Tag Archives: love

Social Distancing as an Act of Love — A Sermon in Absentia

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PC: Lipscomb University (Kristi Jones)

I spent a significant number of years delivering Sunday morning sermons, but that is no longer part of my life. Even if it was, our local churches are canceling services due to the pandemic, so where would I deliver a sermon anyway? But a sermon came to me nonetheless, so I will just deliver it right here. I have titled it: Social Distancing as an Act of Love—A Sermon in Absentia.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (NRSV)

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The Incarnation serves as the foundation of the Gospel. God came and “lived among us”—or as Eugene Peterson put it, “moved into the neighborhood.” God’s love is such that God simply could not stand to be at a distance. God came near.

GOD with us. God WITH us.  God with US.

God did this in the humanity of Jesus, and in Jesus we see “the image of the invisible God.” We see what a walking-talking-breathing God looks like, and in Jesus we encounter one who notices the unnoticeable, one who touches the untouchable.

So we aren’t even surprised when we hear Jesus tell a story in Luke 15 about a shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine safe sheep and goes traipsing all over the countryside to find the goofy one who wandered off. And how he is giddy with joy as he carries it home draped across his shoulders. Of course he does. That’s God. So we are even less surprised at the follow-up story about a woman who still has nine coins but turns the house upside down looking for the one that is MIA. And how she throws a party like she won the lottery when she found that crazy coin of hers. Of course she did. That’s God.

But Jesus can be a little hard to figure at times.

That same Jesus, the one who moved into the neighborhood, that God-image who chases after lost folks and embraces them in bear hugs says nutty stuff like, “It’s better for you that I leave.” Um, what? He was apparently serious. (If you don’t believe me, check out John 16:7, MSG.) And back in Luke 15, right after those stories that picture God on a search and rescue, Jesus offers a third story where God is a dad who loses a son—and just lets him walk away. Doesn’t even follow him down the driveway.

That’s what has me thinking today. Love typically seeks people out, brings people close with hugs and high fives and holy smooches. But maybe sometimes love allows for distance.

In this time of pandemic, we are advised that the way to love your neighbor is to keep them at a distance. That feels so counterintuitive because, well, it typically is. But maybe not always.

My wife and I live in Nashville, Tennessee. Our oldest daughter lives in Los Angeles. Our youngest daughter lives in San Antonio. Our family practices social distancing all the time now. How did we let all that happen? Every once in a while it dawns on me how wrong that seems, and every once in a while it really hits me hard how much better it would be to be in close proximity to both of our sweet daughters. But more often I remember that it isn’t always right or better simply to be in the same zip code.

Love might can be gauged, but I don’t recommend a tape measure. Sometimes love draws near. Sometime love stands at a distance.

The last official event before spring break at Lipscomb University as announcements were made about an extended break and online classes was the Welcome to Our World Fashion Show, hosted by our Office of Intercultural Development. It was as beautiful as I anticipated. In a time of global pandemic, it felt so appropriate to recognize that our world is bound together in important ways. The closing line of the show reminded us that there is UNITY in DIVERSITY. That there can be a oneness in our many-ness.

I guess what I am saying is that from time to time there can also be a knitting together of hearts in a period of social distancing, as strange as that may seem.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always ‘me first,’
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
 – 1st Corinthians 13: 4-7 (MSG)

Their Eyes Were Watching God

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“The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His.  They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Read more novels. That was #2 on my list of 20 goals for 2020, and I have read four so far, including the classic from Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was probably Oprah’s made-for-television adaptation in 2005 that placed the captivating title in my subconscious, and I am glad. Whatever made me pick up a copy at the used bookstore has my deep gratitude. What a powerful and beautiful story.

I won’t soon forget the primary characters, including the moment I walked with them into the line that generated the title of the book. Having lived through a powerful hurricane myself, sitting in the dark with Janie and Tea Cake as a reader was easy to do, straining and staring in awe at God.

Nor will I forget the Afterword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., as he attempted to share the author’s complicated life and legacy. Gates introduced me to Hurston, Barnard grad with multiple Guggenheims, prominent author and figure of the Harlem Renaissance, who died an ignominious death in a welfare home and was buried in an unmarked grave. Gates showed me Hurston, criticized by her rival, Richard Wright, for the way she approached Black America in her novels, who responded that she wanted to write a novel that was “not a treatise on sociology.”  As Alice Walker (The Color Purple), whom Hurston inspired, wrote, Hurston portrayed “a sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings.” Black people as, in a word, people.

