Steeple Chase
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December 6, 2018, 2:00 PM

St. Nicholas: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Happy St. Nicholas Day!  Did you know that St. Nicholas is a real Christian saint?  You can read about him and every other saint on the Lutheran calendar in your Resurrection Connection.*

Though he died in 342, the Church worldwide still commemorates his life, death, and witness every year on December 6.  Nicholas was a bishop from Myra, a city in what is now Turkey.  Today, the average temperature in December is 61 degrees Fahrenheit, much too warm for a red suit and stocking cap if you ask me.  Besides that little is known, but according to Philip H. Pfatteicher in New Book of Festivals and Commemorations (Fortress Press: 2008, 598-9):

In the absence of facts, legends abound [Pastor's warning: some of these are not pretty!].  Nicholas as an infant, it is said, refused to nurse on the ancient fast days of Wednesday and Friday.  He aided the poor and once saved three daughters of a poor man from a life of prostitution by throwing a bag of gold through the window of their home for three successive nights for their dowries; he is therefore the patron of virgins, and the three bags are said to have inspired the traditional pawnbroker's sign.  He miraculously reconstituted two or three boys whom an innkeeper had murdered, cut into small pieces, and put in a brine tub to sell as pickled pork.  He saved three unjustly condemned men from death.  He aided sailors who were in distress off the coast of his diocese, and once on a voyage to the Holy Land showed courage on board ship during a storm, thus becoming the patron of sailors.  He attended the Council of Nicaea and gave the heretic Arius a resounding box on the ear.      

It is from the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas Sinter Klaas that we get the English "Santa Claus."  As you can see, St. Nicholas has come a long way down the chimeny from 4th century Myra to your home today!  So no matter which tradition, you celebrate:

Happy St. Nicholas Day!


*From the Connection: "Little is known about Nicholas, except that he was a bishop in present-day Turkey. According to legend, he was famous for his giving to the poor, and so has become a symbol of anonymous gift-giving."

April 30, 2018, 10:06 AM

Life-Giving Bodies

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

--John 15:13    

In the Gospel passage this coming Sunday, Jesus is going to talk more about love.  The verse at the top is one of my favorites in the Bible because it cuts to the heart of the Good News of how Jesus gives himself for us.  It's about Jesus's love for us, his friends.

Not many of us are called to literally give up our lives for our friends and neighbors.  But in ch. 31 of A Case for Kindness, Lisa Barrickman talks about how we can give of our bodies in other ways.  There is something holy about the idea that we can use something as intimate as our own bodies to come to the help of a friend or neighbor in need.

Barrickman brings up organ donation, bone marrow donation, even kids giving away hairlocks for other kids battling cancer.  One simple way that she suggests that I find a powerful way to give in my own life is blood donation.  Blood donation usually only takes a half-hour or so and can be done once every 8 weeks, but makes a big difference.  They even feed you while you are there and tell you later where your blood is going (a recent donation of mine went to Audubon Hospital in Louisville).  I have found it to be a very positive experience and one small thing I can do for neighbors who could benefit from my blood.  

Two upcoming blood drives in Madison are:

Friday, May 4, 10:30-3:30 at Shawe Memorial High School

Tuesday, May 8, 2-7 at Calvary Baptist Church (2632 Michigan Rd)

Or you can always do your own search on the Red Cross's website:  What a small and great act of kindness this could be as our kindness challenge nears the finish line!

April 26, 2018, 10:32 AM

The Action is Listening

Every day, I read Peanuts in the Madison Courier.  I love Peanuts because it's so simple, but makes such deep points about both how courageous humans can be every day and also about our many failings--and often at the same time.  One of the on-going gags is Lucy's advice stand for 5 cents.  Often Charlie Brown will come to her stand and pour out what's on his heart.  And, if you know the cartoon, you know that Lucy's really the worst person to talk to about this.  She always responds by saying exactly what's on her mind, whether he likes it or not.  

I think that this cartoon makes a deeper point about how we can really love our friends and neighbors when they are hurting.  And it turns out it's not by offering advice: whether for a nickel or free of charge.  It's about listening.  Lisa Barrickman writes in chapter 26 of A Case for Kindness 

Ironically, the action people frequently seek is listening.

Do you ever back away from an intense conversation or urgently try to fix another person's situation by offering advice, interrupting, or relating a story from your life?  I'm afraid I have.  But often what the person really desires is just a listening ear.  Someone to show concern.  Someone to patiently hear their story.  Someone to ask, "How are you?" and welcome the real answer.

Talking helps us hear our own thoughts ande discover our own solutions; the trick is having someone who will listen.  Really listen.  Uncrossed arms, phone out of sight, oblivious to time, looking into our eyes, leaning in for a good long listen (Barrickman, 117).

As the old saying goes, God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason.  Most often what a person needs is not our advice, not even our eager reassurance, but our love.  Our love that listens to the person and the story they're trying to tell.  

That's so important because we don't really listen to each other anymore.  If it's not 140 characters (or whatever the new Twitter limit is) or less, if it's not a 30-second commercial or less, we don't have time for it. 

