Pray before you post…

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place
where he could be alone in prayer.
Mark 1:35 (CEB)

Okay, we live in an age of where connecting with one another is as easy as taking a phone out of your pocket. Because of that, and because of social media, I sometimes think I know more about what is going on in my children’s lives now than I did when they were living at home. I also know that the house is a bit more quiet than it used to me, however, I am almost certain that our two cats are attempting to make up for that by fighting more often and more loudly. At the same time, I realize that Pam and I have much more time to just sit, talk and reconnect.

I’ve been at this “empty nest” thing for over a year now and truthfully, it hasn’t been all that bad. I miss my girls…but we are still connected. I loved watching them grow up…but now I am so very proud of all that they are becoming as young adults that I hardly notice.

And then there’s that time that Pam and I have to just reconnect as a couple. That’s nice, to say the least. It’s also crucial to any relationship.

Jesus took time away from the crowds that needed his teaching and healing and tried to find a place where he could connect again with the Father. Jesus walked away from his responsibility of leading the disciples so that he could spend time with the Father in prayer. Jesus was fully human and fully God and yet, and yet, Jesus found it absolutely necessary to take time to be alone with God.

I wonder how many times we have said, “Oh, I’ll have time for that later…” or let interruptions (cue the fighting cats) get in the way of our time to spend with God the Father.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped greatly with more Christians taking more time to just pray. It would cut down tremendously on the amount of time they spend finding things that make them angry and give responses before thinking about how those responses look in light of the Kingdom of God.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped tremendously if more Christians would take more intentional time to stop “doing things” and just spend time in prayer. Perhaps there, they would reconnect with the very Creator of the Universe and realize that there is not one single person in the world today that this Creator does not love.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped if Christians spent more time alone – empty nesting it – with God. Their relationship with God would grow stronger. They would know God better and in the process they would know themselves better. When we work on our identity as it stands with God, there is much less chance that we would seem one way one moment and another way the next.

Over the past month, I watched the horror of white supremacy raise its ugly head again in Charlottesville. And then I watched as white privilege tried to explain it all away. And then I watched people engage in battles of words that tore apart even more of the wasting fabric of humanity that we have left in this world.

And there is only one thing I wanted to do. I wanted to take everyone I could and say, “Hey, do you think we could pray for a while? Just take some time and pray for a bit? You know, reconnect with God the Father, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Spirit a while?”

The Son of God did it…I can’t think of any good excuse for us NOT to do so.

A Not-So-Dark Knight

Was reading this today remembering my uncle…

Not Quite Home

The television set was only a few feet away and my older brother and I crowded around it with our eyes glued to every move.  When the “Bam!” or “Pow” would appear on the screen as Batman and his faithful sidekick Robin fought the never ending battle against evil, my brother and I would both jerk back a little from the screen, as if the action were going to somehow come into the living room of my grandparents otherwise sedate home.  Behind us, my Uncle Rodger, a single man who never had kids of his own, would be chuckling at our reactions, somehow happy at what he had invited us to watch.  And meanwhile, viewers, my grandma would be shaking her head in something of a disapproving manner. (Yes, he also made sure we saw The Lone Ranger and Superman.)  It was this same Uncle, my mom’s younger…

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Confederate Monuments: A History Lesson

Hopefully, I will find time in the next few days to complete an entry I’ve started on symbols…

One of the recurring arguments I have been hearing as to why we should not remove Confederate monuments from government lands and buildings is that we need to remember our history. Yet, the very history of these monuments is reason enough to validate their immediate removal. Keeping them is a white-washing and sanitizing of our history… not the other way around.

So, here’s a brief history lesson about Confederate monuments (especially those in the South).

The first government-sponsored monuments to the Confederacy were not erected until after 1877–a full twelve years (that’s the equivalent of 3 presidential terms, ya’ll) after the Civil War ended.

That date is important because that date marks a major turning point in the post Civil War culture of the American South.

In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote in the presidential election. However, he held an edge in the electoral college over Samuel…

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Twenty Five Years too Late

Greenville, NC was booming in the early 1990’s. A growing college campus, a regional hospital and pharmaceutical companies were making the area of Pitt County NC a destination for many new people.

The United Methodist Church saw the growth and new that a new congregation would be the best way to tap into the new people coming into the area. After several months of ground work by a planting team, Easter 1992, they launched their new service of Covenant UMC in a local Boy’s and Girls Club.

