Holes in Men’s Hearts

Holes in our Souls.jpg

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.  Hollywood can embellish a good story.  Old John          Glenn did go back into outer space but the Space Cowboys (Dirty Harry, US Marshall Sam Gerard, President Coriolanus Snow and Brett Maverick aka Eastwood, Jones, Sutherland and Garner) probably didn’t have to as we have no evidence the Russians ever placed nuclear warheads on a satellite.   And there’s that moment Martin Luther was to have given Duke Frederick a copy of the Bible in German in person.  They never met face to face to speak (although he did dedicate the translation to him!) Even now, others are trying to disprove Noah had Transformers help him build the ark.  The crowds rise and fall on embellishment, don’t they?  We buy the tickets; the movie companies produce the stories!  Yet, as we trust the fact our hearts and minds are being seduced just a bit, we still look for that thread of truth which runs through the stories of our lives.

In the last 20 years of cinema, the movie Tombstone remains one of my favorites.  It’s an inviting story filled with saints who are sinners and sinners who are saints!  But, despite my affinity to this saga, I rarely yearn to have lived in the days of a wild west and the carving out of the nation this side of St. Louis.  Please understand, however, how much I appreciate the folks who turned deer trails into roads, moved the rocks to clear the land, plunking post oaks in the ground and especially for all those who perfected air conditioning back in the 1920’s. Living in Texas?  YES!  Tombstone?  Not so much. It’s the steady unfolding of life and its details that makes the difference.  Couple that with an invention or two and everything’s up for grabs!  Time tells the story… not the movie makers!

Back in the 1800’s the west was more than wild; it was rugged, dangerous and deadly.  Every day was a struggle, working another pre-dawn to sunset shift to make it to the next. Just one more day; that was the goal.  That was the hope. No one was ‘working for the weekend!’  No wonder why people were hung for stealing a horse;  shot for cheating at cards and even fined for spitting on the street. (Note:  I think the person who first got that ordinance passed had an uncle or cousin who owned and operated a cuspidor and spittoon factory!) The movie, Tombstone depicted the best and worst of the west.  People came to that mining town for opportunity and chance.  A chance for a better life and people coming to that mining town to earn a living from those who were earning a living.  Economics 101.  Quality of life stuff.  Law and order stuff. Gospel and grace added in. Not much has changed.  Sounds like the town where I grew up.  And, Tombstone, like my town and yours, was filled with saints and sinners!

So, who would you be in that drama?  Old Wyatt, a reformed drunk and horse thief turned town Marshall whose name would be unknown had he lived in this generation?  The state police would have nabbed him before he ever left Arkansas.  What about Doc Holliday?  He was raised a Georgia red clay gentleman , whose teen years were interrupted by the war between the North and the South.  His move west was one of necessity and choice as his dentistry practice declined due to his patient’s dislike of him coughing in their faces with his onset chronic tuberculosis. Gee.  Then there was Ike Clanton, a ruffian who ran with a group of thugs called ‘the Cowboys,’ living by a set of rules known only to them.  Yet, there was aspiring actress Josephine Marcus living in Tombstone, too.  She was the daughter of some pretty wealthy Prussian immigrants but ran away as a teenager and was living with the local county sheriff before she met Marshall Earp!  Finally, Johnny Ringo’s name lands on the page.  He was related by marriage to the Younger brothers (cousins to Jesse James!) and solidified his ‘bad boy’ street cred with the Cowboys as well. I find a bit of myself in all of them.  But, here’s where my grumbling unfolds…

Our world is quick to point out the good guys and the bad ones.  Rarely, do I hear people on the news talk about the good exploits of a rotten person or the perverse dealings of an illustrious squeaky clean do-gooder.  Have you? It’s always one or the other.  Never both.   And why is that important even?  Keep reading.  We all have a beginning and we all have an end.  It’s what happens in the middle that makes the difference.  So, let me get personal.  What makes you do what you do?  What is it that drives you through the day?  How does your list of motivations bring clarity to your hours and moments?  What do others see? We all have holes in our hearts.  They come and go.  Some are larger than others.  What’s that all about?  Maybe there’s a thread of truth here… maybe that’s what makes us more like one another than not.

