Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday, Second Week of Advent – December 15

Something ironic about the fact that today, in 1791, the Bill of Rights became law.

So much attention is focused on the 2nd Amendment today after what happened in Connecticut. It’s evident that in the wake of this unspeakable tragedy - all we can do is argue. Gun control THIS! Right to bear arms THAT! Demonize anyone who doesn’t agree with you! YELL LOUDER AND MAKE SURE YOU GET HEARD.

Meanwhile we neglect to mourn with the two dozen families who are going through today with a huge hole in their lives where there shouldn't be one. We're so quick to rally to our causes that we forget their cause. Let me be clear – God does not forget.

God hears the cry of the suffering and the mourning. God enters into pain and suffering in a way that no other can. My God, as a parent, knows what it’s like to lose a Son. My God is well acquainted with grief and sorrow. God’s heart, God’s eye, is focused on Connecticut today. And also on Birmingham. Wherever there is suffering, loss, and pain – my God is there.

This was NOT God’s will. God’s will is life and health and wholeness and peace. This was not God’s will. This was human frailty and free will at its worst.

We can yell and scream about issues another day. Now is not the time for that. Now is the time to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who are afflicted. Now is the time to be with those who are wondering “Where is God” in all of this.

Let’s be clear. God is right here with us. That eternal message of Advent hasn’t changed. Emmanuel. God is with us. Moved into the neighborhood. Taken up residence. With us.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday, First Week of Advent – December 3

I chose today to retreat a bit; to work from home and venture out just to enjoy the 60+ degree weather and the sunshine. It seemed a shame to waste the day inside when we were given the rare gift of an almost 70 degree day in December.

I don’t do that very often, but now and then feel like I need to. It’s partially that I just needed a break. But it was also a way to escape and search for something deep inside of me that I wonder and worry is growing smaller and smaller.

In today’s reading from Jesus Blessed Son, Nouwen talks about living at a place of innocence. There’s a sense that we need to trust God to take care of us, but there’s also something here that means letting go of control and security. Something that makes me think back to yesterday when Jesus talked about worry.

When we think of innocence we think of children because they live in the moment. They are focused on the immediate and they are so “un-self-conscious". They don’t make a decision to go there, they just do because they just are. Innocent.

I can’t just “go there” anymore. Over time things have changed. It takes thought and intention to choose innocence. Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children …” as though he were giving us a choice. I don’t think that’s a one-time decision. It’s a choice we have to make all the time.

Innocence is acknowledging that on my best days, I’m far less in control than I believe I am. And admitting that doesn’t have to mean that my insecurity gets the best of me.

Innocence is understanding that my worry and insecurity are sure signs that I’m trying to do God’s job. And certainly not doing it well.

If I’m not a child as I stand before God each day; I am not as I should be. But innocence lost can be innocence found.

Dearest Lord, help me overcome my insecurities and discover what it is you want for me. Amen.


First Sunday of Advent – December 2

This Advent we (First Saints Community Church) are reading together from an Advent Devotional booklet called Jesus, Beloved Son. It contains scripture, prayers, and excerpts from the writings of Henri Nouwen. nouwen

For those unfamiliar with Nouwen, he was one of the most powerful & beloved spiritual writers of the 20th century. He wrote over 40 books before he died in 1996. They often focused on his experience of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. After teaching at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, he walked away from teaching to work with mentally challenged people at the L’Arche community in Toronto, Canada and served their for many years as he continued to write.

On the First Sunday of Advent we read Luke 21:34, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with … the worries of this life."

In worship on this Sunday we talked of peace, recalling the words of Micah 5:5 – and he shall be their peace. I hear echoes of that longing for peace in Jesus’ words. If our hearts are weighed down with worry, we will not be able to find peace.

Nouwen says, “Jesus has to be and to become evermore the center of my life.” In worship Sunday we said that “Jesus is our peace.” Not that he brings peace, but that He is peace. If we want peace, what we need is Jesus. For that to happen, Jesus has to be and to become evermore the center of our lives.

