Mucketing It Up!

Last night, for the very first time in seven years, I participated in NorthHaven’s End-of-the-Summer Muck Fest.  If you are unfamiliar with Muck Fest, let me explain.  Add a barrel full of over-hyper children, sprinkle a few youth into the mix, and include a dash of very immature adults to a recipe of ketchup, mustard, syrup, barbecue sauce, and lard.  Yes, lard!  Then, blow a whistle and let the mayhem begin.

Sound like fun?  No.  Sound gross?  Absolutely.  Ask a bunch of stinky children after a giant food war and they will tell you it was the greatest thing ever!  There is nothing better than running around outside squirting your best buddy or a perfect stranger with a huge blob of ketchup or mustard.  It is a messy, fantastic, gross, and beautiful event.

Muck Fest can be a lot like life.  Have you ever felt like you are on the Muck Fest field, dodging all the nastiness flinging through the air?  Have you ever felt like throwing a big ole’ blob of something at a family member, co-worker, or that guy that cut you off this morning in traffic?  Honestly, we have all felt like that at sometime or another.  Life can be messy!

But in all the messiness of life, both what we take and dish out, there are moments when friends pat each other on the back, laugh hysterically at what just happened, and wait patiently to wash away the messiness of life.  Just as the ketchup, mustard, and lard (took a bit more scrubbing) eventually came clean, we too are offered a way for the guilt, pain, anger, envy, and jealously to be rinsed out of our lives.

The Psalmist was right when he wrote, “Even though I live on the Muck Fest field, even though I have ketchup on my face, even though I have mustard in my ears, and even though I have lard between my toes; if you wash me, I will be whiter than snow” (51:7, Randall Translation).  Life is messy, but we worship and follow a God who can rinse the messiness away.

The Racial Tension

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”

– Paul the Apostle, Galatians 3:27-28, NRSV

We have all heard this text read before, offering insight into equitable justice in the midst of unjust and sinful systems.  Before a righteous and just God, we all stand equally guilty and equally forgiven as the cloak of Christ is thrown over us.  In return, disciples are called to faithfully demonstrate grace, mercy, and love without biases.

With the tragic events of Ferguson, MO still fresh on our minds, and the talking heads of cable news networks drowning out the airways, I have been mulling over how the church evaluates, reconciles, and engages race.  If we were truly honest with this issue, the church remains thoroughly confused and perplexed when addressing racial issues.

Historically, we have a horrible track record.  In most cases, the church used European expansionism to fuel evangelical fervor in order to rape and destroy ethnic identities.  In my own ancestral heritage, the remarks by U.S. Army Captain, Richard Henry Platt (1840-1924), were recalled with frequency.  Arguing for schools to educate Native American children, the Captain infamously said, “We must kill the Indian to save the man.”

We have failed within other traditions as well, enslaving Africans and profiting from the cheap labor of Asians and Hispanics.  We like to claim that we see others without racial biases, but the reality is we do this all the time.  No matter what the skin color we cast our gaze, we judge, we draw conclusions, and we create unjust systems that are as unbalanced as the world has ever seen.  One only has to look at the racial make-up of the prison system to understand how race remains a neglected issue.

Today, as in his time, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. still ring loud, “It’s appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.”  Granted, the church has attempted to address race issues in the past but without much success.  For the most part, we are still a segregated and confused community.  The time has come for us to set around an upper room table and seek ways we can break down barriers, understand racial narratives, and move forward as a united community.  One meeting or conference will not achieve this dream, but it can be a start.  More importantly, it will take a lifelong commitment from clergy and laity to seek out ways racial tension can be defused until a new way of relating to one another can be established.  We must do something soon or the racial tension in this country will continue to escalate.

The church must learn to put on the cloak of Christ, which does not shun anyone’s cultural and racial identity underneath.  We are all created by God uniquely and he has deemed us good.  However, if racial biases are truly learned through culture and experience, which I believe, then we need to do some unlearning and create a new path forward.

Word Jumble

Anyone ever created a sentence in their mind only to hear it come out totally jumbled?  For some reason, that very scenario has been happening to me a lot lately.  Just yesterday, I told a story from my childhood, only to get the phrase, “Bump on a log” jumbled to “Stump on a log.”  It sounds like an easy mistake that anyone could make, but my problem arises when I never catch my mistake in time.  In fact, this genius decides to make the mistake over and over again.  Thankfully, there is always someone who graciously corrects me after the sermon.

Like I said, this has been happening to me quite a lot lately.  Honestly, I am hoping my new found word-jumble has to do with the stress of opening the new building or the conversation I had that morning about grinding a stump from someone’s front yard.  However, if I am truly honest, down deep inside I am beginning to realize my mind is getting more and more crowded with life, conversations, deadlines, projects, responsibilities, and words.  Oh, the words, so many words!

