Posted on April 9, 2018

My dear friends,

How did the time pass so quickly? I used to smirk when older people made that observation, thinking to myself that time actually crept by (especially when I was seated in a Math class)! Now I’ve become one of them and realize they were correct.

The Freedom to Express
Posted on April 2, 2018

When I first arrived here, never having written blogs before, I asked two people what I needed to write about. One was Sister Carol. The other was Vic Lindsay. Each of them said, “Write about whatever appeals to you.” I replied, “You mean biblically and theologically?” Carol said, “Yes, plus your insights on life in general.” Vic said, “Anything. Talk about restaurants or sports, if you wish.” I followed the advice I received from each of them.

Posted on March 26, 2018

In a sermon he preached at Riverside Church in 1945, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick said: “Without prayer there are some things God cannot say to us, for prayer is the listening ear. Without prayer there are some things God cannot give to us, for prayer is the hospitable heart. Without prayer there are some things God cannot do through us, for prayer is the cooperative will.” (The Kind Of Prayer These Times Call For, November 8, 1945)

Lenten Disciplines
Posted on March 19, 2018

As we have been sorting through things accumulated over 9+ years in NYC and determining what to take back to NC and what to leave here, I have been examining a lot of clothing. In fact, I have been donating a lot of clothing to a local helping agency that provides garments to those in need. The clothes I have donated is in good repair. Some of it has barely been worn at all. I would love to claim that I am giving it away simply due to a generous spirit (and I hope that is at least part of the reason I’m doing so). However, part of why I am donating so much clothing is because I simply can’t wear it anymore – too little fabric, too much midsection. I am living proof of what we often hear: New York really is the greatest food city in the world!

Key Phrases
Posted on March 12, 2018

Are you familiar with the computer program called Wordle? I had never heard of it till a few years ago when some of our staff at Marble introduced it to me. Wordle is a program that goes through written documents, surveys, or presentations and finds the most frequently used terms or phrases. That gives us insights into what our spoken priorities actually are.

Good and Bad
Posted on March 5, 2018

Will Willimon told the story of a Youth Event he attended once when he was the United Methodist Bishop in Alabama. The leader of the service called several young people up to the stage. He designated one of them as Mother Theresa and told her to stand at one far end of the stage. He designated another as Judas and asked him to stand at the other end. Then he named a few people from history (some good, some not so good) and positioned them between the young people on the extreme ends. He then said to the remaining youth in the audience: “I want all of you to come up to the stage now. Take your place where you think you ought to be. On one end is a person who seemed just about perfect. On the other is someone we consider almost totally evil. Along the scale in the middle it goes from good to pretty good to average to not-so-good to pretty bad. Just take your place where you think you ought to be.” The young people migrated to the stage and began positioning themselves. No one went all the way to either end (Mother Theresa or Judas). Most stood with the symbols of “good to pretty good to average.” Hardly anyone went to the symbols of “not-so-good” or “pretty bad.” Once everyone was in place, the youth leader asked the question: “Now, where do you think Jesus would stand?” Quickly most of the kids rushed to be with Mother Theresa, whereupon the youth leader said, “But didn’t Jesus come to die for sinners?”

Posted on February 26, 2018

I was thinking recently about the experience a couple years ago when a team of us from Marble visited the mission outreach sites this church supports in South Africa. One day Page and I sat at a sidewalk café in Capetown and chatted with the proprietor. She talked with us about her country, the strides it has made since the days of apartheid, and the strides that still need to be made. During our conversation, she said: “After three hundred years of oppression, we cannot correct it all in twenty years. But, we are on a journey. Maybe it will take another eighty years or more. But we at least know what we must do to change our history into a new and different future.”

Response to Parkland Shootings
Posted on February 15, 2018

I sometimes wonder how often we ministers will have to keep writing pastoral responses like this one. As the psalmist asked, “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1)

The unspeakable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is just the latest in what seems an unending saga of senseless acts of violence and tragic losses of life. It is especially disturbing that our very lexicon now includes references that do not require explanation. Simply say “Columbine” or “Aurora” or “Virginia Tech” or “Sandy Hook” or “the Vegas concert” or “the Orlando nightclub” or now “Parkland High School,” and everyone understands what you’re talking about. Gun violence has become part of our norm. That is a sobering, saddening, and staggering reality. There is no “norm” anywhere that should include that.

Posted on February 5, 2018

With credit to Pastor David Sumrall of the Cathedral of Praise in Manila, Philippines, I want to share with you a thought I got from him. He did an online devotional last month from Genesis chapter 2. As you recall, chapters 1 and 2 of the Bible’s first book offer slightly different renditions of The Creation Story. In chapter 1, God forms males and females simultaneously. In chapter 2, however, God forms man first, observes for a while, and basically says, “I can improve on that” and so fashions woman. Anyway, in chapter 2 we read the verse, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground....” A few verses later the author writes, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and bird of the air....” What jumps out at you from those two verses? God used the same resource (dirt from the earth) to create the full, wide array of living creatures (cats and cows, eagles and elephants, foxes and frogs, hedgehogs and humans).

Posted on January 29, 2018

Our younger daughter, Katharine, gave me the most fascinating gift for Christmas this year. I suspect many of you have one or a version similar to it. It's called "Echo." It's a high quality speaker that includes computer-generated artificial intelligence. There’s a voice in the speaker that responds only to its own name, which is "Alexa." It is absolutely beyond intriguing.

