Living in the Now While Waiting for the Biopsy

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I found another spot.  On my way to conduct a funeral Friday afternoon, I glanced in the rearview mirror while at a stop light to make sure I didn’t have anything unsightly on my face, nose, mouth before arriving at the funeral home.

That’s when I saw the spot.  A white mark on my upper lip.  It wouldn’t wipe off. “Rats,” I said to no one in particular.  I’ve seen that kind of mark before – on my arm.  

15 years ago. 

Melanoma.  

The light turned green so I drove on.  At the next red light I took a selfie and sent it to my friend and Dermatologist PA and asked, “What do you think?”  She replied within 5 minutes.  “Come in Monday.”

I went in.  I came out with a biopsied, bandaged upper lip.  

I’ve had two previous melanomas and one squamous cell carcinoma (the wound from that surgery is still healing).  

Now, I wait.  What will the biopsy show this spot to be?

I know the principles of living in the now.  But I don’t know how to live those principles all of the time. Sometimes I do it. Sometimes I don’t.  Right now, for me to live in the now, is a choice. 

It has yet to become an automatic response. 

The “right now” is this:

  • I don’t know the nature of the spot. That’s the fact.  So why worry about something that may not be?  Why let a fear of tomorrow rob me of the fun I can have today?
  • I feel good. At least until the anesthesia wears off!  
  • I have great care from the dermatology team.
  • I have this moment.  Right now.  That’s all I’m guaranteed. So, I will make this present moment, standing here typing and drinking from a straw, looking at Denise across the room, the best moment ever. 

I will live by Calvin’s philosophy when he says to Hobbs, “We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.” 

 

Men Behaving ….

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After watching the video of Will Smith smacking Chris Rock after the comedian told a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, how would you complete the line: Men Behaving _________?

Some commend Will Smith for “protecting his wife,” calling what he did, “beautiful,” “manly.”

Some criticize Will Smith for “toxic masculinity.”

Some commend Chris Rock for showing restraint and maturity for not smacking back and for not pressing charges (at least not yet).  

Some criticize Chris Rock for bad taste in joking about someone’s health.  

What do you think?  What adverb would you use to complete the sentence? 

I think I’ll go with the title of the British sitcom – “Men Behaving Badly.”

And I think it applies to both men. 

I’m not saying they are bad men – just that their behavior was bad.  

Maybe both men need to take a step back for a little re-evaluation. 

Chris Rock:  I’ve always cringed at jokes that target health issues of people.  I just don’t see Jesus doing that.  Or maybe it was because I received my share of “teasing” as a kid for my speech impediment.  

Will Smith: Well, what he did was assault.  I wonder if we have fallen asleep to basic standards of human decency and civility.  Our leaders have been openly cruel and mean and in so doing have given us permission to be and do the same.  This is where we are. 

In his speech after receiving the Oscar for actor for his role in “King Richard” (Loved that movie!), Will said, “I’m being called on in my life, to love people and to protect people.” And then he said this: “Love will make you do crazy things.”  

Will Smith, Nope.  Just ask a victim of abuse whose abuser uses that same line.  

We all can do better.  And hopefully, when we know better, we will do better (Thank you, Maya Angelou).

One Religion

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“So, if we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion, one, one, one nation under God and one religion under God.  Right? All of us together. Working together.”  

These are the words of Michael Flynn spoken in an address at the ReAwaken America tour which stopped at John Hagee’s church in San Antonio, Texas the weekend of November 14-15.  

“One religion” is not a surprising concept to me.  Michael Flynn is not the first person I’ve heard give voice to that view.  I heard it in the 70s and 80s from the Moral Majority and preachers who were sucked into that movement – I was one of them.  

I heard it from myself.  

I don’t talk that way anymore.  I don’t think that way anymore. 

Why? 

History.  The Constitution.  My evolving understanding of Jesus.  The Handmaid’s Tale (The US is not Gilead).

What religion is Flynn proposing the US should officially adopt or enforce?  I think we know the answer.   

