God Created YOU

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

Part One: Running to You

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

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

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

Part Two: Choosing You

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

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

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

Part Three: Chosen to Act

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

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

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

Psalm 139

The Inescapable God

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

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

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

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

This passage is titled “The Inescapable God.”

inəˈskāpəb(ə)l/

adjective

adjective: inescapable

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

assured,sure, certain, guaranteed;

necessary, required, compulsory, mandatory;

rareineludible

“meeting the future in-laws is inescapable”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things are brighter, life more precious, feelings really matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are chosen.

You are beloved.

You are my beautiful creation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grenades and Blue Like Jazz

I had a comment on one of my blog posts this morning that made me think a bit. It was on the post “Jesus to a 4 Year Old” and the person posted that we (Christians) are stupid and we’re corrupting our children and making them stupid. Wow. Good morning! I can understand that. There are many that have experienced Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, unethical, and dillusional. There are some who assume that to believe what we believe, we must be stupid, unenlightened, or just ignorant.

It’s ironic reading this comment after watching a screening of the Blue Like Jazz movie last night while at the Refresh campus ministry conference. If you know me, you know I’m a big supporter of the book and have been a big supporter of the movie. I didn’t know what to expect last night and was trying very hard not to get my hopes up or set the bar too high. The book and the movie are VERY different in a lot of ways. It was hilarious last night explaining the differences to the many who had not read the book yet. They are so different that the wonderful Donald Miller wrote a book about the making of the movie – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Read it. (I may actually it more than Blue Like Jazz.)

Some of the questions afterwards were what kind of audience is this going to be directed to and why was it so different than the book, etc. This is not geared towards the Christian audience that would go see something like Fireproof or Soul Surfer. I don’t know if they would it make it through the slightly over the top first 5 minutes. It’s slightly more appealing to those of who believe that we can be authentic and real people of faith and can still enjoy a good sometimes crude laugh sometimes a la Jimmy Fallon or Bridesmaids. Even still to me it’s really geared to those who have railed against the church and the things that don’t add up when comparing the love and actions of God with the love and action of God’s followers.

The Book of Mormon Broadway musical writers said that it’s a love letter from atheists to people of faith. In some ways I can see this as a love letter from Christians to atheists. In a lot of ways that simplifies it way too much, but it is something different. I can’t say enough: read the book, read the book, read the book.

It’s easy to throw pot shots at each other – whether people of faith or those ticked off at the Church. It’s easy to make judgements and assumptions and believe in the cliches. It’s harder to engage and dialogue and admit fault -not just on a personal level but as this body of believers that we represent. I know there are times when I want to apologize to folks for what some do in the name of Christ and the church. I know there are times when we as Christians hate on each other and judge each other because of worship styles or how we live our lives. Part of it is admitting that there’s something wrong – that we are culpable or personally responsible for some of these things and not just pointing fingers at particular bodies or theologies or idealogies.

All this to say – talk to me – give me a dialogue on what you believe or don’t believe. Engage. Chat. Share a meal or grab a cup of coffee. Don’t just toss an anonymous grenade where you feel self-righteous and filled with purpose, actually get to know people and see them as who they are as people – not just what box you have put them in.

I’m saying this to myself as well. We have put up the walls to our boxes so high and so thick that we don’t get out of those very often…whether we’re scared or angry or indignant or ignorant as to the whos and whys outside of stereotypes. Do you have friends that aren’t Christian? Do you have friends on the fringe? Do you have friends who don’t look like you or talk to you or believe exactly as you do?

I admit that after seeing the movie last night, I’m a little nervous. I’ve used this book countless times in sermon illustrations and small groups. I’ve pitched the amazing story of funding the movie and how I believe in this thing that’s not Evangelical or Liberal but it’s one person’s story of faith and a journey we’re invited into. But the movie is a heck of a lot more risque than that and there are some seens that I’m like – can I promote this movie? Not just in campus ministry/college student land, but to multi-generational crowds? We don’t blink twice about some of the tv shows or movies we watch or what we read, but when we throw Jesus into it, it makes it that much more layered and complicated. So am I going to promote this knowing that there’s profanity and drinking and who knows what else not to mention the disregard and mockery of the church for much of the movie?

