31-Day Writing Challenge—Day 2 :: Content

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“Contentment is learned,” he said. But how? Like patience—tested by waiting and the temptation to impatience? Is contentment learned through discontent, through wanting, through thinking that more will satisfy? Or is it learned through having—and finding dissatisfaction (or even fear and anxiety) in the possession?

“Give me enough that I don’t steal from real need,” wrote the psalmist, “but not enough that I don’t need You.” And “with You as my shepherd, I am content—green pastures, running water, protection … nothing lacking.”

And it’s good.

Oh, that I may be discontent with my discontent—and content with my content.

This entry is part of the 31-Day Writing Challenge 2021 from Five Minute Friday.

31-Day Writing Challenge :: NEED

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Need is a funny word. So short. So used. So abused.

“I need a drink,” says one after a long day at work. “I need it!” wails a child, reaching with its whole body for the toy just out of reach on the store shelf.

I need coffee. I need to eat. I need you. I need ….

Every plaintive cry reveals our poverty—not real poverty, of course, just a perceived lack of something, or someone, without which our life feels less than we’d like.

And it is less. Not for lack of a toy or a drink or a partner, but for want of contentment, of satisfaction.

What I need is is contentment. Without it, I will always need more.

This entry is part of the 31-Day Writing Challenge 2021 from Five Minute Friday.

Getting What We Want

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Recently I read something about the power of the media to “control the minds of the masses.” As I read, the thought came to me that the media give us what we want to see. And politicians tell us what we want to hear.

We get what we want … but we don’t want what we get.

We say we want truth, but really we only want the truth that makes us feel better about ourselves, or the truth that confirms what we already think (or want to think). We don’t want the truth that tells us we’re wrong, that we’re going in a bad direction, that the Titanic is sinking. Former Vice President Al Gore recognized this in the title of his book, An Inconvenient Truth. Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men nailed it when he bellowed, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Shortly after reading the statement about the media, I read my mom’s most recent blog post, in which she wrote about how she makes it a habit to look inside herself, to discover ways in which she still needs to learn and grow. Yet such introspection is hard. It’s uncomfortable. We’re not sure we can “handle the truth” about ourselves.

It’s easy to point fingers at the media, politicians, or anyone else we want. It’s easy to blame parents or teachers or society or even God for the brokenness we know we live with but don’t want to deal with.

What we need instead, though, is to stand in front of the mirror and point—to acknowledge that what is wrong in the world really is just a reflection of what is wrong with ourselves.

Maybe instead of looking at the media and seeing what we want to see, or listening to the politicians and hearing what we want to hear, we need to listen to the prophets—the prophets of old and the prophets of today—who speak God’s truth even at the risk of their own lives; who will point the finger at us and point our eyes toward God.

Inauguration Day 2021—A Day of Peace and Hope

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Four years ago today I was substitute teaching in a familiar classroom of fifth graders. After a contentious presidential election campaign, I thought the history lesson of watching the inauguration would be good for my students: they could watch as two very different sides would come together under the banner of unity to celebrate the peaceful transition of power in the world’s oldest democracy. Though personally disappointed in the result of the election, I nonetheless held out a modicum of hope that the new president, through his choices of advisors and cabinet officials, could lead the nation forward. I was wrong on both counts.

As the inauguration preliminaries played out on the big screen, most students quietly did their morning work, largely uninterested in the distant events in our nation’s capital  A few, whose parroted views had been overly enthusiastic (for ten-year-olds) throughout the previous fall, continued their boisterous cheering of their candidate’s victory. Others, more reserved in defeat, sat in silence.

Then I saw her: one normally-bubbly student sitting with head down, unable to focus on the page on her desk, tears streaming down her face. I knelt down beside her and asked what she was thinking.

“I’m afraid my family will be deported,” she replied.

I knew nothing of her background beyond that she was Hispanic. Were her parents illegal immigrants? Had she been born in the U.S. or in Mexico? In that moment, none of that mattered to me. All that mattered was that one of my students, a ten-year-old girl, was not celebrating democracy but fearing for her own security, her family’s security, her future. Far more devastating than an election loss was, for this girl, the prospect of losing her family and likely the only home she had ever known. She was afraid—legitimately, I think—not only because of the words she had heard on the nightly news from the man becoming president, but because those same words were coming from the lips of her fellow students.

