Pastor’s View on Politics as we Know It

James Howell, pastor of Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, has a great article in the Charlotte Observer.  Here is a link to the whole article and a little snippet below.  Howell’s title I think sums it all up perfectly, Fear, Lying Politicians and Trust

Whether you believe in God or not, let me offer a few suggestions. We need not cower in fear. We can trust ourselves. We can trust our country. We can trust our fellow citizens, who actually have some wisdom. Maybe we can try a little more humility. Who’s cocky enough to have all the answers, while everybody else is a kook? Could some modesty be the opening we all need to listen, to lower the temperature, and realize we might figure out ways to work together, and not condemn each other but trust the fledgling goodness in each other?

I also really liked.

We can decide that the best thing for each one of us, for our country, and for our world is to shackle this fear, to refuse to play victim, and choose to trust ourselves, and our country, and even God, and move forward, not hoping our foes fail miserably, but striving together to succeed.

Take some time and read the article and I trust you will.


2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – Sermon – Walking the Walk Part III

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Walking the Walk: Part III
02-19-12
Today is Part III of this Walking the Walk sermon trilogy.  Two weeks ago we heard from Paul who told us to respect the otherness of people to gain as many as possible for Christ.  Last week we learned we have to be training to be fit as Christians in order to run the race of life that is in front of us and that no matter what we keep moving forward.  Today, on Transfiguration Sunday, we once again hear from Paul but this time from 2 Corinthians.  Here we get another image.  The first week it was an image of a chameleon and last week it was a sports analogy.  This week though we get a lot of talk about light.
There is a lot of discussion about how many letters Paul actually wrote to the Corinthians.  It seems that Paul carried on a lot of correspondence with the churches he started in Corinth.  He wrote at least four different letters, maybe more.  Depending on what scholar you talk too, the passage we read today comes from Paul’s forth letter to the Corinthians.  Some say it may be his third but it depends on whether you believe Paul’s letter of tears is part of what we are reading now or a missing third letter that we don’t have in our Bible.  Which if that is the case it would be Paul’s third letter and not his fourth.  Most scholars believe that this is actually his forth letter to the Corinthians though but we don’t need to get caught up in that debate today. 
Today we need to concentrate on what Paul is telling the people of Corinth and if it has anything to do with us.  There are two basic sections of this piece of scripture.  Verses 3 and 4 talk about those on the outside of the faith and verses 5 and 6 talk about those who are in the inside of the faith, or us believers.  Let’s first look at what Paul says about those on the outside.
Paul says that the gospel is veiled from those who don’t believe it.  Those who don’t believe it are so blinded by the gods of the world that it keeps them away from seeing the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.  It seems like Paul is saying that anyone who doesn’t understand the Gospel isn’t saved.  They are all still outsiders and only the insiders know what the gospel looks like under the veil.  This seems a little harsh for our modern sensibilities but Paul doesn’t really pull any punches.  In Paul’s time this linear argument makes sense.  It is simply a standard way of presenting an argument.  If this is true then this is true.  The most logical conclusions are the answer.  But that seems really black and white.  We live in a very gray world.  Not everything is black and white.  Hard and fast lines that are drawn in the sand tend to be erased very easily.  So how do we deal with this part of the passage as modern day followers of Jesus Christ?
Let’s take the phrase “god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers.”  This is very relatable in our current society.  How many people in here are on Facebook?  How many use Google as their usual search engine on the internet?  How many have no clue about what I am talking about?  Well for those who spend time on either of these sites you may not realize that your world might actually be getting smaller.  The idea behind the internet is to have the world at your finger tips but the reality is through certain algorithmic filters that sites like Google and Facebook use the world actually may be smaller than it use to.
Let me explain a little bit more.  Eli Pariser gave a TED Talk in 2011.  If you haven’t heard of TED it stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  It is a place where ideas are worth spreading.  They have a fabulous website that has thousands of TED Talks about all kinds of subjects.  In the eleven minute talk that Pariser gave he goes on to explain what happened on his Facebook page.  He calls himself more liberal but likes to talk and interact with people who are conservative and moderate in their political views as well.  But he started to notice that his more conservative friends were disappearing from his Facebook News Feed.  What was happening was that he tended to click on status updates and website links of his more liberal friends.  So Facebook, without consulting him, started to weed out the more conservative friends from showing up on his news feed.  Have you ever wondered why you haven’t heard from some of those friends you have on Facebook?   Facebook might have decided they weren’t worth your time in seeing what was happening with them.
Google does the same thing.  Google looks at 57 different factors (whether you are logged in or not) to specifically tailor your search results.  That means if I site down at my computer and you sit down on yours and you on yours and we all search for the same thing, we will all get a different looking search page.  Google looks at what we usually click on, where we are in the world, what computer we are on, and what our browsing history is and then custom makes our search answers.  When asked about this Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, said this, “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”  Paul says, “The gods of this age have blinded the minds of the unbelievers.”  The gods of this age, known as Facebook and Google tell us what we want.  They are limiting our vision to the rest of the world and we may not even know it.  How can we access information about the rest of the world when these filters are up?  How can we know and see God in our midst when our comfortable little world with all our interests, our likes and our loves are tightly around us?  How do we see the glory of God in Jesus Christ who was high on a mountain top far away from our comfort zones if we cannot escape what makes us feel comfortable?
