“Why Do You Keep Saying That?” An Answer to a Question Everyone Should Ask

In my Lutheran tradition, when it is time for Holy Communion, the communicants are invited to come to the altar rail and kneel or stand to receive the bread and wine.  I guess the meaning of participating in that meal is as diverse as the people who come and gather at the table.

My eighteen year old son, Matt, has Down syndrome.  He has been taking communion for at least a dozen years.  From the very first time he took communion he just seemed to know what he was supposed to do, and for several years now he has no trouble stepping up to the altar (sometimes before the ushers have given him the “now-you-may-go” sign), kneeling, and extending his hand to receive the bread.  However, it is rare that Matt does not offer some commentary as he receives communion.

Before I was ordained, and was serving as a Vicar, I was assisting at the communion table, distributing the wine from the chalice, following the presiding minister, who was distributing the bread.  When the presiding minister got to the person just before Matt, he ran out of bread, and so he turned to move toward the altar to retrieve more bread.  There Matt knelt, hand extended, expecting the Bread of Life to be placed there lovingly with the words: “The Body of Christ…given for you.”  As he watched the pastor walk past him without even acknowledging that he was kneeling there, Matt exclaimed loud enough to be sure the pastor heard him: “Hey!  I think you forgot something!”

Since I have been presiding at communion I have always wondered what Matt was going to say.  Sometimes it is simply “thanks,”  Sometimes it is: “Thanks Dad….see you at lunch.”  Sometimes he mumbles a little bit and is honestly hard enough to understand that I just smile at him and move on to the next person.

On a recent Sunday, as soon as I handed him the bread and said: “The Body of Christ given for you,” he replied so clearly that I heard him – and I am sure everyone else did too: “Why do you keep saying that?”  I smiled at him and moved on to the next person.  But as I did that, I couldn’t help but realize he had been paying attention.  He always does.  He realized I was saying the same thing to everybody.  Or maybe he has always noticed that – and today he was going to ask me “why?”  The assisting minister was following about three people behind me, and when the small cup of  wine was given to Matt, with the words: “the blood of Christ shed for you,” I heard him ask again: “Why do you keep saying that?”

All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure if he was asking me that because he wanted to know, or if he was asking me that to test me?  I could almost sense him asking us: “Do you know why you are saying that over and over: ‘The body of Christ given for you? The blood of Christ shed for you?’”

I decided to learn from him in that moment, and that is why, before I pronounced the table blessing, after everyone in the congregation finished taking Communion, I told everyone present  that I had heard him ask that question of me and the communion assistant, and here was my answer…and I thought that it was a question everyone should ask, and so everyone should hear the answer: “Matt, I say that to everybody because none of us can hear the story enough times about how much and how deeply God loves us: “The body of Christ given for you…the blood of Christ shed for you.”

It is not just that Jesus’ body was given, or his blood shed. These things were done for you.

Thank you Matt for reminding me the importance and impact of what we say and what we hear when we receive this holy gift from God.

Check That Off the Bucket List! (First of two installments)

This blog was written on June 23, 2013.  I felt like there was something “unfinished” about it, and so I never posted it.  Little did I know that the “unfinished” part had little to do with the writing, and ALL to do with the fact that (unknown to me in the summer of 2013) the story was not yet over.

I would like to think I am not star-struck.  Here are some “famous” people I have met.

When I was maybe eight or nine my dad was instrumental in organizing a telethon for Cerebral Palsy that was produced in Nashville, and I went with him to the airport to pick up Jayne Mansfield and Ed Ames (Mingo on “Daniel Boone” at the time).  To show how young I was, I was a whole lot more excited about being in the car with “Mingo” than I was being in the car with a glamorous movie star!  When I was in fifth grade I played guitar and sang “Green, Green,” on my elementary school stage at a talent show, and Nashville session picker, Harold Bradley, played backup for me.

Steve Shaw and Burt Reynolds in W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings

Burt Reynolds (R) and Nashvillian Steve Shaw (L) on the set of “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings” in the early 1970’s

While in high school I watched a scene from a Burt Reynolds movie being filmed in Nashville (my cousin was a stunt double and stand in for Reynolds), and I met Burt.

During my few years in the music and publishing business I worked with Bill and Gloria Gaither, B. J. Thomas (Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head), Jeannie C. Riley (Harper Valley PTA), legendary football quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach, and I was invited to the White House for an “All Day Singing and Dinner on the Grounds” with President Jimmy Carter and met him and Rosalyn.

I palled around with comedian Jerry Lewis for about three days while he was acting in a commercial that was being filmed at a sound stage I worked at in Dallas, Texas.  I worked on an Amy Grant music video.  I was on the production crew and the scene (Angels Watching Over Me) involved her almost being run over by a car.  The “prop” car was a 1957 Chevy Bel Air and it was a straight shift. I was the only one on the set that knew how to drive a straight shift so I was tagged with the task of trying to run over Amy Grant (look for the video on Youtube).

When my wife, Leann, was singing backup for Opry Star, “Whisperin’ Bill Anderson,” I sat by Reba McIntyre (before she was particularly famous) on the stage watching the Opry, and had a nice conversation with an “up and comer.”  I was in a couple of charitable organization committee meetings with Minnie Pearl.  I sat by Michael Johnson (Bluer than Blue) at the Nashville Symphony one night.

