Friday, July 31, 2009

A Taste of Innocence

I'm up at Lake Junaluska for the day. Memories pour in when I'm at this place. This is where I went to church camp as a youth. They put me in the girl's dorm two years in a row. "Jody" seemed like a good name for a girl. They never let me stay though.

I remember that second year when I came alone. My buddy backed out at the last minute so I found myself that first night of the assembly sitting in a crowd with an empty chair next to me. Some minister was giving an impassioned plea about something and while I listened I placed my hand on the seat of the empty chair. A few moments later I felt a hand touch mine.

I looked over and there she was looking into my eyes. I later discovered that she was a senior and of course I was going to just be a freshmen in High School. It was church camp. We only had a week so she figured why bother with introductions and those incidentals about getting to know each other...let's get with the program. She after all was "an older woman."

O calm down this is still a PG 13 Blog. I did not completely loose my innocence but it was a week filled with...uh...passion. Years later I remember hearing a lecture by Dr. Scott Peck about the relationship between spirituality and sensuality. He spoke of the intimate language used in some of the hymns and how the source of our spirituality is very close to the source of our sensuality. In other words it is true that those small group Bible studies when the interior life is examined can get us close to some "other feelings."

So that week at church camp we heard a lot about Jesus and his love for us. It was an intense week in many ways. No lines were crossed but I understand what Scott Peck meant.

It is still an innocent memory. I waved goodbye as she stepped onto her bus...well...I did more than wave. She went on to some college. I never saw her again. She definitely "knew" more than I did but we managed.

Ah, those days of innocence. I'll walk around the lake at Lake Junaluska today with my dear Betsy. We'll pass the large cross that stands over the lake...and I'll remember and smile.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's Face It

Just when I sort of got used to "blogging" now I've stepped into the techno-web of "Facebook." No, I do not have a Facebook page "yet," but I simply responded to some folks who invited me to be "friends" and bam the invitation to be friends starting coming in from all over.

Our oldest daughter who is in transit from California even "Facebooked" and invited me to be her friend. How about that. After all these years that rascal wants to be my friend.

I remember those teenage years when I was not anywhere near her friend. You have to live long enough! It's nice when your kids grow up and you can talk to them as "adults"...sort of...She's been real "friendly" of late since her wedding is coming up in September. I probably should not have "said" that...It's the father of the bride know...stuff like, "The invitations cost what...and...Who needs a DJ let's just have a boom-box!" It's pointless of course. Write the checks and shut up ...and enjoy.

I'm pondering this Facebook thing. I hear it is another way to "keep up" or "communicate." Calling all your Facebook associations "friends" is an interesting nomenclature. "I get by with a little help from my friends...." Buffet has a refrain which says he needs "just a few friends..." Another sort of famous line says, "I no longer call you servants but friends....greater love has no person that to lay down his life for his friends..."

Friends....humm...Well we all need friends. I think this Facebook thing might have some value or maybe not. Friendship is a valuable thing and so is a "face." I remember as a kid repeating a benediction in youth group that had the line, "the Lord bless you and keep you...the Lord make his face to shine upon you"

Does God have a Facebook page? I suppose Jesus showing up was a kind of invitation to be God's friend. I have not responded yet to all those folks who suddenly invited me to be their "friends" on Facebook...even my daughter....but I'm thinking about it.

I suppose it is okay to have different forms of friends as long as we have "just a few real friends" who know more than our face. A real friend knows your story. Stories are sacred things. Stories need to be shared "face to face" so the one listening can not only hear the story but feel it. That is what that old benediction means. So I don't know if God has a Facebook page but I do know that my wish for you today, my friend...if you reading "May the Lord's face shine upon you"....your story is known...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Your 100 Things

I read this morning about a doctor who has ALS and who is deciding what "getting close to the end" means. Since the disease is always terminal he wants to be as in control as he can when his body looses control.

His "if it's worth it barometer" now consists of what he calls his 100 things. List the 100 things you like to do each day. You know, get out of bed, kiss your child, watch the birds etc. He says that when his list gets to where he can't do over 90 of them it might be time to "call it off" and let things happen so he can die peacefully.

What are your 100 things? My grandmother squeezed my hand while she was in a nursing home and with her 92 year old body failing her she said, "I need to go home." She saw the tears in my eyes and we both knew what she meant but I responded, "I know grandma but I hate to loose you." She then squeezed my hand harder and said, "Boy, I don't want to outlive myself."

She could no longer bake those cakes, rock babies, bring food to shut-ins, or sing "Amazing Grace" while swaying back and forth on hot delta Mississippi nights in that unaircondtioned church. Her 100 things list was down to sitting and watching herself become more and more helpless. It was time to go. She "went" but it was a year or so later.

All of us are somewhere between making fresh 100 things lists and squeezing someone's hand. There are many days I do not even pay attention to my list. I just live.

I think today I'll pay attention. Let's see, bike rides down the greenway, birds dancing in the wind, finishing the sermon for the week, sharing my thoughts with you...bye 96 left to ponder.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Dog's Blog

I was getting ready to write this and my dog walked by. I looked at her and said, "Well, what do you have planned today?" With those deep black eyes of hers she peered into my questioning stare and said nothing. She did, however, look at me with an expression that said something like, "I'm going to get under the desk now, what's it to you?"

She is after all a "shelter dog." Our daughter made it a habit of giving us shelter dogs that she rescued from the storms of life. I'm not sure what her past is, she did not come with a file. But I will tell you this, she likes shelter. Her two favorite places are under the desk and under the bed.

Things must have been rough in her past. She seeks the safety of dark places. My feet share her sacred space under the desk. She's learned to put up with me. Once in a while I look into the dark and see those eyes looking back at me. Wonder what she thinks?

Maybe she's wondering where my shelter is? When I come in from my day she usually greets me. It is not exactly an enthusiastic greeting like in some Lassie movie. It is more like, "Well, what was Your day like?" Then she walks back to her comforting cave under the desk as if to invite me to come sit a while and share some shelter with her.

O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.
Our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

She's snoring now. So much for the dog blog...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hummingbird Fights

This morning I watched hummingbird fights. There are at least two "sets" of hummingbirds that are constantly fighting over the flowers and feeders next to our back porch.

So I came in and googled "Why do hummingbirds fight?" I should have known. It's territorial. Once a hummingbird stakes out a food source they claim it as "theirs" and they fight to control it. With their transparent wings flapping a 50 times a second they bob and weave and bash each other. "That flower is mine sucker, get the heck out-a here!"

What if I step off my porch and say to both of them, "Well guess what this is my garden and the truth is these flowers belong to me so there!" If I listen carefully I would probably hear amidst the flapping of wings, "O buzz off big strange creature."

I wonder if that is how God feels when God observes our bobbing and weaving and claiming things as "ours." "This is my house, my car, my country...." What if God steps off the "porch" and says, "Truthfully all of this is mine. You are just passing through. Why all this fighting? Can't you learn to appreciate what is....and learn to share...and remember who gave it to you?"

Would we say, "Buzz off" and keep on flappinig and fighting?

Thanks for the reminder O little strange creatures....

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Routine

I have this routine I use on Sunday morning. First the dog must have a dog biscuit. There are priorities. In order for me to get "my head around the sermon" I start the routine at 5:00 am. Right now the dog is literally under my feet. She likes the dark shelter under our desk. Her constant panting reminds me that the Biblical word for "spirit" is the same word that means breath and wind. I have a constant reminder of the immediacy of the Spirit abiding in the darkness.

I go over the sermon manuscript and make notes and outline what I want to remember. Yes, even though I do not use notes I am not making it up as I stand before my people.

I am not always pleased with what I have written but it's getting late in the game to start changing things now...but sometimes I do.

Sermons are not "talks," they are meant to be "experiences." The idea is to offer words that create an atmosphere for God to do something with those who will listen. So, I offer a prayer: "Ok Jesus, here it is. You've been with me while I've been creating these words. Now take them and use them for you. I do not know what those who will listen need but you do. So now this is yours"

Then I go for an early morning run and I "preach" the sermon while I run. I feel like a St. Francis kind of figure out there with the sun just coming up with only the birds and the squirrels for an "congregation."

So, its that time...time to quite writing this and do my routine. I can hear the panting. I can feel the spirit...Who knows what will happen today? Preaching is like fishing. I've learned my task is to cast the net. The results are up to one who once said, "Follow me and I'll show you how to fish for people." We'll see....

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Grab Hold

In my morning time the words from Hebrews read, "We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go" (From chapter 6..I use Eugene Peterson's translation, "The Message" for my personal reads like a book.)

These words remind me of that scene when a group of us were standing in airport at Tel Aviv. We were surrounded by a large group of people who were speaking either Yiddish or Hebrew. Suddenly I felt someone grab me around the leg. I looked down to see a little girl in a lacy blue dress holding tight to my leg.

