Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Random Thoughts On a Pleasant May Afternoon

After a self-imposed week hiatus, it's good to be back here in the blogosphere rambling incoherently. Here a few things rattling around my brain as we enjoy some decent weather (for a change).

- We're resurfacing the parking lot at church this week, and it stinks to high heaven. I mean the lot looks great, and we're preserving it from weathering and damage, but that doesn't change the fact that the oil-based coat possesses a smell that turns the stomach. Another necessary evil that comes out of our dependence on petroleum.

- Speaking of which, saw this interesting article on MSN about people who are starting a movement, via the internet, to encourage people to "Buy American". One of the startling stats in the article was the trade deficit the country now faces, now tipping the scales at over $700 billion dollars. While much attention has been paid to all of the small appliances, apparel, and whatnot now being made overseas contributing to this, not much is said regarding the biggest cause of the deficit which is imported oil.

One would think, as an issue of national security if nothing else, that a greater effort would be made particularly on the part of the federal government, to encourage research into alternative energy. To fund, in particular, educational efforts geared to produce the necessary scientists and engineers that will enable us to be freed from our dependence on oil (and thus free us from reliance upon shady, autocratic governments who are happy to sell us oil on the one hand, and create great instability in the world with the profit) makes sense. Why there aren't, in particular, science and math initiatives, contests, scholarships, and the like, getting students at all levels excited about a future in these fields is a mystery to me? My son, for example, has won numerous awards at his elementary school for reading prowess, but no such emphasis exists for math. One would think these sorts of things would be fairly cost-effective, and produce great dividends long term.

- Well, they say there are two kinds of motorcycle riders: Those who have "laid it down" and those who haven't "laid it down".... yet. As of last night, count me in as one of those who have "laid it down". After picking up a bucket of chicken from Famous Recipe, I was headed toward my father-in-law's house (it was his birthday, and we were celebrating) as I traveled across Allentown Road north on Woodlawn Avenue, I saw a truck heading east on Allentown run the red light, aiming for my Kawasaki. I hit the brakes to avoid the intersection, hit a small patch of slippery goo (a mix of antifreeze and oil, I think), and went down. The truck stopped (thank goodness), I only suffered a small cut on my hand, and the crash guards on the bike prevented any damage.

Kinda sent my heart rate skyrocketing, though.

The funny thing was that the guy who ran the light in the truck had been at the Blessing of the Bikes. He asked me if he just made the sermon for next year.

You bet you did, buddy. You bet you did.

- In my life I've gotten on some strange kicks when it came to my music listening, but this latest obsession kind of takes the cake. Late last week I stumbled on a remake of an old John Lennon song (Watching the Wheels) by a white rapper, who also happens to be a Hasidic Jew who has taken the name, Matisyahu.

Now I'm hooked. I think my secretary hasn't been this unhappy since those two weeks of non-stop funk four years ago. Oh yeah... and he beat boxes.

I suppose the lesson, as always, is that just when you thought you'd seen, or heard, it all, you realize you haven't.

- Saw two movies in the last couple of weeks, and my preconceptions as to what I'd like, or not like, for them both were totally wrong. First and foremost, go see or rent "Horton Hears A Who".

After the hack job Jim Carrey and company did on "How The Grinch Stole Christmas", I had little or no desire to see him butcher another Dr. Seuss classic. But I have four boys, a father-in-law who really likes movies, and a local dollar theater, so off we went. Couldn't have enjoyed it more. Carrey tuned it down a couple of notches and the sweet story that teaches kids that "a person's a person no matter how small" really hit home. A very pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately, I could not say the same for "Juno", a movie I had wanted to see since its release, mainly because it was made by the same guy who did "Thank You For Smoking" (which was satire at its best).

"Juno", if you haven't heard, is the story about young girl who gets pregnant, and decides to give the baby up for adoption. It is the most unlikely "pro-life" movie you will ever see in your life. My knock on the movie is that while it contains some fabulous dialog, and is shot beautifully, that it tried so hard to look and sound pretty that it lost the story. If only the plot was as high a priority as Juno's dialog (which sounds like no other teenager's on the planet) or editing all the scenes shot during the "Golden Hour", the movie would have really had something to say. As it was, in my opinion too many scenes that would have helped us understand the characters ended up on the cutting room floor, resulting in a whole lot of one-dimensional people who couldn't help looking like actors, as opposed to the characters they were playing.

In any event, get Horton when it comes out, and if you're pressed to take something home or its Tuesday night and an On-Demand movie is calling you, then get Juno. That's my two-cents.

