Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, I sat outside our sanctuary with my mother - she was playing piano for our service that night - and we wondered about how the other half lives on Christmas Eve.  For those who don't go to church, do they eat a leisurely meal?  Read stories?  Drink wine? Wrap presents?  Eat popcorn and watch Christmas movies on TV?

I confess that sometimes I get wistful thinking about spending a quiet Christmas Eve at home around a fire - of course, this year with its 75 degree weather, I suppose a Christmas Eve fire would have been a bonfire outside instead of a fire in a fireplace with "the stockings all hung by the chimney with care."

Anyway, with parents who were professional church musicians, we have always, always, always been in church on Christmas Eve...usually several times.  We would start at the Moravian Church for an early service and a love feast.  Every year, the Moravian choir would sing:
"Morning Star, o cheering sight, Ere thou cam’st, how dark earth’s night! 
Jesus mine, in me shine;
In me shine, Jesus mine;
fill my heart with light divine.

Then, they would serve us sweet rolls and sweet coffee.

Afterwards, we would head to our church - a Baptist church - for communion.

Then, it was off to join the Episcopalians for the 9:00 PM service and the 11:00 PM service because my sister was their guest musician.

Once we moved to Statesville, the church service for our home church was much bigger. Musicians and a full choir singing "Still, Still, Still."  I sang in that choir with  years beside my good friend, Robin.  We were inseparable in our high school youth group, and we made quite a formidable alto section.  We were loud and proud altos!  And, we stayed that way - even after we were both grown up and living in other places, we came home to sing in the choir.

So, this year, it was particularly meaningful to me to have Robin and her mother and sister join us for our Christmas Eve Service.  During "Angels We Have Heard on High," I caught her eye and I knew we were both nailing the alto line of "Gloria in excelsis Deo!"

As I reflect back on all the Christmas Eves I have spent in church, I realize how important faith has been to my personal celebration of Christmas from childhood all the way to my, uh, mid-forties!  I realize that the rituals - the candles, the readings, the carols - shape the way I understand God - I DO believe in the God who came in our flesh!  What a wonderful, beautiful thing!  I realize the power of singing the story of faith with others - family, old friends, and new friends.  

Have you ever really paid attention to the words of the carols?  Sing them, and you come face to face with the power of "Mild he lay his glory by, born that we no more may die" and "Word of the Father now in flesh appearing."  We come face to face with the promise "when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and all the world give back the song which now the angels sing."  That's good stuff!

I may never know how the other half lives on Christmas Eve.  But, as I look out across the congregation holding up their candles, I glimpse  the "radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth."  I feel a glimmer of hope for 2016.  Maybe the power of Christmas Eve extends far beyond that one night. Maybe there's more to this birth than we ever imagined.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Peace on Earth

One of my favorite Christmas carols is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," mainly because I like that last verse about "God is not dead nor doth he sleep."  But, after hanging out on facebook for a little while, I'm stuck in an earlier verse..."Then in despair, I bowed my head. "There is no peace on earth," I said, "for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men."

If the terrorist intent is to divide the rest of us, they are doing a fine job. Quite frankly, we ought to be ashamed.

I have seen such ugly things posted and re-posted.  I have seen ugly comments between "friends."  I've seen the media spin stories - with little regard for truth, it seems to me - to appeal to their viewership or their readership or whatever.  It feels like we've lost all decency...not to mention integrity.  It feels like the "sides" are using great tragedy to benefit themselves...and that is shameful. Are we even capable of feeling shame anymore?  Are we even capable of feeling embarrassment?  Are we even capable of recognizing our own participation in "mocking the song of peace on earth, good will to men"?  Or, are we mainly interested in being right and making our point?

I don't know.  I don't mean to post something so negative.  I guess that today, I felt overwhelmed with the heartlessness I believe I am witnessing.  I just cannot believe some of the things that are being written and spoken.  Today, I feel as though we are so far away from the higher good that faith calls us to.  In fact, I feel as though we are not interested in the higher good.  We are content to wallow in the basest parts of human nature.  In essence, we are content to let terrorism define how we feel and how we treat each other, and that just makes me sad.

