I Want to Go Home

There’s something about that saying, “I want to go home.”  We’ve been at the beach this past week with my fam and the kids had a blast playing in the ocean and the pool and going to the inlet to see Aunt Guyeth and catch crabs and play with Nemo the dog.  It was a great week.  But it’s funny, every time Enoch would get tired or cranky or even not get his way, he would say, “I want to go home.”

Now that didn’t mean that he really wanted to go home.  We would ask him if he wanted to pack everything up and get in the car, and of course he said no.  But there’s something about saying, “I want to go home.”

This past Wednesday parsonage families across the South Carolina Annual Conference moved.  These families are always close to my heart during this time of year because I remember how that was as a preacher’s kid in a parsonage family myself.  I don’t attempt to speak for all preacher’s kids because we all have different experiences and see things differently, but for me “home” was a big concept.

In the early years, my two brothers and I were sent to our grandparents house while Mom and Dad moved everything from one house to another.  They would set up our rooms with the our “stuff” and toys in them and it would feel a little more like home by the time we got there.  In one of these first houses, apparently I wrote my name and our phone number on the mattress in my bedroom in case it got lost.  I didn’t realize that not even the bed came with us and this was a running joke for the family that came after us.

We’ve gone down the road of explaining to people, yep, in our church one family moves out in the morning and another family moves into the parsonage in the afternoon.  For some reason, that’s a hard one for people to get.  It is a little strange.

As we got older we knew that when Mom started playing Steven Curtis Chapman’s “For the Sake of the Call” that we better get ready to move.  The Spring around the Cabinet convening time was always a time of anticipation/nervousness/fear that this would be the year when we moved.  And different families do this so many different ways in terms of how it’s communicated to kids, how the transition is made, how much of your own furniture goes, preparing the child to move, etc.

Now I want say that every move was great.  Or that every transition was smooth.  Or that each of us felt the same way about each place we lived.  There were definitely highs and lows and everything in between at each place.  But however we were taught to understand it, we knew that we were moving and that this wasn’t just something that was Dad’s job – it was his calling and that God would take care of us too.  Does that mean everything was always sunny and rosy?  Nope.  But I think I can speak for Josh and Caleb as well when I say that we wouldn’t be the people we are today if not for all of these experiences.

Even those times when we would say, “I want to go home.”  And that home be a house that now had another family living in it at our old church.  Some clergy couple friends have said that their daughter is having a hard time saying goodbye to her friends and her school and I totally get that.  It’s hard and tough and not fun.  And not all of us cope well.  Not everyone makes new friends easily and wants to leave the old town behind, but I think there are a great many of us that learn some things about ourselves along the way – making new friends, being able to talk to a wide variety of people, seeing different places and different communities and how different churches work, and all sorts of things that are just engrained.

So blessings on those this week in between “homes” and trust that not just home is where the heart is but home is also where you make it and how you create it.  Even if it’s the one picture hung on the wall or that one stuffed animal or everyone being together.  May we know and trust that our home is with God and that it’s not just something we cling to when we’re scared or angry or things aren’t going our way, but is something that is eternal and can’t be taken from us.  May we feel it and may we know it.

Prayer for Moving Preacher’s Kids

Lord Jesus, please bless all of these children moving this week whether they’re toddlers to teenagers.  Give them peace and strength and courage as they move from place to place.  Help the move be an easy one.  Give them the friends that they need and the comforts and hope they need for them to feel at home.  Create a haven and shelter for them in this new place and a community of faith and support to surround them and lift them in this time of transition and uncertainty.  Provide the teachers, youth leaders, people that will give them that word of encouragement and will nurture and help them grow into the people you created them to be.  Give their parents strength and clarity and the rest they need to not only be pastors and leaders but also spouses and parents.  Give them the time and priorities and balance of both church and family and the vision and tenacity to know what needs to happen when.  Help these families find the special things that they need and locate the right box or restaurant or grocery store or park.  Give them not just a physical house, but a real and spiritual home.  Help make their way easier and for them to know and trust in your providence and love for them.  Surround them in your grace and peace that they may be wrapped in your mercies anew each day.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

But Mostly Me…

Y’all know I’m a lover of Broadway and with all of the Tony’s it received Sunday night – I’m not the only one who thinks The Book of Mormon is one of the funniest and heart-felt musicals to hit Broadway in a while.

