Friday, April 30, 2010

Of Chickens and Business Owners

A few days ago I shared about three uncooperative roosters who positively refused to lay eggs. Our neighbors had asked for four laying hens and were given one hen and three roosters. This past Saturday Alice took the three roosters back to Hertzlers in Powhatan and asked that they be exchanged for hens – this made sense to her since she had requested hens – the exchange went something like this:

Alice: I’d like to exchange these rooters for hens. When we purchased them we requested hens and they’re roosters.

Proprietor: You must have asked for roosters; that’s why you got roosters.

Alice: No, we asked for four laying hens.

Proprietor: That couldn’t have been or you would have gotten four laying hens. You must have asked for one hen and three roosters.

Alice: No. Can I please exchange them?

Proprietor: No. You must have asked for them or you wouldn’t have them.

Alice: Well, can I leave them here? I don’t want them.

Proprietor: No. They might infect the other birds. (One wonders if the proprietor thought they’d turn hens into roosters).

So with that Alice left. She did find somewhere else to purchase two hens, she took one rooster home; the other two roosters have presumably found other accommodations.

Contrast Alice’s experience at Hertzlers with her husband Patrick’s at Tractor Supply on Hull Street Road. He retuned a defective lawnmower – and not only did they give him an upgrade, since coming back into the store the manager made a special effort at another apology.

Contrast Alice’s experience at Hertzlers with mine at Wild Birds Unlimited on Midlothian Turnpike. I went into the store on Monday afternoon in regard to a problem with a purchase, and Bruce, one of the owners, spent about an hour making things right – this included speaking with the manufacturer of the product I had purchased.

People forget that the most important product they sell is service.

You may have noticed that there is no photo of chickens above, but only feathers. It seems the chickens are out and about on a hot Spring day – I’ll see if I can find them.


“Gromit,” (this is Nature Boy’s brother in the Revere family), “have you seen the chickens?”

“No, Uncle Bob, I haven’t seen the chickens.”


“Seth,” (one of the Revere twins), have you seen the chickens?”

“No Uncle Bob, I haven’t seen the chickens.”

“Hey gang, any chickens here?”

“Eat more chicken! Eat more chicken! Eat more chicken Uncle Bob!”

“Any chickens?”

“Chickens? Chickens? Keep those chickens away from my corn.”

“Lily, have you seen the chickens?”

“Dad, you know I don’t do chickens…now sheep and cattle that’s another thing. But if I see any I’ll let you know. Wanna play ball or Frisbee?”

Well gentle reader, what can I say?

Big John Holland

I’ve been thinking about Big John Holland so I guess I’ll write about him, though my memories of John are fading like photos from the 1950’s.

Why is it that photos from the late 1800’s and the first part of the 1900’s retain their images far better than the black and white photos I have from the 1950’s? If you know will you let me know?

John Holland was known as John Holland, but I always refer to him as Big John Holland, for he was indeed a BIG man. John was around 6’5’’, maybe taller, with a muscular build, a center-bald head with black hair on the sides and back, and dark eyes. John’s wife, whose name has faded from the photo, was tall and angular.

I met John at a camp meeting in Virginia in the early 1970’s. The Hollands had been missionaries in Nigeria when civil war broke out in Biafra. The story is told that as missionaries were being evacuated that the Hollands were forced to leave, and that when John was told that if they didn’t leave that they’d be killed that John still wouldn’t voluntarily leave – he wanted to stay with his people.

After the forced evacuation from Nigeria John flew back into the country, he was going back to his people. There was quite a scene at the airport with a representative from the US Embassy being called in to explain to John that he would not be allowed back in the country.

I guess you could say that Big John wasn’t just big in stature but was also big in heart.

Now I don’t know that John trying to get back into the country was all that smart, and I don’t know that John refusing to leave in the first place, and being forced to leave, was all that smart. On the other hand, I’m not sure that the things Peter and Paul did were always all that smart, and what about Jesus?

Maybe love isn’t always smart? Love doesn’t play it safe. Love doesn’t weight the pros and cons as if it were contemplating a business deal and wanting to make a profit.

In business we talk about “risk management”. I wonder what would have become of the Early Church had it contained a risk management department? I realize there is a tension here, but I think the tension may be more theoretical today than real because I suspect we capitulate to avoiding risk rather than negotiating the tension between obedient risk for Christ and plain foolishness.

Big John Holland was escorted back onto the plane in Nigeria. That must have been quite the scene. I wonder what his fellow passengers thought? No doubt they thought the big man off his big rocker. I wonder what his seat mates thought? Was the big man going to go “nuts” on the flight?

