Some Times There Are Just Not Enough Rocks

What a difference a year makes. This time a year ago I was on the top of cloud nine. I was on the 9th peak of cloud 9. I was going to return to my beloved Colorado, in a place where I once truly felt like I was home – close to the mountains, in a veritable Garden of Eden.

I have always loved Colorado. When I was younger we would spend weeks up near where I am now, fishing on one of southern Colorado’s best, although not that well known, trout streams. When I am here I feel a connectedness not only to the land, but to God as well. There is a line in John Denver’s song, Durango Mountain Caballero that says, “I can hear my mother speak to me and hold my father’s hand.” Well, I can hear and feel my parents, and I can hold my spiritual Father’s hand as well. I am truly, deeply, alive when I am in this place.

So, on Tuesday I was dismissed from the position I had dreamed about having for two years, and where I have served for one. It was sudden – I had no clue it was coming. No reason was given either, save for a generic “it is just that you are not a good fit for this congregation.” Hmm. Too much of something? Not enough of something else? There was, at least to this point in time, no explanation, and I do not anticipate one forthcoming. It is my experience in a long, long history of preacher dismissals. We love you right up to the day we fire you. Next!

I have to say the past three days have been a roller coaster of emotions. Crushing sorrow, bitter tears, enough anger to fuel an aircraft carrier, utter and total confusion.

In the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest and his friend Jenny are walking along and come out of a line of trees in front of her childhood home. It was the place where she had been abused, and all the bitterness and anger came flowing out of her as she hurled everything she could at the house – her shoes, rocks, rocks, dirt, and rocks. Finally she collapses in a heap and Forrest, who is watching in silent shock and confusion, slowly walks over and in tender compassion sits on the ground near Jenny. The scene ends with his slow drawl,

“Sometimes, I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

I always understood that scene, but I never really got it until this week. Sometimes, there are just not enough rocks.

But, there are some moving John Denver lyrics about this beautiful country.

You know I love the trail I’m on and the friends who ride with me,
The country that we’re passing through is a paradise to see.
A haven for my spirit, the homeland of my dreams,
My heart flies through the wilderness, and on an eagle’s wings.

Durango mountain caballero take me for a ride,
on the back-bone of this mighty land, the continental divide.
To the place where earth and heaven meet, the mountains and the sky,
In the heart of Colorado, Rocky Mountain High!

You know I love  the campfire, and the circle that I’m in
The stories and the laughter, they should never, ever end.
Forever in my memory, forever in my song,
On a San Juan mountain trail ride
I’ll carry you along.

Amen.

Headed for Oblivion

A number of circumstances have converged in my life recently and I have (once again, for the millionth time) started playing my guitars. I have been channeling my inner Peter, Paul, and Mary, my inner Statler Brothers, my inner Don Williams, my inner Don McLean, my inner many, many others. Mostly I have just been channeling my inner John Denver. I have been listening to and watching a lot of JDs songs. One song in particular always leaves me with a lump in my throat, its called “What are We Making Weapons For (Let Us Begin).” One brief little snippet of a verse is this,

Now for the first time, this could be the last time.

At the time Denver wrote and recorded the song there was no real certainty but what the “cold” war would suddenly and irreversibly go “hot” with no mechanism for controlling it. For the first time in human history, it was a very real possibility that any “shooting war” would be the last of our civilization.

I don’t think we face that kind of mutually assured destruction today – at least not at the degree of uncertainty that caused Denver to write that song. But, at least in the United States, I do think we are headed for a form of oblivion. How far progressed we are will be a question for historians to determine. I do not hold much optimism for the future, however.

Observers of political history are right to point out that we as a republic have always had our rancorous moments – and just about every national political contest has generated some form of ugliness. In the defense of our current situation, at least we do not settle disagreements with a duel. But that is slight reassurance for what we do to each other.

I can attest that every presidential election – and I mean ever blooming one – since 1980 has been styled as “the most important election in the history of the United States.” Even given some slack for hyperbole, that is really quite a mouthful. Somehow I think the elections of Lincoln and later Franklin D. Roosevelt to have much more significance for our republic than Clinton, Bush, Obama or Trump. Maybe all four combined! I would even rate the election of Kennedy to be more significant than Clinton, either Bush, and certainly Obama.

But with each election cycle I am noticing how much more divided the electorate is becoming, how much more unforgiving the contestants are, and how the victors are becoming so much less inclined to set aside their election mentality and settle down to the process of governing. Today it is all campaign, all the time. There simply is no time to govern.

So, maybe for the first time in our republic, this could be the beginning of our journey into oblivion. A nation of 350+ million people cannot continue to exist with the hate, the anger, the vitriol, the passionate and long lasting intolerance that all sides have for each other. The “middle ground” of American politics is evaporating before our very eyes. What has taken its place?

