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Tag Archive: life


Who’s Your Neighbor

“Who’s Your Neighbor” was the topic of the January meeting of the Religion Communicators CouncilDallas-Ft. Worth Chapter – held at University Park UMC. I am a member of RCC as a representative of Christ UMC, Farmers Branch, and the Communications Committee. Giving the presentation was Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, president of the DFW International Community Alliance.

The DFW International Community Alliance is a network of over 1600 internationally-focused organizations in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex that embodies the cultural and economic vibrancy of the global community. Their mission is to “build mutual understanding and respect by linking diverse international cultural communities.” The organization not only aligns the diverse groups with one another and the society as a whole, but the members of the groups with themselves. Yahoo groups were formed, such as an African group, to promote community among those living in different areas of the metroplex.

A newsletter is sent out by email each week listing the cultural activities of the many varied ethnic groups. As a new subscriber, I look forward to receiving notice of events in our community and the surrounding area. The subject was quite timely, considering our pastor, Dr. Vic Casad’s recent sermon on the demographics of our community and congregation. While Weiss-Armush praised churches who are reaching out with ESL classes – of which Christ Church is one – there are more opportunities for advancing communication among various ethnic groups with the goal of unifying the community with open exchange of cultural influences.

The Christ Church congregation is a diverse group of individuals and families, as are other faith communities. However, there are other people(s) in our community who are seeking faith, or simply help, on some level, but are unsure where to turn for guidance and assistance. We see them every day at the store, the library, the rec center, and other places.

As part of our mission to share the love of Christ, we need to reach out to other faiths and cultures to move toward a unified community – understanding, appreciating, and celebrating our differences. Sometimes we reject what we do not understand instead of realizing that the ways in which we are actually different are relatively insignificant. As part of our mission as stewards of God’s earth, we must work alongside – and in community with – our multi-faceted neighbors. Which, as the alliance illustrates, is true of any and all faith communities whose end result of mission is to help and serve others.

Do I see opportunities in our community to share the word and be of physical and spiritual assistance? All the time. Do I have opportunities to ask questions and listen to someone about their faith community and how we are alike? Again, all the time. Do I avail myself of every opportunity to be a witness to the love of Christ? Unfortunately, no. But I am praying about it and working on it. How about you?

Peace be with you.

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All Laity are invited to attend Perkins Theological School for the Laity (PTSL) at Perkins School of Theology March 3-5. The school consists of a variety of workshops and seminars with Perkins faculty and noted scholars. It is a chance for any and all Laity to explore theology on a college level as well as potential students. The only problem is trying to decide which course(s) to take among the excellent variety of choices. There are Thursday/Friday classes and Saturday classes.

The weekend begins with registration and check-in at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday. After a welcome and opening worship at 1 p.m., there will be two sessions of the Thursday/Friday classes before the opening banquet at 5:30 at which Elaine Heath will give the lecture, “Vampire Love: Is Twilight Bad News for Girls?” The classes resume on Friday at 9:45 a.m. and continue until 4 p.m., interrupted only by lunch at 11:45 and the plenary lecture at 1 p.m. Miroslav Volf will lecture on “Empire, Church, and Missio Dei.” Evening worship will begin at 4:30 p.m.

This year’s PTSL program is being held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society (WTS). Participants will be able to attend certain events of the WTS meeting. Those taking the Thursday/Friday class, “Wesleyan Movement in America,” will attend Friday WTS sessions.

Registration and check-in will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday morning as will Morning Prayer. The WTS panels on war and mission begin at 8:30. Saturday one-day classes begin at 10 a.m. with a service of Holy Communion at noon and the Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award Luncheon at 1 p.m. The final session(s) of the one-day classes begin at 2:30 with the School for the Laity adjourning around 4:30 p.m.

There is not an all-inclusive price this year so the banquets and luncheons are optional. Participants can also choose between two-day classes, one-day classes or both. Course descriptions and registration can be found on the Perkins website. This will be my seventh year to attend the School for the Laity. It is a wonderful time for spiritual renewal, fellowship, and delving deeper into theology. I hope to see you there.

Peace be with you.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! May God’s grace follow you throughout the coming year and may you and your loved ones be blessed.

Peace be with you.

Cyndy and I decided to bake a few gifts this year. Among other things, she wanted to bake mini fruitcakes using her mother’s recipe. I looked for candied fruit in the neighborhood grocery store. I asked for the candied fruit for fruitcakes and was told they did not have it. The last time I looked for candied fruit – albeit several years ago – it was in every grocery store. I persisted in my search by asking other employees, only to discover that they did, in fact, not have the candied fruit.

