Category Archives: Dorchester

Dad, Just Believe

This Sunday is Father’s Day, the time when we celebrate the dads in our lives.  Being the father of four, I can attest that being a dad is not a undertaking for the faint of heart.  Generations ago, men had it easier, if Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady of classic television sitcoms are any indication – work every day during the week, escape to the home office when you are home and play golf on the weekends; the only time a dad interacted with their children was to dispense disciplinary chastisement or moral clichés.  Today’s dads are expected to work inside and outside the home, attend a fair number of their children’s extra-curricular and school events, and spend quality time with their family.  As I reflect on these things, I realize that being a father is one of the hardest and greatest roles God has blessed me to perform.

There is a man, a father, in the Bible that inspires me as a dad.  His name was Jairus.  He was a synagogue leader (and therefore a man of faith) and the father of a 12-year-old daughter.   But he was a father in crisis: despite the religious practices he, no doubt, engaged in (praying, offering sacrifices and fasting), his daughter was dying.  What would you do if your baby was deathly ill?  If you are Jairus, you go to an itinerant rabbi whom you heard had accomplished miracles.  However, before he could return with the man of Galilee, a servant of his tells him that it is too late: his daughter is dead.

Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”  Luke 8:50

Instead of giving up, Jairus gave his troubles over to Jesus.  He continued the long walk home and, instead of trusting the eyes of his servant, he trusted the words of a stranger.  As he came into his home, there was weeping and mourning appropriate to the circumstances.  But Jesus would not have any of it.

He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing?  The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  Mark 5:39-40

What is a dad to do?  You take a leap of faith and everyone you care about thinks it is a joke.  But, then again, what did he have to lose?  If Jesus was unable to do anything, his daughter was still dead…but what if HE WAS ABLE to do something amazing?

There are days that I feel like Jairus, asking Jesus to secure a healthy future of my child.  I have nothing I can offer but trust: trust that my 10-year-old will safely navigate the streets of Boston from school to home, trust that my 17-year-old will pass that difficult class, trust that my 20-year-old will be protected from the dangers prevalent in our national capital and trust that my 23-year-old will arrive home safely from that job 131 miles away.    People may say that my intercessions are realistically useless or that my circumstances are ridiculously hopeless.  Still, the dad in me will trust in the one who is able to do immeasurably more than I can imagine.

Happy Father’s Day to all those who are blessed to be called “Dad”.

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Community

This coming Sunday, June 3rd, our community will gather along the length of Dorchester Avenue to celebrate Dorchester Day and commemorate its incorporation on June 1, 1630 with a parade of police cars, floats and local politicians.  So, after church on Sunday, we will sit on the curb with our neighbors to be (hopefully) showered with candy and treated to skilled performances by dance troupes, martial arts schools and school marching bands.  Despite being firmly within the city limits, we will, for an afternoon, adopt the feel of a small town as we wave our tiny American flags and put aside our differences in order to enjoy all our community has to offer.

It is good to get together with people every once in a while.  Having a sense of community is important.  But, don’t take my word for it; these are the words of Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States:

We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.  Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher.

We are, despite all of our followers on Twitter and all our friends on Facebook, a bunch of lonely people.

I wish that all our neighbors – irrespective of economic, ethnic, racial or age-related distinctions – would have a parade to attend every weekend.  I wish there were a regular event where we all could enjoy community.  Rarely do we get together with someone somewhere outside of our well-defined demographics; that is, except for one particular occasion.  God’s word has a remedy for this epidemic of loneliness: the family of God.   That’s right, the church.  If you are feeling isolated, attend a service of worship this weekend.

… not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:25

Accept the challenge to be counter-cultural.  Be willing to gather for an hour to hear music that you haven’t chosen and reflect on topics you haven’t selected, surrounded by people who are not completely like you.  Be willing to engage in prayer and praise with those who have more and with those who have less.  Be willing to share your story with those of a different culture and with those from a different upbringing.  Be willing to rejoice with those who have something to rejoice over (even when it is something you might not celebrate) and mourn with those who have something to mourn over (even if you cannot sympathize with their pain).

If you are uncomfortable around people who are not quite like you and are a little scared to enter the doors of a church and be surrounded by strangers, come to the parade and look for me (I will be the only guy standing near Ashmont station in a suit and tie).  I would be blessed to celebrate the community with you and develop some community with you.  Maybe we can shake the mayor’s hand as well.

