Monday, May 30, 2011

Being Pro-Soldier and Anti-War Is OK

On this Memorial Day Weekend I am reminded of all of the veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country, for our freedom, and for me personally.  And I honor them.  But it is not a holiday that I find easy to deal with.  It is a time when we remember those who chose or were forced to go to war – and who lost their lives, paid amazing sacrifices, and left loved ones behind.  They endured tremendous suffering –in the fields of the War Between the States, in the trenches of World War I, on the beaches of Normandy and the South Pacific in WWII, in the jungles of Vietnam, in the deserts of Iraq, and the mountains of Afghanistan, among others.  They gave limbs and lives for freedom’s sake.  Their families endured separation and unimaginable loss. 

I had two uncles who fought in WWII and another who was a pilot in Vietnam.  I can clearly remember heading to the airport to welcome Uncle Bill, my Dad’s brother, home from Vietnam but knew nothing of what he did or why he was gone. However, I am proud of them and all soldiers’ service and remember them today for their valor and bravery in the face of war.

But this is an odd holiday weekend.  Many of my friends on Facebook and Twitter are recounting parties and plans for this “day off.”  Some remember the troops and their families.  Some boast of “getting their drunk on” since they have had a long weekend to recover. (Another thing I do not understand, but that is for another post)  Most are doing yard work, going to the beach, vegging with the TV, or taking in a movie with their families.  So what are they celebrating?  Time off?  Our soldiers and their families?  I sometimes wonder.

I find it an odd holiday because at the core of my being I am a pacifist.  I believe that war should never be the answer – unless all other avenues have been exhausted (and I even struggle with this).  I abhor conflict and violence.  So at my core I am against war on all levels.  Sometimes though that belief has been mistaken for being anti-soldier.  I was accused at one of my churches for being unpatriotic for not wearing a US flag pin on my lapel during the invasion of Iraq after 9/11.  I told them I was not in favor of the war.  The response, “then you do NOT support our troops.”  I was shocked and saddened.  That is so far from the truth.  I absolutely support our troops and their families.  I know families who sit anxiously awaiting word from their loved ones in combat zones.  I know soldiers recovering from traumatic injuries—both physical and psychological.  I know soldiers in the military right now – some from former youth groups or their spouses and some sons and daughters of friends.  I support them wholeheartedly. 

 I can support our troops and not be a fan of war.  They aren’t fans of war or conflict either.  I have never met a soldier or a soldier’s family who wants war to happen.  They want war avoided, but follow orders when conflict is the only answer.  My issue is that too often we, as a country, go to war without exhausting all other options and for reasons I fundamentally disagree with (some seemingly for oil and money only).  And sometimes when intervention would save countless lives from abusive and murderous regimes, we sit idly by.  I am confused and not happy about it – while being uncomfortable with it, too.

So today, Memorial Day 2011, remember all who have served, all who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families.  But above all – I want us to honor them by using them in conflict only when it is absolutely unavoidable.  That is the most honorable way to pay them respect and honor their lives and the lives of those who love them.  

So I say – I am pro-soldier, but anti-war and proud of it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Melting Miles

In the last week I have Skyped with family in Texas, talked on the phone with a pastor friend in North Carolina, messaged/chatted with a good friend in California, kept up with family in Tornado Alley via Facebook, uploaded student sermons to a limited access YouTube account so they could see them and share them with friends/family, received an update from a former student by email about their approval for ordination, and connected to an old friend by seeing their retweet of a message on Twitter.  Yesterday, my friend in Ohio was driving in Michigan and got lost – she called me and I went on my laptop to Google the address she was searching for, then mapped her route and got her to her appointment with turn-by-turn directions on the phone.  It was a hoot.  We laughed about it until I almost cried.

Sometimes living in a state far from family and longtime friends is tough.  When our son had an end of the year school concert – I wanted my parents (his grandparents) here.  When my spouse had a medical test—I wanted their mom to be here.   When I was installed as a professor at my seminary—I wanted my best friends and family here.  When my friend needed me to help them through a crisis—I wanted to be with them to hold their hand.   Unfortunately, the miles kept all of us away from one another physically. 

