Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


There is a simple response that rubs me the wrong way whenever I receive it from another person—especially when it comes from my children, and that is, “Whatever.”  Things have changed in our lifetimes and one of the biggest changes has been in the words that we use . . . words do not always mean what we think they mean . . . especially in this day and age.  “Whatever” is one of those words.  Because of that, I am thankful that someone got smart and created a dictionary on the Internet for us old geezers so that we can understand the present generation when they speak to us.

In preparing for this sermon I wanted to make sure that my impressions of the word, “whatever”, were right . . . so, I looked it up in the Urban Dictionary.  The Urban Dictionary had 62 different ways in which the word was used, but . . . it basically defined the word as “indifference” and as a “up yours” and “I don’t care” sort of word.  For example, I say, “I really feel like a million bucks today”, and you respond, “Whatever!”  Or, if I say to one of my kids, “You keep making that face and it will stay like that”, and they respond, “Whatever.”    Basically it is a response of indifference . . . of, I don’t care . . . to what is said by another.

Surprisingly, the present generation is not the only generation that uses that word . . . we all do it.  And, guess what, apparently that response doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight when dealing with God.  This morning Jesus shares the parable of the rich man and Lazarus . . . a parable that might be better names, Whatever.

 Hopefully everyone knows the parable.  Lazarus is a poor beggar who ends up starving to death despite the fact that he did all of his begging outside of the house of a rich man . . . a rich man who could easily have spared some resources to help Lazarus out without even missing it.  But the rich man chooses to ignore that which is right before his eyes, and Lazarus dies . . . goes up to heaven where he is greeted by Abraham, and is given the royal treatment.

Fast and rich living catches up the rich man and he dies pretty much at the same time that Lazarus dies; but instead of zipping up to heaven and being greeted by Abraham, the rich man tumbled on down to hell.  There in hell he is tormented . . . is use to the lousy conditions . . . feels very uncomfortable in his treatment and surroundings.  He is miserable.  In his misery . . . way off in the distance . . . he can see Lazarus . . . Lazarus who looks pretty happy and comfortable up there in heaven.  He begs Abraham to send Lazarus down and provide him with a little comfort.  Abraham refuses.

 Apparently the rich man realizes that he is not going to win this argument . . . he blew it despite knowing exactly what he was supposed to do . . . Moses had told him, the prophets had told him, his religion had told him—warned him, but he chose to ignore it . . . to be indifferent to it . . . to respond, “Whatever.”  “Whatever” got him to hell.  The lesson seems to be quite apparent to him as he is roasting away in hell.  With this knowledge he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them of their impending fate if they do not change.  Again, Abraham refuses.

Abraham refuses because, like the rich man, the brothers have all the information that they need.  Moses pretty much laid it out with the Ten Commandments . . . the prophets laid it out in their warnings and teachings . . . the religion pretty much spelled it out for them.  They have been told . . . they had been warned.  If they chose to be indifferent to that which has been shared . . . to spurn their noses up in the air, and respond, “Whatever” . . . then there is nothing that be done to save them of the impending discomfort of hell.  Abraham tells the rich man, “Whatever!”

Now one of the things we need to realize about the rich man—even in death—even in his place in hell—is that he never, ever says, I blew it!  He never acknowledges his indifference . . . never acknowledges that he could have made the difference in another person’s life.  Even after Abraham tells him no to his request of seeking comfort from Lazarus . . . he does not acknowledge that he blew it.  He does not take responsibility for himself . . . he basically says, “Whatever, but can we warn my brothers?”

That is a nice gesture, right?  The rich man is now thinking about someone else besides himself—right?  Not really, he is not concerned with the fact that it was his indifference that put him in hell . . . no, he is only concerned with saving the hide and hair of his brothers.  Again, the focus is quite selfish.

Abraham’s answer is, “Whatever . . . they have had their chance.”

 There is not a whole lot of grace in this parable.  Grace is free . . . but it does come with a price.  That price is in admitting one’s wrongs . . . admitting one’s own indifference . . . of taking responsibility . . . and, if a person is willing to do those things, grace is his or hers. 

How many of us, as kids, were warned by our parents to not do something because something bad could happen to us?  All of us.  The thing about this was that our parents did know what they were talking about because they had already done what they were telling us not to do.  Did any of us listen?  Nope . . . and then we came running in with a bloody nose, screaming and crying, only to hear our parents tell us, “I told you so.”

That is what the rich man encounters in Abraham . . . I told you so.  Abraham lets the rich man know that he had been warned and should have known better . . . not much grace in such a statement.

