Death Came Too Early

It is Sunday morning, July 16, 2017. A blog on memory has been posted. I then went to MSN.Com, one of my news sources and came upon devastation and profound gratitude and hope.

It hit me in both ways. Maryam Mirzakhani. I was devastated to read of this mathematician’s death at the age of 40. She has battled breast cancer for 4 years…the cancer spread to her bone marrow. She died. But I was also so grateful and hopeful for who she was. As a wife, as a mother, as a professor.

When I read this article, a myriad of thoughts and feelings zigged and zagged, almost like water bugs. Yet, there was coherence.

This professor was also a mother and wife and daughter. She was awarded Mathematics Medal of Honor for her creativity. No less, perhaps even more, she was Iranian. She obtained a phD at Harvard in 2004, taught at Princeton, then in 2008 joined the Stanford faculty.

Her roots said so much to me…that all across the earth God creates each human life, and plants in them God’s image. Which as my wonderful professor Douglas Meeks taught me 30 years ago, means “each of us is authorized to represent God.”

Whether or not Maryam Mirzakhani is a Christian, in my personal view, is irrelevant. I assume she’ll be honored in the beliefs of her faith. For certain that NEEDS to happen. And, as my faith believes, she is never to be a stranger to God.

In reading the article linked below, I couldn’t see because this lady…oh, my. Tears refused to stop. Brilliance and humility. And. Only 40 years of age. That hit me deeply. And with it, the hope…for everyone reading my 2nd blog today [cannot wait until Monday to share this!] we EACH are resolved to do whatever we can in our human journey to walk as well as we can, to make the lives of others move toward greater well-being.

I never knew this lady. And yet. I do. Because of her profound manner of living…so her death brings devastation and hope. For each of us. And hopefully the hope is never subjugated.

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Another Voice On Memory

Many have responded to the “Memory” blog. The personal situations are unnamed, but it means much to hear from other “takes” on memory and why it is important to look closer to the start of a relationship than to its end…or anticipated end.

In the mix that, and he said “Mark, it’s your call,” whether or not I use his name. There is NO WAY I cannot use his name! He’s that wise. And personally, that important.

An example of his friendship that just jumped in. My friend is brilliant to equal his wisdom with matters of competent leadership. With that, because so many clergy have their leadership mantle stored away upon retirement I asked my friend to lead a 24 hour retreat on “How Can Clergy Retirement be Valued?”

We had about 20 attend, a good registration. With me on that was Jim Tomasek, who was my predecessor as Conference Minister in Austin. Jim, God rest his soul, was a terrific predecessor, always willing to listen and never call with admonishment. Not that mistakes were absent, but I could go to him and explain my situation, ask for some history. He ALWAYS understood about Conference Ministry and never ever told me what to do. He spoke with wisdom and responded with grace.

In the middle of one of Mike’s presentations—that often invited dialogue—a retired minister jumped to his feet, never asked for the floor or a pardon from my friend, and in front of everyone made it clear, with one hand clenched and the other pointing at me, “YOU! You are a hopeless leader in our conference. You don’t have the slightest idea of how to do things. You are a major….”

I didn’t respond, because Reverend Fury would not have responded, short of more table pounding. In that moment, two things happened. My friend looked at the irate minister and said, “We obviously have some visiting to do…I’ll be happy to help.” That was a great quell-moment. Then Jim leaned over to me and whispered with a smile, “Ah, Mark, welcome to the club. He said almost the same exact thing to me five years ago.”

Ah, a long preface to my friend. But the reason I shared that memory, I would never bring it up if the furious person were in my company. Nope. Because it wasn’t worth it. That’s called how the present day can mute the probing memory.

Now to my friend and his remarks. My friend, as many of you have probably already figured, is Mike Murray. Mike is as treasured a friend as I’ve ever been gifted. He’s an ordained Presbyterian minister, has been a consultant for businesses and denominations [for over 40 years and across the world.] I’m so pleased that when I asked him which state he had yet to consult in, he smiled, “Montana.” So happened their Conference Minister was in Montana. So. Pleased to share: number 50 checked off!

