Israel Pilgrimage Journal Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thursday, 4/30

Up at 5 AM. Drank my water while texting Jana in the lobby. Journaled about yesterday. Ate breakfast about 6:30 AM. Met our guide, Hilik, in the lobby about 8:15 AM, a little late. We introduced ourselves to our group of 8 and off we went. We tried to go to the Mount of Olives, but were turned away by police because of children throwing rocks. Went instead to the Old City. We waited at a park, while our guide parked the bus,

Walls and stone pathway that surround the Old City of Jerusalem.

Walls and stone pathway that surround the Old City of Jerusalem.

because no vehicles are allowed in the Old City. We went to King David’s tomb then the Upper Room. King

Inside of the Upper Room in Jerusalem.  Loved the vaulted ceilings!

Inside of the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Loved the vaulted ceilings!

David’s tomb was separated by gender like the Western Wall. Men on one side, women on the other. Hilik says the Upper Room was the home of Joseph of Arimathea. I’m not sure- no Biblical evidence- but it could be. That site, and many others in the Old City, was first marked by Helen, Constantine’s mother, the namesake of St. Helena parish in Louisiana where Pine Ridge is located.

Mural depicting what the Cardo probably looked like.

Mural depicting what the Cardo probably looked like.

From there we walked through the Old city to

Columns still standing along the Cardo in Jerusalem.

Columns still standing along the Cardo in Jerusalem.

the Cardo.  Which was the main Roman road through the city of Jerusalem

Then we walked through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher about 12 PM. It was full. Emile and I waited outside, since we had been the day before. Most of our group waited 40-60

Outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

minutes to get inside of Jesus’ tomb and tour the church. Since Emile and I had been the day before, we decided not to fight the crowd. Our guide did not go in to the church, so our group missed the rock tomb and a few other things that we had seen on Wednesday. Ate in the Old City. I had a falafel on a baguette roll with juice. Pretty expensive- about $15 US.

Then we walked the Via Dolorosa. I think we had walked a portion of it earlier on the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Via Dolorosa is a very winding and commercialized path. Rather narrow. Probably only 10 feet or so across in many places. Hope to walk it again before we leave. Tried to take pictures at each station, but not sure if I got them all. Ended at the Western or Wailing Wall of the Temple. Today there was much more joy and singing because it was one of two days that Bar Mitzahs are held at the Western Wall. The father’s cried when the boy becoming a man was handed the

Reading from the Torah at the Western Wall.

Reading from the Torah at the Western Wall.

Torah and read from it. Tried to get a few pictures of the Torah scrolls. The Western Wall is segregated by

Young man being handed the Torah scroll during his Bar Mitzah ceremony at the Western Wall.

Young man being handed the Torah scroll during his Bar Mitzah ceremony at the Western Wall.

gender, so after reading the Torah, the boys and men would go to tables by the women’s side or back near the ritual washing stations. The moms and women would throw sweets and candy to the boys and sing. It seems a shame that the women could only watch and not fully participate but that’s the way it has been done for many years. Our guide said Monday and Thursday are the days for Bar Mitzahs.

Left the Old City to go to the Garden Tomb and Gordon’s Cavalry. Much less

Gordon's Cavalry at the Garden Tomb.  You can see the two eyes and the mouth.  The nose has sheared off over time.

Gordon’s Cavalry at the Garden Tomb. You can see the two eyes and the mouth. The nose has sheared off over time.

tradition here- not marked until the late 1800’s. But probably looks more like actual calvary with a rock face in the cliff and beautiful gardens. Got some pictures of an ancient winepress. Garden Tomb had several chambers in it. Felt a little rushed here. Hope to go back, especially since it is

Inside the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.

Inside the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.

just down from the hotel.

Drove up to the Mount of Olives. Great views of the Old City and the temple mount from here. I think I got some good pictures. I didn’t realize all the sites were so close together. The Via Dolorosa is less than 1 mile long. We then went to Church of All Nations where Jesus prayed at the garden of Gethsemane.