The story follows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham as they are sent to Uganda, Africa.  Elder Price really had his heart set on Orlando, but they’re sent to Uganda.  All sorts of hilarity as well as the tension of real issues of faith, theodicy and how to deal with the crud of life ensues.

One of the songs at the beginning of the musical that highlights Elder Price’s being the shining star of all things and his belief that he’s going to rock anything he does is called “You and Me (But Mostly Me).”  I think it says a ton about how we see ourselves in ministry sometimes.  Rev. Bob Howell during his leadership seminar during Annual Conference talked about the Lone Ranger who have heard about a ton in the old model of ministry.  In the midst of an election year, there’s always a bit of the sense of self-promotion or arrogance or those type words that get thrown around.  Thoughts like – but I’m smarter than the person or have put more years of service in or have a harder appointment or would study harder or would be more balanced or am wiser than so and so.  There’s a sense of competition or a if this person gets this, what does that say about me kind of thing that takes place sometimes.  I don’t entirely know how we combat that, but I feel like a lot of it is setting a tone that we are all in this together and that it’s for the good of the church.

Who wouldn’t want to be the one to do this big thing???  That’s sort of what the song is saying.  But you know – how much more powerful and contagious is an entire movement???  I don’t see the GC and JC folks we elected as having these shiny halos or spotlights on them like movie stars, but as servants of the church that stepped up and who are making decisions in the church with all of us.  The thing about the present and future of our church whether you’re a death tsunami-er or a let’s die to live person or a let’s just get the Spirit of God moving and continue growing into what it means to be Church-er, we all want the same thing.  Or at least I hope we are.  I don’t care if one person or a body of people or what I’d like – a movement of people – begin this renewal, reformation, outpouring of the Spirit, commitment to prayer, spiritual practices and the scripture – putting it all into action.  We just need to do it.  To live it.  To breathe it.  To commit to it.  To prayerfully and intentionally go forward.

We are all in this together.  Whether fresh out of seminary, whether just commissioned or ordained, whether second career, whether retired, whether right in the middle of our pastoral ministry, whether young or old or not wanting to be classified as either, whether man or woman, no matter where we are on our journey or what we may look like.

How do we feel when the person beside us is lifted up?  What are our motivations?  What role or part can we play in our particular time and place?  What does renewal in The United Methodist Church look like?  Not just what’s a vital congregation or Call to Action, but what does renewal and revival look like where you are?  What are the gifts and graces given to each of us?  How can those be used?  Instead of just hearing and absorbing what we hear and learn and are inspired by, what are our next steps?

For some of us, we hear these inspiring things at conferences or on podcasts or in articles and we’re so tired and worn out and blah from the day to day or the uphill battles, that it’s hard to go forward.  See, the thing about being lone rangers and thinking it’s all about us, is that we forget that we’re all in this together.  Not just a cliche or a good thing to throw out there in theory or during a presentation, but seriously.  Is there someone that you can be for real with and can bust open the good, the bad, and the ugly, and you know it will be okay?  Who do we depend on to be our church?

This is not just a “but mostly me” but something that if we are to survive, if we are to be a stronger, healthier, more grounded body – we’ve got to be supporters, advocates, confidants, friends to each other.

This isn’t just the church or ministry folk, but all of us.  It’s not about this congregation or that.  It’s not just about shuffling our membership to churches as we like the pastor or not or the youth program or not or that they talk too much about money or focus too much on social justice.  It’s about what’s essential and what the mission of the Church is.  How do WE make disciples?  How are WE in ministry WITH the community?  How are WE growing and learning and changing and praying and leading and growing?

It’s a heck of a lot more exciting and a lot less pressure when it’s not just all about me, but about all of us.  Let’s celebrate that.

How and why do we make it all about us???  What are some assumptions and world views that might change if it’s not so me-centric?  What does the Bible say about all this me stuff???  How is evangelism a whole new ball game when it’s just about you, but it’s about the world?

