Thursday, August 22, 2019

Some thoughts on my thirty-second wedding anniversary

I shouldn’t be, but I’m filled with overwhelming sadness today.

It started two nights ago when Tracy and I were out for dinner. I left the restaurant feeling a little discomfort. I told her, “My gall bladder hurts.” It reminded me of the sort of thing my dad used to say: “Did your bladder splatter? Did your liver quiver?” He was full of ready-made goofy Dad-isms. For whatever reason I thought about him on Tuesday night and it made me sad.

After dinner we went to Burlington Coat Factory and bought some clothes for our youngest. He went off to graduate school and, for the first time in twenty-four years, his momma wasn’t able to do any school shopping for him. She made up for it by buying some new clothes for his first day of school. (Do other grad students’ moms do that?).

I bought a new pair of jeans to replace some of the loose-fitting jeans I haven’t worn since I began focusing a bit more on my health. For the next two days all I wanted to do was buy things. I looked at classified ads for a new truck. I put shoe cleaner in my Amazon shopping cart and hovered over the purchase button before deleting it. I researched updating my Apple Watch, and nearly bought a new pair of running shoes.

Was I trying to numb the grief I was feeling? I’m not sure.

Today is our thirty-second wedding anniversary. I am incredibly blessed and grateful for her. Last night we sat on the deck listening to Earth Wind and Fire’s Live in Velfarre. We ate pork chops and corn on the cob. She made blueberry muffins for dessert. When I woke up this morning I made us bacon sandwiches and then we went our separate ways. She had to work; so did I.

As I left the house I couldn’t stop thinking about my parents. They died ten days apart earlier this year. They were in their early seventies and were married for fifty-four years. The thought hovering just beneath the surface of the lump in my throat and the eyes threatening to erupt in tears is this: if my parents are an indication of what’s in store for us, then Tracy and I only have twenty-two more years together.

That’s not enough time.

I can’t imagine life without this woman.

The thought is made bearable only by the fact that I have no choice but to bear it.

I wonder how many more times grief will assault an otherwise perfectly fine day. How many more times will I be driven to tears on days I should celebrate. Birthdays. Christmases. Weddings. Anniversaries. The pain of losing mom and dad will get better. I believe that. Others have confirmed it.

I just hope that, as the years pass and we see our children get married, have children of their own, and build lives that validate the sacrifices we made when we were their age, that I don’t continue to be plagued by the dread that the love of my life and I are one year closer to our last.

Because I love her.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Our Family Farmall Comes Home

In the mid-1950s my grandpa went to the Ford dealer in Avilla, Indiana and traded in his
F20 for a Farmall Super M. He farmed with that tractor for a couple decades before selling it to
my dad. Dad used it until 1987 when he sold the farm and went to Great Lakes Christian College to become a

Our neighbor, Kenny, bought the tractor and used it until he passed away. His brother, John, inherited it and parked it in his shed where it sat unused for 24 years. So forgotten was the old Farmall that at some point a mouse crawled down the muffler, through an open valve, and into the number four cylinder where it made a nest.

Eventually Leo Sarazine bought the tractor and brought it to his farm shop to restore it. My cousin got word that Leo had Grandpa’s M, so I called and asked him what he planned to do with it. He told me he had rebuilt the motor, was planning to paint it, and then sell it. Without asking his price I told him, “I want it.”

My son and I headed to Auburn, Indiana last Friday to bring the Super M home. It’s special because it is a family tractor, but also because Leo worked with my dad at International Harvester in Ft. Wayne. His sons – one now an actuary and the other a physician – rode the school bus with me and my sister.

I’m a preacher in Lansing, Michigan, and some of the folks in my church think a tractor-loving pastor is a curiosity. I suppose they’re right. It is a bit odd when I drive our other family tractor – a 1962 Oliver 1600 – to the Speedway gas station to get a 44-ounce fountain pop. But there’s something special about sitting on a seat where my Dad sat, or putting my hands the same place Grandpa put his as he stared at the other end of the field for hours at a time. If you own some “family iron” I don’t have to explain it; you already know what I mean.

Grandpa’s long gone. Dad passed away April 10. Mom followed him to Heaven eleven days later on Easter Sunday morning. Though they didn’t live to see the tractor back in the family, they knew we had found it and were planning to bring it home. Dad wasn't with me in the truck last weekend when we made the 90-minute drive back to my Hoosier homeland. But he was with us Friday when a Weller once again hit the starter switch. And he'll be with us every time we hear those four cylinders bark to life.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Christmas In Lansing

If your family is looking for amazing activities this Christmas, check out, the new website created by South Lansing Christian Church.

Our church created it as a gift to our community. We wanted to have one place where Lansing residents could go to find the best holiday traditions the Capital City has to offer.