There are times when the miles seem insurmountable.  It seems like I am missing my niece’s lives as they graduate and play sports that I am not there to see.  It seems like my friends are constantly experiencing things that I would love to witness and be there for.  It seems like the miles are a gulf when holiday after holiday I am separated from those I love.   But then there are those amazing times when they seem to melt away.   I am reminded that connections are connections – whether emotional, physical or psychological.  

Amazingly, my parents saw my son’s concert via Flip, Facebook, and Youtube.  My spouse’s mom got a call minutes after the positive medical test came back.  And pictures of my installation popped up almost immediately after the event on a seminary blog.  My friend got to her lunch appointment almost on time.  And my hurting friend felt relief talking to me on the phone.  None of these situations were completely the same as they would be together, but it felt so good to have these moments.   I really felt a personal and emotional connection in all of them.

Modern technology makes it possible to witness the amazing header scored in a state soccer game by my niece, to send video of my son’s concert far away, to talk to my hurting friend many states away, to guide my friend to her appointment, and to visit with my folks whenever I want and see them on Skype while we talk. 

But connections are more that these technological moments – I am connected to them by personal experiences, lasting memories, amazing interactions over a number of years, and in so many other ways.  Some I am connected to by blood and others are family and friends by choice.  So whether I talk to them personally or see them in person – the connections are still there, still real, and still important.  I am connected to them by faith and by a God who loves us all.  I am connected as we are a family of faith –committed to each other in ways no distance can cancel out. 

We are connected … and I thank God for those connections every day of my life.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

3D Preaching

I just got home from seeing a Real 3D © movie.  It was a very different experience from the early days of 3D when you wore the silly blue and red paper glasses that dug into the top of your ears as you watched.  These new ones are more like sunglasses and according to the website are quite “fashionable.”   I remember seeing old 3D movies when fish or rocks seemed to fly at you in a weird way, but this was actually an experience of feeling “in the middle of the action.”  This 3D experience was not about something flying out at me as an observer – it was about bringing me into the movie to feel part of it.  The glasses helped make that happen.  The Real 3D © website says that “each eye sees a slightly different image and the brain combines them to form a single image.  The different points of view allow the brain to judge depth and distance.”  (

When I teach students to preach, I encourage them to begin their process by looking at the biblical text from a number of perspectives- to look at it in the original language or read it from a number of different translations.   To analyze the preaching text (exegeting) requires that the preacher look into the context of the text as much as possible – to look at the authorship, writing dates and place, details about the audience the text was written to, the cultural realities of the day, the type of writing style the text represents, among other things.  But there is another perspective that many preachers forget to address.  Preachers must also exegete their own lives and those of their congregations/communities of faith.  It is important to know who you are and what is going on in your own life to understand how and why texts speak to you.  But even more important is to exegete the people to whom and with whom you are in ministry.  It is vital to know them – to know what is going on in their lives, what is important to them, what issues are plaguing their nights, what makes them tick, what makes them feel joy and happiness, what challenges their faith, and what keeps them going.  You cannot preach effectively to people if you don’t take the time to figure out who they are.  You might be able to pull it off for a little while or as a guest preacher here and there – but long term ministry means putting in the time to meet the people where they are and learn their stories.

Maybe all preachers should be issued a pair of 3D glasses when they start preaching – glasses that help them to see the text, the people, themselves, and the world from more than one perspective.  It is difficult for us as humans to see things from more than one perspective but it is important for preachers to do just that.  It is important for them to seek out these varying perspectives and to bring those who listen to them “into the middle of the action.”  Doing that requires preachers to tell stories that are relevant and relatable. Doing that requires us to know our faith community.  Doing that means putting on 3D glasses in our prep – putting in the effort and work required to see things from different perspectives, preaching from the side of the road, and dismantling the assumptions we have about the text and the world.  I just attended my first graduation at the seminary where I now teach – and I did not see any 3D glasses handed out, but I hope and pray they learned it from me and from others as they were preparing for ministry. 

