Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Pastoral Letter on the Current Crisis at The Med

For the past couple of years, I've had the joy of being in fellowship with a special group of clergy and their spouses. We represent a cross section of Memphis and Shelby County. We are black, white, urban and suburban, high church, contemporary, interfaith...I was at Saint John's when I first became a part of this group, and have remained in my move east representing Cordova, along with my next door neighbor, Craig.

We fellowship with each other throughout the year- we avoid "preacher" stuff when we get together. Rather, we seek to be friends to one another. In what must seem the definition of irony, we who have answered the call of this vocation often find ourselves the most lonely. I bear witness that this can be so. To have this unique fellowship is a means of grace.

Only on one previous occasion have we marshaled our resources to speak as a group. It was during the horrific murders on Lester Street last year. We find it necessary to speak again. As I did during the Lester Street response, I was asked to write a pastoral response from our group on the current situation regarding The Med. Although the final version may deviate from this one just a bit, this word represents us all. We will be sharing this with our congregations seeking to join our voices for the good of our community. We invite all people of faith to join with us in this quest.

Dear Sisters and Brothers of Faith,

As clergy leaders from across Memphis and Shelby County, we celebrate the unity shared in common fellowship. We have found our resolve strengthened, and our love of and deep desire for a city that lives up to the fullest measure of its slogan – the “city of good abode” equally true for all of its citizens. Because of our friendship and fellowship, the better nature of our faith traditions and theological perspectives transcend divergent viewpoints, which too often serve to divide our community.

Today, we stand uniformly and unequivocally gathered around the question of care for the most vulnerable of our society, the least of these, and those pushed to the margins unable to access life’s basic needs because they are poor. The mandates of the Hebrew Bible and the Holy Gospels on this point are unyielding and unavoidable.

In the current climate, this question is manifest most profoundly in the poor’s inability to access proper healthcare in the City of Memphis. Like the rest of Memphis and Shelby County, we have heard the dire warnings of the imminent closure within The Med’s Emergency Department in February, 2010. We find such an option untenable for our community and we call upon elected officials and community leaders to explore all creative and appropriate means to sustain The Med through this crisis as long term solutions for indigent healthcare are studied and implemented.

While the circumstances prompting this crisis are complex, the need for sustainable care is constant. The Med’s role in offering this care to our community is essential. The impact of closure will ripple from the river’s edge across Shelby County and beyond. And surely, it is those in greatest need with least ability to access care who will most suffer. Our unwillingness to respond to this crisis will serve as an indictment upon the character of our community.

As clergy and pastoral leaders, we are compelled to the urgency of this moment. We invite our congregants to join us in appealing to our elected officials and community leaders to make a way for The Med’s services to continue unabated. While this is not solely a political question, political courage will be necessary to sustain The Med. We believe it to be a matter of faith for the common welfare of the people—our neighbors, our sisters and brothers. We call upon our congregants to join us in a season of prayer for our leaders that wisdom will prevail over political expediency.

Join us as we advocate for the least of these in the name of our Loving God.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


For the past several months I’ve asked the congregation to sit with me and assess our compass heading.

Where are we?

Where are we going?

To what do we aspire?

How do we bridge the gap between where we are to where we feel God’s leading?

Your input has been very informative and has helped me understand Covenant in context. It is in no small part the fruit of those prayerful Christian conversations that has given rise to our shift in Sunday morning scheduling, set to launch January 3, 2010.

Covenant in context. That has been a key for me.

We who have been to seminary and had to endure, oops, I mean enjoy courses on Biblical interpretation are very familiar with a German phrase that guides interpretation of Holy Scripture. The phrase is “sitz im leben.” It is translated “setting in life.” When we read Scripture, beyond what we think it says, or what we think it means for us, we must first be guided by the notion of what it meant to those who first heard it, who first received it. What was their setting in life that prompted such words to be offered in the first place?

I have been studying our “setting in life” for these months upon my arrival as your pastor. I could not with any integrity whatsoever articulate any change in the rhythm of our church without knowing our context, living in it with you, and determining whether a shift was warranted in the first place.

It is from that perspective I offered my strongest sense that we needed to recalibrate our course for two primary reasons. The first is to claim outright that each worship experience has value and requires the fullest measure of attention from each of our clergy every week. And the second reason depends upon the first. That is, it is time for Covenant to stand up and proclaim its distinct Methodist witness in Cordova. It is time for us to set our course toward growth, in outreach, mission, ministry and evangelism.

For Covenant to be the Church we could be, and what The United Methodist Church needs us to be, we must focus upon the scores of people who are not yet a part of our fellowship, but because of this course recalibration, will come to be integral to our community of faith. To that end we offer this shift.

I know only too well how jarring it can be to make a change like this. I have studied, prayed, talked, conferred, sought counsel from every level of the Church, spent too many sleepless nights, and anguished over where we needed to go. After living in this context for some months, the one thing I concluded was that the status quo was not going to allow Covenant to make its best and most effective witness for the long term.

With this change, we make room for growth in Sunday Schools that right now we do not have. We create an additional hour every Sunday morning for groups to form. I’m encouraging all classes to consider the implications of this shift on their group and to consider their decisions investments in Covenant’s future. If very large groups are willing to split and seed new groups that would be great, although it needs to come gladly and willingly. I'm not intentionally forcing any group to split. Groups who seek to remain intact and find this shift makes it difficult to do so on Sunday mornings are encouraged to find other ways, other times to be together.

With this change, Lora Jean and I can be present at each service. This one was big for me. I determined after awhile living with this schedule that I could no longer abide the thought that on any given Sunday I was missing seeing up to 1/3 of my worshipping congregation. For a new guy trying to learn your stories and take the journey with you, to miss 1/3 of you a week makes something that in the best of circumstances takes time virtually untenable.

I’ve heard opinions aplenty of what I needed to do about our context. Do we go from 3 services to 2? And if we did, which services got forcibly merged? And what kind of spirit would reign in a service of forcibly merged people? Hmmm. I wonder?

Here’s what I’ve determined. Covenant, regardless of what it was way back when, is this – a congregation of very distinct worship styles each of which deserves expression and the full attention of your pastoral leaders.

My most pressing concern in the proposed change, however, was the impact on our Children and Youth. I asked Zack and Tara to study options with me. Could our ministries on Sundays bear up to this change and find creative ways to accommodate and make consequences of the change a good thing. I believe they have created models where that is the case and I’m thankful for their thoughtful and dedicated work.

From the beginning of my time with you, I’ve asked us to aspire to unity, not uniformity. In fact, it is our diversity of expression and experience that no longer needs to be considered a liability to the Church’s future. I believe it to be among our greatest assets. What will unify us Sunday to Sunday is the presence of our clergy, the creative ways in which classes and small groups form and grow and seed new classes that will form and grow and so on. It is those moments through the year when we all come together and bring a spirit of unity to our common worship experience like we did in August on Rally Sunday (although I promise we won’t go 1:45!).

This recalibration is a corner turned on the cusp of a new year. I invite you, I urge you to join me in it.

Covenant, it’s time.

Right here. Right now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's Thanksgiving, Not "Turkey Day"

So, I've been up to watch Macy's parade - I've listened to commentators aplenty, and despite my efforts to the contrary (like, what influence do I really have?) the occasion that prompts this holiday today is not "Turkey Day." In our efforts to be cool, relevant, hip - we reduce the "formal" to what we believe to be the necessary thing to say to be "relational."

And as it relates to Thanksgiving, Turkey Day drives me nuts.

In whatever way the history of the holiday is reflected on the current day, the truth is that the spiritual practice of thanksgiving is the thing we most need to come away from this day's festivities. We need that far more than the additional pounds we'll pack on.

In what could be called inconsistency in my thought, I have no problem with Xmas, for Christmas...and I'll be glad to share why in a few weeks' time.

I'm reposting my Thanksgiving post from last year. I offer it today with hope that as you rejoice and share family time, there is earnest reflection upon both our history and the moments that will come that will prompt heartfelt Thanksgiving.

"Thoughts Upon Thanksgiving"
Posted November 26, 2008
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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cal Who?

Any chance a message was being sent about who the program and to whom it now belongs?
Me thinks so.
Pretty sure this is our best opening ever.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tommy Can You Hear Me?

I'm here to tell you - Tommy West told the truth about the program that he's leaving.

I say that not to defend the decision to let him go--it was probably time. Over the past couple of years, it seemed the program had destabilized and was not pointed toward strength. There's no question about that. The offensive scheme was tired and predictable. The defense had holes aplenty and don't even get me started about special teams.

I've been going to Tiger games for a long, long time. I played trumpet for The Mighty Sound of the South in 82-83 during the first of Rex Dockery's years when in two years we won one game - it was against Arkansas State, in the rain, and so excited where the 4,000 people who showed up, that they torn down the goal posts. And why? For ending the nation's longest losing streak at the time. That's the Tigers I watched during my college days. Rex's last year, 6-4-1, you'd a thought we'd won the Sugar Bowl. We had turned the corner. We'll get 'em next year finally meant "wait 'til next year." And then, the plane crash.

Between Rex and Tommy we've had Rey, Charlie, Chuck and Rip.

What I know of the program is what I've observed as a student and as a fan in the stands for coming up on 30 years. And any of us who've watched what's happened to Memphis over the years, especially in light of what's happened to foes we used to crush like Louisville and Cincinnati, and we knew exactly what Tommy was saying. Any of us who want this program to be something other than it is even as we sit in a city continually pilfered by what the SEC can offer, understands. Any of us who are sick of consistently losing to SunBelt Conference teams understands.

So I embed the video in its entirety. I'm pulling from a YouTube feed from Fox 13. I don't watch this station. I typically watch WMC 5, but having seen the raw footage before the news aired Monday night, and then seeing what Channel 5 did with the footage and the spin they put on it (the lead was "Tommy West blasts fans as he's fired as head football coach"), I was shocked by that take because that's not what Tommy said, and any of us who love the program know that's not what he meant. I am appalled by the editorial decisions of the WMC newsroom. Had I not seen this myself in its entirety in advance, and was left to Channel 5 alone to tell me what happened, I would have thought Tommy went off the deep end.

My only wish is that he'd gone on and said what the issues were. It's not that hard to figure.

Facilities? Sure.

Poor league, perhaps, but the Tigers can't really complain about the league we're in until we show we can compete in it, and on that front alone, Tommy failed miserably.

Money sufficient to bring in the best staff he can? Now we're talking.

Trying to get your program recognized in the shadow of Calipari? Uh huh. And why do I say that given that he's gone? Because he's not gone. He's on our sports pages, still. The impact of presence remains long after he's gone.

Poor leadership in the Athletics Department and University Administration? Now we're talking.

I say all this and I believe it's time for Tommy to no longer be our head football coach. I'm hoping, however the Athletics Director position at Memphis would be one he'd be willing to take once Elvis leaves the building.

Cue CC Rider - See ya RC.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Anybody Have a Hyperbaric Chamber I Can Borrow?

Hmm. What does it mean when blog posts are fewer and fewer?

Have I run out of things to say? No.

Have I abandoned the blog for a Twittered - Facebooked existence? Uh, no.

Am I afraid to say what I really think? Really, since when?

More likely, it is the stuff of life when change comes.

While change in life is often a good thing, as a United Methodist pastor, good or not, it is a required part of life. I've found this year I have reclaimed that part of me after having allowed myself to live into the delusion that a happily and meaningfully sequestered existence exempts me from having to consider the ministry questions every other United Methodist elder must consider (well, not every Elder I know...that's probably all I need to say about that, lest I succumb to temptation and fail at the maxim from childhood "if you don't have something nice to say, best not to say anything at all").

What I've discovered about myself that I can now claim is that I feel change. I think I always have. It explains my action and reaction to the changes of life throughout my history. By no means do I claim to be unique in this regard, but its realization in me is a pretty enlightening thing.

I feel change on a personal, spiritual even physical level. Even the best of change exacts a trauma to the system.

There's an element of it that is as welcome as a sunny day after having endured weeks upon weeks of rain (you know, kinda like the whole month of October). Change is good medicine for the system.

And then there's that element of change that can only be described as blunt force trauma. A jolt bordering on violence, change felt in this regard can knock you off your feet.

My life is a system under stress. A little bit of that keeps me focused. In fact, I live gladly with some stress to move me from one thing to the next. If you don't think you want to live with stress, then why do you have to have that cup of high octane coffee in the morning? What is coffee but a stimulant to stress your system into activity?

But there is a saturation point--a time and place when one thing more is one thing too many. When you feel change, as I have and do, and when change comes in droves--the consequences of felt change can be a bit more debilitating than under more healthy circumstances. One more thing seems too much to take.

It's not the new gig. It's a challenge, to be sure, but we're going to be fine. Six to nine months of stabilization, and then we're going to rock the house! Amen. Praise the Lord.

Home life is tough. The stress of parenting is continually amplified by the demands and constant travel of Kristy's work. It's not that it's insurmountable, it's just so much. You folks who know me know that I can function at a pretty high level, and then I need some time to decompress. In those moments, I have to withdraw and retreat. I don't know why that is, I just know myself enough to know that it is.

Well, when you're "Mr. Mom," there is no decompression time. Parenting alone is a pain. I love my boys. They're great. But I'm better with a partner, no doubt about it.

All you single parent friends of mine--I feel ya.

When I can't decompress, I can't think. Introspection is such a part of me that to go from one thing to the next---do, do ,do, do--it's just impossible. When I can't decompress I don't sleep - which is a real shame because I really, really love to sleep. When I can't decompress I don't exercise--which is absolutely what I need to be doing (another "ought" in life - sweet).

Through this year I have known each of the elements of change. I have felt it as a welcomed new day and I have felt it as a head on collision. And through that, I'm trying to find myself. What in me has to be changed so that I can live the change I face more gracefully?

This is the spiritual question on the cutting edge of my being...

I don't know for sure what the final answer's going to look like, but I'm pretty sure that "Let Go and Let God," is going to be somewhere in the mix.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maybe the Mayans are Right about 2012?

A few thoughts about things going on--

"Reality" TV - Being the "Law and Order" fan that I am [yes SVU and CI among them, although I cannot even begin to talk about CI right now without Goren and Eames---it's just too painful, but that's for another time] I was watching last week's episode involving an "Octomom" character and some "John and Kate" wannabees lusting after the prospect of a TV show. Being the plot line to a "Law and Order" episode is a good barometer for how far afield things have gone.

The insidious nature of that which is elevated into consciousness of popular culture is that after awhile you can't remember when it wasn't around. It becomes the normal. This whole Balloon Boy thing shows how pathetic things are - and after there's some jail time for somebody in this family, I wouldn't be surprised if they show up on TLC or some such not too far down the way. What family seeks this?

By the way, there is no amount of cash out there to have "The Preacher's Family" TV show. For one, it would be very boring. And two, it ain't nunya business!


David Letterman - OK, this one is touchy for me. I've been a "Dave" guy since 1982. I feel like John Stewart in his admiration for what Dave brought to the comedic, late night table. He was Johnny's pick to succeed him on "The Tonight Show." That's about all you need. One of my very first posts on this blog four years ago was on this point. I'm not a Leno guy. Never was. I'll lament the death of NBC late night and prime time another day.

When I first heard of Dave's, uh, problem, I was saddened, but not shocked. I thought about the times I've had to sit through "It is Never OK," a video prepared for clergy to train them on what is proper and what is not about clergy/laity physical relationships, and I'm thinking, "Dude, you're the boss (which then had me reflecting on Adam Sandler's SNL Digital Short, "Like a Boss," which really didn't help matters).

It's about the abuse of power and the many ways that manifests itself, including sex. And on this point, my boy Dave is wrong, wrong, wrong. That he is himself a victim to an extortion attempt is criminal. Had this not happened, the other would have likely never been known, at least not as it is now. And truthfully, this really isn't our business either. It is the business of Letterman, his wife and son, the women involved, Worldwide Pants and CBS, and we get to be little voyeurs watching another tragic story unfold in front of us. And whether we ever got to know any of the sordid details or not does not matter. It's still wrong.


Pop culture is fraying...
Political discourse has a venom I've not seen before...
Civility is the rare commodity...
The distance between the have's and have not's is widening and the middle is falling into the abyss at an ever increasing rate...
We have men and women on the battlefield without clarity as to a mission plan...
healthcare is, well what I expected (see previous post)...
Churches are straining to maintain ministry...
The pressure to keep the pillars of systems, secular and religious, viable is reaching a breaking point...
The Titans are winless (oh, wait, I don't care--that's another story, too) . . .
The pressures realized at the macro level are ever constant to many of us at the micro level every day what with family systems hanging on for dear life...

It all seems a bit much, doesn't it?

I'm not typically one to propagate apocalyptic notions, and I don't think I'm being paranoid (but even if I am, like the old saying goes, it doesn't mean they're still not out to get ya), but something's gotta give.

And then, as it happens--this Sunday is Reformation Sunday. It's the occasion of remembering Martin Luther's particular moment of rising to the occasion. To find within himself the resolve to stand against the religious powers of his day and to proclaim, among other things, "Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

It is his masterwork hymn that has sustained the Church these 500 years, and on which we may yet find solace in the insanity of life and courage to persevere. Read these lyrics as a statement of faith, not an old hymn. I can't read them without EIN FESTE BURG running in my head, but get through it and see if by the end you know afresh wherein to place trust, hope, and guidance.

  1. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.
  2. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.
  3. And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us; The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.
  4. That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth; Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

You Know How Ole Miss and Brett Favre Are Not Alike?

When Brett woke up last Monday morning, he was still #4!

Heard that one from a fellow Tiger fan. Given that we've absolutely nothing to celebrate from Tiger High, we might as well enjoy the misery of others.

Monday, September 28, 2009

When the Fever Breaks

I hate being sick. Man, I mean I hate it.

When sickness comes, as it did a week or so ago, I’m reminded of some of the worst parts of me. When I’m sick, I become something other than the wonderfully cheery guy you all know me to be ☺. (I know, I’m rolling my eyes on that one, too).

I find that I’m more like the sick dog who hides under the porch. You reach in at your own peril. I don’t like that about myself – but when I’m sick, I don’t really care.

I don’t feel well. I am not well. I don’t like not being in control of my day. I don’t like having to ask for help. I had to call my DS and ask for his help because I was sick. I’ve never had to do that before, and part of me was embarrassed that I had to.

What’s the proverb about pride? Hmm.

When sick, the “ought’s” and “have to’s” of life pile up. And with that comes added pressure, because those things don’t go away, they just get delayed.

It’s usually not until something halts life’s pace, that we take stock of the rhythm we’re living in the first place. And when that happens to me, I get all existential.

There’s an element of this that’s part and parcel of changing work places anyway. New context, new people, new staff and ministry team, same mission—and the passion, if not obsession, to prove in these first few months, that I’m up to the challenges and opportunities this appointment brings.

When your pace comes to an abrupt halt – and you realize that you really don’t wear Superman’s cape (and you also recognize that everybody else sees that you don’t either), what’s left is the reality of who you are.

And who am I? A very imperfect person, with gifts and graces for ministry, and a heart willing to serve, and willing to go where sent.

I’m a person of promises and vows – and while they take different character, they are all based in promises to God.

I took vows at ordination.
I took vows at the altar with my wife.
I took vows at the baptismal font for myself and on behalf of my children.

I cannot faithfully attend to one and give the others short shrift. I’m only as good a pastor as I am husband and father – and each of these God promised relationships requires the best of me.
When I’m forced to stop, I realize some reorienting is in order. And soon.

I hope it doesn’t take illness for you to take stock. But if it comes, and when the fever breaks, let it be an opportunity to reclaim balance in what matters most.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New School Year, More Rites of Passage

You know, Summer vacation for kids is really not that long. 1o weeks? In the whole scheme of things, not all that much time.

So how is it...why is it that it's not until school resumes that you realize how much your kids have changed? Another school year, rites of passage crossed - and I'm left realizing how much all our lives are changing.

Of course this Summer provided all of my family a dramatic change from what we've known. They've not intinerated as much as I have. They're adapting well, and for that I'm thankful.

Giving them the gift of being able to stay in school with the same classmates as long as possible, even up to gradutation, is a goal of mine for them. It is something I didn't have growing up, and I always long to know what longevity in formative relationships means over the course of time. I observe that in people I've known and find it appealing, bordering on something I grieve never knowing.

Both Andrew and Christopher have sets of buddies they've lived with through school over 8 years now, and they are tightly knit.

At this point in their journey, so much is changing so fast, and my head is spinning trying to cope with the reality that my boys have fully come into their own.

Andrew is a junior. This week alone we ordered his senior ring and letterman's jacket. Wow! He drives himself to school and travels up the road to Mason to visit his girlfriend. That's right, his girlfriend. So I'm dealing with the realization that he's growing up, AND that among the things I've purchased for him this week that some girl will be wearing them instead of him. When I was asked if a girl wore my stuff my answer was swift - "we're not talking about me!" Never much for team sports, he has devoted his physical pursuits to karate. He is one belt away from Black belt, and "he's on a quest to be his best...Asai."

He's my horn player. Literally...he's playing the trumpet I played from 8th grade into college. That life fits him well, and I know the excitment he feels when the band is on the march.

God bless the boy...he's endured the initial mistakes of first time parents and it seems he's come out fairly well adjusted. Whew!

Christopher is in the eighth grade and I have to remind myself that he is younger than his brother. He has grown so much in the past year it is stunning. He's always been our jock, and now he's maturing into that role. You look at him and believe he is the athlete he aspires to become. He's a statuesque and stunningly handsome boy. And he is going to make an impact in life...don't doubt that.

And then there's Jack. Our second grader. "Dad, you don't have to wake me up and help me get dressed for school, I can do that myself." Others observe how "bright" Jack is. And it's true.

"You should get him tested."

"Why?" I ask..."I'm the one being tested by him every day!"

They're all coming into their own, and I'm reminded of how blessed I am.

Andrew does this thing every night, even now and he's almost 17. He'll come to me, put his head against my chest and tell me good night. And then he'll say--

"I love you."

I'll say, "I love you, too, son."

and he'll say, "I love you more."

and I'll say, "nope, not possible."

Last night he asked me "you always say that, and I don't get it."

I said, "when you have your own, you will."

"You're probably right," he said, "but I'm not planning on knowing that for quite a long time."

"Good plan, son. Good plan."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Penicillin Anyone?

News of "vacating" our 38 win season does not come as a shock. It was predictable.

And if we Tigers are nothing else, we're predictable.

Predictably never reaching and sustaining greatness.

Predictably and irrretrivably stuck in a mediocre conference.

Predictibly mediocre. Yeah, that's it. And we like it that way. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

No, not shocked. Not heartbroken. They did that to me long ago. Now it's just laughably sad.

When news of the investigation first broke, I commented on this blog that I was thankful we lost to KU lest we'd face the prospect of surrendering a national championship.

That's right, folks. We were one free throw away from having to open the trophy case and handing back the gold to whoever the heck you hand it back to.

And now the record books have been purged. And in a way, I feel that's appropriate. Maybe not purged, but sanitized. As it relates to Memphis, only one man is recognized again as taking us to the Finals - Clean Gene Bartow. Dana and John are examples of what will always be when you play it on the edge.

In an act that seems strangely just, John has to vacate 38 wins from his won/loss record, too--which means he is no longer the winningest coach at the U of M. Who is? #21. A guy whose love for his school, city and team could never be questioned - Larry Finch.

At the last, I have two things to say about this - one, if you bought a Final Four shirt from the Tiger Bookstore, thank you for the business and "they ain't no refunds!"

And two, for my friends who hail from the land of my birth, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, you'd do well to heed this warning:

"When you go to bed with the whore of Babylon, don't act surprised when you wake up the next morning with the Clap."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Heaven's Band Has a New Lead Guitarist + Rest in Peace, Les Paul

This is my indulgence when I turned 40.
I didn't buy a sports car.
I didn't get a tatoo.
I didn't run off with a 25 year old.
I bought a guitar.
When I felt the urge to buy an electric guitar, there was only one choice for me.
You know the "Frampton Comes Alive" album cover?
There you go.
Together with my Marshall amp - I have far more quality tools than I have game to play.
But man, I'm glad I have 'em.
We can't ignore Les' talent par excellence, but consider too his longevity in which he matched that talent with ambition to make the most of the time he had.
A life lesson beyond the guitar, to be sure,and maybe the most enduring expression of an extraordinary legacy.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

TigerBookStore's Newest Employee

Kid works for a Coke and Skittles.
Crazy cute.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Our country is in the midst of another conversation about a huge question - Health care.

Like too many questions before it, and like this one in particular, the partisan political rancor on polar sides will get too loud and be too over the top to deal with the question at hand effectively.

Efforts to compromise for the sake of bipartisanship will make a hot or cold question lukewarm - palatable to none and causing more problems than it solves. The Revelation to John indicates what happens to the Church that is lukewarm, neither hot nor cold - God wants to spit them out. What will happen to lukewarm policy? Hmm. I think we all know.

Of course, when you're dealing with a paradigm shift - which is ultimately what is being proposed about health care, you have those who are so for it that they can't see straight, and those who are so against shifting from what is that their favorite hymn must be "We Shall Not Be Moved."

But that's how it is. We can talk "reform" all day long. And there may be some things that can be done to reform elements of how health care is administered under the current system. We can deal with frivilous lawsuits and cap awards, and do all those things that help the industry do what it does for less. But the fundamental question is always going to be the same, and any "reforms" enacted will be variations on a theme with small changes spun as huge and accounted for within business models amounting, in the end, to no harm, no foul - at least to the business sector.

For the common family? Further erosion of the number of those who can afford coverage.

That this question has been in front of every administration going back to Truman validates the magnitude of the divide.

At the crossroads of this issue is this - as long as health care is understood as a commodity and not as a right of citizenship, an unalienable right, if you will, then the battle line will always be drawn and the chasm too deep and wide to bridge.

Health care as a right---is you is, or is you ain't?

Somewhere I read of the American people that there are self evident truths of equality and ..."that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Now whether or not health care should be a commodity is not the point, just yet.

At present, it is.

Which is to say that it is an industry that exists to make a profit. That profit serves to support shareholders and employees in companies that provide the means for health care to be purchased. The service they provide and sell offers good product to those who can purchase it. That is, if they are sick, they are covered - maybe, at least in part, rarely in whole, and never without a long, interminable dance that you wonder will ever come to an end.

Health care is available now...for a price. And for more and more families, too steep a price for them to afford. For those of us who have it, and complain about how much it costs and what is or isn't covered, at least we have the luxury of complaining.

This is not a diatribe against free markets. The free market is the defining characteristic of our economic system. And if health care is to be and remain a commodity, then there it is...the market will out, and consumers we shall ever be. As long as we have the capacity to buy in, we're golden. When the well runs dry? Then, to call upon my Western Kentucky roots to find the right "earthy" response to such a predicament, you're S.O.L.

If health care is understood as a right, then the fundamental question is whether or not the free market doctrines should apply. Even more, if it is understood as a right, how can they apply?

So we'll have speeches, for and against. Insurance companies will be demonized and supporters of universal health care will be called . . . wait for it---socialists.

Rhetoric will be heated, and for what? Unless and until there is a clear answer to the question of whether or not access to health care is answered, it will all be of little import.

There are questions such as these that we answer because we are citizens of country. But we are also, and I daresay, first, citizens of the Kingdom of God.

What, then does our citizenship in God's family do to our perspective on geopolitical concerns? Does it impact our perspective? Should it?

I would argue it does. And when the affairs of the world are in conflict with the tenets of faith I've espoused, I have to ask myself why that is, and if God's justice is to be found, what am I really to do to enact it.

Beyond what having health care does or doesn't do for you, what are the theological implications of such a question? What is the impact of such policy decisions on the least of these - which, by the way, is the Biblical benchmark for what God considers right and just. And if you doubt that, I know some prophets of the Hebrew Bible named Isaiah, Amos and Micah and a Nazarene Carpenter named Jesus with whom you may argue the point.

Feel free. Go ahead.

What of our denomination? Has The United Methodist Church offered a position on the health care question? The first social creed of the denomination came into being in 1908. It focused much on the conditions that gave rise to an underclass of laborers as a result of the industrial revolution. It is a really bold statement given its historic context. There are elements of it as relevant today as then:

The Methodist Episcopal Church stands:
For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
For the principles of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries and mortality.
For the abolition of child labor.
For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.
For the suppression of the "sweating system."
For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical
point, with work for all; and for that degree of leisure for all which is the
condition of the highest human life.
For a release for [from] employment one day in seven.
For a living wage in every industry.
For the highest wage that each industry can afford, and for the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills.
To the toilers of America and to those who by organized effort are seeking to lift the crushing burdens of the poor, and to reduce the hardships and uphold the dignity of labor, this Council sends the greeting of human brotherhood and the pledge of sympathy and of help in a cause which belongs to all who follow Christ.

What of health care itself? The current position of the Church by virtue of the 2008 General Conference states the following:

Right to Health Care—Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and
spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came that they may have life, and
have it abundantly.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person
to whom health has been entrusted.
Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.
Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You have not
strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the
injured.” As a result all suffer.
Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. Countries facing a public health crisis such as HIV/AIDS must have access to generic medicines and to patented medicines.
We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.
We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health
care. THE 2008 BOOK OF DISCIPLINE of The United Methodist Church

There it is. For a Church that fence straddles too many issues, this one does not seem lukewarm. And so, I invite you in the coming days of political grandstanding to listen less to radio blowhards and cable news pundits, and listen to the voice of the Spirit of the Living God. Where does that lead us?

Maybe at last to an answer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Got the Feeling I've Been Here Before

Part of unpacking is coming upon those things that were already packed away anyway and not looked upon in a long time.

I came upon one of those pocket folders stuffed with pictures the other day. During my stroll down memory lane, I happened upon this one.

A somewhat younger version of me in the pretty brand new Covenant sanctuary, playing with Glad River on a Sunday night in the spring of 1997.

As memory serves, that was one of our best nights, top to bottom. Good crowd, lot's of support from the churches we were serving at the time - Colonial Park, St. Luke's and Asbury - and some of you Covenant folks were there, too. Wow, where does the time go?

And speaking of Glad River, coming soon, my definite post on the history of the band - (with pics) what we were, how we came to be, what we are, and my prayerful hope that there may yet be a trickle left in our incarnation of the River whose streams make Glad the city of God.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Didn't Beaver Cleaver Live in Mayfield?

I lived in Mayfield, Kentucky, from June of 1970 until the second day of January, 1976.

I turned 6 a month after moving there and moved away in the middle of my 6th grade year.

Mid-year appointments...ahhh, ain't they great? Especially on the psyche of children who change schools in midyear?

Did I say that out loud?

Anyway, as I've alluded in other posts, those years were significant for me. Those were my Wonder Years.

Whatever Mayfield really was back then, it was the place I grew up. I knew it for what I could get from it.

Hill's BBQ ( I went to school with Molly and Mary)
K&N Rootbeer in Frosty Mugs brought to your car.
Summer days at the club swimming until water logged and learning to play golf (preacher's family had a membership).
Mayfield Cardinal Football games at War Memorial Stadium.

Friends and neighbors always near.
An easy walk to and from school.
A quick bike ride to almost anywhere that mattered.
And I was the preacher's kid at Mayfield First Church. Or, at least one of them. Dad was the Associate, and Mayfield was our home.

It’s what I knew.

I've rarely gone back over the years. I'm not sure why that's the case. Well, that's not entirely true. Initially it was the case because clergy don't go back to the places they've left---right?

It's just not done, and if you grew up with Jeffords as your last name, you're darned right it wasn't done.

And that was hard for me. I had a niche' of friends with whom I went to school and church and often those two groups were one, but not always. Whatever code of clergy ethics there was to abide by, I didn't know about it or care...I just missed my friends.

It's a pattern that has repeated itself more than once in my life, both as a PK and as a P in my own right.

It's a hard thing--probably necessary only because we clergy cannot be trusted to behave professionally toward one another--an indictment on all persons of the cloth and God knows there's far too many horror stories of preacher's past who can't and won't let go even though there is no longer any official authority to be pastoral in a former context – making it difficult for the new pastor and confusing for congregants.

The problem with that is PK's get caught in the vice between what was and what must now be.

A life lesson, me thinks, and one that's tough to take sometimes.

Well, over the years my contact with those who were my childhood friends has lessened and lessened to the point of being nearly nonexistent.

The people I knew and called friend are that only in my memory of what I knew them to be – almost 35 years ago.

I've always felt that Mayfield was an aborted chapter in my life. Maybe it would have been different for me to have left at a school year's end. It would have had some appropriate finality to it. And true enough, with each new appointment then and now has come the opportunity to be in relationship with wonderful people. And that has happened again as recently as my move this Summer.

Well, a couple of things have occurred that have reacquainted me with that place.

My sister has lived in Mayfield longer than anywhere else in her life, I guess. Beyond our time there are a family, she has lived just outside of town with her husband for the whole of her marriage. Earlier in life it was easier to get up there and visit. As my life has become more and more complex, the more difficult it has been to go.

Last week for the holiday break the family loaded up and went to Mayfield. It was the first time I have spent any meaningful time there, which is to say more than driving through on my way to Paducah, in about 5 years.

Jerriann and Colin moved into a new home last year, and she's been itching for us to come up.

It was a good visit and time I needed to spend with my sister. It's a hard thing, though. I know I'm not the brother to her that she had in Jimmy. I couldn't be that if I tried. So I haven't. But I've always known I could be better than I was.

We spent a couple of nights there. On July 4, she and I drove into town, needing to load up on cookout stuff, and I saw the town I once knew as home in the light of day.

My own sense of what I saw didn’t square with my memory. Maybe it’s that my memory, pre-life experience, is devoid of interpretation of what things mean in their realistic context.

What I saw was a small town that seemed smaller than I knew it. And it may, in fact, be smaller.

The General Tire plant is long since gone. The KT plant is gone. I don’t know what industry there is that generates the economic energy for the town to circulate around. I was left to wonder if Mayfield is hurting or if it has adapted to economic pressures and doing better than it seemed to me.

Well, since she and I drove into town to go to the store and because it takes only minutes to drive from one part of town to the other, we decided to go see the places I knew of as home in my childhood.

You know how time warps perspective? How is it possible that a place that seemed so expansive was the exact opposite?

Here's my first house. 1301 Longview. We lived there for the first couple of years. That spot in the front yard is a place a tree used to be- one I climbed and played in almost daily.

The curb in front is the one I hit my head on when I was 7 when I wrecked my bike after speeding down the hill coming from right to left in the picture. I think I see the indentation from here. A scary thing - concussion. What I remember about that is wanting to sleep, and my folks not letting me.

A couple of years later, we moved to 204 Heritage Drive.

Jimmy and I shared a room and the last window on the left, which is barely visible in this (drive by with your iPhone in hand) photo, was ours. The window just to the right was Jerriann’s room, and the reason we know it’s her window is that she spent more than a little time climbing in and out of it at all hours of the night! But that’s another story.

It was a brand new house in a brand new subdivision. It was so new that not all the houses around us were finished yet, and there were no houses behind us, only woods. To play in those woods was to enter into a world of another kind. In the heart of the woods was a creek - and much time and mischief ensued there. My stories of that place were less than the Hundred Acre Wood and much less than the adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but they were meaningful to me nonetheless.

I went to Longfellow Elementary School. We were the Tigers. Hmmm, seeds were sown early, I guess. I played football for the Tigers in grades 4, 5 and 6. I was starting center in 6th grade. In those days, we could chop block, and I was pretty good at it.

My mother still has the picture of me in Gold and Navy uniform. My footwear? Cleats? Nope…Red, high top Chuck Taylor’s. Nice.

Somewhere along the line, schools in Mayfield became something very different than what they are now. There were several other elementary schools back then – Washington and East College, I think. Now, there’s one brand new beautiful elementary school in town. Graves County schools didn't exist back then, at least not in the way they do now.

Longfellow is gone. The building is now being used as the Health Department on one side and an adult education facility in the back along the hallways where the upper grades once met. Other than my home and neighborhood, this was the building I spent more time in than anywhere else during those years.

If pushed, I think I could recall all my teachers from those years---I think.

This very bad picture is of the Church in which the soil of my spirit was tilled. First Church, Mayfield was a special place to me. I was confirmed there. It was from that pulpit that I was most powerfully aware of the art of preaching. It was there that I heard a voice from the pulpit other than my father’s.

I have vague recollection of Joe Leggett’s presence in the pulpit. What I recall more than his preaching was his crew cut, and during football season he’d ask Mayfield's golden boy, known to you as the Rev'd Dr. Gregory Waldrop, to stand up and announce how many touchdowns he had scored at the previous Friday night's football game, or how many points he had scored playing basketball. Greg and my Dad's relationship was powerful in those days. Dad was in Greg's life when Greg was sensing the call to ministry and he helped Greg to hone it as it was taking shape within him. There were many, many nights you'd find Greg at our home, late at night, popcorn popping and deep life conversations commencing. I remember Greg’s first sermon from Mayfield First's pulpit. It was titled “Go!”

But the voice from the pulpit that captured my attention in those years, other than my dad's, was Jerry Carr's. He was and is a master of the craft. His use of language and sense of presence in the pulpit had me riveted.

And there I'd sit. Very often I'd be on the second pew, pulpit right, sitting beside Chuck Stallins - who was the definition of a helluva guy.

I loved that Church. It was because of it that we lived in Mayfield. And when we left Mayfield, we left that Church.

Only in the recent past has some reconnection with Mayfield come about with folks other than family. One of my buddies in those days, Kenny, lives in Reidland and goes to church there with my friend and clergy brother, Sky, as his pastor. There was an email reconnect there, and that made me glad. Recently Kenny's dad died. A good man, as I recall, and I was thankful that Sky let me know that so I could convey my sympathies to Kenny. And I was thankful for a ministry peer I knew and trusted who could walk the difficult days of grief with them.

And then, dare I say it, there’s Facebook.

Liz was my closest buddy in those days. We went to school together, church, our families socialized. It was never boyfriend/girlfriend. Had we been in each others’ lives at another time, maybe? But we were buddies, and there’s always been a soft place in my heart for her.

Other than the rare news about each other communciated through our parents, we've not been in each other's company, or made direct contact, in a long, long time.

A few weeks ago I had a friend request from her, and I thought, “Ok, now I see the value of Facebook.” She still lives in Mayfield and has a great life. She’s helped fill in the blanks of folks I’ll never see again and always wondered what sort of life they ended up living.

My Mayfield trip was cathartic in ways I never expected nor thought I needed.

But I was wrong, I did.

It was good to be with my family. My boys loved being there with their Aunt Jerriann and Uncle Colin.

Don’t know when we’ll get back – although I doubt it’ll be 5 years from now.

We need those places, don't we? Wonder places for Wonder Years. Truth about them is never fully what we remember and was never really what was actually true. The value of the place and the meaning we attach to it is not dependant on that.

And that's a good thing.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

"The Ministry of Presence" Pentecost 5, Mark 6.1-13

The Ministry of Presence
Mark 6.1-13

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense* at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

I was 22 when I received my first pastoral appointment.

In May, of 1987, I had just graduated from Memphis State, had served for the previous couple of years as youth director at Emmanuel Church, had a new girlfriend (who would later become my wife), and was preparing to enter The Divinity School at Vanderbilt that Fall.

I moved only a couple of weeks following graduation as the appointed Associate Minister of Old Hickory United Methodist Church. Now for the uninformed, Old Hickory is Nashville. However, for those who have any sense of decency, or if you are at least a resident of Old Hickory, you would never confuse to the two.

Old Hickory is a mill town village. It sits on what was farmland which was secured by the US Government in 1917 during the war effort to establish a plant which would fabricate and produce smokeless gunpowder. DuPont was awarded the contract and built a plant there.

As it was for many companies in those days, in order to maintain a sense of camaraderie, morale – for a projected workforce with families of upwards to 35,000 people, and for a plant whose product had military implications, meaning security was an issue, they built a community. They built a village – consisting of houses, recreational facilities, school, general store, and churches.

The upshot was this – Old Hickory was a self contained world. People worked for DuPont, lived in houses DuPont built, educated their children in schools DuPont built and worshipped together in churches all within the confines of the same relative geographical area. They were Old Hickory. Not Nashville.

By the time I arrived in 1987, times had changed rather dramatically. No longer the pressing need of concerted focus of the populous that World Wars bring, the plant’s focus had shifted to the commercial application of the products they generated - things like Teflon. The houses were still there, occupied now by the residents who only decades before had labored in the plant, but were now retired having been given a favorable price to purchase the company houses they had lived in for so long.

Folks worked at the plant now who didn’t live in Old Hickory. It was a hard thing for the old timers to watch.

They were a loving, caring, gentle people. They loved their church, they enjoyed their memories and the stories they prompted in recollection of how things were. They watched over each other, and they were patient with a kid who had come to be among them for his first pastoral appointment.

As a preacher's kid who has lived all over the Conference, including the Tennessee Conference, my life is a collection of chapters. Each move is one such chapter, and I'll reflect back upon them from time to time to frame the stuff of our conversations now.

1987 was a seminal year for me. Because my Senior Pastor was in failing health, and often hospitalized for extended periods due to his severe diabetes and congestive heart failure (he actually died during that year) not only was I to work with forming and growing a youth group, but I took on all the pastoral duties for a church of folks who were, on average, more than 50 years older than me.

I loved Jesus, sure.
I was called to preach, of course.
I cared about people, but I had no experience with dealing with people who were so different than me. My story was not theirs. So, I did that which happened quite often in those days, I called my dad, then very active in minister in our Conference, and now retired, and sought his counsel.

I said, “Dad, I go and visit with these sick folks in the hospital and I try to be encouraging and they look at me like, ‘Boy, what do you know about life to tell me anything?’ (and one dear older woman actually said that to me as she lay in the hospital writhing in pain from the cancer that had consumed her ) and you know what, they’re right. What do I say to these people?”

Now with my father, life’s lessons are not long drawn out pontifications. Usually, they come in the form of a question for me to wrestle with---for there is within us all some sense of what “Truth” is, we just have to be open and honest with ourselves enough to claim it.

