Mary’s Faith

This week, we celebrate Mary and her faithful response to the Angel’s visit. Here is the story of her encounter with Gabriel from Luke chapter 1,

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

We know the story so well, we often miss the power of not only an angel’s visit, the transforming words he offers, but Mary’s response. There is no request in the angelic proclamation. He does not ask, “Mary, God has a job for you to consider.” The only consideration is her response. Here is a painting which helps me capture the power in Mary’s choice.

mary

Here are the details, their possible symbolism, and parts of the story we may have overlooked.
Red Dress: If you went to high school when I did, you likely read The Scarlet Letter. Regardless of the origin of her future child, Mary would not have been seen as a ‘good’ girl. Like many teenagers with child, Mary does what many had to, went away to see their cousin. Sometimes they stayed until the baby was born, sometimes in Mary’s case, at least until the intensity of the scandal calmed.
Sight: In the paining, Mary is looking forward. She has a clear sense of vision.
Umbrella: Mary is in the rain. The umbrella is before her. To get out of the rain she has to step forward. The choice is also before her. She can stand still or step out.
Water: She can step forward to get out of the rain, but the path ahead is not dry. She will have to step into an apparently deep lake. The minor choice seems to be accompanied by a large one, out of the rain and into deep water. If she trust’s God’s messenger and God, then she will not see herself as cast off no matter what her culture and family might say about her, but the step will be into deep water. God works that way. God called Abram and Sarah – they left their homes and went into a famine.Jesus called Peter and the other fishermen. “Leave your nets, come and go with me and I’ll give you purpose – I’ll make you fishers of people.” “Fishers of people? Wow!” “Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m headed to the cross…”
Alone: Though Mary stands as a solitary figure in the paining, that was not how she saw herself. She knew little enough of men, the world, parenting, to have any idea what life would be like for her. She did know enough of God and know God well enough to trust, not beyond reason but beyond reservation. She had faith like that poet, Taylor Caldwell described,

I am not alone at all,
I was never alone at all.
That is the message of Christmas.
We are never alone.
Not when night is darkest, the wind coldest,
the world seemingly most indifferent.
For this is still the time God chooses.

During Christmas we retell the familiar tales, but if we dare to listen, we will hear the voice of one beyond time calling us to step out, venture from the shore, to the infinite sea of God’s impossibility made our potential.
Lead on, Mary!

Audience of One

In the theater to the right, where would you place the following?

sanctuaryPreacher
Choir or Singers and Musicians
Congregation
God

The common response is to place the preacher, choir, and musicians on stage, the congregation in the audience, and God everywhere. We discuss worship as in any theater. Soren Kierkegaard challenged our thinking of worship and said that we have the audience wrong. The congregation is not the audience. God is the audience. Those who gather for worship are on stage. The preacher, singers, and musicians are all backstage prompting the congregation. It is not our pleasure which is the final judge but God’s. It is not whether or not we consider a service meaningful but whether God finds meaning in our service, in church and out, on holy days and every days. God is our audience of One.

Recently, the music group from our church, Macland Presbyterian, went to serve dinner and sing at a local rehab center.  Due to an overdose of one of the residents, the men all went to a group. Our band was there, but didn’t have anyone to hear their music. Randy Campbell sang anyway. I’ve heard the familiar expression, “Dance like no one is watching.” Randy sang like God was listening. See and hear what God heard and saw at this link:

https://www.facebook.com/maclandpc/videos/1353911207962016/

This Christmas, and all throughout the year, remember your audience of One.

Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with…

Many go to war in the name of peace.
Many act criminally in the name of justice.
Many lie in the name of the truth.
Many dominate others in the name of freedom.
Many wrongdoings are committed in the name of righteousness.
Many acts of hate are done in the name of love.

To walk in The Way,
   focus less on the name and more on the ways
   of peace, justice, truth, freedom,
   righteousness, and love.
   That is The Way.

Can hate produce love?
   Can war bring peace?
   Can domination promote freedom?
   Can evil foster good?
   No more than manure can give the aroma of a rose
   or a canary can give birth to a cow.

The Way of Giving, Possessing without being Possessed

You can possess objects while you’re alive
   but once your objects start possessing you,
   you will stop enjoying them as well as your life.
   Once you forget what stuff is for,
   you will become greedy.
   Once you forget what people are for,
   you will become dominated by your own anxiety.

Don’t worry about what happens
   to your stuff after you die
   because after you die,
   it won’t be your stuff.

Just as adults don’t cry
   over lost dolls and trucks from childhood
   in the next life no one cries
   over toys they leave behind at death.  

The key to peace on earth is simple:
   everyone with two coats
   give one to someone who has none.

People are starving while the harvest is great.
   Won’t someone go get the people some food?

 

In a World of Endless Name Calling, Comes The Way…

Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” Matthew 7

Beware of categories.
    As soon as you label something as ‘beautiful,’
    you will begin to see ‘ugly.’
    Call some ‘better,’
    and you will define others as ‘worth-less.’
    Draw a circle around ‘us,’
    and you’ll see others as ‘them.’
    Build a wall to create ‘insiders,’
    and you will continue to cast more and more
    over your walls until none are left,
    except you alone.

 Beware of polarizing dualities.
    ‘Difficult’ fashions ‘easy.’
    ‘Long’ forms ‘short.’
    ‘Up’ tops ‘down.’
    ‘High’ necessitates ‘low.’
    ‘After’ surges ahead of ‘before.’
    ‘Sooner’ cuts in front of ‘later.’
    ‘Winning’ must outscore ‘losing.’
    ‘Success’ must frown upon ‘failure.’
    Each needs the other,
    like ‘richer’ needs ‘poorer,’
    ‘right’ needs ‘wrong,’
    or neither can exist.  

All are only fabrications.
Languages and labels never last.
Only The Unnamable is forever real.

David Jones, The Way and The Word – The Tao of Jesus 

Have a Funky Christmas

My favorite Pat McLaughlin quotes…

When asked to sing at church, “I don’t know any sacred songs. Well… perhaps they’re all sacred songs.”

