Would You Look At That!

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

At the gas station recently, a pickup truck pulled up next to me at the pumps. The man who emerged from the black Ford looked like a thrash-metal guitarist.  He was bald and covered with tattoos.  They climbed his arms and swarmed around his neck, face, and skull, which was also littered with piercings.  His leather clothes were grimy.  His hands were greasy and scarred.  He looked like an ominous villain from some horror movie.

He looked at me and said, “Hello,” in a clear, articulate, tenor voice — and over the next five minutes we had an amazing conversation.  Out of what looked like an angry face came kind words and the sort of small talk you would expect to have with a frail grandmother while waiting at the checkout line. Once we were both finished pumping gas, he said “nice to meet you” and “have a great day” before we parted.  As I got back into the car I felt gratitude and shame: gratitude for having met this man who made me all the richer; and shame over the prejudices that almost prevented me from having a conversation with him.

The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” came to mind, but even more the words from 1 Samuel: “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

So often we judge others on their appearances, but God judges the heart.  May we learn to do the same.

Merciful Jesus — thank you for encountering us in surprising ways.  Teach us not to judge, but to be open to your gracious, unexpected presence, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Condos and Bracelets

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

Let me begin tonight by offering a very deep and appreciative thank you to all who shared in comenting on us making it 48 years together. I am so thankful Shirley allowed me to live.

Yes, we are at the beach (Myrtle) and, as always, you run into all sorts of people. Last year while here, Shirley purchased a safety chain and one small charm for a Donatella bracelet she received as a gift from Stephen, Joy and the kids years ago. It is like the Pandora Bracelets but a little different.

Last year these items were purchased here in Myrtle from Reed’s Jewelry. Well, the safety clasp would not fit – it was too small, and so was the charm. Shirley waited to come back down here to make exchanges or get things fixed.

With receipt in hand we make the long journey down to the mall south of Myrtle beach. It is a thriving mall. The people at Reeds would barely give her the time of day. “We can’t fix it, your time limit is up – notice on your receipt it says ten days. However, we can sell you a $180.00 Pandora bracelet.”

I wasn’t in there or else I may have revealed my retired status. Shirley was nice, disappointed, but kind.

The next day we were in another mall – North Myrtle – a mall that is not doing quite as well. We passed another Reed’s store. Shirley reached in the pocket-purse (that is what Abby calls it) and pulls out the little plastic packet with all her bracelet stuff in it and heads for the store. This man is nice and accommodating. He wasn’t able to refund her money or fix it, but he made a trade for something else. Guess what that nice man did? He won back a person who would have never walked in another Reed’s store again. I should have gone in the store and thanked him.

We all have the opportunity to say the right words, take the high road, and do the right thing. It is harder to do… but in the long run you make yourself and those around you winners.

The other day, as we were going out to dinner, I looked at the name plate of the owner of the condo across the hall from us. Now these are condos in the $450,000 and up category. As I was looking two people walked up. I said, “I was just looking at the name of the owners of this condo.” Their reply was “We are the owners.” So, with nothing else to say, I said: “You must be Charles and Sarah Brown?” Quickly they said “Yes, we are.” and moved into their condo and loudly turned the dead bold. It was so noticeably loud we were sure that they thought us to be the strange people across the hall who were plotting a way to break into their home.

Today Shirley stopped and talked with Sarah in the hallway about a place to get a good haircut. In their conversation she learned that Charles was a former Marine who served in Vietnam in the 1st Marine Division in Da Nang. He took a pin off his jacket, gave it to Shirley and told her to tell me: “Semper Fi!”

Why is it that so many times we accept the first impression we have of people and things. What a loss if we had never walked into that second Reeds Jewelry Store or stopped to talk with Sarah and Charles? We would have been the losers had we not taken that second step.

Next time we have a bad encounter, perhaps we need to be reminded that we can make a second effort that just may change everything into a whole new adventure where friendships are made and conflict ended.

Dear Lord, thank you for inviting us always to go that extra mile, to speak that word of kindness, to hold our tongue when our thoughts are unfavorable, and to speak words of grace and love, kindness and forgiveness, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Hope Flew Out The Window

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

Today on CNN Trayvon Martin’s father said that “this jury did not consider this case from his son’s perspective”. He is right. However, what he did not say was that they really could not do that. They could only understand it from their life’s understanding and perspective of the facts presented to them. Let me use some of Ron Hall’s book “What Difference Do It Make?” to help us in this explanation.

