A Love Big Enough

People say  deep, profound, and true things. This morning I read this thought from Sarah Bessey, “If I could only preach one message for the rest of my life, here it is: The love of God is bigger, wilder, more wonderful, more beautiful, more healing, more alive than you even dare to hope. And it’s for you”

I preach most every week and my prayer before I begin worship is along these lines. Please God let me proclaim a love big enough on this day. The church tends to “majot in the minors.” While it’s true the church is a complex organization, we are good at distraction.. It’s a typical frustration for my friends in ministry, our affinity for “stepping over dollars to pick up dimes.”

I have at least one conversation each day that reminds me that the truth of God’s love is too important to busy ourselves with anything other than sharing this good news. The struggle someone has with the perception that they are not enough. The feeling that God is a small God with no room for them. The lost ability to see wonder and beauty in creation. Losing hope that they can be alive in this world, rather than simply going through the motions and marking our days.

We need this simple, yet profound truth that Sarah Bessey offers. “The love of God is bigger, wilder, more wonderful, more beautiful, more healing, more alive than you even dare to hope.” This is the proclamation we need to make over and over. These are the words that draw us back to why we do this. If we get this right, pretty much everything else will fall into place.

A love big enough. For all of us. For everyone. For You

Grace and peace

Tulsa, Charlotte, and the International Day of Peace

It seems every day of the year is marked by some special occasion or item to celebrate. Today is an important one. As I write this, it is the International Day of Peace. At first glance, sounds a bit fluffy, but it should be serious business. Especially as the families of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are grieving the shooting deaths of their loved ones. Especially as the communities of Tulsa and Charlotte are dealing with the effects of two more police shootings of unarmed black men.

Our cry of “how long O Lord” becomes easily dulled when the answer seems to be “too long.” More lives are lost. More communities are fractured by violence and mistrust. We cry “Christ have mercy” but silently wonder whether Christ has any mercy left for us.

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be

Most love this song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” We love to sing it until we realize the cost. Peace begins with me. Peace is not a gift we receive, it is a gift that we partner with God in ushering into the world. We have skin in this game.

You cannot have peace without justice. They go hand- in- hand. As a person of privilege, this truth confronts my comfort zone at its core. . This morning as I read with a heavy heart the stories of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, I am confronted with my own privilege and how hesitant I can be at putting skin in the game when it comes to peace.

Justice goes hand in hand with peace. Justice often causes us to give up some point of personal privilege so that all may know the fullness of life. The peace that was meant to be is peace that might just come with some personal cost or at the very least, some personal discomfort.

Maybe our prayer today should be “Let It Begin with Me.” Can we pray it like we mean it? Not just lip service on this day, but with actual intention.

We need to  put our privilege aside for the ultimate privilege, being a part of ushering in God’s peace in the world. That’s the privilege that counts for something. That’s the privilege that ushers in justice for all.

What will you do today, in the course of your normal day, to usher peace into the world?

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be

 

 

“Why is She Kneeling?”

Sunday had been a long day.  I was excited to settle in for the soccerevening with my two daughters (budding soccer stars) to watch the US Women’s National Team take on the Netherlands. We have roots in both nations and were excited to watch. In addition, their cousin had the honor of walking out with USWNT star Alex Morgan for the national anthem. We saw our her standing with Alex Morgan during the anthem, camera settled on them for a couple of seconds. The camera then panned to the sideline to show Megan Rapinoe. In case you not familiar, she has made headlines by kneeling for the national anthem during both her pro league game and the previous USWNT game in Columbus. The camera parked on Rapinoe kneeling during the national anthem. My eight year old looked at me and asked, “why is she kneeling?”

Could she have asked me any other question? Seriously, any other question. Like, “why is there a giraffe standing in our den?” Instead, she wanted to know what Megan Rapinoe was doing.

Like most things that happen in our nation today, the idea of athletes taking the national anthem as a moment of protest against the inequalities in our country has been a divisive subject. Is it disrespectful to the flag? Does it call more attention to the athlete rather than the issues they care about?  The answer to both of those may very well be yes, but I hope that does not stop us from giving this further thought. Like most protests, there is a underlying issue that needs to be given some careful thought.