After I finished worship, “That’s the best #*^##* sermon I ever heard.”

This song is not a carol, and it won’t ever be in a hymnbook, but it brings me joy inside. Shouldn’t all Christmas gifts bring us joy inside? With that intention, have a Funky Christmas.

Don’t know what to get your music lover for Christmas? Support quality song writing in Nashville and have yourself a funky Christmas.  http://www.patmclaughlin.com/

Name Him Bob

(Text version)

What if an angel came to you like he did Joseph? You’ve gotten the news about your fiance’ being pregnant with a child that’ not yours. In your tossing and turning for most of the night, but in that sleep a dream, and in that dream, an angel. The angel tell Joseph exactly what to do, even the name of the child. For this would be a sign to the rest of the world to just how special this child would be, Joseph, whose carpentry was average at best, did not get a great deal of respect in the village, but now he would. The name from the angel would have to be majestic. One of the older ones, Lion of Judah,  The Light of the World,
The Resurrection and the Life, The Bright and Morning Star,  Alpha and Omega.

Joseph waited for the angel to speak, to give him the name. “And you will name him….” Wait for it. “Bob.”

Continue reading “Name Him Bob”

When Children Grieve

Image result for children grievingI spent today with a boy whose father had, in his terms, passed away. When I want to know how to help a child, I ask Carrie, mom, school counselor, and sage. Here is her advice.

Loss, Crisis, and Grief: Special Considerations for Children
For children who are grieving, this is the beginning of their understanding of the life experience of loss, crisis, and death. You have an important task to support them at this present moment and, at the same time, lay the foundation for their life experience with the emotions of these experiences. Here are some suggestions to support you as you support the children you care for:
   Allow children to express their feelings in ways that are appropriate to them. Children are resilient. Nourished by love, protection, guidance, and attention, they can spring back after even the most horrendous traumatic events. The parent is often the most influential factor in the recovery of the child. One of the goals for treatment of traumatized children is to help the child face the truth of what has happened. This involves enabling the child to draw, sing, dance, talk, or engage in some other form of self-expression that is also a self-soothing activity.
   Speak honestly. Use the language of death when speaking with children. Refrain from stating that the person who has died has “gone away”, “is lost”, “was sick” or “is sleeping”. Those statements can be very frightening to children and will delay their ability to accept and understand that the person will not come back.
   Give clear and concise information regarding the death of the loved one, or children may construct their own stories to fill in the holes. Encourage children to ask questions. Make sure you understand the question and offer honest answers to the questions asked. (At times, adults think they understand the question and give an answer to something the child was not even asking. Not only is this confusing to the child, but it sends the message you don’t understand. Hint… before offering an answer, ask a question about their question… “Do you mean…? Or encourage more information for your own understanding….”Tell me more about what you are thinking so I can help you with your question.”)
   Spend more time with children and let them be more dependent on you during the months following the trauma. For example, allow the child to cling to caregivers more often than usual. Physical affection is very comforting to children who have experienced trauma.
   Provide play experiences to help relieve tension. Younger children in particular may find it easier to share their ideas and feelings about the event through non-verbal activities such as drawing.
   Encourage older children to discuss their thoughts and feelings with one another. This helps reduce their confusion and anxiety related to the trauma and gives them a peer support system in this time.
   Keep regular schedules for activities such as eating, playing, and going to bed to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.
   When your child is interested or ready, share with him/her your beliefs about death.
   Help your child find a way to honor the life of the person who was important to them. Some ideas are to write a letter or a poem; plant a tree; create a collage of words, pictures or both; make a special meal; work for and present a donation in the person’s memory to an organization which represents something the person valued.

Be Alert to These Changes in a Child’s Behavior:
  
Refusal to return to school and “clinging” behavior, including shadowing the mother or father.
   Persistent fears related to the catastrophe like the fear of being permanently separated from parents.
   Behavior problems, for example, misbehaving in school or at home in ways that are not typical for the child.
   Loss of concentration, irritability, and change in grades or attitude toward school or other regular activities.
   Startling easily and jumpy behavior.
   Physical complaints (stomachaches, headaches, dizziness) for which a physical cause cannot be found.
   Withdrawal from family and friends, sadness, listlessness, decreased activity, and preoccupation with the events of the disaster.
   Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, screaming during sleep, and bed-wetting, persisting more than several days after the event.
   If these behaviors persist, consider seeking professional support for your child.
  

Here’s to the Crazy Ones, and the Foolishness of the Gospel

No matter what kind of computer or phone you use, the challenge of history is to be one of those types of people. Here is the text of the ad written by Rob Siltanen,

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Barbara Brown Taylor cites Jesus as one of those people. She wrote,

Jesus died because he would not stop being who he was and who he was was very upsetting. He turned everything upside down. He allied himself with the wrong people and insulted the right ones. He disobeyed the law. He challenged the authorities who warned him to stop. The government officials warned him to stop. The religious leaders warned him to stop. And when he would not stop, they had him killed, because he would not stop being who he was.
At any point along the way, he could have avoided the cross… He could have stopped being who he was, but he did not. When the soldiers showed up in the garden to arrest him, he did not disappear into the dark. He stepped into the light of their torches and asked them whom they were looking for. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered him, and he said, “I am he.”

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described the early followers of Jesus as congregations of the foolish. He wrote,

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…

Followers of Jesus are called to be those crazy ones, those misfits, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. It is for them and about them that I wrote, Out of The Crowd. It’s only for the brave…

To see inside, click the cover…

Out of the Crowd front  cover 21

 

 

 

Marriage is Like Football

To help you understand the premarital work I do with couples before they get married, I need you to watch this piece by one of America’s best theologians, George Carlin. Sure, Germany had Karl Barth, Geneva had John Calvin, Americans have had George Carlin. Makes a lot of sense to me. In this brief set, Carlin will clarify the differences between to two sports, and I help relate to marriage.

Wake to your family patterns.

