Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Life WIthout Left Turns

Richard Minheart sent me this article. It is written by Michael Gartner in USA Today.
My father never drove a car.

Well, that's not quite right.

I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

"In those days," he told me when he was in his 90s, "to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it."

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:

"Oh, bull——!" she said. "He hit a horse."

"Well," my father said, "there was that, too."

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none. My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

Our 1950 Chevy

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. "No one in the family drives," my mother would explain, and that was that. But, sometimes, my father would say, "But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we'll get one."

It was as if he wasn't sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown. It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother. So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father's idea. "Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember him saying once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the city limits — and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

The ritual walk to church

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.) He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home. If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church.

He called the priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. (In the evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.") If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream.

As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, "Do you want to know the secret of a long life?" "I guess so," I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

"No left turns," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"No left turns," he repeated. "Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic. As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn."

"What?" I said again. "No left turns," he said. "Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that's a lot safer. So we always make three rights."

"You're kidding!" I said, and I turned to my mother for support. "No," she said, "your father is right. We make three rights. It works."

But then she added: "Except when your father loses count."

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing. "Loses count?" I asked. "Yes," my father admitted, "that sometimes happens. But it's not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you're okay again."

I couldn't resist. "Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.

"No," he said. "If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can't be put off another day or another week."

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90. She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102. They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.) He continued to walk daily — he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he'd fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising — and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

A happy life

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news. A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, "You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred." At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, "You know, I'm probably not going to live much longer." "You're probably right," I said. "Why would you say that?" he countered, somewhat irritated. "Because you're 102 years old," I said. "Yes," he said, "you're right." He stayed in bed all the next day. That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night. He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said: "I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet." An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

"I want you to know," he said, clearly and lucidly, "that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have."

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can't figure out if it was because he walked through life.

Or because he quit taking left turns.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

God Bless Brandon Stout

Great Lakes Christian College student, and Michigan National Guardsman Brandon Stout was killed in Iraq last Monday. The GLCC website made this announcement:
We received word that Brandon Stout was killed in Iraq on Monday. Brandon was one of our students who planned to continue his schooling after his tour of duty. No other details are known atthis time. Audrey, his wide, lives in Grand Rapids. Audrey is attending GLCC and was one of our assistant volleyball coaches. For more information you can contact Wendy Ickes,
Channel 4 News in Detroit carried the following:
On Monday, Army Spc. Brandon Stout, 23, of Grand Rapids was killed when an explosive detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad.

Stout was assigned to the 46th Military Police Company, Michigan Army National Guard in Kingsford.Stout was a 2002 graduate of Kent City High School, about 20 miles north of Grand Rapids. After being activated in July, Stout deployed to Fort Dix, N.J., and reached Iraq in October. He was assigned to help Iraqi police with their duties, his mother-in-law, Laura Hinken, told The Grand Rapids Press.

Hinken, of Grand Rapids, said she regarded Stout as her own son.

"Oh, man, if I gave birth to him, I could not love him any more," she said. "You met him, and you liked him right away. He was the most wonderful husband that I could ask a daughter to have."

Her daughter, Audrey, who lives with Laura Hinken and her husband Gary, learned at the same time that her husband had died.

Audrey Stout said her husband joined the Guard in June 2003."

He just really felt called to serve," she said. "He had hoped to be a chaplain's assistant when he joined the Guard. But he was very proud to be an MP."

The pair met while attending Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing. They were married in May 2005 and she moved back in with her parents after he shipped out.

Stout's mother, Tracy Anderson, 39, of Kent City, said she was comforted by the fact that her son believed in what he was doing in Iraq.

"He knew it was his job and he was proud to serve," Anderson said. "He didn't complain. He didn't try to get out of it. He was very proud to want to go and serve."
Please join me in praying for Brandon's family.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

God is a Colt's Fan

Tom Brady , after living a full life, died. When he got to heaven, God was showing him around. They came to a modest little house with a faded Patriots flag in the window. "This house is yours for eternity, Tom" said God. "This is very special; not everyone gets a house up here." Tom felt special indeed, and walked up to his house. On his way up the porch, he noticed another house just around the corner. It was a three-story mansion with a blue and white sidewalk, a 50-foot tall flagpole with an enormous Colts flag, and in every window there was a Colts towel.

Tom looked at God and said, "God, I'm not trying to be ungrateful, but I have a question. I was an all-pro quarterback, I hold many NFL records, and I even won a few Superbowls."