“Why is she kneeling?” she asks again. At this point, I’m trying to think of any diversion. “Look, the ice cream truck is outside,” or “now is a good time for a family fire drill, everyone outside.”

I still had Jesus on the brain. Jesus liked a good protest. Remember that time he turned over the tables in the temple. That was a protest. Remember when he healed on the Sabbath. Go ahead, there are multiple occasions from which to choose. That was a protest. Do you recall the time he ruined Pilate’s big day by walking straight into Jerusalem for the Passover festival? You guessed it. A protest. If you look carefully, the Gospels are full of protest narratives.

What would Jesus do today in order to call attention to the inequalities in our nation and world? That’s a pretty intimidating question because how one answers has a direct effect on what they should be doing to call attention to the inequalities in our nation and world.

Finally, the camera moved. My 8 year old moved to a far easier question, “can I have a Popsicle.” Yes, yes absolutely you can.” The camera moved, but that question sticks with me today. No matter how we might feel about what someone does during the national anthem, we shouldn’t dismiss the question. It’s an important one.

“Why is she kneeling?”

Grace and peace 

Step Away from the Keyboard

Standing in line at the grocery store (A line that wasn’t moving, why do I always pick the keyboard-886462_960_720slowest lines!) I was perusing the magazine covers on display. The cover of Time caught my attention; Why We’re Losing the Internet to the Culture of Hate. The line began to move, leaving me no time to read the magazine, but that cover stuck with me.

As a preacher and and a pastor, I’m interested in how people interact. It’s kind of my line of work. We live in a time where there are many layers of interaction. Once upon a time, it was just face to face, then through voice on the telephone, and now we have a multitude of social media options through which to interact. I don’t think that is a bad thing. Social media, by and large, is a good relational tool. Connection, even online, is a good thing.

But… I admit there are people I see face to face on a regular basis that I wish I had never seen their Facebook page or stumbled onto their Twitter feed. I’ve seen folks that know one another interacting with one another on social media in ways that I know they would not interact in person. If we treat folks we know personally a certain way, imagine how some treat people they don’t know. A Pew Research Center survey found that 70% of people 18 to 24  had been harassed online.

Light exposes things. Our time on social media is mostly spent in the darkness. Often, we don’t like what the light shows us. There is a certain anonymity to the keyboard, even when interacting with people we know, that is dangerous. We feel some sort of freedom to give into the worst of who we might be. It’s easy to release our worst fears and anxieties on people we don’t know or can’t see face to face. It’s so easy to condemn another from our keyboard isn’t it?

We start to get comfortable. We believe this type of behavior is acceptable human interaction. It carries over. The fear, violence, aggression, and anxiety creeps its way into our daily living. It fractures communities. We forget how to treat people because suddenly everyone we meet becomes a target for our anger and frustration. I’ve noticed that shift in the last few years. We are beginning down a slippery slope of not knowing how to properly engage in person with others, especially those who might hold different views than we do. It’s like we’ve unlearned what many of us learned in kindergarten.

Can we stop it? Not will we stop, but can we? Are we too far gone? I hope not. I hope we can stop using the internet to question and bash the worth of one another. Jesus had a huge problem with those who thought others were unworthy of God’s love. There is something about seeing another face to face, about hearing their experiences, that holds us accountable. I think that’s why Jesus spent so much of his time with people. It made it easier to know their worth to God and God’s love for them.

Start with yourself. Maybe you need to step away from the keyboard for just a bit. Interact with people for real. Get to know them. Get to know their story, their experiences. You are better than this. I am better than this. We are all better than this.

 

A Confession Following Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas

I feel like I need to confess

After a tragic week in our nation, perhaps “what the hell is going on?” is the best response. Common DreamsWe are heartbroken at what happened in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas. This is a civilized society? Hearing from Alton Sterling’s son asking to see his Daddy makes this all too real. Knowing similar scenes are taking place in Philando Castile’s home and in the homes of five Dallas police officers is almost too much. We have lost our sense of value for human life. We have lost our sense of “us”, only seeing people not like us as “other.” We are all too willing to let our politicians divide and incite us. We uphold this type of behavior as strong leadership, rather than condemning it as we should. As I went to write about all of this, the only thing that could make any sense to me was my own confession. You see, I am implicit in being a part of a world that has given way to all of this.

