Monday, September 6, 2021

Labor Day - The Last Blast of Summer

I have heard the saying "you can't go back in time" and of course, I know that has a lot of truth to it.  Physically, that is an impossibility.  No one has invented time travel (that I know of).  But this last week has been a reminder to me of the past and the ability to remember the time gone by is a very powerful thing and perhaps, it is the closest thing we might have to going back in time.  

Last Thursday, I was able to watch my oldest grandson, Evan, as he performed with his new high school band.  He played the mellophone, which is a marching band blend of a trumpet/French horn type of instrument.  Evan has really blossomed as an accomplished trumpet player.  It was a trip down memory lane as I recalled the halftime shows we played in high school band.  Not only that memory, but others began to invade my space as I reflected back in time.  I don't want to turn back time, but it was a warm feeling to remember it.

It's Labor Day Weekend.  I have also been reminded of all the Labor Days of my youth - especially my high school days.  You see, for me, Labor Day was always the last blast of summer.  We'd spend that Monday in the small town of Bovey (home of the picture Grace).  The celebration was Labor Day, but in Bovey, it was always called Bovey Farmer's Day.  I would march with one of the three city bands I played in (Marble, Bovey, or Coleraine).  Right after the parade, I would then play in each of the city band concerts played on the lawn of the City Hall.  The day was filled with music.

The music didn't stop there.  Sometime that night, upstairs in the Bovey Auditorium, some local band would be playing the latest hits of the era at the Teen Dance.  I can still hear Edna Kwami (not sure if her named was spelled that way) singing the Jefferson Airplane hit "Don't You Want Somebody to Love" echoing through the dance hall.  The dance gave everyone a chance to see friends that we hadn't seen all summer.  Of course, the dance didn't last too long because the next day was the first day of school.  

It's a striking thing to be able to recall those moments of our youth.  It's even better when we can remember them with accuracy.  Farmer's Day was always a fabulous kickoff to the return to school.  I loved going to school.  Riding the bus each day, seeing my friends, interacting with the teachers I liked and even the ones that I didn't (which wasn't a long list, quite frankly), and the beginning of all the activities that brought us all together: Friday night football, halftime band performances, the usual excursion out to the peninsula to gather leaf specimens for biology class, the impromptu class meetings run by the principal, hot lunch, study hall, building the homecoming floats, and countless numbers of other things in which we participated.  When I start to think about all the things we were involved in, the memories become so thick I almost have to brush them away from my mind.  (Isn't it strange how I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast but I can recall events from a half of a century ago with remarkable clarity?)

Next year, my graduating class will gather for their 50th year since graduation - what would Greenway High School do without the Class of '72?  The planning team has decided to have that celebration over the Labor Day weekend.  It seems appropriate to me that date would be the choice.    

I hope my classmates will be able to be there.  Like our class song says "But I always thought that I'd see you again" ("Fire and Rain" by James Taylor).

We can turn back time once again!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

These Shoes Are Meant for Preaching!

You know, it's been quite a while since I've sat down and wrote something for this blog.  It's been over a year, if my memory serves me correctly.  I have had some long spells in between these short articles.  I think I've been a bit pre-occupied with the COVID stuff that continues to dominate our lives today.  Honestly, I haven't felt like writing about that because there are so many different thoughts and perspectives out there.  I know I would be bound to cross someone with an opposite opinion and frankly, that's just not helpful today.  At least, that's my perspective.  Don't get me wrong - there are times when an opposite word is required.  But my perception is that people have their understandings about what this COVID is all about.  It would take a great deal to move them away from that perspective - whichever side that person might be on.  So, forgive me, friends, I'm not about to start a conversation about trying to persuade one side to move to the other.

So, let's talk shoes instead!  I've always been an easy mark for a flashy shoe.  I suppose that might be a surprise because on Sunday, I usually just wear a shiny Oxford wing-tip style shoe to church.  The shoes are always black.  Not much for the imagination and there is a reason for that: I am pretty sure people aren't coming to church to see what kind of shoes I am wearing.  So, I keep it low key to make sure that is true.  Can you imagine the conversations if I wore something flashy every Sunday morning?  Yikes!  We don't need that, do we?

But, during the week is a different story.  Take the shoe you see on the left in the picture on the right - the neon yellow and green New Balance shoe.  I bought that shoe when I was in Gainesville, Virginia five years ago.  I still wear them today.  But I was taken in by another pair of shoes in the Virginia area (visiting my daughter and her family) which are a bit more colorful than the neon shoes.  They have a nice blue green tint with a bright white stripe running down the side.  Let me tell you, these shoes are shaaaaarp!  And comfortable, too!  Yes indeed, these shoes will fit in nicely with my summer wardrobe - but I don't think it would be right to wear them on Sunday morning....

