Sunday, December 30, 2012

A New Year’s Benedictus

Since light does shine in the darkest night
As moons and stars give off their light
Since peace does thrive in the midst of war
Where hopes endure and spirits soar.

So each New Year brings a dawning day
Of renewing love that comes to stay
A kiss, a touch, to mend our soul
    Is a New Year’s gift that makes us whole.

~ Clarence McConkey

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joy To The World

The question Jesus asked the disciples, “What did you go out to see?,” when they went looking for him, has all the earmarks of the Advent/Christmas season. What is it exactly we go out to see when we talk about, think about, buy for, celebrate, this holy season? Of course the answer to that depends on who we are individually, what our histories are concerning this season, what our traditions are.  Yet there is built into the Advent/Christmas season so many themes that we only have to choose which one we want to give priority to. For myself I opt for memory. By memory I don’t mean memories of eating, drinking, gift-giving, family togetherness and music, music, music. These are all integral parts of our Advent/Christmas celebrations of course and all have meaning for us. 

When I say memory, I mean, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). The theological/practical impact of this simple sentence is almost beyond our understanding. What I think about for myself when I write about memory is how that statement from 2 Corinthians filters down to us like falling snow. If God is reconciling us to himself, along with all the human race, who are we reconciling ourselves to in response?  Mom reconciling with dad in attitude and inner spirit? Children reconciling with parents, brothers with sisters, former enemies now become friends? What’s the use of a reconciling God if it pays no dividends in the reconciling of God’s children to one another? Ah, the magic and mystery of Christmas: lights, trees, greetings, homecomings! Yes, homecomings, people coming home to God, children coming home to parents, old enemies coming home as new friends.  “God and sinners reconciled/Joyful all ye nations rise/Join the triumph of the skies…..” In reconciliation from God to person and from person to person, we truly join the triumph of the skies.

May God bless us everyone.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Just a Keepin’ on Goin’

In my senior year of high school I went out for football.  I weighed 100 pounds, two pounds more than my football uniform.  I was used as water boy, tackling dummy, on the chain gang and keeper of timeouts.  I played briefly in one game that we lost.  At the sports night banquet I sat while others won their awards.  Nearly everybody who played on the team got some award of higher or lower achievement.  At the end of the presentations, as we were getting ready to be dismissed, Coach Carmichael said, “There is one other award to be given.  Will Clarence come up front, please?”  I was as surprised as the other team members but after I’d gotten up front the coach said, “This award to be given to Clarence is given, not because he started any games or scored touchdowns or made fantastic plays.  He is given this award because out of all the players on this team he is the only one who never missed a practice or a game.  He is my ideal of the true sportsman.”
Well, I’d like to say I got a full scholarship to college or was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys or made the cover of Sports Illustrated.  I didn’t get anything like that.  But I’ll tell you something I did get.  I got the reward of a lesson about determination, about not giving up (you should have seen the way those 220-pound Kansas farm boys tackled a 100-pound scared-out-of-his-wits kid who liked reading books a lot more than he did chasing footballs.) In my family life, my professional life as a minister, the hard rocky road of hard times and of failure and mistakes, I’ve kept alive the value of what my mother called, “Just a keepin’ on goin’.”  Now that I’ve lived long enough to gain enough weight to hold my pants up, I may just go back to my high school for a Friday night football game and get the coach to let me suit up.  About half way through the third quarter I’ll run out onto the field and hit one of those Kansas Jayhawking football players right in some tender place until he sees stars.  I’ll go back to the bench and say to myself, “Good goin’, Mom, you taught me how to do it.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Do you have to be CRAZY to run for President?

When William Henry Harrison was President of the United States he famously said, "Any man who wants to be president of the United States has to be out of his mind." There is some evidence of the truth of this quote. My memory of presidents only goes back to FDR who crazily tried to pack the Supreme Court with 16 judges, all his cronies, when the law only allowed 10. Nixon lied, stole, cheated and authorized the break in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Kennedy had sex with a woman he took along on his flights in his private quarters. She has written a book about it. Clinton did something akin to that with an intern while Hillary napped or something. George W. Bush refused to land in New Orleans to view the disaster of Katrina stating, "It just didn't feel right." So far, after four years, Obama seems to be the least of church goers and the best at living a high moral life with his family.

