Give Thanks in All Circumstances

James 1:17 ESV

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Psalm 107:1 ESV

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Ephesians 5:20 ESV

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Colossians 3:15-17 ESV

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Philippians 4:6 ESV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

On this Veteran’s Sunday, we all have things for which we are thankful.  These are just a few passages of scripture that encourage us to give thanks.  In particular, we are to be thankful in all circumstances.  Being far away from home for Thanksgiving gives us a taste of that.  I found these stories from the military during World War II.

Cliff Sampson of Plymouth, US Navy 1942-1945: “My first military Thanksgiving was in 1942 at Great Lakes. We had a big mess hall and it was a typical Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the fixings, apple pie and mince pie. They tried to make it special and, of course, everybody was hepped on the war. Just being a little recruit, you didn’t have much to say about it anyhow, you just did what they told you and ate what they gave you. But it was good food, I can’t complain. Some of the food probably was better than a lot of people ever had before they were in the service. Some people came from poverty… “Thanksgiving 1945 I was home in Plymouth with my family and my wife. We were getting ready to settle down and I was back to work, running the store again. It was a great feeling to be home, after being blown up on a ship in July (the USS YMS 84 yard mind sweeper was blown up 3 July 1945, Cliff Sampson received the Purple Heart) and then in November, I’m out of the service and the war is over. I feel sorry for all those that didn’t come back. It was a great experience, but it’s too bad for those who had to leave us. They fought for a great cause.”

Bill Shepard of Plymouth, 102 Infantry Division (“Ozark Division”), U.S. Army, stationed in Ohio, Germany and Wales: “The Armed Forces were absolutely adamant about getting the troops a Thanksgiving dinner, all over the world, no matter who you were or what you were doing. Whether it was on the front lines THANKSGIVING “OVER THERE” *** World War Two Voices from the Front or in a big fort like Sam Houston in San Antonio, they always made sure that the Armed Forces got a Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas meals were also somewhat like that, but I remember the Thanksgiving dinners — there were always turkeys and pies and everything you would have at home. The food was often cold, if you were in the field (Thanksgiving Day 1944, the Ozark Division had just broken through the Siegfried Line at Aachen), but it was Thanksgiving.”

Stanley Collins, US Navy: “I was on submarine duty in the Pacific in the year 1943. We were in the area off the cost of the Philippines. I remember having a complete turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. While the turkeys were cooking, the submarine took a dive. We went down too steeply and the turkeys fell out of the oven onto the deck. The cook picked them up and put them back into the oven — and we ate them, regardless of what may have gotten on them as a result of their fall. That meal was so good!”

Ervin Schroeder, 77th Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, I Company, US Army: “On Thanksgiving Day, we made our landing on Leyte Island in the Philippines very early in the morning. We therefore missed our dinner aboard ship. Somewhere down the beach from where we landed, the Navy sent us ham and cheese sandwiches. My buddy happened to get one of the sandwiches and brought it back to our area. I was complaining to him for not bringing one back for me when he started to have stomach cramps… At this point, I shook his hand and thanked him for not bringing me a sandwich.”

Ed Campbell, US Marine Corps, 1943-1945, had spent 3 different Thanksgivings in service.  He says this about the last one.  “The third and last Thanksgiving (1945), I landed in Boston on Thanksgiving Day… I walked around the city for a little bit, with joy in being immersed in the quietness of Boston — it was around 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning. I decided I would take a taxi home to Quincy. I had enough money — my discharge money — so I was able to pay for a cab to take me home in style. Of course, we had a great Thanksgiving. My mother had all the relatives and old friends there — I had called her to say that I would be home on Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful day to come home. It was literally the first day of the rest of my life.”

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.  Give thanks always and for everything.  Sing songs of thanks and whatever you do, in word or deed, give thanks to God for Jesus.  Do not worry, but pray and give thanks.  Give thanks in ALL circumstances.  We’re told all throughout the Bible to give thanks.  And not just in the good and easy times, but in the hard, trying times as well.

Stuart, Mike’s cousin, wrote this about his Granddad for the funeral.

“In a book that Tom Brokaw authored, he labeled the generation that fought in and supported our country during WWII as the greatest generation that ever lived. He went on to describe this group of people as the greatest generation that any society ever produced; not only for their efforts winning the war, but for the way they lived their lives.  I am sure everyone here has known someone who was a part of this generation and can easily testify to their godly and selfless character and how true Tom Brokaw’s characterization is.

