Go!

“Baptizing a baby is the most dangerous and reckless act a set of parents can do with a child. If this child is one that you want, you need to stay as far away from the baptismal font as possible.”

I have said these words a couple dozen times in the last twenty some years of being a pastor.  I said them with all seriousness because I truly believe them.  We think as parents that we can look out for our children, do what is best for our children, and perhaps even plan and work towards a good future for our children.

And then, in Baptism, we go and give them to God!

Sure, we promise to do all we can to bring them up in the faith.  (Yet another dangerous act!) Yes, we do this partially out of cultural significance – at least in the church culture.  But sometimes we don’t think completely about what we are doing.  That’s why I make the statement that I do.

Hammock from Nicaragua

Hammock from Nicaragua

This hammock is “resting” in our garage for the winter.  It had spent the summer in our backyard on a stand that I had to move about 37 times when I was mowing the grass.  (Our house does not have a “lawn”.  I don’t do lawns.  I am lucky to say that most of the yard is grass, thank you, very much.)  It did get used quite a bit by different members of the household, but truth be told, I probably used it more than it’s owner – my daughter.

I spent many an afternoon laying in the hammock and just thinking.  I don’t sleep well in it so I rest…and when I rest, I think.  And some of my thoughts were about the very strings that were holding me up off the ground and giving me the rest that I needed at the moment.

Most would not think of a hammock as something associated with the word “Go.”  Stranger still might be the connection between “go,” “hammock” and “baptism.”  But because some words leave a lasting sticky residue in your mouth, I have no trouble at all with the connection.

This hammock from Nicaragua returned with my now senior in high school daughter when she returned from a mission trip in December and January of 2012.  I worried a lot while she was gone.  I marked the passing of her sixteenth birthday without her while she was away.  I prayed a lot while she was gone.  She turned off her phone when she arrived in Managua because she wanted to totally immerse herself in her work and I didn’t here from her directly for over two weeks.  Like I said, I prayed a lot while she was gone.

She did come home and she brought this great “‘restful” gift with her.

But the fact of the matter is that whenever I see that hammock…whenever I am attempting to rest in its web of strings, I remember that my wife and I stood before a congregation, let our District Superintendent sprinkle water on her head and let God claim her as one of God’s own.  Even then I knew how dangerous an act that was but I thought I could control things better.

Alas, God said, “Go.”

And I am blessed because my daughter listened.  Grayer…but blessed.

Newtown

Last Sunday morning, I had a wonderful group of children gather around me on the steps of the chancel at Princeton FUMC as we talked about a little owl that someone shared with us.  I told them that no matter what, “God knows ‘WHO’ you are.”  It was corny, campy and cute.  Yet, I don’t regret a single fist bump or hug any one of those children gave me.

Last night I listened to the Princeton Senior High School Jazz Band, First Block Choir and The Madrigal Singers all perform beautiful music for the season.  Their selections this year were interesting – even according to the director – who said many of the pieces were chosen simply because the showed a part of the “music of the world” that is so much a part of our culture.  Some of the songs were not Christmas songs but simply recalled that anyone could praise God.  I don’t regret clapping for a single one of the young people who gave of themselves.  I don’t regret being in tears as I heard the words to the Lord’s Prayer in an African language and English at the same time.  I don’t regret moving to the front of my seat and bursting with love and pride as my own daughter sang a duet of “O Holy Night.”

This morning I am doing my best to prepare myself for worship.  There are lots of good things that have happened this week as I prepare for a different kind of Christmas this year.  But this morning I read an Associated Press story on the shooting in Newtown and one quote brought me to tears again.  One child, in the midst of the shooting said, “I just want Christmas.  I want this to stop.  I just want Christmas.”   And now, I go to worship in song as we present our annual Christmas Cantata.  It is difficult to do that in the midst of all that has happened in Newton, Connecticut this week.

I was reminded on Friday by Bishop William Boyd Grove of the following:

Connecticut and Bethlehem

Our cheeks are wet with tears,
and our hearts are angry.
In our minds, the image
of our own children last Sunday
with their smiling faces
and their blue and white robes
Singing the Jesus story.

Violence and death
are not new to Christmas.
There is a part of the story we usually skip because it spoils the mood.After angels had gone home
and the shepherds back to
their fields, Herod’s soldiers
killed every boy child
younger than two,
hoping one of them was the new king.
And within a few days
the Christmas Child was a refugee headed for Egypt.

Christmas was violent
and is today.
Bethlehem and Connecticut.

We pray that Christmas angels
Who sang on Christmas night
will hang out in Connecticut now;
much work to do there.

His words reminded me of the story I mentioned during last week’s sermon from Matthew:

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

And I was also reminded this week that in some places in our world children die by violence each and every day – the Sudan, Darfur, Palestine are just a few that come to mind.
This morning, our congregation will gather to worship.  We will gather to proclaim boldly that even in the midst of the darkest that this world can bring, our Savior comes.  Jesus arrives in the messiness of our world.  Jesus arrives in the midst of the grieve of Newton and all those who look at their children differently – in our country and through out the world.
May Jesus come to us this Advent and Christmas…God knows we need him!

My Own Prayer for the Day

I have struggled this afternoon to offer my own prayer as well…

Jesus, we stand in a season of hopeful waiting and we see once more the darkness that surrounds us. Shots ring out where laughter and learning should be taking place. Children and their teachers are dead and wounded. All are changed. Nothing is the same.

Forgive us Lord for failing to realize that your children die every day. Some f
rom violence and some from the violent neglect of your people. Forgive us when we only take note when the children are our own.

So long, O Lord, we have prayed for peace, but what if praying was not enough. Make me an instrument of peace, Jesus. make me an instrument of peace so that no children, no parent, no one would grieve because of violence.

Let me pray for the children, Lord. Let me pray for me.

Amen,

Another Random Fact

I really am taking this “random fact” thing seriously.  I am not following any discernible order in writing about the facts and I certainly am not on any schedule to get them done.  I guess they are random indeed.

Pam and I had been married for about a year when we decided that we wanted to try and have a child of our own.  We were parents to Leslie, my daughter from my first marriage, but we still felt like a larger family was something we wanted.

Making that decision began a couple of years of disappointment for us.  We watched while other couples in my class at Duke Divinity School went through pregnancies and we hoped for our own.  But we were not getting pregnant.  At some point in time we decided that we needed to make up our mind about either adopting or seeking fertility treatments.  So, we scheduled a little weekend get-away so that we could really focus and talk about what we thought would be best for us.

We arrived in this little North Carolina town that we had decided to visit around dinner time and found an interesting local pizza place to eat.  It was the first time either of us saw a menu that offered spinach and pineapple as a topping selection and on a whim to see what it was like, we ordered one.  I can still taste that pizza. Yet, like so many other “firsts” in life, the taste has never been recreated.  We’ve had excellent “specialty pizzas”, especially at “Pies and Pints” here in West Virginia, but I don’t think I have ever had as good a slice of pineapple and spinach pizza anywhere.

There was one problem though.  Despite it being so good, Pam developed a terrible case of indigestion and hardly slept that night.  In the morning, she still wasn’t feeling much better but we went on with our visit and took time to have our discussion.

Sometime in the afternoon of that second day, we had pretty much made up our minds to start the process of adoption.  For us, it just seemed like the right thing to do, especially since we both saw ourselves as “adopted” members of Jesus’ family in the church.  We also just could not justify spending the money on fertility treatments that may or may not work.  So we enjoyed the rest of our weekend and went home “at peace” with our decision.

On Monday, instead of feeling better, Pam was so ill she thought that she needed to go see her doctor.  I had to head off to classes at Duke but she was sure she could make it across town to the docs office and then to work.

I was a little surprised and worried when I got back from class that afternoon to find her car in the driveway and began thinking that she must have really gotten sick.  I was even more befuddled when after I walked in the house and over towards where she was sitting on our couch.  She got up, walked over to me and handed me this little plastic stick before I had a chance to set my books down from class.

I knew immediately what she had given me and one look down told me that she was pregnant.

I said, “Is this a joke?”

“Nope,” she said, “the doctor wouldn’t treat me for anything until they did a pregnancy test and you see for yourself that it’s positive!”

Now…it is at this point in the story that I have to simply say that my response came more from surprise, shock and disbelief especially after the weekend decision we had made.  My books hit the floor and my mouth opened more in reflex than anything else.  I won’t tell you exactly what word came out of my mouth but I will say that it was a word with which I was quite familiar.  My grandmother used that used like some people use sighing. These days, well, we jokingly refer to the word as “Nana’s Word” in our house.  The word has a bit of family history, to say the least, and chances are I have done everything I can to pass on the tradition – even without knowing it.

There you have it…Random Fact Number 6!