Are you? What do you think as pastors, as lay people, as Christians, as people of faith in a sometimes hostile world and a sometimes blissfully presumptive world??

http://www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com/

Maybe They Just Don’t Know???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mean

On the Wesley trip to Washington, DC for spring break, I finally got a chance to listen to the new Taylor Swift CD all the way through.  I know there’s some Taylor haters out there, but I’ve always really liked her and I love this CD.  And all of us – ranging in musical loves – enjoyed listening to it, which is always a good thing.  Who knew you could bond over Taylor Swift singing at the top of your lungs together?

The song that keeps replaying over in my mind is her song, “Mean.”   The lyrics are below.  In talking with students or youth or friends for that matter, there are so many people that have been wounded by “that mean guy” or “that mean girl.”  There’s that person or people that get under our skin and say words that go straight to the heart in amazingly hurtful ways that we can sometimes remember for years.

It’s crazy how much these things can hurt.  And it’s amazing to me how many people are affected by this and they never get a chance to speak up for themselves.  I think about the movie “Mean Girls” and all the hate and power trips and nastiness.  I know, I know, that many a time these mean folks are covering for their own insecurity, but that still doesn’t justify their uber mean behavior.

Here’s the thing.  We’ve got to let go of the mean.  We’ve got to let go of the rude things people have said.  We’ve got to let go of the hurtful things that we remember at our lowest points or times when things feel like they’re falling apart.  We’ve got to step out of the round and round cycle of drama and situations that just hurt us, and say enough!  There are so many students that I see that are in friendships/relationships that are just plain stressful.  Nobody needs the added stress and emotional energy that it takes to deal with unhealthy relationships that just bring you down – especially during the end of semester crunch.  Maybe this Lenten season, letting go of some of those wounds and hurts is something we should think about.  As we look at this season of repentance and renewal, maybe it’s time we open our hearts to the Spirit of Truth and let go of the hurtful crud.

I think about the ending of The Help where Aibeleen tells Mae Mobley, “You kind.  You smart.  You important.”  That’s the part that broke my heart because so many don’t realize this, and it was so evident that Aibeleen wanted badly for Mae Mobley to get and feel this.  I know about the “me” generations and I get that, but I also feel like often my students are reflecting their questions about themselves back to me through their questions, their hurts, their eyes.  The heck with the mean ones that just want to tear you down.  The heck with those that haven’t walked in your shoes and who are just hurling darts because they’re scared themselves.  You are kind.  You are smart.  You are important.

Let’s let go of the mean…and grab hold of the good that God has spoken over our lives.

Taylor Swift – “Mean”

You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me,
You, have knocked me off my feet again,
Got me feeling like I’m nothing.
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I’m wounded.
You, pickin’ on the weaker man.

Well you can take me down,
With just one single blow.
But you don’t know, what you don’t know,

Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so mean?

You, with your switching sides,
And your walk by lies and your humiliation
You, have pointed out my flaws again,
As if I don’t already see them.
I walk with my head down,
Trying to block you out cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again.

I bet you got pushed around,
Somebody made you cold,
But the cycle ends right now,
You can’t lead me down that road,
You don’t know, what you don’t know

The song –

Taylor Swift talking about the song “Mean.”

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...

Oh Christians…

So it’s been pop culture Christian overload lately with Glee last night – Dear Cheezus (one of the main characters praying to a grilled cheese sandwich that happened to be burned with the face of Jesus into it – very random considering that the news was covering a woman who found the face of Jesus in her MRI but neither here nor there…) and watching the movie Easy A a few weeks ago. 

Christianity is so often a parody or stereotype but I’m glad to see television, movies, and media really trying to engage in the conversation even in random ways.  In Easy A Christianity becomes the hate/bashing/judging yuck of quintessential stereotypes, and yet I think that’s how a lot of people associate us.  If I was playing family feud right now (new obsession thanks to my wonderful students who hounded me until I accepted an invite) what would the number 1 answers be for – describe a Christian?  I hope we would not do too terribly, but I have a sinking suspicion that it wouldn’t be all that great.

