JOURNAL: September 11, 2011 / September 11, 2018

 

What were you doing when the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001?

As for me, I was listening to the news in my car on the way to the church when the first plane flew into the first tower.   I had a scheduled meeting with Avis, the church administrative secretary, to work on the church budget. I didn’t stop all that I was doing to keep up with the news.  Was I in denial?  Were my priorities screwed up?  At that point I’m pretty sure I didn’t comprehend the gravity of this situation.

I went ahead with the business of the day—numb—until the phone rang.  Church member, Kevin, called to ask me about my response to this situation.  What was the church going to do?  This tragedy was sinking into my mind/soul!  I have no idea how I was going to respond.  All I know for sure:  Kevin, along with numerous others, were calling upon the church for what the church does best–the offering of pastoral support.  Honestly, all we could do at this time was listen and hear and grieve together the loss we were experiencing as a nation.

Kevin would soon travel to New York as a trained Red Cross volunteer to provide logistical support for the thousands who responded to this national crisis.  The church would join with neighboring congregations in worship and prayer.  Seventeen years later, we continue to grieve and search for ways we can respond to this horrific episode in our past.

What were you doing on September 11, 2001? What are we doing now, personally and as a church and nation, to keep America safe?

Former Vice President John McCain Eulogy for John McCain

I was ready to close down this blog until I heard the powerful personal eulogy for his good friend John McCain.  “Bound and Nurtured in God’s Love” well descries my thoughts about both Joe Biden and John McCain.  In this eulogy Joe Biden asked a question worthy of an answer: Why is the nation so enthralled with this man?  I am posting the entire eulogy for those who didn’t get a chance to hear it.

“My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I loved John McCain. I have had the dubious honor over the years of giving some eulogies for fine women and men that I’ve admired. But, Lindsey, this one’s hard.

The three men who spoke before me I think captured John, different aspects of John in a way that only someone close to him could understand. But the way I look at it, the way I thought about it, was that I always thought of John as a brother. We had a hell of a lot of family fights. We go back a long way. I was a young United States Senator. I got elected when I was 29. I had the dubious distinction of being put on the formulations committee, which the next youngest person was 14 years older than me. And I spent a lot of time traveling the world because I was assigned responsibility, my colleagues in the Senate knew I was chairman of the European Affairs subcommittee, so I spent a lot of time at NATO and then the Soviet Union.

Along came a guy a couple of years later, a guy I knew of, admired from afar, your husband, who had been a prisoner of war, who had endured enormous, enormous pain and suffering. And demonstrated the code, the McCain code. People don’t think much about it today, but imagine having already known the pain you were likely to endure, and being offered the opportunity to go home, but saying no. As his son can tell you in the Navy, last one in, last one out.

So I knew of John. and John became the Navy liaison officer in the United States Senate. There’s an office, then it used to be on the basement floor, of members of the military who are assigned to senators when they travel abroad to meet with heads of state or other foreign dignitaries. And John had been recently released from the HanoI Hilton, a genuine hero, and he became the Navy liaison. For some reason we hit it off in the beginning. We were both full of dreams and ambitions and an overwhelming desire to make the time we had there worthwhile. To try to do the right thing. To think about how we could make things better for the country we loved so much.

John and I ended up traveling every time I went anywhere. I took John with me or John took me with him. we were in China, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, England, Turkey, all over the world. Tens of thousands of miles. And we would sit on that plane and late into the night, when everyone else was asleep, and just talk. Getting to know one another. We’d talk about family, we’d talk about politics, we’d talk about international relations. we’d talk about promise, the promise of America. Because we were both cockeyed optimists and believe there’s not a single thing, beyond the capacity of this country. I mean, for real, not a single thing.

And, when you get to know another woman or man, you begin to know their hopes and their fears, you get to know their family even before you meet them, you get to know how they feel about important things. We talked about everything except captivity and the loss of my family which had just occurred, my wife and daughter, the only two things we didn’t talk about.

But, I found that it wasn’t too long into John’s duties that Jill and I got married. Jill is here with me today. Five years, I had been a single dad and no man deserves one great love, let alone two. And I met Jill. It changed my life. She fell in love with him and he with her. He’d always call her, as Lindsey would travel with her, Jilly. Matter of fact, when they got bored being with me on these trips, I remember in Greece, he said, ‘Why don’t I take Jill for dinner?’ Later, I would learn they are at a cafe at the port and he has her dancing on top of a cement table drinking uzo. Not a joke. Jilly. Right, Jilly?

But we got to know each other well and he loved my son Beau and my son Hunt. As a young man, he came up to my house and he came up to Wilmington and out of this grew a great friendship that transcended whatever political differences we had or later developed because, above all, above all, we understood the same thing. All politics is personal. It’s all about trust. I trusted John with my life and I would and I think he would trust me with his. And as our life progressed, we learned more, there are times when life can be so cruel, pain so blinding it’s hard to see anything else.

