Sunday, September 21, 2008

See You Next Month

I'm pretty much gone until October.

Six weeks ago my father had a heart attack and thankfully I hadn't taken but 4 days of vacation this year, so I was able to plan a trip home. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get up here until this week, but it's better than nothing.

And it is so great here.

Cool weather, beautiful landscapes, new board games, home cooked meals (three times a day), grandparents, parents and a handful of old friends. Favorite restaurants, shopping just because, and not ever entering the doors of a church, but feeling closer to God than I have in a long time.

God is in the little things. And I pick up on more and more little things, and thus more and more of God every time I come home...

But more about that later.

I'll return to my home on Thursday, go straight into work and then it will be the weekend (my weekend - Friday and Saturday). And it will be ACL. So I'll spend somewhere between six and twelve hours in the scalding sun listening to tons of musicians and bands and seeing old friends from Truett (who I usually meet up with at the festival) and drinking beer that I bought and water that I brought and realizing how much music speaks to my spirit and writing ten sermons in my head based on ten different songs and it will be amazing.

Then Sunday is another work day and then that night I catch a ride with some ACLers to San Antonio where I will fly Monday morning to Atlanta for a CBF women's spiritual formation retreat. Though I'll be by myself, there's a chance I'll meet up with some people I know or at least have met before. And of course, God will be there too and I'm looking forward to hearing from Her in that setting.

So I'll see you in October.


I will be a different person by then...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Now I Get It...

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....

If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different." Grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers... a quintessential American story.

If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim. Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, and you're a maverick.

Graduate from Harvard law School and be President of the Law Review, and you are unstable. Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well

If you spend 3 years as a community organizer, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience. If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian. If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.

If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society. If , while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant , you're very responsible.

If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's. If your husband is nicknamed "First Dude", with at least one DUI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

OK, much clearer now.

Micah 6:8 Justice

What does the Lord require of you? It’s almost rhetorical, isn’t it… as if we should know the answer.

I hate getting into conversations with Christians who think they have all the answers. They always ask questions like that, What does the Lord require of you? and expect you to know the “correct” and obvious answer. They’re so dogmatic. And truthfully, God only knows what answer they’re usually looking for. So someone might ask you, “what’s the point of Christian living today?” and the answer they’re looking for could be any number of things… to worship God, be a living sacrifice, proclaim the gospel, usher in God’s kingdom, reconciliation of the world to God… “I don’t know, what do you want me to say?” I often ask, (I the minister) often ask. And then they sigh and say, “to proclaim the second coming of Jesus Christ.” Right. Of course. I knew that.

And so when Micah asks his audience rhetorically what God requires of them, I’m kind of glad he answers his own question.

To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

But truthfully, we should have already known that.

Most of the prophets give us a similar answer. Social justice and humility. Love your neighbor and abandon your pride. Stop living like kings and queens and start taking care of the people around you. Get over yourself and all your stuff and reach out to those who have little or nothing. The book of Amos gave us that. It gave us the famous quote, “Let justice roll down like might waters!” And I always kind of snicker when I hear people repeat that verse or call upon it in hope. What they often don’t realize is that Amos calls out the mighty destructive waters that will bring in justice and righteousness against the Israelites… not against their enemies. The mighty waters will roll over Israel and they will be sent into exile as punishment for their sins. “Careful, careful…” I think to myself when people quote Amos’ famous verse. Unless you’re claiming that verse because you are repenting and seeking a cleansing of your soul, punishment even for your sins… unless that’s the case, I wouldn’t hold onto that verse for hope.

Now, if you’re quoting it against your oppressor, okay. I guess that’s alright. Carry on with your crying out, carry on with your warnings… none of us are listening to you anyway…

Are we?

