Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Rare Bird

My family works with immigrants and refugees -- that's the kind of service God gave us to do. But occasionally that service takes a funny turn. I never thought pet re-homing would be part of our ministry, but that's how we got our "rare Vietnamese jungle fowl."

It was late spring, and I had been trying to find a parrot for my husband Chau's upcoming birthday. He'd been talking about getting one for years, and I thought I'd surprise him. But we were on a budget, and parrots are expensive. I hadn't found anything yet when the phone rang.

"Hello?" It was a church member on the other end, very upset. "Our landlord says we can't keep pets in our apartment. But we don't know what to do with our bird. We love him so much; we don't want him to die."

"A bird? What kind of bird?" I asked.

"Oh, it's a red bird, good-sized. A rare Vietnamese jungle fowl."

I called into the living room. "Sweetheart? Have you ever heard of a rare Vietnamese jungle fowl?"

No, my husband hadn't. But he was willing to have a look.

Twenty minutes later five people came through our door, dabbing at their eyes and blessing us for saving their darling pet. They were holding an ominous brown box with a rope leading into it.

I bit my lip. This was not going to end well.

"So let's see the rare Vietnamese jungle fowl," my husband said. Mr. B opened up the lid and out stepped ... an American rooster. Cock-a-doodle-doo!

"Thank you, thank you, for saving our pet," they all said at once. "We know you'll find the perfect home for him. And absolutely you won't let anyone eat him, will you? Oh, thank you, Pastor, thank you, Kari ...." We couldn't get a word in edgewise. At last the family left, still blessing us, and we got the rooster settled downstairs in the laundry room, leashed to an old wooden chair.

Upstairs my husband and I eyed each other. "So what are we going to do with him?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Beats me. We can't make chicken pot pie out of him, we promised. And who wants a rooster?"

A crow came from under the floor.

"Right," Chau said. "No eggs. Just noise."

Another crow. The bird was laughing at us.

"Well, at least it's Holy Week," I said. "If our neighbors hear him, they'll just think he's a prop for the Passion play."

Chau groaned.

Over the next four days I called everybody I could think of, trying to find a home for the rooster. The rotten bird had no sense of time. We had happy crowing morning, noon, and night -- clearly audible three stories up, even in the attic. It was driving us nuts. Sooner or later, one of the neighbors was going to call the police.

Then our vet called me back. "I think I may have a home for your rooster," he said. Apparently someone raising chickens out in the county would take him and promise not to eat him. Thank God! I got the bird out of the basement and into the car faster than he could crow again. An hour later, he was on his way to a new life, and our house was wonderfully quiet.

God has a funny sense of humor. What kinds of odd turns has your own Christian service taken? Share your stories by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Actions Overcome Hate

In the middle of the dark night vandals broke into Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, a Jewish graveyard in St. Louis, Missouri. Their objective was a small-minded one: spread a message of hate by toppling headstones and desecrating graves. As daylight dawned on the 170 headstones that were pushed or knocked over, the question on everyone's mind was "Why?"

The answer to this question would have to wait as those who committed this act of ignorance remained at large. As the search went on, others spoke again those words heard all too frequently in these kinds of situations: "prejudice," "hate crime," and "anti-Semitism."

Two days after the devastation, Eric Greitens, Governor of Missouri, called for volunteers to join him at the cemetery with the message, "Whoever did this slipped into a cemetery in secret to break things. We will stand together in the open to rebuild them, stronger."

Rich Cohrs, former LHM employee, contacted Don Hugo, a member of Zion Lutheran Church, with the invitation to join in with the community in an act of love. They donned their Men's NetWork caps and headed to the scene.

They were not prepared for what they witnessed. Hundreds of people responded to the call. Police were forced to block off streets and local businesses gladly relinquished their parking lots to accommodate the crowd. Vice-President Mike Pence and Governor Greitens addressed the group and then rolled up their sleeves and started raking the area clean.

Rich and Don joined the throng, waited in line to be searched by the Secret Service and finally entered into the cemetery to their assigned task of cleaning and polishing headstones. The Men's NetWork hats gave them a talking point with some they met. They spoke to Muslims, Jews, Christians, and some non-Christians as they labored side by side.

As they were leaving, Don had the opportunity to greet the Governor. This was a special moment for Don; he was Greitens' high school principal.

Men, it doesn't require an invitation from a governor to do acts of service and compassion in your community. Opportunities abound in the wake of tornadoes, storms, fires and, sadly, even stupid acts of vandalism and bigotry.