View of the Mt. Moriah and the Temple Mount from Mt.  Zion.

View of the Mt. Moriah and the Temple Mount from Mt. Zion.

They were having service, so I was unable to get picture of the rock where Jesus prayed in the Garden,

Outside of the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Outside of the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane.

which was underneath the altar. Got some pictures of the church. Walked through the olive grove. Very impressive trees. Hope I got some good pictures. I walked down into the grotto of Gethsemane where it is believed that Judas betrayed Jesus while the disciples slept there. Also in the grotto was 1 of 2 possible sites for the tomb of Mary the mother of Jesus. The

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Some may have been alive when Jesus prayed there over 2,000 years ago!

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some may have been alive when Jesus prayed there over 2,000 years ago!

other is in Ephesus. Mary’s tomb was WAY down many steps. Emile chose not to go. A group of women were there praying at her tomb.

Grotto below the Garden of Gethsemane.

Grotto below the Garden of Gethsemane.

On the way out, we saw St. Peter Galicantu church where Peter betrayed Jesus but did not go in. Got back to the hotel about 5. Rested until supper at 6:30. Walked around a bit after supper but the corner store was closed and lots of police out. Found out later that it was a protest over police brutality. Went to bed about 10. Busy day. Weather was nice today with highs about 70 and around 50 in the morning.

About our group:

A man and a woman from Portland, OR with their child, Samuel, about 18 months old. She is 5 months pregnant. We also had a couple from New Mexico. They are Presbyterians. Sat with us at dinner and visited. He is a CPA with a geology background. She has had several deaths in her family over the last few years. 2 Australians Julie and Annie. Annie is over 80 but stayed with us. I heard that she came without her husband because he is non-ambulatory. Julie wanted to stop and shop. I though she was going to get shot when she tried to walk past the guards to get to the Dome of the Rock where only Muslims are allowed to go. One of our group asked if the Via Dolorosa is in Bethlehem. Group does not seem to be very knowleadgeable about the Bible. The woman from Oregon seems to have traveled in the Middle East before as she helped me figure out what to pay at lunch.

About our Hotel:

We stayed at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem. It was nice but feels touristy. Located next to 3 other hotels. Walk of about 1 mile to the Damascus Gate, past the Garden Tomb. There were several large groups coming in on Thursday night- very chaotic. They served fresh omelets for breakfast but not always on a consistent schedule. They had a beautiful courtyard of roses and an olive tree. The internet is good in the lobby, but spotty in the room. We stayed in room 937, opposite the elevator. It is a long walk around. Bed is very hard.

For more pictures, see my facebook page: Israel Pilgrimage Thursday, April 30, 2015

Living in the Moment

Jana with friend Lisa before the Garth Brooks Concert  July 11, 2015

Jana with friend Lisa before the Garth Brooks Concert July 11, 2015

Since Kevin began his blog I have thought about starting my own. Then I think…I do not have time for that. There are too many other things that occur that I don’t do well or at all because I take on too many things. So, I decided that I can overtake his blog now and then, right? Ok, maybe instead of taking over, he will let me be a guest blogger. Now, I didn’t ask him… I told him I had something I wanted to say and I was going to be a guest blogger. He looked at me with surprise and then said, “OK!”

This past Saturday night (July 11) I had the opportunity to go to the Garth Brooks concert in New Orleans, LA. When I heard he was coming, I wanted to go and I asked a few friends. Only one had the time and wanted to go, so we decided to pursue some tickets. The day we bought the tickets, I reverted back to the 16 year old version of me with excitement! I was giddy!

The week leading up to this week was so busy that I didn’t realize the weekend of the concert was upon us. Then I saw a friend on Facebook say something about going to the concert the following night. I thought, “hmm… she must be going somewhere else because that is not until next week.” Then it hit me… not that is THIS SATURDAY! I had made a plan for the event weeks in advance and it was all mapped out on my calendar, but I was living moment to moment in the busy week.

