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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Going Public with Resolutions: The Hard Truth

On Jan. 2, 2009 I made some public New Year's Resolutions. How did I do? Here's a scorecard. My resolutions from last year are in italics.

"First, I'm making two personal resolutions... to taper down my television viewing to just one hour a day... The second personal resolution is to get my 50 year old physical and track my health better..."

Well, I have cut down on TV, but not as much as I'd like. One hour a day? I missed that by a long shot. But I generally turn the TV off by 11 p.m., which is a great start.

I did get my 50 year old physical. The numbers were good last April, but I've blimped up again. Sounds like time for a 'lose weight' resolution! The best thing I did for my personal health this year was to quit caffeine. I highly recommend it.

"Next ...two professional resolutions for my work at Timbercrest... finish the paperwork necessary for my National Certification... to take all my vacation time. And comp time..."

No and no. And no excuses. I simply haven't done either one.

"Next... two professional resolutions as pastor of Peoria Church... try and better equip Church members for the disciplines of living the Christian life... [take]better care of myself spiritually..."

Well, I have been trying to address the needs for spiritual discipline in my messages, and this fall I preached a topical series on "Why We Do What We Do." Taking better care of myself spiritually has been more up than down. My prayer life is OK, and I attended the Moody Bible Institute Pastor's Conference in May. in general, I'd give myself a B- with a lot of room to improve.

"Finally... two resolutions relating to Karen... to be more open to her needs for quiet time... to keep up with the garden this year."

I haven't asked Karen how I've done on the first one, but I feel as if I've done better. The second one was much better. We had a little help from the ice storm last year which killed three large pines in our yard, which cleared some space.

I'm working on resolutions for 2010. I'll share those in a few days.

Monday, November 23, 2009

That Tune that Gets Stuck in Your Head (Thanksgiving)

One of the downsides of being married to a preschool teacher is that she comes home singing these little ditties that are aimed to teach four year olds. Usually, the tune is familiar and whistleable. But after running around in the cranium for four days straight, it gets old.

Such it is with a little Thanksgiving tune Karen has taught her children:

"I am thankful for my friends
And my family,
Thankful for the food I eat
And thankful to be me."
(Tune: Row, Row, Row Your Boat)

To help kids' retention, Karen uses sign language for the motions. So, not only have I found myself chasing that little song around my head, I have hand motions to go with it.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to put into practice what I've learned from this little song. I'm not entirely self-less in this. My hope is that getting this out of my system will shake it out of my brain, too.

"I am thankful for my friends . . ."

You know, I have so many friends, of varying degrees. I tend to be skittish about being to close to too many, consequently, I am comfortably close to a lot of people. My very closest friends know who they are, and I am thankful for them.

I am thankful to have so many friends. There are plenty of people who have few, if any. I work full-time in a retirement community and I would consider almost all the residents there to be a friend to one degree or another. The people who live here are so caring and kind and rarely speak a "discouraging word." The people at Church are good friends: people who pray for me and with me, who care about what's going on in my life, who take an interest in the things I'm interested in.

It would be literally impossible to list friends here without alienating some, so I'm only going to cite two examples. I'm not sure why these come to mind, but they do.

The first is an old high school friend named Rich. I hadn't seen or heard from Rich since graduation until we reconnected on Facebook several months ago. He and his family went to the Church I went to then and he always had a way of encouraging me and making me laugh. I really enjoyed Rich's father, James/Jim, also. (Whether it was James or Jim doesn't really matter: I always called him Mr. Xxxxx.)

After all those years - 33+ now - you might think that I'd think of Rich less as a friend and more of a renewed acquantaince. There is some truth to that, except that it seems to me that Rich is the same guy he was in high school. He has worked, married, reared a family, and now is a grandpa. And as I read his Facebook page about his exploits with his family, I see the qualities that I appreciated about Rich's Dad coming to life through him. But that's exactly what you'd expect from the Rich I knew in high school.

Another is a friend I haven't seen for a long time, Harry. Harry is in his mid-80's now and recently lost his wife, Lorraine. Shortly after Karen and I moved to Indiana, Harry and Lorraine moved to Ocala, Florida. We've kept up spotty contacts over the years, but Harry and I are one of those friendships that just picks up where you last left it. Lives change, people change, and many things happen in between, but when we talk, it's like we never stopped talking.

When Harry was telling me about Lorraine's death, I couldn't stop crying. She was one of the most beautiful, caring people I ever knew. She was taken by Alzheimer's Disease. Through it all, Harry told me, she never forgot him. Even when she couldn't recall anyone else, she remembered Harry. That's what makes true friendship, doesn't it? No matter how grim things become, you remember who your friends are.

"I am thankful for my friends
And my family . . ."

There are three sides to family and I'm thankful for all three sides. The first side is my own family, the one Karen and I created in June 1981. We expanded it in 1985 and 1988 to include our kids. There has been no greater joy in my life than to be with my own family and I'm thankful for them.

I'm thankful for marriage. A friend of mine once said that "in order to be successful in marriage, you have to like the idea of being married." This is absolutely true. It is a value that Karen and I deeply share. For all the quirks we each have (I have them in spades), this underlying foundation of love for one another and our enjoyment of each other has made marriage our mutual blessing.

The second side of family is the family that reared me. Mom's been gone ten years now and my brothers and sister are scattered to the four winds. We got together for the first time since Mom died last June. I was amazed that, in spite of our widely divergent paths, we acted like brothers and sister once more.

A specific blessing for which I am thankful is a reconciled relationship with my Dad. He and I haven't always been close. In fact, there have been silent periods between us that lasted for years. Nothing direct mind you: our family has always played "passive aggressive" like champions.

That was until Mom died. In her death I came to terms with the fact that life is too short to be estranged from loved ones, especially my Dad. I let go of grudges that weren't mine to carry. I set aside my own expectations that were juvenile and impossible. The result has been a relationship with Dad that is healthier and more relaxed than ever.

The third side of family is the family I married into. Karen and I were opposites when we got married: I'm the oldest child, she's the youngest; my parents were 21 when I was born, her Mom was 35 and her Dad was 39 when she was born; I was a city boy, she was/is a country girl. For a long time Karen's family had the veneer of people without problems. My family had problems for as long as I could remember.

I am thankful for Karen's Mom and Dad and for the example of a solid, life-long marriage they provided for me, especially when we were newlyweds. I am thankful for her Dad because I had never met any one who worked in a factory before knowing him. I never really knew a farmer, either. I am thankful for my mother-in-law, who had the wisdom to teach Karen how to be a good wife and Mother.

My greatest appreciation for Karen's family, especially her Mom and Dad, is their faith. Karen's Dad was someone whose life had been transformed by the Gospel. Living for God was more than a passion for him: it simply was who he was. There were really no questions about things like going to Church or working on Sunday or which of the bad words were OK. He lived his life accountable to God and, if you could peek at his final marks, I suspect you'd see that he got into Heaven with all A's.

"I am thankful for my friends
And my family,
Thankful for the food I eat . . ."

Perhaps too thankful. My adult life has been fraught with one diet after the other. I've been up and down and up and down on the scale, though more up than down as my latter years have settled in. Other than a few minor health concerns, my weight doesn't really get to me.

This is good because I am really thankful for food. I am thankful that I married a great cook. Here are some specific thing Karen makes that I am thankful for:
- Mediterranean pasta: this is a cream based pasta with nuts that costs a couple hundred calories just to smell
- Those oatmeal cookies from the Swiss Pantry cookbook: a happy reminder of our years in Berne (pass the milk, please)
- Chicken with long grain rice: Although this certainly raises both blood pressure and cholesterol, it is also one of the tastiest things I've ever put in my mouth
- Secret recipe chicken marinade: She says it's only Worcestershire and vinegar, but I know better, and when the chicken comes off the grill, mmmm-mmmmm
- Sugar Cream Pie: Not like those store pies, this is the real deal - real cream, real sugar, and not much else (I'm drooling)
- Chili: Chili is supposed to be a man's domain, but Karen makes chili that puts men to shame - we have to sleep in separate rooms after we have it :-)
- Salmon on the Grill: Again, she says she doesn't do anything special to the salmon, but how does it happen that hers is better that anyone's?
- Steaks: Without fail, when I have a steak in a restaurant I leave wishing that I had simply been at home with one Karen made
- Green Salad: Maybe its the big wooden bowl, I don't know, but Karen's mixed green salads complemented by her always unique blend of ingredients are the bomb
- Peppermint Trifle: Another simple secret recipe that leaves you begging for more

I could go on, but now my stomach's growling. I'll never finish if I don't move on to:

". . .thankful to be me."

I don't put a lot of stock in "being me." I know who I am and I know what I'm capable of, and it isn't very good. I know that I'm selfish and bigoted and often Pharisaical. I'm not so thankful for my moods, my temper, and my self-indulgence.

It would be more accurate to say that I'm thankful for who I am in Christ. I am thankful that God didn't reject a sinful man like me and leave me to wallow in my sins. I am thankful that He saw me for who I could be, not for who I am. I am thankful every day that God gives me hope and optimism and grace and those things trump the wickedness I'm so prone to.

Thanks for reading this. I hope maybe I've helped you to be thankful for all you enjoy at this Thanksgiving.

And maybe I've passed this little song on so it can run around your head for a while:

I am thankful for my friends
And my family,
Thankful for the food I eat
And thankful to be me.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"Only 72" - a little perspective

A woman came to my office today to talk about her neice.