- To wrap this up, I'm reading an interesting book right now. "The Other Side of 1984: Questions for the Churches" is actually a summary of a lecture Lesslie Newbigin gave in response to then upcoming year that George Orwell had made famous. Orwell's vision of a society run by an autocratic authority that used technology to control the populace was a big topic of conversation in 1983. Over and over again the question, "Is Orwell's future coming to pass?" and the follow up, "If not, then what does the future hold?" were being asked. This little book is Newbigin's response to what the future held for the church in western culture... and I might say the man was truly a prophet.

Newbigin, who had served as a missionary in India, believed that the "modern age", which had been launched by the Enlightenment, was quickly coming to a close. An era, which gloriously began when thinkers exchanged "dogma" for "doubt", was now exhausting what "doubt" could bring us. And "doubt" has given us much. The last three centuries have seen an acceleration of technological progress never before experienced, and that doesn't happen if Sir Issac Newton and his buddies keep listening to some bishop profess that the sun revolves around the earth. We are much in debt to the emergence of the natural and social sciences. Without them, for example, you wouldn't be reading this right now. You'd be at home, milling your own flour by candlelight.

But the shining vision that one day scientific discovery and secular humanism would make real the kind of utopia that religion had never been able to provide has proven fleeting. The discovery of atoms led to the atomic bomb. Biological discovery resulted in biological warfare. Social science has helped us understand ourselves, but also been twisted to marginalize, or even wipe out, others.

Science has led to great progress, but also the possibility of great destruction, hence Newbigin's assessment that particularly in western culture, a sense of hopelessness was growing, while in non-western cultures, a backlash would take place against what this technological, secular movement had brought. Newbigin's predicted, as an example of this phenomenon, that as physical diseases were eradicated from western nations, they would be replaced by mental diseases stemming from depression and anxiety, while those dispossessed outside of the developed world would result increasingly to violence to stave off the "progress" a modern world had wrought upon them.

25 years later, Newbigin's words couldn't have been more accurate.

Newbigin's assessment is that after four hundred years of "doubt", that the world will be ready for a strong dose of "faith", but the church which largely, in the face of modernism, turned inward, spiritualizing the words of the Gospel, will have to learn a new language and new forms to be able to speak to the needs of those who now suffer great mistrust of not only religious institutions, but secular and scientific ones. It's a great read I'm hoping to get a sermon or two out of later this summer.

In any event, have a nice week, and "Go Cavs" (thanks LeBron for leaving it all out on the floor).

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Few Memories Of My Time Here In Haiti

Here's are a few random things I'll remember as I take leave of CapHaitian tomorrow morning...

- Getting a chance to meet Rick Hutchison, who does a lot of water ministry down in these parts. He's the guy who woke me up as I slept on the floor of Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport with "You look like you need a cup of coffee." A really nice guy with a big heart for the poor.

- Multiple conversations with Meg and Wilburt Merzilus, the founding missionaries of Living Hope Mission. It was good to get a chance to sit down with these two wonderful people and get to know them. Wilburt, the conservative republican Haitian-American, and Meg, the more liberal democrat American-Haitian. In so many ways they are different, but their differences compliment one another. Wilburt, as a Haitian, is the main contact between the mission and the community. Today when we traveled to a small village where a roof is going on a church, it was fun to watch him interact with the locals, under a tree, eating peanuts and (I'm assuming, cause I don't speak creole) check up on the latest gossip and news in that village. Everywhere we went the man had to stop and visit somebody, explaining "If (this person) finds out I was here, and I didn't stop to visit, I'll be in big trouble." While educated in the states, Wilburt gave me a glimpse of what it is to be a Haitian. A truly amazing man, with a serious love for Jesus, entrepreneurial pastors, and the people of Haiti.

Meg, on the other hand grew up in Ohio and after so many years living in Haiti, and being married to a Haitian, I kind of get this sense that she could pretty much go anywhere in the world and blend into the culture. She's the closest thing to an international citizen as I've ever met. Not that she doesn't love America (she peppered me with questions about the election), but I've a sense that now her identity is formed outside of the American bubble... so she has a different take on things. A devoted mother who loves to laugh, Meg keeps the place running by making sure schedules are followed, reports are filed, and contacts are followed up on.

They are an awesome team. I've been privileged to get to know them.

- Sipping on a bottle of cold Coke, on the side of a mountain, out on a veranda of a $96-per-night hotel, looking out over hundreds of thousands of Haitians struggling to make 96$ in three months.

