A Tale of Two Leather Jackets

A Tale of Two Leather Jackets

Several years ago, my wife purchased an authentic black leather biker jacket for me – from a biker leather store in Daytona Beach, no less.  It’s as authentic a “biker” jacket, as any biker jacket can be!  I love it, and I love wearing it!

When I wear it, I feel tougher, and more intimidating.  When I wear it, I feel like a “legitimate” biker.  When I wear it, I feel a little “bad,” in the “good” kind of way.

But, I have another black leather jacket, that makes me feel something completely different.

About five years ago, shortly after buying my bike, I didn’t own a black leather jacket, and desperately wanted one.  If you own a bike, you just have to own one!  But, at that point, I couldn’t afford it.

One day, I stopped at a large garage sale.  It was quickly apparent that a group of adult children were helping their elderly mother “down-size,” by selling loads of the house’s contents.  Among the items for sale, I noticed several racks of men’s clothing, which I immediately assumed might have belonged to a deceased husband/father.  Hanging on the end of the rack was a black leather jacket.  It wasn’t a biker jacket.  But, at that point, I wasn’t picky.

As I tried it on, I noticed an elderly woman, whom I presumed to be the mother/widow, watching me.  I was pretty sure I was trying on her husband’s jacket, and worried that she might not be too happy about it.

But, it fit!  And, they only wanted $20!  I couldn’t not buy it!

As I was paying for the jacket, the woman – the widow of the jacket’s former owner – looked me in the eye, and said, “That jacket was worn by a good man!”  She really emphasized the “good man” part!

I can’t begin to describe the feeling I had in that moment.  I still feel it now.  I wondered, “Am I worthy to wear this jacket?  Am I good enough?”  I didn’t even know this woman, or her deceased husband, but I felt like buying the jacket – AND WEARING IT! – carried an obligation, a duty, a commitment to treat his jacket with the very utmost and highest respect!

No, it was more than that.  Though I’m sure he wasn’t perfect, and that his grieving widow might have been a little biased, in that moment, staring deeply into my eyes, she convinced me that her husband was a saint! “That jacket was worn by a good man!”  Somehow, I knew, and I know, that he really was a good man, and that wearing his jacket carries the expectation I’ll strive to be a good man too.

Though it may sound silly, I feel an obligation to be worthy of that jacket!

To this day, I can’t wear it without seeing that woman’s eyes, and hearing her voice – “That jacket was worn by a good man!” – and knowing that I’ve made a commitment to wear it as well as I can.  Though I never met the man, and I’ll likely never see his widow again (in fact, I doubt she even remembers the moment I’ve described), he’s set a standard of charactwer for me to strive for.  When I wear his jacket, I want to be a good man too.

Someday, when I’m gone, when the jacket passes on to someone else, I hope someone can still say,“That jacket was worn by a good man!”

But, my other black leather biker jacket?  Not so much.  It’s just cool.

Unpredictable paths…

Unpredictable paths…

“History unfolds itself by strange and unpredictable paths. We have little control over the future; and none at all over the past.”  Winston Churchill

This week, I’m visiting Quetzaltenango (commonly known as Xela), Guatemala, speaking to English-speaking Middle and High School students at the Inter-American School’s Spiritual Emphasis Week.  The Inter-American School is a private, Christian-based, English-speaking school.  But, the students (mostly Guatemalan) come from a variety of spiritual and non-spiritual backgrounds.  This week, I get to tell them about Jesus!

The reason I’m this year’s Spiritual Emphasis Week speaker is, my daughter, Malinda (Miss Rains, to her students), is the IAS art teacher.  And, I’ve never been good at saying “no” to my daughter!  Actually, I wouldn’t have said “no,” anyway!

As I was about to speak to the students, this morning, a thought crossed my mind…

“How the heck did I end up here???”

How did a 50-year-old gringo end up telling a bunch of Guatemalan kids about Jesus?

