Wednesday, October 31, 2007
A friend had told us to call ahead and order your steaks. So we did that. And we got directions: "Come to the stop sign, turn right and you can't miss the large green roof over the gas pumps."
Harold's has a personality disorder. It doesn't know if it is a country store, flea market, pool hall, gas station or diner. Every shelf and corner is stacked with something that should have been tossed out a long time ago. We got there ahead of the 6:30 serving, so we played pool, until the manager called out "Steaks are on!" We assumed that was the equivalent of "Come and git it!" I was grateful since Lauren was cleaning my plate at pool.
Actually, the inch thick steaks were delicious, as well as the spicy onions, with plenty of sweet tea. Not a bad meal at all at $16 a plate. Most of the patrons were Citadel fans on their way back to Charleston. But they were a friendly bunch in spite of the defeat at Georgia Southern.
Harold's has its own character, a rare commodity in restaurants, and is worth a stop. Just call ahead and tell them how you like your steaks.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
In a similar way, when we hear a news report of a tragedy and we feel regret or some sadness for the pain and loss. But put a human face with it, and it changes for us. We are connected, and one persons' loss is a loss to us all.
The fire tragedy at Ocean Isle Beach, NC this past weekend that claimed the lives of seven college students hit me with these thoughts. We have watched the news of the horrible fires raging in southern California for weeks, which included loss of life. Those fires were horrible, and we prayed for the victims and the fire fighters. But that was far away and we did not know them.
This loss, closer to home, with names we unfortunately can connect with, becomes an ache we carry for those in shock and grief. Names and faces of people we know, or who know the people we know. And so we pray anew.
My point is, I do not believe God sees in generalities. God sees and knows each face. Maybe another way to say it is, God does not see us a people, but as persons. That probably says more about our faith than I can comprehend, but for today, it is both a comfort, and a calling.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Stood all my ideas on end
Then toppled them over like dominos.
And that was with your first cry.
You rock my world.
Slicing through my stoicism
With laser wit and laughing eyes.
Easily being the center of all connects.
You pulse my world.
Taking hopes and love and faith
As you own natural gait,
Moving to the beat of joy.
Happy Birthday, La.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
The Aldersgate web page has some updated pictures of the home in Orangeburg. It already has the brick work done. Still hard to believe becoming operational is within sight. Considering the need, a place for 12 people with developmental disabilities to call home is a a very small step, but of course, for each of those 12, it's a tremendous life change and answer to prayer.
The reports are prepared and actually were taken to the District Office this past Wednesday. The salaries have been approved. The people have been identified for next year's offices. I think only action that church members see of significance at the CC is the formal action of electing those persons. And honestly, why do you need a District Superintendent present for that?
Maybe the CC does still serve a 'connectional' function. It'd be interesting to hear whether the Dist. Superintendents think so, especially after conducting 60-70 of them. I just wonder if there aren't better ways to do that - and my wondering has nothing to do (honestly, seriously, well...) with it being a Saturday morning and I'd rather lounge around, watch football on TV, and drink plenty of OJ.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Someone suggested the Paper Tiger system. I looked it up on the web. You number each paper and then enter it in your computer, also listing key words so it will show up in something like a "google" search. Sure, I'm going to be focused enough to do all that?
Guess I'll stay with the paper pile method. It takes longer to find things, but while you're looking you come across other interesting things. Like last night while I was looking in my office for a sheet with charge conference figures, I came across an article with some notes I'd made on it for a great sermon illustration. That's a great "find" that just wouldn't have happened if the article was stuck in some neat hanging file, with it's proper number!
Monday, October 22, 2007
There came a time in the service when we talked about being vulnerable before God. I even felt that way, with my feet exposed. And afterwards Mitch suggested I ought to have the congregation at the traditional service remove their shoes one service. Yea, right!
But it brings a question to mind. Have we lost the sense of being exposed, vulnerable before God? We come into worship pretty secure in who we are, and what is going to happen in the service. We have our emotional defenses in place and our masks on. Any given Sunday, 95% of those in a United Methodist worship service are basically untouched by God. Why? There's no exposure. Going bare footed is just a ploy. How do we get people to go bare-hearted before God?
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Good thing I was. I grabbed a blanket and pillow and settled in an easy chair by the window of one of the front rooms. At 1:30 a car stopped out front, but I stepped out the door and it took off. At 3 AM I heard a car and when to the front door. Five boys were just starting to spread the toilet paper, I threw open the door and shouted as I went out. The car sped off, but the five guys ran behind it just about as fast! I watched as they piled back in at the end of the next block. I was proud of being so vigilant.
An hour later Kelsey called to say keep watching, they'd just hit another house. So I was ready when at 4:30 AM another car stops right in front of our mailbox straight out the walk from our front door. In a flash I was to the door, flung it open and stomped out shouting, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Delivering your newspaper," shouted back the newspaper guy. Oops. He didn't stick around for my apology or explanation.
By the way, they came back, this time parking the car down the street and sneaking up to the yard. Kelsey and her friend pulled into the drive at 5 AM and caught them. Off they ran again, but toilet paper adorned our trees and shrubbery. So, a night without sleep, we still got hit, and I probably won't have a newspaper delivered in the morning!
Actually I ended up having to report for only four trials. And we never heard a one of them! Every one was settled without going to trial - settled apparently after much negotiation while we sat in the jury room waiting.
The first day I followed the rules and left my cell phone and book in the car. The next day I took both in with me. And the last day I even took in a portfolio with work to keep me occupied. However, what I should have taken was a tape recorder. You can find some interesting characters in the jury room.
One woman, recently moved to town from the north, was apparently missing her friends back home, cause she was trying pretty hard to make friends out of us. She made me feel like I was at a Chamber of Commerce after-hours social mixer - a lot of questions and overly sincere affirming responses. I'd try to return to my reading material, but like the collar, it didn't work.
One man who was on two juries with me freaked me out a little. Seriously, he knew a lot about every one of us in the room. At the selection session you have to tell what you do and what your spouse does. He must have memorized everything we said. There was just too much information coming from this man, and it made me start watching my own comments carefully.
Most of the folks, however, were just looking to pass the time like I was. And so you know what happens while a jury waits, here's a topic sampling from our conversations: moving to the South (obviously), the drought, dieting, alligators in unexpected places, hunting wild pigs, saving a niece from a domestic violence situation, heart catheterizations, more diets and recipes, fire fighting, deer hunting, church choirs, traffic accidents, children, job closures, and favorite places to eat.
The judge was nice, appreciative of us, and kept us updated on the negotiations. And except for it being a busy week for me, it wasn't any worse than going to the dentist. Wait, it was better. We got paid $10 a day for our service to the community, without ever passing a verdict.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Since these girls are ages 7, 8 and 10, I visited with them to talk about the meaning of baptism and what it means to follow Jesus as your Savior. At the end of my visit I gave my cell phone number to their mother in case she needed to reach me with any questions. Next thing I knew, all three girls had their own cell phones out (!) and entered my number as well.
Contrary to my expectations, I haven't been bombarded with calls. I can just imagine the speech their mom gave them about doing that. But I have gotten a few text messages from them - and it always brings a smile to my face.
A text message this week was the best one of all. Short and to the point it said: "Can't wait to be baptized!" -Caroline.
How about that! How many of us express such anticipation about receiving God's grace?
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
One evening, sitting alone and looking out over the North Sea, I saw that rock at my feet and it took me back to an experience from twenty years ago. At that time I was on my first UMVIM trip which was to the Dominican Republic. The work, laying blocks to build a church, was hard and meaningful, and the bay town of Barahona was beautiful. One evening, driving back from visiting a mission medical clinic, we stopped to see a beach that was covered with rounded, smooth rocks rather than sand.
