Monday, April 30, 2007

I'm a JC Man

A disclaimer - this one's a little raw, if your sensibilities are easily offended, move on.

You who know me, and love me anyway, which, by the by, I appreciate immensely, know that there are two "Johnnys."

The difference between Johnny 1 and Johnny 2 is about 50lbs.

Last week, as I stepped on the scale (more about that in a minute) it was clear which Johnny I was dealing with.

It's not like I didn't know it already.

I did.

The clothes in my closet I can't wear right now told me.

The physical disgust I feel when I look in the mirror, and my efforts to avoid doing that told me.

The blood pressure meds I take everyday told me.

Trying to avoid having pictures taken of me, told me.

Or, taking that typical approach that I have so many times before that, when someone dared ask me about my weight, and start with, "what do you weigh? 2what?" My pat response, "2damned much."

I recently viewed a rough cut of web-video we're preparing to tell Saint John's story. There's a jolt - watching what the video tells you.

And last week, my wife told me.

She did it in love, of course. But as she is prone to do, it was clear, it was of concern, and it was something she shared with me as well as her plan.

First of the year she started one of those famous weight loss programs (the name of the program and Jesus Christ share the same initials). Having never fully lost all of Jack's baby weight, and with a major age milestone inside a year away, her motivations were clear.

And she's done great, and she feels so much better.

So, with the aforementioned, or at least alluded to, program - there's a spouse rate.

Perfect. (some sarcasm here)

I don't need no stinkin' program, I can do that for myself, as I have every other time in my life. For that story, go here.

What she told me, in so many words, was that line from Dr. Phil that's made it's way into the pop culture vernacular - "How's that working for ya?"

Point taken.

Dammit, I hate it when she's right.

Is it a character deficiency on my part?

A sign of failure?

Lack of discipline?

Do I really want the answers to those questions?

So, I went, reluctantly.

Signed in, and was assured, that, despite all the adverstisements to the contrary, many men do this program.

Fine. At this point, just show me where to sign and let's get on with our lives.

From there we went to the back of the room and onto the scale.

Nothing like the truth, in numbers, to reveal and confront what we deny.

Holy Shit.

I cannot believe I've let myself do this again.

I'm mad at myself - my periodic visitation with serious self-loathing is just around the corner. I am pissed off, disappointed, and pretty sure I'm am an abject failure on this matter.

I was purely stunned by what I saw. I didn't have a clue. Really.

And then it occured to me that I have not been on a scale at all in years. Maybe 4 or 5 years?

Hmmm. Wonder why?

For all the talk I do about accountability, and even the ways I seek to practice it in the matters of the spirit, why, then, do I avoid it so deliberatley in the physical realm?

What is it they say about the truth? It is saying aloud what everyone else knows but dare not say.

Well there it was, as big as life - numbers that did not lie - a truth that could not be avoided.

And I freakin' hate it. If the humiliation was not complete enough, the person guiding me through pulled out her Polaroid camera for the "before" shot.

Oh, hell no. But before I knew it, it was done.

At this point, go ahead, make the biggest poster you can and put me up next to the "Cheers" girl and the "One Day at a Time" girl.

I got nothing left to fight this.

So for the foreseeable future, I'm going do this thing - God knows I need to.

No really, God knows I need to -

And on this matter I will be held accountable, weekly.

The one discovery that has hit me again is simply this - we are never ever too far removed from the capacity to slip into patterns of life, of body and/or spirit, that make us less that what we're meant to be.

This thing - is mine.

Oh, I have a few others - but this one is mine for right now.

And just as Jacob wrestled with the Divine, daring not to let go, neither will I.

I may end up limping when it's all said and done, but I ain't a lettin' go.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Voyeurs All

I haven't seen the movie "Disturbia," but I from the trailer, I think I get the gist, and I find it curious that it is the number one movie in the land.

Is that because it's a great movie?


But I suspect something more's at play.

