Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Same Planet, Different Day

It seems these days it's easier than ever to get lost in the reverie of yesteryear. I was looking at some Polaroids going back to when I was a kid in the 70s. They were of my uncle. He was standing at the counter of Jim's Finer Foods, a neighborhood delicatessen he owned and operated on Chicago's south side with his mom (my grandmother). Both he and she have since died. Through the front screen door I could see the gas station across the street, and some trees. Both the station and the trees are gone now as well.

Suffice it to say, that Chicago neighborhood has radically changed over the years. Like my relatives and that street-side landscape, the store itself is gone now too, leveled to make way for some two-story apartment buildings that are also showing their age and decay. Forty years is a lot of water over the dam when it comes to the march of civilization. Forty years ago astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were happily skipping on the lunar surface. If you're old enough, you remember the rolling, black and white TV images of them bopping around the lunar module, planting the U.S. flag, and becoming the first two men to set foot on the moon. And 40 years from now? Well, who knows? Affordable deep-sea condominiums? A world free of AIDS? A single language we all know and understand?

Sometimes it seems the forces at work in the world are beyond our control. We watch the news and what we see seems too bizarre to be real: countries swelling with the influx of refugees escaping armed conflict, major storms blasting places like Japan and Myanmar and Indonesia and New Orleans, a commercial airliner shot out of the sky. It's enough to make a guy yearn for the good ole days when people were riled by Woodstock and Watergate and Women's Lib ... and when 50 cents bought you 50 pieces of Bazooka.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine these are the good ole days for today's kids.

I wonder what they will be saying in 40 years.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Difference a Few Years Makes

I came across a blog by Rev. Bob Deffinbaugh. In it he discusses Adam and Eve's fall in the Garden of Eden from Genesis chapter 3. He wrote,

"There is an important principle to be seen here: God desires from us the obedience of faith. Such obedience is not based upon our understanding of why we are to act as God requires, but simply because it is God who requires it.

"The obedience of faith is based on our faith in God, not on our understanding of why God calls one thing good and another evil. Parents teach their children to obey on the same basis. You cannot explain to a young child why an electrical outlet is dangerous. You can only forbid them to touch it, because you said so, and because they trust your word."

This got me thinking of my attitude toward my dad when I was growing up. As a young child I thought dad could do no wrong. I never would have dreamed of questioning his word or his advice.

But that all changed when I became a teenager. Suddenly, I was so much wiser. I didn't need an old, out-of-touch man with salt-and-pepper hair telling me how to live my life. How could he possibly remember the desires racing through a young man's heart and mind? What could he possibly know about life and love in the 1970s?

Looking at my relationship to my teenage son today I realize how stupid I was back then. Back when I was his age, my dad was younger than I am right now. Yet even now with my more salt than pepper hair, I can vividly remember those same desires my son faces. I can see them, hear them, smell them, taste them, and feel them deep in my gut. They may be wrapped differently today, but they're still the same temptations young guys have faced since Cain and Abel hit their teens. I know how dangerous those innocent-looking little temptations really are -- and so did my dad.

Then I think of our Heavenly Father. I'm still acting like a teenager toward Him. I tell myself I'm so much older and wiser than I was as a teenager. But I'm still dumb enough to think I can play with those temptations God forbids and come out all right. (Was that mom or dad who said, "If you play with fire, you're going to get burned"?) I'll obey Him, but only after He explains to me why I should.

My dad wasn't perfect, and he probably got a few things wrong. But I can't say the same for our Heavenly Father. His knowledge and His love are perfect. He knows the soul, mind, heart and body He created for each of us, and He knows better than anyone what is harmful and what is beneficial for us.

It's not for me to question God, to challenge Him for reasons and explanations. Mine is simply to recognize my small mind and my tiny world of experience and bow down to His all-seeing eye, to His all-knowing mind. Mine is to recognize my ignorance and over-confidence, to repent and fall before Him in shame. Mine is to recognize His fatherly love in His beloved Son Jesus Christ, to receive His open-armed forgiveness and peace. Mine is to humbly, quietly obey His Word with simple, childlike adoration and trust.

Any thoughts on this whole business of fathering and being fathered?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Supreme Court Ruling: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Last week Monday, June 30, the United States Supreme Court announced its landmark decision in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In a 5-4 ruling, the high court held that closely held, for-profit corporations cannot be forced to comply with the contraception-coverage mandate in the 2010 health-care reform law. Hobby Lobby and other companies had religious objections to being forced to pay for some or all of the contraceptives for its employees.

Doing a Google search of "Hobby Lobby decision" produced some heated commentary in the results. Here's a sample of what turned up:

"A Supreme Feud over Birth Control: Four Blunt Points"

"Federal Judge Blasts Hobby Lobby Decision"

"No, the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Decision Is Not Based upon a Scientific Mistake"

"Activists Hand Out Condoms at Hobby Lobby to Protest Supreme Court Decision -- Their Profession Might Surprise You"

"Supreme Court Now Playing Cute PR Games with Hobby Lobby Decision"

The timing of the decision -- the Monday before Independence Day -- brings up once again the question about the "wall of separation" concept that governs many Americans' understanding of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

This topic of the relationship between church and state is explored in the Men's NetWork video Bible study, The Intersection of Church & State. It discusses the historical thinking behind the First Amendment and explores some of the benefits of cooperation between church and state.

Especially relevant to the Hobby Lobby case is this comment from Tad Armstrong, J.D., in the third session of the video. "We're somehow led to believe the Supreme Court is unfriendly to religion and unfriendly to Christianity in particular. And you have to read these wonderful Supreme Court decisions that support religion and support Christianity, and then we need to praise those and stand up for them."

With the Independence Day weekend right behind us, it's a good time to revisit this video Bible study to again contemplate our rights, privileges and responsibilities as American citizens. You can find it here at The Intersection of Church & State.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

And the Rockets' Red Glare ....

This Friday the Fourth of July is back, and with it will come parades, barbecues, gatherings and fireworks. I loved the Fourth when I was a kid back in the 60s. We had a couple of great parades (both netted us loads of candy), and a huge, double-propped military helicopter roared in and touched down in the park down the street. It joined a cool lineup of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. The Fourth was a big carnival with snow cones, Belgian waffles, and cotton candy. It was a good time.

Of course, the thing we were really all waiting for was the fireworks. After the sun finally set, we'd spend an eternity swatting mosquitoes and watching the sky slowly transform from light blue to a black velvet canvas. Then we'd strain our eyes, scanning the roped-off section of the park trying to be the first to spot that faint, red glow. If you looked really close you could make out our neighbor with the glowing punk, bending down over the table for an instant. He'd then spin around and bolt out of there as fast as he could. One by one the shells blasted off into the sky and burst into brilliant colors -- or my favorite -- the blinding, white flash. Smiles would break over our faces as we searched each other's eyes. "Wait for it!" Suddenly, the shock wave came crashing through your body like a freight train. I couldn't wipe the stupid grin off my face.

A few decades have gone by since then. Now when I watch those flashes of color and feel my body shaking I find my thoughts turn to Uncle Roland. He grew up in Marysville, Ohio, and went off to fight with the U.S. Marines in World War II. He served as a private first class in the 4th Pioneer Battalion, in the 14th Regiment, of the 4th Marine Division. The Pioneers were engineers who operated bulldozers and other heavy equipment to prepare or repair roads, clear mine fields -- basically do whatever it took to assist the movements of our troops or disrupt the movement of our enemies.

His Pioneer Battalion was right in the middle of the fray during Iwo Jima. He wasn't sitting on a blanket on the grass watching fireworks way up in the sky. He was right there in the middle of the firework display, blinded by the intense flashes of light, hearing the whirr of shrapnel flying by, breathing in the stinging sulfur fumes, bombarded by the constant concussion of shells going off all around.

Three days into the invasion, on Wednesday, February 21, Roland's Pioneer Battalion was clearing a minefield, so his Division could go capture the assigned airstrip. Roland was hit. They evacuated him on a DUKW: the same amphibious vehicles I've ridden on duck tours in the Wisconsin Dells and in Washington, D.C.; he took that agonizingly slow and loud ride to a waiting hospital ship where he died several hours later.

I wouldn't be born for another 15 years.

This Fourth I'll sit in the dark, seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling the fireworks. And I'll think of my uncle -- and the countless other American men and women from the very first Fourth of July in 1776 to this day: living, fighting, bleeding and dying so we can live free. It makes the holiday more somber, but so much richer.

What is the most memorable or meaningful part of the Fourth of July celebration for you?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Endings and Beginnings

The author of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes makes the observation that "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." He then lists examples of how there is a time for something and then a time for its opposite. For example, there's a time to be born and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; and so forth.

There seems to be a time for everything.

Today I'd like to contemplate a time to end and a time to begin.

On June 30 I will end my career with Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Mens' NetWork.

This ending is a bittersweet time for me, as I will certainly miss writing these weekly messages. For your feedback has indicated that sometimes, in some small ways, these messages have been informative and inspirational. I am humbled to hear that from you.

However, with each ending there is a new beginning, and I look forward to launching into a new phase in my life. I anticipate the opportunities God has in store for me in my new role. I am excited and a little apprehensive about the future, but I am ready.

That is the nature of endings and beginnings, isn't it? We often look backward with a twinge of sadness and look forward with excitement and a little anxiety.

Of course, many of us face these times of transition at different moments in our lives.

