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Archive for the ‘Diary of a Dad’ Category


My parents have always taught me that equality matters that I should judge someone by the content of their character, but I admit that I do not do that. I am a racist. Let me repeat, I AM A RACIST.

I don’t want to be, my parents never taught me to be, but I have learned it through my existence in this world and living all over this country. It’s baffling to me to admit that when I see a black face it causes a myriad of negative reactions. It shouldn’t be this way. My friends in elementary school were of Indian, Peruvian, African, Greek, and European descent. The first people I hung out with in Dallas when I moved at the end of sixth grade were the dudes on the basketball court; they were all black; my neighbor who I spend a lot of time with is black. Yet, my thoughts persist.
I remember the first time I was more athletic than a black guy on my team. It didn’t compute, weren’t black people superior athletes? It’s what I saw when I watched sports, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Lawrence Taylor, and on and on. It was the white guys that were the smart athletes, but not the most athletic, Larry Bird, Joe Montana, John Stockton. I mean, I remember in 1990 Rex Chapman from the Charlotte Hornets, who is white, was in the Dunk Contest. “I thought that’s for black guys.”

I remember the first time a black kid was smarter than me. It didn’t compute, weren’t black people silly, loud, and ignorant? That’s what I saw on TV and in the news. I will say now, looking back, I did not understand the social commentary of In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or the glimpse I got into black culture by staying up late and watching “It’s Showtime at the Apollo”.

In high school, I thought I was being enlightened, by making a differentiation between black people and the “N” word; I even had a Confederate Flag sticker on my truck. I was, no, I am still nervous when I walk in a city and I see a group of black people. I try to play it cool, I try to act like I’m not hyper aware, but the truth is, I am.

I’m not telling you all of this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I’m not telling you this because I want to take some kind of moral high ground. I’m telling you this because I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where the treatment of people is more often than not based on the color of their skin. If you don’t know what I’m talking about there are plenty of places you can read about the struggles of people of color in this country who are just trying to live their life, have some freedom, and pursue happiness just like the rest of us.

It pains me that my next door neighbor has to have conversations with his two sons that I don’t have to have with mine about the realities of dealing with people in authority. It pains me that talking about race is labeled as part of the problem. It pains me that even though, I read about, pray for an end to, and learn about the history of racism in this country there are still deep, deep learnings that I can’t seem to let go of regardless of the number of people of color who I interact with, who are shining examples, who are role models, who are more faithful, and who are more loving than me.

I will continue to listen to the voices that are different than my own. I will continue to do my best to teach my kids differently than I was taught by society. I will continue to recognize when I am being racist, I will continue to call out racism when I see it. I will not let this continue. It can’t continue.

There was a movie that I saw my senior year of high school by John Singleton called Higher Learning. It deals with race, racism, and what can happen if we don’t acknowledge our fears and the let those fears grow into hatred, which leads to violence. The last scene of the movie is one word of text. It says, “UNLEARN”.

I will continue to try and unlearn the racial constructs and narratives that I have been taught and I will pray my kids never learn them.

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While at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church last week in Portland, Oregon, I was asked to contribute a blog post to the Presbyterian Outlook regarding dependent care at General Assembly. This has been a long conversation for my wife and I, if you want to know the whole saga you can follow this link.

Here is the text of my post:

“I am so thankful for the new Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy that the Office of the General Assembly made available for the 222nd General Assembly. This solution has been a blessing to our family and is a beautiful third way that helps alleviate some of the stress of parents and caregivers who are called to service as commissioners and advisory delegates to the assembly. This, for us was a giant step forward.

I’m also thankful for the work of the Committee on Local Arrangements who has provided a family room to change diapers, nurse babies, and give kids and parents a place to be while here at the assembly, complete with live streams of the plenary sessions. I am so thankful for all those that helped make it possible for more people with dependents to be a part of this, the signature gathering of our denomination.

In 2012, my wife and I, both Teaching Elders, decided that we would meet my family in Pittsburgh for the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA as observers, a chance to have a family reunion of sorts. It was a great opportunity for us to see family and connect with colleagues from around the nation, as well as, be a part of the beautiful connectional nature of our church. It was a reunion that Co-Moderator Jan Edmiston described as, “by blood and by baptism.”

