Archives For May 2013

In the iconic animated movie The Lion King (1994), the main character, a lion cub named Simba, is forced to flee for his life after his uncle treacherously seizes the throne. Forced to grow up on his own in the jungle, Simba eventually has to come to terms with who he is, the rightful heir to the throne. Even though Mufasa, his father, is only present in spirit, he calls to his son. His father’s ghost-voice challenges Simba to remember who he is and to reclaim his destiny. Powerful yet tender, Simba says to his son,

“Remember who you are. Remember…remember…remember.”

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Still photo from The Lion King (1994), courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

God gives us a memory so that we may learn wisdom from life’s lessons. There are times when our lives move so fast, we need to stop and go back to that physical or mental place where God spoke most clearly to us. When I visited the mountain in Sewanee Tennessee where my wife and I got married, it was a sweet reminder of the day God put us together as friends and then lovers. Hearing Woodie Guthrie/Wilco’s Remember the Mountain Bed song also brings me back to that time.

God uses such moments to help us remember something special to him.

Each June God reminds me about a beautiful week in 1994 at Young Life’s camp called Castaway Club. It was there I recognized I could not live my life without God; it was the culmination of a great spiritual journey. I am not completely sure if I knew what I was getting into, but each June I think back to that glorious week and thank God for extending his loving hand to a lost and confused fifteen year old.

God used many people to reveal himself to me in the time leading up to that week. God often works toward insights like mine years in advance. Here are the impactful events and scenes that led up to that beautiful week in Castaway.

  • My father grew up and went to Webster Groves High School. In his graduating class of 1963, he had a classmate named Nancy Fares (later became O’Donnell).
  • Although as a family we lived in Kansas City for many years, my father had a job opportunity in the St. Louis area. My family moved back my father’s hometown, Webster Groves in 1993. There, my parents reconnected with Nancy and her husband Mike O’Donnell. The move made me miserable. I was in counseling because I didn’t know how to share how I felt. It seemed l like I had no friends and no real purpose, and I was most likely in an undiagnosed depression. The O’Donnells then told my parents about a group called Young Life.
  • Not long after this, I got a call from a sophomore girl in my school—which I thought was strange. Her name was Molly O’Donnell. She was the daughter of Nancy and Mike O’Donnell, and she asked me to go to this thing called Young Life. I had no idea what Young Life was, but I was desperate for attention and said yes.
  • A day or two later, Molly and a car full of upper-class girls picked me up, and we drove to Young Life. I was a freshman in heaven.
  • Molly introduced me right away to an older man. He was known as “Herm,” though his first name was Dave. After Herm heard my name, he said, “Hey, my name is Dave too.” Herm was the Young Life Area Director. He took me under his wing. In addition, Herm’s wife Terri essentially became a second mother in the process and in fact to most of us at Young Life.
  • After that first night of “club,” as people in Young Life calls it, I was introduced to another David. His name was David Pendergrass. David, along with other older students drove me to club every week. They were the ones who walked alongside me, listened to me, and shared the great story of Jesus Christ with me—I’ll never forget it.  The boys of Young Life became the brothers I never had. Many of them are great friends to this day even though most of us have moved.
  • It all culminated at camp Minnesota at Castaway. There I had, as Young Life says, The Greatest Week of my Life. That’s no lie.
The boys from Wester Groves High School (Mid-County St. Louis) prepping for our volleyball tournament at Castaway.

The boys from Wester Groves High School (Mid-County St. Louis) prepping for our volleyball tournament at Castaway. This is where the nickname “Cheech” all began. Can you find me?

Each June, God calls me to remember and be thankful to him for saving me. In addition, I think about those who had the courage to approach me, be a friend, and share the great news of Christ. God calls me to be thankful for that time in Minnesota, and to pray also for everyone in Young Life going to camp this summer.

Tell me about how you came to accept Christ. It is a story we all should stand up and hear. 

Ode to My Wife

May 28, 2013 — 2 Comments

Today, it has been eight wonderful years since my lovely wife walked down the aisle to greet me. It happened in the sacred stone and wooden retreat of All Saints Chapel in beautiful Sewanee, Tennessee. A week ago, we made the trek back up the mountain to Sewanee to visit The University of the South and enjoy the beauty of All Saints Chapel. Just as we arrived, another wedding finished and it brought a smile to all of us. We were blessed to visit with our daughters so they could see the inside of the chapel and discover where we the girls became a “possibility” in life. It was as beautiful as the first weekend we met (in person) in Sewanee. It was then in early 2003 that I took her hand in the chapel and walked her to the altar. God knew what he was doing because I was out of my mind.

