Horatio Benice

January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try to post something new at least once a week for the first couple of months of 2011 (doing the whole year seemed like a little much).  The problem is that lately it’s been hard knowing what to write.  My default subject seems to be more abstract concepts or church-wide questions.

To be honest I get tired of those topics, and I’m sure you do, too.

So I thought this week I’d start a story.  I might still be able to say what’s in me in a more creative way, and it just might help me link my thoughts together from week to week.

So think of this as chapter 1 in “The Life and Times of Horatio Benice”.

The Life and Times of Horatio Benice

Horatio Allen Benice was a very old man when he finally died.  His back was bent at the top, like one of those bendy-straws with the adjustable mouthpiece.  He shuffled his feet when he walked and he carried a cane with a heavy brass handle.  That cane was such a part of him that they put it in the casket at the funeral (which was the most well-attended funeral in recent memory).

The people of Wellman, Iowa loved Horatio and treated him like royalty even though he died a very poor man.  He had done much for the community, so the community loved him back.  Little did they know the secret he carried upon those hunched shoulders, the secret that would carry him to his grave.

He lived in a big, weathered old house with blue clapboard siding.  There were 5 bedrooms upstairs alone, not to mention the nooks and crannies for hide and seek and the full, finished attic.  He bought it early in his marriage, back when his hopes for a large family were young like Spring.  But spring has a way of passing to Summer, Summer to Fall and how hard his Winter came.

The people of Wellman called it the Benice house, and knew it to be a place of warmth and safety when the old man lived there.  He was a baker by trade, and ran his bakery from a garage beside the house.

He was generous with his day-olds, passing them out to the kids after school (the bus stopped just up the street in that neighborhood).  He and Margaret were never able to have their own children, so after she died unexpectedly in their tenth year of marriage, he adopted the neighborhood.  Parents knew their kids were safe if they were playing at the Benice house with Horatio and their friends.

So he opened his yard and his home to the neighborhood children, an act of kindness that served him well in his twilight years.  By the end of his days he used just one small bedroom in that big old house.  He abandoned the upstairs, he abandoned his bakery, and he abandoned his yard.

Now if you have ever been a little boy, or if you’ve ever known any little boys, then you can imagine the temptation that such a situation presents.

However, Horatio’s kindness did not go unrewarded.  The same kids who ate his bread and played on his swing (now older and filled with good memories) protected and maintained his property when he lost the ability to do so.

Rather than taking spray paint and rocks to the Benice house, Brian McDinn mowed his grass and clipped his bushes.  Jamie Towertall delivered meals and did some cleaning.  Megan Howers walked through weekly to make (or hire out) small repairs to keep the Benice house in good order and free of rats.

This, then, is a story about that beloved house.  Once filled with kindness, generosity, and patient love, how it came to be the most feared, sinister, and hated pit of darkness that the children of Wellman have ever avoided.

Tune in next week if you want to find out what happens!

What’s in a Name?

January 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

What is Life but a vast performance as on a stage?  Who are we but scriptwriters, choreographing our moves in a dance of beauty each to their own?  The rhythm of us stings our ears as we strive this dance… giving, taking, now delivering grace.

Or was it spite?

There is a sacred space between us… actor and acted upon… crowd and performer… me and you.

That space is the Spirit of God, not in entirety but at least in part.  We might not like it much, in fact we often don’t.  It is easier and more comfortable to label and judge than it is to dwell there for long.  It is easier to label and cast aside than it is to dwell in that unstable place where much is risked and little is guaranteed.

But dwell there we must; or surely we will die.  And I’m not just being poetic.

Life is a stage and we all are actors.  Every refusal to engage this sacred space is a refusal of the dramatic rendering of life as God intended; which is a certain kind of death (and we choose death far more often than we might admit).

Phoenix 2013

January 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

I just read the news that MCUSA (the denomination of which I am a part) has decided to go ahead with plans to hold it’s biennial convention in Phoenix Arizona in the year 2013. This has been a difficult decision for the denomination to make because of the immigration bill that AZ passed this year.

Much of the controversy around the decision has to do with whether or not the convention will be a hospitable, welcoming place for all people or if some will stay away due to fears around the immigration question and the hospitality of the state of Arizona to people who are here “illegally”.

It’s a timely question, given a growing segment of our church body who have darker skin and might speak with accents. We claim that our church is a safe haven for all people and we’ve adopted at least one resolution to actively work at being anti-racist in our practice of the faith.

So the conversation about whether or not to boycott Phoenix is complex to say the least.

After all, there’s no guarantee that an alternate site wouldn’t pass similar legislation by 2013 and we’d be back in the same boat. At the same time, how do we hear and respond to minority voices in our midst?

What concerns me about the decision isn’t the decision; I trust our leaders and I’m willing to make the best of an imperfect situation regardless of the circumstance.