The disease that took John’s life took our mutual friend’s, Teddy [Kennedy]’s life, the exact same disease nine years ago, a couple days ago, and three years ago, took my beautiful son Beau’s life. It’s brutal. It’s relentless. It’s unforgiving. And it takes so much from those we love and from the families who love them that in order to survive, we have to remember how they lived, not how they died. I carry with me an image of Beau, sitting out in a little lake we live on, starting a motor on an old boat and smiling away. Not the last days. I’m sure Vickie Kennedy has her own image, looking, seeing Teddy looking so alive in a sailboat, out in the Cape. For the family, for the family, you will all find your own images, whether it’s remembering his smile, his laugh or that touch in the shoulder or running his hand down your cheek. Or, just feeling like someone is looking, turn and see him just smiling at you, from a distance, just looking at you. Or when you saw the pure joy the moment he was about to take the stage on the Senate floor and start a fight.

God, he loved it. so, to Cindy, the kids, Doug, Andy, Cindy, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, Bridget, and I know she’s not here, but to Mrs. McCain, we know how difficult it is to bury a child, Mrs. McCain. My heart goes out to you. And I know right now, the pain you all are feeling is so sharp and so hollowing. And John’s absence is all consuming, for all of you right now. It’s like being sucked into a black hole inside your chest. And it’s frightening. But, I know something else, unfortunately, from experience. There’s nothing anyone can say or do to ease the pain right now. But I pray, I pray you take some comfort knowing that because you shared John with all of us, your whole life, the world now shares with you in the ache of John’s death.

Look around this magnificent church. Look what you saw coming from the state capitol yesterday. it’s hard to stand there but part of it, part of it was at least it was for me with Beau, standing in the state capitol, you knew. It was genuine. It was deep. He touched so many lives. I’ve gotten calls not just because people knew we were friends, not just from people around the country, but leaders around the world calling. Meghan, I’m getting all these sympathy letters. I mean, hundreds of them, and tweets.

Character is destiny. John had character. While others will miss his leadership, passion, even his stubbornness, you are going to miss that hand on your shoulder. Family, you are going to miss the man, faithful man as he was, who you knew would literally give his life for you. And for that there’s no balm but time. Time and your memories of a life lived well and lived fully.

But I make you a promise. I promise you, the time will come that what’s going to happen is six months will go by and everybody is going to think, well, it’s passed. But you are going to ride by that field or smell that fragrance or see that flashing image. You are going to feel like you did the day you got the news. But you know you are going to make it. The image of your dad, your husband, your friend. It crosses your mind and a smile comes to your lips before a tear to your eye. That’s who you know. I promise you, I give you my word, I promise you, this I know. The day will come. That day will come.

You know, I’m sure if my former colleagues who worked with John, I’m sure there’s people who said to you not only now, but the last ten years, ‘Explain this guy to me.’ Right? Explain this guy to me. Because, as they looked at him, in one sense they admired him, in one sense, the way things changed so much in America, they look add him as if John came from another age, lived by a different code, an ancient, antiquated courage, integrity, duty, were alive. That was obvious how John lived his life. The truth is, John’s code was ageless, is ageless. When you talked earlier, Grant, you talked about values. It wasn’t about politics with John. He could disagree on substance, but the underlying values that animated everything John did, everything he was, come to a different conclusion. He’d part company with you, if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.

John’s story is an American story. It’s not hyperbole. it’s the American story. grounded in respect and decency. basic fairness. the intolerance through the abuse of power. Many of you travel the world, look how the rest of the world looks at us. They look at us a little naive, so fair, so decent. We are the naive Americans. that’s who we are. That’s who John was. He could not stand the abuse of power. wherever he saw it, in whatever form, in whatever ways. He loved basic values, fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor, leaving no one behind and understanding Americans were part of something much bigger than ourselves.

With John, it was a value set that was neither selfish nor self-serving. John understood that America was first and foremost, an idea. Audacious and risky, organized around not tribe but ideals. Think of how he approached every issue. The ideals that Americans rallied around for 200 years, the ideals of the world has prepared you. Sounds corny. We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain rights. To John, those words had meaning, as they have for every great patriot who’s ever served this country. We both loved the Senate. The proudest years of my life were being a United States Senator. I was honored to be Vice President, but a United States Senator. We both lamented, watching it change. During the long debates in the ’80s and ’90s, I would go sit next to John, next to his seat or he would come on the Democratic side and sit next to me. I’m not joking. We’d sit there and talk to each other. I came out to see John, we were reminiscing around it. It was ’96, about to go to the caucus. We both went into our caucus and coincidentally, we were approached by our caucus leaders with the same thing. Foe, it doesn’t look good, you sitting next to John all the time. I swear to God. same thing was said to John in your caucus.