 “Do you, Roger, take this woman to be your wife?”
“I do.”
“And do you, Rebecca, take this man to be your husband?”
“I do.”
“By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife. Let the games begin.”

I try and prepare them, those innocent young who come to the church to be married. I try to give them some picture that they have not only chosen each other, they have been chosen by their families, chosen as missionaries, as agents, as representatives. I try to show them how, in their lives up to this point, their families have been preparing them, educating them, training them in the ‘right’ way to live their family way, their long traditioned, heavily patterned, family way, sending them forth into marriage, to procreate a new family, one with the same values, behaviors, traditions, patterns of the family from whence they came.

I try to prepare individuals who come to me for premarital counseling for the upcoming mêlée. I ask them, “What do you think your marriage will be like?”

I listen to their responses, then I add, “I like to think of marriage as one really long…football game.”

Comparing marriage to football is no insult. I come from the South where football is sacred. I would never belittle marriage by saying it is like soccer, bowling, or playing bridge, never. Those images would never work as only football is passionate enough to be compared to marriage. In other sports, players walk onto the field, in football they run onto the field, in high school ripping through some paper, in college (for those who are fortunate enough) they touch the rock and run down the hill onto the field in the middle of the band. In other sports, fans cheer, in football they scream. In other sports, players ‘high five’, in football they chest, smash shoulder pads, and pat your rear. Football is a passionate sport, and marriage is about passion.

In football, two teams send players onto the field to determine which athletes will win and which will lose, in marriage two families send their representatives forward to see which family will survive and which family will be lost into oblivion with their traditions, patterns, and values lost and forgotten.

Preparing for this struggle for survival, the bride and groom are each set up. Each has been led to believe that their family’s patterns are all ‘normal,’ and anyone who differs is dense, naïve, or stupid because, no matter what the issue, the way their family has always done it is the ‘right’ way. For the premarital bride and groom in their twenties, as soon as they say, “I do,” these ‘right’ ways of doing things are about to collide like two three hundred and fifty pound linemen at the hiking of the ball. From “I do” forward, if not before, every decision, every action, every goal will be like the line of scrimmage.

Where will the family patterns collide?

In the kitchen. Here the new couple will be faced with the difficult decision of “Where do the cereal bowls go?” Likely, one family’s is high, and the others is low.

In the bathroom. The bathroom is a battleground unmatched in the potential conflicts. Will the toilet paper roll over the top or underneath? Will the acceptable residing position for the lid be up or down? And, of course, what about the toothpaste? Squeeze it from the middle or the end?

The skirmishes don’t stop in the rooms of the house, they are not only locational they are seasonal. The classic battles come home for the holidays.

Thanksgiving. Which family will they spend the noon meal with and which family, if close enough, will have to wait until the nighttime meal, or just dessert if at all?

Christmas. Whose home will they visit first, if at all? How much money will they spend on gifts for his family? for hers?

Then comes for many couples an even bigger challenge – children of their own!

At the wedding, many couples take two candles and light just one often extinguishing their candle as a sign of devotion. The image is Biblical. The Bible is quoted a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. The unanswered question is, “If the two shall become one, which one?” Two families, two patterns, two ways of doing things, but which family’s patterns will survive to play another day, in another generation, and which will be lost forever? Let the games begin.

Wake to your family patterns that cross generations.

“Because I said so!” I can still hear my father.

As a determined eight year old, I swore, “I will never say, ‘Because I said so’ to MY child.” Fast forward thirty-five years later, we have three children, Cayla, Abbie, and Nathan. Each, at one time or another, has heard me say, “Because I said so.” Each has also heard me lecture them on the evils of not eating their supper while there are so many starving children in India, another thing I swore I would never say to my child. The patterns we learn as children resurface when we become parents, no matter how dormant we thought them to be.

What I have found even more amazing is just how unquestioned our family patterns can become. Sensible or not, we assume our way of doing things is the ‘right’ way, like in this story…

 Every time Mary cooked a roast, she cut off a small slice on each end. A neighbor, over sharing a cup of coffee, watched her semi-consciously cut off the ends. “Why do you do that?” asked the neighbor.

Mary thought about it. She didn’t know. “I guess it’s because that’s the way my mother always cooked a roast.” She was a little embarrassed that she had no other reason, so she called her mother. Her mother told her that she, like her daughter, simply cut the ends off the roast because she had seen her mother do the same. Mary called grandma. Her grandmother explained that she had always cut the ends off the roast because the pot she used was a small pot, too small for a normal roast. She cut the ends off to make the roast fit in the pot. Mary realized that two generations later she kept the same pattern of her grandmother even though they no longer owned the small pot nor needed to cut the ends off the roast.

We observe and imitate. The patterned way is assumed the preferable way, the right way, the best way, and why wouldn’t we pass on the best way to the next generation?

What family patterns do you have which have crossed generations? Do you know why you do the things you do? Are there any patterns in your family or in your life which have been held with football-like religious fervor?

After September 11th

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? Most of us do.
I remember where I was. I remember what I heard and what I saw.
I also remember words that helped me in the days that followed and ever since
like these from Poet Joan Murray.

Survivors – Found

We thought that they were gone
we rarely saw them on our screens
those everyday Americans
with workaday routines,

and the heroes standing ready –
not glamorous enough –
on days without a tragedy,
we clicked – and turned them off.

We only saw the cynics –
the dropouts, show-offs, snobs –
the right- and left-wing critics:
we saw that they were us.

But with the wounds of Tuesday
when the smoke began to clear,
we rubbed away our stony gaze –
and watched them reappear:

the waitress in the tower,
the broker reading mail,
the pair of window washers
filling up a final pail,

the husband’s last “I love you”
from the last seat of a plane,
the tourist taking in a view
no one would see again,

the fireman, his eyes ablaze
as he climbed the swaying stairs –
he knew someone might still be saved.
We wondered who it was.

