Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Somebody Named Kevin...

"Somebody should DO something!" 

People often say that.  But who is "somebody?"  Kevin always understood that he was somebody...

Sunday morning I received some of the most painful news of my adult life. A good friend, Kevin Hamann, was killed Saturday in a motocross race in Spokane. Kevin was 51 and became a grandpa for the first time in February.

I've known Kevin for over 30 years, beginning when he came to work for AAR Western Skyways located at Troutdale Airport, my place of employment for many years and the reason that Jean and I moved to Oregon in 1978. The photo of Kevin at the Stewart-Warner model 2000 balancer, taken circa 30 years ago, is from a Western Skyways Gold Seal engine sales brochure of that era.  Talk about a handsome guy! 

Kevin was a somewhat unsettled youngster barely out of high school when he came to work in the machine shop I supervised.  He had tremendous energy, a sharp mind that wanted to be challenged.  Kevin became one of the best machinist apprentices I ever had--and I had some VERY good ones.

This early experience eventually led to work at Boeing out on NE Sandy Blvd, where Kevin was most recently a supervisor in charge of complex hard metal machining of parts used on Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Between stints at Boeing, he also manufactured replacement hip and knee joints that many people walk around on today. Everything he made, he made better--including our ministry.

As a young man, Kevin had many questions about faith, life and God. On a number of occasions out in that shop at Troutdale, we would wait until the end of the day when most folks had gone home. Then, I would quietly go over to the door, lock it, and we would talk.

After I left the company in Troutdale in 1987, I didn't have much contact with Kevin until about four years ago. One Monday morning, after a particularly unsettled Sunday evening at Operation Nightwatch Worship in the old Julia West House in downtown Portland, Kevin sent me an e-mail completely out of the blue. "We need to get together," he said. Indeed.

I was about ready to pull the plug on worship unless we had someone else to help us mind the guests and the front door. I never expected Kevin to do that. But when he heard what we were doing, he said, "I want to help." For more than a year, Kevin was there most Sunday evenings supporting us in countless ways.  He helped calm things down a great deal. 

One evening after worship, a homeless guest asked if we had a belt to help him keep his baggy pants up around his waist.  Belts in our clothes closet were more scarce than hen's teeth.  "Sorry," I said.  "We have none."  Kevin overheard.  "He needs a belt?  Here, he can have mine.  I've got more."  Without hesitating, Kevin pulled off his own belt and handed it over. 

He'd have given the shirt off his back.  No.  He gave more...

For the past three years, or so, Kevin and his wife Jackie have been faithful food providers every 4-6 weeks, but they have done SO much more...  Clothing. Shoes. Blankets. Gift cards to McDonald's at Christmas time for our guests.  Hundred-dollar WinCo gift cards for us to buy food and serving supplies when Jean and I provide the meal.

One winter evening, Kevin brought an entire 3/4-ton pickup load of coats and sleeping bags collected from his church. Kevin has provided the cell phone I have in my pocket and paid the monthly bill. He gave me the digital camera that has been an invaluable tool for both my worship ministry and my aviation work.

Kevin also provided the cell phone that enabled a man named Rick to eventually contact family in Michigan and end 25 years of homelessness.

For several years, Kevin and Jackie have provided us a modest monthly stipend to help offset the cost of our non-salaried ministry. All while living under the cloud of uncertainty about staying in their their home due to the recession's effect on Kevin's motorcycle business. Still, Kevin was one of Nightwatch's most ardent supporters.  Few knew what Kevin did for us and for God's people.  But God does.

Kevin is survived by his wife Jackie, his parents, a sister and brother-in-law, a grown daughter and son, and one grandson. Please give thanks for them and pray God's peace and grace in coming days.

"Very truly, I tell you," Jesus said, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  (John 12:24 NRSV)

Kevin's life bore much fruit.  And it's easy for the rest of us to say, "He's in a better place."  He is.  But for his family, there was no better place than here among them for a good, LONG while yet. 

For us at Operation Nightwatch, the blessings Kevin gave us are beyond words and description.  And surely, there would have been no better place for Kevin than here among us for a good, LONG while yet. 

I'm not here to explain God.  Or rationalize God.  Most days, not even to make sense of God.  I trust God to make sense of what I can't and to be faithful to Jesus' promises.  Jesus promised to be always with us, that he would be there when the stuff hits the fan.  It has.  Now the ball is in the court of Faithful God's Faithful Son.  That's all I need to know.

Because I've already seen what happens when God's Son is in somebody's heart.  It's why Kevin understood that he was somebody... 

Thanks be to God!  Amen.     

Kevin's memorial service will be Saturday, June 8, 2 PM, at Grace Community Church, 800 SE Hogan Road in Gresham. Jackie and the family request that memorial gifts be directed to Operation Nightwatch, P.O. Box 4005, Portland, OR 97208; www.operationnightwatch.org.  

Thank you!
Pastor Roger

Friday, May 24, 2013

45 Years of Music in My Head

Perhaps it was the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater, Jackie DeShannon.  Even the Monkees.  Maybe the Mamas and the Papas.  Could be Beethoven.  Or that Bach guy.  Crosby, Stills and Nash.  Blood, Sweat and Tears...

BST.  You know, musical groups don't name themselves with titles like that anymore.  It was a title that may have reflected the time a bit too accurately.  In the late 1960's, lot of blood was being spilled.  In some parts of SE Asia, over 3 million mostly young Americans would sweat great drops of blood.  And there were tears.  In Asia.  In households and graveyards across America.  In the souls and wounded places of people for decades to come. 

The time was infused with music. 

Music still rings in my head.  It still rings true.  One little masterpiece movement of a classical orchestral work by Bizet will always suffuse an episode as I neared the end of college and would then go off to military service a year later. 

I cannot hear the piece of music without having all the memories come in a vivid rush.  Because the music seemed to transcend the fractious world of human events with a divine mystery of beauty.  Or a beauty of divine mystery. 

It was early June 1968. On one momentous day, I had left Omaha on a United Boeing 727--my very first airplane flight--landed in Des Moines, gone on to Chicago, thence to Newark, NJ. From Newark, I'd made my way by buses to JFK Airport. Finally by evening, I had boarded the queen of the skies, an Air France Boeing 707 Intercontinental bound for Paris. After a tired day in Paris, I would board a train for a 17-hour ride to Vienna, Austria, which was to be my home for a summer study of German language and literature and the culture, cuisine and art of Europe.
I would live with a host family, visit countless museums, concert halls and churches. I would venture behind the Iron Curtain three times, encounter the sobering reality of the grounds of a Nazi death camp only 23 years liberated, still see the damage of Allied bombing in Munich, visit with men who had been POW's in the USA and the USSR. All with the memory of a friend KIA in Kontum a few weeks before, and with the memory of JFK, MLK and RFK still in the forefront of my mind. All this while never having been east of the Mississippi River, west of the Rockies, or south of Kansas in my life.

With all that awaiting me, the big 707 flew over the North Atlantic overnight, occasionally tipping a wing slightly for a course correction. One of the tracks of recorded music that I listened to over and over on that trans-Atlantic flight included a memorable

movement from Carmen. To my dying day, the flutes and strings and harp in this work of Bizet will soar in my mind as a metaphor for the grace of flight and the grace of God in which such stunning heights of creativity and art soar over the equally stunning depths of destruction that is also within human capability and human history.

Whose loving hands could possibly span that gulf but God's? And whose mind and eternal Spirit could possibly envision a universe in which the simplest vibrations of air could so clearly embody pure joy?

We hear only the smallest portions of it, and it is more than enough. The music says more than we can ever know.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Out of Uniform

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied..."  John 14:8

Yesterday was Pentecost.  Contrary to current perception, early Christians did not invent Pentecost.  It was a harvest festival when people from all over gathered in Jerusalem.  Just like yesterday's Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon in Portland:  runners from 10 countries as well as every state except North Dakota and Montana (hey, you Big Sky and Bakken oil boomers, get outta your pickups and run!). 

The suddenly competent and over-reacting Peter gets up and preaches like a pro.  Because there was an outpouring of something like fire and wind.  Then came the water as converts were baptized. 

For two millennia, the church has lumbered along under that supernatural, charismatic experience, at times celebrating it, at other times trying to explain it.  Most of the time, I finally conclude, the church has blown precious time and energy enviously trying to replicate Pentecost in Jerusalem, AD 33.  As we joyously sing its praises, we are forced to sheepishly concede that we can't.  Because it was never about our power in the first place.  As Jesus said, the Spirit, like the wind, blows where it wishes, not when our churchy calendar says so.  Not at 10:30 AM on Sundays because that's when our service is planned.     

Yet, we haul out the trumpets, big choirs, pipe organs, handbells, and all the Western/Northern European tropes of music to celebrate a one-shot deal 2000 years old, all the while sidestepping and avoiding a problem that's been screaming at our faces ever since that BIG DAY in Jerusalem way back when. 

What problem?  This one:  when people start acting strangely because a "spirit" has overtaken them, they give us the willies.  We avoid them like the plague.  Or at least like herpes. 

For good reason.  Since I've spent the last six years of my life rubbing elbows with people who have varying degrees of mental illness and substance abuse issues, I've seen the lines between sanity, mental illness and unhealthy religion almost disappear.  Sometimes, even the lines between healthy religion and mental illness get pretty blurred.   

So yesterday, I did my church thing out of uniform.  I didn't wear my red clergy shirt.  Couldn't go near the "tongues of fire and the sound of the rushing mighty wind."  The sound of the rushing mighty wind belongs in mountains and canyons and gorges, not in meeting halls and unpredictable crowd (mob?) psychology.

Instead, I heard Philip's plea, for once, as a genuine and earnest request:  "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."  Amen to that.

Jesus, show us your God connection in convincing, genuine ways.  Jesus, show God to us in ways that make sense for here and now, in my life.  Jesus, show me God who meets the struggles I face and in ways that let me "get it" in my head, and my heart, and in my gut.  Jesus, make it real!  Please, SHOW us!  Amen to that. 

Jesus says to look at the stuff he does, why he does it.  He promises, in the way ahead, another "Advocate". 

