Monday, May 27, 2013

Meet me under the clock

When I arrived in Charlotte many years ago, one of the first restaurants I visited was Andersons, a landmark serving the best pecan pie in town. At least that is what their sign said. It was a great place for some down home cooking and the diverse clientele agreed. Sadly, it is no longer in operation. The building is still there, but not the pie.

I guess every city and town has a landmark, which is why I read with interest that a famous landmark from my childhood was turning 100 years old. It’s a huge, 2500 pound, beautifully designed, four faced, outdoor clock at the corner of Fifth and Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh, which is in the heart of the city’s shopping area. Originally it hung, or was mounted, in front of the Kaufmann’s department store and was known simply as the Kaufmann’s clock. Kaufmann’s was later replaced by Macy’s, but the clock remains.

Anyone who’s lived in Pittsburgh for any length of time probably knows the phrase, “meet me under the clock.” It was the perfect meeting place in the heart of the city. Corrine and I actually have a painting of the clock in our downstairs hallway, a reminder of the place we call home.

Do you ever think of landmarks in your hometown? I guess if you’re from Gaffney, you might think of the “Peach.” If you’re from Matthews, you might think of Renfrow Hardware, an amazing landmark in many ways.

Landmarks help us remember a simpler time, or mark a spot that is like a treasure chest full of good memories. Landmarks remind us of where we came from. They also help us find our way in today’s highly complex and technological age.

Landmarks are significant in Biblical history as well.

Long ago, God instructed Joshua to take twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River and carry them with him to the other side. Of course, Joshua did as he was told, even though he must have thought, “Of all the things you could ask me to do, you want me to move rocks?!”

Then God lets him in on a holy, sacred secret. God tells him, “When your children ask their parents in the time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ You shall tell your children the story of how God helped you cross the Jordan.”

When your children ask about landmarks in your life, what stories will you tell them?

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Bucket List

I recently bumped into an Internet article entitled Twenty Things Everyone Should Do Once. It reminded me of that great 2007 Rob Reiner movie “Bucket List,” in which Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson cross items off their list, to hilarious effect. It's increasingly common to hear folks talk about their own bucket list. You know…all the things they want to do and see before they kick the bucket.

As I glanced down the litany of the twenty things I should do, I was pleased to see that I have already experienced fourteen of the twenty. Now, don’t get too excited. Most of them were not all that amazing. Simple things like adopting a pet, buying a piece of art you like or eating food you raised yourself.

I mean, who hasn’t had one of their children bring home a pet and then leave it with you? Seriously, who would buy a piece of art that they didn’t like? Nearly everyone I know has at some point put a tomato plant in the ground and enjoyed its harvest.

So what about the ones I have yet to do?  Well, most of the leftovers didn’t really tickle my fancy or even stir my imagination, except for one.

Live in a foreign country.  

I think that is something I would like to experience. Spend a while letting the sights, sounds and smells of the culture seep into my soul, instead of playing hop scotch from one tourist attraction to the next.  

As I thought about the things I should do at least once, a few more came to mind. I would like to learn how to play the piano and sign up for dance lessons. Lord knows I need them. Once in my life I would like to take a train ride across America. I’d like to take some art lessons. Maybe even photography. And I’d like to work on a lobster fishing boat in Maine, don’t know exactly why, but still would like to do it.  

There are lots of things I would like to do at least once. Yet it seems to me there will always be more books to read, more places to visit, more things to experience. I think the saddest thing might be to actually have done all the things you wanted to do. What a boring end that would be! There should always be more on the horizon, more ideas, and more experiences you dream of having.  

Have you thought about all the things you would like to do at least once? I hope so. But I also hope you never complete your bucket list.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sweet Home Alabama

Last week I stepped foot in the great state of Alabama for the first time in my life. I know very little about Alabama, except that it is home to Alice Johnson. Any state that produces someone like Alice has to be special.

As I crossed the state line, I began to think about all of the states I’ve visited and those I have not. I have never been to Alaska or Hawaii, never set foot in Oregon, Iowa, or Mississippi. Forty-five out of fifty isn’t too shabby.

The town I visited was Dothan. I read that the town took its name right out of the Bible, “Let us go to Dothan” (Genesis 37:17). The largest religious expression in Dothan is Southern Baptist, no surprise there. However, I was surprised to learn that Dothan is home to a Reformed Jewish Synagogue. Temple Emanu-El gained national spotlight in 2008 when Jewish families were offered as much as $50,000 to relocate to Dothan.

Dothan also takes pride in proclaiming itself the “Peanut Capital of the World.” We all take pride in something, don’t we?  Often, pride is good thing. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in producing peanuts. Nothing wrong with taking pride in your job or children. The problem is that if we are not careful, pride can become distorted.

The church fathers of the Middle Ages put pride on their list of deadly sins. The problem with pride, they said, is where it takes you. For example, it is one thing to have pride in your child, but sometimes that turns into pressuring your child to meeting your own unfilled expectations or worse yet, to make yourself look good in front of other parents. That is when pride becomes deadly.    

Tony Campolo wrote, “Pride is arrogant self-worship. It is the sin of exalting oneself and placing one’s own interests above the interests of others.” People who are full of this kind of pride are, literally, full of themselves.   

Too frequently this arrogance keeps someone from saying, “I am sorry.”  Some folks just can’t swallow their pride, even when they know they should. Over time, pride can destroy relationships.

Have you thought about the things that fill you with pride? More importantly, are they leading you where  you want to go?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Don't forget your ABCs

I am writing this week’s blog about an experience I have not yet experienced. Lest you think I have totally gone off my rocker, let me explain.

I leave on Friday afternoon to be a part of this year’s confirmation retreat* to Valle Crucis. Realizing I will probably be too whupped to write about the retreat Sunday afternoon, I decided to share my thoughts in anticipation, even before I board the bus.

I have noticed over the years how much things change but stay the same in the life of a young person. Today’s world is so different than the one most of us knew when we were in a confirmation class. As teenagers, we never dreamed about cell phones and iPads and iTunes. We also never gave a moment’s thought to a terrorist attack or a shooting in our school hallway. 

The cultural, spiritual and political landscape is constantly shifting, and our youth are on the front lines. I think they are pretty amazing, juggling all the demands that are placed on them in the midst of daily change. They deserve nothing but our applause and constant encouragement. 

Even though the world is not the same, I believe some things are universally true. For instance, if you ask me what our youth want today, I have a pretty good idea. 

A) Acceptance. Just like when we were teenagers, they want to be accepted for who they are and not what we keep trying to make them into. Funny, God accepts us as we are, but it’s hard for us to accept each other as we are. 

B) Belonging. Remember what it was like to be left out, ignored, passed over and not invited into the group? We were created for community, created to find a place where we know we belong, where we are loved. Few things are as painful as feeling left out. One of the most important marks of a great church is this sense of belonging; the best thing we can do for our youth is to let them know how much they belong and how the party wouldn’t be complete without them. 

C) Care. Everyone wants to know that someone cares. It is the kind of care that is unconditional, no strings attached. It requires a lot more listening than talking. It's less about following the rules and more about experiencing the love of Christ. Today’s youth need to know someone is in their corner. 

Sardis is blessed with terrific parents, dedicated youth leaders and advisors and amazing confirmation teachers who not only faithfully teach the Bible, but do something more…they never forget their ABCs.

*Find photos from the retreat on the Sardis Youth Facebook page.