United Methodist Brother and Sisters, I Have Traveled This Road

Partir en Vacances, Sur la Route

I am always excited to travel down a new road as a journey begins. The allure of beginning a trip to unknown places is enticing and intoxicating. Yet, every trip has a middle. The middle is the actual part of the trip, the liminal space that exists between the time of departure and arrival. I feel compelled to offer some observations from my recent travels on my new road, in light of the United Methodist quadrennial event called General Conference.

What I know for sure is, this road has been traveled before. In 1989, I witnessed an event at Cafe de Monde’ in the French Quarter of New Orleans that was a snapshot of the eventual schism that took place in my previous denomination, Southern Baptists. Fundamental leaders presented speeches and symbols of victory, celebrating the accomplishment of electing leaders who would only appoint like-minded persons to control boards and agencies. I remember the sick feeling in my stomach as winners were celebrated and losers were denigrated. I remember because I was one of the identified losers. Most importantly, I remember the feeling of not knowing what road I would travel in days beyond this D-Day.Open Hearts

Despite the usual feelings of anxiety that arise because of the unknown, I chose to lean into the feelings of anticipation that also existed because of the possibilities of a new day and way. The middle part of this new journey consisted of a few years of traveling down unfamiliar roads to explore new places. Along the way, came my new Methodist friends who welcomed me in ways that I would learn later were a bit unusual in our polity. Yet, I arrived at my destination, my first annual conference, and was received with a Wesleyan grace I could only fully appreciate years later.

Coffee-House-MeetingSix months ago, I began a new journey with the same excitement that accompanies the launch of any new endeavor. My energy for this new journey revved up my human spirit and the RPMs of my soul were red-lining. This level of exhilaration has sustained me for a period of months throughout the middle part of this journey. Like any trip, I have had to reevaluate and make changes in both direction and pace. The journey has been good. I would not trade what I have learned from my travels, it has prepared me for whatever is next.

As the General Conference of United Methodist Church comes to a close this week, it seems, once again, we will hear victory speeches and plans of secession made by the artificial winners and losers. Again, persons, like myself, will be thrust on a new road toward a new place. While I may be just a few steps ahead of some others on this road of change, I have yet to arrive, so my observations are incomplete.  Road Less Traveled

Personally, my soul and body say, it is time for me to arrive. I need to find stable ground where I can place my feet and enter into relationships with persons whom I can count on. Only fixed destinations can provide these necessary human commodities. Allow me to humbly share three lessons from this road I have traveled before and now. I share these simple platitudes with those who are ahead, beside or behind me on any road of uncertainty:

  1. There is more than one right path. Let’s not assume Robert Frost poetic plea to take the road less traveled is the absolute right road for us. We can confidently step onto any new road, trusting it will lead us to places that need who we are and what we have to offer. We need many persons traveling down many roads to fully complete and represent the Body of Christ in the world.
  2. Many good voices will beckon us to take differing routes. These voices are important. Some will lead us down the new road while other’s counsel will help us navigate our own journey, though these other voices traveled a different route. Our Voice must lead us to our path, there is no other authentic way. May all voices find a sounding board, a person(s), (per sonare“, a sounding through) that properly reflects the full and necessary call toward the new day needed for our times.
  3. We will arrive. Every journey has an end. No person has the energy to wander down roads without coming to a destination. The human spirit can only travel an unknown road for so long before it longs to land. The longing to land is a determinative force that will lead us to the next place. While we all may land in new places at differing times, new outposts will be established and the new ground shall be tilled, planted and harvested.

Message-in-a-BottleTo my United Methodist sisters and brothers with me on this road, I have nothing profound to offer. I can offer these few notes from my own travelogue to those who feel like they are being thrust onto a new road. I offer them to the Wind that blows where it will and trust like a message in a bottle they will wash ashore to the right place and the right time. Every journey has a beginning, middle, and end; the grace we so often speak is among all along the roads we travel.

 

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The Things Mom Said-Proverbs 3: 5, 6

Mom BDI don’t know what makes one woman a good mother and another one of similar circumstance named not so good. I know every mother feels the mix of being both a good mother on some days, and often never good enough. They are like every person who shares the air on the planet; we are all a mix of mostly good who have a tendency to get in our own way.

I never fully appreciated the silver haired lady whose hair color caused motorist to stop, a claim my mom made often. I do know my mother loved me through adolescent years that surely caused her to question everything, including herself. She was a widow of two small children, doing a job with little thanks. We thanked her in small deeds like hand painted jars, when we were young and in easy words like, “You’re the greatest!”, as we grew older. The gratitude we expressed wasn’t the reason she thanklessly did all the things a good mother does for her children.

