Friday, December 27, 2013

Nod to the boys of Stephens Street

It has begun.

Doug was born 12.12.53
making him the first
to cross the imaginary line.
The rest of us were ’54.
I think I’m next.
Mid-march, eighteenth to be exact,
about two weeks before Steve.
Denny follows on April fifth.
Donnie may have been the youngest,
maybe a summer birthday.

And Lee Ann, she was the only girl,
and I don’t remember her DOB.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Logic? I’ll take football.

My heart can be pulled and tears called forth in numerous settings. Books, movies, songs and, I might as well admit, TV shows and commercials can all overwhelm me. A heartfelt conversation, whether with a friend or someone I have just met, can lead to a place of wonder.
I’m drawn in and it happens. Something whispers of something deeper: life as I hope and dream it could or should be; forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, second chances, unbelievable tenacity and peace; taste of the holy, of something more.
I think I’ve always had a sensitive side and I think it may be growing in intensity with age. Maybe I am more aware of it and have no interest in holding it back.
In 1981 I was in my twenties and I ran a marathon, which was a big deal for me. It was the accomplishment of something that I thought impossible. I trained, registered and ran. As I neared the finish line I had a sense of being overwhelmed. Satisfaction, joy and contentment filled me. I felt I was about to cry, but I told myself, “Not now. If you cry, they (family and friends waiting for me) will think something’s wrong. But I’m okay, I can’t cry now, I’ll do it later.”
Later never came and that cry never happened. That memory has been my rallying point for trying to be better about living in the moment and accepting opportunities when they present themselves.
For almost a decade I’ve shared season tickets to Seattle Seahawks games with my youngest son. As with most things I tend to overanalyze this.  It costs money, it takes time (we live about 100 miles from the stadium) and it impacts other family schedules. I, also, have cautions about the world of football. It’s violent and I’m doing my best to be a pacifist. There are the current concerns about concussions and questions related to the very survival of the sport in the future. There are issues of money: young men making more money than they will ever need at a time in life when they have limited skills to manage the trust. The flow of cash for tickets and concessions added to advertising dollars can produce budget numbers beyond my imagination.
But then it happens. Another game day arrives. We have our rituals. We make the drive listening to the sports talk guys while having our own conversation about the impending rivalry. We park in the same area and take the same walk to the stadium, buy (usually) the same lunch, enjoy the same pre-game activities and eventually make our way to our seats.
We arrive 20 to 30 minutes before kick-off. We do not want to miss the pre-game happenings each week with few changes. The flag and national anthem are the first to get me choked up. And let’s be honest, I have deeply conflicted thoughts about Americanism, patriotism and the like. But it still gets me. Next the players are introduced. The crowd is driven to a frenzy. Another reality check: I hate hype and am known for my skepticism and unwillingness to “drink the Kool-Aid.” But I’m barely able to keep from losing it, always tearing up.
There is something in the moment, in being with my son, our neighbors (Jordan, George, Sam and the others we have shared a row of seats with for all these years, and would have otherwise never known) and the entire crowd. We are about to will “our” team to win. And it is only our team because of geography and choice. And they deserve to win more than the other team because they are our team. I know this is illogical, and it doesn’t matter.
Kick-off happens and the next three hours are the proverbial emotional roller coaster. If our team is doing well we scream, laugh, high-five, hug and dance (at times with people we have never met and will never see again). When our team struggles we try to motivate them, lift them to doing better. If the wheels come off we may drop to our seats in despair, 70,000 people each praying in their own gut-wrenching way.
One team is doing all it can to make something happen while the opposition has marshaled all its resources to stop their opponents. And in each play, each moment there is the possibility of the beauty of seeing our team overcome the odds and complete the pass or force the pick six (it’s an offense or defense thing).
It’s a game, it’s frivolous and it’s unnecessary.  Yet it can provide an emotional rush that can’t be forced or simulated. It is real and in the moment. You are either there or you’re not. While in reality we are nothing more than spectators, somehow in the flash of action and crowd, we are alive and sharing in the experience and it is beautifully overwhelming.
May God have mercy on us all.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tradition transitions