To paraphrase the biblical writer, there is a time to end and a time to begin the many things we do under the sun. There is

a time to end walking and a time to begin driving as a licensed driver;
a time to end being single and a time to begin life as a husband;
a time to end being childless and a time to begin being a father;
a time to end one job and a time to begin another;
a time to end living in an apartment and a time to buy a house;
a time to end employment and a time to retire.

Then again, not all endings are anticipated. There may come a time when you end being married and begin life as a widower or a divorced man.

There may come a time when your employment ends with the words, "You're fired," and you begin the long process of finding work again.

There may come a time to end being a homeowner as the bank forecloses your note and you start life as a homeless person, doing the best you can to find shelter for you and your family.

I have learned one thing over the years that has helped me face endings that were hard to understand and difficult to endure. Whether it was losing a wife, a job, or a house, God has always been there with me.

As I look back over my life, I see how God has provided for me no matter what the circumstances.

Men, if I can leave you with one thing it is this: God loves you.

May your journey be blessed and full of wonderful beginnings and endings.

Rich

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Hardest Job

For most of us the hardest job we ever had to do was something unpleasant, usually during our teen years, as we entered the work place. For some of us this was cleaning the grease pit at a convenience store "kitchen," specializing in chicken wings, low-grade burgers, and French fries. For others it might have been clearing tables at a busy restaurant. Maybe it was working in the blinding heat of summer, carrying stacks of roofing shingles up a ladder to a carpenter. Or it might have been enduring the exhausting monotony of assembly line work, trying to keep up with the flow of experienced workers, before you lost your mind.

For me one of the hardest jobs I ever had involved scraping and shoveling asbestos insulation from ovens used to cure sewer pipe. That was a very long summer.

Each of us keeps a memory tucked into some corner of our mind of the hardest jobs we ever had to do. It's good to pull that memory out once in awhile, so we can put our current job in perspective.

For example, a veteran sitting all day long in an air-conditioned office, attending boring meetings can seem a grind at the time, but it's absolutely delightful next to being yelled at by drill sergeants and endless hours of PT.

When it comes down to it, hard jobs aren't always defined by soaring temperatures, blitzed muscles, or intolerable bosses; they can also be measured by the amount of stress produced, anxiety raised, or nightmares encountered.

I can do great doing most anything physical or mental, but the hardest job for me involves relationships.

One of the hardest jobs I've ever volunteered for is being a husband. I struggle daily to define my role and responsibilities in this endeavor.

The transition from husband to father creates numerous opportunities for other hard jobs to surface: changing diapers, giving baths, helping with homework, encouraging broken hearts, and teaching one to drive.

In retrospect, my job as husband and father may be one of the most difficult in terms of stress and anxiety, but it's one I would not trade for all the air-conditioned corner offices and six-figure salaries in the world.

That being said, there are fringe benefits too. Like right now, as I get to watch my son pitch his first game.

Those hours we spent playing catch in the backyard are paying off.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kindness - Live Long and Prosper

I was filling up my gas tank recently when a college student approached me and asked if I had any cash. I immediately reached into my pockets and discovered that I really didn't have any cash. He then thanked me for looking and proceeded to the next person pumping gas.

I didn't think much more of the incident until I went to put the hose back into the pump and heard someone say, "Mom, I did ask the people here. No one has any money for me."

I looked around the pump and saw the college student who had asked me for cash; he was leaning on his car trunk talking on the phone to his mom. I waited until he hung up and approached.

"I was wondering what's up"

"My mother called and said she needed me to come home, but I don't have enough gas to get home. I don't have any money. I called her and she said I should ask the people here if they could give me enough gas money to get home, but no one can help."

I told him to put the hose in his tank. I then swiped my credit card at the pump and told him to put in what he needed.

His eyes got big and he asked, "You're sure?"

"Stop when you think you have enough," I replied.

He stopped the pump after one gallon, but I was feeling generous. I told him to go ahead and fill it up; it took 14.

Every time I remember that day I feel good.

That is what acts of kindness do for us. They give us a helper's high. It's a rush of euphoria, which is followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act. This high comes from the physical sensations and the release of the body's natural painkillers, the endorphins. This initial rush then produces a longer-lasting period of improved, emotional well-being.

Research also found that acts of kindness reduce stress, give us a sense of joy, and deaden pain.

Kindness is also contagious. Someone seeing you do an act of kindness prompts them to do one, which prompts another person, etc.

I have also been on the receiving end of acts of kindness as when a Good Samaritan shoveled the snow from my walk and driveway. That was very much appreciated.

Kindness can lead to social connections too. If you do a favor for your neighbor, he just might want to do one for you, and pretty soon you are sharing stories, grilling recipes, and making new friends.

Doing good deeds makes us feel good.

I wonder why we I don't do them more often.