Participation Really Matters

When I woke up on Election Day, I was undecided about what I would do for the day.  Would I go to work, or, would I do something to help with the Obama/Biden Campaign?  I’d already voted, but I had yet to volunteer my time in any organized way.

The day before I had run into a friend who was very active in the campaign; she and her 21 year-old son had been out canvassing reminding people to vote.  I thought “good for them.”  My brother had been using his status as a lawyer to get involved in overseeing fair voting in FLORIDA.  I thought “good for him.”  I learned my sister, in Nashville, was calling places like Fla. and North Carolina, to encourage people to get to the polls.  I thought “good for her.”  My mom got in the act in Western NC which was good.  It was all good enough to make me think I should do something…maybe.

I was still undecided as I got into my car, when an errand–paying the cell phone bill–took me to the same plaza where the local Democratic headquarters was stationed.  That did it.  So, I stopped in and found out where I could be of help.  One staging area happened to be in my neighborhood.

When I arrived, I was given a stack of door hangers with voting information on them, and a list of supposed (I’ll get back to that in a moment) Obama-supporters who hadn’t yet voted.  With a map in hand, off I went.  The first four stops turned out to be a good representation of what I would face throughout the day:

  1. The person answered the door and told me she had just returned from voting;
  2. The person answered the door and told me that they had already voted…and were McCain supporters…oops.  Unfortunately I had a fair share of these encounters–all congenial, but I wish the data had been a bit tighter.
  3. The person who answered the door was the father of the 18 year-old on my list, and he assured me that she was very excited about voting, once she got home from classes.
  4. No one answered, and so I left an information placard on the door.
  5. Throughout the course of the day, I had a handful of encounters with folks who hadn’t yet voted, who said they were planning to, and maybe to whom I gave a boost of encouragement.

After two rounds of lists, my day was done, and it was time to wait out the day to hear the results.  The good news was, that all the canvassers from this staging location were able to complete our lists.

When it was first reported that Obama had captured Ohio, it was hard to truly believe; way too many shenanigans in past elections.  But as it settled into reality, and John McCain conceded, and Barack Obama gave his incredibly poignant–and truly presidential–victory speech, I stood back in amazement.  I also took a look at the numbers from our local county’s board of elections.  Here was the margin in our county:

 President and Vice-President
          Vote For One (1)  1
              (WITH 215 OF 215 PRECINCTS COUNTED)
           Chuck Baldwin/Darrell L. Castle (CON) .       250     .22
           Bob Barr/Wayne Allyn Root (LIB) .  .  .       365     .33
           Richard Duncan/Ricky Johnson .  .  .  .        83     .07
           John McCain/Sarah Palin (REP).  .  .  .    54,441   48.87
           Cynthia McKinney/Rosa A. Clemente (GRE)       145     .13
           Brian Moore/Stewart Alexander (SOC).  .        27     .02
           Ralph Nader/Matt Gonzalez .  .  .  .  .       999     .90
           Barack Obama/Joe Biden (DEM) .  .  .  .    54,786   49.18
           WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .       313     .28

Do the math: 54786 – 54441 = 345 voters, and .9% of the vote.

I have no idea if I influenced anyone to vote who for one reason or another had decided not to on that day.  But my imagination allows me to think that maybe, my time was worth it.  AND, whether or not I had any impact, I know for sure that all those canvassers who went before me in the days, weeks, and months leading up to this historic day in our nation, really did make this happen.

Kudos to President-elect Community Organizer, because it worked, and I truly came to understand just how much even a little bit of participation in the process really does matter.

May joy fill your day today, and may our Union be much more perfected in the four (if not eight) years to come!  Peace.


Lost Generation

A friend told me about the following vid on YouTube. It was part of a contest that AARP put on. I guess it’s been around for a while, but just in case you haven’t seen it….it’s pretty cool.

And then there was one…

This is Ebenezer.  He is a basset hound.  A 13 year-old basset hound.  He is a quirky dog.  As I write this he is currently moaning as he gets a toenail at just the right spot on his ear.  I guess it feels pretty good….    Up until two Fridays ago Ebenezer shared our house with Sage.  Sage was almost 14; apparently it was tumors in her lung that led to her death.

This is Sage.  She was a golden retriever.  She came to us the same time as our daughter was born, almost 9 years ago.  We became her surrogates as my parents were discovering the joys of retirement…traveling wherever the winds blew them (sometimes literally when they would go sailing).

Sage was a beautiful dog–probably as most retriever parents can attest.  It took her a little time to adjust to the rambunctious three year-old boy who invaded her space with suddenness and noise.  But she did.  In fact, as we grew from one to two to three, she barely blinked an eye when her tail was accidentally stepped on, or when she was quite intentionally tackled.  The only time she showed her displeasure was when she wasn’t free to be near us.  If she was in the backyard and we were in the driveway, she’d let us know.  And while her companion Ebenezer would gladly saunter away given such freedom, Sage would lie down with a ‘humph,” happy as a…well, happy as a dog near its loved ones.