As you preach, or teach, or just live your life in the world – wear your 3D glasses and look at the world from a new perspective.  Your brain will take those images and form a single image – that hopefully has more depth and distance.   And, hey – they’re fashionable, too!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Times of Uncertain Certainty

I have been surrounded lately by times of uncertainty … uncertainty in a variety of forms and on a number of levels.  I am keenly aware of many of my students preparing and waiting for a call to a church, members of my family anxiously yearning to learn results about health issues/tests, friends in need of a job and anticipating hearing back from applications or interviews, and so many others.  Living with uncertainty and uncertain times is something everyone has to learn to deal with, but it is seldom easy.  We live in a culture of instant gratification and virtually instantaneous communication – we are not used to waiting.   However, waiting we must do at times.

Knowing that and living with it are two different things.  I know I have to wait but I wish not to.  That does not change reality.  So how do we face uncertainty?  I remember my Grandmother once telling me that “God never gives me more than I can handle, but sometimes I think God has greatly overestimated my abilities to handle things.”  That is how we feel sometimes – overwhelmed by what we are expected to handle, thinking life is pushing us beyond our limits.  But my experience tells me that when we feel this way, it is often because we are trying to handle these anxious times on our own.  It is often because we are trusting in our own resources.  It is often because we are juggling too many things in the air and as they drop we panic.

I don’t think there are simple answers to the anxiety we often feel, but I do think there are healthy ways to live with the uncertainty in our lives.  I have lived with uncertain times in my work life, in my call, in my family, in the health of loved ones, and in my own faith.  That is anxiety and I have experienced my fair share – as we all have.  There were times when I handled things better than others.  There were times when I definitely thought life was overestimating my abilities to handle things.  There were times I also felt incapable of surviving.  But I did.  And so will we all.

Life is an interesting mix of amazing grace-filled moments, glorious highs, anxiety-ridden lows, and uncertainties in-between.  As my Dad always tells me, “Nobody promised you a perfect life.”  We will all face uncertainties and difficulties, period.  The difference will be in how we react to those times.   Even in those difficult moments we can act with certainty – certainty that we will get through them, certainty that God is with us, certainty that our community of faith and families of birth or choice support us, and certainty that life will go on.  That is certain … no matter the uncertainties we face. 

Life goes on.  And we get to determine how we face it.  I decide to face it with certainty, even in uncertain times. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Yes, I’m Emotional … and It’s Not a Weakness

I had my final seminary class of the semester this week and I got quite emotional.  As a class we have gotten very close. We have talked about our joys and concerns, prayed together, and shared parts of our lives together over the course of the last four months.  Some in the class are leaving next week after our graduation ceremony.  Others are leaving campus to go on their internship year.  Some will stay here but I may not have them in class again.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this group of students and had a delightful time teaching them.  I will miss them.  So these are the very logical reasons why I got emotional, but the truth is I cry a lot.

I cry during sad movies and TV shows.  I lose it during tragedies.  I take extra tissues when going to concerts and events with my family.   I weep at sappy commercials.  (The Christmas Folgers commercials get me every time.)   I shed tears over things that make my son roll his eyes at me -- often.   I am not alone – my parents are weepers, too.  It is genetic.  I am sure of it. I know they did this to me.  Over my almost 49 years of life I have had to try to accept it.

However, there have been times when folks have used my tendency toward being emotional to assume I am weak because I cry.  That is so far from the truth that it is laughable, but many have made that mistake.   At the same time, I have fallen prey to believing their “truth” – that crying did make me weaker or that it was a bad thing.  I believed the hype.  And it is everywhere.

I have heard parents tell their sons not to cry when they are hurt because “big boys don’t cry.” (Not a practice I gave into at all.)  I witnessed a mother tell her daughter that she was “too pretty to cry.”   I have heard others tell themselves or others that showing emotion is being a crybaby.  I was even told by a boss once that I must be trying to garner attention on purpose when I cried while telling a story.  The message of emotions equaling weakness is prevalent.

But why is being emotional considered a bad thing?  Isn’t it evidence of someone in tune with themselves and with their inner feelings?   I have decided not to believe the hype.  Here is what I think.  Being emotional is a sign of strength.  Being willing to show one’s emotion is powerful.  Connecting to one’s inner feelings is a good thing.  It is a part of me that I have moaned about in the past.  It is a part of me that I have actually prayed to go away.  But it is part of me – it is strength and power.  So when I cry – it’s me.  My parents passed it on me, but more than that – God made me this way. 

I confess … I’m a Crybaby … and PROUD OF IT!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Staying in a Love/Hate Relationship … with my Church

I am a cradle Methodist.  I was born to a United Methodist pastor Father and a cradle Methodist Mom.  There are Methodist pastors in almost every generation of my family going back multiple generations.  One of my ancestors is said to have been ordained by Francis Asbury.  We are VERY United Methodist.  I was the District United Methodist Youth President, Jurisdictional UMY President and attended two National Youth Ministry Organization meetings.  I am an Elder in the UMC and have served UM churches in two states.  I believe in the grace, social holiness, and faith espoused by our founder, John Wesley.  I love the social justice history of our church.  I love the fact that Wesley went into the fields and to the mines to be in ministry where the people were.  I love the way our denomination is connectional in nature – we are part of a connected ministry that becomes better and more capable the more we work together.  I love, for the most part, our Social Principles, which lay out what we believe as a church regarding our interactions with each other and the larger world.  I love our collegial community of pastors – Elders, Deacons, Local Pastors, Student Local Pastor, etc. – and laity.  I love our yearly gatherings of holy conferencing as we make decisions about the future of our mission and ministry as a church and on a regional basis.

But there are also things I do not love about my church.   We have become so obsessed with numbers and reporting those numbers that we sometimes lose touch with the purpose we have as a church.  We have lost touch with the passionate evangelism that led Wesley to encourage, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”  We have become a church of decline – declining numbers, declining acts of evangelism, and declining congregations.  I know there are a number of reasons for all of this and I live with them as a faithful member of the church, but I also work to change this trend in my preparation of the next generation of pastors.  And the church is striving to reverse this trend and this part of my church I love dearly.

The “hate” part of my love/hate relationship (it’s a harsh word but serves its purpose here) is around our polity regarding LGBT clergy.  Our polity clearly states that “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” (United Methodist Discipline, ¶ 304.3)  We straddle the fence however by also saying that “all persons are important—because they are human beings created by God and loved through and by Jesus Christ and not because they have merited significance.” (Um Social Principles, ¶161)

Last night the PC(USA) decision to allow LGBT clergy follows other mainline denominations – the UCC, Episcopal, and Lutheran Churches, among others – who have changed their polity to allow for the ordination of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.
This leaves the UMC standing in a place of exclusion almost by themselves as members of the “mainline club” of denominations.  For this I mourn.  I am part of a church that states our theology of grace, inclusion and faithful acceptance – and lives a different reality.  For this I mourn.  I know countless people denied ordination and acceptance due to their orientation, despite their gifts and graces and their call by God to ministry.  For this I mourn.  I am part of a church whose theology and polity are in stark contradiction to each other.  For this I mourn.

But I am NOT leaving.  I am staying.  My love for my church outweighs my “hate” for our polity on this issue.  I will stay and continue to fight for justice and inclusion.  I will stay and urge my church to join the ranks of denominations to reverse decades of exclusion.  I will stay because I love my church.  I love who we have been, who we are, and who we can be.  I will stay hoping for that day when our polity matches our theology and I will work for that day to come.
I’m staying … because despite all its flaws … I love The United Methodist Church and pray for change.

(I give thanks to a number of people who inspired this blog post, especially Sean, who I have never met but who brought me to tears today.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Baseball and Preaching … Perfection or Not?

