Archive for May, 2011


On Tuesday night I began to jot down a few notes about Mother’s Day.  I didn’t intend to post them…until Wednesday afternoon.  While eating lunch with several staff persons on Wednesday the senior pastor said to me, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you: You need to acknowledge the oldest and youngest mothers at the 9:00a worship service on Sunday.”  Before he could get out another word I responded in exuberant and honest haste, “You can forget about that!”  He laughed; I calmed down.  “I knew that would get to you,” he joked.  He was right.  (So below are a few incomplete thoughts…!)  

I grew up in a church with two Mother’s Day rituals: 1) the “oldest/youngest/most times a mother/most children present” mothers were awarded flowers, and 2) all willing and able men sang “Church in the Wildwood” during the special music moment.  The service always had a certain innocent charm.

But something seemed amiss.  You could see some women fidget in their seats.  I always felt a strange twinge of uneasiness during the service.

I always wondered how the celebration of motherhood affected some in the pews:

– the woman who desperately wanted a child but could not conceive?

– the woman who lost a child during pregnancy or delivery?

– the son or daughter who was celebrating the first mother’s day without mom?

– the child whose mother abused or abandoned him or her?

– the person whose memory of “mom” is more painful than heartwarming?

For people who have been told Leave it to Beaver motherhood is the norm (we’re looking at you, Hallmark), I can only imagine that they are not looking for the church to reinforce that myth.   How painful some silly celebration might be for those unable, though desperately wanting, to be a candidate.  (Is it not God, the parent of all, whom worship is all about anyways?)

Is eliminating such moments from worship too pandering, too much trying to meet the needs of all?  Perhaps.  And it’s true that the Church must say something meaningful and compelling about parenthood and families.  We should celebrate those who have nurtured and loved us.  But the reality is that parenthood and families are not one-size-fits-all entities.  Families are different, unique, and messy.  Mothers – and those who wish to be – come from a variety of social locations.  We must be aware that motherhood – or lack thereof – means different things to the women in the pews.

On Mother’s Day I like to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She carried Jesus for nine months in her womb.  She was there when he was born…and when he died.  I imagine she held him, cooed at him, and giggled with him.  She taught him to talk and set the table.  I like to think that she corrected and reprimanded him when necessary.  She counseled; she loved; she nurtured.

When Jesus was young, Mary took him to the Temple where Simon told her that a “sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).  Can you imagine living with those words echoing in your mind?  Years earlier she told the angel that announced Jesus’ birth, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  Of course, at that moment she was speaking of her conception by the Spirit, but what trust, what faith, what commitment.  Think of the beauty of Mary’s openness to God to “let it be.”  (This is not a fatalistic “let it be.”  But rather, a trusting in the grace and goodness of God “let it be.”)

Very few words in Methodist literature are devoted to Mary.  If she is mentioned at all it usually comes in the way of saying, “See Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed,’ which state that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin.  Perhaps Mother’s Day is a day to think of Mary in all of her fullness and beauty.  To put aside differences in the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, and to ponder in our hearts her commitment, obedience, and trust.  To be reminded of her openness to being a vessel for God’s glory.  I suppose it is some folks’ Protestant desire to not be Catholic that leads them away from spending time with Mary.  What a shame.  Thinking of Mary more often and more intimately would do our souls good – our longing, fearful, and thirsty souls.

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It’s Derby week here in Louisville.  We’re approaching the end of a two-week festival complete with parties, concerts, parades, and invitation-only galas.  The county schools participate in the drama by canceling school on the Friday before Derby Saturday.  Patients cancel appointments.  Roads close.  Attendance at church dips.  A variety of races dot the schedule – a hot air balloon race, running marathons, steamboat races.  And, oh yeah, the actual horse race on Saturday evening.

The Kentucky Derby festivities are…how shall we say it…holy and sacred to many around the city.  The festivities have been consecrated and sanctified by years of pageantry and tradition.

The Kentucky Derby festival is undoubtedly part of the Local Liturgical Calendar (LLC).

Each city has such a calendar.  It includes the events and traditions that give rhythm to the city’s happenings.   The calendar provides an ordering for expectation and planning.  It’s as if the city’s collective mood rises and falls in anticipation and completion of each event.

In addition to the Derby, Louisville’s LLC also includes (among other events): University of Louisville football and basketball in fall and winter, the Kentucky State Fair in August, high school graduations, the St. James Art Fair, days at the Waterfront, and evenings at the Bats games.