I wonder if John's people in Nigeria, God’s people, knew how much he loved them? 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nature Boy

I’d like to introduce Nature Boy, a Catahoula Leopard Dog; this breed is the official state dog of Louisiana. Nature Boy is getting up in years but he still commands attention, especially if you’re not on the guest list.

“Nature” belongs to the Revere family; Patrick and Alice, and the twins, Silas and Seth. When Nature speaks, the other dogs listen.

When we first moved here Nature Boy came down a couple of times a day to inspect the newcomers. While Vickie and I have been around Nature all his life, he had not met Lina and Lily. Nature would amble down to our place, bark a few times (he has a serious bark!) and then head home, having let everyone know that this is his domain. Lina, who is five years old and generally timid, was protective of Lily, who was less than a year old when we arrived. It’s one of the few times we’ve seen Lina being assertive; she made sure Nature wasn’t going to hurt Lily – which he wasn’t – but hey, he’s a big dog with a big bark.

A couple of days ago Nature was visiting and Lily came up to him and licked him on the nose – so everything is cool with the dog cousins.

This is Wallace. He is a Rat Terrier and his parents are David and Sally.

A while back someone was visiting Patrick and saw Nature Boy and Wallace walking across the yard together. Because Nature Boy’s eyes are glassy the visitor assumed Nature is blind. He said, “Look at that little dog leading that big blind dog. That’s really something.” No one said anything different to the visitor and he’s probably still telling people about it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Baseball, Chickens, and Being Left-Handed

A few weeks ago Patrick and Alice on the Zuck Homstead decided they’d purchase some chickens for fresh eggs. They had chickens previously but predators got to be too much of a challenge. Seems like lots of critters enjoy chicken, with or without Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe.

Now I don’t know much about keep’n chickens. When Patrick and Alice and their young’ns were out of town a few weeks ago during Spring Break I made sure the chickens had scratch feed, mash feed, and water. That wasn’t too bad a chore. What was a chore was cleaning the chicken house, putting fresh bedding in and cleaning out possible compost-fertilizing material – not a pretty chore – but hey, the Bible says to love thy neighbor and the Revere family – well, they’re not just our neighbors they’re our friends, just like family – so what’s a little chicken chore between family?

Now like I said, I don’t know much about rais’n and keep’n chickens. But for you folks that do know about chickens, I direct your attention to the above photo. As you can tell there are four chickens. Four chickens eat’n the Revere’s food and drink’n the Revere’s water and liv’n in the Revere’s chicken coop. You’d think that four chickens could do better than one egg a day – at least I’d think so…even though I don’t know much about rais’n and keep’n chickens.

So when I found out that they were only producing one egg per day I wondered what the problem was. Were they union chickens and refusing to work until they negotiated a better contract? Were they Northern chickens refusing to work south of the Mason-Dixon line? Were they New York Yankee fans refusing to work for a Red Sox fan? (I am pleased to report that Mr. Revere is a Red Sox fan). There was some discussion about the lack of egg production.

Then yesterday as I was out on our lane pruning trees, Alice Revere stopped on her way out to run errands. She rolled down her car’s window and said,  "Well, we’ve figured out why we’re only getting one egg per day. Three of the chickens are roosters.”

Now as you know by now, I don’t know much about rais’n and keep’n chickens – but I do know that if you’ve got three roosters and one hen that that probably explains why you’re getting one egg per day.

And that got me to thinking about baseball and being left-handed, which I am. Just like those three roosters were being asked to play a position that they couldn’t possibly play, there are some positions in baseball that a left-hander can’t really play, most notably second-base and shortstop. And while I’ve been told that there have been left-handed third basemen, I’d put third base in that category too. You see, when those three positions field ground balls the majority of throws are made to first base. Whereas a right-handed fielder has a natural throw across his body to first base, a left-hander has to throw against his natural momentum, thereby losing precious seconds and also sacrificing accuracy. Having a left-hander at those three positions just isn’t efficient – you end up frustrating not only the player in question, but the team as a whole. (I wonder if the hen kept wondering why she was the only one doing the work?)

Psalm 139 teaches us that God made each one of us as unique individuals. We are hard-wired by God. Now while we can all learn things that might not be the most natural things for us to learn, and acquire skills that might not be the most natural for us to acquire, the fact remains that we still have hard-wired dispositions and talents. Learning how we are wired, and learning and appreciating how others are wired, can make life not only easier but also fun and exciting.

One of the primary New Testament images of the people of God is the Body of Christ. One body with many members. One people with many variations of gifts and graces. When we honor God in His people and when we honor people in God we open up possibilities for both individual and collective growth.