That is the journey of our Advent this season. A journey that I pray will lead us to only one place – to the feet of Jesus.

Lord Jesus, the fire of my life, be my companion, my guide, my all. Amen.



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Any Time Is a Good Time

A quote purportedly from a United Methodist Bishop: “Every Good Methodist ought to be praying between 5 and 7 a.m.”

At the risk of creating a firestorm, I think this is a ridiculous statement.

How nice of the Bishop to arrange my day & my schedule. So ... who gets my kid ready for school while I'm praying? Who explains to my wife's boss when she's late for work because she's been praying? Who explains to the shift worker that gets off at 7 a.m. that they're not a good Methodist?

The early morning hours, or 5-7 a.m., or any other specific time for that matter, are not rarified air. Is there something especially beneficial about beginning the day in prayer? I think you can make a strong case for that. But whenever prayer becomes formulaic, to the point of prescribed start and stop times that are implicitly “better” than others and make you a “good” Christian/Methodist/etc. – we’re in a bad place.

Anytime prayer becomes a prescribed formula of “one-size-fits-all” solutions, it loses its potency. It becomes automated and automatic. And prayer should never be that.

If the Bishop wants all "Good Methodists" to make prayer a priority and to set aside some serious time for prayer, then that's what he should say.

Not this.

Not this guilt-inducing, legalistic rigidity that leads us nowhere but down a rabbit hole where frantic Methodists run around without purpose muttering to themselves, "I'm late. I'm late. It’s 5:17. I’m late."

Prayer is conversation. It’s conversation that should be ongoing and continual throughout our day. It should be intentional. It won’t happen unless we plan for it. But there is no time for prayer that is intrinsically better than all the others. Prayer takes time; it can’t be rushed. It needs space in our lives. But morning, afternoon, or evening – whatever the time, God is just as ready to listen and to speak.

Most of all, what matters is that you pray.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

God Can Use You (Really!)

Moses stuttered.
Aaron caved into peer pressure.
David's armor didn't fit.
John Mark was rejected.
Timothy had ulcers.
Abraham was a liar.
Hosea's wife was a prostitute.
So was Rahab.
Amos was a nobody.
Jacob was a liar.
David had an affair.
Solomon was too rich.
Jesus was too poor.
Zechariah was too old.
David was too young.
Peter was afraid.
Lazarus was dead!
John was self-righteous.
Naomi was a widow.
Paul was a murderer.
So was Moses.
Jonah ran from God.
Miriam was a gossip.
Gideon doubted.
So did Thomas.
Jeremiah was depressed.
Elijah was burnt out.
Zacchaeus was short.
John the Baptist was a loudmouth.
Martha was a worry-wart.
Mary was lazy.
Elisha was bald.
Samson had long hair.
Noah got drunk.
Ehud was left-handed.

If God can use all of these people, who were unqualified for what God called them to do …


*This is slightly adapted from a sermon I heard by Rick Warren a few years ago.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


While I was walking this morning I saw a turtle. No big deal, right? It was a HUGE deal.

He was right there on the sidewalk, obviously just crossed the road next to the school. I stopped and stooped down to take a closer look and noticed a teacher getting out of her car. She was pretty clearly not in a hurry, so I asked her if she wanted to take a look and maybe take a picture on her cell phone to show her students. “Nah,” she said, “It’s just a turtle.”

Just a turtle.

I remember when I was a kid little things like a turtle were sources of endless wonder to me and my friends.

I wonder when that stops. And I wonder why we don’t even notice.

I wonder if we even care.


