A Tribute to Uncle Denny

Stories are an intricate part of the fabric of our lives.  Narratives tell us who we are, where we belong, and what kind of people we are and hope to be.  Family gatherings are filled with the “same ‘ol stories” again and again.  Sometimes we roll our eyes as a member of the family tells the same story we’ve all heard a thousand times until we have it memorized verbatim.  Yet, we let them tell the story again.  It tells us something about ourselves, reminds us of our roots, and invites us to enter into that story again as faithful representatives of that world.  Of course, not all stories are equal and not all are worth our time to recount.  But, those that have staying power, the ones we recall in our heart of memory, beckon us to look again with fresh eyes at the road underfoot.

My own life can hardly be told without mentioning Uncle Denny.  If anything, I could be called a difficult child (I prefer “blessing” over “difficult,” but mom won’t listen).  I was headstrong and not always quick to obey.  I’m still not sure how my mom managed to not be committed for going insane trying to raise such an obstinate child.  Denny probably had something to do with it.  My mom would drive five hours through Texas and Oklahoma to drop me off with Denny, turn right around, and drive five hours home.  Mom wouldn’t return for a couple of weeks at times.  I was probably 3-5 years old.  I didn’t mind; I enjoyed my time on the farm.  It was a magical place (which had nothing to do with the animals).  Denny made it a fun place to be.  He let me do many wholesome activities with him.  I’d ride shotgun in the truck (no seat belt) as we fed the cattle, or play arcade games at Lil Country Express, or watch Johnny Carson on late night television.  I’m not sure mom ever knew about that one.

My memory recalls feeling like I was the most important person in the world to him.  Denny always had a nickname for me.  My handle was “hot rod” or “biggin’.”  I had no idea what that meant, but it seemed to fit.  Even after his boys were born, I had the opportunity to live with them for the better part of my first two years of high school.  I’m not sure why he and Aunt Teri let me stay as much as they did, but it was always an adventure: hide-and-go-seek in the dark, pallets on the trampoline, fishing in the pond, dinner with Uncle Dan, and Uncle Denny’s occasional serenade in only his socks and underwear.  Disturbing, yes.  Forgettable, no.  I’m still not sure a Michael Jackson rendition quite like that will ever be matched.

Family gatherings were always an event we enjoyed.  Family was important.  Inevitably, we would gather for Christmas Eve or Christmas day at one of the grandparents’ houses.  The cousins would be waiting in eager anticipation to open the presents.  We would wait.  And, we would wait.  And, we would wait.  No matter how much we pleaded, Christmas could not begin until Uncle Denny would show up.  Without fail, he consistently showed up very, VERY late.  My mom, ever the punctual one, decided to try and work around this problem.  As a result, she started telling Dennis that the events were starting one to two hours earlier than she told everyone else.  Surprisingly, it kind of worked… until he discovered my mom’s diabolical scheming against him.  He failed to see the humor in her antics.

But, you never had a doubt, despite his late comings, that he would arrive… eventually.  When it really mattered most, you could count on him to be there.  He cared deeply for his family, friends, and community.  Sure, his love usually took the form of teasing, sarcasm, and humor, but you knew that was simply a way to beat you to the punch for the barrage of playful insults you had concocted for him.  His good humor and quick wit kept you smiling when around him.

Denny loved sports as well.  I had the misfortune of sitting by him at one of the boys’ basketball games.  He yelled so loud that everyone would turn and look at him.  The next game I attended with him, I sat on the bleachers across the court from him.  Yes, it was the opponents’ stands, but I sure wasn’t planning on being embarrassed like that again.  Denny thought it was funny… I’m still embarrassed.  But, for one thing, you’d never lose him in a crowd.  He was sure proud of Dylan and Cale.  He had always walked a little bit like a peacock, but never more than when he was around them.  He was one proud dad.