To many who know me, the answer might seem obvious…

  • My daughter works and lives in Guatemala.
  • My daughter works and lives in Guatemala, because she went on a mission trip to Guatemala, with her mother and me, when she was in high school.
  • We were on a mission trip to Guatemala, because I’ve been leading mission teams to Guatemala for years.
  • I’ve led mission trips to Guatemala, because I met a missionary, working in Guatemala, in 2007.
  • I met a missionary in Guatemala, because I was a campus minister at Florida State University, looking for a place for my students to serve internationally.
  • I was looking for a place for my students to serve, because I was impacted by a mission trip to Mira Flores, Mexico, when I was 22-years-old.
  • I went on a mission trip to Mexico, because I was (unexpectedly) the new Youth Director at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando, and the trip was already planned.
  • I was (unexpectedly) the new Youth Director, because I had just (VERY UNEXPECTEDLY!) felt like God might be calling me to become a pastor, and the Youth Director position became (unexpectedly) vacant at the same time.
  • Before that, I had recently begun attending FUMC Orlando, AND LOVING IT.  Before that, I had recently graduated from college.  Before that… well, lots of things happened!

Looking backward, of course I ended up here, this week, doing this.  But, if you told me, when I was in school, that some day I’d be visiting my adult daughter, in Guatemala,  telling Guatemalan kids about Jesus, I’d have laughed.  I didn’t know much about Jesus, and I couldn’t have found Guatemala on a map!  My family didn’t go to church, nor did we travel internationally.  I studied German in High School, because I couldn’t imagine ever needing to speak Spanish (even if I never came to Guatemala, living in Florida, Spanish would have been a LOT more useful than German!)

How, on earth, did I end up here, now?

The truth is, even if you’re never invited to speak to kids in Guatemala about Jesus, most of us end up in different places, doing different things than we ever would have imagined.  We set goals.  We make plans.  We have dreams.  But, life usually has unexpected twists and turns, altering the course of our paths in surprising ways.

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”  (Proverbs 16:9)

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.  Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”  (Psalm 37:23-24)

“This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.'”  (Isaiah 48:17)

How did I get here?  It’s God’s fault… or blessing!  I choose to believe the latter.  And, I speaking of choice, I believe our choices also have a lot to do with where we end up.  In fact, I increasingly believe that every choice we make – every step we choose on our journeys (including choices ignorantly chosen) – have a lot to do with what steps will follow.

So, that’s how I ended up, sitting in my daughter’s classroom, this morning, and I’m so thankful!  I never would’ve predicted it, but I’m so thankful for it!  And, I can’t help but wonder what this moment of my journey will lead to next!

So, where are you this morning, what are you doing, and how did you get there?

And, I wonder, what’s next for you?

 

Bikini Bike Washes

Bikini Bike Washes

An attractive young woman, wearing a minimal bikini, is washing motorcycles, while the (male, and not so young) bikes’ owners sit back and stare.  Actually, the oglers outnumber the bikes being washed.  And, I don’t think they are ogling the bikes.

I’m having my motorcycle serviced today, at a dealership, and waiting while the work is done.  It’s a Saturday, and the dealership is as much a biker hangout as a place of business.  A band is playing.  Burgers and beers are free.  There are as many “hanging out,” as there are shopping.  But, I suspect shopping is the hope of the dealership, and the motivation for its generosity.

And, in the midst of the action, a young woman in a bikini is washing dirty old mens’ motorcycles, while they sit back and watch her work.

As a pastor, I know I live in a bubble.  This isn’t my normal world.  There aren’t many bikinis in my world.

And, I’m an advocate for treating women with the dignity and respect they deserve, not as objects to satisfy men’s desires.  Many men aren’t.

But, in light of the recent “Me too,” movement, I’m surprised and saddened.

You might be thinking.  “She chose to do this.  She’s getting paid, and probably tipped!”  I’m sure she did, and I’m sure she is.  I don’t know why she took the job.  But, I doubt it’s because she enjoys washing bikes or being ogled by old men!  I doubt this is the fulfillment of her career-goals.

Maybe she needs the money.  Maybe she doesn’t have many other employment opportunities.  Maybe she believes her beauty is her only asset.  Maybe it’s the only reality she knows.

Part of me wants to offer her a beach towel to cover up, and to tell her, “Yes, you are beautiful.  But, you’re so much more than your physical beauty.  You have a heart.  You have a soul.  You have talents, and abilities.  You have potential.  You have value – and your true value is not your ability to turn men on.  You are a beloved child of God, and you deserve better than this.”

Part of me wants to apologize.

I won’t.  I don’t know her, and I might sound like I’m judging her for her choice.  She doesn’t need that, any more than the ogling.  Maybe that’s cowardly.  I don’t know.  But, I won’t.

So, while I won’t be talking to her, I’m writing this for all of the women and men who might read this.  If you think this is worth sharing, I hope you will.