As soon as we can define someone as a "liberal" or a "conservative" or a Republican or a Democrat - and we are doing this constantly in response to the terrorist attacks, I guess, because it makes us feel like we have some control if we can name who we don't like and who we ought to blame - as soon as we can stick a label on another person, they cease to be a person - they are a category - either a friend or foe.  And, we are getting into trouble with that.  People are getting angrier and angrier and meaner and meaner and we cannot find any common ground.

Somebody needs to do something.

Somebody needs to demonstrate a better way.

Somebody needs to "fear not" and "behold the good tidings of great joy which shall be for ALL people."

That somebody is us.

I don't know how to do it - but I am going to start by being careful about what I post.  I am going to start by praying for people I don't like and with whom I disagree.  I am going to start by reviewing my day every day and assessing where I've participated in "mocking the song of peace on earth."  Then, I am going to ask for forgiveness and I am going to do better.  I am going to put my trust in God and believe that Jesus was serious about loving God and loving neighbor.  I am going to read a gospel - probably Matthew - to see if I can jog my memory as to what Jesus actually said about enemies and strangers and peace and friends and God and all that stuff.  I'm not relying on someone else's editorial to do that for me - I'm relying on the Holy Spirit and my genuine effort.

I can't fix the world, but I can improve my corner of it.  I will not let my faith be defined by fear or anger.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Day that Counts

Every day counts, but some days, that truth seems especially salient.  Today was one of those days. Early this morning (OK, it was 8:15 AM but that counts as "early" on a Saturday), I met several of our "church ladies" in the church parking lot.  We were heading to Raleigh to walk in the LUNGe Forward Walk.  We are not normally a group that is too keen on community fitness events.  However, today was different.  We were walking for our friend, Sheree.  So, we had on our active wear, our walking shoes, and our church t-shirts...and our coffee was already in "to go" cups.  We prayed a short prayer on the side porch and loaded into our cars for the drive.

Just when we thought the rain might hold off, the bottom fell out of the sky!  Rain came down by the buckets!  Visibility was bad, and we started to have second thoughts on our very noble plans of walking.  But, the parking garage was easy to find, and more importantly, a parking space was easy to find!  We put on our ponchos and jackets, and with umbrellas in hand, we walked out into the rain to find the registration tent.  After getting our free t-shirts and race numbers, we stood around...still raining.  We visited the porta-potties...still raining.  We found Sheree's team tent and put our new shirts in a bag to keep them dry, and then we stood some more...still raining.  It was then that Sheree's sister walked over to say "hello" and to give us the surprising news that Sheree had come to the walk.

That news was like a break in the clouds and a bright ray of sunshine for us.  It was the boost we needed to stop feeling sorry about our sopping socks!  We immediately left our puddles and went to find Sheree - she was hanging out in the survivor's tent, and she looked great and even seemed happy to see us with our bad hair and muddy shoes! So we posed for pictures and visited for a little while, and then the walk started.

Still raining.

But, with Sheree there, we felt a particular determination and we didn't mind the rain.  In fact, it almost felt cleansing.  In fact, it felt like an honor to walk for our friend.  In fact, it felt

Church is a beautiful thing.  Church is standing out in the rain and being soaked by friendship that is spirit-driven.  Church is your heart being lifted simply because someone else's heart is lifted.  Church is stepping out of your comfort zone to do good in the world.  Church is the healing that comes from laughter and knowing you are loved.  Church is the connection we have with each other through God that starts before birth and never ends.  Church is the presence of God fully recognized in each other's eyes.  Church is all that and more.

So, we had church in the rain today.  We "passed the peace" as we walked with each other.  Although we had no Table, we still managed to experience communion with pizza and bottled water.  And, believe me, the Spirit was there.  Yes, the Spirit was there.