Tears

Annual Conference this year was both a whirlwind and a marathon.  Busy-ness or business was everywhere and it was both challenging and inspiring, a call to action and a test of will as we waited/persevered to the end.

I’m starting to think I’ve become more and more emotional as I grow older.  There were several times over this past week when I felt tears come to my eyes.  Some of those times were times of happiness and thanksgiving – feeling the Spirit move as Telley preached at Annual Conference, Josh’s ordination, the prayerful and powerful way our South Carolina delegation laid hands on Dad and prayed over him after unanimously deciding he would be our episcopal nominee.  There were so many great moments from the teaching to the preaching to the videos shared like this:

It was also a great time to camp out for Imagine No Malaria and to train some amazing Students In Mission (SIM) to commit their summers to being in mission = ministry with.  Much to be joyful about!

Sometimes the tears were both thankful and a little bit of just overwhelming gratitude.  It was surreal being back at Annual Conference this year.  Last year, I came in for two days right before the brain surgery and although some probably thought I was insane for coming, for me, it was my church.  The conference – both lay and clergy – are our people and that’s where we as a body share our joys and concerns.  I didn’t realize going into this how much being back at conference would bring up for me in terms of last year’s struggle.

We sang the song, “In Christ Alone” during the opening worship and those words and all of us a large body singing together was such a powerful witness and testimony to the love and providence of God.  (A video and lyrics are below.)  I’m glad we also sang this song during the ordination.  What a powerful song for our commissioned members and ordinands.

My mom’s birthday is June 11th and the brain surgery (left frontal craniotomy) was on her birthday last year.  There’s a part of me that would love to forget that date and not have any mark or reminder of it.  There’s another part of me that knows that it was everyone’s prayers and the grace of God that brought me through and it should be celebrated.  Don’t know which one is winning yet.  The jury is still out.  I get teary just typing about it.  Does that mean I haven’t fully dealt with it yet?  Could be.  Too soon?  Maybe, but not entirely.  Does that mean that was a mucho grande big deal and it’s still crazy to me that all of that happened a year ago and wasn’t just a bad dream?  Yes.  It’s hard to believe that that was me and if I didn’t have my lovely scar that I worry about getting sunburned, I might forget.

It’s hard to process things.  There’s a certain grief and emotion that swells up when you least expect it sometimes.  And it happens to all of us.  I was sitting in the Memorial Service for ministers that have gone to be with God over the past year on Mom’s birthday on the anniversary of my brain surgery and I just couldn’t do it.  I got through the sermon but the slide show of the pictures just did me in.  It’s always been a powerful service to me since in my mind the South Carolina Annual Conference is my home/my church and I know that one day there will be a service for each of us.  And there goes a Sandi Patti song and slides of the pastor that helped during my Gandaddy’s funeral and I have to head on out.  Even in the midst of the thanksgiving for life, even in the midst of the joy of the swelling of the Spirit, even in the midst of realizing that nothing can pluck any of us from God’s hand – there’s still both the realization that something really scary and really serious happened and a something that’s even beyond the word thanksgiving that describes that depth of feeling behind all that could have been and is now.

As I think about those that have faced such devastation in the storms and floods this year, those that have lost loved ones, those that are facing moves and transitions, those that are searching for hope and a rock to lean on when it feels like the walls are closing in around you – I know that the great Comforter is at work in our world and is blowing, inspiring and surrounding us every step of the way.  I am grateful that it is in Christ alone our hope is found and that we will never be turned away from it.  It’s available to each of us.

What are you grieving today?  What are your struggles?  When’s the last time you felt that ground swell of emotion?  How do we see the Spirit at work in our world?  What are the fears and frustrations that we’ve held on to and not given over to God?  What are those buttons of grief that can be turned in to sources of joy in our lives?

We are given songs or videos or movies or sermons or scriptures or friends or emails or a beautiful tree or the melody of the ocean or the stillness and quiet to claim as our promise from God.  It’s there waiting for us.  May we open ourselves to the Word God would speak to us this day.  May we claim it and know it and feel it to the depths of our souls.  May we know and trust.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sin?s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand

What would our logo be?

