“Chains Shall He Break…”

The music of Christmas has always been one of my favorite parts of celebrating this season of joy. When I was a child, I remember my mom had Christmas music playing during the entire month of December. Christmas music continues to be special to me, both the serious and the silly, the sacred and the secular. I want to tell you the story behind my favorite of all Christmas songs.

The year was 1847. Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was the commissioner of wines in a small French village who had some local fame as a poet. Although he was not a regular church-goer, the local priest asked him if he would compose a special poem for use at that year’s Christmas service, and Cappeau agreed.

With the Christmas story from Luke in mind, Cappeau began to imagine actually being in Bethlehem and watching the events of that night unfold, and he soon completed the poem, which he entitled, “Cantique de Noel.” But Cappeau felt that the poem needed to become a song, and so he turned to a musician friend, Adolphe Adams, for help.

Adams was a Jew, but he agreed to help his Gentile friend compose a song for a holiday that Adams did not celebrate, to honor a Messiah that he did not worship. The tune was finished, and three weeks later, “Cantique” was performed for the first time at the midnight Christmas Mass. The song found wide acceptance in churches across France.

But a few years later, Cappeau walked away from the church and became part of the socialist movement, and French church officials discovered that the tune had been written by an unbelieving Jew. They denounced the song as being unfit for worship services, lacking in musical taste, and “total absence of the spirit of religion.” (Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but I digress.)

Anyway, that might have been the end of “Cantique,” except the song found its way to America a few years later, and was given new life by a staunch abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight. You probably never heard of him – frankly, neither had I – but he prepared and published a new translation of Cappeau’s poem into English. Dwight was especially moved by the third verse of “Cantique.”

Truly He taught us to love one another,

His law is love, and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,

And in His Name, all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy, in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us, praise His holy Name:

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!

His power and glory, Ever more proclaim!

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!

His power and glory, Ever more proclaim!

And so, “O Holy Night” became popular on this side of the Atlantic, at first in northern homes during the Civil War, and later, throughout the country.

There is a legend that says during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, a French soldier on Christmas Eve stood up, exposing himself to enemy fire, and began to sing “Cantique de Noel.” The Germans held their fire, and when was finished, a German soldier began to sing “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” a Christmas hymn by Martin Luther. The story goes that troops on both sides observed an unofficial Christmas truce.

“O Holy Night” became involved in another Christmas miracle of sorts a few years later, in 1906. Reginald Fessenden was a 33-year-old university professor and former assistant to Thomas Edison. On Christmas Eve of that year, using a new type of generator, Fessenden began to speak into a microphone: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…”

Across the country, and far out at sea, wireless operators who were used to hearing only coded dots and dashes over their equipment heard a man’s voice, reading them the Christmas story! It was the first known radio broadcast. When he finished reading the story, Professor Fessenden did something even more remarkable. He picked up his violin, and began to play a Christmas hymn – “O Holy Night.” And so it became the first song ever heard on the radio.

(The above material taken from “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas” by Ace Collins, Copyright (c) 2001, Andrew Collins. Published by Zondervan.)

I love this carol, and it always moves me to tears, in part because of its soaring melody, and also in part because it answers the “So What?” question of Christmas. Jesus came to Earth – so what? He taught us about the love of God – so what? This song reminds us that we must live out the meaning of Christmas in the way that we treat others, to love God by loving our neighbors, and to join the work of Christ in breaking the chains of sin and injustice.

One of my favorite versions of this hymn is by Point of Grace. I hope you enjoy it.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas.

My Amtrak Adventure

For a recent birthday, I decided to treat myself to an Amtrak trip. Kathy couldn’t really take the time off from work, and I had accumulated enough free miles to earn a free round trip, first class ticket. So off I went to Ft. Worth, to ride the Texas Eagle to St. Louis.

The Eagle is an old and honored name among passenger trains, first operated by the Missouri Pacific & Texas & Pacific system in the late 1940s. The MP/T&P operated a number of Eagles that radiated out from St. Louis to Denver, Kansas City, New Orleans, and other points across the system. The Texas Eagle went from St. Louis to Texarkana and Marshall; from there, you could take an Eagle to Houston, Laredo, San Antonio, Brownsville, or Mexico City. Other Eagles would take you to Dallas, Ft. Worth, Abilene, El Paso – even Los Angeles, if you made connections on the Southern Pacific.

Amtrak’s Eagle runs from Chicago to St. Louis, Texarkana, Marshall, Dallas and Ft. Worth, then south to Austin and San Antonio, with connections eastbound to Houston & New Orleans, or westbound to El Paso and Los Angeles.

eagle-approachingThe train coming up from Austin was about an hour late getting into Ft. Worth – not a good beginning! But since Amtrak doesn’t own its own tracks in this part of the country, it is generally at the scheduling mercy of UP, BNSF, and other freight-haulers. But I checked in with the conductor, who pointed me towards my compartment, and I settled in.

roometteAccommodations on an Amtrak sleeper come in various sizes. The “roomette,” which is what I had, is the smallest. It has two bench seats that face each other, and a sliding door for privacy. Cozy but comfortable, as long as you’re not claustrophobic, with restroom and shower facilities down the hall. Amtrak also offers bedrooms, family bedrooms, and bedroom suites, depending on a traveler’s needs, some with “en suite” restrooms and showers – see www.amtrak.com for more information.

Meals in the dining car are included with your first class ticket at no extra charge – gratuities and adult beverages are extra, of course. (More about the meals later.)

After the usual wait for servicing the train and loading passengers, the engineer gave the customary “Toot-toot” on the big locomotive’s horn, and we pulled smoothly out of downtown Ft. Worth. Until recently, pulling in and out of the Ft. Worth station required a complicated series of backup moves, crisscrossing through the Tower 55 interchange, and heading to Dallas on the UP through Arlington. Now however, the Eagle takes the more convenient route of the Trinity Railway Express commuter train (formerly the Rock Island line) through Richland Hills, Hurst, and Irving, on its way to Dallas Union Station.

As we pulled into Dallas, the conductor announced that he was hoping to make up some of the time he had lost earlier that day, and warned any passengers getting off the train at Dallas for a smoke break, to stay close to the train and ready to leave at short notice. Sure enough, we weren’t there very long before two more short blasts on the horn announced our departure, and we were gone, heading east past Deep Ellum, Fair Park, and into Mesquite and Terrell.

Heading through these residential areas, I was reminded of the interesting experience that often accompanies train travel: looking out your window into people’s backyards – some well-kept and inviting, others filled with piles of junk and forgotten, half-finished projects. You see plenty of both kinds, and everything in between.

Then it was into the beautiful woods of East Texas, which at the time were just beginning to put on their autumn colors. Now and then we’d pass a rural homestead, often with tractors and other farm equipment parked around the place. Going by homes like that, I can’t help but wonder about the people who live there. What is their life like? What are their delights, and their struggles? Are they happy? Do they want to ride this train when they hear it going by?

Train travel always makes me thoughtful.

dinner-in-the-dinerSomewhere around Longview, I headed to the dining car for supper. Railroad dining cars have a long and well-deserved reputation for good food, and I’m happy to report that tradition is alive and well on the Texas Eagle. I had an excellent steak and baked potato, while enjoying pleasant conversation with three other travelers who were bound for various points north and east. (This kind of shared discussion is another old tradition of train travel.)

I found the sleeping car attendant, and asked him to make up my bed while I went to the club car to read and sip a little bourbon – it was my birthday, after all! I returned to my room, with the bed now prepared for sleeping, changed clothes and crawled between the covers, the train rocking me to sleep with the (usually) gentle “rhythm of the rails.”

I woke up the next morning, just after daylight. It was a cool, gray, cloudy & drizzly morning. We had crossed through Arkansas, and were just outside of St. Louis, awaiting clearance to pull into our spot – we had made up that hour, and were actually a few minutes early. I headed down the hallway in my pjs to the coffee pot – another “perk” of riding first class, complimentary coffee. A few minutes later, I got dressed and went back to the dining car for breakfast – scrambled eggs and bacon, with whole wheat toast.

