Shiny, New Asphalt! Does It Help? Or Hide?

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, July 10, 2014

honesty word cloud

Shiny, New Asphalt! Does It Help? Or Hide?

Brand, new parking lot! The paving company stripped the church lot at my workplace several days ago, and then resurfaced it with new paving material. Shiny, new black asphalt! And, new yellow striping, to boot!

As I gazed out onto the shiny expanse today, I wondered. Does this new surface help matters? Or does it hide them?

Let’s take hiding, first. A cover of asphalt can make it difficult to get to the bottom of things. If anyone has anything to hide, a double layer of asphalt is a pretty good way to hide whatever people want hidden. Spiritually, I mean. Or, emotionally.

If someone is hesitant to express themselves, or just plain afraid to communicate, a shiny new exterior can do wonders! Covering up their real, painful, authentic selves, and pretending to be happy-happy. Or pretty-pretty. Instead of letting people know what is truly going on inside. Or at home. Or at work. Or emotionally. Or, what kind of anguish or fear or despair is happening to a loved one. Whether close kept secrets are yours or a loved one’s, they still can be painful—especially to you and to your loved ones.

What about helping? How can asphalt help? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is safety concerns. The old, broken-down blacktop in the parking lot was beginning to be a hazard, especially for those who had some difficulty walking. It doesn’t matter why, or how old people were, because broken asphalt can be treacherous for people to navigate, even if they are able-bodied and sure-footed. And what about when the weather was tricky? Wet and slick? Or icy? The broken, uneven pavement was doubly a cause of concern.

Now that we have an even, smooth surface to walk on in the parking lot, I feel a lot better. That’s on behalf of church members and friends. I earnestly want everyone to be as comfortable as possible coming to St. Luke’s Church. And if a parking lot in good repair helps in that effort? Wonderful!

So—providing a smooth, even path for people? Let’s go a little further. Get into a smooth, emotional path for people? Provide a positive atmosphere for friends and members? Encourage openness and honesty in communication? These are traits I truly want to welcome and encourage. I would like to model these traits, to the very best of my ability. Will I succeed, all the time? No, I am afraid not. (Even though I try very hard!) However, I will continue to try my darnedest. I tried my best to be honest and open today. To be kind, and helpful to several people! God willing, I can try my darnedest tomorrow, too!


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A Poppy for Remembrance

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, May 24, 2014

red poppy painting

A Poppy for Remembrance

A beautiful day! Clear blue sky, low humidity, comfortable Memorial Day weekend. All in all, a great day.

I went downtown (in my suburb) to have breakfast with a few friends mid-morning. Today was such a lovely day that I almost felt like skipping down the sidewalk. My friends and I strolled along, talking, when I spied a man with a big bunch of poppies. The man stood near a street corner. He had on a baseball-style cap, but with some military insignia emblazoned on it.

I had been wondering about poppies. I always get at least one poppy on Memorial Day weekend. More, if I can. Poppies are for remembrance. And—I know I will be remembering my father and his three brothers, who all fought in World War II. They served in various capacities, in various branches of the armed forces.

My father Jack was stationed in the China-India-Burma theater of operations, in the Army Air Corps. I don’t really know too much about his service, because he never told me much. Except that the weather was really unpleasant, there were insects all over (of every description!), he was heartily glad of mosquito netting at night, and that the bulk of his time in the Army consisted of “hurry up and wait.” On occasion, while I was growing up, he would get stern and call for me and my older siblings to come “front and center!” I knew what that meant—I better show up speedy-quick! And be quiet and respectful, once I got there in front of him, besides.

But, back to poppies. The poppies are made by veterans in the VA hospitals, and distributed in many, many places by the American Legion, and the American Legion Auxiliary. But where did this originate? The red poppy was a symbol of the fallen soldiers, taken from a poem written during the first World War by a Canadian officer, Colonel John MacCrae: “In Flanders field the poppies blow,/Between the crosses row on row—“ The servicemen who returned brought back this vivid memory. Soon, poppies became a symbol of remembrance of the fallen servicemen and women who lost their lives during the wars. The disabled veterans took the poppy as their own, making them and distributing them for remembrance, on Memorial Day. And, contributions go towards rehabilitation work and disabled veterans, nationwide.

So—there I was. Face to face with this man in the baseball cap. I didn’t have too much in my wallet. Only a couple of bucks. But, I gave it to him, put the dollars in the can. He gave me a poppy, out of the large, red bunch of paper flowers he held. I told him about my dad and uncles, in World War II. He nodded, and said he had served in the first Gulf War, and pointed to an anchor pinned to his chest. “I was a Navy man,” he said. He wasn’t very talkative after that, but he certainly seemed grateful to receive the donation. And grateful for the openness on my part, to hear about him and his service.

God, bless this veteran. And every other veteran, nationwide. Especially those who have died in the service of our country.


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How to Serve—As an Editor

A Year of Being Kind blog – Monday, May 5, 2014

SERVE serve one another Eph 4-11

How to Serve—As an Editor

What a challenge—stuck to the computer screen all day! No, actually, I didn’t spend the whole day stuck here! Only about half of it. (I wish you could see my wink and sly grin right now. Describing them will have to suffice, I’m afraid. Disappointing that humorous facial expressions and snarky vocal inflections don’t translate well through the Internet.) However, I was quite serious today when I offered some editorial comments on the research article of a friend of mine. The article was sent halfway around the world! He and a colleague prepared it for possible publication, and he asked me to read it through. And make pertinent comments, if I saw fit.

Usually, I am a touchy-feely, pastoral-care-type of person. That’s an important aspect of me and my character. But I am much more than merely that. True, I can appreciate how certain aspects of pastoral care are so natural to me, it’s like falling off the proverbial log. But did you know that I worked for almost four school years at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Psychiatry, at the College of Medicine? I served as instructor and coordinator of a small online program. And, I taught a number of people, at the College and beyond. I helped write and refine the online course with day-to-day signs, tests, presentations, and speeches.

But what about the article I commented on today? Well, I saw how much there was that was truly important, in terms of the article from a health care perspective. I advised my friend that I honestly couldn’t accept anything additional, in terms of money. If I had needed to tear something apart, in a serious enough manner, I would have reconsidered, and asked for some financial return. But, today? I willingly pitched in. I found out some fascinating things about health care, and that was enough for me.

A lot of trust was displayed today, trust, openness and honesty. In terms of the primary author, he offered me the opportunity to read his brand new article! And, I willingly tried to be of service to my friend. Just as at church or mission conferences in the church, quick and close relationships are often the norm. We don’t have any time to lose. Let’s take advantage of the chance to serve. The chance to be kind. The chance to be helpful and hopeful.

I sent a detailed email to my friend, page by page. Nothing, really, to change in terms of grammar, syntax, or any correction in word choice. However, I had a good deal to do, in terms of encouragement and helpful comments. I hope my email was informative and instructive. God willing.

Gracious, I feel like dusting off my hands in satisfaction. Good, workmanlike job done by my friend and his colleague! Hmm. I wonder what God will send me tomorrow?


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In Which I Encourage Others at a Conference

A Year of Being Kind blog –Tuesday, March 18, 2014

drawing people at conference

In Which I Encourage Others at a Conference

I am at a conference for the next few days. I love being with fellow professionals, getting a refresher on the area of my certification! (For those of you who are wondering, I have a state certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling. That’s on top of my master’s degree in Divinity.)

The continuing education conference is twice a year. Once in the spring, west of O’Hare Airport and Chicago, proper. And again in the fall, downstate in Springfield. I know, it’s not exactly the usual thing I blog about. But then, I have many and varied interests, from music to theology, from history to animals, from arts and handcrafts to all kinds of vehicles.