I can certainly do this in the case of my grandfather.  Bob Jeter joined the Marine Corps when he was 17 years old. He fought in the critically important Battle of Iwo Jima and was one of the few soldiers to survive. During the battle one of his friends was buried alive on the shores of the beach during a shelling.  My grandfather saved his life by quickly digging him up and getting him to safety.  They remained best friends for the rest of their lives. He was awarded three purple hearts for his time in the Marine Corps. After being discharged, he went to work for McKesson Drug as a worker in the warehouse.  He got this job by using the GI Bill. Over the course of his career, he worked his way up to the position of vice president of McKesson Drug.

These are obviously all things to be proud of, but the accomplishment Bob Jeter was most proud of was the fact he and his wife of 60 plus years, Helen Jeter, raised a Christian family. My uncle overheard him say this on the golf course in response to a question about 15 years ago.

Everything my grandfather did was centered on Christ. He was a dedicated member of this church for 40 plus years. He served at Brush Hill as an elder, Sunday School teacher and in many other roles. He, along with my grandmother, were very actively involved in numerous ministries in East Nashville over the course of their lives. He began each day of his life with prayer and scripture reading and ended it in the same way.

It is truly a blessing if you have ever had anyone in your life who you can to to for advice on anything that is on your heart and know that you will receive profound, thoughtful, wise guidance in return.  Because of the relationship I had with my grandfather, Bob Jeter, I knew someone like this.”

He wrote this letter to his family.

Dear All,

I suppose you know by now that I am on Iwo Jima, and best of all I am still alright.

 

I have had several close ones, but the good Lord seemed to want me to stay in good shape a little longer.

There isn’t much I can say, or they’ll let me say, except that I am alright, and I intend to stay that way.

I’ll write more when I have more time and something to say.

I still haven’t seen Howard but I passed his island.

Your loving son,

Bob

Pfc Robert E. Jeter

Written March 3, 1945.  He was wounded (3rd time) and evacuated on March 12.  One day after his 20th birthday.  He’s the one who Enoch mentioned in last week’s children sermon who had the purple hearts.  When granddad was at Maybelle Carter, an assisted living facility, his neighbor would make stuffed teddy bears.  That was one of the things Enoch took with him when we had to evacuate for the hurricane because as he said last week, it reminds him of his grandfather and he indeed was a great man.

I have hope for our country.  At Girl State I loved to sing the song “God Bless the U.S.A.” because when we sang the part “And I gladly stand up” we would stand up.  Close to 600 high school juniors.  It wouldn’t have the same impact if I did it alone.  We have to do it together.  “And I gladly stand up NEXT TO YOU.”  We have to be united as a country and a nation under God.  We won’t survive if we don’t.  We’ve become so insular, so jaded, such experts on the way we see the world, that we don’t celebrate America for what it is.  A glorious melting pot of neighbors, of brothers and sisters, of fathers and mothers, of real people.  I’ve always believed that the way to Christ is in relationship.  Our personal relationship and our communal relationship.  We personally need to dig into the Word, fast and pray, and cultivate and tune in to the True Vine, but we also need to live it out, forming relationships with our neighbors, the person we see every week at the coffee shop and we always wonder if we should strike up a conversation, the frazzled mother at the grocery store holding on to her squirming children while she drops her groceries.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  AND give thanks for all that you have been given.  For example, your house, your food, your job, your freedom, this great country.  I challenge you to see and name three things for which you are thankful at the end of every night.  Do it for the month of November and tell me what happens.  My prayer and hope is that you will ignite within you a Spirit of Gratitude.

15032848_1506770202683548_5351340885492053216_n

We recognized our veterans at our special service and played this song and invited them to come forward for every branch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I5BqvpkwmA

Vision Meeting

We’re having a Visioning meeting at Point Hope UMC Saturday from 9 am – noon.  God led me to call it that based on the Acts 2:17 verse that’s echoing the Joel 2:28 verse.

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.”

It’s not supposed to be intimidating at all.  I hope it will be fun.  I, in fact, promise it will be fun!  You can come dressed however you want.  There will be snacks and other goodies.  It may not even take the full time.  We’ll see how the Spirit leads.  This is meant to start a conversation that will be ongoing as our broader story is still unfolding.  In terms of story, we have to know where we have come from in order to fully know where we are and where we’re going.  So one of the things we will do as a church at this Visioning meeting is create a timeline that will tell our story and we will leave it up so that people who can’t be there on Saturday, can also add to it.  All are invited.  I don’t want it to be an exclusive thing at all.  If you’re excited about the possibilities, you’re invited.  If you want to dream God-sized dreams, you’re invited.  If you want to bring the love of Christ to the world outside of the church walls, you’re invited.  If you want to foster a deeper sense of community right here at Point Hope, you’re invited.  It doesn’t matter if you have crazy outreach ideas, or if you’re a numbers and bottom line person, or if you’re a pragmatic realist, you’re invited.