I tried again the next day at a different grocery store when I was picking up Christmas stocking items. The looks I received from the clerks in the bakery – who should have had some idea – led me to believe that the employees had little clue as to what a fruitcake really is. After checking where they suggested proved fruitless – pun intended – I went to the baking aisle since that was a logical guess. The candied fruit was there under the cake decorations, but not in the variety or at the price I remembered.

Which is due to the fact that fruitcakes are not the quick gift choices they once were and are certainly not as prevalent. In recent years I have gone through the holiday season without hearing the word “fruitcake.” In earlier years I would not have seen the holiday season pass by without receiving a fruitcake. Fruitcakes kept one from having to hone in on a personally relevant gift.

At one time, a fruitcake was what you gave someone when you did not know what to give them, or when giving one gift to a family. I remember the colorful tin containers that unmistakably held a fruitcake wrapped in plastic. I never understood why I never saw anyone actually eat a fruitcake. It was rare that I even saw anyone break the seal on the plastic. But when someone went to the trouble of baking their own fruitcake, the recipient was more inclined to open and eat at least part of it.

When we had the White Elephant gift exchange with my father’s family on Christmas, there was usually a fruitcake involved that someone had received for Christmas. It was not uncommon for a fruitcake to be passed around three or four times before the new year began. And then, quite possibly, the fruitcake would make the rounds again the next Christmas. With the same bow affixed to the top of the can. Often, the same was true of other White Elephant gifts.

These days -fortunately – the only people who go to the trouble of baking fruitcakes are those who have a tried and true recipe – such as Cyndy’s mom’s recipe. They can still be ordered, but few people I know buy fruitcakes. It doesn’t help that the shelf life of candied fruits after being opened, baked, and then taken out of the plastic is about twenty-seven minutes.

Be that as it may, giving someone a gift received from someone else goes against the grain of the Christmas spirit. Regardless of the gift, it was given with a good spirit. It cannot be re-given with the same true spirit. There is only one gift that can be given repeatedly in the same spirit with which it was originally given – the love of Christ. No matter how many times the love of Christ is given and shown, it is still fresh, new, and untainted. A gift you can give to anyone and everyone. A gift that can be joyously re-given and joyfully received. So this Christmas, spread the love of Christ – the true spirit of Christmas.

Peace be with you.

My family moved to Wichita Falls just before I started fourth grade. After we settled in, I became friends with the three boys that lived next door. The oldest of the three boys was a few years older than I, the second oldest was a year or two older, and Jeffrey, the youngest, was a year or two younger than I was. Jeffrey’s is the only name I can remember and I am not one hundred percent sure that was his name.

Be that as it may, Jeffrey and I became friends. Particularly when friends my own age were out of town or unavailable. We had several notable adventures, but one in particular comes to mind that involved matchbooks. Matchbooks were still commonplace items, more so than lighters. Disposable lighters were not yet readily available.

The two of us were in the alley behind our houses. The alley was dirt, full of ruts most of the time from the garbage truck and city vehicles. But grass grew in the four or five feet between the alley and the backyard fences. It was late fall without a lot of rain and the grass by the alley was dry, brittle, and brown in spots . And we were bored.

We thought we would experiment with the matches and fire. Holding the matchbook with the striking strip on the bottom, we held the head of a match on the strip with our index finger. Then we would light the match while flipping it toward the ground. If the grass caught fire, we would let it burn, watching the circle of fire grow for a bit, then stomp it out with our foot.

As one would imagine, we kept letting the fire get a little bigger each time. After all, it would not be a challenge otherwise. As fate would have it, and you would guess, one of the fires got out of hand. When we stomped on the fire, ashes jumped, starting another little fire that soon became part of the larger one. It was not too terribly long before we began to panic.

The faster and harder we stomped, the faster the fire spread. When the fire was about three feet across, Jeffrey took off his jacket – which as I remember was brand-new – and began trying to put the fire out with it. At first, he only succeeded in spreading the fire more. I seem to remember coughing and screaming a lot. But he could not hear me, because he was screaming and coughing, too.

We finally put the fire out. Leaving a five foot circle of burned and smoldering grass as a monument to our stupidity. That and the rather large hole of burned fabric on the inside of Jeffrey’s new jacket. He asked me to take it home so he could tell his parents he loaned it to me and buy him some time to confess.

