Friday, October 31, 2014

An Old Dog Learning

October 31, 2014

One of the dangers of retirement I've been told, is losing one's purpose in life and just stagnating or marking time. I can see how it could be a problem. When one isn't required by one's job to rise at a certain time and jump right into the day, it is tempting to sleep in, lazily make one's way through the morning routine only to discover that it's nine or ten o'clock and nothing has been accomplished. Sunday night was a late night. Our guests were delayed, so instead of arriving at 9 pm as expected, it was nearly 1 am when they finally rolled in. Another 45 minutes before they settled in for the night made for a short night's sleep, since they had to be at the school by 8 am the next morning. By the time their evening concert was over and all their equipment packed up, it was nearly midnight before they got in, with a 5 am departure time scheduled for the next morning. Needless to say, two days of such a schedule took its toll. But we slept in for the next couple days, and now it's time to get back on track. I have too many things I want to accomplish to lay around in bed or lounging in front of the TV.

This afternoon, Harry and I drove to Fredonia for band rehearsal. We are both in the New Horizons Jazz Band, he playing trumpet, and me struggling to keep up on the electric bass. After rehearsal, Harry heads to concert band rehearsal while I walk upstairs to my bass lesson with Vincent, a student who earns a few extra bucks tutoring me. After the lesson was over, I got to thinking about what I had just done. Here I am at 65, working to learn a new skill so I can play jazz bass for the band. No one is forcing me to do this; it's something I'm eager to learn. On top of that, I am working on my Spanish. No lessons here, just working through my bilingual New Testament, trying to learn new vocabulary so the next time I go to Cuba, I'll be better equipped to talk with my friends there. I am thankful that my health and situation in life is such that the challenges of learning an instrument and language are stimulating and exciting to me. I've seen what happens when people lose their joy for living through grief or sickness, and it's a place I don't want to go if I can avoid it. I am grateful to be given the time to study and practice and learn, and the physical, mental, and spiritual wherewithal to do so. It's almost hard to believe how richly blessed I am.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"That I Might Know Christ"

October 30, 2014

I've been thinking about a Scripture text I read yesterday. It's from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians (3:8) where he says, "I count all things as loss that I might know Christ..." We Christians sing about knowing Christ more; we sing and pray to have the eyes of our hearts open to him, but after years of pondering this mystery of what it means to encounter God and know Christ, I wonder if we really mean it.

I'm not a touchy-feely person (Surprise!). So when people say that they really felt the Presence of the Lord in a particular worship service or in a specific song, I wonder what they mean by that. Is it the Lord when we feel all goose-bumply and something else when we are afraid? How does one evaluate whether God has been present in a particular experience? For that matter, what was it that moved the Biblical writers to attribute particular experiences and events to their God, and others to lesser gods, demons, or even Satan? How did they identify specific happenings, attributing them to the handiwork of God?

I suspect hindsight plays a big part in it. As we ministered in prison last week, we listened to the testimonies of inmates who somewhere along the way met Christ. More than one testified that being incarcerated turned out for them to be the work of God intervening in lives that were self-centered and destructive. They didn't see it at the time, but came to understand that God was working through an experience that wasn't particularly pleasant or even spiritual. Nonetheless, it was the work of God, moving them towards an encounter with Christ that has changed their lives.

So when St. Paul speaks of knowing Christ, I have to dig deep to begin to understand what that meant for him, and even deeper to discern what it means for me. But it is his insight concerning the process of knowing Christ that grabs my attention and makes me wonder just how much I really know him. Remember? When he says, "I have suffered the loss of all things," I look around me and have to ask, "How much have I suffered? What have I lost (or given up) for the sake of knowing Christ? Is Paul's experience merely informational, or is it normative?" I am beginning to suspect that it is intended to be normative, which means that the shallowness of my knowledge may be due to my not ever having really given up much of anything in order to know Christ. I am surrounded by stuff; the closest thing to sacrifice I've ever experienced has been our sacrificial giving campaign when we were building the new church, and losing a few friends along the way.

I've not suffered much in my life. I cannot say with St. Paul, "I have...lost all things." And I hesitate to mouth his words about knowing Christ. I've attempted to follow him, and have had a few times in my life when I can say I've felt what I considered to be his Presence, but it's my desire to do more than just sing about wanting to know him more. The question is, "Am I willing to engage in the necessary sacrifice?" I have no martyr complex, and no desire to be stripped of all earthly goods and comforts, but I would hate after a lifetime of ministry to stand before him only to hear him say, "...I never knew you." Tonight, I am pensive, but also thankful for the Scripture that challenges me, and the Holy Spirit who refuses to let me off the hook. I don't know what this all means or where it will lead me, but once God reveals his Word to you in such a clear way, there is no backing off, no escape. Pray for me, and let me know how God speaks to you in unmistakeable ways. And don't forget to give thanks always!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Everyday Amazing Grace

October 29, 2014

A couple years ago on one of our mission trips to Cuba, we were in need of two screws for an electrical box. Two screws! Back in the states, we could have bought a bucket of them at Home Depot, Ace Hardware, True Value, or any electrical supply store. We wasted three hours driving all over the city of 20,000, to no avail. Everyday life in Cuba!Tools, supplies, medicines, groceries, you name it; things we take for granted here are nowhere to be found. It forces people to be pretty inventive; the celebrated classic Cuban cars from the fifties have mostly been converted to diesel. When parts are unavailable, you do what you must to keep it running.

My plan for today was to go to town, get a few supplies so I could get Linda's '48 Ford 8N tractor ready for its winter work. New plugs and oil filter, a gallon of oil, and we would be ready to go. Plugs and a new headlight were also in order so I could put the bike to bed for the winter. I got the oil and tractor spark plugs. Even Tractor Supply didn't carry filters for something that old. And when it comes to bikes, everything now is LED, fancy and rectangular. A seven inch sealed beam? The young guy at Auto Zone barely knew what I was talking about.

The difference between today's somewhat frustrating wild goose chase and what I experienced in Cuba is simple. Anything the stores didn't have, they could order. I can have it in my grubby little mitts by Friday. That's only two days from now! I feel like the Russian-born comedian Yakov Smirnoff, who once talked about his first experience in a US supermarket. "They had powdered milk, where all you had to do to get milk was to add water. Next I saw powdered orange juice. Add water and you have orange juice. Then I came to an aisle where the sign said 'baby powder,' and I thought, "What a country!"

What a country, indeed! At worst, I was mildly inconvenienced. So I switched from changing oil to working on the bathroom trim. People all around the world would be absolutely amazed at all the stuff that is almost instantly available to us via special order or a few mouse clicks on the computer. A credit card or in the case of internet sales, a visit to Paypal, and it's all said and done. It is ordinary life to us, but a mere two generations ago, what we take for granted would have been beyond their wildest imaginations. If we were to believe all the political rhetoric filling the air as we approach mid term elections, we would be convinced that we are worse off than ever before. I suppose Armageddon could be just around the corner; no one really knows how seemingly insignificant matters can suddenly ignite a conflagration, but when it comes to daily life, we are blessed indeed. I am grateful to be living where in the world I live and when in history I live.

Every Meal a Eucharist

Another catch up post; the last one, I think.

October 26, 2014

Dinnertime at the Baileys has always been a family affair. It's hard for me to conceive of the way so many families do (or don't do) dinner. I've talked with kids who basically are on their own when it comes to eating. Dinnertime is more akin to foraging than sitting down to a meal. The way television portrays homemade family mealtime would be amusing if it weren't so sad, with someone popping a prepared meal from the freezer to the microwave, then serving it on fine china with everyone smiling beatifically as if this had some remote semblance to home cooking.

I have to pause here with praise for Linda, my wife. She used to tell me how amazed she was that I would choose a profession that required the writing of the equivalent of a term paper each week. I always found it amazing that even while holding down a full time job as a teacher, volunteering as a Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader, she was able to put genuine home cooked meals on our plates nearly every night, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year. If I had had the responsibility for planning and cooking those meals for all those years, we would have starved long ago. On top of it all, I retired from preaching last July; she is still cooking.

Even today, we derive great pleasure from meal times. We can usually finish the eating in a relatively short time. It doesn't take long to fill our stomachs. But the meal itself can take an hour or more as we sit and talk. It's always been that way. Sure, there were times when we've been rushed; when the kids were swimming, juggling meals, rides, swim practices and meets took quite a bit of finesse, but with rare exception we sat down together to eat and talk. And talk we did! Nate and Matt often regaled us with stories of their school day antics which we used to think were somewhat embellished for the sake of the story. We're not so sure about that anymore. It wasn't unusual for us to sit at the table for a couple hours, talking, laughing, discussing matters great and small. I don't remember ever telling the kids this, but I took seriously the Eucharistic character of mealtime. Jesus took a meal and transformed it from a simple meal into a celebration of his Presence. That's what mealtimes were at our house. They still are.