• I mean, in 2007, 37.3 million people lived in poverty. What are we doing to counter that?
• Worldwide, 33.2 million people now live with HIV or AIDS. And 15 million children have been orphaned by the disease. Are we taking care of the sick? Providing for the orphaned?
• So far, more than 700,000 people have been uprooted by the brutal ethnic and political violence (i.e. genocide) in Darfur.
• Moving a little closer to home, in the United States, more than 2 million cases of child abuse and neglect are reported each year with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 new cases of sexual abuse occurring each year. Oh God, how the little children would run to Jesus.
• And of course, the US is the Number 1 worst polluter contributing to Global Warming which puts us in last place when it comes to taking care of the planet. What a super power we are…

And so when Micah asks the people what the Lord requires of them, Amos and Jeremiah and Isaiah all come to mind… the Lord requires justice – right living. Living with mercy, loving kindness, hesed. And always acting with humility.

So when the beggars put out their hands and the nations put out the press releases and we hear the news of the injustice going on in our world, we need to awaken, o Christians, all you who have already felt God smile on you, and begin to smile on those around you.

Because people are screaming for help. The statistics are out there, but often the oppressed cannot do much themselves to change their situations, and so it is the responsibility of the oppressors to repent, and begin to actively work to bring justice to where it is needed.

Of course, justice is always tapered with loving kindness and humility. Which often, to us, makes it not seem just at all.

There seems to be very little justice in loving your enemies, unless you can believe that your enemies fall as far short from God as you do and therefore deserve just as much grace.

There seems to be very little justice in forgiving your debtors when that requires letting go of the debt … unless of course you realize that God’s forgiveness of you is contingent on whether you forgive others.

There is very little justice in letting go of the law but so much mercy in letting righteousness reign.

And so justice doesn’t always feel like justice because justice must always be coupled with mercy and humility. But as a very wise Hindu once said, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. And so what may seem just may not always be right.

After all, the money from selling the perfume that a woman poured over Jesus’ feet could have been used to feed the poor, but that wasn’t what was right at that time. What was right was a woman honoring her king, preparing Jesus for his burial. Riches and wealth and knowledge and power are not inherently evil… but what we do with these blessings might be.

I want to tell you a little about where I live, what I see every day.

Every day I wake up and drive to work. I live in a sufficient house. I have enough room for me and my stuff and enough room for my pets and my roommate and even a guest if I have one. But when I get in my car to drive down the street, I pass what I call, “the house of a thousand children.” It’s a home about the size of my own, perhaps a little bigger that houses family and extended family numbering in the teens with the number of kids who live there. I doubt there is much supervision either as these five, ten, twelve children can be found riding their bikes or chasing each other in the street until 11pm on school nights. In fact, when I walked one of the boys back to the house last week, I met his father (I think) who said there was nothing he could do to help the boy’s injury because he can’t leave the house – he’s on parole. He motioned to his ankle where I saw the band keeping him under house arrest.

I drive further down the street and turn onto the main road where I pass several bus stops and a school zone. But almost every day I pass a prostitute as well. I know her by sight only, as I always see her when I’m in my car and have therefore never spoken with her. But always she is walking every day up and down the street, with little clothing (except in winter), skinny and always watching.

Then I turn onto the third street that takes me to a large intersection where it is not unusual to see a man in a wheelchair crossing the busy street going home from the grocery store all alone. Once the light turns green and I further my trek toward work, I pass Oak Springs, the elementary school where our church has worked many years mentoring, donating supplies and encouraging staff. This side of the school facing the street I drive down is pretty safe, but the alley on the other side of the building is gang ridden. The projects are just past the school at the top of the hill and every day I pass there I think of Mr. Morales who was murdered during Juneteenth a year ago. And I think of one of the youth from church who attend the alternative high school on the other side of the road. Then I pass the park and I usually smile at the respite of trees and green grass, a welcome change to the institutional buildings that remind me of the poverty I live among. Past the park is a small Baptist church with beautiful marigolds outside that always make me smile. But then comes the gentrification: the huge new condos, the kitch little diners and bars, the new restaurant that pushed out Ben’s BBQ that was so delicious. All of that is wrapped around the former culture: the Jazz Museum and Ebenezer Baptist Church and the building that used to house the ACLU. I don’t know where it moved to. And there’re banners on the light posts forever highlighting Black History Month no matter what month of the year it is, and I wonder how long they will stay.

