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February 16, 2016

Midlife Crisis

"I mean no disrespect
I am simply very perplexed
by your ways.

Why would you let us
use your name?"

Save The Children commercials aired regularly when I was a child. Sally Struthers may as well have been talking about aliens on another planet. Being made aware of the hopeless children with flies in their eyes moved me to... ...


Why was this my response? I did not want to deal with the conviction discomfort of seeing it. I didn't want to have to give -my- money and time away. I didn't want to consider the facts, thousands of innocent starving children on the other side of the planet, and what this may say about God.

"God, why is there Africa? Please don't ever make me go to Africa."

- - - - - - - -

The Lord values honesty?

I have a growing discontent with Christianity. It's a chip on my shoulder. For a short while I may have taken pride in this. But now I definitely do not. Let me be clear - the problem is me. No, really. I truly do believe that I'm the one who has work to do.

But here goes...

I have difficulty hearing anything that's couched in churchy talk. The books. The songs. The lectures and sermons. It goes through me. Sometimes I will intentionally read different translations of the same verse in the Bible as a reminder that the original words probably weren't spoken or written in formulaic modern churchy vernacular.

Speaking of the Bible. I have a hard time with seeing the Bible as an object of perfection to be worshipped and defended. With seeing the Bible as a science and history book. With the idea that we can search the various versus from sixty six different books that make up the Bible, and come out with a systematic theology. I had a hunch that systematic theology is a massive and costly undertaking in barking up the wrong tree.

I'm tired of the anti-science stance of many people in the church. Some of their views on medical care and general health and wellness reveal, to me, a serious lack of critical thinking skills. I often feel that people on both sides of the "culture wars" are incapable of playing (debating, arguing, etc) fair intellectually.

I'm tired of the tribalism. The many/mostly segregated church communities. The mindset that we have found THE correct way to live and relate to God. The process whereby we choose a church where we fit in, then prop our views and ways up as something for Jesus himself to behold.

There is plenty of evidence that the Christian subculture exists and benefits...those who are in the club. Sure, there is plenty of legitimate reaching out to the poor and widows and the homeless. But I shudder to think how this compares to the amount of time and resources used to prop up the church.

I don't like the business of church. I don't like hearing about church mortgages and the parking lot fund and the sound system and how many members need to give an average number of dollars to keep it afloat. I'm uncertain how honest and prophetic a pastor may truly be when his salary depends on the preferences of his audience.

Let's imagine that a pastor DID hear from God. And God told him something that he should change his mind about, or it's something the church would not like? How does that typically go?

I'm irritated with the Patriotic Christianity that assumes our ways are the right ways. That we hold THE moral high ground and God is always on our side. I don't think we're doing a service to Jesus by combining the bald eagle and the cross into one kick-ass logo.

There. I'm done.

Yet again, I know where the real problem is here. I've contributed to much of the above as much as anyone. My Christian friends are people seeking God. They recognize his grace in their lives and genuinely give glory to God for any goodness within them. My pastors have done nothing wrong. They are honest and intelligent men dealing with an organization of people in modern times. This is not easy.

And in the end, I still see something beautiful and wonderful and TRUE about Jesus. I pray to him. I assume he will have grace on me in my pride and blunders and errors in faith and belief. I believe he will have grace on my Christian friends, and on our enemies as well.

It is likely that I will continue to struggle with this until God shakes me up a bit. Lord why do some of us have to learn the hard way? I realize that the need is great in my home and in my neighborhood. The WAY of Jesus begins right here. But I also imagine, and sometimes long for a season of life where I plant my feet on (someplace like) African soil and experience the poverty and joy in the Lord face to face.

"God, maybe I need to go to Africa."

August 20, 2015

A Heavy Thanks

The message came while traveling home from a long weekend camping with my sons and friends. Grandma had passed away. My feet never hit the ground until driving to the funeral home on Tuesday afternoon. Three hours alone in the car grants plenty of processing. I fought through tears for half the trip, my face caught in weird involuntary contortions of sorrow and pure anger.

I have no reason to be angry. Perhaps I have some work to do.
Margaret Gorinski lived a full life to the age of 91. Her body failed rapidly over the last four months, so this passing was part blessing. Or so it went. What follows is what I attempted to say during the service, after my father spoke. I made it through most of this, but it wasn't pretty. 
Approximately five years ago Gram asked if I would speak at her funeral. Over the course of a few weeks I put together a two or three page essay. A year later I decided that it was stupid to wait until someone dies to tell them how you feel. So I shared it with her. She read it carefully, set the papers on the table in front of her and said [paraphrase] “That’s way too much. They’ll be falling asleep or waiting to go to lunch.”
That’s how Gram was. She would have happily sat through an entire lecture on the lives of any one of her family and friends. If she felt a little hungry, she would have cracked open a pack of Certs. If you or your friends, or your friends friends needed some Certs...her purse was like the loaves and fishes of Certs.

