Thursday, June 28, 2018

Hot on the Highway!

Yeah, boy!
It is going to be a hot day for riding!
The temperatures for today and tomorrow are forecast to be in the upper 90s in the Midwest US. That's 36-37 for my Celsius friends.

Today I'll be riding to Grand Oaks Assembly campgrounds for a magic show at a kids' camp tonight. Tomorrow I'll make the return trip home. It's 225 miles (362 km) from my house to the camp.
In case you were wondering, riding in hot weather isn't cooler on a motorcycle. There is a point at which riding on hot asphalt (or concrete) through hot air while sitting on a hot engine is just plain... well, hot.
Here's a motorcycle wind chart to show what I'm talking about.

I'll be comfortable enough and it's worth the exchange of riding the motorcycle vs being stuck in a cage (car).

I need to get a walk in before I hit the road.
Watch for old, retired guys on motorcycles.

John <><

Monday, June 25, 2018

Who is my neighbor?

The Gospel of Luke -- according to John (that's me).
If you were at church with me on Sunday morning or if we were having a simple conversation, I would probably use the more familiar title of Story-time with Pastor John.
As it is, I'll try to lay this simple story out the way I would tell it in preaching or in conversation. It's a story that most people have heard in some form or fashion. If you'd rather read it for yourself, you'll find it in the tenth chapter of the Gospel According to Luke.

Jesus is doing his thing and teaching about how we should live and a lawyer (probably a Pharisee since they were the ones that were all about living by the 613 laws of the Torah) asks the simple question, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered, "You're a lawyer. What does the Law say?"
The lawyer responds with an answer that Jesus has given, "Love God with everything you've got and love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus says, "That's right! Do it and you'll live!"

Although the answer seems simple enough, the lawyer asks for some clarity. I mean if we're talking about eternal life, we need to make sure of the details, right?
So the lawyer asks, "Who is my neighbor?"

That's when Jesus tells his story:
There was a man that went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. While on the way, he fell among thieves that beat him, took his clothes and all of his belongings, and left him badly beaten and bloodied at the side of the road. A priest passed by but saw the man and passed by without stopping. Later, a servant of the temple passed by, looked at the man and then crossed over to the other side of the road and continued on.
Finally, a man of Samaria passed by and took care of the beaten man. He cleaned and bound his wounds, and transported him to a nearby town. He left him in the care of a local townsman and paid for his care. He also promised to return to pay for any additional charges.
Then Jesus asked, "Which man was the neighbor to the man that had been robbed?"
It's a no brainer, but even the lawyer's answer reveals something about the story. He said, "The man that showed mercy."
And Jesus said, "Yep! You be that guy!"

It's pretty easy to read that, glean a simple lesson about being kind to strangers and move on.
But there is much more to the command "You be that guy!" than just be kind to others.

The Samaritans were a people of mixed race and despised by the Jews.
To understand why this was so, one needs to go back to the divided kingdoms and the rebuilding of the southern kingdom at Jerusalem. Those Jews felt that they had kept their race pure while the northern kingdom (Samaria) had lived with their captors, intermarried with them, and corrupted the Jewish way of life. The Samaritans were considered to be unclean, unholy, and a people to be avoided and despised.
When Jesus asked, "Who was the neighbor?" the lawyer didn't even acknowledge the man's race. He simply said, "The man that showed mercy." It's like he purposely avoided saying the Samaritan was the good guy.

And the command of Jesus wasn't to show mercy to people you don't like. It was to show mercy, even to people that don't like you!

This Samaritan traveler stopped to care for a man that would likely have left him to die if their positions were reversed. Even the priest and Levite (servant of the temple) wouldn't stop to help one of their own. A person's dislike for us is no excuse for our treating them poorly.

There are many people that are applauding the actions of a DC restaurant owner that asked the White House press secretary to leave based on the poor morals of the current Administration.
Some say that they (the White House staff) deserve it.
Many say that if a baker can refuse to bake a cake based on moral differences, a restaurant owner should be able to refuse service based on moral differences.

