Learning more about Auctions…and Life

I had no idea…earthly or spiritual…how “triggering” my note about the cattle auction was.

Yesterday morning at our 10 a.m. solve all the world’s problems, I shared my joy [and personal frustration] at being at the Lexington Cattle Auction [capitalized, for sure] was. I said I couldn’t understand what the auctioneer, a wonderful friend because he puts up with me, was saying. And that he only asked one bidder his name…and the most puzzling, how in the world the auctioneer knew who was bidding when and for what amount?

Oh, boy, was I clued in. The auctioneer and his sister and family were in church yesterday, following which he explained that I was right on one account…he knew every bidder there—must have been at least 70—except one. “Yeah, I know ‘em but not Mr. League, but the rest? I know.” I then asked him about how he knew about the bids…”small gestures each of them has.”

Must admit I’d love that gift, to read facial body language when preaching…”are we connected?” “Are you okay with the thought?” “Dismayed?” And my best one, I hope their eyes are closed for concentration on the thought. But, hey, I then give thanks to God I’m a cure for their insomnia.

One of my dearest colleagues, Sandy in Colorado, now knowing life’s “transition” is more present than any of us wish, wrote, “Ah, auctions? Went to them all the time in Iowa. I get it.” Sandy, only love and prayers and appreciation to and for you. And, deep truth, you not only get auctions…profoundly, you “get” ministry and caring and pastoral presence! I am a witness, for sure.

And then, from a high school graduate—same class at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, Class of ’58 [don’t get smart on this…that’s 1958 not a century earlier], wrote…illuminated my day…goes like this:

Today I’ll call you Mr. Mark. You’ve deserved it. Aren’t auctions a hoot! I love ’em whether for antiques, animals, art, or junk. I love ’em! My uncle was an auctioneer. He knew, one time, I was drooling over 3 books I didn’t think I could ever have. He must have talked with the owners ’cause I ended up owning ’em that evening. I was a teenager and I still go coo coo over books and I’ll meet a friend at an auction ’cause we both love ’em. Now, I’m way too poor to buy or even think of buying a piece of junk. But I can go & sit in that electric room. Marianne

Have some answers now about how Keith auctions and what to look for. How each bidder has his own sign-language, and I bet Keith has Mr. League all figured out! However, I will assure my wife, Diane, and our three kids, Faith, Copper and Joshua, they won’t have to share their back yard with Mr. Bull.

Still, learning new things…makes this Monday morning a smile. Then to consider for next Sunday, how none of us should ever be a grasshopper. Profound thanks to Joshua and Caleb for that conviction.

Have a great week…

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The Day The City Slicker Joined Rural America

Have mentioned my enthusiasm, even mystery and intrigue, in how a City Slicker can serve a rural parish. But, it’s true. Such dear, genuine people. Long time since after church, with no reflection upon that particular worship service, people have shared, “Mark, we’re going to be gone the next two Sundays…be back in 3 weeks.” Or someone writes Sunday night apologetically about missing church because coughing and sneezing and “dripping” won that morning.

Very, very special.

Until today. And today, which is Saturday, October 21, 2017, the rural world? Man? Woman? I am now part of it. It has arrived!

Of course, let me explain.

One of our Austin ministers asked if I had been to the #1 BBQ in Texas? Well, had heard Franklin’s in Austin always ranked high. My friend said, “Do you know the #! BBQ is in Lexington, where you serve as preaching and pastoral care guy?” Well, truth, “No, I didn’t. No one’s mentioned it.”

The response, “Well, that’s probably because it’s only open on Saturday and you aren’t 7th Day Adventist.”

So, I looked up Snow’s, which unto itself by name belongs in Montana or Colorado. Saw a pretty modest web page, with menu. Just like every other BBQ…the pork ribs, brisket, sausage, the chicken. Plus, the Cole slaw and potato salad. Very normal.

Then, I looked at the staff and saw the name Bexley…aha, I mused, and wrote Keith Bexley, active member of our First Christian Church in Lexington.