We inquired with the Office of General Assembly about the options for childcare, family rooms, etc. as my son was stilling nursing at the time and my daughter was only two years old. The response from the OGA was suboptimal. At the assembly after talking to several people, including COLA, PCCCA, and OGA we were told that the office would take it under consideration.

Two years later, at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, I was elected as a commissioner from Homestead Presbytery and my wife, again, planned to attend as an observer with our children. My father was volunteering in the newsroom and my mom was an observer. Once again, there were no options for parents or those with dependents; no quiet space to nurse babies, no dedicated space for children to be children, no place for them to be welcome in worship, no place to tend to the needs of people in our charge. Needless to say I was disappointed. 

That’s when Joseph Morrow of Chicago Presbytery and I submitted a commissioner’s resolution regarding, specifically, childcare at General Assembly meetings. Moments before I was to speak on the floor of the plenary I walked to the back of the hall, where I saw a woman huddled next to a stack of chairs nursing her young child. It further strengthened my belief that we could do better as particular churches, as mid councils, and as a denomination. The vote did not go our way, it was referred to the OGA in committee, after a heartfelt debate on the resolution on the floor of plenary, the assembly approved the recommendation to the committee. Our resolution had lost, we were sad and angry, but we are people of the resurrection.

I was so ecstatic to hear the news that the OGA was implementing the Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy. I think that the OGA and COLA have worked together to help those of us with children and dependents to have an opportunity to be here.

There is still some work to do. An overture (05-05) that would amend the Book of Order to require all councils to adopt a dependent care policy was disapproved by a close vote in committee. I would urge this assembly to disagree with the committee when if comes before you and vote to amend G-3.0106. As Overture Advocate, Kathy Stoner-Lasala, Teaching Elder from Great Rivers Presbytery said, “There are many in the cloud of witnesses who are not here. These are excluded disciples.” 

In my own presbytery, there are a significant number of teaching elders with young children, ruling elders with spouses who are sick or in need of care, there are people who have the energy, the passion, and the calling, but they can not answer the call to serve because we have not opened our hearts, minds, and souls to the needs of those with dependents. We have not listened to their struggles; we have not worked together to do better.

I believe the OGA and COLA have done their part, they have answered the call of welcome. I want to thank Joann Lee and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns for carrying this mantle for so long, I want to thank the OGA and COLA for their work, I want to thank Great Rivers Presbytery , New Castle Presbytery, and Santa Fe Presbytery for picking up the mantle and taking it on. The question, now, is will our sessions, will our presbyteries, will our synods provide a policy that meets the needs of those in their communities?

May it be so.”

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A man came into my office this week to ask me about my column, my work as a pastor, and my identity as a Christian. He asked me about a particular belief that is held by many in the Christian tradition but certainly not all. It is not a particular belief that I have and I do not believe it to be foundational for following of Jesus as the Christ.

It got me to thinking. A heard about a pastor that would write down a statement of faith every January and if his faith had not shifted, opened, grown, or changed he knew that the coming year would involve some serious spiritual work. You see we are not designed to remain stagnant. Our faith is to be a living faith, not one set in stone; it is to be rooted in Christ (if you are a Christian) not sealed in monuments. We can never fully know God, yet we can always seek God, and seek to know God more. In John Calvin’s systematic theological treatise called The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One Chapter 1 says, “Without knowledge of self there is not knowledge of God… Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”

From what I know about myself and from what I know about God, from the authoritative witness of Scripture and prayer, is that actions are more important than words. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the prophets are decrying the worthless festivals, the books of Amos Chapter 5 and Isaiah Chapter 1 come to mind. In our study at First Presbyterian Church this season as we move through the Gospel of Mark, we find that Jesus has an immediacy about him. He wastes no time with long-winded rants, fancy robes, or state of the art worship centers. Christ comes to preach the Good News, and the Good News is not in words but in his actions, his healing, his forgiveness of sins, his breaking of bread with all comers, his seeking out those who are outcast and bringing them in.

All of this is about action. I’ve been to glorious worship services that felt and sounded like rock concerts in which I knew I was in the presence of God, I’ve been to mighty cathedrals all across the world, and stood in awe of the craftsmanship and sheer majesty of place. I’ve worshipped in tin roof steel buildings in the woods of Nicaragua. All of these mean nothing if they do not inspire me to action, if they do not call me to “repent (turn), and believe in the good news.” (as Jesus says in Mark 1: 15) then they are like a clanging cymbal.