God said, "So what's your point, Tom?"

"Well, why does Peyton get a better house than me?"

God chuckled, and said, "Tom, that's not Peyton's house, it's mine."

Friday, January 19, 2007

Is it . . . Manna?

Woke up this morning to a strange powdery white substance covering the ground. At first I thought . . . manna! But then I seemed to remember seeing something on the news about there being snow in Denver. Yeah, that's what it is. . . snow. The first snowfall of this winter in Northeastern Indiana. Glad I didn't go spend a load of bucks on a new snow blower.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Go Colts!!!!

This is the year for Manning and the boys. Go Colts! Beat the Patriots!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

One Messed Up Church Potato

Heard one this week that makes me scratch my head. I imagine it makes Christ weep, though.

Seems an area church was dissatisfied with their preacher. I don't know the reasons. I don't know the situation. In any event, two weeks ago the elders of the church fired him. He then exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to save his job by calling for a congregational vote of confidence. The vote took place last Sunday. A couple of observations:
  1. Since when can the congregation of a church trump the God ordained leadership? If the overseers of the church decide it is time to go, then isn't it time to go? Somehow I can't see the church in Ephesus saying to Paul, "Hey we've took a vote on this Jerusalem trip you have planned, and we decided that you're not going."
  2. What genius wrote up a contract with a clause in it that allows for the neutering of the church's leaders in the first place? Maybe the same guy that decided it would be a good idea to take a survey to see whether people prefer singing hymns or choruses.
  3. What sort of preacher would think there is any way to come out of this situation with an effective ministry? Whatever the outcome of the vote, the congregation will be divided. This job ain't worth saving, methinks.
In case you're wondering (and I know you are) the vote was 38-36. In favor of keeping the preacher. So, the church is left with an emasculated eldership, a divided body, and a disgruntled pastor.

In their book, Simple Church, Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger compare the unity of the body of Christ to a Mr. Potato Head toy. (You've got to read the book to really get the metaphor, but stick with me here.) You remember Mr. Potato Head, don't you? When properly put together, he's one dapper tuber. But, as often happens, a youngster puts the nose where the arm goes, and the eyes where the feet belong, and Senor Patata Cabesa ends up looking . . . well . . . messed up. Were he a living sentient being, Brother Head would be in real trouble, unable to see, walk, talk, etc.

When the body of Christ lacks unity, they are messed up. I don't know who is to blame for the mess at our sister church, I really don't. But if my friends over there can't get it together, I suspect their going to find themselves knee deep in the mashed potatoes. And, that is truly sad.

Bush / Condi Rice Wiretap Leaked!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What Really Matters

In his book, Just Walk Across the Room, Bill Hybels writes:
. . . when I was in my early twenties and a student a Trinity College, my professor, Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian delivered lessons that inspired me, convicted me, and compelled me to action. To a group of us who were leading a high school ministry at the time, Dr. B said, "Throughout the course of your life, you're gonna give yourself to something. You will. All people do. They give their lives to pleasure or possessions, to the attainment of popularity or to the acquisition of more power. But always to something."

As he plowed ahead, I got sidelined by my own questions. What was I giving my life to? What was the one great something I was living for? I began to wonder whether I was really as concerned about other people as I said I was or was I just hiding my self-interest behind a facade of interest. My heart shuddered as I stared at the truth of what captivated most of my thoughts. It wasn't exactly laudable.

During that season of life, I had been anticipating a lucrative career in business. But as Dr. B's words crept deeper into my heart, I was suddenly and powerfully drawn to one prevailing preoccupation - people. People who face a Christless eternity. People who are ostracized and isolated and hopeless. People who are living for achievements that do not fulfill, accolades that never satisfy, and money that doesn't bring genuine happiness.

I wanted to approach life like Jesus had. The mind of Christ hadn't been consumed by business gains or money or fame but instead was endlessly focused on one thing: people - those who were lost and found, young and old, rich and poor, sought-after and rejected. Never had anyone displayed such a prodigious obsession with people as did Jesus. And in his customary straightforward style, Dr. B reminded me that Jesus' expectation that his followers share this magnificent obsession.

