A Potter's Perspective on Life, the Church, and Culture

Weeds are a pain! It’s hard to distinguish them from good plants sometimes, and by the time you can tell the difference it’s too late to do much about them. I guess you can just use an herbicide to kill everything, but that throws out the good with the bad. Somebody said that the way to tell a weed from a valuable plant was to just pull on the plant and if it’s hard to pull up, it’s a weed. If it comes up easily it’s probably a good plant. From my experience, that’s pretty accurate!

Someone else said, “To distinguish flowers from weeds, simply pull up everything. What grows back is weeds.” Jesus had a different take in Matthew 13:24-30. He said that we should be hesitant to do any pulling up of weeds until the harvest when the Divine Harvester knows what’s what. He doesn’t say there won’t be a Judgment or that there aren’t any standards. I think what Jesus is suggesting is for us to be very careful in our assessments on this side of eternity.

Therefore, pulling up everything is usually counterproductive. So how do we distinguish the good from the bad? Haven’t you found yourself wondering sometimes what or who the “weeds” are? We have to ask questions daily that are judgment calls: “Is this opportunity legit?” “Should I vote this way or that way?” “Is this guy/gal the real deal?” Sometimes the answers are iffy, either pro or con, and we hedge our bets and try to abstain. Most often I try to stack up the plusses and minuses and go with my mental winner leaving a lot of room for intuition and God’s gentle nudges.

I know Jesus said to let the weeds and good plants grow together until the harvest and let God do the judging. But aren’t you challenged just a little, if not a lot, to try to go ahead and distinguish between the well intentioned dragons and the good guys, God’s best plans and the train wrecks? Doesn’t judging have as its goal the best interest of God and humanity? So, no matter what, aren’t we supposed to be careful fruit inspectors and discern a tree, a person, or an idea’s legitimacy? Jesus did say that we would know a person’s character by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).

Gosh, that last thought sounds a lot like unchristian judging to me, but aren’t we supposed to discern right from wrong? Paul was pretty plain about it in I Corinthians 5:9-13. He was addressing a situation in the Corinthian church where a step-son married his step-mom and Paul asked the church to show him the door: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy, and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. Now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a person do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’”

However, before we start expelling all the sinners from the church we must leave room for grace and forgiveness. Paul, writing about the same guy and situation, says in his next letter (2 Corinthians 2:5-11) that the man learned his lesson and says that the church should welcome him back, “I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” Both of these texts are helpful in how to be church! We do have standards and should not turn a blind eye to the shenanigans of fellow Believers, and, if we do our judging with an eye to reconciliation and wholeness, the offending party will find renewal with God and in the fellowship. It’s like parental love. You have to have rules, time-outs, and consequences or you’re raising a barbarian!

To take this a step further, I’m reminded of Revelation 2:1-7 about the church in Ephesus. They are accused of forsaking their “first love.” I have often thought that it meant their love of God, but if you go back and look at what’s written about the church at Ephesus in Acts or Paul’s letter to the Ephesians you might agree that their first love is about their care for each other.

A big clue as to the identity of this lost first love is found in Revelation 2:6 where it says about the Ephesians: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Note that God didn’t say, “… the Nicolaitans, who I also hate.” We don’t know who the Nicolaitans were but we know that the Ephesians weren’t commended for hating the actual people, just their practices. My problem sometimes and perhaps yours is in hating not just somebody’s actions but the very person, too.

I guess all this is to say that we need to be very careful to separate how we critique things, so that in our judging we never cross the boundary between who someone is and what they do. If we get this right we might just be able to sustain civility and community even when we passionately disagree. The Bible isn’t against judging as much as we think. We must be careful, however, to do it with what’s best for the person and community in mind. That’s a major thrust of holiness anyway.

We have made holiness an anachronistic tired mean pharisaical word when actually it is the promotion of God’s own character in each other, plus it endorses lifestyles and actions that make our lives better. Holiness is not about who’s in and who’s out of our community as much as it is about how God wants us to best live and thrive. It’s like my grandmother who often corrected me by saying about the punishment: “This is GOOD for you.” I hate to admit it, but she was right! Indeed, judging is supposed to help our fellow strugglers know what’s best for them and how they can more clearly reflect God’s image and character.

Therefore, judge we must if we care about people and want them to have the best lives imaginable. The end game is to glorify God and love people. If we don’t stand for something we will most surely fall for anything. So what is right and wrong? I think for the most part we already know the answer to that question about any given topic, but we are either too guilty ourselves or too afraid to have the chutzpah to back it up. We aren’t brave enough to actually try to help somebody by pointing out their shortcomings, and we aren’t that interested in hearing it about ourselves. Well, whoever said being a Christian was for the faint of heart? We have work to do in our garden! Do we want weeds or fruit?

Weeding

 

 

My mother was an adventurer and my father liked safety. Today is going to be an adventure. My brother, Ralph, his grandsons and I, plus a couple of others, are going to canoe down the Little Saluda River and beware any snakes that might drop off a tree limb into the boat. Why are we doing this: adventure! There is something about taking risks and reaping rewards.

As I said, Mother was adventuresome. She went camping with us. We had impromptu road trips. She led us on odysseys beyond the beaten path. I miss her, but today my brother and I are going to get to remember her and use her as a compass. I wish we did that more often. Our lives would be richer for it, and immeasurably more fun!

Mother was someone who loved well and we were the primary recipients. She proved her great capacity for love time and time again from legally adopting a mentally handicapped man whose family had deserted him to being more than patient with my Dad and the rest of our crew. One of my biggest tests of her love came from an adventure that occurred about this same time of year nearly 45 years ago. At the mere age of 13 a friend of mine and I decided to take our own little road trip.

I didn’t have a driver’s license but Mother had been teaching me how to drive by letting me drive with her at my side on dirt roads near our house. So I guess I could say my running away was all her fault, but I know the limits of rationalization. It was my fault! You know it, and I know it!

Mother was at work and Daddy was busy, too, so “Red” Rainsford and I decided to take off. We went outside and got into the 1967 Chevrolet that I had been given as a hand-me-down to fix up and with no license between us we decided to travel the eighteen miles from Edgefield to Saluda, SC.

Thinking that wasn’t adventure enough, we decided to go a little further and ended up in Newberry, SC. There we made a fateful turn. As I recall, when we passed over Interstate 26 we sort of looked at each other time and said at the same, “Let’s find out where the interstate ends!” We got on the interstate and off we went!

In about an hour we were near Spartanburg, SC and I was starting to feel a twinge of guilt. I tried to call home and let Mother know what I was doing. No one answered. In a last ditch effort to assuage my guilt I called my Aunt Florence and asked her to tell Mother that “Red” and I were fine and would be back in a couple of days. “We’re going camping,” I said. I hung up too quickly to get any sage advice.

We kept traveling up the interstate and it got dark. By this time we were somewhere between a plan to keep driving or take a slight detour and spend the night at Chimney Rock State Park above Lake Lure, NC. Our minds were actually made up by the interstate itself. You may not remember the days when I-26 ended just below “Saluda Grade” between Tryon and Rutherfordton, NC, but it did. Our hopes for finding the end of the interstate were set back, but I had fond memories of a camping trip with the same said brother that I’m heading off with today. We had stayed at a roadside campground near Chimney Rock for a week when I was around 8. I even hoped I might be able to recognize the same campground.

We barreled through Rutherfordton, no license at all and not much sense to obey the speed limit. Thankfully we weren’t pulled over. We made it to Chimney Rock on Highway 64 with its dizzying curves. Despite the dark of night I indeed recognized the campground and though no one was awake to charge us any money or run us off, we pulled in and parked the car.

In my false bravado I told “Red” that he could sleep on the back seat of the car while I took the ground outside. It got cold! The mountain air was so chilly even in the dead of summer that I actually started the car so the exhaust would warm up the ground and the muffler. Avoiding the carbon monoxide fumes and turning off the car I drifted off into a fitful sleep wedged under the car as closely as I could. Pretty soon I was completely awake and I am sure that you know what woke me: my conscience!

I kept thinking about my poor mother. She would be worried sick and I could hear Daddy’s ire about her teaching me how to drive and telling her that I shouldn’t have had her old car in the first place. I went through all the conversations including calls to the Highway Patrol in my mind.

We were there maybe two hours when I woke “Red” and said, “We’re going home.” “Red” hardly openly his eyes as I gunned our way down the road retracing our trip. We did end up outside Modoc near Edgefield at Lick Fork Lake where we spent a few hours of sleep. Later in the morning I sheepishly took “Red” home and headed to my house.

With her intuition Mother knew we did more than do underage driving to Lick Fork, but instead of reaming me out – she hugged me tighter than I could remember. She hadn’t told Daddy anything except that I was spending the night somewhere. In her grace I learned a lot about unconditional love and also not to do anything like it again. Her hug and tears made that very clear.

When she finally told Daddy years later what I had done, he still got upset! That made me even more grateful for Mother’s grace years before. She proved over and over again the truth of I Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I hope that works today in a canoe on the Little Saluda, between Israel and Hamas, border patrols and children, and any other situation that calls for more grace than guilt. Indeed, love covers over a multitude of sins! May it ever!

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Well, one to two weeks are under the belts of newbie clergy who just moved to new parishes and, if they are like me, they’re pondering potential changes. Of course, someone wisely suggested to new clergy that, “You shouldn’t change anything for the first six months except your underwear!” Some may be wondering if they can wait that long. You’re probably wondering if you don’t make some strategic changes now, your “Honeymoon Advantage” may run out and be for naught. What are we to do as we make these first critical and highly analyzed/criticized decisions?

For me I have to first remember that every church is its own unique organism, family system, and culture. Therefore, what works in one place may or may not work in another. I also know that I need to find people that I can trust to tell me the unvarnished emotional history of the church. The factual history is easy enough to find in available documents, but find someone who can give you the “skinny” on the emotional processes that have occurred at nodal points in the church’s life.

How does the church handle decision making and crisis? What gets stirred up when there’s tension? Do people fight fair? Is passive-aggressive behavior the norm? Bottom line, become a church psychological detective and connect the dots of the family system.

Family systems theory, as in Edwin Friedman’s Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, is fascinating. There’s no way that I can summarize such an important tome, but here’s one quote that is illustrative: “One’s life course is largely determined by the amount of unresolved emotional attachment to family of origin, the amount of anxiety that comes from it, and what to do with it.” The question for newbie clergy is to discover the hidden wounds, the unresolved emotional attachments embedded in the psyche of church members and even their larger community.

You have heard the story of the young bride who marries a guy and cooks her first pot roast. She does everything just right, but her new husband is visibly disappointed. After a heated discussion he admits that his problem is that it’s just not the way his mother made pot roast, so she dares to go talk to his mother. The mother-in-law is clueless and assures her new daughter-in-law that she didn’t do anything special. But she does admit that she learned how to make pot roast from her husband’s mother. So she suggests that she go see her mother-in-law explaining that maybe she would have some insight.

The bride goes to see the grandmother and tells her everything that she did. The grandmother nodded approvingly and with a quizzical smile and asks the bride to step into the kitchen because she had made a pot roast that very day. The bride immediately sees what the difference is. The grandmother’s pot roast is square! When asked why she had a square pot roast the grandmother said that she and her husband were so poor when they got married that the only pot that they had to cook a roast in was square so they cut off the edges of the roast to square it up to fit the pot.

Wow! This was an unresolved emotional attachment that finally made sense when the bride connected the dots and did some research. Upon explaining this to her new husband, he was okay with the change. The discovery is that a family’s, and, I daresay, a church’s emotional processes are much more important than the facts or content of the issue(s), but once the emotional processes are uncovered you can more easily accept the content of the facts or the way things are.

Some new clergy have inherited churches with “square pots” and emotional operational systems that are begging for illumination and exposure. The risk is in when to do it. Two analogies come to mind in this whole endeavor that separates emotional process from content: one about doctors and medicine and one about “river babies.”

The doctor and medicine one is pretty straightforward. Tests and procedures provide facts about a person’s condition, but we don’t rely on facts alone when we are in the throes of illness. Whether or not we trust the doctor is of huge importance. A doctor can have all the facts (content) straight but have the bedside manner of a frog run over in the road (emotional process) and we are not happy, and say that we want a second opinion when what we really want is a second doctor who really cares and takes it personally that we survive!

The story about “river babies” is also helpful to ponder in a who-done-it assessment of our new churches. In this story many of townspeople are down at the nearby river and they notice a toddler floating by about to drown. Many rush in and rescue the child, then another child starts floundering by, and then another, and another and on and on. They call to get more townspeople to come help pull all these babies from the river when two men desert them. As the deserters are heading up the riverbank someone calls out and says, “Why are you leaving us? Where are you going? We need you here to help us save these babies!” The guys reply, “We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!”

In our decision to let things slide for 6 months or not, do we keep pulling babies out of the water reacting to the tyranny of the urgent, or do we try to figure out what the systemic cause is of our under-functioning? Every situation, family, church, and community can be better. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. God bless us as we determine whether or not to tread water or go upstream against the flow and do something about the real issues. Happy detective hunting as we separate the facts from the emotional processes at work in our new places of ministry.

