Posted in Chosen, Chosen Series, Christian, Church, Grace, Sermon, Story, United Methodist Church, Worship, Young Clergy

God Created YOU

We are launching into a trilogy series called “Chosen.”

Part One: Running to You

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July 8th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God Created You.

July 17th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God chooses us just as we are.

July 24th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God chooses us FOR something.

Part Two: Choosing You

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July 31st – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to follow Jesus.

August 7th – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to step out.

August 14th – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to be restored.

Part Three: Chosen to Act

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August 21st – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to share the Good News.

August 28th – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to bring light.

September 4th – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to love the world.

Psalm 139

The Inescapable God

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

This passage is titled “The Inescapable God.”

inəˈskāpəb(ə)l/

adjective

adjective: inescapable

  1. unable to be avoided or denied.
synonyms: unavoidable, inevitable, unpreventable, ineluctable, inexorable;

assured,sure, certain, guaranteed;

necessary, required, compulsory, mandatory;

rareineludible

“meeting the future in-laws is inescapable”

Meeting the future in-laws is definitely inescapable and I’m glad that I have good ones.  God’s love is unavoidable, compulsory, unpreventable….Do you find comfort in this or discomfort?  It sort of depends on how you see God or the nature of God.  If you see God as an all loving, omnipresent (all present), and omnipotent (all knowing) that’s our strength and our shield and a very present help in times of trouble, you are comforted by this Psalm.  You realize that even though God knows all you’ve done and said and the things you’ve hidden away and the deepest recesses of your heart, God loves you anyway.  Jesus scatters your sins from the east to the west and they’re not held against you anymore by grace alone.  Christ is the victor over all evil and injustice in this world and we work with the Holy Spirit to bring God’s kingdom to earth.  If your view of God is a task-master, one that checks off like Santa if you do this naughty thing, or that, or if you simply don’t trust God because what you see God doing in the world seems so unfair, unjust, and unfathomable, then you have an entirely different picture of who God is.  Scriptures abound painting with  all kinds of different strokes about the nature of God, but if you take the full picture, the full painting, you begin to see that God is longing for us to return home.  Just like the father in the familiar prodigal sermon.  God’s longing for us to come home so that God can throw a party just as the father did in the story.

This points to what United Methodists call prevenient grace.  God woos us to God’s self, even before we knew, even before we are aware of it.  God seeks each of us out to have a relationship with God.  God calls us where we are, in all of the mire and muck of sin, and as Jeremiah 18:1-4 says, “18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”  God, as the potter, has the power to make all things new.  As Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  God creates each of us and calls us each by name.  God cares about each of us.  God seeks the heart of each of us.  To give us hope and a future.

8th grade was a very difficult year for me.  My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year.  The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ inch girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet.  I grew to this height in seventh grade, but we had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years, but when we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat.  My nicknames abounded that year:  giraffe, Olive Oil, stick.  They made fun of me for my long fingers and after a dance where some people had gone through my purse, I went home crying and being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!”  I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville.  I felt out of place and wanted my old friends, old church and the familiar status quo.  Have you ever felt like an outsider?  That you didn’t belong?  Like Dorothy did you realize there’s no place like home.  It’s easy for adolescents to feel that way.  To hope that some day they will find a place where they fit.  As a teenager I always searched for this mythical home.  Even writing about it when I was 17 in a poem titled “My “Ganny’s.”

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This place has been my haven, through life’s many storms

A constant place of refuge, where things are close and warm

It’s seen my tears, it’s seen my smiles, and it’s picked me up each time

The one place that has never changed in the journey of my life

When I have felt lost – no real “home” – and confused

Or when I thought my heart was broken and my soul had been stripped bare

I go through life as a little child trying to keep on her disguise

But in these walls my face lights up for this is where my strength and hope lies

Things are brighter, life more precious, feelings really matter

Here I find my true self, amidst the family’s chatter

This place is not a castle, a mansion, or a dream

What makes it great is not itself but the things that are unseen

The simple words full of wisdom, lack of pretense, and genuine love for people and each other

