10 Things I Learned from my Dad- Part 1

Photo of my dad and brother fishing.

Photo of my dad and brother fishing.

You may have noticed my blogging has dropped off this past week. Sorry about that, but my heart and mind were quite preoccupied and did not cooperate much when I wanted to try and sit down and write. Even now, it is with a heavy heart that I type out these words. On Monday July 14th at 6:00 AM my father passed away a month shy of his 72nd birthday and a few weeks before he and my mom would have celebrated 51 years of marriage. My father had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for many years and had been in a care home for just over a year. The Parkinson’s slowly took away the man my father was and transformed him into a dim reflection of the man my family knew him to be. The last few years had been especially hard on my family as he grew exponentially weaker, dementia began to set in and he became unable to care for himself.

As my father began to lose who he was, our memories of him became more and more important. When he passed, as most families do, we began to share our memories. As they flooded to mind I started to realize all the things my father had taught me. Some through actual instruction but most through his example. So, if you all would indulge me for a bit I thought it would be good to write some of these things out and share them with you so you might get a glimpse of the man my father was. I know there are many more, but here are 5 of the 10 examples I thought of.

Full Disclaimer: This may become something I read at the funeral. So, if you’re planning on attending the funeral and like surprises you might want to refrain from reading any further for the next two weeks. I putting these up early because, honestly, I have no idea what else I could write and I am finding the process helpful in working through my loss.

1. The Importance of Being Involved in Church
Going to church was always an important part of our family life. But, one thing my father always encouraged and set an example for was involvement in church. My dad sang in the choir, helped usher, greeted people at the door, and was often seen vacuuming up well after an event had ended. My dad could never just come to church, sit in the pew and leave. There were people to talk to, things to do and probably something to clean up. My dad understood deep down that the Church was not a place where he consumed something and left. My dad knew that the Church stands because of the willingness of people to serve. My dad was one of the titans in our church who helped keep the walls up and doors open for all who wanted to walk in. To this day, I can never just sit in a pew either. I know that there are things I can do and love finding my place to serve in a church.

2. He Taught Me to Sing
My dad definitely never sat me down and taught me music theory or gave me vocal lessons. He never received any formal training like that and that just was not his style. What my dad did do was, probably because of him having grown up in the Salvation Army, was sing all the time. As I mentioned previously he sang in the church choir and he even served as an interim worship director for a short time. Even though there was no formal instruction, what my dad did demonstrate was that singing was important and okay for a man to do. Not only did he sing in church but he sang at home, sang in the car and sang pretty much whenever he felt like it. I see in a lot of church services that men often won’t sing. Whether this is because it’s seen as “not cool” or not a “manly” thing to do, I don’t know. But my dad never saw it that way and always sang along. Singing for him was as important as bible study and prayer. It is because of that example that I love singing in church, love the old hymns and (while you may never see me leading a worship service) I’ll always be singing. Whether that is with my church family, with my daughter as she watches Veggie Tales or by myself in the car, I will be singing because he did too.

3. How to Mow the Lawn
This is probably something most fathers teach their sons. We used to live in the country and had a *lot* of lawn to mow. Thankfully we had a riding lawn mower which made it easier and a million times more fun than the alternative. But, this taught me more than just how to cut grass in a regular and consistent fashion. In teaching me how to mow the lawn my dad showed me how important it was to do things right and in order. I could have just gone out and cut the grass in any old pattern and eventually got it done. I could have skipped out on regularly mowing the lawn because that dang grass would just grow right back. Mowing the lawn was not just a lesson in lawn upkeep, but a life lesson about process and making sure a job is done right. The grass will grow and it will need to be cut down again in the same fashion it was before. A lot of things in life work this way and it does not make those things any less meaningful because they are not spontaneous and irregular, but it means we need to take extra care to make sure we do it right and not miss the importance of regular good work.

4. People are Important
My dad LOVED people. He loved meeting new people, making new friends and inviting them over to hang out. At our church, my dad was almost always the first person to greet visitors and connect them with others in the church. Often once people met me and realized we were related they would tell me, “Your dad was the first person to shake my hand and welcome me to church.” Many people still go to that church to this day because he was there with a ready handshake and a welcome smile. My dad knew everyone on our street and could tell the stories of practically everyone he ever lived near. For dad, people were never strangers to be avoided but potential friends and people with stories that he wanted to hear. Because of his example I try to have this same perspective towards other people in my life. I love hearing about where they’ve come from and what their life is like. “Be interested rather than interesting” was something I heard recently that I think sums up my dad’s approach to people and one that I try to follow.