Picture by Jaime Gage-Chavez
I love baseball.  I don’t mean I lightly love it … I am a bona fide, died in the wool, Baseball Hall of Fame card carrying, countdown to Spring Training, love ‘em even when they are losing kind of fan.  From April to October my computer and cell phone help me check scores and standings on a daily basis for my team – the New York Yankees.  I watch as many games as I can.  I JUST LOVE BASEBALL!!  I think it’s a perfect game.   It has amazing history – including Lou Gehrig’s historic speech, Babe Ruth’s called shot, Willie May’s over the shoulder catch, Bucky Dent’s amazing homer over the Green Monster, Jackie Robinson’s entry into the big league, Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games played, and so many others.
It has stats like no other sport around.  You can find out how one pitcher throws to left handed hitters in the month of April or how many hits Derek Jeter has to left field over his career after two strikes.  And it has perfection – not just the perfectly manicured lawns, stately stadiums, and glorious nights under the lights.  Baseball has something, however, that no other sport really has – in baseball a pitcher can throw a perfect game.  That means 27 hitters come up to bat and 27 batters are retired.  It means not one batter reaches first base in an entire game.  Only 20 pitchers have thrown perfect games in MLB history.  It is a rare and amazing feat.  Only one perfect game has been thrown in a World Series game (by Don Larson of the NY Yankees).  Perfection.
But perfection is hard to come by.   And in most other professions perfection is nearly – if not totally – impossible.  I am a preacher and I can say without a doubt that I have never preached a “perfect” sermon.  I don’t even know what that would look like.  In baseball if you get a hit a third of the time you come to bat you are a hitting hero – hitting 3 of 10 times at bat.  Babe Ruth hit 714 homeruns over his career, but he also struck out 1330 times.  He said once, "I hit big or I miss big.  I like to live as big as I can."

Nowhere near perfection but these types of hitters are revered as the best of the best.   So maybe in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ I should look for three good sermons out of ten.  However, I do not think the congregations we preach to would be ok with that.  Preaching the story of Jesus and God’s interaction with humans over the course of history is a powerful calling, but those who preach also are human.  Sometimes we strikeout, sometimes we hit it over the wall, sometimes we hit a little dribbler right back to the pitcher, and sometimes we never make it to first base despite all our efforts.  But God does something with our words anyway.

Preaching is an act of faith, a discipline of study, a creative endeavor, a Spirit-led process, and a powerful experience of community.  Preaching takes all our efforts to analyze a text, to relate that text to the lived lives of our people, and then to deliver it with passion, conviction and enthusiasm.  It takes practice to gain the confidence to move into the “batter’s box” and take a swing.  But God calls us to swing away.  We may never preach the perfect sermon.  We may not hit one over the wall on a regular basis.  We may even strikeout a few times even when we thought we were prepared.  What preaching takes is the courage and commitment to practice, get prepared, and to take a swing.  

What preaching takes is knowing we are not in the batter’s box alone – that’s our advantage – as we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to speak the Word.  What preaching takes is going up to hit – knowing you might strike out a few times, but trusting the Holy Spirit to use even those sermons to touch the lives of those who hear our words.  I LOVE baseball … but I LOVE preaching even more.  I’m not perfect in either one.  And that’s ok.

Preach the Gospel … use words if you have to.  But preach the Gospel in all you do.  That's perfection!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Finding Balance …

Over the last few weeks I had some extra time with my son and there were many times that I felt very lucky to be so fortunate.  I know a lot of parents who rarely get the types of quality time I get to enjoy.  However, there were also a few times that I was seriously considering military school (and I’m a pacifist).  Being a parent means everything to me but it is also hard work.  There are times when I know it is worth it – times when his compassion and care for others make me proud, times when he looks out for others in ways that make me smile, and times when he displays awareness about the world that shows what a wise old soul he has.  Being a parent is fun most of the time.