All this is why yesterday's conversation struck me so forcefully. We were sitting at dinner with the inmates, long tables reminiscent of high school lunchtime. I am not a fussy eater. Put it in front of me, and I can usually chow it down. This particular meal was to all appearances, a fast-food chicken patty reject, with collard greens and what I thought was mashed potatoes, but turned out to be rice pudding wannabe. The ketchup, served up in fast food packets, was runny and tasted of plastic. I swear it could have been outdated McDonald's, vintage circa 1957. Salt and pepper are nowhere to be seen. I was chewing away, content with everything except the ketchup, while others were commenting rather unfavorably on the meal, while an older grandfatherly-like gentleman was sitting opposite me. He told me how thankful he was for it. He had lost forty pounds since being in, and that he said, was to his benefit. But it was what he said next that was an arrow to my heart. "This is a wonderful gift. We are sitting here, talking. We usually have ten minutes to eat, and we eat in silence. To sit down and converse at a meal is a real treat."

I can understand the rationale behind short, silent meals in prison. With a young and often angry population, common areas need to be carefully controlled lest a petty irritation or slight suddenly flare into violence. Prisons can be volatile places. But it struck me as sad that in our sin we have turned the times Jesus gave us for building community into times and places of isolation. Their meals may feed the body, but the soul starves. I wish there were some way to transform mealtime for these men into the life-giving eucharistic experience intended by God. There may be, but I don't know how one would go about it.

Jesus told us to eat in remembrance of him until the day he shares that meal with us in his eternal kingdom. The brokenness of sin has penetrated human life so catastrophically that the very heart of his salvation is denied to these men, and countless prisoners worldwide. Even sadder is how it is unnecessarily neglected by so many who have the means and opportunity to feed both body and soul, but fail to do so. I am so grateful that our daily meals are eucharistic experiences where Christ is revealed as we eat and talk and pray...and give thanks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Godly Energy

October 28, 2014

"Attaboy!" It's what we say when we're slapping a guy on the back, commending him for a job well done. It's also the name of the band that played three concerts at the high school today. They arrived about one o'clock this morning, a bit later than the originally planned 9 pm. Their trailer toasted an axle, requiring them to drive two and a half hours out of their way, transfer their equipment from the broken trailer to the replacement, before getting underway again. Then this morning, they were up and at school by 8 am, setting up for two assemblies and the concert tonight. I went to their evening concert. It was as energized as anything I've ever seen as they hopped, jumped, and head-banged their way through an hour and a half of pure and continual motion. And now as I'm typing, it's nearly 11 pm, and they aren't home yet. Tomorrow they hit the road at 5 am to be ready for an 11 am concert in mid-Ohio. It's a good thing they're young.

But it's not their youthfulness that drives them. They are Christians. It's their love for Jesus that as St. Paul says, "compels" them. It's tough work being constantly on the road, especially when they don't often get to actually see the fruit of their labors. Constantly traveling from one place to another doesn't afford them the opportunity to do the long-term connecting that is required to develop a fully devoted follower of Christ. They are like doorkeepers, opening the gates and inviting kids to take a look on the other side. They are offering themselves, as St. Paul said, "living sacrifices," dying to ordinary, legitimate desires in order to bring the Gospel to kids who wouldn't walk through church doors, but will attend a rock concert.

By the way, they are doing this at no charge to the kids. Their concerts are free; they even "sell" their CD's by telling the kids to give whatever they can. For the most part, I'm not a great fan of today's rock music. I couldn't tell you who is popular today, and I much prefer Mozart and Vivaldi to anything pumping over the airwaves. All the same, I am very grateful for these young adults who are giving so freely of themselves for kids they'll meet but once in their lives. Twice, if you count those who hear and respond to God's gracious offer of salvation and eternal life.

Being Apart

Another "catch-up" post:

October 25, 2014

God has lessons for us in the strangest of places. Prison is not one of the places I would have expected to hear from God. Tomorrow our "other" kids, Bob and Bri, and their children will worship with us at Park church for the last time before moving to Texas. I can't find words to express how much I want to be there, to hear her sing one last time, to sit behind Bob and the kids as we praise God together. I had no idea when I made the commitment to this weekend ministry that it would fall on this last weekend they would be with us. There was no way to know; when I signed up, they weren't planning on leaving the area. I toyed with the idea of skipping out on the last Sunday till I remembered what my mother taught me years ago: "When you make a commitment, you stick with it even if something better comes along."

So I'll be in prison with aching heart, doing my best to minister to these men who need Jesus so desperately. I was sharing this dilemma with the small group of men at our table when it dawned on me that suddenly the tables had turned and I was the student; they were the teachers. I don't know what they are in for, or for how long, but I do know they all have families, wives, children, parents whose birthdays they are missing, whose lives are going on without them. Their children are growing up while they wait behind bars. I understand that it was a choice, a foolish and sinful decision, often merely the last in a series of them, that landed them in prison. I am there of my own free will; they are not. Somewhere along the line, the men with whom we were working at our table had made decisions to repent and begin following Jesus, but the consequences of their prior actions didn't just evaporate because of their change of heart. But change of heart is what they've had, and the gravity of their actions is increasingly apparent to them.

My heart breaks to think I won't be where I really want to be tomorrow. But this experience is a reminder to me of the separation these men live with often for years. And it is a reminder that before the beginning of time when God made the decision to rescue us from our sins, there was a separation far more heartbreaking to him than my temporary one. The Bible says Jesus became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Sin separates. It separates us from God, from one another, from life. And my sin separated the Father and the Son as the latter hung on the cross and was laid in a grave. The story doesn't end there. Jesus ascended on high, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and someday will return to take his wayward children home: the Grand Reunion! Until then however, the heartache remains as so many of his children are still wandering, missing out on the joy of fellowship, even as I will miss this precious time with people I love. I long for the day when reconciliation is complete, all God's children are gathered together, and the praise echoes throughout the universe. What a day that will be! Till then, I am thankful for the glimpses of glory I experience here and now, even if I only get to see them in a prison.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gone Fishing

October 27, 2014

Retirement has had a strange effect on me. As pastor of Park church, my days were filled with people, meetings, and study. Everything I did ultimately had to do with people. Meetings dealt with people issues. Sermons were prepared for people. Counseling obviously is a people thing. Even my private times with God included other people who populated my prayers.

This has all changed. I can go through most of a day seeing no other person but Linda. Today, with the exception of a phone call and a quick visit by my sister in law who dropped off some pumpkin cookies she had baked, I saw no one until this evening's Bible study. The entire day was spent working with things, installing window trim in the bathroom, varnishing baseboard, and cleaning up in preparation for some previously unexpected guests who are slated to arrive sometime before midnight.

So tonight at our men's Bible study, I was challenged by our pastor to pay attention to the people in my life. He reminded us that Christ could return at any moment; what will I say to him if I haven't even bothered to try to introduce him to those whose homes I pass almost every time I leave my house. Pastor Joe is an exuberant, outgoing guy. I am not. But Jesus didn't command only the extroverts to take the Gospel to the world. My being an introvert doesn't let me off the hook. I may do it a bit differently, but do it I must, if I am to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. At the beginning of his earthly ministry he told Peter and John to follow him and he would make them "fishers of men." The implication is pretty obvious. If I'm not fishing, I'm not following. It is a hard word for me, but I am thankful my pastor pulls no punches in challenging me to faithful Christian discipleship. It's late now, but it wouldn't be a bad idea for me to check over my equipment. Tomorrow is a new day, and it looks like the fishing might be good.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Standing at the Fork in the Road

Here's another catch-up post:

October 24, 2014

The diagram was clear. It was a map, with a road curling down and around all sorts of life's obstacles. Much like Pilgrim's Progress, the path led through the valley of depression, the swamp of despair, the allure of wealth, the snares of drink and vice. There were shortcuts, dead-ends, and rabbit trails. At one point, the road split, with one path, straight and narrow, leading to heaven, and the other wide and winding, descending to hell. The presenters, pointing to various places on their hand-drawn map spoke of their experiences along the road, of poor choices they had made, and of their arrival at that crucial fork that would determine their eternal destiny. They all told of their new-found faith in Christ that put them on heaven's road.

It was my friend Ken's turn to speak. Instead of telling how he wanted to make sure he was on that straight and narrow path, he pointed to the fork in the road and said, "I want to stand right there, warning everyone I can, doing my best to steer them to the right path." I sat listening, dumbfounded. Not that Ken would come up with something like that. I've gotten used to his keen insight and burning passion for Christ. What continually amazes me is how God steals into a person's heart and captures it for Christ. Ken is one of the finest men I know. He would be embarrassed to see this in print, but being with him humbles and challenges me. His statement is a revelation of his heart. He isn't content to know Christ himself; he wants others to know Christ also. God has given me a great gift in Ken--a friend and brother in Christ whose company I treasure for his wit and knowledge, but even more for the wisdom and encouragement I know I'll get every time we get together. He always makes me want to be a better man. Thank you, Jesus for Ken, and the others in my life who by their love for You make me a better man than I would otherwise be.

Addictions Avoided

I've been away from internet for a few days while engaged in prison ministry. I'll post a couple of these each day till I'm caught up.

October 23, 2014

It's a sobering thought to reflect on how different my life might have been. When I was a kid, we lived in a new housing tract in Greece, NY. A right then a left turn at the end of our street took me down Rumsey Drive which ended in a wooded area transversed by a footpath opening out into another housing tract on the other end of the path. My friends and I would ride our bikes down to the woods where we played to our hearts' content. Midway down the path off to the right there was a storm sewer that emptied out into a small creek that meandered through the woodlot. We would climb into the sewer and crouch-walk our way back till we got to the manhole under the street. It was, to use a Superman analogy, our "Fortress of Solitude." It was also where I learned to smoke.

One of my friends had pilfered a couple packs of his parents' Winstons, secreting them in a niche in the manhole. One Saturday afternoon, we crouched our way along the sewer to the manhole where he showed me his treasure store. "Here, wanna try one?" he taunted. It was a challenge no red-blooded twelve-year-old could resist; at least not this twelve-year-old. I lit one up, puff-coughed my way through it, and reached for another. I don't know how many I managed to cough my way through that day or the week following, but it only took about two packs for me to realize that I was craving them. I also realized that if I didn't stop then and there, these things would get a hold on me that I couldn't break. I couldn't have put words to it back then, but it was my first inkling that I had an addictive personality.

I graduated from high school in 1967. VietNam was in full swing; the British Invasion had taken the US by storm, and Woodstock set the tone for a cultural revolution that sent shock waves throughout the world. In our corner of suburbia, the drug scene that flowed from these seismic changes was as yet only a trickle; it wouldn't turn into the torrent that it became for another couple years. I remember the one or two kids in my class who smoked marijuana; back then, they were really on the edge! I'm glad I grew up when I did. Had I grown up in the full flower of the psychedelic scene, I don't know if I would have lived through it. I do believe that had I started down that road, I never would have made it back.

How is it I knew the hold tobacco would have had over me? How is it I was born at just the right time, coming to maturity just before the tidal wave of drugs washed over the nation? How did I manage to escape the traps and dead ends that have ensnared so many? I wasn't and still am not any smarter than anyone else. I don't understand it, but I know beyond a shadow of doubt that my life has been hedged in by grace. Why me and not some of the poor souls who find themselves facing the tragic consequences of poor decisions often made in the flush of emotion? I don't know. But I do know that God has treated me far better than I deserve, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Passing Time

October 22, 12014

Strange, isn't it? How is it that girls carrying my DNA are so completely different from me in their likes and dislikes? I suppose some of it is generationally driven. Analog is out; my grandkids' generation is all digital. From iPods to watches, everything hums almost silently. When the grandkids spend the night, Alex, Abi and Izzi claim the Millstone Room for the duration. Inevitably, before hitting the sack, I find lying on the kitchen counter the hand carved wall clock that normally resides on the wall under the stagecoach light. Its steady tick-tick-ticking bothers Abi and Izzi, keeping them awake. Alex on the other hand, could sleep through a hurricane.

To me, it's a soothing sound. I love old clocks! My great-grandmother's 1880's era Victorian Gilbert Mecca on the baker's cupboard competes with the turn of the century cast-iron Ansonia on the living room secretary, while the 1920's schoolroom clock hangs silent on the wall waiting for me to fix its pendulum. In the garage is the grandfather clock given me by a friend whose son rescued it from a house fire. It has smoke damage, the glass is shattered, but the cabinet escaped serious damage, and I'm hoping over the winter to restore it to operational status once again. Even with my limited hearing and the constant ringing in my ears, I can hear the chiming of the hour as these wonderful old timepieces ring out downstairs.

Their steady tick-tocking reminds me that life is a moment-by-moment gift; each tick-tock is a moment in time that once gone, will never come my way again. These clocks are definitely old-school; they require attention. Forget to wind them, and they stop. If the pendulum isn't adjusted correctly, they will run fast or slow. If they are just a little off level, they keep a faulty time with a halting tick-tock, tick-tock, again a parable of the attentiveness necessary to live a life of honor and integrity, in time with God himself. When I fail to attend to life, things get out of whack pretty quickly. Life isn't a "wind up and let it go" affair.

The Bible tells us that our times are in God's hands (Psalm 31:15). Given my family DNA, barring tragic accident, I fully expect to live well into my nineties, perhaps longer, but none of us know for sure which tick-tock will be our last. I hope to listen to the gentle rhythmic sound of those clocks for years to come, and I'll give thanks to the Time-Keeper for each tick-tock I get to hear.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Things Mysterious and Revealed

October 21, 2014

Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." And Isaiah 55.9 reminds us that "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

The longer I live, the more mysterious and inexplicable God's ways seem to me. When I was a young man, I had life all figured out; it made perfect (or nearly perfect) sense to me, perhaps due to a raging naiveté or ignorance, or perhaps youthful arrogance. In the mid Seventies while in seminary, I took a summer course in apologetics from a professor well-known in Christian circles. For those unfamiliar with the term, apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing for anything; it is the study of the defense of the Christian faith. This professor had actually developed a logical progression of thought proving that this sad world we live in is the best of all possible worlds. Even as I took the course, I thought to myself, "Try telling that to a young mother who has just lost her baby to cancer." Although this professor is famous and has written a number of highly acclaimed books, I've never bought any of them. Anyone who can convince himself of his premise doesn't hold a great deal of credibility with me.

However, that begs the question. What was on God's mind when he allowed the world to go so wrong? I can wrap my mind around the possibility that sin may be necessary for us to have freewill. If the possibility of sin were eliminated, so also would be the possibility of love. But is it necessary to have so much evil? I have no answer to these kinds of questions, but I do take some odd comfort in the knowledge that the atheist or agnostic doesn't have anything better to offer. Though I don't understand God's ways, I'm not expected to. As the verses quoted indicate, my inability to fathom the mysteries of God is nothing new. Smarter people than I have been equally stumped. The Good News is that some things are revealed, and are manifest so we might be able to live productive lives that reach down to future generations.

There is much in life I do not understand. In just the past three days, I've listened to enough stories of pain and tragedy to last me the rest of the year, and there isn't a single one of these stories I can fix. I know the promise that God works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28), but that good often comes through many tears, much seemingly needless pain and suffering.

It is our eye to the future that tips the balance. If all we do is look around us, there is plenty of reason for despair. Every generation aims to solve the world's problems, but those problems persist. We must look beyond this world, and as Christians, we do. Our hope and confidence is in the future. St. Paul put it this way: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9). It is that love and that hope of things prepared but not revealed that enables us to deal with all the troubles of today. Though we don't understand the ways, we know the heart of God because that heart has been revealed to us (there's that thought again) in God's gift of his Son for our salvation. Because the future is guaranteed us, we can work in the present even when we don't see the results we hoped for. God's rule is being established in the feeble, often messed-up lives of his people, and the day will come when as Jesus taught us to pray, his will is "done on earth as it is in heaven." And for that, I give thanks.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Four Generation Faithfulness

October 20, 2014

Two days ago I read the following in Psalm 78:

 I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
 things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
 We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,
 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.

When I reflect back upon years of pastoral ministry, I can think of all kinds of things I could or should have done better; opportunities for witness that I missed, people with whom I could have networked, times I neglected to do all I could have done, and others when I simply disobeyed God's command. Through all our failures, God remains faithful, and this Scripture is a good reminder of that faithfulness. A careful reading of the text reveals at least four, and possibly five generations affected when parents teach their children what they have learned from their parents and grandparents of the "praiseworthy deeds of the LORD."

This is Christian education at its finest. Sunday School teachers are at times, God's gift to children whose own parents don't claim to know Christ. I am thankful for the number of adults who poured themselves into me as a teenage new believer. I don't remember specific times when I was growing up when my father sat down and talked with me about life. But he was faithful in demonstrating Christian integrity and character in so many ways. I remember the time he confronted the father of my brother's girlfriend over the phone. I never did discover what prompted the conversation, but I do remember dad standing up for my brother. Dad was not a swearing man, so when he was agitated as he was that night, he didn't have the vocabulary that most men would use to drive home their point. The worst dad could come up with was to call the guy "buster." With a snarl.

Then there was the night he came home and announced that he had resigned all his church offices except the trustees because it was taking too many nights away from home and family. You get the picture. I look back on my parenting years from the vantage point of watching my children do it, and see them teaching in ways I failed to do with them. I see them and think to myself, "Why didn't I do that?" What they are doing is taking the foundation Linda and I laid, and building upon it, far more than we ourselves built. And Psalm 78 is being fulfilled before our very eyes. Our grandparents taught our parents who then taught us; we taught our children; they are teaching theirs. It's a generational thing; a blessing we are privileged to see playing out before our very eyes. None of it is guaranteed. I know faithful parents who shed many a tear for their wayward children.

We tell the praiseworthy deeds of our God, the things he has done for our salvation, trusting that a generation yet unborn will hear the Good News because we didn't let it die in ours. We live in a culture that is deliberately forgetting its roots. A plant without roots cannot live for long. So while our culture dies all around us, we tell the stories so our children won't forget. We teach them to send their roots down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love and grace, trusting that someday, a generation yet unborn shall hear and be saved. I'm a grandparent now; my influence is mediated through my children, except for my prayers. I keep telling the praiseworthy deeds of our God every chance I get. God is faithful, and the prayers, tears, and instruction will not return empty, and for that, I give thanks.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Love Torn

October 19, 2014

It's not only love scorned that hurts. It's love torn. This morning, pastor Joe asked me to pray for Bob and Bri, blessing them as they prepare to move to Texas. It wasn't easy. Blessing them is easy. The hard part is blessing the new paths they are walking. Over the past few years, they have become part of our family, like our own kids. We share Christmases together, birthdays, Memorial Day, Labor Day. They are best of friends with our kids; we've literally prayed their children to life when it seemed they were unable to conceive. They bless us with Bri's amazing musical gifts, Bob's organizational abilities, their love for Jesus and each other. In short, they occupy a big, loving place in our hearts, and in just a couple weeks our hearts will have a huge Katilus-shaped hole that no one else can fill.