Growing up, Thanksgiving was an annual trip from our home in the southeast suburbs on180th to mom’s parents’ in the northeast suburbs on 69th. My mom, dad, brother John, Grandpa and Grandma Goodson and my Uncle Ed would crowd around the small table in a corner of the kitchen. The meal was a mix of country simplicity, my grandmother’s influence and some unpredictable flare from my grandfather. His stuffing and pumpkin pie are legendary and we still use his recipes. It was a fun, somewhat quiet day of visiting, maybe playing outside if the weather allowed.
The family tradeoff was an annual trip to southeast 76th for Christmas Eve at my dad’s parents’ home. We’d join Grandpa and Grandma Schmotzer, Uncle Virgil, Aunt Faye and our cousins David and Diane, Uncle Joe and his wife (he had quite a few over the years). The meal was in the dining room with “good” china and all that went with it. Liquor flowed before, during and after the meal. There was loud music and louder conversation.  Sometimes arguments would break out and result in an early departure or two.
Christmas Day was at our house with both sets of grandparents, Uncle Ed and Mr. Gill. Mr. Gill was a friend of my grandfather. I think he was from England and he’d give my brother and me a silver dollar each year. Women wore dresses and men and boys wore white shirts and ties, and hard (or dress) shoes. I always hated hard shoes.
This rhythm was set and I thought it would always be that way. Yet by the time I finished high school, what I thought was unchangeable had begun shifting. My parents relocated and the cousins and Uncle Ed had gone to school or moved away.
Soon enough I had moved and married bringing new options with competing interests concerning holidays. For a few years, Connie and I bounced between our parental homes for the big two (Thanksgiving and Christmas). In the fifth year of our marriage, we moved to the far north of a neighboring state and soon our family grew with the addition of two sons. Increasing the complexity was my parents’ divorce and eventually stepfamilies. We now had to drive five to eight hours to visit three homes in three cities.
I am uncertain if it was a clear intentional act or something we drifted into, but about thirty years ago we made a change in how we celebrated Thanksgiving. We had a deepening friendship with a couple, Julie and Rick. Connie had met them when all three attended the same college. They had three boys and we had two. They lived near our parents. They made the drive north one year and it quickly became our new tradition.
Soon enough we had our own rhythm. They would arrive as soon as possible and stay as long as they could. Thanksgiving was days, not just one day. The boys played, shifting their interests over the years.  We watched movies, talked, played games, watched football, went for neighborhood walks, cooked and ate for the duration.
We started Thanksgiving with a morning service, at the church I served as a staff member. For lunch we would volunteer at the local mission for the community Thanksgiving meal and in the later afternoon we would have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The meal always included more than the two families. Extended family and friends new and old would join the celebration. It was predictably unpredictable.
Throughout the year we looked forward to the annual get-together. Conversations of times past and plans for the next gathering frequently popped up. It was a time of rest, joy, celebration, and being, being together. Some would attend once, others for years.  We’d get together with Julie and Rick at other times throughout the year, but Thanksgiving became sacred. That is until Julie died of a brain tumor in May of 2001.
With Julie gone, so much of our lives became unhinged. Nothing worked, nothing mattered. It never would be the same. Somehow Thanksgiving became this huge hole reminding us of the loss. It became a time of wondering and wandering. The very essence of faith and belief was challenged in ways we had never experienced. To be honest, by this time the older boys had begun to shift into their new adult identity and thereby new patterns, but we hadn’t noticed.
There were a couple of Thanksgivings doing anything for temporary survival. We were not going to try to keep the past tradition alive; it couldn’t continue without her. We doubted a new tradition was possible. Maybe we felt we had lost Thanksgiving and would need to accept it as a time to endure, a stark reminder of what was, what was lost and what would never be again.
But within a few years something happened. Thanksgiving celebrations returned to our home. It was different, but it became good. Julie’s youngest son brought his wife and eventually their two children. New people joined the mix. Our sons married and grandkids arrived. The house was again full and some sense of a new sacred developed. Julie was missed, but honored in our gathering and thankfulness.
Annually there are tears and laughter as we each share words of thanks around the table before the meal begins. We often rework Psalm 136 to include our own stories. There is a sense that we can endure all that life brings our way as we are fortified in such times together.
While preparing for this year’s gathering we learned that some of the next generation are making changes to begin to establish their own, new traditions. There was an initial sting. We had worked so hard to reestablish something special. We were not ready for another change.
An outside observer might tell us it was never the same way twice. Every year there were shifts. We are all different people with each new day. Watching our kids grow should have made us aware of this. The mix of people and activities was in constant flux. The reality is that Thanksgiving has always been a work in progress, shifting with seen and unseen forces. And at best we have found joy in living into the moment, whatever it looked like.  Being thankful, sharing life and meals, and inviting others into the circle will always be worthwhile.
I am uncertain what the next phase will be, but I hope we will be able live into it with openness, acceptance, celebration and thankfulness.
May God have mercy on us all!

catapult magazine VOL 12, NUM 22 :: 2013.11.29 — 2013.12.12 :

Friday, November 15, 2013

Just say no! But: why?

