I am still reflecting on the impact of the 20th anniversary observance of the 9/11 attack on the United States. I was surprised by the emotions I felt about a story from so long ago that I thought I knew so well. Dorothy and I visited the World Trade Center National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in 2018. I showed a couple of pictures during Sunday’s service. While we were in NYC, we attended the Broadway show, Come From Away. It is a musical play based on a true story about the days following the attack.
Come From Away is about the little community of Ganger, Newfoundland, the home to a long disused international airline refueling station. On September 11, every airplane going or coming to the U.S. was required to land immediately. The Ganger runway was big enough to land some of the international flights. In fact, 7,000 passengers, including infants and crewmembers, found themselves stranded in Ganger with nowhere to go. This story tells of the generous and heroic efforts of the townspeople to open their homes to these strangers in distress. And no one knew for how long. Or the fact that all the planes had animals on board! And many internationals did not speak English or French Canadian. “Come from aways” are what Newfoundlanders call visitors. You can watch some clips of the production on the internet. The Tulsa Performing Arts Center will be hosting the touring production October 12-17 if you would like to see the musical for yourself.
It is the story of people rising to a dramatic and uncertain situation. There are themes centered around fear and grief, neighborly love for strangers, with a kind of loaves and fishes quality about it all. At the end of the performance, during the standing ovation, a small group of young people in front of us clapped vigorously. One young lady exclaimed for all to hear, “I have been so proud to be a Canadian!” It has been announced that 800 recently rescued Afghans are being sent to Tulsa to begin the long process of rebuilding their lives as strangers in a distant land. Temporary housing is needed for nearly all the people. Will the people of Tulsa respond like Ganger?
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Welcome the “come from aways.” And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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I was called out on a childhood memory I created for our girls about 35 years ago. During a quick meal with some of the extended family, McDonald’s hamburgers made their way into the conversation. Our granddaughter, who has lived most of her life in China, believes the American McDonald’s is the greatest hamburger in the world. I have actually eaten a McDonald’s burger with her twice now in the past 4 months. Just for the record, let me state that I have never been a fan of McDonald’s. Burger King was always my fast-food burger of choice. Burger King had an early store not far from our house. The price of a regular burger was 15 cents, but the flame-grilled Whopper cost 25 cents. It was worth it! My choice was set. To underscore this point just a little more: On our wedding day, Dorothy and I drove to Dallas after our afternoon ceremony. We checked in at our designated hotel, then drove the two blocks, still in our fancy outfits, to the Burger King for our first married meal together. This is a verifiable story.
The incident all started innocently enough. Whenever I was asked Why not McDonald’s? by our young girls, I would reply, Burger King is bigger and flame grilled, and McDonald’s is made with horsemeat. We all would have a big laugh and go to Burger King. Raising McDonald’s-free children is not an easy task. It seems their friends went to McDonald’s often. On the family road trip in question, we were headed to Glorieta, New Mexico. We came upon Tucumcari just as everyone was ready to stop and have lunch. As life would have it, there was a Burger King and a McDonald’s across the street from each other. As I steered the car toward the Burger King, the McDonald’s pleas began. To their surprise, I quickly turned the car and headed to McDonald’s. I drove around to the back and sure enough, there was a horse trailer with some horses parked near the kitchen door. All I said was, “See, I was right.” We ate at Burger King.
Apparently grown children remember these kinds of incidents for decades. I was confronted with, You had seen that horse trailer at the McDonald’s and that’s why you went over there. What could I say? She has grown wise.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Actually, McDonald’s burgers are not made with horsemeat. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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I call it Five Big Dreams. I was involved in a small directors meeting once when someone posed the “Million Dollar Question.” What would happen if someone gave us a million dollars? A number of quick, humorous answers were given. The group was stopped with, “No, I’m serious. What would we do to fulfill our mission?” No one in the group could offer a reasonable answer. So I made up, on the spot, the challenge for all of us, including me, to come up with Five Big Dreams.
Five is an arbitrary but reasonable number for any challenge. Packaging a series of little ideas into one seems to be less appealing to big donors. But one Big Dream can captivate the imagination of the very many who may not be able to give as much. A Big Dream inspires. Five Big Dreams could change everything. I have been giving deeper thought to this whole idea of big dreams. Inspiration comes through dreams, visions and imagining a better future. The business world understands this with their emphasis on mission statements, as well as goals, which are the steps to make the big dreams come true.