"She's developed a rare form of Parkinson's disease. It's in her hands now but will be spreading fast. If you have a moment, will you pray for her? She's only 72."

That's right: "Only 72."

You see, the woman who came to my office (the woman with Parkinson's aunt) is 93. She's an active member of Rotary, her Church, and life in the retirement community where I work. She doesn't drive anymore, but she gets around like no one's business.

To her, 72 is a spring chicken.

We have nine people who live here who are over 100 years old - their average age is 102 and five months. When I'm not being pastor (at the moment), knowing these old folks gives me a different view of the world. It gives me hope.

There are 92 people who live here who are over 90 years old. Far and away most of them are in good health, living mostly independently. In fact, seven of them live in our on-campus condominiums, completely independent.

The fact that I work around so many people who are so full of health for so many years has given me a few perspectives on my own health and happiness.

First, I need to quit worrying about so much. The other day I was with a 102 year old man taking him on an errand. I was a little late picking him up at the store. I apologized for my lateness and he said, "You know, life's too short to worry about little things like that. Besides, time is something I have plenty of."

He's right. I hope when I'm 102 I can say with confidence, "time is something I have plenty of."

Hopefully, I'm learning to worry about the 'big things' and let go of what I can't deal with. Someone I love is in the hospital - that's a big worry. Can't get reception on the TV - no big deal. The less I worry about, the better view I have of life.

One of our centenarians (I'll call her Carolyn) worries about very little. She walks with a cane now, but she still walks. The cane she uses is a beautiful black polished piece of wood with a well-worn brass duck's head on the top. The cane belonged to her grandmother. :-)

Carolyn drove until she was 99. She is now 104+. She told me once, "I want to get stopped for speeding sometime so I can see the look on the officer's face when he sees I was born in 1905." You gotta love a woman like that.

Anyhow, Carolyn was in one of our dining rooms having a late breakfast - it was about 9:30 a.m. Defying all conventional wisdom, she sat at her table with a plate in front of her with two eggs over easy, four strips of bacon, a hearty serving of hashbrown potatoes, toast with real butter, a cup of real coffee. As I approached her, she was shaking salt over her breakfast like there was no tomorrow.

"Carolyn," I said, "I wish I could use salt like that. But you know . . ."

"They told me that too over the years," she replied, "But you know what? I like salt."

And that was that. She didn't worry about what all the doctors and magazines said. She liked to salt her eggs. At 104 I say "more power to her."

Second, I need to be healthy. Most of our 90 year olds are from the pre-smoking, pre-drinking generation of life. Smoking is prohibited on our campus here and a vast majority of our folks don't drink. Those who do drink don't drink much more than wine or an occasional beer.

They also have lifelong healthy habits. They garden. They walk. They read good books. They keep informed about current events. They go to Church regularly and have strong personal devotional lives. Many of them still play musical instruments or a hobby that they enjoy. These are lifelong, healthy habits.

I need to be more healthy. Carolyn's salt habit not withstanding, she, and others in the 90+ age group learned a few things through their lives. They learned to enjoy walking where they could. They learned to do without in the Great Depression. They learned to work for what they had before paying for it - rather than getting swallowed in debt they couldn't pay afterwards.

Even their recreation was healthier. These folks played baseball - they didn't have satellite with a dozen channels of baseball to watch. These people went camping in tents, building fires, hunting and fishing and all thay - they didn't travel place to place in a $250,000 RV with all the amenities of home. They were leaders, builders, donors, and workers. And when they were done, they went home - not to a bar, not to a club, not to other distractions - because home was where their hearts were.

Third, these people really enjoy living. Every day is a new adventure. Everyday they get out of bed with a list of things to do, people to see, wishes to fulfill. They love their families and they enjoy their friends.

These folks have taught me that part of the joy of living to be 90 and 100 is simply to accept the joy of every day.

Finally, our 90+ and 100+ gang has taught me that aging is truly only a state of mind. No one is going to prevent wrinkles or compromised immune systems or greying hair or muscle shrinkage or any of the other 'benefits' of aging, so why try to fight it?

When we're kids, we go through a whole lot more changes in our bodies, minds, and souls than we do as adults. But even in our adult years we change. Through the parenting years and the empty nest years, our bodies adapt to whatever comes our way.

Why should we think that aging would be any different? Yes, joints weaken, circulation slows, breathing becomes more difficult, etc. But why can't we accept that this is as much a natural part of our lives as learning how to balance on a bicylce or develping a mind to attend college or anything else?

Our older older adults remind me that it's healthiest and best to take life in stride and accept what comes your way instead of trying to fight it. There's no harm in growing older . . . and it sure beats the alternative.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Core Values

I get newsletters from several Churches. Most of them are from congregations served by men I know who are their pastors. Some of them I get for work so that we can arrange to get residents to community events. Some I get just because I'm curious about what goes on in other Churches.

Yesterday, I got a newsletter from a Church in North Manchester that made me think about something I haven't thought about for a long time: "core values." "Five Core Values" of that Church were listed on the title page (and re-stated on the inside of the newsletter). They were what the pastor and congregation had determined to be what gives that Church meaning and purpose.

When I visited the congregation's website, the core values were listed there. In addition, the Church's vision for itself and its philosophy of renewal were given.

I know this pastor fairly well, and although he and I are worlds apart in ministry style and approach, I think he and I are on the same page when it comes to the fact that a Church without vision, without values, and without a philosophy of spiritual life, is a Church that is stagnant and lifeless.

So, I got to thinking: What is my vision for Peoria Church? What are our core values? What is our philosophy of spiritual life?

First, vision. My vision for Peoria Church is that our Church would be a place of worship and prayer, a sanctuary for worshiping God in a busy and tempting world and an oasis for personal and corporate prayer in an otherwise noisy world. My vision is that we would be the people of God in our corner of the world, wherever that might be: at home, at work, at school, in public and in private. My vision is that we would not be shy about understanding God's Word as it applies to our own lives and to the life of the world around us.

How about that? :-)

Next, core values. Following this other Church's lead, I'll list five values I think are important to Peoria Church (and believe it or not, not one of them has to do with Church dinners). :-)

1) Knowing God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the highest aim of life. We are made in God's image and through faith in Him, that image is restored to us. We are made whole from the damages of sin by God's saving action in the Incarnation, Life, Baptism, Transfiguration, Suffering, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ. We bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit and exercise His gifts as He empowers us.

2) Being Christian is something we take seriously. This doesn't mean we are stuffy or humorless - far from it. At the same time, we know God and we see Him at work in our lives in many ways. We don't have all the answers about faith, but we know that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all wisdom, if we seek Him. The old saying is certainly true: "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last."

3) None of us is perfect and we understand that about each other. We see everyone as equally valuable in God's sight, and that the Church is a place of healing for sinners as much as it is a household of the saints.

4) Generosity is shown through actions as well as through giving. God has been tremendously generous with us and we enjoy many blessings in our lives. We want to extend God's generosity to us to our families, friends, neighbors, and those in the community who are in need.

5) By honoring men and women of faith who have gone before us, we remember who we are and where we are going. Whether it's loved ones we have known well or the ancestors of Peoria Church or the saints of the ages, we understand that we are part of an ageless journey that is 'marching to Zion'.

Those are pretty lofty values, aren't they?

Finally, philosophy of spiritual life. St. Paul told our Christian ancestors: "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). There is a three-fold balance in living out the Christian life, comprised of relationship, religion, and responsibility.

"Relationship" involves a living relationship with the living God and a vital relationship with God's people. We cannot live the Christian life as if we were on an island. A relationship with God implies a relationship with everyone else who has a relationship with Him. Our corporate relationship with God is expressed through the Sacraments. Baptism marks the beginning of our life in Christ. Chrismation indicates the seal and commitment of the Holy Spirit to us. Holy Communion is our fellowship with one another around the Lord's Table, with the Lord Himself as Host. In marriage, a man and woman model the relationship that is "betwixt Christ and His Church." With the 'laying on of hands' our relationship with one another is demonstrated in prayer.

"Religion" is the acting out of our faith. A relationship with God is incomplete without religion. Religion is expressed in regular habits of prayer, Bible reading, Christian service, Church attendance and participation, and other activity that glorifies God. Good religion challenges our own spiritual complacency, and shines as a light in a dark world.

"Responsibility" gives spiritual life perspective. Who is responsible for our salvation? God Himself. We are responsible to God through living "in response" to Him. All facets of our lives are a gift from God and we respond to God with thanksgiving and supplication, that His will would be done "on earth as it is in Heaven." We are responsible to love one another as Christ has loved us, not in a manner that would govern each others' lives, but in a manner that would allow us to walk together arm in arm.

There you have it. A vision for our Church. Five Core Values. And a Philosophy of Spiritual Life.

What do you think?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Last Serious Creationist?

I've never felt compelled to explain why I believe that God made the world in six days (and rested on the seventh). That's not what this particular blog entry is about.

I've also never been able to put my finger on why I think the evolutionists are fabricating things, but I do. There's something in my gut that just tells me everytime that they're pulling the wool over peoples' eyes. That is what this particular blog entry is about.

I think some of it must have to do with my sense of where I belong in the world. I'm perfectly content to believe that God, in His infinite and incomprehensible wisdom, made me (and everyone else) and everything I can see (and cannot see). It's never occurred to me that I might be the center of the universe, or that I might somehow be the top of the line in an abstract evolutionary cycle, or that my own ego would ever swell to a size that would leave no room for the existence of God.