Saturday came and I started my day. First on the agenda was the wedding shower in Hammond. I got up, dressed and headed down. I had a great time visiting with friends and meeting new people. It was a great celebration of the upcoming wedding of a very sweet couple (that had been to the house previous night for dinner and a visit). I rushed home to shower and change clothes to meet my friend, Lisa.

We headed out and the excitement was building, but anyone that has travelled to New Orleans for any big event knows (and many times even without an event) traffic can quickly come to a crawl. Fortunately (and this doesn’t always happen this way), the traffic moving fairly quickly and thinned out some. We were in downtown at the superdome searching for a parking place. We found (a free one – YAY) quickly. Then we had hours…literally hours to wait for the concert to begin. We were even an hour and half before the event center even opened. First and foremost it was about parking. Second, when you travel to New Orleans… it’s all about the food (no matter the reason for the visit). We settled on Reginelli’s Pizza. Before you say, pizza… it’s local to New Orleans and it is not the standard pizza place and it was fabulous!

On to the venue. We walked in and went toward the area that said floor seating. We had to get a wrist band before heading in. Oh, wow! I didn’t realize it was all of this to sit on the floor. We found our seat quickly and then it was more hurry up and wait. We sat, talked and watched people file in. I am a people watcher and New Orleans never disappoints with a variety of people to watch! The concert was set to start at 7 and as 7 approached people began to get to their seats and settle down. The announcer came on and everyone jumped to their feet thinking… here comes Garth. Nope! That was just a tease… it was to say he would be out in five minutes time. The collective moan rippled through and everyone sat back down. With one minute left the countdown began on the screen and you could cut the anticipation with a knife. People sprang to their feet and as the last ten seconds ticked the crowd counted down. The next thing I knew, Garth Brooks as on the stage singing!! How exciting! I could see him on the screen and if that giant would just step to the right or left I could see Garth himself (OK… he wasn’t a giant, but he was way taller than anyone around and in my line of sight). I’m maneuvering so that I can see better and I notice something…probably 2/3 of the people had their cell phones up filming and taking pictures. Here we are in a once in a lifetime event and they are worried about taking pictures or filming. OK, OK, I think, this is just the first song excitement. But it wasn’t just for the first song! It lasted THE ENTIRE CONCERT! This got me to thinking…when did we stop being in the moment? When did we stop experiencing what was happening now because we were worried about videoing or capturing it in a picture for later?

Throughout the night, I watched just the people around us and many of them were videoing… the ENTIRE CONCERT! This was a truly amazing event. Garth Brooks put on an amazing show and much of it had to do with the energy of the crowd. A Louisiana crowd is always a welcoming one, but in New Orleans it is over the top! I didn’t want to miss one minute of it. I wanted to sing every word of every song (and I DID) and I wanted to dance and I wanted to enjoy every moment! I wanted to relive the songs of my teenage years and all the joy I had at dances and previous Garth Brooks concerts singing and dancing to them. I wanted to experience the concert…the live music and the fabulous musicians. But in some ways it was hard to do. As I looked up I had to look through the sea of cell phones to see the stage. I came to see Garth, not Garth on the small screen of other cell phones. At one point, I just wanted to yell, “put the phones down already!” Like anyone would hear me or it would do any good, but it would have made me feel much better! Lisa and I even remarked to each other about it. And again, I kept thinking…. When did we stop being in the moment as a society?

Since I left the concert, this has been heavy on my mind. I began to think about other recent events I have been to and again…I recall seeing the sea of cell phones up to “capture” the moment. And then Kevin gave an illustration in his sermon on Sunday of a person visiting Switzerland and wanting to meet the great theologian, Karl Barth. This gentleman unknowingly sat down next to Karl Barth and began to talk with him.  They were visiting on the bus when Barth asked him, “What do you hope to see in our fine city?” “Oh, I really want to meet the theologian Karl Barth” replied the visitor. Karl Barth replied, “I know him well, I shave him every day.” This gentleman left saying, “Wow, I met Karl Barth’s barber today!” This gentleman totally and completely missed experiencing Karl Barth, the very man he hoped to meet! I think this is exactly how we are in our culture today. We are more interested in the photo op than the moment. Our need for instant gratification is so great that we cannot live in the moment, we have to be sure that we get that video or picture so that we can save it for later to see and relive it again and again!