Sage’s body was laid to rest in our backyard, along with some of her favorite things: a tennis ball, a dog bone, and a little stuffed Big Bird that she carried around from time to time.  Our children wrote her notes and they’re in there too; tokens of love and articles of thanksgiving for a beautiful life lived in faithfulness.

When we moved into our house there were our two cats, Kitty and Anni.  Then came Eb.  Then son #1.  Then Sage and daughter.  And for a while we were the “two family”: two partners, two children, two cats, and two dogs.  But as with all things in life, changes occur, and we were so happy with the arrival of son #2.

Not long after his arrival we lost Kitty.  Then Anni.  Now Sage.  Ebbie remains, and in the not-so-distant future we will be saying goodbye to him as well.  But in the meantime we’ll hug him, and cherish him, we’ll laugh at his antics, and we’ll take him for … oooo, I’d better not say the word, otherwise he’ll get all excited! … you know, a synonym for “strolls.”

And we’ll prepare for the day when the nest will empty of our chicks.  But that too is far enough off; and who knows, maybe the animal menagerie will see a new day???

A Tutu Fist-bump

One college student from the congregation I serve, attended a conference with PeaceJam.  Of course, one of the perks of attending these events is being able to meet and greet Nobel Laureates.  Bishop Desmond Tutu was one of the laureates attending this event.  As the father of this young man recalls the story:

at the Peace Jam hotel last Saturday night, Tim saw Bishop Tutu across the lobby and walked over to shake his hand.  But Tutu gave him a fist-bump instead.

How awesome is that!!  How many of us can claim to have high-fived a nobel laureate???

A Pastor Looks at 40

I don’t know how many of you have listened to Jimmy Buffett either now or at another point in your life.  I went through a Buffett phase: Margaritaville, Cheeseburgers in Paradise, Come Monday, etc….  One of his songs is called A Pirate Looks at Forty.  While it’s not the most uplifting song, I’m going to use its title as a muse as I reach that milestone age later this month.  What’s it like for a pastor, dad, son, husband, friend, self to reach this milestone?

Self: I guess 40 seems about right.  I still feel young at heart, but I’m certainly finding it harder to keep my body in shape.  The metabolism is not what it once was!  I remember playing tennis with Eric Koenig a year ago, and relaizing I’d lost a step or three.  It’s also certain to say that I’ve had enough experiences in this life to learn a thing or two.  Hopefully, as each year passes, I’m gaining in wisdom, learning from those experiences and maintaining that which adds to the well-being of the world, and shedding that which the world doesn’t need.

Son/brother: Being child 4 out of 4, I am so thankful that my parents are still alive and doing well.  I think I’ve always had the good sense to appreciate them for who they are and for the way they shaped me to be.  I look around and see that this isn’t necessarily the norm, and so I am simply appreciative and try to let them know how much I love them.  Likewise, as I approach 40, I have enjoyed getting to know my brother and sisters as adults.  It’s one thing to be kids growing up with one another (in all of the turbulence that makes up childhood shared in the same house), but it is another thing to get to kow them as spouses and parents, and deep-thinking, mature people of the earth.  Again, I am thankful for my sibs and the kin they’ve added.

Husband: I don’t know which is the wilder number to comprehend–40 years of life or 17 years of marriage?  I certainly remember life before Celinda came along, but it is hard to reach back into those years, and I’m pretty sure that at this point I don’t want to!  Sometimes we talk about how random it can be to discover a mate-for-life.  In some sense, it is remarkable that we remain married, for as little as we knew one another going into it, and with as much life maturing we (I!!) still had to undergo.  And yet here we are, living into our joyfully ever after.  (Come on now, we all know that partnership isn’t always “happy.”  But the joy in this companionship certainly lives!)

Dad:  Anytime someone comes up to me and tells me what nice children I have, I have to say I’m a bit embarrassed.  I happen to agree with them, but even still…..  When I said above that I feel young at heart, I certainly owe a lot to Adrian, Lillian, and Elliot.  They have a knack for drawing it out of me.  And even when my body doesn’t feel like trying to keep up with them, they’ve done a good job and telling me to ignore it and just play.  Again being the broken record (for those of you old enough to get that analogy), I am ever so thankful to be in the posisition to be a father; even as the hair grows white.

Friend:  I’ve found friendship to be an elusive thing.  I mean deep-down-to-the-soul friendship.  There are many people to whom I would give the title as my friend, but only a few with whom I can be fully me…without having to think about it.  Since I’m an Ohio transplant, I only maintain a couple of friends from growing up in Atlanta.  Four years of college, four years of seminary, into life as a “grown-up” haven’t afforded the time it takes to dig in with people and form those abiding ties.  I don’t know if others share this same experience?  And yet, there have been so many blessed short-stinited acquaintences that have made my life so abundant I can’t even begin to number–or (unfortunately) remember–them all.