So - why the despicable behaviors of so many presidents? Here's a possible clue: in Harpers, Vol. 325, No. 1950, p. 96, it is suggested that psychopathic traits may make for better presidents. Harrison was right!  Ya gotta be nuts to want to be President. A psychopath, among other things, is defined as having maladaptive behavior ("Let's go to war with somebody!"), difficulty in knowing the difference between truth and untruth, "I never had sex with that woman!", Reagan before the Iran-Contra Investigating Committee, "I had no knowledge of, or information about, that operation," (later witnesses testified he lied), and presidential aspirant Barry Goldwater, "...extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! ...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." In other words, Nuke 'em.

I don't know, maybe a president does have to be loony to want to be president and to endure four years of it. My hat is off to anybody who has been, is now, or ever will be, president. Maybe what we really ought to do is pick a candidate from one of the wards at Bellevue Hospital and elect him or her on the slogan, "He kept us out of war with Bermuda." Then he or she wouldn't have to go crazy in office, he's already got it made. I'll vote for him, her, on the slogan "ON TO THE WHITE HOUSE ALL YOU CRAZIES."  Can't hurt, and maybe we’d see a better outcome than from some of the former occupants of that lunatic asylum.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What My Friends Have Done Lately

Computers have an important function called Messenger. By way of this function we're able to keep in contact with friends by exchanging emails, keeping up on what people are doing, letting off steam, asking advice, giving advice, ad infinitum. Down at the bottom of some lines this is the notice, YOUR FRIENDS HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING LATELY. I think, what? Any computer that doesn't know what my friends have done lately ought to have its head examined. OK, I'm stretching here but there's a message, not about this computer that I have social issues with, but about our friends.

Robert Louis Stevenson in his poem, THE CELESTIAL SURGEON, reminds us "If I have faltered more or less in my great task of happiness, if I have moved among my race and shown no glorious morning face..." Whether I look or whether I listen I see friends of mine moving among our race and making the faces of others look up in hope and gratitude and appreciation for the gifts of others. I see my friend who is a nurse bringing a healing touch to every patient she touches. I see my friend the auto mechanic fixing cars so we can do things and go places. I see my friend the fireman risking his life every day in his service to the community. I see my friend the teacher bringing knowledge to her students and challenging them to a higher life. I see my little friend Aaron taking his even smaller sister Ellie to the ice cream shop for a cone. I see my artist friend bringing to life with ink and brush the whole panorama of the world. I see friends who, with the smile Robert Louis Stevenson describes, light up the whole environment.

So, here on this glorious morning with cooler weather and the singing of the birds in the trees out in the yard, I say, Get lost, computer, with your unsmiling face and heartless screen. Get it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Make Way Now

There is a provocative saying about marriage to the effect that men, who say they will change, never do, and that women, who say they will never change, always do. In the 1700's in the Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada desert country the coming of the Spanish conquistadores from the south and Anglos from the east brought both in conflict with Native Americans who had been there for centuries. The Apaches were one of the most tragic tribes who suffered from this conquest. As it was the intention of both Spanish and Americans to take Apache territory, over a century of conflict ensued between these groups.
Among the many families, tribes and related groups of the Apache, especially the Nnee, there was a mythical spiritual figure know as Changing Woman. This figure was important in Apache symbolism and especially so in the midst of the destruction of Apache life. In this time of troubles the Apache were able to draw inspiration from Changing Woman because their lives and culture were being changed continually.

I like to think the so-called unpredictable nature of women, if there is such a thing, is a blessing both to men and to women. To be able to adapt to changing circumstances, to see the good in the bad, the possible in the impossible, to build on the good and put away the bad, to embrace rather than reject, is to be the leavening, the healer, the mediator, the listener, the forgiver in marriage and family life and in community life. It's what helps tide us over. As it was said of Florence Nightengale as she visited the sick, the wounded and dying during the Civil War, "Make way now for your angel is coming to bless you."

