Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sacred vs. Secular

"Indeed, the word sacrament is derived from a Latin phrase which means 'to make holy.'"

"But our God is in the business of transforming ordinary things into holy things, scraps of food into feasts and empty purification vessels into fountains of fine wine."

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

I remember, years (and years and years) ago, when I was in youth group, the youth pastor taking us all in the Sanctuary. He played music over the sound system, and asked us to write down whether the music was sacred or secular. I had never heard any of it before (I don't know if I was the only one) so for me, I had to make a judgment on how it sounded (and maybe using the words). Once we finished, he told us that all of the music he played was considered sacred. I don't remember the music at all, but I remember the idea that sacred vs. secular is a difficult line.

There is a controversy in my church (not a battle, just a disagreement) that applause in worship is either bad or an expression of praise. One of the opponents of applause, who is a pastor (not our current pastor), defends his opinion by saying that applause is secular. That has always bothered me, especially in light of the lesson I learned as a youth. How is it possible for one person to judge the sacred vs secular nature of anything? Especially something as neutral as applause. How can one person say that the act of applause is not a sacred act?

If Welch's grape juice and Hawaiian bread can be made sacred by God, then why would we draw any lines concerning what God can make holy?

(By the way, this week has been brought to you by the Cardinal (grinning).  Prepare yourself for many more bird pictures - we stocked the feeders in the backyard.)

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

There is a God

An email service called Sound Bites sends me a quote each morning.  This was the one for today:
There is a God. It is not you.
This is the beginning of wisdom. At first, it looks like bad news because I would like to run the world. I would like to gratify my desires. I would like to have my own way. But once we think about it, this idea turns out to be very good news.
It means that someone far wiser and more competent is running the show. It is His job to be God; it is my job to learn to let Him be who He is. The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1) I suppose the even bigger fool, looking in the mirror, has said, “There is a god!” for the oldest temptation is that we “will be like God.” Real life, however, begins when I die to the false god that is me.
-- John Ortberg in “The Me I Want To Be”

It's an excellent reminder, don't you think? 

  • When we try to control the situation, we should remember that we are not God. This is a God, and it's not me, and it's not you.
  • When we are lost and alone, thinking no one cares. There is a God, and it's not me, and it's not you.
  • When we think we have done something wonderful, something that means we can control the next crisis that happens. There is a God, and it's not me, and it's not you.
  • When we feel helpless, and the situation is spiraling out of control. There is a God, and it's not me, and it's not you.
  • When worry threatens to crush us, when life feels ominous, when we feel small. There is a God, and it's not me, and it's not you.
  • When we look in the mirror and are tempted to act like God. There is a God, and it's not me, and it's not you.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Oh, God, my God.
You breathed,
and the world came into being.
You spoke your breath,
and life entered me.

I breathe.
In and out.
I don't notice it.
I pay no attention.
Until I can't breathe anymore.

Your spirit is wind,
breathing through my life,
around my life.
I don't notice it.
I pay no attention.
Until I can't breathe anymore.

Fill my life today.
Be in my breath.
Heal what is broken;
make me whole.
Empower me so that
I can do your work in the world.
Move as you do.
Help me to pay attention.

I pray that you will be the wind
in my life.
Moving through me,
with me,
in spite of me,
Inhabiting my words,
motivating my deeds,
clearing my thoughts.
Until I can't breathe anymore.

And beyond.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

The Release of Communion

I don't remember anyone ever telling me how to take communion. I just remember watching, and doing. I remember my understanding and need of communion being strengthened through my walk to Emmaus. I love the symbolism (this happens in my community - I don't know if it is universal) of walking forward with my hands on the shoulders of the person in front of me, and the hands of the person behind me on my shoulders. Connected.

When I watch people approach communion - especially some clergy - I see them offer their two open, cupped hands to receive. I don't do that. I think about it whenever I reach the elements, but something prevents me from doing it. I have made it to the point of lifting one empty, cupped hand to receive the bread, but there is something vulnerable in offering both hands - a line I haven't yet crossed.

Today I read this:
If we did nothing else," writes Nora Gallagher, "if nothing was placed in our hands, we would have done two-thirds of what needed to be done. Which is to admit that we simply do not have all the answers; we simply do not have all the power It is, as the saying goes, 'out of our hands.'" ...."Faith," she says, "is a catch-and-release sport. And standing at the altar receiving the read and wine is the release part." (Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans)
Have you ever considered the receiving of communion to be a "release?"  That statement took me by surprise. It seems counter-intuitive. 

I'll have to consider what it is I need to release.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Two Amendments

I just wrote this post. And then I deleted it, by mistake. Nothing is ever the same when you try to reproduce it. Sigh.

Five amendments to the United Methodist Church's constitution came to the floor of annual conference for approval. I want to focus on two of them today.