The second part of this text talks to those of us who are believers.  Paul says, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”  So right after Paul gives us some characteristics of the unbelievers, those who have no clue about the gospel, he gives us guidance on how to preach.  Yes, I used the right word there.  I said us and not me.  We all are preachers.  In confirmation class this week we talked about when we become members of the church we are all ministers of God’s work in this world.  That means that each of us have the responsibility to go out and preach the gospel.  We all have the responsibility to walk the walk of faith by proclaiming, preaching, teaching, reaching others for the sake of the gospel.  We ALL have the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the world.  Are you getting it, we ALL have this responsibility. 
Now some are called to do it weekly at a certain gathering of believers in a building that holds a number of people sitting in uncomfortable benches until those said people are soundly asleep.  Others are called to televise their talks to millions of people who were stopped on the channel because they can’t stand to watch fishing shows or political pundits talk.  These are people we usually think of when the think of ‘preachers.’   But we all are.  So let’s talk about how to become a good preacher.
Before we get there though let me remind you of this light.  This is a 1000 watt work light I use in my garage when I’m working on a car or something.  It provides a ton of light.  When Peter, James and John followed Jesus up the mountain on the day of Transfiguration I don’t think they thought they would be starring into such a bright light. But there, on that mountain top, Jesus turned a brilliant white.  Some gospels said that his face shown like the sun.  Kind of like this.
Now light is a familiar illustration or analogy that is used when we talk about faith and God.  We talk about Jesus being the Light of the World.  During Christmas Eve we talk about this light coming to the world to get rid of the darkness of sin.  Here Paul refers to light around five times in these four verses.  It is common and we are familiar with it.  I like this physical reminder of this light because when I turn it on we have to avert our eyes.  It is painful to look directly at which is exactly what it was probably like for the three disciples up there on the mount of Transfiguration. 
We as Christians should be sharers of this light.  Good preachers are to point to the light and show it in our midst.  But that is not always the case.  Sometime when we preach we do this.  We stand in front of the light.  Yes others know it is on but there is something between them and the light, me or you.  When we make the light about us it is not effective.  This is why Paul says “for what we preach is not ourselves.”  We love to talk about ourselves and there are times when I am sure I have mentioned myself more than I mentioned Jesus when I stand up here.  Our culture of self-made men and women enjoy talking about ourselves and what we can do or what we cannot do.  We tend to make church about us or me or I instead of them or Him.  Paul says we need to get out of the way of the light and we need to truly preach about Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants of Jesus. 
Do you know where a servant would stand in relation to this light?  Behind it.  Or they would become so transparent that the light would shine right through them.  That is our goal as followers of Christ.  That is how we can perfectly walk the walk.  We learn how to live our life as such a servant to Jesus that Jesus’ glory shines right through us.  We know people like this and there are some in this church right now.  They have such a heart for Christ that Christ’s light just beams through them.  We are affected by these people because we are moved by the light that shines through them.  It isn’t them but Christ that moves us, inspires us and calls us out to live better lives.
My mom use to have one of those make-up mirrors.  I recently saw some of them at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  They have a circle of light and in the middle there is a mirror.  On side is just a regular mirror but when you flip it over there is a 10X zoom mirror on the other side.  Bored one day, I looked into one of those mirrors to bring up memories of my childhood.  I was scared to death at what I saw.  I really do not want to see what my nostrils look like magnified by ten.  My pores look like the size of pot holes and my nose hair the size of oak trees.  I realized for the first time that I was growing dark hairs on top of my nose not just in it.  I do not see how anyone can have a good sense of their own body image if they look at one of these things all the time. 
But that is the difference between the light we create and the light from the Creator.  The light we create illumines our world.  We can see where we are, where we are going and what we look like.   But it only shows us what we look like on the outside.  It is still that veiled interpretation of who we truly are.  But the light that comes from the Creator, the light found on the mount of Transfiguration, the light from the Son of God Jesus Christ comes from within.  That light shines through us and shows the world more about whose we are than who we are.
What we as Christians need to realize is that most of the time we need to get out of the way.  When we get out of the way we can free God’s light to transform the world.  There is too much in this world that blinds people from God’s glory.  When we get stuck in our own little cozy world we would never make a journey up to the mountains.  Yet if we walk the walk of our faith, then we can let the light of God’s glory shine out of our souls and into the world to transform the world.  All we have to do is get out of the way.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – Sermon – Walking the Walk Part II

