Saturday, October 26, 2013

Character Building and Other Painful Things.

While driving the other day I had the opportunity to listen to a portion of the Mike Huckabee radio program. I was once quite a follower of talk radio, with tastes that ranged from Rush Limbaugh to Don Imus and a host of others. But I no longer spend the time in a car that I once did and so my time spent with talk radio has lessened greatly.

At any rate, while listening to the Huckabee show I had the mixed pleasure of listening to a discussion (?) concerning trophies for participation. Passions were high and feelings ran deep on each side of the question. It seems that we as a culture have become confused as to the nature of play and the purposes of both winning and losing. Those subjects (play, winning and losing) are what I wish to ponder for a  moment or two.

What is the purpose of play? Might I be so bold as to state that the purpose or play is to have FUN! When was it decided that play was to have such great and grave consequences? My memories are filled with images of laughter and smiles. Growing up as a normal (yes, I was normal once) boy I tested myself against other boys, and it matters not in my memory whether I bested those others or not. Those memories, and they are quite clear, give little note as to the outcome of the contests. Those memories are filled with the joy of companionship, and many of those boys (and girls) are my friends still. There are memories of losses, indeed, my baseball "career" was filled with them, but the losses are mere footnotes. It seems to me that the purpose of play is to allow us to exercise, to exercise our spirits, our bodies, and our emotions. Play does not concern itself with such trivial matters as winning and losing or any other such nonsense. Modern culture has made play a much too serious thing. In short, we've taken the fun out of play.

In the process of robbing play of its essential nature we have elevated winning and losing beyond the pale. May I say that winning has been overrated? The worst examples of sportsmanship that I have experienced and observed have come from those who were the winners. I have some experience with winning, mostly in individual competitions, and a great deal of experience when it comes to losing. Growing up as one of the smallest in all my classes I had the great displeasure of being among the last picked at everything involving athletics. I quickly learned that I would have to excel on the field if I was to avoid the bottom of the pecking order. And that I did. But I never forgot the feelings being picked last engendered. Those lessons helped to build my character, which is what they should do. We should play for the love of play itself, the outcome is of secondary importance. Our modern culture is wrong to place such an emphasis on winning.

Those memories gave me a strong desire to help others avoid such a fate. This desire to look out for the "least of these" has been a strong part of my life. As a father of six, including four boys, I have always striven to instill in all my children a sense of fair play and a desire to do one's best, regardless of the outcome. Whether or not I have succeeded will only be known in the years to come. My hope is that their character will reflect the love of play and the value of those we play with.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rainy Days and Mondays

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down....
(The Carpenters)

I'm generally a pretty positive person, there's not much that gets me down. But every once in a while I find myself in a funk. Many seem to think that pastors should never feel discouraged or lonely or have questions about their faith or the direction of their lives....Boy are those people wrong. 

I don't mean to burst your bubble...but pastors have the same struggles, the same concerns, and the same temptations as the rest of the members of their churches. I may be the only pastor to admit it, but on many Mondays I'm ready to write "I Quit" on my forehead and have even written out a letter of resignation more than once. Now before you panic (or celebrate) unnecessarily....I have never tendered a resignation (officially or unofficially) on a Monday. I love preaching and I love the church. The ministry is what I have been called to and all I have done since I was 19. I may not be very good at it, but it's who I am.

Then why the struggle on Mondays?

Very simply.....I'm human. I grow tired, distracted, discouraged and confused just like anyone else. The pedestal that pastors are placed on and the pressures and expectations we labor under can rob the joy from us on any day. Add to that the burden of caring for a congregation of any size and you have a recipe for difficulty. It is a simple truth that every minister can and will grow weary under the load. 

Then why do I keep coming back? 

Because I'm called. This is what God has called me to do. I can do nothing else and be in the center of His will for my life. Besides that, I love it. I believe in the church, that messy bunch of people who drive me crazy most Sundays and who wake me in the middle of the night to pray and weep over. I willingly accepted the task and the responsibility when I said yes to God's call all those years ago. I had an idea of what the life I was signing up for would be like, but I was unprepared for much than followed. Like many others, I have been tempted at times to walk away, but at the end of the day I cannot. I am called and I will serve until I die or until God calls me to another avenue of ministry. 

So why this post?

I want to encourage the 4 of you who might actually read this blog to commit yourselves to become champions for your pastor and other ministers. The ministry is a lonely profession, but it doesn't have to be. I want to encourage you to spend time in the days ahead to encourage, cheer on, and surprise your pastor. A kind phone call in the middle of the week. An encouraging note dropped in the mail or placed in an office door. A small monetary gift slipped into his pocket...any of these things will go a long way toward helping your pastor stay the course. 

I've gone on too long already. Some would say that I've said too much.  What I have done is speak my heart and managed to make it through an extremely difficult Monday without writing "I Quit" on my forehead...

At least until next Monday.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Loss Too Great to Overcome?

As anyone who has ever read this blog will tell you,  I have a keen interest in politics. I am independent, but with a definitively conservative leaning. I even have a brief flirtation with elected office in my past. Yes, I once attempted to gain elected office. (I ran for governor of Boys State in 1977....finished 4th in my party primary. I ran on a platform of government owned by  and for the citizenry) My failure to advance out of that primary pretty much spelled the end of my political aspirations, but not my interest.

The current government shutdown is, in my opinion, a laughable example of what is wrong and broken in this country. I am sick and tired of the self-aggrandizement and outright lying that is fed the American people daily during this charade. The government shutdown and looming debt ceiling "crisis" reveals a system that is broken, a people who have lost their moral center, and leaders who are anything but. Perhaps I should speak plainly....Our country, once great, has become a shadow of its former self.

It is politics that I want to speak of today, or rather politicians. I am of the belief that politicians have become the scourge of our country. I have no use for politicians of either party. If I had my druthers every last one of them....Democrat, Republican and independent would be voted out of office tomorrow and not permitted to run for office again...ever, period. What this country needs, in my opinion, are statesmen.

A statesman is not obligated to any special interest group or particular block of voters. The statesman votes according to his belief in what is best for the country, whether it gains him or her any electoral advantage or not. The political process has become corrupted by special interests on both sides....rendering either side incapable of speaking honestly or governing effectively. A statesman does not think of advancing one's personal fortune or portfolio and returns home when their job is done.

In my opinion, not one of the current group of "leaders" in Washington meets the previously mentioned criteria. There is not a single man or woman in Washington who merits mention in the same sentence as giants such as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The whole lot of them do not deserve the privilege of representing the people of this nation.

Many of you reading this will consider me angry, they are right. The current crop of disappointments in Washington have made me angry. They have mortgaged the future of this once great country and saddled my children with a debt that their children will never be able to pay, among other acts of unbelievable hubris. Someone needs to remind them of these words from the Declaration of Independence:

"Government of the people, by the people, and for the people..."

I want my country back.