So, here we have Wyatt and Doc talking about their nemesis Johnny Ringo.  They are all broken in some way.  Fear and death are just up the road. You may remember the conversation from the movie…

Wyatt Earp:  What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?

Doc Holliday:  A man like Ringo has got a great big empty hole, right in the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.

Wyatt Earp: What does he need?

Doc Holliday: Revenge.

Wyatt Earp:: For what?

Doc Holliday: (long pause) Bein’ borned.

Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Joi2F60Veqo  (at the 1:00 mark of 1:50)

“Revenge?  For what?  For being borned?”  That’s what they said… or at least that’s what the script writers said they said.  How’s that for motivation?  How’s that for perspective? Regret being born?  Well, it was tough times.  It was a live or die world.  But, so is ours.  It’s still tough.  It’s still live or die.  Time hasn’t altered that reality.  It’s just our turn and with the perspective we bring to it!  Is there a line in the sand here, then?  A point of clarity?  A defining truth that helps me be less like Johnny Ringo?  A posture for life that helps me be more than what he seemed he could not be?  A way to live that evades self-destruction? Let me get personal here. Yes.  But, it comes with a price. It would have been better if Doc Holliday would have been an optometrist in order to give Johnny Ringo a new set of glasses rather than a new choppers.  Well, at least that’s how I’m seeing it.

When I was born, I came into the world with nothing.  But, I was born into a world that has everything I need.  Thus my life was full already.  At the core of my baptismal posture is my understanding that in the grace-filled waters of Jesus and the Word and promise of God attached to that water, I have been given everything I need to live well for the rest of my life.  Did you get that?  I’ve been given everything I need and the benefit of walking a life of faith and seeking to be a disciple of Jesus is knowing I have a lifetime to discover all that has been given to me and to experience joy in that journey … a joy Jesus called complete, overflowing and a joy that cannot be taken from us (see John’s gospel)!  No wonder why St. Peter called it ‘inexpressible’ joy (1 Peter 1:8)!  So, then who needs revenge?  Why would one regret being born? If my purpose in life is to be self-fulfilled then I will be in trouble.  If my life’s task is grasping for everything I think I need and in turn holding on to those things which are really not needed at all… then I won’t have much time or space for others.  Can you picture that?  Arms filled with all I don’t need?  A daily pre-occupation with protecting it all?  This only leads to a paralysis of purpose as our hearts and minds cling to all that seems to now be ours vs. a freedom of giving away everything God has provided already.  Could it be that simple?  Perhaps.  It’s battle proven, I think.  St. Augustine put it this way… “Lord, our hearts will remain restless until they find their rest in you.”  I’ve always liked that… like what my old mentor Rev. Dr. Arthur F. Haimerl preached often… “we discover ourselves as we give ourselves away!”  Carry that around a while… then let go!

At the end of the day, Wyatt Earp didn’t have the showdown with Johnny Ringo.  Hollywood said, Doc Holliday showed up instead.  But, even that re-vision is not worth trusting as records show old Doc was 500 miles away in court with his lawyer the same day Johnny Ringo died.  Gee.  But, Ringo did die…  and he died from a single bullet shot to the head.  Ringo’s pistol was in his hand as the body was found under a tree in Turkey Creek Canyon on July 13, 1882.  He was 32 years old.  Wyatt Earp lived with Josie Marcus for 42 years.  He died in 1929.  Time tells the story.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.  Hollywood can embellish a good story.  They always do.  But, my story is mine and yours is yours… So, I’m going to get on with my life now and look for the thread of truth that flows through all of our stories… trusting that some days I will be more of a sinner than a saint and other days trusting God’s grace to keep alive the saint I’ve been made to be already.  No ticket required.  I’ll trust that for you as well…

And may your hearts be filled with joy…





         “We’re on a pilgrimage to worship him.”  (Matthew 2:2b)  

Years ago, John Denver and the Muppets recorded … on their Christmas CD… “It’s In Every One Of Us”… a great song for a great time of the year.  It’s been a favorite song of mine as it can carry anyone into the new year with hope as one considers past, present and the potential and prospect of the life which lies ahead.  It’s a simple song with a calm and provocative message…

 “It’s in every one of us to be wise; find your heart, open up both your eyes. 