By the summer of 1992, the attendance at Covenant had hit 800 and was climbing. The pastor reached out to Duke Divinity School for a summer intern and somehow I ended up going there for the summer before I started my first year of seminary. It was a dream placement. I got to see the church at its most exciting. New people were coming to faith every week. Folks who had fallen away from “Church” finding their way back. The pastor was dynamic. Their music was phenomenal. And the felling around the gathering of this new congregation was one that was filled with hope – there was nothing God couldn’t do.

I was given the opportunity to preach a couple of times at Covenant that summer. On the first occasion, I had slipped into my white alb prior to arriving at the Boys and Girls Club and was just out mingling with the folks showing up for worship. I felt a tap on my shoulder and then a voice in my ear said quite clearly, “Hey, where’s your hood?” And then they laughed and walked off.

I didn’t get it at first. I wondered why anyone would need a hood in the humidity of Greenville. After a couple of steps and watching the end of my white alb sway as I walked, I froze at the realization of what this man meant. I couldn’t believe this came from one of our wonderful new congregation members. How could they possibly think that this sacred outfit was “that kind of robe.”

But they did. That is exactly what they saw.

I never wore it again in Greenville but I was quite comfortable wearing it once I returned to West Virginia. Had I been given the chance, I would have worn it to my ordination. But alas, in those days, we had to wear black robes.

This week, I saw the alb hanging in my office closest and thought I might bring it out for this week’s worship service in Princeton. It had been a while since I had worn it.

And then Friday night happened in Charlottesville. And then Saturday’s horrors.

I took the alb to the sanctuary Sunday morning but I was not wearing it. I simply hung it up where it could be seen.

The text I preached on that morning was Matthew 11:22-33. You may know it as the one where Jesus walks on water. And the one where Peter sinks. The disciples all get called people of “weak faith.” What had struck me that week was the fact that Jesus used people of weak or little faith to build the Kingdom. As I thought about the weekend’s event and my holding onto that symbol that could be so easily misunderstood, I realized that I too was a man of weak faith.

I told the story of that morning in Greenville and my inability to say anything in return. I told my congregation that I was a man of little faith. Then I picked up the alb and ripped it in half and placed it on the chancel rail of the church. Here is a picture of the destruction for now. Here is a link to the video…It is silent, but I think it speaks louder that way – you already know the story!  https://vimeo.com/229491973

Torn Alb

I know that not every white person in our churches see albs and think immediately of the Klan. But some of them do. Some of them do. I did not want anything of my already white privileged life to become a confusing symbol to anyone. Anyone. We have allowed symbols to lead to hate. Hate lead to speech. Speech lead to the disaster that hit a beautiful college town in Virginia. I will no longer wear a symbol even closely resembled to white hate in any way. I hope to find somewhere, some way that I can send the pieces of this alb to be refashioned into something of peace. Don’t know if that’s possible but I’m open to ideas.

I also offer a challenge to my fellow white clergy anywhere.

Ditch the albs.

Sure, I know they have other meanings. I know that they symbolize so much. But I also know that our actions here could speak much louder than anything else. Ditch the alb…Take up the preaching robe with love, justice, and peace. Let’s make a change that no one can miss. It took me twenty five years to gain the little bit of faith I needed to make a statement with this piece of white clothing. I pray it takes you less.

Thanks for reading. Thanks even more for joining me if you wish.

To see the entire sermon…go here.

 

Mugs of abundance

The following is a work of fiction. It is the first installment of many and may at some point cease to exist on this blog and take up residence elsewhere. Any resemblance to people living and or not living is just because sometimes the people I meet are incredibly more interesting than the people who hang around in my head. I try to be nice to the ones who have inspired me. Sure, some of them are pretty poorly hidden, but “Cary” is not me. Trust me. We almost share a calling, but even there things are different.

 

The ancient experienced hands of the retired nurse placed the ceramic mugs with great care on the shelves in the cupboard. An occasional clink, as one mug hit another, was all the new occupant was expecting to hear. There had not been much chit-chat between the volunteer laborer and the new resident. But the music was broken by lyrics he didn’t expect. “You think you have enough coffee mugs, pastor? Looks to me that you could serve a whole bunch of people with all these mugs. How many of you drink coffee?”

“Just two of us.” he said. “It does seem as if we’ve picked up a few extra along the way, though. Guess we like our mugs.”

“Hmph. Guess you do.” was the end of the song. But the music continued.

And that was two churches ago for the preacher. Long before others in the house began drinking coffee and adding to the plethora of caffeine dispensers that crowded the cabinet in their newest, smaller parsonage. He was quite certain that somewhere in the maze of boxes yet unopened there was a treasure trove of mugs aching to be used, long over their own sense of caffeine withdrawal and simply settled in the darkness of their moving paper rest home.