Monday, August 31, 2015


I have just returned from a 24-hour retreat at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center.  I had decided to attend this retreat back in June when I received an invitation from my spiritual director.  If that terms seems mysterious to you, it's just someone who helps me identify God's activity in my life - someone who serves as a pastor to me.  She had invited 14 of us, I think.  And, what a beautiful mix of souls!  Of course, we were reminded about confidentiality - no spilling the beans about conversations in the sessions...and then to make it even a safer environment, no talking to each other about conversations in the sessions if we happened to bump into each other in "real life."  That was all very comfortable for me.

We prayed silently together quite a bit.  I'm not sure why we don't do this in church more often, as it can be very powerful to be silent with other people before God.  There's just something about that practice that right-sizes us and binds us together...or at least, that's what happened in the last 24 hours!  We reflected on scripture.  We wrote a little.  We talked.  We ate wonderful meals.  We laughed.

The interesting thing was this sign that hung on the doors heading into the guest room hallway.  "Please observe silence in the residential hall."  NO TALKING??!  And, not only was there no talking from us, there was no talking from the television because there were no televisions.  And, no talking from the phone because you had to go outside and climb a hill to have phone service.  Instead of TVs, we had large writing desks in our rooms with a nice bright light and a little coaster for our coffee or water.  We had comfortable chairs that sat in front of large windows displaying the beautiful grounds.  We had nice comfortable beds, and when I turned my lights out earlier than usual, it was already a silent and holy night.

I've been thinking about how healthy silence is and how hard it is to practice.  Even when we are not speaking, we are typing, texting, facebooking...and it's not that I think technology is evil.  I don't.  I use it.  I'm using it right now!  But, when it becomes filler - background noise - and we cannot be comfortable without it, we have a problem.  When it becomes our preferred mode of communication, we have a problem.  When we believe that the glow of the computer screen is an open invitation to free speech from us, we have a problem.  What I mean is that words get us in trouble.  In Psalm 141, the Psalmist  prayed Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. The Psalmist understood that rarely does the unspoken word get people into trouble.  The Psalmist understood the quote that "My most prized possessions are the words I haven't spoken."
The past 24 hours was a good reminder to me of how restful life can be with fewer words and more prayers.  It was a good reminder to me of how little I actually need to speak.  And, it was a good reminder that silence is a friend.  I hope that in the coming days I can claim some spaces in my own life where I ask myself to "Please Observe Silence." It's not a bad thing.

Monday, August 10, 2015

In the End

A few nights ago, I watched a moving documentary on PBS about JFK's assassination and the reporters who covered the story  (and the difficulty in trying to get their stories straight without smartphones).  I watched Walter Cronkite announce to the nation that their President was dead.  I watched the footage of parts of the funeral and Mrs. Kennedy with her children - carrying all of that grief and being swamped with the trauma of being in the car when her husband was shot.

That got me thinking about Jackie O's funeral.  I remembered watching her burial years ago, although I did not realize how long ago that was until I googled it and found it on youtube.  The navy choir sang "Eternal Father, Strong to Save."

Continuing in my googled stream of consciousness, I watched part of Reagan's funeral - the second part - where he was laid to rest at sunset.  Watched Mrs. Reagan not want to leave the casket.  Watched their children try to comfort her.

All very different personalities.  Very different people.  Very big family names.  I grew up respecting one of those names and the other not so much.  Apparently, a lot of people grew up that way, and their feelings showed up in the youtube section for comments.  Some made glowing comments.  Some made markedly ugly comments.

But, after watching a little of the coverage of these three different funerals, I was struck by the fact that the same God was called upon for comfort and strength.  The same promises of eternal life were spoken.  The same efforts to remember the good in the person were made.  The same empty looks of grief were on the family's faces.

The world often feels so divided with our leaders at each throats - and sometimes us, too.  But, that is pure arrogance on our part.  God's light shines on us all.  God's promises are on us all.  God loves us all...the same...the important ones and the nobodies.  In the end, that's what matters.  We are God's beloved.  In the end, that is it...and that is enough.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Where I'm From

We just returned from our eighth annual women's retreat.  Our first exercise was based on a poem called "Where I'm From."  This first poem is my example to our rockin' church ladies.

The second poem is their version to share with the congregation.

Where I'm From

I'm from piano keys and stacks of music yellowed with age
from folded Kleenex
and orange Tang
I am from bricks and small towns
and smelling like pot roast
I am from dogwoods
and blackberry bushes
with fruit for granny's cobblers
I am from naps on Sunday afternoons
and operatic arias rising up from the steam of a shower
from Dan and Jane, Elizabeth and Clarence, Mattie and Hobson
I'm from orchestras and theatre
study and good grades
I'm from "Roll Tide" and "Surely to the Lord"
and "Every man for himself"
I'm from "Just as I am" and "I Surrender All"
from "Amazing Grace" and "Jesus Loves Me"
I'm from North Carolina and Alabama
from peppermints and mashed potatoes
I'm from church choirs that never watched closely enough
and piano students who never practiced hard enough
I'm from music
its notes chasing each other into the melody that is my life.

Where We're From

We are from Rocking Chairs.
From colored pencils, pink alarm clocks, and Alka Seltzer tablets.
We are from Cake Night.
Shaking It Off while we Shut Up and Dance. 
It looked like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain or maybe Blurred Lines, but it made us Happy
We are from Black Mountain
               Where Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
We are from the hymns that make us Smile Like We Were Saved and Wake Us Up to the possibilities.
We are from Johnny and Ben, Bobo and Amy the Unicorn.
We are from Fanny Tucking and praying in color.
From     No Pressure But…….
               and Clear Hearts and Clear Minds
We are from Let There Be Peace On Earth and second chances.
We are Wilson’s Mills Christian Church
               The Bread and the Cup. 
Where all are Welcome
               and We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us
We are Sarah & Paula, Tanya & LeAnne, Lea & Melanie, Janet & Pat
We are Susie & Carrie, Kristine & Lynn, Linda & Sheree & Regena
We are Claudia & Jane & Lynda, Ginny & Heather, Trudy & Rose
From the Prayer Walk that opened our eyes to wonder, our ears to listen, relieved us of our worries and reminded us to intentionally meet God each day.
We are from the small but mighty trying to bring Joy to Every Heart.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


In worship today, we - and when I say "we," I really mean "I" - talked about dividing lines that separate people.  We used the Ephesians 2:11-22 text as our starting point.  To set the tone of the service, our bell choir rang "Let There Be Peace on Earth."  "Let it begin with me" and all that jazz.  This arrangement is one of our signature pieces.  We ring it a lot.  We ring it well.  We ring it with spirit and enthusiasm.  Truthfully, we could ring it with our eyes closed.

Only today, we did not ring it well.  We did not start out well.  We lost our place.  We rang bad notes. Our signature "Peace" song was following to pieces!

Now,  I have heard legends of our director stopping the choir during worship when things go badly awry.  I've heard that the choir has been asked to start over.  But, I've never experienced this phenomenon until today.

She stopped us, and basically, the bell choir took a mulligan with "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

I thought a do-over would be embarrassing, but I have to say...I was relieved that we were graciously given a second chance. We were not ringing up to par.  We were not ringing our best.  And, we were not setting the tone we had hoped!  We needed that mulligan!

Afterwards, a couple of ringers apologized for needing the second start.  But, you know, if you can't get a second chance in your own congregation, where can you get a second chance?

If you can't get a penalty-free mulligan when you mess up in your own congregation, where can you get a mulligan?  Not the British Open, that's for sure.

If you can't get a do-over when you are not at your best in your own congregation, where can you get a do-over?

Our church family is one place where do-overs are welcome and second chances are freely given.   We all mess up.  We all have things that we wish we could try again.  We all have days when we are not having our "A" game.

