Eating Crow at Thankgiving

Families might be better off at Thanksgiving if we’d all eat some crow instead of turkey.

Two weeks ago I suggested that Garnett members prepare some “flocks and herds” like Jacob did when he returned to meet his brother. To translate to our cultural metaphor, “eat crow.”

Jacob had ripped off Esau’s deserved double portion of inheritance and blessing of the eldest brother. Esau was so furious that Jacob ran for his life and didn’t show his face in Edom for nearly two decades.

When he did return, he took his wives, servants, and children. And some of the servants went ahead with literally hundreds of herds and flocks to appease the anger of his brother Esau.

Jacob actually thought Esau would come out against him in battle, but Esau welcomed his brother with an embrace. At first Esau rejected Jacob’s restitution, but Jacob convinced him to accept, and they returned to Edom together.

Later God in Israel’s life would help them develop burnt, grain, fellowship, sin, and guilt offerings that placed emphasis on the treatment of neighbor (Leviticus 6:1-7). We often think of restitution only in legal terms, but it extends to relationships as well.

Restitution is the act of making right something that was wrong and adding some type of payment, often in excess of the victim’s loss, to make amends for an offense. A police officer once told me restitution is an important idea in law enforcement, and it certainly remains part of the United States justice system. Often called “punitive damages” today, restitution not only discourages the offender from doing it again but also sends a signal to witnesses to curb any desires of breaking the same law.

In the case of Jacob, he made restitution. Seeking forgiveness, Jacob gave a “moral gift” of flocks to his brother Esau. While some might feel shame from having sinned against a family member or embarrassing themselves years before, one benefit of this kind of public humiliation is that it’s already out there. It’s known in the family, and you don’t have to explain–instead, you can ask for forgiveness and offer some kind of restitution.

I don’t believe restitution must be a sentence or punishment. Restitution can be done voluntarily. I recently did some restitution to restore a relationship at Garnett Church. I bought a gift and wrote out a prayer as a way to help heal a heart I had wounded. This is not always easy to do, but I eat lots of crow throughout the year personally and professionally. As my friend Rubel Shelly says, “It’s not easy but after all, eating crow is fat free.” Seems to be part of the territory of being human.

What about you at Thanksgiving with family or friends? Do you have some herd gathering to do before you go?

Oneka Charles: a man of God

Remembering Oneka Charles today. Oneka Charles died August 5 in his home area of Gulu, Uganda.

Oneka Charles was a beautiful human being, devoted to Christ and serving humanity, a tailor and friend to all.

Oneka was a friend of many of us who lived Uganda from mid-90s till now. He was a tailor and it was well-known that he could sew anything, including clothes for our children, couch covers, drapes . . . anything. He was good at what he did.

Oneka did not hide the fact that he was HIV-positive. He spoke guardedly about his past but confidently and faithfully about the future. He wanted God to change his test to HIV-negative, and he at times became discouraged with yet another positive test. We talked one day about how God has spared his life for a purpose–to glorify God in so many ways on this earth–and Charles fulfilled that purpose. God spared him for more than a decade, regardless of what tests said.

Brent Abney said, “I’ll never forget him . . . his amazing faith, his kindness, his guarded stories of his past, his enthusiastic worship leading and singing. He was a man of God.”

On our summer 2010 trip to Uganda, my family was honored to visit Oneka and enjoy moments of prayer and his leading two songs we always remembered him leading in “Jinja Church” years ago. When we visited him, he was living in a small room with rent paid by exchanging sewing work for an orphanage on the same property. Charles was always kind to our children, and wanted specially to have a photo of him with the children.

May he receive from God the blessing of reward for a faithful life and as Abney said, “I hope God hugged him.”

Ida and the Roller Coaster

Quick break from water wells to hear the legendary story of “Ida and the Roller Coaster.”

Two years ago, Deron and Becca Smith took Ida Bozonoona and her husband Richard to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., and they enjoyed it very much, except Ida nearly “died for a second” when she went upside down. She said never again will she ride that roller coaster that turns upside down. “It will be my child (who rides it),” Ida said.

We’ve really enjoyed staying the night and eating several meals with Richard and Ida. Visiting their place is a highlight of our trip, and they do a great job of giving our children lots of Ugandan experiences such as making chapatis, roast corn and chicken, peeling matooke, and walking through the village smelling coffee blossoms and seeing all the crops including sugar cane, yams, bananas, coffee, and corn.