Remember I told you that I did take a few pictures and a couple videos. Since the concert, I’ve looked at both. I just knew it would be great to revisit what I had experienced. I especially wanted to show Kevin the reaction to “Callin’ Baton Rouge”. I can tell you, it wasn’t that great. It just wasn’t the same! You just cannot compare a video to the “moment”! Even today, Lisa and I had lunch with another friend and we recalled the concert. We recalled our experience, but it was a “you just had to be there!” kind of thing. And that is ok! We need to savor those moments and enjoy!

I challenge us all that when we have the opportunity to experience an event, we do just that… experience the moment! Please, do not think I am saying do not snap a picture for posterity. But snap a pic and savor the event. Don’t stress about getting that video or picture…be in the moment! Experience all the things that are happening in that moment. Take the picture in your mind… that picture never fades or goes away!

Israel Pilgrimage Journal Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wednesday, 4/29/15

I slept OK, but the bed is really hard. Emile said I snored some but I couldn’t find my nasal strips. Found them today so hope tonight is better. Woke up at 5 AM so I could call Jana at home about 9 PM. Talked to her for about 8 minutes in hotel lobby. Watched the sun rise from the courtyard and took a few pictures for

Olive Tree at Sunrise in the courtyard at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem.

Olive Tree at Sunrise in the courtyard at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem.

Facebook. Went back to the room, Emile still sleeping. Checked Facebook and email, then went to breakfast. Emile met me there. Had omelet, salad, and fruit for breakfast. Juices were good and fresh. Wrote some in journal and watched people. There seems to be people from all over the world here, Russians, Hebrews, Americans, Orientals, and many other nationalities. Very interesting to see the variety of people.

Returned to the room about 9. Shaved, brushed teeth, packed the backpack and camera. Ready to go for the day. We walked down St. George street toward the Old City. We stopped for a few minutes at St. George Anglican church. They had a beautiful pipe organ and a baptistry cover that lifts to the ceiling via a counter weight- very cool. We walked down St. George St. past the British and US consulate and

The Damascus Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Damascus Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem.

arrived at the Damascus Gate. Damascus gate was impressive stone, very

LSU shirt from the Jerusalem bazaar.  The Hebrew reads

LSU shirt from the Jerusalem bazaar. The Hebrew reads “Tigers”.

sturdy and thick. Walked through the bazaar and bought a falafel. It was good- almost like a flavored cornbread mixed with vegetables then stuffed in a pita. Spent more time in the bazaar but only bought the Hebrew LSU shirt. Walked out the New Gate, then in through the Jaffa Gate. Exchanged some money then went to the church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Stone of Unction at the entry of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Stone of Unction at the entry of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Stone of Unction where they laid Jesus’ body, is the first thing when you walk in the doors. Knelt down and touched it. Then up some steep stairs to place where Jesus’ cross was in the ground. The stone was encased in glass and I had to approach the hole on my knees on the stone. Ouch! The stone was hollowed out where so many people had come to kneel and pray where Jesus was crucified. Then went down the stairs to a hollowed out cave from

Hand carved tomb from Herodian Era inside the church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Hand carved tomb from Herodian Era inside the church of the Holy Sepulcher.

the Herodian era that seemed typical of the place where Jesus was laid. Also shows that this site was a cemetery. Is it the correct tomb? Who knows, only God. But it gives one some idea of what it might have looked like. Skipped the little room in the center of the church that is supposed to be the tomb of Jesus. People were piling in like crazy and the line was long. Hope to go back early before we leave to beat the crowds. The church was very ornate, but the light streaming in above the tomb was very nice. But it did not feel “holy” as I expected. It felt more like a tourist site. It was very noisy with all the people inside the church and the stone walls.  But I was reminded

Sunlight streams into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb of Jesus.