Tonight, after we witnessed Denny breath his last, we gathered as a family around a table.  We ate, we reminisced, and we embraced.  It could be for the very reason that we share genetic material… but, if you knew our family, you probably wouldn’t blame it on that.  Instead, I think it was for the very simple pleasure of sharing the story… one we had rehearsed a hundred times.  We recounted a life that had added value to our own stories and one that we couldn’t disentangle from our own journeys.

We remember that life, if ever so brief, is a gift from God.  I am grateful for that gift.  It truly was a blessing to have such a wonderful person to share the road!  May God grant you peace, Uncle Denny.

In Deepest Gratitude,

“Hot Rod”

Active Waiting: Recovering the Passion of John Wesley

Great thoughts on reviving passion. Nate Cook is a great friend and pastor. I’m sure you will appreciate his thoughts!


“Set yourself on fire with passion & people will come for miles to watch you burn. -John Wesley.” You may have seen a quote like this floating around the twittersphere. The only problem with this quote is that there is no evidence that John Wesley actually said any such thing. Why then is this quote so often attributed to Wesley? I think the reason the quote keeps getting attributed to Wesley is that it seems to be a good summary of his life. As a graduate student at Nazarene Theological Seminary, I was asked to study the life and thought of John Wesley including his sermons and journal entries. I was immediately struck with the passion with which Wesley pursued God. If there is one thing that I think the Church of the Nazarene could stand to recapture from Wesley’s legacy, it would be this passionate pursuit of God.


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Table Fellowship with Tax Collectors and Sinners

Luke 5:27-32 records the story of Jesus eating with Levi the tax collector and various other riff raff (sinners) of the community.  This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, shortly after he has described what that will look like by quoting Isaiah 61.  It is a ministry of setting the oppressed free, giving sight to the blind, healing the sick… proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s favor – Jubilee.  It is a ministry of freedom.  It is a ministry given to the outsiders, the no-good-doers, the dung heap of humanity.

Tax collectors were the traitors of the Jewish culture.  They worked with the Roman overlords and often took more money for themselves.  They were thieves and power-mongers.  Jesus was eating with them.  The sinners were the unclean, the unrighteous, the unholy.  They were outside the community as pagans or the ostracized members of the community.  They were worth the dirt they tread, at least in the eyes of good, holy folk, like the Pharisees.  Jesus was eating with them.

The church-goers, the holy people, the religious leaders were obviously concerned.  After all, “birds of a feather flock together.”  To associate with that which is unholy and unsavory made you one of them.  If Jesus, as a holy teacher, was as holy as he claimed, then he would know it was bad form, against the Law, unholy to associate – much less eat – with sinners and tax collectors.  Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus did.  It truly was Jubilee, the Year of the Lord’s favor.  Freedom had come for those who were caught up in sin and the systems of evil.  Those who were considered exiles, outsiders, and outcasts found themselves welcome at the table, welcome in the fellowship, and a part of a community again.  It irked those religious leaders.

Jesus continues to host the meal of inclusion.  Communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper (whatever title it may fall under) are the means by which Christ invites us to dine at his table.  Not because we are worthy of the invitation.  Rather, it is a table that offers us freedom once again, freedom found only in communion with God and with one another.  We find ourselves as sinners and tax collectors welcome to partake in a meal that looks toward the great banquet where all peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will dine together in peace.  No longer will it be a table of insiders and outsiders.  It will be one at which all are welcome.  We are reminded of this every time we receive communion.  We were those who were invited when we were outside the community.  Now, in our joy, we get to extend the same invitation to those who are not yet eating at the Lord’s Table.

I remember a significant moment in my own life.  I found myself outside of the community of faith.  I was an untouchable.  Holiness was not a part of my life’s program.  Living a life aimed toward God was not my concern.  God managed to get my attention, but I wondered if I would be welcomed into the community.  Would I be welcome if they knew who and what I was.  My very first experience back in the Church was found through an invitation to a dinner.  I was welcomed, despite my rough edges, to the table as one of the community.  It forever changed the trajectory of my life.  When we invite others to join our table fellowship, we are an extension of the Lord’s Table.  We begin participating in that great final banquet the Lord has prepared for us all.  Who is gathered at your table?