We simply walked the beach, enjoyed the view and picked up some of the well-worn rocks. I picked up one that looked just like an egg - perfect egg shape and a little off white in color. I started to keep it, but then tossed it down preferring to find those with unusual colors and shape.
Here's the embarassing part. When we got back on the van to return to our motel, one of the guys excitedly showed us his great find - a rock that looked just like an egg! It was the same rock I'd tossed away. I didn't say anything, but I remember to this day the strong feeling of jealousy that swept over me. I had a handful of rocks just like I'd looked for, but they paled in value as I admonished myself for not keeping the suddenly admired egg-rock.
I know, it was a childish response. And as I said, it's still embarassing to think about it. But as those memories rose up and stared back at me in my solitude at Burghead, I wondered if I'd really grown up much since then. Have I allowed the Spirit to root out such envy in my heart, or do I just do a better job of disguising it, or refusing to acknowledge it?
I'd be too ashamed to admit this, except I do believe others have to deal with the same kind of emotions. In the Methodist Connection it shows up every spring. We might be happy in our appointment and have no desire or intention to move to a new church. But then we hear about the moves of others and so we say to ourselves (and yes, sometimes to others) "I should have been the one to go there." But really it could be just another pretty egg-shaped rock.
Envy shows up when we feel passed by with career opportunities. Or when we hear of friends receiving accolades for doing something we chose not to do. It creeps in when we compare our material possessions with what others have. It's funny how that when others value something, that increases its value to us. How many things have we bought, or worked to acquire, not because we really desired them, but just because others said they were desirable. You know, things like designer-label rocks, big screen rocks, iPhone rocks, exclusive membership rocks - the list could go on and on.
Now it is true that feelings are simply feelings, and that it's our behavior based-on-0ur-feelings that is open for judgment. But I'm not talking character development here, rather, the transformation of the heart, something Wesley called sanctifying grace. I need, we need, a principle within to awaken us to a sensibility of envy, a pain to feel it near.
In my case, rocks will have to do. The title of this post is one of my favorite lines from the movie Forest Gump. Forest and Jenny, "his girl," walk up to an abandoned house in a field where she survived a terrible childhood. Jenny runs up and angrily starts throwing rocks at the house, until she collapses into a crying heap on the dirt road. Forest tried to comfort her and in his narrative voice-over says, "Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks."
I kept the rock from Burghead as a token reminder, not only of my reflections that day, but also of the grace there that allowed me to examine my thoughts and feelings and turn them over to God. But I wonder, are there enough rocks to change my wayward soul?
Monday, October 15, 2007
I called for prayer yesterday for those caught in the whirlwind of domestic violence. My heart aches for those who endure abuse. The wife whose self-esteem is shattered and who implores, "Please don't say anything." The child who cowers, yearning for the "good parent" to show up. I feel total disgust toward the ones who seize power and control by tearing down those they should protect, but yet I pray, may Christ the Redeemer, the Liberator, free both victim and abuser from this evil.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
The sermon in question began last week when Cynthia said she wanted something different for their outdoor service. I suddenly remembered something lodged in my brain from about ten years ago. A church member back then told me of a sermon preached by a pastor in Texas that had an unusual beginning. It was the pastor's first sermon in the church and he began with a re-telling of the story of the three pigs. These pigs, however, went out to build churches, one using memories, one using dreams, and I forgot what the third one was.
Cynthia liked the idea and we came up with a) people's desires, b) right belief, and c) people who love. Off she went to write, and wow, I think she nailed it. After reading it, I knew I was going to use it myself, for our Tailgate Sunday. You can read it here.
I guess the story idea really belongs to that preacher in Texas, but ideas and sermons evolve. Since it is story form it would kill the effect to say, this idea is not original. But some might say you have to give proper credit. Guess I feel differently about it. I fully understand the guidelines of attribution and plagiarism in the academic world. You should be evaluated on your own work.
