Friday, March 30, 2012

Unconditional and strong

Today is something completely different.

Today is dog-day morning (and afternoon).

We have five dogs, and I know, I know, I know. It is too many. But it goes to our lack of discipline and our way too big hearts. This is their story.

The oldest is Logan, born in 2000. I know this because my youngest daughter, Carrie, named Logan after the Wolverine character in the movie X-Men. She is of a golden-hue, part Golden Retriever and part something way different. She is a medium-sized dog who is entirely too wrapped up in eating. She is greedy, and far too often thinks she is a big dog. She has been beaten in squabbles too often over time.

The second-oldest is Paris, or Baby Girl. She was a gift from Carrie, who couldn't care for her for reasons that disappear into my mind. She's a sweety, as well. SHe loved our dear Frankie, a weiner, who passed two years ago, so much and has transferred that love onto Logan. Often you will see Logan lying on the floor with Paris lying on Logan. She sleeps in the crook of my back, and I awoke this morning and my first thought was what will I do when she inevitably passes. She looks amazingly like the Taco Bell pup.

Then there are the rescues. Samantha is a wide -load mut. I awoke from a back procedure a couple years back to tell Mary, my wife, we were going to the pound to save a dog. We asked for the dog that had been there the longest, and Sammie came home with us. She was a thin, tall dog then. She is a wide, tall dog now. Breezy, a mini-weiner, came next. Essentially he was to be a replacement for Frankie, and I drove all the way to Picayune to pick him up from a small, ugly animal shelter. He came home placid. But apparently he had been abused by a male, and he has hated me ever since he arrived. Luckily, he loves Mary completely. He was deathly afraid of me for a while, but that has turned into mad jealousy. Finally, there is Copper a full-weiner. He is a mess, literally. He has eaten our couch, meaning we have or ant to get a new one before we move in June. We figure he's past the eating stage now, or we hope, at least.

There they are. We don't get to take as many trips as we would like. They cost us way too much money. They are an above-stated mess.

 But from dogs I've truly learned the eyes thing. Look into a dogs eyes, good dog/bad dog it does't matter. What you will see there is love, as I define it.

 Love is a complete letting go. Love is surrendering to someone whether they are good to you or not. Love is being confined all day by oneself and yet loving the person who did the confining. Love is even going beyond abuse to find something in common and something to lovve about the abuser. Love is, well, agape. It is not earned. it is not bought. Love is unconditional. Love is Jesus, the great shepherd, who died so that we might live.

I have to believe there were dogs (and cats, but that's another story, on the Ark. Something had to keep the Noahites laughing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Death waits on no one

Death waits on no one, someone once said, or at least I believe they did. I had been stressing about the workload when I got the call.

I had so much work at the recent Kairos event, speaking six times in three plus days, then coming home to work on sermons for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, a service for Good Friday, then three services on Easter, that I was feeling overwhelmed.

Then I got the call.

 A man who was not a member of one of the churches but whom I had been visiting had died. That was a blessing, I thought, since he had been lingering after a stroke and then cancer in his brain that they would not treat.

But it was, and is since I've not yet worked on the sermon, more work. I began to think about what I wanted to say at his funeral, beginning the process preachers (even those of such little acclaim and talent as myself) know so well. Thoughts ran like adult rabbits through bramble and bush, scurrying into only God knows what.

 Then as I taught a Bible Study last night (oh, yes, four Bible Studies through that period I mentioned, as well), when we were discussing Jesus' last words from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me I began to find words for this funeral sermon. Jesus speaking to heaven and earth. Jesus saying what many of us feel when we've lost a loved one.

 Jesus quoting from Psalms 22. This ancient hymn, meant to be sung but equally effective screamed or whispered from the cross and hopefully from a funeral home pulpit, spoke to me about death and resurrection in a way I hadn't given thought.

 From those last few breaths we take when it might be more natural than ever to hope that the slide we've begun from life to the possible darkness of death is instead a slide to the light and the joy of a greeting and a smile from a shepherd.

The psalm takes us on that journey. From the loneliness of the beginning to the discouragement of the middle to the joy of the end. The psalm talks of dogs surrounding us, which we all feel from time to time. Of bones being evident, of clothing cast for lots and it brings to mind the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, but somewhere it reminds us of the difficulties we face every day. The discouragement of those around us watching us die, or in some cases even the way we live, I take from this psalm.

But then, oh then it says..."For he has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden his face from Him: But when He cried to Him, He heard."

He sees us in the joys of our midlife when kids are kids and life is grand. He watches as we age, when hair and flexibility begin to disappear. He hears our painful screams when we wish to be with him at least as much as we wish to be with the ones we've loved so very long.

Then He hears our death cry when the journey that seemed so long turns out to be just a breath in eternity and we linger no more and we take that final, final journey into His arms. Death waits on no one, but He does. Death comes to us all, but resurrection does, too.

And one day, one sweet day the Bible in this very psalm, the one in which Jesus quoted from for a reason, "All the prosperous of the earth shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust shall bow before him. Even he who cannot keep himself alive. That is resurrection talk. The dead can't do much bowing in bodies that are turned to dust.

 No, sir. Death does no wait for anyone, but Jesus does.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The 1 percent comes home

"Suppose someone among you had a hundred sheep and lost one of them." Luke 15: 4a

I was talking with my youngest daughter, Carrie, yesterday and was taken back to a time long, long ago in a land far, far away when I was a sophomore in college. She has recently decided, wisely and correctly, to return to college. We were talking English and Math and such and I thought about those days long ago.

There was a time when I would go into the college cafeteria each morning and play two songs on the jukebox: Crocodile Rock by Elton John and Operator by Jim Croce. Each morning. They were my coffee/Red Bull all wrapped into a small package of music. Then I was off to class, or off to get an interview for the campus newspaper or the local newspaper sports section or off to talk to someone or whatever it might be. That was my college experience that I loved the most. Later at Mississippi State, not so much. That was more about drinking and writing and loneliness.

I was discovering who I was, a little song at a time. I  had left the church after a freshman year when I lost a first-love and lost my way a bit and had begun to wander into drinking and such. I was testing myself, learning who I could be apart from the image I had built at least partially because others had "taught" me to be that person. Now I could make decisions on my own. Turns out I wasn't good at that. Unfortunately, though I would turn out to be fairly successful in this writing thing, what I discovered over the next 22 years or so was that I was a lost, lost sheep in great, great need of a shepherd.