This April's upcoming Men's NetWork WORK DAY is a great example of a time when you can come together to serve those around you. The mere act of service is a witness of love to the community. Wearing the Men's NetWork cap provides an opportunity to jump start conversations.

Men, when the best of us step up, our community stands a little taller.

Hopefully, your community doesn't have to deal with fools who topple tombstones or cast hurtful slurs against racial or ethnic minorities. Still, your community may have its own set of issues it needs to address.

As you consider a possible service project for your community, remember you can turn a men's group effort into something extra-ordinary for this year's WORK DAY on April 29. Does anything out of the ordinary come to mind when you think of what your group might do this year?

If so, tells us about it by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Retro Vision

It seems easier than ever to get lost in the reverie of yesteryear these days. I was looking at some old snapshots (remember those?) going back to the 70s. They were of my uncle Jim standing behind the counter of a neighborhood delicatessen he owned and operated on Chicago's South Side: Jim's Finer Foods. Together with my grandmother, they ran this store for years, living upstairs in a building that ranged from the questionable to the decrepit. One picture I saw had the photographer shooting out the store's front door. The photo was of the gas station across the street and some trees. The station and trees are long gone now. My uncle and grandma are too.

As you can imagine, that Chicago neighborhood has changed a bit over the years. Like my relatives and that streetscape, the store is gone, leveled to make way for two-story apartment buildings that are also showing their age and decay. A half century is a lot of water under the bridge when it comes to the march of civilization. Almost 50 years ago astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were bopping around on the lunar surface. If you're old enough, you remember the grainy black and white TV images of them near the lunar module, planting the U.S. flag, and becoming the first two men to set foot on the moon. And what about 50 years from now? Where will we be then? It's hard to say, but I bet we'll still be pining away (at least at times) for the good ole days of yesteryear.

I suppose that why retro TV is taking off around the country. Television programmers realized there's a huge market of 50-plus folks out there who still love the programs they grew up with and watched as young adults. Now, even without cable, viewers can watch shows like Mayberry R.F.D., Columbo, Perry Mason, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H, Mangum P.I. and a few dozen more, on stations wholly dedicated to these golden oldies. With the world in flux around us and times unsure as they are, it's nice to bask in the silly nonsense of Hawkeye and Trapper's latest gag on Frank Burns or tune in while Lt. Columbo outwits and unnerves his suspects in his grinding search for the truth.

Looking back can give us a chance to catch our mental breath during times of turmoil and uncertainty.

Where do you go when you need to step back from it all? Do you have a favorite retreat you retire to? How about a hobby? Is there something you engage in when you want to get away and refresh your perspective?

Have you received any sage advice from a mentor or peer you can pass along? If so, you can share your insights by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When the Brain Won't Do

"I can't wrap my mind around that." The first time I heard that phrase I didn't like it. I wondered what was wrong with the good old, tried-and-true admission: "That just doesn't make sense"? But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. It portrays the drive we humans feel to make sense of our lives and our world.

We don't like to pass by unsolved mysteries. Wise Solomon had it right when he wrote, "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out" (Proverbs 25:2). Most people want to know the reason things happen, and the more unclear the matter is, the more annoyed we feel, until we have a rational solution.

So often in life, especially in our relationship with God, that is what we are trying to do. We want to figure out why God has allowed difficulty, sorrow, loss or grief in our lives. We want to wrap our minds around something our minds aren't big enough to get wrapped around. I remember an eighth-grader in confirmation class who was bound and determined to figure out the Trinity. She wasn't satisfied with the glimpse of the three Persons in one God. She tried to shrink God down and fit Him into a nice, little box she could wrap her mind around. The trouble with that is if simple creatures like us can figure out God, He wouldn't be much of a God, would He?

I often hear people try to understand what God is doing in the events in their lives. They ask, "Why is God treating me this way?" or "What is God trying to tell me?" That's a really dangerous game to play, especially when we try to wrap our minds around things that are so complex, and we have such a limited point of view.

God put our mind-wrapping quest in perspective when He said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8). There are times when we need to put down the box, stop trying to stretch our minds, and simply trust Him like a child. Let God be God -- and praise Him that He is, and ask Him to remind us that we are not.

Humans are born to ask questions, it seems. From these we learn and navigate our way through life. What are some things you've tried to wrap your mind around? You can give us your comments by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Sweet Sound of ... Service?