Here is the video classic telling of “Ida and the Roller Coaster.”

Richard loved riding the roller coaster as much as he enjoyed listening to his wife’s story in this video. Notice Ida’s holding Rubel on her back with a wrap, and Ruben is holding corn and wearing some cute little slippers.

The Gift

I received a gift in 1975 that changed my life forever. I was a young boy when Saigon, South Vietnam fell.

Fearing the take over by the North Vietnamese, Saigon practically emptied, with evacuation of troops, government, and civilian personnel, including many Vietnamese. In April 1975, President Gerald R. Ford ordered Operation Babylift, which would evacuate nearly three thousand orphans out of South Vietnam. A C-5A Galaxy plane later crashed, killing 138 passengers and hurting morale of the troops, but this did not dampen the resolve of the international community and the U.S. government. President Ford ordered American involvement in another operation. This one called “Operation New Life,” which resulted in evacuation of 110,000 Vietnamese refugees.

Most of those refugees traveled through Guam, and the majority made their way to the U.S. and some to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.

I’ve never been to Vietnam, but in 1975, at Christmas, Saigon came to me and my family in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. With Operation New Life in full swing in 1975, I never imagined New Life would come to my hometown, to my living room, and I would be changed.

Christmas the year before, in 1974, was an eventful one. Up to that time, the biggest thing in my life was getting great Christmas gifts! I wanted something loud and dangerous, to the consternation of my mother.

There I am on the front yard, down on Mission Road where we lived, and my brother is handing me the gift, and he’s ecstatic, his hair is standing up, he’s just removed a helmet and pushed it down on my head, and he hands me the handle bars and there I am holding the prized gift of all gifts for a seven year old boy: a mini bike.

So I do what you’re supposed to do. I rev the engine with the throttle . . . and the mini bike begins to move. But there’s a problem . . .

I have not mounted the bike. I’m standing next to it . . . and the mini bike begins to move. So I do what I have to do. I move with it, slowly at first, then I pick up speed.

Now I’m running, trying to keep up with the mini bike. How can I jump on? I do not realize there is an option to let off the throttle and just stop it. Faster, Faster, I’m running, I’m sprinting now, I’m crying out for my brother to catch me, help me!

I can’t keep up, the mini bike is too powerful, too fast for my little legs. My brother says, “Let gooooo!” and I think he means the mini-bike itself. He means the throttle. Let off the throttle!

So I do what I have to do . . . I let go, of the whole shooting match. I let the mini bike go and stand there in the middle of the yard and watch the mini bike finish the trip, like a riderless horse.

The mini bike continues on down the slope and over a brick retaining wall several feet high. My hands are on my helmet as if I’d just thrown an interception in the Super Bowl’s last minute. What have I done? The gift for our whole family, the kids, the neighbors, the cousins.

My brother and I walk over to the mini bike to examine it for damage. Looks like nothing shattered. Maybe it’s OK. Then we pick it up and look at the front fork. It’s bent. I tear up. I’ve ruined Christmas for my brother and the rest of us. I’ve ruined our gift on the first day.

To ride the mini bike straight down the road from that day on, you turned the handle bars at a 20 degree angle.

I’ll never forget hiding behind the Christmas tree that night, sulking, warming my hands on the big red and green Christmas tree bulbs on the tinder box of a live Christmas tree. The bulbs were 6000 degrees Kelvin and yet another Christmas miracle occurred that year that fire did not engulf that tree spontaneously each night as the bulbs heated up.

And it was in that living room with the sculptured shag carpet, the gold threaded ivory drapes, the first-ever totally electric house in the city, a house so modern it prompted my mother to be quoted in the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise newspaper, a modern housewife they called her, and she said, “I go from room to room pushing buttons.” We mimic that quote, quite literally, to this day.

In that living room was a meeting that would change my life . . . and it had nothing to do with a mini-bike . . . that wasn’t the gift that changed my life. Another gift came in the form of a family who traveled across the world.

They had come as part of a mass evacuation called Operation New Life . . . some of the 90,000+ who’d made it from South Vietnam, through Guam, and received asylum in the United States . . . made it as far as Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. Then a friend of my dad’s urged him to sponsor a Vietnamese family. My father and mother have devoted their lives to helping those with little or no hope, the poor.

So Christmas 1975, in that living room where I had worried so much about a hunk of metal, the twisted mini-bike, a family came from across the world and entered our lives and changed me in ways I am trying to explain, but I would never be the same.