She looked up into my face and realized that she had grabbed the wrong leg. She started to cry but of course my words of comfort meant nothing to her as we did not speak the same language. I saw her run toward some other people. She seemed so lost and scared. Then it happened. She turned and with a look of recognition she ran toward a tall dark skinned man screaming a word that I knew, "Abba, Abba, Abba."

The man reached down and pulled his little girl up into his sheltering arms.

"Abba" is what Jesus called God that evening as he knelt in the garden of Gethsemane as he asked that the "cup be taken from him." This was a child seeking the shelter of "daddy."

We do not have to even know the language. We simply have to "grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go."

I understand why many skeptics in this world can not believe it, but it's true. The God of those billions of galaxies out there beyond our imagining is "daddy." Grab hold.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How Did I Get Here?

Often times on Sunday mornings I look around, see all the people, hear the wonderful music, look at and through the frozen stories in our stained glass windows and wonder how I got here. 37 years of memories sit with me.

There was one of "the Furr boys" who said after I had only been at my first small rural church for six weeks, "That new preacher won't last. He's too young, too short, and he's read too many books." Then there was Pilot Mountain where everyone knew my dog's name and I spent a good deal of time at the Surry Drug soda fountain because that is where the action really was.

Next came Abernethy Memorial in Newton where we had a massive barbecue pit in our backyard right next to the playground for the day care center. My job was to help turn the pork shoulders at 3:00 in the morning. I smelled like pig for a few days.

Then I got my "break" and was sent to my first large church with a staff. I had no idea what I was doing. I did a lot of listening and somehow figured it out. That's where I "learned to preach without notes" almost by accident one Sunday morning.

Eight years later I found myself in Gastonia where the church was the center of the community and I loved being part of helping make that community a better place. Sure there were true "characters" in Gastonia but they were real and they had stories.

Late one night I got "the call" from the bishop that said, "You are the only one I can think of that can follow James Howell. Go give those folks your heart." I bobbed and weaved a little bit because I was "comfortable" where I was but of course I "went where I was sent" as they say in Methodist circles.

There are not many churches like Davidson and remember I have served "all kinds" of places. Most Methodist ministers will never get to be pastor of a church like this. I sit there and marvel, "How did I get here?" I feel very privileged and honored. Perhaps I ought to send a post card to that dear soul at my first church and lovingly tell him that I'm glad he was wrong.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


We had a "staff outing" yesterday. Church work is a lot of serious stuff so we all went bowling. It was fun...for a while. Then I felt this tightness in my back. Surely bowling, a thing I did a good deal of in my childhood, would not mess up my touchy back? Well, I made it through 6 frames and then my old back said, "Seymour, you're not a kid anymore."

Alas there was my staff bowling away and I became a spectator. Psalm 71: 18 says, "Now when I am old and grayheaded do not forsake me, O God until I declare your strength to this generation." Well so much for leadership by example. I've turned into a true "senior" pastor!

But hey it must have been the unique twists and turns of bowling. I can still play a mean game of tennis. Well, I don't get to all the shots I used to and it may take me longer to put on all the braces I wear than it takes to play the set but I'm out there hustling.

I still remember at one of my churches the local High School could not find a tennis coach so they asked me. "I've never taken a lesson," I told them, "how can I teach kids tennis? "Please," the voice on the other end of the line said, "We've asked 10 other people and no one wants to do it.." Then there was a pause and the voice said, "Can you drive a van?" "Well yes.."...Then the voice said, "You're our new coach."

So I may not be able to bowl but I can still run down most shots on the court and besides, "I'm a former tennis coach!" We had a perfect record.....O and 13...My contract was not renewed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nice Throw

Have you ever "thrown" a pot? No I'm not talking about the day you got angry and threw something in the kitchen. I'm referring to that amazing skill of taking soft clay and throwing it onto a potter's wheel.

If you watch a skilled potter they make it look easy. The clay is thrown and then begins the shaping. I had to throw a pot in order to pass the art class I took in college. Let me tell you if you do not get the clay "exactly" in the center you are "lost."

I remember thinking when I felt each throw as being off center as it started to "wobble" in my moist hands that I could re-center the spinning clay by applying ever gentle pressure on one side or the other. It never worked. I had to start over again each time.

