Where Do I Belong?


After a year of disappointments in presidential candidates, political parties, social movements, religious denominations, and generational leadership, a feeling has swept over me that I have not felt in a long time.  Where do I belong?  This is the same feeling that began to emerge when I realized the beliefs and drives of a certain political party and a certain religious denomination were no longer a part of me.  I struggled then, and I struggle now.   We all need community, but when one feels isolated from others where should they turn?


Now, I do know one thing about myself.  I know where I don’t belong.  I don’t belong in movements swept away with power, exclusion, and a desire to dominate.  When these movement read Paul’s words about running the race to win it, they think he means winning at all cost no matter the collateral damage.  When they rail about a Pauline understanding of freedom, what they truly mean is “freedom for me but not thee.”  Finally, they are more interested in doctrinal and political conformity than being challenged to think and act progressively.  


Therefore, if I know where I don’t belong, where do I belong?  There seems to be one constant in my life where I can always land in a soft place…the local church.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the local church is not a perfect environment either and I know some situations are like the ones I described previously.  However, for me, the local church has been a family where I can find belonging, disagreements, acceptance, struggles, hope, heartache, grace, fellow-sojourners, fellow-sinners, fellow-saints, and above else, I can find love.  


As the world moves further apart, the local church seems to be the place where diversity can be celebrated.  It’s the one place in my experiences where differences can be set aside in order for relationships to emerge, foster, and grow.  Again, the local church is not perfect, but it is the only organization that Jesus said he had come to establish.  When celebrating Peter’s answer about his identity in Matthew 16, Jesus indicated he would use Peter’s faith to build his church…not a denomination…not a political party…not anything else other than his church.


It is true that local churches work together in order to conduct larger ministries, but let us never forget that the local church is the heartbeat of Christianity.  The local church is the place for me to participate in family.  The local church is the place where I can belong, where I can love and be loved, and where I can find the deepest levels of community.  The local church is where my theological conviction are lived out on a daily basis.  In a time in my life when I feel isolated from larger movements, it feels nice to have a local church that I love and loves me back.  


Thanks NorthHaven Church!

Why He Wears a Red Hat


Like many of you over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Randall’s spent much of their time with family.  We had a delightful time with my parents, aunt, cousin, and Cole returning from Boston for a few days.  However, the one moment that stood out in my mind occurred on Saturday when my ninety-year-old grandfather made his way through Norman.  Accompanied by another aunt and uncle, Herb filled our Saturday afternoon with laughter and wisdom.


We went to lunch over on campus corner, near the University of Oklahoma.  It was fun pointing out all the landmarks to him, but the highlight was showing him Heisman Row.  Statues of Billy Sims, Steve Owens, Billy Vessels, Jason White, and Sam Bradford basked in the afternoon sun, as my grandfather recalled each player.  On our way home from campus, my grandfather asked if we could stop by a store to pick a new red OU hat.  “Of course,” I replied, proud of myself for showing him his favorite university.


As we pulled into the Sooner Shop, we entered into a sea of crimson and cream.  Walking over to the wall where the hats were located, I pointed out the variety to him.  Thinking he might want to depart from his traditional all red hat, I offered him hats with red bills and white tops, white bills and red tops, and an all gray hat that I liked.  He was gracious and patient with me, but declined each.  Again, he gently emphasized, “No, it must be red.”


A bit confused with his obsession with red, I asked him why his new hat had to be exactly like the one he was wearing.  “Mitch,” he began, “I wear a red hat every day.  The reason I wear a red hat is that when I go to see your grandmother every morning at the nursing home, she recognizes my red hat.  She can be sitting staring into space, but when she catches a glimpse of my red hat bounding down the hallway, she smiles.”  


My grandmother has Alzheimer’s Disease, therefore her memory has been declining over the last several years.  Even though she has a difficult time remembering faces these days, she remembers one that always dons a red hat.  As I stood before the variety of hats with tears welling in my eyes listening to my grandfather, I knew one hat would not do.  “Let’s get two, Granddad!” I offered.  We walked out of the store with two new red hats that day and I left now knowing why he wears a red hat.


May there be a red hat for all of us this holiday season!  

A Letter to Our Leaders of Tomorrow, by Ms. Kim

Dear Children that I Love and Children I May Never Meet,

This world refers to you as our leaders of tomorrow, but I’m afraid we as grown ups are failing to teach you how to lead. Often your days are filled with scary news of people hurting each other or themselves. You hear meanness in the words adults speak. Sometimes those adults are someone you love. Technology has made our world a really cool place, but it too can be frightening. Your world seems darker than the childhoods of your parents or grandparents. But being discouraged is not the answer.