Amendment 1: As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl's equality and well-being.

Amendment 2:  
In the 2012 Book of Discipline, Division One, ¶4, Article IV, amend by deletion and addition as follows:
After “all persons” delete “without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition”. After “because of race, color, national origin,” delete “status,” and add “ability”. At the end of the paragraph, add “nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic

I worry that in my annual conference, there were many people who voted against these two amendments. The first one is designed to help women and girls who are being oppressed - for the church to take an official stand against it. Those who voted against it will do so because of the language that God does not have a gender. The second on is to ensure that those who are differently abled or who are not men have equal access to the church. Judging from the comments made, those who vote against it will do so because some time in the future, gender might mean more than two - male and female, even though that is how it is defined in the Discipline.

I don't understand how we can let these concerns stand in the way of opening the church or protecting those who are oppressed. My heart hurts.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Transforming the World

I heard many people at annual conference talk about how the influence of culture is changing our faith. They cautioned us to not be influenced by the culture - even as it changes, we should not.

It occurred to me that we are awfully afraid of change. Why is that? Why do we look at the culture and assume that all of the change is wrong? That we should avoid it?

As I was sitting in the annual conference sessions I wondered if we could ever be open-minded enough to consider the idea that some of the changes in culture are the work of God as God transforms the world? Or are we so afraid of change that we would never consider that?

I think sometimes change is God at work. Consider the leaps that women's rights have made over the last century. Those who read the Bible  then (and some people even now) would read it and say that it was the will of God that women shouldn't preach, shouldn't speak in church or teach men, that they should submit their lives - their will, their property, their dreams and hopes to the men in their lives. There are those who would have told you then that that kind of attitude was biblical and the will of God. 

And yet, now, I hope, we know better. We know it isn't the will of God that women should be thought of as less than men. It isn't God's will that when God calls a woman to preach, those around her should stop her because she is a woman. It's a change that probably came to the culture before it came to the church, and we finally realized (most of us) that the oppression of women wasn't and isn't the will of God. God transformed the world - and then the church caught up.

Don't be afraid to examine culture and look for where God is at work, revealing himself.

(Note about image: This is me at the podium presenting during the business session).

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is God calling you?

Is God calling you? Do you believe God has made a mistake? Do you make excuses to ignore the call? 

The work God calls us to and the answer to our call isn't about who we are - it's about what God can make us into. It isn't about what we can do - it's about what God can do through us. It's not about the gifts we have - it's about the gifts God will give others through us. It's not about our sins - it's about the grace we can offer to others.

Thought for the day: Your call may not be about you; it may be about those around you.

(Note about the image: This is a piece of stained glass crafted by our Conference Lay Leader to represent 2400 professions of faith in the conference.)

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Monday, June 12, 2017

A Fork in the Road

As I mentioned, I am going to do a few series during the summer months. This week, my posts will reflect my thoughts from the West Virginia Annual Conference, held the second week of June.

The guest preacher for annual conference was Bishop L. Johathon Holston, the resident bishop of South Carolina.  In one of his sermons, Bishop Holston quoted Yogi Berra (I think), who said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." You've probably heard that before; I had, and so had many in the congregation, but we stilled laughed. It seems like a nonsense phrase.

As I thought about it though, I considered what we do when faced with a decision. Sometimes we jump to a choice quickly, and move on. Other times we ponder for a while, and make deliberate, slow choice. The third option, though, is what I thought about. Sometimes we come to a fork in the road, and we do nothing. We don't take it - we don't go either way. Why is that?

Are we afraid of making a mistake? Do we stand frozen because we can't see around the bend? we don't know which way is the right choice, so we choose nothing? 

Do we know which way we should go, and yet don't want to go that way, so we don't go either way?

Are we so caught up in the details of everyday life, that we can't be bothered to make a decision?

Not taking the fork IS a decision. Those looking at us can draw conclusions from our lack of action. It might be the wrong conclusion, but they will draw them. They might think that our lack of a decision indicates our agreement with the status quo. They might think we just don't care where the road goes. They might use our inaction as an example, and then do nothing at their road forks, too.

When you come to a fork in the road, make a deliberate decision. Take it or not, but decide.

Note about the image: This is a card I made - you can read about it here.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Where I am

This is where I'll be for the rest of the week.

I was at West Virginia Wesleyan College on Sunday to pick up Steve and two other people from our church who road in the Bishop's Bike Ride to raise funds for flood releif in West Virginia. Most of the time, when I take a picutre on campus, I focus on the Chapel, which is a beautiful building. On Sunday, I sat under a tree, waiting for the riders to arrive, and I noticed how beautiful the trees are. It was a wonderful day.

So, today I'm back, and I'll be here through Sunday. I'll be back to the blog on Monday.