But for her, my words about her were too much. Well, too bad. Here's a little of what I wrote about her. 

I’m not sure that Gram had any great ambition other than to serve and support us.
Some of my earliest memories are of her reading to me, then later to my brother and cousins, Patchwork Puppy and Mother Goose. Many times she sat on her wooden chair in the small kitchen throwing uncle Mark’s racquetballs. She would throw short-hops but wouldn’t send me into the heat radiator to my left. I remember watching her and Pap G kneeling to pray at their bedside. She was the first to teach and show me the habit of prayer at bed time.
We played many rounds of the card game UNO. To this day I remain undefeated against her. She taught me to play poker, and my record there is much less impressive. Not many of us can speak of a person who taught them to pray AND to play poker!
I’m not unique in having so many memories of her and Pap’s little home in Calumet. There are countless stories about the good times in and around their home. Who can forget the cookie drawer, two places to the right of the sink? Gram and Pap lived humbly and below their means. She was so generous. She graciously gave all of us her time, unconditional love, and a ham sandwich. This was truly the work of God through Margaret.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

Gram lives on through her influence upon us. We named our daughter Maggie after her. She was at peace in life and had no fear of death, I believe due to her faith and how she lived. I wasn’t around much as my parents, uncles, and aunt were caring for her up to her time of passing. For that I thank them.

When the funeral director gave the call for final words and thoughts, I could think of only two words.
“Thank you.”
Some would describe the two words as heartfelt or sincere. But what I meant was more than that. The words were raw and heavy and lifted from the depths of my soul. The world of her family and friends is a bit tilted now, as it should be without her.
Thank you Gram.
We love you.

June 25, 2014

Uncle Bill Minick - one perspective

So Uncle Bill Minick recently passed away. He was a legend in our family and apparently in many other families as well. Tonight I wanted to recount one of my kids favorite "Little Dad" stories. The story of Uncle Bill and His Farm is always a hit.

These are true stories of what I remember from my childhood. I try to make them simple and honest and not too contrived. There's sometimes a lesson involved, but they're mostly my attempt to recall stories that I don't want to forget and introduce my children to their great grandparents, third cousins, great uncles and distant friends who they'll never know in person.

When I was little I LOVED to go to Uncle Bill's farm. Grandma and aunt Wink would take their horses to his arena to practice and sometimes compete against other horse people. 

Uncle Bill was Pap Minicks brother and grandmas uncle. He was probably around 50 years old by the time I came on the scene. But even then he was a hulk of a man with a deep bellowing voice. He had a barrel chest and thick tree-trunk forearms just like Pap Minick. He was a real cowboy with no need for a gym.

In his younger days he was one of those crazy bull riders - the kind who try to hang on for 8-seconds without being bucked off the snorting hurricane of hooves and hornes. He paid for it though - one day while practicing he caught a horn right in the eyeball and had to wear a glass eye for the rest of his life. I could never tell which eye was fake because I didn't want to be caught staring. But he'd always sort of turn his head to look you square in the face.

As a boy I didn't mind horses and rodeos. But the reason I went was to spend time on the farm. Uncle Bill's grandson Adam was usually there to play with me. We would spend hours playing tag, throwing football in the fields, and riding the mechanical bull which was a rusty barrel suspended from four telephone poles. Mostly we hunted for frogs, crayfish and minnows in this awesome stream that ran right through the middle of the farm between the barn and the arena. To this day I remember the rocks and ledges and bends in the creek that were always good for a frog or three. I once went downstream, crawled off the farm through a barbed wire fence, and caught a baby pike. The far side of the arena always collected rain and I remember trying to rescue some of the thousands of toad tadpoles that would be stuck in the watery hoof imprints. There was also a pond which kids were rarely allowed to visit. On the hottest days of the year we would swim there alongside thousands of baby catfish.

I was invited to stay for dinner at uncle Bill's a handful of times. Aunt Gene his wife always had real tea, the kind you make from throwing some tea bags in water and letting it sit out in the sun all day. You didn't complain about the unsweetness of it. I remember studying the dead Japanese beetles, the hairy green houseflies, and the paper wasps stuck fast to the fly paper hung right over the kitchen table. You gulped down your salad and pork chops and baked beans, things you would never touch at home, because you were hungry and you were at Uncle Bills farm.

From what I remember Uncle Bill always had people around him - family and other horse people wanting to talk about this horse or that tractor or those farm projects. He had plenty of time to jab the kids for a good teasing. Truly - I remember far more about his farm than about him. But I know he helped people along in their horse business. He somehow made everyone feel special. And that, I think, is why he is Legend.

December 19, 2013

winning the last game

It was good to see the familiar cast of characters when I recently returned to Monday night hoops at West Shore E-Free Church. I missed much of 2013 due to unrelated injuries and being an old man with various domestications.