At the end of an exhausting day, there are times all I want to do is pour myself into a comfortable chair, sit quietly, and just be.  No distraction.  No deadlines.  No lists.  No words.  Just me and a divine presence.  The Psalmist wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (46:10).  The Hebrew word for “be still” is raphah, meaning “to become helpless.”  Therein lies the struggle.  I have such hard time becoming helpless.    If only I could pour myself into God’s arms where he awaits to hold me, offering his strength, his stillness, and his peace.  Thankfully, even though that day is not today I know that day is coming.

My words may be jumbled these days, my thoughts may be bouncing off one another in my mind, my heart may be racing while I run life’s course, but I know there is a day soon coming when I will pour myself into the presence of God.  There, he will hold me, empower me, and prepare me for another stage.  Even though my words may get more jumbled with time, I know I serve a God whose Word is always perfect even when my words gets jumbled.  Even when I don’t make sense, God always does!

Dear Public School Teacher

Dear Public School Teacher,

In Norman, this morning, students and parents were frantically preparing for another school year.  Lunches were packed, clothing choices were discussed, and bets were laid down on whether we would be late for the first day of school.   Thankfully, for the most part, we seemed to do just fine as I watched my two students make their way into your buildings.

As I watched them enter your hallways, I wanted to remind you how much I appreciate everything you do for my two students.  From cutting your summer vacation short so you could prepare your rooms, to those times you will be staying up late grading papers, I just wanted you to know that my wife and I appreciate the extra effort you make.

There are moments being a public educator can be discouraging.  Public education in Oklahoma has fallen on hard times.  For example, I recently discovered that Oklahoma is near the bottom of both spending per student ($7,912, compared to the U.S. average of $10,938) and average teacher salaries ($44,373, compared to the U.S. average of $56,103).  For a state that prides itself in supporting our own, our actions sometimes do not match our words.

In addition, as a son of a public educator, I know we parents can often times sound as though we are ungrateful wretches.  Parents can be guilty of spouting off condemning remarks before we know all the facts.  Our students tell us that you don’t like them or that you are sooooo unfair.  Please know that when we come to your classrooms we will make an effort to speak calmly and not rush to judgment, but we would ask the same of you.

Finally, let’s agree we are on the same team, wanting the best for all of the students, not just mine.  We know you have one of the most difficult, but most important jobs in America.  Therefore, we want you to know we are here to support you and our students.  Even though our culture seems to always be shaking our fists in your direction, please know these two parents are reaching out with open arms and outstretched hands.

Thank you for educating my two students and going the extra mile for your profession.  My wife and I are committing ourselves to pray for you and your colleagues everyday, so please know you are in our thoughts.  On this first day of school, we leave you with the two most precious valuables we have in our lives…our children.  Please take care of them and educate them as only you can.

We are eternally grateful for you!


Dad of Two Students

Ferguson, MO

Watching the events unfold over the last few weeks in Ferguson, MO, I have been hesitant to write about the situation.  From the death of an unarmed young man to the violence erupting afterwards, I have had a difficult time drawing any conclusions except that prayers are needed and a hope for peace should be the focus for the future.

With that said, I recently read an article by Rev. Terrell Carter, an African-American pastor and scholar living and ministering in St. Louis, MO.  His words are profound for many reasons, but mostly for the wisdom he demonstrates in grasping the multi-layered dimensions of this situation.  His emphasis is right on target: (1) we need to analyze the situation with a broad educated reason, (2) respond in love and compassion, and (3) acknowledge the spiritual battle that rages before our eyes.

Here is his excellent article at

Rev. Carter has given us a vision to move forward in a very positive and Christlike way.  While justice will be pursued by those directly involved in Ferguson, as a Christian community we are called to respond with the attitude, words, and actions of our Lord.  Therefore, when we find ourselves in a conversation this week about the events in Ferguson, let’s make certain to heed our words and respond as though Christ, himself, were standing next to us.  In other words, let’s be Christian!  


The Rest of the Story

When I was growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, my dad listened to talk radio on KRMG.  On occasion, when I was not staring out the window dreaming of hitting three home runs in a World Series game, I would tune into the talking voice blaring from the speakers of my dad’s 1966 Mustang.

There was one particular voice I enjoyed much more than others.  Paul Harvey taught me every story had a backstory and surprise, if only we were patient enough to listen for it.  He told of kings, presidents, authors, missionaries, and many other famous people who had influenced the world.  As he closed each segment, he would end it with his signature catch phrase, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

This past week, one of my mentors, Dr. Roger Olson (Professor of Theology, George Truett Theological Seminary), wrote an interesting article about selective memory in religious history books.  He pointed out that many history books exclude “the rest of the story” when it comes to historical figures.  We baptize history in many cases, retelling it to suit our desired arguments.  History, like life, is a messy endeavor doomed to be misjudged if not assessed from many different vantage points.

