The Brazilian Church is Has Bought a Building
This afternoon several of us from the Brazilian Church of Christ in New Jersey went to visit the “new” building the congregation has bought. It’s certainly a well-used building, apparently having been occupied by an African-American Missionary Baptist congregation for over two decades. The long-awaited and twice postponed closing finally went through, and now it is ours.
The first thing I noticed as we entered were the pews. The former congregation left the red-cushioned pews for us to use. Walking around the building, I noticed well-worn steps going to the second floor, and Christian posters (as well as some commemorating leaders of the American civil rights movement) here and there.
Next weekend the Brazilian church will move in. Sunday morning we’ll have our first church service there.
And I keep thinking of how nice it would be…no…will be, to organize and lead a new American church that one day can have a building of its own.
Meditation on a Life and a Death, Part Two
The first time I saw him, it was late May or early June, 2005. My mother and I had just pulled up in our little sky-blue Plymouth one morning for the first day of baseball practice in Hurdland, Missouri. There was a boy I didn’t recognize, walking with his father toward the ball field. In a community so small, it was easy to spot strangers. Excited, I commented that here might be a new friend.
With a few rough spots, this sharp new kid and I got along fine for the first year. Fourth grade passed, and somehow in fifth grade he turned everyone against me. I learned the price to be paid when one grasps others too firmly. Like sand, they slip through ones fingers.
In sixth grade, new hope was found with the arrival of another kid. I got close to him, listened rather than spoke, and found a new friend. He was loyal. Through him and the capitulation of the bully, the attacks and abuse against me ended. The bully even became a friend that year, and life returned to some semblance of normality.
Swallowed up in Junior High and High School, contact with him diminished…he became far less important to me. I know I saw him the day of my graduation, as he was in my class, but I don’t remember. The last time I remember seeing him was with his then-girlfriend, the last day of class.
Now he’s gone. I had thought about calling him for several weeks, but didn’t. No, I probably couldn’t have done anything. I’m convinced that his overdose was suicide.
Somehow, I wish I could have spoken with him. Released him of any burden he might have felt regarding my part in his past (dare I wonder if he even remembered…or cared?), but the time for that came and went.
Was it a cry for help, or was it really so bad that he couldn’t find any hope in the life he saw around him? Did he feel alone? Would it have made even an ounce of difference if I had at least called him on the phone?
Meditation on a Life and a Death, Part One

—–Original Message—–
From: Mom [e-mail address deleted]
Sent: Friday, February 10, 2006 04:45 PM
To: ‘Adam W. Gonnerman’
Subject: Sad news
[Name omitted] was found dead in bed this am by his Mother. The apparent causeof death was a drug overdose.

This morning I received the above e-mail from my mother. The guy, whose name I omitted out of respect for his memory and his family, was the guy that led the other children in bullying me when I was in the 5th grade. I spent a year of hell going to school because, in 4th grade, I didn’t slobber all over myself to be his synchophant. I presented myself as competition. It was only in the third decade of my life, between 20 and 30, that I really healed from the experience.

Yet, by 6th grade the “war” had ended and I was accepted back into his good graces. The relentless teasing ended and I was a friend again. What I learned during that hard year, though, has stayed with me. I learned most of all that I can’t really trust anyone. People are sheep – or worse…wolves…or jackals. Most don’t need 30 pieces of silver to sell out a friend.

This guy became less important to me in high school, amidst so many other teens and pressures from without and within. By the time we graduated, it looked like he was on his way to amounting to something. After graduation he married, divorced, and did drugs. For a time he was apparently an orderly, and for a time he did home health care. It was in this latter position that he allegedly took prescription drugs from a patient and overdosed. But this wasn’t the overdose that killed him.

I haven’t seen him since graduation from high school. Neighbors of my mother saw him recently at a store, and said he was walking with a cane and looked to be about 50 (he was 30 or so, my age).

I mourn his loss. I really do. Something has gone out of my life, and something that could have been beautiful was removed from the world. If it was an overdose, I would suspect suicide.

For the passed several weeks I had been wrestling with the idea of calling him, somehow. Of getting in touch. I’m not quite arrogant enough to think I could have “saved” him. But I would have liked to have spoken with him again, even if for the last time, before he was taken by the darkness.

I don’t know that he would have cared, but for my own reasons, I would have liked for him to have known…

that he was forgiven.

Understanding Context

My 8-year-old daughter had never seen any Star Wars movie, I’m ashamed to say, even though I own the tapes of Episodes 1 and 2. So, over the past week we’ve been watching them in sequence. Renting 3 and 4 from the video store, I’m seeing the complete series in order for the first time. It’s an odd experience, especially in the way the background information from the new prequel episodes sets things up. I’m seeing each character with new eyes, and long gone is the suspense of the 80’s in wondering whether Darth Vader was truly Luke’s father.

Context changes things. When I was growing up, I learned bits and pieces of the Bible narrative through readings at the Catholic church and via instruction at the Methodist and Baptist VBS programs. In my teen years, my independent Bible reading expanded my knowledge, and since then my college program of ministry and further study helped me to “connect the dots” and really see the big picture.

But there’s a long way to go. It’s not just about knowing the information, nor merely obeying commands (though that’s a part). It’s about deeply and truly incorporating the Scripture story into one’s life. When Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Jesus and others are assumed into your life story, the work of God can really take place.

Context changes perspectives.

A Conversation with a Friend

Just the other day I called a college friend that I hadn’t spoken with for a year, back when I was still in New Mexico. He was surprised that I’m in New Jersey. A few things came out of that conversation.

First, I realized how I’ve let my friendships go. Things got so bad last year, I insulated myself from any contact with others. But, truth be told, I haven’t worked enough on my friendships since when I moved to Brazil. Time and distance, you know. It’s telling when all of your conversations with a friend are about old times and shared memories. There needs to be a sense of future in relationships, and this can only come through regular contact.

Second, the above observation can be applied nicely to one’s relationship with God. It’s great to pray, citing what great things God has done. This is both praise to Him and an encouragement to your own faith, but it can’t be all. If you have a living, day-by-day relationship with Him, you will find yourself discussing present concerns, as friends do, and future plans.

Third, that conversation with my friend gave me new energy and even hope. We discussed the Annual Soul-Winning Workshop in Tulsa (which I have loved for years) and I discovered that we are of a similar mind in many faith matters.

I’m still quite guarded about discussing the dramatic changes that have taken place in my faith, but I hope that as I move forward I will discover that old friends are more-or-less where I am, and in the meantime that I can make new friends who share my convictions.

Teaching as a Lifestyle Choice

Though I am a teacher of English (ESL) and Bible, I’ve given thought lately to seeking state certification to teach grade school through high school. It seems a rather significant undertaking, though.

The commitment of time alone is enormous. Besides being in class for hours on end, there are usually extra-curricular activities that are obligatory, as well as the student schoolwork to be grades.

Someone considering becoming a teacher needs to consider the change of lifestyle and level of commitment it would take, especially when the pay usually isn’t as good as it is in the private sector, such as in offices.

I’m leaning away from certification as a viable option.