Monthly Archives: April 2007

God and Grandma Wait Til the Last Minute

Grandma passed away yesterday afternoon, just as they were preparing to transport her to hospice care. That’s the thing nobody wanted–not Grandma, not her four children. But the hospital said she couldn’t stay another night there. Thursday night had to be her last night. I prayed that she would pass away during the night, but she didn’t.

My Mom and Dad, my aunts and uncles–all were praying that she would die before it was required to take her to hospice care. They said that on Friday morning, Grandma was in some discomfort, but also didn’t want to be bothered. As Aunt Susie told me, “It was like she had something to do, and she didn’t want to be distracted.” I wonder if Grandma’s attitude was, “Don’t bother me, I’m trying to die.”

All of this could sound very morbid, I realize. But in this context–a family of Christians, and Grandma, who fully wanted to move on to heaven–it was nothing but celebratory.

The ambulance was supposed to come at 3 pm to take her to hospice, but they didn’t get there until 3:50. Some paperwork had to be done. Finally, as the gurney was being wheeled down the hospital corridor toward Grandma’s room, Dad noticed that she stopped breathing.

They’ve all been laughing about God’s timing, how he waited until the last minute. It’s also amusing that Uncle Marvin spent 90 minutes at the hospice filling out forms before he got the call that Grandma had passed away. When he got back to the hospital, he said, “Anyone need a hospice room? We’ve got one ready to go.”

So, the last of my grandparents is gone. Both Grandpa and Grandma lived wonderful lives, and scores of memories for me are wrapped around their farmstead outside of Van Wert, Ohio. Thanks, Grandpa and Grandma, for modeling the Christian life and for making it such incredible fun to be your grandkids.

(My brother Rick wrote about Grandma on his own blog.)

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My Grandma, on the Edge of Heaven

GrandpaGrandma.jpgAbout two miles away, at Lutheran Hospital, room 354, my grandma is dying. This may be her last night. That is the wish of her children. And that is most certainly Grandma’s wish. Life support has been removed; bodily functions are shutting down; the morphine dose has been doubled to keep her comfortable. If she doesn’t pass away tonight, mom will meet with her two brothers tomorrow morning to make arrangements to move her to hospice care, because she can’t stay in the hospital another night.

Am I sad? Not really. Grandma is a godly woman, and she has been a tremendous grandma. She had four brothers, all of whom became Nazarene ministers–prominent ones. The Clay name was well-known in Nazarene circles. They might have become United Brethren (my denomination), like Grandpa and Grandma did. But the Nazarenes decided to start a church near the Clay home, and they scooped up those brothers in the process.

Grandpa, a farmer with a great sense of humor, died 11 years ago. I miss him. It was great fun, as a kid, following him out to do the chores–to feed, as he would say, “the giraffes and hippos and elephants and alligators.” Or whatever animals happened to come to mind. He kept himself very well informed about current events. I remember being at his place as a kid and listening as astronauts read Genesis 1 while in orbit, and watching some of the Watergate hearings with him. He loved his Lord, too.

Grandma was the quintessential farmer’s wife. I loved her thin-sliced homemade noodles. Grandpa would kid her, and she’d just scrunch her face and say with mock exasperation, “Oh, Orren.” That was his name. Orren Otto Welker. And Grandma is Helen, a name I’ve never called her because to me, she is only Grandma.

Pam and I saw Grandma a few nights ago. She is clearly dying, and at first, I hardly recognized her without her glasses and teeth. But her mind is sharp; she knows what is going on and is involved in all of the decisions regarding her care. The other morning, she tore off the oxygen mask a nurse put on her. She doesn’t want to be kept alive. She is determined to go to heaven, and the sooner, the better. Don’t try to keep her lingering around. She adamantly refuses to settle for that.

So maybe tonight Grandma will die. That is my hope and prayer. Mom and Dad are praying for that. So are Uncle Marvin and Aunt Janet, who live just a mile from Grandpa and Grandma’s place outside of Van Wert, Ohio. So too, I suspect, are Uncle Mark and Aunt Susie, who arrived today from Boulder, Colo., and were with Grandma tonight.

And now, finally, having written this, with my mind wandering over so many great memories, I find myself choked up. Tears are coming. Sleep peacefully, Grandma. I pray that you awaken in Jesus’ arms.

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Carnal Controllers in the Pew

I heard a novel church growth idea last weekend. It involves incorporating a bit of Survivor into the church. Every year, the church staff would be allowed to huddle and vote somebody out of the congregation.

Now, wouldn’t that be a great idea? Working at our denominational headquarters, I’ve heard gobs of horror stories over the years about laypersons who are either control freaks or just downright carnal (sometimes both). They hold back their church from flourishing, and frustrate and discourage every pastor who comes along.

My Dad encountered such laypersons in probably every church he pastored (five of them). He was savvy enough to handle them, but young ministers get eaten alive, and sometimes end up leaving the ministry.

I think there have been times when, if it came to a vote, I might have been the one voted out. Dad too, during his layperson days (right, Dad?). With Dad and me, the problem is that we are deeply involved in the church, care deeply, and yearn for the church to prosper. But lots of problem laypersons just want to exert control over what they consider their fiefdom. And in some cases, they are just carnal, unspiritual folks who, in actuality, are controlled by Satan.

