08.18.2023 – How Then Shall We Think?

Malaria parasite infecting a red blood cell (From Word and Deed)

We think all the time.  One study says we have 6.5 thoughts per minute or about 6,000 per waking day. I can’t keep track of all my thoughts, and that is probably a good thing. While I forget most of my thoughts, some of those I remember seem to fall into the “oh yeah” category – I need to remember to lock the front door before we go to bed, it’s time to have the car’s oil changed, I told my friend I’d be praying for him.  Other thoughts may have to do with processing what I’ve just seen or heard – really, they’re putting black siding on the new house down the street (they really are, and I find it disorienting), she said she’s thinking of quitting her job, what a beautiful sunrise.  Sometimes we just think about petty desires of all kinds, fantasized scenarios of glory or shame, or a shopping or “to do” list.

My thoughts seem to come and go and it is a good thing that I forget well over 5,000 thoughts per day.

Thinking, however, is more than just a collection of the random thoughts that flit in and out of our minds 6.5 times per minute.  Thinking is a particularly human act, one that finally cannot be replaced by algorithms and a digital digest of data. Continue reading

08.11.2023 – Strangers and Aliens: We don’t belong

You may know that our son is an active-duty chaplain serving in the U.S. Air Force. Becky and I visited him and his family this past week. What a joy. They live on-base in a family housing area that could be mistaken for a nice suburban neighborhood anywhere in the United States. The minute we pull into the driveway, grandkids rush out to greet us. As we make our way into the house, we feel right at home in that familiar place, with grandkids hurrying to show us their latest projects or climbing on top of us.

Getting on base, however, requires more than simply turning into a nice suburban neighborhood. The base visitor center is just outside the main gate.  Our son meets us there to request visitor passes for us. An airman scans our driver’s licenses and taps other information into his computer. We have photos on file so can skip that step, and in due time a printer spits out our passes. The passes tell us to stay out of restricted areas and that any undefined “adverse action” on our part will be noted in our son’s personnel file.  Passes in hand, we drive through the gate, show our passes, and then go past security devices and procedures we notice and more we don’t notice.

When we stay at the base hotel, we sign a form acknowledging the Air Force’s right to kick us out without notice should they suddenly need our room to house in-coming airmen or officers. Continue reading

07.28.2023 – Barbies, Bombs, and Black-and-Whites

The first few rows of my third grade class picture. 37 kids, one teacher. And, yes, I am in the photo.

A friend from long, long ago recently posted some black and white classroom photos from our shared years at Northmont Elementary School on his Facebook page.  Though I was not in Jim’s third grade class, I recognized most of the faces in the photo even if I did not remember most of the names.  I was impressed by the commentors who did remember every face and every name. I rummaged around for my own black and white third grade class picture, and found it.  Again, I recognize the faces but don’t remember all the names.

The photos were taken 64 years ago this fall – a long time ago.  Remembering is sometimes good just for the sake of remembering. I have no idea what has become of most of the students in those photos – what joys and what sorrows, what successes and what disappointments they have encountered since 1959.  I don’t need to know. There’s enough reward in the remembering. Remembering can be a good thing in and of itself..

For some of us, though, memories are not rewarding. We may need to acknowledge the bully and the bullied in the third grade classroom (I think we were pretty bully-free, but I might revise that memory if someone tells me otherwise).  Sometimes, however, we are tempted to revise what we remember of the past to suit our understanding of the present. We might make bullies where there were none. Continue reading

07.21.2023 – If You Don’t Have Something Bad to Say…

The old adage reminds us “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But what if they don’t want to hear something nice?

I’m still thinking about a request I received recently from an organization for a personal reference for someone seeking to serve in its work.  The request named the individual and the nature of the work they might do, and then said, “If you, as a church leader, have any concerns about the individual listed above, …please respond to this email and share those concerns. If the individual is an active participant in your church and you would, indeed, recommend them…, there is no need to respond.”

Serving as a personal or professional reference, completing recommendation forms, or verifying application details go with the territory.  They are some of the things a pastor just does.  And typically, happily so.  My guess is that I have offered references, recommendations, and verifications hundreds of times over the years.  From candidates for ministry or mission positions, to scholarship applicants, to, recently, someone wanting to be a prison guard, I have been honored to be asked to offer a word or two about friends, parishioners, and proteges.

Most of the time when I have been asked to provide a recommendation for someone, it has been a happy task.  I have good things to say – sometimes so good as to advise the asking organization not to pass on the opportunity the applicant represents.  But I also take seriously the challenges/weaknesses section most reference forms have.  I try to offer honest and candid assessments. Occasionally sitting on the other side of the table, I have found no weaknesses, walks-on-water/turns-water-into-wine recommendations to be mostly useless. Continue reading