- Sitting today on a behind that rode up and back yesterday on some some of the worst roads imaginable yesterday on the edge of the bed of a Mazda Truck.

Wait, let me shift. OUCH. Man is this uncomfortable.

- Glancing in the pediatric room at Grand River hospital only to see a very little girl (not older than 2) lay sleeping on a small bed while it appeared her mother and grandmother looked on with much worry.

- Getting hit up by the mayor of a little town I visited with the group from ICC for two dollars. All hail the chief!

- Getting eaten by mosquitoes the first night sleeping here at the mission, killing fourteen of them at first light the next morning, and then hearing Meg describe what an awful experience having malaria was.

- Getting eaten by mosquitoes as I write this post before the power goes off, out on the second floor balcony outside of the locked office door where the internet transmitter is located, thinking about that last sentence.

- Having a little Haitian girl, wearing nothing but a long ratty boy's T-shirt as a makeshift dress, hold my hand as we walked down a road to go see a school, refusing to let it go.

- Eating dinner with Patrick, a driver for Ryder Rentals here in CapHaitian, as I watched him to come to life when I asked if he liked any American movies. "I'll Be Back" he said in his best Haitian accented imitation of Austrian accented Governor Arnold. Then he rattled off all the 80's A and B movie action stars who were his idols. Jean Claude VanDamm might be a has-been in Hollywood, but he's a bona fide star here in Haiti. Somebody call his agent.

- Riding in the back of truck traveling down a dirt gravel road at 55 mph, wondering why I haven't made out a will yet.

- Watching Wilburt, who had just picked up an injured baby bird laying in grass to put it on a branch so a dog wouldn't kill it, get dive-bombed by the mother. Wilburt started waving a stick to protect himself, and even threw it at the bird as he ran for cover. Let's just say that if they scheduled a pay-per-view match, the bird v. Wilburt with a stick.... I'm taking the bird.

- Listening to the members of the group from ICC in the back of the truck who had never been to Haiti before ask questions like "What do you think they're (the Haitians) saying about us?", "Do you think they are happy or angry that we're here?", and other sorted questions I, myself, can remember asking fourteen years ago.

- Hearing the story of Evans, a translator from the ICC group, whose father took him to Naples, Florida as a toddler. Two months before he was to graduate from High School (lettering in three sports, and about to graduate with honors), his father left his step-mother, leaving him behind. Had he been in the states two more months he would have become a naturalized citizen at the age of 18, but his step-mother, not having legally married the man and knowing what to do, called the Embassy. They told her to send him back to Haiti, which she did just shy of graduation. Now, he sits on his rooftop at night, occasionally hearing from friends who are in their first or second year of college, and wonders what might have been. "I wanted to be an engineer who built bridges and roads", he exclaimed. Needless to say I'll be calling Bluffton University to see if they need a 20 year old, former all-county running back from Haiti when I get home.

- Sharing my room with a two-inch long gecko I've named "Wally" (cause, you know, he stays up on the wall.... I hope).

- Asking Wilburt what his favorite food was, and hearing him say "McDonalds".

- Listening to Meg talk about her children, high school students now living in Pennsylvania, wistfully, while Wilburt brags about the full-ride their soon-to-graduate daughter has won from the University of Pittsburgh.

- And finally, coming to the realization that somehow, someway, in the end, the New Jerusalem, despite much turmoil and chaos, will one day exist on this renewed earth. Such is the hope for Haiti as we strive to continue to attempt to alleviate suffering, create opportunity, while teaching others that God calls us live lives of grace, mercy, justice, and love...

even as we try to live it out ourselves.

See you back in the states, where I will eat a Big Mac in Wilburt's honor.

I've Been Doing Some Reading

One of the strange changes I've encountered here in Haiti after be away for five years (besides the overnight proliferation of brand new Honda motor scooters on the streets of Cap) is the availability of wireless internet signals. I'm sitting now outside of the door of the office at Living Hope Mission (in a hallway the directors are now semi-jokingly calling my "the office annex") typing this thanks to a wireless internet transmitter and a huge diesel generator. All the hotels now have wireless in Cap, and even in a remote village like Grand River (where I visited a hospital yesterday), a satellite dish created a que of docs waiting to transmit data to Port Au Prince via email. Cyber cafes are everywhere, even in the remotest villages. Considering that a Haitian pastor friend of mine, Marius Turrenne, cried with joy when I told him we were getting him a new laptop, certainly broadband via satellite is changing the world communicates, and is altering the way that people in the underdeveloped world connect beyond the limited opportunity which exists here.