It took all this to help me understand what captivated me so about this particular love story. I appreciate treatises on sociology, particularly those that help me develop a greater sense of race consciousness, but this was quite simply—and by “simply” I mean that highest compliment of somehow making the ineffable obvious—a human love story.

It helps me remember today that, although Black History Month is now over for 2020, black history month is, in fact, every month.

Kindertransport

Blog Pic (Kindertransport)

I caught a bit of the Oscars last night and found myself wondering if I might see someone from the Lipscomb University Department of Theatre walk the Hollywood red carpet someday. I am a big fan of Lipscomb Theatre! On Saturday evening my wife and I went to campus to see Kindertransport, and although I expected to be impressed, I was not prepared for the show. When I first saw the name, Kindertransport, I envisioned a play about a school bus. Oh no. Kindertransport is an intense and powerful story.

The story is historical fiction. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, thousands of Jewish children refugees were hastily transported out of Germany to escape the coming savagery. As Dr. Jay Geller, Professor of Modern Jewish Culture at Vanderbilt University who served as theater consultant wrote in the program, “German Jewish parents and their children faced the terrible dilemma of choosing between a perilous staying together and a temporary—quite possibly permanent—separation as well as having to imagine the parent’s possible death and the child’s possible survival.”

Kindertransport is a vivid portrayal of how that might have played out for one family. The entire cast was amazing, and thanks to their masterful storytelling, I cannot stop thinking about it.

As a former history teacher, I am always stunned when I learn of moments in world history that I had never heard of before. I learned on Saturday evening that the United Kingdom welcomed 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children before Nazi Germany closed the borders prior to the outbreak of World War II but that the United States rejected legislation to do the same based on public opinion polls. The talk-back after the show shared that a large number of Jewish refugee children actually arrived at an American port but were sent back to Germany because of the policy. How many of those children were murdered as a result of that decision?

It was easy to connect the Kindertransport story line with our friend at Pepperdine, Hung Le, simply substituting a different place and a different war (Vietnam), and how his beautiful story came to bless so many lives (read it HERE). It made me wonder what stories are being crafted today?

That is the potential power of an incredible story like Kindertransport. Aching with that mother, making it up as she went along, hoping to save her child. Aching with that little girl, also making it up as she went along, trying to survive on her own far too soon. Aching with that good soul, also in uncharted waters, attempting to welcome a stranger in need.

How will that powerful story change me?

Father and Daughters

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A lifetime ago now, when my youngest daughter was in kindergarten, I took her to the theater to see The Wild Thornberrys Movie. I don’t remember much about the movie, which is too bad since I now realize that the movie was set in Kenya, a place on the other side of the planet that that daughter and I would later visit together. But I know that we were at the movie because it featured an original song by Paul Simon that stole my heart. That song was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, and it should have won all the awards if you ask me.

Simon wrote the song, Father and Daughter, for his daughter, Lulu, who was seven at the time. There’s a decent chance he doesn’t know that he wrote it for me, too.

Seventeen years later we just completed our first family Thanksgiving in Nashville, and both of my sweet daughters, adults now, flew in to spend several precious days with us. I am beyond proud of them, and my love and admiration for those two young women knows no bounds.

As a dad you wish you could find a few words to express your heart to your sweet daughters—what you wish for them, what you believe about them, what you would do for them, and your very best advice. But there aren’t really words for those achings of your heart.

Mr. Simon gave it a really nice shot, though, and I am grateful.

If you leap awake in the mirror of a bad dream
And for a fraction of a second, you can’t remember where you are
Just open your window and follow your memory upstream
To the meadow in the mountain where we counted every falling star

I believe the light that shines on you will shine on you forever
And though I can’t guarantee there’s nothing scary hiding under your bed
I’m gonna stand guard like a postcard of a golden retriever
And never leave ‘til I leave you with a sweet dream in your head

I’m gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you’ll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you

Trust your intuition
It’s just like goin’ fishin’
You cast your line and hope you get a bite
But you don’t need to waste your time
Worryin’ about the marketplace
Try to help the human race
Struggling to survive its harshest night

I’m gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you’ll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you

 

Love & Baseball

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“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” – Yogi Berra

I caught some of the Little League World Series on ESPN a couple of weeks back and smiled to see eleven-year-olds treated like major leaguers. One little dude came up to bat, and I saw on the screen:

Age: 11
Height: 5’1”
Weight: 97 lbs
Favorite band: AC/DC

Disturbing, sure, but also hilarious.

While football season kicks off, baseball is sprinting toward home at full speed. Baseball is a remarkable sport and has become as much of Labor Day as charcoal grills, furniture sales, and packing up your white clothing—and baseball is something my wife and I enjoy together.