Mike wrote the following…such a wise “take” on memory…so, with his permission I share…it was triggered by the Jane Stanford quote

A great quote from Jane Stanford! [For reference, her quote is on the July 11, 2017 blog, “How’s Your Memory”]

And, one other observation: memories can be horrible burdens, at least
in my case. As I review 80 years + (when one is 80 you don’t spend a great
deal of time dreaming about future possibilities) it is easy for me to find
regrets, remorse, even shame from all kinds of things. I used to handle this
with “Did the best I could” or “It could have been worse” or some other form
of rationalization, explain-away, self-justification.

Then, one day, it occurred to me, that I did not need to run away from memory;
indeed, it was possible to welcome those dark, uncomfortable thoughts.
How and why? Because they could become one more “trigger” for the
Good News that it was not my righteousness that made me whole, it is
grace. That is: so-called “negative” memories are stimuli for the praise that
we are saved by grace, not by the goodness (or best efforts) of our own

So, when those unbidden memories involving incompetence, or failure,
or even immorality come, they can be welcomed IF one allows them to
be springboards to Gospel. And, they become means for responding to
the first question in the Catechism: Humanity’s chief purpose is to glorify
God and glorify God forever. Sin (and shortfalls and missing the mark) can help
you do that!

Actually, Paul wrestled with this question in Romans 6:1. His answer to
this, to give a very rough paraphrase was, NO, you don’t need to sin all the
more than grace may abound! But, sin can be a marvelous reminder that you are
saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Thanks for listening. Mike M.

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When Memory Turns From Bad to Good

Memory is a good thing. Memory can be very destructive. The difference is in the self, not the circumstance. Let me explain.

A family member [there are more than a hundred Schnell relatives, mostly in Oregon] worked with another family member. The worker guy fell asleep on the employer guy. The employer guy held on to that slumber for decades. At family parties gemutlichkeit wasn’t with everyone and “Kumbaya” wasn’t sung. Nope.

Another family member posed with the same, “How could that happen?” To himself. His middle name was grudge. Family conflicts happened. Then. As if God tapped him on the shoulder, he looked for a picture of long-time-ago, of a non-family-member friend. And, although it was probably there for over 20 years, bling, a tab appeared. He clicked. And life clicked, for the pictures told of days gone by when value prevailed. God still tapped, so my friend clicked on more than 50 pictures and had them sent to the foe. No comment. Just a personal way to move forward. It worked. By gone went.

Today when I read the linked article, it hit me square, why George W. Bush calls Bill Clinton a “brother with a different mother.”

Sure. We each can say why we did or did not vote for either for President. We can footnote all the “matters” that enraged us, or personally vindicated our vote.

Yet, last week, the two shared the deeper essence of who they are and their deeper values.

The novelist Peter Devries once described a character, “Down deep he’s shallow.” I’m convinced that can NEVER be said about George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.

What about me? What about you? What will the depth finder reveal?

Please. Read about depth and value:

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What Life’s Really All About

What life is REALLY all about!

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What Think Ye Of Police?

Donald Trump is first, but whom do you think is second? With regard to divisive opinions, takes, slanders, praise, gratitude, spit, damning scorn, exalting affirmation?

This is not a poll…but both personally [what others have told me] and perusing the internet, NUMBER TWO is police.

Go ahead. You can find someone who was abused. Someone who was shot. Someone who was saved. Someone who was given a second chance. The list never ends. About police and their impact .

I have a take on it. And a theory. And a belief that pushes toward conviction. It is this: Unless you’ve worn police moccasins you have no idea of what it means to impact a police officer.

Well, at the risk of forsaking even a shred of humility, I’ve worn their moccasins. As a volunteer police chaplain.