He did not get that chance. The jacket smelled distinctly of smoke and my parents asked me why I had it. I told them he had forgotten it and I would give it back to him. I went out in the backyard and threw the jacket over the fence to Jeffrey, who was in his backyard. His parents had asked him where the jacket was and told him to go get it. Following the rendering of his punishment, his parents talked to my parents. I did not escape unpunished. It was impossible to explain the five foot circle of burnt grass without telling the truth – which was ridiculous enough.

“Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” Ecclesiastes 11:9

Qohelet’s God was a vengeful God. Making a list and checking it twice, as it were. But, with the New Testament and the life of Christ, we know God as forgiving and as a God of grace. While I certainly received my comeuppance for my part in the temporary fascination with fire – giving me a lasting respect for its power – I do not think that any further punishment is forthcoming. It is not a layer in the pile of bad or stupid things I have done in my life for which I will be punished for its totality.

Free will is offset somewhat by our conscience. We may still decide to sin, but we will feel remorseful about it. Each time I have recalled our venture into stupidity, I have received sharp pangs of regret brought on by my conscience. The recurring memories along with regret and feelings of stupidity are sufficient punishment, thank you very much. I do not think I need a final hammer coming down at the end of my life to punish me further for my collective sins.

God may indeed bring us into judgement, but it will be with grace and a forgiving hand of redemption. All will be taken into account, not just our sins. Which is a wonderful thing because no one is without sin. It is easy to understand David singing praises to the Lord. We should sing our praises and thank God with our prayers for his grace, forgiveness, and redemption. Because, in my case, if I was to be held accountable for my sins, the grass fire would be the least of my worries.

Peace be with you.

I had the misfortune a few days ago of witnessing the vehicular death of a dog. I was in the far right lane at about 9:30 p.m. A pickup truck was just barely ahead of me in the center lane. The dog suddenly bounded out of the easement between backyards, running full tilt. I’m not very good at dog breeds – particularly in headlights on a dark night – but it was a larger dog, like a Greyhound or Doberman. I had my foot on the break before the dog reached the curb. He was running so fast I barely had time to react other than slowing down. I had not even come to a full stop before he entered the center lane without breaking stride.

There seemed to be a moment when everything was deathly quiet and nothing moved – just before the contact of truck and dog. It appeared to me as if neither the dog nor the driver saw the other coming. The dog seemed to be staring straight ahead as if he were on some type of mission. I have no idea how long it actually took – it appeared in slow motion to me. I will not go into much further detail other than to say that the impact was quite loud, the dog fell quickly, and one of the truck’s tires came up off the road.

I cannot get the scene out of my head – I certainly do not want to put it into yours. I kept coasting along, not wanting to believe what I had seen. The truck kept going, but slowed down, pulling over to make a u-turn. As I continued driving I wondered if there were something I should be doing. The same thing I would feel if I had witnessed an accident between two cars.

But there was no need to be a corroborating witness. It was easy to understand what happened. I had already had a glimpse of the dog after the accident and had no desire for a closer look. Yet as the accident kept replaying in my mind, I had the insistent sense that there was something I should do. So as I continued driving with moist eyes, I prayed for the dog and his owner(s).

I had another stop that I made quickly, without looking anyone in the eye. The accident kept playing in my mind – a bizarre drive-in movie with no concession call. I am not a “real men do not cry” type of guy, yet at the same time I do my best to keep people from noticing. But by the time I walked in the door when I arrived home, I was sobbing somewhat uncontrollably. I walked straight past my suddenly confused family out the back door and paced back and forth until the sobs subsided.

I have had several dogs that died. But I did not see any of them get hit by a vehicle. Every feeling I have ever had when a pet died came rushing back in a flurry of raw emotions. Along with the inevitable flash reflections on the finality of death and our lack of control of the situation.

“For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20.

So I prayed as I paced in the backyard. Then I went inside and hugged our dog. To do otherwise would indeed have been a chasing after wind.

Peace be with you.

Have you ever bought a bag of potato chips – or other munchie (although, oddly enough, it is always potato chips with me) – and open it to find nothing but air? As if some ticked off employee who is having a bad day fiendishly plotted – complete with crooked grin and sneer – to put a hitch in my day. I always took it as a personal affront because usually it was the only cash I had at the time and I was away from the store when I opened it and would not have been able to prove it was actually empty.

The fact that it contained no salt could simply mean that I wiped it clean. Although why anyone would do that, I could not tell you. Suffice it to say, the empty bag pops up at the most inopportune time. We had one of the large variety boxes of chips. The empty bag is never discovered right away. That would be rather convenient and that is not allowed.