Are the things I admire and respect about my grandfather and grandmother

Although I can’t say I have the pleasure of living here from day to day

This place is my strength and my rock and in my heart it will stay

A place given from God to me, to help me light my way

A place where I can dance and sing, a secret hiding place

Everyone needs a refuge, a place to feel free and loved

There’s always a light, open door, some chocolate cake and a hug

People need a “Ganny’s” to escape our stress-filled world

A home that shows the love and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord

Everyone should have a safe space, where they can simply be.  Simply relax.  Simply to take off the armor we sometimes carry around in our day to day lives.  Whether it is a societal shield or a learned behavior, to protect us from further wounding or to hide our hurt.  Why do we remember only the negative things years later, but we forget the praises in a heartbeat?  Why do we carry around our wounds?  When the great God of the Universe created us and calls us for a purpose.  God created YOU.  God created Me.  With all of our persnicketies and peculiarities.

We have to LET IT GO, as Elsa sings, or as Taylor Swift sings, SHAKE IT OFF.  We have to stop all of the negative tapes in our heads that we’re not good enough, we’re not worthy, we’re not strong enough, we’re not….enough.  Because that’s just Satan trying to keep us silent and feeling bad about ourselves.  Our baggage is the stuff we carry; the stuff we can’t shake.  At times, we carry it so long it becomes a part of us.  We begin repeating it in our heads in our litany of why we can’t do something.  It holds us back.  It holds us down.  It enslaves us, keep us in bondage, preventing us from being who God truly wants us to be.  Who God truly created us to be.  It can either be mistakes we’ve made or things that we’ve been subjected to be others.  Nevertheless, it’s a pain festering inside of us, an open festering wound. It’s time to let go and let God.  That’s where the healing begins.

It’s time to lay them all down at the feet of Jesus and he can play new words on the tape players of our hearts.

You are chosen.

You are beloved.

You are my beautiful creation.

You don’t have to DO anything to have my love.  You don’t have to BE anything to have my love.  I’m your home.  The place you belong is is resting in my love and grace.  You can hang out there forever.

If you’ve been carrying around these wounds, this baggage inside – take a moment and consider freedom from those things.  If you know someone carrying around this baggage, pray for them and that God will give you the courage and the words to ask them to lay their fears, worries, tapes, baggage at the feet of Jesus.

I’m reminded of the words from Paul encouraging Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-10.  “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear.  God wants to take away our burdens.  God wants to be our refuge.  A very present help in times of trouble.  Don’t let anyone tell you who you are.  Tell them Whose you are and rest in that.  I know what I’m saying is easier said than done.  Some of us hold tight to our woundings like familiar, old security blankets.  Ask God to work on that with you.  God created your inmost thoughts, God knows everything about you, and God desires to give you abundant life in Christ.  Not a half life.

We cannot love our neighbors with God’s agape love until we first love ourselves with God’s agape love.  That sacrificial love that is exemplified as Christ dying for our sins.  So whatever your burdens are….Whatever separates you from feeling the love of God….ask God to reveal it to you….whatever baggage you carry with you….ask God to free you from it in Jesus’ name.  As Mother Teresa says, “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can live your life radiating that love.”  I want us all to radiate the love of God.  I’m praying as it says in Micah that we all seek to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  Aberjhani, in Journey through the Power of the Rainbow says, “Love is our most unifying and empowering common spiritual denominator. The more we ignore its potential to bring greater balance and deeper meaning to human existence, the more likely we are to continue to define history as one long inglorious record of man’s inhumanity to man.”

I will tell you if you let go and let God in, God doesn’t promise to take the pain away, God doesn’t promise it will be easy, God doesn’t promise you will not be challenged and face all that the world throws at you, but God promises to be with you.  In Psalm 139:18, “I come to the end – I am still with you.”  These are the words of David, but they could express the emotion and commitment of Martin Luther King Jr. as well. The “end” nearly came sooner than later.

The year was 1968. The place: Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Presley is living at Graceland with his wife Priscilla and newborn daughter Lisa Marie, and is enjoying the Grammy he has just won for his second gospel album, “How Great Thou Art.” In the minds of many, he is “The King.”

