Principal or Principle

5 10 2017

” When someone says, ‘ Its not the money, it’s the principle’ , it’s almost always the money.” I first heard that sentiment expressed in Seminary in a class taught by Dr, Stuart Henry. Good quotes attributes it to Kin Hubbard with some slight changes  in grammar and inclusion by Dr. Henry.

I have found it  helpful in creating a lens through which to view the world and helps me to  challenge or question  moral and ethical decisions. Sometimes it is good to ask, ” Is it the Principle or the Principal?”  Is it a foundational truth or a sum of money that is the basis or end goal of a decision?

Wouldn’t life be easier if it were that simple?

I have discovered that getting folks to agree on Foundational Truths presents a primary challenge. The Golden Rule, ” Do to others as you would have them do to you”, seems woven in the fabric of humanity and has been universally held in religion for thousands of years. But any reading of history would suggest that we don’t find the rule so golden or the cornerstone when building a life.

If my memory serves me accurately, Elvis Presley said in Jail House Rock, his  rule was to ” Do unto others as you wouldn’t have them do unto you but do it first.” That seems at play for some, too. The irony of the quote and the movie title  is too good not to note!

Another version of the Golden Rule is, ” Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” In the play and movie, Cabaret, singers belt out, ” Money makes the world go around….” Such suggests that maybe principal is the principle. Again, the bawdy, gaudy nature of the presentation as a part of the ruse of the notion, deserves a nod.

So, let’s play out this ethical question in life. Since I live in the US, let’s choose some national headlines: ” Lone gunman kills at least 59 and 527 person injured. An arsenal was found in his hotel room”;  ” NFL is in a war with Trump it can’t win”; ” Tax reform”; ” Health Care Debate”; ” Hurricane victims”; ” Racism”

A friend  and former church member has found himself in the debate of racism in the US. The Reverend Robert W. Lee, IV is a descendant to General Robert E. Lee and has been outspoken in addressing white privilege and  racism. At the Black Caucus meeting in Washington, DC, he said, “There are more White liberal views out there in the church,” … “but they just aren’t speaking up. They don’t because they are scared of being kicked out of the country club. But at some point, you have to forget about the country club and do what’s right. And Christian.”

That quote lifts up one issue before the Church and Society and asks, ” Is it Principle or Principal?”

I can tell you that being a pastor in the South, even quoting Rob Lee will have folks buzzing. But isn’t it a question we White Southern Christians should at least ask? As a United Methodist pastor, I am proud of our global, multicultural,  integrated denomination; while I serve a mostly segregated congregation. While one hour of worship may still be the most segregated hour in the US, isn’t the church challenged to make sure any opportunity afforded one be available for all, in and outside of the Church.? Do unto others…My Bible attributes that saying to Jesus.

It is a question I have asked myself and invite you to join me in a personal soul-deep inquiry.  As a Christian , and I believe many other persons of good will and faith might agree,  the Golden Rule is a principled approach to life. A  goal,  target we will miss many times.  In New Testament Scriptures Paul called that missing the mark, sinful. But should we at least aim for the bullseye?

What if the next time it is time for a tough decision of ethics or life, maybe we might  ask,  “Principal or Principal?”  Let’s aim Higher!








Why and Who

14 08 2017

The two of us were in his shop surrounded by woodworking tools, piles of wood and several projects in various stages of completion. The man of her dreams and partner for life was in a hospital bed some 50 miles away after suffering his second stroke. The prognosis for a return to his shop and projects was not promising.

In retirement he had found a source of income to supplement a modest retirement check and they had been able to spend their days together in their mom and pop business, actually, more accurately stated, my mom’s and pop’s business.

The unfinished projects paled in comparison with the unanswered questions. We would finish the projects and deliver the cabinets and other items promised. The upcoming craft fair we could manage and the balance of the wood and tools would wait anticipating their master’s return to use or shape  into something of service.

However, the question was as present as a ticking clock marks the agonizing movement of seconds in a night of bad dreams. The deafening tick, tick, tick of the clock whose hands never seem to move and a dawn seems to never come.

Then she asked it. I must confess to being surprised by the question.

I had heard the stories of her father’s untimely death in her early teens, the struggles of the Great Depression, a husband away at war half a world away with a daughter to raise alone. I had seen first hand her hard work in a cotton mill, the garden and around the house; I knew she knew the harsh reality that life is hard. I also knew she was a person of faith; a faith that had sustained her in bleak times.

“What did your father and I do that was so bad that God would do this to us”, asked my mother.

I was taken aback at the thought that God would single her or my father out to visit some wrath on them and that she took it so personally.

My first response was one from the head. “Mama, there might be lots of reasons for daddy’s stroke; genes, diet, lifestyle and who knows what else but I don’t think God just singled him out to punish you or him. Sometimes bad things happen.” The words seemed to fall at her feet.

Grief was searching for meaning. That is the way life works.  Sometimes trying to make sense of the senseless makes one a bit crazy.

That conversation came to mind recently when  someone wanted to tell me how much she missed her good friend.

I gave all the right “head” answers. But the pain in her eyes wasn’t coming from the grey matter behind them. The hurt originated from about a foot below, from a broken heart. My words littered the floor like shredded paper.

Maybe a reason the head keeps asking, “Why” is to keep us from going spiritually and emotionally mad. If we could only make sense of it all. But eventually we come to the realization that is maddening to try to figure it all out. The most honest answer we can offer is, ”I don’t know. But I trust.”

I think the mind finds some freedom in that and I am sure it is of comfort to a shattered heart. I do not remember where I read this but it is written on my soul with indelible ink, “When you can not understand the mind of God, trust His heart.”

This is the heart of Jesus who wept at Lazarus grave, forgave and ate will sinners, lifted up the downtrodden, restored sight to the blind and gave spiritual insight to open hearts,  loved all, defeated death, and gave new life.

Life will surely leave us with a growing list of questions beginning with, “ Why”. So, in those moments, turn to the “ Who”, and trust His heart.

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote of God,

“I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies.

I know not where his islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond his love and care.”

From where I sit, That is Good News! Praying for all to have closer walk with The Who of life as we wrestle with the Whys.



November 9, 2016. Now what?

8 11 2016

Voting is like choosing sides. In every stadium I have ever seen, the opposing teams are separated by a playing field. Each supports their team in varying ways. Like a tug of war the fans try to make more noise that their counterparts across the field. Some cheer for their team while others root against the other. After all, there is only one winner and to choose one team is to reject the other. Cheer or jeer, it all is the same in the end, right? Not, really.

A NY Times poll says 82% of voters are disgusted  with this election. I get it. Opposing sides yell at and over one another. Social Media is an insult littered landscape. Maybe I have forgotten other election’s rhetoric, but this cycle, which seems to have gone on too long,  seems to be  meaner, more personally attacking. In short, we have decided to jeer more than  cheer. From where I sit, the strategy is , ” vote against my opponent. Because if you don’t we are in a lot of trouble.”

Well guess what, one of them is going to win. Then what?!  As a citizen of these United States and as Christian,  I will lift up  the victor because either of them has a task before them that is astronomic in difficulty but affects the entire globe.

The Bible in I Kings 3: vs 16-28 tells a story that I remember from my youth. It is told to recount Solomon’s wisdom. Two women both claiming to be the mother of an infant came before Solomon. After hearing their arguments for maternity rights, he asked for a sword so each would have half of a child. Of course,  one half of a child cannot live.

One of the women said,” Do it, better neither of has a child that she have it”! The other said, ” Spare the child because it is better for the child to live than we each have half of a dead child.”

It seems to apply,  in some measure, to where we are as citizens and voters in the US. After all is said and done, you and I will have to decide how we might choose to move forward.  In the story of Solomon, the life of the baby was more important than winning or denying another victory.

When God said he would grant Solomon one request, Solomon chose wisdom, a listening heart.  I have always thought the woman who loved the child more that winning also had wisdom, a listening heart.

I have voted. In the solitude of the voting booth, I cast my ballot. If you have not, please do. If my vote be in the minority, as it has been in the past, I will pray for and work with the victor,  for the good of the child. May I suggest we all do that.

Yes, I had to choose between candidates. I am sure I did not choose all winners. That is of secondary importance, to me. Because what I really voted for was this child named Democracy.  As civilizations go, a mere infant, this USA.  As history goes, democracy seems to have a limited shelf life. Maybe we can change that.

Blame it on sin. It seems to have no limited shelf life.

Romans 12: 18 speaks to a troubled society and Church.  It reminds us to live at peace with all, as far as it depends on us. That seems wise to remember on November 9. Well, every day. Such is the foundation for a shared future.

As a Christian, I answer to a higher power and authority than any political affiliation or nationality. I do believe that allowing each person a vote and a voice has merit both practically and from my faith perspective. So, for me it is to help nurture this baby named Democracy for our children and grandchildren and follow the baby of Bethlehem, called Jesus.  Maybe you don’t share that belief. That’s also a decision made one person at a time in one’s own personal space. Yes, a vote in solitude.

Whatever one’s ultimate motivation , the end result seems that unless we want  to find ourselves  in a place that is inhabitable, scorched and littered with the dead, we must move forward together, in peace as far as it depends on us. I believe it will help nurture this young child named Democracy and honor the Babe of Bethlehem.



The Gift of Going Back

7 07 2016

I will soon be transitioning into a Sabbath rest period. During this time I am planning on being ‘fallow with intent’.

Many have asked what I am going to do. I have some plans than involve golf and limited travel. I envision some time to rest, reflect, renew and redirect. All of that involves some activity on my part. What seems clear to me with each day is that part of the wisdom of a sabbath rest is to not to  ‘do something’ but to allow ‘something to be done unto and into’. So, fallow with intent.

One of the items on my ‘to do list’ was to get some medical diagnostic tests done. That came as an early gift with some chest pains and the subsequent follow up procedures.  Sometimes we don’t get to schedule our ‘bucket list”. At least I did not kick it;-).

The results? All is well for a person of my advancing age. Some lifestyle changes are on the horizion and better health through pharmacology. All in all,  Great!

Another goal was to attend my 50th High School reunion a bit early. Since ’66 and ’67 are combined, I get to sneak in a year earlier. Some have asked what I expected. My reply is, “To go look at a bunch of old folks, many of whom I won’t recognize or probably remember and who will not recognize or remember me.” The buffet will have a high fiber choice and at least one chicken option, bet on it.

What I was not prepared for  was looking at the ” In Memoriam” page.  I had more heart pains. I went through the lists and saw classmates and friends with whom I shared some of the glory days, to borrow a phrase for Bruce Springsteen their images from the 1967 Senior photos life was frozen in time.

My sarcasm about old folks who I will probably not be able to remember fell silent before the reality that 50 years had gone by somewhat unobserved. I remembered. Like the scene from Christmas Vacation I was alone in the attic of mind with 50 year old home movies now digitized in memory. And yes, a tear or two fell.

What happened to these friends with whom I shared laughs, memories and some of the most memorable , difficult and formative years of my life? How did they die? How did they live?

Before we get too nostalgic or melancholy,  life is not to be lived frozen in time.  As Thomas Wolf reminded us we can not go back home again.  But a well timed trip back to another place, the old home place,  is good.

Dr. Harmon Smith, my Christian Ethics professor at Duke reminded me that ‘where we come from’  informs and  has a bearing on ‘where we wind up’ in life.

So, here’s to the 50 year re-union…re-uniting.

Here’s to those friends who will be in attendance with 50 years of wear on them. I hope we have name tags!!

Here’s to the ones who can not be present. We would be more complete with you! You will be missed.

Here’s to the ones whose youthful pictures will be their presence with us. You will be remembered.

Here’s to a place and time that helped shape us into who we have become.

This is a great place to be, here and now.


It will be great to go back and remember then and when.

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Once Upon A Time

9 04 2016


Once upon a time in Louisiana, in the  last decade the 19th century,  Homer Plessey was arrested and convicted of  sitting in a ‘whites only’ railway car for which bought a first class ticket. Mr. Plessey’s lineage was 7/8 white and 1/8 black. From all appearances he was white. AKA, he could pass.

The case went to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.  The court ruled that he had violated  a just law. Justice Henry Brown wrote, ”  If one race be the inferior to the other socially, the constitution can not put them on the same plane.”  Separate but equal railway cars was the law. More similar laws were coming down the track.

Once upon a time in 1954 another Supreme Court case was heard, Brown vs The Board of Education. This time it ruled that separate but equal  violated  the US Constitution.

Once upon a time George Wallace said in this inauguration speech when being sworn in as the Governor of Alabama, ” Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” In June of 1963 he stood in a doorway to block  the University of Alabama’s racial integration.

Once upon a time  in 1965 a small Christian church in North Carolina called a special business meeting to develop a strategy because  of   the certain fear that black worshippers would try to ‘interrupt’ a worship service by joining in. Never happened.

The assumption was the same as Justice Henry Brown. The non-whites were inferior and needed to worship separately.  No doubt,  Wallace was quoted and the ‘curse of Ham’ was given as a proof text. After all, the Olan Mills picture of Jesus was an Anglo with beautifully cascading brown locks.

Now we have moved from the socially inferior option of Justice Brown to the  determination of a persons worth in the eyes of the Supreme Being. After all, heaven must be separate but equal, right!

I was in that business meeting. I knew those folks. They were my elders. I was just a kid and knew my place; you know – seen but not heard. But I knew better.

Once upon a recent time in my native North Carolina,  General Assembly passed HB 2 and that  has brought national attention to our state. I am not sure of all the excuses given for the need for such an 11th hour legislation, nor to I buy all of them. ( My father said, ” An excuse is a lie wrapped up in the skin of a reason.”)

Supporters tout it  as insuring the safety of women and children. Who would not want such?  But the other implications  seem to  harken back to a day when determinations about one’s sacred and legal worth was legislated in such a way as to divide, separate or any other exclusionary word you prefer. Conclusion, some are less than others.

Some may  applaud the legislature’s decision rather than decry it.  As one person stated, ” It is not a problem here.”  That is a if not the problem; thinking it is not a problem.

Martin Luther King Jr. said,  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere….Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

My comments here will surely receive mixed reviews. So, why do it?

Because once upon a time I was in a church meeting  and I did not say anything. Granted, I was young and timid but I knew better, soul deep.

It was in that same church that I heard that Jesus loved me just as I was, without one plea. In was in that place that I learned that God’s love in Jesus was and is offered to all, equally and unconditionally.  In that church’s  Bible I read of  this Jesus accepting the unclean as identified by the prevailing laws of church and society. And that may have been the death of him.

I heard that Jesus did not come to bring condemnation to any but love for all. A love to die for.

I could hide behind “this is just my opinion” and take off my clerical garb. I could hedge my bets and speak to some business or political rationale for accepting my position for criticizing these elected legislators. Can’t.

I am  a United Methodist. We are conflicted on issues involving sexuality.  Many members of this global church do not agree on how to best be faithful in this part of out corporate and personal life.  Many persons of faith wrestle with these and other issues on which the disagree.

I am hopeful we are not conflicted in believing that all persons are equal under the law of government and grace. Our Discipline seems clear on that. I think Jesus was, too.

I also speak as one who believes that this Country really might be founded on the preamble and premise  that all are created equal and have the same God-given inalienable rights.

I speak up because I believe that when we  single out one person or group  as an “inferior class” it appeals  to a baser side of us . We are  better than that. We can do better.

When we succumb to that temptation ,  haven’t we forgotten that  in the Divine paradoxical enigma called grace we are on the same ground,  not separate but equal,  both guilty and pardoned?

Once upon a time, I remained silent. I thought it should only be once.  But not this time.








The In-Between Times

19 03 2016

We will be in Holy Week when this article will be  published in a local newspaper.  I am sure it is not an original thought. It is universal and autobiographical.

This week, the shouts of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday will be a faint memory as  plots thicken and deceit grows. Preparation for an upper room and Jesus’ last supper are underway,

Judas will have struck his deal for 30 coins and the followers of Jesus will be living life as usual, unaware. The unholy alliance of Government and their puppet rulers  Herod, Pilate and the pious élite will soon be on full display.

Jesus will wash feet, share a last meal with this closest followers, pray for them and  pray for a way around the reality that is looming large. Disciples will fall asleep on the job. Judas will deliver his  kiss of death to Jesus. Peter will deny knowing Jesus 3 times before dawn. Soon the early morning march to a Pilate will begin.

The crowd that hailed Jesus as a savior on Sunday will petition for a pardon for a terrorist and raise their voices condemning  an innocent man to die on Friday. Pilate will try to wash his hands of responsibly. Don’t we all?

Jesus will suffer public humiliation,  be whipped and a crown of thorns will dig into the flesh of his brow. The crowds that lined the streets for His entrance as King and Deliverer now fall silent as he carries a cross up the winding, narrow path to Golgotha and execution. In less than a week he is cheered and jeered by the same people.

The slaughter of the innocent, begun by another tyrant named Herod some 3 decades ago , is done. Jesus tells all who would hear, ” It is finished.”  He hung his head as the last gasp of mortal breath left his body.

The sky turns black as if all of creation grieves, save for those who love darkness  as they celebrate in the darkness of their own hearts.

The curtain of the temple came down. Finished.

In the next 3 hours a  hurried and incomplete burial in a borrowed grave is completed and the sun falls beyond the horizon . Done, put to rest; just not in peace. The first day was over.

Disciples, family and followers hide and try find a place of rest in the shadows as the night grows on.  Eventually the ‘what if’ conversations begin. What if I had not fallen asleep? What if I had not denied him? What if I had not betrayed him with a kiss? What if….they find us? Will we be next?!

The sun came out on Saturday, the second day,  but the warmth never made its way into hearts or behind closed windows,. Grief blocked the light of day. Grief is like that, wanting to get the pain over but seeing nothing but pain. Jesus was dead, put to rest. Hope? Buried with Him.

Then, the third day. Like the opening of the second act of a play, the curtain draws back again and the stage of creation is bathed  in new light. The God who called light from darkness in creation  spoke up. The One who called order from chaos ushered in a new order. He who once was pronounced dead was alive. Hope, once locked away in the fortress of death  now lives. Jesus lives!

Some had left after the previous act. The show was over for them. He died, end of story. Judas gave up. Disciples what back to life before meeting Jesus. Many others did then and still do now. “Forget the rumors. They are just that” a realist says. The broken-hearted say, “Dismiss the hope, it will just lead to further disappointment.” They lived then and still live now , not  in an in-between time but an it is all-over place.

I have lived in times that were “In-between” and that can seem like the end. That is a human reality. We know the joy of riding high and the pain of falling off. So, this is our story , too. Maybe you are in one of those in-between times. Maybe you know someone who is. If so, remember how this story ends. It doesn’t end with death. It ends with resurrection, not the old life make better or longer -but a NEW life.

Jesus died, and Jesus rose.  As the saying goes,” Don’t put a period where God has put a comma. Stay for the second act!!   It is out of this world And in this world!!





Elf on a Shelf and Baby in Box

1 12 2015

When I was growing up I heard, ” You better watch out, you better not cry….He knows when you’ve been bad or good…” He, Santa, was the Christmas version of the All Seeing Eye! Now Santa needs some help.

For more than a decade a new twist has emerged. It  seems that Santa is sending Elves to spy in the homes of little boys and girls.

According to Wikipedia, the source of all things true on the internet from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Santa has scout Elves, AKA an Elf on a Shelf,  who watch in homes to report back to Santa. At the end of the day, when children are asleep, these Elves fly back to give their summary to Santa and then return before the children wake. To make their spying more effective they hide in a different place upon their return. The challenge is for the children to find them. The logic is that when not seen the less-than-good deeds go unrecorded. Well, it’s really just a game.

To be honest, it seems a great idea to sell toys but a poor attempt to improve on Santa’s spying abilities. Surely someone who could find boys and girls all around the world in a sleigh powered by reindeer, all in one night,  could do better! So, hold  your hats. I am here to break a HUGE story.

It seems that the Black Ops Division of the North Pole has installed wireless cameras in the homes of citizens of planet Earth. They have an unlimited battery life, like reindeer on Christmas Eve.  “Santy Cams“, were placed in the homes of the boys and girls as they were sleeping and without the presence or knowledge of the Scout Elves. The first install began on December 26, 2014 and began full operational status on USA’s Independence Day, July 4, 2015. Sprinkled with pixie dust, they are invisible to the human eye, especially adults. On this past Thanksgiving Day the Scout Elves discovered them. They were not happy.

These automated cyber sleuths report back to the North Pole Command Center in real-time, day and night.  This has proven a more effective method of information gathering since they run 24/7/365 instead of between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The software and firmware  are updated on February 29. This obvious flaw allows that one day every 4 years could potentially wreak havoc on global childhood behavior. Tech support pledges, “We will fix this.”

A spokesperson for S.C. reports that the cost of world-wide installation will  be recouped by the  savings from the Good Little Boy and Girl Production Area in one fiscal year. However, opponents from the Elves Union argue that increased capital outlay for expansion and production  demands of the Bad Little Boys and Girls Area will be through the roof. The local 999 of the PACS, Production of Ashes, Coal and Switches, Union is threatening a walk out on December 1 as increased production has brought environmental and workplace hazards. The snow around the naughty area is no longer bright and glistening. Eye witnesses describe it as  winter grey. When pressed for clarification , the witness said, “Have you ever seen U.S. Northeastern Interstate Highway slush ?!”

The next phase of Santa’s Cyber Surveillance is in beta testing  and will be operational  by mid-December. The Surveillance Division and the Aero-Toys Division have  cooperated  to produce a drone designed to observe and report behavior. Citing a huge information gap when children leave home, this Ubiquitous Air-Cam, also made invisible by pixie dust, will also report back to Command Central in real-time. New software has eliminated the leap year flaw in the Santy Cam.

Sales and Marketing reports that non Santa-grade drones without reporting software or pixie dust are flying off of the shelves by shoppers seeking the latest in trending technology.  Software Development is exploring a means of activating these ‘passive’ drones to ‘active’ reporters at a future date. Shoppers report,  “They are more fun than model airplanes. ” One purchaser shouted, ” These are Sick!”

Of course, all of this is fictional and not intended to disillusion or disturb the child in any of us. But it does cause me to wonder just how far we are willing to allow ‘make believe’ to color our ‘real’ lives.

In saw a Facebook post from the original page, Mommy Made, (not to be confused with, the web page of the creator of Baby Einstein), It read, ” Santa is the magic and love and spirit of giving to others…What it does do is teach children to believe in something they cannot see or touch….” She concludes this belief in Santa will allow belief in, among other things,God.

As you might guess, I beg to differ not from an expertise in child psychology but from a place of faith. Santa is not the source, motivation or inspiration of loving, giving or belief in the unseen. The Salvation Army kettles are not red because of Santa’s suit. Volunteers don’t ring those bells to be Santa’s heralds. Folks don’t reach in their pockets so Rudolph has enough feed for the winter. The  toys, coats, shoes and a host of other gifts are not collected  to make a sleigh full of gifts for the round mound from the frozen ground. Homeless Shelters and Food Pantries don’t say, “Santa made me do it”. WWSD won’t catch on.

Some might point to an innate goodness within us to move us to action. Maybe. Many claim a humanitarian, Spiritual, religious or faith-based inspiration. But for those us who came to believe in something we could not see or touch; it is because someone shared a story of God’s intimate coming in real-time and space through a Baby in a Box. This wooden crate was  made for feeding animals and wound up cradling the Bread of Heaven.  Such is an immediate and personal expression of love. As Christina Rosetti penned,    ” Love Came Down at Christmas.”

It is good to know the difference between  magic and mystery, pretend and promise. Magic is an illusion. Mystery tells of truth. Pretend is a distraction. Promise sees what will be. To quote Michael Card, ” That’s What Faith Must Be.”  ( Excuse, Skip or listen to the ad, to is up to you.)

Have a little fun with Elves on Shelves, Drones in the Darkness and Santa’s Cyber Sleuths. But know the difference in imagination and inspiration. Teach the little ones the same.   I believe the Baby in the Box is the reason we love, we live and we give. We love because He first loved us. We give because he first gave to us. Love is our plea, our token, our gift,  our sign.

And about this naughty or nice thing…The switches were woven into a crown of thorns. I understand He is not looking to punish but to give His best. .Isn’t that Good News!!

It is a mystery but such is Love.