Let It Be

"We should...show that we are still capable of understanding (and practicing) the concept of honor: loving a thing the way it is, and trying, for once, not to change it." - Rick Bass

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD
your God gives you. Ex. 20.12.

This coming weekend, my family and I will travel back to Nashville, Arkansas. My dad has been the pastor of a Baptist church in this small town for twenty years - something rather uncommon these days. They've asked me to preach or speak or something next Sunday morning..."we want it to be evangelistic, but also honoring to your dad and mom." I told a good friend about this invitation and his response was: "this sounds like something you could really screw up, John." Thanks. My hope is to honor them (my parents) but not eulogize them; I'm not ready for that yet. But there is much about their (and it has been a tag-team effort) ministry that I don't agree with and don't want to emulate. So how do I do that?...honor them, that is?

And then I came across this quote by Rick Bass. Ah, the truth that often lies in the Bass. You'd probably say, "Well, gosh...that's pretty simple...and you went to graduate school?" Yeah, I did, but that doesn't mean much, huh? My parents' ministry is their ministry. Oh, sure - they'll say it's been God's and to some degree, it has been. However, it has had their personal stamp on it (like all ministries do). My challenge, this coming Sunday and throughout my life, is to love them for who they are - not who I want them to be or who I wish they were, but to honor/love them as they are. I've tried to have "change" conversations with them before; they never really go very far. Oh, the conversation is great and the interchange and dialogue are more than worth the effort, but the "change" never happens; we're both pretty stuck in our ways. Or maybe we're stuck in ourselves, which is not a bad place to be stuck in at all. In fact, it's where God has stuck me/us, so that's where He wants us; maybe the challenge is to submit to being stuck for awhile...and letting it be.

And if I can honor my parents that way, it's probably a good approach to my wife, my kids, my friends, co-workers, fellow church people, managers, in-laws, etc. Letting them be...not trying to change them, just let them be. And honoring what's there in that flesh and blood creation crafted by the very hands of God. And not trying to figure out some way to change him or her or them, because my benchmark for change is...guess who? Yep - me. I'd like my parents to do ministry the way I think it should be done. I'd love my wife to approach a problem that way I would approach it. I'd be tinkled pink if my kids would be interested in the things I'm interested in...yada, yada, yada, a whole lotta dis-honoring going on. I'm a damn fool.

And if that's how to honor another, then how about honoring yourself? "Love your neighbor as yourself." What if my challenge is to honor who I am and what I love and what I can't stand and how I spend free time and what I spend money on and what time of the day is my favorite and which movies I absolutely cherish and what memories stay with me like they were yesterday - what if I'm to honor all those things and not try to change them? Now I'm not talking about letting personal hygiene go out the door and blowing up to 400 lbs. and never paying my bills; no, I'm talking about being myself and letting others be themselves and letting it be what it is, which sometimes is not so great, but sometimes borders on being "good." Maybe we would live long upon this earth if we weren't so anxiety-ridden about our spouses or our parents or our neighbors or our pastor or our boss at work. Sam Keen said that stress is a sign that you're trying to live someone else's life. I would add "trying to CHANGE someone else's life" to Mr. Keen's astute observation. My life is much better off when I let God be God; my wife be Meredith; my kids be Will, Sarah and Abbey; my parents be David and Ann; my friends be Rich and Mark and Mo and Steve; my pastor be Ken...and myself be John.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way from Church

My two girls and I were coming back home from church around noon today. I noticed the traffic slowing a little and then saw some flashing lights - uh, oh; I assumed an accident. But to my surprise, we kept moving, inching, creeping. And then I saw them. Hundreds of single headlights, bookended by black soled boots. And then I heard them. Hundreds of wwhhhaaahhhh - Harleys, Hondas, Suzukis, and even a Victory. We had just turned onto the street that was an approved route for the Toys for Tots benefit ride. Traffic then stopped completely and we sat and watched at least 500 cyclists zoom by. We hit the button and the windows came down. "Settle in, girls; there's a few motorcycles gonna pass."

And we watched rider after rider after riders bike by with stuffed animals or boxes wrapped in Christmas paper strapped to windshields or backrests. You just have to smile when everything about the particular rider is black, from leathers to gas tank paint, and then there's Elmo, glistening in his redness, strapped to the front. I like these riders. There's always been an attraction for me to the motorcycle culture. Something about it just screams, "Freedom!" From silver-flecked goatees to proud mamas perched on the back, everyone I saw today was smiling, happy to be riding and giving to a worthy cause. But they were doing it on their terms.

I suddenly noticed that we were stopped directly across from a church parking lot. And evidently church had just let out, but no one could exit the lot due to the stream of bikes motoring by. Those folks were backed up all the way back to the building, which sits a distance off the road. I wondered if they were having Christ-like thoughts as these angels rode by? Or were they put-out because they couldn't get out and get to wherever? Two grade school girls suddenly emerged from one of the stuck-in-the-lot-church-vehicles; they were dressed in white shoes with laced socks and dresses to complete the ensemble. But evidently, the lure of black and the sound of the road were too much for these young souls. They hopped out and began waving and shouting at the riders; the riders began honking back. I'd like to think that if a bike had stopped for a moment that the young girls would've shot off and hopped on and taken off, yelling back to momma "it's for a good cause," while kicking off their laced socks and letting the wind blow through their evangelical toes. And maybe there were others in those SUVs and Subaru wagons who were having thoughts of envy, longing to strap their legs round those engines and let it ride. I know I was.

I was sitting in a minivan, wearing a button-down shirt, telling the girls to "stay buckled up" while simultaneously wishing I was in line with the angels, balancing a hawg with Tigger doing a bouncy, trouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun on my back. We sat still for almost fifteen minutes, watching the parade and dreaming, picking out the bikes we'd have if we could and discussing our favorite gas tank colors. I wasn't sure why I ended up at church this morning. Probably due to habit. Maybe something will emerge later in the week, but by the end of the service, I was wishing I hadn't gone. The drive home was taking on one of those regretful commutes; I was a more than a quart low on hope. And then I saw them. And heard them. Redemption drew nigh as half a thousand doo-ragged brothers and sisters rode by preaching freedom and displaying generosity. Forgive us, Lord, for we know not why we do what we do. Thank you for your messengers, astride chrome and flames, telling us to repent for the Kingdom is near. Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number...