This was my first experience of people from another culture. The family who came to our house that day in 1975 is named “Vu.” They were mother, father, grandparents, and many children.

I remember the faces of the Vu family. I remember their faces didn’t look like mine. Their eyes were slanted. Or were my eyes the ones slanted? Their skin was a different color. They spoke a language I didn’t understand. But they didn’t understand my language, either. The Vus, in 1975, that Christmas were the first Asian family I’d ever met.

I remember going to the Vu’s downtown apartment. That’s where I ate my first eggroll.

During those turbulent years my family loved a Vietnamese family. And they loved us. They kept feeding us eggrolls. Our two very different families treated one another with respect and concern and love. Many of the Vu family still live in the United States and on occasion we’ll get a Christmas card from them and hear they are doing well.

As an eight-year-old child in 1975, I thought that mini-bike was the most important machine on the planet. I remember quietly moping next to our Christmas tree, thinking I had committed a terrible offense by wrecking our family’s motorbike. But my parents reminded me that the mini-bike was only rubber and steel. They reminded me of this fact by welcoming the Vus to sit by our Christmas tree with us. That’s where I looked at their eyes and watched them open the presents our family had given them.

I’ll never be the same after that visit and our visit to the Vu family home. I learned three things that Christmas in 1975:

  1. I learned that Christmas means helping someone desperately in need. Jesus entered a desperate world, and my parents showed love and received love from people desperate for a new life.
  2. I learned that eggrolls are good to eat.
  3. I learned that giving alone is not what Christmas is about. Christmas is first about learning how to receive, then you become a great giver.

Jesus first received flesh and blood, says John 1:14-18. He received food and clothes and was taught how to pray by his mother. He received the Holy Spirit. He received bread and fish from a little boy first before he gave fish and bread. He received a foot washing long before he washed feet. Jesus teaches us to receive. So Christmas is a good time to learn how to receive grace of God through the thoughtful gifts of our loved ones. When we grow in the grace of receiving, we learn something vital about God. Giving, doing good works, follows receiving the incredible gift of grace.

Maybe that’s partly what pointed me toward faraway lands like Uganda, where I worked as a missionary for seven years with a church planting team. With all its sugar cane and tropical plants and heat, Uganda looks and feels a lot like Vietnam. In Uganda I learned to eat food unlike what I grew up eating. I learned to keep the throttle low and my defensive driving skills high. And I learned that giving to those who are desperately in need is what I’m called to do as a follower of Christ. Maybe I went to Uganda because my parents taught me early in life that the motorbike was just rubber and steel, but the people of Vietnam and Uganda and the United States are all God’s creation.

And what I received in Uganda is another life-changing experience. I will truly never be the same after living in Uganda with my wife, Jill, and three children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. We loved and were loved by our wonderful Ugandan friends. My parents taught me at an early age how to make and be friends with people very different from us, from far away, who had come in Operation New Life. We, too, received New Life through their friendship.

I still eat eggrolls every chance I get, but these days I try to stay off motorcycles. But more four decades later, one of my best memories of Christmas is watching Vietnamese children open their presents and remembering the day I learned that to give may be more blessed than receiving, but we have to receive first. And Christmas with the Vus was about friendship of receiving and giving.

And those early childhood memories of my father’s and mother’s love shown to a Vietnamese family stick with me, because the Vus gave to us as well. I hope one day my three children will remember something I did to serve a Ugandan or American or anyone desperately in need. But even more than that, I hope my children know how desperately we all need grace, how we all need to receive love and grace of God before we really know how to give good gifts.

May your Christmas be filled with the same grace and truth that Jesus was filled with, that he received. May joy and memories of lessons learned and people who have blessed your life as my Dad and Mom, true servants of Christ, planted in mine by loving–and being loved by–a family of Vietnamese refugees. I didn’t know how to ride a mini-bike but I was paying attention to the coming of New Life.

Anna’s baptism

Just after Anna's baptism. See Facebook for video.

Just after Anna’s baptism. See Facebook for video.

Our 12 year old, Anna, was baptized Feb 1, 2009 at Garnett Church of Christ. Grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins and Garnett family witness and blessed her with words and hugs and the repeated exhortation, “Arise, shine, for the light of the Lord is upon you.”

Video

Remembering Moses and Adam

I wrote this last January but never posted it, but wanted to share this on the one year anniversary of Moses Kimezi’s and Adam Langford’s deaths in Uganda.