Sorted into five categories, including Family Fun, Arts and Music and Christmas Worship, there is something for everyone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Is heartburn on the menu this Thanksgiving?

Will the 2018 election intrude on turkey day the way the 2016 election did? That’s the question the Dallas Morning News asked in an article highlighting a study by researchers Keith Chen and Ryan Rhola.

The researchers compared cell phone location data and voting data to analyze how long travelers spent celebrating Thanksgiving with their relatives. Comparing 2015 data with 2016 they observed that families with members who have different political leanings “shortened their dinners by 30 to 50 minutes compared with those who traveled to districts with similar leanings.”

If “family is forever,” we shouldn’t let something as temporary as an election drive a wedge between the most important people in our lives. Here’s a list of things you can do or talk about this Thanksgiving instead of talking about politics:

  • Talk about things you’re thankful for – duh!
  • Watch the Lions lose. Again.
  • Is there evidence that Paul McCartney died and the Beatles left a series of hidden clues to tell fans?
  • Debate who will get dissed by the College Football Playoff Committee.
  • Tell deer hunting stories (aka, lies).
  • Back in the day when we were kids is always a fun topic.
  • If you could invite any person in history to Thanksgiving who would it be?
  • If Jesus took the Myers-Briggs test where would he end up?
  • Share serial killer fun facts.
  • Tryptophan. Is it a thing?
  • Play euchre, Monopoly and other games that make your cousin go rage monster and flip the table.

Letting politics affect your family is giving too much power to those who are already the most powerful among us. Champions of diversity rightly suggest that our variety make us stronger. That we ought to celebrate what makes us uniquely different. Let's bring that same tolerance with us to the dinner table this Thanksgiving.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Other Casualty of the Kavanaugh Hearing: Statesmanship

In the spring of 2015 my wife and I were part of an excursion to Washington, D.C. that included private tours of Mt. Vernon and the U.S. Capital building. Each tour was at night and was magical. The lamplight at Mt. Vernon cast long shadows across hallways George Washington once walked. The Capitol tour was just as memorable. Our footfalls and hushed conversation were the only noise as we walked the empty building’s marble halls.

Our host was a retired congressman from Ohio. As a former member, he retained some congressional privileges including access to the floor of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. As we walked from the House to the Senate I caught up with the congressman. I told him, “I wish there were more statesman in congress. People who would work together, compromise and govern for the good of the American people.”

He stopped, turned, and looked at me as though I had suggested he was the second shooter on the grassy knoll and thundered, “The object isn’t to compromise. The object is TO WIN!”

I thought a lot about that conversation as I watched the Kavanaugh hearing yesterday.

The hearing’s partisan entrenchment revealed two political parties less interested in governing than they are winning.

The Republicans aren’t interested in the truth of what happened or didn’t happen to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the summer of 1982. They want to win, which means putting Kavanaugh on the bench before the midterm election. Losing control of the Senate means losing control of the judicial nominating process. Their initial refusal to delay the Kavanaugh vote to allow for an FBI investigation isn’t about their indignation of Democratic obfuscation and delay. It’s about concluding the process by either putting Kavanaugh on the bench or by allowing enough time to vet and ram through another Republican-approved candidate before November 6.

Democrats, wanting to win just as badly, also put partisanship before principles. Before they read a page of Kavanaugh’s writings, or before a single senator met him or had a conversation with him, most Democrats declared their opposition to Kavanaugh’s appointment. Senator Graham noted in his eruption yesterday that only 23 minutes after President Trump named Kavanaugh his nominee Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared, “I’ll oppose judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything. I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less.”

Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday Kavanaugh protested,
A Democratic senator on this committee publicly referred to me as evil. Evil. Think about that word. And said that those that supported me were ‘complicit and evil.’ Another Democratic senator on this committee said, ‘Judge Kavanaugh is your worst nightmare.’ A former head of the Democratic National Committee said, ‘Judge Kavanaugh will threaten the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come.’
Is it any surprise GOP Senators questioned the motives and methods of Democratic efforts to insert Dr. Blasey Ford into the nomination process at the eleventh hour? That they announced their opposition to Kavanaugh before testimony was even scheduled revealed that they, like the Republicans, want to win. 

Democratic protests are ignored by Republicans. Republican intransigence is criticized by Democrats. And why not? When the object is winning instead of governing politicians refuse to listen to reason, to one another, and to public outcry. Listening leads to compromise. And compromise isn’t winning. Lesson: ideology trumps competence when advice and consent is no longer about getting the most competent court but advancing a particular ideology.

It didn’t use to be this way.

Interviewed by Amy Wang of the Washington Post, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said she wished the nomination process were less partisan: “The way it was, was right. The way it is, is wrong … 
I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was.”  Ginsburg was confirmed with a 96-3 vote in spite of there being 43 Republican Senators in the 103rd Congress. Did the Republicans have ideological differences with Clinton’s nominee? Certainly. But the chief qualifications expected of previous nominees was whether or not a jurist was unbiased, fair and qualified. Not if they met the specific ideological litmus tests of either party.

