Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sons of Thunder

It is amazing what can happen in four days. On Saturday my Friend Al read the morning newspaper. That is a pretty harmless and mundane practice. On Saturday, he read an article that ran in both the Dallas Morning News and the Denton Record Chronicle about the motorcycle group the Sons of Thunder.

Six months ago Al was looking for the Sons of Thunder, a Christian Motorcycle group. Al could not find out anything about them. They were not in the yellow book and even the owners of Christian bookstores in Denton did not know their location. But this article contained a story that had little to do with Christian motorcycle hobbyists. These men had opened up their "club house" to allow a church in refuge from the hurricanes Rita and Katrina. One hundred and fifty people stayed in the "club house" turned makeshift hotel.

After the need for refuge disappeared and the church had left, there were twenty or thirty people standing around the club house, who had no where to go. For the last two years, the Sons of Thunder has allowed them to stay.

Al read the DRC article by a reporter who actually instigated the problem with the city. It seems their "club house" was out of code with the city as a "homeless shelter." What was intended as a run down club could not technically be used as a home for the homeless because it was not up to code.

Al came to the Rosemont Bible Study on Sunday morning across from the Singing Oaks Church of Christ on McKinney Street. He shared his sadness about the situation. Michelle's heart was touched by the thought of people in sub freezing conditions, who would within seven days be locked outside by the city (and a reporters reporting and code violation filling).

The sermon at Singing Oaks Church was about Jesus. I told the story of when Jesus broke the Sabbath in order to feed his hungry disciples and to heal a man with a hand (Mark 2:23-3:6). The law club known as the Pharisees did not appreciate Jesus' violations of Sabbath. So, they planned to destroy Jesus with the local politicians called the Herodians.

I expressed my sadness that a homeless shelter is not up to "code" with the city but that it is "code" to put people out on the street in the freezing weather. That does not seem "code" to me. Al could not get the Sons of Thunder out of his mind. Michelle could not get the sons out of her mind. She called Al and said that something must be done.

Al got in his truck and drove around Sunday afternoon, looking and looking for this building. It took finding a police officer who knew the building (because the police regularly drop people at this shelter). Al met with the leaders of sons of Thunder, Ben and Keith. Ben and Keith probably are close to the original Sons of Thunder, with the exception of a strong Christian humility that James and John lacked. Ben and Keith are the modern day representation of the two brothers whom Jesus gave the nickname "sons of thunder" (Mk 3:17)

James and John were fishermen. When they heard the preaching of Jesus and Jesus' invitation to "Come Follow Behind Me," these two brothers dropped their nets, left their father behind in the boat, abandoned the family fishing business and followed Jesus. James and John were men of action. James and John were also confused at times, requesting to be Jesus #1 and #2 men in the hierarchy of Jesus' new kingdom (Mark 10). The other apostles were not all that pleased with James and John's pursuit of greatness (probably because they wish they'd thought to ask Jesus first). Arguing over greatness would disappear from James and John, when they saw their king Jesus perform the lowest servant duty of washing their feet. Greatness was redefined.

James and John had the front row seat on the mountain of meeting with God, Jesus, and the great men of Judiasm. At another time, James and John were prepared to pray for fire from heaven to fall down on those who rejected Jesus as a king who must die (Luke 9:54). James and John were men of action.

The end of this story is that four days later the "Sons of Thunder" homeless shelter is saved. In the middle of prayer time on Monday morning, Bob and Don had an idea. The money was raised in its entirety. The committee said, "yes." People are ready to volunteer to make things "code." The metroplex now knows where the Sons of Thunder open their doors. They now know that action started in the heart of Al and in the willingness of a little church called Singing Oaks.

I am sure Jesus would be proud of this new installment of the Sons of Thunder, Ben and Keith, and their new thunderous brother Al.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

* Love Yourself *

The familiar chords of an acoustic guitar gently surrounded the voice of Jeff Tweedy on Saturday night at the Granada in Dallas, Texas. My long-time friend and fellow music fanatic, James, took me to see the lead man of the alternative country group Wilco. In this one man setting, an all black Tweedy stood in front of six acoustic guitars. His acoustic music filled the place marvelously, especially the final song, which he played completely unplugged. Jeff Tweedy stepped out from behind the microphone, unplugged his guitar, and balanced on the very edge of the stage playing Acuff Rose to an extremely quieted crowd that erupted with his last chord.