A friendly piece of pastoral advice: Next time there is a disagreement, a conflict, a moment of violence by word and deed in your family life or marriage or between parent and child, or between you and AN ENEMY! put your hand on the face of the other and say, "Make way now for the coming of your angel to bless you."

It works and it doesn't cost a thing, just courage. Respond and I'll tell you how I know.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And What Is So Rare As……

Yes, it’s a comin’ on, June, weddings, showers, receptions. I love these rituals, these gatherings, the fun and romance. In that regard I read now that the average American wedding costs $25,632 exclusive of a wedding planner and other incidentals (from The Wedding Report.) Wedding planners are up 40% from last year. Well, jeepers, I like weddings as much as anyone – I’ve done literally hundreds of them on two continents. I love the rituals, the music, the laughter, the children, the drama, the mishaps, the beauty and pageantry. IF IT JUST WASN’T THAT SO MANY OF THEM ARE DEB AUCHERIES OF EXHORIBANT COSTS, RECKLESS BEHAVIOR, DRUNKENESS AND OBSCENE STUPIDITY. Why can’t a wedding with its profound traditions and ancient symbols, Christian, Jewish or otherwise, be a joining together of that which asks God’s blessings rather than the Devil’s bacchanal? It’s so easy to do it the right way. The wedding planner I talked to for this blog told me she can do a perfectly beautiful, complete wedding with reception for somewhere around $ 5,000. I happen to believe weddings are supposed to be a “mystical union” as the ritual says, rather than a circus spectacle.

I know all the pressures on couples and families to have weddings that “keep up with the Joneses.” Honestly, I’d like to meet the Joneses we’re supposed to keep up with. I suspect they’re probably trying to keep up with us. We know weddings are to honor our children, to given them this special gift, to send them into marriage with many blessings. When I perform weddings, I see things from the front looking out. I am often disheartened from this view when I think I see “the things” of a wedding being substituted for “the spirit” of it.

“And what is so rare as a day in June,
Then, if ever, come perfect days………
Whether we look or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur and see it glisten.”

So, you know what, friends and neighbors? A lawn is a perfect place to hold a wedding. Neither the grass nor the sun nor the breeze nor the smell of the earth charges us a thing for their use. I’ve always thought a lawn was just begging us to use it. And (you can write this down), I’ll even come and do it for you for nothing, just for the joy of it.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Recently in our newspaper that covers the middle section of our state I noticed this headline: PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR TO SPEAK ON WATER. Well, I thought, maybe that means he/she will stand on a bridge and speak to people in the water. Maybe it means the speaker will stand in shallow water and speak to people on the shore. I could see several possibilities to this event of a water speaking author. If there was any possibility the speaker was actually going to stand on top of the water I definitely wanted to be there. I've never seen anyone walk on water in the Galilean sense, I never did it myself and I don't think I'd actually want to be there if I tried, I don't really trust my butterfly stroke. I swim through the water, I stand under the water while showering, and I fly over the water while in an airplane. Walking on water has just never been my thing. Actually doing it in the Galilean sense is called a miracle as in Matthew 14.

Yet the thing is, I've actually seen miracles. Webster defines miracle as, "An extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment." OK, I've never seen anybody walk on the water but I've seen a teenager suddenly, unexpectedly, against the odds, go into remission. That hospital room rose up in one united shout of joy when the news was delivered to the family. Know how many miracles take place every day when someone is cured of alcoholism or drug addiction? IT'S LIKE WALKING ON WATER! I've seen a 3 day old baby undergo surgery for cornea cancer and given sight. I've seen a distraught mother pulled back from the brink of a bridge when overwhelmed with despair, saved by love no less. I've seen a young doctor who might earn $ 400,000 a year in a lucrative practice give his whole life to the poor in the slums of La Paz, Bolivia, his name is Charles Peterson. Whenever I hear someone call it a miracle when Jesus walked on the water I respond, "Absolutely!" When I see or hear of a child being delivered safely in childbirth I say, "A miracle, absolutely!" Jesus affirmed in Matthew 14 that believers can walk on the water. Yes, and when that water is the water of Easter newness, of cleansing, renewing, rising up, overcoming, seizing hope, we truly, honestly, victoriously, walk out into the light of the Easter hope. "Come to me," Jesus said to Peter, "Walk with me here where it’s deep and uncertain." No, not to a rose garden, just a daily walk to life's beauty in the Easter Promise.

