Thursday, December 17, 2015

We are being poisoned by loud-mouthed ubiquitous purveyors of fear and hate.  There is an antidote.  It lies in a higher vision. Without, we will perish.  With it, we can live into an all-inclusive love.  
This is the way we Christians say it, but we join hearts and souls with all those who bend toward the light of peace.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sosaku has never attempted again to attend worship or to become a member of a church.
[Sosaku is taken from a Japanese-English dictionary.  It means search.]

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

When we moved to Nebraska a couple of years ago, some of my friends bemoaned that we were moving to such a conservative place.  We started settling in right away and one of our first stops was at the local bank to set up our account.  We were welcomed by a young Vietnamese lady and while my wife was doing business with a young Hispanic man, one of the bankers approached me and asked if he could help me.  I told him I was waiting for my wife and he invited me to sit with him and visit.  His name was Mohammed Kahlil and he told me he was a Kurd and had emigrated here when he was ten years old.  He asked me what I did and I told him I was a retired clergyman.  He looked puzzled and I explained that was kind of like a Christian Imam.  He asked what I did now and when I said I was a storyteller, he asked me to tell him a story.  I told him about the time when my Dad, who was in his nineties, gave up his gun.  When I finished, Kahlil said, "I don't have a gun.  My brothers all have guns, but I try to live my life according to Mohammed, Mahatma Ghandi, and Jesus."  Conservative Nebraska?  I thought I would like living here quite well.

Monday, June 29, 2015

                                                       A Confederate Flag Comes Down

We Know—We Know

     Vintage readers will remember “The Shadow”--a radio mystery program of the 1930's ( With slow eerie music in the background, Orson Wells began each episode, “Who knows what evil lurks in the minds and hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” The Shadow, a crime fighting vigilante, made invisible because of his hypnotic powers, would then proceed to make the city safe from the bad guys, at least, for the time being. I don't think I missed an episode.
     Nobody knew what motivated the evil perpetrators, but the shadow knew.
     The Governor of South Carolina gave a press conference following the racist driven murder of the church folks in Charleston. Backed by the larger than life Confederate flag, she had the temerity to say, “We'll never understands what motivates a crime like this.” Well, of course we know the reason Dylan Roof murdered those church folk. They were black and he said he wanted to start a race war. Lawyers will call him the alleged murderer until the courts have had their say but “We'll never understand what motivates.” Really?
     About the flag behind the governor: From the moment the Confederate flag was lowered over Fort Sumter in defeat 150 years ago to this day, it remains the symbol for far too many people that the racism that drove the Civil War drives today's society. It may have been just a harmless and humorous decoration on the Dukes of Hazard's car but, for many, it reflected the emotional leftovers of a war during which we killed over 600,000 of each other. I know, I lived in that world for all my growing-up years.
     We don't need The Shadow to tell us of the evil of racism that lurks in the minds and hearts. Nor do we need a crime-fighting vigilante to combat racism on our behalf. What we do need is to come clean about our own incipient racism. And we need a cure for our spiritual laryngitis.
     There is hope. What may be different about the Charleston shooting, compared with so many others, is that something tangible has already changed. The nine innocent folks who were killed in Church are even now transforming our lives. For one thing, Confederate flags, now acknowledged symbols of racism, are coming down all over the South. Not all of them, of course, and that battle is far from over.
     But what happens if and when all the flags are down? Lawyers will determine legal guilt. That is their job. But developing new strategies of reconciliation, that's on us. We must surrender to the same powerful love the Charleston Church martyrs demonstrated. We must begin with confession of our own culpability, however subtle. And we must change our pattern of life.

     Several years ago, I had a a mind to run one more marathon, but most everyone I contacted, had a mandatory time limit in which a runner had to complete the run. I knew I could never make it in the time required. Then I talked to the event organizer in Casper, Wyoming. He told me they loved senior runners and that I could start early and finish late and that there would be someone there to record my time. I didn't register or run, but that's another story. What I know, however, is that the struggle to overcome racism is difficult, at best, that we must start as early as right now, be prepared to finish as late as necessary but stay in the race.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Virtual Front Porch

