Fry On Friday: “Las Vegas,” October 6, 2017

9Ominously, like a lion in its lair,
he lurks in secret to waylay those who are downtrodden.
When he catches them, he draws them in and drags them off with his net.
10 Quietly crouching, lying low, ready to overwhelm the next by his strength,…
12 Arise, O Eternal, my True God. Lift up Your hand.
Do not forget the downtrodden….
17 O Eternal One, You have heard the longings of the poor and lowly.
You will strengthen them; You who are of heaven will hear them.
18 Vindicate the victims and the injured
so that men who are of the earth will terrify them no more.
Psalm 10, The Voice translation, slightly modified.

Nice Psalm.  But this week I need more than words of prayer; I need to take action.  What on earth can I do about this?  The cries for gun control and retorts of Second Amendment rights have  the repetitiveness of an auto play loop.  I’ll eventually join that discussion, but not yet.  I want to do more than express my opinion about politicians’ debates.

Here are some ideas.  None of them solve the matter of violence; but they’re perhaps a step beyond total helplessness.

·      I want to attend the next big concert booked for Atlanta, whoever is performing.  (Dear God, have mercy upon me; please don’t let it be heavy metal!)   I will purchase my tee shirt, raise my illuminated cellphone, and rock my aged body, not for the musicians on stage but for the people of Las Vegas.  I will continue their love of music and keep alive the joy they embraced that evening and allow music to lay its healing touch on my wounds.  I refuse to allow fear to keep me away and isolate me as a citizen of our community and our nation.  I am going to seek out a large crowd and be part of it.

·      I also want to try to score tickets to an Atlanta United soccer (Excuse me, I mean “futball”)  game.  Not for the soccer, but for the singing.  I’ve watched on TV, marveling at 70,000 fans on their feet, singing the entire event.  The ones not waving banners have their arms wrapped around each other.  I want to be part of that:

I refuse to allow shootings to make me stop treating strangers as neighbors.  More than a possible threat, every person I meet is still a potential neighbor.  I will affirm that faith-truth, even with people I encounter beyond the Stadium.  And if they spell “futball” different from me, I can live with that.

·      I will attend the next funeral I hear about, even if the deceased is someone I only slightly know.  I will join in the hymns, stand for the scripture, and bodsw my head for the prayers.  I will weep with those who weep, and refrain from speaking any horrible clichés about this being part of God’s plan.  I will participate in the power of shared pain, for shared sorrow brings us together more than a hundred victory parades.

·      I will wrestle with God to accept that life is hard, that we are a fragile species, and that the most beautiful people can be taken in a split second.  No gun control or right to bear arms will make us safe; no security procedures will remove all danger; no theology will explain it satisfactorily.   Nevertheless, I will try to continue to trust in God, the Prince of Peace for my well-being, even as I continue to seek effective actions to take.


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

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Fry on Friday, September 28, 2017

             When we circled up at the end of a non-stop Laundry Love evening, Safir  broke away from his conversation and hurried to join us for our closing prayer.   It had been one of our busiest nights, with clients arriving at the laundromat in a steady flow for two hours.  More first-timers than normal, many of them new in town, made us wonder how word of Laundry Love gets out so quickly.  “Free” translates easily into multiple languages, it appears.

            Two pre-school boys with their grandmother, filled with desire for the contents of our snack tray, yet too shy to even make eye contact with the cookies themselves until Grandma gave them a nod of permission.  They then faced the impossible dilemma: chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin.  When told that “both” was a viable choice, it was instantly Christmas morning! 

            The middle-age mom with her son who is adult, though only physically.  Newly arrived from Louisiana, she is an insurance claims processor, here to service phone calls from Florida.   She packed for the trip in a hurry, so the two of them transport their laundry in about 25 small grocery bags, most of which tear from the weight.   

            And Safir, who hasn’t missed a Laundry Love event in months.  He’s a native of Pakistan and lives nearby.  In the laundromat he follows us around like a lonely puppy.  Nearing sixty, he tells of being a nuclear engineer until diagnosed with a brain tumor.  “It was the size of a golf ball!” he reports, his shaky hands indicating the girth of a basketball.  He now endures constant headaches and dizziness. 

