31 December 2007

The Other Half of Christmas

This past sunday I delivered a sermon at my home church in North Carolina. It's a little long in print, but moves fast. Before you actually read the sermon, you should probably check out the Gospel reading for the day. The Hebrew Scripture and Epistle Lesson are also included.


The holidays are a time of traditions. From watching Santa arrive at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to favorite Christmas dishes, traditions define our time together during Christmas. One of my family’s traditions is to read the Nativity story on Christmas eve. We read it from the same old family Bible that’s been passed down from generation to generation. My dad turns to Luke, and in a quiet voice begins to read…

We never read about this, though. Partly, that’s because in Luke the next scene we are offered is Jesus’ circumcision then, bam, he’s teaching in the temple. Luke also offers a much tidier ending. “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” That’s nice.

Matthew, however, is hardly as neat. Matthew presents a more frantic story; and while we like to read the birth narrative reverently and calmly, there are some pretty anxious moments in Matthew’s version of events. We all know the first part: Mary finds out (by way of an Angel, mind you) that’s she’s pregnant even though she has done nothing that might make her with child. Joseph is visited in a dream by an angel encouraging him to stay with his wife who is expecting a baby that isn’t his. The baby is born in a cowshed out back behind an inn as a star rises above that is brighter and bigger than any other star that night. Shepherds somehow make their way to see the newborn child. So do wise men who bring a wealth of gifts. and For an instant, there is a Kodak moment of Christmas perfection.

Then things get even crazier, according to Matthew. Joseph gets this intense dream where an angel says “Hey, listen up Joe, get the kid and haul it to Egypt. Herod’s out to get him.” And Joseph does as he’s told and uproots his family for Egypt (the land that enslaved his people generations before—just so we’re clear). And, with the holy family safely stowed in a far off land, Herod proceeds to kill all the boys under the age of two in the region around Bethlehem in an attempt to thwart any sort of revolutionary child king. And Rachel weeps for her children. Jesus is saved.

This is the other half of Christmas. And it’s a hard half to confront. right before my final exams began, I first glanced at the gospel lection for today. “The Massacre of the Infants,” it read or “the slaughter of the innocents” as Dan called it, jumped at me. it Seemed rather appropriate at that point of my first semester of school. “Oh,” I thought, “I can just talk about seminary finals, then.”

I read more closely, though, and realized just what a challenge lay before me. Here I am: twenty-two and barely a semester into my theological education and I am being asked to discuss quite possibly one of the most theologically challenging passages in the Bible. It’s challenging because it forces us to fundamentally wonder about the nature of a God that would allow the death of children for the sake of his own. It makes us question the notion of a savior that would run while not warning others to flee as well, or of a God that wouldn’t make that part of the plan.

And I had to wonder, “Am I old enough for this?” That question has been the common denominator of the past six months. Am I old enough to have a mortgage? Or a cat? Am I old enough for my friends to be getting married? Am I old enough to be fixing the tiles that crumbled off my shower? Or to be I receiving major kitchen appliances for Christmas?

And beyond the little changes have been much larger ones. Twice a week, I don my security ID and make my rounds on Four East at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. Rarely are there patients that have been there for more than a few days. So my time is spent making initial visits to patients and families, and attempting to assist them in some way. Mostly, after I go into a room and introduce myself as a chaplain (talk about wondering if you’re old enough…), the families politely answer a few questions then indirectly or, sometimes painfully directly, let me know it’s time to go. But every once and while, someone opens up. A young parent wants to know why this is happening to their child? If it was something they did? They want to know why bad things happen, or why God lets the innocent become ill. And I stand in those rooms, with these people bearing their souls to me and I want to say “You know I’m twenty-two, in my first semester of seminary and barely making a B in Hebrew.right?”

But that isn’t their concern. Their concern is finding a way to get through the ordeal they are facing, and they want me to help them.

I think Mary and Joseph might have felt the same way. I can imagine Joseph thinking “Am I old enough to be taking my family to Egypt?” Mary might wonder “am I old enough to be a mother?” We all question our own preparedness in the world around us. Somehow, I don’t think you ever feel old enough.

But hear the good news of the story! This, the other half of Christmas, is the promise coming to life. Until this point, the story has been grand—angels and singing, shepherds, magi and gifts. The promise is said to have been fulfilled.

But if we journey with the story as though it is the first time we’ve heard it, we don’t know that yet. We don’t know about Lazarus coming back to life or the sick being made well. We haven’t gotten to the part where Christ walks on water or feeds a hillside of hungry followers.

We just have a manger, a new mother and father, a small child and an angry king. The flight to Egypt and the mere survival of Christ, then, is a morsel of promise made real in an otherwise fairy-tale of a story.

And in this morsel of survival is a world of truth and hope and certainty in the midst of the most uncertain times much like the ones we live in now.

Like Rachel we weep for the brokenness of this world. We cry out when it seems that good has been slaughtered by evil. We tremble when we witness the destruction of war and famine and drought.

I think about my patient Bobby. The four-year old had been admitted to the hospital with an abdominal wound which came from his brother who stabbed him (accidentally) with a box cutter while playing power rangers. I sat with Bobby for 3 hours or so, playing candy land, watching power rangers, and talking about what he wanted for Christmas. He knew he was being released later that day, so he talked about home, and how he was ready to “get out of this town.” What he didn’t know was that the Department of Family and Children Services would be picking him up. He would be leaving the hospital, but he wouldn’t be going home.

And I wept for Bobby as I left that day. I felt like I had abandoned him like everyone else had in his life. I was angry at a society that would let a child be harmed like he was. I was angry at the God that didn’t protect him.

Don’t you see, this is the other half of Christmas—It’s a shot of reality in an otherwise fairytale experience. And in the midst of that harsh truth, there is the light of the fact that the Christ lived through trying times, and suffered with us so we might be able to survive this world.

This is the joy of the other half of Christmas—we can make it. God is indeed with us, because as the author of Hebrews reminds us, Christ has suffered along side us. And for this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.

The Nativity isn’t just a pleasant little tale that weaves a story around angels and sheep.

It is a promise made real.

Amen.

16 December 2007

The Question of the Semester

The cold air is back in Atlanta. "Finally," most of us sigh. Sometimes it seems that summer lasts 9 months down here.


Copenhagen has been on my mind alot recently. Maybe it's the chill. Maybe I'm homesick for it, but I miss it. I miss the people, the change in perspective, the bikes and the weather and the friends I found there. We didn't really have fights there, or drama. We lived and loved and ate and explored our way through Copenhagen and Denmark--knowing that there was always more to discover.


I look back on my blog posts I wrote during my time abroad (like this one) and I remember such good times, such inspiring times.


This semester hasn't been bad by any stretch of the imagination. But it has been hard. It has been three and a half months of memorizing foreign characters and praying for hurting children and wondering what it all means when you put it together.


It has been a semester of new identities--figuring out what changed since Elon, and what stayed the same. It has been a semester of publicly acknowledging my plans (by just being in Seminary), and being curious as to if that is really where I'm going (I think it is.).


Mostly, it has been a semester of "Am I old enough for this?" Of friends getting married and mortgage payments, and people giving you the authority to be their minister.

And the more I think about it (and oddly enough, write a sermon for the church that is ordaining me), I realize none of us are old enough, and all of us are to old.

And that's why we need the child-king and the crucified savior and the sustainer.

Merry Christmas!

blessings.
jon.




07 December 2007

smile

a great little clip to give you a chuckle....more to come!

02 December 2007

The Irrational Reason for the the Season


Friday Mid-day Eucharist is one of my favorite things about Candler. Period.


Every Friday, the same core group of 40 or so gather in Cannon Chapel after a long week of classes. I make my way from Hebrew, which gives me reason to need time to rest and recover.


It's a simple service really. Most of the general parts of a church service are there, excepting the sermon. Instead, after the reading of the Gospel, we sit together, quietly thinking about the words we just heard--wondering if any meaning sat in them for us, for our studies, for our school, for our world.

Then comes my absolute favorite part. After the Prayers of the People (which are offered so genuinely by the people who have gathered), we share communion. Every week, we pause our scholastic endeavors to join together in the bread and wine before heading into the weekend which all to often is as hectic as our school week. It's a time for acknowledging the week just had, and preparing for the week to come.

Advent is much the same way. It lets us review the year that passed and prepare for the coming days. Advent, however, can be an irritating time. Because it is a season of waiting and preparation it insists that we slow down. Slowing down means swimming against the current swell of American consumerism in an increasingly globalized world, not to mention a secular Christmas that is celebrated before we have any birth to celebrate.

But it is necessary waiting, because without it, we would have no time to understand exactly what Christmas is.

This week, as we began our advent sojourn in Friday Mid-day Eucharist, the program had a few lines from Madeline L'Engle on its cover. Here is how it read:

This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
there'd have been no room for the child.

As I read this poem, I was reminded of how irrational the whole thing was. Mary--a virgin? Son of God in a stable? Lazarus to life? Leaper healed? Deaf hear? The meek will inherit? Bread of Life? Blood of Salvation? A criminal's death for a king? Heaven for a thief? Missing body? Death no more? For you? For me?

It is amazing really, this irrationality. It's amazing because somehow, it makes sense. It's amazing because somewhere through the absurdity and irrationality, there is undeserved grace and unconditional love that holds us close.

keep watch.

blessings,

jon.

30 November 2007

The Start of December

Who knew that a semester would fly by so quickly! It seems like it was last week that I was awkwardly meeting new friends and figuring out what seminary was all about. Now, I find myself a week away from the end of class wondering where the semester went.

I know where it went. It went by in the form of hospital visits and games of candy land, late night meals at Chili's and Waffle House, hours working at the library and hours avoiding studying there. It was spent memorizing Hebrew vocab and writing about the differences in the versions of Noah and the flood. It was spent talking about feelings and how we were adjusting and what surprised us most about school.

But more importantly, we lived together, prayed together, sang together, loved together, doubted together, and (this is by far the most fun one) ate together...a lot, actually.

I'm ready for a new semester. I'm ready to start over with a clean slate now that I know what is going on. But I hope I don't loose the enthusiasm, the curiousity, and the passion that have defined this semester.

17 November 2007

derek webb to rescue.

Derek Webb was at Eddie's Attic in Decatur last night. He was great.

And he sang one of my favorites about where our allegiances lie.


Perspective is good.

here are the lyrics:

A King and a Kingdom

who's your brother, who's your sister
you just walked passed him
i think you missed her
as we're all migrating to the place where our father lives
'cause we married in to a family of immigrants

my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom

there are two great lies that i’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom

but nothing unifies like a common enemy
and we’ve got one, sure as hell
but he may be living in your house
he may be raising up your kids
he may be sleeping with your wife
oh no, he may not look like you think

14 November 2007

rain.

Never has rain smelled sweeter or been such a sweet relief.


blessings.
jon.

11 November 2007

The Half-Way Christian

I really don't like half-way Christians.

You know the people I'm talking about. They claim to believe in Christ, then push people away from Him.

Or they say they care about God's creation: "I recycle!" the say. But recycling only happens when it is convenient. You want to shout that Christianity isn't convenient--you don't get to choose it just when it happens to fit.

Better yet, they are the people who watch the church clock. "What do you mean we have to sing all six verses?," they wonder aloud. "We are supposed to be out of here at noon! We have to beat the baptists to lunch..."

Or those who mourn for the homeless population's reality, but when begged for a dollar, refuse to give it. "They'll just buy drugs or alcohol," the half-way Christian argues.

What about the people who sing of God's love for everyone, but really can't stand that black kid who came to church today wearing a baseball hat and low riding pants?

Or the ones whose words of love begin to go sour as attempts for inclusion merely bring an exclusion of another sort?

Or they squabble about the details--about who God loves more or who sins less or who got it first or who hasn't ever gotten it.

They try. They fail. They say they're Christian. They aren't.

And the worst part is: I'm one of them.

05 November 2007

Seven Things

Two weekends ago, I found myself back at Elon for my first homecoming since graduation. I decided that on Sunday, I would go to church and give them a quick update as to my life at seminary since they were supporting it so graciously. I wanted to make it short and sweet, so here are the top seven things they don't tell you before you go to seminary.

(7) Now, this one might be particular to a Methodist school. But apparently, John Wesley carries as much authority as Jesus Christ himself.

(6) Hebrew is, without a doubt, as hard as it sounds and looks.

(5) The UCC is sooooooooo better than any other denomination.

(4) Candy Land is a million times more fun when you play it with a 4 year old in his hospital bed.

