Rebuilding the Church, Reflections on a New Pope

Copied from recent columns in the Christian Challenger…

Among the major news stories this year so far was the unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI of the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Father speaking of his deteriorating health said, “However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”  Health concerns aside, the 85yr old leader of the billion plus member church faced many difficult challenges ahead including the ongoing and increasingly damaging scandal surrounding abuses within the priesthood and the perceived cover-up of deviant behaviors, the role of women in the life and ministry of the church, the explosion of Catholic growth in non-Eurocentric countries, and the overall decline of religion in developed countries such as the USA.  With utter respect for the Papal office, I believe many ministers of the gospel have been feeling inadequate to the challenge of overseeing the church and preaching the Gospel in the ever-changing context we find ourselves in ministry these days.

With a disdain for most institutions, members of my generation forward have experienced the unscrupulous behavior of religious figures and political leaders played out through mass media. In fact, nearly every adult role of authority has had some type of fraudulent behavior uncovered, from school teachers, police officers, firefighters, doctors, preachers, Senators, and Presidents many of whom were protected by systems wherein which the victims were dishonored or worse punished for the crime(s) committed against them. Suffice it to say, those born after 1968 typically do not trust the very organizations our parents and grandparents trusted with leadership for society, including the church. So, the question for the next Pope and for all of the church of Jesus Christ is, how do we speak with meaning to a culture conditioned not to believe a word we are saying? Or, at least geared to be suspicious of any organized religion? These are challenging times for the church, but then again the Gospel has always been challenging to bear as light to a world filled with fallible human beings.

The challenges facing the church are real and great, but they are still only challenges capable of being met with vision driven mission and ministry. And, we will only meet the challenges with collaboration and commitment. In other words, we must be willing to participate in the creation of solutions and not just be sideline critics or gatekeeping controllers stifling God’s vision for the church and for the world God created.

Today the world is learning more about the newly elected, Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. A man of many firsts, he is the first Jesuit and the first Latin American to be chosen for the papal office. He is the first to choose the name Francis, which of course comes from St. Francis of Assisi who was called by God to “rebuild my church” in the 12th century, known for his love of the poor and his uncanny connection with nature. St. Francis is perhaps most widely known for his prayer: 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

As I said above, Pope Francis will be faced with great challenges in the months and years ahead as he leads the billion plus member global Catholic church in a time of massive cultural change and deep controversies. Perhaps rooting his papacy in the humility, compassion, concern, connection, and the desire for peace of St. Francis will assist him as he guides the massively, powerful institution of Roman Catholicism through the seas of discontent swirling around the tenets and policies of the most influential movement of Christian faith through the centuries. 

Even as we get to know the attributes of the person chosen for the papacy, some will undoubtedly say choosing him was a radical move by the conclave of Cardinals. Being non-European and from an order of the priesthood always said to never be chosen for the papal office makes this choice unpredicted and somewhat radical. Even the media folks were completely caught of guard including the “crickets” chirping as they fumbled through sheets of bios looking for this “non-contender,” which by the way fits with the Jesuits very well. Being a teaching order, scholarly and humble, the Jesuit way is not often associated with high pomp and circumstance. I have heard Pope Francis taught high school chemistry before being elevated to Cardinal status, lived in a simple apartment and used public transportation everyday. Blessings to Pope Francis, who began his papacy by simply inviting his followers to pray for him, and blessings to our sisters and brothers of the Catholic Church as they celebrate and begin in ministry together! 

Certainly, a radical choice is not a bad choice.  For radical comes from the Latin radix, the same word from which we get the English “root.” To be radical is to be rooted, to be grounded in such a way as to draw from the place where one is planted. In this sense, I hope the new Pope is radical and I hope I am too. For the Lord we serve was radical, himself. Jesus was rooted in the unconditional love of God for each and everyone, which he demonstrated through his life and ministry and perhaps most specifically during the most holy of weeks as he faced the cross only to rise again in newness of life.

As we prepare for Holy Week and for the Easter that follows, I hope you will know the radical Jesus, who challenged the systems of oppression in his midst, who lifted up the poor and the lowly, who healed the socially and physically ill, who reconciled the vilest offender with God’s amazing grace, who became a servant of all even unto death, and who gave everything so that we may know and receive life abundant. And, I pray we will grow as disciples of Jesus, who is Christ the Lord!


My recent columns have alluded to the younger generations who are absent from the church. This is an interesting piece of research on their view of Christianity.