Even when it comes to life, we often forget there is a “rest of the story.”  We like to jump to conclusions, render skewed judgments, and voice opinions before truly knowing the full measure of a person or their story.  We have turned into a culture that does not take time to listen, time to ingest, or time to walk around in someone else’s shoes.  We often jump ahead of ourselves to render the credibility of someone and their situation based upon our own preconceived ideas and limited knowledge about the circumstances.

The disciples asked Jesus one time, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Their question reveals the cultural and religious bias the disciples possessed.  They believed the man’s predicament was brought about by his own personal sin or the sins of his parents.  Jesus tells them they misjudged the situation and the man.  In other words, they did not know the rest of the story.

In a world where people have unique and personal narratives that demonstrate the worst and best of humanity, we would be wise to listen before we jump to conclusions.  We would do well to research and discover all perspectives before drawing conclusions based upon selective knowledge.  Or, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now that we know the rest of the story,” maybe we can be understanding and empathetic to other’s circumstances.  We will not always agree, but maybe we can speak with a little less venom.  More than anything these days we need more listening and understanding; and less of biased and unfiltered opinions.  Before we speak, before we judge, let’s make sure to get “the rest of the story!”


It was a cool October night in New York City, but at Yankee stadium things were heating up.  It was game six of the 1977 World Series and the New York Yankees were hosting my favorite childhood team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Yankees were leading the best of seven series, three games to two, when they returned to New York for what would turn out to be an electric night for Yankee fans and a tear soaked pillow night for one little Dodger fan.

Reggie Jackson played right field for the Yankees and had an incredible series with two home runs already to his credit.  However, he saved his very best for game six.  Jackson connected three times hitting three home runs in one game, leading the Yankees to yet another championship.  Cheers sounded throughout Yankee Stadium, “Reggie! Reggie! Reggie,” as number 44 rounded the bases soon-to-be the World Series MVP.

Yesterday, I turned 44 years old.  Recently, over the last few years, I have used the days leading up to my birthday to reflect and contemplate on the past year.  In addition, I look ahead to the new year that awaits.  Most of the time, I feel good about another year under my belt and look forward to what will come as another year rolls over.  However, this year I feel introspective and challenged (could be due to Robin William’s death).

For so many years, I felt like number 44 running around the bases enjoying life, celebrating achievements, and planning for the future as a possible MVP.  Yet, as I find myself rolling into midlife, I have discovered that my future my be quite different from the one I dream.  This doesn’t mean we should not dream for lofty things, for some dreams have changed the world.  It does mean however we mustn’t let all of our dreaming get in the way of what needs to be accomplished today.

Over the years, at my birthday, I have come to some sobering realities: (1) I will never hit three home runs in a World Series game, (2) I will not write the next great American novel, (3) I will not own my own private jet, (4) I will not score under 80 in golf, and (5)  I will not grow to be six feet tall no matter how many vegetables I eat or how long I hang from a metal bar attached the door of my bedroom.  I am me and that is okay.

While these “realities” have been hard to swallow, I have learned some other things about myself that will hopefully ease the pain of middle age: (1) Don’t put off tomorrow what you can accomplish today, (2) What you don’t accomplish today can be accomplished tomorrow or the next day, (3) People are more important than to-do lists, checkmark, (4) Everyone has a story and if you choose to listen they are usually really good, (5) Love is spelled T.I.M.E., (6) Count to ten before you speak or hit “send” and count ten more times just to make sure, and (7) Life is flying by at supersonic speed, so STOP, LOOK AROUND, AND ENJOY.

In conclusion, while I have come to the realization I will never hit three homes runs in a World Series game, I do still dream of running around the bases one last time heading for home.  But instead of thousands of fans cheering my name and calling out for 44, there is only one man waiting at home for me.  His outstretched hands reveal his scars, but his smile gives me all the hope I could ever want.  He is waiting for me, but he has always been with me.  He has been my biggest fan.  My trainer.  My coach.  My manager.  With him, no matter what the future brings, I have always known things would be okay.  As I get closer to home plate, he smiles through his beard and whispers, “Well done, well done.”

Good Night, Vietnam

Last night when my sixteen year old son found out about the tragic death of comedian, Robin Williams, he posted on social media, “Good Night, Vietnam.”  I thought his words were an appropriate tribute to someone who brought so many smiles to so many people, but personally struggled with demons that he could not conquer.

For much of his life, Williams battled with severe depression, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse.  The Washington Post this morning ran a story detailing the difficulty many comedians have with depression.  In the article, they cited Arsenio Hall speaking with Whoopi Goldberg in an HBO Documentary, “You always hear that comics, the best of us, come from pain.”  In William’s case, he was an incredibly talented comedian that brought so much joy to others, but harbored a darkness that many of us cannot fathom.  

His death has reminded me how much more sensitive and vigilant I need to be when I encounter people struggling with depression.  It is difficult to always know the symptoms of depression, but making myself more engaged in other’s lives is a good start.  The better I know a person the more sensitive I can be to their emotional needs.  Educating myself is a good start.  Here is a good article I found through a colleague of mine that addresses bipolar disorder and suicide.

Also, I want to be more vigilant about helping people who battle with depression.  So often, our world reacts to depression in a negative way as though the real problem is with the person not their illness.  This kind of attitude only makes the situation worse and heaps on more reasons for a person to be depressed.  We need to be more vigilant in providing professional counseling, coaching, medical treatment, and empowering those in our midst with love and support.  We don’t need to belittle them or put them down for their struggles.  We need to act more like Jesus, offering a loving and healing hand.

At NorthHaven Church, we have been talking for some time about the need in our community to provide a ministry for those individuals and families who struggle with depression and life struggles that lead to depression.  The NorthHaven Care Network is currently working on some ideas that will possibly launch a new ministry that will provide the support people need.  Please be praying for us as we seek out the right ministries.

Finally, on a personal note, one of my favorite Robin William’s movies is “Dead Poets Society.”  Williams, playing poetry teacher John Keating told his students, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”  Indeed.  Thanks Robin for all the laughs and wise words, you will be dearly missed.  To all those suffering from depression today, please know you are loved and cared for by someone.  For all us who walk through life not knowing, but suspecting, offer a hug to someone today.  You never know, it might just be what they need.

Slow to Anger

Over the weekend, a terrifying and horrific scene played out at Canadaigua Motorsports Complex in upstate New York.  At an Empire Super Sprint race event, Kevin Ward Jr, 20, found himself unable to finish a race after he ran into the wall.  Convinced his predicament was caused by a fellow driver, Ward left his vehicle to confront the other driver.  A problem quickly developed because the race was still continuing.

Dressed in a black jumpsuit and helmet, Ward walked towards the oncoming race cars pointing his finger at the other driver.  Unfortunately, though, the other driver did not see Ward as he turned the corner and struck him with his vehicle, sending Ward flying backwards onto the track some fifty feet away.  Ward later died from his injuries.  The driver who struck Ward was Tony Stewart, three time NASCAR champion.

Authorities have declared, as far as they can tell, this incident is nothing more than a terrible race accident.  Stewart did not race in his official NASCAR event on Sunday, citing that we has too upset over the incident to compete.  He released a statement asking everyone to pray for Ward’s family during this very difficult time in their lives.  

For some reason, I cannot help but keep asking myself, “Why did that kid get out of his car?”  Did he let his anger take over?  What made him put his life in danger just to yell at another person?  Was he being genuine?  Or, was he playing his part in the sports drama that fills our culture these days?  No one will ever really know, but I think it is a good idea to let this tragedy begin a conversation on how our culture has become so enamored with confrontation and violence these days.  While we genuinely and earnestly pray for Ward’s family and friends during these difficult days, we do so hoping his legacy can create a change in the mentality of sports and our society at large.

The American sports culture has evolved over the last several decades.  At one time, sporting events were social affairs that pitted regional rivals against one another in a competitive game to determine a winner and bragging rights for the next year.  Lately, however, sports industries, encouraged by fans, seem to urge athletes to be more confrontational and more aggressive.  In other words, what the industries have learned is that “violence” sells.  So whether it is a fight at a hockey game or confrontations on a racetrack, the more violent the event the more people will tune in to it.

Now, I can’t condemn the sporting industries all together because they are only mimicking what culture has now deemed acceptable behavior,  Our thoughts are as long as it occurs between the lines of a sporting event, confrontations and violence are accepted and at times encouraged.  While we like to think these incidents do not affect us common folks, we should not kid ourselves.  According to the Department of Labor, 2 million workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year.  That’s more than half the population of Oklahoma.

The Apostle James’ words ring in my ears this morning, “You must understand this, my beloved, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19, NRSV).  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers in a violent world, therefore, let us follow the words of James and the example of Jesus.  Let us begin to quell the rising tides of violence in our culture and encourage another way, a way of meaningful and purposeful dialogue.  It is a way that can lead to understanding and hope for the future.  We must capture and live this notion that the way of peace leads to life and the way of violence leads to death.  I hope and pray we choose life.