     The first front porch I remember is the one that defined my grandfather's house in Eclectic, Alabama. It was shaded by a huge magnolia tree that kept us relatively cool on those hundred plus degree, humid summer days. That was long before air conditioning, of course. I was only 5 when we moved to live there with Paw Paw, my father's father, after my grandmother died. The house had a back porch, too, but that was for working. The front porch was for sitting and sharing stories, and visiting with a neighbor who dropped by once in awhile.
     When I was eight, Dad went to Auburn University to complete his college education. Mother and I saw him only on holidays and semester breaks for two years. During that time, we moved to south Alabama to help take care of my mother's father, Papa, after mother's mother died. Papa had a large front porch also, but instead of a magnolia tree we now had an equally large and shady pecan tree. A couple of years after we moved there, a tornado touched down in our front yard. When it rose, it took the roof of the house with it and destroyed the porch, the entire house, and uprooted the pecan tree. Papa rebuilt on the same spot and included a new front porch. I remember Papa telling stories while mother shelled peas to get ready for supper, and I played with my little dog, Midget.
     And then we moved. Dad rejoined us in a little cotton mill town on the banks of the Tallapoosa River where he taught school and where I spent my high school years. There was no front porch. In fact, I didn't have a decent front porch until after I had completed a long career in ministry, retired, and moved to Colorado. Our house in Colorado sat at 7000' and faced the Rocky Mountains. A road ran from the house up to the base of Mt. Herman, and a hiking trail ran from there to the top of the 9600' peak. After we extended the front porch so we could sit on it, we would often watch storm clouds form over the mountains before they filled with water and swept down the slope, through the valley and up to us.
     We spent a lot of time on that porch, reading, talking with one another, waving at passersby and visiting with neighbors who stopped to chat.
     We live today in the flat part of Nebraska in Lincoln, over five hundred miles from the Rocky Mountains. We don't often see storms before they're almost upon us. We do have a front porch, somewhat smaller than the one in Colorado. There are passersby and neighbors we visit with. There is no large tree to shade us but it is a nice place to sit, read, think, and share stories.
     And now I have my virtual front porch. I took the picture at the top of this blog one morning when the moon was setting over Pikes Peak and the sun was giving the Garden of the Gods its first bath of the day. In all honesty, I couldn't see all that from my porch; I had to drive a few miles to the ridge that overlooked the Garden. But it is my inspiration as I record my musings from my virtual front porch.
     I want to add my voice to those who challenge folks to help shape the world to fit God's dream. I will pass on some of their ideas, add some of my own, and share stories worth living by. But I will try to stay away from the trivial. My message to the storyteller or preacher is, “Don't waste my time! Make me laugh, help me channel my anger, give me a voice to oppose the mean-spirited and little-minded, challenge my prejudice, show me how to live in community, but don't waste my time!” I'll do my best to take my own advice.

     I hope you will find something here that you can use as you spend time on your own front porch.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Man, A Story—and the Death Penalty

     Will Campbell was a Mississippi-born and bred renegade Southern Baptist preacher, activist, author, and friend. A strong willed and humble man, he quit organized religion and fought injustice in the civil rights struggle in the 1950's.
     Several years ago, my wife and I stopped by his home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee for a short visit. We talked for awhile in his log cabin office just across the creek, before joining his wife, Brenda for cold cucumber and tomato sandwiches. I first met Will in the 50's when I was in seminary and saw him off and on through the years. This was Maurine's first chance to meet him. We both came away that day warmed by his humor and hospitality and challenged by his life story. Maurine still treasures one of his books he gave her. He autographed it, “For Maurine, who came by with hope.”
     One of the reasons Will comes to mind just now has to do with recent action taken by the Nebraska legislature. For many years, Ernie Chambers, an African-American senator from north Omaha has attempted to get the death penalty repealed in our state. This year, with the support of a coalition of political liberals, religious conservatives, and pragmatic senators, he succeeded—and together they overrode the Governor's veto. The struggle is not over and there is a referendum in the offing, but there is hope.
     This all takes me back to Will's long crusade against capital punishment. Will was a great storyteller, but the story I remember most with regard to this issue, is the one told about him.
     Will was invited to debate the issue before a fired-up crowd of death penalty supporters. His opponent gave a long and vigorous defense of capital punishment, festooned with all kinds of statistics and moral and theological justifications. He was rewarded with a standing ovation.
     The moderator then introduced Rev. Campbell, who shambled up to the podium accompanied by tepid applause. Will looked over the crowd, then leaned into the mike and growled, "I'm against the capital punishment because it's tacky!" Then he shambled back to his chair and sat down.
     The stunned crowd fell silent as Will sat and sat some more, staring benignly at them. Finally, the moderator returned to the podium. "Rev. Campbell, won't you please come back and say more about your beliefs?"
     Will shook his head in a silent no. "Are you sure?" asked the moderator. Will nodded his head in a silent yes. In desperation, the moderator said, "Well, won't you at least come back and tell us what you mean by 'tacky'?"
     Slowly, Will got to his feet, shambled back to the podium, and growled into the mike again: "Hell, everybody knows what tacky is!" Then he returned to his chair and sat down.
     The storyteller concludes: “I've yet to hear a more pointed, persuasive, or eloquent argument against the death penalty.”
     Will died two years ago, at the age of 88. His spirit lives on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Respect Trumps Conflict