Last year, the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown’s Berkley Center published a fascinating report about young adults and faith.
On the left side of the chart, we see descriptions of Christianity (“judgmental,” “anti-gay,” “has good principles,” etc.).  The dots indicate the percentage of Christian young adults (orange) and Unaffiliated young adults (blue) who believe that descriptor to be true.

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Is the Church Irrelevant?

Recently I had a week of laryngitis which developed late on a Saturday evening. Arriving at church on a Sunday morning with almost no audible voice was interesting to say the least. I have rarely lost my voice completely. Sure, I’ve had my share of colds and sinus infections with sore throats, but this time my voice was gone. And, for me, that is a challenge! My voice is significant in my vocation, family life, and for my conversational personality. By some miracle I was able to squeak through my sermon, one of the best I’ve prepared on the Baptism of Jesus, IMHO expressing a clear understanding of baptism and yet I have to wonder if anyone really heard the word or were folks just distracted by my attempt to speak? I struggled the rest of the day on Sunday as I tried to participate in dialogue only to give up time and time again. I was frustrated by my inability to say what I wanted to say.

Baptism an Act of Stewardship

On Sunday, I tried to proclaim baptism as an act of stewardship, indeed the purest form of Christian stewardship. In baptism we GIVE our whole selves BODY, MIND & SPIRIT in COVENANT or RELATIONSHIP with GOD. When we enter the waters of baptism, we allow all that holds us back from complete commitment to follow Jesus to be washed away as we symbolically die with Christ and are buried with him. In other words, we give up the distractions that claim our attention, such as our addiction to “our stuff.” When we RISE from the waters of baptism, we enter into newness of LIFE in Christ Jesus, indeed abundant and eternal life. We are not made perfect, although baptism is a once-and-done, symbolic act. We are granted the opportunity to give of ourselves freely for the mission and ministry of Christ in the world namely the church and her witness to the good news of Jesus. So, baptism is an act of stewardship, of giving of ourselves for the service and mission of Jesus. Stewardship has been a common theme during worship at Central for the month of January as we invite everyone to make an estimate of your giving for 2013. I was moved by the testimony of one of our most recently baptized youth during the Call to Stewardship on Sunday. Hearing how Central Christian Church has already made a difference in his life, points us to the real purpose of our Christian Stewardship, to transform lives by sharing our gifts of time, abilities and money. Your generosity has made an impact on his life and provided hope for the witness of Central in future generations.

Where Are the Younger People?

Nearly every week recently, I have found an article or news program focusing on the rising number of people who have either left the church or have never been a part of church in their lives. NPR ran a series last week called Losing My Religion. Known as the “nones” or the non-religiously affiliated group, they are mostly younger adults without any upbringing in religion. Some say they represent an entire generation. And, while several factors are always listed for the growth in this particular group and the decline of organized religion as a whole, especially Christianity in the US, a couple factors always get my attention. Researchers say the “nones” often believe the church as an institution has become irrelevant, but many still believe in God. Irrelevancy is the result of the failure of the church to communicate the message of faith in a meaningful way to new generations and cultures of people.  Several service clubs and associations are also seeing declines among younger members. Another factor for many who have left the church has been the unwelcome spirit they encountered in the church, indeed many have been hurt by the church in some way, by some meaningless or negative comment or worse the abusiveness of a member or staff person. Nothing will drive a person away from a church like mean criticism or judgment from another member. The gift of humility allows us to accept and respect another person with their “imperfections” because we understand ourselves as imperfect as well. Healthy relationships in the church and all walks of life begin with humility. And, healthy relationships draw people to the church to belong to something powerful and worthy of their investment of themselves. Just to be clear, humility is not the same as being a victim of another’s abusive behavior.

If the recent surge in articles about the growth of the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd often members of the “nones” tell us anything, it may be that the church has struggled to give a relevant voice to the life affirming, welcoming spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church has too often been silent where voices of solidarity and justice for the oppressed were needed all the while Christianity was represented publicly and politically by those shouting fear and condemnation for all who are cast out socially, the very people Jesus sought to serve. In other words, the church has talked about loving one another but not actually done it very often. Let’s turn that around, shall we?

{From my minister’s column in the Christian Challenger, January 15, 2013. Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Bourbonnais, IL}

Thanksgiving and Succession?