If they don’t push me, drag me, coerce me into loving my neighbor more deeply, to blessing those that curse me, (both behind my back and to my face), to breaking bread with the outcast (you know, “those people”), to feeding the hungry (the physically and spiritually hungry in Nebraska City), clothing the naked (those without cover from family and friends and those without proper clothing for the weather), forgiving more (even though I really like holding grudges), listening more to those whom I have hurt (even when I think they are wrong), speaking up and speaking out in the name of justice (even when it isn’t politically or socially popular), and being open to conversation (with those I disagree and with those I agree because the Spirit works through all of us). If my faith in Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, only calls me to go to church on Sunday morning or Bible study on Wednesday night, to feel good about myself, or to ensure my ticket to Heaven, then I believe I have missed the point, I have not heard the Good News.

This is but a piece of what I believe but it is foundational to my understanding of the God and myself. My parents taught it to me, I will teach it to my kids, and I will proclaim it to all who will listen or see. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.”

I hope that my actions reveal my faith; I hope that I live up to the standards that God sets for me and I set for myself. I know I will stumble, I know I will fall down. I share this with you to ask for your help. I’m asking for you to hold me accountable. I’m asking for a relationship with you so we can work together to bring about the kingdom of God. If you think I’m not living into the faith articulated here, if you’d like to hear more about my faith, or what’s in the Bible come talk to me, I’d love to share a cup of coffee or a meal with you. Better yet, come to our Wednesday Night Bible Study at 6:00 PM, Sunday School at 9:15, or worship at 10:30.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: By the time you read this, I should be landing in Maui with my family for a weeklong family vacation with my in-laws. I’m really excited.

Not Favorite: I think my son is getting cabin fever or something. He is bouncing off the walls at home and at school. I’m hoping the sun and being outside will calm him down a little.

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Today, is my dad, John Bolt‘s 63rd birthday.

I was going to do the typical facebook status complete with embarrassing sweet photos, but instead I decided to write a little more about how I feel about my dad, and why I’m so glad that he is my dad.

My dad’s parents never told him that they loved him, that may be a generational thing (I don’t know), but my dad swore that he would never stop from telling his kids that he loved them and he hasn’t. I can never remember a time, even through my teenage years, which were no picnic for him (I’m sure), that I didn’t know deep down in my core know that my dad loved me. My dad always encouraged me to try stuff, to do what I loved, and to get back up when I fell down.

We would spend hours in our driveway in Atlanta when I was in elementary school shooting hoops, throwing a baseball, playing football, or making up games with frisbees. (I’ll take this opportunity to say “I’m sorry” for pushing you off the side of driveway during a competitive football game and causing you to tear the ligaments in your ankle.) Even on your crutches you would zoom around not letting a little bump in the road stop you from pursuing your dreams and your love of journalism while making sure me and my sister could pursue ours.

I could write a book full of stories of why I love my dad or how he showed me how to be a good person, a good partner, and a good father. Stories of little league baseball coaching, high school baseball umpire arguing, watching him perform in community theater, hearing others praise him for his work and, more importantly, for his presence. Stories of challenging me in my screw ups and standing with me when I failed, stories filled with laughter and tears, joy and pain. Stories that all point to what a wonderful, inspiring, faithful, amazing role model my dad has been and continues to be.

Now for some sweet, embarrassing photos.

I love you, Dad!

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IMG_0182_2I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Learning Together”.

This past week was parent teacher conferences for those of us with kids in the Nebraska City Public School system. For my child, that means her teacher, Mrs. Letti, came to our house to show us a little of what it looks like to be in class with her and give my wife and me an opportunity to ask questions. I was impressed that she visited the homes of each and every student in her care. As a pastor, I’m still trying to do that and I’ve been here for two years. I appreciate her dedication, it is obvious to me that she loves her job and that she is dedicated to providing the best atmosphere for learning possible.

I try my best, as a parent, to help my kids and their teachers to be in the best position for success. Subsequently that means I have a lot of conversations with different people. I’ve talked with principals, school board members, teachers, and parents. They all seem to be trying to create a positive educational environment for our kids.