Here's the good news!  We worship a God of second chances.  So, of course, we want to be a people of second chances.  Thank you WMCC Bell Choir for having the courage to ask for a second chance and to OWN it!  Thank you WMCC Congregation for giving that second chance.

Proud to serve a congregation that recognizes when it messes up and is not ashamed to take a do-over!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Good for Nothing

Good for nothing.  Those are the words that came to mind on a warm, hazy afternoon last week.  I was on vacation in St. John, USVI with a group of friends.  We do a lot of snorkeling in St. John, and when I say a lot, I mean a LOT!  On Sunday, we spent the morning snorkeling around Maho Bay, but it was too crowded for our tastes.  Lots of families with small, squirmy children.  Lots of teenagers coming in on dinghies from the bigger boats in the center of the bay.  Lots of adults drinking a special punch.

So, after lunch, we walked into Leinster Bay - about a mile long walk - with all of our snorkel gear and our noodles.   We purchased those noodles when we arrived for $4.95 each at the drugstore.  Anyway, the walk in was hot so we decided to cool off by noodling around in the bay before putting on our gear and snorkeling over to Waterlemon.

But, that plan was not meant to be.

We ended up very uncharacteristically spending the entire afternoon floating around Leinster Bay in our sunglasses.  Good for nothing, we were!  Only one other family was on the beach.  They were too busy trying to take a picture of a baby nurse shark to pay us much attention.  Occasionally, a kayaker or a paddle boarder would pass by, but it was very quiet.  Just the sound of the water lapping up against the beach.  We talked some, but for the most part, we just floated.  Looking around.  When the sun broke through the clouds, the water would turn different shades of turquoise and blue and green.  There were times I was hardly able to believe that I was in a place so beautiful.  Hardly able to believe that I was capable of feeling so...peaceful.  Hardly able to believe that such a level of contentment was still available to me.

What if life is full of moments like this, and in my busy business, I rush right by them?

Making time to be good for nothing may be the secret to being good for something.

Friday, July 10, 2015

My Southern Heritage

I guess I have been blissfully ignorant for most of my adult life, because it never occurred to me that the Confederate flag was being flown in any official capacity until the shootings in Charleston . Then, I began to follow the story in South Carolina.  I witnessed lawmaker's changing their minds.  I witnessed elected officials admitting they were wrong.  That is newsworthy in and of itself.  Quite frankly, I had come to believe that our politicians voted along party lines without regard to anything or anyone else...unless that "anyone else" happened to be a big donor.

But, I digress.

Back to the flag.  I've read an awful lot about how removing the flag vilifies southern heritage and is disrespectful to the descendants of those who fought for the south during the Civil War.  I'm struck by how differently I feel about my own southern heritage.

I am a southerner.
I am a native North Carolinian.
My father is from the mountains of North Carolina.
My mother is from Alabama.
I refer to others as "y'all."
I eat grits.
I know all the words to the Alabama Crimson Tide's fight song.
I am southern.

When I think about my southern heritage - at least the part that I want to show off loud and proud - I think about the cool slate front porch where I spent many Saturday evenings with my great aunts, Lola Bell and Maxie.

I think of sweet tea
corn bread
biscuits and gravy
better  yet, biscuits and maple syrup

I think of yes m'am and no sir
please and thank you
no white shoes before Memorial Day (and those of you who wear them after Easter are truly the ones who vilify Southern culture!)

I think of "y'all come back" and "can you stay for dinner?"

I think of church on Sunday
prayer meetings on Wednesday
ice-cream suppers in the late afternoons

I think of strong women and gentle men

I think of casseroles after births
casseroles after deaths
casseroles after illness

I think of food a lot!

I guess when I think of the southern heritage that I want to display, it has more to do with graciousness and welcome.  It has to do with hospitality and making others feel welcome.  It has to do with minding your manners, and never being intentionally or proudly offensive to others.  Never.  It has to do with hosting others and not proclaiming our independence from others.  It has to do with setting a table that always has room for one more.  Mainly, it has to do with kindness....

So, I don't understand the veneration of the Confederate Flag.  It represents a part of my history that was very unkind.  While I do not want to forget that - and I don't want to forget what human beings are capable of doing to each other - that's not the part of my heritage that I want to celebrate or display.  The integrity with which I live my life is the most profound honor I can give to my ancestors.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Waking Up White

I have been in a writing workshop all week.  Each morning, we find a prompt posted on the board.  We begin the class with 15 minutes of silence while we write in response to the prompt.  This morning, the prompt was "Waking Up White."  Here is what I wrote.

I wake up white every morning.  I go to sleep white every night.  I have white parents.  I have a white sister.  I am married to a white man.  I am white.  But, last week, when Emmanuel AME Church was shot to bits, I remembered that while white is my reality, white is not my highest identity.  That insight accompanied me into a worship service last night held in our sanctuary with our sister church, a predominantly African-American church that is quite literally on the other side of the tracks.

This service had been my bright white idea, and I was not sure what to expect.  Would the spirit be friendly?  Would the atmosphere feel forced?  Would the pews be empty?  I did not know.

I took shelter in my office to prepare.  I robed up - I love my robe - and whispered a prayer for whatever was to come next.  As I walked through the narthex, I saw right away that we were running out of bulletins.  The place was packed.

Packed with people who wake up white.  Packed with people who wake up black.  Packed with people who wake up as NC State fans, and packed with people who follow Virginia Tech.  Packed with people with ipads and packed with people toting pens and paper.  Packed with people carrying children and packed with people who were alone.  Packed with people who lead in the community and packed with people who struggle to leave home.  Packed with people who protect and packed with people who report.

And those packed people stood, at times taking each other's hands, praying and singing, "It is well.  It is well with my soul."  Over and over again.  "It is well with my soul."  Their voices repeated the phrase louder and stronger until our old church windows shook with grief and hope.

I wake up white every day.  But, last night, I woke up to so much more.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Day of Hope

Every Sunday of worship is special.  But, there are some Sundays when the Holy Spirit seems thick in the air.  Today was one of those Sundays.  For one thing, we baptized five people and welcomed them into the church.  After the tragedy in Charleston happened, I wondered how, as a congregation in worship, we could address these murders while keeping with the celebration of baptism.

As it turns out, baptism was the hopeful response we could have.  Baptism is a dip into the promises of God.  For me, our baptisms almost felt like an act of defiance against a world that wanted us to lose hope this week.  With each person immersed, our answer was, "No, we will not lose hope."  With each proclamation that someone was being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, we found a deepened assurance of God's powerful presence.  With each reminder that we are beloved children of God, we opened the doors of our hearts even wider to each other.

I was glad to be at church today.  I was glad to have the great honor of baptizing new Christians.  I am glad to have been immersed in God's love myself.

In response to Charleston, I am re-committing to my call as a Christian to actively seek ways to make this world a better, more loving place.  I am starting now.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Green Bug

This morning, I visited with a church member.  As I pulled out of her driveway, I noticed this green bug on my windshield.  I thought he would hop off as I drove through her neighborhood.  But, when I got to the stop sign by the main road, he was still there.  I pulled out and drove faster and faster, and he just held on.  Within a couple of miles, I felt sorry for him so I slowed down and he still held on.  He was still there when I pulled into the church parking lot.  And, he was fluffing out his wings when I got out of the car.  Within a minute or two, he flew off to do whatever it is that green bugs do.
I wondered if the ride down the road was harrowing.  Did he think, "Wow, things got wildly windy so fast.  I'm not sure I can hold on.  Will it ever slow down?  What's going on?  I don't know how much longer I can keep on at this speed."  Who knows what green bugs think?

As we continued our drive, I found myself starting to pull for him.  "Come on, Mr. Green  Bug,  you can make it!  Just 2 more miles!  You can do it!"  I even slowed down for him - hoping to make his ride less treacherous.