A modern-day nod to the master, Alfred Hitchcock, whose "Rear Window" stands the test of time as a phenomenal film - these works of fiction tap into the insatiable curiosity leading us to look into other people's lives without having to be invested in them.

For some, such curiosity is fetish - for others, still, it is escapism. If we can look at someone else's plight, we don't have to think about dealing with our own. And as it is with any of us who, without a system of accountability, if we don't have to deal with the issues of our own lives, we won't.

So, we watch Mary Winkler's trial. Glued to it. The preacher's wife who kills her preacher husband, and the rest of the world gets to hear what is, at times, the harsh reality of the bifurcated world in which some clergy families live.

We fain disgust at NBC for airing snipets of the multi-media manifesto of Cho Seung-Hui, the deeply troubled young man whose rage found expression by murdering 30 something people and injuring just as many more. We don't want to see it, but we do. We want to look in the eyes of someone who does the unimaginable to see if we can figure out why.

We make value judgements of Alec Baldwin's tirade at his child played from a voicemail - we're looking into the window of someone else's life. Does celebrity mean that all measure of privacy is lost? What he said was inappropriate, sure - but to have it shared with the world is wrong, maybe criminal, and is at least tacky.

But we keep looking in - and maybe get a little rush that someone else's "stuff" has been exposed.

We are "Peeping Toms" of another kind, and sadly, I'm not so sure there's any turning back from that.
Truly, it exposes the lesser angels of our nature.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Preaching to Your Own

It is a rare thing to preach in front of colleagues.

It is especially rare for me because it's not something I seek, or relish.

Last week, I did it twice.

The first time was a joke. I had not meant for it to be.

I had committed to substituting for a colleague whose family emergency precluded her from being present at the Board of Ministry retreat. I was glad to offer help, as she's my friend and member of the clergy with whom I am in a weekly covenant group.

I could swear she told me I'll be preaching Tuesday afternoon.

You could imagine my surprise when, on Monday afternoon, the worship leader looked at me as if to say, "You ready, we're starting, RIGHT NOW!"

I said, "Me?" "I thought I was preaching tomorrow." Which meant I was going to spend some time Monday night working on what I was going to say Tuesday.

Nope. Right here. Right now.


I ran to my laptop to check to see if my rough outline for what I was preparing for "Tuesday" was in a form I could do anything with.

It may have been, but my panic was such that I couldn't pull it together.

So, I did what any other reasonable person would do. I pulled up the previous Sunday's sermon on my laptop and went with that. To make it even more strange, I didn't have time to get a hard copy printed so I carried the laptop into the pulpit. That's the only time I see that happening again. The original version of the sermon, as preached at Saint John's, is linked here from our church's website. The version preached at Lakeshore, hopefully, will fade into obscurity.

I got through it. People were kind. Candidates for ministry knew better than to be anything other than that, at least to my face. My colleagues of many years were kind, but enjoyed the laugh. No doubt, I would have to0, on the other side.

It was hardly my best. But it got my heart pumping!

The other opportunity came last week as we hosted the clergy from my district. I was numb from the previous days' work with the Board, and the next day I've got preachers coming into our church?

Forget about it.

One sure way to insure I'll attend such meetings is to have me host them!

Anyway, I've been living with this one for quite awhile. There's some things on my heart I felt I needed to say to my sisters and brothers. Something that burned. I have to believe it was of God.

And as it is when you've got something to say, God's humor is such that despite my passion, you can rest assured the folks you most want to hear you don't show up.

Isn't that just the way?

Nonetheless, that sermon is here, and I'm thankful I got that opportunity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Three years ago this morning, at about 4:30 a.m., I got the call from my sister-in-law that my brother had died in his sleep.

I happen to be staying with my folks this week as I do Board of Ministry work at Lakeshore. I'll call my sister today.

As I process my grief, I've been all over the place through the years -
  • I've lamented unexpected loss
  • I've grieved brotherly "stuff" never fully worked out.
  • I've grieved him not being able to watch his son grow up

But today, I just miss Jimmy.