We pulled in and stopped. I tipped the waiter, went back to my room, and grabbed my luggage; from there, I headed out to explore St. Louis.

But that’s a story for next time.

 

Hello, I Must Be Going

A little over two years ago, my family and I moved into a beautiful, spacious home on Abilene’s far north side, to continue doing the work of meeting neighbors, building relationships, and serving the community. It has been a very enjoyable time, we love this house, and we have made some wonderful friends among our neighbors in the North Park neighborhood.

npfh-sw-1And we’re leaving.

About a year ago, my colleagues and I at CCC began asking some very hard questions about ourselves and the work we are doing in Abilene neighborhoods; the result of those conversations was to decide that as an organization, we were not being as effective as we would like to be. The work of building relationships is great work, but relationships in and of themselves will not bring about the kind of community renewal that we all want to see. Creating the social capital of bringing neighbors together is great, but you have to then “invest” that social capital in ways that make sense.

npfh-se-2Part of the way CCC had been doing things was to have several community coordinators – that’s my “official” job title – and place each coordinator in a separate neighborhood. Some of those neighborhoods were small; some were enormous. Some coordinators enjoyed focusing on kids and families; some were more interested in working on “bigger picture” issues. All of us wanted to bring about the “safe, caring, whole community” our mission statement envisions – we just weren’t sure that the strategy we were following was going to get us there.

We talked with a lot of people. We read books from numerous experts in this field. We sought input and approval from our board. And at the end of that process, we decided that what was needed was for all the coordinators to live in the same neighborhood, so that we could more effectively work together – to share the load and to take advantage of our various gifts and talents, and also to support each other, so that one individual was not having to be responsible for an entire neighborhood by himself or herself.

From there, we naturally began to ask, “Which neighborhood?” And again, following a lot of discussion, we settled on College Heights as being the most logical choice. The irony, of course, is that College Heights is the neighborhood where my family and I lived for over six years, in the old Friendship House there, before we moved to North Park. For a lot of reasons, though, College Heights makes the most sense as the place to refocus our team efforts. We talked with our partners; we talked with our funders.

Then I had to confirm to my family that we were, indeed, going to have to leave this beautiful house.

There have been a lot of logistics in all this. Buy or rent? New or old? How large? Which section of the neighborhood? We searched for over eight months, until we finally found a small house in the southeastern part of College Heights that we think will work for us. It’s currently being re-habbed, and we should be able to start moving sometime by mid-October.

To be honest, we’re not sure what will be happening with the North Park Friendship House. It could become CCC’s administrative offices, and continue to serve as a venue for neighborhood events; there are other options as well. Certainly, we want to carry on the wonderful relationship we have had with Hardin-Simmons University, and CCC is definitely planning to have an ongoing presence in the North Park neighborhood.

This move will be an adjustment for our family, to be sure. Like many older homes, our new house has precious little storage space, so we’re having to downsize and get rid of a bunch of stuff. It’s a two bedroom home with a living room and dining room, but less than half of the square footage of our current home, and certainly without the large community room for hosting events. It will take some getting used to, but it will be fine, and I’m looking forward to renewing friendships with some of the neighbors in that immediate area, and to making new friends, too.

I’m especially looking forward to continuing to partner with my CCC colleagues, to loving neighbors in Jesus’ name, and to helping build a stronger, safer, better community by building relationships one neighbor, one home, one block at a time.

So, farewell, North Park. You have blessed us and welcomed us into your lives, and we’ve enjoyed being your neighbors for the last couple of years.  We look forward to continuing as friends. And hello again, College Heights. It’s good to be back.

Here we go.

 

 

 

Speak, Lord

It’s 3:27 in the morning, and I can’t sleep.

I went to bed just after 10 PM, and fell right asleep, but then I woke up a little before 2, and haven’t been able to go back to sleep, so I got up. I’ve listened to some relaxing music. I’ve sipped a little Jameson. I’m still awake.

Yes, I have a lot on my mind, but it doesn’t feel like it’s any more than usual – I mean, I always have a lot on my mind. We all do.