There are no superstars but together we create 90 minutes of intense sweat and enjoyable competition. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, and temperaments involved absolutely changes the game. You double down on Dan when he gets the ball on the low post. You don't give Mike the open "3" with the game on the line. Bruce appears to be a cautions perimeter player but he'll gladly take you to the hole if granted an inch or a quarter second.

There was also a handful of new faces, looking to be in their early twenties. Two were friends, maybe brothers, raising the level of play with their athleticism. A tall guy wearing bright pink shoes didn't seem to do much. Another young man was running all over the place. I admired the hustle but his was a lot of wasted energy.

The Hustler, did he always shoot so poorly? One of the Unwritten Rules of Pick-up Basketball states that after forcing a few shots or missing consecutive wide open looks you pass to your teammates and contribute in other ways. But not the Hustler.

I watched the Hustler pile blunder upon blunder, much to the chagrin of his teammates. Again, not that the rest of us played to perfection. Did he know any of The Rules? You know your role and play it. If you bounce the ball off a foot or have it stolen consecutively, you don't allow it to happen a third and fourth time. You let someone else bring the ball up the court.

It did not seem like any of the other guys knew the Hustler personally. During his turn to sit out, we had the best matched game of the night. It was a fun battle. The game went into over-time and completed at about 9:45, just in time for a re-match!

The Hustler silently stood court-side with head down as we organized to begin the last game. One Unwritten Rule clearly states that he had the right to pick up four guys for the final game. Everyone on the court knew that one of us should sit. But we all needed a rematch. 

One of the new guys, an Athletic Brother, stood with the ball at the top of the key while the other nine of us fell into offensive and defensive alignment. He paused, turned and faced the Hustler.

"Were you waiting for the next game?"

The Hustler nodded.

"Here. Go ahead and take my spot." 

I'm sure the Athletic Brother didn't mean much by it, but this may have been one of the best sermons on leadership that I have heard. His action made me feel hope and encouragement and shame. I was not a passive witness. Up until then it had not dawned on me that the rest of us were following The Rules no better than the Hustler.

I've said it before, that recreational sports (and the athletics of their offspring, but that's another story) seem to make men bleed their true colors. Do you think we could guess at the qualities of the Athletic Brother, and most of them would be true? I imagine that he could be trusted with big things.

And the Hustler? He didn't hit the winning shot to claim his teams victory and we all hoisted him on our shoulders. But I noticed that he didn't play nearly as terrible in that last game. 
 - - - - -

He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.      -Luke 16:10

October 14, 2013

the day i spoke in tongues

- - - - - 

Nearly ten years ago, a friend from high school invited my wife and I to his wedding. He (G) and I had shared great times and memories, most of them related to various adventures in sports and tomfoolery. I take most of the blame for the fact that we lost touch. We fell in different circles during the transitional years from high school to college, and for a while I truly wasn't much fun to hang out with.

But for a few reasons, G and I kept in contact during the post college, pre-Facebook period. Upon replying that we would be glad to attend the wedding, he asked me to say the prayer before their reception dinner. Flattered and scared, I hesitated.

For the most part, G was aware of what I stood for. I didn't know most of the people who would be in attendance. From what I gathered, few of them were Christians. I didn't try to pin down the values and beliefs of the bride and groom or require 6 weeks of premarital counseling. I simply agreed to pray. This would be a challenge but possibly an opportunity to genuinely bless them and maybe bring some Jesus to the party.

In preparation for this I prayed for insight - to come up with something original, meaningful, and brief without being preachy or showy. I rehearsed and prayed that it would be well received and touch people for God in some way. Looking back now I would even say that my intentions were mostly pure.

The moment came when I stepped to the mic in front of two hundred (or so) seated in a formal reception room at Station Square in Pittsburgh. For the sake of transition, I wanted to quickly ask that we quietly bow our heads to pray before the meal that we celebrate. But the mic that functioned just fine for the MC moments earlier suddenly went haywire. When I opened my mouth there was a sharp cracking and my voice cut in and out at the rate of about three times per second.

The room hushed as the harsh noise managed to startle and confuse most attendees. What's with the awkward guy mumbling gibberish?

A more seasoned speaker would have possibly stopped to address the problem or set the mic down to project his voice naturally. But instead I swallowed hard and plowed through. The mic persisted in its malfunctioning which further threw me off. The words I had carefully prepared came out backwards and garbled, which by then I'm sure would have sounded terrible even with a perfectly good mic.

By the time the disaster settled, the MC was standing beside me with his hand open. He grabbed the mic and quickly snapped a new one in place. The background music resumed immediately followed by the hum of table conversations, drinks, and appetizers. I scurried back to my seat and dove into the security of my salad and napkin.

And that's how the insecure, formerly Catholic and presently rational evangelical boy who espouses a completely reasonable faith and disdains the idea of charismatic anything spoke in tongues before a crowd of unbelievers and old acquaintances.

