Category Archives: Observations

01.22.2021 – I’ll be rooting for God’s team on Sunday

We come by our enthusiasm for the Green Bay Packers honestly. From 1993 to 1998 Becky and the kids and I lived on the shore of Green Bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula just an hour north of Lambeau field.  As pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Menominee, I learned early to adjust church schedules and programs around Packer games, especially home games.  My cooperation was rewarded with more than a few tickets to games at Lambeau. Yes, sacred ground. Yes, the frozen tundra.

Our time in the Frozen North saw the Packers in two Super Bowls and champions in one. Brett Favre. Reggie White.  Those were the days.  In many ways, though, it wasn’t the Super Bowl win against the Patriots or the disappointing loss to the Broncos that caused the most joy or sorrow in Titletown. We saved our intensity for the Dallas Cowboys who had the audacity to call themselves “America’s Team.”  Counting the regular season and the playoffs, the Packers and the Cowboys would play eight games in our five years in the U.P.

The joke was told too often to be funny, and it went something like this.  John Madden is in Dallas to call a Cowboys game when he notices a red phone near the Cowboys’ bench.  He asks Coach Barry Switzer about the phone and Switzer tells him it’s their hotline to heaven.  “Try it if you like,” Switzer tells Madden, “but it will cost you $500.”  The very next week Madden is at Lambeau Field to call the Packers game. He notices the same sort of red phone near the Packers’ bench, so he asks Mike Holmgren about the phone. “It’s our hotline to heaven,” the coach tells him. “Try it if you like, but it will cost you a quarter.”  “Twenty five cents,” Madden exclaims.  “In Dallas it’s $500! Why the difference?”   “Here it’s a local call,” Holmgren explains.

Ha ha. And funny or not, you have to be old enough to know about local and long distance calls to even get the joke.

Well, why not? If the Dallas Cowboys can be America’s team, which they are not, why can’t the Green Bay Packers be God’s team? Which they are not.

By the way, Wikipedia lists the Packers’ all-time win-loss record as of last weekend as .5694 and the Cowboys’ as .5688.  Surely there is a point to be proven.  God’s team, for sure.

Of course, despite the prayers of our Sunday School kids in Menominee, Michigan, God is not a partisan.  The great theologian Aaron Rodgers has said, “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome (of a football game). He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”

God is not a big football fan nor is he much of a patriot. Nations get a bit more press in the Bible than football teams, but it is not altogether positive PR. “Why do the nations rage, and their kings take counsel against the Lord,” the Psalmist asks (Psalm 2:1-2).

At the end of all things (and the beginning of all things new), the nations no longer rage but join in praise to God, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

God does not bleed green and gold. Nor does he bleed red, white, and blue. But he cares about us. And about nations, inviting us and them to join the great multitude.

But as for Sunday, Go Pack Go!

The family back in the day.

Saint Andrew friends: I am teaching this class again this Sunday.  Will Gandhi be in heaven? A tale of two prayers!  And more. Join us Sunday at 9:00 a.m.

01.15.2021 – On Egregious Behavior

“Now that you are retired, what do you miss most about going to work every day?” “And what do you not miss?”  They are good questions.  And there are lots of good answers.  Near the top of the list of things I miss is the interaction with church staff members.  Over the years, it was my privilege to work with some remarkably wonderful people. You know who you are, and thank you! Going to work was a joy.

It is not on the “don’t miss” list, because it was not normally a part of my working experience, but some of the hardest times in church work also involved being part of a staff. Not the normal experience, but the occasional experience. There were occasions during more than forty years of full-time ministry when staff life was hard, very hard. Only occasions, but several of them in several locations at several different stops along the way. Continue reading

01.08.2021 – Of Vice and Virtue, But Mostly Vice

If false humility is a vice, and I think it is, then to deny any personal virtue is a vice.  There are ways, therefore, that I might describe myself as a virtuous person, but mostly I want to talk about a nasty vice that’s been haunting me recently. Avarice, greed, self-concern; call it what you will, like ice in the slightest seam that cracks a marble slab, this mammon-loving vice of mine does its damage.

Earlier in the week Becky and I received our most recent stimulus check from the government.  We didn’t need the money and have already gotten rid of it.  More on that in a moment, but first a word about the checks themselves.

The pandemic lockdowns have been economically disastrous for the likes of restaurant workers and airport porters. Many of those in the gig economy have been financially devastated.  I’d go fully Bernie Sanders if there were a way to get money to such as those.  As wasteful and inefficient as this one size fits all or most stimulus system is, however, it is probably the best we can do. But it does mean that some of us who don’t need a check get a check.  Continue reading

End of the Year, 2020 – And a Happy New Year*

Becky and I recently watched a BBC mini-series produced in 2014 during the centennial of the beginning of the First World War.  The Passing Bells does not necessarily live up to its IMDB description of being “an epic historical drama spanning the five years of the First World War, as seen through the eyes of two ordinary young soldiers.” Less than epic and too-intentionally-meaningful, each episode takes place in one of the five years of the Great War as the two ordinary soldiers, one German and one English, go from being innocent August 1914 volunteers to hardened and discouraged veterans.

In Episode 4 – 1917 – Thomas, the English soldier befriends too-young-to-enlist, but now in the trenches, 16-year-old Derek. In one scene Thomas, who has been encouraging and protecting Derek, dumps all his despair.  Of the war to end all wars he asks, “What if it never ends?” Derek becomes the encourager, and says, “Wars end. It will. It has to.”

For some of us, it seems as if the most encouraging thing we can say about 2020 is “Years end. 2020 will end. It has to.”

Mustering all our courage, we might even say, “Pandemics end. The Covid-19 pandemic will end. It has to.” Continue reading

Christmas, 2020 – Light and Life

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
ris’n with healing in his wings.
Mild, he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.

Merry Christmas, Feliz Natal, Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad!

By whatever words we use to say it, we say it.  We wish one another a merry, happy, joyous Christmas.  Of course, part of it is just tradition. We wish a happy day on all our holidays, though I have sometimes wondered about wishing someone a happy Memorial Day.  But that is a topic for another day.

I have been thinking a lot about Christmas this year and what makes it merry – or if we should even consider it merry. I think we should.  So why all this thinking? It may be that for the first time in many years I have time to think rather than to plan or organize or rehearse this or that Christmas event.  It may be that we will be spending Christmas with grandchildren for the first time in too long.  It may be that we are coming to the end of a long year which in so many ways has been anything but merry, happy, or joyous. Continue reading