James Taylor and The Wise Men – Home by Another Way

Today is Epiphany, when the Magi came to the end of their journey following the star and encountered Christ in a poor home in Bethlehem. To have been on such a journey, to have been surprised by God in such an unexpected way, they had to be changed. James Taylor tells the story of their transformation in Home by Another Way

Those magic men the Magi, some people call them wise or Oriental, even kings.
Well anyway, those guys, they visited with Jesus, they sure enjoyed their stay.
Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme, they went home by another way.
Yes, they went home by another way, home by another way.
Maybe me and you can be wise guys too and go home by another way.
We can make it another way, safe home as they used to say.
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high and go home another way.
Continue reading “James Taylor and The Wise Men – Home by Another Way”

New Year’s Resolution – Resolve to Pay Attention

   Sophia was asked to speak to the students of a local medical school.
   “Sophia, what do we need to be better doctors?” the students asked.
   “Doctors,” Sophia said, “need strong stomachs and strong powers of observation.” Then she opened a canister. The putrid smell quickly moved through the classroom. Sophia stuck a finger in the jar, pulled it up, and then licked it. She passed the jar around encouraging each doctor in training to do the same. Each did, and though many felt nauseas, no one got sick.
   “You all have very strong stomachs,” she said. “But your powers of observation need some work.”
   “What do you mean?” they asked. “We did just what you did.”
   “There is one difference,” she replied. “The finger I dipped in the jar was not the finger I licked.”

Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now. Epictetus

Give The World a Gift This Christmas

In this season of giving and receiving gifts to those we love, or those whose name we drew in an office party Secret Santa, reflect on this question, “What can I give the world?” If this is the season for celebrating when God so loved the world, God gave… What can you give the world?

Here is a song by Mipso, a trio formed in the fall of 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina when Jacob, Joseph, and Wood were students at UNC – Chapel Hill. They graduated in May 2013, and took the show on the road.

The hope for the world is to “leave this wicked winter just a couple of acres greener when I go.”

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…”