That’s when things began to change for the worse in America in the Senate. That’s when it changed. What happened was, at those times, it was always appropriate to challenge another Senator’s judgment, but never appropriate to challenge their motive. When you challenge their motive, it’s impossible to get to go. If I say you are going this because you are being paid off or you are doing it because you are not a good Christian or this, that, or the other thing, it’s impossible to reach consensus. Think about in your personal lives. All we do today is attack the oppositions of both parties, their motives, not the substance of their argument. This is the mid-’90s. it began to go downhill from there. The last day John was on the Senate floor, what was he fighting to do? He was fighting to restore what you call regular order, just start to treat one another again, like we used to.

The Senate was never perfect, John, you know that. we were there a long time together. I watched Teddy Kennedy and James O. Eastland fight like hell on civil rights and then go have lunch together, down in the Senate dining room. John wanted to see, “regular order” writ large. Get to know one another. You know, John and I were both amused and I think Lindsey was at one of these events where John and I received two prestigious awards where the last year I was vice president and one immediately after, for our dignity and respect we showed to one another, we received an award for civility in public life. Allegheny College puts out this award every year for bipartisanship. John and I looked at each and said, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ No, not a joke. I said to Senator Flake, that’s how it’s supposed to be. We get an award? I’m serious. Think about this. Getting an award for your civility. Getting an award for bipartisanship. Classic John, Allegheny College, hundreds of people, got the award and the Senate was in session. He spoke first and, as he walked off the stage and I walked on, he said, Joe, don’t take it personally, but I don’t want to hear what the hell you have to say, and left.

One of John’s major campaign people is now with the senate with the governor of Ohio, was on [TV] this morning and I happened to watch it. He said that Biden and McCain had a strange relationship, they always seemed to have each other’s back. Whenever I was in trouble, John was the first guy there. I hope I was there for him. We never hesitate to give each other advice. He would call me in the middle of the campaign, he’d say, ‘What the hell did you say that for? you just screwed up, Joe.’ I’d occasionally call him.

Look, I’ve been thinking this week about why John’s death hit the country so hard. yes, he was a long-serving senator with a remarkable record. Yes, he was a two-time presidential candidate who captured the support and imagination of the American people and, yes, John was a war hero, demonstrated extraordinary courage. I think of John and my son when I think of Ingersoll’s words when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate and honor scorns to compromise with death, that is heroism. Everybody knows that about John. But I don’t think it fully explains why the country has been so taken by John’s passing. I think it’s something more intangible.

I think it’s because they knew John believed so deeply and so passionately in the soul of America. He made it easier for them to have confidence and faith in America. His faith in the core values of this nation made them somehow feel it more genuinely themselves. his conviction that we, as a country, would never walk away from the sacrifice generations of Americans have made to defend liberty and freedom and dignity around the world. It made average Americans proud of themselves and their country. His belief, and it was deep, that Americans can do anything, withstand anything, achieve anything. It was unflagging and ultimately reassuring. This man believed that so strongly. His capacity that we truly are the world’s last best hope, the beacon to the world. There are principles and ideals more than ourselves worth sacrificing for and if necessary, dying for. Americans saw how he lived his life that way. and they knew the truth of what he was saying. I just think he gave Americans confidence.

John was a hero, his character, courage, honor, integrity. I think it is understated when they say optimism. That’s what made John special. Made John a giant among all of us. In my view, John didn’t believe that America’s future and faith rested on heroes. we used to talk about, he understood what I hope we all remember, heroes didn’t build this country. Ordinary people being given half a chance are capable of doing extraordinary things, extraordinary things. John knew ordinary Americans understood each of us has a duty to defend, integrity, dignity and birthright of every child. He carried it. Good communities are built by thousands of acts of decency that Americans, as I speak today, show each other every single day deep in the DNA of this nation’s soul lies a flame that was lit over 200 years ago. Each of us carries with us and each one of us has the capacity, the responsibility and we can screw up the courage to ensure it does not extinguish. There’s a thousand little things that make us different.

Bottom line was, I think John believed in us. I think he believed in the American people. not just all the preambles, he believed until the American people, all 325 million of us. Even though John is no longer with us, he left us clear instructions. ‘Believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here.’ Close to the last thing John said took the whole nation, as he knew he was about to depart. That’s what he wanted America to understand. not to build his legacy. he wanted America reminded, to understand. I think John’s legacy is going to continue to inspire and challenge generations of leaders as they step forward and John McCain’s America is not over. it is hyperbole, it’s not over. It’s not close.

Cindy, John owed so much of what he was to you. you were his ballast. when I was with you both, I could see how he looked at you. Jill is the one, when we were in Hawaii, we first met you there and he kept staring at you. Jill said, go up and talk to her. Doug, Andy, Sydney, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, Bridget, you may not have had your father as long as you would like, but you got from him everything you need to pursue your own dreams. To follow the course of your own spirit. You are a living legacy, not hyperbole. You are a living legacy and proof of John McCain’s success.