We can all know everything without ever knowing why. 

It’s in every one of us, by and by…”

 Let the words sing to you and let their message sink in…

Longer ago, about 2000 years back, the story was told and written down in Matthew’s gospel about men who came from the east, following a star, looking for a new king. They were called ‘magi’ or as we refer to them now, ‘wise men.’  They seemed to be singled out.  Wise men vs. unwise men.  Looking for a king, but not totally sure where to go.  Wise enough to stop and ask directions.  Most men aren’t and most men don’t.   But, could the Muppets be right?  Is it in every one of us … to be wise?

The details of what transpires is what the late Dr. Bruce Schein labelled, “the tragedy of Epiphany.”

Here’s my take…

While angels were singing ‘glory hallelujah’ to the shepherds out in the fields guarding their flocks by night and being the lowest of the low when it came to public status (shepherds in those days were equal to the guy who waves the flag at a construction site or jumps on and off a garbage truck)  but invited into God’s future with open arms… and while Mary and Joseph were being amazed at the prospect of parenting the Son of God, being surrounded by animals in a stable… which was most likely a cave…and the last place a descendant of the House of David would want to spend the night… magi from the East (more likely in modern day Syria or Iraq vs. New York or Boston) were following a bright star in the sky with hope upon hope to find the newborn king of the Jews… they stopped in Jerusalem and had credentials enough to get an audience with King Herod to ask him what was up.  After all, in those days… kings hung out with kings…right?  … and end scene one.

When King Herod hears their question, at the opening of scene 2, Matthew reports that he becomes afraid… as does all of Jerusalem.  Apparently, all kings do not hang out with other kings, and to add injury to insult… King Herod knows little of what the magi inquire.  Wise men.  Terrified king.  This is the part where the scary music begins to play and the sense of something foreshadowed is about to unfold.  Think “Jaws” theme here.  So, King Herod claps his hands and asks for the chief priests and the scribes to come to his aid.  His ‘wise men.’  The people’s brain trust.  “What do you know of this king of the Jews? Where is he to be born?” he asks. And like all gifted students, they respond without even raising their hands.  The nerd choir starts to sing… “in Bethlehem of Judea… that’s where he’ll be…a shepherd of the nations…to set his people free!”  And the second liners chimed in… “Aaaaaaaaa-meeeeeen!” Mystery solved.  End scene two.

“Why that’s just 6 miles down the road,” King Herod said.  “You are almost there.”  So, scene three now begins.  The magi go to Bethlehem, bearing some pretty pricey gifts, we’re told, and King Herod goes back and sits on his throne… waiting for the magi to return with good news… even though they never do… and here it is… are you ready for it… the men who knew the answer to the question… the guys who knew the story… went back to their books… they went back to their prayers… they went back to their tables… they went back to their ‘scribing’… and what they didn’t do was go along with the magi… they didn’t listen to voice of God… and there is the tragedy of Epiphany… that the men who knew the story… did not tag along to ‘worship the new-born king…” because that is why the wise men came…to ‘pay him homage’… the magi told King Herod… or as Eugene Peterson translates… “we’re on a pilgrimage to worship him.”  (The Message)  And the magi left with a whispered message from King Herod and they extended their pilgrimage because Bethlehem, the world and they would never be the same. End scene three.

Ok, maybe John Denver and the Muppets were wrong. Maybe it’s not in every one of us. To be wise.

In high school literature class we learned about tragedy and pathos.  In simple terms, a tragic event includes a choice of the person involved.  When things are pathetic, the victim never sees the pain coming.  The classic example is the pathetic event happening when the old blind dog got hit by the car.  It was tragic for the driver of said car who took his eyes off the road to text his boss.   And in tragedy, the hero undergoes a change in character.  If the hero remains essentially the same throughout his life and dies in part because he never changed, the action is not tragic but pathetic.