Now, imagine if a Muslim or Jewish American leader made the same comment that the United States should have one faith, and that it should be Islam or Judaism.  The outrage from the religious right would be deafening.  But, strangely, I haven’t heard a peep of criticism from the religious right for these comments.  

Here’s where I am today.  

The Dalai Lama describes his religion in this way:  “My religion is kindness.”  

Ok, if that were the religion referred to by Flynn, that might be ok.  One religion of kindness.  All of us together.  Working together toward  kindness.  

That’s golden.  In fact, it’s the golden rule we’ve all learned: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  

Yeah, we must have that religion.  

COVID-19 and Palm Sunday

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Thank You

Happy Palm Sunday

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.

Pilate has also arrived, riding on a war horse.  

Two leaders. Two different ways of leading. 

Two animals. Two different images.

When writing about this event, Matthew reflects on Zechariah 9:9:

“Say to Daughter Zion (Jerusalem), 

‘See, your king comes to you,

Gentle and riding on a donkey,

Even upon a colt, a foal of a beast of burden.

“Gentle?”  

“Riding on a donkey, even a foal of a beast of burden”?  (No, the Rolling Stones are not the originators of the phrase.)

What kind of King is this? 

Where’s the display of power? 
Where’s the “Hey, I’m a big deal!” attitude? 

It’s not there.  We won’t “see” that in Jesus. In Jesus, we “see” a different way to live and to lead.  Jesus is reframing power. Oh, yes, Jesus has power.  “All power (authority) has been given to me (Matthew 28:18),” Jesus tells his disciples.

But this Jesus kind of power is “seen” not in the person who is served but in the person who is serving (Matthew 20:25-28).  

Wanna see power today?  Look at  the 1000s of medical personnel serving us, “giving their lives as a sacrifice” in this war against COVID-19.  

That is power on display.  

On this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passion Week, we thank them for their passionate and sacrificial service.

 

Yes, We Will All Die.

I have a funeral today, Wednesday, March 2, 2022 – Ash Wednesday.  This will be the third funeral I’ve conducted this week.  

I face death regularly.  It’s part of the job.  Some humorist has said that the job of the pastor is to “Marry and Bury.” It’s a life of dealing with the “wed and the dead.”

Ash Wednesday is a reminder of death. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are meant to represent dust.  When receiving ashes on their foreheads, they hear the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  

Thanks, but no thanks, for the reminder.  We don’t like to be reminded of, to think about, death.  So we say just about anything to avoid saying the d-word:

  • Kicked the bucket
  • Six feet under
  • Bought the farm
  • Pushing up daisies
  • Passed away
  • Restin in peace

I get it.  Death is hard to face.  So to help us face it, we actually wear the reminder on our face. 

And that reminder is a good thing. Knowing that I will die motivates me to live a fuller life.  

After a funeral, I’m typically:

  • more “alive” – more aware of the beauty of all around me and its fragility.
  • more grateful
  • kinder
  • more affectionate
  • more loving
  • more here, now. 

My senses are sharpened.  Living with an awareness of death can make my living more loving. 

We don’t like to face death because we fear the loss brought by death. Yes, there is loss, but there is also gain.  “To die is to gain” (Philippians 1:21), Paul reminds us. It’s a trade. And it’s a trade up. 

So, I’m off to this funeral.  And I will return to a fuller life. 

A Lesson From My Mom on Martin Luther King Jr Day

As I celebrate the life of and lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr today, January 17, I am also thinking about my mom, whose 5th anniversary of her death is in two days, January 19 (I can’t believe it’s been 5 years). In the last 10 years of her life she and I had several conversations about social justice, as I was growing ever more passionate about the marginalized and justice issues. She expressed more times than I can count her regret over not participating in the march from Selma to Montgomery, March 7, 1965.

Her regret was deep, sincere, palpable.

In March of 1965 mom was a 31 year old mother of two daughters, ages 12 and 2, and one son, me, age 8, and a busy pastor’s wife of a growing Southern Baptist Church – which is a full-time, unpaid job. It’s understandable that she did not, could not, march.