Now John is going to take his rightful place in a long line of extraordinary leaders in this nation’s history. Who in their time and in their way stood for freedom and stood for liberty and have made the American story the most improbable and most hopeful and most enduring story on earth. I know John said he hoped he played a small part in that story. John, you did much more than that, my friend. To paraphrase Shakespeare, we shall not see his like again.”

One Nation Under God

What we need from America, border to border and shore to shore, are Fourth of July celebrations that will help America re-discover what brought us together as a nation 242 years ago.

To do this I suggest following the advice of colleague Dr. John Buchanan who said in a recent WordPress blog, posted (June 29):

“Stop hyperventilating about Donald Trump and focus instead on American history; really focus.”

A good place to start is the Constitution!  As students of American history, may we renew HOPE it what it means to be ONE NATION UNDER GOD.

This prayer from the newly published Book of Common Worship (pg 626):

“God of Ages, in your sight nations rise and fall, and pass through times of peril.
Now when our land is troubled, be near to judge and save.  May leaders be led by your wisdom; may they search for your will and see it clearly.  If we have turned from your way, help us to reverse our ways and repent.  Give us your light and your truth to guide us; through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of this world, and our Savior. Amen.

 

When I was 42? (1991 – 1992)

A question for my millennial friends: What were you doing when you were 42? What was going on in your life? Many of us who are retired or approaching retirement have children approaching the age of 42. This in mind, I have been reflecting on what I was doing both personally and professionally.

I find myself braking into song:

“When I was 42 – it was a very good year!
Very good year – for family, church and friends”

Now, I have some free time, in retirement, to write about such things. The years around the time I was turning 42 – 1991 and 1992.

What was painfully obvious in my reflecting on this slice of time was my addiction to my work as a Presbyterian Pastor.

Perhaps, someone who runs across this journal entry will benefit from my personal/professional reflections in asking yourself: What was I doing when I was 42!

Now, a quarter century beyond the age of 42, I can see clearly how I could/should have done some things differently. For the most part, I wouldn’t change a thing!

Personal Highlights

It’s hard writing these “personal highlights” because I don’t have notes or a journal to draw upon in building a chronology of evens.

Generally, Nancy and Emily and I, along with two cats, lived in Saginaw, Michigan. We lived in a beautiful home on Court Street.  We loved hat house we occupied for over 25 years.  We had great neighbors – especially Jim and Loraine and Sandra.

Emily was 12 years old attending South Middle School. An active young girl, she was involved in cheerleading and chasing boys. As with all dads, I was always worried about the “boy thing!” 🙂

Emily loved living on Court Street and inviting friends over to play. Two of these girls are friends to this day – Carrie who now lives in Seattle and Darcy who now lives in San Diego.

Nancy was always active as a mother, wife and leader in the church where I was pastor. She was blessed with an opportunity to get her Maser’s Degree in Library Science at the University of Michigan. Having worked for the Saginaw Public Libraries, she got a wonderful position at the Dow Chemical Company. As an ‘Informational Specialist’ Nancy had opportunities to travel the world. At the same time, she always found time to give 100% attention in supporting Emily and me and the church we both loved.

My biggest regret is in not spending more time at home. How many men say this? I can only hope, now and as a grandparent, that I can make up some of what I didn’t give Emily in now spending quality time with our grandson Tommy. Back in 1992 I could only dream of my little girl growing into the lovely parent and wife and daughter she has become today.

I also had ongoing issues with my health—heart issues and chronic arthritis. I will save discussing these important issues for another time. Needless to say, 1992 was a pretty good year for me health-wise.

One experience I recall and now laugh about: Following my doing a funeral with a good friend and mentor, Ron Watson, I went to my second floor study in the house to do some chores. I gathered some trash and decided to save some time by throwing it over the second floor deck fence. The fence wasn’t that strong. When I leaned against it, this fence gave way and I fell 18 feet to the ground landing on my right hip. How would this be funny? My adrenaline kicked in and I got up and ran up the stairs to my study – and called my wife. She came home and took me to he emergency room. Nothing broken but boy was I sore. I also recall attending a meeting of the Presbyterian Church General Assembly Council within a few days – boy was I stiff and sore! Muscle relaxants did a pretty job of helping me through this tough experience. Who do I laugh? The neighbor who said they thought we had an earthquake when my body hit he ground. I hit so hard my glasses were found twenty-feet away!

Lots of personal things that could be said, I want to move to my passion for doing ministry.

Professional Highlights

A capsule in time between 1991 and 1992 – when I was 42

Ordained in 1977 at the age of 26, I was in my 15th year of ministry in the year of our Lord 1992. This was my 7th year as pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw. Having previously lived in Davenport, Iowa and Evanston, Illinois, the Cundiff family, as I mentioned before, was living on Court Street in Saginaw.

