Friday, August 17, 2018

Motown Memories

I recall a Friday night in the summer of 1964.  A friend and I were with our dates at the Michigan State Fair.  We were not there for the rides or the food.  We didn’t even visit the auto exhibits.  The real attraction was the Motown Review.  Over the course of two hours we heard The Temptation, Four Tops, Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas and The Supremes.  Junior Walker and the All Stars were on stage the entire time, serving as the house band.  Somewhere toward the end of that evening I recall remarking to my friend, “It does not get any better than this.”

The memories of summers in Motown came back yesterday as I heard the news of the death of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.  While Aretha did not record for Motown Records (she signed with Atlantic Records), she was very much a part of local culture.  Aretha Franklin grew up in the same neighborhood as Smokey Robinson and other Motown stars.  Two of the more famous artist Levi Stubbs, the lead singer in the Four Tops, and David Ruffin, lead singer for the Temptations, have already gone to join the heavenly choir.  I am sure they welcomed Sister Aretha with open arms.

Music is a big part of my life.  My favorite radio station is Sixties on Six on XM Radio. I know almost all the words by heart.  A favorite game when my grandsons are in the car is the stump grandpa.  I name the artist and year for almost every song that is played.  That is because there seems to be a memory attached to every song.  I can attach them to who I was with and what I was doing.

While it is vital that I share my faith heritage, I want my children and grandchildren to understand the context that I grew up in.  God has been good and music is one of the gifts that continues to bring joy to my life.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Never Trust Anyone Over 30

“Never trust anyone over 30.”  It is a declaration that is rooted in the turbulent 60’s.  Environmental activist and New Left leader, Jack Weinberg, is credited with making the statement in 1964.  While Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and even the Beatles expressed disdain for anyone of 30, it was Jack Weinberg who spoke it first on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.   It became a rallying cry for a generation that called for change.  It was not just the about Vietnam War, immigration and the environment were also big issues.  Hippies and other protesters pointed out the hypocrisy of those over the age of 30.  The insinuation was that once you passed a certain age you lost perspective.  The causes you once viewed as so important got lost as you climbed both the chronological and economic ladder.

During my years in youth ministry I heard my share of claims of hypocrisy aimed at adults over a certain age.  Typically the line of demarcation was the point at which you were old enough to move into a leadership position, whether in the church or government.  In the minds of many youth, those in position of authority had checked both their brains and moral standards at the door when they assumed their positions.  Many teens were aware of the lifestyle the leaders lived behind the veneer of their positions.  Yes, the kids would use the word “hypocrisy” to describe the behavior of older church members, especially those in leadership positions.

From my perspective, we are all hypocrites in God’s eyes.  We all can join Paul in saying, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do” (Romans 7:18b).   Hypocrisy is part of our human nature, but then so is grace.  If we acknowledge and confess our hypocrisy, God is always quick to forgive.  Herein, I believe, is the key to overcoming the generational gap and sharing the heritage of faith. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Kortni's Last Request

This blog first appeared on August 4, 2011.  It has been seven years since Kortni Marshall died.  I wish I could say things have changed but the reality is substance abuse is still a reality.  It has been a couple of years since I shared it.  I thought it was time.

The realities of our sinful world have hit me hard over the last week. On Friday night my brother, Jim, called me to tell me of the death of his wife's nephew. Jason was only thirty, but had a hard life. His mother deserted their family, and he struggled with a bi-polar like disorder. Jason also battled he demons of addiction. He had spent time in prison, but was finally putting things back together. He was in a halfway house and had even reconnected with his family. They found him dead Friday afternoon.

On Saturday I got news of the sudden death of one of my former Lutheran High students, Kortni Marshall. Kortni and her twin sister, Kimberly, were in our daughter Katie's class. My memories are of a smiling, pixie-like face. Kortni was too innocent, almost naive, but always full of life. There was another side to Kortni. Like Jason, she fought the demons of addiction. Her last request is posted on the Dallas Lutheran Alumni page on Facebook. Tell everyone, "Addiction is real, and it is a disease that can kill you."

