Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Brother Lied


 At the outset, you need to understand that my older brother, Bob (Robert Redding McConnell), is one of my heroes. Over the years he has been one of the most impactful people in my life. He is very ill and I am facing the fact that, in the near future, for the first time in my life I may be experiencing life without him. I am finding the whole notion unnerving. Never in 66 years have I lived a day without knowing my big brother is there for me. I am reminded that, at its heart, grief is selfish and self-centered. Bob is ill and I am grieving – feeling sorry for myself.

Being a pragmatic realist, I am under no delusion that my brother Bob is perfect. He has been known to lie. During our growing up years, my parents held us to high standards. At the McConnell house bringing home anything less than all A’s and B’s would get one grounded for the following six week grading period. Invariably, report cards would be sent home on a Friday and at dinner that evening Bob would be hailed as the scholar in residence with all A’s and an occasional B. And I would be grounded. At least that is what should have happened. Instead, Dad would ask if we had received our report cards and Bob would look him in the eye and lie to him. “No, sir,” he would say. “They are coming out Monday.” He lied for me so that I could have one last weekend of fun and freedom. Since mom and dad thought Bob could do no wrong, they believed him every time. Well, almost every time.

There was the time I put a cut out on my mother’s Oldsmobile convertible. Dad spoiled my mother in many ways. One of those ways was to buy her convertibles. So, as teenagers, we got to drive mother’s big fancy convertibles. And they were fast. So, of course, I raced them. To gain a little speed, I attached a cut out to the exhaust system with a cap on it. When I removed the cap, it allowed the exhaust to bypass the muffler which gave me a little more power and an awesome roaring engine. I did all of this without mentioning the modification to my father. I was thinking that what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him – or me. One summer evening my father came by and picked me up at work. On the ride home he asked me, “What is a cut out?” I thought, “Oh, crap, I’m toast.” It seems that dad had taken the Olds in for an oil change and the mechanic had asked him why he had put a cut out on his car. Dad went home and asked everyone handy who had put the cut out on their mother’s car. My brother confessed. And my father didn’t believe him for a second. Dad told me Bob had confessed but he knew better. Even with my big brother’s attempt at intervention, I was, again, grounded.

Bob was also one of the few people on earth who has earned the right to speak truth into my life. Most of the time for most of his life, Bob has been a truth teller. During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college Bob and I were afforded the opportunity by our father to take the trip of a lifetime. We bought a used Chevy station wagon (For my younger readers – it is kind of like a van.) packed up a bunch of camping gear, took enough money to pay for gas ($25 per week) and set off to see America. We spent two and a half months driving and camping across the continent. It was awesome. It was during that trip that Bob told me some truth that changed my life. He told me that in the past year he had learned some things I needed to know. It was, he said, very exciting news. I figured that his exciting news was that he had finally found a decent girlfriend. I was not amused when he told me his exciting news was that he had met Jesus. My response to his announcement was a sarcastic “Whoopee!”

Undeterred, he went on to explain to me that Christianity was much less about being religious and much more about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He continued by telling me that Jesus wanted to be the Lord of my life. Instantly my defenses went up. “I,” I told Bob, “can be the lord of my own life.” I said that in the context of having played sports in high school; having dated some of the cutest girls in school; was pretty popular; had been selected for membership in the only fraternity on my college campus and was in line to be the next President of the Student Body. I was a success and didn’t need anyone’s help; much less Jesus. But brother Bob insisted on telling me the truth. When I told him I could run my own life he fixed his clear blue eyes on me, looked into my soul, and said, “Oh really. Well, how are you doing?” His question spoke into the truth of my life. Even though I was a “success” he knew that I was completely hollow inside – empty. Because he had the courage to speak truth to me, I was saved. Unlike people who are saved from a life of addiction or crime or other destructive behavior, I was saved from an ordinary life. I was saved from a life of acquiring possessions or bouncing from one relationship to the next in an attempt to fill the emptiness in my soul. I was saved from living several decades of meaningless existence to live a life filled with meaning, joy, excitement and purpose. I was saved from me. All because my brother Bob told me the truth.

In our growing up years Bob was an amazing brother. My parents saw him as “the good son”. But he didn’t. Bob felt that he never measured up; up to my dad – or who he thought my dad was. Bob brought home great grades; he was a great athlete (I still have no doubts that, with the proper coaching, he could have been a major league pitcher.); he was elected class President all of the way through high school; Bob was kind and thoughtful (He told me that before he did anything he thought about how his actions would affect our parents. I thought he was nuts.); he really was “the good son.” But most of all he saw himself as my brother, my confidant, my protector, my number one fan. We shared a room and sometimes fought like cats and dogs and we loved each other. Everyone at school knew that if you picked a fight with one of the McConnell’s, you were going to fight both of them. We drove to school together. We double dated. We TP’ed houses together. (We did it professionally. People paid us to TP houses.) We stayed out all night together. We made and set off bombs together. We harassed our sisters and their dates together.  We shared clothes, friends, adventures, sports and life in general. We lived through each other’s heartaches together. His friend was my friend and my enemy was his enemy. We sneaked around doing things our parents wouldn’t approve of and (as I have mentioned) we lied for each other. We were there for each other through decades of life. We encouraged each other in our spiritual journeys and suffered with each other when a relationship went sour. We celebrated each other’s joys. I was thrilled when he had his first book published and he was more excited about my first book than his. We love and pray for each other’s children.

Brother Bob has had a profound influence on my life. He is one of the most prominent people in my life. He did more to change my life than he can imagine because he lied to my parents (and showed me how much he loves me.) and because he told me the truth about myself so I could get to know Jesus. Thanks Bob. You are the best brother ever.


Copyright © 2013, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.
He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Monday, March 20, 2017

Moving to the Country

We moved to Worthington, Kentucky, a few days before I started the third grade. We moved from St. Matthews, Kentucky, which is a suburb of Louisville. We only moved about ten miles, but the move brought major culture shock for a young boy. Basically, we moved from the city to the country.

I knew about living in the city. We neighborhood boys rode our bikes up and down alleys; dropped into the local stores regularly; knew which parents would let us dig holes in their backyards for fox holes; made flags and stick guns and played war or cowboys and Indians; rode our bikes to school and on Saturdays went to the movies at the Vogue Theater. Lots of kids lived close, so there was always somebody to hang out with and something to get into. Life was good.

I had been attending Greathouse school with several hundred other children. Worthington school was a three-room school (two grades per room) with around 75 students. The three classrooms were on the main floor, there was an auditorium upstairs and the restrooms and cafeteria were on the lower level. The first change I had to deal with was that introverted me could no longer hide in the crowd. As the new kid, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was obvious and I dressed funny. I was anonymous no more. After a week of being my introverted self and not speaking to anyone, I was confronted on the playground by the class leader, Barry Roderer. It came down to this: I would start talking to the other kids or there was going to be a daily playground ass whipping until I did. The decision was easy: I suddenly became a regular Chatty Cathy.

That conversation reminds me of the story of a company changing health insurance carriers because the company and the employees got such a better deal. The only caveat was that everyone had to sign up for the insurance. On old guy near retirement refused. First his manager talked to him – nope. Next the plant manager tried to talk him into it – still no go. Next the HR Director took a shot at it – no dice. Finally, the company President called him into his office. He invited the reluctant employee to have a seat and said, “You have been a long and faithful employee and I appreciate your loyalty. But if you don’t sign up for this insurance I will fire you.” The old guy immediately left the President’s office, walked directly to HR and signed up. The HR director just had to ask, “Why are signing up now?” The fella said, “You know, nobody explained it that clearly before.” Same with Barry. Nobody ever explained it so clearly before. Welcome to Worthington.

In the country, our closest neighbor lived more than a mile away and my nearest playmate lived almost two miles away. Since nobody lived close and there were lots of hills, none of the kids rode bicycles. It was a huge effort to find someone to play with. And those country kids did different things than what I was used to. They went camping and fishing and hunting and hiking. I was in another world and ill-equipped to be there. I had much to learn.

The gang at school introduced me to electric fences. Had never seen one -  never heard of one. There was one dividing the school yard from the farm behind it. A group gathered around as Barry talked me into grabbing the wire. It seemed safe enough to me… there weren’t any barbs on it. I was wrong. I grabbed the wire and it was like it grabbed me. I immediately went to my knees. It took me what seemed like forever to get free from the fence. The gathered group thought it was hilarious. I was not amused.

Since the classes at my new school were less than half the size as the one’s at my former school, I got called on regularly. I was not a happy camper. I was a good student, but froze up when called on to speak in front of the class. I regularly looked like an idiot. My soul desire was to fade into the background. Soon enough my teacher figured that out and left me alone. Every student was required to participate in the annual school play. Wisely, she cast me as Professor Shampoof, a non- speaking roll. Perfect.

My favorite teacher was Miss Harrell. She taught the fifth and sixth grades. She was an amazing teacher. One of my favorite memories was the day Estill Murphy, serious as a heart attack, asked her what it was like coming to America on the Mayflower. Even as a young, dumb kid, I knew Estill had made a serious mistake. Miss Harrell was very gracious. I don’t remember her answer but I was amazed she didn’t rip his head off.

There was the day she sent the girls out to the playground and kept the boys in the room for “a little chat.” She then addressed a “cleanliness issue.” It seems we boys had contests to see how far away from the urinal we could stand and still arch it in. Unfortunately, many of us over estimated our abilities and made a mess on the floor. Miss Harrell told us that there was an issue with us urinating on the bathroom floor and we needed to stop. At the end of the “chat” she had us all stand and repeat, “I will not urinate on the bathroom floor”, which we all obediently did. I have a feeling her attempt at solving the problem was ineffective since the first question asked when we arrived on the playground was, “What’s urinate?” Nobody knew.

As a grade-schooler, my two favorite times of the school day were recess and lunch. We had some intense games of kickball in the school’s back yard. Lunch was amazing. Ladies from the community fixed our lunches; they were homemade and delicious. Even the stewed tomatoes, way down on my list of favorites, were tolerable. As I recall, lunch cost 25¢ and it was all you could eat. And we grade school boys could do some eating. The challenge became staying awake in the afternoon class.

Miss Harrell was my fifth grade teach. She could work magic in the classroom. Through her teaching, the unknowable became simple and clear. When we returned to school the following fall our sixth-grade teacher was Mrs. Brenner. That threw us for loop since it was the same woman. We just couldn’t grasp the fact that Miss Harrell had gotten married over the summer. In fact, Estill (At least he is consistent.) Murphy asked if she wasn’t too old to get married. That one sounded like a good question to me. I pretty much thought she was as old as dirt… probably over 40.

Barry Roderer, after offering to whip my butt, of course, became my best friend – that’s what boys do – fight first and friends later. On one of our numerous camping trips we became blood brothers. He was sure a cool guy. His family owned a truck farm and raised vegetables for the Kroger, Co. In the spring, after the fields were plowed, we would walk the fields in search of arrow heads. Some days we would return home with our jean pockets full. Those arrow heads are another thing from my childhood I wish I had kept. We spent long summer days catching crawdads in Goose Creek; trapping whatever furry beasts we could coax into our traps; hunting for rabbits and squirrels; (I had a 22 rifle and he had a 4/10 shotgun that I openly coveted.) blew up stuff with the fireworks his uncle had brought back from Tennessee for us; sat around campfires and scared each other to death telling ghost stories; had huge rotten tomato fights once the harvesting was done, were always opposing captains of the school kickball teams; filled our canteens straight out of the creek with no fear of sickness; shot mistletoe out of the trees to sell around Christmas for spending money so we could by cigarettes at the local grocery.

Moving to the country was a learning experience for this city boy. I learned how to hunt and fish and build a campfire and be comfortable at night in the out of doors. I acquired a sense of direction, a sense of humor, a sense of community and a sense of belonging. Just living in the country gave me a love of nature, a love of good friends, the love of a good dog, a love of adventure and learning how to do new things. And at that little old three room schoolhouse I received an amazing education… both in and out of the classroom.

Copyright © 2017, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Post Facts Era

For the past few weeks I have been watching the protests. It seems we have groups protesting almost everything. But I am pretty sure what is happening is the Clinton supporters (In the most recent Presidential election.) are throwing a collective temper tantrum. They can’t believe their golden girl lost the election. She had lots of money, a huge political apparatus grinding out politics as usual in the background, the Clinton name, millions of ground troops, the support of key influencers, a decent running mate, a carefully crafted campaign put together by the best of the best and had the added advantage of running again a fragmented Republican Party led by, what seemed to be, the village idiot. How could she lose? But she did.

Frankly I am both saddened and surprised that either one of them won. I have been observing politics since Eisenhower was President and those were the two sorriest candidates I have ever seen. They were different, that’s for sure. But each one was highly un-likable and un-electable in his and her own unique way. No matter the outcome of the election, the American people were sure to lose. And we did. The Democrats can’t believe they lost and the Republicans don’t yet know that they, too, lost.

Please keep in mind that I am a child of the 60’s. My generation redefined the concept of rebellion and protesting. We took protesting to new heights (Or depths, depending on how you see things.). We rebelled about and against almost everything.

I was fortunate (?) to attend college in the 1960’s. It was a time of huge social and political upheaval and change. While in college I was privileged to serve on a group that was tasked with inviting speakers and entertainers to our college campus. With much effort, we convinced Al Capp, the author of the very popular comic strip, “Li’l Abner,” to spend a weekend on our campus. In his cartoon strip Mr. Capp did a great job of social commentary. In response to the seemingly never ending campus unrest he introduced a student group in his strip: “S.W.I.N.E.”

S.W.I.N.E. was a campus group that rallied and protested against anything that came to mind. S.W.I.N.E. stood for Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything. Al Capp was a very funny and engaging man. I didn’t realize until I, while serving as the President of my university’s SWINE chapter (We called it Student Government), I interviewed him on the local radio station where I did political commentary, that he had lost a leg and was in poor health. He certainly didn’t let those things stand in his way of living a full and meaningful life and being a very witty guy. I tell you all of that to let you know that I seem to have a genetic tendency toward rebellion. That information should give you a context for what I must say.

Those presently protesting everything they can think of and more remind me of my days as a S.W.I.N.E. I was deadly serious about everything. Nothing was funny. Everything was wrong. It was up to me to fix it. I was the only person (Me and my fellow S.W.I.N.E.) intelligent enough to know what must be done. Anyone who disagreed with me was my intellectual and moral inferior and should not even be given the opportunity to speak. I was open minded, but only to people who agreed with me. The others were too wrong to be given an audience. Whatever they had to say was so wrong it was hate speech. I was pretty full of myself (And other stuff we won’t mention.) Much like the protesters of today.

