Thursday, November 29, 2007

Our Hodgepodge Tree

There’s a town in Michigan that we Prince’s would go to this time of year called Frankenmuth. Frankenmuth is known for a couple of things. It is a touristy town with horse drawn carriages and covered bridges and quaint shops selling touristy type of things like fudge and blown glass. There are a couple of famous restaurants that serve family style German chicken. (I have a funny story about eating at one of those restaurants, Zender’s Bavarian Inn. Remember everything is served family style and one of the items brought to our table was liver pâté. Unfortunately, Karla didn’t know what the “brown scoop of something” was and assumed it to be chocolate butter. Have you ever heard of chocolate butter? Me, neither. Still, I know this… whatever chocolate butter would taste like if such a thing existed, it would be nothing like liver pâté. Anyway, she ate a big bite of the “chocolate butter” and nearly came unglued as he gagged and coughed a lung all the way to Bavaria. It was quite amusing, although I am not sure that Karla shared in the humor.) Frankenmuth is also home to the largest Christmas store in the world, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.

Bronner’s Christmas Store is about the size of five and a half football fields. You read that right: FIVE and ONE HALF FOOTBALL FIELDS of Christmas stuff. Try to imagine thousands of ornaments, nativity scenes, and artificial trees packed on five and a half football fields, and you can begin to picture what Bronner’s is like. It’s a Christmas Crazy Super Store. And at this time of the year, we would head to Frankenmuth for hot cocoa and Bronner’s so the boys could pick out an ornament for the year’s Christmas tree.

From past shopping excursions, on our tree will be a Bat mobile ornament, a Tasmanian Devil on a motorcycle ornament, several University of Michigan ornaments, a giant icicle ornament, and there’s even a pickle ornament. I’m not exactly sure how University of Michigan ornaments or a pickle ornament convey the story of Christmas—but they will be on our tree.

Actually, we have several Christmas trees in our house. We have “Karla’s tree.” That’s the tree that has all things pretty and frilly and girly and it’s the tree that we boys are not allowed to touch (I think Karla prefers that we don’t even look at it!). We will have a snowman tree which has lots of snowmen ornaments. There are trees with just lights, some with no lights and some that have ornaments and lights. Maggie our dog even has a tree—filled with doggie ornaments. But my favorite tree is the one with the bat mobile, pickle and sports themed ornaments. It also has some of the handmade ornaments the boys have made through the years, and ornaments that friends and past church folks have given us. The tree is a hodgepodge of ornaments and decorations and unlike the “Karla Tree,” ”Snowman Tree,” and “Maggie Tree” there is no theme, no color coordination, no rhyme, no reason.

Tonight is the night that we are going to decorate our hodgepodge tree. It’s one of my favorite nights of the entire year as we pull out the Christmas CD’s, make some popcorn and unwrap all those ornaments from Bronner’s Christmas Store. You see, we won’t simply be placing Christmas bulbs on a tree, but rather we’ll be putting our memories on the tree. There will be memories of when the boys were younger and memories of friends and families. As we are hanging the tinsel, lights and ornaments, I am sure there will be many comments like: “Do you remember when we got this one?” or “Do you remember who gave us this bulb?” And once again it will give Karla and me an opportunity to share, with the boys, stories of family, friends and faith that has led us to this point in our lives. A few of the ornaments were gifts from my missionary friend, Rod—as we hang those ornaments it will give us another opportunity to pray for him. A few of the ornaments were given by folks that have since been “promoted on to glory” and it will give us opportunity to pray a prayer of thanks for how God used those givers to touch our lives. There will be a couple of “Baby’s First Ornaments” that will remind us of happy times in Bad Axe and Fraser, Michigan when our Christmas presents and decorations were sparse but the joy of Christ was just as great as we celebrated with a new baby that had graced our home. Yes, tonight is going to be a wonderful night… I can hardly wait to share these moments with my family.

I hope that as we enter the Advent season, you and your family will have moments like this too. My prayer is that you will have opportunity to remember the past joys and to build future memories. Don’t get so wrapped up in the stuff of Christmas or the business of Christmas so that you forget to create memories and moments to share God’s grace with those you love.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Time

On Thursday, if you are like most Americans you’ll wake up to watch Santa Claus come to town in Macy’s parade. Some want-to-be TV star will tell you corny jokes as they announce the high school marching bands from places like Walla Walla, Washington and Eureka, Illinois and describe the massive floating cows sponsored by The American Dairy Council making their way down 34th Street in New York City. You may watch a little football (if like most years, and it pains me to write this, the Lions will probably lose and the Cowboys will probably win). Sometime in between the Lions giving up a fumble return for a touchdown and their offensive line allowing the quarterback to be sacked for the gazillionth time, family and friends will gather.

Uncle Joe will be there talking about his gout. Aunt Betty Lou will announce she is dieting this Thanksgiving and will only eat one small piece of Suzie’s special deluxe pumpkin pie. Cousin Billy Bob will be talking all things NASCAR (How can one person know the name of every pit crew member of Junior and Jimmy Johnson’s teams?). There will be the assorted others that remind you that most families are like the old Clint Eastwood movie: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The house will be loud. Football games in one room, video games in the other, and the un-liberated women folk in the kitchen.

The roasting turkey makes your mouth water. The time you’ve been waiting for will soon arrive.