...unless it fit the text I was preaching on.  Then I could justify it!  I suppose the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors might be an appropriate story to preach on while wearing such a shoe.  Or maybe, just maybe, I could focus on Jesus and his discussion of the water of life, being that these shoes are bluish and look like they've been dipped in the waters of a clear blue bay somewhere.  There is always the Romans text that talks about the beautiful feet of those who preach the good news - man, I could wear them every Sunday if I took that text to heart!  There are a great many references in Scripture that talk about taking one's sandals off - I'm not ready to entertain that notion.

I promise I will ponder and pray about this.  Personally, I'm more concerned about making sure I bring the good news of Jesus Christ as opposed to what I might be wearing when I do that.  After all, that's the real deal, right?  People come to hear a word of hope for their journey, to embrace a moment that might brighten their day, to be given a light to shine in the darkness that sometimes envelopes them!  The Word is first and foremost!  

Everything else is just minor details that are discussed over coffee and fellowship during the week.  The only thing I will say is check it out... come in person or watch on the live stream... me and my shoes - we'll be there...

...but which ones?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

What were those odds again?

Ok, I just had to get to this right away while the memory is still fresh in my mind.  If you've been following my posts, you will recall the Monday, April 20th blog entitled "What are the odds?" (You can review it here if you don't remember it.)  The short summary of that blog was that I really believed I was due to get a hole in one.  I wasn't arrogant about it (at least, I don't think I was).  It was just a matter-of-fact statistical look at the odds of any one golfer getting a hole in one.  At the end of the blog, I promised I would post when I got that hole in one to let you know it happened.

Well, today it happened!!  I was at #10 at Great Life Worthington Golf Course (which is the hole I had previously shown in that April 20th blog).  I was alone, but #10 is right next to the clubhouse - there is always someone nearby.  I had just played up #9 with Rick Dalrymple and another fellow, but they elected to stop for today after nine.  Rick said something about having to mow the lawn.  I told him he needed to get his priorities in line.

I will try to make this sound like a golf announcer: "#10 is a short par three that requires accuracy and a deft touch to a saddle style green.  Today, it's about 105 yards, very little wind - I see Daren is ready to hit his shot.  He has a nine iron.  The crowd is very silent - almost don't know that they are here.  The shot is on the way.  It is right on line with the pin.  Does he have enough?  Ohhh!  It hit the pin!  Dead straight!  But where did it go?  I didn't see it anywhere!  I heard the ball strike the pin - the only thing I can think of is that it's in!  It's in the hole!  Daren has a hole in one!  What a fantastic shot!  I believe that is Daren's first career hole in one!  And look at his response...the crowd is going wild..."

That's about how I might have imagined it had anyone been able to see it actually go into the hole.  I shouted "It went in!!  Did anyone see that?  It went in the hole!!"  I looked around and no one really heard me because there was no one there to hear me, except one guy who was preparing to go out on #1.  He came over and I told him what had happened.  He didn't see it, but he said that the golf pro was putting golf carts in the garage to recharge them.  Ben came out and I told him the same thing.  He said "Well go and get it"  and I said "Yeah, but someone has to verify it."  (After all, who is going to believe a pastor who is playing alone that he got a hole in one?)  Ben (the golf pro) said he'd watch me, but just don't have any golf balls in my pocket when I went to retrieve the ball.  Must have been golf pro humor.

I got into the cart and drove down to the green.  I cannot remember the last time excited and golf were used in the same sentence for me.  I walked over to the green and sure enough - there was my Titleist 3 wedged in the hole between the blue wrap that was installed for COVID 19 protection and the side of the hole.  I pulled the ball out and showed it triumphantly to Ben and the other guy.  I pumped my fist in the air and let out another shout "Yeah!!! Yes!!" I shouted.  It's not really polite to yell on the golf course, but who would care?  I drove back to the tee and Ben took my picture next to the tee box.  

It all happened so quickly.  But I was brought down to earth on the next hole with a triple bogey 7, but who cares?  Not me.  I didn't know what I was doing the rest of the round.  The odds of my getting a hole in one were 1 in 12,500 or something like that.  All I know is that it happened.

I was due!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Social Media Distancing

Since sometime in mid-March, the world as we understood it changed.  Almost overnight.  Life came to a standstill.  People and businesses and governments were paralyzed by a great unknown.  Everyone's lives were impacted - no one has been exempt from the shut down, stay at home, wear your masks in public, keep your distance to six feet, learn how to use your computer, device or smartphone better world we have discovered.

You've heard so many takes on this topic - trust me - I'm not sharing this blog with you to spin another frustration or perspective on any of the above items.  I'm wondering about one thing and one thing only... in the midst of making all of these changes, has the message I hope to bring to people been somehow circumvented by all of the technology I've had to use?

I think it is a fair question.  I'd love to say at first glance, no - not only no, but heavens no!  What choices did I have - did the church of today have?  Many of us had to learn how to use this technology and learn how to use it quickly.  I am so grateful that the leadership at First UMC embraced the move we made last fall to begin live streaming... I know that made our transition a whole lot easier.  I am so grateful that our leadership in Emmanuel and Adrian Church were willing to dabble in using video before we really needed to use video.  And I am ever so grateful for the many volunteers who have learned how to help with the media tech at First Church - running the projection program, adjusting the sound quality that is being sent out to various destinations (internet sites, monitors, nursery, and others), and being able to use the camera to project the worship service into the homes of many people.  In fact, if we were to center on numbers for a moment, we are reaching more persons now than ever through the various social media outlets we have available.

But numbers are not really the focal point.  I'm trying to imagine what we might have done differently if we still had only the rotary phone, pen and paper, radio and a megaphone to work with.  Those were the social media tools from the past.  They come from the age I grew up in and if we only had those things to go forward with, I'm convinced we would have made it work... somehow.

The point I'm trying to make is this: no matter what generational venue we are in, we still have to find a way to communicate.  This is especially true for the church in striving to convey the message of the grace of God and how it extends to all people, specifically when we are going through such difficult times.  My hope is that the technology we use never gets in the way of the message we bring.  I'm glad that the Lord has given us these tools to use and hopefully we will continue to use them to His glory.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Small Things

One of the things I learned to pay attention to is that sometimes small things can make a big difference.  I'm certain I didn't pick this up right away, but over the years, I've discovered this statement to be so true.  I've seen it over and over again... a small gesture of appreciation, a small act of kindness, a small word of encouragement.  These and other small things go along way to making a huge difference in the lives of people.  Even small things like our dog Maisy.

Maisy, our five month old dog, has been absolutely ruling the house over Ruby, our three year old cat.  She loves to "play" with Ruby... but there's one problem with that: Ruby doesn't want to play.  Maisy will latch on to Ruby (she's been practicing her biting techniques on Nancy and myself).  But Ruby doesn't really appreciate being that close to Maisy.  So after several meows and growls and howls, Ruby finally gives up and goes down the stairs because Maisy hasn't learned how to negotiate the stairs yet.  Our small dog Maisy has made a big difference in the life of Ruby.

Small things are adding up during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.  When people call to check up on people, it matters to those who have been hunkered down, protecting themselves from this rapidly spreading virus.  When someone does a kind deed like picking up groceries for someone, it matters to those who don't feel comfortable venturing out in public.  When a person prays for another person for whatever the request might be, it matters to the person being prayed for, knowing that not only others care for them, but God cares for them.  Small things make a big difference..

I came home from the office today and discovered this written in chalk on our driveway: "An awesome Pastor and his awesome wife live here!"  I can't even begin to tell you how this small thing matters in my life.  It's not that I believe for a moment that I am so deserving of an accolade like that.  I have my good moments, but I also have my bad ones too.  I'm just a ordinary guy with an extraordinary message.  What makes this huge is that somebody went out of their way to make my day special.  I have no idea who did it.  It only matters because I'd love for them to know how deeply Nancy and I appreciate the feelings behind it.

Only because we live in an awesome part of Minnesota - Worthington, Rushmore, Adrian, Bigelow, Brewster... Nancy and I are the ones who feel blessed.  

Because small things matter.  Don't underestimate them.  Just do it.  Do the small things for others.

Monday, April 20, 2020

What are the odds?

I came so close once.  I came this close (four inches) from getting a hole in one on the golf course.  It was at Pokegama Golf Course in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  I can't remember how old I was, but I know that it was such a long time ago.  It was on the old #8, a par three that went back toward the clubhouse.  Usually an eight or nine iron, depending on the wind.  I don't recall my swing or the shot specifically, but I remember was how close I was to the hole.  That picture is indelibly etched into my mind.  Four inches to the right.  Perfect distance, but my aim was four inches off.  Just four lousy inches.

You'd think that with all of the golf shots on par 3s that I have played in my lifetime one of them would have gone in.  But sadly, no.  No holes in one for this guy.  The odds for getting a hole in one in golf don't seem too bad.  For a professional golfer, the odds are that 1 shot in 2,500 shots is going to go in on a par three.  For an amateur (that would be me) the odds jump a bit - one shot in 12,500 shots is going to go in.