With the turn of the year and the prospect of moving toward spring, there's a definite sound of service in the air. You know the sweet strain: the crackle and crunch of raked leaves put into trash bags; the splash of sudsy water tossed onto concrete surfaces to be cleaned; even the wispy sound (evident only to specially trained service ears) of paintbrushes laying down another coat to spruce up that garage or aging fence.

What do you have in mind as you set out in 2017 for service projects -- either for yourself or for your neighbor? The rationale behind the question is twofold: one, we're already amping up for the 2017 Men's NetWork WORK DAY and, two, we'll soon be releasing a new video Bible study focusing explicitly on the service we render as Christians -- and how we can do more of it. The study is called Live the Six: Living Life as an Everyday Missionary. The "six" in this case represents the six days of the week beyond Sunday: most people's standard church day.

From the responses we've received over the years from WORK DAY volunteers and from the interview comments you'll soon be hearing in Live the Six, doing stuff for others is a blessed thing, with plenty of benefits going to the doer as well as the receiver. And isn't that the way it is with God? After utilizing our meager service in the aid of another, He takes what we offer and turns the blessing back our way, filling us with all those wonderful intangibles such service-work brings: deep satisfaction at the wise use of our time; a sense of being vital in the life of another; a pleasant awareness that we're just plain doing the right thing, and an abiding happiness at knowing we're part of the solution to somebody's dilemma.

As 2017 unfolds before you, be sure to take time to help out -- around the house, around your workplace, around your neighborhood. After all, doesn't such real-time service speak the love and care of God to others in way that our words sometimes lack?

What is there about our doing that's so much louder than our speaking? Perhaps it's the tangible work we leave behind. Perhaps it's our willingness to step into people's lives.

You know what we're talking about.

Tell us about your experience(s) helping others and how good it makes feel. Send your comments to us by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Big Stage, Big Speech, Big Deal

Before you read the next Men's NetWork blog, there will be the no-small-matter of the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. On January 20, Donald John Trump -- real estate mogul, television reality star, and come-lately presidential candidate -- will take a solemn oath as our nation's chief executive at the U.S. Capitol Building.

Undoubtedly, Trump will have a few words to say.

Here are a few opening day remarks from days gone by:

"Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America" (Barack Obama, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009).

"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world" (George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 2005).

"Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America" (Bill Clinton, First Inaugural Address, January 21, 1993).

"The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man" (John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961).

"This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance" (Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933).

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations" (Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865).

"And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people" (George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789).

Words ... each and every one ... delivered at a time of hopeful anticipation that renews every four years in our nation's history. No matter the person in office, God is in charge. No matter the circumstances of our country or the world we live in, God is in control. Let us remember that as we move forward -- whether the candidate who assumes the Office of the Presidency on January 20 is your man or not.

Well, one thing's for sure. The days of overblown political hyperbole are behind us -- at least for a while. Let us know what you think about this passing of the baton. You can do so by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Got Them Re-solution Blues?

Ever notice how the coming new year's resolutions are reminiscent or, as is often the case, poorly disguised copies of last year's resolutions? While that might speak to the futility of making resolutions at all, I think it shows a certain tenacity in the human spirit to make things right, to get things right -- (i.e. the things we really find important) at least in our own worlds.

I know there are detractors who find the whole resolution thing a waste of time. Their thoughts, I would assume, stem in part from the seeming artificiality of picking a date like January 1 of the new year as the definitive moment to initiate some radical change. Why wait until the first of the year to engage in something you feel is so important? What's so special about the passage from one year to the next when it comes to major life decisions? Their questions are valid.

Well, in truth there's probably nothing inherently significant about picking New Year's Day as the day we shed our old selves to take the reins on what lies before us. Still, it seems a good time to keep our word, start exercising, stop procrastinating, eat better, read more, go to bed earlier, wake up earlier, meet new people, stop smoking, put the TV remote down, attend to our appearance, make more blog comments, drink less or not at all, start saving money, learn a new skill, volunteer, let go of grudges, get organized, learn how to cook, travel more, forgive others, curtail Internet usage, pay off debts, let go of bad relationships, take responsibility, learn some self defense, face down fears and insecurities, and/or keep a journal.

Maybe Cary Grant, the film superstar of years gone by, was on to something when he spoke to our making of resolutions and the way we so quickly let them go. His philosophy was "never to make a resolution which won't be as important on the ... tenth of July as it is on the first of January."

All the best to each of you as you consider the open slate of the year ahead -- and what you'd like to do with it.

You can share your radical resolution(s) or your anti-resolution philosophy with us by clicking here.