Sneaking a peak in the kitchen, the room from which you’ve been banished with threats of “finding something for you to do” gives you an eyeful of that fabulous bird. Young Tom has been groomed, basted, stuffed and prepared for this moment. The thought of grabbing a leg and eating like a medieval king has you giddy with anticipation. If you have a mechanical engineering degree, you take time to plot out the adequate space on your dinner plate for the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet taters, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, tiny carrots, celery, olives, corn, dinner rolls, cheese ball, coleslaw, red jello salad with bananas, crackers, and of course, Aunt Suzie’s special deluxe pumpkin pie with lots and lots of whipped cream. If you don’t have a mechanical engineering degree, you might need to find a bigger plate.

Finally, oh so finally, at the perfect moment, when hunger and anticipation meet someone will say, “Dinner Time!” and everyone will take their places around the table, (or if it was like when I was a kid--the adults will be at the “Big People Table,” and the kids will be at the “Little People table”), then someone will pray a prayer of thanks and the eating will commence. Not much talking is happening now, unless it’s to ask cousin Jimbo to pass the salt and pepper. A wise man once told me, “Every time you talk you miss a bite.” No one wants to miss any bites. Not today. The sounds of eating fill the room.

Following that last bite of pumpkin pie, there will be more football, sleeping, and maybe a family game or movie. If living in Kansas City, maybe the tradition is to head to the Country Club Plaza along with a couple hundred thousand of your closest friends and watch the mayor or some such Kansas City pooh-bah flip the Plaza Christmas Light switch. “Oooo! Ahhh!” everyone says like they were a Who from Whoville on Christmas morning.

Finally, with a tummy full of turkey and a heart full of the sights and sounds of the season, you will put your head on a comfy pillow and say: It’s been a good day.

Unfortunately not all will have such a Norman Rockwell-esque day. Many in our world can not even dream of the meal I just described. Carefree thoughts of parades, football games and pretty lights are pushed from their minds because of the real life horrors of wars or hunger or homelessness or loneliness or oppression. For many, there is no soft pillow at the end of the day, and for that matter no bed and no home.

I know, I know we can’t box up our turkey and send it to the poor and hungry in the remote corners of the world. I’m sure the gravy would leak out of the box. And I’m not suggesting that we give up our traditions of an American Thanksgiving Day. But I am also not suggesting that we do nothing. Just this week, I saw a cartoon. There was pictured hundreds and hundreds of people lined up as far as you could see and each person was thinking the exact same thing: “What can I do? I’m just one person.” Maybe you can’t change the world— but you can make a difference. And together we can make an even bigger difference.

This Thanksgiving take time to be thankful. Be thankful for all the privileges and blessings that you have been given, but also think of ways to show your thankfulness. It’s not too late to invite a lonely senior citizen over for dinner (what’s a couple more people around the table?). Maybe showing your thankfulness can be accomplished by grabbing a family this Sunday from Our Central Cares Tree—and providing Christmas to a needy family, maybe you could sponsor a senior high student to go on the El Salvador trip and possibly change his or her life forever. Maybe you will make plans to help out at the Rescue Mission this month. The point is: Do Something. Don’t just say you’re thankful, act like you are thankful. Share the blessings that God has given you.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Slow News Week

Since nothing all that exciting or amazing or weird or funny or bizarre has happened to me this week I am stumped as to what I should share with the good people of Central.

It’s too early to write about Thanksgiving and too late to write about Halloween. I refuse to write about the presidential debates and nothing spectacular has happened in the world that requires comment from a preacher in Kansas.

At the Prince Palace, life is pretty normal. Alex was home sick today… but I don’t think anyone would want me to share that story. I could see the headline: PK PuKes (It would not be a good article for those with weak stomachs.) Ben is practicing his guitar as I write this article, but you don’t want me to share about that either. Headline for that one: BEN DETERMINED TO BECOME THE NEXT JIMI HENDRIX OR DEAFEN HIS DAD TRYING. Karla is at Hobby Lobby determined to spend nearly all of our disposal income on either dried flowers, scrapbooking supplies, “necessary” home decorations and/or all of the above. Headline would read: RECEIPT FROM HOBBY LOBBY MAKES PASTOR ROBBY WHOBBLY .

I am not sure that I could get a spiritual lesson from any of those events.

I could write about some of the news of the day. has an article suggesting that life on earth came from Mars. Umm… ok. First we came from monkeys, now from Martians. I’ll stick to the story that God created me, if that’s OK with y’all. There’s another article about a man from India who married a dog. I have officiated at dozens of weddings, and while some of the brides were less than beauty queens, none required a flee collar. is just plain goofy. It must be a slow news day.

The sports pages remind me that the Ohio State vs. Michigan football game is this week. That is usually good for an article or two. I could tell some of my standard Buckeye jokes (How do you get an OSU Summa Cum Laude off your front porch? Pay him for the pizza!) But this year is different. Who would have ever thought that the KU-Missouri game would be a bigger deal than Buckeyes vs. Wolverines? I am crying maize and blue tears just thinking about it, I’m sorry I can not write about it. It’s too painful.

I could write about some secret inner office happening at the church. But other than the obnoxious bragging going on because of MNU (beating a sister college from Illinois over the weekend), KU (9-0, I still don’t believe it), and the proper use of language during the announcements, there’s not much to write about.

Last week, we did have an invasion of gnats at the church. Rumor has it that a banana was hidden in Pastor Cory’s office, but now the gnats are gone. How about this headline: GNASTY GNATS GNO-LONGER GNAVIGATING GNAZARENE GNAVE! Unless you are talking plague of locusts, it’s hard to get a Biblical point using bugs, so I guess I can’t write about our gnats either.

So without any epiphanies concerning this little article, I will simply write that I am glad to be your pastor. Central is a great church with many wonderfully, committed believers who really get it that we are to be a light in the world. Thanks again for the pastor appreciation cards, comments and check from the church. Have a terrific week, and I’ll see you on Sunday!