritual lift that I treasure everyday of my life.  I'm glad I can share this story again as I have so often done since that warm Wednesday evening, now almost 9 years ago.

Both the story and scripture are powerful testimony. Love and hope always trump fear of the unknown.  All we have to do is 'To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.'

NOTE: If you or someone you know is interested in participation in the next Navajo Work Camp trip to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico contact me at