Thursday, February 15, 2018

Exponential Living: Fran Penrod and the Impact of One Life

The time had come. Paula and I had plans and needed someone to take care of our newborn, our firstborn (Nate). This would be the very first time he would be out of our site and care. (Maybe it was a date??? More likely an activity with our church youth group.) The big question: Who would we entrust with our baby, our firstborn?

Then we had our second kid, a little girl (Niki) and again it was time to leave her with someone for the first time. Who do we trust to take care of Niki? And then a few years later we moved to Chicago and needed someone to live with us, someone to help take care of Niki, now four years old, and Nate after he got out of school. Who could we trust to be with our kids almost more than we would be with them?

For a parent, one of the biggest decisions you make early on is who do we trust and who do we want hanging out and influencing our kids during the most impressionable time of their lives?

Although these decisions were of utmost importance with long lasting ramifications, they were easy decisions for Paula & I. Why? Because we were friends with Fran and Larry Penrod. It was like we were their kids and it was like their kids were our kids. We were privy to inside information. We knew how much Fran and Larry loved Jesus, loved each other and loved their kids. We had the inside scoop on how their kids loved and respected their parents.

So it was a no brainer! Who else would we have picked to watch our first born for the first time than Fran Penrod – this women full of grit and compassion, who lived every day with a twinkle of mischief in her eye. We absolutely knew no harm would come to our son. We knew he would be loved as much if not more than we loved him. And that twinkle of mischief in her eye . . . You had to know Fran to understand that you just didn’t take life to seriously!

And who better to be the first one to take care of Niki when we had to leave her for the first time than Fran’s daughter Karen. If you can’t get the matriarch, than you go with the firstborn of the matriarch – a “chip off the ole’ block”. 

And then came our move to Chicago and the need for someone to live with us, help us transition, and help us raise our kids, ages four and five. You guessed it! We headed straight to the Penrods and were gifted beyond measure to have Nona live with us in Chicago for a year – loving our kids as her own, giving them a solid rock to lean on during that big change, helping instill solid values in Nate and Niki, and teaching them through example a love for life & adventure with an attitude that never takes life more serious than we should, all learned from her amazing mother, Fran Penrod.

I guess Jesus decided Fran had influenced enough people on this earth because she left us for heaven this past Saturday night. It isn’t just our family that is the recipient of Fran’s influence. There’s a thick book filled with these stories. Paula & I are just thankful that the Clark’s were one of the lucky ones to have our story in that book! And our blessing carried through right to the end.

We chose to celebrate Christmas and our 40th Anniversary by going back to Kankakee First Church of the Nazarene where we met and got our start. (I’ll just mention here that Larry Penrod sang at our wedding! And Brian . . . if there was a 3rd kid in our family, you were on deck!) After church, who was waiting to greet us and give us a big hug with that mischievous smile? Yep, Fran Penrod. (I was surprised, and now I’m disappointed I didn’t get one last solid arm punch that she usually would throw my way.)

It will never be the same when we go back to K3 First Nazarene now that Fran’s gone. It just won’t! That’s the difference maker Fran was. And the Clarks??? We owe a forever debt of gratitude to Fran Penrod for both her direct and indirect influence on our family. Thank you Fran! We love you! Thank you for being an instrument of the Shalom of Christ in our family and so many others. Now, you are living the eternal Shalom that awaits the faithful followers of Jesus Christ. And I know you are up to some type of mischief . . .

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Horse and Sparrow Economic Theory: 
The Interplay Between the 2017 Tax Bill, Greed, and Spiritual Leadership

“There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below.”
-William Jennings Bryan

“Mr. Hoover was an engineer. He knew that water trickles down. Put it uphill and let it go and it will reach the driest little spot. But he didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows hands.”
-Will Rogers

“’In the days of my youth,’ said John Kenneth Galbraith, ‘the trickle-down theory was called the horse and sparrow idea of economics: If you feed a horse enough oats, some of it will go through the horse and then fall on the road for the sparrow.’”

Here is a short list of the various terms/descriptions people have used to describe the basic economic theory behind our present proposed 2017 Tax Bill:
  • Trickle Down Economics
  • Supply Side Economics
  • Laissez-Faire Capitalism
  • Raw Capitalism
  • Reaganomics
  • Political Voodoo
  • The Rich Pissing on the Poor
  • The Horse and Sparrow Theory
Pope Francis actually addressed trickle-down economic theory in his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”:
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitable succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system."

Read Pope Francis’ words again: “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system."