By the way – do any of y’all need a rooster?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Talking About Baseball – A Single Eye

The highest single season batting average in the “modern era” (which is basically from 1900 forward) is .424 by Rogers Hornsby in 1924 when he played for the St. Louis Cardinals. If you are a baseball fan you know that was an amazing feat. Hornsby also hit over .400 two other times. To put this in perspective, the last person to hit over .400 was Ted Williams for the Boston Red Sox – and that was in 1941, 69 years ago.

Hornsby was a “nut” about taking care of his eyes. In fact, he didn’t go to the movies because he thought the moving pictures might be detrimental to his eyesight and he didn’t want anything to impair his ability to see pitches coming to the plate.

I wonder how we compare to Rogers Hornsby in the things we expose the eye of our minds and hearts to? In Colossians Chapter 3 we are exhorted to fix our minds on things above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God; and the author of Hebrews challenges us to look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Just as great batters like Hornsby developed and maintained an “eye” for the ball, so Christ-followers are called to develop and cultivate an eye for the things of God.

There are a lot of things we can do with our eyes which are not sinful or wrong, there are a lot of things we can apply our hearts and minds to that are no more evil than watching a movie would have been evil for Rogers Hornsby. The question usually isn’t whether something is evil, it is usually whether something dulls our spiritual hearing and seeing, it is usually whether something is focused on Christ.

It is like the adage that the enemy of a great book is a good book. Am I investing my life in good things or in great things? Am I taking care of my “eye”? What’s my batting average looking like these days?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Talking about Baseball – How to Fail and Win: I

Baseball ain’t what it used to be; while I don’t care that much for the Major Leagues anymore I still love the game.

One of the neat things about baseball is that every batter fails more times than he succeeds. Yes, every batter fails more times than he succeeds. That means that the most successful batters in the history of the game failed more times than they succeeded. That means that the players who win the batting championships this year in the American and National Leagues will have failed more times than they succeeded.

Batting averages are a measure of a hitter’s consistency. A batting average of .200 means that the player gets a “hit” 2 out of 10 times at bat. A batting average of .300 means that a batter gets a hit 3 out of 10 times at bat. Get the idea? A .300 hitter is a star, especially if he can hit .300 year after year. But that also means that there are 7 out of 10 times at the plate when he doesn’t get a hit – he fails more times than he succeeds, and yet he is a star ballplayer.

The top lifetime batting average is held by Ty Cobb and is .367 – that means that Cobb failed more times than he succeeded, and yet he holds the highest lifetime batting average in baseball history.

There are some lessons for life here, including lessons for our life in Christ. To begin with, most people don’t try new things because they are afraid of failure; and many other people don’t try things over again if they have failed at them the first time or two. Most people would rather sit on the bench in the dugout rather than go up to the plate and try to make contact with the ball.

One of the greatest center fielders of all time, Willie Mays, made 12 straight outs when he first entered the Major Leagues, and though he steadily improved during the year he didn’t set the world on fire his first year in the league – but he went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Suppose his manager, Leo Durocher, had given up on him?

I think one reason people are afraid to try things and fail is the critical reaction they get from other people. Some families have a culture of criticism, some companies have a culture of criticism, and sad to say, far too many churches have a culture of criticism. These cultures watch people go up to the plate and rather than encouraging them, rather than rooting for their success, they actually want them to fail – especially if they don’t do things the way certain people think (know!) they should be done.

It is any wonder that so many cultures stagnate, and in stagnating resemble pools of water with no inlet or outlet? Is it any wonder that the Body of Christ as expressed in local churches often does not grow because its members are afraid to exercise their gifts and graces, they are afraid to learn and grow because of judgmental criticism?

We value efficiency while God values character and growth. Efficiency would say, “Let’s play something other than baseball, there are too many failures.” What that game would be I’m not sure, but you get the idea. Maybe they’d prefer a basketball game with the hoop 4 feet off the ground?

As a pastor, and as a business executive, I’ve always enjoyed seeing people try new things (well…mostly I’ve enjoyed it). And I’ve also valued failure for a couple of reasons. One reason is that it gives me an opportunity to encourage the person to try it again, or to try something else, to get back on the bicycle. Another reason I value failure is that it gives me an opportunity to guide the corporate or church culture away from criticism and into encouragement and affirmation. If others can see that failure is not the end of the world, if others can witness encouragement in the midst of failure, then maybe they too will get on the bicycle and try something new – maybe they’ll try that thing they’ve been dreaming of.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Peter. I think if he played baseball that he would be a catcher. Catchers have to be fiery team leaders, not afraid of staring at 100 MPH fastballs or leery of  bats swinging over their heads; not afraid of base runners barreling into them trying to score a run. Peter made a number of “outs” in his life, he didn’t always get it right, and in fact one time he got it terribly wrong, the time he denied Christ with curses. But you know what? The old boy kept going up to the plate and Jesus stuck with him, Jesus kept saying in effect, “There’s the bat Pete, let’s give it another try.”

