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.

Sacred Secrets…Scared People…Scarred Hope

Some observations and reflections of a United Methodist pastor during the Lenten journey.


And yes…I get the irony of reflecting and judging…it’s never lost on me.





In a community that proclaims there is a Light brighter than any darkness that exists in the world, there remains a culture a secrets. I am no stranger to its perpetuation and continuation.

We cannot talk about ourselves – the selves Jesus knows and loves – our bare and naked souls – because others are always watching, always listening. And yes, some of them take notes.

We cannot even whisper about the God-felt plans and dreams we have for our flock because it may upset those who have power.

We cannot dare to mention the call change, for there are sheep for which we care that will become unsettled and move themselves to another community.

Good as we are at keeping secrets, we breed a herd that knows all too well how to keep the lid upon the Spirit. The flock that we serve often hid their own selves away in their lives, their families, their busy-ness. The leaders who stand both beside and above us in this mixed up world of pastor/supervisor dare not speak of their plans as well, but cloak them – just like me – in nuanced words and Sacred Secrets.


Why do we, the people of the Light of the universe persist in living so much of our faith life in secret? In a word – scared.

That’s who we really are so much of the time – scared, sacred secret keeps. So sacred, we ignore the nightmare that is us, we, me and I as well as the daybreak open sharing would bring and force ourselves back into the safety of that which we know best and can control…back into the darkness…back to sleep. Scared People.

As I travel through this Lenten season I think of myself, those I serve, and those who lead me and I see us all as the scared, sacred secret keepers that we are. And I pray. And I remember.


There is one who faced a terrible death. His life would be viewed as wasted. His dreams for people would be seen as undermining authority. His hopes for those around him – all of those around him – would be viewed as revolutionary. And he knew he would die.

And yet…he did not keep this future a secret from those who followed. He spoke freely of the future that awaited him. He would be handed over. They would scatter. He would be tried. They would betray. He would be beaten, pierced and rejected at his death.
But he would come back. He would return. He would stand before us all with scarred wrists, feet and side. He would offer us Scarred Hope.

With the One that we follow, there are no Sacred Secrets. He chose not be a Scared Person. He comes even now to offer us Scarred Hope.

“Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:14 NRSVA

Getting Rid of a Killer

My heart and mind is still filled with images and overwhelmed with emotions about the school shooting in Newtown.  As a pastor, I am dealing with parents and others looking for answers where there are none but I am offering them the Hope that this season of Christmas promises and praying that we will see God’s Light in the darkness.

I have had many conversations with people about “how to stop” these kinds of things from happening – fixing our mental health system, stricter gun laws, safer schools, etc.

I want to say that I don’t have the complete answer to solving that problem.  I read a haunting article on the first school bombing which took place in 1927 where 45 students and teachers were killed.  It made me take a very deep breath and realize that this is not a problem of our generation – it is a problem of our human nature.  It is a problem that only the God we find in a manger and on a cross can solve.

Yes…we must do ALL we can to make things safer but we must also do all we can to expose the darkness to the Light so that real change can take place.

At the same time that all this has been happening, I have been meeting with a group of people who wanted to study about how they could have “A Different Kind of Christmas.”  It has been a wonderful study.  We cried a lot as conviction ran through us.  We laughed at ourselves and the ways we get caught up the commercialization of this Holy Day.  We promised to look at ways we really can change the way we celebrate this holiday. We made plans for next year so we would not be facing the same convictions. And…we talked about living simply so others could simply live.

Personally, I have made a commitment to get rid of a killer. Watch this:

At least half of everything I receive at Christmas this year will be going to rid the world of the killer that is malaria. We may not know how to stop a shooter in our schools (yet), but with just ten dollars, I know that I can buy a mosquito net that will stop this other killer from taking the life of a child. I have been “texting” donations during worship. I am setting aside money to send in to “Imagine No Malaria” and I have just been letting everyone I know that this is something that captures my passion.Imagine-No-Malaria-Logo-3

I have even gone so far as to try and get the Imagine No Malaria team to send confirmations of text donations on Christmas Eve that include a picture of a candle, so that we can have “two” candle lighting services at Christmas Eve this year.  (Those of you who go to Christmas Eve services and have cell phones…think about it…let your imagination go for a minute!)  I don’t know if the folks at INM have worked things out with yet, but I am still praying that they will.  (mGive, United Methodist Communications and Imagine No Malaria are all great groups…I just pray that they can capture this vision as well.)

INM Logo 2At the end of our “Different Kind of Christmas” study, the group I was with gave Jesus a wonderful gift in my name. Together, our class gathered enough money to buy ten more nets.
It may not sound like a lot to you – but think of it as ten more children getting to live.  Ten more parents not having to grieve.  Ten more people laughing and hugging and celebrating Jesus’ birthday.

I think Jesus would like that!

See you on the way home…and know that on Christmas Eve, I will be texting “MALARIA” to 27722 in order to send another $10 to get rid of a killer that can be stopped.

Children’s Week…A Beginning Point

Next Sunday at First UMC, Princeton, we will be celebrating Children’s Sabbath. This week is a special time for us to focus on children, near and far. Throughout the week, I will be sharing some prayers, thoughts, and even some words on some fairly controversial issues dealing with children.

However, today, I decided to start this journey near home with something a little more on the “lite” side of things.

Our Children’s Moments at FUMC are improvisational messages that I base on some object that one of the children bring in a brown bag. (Yes, we do have some rules – nothing can be placed in the bag that is alive or was recently alive and nothing can be placed in the bag that might embarrass someone. Also, I encourage the children NOT to bring anything overtly religious. It should be an everyday item for them.)

To say the least…this is a lot of fun…sometimes more for the children and adults than it is for me.  But rule one of improv, I believe, is to accept whatever you have been given.  The rest comes from there and prayer.

Enjoy this time we had with our children…feel free to share and comment!

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