He responded quickly, ‘Yep, Kerry’s my brother. Say, why don’t you come to Lexington on Saturday…I’ll treat you to BBQ. And. If you’re interested, down the street 3 blocks we’ll have our Saturday cattle auction. Maybe you’d like to see it. [Well, I had been told Keith was an auctioneer, but he refused to make that point. Humility, folks…true humility.] He then said for me to meet him around 11 a.m. because, “they often run out of food…and that’s it until next Saturday.”

Well, anyone who knows me, being on time is the 11th personal commandment. In fact, at my Memorial Service it will probably begin at least 10 minutes early.

I got to Lexington, Main Street USA. Below will be a picture of the line waiting at Snow’s.

Since Keith had a connection, he invited me to sit down. No one had a clue who I was in the line—that was a good thing…a really good thing.

I sat down with a lady from Katy, outside of Houston, her husband and two daughters. I had met her at church and thought, total off-target, Kendra was Keith’s daughter…nope, his sister. Luckily they are gracious and forgiving.

Was a wonderful conversation with the family…was so impressed that Kendra is an occupational therapist…what a great ministry—that’s how I see it.

Keith had taken off…to the auction…still no mention of his raise money—for ranchers. Wondered if he could do that for churches?

I then “HAD” to meet Tootsie. She must be 90 or 100 or 200. Incredible. She’s the pulse rate and “leader” at Snow’s. Introduced myself. Oh, my. Such grace and what a smile. She then said, “I do what the Lord wants…and it’s to be here helping people feel good. I have lost my son and husband…but still time for me to do some cheering of others.”

Oh, wow. She shook my hand, then hugged me. I had to: I told her I preached where the Bexley’s go to church, so gave her a blessing. She beamed…and wiped her eyes. Oh, God, thank you…Tootsie? You are really an angel impersonating a human being.

Then to the auction. No one in the stands/seats/benches could think I was there to bid. Was the only one without a notepad on my lap, a pencil or pen in my hand and no hat. Never saw so many white hats.

I then saw Keith…and he was high on a chair, holding a microphone, Mr. Auctioneer. He winked, clapped his hand and gave me an okay sign. I’m not sure…but my impression is he’s one terrific auctioneer. The crowd was alert to bid. But, truth. I had no idea what he was saying…oh, some numbers, but what appeared to me? Lots of yodeling.

And puzzling, although City Slickers wouldn’t know better than I, I presume, bidding on the bulls…the first to be bid on, were only in the bidding ring about 10 seconds! My word! HOW could the bidders know, “I WANT THIS ONE!” I’ll have to ask my auctioneer friend.

And then I wondered, “How in the world does he see the bids? I turned and scoped the crowd…no hands raised, no evident nods…but evidently the bids happened. Did they wink? Nudge their glasses?

As I left, don’t remember the 1.5-hour drive back home. Because all I could think, “I have arrived in rural America…and am accepted.”

And, thank God, at the auction I never raised my hand once…so I might have ended up with Mr. Bull. Doubt…no, stronger…KNOW that Faith, Caleb and Copper have no wish to share the backyard.

I know…this blog longer than normal. But today, emotionally and the JOY were longer than normal. Gratefully so.

Thank you, Keith. Still haven’t a clue what you warbled, but I know, down deep, I’m your friend. And. THAT’S WHAT COUNTS!

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The Moment When Pride Smothered Humility

This morning Art Johnson [My Saturday morning preacher] talked about how pride often mutes humility. His reference was a full head of hair that clumped [my word] in his hand upon more than one occasion. That wasn’t welcomed. I’m sure he didn’t think he was Samson…but, still, hair is hair. Right?

The trigger was personal…not the color or fading presence of hair. But of a moment in my life—came crashing in this Saturday morning, a moment when arrogance smothered pride and humility was nowhere to be found.

Went like this in a note back to Art:

The issue of pride and humility.