Any time we come together as the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is there in our midst inspiring creativity, collaboration, and collective action inspired by the Word made flesh.  As Rich Mullins says, “A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers, but into a larger one where there is room for wonder.”  Let’s wonder together.  Let’s dream dreams together.  Again, don’t worry if you can’t be there on Saturday, there will be places for you to give your feedback as well!  If you can make it, I promise, you will not regret it.

I am praying for our whole big “c” Church to have a Great Awakening.  We, now more than ever, need to seek God in prayer, knowing and trusting that God will answer.  We all need to be like the father in Mark 9, “Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out,“I believe; help my unbelief!” We need to believe in God, all things are possible.  God is going to be faithful and true and if we believe who knows how God will work through us.  Let these words from Ephesians be an encouragement to you as you face challenges near and far, journey through mountaintops and valleys.

Ephesians 3:14-20, “14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Chosen to Share the Good News

Romans 10:5-15 (NRSV)

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

The title of this sermon in the Chosen series is “Chosen to share the Good News.”  Before we can understand the Good News, we have to understand how good that news is.

Have you ever fallen victim to autocorrect?  It’s one thing to do it on your computer, but it’s an entirely different thing to do it on your phone.  For sure.  For example, your phones may auto-correct my name and give you the choices of “Marcie or Nancy.”

Mom to son: “Where are you?”
Son: “I’m having a little seizure.”
Mom: “Oh no! I’m calling 911 right now!”
Son: “No, mom! I meant I’m having a Little Caesar’s — I’m eating pizza!”

Guy to Friend: “How was the date?”
Friend: “Awesome! I killed her at the end.”
Guy: “That bad, eh?”
Friend: “No, I meant I kissed her. Stupid auto-correct!”

For any of us who have smart phones, we’ve been there.  One auto-corrected word can mean the difference between a great date or a life in prison!

The context for our passage in Romans is that Paul’s writing to a Roman church that’s struggling with a language disconnect between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians.  You see, the Jewish Christians recently came back to Rome after being expelled by the emperor, Claudius and the Gentile Christians outnumbered them in the small house churches throughout the city.  Not only was miscommunication rampant and Paul wanted them to use a particular language and stop talking past each other.  Language is important.  Words are important.  They are powerful.  I used to have a button that had these words in big letters, “Button Your Lip” and in smaller letters, “Be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  Words can wound.  Words can show love.  Words can bring devastation.  Words can give life.  So it’s ever more important that Paul bridges the gap and gives the Roman Christians – Jews and gentiles alike – a common language.

I was with colleagues sharing a meal and someone asked me to explain the word “shade” because I had just used it in conversation.  Maybe I’ve been hanging with college students too long, but I thought “shade” had entered the mainstream because it was on primetime television.  By the way, I had to look up the word “fleek.”  I’m glad he asked me about it because that told me he was trying to understand.  We all have insider and outsider language.  We have generational language.  We have “church” language.  We often don’t notice it until someone brings it to our attention because they feel excluded. I can attest, it’s frustrating, when people don’t understand us, when we can’t explain effectively what we think clearly or we can’t find the right word.  Whether because we get tongue-tied or we’re fighting for the speaking stick, I think I’ll human beings yearn to be understood.

In her 2013 Commencement Address at Harvard Oprah Winfrey shares, “I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people, was that there is a common denominator in our human experience. Most of us, I tell you we don’t want to be divided. What we want, the common denominator that I found in every single interview, is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I have done over 35,000 interviews in my career and as soon as that camera shuts off everyone always turns to me and inevitably in their own way asks this question “Was that okay?” I heard it from President Bush, I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyonce and all of her Beyonceness. She finishes performing, hands me the microphone and says, “Was that okay?” Friends and family, yours, enemies, strangers in every argument in every encounter, every exchange I will tell you, they all want to know one thing: was that okay? Did you hear me? Do you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you?”

Paul wants everyone on the same page to limit the misunderstandings and he reminds everyone in Romans chapters 1-3 that all of them are under slavery to sin and death, much more than slavery to a Verizon or Sprint contract, and all have fallen short of the glory of God.  In chapter 4 Paul talks about God’s covenant with Abraham that he may have descendants as the stars all over the world, drawing all nations to God, and through Moses gave Israel the law as to set God’s children apart.  In chapters 5-8, Paul points out that Israel had a problem keeping the law.  If you ever glanced at the Old Testament, you know it’s a constant spin cycle of the people disobeying God, God giving them multiple chances to turn back sending various prophets, they end up being in exile, and after a period of time God welcomes the people back.  And then it repeats and repeats.  Paul is making the case that the law wasn’t the ultimate solution to the world’s problems.  Paul says very rightly, that the law only pointed out how sinful we are not how to get out from it.  The law itself won’t save us, only faith in Christ and he points out the lineage of Christ that he was a good Jew as the bridge.  What Paul has been doing the entire time in Romans has been giving them a common language and that link was Jesus.