We are told that opposites attract, and Jody and I are living proof. We are similarly independent, which makes the differences even more pronounced. Jody likes listening to music, and I like a quiet place to read. Jody is flexible, and I need structure. Jody enjoys soaking up the sun, and I burn like a piece of toast. Jody prefers an indoor cycling class, and I prefer a long run. Jody is beautiful, talented, and popular, and I prefer a long run.

We have tried over the years to find things we enjoy doing together, and while our love for each other has continued to grow stronger, our attempts at shared interests have remained a challenge.

Enter baseball.

We have both enjoyed baseball over the years, but it has not been something we enjoyed together. Until now, that is. Recently, we have been following our favorite MLB team together and keeping the television on MLB Network most of the time. Last weekend, we went to First Tennessee Park for some top-notch minor league action to watch the Nashville Sounds battle the San Antonio Missions. Jody tracked down a scorecard, and we took turns every half inning attempting to remember how to keep score. We are suddenly crazy for baseball!

Honestly, I’m not 100% sure if it will last, but like a fun baseball rally, what I do know is that we are both seeing the curveballs of life pretty well right now and making good contact. So I’d say it’s a hit, and if you are keeping score at home, you can score one for the home team.

Dark Clouds & Rays of Sunlight

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“Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.” – Henry David Thoreau

Rays of sunlight burst through the Friday evening clouds like glittering eyelashes as my car raced down the lonely highway approaching the Mississippi River Bridge and the Tennessee-Missouri border. The sun was setting, which struck me as profound given the family weekend itinerary. I would visit two uncles on Saturday, Jody’s in the morning and mine in the evening, both deeply loved, and both facing their own mortality. In between my sisters and I would host many of our cousins, all of us having now lost our parents. It promised to be a day filled with thoughts of setting suns.

It turned out to be both a light and heavy day filled with deep laughter and quiet thoughts, sweet memories and sad realities, thoughts of life and thoughts of death—of rays of light and dark clouds.

This is where I insert something profound—should such a thing ever occur to me. The weekend remains too fresh and raw and just about too much to process.

What sticks out now is sitting with Jody’s beloved Uncle Roger in his shop with the garage door open, staring out at the morning fields, watching as friends dropped by in their massive pickup trucks to share their love. One dropped by in his cowboy hat and boots and stayed for awhile, and I listened quietly as those two strong men swapped horse stories and of times when they had to put horses down. They shared how they had done such things a hundred times, but when it came to the horses they loved the most, they just couldn’t stand to do it themselves. It was just too much.

Yes, that is what sticks out to me right now about this weekend.

Our Purple Anniversary

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Inside Paisley Park with Prince’s Guitar & Piano in the Background

Today marks our silver wedding anniversary, but never known for following conventions we opted instead for purple.

For the big 2-5 we considered some remarkable international locations. We thought about Rome. Then it was Bali. Then Tahiti. Later the Kenyan coast. But when our Nashville move materialized we thought that might be plenty of travel and abandoned planning the massive vacation. But then I had an idea.

Minnesota.

I know. I am a romantic at heart.

To say my wife is a Prince fan is like saying Tiger Woods plays some golf. Jody puts the fan in fanatic. Much earlier in our marriage we were in Minneapolis on business and Jody mentioned that Paisley Park, Prince’s home and studio, was open for tours. I was too stupid to catch the hint, so we didn’t go. Jody has pointed out multiple times since that fateful trip that we did happen to go to a Twins baseball game, which I was interested in. How has she put up with me for twenty-five years?

Well, last weekend and long overdue, we did the Ultimate Paisley Park Experience.

Although only a Prince fan via secondhand smoke, I thought it was incredible. We spent time in his multiple recording studios and his intimate video editing room. We saw his dove cage and his motorcycle from Purple Rain. We sat on his couch and played ping pong on his table. We held his tangerine Cloud guitar and even ate a lunch from his kitchen featuring some of his favorite foods (including grilled cheese sandwiches and cowgirl cookies). All and more to a constant musical soundtrack. Very cool for me and mind-blowing for Jody.

Probably my favorite moment occurred at the beginning of the three-hour tour. Our tour guide showed us a nondescript guitar that was one of Prince’s favorites. It was the first guitar he used during his legendary Super Bowl halftime performance, but among his spectacular collection, this one seemed so plain. Well, we learned that he bought it for thirty bucks off a guy at a roadside gas station one day, and our guide said, “It just goes to show that it is more about the person than the gear.”

