Friday, August 23, 2013

A Reflection on my mother's life.

Some Personal Reflections


        The time is now 5:30 a.m. on Friday morning Aug 23, 2013.  I have been awake for about an hour and after laying in bed developing pages upon pages of thoughts in my mind, I finally decided to get up and put a few of these thoughts onto paper.  With a cup of coffee at my right hand and the household still fast asleep, I am finally able to be by myself for a short time, to think and just be, luxuriating in alone time after arriving this past Monday evening to my mother’s hospital bedside where family was assembled to be with mom as she eventually passed from this life into the next this past Wednesday evening.   There has been so much hubbub going on since that point of mom’s departure that this is the first quiet time (awake) that I have had and at present, bathing in as a child does in a bubble bath. 

        The thoughts that I awoke to this morning were of course centering on my mom, her life, the life events and people that I grew up around, as well as the community that helped form who I am, how I view life, and how I live out my life because of these influence.  As I was laying in my bed thinking about all of these things, I decided I really needed to pen a few of these reflections, which I may or may not share in the future.  I found the “pastor” or “professional” me developing a sermon which in its basic form is only a way of reflecting upon life and the relationship between God and Humanity (or myself specifically.)  As the old saying goes, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.  So I am going to attempt to record some of these early morning thoughts as a way of helping me process the deep, deep impact that my mother Bonnie Neal Wohlford Mitchell Nichols has had on my life.

        One of the basic truths in my development was to understand “life” as something that “one” can/should learn from; that there is a purpose for all events.  This is of course one of the ultimate teaches that one learns through the Bible, but it was always taught to me from almost every family member that preceded me.  The Apostle Paul penned this reality as, “All things work to the good and glory of God.”  What this means in my family is that no matter how hard or dark life gets, you can find good out of it if you just look hard enough.  Is this the generation of Depression Era babies thinking?  Possibly, but it was a basic understanding of life that my mother taught me and my siblings.  It was vocalized by mom’s mother as well as my great aunts and uncles, and you read the same teaching in the Hebrew Scriptures specifically out of the book of Ecclesiastes. 

        Another thought that I awoke with this morning is just how “tribal” we as humans are.  Those patriarch and matriarchs who settled in what I call my hometown Kingman Kansas planted seeds so deep that even though most of the family no longer lives specifically in that community, changing life events always draw up back; usually through a death in the family.  Even for those of the family who were never raised in Kingman, find themselves drawn back.  I know that this will eventually fade as generations further from the original planters loose that connection, but for me, my reality is, the family continually draws together for support of one another from time to time, even if there is no contact between those times.

        These past couple of days staying at my sister Sandy’s house, I have once again had the opportunity to enjoy the company of my two nieces, Lindsey and Tandi.  I have spent most of their lives living in distant parts of the country, missing out on watching them grow into adults.  Yet at times like these as we sit with one another in general conversation the family albums find their way off the shelves and into our hands allowing us to remember some of the highlights within our lives.  It is through these “family” albums that Sandy’s girls are able to remember how the larger family connected as they were growing up.  If we were all meeting at my house and my family albums were to appear, they would see some of the same pictures as what is in their mothers albums, as well as some other events recorded on film that would again broaden their understanding of how the fabric of our family is woven.

        This coming Monday, as we hold the memorial for mom in our tribal community of origin, there will be not just family members gathering but also people who had important roles in mom’s life.  People like Bob and Laverne Grey who were close childhood friends; people who have children that I grew up with as well; people who are not just instrumental in the early life of my parents, but also impacted my life, folks that I don’t see very often.  I am reminded of one event many years ago when my sister, me, and our aunt Elsie were eating lunch in one of the local Kingman cafĂ©, when an elderly man walked up to our table and asked if we were not “Bonnie and Virgil’s children, as he thought he recognized us”.  It was Bob Grey our dad’s childhood buddy of whom we had not seen in over thirty some odd years.  I have multiple photographs of he, mom, dad, Laverne and two other couples who all hung out together as close friends.  Now there is only Bob and Laverne and Katie left of that group, with the first passing on over 50 years ago. 

