When Ethan Speaks

22 04 2008

autisticGod bless our kids.  They’ll say absolutely anything.  They have no brakes.  A though hits their brain, and within 2 seconds, it’s sliding off their tongue.  And some kids aren’t’ even THAT restrained.

I love Ethan.  He’s my associate pastor’s son.  When I first came to GFM 5 years ago, Ethan didn’t really talk.  The autistic five-year-old spoke gibberish that his older brother referred to as “Chinese”.  Every night before going to bed, Ethan’s brother would pray,

click here to read this article at wherethefishhavenoname.com.


Everything You Wanted To Know About Webkinz But Were Afraid To Ask

29 02 2008

Actually, the title is a bit of a misnomer.  I am no fountain of knowledge when it comes to the latest web phenomenon for kidz.  Er, kids.

My experience with this ecraze barely extends upon what I’ve learned from my sister’s children.  If I understand this thing correctly, you buy a stuffed animal, then create a web “reality” for it.  The creature comes to life on-line.  For many uninitiated older folk such as myself, this might seem a good reason to get all frumpy grumpy and proclaim what a shame it is our children pursue such improvident internet mind drains.  webkinz

I would almost agree.  The stopper for me is knowing how protective my sister is of her children’s minds and activities.  She and her husband are wonderful parents who treat the kids as sacred trusts.  And then I remembered all the adventures I had creating psuedo realities for GI Joe and other generic versions of the doll, uh, I mean, action figure.  Properly regulated by watchful parents, the webkinz craze is simply another outlet to allow a child to express creativity.  It doesn’t supersede crayons and paint kits and books and such.  Those things are still present and used with great joy.

Speaking of crayons, though, I did get a bit of an education on today’s perception of the colorful creators.  My youngest niece, Carly, was using crayons at our house.  She handed me the white crayon and dismissed it saying, “It’s broked.”  Looking at it, I could plainly see it was not only in one piece, but had barely been used.  Then, my sister explained that since the crayon doesn’t show up on normal drawing paper, Carly and her friends have taken to assuming that the white crayon is “broked”.  It doesn’t work.

All this to serve as a reminder of what precious jewels our children are.  They aren’t masterpieces in the making; they are fully realized works of art in their own present reality.  Somehow we need to teach them that they are completely loved, that they are of infinite worth to God, and yet that they are not alone in that.  While they are first in our lives when in comes to caring and nurturing, they need to learn to put other children before themselves.  I regularly experience children who were taught that not only were they the center of their parents’ lives, but they were also the center of the universe.  This makes for ugly adults.  Perhaps webkinz are a good way of teaching a child to love, care and nurture.  You are special.  But others are more special.  God is served not when we ourselves are worshipped, but when we find our worth in worshipping Him.  This leads us to put all others before ourselves as Christ taught.  The amazing thing is how quickly a child can learn this priceless lesson, and put it to work, when we learn to strike proper balances in their lives.  Webkinz or not.

Don’t Eat The Invisible Man

25 01 2008

My nephew, Kyle, has always been the proverbial ray of sunshine.  He’s one of those remarkable kids that people notice.  He’s friendly to everyone, he’s got a mile wide smile, and he has always seemed quite mature for his age.

A number of years ago when he was around 3 years of age, his big imagination kicked in.  He would create these incredible img049.jpgstream-of -conscience stories.  Among the characters he imagined as part of his life was a tiny invisible man.  One day he was holding his little translucent buddy in his hand for Uncle Greg to, uh, see.  Always being the one for the quick joke, I reached out and snatched the imaginary fellow, popped him in my mouth, and proceeded to chew and swallow him.  I thought it was pretty funny.  That is…  until Kyle started to cry.  Not just cry.  He was positively devastated.  Adding to my guilt, I later learned that after my failed attempt at a tease, the little invisible man no longer existed in Kyle’s mind.  I was guilty of murder.  And invisible cannibalism.  I actually killed a part of Kyle’s imagination!  Oh, the humanity of it.

This Christmas just past, I began to make a Santa crack in front of Kyle’s youngest sister, when my sister cleared her throat and cautioned, “Don’t eat the invisible man.”  I knew exactly what she meant.  I graciously shut my big mouth.

