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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My First Day without My Dad

My father died yesterday. Today is the first day I have ever been alive without my dad also breathing in air somewhere. It’s been a long time since my dad and I lived in the same house, but this is different..

He died suddenly, his body worn out from 76 years of use. Men of my dad’s generation, even accountants and corporate executives like him, used their bodies differently than my generation, and they really use them differently than my daughter’s generation.

In my dad’s day smoking was a rite of maturity to becoming a man. My dad goes into the service and starts to smoke. That’s what you did. My dad’s generation didn’t know that smoking was supposed to kill you. They never thought about smoking in terms of health, smoking was all about culture and lifestyle, sort of like what kind of music you liked or car you drove. What you smoked told people what kind of man you were—or wanted to be.

Then there was the food. My dad’s parents lived through the depression. (My dad was born in the Great Depression.  By the time he was conscious of it, it was over and the war was on instead.) So my dad grew up eating anything that had calories in it, and although there were a few bromides about food and health (My grandma’s favorite one: “Eat like a king at breakfast, eat like a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner”) no one though too much about eating food primarily made out of chemicals rather than, say, food. My dad’s idea of a green vegetable was a dill pickle, and for a serving of fruit he would have an orange gummy bear. He knew what food was, but no one told him to eat that rather than whatever was being sold as the newest and best food alternative.

No generation made “cocktail hour” as iconic as my parent’s generation. You watch any movie set in the 1960s or 70s, and the cocktail is always a major actor in the story. That’s what they did. Business happened over cocktails—they invented “happy hours” for the “sad”, I guess, working class. I remember my dad’s advice upon my graduation from college (I was the first person in his family to ever do so. That I went on to earn two masters and a doctorate is proof that I am into “overkill.”). His advice: “Remember guys just want to drink beer, watch TV, and f*** their wives.”  My dad was not a complicated man.

Anyhow, it’s no surprise my dad’s body wore out after 76 years of living. And my dad did not want his living to be prolonged artificially. He always took the most radical treatments for his ailments as he lived by the adage that “quality was more important than quantity.” And from my perspective he seemed to have achieved that goal. He had a quality life. As my mom said, "It was a hell of a ride." The drugs he took, like the smoking and drinking and food, all had a corrosive effect on his longevity, but they were the stimulants of his humor and his energy to make friends. His humor and his friends were the fabric of his joi de vivre.

I am sure that as the years go by, I will discover more and more about how I am my dad’s son. But here are a few things I already have realized I learned from him:
a)      You can never be too organized.
b)      Your socks should always match your pants. (Granted, he may have learned this from my mom, but I saw it on him.) Of course, 8 months out of the year I don’t wear socks, as they clash with my Birkenstocks.
c)       Never tell the truth when you can tell a joke. As a preacher this is the enduring legacy of my dad. Truth is usually quite boring—which is why we miss it most of the time. Somehow my dad always knew the truth, but he was too disinterested in it to share. I hear myself saying in every sermon something like—we know what we’re supposed to do, it’s not that hard or difficult, but that’s boring. Here’s a story about… (The truth is God loves you, but do you really want to hear one line every week? How God loves you THIS WEEK—now, that’s a sermon.)
d)      Never forget to say “I love you.” I noticed when I moved away from my home 29 years ago that my dad started telling me he loved me more. I don’t remember him saying it much the first 22 years of my life, but when I moved down to Austin, TX he said it more and more. And he kept saying it. My dad had a stroke, and my mom put the phone by him to talk as best he could the other day. He told me he loved me and to take care.  Those were the last words he ever said to me.  That’s enough for me. After 51 years I know it was the truth.

He was the best dad I could have ever asked for, and I will miss him every day until I too, at the last, tell my daughters I love them, and to take care.


May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's a new dawn, it's a new day, and I'm feeling good

You should play this song while reading this blog...that way if the blog is disappointing, at least you get a little Nina Simone. 

The new year rolled in, and it is cold up here on the prairie. Even on the southern part of the prairie where I live, we have a bit of nip in the air. Oh well...

It occurred to me I have about 25 Christmas celebrations left before I die. (Just an estimate. Maybe more, maybe less.) Kind of weird to think about. I'm not concerned about that number (at least I don't think I am), but the last 25 years have gone by pretty fast, and if the next 25 go by...

For example, 25 years ago I got married. I can remember that day like it was yesterday. Here we were

 I miss that hat.

Now, here we are 
No hat.

I don't fear my death much, but I will miss living. I like living. I like going to my church and seeing what God is up to in people's lives. I like going out to eat (and, looking closely at those two pictures, you can see I am not lying on that one!), I like getting out in nature, I like listening to music (someday I'm going to make a Spotify channel of all the music I've linked on my blog. I bet I've got over 50 links to songs, if not more.) I like talking...I like telling stories.

There are also things over the last 25 years I won't miss. I don't want to have to deal with cancer again. (Mine was a particularly minor occurrence, but as my doctor said, "it will still kill you if we ignore it.") I would like to have some people around who are no longer with us anymore. (This guy, for example,
 and others who didn't get as famous but were important to my life.)

I have faith in God not because I am afraid of the future, but rather because I want to be a part of the future. I don't believe in God to be a better person, to have a blessed life or anything like that. I believe in God because I want to keep living even though I am going to be dead.

I've officiated at over 300 funerals in my ministry. Nowadays I end all my funeral sermons with one line: "Jesus won't stop you from dying, but he frees you to live forever." As we go into the new dawn, the new day, well? That makes me feel good.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.