The biggest thing I have learned in ministry is to never discount anyone’s experience. Life shapes each of us uniquely and gives us a unique view. I’m a white male who has had a fairly privileged life to this point. I spent my early years in a diverse community until we moved out farther into the suburbs in Atlanta’s white flight of the 1980s. As an adult,. I’ve taken a fairly comfortable life and sought to make it even more comfortable. I’m an ordained minister in a religion that is built upon the life of someone who spent most of his time with the poor, the marginalized, and challenging power structures..I spend very little of my time with the poor, the marginalized, and challenging power structures.  Far too often, I take the path of least resistance because that path protects my relative comfort. It is time I own this.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man and be pulled over by the police. I don’t know what it’s like to have that twinge of fear that a routine traffic stop may suddenly go really bad. I also don’t know what it’s like to be a police officer and to know that when you leave the house for work it might be the last time you see your loved ones. I don’t know what it’s like to put oneself in harm’s way in order to serve and protect communities that are becoming increasingly hostile. Neither of these is my experience. Too often though, I’ve thought and acted like I know what either of these life experiences is like. I’ve made assumptions based on my experience rather than theirs.  I will not do that again.

My realization is that perhaps I am part of the problem.My assumptions and my comfort are part of the problem. As I look at my kids and they type of world I want them to live in, I realize that I thought I was part of the solution, but I’m not.

In seeking to make their life comfortable, I am doing the exact opposite. In working to make the church more faithful and sustainable, I am doing the exact opposite. In seeking to be who God created me to be, I am doing the exact opposite. We live in a complex world where there are no easy answers and perhaps no comfortable paths to the fullness of life.

Today, this is my confession. Lord, in your mercy. 

Summer Reading (and Listening) List

If you can’t tell by the heat, we are in full summer mode. Many are taking time away over Summer Readingthe next couple of weeks for rest, play, and rejuvenation. Summer is also a great time to catch up on reading. Here are some books that would be a great read this summer. I’ve also listed a few podcasts that I have gotten into that would be great for listening to on the beach, lake, or climbing a mountain.

How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin. I have a lot of clergy friends reading this one right now. I love the subtitle: Help is on the way and love is already here. As one reviewer says, “Who would ever guess that a few reflections on wind and waves, shipwrecks and sea monsters, could comfort and challenge so profoundly?” I am only a few chapters in and already  this book is working on my spirit.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. A wonderful story about a small start-up company in the 1970s that would later become Nike. This is a great memoir by the Nike founder that carries many great nuggets of wisdom about life and perseverance. It’s also a great look at one of the world’s iconic brands before Jordan, Tiger, etc.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I’ve loved Brown’s previous works and found Rising Strong to be a great continuation of that work. Her work centers around the conversation on courage, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness. She shares the stories from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents about  being brave, falling, and getting back up. I’m currently doing a short-term online study of this book with some friends and colleagues that I know will be life-giving.

Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark. I just picked this up off a recommendation from a friend. Dark writes, “If what we believe is what we see is what we do is who we are, there’s no getting away from religion.” This book is described as incisive and entertaining, which is my favorite combination,

What Are You Listening To?

I love the podcast medium, especially listening on Overcast, which allows you to speed up the conversation so that you can listen to more faster! Below are a few of my favorite podcasts.

The RobCast. This is Rob Bell’s weekly podcast. I’ve long been a fan of Bell and love listening to his guests, sermons, and thoughts on faith

StartUp. StartUp is an episodic narrative about what it’s really like to start a business. A great listen for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Preachers on Preaching. This may be a little too “inside baseball” but I love listening to the weekly interviews of various preachers to hear about their approach to the pulpit and the ministry. If you want insight on what it’s like to step into that holy space of preaching each week, this is a good listen.

