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This is a copy of the text of my column that appeared in the Nebraska City News-Press last week regarding the issue of bullying in our schools.

As you may know I, and eleven of my fellow community members, are running for a seat on the Nebraska City Public School Board. A few weeks ago, one of those candidates, Matt Watkins, asked a question, “What is the one issue you would like to see the school board address?

The overwhelming response was the issue of bullying. Matt has said that one of the main reasons his kids are now attending Lourdes Central Catholic was because of bullying and the response to that bullying. I know bullying happens everywhere, and it doesn’t stop with kids. I’ve seen church members be bullies, I’ve seen board members be bullies, there are presidential candidates who are bullies, there are state senators who are bullies. I’ve seen bullying at every level of human from 5-80 year olds, I’ve seen in corporations, small businesses, non-profits, you name it. Bullying is a problem.

It’s a problem because the bully, for the most part, feels inadequate. All they know how to do is harass, belittle, and intimidate. There are as many reasons that people become bullies, as there are bullies. I would also venture a guess that if we took a long look and were honest with ourselves that each and every one of us has been a bully in someway at sometime in our lives.

According to StopBullying.gov:

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

I would disagree with this definition but only because I would not limit bullying to “behavior among school aged children”. Other than that I think it’s spot on.

I will admit that I have been a bully in the past, I will also admit to having been bullied in the past. I’m not proud of any of it, but it is part of my story (and I’m not just talking about when I was a kid). I’m also sure that they are related. After being bullied, when I got the upper hand I became a bully, because I felt like I had to take control or assert my dominance or show how important I was. Luckily, I had people in my life that would tell me to cut it out.

Now, as a parent, I want to know if you see my kid bullying other kids or your kid. If my child is exhibiting any of these bullying behaviors I want to know about it. I want their teachers, staff, and administrators to tell me, I want their Sunday School teachers to tell me, I want other parents to tell me.

Don’t demonize my kid, do let me know that there is something I need to address at the home. It’s hard enough as a parent to raise kids, it takes a community to raise positive and well adjusted kids. Some kids (and some adults) in our town have a good support system that will help them learn and grow. (Sometimes that support system makes the problem worse, but that’s another column). A lot of kids (and some adults) don’t have the support they need to grow. It’s up to us do better, as a community.

We can do better by speaking up, we can do better by teaching rather than punishing, we can do better by engaging rather than gossiping. We can do better to stop bullying in our schools and in our community.

 

 

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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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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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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 “Tough Conversations”.

Communication is the key to relationships. Talking about the things we’d rather not talk about is one of the most important things we do. When we disagree and talk about it, it allows for a space to allow God to do the work of reconciliation. When we stay silent we often harbor resentment and hold grudges, it ultimately destroys the relationship that we were trying to protect by not talking about the elephant in the room.

There are good and bad ways to have those difficult conversations, but not having the conversation is worse than having a bad conversation. Sometimes having the conversations reveals something that we would rather keep secret, a failure, a regret, a struggle we are having. Our culture says that we are to be self-reliant, to be independent, to “take care of our business”, that asking for help is a sign of weakness. We’ve also been told that there are subjects that are off limits, religion, politics, money, etc. All of this creates a environment of mistrust and anger, we’re angry that we feel alone in our struggle and yet, we don’t trust even those closest to us to share our struggles. Most importantly, we don’t communicate our feelings to the person who caused them. We’d rather complain to our friends about our neighbor’s dog than walk next door and have a conversation about the dog with its owner.

Franciscan author and priest, Father Richard Rohr says, “Anger that is not transformed is transferred.” It’s transferred on to our families, our jobs, our spouses, our friends, our dog, our kids. We must be willing and able to talk about the hard things, about the things that make us angry, fearful, or resentful and we must be able to talk to those people closest to you or who with whom you are angry, scared, or resenting.

There seems to be a lot of mistrust going on in City Hall right now. There’s a lot of mistrust of City Hall by the citizens of Nebraska City and if you listen you’ll hear a lot of stories about corruption and back dealing and whose fault it is. What we don’t hear is any reason why (other than vague personal jabs) suddenly there is all of this controversy. The Council went on a retreat to, presumably have these conversations and air out their grievances; it doesn’t seem to have worked. There are legal issues at play and there are, obviously, things that do not need to be public knowledge. However, as a citizen who reads the paper ands listens the radio, there is a lot of anger in the air and it’s playing out through sound bites and press conferences.  This isn’t helpful if the Council itself wants to have a healthy relationship, even if the members of council don’t agree, this isn’t helpful for the council if it wants to have a relationship with the people who elected them. This isn’t helpful for us as a city moving forward.

There are good and bad ways to have those conversations. Right now it seems as if there are only bad choices being made. Those bad choices are going to lead to bad consequences not for the council members but for the town, there will be a ripple effect that could last decades. It is unacceptable for this town to be held hostage by people not willing to talk honestly and openly about their anger, mistrust, and fear. Those are conversations that need to happen.

My wife and I are very open with our kids, we tell them their actions have consequences. We explain those consequences. We also let them talk about their feelings, they have a right to be mad, sad, angry, scared, they have a right to have emotions. We also after the storm has passed talk to them about why they had that reaction. Sometimes it’s because one of us made a mistake. We own up to those mistakes and try to move forward together.