Ladies – you have inestimable worth, beyond your physical attractiveness.  Men may, or may not, find you physically beautiful.  Men may, or may not, find you sexually desirable.  Men may, or may not, pressure you to comply to their desires, or demands.  Regardless, your body, your beauty, and your sexuality is your own, and you have a right to decide how you use it.  If you want to wear skimpy bikinis and wash men’s motorcycles, fine.  It’s your choice.  But, I doubt you really do.

Your body and your beauty is certainly not all you are.  You deserve to be treated with utmost respect.  You deserve to know your value.

Men – just because there are women who are willing to wash motorcycles in bikinis, or present themselves in other overtly sexual ways, doesn’t mean they want to or enjoy it.  Yes, beauty is appealing and enticing.  Yes, lust is a difficult drive to master.  But, that young woman you’re staring at, is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, and maybe someone’s mother.  She has a heart and a soul.  She has a story.  She has dreams.

And, brothers, we degrade both women and ourselves when we objectify them.  You are more than your lust.  You are more than your animal instincts.  A large part of being a man is the way we view and treat women, and how we practice self-control.

Men, let’s be good men.

Please remember, she’s more than an object.  She’s more than your object.  She a person, just like you.  Treat her with the same respect you would want for mother, sister, wife, daughter, or yourself.  Treat her with respect, even if she doesn’t ask you to.  Treat her with respect, even if she doesn’t know to respect herself.  Treat her with respect, because she deserves it.

 

 

Perspective via Gratitude

Perspective via Gratitude

Last night, I watched Ben Stiller’s latest movie, “Brad’s Status.”  Stiller plays the role of a middle-aged dad, touring colleges (Harvard, Tufts) with his high-school-aged son, Brad.

Stiller’s character is in full-blown mid-life existential crisis.  His career doesn’t provide the status he longs for.  His college friends are, seemingly, far more successful and happy.  He feels forgotten.  His son might surpass his own achievements.  He believes he’s “plateaued.”  Throughout the movie, his thoughts are filled with compliant, blame, jealousy, fantasy, and dissatisfaction.

During a conversation with a female Harvard student, of Indian descent, complaining about his life, and acknowledging his own jadedness, the student replies, “You’re fifty years-old and you still think that the world was made for you.”  She goes on to accuse him of having “white, middle-aged male, first-world problems,” compared to the majority-world population that lives in poverty, where women have no rights.  Though he runs a non-profit, to help fund service organizations, she asks if he knows a single poor person.  She concludes by saying, “You’re doing fine.  You have everything you need.  You’re fine.”

Perspective.  We all need perspective.

Stuck in his own internal, repetitive, negative thoughts and angst, Stiller’s character can’t see beyond what his life isn’t.  An outside perspective reveals the shallowness of his complaints, and his failure to see his life for what it actually is – privileged.

Don’t we all do that?  Isn’t it easy to lose perspective, fixating on our deficiencies and dissatisfactions, rather than all that we have to be thankful for.

Many spiritual teachers suggest the key to maintaining proper perspective is practicing gratitude.  G. K. Chesterton said, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

What are you grateful for, this day?

Right now, I’m grateful for…

  • A beautiful, cool, leisurely Saturday morning…
  • The time and space to lounge in my bathrobe, this morning, and express my thoughts here
  • Twenty-seven happy years of marriage to my best friend
  • Two children, and a new daughter-in-law, whom I dearly love and feel immense pride in
  • The people who’ve loved me, parented me, mentored me, inspired me, and shaped me
  • The privilege of being a pastor for almost twenty-five years, and the great ministries and people I’ve been fortunate to serve
  • Knowing God
  • Opportunities, daily, to pursue my hopes and dreams
  • A beautiful home, a generous salary, and all of my needs – and most of my wants – provided
  • The many opportunities and advantages I’ve been afforded in life
  • Better friends than I deserve
  • The life I have, the life I’ve lived, and the life I still have before me
  • Opportunities to keep learning, growing, developing, and becoming
  • For all that is easy to say “thank you” for, and for all that took longer to be thankful for
  • For perspective

And, I’m deeply grateful to anyone reading these words, or anything else I write.  There are certainly many better, more insightful bloggers.  There are certainly better ways to spend your time.  That you would be interested, and take the time, to read my random thoughts honors and humbles me.

I’m grateful for you.