It's not that I'm uneducated. I have a good brain and I study constantly. I've read many things about evolution and it just seems fake. False. Untrue.

Don't get me wrong: I understand the whole billions of years hypotheses and all that goes with it. I understand that observable changes in cell structure happen all the time. I know that species go extinct all the time, whether by human intervention or by natural selection. I know that many scientists say that evolution is indisputable, proven, and beyond doubt.

That's really not the point, is it?

The point is that evolution doesn't really explain the very real facets of living that really matter. Evolution has no satisfactory explanation for why men and women fall in love. Evolution has no system of identifying the innate, intangible aspects of life: wisdom, understanding, grief, pentitence, gratitude, etc. These experiences are the real 'substance' of life.

Scientists create models and systems that are, in a word, self-auditing. With no one to answer to but themselves, those who believe in evolution check the development of the species against data that they create themselves. It's like letting the students determine their own grading scale.

How old is that fossil? "Dating methods" say a million years.

Oh? And how were the dating methods derived? "Well, we collected the data and analyzed it and compared it to processes we are able to calculate in a laboratory."

And how were the processes determined? "Well, you see, we believe that it must have taken this much time for that particular reaction to occur, based on our mathmatical calculations."

And who came up with the math? "The best university scholars available."

Doesn't this seem fishy to anyone else? Am I the only one to question this?

This self-presumptive evaluation process has, in less than 200 years, postured itself to be beyond question. "No one" questions evolution any more and the millions of Americans (and others arond the world) who do not, are presumed by the self-presumptives to be less than informed, a little dull, or, simply ignorant.

In such a way, evolution has become like the stone idols of yesteryear, who reign without answering. Evolution's indifference to intelligent dialog is just one more wood-carved Asherah pole on the hillside. God invites seekers . . . why is evolution immune from questioning?

All of the systems and models of evolution try to explain biological and geological functions, without approaching any meaningful understanding of anything to do with the spirit.

To me, this is the great and significant flaw in evolution. To those who believe in it, life is merely the collective biological experience of plants, animals, and humans. They are not merely wrong on this: they are dead wrong.

What difference does it make how old the rocks are if we can't understand the part of a man that makes him want to take up arms against his neighbor?

What good is the science that doesn't comprehend the idylls of poetry, the lofty airs of good music, or the warm affection of an embrace?

Is science worth a stitch if it doesn't find value in redemption of souls, forgiveness of sins, or reconciliation of adversaries?

Another significant error, consistent with many evolutionists, is their denial of a Being that is larger than human experience. Very often, atheism and evolution walk hand-in-hand. (I know this isn't universally true, but it is very often the case.)

It's not so much denial as it is 'dancing around'. In every book I've read, every film I've seen, every TV show I've watched on the subject - and even those that deal with evolution on the periphery - they make statements like this:
"After 10 million years living in the swampland, the species developed feathers and flew to the trees."

"The species developed"? How do they do that? Corporately? Through trial and error? After careful analysis of the situation? Voting?

Of course, this also depends on whether the aforementioned swampland remains the same over that same 10 million year period, which, according to evolutionists, would be very unlikely. It depends on the lifespan of the species in question. And, for example, if it were the lifespan of some [imagined] precursor to the cat, it would still take 500,000 generations of cats to make this change . . . 500,000 generations of an animal that is unable to communicate memory or history beyond its own immediate circumstances.

Is there some greater force at work? Something that guides those species to adapt?

Well, that can't be, if there is no God, can it?

Yet, according to the evolutionists, this is somehow magically able to happen. I'm not sure how if there is no supernatural, and since evolution is beyond question, I dare not ask.

To me, it's easier - and more believable - to understand that God made the universe in six days. No explanation required. It's a matter of faith.

But faith is one of those things that science can't explain, either. :-)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I was in the old Marsh Store in Portland, Ind., would have been about 1990. Karen was at home with the kids and I was doing the grocery shopping.

In the produce department, I was looking at apples and not finding a price, I asked the attendant simply: "How much are them apples?"


In my mind I replayed those last few words. Did I really say "them apples"?

I had.

Then it dawned on me . . .Since I moved to Indiana in 1984, I've picked up a little bit of the Hoosier dialect.

Indiana English is an interesting amalgam of cultures and voices. I think there are subtelties of the ancient Indiana languages that underlay our history: quiet murmurings and innuendos that you have to be part of to understand.

There is the German influence: until World War I, German was the second most commonly spoken language here, and even then, most of them didn't give it up willingly. Until the mid-90's, the public radio station in Fort Wayne still ran it's weekly "Die Deutsche Stunde" - the German Hour. (Many Hoosiers may no longer speak German, but they're Germans at heart.)

Another big influence on Indiana English is Mountain English, as in Kentucky mountains. In the depression, many unemployed southerners (including my in-laws) made their way to Indiana to work in the automobile factories, which became munitions plants in World War II. In addition to the auto industry, later developments in recreational vehicles, steel, and other heavy manufacturing gave rise to many opportunities.

Here are some examples:
"I've ate . . ." - Excuse me? In the rest of the English speaking world, one 'has eaten' something. However, I can't tell you the number of times I hear Hoosiers say, "I've ate three pieces of pie."

"You'ns . . ." - I think this is a carry over from those Germans I mentioned earlier. People tell me that 'you'ns' is common in Pennsylvania, too, which tends to make me think this way.

"Hamburger sandwich" - When I told my Dad that people in Indiana often say "Hamburger sandwich" I thought he was going to have to come up for air.

"Chili soup" - Like 'hamburger sandwich', "chili soup" demonstrates the wonderful Hoosier flair for redundancy.

"State Road ___" - Yes, you are certain to identify yourself as an outsider if you say "State Route". 'Routes' are federal roads - Washington intrusions into the Hoosier heartland. Save yourself a lecture next time you drive through here - ask for the State Road [Number].

"Fast time" - For now, daylight saving time is the law of the land here. However, you will find many Hoosiers pining for "slow time" - the good old days of year 'round standard time. Daylight saving time is still referred to as 'fast time' in many quarters: even those who may not use the term know exactly what it means.

"Off-Ten" - I do it, too, now. I was reared to keep the T silent in "often." Those lessons were all in vain. There are Hoosiers who mute the T in public, but in private conversation, just listen carefully.

Dangling "at" - You know: "Where is my coat at?" or "Where did you eat at?" or "What time does that start at?" Most Hoosierisms don't bug me, but this one gets me every time . . . and I'm as guilty as anyone for using it!

"[Ten] a.m. in the morning" - Everyone does this in Indiana . . . just this morning on three separate TV stations, on each channel the weather man said, in effect, "It will start to cloud over around ten a.m. in the morning." It doesn't matter that a.m. already means "in the morning" (or that p.m. already means "in the evening"). More Hoosier redundancy.

There are more! Send any along to me - you know where I'm at!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

How do you tell someone . . .?

I regularly travel to the Land of Oblivion. It's that quiet land where one is unaware of his or her actions, even when they're embarassing, and goes their merry way thinking nothing of potential social infractions.

With that in mind, I was presented with a dilemma at dinner today. When I first heard the lip smacking, open-mouthed crunching, and speech garbled by partially chewed food, I had to do a self-check.

Was it me? No. (I doubled checked, just to make sure.)

Instead, it was the man I was dining with, an incoming resident to the retirement community where I work. This man was very successful in life: a good, long marriage, financial prosperity, a beautiful home, very strong health into his later years, etc. Even in the little Chinese restaurant we were in, he was wearing a jacket and tie and cuff links. (I was in work pants and a polo shirt.)

How could someone so successful in life make it as far as this guy had without realizing that he chewed like a starved alligator going after a tuna-stuffed house pet?

That got me to thinking even further: How do you tell someone like that about their obvious (to everyone else) social infraction?

What about these social infractions?
A booger dangling. Karen has a code for me: "There's a bat in the cave." But what about someone who doesn't know the code?

Dribbles. Not on your chin . . . lower. No, not on your shirt . . . lower. You know, middle-aged man comes out of the restroom with dribbles, you know, um, there. (Karen has no code for me on this one.)

Halitosis. I am acutely aware of my own halitosis, thanks to 28 years of training from Karen. But the other guy? What do you do when he refuses a piece of gum? (Please note, according to my sources, women do not have bad breath.)

Unbuttoned belly-button. You've seen the guy with the over-sized belly, looking all dapper with his short tie and that tuft of belly hair sitcking out where the fourth button ought to be. What do you say - if anything?

Fumes. I write this not only as a traveler in Oblivion, but also as a connoiseur of all things cabbage: cole slaw, sauerkraut, cooked cabbage, etc. I don't notice my own 'fumes' (as Karen reminds me), but how does one broach the subject with other cabbage - and legume - lovers.

Runners (in panty hose). Oops. This happens to women. Can't say anything.

You get the idea. How can you be tactful in these situations?

Your ideas may help me, and other citizens of Oblivion, to get a better grip on our lives. Thanks!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Work Junkie: It's Hard to Rest

Twice in our married life Karen has bought me hammocks. With visions of lazy afternoons in the back yard, sleeping with a book on my chest, I've opened them with enthusiasm, only to set the hammock aside for 'another day'.

In my library I have stacks of books that I hope to read 'when I get the time'.

When Mom died ten years ago, I kept bags full of her unfinished projects - rugs, knitting, needlepoint, etc. - for that day, some time, somewhere, in my spare time, that I would learn how to hook rugs, knit, and needlepoint, to finish those projects in tribute to her.