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Not a day goes by that I don’t think that I’m living one of life’s greatest adventures. Brooke and I are still getting to know each other and are helping each other to discover what God wants for us together as well as individuals. I have had the pleasure to watch her passion become a reality by starting up a website to help stray, lost and abandoned pets called StrayMagnet.com. In addition, she has worked so hard serving the women in our church and various ministries in our city. She has also seen me grow in my love for reading, writing, publishing and travel adventures. We have traveled to parts of the world and our nation and built friendships to last a lifetime. We have endured loss of family and other disappointments when we did not understand what to do next. We have been blessed to welcome two wonderful daughters to this world, Madelyn and Ainsley. We have even endured difficult injuries and have cared for each other back to health. Mostly, we laugh in our moments and enjoy what is next in this great adventure.

We often joke about how forgetful I am as a husband when driving around. The conversation would typically go like this after my wife would help me find my way.

Me: “How would I get there without you?”

Brooke: “Oh you would get there. It would just take you longer.”

God, thank you for giving me Brooke. Thank you for speaking to us through your word and reminding us of what it takes in this journey.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14 NIV

I think the fictional late, great Dicky Fox from the movie Jerry Maguire sums it up best in how I feel. Thank you my love.

I have lived in the South for almost nine years now. As a history student for life, I have tried to take advantage of my home in Nashville and learn more about the American Civil War. I also have tried to observe how people from the South talk about the Civil War. Although I don’t live in the deep South, the war seems to be a distant past to most people here. My only fear is that people will forget what happened and more importantly, what we can learn from it.

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My father was a member of Kappa Alpha, an “Old South” fraternity, which was inspired by the gentlemanly conduct of Robert E. Lee, when he served as President of Washington College (later became Washington & Lee). My father as well as my grandfather, who was also a Kappa Alpha member, always spoke fondly of Robert E. Lee. I never quite understood why because of Lee being a General whom led a rebellious army that ultimately lost. Lee did not seem to be a perfect person but why did his soldiers fight so bravely for him and why did they follow him when he agreed to surrender to Union forces? I learned why from a story in the book, April 1865, the author wrote a beautiful ending that captured the scene of Richmond, Virginia not long after the Civil War ended.

It was a warm Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and an older man, one of the church’s many distinguished communicants, who had spent the last four years in war, was sitting in his customary pew. With his shoulders rounded, his middle thickened, his hair snow-white and beard gray, as usual, he attracted the attention of the rest of the church. But then so did another parishioner.

As the minister, Dr. Charles Minnergerode, was about to administer Holy Communion, a tall, well-dressed black man sitting at the western galley (which was reserved for Negroes) unexpectedly advanced to the communion table-unexpectedly because his this had never happened here before. Suddenly, the image of Richmond redux was conjured up-a flashback to prewar years. Usually whites received communion first, then blacks-a small but strictly adhered to ritual, repeated so often that to alter it was unthinkable. This one small act, then, was like a large frontier separating two worlds: the first being that of the antebellum South, the second being that of post-Civil War America. The congregation froze; those who had been ready to go forward and kneel at the altar rail remained fixed in their pews. Momentarily stunned, Minnergerode himself was clearly embarrassed. The horror-and surprise-of the congregation were no doubt largely visceral, but Minnergerode’s silent retreat was evident. It was one thing for the white South to endure defeat and poverty, or to accept the fact that slaves were now free; it was quite another for a black man to stride up to the front of the church as though an equal. And not just at any church, but here, at the sanctuary for Richmond’s elite, the wealthy, the well-bred, the high-cultured.

The black man slowly lowered his body, kneeling, while the rest of the congregation tensed in their pews. For his part, the minister stood, clearly uncomfortable and still dumbfounded. After what seemed to be an interminable amount of time-although it was probably only seconds-the white man arose (Lee), his gait erect, head up and eyes proud, and walked quietly up the aisle to the chancel rail. His face was a portrait of exhaustion, and he looked far older than most people had remembered from when the war had just begun. These days had been hard on him. Recently, in a rare, unguarded moment he had uncharacteristically blurted out, “I’m homeless-I have nothing on earth.”

