No Guarantees

Like many towns in the 1980s, we provided an all-night party for all high school seniors the night of their graduation. Parents and community leaders organized a party of celebration, celibacy, and cheer (sans alcohol). A YMCA was transformed into a casino/nightclub/coffee house/activity center for 14 hours. As the preacher, I was assigned the roulette or craps table.

The sub-text was to guarantee the safety of the graduates on a dangerous night. One year I learned there are no guarantees no matter how hard you try.

Two hours after going home at 7 a.m., one graduate drove the two-lane thirty-mile highway to Columbia to buy something. He fell asleep at the wheel, and was killed in the car crash.

24 hours after their graduation, I hosted 24 youth with our mutual shock, silence, sobs, stories, and unanswerable questions. One life lesson we learned was that you can’t guarantee safety, no matter how many safety steps you take. The lesson was not worth the cost.

The next year, after another annual all-night sober celebration, we told the participants to sleep it off.

How have you learned that you can’t guarantee someone’s safety? Given that there are no guarantees, what steps do you take to seek safety for yourself and others? How might this reflection affect your response to this week’s guns and graduations?

The Table

If March’s full moon had been today instead of last Thursday, we would be in Holy Week. It wasn’t; we aren’t. Easter remains the first Sunday after the full moon after the March Equinox.

In this alternative reality, let me invite you to an alternative Holy Week. What if the table on Thursday is the metaphor, that precedes (dare I say supersedes?) the cross on Friday?

Last fall the church I served studied the book Grateful by Diana Butler Bass. We loved her video reflections and study guide from “The Work of the People”.  A transformative take-away for me was that the Lord’s Table (throughout scripture) means all are invited, there is more than enough for all, and together the world feasts around one table in gratitude for God’s abundant gifts. I invite you to feast on and proclaim the good news of this book.

Last week in “The Cottage” zoom event with Diana Butler Bass I was reminded that gathering equally at the Table is a direct threat to those who want to control the way we live and the resources we have (“from Pilate to Putin?” I thought).

The Roman Empire was not the first or last to seek to maintain control through violence, oppression, hoarding wealth, conquering peoples, and controlling the ways others live. I wonder if Crucifixion—Rome’s threat of terror to squash all resistance—has become the current control of crucifying civilian cities.

Table gatherings with the risen Lord behind locked doors, along the Emmaus road, and beside the open sea had and have the final vision for us to live into. God’s grace wins.

During this time before Holy Week, how can you proclaim the good news of the Lord’s Table? Which views of the table, the cross, and the resurrection is God transforming in your journey? How do you participate in the myth of scarcity and the illusion of control? In what ways are your seeking to live the abundant life?

Chicken Soup – Too Funny Reflections & Questions

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://law-and-gospel.com/2022/04/19/chicken-soup-too-funny/
  1. Chicken Soup – Too Funny
  2. Table-Threat to Empire
  3. Chicken Chow Mein
  4. Kitchen Steward
  5. Second Mile

But wait……

My mother’s mother made many memorable statements on life. “You can judge a person’s life by how many funny-looking people come to the funeral” was one.

In her teens (and the teens of the last century), she met my grandfather while they attended the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He became the newspaper editor in Pineville, KY and then for the Lexington Herald. In a state where basketball is a religion, they were faithful followers.

In her 70’s her husband and brother died in the same year. “The two men in the world who think I’m perfect are gone,” she said.

At 90 she worried about breaking a hip: “nobody will like me anymore.” Sure enough, she lived for a year in a nursing home, knowing she’d never live anywhere else—everyone still loved her. 

One dark night, she said to a nurse by her bed, “You know, I’ve lived a full and long life. My family is doing fine. I’m tired. I think it’s time to be with God and my husband.” She closed her eyes and rolled into the covers.

Soon enough, she rolled back toward the nurse, opened her eyes and proclaimed, “But wait…. Kentucky is playing basketball this Saturday!”

As her grandson, I’m disappointed Kentucky is not playing this Saturday. (Any pull with Saint Peter doesn’t help against Saint Peters.) And yet, I can smile as I wonder what’s coming next.

What brings you joy in life? Is the anticipation or the experience itself more meaningful to you? As Mary Oliver wrote in her poem The Summer Day: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Chicken Soup – Too Funny Reflections & Questions

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://law-and-gospel.com/2022/04/19/chicken-soup-too-funny/
  1. Chicken Soup – Too Funny
  2. Table-Threat to Empire
  3. Chicken Chow Mein
  4. Kitchen Steward
  5. Second Mile

The Happy Hypocrite (Colorado Kool-Aid Continued)

man sitting on steps posing

I told my psychology professor what had happened and that I was never going back. He said, “If you don’t go back, you won’t complete the assignment; you will get a D. If you complete the assignment; you’ll probably earn an A or B. You choose.”

“But what if that guy’s still there? How can I face him?” I whined. My teacher replied, “I hope he is there. Then you can apologize for the buckle and ask him for another chance.” 

I went. He was. I did. He invited me to sit and talk. He gave me another chance.