Calling Janelle

Earlier this week, I felt like a was in a bad comedy routine.  At 9:18AM on Tuesday my cell phone rang and a telemarketer asked for Janelle.  I politely told the caller that it was a wrong number and thought nothing more about it.  It happened again, from a different number, ten minutes later.  And again.  And again.  All told, I received a total of ten calls, all from different numbers and different companies, throughout the day.  I thought that surely the last call I received was going to be from Janelle, asking if she had any messages.

My life was briefly interrupted by telemarketers, each one offering some great thing to someone I never met.  Ten calls throughout the day, all looking for someone else, were a major nuisance.     In the end, I never got an answer to my question of where they got my number; I can only speculate that, perhaps, Janelle entered a contest at a mall or visited a time-share presentation.  Whatever the reason, intentional or unintentional, ten people reached out to me, thinking me to be someone I am not.

As I was answering all these calls, it struck me that there are those in our culture that will exploit one fact about us to gain access to our lives.  These telemarketers had a valid phone number and tried to take advantage of whoever would answer.  They took one vital statistic, one entry point into my life, and tried to get more.  I am relatively certain that these calls were benign, but in a world where identity theft and cybercrime is rampant, one can never be too cautious.

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  Ephesians 4:26-27

While I am in no way equating telemarketers with the satanic (after all, I was a telemarketer for a local newspaper for about three hours), these ‘wrong numbers’ did make me think about the devil and his tactics.  As Paul’s letter to the Ephesians tells us, all it takes is a foothold, a crack or crevice in our stony exterior, for the enemy of our soul to scale our defenses and access our vulnerable spirits.  All it takes is one truth for the father of lies to breach the doors and take our lives – an embarrassing action, a hidden temptation, a word of anger, a troubled past.  The devil takes what he knows and tries to get more, just like those pesky callers to my cellphone.

The remedy to both the telemarketers and Mephistopheles is to refuse to reply.  We can, empowered by the Spirit, refuse to take the bait.  We can tell them, strongly and simply, that it is a wrong number, that the one they seek is not found here.  We can do this because one fact about us is not our identity and one forgiven action is not our lifestyle.

Now, if I could only figure out how to end those calls informing me about an urgent public announcement regarding my energy service I would be blessed beyond measure.

Mother of All Moms

According to the National Retail Federation, the average Mother’s Day shopper will spend $180, or a total of $23.1 billion.  That is a lot of flowers and jewelry.  It seems that we all want to celebrate the blessing God has given us through giving us mothers.  In recognition of Mother’s Day on Sunday, allow me to share the story of a remarkable mom who lived a few thousand years ago.  She was poor, widowed and responsible for a child.  Things have gotten so bad for her that she had given up hope.  But God has other plans for her and her child.

We really know little about this mother.  While we do not know her name or her lineage, we do know she was married, but her husband died and left her with no source of income: according to the scriptures, all she had to her name was a jar of flour and a pitcher of oil.  We also know that she was not part of the “People of God”: she was an “unclean” Gentile.  Lastly, we know that she was commanded by God to help a certain prophet of God named Elijah: she was commissioned to use that last of all she had to feed this stranger.

Before I conclude the story, allow me to digress.  I am not at all surprised that God used a mother, especially a single mother, to save Elijah.  Is there any other class of human being so willing to sacrifice as a mom?  When there are five mouths and four slices of pie, it is the mom who says, “I’m too full from dinner for dessert; you guys have it.”  When it is three AM and thundering, it is the mom who gets displaced so that her child can be comforted.  She picks up the underwear, wipes up the barf and cleans up the bathroom.  There is seemingly no need too demanding or distance too far to travel for a mom.

Getting back to the story, this mother prepares her last meal for herself, her son and her visitor.  But the flour and oil never run out.  She and her household (including the guest) were fed for three years, miraculously.  Despite the fact that they were in the midst of a global famine, God was able to meet her needs.  Just when one might think everything is going to get better, tragedy strikes when the son of this woman becomes ill and stops breathing.  No one would blame her for her outburst:

She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”  1 Kings 17:18

After all she had sacrificed, was this really how her story was going to end?  No.  Elijah immediately cries out to God and her son’s life is restored to him.  Then they all lived happily ever after (though not together).

I thank God that the mothers I am most familiar with (both biological and metaphorical) have yet to lose hope.  They sacrificed for the sake of those they loved, expressed outrage when something hurt those they loved and never gave up hope for those they loved.  Some of that has to do with their personal resolve – they are all formidable people of character – but some of it has to do with their faith in the God who can resource and restore them as He did for a Phoenician widow, her son and her house-guest.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those who have given more than they will ever get back from their families.