(3) If you look hard enough, you can find Christ in anyone's eyes.

(2) I knew this before I came to seminary, but it seems even more true now. At the end of the day, after the discussions and readings and questions, remember two things. Believe the Story. Love the People.

(1) My life will never be the same.

So thanks to everyone who has believed my story and loved me, even from a distance.


blessings.
jon.

03 November 2007

A Month Later.....an update.

Wow, so, who would've ever known that a month would pass so quickly! Here are some highlights from the past 3 weeks or so.

The Choir from Metro State Women's Prison
This choir blew my mind. They sang a little of everything--from gospel standards to wonderful songs written by women in the choir. My favorite was one written by the prisoner which grew to a fantastic chorus of "He'ssssssssssssssssssss a fixxxxx---er." Looking back on it, it wasn't their form or fantastic singing that made their visit so memorable. It was the meaning behind them. Exclaiming that "he's a fixer" had a new meaning when sung by women who had much harder lives than I have ever known. When their chaplain stood up and spoke, I was sold. "I want to talk to you today about murder and theft," she started. "You might thinking I'm talking about the women behind me. But I'm talking about Moses. I'm talking about David..." And so began a revolutionary sermon.

For the Bible Tells Me So
This film is amazing. Period. It follows five families as they deal with homosexuality and Christianity. What I really appreciated about this film was its accessibility and its reality. It presents the issues in a way that isn't mocking, but it simple enough to understand. It also faces the reality that things don't always work out the way we'd like, and that redemption is possible even when we think we've failed the most. Find it in your city, and see it.

Chaplaincy at a Children's Hospital.
I met a little boy who in the span of 2 hours broke through to me, and for the first time, I felt like a chaplain. Amen.

Reformation Day-
Growing up, we never really celebrated Martin Luther and the reformation. But, as it turns out, we have a lot to be thankful for on that front. So, happy belated Reformation Day!

Homecoming at Elon
I went to my first homecoming at Elon two weekend's ago. It was good to be back and see old friends. Even more importantly, it provided a closure that just didn't happen at graduation. Before I went back I felt like I was half Elon student, half Emory student. After visiting Elon again, I'm able to put that experience to rest, and can now more fully move on to Seminary. My Emory friends were at a Halloween party that weekend. When I saw the pictures from the party I noticed two things (1) I was missing and (2) because I realized that, I realized I had a family here too.

All Saints Day
This feast day is a little more high church than what I grew up in. Its the annual day to remember the saints who have gone before us and the ones who are still in our midst. Bishop in Residence Woodie White delivered a powerful sermon. Afterward, we wept together for those we miss and thanked God for their influence on our life. It was a service of remembering. We remembered those who had gone before, but we also re-membered them by inviting them back into our midst.

09 October 2007

A New Week

It's a new week at Candler, and with it comes a new week of classes. But with the classes come new conversations, new prayers, new worship experiences, and new grace.

two things.

(+) believe the story
(+) love the people

07 October 2007

How Can I Keep From Singing?

I had a viking week this week. I've used the term before, but for those who need a refresher, look here.

After an Old Testament test that wasn't too bad, and a Hebrew test that was, I was settling into the last few days fo class before the weekend. Friday, I went to my single class for the day--Hebrew. Now, our professor has a policy of weekly vocabulary quizes. You never know if it's going to be on a Wednesday or a Friday, but you know you're going to have one.

I walked into class Friday to find......................you guessed it........................a vocab quiz on our next chapter.

Silly me, thinking that a TEST during the previous class that week might just trump a taunting and arrogant little vocab quiz. BUT, clearly I was wrong.

All I could do was think about what a jerk move that was. I was pissed. I sat through the rest of class turned off, and debated going home right afterward. But, I reminded myself how much I loved worship, and how it would be good to go that day.

I walked out of class and into chapel, sitting alone near the exit. I didn't want to talk with anyone.

The service began. The Friday service is always mid-day Eucharist. We gather before we embark on our weekend (which for many seminarians is really a time for work), and break bread together once more.

Half way through the service, I was still growling like a viking. In fact, I left the service still pissed.

So I called my mom.

Later that day, as I was finally calming down, I thought back to the service. I thought back to how I wished that it had calmed me, how I wished that it had been the mellowing agent I was in desperate need of earlier that day. I wanted to be able to walk into that service and feel at peace. Isn't that what seminarians are supposed to do? But it didn't work out that way.

Then I remembered the closing hymn--"How Can I Keep from Singing?" It's one of my favorites. The song lilts about, explaining the worst of the worst emotions, then exclaiming the hope we have in God through Christ.

Then it asks a simple question: How can I keep from singing?

And I realized, that was it. How could I keep from singing? God walks with us during all of our moments--from the happy ones to the ones of despair. And, yes, even in the times of anger. When I wanted to throw in the towel (or, more specifically, soak it in pudding and throw it at my professor's head), God stuck with me. He let me be mad. Let me calm down, then sent a reminder saying "hey, it's gonna be alright. And don't pull shit like that. Thanks."

I've got that love, that patience and that hope?

How can I keep from singing?

blessings.
jon.

26 September 2007

Story Water

A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. it lets them meet,
and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that's blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what's hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.

rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi

23 September 2007

worship or sin speech?


I love Candler. I love the people, and the learning, and the praying. But most of all, I love the worship. I love that it has become part of my daily routine...class, worship, reading, work. It gives me a rythmn for my day, a reminder of why I'm here, and what I'm here to do.

Thursday, however, provided a different worship experience.

The Candler Evangelical Society was leading the service. I don't really know that much about CES. The only real interaction I've had with them was through their t-shirts. The shirts are brown with the UPS logo on the front, except it reads CES. On the back, it asks "Have you been delivered."

No, really. I know.

Personally, I have some major concerns with language like that, and the theology that grows from it. But, I realize that we each have different means for understanding God and Christ and how God and Christ interact in our lives. So, I let it go.
But the service they led on Thursday is becoming increasingly more difficult to let go.


I feel that I am pretty open minded to various forms of worship. I realize and honor the different ways that people access and praise God. That was not the issue here.