Last night during the Ash Wednesday service there were many funny occasions as I caught Erica (our volunteer sign language translator extraordinaire) giving me and others looks like – what!!?  how am I supposed to translate that???.  But one thought-provoking moment stood out.  She had asked Mary earlier in the evening what the sign for the word forgiven is and so when I said as part of the liturgy, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven” she thought she nailed it.  The irony came when she found out afterwards that the sign she was doing was punished not forgiven.  Mary of course knew what she meant and I am as always hugely grateful that Erica puts up with us, but I’ve been chuckling and musing about this since last night.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are punished. 

This morning at Wesley we hosted a district meeting for the clergy and Kathy James our Congregational Specialist talked about generational divides and opportunities for our churches.  How do we minister to all of these different groups and spek their language in the midst?  We talked a lot about images.  We could easily recognize the logos from products or stores whether there were words or not.  We’re a visual society and the shorthand that our communication has become in many ways has bled over into the images that we see and know even if the actual writing is explicit or not. 

Then came the wise question of what image or icon or logo does the church have?  How does society recognize us?  The cross and flame wasn’t mentioned although I do think that’s one of the images for the UMC, but do people on the outside actually get that?  The cross in general, buddy Jesus, a traditional picture of a church, a pair of hands praying….none of those came to mind for us this morning discussing it.  What our motley crew worried about was that the image people might have of Christians right now is of people protesting funerals or others condemning and judging people.  So seriously, what would our logo/image/picture/icon be?

When I think of the “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are punished,” I can’t help but think of some of those images and icons that people may recognize us by.  Are they images of hate?  Are they images of middle class complacency?  Are they images of frowny faced people in suits and Sunday dresses?  What do you think?

I was happy to see people sporting their ashes on ESPN and Colbert last night.  There’s a fun witness.  Will you watch them differently?  Hold them to a different standard?  Expect more?  I had no problem taking the students to IHOP last night while we were still “ashed,” but I must admit, that it did give me pause about how we acted or how we were perceived by the folks working there or others eating.  When we have that sign/image/icon of the cross on our foreheads, people are watching.  We know people can see it.  We represent something and someOne when we wear our faith.

In our every day, we don’t wake up every morning and put our cross on our forehead.  Heck, the Matthew passage last night (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21) actually speaks out against practicing your piety before others and I completely agree.  I’m not saying you go stockpile ashes to begin this process every morning, but I am saying we shouldn’t just try to “act right” or live out our faith just when we have the sign of the cross on our heads.  We should dig deeper and show the world by our words, our acts, and our love that in the name of Jesus Christ they are FORGIVEN.  This crazy thing called Christianity is not a battle for Super Christian of the ages, but it’s a recognition that we can’t do it all by ourselves.  It’s a knowledge that we mess up, boy do we sometimes, but that there is One who walks with us and gives us new life. 

This forgiveness is available for each of us whether rich or poor, black or brown, lefty or righty, insider or outsider.  It’s a free gift unlike the Clinique bags that get quickly given out to the first wave of customers.  This is a free gift that never runs out and doesn’t expire.

So on this day after Ash Wednesday when our crosses have been washed away, what remains of our commitment to repentance and renewal?  What does God have in store for us this season?  What kind of visual do we as Christians offer the world?

If you could pick a universal picture or image to represent the church what would it be?  (No this is not a branding meeting where we’re going to put millions of dollars in and take the airwaves, but I’m curious as to what you name.)  Punishment or forgiveness?  Peace or hate?  I’m not saying that all of our images will be pretty or nice or clean, because I don’t believe that being the body of Christ is all roses and butterflies.  But I am saying that the images we project need to be real and they need to reflect the Gospel, not just what we’ve made it into.

this is every worship picture these days...wowzers...

Frustrated but Humbled in a Good Way

Do you get frustrated when things don’t go the way you think they should?  Or even more than that, do you feel frustrated when people consistently don’t live up to expectations or react in ways that you feel are hurtful or uncaring or selfish or self-centered?  There’s such a balance in giving grace to people and loving them as who they are and holding people accountable and really encouraging growth.  Jesus gave us an awesome example with that, but wowzers is it hard to figure out how to live that.