He said, “Son, what makes you think you have to say anything?” “Just be there. And if silence comes, that’s o.k. Silence is your friend, not your enemy. Don’t fill the quiet spaces with noise, just be present. You are there are a representative of the Church, of Jesus himself. Your presence is its own ministry.”

I learned the ministry of presence from my Dad. It was confirmed and broadened by wonderful teachers and mentors across the years. True presence with someone else is its own ministry.

Jesus was in his hometown. They knew him. That’s not always a good thing. Ever go home with people remembering only who you were and not who you are?

John Dominic Crossan’s exhaustive study on the life of Jesus talks about Jesus’ role and place within the social strata of his hometown. As a carpenter, he was of the artisan class, which means he was just above the most undesirable and expendable and many, many rungs below the upper crust. For him to come and behave in any way other than that which was expected for someone of his station was to give meaning to the old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

What they knew of him was not in sync with the person who stood before them speaking, teaching and behaving as one with authority.

Humanity's history is full of pejorative labels for those who achievements in life extend beyond the expected boxes those of more notable station put them in. "Uppity" is one such label.

Katie Huey makes the point this way – “does anyone really want to listen to a hometown boy, especially one whose parentage is questionable ("son of Mary" instead of "son of Joseph"), and "just" an artisan at that? (How could he possibly have the learning needed to preach to us?)

But lest we are tempted to hop on the “jump on the disbelieving hometown people” bandwagon, ask yourself this question – “What would you think about a neighbor that you thought of being nothing more than an ordinary, hardworking person, who kept his yard well groomed and did all those things that we think leads us to believe that he is only who we think he is and nothing more - and it turns out that he's a miraculous teacher, let alone the Son of God?

And there he was. Preaching and teaching. And he wasn’t being received well. Sure, he cured a few people, but it wasn’t the fullest measure of his capacity. There’s a lesson here about the efficacy of God’s power in the face of unbelief. The problem is not God, it’s us. Barbara Brown Taylor’s image is a helpful one. It’s like trying to light a match to a pile of wet sticks. “It doesn’t matter how strong your flames is, you have got to have something that will catch fire.”

So if the message isn’t taking hold in the places of the familiar, you go out and spread the news of the Kingdom wherever you can, and that’s what Jesus and his Companions did.

Jesus’ evangelism course consists of several key elements, and one in particular.
• Don’t go alone.
• Call out that which bends us toward self preoccupation and injustice whenever you see it.
• Travel light..that is, don’t be so encumbered by your things that you can’t be effective
wherever you’re called to serve.
• And then, this. “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.” Or, as I
read it…enact “the ministry of presence.”

Be fully present in the moment you spend with any in the name of Jesus.
Look, we all know how easy it is to be somewhere, but not be there…you know? But presence fully realized communicates care, it communicates God’s loving steadfast presence that resides regardless of what we’re going through.

The best definition of hell I ever heard was this – “being completely isolated from everything that bespeaks life. “ Too many living on earth right here, right now are living in hells of all kinds for which the loving, steadfast presence of God shared by your ministry of presence can abate.

Too many of us focus on the last of Jesus’ instructions…that is, if folks are not receptive to that of God you're attempting to offer, shake the dust off your sandals and move on…or, “well, I tried.”

I would argue that we go to that way too quickly. It gives us a convenient “out” when things don’t go quite they way we think they should. And I would contend even further that the pursuit of such an option is more an indictment of us than it is the people with whom we’ve attempted to share the milk of human kindness. In those moments the first questions to be asked are not, “what’s wrong with those people?” but, “Was I really present or not?”

It boils down to this question in such a moment..."what is the motivation for my care?" Am I being present on my terms, or on God's?

Well, I started this homily in 1987. Let’s fast forward to 1992. It was my first Sunday at Asbury Church, in Fox Meadows, as Associate Minister. And yes, there’ll be more than a few stories rise up in me from those days, too. But I only want to focus on a couple of moments.

My first Sunday there was much like ours last week. Many, many people introducing themselves. Tying to employ all those name association tools are tough for me. Names, faces all a blur. Except for one. At the end of the service there was a reception in our honor and a man came up to me and said, “Hi, Johnny, I’m Pat, and I’m going to die while you’re my pastor.”

Not the typical first Sunday greeting. Unsure of where to go with that, I said, “Well, Pat, I don’t think I’m going to have trouble remembering your name!”

He said, “I’m glad you’re here, I look forward to knowing you.”

Pat was a great guy fighting the good fight against cancer. He had a brutal sense of humor, which I liked. He and his wife, Judy, were very close to Kristy as they were to the Senior Pastor’s family. He was the flesh and blood example that healing, sozo, is more than physical healing. The disease may have claimed his body, but he was healed, whole and free. Of that I am convinced. I bear witness.

He missed very little church as the battle was ebbing toward an inevitable conclusion. Toward the end, there were extended absences from worship, and when he came we could see there was a little bit more of him gone. The ministry of his presence in our lives gave evidence of God’s grace in the face of pain and dis-ease.

I was the last person to serve him Holy Communion, only days before he breathed his last.

Pat always sat in the back on the pulpit side of that sanctuary. It was a Sunday that I was preaching, so I was on the pulpit side to serve the sacrament. I was fully prepared to take the sacrament to him, thinking that there was no way he could get down to the altar rail.

The whole room watched as he rose and with some assistance, slowly made his way to the rail. And then he knelt, and placed his hands outward to receive the body of Christ.

I think everyone of us in the sanctuary that day knew we were watching something holy. Something sacred. It was then that I shared with him that enduring, never failing expression of the presence of Jesus to, with and among us – Holy Communion.

Which is why how we celebrate Communion matters so much. When you come today to receive, that is what we’re doing, receiving. We are receiving the ministry of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. Let our posture be like that of Pat, hands and hearts open to receive the living presence of our Savior.

The question is no longer being held captive by who you were, but is one of acknowledgement of who you are, and by God's grace, who you are becoming.

And from this moment, let us leave this place different than we came. Challenged, commissioned and prepared to be present in someone’s life this week. Someone who’s story may be as different from you as can be.

But be there. Be open. Be present.
And when you do you'll discover hearts and lives changed.
Maybe even yours.