We glimpsed them through the rubble:
the ones who lost their lives,
the heroes’ double burials,
the ones now “left behind”,

the ones who rolled a sleeve up,
the ones in scrubs and masks,
the ones who lifted buckets
filled with stone and grief and ash:

some spoke a different language –
still no one missed a phrase;
the soot had softened every face
of every shade and age –

“the greatest generation”? –
we wondered where they’d gone –
they hadn’t left directions
how to find our nation-home:

for thirty years we saw few signs,
but now in swirls of dust,
they were alive – they had survived –
we saw that they were us.

Master’s Hand

Of God’s love we can say two things: it is poured out universally for everyone from the Pope to the loneliest wino on the planet; and secondly, God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates value. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value. Our value is a gift, not an achievement. William Sloane Coffin

   As “Music City,” Nashville draws musicians from all over the country. There are so many talented musicians in Nashville that when asked if I play the guitar, I always say, “No.” Playing a guitar means something different in Nashville than in my home state of South Carolina.
   I’ve been fortunate to watch Bob Britt play the guitar in many venues on many occasions for the almost fifteen years of our friendship. When I saw Bob play with John Fogerty at The Ryman, I watched Tom Spaulding, his guitar tech, bring him guitar, after guitar, after guitar. Tom brought so many instruments out for the different songs I commented to Carrie there was nothing left for Tom to bring other than a chair to see if Bob could play it. Tom would later say of Bob in contrast to other premier guitar players, “Bob has a way of seeing the whole and finding his place on stage making room for himself and making the music better at the same time.”
Having watched Bob for so many years, from a distance and up close, I finally figured out what amazes me most about him. There are many great guitar players who have created their own particularly distinct and recognizable sounds like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Eddie Van Halen. Bob does something even more miraculous. At one particular Moment Service, Bob took out his guitar for the night, a Stella he had purchased for fifteen dollars at a Good Will. With a slide and pic, he brought out not Bob’s sound from the guitar, but the guitar’s sound. The Stella sounded cheap and tinny when I touched it resonated with life at Bob’s touch. In his hands, the Stella reached its full potential. Watching Bob, I remembered this poem by Myra Brooks Welch, The Touch of the Master’s Hand,

Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,

But he held it up with a smile.

“What am I bid, good folk?” he cried.
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?
A dollar, a dollar … now two … only two …
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?

“Three dollars once, three dollars twice,
Going for three” … but no!
From the room far back a gray-haired man

Came forward and picked up the bow.

Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As sweet as an angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said, “What am I bid for the old violin?”
As he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars … and who’ll make it two?
Two…two thousand, and who’ll make it three?
Three thousand once and three thousand twice …
Three thousand and gone!” said he.

The people cheered, but some exclaimed
“We do not quite understand …
What changed it’s worth?” and the answer came:
‘Twas the touch of the master’s hand.”

And many a man with soul out of tune
And battered and scarred by sin
Is auctioned cheap by the thoughtless crowd
Just like the old violin.

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul, and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the master’s hand.

O Master! I am the tuneless one
Lay, lay Thy hand on me,
Transform me now, put a song in my heart
Of melody, Lord, to Thee!

   The author of this poem, Myra Brooks Welch, was born into a family of musicians, though she loved music and playing the organ, she was limited by debilitating arthritis and a condition which confined her to a wheelchair. Unable to play music, she put her creative energy into writing poetry. Her friends called her, “The poet with the singing soul.” She typed her poetry with two pencils, one grasped in each hand, using the erasers to hit the keys.
Many in Nashville rate a guitarist by the expensive nature of the instrument they play, some with even a model named after them. For those who look close enough, we can see the true masters of the art who can bring life from whatever instrument they touch. So, too, with human life, God is the master who can bring out our potential making us priceless.
   When your mind is still, when you are in the present moment free from past valuations or devaluations, be with God, seek out the touch of the master’s hand in your life. Pray this practice opening yourself to the touch of God using Frances Ridley Havergal’s hymn, Take My Life.

Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.
Take my moments and my days let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take myself and I will be ever only all for Thee.

(For more on Bob Britt, check out the following videos…)

 

 

Marriage is Like Football

As college football kicks off this weekend, I am reminded of my wisest counsel to young couples about to get married, “You marriage will be like football.” 

(Adapted from Jesus Zens You.)

   “Do you, Roger, take this woman to be your wife?”
   “I do.”
   “And do you, Rebecca, take this man to be your husband?”
   “I do.”
   “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife. Let the games begin.”

   I try and prepare them, those innocent young who come to the church to be married. I try to give them some picture that they have not only chosen each other, they have been chosen by their families, chosen as missionaries, as agents, as representatives. I try to show them how, in their lives up to this point, their families have been preparing them, educating them, training them in the ‘right’ way to live their family way, their long traditioned, heavily patterned, family way, sending them forth into marriage, to procreate a new family, one with the same values, behaviors, traditions, patterns of the family from whence they came.
   I try to prepare individuals who come to me for premarital counseling for the upcoming mêlée. I ask them, “What do you think your marriage will be like?”
   I listen to their responses, then I add, “I like to think of marriage as one really long…football game.”
   Comparing marriage to football is no insult. I come from the South where football is sacred. I would never belittle marriage by saying it is like soccer, bowling, or playing bridge, never. Those images would never work as only football is passionate enough to be compared to marriage. In other sports, players walk onto the field, in football they run onto the field, in high school ripping through some paper, in college (for those who are fortunate enough) they touch the rock and run down the hill onto the field in the middle of the band. In other sports, fans cheer, in football they scream. In other sports, players ‘high five’, in football they chest, smash shoulder pads, and pat your rear. Football is a passionate sport, and marriage is about passion.
   In football, two teams send players onto the field to determine which athletes will win and which will lose, in marriage two families send their representatives forward to see which family will survive and which family will be lost into oblivion with their traditions, patterns, and values lost and forgotten.
   Preparing for this struggle for survival, the bride and groom are each set up. Each has been led to believe that their family’s patterns are all ‘normal,’ and anyone who differs is dense, naïve, or stupid because, no matter what the issue, the way their family has always done it is the ‘right’ way. For the premarital bride and groom in their twenties, as soon as they say, “I do,” these ‘right’ ways of doing things are about to collide like two three hundred and fifty pound linemen at the hiking of the ball. From “I do” forward, if not before, every decision, every action, every goal will be like the line of scrimmage.