When someone messes up it would be really easy just to ignore it or get over it or forget about what has happened, and of course there are times and places for that, but if we’re talking about Christian community – it is not okay to shut people down, to take things for granted, to not welcome folks, to constantly talk about inside jokes that keep people on the outside, to belittle and criticize in ways that are far from constructive and are much more destructive.  Negativity is so contagious.  And for some reason instead of the church being in sharp contrast to that, it seems that it’s easier for it to happen here than not.

At our district clergy meeting on Thursday we talked a bit about the challenges and hostile environment that some encounter.  In a conversation with a colleague about the church politics of the church kitchen, it amazed me how territorial, rude, and close-minded people can be when they’re the ones on the inside/part of the club and someone else is looking in.  And if you think that “we’ve never done it that way before” is a phrase just used in local churches and not campus ministries, I wish you were right – but sadly, it’s not the case.  I think back on my dad’s talking about what it takes to get to real community – the chaos and conflict involved – and I get that.  But can’t we be different?  Or at least can we try to not be as self-centered and hostile as the rest of the world?  How can we worship and have solid fellowship with someone on a church retreat or on Sunday mornings and then turn around and not speak to them in the aisle at the grocery store or the local Target?  It’s so unbelievingly frustrating.

Not that I’m the “are you being a good enough Christian” police?  Not by any means.  It actually usually make me  wonder if I have been a bad “shepherd.”  Do we as pastors really lead by example?  And what is that example?  Yep I know we are called to offer God’s love to everyone.  I get that.  But I also don’t remember Jesus talking to the Pharisees in a lot of flowery rainbows and butterflies language.  Sometimes it was harsh and hard to hear.  He was straight up with them.  This thing – this discipleship – is not just about insiders.  This is not just a club for you that have figured out how this things work – when to stand for the apostle’s creed or sit for the prayer or whatever.  This isn’t about who can complain and criticize and attack people the most because you think you have the inside track or power.  This isn’t about who has the most friends or knows the most gossip.  This isn’t even about the pastors, the singers, the musicians, the people in charge.  This is about something different.  Thank goodness!

Our theme verse for Wesley this year comes from 1 John 3:17-18 from The Message, “If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something abot it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love?  It disappears.  And you made it disappear.  My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.”  I really like the text.  But it’s really scary to put that on all the Wesley shirts and the posters because if we put that out there and if people walk in and they’re not welcomed and people keep to themselves and are doing their own thing – it’s a bit of a contradiction, right?  A sort of significant one.

How do we practice real love?  How do we live that out?  As pastors or leaders in the church, how do we not take it personally when this is such a challenge in our congregation?  Are they “getting” anything that we are saying or are people tuning in and out and just not catching on?  Maybe.  Or maybe we’re lacking in our preaching and teaching.  Could be.  Do you at some point say forget numbers, forget statistics, forget all of the nit-picking – we are going to try to live out this love of Christ and the heck with the rest of it?

As you might read between the lines, it’s been a pretty frustrating week.  And discernment and reflection in the midst of being tired makes things all the more personal, hurtful, and accentuated.  But the scripture this morning from the Upper Room was a good word in terms of where we are,

“Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
                                                                                                                     -Isaiah 55:6-13 (NRSV)

You know what that tells me?  That sometimes we just don’t know.  It’s not about us or our ways or what we’re doing or not doing.  God’s purposes are being carried out.  God is sowing seeds all around us.  We can prepare the bread, but the yeast is what mysteriously makes it rise.  I don’t think that lets people off the hook in terms of how we are to be in the world if we claim to be disciples of Christ – not by any means.  But I do think that God says that God is bigger than all of that.  God will work, and is working in spite of all of us folks that mess it up.  It’s not about us – at least not all about us.  That is a relief.  Even if we’re expecting a bunch of thorns (and it sure feels like that sometimes in ministry), there will come a cypress.  A couple of those would be pretty awesome!

So yes things may be frustrating when they don’t move or grow or change or act according to what we may think is right.  True.  And I may expect a heck of a lot out of people when I may not have a right to – remember that whole plank in your own eye thing.  But before I throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Before we sit down and say all is lost – it’s good to know even when I don’t measure up or when I feel like I must be the most gigantic hypocritical mess of them all – God is in the mix – bringing beauty from ashes.  May we seek and know God and be challenged to live it out.  For real.  Not just kidding or just during small group or children’s sermon or Sunday school or Disciple group or on a retreat.  We are called to live out this love all the time – a la Wesley’s – “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

When you claim you’re a Christian whether saying it, wearing it, on your car, whatever – you’ve got to back it up.  We’re not all going to be “perfect” all the time but that beauty of sanctification is that we don’t have to constantly stay in the low pit of negative, critical, spin cycle of sin.  Change can happen.  And God still moves.  Even in the midst.

Hard

It’s hard to get back in the swing of things when my mind is still full.  Fall break is over and the students and I are slammed back into reality – them with tests, papers, midterms and catching up on all of the schoolwork they didn’t do on fall break and me with CROP Walk looming this Sunday and …. (I don’t even want to talk about the to do list right now).  As many of you know, we spent the break in New York City at the Church Center Building across from the United Nations doing a seminar through the United Methodist Seminar Program on Human Trafficking.

I have been taking groups to New York to the Seminar Program since 2005 and have never been disappointed.  I am consistently amazed at the quality of speakers, intentional dialogue, provocative and thought-provoking worship, and the entire program.  We have studied Inter-Religious Dialogue, Immigration, Race and Urban Poverty, Homelessness and Gentrification.  I can’t say enough what a special treasure the seminar program is and what a blessing it has been to me and the students I have taken.  It is rare to have the opportunity to delve into a relevant topic and look at it from an intellectual and faith-based perspective and I have seen a lot of transformation and action come out of our experiences.

To say this one was a particularly “heavy” seminar is an understatement.  We have done a lot of different topics over the years but I’ve never felt so physically and emotionally exhausted as I have with this one on human trafficking.  There are so many things that struck me over the past couple of days.  We had tremendous speakers from a variety of organizations helping combat human trafficking from legal standpoints, consumer standpoints, rehabilitation, etc.  That this issue is not something far away in a distant land is crucial for people to understand.  That this is an atrocity in our world, in our nation and in our communities is an understatement.  I was thankful that many of our speakers didn’t just talk about this as an international problem or a New York City problem, but they brought up cases where this has happened right here in South Carolina.  WIS in Columbia reported on one such case here http://www.wistv.com/global/story.asp?s=12066724.  In getting back from the trip I’ve been amazed at the people in the area reaching out and lifting up other organizations right here in our area combating this issue.

I couldn’t help thinking about my husband Mike’s comments on The Tudors mini-series and him saying over and over how crazy it was that women and children were treated in such awful and manipulative ways back then, and realizing that there are plenty of women and children being treated just as unbelievably awful today.  When you hear statistics it sometimes doesn’t get under your skin.  It’s often hard for us to soak that in because it’s just numbers.  There’s an African proverb that is on the bulletin board above my desk and I wrote it down after a CROP Walk one year.  It says, “Statistics are numbers without tears.”  Statistics are numbers without tears.

The most powerful thing that we watched was a movie called Very Young Girls.  I really hope we’ll be able to show it at Winthrop next year.  There’s a trailer here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fX6EaHuRCg.  I warn you before you watch it – it’s hard to watch – it’s hard to hear – and it’s not using “church” language.  But then again, what is “church” language?  I know that talking about some of these things is pushing the envelope and I know these are areas that are beyond taboo and not polite in normal conversation, but if we as a church aren’t talking about them, if we’re not engaging them, if we’re not trying to do something to combat this issue in real and tangible ways, than we are just as guilty as condoning.  We can’t turn a blind eye and just work on things like hunger and homelessness when all of these things are so linked together.  It’s not pretty and it’s certainly not easy but if we don’t educate, than we’re a part of the problem.

One of the neatest parts of this seminar was getting to meet the author of The Blue Notebook, James A. Levine.  He was one of the most down-to-earth and sincere people that I think I’ve ever met and this is one of the most beautiful and difficult books I’ve ever read.  Check it out.  All of the U.S. proceeds from this book are donated to the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children and the Naitonal Center for Missing & Exploited Children (www.icmec.org).  By merely meeting a young girl and seeing this reality for a moment, he wrote this moving and powerful story that gets into your head and your heart and definitely under your skin.

