Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Clock is Ticking

Ray had received one of those reports that people dread. Even when you have been blessed with a long life you do not want to hear a doctor say, ‘I’m sorry. There is nothing more we can do.’ And when you ask the next question it is hard to comprehend the ‘…it could be weeks, maybe months’ answer.

We sat there in the hospital room. I was trying to gauge how Ray and his wife were dealing with this news. They were both life-long Christians, believers in the Resurrection. Still, for many people of faith, the questions that come about at a moment like this usually include some serious ‘why’ thoughts.  It is a mystery soup consisting of God and faith and doubt.

So I just came right and asked him, “Ray how are you feeling about this news?” He said, “Well, life is like a clock, and mine is now ticking toward ‘12’. Everyone dies. But I do not fear dying. I know heaven awaits me. What’s the verse? Was it the one about the deer? What’s that one?”, he asked. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God. For the living God. When can I go and meet with God.”

Or maybe it was the one about “why are you downcast?” “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my savior and my God.”  “Yes”, he said, “that’s it.”

For Ray the fact that the clock was ticking was not something to dread, but something to anticipate, like a deer panting for water. His soul was not disquieted because he knew that the grave was empty, and that he would rise with Jesus to ‘yet praise my savior and my God.’

It is this hope which stirs behind the rock on this Holy Saturday.  The ‘sure hope’ that the rock will be rolled away and that life will come forth.  The clock ticks for all of us. If you really can believe all of these things then you believe that the striking of ‘12’ on the clock does not signal darkness but the dawn’s proclamation, “He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!”

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"Talk to You Soon, Jim"

“Jim died,” she said. “OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod,”, I said.

I was in my study, preparing for a funeral. I picked up the phone and heard the unexpected news. News you don’t want to be true, but you know it must be. “Stunned”. I think that is the word. And your mind starts to race through what was said; what you planned to say; what was never said.

Jim was the leader of our congregation when they issued a call to me to be their pastor.  We became close friends in those first months.  Jim knew the people better than I knew them. He knew where the skeletons were hidden. He knew where the potholes and sinkholes were and he drove me around them. I serve today because of Jim’s guidance then. 

As the ‘ship’ we were given to steer righted itself we could focus less on staying afloat and more on sailing toward a goal.  We discussed the dreams of what God might be up to at Hope Church.  We talked about how exciting it was to be invited to see God revitalizing God’s church.  We dreamed and debated everything: moving, name changes, remodeling.  Jim was my ‘bellwether’ friend. He was ‘old school’ enough that I could test how the changes I planned would be received by the congregation, and he helped me find ways to make the changes which survived our debates less stressful and more acceptable. If I could persuade Jim on a plan, then it was a ‘go’.

As time went on, and we entered our ‘smooth sailing’ years, our conversations shifted to family and friends, to Packers and Badgers.  He tried out his theories of what the Bible really meant and we talked about how Jesus was all about invitation, not exclusion. Jim grew in the Spirit and in his love of people in beautiful ways. We shared secrets, sorrows and joys.  Our last conversation, one week ago today, happened as I was out for a walk.  Jim finished our talk by saying, “You go finish your walk.”  I said, “talk to you soon, Jim.”

Now my friend is suddenly gone. I want to have that next conversation I promised him. I want one more hug from Jim.  Soon. If there is someone you want to hug, do it today.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sister Jean's Praying for a W!

Sister Jean is a most unique combination of ‘great-grandma’, cheerleader and chaplain.  A spry 98 years old, using a wheel chair for transportation, with a 98-watt smile serving as her headlight, Sister Jean has found her ’15 minutes of fame.’  If you believe if luck, then she is very lucky. If you believe in providence, then God is having fun watching his servant.

Sister Jean serves the Ramblers of Loyola University Chicago, a Catholic research university.  This past week, as a  part of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Ramblers men’s college basketball team scored an upset over a more highly ranked team (Miami) on a last-second shot. In the joy of the moments following, the courtside reporter for the national television cablecast caught up with Sister Jean on the sideline where she, enthroned on her chariot, received hugs and kisses from the sweaty players, and then gave an interview as to her opinion about why the team won.

“Thank God.” That’s who get the credit, she said. But, what was your prayer before game? “I asked God to help us. I told God we would do our part if he would do his part.”  She was not bashful about admitting that she called on God to help give the team the unlikely “W”. 

I often think about how to pray about sports, or anything else, for that matter. Should we pray for our team to win? With all of the billions of people in the world; with wars and starvation and injustice all around the globe, could God possibly care about my prayer request? Well, Sister Jean has had 98 years to think about it, and she has concluded God’s ears and mind and heart are big enough to care about the Ramblers and Syria on the same day. And her prayer is profoundly insightful in how it recognizes that the athletes have a part in the outcome.  I used to be quite bashful about praying for my teams to win, praying instead for things like ‘safety’ and ‘doing our best.’  From now on, I am using Sister Jean’s prayer. 

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18

Saturday, March 3, 2018

What Does Your Name Mean?

If you walked into some local watering hole in northern Minnesota you probably couldn’t pick him out of the crowd. For many years he would have liked it that way.  You see, this was the guy who failed in the critical moment.  Those who follow the sport of curling closely would recognize him, though. They would recognize John Shuster, in the years before 2018. They would go over to the other end of the bar and tell a few stories at John’s expense. Stories about how he performed well in 2006, but in 2010 and 2014 he failed.  

“It got so bad that the word ‘shuster’ was added to the Urban Dictionary. (Definition? ‘A verb meaning to fail to meet expectations, particularly at a moment critical for success or even slightly respectable results,’ as in ‘Man, he really shustered that!’)” (Scott Cacciola, NYT, Feb. 23, 2018) 

What happened after the 2014 Olympic Games, though, started the story which gave his name a new meaning.  He devoted every day for four years to a single goal: to win the Olympics Men’s Curling event in 2018.  With that single-minded determination he assembled a similarly non-descript team of ‘guys’ from Middle America.  He led his  ‘Team Reject’ as they overcame the United States Olympics folks who rejected him; they beat all the other qualifiers to whom they was supposed to lose; and they beat the best curling athletes in the world to win the gold medal.  And now the name ‘Shuster’ has a new meaning.

So let’s think about your name. What does it mean to you?  Are you wishing people understood who you really are, that when they said your name it had a meaning closer to who you know are, not who ‘they’ think you are?  Take a lesson from Mr. Shuster.  Set a goal. Work on it every day. (This is the hard part, by the way.) Don’t give up.  While you may not win a gold medal at the end of your quest, you will have shown the world, and most importantly, yourself, the real meaning of your name. Someone who will not let ‘others’ define your name; someone who will not quit when adversity hits hard; someone who believes in the God-given potential your name meant all along.