Drugs and alcohol are a reality in the teenage world. The choices kids make can lead to tragedy and heartbreak later on.

Two realities:

The average teenager has their first experience with alcohol during the middle school years. Most of the time it takes place in an unchaperoned home environment.

While drugs have been an issue since I was in college, the culture is much different today. The marijuana available today is twenty times stronger than the stuff smoked in the sixties and seventies. It's usually laced with other drugs that are designed to create dependence.

Kortni was a baptized and redeemed child of God. She now rests in Jesus' strong arms. The demons can harm her no more. Just remember her last request. Please talk about this issue with your teens. "Addiction is real, and it is a disease that can kill you." I only wish Kortni was still here to deliver that message personally.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Satisfying Their Curiosity

Each year the Barna Group, in partnership with American Bible Society, conducts a survey to examine behaviors and beliefs about the Bible among U.S. adults.  The recently released 2018 survey reveals that Americans still read the Word, and it remains a powerful, trans-formative tool in their lives.  Perhaps most surprising is that Millennials use their Bibles at about the same percentage as other generations.

Overall, about half of Americans are “Bible users.”  That means they engage with the Bible on their own by reading, listening to, watching, praying or using Bible text or content in any format (not including use at a church service) at least three to four times a year (48%). That percentage has remained relatively steady since 2011. Adults who use the Bible daily account for 14 percent of the total adult population, followed by 13 percent who use it several times a week, 8 percent who do so once a week, 6 percent about once a month and 8 percent who use it three to four times a year.  Baby Boomers have the highest percentage of Bible users (51%) but Millennials are not far behind at 47%.

Americans of all ages continue to be curious about the Bible.  In response to the statement “I am curious about what the Bible says,” 29% strongly agree and 37% somewhat agree.  As expected, curiosity is most common among weekly church attenders, but also with adults with minor children at home and young adults.   

This leads me to wonder whether churches are capitalizing on this curiosity.   As faith communities we often gather around The Word.  In addition to worship, most churches offer Sunday morning Bible classes.  In some cases we also gather in homes in small groups.  But in most cases, we are gathering with other believers to strengthen our faiths and grow in our walks of discipleship.  My concern is that for the most part our studies are exclusive.  If those around us who do not know Jesus have a curiosity about God’s Word why are we not including them in our discussions? 

Aside from the Sunday morning education hour, I would like to propose moving all Bible class out of the church and into the community.  That should especially be the case for small groups.  Restaurants like Panera Bread or Corner Bakery can be an ideal settings.  I do a fair amount of writing at Starbucks.  I have found that having a Bible open, even when I am working on my laptop, can be a door opener.

If the world is curious about the Bible we need to be more open to satisfying that curiosity.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Surprising Love Affair

I spent the last four days at the Texas District LCMS youth gathering; Glorybound 2018.  I was part of the planning committee and during the event was part of the adult care team.  It was an inspiring event filled with dynamic music and inspirational speakers.  Two of those speakers had inspiring stories to tell.  Jake Olsen has been blind in both eyes since the age of twelve.  In spite of that he has become a long-snapper for the University of Southern California Trojan football team.  At age eleven Victoria Arlen was struck with a combination of two autoimmune disorders.  For four years she was a prisoner inside her own body, unable to move or communicate.  She recovered to earn a gold medal in the Paralympics. Since leaving her wheelchair behind she has appeared on Dancing with the Stars and today is an on-the-air reporter for ESPN.  Both Jake and Victoria gave testimony to the role their faith played in their lives.