It’s far too easy to hurt people, isn’t it?  Who is it that once said it takes ten positives to overcome one negative?  It’s quite hard to regain trust, to regain a good reputation, or to regain a positive relationship.  There’s really a good reason why those who are silent types tend to have better reputations. 

Can there be any question that we Christ-followers are our own worst enemies when it comes to sharing our hope?  We spend too much time eating the invisible man rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to use us.  The opposite side of this is that we don’t try at all for fear of failure.  Here’s where I think I’ve found the middle ground (where it seem that the Holy Spirit always resides!)…  I’ve found that all interactions with people MUST be preceded with interactions with God.  And not interactions where I’m shouting directions to Him, but where I simply shut up and know that He is God.  There’s great relief in that.  I don’t have to worry about praying just the right words.  I don’t have to worry about how I’m gonna mess up today.  I simply am still before God.  It’s like breathing in fresh mountain air…  you have to be there to truly experience it.

I still occasionally eat the invisible man, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often.

Bandaids For My Boo-Boos

17 01 2008

I’ve often said that kids and dogs teach me more about God than any philosophical or theological book by modern man ever could.  I’m still basking in the beauty of the precious moments with my neices and nephew at Christmastime.

I recently told a story about 4-year old Carly…  and it seems that kids this age are an unabridged resevoir of humorous and sticky sweet stories.  This year, we gave Carly bandaids for Christmas.  That’s what our sweet little stinker of a pre-schooler wanted.  Bandaids.  She has a fascination for them.  Any little mark or scrape she discovers requires coverage.  Some kids pick the black specs out of their food…  Carly finds them on herself.  So, we obliged this amusing preoccupation of hers (without consulting Dr. Phil for psychoanalysis of this life phase) by giving her 2 boxes of Bandaids.  One box featured Scooby Doo, the other Dora the Explorer.  The gift was an absolute hit, and within the next couple of hours, she had already found enough boo-boos to merit 2 of the sticky medical strips.  She would have used more, but mommy encouraged her that there were many boo-boos to come, and she should save some.

But then came the real boo-boo.  Somehow she managed to pinch her finger in a cabinet drawer and real blood began to seep free.  It was a crisis of 911 proportion for her.  Screaming.  Crying.  You would think that she had severed a limb.  And now…  now she needed a bandaid.  What was a fun game became a serious medical crisis requiring the type of medical degree only a mother can earn.

If you’re familiar with my blog, you probably see where I’m going with this.  Another diagnosis of a psychosis in the modern church.  Indeed we play out this childhood game on a regular basis.  We are a people that enjoy our hurts.  Any little reason to possibly maybe perhaps become hurt becomes a major crisis requiring pastoral and church leader intervention.  The suture this time is often an apology.  Someone has offended us to the core by doing something that rubs our fur the wrong way.  We expect the perfection from others that we would never demand from ourselves.  Everyone else’s words must be carefully measured…  and even then, offense can be taken in a heartbeat.  Aren’t we a pitiful, sorry lot.

Thankfully, God is used to using sorry lots like us.  It occurs to me that such heroes of our faith as Jacob, Peter, Matthew, Paul and so many others were transformed to something useful at the hands of a mighty God.  And even after the transformation, there was still plenty of wet work to be done. 

Guard yourself against needing a bandaid for every little spec of potential offense you find.  Somebody needs to be the grown-ups in the church…  make a vow that it will be you.  Lead by example with humility and extreme grace.  It occurs to me that someone else already set the example of how that works.  Be long-suffering and quick with an apology.  Even when we think we’re completely in the right, being the first to say “I’m sorry” often opens the door to healing and hope.  There are enough tear-worthy events in life already…  we don’t need to manufacture our own every time we find a spec that looks like a hurt.  So what if the people in your church are thoughtless and uncaring at times…  my guess is that we’ll find a person of like qualities in our own mirror.  Please, I beg of you, hear my calling in the wilderness…  lay down your arms, get on your knees and fight like a man.  Or woman.  Save the battle for Satan. 