This afternoon Linda and I headed over to Chautauqua for the Koinonia closing program. It is always a tearful, joyful time, as the newest class shares what God has done throughout the weekend. The sky was bright blue with puffs of pure white, the sunlight dancing off the amber and crimson of the fall leaves as I wondered aloud about the irony of life. Surrounded by beauty, my heart was heavy. It's not that we are experiencing personal difficulty. Everyone gets their turn at the trials of life; right now it's not our turn, but we have friends going through all sorts of difficulties; cancer, dealing with grief, watching their children suffer through illness, job loss, divorce. The list just goes on and on. The beauty of love is the bonds that form between those who have shared life together. The tragedy of love is the bonds that form between those who have shared life together, when circumstances force a rending unbidden and unwelcome. This heart anguish of saying goodbye has made me reflect on the depth of God's love for us as he bid goodbye to his Son, laying him first in Mary's womb, and then in a manger, and finally upon a cross.

I would give much to be able to avoid this separation, to turn back the clock so as to be able to anticipate growing old together. But God tells us we are pilgrims, sojourners, strangers in this world, and any true pilgrim will testify to the goodbye tears that are the price of love torn asunder. Jesus himself said that unless the grain of wheat fall to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain of wheat. That dying is necessary for the fruitfulness to be manifest, and dying is never easy unless perhaps love was never present. A few days ago, I spoke of a friend's devotional reading, one I never imagined I would need to hear so soon. I need it again tonight.

"Faith is not believing that God will do something, because God can do it whether you believe it or not! His ability is not dependent upon you thinking he can do it.
"Faith is not believing God will do something. That is hope.
"Faith is believing God IS doing something right now, even though you don't see it."

I'm having a hard time seeing what God is doing. Or maybe I see it all too clearly, and don't like what I see. Tonight, faith for me isn't even trusting that he is doing something that I cannot see; it's believing that what I see him doing is good. Were it not for the record of Scripture and the Gospel it proclaims, I would be hard pressed to believe that. We spend way too much of our lives in the Good Fridays, with tear-streaked faces and trembling hands. At the same time, we know that Sunday is coming when tears are wiped away in amazing wonder at what God has done. The gratitude comes hard tonight, offered through gritted teeth and reddened eyes. But it is there. The goodbyes hurt, but even so, I wouldn't trade the pain if it came at the cost of not having experienced the joy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

NBA Communion

October 18, 2014

Sometimes it doesn't take much to stir a memory long forgotten. Tonight it was the communion service at Holy Hour for the Chautauqua Koinonia weekend. Holy Hour is the time when the community of Koinonians gather to worship and pray for those participating in the weekend. It is a time for celebration and for connecting with Christian brothers and sisters we haven't seen for awhile. And of course, when we celebrate the Eucharist, it is a connecting with Christ himself. But strange things can happen at the holiest of times. Such was the memory revived tonight.

In 1984, the Rev. Forrest Stith was elected bishop and appointed as overseer of the Western New York Conference of the United Methodist Church. Shortly thereafter, my friend Mary Martin had talked me into assisting her as the ordination coordinator for that year's class of ordinands. Mary and I are about as different as night and day. The obvious of course, is that she is female and the last time I checked, I am not. Mary is more on the liberal side of the theological and political spectrum than I. Mary is exuberant and get the picture. With all our differences, we hit it off well, and she remains a close friend even though we don't get to see each other too often. Unfortunately for me, the following year, Mary accepted the responsibilities of a different Conference committee, leaving me after only one year as her assistant, in charge of the entire ball of wax. She won't admit to it, but I suspect she knew all along. Upon telling me, she laughed and said, "I just knew you were the right one for the job."

One of the responsibilities of the job was to oversee the ordination retreat held in the early spring each year. We met at Casowasco, a beautiful Methodist campground on Owasco, one of New York State's Finger Lakes. During that retreat, the bishop always presided over the communion service. Bishop Stith was to do so with a twist all his own.

Forrest Stith in addition to being a bishop, was an avid basketball fan. A pretty big man himself, my recollection is that he played a pretty fair game in his college years. When I say he was an avid fan, read "rabid" in there. He was passionate about the game. I have to admit however that I never expected him to incorporate basketball into the actual Eucharistic liturgy. Given his fanaticism about the sport, I can't say as I was surprised, but it did seem a bit out of place for him to modify the words to say that "Jesus healed the sick and eight foot centers." I'm not sure why eight foot centers needed healing, but I am sure that's how I heard it. Of course, what he really said was "Jesus healed the sick and ate with sinners." At least that's his story, and I guess he's sticking to it. And this is mine. You can believe whoever you want, but I know what I heard.

I am grateful tonight for communion. We don't often use the full liturgy, but it has a beauty all its own, with familiar words repeated weekly by millions of Christians as they recall the mystery of our faith "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again." We pray the prayers of repentance, hear words of absolution, affirm our faith in God's love and forgiveness on account of the sacrificial death of Christ. We hold in our hands the Bread of Life, and go forth to serve. Even if we are eight foot centers. NBA, here we come!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quiet Nights

October 17, 2014

It can be pretty intimidating being surrounded by people whose talents far exceed your own, but the apprehension ratchets up considerably when your feeble stammering is put in the spotlight before those same people. It wasn't exactly sweaty-palm stuff, but it came close. I was back at jazz band rehearsal after having missed last week on account of the wedding we attended down south. We were rehearsing, "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars," a catchy Bossa Nova piece. I love listening to the horns and saxes when they play those buttery jazz harmonies. Some of these folks are really talented. I'm always amazed at how quickly they put together some pretty difficult runs. This particular piece was a number I had been practicing, pretty repetitive, and pretty simple. Still, I nearly choked when the conductor said, "I'd like to hear the rhythm section play from number twenty one." For anyone unfamiliar with how a band is organized, the rhythm section is drums, piano, and bass.

We played through the part he wanted to hear when to my horror, he said, "Could you turn up the bass a bit? I can't hear it." Well, that was the whole point. Trust me, at this stage of the game, it's better that way. But turn it up, I did, and it really went pretty well. I'm just glad he didn't ask us to solo on one of the faster, more difficult pieces. I'm still not sure how much of an asset I am to the band. More like just the first half of the word, if you ask me. When it was all over, I realized I had just passed a test, one that the conductor didn't even realize he was giving. I barely squeaked through, but I did make it, and am looking forward to tomorrow's practice so when the tough stuff comes along, I'll be ready. Yeah, tonight I'm grinning. And I'm grateful for this musical opportunity that sits on my doorstep every Friday.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

When We Cannot See

October 16, 2014

The grapes are especially good this year. Yesterday I picked four five-gallon pails of them, and at 8:30 tonight I screwed the lid on the last of thirty six quart jars of juice. Those jars lined up on the counter are a beautiful sight, and will reward us all winter long. The four buckets I'll pick tomorrow should carry us through till the next harvest.

Just now while I was writing, Linda came in, sat down, and began to talk. I can be pretty dense at times, but I've learned the difference between regular talk and "talk." She began to talk about something that is bothering her. This particular situation has been a part of our conversation more than once before, is one of those things over which we have little control, but which can have significant consequences depending on how it is handled. We talked. Before we go to sleep, we will pray together, trusting that which we cannot change into the hands of the One who can do all things. When we were in Ohio last week, Dan, the owner of the B&B at which we stayed, sat down with us at breakfast and read a short devotional. I asked him for a copy of it, never dreaming that I'd be depending on its wisdom so soon. It read like this:

"Faith is not believing that God will do something. Because God can do it whether you believe it or not! His ability is not dependent upon you thinking he can do it.
"Faith is not believing God will do something. That is hope.
"Faith is believing God IS doing something right now, even though you don't see it."

The problems we face that don't seem to have any solution are in fact, God's testing ground for our faith. It doesn't take any faith to follow Christ when the skies are blue and the sun is shining. It's when the storm is raging and as far as we can tell, the ship is sinking that our faith is revealed for what it truly is. Years ago, William Barclay, the great Scottish pastor penned "The Daily Study Bible," in my opinion one of the best devotional commentaries ever written, because it was written with ordinary people in mind. Like Jesus, Barclay wasn't interested in impressing the scholars and religious elite. He wanted to bring credible Biblical scholarship to the masses, and did so with singular effectiveness.

Barclay's daughter was engaged to be married to a wonderful young man. After the wedding rehearsal, the two of them went for a rowboat ride on the loch. No one really knows what happened other than that the boat overturned and both of them drowned. Instead of celebrating a wedding, Barclay found himself officiating at the funeral of his daughter and her fiancee. Some time later, one of his students, filled with the fashionable skepticism of that school of German scholarship called Higher Criticism, asked Barclay if he really believed Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. He thought back to his daughter's death and slowly answered, "I cannot prove whether or not Jesus actually calmed the storm that night, but I can tell you that he calmed the storm in my heart."