What are you grateful for?

 

Preparing for Easter

Preparing for Easter

Though I’d already chosen the text and title for my Easter 2018 sermon, I really started working on the content of the message earlier today.

If you don’t preach, you might be surprised to learn that writing sermons for Easter and Christmas Eve are very difficult.  Why?  Everybody already knows the stories.  Even if you’ve never walked into a church before, Easter and Christmas are still likely to be stories you have some degree of familiarity with.  And, for many, attending an Easter service is little more than a holiday tradition.

Undeniably, it’s a great story!  In fact, it’s the greatest story we have to tell!  But, it’s so familiar.

I’ve preached at least 20 different Easter messages, and never the same one twice.  Each time, I’ve tried to find a new way to tell the same story of Jesus beating death, or to find a new meaning or a new application.  I’ve often looked for a new and novel angle – some years more successfully than others.

But, this Easter is different.  No novelty needed this year.  This Easter follows a Lent that began with a horrific Ash Wednesday tragedy – the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Though I sense all of us, in this community, are finding ways to return to “normal,” the tragedy is still in the daily news, and in some conversation, everyday.  You see “MSD Strong” t-shirts everywhere.  This Saturday, March 24th, many will be marching in this community and others, seeking change in our gun laws.  My point?  The tragedy is still on our minds, and the shadow of this tragedy still looms large over this community, and beyond.

As I am preparing this Easter sermon, I’m wondering…

  • What does this very old story have to say to this very current event?
  • What does the resurrection of Christ mean, not just theologically, but pastorally and practically, for those still struggling?
  • In the face of so much death and suffering, how do I speak of Christ defeating death?
  • How do we balance the sorrow we still feel, with the joyful celebration of Easter?
  • How do we find Easter hope, when it still feels like Good Friday?
  • What does it mean for Christians, who live in Coral Springs and Parkland, to be Easter people?
  • What do I have to say about Christ’s resurrection, to these people, at this moment, that I KNOW is true.

In last year’s Easter sermon, Pope Francis said, “The Lord is alive! He is living and he wants to rise again in all those faces that have buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity.”  Undoubtedly, many who hear my Easter message will have “buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity,” because of this specific tragedy, not to mention all of the other challenges and difficulties we all face every day.

I’m not quite sure how I will say it, yet.  But, Pope Francis’ statement captures the message I want to convey.  Yes, our hopes and dreams may feel buried right now.  In some cases, literally.  For many, it may feel like Good Friday for a long time.  But, Easter always follows Good Friday, and it always will.

Easter always has the final word.  There’s hope in that.

Now, back to sermon writing.

The problems with belly buttons

The problems with belly buttons

The problem with belly buttons is, we all have them, but some are far more presentable than others.  As someone who knows to keep his belly button hidden from public view, I feel comfortable making this judgement.  Most belly buttons should be kept covered.

But, to further add to the complexity of the issue, we may not all agree on what constitutes an attractive, exposable belly button, versus one that needs to be covered.  Belly buttons come in such a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes – among other miscellaneous and varied distinctions.

Some are cute…

baby

Some are muscular…

six-pack-abs-burn-fat_51

Some are attractive…

innie 2

Some, well…

fat-hairy-belly-22220070

Some are innies…

innie

Some are definitely outies…

belly20button-outie.jpg

Some are decorated…

tattoed.jpeg

Some are hiding something…

femeie-insarcinata

Some are darker…

black.jpg

Some are lighter…

belly-habits-10.jpg

Some are proudly displayed…

Child_pokes_own_navel_with_finger

Some are tastefully kept out of sight…

old

What’s the point of all of this silly belly button talk?  EVERYBODY HAS ONE.  Whether your’s is clean or dirty, hidden or displayed, cute or ugly, there’s nothing unique or special about having a belly button.  I have one.  You have one.  We all have belly buttons.

Years ago, while I was traveling in Mexico,a friend pointed to a Volkswagon Beetle, and asked, “Do you know what we call those?  El ombligos, or belly buttons.  Everybody drives one in Mexico.”  And, it was true.  Every police car, taxi, rental car, etc. was a VW Beetle.

I’ve also heard the expression, “Belly buttons are like opinions.  Everyone has one.  But, like opinions, most are better kept undisclosed.”

And, that is my point.