But I've got a question about the way it all shakes out in the practice of preaching. In a real sense, we all need to do our own work. But our own work is usually an amalgamation of things we've heard and read throughout our lives. Seems to me that as long as we're all trying to proclaim the good news as best we can, there's not much of an issue over the common usage. There are a lot of "borrowed" stories and ideas that circulate. It's the whole issue of personal credit or profit from the material that generates the problem. If I want to reap personal benefits from my material, I've got to put a fence around it to keep others from tracking across it. And when I've done that, am I still "preaching?"
Thursday, October 11, 2007
The pictures, so many faces, doing such a variety of things in ministry, make me realize anew that it's hard to truly see what a church is all about. And if that's true for me as the pastor, imagine what it's like for the people who just come to worship. Plus, often we see without really seeing.
The philosopher Hegel said that when something is very familiar to us, it remains unknown. He probably meant something much deeper than this, but we can become so used to the people around us that we no longer really see them for who they are. Or, we look through or beyond our surroundings.
A big part of leadership is keeping your own eyes open, and helping others to do the same. I've heard it said that the task of a leader is to remind the organization of its purpose. Maybe the primary task it simply to remind others to keep their eyes open and to see the mosaic of life in which we live. Open our eyes, Lord, to see how your Spirit fits the pieces of our lives together. Then we could expand our UMC tagline: Open hearts, open minds, open doors AND open eyes.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Monday, October 8, 2007
The attendance held strong, close to 60 again, but still not getting many of the parents of the youth to attend. The pace of this one was a little slower, and that was nice, more time to reflect on the readings and discussions. I had so little to do with the planning of this session. Bill and Johannah on our staff basically did the ground work, and they did an excellent job both with the graphics (a slide show on the theme of creation) and the involvement of a variety of people.
By the way, I came across a decent archived article from Christianity Today about the emerging movement. Five Streams of the Emerging Church. It's more on the theological trends side than makes for an easy read (yes, we're still talking Christianity Today), but it is a helpful overview for those wanting to know more about emerging. Half-way through there are a couple paragraphs on worship that I started to swipe, but you can just link there if you want to read it.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
I inwardly grimmaced, thinking there can't be that much difference. And I was biased against even considering it. I'm one of those who believe the rituals of the church are to help define us and aren't simply a matter of personal choice. That said, I don't feel bound to the precise words of the ritual, especially during eucharistic prayers. So I got out the 1964 edition of The Methodist Book of Worship and gave it a look.
She was right. Just note this beautiful phrase, missing from our present liturgy: Our Lord has expressly given to little children a place among the people of God, which holy privilege must not be denied them. Remember the words of Christ, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." The questions of faith to the parents are much more appropriate to the moment. For example: Do you accept as your duty and privilege to live before this child a life that becomes the Gospel; to exercise all godly care that s/he be brought up in the Christian faith; that s/he be taught the Holy Scriptures, and that s/he learn to give reverent attendance upon the private and public worship of God?
Why did we delete this from the present ritual, in favor of an all-purpose generic liturgy? (A liturgy that is awkwardly "wordy.") Should not an infant baptism be different from other baptisms, in that the teaching of what infant baptisms are all about be somehow included in the words?
There is a proposal coming to General Conference 2008 from the General Board of Discipleship for a new United Methodist Hymnal in 2013. What do you think? Should there be a sub-committee that updates the ritual section as well? I'd vote for it. Of course that would mean following up the new hymnal with a new worship book. Can you already see the smiles on the executives of the UM Publishing House?
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Just think of a few crucial questions Jesus asked. Not the rhetorical questions of his speeches, or those from debates with the Pharisees, but the questions that intersected the lives of people. To the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, "But who do you say that I am?" To two blind men in Jericho, "What do you want me to do for you?" To the crippled man beside the pool of Bethsaida, "Do you want to be made well?" And to Peter, "Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me?" These are questions that define life itself.