What do we say then?  Say… about the times… the many times… we who know the story… we who call upon the name of Jesus… go back to our desks, go back to our living rooms, go back to the work shed and neglect taking the extra steps to worship the name above all names?  Are we participants in the tragedy of Epiphany?  Are we still willing to be wise and follow the star who is Jesus…the fixed ‘north star’ who guides our thoughts and deeds?  It is not too early in the year to ‘find our hearts’ and ‘open both our eyes‘…

There is no record of King Herod ever going to look for the magi who never returned with the news of the whereabouts of the newborn king.  But, there is record that Herod trusted the news of the story and remained threatened by the power and potential of this new king of the Jews and chose to send soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the male children under the age of three and not risking the prospect of this new king rising to power. Truth be told, the new king already had the power.  Tragic King Herod.  Pathetic priests and scribes.  Heroic magi who went to worship, offer their gifts and then went back into the world to let others know God is with us.  With me.  With you.  With us.  Always.  

And as always, I welcome your thoughts and comments as we work and serve together in the name of King Jesus.

One man at a time; no man left behind,



Kings On the Loose

It’s Epiphany!  The Light of Christ is shining.  Each day. Brighter and brighter!  It’s January, too!  A new year has come.  Adios, New Year’s Eve.  Resolutions have been made.  It’s early still and life resolutions will be kept and still, some of those promises will be broken!  It happens all the time.  So, trust the grace.  New starts and do-overs are a ‘God-thing!’  Trust the grace.  I have to.  I sense you will, as well. We don’t deserve it… but God is irrevocably cheering us on…

I spent almost 10 years serving this church in New Orleans.  Those years were filled with delight, love, possibility and purpose.  Victories and battles won made me sing, “…and give us a foretaste of the feast to come” with hearty joy!  Hope beyond hope!  Yet, in that same decade I experienced great pain.  Immense sorrow and anguish and deep, deep doubt.  A ‘dark nights of the soul’ as they ancients would say.  In fact, I’ve been through a couple of them; maybe three.  And while I wish you no harm, and pray all is well for you… if you find yourself struggling as you enter this new year and new day… I hope the power and Holy Spirit of God will lead you to a new dawn, a new time, a renewed you and a new life.  Our God knows no quitting.  Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end and promises to be with us ‘always’.  But, you know that, right?  Ok.  Then trust it. Trust the grace.

It was in New Orleans that I learned how to celebrate KING’s DAY and that “Carnival” (aka Mardi Gras) wasn’t the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday only, the whole season of Epiphany flowed from the three kings bearing gifts…  Have you considered yourself a king?  What gifts do you bear?  Do you travel alone?  Do you have the good sense to stop and ask directions when you are not certain of your destination?  Will you take time to listen to your dreams?  Will you stop long enough to bow down and worship the one known as the King of Kings?

I’ve decided to read the Old Testament’s Book of Proverbs for Lent this year.  And since, a few years ago the Gulf Coast Synod men dubbed themselves… “KING’s MEN,” and since our Lutheran Men in Mission’s purpose statement goes like this… “For every man to become a bold, daring follower of Jesus Christ…” I thought I’d get a head start on this year and share one of my favorite parts of these wise old words… it’s a reflection of God and reflection of us… KING’s MEN… and what we bring to the world, the church and to God…

PROVERBS 3:1-12 ala The Message

 “Good friend, don’t forget all I’ve taught you; take to heart my commands.

They’ll help you live a long, long time,
a long life lived full and well.

Don’t lose your grip on Love and Loyalty.
Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart.
Earn a reputation for living well
in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
Run to God! Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health,
your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own;
give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst,
your wine vats will brim over.
But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline;
don’t sulk under his loving correction.
It’s the child he loves that God corrects;
a father’s delight is behind all this.”

This year will be a great year for the Gulf Coast Men in Mission.  This will be a great year for Lutheran Men in Mission all over the country!  There’s work to be done.  We have gifts to offer.  Heart– Mind– Strength kind of stuff.  Men being with men so we are better with our families and the world.  Congregations seeing their men as a tremendous resource of smart guys, strong guys, gifted guys and generous guys.  As always, I’m committed to this work until there is no more breath in my lungs.  I don’t do it for me.  I don’t do it for my sons.  They are already King’s Men and have their own place in the Kingdom.  I’m doing this for their son’s sons.  They will need to trust the grace, too!

I hope you will, as well.  Go back and re-read Proverbs 3.  Let that Word of God grow in you! We ARE Kings.  We have gifts to bear!  Daily.  Always.  For Jesus’ sake!

One man at a time; no man left behind,