Friday, July 6, 2018

Memories and Friendship

Me and a few old friends - June 2018 - SAHS Class of '83 reunion
Time is an odd thing. At various stages of life we view time differently. As a small child 35 years seems like an eternity, while someone in their early 50s might consider it a blur that has quickly passed. Also, after many years, just the mere mention of an event or a song from the past can almost transport us back in time. What an awesome gift from God is our capacity to store up memories!

This past weekend I attended the 35th reunion of my high school graduating class. It was two days filled with many laughs and lots of memories. I reconnected with old friends, some I had not seen in decades. We exchanged stories about life and relived experiences from years ago. We looked through a dusty yearbook and remembered the time before careers, kids, and the need for hair color. There were fond inquiries about the ones who were absent. They were part of our stories, but sadly, they will not be included in these new memories.

It was a good time and I'm thankful for the opportunity to be present with old friends. I'm aware that at times life gets in the way of such things, unfortunately. I'm also grateful for modern technology that allows me to easily capture such moments. I want to take more pictures!

While in my hometown for the weekend I walked down Main Street with my grandson. He's eight years old and such a neat little guy. When I was his age that place seemed so big and much more exciting. I realize that I have grown up and have a new perspective. The events of life have colored that perspective. And all of it, the joyful and the hard are part of the story. Strolling past old store fronts, some now vacant, I couldn't help remember some events from my childhood. And now I'm wondering what sort of memories my little guy will have as he grows up. What will shape him? In an interesting twist, he's attending the same elementary school that I attended (Go Central Buffalos!) and lives on the same road I did for the first 21 years of my life!



Some of the friends I met at Central Elementary were gathered with me over the weekend. I hope my grandson is developing good and lasting friendships too. It is these sorts of people that have had an enduring impact on who I am today. I don't want to forget them or take them for granted. They are more than just part of my memories, they are part of my story.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Awful Love of God


"When Scripture, prayer, worship, ministry become routine, they are dead. When I conclude that I can now cope with the awful love of God, I have headed for the shallows to avoid the deeps. I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God." Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel


["Awful" = amazing, impressive, awe-inspiring]

This song comes to mind. Listen and ponder the implications of God's love for you!


Friday, June 8, 2018

Stop Complaing. Do Something.

I see and hear so much complaining. There are a myriad of problems and no community is immune. It is depressing and disturbing. Some people believe things can't change or that only government agencies are able to bring about change. Others are proactive, looking for ways to do something about the issues facing their communities. What about you - how can you make an impact, become part of the solution?

One person can make a difference in their community! Things won't change, there will not be a shift in the status quo, if everyone stays inside watching TV or surfing social media. It will take action, effort, creativity and intentionality.

Here are 16 simple ideas. Find a couple of them that excite you and go make a difference:

* Volunteer weekly at a local ministry or non-profit - every community has a senior center, library, soup kitchen, boys/girls club or another place where you can serve others. One or two hours of free labor a week can make a big difference for an organization on a small budget.

* Join a local organization that is already actively working to improve the community - Rotary Club, Lions Club, youth sports league, women's club. The structure is already in place, all they need are more people to execute their plans.
* Identify neighbors who need assistance and offer to help - cut grass, do car repairs, offer rides to the grocery or appointments, provide a meal. Yes, I'm suggesting you actually engage with others on your street. Find out how they are getting along and offer to assist where there are needs.

* Organize a group to pick up litter, plant flowers, cut grass or trim weeds in neglected areas - trash and overgrown areas make a neighborhood look...bad. With a bit of effort you could be part of adding beauty and community pride to a neglected corner.

* Plan a neighborhood cookout or block party - get to know your neighbors. Its about building relationships, risking and inviting human connection. It's not complicated.

* Support local artists and musicians - attend concerts, gallery openings, craft fairs. Art and music bring joy. Be part of promoting those who have talents to share and take time to enjoy these wonderful blessings.