Indifference can make us blind . . . blind to the world around us . . . blind to the needs of others . . . blind to even the presence of Jesus in our midst.  Jesus had also told the parable of the sheep and goats . . . remember that parable?  The scene is heaven.  The people have been divided into two groups—the sheep and the goats.  Each group is brought before Jesus and asked when they had helped him in their lifetimes.  The sheep were welcomed into heaven with open arms; the goats, were not.

 Of course, both groups asked Jesus when they had seen him to help him.  To which he responded, when I was naked, poor, hungry, in prison . . . and, so on down the line.  The sheep had helped those who were less fortunate; the goats had done nothing.  The heavenly group rejoiced, the goats lamented and complained.  To the goats, Jesus responded, “Whatever.”

 This is not a parable about grace, this is a parable about indifference and its consequences.  Abraham lays it out plainly . . . there are no excuses when it comes to what God desires . . . God desires that you love God completely, and that you love your neighbor.  Your neighbor is all of God’s creation.  Abraham lets the rich man—and us—know that Moses shared this information, the prophets shared this information . . . and, though he does not say it, Jesus shared and lived this information.  It is pretty much common knowledge, especially for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus.  There are no excuses.  Being indifferent is not going to get you into heaven.

None of us can stand before the throne of God, stammering, “But, but, but . . .”  None of us can claim ignorance of what is expected of us when it comes to being faithful to God.  None of us can spurn God, turn our noses up, claiming indifference, by saying, “Whatever!”
So, here we are warned by Jesus himself . . . don’t let indifference ruin your life and put you in hell.  Open your eyes . . . see the world around you . . . see the hungry, the poor, the lost, the imprisoned, the lonely, the forgotten . . . see those who are on the outside of life . . . and, relate to them.  Help them.  Serve them.  Be unto them as Jesus has been unto you.  Don’t be indifferent.
That is a big task when one looks around the world in which we live . . . there are more problems than we can ever imagine . . . more than any one of us could ever solve . . . it is overwhelming.  How can any of us ever make a difference?  I don’t know, but I know we have to start where we are . . . one person at a time.  They are all around us—like Lazarus at the gate of the rich man’s home . . . just waiting.  Waiting to be invited in, cared for, and loved.  “Whatever” does not hack it in the eyes of Jesus or God . . . it beats the alternative—hell.  Amen.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Teardrop in the Sea

There are over a billion Facebook users in the world . . . and, the number is growing as you read this.  Over a billion!  That is a lot of people . . . I don’t think I could fit them into my living room.  Have you ever wondered who those people are?  Natalia Rojas, a freelance designer, did and the result was a patchwork quilt that looks more like the static one used to see on television at the end of the broadcast day.  The result of her work and effort is seen in the picture above.  How cool is that?  Over a billion profile pictures of Facebook users from all over the world!  If you look way over to the left side of the picture, down towards the bottom . . . yeah, that is me!
Actually, in a glance, you cannot distinguish one dot from another dot . . . it looks like static.  Believe it or not, if you are a Facebook user, you are in the mix.

Rojas did not break any rules . . . or laws . . . to complete her project.  Everyone who is in the static—I mean picture, still has his or her privacy protected.  The project does not store anyone’s private information, pictures, or names.  She states: “We’ve just round a harmless way to show 1,262,094,184 Facebook profile pictures and organize them in chronological order.”  Of course, when this is done so that all the profile pictures can be seen on one page—it looks like static.  As cool as that is, it is even cooler than you might think when you start clicking on the picture and zooming in . . . by zooming in you can actually see the individual profile pictures . . . all 1,262,094,184 of them!  And, yes, if you are a Facebook user, you are in there . . . somewhere.  If you would like to see for yourself, go to The Faces of Facebook page at http://app.thefacesoffacebook.com/, start having some fun.

In looking at the picture it made me feel pretty insignificant . . . just a teardrop in the sea of life.  I have always had a fairly decent ego, maybe not the biggest one in the room, but one that has served me well over the span of my life . . . but, this pops the ol’ ego balloon when realizing how many people there really are out there in the world.  I had always wanted to think of myself as being pretty special, but this picture lets me know that I am one tiny speck in the whole of life.  As I said, a teardrop in the sea.

I have told the congregations that I have served over the years that each and every one of us is made in the image of God.  I think I read that somewhere in the Bible.  And, I have also told them that there are no known pictures of Jesus in existence.  Yeah, I know, lots of you have pictures of him hanging on your walls . . . and, I know that the last words at the Last Supper were: “All you guys who want in the picture get on this side of the table.”  But, the fact is no one remembered to bring a camera on Jesus’ trip through history . . . not even an Etch-a-Sketch! 

