Monday, February 07, 2011

Untouchable. Unlovable.

Several months ago I started carrying a small journal book in my hip pocket. I use it to record my thoughts during my Bible reading time. I often use it to jot people's phone numbers or the occasional mind jogger to get something done.

It is very useful. It keeps me focused each day and often encourages me during lunch when I am "out and about."

Today I looked through a previous book and noticed the admonition that there are people that are hard to be around. Some people are hard to bear. But just as Christ did, we are not told to just put with them, but to love them.

What does it take to love a person, well, like me?

Ask Viki. It isn't easy. Sometimes I react instead of act. I get focused and intense to the exclusion of everything else. Loving me can be an exercise in spiritual development and personal formation.

Wow! I am gift from the Father to you. If you open my wrapping carefully, you can save the bow.

Loving a "Hard-to-love" person requires a commitment. The commitment, however, is not to the person, but to the Father. As He loves them, we love them. As He works in their life, we join in with Him. As He reveals Himself to them, we rejoice and glorify Him for the work He is doing.

And we learn to love the unlovable. We stop seeing the drool down the side of the face, we don't hear the unusual noises at awkward times and our noses seem to develop an ability to ignore the aromas that used to make us gag. For they are His children.

Because we love the unlovable, we refuse to be offended when they make grandiose statements based on dubious facts. A lack of social skills or the clumsy efforts to impress become nothing more than a target for our prayer life. An arrogant statement of judgementalism against those who are perceived as having judged becomes a time to share in disappointment and discouragement.

There are several societies that designate people as "Untouchable." Some are diseased and others are labeled simply because of birth. While the world may consider them as "untouchable," we, God's Children, are never allowed to consider anyone "Unlovable."

After all, it isn't their lovableness that is at question.

It is our ability to love.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I Like Trains

If you are looking for secrets hidden away in a man’s private life, you won’t find one this time. It is no secret. I like trains.

I like all sizes. Long ones. Short ones. Double stacks. Coal trains. Mixed freights. Through freights and local switch jobs. I even like the bland, “pablumesque” Amtrak passenger trains. It doesn’t make any difference. I like trains.

My childhood Texas home was adjacent to an Espe (Southern Pacific) branch line that ran from Wharton to Bay City and on to Palacios. Dad rode this line to Palacios and Camp Hulen during the run-up to World War II. I am sure, as the troop train lumbered through the coastal rice and cotton fields, skirting at that time what was the edge of Bay City, he never envisioned he was passing the future home site where he and our mother would raise their family of five children.

The Espe used the tracks five days a week. Each morning the local drifted into town to deliver grain cars for the rice mills, flat cars for the cotton gin and implements dealers as well as carloads of foodstuffs for the wholesale grocers. Every evening, after serving its time, the train would trundle back to Wharton with whatever offerings Matagorda County presented to the economy of the world.

Nothing majestic ever happened on our branch-line. Until one day.

Early one morning I had not yet stirred from my bed. The loudest train horn I ever heard shook my room. I remember it hurt my ears it was so loud.

I ran to the window of my bedroom and looked out. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a sleek, shiny passenger engine pulling a string of colorful railcars! It was a circus train! The circus came to Bay City and it took a train to do it.

The railroad crews were our friends. We would hear the train coming, blowing the traditional two longs, a short and a long. The neighborhood children would run to the tracks and wave.

I never knew their names. I don’t know if there was a Jim, William, Grover or Hiram. I never knew if one was Butch, Jake or High Pockets. I did know they were my friends and we never neglected to wave at the men in the caboose.

Ah, the caboose. That shanty, rolling office and emblem of a working man was a sign that all good things must come to an end.

There were two reasons we looked forward to the caboose. We enjoyed getting the conductor to “toot the whistle” on the caboose. The caboose had a small whistle attached to the airline that serviced the train brakes. When an engine pushed the train in reverse, the crew sounded, however anemically, the whistle to warn road crossings or pedestrians of impending doom.

We would shout, “Toot your whistle.” The crew would do just that and we would laugh and clap. It didn’t take much to entertain this pre-Nintendo child.

There was often a special reward. Sometimes the caboose crew would throw candy to us. This was before we x-rayed our children’s Halloween loot and warned them about taking something from a stranger. In a simpler time, it was what it was. A couple of men entertained themselves giving neighborhood children a thrill.