Family found. Check. Family lost. Check. Family found. Check. And through it all I drank, and drank. Lucy in the sky with diamonds I lived, and lost, and lived and lost.

Then, oh, then, I reached a stage when I couldn't live the roller-coaster any longer. I needed to find the air-break and hit it ... hard. I needed, oh, uh, uh, something of meaning.

Did I think that would lead me to some place like Eunice, La., later this year to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Nope. Nada. I just wanted to find meaning. Didn't go looking for religion. Didn't even go looking for Christ. I went looking for sobriety, peace, further accomplishment.

Found? Jesus. In absolute inexplicable fashion (the Bible calls it a peace that surpasses understanding), I found what life can mean, about how it was okay to think more of others than one does oneself, how it was okay to love fully and deeply and to receive love in the same fashion. I found it, while not looking for it. Perhaps that's the key.

Those who don't know what I mean won't know what I mean. But my life was changed because somehow inexplicably the unexplainable became known to me. What wasn't wanted became all I wanted. This part about eternity, well, that's fine and great and worthy of great praise and I do. But what I found works darn well right here on ol' Earth. The Bible cause it abundant living. I simply call it life.

I'm not a part of the 1 percent by any stretch; in fact, we don't have all that much any more in terms of income. But I'm proud to say I'm also now part of the 1 percent who came home to join those 99 in the pen. The shepherd wasn't even mad about the time I spent sampling what I thought was greener pastures. He simply gave me some fresh living water.

Heaven rejoiced on August 16, 1995. I've been doing it since. I wish only others could do the same. It has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with him. I really, really believe that. I continue to pray others, especially my readers who are in deep pain for various reasons, would come to know that, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do our neighbors wear hoodies?

Luke 10: 25-37 -- What do you think? Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?"

In a world that is now being defined by hoodies and death comes with ice tea on teens breath, it might be instructive to take another look at Jesus' aged, wrinkled story about a man traveling down a road that was notorious from thievery.

A man was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It goes almost straight downhill, through some terrifically dry terrain. The man was attacked, beaten, left for dead. As Jesus tells the story, two men come by, one a priest, the other a Levite whose role would have been to help the priest. They pass for reasons we wouldn't understand but would have been understood by the ones Jesus told the story to. Then a third man, a Samaritan came by. A dirty Samartan, the listeners would have heard. A half-breed, someone the Jews surrounding Jesus as he told the story, would have heard. But this one helped the beaten man.

Jesus question was this: Who is our neighbor, the ones who didn't help or the ones who did?

Now place yourself in the story. Just what if with me a second. What if the man who helped was dressed in a hoodie and was black? Or what if the man lying there was dressed in a hoodie and was black? Or what if we take all this drama out of our lives and simply ask the question once and for all, who is our neighbor?

I take no sides in the current squabble. I only say in these things, turn the tables. If the shooter was black and the man lying dead was white, where would intensity of the 25,000 heading to Florida be?

Who is our neighbor? Until we reach the stage when we are ALL neighbors, Jesus will not be pleased, I suspect.

Monday, March 26, 2012

God still ...

Luke 7: 42 -- "When they couldn't pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both. Which of them will love him more?"

I spent a weekend in prison, again, and I was amazed, again. God still is moving among his people.

We were a sad-sack kinda group, if you know what I mean. Me...bad back, knee screaming, heel yelling and a long, long bout of IBS (and if you take the time to look it up you will know it has nothing whatsoever to do with the IRS); one dear soul with a ticker that we worried might not keep ticking; a leader who followed and followers who led and all in all we wondered half the time what we were doing.

But as Andre Crouch wrote, "Through it all, through it all..." God still is moving among his people.

We sang, we prayed together and alone, we wept together and alone, we talked and we preached and we taught and we sought and through it all, through it all we bled together and we were resurrected together. One. Without out understanding or logic, we were one...prisoner and free men.

Two came to Christ as I reckon that term to me. Many had their walked deepened. We were the stooges 17, yet God still is moving among his people. We took a program that has a true, real method in its Pharisitical madness that has proved to be successful over a long period of time and broke it into inexplicable pieces and through it all, through it all God still is moving among his people.

The hard case, the man who couldn't read, the ones in prison a long time then one who has been in four years for driving drunk and killing his own little girl and on and on they came to the cross and if they didn't fall to knees they at least had to deal with its meaning and to a man God moved among them.

When it was done I went to the back of the chapel, stole, er, took down the banner that told us this was Kairos 13 at Raymond Correctional Center, March 22-25. I began to gently, carefully fold it and the weight of three talks and three chapel meditations and constant prayer and pain in all the wrong places and in a couple of right places began to hit me. My breath was shallow as I carefully removed two-sided tape from the paper. Then, then I broke down, knowing this as far as I can see it is my last one of these after doing four of the past five in a 2 1/2 year span.

I'm moving, away, far away and I won't see these men at reunions and I won't see the team again and on and on and on. Then, with tears rolling, and I mean rolling, that gut-wrenching, gut-grabbing kinda tears you get sometime, the kind you hide away from the others because even though we're free men we're supposed to be tough like these offenders are supposed ot be tough, I stopped. Thought stopped me like a guard at check-in or check-out.

God still is moving among his people, and that means I have no idea if this is the last time or the beginning of new ministry elsewhere. Maybe like many, he has need of me, true need of me, elsewhere.

I thought about Friday's talk, the one we failed to assign, the one I took because no one else seemed to want it. I was supposed to give it about 10:45. I went into the back of the chapel to be prayed for by a prisoner who never prayed but instead told me about his love of Christ, which was fine by me. As I was supposed to come out and "hit it," lunch arrived. It would be an hour before we got back to things and we sang some and all in all I began at noon. As I was talking, I suddenly realized that my folks who were assigned times on the prayer chain for sometime in the weekend, were assigned beginning at noon on Friday. So, the talk I wasn't supposed to give, the one I was supposed to then give about an 1:15 earlier was delayed till my churches could pray for me.

God still moves among his people. Do not doubt that. Do not ever doubt that.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fleur de leak

We have a toaster. It somehow sinks its way into the bread we put into it and burns a fleur de lis into it. I don't know how it does it, but it does. I see only the results and each time I do this I am satisfied.