I think that Jesus would hold us to a higher standard. I'm pretty sure that he would tell us to love those that hate us, to be kind to those that are unkind to us, and to show mercy to those that disagree with us.

I wonder how different things would be if the owner of the restaurant had taken Ms. Sanders aside and said, "Listen, I want you to know that I really disagree with what is being done by your boss. I honestly don't know how you can work for him and do the things you do. Having said that, I want to thank you for choosing to eat in my restaurant and I hope that you and your party enjoy your meal and choose to comeback in the future."

Martin Luther put it this way --
"The Christian shoemaker does his duty, not by putting little crosses on shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship"

How we treat others shouldn't have anything to do with how they treat us.
Ms Sanders comment about the owner's actions saying more about the owner than about her were spot on.

It's funny how easy it is to see the right and wrong of the actions of others and how difficult it is to see our own misdeeds.

Who is my neighbor?
You are.
You are even if we disagree ...
on religion
on politics
on social issues
on civil rights
on economy.
You are my neighbor based on my choice to follow Jesus.
You are my neighbor even if you don't consider me to be your neighbor.

This following Jesus thing can be difficult.
Please be patient with me.

John <><

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Solstice

Seasons change; life goes on.
At a little past 5am in the US Midwest, the sun reached its northern most point as the Earth makes its orbit around it -- 23 degrees, 26 minutes above the equator, touching the imaginary line we call the Tropic of Cancer.

Around the world, few people will take notice of the annual event.
Most people in the US are on their way to work or have already begun their work day. West coasters may still be sleeping or snoozing their alarm clocks for a few more precious minutes of rest..

It is said that light overcomes darkness as good overcomes evil.
Perhaps this will be the day

For thousands of children, the longest day will turn into a longer and lonelier night -- a night that will not end. Their summer begins in a room separated from their parents or anyone they know. Although they are with a multitude of other separated children, they are alone.
Some are infants.
Some are toddlers.
Some are preschool or elementary school age.
Some are young teens.
All are too young to have been torn from their families.

The longest day and the longer nights will also be experienced by the parents that have had their children taken from them. Parents seeking safety from the violence and turmoil of their native land have traveled thousands of treacherous miles to reach the uncaring and evil border of the USA.
They came with hope.
They were met with evil.

I am ashamed of my country.
I am ashamed of so many of the associations I have with people that have supported an Administration that has taken such heinous actions on innocent people.
I am ashamed of the willful ignorance and the political bias that keeps people from seeing the truth.
I am ashamed that people make comparisons like summer camps or playgrounds or ball fields.
I am ashamed that we have listened to that and not removed them from office or from their career positions.
I am ashamed of myself for not having done enough to prevent this from happening.
I am ashamed that I feel so powerless to do anything to undo the evil that has been done.

Today will be a long day.
Tonight will be a long night.

May God have mercy on me
And on my country,

John <><

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Silence is Deafening

I'm waiting....

Still waiting...

When are the evangelical leaders going to stand against the immoral acts of a government that is deliberately separating young children from their parents?
When are the president's religious advisers going to say, "This is wrong."
Is there no one with character and integrity left to stand against policies that are evil?
And while leaders should be certainly speaking up, what about the rank and file christians (lower case intentional)? When are they going to admit that the guy they put in the White House is a monster for imposing such heinous policies?

Are our elected GOP Senators and Congresspersons so blinded by party politics and dark money that they can no longer see evil as evil?

Though uneducated, I have never really thought of myself as a stupid man.
But I cannot come to an understanding of how any person thinks that these policies of this Administration are anything but evil.
If holding kids hostage to get leverage for legislation isn't official government human trafficking, then nothing is.

Speak up!
Call your Senators and Representatives and tell them to put an end to this.
The US Capitol switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.
They will connect you with your Senators and House Representative.