~ Godspeed

Saturday, July 14, 2012

13 Things I Learned At VBS in 2012

VBS at First Saints just ended and its fund to take a step back and think about what we’ve learned:

13. It is possible to fit an entire person inside a bubble.

12. Even a fake thunderstorm can be scary.

11. Pigs can fly.

10. RC helicopters do not do well in sanctuaries with ceiling fans.

9. You can always tell when a man is wearing a toupee.

8. Balloons remind people of clowns (& that’s not a good association).

7. Most adults are kids, but when they got bigger – they forgot. VBS helps them remember.

6. Band-Aids cure everything short of a broken bone.

5. Having kids sing praises to God is worth them standing on the chairs.

4. Smiles are deep magic.

3. Hugs from kids are cheaper than professional therapy and generally more effective.

2. It all comes down to … TRUST GOD!

1. God’s clean is more powerful than my dirty.


~ Godspeed

Thursday, July 12, 2012

When the Answer is to Our Advantage … Or Not

Whether we have our requests granted or not, let us persist in asking and render thanks not only when we gain what we ask but also when we fail to. Failure to gain, you see, when that is what God wants, is not worse than succeeding; we do not know what is to our advantage in this regard in the way he does understand.

The result is, then, that succeeding or failing we ought to give thanks. Why are you surprised that we don’t know what is to our advantage?

So we ought to yield to the Creator of our nature, and with joy and great relish accept those things that he has decided on and have an eye not to the appearance of events but to the decisions of the Lord. After all, he who knows better than we what is for our benefit also know what steps must be taken for our salvation.

Chrysostom; Homilies on Genesis 30.16

John Chrysostom was born in 344 or 345 in  and died in 407. He was the Bishop of Constantinople and was known for his orthodoxy, his eloquence of speech (that’s how he got his nickname ‘Chrysostom’ which means ‘golden-tongued) and his recurrent preaching/teaching against Christian laxity, especially among those in positions of authority.

Friday, May 18, 2012

General Conference–A Post Mortem

I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on The United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Tampa since it ended a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t there, but I watched it on TV.

Well, not TV exactly. I watched far too much of the live streaming on my laptop, downloaded the app to my phone and followed the twitter stream as it lit up and cooled down and then lit up again for the entire time GC was in session. It was instructive to watch from a distance and remain (somewhat) detached. My training in Sociology kicked in and I was utterly fascinated by what I was observing.

Here are a few brief thoughts:

1. Our system isn’t broken – it works just fine. Seriously. The system we have is designed to prop up and perpetuate the system we have. It was put in place to ensure its own survival. And in Tampa, it did just that! Albert Einstein famously said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Tampa proved that in spades. Don’t be surprised we didn’t change anything substantive. We aren’t built to change. Be UPSET! Be ANGRY! Be DISAPPOINTED! But don’t be surprised.

2. We’re too big. The United Methodist Church is simply too big to be run the way its run. We are a world-wide church trying to function like a regionally franchised department store. One of our strengths is our world-wide connection. One of our weaknesses is our world-wide connection. That became obvious at General Conference when so many divergent worldviews clashed in such dramatic ways. It was obvious when our language barriers brought discussion, worship and communication grinding to a halt.

3. The future of The United Methodist Church will not be decided at General Conference. The future of the Church is and will be decided at the local church. I think we know this and at times it becomes something of a rallying cry. But we need to recognize it as truth and act accordingly. I’m a bit saddened by how distracted I became by the General Conference coverage. I’m refocusing now on my parish. That’s where ministry will happen. That’s where discipleship happens. That’s where lives will be changed. That’s where justice will roll down like thunder. And if it doesn’t, then someone needs to step aside and its probably me.

4. It costs way too much money. One figure I saw put it at $8 million – not including travel and expenses for delegates. That’s a lot of money (alert: understatement). I have a proposal for General Conference 2016 – how about we skip it? What say we take the $8 million and use it to tackle the world’s water problem. We couldn’t solve it, but we could make a serious dent in a global problem AND make a huge impact for the Gospel as well. And … we’d accomplish more than we did in two weeks in Tampa. [Hey, its a thought.]