Thus was I with the Super Bowl victory of the New Orleans Saints. I didn't know how they did it, particularly on defense, I only know they did. I could only the results and each time they did that, I was satisfied.

Today? Not so much. But still I withhold judgment because for some reason the parties that I keep waiting to hear from on the now infamous "bounty-gate" continue to say nothing at all.

Before I pass judgment either way, I would like to know:

Why didn't the Saints stop when the investigation in 2010 produced no evidence?
Why hasn't head football coach Sean Payton and general manger Mickey Loomis spoken to the media?
Why is it business as usual at the Saints camp while everywhere else it is chaos?

Why? Why? Why?

It seems one thing I've learned over years in the ministry following years in sports journalism is that no one seems to want to really, truly admit mistakes. Ask anyone why they lost a football game, and for the most part you get reasons why things went against them instead of reasons why the losing team created its own failures. Ask anyone why they sin, and they give you a thousand reasons why things went against them instead of admitting their own failures.

Admission of failure, then, is the beginning of repentance.

I've seen far little true admission of failure from the Saints. That disturbs me. For the most part, what I've read and heard is true pain that they were caught. That disturbs me more.

Till the principals, and by that I don't mean Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator who apparently is the grand cause of this, come forward, hold a press conference, look people they've failed in the eye and truly repent of this, something like it will happen again.

That's the way this works.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Loss of a lifetime

How long will it be before we understand our NEED for the one called Jesus?

Jesus was nearing the end of his life; in fact, he was in the last week of it. Yet he still tried to teach. He still tried to make others understand.

Luke tells the parable of the tenants this way:  9 He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!”
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’[a]?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

I love the fact that the teachers of the law and the chief priests understood his teaching immediately. They got it, got that Jesus was talking and teaching about their own denial of his authority, which was of chief concern for the writer of Luke's gospel.

I believe the answer to the question, "Who is this guy," is the key to all our lives. But I also believe that fewer and fewer persons are even asking the question.

It is the loss of a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rubies mountain

Today, apparently, in England is the fifth-annual wife-carrying obstacle race.

I thought in honor of that fine, fine moment in maritial bliss, I would take the time to say something about my wife, who has been carrying me for all these years.

The Bible's book of Proverbs has the most to say about wives in all the book. But the best of the lot is this in the 31st Proverb: 10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.

That's my Mary. She has taken to this notion, which got the third-most reads yesterday of all the blogs I've written, that we're going to be moving for the second time in two years, as if it were an every day occurence.

Get some boxes. Get some tape. Go about your business.

Not everyone would take to it that way. She is who she has always been, a real support for the ministry, for her husband whose frailty is known nationally, er, at least locally. She is the reason we're able to do so much because she has endless energy, endless love and, well, she is worth far more than rubies.

See, the pastor who doesn't have a supportive spouse is like a person who has built a beautiful home on sand. That is bound to collapse.

But when that ministry is built upon a rock such as my wife, whew, even the gates of hell will fall before her.

I know I have, countless times.

I praise her. I encourage her. I try to remember how very lucky I am. I suggest every spouse out there remember their far better half ( of either gender) today. Let them know.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gone again

Today is a day for rebirth, refreshment, retrying. Last night we told the SPRC (a committee that is in charge primarily of the pastor at United Methodist Churches) that I was being reassigned to churches in the Eunice, La. area. I will leave in late June for a July 1 first Sunday.

"My"  churches were told they were splitting their two-point charge and that part-time local pastors were being given to each of the two churches.

We begin, yet again. All of us.

I'm not sure what the reaction, inside reaction, was for each of the 10 or so who were gathered there. I'm not sure what my reaction is, really. There is some excitement. There is some regret. There is some fear. I fear for my pets and new surroundings. I fear for the churches I will come in contact with: will they hear what I preach; will they try new things; will we grow those churches as we have all the ones we've come to?

I don't know these answers, and won't for months.

Will the churches here be helped by a lesser financial burden? I can't help but think they will be. My wife Mary and I were in agreement that one major reason to do this was to help the smaller church, Lacombe, which we felt couldn't continue to meet its financial burden of insurance and pension.

So, we go on, into the mystery of the itinerant system. Into the mystery, period. Today I will craft a letter to be sent to the entire two churches. I will say goodbye, without saying goodbye. We will see what the reaction is there, as well.

Through it all Mary and I have said we are doing what we believe to be God's will. I think that is all you really can do.

But there is that little bitty part of me that says, "Man, I hope we read this situation right." Only time will tell. I know I can trust God; it's me I worry about.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The invitation rejected

Matthew 22:14 -- "Many people are invited, but few people are chosen."

In this teaching, Jesus used the image of a wedding reception to discuss the nature of the kingdom of God. A king whipped up wedding invitations and sent them to people of the kingdom. When the party was hardy and handy, some apparently had better things to do and didn't come. The king, being the king and all, had other invites ready to go out and he sent a servant to do the inviting. Later, he even had one of those guests thrown out of the party because he wasn't wearing the right clothes.

All this was to say that we are invited to participate in God's kingdom, and we are given the right, the privilege if you will, to accept or reject this invitation. If we do accept it, we must try to be properly prepared and presentable.

Tonight and tomorrow I finish training, team-building, for my last Kairos prison event at Raymond Correctional Center. We have met, oh, 5 million times since January (it seems that way at least). We go into the prison next Thursday and return home on Sunday. It is a wonderful, excruciating four days of work, talk, eating, praying, work and getting up at all-together unearthly times in the morning.

We invited seemingly hundreds to come with us. We have a team of about 24, I think. It is the right 24 or so, I believe, because I also believe God was involved in the picking of this team, the coming together of this team, the building of this team and even the right words being given to this team. Though others certainly could have come, these are the 24 who were "chosen" by the one who is on the throne.

One of the reminders we will give tomorrow is to wear the proper clothing: No jeans (uggghhh) and no NFL tee-shirts (ugghhh). We have to be properly prepared, ready with the right words and ready with the right prayer and ready with the right clothing. We wouldn't want to be dressed like a resident, for example. And we will be reminded not to take cell phones or drugs or some such into the prison or we will be thrown out.

The connections are obvious here. The kingdom of God is like this wedding reception and this wedding reception is like this team we've built for Kairos in a number of ways. The invitation was sent, and it could be rejected or it could be accepted.

