Archive for July 2011
I continue to learn interesting lessons from my photographs. I’m not a photographer in the same sense that I’m a writer. I like to take pictures, and I’ve sold enough over the years to encourage me in the process, but I don’t have the same skill or the patience with the art as I bring to my writing.
That said, I’ve learned that photography (like golf) is not so much about the equipment as what you do with it. I have a good friend (you know who you are!) who spent over $2,500 on a set of irons – no woods, just the irons – and it didn’t take a stroke off his score. Some of the best images I’ve captured this summer were taken with my cell-phone camera. I have a brand-new Nikon D3100 that shoots a 14.2 megapixel picture. But photography is more about how you look than what you look with.
Then the other truth here is that the Nikon D3100 isn’t going to do me much good when it’s packed away in the car or the house, whereas I usually have my phone in my pocket. I have to be ready, too.
Being ready and being patient are not the same thing, and they almost sound like opposites; but being ready and being patient turn out to be very closely related, and they comprise two important elements of picture-taking.
Because, unless we are willing to be patient, we’ll never actually be completely ready.
Some people say they’re patient because they hang around a long time. But, meanwhile, they ride right through the “patient” part of the equation by snapping pictures non-stop. I understand the temptation (in fact I subscribe to the “it’s better to throw some away than miss the one you want” school of photography) but patience requires eyes wide open and a sense of awareness, while limiting your view to the one you can see through the lens is too restrictive by far.
As I’m writing this new book (and, NB to my editor, this manuscript is – simultaneously – more difficult than I imagined and better than I had dreamed) I am learning a lot from these cell-phone images.
- I’m learning to be patient in terms of not typing frenetically even though the deadline is looming.
- And I’m learning to be ready in terms of grabbing hold of a thought, some insight or wisdom if and when it floats by.
This morning, for example, I left my study to cut the grass. I let some of the ideas I’ve been working on sit on the desk and stew, but then I carried a few along with me for the walk, chewing on them gently to the crisp, swish-swishing sound of the sharp blade trimming high grass. Then, two-thirds of the way through the long swath up against the golf course, I left the mower and ran helter-skelter into the house, grass clippings transferred to carpet, to work on a concept that had suddenly moved into clarity.
Patience made me ready.
The final cell-phone image in this post is of Rebekah, writing scripture into the floor at the entrance of the new building that represents both patience and being ready. When we dedicate the space in October the project will have covered (from conception to completion) the second 7.5 years of Rebekah’s 15 year ministry in Brandon….
Faith metaphor? Spirituality tie-in? Moral lesson? Devotional twist? Come on, people. Do I have to paint you a picture…
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world – James 1:27
Health has been very much on my mind lately. Not so much my health – although I must admit that various parts of my body have been creaking a lot – as the health of people I know and love. There is cancer, bypass surgery, pregnancy, M.S., and the daily challenges of living with Type I diabetes.
This week, then, when I visited the Brandon Outreach Clinic to interview executive director Deborah Meegan for a Tampa Tribune article, the stories I heard probably made more impact than the usual.
Ten years ago the clinic was open two half-days a week. Today it’s four days a week all day long. There is no end to the need, and that need is increasing.
First let’s dispel myth # 1 (the myth that people who need help must – somehow – deserve their plight) – The Brandon Outreach Clinic primarily sees patients who work hard, don’t over-extend themselves, and do their very best to pay their bills. Most people need help because of factors such as no insurance, inadequate insurance, unemployment, savings-depleting events, and long-term illnesses.
More often than not, we’re talking about people who deal with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, disability, or diabetes.
“Sometimes,” Meegan said, “a family can afford to see a doctor but simply can’t come up with $200 (or significantly more) a month for medication.”
Or there’s a mandatory waiting period – sometimes as long as 24-months – between eligibility for benefits and when they kick in. Or their insurance has been changed and now they can’t afford the deductibles or the co-payments. Or a job has been lost and the cost of COBRA is out of reach.
Bottom line, in this and every community around the nation, hundreds if not thousands of people fall between the cracks of a labyrinthine and cold-hearted system that simply forgets that it’s the stories of real people that get lost when all we look at is the numbers; or, worse, the politics of health.