This green bug was inspiration for me today.  Sometimes, life speeds up for reasons we can't explain.  We are blown about.  Out of control.  Scared.  Wondering how in the world we will survive.  Hoping that our wings don't get torn off in the chaos around us.

Then things slow down.  Maybe we feel encouraged.  Maybe we get a rest at just the right moment.  Maybe we survive, fluff out our wings, and before we know it, someone snaps our picture and says, "This is how it's done."

All I know is that after a very wild ride, the green bug found a resting place at church.  I do too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

God's Will

Most of the time, I am a lectionary preacher.  This week, the Gospel text (Mark 3:20-35) is one that I have never preached.  After reading it with it references to Beelzebub and accusations that Jesus is crazy and words about some unforgivable sin, I understand why I have given this passage a wide berth.  But, for reasons beyond my blogging ability, I decided to tackle this tough text.

In preparation, I visited a preaching blog where the discussion referenced verse 35 ("whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother") and centered around the "will of God."  Lots of questions about this will of God.  Lots of opinions on how we find it.  Lots of angst that we have not found it.

Seems like I've spent a good portion of my adult life wondering about the will of God - whether that "will" relates to my personal life, my social life, my vocational life, and I've encouraged the congregation to ponder the will of God for their lives and for the life that we share together.  On many occasions, I've said, "The question for us is not 'what do we want?' or 'what do we like?' The question is "What is God calling us to do?  What is the will of God for us at this time, in this place, with these people?"

These questions have led to some healthy conversations.

But, yesterday, as I was driving down the road pondering the "will of God" (we preachers are nerdy like that), something new hit me.  I am sorely tempted to seek the WILL of God at the expense of seeking JUST God.  I am sorely tempted to treat the will of God as something to get right - to ask questions until I'm sure, to study until I have an unwavering understanding, to talk until I run out of things to say.  Maybe I've treated God's will as a distinct entity - separate from me - something I have to achieve and do well, at all cost.  That makes my relationship with God very goal-oriented.

I do believe God has work for us to do and a direction to follow, but I'm starting to wonder if it's time to put the quest for "God's Will" on the shelf.  I'm starting to wonder if deepening my relationship with God is a more fruitful approach to my own discipleship.  I'm starting to wonder if the pursuit of God is a much richer challenge than the pursuit of some vague "will" that I may or may not get right.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Something Else

You can't make this stuff up.  A colleague's church participates in a church softball league.  At risk of making the understatement of the year, I am not athletic.  Sure, I can walk great distances, but that is the extent of my athletic prowess.  Yet, a church softball league ought to be a safe haven...a place where even the likes of me can find a place on the team.  A church softball league ought to be a place where competition is not a significant source of motivation.  A church softball league ought to be a place that welcomes the least of these and gives them a jersey.

My colleague uncovered some uncomfortable truths about the church softball team.  First, a majority of the players were not church members...and, yes, I know that perhaps these lost souls could come to know Jesus by the crack of a bat, but they weren't recruited as a form of evangelism.  They were recruited for their abilities and the 'edge' that they could give the team.  Their "edge" came at the expense of younger church members who were relegated to the bench because "this game is too aggressive."  Really?  If church softball is too aggressive, then please don't call it "church."  "Real World" softball, maybe.  Dog eats dog softball.  Ratrace softball.  Win at all costs softball.  Look out for number one softball.  But, not "church" softball.

This story set something off in me - competition and rivalry are not healthy operating guidelines for the church.  But, how quickly they sink in...and not  just in softball.  We take votes on major decisions - immediately setting up winners and losers.  Some churches vote for church leadership - potential deacons running against each other - setting the stage for hurt feelings.  We have preaching awards, lists of "most influential men or women" in religion, top ten churches in evangelism awards, and numerous opportunities for recognition as the brightest and the best.  Christian leaders keep track of their numbers ("How big is your congregation?" is a frequent pastoral question).  Christian writers track their rankings on Amazon.  We pay attention to those identified as "someone to watch" and we look for leaders who are "going places."