Hidden Brain. Brought to us by NPR, Hidden Brain helps people understand the world and themselves. It uses a mix of science, experience, and storytelling to determine the unconsciousness patterns that drive the world. You want to know the sweet spot for Uber in terms of rate and usage? Take a listen to Hidden Brain.

The Bill Simmons Podcast.  Either you like Simmons or you don’t. I like him.

That’s my list. I’d love to know yours. Let’s get a cup of coffee and chat about any of these.

Grace and Peace 

 

 

 

.

When Will We Say Enough?- A Reflection on Orlando

A dear friend approached me at the door of the sanctuary on Sunday morning, tears slowlyVigil streaming down her face:

50 dead

When worship started, that number was 23. In the course of an hour, as the church had gathered to worship and sing praises to God, the death toll in the Orlando nightclub shooting had more than doubled, becoming the largest mass shooting in US history.  It is heartbreaking. The predictable reaction is sad. We take so little time to grieve before we start pointing fingers at who’s at fault for such evil being perpetuated in the world.

When will we say enough?  We lift prayers to God on behalf on the victims, their families and for our own grief. Some might even lift prayers for our enemies like Jesus asks us to do. On the surface, we know that hatred and bigotry has no place in our faith and in this world. Our prayers need to be a starting point, not the last stop. We need to do something

To be clear, a spirit of hatred and bigotry is not limited to a particular religion. Any worldview that stakes its legitimacy on the belief that their way is the only way is dangerous.  The marginalization of those not like us is an ethic that is hard to turnaround. The deeper in you get, the harder it is to get back out.  The marginalization of gay and lesbian folks as well as people of various faiths needs to stop. Marginalization of anyone has no place in Christian doctrine or practice.  Our addiction to violence needs to end. The solution to violence is not more violence.

Friends, if we believe that the realm of God is coming, if God believes in us enough to think that we can create the world God intends, we need to start living like it.  The sin of numbness and resignation cannot have the final word.

We will want to move on in a few days, as something else dominates the news cycle, but we shouldn’t. God is counting on us. We are God’s plan. Every interaction we have with another either moves us forward or sets us back. We have more power than we think.

That’s where we need to start. Together, let’s say enough

Grace and peace

Muhammad Ali- A Role Model Who Happened to Be an Athlete

There have been few moments like Muhammad Ali stepping out of the shadows to take the AliOlympic torch from Janet Evans at the 96 Summer Games. It is fitting he lit the eternal flame that is the Olympic torch because his light is an eternal flame that will continue to shine long after his death.

Ali was not only a famous athlete, he was one of the most famous people on the planet. He will go down as one of the most well-known people to ever live. We are mourning his loss while celebrating his life. Of course, Ali made some difficult choices in his life that led him to not only be vilified, but lose his livelihood as well. During the height of athletic popularity, he was disliked by many for his views and social action.

Ali’s opposition to the Vietnam War  influenced Dr. King’s own opposition to the war. His vocal support  of women’s rights gave Billie Jean King the courage she needed to be a pioneer for equal rights for women. Ali gave courage to oppressed people to come together and not stand for oppression any longer. The former Cassius Clay converted to Islam and became Muhammad Ali, not a popular decision at the time. Ali did not test the political winds to see what might be prudent from a person in his position, rather he let his conscience and his calling from God lead him.

Hear these words from Ali himself:

 “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality….”

In a culture that adored black athletes while criminalizing them for their skin color, Ali stood up and said “No.” Some athletes happen to be role models.  Ali was a role model who happened to be an athlete.

Would we listen to Muhammad Ali today? Not the beloved Ali figure of his later years, but the Ali of the late 60s and the 70s who challenged assumptions, societal norms and social structures. Would we adore the Ali who made unpopular calls for justice and righteousness? Would we appreciate someone who challenged us, even if we didn’t agree with them?

Inside a boxing ring, Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all time. However, it is outside the ring where he may have very well left his mark. Rest in peace, Champ, rest in peace.

 

A Disciples Pastor’s Thoughts on General Conference

I have been watching the United Methodist General Conference in Portland (a lovely place UMCto gather)through Twitter, Facebook posts, and some incredibly thoughtful blogs. I have many United Methodist clergy friends, having graduated from a United Methodist seminary. I have Methodist friends, and my father and step-mother are active members of a United Methodist church. So, I have watched with interest.