What concerns me is the rhetoric I’ve seen in response to the decision.

I’m pretty sure that every comment I’ve seen so far in response to the decision to go to Phoenix has been negative. People are disappointed. They’re angry. They’re sad.

This seems to be just one more item on quite the long laundry-list of grievances they have against the Mennonite Church.

And I have no doubts that had the executive board made the decision to pull out of Phoenix and look for another city, we’d only be hearing negative comments from the other side.

People would be disappointed, angry, and sad…only for different reasons. I can almost hear them now, criticizing the board for not showing any staying power, or missing out on the opportunity to prophetically witness to the people of Arizona.

Instead of criticizing our leadership for saving money, people would be criticizing them for losing the money they would have lost.

It does seem like the voices of our hispanic brothers and sisters have not been heard and that concerns me; but I also know from limited experience in leading a group of people that a lot more goes into any decision than we give our leaders credit for.

My point?

My point is that we live in a fallen, polarized world that seeks to divide and conquer.

And frankly I’m sick of the demonization and polarization that marks our time on this planet.

I’m part of the church I love; the church that has chosen to go to Phoenix.

So instead of complaining about how I think the decision should have been made, I’ll go to Phoenix (at least if I still have a job by then and they let me!).

Hopefully I’ll take my creativity with me.

Maybe I’ll pick up an illegal hitchhiker or leave my ID at home and try to get a free ride back to Germany since I won’t have my papers.

Maybe I’ll try to meet with some locals who are affected by this legislation and hear their stories.

Maybe I’ll seize the chance to educate myself on the ground; just like I would have taken the chance to speak out by boycotting if that’s what would have been decided.

The truth is, I probably won’t do any of those things because I’m kind of a pansy. I talk a good game but I need to be forced out of my comfort zone if that’s what needs to happen. So that’s how I’ll start to think about Phoenix; as a lesson waiting to happen at the hands of a church I love and trust.

I don’t know exactly what that lesson will entail; but I’m not going to waste my time demonizing the executive board or contributing to the divisive, polarizing climate I’ve grown sick of.

The truth of the matter is our world is fallen and there are no ideal situations anymore.

Crap Happens that we have no control over. We can deal with the new (albeit imperfect) reality and work for the redemption of our times, or we can reject all people and institutions that make imperfect decisions and sequester ourselves in a perfect city on a perfect hill, safe and secure from everyone we disagree with.

I am neither in favor of nor opposed to the Executive Board’s decision to go to Phoenix.

Instead, I accept it while respecting them as people and loving the church I’m in.

The question is, can my voice be heard?


Resolved? I don’t think so.

January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

I don’t do resolutions. I’ve been down that road enough in the past that I know I’m happy and content enough with my life as it is, that it would take nothing short of either a small miracle or a large tragedy to change much about my routine.
So I don’t do resolutions anymore.
But I did recently read a challenge for “bloggers” to write a new post once a day for the next year.
Now, I don’t really consider myself a “blogger”, and the thought of writing something new and fresh every day does seem a little overwhelming (I’m pretty sure I’d bore myself to tears if I tried that).
But on the other hand, I’m generally in favor of just about anything that gets me to do something I enjoy on a more regular basis.
So how about I try to post something new once a week for awhile? All year sounds like a long time; but how about between now and…Spring?
It’s a very real possibility that I’ll run out of things to write about.

So what should be the subject of this, my first semi-regular post?

How about pain and suffering!?  Those always seem like timely topics.

And since they seem to be on my mind a lot these days, I thought I’d provide a handy link to a really helpful article here.

Just do everyone a favor and read all the way to the end before you write the whole thing off like some people have been known to do.  What I really appreciate about Greg Boyd is the way he doesn’t stand for pat answers to complex problems that have to do with “why” such and so happens to a struggling humanity.  The “Why” doesn’t exist.  At least not like we think it does.

A mother of three young boys gets cancer and survives to see them all marry.  Her younger sister, a mother of 2 younger boys gets cancer and dies.  So we join the victims of Herod’s massacre, turning our eyes to heaven and crying out with a gut-wrenching cry “why?”

We are unprepared to deal with the reality of a world of pain and suffering, and we are used to having quick answers and easy cause-and-effect diagnoses.  So these events that can’t be summarized, answered for, or explained march us steadily on towards a crisis of faith; a precipice from which we shove ourselves or other people when we refuse to hear their questions.  I mean really hear their questions.  Or we shove ourselves when we refuse to ask those questions of the God we have come to believe in.  But “why” is a loaded question; for God (the True God of Mystery and Love) has given us free choice and has not denied us the option of choosing evil.  And there is plenty enough evil to choose in our world.  It’s only repentance and patient, longsuffering love that will see us through.

Where Am I?

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