This is not to say, we fall into the pit of sinfulness or we don’t have to follow God’s commands, after all in Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Paul never denies obedience to the law, but just checking off a set of rules is not what it’s all about.  The “righteousness of faith” he’s talking about, acknowledges that God came to earth, Emmanuel, to proclaim release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  The fact that God sent God’s son Jesus to be one with us and because of his sacrifice our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life is really Good News.  Faith isn’t merely a set of rules, it’s a way of life.  Instead of auto-correct, it’s Christ-corrected as the Holy Spirit guides us in walking the way of Christ and it’s not just about being personally Christ-connected, but it’s sharing the Good News of Jesus with the whole world that the Great God of the Universe would pay attention to someone as insignificant as me and that that very God pursues me with an abundant love and wants a relationship with me is crazy, beautiful news.  Why wouldn’t I want to serve that kind of God?  The One who walks with us every step of the way.  The One who gives us nudges or God-things so we can tangibly see.  I’ll follow that God and seek to walk in the way of Jesus, knowing that grace can’t be earned, only trusted and believed in.

In verses 14 and 15 a series of 4 questions are asked, “14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

We have to share Jesus with the world.  God’s grace is not something we hoard because it’s a limited supply, it’s unending, unstoppable, and unlimited.  We all have a story of Christ’s redemption.  We may have several stories.  We have to know our story in order to share it and more yet, we have to be willing to claim our story, all the highs and all the lows, in order to risk being vulnerable enough to share it.

Donald Miller writes in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose.  It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story.  How brightly a better story shines.  How easily the world looks to it in wonder.  How grateful are we to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”  Many of y’all have told me that what you remember most about my sermons are the stories.  Stories have a way of piercing through all of the layers that we wear as armor to the soul.

Earlier in her Commencement address Oprah says, “As you heard this morning I was in the Miss Fire Prevention contest. That was when I was 16 years old in Nashville, Tennessee, and you had the requirement of having to have red hair in order to win up until the year that I entered. So they were doing the question and answer period because I knew I wasn’t going to win under the swimsuit competition. So during the question and answer period the question came “Why, young lady, what would you like to be when you grow up?” And by the time they got to me all the good answers were gone. So I had seen Barbara Walters on the “Today Show” that morning so I answered, “I would like to be a journalist. I would like to tell other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and the world.”  And she sure did.

Mary Oliver writes, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  What will you do with your one wild and precious life?  Do you know yet?  Have you been living it?

Brennan Manning writes, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”  It doesn’t have to be a perfect, beautiful image, carefully curated for social media consumption, but it has to be your one, true, authentic story.  If it’s fake, like those fake bags or watches, the world is going to know.  The world needs real Jesus followers, not afraid to get dirty, followers of Jesus, who sat with tax collectors and prostitutes and again and again choose the least of these:  the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the paralyzed.  God can redeem all of your story.  God can redeem even the parts that you don’t want the world to see and give you the courage, peace, confidence and love for you to boldly proclaim it because you know who you are and more importantly Whose you are.

I kept thinking about the Matthew West song “Do Something” as I wrote this sermon.

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

Have we done something?  Are we actively making the world a better place?  Are we actively helping people?  God calls us each to spread all the good we can in the world.  N. T. Wright says, “God is putting the world right, so God puts people right, so that they might be his right-putting people.” We have to show the world the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It’s not just good, it’s great.  We are set apart to share the beautiful, life giving Good News of Jesus Christ.  I’ll end with a passage from Colossians that is my prayer for you all.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Amen and amen.

Full text of Oprah’s Commencement Speech:  http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/05/winfreys-commencement-address/

 

God Created YOU

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

Part One: Running to You

chosenrunningoutline

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

chosenchooseyououtline

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

chosenactoutline

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.”

IMG_8425

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.

Psalm 30 – Paul Shultz

Preached on June 29th, 2014

Psalm 30:1-12
1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried,
and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

John 10:10
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Psalm 30 is an individual, first person singular, psalm of thanksgiving. Rabbinic sources identify Psalm 30 with the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah. I had never noticed that the title of Psalm 30 at least in my Bible was a “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness,” but it makes sense. Hear these words again.

“1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”

You see God wants to give us joy in the morning. Life. Not just merely a blah life, but abundant life. God will be there every step of the way when life gets blah.