There’s danger in heeding the demand to “just say no!”
Christians (you know, “those Christians”) love jumping on various bandwagons that affirm their convictions and prove that their clan is the right one.
The convictions generally tell us the world is bad, we are bad and they are bad. Essentially everything is bad. If we buy in, we (oops, I just lumped myself in with “them”) see so much evil it is amazing anyone gets out of bed in the morning and risks a breath. We love evidence that our list of “forbiddens” is the correct one. And we love any time the beast of culture sees the light, and agrees with us.
The problem is that our lists are usually a muddled mix of fears, discomforts and leftover things we were taught or assumed. Seems the more conservative (I know it’s a loaded word, but what else works?), the longer the list.  Or maybe not.
My faith roots are deeply embedded in fundamentalism with its rules and prohibitions. In my adult years, I have had associations that allow me to drift across much, if not most, of the spectrum of American Christianity.  Interestingly, I have discovered that in addition to fundamentalist conservatives, there are fundamentalist liberals who can have similarly deep prejudices.  The trick is that they are often more educated and culturally savvy at disguising their prejudices.  Liberals have their revised lists of evils — you know, like never voting Republican, or shopping at Wal-Mart, or avoiding TV (except PBS) and radio (except NPR), or enlarging their carbon footprint, and so on. The hate toward conservatives is another place that liberals show their true colors. For all of their so-called open-mindedness and inclusivity, they can be vicious in their assessment of conservatives (without any honest conversation along the way).
I agree that we all need to have self-control, healthy limits and reasonable boundaries. But I fear for anyone (especially me) who lives life focused on the negative. Even worse would be the life of anyone who focuses on judging the negative for others. In the name of religious purity many have missed the joy of life. Art, adventure, medicine, movies, alcohol, sex and learning have all been on someone’s bad list. And the faithful have lined up to please prophets and preachers by adopting strict lives of self-denial. 
I understand that as a child I needed to learn not to run in front of cars or put my hand on the stovetop (learned this one the hard way). It takes structure to find our way in this world. But at some point we need to cross the line, become adult and start living in the dangerous world where all is possible.  It’s a tough challenge, but it’s also a great adventure. I don’t need to walk a wire over Niagara Falls for an adrenaline rush. The very refusal to be guided and defined by simplistic rules and prohibitions is a risk many shy away from.
My best shot is this: if your convictions are primarily negative, you’re living a sad life. If your convictions are summed up by “supposed to,” “should” and “have to,” you’re living a sad life. If you are focused on pleasing others, you’re living a sad life. If you are driven by a list that you can’t explain or don’t understand, you’re living a sad life. If you are great at boundaries and saying “no,” but it is actually rooted in selfishness, you’re living a sad life.
Somehow we need to make peace with ourselves, this world, our faith and God. Negatives may provide a base for beginning, but life is lived in the possibilities — the messy, dangerous, beautiful, wonderful, complicated, scary, confusing and soul-feeding possibilities.
Lord, have mercy (and help me to live mercifully).