Because of this I have always told these congregations that I believe that we can see what Jesus looks like.  Because we are all created in the image of God . . . and, because the Jesus in me recognizes the Jesus in others . . . all we have to do is to make one gigantic collage made from individual pictures of all of God’s children.  You have seen pictures like that before.  Time magazine did one years ago in which they took pictures of people from all over the world and created an image of planet earth.  From a distance it looked like a photograph of earth, but as one zoomed in it was obvious that the picture was made up of thousands of individual pictures.  In such a way, we see Jesus . . . we see God.

So, God looks like static. 

At least that is what one gets when combining over a billion individual pictures together on one page—static.  Imagine that . . . static!  I should have known.  When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, God told Moses that God’s names was YHWH (YahWeh).  YHWH means, loosely translated here in good ol’ Keener translation, “I am who I am.”  That really tells one a lot about God.  God is a mystery.  How foolish of me to think I could see the face of God in a massive photo collage.  What I see is static . . . but, isn’t that image of static perfect?

Well, I can handle that.  I can also handle sticking to my guns on this one . . . I still believe what I have told congregations . . . it takes all of us to see God . . . to see Jesus.  Together we are the whole of God’s creation . . . of God’s family.  That is why I like what Rojas says on her page: “Because there we are, all mixed up: large families, women wearing burkas, many Leo Messis, people supporting same-sex marriages or r4bia, Chihuahuas, Indian Gods, tourists pushing the leaning Tower of Pisa, selfies, newborns, Ferraris, studio black and white portraits, a lot of weddings but zero divorces, ID photos, faces framed in hearts, best friends, manga characters, politic logos, deep looks, love messages, eyes, memes, smiles, sweet grandparents and some not-yet-censured pictures.” 

It takes a lot of teardrops to make a sea . . . Rojas’ project reminds us that it takes all of us to see the whole.  We are better for it.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Round Here

Would you catch if I was falling
Would you kiss me if I was leaving
Would you hold me cause I'm lonely, without you
I said I'm under the gun around here
I'm lonely, lonely, lonely without you
And I can't see nothing
Nothing round here
(Round Here by the Counting Crows)

I have often wondered where it is that I belong.  For a long, long time I was jealous of my wife whenever she would say that she was a native of Paris, Kentucky . . . that she was from Kentucky.  I never could say that I was from any place in particular . . . that there was any place that I would call “home”.  Part of the reason for that is having grown up a military dependent and moving all of the time . . . part of that is being a minister and moving all of the time.  Thus it is that I think that I have always longed for a place that I could identify with . . . a place I could call home . . . a place where the people knew my name long after I am gone.  Because of that, I think I have spent a good portion of my life looking for that place . . . a place of identity.

The other morning, while driving to my job at the university in the big city near us, the song Round Here by the Counting Crows was playing.  This is a haunting song—especially if one listens to the lyrics, about a guy who encounters an almost mystical love in his life named Maria.  Maria is nothing like the people he has grown up with and lives with in his hometown.  She is a searching soul trying to find her place in the world.  He falls madly in love with her . . . but, she does not fit in.  She is not like everyone else . . .she is different.  And, as much as she tries to make the love work, she is floundering . . . she is dying.  Suddenly the guy is confronted with the paradox of what happens when someone cannot conform to the standards of a community . . . when the love of his life is not from “round here”.  It is a beautiful song, but a sad, haunting song about fitting in or losing that which is more important than conforming.  The key phrase of the song is “round here”.

We have all heard that phrase before . . . round here we do things a certain way . . . round here people think the same way . . . round here we take care of our own . . . round here we don’t care too much for strangers . . .round here . . .

I have spent a lifetime trying to understand what it means to be from “round here” . . . I have spent a lifetime attempting to fit into what it means to be from “round here” . . . a lifetime trying to find that identity . . . that place where I belong.  Now, trust me, I blend in pretty well wherever I happen to be; but, at the same time, I still want to fit in.  The problem is . . . I never quite feel like I fit in . . . feel like I belong.  I am sure I can blame that on a myriad of things . . . being raised a military brat, being a clergy . . . both are legitimate reasons for being there, while not being there.  I think that the bigger problem is that I am not from “round there”.

I knew a man, who had moved to a small rural community in which his wife and he had kids born to them.  He was the mayor of that the community for many years, raised his children in that community—watched them graduate from the local high school, served on the school board, and done just about every imaginable role a community could offer . . . but, even after he had lived there over two-thirds of his life—more than 50 years, people still referred to him and his wife as “those people”.  He was not from “round there” . . . he was not from there . . . he was not one of them.  How sad it is to spend one’s life dedicated to a community and yet, never have full membership in that community.