Boys, girls, young women, and young men, this world needs you. We need you for change to happen. We need you to remember that God expects us to love each other. Grown ups, sometimes really important grown ups, may say things you know are wrong. Maybe that is bad language or words meant to bully or hurt someone’s feelings. The world needs you to have courage to say those things are wrong. When that courage is too hard to find, and darlings some days it will be, just pray. Pray for the adult and pray for yourself and your friends, because this world needs you to be different. Kiddos, we need you to listen so that you can learn. Sadly, the grown ups in your life often need some help with this too. This world is made up of all types of people, all types of families, all types of religions, and all types of beautiful skin tones and heritage. People of this world also make choices in their lives. Even in your young lives you know that not everyone makes the same choices. This is tricky. You too will have the power to make choices about the way you live your life. Remember this, other people’s choices are important in your life, even when you don’t agree with them. Watching the choices of others will guide you to follow or go a different way. But, when you choose that different way, and many times you will need to, don’t make things worse by being unkind or hating the other person. This isn’t your job and it makes your, brain, heart, and body feel like you are carrying too many books in your backpack. Most importantly, listen to others. Just listen sweet ones. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing, listening means respect.

So precious leaders of tomorrow, you have such an important place in our world. Do not be afraid, but instead be different because that difference is power. I hope you are practicing all your basic manners, things like “please and thank you”, holding the door for someone older than yourself and always for a lady and sharing with others. Those are all important. Even more important is to remember that the person older than you might just have great wisdom. The women in this world have valuable minds and bodies worth respecting. The words you speak with politeness and care tell the world that you have character. By letting your light shine, you can lead by example those younger than you and hopefully some adults too.

Take your power,

Ms. Kim

Small Tent Versus Big Tent


In Waco, yesterday, delegates to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) voted to exclude churches that allow LGBTQ Christians the full rights of church membership. Baptists have long been champions of local church autonomy, meaning each individual church possesses the authority to derive their own theological convictions and practices as their conscience dictates.  The churches that adopted a more inclusive policy were not asking the convention to affirm their decisions, but convention leaders felt they possessed the authority to demand conformity to their views or be excluded from fellowship.


There are a myriad of troublesome issues with this action, but I would like to begin with the small tent movement.  For what seems like decades now, Baptists have continued to adopt and practice a small tent approach to the Christian faith.  Through a practice of purging other Baptists using theological purity and political loyalty, leaders have shrunken Baptist tents to the extent they will have no space for future generations.  Current leaders in some Baptist entities practice a “conform and control” type of theology.  If any church that reads the Scriptures and comes to another conviction, then they are excused and excluded from fellowship.  


This type of theological process prevents Christians and churches from exploring the Scriptures; challenging their own preconceived notions; and drawing new understandings about God, how he relates to the world, and how we relate to each other.  In other words, it discourages a cognitive approach to faith.  Jesus instructs us to place our minds on heavenly things, which encourages us to cognitively engage faith so that we might discover a deeper appreciation and understanding of God’s ways.  If the church would have ceased to think and challenge its own doctrines previously, then our culture would still be excluding black people from water fountains and preventing women from voting.


Opponents will say that they are not shrinking the tent, but that those of us coming to a different understanding of ministry are stepping outside the traditional tent.  From my vantage point, they are both right and wrong.  They are correct that we appear to be stepping away, but not because we are rejecting them.  We are stepping away because we have decided to follow the Holy Spirit that is guiding us on a new journey of exploration and understanding.  We are simply attempting to live out our faith as we feel the Holy Spirit is convicting us.  They are misguided when they say the tent is not shrinking.  As more and more people from a younger generation want to be a part of a gracious and loving church that promotes social justice, the tent needs to expand to accommodate them.  In other words, the current tent needs to grow because the crowd is growing.  If it fails to grow by denying freedom and autonomy, then it is shrinking.

Finally, the actions of the Texas Baptist delegates have excluded more than just two churches this week.  They have excluded my church.  At NorthHaven Church we honor the priesthood of every believer and celebrate local church autonomy, therefore establishing and practicing a big tent approach to Christianity.  We have members on both sides of this issue, but we have chosen to cherish freedom above conformity.  Our LGBTQ members are granted the same rights as every other member, therefore fully affirming them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are certainly saddened by the BGCT’s decision, but many of us have been here before when the Southern Baptist Convention excluded us as we stood up for freedom.  As I step away from the BGCT, my prayers go with them as I join others in a continuing process of building a bigger tent.