One time, when the crowds turned away from Jesus, Jesus asked the disciples, “Are you leaving me too?” And Pete replied, “Where are we gong to go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Peter was saying, “You are the only game for us. We’re not playing with anyone else. It’s your team or no team.”

Yes, Peter made his share of outs, but he also had some key hits. He cleared the bases when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost (Acts 2); he knocked the Gentiles across home plate in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10); and he was man enough in Christ to acknowledge when he got picked-off base in Antioch (Galatians 2). And in the bottom of the 9th inning, when the game was on the line, Peter showed that he could not only live like Jesus, but that he could die like Jesus.

Pick up that bat lying next to you, go up to the plate, get in the game.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Husband and the Frisbee

There was a husband playing Frisbee with his Border Collie. His aim was pretty good, placing it where it would challenge the Border Collie to improve her skills and yet not out of her reach so as to frustrate her. Occasionally the husband would sail the Frisbee into the far reaches of the yard so the Border Collie could run run run after it – kind of like cranking the up RPM’s on your car when your wife is not around (or husband).

Now it so happened that as said husband was playing Frisbee with said Border Collie that husband’s wife walked into the yard. As the husband and the Border Collier were playing Frisbee the husband and wife were making conversation – and as said husband was making conversation with said wife his eyes were looking at his wife…when…he threw…the Frisbee.

Now the husband had fully intended for the Frisbee to go in the direction of the aforementioned Border Collie, not, I assure you, in the direction of the afore-referenced wife – but alas the Frisbee did not understand the husband’s desires and went the only place it could go – in the direction it was launched – and regrettably that direction was toward the wife of the husband who was playing with the Border Collie.

Perhaps I should mention that the wife was only about 20 feet from the husband, which is to say that her reaction time was not equal to the task of avoiding a Frisbee at the velocity it was launched and in the trajectory that it was guided.

The impact of the Frisbee on the hand of the wife was unfortunate, and for a moment there was a lingering thought in the air, “Did he do that on purpose? Did he  think he was playing with one of the guys? Did he think he was being funny?”

Ah those moments of tension in marriage, when things can go one way or the other depending on where the feather lands – an ounce here and we have this problem, but an ounce there and all is forgiven.

The husband, while not the brightest in the yard that moment – ranking behind the Border Collie and the wife – or make that the wife and the Border Collie – immediately engaged in protestations of innocence, for he truly intended to toss the Frisbee in the direction of the Border Collie. But you see, his eyes were on his wife and his hands followed his eyes and the Frisbee followed his hands.

The wife, being a gracious sort, and knowing that her husband was not suicidal, accepted his entreaties and extended forgiveness – much to the relief of the husband and no doubt the Border Collie who desired to continue playing.

The point of all this is that Jesus teaches us that if our eye is single that our body will be full of light. What we behold is where we go, the image we ingest, and it is where our hands guide the Frisbees of life’s decisions and priorities. We may think that a look here or a look there at things toxic won’t hurt us, but the Scriptures don’t see it that way. Conversely, we are given the promise that as we behold Christ that we are changed into His image. (1 John 3:1-3; 2 Cor. 3:17 –18).

I am pleased to report that the balance of the day passed without incident.

Friday, April 16, 2010

San Francisco and The Jesus People - V

Sister Josephine was the heart of the Anchor Rescue Mission, and Sister Yvonne was her faithful friend and companion. Everyday Josephine would make the rounds of produce dealers and grocery distributors to pick up items to feed the hungry that evening at the Mission. When she’d arrive at the Mission we’d haul the day’s “catch” in and follow Jo’s directions for the preparation of the meal. I did a lot of peeling, cutting, and dicing.

Josephine had a heart condition, and during my stay she had an episode that laid her up for a couple of weeks. In her absence Sister Yvonne took the helm and we followed her directions. Josephine returned to the Mission before she was supposed to, but that was Jo, her heart for others was so much bigger than her concern for herself.

These were the gentlest of women, ladies, sisters in Christ, and sisters to all humanity. Feeding people, mostly men, night after night, never showing any condemnation toward them, never a critical word, always praying for people, always welcoming, always loving. They weren’t looking for Federal or State grants, they weren’t fundraising, they were just trusting God on a daily basis to meet the needs of the people they were called to serve. Don’t misunderstand, this is not a knock against fundraising or grant money, but it is to say that perhaps we make things a bit too complicated, and that perhaps we’ve lost what it is to trust Christ for provision; perhaps the main thing is no longer the main thing – maybe we’ve lost the main thing?