The past twenty-five years of my life have been the best and include many amazing moments sprinkled among the normal routines of a life together. But when I pause and look back, instead of the value of any individual moment, it is clear that it really is all about the incredible person I have the privilege of walking alongside every single day.

Happy Anniversary, Jody!

Hand in Hand

Mother's Day

My wife has long claimed that she lacked the natural maternal instinct other girls seemed to have as she was growing up in Arkansas. I am in no position to question her inner feelings, but I sure can note the irony. Through her incredible life as a mother, I met a phenomenal little girl who changed my life forever. And just over a year after our marriage, Jody accepted the challenge to stand in the place of mother for many teenagers with unfair early challenges in life and spent the next three years (and beyond) loving those sweet people with ferocity and grace. While there she gave birth to our youngest daughter and glided through her days seemingly able to mother the whole world.

Truth be told, she confessed one afternoon that she really couldn’t mother the whole world, which launched our life together on a trajectory where instead of mothering the whole world, I have had a courtside seat to watch her love lucky kids all over the world. I watched her teach and love on children in Mississippi. I watched her informally adopt children in California and teach them how to bake cookies and homemade biscuits and the yummiest communion bread. She is sneaky with her gift-giving talent, but I have caught her enough to know that she regularly gives thoughtful and secret gifts so that children know that they are special and that she loves them. I have watched her become Mama Jody to children in Kenya and am especially moved when she gravitates to the young girls there who are also young mothers. And for someone who lacks that maternal instinct, you don’t want to get between her and a brand new baby to hold.

And the relationship she has now with our adult daughters? Wow. It is a thing of beauty.

I am fully aware that mothering is more than biology, so maybe instinct is not that important after all. Maybe motherhood is more of a posture one adopts.

Some know that Jody and I met on New Year’s Day and married that Memorial Day weekend, and those who don’t know the story might guess that our meeting was instant love. However, many don’t know about our second meeting. I tracked down Jody’s phone number but was afraid to call and actually prayed to God as I went to sleep one night that I would bump into her the next morning when I arrived at work and she dropped Erica off at school. Well, my prayer seemed a bit suspect the next morning when I slept through my alarm and made it to work just as the school bell was ringing. Later that morning, however, I turned to walk down the main hall and was stunned to see a beautiful picture at the far end—Jody and Erica walking hand in hand my direction. We stopped and talked and arranged our first real date, and we are still dating twenty-five years later.

But on Mother’s Day this year I am reminded of that early scene down that long hallway. Of Jody walking alongside her sweet girl hand in hand. The motherly posture. Today that hand-in-hand might happen across the miles via text message or phone call, but she continues to walk by our daughters (and others) day after day after day. What an honor it is simply to watch.

On the Road Again…Seein’ Things That I May Never See Again

IMG_3476“Here I was at the end of America – no more land – and now there was nowhere to go but back.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

We left Malibu before sunrise on Saturday, and if everything is proceeding as planned, we are somewhere in the middle of this great country of ours headed east on an epic road trip—a sort of Route 66 reversal. We do have a definite destination, but we also have our hearts set on enjoying the journey itself. We resisted the urge to stop and see friends along the way and opted instead for one long, amazing date. Just the two of us.

Walt Whitman said, “I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” That’s the way we feel about it, too. The last few weeks were filled with unforgettable sweetness—meals and moments, coffees and conversations—and we left California filled to the brim with love. Now, we are enjoying the unique solitude married folk can enjoy since they are one person after all. Today, our to-do list consists of a single item called the open road.

A week from now I will officially start a brand new job in a brand new place, and I am very excited about what is to come. But that is next week and beyond. Today is a day to simply sit and watch the world go by. Together.

Mudbound

mudbound picWe were simply looking for a movie to watch on Netflix and Mudbound had rave reviews. Watch it. But fair warning: It is difficult to watch. It is difficult to watch because the storytellers do a masterful job of portraying the sort of lives that were difficult to live. The movie is a disturbing, compelling, haunting, yet beautiful work of art.

Mudbound features the intertwined stories of two rural Mississippi families, one black and one white, when one member from each family returned home following World War II. I will spare you the full movie review (especially preserving the memorable ending) and just state that systemic poverty, racism, and PTSD are terrible things and that all sorts of people—the beautiful, the complicated, and the perverse—are all mixed up in it.

I learned that the movie came from a novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, and since we all know that books are better than their movies, I can only imagine how good it must be. The novel reportedly contains the line, “Death may be inevitable, but love is not. Love, you have to choose.”

This seems particularly important to consider on this special holiday that remembers Dr. King. On this day and every day, like Dr. King, may we choose love. “Hate is too great a burden to bear.”