Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween for Me

I enjoyed Halloween so much as a kid that I went to some lengths to keep our own kids from enjoying it quite as much as I did. My parents were not opposed to Halloween or squeamish about letting us dress up and "Trick or Treat" the neighborhood. I remember big brown grocery sacks about half full of candy and trading for our favorites with my older brothers, sometimes whether I wanted to or not. Forget the popcorn balls, give me candy bars. As we became teenagers Halloween became more about anonymous pranks and terrorizing other kids and less about candy and cavities. My mother still does not know all about the fireworks and rotten vegetables and cemeteries, and since she does read this blog, I'll move on.

Believe it or not, our church youth group's Halloween party was held in the basement of the local funeral home. No kidding. It was scary just getting out of the car. Bob and Gayle ran the funeral home and also hosted the kids each year for an evening of goodhearted gross-outs, bone-chilling stories, and a moment or two of sheer terror. One year I got to lay in a casket and jump out at kids when they reached out to touch my hand. Great fun until I grabbed too tightly and got punched in the nose. The same party today would be followed by a barrage of hotline calls and lawsuits, but we thought it was great fun. Not so bad, maybe even helpful, to get the devil scared out of you once a year.

Later on, I remember going through a cheap haunted house with a gang of kids from church. The passageway was dark and narrow and at one point this guy in a werewolf suit would jump out and grab us from the side. There was a big farm boy just ahead of me and when the werewolf grabbed him, he responded instinctively, with a hard right hand to the wolf's nose. When I stepped up and looked back, there was the werewolf flat on his back holding his furry face in both paws. Not so scary after all.

Funny how your perspective on Halloween changes when you become a parent. Suddenly, it's all about safety and security and screening my kids candy so that they don't eat too many Snickers or peanut M&Ms. In fact, being a dad at Halloween may be even more fun that being a little kid. We did have some fun and made some memories. As long as our kids look back at their Halloweens and smile and laugh, than I guess we have done our job as parents. So, enjoy your Halloween and save me a Snickers.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Man Worth Remembering

One of a kind. I have never met another man like him. Each of his children and grandchildren carries a little piece of Oscar Hill, some bigger than others, but Grandpa was unique. I can't seem to capture his remarkable life in just one memory.

I remember the way he told stories, mesmerizing us with his past adventures and tall tales, and how much sheer joy he found in the telling.

I remember the way Grandpa talked to and treated his neighbors, with the same dignity and respect whether they were rich or poor, black or white, young or old, stranger or friend. And, I remember the love and respect he received in return.

I will always cherish the front porch time. Grandpa in his chair with his pipe and I would sit on the floor leaning back against the cool brick post, just to be near him. I remember the world's best lemonade and listening to a story or a conversation or some memory that almost always taught me something I needed to know about life.

I remember his laughter, his earthy sense of humor, the sparkle in his eyes as he tilted his head to one side to deliver some bit of wit or whimsy.

I remember Grandpa's very definite opinions about life and love and faith and politics. No one doubted the strength of his bedrock beliefs, the unyielding tenacity that defined his life and guarded his values. He was stubborn about his views not because he had some huge ego to protect - he was a genuinely humble man - but because he believed in the truth of his convictions.

But what I remember best may be what defined Grandpa's life the most. I remember the way he prayed. Weary and worn out from work, sleeves rolled up, elbows on the table, his big forearms, and his head bowed against his folded hands with that stub finger. "Father, we thank thee . . ." His voice was always soft and low, like a real conversation, which of course, it was. No show. No pious ritual or empty routine. It was prayer, plain and simple, honest, heartfelt conversation with his Heavenly Father.

I knew even as a young boy that Grandpa and God must be well-acquainted, even close friends, and if God was anything at all like my Grandpa, then this whole world was in pretty good hands. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Somebodies and Nobodies

It has become the great American obsession - to become a somebody. Doesn't much matter how we get there, so long as we gain some bit of notoriety, some sparkling moment of fame, just enough name recognition to lift us above all of the lowly nobodies in the general populace. How deep is the desire to be known, to be recognized, to be honored and applauded. Take a moment and count up all of the talent search shows on television. How many people are anxious to line up just waiting to be discovered, to be the next big deal, the next nobody to become a somebody.

And the rest of us nobodies who cannot sing or dance or juggle watch them with rapt attention, somehow sharing the moment vicariously, getting just a tiny glimpse of what it must be like to enter the spotlight of stardom. I'll admit, it's pretty exciting stuff.