I think what concerned me the most was the fact that it filled every cliche' possible. We sang songs about our thirst for God, our hunger for the Divine. A little summer camp-y, but good, and a nice change of pace. Then we got to the text for the day--Romans 12. Just in case you need a reminder:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,by the
mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and
acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to
this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may
discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I couldn't believe it. Perhaps this is more of a UCC thing than anything else, but I have a really hard time with scripture like this, mostly because these are verses that plant the seeds of Christian hate speech. Taken by themselves, they seem relatively harmless, but with the right lens, suddenly we are swimming in the world of sin that surrounds us.

And that was exactly what the sermon was about--sin. In fact, at one point, the student preaching asked the gathered people if we had sinned last night, this past week. He refered to the blood of sacrifices in the "old days, " and how Paul doesn't want our literal blood, but our spiritual selves on the altar. Then, he broke cardinal preaching rule #1--Don't preach at, preach with. He began to tell us how during highschool, he hadn't conformed. He didn't drink or smoke or do drugs or have sex. He had one best friend; he didn't hang out with buddies.

Anyone have a snorkel, because just like that, we were swimming in the sea of sin, our own. "We're called to higher lives," he said. "Don't conform." I had to wonder if the words and theology his was preaching counted as conforming--conforming to language which gives people permission to judge, to hate, and to hurt.

I'm still not sure what to do with it.

blessings.
jon.

19 September 2007

what i know...

Last spring, I took a class called Life Stories. The point of the class was to explore our lives up to that point, and look toward the future with anticipating eyes. At the end of the class, we had to take a favorite quotation, and explain what it meant to each of us in the context of our "life story." A classmate used this quotation: "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

Today, during my ConEd site meeting, we had to read our reflection papers which we had written about our first visits. In mine, I expressed some worry that I didn't have enough training to do what I was being asked to do. I walk into hospital rooms, and introduce myself as a chaplain.

I have been in seminary for, count them--one..two--weeks.

Who am I to be anyone's chaplain.

With that being said, my supervisor made a good point. "You keep talking about the knowledge you think you lack....what do you know?"


I know how to love people. And how to relate to them. I know how to be scared of the unknown, like so many who find themselves in hospitals. I know how to pray. And how to sing. And how to find hope in the hopeless.

I know that God's will doesn't involve suffering--that sometimes bad things happen to good people. And that it sucks when that happens. I know I can't explain it all. I know I don't have to.

I know how to laugh. And how to help others laugh.

Maybe I'll start there.

blessings.
jon.

18 September 2007

A Letter from Aunt Kathryn

This letter was written to me for the occasion of my baptism (in Baptist sense) or of my confirmation (in the Methodist faith I grew up in). It was written on the day I was born, and held until I was confirmed, at which time I was given the letter. I recently found it again, and somehow, it speaks more to me each and everyday day. Aunt Kathryn taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville (before it went crazy), and had a Ed.D. in Christian Education.


March 21, 1985

Dear Jonathan,

This letter is written on the day you were born. This is very nearly the happiest day of our lives in the Chapman family. We loved you even before you were born and now that you are present with us that love grows with each passing day. You are blessed with a wonderful Christian heritage and in the forthcoming years of your life you will hear all about that heritage. You will hear about George Colon Steed, "Mr. Georgia Baptist" who preached for years at Crawfordville Baptist Church and you will hear about Helen Steed Chapman, your grandmother and others who have been outstanding baptists. God has blessed us richly!

All of your life you have been moving to a time when you would make a commitment to Jesus Christ. Loving parents, a church family where you belong and all the friends who surround you have been praying that you would someday give your heart to Jesus. That day has come and I rejoice with you and with your parents. The future is bright as you continue to study your bible and pray that God will reveal to you what His plan is for your life. If you are faithful to God in the way you live your life it will be an abundant life that is filled with joy and peace. Today is a good beginning. My prayer is that God will bless you mightily and that you will come to know what it is like to seek the face of God.

God bless you, Jonathan, all the days of your life. you are a beloved son, a treasured grandson, and a nephew in whom I delight. You are loved!

With gratitude to God,
Aunt Kathryn

12 September 2007

You are Mine.

Wonderful chapel service yesterday. Here was one of my favorite songs:

I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
You will hear My voice
I claim you as My choice
Be still, and know I am near

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light
Come and rest in Me


Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

I am strength for all the despairing
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free
And all will know My name


Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

I am the Word that leads all to freedom
I am the peace the world cannot give
I will call your name, embracing all your pain
Stand up, now, walk, and live


Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

10 September 2007

like a child

Today was my second visit to my Contextual Education (ConEd) site placement. I had visited Scottish Rite Children's hospital the Thursday before, but today was the day I was to start visiting patients.

My first duty was to watch three short films on child abuse, development and the hospital.

Then, after searching the hospital and finding my employee badge (which grants me access, etc), I met with my resident and made my way to my floor.

When I first learned that I would be at Scottish Rite, my heart sank. I didn't want to work with kids. The only real experience I had was with my baby (now 8 year old) cousin, O. And even then, she was family--it was different.

I didn't want my heart to be broken. When I told a friend this, she asked "why?" It seemed like a dumb question at first, but I thought about it, and answered her with this "Cancer is a horrible thing. But I can swallow it a little easier if someone has been smoking for fifty years than if they were five years old." I guess I'm afraid of the unexplained. More specifically of the undeserved (not that anyone deserves to suffer or be in pain).

Today, I visited with two families. My visits were brief (I was on a tight schedule today), but they went better than I had anticipated. The big question still looms--what are you supposed to say? What are you supposed to do? But at the end of the day, all you can do is be there and sit with them and chat and hope and pray.

And above all, remember that at our core, in our most central being, we are all like children--hopeful, scared, and all searching for a little fun along the way.

blessings.
jon.

09 September 2007

redemption at stone mountain


Some seminary friends and I went to Stone Mountain on Saturday. Initially, we were going to drive up to Amicalola Falls north of Atlanta to hike around some, but we decided that while we were anxious to get out of the city into God's Country (nature, that is), we weren't anxious enough to get up at 830 am.

So, we opted for the far closer (but busier) Stone Mountain Park. When we arrived, we were greeted by a flood of vehicles, more than any of us thought would've been there. And, of course, there was a reason. The Yellow Daisy Festival was in town, and the park was brimming with visitors.

Anxious to avoid the crowds, we bypassed the festival parking, and stashed our car at the bottom of the walk-up trail.