How often do we misunderstand this? We think we can accept God's invitation anytime in the future. We think we have all the time in the world. We think there are more important things to do so we don't accept the invitation when we should. And God allows all this. So some prisoners don't get to see what it's like in the kingdom. Simply because someone thought they had better things to do.

Maybe the invitation from the king won't come to them next time. Or maybe there is no next time.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Southern fried and thankful

My, my, oh my. I've read something this morning that truly, truly, truly boggles my mind (insert jokes here about my Southern mind or lack thereof).
This morning I've read a column, an op-ed column (which for my Southern brethren means opinion-editorial) in the local newspaper.

Now, the headline doesn't do the column justice, as many headlines I've read this morning do not. This morning, for example, I've read these standard news headlines on Yahoo news:
A) Kim K. posts racy photo online (seems this is should be in the obvious category, or the "oh, really" category or even the "really, a Kardashian does something stupid category? Really, are you sure it was a Kardashian? Really? Sure?" category).
B) Frustrated Gingrich: No one understands me (If that is true, he should be happy about that.)
C)  Man says Lohan grazed knee with her Porsche (what surprises us most in this headline is not that Lohan grazed a knee -- although this man should feel like the luckiest person on the planet that she only grazed a knee though we all probably wonder how one grazes a ijust knee in the first place -- but that Lohan still can afford a Porsche)

Nah. the column I read this morning was headlined Candidates are cheesy, not grits. The piece was written by Kathleen Parker for the Washington Post. I assumed she would be taking a shot at Republican candidates being as she is writing for the Washington Post and it says candidates and cheesy and grits in the same headline.

Turns out the piece was a well-done defense of Southerndom. Left me with something that looks like tick-fever or somesuch. Lots of grinnin and a bit of pickin, as it were.

She made these points:
When members of the national media come around South Carolina (where she has lived for much of the past 25 years making her an expert), every four years, they must go looking for the stereotyped residents they have memorized from afar. Those characters are dumb, dumber and regular dumbest southern folk. They are the types who drink nothing but sweet tea and eat nothing that doesn't have turnip greens (green, not the ecky root parts) as a side dish. The types who would fry anything including a pickle. The types who begin every sentence with y'all or ya'll (spelling depending upon the region of the South).  The types who would ... you get the picture.

Without stealing her entire piece, let me say that her most wonderful point is that some Southerners have actually ventured outside their state's borders, some have actually had an education, some are actually smarter than a box of rocks and some are just plain OK. She says then, why is it okay to pick on plain ol' white Southerners and yet if that same sentence, opinion, joke were offered about, oh, Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans and/or Democrats, it would be labeled racist?

She actually wrote this. In an opinion piece. For the Washington Post. She did.

After wiping up the grits that had been spat like a good morning chew, I pondered the significance of this. Uh, there is none. Not really. She wrote something that needed to be pointed out, but for the most part those that needed to read this won't and those that don't get it and never will will dismiss it as a Southerner defending Southerners. She isn't. She wasn't.

We, these aforementioned Southeners, don't see it that way at least partially because that despite the fact that South Carolina has South in its own name we don't believe the Carolinas are the South in the first place. They ain't. She isn't.

Nah. We see it simply as someone with the obvious truth handing over that truth to those dastardly varmints who live in other parts of the country, and those varmints won't listen in the first place. They never have, so they never will. They just wait for us to add vowels where they don't need to be added and wait for us to take out words that need to be there so they can call us stupid and talk bout the color of our necks.

Heck, I once saw Neil Young sing Southern Man in a gig in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Now, who's the dumb one there friend?

Anway, for those varmints, everyone speaks -- and acts -- like Andy Griffith in No Room for Sergeants.  Always havenun.

We speak in "themy thar parts" language that everyone who has ever made a movie about the South think we all use in an accent that sounds like a good ol' car cranking and nothing like what we really sound. Ever heard an actor trying to speak Southern? Ever think they sound just like good ol' Aunt Minnie? Didn't think so.

Everyone thinks that everything down here that is served in a restaurant (not to mention homes) is chicken fried.

They think that every country lawyer down here keeps his true brilliant self cloaked until that magic moment when he (or in a very rare bit of Southern turnaround in which only Reese Witherspoon could star) outsmarts all them thar Harvardy types.

And they think that intelligence itself is hidden from all the Northern carpetbaggers until that ....oh, you get the picature. Hollywood thinks everything would believe in the keep intelligence hidden department and that the nation and world would then laugh its head off at the fact Harvardy types would be out-smarted. There's genius in the writing if the obvious smarty pants are out-smarted. No one would ever have any trouble believing the comedy in that. So they use it a multitude of times, particularly in romatic-comedys that, again, must star Reese Witherspoon.

Despite what you've seen, we're not all Christian, we're not all those folks in the Inherit the Wind side of evolution and the Bible, we're not all racists and rednecks and such, though some of us are. We're just folks, plain and simple and sometimes poor and sometimes rich and the twain shall meet nownagin.That's Shania Twain, by the way.

Southern folk love their fried green tomatoes, love their cornbread, love their deer and cow and everything meat but hound dog meat. We're not all Hatfields and McCoys, though you might find some kin among us. We're not all black and white, though there is some of both in everything but our churches. We're working on that, too.

We've always been Republican except when we were Democrat.We've always been union except when we thought unions were from the Devil. We've always hated change, except when we thought change would do us some good.

We've always been different from the North, and from the West. We don't consider anything as being from the East because everything is either North or West.

We're not especially special, especially just because of whoin we're kin to. We are a little bit Country and yet we're some Allmann brothers rock 'n roll thrown in there. We're Elvis and we're Patsy and Loretta. We're Frederick Douglass and we're William Faulkner. We're Margaret Mitchell and we're John Kennedy Poole and his Confederacy of Dunces (which is a whole other column about not being how we're protrayed). We are John Grisham, who in a fit of grace saw fit to go to both Ole Miss and Mississippi State thus becoming the first person to paint and toilet paper only half of himself each year.

We're Archie and Peyton and Eli, and football on (Friday and Saturday) and Sundays, but we're also Pistol Pete and Will Clark and Tennessee Lady Vols and Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters basketball.

We're a little bit of everything rolled in corn meal and plopped in a deep fryer. We always have been. I suspect we always will be. That doesn't make us dumb or backward. For the most part, we, in fact, are not. We are, for lack of a better word or description, simply us.