For more on my written journey of dealing with Jimmy's death, hit the "Jimmy" label below

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Freshman in the House

One more sign that life is about to change, again.

My wife and I, along with our oldest son, attended the incoming freshman parent/student meet n greet at
HIGH SCHOOL tonight.

That's right, kids, High School.

There's something about the smell of a high school gym - you know what they say about olfactory triggers of memory. When we gathered in the gym for orientation, I commented, "this smells like high school."

Eager parents were there along with their excited offspring (although the aforementioned offspring presented themselves as being nonplussed, gotta look cool don't you know).

Being the observer of people that I am, it was case study time.

And I've come to a conclusion. I don't think you can go into a high school, any high school, without the engrams of your own memory firing up reminding you of when you where in your own.

Now what you do with that remembrance varies. Some folks take that remembrance and place it proper perspective. For others, though, it was as if they were in high school again.

Those folks scare me.

With only a handful of notable exceptions, there really is not much about my own high school experience I would want to remember or relive, either in actuality or vicariously through Andrew.

But as I watched my boy, the young man he has become, I couldn't help but notice that glint of excitement in his eye - and maybe a little fear, too - that a new chapter awaits him this fall.

The stories, the joys and pains - the journey that awaits.

It's not one I can take for him - but I think I will be taking it with him.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Some Random Rants

…Let me let you in on a little secret. My ushers like to send me notes in the offering plate. When the crowd is especially good (and it’s been great), on the top of the plate that I receive when singing the doxology I get “the count.” And when the crowd's down, the card's nowhere to be found.

I try not to make a big deal out of it. Any preacher who says that he or she does not care how many people are in worship on any given Sunday is a liar. So, on April 8, Easter Sunday, I knew it was good. Even without the hyperbolic preacher count, I couldn’t have guessed how good. The card read 293.

Now for those of you from mega churches, you feel free to scoff at that, make light of it, go ahead. For those of us who have long believed that God was about to do a new thing with the remnant of Saint John’s, it is confirmation that God is doing something remarkable with us – may we be response-able to where that calling takes us.


…Four years this week I was in Jackson, Tennessee, with my band, Glad River, recording a CD we would call PEACE. All the dynamics at play in getting the band together, to record again - the intensity of the experience, done in five days bordered on grueling. In between takes, or when one of us had laid down our track and we had a brief moment to veg out, we were transfixed on the television. Our country was at war, and Baghdad had fallen. Even then I never doubted our capacity to run roughshod over whatever army Iraq had. My worry then, as reflected in my writings at the time was that we would have trouble winning the peace. It’s not that I’m super smart on such things, it was just a feeling.

I wrote the liner notes for that album for the band - without going to grab one of the several hundred copies of the cds that live my garage and copying word for word what I wrote, the gist of it lingers – “As we record this week our country is at war. We pray that our children will learn the lessons our actions teach and that they will resolve their disputes with something other than bombs and guns.”

I guess I’ll have to keep praying.


…. Don Imus, a radio host who’s been around forever (and that may not be metaphorical), used profoundly offensive language on air when talking about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, college kids, who made a heck of a run in the Women’s NCAA tournament.

While his radio and television networks conspire to determine how much punishment to mete out while not losing the services of the cash cow this guy must be, and, having the appearance that they’re sensitive and tending to one of their problem children forcefully (while really only proffering a token appeasement of those folks who want him fired), the I-Man has been on the mea culpa trail to apologize for his lack of judgment (By the way, my grammar check tells me that the previous sentence is way too long – but I’m going to keep it anyway).

In response to an angry caller who was really nailing him, Imus employed that “you don’t know me” defense by saying that he is a good person who said a bad thing. He may be. I don’t know him.

God knows that more than a few things have come out of my mouth that shouldn't have. I'd like to think that my character is more than the sum total of what was emerged from my cake hole over the years.

