Tag Archives: respect

Family Matters! A Tribute to More Than a Friend

Stunned describes the way I feel today. A phone call early today knocked the breath out of me and it seems almost impossible to catch it now. Late night or early morning phone calls are never bearers of good news. This one wasn’t either.

As a pastor, most people expect you to say the “right” things at the “right” moment so that those who are suffering might feel “right” once again. But there are no words to say that can make anyone feel “right” once their life has been marred by death.

Today, I am not the pastor with the “right” words (I never have been because those guys really don’t exist)—I am just another human being struggling with my own emotions at the loss of a dear, dear friend. I’m processing the reality of the moment and not getting very far. Shocked is another word that expresses my state of mind. All those questions we are afraid to ask, like why? and how? are relentlessly pursuing me, clamoring for an appointment in my mind, intent on way-laying my faith in Jesus Christ.

Therefore I choose to write the words I can’t seem to formulate with my tongue or lips. Words come hard at times like these. They seem cheap if they come too fast. This morning I just hugged my friend’s mate and cried…there are no words that will make the moment better. But perhaps these words will remind others who knew Johnny well of the sort of stuff he was made of.

The memory of his smile has illumined my day today. Every time I thought of him—I could see his pearly whites. He was not a somber, gruff man as so many are. His smile disarmed you—made you willing to take another look. It was not phony smile of someone hiding something or the bogus beauty queen smile we all know so well. That million dollar grin mirrored the state of his soul. His smile emanated from the inside; it was not just window-dressing on the outside. It was genuine—real—one hundred percent sincere. Johnny’s smile was capable of knocking walls down and reaching into the hearts and souls of those who needed a touch of compassionate attention.

That smile was often followed by a laugh. If you knew Johnny you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t—well it was laced with a certain kind of joy and echoed a grace that is sort of indescribable. Let me put it this way—if Santa ever needed a day off, Johnny could have slid right it, taken the old guys job, and none of us would have known the difference. That laugh put you at ease. It took the edge off tough situations with its disarming tenor. It made you feel comfortable and confident. It lifted you up and made you realize that he was a real guy in a real world doing the best that he could. Perhaps that’s the best word to describe his laugh—real.

In fact, real describes Johnny the best. There was far more to him than what meets the eye. He was far more than a pretty face. Johnny had a servant’s heart. He had trouble telling others “No.” It was a word I don’t ever remember him using. If you needed something and he knew it, he made himself available to do whatever needed to be done and more. If you asked him for help, you could count on him.

Johnny loved people, kids, and animals—and not necessarily in that exact order. He treated all of them with love and respect, and in most cases the kids and the animals responded. I can still see him riding his horse Colonel in the local Christmas parades—blue jeans, big gold buckle, boots, Stetson, and having the time of his life or training his Blue Healers with their bandannas tied smartly around their necks.

My mind is alive with memories of driving through Tennessee Amish country looking for good deals on syrup and horse tack, loading trailers on a Sunday morning at the birth of a new church or chuckling together in the aftermath of rabid raccoon bite and its subsequent pain-filled treatments. I will especially treasure my memories of Johnny willingness to do whatever was needed on Sunday morning as we struggled to put together a credible worship service that would not embarrass God.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say with these inept words that keep filling my mind, but failing mightily, is Johnny was far more than a friend…he was family. And family matters!

Can You Really Have IT Both Ways?

Should a person’s religious beliefs guide their public service or just their private life? Is a core value really a core value if it never finds its way into the light of day in one’s public experience? Do you truly believe in something if you are unwilling to take a stand for it? All of us have to wrestle with these questions and ultimately come to an answer.

Not so long ago, character, honor and truth were the traits our nation was built on. The beliefs of our leaders were worth dying for. Statesmen lived out their core values and these personal beliefs guided them in their public life and service. These men and women stood for what they believed no matter which way the fickle wind of public opinion chose to blow. If something was truly a core value then to go against that value was to deny one’s self.

This past Thursday evening as I watched the Vice-Presidential debate, I saw the dichotomy of true belief and cheap talk. The moderator asked a question that could not be dodged and required a straight forward answer. Here’s a paraphrase of the question: What is your position on abortion?

Both candidates claim to be believers and practicing Roman Catholics. The position of the Roman Catholic Church is unashamedly pro-life and to actively support abortion technically places any Catholic in danger of excommunication. The Roman Catholic Church has consistently fought against abortion and has stood firm on the rights of unborn. The pro-life position is a core value in Catholicism, thus making the candidate’s response a real glimpse into the heart of his own personal belief system.