Tuesday, November 12, 2013


@ Uisce Irish Pub, Bellingham, WA

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sherman's gift

The way Sherman told it, he was born before the first big war and grew up in the desert southwest. Home was on a piece of land that may have once been — or at some time wanted to be — a farm. But like most of the area it was dry, hard dirt and scraggly, if not dead, trees and brush. A house of rough, weather-beaten boards offered little protection from the sun, wind or rain.
As the oldest of four, Sherman knew his role. He watched out for the others — like the day they came home from school and found the note on the kitchen table. It was from their mom. It said she loved them but that she had to go away. She told them to watch out for each other and listen to their father. It said they would be okay. Years later, Sherman would learn she had run off with the preacher, causing a distancing from God that lasted most of his lifetime.
He herded his brother and sisters out of the house and they climbed into the lower branches of the barren tree in front of the porch. After questions he couldn’t answer and tears he couldn’t heal, he made up stories to fill the time until their dad got home from work.
Soon enough Sherman had quit school to care for the younger ones, never to return. As often happened in those days, he left home young, maybe to seek something better, maybe to escape, maybe both. Sherman wandered the west until he settled in Portland, Oregon. He kept working, when work could be found, in restaurants. Sherman never finished school, but he had learned to cook along the way.
As the depression lingered and the next big war approached, Sherman met a young widow who had left a small town to find work in the city. She was waiting tables where he was the cook. Friendship led to more and they were soon living together. It was a scandalous arrangement in the 40s, and even more so because the waitress had a daughter. Neighbors shunned them, as was expected.
The war came and went. They got married. Had a son. Saw their daughter get married and start a family of her own.
Sherman soon became a grandfather. And he was a good one. At family meals, he’d usually announce that the meat of the day was either squirrel or opossum.  He’d keep it going until about the time the grandkids were expected to take a bite and then break the tension with a more welcome truth. A few bites in, however, he’d repeat the bluff with enough sincerity that the tension would build again.
Sherman was known for gag gifts at Christmas. And he was known as a faithful scoutmaster who influenced numerous young boys over the years. He drove big, fast cars, usually black Chevrolets. He would joke of needing a new one as soon as it was time to rotate the tires.
In the early 70s, Sherman helped his oldest grandson get his first job as a high schooler, washing dishes at the restaurant where he was working.
However, in his mid-fifties cancer hit, and hit hard. Before long Sherman was eating through a tube and losing weight. He refused to give in. He’d plunge a syringe of pale mush through the tube in his side, smack his lips and announce, “Damn, that tastes good!”
Sherman told of sneaking out of his hospital room at night to go to the corner store for cigarettes. He asked if he could take naps in various caskets to find which was going to be most comfortable. He got a cemetery plot and wanted to have picnics on the spot to “get used to it.”
There was a time his oldest grandson and young wife visited the hospital. The weak-stomached grandson started to wobble after an unexpected medical procedure had taken place. Sherman hopped out of bed and said, “Here, lay down. Looks like you need it more than me.”
During another hospital stay a young chaplain was making rounds and saw Sherman’s name on the roster.  He stopped by the room and reminded Sherman that he had been a busboy at a restaurant with him some years back. A friendship grew and Sherman asked the priest if he would officiate his funeral. “Of course, but I am going to ask something of you in return. Are you willing to discuss some readings with me?” He agreed and they began to read and talk about stories from the gospels.  Before long, a small group gathered in June of 1979 for Sherman’s funeral and the priest, the one who had been a busboy, led them through the service.
Like most, Sherman was gone too soon. He was my grandfather and I was the one he helped get that first job. I was the one who got wobbly at the hospital. He left me with many great memories. And he left me with two recipes. One is for cornbread stuffing. We use it every year at Thanksgiving, and it is well-loved.
The second is for pumpkin pie. It is pumpkin pie as it was before the trends of locally-sourced, farm-to-table, gluten-free, natural and organic ingredients. And it is good. It, too, comes out at Thanksgiving. I make about six each year. Family and friends talk about it and look forward to its annual return. It has been known to show up at Christmas occasionally, but is generally reserved for Thanksgiving.
I enjoy anticipating the week of Thanksgiving, making sure all ingredients are on hand for the time of preparation. Anticipation is heightened as the smell fills our kitchen and drifts into the family room. While I enjoy the product, my deeper joy is in seeing others dig in.
People now talk about it as my pie, even calling it grandpa’s, because I am one. Actually, I’m closer to the age of my grandfather’s death than I’d like to admit. But I call it grandpa’s pie, because it is grandpa’s pie — Grandpa Goodson’s Pie.
Here’s the recipe, as he wrote it for us. I trust you’ll try it and I know that if you do, you’ll love it.
May God have mercy on us all.

catapult magazine VOL 12, NUM 17 :: 2013.09.20 — 2013.10.03 : 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Nurturing community