Finally I hit the highway and notice the homeless man on the other side, standing at his usual post on the access road, asking for money and God-blessing people who pass him by. And I know I’ve reached the great divide. I35. The poor at this point simply become homeless and the rest of us are the rich, no matter where we drive in from, coming from our homes and going to our jobs or churches, or restaurants, shops or bars.

And then I park and enter the church and sit in my office and put on my sweater cause the Air Conditioner’s set too low and I write emails about mission trips and worship services and volunteer opportunities… And I forget about the economic injustice I’ve just spent 10 minutes in the car sighing over and I begin to combat the spiritual justice issues of students with low self-esteem and mental health disorders, young adults struggling with pride or maybe pornography. Smart people wondering how to use their education to effect change in the world. Busy people wondering how to make a living but still have fun. Parents lamenting their two and three year olds who try their patience. Rich people complaining about paying for their kids college education. Bored people gossiping about who broke up with who and did you hear what so and so did. Happy people who are always smiling and never grieving. Sad people who are never content with the Spirit of God. Stoic people afraid to be broken. Broken people afraid to be fixed. Particular people who prefer their paradigms and would prefer if we didn’t sing any of those contemporary songs on Sundays. And while some of these issues are legitimate and some are exaggerated and some are just silly, sometimes I want to scream, “I passed a prostitute on my way to work today!”

I don’t know what that means. I guess it just means that sometimes I’m desperate. I don’t know who to fix first, where to go next, what to say now.

But then I’m reminded that I can’t fix any of this, and certainly not alone. And so sometimes, I lavish my college students with gifts at their back to school party and sometimes I scold them for not tithing or giving time to charity work. Sometimes I have to let people feel the punishment that sin itself puts in their lives and sometimes I help my parishioners step away from the guilt and into the redemption. Sometimes I give money to a man on the street corner and sometimes instead I write a check to the Salvation Army.

And someday, damnit, I’m going to get out of my car and ask the prostitute if I can take her to dinner.

And maybe all the gaps will get a little smaller and my worldview will get a little bigger.

What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God…

Friday, September 12, 2008

I took a bubble bath - the kind where the water is all the way up to your chin.

I ate three donuts, THREE donuts for breakfast.

I had a beer.

I even put in earplugs which I love to wear because they shut out every ounce of noise from the outside.

You'd have thought all that would make me happy. But it didn't. All it did was leave me alone with what is happening on the inside.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I've taken to watching movies every night.

It feels like Christmas Vacation.

Only without the creche, the presents, the love or the vacation.

But I'm catching up. I've inherited several movies from co-workers cleaning out their offices and often at HEB I get suckered into picking up a $7.99 DVD if I love it and don't own it or if I always meant to see it but hadn't gotten around to it.

Last night I watched Finding Neverland. It came out several years ago when my family was avoiding all movies remotely reeking of adultery. The night before that was Mona Lisa Smile. Both delightful flicks. Finding Neverland was better though. Johnny Depp. How could you expect otherwise? A couple weeks ago Chris and Michelle and I re-watched Stand By Me. What a great film. I forgot how endearing that movie is...

Tonight it's either Closer (another we avoided, I think), Girl, Interrupted or Munich, all movies I own but have never seen.

Usually when I watch too many movies, I begin to wish that i was a beautiful actress of the silver screen. Or any screen for that matter. But quite frankly my face is too round, my lips too thin and my clothes would never be cool enough for the tabloids. I'd always be listed in the What Not To Wear section I'm afraid. Ah well... since I won't be becoming a famous movie star anytime in the near future, I guess I won't worry too much about it.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cycle of Life

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

I wanted Samuel to sing Circle of Life tonight… from the Lion King, you know?... but he said it was too cheesy. He’s right of course. Too bad though, because it would have been the perfect song…

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

And did you hear the words of Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds? Straight out of scripture were they not? That wise but mysterious book of Ecclesiastes…

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven

And then it recites all the “time to’s”. It’s great.