Church membership in 1992 was roughly 350 members. We celebrated 11 baptisms the previous year, a statistical reminder that things were going well in the church. We received 9 new members in 1992. Unfortunately, we also had 7 funerals that year. As years went by, we would see the losses surpass gains. The church, 26 years later, would need to make the heart-breaking decision to close.

Back to 1992. One thing I loved about this church was the fact the active membership never let the statistics drive their mission. Of course we wanted to see more members—in bringing more people to Christ. In reality, we were more focused on bringing Christ to people in the community. There was a large number of churches in our community. This being a predominantly African American neighborhood, most of the potential for church growth was with neighboring black congregations. Main-line denominations weren’t doing well when it came to receiving large numbers of new members.

As church leaders, again in 1992, we struggled with budget issues. With a demanding program schedule and full staff we were dependent on an endowment fund –a million dollar bequest that was given to the church roughly 20 years earlier. We had a huge campus, nearly 40,000 square feet. There was always a long list of expensive maintenance projects. The endowment fund was often used for emergency repairs that cost a lot of money to maintain. From the 1992 Annual Report:

“As surely as churches have roofs, those roofs will have leaks. We had to deal with three areas of water damage this year, including the renovation of the organ pipe chamber and repairs to an area in the sanctuary. …. We also did a major re-roofing over he Narthex…..” Ruth Gardstrom.

I also liked to joke with the fact the church, with such a large campus, had 11 toilets…..one for every 30 members.

As a congregation, the intentional decision was made to remain in the downtown Saginaw location in order to use our resources in serving the community—especially the children. We made the decision to maintain a full staff including an Associate Pastor, the Rev. Tony Patrick. The Associate Pastor, in addition to doing general work as a pastor, was called to manage our Summer Magic program.

For years, women and men would return to visit the church talking of he wonderful expediencies they had participating in community youth programming.

The congregation loved Tony Patrick. He was a good friend. One of the best things we did as a church during my pastorate was calling him to serve with me as a pastor. We truly grieved when he made the decision to move to Detroit to become pastor of hi s own church—the end of 1992.

1992 was the year the work of a long-range planning committee came to an end with proposals forwarded to the Session in redefining how we would manage bequest, memorial and endowment funds. The church still had an endowment valued at roughly 1 million dollars. This number, however, was misleading given the amount we chose to use to support our annual budget. In 1992 12% of the Market Value of he Endowment was used to support the church operating budget.

1991 Endowment Fund $ 965,175
Amount taken for operating budget $ 115,820
Payback of Renovation Loan $ 40,000

1992 Endowment Fund $1,052,913
Amount used for operating budget $ 126,349
(Numbers from Annual Reports)

In 1992 we adopted a new Mission Statement:

Mission Statement

“We are a people of God rooted in a commitment to use our human, physical and spiritual resources to enrich the lives of our members and our neighbors, near and far, in creating a sense of community. We shall invite and welcome all who profess Christ to join us, to be a witness for Almighty God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, that we might serve the poor, heal he broken and create a community and world filled with God’s justice and peace.”

I must not forget this important fact: I begin service as a member of the General Assembly Council and Committee on the office of General Assembly in the year 1992. Serving the church at the national level was an honor of a life-time!

In 1992 we celebrated our 125th Anniversary. Some of the guests we invited to be with us in celebrating this anniversary:

September 13, 1992 Dr. Clinton Marsh, former PCUSA Moderator and brother of former city mayor and church member was invited to preach.

September 15, 1992 We were host to the meeting of he Presbytery of Lake Huron with Dr. Clinton Marsh preaching.

October 11, 1992 Rev. Timm High from the Community Presbyterian in Flint was invited to preach on HOMECOMING SUNDAY.

November 15, 1992 Dr. James Andrews, Stated Clerk of he PCUSA was our guest preacher. (Note: A perk in serving on the General Assembly Council was in gaining access to national church leaders. Rev. Dr. Ken Hall, another former Moderator, was also scheduled to speak.)

All of these reflections, from my perspective, paint a positive picture. We had (and would always have) an enthusiastic core of church members excited about all the things we were doing in and beyond the community. With a lot of factors working against us, we never lost HOPE in the work that would be accomplished in coming years because of the endowment funds and because a core group of members would never – ever waver in their commitment to be Christ’s Church in the neighborhood.

While I am no longer pastor of the church, I know this church will be closing the end of this year (2018). Yet I have to CELEBRATE all the years we were able, with God’s sustaining help, to move for another 25 years beyond where we were in 1992! Many thought back in the early 90’s that the church was dying and that there was little hope. I now thank God for all the decisions that allowed this wonderful church to serve Christ for many years to come. Everyone who reads this should be proud of all that the church was able to accomplish in its first 125 years in serving Christ. Another 25 years would follow.