Inconvenience Store

There was an article in the New York Times that opined about the costs and benefits of present-day conveniences.  According to columnist Time Wu, conveniences are “more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks”.  Conveniences come in a nearly endless number of forms, everything from appliances (washers, dryers and microwaves) to technologies (digital streaming, cell phones and search engines).  They save us time, toil and treasure.  The world of my childhood would be foreign soil to my ten-year old son; the convenience of debit cards instead of cash or checks, the convenience of homework at home with Google and Wikipedia instead of researching at the library with the World Book Encyclopedia, the convenience of GPS and EZPass instead of glove compartment maps and a cupful of quarters.  Conveniences make life better.

However, there is another side to conveniences, a less beneficial side that warrants our attention.  As Wu writes, “With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life.”  Ultimately, there is a benefit to inconvenience, whether it is getting lost and discovering the pathway back to civilization or baking a pie from scratch instead of ordering one online through Uber Eats.  It is rewarding to toil and use reason.  We might become better people because we are required to wait or, worse yet, to go without.

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.  Luke 14:33

Discipline is never convenient.  Eating healthy takes effort: making a salad takes longer than tearing the foil off a Pop Tart.  Exercise takes effort: spending time at the gym will be more demanding than spending time on the couch.  Education takes effort: solving a pesky equation with a pencil will take more time than watching a YouTube video of someone else solving for x.  The Christian life is no different.  When Jesus taught about the demands of discipleship, He told his followers to consider the costs.  He called His followers to live a life which included inconvenience.  He told them to give more than demanded, work longer than most and sacrifice greater than merely necessary.

Most of the things that make life easier are convenient.  Most of the things that make life better are inconvenient.  The question for each of us is whether we want easier or we want better.   Do we want the ease of microwave turkey or the goodness of Thanksgiving dinner?  Do we want the ease of hearing an explanation or the goodness of researching it ourselves?  Do you want the ease of activism by hashtag or the goodness of laboring for righteousness?  When we are passionate about something, the Cliff Notes will not suffice; we will want to invest our blood, sweat and tears to pursue it.

Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter, was quoted in Wu’s piece as saying, “Convenience decides everything.”  Maybe he’s right in general.  I do that hope he is wrong about us.

A Developing Puzzle

Last week was school vacation for our boys and I had a brilliant idea: we could do a jigsaw puzzle together.  On Monday morning, in the rain, I went out to the store and bought a 1,000-piece puzzle of a beautiful winter scene and brought it home.  We had the border done before lunch and began to fit together the rest.  That was twelve days ago, and we still have not finished.  It turns out that there is a whole lot of white – snow, roofs, mountains – and the puzzle is hard.  Really hard.  The boys have given up helping us finish putting all the pieces together and now I am beginning to fear that we will never be able to use our coffee table again.

What seemed at the time like a fun, family bonding activity has become exceeding difficult.  As I sit in front of the unfinished puzzle, I feel the frustration well up within me: I know it all fits together, but I cannot for the life of me seem to place any of the pieces.  Perhaps I am victim of an elaborate practical joke – I can hear the snickering of the worker at some jigsaw puzzle factory as she throws eighteen unrelated pieces into my box.  There are pieces that seem to match the color but do not interlock and others that ‘sort of’ interlock but do not match the color.  Has anyone else ever thought how easy it would be if there were numbers, differentiating columns and rows, on the backs of all the puzzle pieces?

Alas, there are no numbers.  There is no cheat code.  All I have between now and the puzzle’s completion is trial and error.  All I have to guide me is the picture on the box (which, in this case, is extremely small of such a large puzzle and cropped on the sides so that it offers no help toward the edges).  In my pursuit of my goal I have resorted to a game I like to call, “Is This Right?  No.  Is This Right?  No.”   But I am tenacious (a more virtuous word than stubborn) and will one day finish this puzzle, enabling my family to eat once again in the living room.

This puzzle is a lot like my life.  It has easily recognizable boundaries.  It has a cohesive whole. It is made up of tiny, incomplete glimpses of colors and voids.  It is designed so that all the pieces will fit together eventually.  It is at times frustrating and at times fabulous.  For those blessed enough to realize it, we are given a picture to the finished product for reference.  And it is, when completed, a work of art.