There’s no other force like the sway the love of a child has over a mother. Sophia says to Tara or Gigi, “I wuv’ you,” they melt. Chloe cuddles and Torie or Terri they cry. Olivia’s entrance into the world caused her family to drop what they were doing and come from all parts to welcome her into the world. Her aunt Lauren talked her boyfriend to flying her to Georgetown in his Cessna to see Olivia and her parents on Friday evening.GIrls are Home cropped

The depth of love a mother feels is why she stays upright in the bittersweet days of parenting that are filled with joy mixed with anguish. She knows the crushing impotence of watching a child travel alone paths that lead to the thrills of victory and agony of defeat that inevitably come. Sometimes, all a mother can do is offer words that become wiser as the child grows older.

This brings me to wiser words shared by my mother. The words seated in her soul were not her own words, but words that come from the Proverbs. One of the last gifts I bought had these words on it to say to her again, “I hear you mom”. Let me connect her guiding verse to her go to phrases and catch words, praying they cause us to recall the things our mothers say. I thank her grandchildren for helping me recall the things mom said.

Mom teachingTrust in the Lord with all your heart-My mom was a smart woman. Her head was filled with stories of history that guided her. She possessed a nimble mathematic mind for calculus and trigonometry. She had advance degrees early in adulthood and held tight to her value that a broad education was the key to life. She practiced what she preached, by saving so she could pay for both my sister and I to attend Baylor University.

My head was floating as I entered the thin air of university life, jumping straight from adolescence to the world of academia. Expectations changed quickly as professors raised the bar and I encountered a student body that was singularly focused. It felt like I had grown up overnight, except I didn’t have bills to pay and no responsibility for anyone other than myself.

I would come home and spat off what I was learning, She patiently listened because she was genuinely interested.  While wrestling with the new ideas she inserted a favorite sayings, “Don’t let your mind get ahead of your heart.” Trust in the Lord with all your heart. It was her way of saying no matter how many degrees I obtain; I must not forget my faith.

It’s likely, a mother or a mother like figure told you to trust in the Lord with all your heart. She knew what was going on in the heart is more valuable than what is in your head. She loved you so much she would often express her hope that your heart is being shaped by a faith that goes beyond what you can know. My mom said, “Don’t let your head get ahead of your heart.”Peace Out

Don’t rely on your own insight– Mom had an even temperament; she was born with it. There were times when she was frustrated; yet, she rarely expressed those feelings with words. She was slow to speak. When she felt something was just wrong her words of discontent were either “phooey or fiddlesticks”. It befuddled me how she could remain so low key in big moments with such benign words.

Then, I would hear these words from the Proverb loudly in my heart, “Lean not on your own understanding” citing the King James Version of the proverb. Though she was a smart, she didn’t need to comprehend all matters. Instead, she would look at what she couldn’t understand and say phooey or fiddlesticks, which translates, “Don’t rely on your own insight.”

We’re not all born with an even temperament. We have the cognitive ability and the spiritual sense to acknowledge limitations. We’re set up for failure when we’re solely dependent on our own insights. At times, we have to say phooey or fiddlesticks, which translates, “Don’t rely on your own insight.”

grandkids kissing sillyIn all your ways acknowledge God-Mom wanted to know her students, neighbors, and stranger alike. She went beyond asking ‘How are you?’ to ‘Who are you?’ Her interest in other persons came from genuinely wanting to connect with the person before her. Persons often commented how much she cared after meeting her for a few moments or knowing her for many years. Her care for others was her way of acknowledging God.

She connected to students who were unwed teenage moms, incarcerated youths in a drug rehab, and adults completing their High School education. She knew more than their names and the needed assignments they were to complete. She celebrated their accomplishments and cried when life set them back. She acknowledged God by acknowledging the persons who she served with the same love and interest she felt God bestowed on her.

I learned a phrase I never heard mom speak. We, along with three of our four children, were enjoying the patio last Sunday with our granddaughters too. The oldest, Lauren, has a new interest. Her sister asked his middle name. Lauren hesitated and was reminded what grandma said, “You don’t kiss until you know their middle name.”

Mom acknowledged God by relating to others the way she related to God, personally and intimately. She expected her family to do the same. This meant you don’t kiss until you know them (at least their middle name). We invest in knowing who others are, so our lives are enriched by their presence among us. In all our ways acknowledge God is translated, “You don’t kiss until you know their middle name.”Mom and Dad Wedding day

God will direct your path–Mom grew up poor but privileged. That meant her father and mother did not have much material wealth; working as a seamstress and gas station manager. They privileged their kids by so that my mom and uncle were afforded a good education. Though I am there were days my grandparents weren’t sure how they would make ends meet, yet they were a people of deep faith, sure God was directing their paths, regardless of what challenges they faced.