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I like the band Five for Fighting and especially their song “Superman.” Superman is one of those superheroes that is very patriotic. Superman’s mission, in his words, is to fight for “Truth, Justice, and the American way,” but what exactly is the American way? Is it one way or many ways? Are we a melting pot of peoples, ideas, and values or are we a salad bowl that seeks to promote the separation of the tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and lettuce? In other words, do we value commonality over individuality, or what?

Sure there are some things that will likely be common fare this coming Fourth of July weekend: vacationing, bar-b-ques, and fireworks. I, for one, don’t feel like I’ve had a proper Fourth unless we watch the Boston Pops on the Esplanade beside the Charles River via PBS. What do you do for the Fourth? Are you into group stuff or doing your own thing? That is a metaphor for my assessment of our society right now.

I am worried that we have taken the “pursuit of happiness” and expanded it to a selfishness that appalls the rest of the world and our own common sense. But that is actually the problem, isn’t it? Do we have COMMON sense in our ultra-personalized country? I remember when all the Moms and Dads had a set curfew for all their kids and everybody just “knew” what the rules and boundaries were. Now it’s anything goes.

Sure everybody is unique and different, but aren’t there some best practices that would benefit everyone? Everyone wants freedom, but freedom without a higher purpose than personal or national gain is enslavement to our own agendas. Just look at our national debates about recent court decisions, or the lack of bi-partisan cooperation for evidence of misused freedom. Freedom without regard for the common good is terrible for everyone.

No matter how one stands on the issues, should we promote individual rights over what is best for all? Should personal standards of right and wrong trump what has been decided is best for society as a whole? I am concerned that courts have overturned state legislatures’ actions and voter referendums on definitions and laws on many subjects. These decisions have largely been based upon the “equal protection clause” of the US Constitution. The “equal protection clause” is part of the Fourteenth Amendment which took effect in 1868. It provided that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws.”

This amendment has been very helpful in our common desire to protect persons from racial or gender discrimination, but it has been a lightning rod for other court cases. Those cases have thrilled very disparate groups. Many on the Left celebrate the “equal protection clause’s” use in same-sex marriage cases, and many on the Right are happy with its use in the Hobby Lobby ruling. However, regardless of your political, theological, or personal notions about such issues, the question in my mind is the logical conclusion of the enforcement of the “equal protection clause.” If we all get to decide what’s negotiable or non-negotiable then anarchy prevails and no one is protected. In other words if we’re not careful equal protection means no protection.

Therefore, this Fourth of July my prayer is that we stridently avoid the promotion of individual freedom over and above our shared liberty. I don’t have as many answers as I do questions about the courts and the issues, but I’m hoping that whatever we do we will work for what’s best for everyone! I don’t want to see our freedom devolve into a free-for-all individualism.

We are better than that if we truly believe in our motto of E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One.” I’m wondering how to we get back to the idea of one over many? How do we value diversity while promoting a democratically decided unity? I feel the need to safeguard our society’s boundaries of decorum, morality, and civility rather than let anybody and everybody decide what floats their boat. A baseball diamond without foul lines isn’t baseball. What’s fair and what’s foul, and who decides? These are questions that we must answer in order to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. God bless America and save us from our freedom!

First Sunday Jitters

This Sunday in most United Methodist Churches will be the first time for a lot of new preachers and parishioners to check each other out. There’s anxiety on both sides of the chancel rail. I know that I’m feeling it! Of course this expected analysis is a bit of distraction from the true meaning of worship. In true worship we don’t idolize ministers and those who offer the Word. Preachers, liturgists, choir members, crucifers, and the like are stage hands of sorts helping the congregation honor God.

Some people think of the worship experience as one in which the clergy and choir are the actors and the congregants are the audience. This kind of thinking hardly identifies God as the primary focus of the service. We’ve denigrated worship to questions about whether the speaker is eloquent and the parishioner is somehow “fed” by the message. True worship, however, knows that God is the only audience worth pleasing and the congregation is the troupe of actors. In true worship the people behind the chancel are the cue card holders that facilitate the actors/congregation in rightly worshipping God.