            His tumor was removed but has returned and thus he travels daily to Emory Clinic for radiation.  I’ve given him a ride to tonight’s Laundry Love, because if I don’t, he’ll drive himself, which frightens us all.   The clean clothes are a side bar; he’s there for the companionship and, recently, for the closing ritual.  During the prayer, when his name is mentioned, his eyes fly open.

            Afterwards, the two of us heft his sizeable bag of clean clothes into my car.  “Does someone share this apartment with you?” I inquire as we pull into the driveway.  “I live alone,” he replies.  “Do you have family here in town?” I ask.  “Oh, no,” he shakes his head.  “What about in the U.S?”   “Dave,” he says,  “I have no family in the entire world.  Just me.” 

            I sit behind the steering wheel, trying to absorb what that must be like.  “Then we will be your family, Safir.”  “You already are,” he shrugs, as though it were the most obvious truth in the world.

            This week I have been grateful for every person in my life.  I am not alone in the world. 


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org. 

Fry On Friday: “Chipper At the Old Ball Game”

        Chipper Jones attended the Braves game this weekend, appearing on camera for a single five-second shot with his wife—his “lovely wife”, according to the broadcasters.  Like many fans, they were talking together about something that didn’t appear to be baseball-related.  Like many fans, they were nowhere to be seen by the ninth inning.   Chipper Jones, the greatest switch-hitting third baseman to play the game, a constant All-Star performer, a future member of the Hall of Fame.  Chipper Jones—now a baseball fan.

            I was glad to see him at the old ball game.  No one paid him to attend; he was not under contractual obligation to occupy those seats.   I’m guessing his tickets were comped, but I’m also guessing that aspect wasn’t the determining factor.  “I don’t care if I ever get back,” he and his wife testified musically as they joined with 41,000 other fans in the seventh inning stretch anthem. 

            What must it be like, to have played the game for so many years, then be relegated to watching it being played? 

            I will soon know.

            After almost a half-century of preaching, leading worship, and being paid to be in church on Sunday, I’ll be present in worship purely as an amateur.  “Are you excited?” people ask.  “I’m scared to death,” is my honest reply.  

            What if I don’t find it interesting?  Though Chipper’s seats were section 101, front row, from there the game cannot be as intensely engaging as when one is at bat, bases loaded,  with a 3-2 count.  I’ll be at the mercy of others’ sermons, other choirs’ anthems, other pastoral prayers to nurture my soul.  Which will probably be an improvement in quality, except I’ve always preferred being on the field of play over watching from the stands. 

            I think I’ll evoke a mantra I’m just beginning to practice lately:  “Not my problem.”   God has led lots of people through retirement, even clergy, and many of them seem to be doing quite well.   Abandoning a person simply because they aren’t as useful as  before—doesn’t seem to be God’s style.  Maybe God’s interest in me is not contingent on my performance.  It’s a theory, anyway.  We’ll see. 


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.    

Fry On Friday: “Vulnerable,” September 15, 2017

             Who was God the Father before he became Father to humankind?  Did becoming a Father change God?

            I recall the pain I felt, though it was decades ago.  It occurred in the emergency room of a hospital in Asheville, N.C.  “Cookie!  Mommy!  Night-night!” my toddler son screamed.  He used every word in his vocabulary to convey his terror as the physician began the six stitches over his eyebrow.   His mother and I were standing there in the room; why wouldn’t we come to save him?   My knees almost buckled in anguish.  A father’s role is to protect and save his children from harm, and I was a total failure.  I still have nightmares.

            I recall the intense fear, though it was decades ago.  It occurred in the emergency room of a hospital in Duluth, GA.  My son, a sophomore in high school, lay motionless, strapped on the gurney.  He’d been injured, hit on the head while playing sandlot football.  His friends had helped him to the sideline, then resumed their game.  It was half an hour before they realized he was unconscious.  By the time I arrived, he looked dead.  At that moment, I was fairly certain I would die as well.   I still have nightmares.

            I recall the sadness, though it was years ago.  The grief was so overwhelming that I cannot yet write about it.  I am not yet ready to “process” the sense of helplessness.   Guess what—it involved my child.  I still have nightmares.

