Storms Rage…and the reason is…

No surprise. Disappointment won’t disappear, though.

How people look at national storms and find cause. Or complaint.

Rush said the storm’s a strategy for selling bottled water. Really? Sure, bottled water is sold, a survival step. But, Rush, what about the destroyed property and devastated lives? Yes?

Some political guy—must confess I punched the mental “delete” button said Harvey was caused by a former Houston mayor who is openly homosexual and by all the gay and lesbian and queer folk. Harvey is God’s judgment caused by homosexuals. Will it never? Will it never go away to denigrate LGBTQ folk? Will it ever happen that people discover that Leviticus has it off-base and homosexuality is not a sin? Rather, one’s sexual orientation is a discovery and not a decision? And, even worse…to find at blame for the storm? So, if no homosexuals, no storm. Those who hold that, can you spell C L I M A T E C H A N G E?

And then. Ah, the master himself, Joel Osteen, maintained he didn’t open Lakewood Church’s door because “Houston didn’t ask me to.” And then, he chastised the evacuees by telling them, “Don’t say ‘poor me.’” Well, Joel, how about you quit saying, “Rich me.”? And some day discover your Prosperity “word” misleads. The purpose of faith is not to get richer…nope, not even close. The purpose of faith is to have a persuasive impact in living when storms come with no pause.

Of course. You could ask me how I REALLY feel.

Back at yuh…because when life is formidable, the focus should be on what Genesis said, “We are made in God’s image.” Which means we are authorized to represent God. And that means, change close fists to open hands that reach out to recognize and reduce human hurt.

My story…and I’m sticking to it.

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Who Doesn’t Ache Today?

I ache this morning. For lots of reasons…almost all emotional ache. Details not relevant. Has to do with Harvey and Irma and DACA…and so much more.

What I consider relevant, and it’s come back 10-fold to me in preaching lately. Such a joy to preach each Sunday to the folk at First Christian Church in Lexington, Texas. Oh, my. They are real, genuine. Last Sunday I was amazed at how many of them had put together care packets for the victims of Harvey, how two members are driving “the gifts of love” to Care Centers in Houston. And. It may be. Next Sunday the Church Council and then the congregation will explore if they can “sponsor” an individual church and develop a mission witness with them. Much to love in them and the reality they are never going to take the arms and legs of the Gospel away.

The ache this morning is about what I’ve never left…and it’s never left me. It is the manner in which we walk the human landscape. I just read what I consider a brilliant “take” from Tom Ehrich, on what is essential in living our own individual lives…and no less vital…how we’re to function together in our churches. Here’s his quote on what following Jesus means, which I believe in my heart, is not of little or no interest or value to other folk in other faith journeys:

“Jesus was a man of peace, not war. He welcomed all, not just the obedient few. He forgave extravagantly, not threatening eternal damnation. He cared for the least, not the wealthiest. He took the side of sinners against the righteous mob. He went into people’s homes and never had a home for himself. Jesus loved without reservation. Jesus wrestled with his own demons and turned to God for strength. Jesus taught about mercy, not about moral codes requiring rigorous enforcement. Jesus didn’t sit high on a throne, rather he sat on the ground to teach and ascended a cross to die. He didn’t preach prosperity as proof of virtue.

Jesus didn’t fight over the wording of prayers or the credentials of disciples. He spoke in the language of common people. He sent out fools to continue his ministry.

It is time we looked with fresh eyes on the one whom God sent. In him there is life and light.”

And with that, as many of you know, it perhaps is the best question [my mentor in ministry, Fred Trost, and then Bill Coffin, made it clear: Who is your God?]

Please answer that…for I believe fervently and without compromise, your description of God is your personal self-prescription for yourself. It is your auto-biography.

Take care…seek the good and the loving in your own life and share with those you know and/or meet along the way. Shalom.