It did not immediately dawn on me that I had spoken in tongues. But months afterward I realized that the outward appearance of my performance would have garnered a hearty amen from even the least zealous Pentecostals. To this day I'm unsure why or whether or not God allowed that to happen. But I know that reflecting on the experience caused some things in me to change.

I won't suggest that God united two people in marriage and gathered a room full of unbelievers and unreliable AV equipment just to teach me a lesson. But it's possible such things could occur in the process. For all I know, I truly did speak in tongues that day, The Spirit moving through and to an unwilling vessel to deliver a hard-line message about beliefs, grace, and humility. 

July 07, 2013

one accord

[Our church is doing a study of the book of Acts, and various members of the congregation were asked to share thoughts and take-aways. I had Acts chapter 6, and wanted to do something a little different. So this is a stab at historical fiction based on the books of Acts and a little contextual study. You may want to take 30 seconds to read Acts 6:1-7, which is a bare bones account of how the 12 apostles were able to successfully handle diversity and conflict amongst the Jews from Jerusalem and the Greek speaking Jews from other areas.]

Andrew removed his sandals, leaned back in the chair, and closed his eyes. After all the walking, standing, speaking, not to mention the questioning and flogging in the previous weeks, the dark and quiet solitude was bliss.  The sound of someone calling his voice, at first faint then growing louder, invaded the silence. He took a deep breath and sat up.

"John - in here.”

John entered the room with a deliberate pace.

“The Hellenists among us are complaining again, claiming their widows are being overlooked in the daily provisions. Haven’t we been through this? Our Hebrews are incapable of being honest much less gracious.”

Andrew stood, paced a few steps with his head down, and leaned against the doorframe. “Do you know that this is happening intentionally?”

“Well, no. But there is already concern and grumbling about who’s doing how much of the work- There are rumors of leaving our widows and disabled behind and letting Rome to care for them.  But Andrew, He emphasized that we are to be...”

“…of one accord.” Andrew and Johns voices combined.

“You’re right. We need to take this seriously. Are the others nearby? Call them in.”

John waved outside to Peter, who led the rest of the apostles into the room and formed a crude circle.

Peter spoke first.“We could determine who’s treating the Greeks unfairly and teach them some…cultural sensitivity, if you will.”

The suggestion was met with a few murmurs and shuffling of feet. Andrew playfully punched him in the shoulder. “Have you ever wondered what Jesus would do, Peter? I’m sure it’s not that! The problems are more likely due to a simple language barrier than anything else.”

James stepped in. “Some of us can spend a few weeks with the Hellenists to experience what’s happening. We could work on their communication skills and distribute things appropriately ourselves.

There were some head-nods of agreement and low grumbles. Peter shook his head and stepped forward. “Do they all remain infants while others perish? Must we do everything ourselves?” None of the apostles answered, knowing there would be more from Peter.

Truly Brothers, our time grows short. We have received our warnings and our beatings. What do you suppose is next, when any one of us continue to proclaim the truth?”

Phillip jumped in. “I had an idea. We can appoint seven of the best of them to a committee. That would get the work done and have everyone represented appropriately.” There was a general consensus on the idea, and a few of the apostles quickly threw out names.

“Procurus and Antioch.”


Timon was later added to the committee. But beyond that the apostles couldn’t reach agreement, or nobody came to mind.

“We can’t expect all the work to be carried out by four.”

“Well, who else do you have in mind?,” said John.

“I think Calev would do a pretty fair job for the Jews.” Some of the apostles laughed.

“Calev? Filled with the spirit, but empty of common sense? And courtesy. What has Calev done to lead anyone?


“Well he certainly loves everyone. And he can hardly make a decision on what foot to put forward first. Maybe Greek and Hebrew will ALL unite against Josephus when the widows are regularly fed three hours late.”

Well how about Noam? He’s the most intelligent Jew standing. I know he tends to be…a little direct. And completely reasonable... well he would run a tight ship.”

“ Mr. Personality? If you want the followers of Jesus split right in two, put Naom on the committee.”

James spoke out.

“Do we really know the sincere men, sold out to the way of Jesus, but with a sound mind, maturity, and level headedness? To handle such a sensitive manner without this blowing up, we need people who are full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. Besides, if the disciples choose for themselves, they’ll have nobody to grumble against.”

Following this the apostles quickly reached agreement and retired for the night. The next morning they called a meeting for all. Andrew stood on a small bench before all the assembly.

 “We have come to understand the recent problem of food distribution. We assure you that this is important to us, and we want to do everything we can to find an acceptable solution. But at this time it would not be right for us twelve to ignore the ministry of the Word in order to wait on tables. So choose for yourselves, from among all of you, seven men who are best suited to the task, trustworthy, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them, so we may give our attention to prayer and to the ministry of the word.