Candidate Ryan’s answer was simple and straightforward. He declared that he was a practicing Roman Catholic and unapologetically pro-life. He then affirmed that in his public service he would stand and support that core value.

Vice-President Biden’s response was what troubled me. He also declared that he was a practicing Roman Catholic and that he was personally pro-life, but did not feel that his private beliefs must govern what he supports in public life. He supports abortion and the right of a woman to make her own choices, yet denies the right to life of the unborn. He claims a core value privately, but refuses to stand for what he supposedly believes in public life.

Can you really have it both ways? I don’t think so. If you are privately pro-life, how can you publically support abortion? How can something be a core value if you’re willing to toss it out the window publically? As a practicing Roman Catholic how can one go against the tenets and dogmas of one’s personal faith and beliefs and resolve that in one’s mind?

I don’t question the sincerity of Biden’s faith, but I do question the sincerity of a pro-life position being one of his personal beliefs. Honor and truth dictate that one stand and die for their personal beliefs, not jettison them for position, power, prestige, or even a political platform. And tragically, the platform of the Democratic Party is and has been unapologetically pro-abortion.

A personal belief held because of one’s faith is a core value. To go against a core value is to deny oneself, and in this case to openly defy God’s word. Whenever that happens a man has denied the truth he claims to believe—and believed a lie. You cannot have it both ways. Having it both ways is just another definition for hypocrisy!

Seeing with New Eyes

What we see with our eyes may or may not be reality. Sometimes our vision is clouded by our own perception—what we think we see or want to see. At other times, that fog lifts either through a direct experience or by divine revelation, and we behold a true representation of that which is actually being manifested. In other words sometimes we see what we want to see, but occasionally we see what is truly before us.

Nowhere is this more common than when we look at another person who may or may not be like us. Our perception of that person is formed too often by prejudice, culture, half-truths (which by the way are “whole” lies), folk, family, or faith beliefs, and plain old ignorance. We look at a person, issue a verdict based on bad or no information, and then pigeon hole that individual, group, or race into a narrow perspective and record that faulty file in the memory of our mind. Then each time we see someone who fits that profile, we dial up that defective folder and presto change oh—we see what we want to see rather than the person who is actually standing before us.

This defective vision not only affects those who claim to be followers of Christ—it’s effects blind almost all. Conservatives see raging devils intent on destroying the country in their liberal counterparts, who see the exact same thing in conservatives. Blacks and whites eye one another through the foggy lens of suspicion and mistrust, while both groups stare at those who are brown skinned with fear, distrust, and animosity. Likewise the brown skins keep to themselves and in turn trust no one outside their community. Militant homosexuals and fundamental Christian heterosexuals have drawn the battle lines and used the little shovels in their backpacks to erect their fortifications and foxholes from which to lob verbal grenades back and forth, intent on seeing the other side utterly destroyed or languishing in a fiery hell.

This faulty perception soon turns into an out and out attempt to paint the other group as insensitive, racist, warped, old fashioned, or intolerant. In other words, we demonize those we don’t agree with, understand, or care to get to know. We retreat rather than confront. Confrontation is not a bad thing. We can agree to disagree, but we cannot refuse to see one another as human beings. When we do, we lose far too much of our humanity.

Most of these trite little categories dehumanize a human being. That then makes it far easier to ignore, villainize, and even hate that other person. That’s why political advertisements pit us against one another with their garbage-filled commercials. They know that if they arouse those old sectarian, racial, or regional biases, that this passionate flame will effectively separate us into special interest groups intent on seeing our own specific agendas fulfilled rather than what might be best for one another and ultimately this country.

How do we change this? It’s impossible you might be thinking. That’s the way it’s always been. I agree, it has been that way, but I disagree it has to remain that way. We will never all agree, but we can stop judging one another based on categories, beliefs, and behavior, and start seeing one another first as human beings. What we do does not define who we are. What we do or don’t agree on does not define who we are. What we believe does not necessarily determine who we are. That has been effectively proven by centuries of the same old same old and countless generations who have ignorantly perpetrated the same old crimes of bigotry and hate upon one another.

Reality states that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. I didn’t make that up, God declared that! That means every one of us is a human being first and foremost. Things could possibly change if we started looking at one another with new eyes—eyes that see the person hidden beneath the color, the choices, or a thousand other categories we seem intent on hiding behind.

Hey! Look at me—the human being—instead of what I seem to be doing as a human being. That’s the first step in learning to love one another. We may agree on everything, but we do have to love one another—especially if any of us want to label ourselves as followers of Christ.