Pope Francis speaks truth because there is a foundational flaw in human beings that determines and assures the eventual failure of the trickle-down economic theory (or as I will refer to henceforth – the horse and sparrow theory). This foundational flaw is GREED. Left to our own devices without spiritual and moral challenge & accountability, humans are greedy.

Let’s examine some very simple teachings by the Carpenter from Nazareth found in Luke chapter 6 of the New Testament. Jesus says the following while teaching his disciples:
  • "If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them."
  • "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back."
  • "And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But . . . lend to them without expecting to get anything back."

Jesus tells the story of a Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke chapter 16. He paints a very clear picture of greed and the gap between the rich and the poor (sounds like Income Inequality to me) right at the beginning of the story:
    "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen
    and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named
    Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the
    rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores."

And then in Luke chapter 12, Jesus says, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." And then he proceeds to tell the story of the man who used his abundance of resources (money saved through tax cuts) to build bigger barns so he could store up his resources (Did someone say "buybacks"?) and "take life easy; eat drink and be merry." Jesus called this man a fool! And said his life would be taken from him.

And then this lowly Carpenter from Nazareth speaks these profound words:
     "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat:
     or about your body, what your will wear. For life is more than food,
     and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not
     sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.
     And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by
     worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do
     this very little think, why do you worry about the rest?"

     "Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet
     I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one
     of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is
     here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more
     will he clothe you--you of little faith! And do not set your heart on 
     what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world
     runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need 
     them. But seek his kingdom, and these thinks will be given to you 
     as well.

There is absolutely nothing in the teachings of the Carpenter from Nazareth that remotely compares to the horse and sparrow economic theory and yet some of the strongest support for this theory and for the 2017 Tax Bill comes from Evangelical Christians.

Surprising??? Not really. The disconnect between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the actions and beliefs of his present day followers in the USA is often as wide as the wealth gap in our country. People who call themselves Christian and support the horse and sparrow theory and support the politicians who are implementing this economic theory, thus supporting the creation of "Rich Men" and massive numbers of "Lazarus'", are living completely incongruent lives. And the majority of spiritual leaders remain silent.  Could it be because too many spiritual leaders are "playing the game" themselves?

A modern day story to end with . . . 

A group of young adults were giving the entirety of their time, talent, and treasure (and they had very little treasure to give) in service with an at-risk neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. Relationships were being built, dreams were birthing, and lives were beginning to change. A wealthy suburban church was helping make this happen with their financial support. Then one day the lead pastor of the suburban church informed us that the church could no longer afford to support these young adults and the work they were doing.

I challenged the lead pastor with the following: If every person on staff at your suburban church (and there were about 25 people on staff) would take a 5% pay cut, you could continue to fund these young adults and everything they are doing on the west side of Chicago. Paula & I were already giving close to 50% of our income so I thought 5% would be extremely doable for their staff and the impact on their individual lives would be negligible. Well . . . all I received back was a blank stare and you guessed it, my challenge was not accepted. A few months later we had an ending program with the community and our young adults ceased their work with the community and the church/center on the west side and went on with their lives elsewhere. And . . . within just a few years, the wealthy suburban church built an even "Bigger Barn".

"For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."

We need Kingdom people, followers of the Carpenter from Nazareth, to stop embracing failed and foolish economic theories and creatively devise a Kingdom economic theory. Right now, we are simply running with the pagans!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Whispers of Grace and Still Small Voices (In Memory of Earl Lauder)

Sometimes we have these gentle nudges that are so, so easy to ignore. I had one of those nudges about 4 weeks ago. I had a day off and was wondering what Paula and I could do? This nudge/small voice/whisper of grace ran through my head that I should go see my cousin Earl. We hadn’t seen Earl and Terri for almost a year.

Terri is my cousin. She married Earl. The Clark side of the family never used to see each other much but that had changed over the past decade. Earl had done quite a bit of work on The Sanctuary (our church/home/Bed and Breakfast) when we bought it. Earl and Terri adopted our Bernese Mountain Dog - Wesley - when we couldn’t keep him any longer. We had become family.

So . . . we went to see Earl and Terri. Von, who also goes by Pete and Rocky (don’t ask), and his wife came over along with my aunt who we had picked up and we all hung out and had pizza together.  After pizza, Earl took me out to his garage to show me his restored tractors and all the projects he was working on. He restores old tractors and golf carts with custom paint jobs. 

After a few hours, we took my aunt back home and headed back to our home. It had been one of those really good family days!

Fast forward a couple weeks to 11 days ago . . . Earl is rushed to the hospital where he ends up on a ventilator. His heart is only working at a 15% capacity. Earl never goes back home. Earl is gone. He dies 11 days after being taken to the hospital and just 4 weeks after we had pizza together and walked around his garage.

I sit here wondering what I would be feeling right now if I had shrugged off that gentle nudge, that still small voice, that whisper of grace. Anger? Guilt? Frustration? For sure . . . and much more.

Instead, I am thankful that The Spirit whispered a word of grace into my spirit that gave me one last meal with Earl; one last sharing of stories, laughter, and love; one last sweet memory. 

How many still small voices have I failed to hear? What will the next whisper and nudge be? And will I hear it and respond? Please Lord, don’t let me get to busy and too self-absorbed to feel the nudges and hear the whispers of your grace in my life.

(In memory of Earl Lauder)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Do We Really Believe the Bible Stories We Teach our Kids? (Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and . . .)

“Attention, everyone! Every race, color, and creed, listen! When you hear the band strike up – all the trumpets and trombones, the tubas and baritones, the drums and cymbals – fall to your knees and worship the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Anyone who does not kneel and worship shall be thrown immediately into a roaring furnace.”

“Attention, everyone! Every race, color, and creed, listen! When you hear the band strike up – all the trumpets and trombones, the tubas and baritones, the drums and cymbals; when you hear the singers – the country singers, the R&B singers, the rock & roll singers, the cute kid singers – stand up, place your hand over your heart, and worship the flag, the song, and this great country that President Trump says we must worship. Anyone who does not stand and worship shall immediately loose their job.”

Physical stances have been an identification tool for ages, used to identify the object or person to whom people commit their allegiance. Standing and using an action involving the arm and hand has been typical of nationalist movements. Kneeling has throughout history been seen as barbaric, superstitious, and inappropriate for a free man, a sign of weakness.

This is why in the time of Nebuchadnezzar the people kneeled. The king was strong, the people weak. Free men would stand. Slaves and servants would kneel. The command by the king was to kneel. What did the people of faith do? Today, the command by the “king” is to stand. What are the people of faith to do?

In true fashion, Jesus Christ turned everything upside down. Kneeling became the stance of the followers of the Carpenter from Nazareth. Cardinal Ratzinger writes about The Theology of Kneeling in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel . . . “For the Followers of the Way – the early Christians – standing to demonstrate allegiance to the state and it’s ruler was anathema. Kneeling became and still is the physical stance that clearly demonstrates allegiance to Jesus Christ, the Carpenter from Nazareth.

With this in mind, imagine . . . A star of the nationalistic gladiatorial sport takes center stage. He is a Follower of the Carpenter from Nazareth and he uses his notoriety and position – his Stage – to make a statement. He chooses to take a different physical stance than everyone else during the nationalistic celebration that begins the contest. He kneels instead of standing and saluting the national symbol and the ruler. He conscientiously chooses his physical stance to bring awareness and make a statement regarding the injustices and oppression being experienced by the underclass of the empire.

If this were a story from the days of the Roman Empire, Christians today would be celebrating this hero of the faith through word and song. However, this is the story of Colin Kapernick and it is taking place today in our American Empire.

Is he cheered, affirmed, and held up as an example of courage and truth? Quite the opposite. He is being denigrated and shamed by the people who claim the name of Christ.

So let’s return to those Bible stories of old . . . Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were my heroes as a kid and they are still my heroes. Their story along with Daniel in the Lions Den, were without question my favorite Bible stories growing up as a kid. I didn’t understand or even know as a kid that what I was admiring was their courage and conviction. I just knew that they were told to do something that everyone else was doing and they did the opposite. And doing the opposite was the right thing to do and I liked that! Everyone else was kneeling and they stood. And they stood even though they knew they would face terrible consequences.

And then there was that whole fiery furnace thing, heated seven times hotter, and that question that stopped the show! “Didn’t we throw three men, bound hand and foot, into the fire?” And the response of an amazed king . . . “But look! I see four men, walking around freely in the fire, completely unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!” How did that happen!?!?

And then there is Mordecai and Esther. One wouldn’t bow and the other broke all rules and decorum, at the risk of death, to be the voice of justice to the King for her oppressed people. These all were people in positions of power and influence who used their positions – their Stage – to challenge the highest authority, bringing attention to the injustices being imposed on their people, and bringing about significant positive changes.