        Another truth that my mom taught me was “to put my faith in the Lord.  No matter what life may bring, God is there for you, supplying you with what you need.  You may not get what you want, but God will make sure you receive what you need!”  Well, that opens things up to a whole host of things from basic food and shelter to discipline.  As I share reflections each week to the congregations that I have served, I am amazed at how often something mom has brought to light comes into my thoughts on almost any topic.  I guess the reality is, that my congregation not only hears what God might have said on a subject, or how I interpret what has been recorded in scripture, but they also get some of “mom’s” understanding of how God works in our lives as well.

        I so often find it interesting that the “church” struggles with the popular phrase, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”  The reality of the matter is, I was raised by that motto.  Most of my extended family never really found church communities as a viable environment to live out their faith, yet the understanding that God exists, that God will judge your actions based on how you treat your fellow human beings, that God walks beside you are all building blocks that I was raised with.  There was never any direct quotes from the Bible to substantiate these teachings, but presented as if Moses himself had brought these down from the mountain top directly given by God – also known as “commandments.”  I watched my mother curve her needs and desires to those of others (whether they were good or bad) because of this type of understanding that God is the ultimate judge of each person’s actions.  We are not to judge a person’s motive, just respond to it the best we can and let that motive be between God and that person.  It plays a huge part in my life when a person comes asking help from the church.  I find that I do not question the sincerity of the request, or judge “if they would only do this then they wouldn’t be in this position”, I just accept that request for what it is, “a need for help at that moment.”

        My mom also taught me that “life isn’t meant to be easy”.  In a society that preaches a “name it and claim it”, or “I deserve this” type of teaching, or “if you have enough faith in God, God will give you riches and a pain free life” she saw this as non-truth.  To mom, struggles in life were what build’s the character of a person, like exercising at the gym, to build your muscles, God somehow presented the opportunities for us to struggle in our own way the areas of our lives that needed to be buildup.  As an old Jewish saying presented in “Fiddler On the Roof” : Lord I know you love me, but couldn’t you just love me a little less? 

        I am reminded of so many times when mom would struggle to make ends meet and feel total despair, yet somehow rally with the confidence that God was with her in those times and would help pull her through them.  It wasn’t that God would magically throw money down from Heaven to resolve the problem, no that wasn’t what God was about, but rather God was there walking through this mess with you and helping you solve whatever situation you found yourself in.  God never provided hardship or pain as some faith communities like to believe, but God was always there holding onto your hand, somehow providing guidance and bringing that inner strength that is deep within you to rise to the occasion to meet whatever life throws at you.

        One last thing that comes to my mind as I wind down this two hour period of silent reflection (people are starting to wake up), that of “unconditional love” that mom taught and modeled.  This is probably the second most important lesson that she taught me and possibly the greatest gift given to me other than my life itself.  Unconditional – wow, what a word.  It so totally encompasses my mother and who she was.  The church throws that word and concept around on one side of its mouth while at the same time speaking judgments and presenting expectations in order to “be” accepted into the family. 

        While I was growing up, I was told by both mom and dad, that if I ever got into trouble, they would be there to stand beside me, whether I was in the right or in the wrong, but that if I were wrong, I would have to accept my punishment, but if I was being wronged, they would fight tooth and nail for my defense.  Maybe every parent says this, I don’t know, but what I do know is that mom had unconditional love for her family.  This was most evident to me as each of her three biological children came out as “gay” to her.  When many parents disowned their children because of this, mom never wavered in her love for us. 

        I started these reflections with the observation about the importance or possibly the reality of being “tribal”.  Many of these basic things that I have learned from mom are not what mom developed in a vacuum, but rather are “tribal” truths that she brought to the table from her mother and father, aunts and uncles.  The “commandments” that I was raised with really are teachings – laws if you will, of much of my family who has preceded my mother and father.  There is a circle of life, we are not individuals that live in isolation, but members of a much larger community, often referred to as family, but even larger than that.  And yet, it always comes back to the one on one relationships and from the perspective as a son or child, that relationship is most basic between our parent.  Often when I am speaking to someone or just doing head conversations with myself, I will make a statement and realize to myself, “I sound just like mom.”  Not just in thought but in the intonation, tenor, and inflection!  It’s a frighten realization to think that I am so much like my mother, and yet I cannot think of another person that I would most be proud to be compared to than that of my mom!  Mom, you have given me not only life, but a myriad of truths that are the foundational blocks that I live my life by – good and bad alike, thank you from the bottom of my soul for all of the shared events, the instructions, and the love and support that you have given me, my brother and my sister, and to all those that call you friend.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The mark of a Winner, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on Hebrews 11 &12, Mountain View United, CO 8-18-2013

The mark of a Winner

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 8-18-2013

Based on Hebrews 11:29-34 & 12:1-2


        In the Spring of 1945 the musical Carousel debuted on Broadway with a song that was so powerful that it was sung for almost three decades by pop recording artists to church choirs for inspiration as one moves  into a new chapter of life.   The words of this particular song are so poignant, its like a knife plunging deep into the heart. 

