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Monday, May 25, 2020


It’s been years since we said goodbye to the military draft in our country. The final authority to induct expired on June 30, 1973. The lottery went on however, until the last pick on March 12, 1975.

I was in the draft class of 1970 and was called up in the fall of that year. Because of my poor planning, I was unable to register in time for fall classes to earn a deferment. I even tried to appeal my call to duty being an important means of support for my widowed mother. Uncle Sam showed no mercy.

By April of 1971, I headed off to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Six weeks later, it was tech school training in Biloxi, Mississippi. Then, to my first duty station in Sacramento, California.

By enlisting instead of accepting the draft’s choice of where I would serve, I was able to sign on with the Air Force. It would cost me two more years of military time, but I would likely avoid the most unpleasant task of dodging bullets in Vietnam. Many, if not most, Marines and Army recruits got that plum assignment.

Make no mistake about it. Some of them wanted that duty! Call them super patriots. Call them danger or thrill seekers. I called them a bit crazy. I mean, who signs up for war? Why tempt fate?

What do you call those men like me who yearned to stay back? There were, of course, the draft dodgers. Others flaked out in basic training. My type were those who chose what appeared to be the safest path to get back into civilian life alive.

It is for this reason that I have my own deep appreciation for the men and women who pay the ultimate price of service—their very lives. And that appreciation goes even another level deeper when the true heroes are those who DO step up and volunteer to face the line of fire. Or the grenade. Or the incoming rocket.

In a poignant article written for Memorial Day by Joe Angelino, we find this compelling perspective on recruits: “The military uses lots of glorified words to define them and attract attention. Words like duty, country, service, commitment, faith, honor, and courage are used to recruit and motivate the young service members. One word never seen on bumper stickers or barracks posters is death, and that is the word that brings all of those other words of bravado into crystal clear focus.”

It’s true. Offering the choice to die is a lousy selling point. Many a heartbroken mother or father has been seen shaking their heads in wonder as to why their precious child would choose that course. But many brave souls do. And many never return.

As Mr. Angelino wrote, “Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have served in campaigns or theaters of action seldom talk about the ‘what if’ or how they would like to be remembered. They don't have to; they know if their demise comes far from home, their comrades in arms will never forget them. They know their hometown will remember them, for at least one day a year. Their family will most certainly remember them, because, for the family left behind, every day is Memorial Day.

Do we not owe it to those who have put aside fear for faith and the cause of freedom to pay tribute for their service today? We do. And we owe so much more.

COVID-19 has changed the game on this Memorial Day. Reflection should be easier. We certainly have more time for it.

The Bible frequently calls out brave and valiant men. To some it came as a surprise. An angel visited Gideon, the least of the least of his tribe, with these words, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Judges 6:12 (NIV)

Memorial Day honors our mighty fallen warriors. Most, who wielded a weapon for peace.

And for that dedication, I salute their sacrifice.
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Monday, May 18, 2020

Rock On, Seniors!

Woke up to reality
And found the future not so bright
I dreamt the impossible
That maybe things could work out right…
- “Shattered Dreams” - Johnny Hates Jazz

The summer of ’69 was almost upon us. It was high school graduation time and those diplomas were a first real statement of achievement. After the official ceremonies, several friends and I met on a hill outside of Sidney, Montana, to finish the night in celebration. That included the sharing of high hopes and visionary dreams.

That was then. This…is now. And no such evening awaits the graduations of 2020. Covid-19 has seen to that.

Perhaps, like me, you feel for the high school and college seniors who get no thrill of send off this year. If anything, they feel robbed. What should have been a grand conclusion to their educational journey is a date with isolation from friends, teachers, and prom night memories. Understandably, graduates are a bit angry.

As the Washington Times recently recounted, “Some have opted to drop any sort of commemoration and just focus on the future. Some have used their cars for “drive-by” celebrations. Others have planned virtual get-togethers via teleconferencing apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts.” But it all adds up to the Year of the Surreal Graduation.

Then there are the athletes. Spring delivers high school and college basketball and hockey championships. The baseball season. Golf and track. All the hopes and those dreams that “this is going to be my year!” instead have gone by the wayside. Strike up the band for another reason for disappointment. Just make sure the band doesn’t actually meet together.