Our culture's infatuation with fame started me thinking about nobodies and somebodies. A few thoughts I've been pondering:
  • What makes a nobody a nobody? 
  • What makes a somebody a somebody?
  • Why do some nobodies seem perfectly content, happy, and fulfilled?
  • Why do so many somebodies still feel like nobodies?
  • Who gets to hang these labels on us? Don't we have some say in the matter?
  • And, most important of all, where does "somebodyness" come from? What is the true source of our value, our worth, our self-esteem?  
Is it possible that we are in this world in the first place because Somebody created, Somebody cared, Somebody came, and Somebody carried a cross so that the dead might live, the condemned might be released, and dirty little orphans like us might become the children of God.

We don't need Simon Cowell to determine our value. Every wandering prodigal can receive a red carpet welcome from a good and gracious God.

"Behold! What manner of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1) 

Get the picture? You are known. You are loved. You are somebody because Somebody loves you more than you can imagine.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Donut Shop Wedding (Reprise)

For all of our new Virginia friends, here's my worst or best "How did I ever get myself into this?" story. Suzanne enjoys bringing up this embarrassing memory from my early days as a pastor. She thinks it keeps me humble which it certainly does. It also still makes me shake my head and chuckle. And yes, this is the way it happened. A true story. If You Tube had been around, I'd probably be rich and famous. I hope you enjoy it, too. Have a good laugh on me.

The Donut Shop Wedding: Part 1, The Phone Call
The Donut Shop Wedding: Part 2, The Appointment
The Donut Shop Wedding: Part 3, The Ceremony
The Donut Shop Wedding: Part 4, The Epilogue

Such Human Things As These

We believe in God - such as it is, we have faith - because certain things happened to us once and go on happening. We work and goof off, we love and dream, we have wonderful times and awful times, are cruelly hurt and hurt others cruelly, get mad and bored and scared stiff and ache with desire, do all such human things as these, and if our faith is not mainly just window dressing or a rabbit's foot or fire insurance, it is because it grows out of precisely this kind of rich human compost. The God of biblical faith is the God who meets us at those moments in which for better or worse we are being most human, most ourselves, and if we lose touch with those moments, if we don't stop from time to time to notice what is happening to us and around us and inside us, we run the tragic risk of losing touch with God too.  - Frederick Buechner

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Help, I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!"

Well, I'm keeping my red Chiefs sweatshirt in the drawer this week. It's been a rough week to be a KC fan. Last Sunday at Arrowhead not only did the Chiefs lose (again), but at least some of the fans embarrassed the whole city by their ugly, unsportsmanlike behavior. Apparently, when quarterback Matt Cassel was knocked to the turf with a concussion, a high percentage of the fans present cheered his injury. They were unhappy with his poor play and rejoiced when he was knocked out of the game. That's right, the home crowd cheered when their own team's player was hurt, lying flat on the field.

At just about the same time Sunday afternoon, the Redskins fans here in DC saw Robert Griffin III take a vicious though clean hit also resulting in a concussion. But for RG3 there was nothing but cheers, concern, and warm wishes from the Redskins faithful.

I was struck by these two contrasting scenarios. What made the difference? Well, not to over-analyze this, but it seems to me the difference is the player's performance. RG3 has been playing pretty well, especially for a rookie, and Matt Cassel has been playing pretty lousy, especially for a veteran. Football fans care about performance, touchdowns, who wins and who loses. Everyone loves a winner and nobody likes a loser.

And, much of life works out the same way, doesn't it? It's all about performance. People only have value if they can get done what we need to get done. Otherwise, who needs them? They're useless and disposable. Get rid of them.

Aren't you glad that God's love for us is not based on whether or not we can perform up to His standards? Where would we be if God took a hardline approach with our weaknesses and failures? And what about the fellowship of the church? Where would we be without the grace of God for our own shortcomings and for those around us?

So cheer for your team loud and long. You can even set the bar high for your million dollar heroes. But have a little grace and compassion in victory or defeat, for your home team and for your opponent. Remember, the grace that forgives your fumbles and failures is grace freely given, whatever color jersey you may wear.

Someone let you down this week? Somebody drop the ball that you were counting on them to carry? Don't write them off. Give him or her a break. A hand up and a pat on the back might just get them back in the game.

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Remember Me"

This weekend we will be saying goodbye to a wonderful friend and partner in ministry here at Memorial, Katie McKown. Though we share Katie's joy as she begins her new ministry assignment, it is sad to see her go. I was reminded of these words from Frederick Buechner, words for those of us who have said too many goodbyes:

When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I'm feeling most ghost-like, it's your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I'm feeling sad, it's my consolation. When I'm feeling happy, it's part of why I feel that way.

If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget me, part of who I am will be gone.

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well.