Sure. Back in the ‘80’s, but I wager NOTHING has changed in the Teens. For six years [1982-88] I rode once/month with a Colorado Springs police officer. And, even more. There were 30 chaplains on the CS Police Force, so each day was covered, generally from 9 p.m. until early morning hours. We also got a pager for two weeks at a time, so it was 24/7. We also were trained to have our own police cruiser, of course without sirens, but we had the connection to the dispatcher. “Charlie 14” was our page.

We were called to the most onerous situations…homicide, suicide, accidents, even to a hotel when a man sat in a stairway with a revolver to his temple. The worst, though [not as if death isn’t horrific] were the domestics. Hell unleashed. We were trained how to help the officers, but separation of the foes didn’t always even get close to resolution, and forget reconciliation. It was instinct and not training to dodge a flying glass!

Back to the moccasins. Want to know what it’s like to be a police? Sit with them. I did. For six years almost 100 times. I KNOW. What the pressures are. I KNOW what my gut does when on a high-speed chase. I KNOW what it’s like to find a prostitute named Brown Sugar. I know what it’s like to enter a tavern at 3 in the morning with three dead bodies on the floor. I know, ride after ride, to listen to the police person, man or woman matters not, as they share their difficulties, how it hits them when they try their best and are spit on. And how the home fires are reduced to embers.

So. Today, in reading article after article that has no unanimity in either praising or scorning police, I offer a hope. That if you’ve read this far you might put yourself, even if emotionally, in what a police officer has to face every day.

Those who’ve read my blog over the years know who Chase Stapp is. He’s a dear personal friend, member of a Christian Church I served as interim pastor for a year and is Police Chief of the San Marcos Police Department. I sent him the link below and simply asked, “Chase? Can you Sing?}”

He responded, “Yes, Mark, I can sing…but not well.”

I laughed…and yet I give thanks to Chase and to all the Chase’s across our country, who know what it REALLY means to serve and to protect.

Another Affirmation:

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My Best Sermon

Reinhold Niebuhr said it best for me, especially for me who with some friends, keep being deluged with their “Jesus is the only way to God” mantra. He said in describing Jesus Christ, “Jesus is the supreme revelation of God’s love.” In my limited knowledge, no one has said it better.

With that I go with Marcus Borg [God rest his soul] in writing about the Bible, “I don’t take the Bible literally; I consider it seriously.” When I hear from “everything in the Bible is fact and true,” I only ask if the proclaimer likes shrimp…or wears polyester. Why? Because you’d be condemned to eternal damnation if you took Leviticus seriously.

And then [This is leading to Jesus…in a surprised way…very surprised way] from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach all times; if necessary, use words.”

Ah, that sticks…Velcro and not Teflon. For all my life I’ve used words. Even when I got lost in a sermon manuscript, more than 40 years ago, said to the congregation [we had a fabulous relationship], “I’m lost.” Verne Fish, such a dear friend who sang in the choir, said and it wasn’t a whisper, “What’s New?” I replied, “Hey, I think this is a good paragraph; give me a minute.” He then said, and it impacted me to this day, “Forget the script; speak from your heart. You’re better that way.”

Truth is I kept to the manuscript, especially in the churches which had two worship services and a parking lot only big enough for one service. The sermon HAD to not be on and on and on. And I’m sure, many times, if not most, brevity trumped depth. When I entered conference ministry, preaching in a different church each Sunday, I never had a manuscript—however, for the cynics, I didn’t preach the same sermon 52 consecutive Sundays! Borrrrrrrring!

With all this, back to Niebuhr…since I believe Jesus is God’s Supreme Revelation on what best living is all about, I do my best to live like Jesus. Never become Jesus. Mercy, never even think that. Still, in one worship service I disappeared and Jesus appeared.