As it turns out, this pleased the whole group, enabling them to act in one accord. Instead of arguing amongst themselves and making a poor name for the sake of Christ, they were able to move on with their lives and attend to the work before each of them.

And the good news of God spread…


June 03, 2013

Seagulled Part 3: Criminals in...Crime

[Seagull Lessons Part 1 and 2 found here.]

I stood in my crocs with bare back leaning against a cement wall in some police station corridor purgatory. About 30 minutes later, the first officer with the spiral bound notebook began asking me questions.

"So how many days a week do you work out?"
"Have you ever done P90X?"

I was in NO mood to bullshit. But since that word accurately describes the whole series of events,  that's exactly what I did. I made it a point to state that I had recently had an essay about P90X published in The Patriot News. We talked a bit more, him taking finger prints and fitting in criminal questions between fitness questions. I thought he was playing me...

An hour later I was released and given some paperwork about returning to City Hall at 9:00 a.m. the next morning. I didn't feel much like dinner with the extended family that night, nor did I rest easy. The next day I reported back at 8:45 and sat for over two hours listening to people state their cases. There were a half dozen DUIs and a few "failure to obtain appropriate consent for signage." I listened to a Hispanic fellow who could barely speak English try to explain to the judge how the City sent his paperwork to a former residence rather than his current residence at his restaurant.

By the time the judge called my name I knew the routine. I stood up and he read my charges. A poorly contained snicker of laughter came from a guy in a business suit to my right, and I was thankful for him.

The judge asked if I killed a seagull and I said, "Yes, by accident." He advised me to get an attorney, said they would see me in a few months, and quickly moved on to the next name on his list.

No. I could not pay a fine and move on with life. I would have to return, no kidding.

The next day, at the suggestion of a Northern NJ lawyer my mother-in-law works for, I biked to the office of an Ocean City attorney. He was a living attorney caricature but I heard he was good and would treat my fairly. He offered to defend me for $1000, which I later found was a good deal. 

Back home in late September, I received a summons to the Ocean City courtroom on a Wednesday in January. In advance I took off work for that day and booked a hotel. When the day came I received a phone call while traveling east on the Turnpike. The attorney said that he could enter a plea for me in my absence, and though my presence was not needed for that day, I would have to come for a hearing on a date to be determined.

I exited the Turnpike and called the hotel. "Yes I know that I'm entitled to no refund on a late cancellation of my hotel room."

A week later I received paperwork regarding a trial date in early February. I scheduled that day off work as well and reserved a hotel. On that date, all of the east coast was immobilized by an ice storm. The hearing was rescheduled to early March. I ended up getting a $55 refund from the hotel.

And so the whole big stupid thing rolled on...

I scheduled a third day off work. That day came and I brought Tim and Ryan at the advice of my attorney. We drove from Harrisburg to his office where he spelled out a game plan. He read us the police report which stated that the bird was an endangered breed, and it was later released into a wildlife sanctuary in Southern NJ. That was an interesting detail because, if you recall, Ryan bludgeoned it to death and I carried a limp carcass across the beach. But the officer specifically wrote it up that way as he was talking to me at the station.

The attorney smoked a huge cigar as he drove us less than a mile to City Hall. We arrived and stood outside waiting for him to finish it off before walking in together. The first thing we all noticed was that the seagull people, the ones who called the police at the scene of the crime, actually showed up at 9:00 a.m. on a Wednesday in March. Yes, apparently there are people with nothing better to do than watch for such events.

But it turns out that they didn't have their act together. I later learned that when the city prosecutor spoke with them, he determined it would be best to...send them home.

The posturing was gross. Oh the posturing.

My attorney met with the prosecutor in the hallway. The prosecutor met with the judge in his office. My attorney met with the judge in his office. The three talked again in the hallway and the attorney asked me some questions in the stairwell. It was near time to go to trial. FINALLY I would have the chance to plead my case on record to an impartial person in his right mind, and justice would be served. Or so I thought.

The attorney called Tim and Ryan and I into a small conference room where he spelled out two options. I could make a Not Guilty plea (to animal cruelty) and I would probably be found innocent, but he wasn't completely sure, and I would have to make another trip for another trial date since the witnesses were no longer on site. Or I could plead Guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge and pay a fine of $800.

"On second thought, we'll try to get the fine reduced as well," said the attorney.

"Then I'm done with this?"
"Yes, then you're done!"

In the end I paid a $475 fine. Plus a $1000 attorney fee. Plus 3 days of missed work. Plus travel and 1.5 hotel room fees. Plus about 4 lost hours of vacation. Plus humiliation, stress, and other personal damages. 

This is justice? The City Prosecutor's (and judge, for all I know) only angle was maximizing the revenue coming into the city. Like, "You made a mistake and we're going to drag you over the coals." He sent the witnesses home knowing that I would settle and pay a fine rather than return on another day for trial.