Tweet them.
Publicly demand that they take action.
This is not something that can wait until November.
Do it now.

John <><

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Working Weekend

Ha ha!
It's not really working.
I'm serving as camp pastor for Baptist Hill's Intro to Camping weekend.

This year that's about 75 kids and 30 adults. Since it's only around 50 miles to camp, I choose to ride home to sleep in my own bed and then get up early enough to make it to camp for breakfast.
One of the parents and the camp's assistant administrator are expecting me to bring some good coffee with me this morning. I have that kind of reputation since on the occasions when I have stayed at camp, I bring my own coffee.

We have been blessed with a gorgeous weekend on the weather front -- sunny and hot! It will be perfect for the early morning motorcycle ride.

Have a grand weekend!

John <><

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Another Trip Around the Sun

Today I begin my fifty ninth trip around the sun.
I don't know what the next 365 days will hold and I don't really need to know.

I'll probably get a haircut today, maybe go out to eat tonight (or this afternoon), and I'll probably manage a few miles on the bike. I think I'll give myself a birthday break and postpone mowing until tomorrow.

I hope to have a more mindful existence in the coming year.
I hope to be more aware of what's going on around me and how my life impacts others and the environment in which we live.

Here are a few simple things that I'd like to do on this next trip around the sun:

Reduce waste
I've already started reducing plastic waste by using refillable cups instead of buying bottled soda or water whenever I can. I'm also going to go back to using bar soap rather than bottled liquid soap in the shower.
We already buy more fresh produce than frozen, but I hope to increase the amount.
I want to see plastic and avoid it whenever I can.

I also think I'm going to start doing more recycling.
This area hasn't been very progressive about recycling and it actually can cost consumers that want to participate. I'm going to start on this at the personal level and maybe encourage others along the way.

I like that the church we've started attending is into service to the community. It will help provide a place for me to serve.
I think that I will also contact the Cancer Treatment center to see if they have a way of connecting patients that need transportation with people willing to drive them. My own parents have needed rides to and from treatment and for other health needs. Many people have helped them get to where they needed to go. My payback can be to help others.

Live simply
I want to get rid of the stuff we've accumulated over time and work on living a simple, but satisfying life. I know that we can live with less -- less stuff, less technology, less trying to impress others, less costly entertainment -- less.

Be healthy
It is an ongoing battle, but I'm really getting to the point of thinking of it as a necessary part of life. Although I've never really thought of myself as an unhealthy person, I know that I am and don't want to continue down this road as if everything is okay.

I know it's not much, but I think of it as attitude shaping and hope that these simple philosophies will spill over into other areas of life.
Perhaps, our paths will cross on this next trip around the sun. If so, we can shake hands or hug and share a moment of our day with one another. And if not, then I wish you well on your journey.

John <><

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Thoughts from the Highway...

I spent a little time on the road last week and the highway can provide some good head clearing time.
While riding a motorcycle never really provides you with "down" time, it can give you time to ponder certain situations in life or think about absolutely nothing at all. The 1100 miles gave me plenty of time to do both when I wasn't in traffic or dodging raindrops.

I was thinking about some of the lessons that I've learned recently and how I wish I had learned them earlier. While I have never been a big worrier nor one to live in the past, neither have I been one to live in the moment. And by that, I mean that I rarely stopped to appreciate the moment or be fully aware of life as it is happening.

According to the wisdom of Ferris Bueller -- "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Maybe life has slowed down in retirement, or it could be that I'm learning to look around more often.
In any case, life is moving along and there are some pretty good things happening.

And that brings me to another thought from a post a few days ago -- depression and suicide.
Did you read those demographic indicators?