Friday, March 23, 2012


One of the most moving and heartbreaking/heartwarming films I know of is the 1996 French film, "Ponette." The role of Ponette is played by 4 year old Victorie Thivisol. Her role in the 96 minute film is almost entirely unscripted, nearly extemporaneous. Ponette has recently lost her mother in a car accident and because her father travels for a living he sends Ponette to live with relatives. Ponette searches desperately for her mother wherever she thinks her mother might be and wondering all the while why her mother doesn't come to get her. The child's playmates at school play tricks on her claiming the tricks will bring back her mother. There are also playmates who befriend her as best they can. Near the end of the film Ponette, in a desperate search for her mother, leaves her school room, goes to the burial ground, and begins to dig into the grave of her mother. Exhausted, crying in grief and despair, Ponette suddenly sees her mother. Child and mother embrace, crying in happiness. There are consolations, kisses, mother and child becoming one in true mother-daughter spirit. Of course the mother is a fantasy, a chimera, a need fulfilled for the child. The mother says all the right things to her child, always being with her in spirit, always seeing, always understanding, always knowing, always loving. When Ponette walks away from her mother's grave to return to the classroom she is satisfied that her mother is still with her and that she, Ponette, will never be truly alone again. Ponette narrates the ending of the film by saying, "She told me to learn to be happy."
I love that line. It tells me we aren't born happy which is the reason 85% of people will answer, "Just to be happy," when asked what they would like to have more than anything else in the world.

Yet we know that nothing exterior to us can make us happy. No person can make us happy. Happiness, as Ponette says, is something that is learned from life's experiences. We are happy as we learn to incorporate life's unhappiness, its sorrows, its grief, loss, disappointment, loneliness, into a broadening of our interests, our friendships, our intimacies, our time, our cultivation of life's ready-to-go gifts, our challenges and even life's dangers, to plunge into the wealth and riches of daily life as it comes to us. We can learn to be happy. It comes when, above all else, we have learned not to be unhappy.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord

     Sometime in the 1960's while my family and I were serving a church adjacent to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, a newly married couple, Dan and Sarah, came to visit the church one Sunday morning. Dan was a newly-commissioned lieutenant in the Air Force and Sarah was busy with her new role as homemaker. They served at Offutt until Dan left the Air Force so that he and Sarah could return to their family in Atlanta. Paul began a new career there. Over the years they established their family and career and lived a life of devotion to their church, family and community.

     In the mail recently I received a letter from Dan and Sarah. It was a letter of greeting and kind thoughts. Included in the letter was a single page from a small devotional booklet which this couple obviously used in their personal and family devotions. In the center of the small page, which Sarah had marked for emphasis, were the printed words, from Luke 12:32, "Fear not little flock for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you his Kingdom." Sarah remembered!

     After every sermon I ever preached beginning in seminary and continuing throughout my more than 40 years of pastoral work I have used those words as a blessing at the close of the sermon. It is a Promise to be shared. Reading Sarah's greeting was a reminder to me that whether a 'flock' be a congregation or a family or a single person, the gift of the Kingdom has been promised. This kingdom is always the possibility of love in the midst of hate. It is a kingdom of peace in the midst of conflict. It is healing in the midst of sickness, faith in the midst of doubt, eternity in the midst of what is temporary, a meaningful life in the midst of so much that is meaningless around us, hope in the midst of despair, renewal in the midst of all that is old, gain in the midst of loss.

     Thank you, Sarah, from across the years, for expressing in your own life, and for each of us, how God, the Eternal Spirit, hovers over us in our own personal kingdom which is, as the rest of the title line says, "...the house of thine abode."