As we made our way up the mountain, I was thinking about what Stone Mountain meant. For years it was meeting grounds for the KKK. In fact, in 1915, the KKK was resurrected on top of the mountain. I thought about the carving on the north face--three confederate leaders on their mounts. And I thought about how divisive the monument could be. It would certainly be easy to see it only as a memorial to the fallen South's most notrious attribute--slavery.

But I had to believe that it could mean more.

As we walked up the mountian, small children were running up its slope--excited to be on an adventure, intently and carelessly looking at every detail. The yellow daisies were in bloom, and the sun was out. And it became clear to me that things aren't always what they once were, that before it was a memorial, it was a mountain. And as such, it was a memorial to exactly that which redeems it (and us) and makes it new.

I was joking with my friends that I should've brought a Bible to re-enact the Sermon on the Mount on top of Stone Mountain. Later, I told another friend about that converstaion, and she expressed some concern that it might be offensive to do that.

I'm not sure how that works out. The Gospel is for everything, it finds redemption and renewel and grace in everything. It takes things that are offensive and hurtful, and transforms them into new and good things. And it's because of its past that it becomes the perfect place to read the Gospel, because in the end the Gospel is for the wretched.

During his "I Have a Dream" speach, MLK, Jr. exclaimed "let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georiga." Perhaps the way to let that happen, is for all of us to recognize the mountain's embarassing history, but then to look with new and fresh eyes toward a future of unity.

dirty becomes clean.
bad becomes good.
hate becomes love.


blessings.
jon.

01 September 2007

Getting Oriented

I just finished up two days of Seminary orientation.

And I have to say I'm getting excited about starting. But that's not because of orientation. Well, not directly, at least.

I'm getting excited because I'm meeting people. Crazy people. Fun People. Out there people. And right in line people. And it feels good, and right.

Our first day of orientation involved dressing up for our contextual education (or ConEd) site placements. I have been placed as a Chaplain at Scottish Rite Children's Hospital. We met in our groups, after a dreadfully boring morning (even though they tried hard), and prepared to visit our sites.

Soon, people were piling into vans. Not us. Nope. We didn't get to go. I can't say that I can be particularly angry about this. I totally understand why. Not all of us had been cleared by employee health (we had to do TB tests, screenings, etc). And, to make sure we didn't put anyone in danger--particularly a "vulnerable population"--we became oriented at Candler.

I was a little disappointed. At first, I have to admit, I felt a little self-righteous. I had gotten my stuff together. I went and did the tests, and peed into the cups, and gotten stuck by needles, and filled out more forms. Why should I be held back?

But, as my friend E. says, be generous. And she's right. We ended up having a good conversation, getting to know each other, learning more about our placement, and going over some important stuff. So all was not lost.

The first day was followed by a shorter, but information-packed day. We took a library tour, heard from everyone under the sun, and had worship to end the day.

I really liked that. So often, worship is a routine thing (in the ordinary sense), but at seminary it becomes so much more than that. Starting a morning off with morning prayer focuses the mind on the day ahead, and the reason for the day ahead. Ending the work day with worship brings us back to square one. It was nice.

All of these past night have been spent meeting new people, hanging out, and wondering just what is ahead.

None of us know that answer yet.

But come Tuesday, when classes finally start, we might find the answer. Or, more likely, fall deeper into that question.

Happy Labor Day Weekend,

blessings.
jon.

28 August 2007

The Last Farewell

I've been thinking a lot about Elon today, and what I've left and what I've started.

With those thoughts on my mind, I stumbled across this column I wrote during my freshman year of college. It's a little long, but now that the time which I wrote about has passed, and is passing, it seemed appropriate to visit it again.

The Last Farewell

“Fare thee well/ My own true love/ Farewell for a while/ I’m going away But I’ll be back/ Though I go 10,000 miles”
-Mary Chapin Carpenter, 10,000 Miles

I hate goodbyes. Leaving home this past August and moving to college signaled a great change in my life. I went from a total semi-parasitic dependent to a somewhat independent young adult. And in the process of gaining this great title of young adult, I lost the certainty of my past. I no longer have the safety net of home, at least not how it used to be.

When I went home for fall break I was shocked. My Waffle House, the one I had spent countless hours sitting and chatting in, the one I read in, the one I would eat pecan pie in at 1 in the morning, was nothing but a pile of old crumbled ruble. That place was like my comfort zone.

Upon arriving at college, many of my new friends had never heard of Waffle house. If they had, they hadn’t eaten there. They would ask me “don’t they only serve breakfast there” or “isn’t it closed” when I would ask if they would accompany me at 1:30 am to the nearest yellow and brown house. “Ignorance can be cured, stupidity is forever.” The immortal words of my father echoed in my head. All they needed was to be introduced to the Waffle House experience.

In my high school days, Waffle House, or Wa Ho as we called it was just another part of growing up—like nightly homework or daily practice. There were three waffle houses within a mile of my school—all three on the same road, Virginia Avenue

I suppose that some of my readers don’t understand my connection with this place; I guess that can have the best guess at how I feel about this restaurant are my fellow Atlantans. This is where I came upon the “great teenage revelations.” It was here that one of my best friends brought her fiancĂ© the night before the wedding to hang out. It was here that I said many goodbyes.

And where did all those memories go? Sure I have a menu from the eatery that a waitress gave me once, and I can order my hash browns the same way at any Waffle House, but will it be the same? No, it never will.

That’s what makes me the saddest about leaving home. It’s not so much missing my family and friends as it is missing me. Missing the way I and life used to be. I may be able to fly back to Atlanta, but I won’t get to light the Jack-o-lanterns each night or help to decorate the house for Valentine’s Day or even do something as simple as feed the dogs.

This past May, I gave a speech to my church. One of my goals was to figure out exactly how to bid the congregation and this place I had grown up in goodbye. I tried. I couldn’t.

Instead I thought of an old family friend, whom, when one left a visit, would not allow you to say goodbye. You would have to say “I love you.” That’s what I told my church. But I can’t do that with my past. I can go back to that church. I can’t live in my past. I feel almost like I have lost a home.

And that is why I am dreading my last farewell in May of 2007. I don’t want to loose this home too. I’ll say it. I’m scared. And any person who claims they aren’t just a tiny bit worried is lying—even those graduating in may this year.

