Posted in Campus Ministry, Hope, Justice, Peace, Politics, United Methodist Church, War

What Makes for Peace

One of my favorite places to worship and reflect is Tillman Chapel in the Church Center Building across the street from the United Nations.  I like so many things about it from the stained glass, to the religious symbols, and the beautiful words inscribed from the Gospel of Luke chapter 19:42, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”  It’s appropriate across the street from the United Nations and it’s appropriate as we take students on UM seminars to learn about people other themselves from places other than their homes facing circumstances that they may never face.  It’s also appropriate for us as we go about the tug and pull of the life of Christ in light of recent events.

While I was in ethics class in seminary, my brother Josh was living with us at the time and offered me great food for thought as we went back and forth over issue after issue.  We’re both pretty stubborn and because I love and respect him, I could hear things that challenged me and that I didn’t entirely agree with, that I would chew on for awhile.  Josh fits in well with the belief that The United Methodist Church is a peace church.  He does and we need people like him.  Even as he walked in a few minutes ago and I’m telling him about so many people posting on this, he has no hesitation in saying not just that we shouldn’t rejoice, but that we shouldn’t kill.  Violence does not solve violence.  I’m the one when watching the horror movie or drama on tv or when someone I love is hurt violently or tragically, that jumps to the let’s take action – go get ’em! – shoot the person already, etc.  When watching it in the movies of course you want the person being stalked by the killer to get away and the killer to be brought to justice, and we cry for justice just as much in “real life” as well.  It’s such a fine line between justice and wanting people to answer for what they have done and for the pain they have caused, and letting yourself be swept away by the hate that knows no bounds and just seems to be spraying everywhere.

I was a senior in college when 9-11 happened.  I got engaged the night before the attack and it was a beautiful September morning as I left for class.  In my first class of the day, English with Dr. Jones, we talked a little bit about someone having heard on the radio that a plane had accidentally flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  We continued on with class thinking that it was just an accident.  By the time I went to my 9:30 class, History with Dr. Silverman, he had turned on the television in the classroom and as we watched, we saw the towers fall.  I remember girls in my class holding up my hand to look at my engagement ring as we watched all of this from the classroom.  That class was then cancelled and I made my way over to The Wesley Foundation where my then fiancee Mike and my campus minister Jerry were sitting in the living room watching everything on the television.  I remember our silence and our disbelief, our fear and our sadness, our uncertainty and our anger.  I remember having class that afternoon in Plowden Auditorium and our education professors led by Dr. Dockery and Dr. Vawter saying that we were not going to let terrorists disturb our day to day lives.  We were not going to give them the satisfaction and we were going to have class anyway.  I remember talking to the junior high youth group that I led and trying to answer their questions in youth and Sunday school about what had happened and where was God in the midst.

Over the years, as the anniversaries have come up, I’ve talked more and more to students and heard their stories from that day.  Many of them were between 8 and13 or so.  Hearing their perspectives and how this event has shaped their lives has been illuminating and fascinating to see how such a big event has shaped so much.  I try to think back to what I would have remembered at that age and I think about the Oliver North trials or for me, pivotal was the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  It was the first bit of big news I actually remember.  When I think about our 9 year olds today and how they perceived the news Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I wonder what their stories will be.  Was their family elated, throwing a spur of the moment party, as many of our students on campuses were doing?  Did their family solemnly watch the news, thankful that it was over and that justice had been done?  What did they think about the reactions of the press, of facebook, of their classmates or teachers?  What did their friends say?

Over the past days watching facebook light up the first night with so much passion and excitement about someone’s death and then over the last few days with scripture and sayings in response to that fervor, it’s been a study to watch the polarity.  I admit my own feelings are pretty mixed.  As Mike and I were watching the Celebrity Apprentice Sunday night (yay Lil John won $40,000 more of the United Methodist Children’s Home in GA) we saw the interruption bulletin and we thought it was about Kadafi.  When they then said that it was about bin Laden we were floored.  We, the United States, finally got him.  All of the families who lost loved ones in 9-11 finally get at least that much closure.  Yep, I was happy that that part of the story was over.  I watched families talk about their loss of loved ones and the pain that they still feel on the morning news.  I saw all of the commentators and military personnel talk about this as a shot in the arm for our military.  I’m not speaking at all against any of that.  We do need to support our military – the actual people – the ones that are suffering and fighting for us – whether we agree with the military action or not.  We do need to support these families and all of those affected by 9-11.  We as pastors do need to journey with our congregations and the mix of emotions they feel.  We do need to be mindful and intentional and praying for wisdom and discernment as we offer words in the days and weeks ahead.

But even as my most patriotic go get em’ self, I pause at all of the fervor surrounding this.  As Mike and I sat on the bed and watched this unfold, he looked at me and said, if you ever wanted to know what a lynch mob looks like, look at facebook.  There’s something about band wagons that make me pause whether it be jubilation expressed or scripture expressed or even the sayings of MLK that end up not being entirely true.  Some say we shouldn’t post anything at all to facebook because it’s not a real place of dialogue, you don’t know what people really mean, or can’t hear the emotion in their voice, etc.  But I feel like it is a place for us to engage and can be meaningful and insightful if we let it be.  It’s definitely interesting to see the wide diversity of some of our thoughts and opinions especially within the Christian faith.

Several of my students posted scripture yesterday and sayings and I was glad that they were in the mix.  The lovely Ashlee Warren posted the quote, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”  They were participating in the discussion.  They weren’t just sitting back, but were speaking up.  I was sitting back.  I didn’t even want to check facebook to see what was being bantered about.  But then I began to see that there were other people struggling to figure out how to feel or how to articulate a Christ who turns the other cheek and shows us the way of the cross.  This is a Christ who challenges us in Matthew 5 verse 43 (also echoed in Luke 6), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  It’s hard to argue with that.  It’s hard to reconcile that to some of our feelings.  You can’t make that statement easy.   As much as I’m relieved that bin Laden is gone and that his reign of terror is over, I know that there are more stepping up to the plate.  I hope that his death will affect this “war” on terror in profound ways in turning terrorists away from their intentions and that they are discouraged and are brought to new life and peace in real, just and deep ways. I also hope it helps us in thinking about “what makes for peace” as Jesus cries in Luke.

What makes for peace?  Does demonizing someone (a country, faith, race, person, gender, sexuality, region, political party, education, or skill) make for peace?  Does killing innocent people as was done in 9-11 make for peace?  Does making blanket statements and assumptions about people without actually trying to engage in real dialogue and not just bullying people into buying in, make for peace?  Does hanging out with like minded people that always agree with us and being comfortable in our recliners with either our beer or our hot tea or our fair-trade coffee, make for peace?  Does throwing out scripture or quotes or opinions without being ready to stand up for them, apologize for them, or at least engage with others on them, make for peace?  If we continue down this road, it’s hard to know what we do that makes for peace in this world, where are we culpable and where we accept responsibility.

And yet, I find Christians wrestling with these things and struggling to find integrity in the midst of this event, as something that gives me hope.  I have been proud of my fellow United Methodist and other clergy as they have posted on both sides of this issue, as they have challenged each other and their parishioners, as they have stood up as sometimes a still small voice articulating and being a voice in the midst.  To me, us being in dialogue and engaging in the world showing that as Christians we sometimes disagree, we sometimes struggle with how to respond, we sometimes are counter cultural and other times struggle with a voice – this, this engagement has been breathtaking to see.  It has gotten our blood flowing and our brains firing and our hearts hopefully turned to what it means to have peace and justice and hope and grief and remembering and rejoicing and what it will be in a time and a place where war will be no more.

I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians 13 and the love described there.  I hope that in the days and weeks ahead that we as clergy offer not fuel for hate, but fuel for love.  I don’t mean a love in a sunshine, flowers and rainbows, pansy type of love.  I mean a full, robust, no holes barred, Jesus is all in and extending grace to each of us, kind of love.  I hope that the scriptures that challenge us or our own feelings that make us a little uncomfortable will spur us on for more study and for more discovery and journey.  My prayer is that we will continue to search and act and live the ways that make for peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our church, in our country, and in our world.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Posted in Campus Ministry, Cross, Easter, Grace, Hope, Jesus, Movies, pride, Sermons, Suffering

Easter?

He is Risen! The cross still looms to remind us of the sacrifice and the promise that death and sin are defeated by the love and grace of God!

We say that as Christians we’re an Easter people, a Resurrection people.  I believe that and have given an enthusiastic “He is risen.  He is risen indeed!”  I don’t know if it was because Easter was so late in the season this year but I started off pretty well at the beginning of Lent in trying to be intentional about this journey to the cross, but as the semester began to draw to a close and the to do list piled up, our car was totaled and we were depending on just one car, three of us had strep throat, and we moved everything out of my grandparent’s house, Easter somehow got lost in the shuffle and all the upheaval of life.

A clergy friend of mine posted the other day that Lent and Holy Week are her favorite time of the year.  I love spring and the flowers and the sun out more (even though we haven’t seen that as much yet).  I love the smell and feel in the air as people begin to come outside and play volleyball in the sand at Winthrop Lake, go on walks in the evening, and enjoy time on your front or back porch.  The transition from winter to spring is an amazing one and I know that very easily makes a symbolic leap to death and the resurrection.  So don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year, but I can’t say that I enjoy Good Friday.  It’s like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List where it’s not something that you watch every day to lift your spirits, but it’s something you know you need to watch at least once to recognize the sacrifice and the weight of what was cost.

I hate to pick favorite anything’s but Advent and Christmas are probably hands down my favorite time of year.  It’s such a powerful witness to me that the great God of the universe decided to come as a baby and dwell among us.  Emmanuel, fully human and fully divine, is such a super big deal.  You can’t have Easter without that in-breaking of the kingdom where God became a vulnerable baby right here in all of our human frailty and all the kaleidoscope of human experience.  In some ways it’s the same reasons that I love watching The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston  the night before Easter every year.  There’s something about when Moses says,” I want to know God,” as he longs to go on the mountain, and something sacred and special about this God who speaks and delivers the people.  There’s something about Ramses in the movie when challenged to cry out to his gods for help saying about Moses’ God, “His God, is God.”  A God that could have anything or do anything God wants, that chooses to be in relationship with God’s people, that chooses to bring deliverance and justice, and that chooses to be present in the midst of suffering – that is something more powerful than any adjective could describe.

In thinking about Easter, I think a lot of my unease is around Good Friday.  It’s easy for us to lift up the tiny baby Jesus a la Ricky Bobby or in pictures and greeting cards, but you don’t see people sending out greeting cards or putting giant pictures of Jesus still hanging on the cross, crucified with the nails and the blood and the crown of thorns.  It’s easy to believe in this present and loving God that chooses to be with us, it’s a little harder to take the responsibility that all the suffering he did on the cross was for us.  That’s a little more weighty and pricks our pride a bit for those that think works or merit or self-seeking is what makes things happen, which is why I think we often rush straight from Palm Sunday right on to Easter and the resurrection.  We know it ends well and it’s all good and grace for us, but it’s hard to hear the words from Gethsemane, “Father, take this cup from me.”  It’s hard to read about the suffering much less watch anything like the Passion where we get an up-close and personal look.  If we really believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  If we believe that this innocent man was martyred for us, how does that change how we live our lives?  Does it?  Sometimes Easter makes the sacrifice look easy and the grace that’s thrown out in bushel-full’s seem simple.  But then I think about Peter and the other disciple running as fast as they can to the tomb and Mary weeping there.  This was real and personal and not something just long ago, but something that affects each of us as Jesus calls our name.

How would you describe Easter?  How would you describe what Jesus did?  Using real life language, what would you say?  In thinking about how to describe the Easter story to Enoch and Evy in ways that they understand, do I just pop in a Veggie Tales video on Easter or read them a children’s book or hope they pick up something at church?  How do we explain to the world what Easter means, not just the cute little baby Jesus, but the full scope of the story?

There’s a line to a song that I heard the other day that says “there’s no hope without suffering.”  There’s no hope without suffering.  I don’t know if that’s wholly true all the time, but I do believe that the hope born from suffering is a real and sustaining hope indeed.  What kind of resurrection hope are we offering our world?  This isn’t a hope that tells you that everything in life is going to be easy or rainbows and butterflies.  It’s much like our South Carolina motto, “While I breathe, I hope.”  This is a hope that says that no matter what, even on the darkest of days, that God is with you.  Sin and death have been conquered and new life, eternal life, abundant life, is offered in Christ.  No more do we have to make the same mistakes over and over, but through the power and grace of God and the Spirit that intercedes for us, we have the promise of something more in this life and a story unfolding far more magnificent, magical, and miraculous than any royal wedding, any Lifetime or Hallmark movie, or anything we may try to do on our own.  Beyond any “greatest story ever told” this God of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and everything in between – this God is seeking us and calling us to live this resurrection life out loud in the world by loving God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves to know that we don’t have to do it all, but we just have to depend on the One who did it for us.

Still love this song for Easter…

Want to see a fun Easter flashmob RISE UP?  http://blog.lproof.org/2011/04/glorious-resurrection-day.html

Posted in Faith, Family, Health, Hope, Tumor

So it hit me…

I don’t really know how to begin this blog.  It’s been a long weekend.  While I was at the doctor on Wednesday we realized I have a sinus infection and Mike and I have been battling those all weekend so I know that has something to do with it.  It’s been exhausting and for some reason on Friday everything just kind of hit me, that 4 weeks from that day I randomly had a seizure and they then the next morning found this brain tumor and two weeks from that day I had that brain tumor mostly removed and on Wednesday I found out it was a type 2, not a type 1 or a 3 or 4 and I will wait for 3 months and will get another MRI and will get to wait I’m sure several days after that to see what the deal is.

I’ve been asked about getting second opinions and so many of my much beloved Emory people have offered medical expertise and I am full of gratitude for that.  I think it was Friday though when it hit me that all this really has happened and this is not a bad dream and this is my new reality.  I kind of hate the phrase at this point “new normal.”  A large part of me wants to scream the heck with the “new normal.”  I don’t want to find it.  I don’t want to have to find it.  I don’t want any of this happening period.

I know that there are very many people that have this worse off than I do.  It could have been a type 3 or 4 malignant.  I’m not even going to name all of the worse things that could be happening right now, and I know that and feel the pain of that.  But I also have to acknowledge that for me this sucks.  For a known and self-identified control freak, not being able to drive anywhere when I get carsick all the time, not having any control over this line of tumor still in my brain, not being able to do anything about it (yes I know I can get a second opinion and I can choose my attitude and I can be thankful, but that’s not how I always feel), not having the energy to clean up the house much less care that it’s a mess….it really just stinks.

So I battled this funk all weekend.  I read three books over the weekend – two ended sadly and praise God the one I read yesterday ended well.  We watched Carolina make it into the College World Series which is tremendous.  I spent the weekend playing with the kids and we ate good food, relaxed and I’m as always thankful for the help of my mom and Mike in keeping things together right now.  On Sunday morning I had absolutely no desire to go to church.  No I didn’t pull the I’m going to go to Bedside UMC this morning or Boxsprings Baptist, but I didn’t really want to go.  But you know that’s what happens on Sundays…Mike goes to church and on the rare chance that I’m not preaching I get to listen to someone bring the Word.  So Mom and I got the kiddos dressed and ready for church and off we went.

All morning I had been on the verge of tears and when we went into Bethel the first hymn was “O How He Loves You and Me” from the Faith We Sing 2108.  That was it.  I ended up having to go downstairs because I was pretty much hyperventilating crying.  It’s a simple song…”O how he loves you and me!  O how he loves you and me!  He gave his life.  What more could he give?  O how he loves you; O how he loves me; O how he loves you and me.”  I wasn’t upset because I didn’t believe the words.  I was upset because I do believe the words.  I know God loves me but that doesn’t completely change how devastating some of this is.  We can feel and know God’s love and there is hope there, but sometimes all we feel is despair at all of the what if’s and could have been’s and it isn’t easy to keep on singing and praising when you’re just not there.

By the time I got it together Josh was on to the children’s sermon and then the choir played a song that Patti had learned at a UMW retreat.  It’s also out of the Faith We Sing 2218 called “You are Mine.”  Here are the words:

I will come to you in slence, I will lift you from all your fear.  You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice, be still and know that I am here.

I am hope for all who are hopeless, I am eyes for all who long to see.  In the shadows of the night, I will be your light, come and rest in me.

Do not be afraid, I am with you.  I have called you each by name.  Come and follow me, I will bring you home; I love you and you are mine.

I am strength for all the despairing, healing for the ones who dwell in shame.  All the blind will see, the lame will all run free, and all will know my name.

I am the Word that leads all to freedom, I am the peace the world cannt give.  I will call your name, embracing all your pain, stand up, now walk, and live!

Do not be afraid, I am with you.  I have called you each by name.  Come and follow me, I will bring you home; I love you and you are mine.

I kept crying but that at least got me to the sermon which was great and much needed as well.  All day I just kept struggling with this.  And I finally just let it out during Phineas and Ferb and told Mom and Mike the things that I’m frustrated with and afraid of and just sick of.  I don’t want to bottle this up and it keep giving me nightmares and I don’t want to take it out on my children or family, but it’s all so much sometimes that everything spills over.

Somehow though after saying it out loud to them and after eating some Fruitloops and watching the daytime Emmy’s I felt better.  Last night was one of the first nights I didn’t have a nightmare and for that I am thankful.  Is every day going to be easy?  No.  Does life sometimes really completely stink?  Yes.  Are there sometimes in our lives when tears of desperation are all that we can muster? Sure.  Is there One who still loves us and holds us and wants the best for us even in the midst?  Heck Yeah.  Is that hard to handle sometimes?  I think so.

I can’t help hearing that refrain from the hymn – “Do not be afraid, I am with you.  I have called you each by name.  Come and follow me, I will bring you home; I love you and you are mine.”  I guess sometimes there are things that we just have to cling to in the midst.

The kids were watching an Anne of Green Gables cartoon on PBS yesterday and I LOVE Anne of Green Gables.  It was a lot of fun watching it with them and I love that Kevin Sullivan produced both the Anne that I grew up with and this new animated series.  She always had a way with words saying things like not just feeling sad but being in the “depths of despair.”  Funny girl.  Maybe sometimes we are in the depths of despair.  And that’s real.  It’s not always faith, praise, and strength.  Who in the heck is like that all the time?  We are real people with real crud that happens and sometimes that’s not beautiful or picture perfect.  There are questions.  There are fears.  There is struggle.  I’m glad we don’t have to always have the answers and I’m glad that we don’t have to stay in the depths.  May God give each of us the strength and the tenacity and the courage and the hope to keep keeping on but may we also be thankful that we can come battered and bruised and confused and despondent and that’s okay too.

There’s a song I listened to a lot as a gangly too tall teenager facing typical mean girl stuff – nothing out of the ordinary, but you know how it goes.  The song is by Twila Paris and it’s called “The Warrior is a Child.”  May we each know that there’s a home to run to and that it’s okay to struggle with picking up the pieces.