I wonder if Hollywood is on to something? Outside of the hype around the latest vampire flick which seeks to steal as much of the Black Friday money as they can, the movie about Lincoln opened post-election. After the re-election of America’s first African-American President along comes a movie about the president who led the country through a Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Any student of Lincoln should be well aware that his personal views on the “rights” of black and brown people were nothing to be celebrated. What I find interesting is the timing of the release of a movie about a time when states were trying to secede from the United States and the calls for secession by folks in all fifty states following the most recent election. Those calling for secession claim the rest of the country has become less American, which of course translates less white, less Christian,  less English speaking, etc. The secessionist claim the Constitution, written by and for white, property owning, men is under attack.  Their America has been lost. And, these nationalist are correct. The America they believe in, a nation of white, male, Christian privilege, is on the way of extinction because of an inability to adapt to the changing environment the American experiment created in the first place. Gareth Price recently blogged:

The curious aspect of U.S. state secession is that the agitation is not to become more Floridian, Tennessean, or Alabamian. Instead, secessionists define their states as more American than America itself. By seceding, they wish to preserve America against the encroachment of, well, America.

Tomorrow many in America will enact the annual gluttonous day of gorging on over-sized meals in a pale attempt to give thanks for the abundance of this great land.  Following the tradition, rooted in days when people ate the fruits of the harvest in mass before they rotted, many will participate in the “make or break” retail event of the year. All the while, the bitter divides of color, income, gender, language, belief, sexual orientation, etc. boil under the surface and in increasing cases right in our faces.

I’d like to ignore the whole talk of succession, however even though the numbers of people signing petitions are quite small, the sentiment they represent is quite large. Fear of losing some fantasy identity based on the supremacy of one group of people, is powerful and dangerous. History has too many examples of the destructive nature of such fear.

Well, whether Hollywood has the pulse of their consumers or some vision of the future, the question for each of us should be how will we contribute to making this place we call home a more perfect union?

  • Will we dispel the myths which work to divide us?
  • Will we counter the naysayers with hope for the future?
  • Will we give thanks for the America we are becoming and not just the America we once were?

We may choose to join the fear bandwagon and believe the worst or we may tune out from the fear mongers and take notice of the success of the American experiment so far. I hope we continue to become a people embracing diversity, valuing persons over all else, and growing in our identity as members of the Global, human family.

I’ll close this post with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln establishing Thanksgiving Day:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…
…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

The END is Near! Another Myth Bites the Dust

The Gospel text appointed for this week by the Revised Common Lectionary is Mark 13:1-8 which begins a section known as the “little apocalypse.” The disciples of Jesus comment on the grandeur of the Temple complex in Jerusalem which leads Jesus to share an ancient Jewish apocalyptic vision of the end of the world.  The disciples, of course, wanted directions on how they will know when the end is near, seemingly so they may be prepared or more probably in the case of Mark’s story, so they may actually recognize it when it appears. (As commentators remind us, Mark is a narrative of several examples of failed discipleship.)  Jesus warns them of the Antichrists, or those who will attempt to mislead the followers for their own glory and to the demise of the faithful.

The images of apocalyptic writings found in scripture are frightening and hopeful at the same time. The graphic descriptions read like a popular horror novel and yet good is always triumphant. The visions of the end of the world presented in scripture rely heavily on an ancient understanding of existence wherein which the forces of good and evil wage battle for control of a dualistic universe. The universe is divided into a spiritual realm and a physical realm. And, depending on your belief system, we are living in the pre-tribulation, tribulation, or post-tribulation age in the physical realm. The Great Tribulation is a chaotic time with great suffering, wars, natural disasters and persecutions (especially religious persecution), typically dominated by the Antichrist or the Beast  or whatever personification of evil fits your fantasy.  I’d list the movies and books written with this ideology, however, no one reads blog posts a mile and a half long (this one’s only a mile).

So many signs and so little time to exploit them all for one’s personal gain! 

With the Mayan Calendar all but debunked as a prediction of the end of the world, and Harold Camping’s May 21st/Oct 21 predictions out of the way, I’d love to believe that all the hubbub about the end is near would grow quiet. But, of course, throw in a Presidential Election along with a couple natural disasters, especially a climate-change-enhanced super storm, and the fearful will raise the strains of pending calamity!  For example, the Rev. Dr. Robert Jeffress received national attention last week when he took to his bully pulpit at First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX before the election and told his congregation that the President was “paving the way for the future reign of the antichrist.”  Dr. Jeffress stopped short of claiming that President Barack Obama is the Antichrist, but made it clear that he believes the President is opening the door for the apocalypse. Dr. Jeffress urged his congregants to vote for righteousness to delay the way for the Antichrist (which could not have been for Mitt Romney since, Mr. Jeffress declared Mormonism a non-Christian cult in 2007 as Mr Romney began his first, failed attempt to campaign for President.)  And, that was before the election, so better get your end of the world readiness kit ready, right? Not hardly!