I’m sure it’s completely natural to have these fears. But it’s more than just fear. It’s disappointment as well. There is so much hype that leads up to a graduation. You wait excitedly for the appointed day. Finally, it arrives, and you walk up that stage, grab your paper that makes you king of the world for 2.3 seconds, then its over. You just spent so much of your life working towards that sheet of paper and in under three seconds, it is finished. All the reading, writing, studying, worrying, and sleepless nights were for one sheet of paper and three seconds.

Granted this piece of paper hold the key to success further down the road, there is some sort of let down that is involved.

When I received my high school diploma, it was the end of an era for me. I had attended this particular school for fourteen out of my eighteen years. As I reached my hand out for that single certificate I shut a door on the life I had known for over a decade. I put the final stamp on my career as a highschooler and it was the beginning of having to move on with my life.
My Scoutmaster, with whom I worked closely during past summers at a summer camp and who graduated from the same school, probably put it the best. He said that “when you leave, its like having a door slam shut behind you. You can’t go back.” That is so hard to hear sometimes. What if I want to go back? I can’t just hit the back button on my internet web browser or retype the address into the address bar.

I do miss high school. I miss having friends that I saw daily, but could easily get away from by retreating home. I miss my mother’s hugs and my dad’s jokes.

But now I am at college and meeting fantastic, loving, fascinating people. The bottom line is that I am having the time of my life. But deep within me, I know its all going to end…again. I will have a new family and then I will be forced to say goodbye one more time.

Friends remind me that I have four years (well, a little over three now). That is just it, I have four years. I only have four years to make friends, to live college, to have fun before I have to grow up for good.

It’s a harsh reality. One that is not fun in the making. You might say that life is full of goodbyes, that there never really is a last farewell. Fine. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to look forward to them.
To all those who are counting down the days until you bid Elon farewell, just remember my old friend--the one who wouldn’t let you say good bye, only “I love you.”

Goodbye Elon, Hello Emory

Classes started today at Elon. It's the first time in 4 years that I'm not there for that. I didn't move to a new place. I didn't go and buy books, or print off my schedule or visit my favorite people on campus.

Instead I got my hair cut.

I know that moving on is necessary. And, I was quite ready to be done with the work and some of the drama that invade my last two months there.

But, I know I'm gonna miss it. It was home. And, I definitely left a piece of me there.

Yesterday, I ventured onto Emory's campus to run some errands. I bought books, visited some fun folks, filled out more forms, and got my ID made.

I bummed around with two friends (one new, one old). Later that evening, a group of us first-years made our way to Decatur and Virginia-Highlands. Good company. Good moments.

And it really began to sink in that I was starting the next chapter.

And I'm glad for that.

And that is a good place to be.

27 August 2007

water.raining.grace

Yesterday, the church I was visiting welcomed new members.

Most of the time, these little ceremonettes are rather dry. A few questions, a few answers, blah blah blah, and wham bam, another member of a church.

But this time around, I was reminded of why I love the church I am part of, and why I’m going into what I am going into.

One of the new members hadn’t been baptized before. He came up first and knelt before the pastor. She dipped her fingers in the blessed water, and laid them on his head.

“I baptize you in the name of God, who has created and is creating.”

She wet her fingers again.

“I baptize you in the name of Christ, you has redeemed you.”

A third time, she dipped in the font.

“I baptize you in the name of the Holy Spirit, who is alive and at work in your life, and who will continue to be with you always.”

I sighed a sigh of relief. Maybe because it reminded me that I had those promises too. That God is still speaking, hardly dormant. That Christ has taken care of that which had to have been paid. That even in the loneliest hour, we aren’t alone.

And I had to wonder, what are we afraid of? What do we think we have to protect God from? Why are we scared?

It’s been raining a lot in Atlanta recently. After a month of record-breaking temperatures, its nice to find relief in the waters from the sky. The rain often comes with afternoon thunderstorms.

I believe in God. Thunderstorms remind me why.

Majesty. Power. And grace like rain that brings relief when we need it most.

blessings, be well.

jon.

meeting Gretchen again

I am officially excited for seminary. It happened today. When I was able to see my friend, Gretchen, again.

I have two friends named Gretchen. The first I met in Denmark. She and I were kindred spirits--both searching for something more than a semester abroad, both afraid of what we could find, both glad that we found each other. She lives on the West Coast, I on the East. But somehow, our spirits seems to commune despite the distance.

My second Gretchen is from Wisconsin. So, she lives way too far North, and too far away. We met at the Fund for Theological Education’s summer conference, and hit it off. Not only are we both going to Candler, BUT (and that but should be capitalized, because this is BIG) BUT, we are both UCC. Which is fantastic, as far as I’m concerned, because I love my UCCers particularly in a place that isn’t terribly UCC.

Anyway, yesterday, I took a hankering to give her a call, and see what she was up to, and lo, she was in Atlanta. She had just arrived. Being exhausted from a two day trek across the States, she opted for sleep (loser). But today, we got to have lunch (with her mom, who is soooooooooooo much fun and paid for lunch--who could ask for more?). And shop. At Ikea.

I know all of that seems pointless to write or think about. But really, it isn’t. These are the people that crossed my path and remind me why I am doing what I am doing. These are the people that make me excited and lift me up and push me onward and pray and love and celebrate.

And I’m glad I’m getting to share it with them.

Sometimes, its good to remember that.

blessings.
jon.

the united church of christ

More and more, it seems that I am getting the question “What is the United Church of Christ?” Most of the time, I simply respond, “Probably the most progressive mainline protestant denomination out there.” But that really doesn’t say much. And often, people associate progressive with liberal, and make a whole lot of assumptions which really lead to no where productive.

Recently, the UCC released their recently redesigned website. As part of it, they created a wonderful page which asks congregations to examine how they fit into what matters to the UCC.

Here is the site, but I’ll give you the quick and dirty if you’re reading on the run.

(1) We Are People of God’s Extravagant Welcome
In recent marketing campaigns, the UCC
adopted the slogan, “Jesus didn’t turn people
away. Neither do we.” God’s arms are open
to us all, and the UCC strives to be direct
about such a revolutionary welcome and grace.

(2) We Belong to Christ
From the site (b/c I couldn’t think of a way to say it better):
"We belong to Christ" is a loaded phrase. It's loaded
because it means different things to different people.
It packs within it comfort for some; challenge for
others; and for many both comfort and challenge. For
some, the words unite; for others the words divide. In
the United Church of Christ, we pray the words comfort, challenge, and unite.

