Eyes to See


A Spring flower pokes through the ground…
And one sees the end of all winter;
One sees a sign of hope;
One sees a fragile creature doomed to the next bite of frost.

Pushing up through the ground in search of the sun,
This little one

Some see it as a thing for them –
To admire,
To analyze,
To determine the worth and valor.

But maybe, just maybe, this little one
Who chooses a journey
Many wise ones would dare not take
Is the one who really finds the presence of God –
In sunshine,
A breeze,
Warm dirt,
Even in the passing shadow of a photographer.

It amazes me what some people see,
Because they always look outward for signs of God’s presence.
They only share what’s inside in
A hope fueled by vanity
To cultivate or force faith upon another.
Some never venture into the Resurrection that lies within –
the scary place
Of dormant seasons
Crawling worms,
Earthy smells
And long waits.

What does the crocus see on its journey?

What does the missionary see as they journey to new places?

Is God only found in what we describe or is profundity procured perfectly when we look inside for peace.

Fear and Dread

“Overcome with fear and dread, they fled from the tomb.
They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Mark 16:8 Common English Bible

There are a lot of emotions that we associate with Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus. Joy, celebration, happiness, and awe are just a few that come to my mind.

However, no matter how long my list of Easter emotions gets, I seldom end up with “fear and dread” on it. And yet, that is exactly how Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are described as feeling when they found the empty tomb and heard the message that Jesus had risen from the dead. They not only felt fear and dread, they were overcome with it.

We know that the women did not keep complete silence about the event as Mark says in his account – how else would Mark have known unless the eye witnesses told him? So perhaps the mention of being overcome by fear and dread was a way for Mark to explain why it took a little while for the report to spread. Truthfully, I don’t know and I am not sure that we can know. The ending here is filled with as much mystery as, well, as the Son of God.

The more I think about it, though, perhaps fear and dread are pretty common emotions when God shows up in a powerful way…

We sat in the sanctuary of the little country church and were just about ready to wrap up our Wednesday evening Bible Study when the doors at the back of the sanctuary opened. Standing in the doorway in a suit jacket three sizes too big and a tie that was older than my twenty-five years was “Jack” – one of the community’s heaviest drinkers and partiers.

I watched as he walked from the back of the church to the front row and swallowed hard as I wondered what was going to happen next. He paused by the front pew and said, “Preacher, I was wondering if you all would be willing to pray for my little boy. He’s four years old and the doctors have found something on his brain and they are doing surgery on him tomorrow. I know I’m not a member or anything, but I wanted to stop by and ask you to pray.”

There was a silence as I tried to figure out what to do with the group of “veteran Christians” watching their young pastor. As I started to ask the group what they would want to do, Miss Virgie, an octogenarian with both moxie and faith stood up and said, “Well, preacher, it looks like we got some praying to do. You get Jack up to that altar and we will gather round and have a good ole fashioned prayer time!”

Yeah…I did what I was told. I didn’t mess with Miss Virgie. That just wouldn’t have gone well.

It did go well for Jack’s son. Surgery was a wonderful success and the next year the little boy headed off to Kindergarten absolutely no different than his peers.

We saw Jack occasionally at the church. He’d sneak in late and sit in the back – or at least as far back as the regular members left empty seats, that is. He wasn’t regular, but people stayed in touch just like they do in small town WV.

I share this story with you because I have to admit that when I first saw Jack framed in the light of the opening door of that little church, the first emotion I felt was something akin to fear. I was afraid about what would happen next. I was afraid of the change that would come to this little congregation. What would transpire when what John Wesley would refer to as a “gross, scandalous transgressor” mixed among the familiar  “reputable and decent sinners” (also Wesley’s words) that made up the congregation?

I didn’t know and I was a little afraid.

I also must say that I dfear-of-changereaded this appearance as well. Change is hard. Change is not fun. Change is, well, change! And sometimes we just dread it.

But when God shows up at the tomb of his Son, his only Son, and brings Resurrection to this world – that’s a big change. No wonder the women were afraid. No wonder they were overcome with dread.

When Jesus shows up in the lives of those we, well, aren’t quite comfortable with in our comfortable little lives, there can be fear. There can be dread. All because everything is about to change.

Remember that the next times something gets changed around you. Fear and dread were part of the Resurrection story – and no story could have been better for our world than that one. Its why we call it Good News, you know!

Ash Thursday

ashwednesdayThe imposition of ashes was yesterday – of course,
I know that much.
The calendar said so…
The liturgy dictated it…
I even carried out – despite a snow shriveled congregation huddled in a sanctuary being renovated – carpets removed, chalk lines on the floor and walls, electric lines dangling like tongues from the wall.

I thought about the dust swirling about us…
Of course, it was carpet fiber…
Of course, it was wood dust and plaster.
But perhaps, just perhaps, among the sixty year old carpet ripped from its resting place
there were the long ago deposited cells of saints now in glory.
It took my breath away, this thought, and tempted me to breathe deeper still.
We talked about that.
Listened to a reading about dust and ashes, ashes and dust.

And thirteen times
I dipped my index finger into the oily black mess
of burnt palm branches and
God only knows what else that settled from our place of worship.
(Yeah, I’m different that way…I use my thumb to push back stray hairs.)
I made the sign of the cross on foreheads.
I said the words, “You are dust, to dust you shall return.”
We prayed.
We sang.
We stared at the different crosses one pastor/artist could create on the canvass of skin.
We laughed and we left.

But today is “Ash Thursday” for me.
I look at that paintbrush which is my index finger
and I see it.
The ashes,
the dust
that has embedded itself deep into the quick of my finger.
Only a painful cut with the nail clippers will erase its presence.

Yet before I pull out the eraser,
I am reminded
that this is the first time,
the only first time,
that my Dad is among those saints remembered as dust, celebrated as ash.

He is embedded deep too.
Not just in the quick of my finger but somewhere quite deeper…
in the ganglia of my nerves…
in the composition of my cells…
in the foggy clarity of my memory…
in the power of my family system.
Cut off from the family – but present still.

I can cut out the ashes on my recognition of Ash Thursday,
almost as easily as I wiped the cross from my increasing forehead.
But some dust, some ash will remain deep.

Maybe that is why we were told not to look for the living among the dead –
We can easily find the dead among the living…
Look in a mirror…
Listen to a laugh…
Talk to a child…

It’s Ash Thursday for me…and I thank God I am happy for that!

Being A Pastor in a 5-4 World by Rev. Travis Garner

I wish I had written this… There is great wisdom here. I, too, feel the tension of pastoring in in a 5-4 world.

Greater Things Are Yet To Be Done

With permission, I offer you this pastoral word:

Unless you’ve not being paying attention to anything going on in the world, you know that this week was a landmark week in the United States, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer ban marriage between same-sex couples. In many ways, the way the decision was reached and the response on social media are more indicative of the current state of our culture than the decision itself. It was a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, and the justices were very divided in their writings on the decision. If you’ve been reading social media (and who hasn’t?), you’ve seen incredibly divided responses as well. I have good friends, people of faith, who fall across the spectrum on their response to this ruling.

The question I’m pondering this morning as I prepare to head to church is this: How…

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A Journey Toward the Trinity? Searching for Sunday (A Review)

I am not a millennial. I live with two of them in my home – well, one is part time now that she has gone to college. However, I have always had a difficult time figuring out which group I truly relate to the most. I could be a “Boomer”. No doubt my bowing to the god of consumerism labels me this way many times. I could be a “Gen-X” or “Buster”. God, my supervisors and my colleagues in ministry know that I have spent more than my fair share of time calling things into question. I enjoy upsetting the status quo just a little too much at times. Although my age would allow me to fit into either of these two groups – I was born in 1965 – I truly think of myself as part of the “Bridge” generation. (We have no “one” identity but find our tribe among many.) Perhaps that is why, even today, I find myself longing to listen more and more to voices of the “millennials” who have a relationship with doubt and questioning that I find exciting and fascinating, if not, at times, downright frightening.

SFS BookIt is because of this desire to hear the voices of millennials that I first started reading Rachel Held Evans’ work. It is why I have listened to her speak. It is why I am honored to be able to recommend her latest work, Searching for Sunday.

When I received my copy of Searching for Sunday, I immediately scanned the table of contents for the section on Communion. I knew the book was going to be organized around the Sacraments and the Eucharist has special appeal to me because I have learned so much about following Christ by being on both sides of “the Table.” It was in serving communion that I learned what a bold-faced judgmental hypocrite I was when I chose not to partake of Christ’s meal with a congregation I was serving because I felt their sin of racism somehow tainted the meal. It was in receiving communion that I learned what a beggar for grace I am and now only approach the Table with my hands held out. Sometimes, I will sit through a whole worship service with my hands cupped just so I can remember that grace is a gift.

So I decided to read that chapter first and then go back and read the whole book. Perhaps I wanted to take the book for a test drive around a topic that is near and dear to me. Perhaps I wanted to see if the part of the book which would be most important to me would live up to my expectations. I don’t know. I just wanted to read that section first.

I was not disappointed. My expectations were not only met, they were exceeded. Ms. Evans echoed the feeling I learned at that table in North Carolina when I thought I was too good to eat with certain people: “At Eagle Eyrie I learned why it’s so important for pastors to serve communion. It’s important because it steals the show. It’s important because it shoves you and your ego and your expectations out of the way so Jesus can do his thing. It reminds you that grace is as abundant as tears and faith as simple as food.”[1]

The power in telling any story, I believe, is as that story invites the reader in and allows them to find themselves somewhere in the narrative. This happened to me in a powerful way as I read “Communion” and happened again and again throughout the book. I am not a child of the evangelical church, I am and always have been part of a mainline denomination, the United Methodist Church. But still, I found myself in Evans’ narrative over and over and over again. As powerful as this connection to the story was around “Communion” it paled in comparison to how I felt the “guilt of silence” as I read the section “Vote Yes on One.” Silence seems to be the only way to survive in the UM Church these days.

I simply cannot tell you how great this book is for anyone searching for a reason to find faith again, or those who are sometimes wondering about the faith they have in the tradition they hold. Evans’ story of her journey shows how one can embrace evangelical, progressive and sacramental traditions as they follow Jesus. And this is a story for our time.

Recently, I read an article by Steve Harper where he said, “Staying together is a sacred act – a holy experience. We have become patterned to disagree and divide. But the witness in the Trinity is to unite and to be one.”[2] Evans poignantly tells us the sometimes tortured path that she took to get to that unity of past, present and future in her theology. Evans gives us the hope that we might one day do the same.

Read Searching for Sunday. Start your journey as well.

[1] Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans, Nelson Publishing, 2015, page 140

[2] “No More Sides”, Steve Harper, Circuit Rider Magazine, Feb/March 2015, The United Methodist Publishing House, page 27