My wife and I have lately talked several times about how noisy and chaotic life has become. As a household, as a society, we’re never quiet. It’s almost like we’re afraid to get quiet. When it’s busy, when it’s noisy, we can ignore God, and pretend everything’s okay. When it gets quiet, we can’t pretend any more.

It reminds me of the Old Testament story of Samuel, living at the Tabernacle. As a boy, he kept waking up when a voice called his name. He would run to the aged priest Eli, to see what he needed, but Eli hadn’t called him, and sent him back to bed. Finally, the old man realized what was happening and told Samuel that it was the Lord who was speaking to him, and the next time it happened, Samuel should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

It’s quiet. It’s still. I’m listening.

Speak, Lord.

Lessons from Dad

I hope you had a pleasant Labor Day holiday weekend, and that you were able to do something fun with family or friends. I spent the weekend with my dad.

Dad & me 9-3-16Harry Louis Garison, Sr., is a remarkable man. Known to his friends as “Buddy,” he was born at home on August 25, 1928. When he got married, his father gave him an acre of land across the road, where dad built a house for his new bride. He still lives in that house where we grew up. Other than the three years when he was in the army, he has lived on that property in Orange County, Texas, his entire life.

Almost six years ago, my mom passed away from a stroke, and it was a hard blow for him, but he was determined to stay by himself, and he has. Well, not quite by himself – he has a gentle giant of a dog, an old German Shepherd named “Chica,” who is his faithful companion. My dad is also blessed with some great neighbors and good friends who regularly check on him and sometimes even bring him food.

Dad had a long career as a mechanic and a business owner. When we were boys, my brothers and I took turns working for him, and watching him and the way he carried himself has gone a long way towards making me who I am today.

The most important thing I’ve learned from my dad is that Christianity is not something you just talk about; it’s how you live. Dad has lived his life in accordance with the scripture that says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

Dependability, honesty, hard work, loyalty – these are the principles by which my dad has lived his life. It’s how he operated his business and how he raised his family. To this day, he is a role model for my brothers and me.

Something else I’ve learned from dad: patience. Whether it was fixing some stubborn problem on a car or dealing with a difficult customer, my dad always modeled patience for us, even though he would probably say he didn’t do a very good job at it.

In recent years, dad has shown great patience in another way. Dad has non-diabetic neuropathy, which has destroyed his balance and left him confined to a wheelchair. It has also turned his hands into claws, and left him unable to use his fingers. But he still lives by himself, dresses himself, and cooks his own food every day. He has gotten very creative in finding ways of doing things he used to do without thinking about it. He still gets them done; it just takes longer. But he is patient enough (and stubborn enough) to keep working on the chore in front of him, until he finishes it.

There’s a lot more I could say about my Dad, but one recent story reveals a lot about him. Dad enjoys ice cream as a treat, and he buys frozen goodies from the Schwan’s truck that comes to his house. Just the other day, he had bought a box of ice cream sandwiches, and decided he wanted one right then, so after the truck left, he opened the package and took one out, and was putting the box in the freezer above the refrigerator. As he was stretching up in his wheelchair, he slipped and fell, and spilled ice cream sandwiches everywhere. Just at that moment, his home health nurse arrived, and came into the kitchen to find him on the floor. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing on the floor?”

“Never mind that,” he said. “Help me get this ice cream in the freezer before it melts!”

That’s my dad.

Peace for One and All

And just like that, it was over.

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know that my colleagues at CCC and I have been leading a series of summer day camps in various neighborhoods around the city where we serve. It’s part of the “Young Leaders of Abilene” program; the summer camps are made possible in part through gifts from the Ruth & Bill Burton Family Fund, and the T & T Family Foundation, at the Community Foundation of Abilene.

So, all summer long, we have conducted a series of day camps across Abilene. Teenagers from our neighborhoods have been working as counselors, and their elementary-aged siblings, cousins and neighbors have enjoyed the fun program of snacks, crafts, games, and more. The theme for the summer has been, “Kids for Peace,” and we have tried to reinforce the message that you’re never too young to be a peacemaker – and there are many ways to work for peace. Part of our curriculum has included saying the “Peace Pledge,” which challenges and encourages kids to make a difference for peace through kind words, through caring for the earth, through valuing diversity in all things, and through everyone working together.