What are the big dreams for your personal life? This past year and a half has altered, and in some cases, forever changed our plans and dreams for the future we had hoped for. This is a time for rebuilding and redreaming our futures. Let me ask about your dreams for your family, your relationships, your mission, and your retirement. Add to all of this your big dreams for what you would like to own one day or where you would like to travel, and if you are not careful, you might discover that you have 25 Big Dreams to inspire your life. I believe 25 Big Dreams is overwhelming and may be going a little bit too far. Let’s just stay with Five Big Dreams. Here is your challenge for today: what would your dream be if, as we say we believe, “Nothing is impossible with God”? (Luke 1:37)
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Dream Big. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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When most of us think of the Gospel of John chapter 3, we naturally go immediately to verse 16, which Billy Graham often called “The gospel in a nutshell.” Yet there is much more in Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus than that verse. One overlooked part of the discussion has to do with the wind. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8) Jesus uses a play on words here not just about flesh—being born again, but also about the Spirit—when the wind blows. Jesus is teaching us about the power of God’s Spirit in our salvation and daily Christian walk.
We love to name the wind. Tropical storm Henri tore through the northeast recently. Our terms for the wind usually include descriptive words like cool, gentle, harsh, or bitter. We have breezes, storms, gales, cyclones, hurricanes, and tornadoes. There are puffs of wind, whirlwinds, and windswept images around us. Many of us were put to bed with the odd lullaby, Rock a Bye Baby in the Tree Top. Those of us who came of age in the Hootenanny Era of world history remember songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “They Call the Wind Mariah.” Later the group Kansas sang the Ecclesiastes paraphrase “All We Are is Dust in the Wind.”
Our Scriptures are filled with images of refreshing breezes and mighty winds. We call the Breath or the Wind or the Spirit of God Rûach in Hebrew, Pnúema in Greek. The Bible opens with the Wind of God blowing across the endless deep, signaling the start of creation. I love the passage in Genesis where God breathes, and newly formed Adam’s lungs are filled with air and his body is filled with God’s Spirit (2:7). The passage in 1 Kings when Elijah, depressed and alone, desperately needing to hear a word from God, cannot hear God in the fiery windstorms but only in the still, quiet voice (19:12). Read in Matthew where Jesus rebukes a fierce storm, and the wind obeys (8:27). Or about the day the gathered church was set on fire and the wind of God’s Spirit was so loud people came from everywhere to see what was happening. We named that day Pentecost (Acts 2).
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Look where the Wind is blowing. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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How do you handle your disappointments? P.T. Barnum (1810-1891) is famous for the phrase “There’s a sucker born every day.” If he really said it, he was talking about himself. I read his autobiography when I was a young teen. He wrote in his book that when he was born, his grandfather deeded to him a piece of property called Ivy Island. He was reminded throughout his childhood that he owned Ivy Island and dreamed of the adventures he would have on his personal island one day. When he was 10, he finally saw Ivy Island. “It was a worthless piece of barren land,” he wrote. The joke was on him. He was 15 when his father died. He became sole provider for his mother and five sisters and brothers. P.T. Barnum understood disappointment and pain, yet somehow discovered the faith and courage to embrace life.
It is my observation that people tend to undervalue their victories and overrate their disappointments. We undervalue our victories, joys, and successes with words such as, “It was just luck,” “I happened to be in the right place,” or “It’s no big deal.” We overrate our disappointments with words such as, “Things never work out for me,” “No one understands,” or “I always get the raw deal.” If I’m not careful, I can nurse my disappointments as if they are wounds that will never heal. If I’m not careful, I can focus on the circumstances around me rather than on the Spirit that forever holds me.