Fear of the future is high octane fuel for those who continue to subscribe to a superstitious universe full of powers and principalities chasing after one another and obviously so utterly interested in every person on the planet they will try anything and everything to defend or destroy humanity.  I find it hard, although not impossible, to believe highly educated persons cling to this view of the universe or this notion of God’s final judgement of God’s creation, which God deemed inherently good in Genesis 1, in this time and this place. To reject every accomplishment of discovery made through human history since the first century of the common era, in order to hold onto the fantasy of rapture and cosmic Antichrists, is folly at best and destructive at worst.  But then, what do people like the bold Texas pastor really fear?

Radicalized in the decades following WWII, nationalism infiltrated and conquered much of Christianity in America. Seen as the heroes of the world, defenders of freedom and bearers of light, Americans saw themselves as messiahs for the nations. Having just watched the entirety of Band of Brothers on Veteran’s Day, I can assure you I’m not un-American, anti-patriotic or a secret operative of any foreign agency. I do believe, however, that the once distinct messages of church and country have become blended, re-shaped, twisted and indistinct since the days after the war. The propaganda of war, combined with the challenge of civil rights and liberties created a recipe for the fear we hear in rants and sermons today. The belief that America, especially an America at a specific time in history such as the mid 1950’s, is the light unto all the nations and Savior of the world stirs the stew of apocalypse whenever the definition of “that America” is challenged in any way. So, if I believe “1957 America” (when Anglo Protestants and Catholics were prosperous, other than the arms race peace was presumed, good families all looked like the Cleavers, school children wanted to learn and resembled their teachers in all ways, etc) is the bearer of Salvation for all the world, and my belief  is challenged (by a historical reality check complete with fire hoses turned on segregated peoples, a changing population dominated by new immigrants and black and brown people exercising their citizenship and rights, growing spiritual but not religious or non-religious generations, or a redefinition of the family, etc.) then I may conclude the end of the world is near. And, it is for those who stand to lose the privilege and power they have taken for granted as the “providence of God” who in their imagination chose them to save the world.

The Good News is the re-election of a president is not any more a sign that the end is near, than Harold Camping’s Apocalyptic camper or the incomplete Mayan calendar. Scriptures tell us we will not know, if and when the end will come. And, over and over again, we are told Do Not Fear. That’s because God doesn’t desire for us to be caught up in fear about what the future will bring, but rather to live in this moment with  joyful confidence in God’s grace, mercy, peace and justice revealed in Jesus Christ. When we choose to live without fear of the future, we may begin to see how God’s hopeful, life-giving, justice-bearing spirit is at work all around us bringing us closer to the reign of Christ’s compassion and all-inclusive love. Look around you this week. Where do you see God at work, changing lives, breaking addictions, bringing hope, helping the suffering, supporting the weak, feeding the hungry, ending the root causes of poverty and injustice, caring for the widowed and orphaned, expressing kindness, speaking power to power for the oppressed, forgiving the enemy, or conquering fear?

God is active in the world, this world, right now. Don’t let fear blind you or bind you from being a part of what God is doing in our midst.

Happy Day After an Election!

Congratulations to all who participated in our nation’s democratic process! Running for office, managing campaigns, getting out the vote, standing in line to vote, engaging important social, economic and global issues all require enormous investments of passion, energy, and patriotism. Truly every election, in the end, tallies winners and losers as do all competitions. Some former candidates will have the honor of serving our nation as elected officials and others will chose from a variety of pathways now before them.

For the electorate, you, me and others who filled in ovals, punched out chads, or touched screens yesterday, early or at the last minute, there are no losers. Sure, your choice may or may not have won, but you the voter are always victorious when you choose to claim your responsibility to express your choice, your values, your hopes and dreams for the present and the future of our nation and indeed global society. The I Voted sticker is a medallion of victory!

Generations of people, here and in other lands, never had the opportunity or still cannot claim the responsibility of choosing their government. If your candidate was not chosen or your issue not adopted, you may feel as if your vote was for nothing, a waste of your time. No matter what your issue or who you wanted to win, our nation is bigger than one idea or any one person. Our nation is what it is because of you, me and others who disagree on ideas and issues, choose and support different candidates, invest our hearts and minds into this grand experiment, as messy as it is, of governing for the people and by the people.

So, now as the signs are discarded (recycled), the ads cease, and eventually the pundits calm down (if possible), our next great responsibility is to not start whining or gloating, but rather to hold those elected accountable to the electorate, to not only be the governed but to govern as active participants in support or protest of our local, state and national manifestations of government. And, most importantly, to see our nation as bigger than a red and blue map, to see the value of every person beyond their politics, and to see the future as an opportunity for making our nation and the world, better yet.  Well done, voter!