Yakirah Clay was senior class president at DuVal High School in Lanham, Virginia. Her previous active high school life kept her very busy. The virus has curtailed all that. In her words, “It’s really getting to my mind. I only have sitting in my house and then going to work.” Some grand finale, eh?

Students in Illinois will have memorable “ceremonies” in the 2020 Year of the Surreal Graduation. Schools in our state are planning drive through, drive in, or tune in options for the graduates. Obviously what’s missing are the traditional transfer of diplomas with a human touch, hugs, or handshakes.

One of the rich experiences that usually ends college life is hearing from excellent commencement speakers. Chicago Public Schools have arranged for Oprah Winfrey to give the main commencement address. According to the Chicago Tribune, the virtual ceremony in June will be offered to “all of Chicago’s high school seniors, whether they attend district, charter, or private schools.” I’ll bet the excitement is building already. (cough, cough)

The 2020 graduates are also being told to make sure and get their caps, gowns, and diplomas ahead of time. I guess that’s so you look the part at your drive through or virtual ceremony. Doesn’t it all seem a bit phony? Another COVID-19 ripoff.

My high school graduation in Sidney, Montana, was also about scholarships and excitement over where students were headed for college. This year’s graduates cannot even be sure a campus apart from home will be waiting for them. No worries about a new “roomie” for now. Or whether you’ll make the cut on extracurricular programs. Or whether your sports team will even play in the fall.

I’ve spoken at a couple of graduations. If it was this year, my address would be built around these famous words of a man named Jesus: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.” Matthew 7:24-25 (NLT)

I wonder how many teachers ever shared those words of wisdom—teaching students how to build a life foundation on a solid rock.

It’s this Truth that gives you hope when all you seem to have…are shattered dreams.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Oh, When the Saints Go … Staying Home

Those of us in the pew-filling business look for any creative way to bring the spiritually hungry to our houses of worship. Our purposes are many. People bond when they are meeting others of like minds. Sanctuaries filled with songs of worship are powerful. It is said that God “inhabits our praise.” Psalm 22:3 (KJV)

Most places of fellowship offer so much to many. There are people seeking ways to recover from life’s burdensome temptations. Young people may find an accepting group of peers and a place of safety to discuss their weak zones. Seniors find companionship in a stage of life that can leave them feeling abandoned.

It is the place where couples make promises of commitment before God and witnesses. A place where souls are washed in a basin of baptism that confirms their commitment to follow Jesus. It might well be the place where the final words are spoken by family members, friends, and a preacher to a honor a soul recently departed. Even then, the church can be home to sweet reunions and words of hope.

Oh yes. Church can be a most wonderful place to gather. But not now.

It is unfortunate—at least in my view—that some ministry leaders feel risky gatherings are worth any price. Even to the point of death. COVID-19 has proved its potent message: don’t mess with a deadly virus.

Just a few days ago, a usually reliable and responsible group named the Liberty Counsel called on churches nationwide to open and meetings to resume on Sunday, May 3. They named this occasion ReOpen Church Sunday. The date was selected to kick off the annual National Day of Prayer week. That day was celebrated last Thursday, May 7th. 

Admittedly, the organizers were asking congregations participating in ReOpen Church Sunday to mind their spiritual manners. That would include appropriate sanitization and respectable social distancing between families. Grace was also given for the particularly nervous nellies among us who would push for reduced seating inside the sanctuary.

Even more grace was extended for the weaker of faith (in jest, my friend) by suggesting parking lot services for those choosing not to go inside the building. Last, but not least, online services were suggested “for those who are unable to attend or who are in a higher risk category due to age or predisposed health conditions.”

The Liberty Counsel initiative flew in the face of our Illinois Governor who has put the kibosh on any church gatherings more than 10 attendees. So much for those who plead for their First Amendment rights. So not every pastor was willing to go along.

Out came the legal weapons. Most Beloved Church is located in the northwest Illinois village of Lena. Their pastor decided to sue, hoping to block the portion of the Gov’s stay-at-home order that bans public worship services. His church planned to go right on a-meetin’ come hell or, well, the state troopers.