Another King comes to town on April 3, 1968. Several death threats have been directed at King, and tension is high, but he feels that it is important to press ahead and speak at a rally on behalf of the sanitation workers. In the course of this address, he tells the story of an earlier attempt on his life, one that brought him perilously close to death. According to Ralph Abernathy, his friend and successor, Martin Luther King stood up that night and just “preached out” his fear.

“You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood, that’s the end of you.

It came out in The New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. [Some time] after the operation, after my chest had been opened and the blade taken out, they allowed me to move around … and to read the mail that had come in from all over the states and the world. Kind letters had come in. I read a few, but one I will never forget. I had received telegrams from the president and vice president, but I have forgotten what those messages said. I received a visit and a letter from the governor of New York, but I forgot what was said.

But there was another letter that came from a young girl at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I will never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing to you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I [too] am happy that I didn’t sneeze.”

In his autobiography he wrote, “If I demonstrated unusual calm during the attempt on my life, it was certainly not due to any extraordinary powers that I possess. Rather, it was due to the power of God working through me. Throughout this struggle for racial justice I have constantly asked God to remove all bitterness from my heart and to give me the strength and courage to face any disaster that came my way. This constant prayer life and feeling of dependence on God have given me the feeling that I have divine companionship in the struggle. I know no other way to explain it. It is the fact that in the midst of external tension, God can give an inner peace.”

He died the next day after giving that speech in Memphis.  In the course of his life, Martin Luther King walked through many dangers, toils and snares, but through it all he knew that God was walking with him. He had the very same faith as the writer of Psalm 139, the ancient poet who said to the Lord, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

After this week of unspeakable tragedy in our nation, “sides” being picked in our offices, homes and especially on social media, and children being afraid to go outside and play in their yards, we can draw comfort from the knowledge that God made each and every one of us, God is with each and every one of us, and God works all things together for God for those who love God.  God was with those who were shot, God was with the people at the rally in Dallas, God is with the ones that are recovering, God is with their families, God is with each of us as we grapple with the who’s, why’s, and how’s, as we explain such events to our children. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

I will close with this prayer that Beth A. Richardson wrote after the awful tragedy and deadly violence in Orlando.

The news is bad.
We are outraged and horrified.
We are shocked and afraid.
We are overwhelmed and numb.
How many more times will we awake to such news?

Some of us sit in front of the television,
Search the internet for stories,
Watch, listen for something
That will help make sense,
That will soothe or comfort,
That will bring order back again.

Some of us can’t bear the words, the images.
The press conferences and scrolling news feeds
Freeze our brains, our hearts, our guts.

Some of us pray.
Some of us escape.
Some of us rage.
Some of us cry.

God, have mercy on our world.
Have mercy on the powerless and the powerful.
Have mercy on the first responders and those in ministry to the brokenhearted.
Have mercy on the victims, their families, their friends.

Sit with us in our terror, our sadness, our hopelessness.
And let us hold the space for others as we
Sit or cry, light candles or pray,
In solidarity, in hope, in love.
Amen.

You are chosen.  God created you in God’s image.  God created all of us in the image of God and freely forgives us no matter the baggage, no matter the doubt, no matter what.  You are loved.  Don’t let anyone or anything wrestle that fact away from you.  You are a beloved child of God, a fearfully and wonderfully made creation.  May we all feel , after this particularly hard week, God’s tangible love for each of us that calls us to a new, higher way, when we will all journey home.

Posted in Christian, Community, Fear, home, Love

The C Word (and it’s not Cancer)

You know how in different seasons, there are specific words or lessons or visuals that seem to keep popping up in your life?  Maybe that doesn’t occur for everyone but for at least for some of us stubborn folks, it’s like God has to drop clues all over the place for us to actually get the picture.  The thing that keeps coming up to me right now is this idea and belief in community.

For those of you that read the blog (or at least when I used to write regularly) you know this is something I talk about A LOT.  Probably annoyingly so at times.  It’s the thing that I’m most passionate about.  The thing that I believe is integral to the body of Christ and to any semblance or form of Christian life.  You just can’t get around it.  But for some reason, in this move and transition which was months ago at this point, I’ve pulled back a little from it.  I don’t know if it’s new places, new people, new community building, or the grief and loss or change of old close community, but there’s something that is raw inside me around this concept.