To those who chose to protest by not participating in the election, yes, part of the freedom of the democratic process is your right to choose not to participate. Now that the election is over, it is time for you to get to work on whatever you were protesting, maybe even time to run for office or organize a campaign for someone else; it is your right and responsibility.

And, finally to those who just don’t want to be bothered by it all I share this much used but powerful quote from Martin Niemöller a German pastor and theologian who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp (1937-1945):

 First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Voting is a precious right and responsibility. If you didn’t vote yesterday, I hope you will consider voting in the next election, local, state or national. Then you will be able to join the victory party on the day after election and celebrate your accomplishment!

All in All, God is Still God

On a recent Thursday morning as we were trying to prepare the newsletter and I was busy with last minute details for the Regional Assembly, the electricity went out. Fortunately, only one computer file was damaged beyond repair, the newsletter, of course. We were forced to let go of the deadline for that newsletter and resolve to begin again later, frustrating as that was.

Friday morning I loaded my car to travel to Normal, IL. As Vice Moderator of CCIW, the Regional Assembly was my responsibility. After nearly two years of organization and planning, the Assembly was scheduled to kick off on Friday afternoon. I started the car and Low Tire on my dashboard remained lighted. Sure enough a front tire was low on air. My arrival time would have to wait, but eventually I was on the way.

On Friday evening we honored congregations who have added new members and gave to Disciples missions, and recognized individuals whose life of commitment to CCIW has been exceptional with Disciples of Merit awards. After the scrumptious banquet we gathered in worship led by the spiritual gifts of many Disciples from across the region including an awesome hand bell soloist, flag drill team, praise band, singers and a dramatic presentation of scripture. Then, the Rev. Dr. William “Bill” Lee proclaimed the truth of the good news, that whatever our journey, wherever we are on the way, we have a Cosmic Companion who walks with us, indeed carries us along the way.

In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness [humanity] has cosmic companionship. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Saturday we adopted a new Constitution and By-laws to re-organize our region for mission and ministry in this time and place, we approved a budget for 2013, elected new officers for the next two years, renewed our Global Mission Partnership with Guatemala, and participated in Holy Conversations led by our youth as we seek God’s guidance for the future of CCIW.

I was impressed by the youth leadership and the healthy conversations. Formerly a three-day, two night event, the 22hr assembly concluded on-time and we were sent to join Jesus on the Way!

Upon my return, it was time to prepare for Sunday worship and a Monday funeral. And, I was briefed on the tragic event that had unfolded in our community while I was away. We may never understand the why’s of evil that takes place in our midst. Murder is a senseless act. And yet, as disciples of Jesus we walk with God, who mourns violence and tragic death with us. We face this, not alone or dependent on our own strength. We lean on the everlasting arms filled with mercy and love. May God’s peace be with all who suffer as a result of this tragedy.

At the end of October we explored the Faith of Job. We heard how when confronted with the prevalent understanding of the cause or nature of suffering, you get only what you deserve, Job resisted the notion that he was accountable for his suffering. Job remained faithful, trusting in God which allowed him to protest his suffering. God’s response in this pre-modern parable was to remind Job that he was not God. Nothing more was available to the author(s) of this attempt to explain why presumably good people suffer as do presumably bad people.

Perhaps most valuable for us today is the wisdom that while we may be able to explain much of the suffering in our post-modern world as a consequence of economics, environment, genetics, social ills, psychological maladies, etc, we are not in control of every variable in life. Faith grants us the assurance of God’s good-will and love for all of God’s creation; God does not will suffering in a post-modern understanding of the world. God’s promise to humanity through Jesus is to be present in our sufferings. Contemplate the Gospel characters Jesus was always reaching out to (prostitutes, oppressed women, ethnic minorities, physically and mentally differently abled), bringing restorative healing, abuse ending mercy, and vision creating hope. God is with us in the person who stands next to us at the graveside of one we have loved, in the surgeon who reroutes our arteries and saves our lives, in the teacher who inspires our love for learning and understanding, in the garbage maintenance person who removes our trash and prevents the potentially hazardous growth of bacteria. God is present when we enact care, compassion, love and justice with and for other humans. God is not our adversary, the accuser, or a deadbeat creator. God desires a relationship with us. And in the end as in our beginning, God is God.

As we prepare for a season of discerning God’s will for the future of our congregation, we will be invited to journey together in the presence of God, seeking vision for the future God desires for us.