So let's figure this out... I usually play out at the Great Life Worthington Golf Course.  There are four par threes in eighteen holes - #2, #8, #10, and #14.  Hole #10 seems like the most likely candidate to get a hole in one.  The distance is about 110 yards, depending upon where the tee is located.  Hole #14 would be the most difficult being that it is 186 yards from tee to green.  The other two are reasonable - #2 is only 155 yards while #8 is 158 yards.  Chances would be better on those two than on #14.  So, I'm going to figure I have as good a chance as any to get my first hole in one on either #2, #8 or #10.  If I use those three as my base, and I am also using the 12,500 number for the odds, that means if I play 4,167 rounds of golf with those par threes the chances are that I should get a hole in one on one of those rounds.. 

Let's do that!

Why is this a thing for me right now?  That's a fair question.  I guess I just need a diversion from the constant barrage of COVID 19 updates that are everywhere.  Now that golf courses are open in Minnesota (with social distancing measures in place) persons can at least get out and play a round or two.  Whether a person likes to walk, bike, jog, run, golf or swim, it's nice to get some physical exercise in during the day. 

I will post when that hole in one happens.  It might take a while (4,167 rounds of golf is a lot of golf!) but the way I look at it, I'm due!  I'd better get started!

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Different Drummer

Growing up in the Greenway school system in Coleraine, Minnesota, I look back on some precious memories - I treasure the ones I can remember today.  You see, I was blessed to be in one school district in all of my thirteen years of elementary and secondary education.  I love remembering the teachers, the activities, the school buildings, the events, and the students I grew up with throughout those years.  

One of my thematic memories involves music.  Greenway had what I would consider a relatively strong music program.  From grade school to high school, learning to play in the band was a big deal.  As I finished my senior year, I was playing trombone in the high school band.  I also played in the local Mississippi Melodie Showboat Band, three local city bands, a local rock band (that played a lot of brass groups like Chicago), and even played in the Itasca Symphony Orchestra.  Our high school band instructor, Tom Patnaude, was a trombonist who played for the Air Force Band and he was an excellent trombonist - he still is.  

Mr. Patnaude was a bit ahead of his time.  We had students who were arranging music that our pep band played, putting it light years ahead of the Dirty Dozen (from Int'l Falls HS) or our rivals to the west, the Grand Rapids Indians Pep Band.  We made a record when I was a junior, something that in today's world would not be such a big deal.  Back then, it was huge.  I still have the 33 1/3 LP album packed away somewhere in the house.  A few years ago, my sister Laura had a cd made of the record.  It's awesome to be able to listen today to those sounds that were made by our high school band in the early 70's.

But as much as I loved the trombone and patterned my playing (in a poor man's way) after the example that Mr. Patnaude taught me, the trombone wasn't my first choice of instrument.

Surprised?  Yeah, it's true.  It started in the sixth grade when Mr. Patnaude came to our grade school and invited any interested students to begin to learn how to play by taking lessons.  I was a drummer (or so I thought).  My oldest brother Curt was a drummer and we were always in competition with each other, so why not?  I can be a drummer - if Curt can be one, so could I.  It was a relatively inexpensive instrument to take on.  I only needed the practice book, a practice drum pad and a pair of sticks.  I tried my best to learn how to hold the sticks properly.  I tried my best to learn a simple drum roll.  I tried my best to learn how to count properly.  Sadly, I don't think my hands were as coordinated at that young age as I might have liked.  Mr. Patnaude was a pretty patient teacher, but I could tell he didn't believe I would make it as a drummer.  The next year, when I started band in seventh grade, he asked me if I would try to learn how to play the trombone.  

Changing something like learning to play a musical instrument at an early age might not be a very big deal.  It didn't happen overnight.  I wasn't certain I had the right stuff to play it.  But somewhere along the line, I started to practice a bit more and began to get better at it.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I was getting a pass from my homeroom class to go to the music room and practice for an hour.  Imagine that.  Yeah, I got better.  Practice will do that for a person.

So, now we are in a world that has changed.  We couldn't have ever envisioned how a virus could have altered our way of life so drastically.  Many of us are still wanting to play the drums when we need to take up a different instrument.  And trust me, we will need to be disciplined in order to get better at this new normal.  We will need to practice how to live in the new normal in order to thrive and live with joy and peace.  Paul writes about this in his letters to the many places that he has been because people in all ages need to amp up their practice all the time.  Here is what he wrote to the community in Philippi: "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." - Philippians 4:9.  

Keep practicing the things that you have learned about your faith.  If you need to learn more (which we all do) then find a way to learn more - because practice makes perfect.