Category Archives: Reflections

The Lingering Smell of Ashes

Rev. Robert Turner, pastor of the Vernon AME Church, spoke briefly at a luncheon I attended that was sponsored by the Oklahoma Baptist Convention and hosted at Tulsa’s First Baptist Church on April 1. The Vernon AME Church is the only structure to partially survive the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. The church basement became a place of shelter and refuge from the fires and destruction of May 31 and June 1. The basement held strong, and still holds strong today. Rev. Turner told of an unusual incident that had just occurred on the previous Friday, March 26. While some workmen were renovating a basement bathroom, they accidentally broke through an historic wall. They were startled and confused by the smell that filled the bathroom. Rev. Turner was called to inspect. The strong odor was the smell of smoke and ashes that still lingers in the soil buried for 100 hundred years. 

There are approximately 70 days until the centennial anniversary becomes the focus of the nation. It was reported that hotel rooms for the week are being reserved quickly. Bus tours and pilgrimages are anticipated. Much has been planned for each week from this weekend forward. Phil Armstrong, project manager for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, spoke of the new museum, Greenwood Rising. On Sunday, May 30, churches are asked to stand in unity with the spirit of reconciliation and renewal. 

Following the luncheon, we were invited to the Tulsa Race Massacre Prayer Room designed by the people at First Baptist Church. The stated purpose of the Prayer Room is to explore the events in 1921 and to “prayerfully oppose the sin of racism in our world, in our churches and in our heart.” The Prayer Room is open Monday – Friday, 8:30 to 5:00, without cost. It is well worth the time. Parking is free in the lot at 5th and Detroit by parking in the spaces marked for “FBC.” 

The lingering smell of racial sin is all around us. The fires of hatred still burn in the hearts of so many. The smoke of prejudice and pride clouds our eyes with tears and pain. We are seeing it played out before us every day. Our only hope is in Jesus, who has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Read 2 Corinthians 5:12-20.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be reconciled.  And let’s experience the love and power of God together again.

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Contagious Compassion

(I wrote the following article for the Facebook site, Center for Congregational Ethics and the daily lectionary reading for April 8, 2021, based on Daniel 1.)

What if compassion were like a contagious disease that spread through contact with others?  What if, for instance, a police officer contracted compassion from his superior, and then spread it to the others they encountered that day? What difference might it make in a life or two or four?

How would the story of Daniel, in chapter 1, be different without the compassion of the palace master Ashpenaz? Four of Ashpenaz’ charges had been force-marched from their homeland hundreds of miles to be immersed in a foreign culture with strangers and stripped of their names. These four young people were bonded by their language, religious faith, and the agonies of their homesickness. They were valued for their abilities, yet they were deemed slaves by the callous and cruel.

According to verses 9 and 10 (NRSV), Ashpenaz was inspired to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but even so, denied the dietary request. Maybe Ashpenaz winked when he publicly said what he had to say. It was the under-guard appointed to oversee the four who demonstrated contagious compassion by allowing the ten-day faith and food test. Compassion brings out the best in ourselves and in others. 

Like Daniel and his friends, thousands upon thousands of heartsick and desperate people in 2021 are being forced to move from their homes into migrant and refugee camps, detention centers, and prisons each day. What if compassion were as contagious as the callousness that so easily besets us? I propose a ten-day faith and compassion test. Spread compassion to the stranger, to the neighbor and to yourself, inspired by the gift of God within you. 

Darryl DeBorde is pastor of the Braden Park Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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Arriving at Easter

The only way to arrive at Easter is through the Cross. When the people of our church were dreaming of a new and grand sanctuary in 1949, they asked the architect to include a cross. The conceptual drawing for the church looks very much like our present sanctuary. The drawing shows the angled windows, multiple doors on Fifth Street for more accessibility and the high barreled roof that we have today. The cross, on the other hand, was drawn on top of a large free-standing tower located to the west of the main entrance. It was thought a traditional steeple would not be fitting for the shape of the church.

The pictured tower with the cross stood over six stories high so it would be above the sanctuary roof line. Because the tower did not prove practical, a large flagpole was erected in its place. As an alternative to the steeple, a cross was included on the face of the building. It is a large cross. It is my observation that most people either do not ever see the cross on the building, or it has become so familiar that people have forgotten about it. The cross has become invisible. The Good Shepherd window is the feature most will associate with our building, not the large cross. Recently, on our Facebook services, we have been featuring a picture of the church where the cross can be seen reflecting the sunlight.

