The Love of a Father

If you are “fifty something” then you may remember this ad from when we were kids:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQg0BoXURBo]

I remember it vividly because of one of my earliest childhood memories about my dad. My dad turned 91 this year and so I find myself replaying memories of him more and more.

On this occasion our family had returned from and evening Vacation Bible School at our church (a friend of mine who held Christian education responsibilities in our denomination once told me what when it came to Vacation Bible School for kids there was only one word in the name that they are interested in and it wasn’t Bible or school). When I got home I carefully took off my name tag to make sure I had it for the next night and went to bed.

Lying there in the dark I heard a little pitter-patter that sounded like someone walking around. It wasn’t constant. It was like someone was walking around in my room, stopping and then walking again. So I immediately called out: “Daddy, daddy there is a little man in my room”. I just knew what it was: Manners the Butler was in my room!

So my dad comes in the door and says “What’s the matter”. I exclaimed that I heard a little man like Manners the Butler walking around in my room. He listened and heard nothing but got down on his hands and knees and looked under my bed and by brother’s bed and around the room. He assured me that there was no little man and turned off the light. As soon as he left the room and I settled back to bed there was the noise again. “Daddy, daddy there is a little man in my room”.  My dad returns this time looking in the closet, looks in all the places “the little man” could hid. No one there. He again assures me that he could find no one there and assures me there is nothing to worry about.

Third time is the charm. Happens again. I assure my dad that every time he comes in and turns on the light Manners runs off and hides in a place Daddy cannot find him. So he turns off the light, climbs in bed with me and as soon as things are quiet, wonder of wonder he hears the noise! Well he turns on the light and discovers that I have put my name tag in just the right place for the oscillating fan to cause it to “rattle” every time the fan swept past that part of the room. When my dad was in the room looking for Manners, he was near the fan and it did not blow across my name tag. My dad moved the name tag, kissed me good night and turned off the light. No more Manners the Butler in my room.

I tell this story as a reminder of my father’s love for me. Rather than telling me to “grow up, there is no such thing as little men” or getting angry after the second and third time, he patiently worked through this “nightmare” with his son. Over the years I have counseled many man who have been wounded by their fathers. I have participated in numerous men’s groups where much of their struggles have to do with failures of their fathers: fathers who left them, fathers who introduced them to porn, fathers who were drunk more than they were sober. I have wept and prayed with these men and tried to understand their woundings. It has been one of the great joys of my life to have the father I have had. I can recount time and time again when his love and concern for me was clearly demonstrated.

My dad is a man of few words. I have both of the letters he has written me in my life but his actions truly has spoken louder than words.

I never wear jewelry.

As long as I can remember I have worn very little jewelry. Until high school I wore none except when during the latter part of the Viet Nam war I wore a bracelet with the name of a MIA/POW with the day that he was lost. After high school I wore my high school ring and after college I wore my wedding ring and my Clemson ring.

Then in July when Debbie and I were in Gatlinburg I stopped by a Celtic gift shop and saw a “Celtic Trinity Knot” and decided I really would like to wear one. It looks like this, in fact this is it

As I looked at it I was reminded of the words of the poem/hymn “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” an early Christian poem/hymn largely credited to St. Patrick but likely written by a later Irish saint:

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom.

I bind unto myself today.

Since teaching Church History for the past 7 years, Patrick has become one of my favorite people in church history. His testimony of the grace of Jesus and his commitment to the advancement of the kingdom is an inspiration. So a reminder of his emphasis on the glory of the Trinity was a welcome reminder. One of the reasons I love Patrick is that he was much like Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, in our modern age. Taylor went to China deciding to dress not like an Englishman but like a Chinaman that he might reach China with the Gospel of Jesus. Patrick returned to Ireland, a land where he was once a slave, not as a “Roman Christian” but as an “Irish Christian”. In most “Roman” pictures he looks like this

But Patrick would never have dressed like this. He would have dressed like the folk of Ireland, the people to whom he took the gospel of Jesus .