I don’t know when I last ran to that track by our home to watch the train rumble into town. I am sure my “Puff the Magic Dragon” rolled down the track one day wondering about the little boy who faithfully met him all those years.

My siblings outgrew our neighborhood train. I never did. Whatever drew me draws me still.

My daughters could read railroad semaphore lights before they knew how to sew and cook. I once compelled my wife to interrupt our antique foraging so we could chase a Santa Fe Warbonnet cowl unit on the Gateway Western in Illinois. I have photos of trains long forgotten taken in obscure places such as Santa Fe Junction in the Kansas City bottoms, Thompson Hill on the old Wabash and WB Junction near Carrolton.

But oh, the fun I’ve had. I’ve sat in the engineer’s seat of a dinner train in Stillwater, MN and, with Viki sitting in the conductor’s, brought it slowly down the last six miles of track. I rode in the trailing locomotive on an “Operation Life Saver” train outside of Quincy, IL, when everything went into emergency and saw first hand how long it takes to stop something that big and powerful. I rode a motor unit for the Iowa Traction company, a railroad running electric freight trains between Clear Lake and Mason City, IA.

I’ve visited in the control tower with the bridge operator in Hastings, MN, while he raised his tracks to let various boats with their cargos move unimpeded. I once watched the steempowered sternwheeler "Delta Queen" churn up the Missippi River as it passed under the upraised old Wabash liftbridge in Mark Twain's Hannibal, MO. The caliope musician started playing "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" as it went under.

I seldom have time to chase trains now. I suppose I’m looking instead for the more unusual photo op.

Recently, however, while driving from Faribault to Northfield, my wife called on my cell to inquire when I would be finished with my work and on my way home. She had her answer before I could speak. Just as I was ready to give her a time-line, and not wanting to bother her with the details for my current tardiness, the horns on a Minneapolis-bound UP freight I was pacing blew a crossing.

I am sure she smiled, shook her head and wondered if her husband would ever grow up.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

New Video from Minnesota Cowboy Ministries

Minnesota Cowboy Ministries has produced our first new video. The photos and video portions were taken on a trip back to my hometown of Bay City, Texas in December, 2008.

One day mom and I decided to do a bit of sightseeing. Neither of us had been to the beach in several years so we decided that would be a great place to start. After crossing the Intercoastal Canal, we followed the Colorado River as it made its way to Matagorda Beach and the Gulf of Mexico. When we were within a couple of miles of the mouth, we came across a cattle drive.

Each year a local rancher moves his cattle to winter grazing on Matagorda Island. It takes up to a week to move the cattle into position before he swims the herd across the river. This is something the ranchers never advertise. If they did, the road would be lined with folks and the whole thing would end up in a mess.

What an event as Mom and I watched something I've wanted to experience since a boy. We watched the cattle swim the Colorado, barely a quarter of a mile from the Gulf of Mexico.

This event has happened each year in some form or another since the middle 1800s, and probably longer than that. For several years my dad, Alfred Schaal, accompanied the cowboys for several days to make sure the windmills that powered the watering tanks were working.

As the video starts you will see the cowboys gather the cattle and prepare to push for the river. (Of course, real Texans say "fixin' to push, but you get the picture.) At his signal, the trail boss ordered the cowboys to rally the herd and put them in a fast walk, if not a trot.

As they got to the river's edge, the cattle turned back and started to mill. The cowboys cut the herd into three pots and pushed the first into the river. The other two groups went across with little to no argument.

In one of the last photos, you can see a single cow along side a "john boat." She decided this was not fun and just short of the other side, she turned around and started back. Had the cowboys not turned her again and pulled her to the shore, she would have drowned. There's a word from the Father in that, isn't there?

The music that accompanies the video was written and recorded by a supporter of Minnesota Cowboy Ministries. The chorus captures what we stand for. I am pleased that we will be able to use this as a theme for our ministry.

We remember the Father wants each of us to be "Riding For The Brand."

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Blessings for a New Year. Blessed by a Promised Ministry

Viki and I are letting our friends in on some exciting news. For nearly ten years we waited for the Father to tell us what He had in store for us. We explored ministry to minorities, ethnic groups and fellowship groups in our church family to name a few. We explored restarting our music ministry through The Sounds of Praise.