As a child, community was defined first by family, then my parents’ circle of friends. Over the years there was a strong sense of community in our post-WWII suburban neighborhood. Eventually, friends became my community of choice as school became the focus of my time. Church was layered in there somewhere.
The word and idea of community is having a trendy run these days. Trying to identify true community might be akin to clarifying the line between friends and acquaintances. We commonly call almost anyone we have an ongoing relationship with a friend. I think it would be more accurate to realize most of us have many acquaintances and some friends. In a similar way we can call any group of people we have connections with a community — or better yet “our” community. I think our definition of community may be weak or we may be fooling ourselves in evaluation. Simply put, I question how many of us actually experience community on a level that changes and sustains us.
The challenge becomes deciding what makes a connected group of people something more, a community. Following is an attempt to identify how I understand, relate to and hopefully nurture community for others and myself.
It takes time to become (a) community.
The old realtor’s jag is that the three most important things are: “location, location, location.” In the late 70s and early 80s, my wife and I worked at a conservative Christian camp. In that setting we connected with others in their teens and twenties. We were all trying to gain some sense of becoming adults. The intensity of shared work and living together in a ministry setting resulted in life connections that moved deeper, quicker than they might have in another context. We eventually went on full-time staff with the camp. Others stayed around town for school or work. Some went away and returned. We have walked together through the 70s, 80s, 90s, aughts and now teens. Time and experiences have strengthened and deepened commitments, connections and understanding.
Communities are a crucible of strength for times of crises.
Life is messy and survival cries out for help. Because of a shared sense of getting through together with those we consider community, we have walked through life transitions, loss, failure and trials. Almost everybody experiences the random confusion of health crises, despair and death. At times we have little to offer each other except the sense that we are committed and we are present.  A few years back my career went south. My communities (yes, I have more than one) rallied in the process and aftermath by offering active support and wisdom. Friends from the near opposite corner of the country kept touch each step of the way. It was full circle as I had helped them through a job crisis about five years before. Together with my local community I was supported to survive the mess and build a base for a new future.
Healthy communities are a strange mix of tight connections and openness to welcoming new people.
Back to the group that was shaped in the summer camp setting: even though our relationships began in a close, defined, shared experience, it is not a closed set. Friendships, growing families and marriage have brought others into the circle that did not share in the camp staff experience. What was originally a collection of young people with a small age span now includes three generations spanning more than eighty years. Community continues to be enriched by the ever-widening circle.  
No laughter? No thanks.
The ability to laugh at life and oneself in a safe place is food for the soul — the background stories and unspoken things, a look, phrase or memory that communicates beyond words. Laughter that is shared in love is one of the greatest gifts of community. I meet regularly with a group of men. Our shared roots go back almost twenty years. We began when we were young leaders in local ministries. No matter how much we hate to admit it, we are now elders in almost any setting. We meet weekly to share life, talking about work and ministry, family, books, faith, sports, what’s happening around home and in the broader ministry world, movies, belief, hopes, dreams and struggles — and we laugh. Our shared history and common life experiences give us the ability to let go and realize that we may not be quite as important as we’d like to think. I think laughter has been a part of every gathering over the years. What sparks the laughing is rarely important. The fact that we let go together is very important.
We all need a place that supports risk-taking.
Having a circle of friends to share the process of looking squarely at doubt and questions is gold. Honesty and acceptance are crucial. If community is about deeper connections, it needs to allow dangerous exploration into the raw edges of faith and belief. Not everybody wants to be a part for these conversations. I am thankful for safe people and safe places where I have them.
Communities are not static.
Change happens. Individuals change and groups change. There are times I do not like the shifts, but I understand that no group can be static. Friends have moved out of deeper circles over the years. Some have made a clean break and others have done a gradual drift. Location, employment and family configurations are common factors in shifts. The reality is that we rarely know the reality and are left with our own sense of acceptance and forward movement.
You’ve got to feel the pain.
A community isn’t a community until everybody has had his or her feelings hurt and decided to stick it out. Real people do real things, like hurting each other. Without digging up all the dirt I am sure I have been on both sides, causing and receiving pain. Hopefully I am able to forgive and seek forgiveness as needed to enable greater life and community on the other side.
In other times and places the choice of community was virtually predetermined: who was nearby, end of discussion. I realize I have the privilege of choice in determining my community. With privilege comes responsibility. I know I need the others’ support, even when I don’t know it. I hope I am living up to the privilege by fully participating in the life of the communities that I share in.
May God have mercy on us all.

catapult magazine VOL 12, NUM 16 :: 2013.09.06 — 2013.09.19 :