As goes culture, so goes the popular religions within that culture. Which means, dear Christian, that the church of Christ is every bit as threatened by this headlong march into anarchy as is the government. Note: this is not an attack from the outside – it is clearly an internal war. In America in 2018 there is less tolerance of opposing viewpoints regarding Christ, the church, and how we are to relate to one another than in any time in our history.

How we are to come out on the other side of this is still a matter of the future. But, just as one person’s opinion, I do not think that we can deny the division and the passion that accompanies this division. I think I am also correct in suggesting that if we are ever to make any progress in slowing down or eliminating the eventual melt-down of the church, we are going to have to put down our weapons and pick up some towels and some wash basins.

What are we making weapons for? If peace is our vision, let us begin.

Rocky Mountain High

He was born in the summer of his 27th year, coming home to a place he’d never been before . . . (John Denver, Rocky Mountain High)

In July of 1989, at the ripe old age of 27, we duplicated part of John Denver’s experience as my wife and I made the pilgrimage to Monte Vista, Colorado to begin our first full-time ministry as the “pulpit minister” and wife for a church family. We stayed in Monte Vista for six years – years that included some great accomplishments and some crushing defeats. It was a formational experience for us, and one that we have never forgotten. This past week we were invited to return to the San Luis Valley, this time to the neighboring city of Alamosa, to begin work with another congregation of the Lord’s people. While it will not be a perfect “homecoming” as such, for us it means the answer to many prayers, and maybe, just maybe, the reality of many dreams.

Leaving one ministry to begin another is full of bitter-sweet emotions. Leaving our current ministry in Belen, NM, will be difficult for many reasons. This congregation has stood beside us during one of life’s most difficult situations – the diagnosis and treatment of my wife’s cancer. They have proved themselves servants in many, many ways. Beyond our work with the congregation here, I was able to assist my sister during a difficult time in our lives as well. My wife said it first, but I firmly believe it as well,  God put us here in this place and at this time for a reason. We can see some aspects of why he might have moved us to Belen, and I am sure that as time progresses we will be able to see other reasons as well. Our prayer is that our service will come to be seen as just as valuable to others as their service has been to us. We thank this congregation more deeply than they will ever know.

On the sweet side – even though I am a proud New Mexico native, and my wife is a fierce Texas native, we discovered a mutual home in Colorado – a place that we can call our “together” home. Our ministry in Monte Vista proved to be the longest place of residence that my wife had experienced to that point in her life. We learned the value of a church “family” in Monte Vista, an experience that has shaped us to this very day. We pray that our return will be just as valuable to our new church family as it was almost three decades ago.

We will return to a different city in a much different time. While we are familiar with the general surroundings, there is much to learn about our new home and congregation. It will be a challenge – of that there can be no mistake. But we are excited about the possibilities and we earnestly pray that we are entering this venture with our eyes wide open.

While the congregation we are moving to work with is slightly larger than our current congregation, it appears that I will have to become somewhat of a “vocational minister” at least for a short time in order to provide for some permanent housing as well as get rid of a pesky school loan. I am more than happy to do so – it will help me get to know the community much more quickly. Please pray that I can find a position quickly, one that is especially suited for an old geezer with a bum leg.

* * *

(I interrupt this announcement for a crass commercial break)

Related to this move I would like to make a public appeal. Many of those who follow this blog (or just read it occasionally) are members of churches of Christ, and perhaps you are looking for opportunities for mission support. Because of a number of unfortunate events in our lives (my wife’s cancer, and my indescribably brilliant prowess at the ice skating rink which resulted in a broken leg, three weeks in the hospital, and weeks of physical therapy), we cannot afford to make this move without some financial assistance. We are not seeking long term support – but we do need some immediate help in the expenses related to moving: rental deposits, moving truck, deposits to set up utilities, registering vehicles – the list becomes ponderous. If you, or your congregation, or any group that you might be a part of, would like to assist us in this move, please comment here to this blog and let me know how I can contact you. I will provide as much information as I can regarding our needs. If you cannot help financially, you can pray for our move, for the congregation in Alamosa, and our spiritual family here in Belen who will be looking for a family to take our place.

[To a number of very special followers of this blog – you either supported us financially during our crises, or you continue to do so even now. Know that we are deeply appreciative of your support, and your gifts are presented as sweet sacrifices to our Father in heaven. You know who you are, and we know who you are and our Father knows who you are and what you are doing. Please understand this appeal does not minimize your contributions – and if you so desire, I can provide you with a detailed list of what we can anticipate needing over the next few months.]

(I now return to my regularly scheduled blog)

We originally thought we would be making this transition over two years ago, and had that occurred we would have been moving to Colorado during both our 27th and 54th years – sort of a poetic parentheses to our lives. God had another time-line in mind, and we trust in his timing, not ours. We will be coming home for a second time – to a place we have known before but full of new things and people and challenges and blessings to experience. We ask for your prayers, both for us and for our new ministry.

Rocky Mountain High, Colorado!