For example, since the Christophe Hotel serves the best Pepper Steak in the world, and I happened to briefly be there yesterday afternoon, I bought dinner for (and and heavily tipped) one of the drivers who had driven our group around in the morning, as a means of convincing him to stay a little later to drive me back to Living Hope Mission. As I talked with Patrick, I discovered that a) his wife is a seamstress who buys much of her material and exports some of wares on-line), b) that he loves American action movies (especially Sylvester Stallone's) which he downloads off the internet, and c) that he has a Skype account that enables him to speak with family members in Boston almost weekly. And this all from a guy who makes $10-15 (American) per day by working as a driver for Ryder Rentals. You can't underestimate how this kind of electronic, digital medium is changing the playing field, and its going to alter the way not only commerce and communication, but other ventures - like ministry - is going to change.

To some degree, I think the missionaries from multiple organizations I've been talking to down here are a little perplexed as to what the future will hold for church support as relationships can be created directly by Haitian pastors with American pastors and laypeople. The kind of control the missionaries used to have when it came to monitoring resources is now beginning to diminish as entrepreneurial church leaders get a cell phone or open up an email address at the local cyber cafe. While on the one hand this will open up opportunities for mission work in ways we've never seen before, it will also afford many more opportunities for con men ready to exploit Haitian misery for their own gain. Churches like ours, too, will now be able to demand more concrete information from church partners, more frequently, as we try to help our Haitian partners set goals, and dream futures for themselves.

Also, the proliferation of communication options, and funding from organizations like "One" and the "The Global Fund" are creating new partnerships among NGO's that previously would never have existed. This ability to communicate has enabled NGO's to get a handle on "who" is doing "what" across the country, helping them in the process begin cooperating together as services like health care and drilling wells for clean water take root in multiple partnerships across this country, and the world. As these organizations, which are primarily secular, begin to become more effective in meeting the needs of people in underdeveloped nations, I believe pressure will grow on missions organizations and churches - which have a track record of territorialism and mutual competition - to not only cooperate together, but with these secular organizations. That will test the theological boundaries of missions boards everywhere as they weigh the benefits the poor will enjoy out of this collaboration, versus the strain this is going to put on them as their supporters begin to question whether or not theology and witness are being compromised in the process.

Much to (and old high school friend, and now blog reader) John Rex's chagrin, I am an unabashed fan of NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman, I believe, was really the first to get a sense of how digital communication (either by satellite or trans-ocean fiber optic cable) was changing the world, both good and bad. In the Times this week, he's got two great articles. The first one examines the reality of what it means to be a super-power that has to borrow money from Singapore and Indonesia in order to bail out its nation's banks. The second article talks a little about how the world's dependence on oil is not only slowing democracy's growth, but contributing to its recession. Just as a quick excerpt from the second article:

“There are 23 countries in the world that derive at least 60 percent of their exports from oil and gas and not a single one is a real democracy,” explains Diamond. “Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria are the poster children” for this trend, where leaders grab the oil tap to ensconce themselves in power.

Pretty troubling development when filling up your mini-van is dependent upon totalitarian regimes or corrupt democracies maintaining control by brute force as a means of keeping oil in the pipelines.

On another note, I also read a fascinating article by a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. "Jesus Made Me Puke" is the experience of one Matt Taibbi, who for the purposes of understanding the Christian Right (and to write a book), started regularly attending John Hagee's church, Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, Texas. Before you get the wrong idea, while Taibbi does do a little Christian bashing in the article, the title makes it sound far, far more negative than it actually is. The whole "puking" thing is actually an allusion to part of the experience he had going on a spiritual retreat weekend where people were literally "puking" as a part of the retreat directors experience (which sounds pretty weird to me, and I'm a Christian).

Hagee's whole philosophy is that the Christian church needs to become a staunch supporter of Israel so that we can speed up the timeline for the rapture to occur. The ministry is charismatic (meaning there is speaking in tongues - an experience Taibbi is invited to participate in, much as I was at Holy Trinity-Brompton last year... needless to say his response to the invitation was far more creative than my own) and built also on the idea that God wants to bless those who financially to him with good health and wealth in this life (the result being that the church is very well financially supported, and the pastor well-compensated for his work). While Taibbi is no friend of Christianity, I do think it's important for us to get a sense of how people who are not connected and skeptics of the church, see us. Needless to say, Taibbi is both repulsed, but also I think becomes a little more understanding of what people are looking for when they end up at Hagee's doorstep. In any event, is worth the time reading (if you aren't easily offended).