While I lived in St. Louis I learned that their LLC centered on the museums, the Arch, and the professional baseball, football, and hockey teams.  In Durham, NC the LLC involved Duke and UNC basketball along with the famous Durham’s Farmer’s Market.  From Charlotte to Greensboro the calendar revolved around professional football, NASCAR, the banking industry events, and concerts.

I was reminded of the hallowed Louisville and Derby events recently when I scheduled a confirmation class retreat.  Without intention I scheduled the overnight retreat on the same day as Thunder over Louisville.  Having been away from the city for a few years my internal attunement to the local calendar was amiss.  Fortunately, those better in sync with the local calendar called to gently remind me that some families would likely have a conflict.  (I should say, they never suggested I cancel or change the retreat (and we didn’t).  They genuinely cared that the children, their families, and I be open to all the happenings and how persons might be affected.)

But herein lies a problem…

Part of the Local Liturgical Calendar problem is churchly and pastoral.  On one bulletin board in my office there is a county school schedule, a minor league baseball schedule, and this coming fall’s UofL football schedule.  To what extent do we, as church leaders, plan around such events?  How do we incorporate the local calendar into the church calendar?  Which calendar takes precedence?

The other dynamic of the Local Liturgical Calendar is personal.  We might ask ourselves, What schedule gives rhythm and meaning to my life?  Do church events earn the same ink or space on my calendar as other local, family, or professional appointments?  After which calendar do I pattern my life?  Does the Church’s liturgical year – that calendar of scripture readings, feast days, and color changes in the sanctuary – matter to me?

Part of the beauty of the church calendar lies in it’s structure and rhythm.  Starting in December it traces the story of God’s activity from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost.  Tuning ourselves in to the sacred story provides order in the midst of our frenzied culture.  If it’s chaos we fear, it’s order that the calendar provides. When we participate in the church’s liturgical year we relive for ourselves the sacred story, making it matter here and now.

Is this crazy?  Is it even remotely possible to pattern our lives around a calendar that may seem archaic, distant, or superfluous?  Admittedly, we’ll never “get ahead” in a business sense by attending a bible study instead of a networking seminar.  But it is even a little possible…to make room, to raise the priority level, to create space..for the church’s calendar?

This is not a post to harangue everything Derby.  I ran the mini-marathon.  I watched the fireworks.  I enjoy the Waterfront Chow wagon.  I love the balloon glow.  And, on Saturday, I’ll gather with friends and family to eat, watch the races, and pull the name of a horse out of a hat, hoping that beautiful creature might win the race and earn me a prize.

But then, on Sunday, I’ll go to church…

As the world continues to muse on the death of Osama bin Laden many questions, concerns, and curiosities remain…

Yesterday I received this e-mail from a fellow pastor and friend:

I stayed up late last night watching the news coverage of the President’s address and the reporting of the “killing” (and that is the way the media reported) of bin Laden. And I am struggling with images of Americans in the street outside the White House dancing joyfully at this man’s death.  I know he needed to be brought to justice.  But as a Christian my heart is breaking at the display of glee and joy among our citizens, so many shown in the news coverage to be of such a young age. You and I serve the church and the Christ.  We preach about justice and forgiveness and reconciliation.  And I, as well as you, know that many of our parishioners may be jubilant at the news of bin Laden’s death.  In this season of Easter, having just celebrated God’s forgiveness and reconciliation in the Resurrection of the Christ, it seems the perfect time to speak to the Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness and the difficulty, at times like these, to be Christian…to live into our baptism … to be Christian first, American second.  Where to begin? And do you think it wise to deal with this from the pulpit?

I wonder along with my friend: “Where do we begin?  What is the proper Christian response?  Is it wise to deal with the situation from the pulpit (or wherever you find your job or ministry)?”

Or do we say nothing?

I find these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics to be helpful:

“Some who seek to escape from taking a stand publicly find a place of refuge in a private virtuousness.  Such a man [sic] does not steal.  He does not commit murder.  He does not commit adultery.  But in his voluntary renunciation of publicity he knows how to remain punctiliously within the permitted bounds which preserve him from involvement in conflict.  It is only at the price of an act of self-deception that he can safeguard his private blamelessness against contamination through responsible action in the world.  Whatever he may do, that which he omits to do will give him no peace.  Either this disquiet will destroy him or he will become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.”