There is a difference between information, preference, and opinion.  Information is based on objective fact.  Preference is based on personal tastes.  Opinions are judgements, likely based in bias, prejudice, even ignorance, but are stated publicly as universal truths.

And, have you ever noticed how often opinions are shared in the form of criticism, insult, slander, grumbling, or gossip?  Doesn’t the Bible say something about that?  And, have you ever noticed how stated opinions never leave much room for disagreement?

Opinions are not facts.  They’re just opinions.  Everyone has one already.  Like most of us don’t need to share our belly buttons with the world, you very likely don’t need to share your opinion either.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing accurate information, or even your personal preferences, if stated as such.  We can agree to disagree about preferences.  We can even disagree about certain information, until we check our accuracy with Google or Wikipedia.  But, stated opinions often do far more damage than good.

I remember being taught, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.”

I also remember Jesus saying, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”  Perhaps that could be said as, “Share your opinions, only to the degree that you are open and interested in hearing the opinions of others.”

Yes, you have opinions.  Congratulations.  So do I.  You likely have strong opinions.  Me too.  If you want to know mine, ask me, and I MIGHT share mine with you.  I might.  I might not.  If I want to know your’s, I will be sure to ask you (but, please, don’t hold your breath!)

Oops.  Did I just show you my belly button?

Remember your baptism?

Remember your baptism?

Do you remember your baptism?  I do.

July 22, 1984 – around 11:00 pm.

I was at church camp, at Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee.  It was the summer between my junior and senior year of High School, and my last year as a camper.

Earlier in the evening, I accepted Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, and was ready to be baptized.

After a night-time walk through the woods, the entire camp gathered by a mountain stream.  I stepped into the cold water, with a young pastor named Alex.  Alex asked me, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the only son of God.  Do you accept him as Lord and Savior?”  As I said “Yes!,” Alex pushed me back into the water, baptizing me in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

I remember a lot of the details of that night.  The cold water.  My friends, standing by the river.  A hundred, or so, flashlights shining on the water.  More than anything, I remember thinking, “This changes everything.”  

I didn’t make the decision to be baptized lightly.  No one pressured me.  It was entirely my decision.  In fact, I had wrestled with the decision for at least a year.  I wanted to believe.  I wanted to be a Christian.  I wanted to live like a Christian.  I wanted to be baptized.  But, before I could, I had to work through my feelings and thoughts of uncertainty.  When I made the decision, I wanted to be sure.

And, I was.  I can’t say, for certain, how or why I was sure.  But, I was.

I feel fortunate to have such strong memories of my baptism.  But, when I ask, “Do you remember your baptism?” and say, “I do,” I’m not just talking about the event itself.  Whether, or not, we can recall the details of how or when we were baptized, baptism is more than a moment.

In many traditions, baptism is considered a sacrament.  The traditional definition of a sacrament, from St. Augustine, is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”   The “outward and visible” sign of baptism is water, of course.  An “inward and spiritual grace,” is also at work.

Baptism is more than a religious ceremony.  Baptism is spiritual change.  Baptism is transformation.  Baptism is new life.  Baptism is an altered identity.  Baptism is a new affiliation.  Baptism is a new way of being and living.

I think of baptism this way…  When I was born, I was born into a physical body – male, caucasian, flat-footed, brown-haired and blue-eyed.  I was born into a particular family called “Rains,” with a certain history, values, rules, and expectations. I was born into particular culture – in my case, “Southern,” where I learned to say, “y’all.”  And, by birth, I became a legal citizen of the United States of America, and became subject to its particular laws and obligations.

But, when I was baptized, I was spiritually ‘born again.”  I became a member of a different family (God’s), and I became part of a different culture (the Church), and I became a citizen of a different kingdom (the Kingdom of Heaven).  And, my baptismal identity is my primary identity.  My baptismal allegiance is my primary allegiance.

Remembering your baptism isn’t about remembering the event.  Remembering your baptism is remembering who you are as a member of God’s family, as a member of the Church, and as a citizen of God’s kingdom.  Remembering your baptism is remembering you’ve been spiritually changed.  Remembering your baptism is remembering you’ve been called to be like Jesus.  Remembering your baptism ought to affect the way you treat people, the way you conduct business, the way you vote, the way you shop, the way you give, and the values you aspire to live by.  Remembering you baptism ought to affect EVERYTHING!

Pope Francis says, “We are called to live our baptism every day, as new creatures, clothed in Christ.”

Do you remember your baptism?