Friday, June 27, 2008

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

The war came home to me today. Now, I usually watch CNN or the network world news each day, and TIME and Newsweek come to our home every week. I try to stay informed, but this was different, much different. This morning I sat down with and interviewed eleven real live members of the 442nd Fighter Wing who just returned last night from their mission.

I was asked by the Air Force chaplain to assist with the screening of 234 airmen returning from their deployment in Afghanistan to Whiteman Air Force Base near Sedalia. This was the first time that civilian pastors have been asked to participate in this reintegration program. The purpose was to help these airmen process what they have experienced and identify those who were in need of additional ministry or counsel.

One by one they came into my borrowed office, patiently waiting in the hall for their turn, yet anxious to get everything done so they could head for home. These are reservists, but in wartime that means practically active duty, and most of these airmen were active duty before entering the Air Force reserves.

I was impressed with the caliber and character of the airmen I met today. Three young men were returning from their very first theater of action. Others had seen years of active duty and many deployments as a reserve. One 26 year old came home to his pregnant wife and his new son coming in September. Another self-employed reservist was fearful for his business which had suffered greatly during his absence. Many spoke of the sacrifices made by their families.

I heard about trying to sleep with the sounds of battle in the night, other times being evacuated to the bunkers under threat of attack. Some worked in munitions for the A-10 and said simply, "Business was good." "We left a lot of lead over there." Call them just reservists if you want, but these are fighting men and women, fearless and determined and dedicated to their mission.

What I noticed most was not their uniforms or their haircuts or their camaraderie. It was their eyes, it was the humanity in their eyes. I saw in each face the weariness from their 22 hour flight, relief to finally be headed home, and gratitude for someone like me offering care and concern. Some thanked me for giving my day to come talk with them - one day of my time compared to their sacrifice of life and limb?

I will remember these men and women of the 442nd Fighter Wing. And I will never take lightly the prospect of war, when these fine men and women are some of those who go in harm's way, who we send into hell to guard and defend our nation's interests and values. I will be an advocate for peace, a strong, lasting peace that brings all of our airmen and sailors and soldiers back into the arms of their families.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why I Bleed Blue

I was still playing Little League baseball when my uncle, Howard, took me to my first major league game in Kansas City, the Royals vs. the Yankees. I knew most of the Royals players from the baseball cards I had collected, but I had never heard of the rookie third baseman who started that night. He had shaggy curly hair and a big chaw of tobacco bulging in his cheek. "At third base and batting third, number 5, George Brett."

I have been a big fan of the boys in blue ever since - Big John Mayberry playing first base just like me, Dan Quisenberry with his side arm sinker, Frank White making amazing plays at second, Willie Wilson rounding the bases in a blur of blue, and of course, George, the greatest pure hitter of them all. Now it's been 23 years since the Royals were World Series Champions, and all the names and faces have changed over and over. In recent years it's been hard times for my boys, but lately I'm getting more optimistic.

I went to the game last night and took my friend Terry, who had never been before. It was a beautiful evening complete with some great barbeque, a rowdy crowd, and my Royals looked great. It felt like the old days. So hope springs eternal.

How can you not love these guys? The Royals are every man's team, the ordinary guy's team, with no big payroll, no big endorsements, no spoiled superstars, just the one token all-star that the league requires. To watch them play baseball reminds you that for these guys, it's still a game, a great game, a baseball game.

So, keep your big money, big market franchises. You can have them. I will always bleed blue.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In the Shadow of the Man

Nineteen years ago my world changed. Nineteen years ago my son was born, my father died. "Goodbye, Dad." "Well, hello, Little Guy." Nineteen Father's Days have come and gone since I stopped reaching up and started reaching down, and nothing matters more to me than being a dad, being there for our three children.

I went by the cemetery in Kansas City the other day. I hadn't been there for quite awhile. The big tree near Dad's grave has been removed. It took me a minute to find it. It's been a long time since we laid his body down to rest there. Lots of summers and winters have warmed and chilled that spot.

Yet, the passing of the years leaves much unchanged, undiminished. I remain as always my father's son. I can still glimpse the gleam of his integrity in the expressions of those who knew him well. I can measure his character in the words of those who walked with him and worked with him. I can weigh the influence of his life in the lingering legacy he left behind for his family and the churches he served. My father's shadow still shelters and strengthens my life.

In another nineteen years I will likely be retired and most all of my father's friends and family will probably be gone. Few will remain on this side of death who knew him well, if at all. But one thing is certain. I will always be my father's son, and I will live then as now in the shadow of the man.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Electrical Problems of a Sixth Grade Boy

This is the second day of children's camp on the Lake of the Ozarks. I am camp pastor and I have a cabin full of boys who just finished the sixth grade, a really fun bunch of guys. I haven't been to children's camp for eight years, since our boys were small, but nothing has changed too much.