As a pastor I loved everything I was called to do. We had, in the church, way too many funerals. I would delight in monthly meetings with the “Lunch Bunch” – seniors who gathered regularly for lunch. I loved leading worship and preaching.

The weekly gathering of members for worship was the highlight of every week in my ministry. I enjoyed greeting members before and after worship.

I enjoyed all the meetings – not because of the work but because we shared in fellowship every time we gathered to meet. I found a great deal of satisfaction in seeing church members gather to do Christ’s work.

One guiding principle in the work we were doing as a congregation and disciples of Jesus Christ was in having fun! In my mind none of the hard work we were doing was worth anything unless we had a sense of satisfaction – and having some is and having some fun in the process. For me Worship was in giving glory to God.

I end this journal entry with this – from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What is the chief end of man (humankind)?
To glorify God and Enjoy God forever!

 

WHERE ARE YOU HIDING, GOD?

I had a delightful time with my grandson Tommy, now just a few months into his fifth year, reading a small children’s book by Elisabeth Zarti named “Where Are You Hiding, God?” It took more than few minutes to convince Tommy to spend some valuable with grandpa in reading what he called “a boring book”. “Boring” is a new word in his vocabulary. Most of his time with me, grandpa, is with Legos. I need to spend more time with him reading. I literally melt when he finally climbed up next to me on my recliner, putting his little head on my chest, to dig into reading this small book.

I like to tease and test Tommy. He is a smart kid. He always catches my mistakes. In reading this book I would call a FOX a FISH—waiting for him to point out my misake. This way I knew he was paying attention. I will point to the word RED and say BLUE. He corrects my mistake—he actually focused on the letters in the word RED. I marvl in his catching my intentional error—for he is only five. I count only five dragonflies on one of the pages in this book. He can easily find two or three more! Like I said, he is a smart little boy! And yes, I am biased!

But the point of the book: Where Are You Hiding God? How does a five year capture this concept that alludes many of us as adults? How often, as adults, do we ask in our lives: Where, God, are you hiding?

With little children suffering: Where are you hiding, God?
With families that don’t have beds to sleep in: Where are you hiding, God?
Women and men looking for meaningful work: Where are you hiding, God?
Chaos with government decisions: Where are you hiding, God?

These are all questions that are going through my mind as I read this little book wondering what I will take for little Tommy to believe that God is all around us – in and around and above and below us.

“There you are? I’ve found you! You are in the leaf touching me. You are in the wind that sent the leaf down onto me.” Beautiful, clear language for a child.

Some challenging questions as I search with Tommy for God – in the trees and birds and the MIRROR found at the end of the book.

Personally and for me, God is in the warmth of knowing this little boy, Tommy, will learn something special in the time we have invested in reading this book.

Filled with God’s love and he feeling of God’s presence I start to sing. “Grandpa?” “God is not in your singing!” There is so much more for Tommy to learn—as I work on my singing skills!

 

Elisabeth Zarti, Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.

 

 

Black History Month — Honoring A Man of Faith — Walter Giryer

Giryer Walter Mack

Black History Month 2018
In Honor of Walter Mack Giryer
October 6, 1919 – August 8, 2011

Several news outlets have been highlighting and paying tribute to African-American heroes. Within the African American community, who would I call a hero—a man to be remembered? Who has been a “black” role-model for me as a pastor? In writing this blog, who would I like to talk about? This Black History Month I share, some of my thoughts about a man who was a great influence on me and the church I served.

Walter Mack Giryer

You haven’t seen his name in the headlines. He wasn’t a national or global leader. You won’t see his name in history books. As far as I know, he never ran for political office. A man who was born in Buena Vista, Georgia died a the age of 91 in Saginaw, Michigan. He served in the Army as a Master Sergeant. Married to Ann, he had a lovely family with four children. He was a citizen and friend and member of the church I served for over a quarter century.

Walter Mack Giryer is a man who will not be forgotten! He was my friend. Along time member of the Wadsworth Avenue Presbyterian, he transferred to the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw in 1965. I presided over the funeral of his beloved wife Ann in 1991. A church leader, Walter served the church as an Elder and Deacon. Honestly, I never thought of him as being black or white. He was, simply, a lovely-loving man! Upon his death in 2011, I was honored to preside over his funeral.

Now retired and reflecting on my ministry, I can imagine looking out from the pulpit on any given Sunday seeing this tall, well dressed man handing out bulletins to members coming into the sanctuary for worship. I can see him sitting with his good friend Charlie Campbell. Charles Campbell died in 2010—greatly missed by Walt. Charlie, has a family that could easily fill up two pews in the sanctuary. His children and grandchildren need to be mentioned because they were members of Walts extended family. Truly a man to be honored and remembered this “Black History Month”—Walter Mack Giryer.