5. When Necessary, Swearing is Okay
My dad, along with most parents, did not encourage us to swear. In fact, I’m sure I got in trouble a few times for saying things that was not something a “good kid” says. However, I do remember the first time I heard my dad swear. I was driving with him and he was upset about the new garbage pickup the county was making us do and pay for. We lived out in the country and would often burn our trash free of charge. Now that the county was picking it up, it came with a fee for the service. My dad was less than thrilled with this and let a single swear word slip out while discussing the issue with a neighbor as I sat in the seat next to him. I was mortified to say the least. My dad had just said something they had repeatedly told me not to say and that, as my Sunday School teacher had taught me, was against one of the Ten Commandments. The interesting thing was, my dad never sat me down and explained what happened but I don’t recall ever hearing him swear again. This taught me that words are important and they serve a purpose. When we use them to hurt and disrespect others then any word can be a swear word. But, when used appropriately and to communicate in a meaningful fashion words are constructive. So called “bad” words have a purpose and we need to be wise about using them, but they are not bad just because they are words. I don’t go around swearing all the time, but I have used them when necessary to communicate my feelings and emotions. Sometimes to the surprise of others which probably helps communicate my feelings more.

I thank you for taking the time to read this. It has been helpful for me to think back and write out my memories. Hopefully, if you did not know my dad, you now have a small picture of who he was. Next week I’ll write about the last 5 things I thought of. If you had the pleasure of knowing my father I would appreciate you sharing your memories or anything you may have learned from him in the comments.

Prayer for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary Time)

Crown by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983

Crown by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted, prayers come from the Book of Common Prayer, Revised Common Lectionary.

Prayers posted during Ordinary Time will feature art that is often not specifically religious, but art for arts sake. Enjoy!

Prayer for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary Time)

Child with dove by Pablo Picasso, 1901.

Child with dove by Pablo Picasso, 1901.

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted, prayers come from the Book of Common Prayer, Revised Common Lectionary.

Prayers posted during Ordinary Time will feature art that is often not specifically religious, but art for arts sake. Enjoy!

Science, and the Existence of God

Sorry for taking a break from the Saint’s of the Week for the last two weeks. Being on vacation has thrown off my schedule a bit. Hope to be back up to speed next week. But, I didn’t want to leave you hanging without something to consider today.

I read this article this morning from the Eclectic Orthodoxy blog. It is one of my favorites for providing perspective from our friends in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The article this morning briefly examines some recent discussion around the relationship between God and science. Specifically, is there a way to prove or disprove God through our exploration and the workings of science. The blog’s author, Fr. Aidan Kimel, provides the following thought:

If science could prove or disprove “God,” “God” wouldn’t be the transcendent Creator who has made the cosmos from out of nothing: he/she/it would be a demiurge. The God of Christian faith is neither a deity nor a Deity-of-the-gaps. He cannot be investigated alongside all other forces and entities in the universe. Nor can we point to a feature of the universe and say, “Aha! this demonstrates that the universe needed a divine creator to get it started.” The divine act of creation does not make the universe different from what it would otherwise be; it makes it be.

via Amir Aczel, Science, and the Existence of God | Eclectic Orthodoxy.

What do you think? Can science, or other methods, prove or disprove God? Is there anything to be gained by trying to “prove” God existence or his creative work?

Feel free to share your thoughts or comments.

The Freedom to Rest

My side of the family, mom in the middle surrounded by her kids, grandkids, and approved in-laws. Photo taken by my brother-in-law, leonardphoto.com

My side of the family, mom in the middle surrounded by her kids, grandkids, and approved in-laws. Photo taken by my brother-in-law, leonardphoto.com

I just wrapped up a week long vacation with my family. We rented a house near the beach in Santa Cruz and spent the week hanging out, eating, playing games, going to the beach and seeing other sights around the Santa Cruz area. Leading up to the vacation, I was really looking forward to this time off with my family in one of my favorite places on earth. Things have generally been busy between work, church, home, fatherhood and trying to squeeze in time for friends when I can. I could not wait to enjoy the break from work by spending non-rushed, quality time with my family and soaking in the sights and sounds of the beach. Thinking about rest and not working drew my mind to the idea of Sabbath and what the Bible tells us about rest.