After what seemed like hundreds of throws and many days of exasperation one day I felt a strange sensation....balance...I quickly pulled up the clay in my hands, put my thumb into the center to form anything. It ended up being the heaviest candle holder ever made but it was made.

I'll never forget the class and I am constantly reminded of how "off center" I can get. I keep trying to throw things toward my "wheel" usually in a quick fashion and then I wonder, "what's wrong?" Old Jeremiah, before he was a bullfrog, found this out one day when he was frustrated with life, God, and about everything else. God sent him down to the potter's shed and simply said, "Shut up Jeremiah and watch the potter."

I know why. Whatever is going on with you right now...stop...and feel the balance or the lack of it...And maybe pray this prayer which is a song we'll do in church this Sunday:
Change my heart O God, make it ever new
Change my heart O God, make it be like you
You are the potter, I am the clay
Mold me and make me, that is what I pray

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What, 40 Years?

I don't know about you but when they kept talking about 40 years as the time that has passed since that first moon walk I went, "naw." You mean it was 40 years ago that my new wife and I watched that giant step for mankind from the living room of a parsonage in Eastern North Carolina?

It was my first church, my first wife, I had just preached my first sermon, and a spaceman took that first step. I found myself serving 3 small churches. Now you need to understand that I had not yet been to seminary. This was a summer Duke Endowment "field work" placement. They should have sent a "veteran" seminarian who knew something about ministry.

Whoever made the "assignment" did not do their homework. When my new bride and I pulled into the driveway that first Saturday the minister of the three churches was packing his car. Yes, packing his car. He told me "He could not handle it anymore and that he was taking the summer off." He then drove off.

Betsy and I looked at each other and said something like, "Naw." It's a long story but the short of it is that those dear tobacco growing people adopted this young naive not yet trained preacher and his sweet little bride.

I guess you can say that is where I "learned how to preach by preaching." By the way I've never taken a preaching class. That's another long story. ( I can play a pretty good game of tennis and I've never taken a tennis

So it's been 40 years since that first "giant step" but I remember that it was a time where I was taking "baby steps" that would lead down a path where I now look up at the moon on a clear night from Davidson. 40 years....naw...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Walter Said, "Wait a Minute"

Like many of you I grew up with Walter Cronkite. Much is being said about how we "trusted" him. I remember Betsy escorting Betty Feezor around the day she spoke at one of my churches. Betty was famous. She was a local version of Martha Stewart with her TV program on cooking and crafts.

Betsy commented to Betty on how people would come up to her like "she knew them personally." Betty Feezor's response was, "They think that because they have me in their houses through the medium of TV and know me that I know them." This was in part true but it was also because Betty Feezor oozed a kind of relational feeling by the way she talked about recipes and ways to make things.

Walter Cronkite made us feel like we could trust him. One clip I saw the other night was when the camera went live one evening but Walter was on the phone trying to confirm if Lyndon Johnson, the former President, was in fact dead. He would not go "live" with this important news unless he was certain. So "Uncle Walter" held up his finger to the camera and to all who were watching and said, "Wait a minute." We all waited. Then he gave us the news.

My I wish the talking heads would learn to wait a minute. Now we hear so much opinion about the news that it is hard to find the news in it all. Everyone has a soapbox and the boxes seem to be getting higher and the opinion gets more polarizing.

Walter knew how to wait and ponder. That is one reason we trusted him.

Our "faith story" calls upon us to "wait" in order to "know." We are trapped in a swamp of accessibility and instant knowledge. Fast can be good but it can be dangerous in a world that is complex and cannot be captured by sound bites.

Walter Cronkite spoke at my graduation from Duke. I do not remember exactly what he said. I remember him. I remember that some graduates that day did not like what he said. He was not there that day to give the news but to talk about his view of what was happening. I remember he said something like, "He loved America and that is why he was asking questions of her..."

Ah, Walter thank you for the wisdom that asks us to "wait..."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lightning Faith

Rumor has it that Martin Luther had a faith crisis in the midst of a thunderstorm. He ended up nailing to a church door 95 reasons to believe in a different way. The lightning evidently "put the fear of the Lord" in him and made him realize that the need for a new way to God was not something to just think about but that he needed to act on his faith.

Yesterday I witnessed a thunderstorm with its power and remembered brother Martin. A thunderstorm can leave you without power because of its power. Luther ended up saying that "faith" is the sole foundation for what he understood salvation to be. He was tired of the church saying that it had to be the constant "middle-man" or broker for God's love.