Surprisingly the most popular speaker at the gathering was not Jake or Victoria.  The speaker the kids could not get enough of was World War II veteran Don Graves.  Don Graves was part of the Battle of Iwo Jima.  Of the over three hundred men in his company he is one of less than twenty who survived the attack.  At age 92, Don continues to tell his inspiring story and the young people at Glorybound could not get enough.  He got a standing ovation after singing the National Anthem to kick off the event.  They crowded around the table where his pictures and memorabilia were displayed.  They could not wait to meet him and hear more stories.  The program team could not find a room big enough to accommodate all those who wanted to be in his sectional workshop. 

I was not surprised that today’s teens would be drawn to a World War II veteran and his story.  As a group, members of Generation Z (those born since 1999) are more driven to make a difference in the world.  Many are making decisions about a career and education earlier.  Their goal often is to make the world a safer, better place.  Learning from those who have gone before them is part of that process; hence the desire to be mentored by a World War II veteran. 

The above makes this generation unique from any that has gone before them.  I am not sure Millennials and members of Generation X had the same desire to listen to voices from the past.  Yes, I am optimistic about today’s generation of teens and this past weekend confirmed it.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Like a Mighty Army

The United States Army is looking for a new slogan.  Evidently “Army Strong” does not speak to the current generation of new recruits.  The Army wants a slogan closer to “Be All You Can Be” which was successful during the 1980s and 1990s.  They feel such a motto would resonate better with Millennials.  The Army has nearly 1 million soldiers in the active-duty, in reserve forces, and in the Army National Guard.   It is now looking for a new catchphrase that relates its story.  Army Sergeant Major Daniel Dailey recently told reporters, "I think we have to change our marketing strategy as an Army, and we are looking at that right now,"  

According to The Business Insider, The US Navy has also struggled to find a recruiting slogan that captures the attention of millennials. They recently retired their last slogan, "A Global Force for Good," in favor of, "Forged by the Sea."

All of this has caused me to wonder why churches have not gotten on board and come up with a catchy refrain designed to reach the current generation of teens and young adults.  Across the board, mainline denominations are in decline.  Perhaps a catchy slogan would speak to a new generation.  If the Navy has dropped “A Global Force for Good” perhaps we could rephrase that as “A Force to Save the World.” 

Then I got to thinking.  Each of us should be a living slogan.  The church really should be an “Army of One.”  I recall some of the great hymns of the past, “Like a mighty army, moves the church of God.  Brothers we are treading where the saints have trod.”  I fear we have become complacent.  A catchy jingle does not mean a thing if people do not live up to their calling.  God has called us to be "A Force to Save the World."

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Immigration Debate: A Generational Perspective

The immigration issue is not only a hot topic but one that has divided our country.  A new report from Pew Research has provided me with some insight into the problem and why it has become such a divisive issue.  Like so many other issue, past and present, the problem appears to be rooted in misinformation.  The generational divide, so common when it comes to issues also seems to apply here.  In this case Millennials, at least those ages 18-29, seem to have a better understanding of the issue.  I want to address two of the aspects.

One of the realities is that a majority of immigrants are in the country legally.  Young adults seem to be much more informed on this issue.  Fifty-eight percent (58%) of those ages 18-29 who were polled responded yes to the statement “most immigrants are in the U.S. legally.  Only 4% responded that “they did not know.”  Among those over the age of 65 only 35% were aware that most immigrants are here legally.  A surprising 20% responded that “they did not know.”

The other issue is the impact that immigrants have on the U.S. labor market.  Overall, 71% of those polled agreed that “immigrants most filled jobs that U.S. citizens do not want.”  Again there was a disparity across generations.  Eighty percent (80%) of those 18-29 held that opinion, compared to 68% of those over the age of 65.

Millennials and members of Generation Z (those born after 2000) have grown up in a much more diverse world. If they have gone to a public high school or university they have gotten to know individuals from different cultures and ethnic groups.  This has not only caused them to be more tolerant toward immigrants but also more accepting when it comes to the positive impact they can have on our country.  This might be one issue where we can learn from them.