Often we saw the Lord do great things. Opportunities to fill the pulpit in a local Chinese-speaking Baptist Church and as well as a Salvation Army Church kept the thought returning that I might again pastor a church family.

Each time, however, as I sat to mull the thought of leading a church again, I realized the things I enjoyed doing and believed I did best were the very things I spent less time doing when I pastored. What is worse, the activities I found tedious and often frustrating, and certainly areas I was less effective, were the very ones that absorbed most of my time.

I enjoy being with people. I am a people junky. I want to hear their stories. I want to know what is happening in their life. I need to know if their life is clicking, ticking and kicking right along.

The past three years found Viki and I immersed in the Minnesota horse culture. Sometimes it was western, rather like home (south Texas). Sometimes it was English Hunter/Jumper. The Minnesota equine world is often a mix of both.

One common issue we observed was that many in that world are not able to attend worship services or seek a fellowship of believers due to their “passion.” Often the passion became a business that ruled the day like an uncompromising task master.

We found many hungry for what Viki and I take for granted. We know that not only is our Father ready and willing to uphold us in times of great trial, in addition there are believers who will lift us to the Father with great patience and love.

We believe the Father has opened our eyes to a ministry need that fits who we are and what we stand for.

Minnesota Cowboy Ministries ( ) is committed to “being the body of Christ in a disembodied world.” It is a ministry of presence and relationship-building. Success is measured in seeing what the Father is doing. Great websites (which we don’t have) and outstanding logos (which we do have) will not make a difference in someone’s life.

We will see a life change because the Father will open our eyes and give us the opportunity to participate with Him.

We know there are many things we will do this year. The doing will not be celebrated. The being is the goal. Psalms 2: 11-12 tells us serve Him, rejoice in Him, bless Him and ultimately trust Him.

Lift us in prayer.

Friday, November 19, 2010

When All Is Said and Done, Occasionaly More Is Said Than Done

It has happened to all of us. Someone made a commitment. We depended on them to come through.

It was probably unavoidable. An emergency interrupted their plans. Traffic patterns, changed by construction, caused them to miss a deadline.

They didn’t break the promise. They were just unable to fulfill it. Better planning could have helped, but all things considered, they were trying to keep their end of the bargain.

Caught up in the moment, a parent promised to teach a class, bake some cookies, or accompany a group of children on a day trip. Of course, they forgot they couldn’t actually bake, aren’t skilled in teaching, and don’t really like museums.

There are times people commit to a timeline no one can fulfill. Promises for all time, made at sixteen, have a way of fading into the mists of later days.

Few people are confirmed liars. It’s not likely someone said, “Today I will mislead my employer and promise to complete this project.” While their actions betray them, it never enters their mind to say, “The goal of my afternoon is to lead my mate to think I will do what they want, when all the time I have my own agenda.”

Looking back, we knew our vision was in danger of a ragged and ugly death. We sensed our colleague was in trouble. Reminding them of the opportunity for success, we warned them they could get overwhelmed and sidetracked. Even with our efforts the co-worker failed to produce the help we desperately needed.

Whenever or however it happened, someone goofed. Because our friend promised what they could not do, a deadline now threatens our sleep, sanity, and social status. Much to our dread, the truth hovers like a fog over Matagorda Bay. Our vision is in peril of the sand bars and oyster shoals.

To each of us, our project is the most important event on the horizon. However, we’re not the only hungry people at the table when pleas for time, resources and skills converge. We should not be surprised at our free-fall on the co-worker’s list of priorities.

It may be time to step back. It may be time to reassess. It is definitely time for a dose of realism.

There are competing calls for the lives and times of friends and colleagues. We must learn to wait our turn. When it comes to depending on people, patience becomes a virtue highly valued. Remembering this now prepares us for the ugly reality that lunch will be a bit late.

Showing restraint and understanding has additional value. It makes it easier for them to “fess up”, first to themselves and then to us, when an eminent collapse is probable. This opening proves our worth. This opportunity shows we have the right to be in the kitchen.

After all, what is more important; the disappointment that only 100 attended the annual banquet or that we reached out to our publicity chairperson as their life fell apart and someone needed to say, “I understand” when the invitations didn’t go out on time?

