For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Death of a Blog?

We all know that life moves in cycles and seasons.  We start out young and learn our way around.  You then "hit your stride" out to conquer the world in youthful exuberance.  Eventually, age and wisdom take over, and maybe you slow down, or redirect.  Eventually, it all catches up and things really start to slow down, etc.  It varies from person to person, but there is a definite pattern to it all. 

I think I see that in this blog as well.  In 2007 I hit the online world with my little page and slowly started to learn my way around.  Growing and learning and getting the hang of things, the pace picked up a bit.  At some point, I "hit my stride" and was spouting off about anything and everything.  I even got a little nationwide boost during an election cycle in which my words prompted interviews from a St. Louis paper and even the NY Times, which both quoted me.  I felt like a star. 

But then middle age set in, it became more steady and plodding, maybe.  Hopefully more mature...nah, never mind on that one.  And then things started slowing down.  Maybe life got busier, maybe I got less opinionated...

...Sorry, had to take a break and catch my breath after "rolling on the floor laughing."

Anyway, it seems now that this thing has become like a sad, neglected old relative in a nursing facility.  I only come by to visit once a week or so, and then don't seem to think about it for awhile.

Again, maybe it's a life phase or something.  I still enjoy doing this.  I started in large part as a cathartic experience.  Just being able to share thoughts about random things.  Some important.  Others not so much.  Some things I couldn't really share from the pulpit. Other things which I had just shared from the pulpit.  All it all, a fulfilling experience for me whether anyone reads it or not.

But I've been feeling guilty about the lack of both quality and quantity lately.  And it's made me wonder what the future holds.  Maybe I'll get with it again.  Maybe I'll just let it fade into the sunset.  Just don't know.  The fact that I'm taking time for my weekly visit to even ruminate about this should tell you something.

I also read an online "acquaintance" who recently wrote about becoming bored with blogs.  Maybe that's it.  Maybe the time has passed.  I know there are still several places out there that I enjoy stopping by and reading, depending on time, etc.  So maybe these things still have a place. 

Anyway, the title of this blog says it contains "random thoughts" and these have been about as random as it gets.  At least I'm living up to the billing, though.  

If the end is near, it's been a fun ride.  If there is still life left, I look forward to what may still come.  Either way, God is good, grace is amazing, and... I need coffee!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Awkward Handshake...and other "Traditions"

I'm not sure what's behind the "tradition" of the pastor standing at the head of the casket after a funeral service.  As the "viewing line" comes around, they all look at me with this bewildered look, like "am I supposed to shake your hand?"  I know that the few times I've been to services that I'm not conducting, I do appreciate the chance to thank the minister for his words of encouragement, etc. so maybe that's all it is. But most folks still give that confused look.

However, if the first person shakes my hand, then the rest of the line sees that and has this, "Oh, I guess I have to shake your hand now, too" look.  If it's a church member's service and it's other church members, the handshake is real.  For folks I don't know, it can be very awkward. 

I share that simply because I've made the decision that since 90% of all funerals I attend end with me up front offering this awkward handshake, I think that when I die I should leave instructions for the funeral director to embalm my body with my hand hanging out of the casket so that my last funeral can end like all the others: with me up front offering folks an awkward handshake.  (For the record, this probably won't actually happen since upon sharing the idea with my wife she informed me there was "no way" she was touching me when I'm dead!  Oh, feel the love.)

This brought to mind a recurring idea for me: why do we do the things we do?  Why do the bride and groom stuff cake into each other's mouths at weddings, for example? Or why do you have to have different forks for salads and desserts?  These are the things that keep me up at night.

I know that there are probably good reasons for most "traditions" in the church and elsewhere.  If I had the time and patience I could probably track those reasons down.  I don't mean to make light of those things that really do have meaning.  But so much of what we do, we simply do because...that's what we do.

Simple things like church bulletins.  Insignificant for most folks, but let the copier break down and go a Sunday without any, and while most might not really care, you'll have a couple of folks at least who will have a meltdown.  "What?! No bulletins?  We won't know what song is coming next! How will we survive?!"  Maybe not that bad, but we get used to things like that, and begin to think they are a vital part of things when they really aren't.

Or the other hand shaking thing, the one where we take time in the worship service to walk around and shake hands.  We do this before we even begin the actual service, but I've been places where the service starts, and then we stop to shake hands, and then we try to go back to worship.  Seems an odd insertion.  And again, some folks will freak if we don't do it. 

