Pastor Henry's Memo

Houston Astros!

Baseball is a great game and I love it.  Each of thirty teams is scheduled to play 162 games over a complete season.  One of the most widely known superstitions in Major League baseball is this: The two teams with the best record in their respective league on the 4th of July will end up in the World Series that year.  If that holds, it's a Yankees vs Dodgers Series in 2019.  That would be great for television, as both New York and Los Angeles have fan bases that will light up the Nielson Ratings.  This particular match-up has happened 11 times: first, back in 1941 and most recently, in 1981.  That's approximately every four years!  However, half the season is still to be played and this superstition is only right just over 60% of the time.  So, there’s hope for at least a half dozen other teams in contention for their respective Pennants.  My Houston Astros are among those other teams; currently with the 3rd best record in the Majors.  With every team having about 80 more games to play, I'm keeping a week's vacation un-declared until October.  I might have to find tickets at Minute Maid Park in Houston.



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HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!  It's been 243 years since that hot, muggy 4th of July in Philadelphia.  After considerable debate and several strategic compromises, The Declaration of Independence was signed and soon delivered to the press for colony-wide distribution.  However, according to the Declaration, we were no longer colonies.  We were a free and independent nation of like-minded states who severed ties with England.  War continued.  You see, we were already at war with King George III.  The Declaration was a formal setting forth of the reasons why we should no longer be under his royal thumb.  After a time (and many deaths) we won a victory that established a new nation on the earth.  Abraham Lincoln described us as a nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."  Well, it was a start toward that still laudable goal.  A great civil war offered a redirection toward that goal.  And we still strive toward it in our 243rd year.  Pray God before the next 243 passes, we will have attained that lofty and, dare I say it, heavenly goal.  That day would surely be cause for celebration with parades and fire works and picnics and patriotic concerts across this blessed land.



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First Methodist Conference -- 1744

For several of the last weeks an historical fact has been the focus of this memo.  For those who do not have precise memories, the Pastor's Memo has addressed the Battle of Waterloo, the first anti-slavery society meeting, the brothers who launched the first hot air balloon, and the liberation of Dachau.  Anniversaries of events and personages fall with some regularity on the calendar.  Every day marks some kind of event from the past and only a very perceptive historian will notice or even care.  This week that historian, if the word applies, is me.  Just having returned from our Indiana UMC Annual Conference last week, I was reminded the very first Methodist Conference convened in London on the 25th of June, 1744.  Mr. Wesley, his brother Charles, and four others met and quickly determined to invite others of Mr. Wesley's itinerant preachers to join them.  The record of their meeting provides us with this bit of information: "In June 1744, I desired my brother and a few other clergymen to meet me in London, to consider how we should proceed to save our own souls and those who heard us.”   This first convening, of what would become an Annual Conference, considered its principle purpose for gathering the saving of their souls.  What a laudable endeavor.  What's more, they wanted to set before The Society three specific notions.  What should Methodist preachers teach, how should they teach it, and how to regulate "doctrine, discipline, and practice."  I must say, some of this we did, after a fashion, at Indianapolis.  But I do not think Mr. Wesley and his society of Methodists would recognize our Conference without some very detailed commentary.  Look, I know nothing stays the same over a 275 year span of time.  We Methodists have done our share of changing.  Needless to say, we may be in for some more rather huge changes in our near future.  My prayer will continue to be what was present at that first gathering, namely, a concern for saving our souls and ordering our doctrine, discipline, and practice in such a way as to reflect the love of God for all people.  That would be an apt reason for gathering preachers and laity once a year.



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Our Days are Numbered

History is littered with the victors and the vanquished.  One who knew the ecstasy of adulation was Napoleon Bonaparte.  As the preeminent French celebrity general he brought glory to France and caused much of Europe to quake.  The occasion for this memo is Waterloo.  It was on the 18th of June, 1815, Napoleon lost the battle to the Duke of Wellington.  A week later Napoleon abdicated and was soon exiled to Saint Helena.  The greatest and most successful military leader of the 19th Century was reduced to being a prisoner on an isolated island over 1200 miles off the coast of Africa in the South Atlantic.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  How ironic is it that it was Napoleon who was quoted saying, "The world's graveyards are filled with indispensable men."  He became such graveyard fill on the 21st of May, 1821, only six years after he met his Waterloo.   The reminder for all of us who live is that all of us will die.  All of us will become "graveyard fill."  It matters not our fame or fortune; our infamy or poverty.  Those whom history remembers as villains and scoundrels (and worse) find their resting place under clods of dirt.  Neither are our heroes and heroines immune from the toll time will take on their being.  Our days are numbered.  Our time is limited.  "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)