Posted on January 16, 2018

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) How many times have you heard that text quoted in January? A gazillion or more? Probably. “Surely,” you think, “preachers ought to be able to find some other text for beginning a new year.” Well, you’re right. There are plenty of “other” texts for this month. I just don’t think there are any “better” ones.

December Meditations - Week 4: New Birth
Posted on December 25, 2017

Read Luke 2:1-7

The Birth Story begins with statements about political oppression (“a decree went out from Caesar Augustus”), poverty (“wrapped Him in swaddling cloths”), and exclusion (“there was no room for them in the inn”). But in spite of all that, it is impossible to articulate what must have been the unparalleled joy Mary felt when “she gave birth to her first-born son.” Whatever her old world may have been like, something new was breaking into it, something like light in darkness that brings courage and hope unknown before.

In seasons of stress or change, it is easy to focus on that which produces anxiety. But, it is also our option to focus on “good news of great joy.” With the arrival of Jesus into a life, a home, or a church, what new potential for joy and meaning do we find? Answer that question, and you will have discovered the personal power of Christmas.

December Meditations - Week 3: Blessings
Posted on December 18, 2017

Read Luke 1:46-49

“My soul magnifies the Lord, for He that is mighty hath done unto me great things.” These verses from what we call The Magnificat must be put it into context. Mary still didn’t understand Virgin Birth. She still had anxieties about what people would think. She still didn’t fully comprehend the Messianic nature of her Child. She still had fears and worries. But amid all that, she was aware that (a) something was about to happen that would change her life in a beautiful way, and (b) God was responsible. She didn’t allow some of the troubling particulars of her life to blind her to the undeniable blessings at her doorstep.

Advent is about that. The Birth of Jesus doesn’t magically erase all our problems. But, it does put them in perspective. It reminds us that even in bad times, there are also blessings if we just look for them. Maybe Advent is a good time to do just that – to intentionally name (even write down) one-by-one the blessings that make our lives warm and wonderful. Take that inventory, and perhaps it will lead you to sing with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord, for He that is mighty hath done unto me great things.”

December Meditations - Week 2: The Spirit
Posted on December 11, 2017

Read Luke 1: 30-35

When she responded to the angel’s words with fear and doubt, asking, “How can this be?,” the angel replied: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God... The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

Fear and anxiety are givens in this life. No one escapes from that. But amid the stresses and pressures we face day-by-day, the same assurance Mary received from the angel is also our own. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That passage assures us that peace and power are the products of Divine Presence. Because God’s Spirit is with us, we can navigate life’s deep waters. How do we sense God’s Presence? How can we access it when we don’t always feel it? And what power do we feel when we simply say, “I am not alone”? Those are Advent questions worth pondering prayerfully.

December Meditations - Week 1: Troubled
Posted on December 4, 2017

Read Luke 1: 26-29

“But she was greatly troubled at the angel’s words....” So begins the story of young Mary, a teenaged girl not yet married, who had been chosen to become the mother of the Messiah. She didn’t expect that. Who would? No one assumes an angel will randomly show up, announcing that you will become the parent of the Savior of the world. “She was greatly troubled at the saying.” How could she have been otherwise?

And aren’t we still sometimes “troubled” by the awareness that, ready or not, Jesus is coming... to us? Just think of the implications: What will He see in our lives? What will He expect from our lives? And, how might He turn our lives upside down? Those are Advent questions to consider prayerfully, for the answers we come up with may change not only the essence of our December but, indeed, the essence of our lives.

Thanksgiving Devotional: Everyday Grateful: Week 4: “Jimmy and Donna Were Right.”
Posted on November 27, 2017

It’s almost that season of the year when we will begin to see the holiday movies on TV: “A Christmas Carol,” “A Christmas Story,” “The Santa Clause,” “Miracle On 34th Street,” “White Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” One we can count on seeing numerous times in December is “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart.

Thanksgiving Devotional: Everyday Grateful: Week 3: “Counting and Making Them Count.”
Posted on November 20, 2017

The late Neal Maxwell (a university administrator and spiritual motivator) wrote: “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” Jesus said as much more than once: “What do ye more than others?” “Take up your cross and follow me.” “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” As the old adage puts it: “Thanksgiving is an action word.”

Thanksgiving Devotional: Everyday Grateful: Week 2: “Good and Perfect Gifts.”
Posted on November 13, 2017

In the New Testament book of James (who some scholars think was the brother of Jesus), we read the words: “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Good gifts we can imagine: good friends, good food, good health, good weather... But “perfect” gifts? What on earth is that about?

Thanksgiving Devotional: Everyday Grateful: Week 1: “It is Good.”
Posted on November 6, 2017

The first chapter of the first book in the Bible tells the story of Creation. The author wrote a lovely narrative about his ideas of an all-powerful God who decided to make a world, to fill it with every kind of living thing, and finally to populate it with creatures designed in the image of the Divine. Step by step, after each new thing is added (water, earth, shrubs and trees, birds of the air, fish of the sea, beasts of the field, and human beings) God says, “It is good.”

Fats Domino
Posted on October 30, 2017

I write this just after having learned of the death of Antoine “Fats” Domino. I guess I thought he would live forever. Sadly, at least in this mortal realm, no one ever does.