I'm Your Huckleberry!

If you are reading this, you already know me and so you must have a sense of who I am either through sermons I have preached, or videos you have seen me in. I thought I would use this medium (blogging) to tell the part of my story you may not know.

I grew up in St. Louis and very early on fell in love with the idea of performing in front of an audience. I blame my father because he loved to tell a good joke, and was a big fan of St. Louis theater. The Muny Opera was a place I spent a lot of time, as well as many other entertainment venues located in and around the state. I can remember very early in my life running with my father to see a real wild west gunfight on the streets of Silver Dollar City, and helping put out a blazing fire at The Shepherd of the Hills Theater (both in Branson), but I will get to that part of my story in a different section of this blog. (There it was, my first cliff hanger!)

By the time I was a teenager, I had appeared in many school and church plays, and when I was 15 I landed my first professional role, which became perhaps the most important role of my life. A thousand seat outdoor amphitheater was opening in Mark Twain's boyhood home located only 100 miles north of St. Louis, in Hannibal. After a long audition process, I received one of the best calls of my life, they wanted me to play Huckleberry Finn. Now Huck (as he was called by his friends) was one of Mr. Twain's most famous characters. He was raised without a mother by a drunk father who beat him often, and lived part-time with two spinster old ladies in town. There are many stories about the two summers I spent playing this role, including a command performance for President Jimmy Carter, but those too are a different story (cliff hanger number two, if you are keeping track). 

Two main things about Huck Finn stuck with me for the rest of my life, and now as a (very young) grandfather, I can see that these two influences changed the course of my life. At one point Huck tells the reader just how difficult it is to get along with people who love the Lord. In talking about one of the spinsters who "kindly" brings him into her home he comments about the evangelizing efforts of the spinster. Huck said,"then she started talking about the Bad Place . . . And I said I wished I was there! She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. She said she was going to live so as to go to the Good Place . . . Well, I couldn't see no advantage in goin' where she was goin' so I made up my mind I weren't gonna try fer it!" 

All my life I've believed that Huck had this right. Sometimes even good intending followers of Jesus can be so annoying that nobody wants to be around them. This is why it was so curious for me to leave the life of a professional entertainer and become a (GULP) minister. When it came time to plant a church in the city of St. Louis this realization of Huck's became a major emphasis of our church. I wanted to build a congregation of folks who won't antagonize, won't annoy, and definitely WON'T judge! But instead be like the kind of people Jesus taught us to become, people lovers, people who willingly meet others wherever they are, without making them conform or jump through any hoops.

Now the second thing about Huck that stuck with me to this day probably isn't much of a surprise to you fans of Mark Twain. I fell in love with the main theme of Huck's story, that all people are the same, no matter where they come from, what color their skin is, or how much money they have (or don't have) in the bank. In the story Huck helps a slave escape from one of the spinsters and gain his freedom. Even though Huck knows his friend Jim, the escaping slave, has every right to be free he is sure that his actions are wrong. In his way, Twain uses just a boy (Huck) to become a moral compass for America in an effort to rid our culture of the inhumanity of slavery.

Both of these themes dominate The Word at Shaw's mission and vision. Over the past few years we have developed a truly multicultural, welcoming congregation . . . one that I think both Huck AND Jim would attend. One of the Bible verses in our mission statement reflects this understanding of what God has called us to be.

If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7 NIV)

Maybe you too would like to find a place where these themes dominate the way people share the love of God. Maybe you've been hurt by well intending Christ followers in the past and understand exactly what Huck meant in his description of those going to the Good Place. Maybe you're tired of worshipping with people who only look like you. Maybe you're like me, when you tried to run your own life you wrecked it completely, and now you're thinking if I could just meet some folks who wouldn't judge me I too could allow Jesus room in my life. If so, I've got a challenge for you. Come to The Word at Shaw, see it for yourself, and open your life to a new experience. One that may take you from your first love and transform your life as it did mine. I left an entire career behind, and found real joy and real peace, real community, and a real life with Jesus as my Lord. 

The details of this transformation . . . that is cliff hanger number three!