Even with that, according to stats found at www.schooldigger.com, provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and the Nebraska City Public School system ranks 188th/223 Nebraska School Districts. That is not good. It doesn’t mean that our kids are bad; it doesn’t mean that teachers are bad; it doesn’t mean that our administrators are bad. It means we have some work to do, together.

A wise friend of mine once said to me, “Education is critical to a healthy society.” I think our numbers show that, right now, we aren’t that healthy. In all my conversations there’s always blamed placed somewhere. Blame the teachers, blame the parents, blame the kids, blame the administration, blame the curriculum, and I think there is plenty of work that could be done in all of those areas. What I don’t hear talked about much is poverty. Yes, poverty, and to quote a recent blog from Dawn Meehan,

“I’m not talking about a family whose dad has been laid off from his job or a family going through divorce or sickness. I’m not talking about a sudden, temporary, or even long-term shortage of money. I’m talking about families who have lived in poverty for generations. Families who don’t know anything but poverty. Generational poverty is very different from families experiencing hard times  — mainly because they often view education as a stressor, and school a place they do not belong, making it extremely difficult to end the cycle.”

For kids that live that reality, school can be a salvation and it can be ruin. For many of those kids the meals they receive at school may be the only meals they receive at all, it also might be the only contact they have with other people. This isn’t necessarily because the parents are inattentive, many of them are working multiple jobs or jobs with odd hours just so they can keep clothes on their back and a roof over their heads.

Some more statistics, there are 1388 students in the four Nebraska City Public Schools, 636 of them are on free and reduced lunches, that’s a little under half of our students (45.8%) of our students come from families in need of food assistance. Currently, the Nebraska City Food Bank housed at the First United Methodist Church provides bags of food on Fridays for kids at Hayward Elementary (3rd-5th Grade) and starting next fall there will be a program that offers a bag of food to any student from the middle school who asks. That means, every Friday, at First Presbyterian Church we would distribute up to 151 (according to the statistics) bags of food that would provide nourishment for students on the weekend, because studies have shown you can’t study if you’re hungry.

Here’s how you can help. Saturday morning April 18th First Presbyterian Church is hosting the Stompin’ Out Hunger 5K Fun Run & Walk. All proceeds from this event will go toward Feeding our Future. This will launch a food grab bag program for the Nebraska City Middle School children. This program would provide a food grab bag at times when other resources are not available, such as during weekends and school breaks. 10934098_884236284932366_7440741227796783531_o

There is a non-refundable entry fee is $30. All participants will be registered for prize drawings. I would invite you to go to the First Presbyterian Church website (www.firstpresnc.org) click on the “Stompin’ Out 5K” picture and register online.

We are hoping to make this an annual event to ensure that our community is in the best possible position to provide challenging and effective education for all and our students have an opportunity to succeed.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: I love watching the NCAA Tournament and I love that the grass is turning green and the flowers and trees are starting to bud.

Not Favorite: This was a pretty good week, I don’t have a not favorite.

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IMG_0182_2I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Expectations”.

A couple of weeks ago I was traveling so I loaded my phone up with podcasts I could listen to on the plane and while I drove. One of the podcasts I downloaded was from NPR called Invisiblia. It’s fascinating, here’s the description: “ Invisibilia (Latin for “all the invisible things”) explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.”

The episode that caught my attention was on expectations. The episode was entitled, “How to become Batman”, here’s the description,“Alix and Lulu examine the surprising effect our expectations can have on the people around us. Plus, the story of a blind man who says expectations have helped him see. Yes, see.”

The idea of a blind man, without eyes, seeing is simply beyond all measure of rational thought. It told the story of  a man, blind from birth, who can , through the use of echolocation (think what bats do to see), live a perfectly normal life. Live on his own, without a caregiver and without any special accommodations. It was a fascinating story and I encourage you to check it out.

The show reminded me of something I have thought for a long time, “People will live up, or down, to your expectations.” If we expect that a child will need to be coddled and protected from any bump and bruise that might come, they will. If we expect that a child will, with appropriate support and supervision, be able to handle the things that come their way, they probably will. I know that’s a little oversimplified but I’ve found it to be true, throughout with my work with both kids and adults.