The sixth grade male of the human species is truly a unique and mysterious creature. Just starting on the road to manhood, hormones beginning to rage, suddenly shifting from being a disgusting slob to taking two or three showers a day and wearing enough cologne to knock a buzzard off a fencepost, and most noticeable of all, the syndrome I like to call TBD, Total Brain Disconnect.

You see, the brain of a sixth grade boy is an amazing creation, fast and furious, creative and competitive, able to do incredible feats such as remembering every single line from the last three Will Ferrell movies, and retaining and regurgitating Albert Pujols' current batting average, Kevin Garnett's playoff scoring, and Larry Johnson's yards per carry. And, he will never fail to recall that rare weak moment from months before when dad promised, "We'll get our own fireworks next year." What a mind!

The only problem is this - the brain of a sixth grade boy is not hardwired. It has no solid, dependable connection. At any given moment, without a hint of warning, a sixth grade boy can and likely will experience Total Brain Disconnect. Suddenly, in the middle of a day, a task, or even a sentence, the brain is no longer attached to the rest of the boy. His mind shorts out. A fuse is blown in his head. The power grid goes down. TBD. And you can bet that whatever he does next, from that moment, will make absolutely no rational sense. The boy's decision-making when this lapse occurs goes completely mindless, too dumb for words.

Fortunately, this is usually not a terminal condition, unless of course, some concerned parent or teacher or coach kills him. There is hope. The brain of a sixth grade boy can be reconnected, reset by a very specific form of physical therapy. This involves the application of a swift blow from behind, best applied with the foot, delivered with a strong upward motion, landing squarely on the butt, normally lifting the boy 1-3 inches off the floor.

This form of therapy is almost always effective at reconnecting the brain and restoring power to the boy's decision-making apparatus. When power is restored, the sixth grader will have no memory or explanation for the previous mindless behavior. Questions such as "What were you thinking, boy?" will yield little or no information, since the truth is, he wasn't thinking at all.

Well, camp is never dull with sixth grade boys. It's going to be a fun week. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Plastic Church

Today a friend sent me these pictures of a model church built entirely out of Legos. Hard to believe, isn't it? And yes, somebody has entirely too much time on their hands. This church is constructed of more than 75,000 Legos and took 18 months to complete. It measures 7 feet by 5 1/2 feet and seats 1,372 little Lego people.

I looked at the pictures for a couple of minutes and made some observations. First, this can't be a Presbyterian church because all the empty seats are towards the back. And it can't be a Baptist church because all of the people are smiling. It's not a charismatic church either since everyone is seated with not a single hand raised. Must not be contemporary either - no screens or projection. Way too many windows to be postmodern. What kind of church is this anyway?

It's a plastic church, and it just may represent a significant number of churches in America. You know what I mean? Plastic. Neat and clean, but also cold and sterile. Artificial, lifeless worship, everyone neatly in place and unchanging, pretending to have church, but for display purposes only, nothing to do with real life. Plastic churches built by enterprising humans rather than birthed by the Spirit of God. Little churches where little people have little faith in a little God.

Ever been to a plastic church? I have a time or two, but I have no desire to return. I'm sticking with the real thing. It's not nearly so neat and clean and shiny, but it's alive and kicking. That's where I want to be.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Return to Summer Camp

Sam called me the day after his summer internship was finalized. "Dad, are you going to be home tonight? There's something I need to ask you about - a big favor." I was ready for him. "Yeah, I'll be home, but I already know what you want to talk about. You're going to dump camp on me, aren't you?"

Sam had been excited to be asked last winter to serve as camp pastor for our children's summer camp at Windermere on the Lake of the Ozarks. But now, with his sudden change of plans, it's up to good old dad to cover for the kid and go back to camp. The last time I was camp pastor our son, Jake, was a 3rd grader, so it's been a while for me, and to tell you the truth, I thought I was pretty well done with camp. Guess not.

So, these days I've been preparing for one of the toughest audiences any pastor ever has to face - 130 squirmy 3rd - 6th graders, speaking five times in five days. It does require an old guy like me to rethink and retool and revise my approach lest I commit the unpardonable sin - boring kids with the Bible.

Oh, did I mention I also get a cabin full of 5th and 6th grade boys to oversee and entertain? That's always a good time. I'm confident that I can still revert back to the days when hygiene and holiness were unknown concepts, and changing underwear was optional. And I think I still remember the story I used to tell of the three headless pirates that came back from the grave to share with the boys after devotion time and lights out. It used to scare them spitless.

So, how long has it been since you went to summer camp? What sticks in your memory bank? Got any stories to tell?