“Phillip,” mom said to me, “I did not march. You can.”

Mom left me with a resolve to have no regrets…to do what I can to create a world driven by love and justice for all.

In response to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of August 28, 1963, Billy Graham said, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.”

Talk about a dream killer. If that’s true, why march? Let’s just sit and wait.

Mom didn’t believe that to be true. I don’t either.

I dream for a just, loving world. I will work to make the dream come true.

No regrets.

Thank You George Harrison

Yesterday, November 29 was the 20th anniversary of George Harrison’s death. The
Beatle had been suffering from a brain tumor and had been treated at a clinic in
Switzerland in the summer of 2021.


George was known as the “quiet Beatle” during his time with the Fab Four. Maybe the
press gave that name to him because John and Paul talked the most in interviews. I don’t
know. But, John and Paul as the song-writing super couple were the most visible of this,
my favorite band.


George brought to them and to us a deep spirituality – one of kindness.
Ringo tells about the last visit he had with George before his death. His visit was cut
short due to his own daughter’s health challenges: Lee Starkey was suffering a brain
tumor.


Ringo said in an interview:
“The last weeks of George’s life, he was in Switzerland, and I went to see him, and he
was very ill, you know, he could only lay down. And while he was being ill and I’d come to
see him, I was going to Boston, because my daughter had a brain tumor.”


When Ringo told George about his daughter, he said, “Well, you know, I’ve got to go, I’ve
got to go to Boston…and he (George) goes – it’s the last words I heard him say, actually –
and he said: ‘Do you want me to come with you?’”


What a friend.


After telling this story, Ringo wiped away a tear and said, “So, you know, that’s the
incredible side of George.”


George often said, “Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and
love one another.”


Words to live by.


George Harrison, you may have been “the Quiet Beatle” but we still hear you.

  • St. Francis
  • Martin Luther
  • Rob Bell
  • Father Richard Rohr
  • Ralph Carmichael

You may recognize the first four names as revolutionaries in the movement of Christian thinking. But you may be asking,  “Who is Ralph Carmichael and why is he on the list?”  

Ralph Carmichael, who died October 18, 2021, at age 94, was the key figure who dragged the church kicking and screaming into the world of contemporary music.  You know how touchy that topic was and still is!  Some churches are still fighting over music.  

Ralph Carmichael was considered, by his Christian college and many churches, to be a “heretic” for blending the “sacred with the secular.”  He faced resistance and rejection from the Christian world at almost every turn.  

In 1969, Ralph Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser collaborated on the youth musical, “Tell It Like It Is.”

My dad, the hymn-loving  pastor of Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin Missouri, allowed the youth choir to perform the musical during a Sunday night service.  

Dad certainly had a progressive side.

I was in 8th grade, too young to be in the youth choir, but I sat in the congregation listening, mesmerized, “Wow, this is SO COOL!”  

Ralph Carmichael was instrumental in re-forming, re-shaping my faith.  In ninth grade, I joined the youth choir.   One song at the forefront of my memory from those days is a Ralph Carmichael song:  “A Quiet Place.”

It meant a lot to me then.  It means even more to me today. 

Read the lyrics. 

Let them soak into your soul. 

There is a quiet place

Far from this rapid place

Where God can soothe my troubled mind.

Sheltered by tree and flow’r

There in my quiet hour 

With Him by cares are left behind.

Whether a garden small

Or on a mountain tall

New strength and courage there I find.

Then from this quiet place

I go prepared to face

A new day WITH LOVE FOR ALL MANKIND.  

I have not always had a love for all mankind.  I have not always loved people who worshipped differently, who voted differently, who lived differently than I.   Oh, I said I loved them, but I really didn’t.  I judged.  I condemned.  I excluded.  

Ralph expressed an experience in song that I sang about as a 14 year old but did not experience until I was a 50 plus year old: Contemplation of God – looking at God’s face – in nature, resulting in a reflection of God’s nature – a love for ALL mankind.  