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Ending Slavery

It was on the 12th of June, 1840, the World's Anti-Slavery Convention first met in London, England.  Delegates primarily from the United States, England, and Ireland gathered with like minded representatives from across the Western World to bring to bear what pressure they could muster to end the slave trade.  Nearly 180 years later slavery still exists across the globe.  Whether it's the caste system in India or economic exploitation in Malaysia or indentured servant hood practiced in many countries today, slavery is alive and well.  What makes this form of human depravity so despicable is the abuse of children.  The world trade in children by sex-traffickers is far more widespread than the general public is aware.  The three most widely traded commodities in the world are drugs, weapons, and humans.  International cartels operate and maintain "trade routes" for the exploitation and even the purchase of children for sexual use.  Slavery is a very, very old practice.  Evidence of it has been found as far back as 11,000 years; about the time agriculture replaced the hunter-gatherer life style.  Enough history.  The scourge of slavery still plagues the human family.   Perhaps some one or two 2020 presidential candidates might take up the cause of abolishing slavery.  That would surely set him or her apart from the rest of the flock/herd/crowd.  Who knows what might come?  Might change my vote.



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Rise Above it All

Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier were in the business of making paper in the middle of 18th Century France.  They perfected a process for manufacturing what was considered "transparent paper."  Don't ask me about the details of said "transparent paper."  However spectacular was such an addition to paper making, it did not compare to the other invention they introduced to the world.  The brothers launched the first hot-air balloon on December 14, 1782.  On June 4, 1783, in Annonay, France, they demonstrated their new invention by floating a cloth covered paper craft more than a mile across the country side at an altitude reaching over 6,200 feet.  Their balloon rose higher than a mile and was safely landed.  So much for the history lesson.  Suffice it to say, human-engineered flight has progressed over the two centuries since the Montgolfier brothers pumped hot air into a big bag.  Hot-air balloon rides are now offered to adventurous souls who want to rise above the hustle and bustle of earth-bound life and experience the soundless transit "above it all."  Such a trip might be on my bucket list; that is, if my life insurance is not in arrears.  Imagine the bliss of the kind of silence only the sky can offer.  Imagine, further, being able to see the earth's horizon in every direction.  If only life were as uncomplicated as being able to "rise above it all."  No worries.  No duties.  No traffic.  No stress.  How many "no's" am I allowed?  Such idyllic longings are likely to be felt in every human heart.  Alas, only our daydreams provide escape from the reality of living.  "Rising above it all" isn't possible, nor is it advisable.  Human interaction and work and sacrifice and accomplishment and rocking grandchildren and taking a Sunday afternoon nap...These are only some of the worthwhile benefits of staying grounded.  I might just check to make sure my insurance is in force.  Just in case.



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Non-stop News Cycle

How quickly we move on.  Notre Dame ferociously burned on the 15th of April;  just forty-three days ago.  I don't remember the last news item I read about it.  Granted, I live in The United States and not France.  Still, so tremendous a disaster is now old news, so to speak.  The world turns; the days and weeks come and go; our attention is both deflected and re-directed.  We Americans already seem to be in the midst of a presidential election.  Two dozen Democrats and, at present, one Republican are trading punches more than a year before either national party convention convenes.  Even the most avid of political junkies must believe things are out of whack this time around.  Political overload will surely set in.  Right?  Maybe not.  Our news cycle is non-stop.  Our capacity to pay attention simultaneously to multiple headline stories is being tested.  What the cable news outlets would like to believe is that our interest in the news is insatiable.  We'll have to wait and see.  If the disaster that befell Paris just a mere six weeks ago can fade from the front burner, perhaps our politics can at least take a breather sixteen months from election day.  That would be my wish. 