Around age 30, P. T. Barnum wanted to buy what would be his first museum of curiosities. He was not able to raise much money, so he made a deal. He mortgaged himself to the building’s owner, proposing for collateral: good references, a determination to succeed, and a “valuable and sentimental” piece of property known as Ivy Island. A year later he was out of debt. In his 50’s, Barnum took positions against slavery and the death penalty and for temperance and equal voting rights. He was nearly 70 when he teamed with James Bailey to provide “The Greatest Show on Earth.” If you read about Barnum’s whole story, you will discover he spent his life overcoming disappointments and severe setbacks with a Christian’s faith and courage.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be an overcomer. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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Some of us, of a certain age, will remember The Lone Ranger, a made-for-TV western series that ran from 1949 to 1957. As the story goes, six Texas Rangers were ambushed by a gang of outlaws. The one survivor, the unnamed younger brother of ranger Captain Daniel Reid, was nursed back to health by a Native American frontier scout named Tonto. When the ranger told Tonto he was the only ranger left, Tonto called him the Lone Ranger. Because he was assumed dead, the ranger decided to hide his true identity from everyone except Tonto, so he could “stand for justice and fight for what is right.” They marked six graves. The Lone Ranger was wealthy, for he owned a silver mine which provided the ore for his silver bullets. When they found the ranger a new silver-white horse, Tonto called the horse Silver. Tonto’s own horse was called Scout. The Lone Ranger shot his guns sparingly, but when he used them, he always aimed to disarm the bad guys. He never identified himself publicly as the Lone Ranger. He always left a silver bullet as an answer to the question, “Who was that masked man?”
I met Clayton Moore once in the Richland Mall in Waco, Texas. He had been court-ordered to remove his mask, for Hollywood wanted to cast a new, younger Lone Ranger, not one that was over 65. He wore black wrap-around sunglasses under his Stetson. He greeted everyone and signed autographs for fans like me. I think I heard The William Tell Overture playing in the background. Clayton Moore was born in Chicago. Jay Silverheels (born Harold J. Smith) was the son of a Canadian Mohawk tribal chief. Their lives as actors are forever intertwined in our memories. Tonto means “wild one.” Tonto called the Lone Ranger kemosabe, “faithful friend or trusty scout.” They needed each other. The Lone Ranger never rode alone, and neither should we.
Who is your faithful friend? Who is your kemosabe? You do not need to wear a mask today or shoot bullets to stand for justice or fight for the good. We do still need each other. I think that is why, when he was at his loneliest, Solomon was reminded that, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24) You also can be that friend.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Never ride alone. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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This week’s Reflections is from a commentary I wrote for the on-line Center for Congregational Ethics, to go with the Revised Common Lectionary Reading for August 5, 2021, based on 2 Samuel 13:37-14:24. It assumes the passage will be read before the article.
This Story Does Not Have a Happy Ending
Context matters. Beginning with chapter 11, the rest of the book of 2 Samuel reveals the dissolution of David’s family and the political struggles for his throne. The death of Amnon, the heir-apparent, left the exiled Absalom next in line. For three years the nation had faced an uncertain future. David is brokenhearted, angry, and depressed. Joab stages an intervention.
The plot is to trick the king into doing something about his situation. The script is written by Joab, the king’s harsh military general and confidant. An actress is enlisted to dramatically play the widow in distress: “Deliver us from the man who is trying to cut off both me and my son from God’s inheritance.” Coded language to make the point. As with Nathan the prophet, David is caught up in the tale, but then realizes the subtext. “Joab put you up to this,” he says. “Very well, I will do it. Bring back Absalom, but he must not see my face.” It may have been the ending Joab was hoping for, but today’s audience is left unsatisfied. What about David’s heartache and depression?
Joab uses the king’s pain to his own advantage. All this elaborate subterfuge was to advance Absalom’s quest for the throne rather than seeking to heal the king’s heart and mind. In the end, there was no planned direct conversation between father and son, no opportunity for reconciliation, resolution, or forgiveness. No happy ending.
What are the ethical implications of this story for today? Are our political and personal conversations so filled with manipulation and coded language that we are missing the happy endings that honesty and truth afford?
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I am always asking myself, “What time is it?” That question ranks right up there with the other self-talk question, “What am I going to eat next?” I wore a wristwatch for many years, except for that brief period during the post-hippie era when three-piece suits and pocket watches were all the rage. I was hard on my wristwatches. They broke or they cracked or clouded up with condensation. I resorted to having a Sunday or special occasion watch, and an everyday one. I have discovered that it is not really about the watch; it is the tyranny of the clock I am wrestling with.