Yet these Richmonders, like all of the South, still looked to him for a sense of purpose and guidance. No less so now as, with quiet dignity and self-possession, he knelt down to partake of the communion, along with the same rail with the black man.

Watching Robert E. Lee, the other communicants slowly followed in his path, going forward to the altar, and, with a mixture of reluctance and fear, hope and awkward expectation, into the future.

I now understand what a humble, yet magnanimous man looks like. Reconciliation that month of April 1865 emerged in the form of Robert E. Lee.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:43-45 ESV

In my Christian life, I have struggled with identifying who “my enemy” is and how to respond to them. Facing an enemy, I feel frustration, confusion, and hatred. These emotions can eat me up if gone unchecked. What do we do with this struggle of emotion?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up how we deal with our enemies properly.

“The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified.”

As I read this quote from Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship against scripture, three portraits of reconciliation come to mind that help me work through reconciliation and suggest ways to love my enemies.

I pray they help you too.

1. Reconciliation after Apartheid

In the dramatic storytelling of the 1994 Rugby World Cup through the movie  Invictus (2009), we see the nation of South Africa struggling to overcome decades of abuse under Apartheid. Black South Africans had been persecuted for generations under the white ruling class. But a new president had come to power: Nelson Mandela. Mandela was an activist and then a prisoner under the old regime for twenty-seven years. But now he recognized that in order to bring the nation together, he must lead by example and embrace the mostly white rugby team in their quest for the cup. The nation would see white and black, former foes, all as newly united South Africans. And it could not have been done without courage and leadership by Mandela and the rugby team. Invictus is a beautiful portrayal on how a few with great courage can make such a difference.

Morgan Freeman as South Africa President Nelson Mandela shaking hands with South Africa Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Morgan Freeman as South Africa President Nelson Mandela shaking hands with South Africa Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2. Reconciliation after The American Civil War

On April 9th 1865, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America surrendered in Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia to General U.S. Grant of the Union forces. The fate was sealed for the Confederacy after four years of intense battle. Typically the conquered like Lee would be placed in prison, hanged, or publicly humiliated after defeat. But this name was like no other before it.

The American Civil War was one of the bloodiest in the history of mankind. Most of the south was destroyed, and there were over one million casualties, among these 650,000+ dead soldiers, and 50,000 dead civilians. Both sides had good reason to hate one another after four years of extreme bloodshed and destruction.

In the book April 1865 the author described Lee’s exit after agreeing to the terms of surrender. As he left the house of surrender, General Grant walked out after Lee with his staff and all saluted the famous General as he left. Lee was not to leave as one conquered, but as a man with dignity and honor. Other soldiers showed similar grace.

“Without having planned it-and without any official sanction (Joshua L.) Chamberlain suddenly gave the order for Union soldiers to “carry arms as a sign of their deepest mark of military respect. A bugle call instantly rang out. All along the road, Union soldiers raised their muskets to their shoulders, the solute of honor.”

Enemies had been made from smallest to greatest, from the smallest families and most rural communities up to the largest cities, the most prosperous states, and even to the nation itself. And now each one who fought as enemies needed healing. The time after The Civil War is known as “Reconstruction” but it should be called “Reconciliation”.

"The Last Offer of Reconciliation" courtesy of the Library of Congress

“The Last Offer of Reconciliation” by Kimmel & Forster, courtesy of the Library of Congress

3. Reconciliation through a Handshake

Described at the end of Unbroken, after Louis Zamperini spent years in prison being tortured by the Japanese he went back years later to visit his captors. The author noted,

“Before Louie left Sugamo (the prison), the colonel who was attending him asked Louie’s former guards to come forward. In the back of the room, the prisoners stood up and shuffled into the aisle. They moved hesitantly, looking up at Louie with small faces. Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. Before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face.”

Beautiful.

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Along with scripture, I encourage you to read these stories and watch these movies to better understand reconciliation. My faith is strengthened by these stories, and they have helped me to better understand how to love my enemies.

Your enemy may be a person in a far away culture, or it could be your next door neighbor. Consider offering that hand as Christ offered it to you through the cross.

Reconciliation is beautiful because Christ was the example of it on the cross.

For me. For you.

What does reconciliation teach you about your own faith? What stories teach you about reconciliation?