Sunlight streams into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb of Jesus.

of how many people follow Jesus- so many different nationalities and languages were there.

Stopped at a cafe for juice. Had lemonade with mint. Very good and cool but

Me with the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in the background.

Me with the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in the background.

kind of expensive at 20 shekels (almost $5 US). From there, we went to the Western Wall. Got some good pictures from an observation point looking at the wall and the Dome of the Rock. Had to go through security again to get to the Western Wall. Went and prayed at the wall. Very moving. This site felt

Saying a prayer at the Western (Wailing) Wall of the Temple mount.

Saying a prayer at the Western (Wailing) Wall of the Temple mount.

holy, reverent, respectful. But it was very hot, over 90 degrees F, in the bright sun, so we didn’t stay too long. Rested a bit, then walked back passing some of the stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa. The stations are quite understated, just a roman numeral as a marker. Got back to the room about 3 PM. Tired. Hands and feet swollen. Rested until 6, then ate supper about 6:30. Wandered down to corner store to get drinks for Emile. Sat in lobby and talked and people watched until about 9. Got in bed about 10 PM. Busy day today with the first day of touring coming tomorrow, April 30. Weather was hot today, over 90 degrees, especially hot and sunny at the Western Wall.

See more pictures from Wednesday, April 29 on my facebook page here Pictures from Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Israel Pilgrimage Journal Monday, April 27- Tuesday, April 28

It was a dark and stormy morning on Monday, April 27. There were tornado warnings and even confirmed tornadoes for Baton Rouge, Gonzales, and near New Orleans, where I was supposed to fly out at 5:30 PM. New Orleans Advocate story and pictures of stormy weather on April 27, 2015  I ran the bulletins for the May 3 service and ran a few errands before loading the car about 12 PM. We stopped in Ponchatoula to eat and the let the New Orleans airport clear a bit because the weather was so bad that they were diverting planes after closing the airport earlier that morning. Arrived at the airport about 2 PM. I said goodbye to Jana and started my Israel adventure.

Security at the airport was long, but moved fast. I guess it was everyone leaving New Orleans the day after Jazz Fest. When I cleared security and got to the gate, people were running to catch a plane to Atlanta, their schedule delayed by the bad weather. My own flight to John F. Kennedy airport in New York was also delayed, not leaving until about 6.

I was on a small regional jet and one of my carry ons had to be stowed under the plane. I snuggled in next to the person in the adjoining seat and we were off to JFK. I read and played games on the way to NYC, hoping that I would be tired enough to sleep some on the 10+ hour flight to Tel Aviv.

When I landed at JFK, I was basically one level below my gate for the flight to Tel Aviv. Emile met me at a burger place in JFK just down from our gate. I ordered a burger and fries and finally received it after a long wait. The restaurant was in a hurry to clean up, so that they could close at midnight. Our flight must have been one of the final flights out of JFK because the airport was almost empty, even in “the city that never sleeps.” After eating, we went straight to board the plane. It was chaos. The waiting area was too small, so many of us were forced to stand.

The variety of people was interesting. There were many orthodox Jews with hats and conservative dress, others wearing a yamaka on their head. There were also many Christians with Bibles or study guides. As we started to board, we went through another level of Israeli security. I forgot to take off my watch and the metal detector alerted. I removed my watch, they scanned it, and I went back through security and passed!
Finally, I boarded the plane. It was 9 seats across! The biggest plane I have ever been on! I was near the back of the plane- aisle seat on the left side. I was seated next to 2 women from Florida. They were also Christians headed to Israel for plilgrimage. One was working on a study guide.

