Good Hearts and Healthy Humors

My Column for The Elgin Review Elgin, NE May 22, 2019

The movers swooped into our house and suddenly, before I’d had opportunity to pack my clothes for the next several days, my dresser was wrapped in plastic and hauled out of the house–with all of my clean underwear still in it.

The day our heavy things were being loaded on the trailer to come to Neligh, we were so happy when the trailer was full, we let the hired, brawny movers leave–only to realize, too late, we hadn’t had them move the heavy armoire from the basement and hadn’t had them load the bed of the pickup.

We needed to be at a funeral for the father of a friend at 1:00 PM in Omaha on Monday. The sale of our Omaha home closed at 8:00 am that morning and we were still moving things out of it and cleaning into the wee hours. Mike dropped the trailer off in Neligh at 1:00 am, slept a few hours and turned around to be back in Omaha for the funeral. He’d remembered to get his suit from our borrowed apartment, but he’d forgotten a dress shirt. Could I bring one from our new Lincoln apartment where I’d spent the night after finishing cleaning our Omaha home at 2:30 am? I grabbed the shirt but got stuck in road construction traffic. If we stuck with our original plan to meet at the public library where Mike could change into his suit, we would have missed half the funeral.

I bought a package of underwear at the store. (Who can’t use new underwear, anyway?) Mike bought an appliance dolly at Menard’s and together we muscled that crazy-heavy armoire out of the basement and into the pick-up. Mike changed into his suit, minus a dress shirt, at the library, and we met in front of the church where he slipped behind a tree and changed from his tee-shirt into his dress-shirt and we made it to the funeral right on time.

Friends from Omaha and Lincoln helped us pack and load. My brother loaned us his truck. When we got to Neligh church members and their family and friends met us at the parsonage and helped us unload. Sandwiches, chips, beverages and desserts were waiting for us in the kitchen.

We’ve all had weeks we feared would never end. We’ve all had weeks so jam packed with all sorts of things that we can’t help but drop the ball time and again. We’ve all had weeks when we’re bone-tired and don’t quite know how we can make it through. But, by the grace of God, the help of our community and a healthy dose of good humor, we do.

Park Congregational United Church of Christ is a place where we practice and experience the grace of God together. It’s a congregation committed to helping our Elgin community. It’s a group of good-hearted people with healthy senses of humor. You are always welcome at Park UCC to worship, to laugh, and to be strengthened for whatever life holds in store for you this week.

Maybe it’s Time to Give Church A(nother) Try

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE 10.23.19

Erin was three years old with a mess of loose blonde curls and a button nose sprinkled with freckles and eyes as blue as the Kentucky sky. She was the youngest worshipper at the Sulphur Christian Church when I was their pastor as a seminary student years ago. Most Sundays there were twenty of us. One morning as we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together Erin’s little voice was louder than all of ours. “Our Faaaaaatherrrr, which art in Heaaaaaaaaaaven” she said with as much sass and vinegar as any little girl could muster. Stifling giggles, the rest of us continued praying. By the time we got to “Thy kingdom come” Erin’s voice, quite loud, insistent and still sassy as all-get-out piped-up again in her thick Kentucky accent, “No Daddy, I will not behave!”

Miss Ida and Miss Gladys were Erin’s Sunday School teachers at Sulphur Christian Church until she went off to college. Her Grannie and Grandidaddy sat with her in the pew when her mother helped lead worship. Her auntie and great aunts sat a couple pews up and one sat over, across the aisle. When her aunt was married in the church, Erin was the flower girl. When Erin played in the cemetery on the hill while Grandidaddy mowed, she stood behind a tombstone carved like an open Bible on the top and preached to the cows in the pasture across the fence.

There were two little boys in the congregation, eight or nine years old to Erin’s three years. Once, when they collected the offering as they often did, they brought it forward while the congregation sang, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” When the doxology was over and the congregation bowed their heads for me to bless the offerings, these two stinkers, giggling, scooped all the money out of the plates in one swoop and pocketed it right under my nose and open eyes. “Gentlemen,” I said when the prayer was over as I held the empty plates and gave them my best young-preacher raised eyebrow look. With twinkles in every eye in that little sanctuary those goof-balls put the money back in the plates, and oh, so proud of themselves, walked down the center aisle to sit with their mothers.

Children who grow up in small, rural churches are some of the most fortunate children on the planet. They may not have big Sunday School classes or youth groups with lots of peers, but they have this beautifully woven web of people of all ages who know them, love them, pray for them and help them grow up secure knowing they truly belong somewhere.

Studies tell us children are lonely today. Statistics tell us teenagers feel more disconnected now than ever. If you have children in your life who don’t have a church they can call their own; if you don’t have a church to call your own, where you know you are welcome even on the days when you don’t want to behave, maybe it’s time to give church a(nother) try.

You’re always welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ, ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. We worship at 9:15 every Sunday morning.  I love hearing from you. My email is

I Say There is Hope

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, Ne May 8, 2019

A member of a congregation I once served reached out to me. “If you get a minute, I could use some guidance. In a discussion with my sisters this weekend, all of them said the current political environment continues to push them further from church. They believe they see both Democrats and Republicans using Christianity to tear others apart. And if that’s true, then the church is complicit and is an underlying cause. They feel attending church is now more like belonging to a club, instead of a foundation. This breaks my heart. I know they aren’t alone in this thinking, and I have no idea how to respond. Do you have any thoughts to share? Is there any hope?”

How would you respond?  Are you with my friend? Do you see church as a foundation upon which to build your life? Or, are you more inclined toward her sisters’ view?

In my experience, and in reading church history and the news, church is as it has been throughout millennia, a mix, a collection of human beings joined together for a myriad of reasons, some holy and some wholly unholy. Political parties use Christianity to tear people apart, to sow seeds of dissension and to establish who’s in and who’s out. In far too many cases, Christians bow to the idols of power, influence and wealth and are complicit in the divisiveness of our day.

I’ve had moments when I’ve thought I would just walk away. “Please, don’t associate me with those kinds of Christians.”

I am, however, compelled by a vision of love cast by Jesus who healed and helped and welcomed and lifted up every kind of person toward wholeness and fuller lives. I am compelled by Jesus who empowered all his followers to go and do as he did. In the earliest days the church grew by leaps and bounds because people saw the ways Christians loved others.

I am compelled to cast my lot with the motley crew of the church because I saw a little boy named Calvin, snot nosed, dirty red face streaked by tears, embraced in a big hug by a man who’d never had kids when Calvin burst into a church meeting one evening, “My Daddy’s left and says he’s never coming back. What am I going to do?” Calvin’s dad never came back, but that congregation surrounded Calvin with so much love and so much support that he found his way.

I cast my lot with the church because there is a little congregation in the middle of corn fields where three pajama clad kids wandered in one Sunday morning and asked if anyone had anything to eat. Mom and Dad were still asleep (after a night of partying) and there wasn’t any food in the house. Ever since, the church serves Sunday breakfast to anyone, and now serves breakfast every school day, too, for the kids who wait for the school bus on the corner across the street.

The DNA of the Christian faith is caring for all our neighbors. Out of that DNA has sprung most of the hospitals around the world, most of the orphanages, most of the colleges, universities, and the public school movement, too, the Civil Rights movement here and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. From the church Habitat for Humanity was born, and Alcoholics Anonymous, too.

It seems to me that attending church is something fairly easy to opt in or out of when culture and politics make us all cranky, but being church is more challenging and far more compelling.

I say there is hope.

You are always welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ.