Month: December 2014

Reflections on the End of an Era

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As I reflect upon the life and death of my grandaddy, I think about my life and where I came from. In a sense, my life started in the Highland Park area of Montgomery, Alabama. It was here that I began a life that has taken me to various places throughout the country, and even the world. However, to truly get a picture of what has shaped me and made me who I am (as if any of you care), you have to go to the tiny area of Pintlala and Hope Hull, Alabama. Hope Hull is on the southern side of Montgomery just off of I-65, and Pintlala is what my dad jokingly calls “a suburb of Hope Hull”. After all, Hope Hull did have the post office. It is in this tiny area in the great state of Alabama that the narrative that shaped, and continues to shape my life began.

My professor and friend, Dr. Mark Love likes to remind us that narratives shape us and are what we live by. It’s these great stories we remember and tell that  become our truth and define who we are. He likes to talk about this not only for individuals, but also for churches. So, when I think about the narrative that shaped my life, it is a bit different than the one that shaped my dad’s.

My dad’s story began in this small city of Alabama, and it was very much a narrative of work. The Lassiter’s could be accused of a lot of things, but not working hard was never one of them. The men in this family learned how to work from the time they were young, and it continues today into their adult life. My grandaddy started Lassiter Construction Company, and they built roads and lakes through the state, particularly in central Alabama. The men in my family are hard working, and they worked hard to make a living in this tough world. I am very appreciative of this narrative of work, and it has shaped my brother and I in great ways. In fact, most of my memories of my grandaddy are from times we worked together. He taught my dad, his brothers, and a lot of us grandchildren about how to work, and work well. He was always creating new ways to accomplish a task and inventing new gadgets to help assist in the process. And along the way, we learned lots of sayings and proverbs that we lived by. For example, I learned when taking a lunch break at Hardees, you should get two apple pies. One for now, and one to put in the glove box for later, so my grandaddy would say. I’m grateful for the memories and funny stories we have of working with my grandaddy. I am also grateful for the narrative of work that we learned. However, I am also thankful that my dad added another chapter to this story.

Along the way of growing up, I worked a lot with my dad. He taught me to drive trucks, tinker under the hood of a car, fix stuff, and other useful things. We have rebuilt engines together (mostly him), changed tires together, fixed breaks, cut firewood, planted gardens, and on and on it goes. A lot of this goes back to my grandaddy. He always appreciated a good fruit tree and was eager to show you its production. He always had a broken piece of equipment somewhere around that needed work. We carried on some of this tradition. However, my dad wrote another chapter in the story of my life that has shaped me more than any other. I call this a narrative of love.

Some of my memories of my dad are from days working together, but by and large my greatest stories and memories come from the loving time we spent together. These stories are still being written. We have scouted woods together, killed and cleaned deer together, put up tree stands, caught fish, and much more, together. Even when he couldn’t be involved in the activity, I have memories of him standing on the sidelines or sitting in the stands watching me. I have watched him lead Bible studies, pray, baptize, and he has taught me much about how to love God and love other people. This is the narrative, one that began in Hope Hull Alabama, that has shaped me. I am the husband, father, and lover of people that I am today because of this chapter of the story.

So, as I reflect upon the death of my grandaddy and we prepare to return to Alabama for a funeral, I am saddened. In many ways it signals the end of an era. There is a large group of people that are here today and are who they are because of his life. There is also a man who raised and loved me so well because of that life, and I reflect today and am grateful. As our family mourns in various ways, I pray for peace. I also thank God for the story that has made me who I am, and I pray that I, like my own father, can write another faithful chapter in it for my children.

Could the Nearness of the Kingdom Depend on Hospitality?

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Luke 10 has become one of my favorite texts over this past year. One reason is that it is such a great text and I’ve come to love it. The other reason is because Mark Love and the master’s program at Rochester College has had me invest so much time and energy in it over the previous three semesters. Either way, it has become a text that has shaped my life over the last eighteen months.

As a part of our master’s degree, we participate in a practice called “Dwelling in the Word”. It’s a pretty simple practice on the surface. We read the text, observe a short moment of silence, and then find a “reasonably friendly stranger” in the room to share with them where the text caught our attention. After partners have shared with one another, we report to the entire group what our reasonably friendly stranger shared with us. Now, what was interesting about this practice to me, and something I found weird at first, was that we used the same text every time. So, my first week of grad school we dwelled in Luke 10 for an entire week. Surely after awhile you run out of things in a text that stand out to you…so I thought. Having done this practice for a year now at various times and in various settings, I still find Luke 10 speaks anew and continues to create meaning in my life. I suspect years from now Luke 10 will continue to come alive each time I dwell in this text. I think this has something to do with a living Word that is active and breathing.

I share all this with you to tell of an experience I had this semester with Luke 10. As a part of a project I was working on, I dwelled in Luke 10 with a group of friends. Once again, the living Word came alive in our presence and spoke. Our group was struck by the fact that the nearness of the kingdom of God in the lives of the people that the disciples were sent to visit depended upon their hospitality. When the disciples enter a town and the people welcome them, Jesus says that they are to eat with them, cure the sick, and tell them, “the kingdom of God has come near to you”. On the contrary, when they enter a town and are not welcomed, Jesus tells the disciples to go out in the streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” When the town hosts the disciples, the kingdom of God comes near to them. When the town refuses to practice hospitality, it seems as if they don’t experience the kingdom, even though it was near. There seems to be a correlation between those who are willing to practice hospitality and their experience of the kingdom of God.

I think about this idea in light of the Christmas season. God comes into the world in the form of a baby, and he relies on the hospitality of humans. Mary and Joseph play host to the Son of God. When the Son leaves this earth, he sends the Spirit of God to dwell within those who believe. So, in a sense, our experience of the kingdom of God relies upon our willingness to host. Now I think there is more to this than simply a one time conversion moment. I’m thinking that as we go about from place to place in our daily lives, much like these disciples in Luke 10, there are opportunities to participate in the hospitality of God. When we make room and welcome others, maybe that equals glimpses of the kingdom. When we refuse to make room and go about the busyness of our lives, who knows, maybe we miss a chance to experience the nearness of the kingdom of God.

I could be on to something big here, then again I could not be. However, this is one of those areas of studying Scripture that has to be applied to find out the meaning. So I’m encouraging you as you go about your day tomorrow (or today, depending on when you read this) look for opportunities to welcome others and just see if you don’t get a glimpse of the kingdom. Maybe it is a family member living in your house, maybe it is a neighbor that drives you nuts, maybe it’s the person who empties your trash at work tomorrow, or maybe it’s a stranger walking down the street. Be attentive and make room. Who knows, maybe the kingdom of God will come near to you.