But when we love someone, we make time.  Time to lean in.  Time to listen.  Time to drop our agenda and our ideas for the neighbor in front of us.  Time to be kind.  

April 12, 2018, 11:00 AM

Extra Mile

The first mile is an obligation.  The extra mile is a beautiful offering, demonstrating the essence of God's love.1

In chapter 12 of A Case for KindnessLisa Barrickman talks about Jesus's words, "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Mt 5:41)."  Now you might say, "walk two miles in the Palestinian sun: no thank you!"  And I agree!  But it turns out that Jesus is talking about even more than that.  As Barrickman explains, this goes back to a practice that Roman soldiers would use that was designed to remind everyone who was on top of the pecking order: the soldiers would compel passers-by (i.e. the locals!) to carry their heavy packs that sometimes weighed as much as one hundred pounds.  Needless to say, this was not something that the locals looked forward to.  You can imagine the Romans' surprise then when they would find a disciple of Jesus who would say, "Sure!  And you know what, I'll throw in another mile for free!"  They would be baffled by this.  You could even say that this unexpected act of kindness would turn the world upside down.  

Now today we are not going to be forced to carry heavy packs by Roman soldiers.  But we do have this phrase in English "going the extra mile," that means going above and beyond the call of duty, doing more than is expected.  As a pastor of a small church, I have a chance to see this all the time.  Without our volunteers from the congregation going the extra mile, whether in formal roles like council or treasurer, or informally chipping in to help organize an event or provide time or physical labor, our ministry simply could not continue.  Not to mention those who are paid on a small church budget to play music, or to clean, or to make bulletins, and who put in unseen and sadly often underappreciated work.  All of this is, of course, in addition to other callings to work weekday jobs, to be parents, spouses, etc.  What we can say about the church is that without these "unsung walkers" going the extra mile, our ministry wouldn't get out of the parking lot.  

You would think that would be enough.  But it doesn't stop there.  Because often these same people who are already putting in all this work still find time to do something kind: like making a homemade tray of candy for my wife Nikki and me for Christmas, or like sending a birthday card, or like checking in to ask how I'm doing after a busy week of ministry, and in countless other ways.  Like the Roman soldiers long ago, I am constantly baffled and my world is turned upside down by people's persistent kindness: even among people who are already putting in lots of work themselves.  

If this post inspires anyone to go the extra mile for someone, that's wonderful.  If it inspires you to notice the people in your life going the extra mile for you, that is even better.  But most of all, this post is about saying thank you to all the people in our church and in our community who share this marathon of life with us and whose kindness truly turns the world upside down.  


1Lisa Barrickman, A Case for Kindness (Franklin, TN: Worthy Media, 2017), 56.

April 10, 2018, 10:28 AM

Spirit of Kindness

Last night, at our Pub Faith group, we were discussing Lisa Barrickman's A Case for Kindness: 40 Ways to Love and Inspire Otherspart of Jefferson County Healthy Communities Initiative's 40 Days of Kindness.  As the group discussed, we all agreed that it seems that kindness isn't something we see a lot of, and we were thinking of different reasons why.  

One of the great things about kindness, though, is that we don't have to wait for everyone else in order to start being kind ourselves.  And as Barrickman says in her book, kindness is like a ripple that starts out small and spreads.  I'm sure we've all had a day where someone was unexpectedly kind to us, and in turn, we were a lot kinder to everyone we met the rest of the day.  Kindness is contagious.  And that's the idea behind the 40 Days of Kindness challenge.

One of my favorite activities Barrickman challenges us to is in Chapter/Day 9 "A Spirit of Kindness," when she talks about Paul's concept of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).  

There's a valuable exercise that can help us recognize the fruit of the Spirit in any given day.  Make a list of the nine virtues that make up the fruit of the Spirit.  Then go back through just one day, filling in the blanks on how we experienced Christ's virtues and released them into the world.  I'm going to give this a try with my last twenty-four hours.  Here goes:

Love: Made time in a busy day to have a date with one of my kids.

Joy: Received a package from my sweet friend Ticey.  Shared with her that she made my day.

Peace: Listening to piano hymns as I write this, and my heart is full.

Patience: Remained calm and friendly when our dinner order was forgotten and we had to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Modelled this reaction for my son.

Kindness: Donated Girl Scout cookies to support our soldiers.

Goodness: Had a long covnersation with a college student at the library.

Faith: Prayed hard for a sick family member.

Gentleness: Said no to a thoughtful invitation but did so in a sensitive, honest way.

Self-Control: Only ate one piece of dark chocolate when I preferred seven.  

...Without changing the course of our daily interactions, continual whispers of goodness can become a booming case for kindness.  Deliberate kindness builds the strength of Christ's character within us.  We receive His invitation to continually cultivate our richsoil, and through it, we welcome others to a banquet of sweet fruit! [Barrickman, A Case for Kindness (Franklin, TN: Worthy Media, 2017), 41-3]. 

Try this fill-in-the-blank game yourself!  I'm planning to take a look at it this evening.  We all have different fruit of the Spirit, a Spirit who works in awesome and mysterious ways to make our community and our world a little bit more faithful, a little bit more loving, a little bit kinder. 

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