True worship isn’t about score carding the sermon or music, but using both as vehicles to let God know just how much we trust and attribute all worth and praise to our great Deliverer. In simple terms, worship isn’t about us! It’s about God! Our trials and tribulations are lessened all the more as God is lifted up as the True Audience! Therefore, as it says in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

This begs the question for my first Sunday and every Sunday thereafter: Will my words and deeds lift Jesus up? Will people glorify God more or less because of my worship leadership? Is the service more about me or God? The questions can be answered best if the words come true that were spoken by the Greeks who approached Philip when they were seeking Jesus: “Sir,” they said, “We would like to see Jesus” (John 12:20-21). Many pulpits have these very words carved on them so that preachers can look at them before he or she stands up to speak. Yes, if people can see Jesus then we’ve had worship!

We’re all a tad bit nervous across United Methodism as we approach this first Sunday together, but everything will be fine if we please the Lord. Therefore, my prayer is that everything we do will please and honor God. So no matter whether you are a new pastor or an inquisitive parishioner, let’s focus on the Lord and the future will be bright!

In my nervous anticipation I was inspired last night by a video Cindy shared with me of a young lady with her own fears and trepidation. Give a listen and praise the Lord – Hallelujah! Everything is going to be alright!

Flying the UMC Trapeze

I have been thinking about this in-between time of being the Columbia District Superintendent and the new senior pastor of St. John’s UMC, Aiken. At 12:01 on this coming Wednesday it will be official, but I have already been flying the trapeze by attempting to let go of one bar to grab the other one. We have already moved into a house in Aiken. We have eaten in some great local restaurants, walked the streets, and met great new people both in the community and in the church. I have been acclimating myself to new surroundings while driving back to Columbia to fulfill my last days as DS – attempting to live in two worlds.

Jim Elliott, deceased missionary, was absolutely correct when he said, “Wherever you are, be all there!” I can’t reach out and be fully the pastor that St. John’s needs unless I let go of the other trapeze bar, and I surely don’t want to get caught hanging in the middle between the old and new. Flying the trapeze with one hand grasping one bar while the other hand is clenching the other is untenable. How many of us have found ourselves caught in similar circumstances between jobs, relationships, or situations? We catch ourselves wondering if we should risk a new thing or hold onto the familiar. One has to let go and be all there, wherever the “there” is.

As preachers move this next week there is going to be a lot of anxiety. There will be anxiety for churches and for clergy, and fear can be paralyzing. One church sign was frighteningly near the truth in this appointment transition time for churches and clergy: “Don’t let worry kill you, let the church help!” It’s almost not funny! For pastors and church members caught in pastoral transition, worry and church can often go hand in hand. What do we do with our worries? Do we bury them, or let them bury us? Do we have enough faith to take risks for God? Are we ready to move into God’s new opportunities for us? Are we ready to let go of the former things and embrace the new?

One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking a corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked, “How’s your cotton coming?” “Ain’t got none,” was the answer as he continued, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid of the boll weevil.” The visitor then asked, “Well, how’s your corn?” The farmer replied, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid o’ drought.” The visitor continued his line of questioning, “How about potatoes?” The reply was familiar, “Ain’t got none. Scairt o’ tater bugs.” The stranger finally asked, “Well, what did you plant?” “Nothin’,” answered the farmer. “I just played it safe.”

Playing it safe can be downright disastrous. Divine motivation demands our willingness to go out on a limb. Fear has to be defeated. Some of us anticipate the worst and don’t try anything. God wants us to put on our wave-walking shoes and get out of the boat of our comfort zone. I know that we all fear the unknown. I like routine as well as the next person. I’m infamous for ordering the same dish in restaurants. It’s simple really. I don’t want to be disappointed, but if I’m not willing to try something new, think what delights I’ve missed.

When a person fears the worst will happen, their own thoughts may help bring it about. Someone once wrote, “Fear is the wrong use of the imagination. It is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.” The story has been told about a salesman who had a flat tire while driving on a lonely country road one dark and rainy night. He opened the trunk and discovered that he didn’t have a lug wrench. He looked around and could barely see a light coming from a farmhouse. With relief in mind, he started walking through the driving rain toward the house.

The salesman began to think all kinds of thoughts. He thought, for instance, that the farmer would surely have a lug wrench that he could borrow. Next he thought about how late at night it was, and, of course, the farmer would be asleep in his warm dry bed. Maybe he wouldn’t answer the door. And even if he did, he’d be angry at being awakened in the middle of the night. And so on and on his thoughts went as he was walking to the farmhouse. Being soaking wet didn’t help his thought process, either.