“We serve 8,400 people a year,” Deborah Meegan said. “We have close to 100 doctors who volunteer. Then, in addition, nurses, nurse-practitioners, physicians’ assistants, pharmacists, and lab techs… But we still can’t keep up.”
With a 2011 operating budget of just $230,000, Meegan’s team will deliver significantly more than $2 million of healthcare. One recent accounting documented a value ratio approaching eleven to one.
Yet, and this is a fact no community should not tolerate, Meegan reported the clinic will fall well short of their budget in 2011 receipts.
Only four Brandon churches (and we’re one of them) have a faithful, consistent, “This is our responsibility too” relationship with the outreach clinic.
Ultimately, though, this story rests on the real-life drama of actual people, our friends and neighbors, who are either helped… or not.
And so, along with the joy of making a difference, Deborah Meegan’s heart is broken by the knowledge that people suffer and die because they can’t or don’t now how to access medical care.
“I think of one 46-year-old women with breast cancer,” she said. “By the time we saw her the tumor weighed 34 pounds. She didn’t see a doctor for two years because she couldn’t afford to and she was scared she’d lose everything. She died a few weeks after surgery. She died and she didn’t need to. It makes me cry.”
Listen up, people. Accessible healthcare is not a luxury item.
- So give generously to the Brandon Outreach Clinic, or the equivalent facility in your community
- Encourage your church, or business, or community organization to go the extra mile when it comes to chipping in and taking ownership
- And lobby government – local, state and federal – and encourage them to rethink the way we chose to allocate resources
I personally know individuals who have tried to take on the healthcare burden of just one family member who is uninsured. Bottom line, it’s impossible, even for those most of us would consider comfortably well of.
This is a corporate responsibility, no one gets a pass.
Sounding off – DEREK
Today’s post is an actual letter to my (as-yet unborn but already dearly loved) grandson, David Henry. David currently resides in Moodus, Connecticut… or wherever his mama, Naomi, happens to be at the moment. He is expected to make his debut in mid-October.
Dear David Henry: Today is your great-grandfather’s birthday. He’s 83. I thought you’d like to hear about it because you’re named for him (along with your dad’s grandpa, Henry).
We had a quiet gathering last night in Sarasota. Yes, that’s right, you have great-grandparents living in the Sunshine State. I know it sounds cliché, but – believe me – your great-grandfather David (G-G/F-D) is anything but cliché.
There are a couple of highlights from last night I’d like you to know about. This is not just history, David Henry, it’s already a part of who you are.
I know you haven’t had any math yet, but in order to be 83 today, G-G/F-D had to have been born in 1928. G-G/M-G (that’s your great-grandmother Grace) asked him a few questions about the years he spent living with foster-families in the north of England during the first three years of World War Two. You see, he was one of those children who were “evacuated” because of the bombs and the threat of invasion.
G-G/F-D talked about the four homes he lived in – The Greens, the Browns, the Whites and the Wrights (a doctor, a miner, the landlord of a pub and an Army family. G-G/F-D said he had to share a bed designed for one, and that he was hungry all the time – “But it didn’t mean they didn’t feed me,” he said, “It’s just that I was eleven years old!”
He did things like play cricket, attend a small mission chapel down the street, and go to the movie-house to watch the huge organ literally rise up from the floor when the organist played during the intermission (and he only got to go to the movies because his parents weren’t there to stop him!).
David Henry, I hope you get to spend a lot of time listening to G-G/F-D’s stories. And, don’t forget this, G-G/M-G has some pretty wild ones too. These stories are a deep part of who you are.
Talking of who you are, that’s the other thing I want to share from G-G/F-D’s 83rd birthday party. We sang around the piano. This may sound like a small thing; but, believe me, it is huge.
G-G/F-D picked two of his favorite hymns. We sang “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind…” and “I thank thee Lord that thou hast made the earth so bright….” Both of them have six verses and the second one – BTW – was part of the service the day I married your grandmamma Rebekah.
But here’s what I’m getting at – and it’s more evidence that I am becoming a sentimental, tender-hearted old-dude!