They took actions against their nation state and against the supreme authority by simply committing actions that were the direct opposite of the actions they were instructed and ordered to take. They took physical stances directly opposite to the stances they were instructed and ordered to take. They risked everything making sure they stood out and were noticed in their efforts to demonstrate they served a higher authority and to bring attention to the oppression of their people.

I originally learned these Old Testament stories from white Evangelical Christians. They were the people who taught me these heroes of the faith were righteous and just people who deserved to be emulated – matched or surpassed – by my life and faith. And now???

TODAY, we have a follower of the Carpenter from Nazareth who is emulating our heroes of the faith by taking a very peaceful physical stance – a stance opposite of what he is told he must take by the nation state, the “king”, and the people who follow this “king”.

TODAY, we have a brother who is following in the footsteps of these heroes of our faith, choosing to take a physical stance on the national stage to raise awareness of the injustices and oppression of his people.

TODAY, we see the people group who taught me these amazing stories of faith AND so many people like me, who were taught to emulate these stories of courage and conviction, we see the majority of you turn your back, refuse to listen, refuse to hear and see the movement of The Spirit, refuse to acknowledge the historical faith Kapernick’s actions spring from, and worst of all . . . YOU spend your energies working to denigrate and destroy Kapernick and all those who dare to kneel (instead of stand).

I admit to watching and listening to you these days with a mixture of sadness and anger gripping my heart and disturbing questions roiling through my mind.

  • How do you so easily fail to acknowledge the presence of the "Shadrachs", "Meshachs", "Abednegos", "Mordacais", and "Esthers" in our midst?
  • How do you justify refusing to humble yourselves and listen to the cries of the oppressed? 
  • How do you instead choose to defend your privilege and attack the messenger?
  • When did you acquiesce to nationalism as a replacement for your sole commitment to the Kingdom of God?
  • Was it acquiescence or has it always been this way and circumstances are simply bringing your true commitment into the light?
  • Did you ever pause and consider the ramifications of these stories you taught me?
  • Has the possibility ever entered your mind that our people group - white Evangelical Christians - are aligned and and participants with the oppressors?
Belief without action is only opinion and actions are the tell tale sign of what we believe. I’ll say it again . . . You are the people who taught me these amazing Old Testament stories and challenged me to live into and perhaps surpass the obedience and conviction of these heroes. And now I watch as you choose to “bow” in honor and worship to our nation state and our “King Nebuchadnezzar”. I am ashamed of your hypocrisy and I understand why so many want nothing to do with our so-called faith. And yet you wonder why they are throwing the proverbial “baby out with the bath water”.

One more question . . . Did you ever really believe the truths of those stories you taught me?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who Should Carry the Load??? (Solving our Fiscal Crisis)

Let me begin with a very basic statement: No matter how much truth there is in the arguments and information regarding the need for unions and the "common man" to give back and give up benefits that have been part of their life contract and no matter how dire the situation may be, until BOTH the politicians and especially the bankers and investors (and by bankers I mean all those I call "white collar gamblers") who got us in this mess are held accountable and give back and give up what they have taken, our country is going to be at a standstill and it's all going to crash.

Three examples of the point I'm talking about:

 The Price of Inequality: Interview with Joseph E. Stiglitz
 The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia by Matt Taibbi
 Wall Street Isn't Winning -- It's Cheating

Conclusion: If you can get the "big boys" - translated the 1% - to own up to their responsibilities and take responsibility (in spiritual terms of reconciliation, we call this restitution) for their role in all this mess, then the large percentage of us in the 99% who are resistant to wrapping all of these financial issues up in a bag and hauling them up the mountain of fiscal responsibility by ourselves would willingly share our responsibility and hauls our part.

Seems like this clip from The Mission: Redemption might have some application to this discussion. DiNero is paying penance for his sins. Finally, those he sinned against cut the bag from his back as an act of forgiveness. Here is my application of this scene to our dialogue:

The people who are NOT responsible for the mess we're in are being asked to drag the bag of fiscal responsibility up the waterfall ONLY there is no one waiting at the top to relieve the load.  Imagine this if you can . . . What if the bankers and politicians who got us here were to literally place the bag of fiscal responsibility on their backs and carry us out of this mess? Such an act of penance and responsibility would free all of us!!!

But alas, these things only happen in movies and fairy tales so we will continue to ask those with no penance to pay to carry the load and we will remain polarized and most likely at some time in the future . . . crash our economy and country.

The Three "R's" are the bedrock of Christian Community Development - Relocation, Reconciliation, and Redistribution. I wonder what might happen if they were applied to our economic circumstances???