High above his head, yet far below the sounds and lyrics of Tweedy was a banner stretched just below the ceiling. Two trite words hung together between two asterisk like stars. While the sparkling words were were no doubt a theme for someone (or some generation), they were out of tune with reality.

* Love Yourself *

You love yourself. Sad instructions for human beings that tend to hate themselves. These two words provide guidance in looking no farther than yourself for love. The two words seem to imply "You must love yourself because nobody else may." Or maybe the words were psychological instructions "you must love yourself before anyone will love you." Maybe the words were intended to be capitalistic "love yourself because its a dog eat dog world."

Is loving yourself . . .love? Love of self, while no doubt a good thing for a person to possess, may actually be out of tune with genuine love. When referring to people, love is an action or emotion or feeling towards someone else. Love that is true, genuine, lasting is a risk to loving someone who may not always love back. Love looks beyond the self to another.

There is a poetic section about love in an ancient letter written to people in Corinth. Love is something that is patient, kind, not strutting, putting up with anything, etc. In this piece, love is something I do to someone else or (if I am lucky) someone does to me. While I really need to love myself, it is an empty room of love if I never get past loving myself to loving someone else.

A good place to start with, if you are interested in loving someone else, shows up in another song. This is loving someone who already loves us. This other song that Tweedy sang last night (the same song that Wilco opened with in Fort Worth in the Fall of 2006) is Airline to Heaven. It is an odd song to come from the lips of someone in a bar, who has been an alcoholic and addicted to pain killers. But it is a song of love. Love has reached out to us. This song is a plea for us to reach out to the God who is perfect love. Read a few lines of the song and then I will challenge it to fly a little higher . . .

Airline to Heaven
There's an airline plane
Flies to heaven everyday
Past the pearly gates . . .

. . .Oh a lot of speakers speak
A lot of preachers preach
When you lay their salary on the line

You can hold your head and pray
It's the only earthly way
You can fly to heaven on time
Fly to heaven on time

Them's got ears, let them hear
Them's got eyes, let them see
Turn your eyes to the lord of the skies

Take that airline plane
It'll take you home again
To your home behind the skies

Your ticket you obtain
On this heavenly airline plane
You leave your sins behind
I enjoy this song. I appreciate the spirit of looking higher for answers. I love the Jesus, quoting Isaiah lines of encouraging us to see and hear the deeper meaning of what we are staring at and listening to.

The only thing I want to encourage is that the focus be off my obtaining love and off of salvation being something that happens at the end of life. While both are true. We cannot be passive invalids, we have to obtain it. And salvation does at one level occur at the end of life.

However, this saved life begins now. You love others (and yourself) because you have been loved. We love because God first loved us. This life of love is something that saves us right now and allows us to live the saved life right now. Well, I have rambled. Much less eloquently than music. So, I will leave you with one final how-to-guide for love that comes from 1 John 4:14-21. Click, Read, and Love someone else.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Moments of Insignificance

What is within a moment? A second. A few minutes. A lifetime on hold listening to the same song. Not much seems contained within an insignificant moment.

Last week the Dallas Independent School District Superintendent was ridiculed for failing to cancel services. Every other school district in every county around had canceled school due to icy, freezing conditions. We make decisions every day some are significant and others are insignificant. We do things every day that have eternal significance.

A friend shared a story about a snow day. She was a first grade girl bundled up on a snowy day. I imagined her as a poster child for the "Christmas Story" movie little brother who was a walking bundle of protection with gloves, hat, scarf and many layers. A group of first grade boys shoved her over into the snow. She could not get up. The next thing she remembers were some black gloved hands that picked her up out of the snow, set her down on her feet, brushed the snow out of her eyes, and gave her a blessing from God. The gloves were those of a Catholic priest. That long forgotten moment was for her significant. Because in those hands she found someone who knew God. From then on she wanted to know the God this priest knew.