I can only imagine what the delegates and most United Methodists are feeling. Their General Conference has seemed extremely painful for many. Conservatives, Moderates, and Progressives are struggling with what it means to be global church, especially when it comes to full rights and welcome for LGBTQ people. I applaud the brave clergy who have come out as gay or lesbian, knowing that it may cost them their livelihood.

I don’t want this to sound like a higher than mighty post from a Disciples of Christ pastor bragging about our open table and our welcome to all. We have had many difficult, painful discussions at our gatherings. We have said and done harmful things to the LGBTQ community.  I confess that we as Disciples still have work to do.

We have conservative, moderate, and progressive members across our movement.Heck,  in my congregation we have conservative, moderate, and progressive members. It’s a bit of a tricky dance to make it all work. It’s why I tell people that we are an open table church rather than another label one might use. We are all welcome. No matter what others have chosen to label us we each receive Christ’s love and grace through the power of a shared meal. Far be it from me to tell another (or God) who should and shouldn’t be welcome. After all, God has welcomed me. The very least I can do is to return the favor. This is what I so appreciate about the Disciples.

Things are changing in our culture and in the church. Old power structures which were run by and benefited the privileged few are going away.. This is causing people to act out in fear. We fear anything that would bring us out of old comfort zones.We fear what we don’t understand.

I believe that God always calls us forward, not back.  The neat lines and definitions by which we attempt to define God baffle me, as if we can control or determine who God loves and who God calls God’s child.

My prayers are with my United Methodist friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that the church may cause no one any more pain, rather it give the life abundant that Jesus promises. My prayer is that there are no winner or losers, rather a church unified by its love for God and all people.I pray that through the pain, we might trust that God is working to bring the fullness of life to the Church and to all people.

Grace and peace

A Conversation with My Kids about Red Ribbons, Car Accidents, and God

Here is the conversation my 8 year old and 5 year old had in the car the other day.Red Ribbon

5 year old: Why are there red ribbons on everyone’s mailbox?

8 year old: They are there to support the family on the girl that died in the car crash.

Whoa. This was not the conversation I was expecting (nor prepared for) on the car ride.

A few weeks ago, four UGA students lost their lives in a tragic car accident. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder about the goodness of God and where God is in moments like this. One of the students, Halle Scott, was from Dunwoody and went to Dunwoody High School which is right down the street from us. In support of her family, many in the community have tied red ribbons around their mailboxes. Red, because it is one of the school colors of both DHS and UGA.

5 year old: Why did the girl die in the car crash? Am i going to die in a car crash?

8 year old: I don’t know. Daddy, why did God allow the girl to  die in the car crash?

It’s at this point that I am desperate to turn up the radio as loud as possible. Please, where is Taylor Swift blaring “Shake it Off” when you need her?

I earn a living walking people through difficult questions such as these. I don’t always know what to say. I mostly sit, listen, and wonder with folks while reminding them that God’s will is always for life and that in difficult times God’s heart is the first to break.

For some reason with children, especially my own children, the ones who think I know all the answers, its different. Kids are usually more honest that adults and their questions are more raw. They also keep asking questions.

5 year old: God allows people to die in car crashes?

8 year old: That’s what I just asked Daddy? He hasn’t answered!

Pressure. We have taught our kids since day one that God is a God of love, that God is a good God who wants the best of all of us. We have taught them that in God’s eyes, all people are equal and beloved. We have taught them that God is with them, no matter what. For whatever reason, in this moment, nothing is coming out of my mouth.The evidence might seem to present something different. How do I deal with this? Where is Taylor Swift when you need her most?

5 year old: God loves those girls. God wouldn’t allow them to have a car crash

8 year old: God probably cried first and is the most sad out of anyone

5 year old: I bet God tied a red ribbon around his mailbox

8 year old: God will help their families feel better

Out of the mouth of babes. Jesus just may have been on to something when he told us that to truly understand who God is, we need to be more like children. For me, I feel blessed by the reminder.

Grace and peace