The Knot I bought came with a flimsy chain which my wife replaced with a beautiful new one as a birthday present. I wear it not with any superstition that wearing it protects me or acts as some “holy charm”. I wear it as a reminder of the truth of the Trinity, the truth that our glorious God exists ultimately in community and calls on us – calls me – to live in Christian community, even when we – I – feel we would rather be like the first century hermits and live by ourselves (in my case with just my wife!).

So as I anticipate beginning the Advent Season tomorrow it is with joy that I finger the “Holy Knot” around my neck. I know that many Christians wear crosses and I understand that. For me, however, I am glad for the daily reminder (actually a reminder several times a day) of God having binded the Trinity to me, of binding himself to me in the glory of his redemption through the one who became man in the glorious plan of the Trinity in eternity past:

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:4-5 ESV).

One last thing. The new chain is a reminder of a newer love, the older one having its foundation in eternity past. The newer love is the love of my wife, Debbie. A love that is refreshing and wonderful every day. A love willing to forgive the sins that I bring into this glorious relationship. No one knows my faults like this beautiful woman, yet no one loves me like she does. Only God’s grace in her life can be the reason for this. I am so glad to have found such a one to love me.

So as I think about my “Trinity Knot” let me offer a happy Advent to all of you. May the glory of the incarnation be a renewed source of awe, wonder, glory, joy, praise and worship. May the mystery and the glory of the Trinity be a refreshing “knot around your neck”.

Magnum PI, family, guilt and forgiveness

The other day during lunch I watched the last episode of one of my favorite TV series of all time  Magnum P.I. Over the past few years I have watch through the entire series as my children gave me the entire series, year-by-year, on DVD. It has been a wonderful present but usually when I watch them and especially when I watch the “last Magnum” – as it became known in our family – I struggle in guilt and end up rejoicing in the glory of forgivenenss.

My wonderful son Davie, who lives in Austin, Texas, went in with his brother and sister about 10 years ago to give me the first season. They followed up year by year until all eight seasons were on our shelf. These gifts were a great delight for me but also a sad reminder. Magnum went off the air in 1988 when Davie was only 6 but somewhere along the line in a few years he began to learn how to work the VCR (remember those?). I went in one night to watch the “last Magnum” and found to my dismay it had been replaced by Pinky and the Brain or some other such cartoon that Davie greatly loved. Well ends up dad enters a shouting fit about “taping over the last Magnum” and Davie feels terrible and remembers it for all those years.

You look back and think “Why didn’t I understand it is just a stupid TV show”. But so often we say things to our family members – the people we love the most -that we would never say to our closest friends. But the other end of the spectrum is also true. Forgiveness by family members is often the best and sweetest. My son forgave me for my sinful rant against him. He did not give me the Magnum DVDs to buy my affections but as a way to say I’m sorry and I love you. The truth is that when we sin against friends and acquaintances and they forgive us it is like a taste of heaven. But when those whom we sin against the most, the ones we love the most, our family members, they forgive and forgive and forgive again and it is like a foretaste of the wedding feast of the lamb.

So on Thanksgiving I gave thanks for my wonderful wife and 3 wonderful children. I was glad that my fabulous son Andrew was home but I will deeply long to have Davie and Bethany here so we could eat turkey together and maybe, just maybe watch the “last Magnum” together and laugh at over the “folly” of our sin and rejoice together in the joy of forgiving each other.