One of the perennial problems of prayer is distinguishing which things are problems to be solved and which are simply life's realities to be accepted. Prayer is appropriate for both situations, but the kind of prayers we offer must be different. Sometimes we pray knowing that at its root, prayer is rebellion against the status quo. Jesus taught us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking; in short, never to give up. But we know too that there are times when we cannot change our circumstances; there are realities that must be lived with. It's just hard for us to figure out which is which.

I've been puzzling over something Jesus said in John 15. He has just spoken about our connectedness to him, using the analogy of the Vine and the branches. In the 15th verse, he says this: "I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father." Paul was thinking along the same lines when he said "We have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). I wonder if both Jesus and Paul weren't thinking back to Deuteronomy 29:29 where we are told that "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." Modern evangelical Christianity isn't always comfortable with the mysteries of our faith, but there are some things God insists on keeping to himself. Unanswered prayer is one of them. He doesn't always tell us why he answers some of our requests and denies others. What he does tell us is to trust him. As Charles Swindoll once said, "When we can't trace his hand, we can trust his heart."

People often imagine that pastors (active or retired) have all the answers, when in fact, we don't even know all the questions. They imagine that our families are somehow different from theirs; that we don't struggle with the same kinds of issues they face. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it just isn't so. So tonight, Linda and I will pray, not knowing if our situation is to be fixed or endured. But my grapes are harvested and canned, and that fact reminds me that God is faithful, and springtime and harvest shall not fail, and neither shall he. For that, we can all give thanks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fragrance in the Air

October 16, 2014

Their fragrance hangs heavily in the air, settling in the valleys and dispersing on the hilltops. It's one of the reasons riding the hack in October is such a pleasure. The grape harvest is in full swing, with truckloads of them shuttling back and forth from the vineyards to the processing plant nonstop, day and night. There is no way that words can explain what I breathe in every time I ride to Fredonia. It's nice in the car, absolutely heavenly on the bike. At Karen's wedding last week, we talked with a couple who have only visited our corner of the world on a couple occasions. Of course, the only real attraction people associate with around here is Niagara Falls. They visited, but being confirmed Southerners with an inbred aversion to cold, they missed the glory of the grape harvest.

About five years ago before Linda retired, I noticed something one day as I drove her to her work. Some years before, the school district cut a new driveway to the parking lot through a vineyard. This new access stranded one row of vines which didn't get harvested. I talked with the folks who owned the land on that side of the driveway, learning that they didn't really like grapes all that much. The grandfather liked tending the vines, but nobody ate the grapes. I asked if they would mind if I harvested some of them. They didn't, and for the past four or five years, I've been blessed with all the free grapes I can use. I've taken truckloads out, and they are delighted with the grape juice with which I pay them each year.

This morning I had errands to run, after which I picked grapes. For once, I've been able to do this when the harvest is at peak instead of trying to glean what hasn't dropped or spoiled on the vine. In just under an hour, I was able to harvest four five gallon pails, and I've barely scratched the surface of what's available. Tomorrow we'll begin processing them, filling the house with the sweet aroma of fresh Concord. Tonight, our DS talked to the Christians gathered at the Fredonia church, taking her text from John 15, where Jesus talks about the vine and the branches. Much food for thought as I reflect on the afternoon's harvest, but I'll save that for another post when I've had some time to mull it over. Till then, I am thankful to live where in the fall, grapes sweeten the air inside and out.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crock Pot Discipleship

October 15, 2014

It's not such a bad idea to occasionally be forced to reflect and theologize about Christian ministry. As much as I might like to have been nationally influential in ministry, I realize that privilege and responsibility is given to a very few specially chosen by God. I was not one of them, and to be honest, I'm quite glad. People like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Mike Bell, et al, live their lives under a microscope few of us could handle. When one has been in a position of leadership, even in the minor leagues like myself, it is easier to understand the pressures of such high profile leadership. I don't envy those boys one bit.

The question has to do with what I call nominal Christianity; people who claim Christ but not the cross. It's the old Paretto Principle: 20% of the people do 80% of the work of any organization. It's true across the board, which is why the core leadership of any church are running on fumes most of the time. By the way, a corollary to this principle is that at a church supper, 20% of the people eat 80% of the food. I read an article just the other day predicting that the era of nominal Christianity is fast ending as our society becomes not only increasingly secular, but also increasingly hostile to Christianity. Most of my ministry of over 40 years was taken up trying to care for that 80% while encouraging the 20%. Inevitably, unless the pastor is quite intentional about it, the inactive 80% gobble up most of the pastor's time, leaving precious little to give to the 20% who are actually doing the bulk of the work. It takes a brave pastor to say "no" to the clamoring of those who want all the attention but will never pick up a cross to become an active follower of Christ.

As I reflect back over my years of ministry, a few things to which I hadn't before given much thought became clear to me. First, it helps to have been able to spend the bulk of my ministry in one place. Discipleship isn't taught as much as it is caught, and that takes time. It's not a matter of lessons as much as of life; simply doing life together. Two or three men with whom I can talk not only about politics, sports, hunting, or motorcycles but also about disappointment, success, integrity, values, priorities, and faith are worth more in the long run than a stadium full of hangers-on. Discipleship is up close and personal. It doesn't happen en masse.

The people Linda and I have influenced in any significant way were the kids to whom we opened our doors and hearts forty years ago in Alma, NY, the young couples we hung around with in Alabama, NY, and the men and women with whom we've walked through life's triumphs and tragedies here in Sinclairville. Sure, there were sermons preached and lessons taught, but it has been the living together that has made the difference. When added up, there aren't too many of them, but they've had influence far beyond their numbers as they've taken whatever we were able to give them, added their own growth and faithfulness, and multiplied it far beyond our sphere of personal influence.

Then there are our kids. We somehow knew early on what end product we wanted, and what it would take to get there. God blessed our parenting, and the youthful vitality of Park church today is not a direct result of our influence in the lives of the young couples who populate our services. It is to a great extent the product of our kids' influence in the lives of their friends. There are others of my generation who have similar testimony. This kind of discipleship takes a lifetime before the years of faithful (but not always successful) family leadership bear fruit.

Jesus' parable of the sower tells us the importance of faithfully sowing the seed. If the story be taken literally, only 1/4 of the seed bore any fruit at all, but when it came in, the result was stunningly fruitful. As I look back over the years, I can't point to any major revivals, hordes of youth wanting to go into Christian ministry, or loads of baptisms. But turtle that I am, in the end I believe I've beat a good many hares across the finish line, and for that I am grateful.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Never Belittle the Bride

October 14, 2014

Dan was the preacher last night, although he didn't know it. We wanted to get an early start, so we left Charlotte right after breakfast, figuring we could stop along the way at either 8:30 or 11:00 to join a congregation in worship. There just had to be a church within spitting distance of a major expressway, right? Wrong. We did find a couple, but their worship times didn't coincide with the times we were able to hit the exits. "Not to worry," I told Linda. Remembering the wonderful time I had with them some years ago, I said, "We can join Dan and Nancy for their evening service in Ohio." We pushed on through and arrived around 5:30.

Dan and Nancy are devout Christians. They operate a Bed and Breakfast in the Amish country of Ohio, and for a number of years were a part of the Pastor's Retreat Network, which provided scholarships to pastors for prayer and renewal retreats, enabling them to attend without cost. I had come some years before and happened to be the only one there that particular weekend in February. It was a glorious time with no TV, radio, or even cell access. Just myself and Dan and Nancy...and God. They have a wonderful prayer room with a huge floor to ceiling window overlooking the valley. It was at the time, a much-needed respite from the pressures and stresses of ministry. The Network has since disbanded from lack of funds, and they've returned to the B&B business, although they are looking to sell so they can perhaps do something with autistic adults; their idea of retirement.

After warmly greeting us and showing us to our room, I went downstairs to inquire about evening services. Dan brought me a local newspaper with ads for services but unfortunately, there wasn't an evening service to be had within a half hour drive, and I didn't think I could persuade either Linda or myself to abuse our posteriors any more for one day. Apparently, my memory of the time of their worship service was a bit foggy. Who'd have guessed?

Dan talked of having changed churches since I saw him last. It was a long story, told without recrimination or bitterness. Then he unwittingly began to preach. He told of his pastor preaching about how Christians sometimes talk about the church, complaining and badmouthing congregations, denominations, and preachers. "God hit me right between the eyes," he mused. "The Church is the Bride of Christ. If you talked bad about my bride, I would not be very happy with you. What makes us think God is pleased to hear us badmouth his Bride?" I have to confess I've been guilty of this, often talking ill about some of the things that go on in my denomination, and of one particular bishop who acted in a decidedly unchristian manner towards my wife when we were going through our difficult years at Park. I've listened to people trash talk preachers, church matriarchs, youth workers, other Christians. Complaining and negativity is the order of the day for some Christians. It has always bothered me, but Dan articulated why. The Church is Christ's Bride, and it hurts and perhaps even angers him the way we talk about his Beloved. The wonder of it all is that he hasn't responded vehemently to our disrespect.

Or hasn't he? Mainline denominations are shriveling like raisins in the sun. American Christianity is often so self-centered that it is unrecognizable to Christians in Africa, the Soviet Bloc, or the Middle and Far East. Christians suffer from diseases and depression in alarming numbers. Perhaps Jesus is expressing his displeasure in ways more subtle than we imagine. Food for thought, courtesy of Dan Lembke of New Bedford, Ohio. Thank you, Dan! And thank you, Lord, for speaking through Dan to open my eyes once again to truths too easily ignored.