I then start to think about student and campus ministry life and how hard it is to transition in from high school community to college community and then transition from college community to being out in the wide, wide world.  I also think about how hard it is to transition from friend groups and single life to married life and professional life and all these in between times and the things that work out and don’t and how so many, random things affect how we view community, who we think are part of our “tribe,” and what we need from community.  It’s not all about what we get out of it and it’s not all about what we put into it, but it seems to be this dance of times and places and seasons.

What are the things that hold us back from real community?  Not pseudo surface-level stuff, but showing people the cracks and vulnerabilities.  I think it’s scary.  It’s unnerving.  We want to be stronger and more patient and more perfect on the outside than the swirl of gunk on the inside.  It gets messy.  It takes a lot of time and real sharing.  It sometimes makes us feel like we’re on display, left wide open or being dissected.  But are these some of the same things that hold us back from fully sharing with God?  Or fully sharing from the heart all aspects of our lives?

I know that not everyone is going to get along and gel 100% of the time.  I’m not talking about being bff’s with everyone you meet.  I’m not even talking about everyone “liking” each other even though I believe we’re all called to love each other and live in community together.  I do challenge us to pause and think before we speak.  I concede that sometimes our guard has to be let down to create those thin places where God can speak to us.  I hope and pray that the world doesn’t see how we fight, bicker and belittle each other, but how we love, support, uphold, and care for one another.

For me, the song that’s been holding me through this season is Phillip Phillips’ “Home.”  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Posted in Avengers, Christian, Church, Conviction, General Conference, Gifts, Kingdom, Spirit, United Methodist Church

General Conference and The Avengers

After spending two weeks at the United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, I took a much needed date night with my husband on Monday night. We watched The Avengers. And because my brain is still in United Methodist land after two intense weeks of watching, listening, tweeting, and engaging – I couldn’t help but think about GC2012 in light of The Avengers.

While at General Conference I had many a friend and colleague talk about GC2012 in relation to The Hunger Games. And I get that. I get that in some ways it seemed like people were just out for themselves trying to slaughter the opponent so that they could move on to be the victor. I get that those references came from a place of frustration, of anger, of fear, of disillusionment.

One of the joys of this General Conference was the effect of social media and multiple voices being lifted up in a type of call and response. It was powerful and gave great voice to many. But in kind, one of the great hurts of this General Conference was social media. It’s easy to be snarky and give one-liners when you’re not face to face with people. And it’s easy to jump on the wave of criticism and complaint even in the midst of prophetic voices as people sharpen their favorite knives of choice.

Part of the beauty of The Avengers is that they’re all superheroes in their own right. They’re each bringing gifts to the table. The hard part is to get them to work together, valuing not just their own power/place in the world.

In describing General Conference to a clergy friend this morning, it’s hard to explain. There were times when you could visibly see the presence of God and the beautiful tapestry that is our church. There were other times when there were so many power plays and undercuts and self-interests that it was hugely discouraging.

I don’t doubt any of these people’s conviction. Captain America in the movie talks about each of the Avengers’ conviction and it’s not that they don’t have it, but sometimes it’s different. They believe strongly in something, but that something is not always the same. We each have those non-negotiables. We each have those things that are hard limits. I’ll agree to restructure, as long as… I’ll agree to support this piece of legislation, as long as these words are used…

It’s not that they lack conviction, it’s just that they’re not on the same page because they’re bogged down in their own egos, opinions, hang ups, and contexts.

No matter which restructure plan you were for, where you stand on language on homosexuality, or your thoughts on pension, guaranteed appointment or a set-aside bishop, there’s no doubt in my mind that the people at General Conference love The United Methodist Church. There would be no reason to come and be in the hard work of holy conferencing if you didn’t care. Whether we agree all the time or not, whether we acknowledge or gloss over some of our divisions and cracks, whether we shout and point fingers or just wash our hands of it, we should all be committed to at least some of the same things.