In a flash of light Luther said it "was faith alone" that did the trick. You did not have to pay off a priest to get your sins forgiven. The road to God did not have to go by the preachers desk. He offered a new concept, "the priesthood of all believers."

This is why I tell people that though I wear robes and have degrees you have the right and the privilege to disagree with me. We are all in this together. I'm on the road "with" you and the lightning flashes in all of our skies.

The God of "earthquake, wind, and fire" often comes in that "still small voice" or better translated, "in the sound of gentle stillness." Let us listen together. Faith lures us toward a God who longs for us to be on the journey. Both in the flashes of light in the sky and in the soft sound of the breeze God longs to be with us.

On night long ago when the sky was clear God sent Immanuel...God with us. In the sound of gentle stillness and in the power of thunder the God of all life speaks...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shelter from the Storm

When I was a child I built "forts" out of pecan branches and Spanish moss. The shelters looked more like moss igloos than forts but with a vivid imagination one could pretend that crawling into this fortress could protect you from the outside world.

I did not stay in my fort very long because this was usually in the summer in the Delta country of southern Mississippi. The leftovers from nature did "not" protect from the humidity and I discovered that mosquitoes knew how to penetrate my fort.

Still, I made the fortress and there was a certain pride in standing back and realizing that without tools or training I had made a dwelling place. A good thunderstorm could wreak havoc to my shelter but there were plenty of building materials remaining.

We are people who need shelter. We like to know that there is something between us and the outside world. Alas no mater the materials all of our shelters are temporary. When I was a child I did childish things but when I grew up I took up another vocation to help people "build shelters" using materials that are more permanent. The result is being able to know there is One who is our "shelter from the stormy blast."

After I finished my Spanish moss forts I would go up to my grandmother's front porch where you could find everyone from the town drunk to the mayor of the state. That porch was a "dwelling place" where all were welcomed and offered hospitality and love. I love to be able to offer that kind of shelter and dwelling place...
(I'm away for a few days so there may be a blog vacation of sorts..we'll see..)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Memory Upgrade

My old laptop computer was getting slower and slower. It was also "freezing up" and sending me "error messages." I was told that I needed a memory upgrade. OK, one of my goals was to cross the finishline of retirement without becoming a technological dinosaur. I thought those lines around my eyes were wrinkles only to discover that they must be encroaching fossil formations.

But hey I'm blogging aren't I. I'm swimming upstream against the tide of a new frontier. Anyway stop the image stuff Seymour and get to the point. (Don't you wish you could tell me that some Sunday mornings??)

My point, if I haven't forgotten it, is that don't you wish "you" could add memory so that you would not get "frozen" or receive error messages? I mean people compliment me sometimes about how "you don't use notes when you preach." Well the older I get the harder it gets. I need some added memory. Mine is getting old. I haven't frozen up on a Sunday morning in the middle of a sermon but I've come close. There have been a few times when it was time to move on the the next "point" and the point was illusive. I got an error message so I kept on talking and alas the point came up from somewhere in the recesses of my "hardware" or is that "software?"

My dear stepmother has dementia. She could sure use a memory upgrade. But her smile is still dear and she can be in the present moment with you.

There will be no memory upgrade for us because we are not machines. As wonderful as computers are they are crafted in some factory and are made up of chips and...well..what are they made up of?? No, we are flawed flesh and blood and our memories do fade. But we are not "manufactured" in some unknown technological brain tank. We are crafted by those same hands that threw out the galaxies and called them good.

The old story says that we are "known" always. We are never erased from God's memory. The hairs of our heads are numbered. (I'm doing God a favor on that one for God has less of me each month to remember)

I did another funeral yesterday in which I reminded all gathered that though we cannot know God fully we are always fully known by God. One day we shall see face to face and "know" as we have been known. Don't ever forget that!! Until then may your error messages be few and your freeze ups be subtle.
(Thank you Rosemary for "unclogging" the blog)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Comments Accepted!

I have corrected the setting for those of you who have been unable to submit a comment to Jody's blog. Comment away!

Rosemary Banks
Director of Communications
Davidson United Methodist Church

No Need to Ask

His name was Leon. He was not my grandfather but he stood in the place of one. My "real" grandfather on my mother's side died before I was born so Leon was the "new" grandfather.

He was a big man. He did not like me, or at least that was my childhood perception. Leon worked at Keesler Air Force Base doing something with airplanes. I did not really care but what I did care about was that when he came home he was always carrying a small black lunch box. He also seemed to have in his other hand a paper bag.