I think it was Oswald Chambers who wrote that what we call the process God calls the goal. What he means is that we get so focused on goals that we lose sight of life, we lose sight of experiencing God and others in daily life. We look at the process as a means to an end, but God sees the process as the goal – He wants us to know Him…now, today.

I don’t know when the Anchor Rescue Mission closed. I doubt there is a historical marker recognizing its existence. But I can tell you that if you were in San Francisco  when it was open, and you were hungry and needed a generous meal served by people with tender hearts, that you were not likely to forget Josephine, Yvonne, Pastor Redford, and Brother and Sister Manners. I know that when I met them I was hungry and they fed me; when I came to them I needed a place to sleep and they took me in.

MT 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
   MT 25:37 "Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
   MT 25:40 "The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

San Francisco and the Jesus People – IV

David Hoyt and I shared a room on the second floor of the Anchor Rescue Mission. On many evenings I’d help prepare the meal for the people at the mission. Other days and evenings I’d travel with David to gather with other young people for worship, witnessing, and fellowship. Sometimes we attended churches, sometimes we met in homes.

What struck me was that everyone participated in these gatherings, it wasn’t just a one-man show by the preacher. My thinking was revolutionized by this – people where sharing their thoughts, praying for each other, telling others about Jesus, caring for each other – and they were excited and serious and compassionate. I remember writing a letter to a pastor friend back in Maryland about it all, I was in awe – this was church! This was Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4; this was a functioning body of believers. Not long after San Francisco I would experience something similar in the early stages of the Charismatic Movement, and I may share about that in the future.

There have been similar renewal movements in church history, movements which have a functioning body of believers as a hallmark. The Pietistic renewal in Germany is one of my favorite models; it had home groups and social action centered in Jesus Christ. Church-life as a functioning body has also been one of the strengths of the persecuted church in China. The beauty of the Jesus People was that it was not orchestrated by man and that Jesus was the focal point of the movement. In the early days of the movement you could truly say that “church is not an organization, it is an organism.”

A friend recently pointed out to me that there were some heresies in thought and practice that came out of the Jesus People. As I thought about that it occurred to me that that has always been the case with renewal – if you have life you’re going to have counterfeit, excess, people doing stupid things, and yes, there will even be the working of the enemy. And then it occurred to me to just look at the New Testament, virtually the entire NT was written to correct heresy, stupid thinking, sin, and the work of the enemy. My point is that it isn’t likely we are going to do any better than the Apostles – not to be negative here, but I think that if the churches they founded had problems and false teaching grew from them, well then, perhaps we can be a bit charitable to one another and also realize in our own ministries that “we ain’t God.”

One evening I happened to be looking in David Hoyt’s Bible and saw that he had drawn artwork on its pages, along the margins. “Why do you have all this artwork?” I asked.

“Well, the Bible is my home and people put artwork in their home.”

I’ve never forgotten his response.

David’s enthusiasm and commitment to Jesus were inspirations to me. If you read about David you’ll find that he became involved in probably the ugliest cult contemporaneous with the Jesus People, The Children of God. I first read about David’s move to the cult in the magazine Christianity Today around 1973. The article also said that he had moved to Atlanta. The next day I drove to Atlanta to see him – but he had left the country and I don’t think returned for a number of years – after leaving the cult. Some of this you can find on the Web, and I guess if his book comes out he’ll deal with it as he sees fit. It was certainly a painful time for him.

Cult or no cult David Hoyt was an example to me and the Jesus People gave me a glimpse of what church-life could look like. The fact that David left the cult is a testimony to the grace and faithfulness of God – our God is a covenant-keeping God and the work He begins in us He fully intends to complete.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:6

Monday, April 12, 2010

San Francisco and The Jesus People – III

Ralph and Shirley Manners were in their 60’s. Shirley was a large woman with a smile that would brighten just about anyone’s day and a laugh that could light up the city. She radiated exuberance. Ralph was shorter than Shirley, easy going, always dressed neatly, and, as is often the case with couples, was much quieter than his outgoing spouse.

I took to Ralph and Shirley as soon as I met them, spending time in their home and being treated like a family member. 

One weekend they asked if I wanted to visit Ralph’s mother, who lived in Oakland. Of course I did, so off we went.

“Momma" was in her advanced 80’s and lived in a two-bedroom apartment with a living room and eat-in kitchen. During the day we discovered that Momma had clothes that needed washing, so we put her laundry in a two-wheeled shopping cart, the kind folks used to use to wheel groceries home, and we headed off to the laundry mat, Ralph, Shirley, Mamma, and me.

