Moving On

4 09 2018

I, like many , have watched the tributes for Senator John Mc Cain. The last venue I saw was at The National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

I listened to  the comments make by former Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama. and others who spoke. A few observations.

They did not speak , sing, play from the pulpit.  Liturgically speaking they spoke from the ‘ layperson ‘s place’, behind the lectern.  Note: One stands behind the lectern and in the pulpit. . Resurrection hope is proclaimed  from the pulpit by the priest, pastor.

But most noteworthy,  was how his casket was carried from the place of repose during the service by people wearing national and military uniforms. We watched as his flag draped coffin turned 180 degrees clockwise, to symbolize the passing of time.  If the casket would have placed “on its feet’ during worship he would be facing the front with the cross and the light of the world as represented in  the candles.  So, upon leaving, again if ‘on his feet’, he would have followed the cross and the light going before him into the future. He was,  in the choreography of the church,  involved  in a sacred dance of  adoration and hope.

This same ‘dance’ of an about-face was a part of the early Christian rite of baptism and profession of faith; a turning away to turn toward, moving from to move on.

I was also struck with the music played for the recession. I racked my brain and google for the source. Finally, seeking wisdom from friend John Wimmer, a trumpet player from day’s gone by, I learned it was Gustav Holst’s music, a brass ensemble arrangement  of the Jupiter Hymn from The Planets. But for this ‘hymn guy’ …the hymn source… was I imagining it , what was it?  Using my new-found information I did another search. Isn’t the internet marvelous!!

The hymn using Holst’s music is , “I  Bow to Thee my Country. Click to hear and see the text:

The text is a poem written by Cecil Spring Rice. Click the link to learn more. 

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace

For those who know me, you might find my post a bit odd for several reasons. Primarily because I believe worship has only one Sovereign, Country/Kingdom  and Allegiance.  However, in this instance it was moving as the love and service to country was punctuated with this beautiful hymn of text and music  as Senator Mc Cain’s body did a 180 and turned toward the hope of resurrection.

A place where spears become tools for fruitfulness , swords plow fields and the study of war is not on the curriculum…a place of peace. It was as if the first stanza was about his life here and the second about a life and place to which  he was in hope and faith moving;  a  house not made with hands but eternal in the heavens, where soul by soul  gather and “all her paths are peace”.

President Bush quoted John Mc Cain when he said in his book ,  “I have moved on.” Somehow that  echoed in my head as the solemn march into the daylight of a September day progressed , as the text bid us to move on to where ” her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

May we pray “on earth as it is in heaven” and strive for the same.

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 





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.

Shalom.

 





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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Giving Up to Take In.

18 02 2015

Today is Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday. Tomorrow Christians all around the globe will begin the Season of Lent. Lent lasts for 40 days, excluding Sundays.

In the tradition of cleaning out the cabinet of those food items I will abstain from enjoying these next 40 days, I ate waffles with syrup. I am also cleaning out my calendar as I am also taking my last look at Facebook for a season.

I am sure none of my friends will miss my occasional posts. I will miss keeping up with the dessert recipes and game requests (not really)! I will miss the pictures of friends and the comments of encouragement that often fill my pages. I am not sure how I will make it through Lent without Godvine or videos of puppies. 🙂

What I will not miss are  posts and repost that are less-than-kind. This Facebook experience has taught me that I have ” friends” that are very diverse.

IMG_1038appreciate each opinion, free speech and all – well… most of them. But I want a break.  I think I will just unplug.

The main reason is that I want to do something else with the time I spend on Facebook. I want to re-use that time, take on a new practice. Staying connected seems right. So, I decided to take on praying for my Facebook friends,  all of them. Note: While this was something I felt led to do,  an internet search revealed I am not the first to pray for Facebook friends.

Now before you think me overly pious, I have less than 250 Facebook friends. This is a small number in Facebook Land. I am not sure how this will work. Maybe I will get through the list once a day. Maybe it will take a week or more. I plan on praying daily as the Spirit leads and give the Spirit time each day to lead.

So, I guess I am giving up and taking on my Facebook friends; exchanging one medium for another.
Perhaps you might look at those friends listed on your page and join in this journey of prayer. It is not necessary to give up reading or posting to pray for those persons whose names pop up when you click the Friends tab. That just seems the right choice for me.

If you are willing to join me, please let me know by commenting.  Imagine what might happen if we prayed for our Facebook friends!  Think of the cultural, economic, racial, political, religious and a myriad of other divides we might bridge. Tell them about it, if you want. They may have friends they wish to pray for, too. Or not. Personal choice.

Wishing you a Holy Lent.

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

Let us pray….





Homecoming Queen, and the winner is…

29 09 2013

The football field at Murphy High School has seen numerous victories. None greater than tonight.

Championship banners adorn the halls. Rings are proudly worn by State champions who have proven their prowess on the gridiron. Tonight’s victory culminated with the half-time crowning of the 2013 Homecoming Queen. There was no finer hour in the history  written on David Gentry field.

The stage was set with the trappings of Autumn. The band played the Beatles’ song entitled, ” Yesterday”. The Homecoming Court was presented one by one starting with the Seniors, moving through the classes and concluding with the 2012 Queen escorted by the Murphy High School principal.

I couldn’t help but notice  how involved those young women are as they were introduced. The public address announcer boomed superlatives through the night as  the accomplishments of each were given as they took center stage. They  are now leaders and I am sure bright futures will be before them all.

Every one of them deserved to wear the crown of Homecoming Queen. But that is not how it works. One person is chosen by the student body to wear the crown. Like every other contest there is one winner and the rest finish in a tie for second place.

The time to announce the winner was upon us. All the contestants stood before us and the band was silent. We waited. The crowd erupted when Morgan’s name was called. She joyfully allowed the laurel of silver and sparkles to be placed on her head. I confess to misty eyes and a lump in my throat. I suspect I was not alone.

What made tonight special was a whole student body showed they were exceptional students. That is what Morgan is labeled.

Labels can lift us up or bring us down. Because the human condition seems to focus on glitz, glamor, sparkle and shine we often may be blinded to real beauty. Innocence, joy, love, exuberance, smiles, and a host of other inner qualities that often are lost in a barbie doll world.

Tonight we had the privilege of seeing a whole student body being declared winners.  At the top of the list were those other contestants , three of whom will graduate and go on to  receive laurels of another kind.  If you can’t win, finish second with grace.  Believe me you are all winners!

Tonight I cheered for Morgan and all the other winners. You’re the best. Tonight Murphy High School won.

I was honored to be there and to call Murphy my home.





Rites and Rights

5 07 2013

Recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court has Facebook a twitter:). http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/07/01/poll-supreme-court-gay-marriage-affirmative-action-voting-rights/2479541/

The 5-4 ruling by the nation’s highest court has persons in favor of recognizing the constitutional rights of all citizens access to the  governmental benefits of marriage claiming the court is right.

I number myself among them. On this July 4, I recall our nation being founded on the premise that all are created equal… not identical.

People of faith have weighed in. Some applaud the decision. Fear mongers have suggested that the next step will be a governmental mandate for institutions of faith be be required to officiate at all marriages.  It won’t happen. Right or wrong the Church – a church gets to determine its rites. But it did remind me that some churches and pastors  are choosing not to sign a marriage license until the government recognizes all unions.

So what about Rights and Rites?  It would be easy to just hide behind the mantra that government and God are seperate. To some degree, they are. I have retreated behind the doctrine and discipline of my denomination under the rationale that greater good would be accomplished in so doing, finding right in following the rites.

I have also quietly complied with customs and citations that were accepted in my day. I drank from ‘white only’ fountains, sat in lower section of movie theaters and ordered my food from a different window at the burger place. I accepted the advantage afforded to while males without a second thought.  Often with the justification and sanction of the church.

My world was a southern US , protestant male and nothing beyond that sphere really concerned me, except to threaten me in my bubble. My world was THE world. Retreating closer to those who thought, looked  and lived like me and away from the borders of my bubble was suggested. Birds of a feather flocking together.

Being called from, taken from and sometimes snatched from that  bubble I called home has been a blessing that sometimes felt like a bane.

My unique journey away from that place is not relevant. But the central core of it is found in the Bible. I heard that message in the Church. Specifically- loving God,neighbor and oneself.

Like a three legged stool that has us falling down on our faces when the balance of the other legs is missing, I confess that personally and I believe ecclesiastically we have done the same.

Loving God is the beginning place but a one legged stool leaves is tottering in the center of a bubble.  Loving neighbors who only think, look and act like us builds additional layers of isolation. And who among us does not acknowledge how the excessive self love of narcism reduces our bubble to  solitary confinement?

My journey toward inclusivity as a pastor acknowledges that I am  part of an institution whose rites speak of a tradition that was less-than inclusive. 11am on Sunday morning remains the most racially  segregated hour in the US. Worship styles and a myriad of other feathered trappings have colors and kinds of people and worship flocking together.

Bishop Woodie White said in a sermon I had the privilege of hearing, ” I love chocolate ice cream but I do not to need to put down vanilla to love chocolate.” I wonder if we might expand that analogy to include all flavors, even rainbow sherbet?!

This debate is not over.  Like other issues that cause us to look soul deep we will wrestle with this one within and without.  The United Methodist slogan of, ” Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”  calls us to expand or burst our bubbles.

I believe they are ordered appropriately. Hearts open and big enough to allow God THE place of honor and then all of God’s children, including oneself, a place in the spheres of love and life, church and court, school and society. Let’s start there and see where God leads us.

Jesus told a story about who is that neighbor we are to love . Someone was beaten and left by the side of the road until a Samaritan, who society said was no good,  came by and felt and acted with compassion, as the RSV translates. Luke 10: 25-37

The priest and Levite passed by, those were the religious folks of the day. I realize that for some my comments may place me in the theologically incorrect camp of a modern day Samaritan. To be honest, I know the safe route would be just to pass this issue by. Maybe so, but to look the other way or avoid getting involved, seems, well you read the story…

Now back to equal but not identical. What if we considered that all are loved, accepted, valued… all are beloved even if not identical? All means all.

“Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”, may it be our prayer until it is our practice. I know I have a long way to go.

How about you, any comments, thoughts?