Her story made me think of all the things I do every day. Some things I want to forget. Some are achievements I want to remember. But most things seem insignificant and disappear into the fabric of life. Most likely that priest would never remember this event. It was just something you do to help.

How we live in the small and secret moments of life defines our character. We become who we are on the inside. Our life is actually a lived out expression of the desires, intentions of our hearts. I have chosen to train my heart to become like the heart of Jesus. I can find no more genius person than Jesus. I can find no more reliable example of living life than Jesus Christ. While I am no where near getting my heart and desires in the shape of Jesus, I am trying with each moment to live as Jesus lives.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

At&t or Cingular: Whose am I

me: They must be kidding.

Seven years ago I signed on with At&t wireless for a $30 per month cell phone. Our home area allowed no-roaming charges (a dark age term for some) in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. We only had 80 minutes per month, yet we had unlimited nights and weekends starting at 8 p.m.

you: Get to the point? Why am I reading this?

me: You are bored. This is a silly story. There might be a point, which is why you are still reading.

I signed on with At&t. Then, more than a year ago, Cingular ate At&t for lunch. I became a Cingular customer almost overnight. I had no vote. But I now was a "grandfather," being grandfathered into Cingular. Same plan. Same rate. Same sorry minute totals. But now seven years later, new name.

you: Okay, I am not seeing a point on the horizon. I like Verizon.

me: Three months ago Cingular sent me a letter explaining that they would soon be eliminating my network. They were phasing out At&t. Beginning that very month I would be charged an additional fee every month (I guess for being a grandfatherly drain on the largest Cell company in the business). I needed to upgrade to the new network, upgrade phones, change my rate plan, and who knows what else.

you: So what? Verizon has a nice name, too.

me: So, I migrated to a new plan, new phone, and a new higher rate plan. I was no longer an At&t grandfather in a network about to die. I was taken from the cellular nursing home and reborn as a Cingular child.

Which brings me to the news I read the news this week. Cingular is changing its name to At&t - the ALL NEW At&t. All that clever Cingular marketing, all that careful orange and blue branding with the little asterisk man . . . it will soon all be gone. I am again a grandfather so soon after being reborn.

you: [me: you've already stopped reading so I will have to ask your question for you] So what?

me: It is easy to feel passed around. I am used by companies who want my money. I am used by churches who want to count me in their numbers. I am used by marketers who want to reach me. I am an account number. I have no say in these things. I am an object. I am a "consumer."

Regardless of who is my cell phone carrier, where my parents are, or what I own, I am someone loved by an eternal God. You are someone loved by the God who made you. The God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow gives you a name "child of God." Talk to God.

Monday, January 01, 2007

With Me

Public prayers are rare. Schools do not have them as frequently, yet they remain in private classrooms. Public praying can be quite raw. Not in a vulgar sense but in an honest or or cliché manner. Public prayer is regularly unpolished. People will fight for the right to pray and others will fight to silence words to God. On the unusual occasion that one actually hears a prayer (most often in church) it may be rote or pithy.

For some reason I have been struck by one particularly bland cliché in prayer "God be with us." This is not an unusual request. This is not even an heretical request, unless it is to bless something evil within us. Actually, "God with us" is a refrain I would encourage people to pray. We want God to be with us in our problems, our life events, and in our difficulties.

The phrase got me thinking about a twist of the phrase. What if we were to more frequently pray "may we be with God" or specifically "may I be with God today." This phrasing could be a complementary balance to our insistence that God be with us, bless us and take care of us. There is room for us to alter our focus and be more active in being in the places where God is. This brings balance because it assumes that God may not be particularly interested in blessing some project of our own doing. It may be that God will not bless one more of our purchases, our petty worries about clothes that send a message, or our desires to please the people we want to please. What God may want is for me to be with Him.

May we be with God in this new era and enjoy the blessings of life with God.