Follow Jodie on her 100 mile journey.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Walking the Walk: Part II
02-12-12
Here is the second of three installments on this little sermon series entitled Walking the Walk.  Last week we heard from Paul about how we are to interact with those in the world.  We are to accept little differences, respect the otherness of others in order to win as many as possible for Christ.  Today we hear a sports analogy about the Christian life and how we are to approach this journey in front of us. 
Out of my three sisters, currently my youngest sister, Jodie, is the craziest.  I jokingly say that with all love and admiration for all three of my sisters but Jodie, the youngest is crazy.  She will be running the Keys 100 in May at the, that is right in the Florida Keys she will be running 100 miles.  The race starts May 19that 6:00am.  She predicts that it will take her anywhere from 24 to 32 hours of running to finish.  Did you get that?  She will finish the race Sunday morning or afternoon.  The plug will be pulled at 36 hours.  That is a day and a half of running.  100 miles.  That is leaving the church here and running to the Tanger Outlets in Mebane and then turning around and running back. 
I asked her to give me a little insight to the wackiness that is inside her head.  I asked her what is driving her to do this.  Anything over 26.2 miles is called an Ultra Marathon.  David Embler ran a 40 mile race a couple of years ago so we have one of these people in our midst today.  What is driving my sister to do this is the idea of the impossible becoming possible.  She wants to see if she can push herself to do this.  She has run a lot of marathons and loves them because of the challenge involved and after reading about the Ultra Marathons she was ready to put herself to the task. 
In this passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he is doing the same thing.  We pick right up with where we left off last week.  Paul says he does everything for the sake of the gospel and then gives this sport analogy.  He talks about runners and boxers.  When there is a race what is the purpose of the race?  To win the prize.  When we watch sports on TV or play them ourselves what is the goal?  To win.  Ask any professional athlete and I am sure that they will tell they play because they love the game but that all of them would love and desire to win the big game.  I don’t think Tom Brady was happy only to play in the Super Bowl, no he wanted to win it.  Let’s face it Carolina players really wish they would replay the last two minutes of Wednesday night’s game.  Although they played really well and mopped the floor with Duke for most of the game, the one who walks away a winner is the one who has the most points at the end, no matter if it is 15 or 1.
Paul wants us to be ready for our race.  To call ourselves a follower of Christ is not a simple thing.  To say we are Christ Followers means we have to put effort into it.  We cannot simply accept Christ and then think we are finished.  When we say the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are professing our calling to help the Kingdom of God exist in this world.  When we call ourselves Christians we have to walk the walk and to do that means we have to train ourselves in order to become better.  A leaner, cleaner, fit, fast, agile, mobile, and wise follower of Christ.  That takes practice.
My sister’s husband is one of those people who can sit on the coach for a couple of months and then think to himself, “I think I am going to run a couple of miles,” and then he does it.  His body can handle that most of the time.  I on the underhand am not like that.  I ran one road race.  I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC in 2006.  It was a 10K or 6.2 miles.  I struggled but walk/ran it and was proud of myself.  My struggle is the mental part of running.  It is the telling yourself you can keep going and then keep going.  I have that great feature inside my head that when something starts to hurt I stop doing it but that is not what a person who is going to run 100 miles thinks.  They have to get themselves out of that mindset.
My sister says the endorphin high you get from running is pretty great and that is what keeps her coming back to it.  There is joy and excitement found in crossing a finish line.  But how can you keep yourself going when you pass the mile marker for the first marathon and know there are three more to go?  Hardcore running is more mental then it is physical.  Christianity is a lot more mental then people give it credit for as well.
Now you might be thinking I am mental in that statement but the truth is how we live out our Christian lives starts here in the brain not just in our heart.  We have to train our brains to start to think like God before we can see the world like God and then act like he commands.  Think of it this way.  We live in the south where racism still exists.  We may not like it but it is still around.  Today, racism is moving from a black and white thing to a black, white and brown thing.  It is now an English speaking vs. Spanish speaking thing or even a strait vs. gay thing.  But the lines that were drawn 50 years ago still exist today.  But no matter what the color of our skin the Bible tells us we are created in God’s image.  We are created and loved and if we want to be true followers of Christ we have to start seeing everyone, EVERYONE like they are a child of God.  That takes mental toughness to look around at the people we are raised to hate and to think, “how does God see that person?  That is a child of God who was made in God’s image.”