I don’t like using soldier/fighting language, but what united the Avengers, was a common cause – something they each believed in as a whole. What are those things that hold us together? Do we believe as Wesley said, “In essentials, unity…in non-essentials, liberty…and in all things charity.” What are our essentials?

I know it may be a crazy place to find hope, but watching The Avengers made me feel a lot more positive about the future of our church – and more than that – the kingdom of God. Over the past four years we’ve heard a lot about death tsunamis, the cancer of the church needing oncologists to come in and diagnose us, and other doom and gloom, and I don’t know about you, but scaring people and taking our ball and going home has never worked to inspire people in my mind. My dream for the UMC is that we don’t spend the next four years wringing our hands and talking incessantly about our decline or the lack of relevance, but that we actually start preaching and living the Gospel and let the rest come. It can’t just be a structure for a few big church pastors or vocal bishops or a handful of radical church plants or even awesome campus ministries that try to “save” our church. It has to be each of us – each pastor and lay person – not just looking out for our own interests or own needs, but actually living as Christ in the world.

So maybe you’re mad about how things went down at General Conference this year. Go for it. The whole add a sticker to the 2008 discipline that says “2012” is funny and snarky and there’s a bit of truth in there. Use that frustration, disillusionment, and unsettled feeling to get started with you. Don’t just point at particular conferences or jurisdictions or parts of the world and lift them up or tear them down. Start with you. Because we each have a common heritage, not just as United Methodists, but as children of God. Sometimes this heritage calls out for prophetic witness and sometimes it calls out for some non-negotiables, but even in the midst we have to remember the things that unify us. And we can’t just wait for the general church to give us permission to grow because of the latest nifty research or plan.

May we come together as one – all of us – with our gifts and graces and instead of hurling critique and distrust may we be intentional in actively asking the Holy Spirit to pour down on all of us – our communities, our churches, our world. May we unite not just against a common enemy, but for a common purpose.

Posted in Christian, communion of saints, Community, Death, Family, Thankful

For the Communion of the Saints

What are you thankful for? Over the next days/weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I’m going to try to do what many of my wise friends on facebook and other wise folks have shared – cultivate a spirit of gratitude. If all is grace, then we are thankful.

So for Day 1 on All Saints Day, I am thankful for the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. These “saints” that have gone before are not just the heavy hitters like Mary or Paul or Mother Theresa. These saints encompass all of the people that have gone before us seeking to live as Christ. Some of these saints are ones that we read about in our Holy Scripture (Paul – I can’t wait to talk to you about the book of Romans after preaching on it this semester in worship – wowzers). Some are ones that we have read back and forth and still dig into their kernels of wisdom – CS Lewis, Jim Elliot, Teresa of Avila (Love Jim’s “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”). Some of these are saints that may or may not be seen as religious folks – love me some Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. Others may be the ones that we’ve personally known or been shaped by.

I think about some of the dear saints I’ve known in this life. Mr. Howard and Ms. Evelyn that we sat with as children on Sundays while Dad preached and Mom sang in the choir. Ms. Betty teaching our first and second grade Sunday school class. I still remember the felt board with the Bible characters. Mr. Tim and Ms. Bunny who proved to me that people want to minister to their minister and his/her family and they really care about each of us. There are so many that I could easily name.

I think about the saints in our family…and then I start to laugh. The thing that I love about them and any of our saints for that matter, is that they were real people – flesh and bone and not always perfect. There’s this thing about saints that we build up to be otherworldly with rose-colored glasses, but the thing that I like the most is that they were colorful characters who didn’t just do everything prim and proper perfectly, but they made a splash. They had spunk. They did not go gentle into that good night as the Dylan Thomas poem goes.

There’s stuff all over the place about paranormal activity and that crazy horror story tv show and even Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt talking to folks from the beyond and I get people’s fascination with this. Or at least I think I do. Well, not necessarily the horror/scare factor. But I do think there’s a great big part of us that wants to know for sure and for certain that we’re not alone here. There’s part of us that wants to know that our family and loved ones – both from long ago and now – dear to us – are okay and it’s going to be okay for us too. That stinking Anderson show (I watched while sick – captive audience) even had me tearing up at parts because of the sincerity of people really wanting to know that we are all connected and we stay connected and that this beautiful network of love doesn’t just stop here, but continues on.