That's whom we have always been. I just never thought a Washington Post writer would notice. I never thought the Washington Post would run it. Maybe that's a bigger surprise than Watergate, which by the way, didn't happen in the South.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A man had two sons (daughters)

"There was once a man who had two sons. He went to the older one and said, "Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 29 "I don't want to,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. "Yes, sir,' he answered, but he did not go. 31 Which one of the two did what his father wanted?' "The older one," they answered. So Jesus said to them, "I tell you: the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John the Baptist came to you showing you the right path to take, and you would not believe him; but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. Even when you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him."  -- Matthew 21: 28-32

"A man had two sons..."

(Let's get the son's abilities out of the way.)

What can we say about these abilities?
What are the abilities?
Son (A) lists them this way: There were many families with two sons living then, so we can eliminate birthright numbers as a key ingredient. In other words, the fact that this son was No. 2 was of no significance. The father asked the second son to go work in the vineyard, and the fact is (voila), AMAZINGLY ENOUGH, he said yes. I even love the way it is expressed: He READILY agreed. There is a degree of (to quote LSU football coach Les Miles) WANT TO in hs voice. He said yes, in a hurry, with passion. In other words, he really WANTED to. If there was a want-to meter right there, this man's very want-to would have sent the scale to the top. IF you can ever agree to this. This is somewhat of a set up. He wants to go to work. He really, really wants to go to work. If ever someone wanted something, this second son (for reasons we're never told) HAS A DEGREE OF WANT TO in his mannerisms, in his tone, in his want to get up and go. That's the second son this particular morning. Not only does the son have a set of want-to in his jeans, he has an umphphph in his get-a-long. Why? We don't know. We just know his get-along has gotten up and got-along.

The other son? The first son? Not so much. His get-along has some done-got-along attached to it. He thinks about it for just a second, or mabe even two. He says, the only way to express it, NO. Nope. No, sir. Nada. No chance. But the bottom-line is ...wait for it ....wait for it ...his got up done got. For him, well, the opportunty came, and like a good meal at Canes, the opportunity went, quickly. But unlike a good meal at Canes, this opportunity came back around again, quickly. He says no way, Jose. Not me. No, Sir. Like a lot of us, he says no. Opportunity? No, I don't think so. I'll catch the next opportunity bus, thank you.

A man had two sons. One son given an opportunity, says yes, then doesn't take advantage, then eventually with his actions says no.
One son given an opportunity, says no, thinks it over, ponders it, ponders it, then takes advantage. Not sure if it is days or weeks or even months, but eventually, he ponders it long enough that he EVENTUALLLLLLLLLLY says yes.

Jesus asks, which of the sons did the will of the Father, the one who made the promise and broke it or the one who was outwardly rebellious but inwardly the one who responded? The one who said yes in front of the crowd and no in front of his own heart or the one who said no for all the world to see and then yes for only his own heart to know?

The great news this morning, as one ponders this life-changing equation, is that we are all given this opportunity. Even better, we're given this opportunity each day. The Bible says mercy comes every morning. Every single morning. Heck, even better, every single day.

While you're pondering, go ahead and ask yourself which one is you in the story. Don't daudle. Which one is you. While you're taking long minutes placing yourself in the story, remember this: mercy comes every morning. It's new every morning. Heck, even better, every single day. Maybe, just maybe, it's new every single minute for those who will but receive this blessed grace.

Now...which is you? Have you received this mercy? Have you reached out to God, who is reaching out to you?

Jesus said, "For John the Baptist came to you showing you the right path to take, and you would not believe him; but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. Even when you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him."

John the Baptist came and showed you the right path, and still, STILL, mind you, you didn't see it but tax collectors and prostitutes did. What must we do to show you? What must we accomplish for your to see it, receive it, absorb it?

I feel that sentence to the very core of my being. Throw out the WWJD bracelets and sit down for a moment. Like tired sentences in my hands.

Tired muscle. Weary bones. Wasted opportunity. It's not about what would Jesus do, friends. It's about what He did that we seem so very incapable of doing. He has shown us. What will we do? WWWD...indeed.

A man had two sons (daughters). ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A lone tear streams down a dirty cheek

Luke 12:21 reads, "This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren't rich toward God."

Although he gave the abundance in his life to the poor, eventually it gained him nothing, not even a meal of beans and some rice. In the end, that beauty added nothing to his poured-out life, to his rugged ol' cross. Nothing added, not to the poor. Not to the richer.

Nothing gains us a place to condemn, nothing gains us a bit of modest storage even. We simply do not gain for ourselves, well, anything. We are victims, if that's the correct usage of the word, of our own storage systems. We have built into our lives large containers of -- for lack of a better word -- storage, vats if you will of (for lack of a better description), well, of come on and help me out here, of, of, STORAGE. We have built into our homeland, into our home areas, into our homes in some strange instances, 10 feet by 10 feet areas of, uh, uh, STORAGE.

Come on, people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together now. WE have areas of STORAGE. THAT IS WHAT WE HAVE COME DOWN TO.

THIS IS AN AREA OF, OF AN AREA OF STORE-AGE. We store in this area. As we get older, We use this area not to reconstruct, not to change the way that area is viewed, not to design or paint or inhabit. No, we use this area to store. Nothing more. Nothing less. We, the poor trying to help the poor, build for ourselves, an area of STORAGE. Nothing more. Nothing less. Can you wrap your intellect around that notion. We STORE STORE-AGE. We gain nothing; yet, we store. STORE-AGE.

We hoard things for ourselves in this area. Ten feet by ten feet of US. It is a space for US. That is what it exists for. It is not an area of expertise or an area of joy. It exists for no other reason other than things go in, and they do not come out. STORAGE it is so amazingly, correctly called. An area of storage. Storage of self, as if we had no other place to put self. A Vat. Inhabitation. No electricity, even. No air, conditioning or otherwise. JUST PLAIN OL' STORE-AGE.

We put our stuff in an area exclusively designed to put stuff. That being the case, shouldn't it be called SELF AGE or perhaps most appropriately, SORE AGE?