When Talk is Golden

October 13, 2014

Travel has never held a warm place in Linda's heart. Her father was one of the pioneers of NASCAR, racing alongside the likes of Lee Petty, Tim and Fonty Flock, Curtis Turner and other early greats, driving all night after working all day in order to catapult his car around tracks all over the south. But once he had gotten racing out of his system, he was the consummate homebody, rarely traveling far enough from home to have to spend the night in an unfamiliar bed. Linda comes by it honestly.

That's why this thirteen hundred mile round trip to Charlotte, NC and back is such proof of her character. Even when she wasn't feeling particularly well, she never complained. Well...almost never. We had a short conversation about our respective love languages on the way home. It seems I wasn't talking to her as much as she needed. Darn; it happened again! I had taken along for the trip a box of notepaper and pens so I could write the encouragement letters for the Keryx prison ministry weekend coming up. I need to have fifty two of them written by the end of next week, along with six letters to the men from our church who are attending the Koinonia weekend in just five days. When we weren't at the rehearsal gathering or the wedding itself, I was feverishly scribbling away, not paying much (read "any") attention to her. Our divergent love languages did their stuff: Because my love language is Time, I am content just to have her around; hers is Words of Affirmation, so if I'm not talking, she's not getting filled up. You would think that after 44 years of marriage I would have gotten somewhat proficient in her native tongue, but I am a linguistic Neanderthal, a fact she called to my attention this morning before starting on the return trip. Now, I may be slow, but I'm not stupid, so aside from the time we listened to our book on CDs, I talked.

To someone for whom words come easily, this doesn't sound so difficult. I know people who can literally talk nonstop for hours on end, hardly pausing for breath. I don't understand that. It is totally incomprehensible to me. Linda sometimes will ask me what I'm thinking. If I'm thinking anything at all, which is not a given, it often isn't interesting enough even for me, so why would I want to inflict such drivel on anyone else? I am perfectly content to pass an entire day without uttering a single word, I talked. Not nonstop, mind you, but about as close as I'll probably ever come. Why? Because I love her. That's it. God gave her to me to simply love her, and I do. Filling her emotional tanks is important to me, and since I'm usually the one holding the hose, today I talked. It was a long ride, but we made it intact, both body and soul, for which I give heartfelt thanks tonight.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


October 11, 2014

Sharing in another's joy is a beautiful thing. Karen burst into our lives years ago as a teenager. We had known her even as a little girl, but in her teen years it seemed she spent nearly as much time at our house as at her own. Some people spend ten minutes with you and it seems like ten years. I think it would be impossible for Karen to wear out her welcome. She would hang around, cook, clean, and generally make herself useful, all the time cheerfully chattering on about whatever was on her mind at the time. Her smile was ready and bright, her outlook on life always energetic and optimistic. She loved to dance and laugh; I can still picture her dancing the jitterbug with our son Matt to "Rockin' Robin" at our church "fifties night" more than twenty years ago. When she moved south nearly fifteen years ago, she took with her that enthusiasm and energy and blessed the folks down there with it. One of the folks she blessed was a young man named Todd.

Today we celebrated as Karen and Todd were married. Their wedding was everything I expected it would be. Karen is not one to leave anything to chance; every detail was planned; glitter and style was the order of the day. Ever the hostess, she greeted everyone warmly and with delight, smiling and hugging her way through the crowd. She waited. As I understand it, Todd wanted to marry her some time ago, but she told him neither of them were quite ready. Today they are, and Linda and I had the privilege of sharing their joy.

At the reception, we sat with a wonderful couple who had served as marriage mentors for Todd and Karen. They spoke of their commitment to Christ, of their church's multi-ethnic congregation and their determination to serve as a model of what it means to truly be the body of Christ in this divided and broken world. It is good to know that what we built into her years ago is bearing fruit today as she and her new husband love Jesus as well as each other. Watching a young woman who is like a daughter to you as she glows with happiness is heartwarming. Life is best when it is given away. We gave ourselves to Karen years ago, and tonight we reaped the return on that small investment as she invited us to be a part of her special day. Life shared is good, we are blessed, and I am thankful to just be a part of her joy.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Blessed By Breakfast

October 10, 2014

This morning Linda and I had breakfast together. There's nothing unusual about that, except the together part. Sundays Linda either has breakfast with Matt, or Matt and the kids come to our house while Jeanine is rehearsing for the worship team. As often as not, I'm out the door before breakfast begins. Mondays are usually my fast day, Tuesdays I have breakfast with Willie, Wednesday Linda has breakfast with Sue and Beth. That leaves Thursday and Friday together, along with Saturday breakfasts with the grandkids.

Today I had coffee, juice, raisin bran, and toast with peanut butter; a pretty ordinary breakfast. In Cuba, the coffee is espresso, the meal is banana, papaya, mango, with eggs, dry toast, and tropical fruit jelly or honey. Years ago when we visited England, breakfast consisted of eggs, baked beans, tomatoes, sausage, and coffee. I don't even want to talk about breakfast in Mongolia. It's not a pleasant memory.

Today I'm thankful for an ordinary breakfast. The word is self-explanatory: it's the meal that breaks the fast from the night before. There are millions of people around the world who cannot imagine the amount of, nor the ease with which we have, this first meal of the day. Raisin bran is pretty ordinary stuff, but prepared cereals are relatively new in human history. I reach for the box, pour the cereal into a bowl, add milk, and voila! Breakfast! Someone grew the wheat and grapes, raised the cows that gave the milk; all was transported from the farm to the processing plants where hundreds of others turned the raw materials into flakes and raisins, packaged them and transported them to the warehouses and stores. Someone designed the packaging, others stocked and sold the product. Then there's the coffee! For about a dollar a day, I eat a pretty good breakfast.

Where else in the world or at what other time in history has this been possible? We rarely think about all that goes into such a simple and ordinary meal. We ordinarily give thanks before we eat. Today, I am thinking about that for which I am giving thanks. What is ordinary is in reality, quite extraordinary.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Work in Progress

October 9, 2014

This morning after working out and then having breakfast with Linda, I was able to squeeze in half an hour to practice my bass. Last Friday at jazz band rehearsal we were given three new pieces to practice, two of which were pretty snappy tunes. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that "Jingle Bells" is taxing my digital dexterity. This isn't the Jingle Bells of ordinary Christmas caroling ilk; this is Jingle Bells on steroids. It doesn't dash through the snow; it blazes through it on a supercharged snowmobile. Whether I'll ever be an asset to the band is open speculation. In the meantime, I'm learning, getting better (it would be hard for me to get much worse!), and having fun doing it.

There is one problem I'm having with retirement: it still feels odd to not be going to work every day. This morning I was reading in 2 Thessalonians 3 where Paul talks about work. He didn't mince any words.

"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

Scriptures such as these are maddeningly tempting. For anyone who has worked steadily through life, it's easy to interpret them as applying to people on welfare, those whose disabilities are not readily apparent, to the indigent and addicted, as well as to those who are just plain lazy; in other words, to anyone except myself. Reading them this morning, I saw these verses in a whole new light. God was aiming directly at me. What does this say about my retirement? Oh sure; I'm working...for me. But most everything I do now is pretty self-centered: home remodeling, bass lessons, riding my motorcycle, spending time with Linda, our kids and grandkids, and friends. In what way am I actually working to earn my way as St. Paul commands? I haven't figured all this out yet, but I did learn something; God has a way of doing an end-run around our defenses and blind spots, revealing our inconsistencies and prejudices and reminding us that passing judgment is always a dangerous habit, as is reading Scripture in order to apply it to someone else. I'm doing a bit of self-evaluation in light of Scripture. I'm grateful tonight that God continues to surprise me, even when he does so at my expense. Apparently my "work" is not over yet.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Email Woes and Whoopies

October 8, 2014

Last evening pastor Joe pulled me aside at the swim meet and said, "Your pastor Jim email account is no longer any good." No, he wasn't giving me the boot; there was some sort of glitch with the server that I don't understand. What I do understand is that there was going to be a lot of work ahead of me to let people know that my email has changed. I like my iPad and all it can do for me, but when it comes to the technical end of the internet, I come to my wit's end pretty quickly.

It couldn't have happened at a much worse time. I needed to send out a flurry of emails as a part of sponsoring a young man for the Koinonia weekend coming up, I'm getting ready for the Keryx prison ministry the following weekend, besides the regular email connections I have with people. How do I let that many people know of this change when I can't use my email account to tell them? Son Nate helped me with some of it, but it still took up most of my evening, which isn't how I had planned on spending it. On the other hand, this is a pretty minor irritation as irritations go. I'll go to a warm bed shortly, well fed and in safety. I have no fear of a knock on my door in the middle of the night that could result in my disappearance. Today was very productive; the ceiling trim, vanity cabinets are installed in the bathroom, the part needed for the tub faucet arrived enabling Linda to have her first tub bath in over a year, making her one very happy woman. Happy wife, happy life. To top it all off, it'll be some time before I get any spam email again. My email cloud has a very silver lining after all! BTW, my new email is

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Blessing Upon Blessing

October 7, 2014

This business of giving thanks can be a bit challenging. There was a time in my life when I wasn't very good at it. I could find all sorts of things to growl about; it doesn't take much effort or ingenuity to see the ills of this world. Original sin has done its work quite effectively, thank you. A casual scrolling through Facebook or Twitter will turn up enough complaint, anger, or bitterness to last a lifetime. I should know; I did my share of griping and passing along the negativity, blissfully unaware (how I could be so thick headed is beyond me) that I was in daily disobedience to the plain word of God that tells us not to "let any evil communication come out of our mouths, but only that which builds people up." Looking back, I remember pastor Roy once turning around in church when some people behind him were criticizing something in the worship service. He quoted Ephesians 4:29 (in quotes above) and said, "That wasn't building me up." Then a little louder, "Is anyone being built up by this?" Needless to say, they weren't very appreciative being called out on their complaining, but he was right.