We do that for our kids, and I think we owe that to our city.

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: Watching my kids learn and grow, the ways they develop language, and get excited about learning.

Not Favorite: I had a stomach bug this week that laid me low.

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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 “Called Together”.dad tells a story about when I as a little kid and he knew he was in trouble.

I was about 5 and I pointed to a piece of wood that was hanging between two rooms, it had three hinges and a knob. The conversation went like this:

Me: “What’s that?”

My dad: “It’s a door.”

Me: “Why?”

My dad: “Because that’s what it’s called.”

Me: “Why?”

My dad: “What do you mean why? Because it is.”

Me: Why?”

My dad: [deep exasperated sigh]

Unfortunately, for some, I never grew out of that desire to know more. I know there were those times in high school and college where I thought I knew everything, but I think we all go through those periods. I like to know stuff about stuff. It’s part of the reason I attended formal schooling for 21 years. I have a high school diploma, a college degree, and two masters degree. All that means is that I know for sure that I don’t know a lot.

It also means that I rarely listen to an answer of “because that’s the way it is” or “because I said so” or “because he/she said so”. I have strong opinions but I try to come to those opinions through gathering of information and, if I come up to or am shown some new information that causes me to change my opinion, I change my opinion. I like to think that I use the intellect that God gave me to critically think about my ideas, assumptions, and perceptions. The trouble is…I don’t think we value that critical thinking piece much anymore. We are told what to think not how to think. Our students are taught the answers to test questions not necessarily how to find the answers. I think most of that has to do with politicians and bureaucrats telling educators what’s best, but that’s for another column.

I know, as a parent, it’s much easier on my psyche for my children to just do as I say, when I say it, but I’m handcuffing them when they get out in the world and they run up against information that I don’t have. I want for my children to learn how to think and process information, so if they learn something that I don’t know, which is a lot, they will be able to judge whether or not it’s useful for them or whether it causes them to change their ideas, assumptions, and perceptions. As I have gotten older, as I have traveled the world, as I have lived all over the country, as I have met lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds I’ve always learned something and it helps to shape who I am and the way I interact with the world. Author C.S. Lewis once said, “There seems to be hardly any one among my acquaintance from whom I have not learned.” I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, even if I don’t always agree with those who I meet.

That openness and ability to think for yourself, to adjust to new information, and to move forward is vital to our health as a city, a nation, and a world. If we only rely on information because our pastor, our parent, our favorite newscaster, athlete, or musician said it we run the risk of being stuck in old ways of thinking while an ever-changing world passes us by.

One of my main goals, as a parent, is to help my children become independent thinkers with the ability to judge for themselves (through experience, study, prayer, and conversation) what is good and right for them. I want them to be open to being wrong and willing to admit it when they are. I hope that we all can learn to think, not learn what to think.

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: Watching my beloved West Virginia Mountaineers beat the Kansas Jayhawks in basketball.

Not Favorite: I’m a home brewer, I spent six weeks brewing a beer, it did not turn out well. I will now have to dump about 30 12 ounce bottles, $30 of materials, and 6 weeks of work down the drain.

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c1e69-123I 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 “Called Together”.

This past weekend I traveled back to Oregon to participate in the ordination of my friend to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In layman’s terms it means I went to be there as my friend became a Lutheran priest. It was kind of a whirlwind trip. I arrived late Friday night (really early Saturday morning) after four airports, three hours of driving, two mountain passes, and one little rental car.

The sanctuary was packed for the worship service. There were people from quite a few churches, states, ages, denominations, and faiths. It was a sacred moment in the life of my friend and in the life of the wider church. It was an honor to be there.

My friend and I had worked together for years before I came to Nebraska City and had done some pretty radical things in ministry. He has been active in social justice issues in the community, mission of the church, and the faith formation for youth in Central Oregon for ten years. Only recently has he graduated from seminary and been called to be a mission developer in the Oregon Synod of the ELCA.

The worship service itself was very emotional and it caused me to reflect on my own service of ordination and my own call to the pastorate. The thing that struck me was not about successes or failures I’ve had in ministry or in big plans that God has for me or the church I serve. As my friend, newly ordained tearfully thanked those in attendance, his parents, his sister, his mentors, his students, his church family, his wife and children I was reminded that none of us get where we are by ourselves.

I saw this quote by former Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, this week:

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

It reminded me that as a father, as a pastor, as a community member that I need to pass on the boot straps to those that I can, I need to be receptive to those who are passing boot straps to me, and that, hopefully, my children will be surrounded by people who support them in their journey to wherever it is they are going. It will take more bootstraps than my wife and I can pass on, it will take help from relatives, neighbors, church members, pastors, teammates, teachers, and friends for them to live into fully the person that God has called them to be.

I said a few weeks ago, that the parents are the primary source of faith development in their children. I still believe that is true, but that doesn’t mean they should be all alone. We are all in this together. Our successes and our failures are tied together, if we are to be a community, a true community, we must work together to support one another, to guide each other, and to stand for one another.

There is an Nguni Bantu philosophy, “ubuntu” that means, “I am because we are.” We are connected, we are tied together, and we can help one another, if we only acknowledge our connectedness.

Favorite: Reconnecting with my friends from Oregon and standing with my friend as he took the vows to be a pastor.

Not Favorite: Missing my family that couldn’t go with me.

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