We've cleaned our clocks, so to speak, and we've placed our stuff in this storage area, this DEPENDABLE STORAGE area. And we've walked away with a feeling of satisfaction that could only possibility be labeled CALMING. We did it. We loaded it. It's so wonderfully named STORE-AGE. It is a store-age unit. Eventually for reasons no one could explain nor would they try, we call it STORE-AGE. We amazingly succeeded in our loading and unloading of this material into a vast, vast moment, and here before God and neighbor we've settled our accounts and there is this tranquillity that has come over us.

It has been DONE. It is OVER. We've done it.
It is over. It is done.
Did I mention it is done and over? Marbling of beaten flesh. Clotting of thick blood. And eventually our glorious gladiator, our suffering servant passed. We were left by the one who loved us most.

And there was none of this left behind feeling sitting on our shoulders as if we somehow messed up the whole thing. It is D-O-N-E. And yet it is not. Parts of this moment linger on us as if ultimately we had no idea in the first place. Two-thousand or so years, and yet it is as if mere days had passed, cluttered as as if casual clothing thrown here and there. Rags to leaches.

We have/think/are and these ruddy moments last past lingering, right on into rainbow connections, and they simply won't go away no matter how much we scrape, no matter how much we wipe, and the joy that is our strength won't wash them away no matter how much we want them/it/I want them/it/I  to.

Have you any idea what I'm writing about? Probably not. I probably don't, either. The running blood in our Spirit system is not just ours. It is His. It is a grateful world's. It is our blood, and it is His blood, and it blood we can't face, though we absolutely must. WE MUST. Today we will be with Him in paradise, if we but face up to a system that murders its Messiah's.

Let's just write this as if our theology allows it: God forgives. God forgets.

We, on the other hand, are left with juicy remnants and bitter and morbidly sour memories that are well past their expiration date, memories that won't be forgotten nor forgiven no matter what the amount of clumsy life-dancing might come.

Forgive me/us, Lord, we cry. He does. But the sin, though cleansed away as if by the deepest passion we can muster even on cloudy endless days, lasts and lasts like hot gettys of pain. Oh, the sin/flash card is gone, buried, tossed from some cliff side. Believe me, friends, the sin/flash card exists or it did, like a negative from an old Kodak. It existed/exists on some strange plain of existence. It won't/can't disappear. It won't/can't exit stage right.

No, on this humid hip-hugging evening or this sweet spring morning,  the Platters dance gently into that cool morning/livid night, and words hug and caress our own existence like notable playthings: Heavenly shades of night are falling, it's Twilight Time. Out of the mist your voice is calling, it's Twilight Time; purple colored curtains, mark the end of day; I hear you, my dear at Twilight time. Deepening shadows gather splendor as day is done, fingers of night will soon surrender the setting sun. I count the moments darling till you're here with me together at last at twilight time.

I see Jesus one last memorable time, blood sprinkled and blood running and he smiles so gently I can almost feel the tension being cut. I see the passion of this Christ, and I feel his tension, his agony and I know, I really, really know. He is hurting. Oh, how He hurts. He senses we are near. The time is so very close now. Will we feel this moment that is extending past his precious, precious own?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Finder's Keepers Losers Real Weepers

My wife, Mary, and I have discovered some interesting facts about ourselves as the time we spend together has passed over the years. We are a very good indicator about how others see see television shows. If we like the TV show, it really hasn't much of a chance. If we don't, it will have a glowingly good chance. In fact, the more we dislike it, the longer change it has in the Nielsen's.

Currently, shows like Fringe, Alcatraz, and others are bubble shows -- meaning they are very near extinction. We like them. Thus, time is short for them. Fringe, in fact, might be our favorite or one of our favorites. It hangs on by its fingernails. It needs a borderline miraculous decision to make it.

Matthew 13:44 -- "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up."

The person who found the treasure, for reasons I don't know or understand, didn't run out and tell everyone about it and didn't glow in excitement while telling them about the new-found paint. The "Finder" is a television show on Thursday" nights we enjoy. It is supposedly near being cancelled. Again, we enjoy it. That seems to be the greatest problem it has.

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like that hidden treasure in the field. I think this notion of whether it is worth sacrificing everything else in order to obtain this object is amazing. That we are willing to piece together everything possible is an intriguing notion. Just how intriguing is the mantra in the closet?

How much is enough? How much is too much or how much is going to be good enough? Pootntang, just how much will we take for happiness? All it takes for us to find happiness in this moment is a few seconds alone with this Ranger Bob entity, and we're good. Just consider that. Hold it, rub it, stare at it and voila, happiness on the $Dollar menu has been ordered, delivered and ingested. Think about it, smile while you're at it, and notice that you're having a really, really, really good day. Happiness comes with the fortune cookie at the end.

The kingdom of God comes with the hidden treasures.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


What a day. A glorious, productive, enticing, wonderful day. It was the kind of day I'll remember the rest of this, the second-half of my life. I spent quite a bit of the day simply pondering what we should or could do at the larger of the churches.

If you can simply eradicate the negativity in one's life as completely as one can, then there is a possibility of dreaming large while you're eyes still are wide open. Try it some time. Think of what could be in your life. Think of what God could do if you left the bodies and the rest of our minds completely in a positive state.

Don't try to do anything. Just dream. Just catch a vision. As that occurred, we had another of those phone call moments that changes lives. Again, like water from a tsunami, the tide came in and we began to change.

The excitement, and fear, was palpable.

 I haven''t slept a wink. Not one. I feel like my insides have been melted. I really, really want this to stop happening. I feel awful, but awfully exhilarated.

So now the big hurry-up and wait begins for the follow-up for all what happened yesterday. One test of the validity of what happened yesterday in the eyes of the Lord is whether indeed there is proper follow-up. Since there was none at all, I wonder as I begin to wander where this will take us. Are we ready? Will we ever be ready? Can we be?

  The months ahead will be about change, true and real and visible change. All of us will face it, some properly, some in anger or sadness perhaps. Can we truly turn to God and say with conviction,"Not my will but yours Father."

I happen to think that is the test of whether this experience is both OF God and is REAL. I'm quite ready not to merely go through this adventure, but I'm truly ready to grow, to change, to learn and to teach.

I pray I'm ready to let God be God and to admit I'm not. I call it STEP ONE.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ready for the laughter?

"(Jesus) said, 'Go away, because the little girl isn't dead but is asleep;' but they laughed at him." -- Matthew 9: 24

Most will concentrate on the death there, but I immediately go to the "laughed at him."