* Shop local and encourage entrepreneurs - nearly everyone has a sense of nostalgia about the corner grocery, local hardware or small town diner. A few still exist and there are people who want to bring them back. Find them and give them your business. These places often serve as neighborhood gathering spots that cultivate a greater sense of community.

* Give financially to local non-profits and ministries -  support those who are helping the hurting and struggling. Soup kitchens, crisis pregnancy centers, health clinics, addiction recovery centers, homeless shelters, all usually run on very tight budgets. Be generous. Bless and enable others who are doing the hard work that you are not necessarily equipped or able to do.

* Get moving - Go outside more. Picnic in the park, sit on your front porch, take a walk, attend a local sporting event (even if you have no kids playing). This is an opportunity to meet others, enjoy the various aspects of your community and get some exercise. Our society has become very sedentary.

* Deliver a meal or dessert to the fire house or police station – a simple expression of love and gratitude for those who respond to emergencies, protect and serve in your community.

* Attend city council meetings - get involved in ad hoc committees that relate to your areas of expertise and passion. This is a great way to stay informed on local issues and become an active participant in finding solutions for concerns in the community.

* Visit a local nursing home or retirement community – take flowers, visit, play music, participate in games or activities. These residents are often overlooked, isolated and sometimes without any family. Your presence will be a blessing to them and your perspective will likely be changed.

* Participate in a Neighborhood Watch program - one concern in many communities is crime. Vigilant and watchful neighbors who communicate with one another and law enforcement can be a helpful deterrent to criminals. It also promotes connection, unity and support within the community.

* Mentor a younger person - share your talents and expertise. Invest in the next generation. You can pass on valuable knowledge and experience. Connect with a local guidance counselor, youth pastor or scout master to identify young people who might benefit from learning a skill in which you excel - music, auto mechanics, carpentry, sewing, knitting etc.

Rock your town – painting rocks, hiding and finding them is a real thing. It is a way to express creativity and spread kindness and positivity. It is a unique activity for kids and adults. Social media provides an outlet to share photos and connect with others who are already involved. Many communities have "Rocking" social media pages set up to share photos and ideas.

* Look for the lonely - we all need friends. Pay attention to those around you, or make a special effort to seek out others, especially those who live alone. Friendship, the presence of others who care, is a powerful tool to increase joy and meaning in our lives.

As Matthew West said, "Its time for us to Do Something."


Friday, May 25, 2018

Hope for My Hometown

St. Albans, WV is situated at the confluence of the Kanawha and Coal Rivers.
(awesome photo by Joey Puterbaugh)
Several years ago I started a Facebook group page for my hometown, St. Albans, WV. I did it on a whim and invited all my high school friends to join. Within a couple of weeks the group had 200 members. I was shocked. Today there are over 9,500 members and counting. That's nearly as large as the current population of the town. The group page is a place to share memories and catch up on local events. A significant portion of the membership no longer live there. Like me, they want to remain connected to the place that still has a piece of their heart.

The group page is often a source of angst for me, and I suspect it is for many of the group members as well. The fond and pleasant memories are occasionally interrupted by present day turmoil. Tempers flare, divergent opinions are expressed, harsh words are used...all from behind an electronic device and little good is accomplished.

You see, drugs and crime have become part of everyday life in my hometown (like many in our country). At times these things seem to overshadow everything else. Its bad and people are dying. The drug epidemic has impacted me personally. However, I'm certain the solution is not ranting on a social media page.

Many who are caught in the terrible cycle of addiction don't believe there is another way to live. They are physically enslaved by the toxins and emotionally overwhelmed by a series of bad choices. Add to that the stigma and shame heaped upon them by others, who scratch their heads in dismay at so much tragic mess. On a practical level there is no quick fix or simple solution. Government and law enforcement can assist, but they do not hold the ultimate remedy. Treatment facilities, community support groups and early intervention can also play a helpful role. But, it is a messy and complicated situation that brings pain and leaves many suffering.