Sanctuary

Jesus once said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Over two decades of ministry, I have come to discover the significant burden that many in our world carry around each day.  From the micro issues of everyday life to the macro problems we face in society, the burden continues to grow heavier as the years pass by.


At NorthHaven Church, we have worked hard at creating a sanctuary environment where individuals and families can find calm from chaos, love over hate, peace from despair, grace over judgement, and acceptance rather than rejection.  The word for “sanctuary” in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew word, qodesh.  The word simply means, “a holy or sacred place.”  At NorthHaven, we take this sacredness seriously.  We believe in the sacred truths of the Bible, but more so in what the Bible actually says.  We are called to love God and love each other – no matter who they might be.


The world seems to be spinning faster these days, leaving some so dizzy they need a soft place to land.  Let me be very clear about what I am going to say: NorthHaven welcomes ALL people needing sanctuary.  We understand this big world of ours is comprised of a variety of individuals, but those of you who are hurting, struggling, mourning, scared, desperate, hopeless, and lost have a place to find peace and acceptance.  Jesus is our example, so those that need a shoulder to steady their walk can find others in their midst willing to walk alongside them offering encouragement and hope.


In NorthHaven, you will find sanctuary from a world trying to bring more divisiveness and destruction.  You will find gracious individuals offering intercessory prayer, warm hugs, and strong shoulders.  You will discover a truth that is counter to what you've grown accustomed to hearing.  You will find a loving community where belonging is just as important as believing.  Therefore, for those walking these days with heavy burdens on their shoulders, come and experience the sanctuary of NorthHaven Church.


Running in Circles

Because today is election day I should probably be writing something related politics, but to be honest, I’m sick of politics. What is truly weighing on my heart are the challenges people living everyday lives are facing. The brokenness, the decisions, and the uncertainty that you and I and those we love are facing can be overwhelming at times.

Recently, a young woman I care about lost her husband, the father of her children, her best friend to cancer. Before I can complete this blog, another friend has been diagnosed. Many families are struggling with the rising costs of raising children. Whether it is health insurance, sports, quality childcare, tutoring, or lessons, we want to meet our children’s needs and give them opportunities to grow. There is the competition of social media, thanks to the folks who use it as a platform to convince themselves and others that their life is perfect. I’m amazed by the number of parents that I come in contact with who are struggling with huge issues raising their kiddos. Attachment issues, learning disabilities, drug problems, medical and mental health issues, special needs, and so many other concerns touch many families, consuming their lives. Households face the demands of full-time employment while raising children or grandchildren or caring for aging parents. There is divorce and marital problems happening between couples you might least suspect. And, on top of it all, we live in a society where overbooking our calendars, comparing ourselves to others, and striving for perfection is the norm.

Friends, the world seems terribly harsh right now and I don’t think I am alone in my feelings. Like a hamster running on a wheel, sometimes I find myself in that circular pattern getting tired but going nowhere. Day in, day out I can easily become consumed by the trials of life. Without my faith, I would certainly find myself in the fetal position on the floor of my closet. And because of that faith I cannot help but wonder what God expects of us as His people.

Obviously, death will happen, struggles and tragedy will come and during those times it is our relationship with Christ that sees us through, often deepening our faith (“because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:3). Loss and illness are also opportunities for our earthly relationships to grow, whether we are giving or receiving support, but what about less obvious things? What about our everyday lives? How good of a job are we doing being transparent with our own feelings or letting those around us be transparent with theirs? God never intended for us to live life alone or handle everything on our own. How good are we at focusing on relationship, with Christ, with others, and with ourselves?

As God’s people, we are in this life together. May we be challenged to live authentically, holding each other up? It is time to step off the hamster wheel y’all!

Not My Enemy, But My Friend


At the Oklahoma State Capitol on Tuesday, a few lawmakers met to “study” whether radical Islam has infiltrated the state.  Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, accused local Muslim leaders of participating in terrorist activities, “The enemy must be stopped. We're going to be called bigots, and racists, and Islamophobes and a whole host of other things by the media after this is over. We're going to be called that by terrorists organizations like CAIR that is here today, but you know that is a small price to pay to put our foot to the tail end of these terrorists and these anti-American groups in the name of freedom” (NewsOK, 10/26/2016).