This one I really did experience.  We didn't do the "greeting time" one Sunday years ago, and I had someone come up after the service and was very irate about it.  "Why didn't we have the greeting time?  Why are you trying to change things?  Etc."

Those are simple things.  But the point is, we ought to take time now and then to consider the things we do in the church, or in our families, or wherever.  And we need to ask ourselves, are these meaningful things, useful things, productive things, Biblical things?  Or are they just traditions, habits, rituals, things we don't even know why we're doing them. 

Just some thoughts.  And if you do for some reason happen to attend my funeral, don't be shy, go ahead and shake that hand.  It will mean a lot to me.   

Monday, December 1, 2014

Final Feelings on Ferguson (maybe...)

Years ago, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh started using a phrase to describe the liberal politicians and their media mouthpieces.  He called it "symbolism over substance."  The point being that those on the "left" were more concerned about good sounding ideas and such than actual, real world ideas and legislation.   That idea has now completely taken over our nation, it seems.

The headline in this past Sunday's paper said that the events happening in Ferguson, MO surrounding the black young man who robbed a local store and was then fatally wounded in a confrontation with a white police officer, was the beginning of the "new civil rights era."  Really?  This is the kind of case those fighting for genuine racial harmony are going to build their platform on?  One where the actual facts have nothing to do with a racial issue at all?  Symbolism over substance.

Meanwhile, across the city in St. Louis proper, several Rams players took the field with their hands up in the air mimicking the chant of the Ferguson protestors: "Hands up, don't shoot."  Never mind the fact that the evidence in this case, including the autopsy, show that if the young man would have actually demonstrated this attitude and posture, he might still be alive.  But as I stated in a previous post, facts don't seem to matter when it comes to issues of race.  Now, it's symbolism over substance.

As I also mentioned previously, I grew up about 30 miles from Ferguson.  While in the area over Thanksgiving, we watched in disappointment as protestors filled local shopping malls on "Black Friday", laying in the floor to obstruct shoppers, even closing a couple malls down.  Now I've never been a Black Friday shopper, so it doesn't bother me directly, but what of all the workers in those malls who are losing paychecks because of this.  Does this really help the "cause" of the protestors?  Or does it just create more animosity and division?

Furthermore, large groups of people on private property protesting like this should have led directly to arrests.  If I took a group of folks to the local mall and started preaching the gospel in the center court, I can guarantee I would have been escorted out quickly and firmly by security.  But this is a "racial" issue, so...  These actions really mean nothing constructive. It's just symbolism over substance. 

There are real problems in this world.  As Pastor Voddie Baucham (who is black by the way) pointed out.  "There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus," Pastor Baucham says, "if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black"

Where are all the protests for genuinely innocent young black men and women being killed routinely by gangs and thieves and such?  Where are the outbursts when a white young man was killed by a black police officer?  Where are Sharpton and Jackson and the others when two young black men torture, rape and kill and young white woman?   Where are the mall stoppers when truly innocent victims are being slaughtered left and right each and every day?  Where are the cries of outrage when black business owners have their businesses destroyed by "protestors"?  Oh, those lives don't matter, I guess.  Or maybe it's that those cases don't feed their political machines, fill their pockets with donations, and help push their race-baiting agenda.  Symbolism over substance.

Once again, please hear me.  The death of Mike Brown was tragic.  I pray for his family.  I pray for his friends and community.  This is a tragic loss of life.  But the evidence was gathered, presented to a grand jury that was already "seated" long before this case came along, witnesses were interviewed, and the result was that the officer here did nothing criminal, worthy of charges.  Why can't we focus on those out there who are guilty of criminal actions, now including many of the rioting, looting, so-called protestors in this case?  Ah, but that would break the symbolism over substance cycle.

I know men's hearts are wicked and depraved.  Sin was in the heart of Mike Brown as well as Officer Darren Wilson.  Sin is in the hearts of the protestors.  Sin is in my own heart.  But my prayer is that the power of the Gospel would prevail, that men's hearts would be changed, that people would start focusing on the substance, the real problems, the real issues, and stop focusing on symbols like this case where the facts don't support at all the protestor's claims.  

I long for the day when we can see one another simply as people, not white people, or black people, or whatever.  And when real issues of race arise, they ought to be addressed.  But the response by so many in this particular case, looking at the symbolism over substance, just leads to frustration on both "sides" and does nothing to genuinely help bridge the gap.  May God truly change some hearts, may folks wake up to the real issues, may genuine victims begin to have their cause championed, and may peace truly come to our communities.  Not just the symbol of it, but the substance of it.