Eventually, everything needing to be done on that stubborn Thursday was completed, even the newsletter and I was reminded once again that my plans are not controlling the universe! Thank goodness! And, sometimes we need to step out of the way and let the Spirit of God lead us through the frustrations, delays, losses and game changers into the new life God desires for you and even me.

Memories of a Friend Indeed

Early this summer, my friend and co-worker for God’s peace and justice, Dr. Bruce Williams died unexpectedly while visiting with his in-laws in London. I’ve been asked to share some memories for his memorial service this coming weekend (Sept. 8th) in Decatur, IL.

When I first arrived as Associate Minister of Central Christian Church in Decatur, Bruce was sponsoring the Junior Youth Fellowship which gave him the opportunity to share his gift of youthful energy with children as they developed their faith. Bruce loved children and he put that love into action in his life. He was the “tickle man” for my sons when they were small. Josh and Nick always looked forward to seeing him on Sundays. He often served as a mentoring elder for candidates for baptism. I adored his energetic interest in every child of every age he mentored, officially and unofficially. Bruce believed in the importance of a quality education for all children and was a tireless presence in our after-school efforts in the community. He was ready to do whatever it takes to help every child he met reach their full potential.

Bruce believed in the call of our Lord to serve one another, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. He approached every mission project, I was fortunate to work with him on, with a can do spirit. Whether we were serving together at Oasis Day Center or Good Samaritan Inn, volunteering for Dove or parking cars for Miracle Day, Bruce showed up, gave his best, and brought joy to the day. He was a powerful advocate for the Central Emergency Fund and was ready to help continue this important community outreach when staff transitions called for members to administer the fund responsibly with compassion.  Bruce also had the gift of hospitality, which he shared in our every effort to engage the neighborhood of Central, and with those who worshiped with him, even if he disagreed with you on any given issue. He knew the power of God’s love, grace and  acceptance in his own life and he shared it freely whether he was driving members to church, challenging you to think outside the box or inviting neighbors to experience his community of faith.

Bruce had a passion for God’s justice and was always encouraging people of faith to hear the prophetic voice of Jesus. Whether he was driving the bus to bring Decatur folks to an action or meeting in Bloomington, Peoria or Springfield, or organizing folks to hold state and local authorities accountable to the people they were elected to serve, or serving as founding member and chair of Central’s Peace & Justice Task Force, or raising meaningful questions at Just Flicks, or participating at Conversations on Race at Millikin University, I was privileged to witness his care for fairness, his determination to do the right thing, his gentle yet powerful way of speaking truth to power, his faithfulness to the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and his love for those whose voices are often unheard. I am fortunate to have experienced the encouragement and support of such a friend and co-worker for justice. Bruce never wavered in his support of the public ministry to which I am called. I could always count on Bruce to have my back when working for justice and I was blessed to stand with him!

Perhaps the moments I will treasure most were the countless late evening, after the meeting or study session, conversations we enjoyed. The dialogues were so common, our family schedule was set by them. Teri knew that if Bruce was involved in whatever my evening calendar had on it, she would see me the next day.  I remember this being somewhat the case for Felicity as well. Bruce was a serious student of faith and loved a good conversation. Bruce and I solved every challenge the world is capable of creating. We dug deep into faith, explored the infinite possibilities of science and the universe, debated our political and economic ideas, found common ground in our desire for the community Christ calls us to be and shared our deep longing for God’s realm of peace for all of creation. We grew together in our faith and our resolve to be disciples of Jesus who proclaim and act for God’s love for all of creation. I am grateful beyond measure for those hours, and yes I mean hours of conversation.

Bruce was a present help whenever we needed him. Three times, he helped my family move our home. He always arrived with a smile and with endless energy. When we brought our first pet home, Bruce was there to help us care for the newest member of our family.

Bruce knew and embodied the command of God spoken through the prophet Micah,

and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with the Lord. (6:8)

I am humbled and honored to have known Bruce and Felicity as one of their ministers. The Decatur community has been privileged to have such a spirited man in their midst. Central Christian Church has been blessed by a good and faithful servant of the Lord. May God’s peace be with you dear friend. And, may your legacy of faithfulness shine upon our way as we serve the one whose love knows no end. Amen.

Pastoral Comments for Daniel W. Liddell (1927-2012)

One of Dan Liddell’s favorite hymns was The King of Love my Shepherd Is:

Henry Baker 1868

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.