- I heard my dad’s voice – your G-G/F-D – and so I looked over at him and my eyes just filled up. I saw how he was singing without even looking at the hymn book (all twelve verses if you count both songs), and I saw how full his heart is with faith and love and the peace that comes from knowing the Lord he was singing about, and I understood how fortunate you are, David Henry, to be born into a family defined by such faithfulness and commitment…
Listen closely, David Henry. Do everything in your power to make sure such a story becomes more than a cherished memory, or a piece of nostalgia, or a quaint entry in the family history. Such a faith must be experienced, and owned, and sought out, and practiced, and crafted into the character of what it means to be David Henry Campbell of Connecticut. Bottom line, dear grandson, it has to become your very own.
So I am – at this moment – praying for your amazing parents, Naomi and Craig. I pray that they, too, cherish the hope and joy and great love that comes from establishing a deliberately Christian home.
Your G-G/D-B (great-granddaddy Bob) spoke the following benediction over your Mama and Daddy, Naomi and Craig, just a short while before he passed away. He was not feeling at all well that day, but he mustered his strength and called them back as they were saying good-bye. He spoke clearly and he spoke from his heart:
“‘The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26)
For several years - circa 1999 to around 2008 – I penned a weekly “op-ed” column that ran in anywhere from one to eight local newspapers. Twice – before staff writers decided freelance work should not qualify – I won top honors at the Florida Press Association’s annual awards banquet.
I especially miss the sense of ongoing conversation I developed with the entire Brandon community – and I still believe The Tampa Tribune made a huge mistake when they dropped the feature. But it’s a “state of the industry” reality that I don’t imagine will change any time soon. Now the only periodical where you can count on reading my “opinion” is FOCUS Magazine, one issue per month (page 95 in this issue if you take a look).
My slant was more connected to current affairs, news stories and social issues. I felt strongly that a faith-based perspective needed to be an element of the general conversation. And, thinking about it this morning, I realize that I still feel that way. I’m wondering about how I might reintroduce my voice to the mainstream media, beyond the limited reach of this blog.
AMY WINEHOUSE AND NORWAY: I know I would have published a column about the sad story from Norway, plus a few thoughts about the Amy Winehouse tragedy. Because there needs to be a perspective that is spiritually astute without being moralistic or simply reactionary.
More than answers, and especially more than pat answers, what these stories require are better questions.
Nobody needs to hear another lecture about “The dangers of drugs and alcohol.” Addicts are some of the best informed people in the world, and the first alcoholic we try to hit over the head with the Winehouse story will likely go out drinking to get the sound of the lecture out of their head.
And we could speculate all day about political ideology, and global jihad, and where the lines need to be drawn regarding free speech, and how effective – or counter-effective – gun laws are, and if a free society is more – or less – susceptible to violence? There are a thousand details we could talk about and we still wouldn’t have a clue.
Because, the way I see it, the most dangerous trend in any part of the world is not so much a movement toward evil as the drift away from the Gospel of Light. And, by “the Gospel of Light” I mean the life-charged truth that we are – each one of us – created in the image of God, that our best source of light and life is an active relationship with the Creator, and that the only way to communicate such Good News is to actually live as if it were true.
So, here are some of the questions I’d like to raise in response to both Amy Winehouse and Norway:
- Let’s be honest, what are the priorities and values that effectively guide us in our day-to-day lives?
- How are these values and priorities acquired?
- If we don’t think these are the best priorities to live by… then what are we doing about it?
- Do we know, beyond a doubt, that we are loved unconditionally? And how do we communicate that truth to the people around us?
- Do we know any people who tell the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply by being?
- What can we learn from these folk?
- Do we tell the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply by being?
There are more questions, of course, but I’m sure you get my drift. We can speculate all day about why terrible things happen, we can assign blame, and we can make moralistic judgements about “those people”, and “those societies”… But the only thing that’s going to change this world is going to be you, and me, living as if the Gospel we proclaim really is true.
We’ve all heard the classic observation, “I might believe in the Redeemer if His followers looked more redeemed….” But it’s more than looking redeemed – it’s actually living into the truth of that redemption.
So the question isn’t even about sharing our story with the world. We’re sharing the story we have chosen already. The way that we live tells the truth about what we believe. The way we are tells the real story loud and clear!
The best question that comes out of both the Amy Winehouse tragedy and the horror of Norway is this: What story am I living? If enough of us begin to live as if the Gospel story really is the source of light and life and redemption, then….
Peace – and I really mean that – DEREK
It has been absolutely awesome to be back in our home church again! The atmosphere in worship at First Presbyterian is so affirming, and encouraging and (I believe this is the word for the whole experience) GENUINE….