A recent Pew study just came out in Christian Century and it was saying that one of the challenges for declining worship attendance/church membership is that the group that most self-identifies as having “no religion” are 25-34 year olds http://ow.ly/2OFU9.  It’s a good article and I like that it is looking at worship attendance instead of typical church membership because it seems that less and less people want to actually “join” even though we are great at “joining” things and “liking” things on facebook.  There’s just something about doing it in real life that seems to freak people out or turn people off or make them think that there’s this big commitment or wapow! sudden change that’s going to suddenly happen.

The study also looked at why people are attending church less frequently.  Is it demands on time?  Is it lack of commitment?  Is it cultural/social/any kind of relevancy?  Is it a time or schedule thing?  Is it inconvenient?  Does it not meet our criteria of being a “good enough” use of our time?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s all of these and a ton more that no one wants to admit or say outloud. 

I had lunch with a student today and we were talking about Wesley.  In case I haven’t told you this is what some would call a rebuilding year for us.  I kind of don’t like that language and am not sure if I even want to type it, but we graduated a huge group of seniors last year and in many ways those were our leaders – the people that showed up consistently and really rocked it out.  That can have a big impact on a group.  Trust me.  We’ve also had a lot more people with night classes and schedule changes and blah, blah, blah.  Bottom line – you can’t please everyone and there’s no good time for everyone to meet.  Maybe we should just move it to Sundays at 11 am – just kidding.  Anyway in our conversation we talked about the balance of wanting Wesley to not be a place of stress or people feeling like they have to come even if they’re swamped with schoolwork, etc. but also the kick back of not wanting Wesley to always be put on the back burner of whatever comes up in the many other activities these students are committed to.  You want to give grace and you want people to not be overwhelmed, but then again do you want to make it so easy for them to pop in and pop out that they miss what it means to be committed to something?

Is that how we treat our congregations or worshipers?  Do we notice when some of them are missing or just randomly show up once every other month?  I’ve never been someone that says we need to bow down to the sticker chart in the sky of how many times we’ve been to church over the past year, but I also think I’m a bit guilty of not taking seriously the commitment of being part of a community of faith or of realizing that worship, community, and the body of Christ matter more than we sometimes give it credit or rationalize away.

We know we can turn to the church when the chips are down and we don’t know where else to go, but where do we go when we’re happy or things are going well or when life just gets too busy?  Is “church” the first thing to get cut from the to do list, when a better offer shows up?  Nope, we’re not getting extra brownie points here, but we’re missing out too.

You don’t just go to church for the numbers or the “memberships.”  You go because there’s something about intentionally sharing and being in community with people you wouldn’t necessarily spend 10 minutes with outside these walls.  There’s something about letting your guard down and being family that is sacred.  There’s something about breaking bread and opening up to someone that can’t be undervalued.  It’s not always easy.  It’s not always convenient.  It will often challenge you.  And maybe sometimes you do feel shut out, unwelcome and frustrated.  But you don’t chuck it all over the little things – or it must not have meant that much to you to begin with.

Watching Glee last night and still actually being within that age range that the Pew study was talking about – I don’t  think it’s that people don’t care about religion and maybe it doesn’t even have to do with commitment level (even though I think this has some to do with it for all ages), but maybe our Christian story is not as clearcut for everyone.  Take for example Donald Miller’s blog post about the Blue Like Jazz movie http://bit.ly/aUcLb2 .  It’s hard to find backers for a “Christian” movie that’s not a typical clear-lined story.  I hear completely what he is saying.  But there are a lot of Christians that don’t have a hallmark movie story.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the hallmark movies or those of us that fit that mold, but there’s also nothing wrong with a little Lifetime thrown in either.  Just kidding.  I’m not advocating the drama, but I’m saying that maybe our Christianity sprinkled with a little pop culture (GleeEasy A – don’t forget Saved – and many more) speaks more to the fact that people are trying to sincerely search, question in deep ways, and claim both a brain and a foundational belief in the Gospel.  It seems like the conversation is changing – but I’m not sure that everyone is realizing that or if it’s changing at all for some folks.

Christianity doesn’t always fit neatly into certain parameters, and I don’t think Jesus did either.  But he did challenge and he did call forth something different – something not always easy and something you had to commit to.  May we not just show up for worship or believe on the inside, but may we also live out, question, challenge and nurture our faith in a variety of ways!  Looking forward to continuing the journey with you!

So if Family Feud asked you to describe “Christians” what would you say?