The idea of Sabbath comes from the story of Creation in Genesis. On the seventh day, the account ends with God “resting”.

On the sixth day God completed all the work that he had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation.
Genesis 2:2-3 (CEB)

The Hebrew word behind “rested” is where we get the word Sabbath. Later, in the book of Exodus the Ten Commandments instructs the Israelites to rest on the Sabbath supported by the idea that God rested on the seventh day and blessed it.

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Exodus 20:8-11 (CEB)

Growing up in my church tradition, Sabbath meant “not working” on Sunday. But, this non-work was far from what my Jewish friends might understand as not working on Saturday when they celebrate the Sabbath. Sure we didn’t go to work or to school on Sunday, but there was often work to be done around the house. Cleaning, cooking and yard work could often fill up a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes naps were squeezed in, but more often than not we did some kind of work. When I became a youth pastor, it technically became my job to work on the Sabbath. The slight irony of serving others who had gathered for worship and “rest” was not lost on me. As I read and learned about Jewish traditions I discovered that Jews would do almost nothing on the Sabbath. Any preparations necessary would be done the day BEFORE so that there would not be any work to actually do once the Jewish Sabbath arrived at sundown, Friday night. They created and prepared for an environment of rest. I went to Israel and saw this first hand as practically everything was closed on Saturdays. Even the elevators were automated, stopping on every floor, so that your wouldn’t even have to work by pushing a button.

All these ideas of work and rest never really gave me a firm idea of what a Sabbath rest really looked like. Even the rest on my vacation was filled with what many would consider work. We drove, we went to an aquarium, we bought lunch, we pushed a few elevator buttons and we caused many other people to work. Some of this even happened on Sunday and Saturday. Yet, I felt rested. I enjoyed the whole vacation, shouldn’t there be some element of Sabbath in what we did?

In a recent post, I mentioned I had been reading The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton, and he brings up the idea of what he thinks the Sabbath rest means especially in light of the Creation story. He writes,

“When we ‘rest’ on the sabbath, we recognize him as the author of order and the one who brings rest (stability) to our lives and world. We take our hands off the controls of our lives and acknowledge him as the one who is in control. Most importantly this calls on us to step back from our workaday world–those means by which we try to provide for ourselves and gain control of our circumstances. Sabbath is for recognizing that it is God who provides for us and who is the master of our lives and our world. We are not imitating him in sabbath observance, we are acknowledging him in tangible ways….Sabbath isn’t the sort of thing that should have to be regulated by rules…If the sabbath has its total focus in recognition of God, it would detract considerably if he had to tell us what to do. Be creative! Do whatever will reflect  your love, appreciation, respect and awe of the God of all the cosmos. Worship is a great idea, but it can be mechanical, and it may only be the beginning. It is up to the individual to determine his or her personal response to give the honor that is due.”
The Lost World of Genesis One, p. 146-147

For Walton, “resting” on the Sabbath is all about recognizing that God is the author of creation and is in control of the whole of the cosmos. By recognizing that, we admit that we are not in control and it is God who ultimately provides our work and the means to live our lives. Sabbath calls us to live into the understanding that we should not be defined by our relationship to work, but by our relationship to the purpose and function giving God.

The Sabbath rest gives us the chance to acknowledge God as it control, to not be defined by our work, and to offer thanks to God for those blessings. The Sabbath law is later restated in Deuteronomy but instead of creation, the support for keeping the Sabbath is remembering that the Israelites were once slaves in Egypt. They are called to remember the time that they were slaves, when their purpose came only from their work. Now, that they are not slaves, the Sabbath is a time to remember that God is in control and they should not be defined by, or slaves to, their work. While I totally understand the reason our Jewish brothers and sisters try to eliminate all work from the Sabbath, what I think Walton is getting at is that those rules and regulations could become another way we can fool ourselves into thinking we are in control. Rather, a Sabbath rest ought to be a time when we free ourselves from the constraints of work and engage freely with the world that God has blessed us with. Freedom from our work, freedom from “slavery”, allows us to open up to the whole world around us and not just the little corner we are stuck trying to control. With this focus, like Walton says, we are free to “rest” however we see fit. Not because you are forced to, but because God is in control and God has freed you to live life. That might include mowing the lawn, going to a museum, worshiping with a community, going on a hike, gardening, cooking, or whatever things you might do that allow you to be free from work and engage with people and the world around you unhindered.