"True followers of Christ who really get it right," he said, "give themselves to people. Most importantly, they give themselves to pointing people to faith in Christ. That is the highest and best use of a human life - to have it serve as a signpost that points people toward God." Dr. B summed up my entire belief system with a brilliant flash of insight: if you really believe in the redeeming and transforming power of God's presence in a person's life, then the single greatest gift you can give someone is an explanation of how to be rightly connected to him.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Atta Boys for Ripken & Gwynn

Baseball's iron man, Cal Ripken, Jr., and the baby-faced Tony Gwynn were elected into the Hall of Fame today. Succeeding on the first ballot, Ripken and Gwynn are no-brainers. Way to go , fellas!

Left out in the cold was Mark McGwire who finished with less than half of the necessary votes required to send him to Cooperstown. Ninth in the balloting, McGwire was trailed by Tommy John, who was immortalized by a surgery that bears his name and Steve Garvey, whom I will never forgive for what he did to my Cubs in 1984.

According to AP writer, Hank Bloom, "McGwire's dismal showing raises doubts about whether he will ever get elected. . ." I hope he doesn't. I agree with the writer who said something like, "McGwire told congress he wanted to forget the past. When I cast my vote, I'll make sure I do just that."

If Pete can't get it, Mac shouldn't either.

Apprentice Whiners

That high-pitched squeal you heard coming from your television Sunday night wasn't feedback. It was whining.

Mrs. Frankly and I viewed the season premier of The Apprentice Sunday night. The Donald took his show to LosAngeles, and a new crop of billionaire wanna-bes began vying for the opportunity to grovel at the well-heeled feet of the coiffured one.

This season features a battle between the "haves" and the "have nots." Now, I am a big fan of the show, but I have to say the whole concept of "haves" and "have nots" is pretty disturbing to me. Basically, it works this way: the winning team sleeps in a mansion; the losing team sleeps in tents.


Last night Frank and his losing team whined about having to use flashlights, about the sink not draining, about sleeping on the cold hard ground.
Give me a break! I've met people who would love to have a tent to sleep in. Just across town in South Central, I'm sure there were plenty of people trying to sleep on park benches, in buses and in subway stations. The "haves" and the "have nots?"

Everyone of Trump's hopefuls are "haves." If they can't figure that out in very short order, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to stomach this season.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Goalin', goalin', goalin' . . . keep those goals a rollin'

I had to fill out some information for a loan application for our church today. One of the questions they asked was this: "List the short term (2-5 years) and long term (5+ years) goals for this ministry." I'll admit, I really struggle with a question like that.

Ten years ago I arrived at Butler Church of Christ full of dreams and ambitions. I put together an aggressive and visionary plan for our church's ministry. I listed out a series of goals and aspirations that moved us from a broken and beat up church of 100+ souls to a church of over 300 in five years. Didn't happen. Instead, it has taken ten years for our church to double in Sunday morning attendance.

I've come to realize that doubled attendance in a no-growth community is nothing to sneeze at. In ten years our church not only doubled in attendance, but also:
  • Seen dozens of people come to Christ.
  • Watched marriages be healed, sins be conquered, lives be changed.
  • Begun and sustained fourteen small groups in which half our church participates.
  • Purchased three additional city lots and are finalizing the purchase of a fourth.
  • Greatly increased the amount of money we send to our missionaries.
  • Sent multiple teams on short-term mission trips.
  • Doubled the size of our building and parking lot.
  • Tripled the number of staff members.
  • Caught up with technology going from one phone and a single computer to an actual phone system and networked office.
Some good things have happened. And, they've happened in spite of my failed grand master plan.

What we have done, and done ruthlessly I might add, is eliminated any barriers to growth that we've found. I learned from Rick Warren that, given the right environment, a healthy church naturally grows. Its a goldfish thing. My kids won a goldfish at the county fair. We put it in a fish bowl and sat it on the counter over the winter. The next spring we put it in my neighbor's koi pond. The fish, which had stayed about the same size in its counter top abode, grew enormous in its new digs. Given the right environment the church will grow, too.We've tried to create a growth friendly environment at BCC.

So, I guess I'm not so much of a goal setter as I am a growth sustainer. Still, I can't help but feel a little inadequate or even guilty when I read about setting goals. Am I alone in this?

Steve came to our area to pastor a sister church a few years after I did. I called and invited him to lunch. He showed up with his five page plan for church growth. It was all detailed and filled with goals, short term and long. I felt guilty as I read it. Where was my plan? What about my goals? I haven't heard from Steve in a while. I've since heard that his plan was about as prescient as mine.

So just what is the "role of the goal?" Everyone has them. What sort of goals should I be setting for our church? And if I am not, am I somehow blowing it?