I really appreciate what you said…really appreciate. One of the lines to walk, or at least if possible, is to know the difference between confidence and arrogance. Even more, how you can be proud and not have that an inevitable predecessor to a fall. I battle that, because there are times when I think of myself, to phrase the Apostle Paul, “more highly than I ought to think.”

Brings back a painful memory, actually a moment when I gushed and should have nodded. It was September of 1962…my first night at Yale Divinity School, having graduated from Stanford that previous June. There was a huge event in my life just two days before I arrived, by car, in New Haven for seminary. I had pitched in the semifinal game of the Semi-Professional Baseball World Series in Battle Creek, Michigan. We won 4-3, my last game ever pitched. Won the next night to raise the national championship trophy.

All that tardy-ed me to Yale. The morning I arrived I met with the Field Work Director, Jon Oliver Nelson. He asked about my being late, so I told him about the national championship. What I didn’t know is that night was the first meeting of the new students, returning students, faculty and administrators. I sat off to the side, then BAM, Mr. Nelson asked me to stand. I had no warning, he had not asked me if it was okay to introduce me. It wasn’t, but that was academic. He then called me before the group and announced I pitched like Whitey Ford of the Yankees and all about the national semi-professional World Series. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it was arrogant as hell…the Apostle Paul had to have scowled.

Not sure I lived that down…at least in my heart. Well, truth? I’m sure I did, but never again would that happen…or if it did, I would scuttle it as Fake News.

So, on this Saturday morning, want to share something else.

I’ve always done my best in ministry to “be there” for folk. Well, today that mantra will happen. One of the FCC/Lexington members has a brother who is a chef at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, which I’m told beats ‘em all in Texas. They are only open on Saturday’s. My friend invited me to the BBQ, THEN, to an auction. Turns out he is the Auctioneer! So, I will sample the pork ribs and see how the auctioneer plies his trade. Hey, it’s ministry!

And I’m sure I will remember my first [and only other] auction I attended in Sequin, Texas. Embarrassing moment when I raised my hand, not knowing I had just bid on a 300-pound pig. But. That’s for another day.

Will then return and figure out what God meant to Moses, at God’s self-naming, “I AM WHO I AM.”

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When Bad Doesn’t Win The Day…Or Our Lives

Friday morning dawns. Declarations by politicians ramp up, truth appears to be uncertain at best, given the reference. It’s like two people standing on each side of a 9…one sees it as a 9…the other as a 6. They both rant about they are right. My novel-writing-professor and valued friend, Jim Thayer, said the best way to lessen severity, stress and hostility in an argument is to simply say, “You may be right.” At times the humor of that is disengaging. Other times it only fuels the fire.

Along with the tirades, that never stay on one side of the aisle, I read on line about some people who define evil with such horror I cannot bring myself to write it.

No doubt, everyone. Evil is neither vacated in our swirling world…and the most evil that lurks silently in the hearts of very bad people. Too much of that…too much.

But, in our own lives, whether we are at the top or the bottom of the 6/9, the realities focus upon our personal world and how we can be instruments of peace and care and love. This is not academic, folks:

In all of that, my prayers this morning ask God to be caring and to never break the promise to always be with us. THAT is needful and comforting. My valued fishing guide friend, Bob Ball, is currently in his birth hometown, Lake Oswego, Oregon, caring for his father, Bob Ball, Senior. Bob wrote yesterday to share his father is in a terminal condition from cancer, where hours and not days are marked. I wrote Bob, as I’ve shared over five decades with folk, how the Apostle Paul sustains, “Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” Bob, know of our love and affirmation…and our prayers you all know God is NEVER a Promise-Breaker, as Moses was affirmed by God, I AM WHO I AM.

And prayers for Christie as she battles the brain tumor. Joanne wrote last night they are heartened by the bonding of their supportive church members, which is so very helpful. May Christie and Joanne know how much we love and affirm them and always include them both in our prayers.