John Wesley concentrated a lot of his ministry on the pursuit of holiness.  In his eyes we could achieve perfect holiness, or Christian Perfection.  This meant that if a Christian pushed him or herself to the limits he or she could be made perfect in love of neighbor and of God.  John Wesley said this about being made perfect, “to be ‘sanctified throughout;’ even ‘to have a heart so all-flaming with the love of God,’ (to use Archbishop Usher’s words,) ‘as continually to offer up every thought, word, and work, as a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God through Christ.’ In every thought of our hearts, in every word of our tongues, in every work of our hands, to ‘show forth his praise, who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ O that both we, and all who seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity, may thus ‘be made perfect in one!'”   
We have an end goal, we, as Christians, desire to have eternal life with God.  But until then we need to work on living this life to the best of our ability.  We need to look at what we need to do to be the best person that God has called us all to be.  That is found in this idea of Christian perfection.  We have to believe that every thought, word, and work in our head can be acceptable to God through Christ.  If we don’t then what is the point.  It would be like playing professional baseball and never wanting to win the world series or being a pitcher who never wants to through the perfect game.  That is just insane.  No one competitively runs a race hoping to never finish or to finish last.  Even those who know they will never be fast enough to beat a Kenyan in a marathon have personal goals to beat to run their own perfect race.  If we are not seeking that perfect game, that perfect goal then what is the point?  Lukewarm and mediocre?  I don’t think God calls us to the mediocre and we are told in Revelation that those who are lukewarm will be spit out?  If we don’t believe it can be so then it will never be.
Paul states that we have a purpose.  We don’t run the race with out a goal.  We don’t box like we don’t have an opponent.  As he says in verse 27, “Rather I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others.”  Paul calls us to find self-disciple for the purpose of the gospel; in order to be better followers of Christ.
As Jodie is now less than 100 days away from her 100 mile race her training is starting to pick up.  She says, “The toughest part for me with the 100 miler training is the amount of training. During the week is pretty manageable, but the weekends are just unreal. Last week I did a 31 mile race here in Charlotte as my training run.  I’ve run every other hour from 6am to 6pm (running the last 2 hours) and covered 34 miles total in that 12 hour time span. This weekend I will not sleep on Friday night. I have to keep myself awake all night long and then run a half marathon (13.1) on Saturday morning. It’s a great mental test and helps me to get a feel for how it will be to run exhausted. That’s not it though, Sunday afternoon I will run another half marathon (13.1 miles).  Monday it’s back to work. The balance between regular life and training can be hard. But I push through because I know each and every training is important. They are small building blocks to prepare me for the big event.”
How are you training to run the race in front of you?  What are you doing to build yourself up and ready yourself for your own match?  How will you gain perfection within this life?  We start where Paul tells us to, with self-discipline.  It is self-discipline that make or breaks the mental game that we all play in our own heads.  It is telling yourself that reading that chapter in the Bible before bed is much better than watching the late show.  It is deciding it is more important to find time to pray daily because when you do you feel better about life in general.  It is coming here to worship in a community and to remind yourself of the goal we have in life to welcome in the Kingdom of God here and now and to ready ourselves for eternity in God’s presence.  It is seeing the people that surround us as God sees them.  It is reaching out to the least and the lost.  It is living into the example that was perfectly given in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jodie also said these words which I think I needed to hear this week.  “Pain is another factor. All this exercise takes a toll on my body, especially big weekends like last weekend with 31 consecutive miles. I see a chiropractor/sports therapist once a week. I also get a massage from his assistant after big events like last weekend. That’s helps with the physical side of things.  Usually the mental side is bigger.  For me it’s quite simple – I just have to keep moving forward. No matter how much my feet already hurt after running for 5 hours, I have to keep them moving. Even if my legs ache and my muscles are getting tighter with each passing minute, I have to keep moving forward.  No matter how slow I become (because as the hours pass by my body naturally gets slower and slower), I just have to keep moving forward. As long as I don’t stop I know I can finish. Sometimes my mind is consumed with how much something hurts. I may have to take an extra walk break or my run becomes more like a slow jog. Even as I dwell on how much something hurts – I still move forward.”
Life can get us down.  It can tear us apart and make us not want to do anything for God.  We can take punch after punch and feel like we are running mile after mile while life keeps bringing the hurt.  But we still need to move forward.  We still need to realize we are not alone and God is walking, crawling and even at points carrying us through our lives.  We are never alone and we are always loved.  No matter how hard the fight is, we can rest assured that we can continue on.  We can make it a little bit further.  We can live the life God calls us to live no matter how big the sacrifice, no matter how impossible it sounds or feels in our hearts.  We can, because God made the impossible possible through his Son and we are called to pick up our own crosses and follow him.  We continue to walk the walk, mile by mile and sometimes inch by inch, but always forward towards our prize.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