5. Change will hurt – a lot. The system will not reform itself. We know that now. At least not until its too late. I think change is coming and I’d suggest we buckle up because its going to be a wild, wild ride. When [and if] change does come, its going to be really painful and the system may not survive the trauma. And you have to ask yourself if something good and Spirit-filled might come out of that.

~ Godspeed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In Life … There Are No Guarantees

The 2012 General Conference has just voted to “do away with” guaranteed appointments. Essentially that means, Elders in The United Methodist Church in good standing are no longer guaranteed a church to serve. That decision now rests in the hands of their Bishop.

I clearly remember Bishop Yeakel explaining this part of our covenant in very simple terms: "I promise you that you will always have a place to go. You promise that you will go where you are sent." I have never forgotten that. I have never refused an appointment when offered, in part because I felt it was a fundamental part of that very clear covenant.

Covenant is important. Its more than a contract; it’s a holy coming together of two parties who agree to live in unity and faithfulness together. If you are going to change the covenant, you have to get the agreement of all the parties involved.

General Conference has taken up the issue, as is their prerogative. They put a measure to end guaranteed appointment on the CONSENT CALENDAR. First, let me say that something of this magnitude should have never been on the consent calendar to begin with. That is poor leadership and bad discernment on the part of those planning the legislative sessions.

Second, twenty years ago now, I entered into this covenant. General Conference didn’t enter into it for me. I DID. Given that, it isn’t up to General Conference to amend that covenant on my behalf. Especially without a vote. Something like a “grandfather clause” would seem appropriate for those of us who entered into this covenant in good faith and now see that covenant radically changing before our eyes with little or no say in the outcome.

Fundamental questions need to be raised: "If there is no guaranteed appointment, shouldn't I have a great deal more to say about where I am appointed?" This new change to the Discipline creates a very healthy imbalance of power. Pastors are, more than ever, “one down” in the relationship with the Bishop and Cabinet regarding appointment setting.

"Are Bishops going to be held similarly accountable by the Jurisdictional Conference and the Committee on Episcopacy?" Clearly, we are demanding of clergy a level of accountability to “effectiveness” that isn’t being demanded of those in higher levels of authority in the church. This only contributes to the imbalance I mentioned before.

This was posted on a General Conference bulletin board of which I am a part: "I've served under a Bishop (now retired) who would not have used this as intended. It would have been used as a weapon against pastors who disagreed with him, who didn't "fall in line," or who were not willing to pay proper obeisance. I have no doubt about that at all based on his actions in other situations.
I have to say that the fears we've been hearing from the floor of GC are justified in some cases."

I love The United Methodist Church. I am a United Methodist by choice, not by birth or upbringing or accident. I believe this church can and will survive. I believe her best days can be ahead of her. I believe we can have more dreams than we have memories.

Am I fearful? No. Fear has no place in the work of God. Am I concerned? Yes. How will we recruit young clergy into ministry on the promise of a maybe? How will we guard the treasured place that minority pastors, female pastors, clergy couples and others have in our Connection? Are we more concerned about “effectiveness” or “management?”

The General Conference action is only a couple of hours old. I haven’t processed all of the implications of this yet. I haven’t figured out if the attempts at “checks and balances” will accomplish what they intend. That will come in the next few days and weeks.

I find myself repeating … “we are more than conquerors through [Christ]who loved us.”



Thursday, April 26, 2012

It’s Not All About Us!

General Conference has begun in earnest and a lot of highly volatile and important topics are on the agenda – topics that will affect the church’s future beginning the day after General Conference closes.

One issue that sometimes escapes notice is the growing influence of the Central Conferences in the global United Methodist Church. (For those of you who don’t know, for simplicities sake the Central Conferences are United Methodists outside the United States and who are part of the world-wide United Methodist family). This General Conference, delegates from outside the US make up 41% of those in attendance. That’s a significant increase from the last General Conference four years ago.