While pages could be written about this man and his involvement in the community, I mention a few things that make him a man to remember:

1. Walt, year after year, would volunteer to work with children during our Summer Magic program. He was the first to arrive in unlocking the doors. He was the last to leave. Our being an inner city church, he would always sit at the entrance to the Gym providing extra security. On hot days, he would go to the playground with jugs and cups to share water with thirsty children. Little things that didn’t go unnoticed. Walt was always ready to look after the well-being of neighborhood children.

Walt Giryer being a black man was a wonderful role model to the black children in the community!

2. A member of the men’s club, he was always ready to help serve Easter Breakfast. He would befriend members who might need a ride to church. He was always ready to help me out when I encountered a situation that required a sensitive heart.

3. Another good friend in the church was our custodian WG Turner. As good friends they were always seen together doing things around the church. Hey were also two of the best dressed men in the church. While I would often dress casual, they always wore their best clothes when working around the church. Deep down I think they believed it was their duty to give God – the church – their best! Just as it hurt Walt deeply when Charlie Campbell died, it was also a major loss for Walt when WG died in 2007. Another black man who should always be remembered.

4. I chose to write about Walt because he was a “quiet man of faith”. He was not a preacher. I wouldn’t volunteer to stand to say anything publicly. Behind he scenes, you could ask him to do just about anything. Walt Giryer would be ready to help. Regardless what I might need, I knew I could always call on Walt for help!

Thus, with a few short comments, I felt the need this “Black History Month” to write a little about this influential man. To learn more about Walt, I have attached to this blog the eulogy I shared at his funeral.

God continue to give glory to God and his faithful servant Walter Mack Giryer. May God continue to look after him and his family and friends along with all the “Saints who from their labors now rest”.

_____________________________________________________________________

 

A Service in Witness to the Resurrection
For Walter Giryer
Thomas B. Cundiff
August 11, 2011

I Corinthians 13: 1-7

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

MEDITATION // EULOGY
“TO KNOW GOD’S LOVE”

God’s unending love has brought us here today.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.

God’s promise is realized today. Walter Mach Giryer has achieved the goal. He has lived in God’s love for over 91 years….good and faithful years. Through faith in Jesus Christ, Walt has not perished. While physical life is gone, Walt has spiritually received eternal life. God’s Love has endured in touching us all….family and friends — churchman and friend.

Faith – for you and your children: God is with you holding you in his gracious and everlasting love today! God is holding all of you in his love this beautiful day.

Faith
Anika (Craig) Roy, Ft. Wayne
Morris, Toledo
Terrance, Toledo
Myron (Jennifer) Chicago

God’s love is deep and wide and as broad as anyone can imagine… in holding all of you. God’s love, as I said last night, is found in every breath we take. God’s love is found in every experience. From every hug to every smile…sitting on his lap, through moments of play, in times of grief, in values taught ….. memories to cherish – Walt has always loved you….and God has always been with you.

Walt loved life as reflected in all the positive things he did throughout life. From Georgia to Saginaw; a retired Master Sergeant in the Army serving in the Korean Conflict….to his work at the Grey Iron Foundry….to serving this church and community in numerous capacities. Walt loved life—through all the seasons and ups and downs …. seasons of experiences with you—Walt has always loved you….and God has always been with you.

Walt loved his lord. He didn’t like to do things for an audience….I could never get him in front of a microphone to speak to the congregation….but Walt sure was the best well-dressed man in church! He was always a sharp looking man. I can only guess he is now the best dressed saint in heaven.
II.

To Know God’s Love is to know that God’s presence penetrates all aspects of life — including the ups and downs – even death itself.

While Walt was not feeling well these past few months, he remained positive. He continued to think more about others than himself. In God’s love, he fought the good fight… finished the race…..kept the faith……staid the course to stay with you as long as he could. He then had to let go. He had to let God take him. We can be so grateful his passing into eternal life was graceful and filled with God’s presence and peace…..

Because of our love for Walt, his absence from our lives makes us hurt so much more. The grief we feel is indescribable. Yet with all the discomfort and pain these past weeks, we know that God always held Walt. God’s always loved and embraced him. You never stopped praying for him. Walt was never alone.

It would seem that death is something that separates us from loved ones. Physically, yes, When we are separated from someone, we can feel that love has failed us or cut us off from God. Quite the opposite is true. While death does separate us from loved ones, scripture assures us that even death cannot separate us from God….as Paul to the Romans says:

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life…can separate us from the love of God, which is In Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Love is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Walt. As we pray today, let’s pray for the peace of God to enter our hearts: Let’s us know that God’s love seeks us out like a shepherd seeks out his sheep to protect them from harm. The lord is truly our shepherd seeking us out and loving us. It is faith in the Lord our shepherd that will carry us all of you through the days and weeks ahead.

These are powerful words: I LOVE YOU.