When you walk through a storm hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark.  At the end of a storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark. Walk on through the wind, Walk on through the rain, Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never, ever walk alone. Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone, You'll never, ever walk alone.


In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews the writer puts it this way:  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…  The book of Hebrews is a book that recognizes the hardships that come with living.  In the midst of many early Christians being killed, tortured, expelled from community, because of their faith in Jesus,  the author encourages the reader to take heart and stand firm in their struggles and in their faith; to persevere in faith and know that they are not going through this alone, but that many before them had gone through similar trials.  Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, you’ll never walk alone!

        At the beginning of Hebrews chapter eleven a long list of who’s who in the Hebrew lineage is given as examples of the lineage the church comes from.  People such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, and Moses are all examples of continual faith in God and in verse 13 we are told a great reality:  13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.   Through this marvelous listing of “faith” heroes, we can pick up on a theme of “intergenerational mystery” of the church, as Kathy Huey puts it.  Rev Huey states, “How their lives count depends on our lives.  How well they did is determined by how well we do.”

        As a faith community, we do not walk alone!  We are products of those who have walked before us.  Their work, their struggles will be remembered by how well we hold true to our calling, our faith.  Note - (hold up the books of the Nossaman family tree as well as the bible for comparisons)   In my hand I am holding the completed volumes as of the year 2000 of one portion of my family tree.  In these pages are the names of not only those who have come before me but also those who are present, a list of over 1,700 names.  Through these pages, I have a sense of who I am, of where I come from, and by these peoples accomplishments, receive assurances of what I am capable of accomplishing myself.  I know I am not alone.  When my children were young and feeling overwhelmed at the task of growing up, I would sit down with them and remind them of who they are, by pointing out those matriarchs and patriarchs who have preceded them.

        In doing this am I saying that my family is without it’s share of misfits and scoundrels?  Not at all, in fact I can guarantee that no one in my family dead or alive is without character flaws.  The same truth goes for what we read about our ancestors of faith.  The Bible shares many of our most beloved stories that include their character flaws.  Moses, committed murder, Rahab was a prostitute, David was not only a murderer but a liar and an adulterer, although Ruth isn’t mentioned, she was a Moabite (the lowest of people in the Jewish mind.)  In fact, Jesus’ family blood line includes Rahab the prostitute and Ruth the Moabite.  Yet Jesus, through his faith and holding true to his calling sits on the right hand of God.

        There’s a sentence in this morning’s reading that is a challenge to us as people of faith.  It reads; let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  As we learn through the stories of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, they too had to throw off those things that hindered them and the sin that so easily entangled them in order to live out their faith.  In the book of Hebrews the ongoing theme is “faith” and although Faith is defined in a multiple of ways, in the book of Hebrew, faith is defined as “the courage to endure.”

        Taking this definition, as a society, we are obsessed with the idea of winning!  As a society we are told that in a competition, there is only one winner.  We are conditioned to view everyone who doesn’t finish first as non-winners.  Yet scripture challenges this big time in verse 13, “They did not receive the things promised” but, “All these people were still living by faith when they died.”  I titled this morning’s reflection, “The mark of a winner” which comes from a piece written by Dr Rev Bob Schuller, which I would like to share with you:

 Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  The running of a race provides an exciting illustration of faith.  The runner jumps at the starting gun, even though he cannot be sure he will win.  But one thing is certain.  The person who does not start can never win!

This means that another truth becomes markedly evident:  Every starter is a winner.  The losers are those who never tried.  If you need to be sure that you will win, if you need to be confident of success before you make a commitment, then you are not walking the walk of faith!

So the person who walks the walk of faith is alive and is keeping others alive, speculation on his success.  He is news, because he has entered the race before he is positive that he can win.