Somehow I thought that there might be something for me in that paper bag, but there never was. He simply came in from work, looked down at me with that look of anticipation on my face, and walked on by.

One day I finally said to him, "I know there is no need to ask, you don't have anything in that bag for me do you?" "No boy, you don't need anything," was his answer. After that day the conversation was reduced to a shorter sentence. I would say, "No need to ask." He would smile and nod.

On the other side of the Biloxi Bay bridge was my other "real" grandpa. I called him "Paw-Put." I did not need to ask anything of him. He would quietly take me to the laundry closet and show me where he hid the candy. He whispered, "Now don't tell the other kids. It's our secret."

There actually were a lot of "other kids...other grandchildren." I look back now and wonder if he told them the same line, but at the time it made me feel special. There was no need to ask, the hidden prize was always there.

Could it be that in some ways we never grow up? We are like children wondering if a "higher power" will be loving or noncaring.

We did not just "show up" in this life. We were crafted by unseen hands. It may be sometimes hidden in this cluttered life but love is folded between the laundry. There's no need to ask.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Music of the Spheres

It's early morning and I'm sitting at the computer having just finished a funeral meditation for a dear person whose memorial service will be later today. This person loved music. As I wrote, lightning and thunder pierced the darkness.

From somewhere deep within the caverns of my memory a childhood thought surfaced. I found myself humming. What was it I was humming? After some pondering I realized it was the tune that contained the words, "To my listening ears, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres."

"This is My Father's World," is the song. So as I composed the words to be said for this follower of the Way who loved music I too was serenaded by "the music of the spheres." It was a nice long a the lightning did not wipe out those words as they appeared on my screen. I mean the music of the spheres can be quite powerful. All our technology and ability to create images from words can be wiped out in a flash. So while I was grateful for the background music I was careful to save every few lines.

Ah, what an image. How many lines will I save today as I live life? What will happen on my screen as this day is composed? Will I notice that all around me today there will ring the music of the spheres? The music is always there. It is not always accompanied by flashes of light but it is always there.

So there are some words to closes this out that are better than what I can make up on this screen just now. They are the final words from that song of my childhood:
This is my Father's world, O let me ne'er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world; why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heaven's ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Morning Decision

Well its Sunday morning. I'm not as busy today because I'm not preaching. I'll be leading worship but when I'm not preaching I feel kind of lost. It's part of my bone marrow or something. Betsy worries that when I retire I will be really lost. She figures that it won't take long for an add to appear in some local paper, "preacher for hire." I'm not so sure...

I wonder how many people this morning are making a Sunday morning decision about what to do with their morning? When I was a kid there was no decision. We went to church. I sure did not always want to but it wasn't up for "decision."

Sometimes the lady in front of me would wear a really large brim hat. That would be a "good Sunday" because I knew that if I leaned just a certain way the preacher could not see me if I went to sleep. It's harder now for "you folks out there" because most women do not wear hats.

That's one reason I try to make what I do and say on Sunday morning engaging and relevant because I remember what it was like to sit "out there" and be bored. So there are people making decisions this morning. I hope that if you make (or by the time you read this "made") the decision to go to church you will find something engaging and relevent...but...if you do not at least know that I think God appreciates it even more those times you go and you "don't' get anything out of what the preacher said." At least you showed up. That says to God that you "notice" and that you remember that you are not self-made and that you need some help getting by in this crazy wonderful thing called life...and that yea, you messed up some the past week...and you seem to always need guidance to not mess up again...and well, you were "there." God maybe whispers, "I was there when you did not know it last week and I'll be there next thank you for being there."

Whatever your decision may God bless you this Sunday.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Evangelism and Evolution

I get a kick out of the media labeling people. One of the labels I especially notice is when someone is termed "an evangelical Christian." Let me ask you something. Have you ever heard anyone in the news called a "non-evangelical Christian?" Let's just stop right now and ask a personal question:
What kind of Christian are you?

There are Christians who like to shout "alleluia" and wave their hands in the air.
There are Christians who kneel silently and mutter words that are barely heard while making the sign of the cross.
There are Christians who march in the streets and demand a change in the principalities and powers.
There are Christians who feel like unless you say the faith a certain way and make a definite profession of faith you are not "really" a Christian after all.
There are Christians who go to church if it is convenient but who think that "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John" are kind of like "Ben and Jerry."
What then exactly is an "evangelical Christian?" The word "evangel" means to "tell a message of good news." Are we not all supposed to be evangelical Christians then? We are to be messengers of good news.