I wish the good laypersons in more congregations had the backbone to stand up to these bad laypersons. But we don’t like making waves in the church, and it seems easier to change pastors than to deal with a treacherous layperson. Somehow, the spiritual folks need to step up to the plate. Otherwise, their church ain’t going anywhere.

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Christian Cannibals

BusinessWeek’s cover story says Wal-Mart isn’t doing so well. They’re still growing, but not nearly like they were in earlier years. One reason: they’ve built so many stores that people are switching from one store to a newer one closer to them. New stores are cannibalizing existing stores.

Kinda like churches, I suppose.

Most church plants start with the intention of reaching the unreached. But too often, they morph into “just another church.” I’ve feared that about my own church. I think we’re reaching a lot of what my pastor calls “dechurched” people–folks with a church background, but who stopped attending for some reason. Are we touching, in any way, the never-churched who live around us? I don’t know. We continue attracting new people, and even this Sunday, I could look out on the congregation and see plenty of people whose stories I didn’t know.

Who is going after the hardcore pagans? The seriously lost non-Christians? I’m not sure I can name you a church in Fort Wayne that is doing that. Not that I’m an expert on Fort Wayne’s churches. But if such a church existed, I think I would probably know about it.

I live in Aboite, the affluent southwest side of Fort Wayne. We have two megachurches in Aboite–Emmanuel and The Chapel. I suspect that whenever a new church starts in Aboite, that they draw at least a few people away from Emmanuel and The Chapel. Every new church needs a core group (I guess?), and you gotta get it from someplace. That’s how Anchor started, with a core group from Emmanuel.

The Aboite churches can grow just from the continual influx of new people moving into the area. Are any growing primarily by reaching non-Christians? I don’t know. The same thing can be asked of Anchor’s community. We’ve developed a good relationship with four other churches in our zip code. Good churches with good people. But are any of us reaching the hard-core lost? Or do too many people in our zip code simply circulate, over the years, between the various churches? Just wondering.

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The Always Entertaining James Carville

Says James Carville: “Rudy Giuliani has been married more times than Mitt Romney’s been hunting.”

Of the Democratic frontrunners: “Mama needs more spice, and Obama needs more seasoning.”

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The Anti-Decaf Starbucks at Jefferson Point

This week I’m taking a car-less friend to work, and to satisfy my Starbucks addiction, I’ve been stopping at a different Starbucks than normal–the one at the Jefferson Point mall here in Fort Wayne. I went there Monday, Wednesday, and today.

All three days I asked for decaf coffee. All three days, I was told, “It’s still brewing. If you can wait a few minutes….”

Monday, I opted instead for their medium roast. Yesterday I just left and tried the nearby Krispy Kreme restaurant, where the decaf machine happened to be broken for they didn’t know how long.

Today, when the kind folks at the Jefferson Point Starbucks told me it would be about four minutes, I just dropped my head and said, “You’re kidding. I’ve stopped here three times this week, and every time you don’t have decaf.”

The two young women explained to me, in very understanding, apologetic, visitor-friendly voices that would make managers proud, that they brew (or was it “rebrew”?) every hour, and I just happened to come at that time. In actuality, I was not interested in an explanation of why they couldn’t sell me what I came to buy three times in a row. So I just mustered up an aura of displeasure and left in a huff, possibly unbefitting of a church elder. Fortunately, the door was not the slammable type.

Why does Starbucks hate decaf drinkers so much?

Fortunately, Krispy Kreme’s machine was fixed, so they accepted my $1.77. It was drinkable.

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Moments of Sanity

Two good things happened yesterday, evidences of sanity after the extreme insanity of the shootings at Virginia Tech on Monday.

First, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on partial birth abortions. It’s about time. Some credit is going to the new Bush appointees to the court. I’m not sure it would have been any different with Rehnquist and O’Connor still on the bench. Regardless–good move.

Then last night, Sanjayah got voted off of American Idol. In the grand scheme of things, this may not be quite as consequential as the Supreme Court decision. However, it is certainly more firmly in the American consciousness, however warped that may seem. The jokesters and teary-eyed teeny-boppers who speed-dialed for Sanjayah, in the end, couldn’t undermine the minions who take Idol excruciatingly seriously.

There was cheering in our household when Sanjayah got the boot. I don’t remember any of us talking about the partial-birth abortion ban.

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Making a Place for Sex Offenders

An article in the New York Times, called “Sex Offenders Test Churches’ Core Beliefs,” tells about a church in Carlsbad, Calif., that is embroiled in a controversy about a convicted sex offender who wishes to worship there.

Mark Pliska, 53, told the Pilgrim United Church of Christ congregation that he had been imprisoned for molesting children, but he wanted a place to worship and liked Pilgrim, where a banner inside says, “All are Welcome.”

The pastor talked to members who had been abused as children, and to parents, and none objected to Pliska attending. But as he continued getting the feel of the congregation, he found some people saying, “If he stays, I leave,” and others saying, “If he leaves, I leave.” A no-win situation.