The frosted glass cross stands 10 feet tall and has a span of 6 feet. It is located above the main entrance to the building. It is set in a large frame of glass tiles. Metaphorically, God’s people pass beneath the cross each time we gather to worship and serve. The only way anyone arrives at Easter is through the Cross. Jesus had to die for our sins and conquer death itself for us to celebrate Easter, or Resurrection Day. The Cross of Christ was the Altar of Sacrifice for our redemption, our forgiveness, and our salvation. Because of the cross and empty tomb, we are an Easter people, living transformed lives. When the cross becomes invisible, we lose sight of Easter’s meaning, the purpose of the church and the victory of the Christian life.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Look to the Cross and see Easter. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Do you miss hearing church announcements? Sometimes I do. When Dorothy and I were members of the University Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, church announcement time was rotated through the ministerial staff. These were the only regular times some of the leaders would be seen by the entire congregation. One particularly good-natured staff member was the youth and college minister. On the Sunday evening of his departure to become a campus minister, he was asked to give the announcements one last time. Just as he was about to step up to the pulpit, someone handed him a note, which he read, “To owner of a car with the license plate number xxxx, your lights are on.” After he made that announcement, it was revealed to him that the staff had been passing a “car lights are on” note to him every time he gave the Sunday evening announcements. After a moment of recognition, his laughter and ours felt fitting.

Here are some church announcements you may have missed this week:

The weekly Facebook will continue in a different format. With the start of in-person worship on Easter, I have asked Kevin Avery to lead a weekly Bible study on Sunday mornings, sort of a Facebook version of Sunday School. He will begin with his forthcoming new book, Tender Creation. There will be added a new weekly feature which will seek to provide glimpses from our in-person service of the previous Sunday. This is a work in progress.

Church and Community Connections. Kevin has also been asked to help with the telephone calls to offer encouragement, prayer and conversation with friends and neighbors of the church. He will be focused on our local area to help build or rebuild relationships. If there is someone you would like for him to connect with, call him at (539) 766-0787. Add his number to your phone contacts so that you will know it is him if he calls. He will not ask about your car’s warranty.

Eastside Meals on Wheels. Tulsa Meals on Wheels is testing a new way for us to go back to delivering meals to our homebound neighbors. Our Eastside Meals on Wheels ministry is exploring a way for us to modify our rotating churches and volunteers to adapt to the new guidelines. This could begin for us by early summer.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Check your car lights. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Discoveries in Inner and Outer Space

Inner Space news from Israel this week reveals the recent discovery of additional Dead Sea Scrolls found in The Cave of Horror near the Qumran site. It is called the Cave of Horror, or the Forbidden Cave, because of its extremely dangerous location. The entrance to the cave is about 262 feet below the top of a sheer cliff. Advances in safer mountain climbing gear and techniques have now made it possible for archeologists to explore and document the contents of the cave. The Scrolls, which are in fragments like the others found some 70 years ago, date to the first and second century. The Scrolls seem to include many of the books of the Minor Prophets, written in Greek. The cave appears to have been used as a hiding place for some people escaping persecution. Other even older artifacts are being found hidden with The Scrolls. Oh, the wonder of it all.

Outer Space news from the International Space Station (ISS) this week reveals the discovery of three different kinds of new microbes, or bacteria, living and thriving in various areas of the ISS. They appear like the kind of bacteria and fungi associated with the soil and growing plants on earth, but fully adapted to live in the wiring and other unusual places in space. This gives promise that they may be useful in space agriculture. Many plant growing experiments have been conducted on the space station throughout its history. The wonder of it all.

Outer Space News from Mars involves the arrival, in February, of probes, satellites, and rovers from China, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S.  This is a space race to find life in any form, past or present. A fossil or two would demonstrate life from the past. Ice or a liquid source might hold a microbe colony or two, indicating life, like we know it, can survive in other planets.