Pastor:  Talk about elusive.  How does one know they are being an effective pastor?  So many measuring sticks: preaching and liturgy that reaches hearts, teaching that fosters spiritual formation, human rights advocacy that makes a difference, pastoral care that meets people’s needs, intellectual acumen, presence at important church and civil meetings, an active member in the presbytery, shepherding the church into a reshaping culture, introducing the gospel in relevant ways to folks longing to hear it, profound writings in newsletters 🙂 .   As I reach year 40, and year 12 of my ordination, these questions run through my head.  I’m not sure that there will ever be a point at which I’ll discern definitive answers.  I trust that as my own spiritual formation matures, and as my vocational calling evolves,  I will grow in greater wisdom regarding how to serve with you in our common calling.

What ties all of these things together?  God has made me as God has made me–gifts and gaffes, all.  And yet, God did not make me to go throguh this life alone.  In this reflection, I’ve born witness to the importance of my community of support.  It has been the sum of people (and a dog or cat along the way) being there to urge, comfort, challenge, accompany, lead, follow, forgive, and share the way with me.  If there is to be wisdom to be found in this writing may it be the wisdom that each of us needs the other; whether friend or stranger, Christian or agnostic, American or Iraqi, body-enabled or body-challenged, and everywhere around and in-between these places.

My prayer, my birthday wish, is that I will live into this wisdom; even in the midst of the cultural biases and privileges that also make me who I am.   And I pray that I will show you and those who will never read these words that I am thankful for the opportunity to live this life right here, right now, and that I will do so, in the promising words of Jesus Christ, abundantly.  I’ll close this missive with the words of the U2 song, appropriately named “40” (as in, Psalm 40):

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of my miry clay.
I will sing a new song,
How long to sing this song?
He set my feet upon a rock,
and made my footsteps heard.
Many will see,
Many will see and fear.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?

Birthday blessings with you.  Francis

Barack the Vote!

Check out this video performed by my brother, John.  If you like it, please share it!

Thursdays – kindom days

As I’ve sat at my desk for the past two hours this morning these are the people I have seen and heard:

  • A variety of folks from around the world who are in the process of learning how to speak English;
  • Preschoolers, the parents who drop them off, and the women who teach them;
  • People attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting;
  • A woman who chronically comes to the office administrator for assistance (faxing, computer work, etc);
  • Church staff and random drop-ins.

All of these folks using the same door, sharing the same air, engaging in the dance of life…harmoniously. I guess of I were sitting in a coffeeshop, or a McDonalds, or at the grocery store, the scene would be similar, but with more anonymous classifications. Still, it’s nice to see in a church.


Liturgical Year: How Shall We Greet Thee?

I am currently working with a group of folks who serve urban churches–both clergy and lay–who are preparing to raise the cause of churches in the city to a higher profile in our region. It’s a hopeful project in the midst of the current rough reality for many metropolitan churches, whose hey-days have long since past.

Last month we were trying to schedule a next meeting, and our moderator asked if it made sense to plan one during the second week of December, smack in the middle of the church season of Advent. The general feeling in the group was energetic and were gaining some momentum in our strategizing. I, riding that forward-moving wave, spoke up and said sardonically, “Who gives a crap about Advent?? In a couple of months it is conceivable that one or two of the churches represented around this table may not be opening its doors anymore.” There was some cautious laughter in the room, and a few nodding of heads, and we went on to schedule our next meeting on the appointed December date.

Since then, I’ve noticed a couple of other things. One was the exasperating energy used by the chair of our church’s Discipleship Ministry. She was looking all over the church for the advent wreath she had purchased just the year before. Everything was turned upside down throughout the church and the d@^n wreath never presented itself. In a flurry, she set out to order a new one, so that we could at least get it on the second Sunday of Advent (we’d have to use the old one for one week!). Then the prodigal wreath was found–where it was believed to have been in the first place–in a mis-marked box. Hallelujah!

Don’t get me wrong–I really enjoy the lighting of candles during the season of Advent. It is an invitation for multiple generations of folks to share in the liturgy of the church. Each candlelighting marks the slow march towards Christmas Day; we’re given the opportunity to ponder a fourfold set of gifts of the season: peace, love, joy, hope, or, angels, shepherds, magi, child, or, ????. The candles, the colors, the themes all add texture to our service.

But is it worth the anxiety it causes? Especially as we add to the mix, the pageants, parties, decorating, and other traditions of the season. So much time; so much effort goes into these special events that are linked to the seasons–I haven’t even mentioned what happens at Lent/Easter, or the lesser celebrated seasonal high-point, Pentecost. Each of these are firmly entrenched into the cycles of the church seasons.