Words You Can’t Say In Church

15 12 2007

Joey was a sweet, skinny and towheaded little boy from an earlier church I pastored.  He tried hard to fit in with the bigger kids and to an extent they accepted the instantly lovable little fellow with a speech impediment.  One Sunday the kids were all at each other with teasing remarks as I stood at my familiar post to greet people as they entered the sanctuary.  The moment came when Joey had enough of the brusque comments the others were doling out.  Forgetting where he was, he offered up the rejoinder, “Kit my at!”.  Now that may sound like a bizarre pairing of words to you, but keep in mind that Joey had speech difficulties.

Instantly every child froze in place realizing that Joey had broken the sacred code and had uttered a potty word in front of the pastor!  Horror quickly turned to mockery as they couldn’t resist laying a thick, burdensome guilt trip on him with typical childhood taunts such as, “Aaaahhhhmmm!”  Joey’s head bowed in shame, and with shoulders stooped and eyes diverted from any chance of meeting mine, he slowly lumbered away like a man on his way to the electric chair.  My heart broke for my little pal as I patted him on the back as he passed.  “That’s OK, buddy,” I said softly, realizing that no pastoral training ever adequately equips you for the needs of a moment such as that.

Later that day I pulled into my driveway after a visit with an ailing woman.  To my surprise, Joey’s mom’s car whipped in behind me.  Joey had seen me out, and asked his mom to pull in.  Out of the car came that little man with the boyish charm and salty tongue.  Head still bowed in humility, as he slowly stepped closer I could see the teardrops pouring onto the asphalt below.  “Patter Dweg,” he said, using his version of my name.  “I’m torry I taid a bad wood in chuhch.”  He was sorry he said a bad word…  in church!

After doing all I could to comfort and absolve little Joey, he was back in the car.  Still, his words rang in my ears for hours after.  Even today I have to chuckle at his innocent yet profound confession.  He was sorry he said a bad word.  In church.  I knew what he meant.  But I also can’t help but be amused by the possible interpretation that he wasn’t sorry for the word he said, just that he did so in church.

I get this all the time from adults.  Perhaps it’s someone who says, “Pardon me, pastor” after issuing a curse.  Or, it may be as commonplace as a church goer who alters their behavior in church so that the sacred might not be stained by their ordinary ways.  Most swear words are not bad in and of themselves.  It’s the intent behind the word that makes them foul.  Even kind words can become volatile when used maliciously. 

Not long ago, a teen in my church messed up the words to a song she was singing at a Sunday evening service.  Frustrated by her error, she blurted out, “Oh crap!”.  Her mother was completely chagrined.  Honesty had made its way through pretense and presented itself for all to observe.

You see, this really isn’t about words or semantics.  It’s about heart.  There is no reason to clean up your act for church if the weekday person you are lives a different ethos.  This is not to say that propriety isn’t a good thing; rather, transparency and honesty are the only ways for Christ-followers to truly find their way down better roads.  It’s a good thing we don’t all have TV screens in the back of our heads for all to see what is going on in there!  No doubt there would be a few porno movies played at church on Sundays.  We do, however, have the ability to be honest and humble in our humanness and to seek the wise counsel and direction of those who’ve walked with Christ much longer than we have.  With that in mind, can I truly say that I am, as the pastor, completely transparent?  No, probably not.  But my people will also tell you that I strive to be honest with them about my struggles so that they can know they’re not alone. 

Yes, I have difficulty at times diverting my eyes when a nice looking woman shows off more of herself that I really need to see.  Yes, I still battle the anger issue even though God has helped me to move past the explosive rages of my distant past.  Yes, I admit there are days when my prayer life is as dry and dull as a Hillary Clinton stump speech. 

Coming to the house of God isn’t about cleaning up and then showing up.  While I highly recommend proper hygiene, one doesn’t have to scrub the inner recesses and outer behaviors before entering in.  Come as you are, behave with proper respect, yet be honest enough that others can come along beside you and show you that they’re still growing as well.  There is nothing uglier than a holier-than-thou Christian.  There is nothing more beautiful than the tears that fall after we allow God to help us find our way a little closer to him, a little farther from hopelessness.  Come as you are.  Leave a bit more like He is.