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Offering the Grace of Forgiveness

Yesterday, I wrote about the grace of gifts. I started with the question of whether God's forgiveness is dependent upon how we act - our repentance, our sorrow at the sin we have committed. I believe it is not - forgiveness is offered, no matter what we do.

So why is it, then, that we make our forgiveness of other people dependent upon their repentance? We stubbornly wait for an apology before offering forgiveness. That's  not grace.

Sometimes, we preface our forgiveness with words like, "you couldn't help it - I forgive you." If the person couldn't help it, they don't need forgiveness, do they?

Sometimes, we say we forgive, and yet we do not - we keep coming back to the sin, holding it forth like it was a rare jewel that we can't let go of, lest we become powerless.

Sometimes, we never offer forgiveness for fear of being hurt again.

The grace of forgiveness is not dependent upon the sorrow the guilty party, or their innocence, or our fear. Forgiveness is grace. Thank God God will help us to offer it - even if the offering of it is very private, and not even shared with the oblivious person whom we are forgiving.

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Monday, June 05, 2017

Gifts and Grace

In Sunday school a few weeks back, the teacher asked the question, "Does the forgiveness we receive from God depend on our repentance? Does it depend on how sorry we are for what we did? Does it depend on how hard we ask for forgiveness?"  

You can read the Bible and see scriptures that would support the answer to that question being yes, but if the answer is yes, then the whole idea of grace is a farce.

Grace is a gift. Unearned. Unmerited. Undependent (I don't think that is a word) upon anything that you or I do. If there are requirements, then it is not a gift.

My in-laws had a tradition, call a happy. A happy is gift given for no reason. Not a birthday gift, not a Christmas gift. It's usually a surprise, and it demands nothing in return.   It is in no way an exchange. It is grace.

Rachel Held Evans, in Searching for Sunday, described a gift she received from a friend. Evans didn't want the grace of the gift (flowers). She received them, and then immediately considered how she could return the favor, so that she wasn't in debt to the friend - so that the grace of the gift could be negated. She writes, "I was in possession of my friends' gift long before I received it...."

The giving of the gift is dependent upon nothing. The receiving of the gift - that's the rub. And yet, God's grace can even help with that.

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Thursday, June 01, 2017

Perspectives: Draw the Circle Wide

 "Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.
No one stands alone,
we’ll stand side by side. 
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide."
Lyrics by Gordon Light.

A few times now, my church has sung this song. The last time we did, the choir walked down the aisles, and stood there as we sang. The congregation got up and joined them so that we encircled the church, singing together. It was wonderful.

As we sang, and later, as I thought about it, I realized something. I don't believe that for worship to be genuine, you always have to "feel" it. There is something beautiful about "knowing" your beliefs. In your mind.

Sometimes, though, it is good to feel your faith. To feel the unity of standing together as a church, and singing your mission - to draw the circle wide. Feeling it can increase your faith - can increase your confidence in the idea that we are a church - that together, we CAN draw the circle wide. That we can really change the world. 

Together, as the body of Christ.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Summer Plans

So, what will you be doing this summer?

In past years, I have taken a break from blogging during the summer. I haven't ruled that out, but thought I might try something else instead.

My plan for this summer (as it stands right now) is this:
  1. Post four times a week instead of five.  I'll take Fridays off.
  2. Stop posting Logos posts. Those are usually on Fridays, so I won't restrict myself to doing one of those every week.
  3. Think about a few mini-series of posts - four posts in a week connected to each other. I already have some ideas about those, so I'll flesh those out.
  4. As I usually do, if I'm on vacation, I'll take a blogging break.

I hope you enjoy your summer! Take some Fridays off - I love Fridays. There is something special about them - full of potential.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017


These were the people who wore their brokenness on the outside, people whose indiscretions were so other, so uncommon, their entire personhood was relegated to the category of sinner.  They were the people the religious loved to hate, for they provided a convenient sorting mechanism for externalizing sin as something that exists out there, among other people with other problems, making other mistakes.  (Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans).

Have you ever been in the hospital and heard someone refer to a patient as the "infected arm in room 201"?  I think some nurses and doctors might do that in order to stay detached from the patient.  It's easier, isn't it? To see the patient as only the aliment instead of a person?

What Rachel Held Evans is talking about is a little of that, but it also includes something much for sinister, much more sinful.

Do we see a person and judge them by the sin we believe they have, rather than seeing the person? Do we do that in order to feel better about ourselves?

If I call the person in front of me an addict, am I saying - at least subliminally - that "I don't sin like that."

If we see label a parent as a "poor mother," - because in our eyes, her children aren't behaving the way we would expect them to, or she isn't doing what we think she should be doing - are we feeling better about ourselves?

When the Pharisees scoffed, and called someone a prostitute, or a tax collector, or an unclean leper, did it make them feel better?

At least I'm not like that person.

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