Monday, June 30, 2014

One incredible moment

The world sometimes spins in the right direction. Sometimes the feeling is simply a right one. Sometimes you know you've done the will of God because the peace of God comes on you.

I was thinking yesterday about numbers. What did Jesus think when he fed 5,000 or the 4,000? First, what was his methodology? Watching the Son of God recently, I saw something wonderful. Empty baskets became filled with fish. Now, one might question why the folks had the baskets in the first place since they had no idea there would be a fish, bread miracle. But what I saw was 5,000 people. Five thousand people showed up to just hear a man preach. Five thousand who hadn't been there before. What must Jesus have thought?

Then Peter. When he preached for the first time, 3,000 joined the church in a day. What must he have thought? How did they include 3,000 persons in a church that had no building? What was the baptism truly like?

I wonder these things.

I wonder about those persons who hit the last shot to win a basketball game. How do they feel afterwards? Or the ones who make the last second touchdown run or grab? Or the walk-off home run.

For one moment, they are beyond the pale of expectation. For one moment, things couldn't possibly get better.

Or when your wedding goes exactly as planned, or the birth of your first child, or the purchase of your first home when all that financial stuff is done?

There are bad moments you remember forever, Kennedy's assignation, the Challenger, 9-11. But there are good moments, fine moments, moments like would never, ever forget.

Then yesterday, 47 showed up in our new church. Our dead church. Forty seven came.

What must we think, co-pastor Sione and me?

I think Sione says it best: "Thank you everyone for being with us in worship yesterday. Excitement is in the air."

We came, we served communion together, we preached, we introduced new music, we came. And as the Lord said once long ago: It was good.

That's what we think. Through very little overall discussion and planning, we succeeded not because we ran out of bulletins, not because people came who weren't previously part of this church, not because we have an incredible piano player in our midst with more musical talent to come.

For once, just one wonderful, incredible moment, we are in the will of God.

It's early in our church's life, but it is there.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Beginning again, and again

We are going under. That's plain, isn't it? The rains have come and they won't go away. I need to buy a lawn mower. I need to stop feeling sick to my stomach. I need.

It does seem like we've been here forever, but we have been here less than a week. Boxes are still procreating. We've yet to find the power cord for the back television. Did I mention that it is raining cats and dogs  -- in our house? But heck, we got to see Gavin play baseball last night, so things are good. Right up till that magic moment when we were invited into our first family argument involving young Emma, our granddaughter.

Still, once I complete the few things I need to get done at the church this morning, it's going to all be good. I expect to put some music on in the front rooms, and begin knocking out the front rooms.

I pulled out a Bible that we were given when we attended Cursillo a few thousand years ago, and I noticed a note I made on the inside cover. I wrote, "320 references to Jesus withdrawing and never once did it refer to him rushing."

He strolled, walked, went up, pulled out, went, but never rushed. Never ran. Never moved quickly. This is our God. He takes his time. He looks things over.  Interestingly, though He is the light, he never moves at the speed of light. Think that one over for a bit.

The translation, one of Good News it says, tells me in John's prelude, "In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. From the very beginning the Word was with God, the Bible says.

Kind of sweet, I think. He, they, us, winded and wound together like string onto a ball. He, they, us. That's the formula, the wishful thinking of the rhythm and rhyme. That's the notion, the motion and the moment.

This morning, as I ponder the dark skies like mumbling words on a gray slate, a voice is saying, "Mortal man, stand up. I want to talk to you. Mortal man. I am sending you to the people of Israel. They have rebelled and turned against me and are still rebels ..."

Let us worship our God, o Church. Let us worship our Lord, our Master, our friend, our leader, our love.

This weekend, Sione and I, co-pastor and newly established friends, will begin -- again. It's time. It's time.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Buckets, lists and all things in-between

Have you figured out what you really want done in your life? I mean, really figured it out? Decided on a plan? Made lists and such? Maybe that's the next on your agenda, I mean, his planning and setting goals.

Or, maybe not. It is a dreary, dreary morning of at least of the weather kind. Our family has summoned progress as an idea. We've structured progress as a goal. We've decided that progress might one day happen.

Coffee is hot. The skies are exceedingly gray, as they have been all week. I'm trying to figure out where the next step will be taken, even while taking very few. And on and on we go, with the day ahead, likely remaining ahead.

Got that? Didn't think so.

John the Baptizer wrote these words, "Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this. And instantly I was in the Spirit, and I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it."

Therefore, we know in the throne room, someone is sitting on a throne. We know so darn little beyond that, in this passage, but we know that much. Therefore, we are at least sure the King is on the thrown.

God that? Didn't think so.

You might detect a bucket-filled amount of joy in our lives this morning. Oh, it's dreary as I write this. Weary kind of dreary, too. It's foggy. It's muggy. It's rainy. It's hot.

But the garbage folk picked up the garbage, for the first time. We're learning as we go, like where garbage will be placed and such. And what we've done is begin to figure out what we will do next. That's kind of what life is all about in the long run. All is good, then. All.  

Joy comes with the morning. Pleasantries come with the joy. We have a series of sermons heading toward the congregation. We are making steps.

This is life, as we know it.  Box a box or box a box or two. Two steps forward, a couple dozen back. That's life. That's just life as we know it. But we're getting there. I pray we get things in some sort of what might pass as order by the end of the end of the next week.

Looking around at things this morning, delving into Wikipedia and such, I came across this dictionary meaning of order: An arrangement of items, the way in which several items are arranged, as an indication of their relative importance or size or when each will be dealt with.

I suspect that's where we, my wife and I, children and I, grandchildren and I, are now. We're set aside a pot of joy without actually getting to stir it up. But that's okay.

We have an arrangement of items. Life is arranged. We have an idea of what an idea is and what it will some day be, but we do not have a complete idea about what that is or will be.

In other words, we're getting somewhere, but we're darn sure not getting there quickly.

In the coming days, we will wrap up this section of our life, and we will head off in a more conclusive bit of time. We will find the time to greet folks we don't know. We will smile a lot. We will touch hands and smile a bit more.

What I've learned over time is this: Bucket lists are important little ditties that need doing. Some are better at accomplishing those things than others. Some are diligent at getting those items checked off. Some are not.

But for those who are pretty darn good at checking them off, ultimately satisfaction comes rolling in off the water like so much fog. Me? I'm still trying to figure out what my bucket-list items are.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin? No, seriously, whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin?

 So, Mary got me a new name. Actually, a new domain name, new email address, new Facebook page name, new website, new everything. And I've slowly gotten used to the new name. You've probably heard it on the street, or in a cafĂ© or in our new house. It sounds a lot like this: "Billy whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin?" That's my new last name, whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin. It's a bit strange, but what the heck. Beats the alternative, Billy Imgoingtoremovealungfromyouthroughyournoseifthiskeepsup. I'm a true believer in Mary's ability to do just that. Straight on out till morning, third scared lung from the right. Honest. She can do it.

As I sit here, typing on a couch without having really slept all night and occasionally noticing I've dropped off, typed a whole bunch of even more evident gibberish than normal, it occurs to me that this has been taxing, this moving gig.

We recently, like sometime in the past 15 minutes or so, moved from Eunice to New Orleans, which is roughly the equivalent of moving from Atlanta to oh, say, Macon.

I would love to say I've done it well, this boxing thing, but everyday readers will know better without my writing anything. A tiger can't change his stripes, especially if he can't find what box he put them in.

Just is what it is. Once again, I tried, and I failed. Like ducks whose only job is to walk from one little lake across the road to another little lake and then back again, I left the lake, waddled across the road and just before getting there, someone yelled hey, Billy whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin ... and when I turned to see who was calling my name, splattttt. Dead duck in the middle of the whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin.

The exceptionally good news is that I can see the bottom of the whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin quagmire. Seriously. The boxes are not growing, mutating, virusing any longer. At least I don't think they are.

The idea that we've lost many things isn't as evident as it once was. I'm sure the idea still exists at the back of my mind, but stark raving mad fear isn't covering my head like a flock of growing, mutating, virusing seagulls and longer. Now my head is covered by the normal assortment of tiny, tiny hairs.

Till Mary gets all red in the face and her front teeth start rattling and she screams Billy whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin and the hair that had grown out (in my ears and nose of course) since the last time she had yelled suddenly explodes like tree needles powered by hurricane winds.

Soon, and very soon, we will put all this to bed, if we could find all the rails for all the beds. And this time, we're going to keep the whatboxdidyouputsoandsoin boxes. Just cut the tape off, flatten them like a lousy pan of cornbread, put them into the new attic we have, and be done with it, er, them, till the next time my name changes to Billy Areyousurethatyoupackedthedangthingatall.

Ironically, that is on my old driver's license that I use to check into and out of hotels for vacation. That's better than what's on my social security card, the idea I've had all my life, the very early ID ... William Whereareyourkeysglasseswalletshoes Wasthataboxyouputthemin.

This is the very reason boxing has died.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cats and dogs, living together

I don' watch "reality" television. I'm not sure why, other than I have problems with there being works that don't need or use talent on them, talent like writers and directors and food cart folks. One can not overestimate the value of a good food cart person till one doesn't have one.

But as a noted philosopher said the other night via talented words in a script, "Using the word One in reference to one-self is a good way to get beat up.

But if I did watch them, I would be able to detect whether what I'm about to write is true. I believe we should have a new reality show. And you could make it really be reality. No additions. No subtractions. Just me, my wife Mary and the critters who now roam some of the area that we live in.

For example. One could have watched our moving day experiences.

First, the movers came about an hour late.Their truck wasn't big enough, so they ordered another one, with two more driversunpackers at twice the cost.

Then, they took just a tad shorter than forever. It was like watching a soccer match, or paint dry, or the Atlanta Falcons. You know, boring and tedious and lengthy and ultimately with but a degree of success (nobody died, so it was a success, right?)  They arrived yesterday at 10:49 a.m. They left, finally, f-i-n-a-l-l-y at 10:45p.m. They madeable scraps of the estimate we had been provided. Small houses have been bought for less than they eventually charged.

I went ahead to get pets acclimated and happy again. It didn't work. The cats have decided they will never, never come out again (not all bad, come to think of it). I sat for three hours with two small dogs, four terrorized cats, and, well, nothing else.

Then it really got dark. No, I mean it. Dark.Wind and  terror=-producing claps of thunder. Have I mentioned that one of the dogs is hyper-sensitive to bad weather? So, now I'm sitting there with two dogs and one of them has attached himself to my hip in sheer terror, joining the cats in thinking I'm the devil.

Then the skies opened, and flooding waters decided to join us. The water on the street collected like some sort of bowl and stayed there. My car had water up to the middle of its wheels, and then a truck tip-toed down the street, creating waves. Now, I was terrorized. I took off shoes and shirt, knowing I had no other clothes but what I had on, waded with water up to middle of my leg it seemed, and jumped into the car. Very little water had soaked into the car, which is good because the back floor board has half a garbage bag full of cat food from a rip in the plastic bag carring said food.

Back at the parsonage at Eunice, Mary and two delightful friends were tasked with wrapping it up. That meant getting Sammy, the overwrought, overweight wide load into the back of the truck. It ook all three, some yelling, a bit of screaming, some coaxing (good cop, bad cop), some pushing, a touch of pulling, some begging, and suddenly Sammy is in. On small step for dog world, one giant leap for Sammy-dom.

Long, long, long story short, God went ahead of us. He let the water drain so the truck, oh yeah, trucks, do their thing. At 10:45, with pain shooting through every part of my body, we shut down Operation Ark.


Now we open a land-fill full of boxes. We discover where we are. I start on a new "job" and life begins again.

Till the next episode is filmed, the next box of plenty is opened, the next sermon prepared. The reality show continues.

Lord, if it be your will, let the rest go easier.

This is my offering, Dear Lord. Mary and I lay it all before you. We give you our lives because it is all we have to give. May we, your servants, be up to the task you've set before us.

And may I find my socks.

Friday, June 20, 2014

To infinity and beyond

I'm reminded of the hymn Pass It On this morning. ... "In the end is our beginnings," it goes.

Two years ago at just about this time, I wrote, "There are dear people we're leaving behind. The list, I'm afraid, is much too small, those folk who we will never, never forget. But one can't lead if one is too close to the flock, someone said. I've tried hard to believe that, failing at times, becoming too close on occasion. I pray I did all I could in this ministry, but I leave it, literally and figuratively, on Sunday. But come Monday everything changes. We drive like some modern Gypsies, headed not into the unknown as someone told me, but into the mission, into the calling that is what we do as ministers, pastors, preachers, teachers, lovers of the flock, leaders of the flock, shepherds of the meandering, murmuring, flock. Come Monday, we see if what has worked, works again; or do we change as the environment changes? Come Monday, we keep on keeping on keeping on. I'm writing these final words of the blog from the 42-year-old desk in Blond, La. I've written blogs read by persons from all over these United States, to Russia, to Australia, to Nigeria, to the Solomon Islands, to Turkey to as far as I know Mars and the outer planets featured in Firefly.

I thought, I really thought, we would be here till they made me quit preaching. At most that would be 12 more years, realistically eight. It didn't happen. Two years after swing into town on a strong vine, full of myself and ready to conquer the world, I -- we -- move again.

Since we came to Eunice, we've had North Korea being a pain in the collective butts of the world in 2012. But we also had a summer Olympics, Apple has unveiled IOS 6 and 7 as well as I-phone 5 and 5s, and the world didn't come to an end in December of 2012 as some who believed in the Mayan Calendar said it would. Hurricane Sandy beat up the Eastern seaboard. We got a new pope in 2013 even while the previous pope was still alive, we had hot spots pop up in the world, and North Korea was a pain the collective butts of the world in that year. Who knew that could happen? Two of our cats passed on, and we took in a baby to save it from the world outside our doors.

The more things change, the more they really, truly stay the same. In the end is our beginnings.

Look, if you really believe you are called by the most Holy God, then these things should fit together like clockwork. My clock continues but its a few minutes slow, kind of like me in the mornings.

I quote from my favorite prophet, Isaiah, this morning about what he felt about his "calling." "Listen to me, distant nations, you people who live far away! Before I was born, the Lord chose me and appointed me to be his servant. He made me sharp as a sword with his own hand he protected me. He made me like an arrow, sharp and ready for use. He said to me, 'Israel, you are my servant; because of you, people will praise me. ... Before I was born, the Lord appointed me; he made me his servant to bring back his people, to bring back the scattered people of Israel. The Lord gave me honor; he is the source of my strength."

Before I was born, the Lord appointed me; he made me his servant to bring back his people...

I've written more than 1,000 blogs now. I've had more than 38,000 page views in four plus years. Time continues to rage down life's corridor like someone on one of those raft rides at the amusement
parks we go to from time to time.

And through it all, I know I've stayed true to the call.

Not perfect in my living, but as near perfect as I can be toward my call.

I've preached as well and as hard as I can every time I've gone into the pulpit. I've tried to be the people person an introvert has difficulty being. I've tried to visit, tried to heal with prayers, tried to do all I could.

Now? Now we leave again. In the end is our beginnings.

This is my last blog from Cajun land. My last blog from the parsonage in Eunice, my last blog from Eunice Period.

We go on to the next adventure, a church re-start in a 100-year-old building on Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans, a new living place (in Jefferson, a burg of New Orleans), a new life with a co-pastor as we try to breathe life into what is on life support as we speak.

We go with less confidence than we had when we rode in, less assurance, less energy perhaps. But all those things have done is break me down to the point where I must, absolutely must rely on His teaching, His direction, His power, His way, His truth, His life. Not my own won't get 'er done in the new adventure.

I closed with these words two years ago: "But somewhere down the road, I know there will be tremendously strong arms reaching for me. And we'll start all this again. And the wisp of strength that I have will be supplemented by the Hulkish strength He has and together we can transform a church, churches, charge, community.

See, I'm just crazy enough to believe that. That's all it really takes, you know. Just a bit of crazy. Just a bit of "I can't, but I know You can." The next thing you know, you're flying.

Seems like it still holds true.

No blog Monday, as the movers get the most attention. See you again Tuesday.

To infinity, and beyond someone once said.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A woman of renown

 "When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.  They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship."

This is the book of Acts account of the apostle Paul's goodbye to the church of Ephesus. It struck me, as I was doing much the same with a youth group from Eunice last night that saying goodbye never gets easier.

One darling youngster gave me a piece of card board on which she had written, "Ellie, don't forget me."

As if I could.

I remember my day of graduation from high school well. I spent much of it with my girl friend, then headed home. Late that evening, as the huge fan we had at our house drew in country air that would tame the most hateful of spirits, I teared up. I understood at some gut level that things would never be the same with my buddies that I had grown up with from the third grade on.

I was right. They went their own way, some to a junior college up the road, some to four-year colleges, some to work, etc. etc. etc.

Some graduates I've never seen again. They didn't come to the reunion, the one we had some 23 years ago. 

Goodbyes, to coin a phrase that used to drive me nuts, suck. They do. Friendships that have grown under the skin deep are shattered in many ways never to be whole again. That's the way of the church, and, to coin a phrase (oh, you know the rest) it stinks.

So, what keeps me going? What takes me through the darkness?

Well, it's a who, much more than a what.

She is my constant, if you dip back to the television show Lost for meaning (which I still do from time to time). She is my ministry, my anchor, my meaning, my reason. She keeps me going when I am less than able, which for the past year was at least part of the time. When things were at their worst, she was at her best.

She keeps my life in rhythm by providing the rhyme. She really, really does. I would be nothing without her.

Today is her birthday. I love her so dearly. The only goodbye I will ever be saying to her is my final one on this earth.

Happy birthday, Mary. May your day be as calm and assuring and exciting and memorable as any could be.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Can you help?

Sometime after arising just before dawn quite unintentionally I assure you, I had this thought: We are spending a whole lot of time talking about schism and unity and all parts in between in my beloved denomination the (somewhat) United Methodist Church. Why not force that unsettling settling subject out of our brains this morning and talk about what is working instead?

The blogosphere has been lit up by talk of splitting and such. Everyone, including yours truly, has an opinion about what is going to come. We can't come together on one simple subject so we will split apart over everything. Seems a might reactionary to me, but as we have determined, you and I, over time, we have a history of fussing. Doubt me? Try this: what sort of music is best to worship with, or what is the acceptable manner of taking communion, or how should we dress to be respectful in worship, or what does (pick a verse) this verse really mean? I could go on about baptism or scriptural study or, well, everything.

So, what I'm asking will be difficult. But a man's gotta know his limitations, said sage and prophet Clint Eastwood, and he has to know what he needs to force. Today, force.

Here goes. Oh, the humanity.

My question is this: Why don't we, for lack of a better more inclusive term, talk about all the things we've tried that failed and our best idea discerned through prayer and mediation and all the things that worked (with the same methodology).

In other words, why not have all the bloggers, columnists, readers, pastors, laity, bishops, district superintendents, you name its, post somewhere what we need to be doing and how we need to be doing it at least as it applies to the local church.

Then, here's my best idea, let's try to do it all. Just wrap it up like a dang ol' Christmas/birthday/Hanukkah present and do it. Just Nike it and let it be so.

For a "religion" based upon commitment, sacrifice, and love we sure have gotten full of ourselves, haven't we?

When was the last time you spent a few hours trying to figure how what you do for a living could be a living sacrifice for Christ? When was the last time we all spent time figuring out how to get out of the predicament we find the denomination (any and all will do, thank you) in trouble? When was the last time you invited someone to come work through the church (not at)? When was the last time you prayed for someone who wasn't sick? You know, simply prayed that that person in our lives (or even better, those strangers we come in contact with) be blessed with clarity and insight and one dang idea that will work in our churches?

When was the last time, as a blogger, as a reader of blogs, that we simply began putting ideas together?


Here's my proposal: I want to know why your friends don't go to church, or why you've stopped. If you're reading this, there is either the small chance you think I still write sports and you stopped by to see what I might be writing about the Saints or even high school sports or you wanted to see who I would slander today. I'm doing neither. I want to know what is working at your churches, and I want to know what isn't. I want to know what you would like to see, hear, feel, do in a church if you were in charge.

No nudity. No stupidity.

Just clear, clean ideas about what might have never been tried but is on your heart and you have no other place to, er, place it.

You can do this in a couple of ways. You can comment in the section below or you can share this after commenting on Facebook when this appears there.

And I would like each of the 40-60 readers each day to share it every day. I want to increase readership to increase times we might get new ideas.

Let's try being positive for a while, ditching negative like old mop water in a ditch.

Today, let's start a new movement. You have the power of the universe in you; let's exercise it together. Can we heal all wounds? Probably not. But we can start again, fresh, sun coming up like a new day was beginning or something.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Boxes up to the top of the boxes

Boxes upon boxes upon boxes. That's what life has turned to.

But last evening I was reminded of what pastoring is truly about. A dear, gentle man named Russell from one of my small churches had a stroke. He's doing well, as well as one can with this occurrence, but it reminds me and should remind everyone that one is a pastor to the churches one is assigned to up till the moment one is not.

Movement that we call begin itinerant in the United Methodist Church does not pick you up like some Judy Garland in Wizard of Oz and plop one down somewhere else.

Spending time with folks, learning to love them, learning to care for them, means the tendrils that reach deep into the soil of your appointment are literally ripped out of the ground you leave so quickly.

So, what can you do in six days? What can you accomplish as time roars past you so fast you can't even look up in time or you'll miss something, anything, everything? One last hospital visit. One last sermon. One last powerpoint. One last home visit. One last meal with friends.

That's what I'm facing, what all United Methodist ministers who are moving this year are facing. Here, it's the last time at Mr. Gatti's. The last time at Mexican whatever its name. The last time at ....

It never gets easier. It only gets harder as the sun starts to go down on it all.

Henry Knight III said of this thing we call it itineracy, "John and Charles Wesley eventually oversaw a hundred itinerant lay preachers assigned to circuits throughout Great Britain. These were not pastors of local churches, but traveling evangelists who preached both to unbelievers and to Methodist societies. Hence their sermons necessarily called for repentance and receptivity to God's forgiveness, as well as Christian growth in love and other fruit of the spirit. Itinerancy was a missionary strategy.

"Wesley believed that sustained awakening most frequently occurred when preachers traveled. He was convinced that 'were I myself to preach one whole year in one place, I should preach myself and most of my congregation to sleep.' Denying it is the will of God 'that any congregation have one teacher only' he insisted that experience has taught that a frequent change is best."

Besides, look what it does for the U-haul business as well as moving companies all over the country.

Perhaps there was a time when this worked to move every couple years, but I'm not at all certain it still does. I pray I never move again until it's time to sack it up and go to the house, wherever the house might be.

But I also am committed to whatever comes next being whatever comes next. That's the faith journey that all of us must be on, should be on.

See, Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is "confidence in what we hope for an assurance about what we do not see." Therefore, I am confident that within one year Uptown Community-Carrollton will have more than 100 persons per Sunday in one or two services. I am assured that we will preach the Gospel with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, Sione and I. I am certain that God will be there for us.

That's it. Nuff said.

Now, if I simply knew where the box with my office stuff was, everything would be golden.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Quit settling and start drawing a big ol' circle

And so the countdown reaches a week. Next week, our lives will change again. We've covered the rooms darn near floor to ceiling with boxes. There is just a little bit of packing to go. The movers will come, and our lives will change again.

I'm reminded of Abram, Sarah and Abram's father Teran.

In Genesis 11, we read, Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Seai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.

Truth is, I've always been frightened by this verse. Do you see the, uh, unsettling thing here? They settled in Harran. Probably stopped for a bite at the Harrah McDonalds, land of a thousand nights -- and golden arches? Stopped, and they never left.

When, I ask myself quite frequently, is it time to rest? To put down roots? To stop what we're doing for the Lord and just, well, stop what we're doing for the Lord. Put down the heavy lifting of a keyboard, for example.

Ever since Louisiana Annual Conference I've had this song running around in my head. Can't get past it. Can't go around it. Music by Mark Miller, lyrics by Gordon Lee.

It's words are these: "Draw the circle, draw the circle wide; draw the circle, draw the circle wide. No one stands alone, we'll be side by side."

It seems likely to me that in order to continue to do that, we can't settle, can't stop, can't lay down, can't sit down, can't go down. We just have to keep on keeping on.

There's a mad rush to get younger in the United Methodist denomination. My sense is that's wrong. What we need, frankly, is some people of age to simply quit settling. Settling for mediocrity in worship. Settling for status quo in our churches. Settling for what isn't working, drawing the circle so narrow that only those who are coming right this minute are the ones who will be invited into the circle.

See, what we need is intentionality. We need persons of age who think young to meet those who are young and teach them what we've learned by trial and many, many errors. We need to be about others more than we are ourselves. We need to stop settling. Settling for one hour a week dealings with the holy. Settling for one hour a week with our Lord. Settling for what our churches have become, stale and settled for the most part. Oh, not all of them by any stretch, but enough that numbers have become important when I'm not sure at all God ere wanted that. Other than the most important number for Him, the number one. One lost sheep at a time, the Bible teaches, causes a huge party in heaven.

Our circle must become those who are different, in age, in sensibilities, in political opinion, in race, in skin color, in sexual orientation, in understanding of the scriptures. It must. Without us opening our circle to those who are different, we one day will find ourselves, like Harran, settled, dead, and buried.

It does not mean that our circle will become a place we hang out with people who do not think they sin. No, no. Our circle will become a place where we teach those who think they do not sin that we all do, but there is a savior our there who will not only offer forgiveness for those sins, but wash away the sin nature that dwells in all of us (just like using the word dwells, pretentious though it might be) with his own blood. Heck, they'll even understand what that means.

But only, hear me please, only if we, those born-again, washed again, converted, justified, going on to sanctified people of Christ's circle quit settling for how many we have in church, how many we have in our lives, how many could be in our lives but will never get the chance because the circle still is way, way to small.

Let this day be a day we all pack our spiritual suitcases, box up our mediocrity, and head on toward the promised land -- together. All of us.

Draw the circle wide, folks, wider still, wider still more. Till it includes everyone who has had an inkling of prevenient grace.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Goodbye to another friend

I know there is a Southern Baptist somewhere who is about to disagree with me, and I simply don't care.

I pray that one day I will meet every pet we've ever had, and they number in the 30s, I believe. Today we said goodbye, literally said goodbye while petting him as the very nice vet let our beloved Harry go to that rainbow bridge.

A week ago, he was mostly healthy, we thought. We took him to the vet and were told he had an infection. Three days later, we learned he had an incredibly high blood-sugar count, and that he would have to take shots the rest of his life and the insulin would be costly. No matter, Harry was Harry, so we told them bring it on.

The problem was, it seems, that despite fighting since Wednesday, he was fighting a losing battle. He never really ate again after we brought him home. He never drank. He didn't go to the bathroom. He just was, when he wasn't looking for a spot under the bed like he was looking for a place to die.

Thus Harry, named after author's Jim Butcher's wizard/private detective Harry Dresden, of the huge claws and big boned body and curly black hair, died on Friday the 13th before a full moon could present itself.

We got Harry about six years ago when some idiot put him out into the parking lot of the Slidell bureau of the Times-Picayune. We, despite having pets (so many pets), took him in as we always do. He had a broken tail that was never fixed. It went sprawling in various directions. He never meowed a day in his life. Instead, it was a broken hallelujah, a kind of squeak, though it could get loud when he wanted to.

He picked on some of the cats, truthfully, but he was my wife Mary's baby, from early on. He took the place of her previous baby, Buttons, who preceded Harry. Harry was the only cat that Buttons ever played with, and he did so in his final days after 16 years of loving Mary. Harry literally took Buttons place, for cuddly belly rubs and climbs onto Mary's shoulders, and claws that were too sharp but with which he never learned to put away when he was stretching on Mary's lap. They could be painful, she said.

Today has been hard. We decided when he couldn't seem to stand, and his eyes glazed over, that we would take him in to end what might have been suffering. He raised his head on the way there, magnifying our tears to significant proportions. Wet cheeked, we walked into the vet's office. And it happened with a final pet and a final hug and a final moment spoken to a sleeping Harry.

Sunday I will preach that God turns everything to the good of those who love him. But this Friday the 13th, that is hard to see.

I know all those trials of this life might be mercies in disguise stuff. But it's hard. For the only way this can truly be good, is if I can see Frankie, and Scrappy, and Tweety, and Squeaker, and Buttons, and yes, Harry again.

I have said goodbye to three pets in this blog over the past four years. We have more that will come. Logan is now 14 years old, and Paris is 10. We have one cat that is 10, Elsie, and she might outlive all of us despite having nothing to do with any of us, or maybe because of it. But we've been faithful to her all along, even through the Katrina evacuation.

But when it happens, it's a knife to the gut, twisting and turning and going in and out.

It's just what it is, and it is what will always be, until that day I like Harry will go to sleep and wake in a land where there are no more darn tears.

Rest well, dear, sweet, Harry. At least for a spell, till we are joined again.

What a friend we have

Yesterday was a day of reflection. Mary was gone to pay final respects to her late brother, Mark, in their hometown of Natchez, Miss.

I was left to try to help our very, very sick Harry. Now, we have other cats. We have dogs. But Harry has always been truly special. Turns out he is even in his sickness, as he has been diagnosed with diabetes. It requires insulin injections twice a day for the rest of his life. But he won't eat or drink and we don't know how much longer he can go like this. Or us, for that matter. Tears were shed yesterday at his condition. But he's hanging on.

Then while I was eating lunch, the doorbell rang. It was a man, a drunk man, on a bicycle. When I went outside and had him sit down in a rocking chair, I asked him, "What do you need that I can provide?" He said, "a friend."

I couldn't get much more from him, the conversation lapped at times. But eventually I prayed for him, he shook my hand, and I sent him off into who knows what.

But that expression stuck.

"A friend."

Seems to me, that at the bottom of it all, all the muck and the flotsam of our lives, all the brokenness, all the pain, what we really, truly need is a friend.

I'm reminded of the old hymn, "What a friend we have in Jesus." There's a story there (and isn't it always?).

Joseph Scriven, the author of the words of the hymn, was a man truly acquainted with grief. He tried to join the Royal Marine, like his father, but his poor health made it impossible. He fell in love, was engaged to be married, but his fiancee drowned before the wedding.

He moved to Canada, became engaged again, but his fiancee became ill and died before they could be married.

In his grid, he devoted himself to a life of service.

At one point, he received word that his mother was ill. He couldn't afford to return to his native Ireland, so he sent his mother a poem in the hope it would comfort her.

The pen began, "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!"

Later it was published in a religious journal. He died in 1866, before it became a hymn.

Ira Sankey, musician who worked with the great evangelist D.L. Moody, published it in a book of hymns and Moody had it sung at his revivals. It is one of the best-known hymns in America.

What we all need, frankly, is a friend. Someone who will listen to our ramblings and not judge. Someone who will help when help is needed. Someone who will change the way we perceive things around us, lift us, strengthen us, encourage us.

That friend, as I told my new friend Jessie yesterday, is Jesus.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Post conference

So, as usual, we came, we saw, we tried to conquer. We walked hills and dales and we wound up this year less animated and less vocal.

It was a grand Annual Conference, and what struck me the most was that it was mostly full of joy and laughter. No longer did we fuss.

Oh that the coming years can be so.

Pauls said of schisms or divisions among us in a letter to the church in Corinth, "In the first place, I hear when you come together as a church there are divisions (schisms) among you, and to some extent I believe it." And he adds later, "so that there should be no (schisms) in the body, that that is parts should have equal concern for each other.

Unfortunate, there have been schisms throughout the history of the church, which is why we've wound up with many hundred denominations. That doesn't make it any less sad.

The Eastern church separated from the Western church. The Protestant church separated from the Catholic church.

And on and on we go with little idea of what comes next, in any denomination. The topics of the day have always caused division. Arguments over race and slavery and women and gay persons are just the tip of the division causing arguments.

The answer is out there, and it starts with Jesus. But we're not accessing it very well. I pray we do. I really, pray we do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The weight of the task

It took one little statute to make me mindful of the task ahead for the first time, really.  Last night we celebrated ministry in our state by a wonderful show, styled after the "Oscars" we called the "Wesleys. They handed out gold-plated statutes of the founder of Methodism, one John Wesley.

They were for ministry done, for ideas accomplished, for things that would knock your socks off. My co-pastor and myself, Sione Tu'uta, were called up on stage, were prayed for, and then handed one of those statues.

Mind you, everyone else was handed a trophy for work done, for ministry accomplished. We were handed a trophy for work we are going to do.

And somewhere in the midst of the songs and such, it hit me. What if we don't? What if a year from now we have the same 30 persons we have now?

I met a person yesterday, a person in ministry, a colleague, who said to me upon greeting me, so, you're going to a church that couldn't make it with one pastor and now it has two?

The inference, and not a very nice one in my opinion, was that we would be twice the failure.

Several others questioned the co-pastor status and such.

So, I go this morning to my man Paul, with a twist. Let's re-write the first portion of the letter Paul writes to the church in Corinth, and let's believe this happens in seven years when I have retired and John Wesley is being put away in boxes to be taken to wherever in the heck we're going to be.

"From Billy, called by God's will to be an apostle of Jesus chirst, and from Sione, our brother. To God's Church that is on Carrollton. To those who have been made holy to God in Christ Jesus, who are called to be God's people. Together with all those who are called to be God's people. Together with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place -- he's their Lord and ours! Grace and peace from God our Father and The Lord Jesus Christ."

Yes, one day we're going to look back at June 25th, the first real day we will attempt to find a place to sit in our new church, on June 29th when we have a first worship service and have a makeshift screen and a little projector and we're going to look back and think of the times we talked about having a full house and we're going to smile and talk about all those who have been made holy to God in Christ Jesus.

I don't know where they will have come from. I don't know what they will do, or how they will find us or what is next in our lives.

But I know that I am called by God's will, and I truly believe I have been called to this work, to this place, to this time. I do. I don't know why, and if I linger too long on the whys I will talk myself out of my own faith, I always do. But we're going to succeed in whatever success God wants from us. We're going to re-create church, do it in a new way, do it better and with ideas and with heart.

We are.

Two pastors in a place that had trouble paying for one.

What a trip John Wesley and I am going to take.

I wrap up Paul's greeting to Corinth this way, "I thank my God always for you, because of God's grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. That is, you were made rich through him in everything in all your communicatiions and every kind of knowledge, in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed in you."

That's my look back at a monumental task taken on by two far less than monumental people. That's who we are, or perhaps who we were.

Two weeks from day, it truly begins. May The Lord bless the effort with people who are hurting, people who are in need, people who love The Lord and people who do not know him. And let us be equal to the task through Him who strengthens me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Unity on the table

Today at what we United Methodists call Annual Conference, which is a meeting of duly appointed delegates and clergy, which by my count could come to somewhere around 1,000 folks crawling up and down the hills of Shreveport in the name of holy conferences, we will debate a proposal for unity.

The proposal, set on garish yellow-orange paper as if we could not possibly remember the seriousness of it unless it was in striking colors, says simply that we will make every effort to maintain unity in the bond of peace for the sake of our mission.

It further says we commit ourselves to the faithful practice of the means of grace so that our devotion to Jesus Christ and our love for one another may increase, and further we commit ourselves to this for the love of god and our neighbor and our common mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Yesterday I went to a lunch for a meeting on what is called for the Traditional Wesleyan Fellowship, and I heard five options for the denomination I love and most of them were not good, including that above mentioned lack of unity.

And I went to bed last night with swirls of disunity on the brain.

How could we have come to this? Forty years of fussing and fighting over one issue, and in my mind it’s not even the right issue to splinter over.

How could we risk our mission over this? How could we risk everything that the church has built?

Wait. Wait. Wait. I’m asking the wrong question, it seems to me. I think the question, if we believe what we say we believe, is more akin to how could we not risk everything?

Because what I felt when I was listening to the chair person of Good News, which is the conservative wing of the denomination as it were, is that if there are persons who believe that the scriptures still say what they seem to say about this topic that is causing the disintergration of the denomination I hold dear then how could they not risk everything? And if those persons who believe there are extenuating circumstances about this subject that means God’s Word must be interpreted through the prism of culture in which we live, then they too must risk everything.

And suddenly the unity of the church seems not so certain, does it not?

The true question is unity at what cost, schism at what cost and who is willing to walk over what they believe?

Is there are third way forward? I’ve signed a petition saying I pray there is. Do I believe this will work? Probably not. Every church voting for itself, and every conference doing likewise, seems like a fine idea until you break it down to this: What happens when a church votes to allow gay persons to be married in its building and the pastor says no? What happens when a pastor is willing to marry gay persons in its building, and the church votes no? What happens when a church votes no, and then gets upset about abortion or about whatever the next schism topic is?

The answer is no one knows. No one. So, in a world of questions, we wind up without any answers.

When all we want to do is leave it all behind and come to the well, come to meet Jesus, come to do the next right thing.

I am torn. I see the need on both sides. I see the hurt on both sides. I see the tender hopes of those who want to belong and can’t figure out how. I see the hardness on one side that has always belonged and yet can’t seem to find peace about sexuality. Other’s sexuality.

Where are we?

We are here, in holy conference, having to have a petition about unity. The United Methodists, like so many other denominations, is having a petition about being unified.

This is the world in which we live.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Monday, June 9, 2014

New packages, old wonderful message

We are annual conferencing in Shreveport, La. the next three days, and what that means apparently is that we are doing all things new.

On the first evening, we tailgaited (my choice was a meatball hoagie which was good but not exceptional if I were to be giving a review -- which I guess I just did); we had worship, with the Bishop's Episcopal address built around some film clips from the movie Jobs, a tale about the extraordinary life of Steve Jobs that was a failure at the box office (just saying); and we saw what I perceived to be a bunch of modern dancers.

My take on it all? Everything old is new again. We pushed very hard, including a request for Facebook and Twitter usesage as well as a request for the use of our cell phones during a darkened part of the service as some sort of modern candlelight procession.

We did a lot of mixed-culture work, with loads of what I think was Spanish reading of the scriptures. We came, we read, we spoke, we danced. We did a bunch of things we've never done before.

But it all came down to a loaf of bread, a cup, some juice and the wonderment of Communion with God.

See, it seems to me that no matter where you go, no matter what you do, no matter how you dress (we were dressed very casually including loads of shorts-wearing clergy on a horribly warm Sunday evening), it all comes down to the basics.

We speak the Gospel, we tell the tales of Jesus, we preach one man, one cross, one resurrection for the lost and we break bread and pour wine.

It all comes down to that man, that cross.

We're doing plenty of great things in our denomination, and we're losing members like water through a cheese cloth. We're doing all the things that folks say is the way to reach those persons who are scrambling around in broken lives. Yet we're not reaching.

What to do?

Preach the Gospel. Feed the poor. Touch the incarcerated. Help the hungry. Preach the Gospel.

In our inner-most moments, it's about this and this alone. I still believe the Gospel can and does reach the hearts of those who don't even know they need reaching.

Dancing, tweeting, hoagies and such are wonderful. But it's about Jesus. Always about Jesus.

Friday, June 6, 2014

It's just a book, just a book

It's a book. Just a book. It has pages, paper pages. It was formed and forged in the fire of human passion over a long period of time. It is currently under the microscope, and what is at stake is its future.

Will we, or do we, continue to use it as a guiding factor in the lives of millions world wide, and the millions upon millions world wide who haven't read it once or some who haven't even heard of it?

That's the question, it seems to me, that is on the table, ready for a substantially important vote. It's about this dang book that has become so very, very important in my life over the past 19 years.

What we are about to find out is how few people really understand or even know about this book which has held the UMC's guiding principles wrapped up in a bow and handed to each and every church that has a cross and flame to punctuate its promises. Do we believe what it says? Do we do what we say we believe?

The issue, it seems, is whether that book means anything at all. Anything. The sentences, formed by a select few writers and editors, are clear as rain water. It reads without question or doubt what we don't necessarily want to read, but what is there is what is there.

Oh, we can try to read into the minds of those who were there in the beginning, when the language was being formed, when the sentences were worth arguing about, each and every one. We can argue about that, who wrote what and such. But it gets us nowhere. What is there is there, unless we have the mechanism to change what is there. Oh, wait, we do. Now we simply have to figure out what is worth wiping out in a head-long rush to some one's judgment.

Do we change what we don't like? Do we edit what has given us issues? Do we rip away words that have given rise to rift?

These are not simple questions. These words have caused pain and hardship in literally hundreds of lives, but to simply get a yellow marker and go to hacking could be just as painful and create just as much hardship on the other side.

Nah, the clock is ticking on the denomination I hold so dear, I believe, because we can't get together and reason in love. So, we get together and quarrel till the spiritual cows come home. And nothing, quite literally nothing is solved.

Rifts are still rifting. Ruts are still rutting. Pain is still painful. Tragic discussion has only become more tragic.

And our book, our Book of Disciple, has been proved meaningless all along. Oh, you thought I was talking about that other book? The Bible, you say?

That ship has sailed. The moment we began screaming, love left the building. All we have left is a bit of hope. It is to that we longingly point. It's all that remains of that grand ol' lady, Methodism. A bit of hope that wiser hearts, not minds, can come together.

Would it be difficult? Without question. Would it be painful? Oh, without a doubt. But if we can't even amend the language in the BOD to say that loving Methodists can disagree with the section on sexuality, then how could we ever fix the rest?

I would not marry two of the same sex. I do believe those same to have every right to be married in a civil ceremony. I do believe the act of sex between them would be sin, as I believe the Bible reads. Can I justify all of those sentences thrown together in the same paragraph? Probably not. But I believe that if we allow our denomination to be split, we will never come close to fixing these issues, and a huge opportunity to bring people to Christ under the same big tent that accepted me, a recovering sinner of some renown, will be lost forever.

I keep thinking that Jesus ate with those sinners. I can't get that out of my mind, and my heart. Can I do any differently? I think not. Let's move it along, people. Stop looking at the automobile accident on the side of the road and start looking at the road ahead. It's time.

We all need to check our egos, our pride, our ability to translate and read scripture at the door as we enter. Jesus and John Wesley are having a discussion over in the corner. The table is set. Can we just eat together?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stuck in the middle with you

So here you have it ... United Methodists might split, but if that were to happen, it would be because of ... the recipes for macaroni and cheese. You gots to get your priorities right, Sparky.

Nah, here's the recipe for division: More than 90 percent of members say the church shouldn't split over human sexuality. That means 10 percent all engage in Facebook, because there sure are a bunch of folks on Facebook saying something different. In a poll taken from May 30-June 1 of members of the UMC in the United States overwhelmingly rejected the idea that disagreements over a person's position on homosexuality were not justification for splitting the church.

More than 90 percent, oh, let me repeat that, more than 90 percent said the UMC should remain the UMC if the rankling idea was homosexuality. And (oh, my good Lord) the issue of sexual orientation and same-gender marriage is, according to some amazingly clear-thinking Methodists, diverting the church from more important things. They ranked sexual orientation eighth in importance among issues facing the church.

At the risk of making less than 10 percent of the folks angry or worse, the obviously wrong results (or most important issues -- however you want to write or read that) included 39 percent ranking creating disciples of Christ, 27 percent; 24 percent members spiritual growth; decline in membership 19 percent; poverty 17 percent; children at risk 17 percent; and social injustice 16 percent. Sexual orientation and same-gender marriage drew 11 percent.

Now, I must tell you that these people obviously weren't tested for performance enhancing drugs, so these results are tainted at best. Still, the fact that John Wesley's idea that making disciples of Christ (for the transformation of the world, I might add) was important seems to have soaked in somehow. We simply can't have those types of things happening. The fact that abortion does not seem to have even drawn a vote or two again is bewildering. However, one seems to make the stand that abortion should fall under making disciples of Christ, spiritual growth, children at risk (DUH) and even social injustice, so maybe the votes fell under one and all. Just saying.

This comes as a "proposal" is drifting around the UMC ranks for the middle (a position I agree with), a position being called The Way Forward.

I believe that the way forward is something that we should all look at, especially since we can't agree with The Way Backward, a position that seems to say what we all agree is, well, backward. I also don't think we need to consider The Way To The Side (right side, left side or my favorite, The Blind Side). Since we can't agree on what side we are protecting in the first place, we move on. Better to move than to waste away sitting still. Being in the middle is not being useless, it's being, uh, in the middle. It's not compromising. It's not back-sliding. It's not being cowardly. It's not being anything but middle-oriented, and deep in the middle, with clowns to the left of us and jokers to the right, is not being stuck in the middle. It's wanting to talk openly about our differences, about scriptures that help cause those differences, about culture that caused those scriptures to be part of the uncommon ground we find ourselves trampling over again and again. In the current sort-of peaceful easy area, the church (our church, UMC's church not the church universal) sort of agrees to allow individual churches or ministers to decide whether to perform homosexual weddings. The church agrees to make determinations about whether to allow ordination of homosexuals on a Conference by Conference basis.

We also need to have meetings about whether to capitalize Church and/or Conference. But I digress. Questions pop up from adopting The Way Forward, of course, as questions always pop up.

But ...

by embracing a middle position on this issues does not mean we are tied to the middle position on ordination issues, or moral issues around war and peace and abortion, and whether or not this begins the slippery slopes toward very free will on everything else. In other words, we become progressives (or liberals) on everything the moment we take the progressive (or liberal) position on sexual orientation and the church.

In other words, we are willing to accept this if you give us that is not the way to approach the mountain top of idea. The Way Forward isn't the Way to the End.

Because I've got to go turn on jungle sounds for Round 4 of Vacation Bible School at the still United Methodist Church in Eunice, something I believe to be way, way more important than anything we've discussed this morning, let me explain.

Years ago we had a very large room at a very large church I was an associate at. We split that very large room up by putting in partitions. Made the very large room look like something out of, oh I don't know, maybe the newsroom from Lou Grant. I personally never worked at a newspaper that had a room divided like that with it working, but I understood the concept. Now, I believe that division worked or would have worked because ultimately we were all on one team, but we all had different callings as it were. I had a talent or two that our finance person didn't and on and on we went. The room was still the room, disturbed by partition but not broken.

I understand that separating might end the big fight going on in the church, and by separation I mean truly splitting down the middle. One could make those splitting down the middle questions permanent and permanently damaging. Logistics would be frightenly difficult in a Methodist Church that was no longer United. Who owns what and owes what and on and on would wind up in the land of the attorney and the field of the financial and the puddle of the frequently muddy. That's way above my pay grade, is now and forever will be.

A middle option would come with its own set of costs, but I believe it would be less damaging in the long run. More or less difficult? Less. Would the debate over homosexuality continue? Certainly. But I propose letting the 10 percent who give a rat's bottom about this one issue go over in the corner and duke it out while the 90 percent of the rest of us try to feed, and clothe, and love those who need to eat, be given a right-sized plan for learning to live and for learning how to be loved in a world that will absolutely eat you up and spit you out 10 percent at a time.

I say let's build leadership teams who have one purpose. Let's build teams with the idea of expressing Jesus' love to others, and let's have long and wonderful coffee-filled, music inspired, intensive worship covered meetings to get the how-tos and the where's it at questions dealt with.

If, and I stress if, our people are most interested in

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

We're not in Kansas, Toto

I've decided in the final four sermons I will preach at these three churches, that I'll do my best to narrow these sermons to the four favorite verses I have in scriptures, or at the least the four pieces of scriptures.

Last week I preached on John 17, talking to the congregations about what it means to have Jesus pray for us as he does in that chapter. He prayed we would be sanctified, among other things.

This week I'll preach on Romans 5: 1-11, which talks about the progression of faith that gives us justification, then sanctification, at just the right time.

The following week, I'll preach on Romans 8:28 which says he turns all things to the good of those who love him.

Finally, I walk out the door after preaching on my favorite verse and its implications, Philippians 4:13 (10-13) which says I (we) can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.

Romans 5:1 is so wonderful. It states, demands we listen to, this: THEREFORE (since, because, so, you name it) we gave been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

We have been converted through faith. We have been justified. We have peace.

I assume that there is a more meaningful verse in scripture, but I can't think of it right now. Maybe John 3:16. Maybe something from Psalm 23 or even the power of Psalm 22's beginning, or even John's prelude.

But really, we have been converted (justified) because we have faith in our Lord. We have been justified because of that faith. We then have peace in a battle that has been going on all our lives and even the thousand, million, years before it -- sin versus forgiveness, life versus death.

Simply put, the war is over ... come on home.

Years ago a tornado ripped into the little (very little) town that I still call home -- Lizelia, Miss. In this burg, there are or were about 11 houses. In those 10 or 11 houses, there are the Vaughns, the Turners, and the Johnson's. In those homes are, however, countless lives stretched thin across generations.

When I got the call about the tornado, which my father watched tear across pastureland and make a bit of a right turn when it crossed Ponta Creek in order to head toward the Turner house, my then fiancé, Mary, and I grabbed a few things and hastily headed up Interstate 20 toward Meridian from Jackson, Miss.

When we got to Meridian, we took Highway 39 north as always. About the time we roared through Ponta, a farming community four miles from my parents' house, we knew something was extraordinarily different.

Instead of  the incredibly seductive and impossibly fragrant honeysuckle odor that normally greets visitors as imagination and beauty at the top of the hill pours forth down the ridge into the community of Lizelia, what I smelled, what I saw was something from disaster movies. The huge oak trees that wave hello, instead lay on the group ripped from the earth like Transformer robots. Instead of wet, thick beautiful fragrance, the smell of freshly turned earth, a sliver of broken wood, and even a wafting of smoke was thick on the air.

Old Highway 39, instead of that new fangled thing that was paved in the early 1960s, was a high-hurdle exercise as we weaved our way right, then left, left farther still, then right ... missing trees and limbs and kids toys and bikes and such. Some had told us we couldn't get to Lizelia, home of a Naval Air Station since the early 1960s, but we were then as now hard-headed as my Mama always said.

We made it to my parents' house, where a conglomeration of Turners and Nulls and Parkers and such had begun to gather and, well, gather, and it was just like the rest of community. Like an abuser of enormous proportions, the tornado had visited, smacked the house and even its at the time lone inhabitant around, and left before the cops could come.

My parents were home, safe. The house? Not so much. My mother had driven frantically from town, crying (as she was want to do), and absolutely certain of the worst. We found some of the tin that Dad had put on the roof of his "shed" miles away, bent, beaten and generally discouraged from ever being used again productively.  It was bent across trees. We found stuff from his shed "around and about," and bits of the house all over the front pasture.

The house was, in search of one word that would describe it, depressed. It would be rebuilt, made new again, but it would never be the house that at that point would have been in its 30s. The house I grew up in, therefore, was gone. The new house, which I never truly lived in, would come later.

The point?

I never felt I truly had a place I could call home after that day in spring 1995. Not on this planet.

Later that year, I discovered I never really did in the first place. I found that Jesus had been calling me, not so softly by the way, all those years. And I discovered that I had a home, but it was not here. Now, 19 years later this August, I've noticed that we (all of us) do not have a home, but we have a place to return to.

I have the same rockers that my dad had sat in, watching the tornado coming toward the house. I have the kitchen table that got some water but little else that day. We have a few other things that made it through that tornado, through the remnants of Katrina in 2005, and through Rita in 2006. When my mother passed in 2007, those hearty things passed to us.

Hopefully in a few years, when I wake up in the land of glory, with the saints I will tell my story, there will be one name that I proclaim. That name, folks, is Jesus. That's home. That's tie-a-yellow-ribbon stuff. Someone will receive, I imagine, two medal outdoor rockers, two wooden white wood outdoor rockers, a china cabinet and a kitchen table with some wear on them. They will be things handed down.

But they won't be home. They won't make wherever they are home. When that time comes ... we won't be in Kansas, Toto. We, justified humans, will be there smelling like over-turned earth and peace with God.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

So That changes planets

They are but two words, but they literally mean the universe to me this morning as I prepare to plow youngsters' field' and begin to watch baby stalks of joy grow.

SO THAT, is what the words are. Two words to change the planet. Two words to save me, change you. Two words.

I will say this about that: For God so loved the world, He sent his only begotten Son, so that ..." Two words, vital words, critical words that will help us shape our day. Every day. No two words are so important that they can't be replaced, but my goodness these seem to be. No two words are so vital that they can't be substituted for two others, but my goodness these two seem to be. No two words, oh, you get the idea.

Try them this way. We have Vacation Bible School at the local church SO THAT
we can learn,
we can praise,
we can become what Jesus would have us learn, praise, become.

That's it. That's all the dang instructions.

We literally become little disciples of Jesus SO THAT we can become little disciples of Jesus. That's it. We become disciples SO THAT we can teach others to become disciples SO THAT others can become disciples SO THAT.

Ain't it a real hoot?

The ripples in the lake of love go on and on and on. This isn't some ancient Kum By Ya  stuff. This isn't some let's circle up and light a fire and stick some marshy stuff onto clothes hangers and see just what in the heck comes of it. No, sir. This is being held by the holy, changed in a moment SO THAT whether we ever get it again, we get it right this very minute in ways we will never, ever be able to explain it all.

No. No. We can't answer all the what happens next questions. Not this day. But when the sacred is torn from life, and we get to take another breath that we don't in any way reverse, we will be held by Him.  And that's the only promise that makes much sense,

This is offering a bottle of water to a parched person, and that person drinking half and the lights going off in their brain and their heart and they give the rest of the bottle to someone in Africa and on and on we merrily go giving what is needed where it is needed SO THAT ...

Oh, my. Do you see the possibilities? Feel the earth shaking now? Sense the mountains changing mountains?

Two words shaken not stirred, and eternity drips with excitement, heaven's beauty is rewarded. Two words and I propose that stars sparkle, I interject that moons reflect, and I tell you suns put on Dollar Tree sun glasses and bake themselves in pure joy.

We can't judge, so that God can.
We can't kill, so that God can.
We can't speak evil, so that God can.
We can't hate, so that God can.
We can't abhor (what a word, by the way), that so God can.
We can't rebel, so that God can.
We can't, so God that can.

And the ones who back the bigot truck to the front door wonder exactly what is the problem, but somewhere deep inside that roaring river that is the blood stream, they know, absolutely know their time as keeper of the planet is over.

We can't, so that God can.
We won't, so that God will.

It's over. The SO THATs have taken a lovely journey and the journey's end is this: We can't, but God can. He packed it all up, the playground is beginning to close and love is standing strong at the top of the monkey bars.

SO THAT we win.

I could go on and on and on, but I won't because it is useless. Just, well, useless. So that covers it all, like waterfalls on a terribly dry day, so that I don't have to scramble for air any longer. It's over. It's done. It's smacked. Whew.

So that...
I offer you time ...
to laugh,
to cry for joy.

So That wins. Has won. Will always win.

No words are so instantly rewarding, instantly recognizable, instantly -- and I absolutely mean instantly -- life-beginning, life-creating, life-giving. None. But we've found two that are close. These two are SO THAT ...

Two words, spoken, sang, screamed into a gale of garble SO THAT all we must do in the future is LOVE. 

No thought,
no proclamation.

SO THAT we can make disciples,
SO THAT we can love.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Magnificant Maleficent

We are a mere week out from Louisiana Annual Conference. We are sweet marbled breath in, sweet labored breath out. The steam off the city streets begins to accumulate, and we wait -- breathless and longing for the start of the event -- .

The circumstances were right, right? "Maleficent" dominated the marketplace this weekend, which has seen female-leading films continually challenge the much-disputed but still prevalent notion that male stars fuel box office.

It really is simple: Angelina Jolie plays an evil character. And people like things like that.
One of the things that bores me about feminist literature is that, often, the female characters can do nothing wrong. And if they are evil, they are evil because some man hurt them, or they were violated, or beaten or something like that.

It is rare (yes, it happens, but it is rare) to find a character that is truly evil. It used to be that way (e.g.: Wicked Witch of the West; but under the inspiration of feminism, if we did that movie today, we'd likely read that the wicked witch had been sexually abused or some such nonsense).

So, finally we are waking up from the stupor of feminism that portrayed women as the victims of men (and only men as evil or stupid, or clumsy). Finally, we are seeing female characters who you enjoy hating (without having to understand their childhood trauma at the hands of men).

Close, but not really. Sort of evil, but not really. That's our plan, our discovery, our game-plan. Discovery etched in blood and sweat. That's what today, the plan, is about.

The women in the story are evil because someone has hurt them. The story has evolved from suffering, has grown out of pain, has been given breath from non-existence. The story has grown from ... something. It came into being like a morning mushroom, like a dew dampened pink dripping rose. Honest.

It wasn't.
Then it was.

And it is. Honest as before a grace-giving, love-loosed, sweetness-swathed God of our Fathers and our Mothers, gently dancing and swaying to Crowns that have been cast before us.

It's Monday. And we're deep into Psalm 139 ... "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." That's what life is about today. Lived. Absorbed. Laid bare before us.