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Smiles In A Grocery Store

Not before. Memory’s good on this. Until now….have I walked into a grocery store always with a smile on my face. It’s the new Randall’s. My main shopping venue for meal items. Have the rows labeled to memory. Know how to tell the freshest bread [and, shhhh, pastries]. Our dogs are delighted because a whole chicken at barely over $1/pound cooks up in less than two hours…and the small pieces end up as “frosting” on their dog food.

However, the smile is not in the rows and the sales. Or my memory…other than I had no clue where the sliced black olives were on Saturday—had to have them for one of our grandsons. It’s about the people. Over the past year we have developed more than a “Hi, how are you?” relationship. We don’t plunge to the depths. Nope. But, we find out how each of us is and promise ALWAYS ask to let the other know where help is needed. That has been about shift in employment positions, the health of Brian our nephew, my new experience with a wonderfully genuine group of people called the First Christian Church in Lexington.

I don’t know their last names…honestly? That doesn’t matter. But, I so appreciate them…Vino the assistant store manager who made it possible for most of his Corpus Christi family to come to Leander for safety from Harvey; Cindy and her efforts to always point out the most recently baked cakes or pie with a promise “to not tell your doctor,” Alicia, so delightful in asking, “Dr. Miller, did you get everything today? How’s Mrs. Miller doing?”; Shanna who wants to know if my sermon’s ready [she asks on Wednesday!] and Jo whose smile beams up the whole store.

And to all that I was bold…please not arrogance as l offered it…”should I catch a salmon or two next week, I promise each of you some dinner. How does fresh Fall Chinook Salmon or Coho sound?” They clap in glee, although I’m not sure they know the difference between Atlantic or Farm salmon to the “real thing from Buoy 10 on the Columbia River.” But, ahhhhhhh, the fish were netted and filleted and vacuum-packed…and delivered. A joy. A true joy. [Of course, showed them the picture below and assured them the filets didn’t come from a fish market in Astoria, Oregon!

Why all this? Does there have to be a reason or another paragraph? Not really. It’s just on this Labor Day night I think of those who help us and are kind and patient about it. I appreciate them…they bring out my best…which is so much better than….well, you can plug in what wants to lessen your own smile.

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Harvey Is Not An Invisible Rabbit

If it only was…a reappearance from 1950 of Harvey. That is, Harvey the rabbit, the friend to James Stewart. The story is about a man whose best friend is a pooka named Harvey – in the form of a six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall invisible rabbit.

We know that isn’t true. Make-believe doesn’t work as Harvey the storm didn’t stay invisible. If only. But, we cannot live in an if-only world.

1000-year event. Words are drenched with the tragedy. Tragedy is almost an unhelpful and pale picture of what we see, what some of our families are getting drenched with the horrific.

Diane and I live in Austin and I’m now serving a lovely rural Texas congregation not rained upon. This Sunday the sermon won’t be a monologue. Rather, we will discuss what WE can do to give arms and legs to our words, to our prayers, to our faith, to our personal needs to at least DO SOMETHING.

For sure, I won’t say to this wonderfully genuine congregation that prayers will be enough. I actually laughed in disbelief when the Houston pastor with 20,000 members and a $10m house encouraged his congregation to “pray.” Then he said, “I didn’t do anything because Houston didn’t ask me.” Oh, really?

Nope. And I wouldn’t say the devastation is so much I’m too insignificant to do anything. Well, really. What if someone looked at you as you were fleeing your home water then sweeping you away and a neighbor waved, “Good luck; I’m praying for you.”

Be straight on this. I will. Prayer is crucial, necessary. We are not telling God anything which God doesn’t already know. But, our prayers are the voices of our hearts and whispers of our soul, asking for help. But. Also asking for direction and encouragement and strength.

Next Sunday the beloved community in Lexington, Texas and I will visit…some ideas are marinating. However, I want THEM to share with each other and their pastor what they think. How prayers can become incarnate.

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Prayers Matter For Each Of Us

I have a friend from high school. We were never in the same groups—he played football and I baseball. We went to different colleges. I put on a cleric’s collar and he put on a pilot’s hat. He flew the best and was never beyond safe.