These are just a few examples of one of my major character flaws: I'm a work junkie.

I'm not a work-aholic. The workaholic is that Type A guy you know who's always on the phone and never stops talking about work. A workaholic seems to work constantly in spite of himself: making lists, late nights at work (for work), eating on the run. He's always striving for the next big thing - house, car, second house, etc. - and yet never seems satisfied with those things.

No, that's not me. I'm a work junkie. I get a fix, a high, from working.

A work junkie enjoys work for work's sake. A workholic works to produce in a way that never satisfies him.

A work junkie gets a rush from his labors. A workaholic can't seem to stop, even though there's no real joy in his efforts.

A work junkie has heroes, like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Captain Thomas Lipton (of the Lipton Tea Co., who allegedly used to have 'work is fun' placed on the tags of all his products). A workaholic is his own hero, not striving to work for a nobler cause, but for himself.

I've caught myself on more than one occastion saying, "Work is fun."

Several years ago I bought a 'reel mower'. You know, the old fashioned kind you push that has a cylinder of curved blades that cuts the grass. Think Amish. Friends and neighbors thought it was so "green." Karen thought it was foolish. I just thought it was great hard work. And I used it until it broke and I couldn't fix it.

As a work junkie I find it hard to rest. I do rest, but I feel guilty about it. Even my entertainment is work related. When I go to movies, I always think about whether or not they'd be good for the folks at Church or at Timbercrest. I don't read novels (even though I've written one)... they don't help me with work. My preference on TV is for things that help me work: garden shows, cooking shows, how-to shows.

Even now, while I'm writing this, I hear my neighbors outside running a leaf blower and I think, "I need to get out and get busy."

I know I need to rest. My body is 51 years old now and I can't do what I used to do. I know that I need to make time for myself: my stress level and blood pressure will appreciate it. But it's hard.

I see so many things I want to do. I'd love to open my own business. I've thought of all sorts of businesses to start: a root beer brewery, an artisan mall, an events management company for classical and folk musicians, a radio variety show (like Prairie Home Companion) called "Roann Saturday Night," a nursing home that doesn't use medications (only diet, therapy, exercise, and natural treatments), a cemetery that only charges a minimal amount for a plot and everyone has the same stone, and any number of other ideas.

I'd love to be a philanthropist. I'd use my millions to open a high quality, free, private school for rural kids, that would focus on rural life skills, classical learning, and values important to sustain our rural culture (like, hard work). I'd build a community band stand in the park here in Roann so that all summer we could have all sorts of music playing each week for people to come and enjoy. I'd build a carillon out at Peoria Church so that in the summer evenings the bells would praise God over the rolling valley, and fishermen and farmers and children would stop and think about their souls.

Just thinking about all this work gets me jazzed.

It's hard to rest when you have all this going on in your head. So much work to do and so little time.

Which reminds me. Karen's spending the day on the river with some friends.
Alex is asleep on the davenport.
And I think I hear the garden calling.

Time to get to work.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why City People Make Me Smile

A few weeks ago, Karen and I had the chance to visit our daughter in Colorado Springs. In case you haven't heard, besides Pike's Peak and the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs is a pretty good size town - half a million people, by some counts.

We did lots of shopping and walking and eating and napping while Allison was at work. When we were in town, we were afforded lots of time for "people watching."

City people are funny. They are truly a different breed than we who enjoy the good life.

Consider this simple example: a friendly wave. In our neck of the woods, folks wave all the time. You see someone across the road, you wave. You're driving down a county road and come up on another driver, you wave. You drive by someone out working in their yard, you wave.

Not in the city.

I tried waving at some strangers while we were driving from the Denver Airport to "the Springs" and you would have thought I was waving a pistol at them.

We were shopping in Old Colorado City, an historic area of "the Springs." While Karen browsed in some of the endless women-only stores, I waited on one of the Husband Benches on the sidewalk. As I sat, I watched the passers-by. When someone would catch my eye - man, woman, child, dog - I'd just give them a little wave, my way of saying, "Howdy, I'm a visitor here."

You would have thought I had flashed them. (Ironically, I think if I had flashed someone in the city, they wouldn't have noticed.)

City people make me smile because they like to be pretentious. Karen and I have become dowdy, middle-aged Hoosiers, happy with ourselves, and, in Indiana, acting and appearing like many of our peers. All the falderol city-folks create to get you to eat in their place, shop in their store, visit their museum, and give up (lots) of your dollars is amusing.

You can't just buy a pizza in the city. You have to get an olive oil crust, with all sorts of "fromaggio" and sun-baked vegetables you never heard of. And pizza meat, where you can get it, isn't just pepperoni or sausage. There's cotechino, linguisa, salsiccia, cervellatina, salami, calabresse - not one thing produced by Jimmy Dean or Bob Evans.

It seems to me that Tony's in the freezer at the grocery is about as good.

Another bit of pretentiousness that amuses me is the lengths city folks seem to go to in order to look rural, or rustic, or country. Out here in corn country, old barns look weather-worn because they are. Folk art isn't necessarily intentional: it's what we do when we can't get any reception on our TV aerials.

And we raise beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, beets, cabbage, peas, and lettuce in our gardens. Sometimes green peppers. The surplus goes in canning jars, on shelves, in the basement.

In the city, they raise kholrabi and kale. They grow bok choi and purple carrots, endive and squash blossoms.


Karen told Allison that she grew up with organic foods and Allison seemed to be amazed. "My Mom put the kitchen scraps on the garden because we didn't have a disposal. She didn't know she was composting. Dad put manure from the barns on the garden long before they began bagging it and getting $5 for 20 lbs."

Allison stood agape.

I get to the city once in a while here in Indiana. The contrast isn't quite as stark, but it's there.

Heaven forbid you should take your time to look at the beautiful buildings while you're driving on I-465 in Indianapolis. The city folks seem to be in such a hurry to get places.

It was in the city that I first encountered a "Pay Before You Pump" gas station. In Roann, the station doesn't even take credit cards - cash or check only. (Yes, a check. Remember those?)

Even Church in the city is different. Our neice, who goes to an Indianapolis "mega-Church" pointed it out to me.

On a visit to our Church, where she was singing a special, her young sons played and ran and got all sweaty in the Church basement with other kids from the Church who came. They colored with crayons, played with non-electric toys, and snuck cookies from the refreshment table, just like the other Church kids there.

At her Church, the kids and parents are given a number and ID's that stop just this side of facial recognition technology. If the kids are causing trouble or need help, the kid's number flashes on a screen in the 'auditorium' and the parent brings their corresponding ID number and is then shown to their child.

This last thing - about the kids - doesn't really make me smile. It makes me sad.

And it reminds me again about how much I enjoy being a parson in the country.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What to Do With Mary?

I don't know what to do with the Virgin Mary.

I know, a lot of people, especially my fellow Protestant Christians, consider Mary a non-issue. Why think about Mary when we already have Jesus? And, in a way, they are correct. We have direct access to faith, love, prayer, and the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.

That really isn't the point.

The Virgin Mary is unique in human history, the woman chosen - and who humbly accepted - to carry God the Son in her womb. The Bible teaches that she is to be revered and that she is "blessed" among women. The Third Ecumenical Council (431) signified Mary's importance by affirming that she the "Theotokos" - the Bearer of God, or, more personally, the Mother of God. [This is not a title of elevation of Mary, but a statement of fact: the eternal Son of God is truly, fully divine and has no 'beginning', but the fact that He came to earth in the flesh indicates that He truly has a human mother, hence the title Mother of God.]

I don't have an issue with that. But some do, Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants.

Protestants throw the baby out with the bath-water. They tend to avoid Mary except when they buy the religious stamps for Christmas cards from the Post Office. Very little is ever said of her outside the context of the Christmas story. (It should be noted that this skittishness about her is a late development among Protestants. Martin Luther and other Lutheran reformers and the Wesleys and other Anglican reformers were comfortable with Mary as Theotokos and didn't shy away from her at all.)

The Catholic issues go to the other extreme, and some even go so far as to refer to Mary as a "co-redemptrix" with Jesus Christ: her suffering was akin to that of Christ. The Church of Rome has added all sorts of titles and honorifics, doctrines and adulation to the humble Nazarene maiden.

The Orthodox seem the most balanced to me, but even they sometimes seem to go beyond the Biblical parameters to honor, bless, and commemorate Mary at times.

So I'm still perplexed. What do I do with Mary?

This is important to me because Mary is far too integrated into the Gospel story to be ignored. The Nativity accounts are just the beginning. Those years between the return to Nazareth (from Egypt) and finding Jesus in the Temple, Mary was the most important human in His life. She nursed Him, changed Him, dressed Him, kissed His 'owies', fed His friends, and made sure He had a normal human childhood.

She truly was the God-bearer, in her womb and in her arms.

After the Temple event, when He was twelve, Mary helped Her Son make it through adolescence. After His Bar Mitzvah, when Jesus would have been apprentice to his step-father Joseph (or another relative in the carpentry trade), Mary would have kept His supper warm until He got home, made sure He had breakfast, kept His clothes clean.

The whole while, Mary would have been "pondering these things in her heart," as St. Luke so poetically puts it.

Mary is one of the most visible women in the New Testament, and she appears a number of times in Jesus Christ's ministry years. Because of this, she comes across the pages of my own life - if I intend to live a life centered in the Gospels.