Friday, July 26, 2013

Books that stick

Thirty-some years ago, I was the program director at a conference center. Calvin Miller was the week’s speaker and one day we were sharing lunch with Calvin and his wife Barbara. Calvin was one of those larger than life characters, a preacher, poet, painter and more. He could possibly sing and dance, too, I don’t remember. For a short time after we met, I was on his Christmas card list, meaning that I received a card with a hand-painted picture — hand-painted by him!
Calvin was going on about some popular movie he had recently watched (this was around the dawn of the VCR era — ask your parents if you don’t know what a VCR is) and how the actual story of the movie, if you knew how to watch it, was all about Jesus. At some point he took a breath. Barbara gently moved her hand in front of Calvin’s, maybe a sign to let him know it was her turn.
“You have to understand,” she said. “Calvin can find Jesus in any movie. I think it’s his excuse to watch every movie.” After shared laughter, Calvin returned to being the center of attention and finishing his movie story.
In my own way I find almost any book has a sense of the breath of God.  I think all life stories are guided by some sense of trying to find and connect with or move away from God. Novels and biographies can range from subtle to overkill, but it’s always there. I can be captured by the finest literature or by some trendy, simplistic, sappy story, whether fact (the author’s version) or fiction (again, the author’s version). When I finish a book — a nearly perfect one, one which has burned itself into my soul — I take a deep breath and delay the start of the next. To begin another too soon seems to be trampling holy ground.
To talk about books and how they have changed my life borders on impossible. In one way almost every book I have encountered has left its mark, for good or ill. I struggle to make a list of my favorites, top ten or whatever. That type of list seems like more of a moving target, shifting with the mood or the moment.  Ah, but the question of the day is which books (or which type of books) do I carry everyday and everywhere? Which ones speak to my soul, through whispers or shouts, as the moment dictates?
If I were to begin a rough list of significant authors and possibly my favorite book by them, here are some that would be in that realm:
  • Frederick Buechner, Godric (but how can I pick one?)
  • Henri Nouwen, Wounded Healer
  • Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering
  • Madeleine L’Engle, Many Waters
  • Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow and all that followed
  • Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies (of course)
  • Lauren Winner, Girl Meets God
  • Richard Rohr, Quest for the Grail
  • Sara Miles, Take This Bread
  • Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
  • Walter Wangerin, As For Me and My House
  • Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor
  • Calvin Miller, Philippian Fragment
  • John White, Daring to Draw Near
  • Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace
  • Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence
The words of these authors have carried me over the years or they’ve been recent find, thereby being more quickly remembered.  Some of their works have transcended time to haunt me with holiness at each new step. Others have been the cup of water for a dry moment and might feel disconnected if I attempted to bring them into my life today.
I have devoured almost everything written (or at least published) by Garrison Keillor. It’s cliché, but I laugh until I cry. His fanciful stories are so close to real, yet so impossible I can’t wait to see what’s next. His characters seem to be stuck, shallow, arrogant, confused and without substantive goals or direction — just like real people — and yet they are heroic, alive and beautiful.
Frank Schaeffer’s thinly fictional trilogy of the life of a European missionary kid is hilarious. His more recent Crazy for God and the following books are fascinating. He opened doors on evangelical Christianity that few have dared to crack or even knew existed. He angered many and probably confused more. But I am thankful for his beginning many conversations that were long overdue.
I love books about history, specifically American history, including the cruel, bloody greed of westward expansion and the tragic family feud we call the Civil War. I want to understand who we were and what we were thinking and doing during my childhood as lived out in the crucible of the Civil Rights Movement.
Now I come to the time of true confession. I am going on my annual solo camping trip next week and I have my books selected. I think I have eight to choose from and will probably read three or four. Of the eight, four (or maybe five) are baseball books. I love baseball books. I really love books about baseball history. I’ve read books about other sports, but they lack something, kind of like the functionality of a football stadium or basketball arena compared to the mystical beauty of a ballpark.  For me, a beautiful ballpark is like a cathedral. Somehow the structure enhances the experience, making the moment more.
In baseball I see the American story of the shift from an agricultural landscape to a machine-driven economy — the movement of boys from the farm to the city. Civil rights are central to the story and the Negro Leagues story central to understanding the whole. And when it comes to pure simple religion or subtle spirituality, baseball is overflowing with imagery and examples. I will read historical overviews of certain eras, teams or players. I read fiction with baseball as the setting. I read biographies and players’ memoirs. It may sound utterly ridiculous to many, but baseball books feed my soul.
I started keeping a list of books I read over twenty years ago. A quick glance at my list reveals that about a quarter of the books I read are somehow about or connected to baseball. While the following books are not my favorite baseball books (again, I’m not sure I can articulate which are my favorites), they all breathe life into the reader — at least they did for me:
  • Summer of ‘49 and October ‘64 by David Halberstam are can’t-miss.
  • Wait ‘til Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin brings together family, baseball and growing up in America post World War II.
  • A Great and Glorious Game by A. Bartlett Giamatti completes the cycle by graciously revealing how baseball is more than a game — much more.
Looks like I’ll be having a great time next week.
May God have mercy on us all…


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fundraising 101

have spent most of my near-forty career years in non-profits. That translates to nearly forty years of fundraising. I have been a part of everything from nickel and dime begging to multi-million dollar organizational relocation, from passing the plate to pledges, from campaigns to coffee and lunch meetings, from banquets to car washes. I’ve been a staff member, board member and donor for more organizations than I can list or remember without extensive brain stretching.
At one point I was hired to help an organization with a focused, short-term funding project. In a few months we outraised our goal. Guess what? Some people thought I was a fundraising genius — not a perception I was anxious to live up to.
In my last long-term staff role, I was an executive director of a local ministry. As the ED, I was responsible for overseeing and implementing the needed fundraising for the daily and ongoing needs. Through varied methods we were able to keep things balanced. There were a few tough stretches, but for the most part we paid salaries, bills and kept a cushion in the bank. Often when people would ask about fundraising I’d say, “I want to be good enough at it to keep things together, but not so good that they want me to do it all the time.”  My experience is that most people who are in positions that require them to raise money for organizations would rather be doing something else — not another job, just not the fundraising part.
The current buzz is to talk about sustainable funding, which is really nothing new. Twenty years ago we didn’t sit around and say, “Hey, let’s set up a funding system that will evaporate in a few years and leave the next set of leaders floundering.”
I now focus my time as a consultant and coach. I help people and organizations, and one of the things I help with is fundraising. True confession: I prefer helping others do fundraising than having the primary responsibility.
When all is said and done, fundraising is about trust. Do people trust the person who is representative of an organization enough to give their money for support?  There are numerous techniques and programs that can be implemented to raise money. If you are a financial mercenary, you can follow the P. T Barnum approach: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Find enough suckers and you stay in business. Best case, it’s a two way street. People who are doing fundraising need to be ethical, honest, trustworthy and sincere, seeking the best for all involved. These kinds of fundraiser view donors as partners in the ongoing life of the organization.
The ideal is for donors to be responsible in vetting organizations before jumping in — to build a relationship with the program and the people. Check out the Donor’s Bill of Rights from the Association of Fundraising Professionals for help in researching organizations.
The reality is that there are many ways to raise money, many people who want our money and many organizations that we can be involved with (and give to). The stories of non-profit financial abuse are many and the results of broken trust tragic. If you are responsible as a fundraiser, do a self-evaluation. If you are not the right kind of person, get out of the role. Save the organization and yourself the grief of the damage you may do.
If you are a donor, be wise. If you are better informed, you can have the deeper satisfaction of being a part of an organization that is doing work that matches your commitments, values and passions.  The best fundraising and giving grows out of open, honest relationships of trust and respect.
May God have mercy on us all.
previously in catapult magazine VOL 12, NUM 14 :: 2013.07.05 — 2013.07.18:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I finally wrote a book today

