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

Luke 13:34 or the past forty-four years

image

The prophet cries
Till the prophet’s cry
Is silenced by those
Crossing t’s
Dotting i’s.

The prophet acts
Till the prophet’s act
Is halted by those
Wielding rules
Wanting tact.

The prophet dies
Then the prophet’s die
Is cast – aside –
Or lives to abide
Where the true self
Need never, ever hide.

O Jerusalem! O Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers who are sent to you. How often I wanted to gather in your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing to come to Me.
Luke 13:34 The Voice

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.

Mystery – Joy and Sadness

coffee mugI walked into the United Methodist Church building where I have served as pastor for the past three years. It was quiet. Of course, it should have been quiet. It was “Conference Sunday” and everyone knew that the pastor was away and there were no evening activities scheduled.

It was a wonderful Annual Conference session. I watched my daughter Erin become a delegate to General Conference in 2016. I took a bit of pride in that – but I thanked God, the one I knew had really blessed her with the gifts that led to that moment. I am just blessed to be her father.

I attended wonderful worship sessions and business sessions that for the most part were filled with holy conversation. Yes, there was a moment or two when people forgot to respect their sisters and brothers as they spoke. There was a particularly painful moment when one of our youth tried to share her faith in the Bible and our need to at least attempt to hear those sacred words the way she hears them. But many good Christians forgot to listen as Christ would and mumbled angrily as she spoke. Lesser things have created great prophets, so I will continue to pray for this brave young woman.

I participated in a service of anointing on Saturday night that reminded me once again just how broken we as Christians really are in this world. We need the Balm of Gilead. We need the healing presence of Christ. We. Need. So. Much.

I wept during the ordination service as I watched five wonderful pastors be ordained. For the past three years I had the honor and the joy of sharing in a covenant group with these five and one more who decided to wait a year for ordination examination. I don’t know why I wept – it was a mixture a joy, hope, and fear – but I do know that a perfectly good stole became a handkerchief for my snotty nose.

I listened with quite a bit of joy on the way home as my youngest daughter quizzed me on parliamentary procedure, rules, and the United Methodist Discipline. Our drive from Conference took more than two hours, but there wasn’t a quiet moment. I was a bit gleeful that she shares some of my love for these tricky little procedures that give us order.

There was a whole lot of joy this week.

And then…after we had been home a little while, my wife and I walked into the “Conference Sunday” quiet church. We gathered a box and she set about taking her personal things out of her office at the church.

On Friday, our Conference debated and passed a petition to General Conference that would change our Discipline to prohibit any member of a pastor’s household from holding a financial office in the church. This was passed in a hope of providing protection to pastors and their spouses of even the “appearance of impropriety.” Yes, I know that this legislation has a long road to make it into our Discipline, but I also listened closely to the voices that were shared during the debate. The voices in support were loud and clear and the favorable vote stated that our Conference did not want our pastor’s and spouses open to this “appearance of impropriety.”

On the other hand, First UMC Princeton had worked so hard to make this a safe place for my spouse to use her gifts. (And she is so very gifted at what she does!) She never touched money – only offering envelopes that had been checked by two (or more) non-related persons and the amounts included written on them. She balanced the counters work with the deposit slips they gave her. She printed out electronic checks after receiving vouchers from authorized persons. She would call check signers – none of these persons were counters – to come and check the validity of the vouchers and sign the checks. She would balance the books and print reports as we needed them. And then, every month, yet another person would come in and audit those books and accounts. First UMC put in processes that kept this gifted woman safe from accusation. But nothing can protect her from “appearances”.

Appearances, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.

It wasn’t as quiet when we left the church that evening. There were tears. There was sadness. There was the rattling of coffee mugs and a bowl she often used to fix oatmeal for lunch.

This is all part of the mystery I have grown to know as Christ’s Church: It will build you up and it will pull the rug out of from under your feet.

I am just thankful, that underneath it all, under the mountain top experiences and under the roughly tugged rugs there is a God who is greater than even the Church we make in his name. I know God loves this Church, because God loves me, an imperfect person in an equally imperfect group of people.

I go on because I choose to behold this: Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves us.

Peace…

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.