He pondered that even if the farmer did answer the door, he would probably shout some rude vulgarity at him. This thought made the salesman mad. After all, what right did the farmer have to refuse him the loan of a simple lug wrench? He was stranded in the middle of nowhere soaked to the skin, and the farmer was a selfish clod! Fuming, the salesman finally reached the house and banged hard on the door. A light went on inside, and a window opened above. A voice called out, “Who is it?” His face white with anger, the salesman called out, “You know darn well who it is. It’s me! And you can keep your blasted lug wrench. I wouldn’t borrow it now if you had the last one on earth!” Anticipating the worst can become self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to give God a chance and stop worrying!

I hereby covenant to take a risk by trusting in God’s unfailing providence. Because God always provides, I am going to take flight on the trapeze bar of United Methodist itinerancy. I will not be caught in the middle, but will risk letting go of the past and embrace the glorious future called St. John’s UMC, Aiken! What risks are you willing to take on God’s trapeze?

As Father’s Day approaches my Dad’s life vividly floods my mind. He and Mother were a great team. As I actively try this morning to recall them both I spent more time listening to what my Daddy said and watching what Mother did. It was not that both traits weren’t important but their individual strengths leaned toward doing for my Mother and saying for Daddy. They weren’t deficient in either skill. Mother was a doer without fanfare that helped people, cut the grass, and made sure her three sons’ needs were met. Daddy was a professional talker, literally, whose proverbs and talks can be replayed at a moment’s notice. 

He was an auctioneer that graduated in 1939 from Reppert School of Auctioneering in Decatur, Indiana at the top of his class. His primary vocation was in the stockyard business, owning 5 at one time: Wilkes County Stockyard in Washington, Georgia; Thomson Stockyard in Thomson, Georgia; Saluda County Stockyard in Saluda, SC; Lugoff Stockyard in Lugoff, SC, and the original one in Edgefield, SC. He was very successful to say the least as a communicator and as a people-connector. His gift of gab served him well both professionally and personally. He turned many an enemy into a friend through active and effective communication. 

He and Mother were keen examples of Christian character. They loved people and proved it in ways that went above and beyond what I witnessed in others. Together they made a decision to adopt a mentally-impaired African-American. Frank Arthur became a part of the family before I did since I was born when my parents were in their early 40’s. Daddy taught me how to shave by shaving Frank. They both taught me compassion for the hurting through meeting Frank’s needs. They showed that love can conquer injustice when you put a real face (Frank’s) to it.

A fond memory that sticks in my mind this morning is walking up the 17 steps past their bedroom to my upstairs abode and overhearing their last verbal check-in as they were preparing for sleep. I heard love expressed; days unpacked and analyzed; concerns voiced; hopes and dreams visualized and planned. I heard their character embodied in those stolen moments. Then when I got upstairs to my room there would always and every night be a three-fold knock on the wall below me. My Daddy could have been just checking to see if I was really in bed, but in my heart of hearts I knew there was more, so much more. Those knocks were Daddy’s way of saying what he said to me countless times during the day, on the phone, or in a letter: “I love you!” Every night I knocked back, tap-tap-tap – “I love you!” 

Daddy’s affection was real, palpable, genuine and even when he got angry and verbalized it, his love always spoke louder. Oh, how he and Mother loved us and each other. They were married 56 years when she died seven years before his own death. The depth of his loss was exhibited in his inability to live in our home place without her. He moved to be closer to my middle brother which was, interestingly, the same thing that his father did after my grandmother died. We have been blessed all along our family tree with parents that loved each other to the grave and beyond.

In our theological enterprise that we call eschatology or the study of the final things; i.e., death, heaven, judgment, the end of the world – there is an acknowledgement that there is no end to love, the circle is unbroken, and as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed we do believe in the Communion of Saints – that mystical but very real interconnection between the saints militant who are alive on earth and the saints deceased but more alive than ever in the church triumphant.

On days like Father’s Day I can literally feel those saints’ presence. I can hear Daddy’s voice. My reminiscences become real. I am inspired to say things that my children not only need to hear but will hopefully treasure some day. On this Father’s Day 2014 I remember my father, Ralph Thomas McClendon, and am grateful to Almighty God for a wonderful Daddy. 

God bless us all to become fathers and mothers to the parentless in this often loveless and unloved world. There are people watching and listening, or as Daddy used to say, “Small pots have big ears.” Let us give them something to hang onto, to remember, and to celebrate.

Daddy & Microphone in Hand

Daddy & Microphone in Hand

 

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