Tebow and God

To say there has been some chatter about Tim Tebow’s success in his six comeback victories is an understatement.  The world is a buzz.  Sportscenter of course will cover it but Tebow also made a couple of minutes on The Today show as well.  There is now a website out there that asks people to bring in pictures of them “Tebowing”, this is when you take a knee and put your hand to your head in prayer.  This Heisman Trophy winner, turned comeback king, is flooding the popular culture and sparking quiet a following.

This post is not to hate on Tebow.  I am thrilled that a devout Christian is getting this much publicity and acknowledgement.  I am happy for him and he is really FUN to watch.  This post is about the Christian response to him.
After yesterday’s game Facebook was little up with chants, accolades, and support for Tebow.  Here are a couple of samples I read, “Talk about the favor of God.”  “I love listening to these sports commentators trying to explain what’s going on with Tim Tebow…Let me break it down for all you football folks–it’s JESUS!!”   
I am sure if I had more friends on FB I could get similar Tebow posts.  On the Today Show Tebow was referred to as “God’s Quarterback.”  After these comments and the talk around his faith I’m a little hesitant on linking the success of an overpaid sports player with the God Almighty.  What will happen if the Broncos start to lose?  What happens when Tebow doesn’t pull it out at the end of the game?  What does this say about the faithful Christians who were playing against Tebow these last six games?  Does he have more ‘favor’ with God than they do?  Does this mean God’s power doesn’t exist?
There have been other religious NFL players but have they seen the same type of treatment?  Reggie White, the Minister of Defense, had a stellar football career and was a leader in a couple of churches before his untimely death the day after Christmas in 2004.  Tony Dungy, Kurt Warner, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Chris Carter, Mike Singletary, and even more (see a complete list of Team Jesus here) have all had a deep faith in Jesus Christ, but I don’t remember the popular culture stating that their success was because of God’s favor.  
I’m proud when those in the limelight take a moment to thank God for how wonderful their life is.  Whether it is during an acceptance speech at an awards show or after a big play during a game.  We need to give thanks to God who gives us everything we have in life.  But to say the Broncos are winning because the have God on their side is slippery theology.  It starts to head into the ideas and thinking of the Prosperity Gospel.  Those who link our personal success with our relationship with God.  The better our relationship the more we will succeed and the richer we will be.
If we are going to claim who side God is on we need to look beyond the NFL, beyond sports, beyond ourselves.  Desmond Tutu said it best in an article in TIME, “God is not evenhanded.  God is biased, horribly in favor of the weak.  The minute an injustce is perpretrated, God is going to be on the side of the one who is being clobbered.”  God is on the side of the poor, the weak, the orphaned, the oppressed, and the helpless.  I really don’t think God cares if the Broncos make it to the playoffs or win the next three.  If we want to truly see God’s favor let us look at the ashes of humanity and see who God has pulled up from there.
Tebow is fun to watch and I wish Cam Newton would learn a thing or two about how to close a game from him.  But when we place the face of Christianity on an individual who is not Christ himself, we will only be lead to be disappointed.  