But how far across my life should she go? The Dormition Fast has just recently ended and the end of the octave (of the Dormition) was Sunday, so Mary has been on my mind a lot recently. I want to give her all the honor she's due. I want to follow her example as the first person to accept Jesus Christ.

But my Protestant mindset gets in the way. I know "Mother of God" is theologically correct, but it has a hard time coming off my tongue. I know that she's alive in Heaven (as are all who fall asleep in the Lord) and because of that she is with the Heavenly Host praying for our lost world, but I have a very hard time asking her to pray for me, personally.

The Orthodox Prayer goes like this: Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, Mary, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of the world.

I don't have any problem with this prayer at all (it's all Bible - see Luke 1), except for the part that involves actually 'saying' it.

I certainly don't have a problem honoring women of far less stature. St. Clare inspires me. Margaret Fell's prison work in 17th century England is absolutely commendable. Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Nation, the suffragettes, and other pioneers brought women into first-rate citizenship. Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, and Queen Elizabeth have demonstrated that women are world leaders.

And none of them bore God the Son as His mother. The cumulative accomplishments of these women pale beside the acheivement of faith that Mary had.

It's a pickle. What do you do with Mary? What should I do?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Like a lot of people, we're cutting down on luxuries at the Daniels house. We're not eating out as much, which is probably healthier. We're carpooling more, which is also better for the billfold and the environment. We're not buying as much new stuff and we're trying to make the old stuff last longer.

Yes, these are hard times. Both of us have seen our retirement funds dwindle. Often, we feel lucky just to have jobs, while factories, restaurants, shops, and businesses of all sorts close down one-by-one.

But we're not feeling the pinch like some. Here's a little perspective:

1.2 billion people on earth live on less than a dollar a day
We are middle income Americans who can still pretty much afford whatever we want.

850 million people go to bed hungry every night
I go to bed every night worrying about how to lose these last 20 pounds

38% of the world's population doesn't have access to sanitation facilities and safe drinking water
I don't like to use a bathroom if it's not clean enough for me

600,000 families in America are homeless (permanently or temporarily) every year, affecting 1,350,000 children
Even though we have a mortgage, we enjoy our home, our extra space, even the rooms we don't use

15,000,000 children in the world are orphans due to AIDS deaths
We try to get new toys for the kids in our lives every time we turn around

$9.5 billion is spent every year on human trafficking (slavery), which traps almost 2 million children
This issue makes me squeemish, so I try to ignore it

You see, even though we are tightening up financially, we still have it pretty good.

Pretty good? No, very good.

We are very blessed and not thankful enough.

We are very full and still not satisfied.

We have everything we need and yet we spend days shopping for more.

We spend more for entertainment than we give to charity.

We pay our taxes and are not dependent on the government for food, shelter or medicine.

Our health is strong and our doctor sees us at a moment's notice if we need to.

No matter how bad things get, I have to keep these sorts of things in perpective. They're things that I know already, but it seems like I always need to be reminded of them. When I look at the repairs needed on our house, I should be thankful that I have a house to live in. When I'm foraging for a snack before bedtime, I should remember that any snack is more than many get in a day.

Things aren't all bleak, though. And that's important to keep in mind, also.

Christians across the country are mobilizing to end trafficking in human lives.

Groups like Habitat for Humanity are expanding their mission to a global one, while maintaining their Christian commitment to serve in the U.S.

International workers in the U.S. send over $200 billion a year back to their homelands to aid their families and communities.

In spite of rising umployment and stagnant and decreasing personal income, 24% of evangelical Christians tithe (10%), 9% of all Protestants tithe, and 11% of Pentecostals tithe. This is an increase over the last ten years. Evangelical Christians donate an average of $4260 per year to Church and charity, compared to $865 to the average Christian household.

In these slow economic times, may we remember the words of the Trisagion Prayer:
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,
Who is in all places and fills all things,
Treasury of good things and Giver of Life,
Come and abide in us.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Warble of Spring

When I stepped out on the porch a week or two ago, I thought I heard it, a muffled warble coming from the old school a couple blocks from our house.

But it was late and I was too tired to investigate.

Rain created a few nights of quiet, but sure enough, Monday night I heard it again.

The warble began in low tones: "Heeeeeeeey b-ttrrrrrr! Heeeeeeeeeey b-ttrrrrrrrrr!"

At times the tones were unified, like chanting monks going to vespers. This was early in the evening.

As the sun continued its slow set on the Spring horizon, the warble began to take a different cadence.

One voice would start: "Heeeeeeeeey b-ttrrrrr! Heeeeeeeey b-ttrrrrrrr!"

A second later, another voice: "Heeeeeeeyy b-tttrrrr b-ttrrrr b-ttrrrr!"

In a sort of mystic syncopation, then a third voice joined, different from either of the previous voices: "He-cant-hit! He-cant-hit! He-cant-hit!"

As I looked toward the old school I saw the sky brightening, even though the school is to the east of our house and the sun was clearly setting in the west. It was a bright, white light, a phenomenon we only see in Roann in the Spring and early Summer.

Yes, baseball has come back. I should have deduced it earlier when the traffic of boys on bicycles began to pick up, speeding past our house towards the school. But I've been too busy trying to pick up after this long dreary winter to notice things like this.

I put Buddy on the leash and we strolled down to the school. A game was going full bore. The parking around the school was jammed with mini-vans and older model sedans laden with car seats and fast food wrappers. Siblings younger than the ball players were out entertaining each other in games of tag and chase. Some were nibbling on sweets or popcorn from the concession stand. Parents sat on bleachers making sure their son got his chance to play (and his chance to play the same amount of time as all the other kids).

Too many kids and too many distractions kept Buddy and me from getting too close, so we decided we'd just take a longer walk around the big block (1.6 mi.). As we walked, I reflected on my own ignoble years playing baseball.

I only played for two seasons. I think they were the longest years of my father's life. I played for Travel-Mart, as did my younger brothers after me. I don't ever remember hitting the ball. Ever.

I was always placed in the outfield. I used to think I was put out there because my coach knew I had no talent for baseball. Now I think he was being understanding: he knew I'd much rather look at the sky or the grasshoppers or just about anything else besides the baseball game.

The only play I ever remember being involved with was one where I nearly cleared the bench.

The ball had been hit to my quiet corner of the field. This was odd, because most hits didn't make it past the baselines (once again demonstrating my coach's wisdom).

I snapped out of my usual day dream after I heard the coach (and practically everyone else) screaming and yelling that I was, indeed, the closest player to the ball. It had bounced and landed practically at my feet.

"This is interesting," I thought. It took me a moment to realize that I needed to pick it up and somehow get it to the catcher. So, with the energy of a champion, I picked up the ball and threw it with all my might.

It was a beautiful throw. I couldn't believe that such a beautiful throw had come from my arm. I was captured by the clear arc the ball made as it headed toward the infield. I was amazed at myself.

It would have been perfect if only it had gone towards the catcher. Instead, my beautiful throw went straight into the dugout. The raft of boys sitting on the bench inside ducked, fast. I remember hearing the ball make a crack as it hit the cinderblock wall at the far end of the dugout then a crashing sound as it ricocheted off the wire fencing that separated the infield from the players.

"I was such a wuss," I chuckled to myself as Buddy and I kept walking.

For years I thought less of myself because I was no athlete. It wasn't for a lack of trying. My baseball career ended mercifully when we moved to the country for a year and I had no way to get to a ball park. For three years in junior high, I was on the fourth string of the football team. I hated every minute of it, but Mom said it would be good for me. I still don't believe her. I ran track in junior high also, which I really enjoyed. But even though I was fast, I was almost entirely non-competitive, so by tenth grade, I was cut and I haven't had to play anything since.

As an adult, I've enjoyed sports for their real value. I've run and jogged off and on over the years, not to win races but just because it's fun. I've been on a couple bowling teams, again more for friends and to win. And, believe it or not, I really enjoy lifting weights . . . not to get 'buff' or anything, but to relieve all the stress that I hold in from everyone but God. And Buddy.

Too soon the warble of Spring will be gone again and the ball diamond at the school will be still again until next year. I'll try to listen better for that familiar call once more: "Heeeeeeyyyyy b-tttrrrrrr! Heeeeeyyyyyy b-ttttrrrrrr! He-cant-hit! He-cant-hit!"

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rural Living: Neighbors

Spring is here and along with croci, tulips, and winter wheat, neighbors can be seen popping out for folks to see.

You begin to see neighbors about the same time as you begin to see robins. Of course, some people think that robins don't really leave for the winter. Same thing could be said for neighbors. You get a glimpse of them once in a while during the winter - scraping cars, hurrying into the house after work, passing each other when you pick up the mail at the post office - but like robins, you have to wonder where they really go.

I was out working in the lawn when I had my first real 'neighboring' of the season. Earlier this year I bought a machete - yes, a real machete - to cut down the dead remains of flowers and plants from last fall.

I thought it would be good exercise.

Anyhow, I was out hacking away at our monstrosity of a pampas grass growing in the front yard. As I was 'exercising' the neighbor across the street came over with his electric hedge trimmer in hand.

"This'll take care of that in a couple passes," he said confidently.

Our neighbor is not much older than me, but he always makes me feel like a nincompoop. But that's his game. He means well. He's gotten to know me in the 12 years we've lived here and he's seen me work with tools. I can just imagine the conversation he had with his wife as they looked out the window at me and my machete, probably distilled to one word: "Sheesh."