Ron’s book is about a man named Denver Moore, a black friend, who tells the story of his life. Some of these moments are very revealing about the separation between all of us. Denver says: “I was born in Red River Parish, Louisiana, in 1937, a time when whites was whites and blacks was colored. Officially, there wadn’t no slavery, but that didn’t mean there wadn’t no slaves.

We was sharecroppin on a plantation down near Coushatta. When you is croppin, here is how it works. The man that own the plantation give you everything you need to make a cotton crop, ‘cept he give it to you on credit. Then you plant and plow and chop cotton till pickin time. When you bring in that cotton, you s’posed to split that crop down the middle, or maybe 60/40, and the man take his share and you take yours. ‘Cept somehow it never did work out that way ’cause by the time you pay the man back for all he done loaned you on credit, ain’t nothin left outta your share a’ the crop. In fact, most a’ the time, you in the hole, so you got to work another season on the plantation to pay back what you owe.

I worked like that all the way till the 1960’s, all without no paycheck. Then one day when I was grown, I realized I wadn’t never gon’ get ahead. I wad’t never gon be able to pay the man back what I owed. “

This is the first part I want to share with you tonight. Can you imagine that you will have to work very hard all your life and never break even, never get ahead. No one is going to listen, really listen, nor give you a chance. He said, “No body is going to give you a job that paid enough for you to get a place to stay when you done told them you use to be a slave on a plantation. They would throw you a dollar every now and then, and say “Here’s a dollar. Good luck and God bless.” What he is saying is summed up in his next words: “Hope flew out the window. For most of us there came a time when nobody was willin to take us in. Nobody was willin to help in no kinda way. All the doors was slammed in our faces, and the next thing you know, we just sittin on the curb with every-body passing us by, won’t even look at us. And once that happens, people rather come up and pet a stray dog than even say hello.

Even when you see those homeless folks on the street that look real cheerful and happy, that’s just a mask. Underneath is a swamp of misery, but they put on that mask so they can get through the day”.

I read some of Denver’s story and I began to realize that what was missing was hope of things ever changing or people ever caring. Tonight let me leave you with this thought: spend time pondering how you think your life would be if you were in Denver’s shoes: No job, no hope of ever getting a job. Nobody willing to help you out of the pit you are in. Imagine how your life would be right now if you were Denver. It is easy to see that we don’t understand.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Send your responses and let’s see how it affects us.

Walk A Mile in My Shoes

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

I have fought in a war, spent four years in the Marine Corps, forty years in the ministry in the United Methodist Church, dealt with all sorts of people in all sorts of dire circumstances and situations. I was raised in the church by parents who were called by God to be in ministry and who believed I was called to ministry, as well. I have watched my parents and Shirley’s parents both die and took part in their memorial celebrations. I had two nephews drown in a farm pond when they were seven and nine.

My parents being in ministry we moved many times to all sorts of places. My dad had to leave the ministry because my mother was sick and he could not pay the bills. It even got so bad at one time the Salvation Army brought my brother and me Christmas presents (one each). In moving so much we had many friends but very few close friends. I spent twelve years in college, seminary and graduate school.

I am married with one son, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. I love my wife and am faithful to her. We keep our grandkids almost every weekday.

I am a recently retired United Methodist Minister. I love the Lord and believe we all should grow in the likeness of Christ, love everyone as we would a brother or sister, and treat each other as we would want to be treated.

I have mentioned this long litany of my life’s circumstances and relationships because all of this has gone into making me the person I am today. If one or more of these had been different I could be speaking from a different perspective.

With all my life’s experiences I still cannot truly walk in someone else’s shoes… I cannot experience their life. I can read about them, talk with them, see documentaries about their life and cultural situations, but I cannot really understand them fully until I live their life.

Eric Holder, the United States Attorney General, explained this in his recent speech to the NAACP, when he said that as a young black college student in Georgetown he was running because he was late for the start of a movie when he was stopped by a young police officer. I probably would not have been stopped… none of us white persons would have been stopped. All black people, however, understand why Eric was stopped, they might have been stopped, and they know why.

Tonight, please take the time to consider what made you who you are today. But more than that, let us get ready for a little more discussion tomorrow night about how some/many black people experience life in the U.S.

Grace and Peace

Steve