As adults, we have learned to distinguish between the bombastic speeches we hear or read and what we can expect in reality. Friends, neighbors, and politicians alike will often speak far more boldly from behind the safe wall of a camera or social media, but never act on their bold speech or thinly-veiled threats. Fifth graders haven’t yet learned to separate that.

As I sought to comfort and give hope to my young student, I was caught in a poignant, agonizing moment that portended what would lay ahead in ways I would never have imagined … or, indeed, feared. Never in my wildest dreams did I consider that just two weeks before the next inauguration, our nation’s capitol building would come under attack not from a foreign enemy, but from within, from Americans fighting for their own distorted view of democracy. Never did I imagine that the president whose inauguration that little girl feared would be accused by long-time allies—members of his own party—of inciting an insurrection against his own capitol. And yet that is precisely what has taken place in the past two weeks.

And so on this Inauguration Day in 2021 I watched with a greater hope as our nation once again celebrated democracy’s greatest tradition: a peaceful transition of power. It was, again, a poignant moment, historic not simply as every inauguration has been historic, but because of the firsts: the first woman, first African-American, first Asian-American vice president (sworn in by the first Latina Supreme Court justice); the oldest first-term president (significant in a myriad of ways!); the first time in more than a century that the outgoing president has been absent from the inauguration. It was a poignant moment because of the pandemic that has gripped our nation and the world for the past ten months. There will be no comparison of crowd sizes this year, but the Capital Mall was resplendent with thousands of flags representing the nation, the states, the territories.

And it was poignant for me because of the hope I feel again: hope that our nation can begin to heal, hope that we can begin to put division and disunity behind us, hope that we can rejoin the nations of the world in working together for peace and prosperity for all. It won’t be easy. Millions still grieve their candidate’s loss; many still mistakenly—or willfully—believe that the election was fraudulent. Many of us—myself included—still have questions about the new administration and its commitment to values we hold. It will take all of us putting aside our differences in order to move forward in unity.

And yet today I am convinced that we can walk through the hard days ahead with hope. And hope is one thing that has been in desperately short supply these past four years.

Bookends of a Life Well-Lived

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Remembering Paul D. Stanley
November 29, 1941 – November 26, 2020 

Paul D. Stanley, West Point Football 1963

My first picture of Paul Stanley was just that: a picture … of an Army running back in the 1963 West Point yearbook. Across the page was pictured another man I knew something about: Navy quarterback Roger Staubach, one of my heroes. For a 14-year-old boy who loved football, it was the beginning of something special. After all, if this stranger in whose house my family was living was in the same league as Roger Staubach, I knew good things had to lay ahead.

It wasn’t long before the Stanley’s home became more than just a place to live during my own family’s first month in Germany. It became a home away from home, and the Stanley’s became a second family. And so to Phyllis, Deb, Paul, Scott, Kim … thank you.

But Paul was not just a second dad during my high school years; he has been, for the past four decades, a mentor, encourager, and champion.

The last time I sat with Paul three years ago, I was preparing for an as yet unknown ministry as a lead pastor. Paul’s charge to me then was different—profoundly different—than any counsel I’d been given about that daunting task.

He didn’t tell me to love the people, though he knew that was vital. He didn’t tell me to preach well or to guard the important doctrines of our faith; again, that was a given.

Paul’s charge was simply this: 

Find two men and disciple them. Then do it again.

As I look back on Paul’s life … as I look out over the faces here and imagine those of you watching online from around the world … I realize that’s all Paul ever did: He found two men and discipled them. Then he did it again. And again. And again….

Paul simply charged me with the same mission that he had lived. And when a man like that influences your life the way Paul Stanley did mine, you don’t take that charge lightly. 

We honor Paul today. And I can think of no better way to honor him than by continuing his mission. I pray Paul’s legacy will live on through me. I pray I am up to the task.

This was my tribute to Paul at his memorial service, December 1, 2020.