January has been filled with saddness over the death of friends, ice, cancellations, disorientation. Come February, come. So artificial, those month markers, but all the same I told Jill, “I’m grateful for a new month.”

In through the cracks of pain come moments of illumination and joy. The only reason I can fathom losing a son or a brother now is because I’ve watched faithful friends do it with grace and peace and brokenness and tears and even great laughter. We have lost our incredible friends Adam Langford and Adam Kimezi, but being present with close family and friends in their suffering, says Adam’s last journal entry, is all we can do sometimes.

600,000 without power in Oklahoma

I got my answer to the question, “Why do people go for milk and bread” when a winter storm is predicted. You never know.

How could we have known power would be out for 600,000 in Oklahoma? Turns out it was smart to buy milk and bread, because with trees down and power out, few stores could even open after the storm. Even mighty Wal-Mart has been crippled, though a friend was checking out when power went out, and the back up system kicked in for the cash registers and they never missed a “beep.”

How do you function while homebound without electricity in freezing weather? Some go to shelters, others to hotels. We decided to stay home and shared food and time with several neighbors. Some neighbors got generators. We have a gas fireplace and kept that going and cooked on the gas grill outside. Anna and two of her friends even made “no-bake” cookies on the grill burner.

Today, as most everything finished thawing, we cooked as we needed to for certain foods. We emptied lots of freezer bags into a pot and made some great chili that included cut up extra hamburgers from the day before. We kept some food outside where it was colder than the fridge or freezer.

Over the last three days, we’ve enjoyed fun times with neighbors, friends, family, playing games and eating together. Thanks to the Kings, Clarks, Smiths, Davises, Hodges for the fun times and helping and feeding each other.

We fed a few mouths here but ate breakfast at the Smiths, dinner at Kings one night, Davises the next and tonight Wade and Heather Hodges brought over meat that was thawing in their freezer, and Wade grilled four kinds of surf and turf. Good stuff.

Power returned for us this afternoon, but for still tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands across the state, power has still not been restored.

One of the funniest things about these storms is that when people are homebound, power and school are out, they go a little crazy, become disoriented. Their children make them nuts, and so what do they do? They put the kids to bed, go into the bedroom by candle light, shut the door, and start making more kids. Go figure.

They say most of the hospitals are online now and doing fine, but they’d better start thinking about hiring more maternity staff in August 2008.

Light on Main Street

rudy-taylor.jpgMy uncle Rudy is one of my heroes.

In his lifetime he’s taken stands for truth and faith that have led to some family and friends distancing themselves from him because he professed a more open view of the body of Christ outside the particular little church community in which he was raised. No reason for me to go further into that story, which I would only get wrong but it’s enough to say that I believe Uncle Rudy stood for what he believed Christ would do were he in his shoes.

And, I respect Uncle Rudy also for one of the same reasons I respect my dad (Rudy is my dad’s younger brother): they’ve both settled into small towns and made their mark not just on the political, social, religious, and physical landscape of the town but upon people’s lives. They’ve displayed for nine decades (between them) in two communities how to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and mind and to love their neighbors as themselves.

My dad is a builder. Rudy is a small town newspaper editor, a dying but important and respectable breed who bring the vital local angles on the news that really news is meant for: to actually do something about. News that we typically take in is not depressing only because it’s bad news but depressing because it’s information we can do nothing about, actively participate in little that we read. So the small town newspaper is important to the social and political well-being of a community, and I predict that these will make a great come back in another form, currently in the form of town web sites and blogs, and the same is true for church communities and other political groups.

Rudy is a good man and one of the best storytellers I know. He gets that from my grandma Grace (who we affecionately called, “Amazing”) and her father, Spike Walker. Rudy also married into a newspaper family, so he’s part of the continuation of a local newspaper for nearly 100 years.

Rudy has had a book percolating under his lid for years, and a whole town and friends and family have been coaxing him to write it, and it’s now in print

The book is called Light on Main Street. Uncle Rudy’s office light was often cast out his window upon Main Street these last several decades. He’s burned the candle on both ends, but he’s still remained a family, church, and community light.

Rudy’s web site

To order books: rudy@rudytaylorbooks.com

Here’s a little more “official” bio that tells more about what Rudy Taylor does.

