Wednesday, August 29, 2007

JC - Update

for the last week of August

-4.5 (with jeans on)

Total lost - 30

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Urban Strategy

Last week was quite a few days for Methodism in the city.

You may not have known that, or recognized it. The only local press on the event didn't quite capture what was going on (o.k. they missed it big time), and the only photo was yet another picture of the remains of the First Church building downtown.

Now, I don't want to diminish the impact of losing that historic building has had on the city - and especially so for the congregants of First Church, who really are First Church - but, c'mon, CA, there are more United Methodist churches in Memphis than First Church and, of course, all the press that is seemingly necessary when a new guy shows up at the little chapel on Poplar Avenue.

Oh yes I did.

So, what was it? This thing that happened last week that was launched in our very own L.P. Brown Fellowship Hall? Well, that's a really good question - and I'm still working on an answer. But here's what I can say.

We met, talked, prayed, toured communities all over the city in which we currently have United Methodist congregations.

United Methodists in Memphis, like so many urban centers, suffer from either inability, incapacity, and, in some cases, unwillingness to minister to those they find within their communities. It's something not unique to Methodists, but since that's the world I know, I'll speak to it.

In a rare instance of true leadership - the Memphis Annual Conference has asked that a 20 year strategy for Methodism be formed. Informed and shaped, in no small part, by the proven leaders of Methodist Healthcare, a team of clergy, laity, and denominational leaders were in the city last week to begin the task of articulating this strategy.

Now a true critic (not that I know any : ) would say that such an effort is at least 20 years late - but that perspective negates the reality of the moment, and the true belief that God has the capacity to work in and through God's people that will surprise us still - and I, for one, am holding hope that the winds of the Spirit will yet blow.

And we're going to need a whole lot of the Spirit's leading to be faithful to the task before us. We had representatives from every General Board of the church (even a couple of General Secretaries) present at these days of discernment and planning. At first, I thought they had come to tell us how to do it, but it became clear really quickly, that they don't know how to do it, either. They're hoping God uses our efforts to do something of meaning that they program into other urban centers where ministry is languishing.

Now here's what I want folks from Saint John's to know. Not only are we well represented on the team that will come up with this strategy, Saint John's will play a vital role in announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Church.

And while we'll be a part of the connectional effort to stabilize and revitalize the Methodist witness to the city - I say we don't need to wait for some larger strategy.

We already have one. What is it?

By doing what we do, and not apologizing for it - not boasting, but inviting - and always being willing to accept the challenge that comes with the true, radical hospitality of the Gospel - -

May God bless our efforts and may we be found faithful in them.

Transcript - LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK - Part 5 "Leading from Within"

As promised -

Parker Palmer tells a story of his own life’s experience that I will attempt to convey to you now. Coming out of a season of some depression in his mid-40’s in one of those “all the way down” moments that we have talked about previously – he thought that to shake himself out of it that he would go into a program called Outward Bound, which took place on Hurricane Island off the coast of Maine.

Upon further reflection, he thought that he would have been better served having gone to something called “Happy Time” rather than Outward Bound.

He talks about being out there at the summit of a cliff, some 110 feet above the surface. The leader tied a rope around his waist – a rope he was pretty sure has ill-kempt and likely fraying – and, according to him, begins to push him off this cliff, or push him backwards – and he finds that he’s hanging off the edge of the cliff with his body banging up against the wall of the cliff.

He has no control over his movement, and asks, “What do I do now?”

The instructor said, “The only way down now is for you to lean all the way back so that your body is at a right angle to the cliff and your weight will then be at your feet.”

Palmer was pretty sure that was the exact opposite of what he was supposed to do, because it is so counter intuitive.

So, he argues that the best way down is really for him to hug the wall of the cliff and work his way down – but the result of that effort was continually losing control and banging again against the wall of the cliff.

Finally, he decides to take the counsel of those above him and leans all the way back only to discover they were right, and he had manageable control with his feet, where otherwise he would have none.

Working his way down and reaching about half way, he hears the voices from below warning him that he needed to look below him at where he was headed. You see, his pattern of descent was leading him toward an opening in the cliff wall.

He was trying to figure out if he could maneuver around it to the right or left, and now he’s panic stricken – what does he do?

About that time, he hears the voice from below that asks him, “would you like to hear our motto for Outward Bound?”

He says, “I’m hanging here on a cliff and you want to give me your motto?”

And the motto, simply, is this – “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.”

Which went from some pithy saying to a maxim to live by as he descended this cliff. Palmer uses that as a metaphor for what would spring forth for this chapter of his book

We’ve been using Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak, as a guide through which to understand the holy things of God and how our lives, yours and mine, have a vocation to embrace.

Thus far, we’ve been encouraged to listen to our lives – for in the deepest parts of our being there is a call of God - a life, a vocation – a gift, a birthright, from the Divine that is for you to claim.

That vocation is the place where your deepest joys intersect the world’s deepest needs.

But that call, while present, is rarely discovered on the surface of our lives – it lives in the deepest recesses of our beings – the place where pain and shadows dwell, those places we never go to gladly, and avoid at all costs –

Today, we hear about leading from within. And the word “leadership” now begins to emerge in our conversations, for, as he has discovered, and, clearly, as the Scriptures indicate, as in the call of Jeremiah, we turn to leadership by turning inward.

And if you go inward, downward and through enough you realize that your life and your world is not about “you,” but it is about how you serve those in the world with you.

Palmer says,

“Great leadership comes from people who have made that downward journey through violence and terror, who have touched the deep place where we are in community with each other, and who can help take the rest of us to that place. That is what great leadership is all about.”

The Christian world has been abuzz this week. It appears that Mother Teresa of Calcutta had some spiritual angst. How could that be?

But truthfully, I found no more validation for faith than that story. Have we not always held her up as a paragon for all other comparisons? I mean, you might think you’ve done some good stuff in your life – but you ain’t no Mother Teresa! Right?

And her she was, this woman, this servant of God, who dealt for years with the dark nights of her soul wondering about life, about God – but notice through all the struggle, what never stopped – being the hands and feet of Christ for the broken in the world.

Her struggle, whatever it was, never stifled outward expression – day in and day out.

Can you believe it’s made the news this week? Mother Teresa had faith crisis issues, and I say “thank God,” she’s human. She lived her life. I have faith crisis issues, too, does that mean that I might yet be o.k.?

Isn’t it interesting? Some will make judgments of whether or not she qualifies for sainthood based upon these questions. I say, make it so, now – there’s no question of what her faith and life have been.

Not for her, now, but for you. Have you wondered how you are called to lead? The quote from the book earlier read tells you, you lead, whether you think you do, or not. By what you do or don’t do, say, or don’t say – leads others to understand what you think is important.

As you live your life, as you participate in your workplace, your family, your church, you city, the world – leadership is present whether you think it is, or not.

Parker calls upon the work of Annie Dillard to focus on this issue of leadership. And if you are called upon to begin our leadership from within, we must recognize the monster with which we must wrestle while we are in that inward journey.

The first is Insecurity – who am I really? Does what I have to offer, to contribute, really matter? Listen again to the call of Jeremiah – listen again to any call of God in the Scriptures and you hear elements of insecurity. It usually comes out as “me? God? Me? Really? Can’t you find somebody else?” Who am I to do that thing you call me to?

The second monster we must battle is what he calls the “hostile universe.” The reason, he suggests, that we shirk from leadership is that we are sure that everybody’s out to get us – it’s rough out there, not for the timid – so, do I engage the world or not?

The next is functional atheism – the only way to get something done is to do it ourselves. And then, he notes, ironically, you know who the worst people are at this - People of faith. Church people. Isn’t it amazing that people who think and use God language in their life and liturgy, when it comes down to believing that there is something more in the world to occur than we, ourselves can construct, that we can believe that God is the one who can make it happen?

Can we ever really surrender and believe that God is able to do something far greater than we could do on our own. And I know what you’re thinking, because I live there, too – is not the standard motto we live with, whether we speak it aloud, or not, that if “you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.” Right?

There may be some wisdom in that, but truthfully, such a posture eliminates others’ opportunities to lead.

The other two are this - fear and denial of death.

Fear is fairly obvious, for if you are called to lead, especially in the face of something new, it is a scary proposition. Fear cripples so much of what a spirit could be.

Denial of death is believing that if I work hard enough, and if I do it the right way, whatever the thing is I am a part of will live on forever. But just as we die, so do systems and structures. They have a death – and how often do we leave them on life support, when we really ought to let them go, but believing, as people of faith, by the way, that, just as we do for we humans, so, too, that if we give ourselves up, we will be resurrected by the power of God through Jesus Christ into a new creation.

Do you think of yourself as a leader. Palmer said of himself that he never saw himself as president of anything. Man, I get that, I really do, but you know, I do lead. Everyday, I’m announcing something of what I believe in by how I live. Not only by what words come from my mouth, but by what choices I make. I’m leading – always. And so are you.

In the 20th century, one of the great leaders thrust into the forefront of change who didn’t expect, or look for it, but embraced the moment was Vaclav Havel. Palmer quotes him briefly, and so shall I:

The power for authentic leadership…is found not in external arrangements, but in
the human heart. Authentic leaders in every setting – from families to nation states – aim at liberating the human heart, their own and others, so that it’s power can liberate the world.
What is it that you and I seek to be as leaders within the Realm of God? Is not the word of Jesus from Luke 4, when he calls upon the words of Isaiah not that for which we are called to lead?

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Right here! Right now!

You and I are called to lead from within, and we are called to go places within ourselves to find that vocation that might scare us a bit. But you’re never going to fully know what God has for you as vocation until you take that inward journey.

I close with a brief word by William Stafford – a poem titled “The Way It Is.”
There’s a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change.
But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die;
and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK - Part 5 "Leading from Within"

No manuscript to peruse before Sunday.

After a week’s hiatus, to allow one of my colleagues time in the pulpit to fulfill ordination requirements, I return to finish this six week exploration of Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak.

If you know anything about me, you are stunned to disbelief that the previous four sermons in the series have prompted me to write four distinct manuscripts.

I wanted and needed to do that. I stood in the high and lifted up pulpit of the Saint John’s sanctuary and offered these sermons. Not my usual m.o. – but something I felt brought validation to liberating word of the Gospel as understood through these very focused words of Parker Palmer.

For the last two – it’s time to do what I more normally do – acknowledge the pulpit’s presence, or course, but stand among the people to encourage and proclaim the God given vocation that resides in each of us to be lived into – fulfilled.

To do that – I use an outline, hardly anything I’d want to put on a blog post – but if you are among those who have followed the series, I will covenant to post a transcript of what is preached.

In addition – mp3 files of the series thus far are available our the church’s website

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

JC - Update, Or, What Happens When You Don't Let Yourself Be Held Accountable Weekly

Haven't weighed-in for two weeks.

+ 2.7

Hard to be suprised. I got what I earned.

"Here comes that self-loathing feelin' again."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Would Somebody Please Tell Tom Cruise to Stop Messing With My Myths?

It all started when I heard Tom Cruise was going to make a movie version of Mission:Impossible way back in the 90's.

I grew up watching that show. Loved it. Still do.

"Oh," I thought. "Tom's going to play Jim Phelps, pick up the mantle of Peter Graves, and make a rockin' series of movies."

Then came word that Tom wasn't going to play Mr. Phelps, but be a member of of Mr. Phelps team. Not only that - Mr. Phelps was going to be the bad guy to be killed by Tom's character.

Haven't gotten over that one - yet.

Well M:I 2 came out - not a great movie - tried to do too much - too much focus on Tom's character and not enough on the team - which is the whole point of Mission:Impossible - team.

Last year came M:I 3. Stay with me, I have a point - maybe a point that only I get - but since this is my little corner - you get what you get.

The latest movie was really quite good. It was hampered, of course, by the growing weirdo factor of Scientology boy (and knowing that those folks scan the "internets" for mentions of their, uh, movement - let me welcome you to the party).

JJ Abrams directed the film. He and a couple of his buddies wrote the screenplay. JJ's work as creator of "Alias" and "Lost," were intriguing - but his commitment to M:I canon came through big time on the screen. It is the best of the three M:I movies, in no small part, due to the respect given what had come before.

Now - here's where I start to tremble.

JJ Abrams and crew start filming "Star Trek," in November. The film is a prequel going back to the beginning of the relationship between Kirk and Spock.

Recent internet rumors have JJ asking Tom to play a role in the film - namely, Christopher Pike. If you don't know who that is - don't worry about it.

I have a growing respect for JJ's talent and anticipate the film being a much needed reboot of the mythology - something that is cyclical in any mythology in which very finite beings can no longer live into the timeless characters they portray.

But Tom Cruise in a Trek film? - Say it ain't so.

Now, I'm no convention going Trekker - but like, M:I, Star Trek (interestingly enough, both series were produced on the same lot back in the 60's) is a part of my childhood - a part that is good.

Violence was done to one side of that equation by what happened to M:I.

Do that to Trek at your own peril.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK - Part 4 "All the Way Down"

Part four of a sermon series based upon Parker Palmer's "Let your Life Speak."

The text employed for this homily is the Suffering Servant text of Isaiah 53

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground;he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering* and acquainted with infirmity;and as one from whom others hide their faces* he was despised, and we held him of no account. 4Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

I read recently the great fear that has most of Hollywood quaking in their collective boots – High Definition Television. The picture is so clear, so vivid, that the mirage of Hollywood perfection is exposed for the sham that it is and people whose projected image looks one way through traditional television – with filters and fuzzy resolution – have every pore - every “flaw” on display for all to see – the more the resolution, the sharper the image, the greater clarity to see people for who they really are. Whether it’s one actresses bad nose job, or another actor’s hairpiece – or just the amount of “make-up” some have to wear to keep up with their image – it is a frightening thing - In a world where physical beauty and image is everything – HD could well be the Hollywood stars’ kryptonite.

I don’t blame these folks – their livelihood is dependant upon a projected image – and we, the culture, obviously expect that. We pay for it, we emulate it, we have made an industry out of knowing who is doing what with whom and when. Truth is, we’re not sure we want to see these folks for who they really are. In the magic of movies and television – our actors pretend to be someone they are not. And we willingly suspend our disbelief and go along for the ride.

When the flaws turn from the external to the internal – things start getting a little dicey. When that happens to people in the spotlight, our star gazing become voyeurism as someone spins out of control in front of the public eye. With that may come sadness for what we observe – but also a little relief that there is no great audience looking in at us when we’re the one who is spinning.

We’re now beginning the home stretch of this series of sermons on Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak. Last week we learned something about what happens in life when the way we’re on closes. So conditioned are we to keep on knocking on the doors of life that have closed that we forget to turn round to see the rest of the world that God has opened for us to pursue, to live, and to discover our Divine vocation – that life we are to live in which our God-inspired deep joys intersect with the deep needs of the world around us. Palmer reminds us that when way closes – rest assured, way will open – maybe not in the way we expect (and you can probably count on that) – but way will open. God will make a way. But will you take it?

But then there’s this – just because way has closed and way will open once, it doesn’t mean that’s it. We’re good. We’ve had our quota of what we hoped for being dashed only to find a new reality to embrace. Way closes in life again and again and again.

Sometimes the toll such a thing exacts on the spirit is something we can manage – and other times it knocks us to our knees leaving us unsure we’ll ever get up again. – a bruised spirit is a painful and debilitating thing.

You know of what I speak –

  • unexpected death;
  • loss of professional and vocational identity;
  • victimization at the hands of the powerful;
  • death of your lifelong dream;
  • irreparably fractured relationships.

Like a shot to the spiritual solar plexus; these things leave us heaving for breath and believing we’re unable to draw in the breathe of God.

In Palmer’s story – he acknowledges with great vulnerability the crippling depression that resulted when way closed down for him. The stuff of his story is revealing and I commend it to you for your reading – but we need not read of someone else’s journey through the dark nights of their souls –

We know this dark place. Some of us have been in it, including yours truly, and some of us may be languishing there now.

As people of God, the Church, we have a tendency to place so much value on the Mountain top experiences of the spiritual life. It is as if we make such experiences the requisite encounters with God bringing validation that we’ve made it. If we know Jesus,

  • we won't be down
  • we won’t be blue,
  • we won’t wonder what this journey is all about,
  • we won’t question,
  • we’ll be sure we have nothing in common with the Psalmist whom Jesus himself quoted from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”
  • we’ll just “smile, be happy, “ and, in the words of Monty Python – “Always look on the bright side of life,”

Well, if that’s the Christian illusion you want to live with – if that’s the projected image you want to claim like a Hollywood superstar – that’s fine – but it’ll cost you. Because life has a way of clarifying Truth despite our efforts to hide Truth. Like HD for the soul, we can run, but we can’t hide.

Too much of religion is based on such foolishness – negating the reality of life where we live it. The places where we fall all the way down – those rock bottom, wilderness wandering – valleys of the shadow of death – these are the places from which healing emerges.

And if I read Palmer right, while he might agree that we might find God on the Mountaintop experiences, we only really know God through the sufferings of our living. For it is there that God dwells, seeks to heal, and sets us forth to serve.

Palmer reflects upon his friend, Henri Nouwen and his seminal work The Wounded Healer,

"After all my attempts to articulate the predicament of contemporary
humanity, the necessity to articulate the predicament of the ministers
themselves became most important. For ministers are called to
recognize the sufferings of their time in their own hearts and to make that
recognition the starting point of their service."
Now hear me, we're not being asked to suffer someone else's pain. We're not being asked to take on the wounds of Christ as as our own.

We don’t need to take on the wounds of Christ for the world. We need to own our own wounds through which the reality of the God who heals is made known. In fact, you can’t really and truly know the One who sets you free until you own exactly what it is that enslaves you. From that - we know where ministry to and with the broken of the world emerges - for we, ourselves are broken.

Finding God through our pain – our wounds. May not sound joyful, but it is real, it is deep – it is that Tillichian “ground of our being” – and for any and all of us free-falling into the chasm of spiritual uncertainty, hear me – stop looking upward hoping against hope that God might swoop down from the heavens and spare you this hell you’re going through – when God is already standing in the deepest part of your deepest valley waiting to catch you and guide you back home.

A few days ago I got a call from my mother. It came about 10 o’clock in the evening, pretty late for her to call and usually in that black out period in which I’m not interested in hearing the phone ring at all. And, if it does, it means something has happened. We were talking a bit about Jack’s upcoming birthday party, and then she tells me of Brian. Brian, a friend of mine from the age of 4-6. He and his brother Craig lived just across the field from our house in Charlotte, Tennessee. Loretta and Roy, Brian’s parents, great people, who helped raise me in those days while dad was going to Vandy to seminary, serving as pastor to 5 churches. Just my sister and me in those days, although Jimmy arrived while we were there. I saw Loretta and Roy a little over a year ago when they attended my parents’ 50th anniversary party. Hadn’t seen them in over 35 years. In my life, they are confined to a particular time and place – and no real transcendent relationship unrestrained by the itinerancy – that thing we preacher’s families struggle with.

Mom wanted me to know that their son, Brian, someone I have not seen since the very early 1970’s, had died. He was 42. And then she said, “your father and I are going to the funeral.” I said, “o.k.,” and then she said it again in a way that said to me, “we know this pain – this pain of losing a child - and we’ve got to go.”

A resonant pain in someone else that moves you into action – sounds like the beginning of life – the beginning of ministry.

No image to project – no pain to protect – just the trust that comes from one’s own pain that is healing pushing us into the company of those who hurt.

Palmer closed this chapter with a poem he wrote called Harrowing as do I this homily -

The plow has savaged this sweet field
Misshapen clods of earth kicked up
Rocks and twisted roots exposed to view
Last year’s growth demolished by the blade
I have plowed my life this way
Turned over a whole history
Looking for the roots of what went wrong
Until my face is ravaged,
furrowed, scarred
Enough, The job is done.
Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be
Seedbed for the growing that’s to come
I plowed to unearth last
year’s reasons—
The farmer plows to plant a greening season.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

In Other Words

I don't know if Jon Stewart wrote it, or his staff did, but this is -
Complete - devastasting - brilliant satire.
I'd say it's PG-13

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Here's Jacky . . . .

On the same day this week, we registered our oldest son in high school, and our youngest in Kindergarten - and of course, our middle son for the 6th grade.

I'll ponder more about my older boys later - but today I want to think about my baby - Jack.

You know how it is when you have a moment when you realize that the way you understood someone had changed?

That's the way it is with Jacky.

This little fireball of energy, smarts and stubbornness is about to be unleashed on an elementary school.

Kristy and I have asked for the strictest Kindergarten teacher there is - with hope that she'll not be swayed by his baby blue eyes, his "on command" pout, or his cutesy double-crown hairdo that could give Alfalfa a run for his money.

As if from an episode of "Mission:Impossible," we trust this is one such mission she'll choose to accept.

And I feel the transition again in me - of our children growing into young men - my hope, laced with fear, that I'm doing my part to make them into people of character, and the parent's joy in knowing that my life is full (and usually overflowing) by these three, very different people (from the same genetic pool, no less).

Monday, August 06, 2007

I'll Hate Who I Want to Hate - In Jesus' Name

Only in Memphis.

It seems there's a consortium in the city vigorously opposed to the pending hate crimes bill before Congress.

Hate crimes - think about that statement - and think, even further, about the overt expression of hate crime you have known, or seen.

Slavery, the Holocaust (which, with all due apologies to Mel Gibson and his old man, did really happen)- remember the African American man beaten and dragged behind a pickup truck? Or Matthew Shepard - a gay young man tortured and left in the elements to die?

Hate crimes - you know what I mean, right?

So guess who is opposed to this (although let's be clear here, the opposition rings hollow as cover for different political agendas in the next election cycle)?

That's right - a group of clergy - And what's their beef? They don't want what they say in the pulpit about gay and lesbian people to be interpreted as a hate crime.

Well, sister - brother - if what you say in the pulpit can, in anyway, be interpreted as anything other than the radical character of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - that sets us free from such baggage -

then sit your ass down and shut up - in Jesus' name. Amen.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK - Part 3 "When Way Closes"

I was fired from my first church job.

I was 19, a junior at Memphis State, two years into my candidacy for ordination – that’s right, I started this when I was 17 – and my first church job – “let go.”

It only lasted six months – a youth director at a church just south of the state line. I wanted to be relevant, and they wanted a glorified baby sitter, or at least some template for youth work back then that I didn’t fit.

Something about that in my make up - I guess. Don’t fit the mold? For better and worse, I am what I am.

Anyway, feeling the abject failure that I’m sure I was, I holed up in my bedroom for a couple of weeks wondering – what the heck am I doing and am I going to do with my life. I’ve declared my intent to be an Elder in the Church, and my first chance to express that call – I get canned. Hmmm. Time to give a serious thought of sending my vocal résumé to Chicago because word was that Peter Cetera was about to venture out on his solo career – and they were going to need somebody who could handle those high vocals for ‘em. I was their man. No doubt.

Oh, who was I kidding. So, in the midst of my ontologically angst-ridden, flights of fancy pity party, my dad came to see me – which is to say he opened my bedroom door because I lived with my parents in the parsonage of Grace Church in Whitehaven.

And I’ve never forgotten what he told me – when I deserved a kick in the backside – he shared something so stunningly grace-full it took me aback. – “Son, you have no idea how many times I have failed in ministry. . .” And I didn’t. And what I had observed was a deeply gifted and committed pastor all my life – to hear of failure was stunning. It is truly a means of grace to share your failures with someone - it is honest, and it makes our common humanity all the more real.

I obviously got through that season, thanks to a call I received only a few weeks later from Harrell Townsend, and I went to Whitehaven Church and experienced one of those moments in which call (joy and deep need were joined) was validated.

So here we are with part three of this sermon series on at Parker Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak,” let me offer this reset on where we’ve been –

Each of us is made in the image of God – and we each have value because we are loved by God. What’s more – we are each have a calling to fulfill. This calling is our birthright to be discovered and embraced. It is not a matter of our will to make ourselves become something – it is a matter of receiving that gift and be good stewards of it.

Building upon our previous conversation – we know we have Divine value, we are beautifully and wonderfully made, we know that we have a calling to fulfill the determining factor of that call is discovering our deepest joy in life and matching it with the deepest need we see around us.

It all sounds so good – it’s almost too simple. “It’s easy for you to say that, preacher, you’ve already found yours.”

Which is not entirely true – See, there is a kinetic nature to this call, this gift. It is not fixed once for all – it evolves, its character moves as does the seasons of life and the needs of the world to which my deepest joy might fulfill. So, it is more accurate to say of those whom it would be far too easy to say “they’ve found theirs,” is that we are finding ours.

One of the greatest fallacies in the spiritual world is that knowing you are called and living into that call will be easy. And if you’ve ever found it troubling, frustrating, anger-making, to discover who you are and what you are to be – sister, brother, you’re in good company.

Palmer talks about this out of his own life’s experience – the disconnect between the inner stirrings of what he sensed he was to embrace as God’s call, and the “jobs” he had dabbled in as a “professional.”

Seeking the wisdom of his Quaker community, Palmer tells of Ruth, a woman who heard his quandary and offered this advice to have faith, and “way will open.”

His response was so typical – he has waited, in prayer, for “way to open,” and it’s just not happening – and she said to him, “…in 60 plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me…but a lot of way has closed behind me, and that has the same guiding effect.”

It’s one thing to know you have value, and a calling, it’s quite another to know just what the heck it is, especially when the way we’re headed closes. Isn’t God supposed to clear the path for us once we figure it all out?

When Way Closes – is more than a pithy saying, it is true, and we’ve all known it and been stung by it’s reality. It reminds us to be honest with who we are, what are true natures are. When we don't do that - we live in the false illusion that we are someone we're not - we live lives that are not ours, and in concert with the bulletin excerpt today, we will burnout from that simply because it is not our life to live.

But the way that closes, if we’re hearing the wisdom of Ruth, is a means of God’s leading, and it shows us a way.

“…we arrive at the heart of a paradox, each time a door closes, the rest of the
world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed,
turn around – which put the door behind us – and welcome the largeness of life
that no lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a
room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality.”

And that reality is of God, too – The Psalmist knows this too well –

4Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; 5hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; 7he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. 8Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

Make no mistake about it, way will open and way will close – will we have faith until way becomes clear?

When way closes – People of the Way of Jesus of Nazareth - we know about this, don’t we – the life of Jesus is a continuing witness of what happens when way closes – there is still a way for the truth of his message to be made known.
  • No room at the inn - another way opened, and here came the Christ, the promised one of God.
  • Magi – fail to report back to Herod what they found - they went “home by another way.”
    Herod enacts the “slaughter of the innocents” with hope to silence this talk of the new King being born - Mary, Joseph and Jesus flee to Egypt where those of us who heard Bishop Ken Carder were reminded that Jesus lived his first couple of years on this planet as an undocumented alien.
  • Religious leaders conspire with political leaders (can you believe that happens?!?) to end Jesus’ ministry – and yet the truth of the Kingdom of God would not be silenced – “even the very stones would cry out” this truth.
  • When way closed – Their conspiracy would lead to Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion – and his followers thought it was over – way had closed –
  • But then came Resurrection day – and way opened once and for all, and way will open for you - it may not be what you expect, or want, but it will be.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Make No Mistake Who "The Man" Is

I was in Scott's office this week. He's on the clergy staff of my church and a baseball fanatic. He grew up in Atlanta, so there's no doubt who his team is.

Our meeting was about something other than baseball, but through all the memorabilia he has I noticed a headshot of Henry Aaron (from the Milwaukee Braves, his is signed, of course) on the back of a table. He has another photo of Mr. Aaron and he together. It's clear which of the two pictures he values most. And I don't blame him. I asked him to do me a favor - please move that picture into a place of greater prominence, at least for the remainder of the season.

I've previously stated what I think about the roids era of baseball. Like so much of hyperbolic spirituality, it puffs you up - but in the end, all you're left with is shriveled up (that's as far as a I'll go with that).

So go ahead Barry, do what you do. It's a far greater measure than baseball that will always make Hammering Hank the man.