A big question is: how will we handle it? By “we,” I of course mean “us;” the American United Methodists. In an article at the United Methodist Reporter, a seminary student asks a very perceptive question: “Can we continue to live out being a global church when it seems that we, as Americans, would have to give up some power and allow for central conferences to have a greater voice?”

In other words: Can we get over ourselves and realize that its not all about us?
Time; and the votes of the next week or so, will tell.


Monday, April 2, 2012


Some things should just hit you in the gut. They should be visceral. They should burrow into the deepest recesses of who you are, grab hold of you and not let go for awhile.

But not much does. It’s rare for something to be that emotional. I’m an adult. I’ve learned to temper my reactions and paper over the raw places so that it all appears placid and smooth. Sure there are times when anger, joy or other emotions emerge. There are times when tears flow, but even those moments are carefully controlled. As though there is something primal that is threatening to tear itself loose and run amok.

Truth be told: I’m an incredibly emotional person. Truth be told: the world is not kind to people who feel things deeply. So over time you learn to control, deny, repress and deflect the things you feel most intensely.

This was brought home to me in a surprising way this weekend. I attended a community theatre production of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. I first encountered it in high school and it’s a personal favorite. Most critics cite themes of politics, justice, and ownership when they think of Chalk Circle. Those are important themes, but they’re not the most important.

For me, the central question of the play is this: what does it mean to be a parent? Is motherhood/fatherhood about biology or is it about a relationship, nurturing a life, and sacrificially loving a child?

Friday night, as the trial and test that are the climax of the play unfolded (you’ve just got to read the play; or better yet – go see it!), those questions were driven home to me again.

And I was in tears.

In that moment I was six years old, feeling alone and abandoned as my parent’s marriage fell apart. I was eleven years old, struggling to understand who I was, where I belonged, and why I didn’t seem to fit anywhere. And I was sixteen years old, walking away from a relationship with a parent that I thought I didn’t need and didn’t want.

By the time the final scene was over, I felt like I got punched in the stomach. All of my carefully constructed defenses had been lacerated by this performance. I was undone by feelings I thought I had put to rest a long time ago.

This is what art should do. Drama. Music. Painting. Dance. All of it. Art should awaken something in us that comes from the deepest parts of our souls. It can bring us tremendous joy. It can inspire us to great heights. And it can force us to confront ourselves, our wounds and our darkness.

Friday’s experience has reawakened in me things long dormant: a longing to make room for drama and music in my life again. A reminder that being a father to my boys is more than checking off the boxes. And a desire to live more authentically with my emotions and myself.

All that in three hours.

Thank you, Grusha.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Love Them Like Jesus

Love Like Jesus.

Sounds simple and it sounds easy, but the truth is its not. When we talk about “love like Jesus” we typically envision a patient, longsuffering, almost permissive (submissive?) kind of love. A love that bears all things,as Paul so eloquently puts it. Love is certainly all of that … and it is more.

Jesus is undoubtedly the model for us as we think about what it means to love. We look to him for teaching and examples of what it looks like to truly love. Everyone Jesus encountered (male/female, Jew/Gentile, wealthy/poor, clean/unclean, Pharisee/Scribe/Leper) was a person whom he loved. So … If we are to love like Jesus loved we have to ask, “How did Jesus love?” Here are just some observations from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.

He gave of himself sacrificially (John 10:11)
He was patient (Matthew 23:37).
He forgave those who wronged him (Luke 23:34).

That’s a Jesus we’re pretty familiar with. But there’s more.

He rebuked people in the strongest of ways (Matthew 12:34 & 23:27).
He told people what they didn’t want to hear (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:27).
He let people walk away (Mark 10:22; John 6:66-67).

That may be a Jesus that shocks us. A Jesus who calls the Scribes and Pharisees names. Who speaks truth even to unwilling ears. Who lets people walk away and doesn’t follow after them or beg them to stay.

And he does it because he loves them.