Those days are long gone.

Our moonlight tour in 2015 was actually my second trip to Washington. In 1985, about the time Judge Kavanaugh was getting blackout drunk (or not) at Yale University, I was a high school senior. Former Congressman Dan Coats invited students from each high school in his Indiana district to Washington for a week. We met Richard Lugar, as noble a public servant as Indiana ever sent to the Senate. One of our group asked him to explain his thoughts on judicial appointments. He said, “Elections have consequences. The Constitution affords Presidents the privilege of choosing the justices they want, and the Senate’s role is solely to evaluate their qualifications, not whether or not they are ideologically aligned with the majority party.”

Senator Lugar’s career ended abruptly in 2013 when he lost a primary election to a Tea Party backed candidate who became a nightmare for the GOP before being defeated by his Democratic challenger.

What Dick Lugar experienced is what I suspect will happen to Brett Kavanaugh (rightly or wrongly) in this toxic political climate where statesmen are an endangered species, Supreme Court nominees are the majority party’s trophies, and the object is no longer advice and consent but winning at all costs.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

My Take on the Gun Debate: Tool or Toy

In recent years I have tried to avoid divisive political issues. As a Christ follower commissioned as a pastor, my passion is to reconcile people to Jesus. To that end, I don't want to create barriers between me and someone who doesn't know Jesus. Though I try to carefully calibrate what I post on Facebook (I don't always succeed), I feel a bit more freedom to address such issues in this forum.

I've been often asked – more so recently – about my take on the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the ensuing gun debate. Here it is. (These thoughts are mine alone. They do not represent the church that employs me. I do not expect everyone to agree with me, and I respect my fellow firearm owners, hunters, and sportsman who have a different take.)

With every firearm in my gun safe I ask, "Is it a tool or a toy?" 

Every firearm I own is a tool. My family has shotguns and large caliber rifles for hunting. None of them are semi-automatic. We do own a semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle for target shooting. It is used for practice so we can become more proficient with our deer rifles. As a small-bore rifle it is not considered a deadly weapon in the same sense as large-bore semi-automatic rifles. We also have handguns. Two are .22 caliber target pistols; two are for home defense. Every firearm we own is locked in a gun safe.

Would I like to have an AR style rifle (called "modern sporting rifles" by the people who market them)? Absolutely! I've fired them at the range several times, and they are FUN to shoot! Really fun. But here's the deal: for civilians like me they're not a tool; they're a toy. (Stick with me. The understandable reaction is to say one should not call a weapon that can be used to murder 17 people at a high school a toy.)

Ask firearm enthusiasts why they want to own at AR and though it might take a bit to get to the root reason, it boils down to this: They're cool. I want one. And the Second Amendment says I can have one.

Some claim, "I hunt with it." Many do hunt with modern sporting rifles, I agree. But anything a hunter can do with an AR-15 can be done with a rifle like the Remington Woodmaster 750. It is a semi-automatic, large-bore centerfire rifle that does everything a modern sporting rifle does except look cool and serve as a platform for extreme military-style customization. You will never see a Woodmaster in a Call of Duty video game. They're not nearly cool enough.

Some will say, "I want an AR for home protection." Most gun enthusiasts – AR owners included – admit it isn't the best choice for home defense. Rounds from an AR can pass through walls and harm the very people you're trying to protect. Larger than a pistol, it is less maneuverable in tight quarters like a bedroom hallway. If one insists on a long gun rather than a pistol, home defense experts agree that best long gun for home protection is a slide action shotgun, commonly referred to as a pump shotgun. For one simple reason: the sound it makes when a round is chambered. My police officer friend once told me, "When a thief is climbing through your window and he hears someone rack a pump shotgun, he s---- his pants!"

The other widely-used argument in favor of AR ownership is this: we need the AR to protect Americans from government tyranny. I am not a historian so I will leave the merits of that argument's second-amendment premise to constitutional scholars. That being said, we long ago passed the point at which a well-regulated militia could seriously challenge the United States military.

The modern infantry soldier employs body armor, night-vision capabilities, advanced communication, specialized tactical training, and a military version of the AR-15 that is capable of fully automatic gunfire. That – together with grenades, mortars, mines, tanks, missiles, and aircraft – pretty much ensures that citizen militias armed with modern sporting rifles would be only slightly more effective against the most powerful army on the planet than my buddies and I armed with our duck hunting shotguns.

So, to review: there are hunting weapons that are equal to or superior to the AR; there are home defense weapons that are superior to the AR; and, the argument against a tyrannical government is specious.

