Joe Kay is the associate minister at Nexus United Church of Christ, Butler County, Ohio. He also writes a weekly blog at https://joekay617.wordpress.com. His email address is listed on the blog, in case you care to contact him directly.
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Let Us Wage Peace
If we see our interests and needs as more important than the interests and needs of others, then we’ll never have peace in our personal lives or in our world. Peace requires a recognition that we’re all equally beloved children of the same loving God.
It involves recognizing that we all matter equally — and then doing some introspection to see if we’re living up to it in our various relationships.
This New Year: May You Dream
My new year’s wish for you: That you dream. Dream boldly. Dream audaciously. And let those dreams change you and the world around you in some ways this coming year.
I know that dreamers are not viewed kindly by those who think that the world can’t be changed.
Dreamers? Ignore them. They’re fools. Out of touch with reality. They need to get real. That’s not how the world is. You can’t change it.
It’s always been that way.
Patience Is Love's Cradle
For the longest time, I was convinced that Paul the evangelist totally whiffed on one of his most beautiful passages: the one where he emphasizes that love is what really matters, and then lists some of its defining traits. He starts out by saying that love is … patient.
He goes on to list other traits, such as kindness. He also says what it’s not: rude, selfish, snobbish, brooding, quick to give up on someone. And it’s all really good stuff, written with such grace. But I’ve always had a difficult time with that first word.
Patient. Love is patient.
A Drunk Man Gets Home on Christmas Eve
I was 6 years old, growing up in Cleveland. It was Christmas Eve. The traditional Slovak dinner was ready on the stove — mushroom soup and pierogies. My mom, my younger brother, and I were waiting for my dad to get home so we could eat.
The waiting part was no surprise.
My dad was an alcoholic. During the Korean War, he enlisted and was assigned to a paratrooper unit. He was wounded during a mission. My mom said the experience changed him. He brought some demons home with him.
God's Put This One On Us
The oh-so-familiar reaction started before we knew what had happened in the latest massacre at a conference center. Posts on social media encouraged us to pray for San Bernardino. Tweets went out bearing hashtag prayers.
It’s so damn familiar.
We see the heart-breaking images that are so much like the other heart-breaking images from the other day – different people, different place, different massacre, same sick feeling. We dust off our “Pray for the people of (fill in the blank)” and hashtag a prayer their way.
And then we do nothing to change it. Which means we’re really not praying at all.
Co-opting the Name of Christ
The clerk in Kentucky is still trying to avoid doing her job while arguing that religion means never having to sacrifice or compromise in any way. The war-on-Christmas crowd is still passing around that story about a red coffee cup lacking snowflakes. Those who believe in an eye-for-an-eye are cheering as bombs fall in the Middle East in response to another horrific terrorist attack. Many Christians are still ignoring the calls for justice coming from the streets of Chicago, Minneapolis, and cities all across the land.
Don’t you want to throw up your hands sometimes? Or maybe just throw up?
The Trick, and the Treat: To Keep Giving and Receiving
I've had the privilege of participating in a church’s Trunk-or-Treat program for kids in a low-income neighborhood in Cincinnati. Folks bring their cars and vans to the church’s parking lot and decorate them. They hand out candy to the kids, who come dressed in their costumes. There’s food and hot chocolate and books, all for free.
One regular attendee is a little boy who has no legs, so his mom pushes him around the parking lot in a wheelchair. He loves to dress like a ninja and if you ask why, he’ll go on and on about how much he loves ninjas and his costume. And how much he loves Halloween.
The kids make the route around the parking lot a few times with their bags open, getting another piece of candy and a little bit of love at each stop. Everyone enjoys the giving and the getting.
Maybe that’s what I love most about Halloween.
A.A., a Beautiful Lake, and God-Filled Places
On my way home from working at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., I decided to do something that I’ve dreamed about for many years.
I would visit the lake.
There’s a lake just west of Youngstown, Ohio, that’s been special to me since I was about seven years old. It’s called Lake Milton. I don’t know the story behind how it got its name. But I can share my story of why it’s special.
Some of my friends know that my dad was an alcoholic. He didn’t drink every day, but when he did, he couldn’t stop. And he’d get loud and angry and abusive toward my mom. It was awful and frightening. I remember listening to the arguments and shaking uncontrollably. This went on for several years.
Fortunately, my dad eventually recognized he needed help and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. His sponsor was a funny, kind man named John. He became part of the family — we called him Uncle John. He and his wife, Fran, owned a cottage by Lake Milton. They encouraged us to use it for a week each summer.
Changing Gun Culture: This One's On Us
How many times have we heard news of a shooting somewhere – a school, a theater, a workplace, a military base, a church – and felt shock and disbelief? We feel bad, say a prayer, and move on. I remember seeing the video of the shooting at the church in Charleston for the first time when I got home from work on June 17. I couldn’t sleep that night. I wondered how this could keep happening.
So when the latest shots were fired in Virginia, I was numb. If it’s going to just keep happening – new day, new place, new victims – then why even pay attention? Why become emotionally invested again?
In Praise of the Dog Days
Pets are so much easier to get along with than people. They’re not as complicated and unpredictable, not as demanding and challenging, not as mysterious and messy.
People are very messy. And that messiness makes relationships a portal to the divine.
As much as we like to be with our pets, we have to keep going out the door and dealing with people. Amazing people. Frustrating people. Inspiring people. Loving people. Broken people. Confused people. Self-doubting people. Challenging people. Lost people. People who have all the same anxieties and fears that we do. Relationships make us grow into who we are meant to be. And the process is always, always, always messy. If there’s no messiness, there’s not much relationship.
Relationships tap into our insecurities and make them bubble up and out despite our best efforts to ignore them or keep them hidden. They highlight our fears and insecurities in bright, bold colors. They grow and develop in their own time and have their own confusing and confounding rhythms. They challenge us and fulfill us and yes, they make us want to beat our heads against the wall, depending upon the time of the day.
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