Perhaps if Mr. Capp were alive and writing today he would name the present protesters A.P.S.T.A.R. – Angry People Sure They Are Right. It might fit since they seem to think people who think differently than they are some kind of lower lifeforms. Having been there and done that, I understand where they are coming from. What I don’t understand is why they are protesting. I don’t understand their logic. And that may be where I’ve gone wrong – looking for and expecting logic. Let me give a shot at explaining what I mean.

Over the past few decades the movers and the shakers and trend setters have taken a long time trying to convince us that truth is relative – and they have. That concept is a part of what is called “Post Modern” thought. As a “Modern”, the best I can tell, to be a postmodern thinker one must pretty much lose his or her mind. What previously was widely held and universally understood – common sense – has been lost to the masses. Speaking for a few of us old folks, we miss it.

My observation is that much Postmodern thought and conversations are emotion driven and facts are of little consequence. It is a sticky, gooey, comfortable, feel-good way of dealing with life; especially social problems. The question of right and wrong never comes up because it is irrelevant. Right and wrong are a matter of opinion (Unless I don’t approve of what you are doing.) so they don’t enter the discussion. The most important factors in any discussion are: Is anyone’s feelings hurt; is anyone uncomfortable; make sure the wants and needs of the least and the last (And sometimes the weirdest.) get primary consideration; does the conclusion make me feel good? In a rush to the emotional response, facts are often overlooked or ignored.

I am uncomfortable with making decisions based on emotions. I cannot think of one emotionally driven decision I have ever made that turned out well. I will confess that I have little respect for emotion driven people. I believe they strongly tend to make poor decisions. Emotions are great in their place, but their place is not in the decision-making process. And if one is going to get all riled up and hitting the streets to protest, do so because of what the facts tell you, not what your feelings dictate. Not long ago a friend owned up to being naive as if that were a good thing. Basically, being naive means you have the capacity for rational thinking and decision making but have failed to do so. Instead, you have arrived at an irrational, emotionally driven conclusion. And that is rarely good thing.

For example, hundreds of thousands of protesters hit the streets to protest because DJT (Again, I am not a fan.) is closing the boarders and refusing to allow any Muslim immigrants into the country. That would make me angry, too. If it were true. But it is not. The truth is he is proposing keeping immigrants from a few countries from coming into the United States for 90 days while our country’s vetting process is reviewed. While it sounds like a logical plan to me, I don’t know if that is a good idea or not. I don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. But I don’t believe a rational person is going to take to the streets to protest the order. Give it 90 days and see what happens.

The next step for the fact-free group in arguing their position is to trot out some people who are adversely affected by the decision to tell their sad tale. We are all emotionally moved by their hurt and disappointment and immediately fall in line with the fact-free line of thought… if you make emotionally driven decisions. But again, the truth is (There it is again, that stinking truth thing.) every decision has positive and negative effects. A good decision generally has more good than bad effects and outcomes. Again, one can always find someone or ones adversely impacted by a decision.  A good example is the Affordable Care Act. So, because one can produce someone who is hurt by a decision doesn’t prove the decision to be wrong. We churchy people do this all the time. A plan is proposed, one person shares their dissatisfaction and the plan is abandoned.

Lately, we, as a nation, have made it a habit of rushing to judgements without thinking things through. And once we have arrived at the wrong place for the wrong reasons, insist on staying there and adamantly defending our position. And in doing so, we are losing our credibility.

I’m not asking for much. Just stop, listen and think before doing something.

Copyright © 2017, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow PressHe can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Amazing Grace VS Fake Grace

The term is thrown around a lot in the church but exactly what is GRACE?

We say grace. We know people named Grace. We call certain clerics “Your Grace.” My sisters were always trying to be graceful. What is grace? We are talking about unmerited love from God that motivates Him to forgive us and reestablish our broken relationship.

Grace shows us that God is NOT fair. Grace is not about getting what we deserve. It is about getting what we don’t deserve. We with children have often heard the cry, “That’s not fair.” The Bible speaks clearly and powerfully about God’s unfairness. Thank God He is not fair.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The story is told that during a British conference on comparative religions, experts from all over the world debated on what is unique about Christianity? The story goes that C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and asked what the rumpus was about. When told, he said, “That’s easy. Grace.” The notion of God’s love coming free of charge, no strings attached is uniquely Christian. A widespread misconception is that all religions are all the same which is simply untrue.

Sad to say, the church of Jesus Christ is not known for being Grace-Filled. We tend to be graceless; especially when it comes to how we view and treat those outside of the church. What a terrible condemnation of the church. But it is true that grace is difficult to practice because in practice, it is hard enough to understand grace when it applies to me, but it becomes impossible to grasp when applied to others. I can understand and give a rationalization for my sins, but not yours. We all tend to see ourselves better than others do. I saw this dynamic practiced to perfection by the inmates I talked to while working a prison.

Jesus knew people did and would STRUGGLE with this concept. So, he told some stories to make it understandable. He told the story we call: The story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate’”. (Luke 15:11-24)

This story is lived out every day around the world. I read this story several years ago. A girl from Traverse City, Michigan, became disillusioned by the restrictive life at home and ran away to Detroit to seek the good life. Soon she met an older man with big car, lots of money and pills living in Penthouse. She moved in with him and soon found herself hooked on drugs and working as a prostitute. It wasn’t long before he looks changed. She became a blonde, lost weight, became sick and soon lost her good looks. Within a year she was on street, sleeping under newspapers on metal grates and getting sicker every day. She was lost, cold, hungry, afraid and needed a fix. Waking up one cold morning under a pile of newspapers, she came to herself. “My dog eats better than I do,” she thought. 

Out of desperation she calls home leaves a message. She tells her parents she is taking the bus to Canada and will be coming through her hometown about midnight. If no one is there to see her, she will go on to Canada. With 7 hours on bus she had lots of time to think. Perhaps no one had picked up her message. Perhaps no one cared. She practiced her speech: “Dad, I’m sorry, I was wrong.” The closer she came the more frightened she became. It was only a 15-minute stop. When the bus pulled in what she saw was not what she expected. There was much more than concrete walls and plastic chairs. There was a crowd of over 40 people – brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, cousins, a grandmother and a great grandmother in party hats and horns. The banner on wall proclaimed, WELCOME HOME. Her Dad stepped out of the crowd and she began her speech: “Dad, I’m sorry…” “No time for that,” he said, “We have a party to go to.”

To further make His point about grace, Jesus told the The Story of the HIRED Workers
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:1-15)

The question must be asked, “Doesn’t God REQUIRE anything of us?”
Of course… God requires you and me to be honest and real… to come to myself and face the truth about me. He said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Make you free. Make you. That is the truth you must start with before you can come to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Coming to God is a MARVELOUS thing. In God’s presence we experience: Absolute Love; Freeing Forgiveness; Complete Healing; Amazing Grace

But coming to YOURSELF is no fun at all. Before you can come to God you must come to yourself. Finding the way to God requires knowing where you are – it is the starting point. One must face reality and most of us avoid reality like the plague. When faced with reality one suddenly realizes that one looks bad, is acting badly and may even smell badly.
No wonder so few people can do it.

In his wonderful book, THE GREAT DIVORCE, C. S. Lewis tells the story of a group of people, who he calls Ghosts, on an excursion from Hell to Heaven. Residents of heaven, called the Solid People, who knew the Ghosts when they were on earth, come out from Heaven and try to lure them in. None of them decide to stay. Here is his description of one woman who had not yet come to herself: “I think the most pitiable was a female Ghost… This one seemed quite unaware of her phantasmal appearance. More than one of the Solid People tried to talk to her, and at first I was quite at a loss to understand her behavior to them. She appeared to be contorting her all but invisible face and writhing her smoke-like body in a quite meaningless fashion. At last I came to the conclusion – incredible as it seemed – that she supposed herself still capable of attracting them and was trying to do so… If a corpse already liquid with decay had arisen from the coffin, smeared its gums with lipstick, and attempted a flirtation, the result could not have been more appalling. In the end she muttered, “Stupid creatures,” and turned back to the bus.”

This “coming to ourselves” is so unappealing that often we attempt to bypass it. This is what I call FAKE GRACE. Fake grace is all about attempting to embrace God’s grace, His unmerited favor, without facing our sinfulness… without confessing our sins… without repenting… without seeking forgiveness and turning away from sin and facing God. It is about believing God trashes His standards (holiness and righteousness) to accept us as we are. What we fail to understand is that God accepts us as we are but loves us much too much to leave us like that. The way this covenant works is: We repent (Come to ourselves) and God forgives us. Leave out our part, as uncomfortable as it might be, and all we have is fake grace.

What’s so amazing about Grace? God offers it to people like you and me. Will you accept it? Do you have the courage to come to yourself? Do you have the good sense to come to God?

Copyright © 2017, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

We Could Use Some Grownups

As I am observing the response to the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency, I find I have watched and listened to about as much of this whine-a-thon as I can stand. I am wondering where all the grownups have gone.

Like two-year-old’s throwing temper tantrums, people have taken to the streets to “protest” his election… like that will change anything. I’m not picking on the Democrats as a party… no doubt the Republicans would have reacted just as poorly if their candidate had been defeated. Though it must be noted that they reacted to the election of Barrack Obama with a bit more class than we are seeing displayed following the recent election.

In all honesty, I must admit that I don’t have any skin in the game. I couldn’t stand either candidate. I find it disconcerting that I, as a person who as a young man aspired to a career in politics, have come to the point that I am completely disillusioned with what the political system has become and have lost all respect for politicians doing their self-serving business as usual. I feel that any person who invests any hope in the government solving our social ills is ignorant, ill-informed or pathetically naive.