I feel like I need to throw up beware warnings throughout this blog and any time I talk about this topic and maybe that speaks to something else entirely.  Preaching a bit about it last night at a revival, I admit made me pause – especially since there were some children in the congregation.  And yet, I can’t help but say something.  If you hear the stories of some of these girls and when you read the facts and see the magnitude of this problem and how it’s not just the story of India and Thailand but it’s our story too – we have to speak out.  That’s what Levine did.  He couldn’t just have this experience and not say something.  And every little bit we do, helps.

A wonderful guy who helped a District UMVIM group do some work at Wesley left us some more info on this topic including information on what our government is doing about this.  This info can be found at www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking.  You can also call the trafficking information and referral hotline if you suspect someone of being trafficked – 1.888.3737.888.  It also gives you information about clues to look for and key questions to ask.

I can’t entirely articulate all that I feel on this issue and I don’t know if the students can yet at this point either, but I do invite you to learn more.  There are some facts below from the seminar.  And below that there are some links from some of the agencies and people we heard from.  Dig in.  Get educated.  Help spread the word.

Questions and Answers on Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?  The UN defines Human trafficking as “ the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Who are the victims of human trafficking?  Victims of human trafficking are people forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Victims are usually women and children, but men are also trafficked for various reasons, including forced labor and sexual exploitation.

Where does human trafficking happen?  Human trafficking occurs all over the world. It does not require crossing international borders.  Victims of human trafficking can be either nationals or foreign nationals. Many victims are trafficked and enslaved entirely within their own country.

What are some of the factors that lead to human trafficking?  Poverty, isolation, inequality, natural disasters, conflict and political turmoil are important factors in making certain populations more vulnerable to being trafficked. However, trafficking is a criminal industry driven by 1) the ability to make large profits due to high demand, and 2) negligible-to-low risk of prosecution. As long as demand is unchecked and the risks for traffickers are low, trafficking will exist regardless of other contributing factors.

What is the total annual revenue for trafficking in persons?  The total annual revenue for trafficking in persons is estimated to be approximately $32 billion, making it one of the top 3 illicit activities in terms of profits in the world along with the illegal sale of narcotics and arms.

What forms of trafficking are most common?  Sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking (79%), followed by forced labor (18%), such as domestic service, agriculture, factory, restaurant, and hotel work.

How many people are in modern-day slavery?  There are an estimated 27 million people currently in modern-day slavery around the world. According to UNICEF, an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.

How many people are trafficked across international borders each year?  There are an estimated 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year. The US is
the second highest destination in the world for trafficked women. An estimated 20,000-50,000 people are trafficked into the US each year.

What is the UN doing about human trafficking?  Many UN agencies are working to end human trafficking. In 2007, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes established the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) “ based on a simple principle: human trafficking is a crime of such magnitude and atrocity that it cannot be dealt with
successfully by any government alone. This global problem requires a global, multi stakeholder strategy that builds on national efforts throughout the world.”

http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/ – Check out the Chocolate campaign; have your church celebrate Freedom Sunday, check out your purchases wutg Free2Work.

http://www.sanctuaryforfamilies.org/

http://www.ecpatusa.org/

www.worldhope.org

www.salvationarmyusa.org/trfficking

www.iast.net

Figured it out.

Fear is a powerful thing.  My greatest fear growing up was that something would happen to my family and that I would be all alone.  I still have that fear now.  If someone is not in the right place at the right time, it’s in the back of my head.  Maybe that makes me crazy or hypervigilant or just weird.  A very definite possiblity.

When I was doing CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta I learned a great deal about loss and death and everything in between.  People always want some sort of reason…some sort of answer…something they can cling to and trust and know.  In the 17 on call nights that we had, there was only 1 that I didn’t have sort of call and this happened to be the Friday night that I was frantically working on my probationary member Board of Ordained ministry papers finishing up at the last second as normal in my world of procrastination.  I think everyone was praying for no calls that night and I was able to email the papers to Mike, he printed them out back at our home in Decatur and then mailed them in fed ex right before midnight.  Craziness.

