Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Where Have Y'all Been?

I was twelve or so when a friend of mine who built model rockets invited several of us to witness a launch. So we gathered at what used to be the Drill Field at what used to be Gordon Military College in what still is Barnesville, Georgia to observe the spectacle. He prepared the rocket for liftoff and, after the countdown, it indeed blasted off. After the rocket had travelled a few hundred feet into the air, its parachute deployed and we watched it drift down, apparently into the woods that lay between the road that ran alongside the Drill Field and the golf course.

Another friend and I ran across the road and went into the woods in search of the rocket. The woods were easy to get through until we got to the small creek that ran through them; on the other side of the creek they became dense and difficult to traverse. We continued on, working our way through the bushes and briars, wishing we had a machete like we had seen in the Tarzan movies. We were determined to find that rocket.

Finally, we crashed through the outer edge of the dark woods and into the light of day—where we found everybody else on the golf course where the rocket had landed. They had just gotten into a car with the amateur rocket engineer’s parents and driven around to where the rocket was. I deflated; we had suffered the sweat and scratches that were inflicted on us by the woods and we weren’t even going to be thanked for our sacrifice in service to the great rocket project. All we got was a “Hey, where have y’all been?”

Still, the fact is that my friend and I did find the rocket; we just didn’t find it first because we took a harder path. And because we took the harder path, we had the better story to tell!

We’re all on a search and that search, whether we know it or not, is to know God. Thankfully, God wants to be known. God wants to be known so much that he sent his only Son into this world as a vulnerable baby who would grow up to be an executed man. God wants to be known so much that he sent his own Spirit into the world to be with us and among us.

At rare times our search for God seems easy; most of the time it seems hard. All the time it is in the course of the search that we find God; all the time it is the fact that finding God is the journey, not the destination. Most of the time the journey will be more akin to that trek through the woods than it will be to that drive around the corner. We face impediments and challenges; we receive bumps and scratches and bruises; we get dirty and messy.

And all along the way, God—God the Creator, God the Christ, God the Spirit—smiles at us and says, “Where have y’all been?”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

[This article appears this week in my hometown newspaper, The Barnesville (GA) Herald-Gazette]

I admit that I may not be the ideal person to comment on this, given that I left my hometown in 1975 and have since returned only for the occasional visit. On the other hand, perhaps my perspective as one who grew up in Barnesville and who sees it only once in a while is valuable in its own way; it’s kind of like being the vagabond uncle who sees his niece every few years and so notices the changes in her in a way that those who live near her and see her all the time can’t.

I got to thinking about this last Friday night as I sat in the cold watching the Lamar County Trojans defeat the Jefferson Dragons in the state playoffs. We always come to visit my family for Thanksgiving and it has become part of my tradition to stay over and watch the Trojans’ game on Friday during this nice run of the last few years. When it was announced that the Trojans’ next opponent would be Benedictine, which is a military school, my mind really took off.

I remembered watching the football games played at Summers Field by our own military school, Gordon. Many weekends during my childhood I would watch Gordon Military High School play on Friday night and Gordon Military College play on Saturday night. Out on Forsyth Road, the Booker T. Washington Tigers were playing, too, but we—or I, at least, didn’t give that much thought.

We lived in a divided community.

Immediately following the integration and consolidation of our county schools, I remember attending the games of the newly formed and named Lamar County Trojans at the former Booker stadium at the newly christened Forsyth Road School, then in subsequent years watching the Trojans at Summers Field where the Gordon Military Bulldogs once campaigned against their—and our—foes.

We were together but we had not yet come together.

Last Friday night, I sat among and stood along with the crowd in beautiful Thunder Alley, thrilling to my alma mater’s victory over the defending state champions. As I looked around me I realized how beautiful the crowd was. Yes, it was a large crowd. Yes, it was a boisterous crowd. Yes, it was a remarkable atmosphere—the most remarkable I have ever experienced—for a football game. But the most beautiful thing I saw in that crowd was the camaraderie and commonality. I thrilled to the realization that my home county has become a community even more than I thrilled to the football game.

Now, Lamar County is not heaven (no matter what some people say) and so it is not perfect. You who live there know that much better than I do. Still, as a hometown boy who occasionally comes back to town and who joins with the current residents of Lamar County in celebrating the accomplishments of the football Trojans, I just want to say how proud I am of the community that gave me my start in life.

You’ve come a long way, baby. Keep it up!

And Go Big Blue! Bring Down the Thunder!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Giving Tuesday

Here is a recap of the last few days: November 28 was Thanksgiving Day (I hope you had a good day of family, friends, and food); November 29 was Black Friday (the official kickoff of the consumerist Christmas season and the American version of the Running of the Bulls); November 30 was Rivalry Saturday (Georgia vs. Georgia Tech [Wow!], Alabama vs. Auburn [Quadruple wow!], Florida State vs. Florida [the Chomp got Chopped!], USC vs. UCLA [Yawn], etc.), December 1 was the First Sunday of Advent (Even so, come, Lord Jesus!), and December 2 was Cyber Monday (one of the busiest online shopping days of the year).

That brings us to today, Tuesday, December 3 which is Giving Tuesday.

You might be saying, “Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Rivalry Saturday, Advent, and Cyber Monday I know—but what is this ‘Giving Tuesday’?” According to the website givingtuesday.org, the mission of the Giving Tuesday movement is “to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations.” The goal is to have a kickoff to the Christmas giving season like we have a kickoff to the Christmas shopping season.

That’s a worthy goal. The Giving Tuesday movement neither accepts nor distributes donations; they instead encourage people to donate directly to the charitable non-profit organization of their choice.

Hopefully, we followers of Christ don’t need a special day to remind us to give and to serve. Hopefully, we are growing into a lifestyle that is built on sacrifice, service, and giving that are birthed out of a heart becoming always more filled with God’s love and grace. Still, like our Sunday worship reminds us that we are to worship all the time, an annual emphasis on giving can help to remind us of our ongoing privilege and responsibility to give.

Like anyone else, I am partial to the work of the organizations with which I am involved and that I support: the Church, Habitat for Humanity, Morningstar Children and Family Services, Rotary International, and All About Animals Rescue. You probably have your favorite causes, too. On this Giving Tuesday, I encourage all of us to support an organization or organizations that are doing what they can to make things better in this old world.

It needs all the help it can get.

In honor of the day, I present this Christmas classic by Elvis. As you (if you) listen to it, I invite you to change the words a little to "Why Can't Every Day Be Like Giving Tuesday?"

It should be ...