Thanksgiving and the Psalms

Since the end of June I have been reading in the Psalms almost every day. In the Book of Common Prayer there is a list of readings in the Psalms for the daily morning and evening prayer services of the Anglican community. The list is set up so that the entire book of Psalms is read through every month. As I have read through this book almost five times in the last five months many, many things have surprised me. Just about every emotion can be found here: joy, sorrow, love, bitterness, suspicion, you name it. What is amazing is that God puts these in the Bible to let us know we don’t have to fake it, we don’t have to pretend to be happy when we are actually sorrowful.You also find a wide variety of attitudes toward God: joy, love, praise, complaint, questioning, anger just to name a few. As I read the Psalms, however, the heart attitude that I find occurring more and more frequently is thanksgiving. Variations of thanks, thanksgiving, thankful occur in 46 verses in the Psalms.

As I am confronted with this almost daily I come to the conclusion that when the Psalmist is joyful about God’s providences in his life or when he is sorrowful or when he is simply mad and disappointed, he almost always returns to thanksgiving. As I have read the Psalms over and over again in these past five months, I have discovered that the major difference between myself and the Psalmist is the he has developed a lifestyle of thanksgiving. As we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, we are often reminded (and I think that this is a good idea) that as Americans our thanks at Thanksgiving, often now has no “object” we are not thankful to someone or some thing for our benefits. It is rather a nameless, spirit of thankfulness. I think it is good to remind our fellow Americans that initially this holiday was established to declare a thankfulness toward God. But I think we Christians need more. Our thankfulness should not be primarily about material blessings and prosperity but rather a heart of thankfulness toward God for his love, mercy and grace toward us.

More often than not when the Psalmist is thankful in the Psalms it is for God’s lovingkindness, his tender mercies, his abiding love. Even when the Psalmist finds himself in difficult situations (sometimes being chased through the wilderness by his own son or by the father of his best friend) he remains thankful toward God for his lovingkindenss. Here is what is says in Psalm 63:3 “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you”.

I know that I am far from the lifestyle of the Psalmist but one thing I can tell you is that reading the Psalms every day reminds me of that deficiency in my life and is starting to create in me a heart that cries out for that lifestyle.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

My 20 Shuffles – Part 2

OK here is the second part of my list:

12. Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down – The Three Pickers (Ricky Scaggs, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs – The Three Pickers – I love the artistry of all three of these men but especially Ricky Scaggs. I recently had the opportunity to spend 2 days at a prayer meeting with him and by the end of the two days he had stopped being a “big star” and was simply a brother in Christ knowing how needy he was.

13. Love Conquers All – Nanci Griffith –Hearts in Mind – At one time I thought I did not need any female vocalist in my collection other than Emmylou until my daughter told me one day: “Your really need to listen to Nanci Griffith”. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

14. Boss Jack – Johnny Cash – Ride this Train – Cash has a big place in my IPod

15. Baby Step Back – Gordon Lightfoot – Gordon Lightfoot Songbook- Great reminder of high school

16. Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound – Johnny Cash – American VI , Ain’t No Grave – See above. Also this is a great Tom Paxton song. Great American songwriter who never got the notice he should have

17. West Texas Waltz – Emmylou Harris – Portraits, Disc 3 – One of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. I do not think I have ever heard a bad recording by her

18. The Streets of Laredo – Johnny Cash – America IV, The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash singing a cowboy song, what could be better

19. These Dreams of You – Van Morrison – Laughing in the Wind- The older I get the more I like Van the man.

20. Don’t Cry Now – Tony Bennett – Playin With My Friends – I once used a Tony Bennett song as a sermon illustration and was told that I was “out of it”. Debbie and I heard him live several years ago and it is still one of my best concert memories.

21. No. 3 in D – Franz Liszt – 6 Hungarian Rhapsodies – Just to let you guys know there is some classical on my Pod

22. 1914 – Randy Newman – Soundtrack from Avalon – Some of the best music for just listening, thinking and relaxing is found on movie soundtracks. This is a good one but not one of my favorites. Great movie however.

Well I said 20 and I gave you 22. Just had to get these last two in.