Life is bumpy enough. We ought to look for ways that smooth the road and help others miss a few potholes that dog their path.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Such Unusual Bedfellows

Mom was aghast. “One day they will start advertising Christmas before Thanksgiving.” Dad responded, “They will have trees up by Halloween.” Someone laughed at the ludicrous prophesy Alfred Schaal uttered in our church one fall morning in 1960.

In the early 1960s, stores made the most out of Christmas. The mercantile machine roared from its Indy-style start each Friday after Thanksgiving. Macy’s Parade declared, “Gentleman, start your engines” and for five heady weeks the push was on for “Chatty Kathy” and anything “Milton Bradley.” TV discovered “Mattel” and “Mattel” understood advertising.

Each week, sandwiched between commercials advertising “Lincoln Building Blocks” and “Easy-Bake Ovens,” one sage after another decried the commercialization of Christmas. White flocked trees reminded us of a Bing Crosby Christmas we never knew in South Texas. Solid blue lights shining from artificial silver trees garishly hawked a change in the gentle, Frank Capra Christmas quickly receding from our grasp.

This year, one week before Halloween, shelves of closeout sales on hideous masks and grotesque decorations struggled to empty their spaces as Christmas lights and spangled balls magically appeared.

With only the slimmest of nods to Thanksgiving, five weeks became ten and Mr. Macy found himself an antiquated relic of commercial days long past. The “Shell Game from Arkansas” replaced the “Miracle on 34th Street.” Sam Walton leaned against his rusty truck, watching the parade balloons, and said, “Who needs to pay for helium? I have enough hot air to keep my balloons in the air as long as I want.”

Yes, the commercialization of Christmas is well refined and highly polished.

The first participants of that Christmas morning came looking for a sign. Ever since that day, signs have pointed the way. What better sign that Christmas is fully commercialized than to hear a televised defender of the faith castigate modern marketers for taking Christ out of the holiday season.

What? Did I hear him right? We want to hear more about Christ in advertising? No more do we hear calls to protect the sanctity of the Birth of Christ from the Sears Wishbook. There is no need to guard our modesty and order Victoria to keep her secrets to herself.

Now we know the quickest way to evangelize our society. Let Sam do it… and Best Buy, Target, and Cabellas. Now we say, “If you sell with an eye to rest it under our Christmas tree, keep your "Happy Holiday" wishes to yourself and plaster "Merry Christmas" across your front door.”

All through the years, I feared being bought, bullied and bamboozled into Christmas gifting and celebratory debting. Now I understand it all. The liberals were right.

Our whole capitalist society is a cleaver plot by the fundamental, premillennial, dispensational, evangelical right-of-center Christian church to take over every bit of fabric in our pluralistic society. The gaily decorated and present-laden Christmas Tree is the gateway we will use to rescue the lost and save a nation.

How wrong I have been. Not only did I not understand the vast evangelistic plan, I focused on the wrong event as the turning point of our world. All this time I thought the Christmas Tree was the blood-stained one in the center on Calvary.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Tell me a story

This last election taught me one thing. We don't need more politicians. We need more story-tellers.

Story-tellers have a long history. Since the first person sat with another at the end of a long day and recounted what happened at the watering hole or during the hunt, stories have worked their stuff.

They reconnect people. "You weren't there, but...", "I wish you could have seen..." and "It was amazing..." are just a few of the calls to community.

They give perspective. "Do you remember back when...", "S/he understood what happened when..." and "Kids just don't get the way it was when..." (Which was the very same thing that was said by the previous generations!)

They give permission for healing. "I hear what you are saying...", "I want to be your friend..." and "I know how you feel. I used to feel the same way when..."

The best story-tellers are honored teachers, leaders and visionaries.

But most of all, "Story-Tellers-R-Us." The explosion of publishing opportunities and the unlimited horizon of internet communities betray the hunger we have to tell and hear stories.

Go ahead, grandparents. Tell your stories of "back in the day." Parents, tell your stories of a childhood mixed with hopes and dreams. Children, tell your stories and begin learning the difference between virtual reality and reachable, attainable reality.

Let's pull up a log, "cop a squat" and warm our hands around the community firepit. Let's tell our stories so we can laugh, "ooh" and "aah", and shed copious tears all the while warming our hands and our hearts.

Dear friend,tell me a story.