Poor Maria, despite her lover’s love, could never feel as if she fit in to the community in which she had moved . . . to fit in anywhere . . . and, sadly, she takes her life . . . maybe not physically, but she loses all sense of reality only to fade away.  It tough not being from “round here” . . .

And, so . . . I heard that song in the darkness of my drive to the big city . . . and, I wondered.  I wondered, will I ever really find that place where I belong . . . that place where I find my identity . . . that place where everyone knows my name and remembers when I am long, long gone?  In the darkness lots of things go through one’s mind . . . and, I wondered, have I finally found that I am from “round here”.  I don’t know . . .

What I do know is that . . . yes, I am living in the place that I feel I belong.  That long-held dream of Montana was real, and now that I live here in Big Sky country . . . I am where I belong . . . where God wants me to be.  I do not doubt that one bit.  Now, whether or not the small rural community where I live is where I belong . . . or any community for that matter . . . is where I belong, I cannot yet say.  At this time in my life, I do not feel as if I am from “round here”.  I have always felt like a sojourner passing through wherever I have lived.  That just might be the introvert in me speaking.

Yet, whether I am from “round here” or not, I am no different than any other person.  I want to be acknowledged . . . I want to be seen . . . I want to know that if I fall, will someone catch me.  It is tough when one is not from around here or from anywhere . . .

. . . it is to these that God asks us to be hospitable . . . to be welcoming . . . to receive into our lives whether they are here for a lifetime or only for a fleeting moment.  Both serve a purpose in our journey . . . both present possibilities and opportunities . . . both can be a blessing.  Yet, I am afraid, more often than not, that being from not “round here” is more of a handicap for those not from “round here” than a blessing.  Sometimes all it takes to feel as if one belongs . . . to feel as if one is from “round here” . . . is a simple acknowledgement.  Hopefully, no matter where “round here” might be, they do that “round here”.  Who knows . . . maybe the Counting Crows’ song wouldn’t have been so sad.


To hear the song, Round Here, go to:  <iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/7PAP3kN8J8w?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Friday, September 20, 2013

Last Chance

Over thirty-something years ago, I did not go screaming and kicking into marriage . . . though, I will admit I was pretty oblivious to what was really going on.  I recently read a quote by B.A. Billingsly that stated: “Marriage is our last best chance to grow up.”  Living in oblivion and ignorance, I gladly walked into marriage not knowing what a life-changing event it would be in the journey called life.  Little did I realize that I would have to sacrifice so much . . . who would have thought that I actually had to grow up.

I realize that the wife might have a difference of opinion about the “growing up” part of marriage . . . still wondering when it is going to actually happen; but, neither one of us is the same person who stood before the pastor and proclaimed, “I do.”  We have definitely grown . . . but, whether it is “up” or not . . . well, I think that the jury is still out on that one.  The wife is still waiting.

Now, trust me.  I am not the same person who agreed to all the fine print . . . all the stuff the pastor never stated in the ceremony . . . when he got married.  I agreed to all of the “for better or worse, richer or poorer” stuff accented by “until death us do part.”  After thirty-some years, four children, and entering into grandparent status, I know that I am not the same person I was when I boldly proclaimed my undying love and devotion to the wife . . . but, the wife reminds me—quite often, that I need to grow up.

I am not sure what growing up means.  Does it mean trying every new recipe that the wife finds?  Recipes that go beyond the basics of meat and potatoes?  Recipes that combine foods that God never intended to be combined and placed on a table?  Does it include eating chicken every three days?  Eating exotic fruits and vegetables that could never survive in Montana?  Having a meatless meal?  I get the feeling from watching the wife’s reaction to my reactions to some of the meals that she prepares that I need to grow up and eat grown-up food.  In my attempt to grow up . . . I have gagged down a whole bunch of so-called grown up food.  Is that what it means to grow up?

Is it changing one’s wardrobe?  Dressing more appropriate for one’s age?  I don’t know . . . the clothing I wore as a teenager was comfortable and practical.  I should know as I still have lots of it hanging in the closet and stashed in the drawer.  I don’t know . . . I am kind of a sweat shirt and jeans sort of guy . . . but, the wife hints that I should dress more appropriate for my age.  A wardrobe of high water pants, dock shoes, and a heck of a lot more color.  I thought the only colors there were for clothing was blue (as in jeans), gray, and white . . . black socks when going to anything that is formal or semi-formal.  At least she hasn’t asked for an ascot yet!  I get the feeling that I am several decades behind where I should be when it comes to growing up . . . but, hey!  I am comfortable.  How many people can proclaim that?