After the opening session in the morning, we had several all-day seminars. The one I attended featured Positive Psychology and what bearing it has on drug and alcohol counseling. Well, that was the day’s starting point—but there was a great deal more than just that! Fascinating subject, and even more fascinating presentation. (Thank you, David Folkes!) Actually, positive psychology is just that; instead of the study of messed-up functioning of mental health and aberrations of various people’s thoughts and actions, positive psychology concentrates on beneficial functioning! Good, properly-working mental health! Such a refreshing, encouraging study!

I discovered quite a lot of things that will help me in my new position as interim co-pastor. Helpful aspects of individual and group interaction, from a positive and encouraging angle. However, I want to get to the service part of my post today. We did have about seven dozen counselors and social worker-types in a large room today. So we were used to interacting with others in our day-to-day work. I was still surprised at how quickly just about everyone got involved in the group activities. The presenter asked everyone to break up into groups of two and three. Amazing how cohesive the small pairs and trios of people became—almost instantly!

Just as I willingly pitched in, and opened up to the other two people, they did the same! A lot of trust was displayed in that room today, trust, openness and honesty. I willingly tried to be of service in the workshop. Just as at church or mission conferences in the church, quick and close relationships are often the norm. So, too, with this professional and educational gathering. Encouraging and beneficial treatment of each other helps each of us—in whatever sphere we happen to be in.

I am further reminded that there is no “right way” or “only way” to show the love of God. Yes, I am allowed to display kindness and friendliness, even at a professional conference where I only know three or four other people among four hundred people. (If Jesus were in a similar position, What Would Jesus Do?)  Hmm. If I had a big flashlight in a dark place, what would Jesus suggest I do with it? Would He tell me to keep to myself and shut off my flashlight? Or would He be pleased if I offered my flashlight to others for their help and service? Hmm. What do you think?


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Be Kind, Serve Others, Forgive Myself

A Year of Being Kind blog – Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Be Kind, Serve Others, Forgive Myself

Another day, another opportunity for service. I did do several acts of service today. There are a few I could ordinarily write a decent post about. And,  I promise to write a blog post soon about my evolving thoughts on acts of service. But—today also happened to be Ash Wednesday. I was so busy in the morning and afternoon that I hardly had time to turn around, much less take time to pray.

I got a lot done today, admittedly. I did some laundry for a senior acquaintance of mine—among other things. I ran some necessary errands. I made a few important telephone calls. So, yes. I did do several acts of service for others. However, that is not what is on my mind today. Instead, my mind is focusing on prayer. Or, lack of prayer today. I did not have time to pray this morning, as is my usual habit lately.  Today of all days, I did not pray.

I did a good deal of busy work today. Some of it happened to be very necessary, and a lot of it much appreciated. But I did not take time for me until the church service this evening. It was then that I had the leisure to slow down, take a deep breath, and pray.

Going back in my memory to Ash Wednesdays past, I was not always so connected, so penitential. Sometimes I intellectualized the observance. It depended on where I was, in my thoughts and my experience. I was always respectful. I always honored and respected those who wished to receive the imposition of ashes, or sink to their knees in penitence, or lift their hands in prayer.  But that observant person was not always me. I wasn’t that guy. At least, not often.

But today was different. I felt especially penitent for this observance of Ash Wednesday. And, I truly missed the fact that I was unable to pray this morning. I don’t think it was because I had especially huge sins to confess since the last Lenten observance. No, I suspect it was because I had grown closer to God. For some reason. I am not saying that my acts of service and my Year of Being Kind have anything to do with my relative closeness to God this Ash Wednesday. (But, there may really be a precaution, or a praise. Whatever.)

I did have a close connection to God this evening. I did feel a special openness to God while I sat there in church. I was able to pray with several minutes of absolutely clarity. And, I did confess my sins to God. I felt the forgiveness, mercy and love of God return to me, too.  I prayed, asked forgiveness, and God took care of my sins being right away. Talk about fast! And I didn’t even have to rewind, retweet, or  replay. Thanks, God. Thanks for Your forgiveness, grace and mercy towards me, and towards all who ask Your forgiveness with a penitent heart


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