My concerns are not about who was elected, because I seriously doubt it will make any difference. What concerns me is, instead, the whiny, immature reaction to whomever was elected? We have had: Demonstrations in the streets that would ultimately change nothing; Letters, cards, e-mails and even threats to the members of the Electoral College demanding they not vote as they were obligated; Demands that we do away with the Electoral College; College students requiring time off from tests and classes because of the emotional upheaval caused by the defeat of their candidate. Some campuses even provided counseling, safe zones and therapy for the poor traumatized students. Pathetic. We could use some grownups around here.
It seems that for the past few decades we have been in the process of producing a mass of immature “grownups.” They are large… well fed… are generally well educated… some of them have jobs… pretty good with technology… spend lots of money and have the emotional maturity of twelve years old’s. This does not include all younger people, but it would seem to describe a noteworthy chunk of the population.

There are significant shifts in child rearing that have occurred over my lifetime that have brought the outcome we are experiencing. The first I noticed was when my generation hit our twenties. When we were growing up, a person over the age of 21 was addressed as Sir or Ma’am or as Mr. or Mrs. Soandso. In our quest to be forever young, we, instead, insisted that children call us by our first names; something usually reserved for close friends… the first step on a slippery slope. Then when we started having children we decided that instead of respecting us we wanted our children to like us. I still remember the day my father, whom I adore, told me, “I don’t care if you like me. I am not your friend. I am your father. You will have many friends. I am the only father you will ever have.”

Then we made the brilliant decision that our children were precious little darlings that we parents were tasked with delivering through childhood with nary a scratch nor a dent. We became “Helicopter Parents”, hovering over our children making sure no harm could come to them. Parents today who allow their children to walk down the street to play in the local park are in danger of being charged with child neglect. It has become poor parenting to let a child outside of the parent’s view. We have lost our collective mind and are raising a generation of adult children.

Being and old person I remember leaving the house shortly after breakfast, on a fine summer day, and returning at sunset not having any meaningful interactions with an adult all day. It was heavenly. It was fun. The best times I had as a kid did not happen in the view of an adult. It was a part of the process of growing up. Were their dangerous and freaky people out there? Absolutely. And we sometimes ran into them. But me and my friends were the most dangerous people we had to deal with. We were kids… we made bad decisions and did stupid things. But we survived. We got into tense and sometimes dangerous situations and we learned how to deal with them. We ran into some odd and off center people and we learned how to deal with them. Sometimes we got hurt and we learned how to deal with it. Sometimes we got our feelings hurt, were occasionally bullied, had arguments and fights, didn’t get chosen for the team, got lost, got scared, got scarred, got mad and we learned how to deal with it. It is called maturing. Something we are stealing from our children.

Then someone came up with the amazingly insightful idea of giving everyone who was involved in a sport or an activity a Participant’s Trophy. Brilliant! No one ever had to suffer the agony of defeat. We are all winners. Just like in real life. NOT! Proof again that just because one went to college does not mean that one is necessarily intelligent. Perhaps we should have provided participant trophies for those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 or the problem would have been solved by giving both candidates participant trophies and declared them “Co-winners.”

I still remember standing in line to pay my bill at a local restaurant chain and reading the posted help wanted sign. It said, “Help wanted. Apply to the manager. Good pay. If you come to work each day you are scheduled the first 30 days, you will receive a $50 bonus.” I read it a couple of times, thinking something sounds wrong. Then it occurred to me that when I showed up for work as scheduled for 30 days they let me keep my job. What were these people thinking? They were thinking “We are about to hire people who have the work ethic of a goat.”

I sense that most adults, in our saner moments, can attest to the fact that it was the difficult experiences we faced growing up that gave us the opportunities to mature. Losing instead of winning, failing instead of succeeding, getting hurt and getting over it, dealing with disappointment, falling flat, losing the girl… the ballgame… the tournament… the election… the job, all were important learning and maturing experiences. How do we expect our children to ever really grow up if we wrap them bubble wrap, hide them away in our perpetual shadows and keep them from all harm and alarm? Did I enjoy seeing my children go through hurtful and challenging times? Of course not. But I loved them enough to let them deal with the tough stuff because my desire was for them to grow up into mature, functioning adults. And they have.

My hope is that we, as a culture, soon come to our senses and begin again the difficult, challenging, arduous, sometimes painful task of growing up some real adults. It seems we could use some.

Copyright © 2016, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Was This Election About Race?

I have read that some people are writing Trump's election off to "White Backlash." That strikes me as an arrogant, ignorant and borderline racist comment. Perhaps we should spend more time listening to others rather than judging them with largely uninformed judgements. I submit the following article to expand our thinking. It certainly impacted my thinking.

What a Gay Muslim Pakistani-American Immigrant Learned Traveling to Rural Alaska The Week Before the Election
by Riaz Patel


Dear 59,668,724 Disappointed Americans, I know this is a devastating day. Considering the toxic levels of hatred and division unleashed over the past few years of campaigning, either outcome was going to be a bitter pill for HALF of our nation to swallow.