There is definitely a place for them in telling the story of God, Christ, and Spirit. But I wonder if we sometimes focus on them too much. For all of the planning and executing of seasonal events, we can lose momentum on our mission. Especially in a small church (<90) like the one I serve, the people resources are already thin. Except for a participation in a few gift-giving programs for at-risk families, December is almost a lost month. the same is true in the weeks leading up to, and especially the one following, Easter. We turn inward towards our liturgical movements and away from our involvement with the community.

I wonder what some of the emerging churches are doing with church seasons. Assuming that many of the folks they are drawing are previously “unchurched”–lacking any previous Christian affiliation– I wonder if the seasons of the church year are engaging, meaningful, or relevant? I hope that some of my sisters and brothers serving such expressions of the body of Christ will share their thoughts and experiences.calendrier.jpg

I need to sign off now, it is time to concentrate on week 3 of Advent. This Sunday we will be lighting the candle representing a theme of love; I pray it will spark us to share acts of that theme with the world, during–and outside of(!)–this season of the church year.


How Much Does Losing a Playoff Series Mean??


Being in the middle of a pennant race is taxing on the nerves. Every game is a roller coaster of emotions. In game seven of the American League Championship Series, I found myself doing those things which I tell my children not to; I sat in the same position for several innings in a row. We sent the hitters positive vibes so they would loosen up and simply see the ball and hit the ball. Of course, our calisthenics had no impact on what was happening on the field through our TV screen, and yet we wanted it so badly we were willing to do whatever it took.

Alas, our team lost. Once the tight, close ballgame turned after the unfortunate seventh inning, and the Red Sox piled on the runs to seal the fate of the Indians, I decided to get ready to go to sleep, and begin the process of moving on. I watched the final out–made on a spectacular catch by former Indians player Coco Crisp–and waited for my wife to come out of the basement and give me that all too familiar Cleveland-sports-sigh. What I hadn’t anticipated was my 11-year-old son, who came in bidding me a tear-streaked goodnight.

On the verge of 40 years old, these occurrences of coming-so-close-only-to-lose have become philosophical exercises: Yes, Kenny Lofton was safe on that double off the Monster, even though he was called out. But it is okay. Yes, Joel Skinner should have sent Lofton around third on that billboard-caromed shot by Gutierrez. But it is okay, the sun will rise tomorrow. Yes, the revelation that our weakest-throwing pitcher had used HGH sometime in his career could have waited until the end of the season instead of just hours before first pitch of this winner-take-all series. But it’s okay, there’s no reason to be suspicious about that timing!?! And, yes, our two 19-game winners should have won at least ONE FREAKING GAME IN THE ALCS!!! But, I was calmly putting myself to bed, saying goodnight, when I realized just how upset my son was.

Immediately, his reaction took me back to the bedroom of my childhood when the Atlanta Falcons were knocked out of the playoffs by the Dallas Cowboys (America’s Team my arse!!) I don’t know how my son consoled himself on his pillow as he went to sleep, but it couldn’t have been worse than what I prayed would happen to the Cowboys.

It hurt. I needed to focus my pain upon someone else. It’s hard to place all of your hopes and dreams and passions on human beings playing a child’s game (and getting paid waaaaay too much money for it), and feel like you lost with ’em. I understood my son’s pain. To disagree with Tom Hank’s managerial character in A League of Their Own, there defintely is room for crying in baseball.

In 1995, I got a bit of relief. My wife and I were fortunate to attend the game in which the Atlanta Braves won the World Series. A picture hangs in the basement of us in front of the sign proclaiming “Atlanta, You’ve Got Your Champion.” It should’ve added …”Your one and only Champion.” Indeed, the Braves have come so close so many other times. And yet that is the city’s only time to blast Queen from the sound system “We are the Champions.”

The irony of it all, of course, is that the Braves defeated none other than the Cleveland Indians to get that victory. My hope is that someday, my children in particular, but this Region in general, will someday get the chance to revel in the ultimate prize in sports: the team they love winning a championship. I don’t understand fully why it matters, but my dear readers it does matter a whole lot. Just ask that 11 year-old boy, and check with the passionate child inside yourself, as well.

A Light Look at Lent

One of my friends in Cleveland Heights introduced me to the “Mr. Deity” series on YouTube. It’s a fun look at the innerworkings of “heaven”–or whatever the decision-making locus for God is.

In the episode below, God and Jesus work through Jesus’ “assignment” when he goes to earth. Since Lent is a time for us to consider how we fit into that assignment, I thought it was time to introduce Mr. Deity to the blog. When I tested the video, it took a little time to load, so be patient, and enjoy! (Oh yeah, if you want to watch more episodes click here)

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