I guess we must have been a sight in that Oakland neighborhood. Racial tensions were high in those days with the Black Panthers marching in front of the Oakland Courthouse (I saw them on another visit to Oakland) and here were three elderly black folks with a young white guy hauling laundry down the street.

Before we knew it the day had turned to night and we decided to stay with Momma and head home the next day. When the question of night clothes was raised Momma had the answer – old fashioned white sleeping robes, the kind with a hole for you to slip your head through and two slits for your arms. So Ralph, Shirley, and Bob each got a white sleeping robe for the night. We would have fit right in with a baptismal service.

The next morning we got up, had breakfast in our robes around the kitchen table, and then we got our Bibles out and read the book of Esther. Yep, we were still in our robes. Read the entire book we did, enjoyed the drama, enjoyed God’s goodness to Esther and Mordecai and all the Jewish folk, and enjoyed God’s goodness to us around the table.

I felt like an honored guest wearing Momma’s robe, no, actually I didn’t, I felt like family, I felt like loved and accepted family. Do you remember what I said in my last post about Pastor Radford singing The Love of God and It Is Well With My Soul, how I said no one could sing those songs like he could? Well, that’s the way I feel about the book of Esther and Momma, and Shirley, and Ralph; I’ll never read the book of Esther the way I read it with those fine people – I experienced the book of Esther that morning, I experienced the book because I experienced the love of God flowing through three elderly black folks to a young white man.

You might recall a few posts ago that I wrote about the gift of a can of fruit cocktail, and how that was one of the greatest gifts I ever received. Well, that robe of Momma’s was the finest piece of clothes I ever put on – I’ve never worn anything finer…and I doubt that anyone else has either.

The Scriptures tell us that a day will come when we’ll have white robes; when that day comes I’ll be looking for Ralph and Shirley, and of course for Momma.  

Friday, April 9, 2010

San Francisco and the Jesus People – II

The Anchor Rescue Mission was an outreach  to the homeless and down-and-outers, many of whom had drinking and drug problems. It was operated by Sister Josephine and her friend, Sister Yvonne. Then there was Pastor Redford, and Ralph and Shirley Manners. All of these folks were black, which I only mention in order for you to better visualize them.

Pastor Redford was around 5’10”, medium build, about 50 years old, with a chiseled face, not the kind that exhibits hardness, but rather one that lets you know the person has experienced life. His eyes were eyes that you probably didn’t want to look at if you were lying, those eyes were not only the window of Pastor Redford’s soul, they were taking the vital signs of your soul.

The pastor’s voice had a deep resonance and I loved listening to him. He could also sing, and when he sang “The Love of God,” …well, I’ve never heard anyone sing that song the way Pastor Redford could sing it. I can still hear him on the refrain:

Oh love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong, it shall forever more endure, the saints and angels song.

On my last night at the Anchor Rescue Mission Pastor Redford asked me what song I’d like him to sing, my request was, “It Is Well With My Soul.” There again, I’ve never heard anyone sing that hymn like Pastor Redford – oh the range his voice had, he’d take you down into a cavern in which you were enveloped with reverberating bass notes, and then lift you higher than the clouds – you just didn’t want it to end.

Speaking of hymns, every evening at the worship service there would be a hymn request time. One of the regulars, Johnny, made the same request at least once a week, sometimes more frequently, it was “Yield Not To Temptation.”

Now I suppose Johnny had seen his share of temptation, and my guess is that he knew what it was to yield to temptation, but he kept requesting that song, week after week. He had a way of running his words together when requesting that particular hymn; he’d raise himself about halfway up from his chair, slightly bent over, and you’d hear, “Yieldnottatemptatshun”. Then he’d sit down and Sister Yvonne, who played the piano, and Pastor Redford, would be ready to lead us all in Johnny’s request.

I imagine an onlooker might be cynical about Johnny and his request, here’s a drinker asking for this song week after week. But I think there is a lot to be said about not giving up hope, about acknowledging our frailties, and just maybe that song gave some other folks there some hope too.

There is a line in the hymn, “dark passions subdue.” It takes a real man, or a real woman, to acknowledge that he or she has the capacity for dark passions. Johnny wasn’t putting on airs, he was just laying it out there. Of course today the idea of temptation is relegated to giving in and eating too much chocolate, we aren’t tempted to sin anymore because there isn’t anything called sin – everything has a diagnosis and we are no longer responsible for our actions. We live in a therapeutic society in which we all just want to feel good.  I don’t think Johnny was interested in feeling good, he was interested in getting out of the hell he was in. Johnny was looking for hope, and maybe every time he sang those words, with all of us around him, maybe just for the three verses of that hymn, Johnny could see beyond his search for the next drink and see the light of Christ shining into his heart.