Where will the family patterns collide?
   In the kitchen. Here the new couple will be faced with the difficult decision of “Where do the cereal bowls go?” Likely, one family’s is high, and the others is low.
   In the bathroom. The bathroom is a battleground unmatched in the potential conflicts. Will the toilet paper roll over the top or underneath? Will the acceptable residing position for the lid be up or down? And, of course, what about the toothpaste? Squeeze it from the middle or the end?
   The skirmishes don’t stop in the rooms of the house, they are not only locational they are seasonal. The classic battles come home for the holidays.
   Thanksgiving. Which family will they spend the noon meal with and which family, if close enough, will have to wait until the nighttime meal, or just dessert if at all?
   Christmas. Whose home will they visit first, if at all? How much money will they spend on gifts for his family? for hers?
   Then comes for many couples an even bigger challenge – children of their own!
   At the wedding, many couples take two candles and light just one often extinguishing their candle as a sign of devotion. The image is Biblical. The Bible is quoted a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. The unanswered question is, “If the two shall become one, which one?” Two families, two patterns, two ways of doing things, but which family’s patterns will survive to play another day, in another generation, and which will be lost forever? Let the games begin.

The White Trash Cafe Secret for Church Growth

The White Trash Café was one of the most colorful restaurants in Nashville. I went because someone invited me. A pastor from a church not far from there, but not too near either, invited me along with the rest of our minister’s group. The inside was almost as flamboyant as the out as the wallpaper was a mishmash of old album covers ranging from Andre Crouch to the Rolling Stones. Our server looked like he’d just come from living off the street and so did the owner.

We must have given ourselves away as a group of ministers. It was either our professional attire, our praying before the meal, or our over use of profanity during it that signaled we were clergy. You get a group of ministers together, confident that none of our congregants are around, and we can throw around more bad language than late-night HBO special just to prove that we can.

“How was your food?” the owner of the restaurant asked us.

“Good,” we all agreed. It was, though secretly I was hoping I would be able to say the same again in a couple of hours. It was the greasy food I love to have but that often has me for the rest of the day.

“How would you like to see Jesus?” he asked.

We didn’t know what to say. I wanted to explain to him that we were ministers, employed by churches, paid by congregations, so there was no way we wanted to actually see Jesus. We had master’s degrees in Christianity, were taught by professors and thought of ourselves as being like professors, tenured. We considered ourselves to be like Jesus’ disciples, though not Peter for he tried to walk on water. We thought of ourselves as similar to the other eleven, who, while Peter tried to walk on water, watched, and then when everyone was safe back in the boat, Peter and Jesus included, those disciples professed how amazing Jesus they was and that he surely must be the Son of God. As Professional Christians, we were more than happy to talk about Jesus, from a distance, but we had studied enough about Jesus to know just how dangerous Jesus could be. We were fine with seeing Jesus, but anytime you saw Jesus, whether in the Bible or 2,000 years since, there is a high likelihood that Jesus might see you. Once Jesus sees you, and says, “Follow me,” then life as you know it, as you worked for it, is probably over. Better to watch from a distance, stay in the boat, and if you can’t work it out, get paid for it. That’s our unspoken contract with our congregations. Keep church to an hour, go over an hour and Jesus might find you. So, get in. Pray. Get out, with a blessing. See Jesus? Sure. Can we get a guarantee he won’t see us?

Neither wanting to be like Peter trying to walk on water or denying him when confronted, we followed our restaurateur guide across the dining toward the restrooms and beyond toward the janitor’s closet. Before our host showed us Jesus, he held up a picture of Christ on the cross and asked us to look at it. We did. Then he slowly pulled it away like a curtain on The Price is Right, revealing what we’d won. There he was, above the mop bucket and mop, in the window. Just like the picture. Jesus on the cross.

smwhitetrashjesus.jpg

http://media2.fdncms.com/nashville/imager/cafe-christ/u/original/1482404/smwhitetrashjesus.jpg

Now, whether or not you see Jesus in that bit of algae between two sheets of Plexiglass is up to you. Going to the restaurant two or three times and looking at a picture of a painting of the crucifixion right before you look at it does seem to aid nonbelievers in seeing the light, or seeing Jesus through the light. Whether or not this is an act of God, consequence of nature, or both, again, I leave up to you. What I have observed in my life is that too often I suffer from not seeing Jesus in the usual places than from seeing him in the unusual ones which leads me to the answer for the most popular question asked by churches and ministers, “How do we grow?” or, said another way, “How do we get people to come?”

The answer is in what I’m calling, The Parable of The White Trash Café. I went to the White Trash Café because someone invited me. Colorful though it was, I would have never gone in unless someone invited me, albeit it, dared me to go. Without that connection, I would have never gone. The second lesson of The Parable of The White Trash Café is this, I saw Jesus in the window because somebody showed him to me. It’s not a very complicated parable or a complicated solution to a painful problem throughout congregations across the country.

As churches, if you want to grow, follow the lesson of The White Trash Café. If you want to grow:

  1. Invite others.
  2. Show them Jesus.

Will you grow if you invite others to come and show them Jesus? Likely not. Jesus’ way in the Gospels is not magic but miraculous. Jesus’ way in the world also had him living in relative poverty and got him killed. If that’s what happened to Jesus, why do we think showing people Jesus will pay off our personal or congregational mortgages? Inviting others and showing them Jesus may or may not ease our congregational woes or even provide our pastoral pensions, but if we don’t do those two things, then likely we stopped being churches a long time ago. It’s not magical, it may or not be miraculous, and it may even at times be less interesting that algae between two window panes, regardless, it has and will always be, our calling. Invite others. Show them Jesus.

Sad to say, The White Trash Café closed, so, I guess it is up to the churches now. God help us.