I know it’s easy to quote songs instead of actually writing, but this old chorus jumped into my mind when thinking about Sundays at fpcBrandon, “There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place; and I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord. There are sweet expressions on each face; and I know that it’s the presence of the Lord…”
But it’s not the syrupy kind of sweetness. It’s the love kind of sweetness. Maybe the song would be more representative of my experience if it read, “There’s a genuine love that fills this place; and I know that it’s the love that comes from God. I see peace and healing in each face; and I know that it’s the present grace of God…”
Yay Monday! I’ve said before how Sunday with my church family makes Monday not only possible but – in truth – a life-charged blessing. Well double the effect of that principle when there’s a small-group gathering Sunday evening. During the summer our POGs group (Parents of Grads) meet more informally and in homes rather than at church. Yesterday evening we swarmed the Dales’ new home again, did the usual covered dish, and caught up with joys and needs.
There are 19 of us (18 at the Dale’s yesterday) and that number represents eleven family units and 24 children. Plus we’re beginning to add some grandchildren (just a trickle right now but you know that’s going to change!).
One family in our group is dealing with some gut-wrenching hurt that is quite literally too much to carry on their own. Small groups provide the opportunity to – physically and spiritually – be there for one-another.
I already had a partial “heads-up” about what was going on when the evening began, so I started our conversation with this short story from my week: The day I found out about the situation I immediately prayed for my friends and their son. In doing so I felt an unusual surge of connectivity with the Spirit – so I prayed through and then beyond the standard, “God bless so-and-so.”
My prayer quickly evolved into a more intimate interaction that worked its way into both my conscious self and much deeper places I cannot calibrate. After that it didn’t seem right to leave my friends’ daughter out of the conversation so I prayed for her too.
Naturally, I thought about the fact that all the members of my small group have children, and the Spirit led my prayers through every family in the circle.
- I prayed for the men, specifically and by name;
- I prayed for their wives in the same manner;
- I prayed for each of the children in my friends’ families, and I surprised myself by remembering all of their names and life circumstances easily.
- I prayed – with care and with different emphases depending on the individual on my heart in each moment – for ten married couples, one single person, and 24 young-adult children.
I make a point of spending time in prayer each and every morning; it’s how I start my day. Typically I’ve already been in some level of conversation with God before Scout and I even set out on our walk. But the experience is never rote or repetitive and I’m open to the direction God wants to take. This time my prayer became a deep, serious conversation that lasted 45 minutes and affected everything else about the balance of my day.
Sharing my story set off a chain-reaction of similar testimonies to how God has been working in and through our lives this summer. And by the time our friends were ready to share their burden with the entire group we did so in the context of a shared faith story that was – already – the Present Grace of God.
That’s life with my church family here in my home-town. Where:
- All the men are good
- All the women are full of grace
- And all of the children are (loved) above average.
A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ – Luke 14:16-17
Early this morning I took a break from the big writing project to head downtown, where I’d been invited to talk with the men’s breakfast group at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church. I spoke on “The Life-Charged Life”, which was kind of a no-brainer as I’ve been working furiously on “10 Life-charged Words for Men” all week-long.
Then, on the way back, I stopped by the construction site at First Pres Brandon to take a gander at what’s new and exciting. The answer is “windows and doors.” It all looks very promising, as you can see from the opening photograph. But what is even better is the choice for the temporary doors at the front entry. The contractor still had them from a recent remodel and I swear he couldn’t have done a better job for a “happening” Presbyterian Church like ours!
Yeah, that’s right, the old front doors from BEEF ‘O’ BRADY’S. I kid you not! Pastor Tim Black told me about it yesterday, then Bill Hellman sent me some pics this morning (featured at the end of this post). But I had to come see for myself, so I pulled out my telephoto for the shot you see here.
“BEEF’S”, if you don’t live around here, is the classic Brandon “Family Sports Restaurant and Pub.” It’s the best place for fish & chips and offers as close to a “pub” atmosphere as possible anywhere other than small-town United Kingdom, where there really is no better place for a casual lunch and a pint.