I grew to like that hymn, and on my last night at the mission I was hoping that Johnny would request it, and he didn’t disappoint me.

Here’s the chorus of Johnny’s hymn:

Ask the Savior to help you. Comfort, strengthen, and keep you. He is willing to aid you. He will carry you through.

Not a bad piece of advice – thanks Johnny.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

San Francisco and the Jesus People - I

A while back I was talking with a parishioner and mentioned the Jesus People, he didn’t have a clue to what I was referring. If you don’t either I’d suggest you Google “San Francisco Jesus People” either now or later and get some background. If you do read about the Jesus People in San Francisco chances are the names David Hoyt and Kent Philpott will come up.

Much like Miguel Diaz and George Will, David and Kent had an early influence on me. About a year ago I chatted with Kent on the phone after some email exchanges, and later I had a snail mail (yes – they still do happen!) exchange with David Hoyt – in both cases it had been over 40 years since I had contact with them. I believe that David is working on a book about his Jesus People days and if it comes out I look forward to reading it.

If you do Google about the Jesus People you’ll find more info about David and Kent than I could share on a blog, but I do want to share about my time with them, especially David, and about my time with other great people in San Francisco.

I suppose you could say that I had three spheres of relationships in San Francisco, the Jesus People, the black church community, and the hippie/revolutionary movement. Yep – no typos here. For a time I lived in Haight-Asbury (and again, if you don’t know about Haight-Asbury and the hippie movement go ahead and look it up). I also lived with David Hoyt at the Anchor Rescue Mission, and I can’t recall where it was, though it definitely served a different clientele than would be found in Haight-Asbury.

Now I need to adopt something here that I am a bit uncomfortable with, but I see no way around it – other than David and Kent I’m going to have to supply names for people whose names I can’t remember. If I do remember an actual name I’ll point that out, otherwise I’m afraid that I’ll be supplying names as I go along – I think you’d get tired of reading about “Mrs. so-and-so whose name I can’t remember.” Fair enough? Thanks.

The Spanish-speaking community of New York City taught me hospitality, a love for missions, and a love for those in need. The Jesus People introduced me to the functioning Body of Christ. Up until my encounter with The Jesus People my paradigm of church was traditional, the preacher/pastor did the work and everyone else basically watched. My idea of “ministry” was individualistic, ministry centered on the preacher/pastor, and these preacher/pastors were focused on developing their ministries – as opposed to developing people. (By this time I had probably read Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Church Life, now I think republished under another title, but I must not have understood it. Nor must I have understood Bonheoffer's discussion of community in The Cost of Discipleship. What we see is so much more powerful than what we read – I guess I needed to actually “see” a functioning body before I could relate to writings about a functioning body.

If you’ve never seen a VW micro-bus with Jesus- People art painted all over it, rolling down the highway with the driver and inhabitants singing Jesus songs, you’ve missed a sweet part of both Americana and church history. Some folks might want to celebrate Woodstock, I’ll celebrate The Jesus People. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad testimony – to have people call you Jesus People.

“…and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”      Acts 11:26

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Eufemio Alvarez’s Automobile Repair - NY

I suppose I should close out NY and move on, giving myself permission to revisit it from time-to-time. Here are some concluding pictures:

Friday nights were often all-night services at the church on Delancey Street. People from many churches would gather, play music, preach, and pray into the wee hours of the morning. If you got hungry you went out and got something to eat and came back.

The Colon family on Messerole St. in in Brooklyn (Bushwick)  were kind to me. They pastored a church, and across from the church was what they called a “mission house.” Missionaries from all over the world used it as a place to stay and a base of operations when visiting the States. I remember a lively pastor from Guatemala, and an older pastor from Columbia. The older man had been persecuted for his faith – placed in a barrel and rolled down a hill or mountain, he was a gentle soul.

There was another brother, an older man, Brother Maisonete (sp?) with whom I traveled to Haiti who also lived in the mission house.

On E. 10th Street in Manhattan I met a building superintendent who had a chicken farm in the basement of the building. Yep, you read correctly – a chicken farm. He opened the stairs from the sidewalk – the kind that have double metal doors embedded in the sidewalk – took me down into the bowels of the building…and I guess there were at least 50 chickens. He was a nice guy, what you might call a “good egg.”

On one visit to NY Eufemio Alvarez demonstrated his ability to deal with troubled automobiles. You may recall that in an earlier post I described him as “mercurial,” here is what I mean.

“Where is your car,” I asked Brother Alvarez.