(3) We Are a People of Covenant, a United and Uniting Church
The church historically is steeped in the idea of
Covenant, promises that are defined on levels
beyond human loyalty. In that covenant is the promise
of God’s love and grace, which has brought us together
and continues to do so.

(4) We Are One at Baptism and at the Table
Again, from the site: Just some water, just a simple meal of
bread and juice, but for us in the United Church Christ, what
is simple means much more. We celebrate two sacraments.
One is Baptism. The other is Holy Communion which is also
often called the Lord's Supper or Eucharist. Sacraments are
our ritual acts in worship life when the Holy Spirit uses water, bread, and wine to make visible the grace, forgiveness, and presence of God in Christ.

(5) We Thank God by Working for a Just and Loving World
We are called by God to do whatever we can
to be stewards of God’s Creation. Certainly this includes
environmental concerns, but it goes far beyond that.
It means working for justice for the disenfranchised,
loving the unloved, and realized that anything we
interact with is part of God’s creation.

(6) We Listen for the Still-speaking God
God isn’t dormant. The Bible isn’t the end of
God’s voice speaking to us. Part of an active
spiritual life is action and silence, finding the
space for God to speak, and the will to listen.

friends

The past days have been filled with friends, old ones and new ones.

It’s really been a comfort. After two weeks of focusing on the condo, I was drained and pretty lonely. Being a pretty extraverted person, I thrive on the energies that others bring into my space. Not having that regularly was at first resting. But now, and I bet my parents would never believe this (wait, maybe they could), I’m just plain bored.

I did meet up with some old friends and my mom came by a few times, but those sporadic moments of interaction weren’t quite enough to

Thursday changed that. Two of FTE friends came over for dinner. It was my first dinner gig at my new place, and was easily one of the highlights of my summer. We joked, laughed, ate freshly baked cookies, and drank. (Relax, Milk with the cookies, duh. right.).

The next night I met more new folks (that went sort of well), but Saturday took the cake. Mom and Dad came over to help be do a few bigger-than-I-could-handle fix-it chores, then I had dinner with my a close and dear friend (at Waffle House, which, as always, really hit the spot). Then I headed over to Decatur.

After getting lost to the point that I had to talk to two people to find my way there (Who knew decatur could be so confusing?) I found just where I was supposed to be. I joined some Columbia kids (the PCUSA seminary in ATL) at a bar which had a great folksy/blues band playing. And we sat and talked and laughed. And it was great.

So here’s to the weekend of old friends and to new ones.

The more I sit with my decision to move to ATL instead of NYC, the more it feels right.

blessings.
jon.

watching paint dry

Mom came over today and helped me to finish the last bit of painting. A week ago yesterday, we were painting away in the master bedroom, but after a long day of cleaning and painting we didn’t quite get the closet finished.

[Insert bad gay jokes here.]

So today, we spend the morning in the closet, painting the walls, avoiding painting the floors (again), and waiting for the paint to dry.

And it’s thrilling.

I guess I’m just ready to be done moving. I’m ready to be still enough to let these roots sink into the ground. At least for a while.

But with every change comes having to watch the paint dry. Those moments of unsure transition when you’re not sure what to do except the obvious.

Better get back to it.

blessings.
jon.

things you'll never hear a redneck say

#9--Checkmate

Welcome Home

Well, it’s official. I am a homeowner.

I also am in way more debt than I ever wanted to be.
But, c’est la vie.

We closed on Monday, painted and cleaned Tuesday, and moved wednesday. And I have to say, I am totally exhausted.

Yesterday, after my folks had left, my friend Mariah came over and helped me unpack. It was good to have a new good friend help create a new good home.

As I left the house I grew up in, I have to admit that my eyes got a little teary.

It hit me, as I pulled out the driveway, that I was leaving for the last time. Sure, I’ll go back, but it won’t ever be the same. My home, now, is in Atlanta. And my parent’s home is in Fairburn.

And I’m sad for that. And I’m glad for that.

And I’m excited and scared and joyful and grateful and hopeful. Above all I’m hopeful.

And that is a good place to be.

Welcome home.

blessings.
jon.

I Know Where I Been

I saw Hairspray the other day. I have to admit it was fun. Really fun. Fun to the point that I went and bought the soundtrack for my good friend Katie. Of course, she did the same for me (we saw the film together), so we have been singing our brains out for the past week. And we have had so much fun doing it.

From the first Oh-oh-ohs to the final dance moves, it is a thrilling ride through ever 1962 cliche.

Almost all of the songs are fantastically entertaining and downright show-song bliss. One song, however, is tremendous in another way.

The movie, which has a major theme of integration woven throughout comes to a halt as Queen Latifah begins to sing the beautiful “I know where I’ve been..” To read the lyrics, click here (and trust me, you should---IN FACT, buy the song on itunes).

In the song, she talks about the progress the civil rights movement is just beginning to make, but reminds the listener not to forget to where we’ve been.

This song makes me cry. Every time. The movements that I am involved with parallel the sentiments which are sung about in the song to the point that I can’t help but feel that I could just as easily be singing those words.

The thing is, it’s not the lyrics about the struggle that get me. I have seen that, lived it in some way.

Instead, it is the very end in which they exclaim “to sit still will be a sin.” I couldn’t agree more. When do we stop sitting still, and start creating change? When do we say enough? And when do we stop accepting the “I didn’t realize” as an excuse?

And finally, the song ends in a joyful praise:

Oh! When we win,
I'll give thanks to my God
'Cause i know where I've been

How could you say it better? When it’s over and we have changed for the better, we give thanks to God--not just for bringing us to this point, but for helping us know where we’ve been.

blessings.
jon.

remembering grace at the waffle house

Yesterday evening I went to Waffle House. I used to go pretty regularly as it’s a way of life down here. I remember moving to Elon, and trying to get my new friends into the Waffle House experience.

“But I’m not hungry,” they would whine.

“We’re not going to eat,” I’d nearly shout back

Eating isn’t the point (however, it is a nice added bonus).

The point is going, and being. There were three Waffle Houses within a mile of my high school--each with its own group of kids that went there often. I went to the one closest to my church so much during my high school days, that they gave me a menu when I left for college.

When it was all said and done, Waffle House was always there--open, with good food and usually good friends.

Last night, I was meeting my friend, Kellie, at the Waffle House up by the highway. Assuming I would be the first one there (we went to the one far closer to me than to her), I brought a book with me.