Would finding life on another planet, or a quite different reading of a book of the Bible found in an ancient cave alter your view of God, His power, or His word? Would it cause you to question your theology of Jesus, or even abandon your faith? Actually, science does not validate or invalidate God Almighty. God is, was and always will be God. Discoveries in inner and outer space simply give us additional insight into the wonder of God’s love. That is what His creation is all about.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Oh, the wonder of it all. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Planning for a Future Day

The big news on South Yale at Target Drive, which would be about 17th Street in a normal time, is the new construction project underway next to the Starbucks. It will be a Dunkin Donuts restaurant and drive thru. I am already planning my new work schedule for that storied time when I can regularly dine inside places again. Dorothy and I have not eaten a meal inside a restaurant since last March. My imaginary future day would go something like this. First, a healthy homemade breakfast at home, which might be followed up at the new donut place on my way to the church or to see someone. Lunch at Tally’s where conversations, sermon thoughts and illustrations come easily. After a quick check to see if the mail has arrived, to listen to phone messages and to make phone calls at church, it would be time for a stop by Sweets and Cream for an afternoon ice-cream cookie sandwich (butter pecan between two chocolate-chocolate chip cookies). They have free wi-fi there, and quiet tables for meditation and reflection on the goodness of life. Then off from there to reading and study and planning at the Starbucks before moving on for the evening activities. Some of these plans could be modified by reality, but I must start somewhere dreaming about this world slowly opening up around us.

This entire last 12 months has been a lesson in reality versus our wishes. I can not count the number of times I said to myself or out loud, I wish I could . . .  I wish I could visit… I wish we could go … I wish, I wish, I wish. But now there seems to be a growing sense that we are able to see the other side of this swamp. There is dry land ahead. But the caution remains–don’t unbuckle your seatbelts until this swamp buggy ride fully stops. There are still a couple of snakes and alligators to get past. I remember when my ideal day consisted of wanting a quiet day at home. 

As we begin to venture out, let’s make certain to encourage others to get both of their vaccinations as quickly as possible. Dream big and large but hold all plans loosely. In Luke 14:25-34, Jesus invites us to count the cost before we get ahead of ourselves and become the fool. Jesus is talking about discipleship and sacrifice as we love others into the Kingdom of God.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Plan accordingly. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Change Again and Always

I still have not recovered from the last two times we sprang forward then back. Now it is back to springing forward again on Sunday, March 14. Every day something else is changing. Some days I am confronted with multiple changes and the decisions that go with each change. Apparently, I keep asking myself the wrong question: Do I like this change? No seems to be my first standard reply to myself. I have to remind myself of my own philosophy of transformational change: Embrace change because change is embracing you. I am not always happy about the way changes on every hand are embracing me. Each day I gaze into the mirror ever hopeful for a change back of about 20 years. I go to the closet only to discover that my favorite old clothes seem to have shrunk during the night. I can’t wear some things right now, but I hope to one day if I lose a few pounds, exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, but that would mean having to change. 

My 2020 vision for 2020 and 2021 did not factor in a year, or two, of constant, unrelenting change, adapting and chaos at every turn. Change is here again and always will be. Change takes a lot of time and energy, but so does denying it. Change is hard work, but so is battling it.  Either way I have to deal with it somehow. It is never “one and done,” once and it’s over. Embracing change has some important strategies that I am learning to implement: I may have to adapt, re-learn, discard and develop new ways, methods and routines. Pretending not to change always seems easier. With all the big and small changes thrust upon me, I must learn to grieve the losses, face my emotions honestly, and seek refuge in faith, family and friends. I must find a way to laugh or sing, somehow, each and every day. 

 Some folks believe that people cannot really change, even though they say they believe the Gospel, the power of God’s Spirit and new life in Christ. Maybe Christians are supposed to be personal examples of transformational change. “I once was lost but now I’m found. I once was blind but now I see.” Maybe we Christians have put too much emphasis on the “once was” instead of the “but now.” 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Embrace change. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Easter Is the Day

Easter is the Day. I went back and read my 2020 reflections on church life concerning the pandemic, beginning with the first one on January 28. If you recall, the Averys returned to their home in Shenyang on January 21, the day China locked down. Reading that post again brought home for me the seriousness of their situation and ours. In my article for June 23, I was optimistic we would be gradually returning to in-person worship during the summer. Of course, that did not work out. But now I am sensing that Resurrection Day, April 4th, is the time to return to Sunday church worship. I believe we are coming to a place where many of our people have their vaccinations in process or have recovered from their own encounter with Covid-19. Tulsa seems to be coming down from the highest peaks and we are approaching where we were before Labor Day. Hopefully that trend will continue these next four weeks. Also, God provided us with an icy 10-day lockdown and enough accompanying inconveniences to keep many at home dealing with more pressing issues.