While Bennett stated his purpose for the meeting, he also revealed his objective, “We're going to do all we can to kick these terrorist organizations out of the state of Oklahoma” (Ibid.) When Rep. Bennett refers to “terrorists organization” he is referring to my good friends, Imam Imad Enchassi and Adam Soltani.  Enchassi is the local Senior Imam at The Islamic Center of Greater Oklahoma City.  Soltani is the Executive Director of CAIR-OK (Council on American-Islamic Relations).  Without any credible evidence by state or federal law enforcement officials, Bennett and his associates are attempting to create unsubstantiated and unfounded accusations against peaceful Americans whose faith happens to differ from his.  


There are numerous reasons why this line of legislative harassment is unacceptable.  As a Christian minister, I find the actions by Bennett and other legislators as egregiously opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   During Jesus life and ministry, he engaged and welcomed the strangers among his people, even when his people felt differently about them.  From the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42) to healing the servant of a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), Jesus practiced what he preached.  And speaking of preaching, he had these words to say, 


“for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

-Matthew 25:42-46


As a Baptist minister, I am absolutely terrified local magistrates are once again using faith as a tool for persecution and harassment.  In the 17th Century, Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned, and publicly whipped for advocating a faith different from that of the majority. This kind of religious persecution prompted Roger Williams to declare in 1644, “An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (brucegourley.com).


In that same year, Massachusetts “outlawed” being a Baptist altogether, declaring them to be a danger to the state, “some whereof (as others before them) denied the ordinance of the magistracy…bring guilt upon us, infection and trouble to our churches, and hazard to the whole commonwealth” (Leonard, Baptist Ways, 78).  The New England magistrates felt as though Baptists were a terror in their own right, causing chaos and mayhem among their commonwealth.  In my opinion, there is no difference between what 17th Century Puritan magistrates were doing and what Rep. Bennett is doing today.


Finally, as an American, I am appalled at this line of false inquiry and inquisition. Revolutionary Baptist Pastor, John Leland, expressed the sentiments of a liberal democracy when he declared, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians” (brucegourley.com).  


The charade that took place at the Oklahoma Capitol on Tuesday should make every American’s blood boil.  There is nothing more un-American than elected public officials making unsubstantiated accusations against law abiding and peaceful citizens of a different faith.  This line of inquiry and investigation must cease immediately.  If allowed to continue, the echoes of a new McCarthyism will grow louder over time.  


Therefore, as a Christian and Baptist minister, I stand beside my Muslim brothers and sisters because I truly believe this is what Jesus would do.  As an American citizen, I stand beside you because I still believe that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land for every citizen, not just the powerful elite.  In closing, to my Muslim brothers and sisters, I, for one, do not consider you an enemy, but a friend.  

Harry Caray, The Cubs, and the Summer of 1983

Over the weekend, the Chicago Cubs laid to rest the “Curse of the Billy Goat” by winning the National League pennant over the Los Angeles Dodgers and moving on to this year’s World Series.  The curse stretches all the way back to 1945, when Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, was asked to leave Wrigley Field because his goat’s odor was bothering fans during the fourth game of the 1945 World Series.   Offended, Sianis quipped, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more!”


Sianis turned out to be a modern prophet of sorts.  His very accurate prediction takes me back to the summer of 1983.  The Randall family was living on the east side of Tulsa.  My dad worked at an insurance company, my mom was enrolled in a Master’s program at Northeastern State University, my younger brother was being taken care of by grandmother, and I had the run of the house.  Needless to say, as a soon-to-be teenager, I did not get up that early during the summer.  However, I always made certain to be wide awake when the Chicago Cubs had a home game.


Back in those days, the Cubs played all of their home games during the day since Wrigley Field was not fitted for lights.  Therefore, for an eleven year old baseball fan, it was a perfect scenario.  Tuned into WGN out of Chicago, I would pop a frozen pizza into the oven, and listen for my summer caretaker, Harry Caray, to welcome me to the game.


“The starting line up for today’s Chicago Cubs,” Caray would announce, “Bill Buckner at first, Ryne Sandberg at second, Ron Cey at third, Larry Bowa at shortstop, Leon Durham in left, Mel Hall in center, Keith Moreland in right, Jody Davis behind the plate, and Fergie Jenkins on the mound.”  Now, the Cubs were terrible that year, winning only 71 games while losing 91.  Poor Harry would get so disgusted with them, by the seventh inning stretch his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” might have been slurred just a bit.  