My 20 Shuffles

Some time in the past few days someone challenged me to “shuffle” my IPod and write down the first 20 songs that came up. I never use the “shuffle” – in fact when I told Debbie about this I told Debbie I was going to “scramble” my IPod. She corrected me telling me it was Shuffle. Well the idea intrigued me. So here are my first 20 songs from a recent IPod shuffle. I’ll make a few comments a few of the songs.1.

 

  1. My Head Sounds Like That – Peter Gabriel – Up
  2. Lazy River – Louis Prima – Capitol Collection – A bit before my time, I love Louis Prima’s voice and helps me reconnect with my dad and his generation
  3. Salty Dog –Procol Harum – Salty Dog – One of Procol’s best songs but does anyone really know what Whiter Shade of Pale is all aboout
  4. That Where I am, There You Are, Rich Mullins – The Jesus Record disc 1 – This is the only “contemporary Christian” music that popped up (though I really doubt that “Christian” should be used as an modifier). Mullins is appropriate for me because there are times when in struggles in faith I can put on his version of the Apostles’ Creed and I can say: “Yes, yes this is what I know to be true. I did not make it it is making me”. Then I usually put on U2’s When Love Came to Town to be reminded that it was my sins that put him there
  5. Texas Rangers – Michael Martin Murphey – Cowboy Songs – I have always loved Cowboy songs
  6. When The World Ends – Dave Matthews Band – Everyday
  7. Dizzy Miss Lizzy – Beatles – Help (Remastered!)
  8. Baby’s Gotten Good At Goodbye – George Strait – 50 Number 1 Hits – George Strait has become one of my few contemporary country singers
  9. Jungleland – Bruce Springsteen – Live in New York City – One of my favorite Bruce tunes
  10. Befriended – Matt Redmond – Where Angels Fear to Tread
  11. Wachet auf, ruftuns die Stimme –Toizer Knabenchor – Voices of Angels – This disc, Voices of Angels, is a beautiful collection of Bach pieces performed on period instruments

Well I will post the rest later today or tomorrow. Well what does this say about me? What can you guess about what will follow. For those of you who know me well which artists are you surprised are not here?

Learning to Draw

In 1971 (almost 40 years ago!) I entered Clemson University as a Chemical Engineering major. Four years later I graduated (barely!) with a BS in that major but when I started I took a class in “mechanical drawing” which meant that I used things called a T-square and triangles to produce drawings of various objects, buildings and engineering “things”. Today, as I am entering a new phase of life after serving as a pastor of 30 years, I am mastering a new way of “drawing”. I am learning a program called “AutoCad” which is really quite amazing. It produces drawings in minutes that when I was “drawing” would take hours or days. In addition the laptop that I am using to produce these drawings is more powerful than the computer that I used in college that took up entire rooms and that I feed info into using something called punch cards.

I know that I maybe sounding like my father talking about how far he had to walk to school in his day but it is really not that, it is really an amazement at how much things have changed in the past 40 years and how much I really get excited about finding out how things work. The difference is that when I started “drawing” 40 years ago I did not associate this “wonder” with the God who made all of this, now my wonder is not just at what man has done but at what the God of all creation has done in making people in his image who can model him in creation

New time, new blog

I have worked at blogging before and have really done a poor job. I find myself now in what many call “mid-life” entering into an entirely new period of live and it is my desire to blog about this for the sake of my own heart and maybe to help others going through similar situations. I find myself posting this entry (or should that be blogging this entry) after two important events. First and most important, I have just returned with my wife from a wonderful week-end in the Tennessee mountains were we were able to be alone: now wi-fi, no cable TV (though there was a DVD where we were able to watch a few episodes of Magnum, PI – my request; and my Big Fat Greek Wedding (both of our requests) and I finished reading a book “Leaving Ruin”, a book about a pastor who resigns with pastorate after 11 years. In light of my current situation it spoke to my heart in powerful ways and gave me renewed conviction that I am still going through this life leaning on Jesus like I was a cripple. So I start this new blog, with anticipation and wonder. Some of you may want to join with me.