We connected via a reunion and reminisced together about high school incidents. Then we promised to keep in touch. In that reunion moment, politics never broached the conversation. Didn’t need to. Not for a breath.

Now, though, it’s different. I don’t think he and I could hold fast to more opposite political “takes.” Once in a while we send the other something that rankles. I plead non-innocence which, to me, is better than guilty.

Last night, though, he wrote something very powerful. I was touched and responded with affirmation. We both hold fast to honoring the office of President. He said, although he’s not “no matter what” in favor of the current President, he prays that “God will soften our President’s heart.” I valued that. Asking God for help.

He also agreed what I grieve about…and I want to share. I am very sad—very sad indeed—on what our President’s wife and youngest son, Barron, have to go through. Everything they do or don’t do, say or don’t say, gets microscoped beyond reason…maybe even sanity. I appreciated when Chelsea Clinton wrote to “let Barron be a child.” Good for her…and hopefully, no less for us in our hopes.

So it is…as I’m about to join Brian on a plane and head for Portland, then Astoria, then Zorba’s sled boat, and then, hope beyond hope, especially for Brian, his pole will jerk to the water, his reel will click [in my heart it will be the reel singing its version of the Hallelujah Chorus!] and Brian will play the salmon, “never pointing the pole at the salmon, lifting the pole and then reeling down.” And then, Zorba dipping the net, the salmon brought aboard. And dancing and shouting about victory…a new C word for Brian: Chinook.

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Planting Trees…One Step/Day At A Time

I know…some can’t see the trees for the forest. I know, being a tree-hugger, there are folks who find that worthless. And. I know the philosophy, “one step at a time,” seems an example of great minutia. Well, for all that, thank you Tommie Pinkard for your Facebook about a man who planted a tree every day…for 37 years. It was more than amazing. Perhaps a new word, “amazing-est.”

In any account, please look at this reality…of one guy. And then, ask, as I do myself, “What in my life and through my living brings value…not in the moment…or the day or month or year or decade…but in your/my lifetime?” Take that question and change it from fanciful to reality, one step at a time.

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I Saw My Father This Morning

I saw my father this morning. Yep, even though he died some time ago, I saw him.

My father was born in 1908…when he was in high school he was tall for his age, almost 6’ 4”. He loved basketball and could have played [his son’s affirmation!] for a university. However, he never made it…because his father, my Grampa Miller, took ill and since dad had sisters but no brothers, dad had to go on the garbage truck—a family responsibility.

He never left that garbage truck until his back and age prevailed. Yet, I believe he was the best garbage man ever. I believe no one got more Christmas cards than Hank Miller. He started me in baseball, even though in the 40’s [1940 for you cynics!] there were no little leagues. At 7 he gave me my first baseball glove. I was right-handed, but he put my first glove on my right hand. I looked puzzled, he responded, “Mark, left-handed pitchers make more money.”

As a garbage man he took care of his people. And me. Every once in a while he’d take me along. I was so proud. I really loved getting the garbage from Berg’s Chalet. A Victorian house on west side of Portland that had a great restaurant. We’d get there about 9 a.m. Dad would take me into the kitchen and the chef [I forget his name but not his smile] loved seeing me, sat me down at a special table and served me breakfast: onion soup with cheese on top and apple pie. Hey, it was great! [I never told my mother about my 2nd breakfast!]

I was so impressed with my father because of how he cared and picked up extra for his customers—especially all the clipped yard work. August was always hard on dad, because, I think I’m right on this, it was canning season. No garbage disposals for the customer, so all the peelings got put in the garbage cans. My father NEVER complained, not his DNA. In fact, he cared more that I learn how to grip a fast ball than how heavy the garbage can was. Now. That’s parenting!

Then, this morning I saw my father—vividly—when seeing this Facebook about a garbage man who helped a boy who has autism. THAT would be Hank Miller…helping someone. I will always be grateful to Hank Miller…always…and when he stood by that Douglas Fir Tree in Alberta Park, still with his overalls on, as I pitched my first fastball for Jefferson High school as a left-handed freshman, I swear: dad was taller than that tree.

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