But he was neighborly enough.
He has a new job.
(He gets a new job every Spring.)
His wife has recovered from her surgeries.
(I pretended that I remembered what she had surgery on.)
His daughter-in-law was bringing over her vacuum cleaner for repairs.
(I've seen her in action: probably can't find the 'On' switch.)

And I think I was neighborly, too.
Karen's Mom isn't doing well so we've been gone a lot.
(He noticed we weren't home much.)
We're taking down the three pine trees that have died over the winter.
(He was interested in the wood.)
I just can't get used to this Daylight Saving Time.
(He doesn't know anyone who likes it - nor do I.)

Other neighbors have been out and about, too. Kids are running around everywhere. Bikes have popped out of nowhere and balls and bats and scooters and skates and all manner of outdoor toy have re-appeared.

Everyone's sprucing up around their houses. And as neighbor meets neighbor again, the chats begin and the lives rekindle that make our little town a community once more.

It is my observation that neighboring like this has become the province of rural towns. We have no neighborhood associations to make us nervous about the people who live next to us. Sure, we have a neighbor who works on his cars in his driveway, but hey, it's his house, and he and I talk about things neither one of us would discuss otherwise: I keep him up on religion, he keeps me up on the junk car business.

Bigger cities and towns have 'neighborhoods', but they seem to be contrived. Houses all made too look the same, trying to create the image of neighborlyness that really only exists in the small rural town. One man I know from suburban Milwaukee said about our small town: "This is the kind of place we try to get our suburb to look like."

Being neighbors isn't the same as being friends, at the same time we are friendly with one another. We don't share a common life, as friends do, yet we share a common community which draws our lives together in a unique bond.

I think this is seen most clearly in the volunteer fire department. Three of our close neighbors belong to the fire department. A few days ago, there was a significant fire at the anhydrous plant a few miles from town. In a flash these three were in their trucks, blue lights flashing, ready to take care of a problem they hadn't created, risking their lives for someone they likely didn't know.

It was comforting to know that these same three men, and many like them, would have been at our front door in an instant, were there a fire at our house.

It's what neighbors do.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Repent, Mr. President.

The image above is from the internet, by cartoonist Gary Varvel, originally published in the Indianapolis Star, 2004.

One of President Obama's first initiatives was to release funding that will allow the machinery of the abortion industry to fire up again. Our tax dollars will once again be used to extinguish the lives of unborn children here and around the world.

May God have mercy on him.

Now the president will be signing into law funding that will destroy the lives of the unborn in order to allow the mad scientists of our country to experiment on them.

These same scientists who developed the means for embryos to be created outside the natural process of a mother and father are now cackling their ways back into the laboratory with a fat check from the federal government . . . to further mutilate the natural process by destroying the very lives they have developed.

Where is Mary Shelley when we need her?

Some believe the benefits of taking the lives of these embryos is justified in the results that will be obtained. Some diseases that tragically affect men, women and children, might be cured by research on these embryos. People with Parkinson's disease may be cured. Diabetics may find help.

So the death of one justifies the life of another? I believe those who are merchandising human organs have the same philosophy.

The same president who rode the wave of unpopularity of the Iraq War into the White House now deems the in utero violence of abortion and stem cell research as justifiable.

Those who believe that this evil is acceptable have a fundamental misunderstanding of human life. They have accepted the premise that human life is no more valuable than that of any other creature on earth. It is expendable in the cause of science.

Human life is so much more than only what our physical body involves. The life created at the conception of sperm and egg is much more than a biological reaction of substances. It is also the beginning of all that makes us human: our capacity to love and be loved; our ability to care and demonstrate compassion for others; our understanding of right and wrong; our likeness in the image of our Creator.

In short, it is the "being" part of "human being" that is also created at conception. Many things exist, but only humans have "being." All creatures on earth breath the air, but only humans have the Breath of Life.

Clearly stem cell destruction and abortion are moral decisions. No amount of legislation will ultimately protect the lives of the unborn. They are dependent on the moral leadership of our president, our Congress, and the scientific community.

And they are being failed.

They are being failed by Barack Obama. Mr. President, you must repent.

They are being failed by Harry Reid, Senate majority leader. Mr. Reid, you must repent.

They are being failed by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House. Mrs. Pelosi, you must repent.

It is no surprise that the president, a political liberal, would be affiliated with one of the most liberal denominations in the country, the United Church of Christ (UCC). The UCC has supported the murder of unborn children by abortion since before it was legal in the United States.

However, both Reid (a Mormon) and Pelosi (a Roman Catholic) are in defiance of their Churches through their endorsement of this pre-natal barbarism. Their defiance of the moral and spiritual directors of their lives smacks of arrogance, pride, and sin.

There are other sins that impact our national conscience: war, economic disparity, discrimination, racism, spousal abuse, alcoholism, child abuse, etc. However, none of these is so calloused as to inflict harm on a human life before it has drawn its first breath. None of these vices is so cynical as to create life in order to destroy it.

I am just a pastor of a small country Church. I love the Lord, my family, the Church. I do not know why I am called to make such bold statements to our president and the government. I just know that I am called to do so.

Please pray with me:
Almighty God, You have placed Barack Obama in the position of President of our nation; we honor him in that office, in the same manner that St. Peter admonished the Church to honor the king in the days of the Caesars. We pray for the president, that he would look to You, the King of Kings, for guidance, direction, and virtue. As he loves his own children, give him love for unborn children. May he have tenderness of heart for those awaiting birth; may he have mercy on them in the decisions he makes; may he seek ways to protect them, as a mother protects her own children. We pray for Mr. Obama's repentance, as we confess our own need for salvation and repentance through Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in Whose Name we pray. Amen.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Let the Fast Begin

(This post is my sermon from Ash Wednesday Services at Peoria, Feb. 25, 2009)

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Gospel: St. Matthew 6:1-6, 18-21

The first Sunday of Lent in 1983, I was asked to speak at an evening Lenten service of the campus Church at Findlay College. My subject was Fasting, since Lent is the traditional season for fasting for Christians.

In the congregation was Prof. Richard Kern, who taught History and Religion at the college. Prof. Kern was a minister in the college's sponsoring denomination and had been for quite a while.

After my sermon, as people were mingling, Prof. Kern approached me to chat. We talked for a little while and then he said something I've never forgotten. He said: "In nearly 30 years of ministry, this is the first sermon I've ever heard on fasting."

I was dumbfoundedly humbled and curious about why that would be. How could a man be in ministry for so long - how could he teach Religion for so long - and yet never hear a message about Fasting?

The interesting thing about fasting in the New Testament is that it’s not something that’s commanded – it’s something that’s assumed. Prayer and fasting are a duet that plays continually throughout the Bible, a melody offered to God by His faithful people.

Why is it that we pray so little and fast even less? I think part of it is because we don't really understand the importance of fasting. Often we have a hard time getting our hearts around the whole idea of prayer. To add "Fasting" seems nearly impossible.

Fasting has several dynamics that make it important for Christians:

1) Physical control
St. Paul states in several spots in the New Teatament: “I beat my body into submission” (in so many words). Taking charge of and being responsible for our physical being is a direct benefit of fasting.
* Do we control our bodies or do we allow our bodies to control us?
* Do we view our bodies as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit or do we keep the Holy Spirit as a guest, occasionally visiting and not really at home?
* Fasting is also a means toward physical health that God intends for us by allowing our bodies to find balance from the excesses we often put them through.

2) Personal discipline
* As much as we appreciate the ideal of personal freedom, we don’t do well with it. Left to our own devices, we come to self-ruin and a life of regret. We become ‘gods’ unto ourselves with little use or need for the One God.
* Without personal discipline, we become our own standard of our own lives, with little sense of a common 'right and wrong'. This is the issue in the Old Testament Book of Judges: after the Hebrews spent years on a roller coaster of good and evil leadership, the Book concludes somewhat fataliztically: “every man did that which is right in his own eyes.”
* Personal discipline restrains our own desires in order to allow a sense of community with others. If we're only out for ourselves, what kind of world can we possibly hope to live in? Fasting is a simple, basic way of practicing personal discipline.

3) A matter of social justice
Isaiah 58 explains to us "the kind of fasting the Lord has chosen":
- to loose the chains of injustice
- to untie the cords of the yoke
- to set the oppressed free
- to share your food with the hungry
- to provide the poor with shelter
Why would this be something God is concerned about? I believe it's because fasting helps us to see people in the way God sees them (and us). Fasting brings about a means for understanding ourselves:
- in Christ, our chains of injustice have been loosed
- in Christ, our yoke of bondage to sin has been untied
- in Christ, we are set free from oppression
- in Christ, we share the Bread of Heaven
- in Christ, we find shelter from the storms of life

4) A matter of personal and spiritual integrity
All that “secrecy” the Lord talks about in Matt. 6 has a point: secrecy in giving,
secrecy in prayer, secrecy in fasting. The old adage is certainly true: "Your true character is seen in who you are when no one else is around.”

God sees the heart. He knows who we are on the inside, what makes us tick. God knows that public, conspicuous giving leads to pride. He knows that public, conspicuous praying leads to Phariseeism. He knows that public, conspicuous fasting leads to self-satisfaction.

Why a “Lenten Fast”?
The Church is a community – there are things we do together. We work together on orojects, committees, and helping others. We fellowship together. We worship together. We pray together. Why not ‘fast together’?