I've related before how that all changed for me a couple years ago, and now with nearly two years' practice, the problem isn't finding something for which to give thanks. The problem is choosing from among all the possibilities. Today for example, was a beautiful day for a bike ride, so out came the Ural and down the road I went. The air was brisk, but after breakfast the sun came out. I had breakfast with my friend Willie, followed by coffee with Cameron (Doesn't that sound like a good title for an editor's column?). Ordering my espresso, I realized I wasn't hearing so well in my right ear. A quick check and no hearing aid. It must have popped off when I removed my helmet. I went outside and looked around to no avail. Cameron checked the cushions of the chair I had been sitting in. Oh well! We talked for an hour about the theological and practical ministry issues relating to our understanding of God as Father, and about the intensity of his seminary and ministry load. I prayed for him, and added almost as an addendum, "It sure would be nice to find that hearing aid." I was figuring that I had lost it outside Lisciandro's downtown, and by now it was squashed by the next car that pulled into my parking space. But when I went outside to get ready to ride back into town to check it out, there it was on the ground by my bike. How I missed it before, I don't know. I'm guessing one of God's angels picked it up from wherever it was and laid it down for me to find only after I prayed. That's a $2,000 thank you.

At the day-old bakery, I snagged some apple, pumpkin, and cinnamon raisin English muffins. A trifecta of muffinry! What a day! Back home, as I'm putting the bike away. Linda comes driving in with Miss Gemma in tow. So we hopped on the trampoline, I pushed her on the swings, and we had lunch of Ramen noodles and salad, after which we played hide and seek before I settled in to a bit more bathroom work. Ceiling is done; only the vanity cabinets and some trim left. A few letters for the prison ministry weekend, then on to tonight's swim meet where we saw Abi drop her backstroke time by nearly a second, and Alex break a twenty-three year old diving record. That goes back to when her dad was in high school! This, from the girl who only joined the team because she needed something to do while waiting for her sister to finish swim practice.

All this is just off the top of my head (where the hair used to be, I think). My Scripture reading this morning spoke of humility. Willie and I talked of all that has come our way, not through our own wisdom or effort, but simply by God's grace. I believe that's true for most people; too often we miss the blessings because we're blinded by the blisters of life. It's sad, because there is so much all around us for which to give thanks, and actually doing so enlivens us with blessing after blessing; yet too many fail to see them, and live as I did for years, under a cloud of melancholy that is easily dispersed with the sunshine of thankfulness.

Monday, October 6, 2014

These Guys Have My Back

October 6, 2014

Today was "tile the ceiling day." The bathroom isn't all that large; 11' 4" x5' is all, but of course since it's an old house, nothing was quite square, which means that after about two rows, edge tiles had to be trimmed. No problem; it just took a little longer. I had decided that instead of moving the upright broom and linen closet completely out of the bathroom, I could just walk it across the room to get access to the ceiling above it. My plan worked like a dream until at one point while maneuvering between standing on the edge of the tub and the stepstool, I lost my balance, fell into the closet and knocked it over, taking a big gouge out of the wall. It's not irreparable, but does mean a slight setback now that I have to patch, sand, and paint the wall again.

I had to hurry with the trim around the tub so I could make men's Bible study tonight. I missed the opening worship and leadership time with pastor Joe, but did get to men's group in time. I'm so glad I did! Sometimes since retiring, my morning Bible reading and prayer time just doesn't seem to get off the ground. It's not that I neglect it, but I read only to get to the end of a chapter and think, "Now, what was that all about?" For over forty years, the mental and spiritual discipline of reading the Bible so I had something to share with God's people fed my own soul as well. Often, I would repeatedly pour over a text day after day, to no avail, when suddenly a pattern would reveal itself to me, and I knew I had a sermon for that week. I was reading as a desperate man, and God never failed me. In retirement, the desperation is gone. I'm not complaining. I appreciate not having to keep my mind in top gear day after day.

This is why men's group is becoming more important each week. These guys encourage me, build me up, give me a spiritual shot in the arm. Their faithfulness and steadfast support help me fulfill Paul's exhortation to bring every thought captive to Christ. Sometimes I hear God speaking to me when I read the Scriptures in the morning, but today he spoke through the voices and prayers of these guys who took the  time and made the effort to sit down together to read, talk, drink coffee and pray. I am grateful for their ministry to me.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Whose Church Is It, Anyway?

October 5, 2014

This morning instead of attending both services at Park church, I started the day out with a blast from the past, worshipping with the Gerry UMC folks, where I was pastor from 1981-1985. Pastor Heather had more of a meditation than a sermon, taken from Matthew 16's account of Peter's great confession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." In response, Jesus told him among other things, that "I will build my church, and the gates of death shall not prevail against it."

Much has been written about these words, and I've read and preached on them many times, but today it was one little word in the middle of Jesus' statement that grabbed my attention. Jesus said that the Church belongs to him; "I will build MY church" (emphasis mine). There have been times in my life when it looked like no one was building the church, that it was being torn down faster than I or anyone else could build. There was a time here at Park when a whole lot of people got angry and left, some to attend other churches, some to simply disappear from the ecclesiastical scene. Other churches may have benefitted, but there was no real "church growth." A lateral pass doesn't move the ball downfield towards the goal.

When congregations go through turmoil, it's often hard to see anything good coming from it. It's painful, people are hurt, the reputation of the church is smeared; it gets pretty ugly. Pastors especially, tend to identify so much with the church they are shepherding that they take personally all the garbage that gets thrown around. We wouldn't actually say it out loud, and may not even realize we are doing it, but we often are in danger of thinking the church belongs to us instead of Christ.

Of course, pastors are given responsibility for the care of the church. I took ordination vows of "Word, Sacrament, and Order;" and I can testify that things got pretty disorderly for awhile. In the middle of it all, I told my District Superintendent that since things fell apart on my watch, rather than simply walk away (which might have been easier), I wanted the opportunity to try to put it back together. I was given that opportunity, for which I am very grateful.

Park church is healthier now than it was before our meltdown over ten years ago. I never thought of the church or individuals in it as belonging to me, but it took hard times for me to really begin to understand that it belongs to Christ, and Christ alone. Three months ago I was able to turn over the reins to pastor Joe, who is doing a fine job, and whom I fully anticipate will lead Park to heights I could not reach. It took only about a week or two for the weight of responsibility to lift off my shoulders. In a whole new way, it's not my church anymore, even though it is "my church." It's not pastor Joe's, either. It is Christ's, which is a good thing, because he is the only one qualified to lead the charge against the gates of hell. And that's because he already stormed those gates, shattering its demonic defenses and leading captivity captive; all praise and glory to his Name!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Titles or Testimonials

October 4, 2014

I'm sure retirement will kick in sooner or later, but not quite yet. This morning I had the privilege of officiating at the memorial service for a gentleman in our congregation who inspired a rollcall of stories from his children and grandchildren. Yesterday when meeting with his children to discuss what they wanted for the service, they sat in the living room for nearly two hours, telling stories of their father and what it was like growing up in their home.

This man was not highly educated, was one of the "little people" of life who don't make headlines, but who by perseverance and determination not only make their way through life, but do it with flair, all the while living with integrity and honor. As his kids talked, it occurred to me that the best thing we could do in his honor was simply to tell the stories the way they were doing so. So this morning, we set up a couch and two stuffed chairs in the front of the sanctuary. We sang a song, offered prayers, read Scripture, then the kids and Al's wife came up, sat down together, and began to talk. Forty-five minutes later, they were still going strong. It went from laughter to tears and back to laughter. Afterward, they thanked me for the service and apologized for calling me out of retirement, but in reality, they did all the work, and it was a privilege to simply listen in.

Too many times, I've officiated at services where no one has anything to say. At best, they say, "he was a good man," or, "she loved her grandkids," all of which is nice, but those are hardly adequate words for seventy or eighty years' of living. Today, the tears were present, but they were tears earned through his years of loving and giving and building into their lives till they knew the magnitude of their loss because they knew the magnitude of his love for them.

