Thursday, March 10, 2016
Thursday, March 3, 2016
Thursday, February 25, 2016
In all seriousness though, when I heard that a tornado had touched down in Appomattox County yesterday afternoon, my heart immediately sank as I reached out to my beloved friends in that community to find out if folks were safe. I am thankful that they have met no bodily harm and that for those whom I know personally, damage can be repaired. But not everyone faired so well, life was lost, homes destroyed, tangible memories ripped from people's possession forever. It is good today to hear of the clean up work that is taking place. It is good to hear of people coming together as a community to support one another (as the people of Appomattox have always done in times of heartbreak) with water and supplies, with makeshift shelters, with the support of prayers. The power may be out, the town may be literally sitting in the dark, but a great light shines in their collective spirit.
We often beg the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or to phrase the question as Donald McKim does in his book Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers, "Does God will evil and suffering in the world and in our lives?"
As Presbyterians we believe (or are taught theologically) that God is Good and that all which God creates is good. In Genesis 1:31 we are told "God saw everything that God had made and indeed, it was all very good." 1 Timothy 4:4 says, "For everything created by God is good."
In simple terms "evil" is what opposes God. We use the term evil in multiple ways, to describe groups or individuals that are in opposition of God's purposes. For an example of what God's purposes are we can look to Christ, who is described as the "image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation" in Colossians 1:15. What we are questioning today is "natural evil". Natural evil are those things that occur in creation which bring tragedy and devastation to the human experience.
We do not believe that God's wills evil or that God wills suffering to happen in the world. We do believe, however, that God can use such situations for the ultimate good. That is to say, God did not send a tornado through Evergreen, Virginia yesterday to bring a small community to their knees in repentance for a sinful life. Such a tragedy is not the result of any immorality on the part of humankind. It was not God working through nature to create a tool of punishment in any way shape or form. Nor is any other natural disaster used for that purpose in any other place in the world (remember Haiti...Katrina...Joplin). It is just what we are calling it... a natural occurrence in creation. However, God is already using it for the good, as is being witnessed by organizations and individuals who are coming forward to show love and compassion to their neighbors in a time of great need.
As Don McKim writes, "We do not know reasons for evil or suffering. What we do believe by faith is that God will be with us in the midst of our sufferings and that God's grace and power of love will enable us to endure, even in the 'darkest valley' (Ps. 23:4). So we are sustained. We believe God can use the evil and sufferings we encounter and do within us, 'far more than all we can ask or imagine' (Eph. 3:20). This is our comfort and our hope."
I hope you will join me in prayer for this little community in the heart of Virginia that has in the past few years had far more than its share of tragedy and grief. But do not feel pity or sorrow for them, they would not want that. From my few years living within the community I feel that the citizens that make up Appomattox and Evergreen, they would welcome your prayers, they would appreciate your assistance, but they would foremost want you to know their strength. Not only their physical strength as a community, but their spiritual strength as well.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God."
--2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our mortality. An important moment where we have to pause and confess that this home (both body and church) is in fact temporary, preparing us for home eternal. Lent requires of us to let some things go, to stop and take stock of our spiritual lives, and to turn --time and time again-- to God.
Joel 2:13 reminds us of this.
"Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing."
What an amazing gift we are given in the promise of God's steadfast love! It is so easy for us to get wrapped up in the mundane moments of life that we forget the grace that allows us to continue taking breath each day. I think Lent is an opportunity to be reminded of that. And to be intentional in slowing down enough to take stock of who we are. Yes, we are sinners. We are mortals, fallen and broken humanity. And yet.... At the root of it all, we are God's. At the root of it all, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. At the root of it all, the Holy Spirit is at work continuously nudging us to make space for God to fill us. That is what God desires most--to be in relationship with us. We all know (and have probably learned the hard way) that what relationships need most to flourish is time.
Since David LaMotte is coming tomorrow, his music has been in my mind, and this song in particular seems to fit the times. Let's make the time friends, we're called upon to return home.
Listen To "Dark and Deep"
Thursday, February 4, 2016
I keep this photo in my office. It is a picture of a trip to Montreat. My mom and I were hanging out with one of our favorite families, the Buchanan's. We were playing by the creek, you see, and I am pretty sure Elli and Taylor (who are now of college and high school age) were peeking into a bucket of tadpoles. They'd also made friends with another boy who you see photographed, whom we didn't know. You see my mom leaning in to ask the kids about what they have found while Bill and Aimee look on. I managed to capture this perfect little moment of people so dear to me.
You also see a postcard, handwritten, by Aimee, inviting me to the Girl's Youth Bible Study in her home when I was just a freshman in high school. I was new to the community, very new to the church at the time. I kept it in my Bible for years. Bill was the Associate Pastor and in charge of the youth program at my church. But he and Aimee were very much a team and our program would not have been complete without the two of them teaching us, guiding us, and the most important step, inviting us. They invited youth to church. They invited youth into their homes. They invited youth into their lives. They became part of my family and they changed me and inspired the course of my life.
Aimee passed away three years ago today. On that day I wrote another post about her, "She Changed The World," which you can read if you want to hear more about the impact this beautiful individual had on my life. But for today, I am thinking about the invitation. All the invitations she extended to me while she was a part of my life. The first was the postcard pictured above.