Square Peg into Round Hole

Tis the season. The horrible time of year when many Christians wage war on the culture around them and demand their religious Holy Day be recognized. Some call it a clash of cultures; others the “War on Christmas.” I call it a time to roll my eyes and once again grin and bear it, silently…sort of.

I look at this cultural issue like the picture here. It is a square peg being forced into a round hole. Over and over again, year after year, Christians in the United States complain, rant, and belittle the culture around them. Through this repetitive cultural beating their hope is that everyone recognize Christmas. WHAM. They protest people saying Happy Holidays because somehow it puts Jesus back in Mary’s womb. WHAM. They tattle tale on different business that aren’t because they haven’t fallen in line with what they deem as the only means of hello or goodbye during this time. (click here to see what I mean, the name alone speaks of the common mix between culture and religious belief) WHAM. I start to hit my head on my wall in my office when I read stories like this one from the UM Reporter. WHAM, *ohh that one hurt a little*

My biggest frustration is the lack of clarity by many of the Christians in the US. What needs to be clarified is that, sorry to drop this bomb, but we are not a Christian Nation. We are a nation with a lot of Christians in it. This means that the culture in this nation should not be held accountable to our Holy Days. We are not the only religion that celebrates meaningful days during the month of December so Happy Holidays is a little more all encompassing, compassionate, and understanding.

For many Christians I think they look at our culture, our nation, and see a round peg because they are a round peg. They would like everything to be like them. But the truth is our culture is square. It is formed differently than Christians are formed. Our culture is formed by democracy, capitalism, the media, and tons of other forces. Christians are to be formed by Christ. See the difference?

Instead of banging on the square peg trying to force it to go through the round hole, why not realize you are the round peg that fits there. Instead of shouting about how Christmas is being forgotten, why not embrace our culture in the way we are taught by the one who forms us? Why not be Christ’s love for the world. I have a feeling if more Christians did this that square peg would turn round quicker.

Christian Way of Laying Off

Nathan Kirkpatrick has an interesting article over at Call & Response. He does a reflection on Don Flowers’s reflection “Finding Grace in Layoffs”. He wishes Flowers would have gone farther. It is worth a look. Here is my favorite quote:

The layoff conversation and how it is handled certainly matters, but our Christian obligations to our employees neither begin nor end there. As Peter Storey is fond of saying, “when Christ was nailed to His cross, he nailed us to each other.”

The Golden Compass Argument

Before I even knew what The Golden Compass was I had received three email forwards about it. They stated that this movie portrays God as evil and I should never see it. It told me that in the end the boy and girl kill God so that they could do whatever they want.

Beyond Harry Potter, I haven’t been up on my children/tween fictional fantasy books. I did hear of the Eragon series and of course I have known about CS Lewis and Tolkien’s contributions. I did not know about Phillip Pullman’s series, His Dark Materials. From the emails I received and the articles that are floating around everywhere now, (Time, Christianity Today, Newsweek, Times Online and beyond), it would seem the is the biggest things coming in the fight against Christianity.

My question is why are people upset? Okay, an atheist has written a trilogy that depicts the church as the bad guy. What is the point of contention? Are We, The Church, really afraid of a movie? The main theme of the emails and the strife is that parents will take their children to see the movie and then buy the trilogy for them to read. Then, and I am following their train of thought here, the children will come to realize that God is not real, that the Church is a bunch of money grubbing, power hungry, hypocrites who want to rule the world and torture little children. And the likelihood of that happening is like saying if I watch Bee Movie I will suddenly want to crawl into a hive and make honey.