Hope, healing and freedom are possible. Ultimately these are found in God's love, that was demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Furthermore, if and when the people who claim to know Jesus will risk graciously extending that love, to those who are struggling, perhaps a visible impact will be made. One life at a time. In one small hometown at a time.

P.S. There are good things happening in My Hometown like this, this and this, as well as more I don't have time to mention.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Men Make Men


Its true, men make men.

Or we could say, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:7)

Actually, and more importantly, fathers who invest in their sons make men. But western culture has moved away from this in a variety of ways. Absent fathers, or fathers who are disconnected from their sons and emotionally stunted, play a role in this matter. Add to that the "pornification" of our culture that twists the minds of young boys and men. Sadly, we have also abandoned customs and rituals that bless sons and usher them into manhood. The concept of what it means to be a man is often diluted to little more than sports clich├ęs and locker room jokes.

I don't have a son, I have daughters. But my hope is that I have modeled for my daughters what godly manhood looks like. And my prayer is, they will recognize genuine masculinity and seek that in their future spouses.

I recently read this article that nails this issue directly. The author, who is much more articulate than I am, explains the problem in greater depth. Take five minutes to read it and perhaps discover what's behind your own story of learning to be a man.

My father was not absent, but he was limited in his own ability to teach me. I'm not sure his father ever really connected with him on a deep level. Hard work, hunting, fishing and other sports were a big part of my man-training. Not bad things, just not enough. We didn't talk about life. He didn't share much about his story. He did love me and he even said the words (which I believe is important). I did finally see him cry and show a measure of authentic emotion, but this only occurred as I was heading off to college and well on the way to forming my ideas about manhood. He did the best he could. It is only in the last several years that I have become aware of how my father influenced me and my view of masculinity and a host of other areas. Thankfully, this growing awareness has been helpful. I don't spend time lamenting what I didn't receive from my father. He was a broken man, like me. I am thankful for him. But also, I am thankful for the men who have come into my life more recently who have been part of challenging me to authentic masculinity. Even in my 50's I am learning what it means to be a man. Maybe I can be part of encouraging others.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Soulful Relationships

I've just finished reading The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection. All I can say is, "Wow, everyone must read this book!" It is that good and helpful.

Here is a sampling of the deep delights in this work by Rich Plass and Jim Cofield:

"Our relational God heals our wounds, not simply by decree but by inviting us into a participatory life of communion with him."

"The good news of Jesus is not religious doctrine; it is not an idea; it is not a set of beliefs to be embraced. The good news is the loving presence of the Trinitarian God in the person of the eternal Son dwelling within us. We have life in him, not in our ideas about him."

"Our soul has terrain that is deeper than what we think. In this terrain of the soul there is knowledge of truth, love and mercy that is far more than mere information... The soul's deepest terrain is not experienced by more thinking or doing, but by means of solitude and silence."

If you long for better relationships with a spouse or friends, and feel blocked or stuck in those relationships, this book might be helpful. If you want to better understand how God has made us for relationships and why they can be hard, this book might be insightful. You can get a copy here.

Enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Need for Community

I'm currently reading The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection. It is excellent and everyone should read it!

The chapter that focuses on "Community" explains the importance of living in community, connected with others, especially a faith/church community. Here's a few quotes from that chapter:

"The church of Christ is the actual expression of his presence in the world." ... "To live in a true-self way we must live in specific, particular, concrete relationships." ... "It is impossible to foster soulful relationships without a real commitment to a particular community of faith. We learn to love by loving real people. No one matures in the capacity to connect well if what we love is our idealized images of others or ourselves."

When I think of community I see a vision of people sitting around a big table, connecting deeply over a wonderful meal. Jesus invites us to the table. Not to sit alone, but to enjoy communion and community with him and others. Zach Williams has a song entitled "To The Table" that sort of paints this picture. Take a listen and ponder how you are doing relating to God and others within real community.