Hoping against all hope,


Wednesday, March 16, 2011


1992 . . . I can honestly say I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my entire life. I can't say I sat at my computer because we didn't have one. I guess you could say I was the opposite of those people who I saw lined up at the Apple store the other day, 24 hours before the iPad2 went on sale. I sat in the corner of our kitchen asking myself this question, "What do I know?" My answer was threefold:

  1. I know there is a God 
  2. I know God loves me 
  3. I know my family (wife and children) love me.

That was the sum total of the foundations in my life. Where was the fulfillment of the promise?

1987 . . . I had been asked to move to Chicago and start a new church in the Lincoln Park area. What did I know about starting a new church and what did I know about Chicago? NOTHING!!! I sat in a chair late at night with my Bible and a Diet Coke (my way of praying and seeking God) and somehow ended up in Exodus 3. There are many things I could write here but I'll keep it to one piece.
I'm reading along and I come to Exodus 3.12. And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Between 1987 and now, I/we (our family) have experienced many things. If you read this blog long enough, you will get a picture of those experiences. What I can tell you is this . . . there have been many mountains but no so many that you worship on (if you know what I mean).

2011 . . . I go to church at LaSalle this past Sunday and Laura Truax, our pastor proceeds to preach on this whole burning bush passage and suddenly, I am reading Exodus 3.12 again. I am again reminded of sitting in that chair drinking my Diet Coke back in 1987. I am really challenge by Laura's/God's words about the burning bush. I take notes in my iPhone and send Laura an email of the silent commitment I made sitting there in the pew.

It's now 3 days later. Count 'em - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday - and I go to my men's group, a networking group of guys doing ministry in the city. We meet every month. We are using the new Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals to guide us in our sharing time. Guess what the passage of scripture was? Yeah . . . you guessed it! Exodus 3.

Back in 1987, I was somehow led by the Spirit of God to believe this. I had to take a step of faith and move to Chicago. I didn't know ANYTHING! Let me say that again. I didn't have a clue! (Although I thought and talked like I did at times.) I was convicted in 1987 of this truth and today, Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 23 1/2 years later - I experienced the FIRST fulfillment of this truth.

Simply put . . . We are called to step out into the unknown, a complete step of faith in God, and the promise is this: You will experience the fulfillment of the calling when you have done it. Let me say it another way. God says, "Go climb that mountain." I say, "God, how do I know it is you telling me to climb that mountain?" God says, "Because, if you go climb it, you'll know it was me who told you when you're standing on top of the mountain."

Today, I stood on the mountain. Today, I looked back over 23 years and knew that yes, God called me and I obeyed. I looked at the past 23 years and said to myself, "It is good." It's been a long climb and that's OK. And . . . there is another mountain to climb and I hear God's call. I can tell you this, at 53 years of age, I look forward to getting to the top of this mountain, looking down and then looking up to the next mountain . . .

I like Exodus!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Governor Walker and the Church

A friend had posted his critique of Governor Walker and the recent happenings in Wisconsin (which by the way, I believe our children's grandchildren will be reading about in their history books in a hundred years). I proceeded to read not only his post but the comments left by others. One person stated . . . "I fully support Gov. Walker....I do not think it is the gov't job to take care of the poor. Those that are truly in need are the responsibility of the church... I think the bible is very clear about that, and clearly teaches principles that if one abides by could help one avoid poverty... In my opinion it is a combination of personal responsibility and church responsibility...

It was one of those mornings and I couldn't just walk away so I commented . . .

I couldn't agree more with you . . . especially about the role of the church - everyone who calls Christ Lord. We, the church, are responsible for the poor. William Temple said it quite eloquently over a hundred years ago. "The church is the only society that exists for the benefit of it's nonmembers." And therein lies the problem . . . the church does not believe this. If we did, are actions would be drastically different. So because the church does not believe they are responsible for the poor, like our "founder" taught, the state has been forced to step in and try and fill the gap vacated by the church.

What is it that keeps the church from being the church? Could it be we are too busy investing in ourselves and our temples made with hands? The caring people in the public sector therefore have no choice but to attempt filling in for the church. And that is impossible. NO ONE CAN FILL THE VOID WHEN THE CHURCH VACATES IT'S CALLING AND RESPONSIBILITY. Isn't it ironic how so many Evangelical Christians stand with Gov. Walker and yet are also the same people investing their tithes & offerings and time to perpetuate their "cathedrals" and social club services that only serve themselves. If the church has vacated it's responsibility and the state is now saying, "No more," exactly who is going to stand with the poor and those who serve the under-resourced of our world?