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.

 

A Prayer for Portland

“Dragon history is always oral history. The written word is so final, so set. Yes, people argue about it but in the end, their arguments are all about interpretation. The spoken word remains alive, writhing, and twisting forever.”

The Hazan
One of the Hazanim

 

gc prayerWhen my brothers and sisters in the faith (and a daughter by blood among them) come together in just a few weeks in Portland, there will be much that has been read and even more that will be said. I know that many prayers are being shared for this holy gathering of people who must worry about words. I only hope the one I add is read by a few, spoken by more, and heard by the only One that matters.

A Prayer for Portland 2016

Gathered from scattered gatherings of the very same clan
They flock and nest in one place for weeks.
To reproduce? To create? To be recreated?
To hold fast? To change? To paint a brighter future?
To hope.

No one knows what will really happen but my prayer is this:
Let your words, whatever words you share,
even the ones in the deepest, darkest corners,
of the unseen places of your heart, be words of life.

Speak those words to life and let all others die the death of the Accuser.

Leave as one, returning to places where clans gatherHope
To share One,
To reproduce,
To create,
To offer recreation,
To hold fast,
To change,
To speak a brighter future into existence
with words that cannot fail.

Leave as one…to hope.

On Capital Punishment

During the “Pray-As-You-Go” exercise for Good Friday, I was challenged to imagine myself as one of the people in Jesus’ group o041314_1740_ACrossBetwe1.jpgf family and friends who were witness to the execution of Jesus on the cross. I found this very difficult. It wasn’t that I couldn’t imagine the scene – I have seen so many depictions of it in art and movie that my imagination didn’t have to work very hard – it was that I found that I could not remain among the group of people who were there with Jesus. My mind kept slipping over to view this scene from the perspective of the family members of the others who were being executed by Jesus. (If you want to read what became of this imaginative exercise, you can click here.)

Granted, the fact that Jesus was killed between two thieves has been something that has captured my theological imagination for quite some time. What does it mean that “a completely innocent man” was killed in the name of the state between two people who were also “convicted” of capital crimes?

Part of me imagines that Jesus would have chosen to be killed in exactly this way. He spent his life hanging around those who had reputations that were less than stellar. I think that it is only fitting that the man who gave up heaven to walk the earth spent his last few breathes on public display with exactly the type of people he loved the most – those who were always on the outside of any faith based on legalism. What were the crimes of these convicted felons? I know we have certain standards in our world today for executions, but what are those standards really based upon? And this says nothing of the “figurative” way that people are killed in the name of a group of people in power. I think of all the people who are ostracized by “the Church” in the name of legal interpretations of our Book as well. What about these people? Is Jesus still handing on a cross beside them and waiting for us to notice? It even happens in our communities. Not very long ago, a man in our community took his own life after being investigated for child pornography issues. Yesterday a man in South Korea took his own life rather than face the relatives of the children killed in a tragic ferry accident. What do these things say about us as a people? I know that this is not “capital punishment” but what does it say about our ability to stand with those who commit crimes or even those facing the tragic circumstances of which they played some part? Those who follow Jesus should be able to offer some hope, some joy, for even the worst among us. Jesus managed to do it on the cross.

Another part of me wonders about the justice issues that we as Christians cannot deny exist when we look at the cross. An innocent man was killed “by the state” for crimes he was convicted of by the judicial system of that day. Even an attempt at some sort of pardon by the state failed. It stands to reason, at least for me, that those who were hanging on the left and right of Jesus of Nazareth could have just as easily been every bit as innocent as Jesus. (Granted, one of those two confesses his crimes on the cross, but still, I have to wonder about any system that finds justified killing in the name of the people of a state somewhat suspect.) I know the stance of my church on this issue:

The Death Penalty

We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

Is it possible that even one innocent person is killed today? I can’t imagine that we are that much better than those who led in Jesus’ day. Things do happen. People do let their eyes be blinded by certain preconceived notions of what is happening. I know I do.

And yet, at the same time, I hear so little about it…especially as it relates to the way we sometimes “kill the spirit” of those who are convicted of other crimes in the Church. Both are serious problems that our society and church face today.

Sunrise over Princeton, WV

Sunrise!

I know…pretty serious thought for the Saturday before we celebrate the Joy of Easter. However, I had to get this off my mind. As I go through this day and even tomorrow, I hope I find myself praying for all those who are on “death row” these days, in our prisons, in our communities, and in our churches. I know that Jesus is with them still. I know Jesus would offer hope. I know that since “joy is the serious business of heaven” (C. S. Lewis) then that same joy should be our serious business as well – “on earth as it is in heaven” and all.

May the Joy and Hope of Easter be with us all!

Community of Grace??

zero-to-hero-badgeToday’s Zero-to-Hero challenge is one that is near and dear to my pastoral heart – building community.  However, this is a very different kind of community.  It is one of writers, thinkers, and bloggers.  For “Not Quite Home” the community I would like to hang out with and read more from time to time would have to include people who are willing to look for grace wherever it may be found – or wherever it finds them.  So, I did a search on “grace” and found some new (hopefully) friends that I intend to read.  They are not in any specific order, but I do recommend reading them.

http://www.dianewbailey.net/blog/

Not a WordPress blog but someone who looks for grace in the moment.  I look forward to reading her blog!  I found poetry and prose on this blog and though I am a great fan of poetry, I haven’t ventured into the sharing of poetry…yet.  There is powerful stuff here.

http://dimlyburning.com/

I read a few entries in this blog and I found a whole lot of promise from this blog by a mother.  I really hope to see more here.  I don’t know what it is about mom’s that allow them to see grace so clearly, even when the light is “dimly burning” but it is there more times than not.  I am glad she is sharing her thoughts and observations!

http://.wordpress.com/20totallyjoyouslyimperfect14/01/05/small_3547128317-jpg/

You had me from the title!  This is a blog that is just getting started but a whole lot of possibilities in this one. Sticking to that joyously imperfect theme makes a great companion on my so-called endless journey toward home.

http://pulpitshenanigans.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/burning-love/

A Presbyterian pastor with two tattoos…Okay, I’ve got to follow this one.   Yeah, I’m United Methodist and male but there are some things about being a pastor that, well, are just about being a pastor.  I laughed out loud at the thought of “white” tattoos of “Grace” and “Love.”  I’ve never had the boldness to take that step but will enjoy reading from someone who did.

http://abysparchemins.wordpress.com/

Finally, I will be honest and say that I thought I had to find at another guy beside the new blog above (the “imperfect “ one) to follow.  But the truth of the matter is that after reading about 25 extremely dogmatic and/or tired writings on “scriptural truth” I was beginning to get discouraged.  Do all male bloggers about “grace” feel like they have to have the right answers??? Eventually, my journey allowed me to stumble upon this breath of fresh air.  Glad it’s there.  Look forward to reading it.

http://geekergosum.wordpress.com/

Okay…just for fun.  Read this guy.  He’s hilarious!!

Thanks for taking the time to read this and yes, I recommend reading and following those listed above!

Peace!