Church: Where Did All the People Go?

As a child, many of us were taught, “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the door and where are all the people?”

Opening our hands with fingers in to symbolize a full church was the goal while an empty church was a sad church, at least that’s what I was taught. However, through the years, I can’t help but think of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, “Go into all the world…” the end result of the church was intended to be more than a full building.
Here’s a different perspective that might give your church a different view of our core calling…

Jesus said, “Go…”

Claim Your Worth in The World

1 John 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.   

My friend, Etta Britt, tells a wonderful story of how she claimed her worth in a high school world that challenged her value on a regular basis. The story is from her book Backroads and Spotlights,

   We had PE, physical education classes back then as well. We had to “dress out” everyday. It was a lovely outfit. Blue shorts, a gray t-shirt, tall athletic socks, and tennis shoes. I enjoyed it though. We got to climb ropes, jump on trampolines, walk on the balance beams, and do calisthenics.   After class, all the girls would go to our locker room to change. I would start playing the schools fight song on the lockers as if they were a set of drums. The girls would join in and we’d sing at the top of our lungs. There was one group of girls that didn’t care for me though. I don’t know what I did to make them hate me. Maybe it was because I loved to sing and dance and laugh a lot and that got on their nerves. Maybe I was just annoying. One day I got wind that they were plotting to embarrass me. They planned to wait until I was fully dressed, grab me and throw me into the shower. I was very upset about the news and went home and told my mother. The next morning, Mama handed me a bag. She said, “Melissa, here’s what I want you to do. I have put a change of clothes in this bag. After class, put the clothes you are wearing now back on. When you see the girls coming toward you, run into the shower room, stand under the shower and turn it on yourself.” I couldn’t believe my mother was actually telling me to get into the shower with my clothes on, so I asked her why she wanted me to do this. She told me that if I did it myself, the girls would be powerless and would then leave me alone. After class, I went to the locker room and got dressed. I played the fight song on the lockers as usual and carried on my business acting as if nothing was going on. I looked up and saw them coming. Four girls with evil in their eyes. I turned around and started walking toward the shower room. As the pace picked up behind me, I sprinted into the room and jumped under one of the shower heads. I turned on the water and let it drip down my head and onto my clothes. I then looked at the girls with a big smile and waved at them. They were stopped in their tracks and stunned. Just like my mother said, they were powerless. They turned around and left. I got out, got dressed in my fresh clothes, brushed my hair and left the locker room never to be bothered by them again.

(Click on the book cover to read more.)

To help you live this liberation, a Britt theme song of love and grace from God…

 

Learn from A.A.

I’m so glad we have A.A. meetings in our church. Their presence reminds me of who and how we should be as a church community. Here is a reflection from Frederick Buechner on what makes A.A. a shining model of what churches might become when (and if) we grow up.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS or A.A. is the name of a group of men and women who acknowledge that addiction to alcohol is ruining their lives. Their purpose in coming together is to give it up and help others do the same. They realize they can’t pull this off by themselves. They believe they need each other, and they believe they need God. The ones who aren’t so sure about God speak instead of their Higher Power.
When they first start talking at a meeting, they introduce themselves by saying, “I am John. I am an alcoholic,” “I am Mary. I am an alcoholic,” to which the rest of the group answers each time in unison, “Hi, John,” “Hi, Mary.” They are apt to end with the Lord’s Prayer or the Serenity Prayer. Apart from that they have no ritual. They have no hierarchy. They have no dues or budget. They do not advertise or proselytize. Having no buildings of their own, they meet wherever they can.
Nobody lectures them, and they do not lecture each other. They simply tell their own stories with the candor that anonymity makes possible. They tell where they went wrong and how day by day they are trying to go right. They tell where they find the strength and understanding and hope to keep trying. Sometimes one of them will take special responsibility for another—to be available at any hour of day or night if the need arises. There’s not much more to it than that, and it seems to be enough. Healing happens. Miracles are made.
You can’t help thinking that something like this is what the Church is meant to be and maybe once was before it got to be Big Business. Sinners Anonymous. “I can will what is right but I cannot do it,” is the way Saint Paul put it, speaking for all of us. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19).
“I am me. I am a sinner.”
“Hi, you.”
Hi, every Sadie and Sal. Hi, every Tom, Dick, and Harry. It is the forgiveness of sins, of course. It is what the Church is all about.
No matter what far place alcoholics end up in, either in this country or virtually anywhere else, they know that there will be an A.A. meeting nearby to go to and that at that meeting they will find strangers who are not strangers to help and to heal, to listen to the truth and to tell it. That is what the Body of Christ is all about.
Would it ever occur to Christians in a far place to turn to a church nearby in hope of finding the same? Would they find it? If not, you wonder what is so Big about the Church’s Business.

– Originally published in Whistling in the Dark

Additional Resources for Reflection:

12 STEPPING SONGS

PARABLE OF THE BIG BOOK

Alt Right, Alt Left, Alt Jesus?

In the midst of so much hate-speech, “What would Jesus do?” is a bit problematic in his encounter outside his hometown with a Canaanite woman. Mark’s version is addressed in this chapter from Out of The Crowd. Matthew’s version is addressed in a link to an audio sermon file.
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   Jesus did not have an administrative assistant to set his schedule. We don’t have old copies of Jesus’ calendar so that we can see the persons and groups Jesus intended to meet. His encounters often seem random, as if there was no plan, and the people Jesus met were haphazard – like the woman who happens to be at the well in the middle of the day or the blind beggar on the outskirts of Jericho. However, perhaps Jesus wasn’t just going away from crowds but instead headed toward particular individuals. If Jesus had a calendar, it might have listed the names of these individuals, one by one. For Jesus, they would have been more than appointments and agenda items, but each a person a distinct encounter, like this woman. While others had to stand up to family, religious crowds, even soldiers to claim their place in the world as beloved of God, she had a unique challenge. She had to stand up to Jesus. Here is their encounter in Mark 7,