As the seasons in South Carolina start to change for real and things are turning and getting colder and Winter is coming, I’m reminded that death is not the end. Yes, there is grief. Yes, there is change. Yes, there is loss. Yes, there are those we miss dearly. But the great cloud of witnesses surrounds us, spurs us on, and still speak to us in big and small ways. As Dad likes to share – these folks are often our “balcony people!”

As I look around my office and home to the things that I treasure – pictures with family, pictures at Ganny’s house, a beautiful picture painted by Robin, a shingle that my Gandaddy made with our pictures on it, Dad’s pottery, a “family tree” my Mom made for me….as I look into my heart to the things I treasure – both sassy grandmothers that neither minced words, had plenty of spunk, and weren’t afraid to use various words in their vocabularies, the amazing integrity and character of both of my grandfathers and the legacy for trying to love people – whoever they are, whatever color they are or accent they have, wherever their family came from…these are the gifts that the communion of saints continues to give us as we wrestle with their words, their examples, their legacies and their authentic lives of faith.

Thank you God for all of those that have touched us in such mighty ways!

Who are your saints? Who has shaped you? What do you hold dear from the ones that have gone on before us?

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” – Louisa May Alcott

Can you hear the party of praise around us???

Posted in Campus Ministry, Christian, Mission, Questions, united methodist, Young Adults

Maybe They Just Don’t Know???

Yesterday at our weekly free pasta lunch that’s open to the whole community – “no strings attached” – get it, we had a really interesting conversation.  Our intern, Erica was hosting the pasta lunch and there was a guy that came for the first time.  He grew up Baptist but doesn’t attend the Baptist campus ministry here.  She said he had a ton of questions.  He asked what being “Methodist” meant?  Did we believe in one God?  What does it mean to join?  All sorts of questions.

Do we believe in the one true God?  Now that’s one I didn’t see coming.  As we were eating lunch today having a mini-staff meeting of course, she and the other two Wesley students that had been sitting there were talking to me about the questions and how they answered them as best they could.  Several things hit me as we were talking.  You would make the assumption, or at least I would, that in the South most people know about the “Methodist” church.  I would assume that most would think at least something about the flavors of Protestantism like Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian….you know?  Guess that assumption would be wrong.  He didn’t have any idea what we believed.  Or if we were even Christian.

Last year, a similar conversation happened with one of our students that lived at The Wesley House but didn’t come to Wesley.  She was from a Holiness tradition and as she was visiting one night for dinner, she asked us if we believed in Jesus at Wesley.  We have crosses everywhere and don’t worry I say “In Jesus’ Name” at the end of my prayers, but somehow she still hesitantly asked if we believed in Jesus.

There’s part of me that is really befuddled by all of this and I want to say – Duh!  Of course we believe in Jesus.  We believe in One God.  Duh.  We’re United Methodist – we’re not just a bunch of heathens – whatever that word means.  Sure we welcome all sorts of people here – all sizes and shapes and colors and belief systems and struggles – but we do that as the body of Christ.  Sure we have a female campus minister that isn’t really looked favorably upon with every Protestant tradition, but it is what it is.  Sure we balance personal piety and Scripture and justice and Bible study and fellowship and fun and everything in between, but you can be as serious as you want to be and follow Christ and as crazy fun as you want to be and follow Christ too.

There’s another part of me that thinks it’s really telling that some people seriously don’t have any idea who we are, what we stand for, or what we believe.  They genuinely don’t know and want to find out.  Are we legit or not?  Who is serving them this free pasta?  What is this place?

If college students don’t know who we are, what makes us think that their parents do?  What does the outside world think of when they hear the word “church”?  What do they know about the greater Christian church not just the one they grew up in?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want our faith to be a secret code just revealed to some.  I don’t want this to be something that only a few know about and the rest question and wonder.  How do we invite in those that are questioning or pondering?  How do we engage in the honest and authentic dialogue while not being defensive or creating an unrealistic polished picture?

What is funny is that the three Wesley leaders that were talking to this guy were one who grew up Baptist, one who is Nazarene, and another whose from a United Methodist church in Maryland.  I would LOVE to have been a fly on the wall.