Advocate?  Absolutely insipid, sterile, inadequate English word for the Greek parakletos.  Other attempts to render this word come out equally institutional:  Counselor.  Helper.  Comforter.  Are we talking lawyer here or a warm bed linen? 

Actual translation:  one who comes alongside of.  Think of someone helping a runner train or bringing them hydration and cool packs to fight heat stroke. 

Better yet, think of the Central Washington University women's softball players who came alongside the injured Western Oregon University player Sara Tucholsky a few years back. 

They came and carried her through what she could not do herself because she was unable to walk or even crawl around the bases.  They did it at great cost to themselves:  they eliminated their own team from the playoffs by helping the injured girl who had hit the ball out of the park but could not run the bases. 

No tongues of fire...  No sound of rushing, mighty winds...  Just the sound of cheering fans and players who were witnessing a spontaneous act of grace and kindness that meant more than any victory over an opponent ever had--because it was the right thing to do. 


It was a Pentecost moment in the present.  The best kind.  Not pre-meditated.  Unmistakable. 

A God picture that left people speechless just like Jesus' best parables.  The kind that Philip and you and I can get in our gut.  Substance, not show.

Oh, and it was the injured girl who wore red.  The "advocates", the players from Central Washington "who came alongside of?"  They wore black.  And white.  No red. 

The "helpers" were out of uniform according to church tradition that is too often backward looking instead of forward.  And they were perfectly suited for the job.       

Friday, May 17, 2013

What 4?

Got this message in an e-mail yesterday: 


On Thursday, May 16th at 7 p.m., Imago Dei will bring together families and leaders from local churches as well as DHS staff for an evening of stories and dialogue about how the church can partner with DHS to care for children and families in Oregon’s child welfare system. Feel free to invite your friends and neighbors!

The event will be held in Imago Dei's sanctuary at 1400 SE Ankeny Portland, OR. Childcare is available by RSVP for children ages 0-5 years old. If you'd like to arrange this, visit the Embrace Oregon Facebook page and send a private message with the number of children you're bringing and their ages.

As usual, this bunch of faith leaders is responding to the clear call that echoes (cries out!) from a number of Karen Spears Zacharias' blog posts and comments:   http://www.patheos.com/blogs/karenspearszacharias/

About time the church embraced the problem.

Meanwhile, when will we wake up to the other cries sailing past our ears? A couple of "screaming A's" that have come to our fragmented attention spans here lately:

1) Suicides. Not just soldiers but across the population. Numbers are up.

2) Sexual assault and harrassment in the military. 3K+ reported annually. Estimates of 20K+ occurring annually. It suggests to me far more than a military culture problem. It suggests to me a raw material problem.

3) Brothers arrested in New Orleans in connection with shooting 19 people at a Mother's Day parade. Gang members. How macho is shooting into a crowd of women and children--that are your NEIGHBORS?  Young man in Portland who survived a gang shooting refuses to testify as a witness. Rather spend a month in jail on contempt of court charges than press charges against his would-be killers... People wanted him dead, but now that he's not, he's afraid to speak up for fear that... people will want him dead?

We seem to be drowning in numbers of people--especially men--who have no clue, NO clue, how to answer this question: What the heck am I for on this earth?

What 4?  Without an answer, any person is a lost cause. 

Father, help us answer that question.  Amen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cleveland, USA

"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us...  I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."  John 17:20-21a, 26  NRSV

Jesus prayed.  For us.  Was it effective?  Was He praying for the girls in Cleveland?  Or not?  One?  What is that? 

Discussions of divine prayer always seem to end in human dilemmas and conundrums--because that's all we know. According to the best theology that two millennia of Christian tradition have produced, I am a human being "conceived and born in sin" and condemned equally by sins of commission and sins of omission.

The sovereign God who allows, tolerates, or permits sin and grievous evil would seem to be as equally implicated, then, as I am when called to account for my sins of omission. How can God come away clean while I am on the hook when, after all, the cards were stacked against me before I was ever born? Who was it again that was "conceived and born in sin?" Seems like God could end the whole sin issue rather quickly by simply making no more of us.

Thus we can drive ourselves in vortices by attempting logical, finite answers to infinite questions in turf that is not ours. In reply to my own musings above, maybe God's got another plan that makes no sense through our backward view of the lens. I think so.
So I like to ask questions I cannot answer, stack 'em up before God. I'm not alone. Rob Bell's stunning work in the video "Open" is about the best piece on prayer I've seen in my 6+ decades of life. Just because we can't get exhaustive answers, we have no excuse to stop asking better and harder questions--or to stop living.

Meanwhile, I can fret about what makes national news. Here locally, an equally tragic story leaked a few drops in the AM's paper. A man 33 was shot to death at 2:32 AM outside a nude bar. Argument over a woman...

The deceased had, in his short life, "fathered" five children, according to the paper. Had a bit part in their creation I would say. Fathering them, not so much, I'd bet. Who is fathering them now, and who ever will? While we puzzle over the senselessness of questions surrounding Cleveland, alarm bells are sounding in every community and neighborhood where we live.

Five children conceived and born in sin. Like me. Children. Like their father once was.

How many more? there's a question...