I finally wrote a book today
You know, the one
I keep thinking about
But am afraid to talk about
For fear I’ll jinx it
The same one people
Keep telling me I should write
I’ve started plenty
Each with a different slant
Probably sounding like little more
Than a pitiful version of something
My momentary favorite author would pen
But now, it’s done
No more to haunt me
Nagging for time and affection

I finally wrote a book today
Or, at least, thought about it

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Trying to convince you
I don’t care about money
would be about as disingenuous
as saying I don’t know
who’s winning the
peewee soccer game that
my granddaughter is currently playing.

This poem is from the new edition of catapult magazine with the theme, "Call That Profit." Follow this link for the entire edition:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I can’t bear to consider

I like to think
what they don’t know
can’t hurt them.

But then, I think,
everything can hurt them.
But they don’t know it,
so it doesn’t.

At least, until it does.
But then, again,
I’m not sure they are aware
enough to really be hurt.

All of which I choose to believe,
because I can’t bear to
consider the alternatives.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Do you wanna dance?

Q: Why are Baptists against sexual intercourse?
A: Because they heard it can lead to dancing.
The joke works because it catches you by surprise. And because you know proper people don’t talk about Baptists and sex in the same setting. It hovers on the razor edge of being ridiculous, while revealing something of reality.
Following are some stories related to dancing and that part of my childhood and young adult years lived out in Baptist culture. Before we go further let me clarify, this is not a rant about Baptists. The Baptists of my youth were caring people who helped me and my family in many ways, but they did have some hang-ups. I believe I would have had a similar experience in most fundamentalist/evangelical church settings in that era. I am also aware that many of these groups have shifted with the times in a variety of ways.
I grew up in a family that danced. I have early memories of being in the basement party room of my paternal grandparents. We’d put 45s on the drop down spindle of the cabinet stereo. My grandmother, Estelle, would appear in what seemed like an eternal, silky, blue, flower-printed dress. She’d take my hands and lead me around the room. She was smooth, flowing with the music. Her perfume was strong, her skin soft and covered with some unknown powder. She’d seem lost in the moment. It may have helped that she’d had “a few” before coming downstairs. After a dance with each of the grandsons, she’d be back upstairs with the other adults.
My parents were square dancers, members of a club, the Wagon Wheels. I think they went to competitions. Based on the competitive genes that flowed to me from my Dad, I’m guessing they were good. Mom made matching outfits; a dress for her and shirts for my Dad, my brother and me. I hated wearing the matching outfits.
There were the weekly nights at the clubhouse. After a potluck meal the adults would dance and the kids would play around the edges of the room. We took trips to the beach and joined in house parties. One summer night we took all the furniture out of our living room and dining room and emptied the garage for a house dance. The street was full of cars and the dancing continued long after I had fallen asleep in my parents’ bed. I think a few people were still hanging around when I woke the next morning.
Along the way, Mom started taking my brother and me to a little Baptist church. I’m guessing I was about eight or nine when we started attending. By the time I hit my teen years, I had learned that Baptists don’t dance. Well, I learned that there was a long list of things Baptists didn’t do, and dancing was high on the list.
Fortunately for me, my Mother never quite bought into some of the Baptist fears about worldly pleasures. She loved dancing and wanted us to enjoy it, too. We were also allowed to go to movies, another evil pleasure greatly frowned upon by the church family.
I learned square dancing in grade school PE. Some of the good Christian kids had notes excusing them from the sinful activity. Their parents’ intent was that they would be witnesses for Jesus by not participating. I thought they looked goofy and was glad I wasn’t fully part of their tribe.
In seventh and eighth grade, we had three dances a year. Mrs. Peebles, who was a harsh looking PE teacher, got permission from the principal to host these events. Rumor was the principal was another Christian who refused to be complicit in encouraging us to dance. We’d dance to 45s played on a mono school record player in the gym/cafeteria. I developed a mental list of girls who were “safe” dance partners — friends, but no expectations of “going steady.”
On the night of one school dance, I was in the gym when an eighth grade girl approached me and asked if I wanted to dance. I was a seventh grader. There was a frozen moment of fear. She was a mysterious, mystical beauty, something beyond reality. The answer in my mind was, “Yes, of course, I want to dance.” It was easy to think, but impossible to articulate. My body and words soon betrayed me. Although I knew her by name, I’d never spoken with her before. Overwhelmed by the moment and grasping at humor, I stupidly mumbled something about an old war wound. She left.