The flight was LONG! I watched “Exodus- Gods and Kings”, read my Israel tour book and tried to sleep. But I soon discovered there was not much room! I think I got about 2 hours of sleep. The flight was pretty smooth, just a little bumpy over the Mediterranean sea and as we left JFK.

When we arrived in Israel, the passport control long was quite long. When I finally got there, the official asked me who I was touring with. “Gordon Tours” I replied. “Is it a Delta company?” he asked. “I don’t know” I replied. He asked to see my boarding pass and let me through. I guess he decided that I had not swam to Israel!

We found our baggage quickly and our tour guide. She put us in a cab driven by Ronnie. Ronnie rarely spoke to us, but I only thought I was going to die a few times, so not too bad a ride in a foreign cab! Got to the Grand Court hotel after about an hour and a half drive from Tel Aviv, made longer by construction. We checked in to room 937. It was a long walk to reach our room from the elevator, as our room was on the opposite side of the hotel.

Supper plate from the Restaurant at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem

Supper plate from the Restaurant at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem

We arrived in Jerusalem a little after dark, about 7:30 PM. We went to the room and unpacked a little, then went down for supper. Supper was good- chicken, beef, broiled fish, and lots of salads and vegetables. Lighter than American fare. Lots of desserts and they were very good! We were hungry after the airplane meals.

Our Room at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem

Our Room at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem

After supper, we walked around a little, buying a few bottles of water at a nearby corner shop. We walked through a little shop at the next door Olive Tree Hotel, then returned to our hotel. We considered going to the Old City, but we weren’t sure exactly how to get there. My phone was dead and I had left it in the room to charge, so I was no help. I mostly wanted just to sleep anyway. We returned to the room, did some unpacking, and turned out the lights about 10 PM.

Putting Down the Pen . . . and Picking it Up Again

After my trip to Israel last month, I was asked to share my pictures and experiences.  I replied that I planned to put my daily journal that I wrote while on my pilgrimage and some of my favorite pictures on my blog.  “Good,” he replied, “I noticed that you hadn’t written anything for a while.”

fountain pen on paperHe was being kind!  When I looked back, I realized that I had not written anything in over 10 months!  Maybe there was not much to write about, I thought.  No, that was definitely not true.  I had seen God working all around me and had plenty of things that I could have written.  No, I had just put down my pen and had not been disciplined enough to pick it back up again. I had become busy and had not taken the time needed to practice the discipline of writing.

Isn’t that just like what happens in our spiritual lives?  We have good intentions about how we are going to go to church, read our Bible, spend more time in prayer, even spend more time writing, but life breaks in and all of our good intentions are set aside.  These things that keep us connected to God are not particularly difficult, but they must be practiced regularly for maximum effectiveness.  I wonder if these simplicity of these practices may actually impede consistent exercise of them.  “I can read the Bible tomorrow, today is really busy” we think.  Or “It’s already Sunday!?  I’m tired.  It’s been a long week. I think I’ll just sleep late instead of attending church.”  Using these practices is like strength training for Christians.  Maybe that is why they are called spiritual disciplines.  Because it takes discipline to make the things of God something we attend to regularly.  If we are not careful, intentional, and disciplined, in approach to spirituality and Christianity, then before we know it, months have passed and we have not attended to our spiritual lives.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, was very disciplined in his life and practice.  He wrote many books, but maybe his most amazing work was his journal that includes almost daily entries from October 14, 1735, to October 24, 1790.  In case, like me, you are not a math major, that means that Mr. Wesley wrote in his journal for over 55 years!  I am amazed and astounded at the discipline and commitment it takes to do one thing for over 55 years!  I dare say that there are very few things in our lives that we will do for that long!  Of course, John Wesley was disciplined in his life and faith in many more ways than just his writing, that’s how he came to be called a Methodist.  Even today, those of us who seek to follow Jesus in the footsteps of Mr. Wesley are still called Methodists, though I sometimes wonder how methodical we really are, but that sounds like a topic for another day.