God’s promises are not offered to the “play-it-safe” spectator in the stands, but to the “lets-take-a chance” player in the middle of the game! Possibility Thinkers Bible.

         So if Schuller says that a winner is the one who enters the race, what does that look like individually?  Only you can answer that for yourself.  If you were to read my profile, it speaks heavily to “growth”.  I so believe in the idea of growth that I am the lead person at a conference level growth team.  Most of the time when we use the word “growth” we talk about increase of numbers; numbers of members or numbers in attendance, but my interest isn’t in increased numbers, but growth spiritually by individuals, for when that happens then the numerical growth follows.

        From my perspective, I think of “entering the race” as the challenge for my spiritual growth.  What do I do personally to continue to nurture my faith?  As we have grown into a society of consumers, our faith is so challenged to be as the Apostle Paul puts it, “spoon fed.”  You see, there is nothing new today about the natural desire to not work at developing our holistic self. 

        In our faith journey what do we do individually to grow or to run the race as it were?  Do we read our bibles regularly, and then spend time discussing what we’ve read with another individual?  How fully do we participate in the life of a faith community? 

Starting this last January, this church has been providing a Saturday morning Hot Cakes and Hot Topics, focusing on educational awareness of Social Justice Issues that impact our lives.  Over all we have had very good turn outs, but not by the congregation at large, but rather by other churches and secular social justice communities.  What started out to be a ministry to our church has not been successful – as Bob Schuller would say, the greater part of this community is not joining in the race, yet we are becoming widely known in the Metro area as a teaching church because of this ministry.

        For a congregation to grow numerically, we need to grow individually.  The old saying about the strenght of a chain is its weakest link.  I know that there are many things that we tell ourselves which keep us from actually entering into the race of our faith development, but as scripture says, we have to lay aside every weight that distracts us or weighs us down.   As a community of faith here at Mountain View, we are not alone, we have two generations that have preceded us, and not only them but generations of three specific denominations, and also from those saints that are both spoken about in scripture and those that have not been recorded.  We are not alone but walk with a great cloud of witnesses.

        I invite you to take this challenge as spoken by Dr Schuller with you as you leave today: Take this positive plunge:  Today double – check your life.  Don’t be a spectator in the stands, but a contestant!  Today commit yourself to continue to grow in your faith and in the work of Mountain View, knowing that sacrifice is needed and that you do not walk alone but with those who have lived by faith before you.   Amen

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Gospel According to PIXAR pt 5, "Being Incredible", by Rev Steven R Mitchell

The Gospel According to PIXAR pt 5

“Being Incredible”

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 8-4-2013

Based on Philippians 3:3-11 and movie The Incredibles


        There is a marvelous scene in the movie Snow White where the wicked queen goes before a magic mirror and asks the mirror, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, ‘Who’s the fairest of them all?’”  The mirror responds, “As lovely as you are my Queen, Snow white is truly the fairest of all.” (loosely paraphrased)  In the movie Shriek, we have Lord Farquaad asking his magic mirror, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, isn’t this the most perfect Kingdom of them all?”  The mirror responds, “Well technically, you’re not a king.  And in the movie Death Becomes Her, the Broadway Star says to her mirror in the opening scene, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, hope they don’t see the little scars (referring to her face lift.)”  When I look into the mirror, I ask the mirror, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s that face I see looking back at me?  My mirror doesn’t seem to speak to me, just reflects a face of someone older than what I perceive myself to be.

        In this morning’s Gospel, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church that in Philipi and reminding them of who they are, of where they find their true identities.  As a person, one’s identity is at the very essence of being known and of knowing who we are.   When we are born our name becomes a part of our identity, the things that we do throughout our lives also become come attached to our identity.  There are a couple of ways in which we can see ourselves, through the eyes of those around us, much like the mirror reflecting, and also through our own internal ways of seeing and understanding who we are.

        Paul indicates in his letter to the Philippians that he has a pedigree that far exceeds most.  Among that long list he includes being a member from the elite tribe of Benjamin, a true adhere to the law of Moses, and would persecute any who violated the law!  If anyone is a Super Hebrew, Paul certainly was.  