Nevertheless, those summer days filled my heart.  I loved watching baseball and listening to Harry Caray make his sidekick, Steve Stone, so uncomfortable with his questions and remarks.  It was a baseball kid’s dream.  Now, today, the Cubs are headed to the World Series.  Caray’s mic has long since been silenced with time, but his voice still echoes around Wrigley Field.  A few decades ago, my grandfather went to Chicago and caught a game.  Amazingly, he ran into Caray outside the park.  My grandfather removed his new cap he had purchased at the game and Caray signed the bill of it.  Today, that cap sits on a bookshelf in my study.  It is worn and faded over the ages, but when the first pitch of the World Series is thrown out this year, I will be wearing it with pride.


 

Go Cubs!

Pooh Bear is Back!


On a blustery winter’s night near the Hundred Acre Wood, a father and his two sons nestled in a cozy bed just before it was time for sleep.  The wind outside the boy’s bedroom kept knocking up against the window, causing the boys to scurry under their covers each time they heard it.  A warm light cast shadows on the wall, reminding the two boys of the heffalumps and woozles they had run across in their book.  It was getting late.  “One more story,” they beseeched their father.  With a wry smile, knowing he would give into their request, the father cracked open A.A. Milne’s wonderfully written and imaginatively created, “Winnie-the-Pooh.”  Delightfully warm and at peace, they read one more story.


For several years, when the boys were young this routine played out each night.  Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Eeyore would join Christopher Robin for one adventure after another in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Pooh and his friends were reading staples for my boys.  A.A. Milne’s characters filled their minds and hearts with simple adventures, unending kindness, remarkable decency, and honey pots full of love.  There were no greater influential fictional characters for my small children than these simple personalities portraying foundational human attributes.


My heart is bursting today, because I just learned that a new Winnie-the-Pooh book is being released on October 25, 2016.  There have only been two sequels sanctioned by Pooh Properties, the first released in 2009 called “Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.”  Now, this new publication, “The Best Bear in All the World,” is conceding with the bear’s 90th birthday.  A new chapter will be introduced.  Penguin will make an appearance during the winter setting.  Brian Sibley, who wrote the story, said he was inspired by seeing a photograph of Milne and his son, Christopher, playing with a bear and toy penguin (Shea, New York Times, 10/14/2016).  


I am thrilled at the idea that this winter parents will be snuggling up with children at night and cracking open this new adventure staring Pooh and his friends.  Parents, if you wish to raise kind and compassionate children, buy this book and read it to them as often as you can.  Pooh Bear is back!  I, for one, am thrilled!  Where’s my hot chocolate?  Where’s my blanket?  Where’s my book?  It’s time to return to the Hundred Acre Wood.

Bob Dylan, The Prophet

Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.  Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, Dylan’s family called Hibbing, Minnesota home.  They lived in a small Jewish community outside of Duluth, after Dylan’s father contracted polio.  Dylan experienced a typical childhood for a young Jewish boy growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s. As a young boy, Dylan recalled listening to a blues radio station broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana.  Soon, he was listening to musical icons Little Richard and Elvis Presley.


Bob Dylan has been creating amazing music over a span of seven decades.  Some of his greatest hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”  There were these, and many others, that spoke both realism and peace into generation after generation of fans.  However, for me, my favorite Dylan hit has always been, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”


The song was released in 1964 during a time when President Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam War and signed the Civil Rights Acts.  During this period of the 1960’s, people felt like the world was spinning so rapidly that each day brought something shocking and/or revolutionary to the front pages of their newspapers.  For the generation from which I was born, Dylan’s song captured the time perfectly.


Come gather ’round people where ever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown

And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,

For the times they are a’ changin’!


Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen

And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again

And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin

And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’

For the loser now will be later to win

For the times they are a’ changin’!


Come senators, congressmen please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a’ changin’!


Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a’ changin’!


The line it is drawn the curse it is cast

The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a’ changin’!


While Dylan brilliantly and poetically captured the realities of the 1960’s, his lyrics and music are timeless.  Read the words again, but this time apply them to our day.  Indeed, the times are a changing and the waters are swelling.  We need prophets to take up their pens once again.  We need statesmen more concerned about the wellbeing of our country than their reelections.  We need families that place love above everything else, even when they don’t understand.  As the old poet reminds us, these days  are quickly fading.  Therefore, we need to act today, not tomorrow.  


Congrats Bob Dylan on your Nobel Prize and thank you for being a prophet among us!