A Mustache for a Methodist

I guess you could say, I’m just a typical Methodist kid at heart. ~ Hugh Hefner

An atheist is a man who watches a Notre Dame – Southern Methodist University game and doesn’t care who wins. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

God grant that I may never live to be useless! ~ John Wesley


I suppose it was 2008 when I found myself being reintroduced to a 17-year-old I thought I’d finished off many, many years earlier. In the process of that introduction and the subsequent multiple reunions over a period of months brought about by a rather insistent (annoying?) therapist, I found myself being reconciled with that poor, beat-up kid. As it turns out, he’d traveled along on my rocky path through it all and, I realize now, helped keep me alive long enough to remember — and acknowledge — he had actually existed.

What, you’re likely asking yourself, does this have to do with mustaches and Methodists? Excellent question. Allow me to elaborate — eventually.

During the fall of 2008, I was working on reestablishing contact with the aforementioned 17-year-old after the realization I could never really be okay until we made peace. That December, a dear friend suggested that I read Wm. Paul Young’s book The Shack. I agreed because I respect this friend but still had serious doubts about a fiction that had Christian leanings. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’re probably aware that the church and I had parted ways, well, while I still remembered that 17-year-old clearly. Still, at this point in my life, the book pried something open again — wanted or not.

There I was — sitting with a young, admittedly angry guy who remembered an even younger boy who remembered a call. I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to be reminded of that call. Years of alcohol had done little to cover it over, however. Rather, it had only helped anger and disappointment grow. Sadly, as so often happens, the anger and disappointment was turned inward. I am particularly efficient at inflicting emotional pain on myself. I’m still so good at it that I often have no idea I’m doing it. Let’s just say I’m back working on that now.

So it was that I showed up at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco in February 2009. I didn’t mean to show up, it just sort of happened. And I stuck around (one of my favorite new beginnings stories here: Women in Ministry). Seems the people there saw someone in me I didn’t think actually existed. I was intrigued, though, and decided I must be a better actor than I’d thought. Still, I kinda liked the person others saw. I’m almost convinced at this point that he does exist.

Mustache, Ben? Oh, yes. So a couple of months ago I decided I’d regrow my mustache. Up until the fall of 2008, I’d sported a mustache for most of the previous twenty-five or so years. I arrived on the doorstep of Lake Shore clean shaven — due to meetings with that 17-year-old and the younger boy and wondering what they might have looked like. You know how hard it is to see an 8-year-old looking back at you when you’re a 56-year-old man with a mustache staring in a mirror? The mustache had to go.

A necessary move to the Dallas area a few years ago required a move in churches, also. For over three years, I made that new home Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas. Last year, though, I found myself looking for a new church home closer to where I live in Richardson. You see, having returned to church back in 2009, I’ve found not having a church home is no longer an option for me.

Enter Arapaho United Methodist Church, Richardson, Texas.

Wait, I hear you saying — Methodist? Weren’t we talking about Baptists? Well, yes, we were and how good of you to be paying attention. I was doing what any red-blooded American would do these days — I used Google to search for churches in my area. What I saw on the website for Arapaho UMC intrigued me. Hey, when you’ve been gone from church for forty years, you tend to find yourself a little more open to locating the right place regardless what is says on the sign outside. It’s what I found on the inside that invited me to stay. It was about finding the right fit.

Mustache, Ben? Oh, did I get sidetracked again? Yes, I imagine so. This entire conversation began because it occurred to me that the Baptists in my post-40-year trek had never seen me with a mustache. I like to think about stuff that occurs to me, you see. It also occurred to me that I’ve very much reconciled with that 17-year-old and that he and I sort of prefer me with a mustache.

On February 15, 2015 I became Arapaho UMC’s newest member — complete with mustache. I told some of the people at Arapaho I’d taken so long to join because I hate to rush into things and, besides, some of them looked a little shady to me. Thankfully, they already know me well enough after eleven months to laugh along with me.

Mustaches and Methodists. Does one actually have anything to do with the other except that they both start with an M? I believe they do. It has a lot to do with giving myself permission to find exactly the place that feels right to me. That has a lot to do with God’s grace, I believe. I’ve met some wonderful people in the past few years and I will be eternally grateful to them for helping me see in myself again a kid who heard a call many years ago and for helping me gradually believe he still exists and is here to remind me of that call.

John Wesley (a Methodist without a mustache) said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Yeah, that’s it. That was the call. That is the call.

Mustache or not, Methodist or not, I invite you to pick up Wesley’s call to do all the good you can as long as you ever can.


Mission Trip 2012 – Finale or Just the Beginning?

The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity. ~ Mike Stachura


It was with a great deal of trepidation I hopped into the SUV belonging to a church friend and headed to San Antonio on Sunday, July 15. Our Royal Lane mission trip for 2012 had begun. I had little idea what to expect and wasn’t certain I was actually ready to find out.

Be that as it may, I knew that as soon as our caravan pulled out of the church parking lot, it would be too late to change my mind. I was glad, however, to be in a vehicle with only two other people. I wasn’t certain I was up for the noise level in a 12-passenger van just yet. The next challenge was trying to keep a bunch of impatient Baptists all in a neat little row on the highway. Sure, we had our walkie talkies in each vehicle but they seemed only to add to the general confusion.

There’d be a squawk indicating that someone was planning to speak, then came some ear-piercing garble no one seemed to understand. There was one exception. For some unknown (probably profoundly spiritual) reason, Garland, our fearless leader, came across loud and clear. So, when someone needed to pull in closer to the rest of the group, Garland said so. When it was time for a potty break, Garland said so – complete with exit numbers and possible stopping places.

One of the final emails from Garland before the mission trip included this little gem: “Please limit your fluid intake on Sunday morning so we don’t have to stop any more than necessary.” Time management, after all, is very important on mission trip, as we were all soon to find out.

We made pretty good time until just after our first stop in Temple. Back on the road, we first drove into a traffic jam that saw us crawling along the highway for many miles. By the time we finally made it to the toll road around Austin, we’d driven into rain. The 80 mile per hour speed limit on the toll road did us little good in a pounding thunderstorm.

Somehow, we made it to San Antonio – all present and accounted for. We were only one hour late for the dinner awaiting us on the campus of Baptist University of the Americas. By the time we got to the campus apartments in which we’d stay the week, everyone was exhausted, perhaps a little cranky. Mission trip had begun in earnest.

We were divided into five mission teams. Six, actually. Two of our members were tasked with taking care of laundry and keeping us fed for breakfast and lunch throughout the week – a very important job, it seemed to me. The mission teams were the BUA team, Rosemont Apartments VBS team, San Antonio Food Bank team, Christian Assistance Ministry team, and Alpha Home team. I worked on the food bank team, though asked to work one day with the BUA team building a prayer garden labyrinth for the university. Labyrinth’s are very important to my faith journey, after all.

Alpha Home is a non-profit treatment center providing specialized services to chemically dependent women. There’s a storage building behind the home that was in drastic need of some restoration and the team took care of repainting and restoring the structure.

BUA team laid out a beautiful labyrinth across the street from the campus apartments to be used as a prayer garden. The university will be building their new campus on the surrounding land. A lot of heavy work went into its creation.

Christian Assistance Ministry assists homeless and low-income families with food, clothing, financial services, and counseling. Our team helped prepare meals, provided hygiene kits, and assisted in any way possible with that ministry.

Rosemont Apartments VBS team provided a vacation Bible school for the children in that low-income complex. They provided fun activities during the week culminating in a little fair on the last day.

San Antonio Food Bank team showed up each morning to do whatever was asked of us. We helped assemble meals for Kid’s Cafe, cleaned out big ice chests when they returned from meal delivery, helped wash dishes, and sorted canned and dry goods donated by individuals.

In the evenings, we all gathered back on the BUA campus for dinner. This provided a chance to share stories about our day and get progress reports from each team. There was also a worship time in which each of us took part in one way or another during the week. The university was our gracious host for the week.

I know this isn’t a terribly detailed account of what went on during the week. I’m not sure it needs to be, though. What was most important, it seems to me, was that the week provided a time for a bunch of like-minded people to get together and try to be of some assistance to others less fortunate than ourselves. Did we have some fun? You bet. Was that the purpose of the trip? No. Still, no one said helping others needs to be a somber task. In fact, getting too serious about how much good we were doing would simply prove to point out our own perceived self-importance.

Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” These past few years have shown me the truth of that statement. The problem, I think, is our capacity as humans to forget what it is we can and cannot keep. One of the things I will keep for the rest of my life is the sight of the smiles on the faces of the children at the vacation Bible school on Friday morning. It’s one of those things worth keeping. I shed a few tears for the memory of what might have been. I also shed a few happy tears at the sight of what might be for those children.

Perhaps the most important thing to come out of a week on mission trip was to remind us we are surrounded by need — and that we have it in our power to do something about that. I discovered that sometimes being Christ to others requires a hair net, latex gloves, and a lot of sweat. Now, that will tend to knock you down a peg or three when you’re tempted to feel smug about yourself! I’ve found, however, that it can be quite useful to occasionally allow yourself to look vulnerable — even ridiculous when necessary. After all, how do you put a price on providing a smile and a helping hand to someone else?

All in all, it was a wonderful week. I believe every member of our teams worked hard to make the week a success. Were there a few problems? Sure. After all, it’s difficult to throw thirty-five or so people together in close quarters for a week without someone getting on someone else’s nerves. But I believe everyone remembered in the end we weren’t there for us. We were there to serve others. And that notion becomes a great leveler.

The first planning meeting for next year’s mission trip is scheduled for October. I think I’ll plan on being there. Robert Speer said, “Prepare for the worst, expect the best, and take what comes.” Good words to remember whether on a mission trip or simply living your life.

What, I wonder, is your next mission?


Mission Trip 2012 — San Antone or Bust!

Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t. ~ Richard Bach


I don’t like that quote of Richard Bach’s. I mean, what does he know? What if I want my mission here on Earth to be finished? What if I went contentedly along for most of my life secure in the fact that there was no mission in it for me at all? Yeah, what about that, Mr. Bach?

I will be leaving at the end of the week on my very first mission trip with my church. I was supposed to go last year but ended up with a severe infection and had to cancel at, literally, the last moment. This year’s trip has been hanging in the balance for at least the last couple of months. Circumstances at work in the form of a new software system left my approval for time off in question until late this past week. My own health issues over the past year seemed still not to be resolved. In fact, I’d already informed the lead of the mission trip that I was not going to be able to go again this year.

Suddenly, I received permission to take the time off. My reaction? Panic. How could my boss have done this to me? Here I had the perfect excuse to allow me to bow out again and she’d just blown that right out of the water. My next reaction? Guilt. Okay, there’s really nothing particularly unusual about me and guilt. In fact, it ranks right up there in my top five most likely reactions to, well, everything. Truth be told, it’s probably number one. I am extremely adept at manipulating guilt in either direction. Either I feel guilty for doing something or I feel guilty for not doing something. It’s a very versatile emotion. I believe it’s referred to as “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” For me, I just called it Being Ben.

Next reaction? Depression. I was going to be letting someone down either way I went. Those at work, after all, would be hard-pressed to survive a week with me gone. Delusional, you say? Certainly. Still, run with me on this one, okay? I asked my boss if she was going to have to drink heavily while I was gone and she said yes. I felt instantly better. Those going on the mission trip? They would not be hard-pressed to survive the week without me, but I would be left to wonder, once again, what I’d missed by not going.

Versatile, you see? Put me in a boxing ring by myself and we’re guaranteed a knock-out blow. It matters little which side delivers the winning blow, I still end up the loser in all cases. It’s sort of the nature of guilt and depression, though, isn’t it?

So, why is there more fear associated with the mission trip side of the argument over staying and making sure my department at work stays afloat that week? Change, pure and simple. There have been so many changes in my life these past few years. You’d think I might be used to it by now. You’d be wrong. I’m left wondering all the time whether or not I can survive any more change – good or bad.

What could change, you ask? And, how do you know there will be change? And how can you be sure what change and, after all, why should that be frightening in advance?

There will be change, that much I know. How? The change is already there. It’s walked with me all my life, generally ignored. The change is waiting there, just out in the wings, ready to try to take center stage unless I can stave it off once again. And I’m afraid I may not have the strength to fight it off any longer. Surrender, as it turns out, is a process rather than an event. Nothing happens if nothing happens, but nothing huge ever really happens all at once. Oh, sure, the change may be there waiting to be acknowledged but it takes some action on my part to allow it to take full effect. You might call that my saving grace. Well, it had been in the past. But, it takes massive amounts of energy to hold off who you know, deep down, you really are. It’s been a waiting game, I suppose. God’s infinite patience, it appears, may win out in the end. It probably always does, acknowledged or not.

So, what’s a mission trip? Frankly, I don’t know. Oh, I sort of know the particulars of this trip but that doesn’t mean I really know what it means. I think that’s been my fear. I think if I go I’ll find out and there won’t be any turning back. I have been told, in fact, that once I go I’ll want to go again. What? I mean, who’s got the time?

Here’s what I like about the missions I’ve seen now in two different churches. With each, the focus is on helping others. That’s it. No requirement that you listen endlessly to some church’s agenda for your soul, no coercion, no “you’d better turn to the Lord now before it’s too late” message. Showing up with open arms is all that’s required. The rest will come as it does. That’s what I like. I am convinced that I will be on a trip with a group of people who none of them believes exactly the same thing. What’s even greater about that is the fact they’re willing to admit it. It makes it a lot more difficult to try to drag someone else over to your side when you know your side is your own personal, deeply-held belief system – loosely in agreement with others on the same journey with you.

But why spend money going somewhere else to help others when there are so many in need right in your own neighborhood? Excellent question. You’re a bright group! I’m sure I must have said it before, but it bears repeating. I admit that question has troubled me a little, also. Wouldn’t the money spent be more useful given directly to aid local folks in need? Perhaps. On the other hand, here’s how it shakes out for me. Caution: this opinion may change in a couple of weeks after I’ve returned from the trip.

Going on a trip together, whether vacation or otherwise, pushes people in closer proximity to each other than is likely to happen on a daily basis. Often, that even holds true if the people on the trip happen to be a spouse or other family members living in the same house with you. One of two things, even both, are likely to happen. Either you find out that you were right about how much those people annoy you or you discover things about them that gives you a deeper respect for them. Either way, you’ve learned something and I believe that’s always useful. Win-win.

Couldn’t you do that getting together right where you are? Well, yes, to a degree. I have a feeling, though, that it’s simply easier to see (and acknowledge) people in need when you’re in a place unfamiliar to you. It may feel safer to reach out when you know you’ll be going home in a few days. I mean, if you discover you really suck at helping others, at least you will have learned that hundreds of miles from home.

On a more positive note, you may discover that, whether you suck at it or not, help is help no matter how well or poorly you believe you do it. And, that knowledge may help you return to your everyday life a little richer, a little more open, a little more caring. It may be that you discover the part of mission Bach was talking about is simply opening your heart a little more each day to the needs of others. It may be that you return home with a new urgency to reach out a hand to others right where you live. And if that’s so, it sounds like it should be well worth the money.

Garland, our fearless leader for the mission trip, says the three most important things to remember about a mission trip are: focus, flexibility, and faith. There’s a need to focus on the tasks at hand to do the best we can at any given moment. Flexibility is key because nothing ever goes exactly the way you plan it. And faith. Faith plays an enormous role here. It’s important to have faith that it will all work out the way it does and, somehow, that will be enough.

So, frightened though I may be about the potential result, I’m packing my sunscreen, a hat (hate them), two sets of work clothes, toiletries (no need to stink up the place), medications (a whole separate bag, in my case), work gloves, reusable water bottle, a swimsuit (yeah, like I intend to let anyone see me in that), and bug spray. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? Either those with me will discover I’m not as patient, spiritual, and serene as I occasionally appear or I may discover that I’m actually more patient, spiritual, and serene than I believe myself to be.

Years ago, I had an intense fear of asking someone to dance. Only a small part of that had to do with the fact that I’m an awful dancer. When I sobered up, I came to realize asking someone to dance never once killed me. Not once. Can you believe it? I suppose a fear of reaching out a hand to someone else is the same. No matter how much I fear simply breaking down in tears at the mere gesture of offering help, it’s likely that also won’t kill me. Not even once.

Perhaps Richard Bach is right, after all. I’m not dead, yet. That said, the mission must not be over.