“Well, the devil had been giving me problems with that car. It kept breaking down. I’d go to Harlem and it would break down. I’d go to Brooklyn and it would break down. I’d go down FDR Drive and it would break down. The devil kept making my car break down – so I decided to do something about it.”

“What did you do,” I asked.

“I set it on fire. It won’t break down anymore. I showed the devil I wasn’t going to allow him to trouble me.”

See what  I mean about being mercurial?

I haven’t quite figured out why Brother Alvarez thought he got the better of the devil on that deal, and I haven’t bothered to try to work out the theology behind setting his car on fire – but I guess considering other things I’ve seen over the years that the only person Eufemio hurt was himself and I don’t think he propagated a teaching that folks should start burning their cars when they break down.

Come to think of it, he may have been doing his friends and family a favor by burning his car – you'd only have to ride with him a few blocks to know what I mean.  He must have been watching too much Roller Derby because he was forever blocking and passing other cars and (seemingly) trying to knock pedestrians over guardrails. He should have been a taxi driver.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Gospel According to George Will

In thinking about my recent posts, both about George and about my lack of adult direction in those early years, it occurs to me that I should unpack what George taught me for those who might not be familiar with my passing reference to only God being able to live the Christian life; in so doing I’m demonstrating that George did in fact mentor me in the greatest possible way – he kept my focus on Christ.

In a recent conversation with George I heard, “I am nothing, I can do nothing, I can be nothing – Christ is everything.” That is exactly what I heard from George in the 1960’s.

In John 5:19 Jesus says, “…the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing…” Then in John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own initiative…” “The Father abiding in Me does His works,” 14:10.

In John 15:15:5 Jesus says to us, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

These are some of the passages that George used in his preaching when I was with him, passages that have become one with him over the years, passages that he still speaks of with passion.

Another passage I often heard from George, a passage that I was reminded of when listening to a recent sermon by my friend Michael Daily, is 1 Corinthians 1:30-31:

But by His [God’s] doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD.”

I’m getting to the place where I can really say that, “I’ve lived a long time.” I’m also getting to the place when I can say, “I’ve been a Christian for a long time – 44 years.” This then also allows me to say, “I’ve seen a lot of religious fads and fancies, I’ve seen a lot of substitutes for Jesus in the Christian community, a lot of substitutes for knowing Him relationally (is there any other way to know Him?) and a lot of substitutes for actually knowing the Bible – and none of them amount to anything worth keeping.

More than ever we live in a time of religious personalities with quick fixes, but I ask, “Where is Jesus? Where is the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ?” I don’t believe that I’d be asking those questions were it not for George.

I have not always been a good testimony for Jesus, but God has always been merciful. There have been times I have sought the quick fix, but God has always brought me back to the Cross. And there have been many “Christian” things I’ve walked away from because I haven’t seen Jesus.

Even today George is enigmatic to me, there is a lot about him I don’t understand – but he certainly was used by God to build a foundation in my life.

I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  Galatians 2:20

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Profiles – Eufemio and Carmen Alvarez - NY

Carmen Alvarez, Eufemio’s wife, was as patient and gracious a lady as I have ever met. The Alvarez’s lived in a first-floor apartment in the projects off FDR Drive in Manhattan. Carmen was around 5’8”, taller than her husband, with long black hair, somewhat plump but not excessively so, and a round face that always had a smile for guests. With her six children and mercurial husband she had her hands full, yet she never revealed the least bit of stress or irritation.

Eufemio was indeed mercurial, he could go from zero to sixty in 2.3 seconds leaving rubber on the asphalt. Brother Alvarez’s way of parenting his children was often a matter of increasing decibels; whereas Sister Alvarez brought harmony from cacophony  with a smile and melodious words. If you’re familiar with the clarinet, Eufemio played upper-register notes and Carmen played the middle register, along with occasional lower notes with deep soothing resonance.   

This is not to say that Eufemio didn’t embrace his children and didn’t have a warm smile and cheerful word for them, he often did; but Eufemio was always on the go and when he was home it was to grab a bite to eat, change clothes for that evening’s preaching, and exit the apartment the way Jeff Gordon exits Pit Road during the Daytona 500, the difference being that Eufemio didn’t observe a speed limit. 

Mrs. Alvarez always had coffee for visitors, and if you were there during mealtime you could expect an invitation to eat with the family. This was true of every family I knew in NYC. Hospitality was a way of life for the Hispanic community. Perhaps one of the blessings of a basic diet of rice and beans is that you don’t need to worry about calling up Martha Stewart for a recipe for honored guests; guests know they are honored by the simple experience of sharing a meal – it is in the sharing that we find the substance. After all, the greatest meal any of us can prepare for another or partake of with another is bread and wine. Next to the bread and wine I think I’ll list rice and beans.