During the first 20 minutes of a 1000 worship services in my 20 years of living, I had been told I was forgiven. Sometimes I paid more attention than others. Here I was truly experiencing forgiveness in an unforgettable way.

That man became the first of many persons with alcohol use disorder whose story I’ve heard and whose path I’ve walked alongside. I have seen families, lives, and relationships ruined by severe problem drinking—some publicly, some privately. I have seen people find a way to live an abundant life one day at a time through the help of a community and a higher power.

As I grew older, I would learn that Jesus of Nazareth had a few things to say about hypocrites.  Many people tell me they don’t come to church because it’s full of hypocrites. I’m quick to quip: “There’s always room for one more.”  

That day, I became a happy hypocrite, because my clueless belt buckle led to forgiveness which led to trust. Today I join other happy hypocrites who share a vision of God’s Kingdom that we strive for and never complete. What we proclaim is always greater than what we accomplish. Somewhere between being a damned no-good do-gooder and fulfilling all God’s good will for the whole creation lies where you and I find ourselves along the path.

When have you been given a second chance? How have you been told you are forgiven by God? What’s your story of when you forgave another person? What is a hope, a vision, a dream you have that you can never fully fulfill?

Chicken Soup – Too Funny Reflections & Questions

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://law-and-gospel.com/2022/04/19/chicken-soup-too-funny/
  1. Chicken Soup – Too Funny
  2. Table-Threat to Empire
  3. Chicken Chow Mein
  4. Kitchen Steward
  5. Second Mile

Cotillion

Prior to Dancing with the Stars and Miss Manners, there was Mrs. Burke’s Cotillion of Louisville. After the Great Depression, Mrs. Burke had been a ballet dance student and instructor in New York City before coming home to teach ballroom dancing in the 40s. For four decades, she annually enrolled an equal number of boys and girls in Cotillion (her former assistants currently continue the tradition).

Unlike the legend, I was not put on the waiting list at birth, but I went to Cotillion from 5th-8th grade at the Louisville Country Club. Over a hundred of us would gather every other fall Friday. Chairs were lined up along the wall on each side of the ballroom’s polished wood floor. The girls sat on the left “with both feet on the floor” and their white-gloved hands in their laps. I took a seat on the right in my sport-coat and tie; suits were not required due to the financial strain of growth spurts.

We learned a lot about manners along with the waltz, fox-trot, and jitterbug. More than manners, she taught me about treating others like I’d want to be treated with more practical examples than my church’s golden rule. In the midst of my body’s and society’s changes from ’68-71 I was placed in a bubble of consistency for a few months a year.

My most comforting consistency was Ruth. Dancing began when the boys were all told to “walk” across the room to ask a girl to dance. While I dreaded the risk of taking the initiative, I was relieved I wasn’t a girl who was asked last. After a few sessions, I asked Ruth to dance. We became dance partners for four fall seasons, except for the one time a guy made the mistake of beating me across the floor to ask her.

Our familiarity enabled us to dance really well together; our pact assured us of a partner we liked. Her flowing red hair enabled me to easily find a seat directly across before my run for the roses. By the third fall, her newfound height made the twirls challenging but we carried on. I never saw Ruth outside of cotillion but I thought of her in college the night a tiny dancer and I took second at our bar’s disco contest.

How were you initiated into treating others with decency and respect? In choosing a partner for the dance, do you appreciate consistency or seek variety? Who teaches you to treat others like you’d want to be treated? How do you put those lessons into practice?

Stand by Me

silhouette group of people standing on grass field

Our elementary gang spent many days exploring the woods with streams, sticks, trails, talks, and a few firecrackers.  Three boys moved away from our “web” of friends when their parents moved to Ashland, KY as dad became a VP of Ashland Oil.  (I knew about coal in Kentucky, but oil?)  Soon enough, four sixth graders traveled to visit the friends we missed.

Our gang’s first and last train ride went from Louisville to Ashland and we had fun roaming the cars.  The reunited rabble rousers spent our last weekend together playing pool, listening to music, laughing at jokes, and roaming Ashland.  Sleep was not prevalent. 

I first heard the 45-rpm single “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf, on the brothers’ new stereo.  I experienced the album “Tea for the Tillerman” by Cat Stevens the same night.  I didn’t buy the single, but I got the vinyl album that I’m streaming now.  Whenever I hear those songs, I’m transported on a magic carpet to that basement with my friends.  Music evokes such powerful memories.

The night before our departure, the man of the house informed us that the Ashland Oil Company Learjet was going to fly empty to Louisville in order bring businessmen back.  He’d arranged for us to take the Learjet rather than the train back home.  The day we buckled in, the pilot said to us, “Boys, you’re in charge of this flight.  I’ll take off when you let me know you’re ready.  Just say the word; it’s your flight.”  I’d never felt so much power….. or privilege.   

Following that final weekend, we started going to different schools that led to different lives.  The three in Ashland weren’t the only ones who moved away from each other.  Maybe that’s why the closing lines of the 1986 movie “Stand by Me” still haunt me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?” 