Of all of those people – some of them famous in their particular context, but some of them internationally famous – I think the only autograph I have is Roger Staubach’s.  His autograph is inside a book that he wrote which was published back in the early 1980’s.  I was given thirty minutes in his office to meet with him and interview him for a radio show.  The producer and I talked about what “amateurs” we would come off as if we asked for an autograph when we got through with the interview.  I told the producer I didn’t give a flip.  Staubach was my boyhood hero of my favorite pro football team and I wasn’t ever going to see him again anyway!Matt and Gene Stallings

There are two other famous people I have met, and those were both because of Matt.  Legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach, Gene Stallings, and Brad Paisley.  Leann and I took Matt to a local speaking engagement of Coach Stallings, and our copy of the book he had written about his son, Johnny, also with Down syndrome.  Matt was probably three years old.  We hoped to get Coach Stallings to sign the book and sure enough, after the presentation they had a book signing.  We stood in line and when we got in front of Coach Stallings he looked up, took one look at Matt, put his Sharpie down and reached for our sweet son.  Coach Stallings acted like the other fifty people behind us weren’t even there, and took very special time talking to Leann and I and encouraging us.  I’ve never been much of an Alabama Crimson Tide fan.  But that encounter changed all that!

A couple yearMatt and Brad Paisleys ago we were able to get tickets to a Brad Paisley concert – Matt had talked non-stop about him for a year or two before that.  Matt knew practically every word to every song that Brad sang.  A friend arranged to get us backstage after the show and we got to spend about ten minutes with a super star.  Brad’s person had put us at the end of the line on purpose.  We had to wait a while to see him, but once we got there no one else was behind us waiting to see him so we had a wonderful, comfortable, casual visit.

It is to that Brad Paisley experience with Matt that I can credit getting a “picture with…” of my own (Hey! If he’s brave enough to do it can’t I?), and, at the same time, marking something off my bucket list – getting to meet an amazing writer, picker, and performer.

There are really just a few “famous” people that, if given the opportunity, I would be thrilled to have an hour or two in their presence. One of those people is Nashville singer/songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman.  I have been listening to her music for about twenty years.  You may have never heard her sing, and you may have never heard of her.  But I bet you have heard one or more of the songs she has written: Martina McBride’s “Happy Girl,” and if you haven’t heard Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” you have been under a rock somewhere! What has always moved me about Beth’s writing is that she is not afraid to write truthfully out of challenging circumstances in her own life.  She writes about faith, hope, and love, by speaking the truth to doubt, disappointment and loss.  Out of her powerful lyrics and beautiful melodies come a more relevant story for many of us whose lives have been full of surprises – some of them disappointing and difficult.  It seems that across the past twenty years every time I was struggling with something going on around me I have discovered some CD of Beth’s that I had not heard before and as soon as I listened to it there was a song whose words and melody spoke deeply and truthfully to me.  (If you don’t believe me try the CD’s “Sand and Water” and “Back to Love” and if you are not deeply moved by at least one song on each CD….well, you just have a heart of stone!).

Beth Nielsen Chapman is one of those artists who is in Nashville on a pretty regular basis singing for a “writer’s night,” or some concert raising funds for something.  So it is not like she’s not accessible, but it seems that every time I have been aware of her singing live somewhere I find out about it too late to get tickets, or they are too expensive, or I’m booked doing something of my own.  For years I have wanted the opportunity to meet her and be able to tell her what her music has meant to me.

This past May (2013) I attended a continuing education event for preachers: “The Festival of Homiletics.”  In addition to preachers, theologians and other experts in the field of preaching lecturing and delivering sermons, there was a concert to open the event.  Beth Nielsen Chapman and Ashley Cleveland (another Nashville singer/songwriter) were the artists who would perform.  After the concert, a worship service, and a lecture, Beth and Ashley were hanging out selling their CD’s.

If you remember my long list of famous people and my short list of autographs, you might figure I just don’t care about autographs.  While I don’t particularly place a huge significance on them, the main reason I don’t have more is just that notion to not want to “bother” people that I know get asked all the time – get interrupted in the middle of dinner – and who get put on the spot in public because they are famous.  With Beth Nielsen Chapman it wasn’t so much the autograph, as it was the opportunity to have even a brief conversation with her.  I bought four CD’s that I already had and asked her to autograph them…only so I could have an extra ten seconds to tell her, “Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!.”  And I did.

Over the next few days (of the Festival of Homiletics), Beth and Ashley would sing a song or two for the small-group-breakout sessions and be present to sell their CD’s and so I happened upon Beth’s CD table at a time when most people were in sessions and so it was slow and I didn’t feel too “imposing” to ask if she would mind taking a “selfie” with me (mostly so I could prove to my wife and daughter’s that I actually met my hero!). She was kind enough to let me get our photo together.  I was not at all surprised.  But I think I must admit, after all, I really am just a bit star-struck!

Beth Nielsen Chapman To be continued….

 

What She Said…

If you go back and look at my (Facebook) timeline it is only occasionally that I have much to say. I hope that is because every week I spend lots of hours listening, reflecting and unpacking what I think God wants me to say in a few minutes on Sunday morning to those good people who have made the effort to come listen. My Lindsay, who will celebrate her 22nd Birthday next week, has discovered something every pastor wishes every person that ever asked: “Where is God” would discover….and believe….and hold on to when it just seems like there is nothing else to hold on to. So thank you Lindsay for giving me something to share that you said worth saying today and everyday on Facebook and everywhere else in the world. I love you!
Here is what Lindsay wrote on her Facebook post:

Well THIS is pretty crazy. I know that we live in a society where people are always wanting something more or something better. I struggle with this too, and it’s also been really tough since I don’t have a job right now, and well, I kinda thought that almost 4 months after graduating that I’d already be making my own money in the “real world”. So I was doing my bible study and had turned to Hebrews 12 for that. I stopped doing my bible study and felt that I needed to pray to be content with where I am in my life right now and with what God has given me, and to stop always wanting something else. I glance down and my bible study book was covering my whole bible except for Hebrews 13:5 which is “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ Real funny God, thanks for always showing me that you know a little bit more than I do about life!! 🙂