I’ve just come back yesterday from two weeks away first visiting my parents in Aiken, then to celebrate and officiate Nikki and Andrew’s wedding, and I was in leadership at a campus ministry conference in Atlanta for the second week. There was a heaviness about me as I journeyed through our time in Atlanta. You see I lost my co-chair, Paul Shultz, in January to flu complications and he was instrumental in planning this conference and the direction for the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association. Paul was a prophetic voice in the wilderness of collegiate ministry and Paul left a deep void. We wrestle with students’ questions every day – with vocation and theodicy and not giving cliched answers, so I’m not giving you an explanation of how a great, healthy man that just turned 50, that was the HAPPIEST I had ever seen him would die from freaking flu complications. It’s unanswerable and we don’t have pit pat answers to explain it away, but Paul gives answers through his sermons in the funeral service his children put together. (It’s linked to the end of this blog.)

You see we campus ministers are a bunch of misfits and after serving several local churches, Paul found that his calling led him to serve the University of Iowa Wesley Foundation. Paul was a big, hulking guy that made me feel petite. We got to know each other pretty well as we rotated on UMCMA’s Coordinating Committee at the same time in 2009. Then at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, UMCMA got two houses for collegiate ministers to volunteer their time to advocate for United Methodist Collegiate Ministry in Ybor City. Paul and I sat right next to each other on the front row for the General Administration committee for the entire time the legislative committees were in session. I will never forget our excitement when critical votes happened in the committee, and West remarked later it was like a “circus with the tent on fire.”

You see Paul before he was my co-chair was the Advocacy chair for UMCMA and had been instrumental on getting legislation passed at both the 2008 and 2012 General Conference. Paul set the course, created Advocacy packets, gave us our legislative assignments, and was the bridge between the old guard and us newbies. He floated in and out of conversations with wizened lifers (people who have campus ministry in their DNA and are in it for life) and could be a mentor or a jokester or a friend. We worked hard at that General Conference and we played hard as we went back to the UMCMA houses to strategize and blow off steam and create a beautiful community.

He had a wicked, self-deprecating, sense of humor. He would often greet people with “Glad you could see me!” instead of “Glad to see you!” And that was just Paul. Without a doubt, Paul Shultz knew he who was. He was deeply rooted and he was proud to be from Iowa, even naming the famous Iowans at dinner one night. He is one of those rare people that care about their ministry setting while equally caring for the whole denomination. I didn’t realize how rare that was. He cared deeply about the whole of The United Methodist Church. Although we didn’t agree on everything, after all I’m a girl in her 30’s from South Carolina and he was a guy that had just turned 50 from Iowa, we could disagree and it was okay because we respected each other enough to show love and grace and we felt secure in our positions. He influenced me more than he knew. He was a mentor and a friend. I’ll never forget him doing the closing of our October meeting in Atlanta as we planned for this conference. He talked about serving small churches in rural Iowa and at the conclusion of his story had half of us wiping tears from our eyes.

On a more personal note, Paul was my rock during the 2013 UMCMA biennial conference in Denver and as soon as I asked him for help he picked up the mantle and ran with it. When my second brain surgery was not as easy as the first one and left me without being able to speak for three weeks and having to go through occupational, physical, and speech therapy for 7 months as I underwent 30 radiation treatments, I just had to simply ask. He didn’t make me feel broken or not enough or handicapped in any way. He just in his Paul Shultz way made it okay. Made it normative. And didn’t ask me about it again. It was such a gift and I can’t articulate to his three children or his fiancee Jana how much that meant to me. So this week was incredibly hard because I was leading the conference without my co-chair. I told a close friend that I was tired of crying throughout the conference because I felt like I did that during all the breaks. My mom said to me yesterday on the way home, “Narcie, it says how much you loved him.” Indeed. CS Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” So I claim the verse that joy comes in the morning because it’s been a rough year for so many of us. Verses 11 and 12, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

I remain ever confident that God is with us every step of the way. It reminds me of the quote from Mother Teresa that says, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish God didn’t trust me so much.” I couldn’t have gotten through this week without the grace, love and strength of God and the prayers and support of our collegiate ministry community. If you’re away from home for the very first time as a freshman starting in Summer B, God can help with the struggle, the loneliness, the lostness and we can help with those feelings too because the only way to live this life is in community. God loves you. God journeys with you in the good times and the bad, in the times we are grieving and in the times we are rejoicing. God is present with us.

I love the new Rend Collective CD and I’ve been listening to it since Gator Wesley’s spring tour. There’s a song called “My Lighthouse” that has these lyrics,

“My Lighthouse”

In my wrestling and in my doubts
In my failures You won’t walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

In the silence, You won’t let go
In my questions, Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
I will trust the promise,
You will carry me safe to shore

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I’ll rise and sing
My God’s love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

Fire before us, You’re the brightest
You will lead us through the storms

God’s our lighthouse and wants to give us abundant life. Not just surviving but thriving. I admit that I had written Casting Crowns off with being played out and old school, but I kept hearing this song on the Christian radio stations…
“Joy unspeakable! Faith unsinkable! Love Unstoppable! Anything is possible!”

It’s called “Thrive.” Too often I hear that we’ve just got to get through high school or college or grad school or we have to get our first job or get married or have children or figure out what in the heck to do with our lives, but God doesn’t want us to let life pass us by so that we’re only barely surviving. God wants us to have life. God wants us to thrive. It may take time. It may be challenging. It may not be easy. God wants us to thrive.

Paul would hesitate to sanction my use of contemporary Christian music, but he thrived. He embraced life. My friend, Rob Rynders, wrote a blog soon after Paul’s death and he got this response from a friend of Paul’s, “Perhaps you knew Paul had a bar where he met with his Seven Reverends group and where he had what he saw as a street ministry. Some nights he just hung out and drank his beer. Some nights he listened to heartache and helped people find their way. A year ago he organized a Thanksgiving dinner there for those with no family near. He was loved there and is very missed.” He not only thrived at The University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, he thrived with his children Miles, Hannah and August, he thrived with his fiancee Jana, he thrived in the broad reach and depth of grace he gave to each of us colleagues in United Methodist Collegiate Ministry, and he thrived in the world inviting everyone to know the love of God for each of them. May we all be and live like Paul.

Paul’s kids crafted the funeral with Paul’s words from his sermons and even his CPE application. He kept them all. A recording of the funeral is online here: https://soundcloud.com/paul-shultz-funeral/sets/a-tuesday-funeral You should listen to it.

Two additions since posting the blog. The first is from one of Mary Haggard’s students, Briana Batty.

“Lighthouse” by Briana Batty

The one thing I don’t have
right now
is an answer.
The one thing I want more than anything,
though,
is relief.

I have tried to stay strong, to stay bright,
but I’m the lighthouse
far out in the water,
bashed and battered
by cold storm winds,
left lonely in the waves
with no one to turn the lanterns
back on.
As my bold paint peels away
I’m nothing but a white-flecked pole
lost in a hurricane.

If you can see me flickering here,
pray.
Pray I’m brighter tomorrow,
pray my colors return,
pray I don’t fall headlong into
the stormy dark bay.
And while you pray, I’ll fight
I’ll stand,
I’ll try
because there’s this Man who walks across
the waters to me, climbs
the rickety stairs
in my heart, and promises that
He’s here to be my Light when I grow dark.
He gives me hope I don’t have,
strength I can’t find on my own.

Over the storm I see closing in around me
wings of prayer, white like seagulls, brave like eagles
diving into the wind.
I’m still surrounded by storms on my battered rocks,
oh yes,
but always encircled with arms and wings and warm embraces,
and lit from deep within with Light
brighter than mine.

See me out here?
I shine in the storm,
bright as new.

The second is from Hannah Shultz, Paul’s daughter, she said she’s been reading this poem by Maya Angelou a lot recently.

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Everything I Learned From Soap Operas

My grandmother was a long time devotee to soap operas. Some of my earliest memories of spending time with her had us playing, making cakes, and running errands, but it never failed that in the afternoon, we were going to sit down to watch her “stories.” When I was younger it was the Bold and the Beautiful, Young and the Restless, As the World Turns and Guiding Light. As I grew older she still faithfully watched As the World Turns and as she called it THE Guiding Light. It was something that she and I shared and throughout high school early release or in college or on holidays or breaks or sick days, I tuned in. You definitely don’t have to watch every day to know that Josh and Reva are still together or Carly and Jack were hitting another rough patch.

I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t enjoy soap operas and think it’s cliche to watch them. I would then ask you if you watch Revenge or Gossip Girl or The Good Wife or any other tv drama, because it’s pretty much the same thing with just a little less crazy.

Ganny started listening to As the World Turns and the Guiding Light when it was on the radio and she could tell me all of the characters family histories and back stories back when they read the Bible and prayed on air. Even though I only watched sporadically, I would look at that little soap magazine headlines as I waited in the checkout line and when we would talk on the phone or I would see her for an extended visit, I would always check in on the story lines. 1. because I wanted to know and 2. she really enjoyed and got excited telling the stories. Who doesn’t want to know the latest with the heroes and the villains of the show?