During my college days I served as song leader with Evangelist Bob Posey. We held revivals in small towns and in rural churches, mostly in Alabama, for 2 or 3 years. It is amazing how God puts unlikely experiences in our lives to help equip us for future service. We found one church that was dominated by the tyranny of time. It was an old country church near Phenix City, Alabama, which is a suburb of Columbus, Georgia. (That is the correct spelling of Phenix, founded in 1830 as Girard, but re-named in the 1880’s after the local mill.) To an outsider it can be the most confusing place in America. The town proper is in both Lee and Russell Counties Alabama, and spreads into Muscogee County Georgia. Therein lies the time problem. Alabama is in the Central Time Zone; Georgia is Eastern Time. Crossing the street can put a person across the invisible time boundary. Phenix City tends to be on Eastern Time even though it is in Alabama. But many hardcore time purists stay on Central Time for the principle of it. When we announced that revival services started at 7:30 p.m., we had to clarify that meant 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Starting things on the half-hour was sort of a compromise with the time to reach the community for Christ.
I no longer wear a watch, but I can learn the time from my cellphone. The drumbeat of time marches onward. Ephesians 5:15-16 teaches us to redeem the time, seize the opportunity, for the days are ever evil. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 reminds us “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Discern the time. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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Meals on Wheels has been in the news and on my heart this week. You may have seen the coverage of the July 15th groundbreaking for the new Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa Service Center on 51st Street near Yale, beside the YMCA building. I was asked to lead the invocation to start the ceremony. This new facility will include a state-of-the-art kitchen, food preparation and delivery system, as well as a community event center. Why is healthy food and caring contact for sick and homebound seniors so important? The cost of one year’s worth of meals for one person is less than one overnight stay in the hospital for that same person.
This past Monday, July 19, the coordinators from our Eastside Meals on Wheels churches met at our church to discuss a recommended plan for us to cautiously begin to restart delivery. The proposal is for volunteers from our churches to deliver seven frozen meals at a time to 20 residents in a single apartment building near 11th Street every Friday starting at 11 a.m. There is a phone app that volunteers would use to contact the recipient and update the office on the delivery and care that might be needed for these neighbors. I would like for you to prayerfully consider becoming a part of this ministry. We are having a meeting to learn the procedures for beginning delivery again, and to be trained on how to use the app on Friday, August 6 from 1:00-2:30 p.m. at the church.
The story of Tulsa’s Meals on Wheels organization goes back to 1970 and the kitchen at First Presbyterian Church downtown. The church provided a regular noonday luncheon for the business community. In the course of time someone suggested delivering some of those meals to homebound members. Someone else read about a program called “meals on wheels” in another state. Soon other churches were recruited, and the Tulsa program became an official Task Force of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry, our local interfaith organization. In March 1978, I received a phone call from our own Waneta Reynolds suggesting that this might be something we should consider as a church. The next month we held an organizational meeting in our Fellowship Hall with five of our neighboring churches. Eastside Meals on Wheels began serving meals from our kitchen in August 1978.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Thank you for serving. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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Once I spent the day on a very personal, behind-the-scenes grand tour of The Miami Herald. I was being guided by the Grocery Advertising Representative, Hoyt Frazure, who was my grandfather. He started with the paper in 1927 and was credited with inventing the Thursday grocery ad supplement used by newspapers to this day. In all of my memories of him, this was the only day we spent together, just the two of us. I was about 12 years old. He and my grandmother had divorced when my mother was in high school. He and his wife, Olive, lived in far south Miami where he had planted all kinds of fruit trees. His Ponderosa lemons were as large as his grapefruit. He had orange, avocado, papaya and mango trees also. On that one day with him at the newspaper, I saw him stop the presses just for me, his only grandson. Great rolls of newsprint were threaded like ribbons through the system. Various sections of the paper were being printed simultaneously and then cut to form the actual newspaper.
A visit to the typesetter gave me my most lasting memory. In those days a “hot type” was used to provide the basis for the printing. All of the articles were entered through a linotype machine where each word was entered by hand. An actual metal plate was created with all of the type entered in the appropriate columns. My grandfather asked the typesetter to make a line of type with my name, which he did. A few minutes later I was handed a still warm piece of metal with my name in italic and written backwards. Seeing my confusion they showed me how, when ink and pressure was applied, my name would be printed perfectly. I treasure that line of type to this day.
I remember many Sunday afternoon trips when our family traveled down to Granddad’s place. On our visits we would look at the trees, examine the fruit and sometimes be entertained by Olive at the piano. Before he retired from the paper, he gave an extensive 10-week Sunday supplement interview where he told his stories of the early days in South Florida. It was made into a book, Memories of Old Miami, which holds family stories we never knew. Time spent with my grandfather made all the difference in the world to me. Spend time with your Heavenly Father. Let Him show you His handiwork. Ask Him to write your name in His Book of Life.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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