But that’s what the world is hungry for I think.  They want something real and authentic and it’s not enough for some to just come and eat pasta, but they want to question and discern and engage.  And that’s a neat thing.  Maybe people just don’t know what Methodist means or Presbyterian.  Heck, maybe our people don’t even know what those mean sometimes.  My hope is that whatever people know or not about our denominations or stucture, that they’ll know for sure and certain that there’s a whole host of churches out there trying to live out the Gospel of Jesus and to really love God and love neighbor.

So bring on the questions.  Bring on the dialogue.  Bring on the honest reflections.

Posted in Campus Ministry, Christian, Faith, Students

Duck, No Eye Contact, Run, Run Away

It’s that time of year in campus ministry world when we’re enjoying Orientation.  What that means at Winthrop is that we as all of the campus ministries (WCCM – Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries) come together and greet people at one table and provide brochures and info about all the groups.  We also let students know about the campus ministry open house and worship service for freshmen that we do right after they move in.  Good times.  A great way for people to get connected and meet other people of faith.

What is always amusing to me is the interactions with the students.  As soon as they read the sign on the placard behind me that says “Campus Ministries” some quickly look away and move quickly to the Greek Life table or the Study Abroad table or the DSU (Campus Entertainment/Activities/Awesomeness) table.  As parents read the sign though it’s funny to watch them often nudge their child and say, “Look campus ministries.  We should go over there.”  And the students that then pull them in another direction or say Mo-om or Da-ad, in that lovely two syllable exasperated way many of us Southerners have.  I can tell you that 9 times out of 10, that when a parent walks up to our table and signs their student up and the student is no where to be found or the student is standing impatiently behind the parent or grandparent hoping that they’ll just sign them up and be done with it – we’ll never see that student.  Sometimes it happens.  Rarely.  But that’s the thing about college – it’s on the student/young adult/person making their way on their own.

Two things happened today that were thought-provoking for me.  The first was a lady who stopped and got a card.  Her child wasn’t with her but she said that she wanted her to be involved with campus ministry.  She said that her daughter had never been involved in church and hadn’t ever really been inside one except for funerals and she really wished she would get involved.  She then said that the girl was dating a nice Christian boy that goes to church and she was hoping that maybe she would start going.

The other was a guy who walked up to the table and I smiled at home and he’s reaching his hand out to shake mine and I’m about to give him a WCCM card that has our website info with all of the campus ministries listed, and he reads the placard above my head that says “Campus Ministries” and then quickly jerks his hand back and says that’s okay.  I don’t need one of those cards.  Ouch, dude.

It’s just really funny dynamics. Some are super excited to hear about campus ministry on campus and this new church experience.  Some of our strongest leaders at Wesley are people I met at Orientation or at the beginning of the year Open House.  But I do wonder about all of the ones that cringe and walk away.

I ate lunch in the student center yesterday with the Dean of Students who is also our Board Chairperson.  She stopped to talk to some of the Orientation Assistants and I joined her.  At the end of the conversation she introduced me as the United Methodist Campus Minister.  As we were walking away afterwards, she asked if I had noticed how they blinked and paused.  She’s a campus minister?  Who knows what they were thinking?  I had seen a few of them before but didn’t know any of them.

There’s so much rich ground to cover here – what is the perception of the Church today?  What do these young adults think of when they hear campus ministry?  I have the feeling that some of them think I’m going to make them walk over to the West Center and jump in the pool so I can baptize them right there. The mixed bag of looks from relief and joy and hope at finding a community to apprehension, mistrust and all sorts of things.  It’s interesting.

I’m curious whether more or less students would stop at religious affiliated tables in different parts of the country.  It’s always fun to see which denominational affiliation stops by or the increase in how many people check non-denominational.

My primary question today though, in the midst of the news covering Koran burnings, church trials, and the like – what does this new class think of when they hear the word “Christian”?  What do they think of in the importance of finding a community of faith while in college?  Are they going to stay connected to their churches back home and just take a break for awhile?  What does it mean to be Church?  What are the differences and similarities in how we would define that?