He got his wish. Sort of. J.B. (as in Pritzger) loosened up a tad and said a group of ten congregants was okay. But only if they didn’t sing, “Kumbaya.” <grin>

As for my place of worship? No Sunday-go-to-meetin in our congregation. We have a fair share of at-risk seniors and a whole lot of common sense folk who figure our streaming worship services can pass out blessings with the best of them. And we present a whole lot more Gospel than a not-to-be-mentioned Houston motivational speaker (I hesitate to call him a pastor).

It’s my pleasure each week to record the Sunday announcements…on Saturday. They take my temperature as I walk in the door. They wipe down every surface I might touch with some bleachy stuff. Each week, I ask our Facebook Watch Party parishioners to wave at each other. Socially distant, of course.

Jesus Himself said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NLT) And right now, Facebook Watch parties seem like a very safe gathering place.

I hope the day comes soon when our church doors are wide open and the saints can march right on in.

But until this virus gives up, I think the saints are fully capable of worshiping at home.

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Monday, May 4, 2020

Stressed Out Millennials

You’ve heard the song “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots, right? Catchy tune. Memorable lyrics, like…

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I'm insecure and I care what people think

And then that chorus…

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we're stressed out

And what seems to drive the fears and insecurity of these youngins’? It’s captured, in part, by this lyric: “My name's Blurryface and I care what you think.”

Tyler Joseph, the lead singer, is 32 years old. Welcome to Millennial-World. He has tons of companions. One of them, most likely not an acquaintance, is Laurie Penny. She’s 33. Laurie’s an English journalist and columnist who has written for a broad range of publications. Including Wired Magazine. That’s where I came across her talent.

I was captivated by her struggling life story, trying to sort out the meaning and value of productivity in the COVID era. I also felt sorry for her and any of her millennial ride-alongs who share her pain. She offers far too many pull quotes to summarize. If my blog stirs your interest, I recommend you read "Productivity is not Working" in its entirety. The link is below.

A few of her observations must be noted. She writes in her opening, “How shall we stay productive when the world is going to hell?…How should we self-optimize when we’re suddenly having to meet our deadlines with our roommates, kids, and inner critics screaming in the background?” Do I hear an “Amen?”
Poor Ms. Penny feels the trap of productivity. For the last ten years of her life, when asked about her well-being, she offers a run-down of her work performance for the day. She’s not alone. “When I check in with friends and family far away, I usually get an update on how productive they have or have not managed to be since we last spoke,” says Laurie.

She continues, “Frantic productivity is a fear response…for 21st-century humans in general and millennial humans in particular, as we’ve collectively awoken from the American dream with a strange headache and a stack of bills to pay.”

I don’t know how wide of a swath her friendship circle cuts. But Laurie has seen and heard enough to believe her generation sees “relentless work” as the way to deal with crisis. Sad.

Then she offers a startling personal view on “religion.”

Referencing the Great Plagues of the 14th century, which wiped out half of Europe, Ms. Penny believes the Black Death also undermined the power of religion. She writes, “As broken communities surveyed the mounds of corpses, wondering what sins could possibly be proportional to this sort of punishment, they started to lose faith in God—and the Medieval Church began to lose power as an organizing force in everyday life.” (People always blame God for pain. Never the Evil One.)

Will this virus, which has been the major contributor to the current economic disaster in America, fuel a new loss of faith? Maybe, as she suggests, not in the church, but in modern capitalism? Laurie Penny wonders, “If frantic productivity is a fear response, the opposite urge—to tear it all up and declare deadline bankruptcy—feels like blasphemy.” Further she opines, “This is exactly the sort of crisis that gives people ideas about overturning the social order.” Excuse me???

The prophet Jeremiah warned the once self-sufficient people of Israel this way, “You are proud of your fertile valleys, but they will soon be ruined. You trusted in your wealth, you rebellious daughter, and thought no one could ever harm you.” Jeremiah 49:4 (NLT)

Wrong-O. COVID-19 has brought us a hard lesson. Wealth cannot save us. Productivity cannot save us. Government power cannot save us. Only God can intervene to save us.

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we're stressed out

Ain’t it the truth.

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