But the four were there.

Mugs

There was the one he had since his time in seminary, the last of a group of four that he purchased from the Baptist House at Duke Divinity. Cary always thought it a bit ironic that one of his most cherished possessions from his days at a United Methodist seminary was a Baptist mug. And yet, every Wednesday and every Sunday, this was the one that made the trip from cabinet to Kuerig. Well, truth be told, it would sometimes come straight out of the dishwasher and make its way to the coffee machine. But on Sundays and Wednesday, Cary needed the reminder that the mug brought with it.

It wasn’t a reminder of all that he has learned. It wasn’t a reminder of his Master of Divinity degree. It wasn’t even a reminder of particular people or places. He used that mug to remind him that truth be told, he wasn’t even close to having all the answers. On Sunday morning, as he got ready to somehow stand before a congregation and preach, he needed that reminder. He was just happy that it only took a mug and not a two-by-four upside his head. And sure, he used it on Wednesdays too as a reminder that when he taught Bible Study, the Bible was usually going to teach him more than he could manage to squeeze out in a lesson or two.

And then there was the brother mug. One of his two brothers got him that one, but truthfully he couldn’t remember which one. Didn’t matter much. He used Brother one day a week to remind himself of them. The three weren’t the best at staying in touch with one another but when the chips were down, they knew that they could count on one another. The mug reminded Cary of them, their differences, their similarities, but especially their connection to one another.  Since the loss of their father, Cary looked forward to the Monday encounter with this mug. He could sip and say a prayer for his brothers. And he needed that grounding as much as he needed the humility he found with the Duke.

He remembered offering the MTSO mug to his buddy, now a Chaplain in the Army, on one of his visits. “What in the world are you doing with a Methodist Theological School of Ohio mug?” was the question Ray asked. Cary shrugged and said, “I got it during a visit of their Course of Study one year. I hope I cleaned it before I filled it. Been sitting on the shelf a long time.”

Truthfully though, this mug got used as much as Duke and more often than Brother. MTSO came out twice a week, typically on Tuesday and Saturday to remind Cary of the two best friends he had in ministry. Ray went to MTSO but his other friend, Ann, went to Candler, or as Cary loved to jokingly call it, “Chandler.” No Candler mug in the mix but it didn’t matter. When he drank his coffee from MTSO he thought of them both, prayed for them both and gave thanks to God that he knew they were always just a call away. MTSO was a good memory mug – laughter from residency, long, late night talks at Annual Conference, and just the memory that these three very different people ended up so close to one another. If someone would have taken wagers on the military haircut Ray and the long haired Cary becoming friends, they would have lost a bundle. It was rocky, but perhaps the rockiness made the friendship that much stronger. Of the three, and sadly there used to be four, but that is a story for another day, Cary is the only one still serving a local church. He acknowledges that the other two do great work for the Kingdom…better work for the revolution that Jesus wishes to bring…than he often manages on his best days.

Friday was the day for the “Brown Mug from North Carolina.” Cary wasn’t sure of the pottery that produced it but it clearly was hand thrown and it was his Friday mug. Given to him by a former Associate Pastor, this mug was Cary’s Sabbath mug. (Yeah, pastors do take a Sabbath day and it ain’t Sunday, that for certain.) Cary uses BMNC because it’s all about grace. The Deacon who gave it to him taught him a lot about receiving grace. They worked well together, but they did so in a difficult place at a difficult time. Her creativity and spirituality helped to keep the church they served very well grounded. Truth be told, Cary wasn’t completely forthright about how bad things were when he brought this Deacon into the mess and that was wrong. And Cary didn’t talk about everything that went on with him while they worked together. It was one of the many wrongs Cary could never make right again. The BMNC was a reminder of that tragic truth of life. More so that despite the wrong, their was peace between Cary and Julia, the Deacon, not because of Cary’s honesty, but due solely to the amazing grace Julia showed.

“It’s a good way to start a Sabbath,” Cary would think. “The bitterness of coffee and the sweetness of grace.”

Yeah, there is an abundance of mugs in Cary’s parsonage. Most of them don’t get used by him. There are others in the house who find the other mugs more to their liking. But these four take up six important places in Cary’s life. And they cover six days.

And that leaves Thursday.

Well, you must wait to hear about Thursday because you don’t quite know enough about Cary to understand. You can rest uneasily, though, that there is a mug for Thursday.  And that mug is the only one he loathes to use.