Thursday, August 25, 2016

Playing the hand that is dealt...

I am not a fatalist. I really don't believe that we are all just "dealt a hand" in life, and that this is all we have to work with. In fact, I believe that we can all grow in life, learn more, and improve the way we think and use the knowledge we have and acquire. As a Christian believer, I also believe this is where God meets us--in the challenging and growing edges--and from the depths of our soul and spirit, lures us toward a more healthy and holistic perspective on life, and then through the Holy Spirit, empowers us to get there!

That said, I want to apply the colloquial phrase, "playing the hand dealt you," to my wife's nephew's son, and to how young Seth Apel has played his hand. You may know that Seth is the twelve-year-old son of Dara's nephew, Josh Apel, and his wife, Angie. Seth was helping his father cut and stack wood, which they use to heat their house, when his coat got caught in the power takeoff of a tractor. His arm was literally twisted off his body. Through what can only be described as a miraculous series of events, Seth was spirited to Pittsburgh Children's Hospital from rural Knox, PA, and was in surgery to reattach his arm inside of 90 minutes. This all happened in November of last year.

Dr. Lorelei Grunwaldt lead the team that performed Seth's surgery. If you're looking for real-life heroes, she, and the EMTs that knew just what to do on the ground in Knox, would be leading candidates, in my book. In the months since, Seth has continued to heal, and adapt. He is regaining feeling down his arm, can move the upper arm and shoulder, and has begun even to regain some movement in his fingers and wrist. It is not yet known how much function of the reattached arm he will have, but as a very determined young man, his chances are as good as can be.

So, this is "the hand he has been dealt." Seth's response to all of this makes him my next nominee for real-life hero (along with his parents, who have been beyond awesome in all of this). Seth, who loves to play baseball, immediately began learning to throw with his left hand, and to catch the baseball with the glove on his left hand, toss the ball in the air, drop the glove, catch the ball in his bare hand, and throw it, all in one, fluid motion. Seth also had to teach himself to hit again by gripping the bat differently, and training his left arm and hand to do more of the work, including steadying his right arm and hand. He played baseball this season, and was declared the MVP of his team, and it wasn't a "pity award." He really played, and had a rash of hits!

From the day of the horrible accident, Seth's parents, Josh and Angie, have modeled for the whole world their love, patience, and trust in God. Seth's whole family is a deeply committed Christian one. His mom began daily FaceBook posts to not only update everyone on Seth's early recovery, but to offer encouraging words of faith to all who would read the posts. During the endless series of TV, radio, and newspaper interviews they--and Seth--were subjected to, they demonstrated how a family works well together in the face of a huge challenge, and how their trust in Jesus Christ, and in God's supportive and healing presence made all the difference. They came across as so very genuine, and it's because they are. What you saw (and continue to see) is real and inspiring.

But back to Seth. He has used every opportunity as a "media star" to inspire other kids who face physical challenges, to share his own very practical and pedestrian Christian faith in a "works for me" way, and to be a twelve-year-old boy who likes to play baseball. So, so real. That we could all aspire to be as genuine as this kid, in life, in faith, in attitude--in everything. And none of the myriad media attention has gone to his head. While in the hospital, he had a visit from former Pirate Neil Walker, one of his favorite Pirate players. And this season, when Seth and his family were treated to a special night at PNC Park by the Pirate organization, Seth got to reconnect with Mr. Walker, now with the New York Mets. I'll never forget seeing the pictures of this "reunion." Seth and Neil, just two guys "chewing the fat"--no pretense, and no flashing the pearly whites for the surrounding media. How cool, for both of them. Oh yeah, I also nominate Neil Walker for that real-life hero list.

This past Monday, Seth had the honor of throwing out the first pitch at the 8:00PM game at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. He fired the ball from his newly-adopted left hand delivery, and was angry that he didn't throw a perfect strike. Seth is that way. The kid lost his arm, and has years of recovery to endure with the reattached appendage, and yet he was upset that his adaptation wasn't perfect yet! I have to say that Seth Apel may be the most inspirational person I have ever known, and that would be true even if he weren't my great nephew by marriage. What a thrill it was to play catch with him at a family reunion gathering back in July. It's not everyday you get to do that with a hero.

So, how do we "play the hand dealt us" today? Do we light a candle or curse the darkness? From now on, when my devilish little internal pessimism rears its head, tempting me to do a little cursing, I'm going to try to remember Seth, who hasn't just lit a candle, but wields a blowtorch of hope, determination and faith. Shalom, Yinz...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

On Vacation...

We've been on vacation since the afternoon of July 31, and this is the first time I've used a "real" keyboard since then (today is August 11), so I guess that's something. I did post on FaceBook that, while spending time "crashing" next to Lake Michigan, I was pondering St. Paul's purpose, mission, and vision, which is in the midst of a renewal process. So, I haven't been without "work," while we've been away. Brian Bauknight, one of my mentors and friends, noted on that same post that he found that he needed to take at least three weeks of vacation in a row before he could "exorcise" the church out of his head in time to enjoy a brief "unfettered" break. Honestly, while it is true that I really enjoy what I do as a pastor and preacher (and I DO), I am aware of the psychological and spiritual pitfalls which can result from taking no breaks.

We have actually had a wonderful holiday, as the Brits would say, celebrating our granddaughter's 4th birthday and spending some time with her family in Louisville, cruising on Lake Erie out to Kelley's Island and South Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), and then venturing here to Mackinac Island. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel restaurant (yes, we're suckers for their goofy shops; I go nuts over the "legacy" candy) in Maumee, Ohio. It was like stepping into a different world--a very diverse one, racially. Milling around the restaurant and waiting for their tables were large African American families, clearly coming from a morning of church, families from Indian and Asian heritage, and Muslim families as well! They were all friendly with each other, and upon overhearing some of the conversations, I would say many were resident neighbors. I think I would like to live in a community like that. I know I would like to have a church like that! As I pondered the purpose, mission, and vision of St. Paul's during those "restful" moments along the lake, two words kept "thought bombing" my consciousness: diversity and justice. Whatever our final, new vision looks like, I think it needs to address these, somehow. If we are happy with how our church looks now, we need a revival moment, friends. While we celebrate the good that the Spirit of God is doing in our midst, and through our mission and ministries, we would do well to develop a little "holy anxiety" about our lack of diversity. And while our church has some diversity in terms of politics and stands on social justice issues, there ARE many issues we could begin to address with action groups and community organizing: dismantling racism; working for equality and justice for LGBTQ individuals; new ways to fund education that don't create such disparity in school quality within a ten-mile radius of 1965 Ferguson Road; and climate justice. Does not the Good News of Jesus compel us to address those things that create social stratification with the extremes we see around us?

While I have not pondered "nuts and bolts" methodologies in my mental meandering while away, I do believe we have to start with a vector and some volition. Please join me in pondering and praying about how our congregation can begin to actively address these (and I'm sure, other) issues that face our communities and our churches. If St. Paul's is to be a leading church in our connection, it is time to begin leading.

I'm writing this while sitting on the porch of The Harbourview Inn "cottage," along Main Street, Mackinac. It's a restful place, if you want it to be, and a bustling place, if you walk up into the middle of town. It is not a diverse place. They have no compulsion to be, but the church does! I can't help but wonder what Mackinac would be like if it looked more like Maumee, Ohio?

See you all soon, back in "The 'Burgh." Grace and peace...

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...