For me, that was a day at the beach with my family. Watching my wife and 18 month old daughter play in the surf. Another day it was grilling some ribs and whipping up some mashed potatoes. Another day it was going to a friend’s church to join that community in worship.

Every day of rest was different, every experience of Sabbath was unique. None of them involved the constraints of my work and all of them were soaked in experiencing the vast, yet sometimes hidden, goodness of God’s creation. In that, the Sabbath becomes a quiet resistance against the temptation to always be in control. It is rebellion against the world’s push to work harder and faster in hopes of finding an always elusive level of happiness.

God through the Sabbath has invited us into the freedom of rest.

Prayer for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary Time)

Souvenir of Mortefontaine by Camille Corot, 1864.

Souvenir of Mortefontaine by Camille Corot, 1864.

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to your with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted, prayers come from the Book of Common Prayer, Revised Common Lectionary.

Prayers posted during Ordinary Time will feature art that is often not specifically religious, but art for arts sake. Enjoy!

Creating a Child, Creating a Father – Part 3

Hanging with daddy, enjoying a corn dog.

Hanging with daddy, enjoying a corn dog.

The last few weeks I’ve been making my way through a little series where I’ve been looking back at my points from this message I gave last year on Father’s Day. In the message I took the opportunity to set out on paper and in public my goals and ideals for being a father. Since I’ve successfully made it over one year as a father I thought it might be good to go back and see how my goals have held up. Two weeks ago I looked back at first point of my message which was about speaking words as God spoke in creation. Last week I reviewed the importance of seeing who God created her to be as God saw his creation as “good”.

Today brings me to the third and final point of the message. The last point turns the focus on me and the calling I now have on my life to be a father. Every day brings a new opportunity that I can learn to be the father God has called me to be. As much as I need to encourage the growth and maturity of my daughter, I will be growing and maturing in ways I never imagined. Each day as a father brings a choice to live into that calling or to turn my back on it.  In order to try and make this post a little more balanced, I thought it might be good to bring a new voice into the blog. I asked my wife, Kourtney, to chime in on this point as she has been the one actually watching me make choices and attempting to live into this new calling. I know what I want to do and become, but she’s the one who is actually watching me succeed or fail in my attempts. So, here is what Kourtney wanted to share with you all about me living into my new calling as a father.

So, this is Kourtney, the female side of this relationship. Instead of my normal role of proofing Greg’s posts, I was asked by Greg to share a little about how becoming a daddy has changed him. It has been the most amazing thing to watch Greg transition from being fearful about the idea of being responsible for another human being to going all in with changing diapers, swaddling and taking her down the slide for the first time.

Greg has always had a servant’s heart but I saw that in a whole new light when we brought our baby girl home. He was so attentive to my needs and willing to do whatever was needed for the baby. I witnessed that fear he had just melt away when she was placed in his arms. The father in him was always there, it just had yet to be unveiled. The humility of realizing there are so many things that we don’t know about being parents definitely challenged our patience and need for communication. A significant lack of sleep did not help much either. However, I never heard him say “that’s not my job”. When God calls you into the role of becoming a parent it demands all of you. Not only was Greg meant to be our daughter’s daddy but he was meant to be my partner in raising our child. Often when our daughter is having a meltdown or waking up in the middle of the night we are able to tag team and be what the other person can’t in that moment due to frustration or fatigue. I am thankful for him that I am not doing this alone. He makes me a better mother.

Greg has never been too concerned with image and though he has yet to put on a costume or play dress up, I have seen Greg put his own pride aside. Listening to Greg read and sing to her melts my heart. Often Greg will take her to Chick-Fil-A and the park and I know they will always have a special relationship. Currently our daughter has a preference for her daddy. She constantly walks past me over to Greg saying “up”. Also, when Greg gets home from work and walks in the door she lets out a squeal and runs to the door. Her little actions demonstrate to me that Greg has given her the love and confidence to feel safe with him.

I thank God and our daughter for giving us the opportunity to see this part of Greg that was hiding inside of him. Even if he didn’t know it was there, I did, and am thankful that God gave him this calling on his life.

I am also very thankful for this calling on my life. I have learned to see life in a whole new way as a father and can’t wait for what will come next. Thanks to my wife, Kourtney, for taking the time to share her thoughts. I hope you found her voice insightful in this discussion. I realized how much I need her to bring some perspective and am thankful she took the time to share that perspective with you all.