I do not see anything wrong with looking at myself from a different angle. I am a huge fan of Kevin Smith’s Dogma. He did a great job pointing out the flaws in American consumerism and modern ideas of religion. It is good to look at The Church from even the eyes of those who don’t believe. We learn something about ourselves when we do this. But I think that some people are scared that Pullman may be right on some things. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, even agrees with Pullman on education and some of the themes in the series.

Religious groups are getting too excited and pushing their premeditated conclusions about this movie. They haven’t even seen it yet. Yes, Pullman does make some harsh criticism on C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. He does seem to have very vested and unsympathetic comments about the modern day church and religion. But reading these articles I do agree with him on the point of religious figures and power. Too many bad things have happened with religious and political powers have joined forces. But let’s all remember, THIS IS A MOVIE AND A BOOK SERIES.

By the way, I looked up the new trailer on the movie’s site (here) and I have to say, WOW, I will see this movie.

God-O-Meter

Reading through my time magazine every week I have noticed a God-O-Meter in the Campaign Briefing section. In these sections they show how one of the candidates interacts with religion that week and then rates it on a 10 point scale. Romney got a 7 in this weeks issue.

This is sponsored by beliefnet. Finally after forgetting for weeks to check this site out I did. It is interesting and I was wondering if anyone else has explored this site. It looks like there are some good topics and conversations happening there. It also looks very commercialized too, since a I was stopped by a 15 second pop-up add for some drug.

Here is what beliefnet’s mission is: Our mission is to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness.Whether you’re exploring your own faith or other spiritual traditions, we provide you inspiring devotional tools, access to the best spiritual teachers and clergy in the world, thought-provoking commentary, and a supportive community.Beliefnet is the largest spiritual web site. We are independent and not affiliated with any spiritual organization or movement. Our only agenda is to help you meet your spiritual needs.

I am sure as I explore this site a little more I will learn more about the real things going on at this apparently well read and popular site. Although I do have to say their mission statement does seem to be spiritual vague or encompassing (which is why I need to find out more).

Last Lecture

Watching Oprah today (yes I actually typed those words), she had a show with Dr. Oz about death. They focused on two people who dying of cancer. She had Kris Carr who was the star of a documentary called Crazy Sexy Cancer. She also had on Randy Pausch who is dying of pancreatic cancer. He has become a big hit on the web because of his last lecture that he gave at Carnegie Mellon University. You can check the whole lecture starting here, although on Oprah he gave a shorten version of it.

These two people are facing death in the eye and they are doing it well. Although I was sad that neither of them called themselves Christian. They said they were spiritual but never used the word Christian or Christ. I had two of my parishioners pass away on the same day, last Friday. One I was really close too, even though I only knew her for four short months. She was a spiritual matriarch of our congregation and she will be missed.

She died with the most dignity and the most hope I have ever seen. She demonstrated faith and love like a true follower of Christ does. I wanted her life to speak outside the congregation as well, just like Oprah allowed these two people to have a broader audience. What made them so special is their hope in these dire times. Jackie had the same, yet even deeper hope.

Below is my eulogy, my testimony to her life she had here on this earth. She is in the presence of God know, with no pain, and no suffering. She is resting in peace, a peace unlike the world can give. Jackie we will miss you…

Today is a good day to cry. Today we can cry because we will miss Jackie. Jackie is participating in the next step today. She has gone back to the world that she once knew. Today is a good day to cry because we are happy that Jackie is no longer in pain and her suffering has stopped. Today is a good day to cry.

As we cry together we need to remember that our tears do not dissolve the certainty that Christ, in his death on the cross, conquered sin and death for us and for our salvation. Our crying does not contradict our faith in Christ, and does not drown out the fact that the Resurrection is real. It is in these tears, in our vulnerability that we can see the risen Christ in our midst. His spirit is here with us and his love will always be in our hearts. That is something Jackie knew well and found hope in.