While I may not know how all the pieces fit together yet, the one who created the puzzle (and the one who created me) does.  I am confident that my God will form my life into a masterpiece, a stunning work of art full of light and shadow.  Perhaps He is even using this infernal puzzle to do it.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Quit Quitting

No one would have thought less of her had she dropped out.  It was cold.  It was windy.  It was pouring rain.  It was the Boston Marathon.  It was a place she’d been before, including 2011 when she ran a personal best and still finished two seconds behind the winner.  Nearly thirty minutes into the race, Desiree Linden tapped fellow American marathoner Shalane Flanagan and said:

“Hey, I think I’m going to drop out today, so if you need any help with anything, let me know.  I’m happy to block the wind, whatever it may be.”

But she persisted.  She and Flanagan continued to put one foot in front of the other.  The weather conditions sufficiently slowed down the pace of the elite runners and she continued to run.  She remained with the pack for the next 15 miles and then thought that this might in fact be her day.  With a burst of breakaway speed, she separated from the rest of the runners and ran the final five miles alone, crossing the finish line more than four minutes before any other woman.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. – Luke 18:1 (NIV)

While most of us will not run the Boston Marathon, we are all required to run the race of life.  And there are days when the course conditions will cause us to contemplate dropping out and to think about giving up on our dreams or giving in to our difficulties.  In numerous places, the Scriptures encourage us to not give up.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

We can benefit from persisting.  We need not give up praying, even when our prayers seem to us like we are hounding God with our pressing needs.  We need not give up doing good, even when our efforts seem to us unproductive and fruitless.  We need not give up doing what is right, even when our faith seems to us as stagnant and stale.  We need not give up going to church, even when our gathering seems to us as irrelevant or pointless.  There is a blessing from tenacity that only those who endure can enjoy.

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)

The performance of Des Linden ought to serve as a reminder of the rewards for those who persist.  We may still win the race.  We will have our prayers heard and our needs will be met.  We will reap a harvest of good in the world.  We will save ourselves and those around us.  We will encourage one another and equip one another for the difficulties inherent in life.  We will finish because we did not quit.  We might even finish first.

not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

May we all see the laurel and medal as we have waiting for us at the finish line.

Another Runner in the Night

There is a person in my social circle (I will not divulge their identity) who regularly calls me by something other than my name.  This person calls me “Rev.”.  I appreciate the title as an acknowledgment of my years of schooling and my professional standing.  I do not appreciate it as a nickname.  I have tried everything to get this person to cease using this nomenclature – asking nicely (and then not as nicely), calling them by an equally clever occupational title, ignoring their solicitations when addressed in this manner – and, as yet, nothing has worked.   So, I grin and bear this salutation.

While I am confident that the person I am speaking of will not read this post, allow me the time to offer my rationale for why I am upset by the nickname “Rev.”.   First, I am more complex as a person than is represented through being addressed by what I do.  Second, I struggle with sin too greatly to be entitled with calling myself someone who ought to be revered.  Lastly, I do not wish others to address me in a way that conveys that I will be the spiritual, moral or biblical expert at all times.  So, please, I prefer that you call me something other than “Rev.”.

As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.  But Peter made him get up.  “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”  Acts 10:25-26

Let me take my last reason for averting this title first.  Just as a doctor would not like every conversation to be relating to her profession (as in, “Hey, you’re a doctor; let me show you something weird”), I prefer not to “work” at every social gathering I attend.  I am not simply present to pray or evangelize or compete in an informal game of Bible Jeopardy.  I am so much more (and so much less) than a cultural touchpoint representing godliness in the world.

This brings me to the second reason: I am not as good or mature as this title reflects.  The term “Reverend” is believed to be the anglicization of a Latin verb (revereri) meaning “to be revered or respected.”   I am not proud to admit it, but if you were able to hear my thoughts or to stand by my side for 24 hours, “Reverend” would not be the word you would use to describe me.  We all face the same struggle to keep the faith and I would be disingenuous to say I deserve the nickname I’ve been given.

I am so much more than what I do.  Yes, I am an ordained minister.  But I am also a crossword and game show enthusiast, a burger lover and an observer of Oscar®-worthy films.  I am a fan of Boston-area professional sports and a foe of strawberries and bowling.  I am a husband, parent and child.  I have strong opinions about politics, condiments and manatees.   I am, like you, more of a human being than a human doing.

Like it or not, all of us are too complex to be called by our job title.  So, let’s keep the use of “Rev.” to Sunday mornings, when I am ‘on the job’.   Most other times, I prefer to be called Michael (or “Skippy”, since I am so smooth).