We have the church sanitation routine working smoothly. In addition to the previously reported upgrades in the restrooms, we have secured a better method of wiping down the pews twice a week that uses a fogger-type machine to pump an anti-bacterial mist into the air without harming the furniture. The tables and chairs in Fellowship Hall are cleaned as often as they are used. Monte Los Olivos is going back to Sunday morning and Wednesday evening church on a regular basis again. 

Easter is the most important Sunday in the history of the world. Jesus arose from the grave to give us all new life. It was so hard and sad to close the church last year. I seek your prayers through these next weeks of preparation for this Easter. I am weary of decision making. I am weary of having to learn so many “work arounds” and adjust to never-ending pressures and expectations. In addition to Sunday morning worship, I see the need to keep the weekly Facebook services going. This has proven to be a great way for our church to minister, both near and far. We will need some additional time and expertise to help us get everything organized and operational for April 4. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Easter is the Day. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while apart.

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The Power of a Snowflake

This has been a rather nippy week. I wore my parka from my trip to Antarctica when I went outside today. I knew I would use it again one day! Today’s temperature went up 26 degrees—from -13 to +13. It is starting to get warmer. I can feel it in my bones. Or maybe it is the hot chocolate. I wrote once about the power of a snowflake and received a strong written response from one of our church members. This happened in January of 1987 following a very harsh snowstorm. I wrote:

Once again, we have seen the awesome power of a snowflake. A snowflake is such a delicate wisp of frozen moisture, yet so strong that it can destroy cars and trucks in an instant. When enough snowflakes get together, they can stop traffic, cause roofs to collapse, destroy power lines and bury a city. Add a half-inch of ice under 8½ inches of snow, slightly melt, then refreeze the whole thing (three or four days in a row) and you have a Tulsa Popsicle, or the world’s largest Slip n’ Slide. Well, it has been pretty. Some Christians tell me they can’t do much, if anything, for the Lord. Think about snowflakes.     See you in Sunday School.    Bro. Darryl

I was simply trying to make a point about how even fragile snowflakes, working together, can change the world. It was also about how some Christians, who may under-value their time, influence, and capabilities, can change the world by working together.  Here is the written response I received. It was published the following week in the Evangel and is being reprinted here with permission: 

In addition to my father’s column about the harmful and dangerous ways of snowflakes, they are very useful. You can enjoy the beauty of the snow or build a snowman. They are quite peaceful and relaxing activities. You could also make snow ice cream, go sledding, or just take a walk in the snow. To keep the snowflake’s good honor, I suggest you read this and remember the good, fun, useful ways of the snowflakes, not just the bad things about snowflakes.       See you in Sunday School.

Dayna L. DeBorde (age 10)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Think about the snowflakes. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart.

Bro. Darryl

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On Trust

George P. Shultz, a combat marine in World War II, died last week at 100. He was a university professor of economics unless his country called on him. President Eisenhower asked him to be his economic advisor. President Nixon asked him to be Secretary of Labor, Budget Manager and Treasury Secretary. President Reagan called on him to be Secretary of State. This past summer I watched an interview of George Shultz, made in 2016, as part of a subsequent compilation from a gathering of all the living US secretaries of state. On December 11, 2020, Secretary Shultz wrote an article that was published in the Washington Post titled, The 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Trust Over My 100 Years.  He begins the article this way:

Dec. 13 marks my turning 100 years young. I’ve learned much over that time, but looking back, I’m struck that there is one lesson I learned early and then relearned over and over: Trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details. 

His article consists of 10 examples of trust across his life beginning with learning trust at home, at war, at MIT, though labor negotiations, race and political relations, and foreign relations. He concludes with number 10 when he writes:

“In God we trust.” Yes, and when we are at our best, we also trust in each other. Trust is fundamental, reciprocal and, ideally, pervasive. If it is present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible. The best leaders trust their followers with the truth, and you know what happens as a result? Their followers trust them back. With that bond, they can do big, hard things together, changing the world for the better.

Trustworthiness is vital. I counsel couples who want to marry that there are four foundational pillars on which to build a marriage, a home or a life—Christ, love, commitment, and trust. If any pillar is forsaken, the marriage, home or life is in grave jeopardy. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be trustworthy. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while apart.

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