Then. Oh, yes. Wanted to share some wonderful news…Brian, our nephew dealing with inoperable brain cancer, and his parents, visited with the oncologist yesterday. The oncologist said how much good news the recent MRI showed. That was 2 weeks ago. The current MRI revealed no advancement of the cancer!!! In fact, the oncologist said he wants to see Brian in six months. Not “next week.” And the oncologist shared that Brian has lived longer since diagnosis than the other patients with this type tumor, astrocytoma, which now pushes two years. THANKS BE TO GOD! THANK YOU, GOD!

Then. Another, oh yes. We have learned from the editor of a Northwest fishing magazine, SALMONTROUTSTEELHEADER they will publish the article about Brian and his salmon fishing adventure this past August. We are so very grateful. So very grateful. And. Who knows, there might even be a cover picture of Brian holding his first salmon! Now THAT’S worth celebrating. [Only a possibility for the cover picture…still, we are so very grateful and encouraged.]

The final “and then.” Yesterday I received a picture of what I call LIFE PLUS! I have shared before how my cousin, Tom Widlits [in Portland] and his wife, Jill, have become “adopted grandparents” of Emery. This picture brings me hope and love and goodness in life.

THAT needs to win the day…and empower us and inspire us to never give up or in. For life, gifted by God, can be more than a hoot. It can be a living and breathing Alleluia!

May Emery know the love of her parents and her “adopted grandparents” be prevailing in her life.

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Catfish and Crawfish–New Takes

Words make for growth. That is, when used for more than slang. Words also morph and take on new life. Not always good.

The trigger? I just read about “catfishing.” When you’d ask me if I ever catfished, I’d give you my 1940’s version. Going with my father to Scappoose, Oregon, renting a boat on the Multnomah Channel, going downstream to the Gilbert Slough. We had a couple of crawfish traps and lots of fish heads and liver for bait, would drop the traps. Then go a short distance away, drop the anchor, put worms on hooks, cast, wait, then the nibble, then the take, then the hook-set. Then! The catfish. No channel cat in the 30 and 40-pound class…nope, maybe 12 inches in length. But, as I remember, very tasty, since Esther Miller was the best cook in the world. So, yes, I’ve catfished.

Then. Yikes! I read a story about a new dictionary, circa 2014, definition of catfishing. Oh, my. Here it is:

Catfishing was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2014. It refers to a person who creates a fake social-media profile, usually with the goal of making a romantic connection. The term was coined during a 2010 documentary, Catfish, when a subject told a story about the journey of live cod from the United States to China. Apparently, to prevent the cod from becoming lazy and their flesh turning to mush, seafood suppliers add to the tanks their natural enemy, the catfish. A predator creates excitement.

The article told about a “catfisher,” who for more than a year, “courted on social media” a very innocent young lady. Drastic of him and desperate of her. Somehow worked out when the catfisher was dumped back into the sludgy water and the lady, in tracking down the man who had been impersonated…well, a nice “take” how it unfolded.

My more-thought, is unfortunately, maybe no less or infrequent for you, have met people who catfish through their careers…be it in any field, even faking degrees. Hey, has happened for clergy…names are not provided here, but people who give “their all,” only in an effort to obtain a position…but it was done for popularity and recognition and ends up with people writhing in malcontent.

Plus. This occurred to me. From the word “crawfish.” As mentioned, did that on Gilbert Slough. But, once in Texas learned something new…that is in reference to people who talk a good game, but when it comes down to facing the truth or even living up to their promise, “crawfish.” The image is stark…for when a crawfish is confronted, it can only go backwards. To escape.

Enough of our word chilling today…stay away from catfish people and crawfishing people. If it’s a person who is one and the same, beware.

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Making A Case For Deception

Paul Holmer, God rest his soul, was a very special professor at my divinity school. He taught courses on how theology and philosophy could be brought together in ministry. He maintained the heart was the most important “voice” in sharing the faith journey. He made it clear the difference between the language about religion and the language of religion was crucial in offering what we each believed. He was a specialist on Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian.