So following Wesley’s example and inspiration, I have put down my pen for far too long.  I pick it up again to follow his example and hopefully to be more disciplined in my writing and my faith.  The good news, for me and for all of us, is that Wesley was a staunch proponent of God’s grace, grace that gives us a new start, grace that is present even when we aren’t looking for God.  So claiming that grace, I pick up the pen again, hoping and praying that I will have the discipline to attend to the things of God consistently and praying God will use what I write to impact your life and faith.

By the way, if you are interested in reading more of John Wesley’s journal, you can find it to read online or download to your e-reader at John Wesley’s Journal at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Things to consider:  When is the last time you have attended to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship attendance, and other things that keep you in touch with God?  How can we be more disciplined in practicing the disciplines of Christianity?  What disciplines have you set aside that you need to pick up again?

Forgiving ourselves

Wallpaper featuring Dan Fouts, Quarterback of the San Diego Chargedr from 1973-1987

Wallpaper featuring Dan Fouts, Quarterback of the San Diego Chargers from 1973-1987

On Saturday, August 23, I sat in my recliner after a busy week of ministry to watch my favorite professional football team, the New Orleans Saints, face the Indianapolis Colts in their 3rd preseason game.  The announcers for the game were Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts,who was providing the color, or expert, commentary.  Dan Fouts certainly qualifies as an expert in the game.  A pro football Hall of Fame member, Fouts threw for 43,040 yards and 254 touchdowns during his 15 years with the San Diego Chargers (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Fouts).

During the game, Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck, underthrew a receiver late in the second quarter and the ball was picked off by the Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.  What surprised me about the play was not the interception, nor the underthrown ball, but Fouts’ reaction to it.  Fouts said that Andrew Luck would remember that throw, just as Fouts said he remembers every one of the 242 interceptions that he threw in his career.

I found it surprising that Fouts remembered the exact number of interceptions he threw and that he claimed to remember every one of those mistakes.  I wondered if he could remember the great plays and throws he made over the years and if he knew the the exact numbers of all the positive things he did in his career such as the many touchdowns and thousands of yards mentioned earlier.  My guess (and it is only a guess) is that Fouts could probably not remember all of the great throws and great moments he had to help San Diego have so many successful seasons.  I couldn’t help but wonder why it is the bad things that we remember rather than the good things.  Why is it so  hard for us to let our past go and forgive ourselves for our past mistakes, which are sometimes much worse than an interception in a football game?

The Bible is full of verses about God’s forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Micah 7:18-19 says “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  My favorite verse on forgiveness is Psalm 103:12, which reads “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” These are only a few of many bible verses about God’s forgiveness. So if God is willing to forgive us and remove our sins and mistakes from us, why is it so difficult for us to forgive ourselves and forget our mistakes?

I am reading a book by Adam Hamilton titled “Forgiveness:Finding Peace Through Letting Go.”  I am reading and studying it in preparation to use it as our fall study at Pine Ridge and Tangipahoa United Methodist Churches.  While studying and considering the content of the book, I discovered some unforgiveness in my own life and I am trying to let it go.  Who was the one I had to forgive the most? Myself!  I was still holding on to mistakes and regrets in my own life that were stumbling blocks to me personally and professionally.  Maybe that is why what Adam Hamilton calls the six hardest words to say (I am sorry; please forgive me) are in the first person tense.  Maybe that is why Dan Fouts remembers the 242 interceptions rather than the 43,040 yards and 254 touchdowns.  Maybe if we are going to get serious about forgiveness, we need to start with forgiving ourselves and letting go of our mistakes.

Questions to consider:  When have you had a hard time forgiving yourself for past mistakes?  Why?  How did (or have you) made peace with those mistakes?  If God is willing to forgive us, why is it so difficult for us to forgive ourselves?