There are times when being a parent takes so much effort and time that I wonder how I will be able to do it.  There are times when being a parent makes me crazy with worry and anxiety.  And there are times when being a parent makes me feel like I am doing God’s work preparing the next generation to walk in faith.
Finding the time and effort is sometimes hard.  I am answering my call in ministry teaching pastors to preach the Gospel.  I am working hard to be the hands and feet of Jesus as I work for justice in my community.  And including him in my work for justice means he sees me live my faith and he gets to follow that example.  But the one of the most important things I do for God – is being a parent.   Making the time is vital.  No matter how busy my work and personal life become – I have to find balance so that my son knows he is my priority. 

I thank God every day for the blessing of my son, who is adopted from an orphanage in Yekaterinburg, Russia.  His mother left him in the hospital after giving birth.  She told a nurse there that she could not afford a child and that her family would not allow her to bring him home.  Because of her amazing gift of love – our family was formed.  And despite my pre-teen parenting frustrations, I am doing God’s work.  And the young man God sent our way is proof that God is good.

Grace and Peace –


Monday, May 2, 2011

Walking on Holy Ground with Jesus

I have never been to the Holy Land but my parents have been there several times and brought me back several items from their time there – water from the Jordan River and several wood carvings made from Olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane.   Every time I see them I am reminded of the holy ground on which Jesus walked, taught, preached, healed, and prayed.  They remind me of the places where he was arrested, tried, beaten and crucified.  They remind me of the road he walked carrying the instrument of his death to the hill called Golgotha.  They remind me of the ground outside of the tomb where Jesus spoke to Mary.  They remind me of the resurrection of Jesus – where he walked out of the tomb and defeated death.

Holy ground is something I find interesting.  I may have never been to the Holy Land but I have walked on holy ground – when I walk to the pulpit to preach the Gospel, when I walk among God’s amazing nature, or when I walk with my son on a beach talking about life.  The truth is – all ground is holy ground because all ground was made by God and gifted to us for nurturing and care.  All ground is opportunity to walk with God in holy companionship.  All ground is rich with possibilities for our lives and faith journeys. 

Holy ground is also the name of our new sandwich and beverage shoppe on the campus of LTSP and every time I walk into the building and see the signs – I am reminded of the holy walk we are called to walk in faith.  During Holy Week we walked by faith, we walked a path from “Hail Him” to “Nail Him” from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.  We walked the holy days of Triduum to Easter Sunday as companions together on holy ground.  On Easter Sunday we walked the path with the women as they ran to tell the disciples about the resurrection.  This Sunday we heard again the story of Thomas – faithful Thomas – who walked with Jesus despite the danger to bring Lazarus back from the grave.  Amazing journeys we are called to walk every year and every day as companions with Jesus.  

Now … and always … remember that we walk on holy ground.  Have a blessed journey.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Just a bit to let you know who I am ...

I am a native of Texas, an Elder in The United Methodist Church, a preaching professor, a feminist, a mother of a pre-teen, a New York Yankees baseball fan, a lover of nature, a gadget geek, and a fan of mystery novels.  I am a student of the emerging church for the next generations and am passionate about relevant, relational preaching.  I am living in a big city right now but am a country girl at heart.  I am the daughter of a teacher and preacher and the granddaughter of a Texas cattle rancher.

Most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus and believe my faith is the core of how I relate to people and the world.  I teach seminary students the art of narrative preaching, how to engage their congregations in real life issues, and how to relate their lives to the gospel story.  I am passionate about the need for transformative preaching for an age when folks are searching for ways to believe, places to belong, and occasions for renewing their faith. 

Robert Webber uses an amazing image in his book, Ancient-Future Worship, of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. He says ""Worship is the story between the two fingers." (p.107) Preaching is part of the space between the fingers ... it is telling the story of God's action in our lives ... it is the story of God coming to us over and over and over again in grace and love ... it is the story of God's redemption of humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I want to share some of my thought about life, preaching, theology, family, and baseball through this blog.  Thanks for listening.

Grace and Peace --