My mother was a widow at age 36. I was eight and my sister was four. In 1967, a widow faced hard choices. My father was a rising professional and the sole supporter of the family. Most widows her age remarried. Instead, Mom pushed forward, declaring to her children in word and deed God would direct our paths. Her understanding of these words was expressed in her own idiom to anyone facing uncertain days. She would say, “Life is a pendulum, it may swing one way, but it will swing back.”

We’re all poor but privileged. We know life brings its share of good and not so good days. We can let that which can makes us feel poor break us. Or, we can trust God is directing our paths, which can be translated, “Life is a pendulum, it may swing one way but it will swing back.”

Mom take up phones croppedThese are some of things my mom said. Let me tell you one thing she did any person can do on any day. The last time my mom was with her grandkids before the surgery, which she didn’t recover, she invited them to her apartment for game night. She greeted them with a basket; instructing them to place phones in it because she wanted their undivided attention that night. Mom knew the first rule of wisdom: Pay Attention. For eighty plus years she paid attention to the voice of God and to the lives of others. On this night she wanted the undivided attention of her grandchildren.

Mother’s Day is a chance to give others undivided attention in response to God’s undivided attention to our lives. A life of undivided attention better hears God say, “Trust in the Lord with all our heart, rely not on our own insight, but in all our ways acknowledge God and God will direct our paths.”

Happy Mother’s Day

Anchoring the Ship: Courage-1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

The Philistines stood on one mountain while the children of Israel stood on the other mountain.  A large valley stood between them.  The Philistines, a sea people, had come inland and sought to destroy the pesky Palestinians.  The Philistines, great warriors, were led by their greatest warrior, Goliath.  His helmet, armor and spear were so intimidating King Saul could not find any warrior to take up the fight to decide who controls both mountains, thus controlling the inland routes where traders passed.  Worse, the losing people would be enslaved by the winning nation.  King Saul and the people of Israel were so frightened they could do nothing, but presume defeat.

Goliaths can be scary; they’re every bully we have ever met.  They employ cowardly ways; controlling with threats.  Anytime we use means to hurt in order to get what we want; our name may be Goliath. Anytime we’re scared by bullies and stand around complaining how there’s nothing we can do because Goliath is so big, our name may be King Saul.  Anytime we stand up to some threat and trust God to help, our name may be David.

David was a shepherd boy who would shuttle food back and forth to his three older brothers who were soldiers fighting the Philistines.  David heard Goliath taunt the Israelites and their God, he couldn’t believe it, after all they were God’s chosen people.  David was just naive’ enough to be willing to state his faith out loud in the God of Israel who had delivered his people from far more difficult circumstances.  David says to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because I will go and fight with the Philistine.

David says, let no one lose heart.  Losing heart is the opposite of courage.  Courage literally means to have heart.  We say a kid has a big heart, meaning she or he has courage.  C.S. Lewis said “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.

We will only discover courage anchors life when we are pressed.  Courage anchors the church; keeping us from losing heart and drawing the lines of fellowship to tightly.  Big hearted courage works hard at including those outside our circle.  Courage anchors the church; keeping us losing heart and compromising the fidelity of faith by rushing to take matters in our own hands.  Big-hearted courage trusts God to provide in God’s time.   The anchor of courage in the church is honestly fearful at times, but resiliently faithful all the time.   Two words regarding courage being an anchor.

First, courage anchors the church when we’re sure we don’t face Goliath alone.  God takes sides.  The golden thread in salvation’s story is God takes the side of the weak and powerless against the strong and powerful.  David was convinced Goliath hadn’t picked a fight with Israel, but with Israel’s God, who would not abandon them.  David was anchored to courage for his heart belonged to God.  Whoever owns our heart, owns us.

Wrongs last as long as the people are afraid to say no, so they can say yes to something else.  The word no makes wrongs right.  Communism didn’t fall because capitalism won the day.  Communism fell because church ladies, line workers, and common people grew confident they were not alone and they courageously said no.  These same folk in former communist nations everywhere are struggling to say yes to a new thing.

Courage anchors our lives when our heart belongs to God and we know we are not alone.  We will stand up against injustice and insist on remedy, when we know we do not stand alone.  We will speak the needed word in the midst of confusion, when we know we do not stand alone.  We can come along the side of someone when everyone else has faded away, when we know we do not stand alone.  God is with us! 