That’s why this is such a classic door for our church! I vote we keep it, and simply incorporate the idea into the design. Now I’m well aware that this new building is supposed to be, “The Campbell Discipleship Center”, but what would it hurt to keep the doors (and the concept) and simply call the place “DISCIPLE ‘O’ CAMPBELL’S PRESBYTERIAN PUB”…
Some churches have been putting espresso bars in their front lobby. I’ve even heard tell of bookstores and ATMs. So what could be wrong with a few pub tables, some old leather chairs and a couple of dart boards? Plus of course fish & chips and a pint…?
But then maybe there’s a good reason I’m not on the design team… or the session…!
“CHEERS” – Derek
When I woke up this morning I went through my usual routine, with the exception of bringing Rebekah coffee in bed, (she’s in Connecticut). But The Muse was not with me when it was time to write, so spent the next couple of hours doing yard work.
I picked up a bunch of dead wood, removed some low-hanging limbs from the Amazon Rain Tree, rolled up the hoses, and was behind my lawnmower by 8:30. Being Florida, it was already pushing 90 along with enough humidity to spike the “feels-like” number well into uncomfortable.
But, bottom line, I really enjoy mowing. It’s good exercise, it clears my head, and it gives me a clear space in which to think. And I know I’m not alone in this. My brother-in-law Jesse put the following as his facebook status the other day: “I had a great time cutting the grass this morning. Love a job that allows me to see my progress and appreciate the accomplishment afterward. Can anyone relate?”
My back yard may not be 100% actual lawn, but it’s a nice mixture of grass and neatly scalped weeds – plus it’s the right color green when it rains, and it’s summer in Florida so there’s no shortage of that.
Mowing, to my way of thinking, represents real, honest, “look what I did” work. There are no subtleties or nuances when you’re running a new blade with 6.75 ft-pounds of gross torque through the grass in the back yard. It’s about sweat, walking three miles or so, cleaning up afterwards, and feeling good about what you’ve done.
I guess what I’m saying is that yard work is real. It’s about as authentic as work gets…
Or that’s what I used to think until I turned on one of those “The pressure is on to sell your house” shows the other day. There are several versions, involving everything from major remodeling to just a few bucks spent on creative staging. The idea is to help the homeowners by making the houses look more attractive to buyers.
Fair enough. New paint, clean carpets and eliminating clutter all serve to help potential buyers see beyond the mess and evaluate the house on its merits.
Landscaping works the same way. Cut back the bushes, add some flowering plants, fix the sidewalk, replace dead areas and weeds with new sod, paint the front door. It’s called “curb appeal” and it makes sense.
Fakery Alert! Imagine my surprise – and horror – when one of the TV teams included “re-sod the yard” as a priority, but then spray-painted instead to say funds for other stuff!
I kid you not, halfway through the episode this truck rolls up with a tank and a hose and the guy applies dye to the entire yard. He was done in 15 minutes, but hung around to talk with the hosts. “I’m making a good living here in Florida,” he said. “My clients are typically banks and realtors who don’t want to waste money on landscaping. So they have me come by with my truck. It helps the home show better, you know.”
What amazed me was that everyone was Okay with this! No ethics-based questions by the hosts, or the homeowners, or the realtor who was evaluating the project. “I’m impressed,” the show hosts said. “It looks just like healthy grass. Buyers will never know the difference.”
I turned off the TV in disgust at the blatant manipulation. But what was maybe worse than the deception was the fact that nobody seemed to see it that way. To them the charade was legit because “Appearance” is the name of the game.
Personally, I believe that there’s no substitute for reality. Authenticity, to my mind, is far more appealing than fakery designed to sell.
I believe this is a huge problem in the Christian world, too. In relationships, in institutions, in the presentation of the Gospel, in testimonials…. When appearance trumps authenticity, everyone loses.
But this post has gone long enough already. I’ll continue my thoughts in the chapter I’m writing for the new book. The chapter title? “Authenticity”.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly – John 10:7-10
I’m taking a deviation from the family reunion theme this morning for several reasons – the most important of which is a gentle stirring of the gray matter in terms of the new book I’m currently writing.
So I was both distracted and inspired by the guys who spent several hours installing a new front door in our home Monday. Especially when I saw what looked like a man preparing to open a door (or a gate) to another world, right there in the middle of my front yard.
Connecting Points: A couple of weeks back someone asked me what factors tend to be at play when I’ve had profound spiritual experiences. Or, thinking about the man with the door in my yard, “What have been my entry points into the Kingdom?”
- Is it prayer?
- Or great preaching?
- Maybe uplifting music?
- What about community?
- How about a guy with a door in the middle of my yard?
- Was I at church?
- In conversation with my small group?
- Reaching out in mission?
- Praying for a friend in need?
- Attending a conference?
- Or a retreat?
- Surely it’s when I’m in front of a crowd speaking?
- If not that, then what about what happens to me when I’m writing…?
Well the writing part was close, I’ll grant that. But have you noticed yet what’s missing from this list? This isn’t a formulaic statement, or anywhere near 100% true in all cases, but I will go so far as to say that, if one element was likely the common denominator in most of the deep spiritual moments I have experienced over the past couple of years, then that element would have to be The Word. I am increasingly captivated by the Bible.
I’m increasingly captivated by the Bible. As a writer, I enjoy the privilege of dedicated reading time most days. More and more, my natural choice has been to go back to the Bible and expose myself to the Word of God.
Bible study is like praying and reading at the same time. In fact, I seldom open the Bible without – first – asking God to be with me, to guide me, and to teach me something new.
Meditation: But before I even pray seriously (and I guess we’re backtracking a little here), I like to spend some time involved in simple meditation. Meditation, in my spiritual practice, is where I slow down, quiet down, concentrate, and settle into a place where I’m actually cognizant of the presence of God before I begin any kind of a conversation.
Meditation is a no-brainer, really; it deals nicely with the unhelpful pat declaration that God is always with us so why would we need to go looking? Believe me, God could be tap-dancing on my desk and I wouldn’t notice if I first didn’t take the trouble to settle down and open my eyes! I’m not looking for God when I meditate so much as I’m opening the shutters on my heart, clearing my eyes, and putting on my best listening ears.
The Gate: Jesus is the gate. Jesus said people can and do literally come in and go out through him. Jesus is the channel, and through Jesus people find pasture… nourishment for their souls… and – ultimately – abundant life. Jesus is the ultimate life-charged word.
But what/where/how is my opening to Jesus? I find that I meet Jesus in many ways and in many places, but it’s true that I meet Jesus most consistently in God’s Word through the Bible.
Would you look at that! At the beginning of this post the photograph looks like some door in the middle of a garden – but it turns out all you have to do is walk through and suddenly you’re in the lobby of this amazing house. Cool, huh? It’s like a portal into another world. Well, that’s what getting immersed in scripture does for me – God’s Word is a powerful connecting point to Jesus, and Jesus is the Living Word.
Scripture is my best gateway into the Kingdom, it’s my passport to spiritual consciousness. I can – as Jesus said – go in and come out again. But I’m finding, more and more, that I’m staying in. I’m beginning to inhabit God’s Word, and it’s a life-charged Kingdom experience.
I’m rambling today a little bit. I can feel it. Take what you can use and discard the rest.
Peace - DEREK
Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. (Psalm 127)
Rebekah is in Connecticut, helping Naomi set up the baby’s nursery. But it’s her birthday, and it feels wrong not be together July 18. It’s also my son-in-law Craig’s b/day today, so it’s no surprise my mind is on family today. We’re most thankful that our children are grown and happy. But it’s almost impossible to get even our small family all together. Sure, we managed 100% of Rebekah’s siblings at the South Carolina reunion, and nine of the ten grandchildren, but we really missed Andrew. Tuscany is a long, long way and when he does make it home Connecticut is still 1300 miles up the east coast.
But I did manage to photograph some most excellent family groupings. I’ll feature some of my favorites here along with some appropriate commentary.
One of the rarest images to capture is that of all ten grandchildren, and we didn’t quite make it in Santee. But I do really like this poor-quality cell-phone image I caught of Rebekah with her nieces and nephews. The big party (after church Sunday) had just broken up and I looked up to see all eight of them kind of swarmed around Rebekah. No time to get out the Nikon, but my phone was in my back pocket and you don’t set up something that awesome – you either capture it or you don’t. Sarah, Lindsay, Jared, Jordan, Seth, Rebekah, Reed, and then Micah (prone) and Faith in the front.
Family Dynamics: Every family has its own peculiar dance. The more children there are the more complex the choreography. That’s why this next photo is such a gem. Rebekah is the middle child of five, and they’re all ordained elders in the Presbyterian Church. That fact alone is a potential blog post in itself but I’ll let it pass.
We get together in twos and threes but seldom as a full set. The last time was Naomi’s wedding and nobody thought to photograph the whole handful.
Genealogy experts point out that most family lines disappear within just a few generations. We did some research and realized that both the Perkins (Rebekah’s mama’s maiden name) and the Alexander strains are in the hands of the youngest child. Both are named Jesse, and they were born just a day apart.
Jesse Alexander is the youngest of five Alexander siblings, and he has the only boys – Seth and Jared – who carry the Alexander name.
- Jesse Perkins is the youngest of four Perkins siblings. and his boys – Cameron and Dawson (Spellings?) – are the only candidates to carry the Perkins name.
So I thought that would be a photo for the ages.
I shot a lot of cool combinations, and I’ve included a few more in this slide show. No matter how you line them up, family are irreplaceable.
… Now if we can just get that photo with Derek, Rebekah, Andrew, Naomi and Craig….
Here’s a question: PART I – Is this communion?
In this picture (to the right) Tom – my brother-in-law, is serving the bread and the wine to Faith – his daughter. Ed, who is watching Tom, had just been served by his wife – Rebekah’s cousin Zandra.
We came together for worship as a family (various Alexanders and sundry Perkins’s), as a family of believers (various Presbyterians and sundry Methodists and an assortment of other blends and flavors), and as an extended human family representing at least three continents.
Rebekah gave the message, and her brother Jesse served communion; they are both ordained Presbyterian ministers serving churches in Florida. Jesse, Micah and I led the singing. And Anthony Perkins, who is a commissioned lay-minister in the Methodist Church, gave the benediction.
Coming together as a worshipping community is always a meaningful occasion, and I especially look forward to the first Sunday of every month, when we celebrate communion together at First Presbyterian in Brandon. But when your extended family is also the family of believers… and when the church family is also your family of brothers and sisters and cousins… then something exponential happens in terms of what it means to break bread together.
And so – PART II – is this communion? The picture I’m referencing here is the melee of covered dish lunch after church! Cousins elbowing and laughing and serving one-another from the shared table. For the adults, just watching this part of the feast conjured memories of gatherings past – and isn’t communion all about remembering?
This we did in remembrance not only of Jesus, who first offered the bread and the wine, but in memory of Nell Perkins Alexander – Rebekah’s mama, who died just a short while after the big family gathering at St Mary’s in 1999… and of Bob Alexander – Rebekah’s dad, who departed this life just two weeks prior to Naomi’s marriage to Craig in 2007… and of Al Perkins, and Grandaddy Albert and Grand-May….
And we shared communion in the bread and the wine and the squash and the chicken and the potato salad and the tomatoes….
Or – PART III – is this communion? One more big family portrait. But Naomi and Craig were still on the road from Connecticut… and Andrew was at his home in Tuscany… and Rebekah’s brother Roy and his wife, Lynda, were worshipping with the church where Lynda was recently appointed as music director… and the Jesse Perkins family were already back in Sylvania… and Zandra’s brother, Albert, insisted he needed to be with his cows in Newington….
But family gatherings without some of the family are communion just the same. Because we acknowledge the communion of the saints – and that doesn’t just include the “dear departed” but the reticent, and the recalcitrant, and the traveler, and the ex-patriot, and the lost, and the angry, and the sick, and the tired, and the distracted, and the hurt, and the estranged, and those who want to be there but simply can’t….
Preach it, Rebekah! “He (and she) has God’s mark on him,” Rebekah said as she preached her way through Genesis, all the way from the beginning, where God said “this is good” to the reunion of Joseph with his long-lost family, where it was good once again.
She was referring to the fact that God’s love, and care, and purpose for us far out-reaches the temporary detours we often take. God is faithful and God’s promise is – like the Covenant with Abraham – new every morning and to every generation. Things in the Genesis story became “good” again only when Joseph lived his life in the truth of that bountiful promise.
The answer, of course, to the communion question, “Is this communion, or is this communion, or is this communion….?” is – “YES”!
“For where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “I am there among them.” And, believe me, Jesus was there last Sunday morning, and it means so much to be a member of that kind of a family.