The Author

Plant Monsters

All the rose bushes in our yard are gone. Over the last few weeks, I have cut and dug and pulled until they are no more. It was not a labor of love, but one of frustration and sadness because those spreading roses in the front yard were all-summer bloomers, the talk of neighbors who walked down the sidewalk just to get a view of the flowers. They were done in by the dreaded rose rosette disease.

If you haven’t heard of this evil, rose rosette is rampant on roses (and roses only) in this part of the world, taking out plants left and right. The irony is that it’s not really a disease at all, but a reaction to a mite that feasts on the canes and flowers. If the mites ever invade one plant, they will soon be on all of them. The only answer is to take them all out.

Almost impossible to see, blown in by the wind, the insect turns beautiful plants into monsters. For some reason, the plant reacts to the mite by sending out large red limbs that are covered with thorns. At the end of the cane will be a profusion of buds that never come to flower. They look like a thorny broom, which leads some people to call the problem by its other name, witches’ broom.

I know the roses don’t take it personally, but I do. It almost seems as though the change from beauty to ugliness is not only a signal of infestation, but a cry for help. The abundance of thorns, the gangly limbs, the bud that won’t come to flower – why would anyone self-respecting creature be proud of those? The inability to produce, the loss of beauty, says to all who pass by, “please help.”

All of this reminds me of the human brokenness all around us. Distortion and marred beauty are familiar because of the infestation that corrupts our lives. When those roses cry out, sadly, the only solution is removal, root and branch. How grateful we should be that God sees our brokenness as a cry for help and, through Jesus, removes the infestation. The beauty is restored. God sees it. Do you?

150 Years

I was interviewed this week by someone who is working on an oral history project for the city of Farmers Branch. The interviewer was most interested in hearing about the earliest days of the church in this area, the church’s founding, and those folks who were a part of that beginning.

Like anyone else, I was dependent upon what I had heard and read through the years. I also had to use my imagination, thinking about what it was like when there were no churches, no office buildings, no apartments, no freeways – just farmland and farmers trying to make a living in this black clay soil. It was fun to think about how different life was as they faced challenges on what was then the frontier of Texas.

One of the questions that the interviewer asked me was how a church survives in one place for 150 years. I wished that she had given me a list of questions to think about beforehand, and this was one of them. I was as honest as I know to be. The truth is, no church lasts in the same place for 150 years. People come and go. Cultures and environments change. What once was a farming community church becomes a small town church becomes a growing church in a growing community and then a smaller church in a rapidly changing metropolitan area. Go back to count and you will find that I have just described four churches. Not one church but four (and I am sure that number is too small) over the span of almost 150 years.

However, even with all the change culturally and institutionally, we have much in common with not only that first church, but every one since. Two factors have remained the same. The first is that people made in the image of God have faced the challenges of life while trying to understand how God is at work in their lives. If I may put it plainly, people have always worked, loved, reared families, and died while living in the shadow of God’s grace. The second is this: what remains – survives – is the reality that is the family of God. No matter the change, whether in institution, environment, or culture, that family thread remains. We are connected by faith through the grace of God with all those who have gone before.

How does a church last 150 years? If you mean the same institution in the same place, the answer is: It doesn’t. What lasts is family - the family of God. That lasts for eternity.

Holy Week

As I’ve thought about that last week of Jesus’ life, the life that ended on Friday, it occurs to me that so much of what happened in those days was so ordinary, a reflection of the experiences that we all have in the days and weeks of our lives.

Some days are celebrations. Whether they understood it or not, that crowd that greeted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem were caught up in a spreading fervor as he made his way into the city. Some did know what they were shouting about, but others were just chiming in because we all want and need a little celebration in our lives. As much as we might like to think of those folks as holy, a good number of them were like a crowd at a football game, cheering because everyone else is. After all, who doesn’t need a little joy in their everyday life?

Life is not all celebration, though. Sometimes it’s just confusion and uncertainty. When Jesus gathered his disciples on that Thursday night for that last meal with them, most, if not all, of them, had no idea what was happening. Listen closely to the story of the time together around that table, and you can feel the uneasiness, that sense of not knowing that leads to foreboding. It’s not hard to put yourself in the shoes of those disciples because such an emotion is part of life.

Then, of course, there is the trial and execution. Even after everything Jesus had told them, none of them was prepared for those events. How could they have been? Even with all the warnings, there had to be an expectation that there would be another way, some kind of rescue. I am reminded of a woman who was having a particularly hard time with her marriage. She said, “I didn’t think I was signing up for this.” But she was, because such moments happen all the time.

Such is life. And, that’s good news. During Holy Week, all packed into just a few days are joy and confusion and death. Right in the middle of it all, the center of attention, is Jesus. Jesus –right in the middle of the ordinary of life. That’s what makes all this Holy.

Happy New You

I recently had to be over at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas to renew my clergy badge. This is one of the perks that the hospital provides ministers–after some training–that allows us access to usually off limits or after-hours places in the hospital. I can swipe my card and get into the emergency area or into surgery waiting without having to jump through too many hoops. In addition, using the card allows me to park in some of the employee lots. Because the management of the parking lots has been outsourced to a new company, everyone who had an old badge had to get a new one.

I was standing in line with everyone else just a couple of days after the new year enduring the process while eavesdropping on the conversation in front of me. A couple of ministers who obviously knew each other were comparing notes on how the year had begun. The man directly in front of me was proud of the fact that he was answering the phone in a unique way. Whenever it would ring, he would answer with, “Happy New You!” Every time he said this (and he said it several times), he would break out in a loud laugh. Every time he laughed, I laughed.

He didn’t say how people responded to his greeting. I suspect that if he laughed every time he said, they couldn’t help but respond the way I did. But if you try saying it, you’ll discover that it isn’t easy to say. Probably it’s because we are so used to the familiar phrase that our mind has a hard time adapting to the new phrase. That last word keeps wanting to be year. Old habits are hard to break.

That is the real challenge, isn’t it? At the start of every year, tradition tells us that we should make resolutions, chart a new course, make a new beginning. But it’s hard, much harder than saying – it’s hard to do.Maybe the fellow in front of me laughed because he knew that the “new you” couldn’t happen without some help. I hope it was a prayer, a desire that the one who was listening would discover that newness that we all long for. It certainly is a promise. At the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the year, we are reminded that new things are possible because of the Lord whose birth we celebrate. He is the one who has come to make all things new. Happy new you.