Second, courage anchors the church when they are able to draw on lessons learned facing previous Goliaths.  David learned to trust God tending his father’s sheep.  On separate occasions, he was attacked by a lion and bear; teaching him the lessons one learns in days of danger or difficulty.  Even at a young age, courage anchored David’s life.  To David, Goliath was just another lion or bear to face with the help of a God.

It is in times of crisis we learn new dimensions of trusting God.  Courage does not become an anchor in a casual or accidental way. As we experience new aspects of God’s faithfulness, courage becomes a stronger anchor in our lives; building our resume’ of trusting God more and more.  Courage becomes an anchor over the course of a lifetime of experiences where we learn God can be trusted and we are not alone.

We won’t suddenly be anchored by courage when unexpectedly unemployed if we’ve not been a good steward of life while employed.  We cannot expect to be anchored to hope when facing an alarming diagnosis if we’ve spent a lifetime sweating little glitches.  Courage begets courage; allowing us to intimately experience the nearness of God’s faithfulness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian, spent his life trusting God in difficult circumstances.  Time and time again he stood up to the Nazi machine in WW II.  He had to ultimately trust God in way none of us ever will; facing the death penalty for his stand.  Courage became such an anchor in Bonhoeffer’s life that God used him to show how weak and foolish were the Nazi leaders.  Through his life, the German people were able to see they need not be intimidated by such evil cowards.  In the midst of facing crisis, Bonheoffer knew he was not alone and what he had learned would be used to help others.  Courage is confident in a redeeming God who is faithful when the frightened call upon heaven for help.

King Saul doesn’t get it.  He offers David ill-fitted armor and heavy artillery to go into battle with Goliath.  The scene is laughable-a smallish boy putting on the grown up armor; standing in place of a fear ridden army.  It is ironic the persons who should be closest to God, namely the king, can’t see God at work.  The person who gets it is a young lad, who embodied simple childlike truths; enabling him to demonstrate courage before Goliath.

Courage has been an anchor at FUMC, Irving for more than a century; persons confident in God walking these halls.  They are reminders to the congregation of lessons learned about the faithfulness of God who is always with us.  Some of our anchors are sitting in the pews this morning.  Don’t weary in doing good!  Continue to help us not be tempted by the Saul syndrome; leaning to heavily on what is safe because of our unnecessary anxieties.  Churches that are anchored to courage make a choice to live with the awareness God is constantly present; actively trusting God in the everyday things.  They know they are walking on a path of trusting God that will lead them to trusting God in larger and sometimes scarier ways. 

I know we’re well intended when we speak of marketing the church to make it more appealing.  But, it can feel like we are Saul dressing up David in his armor.  Jesus would not engage a Hollywood Studio or Madison Avenue to get his message out.  The power of the gospel is connected to we who have received the gift of grace by faith, and to offering it freely to others as God gave it to each of us.  The more people demonstrate a trust in God as they face their own Goliaths, the more authentic our life changing message will be to those who need to hear courage can anchor their lives, no matter how large and intimidating Goliath may be to them.

David ditches the gear, grabs his slingshot, and a few stones; simple things he knew best as a shepherd.  He walks toward Goliath with a heart attuned to God; facing him with courage that already anchored his young life.  Goliath laughs; calling him a puppy dog.  David shaking in his sandals did what the king and his army would not-STAND and TRUST God to provide as he hurled a stone.  His shot landed on the mark and Goliath fell.

I say with unashamed simplicity, when we stand and face the Goliaths in our lives with faith in our God we will not fail; and giants will fall.  May we anchor our lives and church with courage; trusting in a living God as we sail together in the days ahead!  I thank God for the courage that has, is, and will anchor the people who make up this Mother Ship, our portion of the Body of Christ called FUMC, Irving.  Thanks be to God, AMEN!

RIVER OF LOVE

Faith trusts the flow of the river of life.  It is always best to stay in the stream.  I believe in the natural current of process, which I don’t have to change, coerce, or improve.

This requires me to exhibit incalculable confidence in God, especially when troubled.  Usually, I am certain I have the ability to make things work.  So, I rush right up into my head trying to change or create the flow of the river.  This is a loss of nerve in God who loves me more than I can know.  Worse, it robs me of any ability to be present with a God who is already at work; flowing the river of life through me.

So, I remind myself on this day God is not an authoritarian who seeks selfish good.  My God is a lover who desires to shape the divine image within me.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, From Everything Belongs

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 7:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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