Like all forms of mourning, it will take time to heal as we mourn the loss of our version of the next four years. But notice I said OUR version. Because there is another one. And that one not only has a lot of supporters, but has legally and definitively asserted it’s right to be heard. It’s a perspective I didn’t know a lot about until recently.

A few months ago I sat down with Glenn Beck for an intense chat about hate in America. At some point he questioned why I lumped all “White Americans” together when expressing a particular point of view. I thought about that a lot. So, the next day I decided I needed to understand the election from a perspective other than my own. On my drive to work I found a Conservative radio station. The morning after, I found another. And ever since, thanks to the power of satellite radio, I’ve been crisscrossing the country, popping in to listen to local call-in shows. Here’s what I learned by listening. Listening. Not waiting to speak. Not waiting to disagree or refute. There exists a HUGE population in America who are desperately struggling to feed their families. They feel their needs are not authentically represented within this huge government. They feel their concerns are not being voiced by any major news outlet. They are tired of being called “dumb,” “bigoted” and “racist.” And, based on the shocked expressions of every anchor last night that all their polling data was off, apparently, they aren’t even really counted.

I was feeling such a groundswell of their frustration and unhappiness – and even the strong possibility of a Trump victory – that I decided last-minute to travel with my husband and our six-month old daughter to Ketchikan, Alaska the weekend before the election. Why? Because I wanted to meet these people. And I wanted them to meet me. Before we had a “Winner.” How else would we understand each other beyond the “black” and “white” which we BOTH have been painted, non-stop, in this vicious election cycle.

So, I went to breakfast at The Landing on Tongass Avenue and discussed the stakes of the election with third-generation fisherman and learned that their whole life’s work was at stake based on potential Clinton fishing regulations. I talked somewhat fervently about the cancer that is radical Islam with Nicole & Jim, who ran the Black Bear Inn and discussed how we all feel unsafe these days. And I chatted with Paula, the 30-year bar manager, who explained that almost all of Alaska is owned by the federal government so each vote in this community is REALLY about their ability to support their families. Over the course of two days, I met lovely people. Some I agreed with and some I didn’t. Some of them had met a Muslim before and others hadn’t. But all asked me earnest questions about my background, and I asked about theirs. No question was offensive because the intention was non-judgmental.

On my flight back, I realized that for many of us supporting Hillary, this election was about incredibly important social issues. It was a moral election for us. To most of the people I met on my trip, it was about survival. Literally. So when I read Facebook/Twitter posts this morning vilifying 50% of the country for being dumb or racist, I remember Nicole, Jim & Paula and I know that’s not true. But how would I know that if I didn’t meet them and talk to them with an open mind? Only by pulling up a few chairs to PERSONIFY the people we think we hate, will we move beyond “black” and “white” to the way the world really is: grey. Grey is the only way.

As I walk around my office today, people are in shock. It’s no surprise people are surprised by the results when they refused to let an opposing viewpoint in. What did most of my Hillary supporting friends do when someone disagreed with their politics on Facebook? They “Unfriended” them. And when even Jake Tapper on CNN makes the mistake of saying “we” instead of “she” as he refers to winning Connecticut, we have to realize we are in one giant echo chamber that extends to almost everyone we speak to and almost every place we get information. This morning, I am not surprised by the result. But I am slightly impressed by the notion that all the celebrity power and campaign money in the nation was not enough to continue to mute these Americans. They simply went to the polls and voted for what was best for their family. Just as we all do. And they won.

Fairly. Now, before the chat threads blow up below this article, I am not denying that some Trump supporters are racist. Of course. But some Muslims are terrorists. The point is NOT ALL. I’ve seen the clips of bigoted slurs being thrown out at Trump rallies. But, as a TV producer, when I watch the footage aired, there aren’t a tons of incidents. It’s a couple each time, played many, many times over. But if a group of twenty idiotic Trump supporters yell ethnic slurs, is the entire stadium “racist” by association? No. If a Black Lives Matters supporter says it’s “open season on whites” is that a true representation of the movement? No. Should I be viewed with suspicion because I am a Muslim and some are terrorists? No.

The worst outcome of the election is that we have each been reduced to a series of broad labels that no longer reflect who we are. Mexican. White. Republican. Immigrant. Muslim. We may try to look at people as “labels” but we’ll never truly see them because THEY do not look at their own lives & families as labels. If, in the misery of this morning’s election hangover, we choose to continue to refer to Trump supporters as one collective “Them” I think that is as offensive as anything else I’ve heard in this election cycle and as ungracious as anything we feared from Trump supporters in the defeat we assumed would be theirs. I think a key part of beginning to heal is realizing Trump is not his supporters. Who he is and how he campaigned are truly distasteful to me. But his supporters are not him. They voted for a variety of reasons that are important and personal to them. And when I was with them this past weekend, everyone I came across showed me kindness & humanity.