Lent recalls the history of the Bible and the Church. The 40 days remind us of
- the 40 days of flooding when God established the Covenant with Noah
- the 40 years of wandering in Sinai when God established the Covenant with Moses
- the 40 years of the reigns of King Saul, King David, King Solomon
- the 40 days of fasting the Lord undertook after His Baptism

The 40 days Lent remind us that the Church has always had group and personal discipline. In the early Church, Lent was a preparation time for Baptism. They used the time as a special teaching time for children. Importantly, Lent was a time for reconciliation for Church members who have lapsed. (We still see a remnant of this reconciliation practice in 'Forgiveness Sunday', the first Sunday of Lent.)

If you're out of practice, how do you begin a Lenten fast?

1) Self examination and reflection – asking God’s help
Tonight’s service: Prayers together that exalt the Lord
Time to pray the Lord’s Prayer in a reflective manner
Personal confession before God, privately
Affirmation of our Faith in the Nicene Creed
Participation in the Body of Christ through Communion

2) Ask yourself: What will honor the Lord?
Remember the Gospel: Fasting and prayer are for God alone to see. No selfish motives: not fasting to lose weight or fit into a dress, and not to draw attention to yourself

3) Ask: What does God want you to do?
If we can try to discern what God wants for us in a small matter like fasting, we will learn the spiritual skills for understanding His Will for us
Early Church Tradition – fast from foods: meat, cheese, dairy, eggs, fish
Western tradition – fast from meat, then meat on Fridays, then meat on Fri. in Lent only
Bible: Fasting usually referred to abstaining from food
What are you unwilling to surrender? This is probably what you should fast from. Ask the Lord how can you turn it over to Him?

4) Be realistic. Accept this as a discipline with joy. Find a way to redeem it. Karen and I have a friend who fasted from chocolate each Lent and gave the money to Church. Some sacrifice a meal out each week and giving the money to a mission. Remember that discipline is corrective, not frustrating – what will help provide correction you need?

Ash Wednesday is a time to start –
- we are beginning together
- we are here for one another
- we will grow in our faith together as we look forward again to a Holy Easter

So, let the fast begin!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Last Judgment

The picture above is of the shrine built on the Island of Patmos, where St. John received the Revelation of Jesus Christ (now the last book of the New Testament). Patmos is located in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of what is now Turkey.

Epistle: I Corinthians 8:8-9:2
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46

I have to confess: I take advantage of God's grace.

Some people might say I'm overly self-critical (and they would be right). I know that I'm a master at second-guessing myself and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking that things might have been different if I'd only done 'this' instead of 'that'.

I take advantage of God's grace in the same way I take advantage of the fact that there are too few deputies on the county back roads: I drive faster than I should, hedging my bets that I won't get caught.

I take advantage of God's grace by overlooking aspects of my own life that I think God would over look, too. How bad can a short burst of temper be compared to all the abortions being committed in the world? So what if I swear under my breath; at least I don't have a meth lab in my basement. Why would God care that I waste material things? He most certainly cares more about the sweatshop women and children that make them.

Maybe you're in the same boat as I am. You and I wouldn't be alone. In our culture we have a tendency to wink at sin. We want to permit things to happen because we know that we want the same leniency given to us.

This general tendency in our lives makes it difficult for us to cope with one of the most certain tenets of the Christian faith: "He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead."

This is the last of the three-Sunday season before Lent (called the "Triodion") and it is called Sunday of the Last Judgment. The first two Sundays are shining examples of the grace of God: the account of the Pharisee and the Publican and the parable of the Prodigal Son. And now, seemingly out of nowhere, comes the narrative of the Last Judgment.

These three passages are actually a perfect match. People like me, who take advantage of God's grace, need a reminder that there comes a time when the rubber meets the road. God isn't some sort of divine enabler, permitting us to go on indefinitely in our self-destructive behaviors.

This is actually the message of the parables of the Pharisee and Publican and Prodigal Son, as well. The unspoken story line of the former is the fact that the Publican had come to a place in his life where he needed to repent. The parable compares his attitude with that of the self-righteous Pharisee, but the truth is that somehow, somewhere, he got to a place in his life where he begged the Lord: "God, have mercy upon me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). Likewise, the Prodigal Son finds himself covered with the consequences of sin before he finally rehearsed his petition: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son" (Luke 15:21).

No one likes to be judged. No one wants to face the consequences of what we do (or don't do). Everyone would like to believe themselves to be their own moral and spiritual standard and, as such, there is no room for anyone else to judge us.

In this sense, we are exactly like the sheep or the goats in today's Gospel reading. There is very little difference in the general composition of sheep and goats. They may have marks or body structures that set them apart from each other, but essentially they are exactly the same as every other sheep or goat.

They eat. They bleat. They herd. They breed. They give milk.
They taste good when roasted with some savory herbs.

Sheep and goats can't judge one another's actions because they feel no moral or spiritual obligation for one another. In fact, sheep are so self-consumed that they will run from a predator as a herd until one is caught, then watch as the predator consumes the caught animal. No ovine relief effort is mounted. No special offerings collected for the orphaned lambs. No awards for volunteer sheep hours served. As animals, they have no will to choose their own way or God's way.

The context for the Last Judgment is aptly put among sheep and goats. First, we see that the sheep and goats have no idea of when the judgment will come. Second, we see that they have little understanding of the reasons for judgment. And third, they are not judging one another; this is left to the Shepherd.

A quick reminder: The account of the Sheep and Goats is the end of a private session the Lord conducts with His Disciples that begins in Matthew 24:3, in response to a question from them. "What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Christ is clear through the rest of Chapter 24 than no one will know when the judgment comes, only that it will come.

When we know judgment is coming, we prepare. I have worked in the health care field long enough to know that when a state survey is expected, there is a tendency to 'straighten up and fly right'. Even at Timbercrest, where I work, and where we have deficiency-free surveys consistently, there is a mild anxiety that settles in, knowing that we'll be inspected at at any moment. Records are re-read to be sure they're in order. T's are crossed and i's are dotted, just to be sure we're ready.

In the public schools, knowing that ISTEP testing is coming, the unfortunate trend has been to 'teach to the test'. But who can blame them? When we know that 'judgment' is coming, we get ready for it.

The Lord has higher expectations of us. We are not told when the judgment will come because His expectation is that we should be ready for it at any time. We are told to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, not to wait until we know He's coming, then do it. We are told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, not to wait until we meet them in the line on judgment day.

Judgment may come to us in two ways. The first, as the Gospel tells us, is at the Last Judgment, a day and time unknown in the future, when all of humanity is judged by God. This final judgment is what St. John the Apostle witnessed in his Revelation of Jesus Christ. This day has been anticipated by Christians from the first century to today. It is the day we anticipate in hymns like this one:

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound,
And time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks eternal bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather
Over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there!

The second means of judgment somes to us at Death. As St. Paul tells us in Hebrews, "Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face the judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him" (Heb. 9:27, 28).

This 'destiny' for death (or, as the King James Version puts it, our "appointment" with death), is something we simply can't put off. Try as we might, death awaits each of us, and an account will be given before God of what we've done with our days, who we've become in the course of our years.

The time of arrival at our destination is only known to God, only to be determined by Him. This is a significant part of the reason that abortion, murder, suicide, and other man-made ways of taking another's life are wrong. If we take matters into our own hands in creating death for another, we assume a role that belongs uniquely and sovereignly to God.

What would you do to change your walk with Christ if you knew He was coming tonight? Why wait until judgment? Make the changes now, and live prepared to meet Him.

A second aspect about the Last Judgment is that the sheep and goats have little understanding of the reasons for judgment. After the Shepherd has pulled His sheep to His right and has blessed them for their lives, they still ask, "When did we do these things?" Likewise, after the goats on His left are condemned to eternal punishment, they ask the same thing, "When didn't we do these things?"

One of the nicknames that I have hoped to try and shake some day is "Instant-judgment Daniels." I often jump to conclusions about people based on their behavior or their outer appearance or their apparent lack of common sense or their inability to agree with me. I have criteria for judging people that is usually petty and insensitive.

God's judgment is based on compassion, love, grace and care. In Matt. 25:34-36, we read that God cares for the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. God doesn't ask us to analyze or rationalize how people got hungry, or homeless, or naked, or sick or in prison. He simply cares that we care.

I believe the reason for this is that short-sighted human judgment comes when we begin to worry about how people get to where they are in life.
"She'd have enough food if she didn't waste her money on cigarettes." Perhaps cigarettes are her coping mechanism for a lifetime of abuse and her emotions trump her stomach.
"If he'd quit gambling he'd have enough to pay his rent." Maybe desperate life circumstances drove him to gamble in the first place. His plant closed. He was robbed. His family fell apart.
"They deserve to be in there for what they did." In truth, don't we all deserve punishment for the things we've done wrong?

God asks us to leave the affairs of the lives of others to Him. It is up to us to demonstrate His love and compassion to people, regardless of their circumstances.

Like the sheep and the goats, we may not understand this rationale about God's judgment, until we realize that we are subject to it as well. Are you (and I) willing to be subject to the judgment of others? Shouldn't we be more willing, more hopeful, in leaving our lives in the hands of God's goodness and compassion.

Finally, it's important to note that the sheep and goats aren't judging one another. That is left to the Shepherd. As I mentioned earlier, sheep and goats (and other animals) are remarkably self-absorbed. Even the most altruistic of animals - our pets - have to be trained to be so. And, given the chance, they'll fend for themselves every time.

I heard a speaker about 22 years ago talking about Christians in their role as servants. He said something I've never forgotten: "When we are busy serving our fellow man, we don't have time to judge him."

To me, this is one of the kernels of Christian faith. Of all the descriptive metaphors used of the Lord's disciples, not one of them is as a judge of anything. We are branches of the vine, servants (faithful and unfaithful), stones in His temple, etc. But we are never in a place of judgment.

Sheep in a meadow would only be able to judge other sheep in their same meadow because they have not been in any other meadow. Their perepective of the lives of other sheep is myopic, skewed only to how the other sheep in the meadow have treated them. Who got to the good clover first? Who stood where in the snow and rain? Who has what number on their ear tag?

It takes a shepherd to keep the fences mended, the wolf at bay, the hay stocked and stacked. It takes a shepherd to be aware of the conditions outside the meadow and to prepare his flock for them. It takes a shepherd to tend sheep that are ill or metastasized or orphaned or hungry, because won't - and can't - do it for each other.

Likewise, Jesus Christ in His place as Judge at the Last Day is the One Whose perspective sees beyond our own life's 'meadow'. He understands us and why other sheep may get the good clover before us. He sees when we're left standing outside the sheep pen in the rain and he knows how or why it happened. He sees 'wolves' that we are completely unaware of because we are so pre-occupied with our own concerns.

As we prepare to keep a meaningful and holy Lent, keep in mind God's Judgment. However you observe Lent - with fasting or abstinence, with added devotion or discipline - remember that your Shepherd is Jesus Christ and He has great compassion and care for you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Prodigal Son

On the Orthodox calendar, Sun., Feb. 15 was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This is my sermon from that morning. The icon above depicts the joyful return of the son to his compassionate father.

Epistle: I Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel: Luke 15:11-32

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most popular of Jesus Christ's teachings. Who among us hasn't found ourselves at one time or another in the position of the prodigal? Or the older brother? Or the forgiving father? Who among us hasn't hoped for a home to go to when our lives have fallen apart? Who hasn't opened our hearts with forgiveness to someone who is truly sorry?

The Lord's words in this parable are so applicable to our human nature. Maybe more importantly, the parable reveals more about God's nature and mystery.

God is the Lord of grace and forgiveness. We may not see that sometimes. In truth, we may look at the Old Testament and think otherwise. Was it a God of grace Who...
...expelled Adam and Eve from Eden?
...witnessed the murder of Abel and cast Cain into the wilderness?
...destroyed the earth in Noah's flood?
...ransacked Canaan with Joshua's armies?
To read the history of the Hebrews and their Jewish descendants is to wonder where God's grace and forgivenss can be found.

There are a lot of people who think this way. They see violence and injustice, despair and disease, and ask: "How can a God of love allow all this to happen?"

I'm not here to defend God because God needs no defense. He is Who He is. In the parable of the prodigal son, the Lord gives us reason to believe and an avenue to understand that He is truly the God of grace, forgiveness, and love. Jesus Christ reveals this to us, not as a defense, but as a gift.

The obvious mysteries revealed are that God accepts the repentant sinner and celebrates his return home. God gives freely to His children because they are His children, not because of their merits. God allows us to squander the gifts of life because He knows we'll discover life's true value in Him. These are the obvious lessons and they are enough for us to ponder for a long time.

However, there is more. If we settle for the obvious, we will miss the subtle, nuanced, and priceless mysteries of God's nature.

Consider the fact that the father in the parable loves equally both the repentant son and the son who never left. His estate was permitted to go to both sons, not because one was good or the other was promiscuous, but because they were both his sons. His estate was for both.

You who are parents, don't you think the father in the parable had an idea that his younger son would wander? We know our children are bound for unique and different paths. Isn't it good to know that God also knows that His children will take unique and different paths?

Some of us will never stray from God. We may have minor infractions - a cuss word here, a short cut there - but over all, some will never stray.

On the other hand, some can't seem to stop straying. Like a smoker who resolves to quit on New Year's Eve and has a smoke after breakfast on New Year's Day, some of us simply can't seem to stay on the straight and narrow.

One of the things revealed to us in this parable is this: Being God's child is merit enough. Just as Proverbs reminds us that God causes it to rain on the just and on the unjust, it is equally true that He loves all His children without favoritism and without prejudice.

The prodigal son was loved by his father even when the son couldn't love himself. Whatever else was going through the prodigal's mind, as he wandered thoughts of his father's disapproval were most certainly a regular occurance. We see it in the path he chose. At first, arrogant and proud, the son ignores his father's disapproval and seeks his inheritance anyhow. As he spent his money on loose women, drunkenness, and debauchery, he certainly thought he was undoing his father's life.

His arrogance descended to self-justification when the young man's money ran out. He must have thought, "I can make it without the old man's help."

The futility of going on his own descended to desperation, a mode of survival: "My father hasn't approved of anything I've done so far, he's not going to approve of me now."

Desperation became defeat when the son became bound to eat with the pigs in order to sustain his body.

You and I know this cycle, don't we? We have been down this same path:
It is the universal human experience when we are left to our own devices.

In much the same way, we know that God loved the son who never left, even when he couldn't love himself, either.

He, too, was arrogant, likely gloating over the obvious folly of his younger brother. Didn't his younger brother appreciate what he had at home? Couldn't he see how the father's heart would break? Certainly he, as the oldest, would never dishonor the family this way.

The older son's arrogance also descended to pride. I imagine those first few weeks without his younger brother meant that the older's chores might have shone a little brighter. Little digs at his brother's wasting life came up at family dinners. Self-justification took shape in his own mind: "I am the good son, after all."

Self-justication spun down to desperation as the older son saw his father kill the fattened calf and send his best ring and robe to the returning younger brother. What's fair about that? How could he get away with it? Didn't the father know how foolish his brother had been?

The older brother's desperation finally spun down to defeat. The tone of verse 30 is clear: he was angry, frustrated, and disgusted with his father.

The path of both sons through arrogance, pride, self-justification, desperation, and defeat is a path that I'm familiar with, and I suspect you are, too. But always remember: Being God's child is merit enough. In His infinite grace and love, God cares for both we who wander and we who stay.

Another mystery of God that Jesus Christ reveals is that God gives us freedom to exercise our own will. The younger son knew full-well that is was rude and unconventional to ask for his inheritance early. (Would you have done it?) In asking, the younger son was exercising his free will; his will to go and be contrary to what his father wanted. In spite of the younger son's determined will, the father allowed his son the latitude to go his own way.

We may understand this better when we see our own behaviors in the same light. How often do we ask for our "inheritance" from God before it's time?
We want our prayers answered now.
We want our blessing now.
We will take from God whatever we can get, not the full inheritance He intends for us.
According to verse 13, the younger son took the money and ran. Could this describe your prayer life? "Yes God, I'll take your salvation. Yes, I'll take your kindness and love. But don't bother me with anything else."

Had the younger son stayed, he would have gained the life skills and wisdom of his father. He would have witnessed the finesse of his father's business. He would have watched his father age and he would have grown as his father matured. He might have followed his father's example, with a wife and sons of his own.

The son's loss in his short-sightedness wasn't only his squandered wealth but also his squandered life. In order to exercise his own will, the son lost the benefits of witnessing his father's will complete.

We also see this in the older son. In fact, the older son had strayed. He had the opportunity to gain the life skills and wisdom of his father. He witnessed the finesse of his father's business. He watched his father age and likely had his own wife and sons.

The older son's will was revenge. His own will was favoritism. His own will was fairness.

God will not force you to follow His will. God will not violate your will in order to accomplish His will. The way to gain God's true inheritance is to pray as we do each week: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done..."

Finally, the last mystery we're shown is God's unfailing compassion. Notice that the Lord doesn't tell us that the father spent all his days and nights looking for his wandering son. That would have been an act of enabling. He didn't track him down, send out spies, stalk his friends and messages. The father likely knew exactly what his younger son was doing: exercising his own will.

God's compassion is free enough to allow us our own way. As I Corinthians 13 states, His compassion "is patient and kind; it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. [God's love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres..."

Compassion is not a smothering desire to inhibit someone else. It is the action of love to be there when someone else falls.

Compassion is not a judgmental "I told you so." It is a generous "Here, let me help you."

Compassion doesn't see us covered with the soil of the pig sty; instead, it runs down the road to meet us, it brings the best robe, the brightest ring, and sets the table for a celebration.

We see God's compassion best in His own Son, Jesus Christ. In sending Christ for us, God didn't stop sin from happening in the world. He didn't make the Virgin Mary obey His will. He didn't dictate to St. Joseph the direction of the Holy Child's life.

Because God has compassion for us, He doesn't become an enabler, chasing us down, spying on us, and stalking us. He waits for us to come home, His home.
There is one Cross, not many.
There is one Calvary.
There is one Empty Tomb.
When we are lost and wandering, He draws us home by the Holy Spirit, with open arms ready to meet us.

The parable of the prodigal son is truly one of the most popular in Scripture. Through it we get a better glimpse at God's nature. We see that being a child of God is enough to merit His love and blessing. We understnad that God loves us enough to allow us to exercise our own will in spite of whatever consequences we may face. We see that God's unfailing compassion waits for us to repent to find our way to Him, to Calvary.

Who among us hasn't found ourselves in the position of the prodigal son?
Who among us hasn't hoped for a home to go when our lives have fallen apart?
Who among us hasn't hoped for forgiveness from God and man when we are truly sorry?

God is waiting for you.