My compliments to Elton John and the author of Ecclesiastes who wrote what we all feel… we all feel the circle of life, the seasons, the turning…

How many times during the year is it appropriate to preach about transition? How many times do we find ourselves facing change? Let’s see… there’s New Year’s of course… always a good time to talk about transition, resolutions, and change. And then of course there’s Easter. We’ve moved from Lent and a period of repenting and turned (yep repentance means “to turn”) to Easter, a time of new life and new beginning, transitioning from being dead to being alive in Christ. Then every year there’s always the end of something, the end of summer the beginning of fall, the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, the end of a month, the start of a new pay period. Then there the end of an era that comes while the clock ticks too, part of the cycles of our lives… high school, college, your thirties, the twentieth century, a boss at your job retires, a pastor at a church leaves, the era’s, you know? And on the other side of that lies not endings, but beginnings… a new semester, a new job, a new relationship, a new decade, whatever we’re transitioning into next…

And I suppose that’s where we find ourselves today.

Truth be told, it feels like preaching on transitions always falls on the Thursday night I’m scheduled to speak. Holy irony I guess is what you’d call that, or maybe sacred coincidence.

Either way there’s a good chance the Divine wants me constantly facing what is eternally difficult for me to embrace: change, transition, moving into a new cycle of life.

When I’m at my healthiest, I love the excitement of it: a new house, a new chance to arrange your furniture, an opportunity to start fresh. I approach it as an exciting new adventure into the life God has given me.… I used to love the end of summer and the beginning of the school year because I loved buying new school supplies and laying them in my desk in grade school or arranging them in my trapper keeper during middle school, placing them in my locker in high school and finally shoving them into a backpack during college. Granted, most of this need for organization stems from an attempt to help myself feel like I’m in control. If all my pencils are lined up nicely in my plastic pencil holder then I feel better prepared to face the unknown: to acclimate to change.

But mostly its just healthy excitement.

But when I’m not at my healthiest, when I’m not on top of my game, transitioning and confronting change can be debilitating.

Whereas I can handle “a time to be born,” I can’t handle “a time to die.”
And while “a time to heal” sounds appealing, the “time to kill” juxtaposed with that is scary.
I like the “time to laugh,” but not the “time to weep.”
And while I love the “time to dance,” God, the “time to mourn” is difficult.

And being vulnerable to these cycles can be terrifying.

But so beautiful too.

“A time to tear and a time to sew”… I think of my grandma making quilts or dresses for me and my sisters. She’d rip the material and I’d think, oh man, that’s pretty fabric she just tore apart. But then of course she’d cut and fold and hem and those beautiful ripped patches became such a masterpiece of a quilt. Metaphorically when our lives get ripped to shreds, I still marvel at the way God is able to work good out of broken pieces and indeed, sew me back together even more beautiful than before.

“A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together”… I picture the wise men who built their houses on sand and hard rock. Sometimes it’s time to gather stones and sometimes it’s time to toss them out. Sometimes we’ve got to clean out our closets, go through the old boxes, and throw the crap away. And other times, we gather what is sacred, what holds us together, and we place it amongst the stones we’ve set up to create our houses and lo and behold we create our homes.

“A time to keep silent, a time to speak”…

Geez, I’ve spent thirty years trying to get that last one down. It’s practically a fine art. Lord knows I haven’t mastered it. But isn’t it beautiful when we do recognize the time to speak truth into someone’s life and the time to just listen…

These are the cycles of life that we are oscillating in and around and through, alongside one another. Some of us are in the same cycle, circling through grad school or starting college together or raising children together. But other cycles of life catch us at different times, the loss of a parent, the surprise of a promotion and new job responsibilities. But can’t you picture us all like the flocks of birds that fly through the sky, changing formation, changing places, sometimes at the head, sometimes on the side, sometimes holding up the rear; circling around following unfamiliar patterns to us down below, sometimes seemingly chaotic circling but other times beautifully revealing a straight V pushing through the clouds. Always moving those birds are, and so are we.