But now, we’re up to our final week, and we’re doing something a little different – a week of service projects, involving our teenage counselors putting into practice the peacemaking activities they’ve been talking about all summer. We’re going to a neighborhood nursing home, to use our kind words to brighten someone’s day. We’re doing yard work for some disabled neighbors, and picking up trash in a part of the city that’s too often overlooked. We’re assembling packets of school supplies for kids whose families have recently arrived in Abilene, from places in the world that aren’t safe.

On Thursday, we’re meeting at Hendrick Medical Center, in a beautiful little spot on the west side of their campus, to install and dedicate a “Peace Pole.” If you’re not familiar with them, Peace Poles are hand-crafted posts that display the message and the prayer, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” in different languages on each of its four sides. The idea began in Japan in the 1950s; today there are over 100,000 peace poles in more than 180 countries around the world. And this week, we will be installing three more, including the one we’re putting in at Hendrick. The kids will be in charge of the dedication ceremony. They’ll offer prayers for peace, and say their peace pledge one more time.

So, after a week of training camp, four weeks of neighborhood camps, and now a week of service camp, the “Young Leaders” summer program wraps up for another year. We will continue meeting with the teenagers throughout the coming school year, and they will continue to serve as leaders and role models for the younger kids around them. We will continue to help them with service projects and activities for neighbors and neighborhoods across Abilene. And we will encourage them to continue to be peacemakers as they go about their lives.

Now if we can just get the grown-ups to do the same. Shalom.

Kids for Peace

A few weeks ago, I wrote about CCC’s “Young Leaders of Abilene” program, and the summer day camps we would be hosting in some of the neighborhoods across the city. (If you missed it, you can click HERE to read that article.) So now, with mid-July approaching, we have finished two weeks of camp , we have one in progress this week in College Heights, and we have two weeks more ahead of us.

Our theme for this year is “Kids for Peace.” That’s a name that we borrowed from an organization that is accomplishing great things, doing just what that name suggests.

Ten years ago, Jill McManigal and Danielle Gram met at a neighborhood party in their home of Carlsbad, California. Jill was the mother of two young children, and Danielle was a high school honors student. The new friends began to discuss ideas about ways of working for peace, and they realized they both shared a vision of finding ways for children to be more active in making that happen. And the “Kids for Peace” movement was born.

The kids began working together, learning about other cultures, and learning to respect people of different backgrounds. They began to join together on various projects to make practical, positive changes in the world around them – as well as around the world. Currently there are 113 recognized chapters of “Kids for Peace” at work in 23 states and more than 20 foreign countries, and they’re involved with conservation and recycling efforts, neighborhood clean-ups, and community art projects. They’re working to promote listening and understanding, and learning to celebrate diversity of cultures, languages and traditions.

One of the most visible parts of “Kids for Peace” is shown by their motto: “Kindness Matters.” This past January, through their “Great Kindness Challenge,” they coordinated more than 5 million schoolkids around the world and more than 250 million specific acts of kindness! And they’re hoping for an even bigger response in January, 2017.

In our summer camps, we are putting these principles to work. The kids are making “Kindness Coupons,” which they can share with family members or neighbors, while they learn about specific ways of helping others. We’re planting flowers, to help the campers learn respect for the earth. We play games from different countries around the world, to help them learn to appreciate diversity. And we have fun through it all!

We are also teaching our campers the “Peace Pledge:”

I pledge to use my words to speak in a kind way.
I pledge to help others as I go throughout my day.
I pledge to care for our earth with my healing heart and hands.
I pledge to respect people in each and every land.
I pledge to join together as we unite the big and small.
I pledge to do my part to create PEACE for one and all.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah looks ahead to the establishment of God’s peaceable kingdom, and he says, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Kids for Peace is getting a head start on it.

Life in the Slow Lane

I recently went to Ft. Worth to visit a friend in the hospital. At one point while I was on I-20, I came up behind some slow moving traffic. I checked both mirrors, and looked over my left shoulder. There was no one coming, so I pulled into the left lane and began to pass an 18-wheeler.

Suddenly my rear-view mirror was filled with the reflection of the massive grill of a large pickup – I mean, this guy was RIGHT ON my bumper. I was already going a few miles an hour over the speed limit to get around the truck that was now beside me, but I sped up as much as my little car could. I finished passing the truck and pulled back into the right lane, and the guy in the pickup roared past me, leading about three or four more cars behind him. I was going well over the speed limit by this point, and they were leaving me behind like I was standing still.

I certainly realize that there are emergencies in life, and there are times when speed is necessary, for a variety of reasons. And I’m aware that no one ever had a hit song, “Life in the Slow Lane.” Still, it seems to me that many of us would do well to take a breath, and slow down a little bit from time to time.

I recently celebrated my eighth-year anniversary with CCC, and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned during that time, it is that relationships take time. There is no substitute for this. It takes time to get to know someone, and to share stories. It takes time to sip a cup of coffee and look at pictures of family, or to share a glass of iced tea and talk baseball. Friendships and good relationships with neighbors develop slowly, gradually, over a long time, and they can’t be rushed. But they don’t happen by accident. Good relationships occur when someone is intentional about making them happen.

We understand this principle applies in many areas of life. When you plant a garden, you invest time and effort, and then (and only then) can you harvest your crop. When you cook a meal, it takes time to let flavor develop. But many of us have lost our understanding of this.

In a society where microwave popcorn takes too long, we’ve lost our appreciation for slowness. We have the world literally in the palm of our hands, and we can just Google whatever we want to know, for instant solutions. In our rush to go to work, to raise our kids, to juggle everything we have to do, we miss out on the joys of slowing down and savoring moments. Even in our leisure, we rush to get somewhere, so we can take it easy, forgetting that life is a journey, not a destination. So not only are we forgetting to “stop and smell the roses” – we’re not even noticing that there is a rosebush.

The good news is, things don’t have to stay that way. Summer is a great time to practice slowing down just a little. Invite a neighbor over to sit on your porch or your patio and get to know one another over something wet and cold. Fire up the grill and practice your outdoor cooking skills for your family and friends – you’ll discover it’s time well spent, and you may also discover that conversations are more enjoyable over a charcoal fire.

Or just slow down and take a moment for yourself, and find some peace in the solitude.

It’s very common at graduations or weddings for parents to think about the baby that they brought home from hospital, seemingly only yesterday, but now that baby is grown up and moving out. The parents wonder, where did the time go? But by then, it’s too late to savor those moments. All you can do is cherish the moments to come.

It may take a little getting used to, and you can’t do it all the time, but there’s a lot to be said for occasionally pulling over, and enjoying life in the slow lane.

Young Leaders of Abilene

One of the most successful programs in CCC’s history is about to launch its second year. By almost any standard, Young Leaders of Abilene (YLA) has been a hit!

YLA began about a year ago, with a grant from the the Ruth and Bill Burton Family Endowed Fund at the Community Foundation of Abilene, allowing us to develop a new summer program for the young people of IMG_20150601_121106our neighborhoods. The idea was to recruit middle-school and high school students, give them some training, and put them to work as “camp counselors,” for a week of day camp in an Abilene neighborhood. We came up with a theme – Caring in Action – and we went to work finding teenagers who could become our counselors.IMG_20150601_130958

We began talking with families from our various neighborhoods, with whom we had built relationships; from there, we branched out and talked with some of their friends who also were interested. We ended up with about 15 kids who would serve as camp counselors. Early last June, right after school was out, we met for a week at the North Park Friendship House, and started helping them become a team.

We did various activities to help them get to know one another; the kids also brainstormed about what kinds of snacks to serve the campers, what kinds of games to play, what kinds of craft projects to do. As much as possible, we wanted to promote and develop leadership within our team of counselors. We held a day of “practice camp,” and then, ready or not, it was time to start.

We conducted four weeks of day camps in different Abilene neighborhoods, where CCC had a presence – Stevenson, College Heights, Valley View, Holiday Hills. Sometimes we had good turnout, other times not as much as we hoped, but it was good to see our counselors stepping up and being the leaders for the camps – and role models for the younger ones. It was good for the elementary school kids to see their older sisters, brothers, cousins, neighbors – kids who looked like them, and that they knew – running this program, with guidance and help from the CCC coordinators. And it was good for the families in those neighborhoods to have something positive for their kids to do.IMG_20150616_135805

By the end of the summer, we were tired but happy with the results we had seen. In the year since then, YLA has continued to function, and most of the counselors from last summer are still active with the program.

We have been meeting about once a month – one month, the young leaders will meet at my house, to visit, hang out, eat, and plan a service project. Then the next month, we will meet in another neighborhood, to host an event for the kids & neighbors there, including a Fall Festival in Holiday Hills, a Christmas party in Stevenson, and a Valentine’s party at Cobb Park. In early May, we went back to Holiday Hills for a “Spring Fling,” in association with our friends from House of Faith.

So, what’s next? Our plans for this summer  include growing the program to include five IMG_20150618_140140weeks of camp — thanks to another gift from the Ruth and Bill Burton Family Fund and the T & T Family Foundation at the Community Foundation of Abilene–and we’ve recruited some new counselors to join some “old hands” who are returning this year. Our schedule for this year is:

  • Week 1 – Holiday Hills, June 13-16
  • Week 2 – North Park, June 27-30
  • Week 3 – College Heights, July 11-14
  • Week 4 – Valley View, July 25-28
  • Week 5 – Service Week, August 8-11 (various locations)

Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Maybe giving a few teenagers jobs as camp counselors won’t change the world; maybe holding a few weeks of day camp in different neighborhoods won’t either.

But maybe, it’s a start.

The Perfect Cup of Coffee

For a long time, I didn’t like coffee. Used to make fun of people who said they couldn’t function in the mornings without it. Congratulated myself on not being addicted to caffeine or a steaming cup o’ Joe.

Now I can’t get enough.

Back when I was a young preacher boy pastor, just learning about the real world, I tried to learn to like coffee, but never did get the taste for it. Many people find the smell of coffee brewing to be very pleasant – somehow I guess I expected it to taste like that delicious aroma smelled, but of course, it didn’t. I tried lightening it up with cream, and sweetening it with sugar, but it was no use. So for the next fifteen years or so, I didn’t try. Even staying up nights, going through graduate school, couldn’t make me like it.

But when we were in Johnson City, Tennessee, around 1993-94, I was teaching at Milligan College and managing their campus radio station. The mornings were frequently cold and wet there in the mountains of East Tennessee, and so out of curiosity, I bought some of the “International Cafe” French Vanilla instant mix. It was VERY sweet and VERY flavored – one friend described it as a “cup of coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melted in it” – but I found I enjoyed it.

From there, I gradually learned to enjoy more the taste of the coffee, and needed less and less of the sweet and the flavoring. Now, 20+ years down the road, sometimes I will have a coffee-flavored drink as a treat or a dessert in the evening, sometimes with a shot of Irish Cream or amaretto added in, but in the morning, I’ll just take it straight, thank you.

So, is there a perfect cup of coffee? Such a question is bound to start a big debate with some folks – two of my grown children have been professional baristas, and I know they have definite opinions on the subject – but for me, I think enjoying coffee has less to do with what’s in the cup, and more to do with who’s at the table.

One of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had was sitting with my wife, Kathy, outside the Starbucks in Marble Falls, Texas, overlooking the river, on a pleasant summer morning.

Sharing afternoon coffee with my dad on the back porch of his house is pretty great, too.Amtrak

And of course, when my brother David and I rode Amtrak, sitting together and sipping our coffee was pretty great. (He managed to keep most of it out of the chin whiskers he had at the time!)

Some other great cups of coffee I’ve had:

  • On a frosty West Texas morning at a Boy Scout campout, gathered around a warm campfire;
  • Sitting with a neighbor, looking at pictures of her grandkids;
  • Having a cup with dessert while listening to friends visit together at a neighborhood potluck;
  • Studying the Bible with friends in our Sunday School class as we sit and sip together.

Coffee is definitely best when shared with good friends, over good conversation. Come by sometime, and let me pour you a cup.