I only had the pleasure of knowing Jackie for the four short months I have been here. But like anyone who met her, she made an impression. Everyone that knew Jackie talked kindly of her. Actually the didn’t talk kindly, they glorified her. But to ask her, she was truly humble about herself, her life, and her faith. Jackie was a women of dedication. She dedicated 57 years to the love of her life, Bob. They feel in love when she was only 18 and they loved each other more in these last months then in their whole marriage. Jackie told me that Bob and her were never closer than they were in these last months. They were closer mentally and spiritually. That is a testament to the type of love they shared with one another. That is the type of marriage that others admired and people strove to emulate. Bob and Jackie were a team. They did everything together and loved every minute of it. It did not matter if they were driving across the country on I40 or square dancing all around the nation. They loved being together.

One of the closest things to Jackie’s heart was her family. I have to be honest today, I have had a hard time keeping track of who is who and who is who’s. When she spoke of daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers, uncles, sister-in-laws, it was hard to tell you apart. It was hard because every time she would mention your name, she did with such compassion, love and care. It was how people talk about their own children. That amazed me. She loved each and every one of you equally. She would welcome people into their homes. Her door was always open, literally and figuratively. There was no time when I saw her at Hospice that her door was shut. She welcomed all into her care and into her heart. It was a type of unconditional love that I have never truly seen before in a person. I know only one other person with that type of love and Jackie and Him are enjoying each other right now.

I know her family will miss her dearly. They will miss her strawberry shortcake, chicken and dumplings, and potato salad. I heard she was a great cook and many of her dishes were requested at every family event. They requested it so much that one time Jackie wrote Uncle Harvey’s name on the potato salad with pickles to let him know it was for him. Now I cannot give Jackie all the credit for her cooking because Bob will rapidly remind you that it was him that did the grocery shopping, picked the strawberries and cut up the onions and other things for these recipes. Like I said, they were a team.

On the other side of her heart was the love for this church. A little over a year ago Bob and Jackie moved and they wanted to move so they could be closer to this church. They went here for many years and she touched everyone in this place. She was a spiritual matriarch. It was her optimistic and hope-filled way of seeing life that made it impossible not to be transformed by her faith. She regularly attended a Tuesday night Bible study. She attended every single night when she was feeling well. The people who attended with her will tell you that she was able to find the good in anything. They would all wait on baited breath to hear what wisdom would come from her about the subject they were studying. We will look back at our last studies together with her with fondness. And I know they will cherish those memories forever.

Jackie made such an impact on this group of people that about a month ago, right before she went to hospice, they decided to name their group after her. Now I have waited until now to publicly announce this because she was truly embarrassed by it. She told me that she could think of at least three other people the group should be named after instead of her. She was truly humbled by this honor, which speaks volumes about her character and spirit. But from this day forward, the Tuesday night Bible study will be known as the Jackie XXXX Bible Study.

As I got to know Jackie better and we talked, she told me how much she loved this congregation. I told her that she has a unique and wonderful opportunity to craft this service as a way to remember her but also to inspire this congregation. I asked her if there was anything she would like me to say to Trinity UMC. She told me that she feels like this congregation is warm again. You all have gone through a tough time and the sanctuary in the past felt cold to her. But there is warmth once again and she hopes we never lose it.

This illness has been hard on us all and probably hardest of all on Bob. Bob said the toughest thing he had to do was to call his girls and tell them that their mother was going to die. Jackie knew this day was coming, we all did. But she would be quick to tell you that she enjoyed her time here. She had a great life and she looked upon this day as a celebration and a time of joy. She died with dignity and went just like she hoped. She passed on from this world to the next holding the hand of her friend, her partner, the love of her life. They did every thing together and this event in their life was no different.

For Jackie death did not scare her because she had faith that the grace found in Jesus Christ was real. Jackie won the battle with cancer because she can boldly say today, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Jackie wanted us to celebrate today because she is taking part in that next step. In our sinning ways, in our poor attempts of praise and thanksgiving, in our happiest times in life and in our last days here on earth; Jesus Christ, Son of the One True God, promises that he will always be with us. Death for us, the believers, is just a door into a world we once knew, a world that is filled with the peace, the love and the grace of our Creator. Today is a good day to cry because we deeply cherish the faith, hope and love with which Jackie lived and shared her life with us. Today we come to remember the life she shared with us and celebrate that now she has a new life with God. We can find peace today knowing that God is here in our mourning and cries with us, but God is also celebrating that another one of his children are back home. Death is not the end, but really the beginning, the beginning of a new life with our creator, our Sustainer and Our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN