An Apology, a Comment and a Response

First of all, allow me to offer my apologies to a faithful reader of this blog, Dr. Cory Williams. I failed to approve a comment he made in response to my last blog post dealing with questions about Scripture. I am sorry, Dr. Williams. Not sure why I responded to your post personally and failed to approve it, but I did just that. I feel certain that if there were fines that could be written for “bad blogging techniques,” this mistake would have landed me a whopper of a fine – right along with my failure to properly spell check my posts and my occasional overuse of “however”! I’d be broke being these fines. Continue reading “An Apology, a Comment and a Response”

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!!

I Saw a Song*

Princeton Community Garden Mercer Street Princeton, WV

Princeton Community Garden
Mercer Street
Princeton, WV

Trash cleared
Earth smoothed
Holes dug
Timbers places
Soil moved
Plants rooted
Gravel spread

As the rain fell

An artist, a laborer,
A musician, a mother,
the unemployed, a preacher,
and those with skills beyond us all

Together we toiled to bring light to the darkness
and I saw a song.

 

*Thanks to Lori McKinney for inviting us to be a part of this Community Garden project and for the title of this piece.

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!