 

Rudy Taylor began his career as a publisher in 1970 when he bought his Rudy Taylorhometown newspaper, The Caney Chronicle. He is now publisher/owner of the Oswego Independent, Edna Sun, Altamont Journal, Chetopa Advance, Sedan Times-Star, Flint Hills Express,and Montgomery County Chronicle—all southeast Kansas weeklies—and publisher of The Coffeyville Journal. Taylor writes columns, editorials, and feature stories for all of them. His column “Off the Cuff” has won numerous state and national awards, and even one international award. But he does not write his columns to win awards—he simply writes from the heart. His articles are frequently nostalgic, reflecting back to his growing-up years in the 1950s. His commentary is often humorous, sometimes tearful, and even hilarious. Taylor’s first love was radio and television, and he still makes commercials for local broadcast stations and advertising agencies. He is in the process of publishing his first book, Light on Main Street. Taylor’s wife Kathy is a fourth-generation journalist, and they have three grown children and four grandchildren. The Taylors live in Caney.

Dale Ward

stafward.gifMy friend, Dale Ward, has been given only a few days to live. His heart is failing, and he believes clearly that he ought not continue the spiral down and struggle back up cycle he’s gone through over the past several years.

I asked him what he sees clearly right now and he said, “Jesus is all the world to me.” He said song lyrics have been pouring through his mind since the prognosis. “There’s no better friend,” he said, “than Jesus . . . I’m standing between, like Paul, and I want to stay but I want to go.”

Dale’s wife, Pat, said she felt blessed to have her children and grandchildren come, that they’d had a full day and that God had blessed them greatly.

Dale is Executive Producer for World Christian Broadcasting. Dale is a veteran broadcaster with a degree in Journalism. He is responsible for the content of all three KNLS language services: English, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese. Dale is also an actor and orator of some note. His voice is heard from time to time on the Hymns Of Praise and Parables of Jesus KNLS radio series.

Dale has mentored me and led me through writing and voicing radio scripts for KNLS. He is the one I quote when I tell people writing for radio, “Speak to one person. Imagine that one person you are talking to, a Russian, Chinese, African, but when you write for radio, tell one person your story.”

If you know Dale or know of him, would you please say a prayer for Dale Ward right now? Pray this prayer with me: May the Lord bless the worldwide work that Dale has done, and may it continue not only in his honor but in your honor, Father, for his life has been one lived in service not of a denomination but in sacrifice for Your kingdom life. Amen.

Labor Day Activities

What do you do on Labor Day?

Today Jill and I are doing long runs to train for the Route 66 Half Marathon. Otherwise, we’re being lazy and hanging out with the kids.

My prayer for today as I ran was this: Lord, if I do nothing else today, help me be a good father, a good husband, and that will be enough.

For us Labor Day is a good time to access the routine we’ve already established since beginning of school in mid-August. Sports schedules are printed, and Jill and I talk through scheduling of the fall. What do you do on Labor Day? Do you have a standing event or gathering?

Fajita

Check out my friend Fajita’s blog. Chris Gonzalez (aka Fajita) is a man in transition to a new job in Minnesota, his old stomping grounds, and he’s been hanging out at Solomon’s Porch. He’s a very honest, authentic voice and he has been sharing his writing with me over the years both publicly in Wineskins/Fajita and behind the scenes, and I appreciate him as a fellow journeyman with Christ who wants to share that in faithful writing. He has a flair for metaphor and can turn a phrase like a potter spins a pot, and before you know it something emerges that’s beautiful. Thanks, Fajita, for what you do and who you are, and I wish you well in your new life and work in Minnesooooota.

Rochester College student retreat

Just back from helping facilitate at the Rochester College Oasis, a student leader retreat.

Stayed in the home of dear friends, John and Sara Barton and their two children, Nate and Brynn, and Mark Moore, his son Benjamin Moore, and Mike Cope also stayed, and we had a lot of fun catching up with each other.

Sara does a great job as director of spiritual life and assembly (chapel).

One activity we did in the retreat that Sara led was what Charles L. Campbell calls “dislocated reading.” We were given two texts–one was the Good Samaritan–and instructed to break up in groups and go to 8-9 different locations around Detroit metro area. We went to places as diverse as urban poor neighborhoods, Eminen’s street, and Somerset Mall. At these and other locations, groups either read aloud or silently the passage of scripture and “saw” that text in a new way. We returned to tell our experiences, and it was a unique and moving afternoon for the group of 70 college students and for us who facilitated.