            Having children introduces one to a higher level of vulnerability than one has ever known.  And there’s no way to prepare for it.  Moreover, it doesn’t end when the child reaches adulthood; the stakes simply get higher.   A broken favorite toy, the demise of a pet goldfish, an overtime defeat in the play-off game become replaced by a non-optional relocation, unemployment, a divorce.

            I’m not writing about children alone, but about the appalling risk of deeply loving anyone.  You cannot love without being exposed to crushing vulnerability.  Yet the vulnerability itself is what makes life so much sweeter, more precious than ever before.  Without that risk, life grows safer but loses its savor.  The vulnerability of loving throws you into the bull ring, where you find yourself very, very alive.

            “Let us make humans in our own image,” said God at creation. I believe this was the concluding line of a long, long debate between Father, Son, and Spirit.   The Godhead was not naïve.  The risks were well-considered, the dangers well-pondered.  Then God breathed into the dust.  Since that moment, creation can joyfully proclaim, “God is love!”  And from that moment, God has never been safely the same. 
 


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.    

Fry On Friday: “Holy Communion,” September 8, 2017

      The first time I celebrated Holy Communion was an unlawful act of bootlegged subversion.  I was eight years old.  In my childhood (just before the earth’s crust began to cool), the  Church did not admit children to the sacrament until they reached the “age of accountability.”  In other words, were not to partake until we little ones grew wise enough to understand the meaning of the sacrament. 

            At the age of eight, I knew that Jesus loved me and  that I was to be quiet in worship.  I did not know the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation, between expiation and propitiation, nor did I understand double predestination.  I did know in my heart of hearts that the grape juice offered at the Lord’s Supper exuded an aroma that enticed with its promise of sweetness. 
If Jesus’ blood, shed for me, was anything like Welch’s Grape Juice, I’m in!

            But I was not in, not until completing confirmation class, a long four years away. 

            I sat next to my brother.  Ten years older, Bob was a seasoned veteran of the sacraments.  I wasn’t bothered by seeing him take the bread from the silver tray, passed down the pew but over my head to the nearest adult.  It was white bread, cut into cubes, tasteless, with no capacity to cause desire.  But as the cup neared.  I took a deep whiff and lowered my head.  I would once again be excluded, but I refused to watch.

            A moment later, I felt a nudge on my thigh.  Brother Bob was holding a tiny glass of juice, half empty.  He had consumed only half of his serving.  He motioned for me to be discreet as I realized the remainder was for me.  From that moment, I knew to my very soul that 1) I would do anything for my big brother who loved me and 2) half a Jesus was far better than no Jesus at all.
 
            Last Sunday I stood at table, serving the sacrament to the flock.  (At our church, we gather in small groups at the table, passing the elements to each other, then joining hands in prayer.)  The children, officially and warmly welcomed, participated fully.  These young ones, unlike me, were into the bread.  One took a pinch from the (freshly-baked challah) and whispered fervently,  “YES!!.  A second took a full fist-sized portion, looked at me and mouthed, “I like it a lot!”.  Another, much younger, remained speechless but literally bounced with anticipation.  Their participation reminded us adults that Jesus’ presence can evoke great joy.

            As the juice was passed, each of the children participated with silence and stillness. Perhaps they understood that this was a holy moment, too significant for anything but awe.  Once again, the young ones revealed deep truth to us fully-qualified adults.

            “Depart in Christ,” I whispered to them all at the closing of the prayer.  I hoped they had been as blessed as I during those moments when Christ had promised to be with us.  Especially if we come like little children.


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.    

Fry On Friday: “Blunder,” September 1, 2017

     It was not early-onset dementia.  (I’m safe from that peril, if only because “early-onset” no longer applies to me.)  It was not old-man forgetfulness.  I’ve done this sort of thing in worship all my career. 

            Standing at the pulpit waiting for the ushers to be seated so that I could begin the pastoral prayer, I caught a glimpse of an Associate Pastor approaching.  “You’re not forgetting the choir’s anthem, are you?”  she whispered.

            Oh, you mean the anthem that is scheduled immediately before the pastoral prayer.  “Of course I’m not forgetting it.  I’m just…uh…I’m just announcing…oh!—announcing that the choir has returned from their summer break!  Welcome back, choir!”  With the choir loft filled with singers sitting in full view of the entire congregation, one might have presumed such an announcement slightly unnecessary, but… 

            “Welcome back, choir!” I repeated, with a broad smile.  The people LOL’ed.  They can recognize a clear C.Y.A.  statement from their clergy.  Rather than return across the chancel to my chair for the anthem, I took a seat on the piano bench which conveniently is a step or so from the pulpit.  “I’ll just sit here,” I explained.   That’s when I saw our organist/pianist walking towards me.  This morning’s anthem, it appears, would be accompanied on the piano.  The bench was about to become just a little crowded.  Is there a word for congregational laughter taken up a notch? 

            I glanced down.  No, I was not dressed only in my underwear.  Which meant this was not one of my recurring dreams.  This was really happening.  In the few seconds required to walk to my chair, I tried to create a closing word to make it all okay.  Nothing would come.  Blank.  I reached my destination, sat down, and buried my face in my hands.  The only thing missing had been a mop bucket to step in. The congregation made another sound.  “Horse laugh” barely describes it. 

They know how hard I work with our team to orchestrate meaningful worship.  They know the preparation we invest in planning.  They know . And they love to see their pastor mess up big time, in front of everyone.

            “That was the highlight of worship today,” they informed me afterwards.  Were they just being kind?  “With the news from Texas and Charlottesville and North Korea, we needed to smile this morning,” they explained.  “Instead of a smile, God gave us a good laugh.”  Wait, wait.  Were they saying my blunder was a God thing?

            “…that all may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  taught Jesus.   Does this include “that all may see your klutzy works…?”


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Fry On Friday: August 25, 2017

I am an introvert.  I’m not shy,  I have reasonable social skills; but large parties, conversations with strangers, and accumulating Facebook friends don’t come naturally for me.

You need to know that in order to understand how unnatural the following two incidents were for me last week.

  • After the Braves game last week, my friend and I were walking to our car. Ahead of us were half a dozen African American young adults.They were laughing and cutting up, enjoying themselves despite the final score of the game.“Me, too!” I interjected at one point, interposing myself into their fun.They looked back, said something funny to us, and we laughed together as we continued our walk.
  • The locker room at my gym displays typical guys-with-guys interactions.Sometimes we dress silently and disconnected; other times banter and opinions about any Atlanta sports team fill the air.I’ve noticed that between races, it’s the silent and disconnected; the bantering occurs almost always white-on-white, black-on-black, or brown-on-brown.

Lacing up my shoes, I overheard a conversation between two black men prepping for their noon hoops session.When one of them left, I spoke to the one remaining about something they’d said to each other. Within 30 seconds, he was describing a recent visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and encouraging me to purchase an annual membership.

The above were my contributions to anti-racism this week.  Overt racism coupled with hate and violence are abhorrent.  But in my respectable world, there are few such displays.  People don’t mutter epithets, carry signs, or make disparaging gestures.  I’m aware that these kind of things happen, but I just don’t encounter them often enough to personally take a stand against them.

Instead, we different races and diverse cultures live in parallel universes.  Side-by-side, we politely ignore each other.  No eye contact, rare exchanges of “good morning,” and almost never stranger-to-stranger conversations of good-natured banter.

I’ve concluded my best shot at taking my anti-racism up from an opinion to a practicing level is to act like an extrovert.  As awkward as it is for me, whenever I can, whether outside the stadium or inside the gym, I resolve to take the initiative to speak to folks of a different race or culture.  I’m going to be as gregarious as a politician running for office.  Perhaps such interactions will help burst the invisible bubbles of our unspoken parallel universes.

I know this won’t end white supremacy marches or stop racist hatred. But if we all acted like friendly neighbors, perhaps it would set an everyday tone that would help us experience trust and warmth as the norm and reveal the headline makers as aberrations.

It doesn’t sound like much because it isn’t.  But it’s my most frequent opportunity to act with peace and goodwill.  So I resolve to take my introvert personality type and at every opportunity become an extrovert for Jesus.


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.