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The Greatest Spectacle In Racing

It's late in the month of May and only yesterday did see (for the first time this year) a speeding race car on the track in Indianapolis.  "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing" is nearly upon us and it's been totally invisible to me.  I remember "Thirty Days In May" as the rallying cry for this most auspicious event.  It was more than a race.  It was the "sine qua non" of sporting events.  An entire city was consumed for those thirty days with racing celebrities and movie stars and assorted other famous personages wanting to be seen being seen with others of their kind.  And the sound of the engines and the roar of the crowd on Pole Day... At times, even the Olympics, the World Series, and Happy Hour at the Howard Johnson's out on US 31 South were dwarfed by the Indianapolis 500.  Maybe not so much, anymore.  The first weekend of May is no longer reserved for the fastest of the fast vying for the inside of the first row.  No longer is 6:00pm that first May Saturday the most significant moment in time; when qualifications for the pole position are ended and those in line must sigh and beat their fists into the air.  Growing up in Kokomo meant we watched the Indianapolis TV stations and were inundated with all the racing news for those Thirty Days. One could not escape it.  And here I sit, only a week away from hearing those stirring words: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"  My apologies to the women in the race, if there are any.  Again, I haven't been following this year's race news.  Alas, that once famous Howard Johnson's is gone.  Happy Hour will need to find another place for lifting a Diet Coke to the winner of this year's spectacle.



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Going Back?

Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in Rome 18 years ago yesterday, the 13th of May, 1981.  Only 44 days earlier (on the 30th of March) John Hinckley, Jr. tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D,C,  Two very popular and powerful men were targeted by two less than stable assassins.  Both criminals are still alive.  Hinckley now lives on his own at a court approved undisclosed location.  Agca was deported to Turkey and was eventually released from prison in January, 2010.  Two would-be-killers are at large in the world and their victims are "at large" in the Kingdom of Heaven.  (I presume,)  Thirty-eight years is a generation ago.  It was a world without cell phones and lap tops and Facebook.  Could we go back there, please?  No.  We can't go back.  We can only live in the now; with cell phones, lap tops, and Facebook.  Back then I was in seminary.  Our son, Keith, was born just two weeks before Reagan was shot.  And on the day after the Pope was shot, Julia and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary.  Yesterday was our 42nd.  Would I go back to when I was young and our son was a new born and our other two children were not?  Nostalgia is a sometimes pleasant thing to contemplate.  But going back is never possible and inadvisable.  I wouldn't return to a time when Julia and I were not the parents of three wonderful children.  They're adults now and they have blessed us with two precious grand children.  Would I go back?  Not in a million years.  Too much joy and satisfaction and even exhilaration has enriched our lives.  As empty-nesters we have a new rhythm to our lives and it's well worth it.  All those 42 years bring us to this year and if I could have 42 more I'd take them.  Imagine how big the Henry/Thompson family would be then?



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Desperation...

Desperation can show itself in many ways.  Tone of voice.  Pleading look.  The sigh just beneath audibility.  Sometimes it manifests itself in a behavior.  Several days ago I saw a woman digging cigarette butts out of one of those sand-filled "ashtrays" next to a building.  She looked up at me and kind of smiled and giggled and said "I lost my quarter."  Her left hand was holding more than a few smoked butts which she quickly put in her jacket pocket.  I didn't say anything.  Neither did I offer to help her look for her "lost quarter."  I just stepped over to my car, got in, and drove away.  However, I did look back and saw her return to the search for her "lost quarter."    I've never been a smoker.  I don't know what a nicotine addiction feels like.  I have other obsessions that occupy my attention.  Like food.  Enough said.  I've never been hungry, like way too many people are hungry all the time.  I've never needed to "look for my quarter" in a dumpster or trash bin.  I've never been that desperate.  But I was reminded yet again of the words of Jesus: "The poor you always have with you."   Try as we might as individuals or as families or even as nations to irradiate poverty, it's too real and it's not going away.  And neither will hunger; only one manifestation of poverty in our community.  Taxes and charity and backpacks for lunch and food pantries and food cards...  The ways in which we attempt to alleviate even one kind of desperation are too many to mention.  As to the desperation gripping a person for nicotine, such that would compel them to smoke discarded cigarette butts, I can only imagine.  Alas, my barely audible sigh is for her.



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