Anyway, to say the least, CPE was a life-changing experience for me.  I maybe crazily got a lot out of it and learned a ton about myself.  Dealing with tragedy in the lives of children was tough as heck and has made me a somewhat paranoid parent in being overly cautious with hotdogs, the pool, second story windows, monkey bars and all sorts of random things.  On my second to last on call I performed my first baptism on a few weeks old dying baby.  I had never done a baptism before and didn’t even really know what to do, but it ended up being one of the most special experiences I have shared with anyone as this life returned back to God.  In the midst of this I got word that a 6 month old was in the ER from a car accident downstairs.  I stopped in on my way out and checked on the child who they said had substantial brain injuries.  There wasn’t any family there and so I eventually left to then be called back late that evening.

I found out on the way that the police had just located the child’s mother who had been working at Ryan’s making some extra money for Christmas.  The child had been with her 3 year old brother and husband who both had died at the scene of the accident.  I was waiting at the hospital when the family – mother, grandmother, grandfather, uncle arrived.  I’ll never forget that night.  Their child had been moved to the PICU and the doctors were pretty sure she was brain dead.

I don’t even have words to describe that night.  I do remember us going to the chapel of the hospital right before the final evaluation at 7 am the next morning and I remember that mother screaming at God in that chapel.  With all of the anger and grief and sheer despair that all of us felt and much, much more.  I had at that point seen a lot of children be declared braid dead and I had accepted it and grieved with the family and been whatever support I could be, but not until that day did I scream at God too.  As the mother of this child said “Come on, you’re God.  You can do anything.  I don’t care what they say.  You can work miracles.  You can make this happen.”  I felt myself thinking the same things right along with her.  You are the Great God of the Universe – You can make this happen.  You can do this.

There are so many stories that run through my mind of miraculous and amazing things that have happened that we rejoice and are unfathomably thankful for, but then there are also many where we feel sucker punched and reeling.  I know that life is supposed to be more normal now.  The tumor board recommended the same wait and see and we’ll check back in 3 months with the MRI and see how much what’s left has grown, etc.  I am super thankful that this is not worse.  Really.  But it took until today for me to figure out why I haven’t been able to totally bounce back.  Oh I’m bouncing.  Thanks to y’all’s prayers.  But there are times when I’m tired and sad and it’s hard to keep bouncing.  I figured it out today.  It’s that fear thing again.  But for me it’s the reverse.  When I witnessed that family’s heartbreak, I saw one of my fears realized (boy was that fodder for CPE discussions).  I hadn’t been able to entirely put my finger on what was getting to me until today.  Not that this wouldn’t happen without a total fight and all the strength and grit that I have, but it is terrifying to think of ever leaving Mike and my kids.  For my kids not to know who I am or how I love them.  For them not to feel that to the essence of their bones.

I know this is not a feel good blog post.  I haven’t posted in a lot of days and it’s not because they’ve been bad days, they’ve been good.  But part of the reason that I’m writing these – actually one of the main reasons – is to process this for me.  Read it, don’t read it – it’s not hurting my feelings.  For me I think naming my fear, naming the imaginable loss I would feel leaving Mike and my kids, even if there’s no way in the world that would happen and the prognosis is great and I should be happy – just naming it makes a difference to me.  Saying the words outloud and acknowledging the big and small shifts that this has made in my life is important in moving forward.  Gosh, it sometimes sucks to practice what you preach.

What clicked today is that even in the most dreadful things, I know that God is still present.  God is still with us.  God is still cradling us.  Whether this is in the crazy topsy turvy days or the floating in between times.  I’m not going to let fear rule my life.  And I certainly don’t want it to rule the next 3 months.  It’s hard to live that abundant life Jesus talks about when fear takes root in your heart.  So my hope is that we get them out there.  That we say them outloud.  That we can let not just the nice happy parts of our souls shine through but that we can be honest in our questions our concerns our frustrations.  I keep thinking of Star Wars and Twilight references here, but I’m going to abstain from my typical music/movie references even though I love them.  It’s amazing how acknowledging our fears and letting the light shine on them can change our perspective and help keep us moving forward.  Hope y’all didn’t mind me acknowledging mine.