Daniel Liddell (February 8, 1927 – June 14, 2012) 

In this short span of years we define as this life, very few people, should we even be fortunate, will have the kind of impact Daniel Liddell has on numerous persons throughout his earthly sojourn.  Born Daniel Wesley, February 8, 1927 in Chicago, the son of an evangelist preacher, the late Rev. Thomas Liddell and a mother full of hospitality and nurture, Adele Liddell, his early ambitions in life included practicing medicine. Before Dan would pursue his desire to be a physician, he developed his skills as a musician accompanying his father’s singing for evangelistic worship.

Brother to the Rev. PL Liddell, and Jeanne Hansen, Dan answered the call of his nation and served in the US Navy during WWII as a Head Surgical Nurse assisting the Navy’s top neurosurgeon. Dan was one of our heroes, having served from 1941-1945, no doubt helping to save countless wounded service personnel. We owe a debt of gratitude to Dan and all who served and continue to serve our nation.

Although medicine would play a large role in his life, the medical career he dreamed of was not in Dan’s future. Suffering a heart attack during his Medical School training at Michigan State University, Dan’s life soon found a new direction which would guide him for the rest of his life. Being adaptable to his circumstances, Dan could look back at that turn of events with humor, remembering how the commotion of his medical trauma had cancelled the chemistry exam to the great pleasure of the rest of his class.

Building on the musical skills he acquired as a youth, Dan began a lifelong journey of learning, teaching, directing and life changing. Beginning his studies at the first Olivet Nazarene College near Georgetown, IL, Dan moved to the Kankakee-Bourbonnais Area with one of the first truckloads of students after the great Olivet fire and the college’s relocation to ONU’s current location.

After completing his degree in 1950, he pursued his masters degree at the University of IL in Champaign. While he was a student he served the University Place Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the FourSquare Gospel Church. Returning to this area, Dan began work with Olivet and eventually became head of the voice department.

Dan expanded his reach with his talents in radio and on early Television in Chicago. He was proud of his TV Show Favorites with Danny – a live call-in request your favorite hymn and Dan would play and sing your song for you.

The long hours of teaching and performing and commuting took there toll on Dan and he suffered his second heart attack and found himself in the care of Sister Bernadine of St. Mary’s Hospital whom he credited for saving his life.

While he certainly touched the lives of many during his tenure at Olivet, Dan will perhaps be best remembered for his career as the choral director for Kankakee High School. From developing an award winning choir from just 10 students to begin with, to directing musicals, leading two European trips with the People to People program, Dan left a legacy with his high school students and colleagues that stretches across continents and generations.

His former students have remembered him as one of the major influences in their lives (from the Schreffler Funeral Home Guestbook):

  • Dan was her “first voice teacher and made an incredible impact on her life”
  • Mr. Liddell was one of my absolute favorite teachers at Eastridge.
  • we learned not only how to sing in ensemble but to appreciate life and music and to express respect for each other – valuable lessons at a difficult time for most of us in high school in the ’60’s!!!!
  • he helped to form the lives of an entire generation through his love of music
  • What a guiding light Dan Liddell was during those uncertain High School years. Mr Liddell was one of those guiding lights who kept so many, including me, grounded and taught focus and caring for others.
  • There are only a few people outside my immediate family that I can say truly touched, shaped and influenced my life. And Daniel Liddell was one of those few.
  • Your teaching skills were inherent, and your enthusiasm so infectious. You were adored by all (including me), and brought us so much joy. You made us the music makers, the dreamers of dreams…
  • Instilled confidence in you no matter what road you were on.
  • He was a beautiful man and a constant encourager

His passion for music and touching lives reached beyond the high school and graced our community. One of his colleagues said of Dan, this

  • “energizer bunny” served as the vocal music director for many of Kankakee Valley Theatre’s early musicals. Together we moved the audiences of KVT from Civic Auditorium to the stage of Lincoln Cultural Center as we produced MAME to sell-out crowds in 1973. The following years we did, George M, The Music Man, Something’s Afoot, and South Pacific. Dan taught music from his heart and soul! His talent was indeed a gift from God, and the way he used that talent was his gift back to God and all others around him.

Daniel Liddell was a life changer,an  encourager and a champion of the arts for his former students and our community.

While music blessed his life and was in return a blessing for so many more, building relationships to span many years, companionship in life is often the source of strength and support we rely on as we face the challenges of each and every day. Dan’s life was filled with friends, colleagues, caring nieces and nephews, choir members, and parishioners. And for all of these relationships we offer our gratitude this day.

The word Companion is rooted in two ancient words meaning with and bread. So our companions are those with whom we share our bread, a basic and necessary element of our existence.  For more than 50 years, Dan was blessed by the companionship of Ken Bade. Sharing their families, their love for and talents in music, their faith, and their bread, Dan and Ken have been a caring source of strength and support for one another through every turn, struggle, joy, challenge and accomplishment.  And Dan could have not been more blessed to have you, Ken as companion, friend, colleague and partner in music and his life.