Every time I’ve expected a child, or an adult, to be difficult, they have been. Often when I’ve been told they were difficult but I expect them to be different and I tell them of my expectations they end up being no worse than the “good” people.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

Our expectations for our kids, for ourselves, for our neighbors, for our town play a role in how we interact with life and the world around us. If we expect our job to suck, it’s going to suck, if we expect it to be pleasant, it might suck less. If we expect our kids to do the right thing, provided we model it for them, they will probably do the right thing most of the time. If we expect our town will always be the way it is, because it’s always been that way, then it will always be the same with no growth (spiritual, economic, population, or otherwise), no progress, and no vision.

If we expect our town, with proper support and engagement from the community, to do better it will. I know it’s not an overnight shift. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of shifting expectations, not only from the leaders in Nebraska City and Otoe County but also from its citizens to live into those higher expectations. The thing is, I expect that we can accomplish it. In the book of Ephesians it says that we can do more than we could ever ask or imagine through the power of God that is within us. I believe it is within us to use the gifts that God has given us in our community to expect better, to expect more, and to do more than others think is possible.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: Getting to lead Ash Wednesday worship with my wife, she is an excellent pastor and I am a better partner, father, and pastor because of her.

Not Favorite: Westboro Baptist Church

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IMG_0198I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Mutual Forbearance”.

This week I wanted to take off my “dad” hat and put on my “pastor” hat. I know that I’m always wearing both but this week I wanted to focus on a foundational principle of the Presbyterian Church. It is a principle called “mutual forbearance”.

The Rev. Dr. Carlos Wilton describes it like this, “It’s a biblical concept — although it’s a little hard to locate in most English translations, because the word “forbearance” is something of an antique.  Scrupulous readers of the Authorized (“King James”) Version will recognize it in Ephesians 4:2. In the face of persistent church conflict, Paul’s prescription for good health in the body of Christ is “forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The New Revised Standard Version renders it “bearing with one another in love.” (http://monmouthstatedclerk.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-marriage-amendment-and-mutual.html)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order helps us to put it in to practice this way, “we think it necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which [people] of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”

A lot of that language can be confusing. The Rev. Dr. Wilton does an excellent job of speaking plainly about what mutual forbearance looks like in his recent blog (monmouthstatedclerk.blogspot.com) about issues in the PC (USA) and in an upcoming book about Presbyterian Polity.

“The essential feature of the biblical concept of mutual forbearance is the presence of a third party in the relationship: God. Whether the opposing parties are facing off across a kitchen table or a Session conference table, two individuals in conflict have little chance of permanently resolving their differences unless they first acknowledge their mutual reliance on a higher authority. Such is the message of the Ephesians passage as it recommends, “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Note that unity in the relationship does not come from the parties themselves. It is unity of the Spirit. Further, the peace that reigns over the two opponents is not something that appears automatically, requiring little effort. The scripture speaks of the “bond” of peace: literally, a chain or fetter. A lifelong commitment to living and working with one another, despite our differences, means sacrificing something of the freedom we would otherwise have, were we not accountable to another.

It’s not unlike living through change as a family. Change does not typically happen, in families, in slow and incremental ways. It happens by leaps and bounds, often driven by the passions of the younger generations, to which the older members eventually learn to accommodate. The younger generations, for their part, come to accept the likelihood that they will never fully convince their elders.

What happens, then? Does the family splinter, its unity destroyed?

Sadly, in some cases this is what happens. Most observers, though, would describe that as a failed family. Its members have failed to do the one thing they were expected to do: to stick together through thick and thin.

What keeps any family healthy and strong is mutual forbearance. It must be intentional, and it must happen on both sides. We bear with each other because we love one another in Christ. That’s the bottom line.”

It seems as if in our town, our state, and our country we have forgotten the concept of mutual forbearance. We have forgotten how to be in relationship with one another. That doesn’t mean that we all have to be best friends or even like each other, but it does mean that we owe it to our neighbors to bear with one another in love. It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing is.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: The sunshine and the ability to go play a round of golf with my two kids.

Not Favorite: My house has been sick for the last week and a half. Hopefully, we will finally get better as the nice weather approaches.

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