Who were your friends when you were 12?  What songs transport you to those times?  What memories does the music evoke?  What are you thankful for?

PS – I am grateful that Facebook has brought those friends virtually back to my life; who would have guessed that? 

The Belle of Louisville

The Belle of Louisville

Have you ever heard: “I don’t know how those children come from the same family”?   Bill Oglesby taught me in seminary, “A second child doesn’t come from ‘the same family’, because there was only one child at first.”  

One of the many differences with my older brother (besides eight years) was that while I would grow to love dancing, my brother would revel in it.  In 2001, Jackson Browne’s “For a Dancer” was chosen by him as the final words and music of his funeral service.  In 1964, when a fifteen year old Baylor Landrum, III was invited to a senior dance on the Belle of Louisville, he couldn’t resist it even though Baylor Landrum, Jr. forbid him to go.

When my baby sitter called dad at a cocktail party to say, “Baylor just snuck into a car with several kids,” mom joined him to fetch Baylor at the Belle.   She stayed in the car at the downtown dock, while dad told the riverboat’s gatekeeper, “I’m going on board to get my son; I’ll be right back; you can’t leave until we return.”  Turns out dad had as little control over the Belle as my brother.  The boat left with both Baylors aboard.

During the paddle wheel steamboat’s two hour cruise, my father endured loud music from an obnoxious wannabe rock band, my brother received lightning bolt stares daring him to have a good time dancing, and my mother was abandoned in a sweltering summer car “down by the river.”  I would not hear that story until 20 years later, because none of the parties involved could even talk about it until the emotional statute of limitations ran out.

While that’s not really my story, I just can’t resist telling it, and it sets the stage for things to come.  I do think it has something to say about families that is part of all our stories.  The first lesson in “Parenting the Love and Logic Way” is: “There are no guarantees in parenting.”

This story also has a lot to say about control when many of us feel so out of control these days.  As Suzanne Stabile teaches in the wisdom of the Enneagram, “control is an illusion fueled by emotion.”  I can’t control circumstances, I can’t control someone else, I can’t control how I see the world, but I can learn to be more responsive than reactive to what I can begin to control — myself.

What stories rise up for you today?  How have you been frustrated by a lack of control?  How have you sought to share control?  What are you learning about yourself and your relationship with God and other people?

First Impression

I wonder whether I was a child of the 60’s, but I know I was a child in the 60’s.  On a fall Friday in first grade, my principal Miss Lewis told my teacher Miss Goodwin to tell our class that our president was dead.  I didn’t fully comprehend the impact of the news — as if I could at any age. 

Two days later, as we arrived home from church, dad turned on the TV as we watched the assassin shot dead — live on TV in Texas.  It was a first for both of us.  I noticed the shooter wore a hat just like my dad had worn to church.  I remembered the day before on the same TV I watched the Lone Ranger shoot a bad guy in Texas, but that guy lived.  What really affected me was school was canceled on Monday.

My journey would soon include asking questions and hearing crazy conspiracies until each was quelled with information and experience.  In a decade I’d visit Dallas and remember the grassy knoll as much as I remembered attending the Cowboys-Dolphins Thanksgiving Day game.  I would work hard to control my life, as I realized that the actions of another could change everything in an instant.

Over the decades, as I have witnessed many other unreal events happen before my eyes, I’ve stopped to ask myself: “How are first graders seeing this?”  What impact will this have on their lives?  How will they see the world based on their first impression?  Recently, on the church’s Epiphany Day, I wondered how children will come to view our nation’s capital and what crazy conspiracies they’ll face in their futures.

I’ve heard it said: “you only get one chance to make a first impression.”  Maybe we get a lifetime of chances to grow beyond it.

Describe a first impression that impacted your life.  How old were you?  How were you affected?  What have you firmly held onto?  How have you grown and changed since then?

Confidence

In 1987 I took a man into my confidence.  He was a member of a church about an hour away and offered to lead a workshop where I served as associate pastor.  The class was about parent and youth communication and I was pleased with what he taught and how well it was received.

When the class was over, we visited over snacks.  He said, “Wally, you should take your youth group on a ski trip.  I’ve been on a few; I’d be glad to help you plan it, and I could even go with you.”  That was the first time I considered using a ski trip to form a community of youth. 

During the decade between his suggestion and the first of our three annual trips, that man served time for a sex crime.  As I attended my first Boundary Training Class for church leaders, his offer to go on a trip with our youth echoed in my ears all day.  Was he being helpful or predatory?  Was he worthy of my confidence or was he a confidence man?  How do I trust but verify the behavior of others? How do I best protect myself and those entrusted to my care?

Experience gives me confidence that one betrayal of trust can have horrific ramifications for persons within a community.  As a church, we set many boundaries to protect children, youth, and the adults who care for them.  When questions arise about why we need protection policies in a church, my mind wanders to what might have occurred.  My mouth says, “we set limits to have the freedom to grow in faith in safety.”

Who are the people who have lived up to the confidence you have in them?  How have you reacted to being betrayed by another?  Where do you go for help when you’ve been hurt?