Sometimes, I think that with the mindset of competition and rivalry, the church world could be a reality show - let's shoot for a perfect score every time and let's hope somebody else gets voted off.

But, what if we just stopped?  What if we stopped pursuing the world's trophies?  What if we measured our success by our relationships and not our numbers?  Better  yet, what if we threw away the desire to be "successful" and gave deeper consideration to the desire to be faithful?  What if we started gladly warming the bench and even preferring the bench over rivalry?  What if we recognized competition as a dangerous in the life of faith?  Sure, some people can handle it gracefully, but most of us get too invested in the win.

Or, maybe I'm just projecting my own mid-life crisis on the church!  However, it does seem to me that the call of Christ leads us deeper...not higher.  All of our recognitions and awards and medals can lead us to crave these things and to feel self-satisfied when we achieve them.  These days, Jesus is inviting me to something else - something that does not insist on perfection - something that does insist on cooling my heels and on taking it all in with a glad and generous heart.  Honestly, I don't know exactly what that "something" is.   But, I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve a blue ribbon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ten Years!

On Sunday, I celebrated my tenth anniversary as pastor of Wilson's Mills Christian Church.  The actual anniversary date is May 22, but given that May 22 also kicks off a holiday weekend, we celebrated last Sunday!

I was not prepared to make a speech at our luncheon, but nevertheless, I was called upon to make a few remarks.

This is what I wish I had said.

When I accepted the call to Wilson's Mills Christian Church, I most wanted to be a good preacher.  I had visions of grandeur!  Delivering sermons to a packed sanctuary!  Starting an immediate capital campaign to finance the building of a LARGER sanctuary!  Purchasing additional chairs to accommodate all the students attending Bible studies!  Writing books and being featured on Oprah!  Writing a blog that would have worldwide impact!  Publishing articles in Christian Century!  I wanted to be a leader - a fresh, young voice in Christianity.

Well,..when I recently purchased reading glasses, I realized my dream of being a fresh YOUNG voice was gone!  But, I am also realizing that my dreams of grandeur were nothing more than buy-in to the definition of success with which the world tries to seduce me.  Go big!  Bigger congregation! Bigger classes!  Bigger influence!  Bigger budget!

But, that's not what I want at all.  I don't want my ministry to be defined by numbers.  I don't want to be motivated by numbers.  I don't want my passion for ministry to be driven by a desire to have more members than the church down the street.  In other words, I don't want what I'm used to wanting - the A+ and the bonus points for excellence.

The truth is that I do love to preach.  I love putting words together and bringing a biblical story to life in 2015.  The truth is I like to teach spiritual formation.  I love experiencing different approaches to prayer on retreats and in groups.  I do like being a preacher and teacher.  But, striving for perfection in those areas is dangerous territory for me because it tempts me to assess how well my ministry reflects me instead of how well it reflects (albeit imperfectly)  God.

The truth is that the part of ministry that most fulfills me is the part that can't be measured and quantified.  Fulfillment comes in those moments that most scare me - those moments that the congregation has entrusted to me in their the time birth when new life is welcomed into the world.  At the time of marriage when lifelong vows are made in front of God.  At the time of death when words may fail but the Holy Spirit does not.  Those are the moments when I pray the deepest, "Thank you, God."  Of course, the "thank you" only comes after a desperate "Help me!"

All of that to say that my ideas of ministry have changed so much in the last ten years.  Today, I am grateful to be in this church that we affectionately refer to as "small but mighty."  I am grateful to serve in a congregation that knows me well enough to appreciate my affinity for pandas.  I am grateful to be not a fresh young voice in the world of Christianity but a welcoming voice in our neighborhood.  I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue faithfulness instead of chasing after high marks.  I am grateful for another day to live this unique life God has given to me.

Here's to the next decade....whatever it may bring.