The attorney was well worth the money, but I still felt angry and sleazy having to associate with him. The city and bird watchers? You actually get help from the state when you decide to terminate the life of an innocent human in the womb but woe to you who aborts the life of a seagull.

Ryan would later give me $250 in cash, which he certainly didn't have to do. He thanked me for not throwing him under the bus, which was seriously appreciated. 

It's been almost three years that I've dug for a lesson from this. There was no true suffering. But it was one costly nuisance. As far as lesson, I have none to offer. Other than "Don't mess with the seagulls (when others may be watching)."

 - - - - -

June 01, 2013

Seagulled Part 2: The Criminal

[The first installment of Seagull Lessons can be found here. I wanted to write these out when the event was in the past enough to be humerus, but not forgotten. And trust me, it wasn't very funny until recently]. 

"Did you throw things at the seagull?"

The first officer marched up to me with pen in hand and a small notebook spiral bound at the top. I noticed him writing down every word. I do not recall the exact interchange, but it went something like this.

"Yes officer I threw a water bottle at an entire group of them and I'm sorry it was a mistake and they were relentless in aggravating the kids when we bought popcorn and I didn't want to leave it laying there."

My point was to give him respect, explain what happened, apologize, and take on the consequences. And that's exactly what happened. 

"What's your name, birthday, and home address...? Okay stay here."

"Gee. That didn't sound good."

As he was writing it hit me - the deep throat heaviness of irreversible damages. But really? How bad could it be?

The officer spent five minutes interviewing every person within eye shot on the incident. Later I would find that a few of them mentioned our group and two of them particularly named "The guy in the black board shorts."

As he made his rounds another two officers showed up. There were now three police cars, each of them with engine running idle, lights flashing, and parked transverse to the other two. People strolling along the board walk congregated into a gawk fest, understandably so.

Immediately after that a grey van with DEP in blue lettering cut sharply across the open lot where sand meets pavement, coming to an abrupt ambulance style halt. A petite black gentleman practically ran to the back of the van, pulled out a red pet carrier, and fumbled around nervously in donning a pair of white latex gloves.

At that point  I surveyed the scene, searching for the person who pops up out of nowhere and says, "HA, you've been PUNKED."

"Anyone...Would someone please jump out and tell me I'm being punked?"

But alas, there kept being no one saying I'm being punked, no one popping up outside of the DEP guy. He scurried through the dune grass for some time before the officer asked where I placed the bird. As I pointed to lead the DEP to the vicinity, our eyes met. He hit me with a mild head wave and stern look of absolute disgust.

"Really I'm sorry officer...there was no intention to kill it...this was an accident."

One of the three officers who didn't speak prior to then puffed up his chest and became loud and in my face.

"If you would have killed a person by accident it would still be considered homicide."

After that I spoke no words. It was time to be quiet. The first officer took me to his car with the flashing blue and red lights. He pushed my head down in front of my family and friends and a slew of on-lookers. It was the first time I was apprehended or charged with anything more than a speeding ticket.

"So this is what it feels like," I thought as the car pulled away in the 5-minute ride to the police station.

March 28, 2013


This video caused me to sit and stare at the wall for a while. I can think of little more depressing and true than this:

I don't think anyone can deny what it portrays, in the way it portrays it. We humans, yes, this is how we roll.

And I think of the striking contrast of what Jesus stood for. He wasn't interested in power or land, seven wonders of the ancient world, or any of the other b.s. that leads people to divide and exploit and kill.

Freedom come at great cost. I remain ever thankful for the generations who sacrifice(d) their very lives in order to gain and preserve our freedom. And yet freedom alone is not nearly enough to make us happy much less to love truth and justice.

Live by the sword - die by the sword. Death (others and our own) is defeated through grace and mercy and love.

The crazy wild ideas of Jesus and his disciples...

February 15, 2013

grace and meteors

Yesterday a 10-foot, 10 ton meteor slammed into the earths atmosphere traveling 33000 miles per hour and exploded in the sky approximately 30 miles over Russia. The resulting blast of what scientists call a cosmic pebble injured approximately1000 people. Some major news channels reported 400 deaths.

Outside of those 1400, you and I and every other living thing that creepeth upon the earth unknowingly dodged a bullet. We went about our daily business without so much as a prayer for protection from meteors.

Really church, where's the 24-hour Meteor Protection Prayer Chain?

Anyway, many of us woke up that day feeling relatively safe and secure. Nobody imagined the earth as a giant roulette table, spinning as the lifeless cold meteor that knew only the laws of physics settled down into a lucky longitude.

[Deafening boom]

What do you call this thing that happened? A cosmic weather event? A travesty? Please don't say this was an act of God or permitted by God.

Whatever your personal theology, and I don't care what it is, you must make it fit with the reality of crashing meteors and grinding tectonic plates and tornadoes and floods. You must be clear headed on the fact that most of these have nothing at all to do with a certain way of living, obedience, consequence, or reaping and sowing.