Men are much more likely to commit suicide than women (every age demographic). Check
Whites are more likely than any other race. (Although I'm mixed, I'm generally identified as white) Check
And LGBTQ persons are more likely than cisgender persons.
People with strong community ties are less likely to commit suicide, making loneliness a contributing factor. (pretty much a loner) Check
Retired and unemployed persons are more likely to commit suicide than working people, Check
and childless or empty nesters are more likely than those with children living at home. Check
Women that are suicidal are more likely to seek help than men and often exhibit signs and have failed attempts. Oftentimes, men show few signs and their deaths come as a complete surprise to the people that know them.
According to the World Health Organization, globally, someone dies of suicide every 40 seconds.
Unfortunately, teen suicides sometimes spike after a celebrity suicide and the media coverage that follows.
Russia and the former Soviet Bloc countries have the highest rates of suicide, while the Caribbean islands have the lowest rates.

I'm not depressed nor suicidal, but looking at these demographics one can't help but wonder -- What little thing might shift the balance? Maybe I should start building those community ties or at the very least, move to the Caribbean! 

To be fair, I am working on the community thing a little bit, but it is a slow and unnatural process for me. I'm pretty much in the middle of my comfort zone when I am alone -- even when I am with people! At the UFC fights last Saturday, we were in the sold out United Center. Sitting next to me was a guy that had come to the fights by himself. I didn't think it was weird. I thought -- "That could be me." 
Although I have never gone to a UFC event by myself, I'm a regular at attending baseball games alone. Tonight I'll try to make some new friends as I go to a Springfield Cardinals' game with a bunch of people I don't know from a new church we've been attending. 
I'll need to remember that when people go to a game as a group, it's generally more about the group thing than about watching the game -- a trait I normally find annoying.
It should be interesting. 

It looks like the morning showers have passed through the Ozarks and it will be another hot, humid day. Maybe I'll spend it looking for a tropical beach home -- you know, just to be safe!

John <><

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Chicago Trip: the food

It's a rainy Sunday morning in the Windy City. The kids' softball is a rain out, but I was already up and showered so I have some morning quiet time while they catch up on some sleep.
The time to visit always seems so short.

I did manage to try a couple of new places to eat. Thursday morning I took a walk to Dona Torta Mexican Restaurant for some huevos rancheros. There are plenty of good, authentic Mexican restaurants and food carts in the area around the kids' home. There is a market right across the street from the restaurant, so I picked up a few things and made dinner before the kids got home from work.

Friday I had a Chicago staple at a little tavern/grill -- The Billy Goat. I had the "combo" which is Italian sausage and beef with peppers on a hoagie. It was what I expected and I enjoyed the old, familiar flavors.
Friday night we went to one of the kids new favorites -- Masa Azul.
Oh. My. Goodness! We shared an assortment of tacos and they were all delicious!

Saturday was a return to a familiar favorite -- brunch at Haymarket.
My only real decision was choosing between the Riot sandwich or the Morning Riot on the brunch menu. I went with the Morning Riot.
Saturday's evening meal was from the United Center's concession stands as Aaron and I were there for UFC 225.
I've gotta tell you -- Chicago knows their hotdogs! As much as I love the all beef dogs at Busch Stadium with grilled onions, 'kraut, and mustard, it is tough to beat a well made Chicago style hot dog!
Did you know that Chicago has more hotdog stands than it has McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's restaurants combined?

I'm not sure what I'll have to eat today before I start homeward. I'll only ride to Metamora IL today and spend the night with my parents. After a brief visit and a short errand with Dad tomorrow morning, I'll be on the road to Ozark.

Church group night at the Springfield Cardinals on Tuesday night (dollar dog night),
Weekend camp at Baptist Hill on Friday and Saturday (15th and 16th),
Preaching locally on the 24th,
And an overnight trip to Grand Oaks Assembly for a children's camp on the 28th and 29th.
Life is good.

John <><

Saturday, June 09, 2018



Another famous person has ended their own life and now many people are posting about suicide. Some posts are to express grief or extend condolences. Some are to encourage people that might be considering suicide to seek help. Some are to condemn or exploit the death to share personal religious beliefs.