So what did I learn from watching soap operas? The first thing I learned is that you might as well go ahead and tell the truth, because if not, it will be dragged out for close to a year and there will be lots of angst and drama and if you had just told the truth to begin with, oh my golly, you would have saved a lot of time and plotting. The truth always gets found out eventually, whether it’s in the next episode, a couple months down the road, or years later when in crazy soap opera fashion someone comes back to life or the true paternity is revealed. In friendships, in relationships, as I’m working with students and colleagues – I know I’m better off even if I’ve royally messed up to just go ahead and come clean, apologize, and take the repercussions. I know this would wipe out a ton of story lines and what would soaps be without good drama, but wow it would make much more sense and things would work out better for the characters. Well, except the villains.

I learned that you always need some sort of sidekick or someone helping you along the way. When you go all vigilante on someone and you have no back up, you should just hang it up. Everyone needs a confidante or someone on their team. That’s the only way your plans are going to actually happen if you’re the villain, and that’s the only way you’re going to stay strong, safe, and sane if you’re not. I’m an avid watcher of Once Upon A Time (love it and that some of the LOST writers are writing it) and although I know they have to draw out all of these stories or it would be a nicely written movie and not a tv show, I still think Emma, the main character, needs some sort of ally. She has some allies right now, but no one to share her story and passion with that’s not also morally compromised or a kid or someone already distracted by their own stuff. But then again, that’s life. The ones who journey with us, our allies, are usually in the midst of their own story arch and sometimes they, like the people in our shows, have their own motives and agendas. That’s the importance of surrounding yourself with those you trust, who know you, who like the quote says, “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you” when you’ve lost your way. We all need those people. We need that community. It’s a powerful thing watching those kinds of friendships unfold and it’s such a treasured gift.

The third thing I learned from watching soap operas is how important stories are. I can talk up and down the countryside about words and thoughts and catch phrases or whatever, but what often resounds with others is a story. The thing that I most liked about my Dad’s sermons growing up is the stories that he would use. I remember a lot of the points he would make, but much of that memory has to do with the stories that he told that helped me make that connection. There’s a different part of us that awakens with story. Maybe that’s the English major in me creeping out but there’s something that grabs our attention and opens our mind when we start in story mode. I can see it when I preach or when others preach, we know the cadence of the voice and the way the beginning of a story goes and even if we’ve zoned out before, our ears perk up when it’s story time. It can take us to another place. It can teach us things without having to beat them over our heads. It makes us think about things differently from different view points. The stories themselves are not just the important part but it’s also that awesome thing about the community sharing in the story. Part of the fun and sacred part of sharing the story with my grandmother was that we shared it. Part of the gift was asking her to explain it and update me and the interaction of that sharing. Even Josh, my brother, after seeing it on as we watched it over the years, would ask – okay, who’s Reva with now? What’s going on with so and so? It’s not that he necessarily even wanted to watch and he would often be exasperated when he did, but there’s something that drew you in and because Ganny loved them, it was pretty contagious.

What do we learn from our stories? What makes us who we are? How have we shared our stories with others? What does story have to do with our faith? I would argue that much of our scripture is story. It’s chock full of them. And I often think that we understand those better than some of the exposition. Jesus didn’t often preach. A lot of them time, he told stories. There’s just something about it that connects to a deep part of us. And I think that’s because when it all boils down, we are all human. As different the time or context or drama level, there’s always an essence of the human condition that is shared between each of us. As my Dad says, “There’s nothing original about original sin” and there’s nothing original about people lying, stretching the truth, trying to cover something up, or being found out. In big and small ways, we watch these things because it’s our life too. Not with the Grayson’s on the Hamptons, but in that we’re all searching for meaning and joy and hope and what we’re supposed to do with our lives or who we’re supposed to be with.

The thing that makes us as people of faith different, is that we have someone that’s always on our side. Not saying that we can do whatever we want and there’s not consequences, but there’s someone who is seeking to offer us the most beautiful story just for us. Someone who is guiding and leading us in all that we do, not just on the good days, but on the bad days as well. That’s pretty powerful and a little scary at the same time. It means that we can take comfort and confidence and reassurance but it also means that we don’t have some grand giant excuse to go running around like crazy people on soap operas. We make some pretty big mistakes, but we know that coming up with a master plan to cover them up doesn’t change that we know the truth, God knows the truth, and whatever mistake we’ve made will only make us stronger and more open to others as we realize our own weaknesses.

My grandmother passed away in the beginning of September and Guiding Light went off the air a week later and As the World Turns the year after that. I know she would love Revenge and would be very interested in how this new Dallas is going to turn out. I have no doubt that she’s still listening and watching her “stories,” and I’m thankful that she passed on this love of stories to me.

Why do you think stories connect with us so much? What are ways that we can open ourselves to God’s story swirling all around us?

** By the way – tidbit – Guiding Light ran from 1937 to 2009 and is credited by Guinness as the longest running drama in television.

Jesus to a 4 year old

Okay, so I’m terrible at telling my kids about Jesus.  Yes, this is confession time.

Yes we have books about Jesus.  We have bought tons of books from the Christian bookstore.  We’ve tried to get the kids to watch Veggie Tales and I’m thankful that 3-2-1 Penguins usually throws in some Bible verses and prayer.  We say our prayers before the kids go to sleep.  Slight caveat – when we’re not completely exhausted and just trying to survive and get them to actually go to sleep.  We do say prayers when we sit down to eat although not so good if we’re in the car eating a happy meal.  You get the drift.

It’s weird that something that is a big portion of my life and significant portion of Mike’s and the rest of the families – is not something that I know how to communicate to two little people.  I’m starting to think that the kids during children’s sermons are humoring me and actually have no idea what I’m talking about half the time, or like I think – they’re just super smart.

So I’ve been trying to do better.  I’ve been asking Enoch about Jesus or what he knows about Jesus.  He immediately said Father Voss talks about Jesus.  Thank you again Episcopal Day School for coming through for me!  Enoch is now wanting us to tell him stories when he goes to bed.  And of course, he wants super heroes and Iron Man.

So last night I’m telling him about super heroes like Iron Man and Spider Man and Batman and the greatest, most powerful super hero of all – Jesus.  Could be kind of lame, I know.  And then he interrupts my story because he wants to know about the bad guys.  He is always curious about the bad guys.  Where do the bad guys live?  What do they do?  He even asked about their mommies and daddies.  So then I start telling him about the bad guys and I’m going down this path like not all bad guys are really bad.  Some of them want to be good, but they’re misunderstood.  You know – misunderstood – is not something I think Enoch gets.  So hear I am, this preacher who was an English major and I am struggling and I do mean struggling to tell this Super Hero Jesus story and give some exposition about the bad guys and use words that he would understand in his tired, just turned four year old state, and wowzers.  That is hard.

I came downstairs after Enoch fell asleep listening to my story.  (Of course my awesome story was not related to him falling asleep, that was just a coincidence.)  And I’m talking to Mike about telling Enoch about Jesus and I’m like, if only there was a cool cartoon.  An awesome very kid-friendly cartoon with Super Jesus.  But then I thought, well that would be potentially very cool but also could be very weird and not well done.  Although the healings and the teachings and the letting the children come to him would work well, I don’t know how the crucifixion would play.  And what would Jesus look like?  Our blond haired blue eyed Jesus or the for real Middle Eastern Jesus?

My mom has been looking a lot at children’s Bibles and Bible story books about Jesus’ life and she says it’s hard to find them now showing a picture of the cross.  Most seem to go straight from healing and teaching to Easter without any in between.  She was saying that it’s hard to tell the story in a way that makes sense when you start with a baby and end at Easter with nothing in between.  A baby that’s born in a stable and then grows up and comes back to life.  There’s so much more to it.  The teaching – the love, the sharing, the care for those that are sick, or as I was saying last night the one who is kind to people that aren’t feeling well, who are sad, who are scared, who need a hug.

Part of me thinks – no worries – when he gets bigger we’ll take him on mission trips, we’ll show him the joy of giving his clothes and toys away to people who need them, we’ll teach him how to share and be kind and honest with people.  It will be a lot easier to explain this stuff to him then.  But there is a foundation being built now in the world view of a child that separates the world into super heroes and bad guys.  We haven’t even gotten into the bad guy turned super hero or super hero turned bad guy.  It’s just funny to think about and ponder.  With as much Christian marketing and advertising and everything under the sun Jesus-related from mints to bracelets to shoelaces to action figures, you would think that it would be easier to explain something so all over the place.

And it is.  But it’s not.  How would you describe Jesus to a 4 year old or a 2 year old?  What do these stories that are our stories, our sacred texts – what do they say about God and Jesus and the Spirit and the world and us?  What do they say about how we treat one another or who we can go to when we’re scared or hungry or hurt?  How do we teach this?  Or sometimes even more importantly – how do we model this?  (I for real need to not watch South Carolina baseball around the children because I’m not such a good model during any Gamecock game.)

So, I’ll be continuing to figure out how to tell a child about Jesus.  I know some of you have that down pat and if any of you are in the Rock Hill area and want to take Enoch and Evy to lunch or to the park to tell them, let me know.  I trust that we’ll figure it out.  I trust that they’ll one day get it.  And I trust that in my trying to ineptly explain this to them, I’ll learn a heck of a lot too.

In thinking about how I learned about Jesus – I think about VBS and Sunday School and singing in children’s choirs.  One of the songs that I clearly remember is this one.  It is so in my head now.  AAAHHH!!!!