Powerful things happen that are well beyond our knowledge, our understanding, our faith, our hope, and light years beyond our control.

I realize that people have been dying from many causes and meteors have been hitting the earth for a long time. I believe in the Maker and Definer of all that is beautiful and good. There would be no tragedy or loss if you have nothing that is good to begin with. I still believe that we are our own worst enemy. I believe that many of us have the freedom to create and maybe even redeem most of the suffering we inflict on ourselves and others.

But the key word is most.

Some say that "redemption" is only a cute Sunday School word, but I'm not so sure about that either. Jesus himself said that we will always have hurting people with us, and that God brings the sun and rain to fall upon the evil and good, the righteous and the unrighteous.

You can believe that God knows us personally and loves us. You can say that he hears our prayers. But at the very least, you have to concede that God doesn't micromanage. So have grace on people who watch a meteor slice through the atmosphere and come to other conclusions. Reserve your judgements and confident tone for something you do know. Let your faith help you bring healing and reconciliation to this world.

May the destructive ripples of this meteor also stir us to serve someone in need.

January 28, 2013

The world in our hallway

That Just Happened

Pastor Brown wrapped up the 2013 State of the Church Meeting by rattling off 40 (or so) major projects and events that took place at Lighthouse Baptist Church in 2012.

With the learning and teaching, the serving and giving, and the supporting and grieving and enjoying (both within and outside of our church, locally and across six continents), the magnificent and exhausting amount of activity blew my mind. Well, if you knew our church...You kind of had to be there.

And that list didn't even include the less tangible but arguably more important activities like spiritual growth, vision clarified, purpose found, forgiveness granted, and hearty laughs over salad and pizza.
LBC has some kind of way about doing church.

If an outsider who's in-the-know about church type stuff looked at our modest congregation and humble building, they may possibly say that it is a dying breed. If that same person took a closer look at the leadership and the accounting and level of active service among the members, they would probably call it a healthy church. If they took a peek around the nursery, a disheveled countenance would cross their face. They would throw down their church data sheet and cry out the label:


When pastor finally finished his list I thought to myself, with a mental fist pump, "That just happened!"

But How did that happen? 

[Yes we are well aware of how the nursery gets filled ; ) ]

It happened by having humble, God honoring leaders. It happened by having just a handful of imperfect and even broken people who are in it to serve instead of being served, in it for depth more than breadth.

I want to be careful to go easy on Big Church. Big Church has plenty of legitimate strengths and LBC its weaknesses.

Here you will not go slipping in and out without a friend noticing. You will not find a hundred thousand dollar budget for the parking lot or sound system. If the music is a little too loud or not loud enough for you, you may mention it directly to the person in charge, but in the name of the Lord you will migrate to a part of the sanctuary that is louder or softer to your liking.

And that all seems very Christ like to me.

Take up this vacuum and follow me.

It happened because the paid staff is literally two (2)! That means there's no cost for all the cleaning and tending of our building and massive amount. Most of our maintenance is done in-house. Which is why we have the means to support 25 missionaries and give locally in various forms and buy a plot of land and build an entire church in Sierra Lionne.

Don't get me wrong. Just like every other church, we call it this- or that "ministry." But at LBC everyone readily admits that ministry is a church word for pure work.

I wonder if Judy running the vacuum or Ryan installing a new heat pump or Angie disinfecting the nursery or Rae doing her techie stuff truly see their acts holistically. I never did until now. I never realized that by signing my name to the service/needs sheet in the hallway of LBC, I'm literally serving, reaching, and sharing Gods love with the entire world.

January 11, 2013

Seagulled Part 1: The Crime

Our work should increase goodness, beauty, and justice.
I've spent quite a bit of vacation time over the last few years watching how seagulls operate. They are quite perceptive and communicate well. They always prey on toddlers first, tiny humans who can hardly walk much less defend themselves. They stumble about with upper extremities in high guard, offering up their pretzels or peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a pleasing sacrifice to the gulls.

Next they seek out children oblivious to their surroundings, the ones hopelessly lost in their own world of castles and sandcrab motes and monster truck jumps off boogie board ramps. Finally, they boldly approach full blown adults, often out of their visual range, when they're in relaxation mode, enjoying a snack while watching over their flocks or enjoying a leisurely book or conversation.

They hover and dive and cackle. They pester and fidget and swap an entire bag of Doritos right out of your daughters hands. They shit on your shoulder on the beach that the state of New Jersey charges $8 per person to access.

That's where some friends and extended family were in the late summer of 2010, thirteen children and 8 adults doing the typical beach hanging out and frolicking. Someone bought boardwalk popcorn. Somebody else opened a bag of chips. Seagulls flocked to the scene in seconds, no less than a hundred of them.

