Jesus Wept

23 02 2018

In my hometown there is a shop that raised a billboard over the skyline of the most traveled highway to promote their business with this caption, ” We lubricate our guns with liberal tears.”

I went by today to include a photo in this blog but it is gone.. However, a quick google search brings t-shirts, cans of gun oil and much more with the same caption.

I hope it came down after the reporting of parents’ and a nation’s wailing over the shootings in Parkland, Florida. Surely the poor taste of the billboard seemingly mocking grieving parents and frightened children would cause any to feel embarrassment. But then, it went up after Columbine, Sandy Hook, so…

I wonder, for those who claim a personal relationship with Jesus and all the eternal benefits thereto assigned, what do you think Jesus was doing last February 14?

I think Jesus wept. I wondered if he has stopped.

This week’s sermon is from a Mark 8:27-38 where Jesus tells Peter, ” Get behind me Satan. For you are not mindful of the things of God but of men.”

I haven’t figured out how this all fits together but, I think it does. And if I told you then where would the suspense  of Sunday be?!

But a question. Were you a bit like Jesus last February 14? I was. This old man shed more than one tear at the thoughts of a wounded soul shooting the innocent and heroic.

I will be honest. I continue to grieve. For the one’s whose lives were lost in the school shootings that seem part of the news cycle. And equally  for those who think tools and acts of violence are part of the solution.

Which is worse,  those who die in it and those who are dead to it?

Part of the lyrics of a song from my youth goes, …
” Where have all the flowers gone…
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?”

I somehow imagine Jesus singing this, maybe with Pete Seeger, as a holy tear falls to earth.

Jesus wept.

 

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How Many Straws Does it Take?

15 02 2018

I am a United Methodist pastor in a small westen NC town. This is written for those members  and friends of the church I serve and any others who might like to overhear.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,  reminds us that every pot reaches a boiling point, every scale reaches a point when even a feather will change the balance, and even enough straws will break a camel’s back.

As I saw the news reports of the murders at a High  School in Florida,  I wondered if this was the last straw. Had the heat gotten high enough? Would this be the tipping point? Have enough children been killed?!

My Facebook account and the media has been full of excuses and finger-pointing. I hope this is not seen as such. Many of them have placed blame on others or granted personal absolution to themselves. So, I’ll not even go there.

Sure, I have strong opinions and I hope you do, too. But rather than ask, ” What should They do?” What if we ask, “What can I do?”  Rather than point fingers away from us, maybe we might ask a soul deep questions of ourselves.

This is not to suggest that anyone person could hope to solve such a problem that seems embedded in the core DNA of the human species. Yesterday’s Valentine’s Day Massacre, as it has been called , also happened on Ash Wednesday,  a day the Christian Church has set aside to remind us our mortality, sinful nature and need for repentance. That is not lost to me and I hope not to you.

Calls for prayer for the victims and their families are well-timed and I urge you to join me in prayers for them. One can only imagine the loss and devastation.

But as I do, I am reminded of a quote from Thomas More, ” The things we pray for, good Lord, give us grace to labor for.”

I hope that this will the tipping point for we who follow this Jesus, the Price and Prince of Peace. Will these most recent deaths of the brave and innocent be the last straw? And for those who see the reality that we are  somehow connected and as we share this finite planet we have responsibility to and for one another, have you had enough?

I wonder, how many will be too many? How many straws does it take?

It’s not a rhetorical question.

 

 





It’s New Years Day

1 01 2018

As promised, the Song to usher in 2018. It is from Bon Jovi and is entitled, New Year’s Day.

It bids us to sing Hallelujah and Sha, la, la. For those out who are still celebrating Christmas,  the birth of a Christ child and angels’ singing,  it is a reminder of the wonder and hope of Christmas as we stand in the doorway of 2018.

Someone asked me what were my plans for 2018. What were my resolutions? What did I want to do?  What were the goals? My answer was a response that on the surface might sound a bit bland.  No set number of books to read. No itinerary for travel. Nothing worth putting in granite.

Rather, my response was to have a clean white board. I am looking forward to a New Year that has nothing written on it on January 1. 2018.  Let me explain. The obvious is that I may seem like a ship with out a sense of direction. Quite the contrary.

I am acknowledging that like a ship, someone else must set the sails so the wind might fill them and other hand will steer. It is to acknowledge that the ocean on which I sail will have calm and rough seas but the One who is at the helm can negotiate and navigate the journey and my small ship will arrive safely in the harbor.. Another hand is on the wheel, to quote Carrie Underwood.

It is also to say that the ship has been unloaded of the baggage of past voyages. I know there may be some duffel bags hidden in the crevices of the hull.  A rat or two might be stowing under a loose plank in the belly of the vessel. And yes, a crate or two that were too heavy to move alone will no doubt shift on perilous seas but the old cargo will need to stay on the shore for an effective and  healthy bon voyage.

So, what not join me in this New Year as we set sail. Unload that old dirty and musty baggage. Sing,  “Hallelujah”. Say, ” Amen”. Sing, ” Sha, la, la.” Sing and live Carpe’ Diem!! It’s New Year’s Day.

The tide is right, the winds are picking up and the Captain is on board. Time to cast off and set sail!!

Agape’,

Rob

 

 





Another One Bites the Dust

1 01 2018

It seems a song to ring out the Old Year and herald the New has always worked for me. One of the old and all time favorites goes, ” Fast away the old year passes, …Hail the new, ye lads and lassies, with the required number of fa, la la’s…”

This year I chose another one. Well, June and I chose one at dinner last evening. It comes from perhaps one of the greatest bands, ever …and one of the most iconic lead singers,  Freddie Mercury. The band?  Queen from the 70’s and 80’s. The title? ” Another One Bites the Dust.

I suppose the choice is a hint to my age and perhaps the reality of one day’ biting the dust’ as what  seems like the machine gun rapid fire of years comes from open doorways. If that doesn’t make sense, listen to the lyrics.

The bass line and the drum beat calls us into a swagger as we walk down the dusty street of life until falling face down into the dust from which we came and to which we will return.  But until then, we stride on into another year like Freddie Mercury  crosses the stage and another one bites the dust! Take that, calendar!!

Now in my case, the bass line is at 60 beats a minute. Oops, that’s the pacemaker! Still a beat that strides on.

So, sing out the old. Fa, La, La, la if you choose. For me, I hear the beat of the drum and the rhythm of the bass calling us from 2017. Can you hear it? Can you feel it?

Boom, Boom, Boom, another one bites the dust, and another one’s gone, and another one’s gone, another one bites the dust… and as the lead singer calls to us,

” Come on, let’s go!!”

Check out the next blog for the 2018 Introit!

 

 





Purposeful not Parasitical

21 11 2017

In the card catalog or hard drive of my mind is a quote stored and attributed to  Nelson Mandela. I wish I could recall the source. I have Googled it with no success. If I am wrong and/or you have the source, please share.

My memory records the quote as, ” It is not that we are afraid of dying but dying and never have made a difference. ” Another quote from Mandela seems to support my memory.”What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

This past week I was in a Continuing Education event. It was focused on addressing poverty. We were a diverse group and I may have been the only clergy person there.  I usually do not disclose that I am clergy unless asked.  Often folks have some negative memory attached to religion and I would prefer not have the past effect the present. They can decide about who I am based on what is happening not what has happened. Eventually, I was outed.

While there,  I met some folks with whom I shared a passion and purpose for making a difference while on the planet. I left hopeful.

They ones I am thinking of now were Millennials,    They are the age group that seem to have given up on the church. Also in attendance were Boomers and Gen-X members. I was the old man in the group having made the Boomer class.

Many articles have been written about how the Church should adopt the strategy that appeals to Millennials. Some  seem like  the man proposing to his bride, who says ” I love you for who you are; strong, independent and beautiful.  Please marry me and let me change you into who I want you to be.”.  An old quote is, ” When the Church marries one generation, it is a widower in the next.”

I wonder,  what if the Church might be changed by and when embracing the diversity and passion the Millennials bring? In short, what if they changed us? Or better yet, what if we changed, married and  grew together?

So what could be done? From the Church’s stand point, my first thought is to get over ourselves. We are not the Savior, we follow one.  While we sing, ” Where ever he leads I’ll go”, we  often ask our Maker to go with us where ever we want to go.  Jesus called us to follow in places where we would often rather not be. It is a place of stained lives beyond stained glass, gutters beneath glory, hopelessness’ discord over  hymn’s harmony.

Maybe the first step in that parade is to celebrate that we can share a passion and purpose that is greater than our faith or absence thereof. What if the mission was more important than mantra, dedication than dogma and purpose that is  not limited to parochialism. What passion and purpose do we share? Not how do we disagree.

I am not suggesting that self absorption is limited to religion, or as the Christian Church is called, the Body of Christ. Parasitical behavior seems universal as the host is consumed by the voracious appetite of the worm within. Government, institutions, corporations, and the people down the street or across the  globe might be amoral, but regardless of the size of the host, self- absorption moves to self-survival  and the worm within is hungry. Eventually, feeding on oneself  ends in a slow death, beginning with the first bite. The only patient that can be healed is the self-aware one.

So, …about that Continuing Education Event?!   One of my takeaways is  that a purpose bigger, beyond and believable keeps one from being a parasite. A focus on what is outside and not what is sucking life from within.

I was so encouraged about the world in which my children and grandchildren might live.  These who have more actuarial years left than I who want to make a difference, not just show up, lifted my spirit.  They see beyond, they believe in the vision and the have a hope for the future. I found them with and without religion.

I have but a few acorns left in my planting bag and the tip of my shovel is dull , but I am hopeful these few yet to be  planted will grow into mighty oaks. But the people I was around this week have bags full of acorns and they are purposefully digging in the soil of their neighborhoods; from Alaska, to California, to Canada to West Virginia and all beyond and between.

Something is growing.  Purpose not parasites, life not death, hope not despair. A Future Story stretches out before us. Can you see it!?

And who knows, maybe an acorn or more is in your planting bag and soon an oak will be sprouting where you are.  One looking for shade and one yet unborn says,

” Thank You.”

Agree or disagree, I’d love to talk with you about this. Please comment or be in touch.

Rob

 





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.

Agape,’

Rob