High school dances were more frequent, usually after most Friday home football and basketball games. There were bands. A darkened cafeteria, guys with long hair, loud rock and roll, a few primal light shows. I spent most of the time hanging with my guy friends, dancing occasionally with my newfound “safe” girl friends. I avoided formal dances. It was the 60s and I viewed them as an effort to make us of part of the “establishment.” No, thanks, I wasn’t renting a tux and selling out.
By the end of high school, I was more deeply entrenched in the Baptist world and I had drifted from participating in dances. I was becoming more of a Baptist than anything else and we Baptists had “sings,” went to roller rinks and watched movies (produced by the Billy Graham Association).
Late in my high school days, Connie and I began dating. She was from a family that was more deeply rooted in Baptist culture. She tells of wanting to take ballet lessons as a young girl and being rebuffed because of what her grandparents would think. Her grandparents, by the way, were missionaries in Japan. School dances were absolutely forbidden.
We married in an era and a church culture in which weddings were held in the church with  reception in the fellowship hall — a basement, in our case. Dancing was never considered a part of the celebration.
As a young couple we were active in “good” churches and dancing wasn’t on the radar. After a few years, we were working at a Christian camp and dancing was clearly on the list of “No’s.” I remember having to sign an annual pledge of things we wouldn’t do. Smoking, drinking and dancing were included. One year I put my credibility on the line and pushed for a square dance as a summer staff get-acquainted activity.
Before long we left the camp and I joined the staff of a mainline church. We found new freedoms. People danced, drank alcohol and some even smoked and swore all while still believing in Jesus.
Years later Connie and I took a ballroom dancing class. She was great, she learned the steps and could flow with the pace and spirit of most any dance. I was awkward — maybe too self-conscious, maybe too uncoordinated. Not a pretty site on the dance floor. One night the teacher chose me for her demonstration partner. I was in a state of near panic as she flung me around the room telling me to do simple things that I found nearly impossible. The story has been told many times and always gets a deserved laugh.
We allowed, if not encouraged, our sons to go to dances. They enjoyed them and we all seemed to survive.  In the meantime, I moved to another ministry with college students and we regularly sponsored dances. Connie tolerates my inept dance moves at weddings, festivals or other gatherings where the music and opportunity meet.
I have two memories of dancing as moments of joy that transcend daily life. Could they have happened with out dancing? Maybe, but I doubt it.  The first was in Detroit with college students. We were on a mission/service trip and had been assigned to visit a house that was helping young adults who were in the country for a variety of reasons, but didn’t have legal documentation. We started with pizza and games; the games were to help with English acquisition. As the evening progressed, someone brought out a CD player and the music began. Soon about 50 young adults in a crowded living room were caught in a dance party that seemed to go on forever. Laughter and smiles filled the room. Language almost disappeared and a unity evolved that could not have been programmed.
The second memory of dancing at our youngest son’s wedding was one of the most joy-filled moments in our lives. The moment, the people, the purpose all brought us to a place of true celebration. 
Our daughter-in-law grew up as a dancer. So our granddaughter was taking dance classes before she started pre-school. She’s almost four and does dances for us when she visits. We’ve gone to a number of recitals. She’s been a flower and a mouse and each time the cutest kid on the stage.
One thing I’ve learned is that there is something in us that feels music and wants to move. Has music and dancing led to sex (I truly think that was the big Baptist fear)? Sure, and so have a lot of other things. And I am fairly certain that kids deprived of dancing have found their way to sex.
We can choose to fearfully avoid and eliminate anything that might be somehow connected the world and live in isolation and denial. Or we can find and live life, discovering that we are a messy mix of emotions, intellect, passions, hopes and desires. We can live lives of risk and joy. We can be captured by a sound or a moment. We can dance gracefully or awkwardly.
I think to resist dancing is akin to resisting the Spirit — saying “no” to that which calls us from the deep unknown, that which we cannot describe, control, measure or predict. We can say “no” and merely exist, or we can “yes” and live.
I’ve been listening to “Old Yellow Moon” by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. In the song “Back When We Were Beautiful,” they share the story of an elderly woman looking back and remembering the gift of dance in her life:
I don’t feel very different, she said, I know it’s strange.
I guess I’ve gotten used to these little aches and pains.
But I still love to dance, you know we used to dance
The night away
Back when we were beautiful, beautiful, yes…
May God have mercy on us all. 

previously in catapult magazineVOL 12, NUM 10 :: 2013.05.10 — 2013.05.23 :