R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Aretha Franklin’s soulful plea more than 50 years ago came to mind recently. I am now an old codger who remembers when showing respect was a matter of common courtesy: words like “please” and “thank you”, “sir” and “ma’am” were expected parts of social interactions. Men removed their hats in the presence of a lady, when at a meal table, or when the national anthem was played. My brothers and I were taught to open doors for ladies, and how to escort them on the streets or on the stairs. And behavior towards one’s elders must always be respectful — Mr. and Mrs. were required; first names only if expressly requested.

We were also taught to be respectful of positions like pastor, policeman, teacher, clerk, etc. Among the soldiers of the Old Orchard Beach Corps was the retired Territorial Commander who commissioned me as an officer, Commissioner Bramwell Tripp. During the four years I was his Corps Officer, he never addressed me by first name even when visiting him in his home; I was always “Captain” – even though he and his wife insisted that my wife and I call them by their first names as we did other soldiers of the Corps. He respected the office of the Corps Officer and symbolized that with his term of address.

I fear that our current national trauma includes an absence of respect. As we critique the institutions of our society and hold them accountable for their faults, we seem too eager to dismiss the positives and deny respect for the institution as a whole because of the shortcomings. There are those who seem to have no respect for our country, her history, or her enduring institutions. And our political leaders speak and act in ways that would have brought a sharp rebuke from my parents.

I believe respect to be a Biblical value. Jesus was respectful, even of those whose behavior and principles he condemned. We believe that the image of God (the imago dei) exists in every person, calling for us to treat even the most sin-marred personality with respect and dignity as one for whom Christ died.

Many were the times that I had this value tested as a Corps Officer by those who accused me falsely, or betrayed my trust, or acted disdainfully toward those who were providing assistance to them. But I tried my best never to let the behavior of another dictate my own.

I applaud today’s front-line servants who manage to show respect to those they serve amid an increasingly disrespectful society. Thank you for your show of respect!

S & H Green Stamps

S & H Green Stamps were a thing when I was growing up. Mom and Dad collected them at the grocery store and the gas station, pasted them into books, then took the books to a “redemption center” to “redeem” them for merchandise like pots & pans, dishes, small appliances, etc. I have been thinking about redemption a lot in recent days.

Amid the storm und drang of debates about renaming military bases, schools, athletic teams, et al, I have wondered about the role of redemption in our assessment of historical figures. It has also been brought to mind by the so-called ‘cancel culture’ where a person’s life is evaluated on the basis of a single irresponsible comment, often made decades ago, that is considered to overwhelm all the subsequent good he/she may have done.

Consider one John Newton. He was the captain of slave ships and invested in the slave trade after leaving seafaring. But he had a conversion experience and eventually became an Anglican priest, as well as a hymn writer. His hymn “Amazing Grace” is arguably the most frequently sung English language hymn. Newton also worked with William Wilberforce to get Parliament to outlaw the slave trade.

The arguments being made by some would have us give greater credence to the horrific truth of Newton’s slave trading than to his subsequent redemption and his advocacy to eliminate slavery. I have wondered if some would argue for removing “Amazing Grace” from hymnals because of his sordid past. [I admit this may be reductio ad absurdum.] But I also wonder if there are similar stories of redemption that we are missing in our haste to condemn those who have done evil.

The Salvation Army operates “redemption centers” around the world, places where men and women experience the power of God to redeem them and make new creations of them. We revel in the witness of those who say with John Newton, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”

Praise God for those who keep these “redemption centers” in operation!

Change for the sake of change?

How is our current turmoil different from what the country dealt with in 1968? That year there were high-profile deaths, rioting in the streets, political upheaval, etc. Chicago police were under scrutiny for abuse of protesters at the Democratic National Convention. There were a lot of events taking place similar to what is happening in 2020.

I may be missing something, but it seems to me that here’s the big difference: in 1968, protesters wanted to see changes take place in systems of government – elect new leadership, pass new laws, get us out of Viet Nam, fulfill the promise articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, etc. But today I am hearing protesters say that changes in the system are not sufficient; systems need to be dismantled and replaced – they are inherently oppressive.

My innate skepticism leads me to worry that systemic replacement will not guarantee improvement, but rather create opportunity for havoc to reign. Substantive systemic change is arduous, requires broad support, and if it is to be effective must have common agreement to the goals of the change. In other words, change for change’s sake is dangerous.

Ask anyone who has presided over small scale system changes such as new accounting systems, new information technology, etc. Careful planning, system-wide participation in the process, and strong leadership commitment are necessary to reduce the disruption of system change and overcome resistance.

My worries about outcomes for our society lead me to pray fervently for wisdom among those who are making decisions for our country, state, and city. These are perilous times and I appeal daily to God for His providence.

I also continue to pray for those in the leadership of Salvation Army Corps. Unanticipated change has already taken place and will require exceptional wisdom in adapting to new realities created by COVID-19. Worship, service delivery, fundraising, and programming have all been affected. This is not change for its own sake; it is change that has been thrust upon us.

May God grant wisdom, patience, and persistence to all who must adapt to this incredible change.

Milestones

This week marks a milestone for Arvilla and me — five years since retiring from active service as Salvation Army officers. We had one five-year appointment (New Kensington PA) so that means we are entering uncharted waters by staying in the same house for more than five years. We love it here and have no plans to move!

Milestones are often occasions to reminisce. We had the privilege on Sunday to represent DHQ by installing the incoming officers, Lts. Joshua and Amber Smith, of the Georgetown Corps; on the way home, Arvilla asked me if I miss “ministry.” The question prompted pleasant memories.

This month featured lots of reminiscences as Friends posted pictures from their wedding or commissioning decades ago. It was good to remember what we looked like as young people. It is also sobering to realize that folk we remember as “young people” are now grandparents posting pictures of their grandkids.

I’d like to share three “flashbacks” involving my own youth that encourage me to think about contemporary ministry and its effect on the future.

I was too young to join the Senior Band. On Sunday mornings, I was upstairs in the Youth Hall with the kids while the Holiness Meeting went on in the Chapel. One Sunday the Bandmaster sent a message upstairs to send down the cornet player he heard; they needed help in the band. And thus began a musical adventure that included Music Camps, travel, and leadership that has enriched my life in ways beyond measure. That Bandmaster — and other Local Officers of the Corps — encouraged youth in so many ways that grounded us in our faith and kept us connected to The Army we love.

Sometime later I was pressed into duty as a teenager to serve as the Y.P. Bandmaster in the Corps. Imagine my joy when I joined the New York Staff Band and one of my former Y.P. Bandsmen was sitting ahead of me in the cornet section! And at least four members of that Y.P. Band became Salvation Army officers.

When I was a Cadet on Summer Assignment, my Corps Officer (Major Frank Payton) pointed to a young teenager and said, “He’s going to be an officer some day.”  And he was right!  I learned that 14 year-olds, like Samuel of old, can give evidence of God’s calling — sometimes even before they are aware of it themselves.

I share these anecdotes for two reasons.  First, there is good reason to emphasize youth programming. It is not just about meeting the needs of youth in your community — it is about providing an opportunity for the next generation of Salvationists to develop leadership skills (Corps Cadets, anyone?) and be exposed to God’s calling to serve as a local officer or an officer.

Second, the development of leaders for the Corps and Candidates for officership is not a passive endeavor.  If we ask for volunteers to step forward, we may wait a terribly long time.  But if we prayerfully choose those among our number, like the apostles in Acts 6, who are “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” and come alongside to train and develop them, we have enlarged our ministry.

I have heard a principle espoused that needs to be challenged:  ‘don’t start a program until you have a leader in place for it.’    This is wrong!  Some endeavors like Junior Soldiers and Corps Cadets are too important to be put off until a leader is recruited to run the program.  In my sixteen years of Corps Officership, I found that recruiting leaders for an existing program was far easier than asking someone to start something new.  And part of the recruiting pitch was the need to free me or my wife from doing that which others were fully capable of doing!

I believe the model which we employed still works: 1) Watch me as I do it; 2) I’ll watch you as you do it; 3)now you do it on your own.

Thanks to all of you on the front lines of ministry who prioritize ministry to youth. Who knows but what that young person you are nurturing may become the General some day!