    Jesus journeyed with the disciples to the region of Tyre. Upon arrival, Jesus secretly entered a house.
   A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. The woman was not Jewish but a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin. She begged Jesus to help her daughter.
   Jesus replied, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to dogs.”
   She answered Jesus, “But sir, even the dogs under the table get to eat the children’s crumbs.”
   Jesus laughed and affirmed her answer. He said, “You may go, the demon has left your daughter. She is well.”
   The woman went home and found her daughter lying on the bed, the demon gone.
   The next day, Jesus and the disciples left the area.
   Related image
   Imagine you are this woman. You have heard that Jesus was coming. Your daughter is ill, and you have been unable to help her, so you go looking for Jesus. The rumors you heard about him are enough to make you cross whatever social barriers there are to see if he can heal your child. Even those closest to you daunt you, “He won’t see you,” or “They won’t let you in.” Their discouragement might have been enough to stop you, but you weren’t just going for yourself.
   You get through your friends and Jesus’ followers, and you see him, your hope. You take the position of subservience; you fall to his feet as a beggar seeking mercy from the only one you believe can help you. Pleading, you cry out, “My daughter is ill. Can you… Will you please help her?”
   Jesus does not raise you up. He does not lift you from the floor. He speaks down to you in a condescending attitude as if the floor is where you belong. Why does he not lift you up as the rumors say he had lifted others? He speaks to you as you were afraid he might, rejecting you and your request, rejecting your daughter. He confirms your fear with an insult, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
   Essentially, Jesus says, “I’m here for the children of Israel, the children of God, not your child, and not you or your daughter. There is not enough to go around – not enough food, not enough love, not enough help. No one throws scarce food meant for the children to dogs – like you. Now, go away.” Jesus insults you, your gender, your race, and your people. Jesus tells you that you are less than a person and so is your daughter, you are less than human, you are dogs and don’t deserve help.
   Jesus, who had earlier, taught, “Don’t let evil things come out of you,” lets the insults fly, and does so at the dinner table, not only an important symbol in Judaism, but for the early church, and for Jesus. While he had given many sinners, traitors, and social reprobates places at the table, here he denies this woman her very right to health and life for her child and gives her a metaphor that not only doesn’t allow her a seat at the table – Jesus puts her under it.
   Most of us have difficulty imagining Jesus being rude. There are multiple excuses granted to Jesus in commentaries for this behavior, “He was tired and hungry. This just shows he’s human, we can all be rude when we are tired and hungry.” “Because Jesus was human, he had his own bigotries and prejudices.” “If you knew the Syrophoenicians and the evil they had done over time, you’d see she deserved it.” Even with these excuses, the Gospel writer would likely have not included it unless Jesus was intentionally rude for a purpose.
   These excuses overlook the underlying implication of Jesus’ journey. Though this woman is an intruder to their dinner, it may be that she’s the very reason that Jesus came. The encounter begins in Mark with, “Jesus left from there and went away to the region of Tyre,” and after the encounter, the next day, “Then he returned from the region of Tyre.” Jesus travels, encounters her, and the next day returns. Perhaps she was the only reason for the journey. There are no other encounters. While in this region, Jesus didn’t go see any of the Jews living there, didn’t go meet with any leaders or philosophers, didn’t go to any place of teaching or worship, didn’t meet with any government leaders. Though she seems like an intruder, she may have been exactly the person he traveled to see, the encounter he expected, the moment he wanted. If so, then perhaps this insult is just the gift she needed from him for her to claim her place as a beloved daughter of God.
   Jesus challenged her with the insult, but he also gave her other images: children of God, a table, and the house of God. Though Jesus threw scarcity at her, he offered her images of abundance in God’s house. Because it is God’s house, the rules change, and she knows it. If God does love humanity, and God does love her, then it is a Godly love. It doesn’t rank on value but gives value. There is nothing she can do to make God love her more, but because she is loved, there is a lot she can do – even challenge Jesus if he limits God’s love.
   When she comes, she goes to the floor. That’s the appropriate social place for a Syrophonecian woman coming uninvited, without permission to the presence of a Jewish man. He affirms her self-placement, “You are lower, down there with the dogs.” To be beloved of God, we must claim it. Jesus lets her. Here is how she does it. First, she doesn’t argue the insult, but accepts it as a gift. Even a dog in the house of God is loved with God’s infinite love. You cannot add to an infinite love. So in the Master’s house, in the house of an infinite value giving love of God, even the dogs are loved infinitely. If the children are loved more, infinity plus one, it is still infinity. She does not debate Jesus’ insult; she removes it of all power by placing herself at the table of God, the God of infinite love. Granted, she may not have known the math or added infinity plus one, but she felt it. At God’s table, it does not matter if you come as Moses or a mutt, sit at it or beneath it. The table is God’s table and therefore a wondrous place to be.
   Jesus also gives her another hint. Bread. He implied that there is not enough bread for her or her family and that God’s chosen get it first. The crowd says, “My group not yours,” or, much more subtly, the crowd says, “My group – then yours, later.” The crowd accepts an idea of justice for the whole world, an image where no one will hunger – one day. Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first,” not that you won’t get food, medicine, love, “That will come one day, just be patient.”
   In Turkey, there is a longstanding tradition of when a woman sees a bird near her house or land on a windowsill, she says, “Haberes Buenos.” Haberes means ‘news’ and Buenos means ‘good.’ The hope is the bird will bring good news about why women are always placed in a subservient role to men.
   The tradition is rooted in legend. Long ago, women asked King Solomon why men were allowed to marry more than one woman but women weren’t allowed the same right. Even wise King Solomon was stumped. He replied, “Only God knows.” Well the women weren’t satisfied with that answer, so Solomon said, “Let’s ask God.” Solomon wrote the question on a piece of parchment and tied it to the leg of a bird. Solomon sent the bird to flight with the instruction of taking the message to God and not to come back without an answer.
   So, the women keep waiting, they look to birds and ask, “Good news?” But the birds come empty handed. So, they wait, accepting the world as is, hoping that God, King, men, or some government or organization will value them and raise them from their position of less-than to a place of equality, of mutual status as valued and beloved.
   Injustice is promoted as “the will of God” as others since have sited the place of women, slaves, other nations, all part of God’s hierarchy for the blessing and benefit of those in power. There is another answer, not that injustice is the will of God, but that one day, like the slaves in Egypt, God will make a way. For now, the faithful are to wait. Jesus uses both with the woman, her place at the floor is just, and she will have to wait for the children of Israel to be fed first as there is not enough bread for everyone.
   Again, she is onto him. This of course is Jesus, the guy who feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. Here, Jesus speaks of scarcity, “There is not enough food to go around, but maybe one day.” Hidden in the image of bread, she gets the wink. Jesus’ metaphor points again to abundance. There is room, now. There is plenty, here. She answers him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
   She speaks of a limitless power of God where even the crumbs, the leftovers, the discarded is more than enough. So, she refused to accept insult because she believed that God was abundantly loving and gracious. She claimed her place. She would not be forced to take an assigned space in a world where some are the beloved of God and some are dogs. She would not accept an image of God that valued one race, one people, one gender higher than another, one at the table and one below it. She claimed a value giving love, and for her, the categories of the crowd disappeared. For her to wait and not claim her place at the table would have been a sign of a terrible lack of faith.
   Jesus affirmed her answer. In my imagination, though not in the text, he laughed and smiled at her, affirming her bold stance, affirming her refusal to wait on God, government, Jesus, or any other to claim her place as beloved child of God, at God’s table, and God’s kingdom. Then Jesus sent her on her way telling her that her daughter is well.
   The next day, Jesus left the area. Perhaps she is why he came, but not for her alone. Perhaps it was for so much more. By challenging her to take her place as beloved at the table of God, Jesus encouraged her to take a stand, and she became a model for the rest of the area. She overcame what Henri Nouwen refers to as our greatest temptation,
  
   Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation of self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
  
   Because she stood up to Jesus and claimed for herself her place as beloved, she could encourage others to do the same. Perhaps this text was in the gospel because of her, she was remembered throughout the area as the woman who would not wait and who would not take less than “Beloved,” for an answer, not even from Jesus, and she encouraged others to do the same.
   While we often place power in the Empires, it is the power of single individuals taking a stand that begin true social change, as Scott Peck observed,
  
   The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual…. For it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.
  

   She may have set a fire that transformed all of Tyre, not just for herself, but for her daughter, and for all the generations to come.
(To read more, click on the book cover on the right.)

(For an audio of a sermon on this story in Matthew, click the podcast picture on the right.)
  
  

Confronted by The Klan, a Body in Search of a Soul

As I have watched and listen to the events from Charlottesville, Virginia and all that has followed, I keep thinking back to Barbara Brown Taylor’s response to a confrontation she had with the Klan related in her book, The Bread of Angels. Her reflection is shaped around Paul’s words to the church 1 Corinthians 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ as she wonders just who is part of Christ’s body. Her response to hatred humbles me. I wonder if my soul would fare as well.

   The North Georgia Peace Council sponsored the ninth annual Martin Luther King Day walk through my hometown of Clarkesville. We are never a very big crowd but we are generally a pretty interesting one. This year we included folks from all the Main Street churches plus some Baha’is and Quakers and plain old humanists. The black Baptist preacher was there with his two little girls and so were some young people in t-shirts from the AmeriCorps, the new national service league devoted to caring for the developmentally disabled.
The plan was to walk from Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church to Mount Zion Baptist Church on the other side of the town square. That was easy enough, but just before we left we got word that the Ku Klux Klan was waiting for us at the square. This news rendered me somewhat breathless. There were plenty of police around, so it was not physical violence I feared. I feared my own reaction to people I had heard so much about all my life – people famous for their hatred, who called themselves Christians just like me. I think I feared for my soul- not only for what they might do to it, but for what I might d to it myself by returning their hate.
   We set out, singing. The organizers of the walk always put the clergy at the front, which I had previously misinterpreted as an honor. This time I knew we were up there as buffers between those behind us and those ahead of us, human air bags in case of collision. For better or worse, we had an unobstructed view. We turned the corner, singing, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” and there they were – several men and a woman in white robes and pointed hats, with some other people standing around them in plain clothes.
   They did not hide their faces, which I appreciated. They just held up their signs so we could not miss them. One featured a picture of Dr. King’s head with a rifle viewfinder zeroed in on it. “Our dream came true,” it read. “James Earl Ray made our day,” said another, and a third proclaimed, “Christ is our King.”
“He’s got you and me, brother in his hands.” That is what we were singing as we turned the corner and walked away from them. “He’s got you and me, sister, I his hands.” I was not scared anymore. I was mystified, because if the song was right—if what Paul said was true—then I had just walked past some members of my own body, who were as hard for me to accept as a cancer or a blocked artery. And if I did not accept them—if I let them remain separate from me the way they wanted me to—then I became one of them, one more of the people who insist that there are some people who cannot belong to the body.
   Actually, my struggle was irrelevant at that point, because if the song is right – if what Paul said is true – then God is not waiting for any of us to decide who is in or out of Christs body, not even ourselves. This truth is beyond our consent or liking. We are the body of Christ and individually embers of it. Whenever anyone laughs, cries, lives, or dies in tis web of creation we are all affected by it whether we know it or not. When one suffers we all suffer and when one is honored all the rest of us rejoice, if only way down deep in Christi’s bones where only he knows it is happening at all
   Most of the time we live as tough this were a fond illusion, but there is a distinct possibility that it is our separateness which is the illusion instead. There is an old Sufi saying that goes like this: “You think because you understand ‘one’ you must understand ‘two,’ because one and one make two. But you must also understand ‘and.’”
You know who our ‘and’ is, don’t you? The creator of all our parts, the author of our wholeness, the lover of complete impostors, the Lord of electrons, the one who’s got the whole world in his hands with room left over, turning you and me and them into us.