The empty bag, of course, was the last bag of one of our sons’ favorite chip. Which, also quite naturally, he had been saving for just that particular occasion. If you have been one of the chosen few who have never received an empty bag of chips, you can liken it to the time in college when you were settling back one evening. You get a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage, find a book you actually want to read, then go to the cabinet and your roommate has eaten your last Ding Dong (insert favorite dessert treat). Going to the store to get a replacement, while within the realm of possibility, just would not be the same thing. The moment is ruined.

As to the empty bag of chips, there is no real person to blame. I used to imagine the assembly line worker who fills the bag with chips turning to another worker. With a fiendish look on his face, he says, “I’m going to fix somebody,” as he passes the empty bag down the line. Ostensibly getting back at who knows who about who knows what. He feels bad so making someone else feel bad apparently evens things out.

It is harder to get upset at a machine having a sudden glitch and not pushing the chips into the bag which would be sealed by another machine that did not know the difference. And if you are one of the lucky people who have never bought an empty bag of chips, your time may still come. I have happened upon several myself, and each member of my family has had it happen to them at least once. I would think we have reached our quota.

“I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals.” Ecclesiastes 3:18

Am I suggesting that empty chip packages or roommates eating the last dessert treat are tests from God? Certainly not. God has considerably more important matters to attend to than a glitch in the machinery at the chip factory, the act of a disgruntled employee, or a hungry roommate. God created the world and set it in motion. Humans are the unpredictable factor in the equation – thanks to free will.

With all of our gadgets and internet connections, giving us the illusion of being in control of our lives, we still need to be reminded that we are not in control. To think that we are is surely a vanity and chasing after wind.

Peace be with you.

Time of Calamity

A couple of days ago, about 10 a.m., the bottom dropped out, weather-wise. The “sky was crying,” as Stevie Ray Vaughan would sing. It also sounded as if Mother Nature might have some serious issues. Being in the middle of a storm is a little scary, no matter who you are. You may not admit it, but even the strongest among us have their moments.

When it is storming so tremendously outside that the thunder, lightning, and rain on the house is all you hear – even over the tv, radio, or heater. The sun seems to be on sick leave and the sky just gets increasingly darker. If you are having any major life problems at all – and who is not – a serious funk can be one thunder crash away. The all-consuming gloominess that appears to surround you suddenly feels tangible – shrinking around the house like plastic wrap – closing off all exits. That’s how I imagine Qohelet felt when I read certain parts of Ecclesiastes.

“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.” Eccl. 9:11, 12.

Everyone has experienced times similar to those mentioned here. But, as I discuss in the book, Qohelet did not have grace and forgiveness of sins as we have. Not to say that God did not give grace to the Israelites or grace their endeavors – the Israelites simply did not see it as grace, per se. The Israelites and people of the Old Testament viewed life in more concrete terms. If life took a bad turn – family, crops, or livestock dying, for example – they must have done something to cause it.

Unfortunately for them, Jesus Christ had not been born yet. Fortunately for us, he has. Through Christ’s life and sacrifice, we not only have God’s grace, but the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins. Looking at Ecclesiastes in that light, we can take Qohelet’s view – which is valid even today – mix in grace, the Holy Spirit, and redemption, and ascertain our actions as Christians when we have a tendency to “hate all the toil in which we have toiled under the sun.”

Join me on the journey.

Peace be with you.

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What do people gain from all the toil

at which they toil under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever. Eccl. 1:2-4

During a Disciple Bible Study several years ago, when we got to Ecclesiastes, the text suggested that we read the entire book in one sitting. Always up for a challenge, I dutifully read it all the way through – and I was fascinated. Of all the books in the Bible, I have read or heard passages from Ecclesiastes the least in my lifetime as a Christian. Granted, I did not go to church all the time when I was younger.

If you take a passage of Ecclesiastes out of context, it can be downright depressing. Which is the general opinion of Ecclesiastes from what I have ascertained after hearing sermons, speakers, and talking with people. But when I read it in one sitting, not only did I see the relevance to my life, but was left with a feeling of hope. Quite the opposite of what I expected after what I had heard.

I knew then that my next Bible study would be Ecclesiastes. This is not the first full length Bible study I have written, but it will be the first one published. The previous studies are still waiting for reprint permission for passages I included. So I began my journey with Qohelet, the teacher.

Scholars generally agree that Solomon did not write Ecclesiastes. But it is not known for certain who did write the book. I prefer to look at it from the view that Qohelet, the “teacher,” or “preacher,” was the author. It seems to be more relevant to our lives today from that view.

I am currently editing the book for the last time. Feel free to join me on my dual journey – through Ecclesiastes and the editing process – which will continue as a journey through theology and our lives today.

Peace be with you.

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