Respect Trumps Conflict     

     In 1957 I accepted an appointment as Minister in Charge of a Methodist parish in Alabama. The night I was ordained Brother Pickard, a retired pastor said, “Max, most folks will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Little did I know then, how that would play out in the years ahead.
     I was the Minister in Charge by the appointment of the Bishop. I would become a pastor in the real sense only when and if I felt the people's pain, mourned their losses, and shared in what made them happy. I was tested by the conflict that arose when my preaching challenged their prejudices. Remember this was 1957 in a
segregated Black Belt Alabama and I was pastor to an all white congregation. I preached, as best I knew how, of God's love that knows no bounds and I challenged the age-old separate and unequal segregation of the races. The stage was set for conflict. The drama would unfold.
     And unfold it did – from the first day we moved into the parsonage. That very night, a man knocked on the door. He said he was a member of one of the churches in my charge and just wanted to welcome me. He also said, almost as an aside, that there had been talk that the Klan had planned to burn a cross in front of the parsonage as a protest against the liberal preacher who preceded me. I knew that the county had a high Ku Klux Klan membership.        After all, I was a son of the South and I had been raised in a cotton mill town not far from where my churches were located. I knew where I was. I also knew that if the Klan thought my predecessor was liberal, I was in deep trouble. It didn't take me long that night to realize that my visitor was not there to welcome me as much as he was there to deliver a threat. I understood what he was saying. I responded to his message the only way I could think of at the moment. I said, “That would be terrible.” And when he nodded, I continued, “I keep a loaded shotgun inside the front door. I can imagine waking in the night with a mob burning a cross in my front yard, firing into the crowd and, God forbid, killing someone. I'm not sure I could live with that.”
     After he left, my wife said, “Why did you tell him that? You don't even own a gun.”
I said, “I know, but he doesn't know that.”
A couple of days later, a member of the church told me, “I hear you had a visit from the Klan the other night.”
     The Klan never attempted to burn a cross in front of the parsonage. I never knew why not. I doubt if they felt intimidated by my presence. It may be they didn't think I was worth the effort. Whatever the reason, I never heard any more about it and it was never mentioned in church.
     However, racial conflict was the issue of the day, in and out of the Church. Responses to the threat of dismantling segregation were emotional, sometimes to the point of violence. Church members were angry, scared, and defensive as they struggled with their faith and conscience.
     Before I unpacked my books, one of the churches in my charge called a meeting to vote on a proposal from the national Methodist Church to end segregation within its membership. Mine was the only voice in favor of the proposal. The reaction to my vote was swift, emotional, and threatening. One member called me a Communist and I almost came to blows with another one. The thought occurred to me that I might have the shortest term as pastor in the history of that church.
     I remained as pastor for three years and left of my own accord. I cared for the people: burying the dead, consoling the suffering, baptizing the babies, marrying the young, and listening to people's problems. My family and I shared many a meal with families in the church. We couldn't ignore the dark clouds of racial conflict but through our struggles, we held together as the Church - and I never equivocated in my preaching of God's inclusive love.
     Quite often through those three years, I remembered what Brother Pickard had said about caring for the people. Over time I realized that caring begins with respect. If we had judged each other only by first impressions of those turbulent beginning days, we would have parted company early on. If we had not determined to respect each other until we got to know each other better, we would never have discovered a shared vision or maintained any semblance of community.
     There used to be a stop sign where Highway 24 runs into Highway 81 up in the northern part of Kansas. Below the Stop symbol was another sign that read, "Look both ways." And underneath that sign was another that said, "Look again." If we are to sustain a culture of peace and justice, our leaders can't wait until everyone holds hands and sings Kum Ba Yah together. Sometime we have to say no to the mean spirit that pervades our world today.      That calls for clever strategies and unyielding resolve. But it begins with respect. What do you see when you look at a neighbor with whom you disagree? Look again. Look for that shared vision. Prompted by the author of the Book of Proverbs, I write where there is no vision, the people perish, justice is denied, and compassion has its hands tied.

     There is no report card on how well I succeeded as pastor to those country churches. That's not my point. The story happened long ago and far away in the crucible of troubling times, but the lessons learned then ring just as true today in these challenging times.