Rick Warren says that people with AIDS are the lepers of today–the outcasts, the people nobody wants to be around. But I suspect that churches are more welcoming of people with AIDS than of child sex offenders. I would say that child sex offenders are today’s lepers.

A half-century ago, when divorce was uncommon and highly taboo, churches didn’t know what to do with a divorced person. I suspect many of them felt unwelcome. Now our churches are (regretably) filled with divorced people. Today, many conservative churches don’t know what to do with gay people. But child sex offenders–they simply revolt us. And society constantly reinforces that attitude. We’re told that “Once a child molester, always a child molester.” We want nothing to do with them. We don’t want them in our pews.

My church, Anchor, fortunately, is not like that. And maybe churches are more loving and accepting than I think they are. But in some conservative churches, you can hardly be a Democrat and be fully accepted, so I’m confident sex offenders are way over the acceptance edge.

As always, it’s instructive to ask, “What would Jesus do?” This person who embraced lepers, whose heart went out to prostitutes, to society’s untouchables. Would Jesus exclude a child sex offender from fellowship? Of course not. But Christians have a lot of trouble being like Christ.

For now, Pliska has been asked to not attend worship services at Pilgrim, though he does meet with a weekly small group. Good for them. This man is homeless, and thanks to publicity over the church controversy, he lost his job. He yearns for Christian fellowship, but finds himself accepted by some and reviled by others. Life is incredibly difficult for him, but if you say that, people will respond, “But what about his victims! Look how difficult he made their lives!”

It’s a tough situation. But how can a church keep its soul when it tells certain people, despite the fact that they are repentant and spiritually hungry, “Because of your past, you aren’t welcome here”?

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The Happy Boy in the Other Room

ConnorCollage.jpgIt’s 10:30 Saturday night. I’m in the computer room putting together the announcement loop and song slides for tomorrow. And out in the living room, I can hear Connor giggling up a storm. Allen and Carolyn are with him. Pam (that’s her in the upper left, with Connor) went to bed already; for CPAs, the tax season is just about over, and she’s exhausted. Connor is in his little swing, and Allen and Carolyn are doing something to get him laughing. It doesn’t take much.

I love hearing Connor laugh. It’s been over five months now since they came to live with us. It gives me pleasure knowing that we’re providing an environment where this baby can be so incredibly happy. Sometimes he fills the house with crying, but that’s the exception. More often, he’s laughing. He is one happy boy with a quick smile.

Before coming to live with us, the three of them slept on a cold hardwood floor (no bed, no mattress, just a blanket) in the upstairs landing of a dark house on a dark street near the downtown. A number of other people lived there, and all of them smoked (except Carolyn and Allen). It’s good that they don’t live there anymore.

Connor is laughing, giggling, making baby sounds. It gives me joy. Every day it gives me joy.

(Watch this little Quicktime movie of Connor sitting on my legs while Allen pops up behind me and says “Pee boo.” Infectious laughter from Connor.)

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Comments on Imus

For several years I reveled in listening to Imus in the Morning during my 25-minute trip to work each morning. His fascinating assortment of guests–politicians, reporters, columnists, authors–tended to be far more candid than they would be on any other talk show. Imus ruled over the true “no spin zone.” He didn’t let his guests degenerate into their talking points. And so, people who bore me silly with their predictability on other talk shows–Chris Dodd, Pat Buchanan, John Kerry, John McCain, and a slew of others–actually provided enlightenment. Nobody else that I’ve found, on TV or radio, gets that level of candidness—and fun–out of guests. If they wouldn’t be candid and good-humored, he wouldn’t invite them onto the show.

Some years ago, the local radio station that carried Imus discontinued the program. My life has been lessened because of it. Now I listen to ESPN. From an intellectual standpoint, Mike & Mike is not an upgrade.

The type of comments for which Imus is now being chastised unmercifully were not the heart of the show. Yes, inappropriate utterances dotted every show, usually sexist things (in no way can you call Imus racist). I blame producer Bernard McGurk as much as anything; his on-air statements were usually crude, and he often prompted Imus to take things further (as was the case with the Princeton basketball team comment). But the heart of the show was the call-in guests and their commentary on current events. And he had an amazing cast of guests–Tim Russert, David Gregory, Tom Brokaw, Buchanan, Andrea Mitchell, the various presidential historians, Frank Rich, Kinky Friedman…on and on. No show on TV or radio matches what Imus did. He was a voice of reason amidst hurricanes of spin. Unfortunately, he also lapsed occasionally into being a voice of Really Stupid and Gratuitous Idiocy.

Should he have been fired? Yeah (I say reluctantly). I dislike the hypocrisy and showboating of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and crew, but I can’t fault NBC. And I won’t fault CBS if they drop his radio show.

Could the Imus show have been redeemed? Sure. He doesn’t need the Shock Jock stuff. Stick to interviewing guests and keeping them honest and candid. That’s why I listened.

If CBS drops the Imus radio show, there’s a possibility that Imus could move to satellite. That’s what I hope happens. Then I can once again listen to him–a clean-up Imus–as I drive to work.

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