Anyway my rambling is to smile at the fact that Francis Collins has been nominated to be the new Director of the National Institute of Health. He is the author of, "The Language of God" and the past director of the Gnome Project that mapped the human gnome.

He is a scientist who professed atheism until he studied medicine and began the investigation into the origins of life. This scientific inquiry led him to a belief in God. He also believes emphatically in evolution and sees no conflict in holding that view while believing in God's creative activity in forming both the universe and life.

Now the media seems to be enjoying the use of the label "evangelical Christian" to describe Francis Collins. They might just think this will alarm many people who believe that the National Institute of Health will now be having prayer meetings and handing out Bibles on the street while professing an archaic view of life.

If Francis Collins is an "evangelical Christian"...and by the way he is...maybe people will open the window of their minds to just what "telling the good news" really is.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Got Any Wineskins?

My morning time today used the image of putting new wine into old wineskins and how that "won't work" because evidently new wine is still "doing its thing" and the fermentation will break open the old wineskins. I've never talked to anyone who owned wineskins but I think I get it.

I like routines. I usually go the same way home over and over again. Betsy is always wanting to take a different route to the way all the time. "Why don't you try a different way," she says? "Cause I want to get there and I'm comfortable with not having to think about where I'm going."

Meanwhile she's over in the driver's seat looking at the map pondering and suggesting alternate ways. I just keep driving...the same old way.

The truth is I get there but I do miss what might be something along the way that could be, according to Betsy, exciting. I guess I don't want to put anything new in my "non-existent"old wineskins.

This might be OK for travel routes but when it comes to the "explosive nature of a new gospel" one has to be willing to shed the old and try the new. The religious historian Jaroslav Pelikan once wrote, "Tradition is the living faith of the dead while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living."

I love certain traditions but I don't want a dead faith that holds tight to old wineskins at the expense of daring to try some of those risky things that Jesus asks of me. So I might still take the same way to the beach but I'll try to remain open to the fermenting nature of a gospel that often asks more of me than my safe old self wants to do.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Which Direction Do Your Feet Move?

In my morning time today I read a quote from Fredrick Buechner that I wanted to share with you:
"Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find that we are loved. Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp."

One of my mentors, Alan Jones, says it this way: "The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty." Faith has more to do with trust than assurance. It is interesting that when Jesus selected his disciples he did not give them a test or have them recite a creed. He simply said, "Follow me."

Peter, James, and John left their boat. Matthew left his tax table. Their feet simply took them toward some strange kind of love they felt. If they had known where they would end up there would not have been an empty boat and that tax table would have not been vacant. Maybe we are not supposed to know where we are going when we say we will follow.

The first to say yes to Jesus were not called Christians, they were called "Followers of the Way." Interesting....

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Boxes, Whales, and Appointments

Today I'm pondering the fact that this week marks my sixth year in Davidson. Last week was "moving day" for all United Methodist pastors. Our Presbyterian and Baptist counterparts are familiar with an interim time between churches and pastors. Sometimes this interim can be longer than a year.

The interim for a United Methodist pastor is four hours. Yes, you move out of your parsonage on a Tuesday around 10 and you are supposed to assume your new position at 2:00 that afternoon. It reminds me of those divers who forget to breathe and decompress as they come up from the depths. To not decompress gives the diver "the bends."

Methodist pastors and congregations wave goodbye in the morning and smile and offer welcome in the afternoon. It's quick.

I'm so glad that I did not have to look for boxes this year. After I move it takes me about two weeks to figure that I do not have to stop if I see a good box behind a store. Methodist ministers are known to frequent the ABC store quite a bit around moving time supposedly to get boxes. You can do what you want to with that thought.

I remember in my Hebrew class in seminary the word used for that "whale" to show up so that he could swallow old Jonah was "appoint." God "appointed" a fish to swallow Jonah. Ah ha, it was a Methodist fish for sure because Methodist call their pastoral positions "appointments." We are told where to go and churches are "sent" ministers. It is an appointment system.

Anyway it has been a quick six years. I am honored to be part of the ministry team at this wonderful church. Like Jonah, it's been quite a ride. Sometimes I feel "consumed" but most of the time I feel very appointed. I'm supposed to be here. And it sure feels good not to be looking for boxes...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Working on a Holiday

Well I'm here at the office and yes it is July 4th. Someone found out I was at the office and responded, "Don't you know it's a holiday?"