FAITH AND FAMILY
FAITH, with you and your family – all of your children — love is the positive, sustaining force of God holding you these past few weeks that will continue to hold you well into the future. While the death of your father has been tough…God and family have given you strength. You and your dad both knew when it was time for him to go.

Walt is now reunited with his wife Ann, who went to her eternal home in 1991. Walt and Ann are back together. With your family here today, think about the values your mother and father, grandmother and grandfather — shared with you, the moral resources they gave you, the life tools you will use for the rest of your lives. These are precious gifts your mother and father , grandmother and grandfather gave you….all in love.

Faith, the legacy of love you inherited from your parents has been passed on to your children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces. ….and again, I have to believe your parents are still reaching down, smiling upon you in love.
Listening to the words of Paul, love in your family has always been
“patient and kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love contains all the values your parents taught you. The legacy of all that your father (and mother) have given you now lives on through your families…..and yes, in family love bears all things and endures all things….gifts of family, gifts of love, gifts for which we thank God in commending your father, this beautiful day, to almighty God assures us one thing: LOVE NEVER ENDS.

CHURCH

Walt Giryer has loved and worked hard in his beloved church for nearly fifty years – serving as an elder and deacon; preparing for communion, ushering, working on various committees; helping with our summer magic children’s program—yu name it and Walt was there.

I can think of at least two men out of many good friends and family, who recently died who are now reunited with Walt in eternal life. WG TURNER was a deacon and church custodian and friend who died in July of 2007. I remember the countless times I would see these men working around the church….or sitting in a corner just talking and laughing….I know Walt really missed WG.
Another brother in Christ, CHARLES CAMPBELL died in February of 2010, and they were best of friends. They enjoyed each other’s company, sharing stories about the war, lots of laughter….and countless visits to KFC with Charlie’s grandsons. I can only imagine, reunited in heaven, Walt along with all the Saints and friends who went to heaven before him, are now sitting around a KFC bucket of Chicken…..and I wonder if God likes the crispy-spicy or regular! (I sure wish I could find a way to send them these coupons!)

Many friends are now reunited with Walt….in what scripture calls that “Mansion with many rooms” — eternal life with God.

FINALLY, God will continue to hold you. Find comfort that Walt is at peace. He is being well cared for in his eternal home. Walt and Ann is also looking upon you saying: everything is going to be okay. As the hours pass through this day, hear these words of comfort from scripture:

In God’s eternal love, through all the seasons in life, these words from Timothy:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, my God, the righteous judge, will award me this day.” (I Timothy 4: 6-8)
May God bless you all and surround you in love and peace….

Amen

 

 

Rio Vista – Evolving Into the Future

OP-ED  Rio Vista Beacon // February 21, 2018

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living waters.” John 7:38

Rio Vista in the year 2018 is nothing like this city has ever been before. We are growing. We are evolving.

As a community, grounded in a rich history with citizens who care deeply about our future, is our need to keep our eyes focused on important issues that will shape what kind of city we will become in the future. The passionate debate about Cannabis is a good example.

Rich in history as a small town on the north shore of the Sacramento River, this small town has doubled in size over the past twenty years. New people, are moving into this community — roughly 15-20 new souls per month! We are not what we used to be! With each new resident, the personality of the community evolves. As businesses come and go, we become what we can support economically. We are evolving.

I see some challenges facing our community that must be addressed.

1. Excellent School System – it is going to take a concerted effort to make sure Rio Vista develops a quality school system. Young and old in our community, educating our children with quality schools is the key to our future. It’s going to take a solid economic base of support from local businesses to help our schools grow. We need to find ways to draw people and business into our community because “it is a good place for children, our future, to grow. Cannabis isn’t going to destroy this possibility. Our working together to make sure these proposed business ventures are successful benefits us all. I am sure the city leaders are committed to the goal of keeping our children and youth safe!

2. Highway 12 improvements are critical. We are seeing way too many accidents, especially among seniors, that must be eliminated. Personally, I would like to see improved “street-scaping” from the bridge to the west border of our community. Hard work, money and dedicated leadership will help with this issue of “image”.

3. Medical facilities: The entire community could benefit in having an urgent care facility. It would be wonderful if we could find ways to bring some general practitioners into our community. Perhaps those owners who will be making huge profits with the sale of cannabis would consider finding ways to help promote improved health care in our community.

4. Development along the river: While the city has already done a lot of work in developing the river front, there is still a lot of work to do.  The river is our greatest asset! What about some kind of river-boat business? I have also wondered about a small boutique hotel of some right on the shore of the river?

This is short list of what I believe we can accomplish if we keep our eyes focused on what we can become – always grounded in the values that have sustained this city since 1862. We will always have issues. It is incumbent on all of us to work to keep this city ‘moving forward’ in positive ways in serving all her citizens—specially her children.