But no differently than Newt Gringrich can say he’s not a hypocrite despite his affairs during the Clinton impeachment, you can’t say you’re good, or a hypocrite or not – I can’t really even say that I’m a Christian - my actions do that for me.

Despite what you say, what do your actions bespeak of who you are?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Maundy Thursday, 2007 Homily "A Matter of Integrity"

There are moments in life when the actions we take, the engagement of our lives with the world around us become self-defining. We can talk all day about who we are and what we believe – but there’s nothing more revealing or indicting than action.

Maundy Thursday is one such day. It reveals through action the character of the One who draws us into this worship space tonight.

It is action that drives us, defines us – makes our liturgical words have meaning. For without action to match the gospel that at once comforts and confronts, affirms and afflicts, inspires and indicts, then we are doing little more than playing mind games and even Karl Marx isn’t right because if religion, in his understanding, is little more than an “opiate for the masses” then I feel gypped because half the time the buzz ain’t that good anyway!

So, action, these actions give meaning to what Jesus has taught. They give meaning to what we believe. They make all this Jesus business real – incarnate.

On this night we focus on an action of Jesus found only in the 4th gospel. Synoptics don’t have it. John, historically considered the last of the canonical gospels written, has a particular agenda – the writer has a bias, (which should surprise no one, don't we all have a bias in whatever point we're seeking to make?) one too often criticized and discounted when placed alongside the synoptic gospels. After all, Matthew, Mark and Luke have particular parallels. John at times, seems out there on his own, and he is.

Only he tells us of the wedding at Cana, the woman at the well, we know of Nicodemus’ visit by night, a story from which we have the verse Martin Luther called, “the gospel in miniature.” On he tells us of the “I am” sayings of Jesus – good shepherd, vine, door, light of the world, bread, way, truth and life. Only in John is Lazarus raised.

And only John has this text – Jesus, at Passover, after sharing table fellowship, takes upon himself an action that will be self-defining from hereon, as it will be for all of us who carry his name.

He, the one called, teacher, Lord, Messiah, Christ – comes now to assume the role of the menial laborer – the literal dirty work

To do so was not a choice absent other options or other considerations – it was a matter of integrity. He did this thing, both in the upper room with his disciples, as well as walk the Via Dolorosa because that’s who he is.

To have done anything other than to be a servant, than to identify with the suffering of humankind by embracing the cross, would have been to have missed his moment – the moment when his action told the truth of who he was.

In his book “Let Your Life Speak” Parker Palmer talks about integrity – he says:

.. We would be wise to listen intentionally to the voice of our own lives and to discern what our very soul is saying to us in the depths of our being, there where truth abides. As we listen to ourselves, we can become ourselves.

Jesus did what he did because it was in keeping with who he was. It was whole, it had integrity – in this moment of self-giving, Jesus was not conflicted, neither was he divided. He was who he was – and his actions bespoke that reality.

Rarely in your observance of Christian liturgy will you find something so profoundly intimate as the washing of feet. Maybe that’s why it’s not a sacrament (which it should be), there’s really no way to observe this liturgy with integrity without literally touching someone.

And maybe that’s what all this dramatic fuss is about this Holy Thursday night and there following into the Great Three Days. If nothing else, we observe integrity at work. That’s an awe inspiring thing. For to live with integrity is joyful, because in it we are complete. We are fully what we’ve been created to become.

Don’t forget, though, that just because we live with integrity, even joyfully, does not mean our work is pleasant, or that we’re giddy about it.

Ministry is hard. Giving yourself away is hard. If it were easy, wouldn’t more folks be doing it? Instead, too many of us live that numbed (“I just love Jesus”) religious life giving credence to Marx’s critique, and that’s a sad thing - it perpetuates the body divided, if not fractured. And it's a choice - I've really come to believe that to live with integrity or not is far more in our control that we'd care to admit.

Child of God, companion of Jesus – this is the life that we are called to follow – “Listen to your life,” and go where that takes you - you will not know integrity, yourself, God - to the full, until you do.