And some remind us that every day there are people -- ordinary people -- that choose to end their life, and very few people notice or care.

The suicide rate for US military veterans is twice the rate of the general population.
According to the Veteran's Administration (VA) from 1979 through 2014, an average of 20 vets per day surrendered their lives to suicide. From 1999 through 2010, it was 22 per day -- almost one every hour. And in 2012 there were more military veterans that died by suicide than there were military combat deaths.

Men are much more likely to commit suicide than women (every age demographic).
Whites are more likely than any other race.
And LGBTQ persons are more likely than cisgender persons.
People with strong community ties are less likely to commit suicide, making loneliness a contributing factor.
Retired and unemployed persons are more likely to commit suicide than working people,
and childless or empty nesters are more likely than those with children living at home.
Women that are suicidal are more likely to seek help than men and often exhibit signs and have failed attempts. Oftentimes, men show few signs and their deaths come as a complete surprise to the people that know them.
According to the World Health Organization, globally, someone dies of suicide every 40 seconds.
Unfortunately, teen suicides sometimes spike after a celebrity suicide and the media coverage that follows.
Russia and the former Soviet Bloc countries have the highest rates of suicide, while the Caribbean islands have the lowest rates.

Don't let this post bring you down.
Open your eyes.
Broaden your community.
And just to be safe, I think I'll start looking for a home in the Caribbean!

John <><

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255

Friday, June 08, 2018

UFC Weight Cuts

I'm aggravated.
If you are not a fight fan, you can move along. This is a UFC rant.

The main event for tomorrow night's UFC 225 card is no longer a Championship fight due to one of the fighters missing weight. This year, fighters that have missed weight and gone on to fight are 7-1.
While missing weight isn't a clear indicator of a fighter's fighting ability, it does say plenty about their professionalism and their attitude towards the sport, the fans, and their opponent.

To be honest, I've never really understood why the weigh-ins aren't just hours before a fight. Why is a fighter allowed to fight at a weight far above the class? If every fighter cuts weight and then adds 10% body weight before the fight, how do they gain an advantage?

Fighters have a contracted amount of money (show money) to show up for the fight and a separate purse for winning. Contestants that fail to make weight, often have give a percentage of their show money to their opponent and are not eligible for any performance bonuses. I'm beginning to think they should be penalized their entire show money purse. After all, they failed to show up for the fight on weight. It is obvious that the current penalties are not enough.

There are still good fights on the card and I know that I will enjoy the evening out with Aaron.
But the UFC is going to need to address the weight cutting issues. I'm not alone in being aggravated.

John <><

Friday, June 01, 2018

It's June!

It is June!
And tomorrow is the the first of several kids' camps that I will be attending this summer.
If you take a look at the Coming Events portion of the right column (web version), you'll see that June is going to be a busy month. The only open week isn't really open, but booked for some personal travel and to see UFC 225 in Chicago.

I'm looking forward to the summer and to the ministry as well as to the time on the motorcycle traveling to and from each event.

The theme for tomorrow's day camp is "Gladly serve the Lord" from Psalm 100:2.
I think service to God by serving others is going to be the theme I'll be sharing throughout the summer. I think it's the most overlooked of the simple commands that Jesus gave to us.
Okay, so maybe it's not so much overlooked as it is just ignored.

I'm working on the often ignored commands of Jesus.
Making disciples is a biggie.
The Southern Baptists that I've been exposed to are much more concerned about making converts, even though we were never given the command to do so. Even those churches that claim to focus on discipling others, do so only after they have become believers. Certainly, new followers need to be taught more about how Jesus lived and what he commands, but how does a person make a decision to follow Jesus unless they are first taught what he taught?

I'm also setting aside simply telling people "God loves you" and working on showing them God's love. If you'd care to join me in this work, be warned -- it's much more difficult that just saying, "God loves you."

I've got work to do today and I need to prepare for day camp tomorrow.
Be kind. Show God's love to someone that really needs it.

John <><