There is really only one argument in favor of the AR that is irrefutable: I want one and the constitution says I can have one.

Is it legal? Yes. Is it your right? Yes. Are the massive majority of AR owners responsible and incapable of committing illegal, let alone heinous, acts with their firearms? Yes.

That being said, there is a word for someone who insists on possessing a toy simply because he wants one: a child. When a child exhibits that kind of behavior we call it childlike. But too many gun owners embroiled in the AR debate stamp their feet and with red faces insist on their rights. In adults we call that kind of behavior childish.

I doubt that banning so-called assault rifles will stop mentally deranged Americans from killing other Americans. The problem is far more complex and will require multifaceted solutions including increased mental health funding, increased age restrictions for firearm purchases, parents who actually parent, and a complete rethinking of the way gun violence is glorified in movies and video games.

All of those are possible solutions that need careful consideration and could be enacted, I believe, without infringing on my right to own firearms that serve as tools rather than toys.

To my fellow firearm owners who stand on their constitutional right to purchase modern sporting rifles my question is this: Can you demonstrate for me how an AR serves you as a tool? The vast majority, I think, will be hard pressed to demonstrate a need for an AR-15. Lacking the ability to demonstrate its utility, I must therefore assume that you must simply want it.

It is difficult for me to understand how wanting a toy – one that can be used to commit rapid-fire murder, anyway – is morally defensible as a singular justification for owning one even if it is legal to do so.

If restricting AR ownership is the price I am asked to pay for a child to feel even a little bit safer in his classroom, as an adult I am willing to pay it.

Monday, September 25, 2017

In memory of Angie Uber

When I arrived as a fresh-faced, newly minted preacher at the Butler Church of Christ twenty years ago, it didn’t take me long to realize that Angie Uber knew a lot more about being a church secretary than I did about being a pastor. Angie passed away last week at age 48. Cancer might have defeated her body, but I feel certain that her spirit thrived.

The truth is, I probably never would have gone to that church if it wasn’t for Angie. It had only been a few weeks since Brother Dale resigned before I applied for the position. The fact is, the church hadn’t even advertised they were looking for a new preacher yet, but I knew Dale, heard he had left, and called him up. He told me to go for it, so I sent a cover letter, a resume, and a couple of propaganda pieces that I thought would make me look better than I really was.

Angie was the first person at the church to see the envelope. As I recall, she didn’t even open it, but it was obvious from the shape and the addressee that someone was applying for the job. She could have tossed it in a desk drawer – they hadn’t even begun taking applications, after all. But, as she later told me, she sensed the Holy Spirit telling her she should take my resume to Terry Ulm’s house where the elders were meeting that night. She went out of her way – about ten miles out of her way – and interrupted the elders with her you-aren’t-going-to-believe-what-I-have-here story.

I am so glad she did.

Ron and Angie, and their children, Josh, Cameron and Kaitlin welcomed us into their Butler Church of Christ family. Their kids became friends with ours. My wife, Tracy, and Angie commiserated about the challenges of “dealing with Frank,” one as a wife, the other as church secretary. Angie’s office was a nonsense-free zone., and she tried hard to train me right. When I was annoying, she told me so. When I was unreasonable, she told me that, too. Between my red beard and her red hair there existed the potential for some hot tempers, but I don’t recall that there ever were. (She might tell you differently, but that’s how I remember it.) Any peace that existed between us was because she wasn’t just passionate about her faith, but also because she embodied the grace of the One who was the object of her faith.

Those were some challenging days for our church, and I couldn’t have navigated them without her. She knew everyone in town. She knew their families, where their kids went to school, what jobs they had, and where they went to church (or didn’t). She became the standard by which each of the secretaries I have been privileged to work for is compared. And even after her family moved away, and after our family moved away, Angie and Ron continued to bless the ministry of the Weller family by supporting the work of my missionary daughter, Abigail.

Angie and I haven’t seen each other in years. Though the Weller women stayed in touch with the Uber women, my path and her path diverged. And yet, I miss her more now, knowing that she is gone.

No…not gone.

Just … not here.

She is not gone; she has gone on. Gone on to see her faith become sight; her hopes become fulfilled; her devotion rewarded. In the 175-year-old building that housed our church, our offices were adjoining, separated only by a door. And, really, that’s a little like the way it is now. Angie’s home and mine are separated by death’s door. On this side is the pain of saying goodbye, the heartache of all the “ought-to-have-beens,” and family and friends who long for one more conversation, one more touch, one more moment with her.

But, even though I miss her, I don’t wish her back.

I’m a lot older than I once was and, hopefully, a little wiser. I know that on Angie’s side of death’s door there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain,” for God has wiped away ever tear from her eyes. And when her closed eyes opened, and her cancer free mind cleared, she was with Jesus.

And that is just as it ought to be.