I’m not sure we’re always moving in the right direction though. For example, our world has been stuck in “a time for war” too long and it is imperative that we as lovers of God and followers of Christ stand up and say it is time to move into “a time for peace.” Enough is enough. There is a natural cycle and it is unnatural to remain in a state of war and anger and deprivation. Too much hate has been spread, too many have died and been killed, and too many are weeping, too much has been plucked up, and broken down; we have been refraining from embracing and laughing and loving for too long. If we stay in a cycle of disaster and deny ourselves and other countries the natural, healthy, hopeful seasons of life, well I don’t know where that will leave us.


Sometimes I picture Jesus reading the world bedtime stories. That was probably my favorite time with my parents growing up. In the beginning, the stories taught my sisters and I words or colors or shapes. Then the books moved on to teach us morals and good behavior and cause and effect relationships. But most of all those stories taught us about love. And love was always the constant. Even if it was a sad story, the one who read us the story was full of love and it surrounded us.

And so it is with life. In the sad stories, in the difficult cycles, in the stressful seasons, the one we trust to walk with us is full and overflowing with love for us. And in the exciting times, the new careers, the new schools, the new friends, the Author of Love is still with us, laughing and celebrating right along with us, turning the pages of the great story of us with much anticipation.

And that means it’s time to be thankful.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

All I Have to Say

Being a PTA mom does NOT qualify you to be Vice- President of the United States of America.

If I hear one more person say, "I like that she was on the PTA..." I will vomit.

Nothing against moms (I hope to be one someday) or women running for office (obviously - I voted for Hillary) or even the PTA (even though I'm pretty sure my mom was too busy working to be on the one at my school) but this is America, arguably the most powerful (gulp) nation in the world (regardless of whether or not we are using that power for the highest good).

I mean, I know we elected George Bush and that was a joke, but so is having PTA on your political resume...

Please make it stop.

If you're going to talk about her credentials, just. don't. mention. the. P.T.A.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Today starts year four: coincidental that it's labor day.

The day I'm not working in honor of my labor, my labor begins it's fourth year.

Yep, I've been at FBC three years now. Today's my anniversary. Now I suppose Marshall, my business manager will now begin griping, "But I began paying you August 15, 2005," which is true I suppose but as I recall my first official kick-off day was Sept. 1.

Three full years. Man...

I'm remembering...

Jonathan and Justin, my two faithful college students. Then came Lauren and Samuel, Paul, Aaron and Elizabeth. Cantamos. Route 66. Hospital visits. Awakening. Angels Over Austin (which I never understood until I actually experienced it for the first time). Beresheth. J.B. Staff retreats. Resident retreats. Current. Lent. SWBYC. Outbound. Officiating Patrick & Angela's wedding. Children's Camp. VBS. Creative Arts Camp. More college kids: Alaina, Gracie, Amy, Jorge and a college name, "Water's Edge." Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Marcus Borg, Dom Crossan, Joan Chittister. Festival of Homiletics. My ordination. College Beach Trip. Singing "Down By the River" at baptisms. Baptizing Kat. Preaching a whole month in "big church." CBF conventions. BGCT Conventions. The first BGCT Women's Convention. More funerals than I can count. Email, websites, facebook, myspace, Clarion, mailouts, and text messages. Strategic Planning. Deacon's. Church Council. Discipleship Committee. Shows at Zachary Scott Theater and UT. Films & Faith. Theater Arts Action Team. Aria Da Capo. The Diaries of Adam & Eve. New Baptist Covenant. Births and tragedies. Lunches and coffees and dinners and on and on and on...

There's so many things I could name. I see I've forgotten the time I prayed over people at Taize. Preaching (or rather not preaching) at the Convention Center after Katrina and Rita. Agape meals. Midweek Moorings. Bible studies. Even a WMU meeting.

So many things to remember and so many things to look forward to. Here's to three more years... or to whatever lies ahead.

and to God... may we never stop loving others in the name of God no matter what our vocation or our calling.