Do you know why I went to that Bible Study group? It wasn't because my friends were going. It was because a personal invitation was extended to me by an adult. An adult who had shown an interest in me. I had many questions about the Bible and at the time this postcard was presented to me, I felt perhaps this could be the person to help me explore for the answers I was seeking. Aimee cared about me and knew me by name after the first time she met me. And she made me feel welcomed from the instant she greeted me and opened the door to her home.
Another invitation came the day she and Bill asked if I would babysit their daughter Elli, who was a toddler at the time. Oh my goodness, they trusted me with this precious little girl! I loved her to death, still do. We would play outside in the sunshine with sidewalk chalk. We would play dress up and read stories for hours. Now Elli is in college and watching her grow up from a distance, even as I see her express herself in blogs or on social media, she is teaching me about balancing strength and grace as a woman in today's world. Just as her mother once did.
So today I am encouraging all of us to consider the depth and breadth of what we think is a simple invitation to a friend, a neighbor, a young family, a teenager, to attend church. To you it may just be a kindness. For you it may be your job as minister, director, elder, or deacon, to welcome strangers and bring people into your midst. It can be so much more than opening a door to a building or a community. It could influence and inspire them for the rest of their spiritual life. You may be the person who introduces them to the love and grace of the Triune God.
This picture reminds me of the value of finding a church home. It reminds me of the people who model living their faith. It inspires me to be a servant for God, who called me into the ministry. Each day, but especially this day, I am thankful.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
You heard that right. Even pastors get road rage. We are just as human as you are. And we are just as impatient as you are. And we are just as snarky as you are after a long day of work. We get road rage. We get exasperated in the grocery store. We get toe-tapping irritated waiting at the doctor's office. If you don't know us as ministers, if we aren't wearing a clerical collar; chances are that we can fly under the radar and be seen as "just another person" in these instances.
I share this because at the end of the day, we don't want to be put on a pedestal by everyone and expected to be model citizens every day or the most pious, patient, practical people in every moment. I hope this doesn't make us less credible as your spiritual leaders. I actually hope that it gives us a little more credibility. I hope that it allows you to feel that you can come to us, confide in us, be your true self around us. Because we find ourselves in the same life experiences day in and day out as you. And we long to help you connect those mundane moments, whether good or bad, to the good news that we find in Christ.
How would you be pastoral while driving? Use your turn signal. Let someone merge into traffic. Give a friendly wave to your neighbor. Give yourself an extra five minutes travel time so that those individuals who do not have a lead foot like you don't have to see your exasperation in their rearview. I'll try to do better too.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
I first met David at a Montreat Youth Conference as a high school freshman, my very first Montreat experience! David was the musician who performed a concert one of the nights at the conference. As is the case with many musicians, especially at conferences or smaller venues, you get an opportunity to greet them, take photographs, get an autograph (I hear people don't do that anymore....I do!) and then you go about your merry way. David is a little different, I think, because he is so genuine in his performances and he weaves life's stories into his concerts in such a way that you leave feeling like you know him already. He also truly takes a lot of time to "meet and greet" people. Luckily for me, I've gotten to experience multiple concerts and a few workshops along the way too. I've had a chance to follow David's musical career as well as support his other endeavors. When David said he was retiring from music to study peacemaking and conflict resolution in Australia I went on a road trip with friends for the "Farewell Concert." I gave what I could to support the kickstarter campaign that led to the publishing of David's book "White Flour." I've followed his blog posts about PEG Partners and the good work happening in Guatemala. I've read and studied (with great anticipation) his book "Worldchanging 101: Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness."
David inspires me in my personal life as a writer. His attention to the craft of writing and storytelling is lovely. I could never put words to music as he does, but all the same, words matter. I took his writing workshop at ARW when I was in seminary and I remember him saying, "The muse likes to be followed, she doesn't like to be pushed." Believe me, that is helpful stuff when it comes to sermon writing some days!
In both my personal and professional life, David's work in outreach ministries as well as conflict resolution and peacemaking have made an impact. David doesn't tell you that you have to do things a certain way in order to make a difference in the world and he doesn't try to change your mind so that your views align perfectly with his own. What he does is create space for you to move, think, and feel your own way through the obvious tensions and difficulties that we experience in the world. David will be one to remind you that you can start right where you are to make a positive impact on the world around you. He always says, "You are changing the world, whether you like it or not."
As Christians, I think the message from Christ for us is clear. You don't really get a choice not to make an impact in the world. Our mission is to love God & Neighbor. To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. There are so many instances in our world today where that foundational message of the Bible is being overlooked and forgotten. We are called to address the injustices in the world... we can't fix all of them, or even one of them on our own...but if we begin where we are, with the resources that we've been given....
And now, I get to say that David LaMotte is coming to Covenant next month to perform a concert and lead a workshop on Worldchanging 101! I am so thrilled that this is happening. It has been my pet project almost since the very beginning of my ministry at Covenant. We've had a Christ Connections class meeting this year on Sunday mornings at 9:15 about Peacemaking... about inner peace and social justice. They've been using David's book and talking about public figures who have impacted our lives throughout history. I am proud of this congregation for having those difficult but fruitful discussions and I am excited to see how they will respond to David's visit as well as what steps they will take toward making their own ripples in our community and the world.
To learn more visit www.davidlamotte.com