It was in Lakewood, the church that never forsake creativity. I worked with our organist—such a dear friend, phD in organ from the University of Colorado, James Yeager, who went on to be a teacher at a Jesuit Seminary in Columbus—to create a worship service with a Circus theme. That meant he played circus music [I don’t know how to spell calipee] as someone who was a circus employee struggled…maybe stuck in a box as a magician pierced the box with a sword, maybe carrying water buckets all day in horrible heat for the elephants, maybe stumbling on a tight-rope. In a critical “I don’t know I can make it” moment, a mime walked down the center aisle, went to the distressed person and liberated them, all the while the circus music themed us on.

It was the only sermon in more than 51 years of music I didn’t say a word…or have a script!
Following the worship service, we gathered in the courtyard, bunched together and released hundreds of balloons. Such a joy.

But. It didn’t end there.

The next morning, still having the beard [it wasn’t fake] but the white paint and cross and overalls and white painter’s shoes put away, I went to the grocery store.

Checked off my list, stood in line to pay.

I didn’t know a church member and her daughter were a few check-out stations over. Suddenly [she didn’t need a microphone and it certainly wasn’t a whisper!], the daughter looked at me, then proclaimed for the store and all creation to hear, “LOOK MOMMY! THERE’S JESUS!”

Never know…right?

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How’s Your Memory?

This quote brought comfort and encouragement…about today…but also about centuries ago:

“…I desire to impress upon the minds of each one of these students, both male and female…that you will resolve to go forth from these classrooms determined to the future to be leaders with high aims and pure standards.” In these endeavors she called on students to be “true to the best you know.” Which she defined as being earnest, conscientious, helpful, cheerful and uplifting, rather than “going forth to acquire great wealth and great names.” Her words to students provide a valuable definition of purposeful leadership, involving a focus on improving the human condition, which guides our leadership and all that we do as a university.

Those were words written by Jane Stanford in 1891 and shared by Mark Tessier-Lavigne, Stanford University President in the July/August 2017 Stanford Magazine.

The magazine has many better than good—make them brilliant—articles. Including why upward mobility for the poor cannot happen. It also includes class notes, then the obituaries of classmates, each of whom didn’t die before they were dead.

With that, in these days as my recent blogs include, I’ve been working on recovered memory. Found hundreds of pictures I didn’t realize were on my computer.

Not everything was cherished. But, it’s part of my life so cannot be deleted. The key, though, is for what has happened to be teacher and not controller. That’s hard, pushingly hard.

I can see where my mistakes were based upon what I thought was good judgment. Making decisions on relationships, sometimes waiting too long, others not long enough. I was wrong. Or knowing when ethical conduct was missing and never speaking of it to those who had shredded their innocence. I was wrong.

Well, the “wrong-upon” list is not small. I’d wager no different for you.

And yet, yesterday and this morning and I will read it each new day, I value—actually embrace with heart, mind and soul, Jane Stanford’s words.

And with that I think of someone whom I treasure. Because it’s a living example of how the devastating can turn into something glorious. THAT’S the best. For no matter the worst, the best doesn’t have to be stranger.

I heard yesterday from Margaret Trost, Fred’s daughter. More than a handful of years ago, she and her husband Rich, at the time the parents of their infant son, Luke, were at dinner. They returned home, but didn’t make it. Rich suffered an asthma reaction and died in Margaret’s arms.

Devastating. But not forever. In her grief recovery Margaret went to Port-au-Prince, Haiti and saw the poverty and the hunger. She linked with a Catholic priest and founded the What If? Foundation…more than a decade ago. Today the What If? Foundation feeds hundreds of children and their parents daily and provides education. All because of dream of a priest and Margaret.

Then. Yesterday I learned that Luke, no longer an infant held fervently and lovingly in Margaret’s arms, but still loved totally, has graduated from Elmhurst College and is now the new Director of Athletic Communications at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. As I call him, The Lukester, now helps 16 teams at the University of St.Francis get on the map of awareness. How great is that?!

So, all on a hot and humid Tuesday morning…yet, thanks Jane Stanford, thanks Margaret and thanks Luke…my day is getting better already.

The truth is this: I will not discard my memory, if I can have anything to say about it…but I will have it be teacher and not jailer.

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