In any event, I'll be back from Haiti late tomorrow night. I look forward to getting back home, seeing my wife, playing with my kids, and pondering God's place and will in this crazy little world of ours.

I'm not preaching Sunday, so there will be no pre-sermon (as if that happens weekly). See you next week.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Few Thoughts From Haiti (including a couple about the Blessing of the Bikes)

It is early morning here in CapHaitien, Haiti. I arrived here yesterday after spending the night on the floor of Terminal 4 in the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (a situation made possible by US Air canceling my 5:30pm flight, and putting me on a later one that got me into FLL at 1am.... why stay in a hotel when you have to be at the airport at 5am?). I am here to get a handle on the future of Shawnee UMC's mission ministry in this country.

Shawnee has been involved in Haiti since about 1994. I won't bore with the details of how I walked into work one morning in January of that year, only to be told that I was leaving for Haiti later that evening. But that's how it got started. I went, came back, took a few more people, and within a few years the ministry took on a life of its own. Since then Shawnee's people have helped educate and feed hundreds of Haitian children, built about a half-dozen churches, helped build another six or seven schools, loaned out thousands of dollars in small microeconomic loans to stimulate small business ventures (mainly among single mothers), and saw hundreds of people at makeshift day-clinics at villages all over the great CapHaitian area.

The last couple of years the church has reached a number of crossroads in it's involvement here. As the two principle players in the Haiti ministry - our former senior pastor and a lay-person instrumental in funding the building of schools - have withdrawn from the church, a certain amount of unrest has settled about the future of this venture. You need committed people, focused on goals that come out of concrete visions of future to stay active in a place like Haiti. A place where communication (though improving... I'd have never thought in 1994 they'd ever have wireless internet ANYWHERE here) and transportation are difficult, and the unrest of more than 40 coups in the country's 200 year history has led to both cultural and societal instability that threatens to undermine pretty much any long-term plan you try to make.

Abrupt changes in governmental policy or a random dockworkers strike, for example, can tie up a container filled roofing materials for five months when it the process should have taken a week. Random demonstrations which involve tires being lit on fire in the middle of roads can derail work or travel plans for a day. It is a country beset with poverty and unemployment, where chaos can erupt at any given moment. If you aren't focused, long-term, in Haiti, you'll spend one too many nights sleeping on the floor of Terminal 4 because it's just so doggone hard to even get to CapHaitian (Haiti's second largest city), and go looking to serve the poor somewhere else where it's easier.

So, that's why I am here. I'm taking all the random information fed to me by people who have been coming here, and out of the uncertainty of future plans, trying to figure out what we'll be doing for the next 5-7 years. This is important as we raise funds, recruit volunteers, make travel plans, and work with our partners on the ground in Haiti. The logistical nightmare will only be tamed if we have a sense of where we are going, and a willingness to shift on the fly as plans made are disposed of for the simple reason that "that's just the way it is in Haiti".

We start with planning, and then allow ourselves to be moved by the Spirit.

In any event I spent most of yesterday talking to Wilburt Merzilus, our principle ground contact here in the city. Wilburt and his wife Meg, started Living Hope Mission about 15 years ago, and it's clear that as the mission has continued to be well-run and managed that its continuing to grow. Wilburt and Meg provide for our work teams the support they need - safe place to stay, transportation, material procurement before we arrive, etc... - to serve Haiti's poor (which is to say, about 95% of the population). Wilburt has been giving me a sense of Living Hope's future priorities (helping develop local churches, establishing feeding programs for children, raising up solid pastors, among other things), and where Shawnee might fit into their plans. The next ten years sound very exciting as the mission is about to receive very serious funding from some of its church partners in the United States. It'll be fun to see what opportunities will be presented to Shawnee by Living Hope as they continue to grow and extend their reach.

Later today I'll meet up with Keith Mumma, and the North American board for International Child Care. ICC has been active in meeting the health needs of Haiti since the 1950's through their hospital (Grace Children's Hospital) which is an unbelievable (for Haiti anyway) facility in Port Au Prince. I am meeting with ICC to talk about a smaller hospital they have developed here in Northern Haiti at a small town called Grand Riviera Du Nord. The hospital has just completed a guest house which is designed to accommodate medical work teams that either will volunteer their time in the surgical rooms at the hospital, or out in the field in small clinics manned by community health care workers trained and supported by ICC.