A World of Whimsy

If you were to look outside my office window, you would see that the forsythia bushes are currently in bloom.  Over the next few days, little yellow flowers will cover the ‘brown sticks’ protruding from the ground.  These flowers will be around for a few weeks and then will then disappear.  In our nation’s capital, the cherry blossoms are expected to reach peak bloom over the weekend, lasting just a few days.  I am also reminded of the excitement around the city in September, when Fester, the corpse plant cultivated by the Franklin Park Zoo, was expected to bloom – it’s flower lasts only a day or two – but, alas, it never flowered.  That is the nature of flowers – here today and gone tomorrow.

What could possibly be the benefit of something that only lasts but a moment?   While the flowers that adorned the sanctuary on Easter morning were beautiful and fragrant, they will likely be only a memory in a few weeks.  While arrangements of cut flowers and funeral sprays can be pressed and saved, they will wilt and wither far too quickly.  Still, with such an ephemeral inventory, floral shops and nurseries accounted for more than $26 billion in annual sales last year.  To put that figure in perspective, it is more than twice the income of the National Football League.

Flowers are not an experience, like a vacation in Cancun.  Flowers are not a consumable, like a dinner at Top of the Hub.  Flowers are frivolous, a bit of whimsy in the world.  Perhaps that is why we value them so greatly.  They have little utility or function.  They are just pretty to look at.  Jesus put it this way:

“Consider how the wild flowers grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”  Luke 12:27

Flowers serve as a reminder of the limitless imagination of God.  There are over 400,000 plant species across the world (which is more than the number of bird, butterfly and bee species combined) which have been conceptualized and created by God.  400,000 species – with multiple varieties – of something unnecessary for our existence.  Isn’t God amazing?

The flowers all around us ought to remind us of God’s love for us.  Our landscapes could be covered with green leaves (taking for granted that we need the plants’ chlorophyll to complete the process of photosynthesis which, in turn, scrubs our atmosphere of carbon dioxide and replenishes it with oxygen), but splashes of violet, rose, lilac, goldenrod and periwinkle dazzle our eyes.  This is simply because God wanted to give us colors.  This is because God loves us so much that He wanted us to enjoy and not simply exist.  This is because God is greater than we can imagine.

God created delight in our world for no purpose other than our enjoyment.  Yes, flowers will wither.  But in time, others will take their place, bringing beauty and blithe spirits to those who notice them.  Sometimes, the function of an item in God’s creation is nothing more than to bring joy.  May we all appreciate the unnecessary diversity of the Almighty’s design this spring and always.

There’s No Need to Fear! Underdog Is Here!

I am sure that some of you are not basketball fans, let alone college basketball fans.  To be honest, I am, at best, a casual observer of the college game.  However, every once in a while something happens on the court that makes it beyond the sports update and into the ‘regular’ news.  Such an occurrence happened last Thursday when the University of Maryland – Baltimore County Retrievers defeated the University of Virginia Cavaliers in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  The win marked the first time a 16-seed (the lowest seeding that the tournament gives) had ever defeated a 1-seed in the tournament (there had been 135 previous match-ups over the past 34 years).  Ultimately, that is where the good news ends, as two days later the Retrievers exited the tournament with a loss to Kansas State.

There is just something about the underdog, the long shot and the dark horse: that competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.  Our human nature roots for David as he battles Goliath and cheers for Buster Douglas as he contends against Mike Tyson.  We want to believe that in any fight anyone could win.  We want to live in a world where the little guy could catch a break and beat the big guy at his own game.   Even if it has never happened before, a major league baseball team could win a playoff series even when it is down three games to none and a nation football league team could win the championship even when it is down by 25 points with little more than 17 minutes left in the game.  We all want to live in a world where anything is possible.

In so many areas of life, you and I are the underdog.  Cancer is the 1-seed and we are the 16-seed with little chance for victory.  Poverty has a three-game lead over us and we remain winless.  Sin is ahead by 25 points and time is running out.   All is not lost, however, as we can rest in the promise of our Lord in scripture:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

“…With God all things are possible.”  Not inevitable, but possible.  Not probable, but possible.  With God, anyone can enjoy victory over any seemingly undefeatable thing.

This weekend we enter Passion Week as the church, the eight days leading up to the world-changing victory of Easter over a previously unbeatable foe.   I hope that you will engage with the body of Christ as Christians of every tradition observe the misunderstood and vastly underestimated challenger enters the court in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, share in the pre-contest meal with his teammates on Maundy Thursday and participate in the main event on Good Friday.  I hope that you will rejoice with others as we celebrate the devastating defeat of the previously undefeated sin and the once all-conquering death.   Join us, as a local church or as the universal representation of God’s kingdom, as we declare that ‘with God all things are possible’, that the tomb is empty and the slate is wiped clean.  The underdog, the least and the lowest, will one day be victorious.