We must speak.

We must speak to, into, and through the situations of the world.  To not speak is to say that it does not matter to us, our faith, or to God.  We commit not a sin of activity (theft, murder, adultery, gossip, etc.) but a sin of inactivity, of saying nothing.  Complacency in the face of injustice is as fraught with sin as the unjust actions that are committed.  We cannot withdraw into a refuge of private virtuousness.  We cannot retreat into our own hearts and minds, proclaiming to ourselves what the world needs to hear.

However, when we speak we must do so compassionately and modestly.  Not with chants of victory and triumph, but with pacifying tones of humility and peace.  We speak from a position of faith and peace seeking understanding, not from a place of celebration through killing.

When we speak, our words must be wedded to our deeds.  Our words of humility must be matched by time spent on our knees in prayers.  Our call for understanding and mercy must be paired with hugs and embraces of those who are different.  We cannot sing songs lamenting the loss of any life, and at the same time find a dancing partner in pride and jubilation.  We must not do as Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day, of neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  It is these, Jesus says, that they (and us) ought to do, practice, live, enact, and embody (Matthew 23:23).

Is it wise to deal with the situation?

Perhaps the death of bin Laden comes then as an opportunity for Christians…an opportunity to speak and embody the words of Christ…an opportunity to say true and compelling things about life and hope here and now through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection years ago.  We, as Christians, enter this moment with a unique platform to shout and gloat less, but pray and reflect more.  Perhaps we seize the opportunity to show the world that we, as Christians, act differently when we hear the news of death and uncertainty.

Is this the end of evil?

Is this a season of dancing?

At 5:00a this morning I woke up to 2 sounds: a crying baby and a text alert from the Associated Press.  My five-month-old daughter was hungry and Osama Bin Laden was dead.  As I settled into the rocker I cradled Eva in one hand, and scrolled through the news stories on my phone with my other hand.  My arms were full, my heart heavy, and my mind confused.

My initial thoughts focused on Eva.  She surely had no idea of the significance of the breaking news.  In her innocence, she knew and cared only that her belly was full and that her crib awaited her return.  Events like 9/11, words like “terrorism,” and names like Osama are (or will be) as personal to her as Pearl Harbor, Axis powers, and Mussolini are to me.  She will know only what parents, teachers, family, and history books tell her of the World Trade Centers and a field in Pennsylvania. (Which raises the question: How will I tell my daughter the story of Osama and NYC and Bush and war and terrorism?)

Sure, she’ll grow up with heighten airport security procedures and multifaceted words like “extremists” and “religion.”  She’ll never escape the implications and gravitas of Al-Qaeda, terrorist networks, and the war on terrorism.  But yet, the specifics of today’s news, of today’s names, will likely become folklore or legend.

Many people are trumpeting Osama’s death as a victory for good over evil, right over wrong.  And I suppose it is.  But is this the end of evil?  Of course not.  New regimes bent on killing people will come to power.  Brilliant masterminds with a penchant for using their brilliance in perverse ways will still operate in the shadows.  Individuals and networks of those seeking to do harm will continue to pursue their goals.  Evil and injustice at home and abroad will continue to permeate our lives and institutions.

As Christians we are rightly called to refuse, reject, and rise up in the face of injustices.  However, the celebratory mood and festivities surrounding the death of someone can (or should) only be troubling to Christians.  Our hope, trust, and joy comes not in tanks, weapons, and death, but in the grace and power of the words Christ taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come…deliver us from evil.”

My pre-dawn thoughts turned also to those Americans cheering in the streets as news of Bin Laden’s death spread.  Is this the proper response…to shout, pump fists, wave flags…?  We are a mere week removed from Easter.  Where were the celebrations and parades proclaiming God’s “yes” to life and “no” to death?  I always cringe, and become a bit uneasy, each time I see video footage from other countries where crowds of people shout in approval of an American soldier’s death.  So…I guess…I hoped…I prayed…we would be different.  I prayed that we might not payback hate with hate, shout with shout, death with death.  And yet…

So…

Celebrate the death of another sinner?  I won’t.  Revel in the demise of one of God’s children?  Not I.  Dance in the streets?  Not me.

I will continue to live in the tension between civil justice and the words from that radical that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are always talking about.  You know, those words about loving your enemies; praying for those who persecute you; turning the other cheek.

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