Is it giving up those habits I enjoy?  Having a couple of beers on the weekend . . . screaming during Big Red football games . . . corkscrewing the Kleenix into my nose instead of blowing like an adult . . . belching or farting when I am the only one in the room . . . rolling my eyes when in the company of idiots . . . flipping off drivers who irritate me when driving . . . giving up rock and roll music . . . teaching my granddaughter all of these wonderful habits.  Is that what it means to grow up . . . giving up that which makes other people unhappy or uncomfortable despite the fact that this is the way that God wired me?

Is it learning to say, “Yes, dear”?  Yes, dear, even when “dear” is wrong and way off base?  Is it learning to bite one’s tongue?  Of never winning an argument?

Is it not pouting when having to do something when you rather be doing something else?  Going shopping in shops that no man would ever be caught in . . . at least before he got married.  Is it feeling comfortable holding the wife’s purse while she shops?  Is it grinding the teeth when she drives?  Is it accepting the challenge when she threatens the children with, “Wait until your father gets home”?

I am not really sure what it means to grow up.  Most the people in my life, including the wife heartedly agreeing, would say that I have not grown up a whole heck of a lot . . . that I am still wandering around in the mid-1970s.  They are all still waiting . . .

. . . still waiting for me to grow up.  Still waiting for me to stop acting like I was stuck in the fifth grade.  Still waiting for me to stop throwing hissy fits when I am upset.  Still waiting for me to stop doing sophomoric gestures at irritating drivers.  Still waiting for me to quit being a wisecracking jerk.  Still waiting for me to stop picking my nose.  They are all still waiting.  Marriage hasn’t seemed to change a whole bunch in my life when it comes to growing up.  I guess most folks have decided that I blew that last chance.
Yet, I honestly think that I have grown up.

I see it in the way that I can sit for hours with my granddaughter, look her in the eyes, and respond—in all seriousness—to her babbling as if she is speaking to me in coherent sentences and language . . . in the way that I can treat her as a human being deserving of respect and love.  I see it in the way that I can have a major melt down, act like an ass with those I love, and that, in the end, they will still love me whether I love myself or not.  I see it in the fact that I might moan and groan at what my loved ones have done—including the wife, but that in the end . . . I still love them more than words can ever express.  I can see it in the efforts that I make . . . efforts like eating foods that smell, look, and taste funny . . .

I have grown up whether it seems like it or not to others or myself.  In particular, I have grown up in realizing how important those words were that I affirmed over thirty years ago . . . words to love and to honor . . . in sickness and health . . . in wealth and poverty . . . in good times and in bad times.  I am still here . . . still in the thick of my promise to love forever the woman I love.  I am still here.  I will not forget the promises I made to the wife in the company of our friends, family, and God.

One of my favorite lines from a movie came from the movie, Shall We Dance.  In that movie one of the characters—the wife of the husband who she suspects is cheating on her, but does not realize that he is taking dancing lessons for her—is in a bar, talking to a stranger about marriage.  In her brief monologue she says: “We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does anyone life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'." 

I have grown up.  I have grown up because I realize that it is my responsibility to be a witness to the life of the woman I love . . . the wife.  It is my responsibility to make sure that she is never forgotten . . . that she is remembered . . . by her children, family, friends, and anyone who will listen.  It is my responsibility to make sure that she is not forgotten . . . that she is remembered as not only my spouse, but as a beloved child of God.  I am to be her witness.

That is growing up.  Growing up is realizing that there is more to life than just yourself . . . it is remembering the “other” . . . it is saying, “I love you” no matter what.  This I do . . . this I do whether I feel like it or not, because it is true.  There are no rose colored glasses from which any of us can look at marriage . . . marriage is just what it promises to be . . . it is an adventure filled with just about everything life can throw at a couple.  Yet, despite it all, there is still love.  I recognize that . . . I don’t think that thirty-some years ago that would have been the case.  Sure, maybe in my mind, but not in the heart.  The heart is where it counts.  I realize that today.  What else matters?

Though I did not go into marriage kicking and screaming, I have done more than my fair share of kicking and screaming since I said, “I do.”  It sure doesn’t look much like growing up, but I am still here.  Marriage is work . . . ask anyone who is married.  I am still here . . . if I had known what marriage really involved thirty-some years ago . . . well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be here today.  Today I am the willing and glad witness to the woman I love.  If that is not growing up . . . well, then, I don’t know what is.