Parents and older children shoe'd them away, which was completely ineffective. They threw and kicked sand at them. The seagulls laughed. A bit later a few of the adults started throwing sandals and a bottle of water at the seagulls. It was absolutely self defense and sure, it was a little innocent (?) fun.

But as they say, "It's all fun and games until someone kills a seagull."

I set my sights on a gaggle of gulls approximately 30 feet to the far side of our group, zeroed in, and slung a water bottle. An explosion of feathers and gulls taking flight settled to reveal one squawking wildly with it's head down plowing circles in the sand. The older children ran to the bird. The adults stared at each other and almost in unison lip synced "Awww [bleep]."

The thing was making a HUGE scene in broad day light. The squawking-head plow undulation went on for seconds that seemed like hours.

My friend Ryan, a Perry county (country) boy, grabbed a spade shovel (we used as a sand shovel), paced over, and firmly said "Stand back kids." He hit the gull in the head, oh, probably two or four times. A small gathering of September beach goers had assembled by then. A few of the kids were crying. My oldest boy was begging me to nurse it to health and "have him as a pet."

But alas, the bird lie limp in the sand, put it out of its misery, as they say. It didn't seem right to just let it lay there in the circle of kids and people. I gently lifted the fallen creature by one leg, slunk over to a sand dune, carrying it low beside my thigh as a partial shield, and tossed the carcass far into the tall grass.

Less than a minute later the first police officer arrived on the scene.

[Part 2 of 2 coming next week.]

November 04, 2012

silent sermon of Hope

Pastor Brown stood to the side of the screen and asked Rae to pause the choppy video playing before the congregation. He wanted to explain what it was like to navigate the crowded streets of Waterloo, Sierra Leone. The video froze, somewhat randomly. Pastor glanced at the screen, hesitated.

There she was.

Child of God, silent on pause, eyes piercing the entire congregation, hopelessly caught in her place and culture. If the pastor wanted to raise awareness of the need in Sierra Leone, I can think of no better way to make us to feel it. For those who allowed this image to pierce their very soul, moving on with the service seemed kind of pointless.

But we couldn't just sit in church all day contemplating this little girl staring into the camera. [Right?] Pastor pressed on by explaining that with few mirrors and no technology, many requested to have their picture taken. She probably never saw her malnourished self before. She made her way through a sea of small vehicles and people, trash and stench, to the white anomaly, a total stranger with camera in a small car.

Why does she seem to be smiling? Why the look of hope and not despair? Maybe she has nothing but God. I wonder what her name is?

But I know the land of plenty. We don't smile enough. We struggle to grasp our need, hurry past blessings, betray silence, create idols of metal and wood and reputation. We are hopelessly caught in our place and culture.

Yet here we are in central PA, the ones with more stuff, knowledge, and opportunity. We are aware that for whatever reason, God has placed the ball in our court.

We will raise funds for at least one church in Sierra Leone. We will help front lines missionaries educate leaders and implement a sustainable system. We will fill and deliver a literal truck load of material goods, all the way from Harrisburg directly to the front doors of the church in order to serve and distribute in the name of the Lord.

Where it goes, for the people of Waterloo and of Harrisburg, I can only hope.

 - - - - -


August 30, 2012

Lord save us from hell

 - - - - -

 Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?

-Matthew 25:44

Some Christians believe that all non-Christians will go to hell for eternity after they die. Most of them realize that eternity is a pretty long time to suffer, especially for a person who maybe never heard of Jesus or never witnessed an authentic Christian life. So they feel compelled to share their faith and to go and make disciples of all nations.

Sharing faith with others can be awkward, expensive, and downright inconvenient. But if you don't share it and a non Christian dies, they're going to hell. So what does the cost matter if the blood of countless others is on your hands?

I'm usually a bit skeptical of this. Does salvation not come from God alone, with every individual soul laid bare before his and her Maker? Does the eternal fate of some poor widow on the other side of the earth really depend on something that I do or don't do out of my abundance (like supporting missions trips)? Isn't that an awfully self-centered way to see things?

Jesus had some things to say about hell. He told challenging parables that specifically mentioned, among other things, dividing sheep from goats and eternal torment and weeping and gnashing of teeth. It seems that he thought and taught that hell is real and some but not others would be going there.

Who will be going to hell?

I doubt that "nobody comes to the father but through me" is an indication that all non Christians will be going to hell. And I suspect that the intention of the Great Commission was more than simply telling people about Jesus so they could have a say in their eternal destiny.

So while it seems uncertain whether or not all outsiders are going to hell, Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for the religious insiders, Pharisee types who speak falsely in the name of God, the zealots who claim one thing and do another; the faithful who say "Lord, Lord," but fail to do the will of God. It is recorded in few instances that Jesus talked about weighty eternal judgments being made based on one thing alone: what we do for orphans and widows and strangers and the poor.

And to claim to be a follower of Jesus and ignore all the needs near and far is an awfully self centered way to live.