Tony Campolo once was talking to a class of young seminarians getting ready for the Christian ministry. "Gentlemen," he said (back then, they were all male) "Someday you are going to die, and when you do, people will say nice things, throw dirt in your face, then go back to the church to eat potato salad. You have a choice in life. You can live for the titles; the letters after your name that will look good in the obituary, or you can live for testimonies; the people who will remember your impact upon them. Live for the testimonies." Wise words too often ignored these days. Al had no titles, no letters after his name, but he had plenty of testimonies, and they continue to build into the lives of his children and grandchildren. I listened today and wished that my kids could have stories like that to tell someday. I'm afraid that I let too many opportunities slip by, and pray that I caught enough of them that someday my kids will be able to sit down at the front of the sanctuary and tell stories that bring both tears and laughter. Till that day, I am grateful for every time I am given the privilege of peeking into the lives of people who have lived well, hearing their stories, and laughing and crying with them.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Music of Raising Kids

October 3, 2014

Those who do it well make it look easy. That's true of any skill, whether it be hitting a golf ball, playing an instrument, or raising children. I'm absolutely no good whatsoever at hitting a golf ball. There is no perceivable correlation between my intention and where the ball lands, if indeed it ever even leaves the tee. I'm getting better at my instrument. I've learned the notes of the bass clef, know where on the fretboard they fall, but have a great deal of difficulty getting my fingers to do what I see with my eyes. I'm either on the wrong string with one or the other, or both of my hands, and as often as not, I'm on the wrong fret.

At jazz band today, the student conductors introduced two new pieces, one slow, the other stepping right along with a steady bass beat. No one else is doing what I'm supposed to be doing, so when (not if) I get lost, I'm really lost, especially if I don't know the melody. There's nothing in the  steady thrum, thrum, thrum of the bass beat to tell me where the rest of the band is. By the time I figure it out, they could be having coffee break! If that weren't enough, my sheet music had a musical notation I didn't recognize, but which I suspected meant I'm supposed to improvise. Checking with my student instructor the next hour confirmed my suspicion. It's hard to improvise when you have haven't mastered the basics and have no idea what you're doing. Improvisation is for those who are actually good at what they do.

All of which is a pretty good picture of life, and which brings me to the last of the three illustrations with which I started: raising children. I see a lot of people who are trying to improvise when they don't even know their scales. Music, even jazz, is very precise. There is rhythm, melody, harmony, all of which need to work together at the right time if the resulting performance is to be anything more than a cacophony of noise; "sound and fury, signifying nothing," as Shakespeare said.

I may be a duffer at golf, an enthusiastic novice at the bass, but in God's grace, I've learned some things about raising children. If you've heard some of the stories of our boys, it may surprise you to know that people actually used to tell us how lucky we were to have such good children. I always replied that luck had nothing to do with it; it was a lot of hard work and plenty of grace. The basics are pretty simple, just like do re mi in music: self-discipline, honesty, respect. We had a clear picture of the goal: the end product of a productive young man or woman who lives with integrity, kindness, and conviction; who knows what it means to be faithful, persistent, and strong. As with any life skill, it looks easy to those who know nothing about it. Few things worth doing come easily. Raising good kids is one of those things worth doing, and doing well. It's never easy.

Some skills seem to run in family lines. Mozart was the child of professional musicians. The Petty racing dynasty at one time spanned four generations. I am grateful that Linda and I had the example of parents who did it well, that we were able to build on their foundations, and that we didn't give in to the easy road or give up when it got hard, because the reward for all that hard work is grown children who bless us, and grandchildren who are in a sense, icing on the cake of life. I constantly pray for those who don't have that earthly family heritage, that their heritage in Christ as children of God will take precedence over their earthly heritage. The Scripture says that those who trust in Christ are given new life, made heirs, and given all that is necessary for life and godliness. For those who are as spiritually klutzy as I tend to be, it doesn't come easily, any more than my playing the bass. But with diligent practice, even the most inept can learn because God is not only the Teacher, but the Holy Spirit he gives us is the music itself.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Christ Chuckles

October 2, 2014

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together
  against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,
"Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles."
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
"I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain."
I will proclaim the LORD's decree:
He said to me, "You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
  the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
  you will dash them to pieces like pottery."
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction,
  for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. --Psalm 2

This was one of my readings for this morning. Two years ago, I was getting caught up in all the political rhetoric of the presidential campaigns of Obama and Romney, which wasn't contributing anything at all to my peace of mind. I was getting agitated and worked up...for what? This scripture today reminded me of all that, and of the intervening time in which I've been focusing on gratitude, which has completely transformed my attitude and approach towards life itself.

This Psalm paints a picture of God and Christ (it is a Messianic Psalm) completely at odds with much of how modern Christians understand him. Even if our theology speaks of a God of righteousness and holiness, his character as a God of love and kindness trumps everything for most people. I can't even count the number of times people have said to me, "MY God wouldn't do..." Of course he wouldn't. For most of us, our God is not the God revealed in the Bible, but a god of our own creation. Instead of seeing ourselves as made in God's image, we remake him in ours, at least as we would like to be. So God becomes a celestial grandfather figure, indulging people's faults and foibles,  tut-tutting his way through history, insuring that everyone makes it in the end.

Not so here. God is portrayed as standing outside of human political striving, looking on all our maneuvering, manipulation, and posturing much as a teacher would look on little kindergartners trying to establish a pecking order on the playground. All their pushing and shoving seems so very important to them, but when the teacher steps in, the bullies have to bow out while their victims are defended.

God as One whose anger can flare up at any moment, who laughs at human strivings, who shatters nations in pieces with a rod of iron, before whom rulers tremble; this God stands outside our normal categories, a far cry from the "Daddy God" who invites us to come cuddle on his lap, as I've heard some Christians say. He is a terrifying and powerful God to be feared. And yet, even in this Psalm, blessings are given to those who take refuge in him, precisely because this Refuge is not a fearful temporary escape from a doom certain to overtake us sooner or later; it is a security in the eternal protective custody of the One who holds all history's trump cards.

The politicians are gearing up, spending millions to convince us they have our best interests at heart. Accusations and counter accusations are flying across the airwaves and cyberspace. People are getting all worked up. And God laughs. Which means we can, too. During this year's round of political seriousness, THAT is something for which to give thanks!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


October 1, 2014

It's been quite a day, beginning with an observation from my morning's reading in the Psalms. Every so often, I re-engage in a pattern reading of the Psalms and Proverbs that takes me through them both in a month. Proverbs is easy; one a day. With the Psalms, on the first of the month I read Psalm 1, 31, 61, 91, 121. The second day of the month is Psalm 2, 32, 62, 92, 122, and so on through the month.

Other than the opening psalm which is somewhat of an introduction to the rest of them, today's readings dealt with God's faithfulness when we go through trials. I thought about this, and am grateful that at the moment, I'm in between them. I remember all too well those times when I clung to these Psalms for dear life. The storms were raging, and without them, I wouldn't have made it through. Right now there are plenty of people who are riding out the storm, and today's readings were God's reminder to me to pray for them. Everyone gets his or her turn; right now, it's my turn to pray for those who might be having difficulty praying their own prayers, knowing that the day will likely come when they'll return the favor. I am grateful to be on the praying end at the moment.

Other than the usual morning routine, it started with a bang when as I was getting ready to head out on a bathroom remodeling supplies run, pastor Joe comes wheeling in the driveway, hops out of his truck and motions me to the back of his pickup where lay a beautiful and huge eight point he took at about 7:20 opening day of archery. Quite a nice birthday present, I'd say!

He heads home, and I head out for my supply run to Fredonia (Couldn't do that on my old Sportster!). On the way, I stopped at Denison's in Cassadaga to arrange for my truck inspection. Mark called yesterday to tell me it was overdue (I bet Midas never does that!). He came out to talk bike, so we yammered a bit. I was overdue on the inspection because with the Ural's sidecar being so handy, I've hardly driven the truck this summer. I guess I'll have to next Monday when I take it in. After chewing the fat for awhile, I move on up the road, stopped by the credit union. Came out to find a guy looking at the bike; conversation time.

At Home Depot, one of the employees comes almost running into the parking lot to start talking about my bike. He knew a little about Urals, has a 6 year old son, and thinks this might do the trick. I told him how much fun I've been having with it, how handy it was for trips like this. I told him about the Soviet Steeds forum that has been invaluable, gave him my phone number, and told him to call me to arrange taking it for a test ride. While we were talking, a guy comes up, turns out to be a friend I hadn't seen in about ten years. Another 15 minutes disappeared. Came home with the tub full of supplies and a mirror bungeed on the sidecar rack.

An hour or so later, I had to make a second run, a little shorter, to the local grocery/hardware for a drain extension for the bathroom sink. I've got a box full of plumbing supplies, but of course, none of it fits what I'm working on. As I was coming out of the store, two guys were looking the bike over. One asked if he could take pictures. No problem, except my wife both times was getting worried that I'd been run over by a truck or something. She hasn't yet gotten used to UDF ("Ural Delay Factor"). I figure the conversations added about an hour to my trips.

Supply runs were super; my plumbing was not. When I opened the valves, water started  spraying all over the basement; I think it's time to quit for the night. There was a time in my life when this setback would have set me off, but I'm older, perhaps a bit wiser, or maybe just a bit lazier. Tomorrow's another day, and although the remodel didn't go quite as I had hoped, I AM going to win! Meanwhile, I'm grateful for my morning time with God, the fun rides, conversations with friends new and old, dinner with our daughter and her kids while her husband is out of town on a business trip, and especially that we have another fully functional bathroom. Small stuff, but it's the life I've been given, and I'm grateful for it.