I wonder, have we ever admitted to ourselves that the No. 1 thing that keeps us from witnessing as much as we should, certainly as much as we could, is the fear of being embarrassed?

We know. We know. It makes little sense. It simply is the way it is. We love Jesus. But we fear we will get into an argument and, we don't know (we say with a simmering blush), we're afraid we will lose it. We're afraid we will be, we don't know, associated with all those "right-wing nuts." We're afraid. There we said it. Fear like mud in a bog coats us, the religious, the righteous, the glorified, the sanctimonious. When it comes right down to it, we're afraid we will be caught with our love down and then all we're left with is our, uh, beliefs. And if those beliefs are counter to the group we're in, and oh, you know they always are, and it's the group we work with or we want so desperately to fit into, then we're afraid to mention, uh, uh, "Do you mind if I tell you about how much I love Jesus?"

Because, because, if we did, then we would have to admit how much we believe He loves us, and then, then, then we might be ridiculed by those who believe that everything is fine and Jim-Beam dandy if you're happy. Oh, happiness is wealth and health and don't get in my way while I walk to the bank. We might get laughed at if we tell someone that we think the Bible differs with the everything is A-OK if you love someone, anyone, and want to be married, or if someone wants do do anything at all it's their business so you should keep your ever-loving Christian, right-wing, know-it-all nose out of their business. Whewwwwwwwww. Glad we got that over with.

And, oh my goodness on a full moon, they MIGHT JUST LAUGH AT US if we say something is called a sin in the Bible, though we will be amazed that bothers those who say they don't care about the Bible. And if they ridicule or laugh or eventually because they always do get mad at us, we might have to walk away from the group we sooooooo much wanted to be a part of with our tail between our legs or worse we might just raise our voice in return and even yell when the laughter would stop and the accusations would begin and they might just call us a BIGOT or even worse when all we wanted to do, tried to do, thought about doing was telling someone about the incredible love of the man-God called Jesus. And we walk away having done the very thing they would accuse us of.

So we don't say anything at all. And another day passes with so very many lost and least not sought at all.

Because goodness gracious great balls of firey laughter we couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't want to be snickered at.

Luckily we serve a God who could take laughter at his antics and simply smile back and love even the haters. We serve a God who wasn't affected by what the crowd thought or what the religion of the day believed or even what people thought about dead raising.

Oh, and try and tell someone about that....

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What are we seeking?

Matthew 7:7: "Ask and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you."

Is that what you feel this morning? You've asked and you've received? You've searched and you've found? Heck, you've kept knocking and that dang ol' door has opened? Has your prayer life suffered simply because the answers haven't been coming as quickly as you imagined.

There's an old story about prayer...A local businessman applied for a licence to open a casino. A group of Christians from the local chapel were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene to stop this. It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the casino and it burned to the ground. The owner of the casino sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The judge, in his summing up, stated that "no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The casino owner believes in prayer and the Church members do not."

Look, it's not even about what we ask for. How many of us across the world have prayed
“Lord end the nightmare of Iran before we get into another war; Lord end the scourge of AIDS in Africa; Lord bring peace and justice to Syria, to Palestine; Lord bring peace and food to the starving of the Sudan.”

And these things have not just happened.We say Amen, and the problem is still there. And surely no one is suggesting that we are asking for the wrong things here. We are not going to say it is God’s will that children suffer and die of war, famine and disease.     No – our God is a God of love and compassion
 We have to face the fact that in a very real sense we do often ask and not receive, knock and find the door closed against us. Why??Not because God does not want to give us peace and justice, but because he cannot do so. God has made us human, and given us freedom
· to share or hoard our food,
· to make swords or ploughshares,
· to develop medicines or weapons
· to value wealth and power or love and service.

And time and again we, the human race, make the wrong choices - and because God has given us freedom, we use that freedom to thwart and deny the will of God.

The answer is to keep knocking, keep seeking answers for the next right thing to do, the next right thing to pray even. Then pray for the strength to do that next right thing. We have enough food. We have enough water. We have enough right-thinking peaceful people. We surely have enough wealth. The answer is to share these things.

That's the answer to today's prayer.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Little apples of death

In the same manner as yesterday's look at logs and eyes, I read this today: We are not meant to judge others, but we can be fruit inspectors.

Jesus said, "In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit."

Well, sort of . I read this in doing research for this blog (amazingly I really did). There is a tree that is quite common in the Caribbean that is called a Manchineel Tree. They often grow near the beach and seem to offer great shade. But there is only one problem. The fruit, which look quite innocuous, are poisonous. Even standing under the tree during a rainstorm can cause a rash or blistering of the skin. Appropriately, the fruit, which looks a lot like an apple, is referred to as the “little apple of death.”

Jesus also talked about those prophets who were wolves in sheep's clothing. I think we have many of those living today. I pray from time to time I'm not one of them.

Bottom line is this: the only way to test a ministry, to test a life, is to see what fruit has been produced. We are called to be many things, but fruit-bearing is certainly one of them. If we have no fruit, we have no witness, we have no ministry.

That's the position today of many. They talk great battles. They walk none.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The log in our eye

Matthew 7:3 -- "Why do you see the splinter that's in your brother's or sister's eye, but don't notice the log in your own eye?"

Good question. And, by the way, it's hard to see with that log in my eye.

I've done some thinking recently about the now famous social media. Maybe, just maybe, we've always hated each other in this country, but I never noticed until social media came along. Now, the other side of the aisle is "nuts" and "crazy" and "vile" and all sorts of things. No one can simply disagree with a political position any longer. Now one must be the next thing to demonic if one doesn't agree with you.

How did this become the norm?

It seems to me that until we can reach a stage where we are much more concerned about our own difficulties and mistakes and wrongs and sins, we are never going to advance.

Take for example the recent uproar about Kirk Cameron. Former "Growing Pains" star Cameron's comments on homosexuality and gay marriage, made Friday on CNN's "Pier Morgan Tonight," have drawn a rapid response from GLAAD. Cameron said he thought homosexuality was "unnatural." "I think that it's detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization," the actor told Morgan. Cameron, who is an evangelical Christian, also spoke out against gay marriage.

"Marriage is almost as old as dirt, and it was defined in the garden between Adam and Eve. One man, one woman for life till death do you part. So I would never attempt to try to redefine marriage. And I don't think anyone else should either," Cameron said. "So do I support the idea of gay marriage? No, I don't."

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation issued a statement Saturday in response to the actor's appearance on the CNN program. "In this interview, Kirk Cameron sounds even more dated than his 1980s TV character," Herndon Graddick, senior director of programs at GLAAD, wrote "Cameron is out of step with a growing majority of Americans, particularly people of faith who believe that their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be loved and accepted based on their character and not condemned because of their sexual orientation."

Two things here: He was asked the question, and I would assume he was asked the question for a very pointed reason, that being so he would answer the question in that manner and so GLAAD would be able to respond. Two, I strongly pray that people of faith ALL believe their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be loved and accepted based on their character and not condemned because of their sexual orientation.

Two sides of an issue, huh? The problem is perspective, I think. No where in Cameron's statement do I read a condemnation. No where in GLAAD's statement do I read understanding that people of faith can love and accept but still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

There is one more difference, I might add. There are people of faith who believe the Bible says what it says, and there are people of faith who believe there were reasons for it to say it that preclude the meaning in the first place. Again, two sides.

This I know: pointing the finger of judgment at someone else, when you don't have any more of an answer than does the rest is simply idiotic. Oops. See how this works. It is simply wrong. Yeah, that's what I meant to write.

Monday, March 5, 2012


What do you plan to do this week to help someone? Here's my agenda, good or bad. Today, visits to hospitals for someone who broke a hip. Tuesday, Dinner on the grounds at one of the churches and a Bible Study thrown in beforehand. Wednesday, Bible Study. Thursday, mini-VBS for the kids at one church, Friday, meeting with core group to begin re-organization of church. Saturday? Nothing at the moment.

I am paid clergy, but that is not the correct way to look at this. For at each of those events, there are persons who are not paid but who will attend anyway. That's good. What's bad is that none of those varied events are outward reaching. They are inward.

We are not paid to, we do not volunteer to help ourselves. Our we shouldn't. When we begin to realize this, perhaps we can begin to see the light at the end of the church tunnel.

 Jesus talks about mercy to those in trouble in 24 verses of the Gospels, tells people not to judge in 34 verses, tells people to love and forgive even their enemies in 53 verses, tells people to love their neighbors as themselves and treat others as they would want to be treated in 19 verses, and specifically tells people to help the poor and/or spurn riches and the wealthy in 128 verses.

This is at the core of what the Kingdom of God was about, it seems to me. Helping. Noticing. Loving.

This week let every one of us, every reader, make a concerted effort to help someone in the good name of Jesus. Don't judge them. Don't wonder why they need help. Just give. Just once if need be.

That's Kingdom building at its finest, I believe.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Devotion is ...

Devotion is a sometimes scary thing. For instance, I -- along with many, many others in the area I live in -- am going into convulsions because the New Orleans Saints haven't signed quarterback Drew Brees to a new contract. I read, listen, watch for that moment when one signature on one contract will send puffs of white smoke skyward and let the celebrations begin.

However, the question, a serious question at that, is whether I -- along with many, many others in the area I live in -- have that same devotion to our Lord and Savior.

Matthew 5: 20 reads, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

I don't see an out-clause there. I don't see unless your righteousness is given an out because you're too busy caring about sports, politics, entertainment, washing your car or whatever.

Righteous means doing the right thing.

Mother Teresa said, "We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls."

I take that to mean, stop what we're doing and listen. Be devoted to one thing, the love and sharing of Christ. All this other stuff is what we call lagniappe down here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Who is the church? Ugggh.

Let's take up some difficult teaching today. During one of the talks that are given at Kairos prison ministry meetings, someone asks, "Who is the church?" And the accepted reply is, "We are the church."

That doesn't mean what it once did. The church has become somewhat of a pariah, not because of Jesus' teachings but because of human actions.

Why is the church taking such a bashing today? Part of the reason is the way we handle the difficult matters. When the church can become news because of one priest's actions, well, the world or the "flesh" as the Apostle Paul would describe it, is winning. In a newspaper I read daily, today I read there is a God gap in the young disenfranchised and the older "church" goers. It's not hard to see why.

Take this story: As her elderly mother was dying, Barbara Johnson lay next to her on the hospital bed, reciting the "Hail Mary." Loetta Johnson, 85, had been a devout Catholic, raising her four children in the church and sending them to Catholic schools. At her mother's funeral mass at the St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., a grieving Barbara Johnson was the first in line to receive communion. What happened next stunned her. The priest refused Johnson, who is gay, the sacramental bread and wine. "He covered the bowl with the Eucharist with his hand and looked at me, and said I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin in the eyes of the church,"

The notion that sinners, those who haven't made peace with the ones they've sinned against, should not take communion is Biblical. Denying the Eucharist in public to someone who has sinned in private, not so much. A discussion about this should have happened before the communion service. To do so in this manner is nothing more than cruel, I would think. And it makes the news. And it makes the church look cruel in return. That the priest would tell the woman she is living in sin, having been in a relationship with another woman for 19 years, is not wrong, certainly. The Bible teaches this, no matter what she or others might say. But to do this in this manner at this time? A private meeting with her should have been mandatory. The fact to be remembered is Jesus ate with sinners. Jesus walked with sinners. Jesus taught sinners. So, too, should the church.

But then the church gets a chance to redeem itself in its teaching. The church gets to be what it was supposed to be.

The parents of Ohio school shooting victim Demetrius Hewlin said today they forgive suspected gunman T.J. Lane for shooting their son, noting sadly that Demetrius was often late for school but not late enough that day. "I don't know what [his] final moments were like, but I can't worry about it," Demetrius' mother Phyllis Ferguson told ABC News in an exclusive interview. "You have to accept things done and move on." When asked what she would say to the suspected shooter, Ferguson said, "I would tell him I forgive him because, a lot of times, they don't know what they're doing. That's all I'd say I taught Demetrius not to live in the past, to live in today and forgiveness is divine. You have to forgive everything. God's grace is new each and every day," she said

Ferguson gets it. The priest did not. I don't even know whether Ferguson goes to church, or what church, or what denomination. I know only that she gets it.

We live in a world where it is critical that the church quit being a moral judge even while it is failing to live a morally perfect life and become a loving, giving, sharing entity. If it does not, then the church is going to be a memory.

Who is the church? We are the church.