Yes, Ralph Carmichael, your songs were revolutionary. 

Some revolutions are slower than others.  It took me 40 years to live what I sang.  Each day is a “new day” to live in love.

Don’t Know Much About History… Don’t Care Much About History

Juneteenth is, as of June 17, 2021, an official, federal holiday. Yay! We love holidays. The problem, however, is at times, we forget the history behind the holiday.

Every Christmas there are voices bemoaning and berating those who have forgotten the “reason for the season.”

Is it possible that we don’t know, or maybe don’t care about the history behind this new holiday?

To appreciate the holiday and all it means, should we not aggressively and enthusiastically make every effort, remove every obstacle, to learning all we can about the history surrounding it?

It’s a hard history, and we don’t like things that are hard. It’s uncomfortable to sit on hard chairs or hard facts. And slavery is hard history. Violence against fellow human beings is hard history. White supremacy that justified the violence then and the injustices now is hard to face.

But maybe it’s only when we feel uncomfortable that we will change chairs – that we will do something to change the way things are and make them the way they should be.

Juneteenth will be celebrated, but learning about it may not be.

Father’s Day Without My Father

This will be my sisters and my first Father’s Day since dad died October 11, 2020. When someone you love dies you mentally mark the “firsts since.”
First Thanksgiving …
First Christmas…
First Easter…
First ball game…
First…

The event feels different because of their absence. How could it not?  
I had 64 years with dad. I’m fortunate. I’m thinking of those who had much fewer years with their dads.  

My cousins. 
Cousins on the Wright (dad) side were young children when their dad died. Cousins on the Murdaugh (mom) side were young adults when their dad died. So many Father’s Days have they crossed off the calendar without their dad. 

Friends.
…whose husband and father of their children, died at an age much too young. Some of them are experiencing their “first since” with this year’s Father’s Day.

A family who was told a few days ago that their husband and father had two months to live.  

Others.
People I didn’t know until I was asked to lead the funeral service for their dad.  

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking especially of you. Contemplate these words from Mother Teresa, “Death is nothing else but going home to God, the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity.”

To those whose dad is still in their body, remember to always leave loved ones with loving words. That’s what dad would want us to know.  

My dad followed the formula for a good sermon: Three points and a poem.  He often concluded his sermons with a poem. Never read. Always recited. The main message he left us as he left this world was a message of “Be kind.”  “Kindness” is the message of this poem, “Bouquets or Wreaths,” with which he concluded a sermon delivered at First Baptist Church, Poplar Bluff. Here is the last verse: 

God make me kind.
So many hearts are lonely
Are asking for this only,
The kind and tender word.
God make me kind.
To all who mutely ask it,
Before they fill the casket,
Our bouquets may be wreaths some day.
O Lord, so make me kind.

In Memoriam

On this Memorial Day:

I will remember with gratitude those who died in efforts to preserve our freedoms (Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from Fear – President Franklin D.Roosevelt’s speech of January 6, 1941).

I will mourn those who died in our wars while mourning the presence of war. I will long for and work for the time where we “will study for war no more,” when nation will not take up swords against nation nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).

I will remember May 31, 1921 – the Tulsa Race Massacre. One white Tulsa resident labeled a photograph of the carnage, “Running the Negro Out of Tulsa.” The event remains one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our country and one of the least known. I didn’t know about it until a couple of years ago. How about you? How could something so horrific be so hidden? “If we don’t face it we can’t fix it.” Maybe we didn’t want to fix it? Do we now?

I will remember the family members of those whose funerals I’ve conducted. Church members, friends, strangers who through a death became friends.

I will remember Mom and Dad and other family members who have transitioned – Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins.

I see things that remind me of them. Signs that say “Look. They existed.” And I know they exist still. As Paul Coehlo writes, “We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.”

In the meantime, this afternoon, I think Denise and I will take Dad’s 73 Beetle for a spin. I’ll polish it up a bit first. That’s what Dad would want.

Remember.