I'm working on a funeral service for dear Faith Mark who died yesterday. She's worth working on a holiday. Her service will be Tuesday at 2:00.

The truth is that "time off" in the ministry is a bit tricky. I get some free time that others do not get but then one is never really "off" when it comes to this kind of work. That is not a complaint, it's an observation.

I tell young clergy that if they think they have chosen a job they are in the wrong line of work. The ministry is a "life." Having said that it is up to the minister to find "that time" that is some kind of sabbath time. I do good at that at times and at others I fail.

But trust me. This is joyous work (most of the time) I get to be with people at those vary sacred times when others are not "allowed in." I cherish those times. It is a "calling" and a life. To bring the old story alive and see others engage that story is one of the most wonderful callings in the world.

Time to go now....O...I remember a young Christian Educator we hired at one of my churches who was straight out of school. She did not make it. The church was too big and the job was too overwhelming for a young inexperienced person and we were at fault for hiring her but when she left she tearfully said to me, "And...I don't like working on weekends..." Wrong work dear, wrong work...
See ya,

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blog clog

Well I'm new at this but what I hear from some folks at church, there is a blog clog when you try to use the "comment" part of all this. I've asked Rosemary to check this out cause while I know how to unclog the sink I do not know how to unclog a blog. In the meantime if you want to respond to me or contact me use the e mail link over on the side of this page.

So much for lackluster blog humor. This weekend is the time when we remember our nation's birth and hopefully say thank you for the freedoms we possess.

July 4th weekend is not a religious observance but you would not have known that if you had been present at a church I attended a few years ago while away on July 4th weekend. There were big screens and images of fighter jets flying over while American flags waved in the background. The preacher of the day emphasized that this was not about America it was about God. You could have fooled me.

There is a thin line between being thankful for God's blessings in our wonderful country and getting caught in the web of a kind of nationalistic adoption of God that wraps the God of all the nations in our particular flag. Our scriptures tell of a God who will not have that. God judges between the nations. Those nations that claim God as their own must acknowledge that while they might ask for God to bless their country and their cause they must also be open to God's expectations and judgment.

This Sunday in worship I'll try to "walk that line" between a nationalistic patriotism that can veer into idolatry and a prophetic patriotism that remembers that God is the God of the nations and that with God's blessing comes the expectation that we are to bless others. Happy 4th to you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another Fallen Icon

Well for a while we'll endure or some will perhaps enjoy a tsunami of news about Michael Jackson who is termed by some an "icon" of pop music. The story is of yet another famous person dying too young and too famous. Being an icon is hard, that is if you are a "living icon."

Icons in the Eastern Orthodox church have a history of being those painted figures of Christ or saints usually done on wood. The famous personages directed the one who venerated them to something beyond the actual picture. These icons were directional signals to something bigger than the image.
Being a living icon may be more than one can handle. I'm not sure what happened to Michael Jackson and I mean that both in his living and in his dying. His "picture" changed before our very eyes as he re-painted his own face so as to loose its color. He re-sculpted his iconic image so that he no longer looked his old self. Many speculate as to why he did such re-figuring.

It's hard to be a living icon. Maybe we're not designed to be icons while we are living. Maybe that designation is to be applied later after time allows for a certain mellowing and fermentation of respect.

In the religious/spiritual world icons ultimately point to a reference for none other than God. Some seemed to almost worship Michael and his work. Such veneration of the living is always dangerous. It is said that Michaels heart "gave way" or "gave up" or something. The human spirit can only handle so much without buckling in some way under the weight of "glory."

There is a line I will paraphrase from the book, "The Wizard of Earth-Sea." The words come when a young apprentice wizard turns himself into a hawk in order to escape the clutches of a dark dragon. In flight the wizard forgets himself and continues to enjoy soaring in the clouds. Suddenly he becomes weak and finds himself in a rapid descent to the earth.

He awakens cold and clammy in the arms of the master wizard who is his teacher. "My teacher," he says through trembling lips, "What is the matter with me?" The old teacher looks into the eyes of his young pupil and says, "My child I gave you great powers, but if you become what you are not for too long it will destroy you."

We are but human. No one can really be a living icon. Being truly human is supposed to be enough. Even icons, real icons point to the One who creates our humanness.
Rest in peace Michael. Now that the pressure is off you can be simply human again...or maybe even for the first time. God bless you.