Kindles

A few days ago I got a box out of the closet in the corner of my office. The faded markings on a address on the box, covered by several layers of packing tape indicated I received the contents while serving in Kincaid, WV as a student pastor in the United Methodist Church. I lived near the church in Kincaid, served a second church in Mossy and attended what was then called West Virginia Institute of Technology. That school, like a couple other of my alma maters, has since either closed or been relocated. It’s hard to tell which from their name and new location. If anyone asks, I tell them I graduated from WV Tech which is a little ironic for a guy who knew his next step in life would be a theological education. Then again it would explain why I justify writing my devotions, studies, blogs and even sermons on electronic paper when creating my “SFD”. (Writers and fans of Ann Lamont will get that. Others won’t want to know.)

That box at some point in time held a hot air popcorn popper but I don’t remember having one of those so I reckon the contents that are currently there were shipped to me in this container. The label says it was delivered to a post office box in Kincaid. Yes. I had one of those but the number meant nothing to me even after seeing it in writing. The postmark is dim that I can’t make out the date but I’m guessing the late 80’s or early 90’s. I’m not so dim as to forget when I went to whatever the name of that school was.

The box isn’t all that important. Nor the mailing label for that matter. But they were interesting to me. In a way they remind me that the contents and I relocate from time to time. We’ve traveled quite a few miles this box and I.

IMG_20171205_124748.jpgInside it are ceramic figures of a sheep, a donkey, an ox (not to any kind of scale, mind you, because I’ve seen an ox and they are scary big) as well as a camel that has been glued together more than once. An angel is in there too as well as three suspiciously Anglo looking “Wise Men from the East” and equally White looking shepherd, Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. Don’t ever tell me that we don’t allow culture to influence our “pure biblical religion.” I will just ask you to show me your nativity set or a copy of the latest Christmas card you bought with a scene of Jesus’ birth on it.

We all make Jesus fit into our culture at times. It’s what we do as humans. Actually, it’s what the Son of God had to do to become one of us as well.

I carefully placed this suspect nativity set on the credenza in my office using some plants left over from my Dad’s funeral a couple of years ago as a back drop. I didn’t think much about the racial and theological implications of the pieces while I was placing them. I handled each one with care because I didn’t want to get the glue out again and because each one kindles in me a love for the group of people who got together decades ago and hand painted each one of these figurines.

I attended United Methodist Temple in Beckley, WV as a youth and young adult. They had a tradition of giving one piece of this set to each child as they grew up among them. When the occasion arose that they had some outlier like me who came late to the party, then they would send them an entire set when they went off to college or left home for whatever reason. The thing is that I knew that these pieces were labors of love. The people who painted and sent them to me were my last true church “home.” I have loved and have been loved by every congregation I’ve served but the fact is that I came out of Temple.

These were my people.

These were my people giving me a gift.

These were my people giving me a gift to remind me of the Incarnate nature of Jesus.

Every year I put them out and remember. Every year I put them away in the same box, with the same styrofoam popcorn – just caught that irony there of the box and the packing popcorn – and I remember the care taken to make sure I got them.

And I take them with me. Always.

Peace!

#ReThinkAdvent
#UnwrapChristmas

Open

 

Open 2017

Books take up the greatest amount of space on the shelves in my office. However, there is one shelf devoted to important photos, one devoted to bacon – if you have to ask, you don’t really want to know – and one that just has some special gifts given to me over the years.

One of the treasured gifts on that shelf is a a little red fire engine given to me by Dick and Jessie one December as an early Christmas present. I laughed when I opened it and I still smile every time I see it.

It was the beginning of Advent one year and to set the tone of “waiting” I wrote an article for our church newsletter that told a long and involved story about a gift I wanted as a child one Christmas. I’ll give you the short version now. I spotted a fire engine in a store one day while shopping with my Mom. I begged her to get it for me and she said something about “Maybe for Christmas.” I didn’t stop talking about that engine until one day a suspicious looking package appeared under our Christmas tree with my name on it. It was the right height, width and length for that fire engine and to keep from jinxing anything, I shut up about it till Christmas morn.

It’s important to know that at times, my family makes Christmas gift wrapping an art in and of itself. They did with this package as well. I recall at least three layers of wrapping paper that were all covered in shipping tape under the outer layer of tissue paper. It was frustrating to open and I spent a good deal of time trying to rip into it. I remember writing about this:

“Even my older brother started to feel sorry for me and gave me a hand in opening this present. He helped me rip, pull and tear on that package. And then, when all the wrapping and tape lay in a heap around us… Well, I think I am just going to save the end of this story for Christmas Eve. Join us in worship then and I will tell the rest.

And I ended the article that way.

On December 22nd, Jessie and Dick stopped by to see me with a gift. They asked me to open it right then and sure enough it was a fire engine with a card that said, “Every little boy deserves to get the gift they really want, sometimes.”

I explained to them that I did indeed get the gift I wanted that Christmas many years ago and that I had told the story the way I did to get us all in the spirit of “waiting”. We all had a huge laugh about it and I cherish that engine even more than the original. (Well, at least it lasted longer. Seven year old boys can destroy toys in no time. A book shelf is pretty safe.)

That second engine was much easier to open too. I think that was because the givers of the gift thought I had waited long enough and they wanted to make things as simple as possible for me to receive this gift.

These days I pray that I have their eyes during Advent every year. I know the greatest gift some people could ever have this Christmas. I pray that the Spirit leads and I find just the right way to wrap it up and pass it on.

Thank you, Jessie and Dick! You’ve made every Advent, every Christmas special to this little boy, uhm, pastor.

Peace,

Scott

#RethinkChurch

#UnwrapChristmas

Ground Pine and Hope

ground pineOnce a year my Mom would send my Dad and my brothers and I out in the woods in search of ground pine. It was almost always in November and through the years, Dad became so used to the different areas where it grew that it was less searching for ground pine as it was picking it up from the woods. This interesting little plant – or weed, some would say – was a needed ingredient in our annual Advent Wreath creation in the Sears home.

I remember several wreaths. There was one that was made out of an old piece of a stump. There was one created in Cub Scouts with acorns arranged as candle holders. There was one that was made of metal one year, but that one didn’t last. I don’t think any of us liked it.

It was the tradition in the home of my youth together on the Sunday evenings of Advent to light our candle for that week, read Scripture and pray together as a family. Most of the time, I must admit, I was just praying that we would be done in time for us to watch “The Wonderful World of Disney.” And yet, despite the lack of attention that I gave to the whole ritual, something about it stuck with me.

Maybe it was the fresh smell of the ground pine. (I don’t think I mentioned that we would pick enough of this stuff so that mom could keep some “wet” and change it out each week.) Perhaps it was the flicker of the flame on the candles. It might even have been the way that my two brothers and I would fight with one another over the right to light the candles or better yet to blow them out and let the hot wax “accidentally” drip into our hands as we did so.

Something stuck about Advent because this is the time of the year when I become my most hopeful.

I look at the headlines of a burning city in Missouri. I realize that I will never see the world, never understand power, never truly grasp what justice means to someone of a different race than my own. I watch our nation grapple with figuring out how to handle such things and I hear so many voices crying out “doom”. But not me. I remember the evergreen of Advent and know that somewhere in the presence of Jesus there is hope.

I look at the area I live in – Southern West Virginia – and I listen to so many people talk about how we are losing everything because Coal is no long King. I wish I could buy into that message and join the war against the war against coal. But I don’t. This time of year, I see the evergreen and I can’t help but think that there is a greater King than Coal. Sure, he was born in a stable. He was one of the poor. But maybe why that is why we should hold him as our King even more. He truly is one of us.

I look at mainline churches and notice the struggle that so many are having. Some are fighting within about beliefs and doctrines. Others are the ever present worship war. Some are watching their average attendance plummet because members do not commit themselves to attending as often. Some of them, like the church I serve, are watching budget shortfalls eat away at the hope people have for continuing to do the ministry we already have and the flame of any new idea for ministry and mission.

But folks…to me…this season of Advent is the greatest season of Hope that I know.

I believe we will find some way to balance justice and power in a world that has for so long ignored the voices of minorities.

I believe the King will show us a new way to power our economy in Southern West Virginia.

And I believe that church’s will find peace, they will grow committed disciples, and they will even find people who can give the money needed to grow ministry into the next year.

It’s Advent folks…and I am full of hope.

Perhaps it time to go ground pine hunting!!

Bound

"Friar Folk" Ordination Gift

“Friar Folk” Ordination Gift

These little guys have been hanging around my desk for quite some time now.  “Word” (the little guy with the book), “Sacrament” (yeah, with the wine bottle and bread) and “Order”, (the guy in the dark brown robe and the puzzled look toward the sky) were all given to me on the occasion of my ordination by one of my sponsors, Rev. Judy Fisher.  She is even responsible for naming these Friar Folk for me and explaining that the best thing she could think of for ordering the life of the church was a whole lot of prayer.  That’s probably why I have, through the years, purchased the other two praying Friars, appropriately named “Uh-Oh” and “What-do-I-do-now, God?”

Whenever I look at any of my Friar Folk – and yes, there are more of them – I am reminded that I am connected not only to God through my ordination but to many other sisters and brothers in this “order” we call Elders.  I am bound to them by something more than mere words that I said in my vows. I am bound to them by more than just words that appear on any page.

I am bound by God to be in covenant with these brothers and sisters by the very Word of God.

Our denomination has been going through a whole lot of upheaval lately.  I could describe it in detail but that’s not necessary and it really isn’t helpful.  The fact of the matter is that those of us who are “bound” together find ourselves disagreeing with one another.  Some think one way…some think another.  Some are even willing to call the others “wrong”.  (As an aside, I do not have a Friar Folk name “Wrong” or “Right” for that matter.)

I think about my ordination often  and I think about the problems we as Elders are having with one another.  I am glad I have these three guys and their friends around to remind me that I am bound to others.  I also have a great group of Elders that I am in a Covenant Group with that are always there to remind me of the tie we have.  And yeah, sometimes it even gags us!

I don’t have all the answers to what we are facing together but this much I know…I do not have to be “right” about anything.  And you, my sister or brother, do not have to be “wrong.”

There is something bigger than what we can know, understand and figure out that holds us together.  We are bound…Thank God…we are bound to one another.