Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Pride & Joy

A little Christmas Card for you...

My kid's debut... Kinda Alfalfa like, don't ya think?

In the words of Tiny Tim..."God bless us, everyone."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What to Do on This Last Week of Advent - Reach

I'm blessed to have the gifts of so many as a part of the congregation I serve. Our worship this Advent has centered around reaching for the Light that is coming into the world. And as we reach toward the Light, the Word, the Promised One, what is left for others to see is the star they need to follow.

Special thanks to Collins for his vision and insight. Below are words of interpretation he offered to set the stage for this image.

A painting of a star, a guiding light, hangs in the sanctuary. Two thousand years ago a star hung in God's sanctuary‐ a sanctuary of desert and sky, humanity and heaven, where anything was possible and even expected. The star was a beacon for those searching, those reaching. Those moving toward its radiance had expectation of wonderful things, amazing things‐ hope, joy, peace on earth.
Like those so long ago, we are reaching. With our hands and our hearts;
with our spirit and our flesh‐ we are reaching. Through our service. Through our faith. Through commitment‐ we are reaching. To the needy, the struggling, the imprisoned‐we are reaching. To the hungry, wounded and proud‐ we are reaching.
We, the body of Christ, are reaching for and with the light of Christ. In the name of Love, reach‐be a light in this world. Collins Dillard, Dec 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'd a Given the Invocation If He Had Asked

What's the "purpose" driving this decision?

President-elect Obama has asked mega-Church pastor, purpose driven author Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the inauguration.

Who'd you expect? Rev'd Dr. Jeremiah Wright?


And why not...my stance of Dr. Wright has been previously stated...no need to rehash.

The larger question for me is this---now that Billy Graham is no longer able to serve as "pastor to the President," does this mean that "Pastor Rick" is?

I don't know what the right answer is to that ...or, is it another attempt to walk the center? Of course, that assumes one thinks "Pastor Rick" a moderate, which he is not.

One commentator noted that he's "Jerry Falwell in a Hawaiian shirt."


What's my problem?

Why pick a mega-church guy? That's so easy.
I don't know Rick, he may be a fine guy. He may not be. His theology does not inspire me, and more than a little bit of it offends me.

But this isn't about Rick Warren. He's no mystery.

This is about the "why" of a choice that is singularly the President-elect's to make.

The President-elect is want to say "we can disagree without being disagreeable." To be sure, that is true. Maybe that's way we he's going to try govern.

But really?...another middle-aged, overweight white guy...aren't there enough of us already?

Pick someone who labors long in the vineyard of the Lord and serves scores of God's children with passion and vision...not tens of thousands. Pick someone who knows their congregants by name. Pick someone who serves the least, last and lost everyday in person...pick somebody serving in the urban centers.

Pick a pastor who practices radical gospel hospitality.

Pick a clergywoman. What would be more validating that change has come than to seek the word of a clergywoman as the President is being sworn in?

Pick anyone who serves in these contexts and I'd stand and applaud...as it is it sends a signal as it relates to matters such as these--there ain't much change going on 'round here!

Bob Barker, Please C'mon Down!

Want to know the extraordinary thing about this clip?

That what occurred was displaced by the emotional unavailability of the host to recognize how extraordinary the moment was.

Somebody doesn't like his job.

Too Much Right Now

Yes, I know it's been awhile.

Too much.

Too many "oughts" are running my life right now. And any sense of "ought" related to sitting down and writing something is about the one "ought" I can say no to without feeling the weight of consequences that accompany noncompliance with any of the other "oughts" in my life demand it.

The perfect storm of oughts can be heavy on the soul -

...seasonal church pressures compounded by the financial realities of our time
..final papers to get graded for my seminary class by Thursday
...the thought that I have to compose something new and fresh around the Fourth Sunday of Advent, to say nothing of Christmas Eve
...I'm supposed to sing Christmas Eve, but I don't know what I want to do - something classic, something contemporary - ahhhhh! (any suggestions are welcome)
...I've been out 5 nights in a row -
...shopping still to do

And yet, life goes on, and I'm hanging in.

Any preacher will tell you that their sabbath is not on Sunday. The same is true for this season. The push and pull between vocational expectations (too often trapped in nostalgia more than good theology) and personal expectations (and to no one's surprise - too often trapped by nostalgia, too) make it difficult to experience something of the season for one's own soul as they are leading others through it.

Which is why, after I offer the benediction on Christmas Eve, I'm done until the new year. Beyond the brief family jaunt up into West Tennessee, I'm home...doing nothing and anything. I'm even taking advantage of the wonderful pastoral team I work with and giving the pulpit to one of my associates.

You know, when I was an associate, I swore I'd never do that if put in a position of power.

Oh be careful what you say you will or will not do.

So I'm guessing, after some rest and recreation, some posts will pop up before the end of the year.

I mean, posts other than this one which I'm too busy to write right now!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thoughts Upon Thanksgiving

I've come to think that Thanksgiving is most deeply appreciated not in the extravagance of plenty, nor the satiation of every possible hunger that ends up in gluttony. Thanksgiving seems hollow if you expect everything you've got...or, you feel entitled to it.

There is the beginning of a different sense of Thanksgiving this year...perhaps a more pristine one. History can be a great teacher, if we pay attention and learn its lessons...Thanksgiving takes on a deeper meaning when you recognize what you've come through...or even what you're going through.

That first Thanksgiving, with Pilgrims and Native Americans...and Squanto (I remember reading a book about Squanto when I was a boy)...has a romantic feel to it this far removed...the stuff of childhood reenactments with their tall cardboard hats and feathered head dress...it's just so doggone cute.

But such observances do not strike us at our core to prompt the very thing it seeks. Thanksgiving only trapped in historical, if not mythological, remembrances do not necessarily make being thankfful incarnate in the present.

The recent election has prompted renewed interest in the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Every indicator is that President-elect Obama is taking cues from Lincoln's approach to governance...a steady course in the time extreme uncertainty.

I tell you, Doris Kearns Goodwin ought to give him a piece of her book, "Team of Rivals," because he's the best salesman for it she's got.

I was taken by the following proclamation. Placed into its historical context, it's an extraordinary thing.

The signs of the times indicate that we are in peril the likes of which we've not known in 100 years...that could well be.

I wonder if it will elicit deeper Thanksgiving for the things that, in the end, matter most.

So, my wish for you is not so much that you have a Happy Thanksgiving...but that you have a Thanksgiving in which thanksgiving is practiced.


The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans. mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Now We're Talking --From the World of Star Trek

My curiosity of how my most beloved pop culture mythology would be treated in the coming "reboot" or "re-imagining" by JJ Abrams has now officially moved into excitement.

It didn't happen until the last few seconds of this movie trailer...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh Boy!

There's a moment frozen in my memory of a time on the porch of my grandparents' home in Paducah.

I was 14. Jimmy was 9.

It was the only time I was with my Granddaddy after he was diagnosed with lung cancer and before he died.

I had spent a good bit of time that fall staying with school and church friends in Malesus while my folks were travelling up to Paducah to attend to him.

Like most kids who idolize their grandparents...I was pretty sure there was nothing he could not do, or would not do...for me.

Time, distance and back story confirm what is true for all of us. He wasn't perfect. Far from it.

But he was a good man.

I don't think any of us knew that this would be my last visit. He died so quickly after being diagnosed.

But there we were. On the porch of my Grandparents' house on Farley Place in the working class, blue collar part of Paducah. It is on that street that my branch of the Jeffords' family tree takes root. Four generations of us have lived and died there. My dad was born there.

My Granddaddy and father were on the gliding porch swing. Jimmy was running around the front yard being who he was. I was sitting on the porch taking it all in.

Grandaddy was noticeably weaker than the last time I had seen him. He had started radiation. He had the marks on his chest, like little tattoos, marking the spots where radiated energy was focused.

His voice had a different timbre. It wasn't brusk, self-confident and self-assured (his favorite line to launch any conversation was, with index finger pointing at the subject at hand, "Well, I'll tell you one thing...." and then proceed to tell five or six things before he was done). It was hushed, a little raspy, and pitched higher...

Friends, neighbors and fellow church members came by to check on Cecil Lee (that middle name is on ongoing legacy I share with both my Grandfather and father) . The church, Trinity United Methodist Church, where my father grew up and answered the call to ministry, and where I was born and baptized, used to meet in a beautiful stone structure just a half block around the corner from my Grandparents' house.

Each visit of passersby ended with words of prayer and love, and he repeated them with a gentleness that seemed out of place from who I had understood him to be. It's not that he wasn't a caring man. It's the way he talked that day that didn't fit the image of the man I had grown up to see as invincible.

My memory of that day is framed in many singular observations, and what in retrospect they came to mean. The next time I would see my Grandfather, it was in his casket, and on the occasion of his funeral I cried more deeply than I ever had before or have since - except for one other time far more recent.

But that day...among the things I recall...and the stuff that gives spark to this memory, was the interaction between my Grandfather and my own father. The men in my life who shaped who I am carry particular character. Granddaddy and my dad are the men who influenced me most in those formative years. No question about it.

And there they were...not my Grandfather and father...rather, my Granddaddy and his boy. I've often wondered what they saw in each other that day...were they looking ahead at what was coming...or was it a reflection of where their life together had taken them?

There was a look of pride in Granddaddy's eyes as he looked at and talked to his boy...I remember that look. I've seen it since...in the ways my own father looks at me...and tells me what he sees in me that I don't and sometimes can hardly believe.

It's the look I find is mine now when I look at my own boys....all of them.

And when I look at this photo taken of my oldest, standing in the pulpit...taking part in Youth Sunday...I remember that look.

It's one that any who watched me watch him noticed. It's one I had for my middle child who also offer leadership in the same service. It's the look of gladness and awe of my youngest who offered leadership the week before.

We all have pride in our kids...as we should. They inspire us and infuriate us. They command more energy than we think we have, and we give it anyway. They run our lives and ruin our schedules. They give love and joy and there's nothing we wouldn't do for them...even to the end.

My life is so topsy turvy right now I'm meeting myself coming and going. And yet, I have to remind myself that I asked for this. And in the end, I want it. And I want my boys to know how much they matter.

"They're going to follow in your footsteps," I hear very often.
I don't know...that's really not up to me. But if any of them do, I hope they find the value of the trail blazed before them as I came to know in my pastoral journey.

"That boy is just like you."

Oh my dear Lord, I hope not...and God help them if they are. Except that if they come to know the pride of their children that I have in mine...that'll be fine with me.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Preachers' Worst Vice? The Gossip Game

This post is for my covenant friends with whom I share life in the order of the ordained.

Six of you, that's right six, different ones of you approached me yesterday to inquire as to a rumor involving me and my future.

You know, "the word is...." something about me, my future and a church in another Conference. At first, I was amused...me? there? really?

To the ones who asked me directly, thank you for honoring and caring enough about me enough to do that.

But then, my amusement at clergy gossip turned to anger. And for those of you perpetuating a rumor, that is now moving into the realm of my laity - and I find out you're the one doing it....hope you have your Discipline handy - cause I'm a'comin.' And don't think I won't.

For those of you spending your time crafting fairy tales about someone's future - I wished you spent a bit more time tending to the one you've been charged to keep. There's plenty enough work for us to do in our own fields of service without meddling in another.

On one level I get it - there's "kitchen cabinet" stuff - I know that game and play it well. But then there's letting an uncorroborated story spread so pervasively throughout the Conference, under the auspices of "being in the know," that you do harm.

And without shooting this down - that's where we are.

And by the way, not like it's any of your damn business - there's nothing to it. Nothing. Never was. So stop acting like you know something that you don't.

And next time you think you know something about me, don't go to your colleague and do the ole "don't tell anybody about this..but Jeffords is ...." schtick- you pick up the phone, call me and ask me yourself.

Of course, knowing how things work in our Conference, if anything is going on involving me, I'm sure I'll be the 7th person to find out!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Sign That the Proverbial Shark You Have Jumped

Sorry, K.O. Hate to do it, but this was too good to pass up. What's that old saying, "many a truth is spoken in jest."

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Worthy Pursuit

I've come to the conclusion that we have no idea what we're saying half the time. And we don't really care. We just have a point to make at someone's expense.

Just look at the talking heads of television political punditry. Such polemical duals do nothing for the common good (and when I say "common good," I mean in a James Madisonian Federalist Papers way, so back off your commie, socialist rant now). I'm pretty sure that a steady dose of O'Reilly, Olbermann, Hannity, and Maddow has become little more than an intellectual version of professional wrestling (of course, giving my particular leanings, I realize how oxymoronic it is to put O'Reilly and Hannity in the same sentence with the word "intellectual") .

See how easy that is?

We can all slip into antagonism in a blink.

Granted, those guys make it easy for me..(oops, did it again).

Wired into us somehow, is this mythological sense of ultimate right and wrong, good and bad, light and dark. It is the stuff that Joseph Campbell taps into in his seminal work, "The Power of Myth." It is the stuff of any good story.

There must be a protagonist and antagonist. There must be an antithesis for your position and the energy expended defending your position while destroying the "anti-you" at all costs has become one of the drugs that this culture is addicted to--no doubt about it.

No longer the stuff of George Lucas' creative imaginings, we have brought this battle into the public domain and our perpetual state of "us" against "them" feeds us.

And what it is feeding us is poison.

Do we really believe the positions we hold, or do we relish the battle over them more? In our time, no one really seeks synthesis, or compromise, or true "conferencing" over matters of great import.

I can't change your mind. You can't change mine. Never could - and we really didn't try, did we? But we're going to huff and puff at each other for a time before strutting off the self-proclaimed victors of our engagement.

It's sad. It's pathetic.

There's nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree. But what we've devolved into is disagreeing to disagree.

Politics...religion..doesn't matter - typically the same outcome.

No, we really have no idea what we're saying half the time.

We have confused zealotry with faithfulness. Or, even worse...we've allowed our defense of what we believe is right to supplant actually doing that which is right.

Like saying we're "Christian."

A Christian...really?
Have you any idea what you're saying when allow yourself to be branded with that name?

You believe the Bible?...Good.
You go to Church?...Bully for you.
You love Jesus?....Brilliant.

Like many a rich, young ruler we approach Jesus thinking we know what we're talking about and he tells us..."Great, but there's one thing you lack...go deny yourself that which you hold onto most and hardest, then come follow me."

To be one of "Christ's own," means that his life becomes ours. A little less self-defense of positions and things and a whole lot more self-denial puts us in touch with higher and ultimate truths. Things like--
  • The pursuit of downward mobility.
  • God's preferential option for the poor.
  • Living a life in which self-giving and self-denial are tied into every we are and do.
1-3In light of all this, here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
4-6You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. Ephesians 4 1-6 from THE MESSAGE

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Return of the Definition of an Idiot

OK, here we go . . . .

Long before KO was doing "Worst Person in the World," I was offering an occasional notice when someone said or did something so idiotic it couldn't be ignored.

I haven't posted anything on it in awhile (not for lack of idiotic material from which to choose), and yes, I know, I've been very silent during this political season...but I'm done.

This guy....is an idiot on so many different levels...


Where to begin.."my God's bigger than your God?" Really? Is that all you've got?
"God, let my guy win because your reputation is at stake?" Please, brother...give me a break.

My people have heard me say this more than once..."God doesn't need defenders...God expects, as a response to Amazing Grace, that we live lives in right relationship with God expressed through just relationships with each other...especially those pushed to the margins of life."


And when people spend most of their time feeling like they have to defend God, or the doctrines of the Church, it is, more often than not, rhetorical cover for not really having faith worth a damn or caring enough to be in relationship with the least of these.

"Sorry, don't have time to live the sacramental life, I've got to defend the virgin birth because Jesus' reputation is on the line." If it wasn't so tragic, it would be laughable.

But there's more at stake here....too much vitriol spewed, too much of our lesser natures stoked, inflamed, too many bells rung that can't be unrung. And it wasn't by accident.

It smacks of desperation, fear, lots of anger that someone must be blamed for the way things are.

So, Pastor, Brother, Reverend, or whatever you call yourself, you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem...welcome to the list.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Look Me in the Eyes

I find that when I'm in a deep parenting "conversation" with any of my kids, I will have to, invariably, tell them to "look me in the eyes" when they're talking to me, or when I'm talking to them.

I want them to know I'm serious, and I want to see what cues they're leaving me about whether or not they're "feelin'" me, or if I can pick up anything they're trying to hide.

They hate when I do that. And I know it.

So when media pundits were commenting that at the recent presidential debate one of the candidates didn't look at the other one the whole night, it wasn't lost on them.

It's a life lesson worth learning.

Eyes that look away, eyes that avert the presence of the "other," whoever that is, are tough for me to take.

When we look at each other, eye to eye, we can see who we are. Eye to eye is powerful when people are of one accord - words need not be spoken. There is a line of communication that operates at level so deep that words are not needed, in fact, in moments such as this, they usually get in the way. Eye to eye communication is often what one has when put in a situation when words cannot be spoken.

Eye to eye we are in relationship.

There are people in my life who know, despite what I may say about how I'm doing at any given point (you know, the old gratuitous "fine" that is the reflexive response to "how are you doing?"), know if I'm telling the truth or not by looking me in the eye.

Mama always said I was a bad liar. Darn it.

To look each other in the eye when people are in discord may be the best reason why it is necessary. Failure to look each other in the eye in such moments bespeaks lack of respect, and such lack of acknowledgment communicates, either tacitly or explicitly, that the one who is different than you or disagrees with you is of lesser value than you.

The polarization of our politics, theology and churches has bred a perpetual state of acrimony, distrust and a "ends justifies the means" mentality facilitated in no small part by the aversion to look each other in the eye and see each other for who we are.

"The eyes are the windows to the soul," it is said.

To look deeply into the eyes of someone with whom you are in intense disagreement means you can't dehumanize them. And to look at someone that you cannot dehumanize means you have to see them for who they are - people made in the image of God.

And maybe that's why we don't do it - we have to make a conscious decision between our positions and the presence of God I'm not sure I want to see.

When we choose the former over the latter, as we are, sadly, want to do, then we make of our position an idol.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

KMMS Weekend - NYC

So, Kristy and I went to New York last week for a long weekend.

It was great to be away with my girl for a few days.

We flew into town last Thursday, September 11.

A little eerie.

We stayed in a hotel in midtown Manhattan on 51st between 8th and 9th. Kristy's younger sister, who's doing a rotation at a hospital in the city, and her fiance' hosted us and showed us around.

I was last in NYC when I was 17, as a part of the old Washington-UN Seminar, that more than a few United Methodist youth participated in many years ago.

The city scared me to death back then.

Just shy of 30 years later - I loved it, embraced it.

I experienced the charm of Puttanesca's for dinner where the food and vino seemed somehow just a bit richer than it could ever be back home.

I had half of a half of a hot pastrami on rye at the Carnegie Deli.

Walked up 8th to Columbus Circle, over 59th down 5th -

Walked over to 30 Rock.

Had sushi right next door to the Ed Sullivan Theater. Poked my head into the "Hello Deli."

We saw "Boeing, Boeing" and laughed ourselves silly followed by cheesecake at Junior's. (Two bites only for me)

Walked down Broadway to Macy's. Why? Because it's there.

Had an awesome brunch at the Nook.

Took the Subway to the Bronx and to the "House that Ruth Built" and took in a game. It was everything I thought it would be. Amazing. One of baseball's temples. A patch of green in a concrete jungle that dripped with history. Since the boys in pinstripes are not going to the post-season, we watched one of the last 10 games to be played in that house.

And to make the experience complete, the Yankees lost - got shelled by the Rays.

I'm a NL guy, what are you going to do? I think pitchers ought to bat. It's just that simple.

Right next to Yankee Stadium is this monstrosity built by Mr. Steinbrenner that no common New Yorker is going to be able to afford to go to. We sat just behind a family from the Bronx who did all they could to get their tickets to bring their young kids to one more game before the new stadium opens up. They lamented the thought that they would no longer be able to take their kids to the game. Seriously, we're talking about the doubling of ticket prices. Pretty sad.

Had a lovely dinner at El Quixote in Chelsea - walked down to the West Village to the Magnolia Bakery for muffins (nope, didn't have any).

Ate a lot of New York - but never too much.

I spent Sunday morning strolling Central Park with my wife. Not much better than that.

KMMS? What's that? Some freaking Scientology code (which, by the way, have I got a story about that - for another post!).

Nope. Nothing so covert.

Simply this - Keep My Marriage Sane.

And with this time apart we did.

Thank God.

Now, back to it. Our kids were happy to see us, and we to see them.

God is good.

Can't be the last such getaway, and it won't be.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Little Bit About Not Much

Various streams of consciousness of the past weeks or so - --

So Sunday morning I had more than a few folks ask me if I was at the Tigers-Rice game Saturday night.

I was.

"Didn't that ending (blowing a 15 point lead with 8 minutes left by allowing 22 unanswered points including a last second interception for a winning TD) just break your heart?"

"Heck no," I said.

"The Tigers broke my heart last April."

"Nothing these guys can do can touch that."

And speaking of that heartbreak, I'm in Grand Rapids last month in a small group workshop, sporting my new Tiger polo and khaki shorts (on sale now at Tiger Bookstore, proudly serving the University of Memphis campus since 1964, your off campus store for all of your on campus needs, they've got what you need and what you want, off campus - on the money), when a guy from the state of Kansas sits beside me wearing his KU shirt.

So help me.

Two UM clergy representing their teams sitting side by side.

Was d├ętente about to break out? A moment when "we could just all get along?"

He noticed me quickly, how could he not - the clothes are just that sharp.

The other 8 or 9 folks in the room noticed, too..they were looking on just a tad bit curious about what was about to go down.

My stomach started turning because I knew he was going to say something, and I didn't want to embarrass my Annual Conference (any more than I obviously already do) by punching out a Methodist Jayhawk.

"It was a great ga...." he started.

"Dude, I just can't, I'm sorry," I interrupted.

"It's just too fresh, too close for me...let's just focus on what we here for, o.k.?"

"I understand," he said. "My team has broken my heart more than once, too."

I was thankful..and relieved.

A moment of grace? Solidarity? Fear that if he said anymore I might have to spring up on him?
And speaking of Keith Olbermann (how's that for a segue), two things:

Seeing Dan Patrick and KO do their little version of "The Big Show" on NBC was a joy. No question, DP makes KO better.

That's the thing about collaborative partners - when you're working with those who get you and you get them, when you're doing the gig -it's a dance...it's a thing of beauty. It doesn't mean you always get along, either. But when the lights come on - Bam, it's magic.

And then there's KO with Chris Matthews on MSNBC...see my previous post on KO transitioning from Will Rogers of our time to stark raving blowhard.

It's clear that his zeal has gotten the best of him, and the network has done the right thing by pulling him back.

Or maybe zeal hasn't gotten the best of him...maybe it's something else.

Funny thing, zeal. It brings focus to things that others can't or don't want to see. But when the issue starts becoming the messenger and not the message, the message is lost, because your message is obscured. You get in your own way. You focus on ancillary things rather than the main thing. You become desperate to prove you're right, that you're relevant.

Don't believe me? Just ask The United Methodist Church.

Oh yes I did.

"Nothing about politics?" you asked.

Nope. Too much clutter for me to jump in.

Truth is, while I have a preference (oh boy, do I), which I will make manifest in November...more than wanting to persuade anyone to vote like I do, I just want folks to vote.

How is it possible for a country who claims to love liberty, not to engage as fully as possible in the one act that defines the republic?

Want to see real change? Understand the issues beyond the rhetoric, and vote.

Otherwise what we're left with is the product of the best financed, most effective media and spin machine.

Of the GOP's VP choice I'll only say this - her selection is either the most shrewed political move made in a very long time (if so, then "Well played, sir"), or the most disingenuous (if that's the case, "Shame! Shame!Shame!"). To bring someone in the process that nobody knows with two months to go - when these folks have been campaigning everyday for two years - and then complain that the media is trying to figure out who she is - and that we should just take the word of a campaign who has an agenda (no judgment here, every campaign has one) the pursuit of figuring someone out diverts energy from real issues. Any chance that's on purpose?


"The people have spoken," election winners often say.

No they haven't.

Maybe half of them have...

Some tried...and were suppressed (don't act like that doesn't happen, it always has in some form or another).
Some didn't try because they don't care. I guess you have the right not to vote, but such a choice does not a good citizen make.

I would argue that the there is a direct correlation between the insane polarization, slash and burn politics, and low voter turnout of our day to the disappearance of the teaching of Civics in our classrooms.

You get the whole of the population to vote...we can live with the results.

And in the words of Forest Gump..."that's all I have to say about that."

....for now.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Pastoral Reflections Upon the Week that Was

To my sisters and brothers at Saint John's,

Every entrance and exit into the community of faith makes an impact. We feel it. We know it. Presence is felt as well as absence.

People are born into our family of faith. There is something singularly exciting about babies born into the church.

People come to us searching for "sanctuary" and a place to practice their faith and they find it here. Nothing is more liberating than to see someone once wounded by religion finding a safe place to be and know they are a beloved child of God.

And people leave us.

For some, life's travels move them on to other places and they go to new cities hoping they will find another Saint John's.

There are some who find that what we offer, who we are, no longer feeds them and they make the decision to find another community in hopes that there is a place to provide the bread for which they hunger to nourish their souls. My deepest and abiding wish for these is two fold: one, that they find what they're looking for; and two, that as they take their leave, they do so in the peace of Christ and that those who remain pray Godspeed upon them.

And then there are those who leave us because their days here are accomplished. They move into that "cloud of witnesses" who cheer on those of us who remain.

Entrances and departures matter. No one matters more than any one else. We are each bound to the other.

You know, that whole "Blest be the tie that binds" thing? It is real.

That being said, though, our congregation cannot ignore, nor should it, the impact of last week on who we are. In what can only be described as a shot to our spiritual solar plexus, we lost four people.

We grieve the loss of Jean, Ed, Lucy and Dot.

Saint John's members of the recent past will not know Jean or Dot. Due to their health neither has been a part of the active life of the congregation for some years. The devotion of their Sunday School class to keep them in prayer and reach out to them is a witness for the rest of us for how to care for our people.

Any who have been a part of the past couple of years will know Ed. His presence was known in any setting. It mattered not what subject we were studying, he was ready, he took notes, he asked questions, and all of his questions had at heart the same root question - "how can I know God more deeply?"

And then there’s Lucy. Lucy was in worship three Sundays ago. The embodiment of a warrior, she fought to the end. She was a member of Saint John's for over 80 years. She loved her Church. She loved Luther, to whom she was wed for almost 70 years. This woman, short of stature, did nothing halfway. In far more ways that can be counted, she was a giant.

True to the faith we claim, we celebrate their place in The Church Triumphant.

They were part of what Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation."

This generation knows what it means to rise up and meet life's challenges. They know what it means to work in "team" to reach their goals. They also have a particular approach to their discipleship.

When I came to Saint John's over seven years ago, I used the example of this generation as a template for our renewal. Believing that each of us teaches the rest of us, even to the end, I have thought and still think that this generation's last and best lesson for those who come after them is to instill a sense of purpose and devotion to our common ministry on this corner.

  • It is this generation who decided to stay at Peabody and Bellevue.
  • It is this generation who heard that the Queen was dead and heeded the clarion call of the pastor to embrace the role of a servant church through whom a resurrected life would spring forth.
  • It is this generation who gave their assent to the notions of pastor/doctor from Atlanta who looking to start the Church Health Center.
And it is this generation who has cheered the loudest as, in the words of the Acts of the Apostles, "day by day the Lord added to their number."

Last week was a rough week. It got to where I was afraid to answer the phone for the news I'd hear. But I left last week thankful for our congregation, for the ways we reached out and remembered our folks.

What we are is a reflection of what they were.

What the next generations will be will reflect who we are now and the bold journeys in faith we make together.

Wherever ministry takes me I don't think I'll ever forget last week. I won't forget those last hours and minutes with Ed and Lucy, and neither will I forget the congregation who honored them so well.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Another August, Another Chapter - Turn the Page

August is time of endings and beginnings in our home.

"Summer," which is to say, the summer break from school comes screeching to a halt. There is a return to "normalcy" (whatever that is in our lives) - of schedule - that comes as a relief for me.

With each new grade comes new opportunities, new challenges.

Two weeks into the school year, and Jack has brought home three notes that "he's having trouble following directions."

Really? Hmmm. Didn't see that one coming. I guess his teacher informs us of this in case we didn't know that about him already. Although I'm not in the classroom when these power struggles occur, I know exactly what's going on. Jacky's teacher was Christopher's way back when. She's learning quickly how different they are.

She, no doubt, in her attempt to assert her appropriate place as the leader in the room, gives an instruction to class that all are to follow.

And all do, save one.

Guess who?

When she focuses more directly on him to comply, he has this look that seems to indicate the following:

"Madam, Princes do not follow orders....they give them."

Yea, welcome to my world, Mrs. Teacher.

And then there's Christopher.

Since his birth, he's had a nickname from me - "Little Bit." Well, it no longer applies. That boy has grown so much in the last year it is frightening. Tall. Thin. A good looking kid. His mother has contributed mightily to his looks.

Can't keep him in pants or shoes. And for a kid who likes, shall we say, the finer things in life, it can become an expensive proposition.

At the cusp of 13 this boy, uh excuse me, young man is coming into his own. He's just made his debut as starting center for the Little Red Devils. The boy looks good, I have to say. No problems delivering the ball to the QB - came off the line and made his block...looking good. He got a phone this Summer. His very own. With some wisdom, we concluded that we might as well purchase the unlimited texting option on our family plan.

First month's bill?

I had 24 text messages for the month.

Christopher? Almost 2,000.

How is that possible?

Andrew is a Sophomore. No longer the rookie at the behemoth of a campus, he knows his way around and scoffs at those stupid freshmen who get in his way. He has just made his debut with the Red Devil Marching Band. I had a lump in my throat as I watched him on the field the other night. He was nervous, but battled through it. In his hands was the horn I marched with. I knew exactly what he was thinking, what he was feeling.

I was so excited for him. Andrew is not a loaner, but never really jumped into "team" activities like Christopher, uh, excuse me, Chris.

Band is a team - and that's good for him.

He's two months away from driving. What do I feel about that? One side of me is relieved to have another driver in the house. The other side is horrified. Welcome to the life of a parent, right?

But there is no time to succumb to the temptation to wallow in the nostalgia of who my children were. The rapids of change are too swift. All I'm left to do is ride them out, give God thanks for the days that are, and navigate, as best I can through them with this profound gift too often and too easily taken for granted -


There may come a time to look back and recall these days. But not today.

Got to go run car pool, cook dinner, help with homework . . .

Monday, August 18, 2008

Of Cones of Silence - My Guess Is That They Missed It By That Much!

I'm thinking Pastor Rick Warren's "purpose" in driving home the notion that the other of the two candidates was in a "cone of silence" during the forum last weekend was to help assure the gathering that all was fair and square - on the up and up.

It's politics...what a naive thought, that.

I watched the forum, there were code words aplenty from Barack and John seeking to score points with the voting block they were courting.

Sometimes Sen. Obama's work at finding the right answer comes off as one searching too hard to find the right words to something that shouldn't be that difficult. Too many "ahhs" and way too many "as I have saids," show someone trying too hard to prove one's self to a skeptical crowd.

Sen. McCain's answers flowed a bit more freely (maybe too freely), and the propensity to tell stories rather than answer difficult questions with difficult answers about difficult issues that perplex our country and our world was way too predictable. And when there was an answer, it was usually a one word, terse response seeming to communicate certainty - and that certainty was way too cut and dried, thereby ignoring the complexities of life in which too many of us are forced to make sense of life in the shades of grey.

But back to the "cone of silence."

Funny thing about "Cones of Silence," and an interesting choice of words by Rick Warren. Forget that "Get Smart" drivel on the big screen this Summer. For those of you too young to remember; one, you make me sick, but two, the television series displayed a mastery at great writing and perfect delivery. The relevance of this world view is staggeringly contemporary. We laugh and cringe all that the same time.

Oh, and "cones of silence," be they contrived or real - we all know how well they work. Ever said "I'm not supposed to tell this, but I trust you so I'm going to tell you, and you can't repeat it, o.k.?"

"Of course," you say in response.

Until, in the company of another "trusted" person, you repeat the "I'm not supposed to tell...." - and then that "cone" is pretty darned cracked.

Yea, cones of silence work about as well as this one . . . .

Friday, August 15, 2008

Relative Integrity - Or, Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Russia's wrong, I'm not questioning that. The prospect of the bear reawakening is one that should give the world pause.

But if ever there was a example of the impact of words and actions, this is it.

And it bespeaks a powerful lesson that carries with it a truth that is at once personal and public, relational and geo-political, and ultimately spiritual - one's moral authority to effect clarity and a change in perspective and behavior is muted by one's actions if they are direct conflict

I'm just sayin' - - -

"Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised." Tolstoy

For the latest on our story, let's turn now to the news broadcast of record, "The Daily Show:"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

SCD - In Retrospect

Ahh, home again.

Grand Rapids was a lovely, lovely town. Being there, and then on to Grand Haven and Lake Michigan, were highlights of the trip, no doubt about it.

Having said that, though, I was ready to get home. I had not seen my family in a week, and hadn't seen Christopher and Jack in almost two weeks.

Our reunion was powerful, loving and typical. True gladness to see each other. Hugs and kisses all round, then back to the computer, phone and xbox.

Like I said...Ahh, home again.

The Grand Rapids experience, for all about it that disappointed, offered both clarity and epiphany to my practice of ministry.

As alluded to in previous posts, my disappointment stemmed from several observations. Among them:

  • Events of this sort should model the excellence it posits we who lead congregations must exhibit. This one did not. As the General Boards eval this event, I trust they conclude a split event weakens the message...whatever that message is.
  • A prevailing bias toward a particular approach to church starts and turnarounds that assumes only a certain methodology of being a congregation will make a difference...they said over and over again that context matters most - that may be true, and I believe it is, but they trumpeted one approach above all others.

My clarity and epiphany are two fold. First, I am convinced more than ever that a congregation like the one I serve is essential to the ongoing work of the Realm of God. Granted, it may well be that such a congregation is the only one left for me to serve, and I can live with that - I don't know if they can, but I can.

What does that mean? St. John's, its clergy and laity, all of us, must step it up. We have to continue to seek ways to innovate our worship, our operations, our ministries, our message and our community to make real what we say matters most to us as a congregation.

We have to employ every manner of media at our disposal to communicate with our congregation, network with our partners in the community, and show who we are and what we're about. Website, audio, video, podcasts - everything. And we must excel at doing it.

We have to establish our place in the connectional church by regularly and continually satisfying every expectation of the conference upon us - financially, offering ourselves for conference leadership - and gladly doing so as partners in ministry. As I attended a "teaching church" in Grand Rapids - one in which I did learn quite alot - it occurred to me - I'm serving a "teaching church."

We cannot nor should never be ashamed to announce our Wesleyan distinctiveness as United Methodists. And even though there is plenty about the United Methodist "system" that often confounds and needs to be changed, we stick with it so that we may be architects of reform. At heart, being a Wesleyan is about a particular view of discipleship that is open, loving and accountable. The tranformative character of grace is expressed in our life together and in ministry to and with the least among us.

And finally, we, each of us, must plug in, step up, and do our part to make this thing we love so much, the companions of Jesus, the people called Methodists who worship at Peabody and Bellevue, vital and vibrant for this generation and the next.

We'll do this not because we are desperate for what our future holds - a sentiment that guides too much of this "congregational renewal" business, but because the authenticity of our fellowship, guided by the Spirit and bound by the grace of God through Jesus Christ shines light on the Way of Jesus - to which all are welcomed and all may find sanctuary.

All. Everyone. Period.

The second thing is this -

I come back with thoughts that are beginning to take root - some of which have been germinating for some time - and convictions that were confirmed by my experience in Grand Rapids, and my firm belief that while I didn't get what I expected from the leadership in Grand Rapids, through conversation, discernment, worshipping at a vital urban congregation, I was able to discover what I needed.

I doubt I'll ever go to this event again, but there is value to being away. It's at a distance I can look back over my shoulder and see things with greater perspective. There are times we must pull away to see where we are and where we're going. That alone is something I need to take with me hereon and integrate into the practice of ministry.

It has to be more than a half day. All of us who serve must find times to leave our context completely in order to see it completely.

Why did Jesus retreat to the mountain to pray? Was it to gain perspective...see the big picture...get ready for what needed to happen when he came down? I think so.

So, in retrospect, I'm glad I went.

And I'm bound now with confirmed zeal for who we are becoming - not tomorrow, but today.

Right here. Right now.

Monday, August 04, 2008

SCD - Day Five, Or, "I Once Spent a Year in Grand Rapids One Week"

(GRAND RAPIDS) - I did my due diligence for the morning - even made the plenary.

I heard the Sr. Pastor of the host church in Grand Rapids, Brad. He did a decent job. I was distracted, however, by his attire. This man, who is maybe 10 years older than me was wedged into an American Eagle polo shirt, you know with the big logo all over the front?

Like the one my 12 year old wears?

By wedged, I mean, although he was probably wearing L, he could've taken a XL, or XXL, if you know what I mean.

Between that and his teenager jeans (don't ask) and his old man black shoes - he was a sight.

I "gleaned" some things from his talk that will be helpful, but not earth shattering.

The Core Ministry Session was spent with he and his staff, presumably on "creative worship."

Not so much.

They obviously do some decent things, but when it came to being United Methodist, or sacramental, they hedged - even laughed at each other saying "you want to take that one?"

or, "Is the D.S. in the room?"

She was.

Anyway, after half a day - I'm done.

Going to spend the rest of the time in conversation with the team from the Conference looking at bigger picture questions of what? how? and when? do we implement who we are in our context to renew congregations and start new ones.

That will be time better spent.

Tomorrow? I'll walk, pack and sit at GRR until time to board for MEM.

I'll leave low 80's and breezy for 100's and stifling - and I can't wait.

Closing thoughts - this event has not been a total bust. I must say, however, that for a General Board event, it was subpar. For the cost and effort it takes for people to come from all over to get to location, I expect workshop leaders to be smoking...on their stuff...ready.

I do not want nor need regurgitation of their "new book."

Don't care...I can read myself.

I expect respect for who we are as a church with a diversity of offerings as broad as the opened hearts, minds and doors we claim we have, and not the disproportionate weight being given to produce churches that look like the culture.

I shouldn't have to travel across country to watch a satellite feed from Orlando.

I do believe that innovation is essential..and that was helpful.

But there is a big difference between innovation and revolution.

I shouldn't have to work so hard "gleaning" something to take away from an event like this.

I should be fed, and fed well.

Too much of this required too much work and too much of what was offered was, frankly, unpalatable.

Finally, I'm very encouraged by the passion of those of us who've been here from our parish area, the Memphis Annual Conference. We are focused on different areas of ministry. Maybe it's because we know that Memphis Conference is viewed as the "can anything good come from Bethlehem" contingent in the SEJ, and maybe the whole of the UMC in America.

I know the answer to that. Yes it can. And yes it has.

We don't need to be what we're not. But we do need to be who we are - fully and completely, and yield ourselves to the leading of the Spirit.

That's called being faithful.

And I'm o.k. with whatever happens if we are.

My next post will come from the friendly confines.

From Grand Rapids, I am out.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

SCD - Day Four

(GRAND RAPIDS) - Today was spent at the "teaching church" of our choice. I chose First United Methodist Church, Grand Rapids. It is at the heart of City Center, and has, after a season of renewal, become a vital outreach and evangelistic link for the community.

At last, an experience resonant with my experience and spirit.

They are a radically hospitable congregation in ministry to the city. All are welcome.

Now, here's the sad part.

First UMC wasn't on the original list of "teaching churches."

Mars Hill Church was, and pulled out last minute.

First UMC was pressed into service late in the game and saved this school. Had they not been, no one from this event sponsored by the our General Boards and agencies would have experienced an established, urban centered church. All we would have had was suburban locations, worship centers, platforms and super high tech gadgetry.

There is a place for that - but it isn't the only place where vital, relevant worship and ministry takes place.

Some of God's children need a sanctuary, a pulpit, an actual Communion Table, stained glass and even a pipe organ.

First UMC was such a place. I liked much of what I saw.

There are some things I would have changed.

I didn't like Eucharist as an add on(too many of our congregations do that - by the way, if Word & Table is to be THE normative form for our worship, it can't be an "add on" it must to be central).

There was no confession and peace making.

There was no congregational response in The Great Thanksgiving.

The bread we took was not the bread that was broken ( a no-no for me). And, worst of all, what we took (which is to say it wasn't given) was in baskets cut neatly into squares. I partook of "cubed Jesus."

It's not the stuff of the church that defines them. It's the spirit of authentic welcome. Matters not what your "style" is.

Where authentic hospitality resides, there is the Church.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

SCD - Day Three

(GRAND RAPIDS) - A much better day -

Feeling some extra sleep was more important than the morning plenary - I slept in.

I did attend the next Core Ministry workshop, which was Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John's, Houston.

Compelling story - real - an approach that more readily resonates - and we know some of the same people.

He may well have been the reason I came.

I anticipate more conversation with him before the week is done.

There are ideas coalescing - informed in part from what little bit I've "gleaned," and, some conferencing with trusted colleagues of some areas of focus I'm feeling compelled to explore in the practice of ministry at "my" Saint John's.

And then, the rest of the day.

We travelled to Grand Haven, on Lake Michigan. Beautiful community. They were in the midst of their annual Coast Guard Festival. Hundreds of boats on the water. It was a community celebration and beatiful to watch on a stunningly beautiful day.

And it was here that I got my steps in. Guess I walked at least 3 miles but did so among the masses.

We made it to the beach and it was wonderful. The cool water and sand was too inviting. So, I excused myself from the crew, found my spot, took off shirt, and "sprawled" on the beach. Not sure how long I was out, but I'm pretty red right now - and it's awesome.

Tomorrow, on the Lord's Day, I'm attending the "teaching church" option for worship. I'm going to First UMC, downtown Grand Rapids, an urban church focusing on outreach, spiritual formation and worship. And, they're growing!

Ahh, something familiar, at last!

Friday, August 01, 2008

SCD - Day Two - Or, "Am I That Out of Touch?"

(GRAND RAPIDS) - OK, folks, two days in.

Those who know me at all understand that I expect some level of excellence at events like this.

Thus far, I'm not even getting decent mediocrity.

I'm here because my friend and colleague, Kevin, asked me to come, and because I want to be part of the solution in our Conference, and not the problem, I'm heeding his counsel to glean something of value if I can and let the rest go.

Mark Beeson did the opening plenary. What did I glean? Communication is essential and the means to do it must reach the context of the culture.

Basic? Sure.

Anything of value that was said, however, was overshadowed by a little too much "look at me" for my taste. The videos of how "they do it" amounted to showing off. Polished, highly produced - close to gimmicky, but probably relevant to the under 30 set, no doubt about it.

Feels a bit out of my reach and my style.

However, I will say that some ideas are spinning that I intend to implement around how we communicate.

The next session was on "Creative Preaching." All I'll say about it is that I left halfway in.

Following lunch I attended Dan Glover's "Creating a Discipleship System." I was not familiar with his work until today. I did find it of value and it was probably my best session of the day.

My Ministry Track work, on the L3 Incubator entered day two. I find some value in the methodology, but by the time I got to this session, I was spent, and not really available to contribute much.

I left the day with the strongest sense that this event, which, presumably, represents that "best" of The United Methodist Church's future, has painted a picture of the church that I don't recognize, nor really want to be a part of.

I left thinking, "am I really that out of touch?"

The 14 of us here from the Memphis Conference convened following the day's sessions to process. I'm not alone in my concern. Some are finding more to take away than I have thus far. It is also possible that I've not picked sessions on the menu that represent perpectives more resonant with mine.

A bunch of us travelled downtown for a lovely seafood dinner and conversation at a restaurant in which we sat outside overlooking the river. It was THE highlight of the day - no question.

Got my 2.5 miles in this morning - always a good thing. So the day starts and ends with something good.

With hope that I'll "glean" something tomorrow that I'll hang on to and bring home, I prepare for bed. It's a halfday, and then I'm loading up in the Dodge Charger I've rented and heading west to Lake Michigan for the rest of the day.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

SCD - Day One

(GRAND RAPIDS) Jury's still out. Thus far, I've not been "wow"ed, but I'll reserve judgement for now. I would prefer a higher level of readiness from those who are leading. Also, I didn't leave my family, travel across the country at considerable expense to watch an opening plenary on a projection screen transmitted from Orlando.

If I wanted to watch TV, I'd a stayed home.

I'm also grating at the implied notion that "more numbers" equals faithfulness.

Highlights include conversations between the Memphis Conference team about what we are to do and be as we take church renewal seriously. And ultimately, that's what's going to be most important.

Got my walk in - Grand Rapids is a good 15 degrees cooler than Memphis.

Feels like spring.

Full day tomorrow - Feeling that I should have a stronger basis to make some judgements, I'll have more detail then.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Going to MI's West Coast

Feeling a bit like a journalist on the road - I leave in just a bit to travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to participate in the School of Congregational Development.

I'm attending with a team of clergy from our Conference as we seek strategies and trajectories to help local congregations find vitality of mission of purpose again.

I'm hopeful for good results - something tangible to bring back and help instill life into my home turf - I'm realistic enough to know that most of the time these things promise far more than they can deliver.

I mean, really, how much can you get sitting in a hotel conference room?

Anyway, I'll report in through the week on what's happening. I'll share my impressions of Grand Rapids - although I'm bummed that it's too far to Detroit, and the local baseball team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, are on the road -

But there is the Gerald Ford museum!!! Oooooo - Fun!

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's OK, I'm with the Band

My oldest reported to band camp this morning.

He had a few days of "rookie camp" a couple of weeks back.

But now, it's the real deal.

His first time at this leaves me profoundly nostalgic.

Years and years ago, I was a part of the South Side High School marching band, even though I was in the 8th grade. I wouldn't credit my skill on the horn as the sole reason (although I wasn't bad at all), but more the need for bodies in the band.

So, every day, I would walk from the Jr. High, across the football/band practice field to the band room at the high school during last period. It was my way of showing the "kids" in the Jr. High that I really belonged somewhere else.

Or so I thought.

Band Camp - Late July, early August every year - report. All day. Learn the music, learn the show. Stand in blazing heat.

I was able to rub elbows with the upper classmen. Several of us went to church together, anyway, and others of us were part of another group (SSYP) so there were several ties to bind us. 

So today, as I see my kid shove off into this new adventure -something I think he'll find of great value, I'm reminded of Stutzman, Perry, McKenzie, Mayo, Jones and a long list of girls I wanted to notice me more than anything else.

Never mind they were several years older than me.

Because I hung out the cool guys, sometimes they would sit with me as we travelled. They flirted. I flirted. Ultimately, though, it had to come up, "why don't I see you in any classes?"

The jig was up. "Well, I'm only 14."

That's when flirtation moved to "let's be friends." There it is, dammit, the "friend" thing again!

And because I was "safe," they continued to ride with me on the bus, and I moved into the "counselor" role. A role I relished.

Those were great days. If anything, they were my "Wonder Years."

We marched at all games, we competed, we travelled. It was an experience. When we were out of uniform, we all had T-shirts that had our instrument printed on the back. On the front, it said "It's OK, I'm with the Band." I thought that was about the coolest thing I'd ever seen.

When I moved to Memphis, the band experience was very different. And the adjustment was difficult. No band camp. No show. We played at the games from the stands and rushed to the buses after the game to avoid getting into fights.

My Wooddale band days did benefit me in being able to learn and appreciate jazz - something that has endured even to this day.

My two years in "The Mighty Sound of the South," when I was at Memphis State, was the right way to end that part of my active trumpet playing. It was the South Side experience on steroids.

Everyone could blow - there were no weak links.

Several shows to learn through the football season.

Two weeks of band camp - Memphis in August - all day and through the night - brutal.

It took six Trailways buses to move us down the road.  We travelled to Oxford, New Orleans, Knoxville, Nashville, Starkville, and Tuscaloosa.

Now college aged travel is a bit more, uh, shall we say "hormonal" than high school, and in the words of Forrest Gump, "that all I have to say about that!"

I played in college for a couple of years on a band scholarship - which actually paid a semester's tuition back then.  The problem with that was that when we travelled to play at football games, and especially, when we played at the Coliseum for Tiger basketball games (we're talking the early-mid 80's Tigers) - I was there for one purpose only--TO WATCH THE GAME!  To be interrupted with my game watching because we had to play some little ditty - spare me.

I know how it goes. Folks who live in the "band world" are often labelled "band geeks." I guess there's some truth to that - but little such folks care.  There's something about being in the band.  It can be cool.  It often is.

To this day, my fantasy of fronting a rock band is formed in no small part because it is cool.

I'll be eager to watch Andrew chart his own course - to resist the temptation to live vicariously through his experiences and let them be what they are for him.

Go get 'em kid - it's o.k., you're with the band!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Masks, Shadows & Bats

OK - I've seen "The Dark Knight" twice already.  I saw "Batman Begins" three times in the theater, so I clearly have some affinity for Christopher Nolan's directorial vision.

Of this particular film, I just say this --

A dark, dark film.

A Jungian's fantasy come true.

Very complex and multi-layered - so much so I'd dare to call it beautiful.  Masterfully written.

It is difficult to disassociate Heath Ledger's presence on screen with the reality of his death - but I think I can say without equivocation that he owned this role.   

The appeal of this film for the masses flocking to see it?  We need to see our heroes struggle, which is why Batman will always trump Superman in my book.  

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Of those 34" Waist Shorts in My Drawer . . . .

Tried 'em today.

I'd wear them around the house now.

The end of August brings real possibilities. If that goal is achieved, we're talking college weight. We might think of that as my "fighting weight."

There was a time that seemed like irrational delusion. It is now within reach.

I've mixed in a daily 2-3 mile walk. I turn on my "Workout" playlist on the Ipod, and off I go. Among the artists I hurriedly step to? AC/DC, Boston, Chicago (the Terry Kath era), Van Halen (Red Rocker's era is better for walking, Diamond Dave is better for rockin'), The Who.

The stand by list, depending on my mood, is too great to list here.

Time for a daily go on the TotalGym for muscle tone.

Larger goals persist yet.

As I prepare to enter my 44th year in a few days, I want to do what I've never been able to sustain thus far.

That is, make significant weight loss not the end, but the means to the end of life patterns. If I can sustain my weight and pattern of life until my (deep breath) 50th year, I will have ingrained a pattern, I hope, to see me through the last chapters of my journey upon this earthen sod.

That's the plan.

"Possessed By Faith" the second in a series of sermons based upon Marcus Borg's "The Heart of Christianity"

What follows is a modified transcript. My intent was to carry a working outline with me, but my printer was hinky, so I couldn't get it to print out on a Sunday morning. Panic! Anyway, I did o.k. for off the top of my head, but missed some elements that are now included.
The texts for today are two, and are meant to bring us our attention to other nature of faith. They come to us from Eugene Peterson’s treatment of the text in “The Message.”

The first is from Matthew 17:
14-16At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, "Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he is pitched into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him."
17-18Jesus said, "What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here." He ordered the afflicting demon out—and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well.
19When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, "Why couldn't we throw it out?"
20"Because you're not yet taking God seriously," said Jesus. "The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, 'Move!' and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn't be able to tackle."

The second is from James:
14-17Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
18I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, "Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department."
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

This morning I want you to be willing to take the journey a little bit further down the road. If you missed last week, we’re using this little book, “The Heart of Christianity,” as lens through which we look at our own journeys – the Christian life is a journey.

If you think, in your own Christian life, where are you now in your journey relative to where you were when you started it. Which is to say, “how far down the road have you travelled.”

And today, I want that journey to go in a particular direction – from your head to your heart. In the section of the book we’ve been living with these days, Borg asserts most convincingly that faith is “the language of the heart.” It sounds wonderful. We are very good at “heart” language, but we speak about it from our heads.

We have to know what it means, where it came from, what it used to mean – and I love that stuff. You get that from me all the time. I don’t know if you love it as much as I love telling you, but there it is.

I want you to think today of faith as a heart matter, and journey from you heads to your hearts today. Now the problem that we have is that your head is going to want to be a backseat driver and tell you how to get to where you’re going.

How many of you love backseat drivers?

Disengage your brains today, just enough, to let your hearts take over.

But before we get there, let’s consider why it’s a problematic destination. Using some of the keys that Borg points toward – we understand that we are people of The Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment as been a wonderful thing. It has allowed us to see the world, discover wonderful things, it has allowed us to chart courses in life we never thought possible.

But the other side of that blessing is its curse, for it has harmed our capacity to live a “heart-full” life of faith. Because there is nothing to be known that cannot be proven. There is no thing in life to which we ascribe value unless we have mastered it. There is nothing that merits our serious attention unless we know Who? What? Where? and How?

When you’re talking about the things of God, and trying to “prove” it – good luck. For all that is great about The Enlightenment, where it can never satisfy is seeking to approach that which cannot be proven, the God who will not be named, that which we ascribe as the Divinum Mysterium.

In fact, it is so much the case that when we are asked if we have faith in God, what we find we’re really asking is if we believe the right set of claims about God. Do you adhere to the particular creed or doctrinal statements about God, and not specifically the nature and character that is God.

So, faith in God is no longer so much about relationship as it is whether or not we’ve signed on to the party line about of things that have been made a litmus test about what a “true believer” would hold about God.

What things you ask? Oh, you know, things like inerrancy of Scripture God, Virgin Births, stuff like that. To say that you have faith in God, from this point of view is to say that for God to be God these particular things, which have been told us are necessary to belief, must be true – or, the Divinity of God and the person Jesus is suspect.

When I served on the Board of Ministry, in a time of examination before ordination, I once asked a candidate whose written work indicated a staunch adherence to the aforementioned perspective, “If Jesus was not born of a virgin, is he still Lord?”

It was a “gotcha” question. I grant that. But I wanted to see both how he would handle such a question, and, if how inextricably linked doctrine was to his faith.

He paused a moment, a bit taken aback by the question, and knowing that he was on the hot seat, said,

“My answer is no.”

I wasn’t surprised by the answer. I respected it. I didn’t agree with it. And for those within the Christian tradition who live within the earlier paradigm to which Borg references, this candidate is going to serve effectively for a very long time.

Is your faith tied to that? It really is o.k. if it is, but if you are among those who part of this emerging paradigm of Christianity, how do we handle such things?

Borg suggests there is another way to cling to a life of faith that is framed not from revolution but recovery of previous understandings. So, if faith is the language of the heart, and the heart is the place we are called to go, and it is the heart in which our relationship with God through Jesus dwells – then be open to these alternative understandings of faith that have deep historic precedent.

The first of which will sound very familiar, as we've alluded to already – Faith as “assent.” But to what are we to offer our “assent?” A litmus test of theological planks, or the nature and character of God at all?

The second way to view faith prompts another word in our common language – “fiduciary,” or “trust.” A trust in God. In our heart journey, do you have trust in God, based not on what you can or cannot prove, but can you entrust your heart to something or someone precisely because you cannot prove it.

On every piece of legal tender in our country is inscribed the words, “In God We Trust.” The presupposition, at least in its purest meaning, is that very sentiment. We place our trust in the One who is more than us. However, if we really trusted in the God we say we do on our currency, then we would hope or expect that the ways we spend that currency would be in keeping with the ways the One we say we trust in would have us expend it rather than the ways we do: tax breaks for big business; no bid contracts with political cronies; and of course, war itself at the expense of our country’s under served, disenfranchised, lost and forgotten.

This God who has much to say about the plight of the widowed and the orphaned in holy scripture – do we trust in that God enough to spend in ways pleasing to God?

Another example of this kind of trust is cited in the book when Borg speaks of his wife teaching a class and asking the participants what it was like to teach a child to swim. Or do you remember when you learned to swim? Do you remember the fight that goes on between the person learning to do something so counter intuitive to what they think they should do. The key to learning to swim is to understand that you can float, and the only way to do that is to relax and let go. You can’t control the water and swim, you let go to learn how to navigate through it. That is trust, pure and simple.

You think about that and factor it into every aspect of our living in which we circulate and it is a sobering thing to consider how little trust we really show in each other and in God.

The third way to view trust in this emerging understanding is faith as “fidelity,” faithfulness in relationship. How are you faithful in your relationship to God? It occurs to me that this type of faith is tied to vows. Vows taken, kept or broken. In the vows of Church membership, we ask you to vow you prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

For any of us in a covenantal relationship, we know something of making vows. Take marriage, for example. Is the key to your marriage your vow or the relationship? Because if I hear the scriptures right and read Borg right, you know well how we can keep the letter of the law, the vow, and have no heart in the relationship. Relationships must be tended, nurtured to have vitality.

The same can be said of our relationship with God. Vows are important, but only to the degree they move us into the daily work of nurturing the character of the relationship we took vows for in the first place. Otherwise, the vows become empty words without meaningful action.

The final view of faith is “vision,” or, how we see things. And if we can see life beyond the literal we make room for the truth of God through Jesus that comes in metaphor and myth. Such things do not mean less true, and such understandings need not make us lose faith, but might instead inspire us to it. There will be more this view in coming weeks.

If we can stretch our understanding of faith, then we come to a new way of believing. Borg points out that “belief” and “belove” have the same origins. So believing does not mean that I’ve signed off of certain creedal statements, therefore I’m in. It’s really a sign, that, if I’m believing God, that I’m “beloving” God. My love is lived beloving God because I know that every breath I take and every day I have is a sign of God loving me.

In my journey to my heart, there is a trust that resides. It matters not what I deal with and endure, there is nothing that can separate myself from the God’s belovedness. Let me not separate myself the belovedness of God that I’m seeking to live through me and into the brokenness of the world.

The journey is calling you to consider the life of faith differently. It leaves many, many questions unanswered. To which I say, “good.” I call upon one of my favorite quotes from Alan Jones who said that “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” Because if I’m certain about all these things, I don’t need faith, and if I don’t need faith, I don’t need God.

On matters of the God, Jesus, the Church and the world, the idolatry of certainty needs to be placed aside. For Enlightenment minded folks, that’s a hard chore. Because we only like what we can prove.

But you can’t prove this stuff. You believe it, belove it, live in relationship with it, and see beyond what you think is. Then and only then, do you become “possessed by faith.”

Faith, as practiced too often, is just one more commodity.
“How much faith do you have?”
“She must have a whole lot more faith than me.”

Keep in mind, Jesus said that faith is not about quantity. It only takes a mere kernel to make a mountain move. That ain’t much, and I don’t see a lot of mountains moving, do you?

So it’s not about the quantity of your faith. It’s about quality of life, of relationship, of trust. It’s a quality that marries faith and works as they fit together “hand in glove.” Works bear witness to the quality of faith we claim to have.

As such, it’s not that you possess faith, but that faith possesses you.