Monday, September 30, 2013

Into Samaria

When I go looking for a topic to write about, particularly on Monday, I often go to the religion news section.

Today, when I scrolled over there, I was struck by just how the "religious" are in need of the peace only Christ can give.

Here are the headlines:

Catholic chaplains given marching orders barring service to gay couples

Conservatives promote House bill to protect opponents of gay marriage

United Methodist high court to consider challenges to gay teachings

Now, I'm not going to comment on any of the headlines, or the stories that follow. That's perhaps for another day. What I am going to comment on is the fact that a lot of folks are spending a lot of time thinking about, worrying about, commenting about stuff that should be on the back-burner.

What we're supposed to be about, scripturally, is seeking and saving the lost. Anything else, it seems to me is less than what we need to be about.

Have we presented the Gospel to someone in the past week, either in words or deed?
Have we done anything to help the least and the lost?
Have we tried, in prayer, to talk to God about these seemingly large questions?

Let's do that, and perhaps the "big" ticket items that seem to be facing the church might become slightly lessened.

After all, if we love our neighbor -- even those dastardly Samaritans -- aren't we doing our jobs as Christians?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

For Freddie Henderson, a mentor and friend

I don't write on Saturday's as full-time readers know. But I needed to get this out for a good man who passed on to his eternal home late Thursday night.

This is from a book titled God's Calling, from a couple years back. It's long, but, well, Rev. Freddie Henderson had a long ministry.

This is for him.

           When we respond to our call, and work to fulfill its mission, we have found our true voice.”
            It was like that for Rev. Freddie Henderson, who didn't seek God as much as God sought him, found him, wrapped him up in decorative paper and presented him to the church at a young age.
            Henderson grew up with his cousin, baseball pitcher Vida Blue in the hilly Louisiana countryside near Shreveport in a town called Mansfield. Mansfield, like Bethlehem was a couple of 1,000 years before,  wasn't known for producing much.
            The town, at the time, was heralded for a few things, primarily for the battle of Mansfield, a Confederate victory under General Richard Taylor (Zachary's son) that was fought in the town on April 8, 1864, when the war was winding down. The battle turned away 42,000 Union troops from their conquest of the Louisiana Confederate capital, Shreveport, and sent them into retreat. They would wind up in New Orleans. The town is about as far northwest in the state as one can go and not be singing the eyes of Texas. But the fact that its most notable happening occurred almost a century earlier told you all you truly needed to know about Mansfield.
            If you went four miles south of Mansfield off Louisiana Highway 175, you would find a Mansfield State Historic Site that commemorates the battle.
            There were more little things. The Methodist Church founded the first women's college west of the Mississippi river there in 1855, a college known as Mansfield Female College. The War between the States and an economic downturn closed it, turning it into a hospital. In 1930, Mansfield Female College merged with Centenary College of Louisiana and shut its doors permanently.
            There's talk now of turning the main building of the college into a museum.
            The film The Great Debaters was partially shot in Mansfield and released Christmas Day in 2007. There's little to recommend the town other than that.
            Oh, yes, it is the birthplace of one Vida Rochelle Blue, Jr. Blue, like Ocie Lee Smith (who sang with Count Basie's orchestra) and professional football players Albert Lewis, M.C. Reynolds and Sammy "Joe" Odum, became more famous than the little town they grew up in.
            It was a town that as of the census year 2,000 was still only 5,582 person. More than half the population was African-American, and its people were quite poor, the kind of town that you wanted to be from not be in. What’s the country song, happiness is Lubbock in your rear view mirror. The same could be said of Mansfield, and many, many little Louisiana towns throughout the state.
             Blue's most important possession was a left arm that could throw a football 70 yards in the air and a baseball close to 100 miles per hour, and that arm took him out of the town and set him right in the middle of a pennant race. Of course, his notoriety would one day lead him into drug use, and the problems that are inherent with even those prescribed. But who's to say Blue couldn't have had those same problems had he stayed in Mansfield?
            Blue's athletic ability was a ticket out of town that he punched, eventually winding up with the Oakland A's and into the World Series.
             "(But) people don't realize that Vida was as good a quarterback as he was a baseball pitcher," said Henderson. Henderson was three years older than his cousin, but they played on some of the same dusty fields and even at times in the same games, and they shared a lean athletic build.
            But Henderson had other things to absorb his attention. He played sports, of course, and still maintains of love of them, but they weren’t the most important thing in life, the way they were to Blue.
            "I was told that my grandfather said when he held me when I was a baby, 'God has something special for this child,' " Henderson said.
           The same year Henderson began his long love-affair with the ministry, 1958, he felt that strange tugging on his heart that many feel when God apparently is calling someone.
            It's the person behind you on the diving board virtually making you jump. It's the person behind you at a traffic light finding their horn while you are asleep at the switch. It's the call of the mild, as it were, with God's howl felt as much as heard by those Paul says He calls. Not everyone, in fact not many, have the experience Paul had on the road to Damascus.
            While Blue was just beginning to master the fastball that would eventually take him to the major leagues where he would throw a no-hitter just 10 days into his professional career, Henderson was answering the call to ministry in a diluted manner.
            He was 12 years of age, probably about the age when Samuel was called.
             "I can't remember a time when I didn't sense He was calling me," Henderson said.
            Henderson understood the idea that a nurturing congregation was so vital to hearing and understanding the call from God. He was guided to get what was then called an exorbitor's license, which doesn't exist in the United Methodist Church today. There are few 12-year-old pastors in waiting in United Methodist churches, fewer Samuels. Or at least few who answer the way Henderson did, which is to say to God, “I’m ready. What’s next?”. Maybe they're called and because of some rule out there they aren't allowed to answer.
             It wasn't so much that he preached as he read from scripture and did other things during worship services as he was prepared to one day take the pulpit. In the same way that Blue was drafted and placed in the minor leagues to hone his craft while keeping his valuable left arm cranking, so, too, was Henderson nurtured. Maybe God calls his people and because we don't nurture them as He would have us do, the people’s answer to the call dies for lack of vision. The answer to the call fades away, like a wisp of smoke from a morning campfire in the South.
             "There were several people who helped me along the way," Henderson said. "And they never were cruel about it. I remember once reading that Jesus was in the 'dessert.' Someone said, 'No, son. Jesus was in the desert.' They could have been mean about it, but they weren't. I was learning. They were very careful not to push me out there before I was ready."
            When Henderson finished high school, he continued learning his "craft." though it wasn't always easy at all. He didn't drive, couldn't afford a car and wasn't universally accepted because of his age.
            At one point he heard the congregation said, "Don't stop here. We don't want a boy preacher," spirit-crushing words for a young pastor.
            He was appointed to a student charge in the "Methodist" church, right at the time the church was dealing with its own issues..
           On April 23, 1968, The United Methodist Church was created when The Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist church merged at the General Conference in Dallas, Texas. Robert Muller, a Bishop representing the EUB, joined hands with Bishop Lloyd Christ Wicke, representing the Methodist Church joined hands. With the words, "Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church," the church supposedly changed. The merger didn't happen as quickly as that hand holding, though, and it would take ministers like Henderson, who would one day be a local district superintendent (or leader of pastors under a state-wide Bishop) in the New Orleans district. Henderson was the superintendent in New Orleans when Katrina struck, and it was his leadership as well as others that helped the city’s churches through a devastating time. He also and helped spark African-American churches to flourish.
            While he was in college, he would take the bus on the weekends from Shreveport down to a little town called Keithville 10 miles outside the city. He was “appointed,” a United Methodist term basically meaning assigned to two small churches. Some UMC pastors have even more points on a charge. Some have up to four small churches on one “charge.”
            “I would take the bus to Mansfield, and my dad would take me to the bus station when the weekend was over," he said. These little churches and their congregations helped nurture his call along the way, helping him with the ideas of sermon preparation and enunciation, and all that wonderful food that would be prepared.
             "It seems there has always been things that prepared me for the next move in my calling," Henderson said. "Sure, there have been times that I asked, 'Are you sure you want me to do that?' That kind of thing. But there has never been a time when I didn't feel his calling on me from the time I could understand what it might be."
            Like Samuel before him, Henderson heard that call at a young age. Like Samuel before him, he listened even when he didn't quite know what it might be. Like Samuel before him, others pushed and nurtured him toward his ministry. Like Samuel before him, he answered God's call with a simple, "Here I am."


Friday, September 27, 2013

One man stepping up

I heard the mountains rumble yesterday when I read this story:

A high school football coach in Utah suspended all 80 players from his team due to reports of bullying and academic issues. In a letter to the team from the school's coach staff last Friday, players were told that if they participated in community service activities, took character-education classes and participated in extra study hall sessions, they would earn the right to play again in upcoming games.

In other words, a good man stood up for righteousness, for those who couldn't protect themselves, and for those who could but were choosing a wrong path.

Look, I was a football player, and I know or knew what it was like to walk in the path of the in-crowd. And I know what it was like to exclude others because of "who" we were. We didn't bully so much then as now, but leaving people out is or could be just as bad.

Parents, coaches, teachers, ministers, youth directors, Sunday School teachers, etc., can make a difference by simply saying, "this attitude, this way of living won't be tolerated any longer."

No more disrespect. No more pants hanging around the bottom of the barrel. No more bullying. No more hating. No more exclusion.

No more!

It only takes a few to make a difference.

A boy with a bunch of rocks.
A man who is told to go and does.
A man who is knocked off a horse and changes the world afterwards.
A man who turns down fishing for fish for the amazing notion of fishing for men.
A woman who lets Israeli spies into her town.
A woman who is told she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God and says yes.

It doesn't take millions. It takes someone who is willing to stand up and stand out.

A woman who feeds hundreds every time there is some sort of disaster.
A man who searches deep within himself to discover what can help alcoholics and does, because he is one.
A man who person who travels by modified motorcycle to show that the handicapped don't have to be.
A college student who helps build a school in Nepal.

On and on we go. But first we must start. First we must show courage. First we must finally stop and say, no more. This can't go on, whatever this is. We must change. We must become more righteous. We must become more holy.

And there is only one way that can be accomplished. That is through no self-help book or course. We begin to help each other when we allow God to help us.

Here's how it works:

In 1985 Dave Valle, who at the time was a minor-league catcher in the Seattle Mariners farm system making $9,000 a year, promised himself that one day he'd return to Santo Domingo and help more.
He's kept his promise. Today, Valle is in the business of changing lives.

In 1995, he founded Esperanza International, a microfinance outreach effort that gives small loans to the poorest of the poor in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which occupies the other half of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Over the past 18 years, Esperanza has provided $38 million in loans, helping thousands of families put food on the table and break the cycle of poverty.

"When I think of selfless people, I think of Dave and his wife, Vicky," says Kayla Villnow, once a volunteer with Esperanza and now a full-time fundraiser and coordinator with the foundation. "They've built an organization that's served hundreds of thousands of people. It's amazing."

If all the persons who claim to be Christians understood that means to "follow" the Lord, we would have more difference makers.

One man stepping up to do good in small measures can literally change the world. The question isn't how. The question is why not?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seeds. Earth. Water/Faith. Hope. Love -- Let the party begin

Ministry, lay and clergy, is about seeds, I reckon. Every sermon, every Bible Study, every moment is about seeds, planting them, watching them grow, waiting for the moment Jesus harvests.

Much of the problem of ministry is that often we simply can't wait for those moments of harvesting because we've seen absolutely no evidence the seeds took root.

But wait, dear clergy. Wait, dear laity. Wait evangelists. Wait plowers of the fields.

Jesus himself talked of fields that were ripe but workers were few. Why? Sometimes it is simply because we gave up before we saw the results.

Paul writes to a church he planted in Galatia: "So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith."

I want to talk this bright, beautiful and reasonably cool morning about the notion of seeing what we've planed grow.

Paul is the absolute best example of this. This is a constant theme of his. He wrote to the church in Corinth: :Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working."

Last night a wonderful young girl, 13, during a discussion with the whole youth group of the church led by our marvelous youth director Dwight Jodon asked "what happens if you haven't been baptized?" She was given a proper answer, then pointed toward me.

We met after the Club 316 night ended, and I asked her some serious questions. "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior or do you want to?" "Yes, sir." "Do you have a church other than this meeting?" No, sir." "Do your parents go to church?" "No, sir." Do you want to be baptized and would they have a problem with that?" "I do, and they wouldn't care."

So, next week we will baptize a 13-year-old girl who attends no church but our youth meeting on Wednesday nights.

Dwight and the staff of our Club 316 have planted for more than two years. Others have come to Christ through that ministry. But each one that does makes heaven dance, remember. Next week we will baptize this young lady, and heaven and earth (Club 316) will dance some more.

Seeds. Earth. Water.
Faith. Hope. Love

Often I hear that "we just don't know what to do next to help the church grow." Often I'm the one who is leading that conversation.

Then someone reminds me, and all of us. I asked this young lady, how did you come to be here at Club 316. She said that a year ago a friend of hers, who no longer comes to the Wednesday night meeting, invited her. She came, and she said she hadn't been in a church in a long time, but she loved it when she got here.

Seeds. Earth. Water.
Faith. Hope. Love

Does it really, really matter that it's one at a time rather than 20 or 50 or 3,000?

Oct. 3 the party will start all over again.

Paul fired off a letter to the church in Thessalonica, "Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom."

Seeds. Earth. Water.
Faith. Hope. Love

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Helping the helpless

Did you see this story: When an engaged couple calls off the wedding, it is usually a time of sadness and anger. But one family in Atlanta found a way to turn a terrible situation into a beautiful one. Carol and Willie Fowler's daughter Tamara was set to get married at the Villa Christina catering hall, when the wedding was called off just 40 days before the event. Initially the Fowlers were upset to hear that the lavish gathering they had planned and paid for was not going to happen. Then they had a genius and generous idea: They invited 200 of the city's homeless to feast on the four-course meal that would have been part of Tamara's wedding reception.

Magnificent, and it got me to thinking. What if every big event we get ourselves into was turned into an opportunity to help the poor, the homeless, the hurting, the helpless?

Let's explore some of the ideas out there. What if, just what if, every big ticket event was held for the homeless in whatever community the event was? In other words, every wedding reception, invite 50 homeless and feed them and clothe them instead of spending all that money on limos and such. What if, just what if, at Christmas we took the money for two gifts to each of the persons we give gifts to and instead made sure the homeless had peace on earth in December, or at least a piece of turkey and such?

In Washington D.C. last year,  they held a Banding Together: Battle of the Law Firm Bands (made up of attorneys for two firms, that raised more than $277,000 to purchase and distribute essential new clothing at bulk low wholesale prices for the DC area homeless, including socks, underwear, hats and gloves. The possibilities are endless.

Here's the top five tips you might consider when passing by a homeless person, shelter, or simply a person who needs help in your community. According to ...

  1. Understand who the homeless are - Help dispel the stereotypes about the homeless. Learn about the different reasons for homelessness, and remember, every situation is unique.
  2. Educate yourself about the homeless - A homeless person may be someone who lost their job, a runaway child, or someone with a mental illness. One of the first steps in helping people is to see them as individuals and to find out what they need. Notice them; talk to them. Most are starved for attention.
  3. Respect the homeless as individuals - Give the homeless people the same courtesy and respect you would accord your friends, your family, your employer. Treat them as you would wish to be treated if you needed assistance.
  4. Respond with kindness - We can make quite a difference in the lives of the homeless when we respond to them, rather than ignore or dismiss them. Try a kind word and a smile.
  5. Develop lists of shelters - Carry a card that lists local shelters so you can hand them out to the homeless. You can find shelters in your phone book.
Look, we're heading toward a time of the year when coats and socks are a marvelous addition to the people who populate our streets. This year, instead of spending fortunes on ourselves, let's make absolutely sure we've done all we can to help those around us who are in desperate need.

Heck, throw a party and invite some in.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Spray some Windex on it

In the wonderful comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the cure for everything that harms you is Windex, the window cleaner.

Knee throb? The Greek father in the movie sprayed Windex on it.
Ankle hurting this morning? Windex it.
The father says Windex cure ills ''from psoriasis to poison ivy."

Matthew 24: 6-8, 29-31 (Msg.): 4-8 Jesus said, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities, claiming, ‘I am Christ, the Messiah.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places. This is nothing compared to what is coming."

29 “Following those hard times,
Sun will fade out,
moon cloud over,
Stars fall out of the sky,
cosmic powers tremble.

30-31 “Then, the Arrival of the Son of Man! It will fill the skies—no one will miss it. Unready people all over the world, outsiders to the splendor and power, will raise a huge lament as they watch the Son of Man blazing out of heaven. At that same moment, he’ll dispatch his angels with a trumpet-blast summons, pulling in God’s chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole."
There's a lot of discussion in the Old and New Testaments about this notion of "The Day of the Lord" and what it will be like. Christians like to think of it as being a wonderful thing. You know, Jesus is coming and I'm going and nothing else really matters. Well, it's hard to not be caught up in the flotsam connected to the tangle of things going on in connection to that rather large happening.
In some ways, the Day of the Lord is, for lack of better words, quite the terrifying moment.
Look at just this above: wars, famines, earthquakes, sun fading out, moon being clouded over, stars falling out of the sky and the absolutely scary thing, cosmic powers trembling. Oh, wow, terrifying stuff.
Then the Son of Man arrives, filling the skies (a terrifying thing in itself no matter how happy, happy, happy we try to make it. Folks unready for this will raise a huge lament. I'm not up much lately on my lamenting, but I suspect that's a loud roar of fearful screaming and crying and shouting and things such as we've not seen in public outside of the losing side of football games lately.
Then...then a trumpet blast heard from the sky around the world will summon and dispatch angels. Again, not something we hear or do normally.
Those with great faith and little reality will say to everyone about this they know it's coming and it won't bother them at all. Peshaw (or however one spells it). The above will scare the honking jeepers out of everyone.
This picture painted isn't a rosy let's go to worship one. Instead, it will be a time of terror. Zephaniah 1 tells us "A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.
Part of the horror will be how suddenly it comes. "Three things," Paul writes, "are sudden -- the coming of the Messiah, a discovery, and a scorpion."
Heck, the Bible says that the universe will be "shattered to pieces." The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood." Again, nothing like the painting of the great shepherd holding the sheep lovingly. Instead, wow, terrifying stuff and it's happening all around the world at the same time.
A book by a man named Schurer called "The Jewish people in the Time of Christ" sums up the Jewish ideas of the day of the Lord: "The sun and moon will be darknened, swords appear in heaven, trains of horses and foot march through the clouds. Everything in nature falls into commotion and confusion. The sun appears by night, the moon by day. Blood trickles from wood, the stone gives forth a voice, and salt is found in fresh water. Places that have been sown will be unsown, full barns will be found empty, and the springs of wells be stopped. Among men all restraints of order will be dissolved, sin and ungodliness rule upon the earth. And men will fight against each other as if stricken with madness ..."
Oh, uh, wow. And wow again. And again.
But instead of having the bejeebees scared out of us, we must realize we've been practicing to survive this all our lives without realizing it, perhaps.
When we sing, "Hold on to Jesus, he's holding on to you," we're not talking about those times when we stub a toe. No, we're talking about those times when we're losing a loved one and can't see around the next corner. We can give up to the anguish or we can hold on to the one who has the power to get us not only around the next corner but the one after that and the one after that.
The sun and moon blink out? Who ya gonna turn to? I think, finally, finally, the answer will be more clear than the problem.
Blood coming out of wood? Who ya gonna call on? I think, finally, finally the angels singing will be heard as much as a plan than a song.
No restraint? Instead of turning to the law in the Old Testament, turn to the MAN in the New Testament.
Look, I'm sure I will be every bit as much as the next person watching the sky and wondering. I'm not saying this will be easy. Life, and the day of the Lord, is never lived easily, again, no matter what some preachers say.
But there is a remedy. Spiritual Windex, this man Jesus is.
In the 14th chapter of Matthew, we read this: "Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”
31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand."

Sky falling? Reach out of Jesus and say "Master, save me." Spray some Windex.
Check book empty as a dry well? "Master, save me." Windex it.
Diagnosis cancer, teenager running away, job done and a slip of pink the answer? "Master, save me."

Faith is all that is required to walk on the water. On the day of the Lord, remember it's the day of the Lord.

Will that change the sky? No. But the spray of a little spiritual Windex will change you. Remember who is in charge, remember that perfect love runs fear away.

Jesus is the Windex for a darkened sky, for a darkened day, for a darkened life.

Paul says it this way: "We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

"But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love."

Jesus is the living water, the bread of life, and for this one terrifying day perhaps, he is Windex.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hallelujah! Just plain Hallelujah

Revelation 19: 1: "I heard a sound like massed choirs in Heaven singing, 'Hallelujah! The Salvation and glory and power are God's -- his judgments true, his judgments just."

The scene in my mind is one of beauty and power. "Then more singing: Hallelujah! The smoke from her burning billows up to high Heaven forever and ever and ever."

His might.
His love.
His strength.
His grace.
His power.
His mercy.

All pouring our and up and into our being. Imagine. Just imagine.
Glory, glory, glory.

While this week we fuss and we fight about health care and foreign bombs and evil such as we've never known or seen, what we should (must?) remember is the splendor of the king, clothed in majesty. Remember the earth is his, and he who wraps himself in light is simply waiting for us to tremble at his voice, which when there was nothing simply spoke and there was...

How great and wonderful and amazing is our God? Our Jesus, whose tears we are not even worthy of drying on a cheek that is so tender we would shrivel at its touch, is the lamb and is the lion and is so great we can't fathom. And His Spirit, the forgotten Lord, is waiting to make an appearance that would both surprise and shock those who know Him not.

I was talking to a Bible study last night and I said that I couldn't explain how the blood of Jesus saved us, and by that I meant I don't know the mechanism of salvation. Blood running down the forehead, the hands, the feet, the side doesn't normally provide eternal salvation to someone. It's normally just blood.

I was challenged with theology that I certainly support. "He was the spotless lamb of God. He was the substitution for our sins. He paid for our sins." Person after person challenged my statement that I couldn't explain it.

I told them all they said was absolutely true (cause it was). I told them, however, what I meant was I don't know how a phone works, but that doesn't stop me from believing that when I hear a voice coming from somewhere else, it does work.

That is faith. And it is that faith which, I believe, triggers the grace God gives -- freely.

O glorious day. The skies split, Jesus comes, we rise, and smoke billows to high heaven.

Look, everything isn't always hunky dory, whatever that is. I know things could well be better in my life, in my ministry, right now.

But this I know: sometime about the middle of a sermon I felt wasn't working yesterday, the Holy Spirit arrived, changed those listening and changed the one talking and it wasn't church, it was worship.

"Hallelujah. Amen. Yes! Hallelujah!

"From the Throne came a shout, a command:
'Praise our God, all you servants, All you who fear him, small and great!"

Have a very blessed Monday, the gateway to a very blessed week.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Papal odds

Psalm 69: (The MSG) "I love you more than I can say. Because I am madly in love with you, they blame me for everything they dislike about you."

Is it, I love you so I must dislike everyone else?

Rhode Island Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin said recently in an interview that reflected several comments made by many about the current Pope, "I’m a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis that he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion.”

In other words, I want him to  speak about abortion, so when he does not, he must be in the wrong about everything.

Francis’ latest remarks seemed clearly directed at those internal critics; he said flatly that “I have never been a right-winger” and noted he has been “reprimanded” for his new direction. A major challenge is that those conservative bishops will continue to have influence if they are not replaced or sidelined, or if the 76-year-old pope has a relatively short reign.

The cautionary tale that many progressive Catholics point to is that of Pope John Paul I, the “smiling pope” whose election in 1978 seemed to herald a new era of a pastoral papacy – and a church molded in the same spirit.

But John Paul I died after just 33 days in office, opening the way to the election of John Paul II, an enormously popular figure yet one who began a sharp tack back toward doctrinal orthodoxy and conservatism.

That’s not to say the odds are against Francis. He turns 77 in December but seems to be in good health and appears at peace with the role that has been thrust upon him, in part by being pope the way he was a bishop and priest – as a pastor.

Moreover, his predecessor, Benedict XVI, was 78 when he was elected and within eight years managed to name more than 60 percent of the American hierarchy before retiring last February. Since bishops must submit their resignations to the pope at age 75, and the hierarchy skews older, a pope can name a relatively large number of bishops in a fairly short time.

“I think that there are a fair number of bishops here in the U.S. who have quietly gone along with the more trenchant, culture warrior approach … because they thought that going along was what was expected of them,” said Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter.

David Gibson writes for the religion news service, "Francis seems to be betting that he can have as much of an effect with his words as he can with his appointment power. Just look at other remarks he made on Thursday, in an address to newly consecrated bishops that drew little notice but may prove just as important.

"In his brief talk, Francis blasted the 'cancer of careerism' within the hierarchy, and he warned the prelates to “avoid the scandal of being ‘airport bishops’” who fly around to one high-profile event or another and fail to stay close to their flock.

'What’s clear is that Pope Francis is consciously, not accidentally, but consciously taking the church in a different direction. He is trying to change the culture of the church hierarchy,' said the Rev. James Bretzke, a Jesuit theologian at Boston College.

Cultures rarely change quickly, and whether Francis will be able to do what he wants may not be evident for some time. Even the pontiff, in the Thursday interview, seemed to recognize that.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Do what you do so well, O God

Let me re-configure an age-old saying that actually was used by a coach of mine on occasion. When the going gets tough, he said, the tough get going. Actually, when the going gets tough, if they’re smart the tough get going to the one who helps us all, who is our refuge, who is our (as it says) our vast, granite fortress.

Psalm 70 in the Message reads, “I run for dear life to God, I’ll never live to regret it. Do what you do so well: get me out of this mess and up on my feet. Put your ear to the ground and listen, give me space for salvation. Be a guest room where I can retreat; you said your door was always open; you said your door was always open! You’re my salvation – my vast, granite fortress.

“My God, free me from the grip of Wicked, from the clutch of Bad and Bully. You keep me going when times are tough – my bedrock, God, since my childhood. I’ve hung on you from the day of my birth, the day you took me from the cradle; I’ll never run out of praise. Many gasp in alarm when they see me, but you take me in stride.”
Where do you go? How do you go? A friend messaged me minutes ago this: “CT scan results 2day. Chemo also.” She is, of course, asking for prayer – again to the one who is our refuge, our vast, granite fortress.”

We throw a live for survival when lines for survival are so needed, but these ropes aren’t just a last hope, they are a real hope, to the one who can change, who can save, who can help.
Love the language: Be a guest room where I can retreat. That’s God. That’s who we love, adore, treasure, praise. That’s Jehovah. That’s our Father. That’s our Jesus. That’s our Spirit.

When danger is prevalent, when worry is mounting, when the storm's winds are the greatest, we have options. We can give in to the danger, give in to the worry, let the fear overcome us. Or we can, well, trust. What if a thousand sleepless nights are what are needed to let us know the God whose name couldn't even be uttered 2,500 hundred years ago is near, right there in the room we're praying in?
William Booth, in the Founders Messages to Soldiers, write, "Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again -- until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other."
Seems to a wondering, wandering soul like me that prayer is sort of a key that opens the lock to faith, which undoubtedly opens the large, steel door that we call -- for lack of a better thought or idea or name -- grace. 
When things are at their worst, the ship is going down and such, prayer is called for. When things are at their best, the ship has landed in port and our cargo has been fully paid, prayer is called for.
There's an appropriate illustration here.
A pastor named Stephey Bilynskyj, starts each confirmation class with a jar full of beans. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make another list: Their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right. Bilynskyj then turns to the list of favorite songs. "And which one of these is closest to being right?" he asks. The students protest that there is no "right answer"; a person's favorite song is purely a matter of taste. Bilynskyj, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame asks, "When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?" Always, Bilynskyj says, from old as well as young, he gets the same answer: Choosing one's faith is more like choosing a favorite song. When Bilynskyj told me this, it took my breath away. "After they say that, do you confirm them?" I asked him. "Well," smiled Bilynskyj, "First I try to argue them out of it."

The Psalm ends this way: "When I open up in song to you, I let out lungsful of praise, my rescued life a song. All day long I'm chanting about you and your righteous ways, while those who tried to do me in slink off looking ashamed."

Well, I'm not sure I see a whole lot of that going on in my life. But what I do see is a lot of people understanding more about Him when I chant about him and his righteous ways. Comparing his ways and my ways only shows Him to be more wonderful, more perfect, more loving. Me? I'm just another filthy rage waiting to be washed.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The wheel is taken

I have a limited amount of time to produce this piece of work. I want it to be read. I want it to be saved. It will reach, oh I don't know, maybe 50 persons this morning. It won't change the world in all likelihood, but oh, I don't know, it might soothe the world depending on what I actually write -- which is still to be found.

I thought we might explore, in the next 15 minutes, the word and the deep meaning of, respect. I remember Aretha Franklin spelling it out for us about 40 years ago. R-E-S-P-E-C-T she wailed, she pleaded, she shouted, she desired.

I suspect that some 40 years later, she and everyone her age and most everyone continues to have a great, great desire to have some of that stuff, that respect.

Mildred Taylor says, "How you carry yourself, what you stand for -- that's how you gain respect."

Today it seems that wherever you go, whatever you do, part of that effort is to gain respect, to be respected.
So, in keeping with the time limit I face (an appointment made and directed by myself):


Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
Be courteous and polite.
Listen to what other people have to say.
Don't insult people, or make fun of them, or call them names.
Don't bully or pick on others.
Don't judge people before you get to know them.

Seems to me, that about covers it in a way I probably couldn't. Let today be the day we all come together and get rid of the most terrible of sins. Hey, Carrie Underwood has updated that call for R-E-S-P-E-C-T by giving over the key to Jesus.

Seems respect is not necessarily earned. Instead, it is given by a God who loves us so much He simply takes over when we surrender. Jesus take the W-H-E-E-L.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

John and Charles and King David sing, dance, ponder

I watched the video of the America Street Service on YouTube Sunday evening before the Saints did all they could to kill me (my blood pressure was as high as the top of the Superdome Monday afternoon when taken at the back doctor's office; they asked why, and I said 16-14, didn't you watch?).

Music, check.
Sermon dialing in on how to read and interpret Scripture, check.
Sermon done well, check.

PowerPoint done interestingly, if  not well also, directing us to Facebook questions they had posed the week before. I thought that was a real nice effect, and the points made by people like Sam Hubbard (who is everywhere, everywhere) a great way to take us the listener even deeper into the questions about how we read, study, interpret, analyze this book of "history versus the literal word of God," as brought to us by the staff at First UMC Baton Rouge and this dazzling new service.

I've, obviously to daily readers or perhaps even the occasional one, been pondering this traditional versus contemporary issue again for various (and many) reasons.

In studying David's (the King one) psalm of thanksgiving from 1 Chronicles this morning -- "O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek The Lord rejoice," I find that the issue is there.

David, who danced with the best of them, crying out, "When they were few in numbers, of little account,and strangers in the land, wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people, he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account."

Deep worship. Longing, feeling, emotional, "contemporary" worship. "Sing to the Lord," David says, over and over and over. David didn't mind dancing, remember. Hands in the air. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

That's what we're to do. What isn't found there (or anywhere it seems, which is I think hugely important) is a how to do this. What I mean is, there is how to to sing (what style), how to make known. What I mean is while the Bible is a book of instruction, there is no how to sing (loud, soft, fast, slow, hands raised, hands to the side). There is no how to baptise. No how to participate in the Lord's Supper. You name it, there's a method given at time, many, many times there is not. Why? I believe it's because we're to be led by the Holy Spirit into what and how and where our hearts are led by the Lord. The creativity, the inspiration, the how-to is the Lord's business. We are to connect with him and be led by him.

What are we to make of this, if anything at all?

John Wesley, who was known for having an opinion or two or three (thousand or so), defined worship as the "appropriate honoring of what God had accomplished through Jesus Christ, God's Son."

Wesley -- in most things -- was different in his views about worship from many of his contemporaries.

Worship, he said, "should be both inward and outward." He thought of worship as "an inward service of the heart as well as an outward use of the means of grace."

Let's put it this way. His brother, Charles, was writing worship tunes left and right while John was pondering the service of the heart. I believe there is an inward connection. Charles was writing "contemporary" worship tunes, grabbing and molding and applying John's theology into and onto bar room diddies and such.

"And are we yet alive,
and see each other's face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
for his almighty grace!"

And he wrote ...
"Come, sinners, to the gospel feast;
let every soul be Jesus' guest.
Ye need not one be left behind,
for God hath bid all humankind."

And he wrote ...
"O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer's praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!"

To me, Charles Wesley was the Chris Tomlin of his day, and John was the Louis Giglio, as it were.
Look, John took worship to areas and arenas it had not gone before, stretching into newness, clawing to find ways not to change the Gospel but to change the way the Gospel was presented. He recognized written and structured means of worship, without a doubt, but he saw the beauty and usefulness of a person extemporaneously praying to a Father who sees and hears the same beauty when one reaches deeply within and simply slits a spiritual vein and let the love flow.

Wesley saw worship as a duty toward God, offered in obedience. Though that formality sounds cold and stiff to me, both he and I also see it as a total gift from God, a gift of grace poured out from God to us, to the church.

Heck, in Wesley's time, some worship was open to the public, probably done in fields and such. The Methodists were called the Shouting Methodists for a reason. But there was also private worship, quiet worship, deeply thoughtful worship available

I guess the whole point of this blog is that worship is personal. It is what we give to God, though that thought has been warped somehow into it being what we get from God. Worship was never supposed to be that.

Charles nails it when he wrote, "Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. "

He found John's theology in the next line..."Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;  ear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart."

That's contemporary worship.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Well, wise and humble: A way to live

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. - James 3: 13 (MSG)

Thanks to a colleague for posting that this morning. It got me to thinking, which on Monday is a difficult chore at best.

What is living well, living wisely, living humbly. What does it look like in a 2013 culture in a 2013 America?

To figure that out, I think you have to probably look at what it looked like in a 65 AD culture in a 65 AD Palestine.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the early megachurch in Ephesus, this theme (from the Voice Bible), " Wisdom is a rare commodity."

"Paul urges believers, then and now, to walk wisely. It involves living well every day. Time itself seems to be co-opted by dark forces. But when believers understand God’s will, avoid drunkenness, and allow God to fill them with His Spirit, they are able to walk wisely and live well. The Spirit-filled life is not just for a special few; it is the normal Christian life, and it affects everything, including how we live in community and how we treat others at home. And the Spirit makes it possible to submit humbly to one another out of respect for the Anointed."

This is a theme throughout the Bible that is rarely talked about in today's culture, I'm afraid.

Proverbs tells us, “So, my dear friends, listen carefully; those who embrace these my ways are most blessed. Mark a life of discipline and live wisely; don’t squander your precious life."

The writer of Psalm 90 calls out to God for help in living wisely: "Oh! Teach us to live well Teach us to live wisely and well! Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?— and treat your servants with kindness for a change. Surprise us with love at daybreak; then we’ll skip and dance all the day long."

So, my conclusion is that to live well, one must live wisely. And to live wisely, one must live humbly.

They go together like, well, faith, hope, and love do. Three actives forming a movement.

The movement was called "The Way" early in its infancy. At Antioch, they began calling it Christianity for the Christians (little Christs) were first named there.

Does it still look that way? Are we still living wisely, well, humbly? That's for others to debate.

But we must, must learn to hold nothing sacred but the mission, getting rid of all the stuff that keeps us from wisely living well, or that movement will at least be hindered at most stopped.

And it will be on us, not the Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Wipe away every tear

Out there is someone this morning who needs to hear what Meridith Andrews has to say.

In her wonderful anthem "You are not alone" she writes, "You cry yourself to sleep cause the hurt is real and the pain cuts deep. All hope seems lost with heartache your closest friend, and everyone else long gone. You've had to face the music on your own but there is a sweeter song that calls you home, saying ...

"You are not alone for I am here; let me wipe away every tear."

This morning as I look at the "preferred vision" of the governing United Methodist body of the state in which I reside and do ministry, I see some things that really, really speak to my heart.

The five points found in our Bishop's vision for us include "integrity, accountability, unrelenting love for all people, courage and risk, and holding nothing sacred but the mission."

What does all that mean? Actually, I'm not entirely sure. But I would like to think it means that when you cry yourself to sleep cause the hurt is real we are there for you. When the pain cuts deep, we're waiting to help. When all hope seems lost, we're there to offer hope and direction and the most unconditional love we can muster. When heartaches is your closest friend and everyone else is long gone, I pray we're there to tell someone about Jesus to the best and most honest of our abilities.

When I was lost -- and I was -- and the life I was living was in shambles spiritually and emotionally even if physically that couldn't be seen by most, someone I don't even remember this day was there to tell me about a Savior I didn't want to know or believe in. When I did know him, my life changed. Every breath was filled with newness. Every time I read scripture a fire was set. I was, well, changed.

Everything I've done in the past 18 years has been in regards to that. In church after church I've tried to preach Jesus resurrected, and that gives us hope where there is little. We might not always be healed by his stripes, but because he took the stripes, absorbed the pain, let the nails scar and let the crown cut, we are given a reason to sing, to worship, to be never alone. Resurrection means love wins.

Certainly I want our churches to grow, but I like what our Bishop has said about that. "We place the needs and interests of people before the needs and interests of the institution. We prioritize transformative relationships over sustaining buildings and budgets."

That seems dangerously close to what Jesus said was his mission statement. In Luke 19 he says, "I came to seek and save the lost."

Furthermore, his last words on the planet were these: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you."

If we're, as instructed, United Methodists are doing what is described as holding nothing sacred but the mission, then nothing but seeking and saving the lost so that we can make them disciples is the only thing left for us.

First we have to make sure that each of ours mission.
then we have to figure new ways of accomplishing that mission.
Then comes the easy part I would figure: we have to do the mission.

Our Bishop says this: We are open to the creative movement of God's spirit, not institutional priorities, in order to serve the mission.

With every breath, let us offer Jesus.
In every action, let us offer Jesus.
In every thought, let us offer Jesus.

To a world that is in pain, sometimes unknown and unacknowledged pain, there is one balm of Gilead. If we see open emotional sores forming, wouldn't we offer the solution we've found ourselves?

That's what this means. Not counting the persons, not creating new members, not worrying about statistics in any way. Instead, counting the cost if we fail. Counting the hearts soothed if we succeed.

Unrelenting, unbiased, unjudgmental, unconditional love for all the persons who feel alone in a crowd.

I once was one of those; I once was lost; I once was in jeopardy of the mightiest kind.

And He found me, washed me clean, set me on a different path.

Am I a great pastor, preacher, theologian? Well, no. But what I am is saved, forgiven, loved. That I simply try to pass on. On occasion I use words.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Turning to trust

Yesterday I was almost pain free. It had been a long, long time since that happened. I was shocked, to say the least. Sure I had a back procedure, but I had had back procedures before and I never thought they would work this well. Today some pain has returned, but hey, things have never been this way since an drunk driver tried to us me and my car for brakes five years ago.

It made me think of David's long journey to trust. I've taken some of that trip myself.

"I look up to the mountains," David wrote.
Does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.
He won’t let you stumble,
your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
Guardian will never doze or sleep.
God’s your Guardian,
right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
sheltering you from moonstroke.
God guards you from every evil,
he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
he guards you now, he guards you always."
The secret to trust lies in putting this truth into practice, by making it such a powerful theme in your life that you view every event, every sorrow, every prayer with the unshakable conviction that God is totally, spotlessly trustworthy.

That's where we mess up. We want to trust in anything rather than the Lord. We'll trust in our own abilities, in our boss's judgment of us, in our money, our doctor, even in an airline pilot. But the Lord? Well…

It's easy to trust in things we can see. Sure, we believe in God, but to allow him to run our life? That's asking a little too much, we think.
He guards you, now, always.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Are we better now, 12 years later?

It's beyond belief that it happened 12 years ago. Twelve years ago?

I was getting ready for work, which was in that previous life and career. It was so long ago I still was in management at a newspaper. Since then management has gone away, as has, well, newspapers in general.

Twelve years ago I was told by my wife, Mary, to come into the bedroom. She had a little TV  playing there, maybe even a black and white if you could believe it, and on it was a building with huge amounts of smoke flowing out of it.

She said, simply, "Something is going on."

We went into the living room to the big TV, and indeed, something was going on. While there, before I left for work, we watched a replay of the first plane hitting the tower. Not long after that, we saw another hit a tower and I thought for a few minutes that I was watching another replay.

I told Mary goodbye and headed across the Crescent City Connection to New Orleans to help where I could at the office. Long before this, another six or eight years I think, I was called back from sports to news at The Clarion-Ledger to design a front page for the paper when the U.S. bombed Iraq the first time. I assumed there was something I could do at the Times-Picayune 11 years ago, though I never was asked to help.

From the moment we were hit, including the aircraft that landed hard in Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon was hit, we had the moral question about just wars hanging over us.

This is the United Methodist reaction after 9-11, 12 years ago from Bishop C. Dale White.

United Methodists have been ambivalent about war from our beginnings. Throughout the warring 20th century, The United Methodist Church demonstrated its diversity as it offered support and counsel to men and women who believe it their duty to participate in the military, while at the same time supporting conscientious objectors in their plea to do alternative service.

There are three major strains of thought that were examined at length following that morning:

Pacifist tradition
The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley condemned all war as the prime example of human depravity. Many prominent leaders of our denomination in the 20th century were pacifists.
For decades the legislative body of United Methodism -- the General Conference -- had taken an essentially pacifist stance. The Social Principles, paragraph 69C in The 1996 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, said:

"We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them."

Just-war tradition

Among Roman Catholics from the time of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, a just-war tradition has flourished. Its principles, which place strict controls over any resort to war, include:

  • Just cause: A decision for war must seek justice in response to serious evil, such as a war of aggression.
  • Just intent: The ends sought in a decision for war must mean the restoration of peace with justice, and must not seek self-enrichment or devastation of another nation.
  • Last resort: Like pacifism, this tradition is based on a strong moral presumption against going to war. Every possibility of peaceful settlement of a conflict must be tried first.
  • Legitimate authority: A decision for war may be declared only by properly constituted governmental authority.
  • Reasonable hope of success: A decision for war must be based on a prudent expectation that the ends sought can be achieved.
The crusade tradition

The fusion of political and religious authority in the Middle Ages fostered a third Christian tradition in matters of war and peace: crusades against infidels. The capture of Jerusalem's holy places by the Turks at the end of the 11th century was cited to make warfare a holy cause and a path to sainthood. Unlike the pacifist and just-war traditions, the crusade tradition assumes unrestrained conduct of war is a religious obligation.

If crusade tradition seems a relic of past centuries, look at the excess of self-righteousness and barbarism with which most modern wars have been waged. Moral restraints have been overwhelmed. Nations and warring groups have used poison gas, fire raids, nuclear weapons and napalm against civilians and military personnel.

The Bishop is certainly correct that nothing was ever the same for this country, and I believe it has been for the worse. Our economy is wrecked, and at least a small part of that is the money we spent on a war on terror that wasn't budget for and perhaps wasn't even won. I'm not sure that the idiots who flew those planes into the towers, the pentagon and the ground in Pennsylvania didn't actually win, because things haven't been the same.

Then came Katrina.

Then came the reaction to the president's policies.

Then comes the affordable heal care.

And now we're debating the morality involved in the Syrian use of gas on its own citizens.

Next comes I don't known and don't particularly want to know..

These are serious matters that require serious discussion, and they began -- again -- one morning 12 years ago on this date.

The major question for Christians hasn't change.

A Christian theologian, Miroslav Volf, wrote a piece a while back that says, "
One way to approach the question is to ask whether, as a result of the 9/11 trauma, we have become better people? "Better" measured by what standard? ... Have we become better people? Some of us and in some regards have, and others of us and in other regards have not. Let's look first at the debit side of our moral account:
  1. Prejudice. In 2002 39 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of Islam and Muslims, whereas in 2010 that number jumped to 49 percent. The increase was not a fruit of deepened insight but of stronger prejudice. Prejudice is a form of untruthfulness, and untruthfulness is an insidious form of injustice.
  2. Multiplication of Enemies. After 9/11 we set out to punish the perpetrators and their supporters, and to ensure our own safety. In the process, we have not diminished the number of our enemies. To the contrary. After (12) years of chasing the dream of impregnability and now trillions of dollars poorer, we have more enemies then ever. From a Christian standpoint, reducing enmity should have been our moral and not just security goal. We have failed.
  3. Exceptionalism. In an inter-connected and inter-dependent world we insist on going our own way. We don't hold ourselves accountable to the norms we hold others accountable to -- the moral principle of reciprocity enshrined in the Golden Rule does not apply to us. As a result, we are less liked abroad than ever, and in some parts of the world we have come to be despised as bullying hypocrites.
  4.  And now to the credit side of our moral account, which only sometimes balances the debit side of it:
  1. Civility. Many Christian leaders (Adam Hamilton, Rick Warren, and Brian Zahnd, to name three very different people) have discovered that part of their calling is to promote civility and understanding among all religious groups, including Muslims. Theirs is the following rule: the better Christian you are, the more truthful, just, and loving toward others, including Muslims, you will be.
  2. Pluralism. There is a growing sense even among conservative Christians, most pronounced among young evangelicals, that America, far from being a Christian nation, is irreversibly a pluralistic nation. Muslims and Christians, along with people of other faiths and no faith at all, will continue to live side by side under the same roof. When Christians bring their vision of good life into the public realm, they should do so on equal terms as any other group. For that's what it means to treat others as you want them to treat you.
  3. Common Values. Even though they recognize that Christianity and Islam are and will remain two very different religions, many are acquiring a clearer sense that these two religions share some fundamental common values -- love of God and love of neighbor and the moral code enshrined in the Ten Commandments. Gradually awareness is growing that it is possible for Christians and Muslims to have meaningful moral debates in public life and to push each other to better articulations of the common good.
This I know. The questions that began the moment the towers were hit are still among us, though we've forgotten in some ways that the discussion needs answers.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Who knows?

In the I'm not exactly sure what to make of it category, the hottest trend on Hollywood's schedule appears to be ... religion.
Faith based entertainement is in the midsmeback, at least partially because of the success of the mini-series, The Bible. NBC has announced it will produce a sequl. Then there are multiple upcoming movies about Moses, a new film about Noah and a new production of Exodus.
And then there are the renewals of such ratings-busting shows as GSN’s “The American Bible Challenge,” back for a third season, and TLC’s announcement that not only will its franchise, “Breaking Amish: LA,” return, but there will be a reunion event as well. Add to that list ongoing reality shows such as “Preacher’s Daughters” and the list just keeps growing.
I suspect it has just a little to do with the ratings success of Duck Dynasty, which ends each show with a prayer over a meal from the very Christian family, the Robertsons.

But maybe it's just time. Maybe the pendulum is swinging back toward, uh, something substantial.
Or maybe these movies will be trash.

Who knows? Not I.

The  ice is forming more than 60 percent faster than last year in the Arctic, slaying prophecies of cap meltdown like so many dragons. Sounds are being heard all around the world in the air.

Who knows? Not I.

For one hour this day I will be unconscious, having a back procedure done. For that one hour and that one hour alone I'm absolutely sure I won't be considering anything in terms of what comes next in ministry, in the world, in the Middle East. Though votes may come that doom us all, I'm out.
But then ....

Who knows. Especially No. 1.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Gavin of the Dance

His name is Gavin, and I've introduced him before. He's funny, saying some of the most amazing
things I've heard from children.

 He's a 6-year-old dancer. He takes or has taken be-bop dance lessons and apparently for his age he's really, really good. He likes to bust out moves and the bigger the crowd, the bigger the smile. He loves baseball, I think, and is partial to bounce ball (lower grade volleyball) and even basketball at his size.

But I've found something he's not. He's not a football player.
He went out, as you can see, but this is what he said: "Those pads are aggravating."

When he tried to make a tackle on one of his friends in his only practice, he said, "My whole body vibrated."

So, he said no.

I read a story a while back that made me think instantly of Gavin, way before he decided he had better things to do that tackle or be tackled.

The writer told of sitting in the stands as her 6-year-old played tee-ball. 

The writer said, "I told the story about my son informing me he wanted to dance in high school and a barrel chested man that looked like his glory days happened about 20 years ago bellowed out, "If my son wanted to dance, I would kill myself."

Me? I want Gavin to dance on to stardom if that's his desire. Would I have loved to have seen my grandsons playing football? Well, yeah. But the fact is what they want is more important by large amounts than anything I could ever want.

Me? I don't like cheerleading, bands, pep squads and such. I see the field, not the sidelines. But that doesn't mean that tons of folks have to feel the way I do.

And neither does Gavin, who once after getting off a roller-coaster in Florida said, "That was terrifying, but AWESOME."

So is he.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Trudy and the girl

Let me tell you about Miss Trudy. She is another in a long line of pretty gray cats we've had. But she has certainly been different than any of them. The first time I saw Miss Trudy, she was lying beside Miss Trudy. Let me explain.

The human Miss Trudy was a grand old lady of 94 when I met her. She was tiny, withered in a good way like leather well used. She spoke with a gentle English accent that I loved to hear with a laugh that was like bow pulling over string in its floating lyrical manner. I took communion to the human Miss Trudy for two years as she waned. She loved to tell me stories about life in the War (II I reckon), and about her long past husband. She had two cats, one named Herbert after her husband and one named Trudy after herself. In fact, Trudy was Trudy II because there had been another cat, also named Trudy. This was about six years ago, I think.

One day when I was given communion to Miss Trudy (human), she made me promise I would take care of her cats if something happened to her. I've actually already made the same request from our children. I sort of feel like I better outlive the rescues and my children though.

At the time of this request she was 96. I somewhat reluctantly, I'm afraid, said okay. Then, because she was 96 and things really do happen to 96 year olds quite frequently, something happened to her. She died.

I talked to her caregivers and they said they would take care of the two cats. They didn't. They took care of one of them, and let the terribly frightened Trudy the cat run out of the house and go under it in pure cat terror, of which Miss Trudy had aplenty always.

My wife Mary went over to the house and she, with some help, got Trudy out of there and into our home.

Miss Trudy (we added the Miss at somepoint I guess because I called the human one that) was of an unknown age, but what was known was she didn't like me at all (showing remarkable taste for a cat, I thought). In fact, she didn't like other animals, or, well, air. But I think I held a special place in her heart. She hated me with a hiss and a spat. She chose, for a while to live in one of the bathrooms of our house we lived in in Lacombe. When we moved to a parsonage, she lived under beds, coming out to eat and rink water and hiss at me just to stabilize things on occasion. One of our daughters called her the "devil cat." But, like many I've come across in the past decade, she was much more lost than evil.

See, truthfully, she wasn't a bad cat. More a frightened one. More missing the human master she had grown up with and never understood what happened to her. I felt passion for her seeming loneliness.

She grew to love Mary thought, because, well, everyone loves Mary. When we moved to Eunice, she went with us in a carrier after we had to chase her around the parsonage, terrifying her, angering her even more.

Ageless. Friendless (except for Mary, who is broken up about her -- as she has been about every rescue we've made who passed into another life). She is even hissless for she no longer has the strength.

I really pray that this means what it says it means...

And EVERY creature which is IN HEAVEN, and on earth, and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying  blessing and honor and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.

And I pray that Miss Trudy and Miss Trudy be re-united, and Miss Trudy's angelic soprano call h er to her, and Miss Trudy the cat will be free at last.

We tried Miss Trudy. We tried. Maybe we couldn't save her in the end, but we gave her three or four more years than she would have had.

What a week in which to grow I've had.