Keith invited me to go see this facility, the new guest house, and one of the clinics as the board talks about beginning to bring in med teams for the first time later this year. Shawnee, being stocked with MD's and med professionals, is a perfect fit for a mission such as this. We have a lot of interest on the part of docs and med professionals, in and out of the church, who want to use their gifts to help alleviate the suffering of those who suffer from what has become chronic, generational poverty in this country. As ICC seeks to expand its reach across all of Northern Haiti by training more community health care workers and building of more clinics, I feel like we might be on the ground floor of something that could be very, very exciting and important for the future of this country.

Finally, before I left, Pastor Marius and Madam Venesia visited the church this past weekend. Pastor came to describe in detail the change in ministry focus he is feeling right now. While Marius has been the pastor of our sister church, Victory Christian in Borde, for the past two years he's been, out of his home here in CapHaitien, been starting a new congregation and new school. This change in Pastor Marius focus, from Borde (where we have been actively supporting the church and its school for more than a decade) is presenting a number of challenges to us right now. As Pastor is inviting us to become more involved in his venture in Cap, we are wondering about the future of Borde. Multi-site ministry (which I know from personal experience) is hard in the States. It's proving to be too much for Marius, who is now looking to add "co-pastors" not only at Borde but also at another church he leads in Milot. I still have more questions than answers as to how this is going to work, but I appreciate Pastor taking the time and going to the expense to visit us. It was a good first step in sorting out this Haiti puzzle.

All in all my time already has been very productive. Your continued prayers are appreciated.

On another note, Sunday's 2008 Blessing of the Bikes was a truly amazing experience. We were blessed with fabulous weather which led to a new record turnout - more than 700 bikes and over 1400 people. I have never, and I mean never, been as overwhelmed with gratitude on the part of others than I was after that service concluded. I must have had a hundred people (or more) thank me for continuing the service (which many feared would end after our former senior pastor left to take on new challenges). It really is for a whole lot of people, the closest thing to a church family they have, and the feeling like a church not only wants them, but would displace itself from its normal routine to show them abundant hospitality, just comes back to us in the form of their thanks a hundred fold.

Thanks needs to go out to Shane Hollar (our Director of Music) for doing such a fine job with the band, all the volunteers from the church/our biker ministry, volunteers from the Harley Owners Group of Lima, and in particular, Larry Inskeep, the Godfather of our Biker Ministry, for stepping up to the plate to bless bikes with me this year. It took almost an hour to move all those bikes through the line (uttering no more of a blessing than, "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may you, and this bike, be blessed"). Without The Godfather's assistance, we'd have been there all afternoon.

Finally, this story.... Sunday afternoon, as I was rushing out the door, late (as usual) for my flight to Fort Lauderdale, I received a phone call from our youth pastor, Leigh Wise. A couple was at the church looking for their Harley to be blessed, and Leigh wondered if I could stop by and do it? They couldn't be at the service that morning, and had in fact ridden all day from a family gathering on the off-chance a pastor might be available to do just one more blessing that day.

"You've got to hear their story," Leigh said. "You have to stop by and bless this bike."

Well, Buzz and Betty Alder are running me to the airport, so we stop, and there they are, the couple on a orange, black, and white ElectroGlide, patiently waiting. I greeted them, and before I could say another word, they told me the story of the bike they were on.

The Harley had belonged to their son. Last year, because someone in a car wasn't paying attention, he lost his life on that bike. He was 38 years old (born four days after I was in 1969). The father, beyond grief, decided to buy the bike back from the insurance company (who totaled it) and restore it in his son's honor. Both father and son had ridden together for many miles, and like sports or hobbies of other kinds, riding had bonded them together.

Think "Field of Dreams", only replace baseball with riding a motorcycle.

The father restored the bike, put patches on it, and his own jacket commemorating his son, and had ridden it there with the mother, that day, to be blessed.

Blessed because God had given him a son.

Blessed because at least on this bike his boy loved, the parents could feel like they still had a part of him with him.

Blessed because a church held a huge event in early spring not only to make those who ride feel the grace of God, but to stage a media event so that drivers of cars and trucks might realize we're out there, riding, and they need to watch out for us.

Blessed because someday, as Jesus promised, they'd be together again in paradise.

I only said a couple of sentences in the blessing, but obviously, both of them were moved. What an honor to be invited into that moment.

What an honor, indeed. You can be there will be another Blessing of the Bikes, May 3rd, 2009. See you there.