And I won’t forget my last seminary examination. Mr. Holmer [we never called our faculty “Dr.”], when he learned I needed to return to Portland on a health emergency before the scheduled examination and, regrettably my seminary commencement service, asked me to meet with him in his office…days in advance. It would be a “visiting exam,” nothing written. He knew of my family situation. Plus, he knew of my passion for baseball, so the “exam” started, because Mr. Holmer had transferred to Yale from the University of Minnesota, “Mark, how do you think my Twins and your Cubs will do this season?”

Then after crafting a response on why I liked the Cubs more than any other team [this was well before a Denver ministry in 1973] he said, “Okay. This is your exam. One question. What did you learn in my Philosophy of Religion course?”

What a fantastic question…to find out what I learned, not on what I couldn’t remember. Classic to me.

And the highest honor was when Mr. Holmer agreed to preach at my installation service as Assistant Pastor at St. Pauls Church in Chicago, July of 1966. A “WOW” moment for me.

However, after all this, there’s one line from Mr. Holmer that has never left me. When told him I was going on a trip to surprise a friend, who was having a special day, but no one knew about my visit, he smiled, “Good. There are times when you must deceive someone for their own good.”

THAT came to me today when I read what a 6th grade child read to his class about “his hero.” Then, when he finished, “his hero”, his brother, came center stage—came from his army station in Germany. That’s a “WOW” moment. Deception in its best form…the younger brother was clueless. Yes!

Here’s the link: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/army-soldier-surprises-little-brother-on-stage-at-carnegie-elementary-school/ar-AAsYtbh?ocid=spartandhp

There are times and places when deception is a function of love and affirmation. So rare. My regret is how many today [you can name the field] who speak with a clear and stronger commitment to popularity than to integrity. That’s not a WOW moment; nope, it’s an OUCH moment.

Think it better if we present WOW moments…don’t you?

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One Is A Lonely Number

Understood. Always. In special religious events [my focus for today] the center light, the main focus, is either one or two. For a Baptism it’s the one being baptized. For the wedding it’s the couple.

Today, though, I read of a wedding where the sister of the bride was included in the marriages vows. Not an endorsement of polygamy. No, not for a breath. The bride’s sister has Down Syndrome; she is precious to both families. The sister was included with the groom promising to support and care for the sister. And a promise if ever necessary to continue that care.

The sister was dressed in white…and dry eyes were not to be found.

I understand a marriage to be covenantal. That is an agreement between at least two people they will give their fullest for the good of the relationship. In this instance, the covenant included the sister, for caring and support. A special definition of relationship, a promise made with and before God.

I then thought. Have shared before in my own tradition, a member of a German Congregational Church in Portland, Oregon, the tradition was for the godparents to bring the infant forward for baptism. My father said, “I will take that responsibility.” My mother responded, “Henry! You need to know in baptism you are making a vow you will attend church and support Mark’s religious development.” He nodded and I’m told the godparents were not rankled. At least they never said word one about that, but always marked the day of my baptism with a card.

More in the thought. I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, although intent has favor. Whenever I celebrated the baptism, if there were other family children gathered, I would take a moment and speak to them about their new brother and sister and tell them they are important, not to be forgotten or neglected. And would give each of them a gift. No less, we’d gift the morning newspaper to the parents, because their child was baptized in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But, also into the swirling reality of the current day, in which their child would live and grow. God and Blessing and Life…not separated. The reality of whole family and current world seemed to be helpful.

And in weddings, if first weddings and parents of bride and groom were present, I would speak to them and ask them to support their daughter or son in their journey as husband and wife. And if second or third weddings, I would ask step-children or even adult step-children for their support.

Why all this? Because, maybe you’re not a stranger to this, as most of my life is lived, I’m finding particular stories or events unfolding a very large tapestry in which I recall moments. For instance, one of my dearest friends reminded me this week, when they brought their son to baptism well distanced from their home, the four of us together—because a pastor makes a vow, too—is part of their gladness. Their son is well into his 20’s now…and for them to recall. That unto itself is so very special.

Hopefully you, too, will recall your previous important moments and realize you were not singing a solo. And, no less hopefully, you’ll never have to.

Here’s the inspiring link:


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