I hope, for their sake, the quality of their life improves. And that they are able to continue to work and provide their families with a safe and loving home. A home into which I hope to be invited.

Think about it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Change

For those of us who attempt to bring change to failing institutions, like the church, with as much resistance that is encountered, one might think that change is a very unpopular thing. It seems that no matter how serious, even desperate, the situation, the people involved fight tooth and toenail to keep everything as it is. The church may be barely surviving on a respirator, but most people seem to prefer the death of the institution to making the changes that may bring life and health. We humans don’t like change.

Let me clarify that: we don’t like change to happen to us or around us. We like change in others. We spend huge amounts of time and energy in seeking to implement change in others. Many married couples spend long, frustrating, infuriating years trying to bring about changes in their spouses. “If I could only get her to quit… she wouldn’t drive me nuts.“ “If he would just be more… I would be happy.” Often the things that attracted couples in the first place become their main pain. “I just love her bubbly personality,” turns into “She’s driving me nuts; she talks all the time.” “He is the strong quiet type,” becomes “I hate that he never talks to me and holds everything in.” It would be humorous if it weren’t so sad.

It has been said that men marry hoping their wives never change and women marry counting on their husbands changing. During pre-marriage counseling I put the couple through an exercise. I have them turn and face each other and tell them to take a long and careful look. I then tell them; this is the best he or she is ever going to look, behave, or smell. You both are doing the best you can now to get the other to marry you. After marriage, it is all downhill. Cynical you say? Nay, nay I say. Just an observation over many years.

Our last President ran on a platform of Hope and Change. Of course, not much changed and I have just about lost all hope. Donald Trump claimed he would bring change to America. I have been observing U. S. politics for several decades and it seems that the only real change that happens is for the worst. I wonder how long; how many experiences we will endure before we finally realize that the answers to our problems do not lie in the politicians we elect. Every election is touted as “The most important election ever.” I’m not sure how important the elections are but they seem to consistently produce the same results – the same old crap.

Changing administrations may make the Kool aid drinkers of the party in power feel better but it has little positive effect on the rest of us. It is the same old rhetoric, the same old playing the blame game, the same old lots of talk and little action.

We try many other things to bring change that have, either little effect or help block the change. For example, we religious types, upon discovering some injustice or something someone does that doesn’t fit our moral code, just love to call our gang together for a candle light vigil. I can’t think of a less effective thing to do. First of all, most people ignore such empty gestures. The people it is supposed to impact remain pleasantly unaware that the gathering happened.

One of the other things we religious change agents are prone to do is have a rally/march/sit in. Often these good ideas take a turn for the worse and become riots with brutal results. Nobody’s mind is changed. The results of such activities just serve to more deeply entrench those on both sides of the issue in their preconceived beliefs. The only result for those taking part in the march is they are deepened in their sense of self-righteousness. For those not participating in the march/rally, it is either an inconvenience or just accentuates their belief that the marchers are stupid.

I realize that what I am going to propose runs contrary to some of the most cherished beliefs of my fellow clergy and socially active church members. The morass of societal chaos and confusion; the racial strife and tension; the inequities and poverty we face will not be changed through the political process or marches and candle light vigils. The much needed and greatly desired change we seek will only come when people are changed. And to change people calls for a substantial investment of time in significant relationships. It is impossible to change people at a distance.

The decades of the War on Poverty have been an unmitigated failure because it was attempted by the government. The government is incapable of nurturing the deep relationships needed to turn around systemic poverty. Standing back at an arm’s length and hurling money at those in poverty has proven to be ineffective. Money isn’t the answer; it is just one of the tools needed. It is only through relationships that core values, ineffective and negative thought patterns, and a lifetime of poor teaching and modeling can be overcome. We all wish it were simpler and easier than that, but it is not.

The Christian community has the answer to many of our social ills. We have the spiritually, emotionally and physically healthy lifestyle that Christ calls us to. If we truly understand the Gospel, we know that it is the way to a full and meaningful life. Christians must make a commitment of time, energy and resources in meaningful ministry (Relationships) if we want to see things (People) turn around. It is a huge commitment that would dynamically impact our lives and lifestyles. We probably, on some level of consciousness, realize how profound and difficult making such a commitment would be and have opted for the easier way of investing a bit of time in shouting and writing about our unhappiness with situations we perceive as wrong and by expecting the government to fulfill our responsibility to change our world.

It is interesting, in reading the New Testament stories of the life of Jesus, just how little time and effort he spent in attempting to impact the governing powers and how much time he, instead, invested in people. The Jews of that time were ruled by the Romans and not by a government of their choosing. And the Romans were neither just nor kind. But Jesus had almost nothing to say about it. He was involved in making disciples (Changing lives.) who, in turn, could make disciples who could make disciples. Where he saw unfairness, he sought to correct it. Where he saw hungry people, he fed them. He healed the sick. He made things better. He met needs. And his mission statement is still valid and in effect. But mainly he made disciples. Perhaps we, the church, would do well to follow his example.

Copyright © 2016, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon