Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshoppers-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were little, they grew up around music.  I played my guitar for them all the time.  Our youth group was always singing together.  I took them to concerts.  We listened to all different kinds of music, most everywhere we went.  Sometimes, me and Mimi would even have disagreements over the types of music I would let them listen to.  She still gives me “that Mimi-look” when I’m listening to some of the music I like.  It can get pretty loud and crazy!

One of the reasons I love music so much is because I believe God has put music inside our hearts.  It’s a form of communication that’s been around since…well, since people have been around.  The writers of the Bible wrote about singing and making music as much, or more, than just about any other topic.  Music can motivate us, soothe our sadness, touch our hearts on the deepest level, and speak for us when we have no words.

I want you to grow up loving music.  I want you to sing and make music in your hearts.  I want you to be little rebels in the culture you are growing up in and not be embarrassed to sing at church or in the school choir or at the top of your lungs in the car.  God made us to sing.  God gave us lungs to express our joy and sadness…and gave us music to make it beautiful.

I have a song I want to give to you.  Of all the songs I have ever heard, this is my favorite. It’s an old song (written around the time your daddies were born!)   It’s a really simple song and the style is no longer popular.  Just a guy singing and playing the piano.  I knew him.  His life and his story were amazing.  By the time you guys grow up, I hope he will not be forgotten.

rich-mullinsHis name is Rich Mullins and the song is called “If I Stand”.    Every single word of this song is important and it speaks to me in a very personal way. But there is one line that stands out.  To me, this one line is the single greatest line in any song that has ever been written.

It will always be my prayer that these words will come to mean as much to you guys, as they have meant to me:

“The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.”

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

 

 

Maybe someday you’ll watch “Ragamuffin”, the movie of Rich Mullins life.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

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Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were young and still living with me and Mimi, they used to get into arguments.  They were seldom about anything really important, but to them, the issues were almost always big deals.  

They would raise their voices and twist the truth and exaggerate and say things to get under each other’s skin.  One of them would often get so angry and upset, they would end up squealing, “He’s making me sooooo mad!”.

I always loved it when that happened, because it gave me the opportunity to teach them one of my most favorite lessons.

I would look right into their teary-eyed, red-faced little mugs and say, “Your brother isn’t making you mad.  In fact, nobody can ever make you mad.  You make yourself mad.”  And they would always respond back to me, “Yes he is! Yes he is! HE’S making me mad.  HE’S doing it!  It’s HIS fault I’m mad!”.  

They always played right into my hands.

“Nope.  Nobody can ever MAKE you mad.  You make yourself mad.  It’s your choice.  You’re choosing to make yourself mad.”

That only made them madder.

“But he’s the reason I’m mad.  If he wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be mad.  Everything would be fine with me, if he wouldn’t have said that, and made me so mad.”  They just couldn’t let it go.  They would always fight my logic.  “Daddy, now YOU’RE making me mad!”

It’s a lesson they got taught dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.  Getting mad is a choice we make.  It is never the ONLY option.  There are always many others.  When someone says or does something you don’t like, you can get mad and yell or scream or fight or treat them poorly or talk about them behind their back or do or say something just as bad…or even worse…to them.  In fact, that’s usually what we WANT to do.

But you don’t have to.  You always have other choices.   You could choose to be quiet and listen.  You could try to understand their point of view.  You could react with kindness, instead.  You could choose to be patient and forgiving. You could step away and wait for things to calm down.  You could pray for them.

Getting mad is never the only choice you have available.  And even though it will probably be the easiest, it will never, ever be the best.

One of the greatest gifts God gives to us is our freedom to choose.

So choose wisely, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Really. I’m just thinking.

brainSome things I’m thinking this afternoon…

We are getting teased with a little bit of Fall right now, but it’s going back to 90 degrees on Sunday.  This dance happens every year and I don’t like it.

Instead of complaining about Donald Trump being unfairly targeted by Lester Holt’s unbalanced questioning, the Trump camp should have been turning cartwheels.  More questions, more opportunities to control the debate…more opportunities to change the narrative.  He should have seized the moment.  Hillary’s the one that should be complaining about Lester Holt.

Here’s a little basketball in the midst of fall football and baseball chatter.  I have now become a massive OKC Thunder and Russ Westbrook fan.  Like, overnight.  They are now my new favorite NBA team.  Tired of the Clippers.  Mavs have moved into second place. Sorry Dirk, you’re still my favorite, but I need a team to root for that has a chance to win it all.  Russ > Kevin.  OKC > Warriors.

Some people can be good friends with most any kind of personality type.  Others are just too put off and uncomfortable with certain personality types or kinds of people to be good friends with them.  The wall goes up at first glance.  How sad.  We need all the good friendships we can get.

What is it with grandparents that makes them so deluded?  They look at their own grandkids and see the cutest, smartest, most gifted, better-than-any-other-grandkid-that-ever-walked-on-the-earth.  Guilty.

Being the guy who just had heart surgery really defined me for a few months.  Now it just seems like a distant thing of the past.

I wonder if people are walking out on Sunday mornings thinking the message they just heard was really nothing more than “try harder”?

I think one of the biggest problems people of faith present to the watching world is when we say God is good, but we act like spoiled, entitled children when our experiences are not.

The best new TV show of the season is Designated Survivor (my bias has been well documented).  People are openly wishing this show was the truth and not fiction.  I never thought I would say this, but President Kirkman is already greater than President Palmer.  

Best thing I’ve read this week…an answer Eugene Peterson gave to a question he was asked:

Q: If you were asked by someone to describe what is at the heart of the work of pastoring and shepherding, what would you say?

EP: I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.

*humbled*

Pride says, “I know I am right.  I know you are wrong.  I need to tell you that.”  Humility says, “I think I’m right.  You think you’re right.  Let’s get some chips and salsa and talk.” Do you see the difference?

Back to sermon prep…

Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey there, Farrasprouts!

I’m going to tell you something today that lots of people will probably disagree with, but I’m your Papi and this my letter to you.  Not anybody else’s.  And you won’t be able to use this information for another 12 or 13 years.  And even longer for you, Tatumonster!

There will come a time when your parents will have no influence over your decision to be part of a church family.  Most people call this “going to church”, but I’ll explain why I don’t ever call it that some other time.  Anyway, it will totally be your choice.  100%.  All on you.  When your daddies lived at home with me and Mimi…long before they met your mommies…we made the decision about church for them.  If we went to church meetings, they went to church meetings.  It’s what we did as a family.

They could whine, argue, fake being sick, or negotiate, but in the end, they pretty much did as we told them to. (Even though they sometimes complained about getting up early on Sundays or having to stay late because I was usually the last one to leave, they experienced many of the good things about church life and most often enjoyed being part of it.  We only strung them up by their ears, occasionally.)

But once they moved out on their own, they got to do whatever they wanted to do.  And that’s the way it should be.  And it will be that way for you guys, too.

So I want to tell you something while it’s fresh on my mind.  Here’s my advice for choosing a church family:  Find a small one.  Close to where you live.  Don’t get all excited about the things a church provides for you.  That totally misses the point of “church”.  Be part of something where you can help it to grow strong and healthy.  Don’t be part of a church family where you are not truly needed and genuinely noticed.  

Make sure it’s a place that poor people feel welcome.  There is a special place in God’s heart for people in need.  The more people of different races, the better.  Oh…and make sure there are old people and young people and they have lots of ways to become friends with each other.  Rubbing elbows and lives is the real stuff of church.

Don’t ever be overly impressed with the skills of the person that does most of the preaching.  It’s not the important thing.  In fact, he’s not really all that important!  And I should know…  Be impressed with the kinds of conversations people have with each other.  Listen carefully to the way they talk about people who are different.  Find a place where loving others is not just talked about, but it is what people actually do.

Make sure it’s a group of people who respect and teach the Bible, but they also make room for differing opinions.  None of us are smart enough to have the whole Bible figured out. Church people seem to have the tendency to believe they are the only “right ones” and that they have more understanding of “truth” than the other guy.  There are always going to be disagreements.  People are not always going to see things alike.  Be with a group of people who listen carefully and who make room for doubt and questions.

Choose to be with people who respect women.  History has not been kind to women, especially in the church.  So find one where women stand on equal footing with men and they are challenged to explore and express every bit of their giftedness for the good of others.  

And this is especially true for the three of you:  Find a church family that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Be with people who love to laugh.  Find some people to stand beside and link arms with.  Make sure that Jesus is their example.  

That’s my advice.  I hope it serves you well, someday.  There are lots of other important things, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be smart enough to figure them out as you go along.  How do I know that?  I know where you come from!

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts!

I gotta tell you, Mimi and I are still recuperating from the sleepover with the three of you this past weekend.  It’s crazy.  The moment you see each other, it’s like thunder and lightning crashing in a Texas summer storm!  The amount of energy and sweat and volume and messes and fun you guys produce is almost more than our house…and our hearts…can hold.

Every time we are with you, I am amazed by how much you are like your parents.  You are little expressions of who they are.  You are all three so smart, just like them.  When I see your creativity and problem-solving, I see them.  When I see your fire and competitiveness, I see them.  When I see your strong wills and push-back, I see them. When I see your genuine love and soft hearts, I see them.

When I hear you scream with glee or shout with frustration, I hear their voices.  When you pull pranks and manipulate and negotiate, I see the same mischievous looks in your eyes that I saw in theirs.  When you drop with exhaustion, I feel the same dead weight I felt when I laid your daddies sleepy bodies in their beds at night.  (I can only imagine what your mommies were like at the end of their days when they were little!)

I love your parents.  I love the kind of people your parents have grown to be, and when I see you, I can hardly contain my joy and anticipation of seeing what you will become as you grow up.  I see their handprints all over your little lives.  Their images are woven into yours.  It is one of the great mysteries of creation and science and how families grow.

There’s an amazing truth that has been around since the beginning of time, but it was made famous in another language many hundreds of years ago.  In another part of the world, they speak Latin, and in that language, the truth is called Imago Dei.  In English (the language you and I speak), “Imago” means image and “Dei” means God.  In English, Imago Dei means “the image of God”.

In the beginning of the Bible, it says:

So God created mankind in his own image, 

in the image of God he created them;

   male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:26-27

What that means is not only do you guys have the handprints and likenesses of your mommy and daddy on your lives, you also have the likeness or “image” of God stamped on you.  Human beings have the image of God.  Nothing else does.  We can see the greatness and genius of God all around us…in mountains and oceans and stars and clouds and forests and animals and birds and fish…but in people, all people, everywhere, throughout all of history, is where we see the image of God.

When I look at you guys, I see love and compassion and desire and spirit and purpose and joy and goodness.  I see trust and forgiveness and hope and tenacity and sorrow and patience (though not much of that right now).  When I look at you, I see freedom and choice and creativity and possibilities.

When I look at you, I see the image of God.  I hope you see that when you look at me, too.

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

If at first you don’t succeed…

keep-calmI’ve been thinking long and hard over the past month or so, about why it has been so hard for me to write (as some of you have noticed).  Some days I feel like I have real clarity.  Other days I’m just swimming in my personal abyss of uncontrolled thinking.  

Tonight is a little clearer, so I’ll give it a shot.  Here are some reasons why I think my writing here has been so weak and sporadic:

  • Writing a new sermon every week has become more difficult.  Maybe some post-surgery concentration issues.  Maybe due to trying to figure out a new routine to stay fresh after 44 years of weekly preaching and teaching.  Who knows?  But it’s a grind.
  • Some days I feel like, “Why bother?  Everything’s already been said.”
  • I don’t read Facebook much anymore.  Mostly when I get notified if people write something directly to me…or about me, sometimes.  It just feels wrong that I would want or expect someone to read what I write, but I’m not taking the time to read what they write.
  • I feel as if I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.  How did that happen?
  • I’m reading more than I am writing.  This has been good for me, though.  I’ve got six new books that are sitting on my end table and night stand waiting to be started.
  • Some days, I take late-night, rabbit-trail, web surfing to unknown levels of greatness.
  • My old buddy, depression, has shown up frequently in the past year.  It most often takes the form of staring, accompanied by undisciplined thinking.  Talk about a picture of productivity!
  • For the first time ever, I’ve let myself get sucked into following the circus of our presidential election process.  I have never, ever, done that.  It’s not who I am.  I have so many more important things going on in my life.  The majority of the time I think about writing, I have been drawn to react to things related to the issues of this political season. That generally stops my writing cold.  Dead in the water.

Most often, though, I find myself getting two or three paragraphs into a potential blog post, and then I get the feeling I don’t really have anything important to say.  I suppose it’s that simple.

So it’s time for a change.  After eight years of blogging for, essentially, the same audience and the same reasons, I’m going to try and breathe some fresh life into my writing.  For me. If you get something out of it, even better.  This is I want to do for my heart.  For my spirit. For my well-being.  Totally selfish.

Well, sort of.

I’ve decided to do the majority of my writing to my grandkids.  In the past, I’ve written occasional blog posts to them.  That has not been enough.  I really want to leave my story for them…to them.  I don’t expect them to read it anytime soon.  They’re too busy growing up.  But maybe someday they’ll want to know my story.  Maybe it will matter to them what I believed, what I felt strongly about, what my life was all about.  They deserve to hear it in my own words.

I wish I knew my dad’s story.  He wasn’t much of a talker.  Not a writer, either.  He was a hard-working man who showed his love and dedication to me and my mom by getting up early every day, putting on his work boots and his work ethic, getting in his Dodge pickup truck (three speed on the column), and earning a life-giving, life-sustaining paycheck for us every week.

There was never much time for storytelling.  I wish there was.  Oh, how I wish there was. There is a part of me that I will never know.  There is a part of me and a huge part of him my boys will never.  We all lose.

Just in case it matters someday, I want my kids and their kids to have the opportunity to know.  There is no guarantee I will get to tell them personally.

So I’m going to start writing to them, my little family tree.  I think I’ve got lots to say and right now I feel like I’ve got an audience, even though they don’t know it yet.

You can read it if you want.  It may feel a little like eavesdropping, but that’s ok.  Maybe you’ll read something that will be of value to you.  I know I will throw in some random posts along the way that might be of more interest to you, so it really might be worth your while to stick around.

I hope you do.

Btw…do you like the new background theme?  I think I do.

I’m not stupid.

Republican DemocratI have acted out of character the past couple of weeks.  For the first time, maybe ever, I have spent a significant amount of time watching both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.  On top of that, I have spent time listening to, and reading, commentary given before, during, and after the Conventions on CNN, Fox News, and PBS.

Hey.  Just doin’ my due diligence as a citizen.  Here’s what I’m thinking tonight…

Listening to those who are profoundly entrenched on the far left or the far right is an exercise in absolute bewilderment for me.  Each sees the other as the epitome of lunacy.  They are both repulsed by the ideologies and policies of the other.  They both see the other as manipulative, deceitful, self-centered, and bent on destroying everything good about America.  Neither side trusts the other any further than they could throw them.

They each speak of the other, not only as ill-informed and deluded in their thinking, but as simply stupid for thinking and believing and behaving as they do.  Each side sees itself as vastly superior.  To hear their supporters talk, one would have to conclude the other side is not just incapable of leading our country, but wholly destined to lead us into economic and moral oblivion.

For these, the extremely opinionated, there is no hope of middle ground or compromise, because there is no trust, no respect, no listening, and no shared values.  Each side stands smugly with their arms folded and backs bowed, believing they are smarter, wiser, and better people than those they oppose.

The thing that makes this attitude so nauseating to me, is both convention crowds are full of the best and brightest our country has to offer: grade school teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, business owners, corporate execs, college professors, scientists, engineers, architects, artists, financial advisers, military, law enforcement, parents, civic leaders, and maybe even a few pastors.  I assume each of them is experienced, educated, well-read, and thoughtful. The last thing I would ever think of doing is to call them “stupid”, because of who they are going to vote for.

What an incredibly naive and insulting thing that would be for me to do.

It saddens me to witness our inability, or stubborn unwillingness, to embrace those who are politically different, as people of value, virtue, intellectual worth, and shared hope. Instead, lines are drawn deeper and judgment is cast.

And anymore, this thinking, this attitude, this way of interacting with people, has spilled over into most every other area of our lives.

I feel like I want to pray about it tonight.

But I just don’t have the words.

Maybe tomorrow.