Choir Rehearsal at Central 2012

Speaking of sharing Bread. Dan loved to eat, by the way. Hardly a day went by without Dan & Ken breaking bread in the dining room of Blues Café, where they knew everyone, costumer and server alike and you all knew them too. And you their friends and community became an enormous extended family.

Of their partnership in music, one newspaper article compared them to Rogers and Hammerstein.  Our wider community has lost one of member of our dynamic duo of Liddell and Bade.

Dan was a man of deep faith as well and when his teaching career came to a close, he shared his time and his talents with several local congregations, directing church choirs at First Presbyterian Church of Manteno, St. Mark United Methodist Church, helping with the music at Asbury United Methodist Church, and Directing the Choir of Central Christian Church in Bourbonnais where he directed his 180th Chancel Choir rehearsal on Thursday, June 7th.

Dan graced our congregation at Central with his spirited piano playing, his positive attitude, his love of God and Jesus Christ and his ever encouraging and sometimes even demanding style. He was keenly aware of the gifts and graces of any choir he directed and with great enthusiasm was able to motivate his singers to a new level of melody and harmony.

A former pastor of Central said,  What a delight was my friend Dan and what a list of wonderful memories: singing together, sharing in worship at Central Christian, laughing, eating at Blue’s, and being part of his choir, and most of all just enjoying being his friend… his being close as I grieved in personal loss – I first met Dan (and Ken) as an ONU student, oh so many years ago when I was a fledgling singer in Orpheus Choir. There I first admired Dan’s tender spirit, humor, and his beautiful tenor voice that could cling to the tingling high notes… The years have fled quickly, but the love and friendship for my two friends has only grown deeper and more precious. Rev. Dr. Franlkin Garton

And another said, When I think of Dan I remember his unfailing smile, his good humor, his enthusiasm, his love of music, and his desire to enhance that love of music in other people. Rev. Richard Sagarsee

I have been blessed and privileged to be in ministry with Dan and with Ken. Together their unceasing encouragement and care for me has given strength unimaginable. Their patience and adaptability to whatever I brought their way has been amazing. And I was privileged to be with Dan last week as he faced yet another medical challenge. Dan was confident in the Lord and shared his peacefulness with me during our conversations and prayers prior to his surgery last Thursday. It was the graceful way he faced all of life.

Directing the Chancel Choir

“I’ve had the greatest life,” Liddell said contentedly. “Teaching music, if you teach it correctly, you can teach history, languages, mathematics,” he said of his profession.

“So much of success has to do with the work that you are willing to put into it.”
“You can do this, people!”

Paul wrote these words in his second letter to the Corinthians.  Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Amen.

Farewell to C William “Bill” Nichols

At the hour of this post, one of the most loved preachers of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Dr. C. William “Bill” Nichols is being remembered by colleagues, congregants, community leaders and family. A gifted storyteller, writer, leader and servant of Christ’s church, Bill inspired many of us with his amazing memory, his talented delivery and his welcoming spiritual presence. As the community of faith gathers to sing his favorite hymn, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, I thought I’d share my own short tribute to the Preacher’s preacher.

I met Bill Nichols for the first time as a student at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, MO where Bill had studied years before. I was a very young ministry student in awe of the recently called Interim General Minister & President who was on campus to receive an honor at one of our seasonal convocations. Pictured in the blurry photograph here, I was privileged to meet in a small group conversation with Bill who listened to me as if I mattered, encouraged my journey in faith and ministry, and gave me hope for the future of the wider church.

I saw Bill again at the General Assembly in St. Louis as a college graduate heading for seminary. He remembered my name and was encouraging as usual. I had no idea our paths would cross again five years later when I was called to serve the congregation Bill served for many years. I will always remember my first opportunity to preach in the beautiful, English-Gothic sanctuary of Central Christian Church, Decatur, IL. Standing in the pulpit, I looked just two rows before me to see Bill and Claudine Nichols, Senior Minister Emeritus now, retired and smiling, ready for a word. Just months out of seminary, I was a bit nervous to say the least to preach to the preacher of preachers listening just feet away. Bill was most gracious in the receiving line after the service, “Thank you, preacher.”

I was privileged to serve Bill and his family as one of their ministers and even more so to be ministered to by such an inspiring witness for Disciples of Christ. God’s welcome be yours, Bill and grace and peace be with the Nichols family!

Here’s a link to Teresa Churchill’s blog post about Bill.