        Knowing who we are is essential to how we are able to navigate through life.  In the movie The Incredibles, can see the theme of identity being explored.  We see through the characters of Bob Parr, his wife Helen Parr, young Buddy, and through the two Parr children how their lives are fulfilled or restricted by how they identify with who they are.  The three main characters, Bob, Helen, and Buddy give us differing perspectives of how we incorporate those things that give us our “identities”.    The two Parr children show us behavior when we are being told at an early age “not to be ourselves.”  The Parr boy Dash, is constantly being invited into the Principles office with discipline issues because he isn’t able to go out for sports and use his natural ability of speed to re-enforce his God given talent.  Violet, on the other hand in being told not to be herself develops insecurities about who she is, which is stopping her from developing relationships with others.

        For Bob, AKA Mr. Incredible, a guy who prior to marriage knew who he was and lived out his identity – a super hero; a man with multiple abilities.  Mr. Incredible understands who he is from within himself.  He knows all of his abilities, recognizing that he has something special that only he can offer the world and in this recognition uses his powers for good, saving the world from the bad guys. 

Knowing who we are from within, that ability to properly understand who we are, what talents we possess is a good virtue, but it is also a two edged sword.  One of the pitfalls of being so “incredible”, is that you start playing by your own rules and often intervening or superseding the wishes of others when their desires interfere with your vision of what “is.”  This happened to Mr. Incredible when he saved the life of a man who wanted to commit suicide by jumping from a tall building.  The man was injured while being saved and because of a lawsuit, Mr. Incredible and all Super Hero’s for that matter were forbidden from doing acts of saving.

With this new law forbidding Mr. Incredible from being able to be who he truly is, we see how he copes trying to live as “ordinary” Bob Parr, an insurance claims adjuster.  In Bob Parr, we see a man who is very unhappy, bored, detached from his wife and family, rebellious, and deceitful.  When Bob is given the opportunity to once again be who he is, his attitude changes; he is happy, engaged with his family, creative, having lots of energy, having self-confidence once again.  With this new lease on life, Mr. Incredible also becomes totally self-absorbed with himself, losing sight of the most important things in his life – his wife and family.  

The opposite of Bob Parr is a little boy called Buddy, who did not possess special super hero powers but admired to a fault Mr. Incredible and felt that his self-worth could only be found in becoming the sidekick to Mr. Incredible.  Of course this wasn’t acceptable to Mr. Incredible, leaving Buddy with a sense of rejection.  What Buddy eventually realized was he had a great mind, but from the lack of proper self-esteem developed his mind for evil purposes.  Buddy becomes Syndrome, arch enemy of Mr. Incredible and all other Super Heroes.  Syndrome is the picture of Champion of “self-reliance”.  His goal was to create a destructive force that only he could conquer, there by becoming the Super Hero he desires.   In church talk, we would say, “salvation through works.”  I will be good enough if I do enough good works.”  The affirmation of identity comes through external sources.

For Helen, her identity is seen through her relationship as wife, mother, and home maker.  She seems to not miss the use of her Super Hero powers or the lifestyle she once lived.  Yet when her family and husband is in danger, she once again becomes Elastigirl. As Helen, she desires only stability and peace for her family.  Because of her husband Bob’s abdicating his responsibilities within the family, Helen is seen as the “law maker” causing all sorts of negative energy among her family.  She struggles to instill confidence into her children of “how special” they are while also saying, “you can’t be who you truly are.”  Helen is finally called into her natural roll as Elastigirl in order to save her family.  While doing this, she realizes the harm that she has been doing to her children by not allowing them to grow into who they truly are, that of developing their special abilities.

One of the cornerstones of the movie is a law forbidding Supers to be who they are.  Why have a law forbidding Super Hero’s from acting out as Super’s?  The reality is Supers cause incredible physical damage with buildings crumbling, cars smashed up, even preventing people from doing what they wish to do that they feel is right for themselves. 

This is how the Apostle Paul approached his understanding of living either under the law or living in Christ.  The biblical truth that can be seen in this movie , is that identity comes from outside of us, not from within.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He imputes to us his identity.  Our ultimate value is Jesus’ value, and it is not something that can be compromised or diminished.  And since our ultimate identity does not have to do with our abilities or disabilities, self-congratulation or self-satisfaction has no place.  This is the reason why Paul states that his pedigree has no place in his life, but rather “because of Christ all things I once thought were so important are gone from my life.  I don’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ – God’s righteousness.”  Let our “being incredible” come not from ourselves but through Christ!  Amen