The last couple of days I've spent in a Coach Net training hosted by our Conference and so questions are on my mind. Good coaches work on asking good questions. I know I learned a lot and hopefully will do a better job at this. We've all heard the expression, "Think before you speak." Well, I need to "Think before I ask." Does the question assume a certain answer? Does it seek information or insight? Is it leading or limiting? Is it focused and concise? Does the question reflect the holy gift of sharing our lives?
Preachers are notoriously "tellers" rather than "askers." We all have a "word" we want to say. Plus my personality profile puts me in the "teller" quadrant. So attending to good questions is a continual necessity for me. The Coaching task is not to tell others what they need to know and do. It isn't to solve another's problem or determine the course of action for him/her. Coaches come alongside asking the kind of questions that help others become clear on what it is they feel led to do and how they will get it done.
I imagine the disciples, the crippled man, and Peter never forgot the experience of Jesus' question calling out the truth of themselves. I wonder how often we get such Godly experiences. Can you think of a time when someone's question made the difference for you? What's THE question of your life right now? Ask, and you shall receive.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
I was back in Charleston to visit a member in the hospital, and to attend the memorial service for a colleague, the Rev. Chad Davis. Chad was the Columbia District Superintendent when I came into the ministry. He was a personable and direct leader, devoted to the church and to addressing the social concerns of his generation.
Historic Trinity UMC on Meeting Street, where Chad served as pastor in the early 70's, was filled with ministers, family, friends, and one special person. That was the mother of Jason Yandle, a young man who tragically died in 1993 at the age of 16. Jason's donated heart was transplanted to replace Chad's diseased heart, giving Chad another 14 years of life, service, and grandparenting.
From the stirring strains of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God to the closing affirmation of Amazing Grace, the service was an emotional celebration of Chad's life, and the faith we share. His teenage grandson gave an eloquent tribute, that left us all longing to have a grandfather to love and inspire us just as Chad did him.
After the witnesses to our faith, and to Chad's life were finished, the service shifted focus. Chad's eldest daughter went to the pulpit and told us the story of Jason Yandle, who was an outstanding student and athlete, of the family's decision at his death to donate his organs, and of the special relationship between the families. They found out about each other when Mrs. Yandle heard Chad speak on a radio program about his heart transplant and figured out by the date that he was the one who'd received Jason's heart. The moving tribute concluded with a fitting plea, complete with handouts, for us all to become organ donors.
I returned to Sumter in time to catch the end of the Sumter High School Chorus fall concert in Trinity's sanctuary. I walked in as they were singing Giovanni Pergolesi's Alleluia, and simply stood in the back, drinking in the harmonic praise. Some days you cannot avoid the glory and love of God, revealed right here where we live, and die.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
As bad as I was striking the ball, however, at no time did anyone in my foursome criticize me or complain about my golf. If anything, there would be a word of encouragement, or a reminder, "The good thing about golf is you get to hit it again."
I've played with groups before where the others took their golf so seriously they seemed putout if (when) I miss-hit the ball. It wasn't fun. Maybe if I was a better player it would have been, but I just felt that I was being an embarrassment or was holding everyone up, or, was causing them to play worse as they "accommodated" me.
But my partners yesterday were golfers of grace. And afterwards we all shook hands and affirmed we enjoyed the time together. As I drove home to Sumter, I thought about how good it was to have partners like that. And I thought about how much more we need partners of grace off the golf course.
What's your church like? Is it full of partners of grace, or is it characterized by those who take their faith so seriously, there's no room for error? Are you surrounded by partners who will encourage you when nothing is going right? Do the ones close to you act as if you are a burden, or nuisance? Or do they say, "Hey, that shot's over and done with; you get another one."
Lord, forgive me for all the times I've played the game of life so seriously, that I failed to be an encouragement to those struggling. And thank you for the partners of grace in my life.