 

Rolling out the Welcome Mat

Sign welcoming us to the City of Fairbanks

Sign welcoming us to the City of Fairbanks

We arrived into Fairbanks via train.  As we were coming into Fairbanks, I saw something I had never seen before.  A family had pulled on to the side of the highway as our train passed by, pulled out a homemade “Welcome to Fairbanks” sign, and waved as we passed.  As far as I could tell, they were just a regular family, not tourist professionals, but they seemed excited that we had traveled to their city.  Not just in Fairbanks, but all across Alaska, the people seemed to really appreciate and welcome us to their state.  In almost every store the clerks said “thank you for visiting” even when we didn’t buy anything.  It was as if the people of Alaska realized that their state wasn’t “just around the corner” for many of their visitors and they really appreciated the time, effort and money that the visitors (like us) put in to visit Alaska.

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t crabby and obstinate people in Alaska (though I don’t recall meeting any), but I couldn’t help but wonder how we receive people here in Louisiana.  Like Alaska, the Louisiana tourist industry is a big part of our state.  This commercial by Louisiana Tourism that I have seen on television recently, states that we have over 25 million visitors to  Louisiana, and 1 in 11 jobs in our state is related to tourism.  Tourism brings in over $10.4 billion dollars to our state.  And there are great things to see in our state- Audubon Zoo, D-Day Museum, Aquarium of the Americas, Superdome, Poverty Point, Antebellum homes, state parks, and so much more.  Who wouldn’t want to come and see these great things?  But for those of us who are “home folks”, I sure hope we say “Welcome to Louisiana” and “Thank you for visiting Louisiana.”

If we welcome visitors to our state and businesses, shouldn’t we welcome them to our church?  After all church is where we gather to worship the living God, to remember God’s grace, mercy and love, as well as how faith has made a difference in our lives.  The first step, of course, is to invite people to church (see blog post “Fishing for People” from June 26, 2014), but once they come to church we must also welcome them like they are loved and appreciated children of God.  And we don’t have a lot of time to welcome them.  This article http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/153325-5-important-facts-about-first-time-guests.html?p=1 by Rick Ezell states that guests make up their minds about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit.  He also states that most church members aren’t friendly.  He writes “Churches claim to be friendly. In fact, many churches put that expression in their logo or tag line. But my experience in visiting churches as a first-time guest proves otherwise. The truth is that most church members are friendly to the people they already know, but not to guests.”  When we are not friendly to guests, then the guests remember that we aren’t the only game in town and may go down the street to the next church, just as we might choose to shop at another store if the one we usually shop at doesn’t have what we need or want.  Rick reminds churches that they are (or should be) in the hospitality business. “Though our ultimate purpose is spiritual, one of our first steps in the Kingdom business is attention to hospitality. Imagine the service that would be given to you in a first-class hotel or a five-star restaurant. Should the church offer anything less to those who have made the great effort to be our guests?”  United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase has even listed Radical Hospitality as one of the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (source:http://fivepractices.org/radical-hospitality/).  The wonderful and scary thing is that how we treat and welcome others not only reflects on our church, our denomination, but on God.  If we don’t treat welcome guests with the love and respect they deserve, they could decide that God wouldn’t welcome them either or that God doesn’t love them.

So what can we do?  We can make a concerted effort to welcome those who we don’t know, even if we are not ushers, or the pastor, or if it is not our “job.” (Remember that homemade welcome sign to Fairbanks?)  Maybe one way to do this would be to follow the rule of ten, meaning that we greet anyone within ten feet of us, whether we know them or not.  Or we could follow the rule of three, which encourages us to spend the first three minutes after the service ends to welcome and greet those we don’t know, since most guests leave within three minutes after the service is over.  These are only a few ways to welcome and greet others, maybe you know of others.  Whoever we are and whatever we do, let us make an effort to roll out the welcome mat and greet others in church, in our businesses, and even visitors to our state.

Questions to consider:  When were you welcomed well to a city/state/business/church and how did it make you feel?  When were you not welcomed to a city/state/business/church and how did it make you feel?  What is God calling you to do to welcome others to your church and business?