The book was Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. The book, which I read once before for a class during my junior year of college, is about Dr. Paul Farmer’s quest to solve the health problems of Haiti. The title comes from a Haitian proverb: “Beyond mountains there are mountains.”

You can imagine how the book goes. I was somewhere in the third chapter where Kidder writes about the policies of Farmer’s rural healthcare center. The one rule that was distinctly Farmer’s and the one which couldn’t be broken, was that no one was turned away. They would help every last patient.

And I realized that is our call--to not turn people away. And in that is the Grace we are given, that we won’t be turned away.

As as Charlie Daniels sawed on that fiddle, playing it hot over the jukebox, I knew that I was glad to be at Waffle House--at a place where the door was open, and smiles waited inside. And I was glad to be reminded of God’s grace--where the arms are open, and love awaits us all.

blessings.

jon.

a prayer

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will follow you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

written by Thomas Merton
"Thoughts in Solitude"

Jon, The Viking

I had a viking day. And by viking day, I mean bad day.

One of those days when you just don’t know what to write.

So, I turn to Mary Oliver. Somehow, she always has something good and right and true to say.

Wild Geese
From Dream Work
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


blessings.

jon.

Jon, The Viking

I had a viking day. And by viking day, I mean bad day.

One of those days when you just don’t know what to write.

So, I turn to Mary Oliver. Somehow, she always has something good and right and true to say.

Wild Geese
From Dream Work
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


blessings.

jon.

looking back, looking forward

The other night, just before I went to sleep, I thought about Paris. I’ve only been to Paris twice, both during the same trip. After leaving Copenhagen, I headed to Paris and crashed on a friend of a friend’s apartment floor. After touring around the south of France for a month or so, I ended up back in Paris.

On the night before my great adventure ended (I had been living abroad for upwards of six months by that point), I sat on the steps of Sacre Coeur or the Church of the Sacred Heart to watch the sunset. I gazed across the city, and thought about what the past six month had been. I remembered meeting my first friends, learning to travel by myself, changing the way I saw the world.

I looked out on all I had been and what I had become.

This past June I had a similar experience.

At the FTE conference on ministry, the last nighttime worship was Taize’ inspired. Through prayers, songs, and silence we all came to a common space. There were different stations set up all around the chapel. Toward the back, chairs were set up in a curve facing a stair case up to the balcony. Entering the space, I walked by the Holy Water. Crossing myself with it, I made my way to the first banner. It was Isaiah six: Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am; send me!”

I went to the next banner at the bottom of the steps. There a fishnet was loosely hanging over six or seven versions of Christ’s call for us to be fishers of men.

I ascended the steps and at the landing, there were a set of minister’s robes. I turned around, and laid out beneath me was the whole chapel--candles, people suspended in song and prayer, and hope.

And I realized I was looking out on my future--on what my life might be, and I was happy and stunned and excited and terrified. All at once.

Then I realized, its what I need to do. And I’m glad to do it.

The Lord asked “Whom shall I send?”

Send me.

home.

For the past month and a half, I have been living at home. with my parents. You might think “oh, that’s not so bad.” And I’d have to agree with you. No rent. No buying food. No paying for utilities. It’s nice.

But two months (the amount of time I will have been here by the time I move out) is proving to be longer than I thought.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy being at home. I love my folks. I get to sleep late (at least right now), take naps and do what I please. And of course, there is nothing more comfortable (at least for me) than home. Driving down our road, which has a Baptist church sign at its end with a different message every week (this week’s was “Exercise! Walk with God!”--no lie) is the epitome of the “home stretch.” I remember coming home from Elon, and seeing that sign, and thinking “whew...i finally made it.” Then I would turn down our drive way and see our house, and I knew I was there--and in that knowledge was a safety and hope that somehow is always found at home.

So what’s the problem? The problem lies in the fact that I haven’t lived at home for four years. When I did come home, the longest stay I had was three weeks. Three weeks to two months is a pretty big jump.

The problem isn’t in my parents or the house or the pets or my old room. The problem lies in the fact that this is a period of huge transition for me. I’m leaving behind what I’ve known, and stepping off on a journey which hasn’t all come to light yet. I’m not sure where the path might lead, but I’m going to tread it faithfully and hopeful.

Since moving home, I’ve known that this adventure is just beyond my doorstep. And I am excited to begin it. So now, home feels like it is doing the one thing home shouldn’t do--hold you back. It’s not intentional or malicious, just reality. Since the fall of 2005, my life has been on a train going full speed ahead. Experience after experience has shaped me and molded me in such phenomenal and miniscule ways. That train has finally paused on the tracks, refilling on water, changing passengers and upgrading engineers.

Maybe I just wasn’t ready to pull into a station. But, as I think about it, I’m glad for the rest.

At Elon’s most recent graduation, University Chaplain Richard McBride presented us with part of a prayer from Michel Quoist’s book Prayers. This particular prayer was based on the book of Ephesians, and begins like this:

I would like to rise very high, Lord;
Above my city,
Above my world,
Above time.
I would like to purify my glance and borrow your eyes.


That is my prayer--Let me see this time with God’s eyes.

blessings.
jon.

love > fear

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.



nice.

blessings.
jon.

Walking the Line...

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about a Christian Financial Advisor who had a radio show. This took me by surprise. Not because he could get a show (I mean, really--radio seems to always be looking for the next big thing), but because he considered himself a Christian Financial adviser.

Not knowing much about the host (and not wanting to assume too much) I asked my friend what was the gist of how this person advised. My initial thought was “WWJA?”--what would Jesus advise?

The first thing I thought of Jesus’ answer to rich man who asked “How do I get to Heaven?” Jesus said, without missing a beat, “Give it all away.” Then my mind jumped to the turning over of tables in the temple--one of the few times when we really see Jesus get mad.

Here is the scripture, for those who want a refresher (God knows I always need one!):

Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these;* what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Matthew 19.16-22


In true Christ fashion, there is always a lesson from such interactions:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
Matthew 19. 23-26

hmmm.

So from these two instances alone we begin to get a sense of how Jesus felt about money. And even a surface level reading leaves us uncomfortable with a “well, shit” feeling somewhere deep inside us.

So, I wonder what our advisor’s policy is? Is he attempting to make money for people and nothing else? Is he advising folks on how to be investment savvy while reminding them to use the money for good causes or for others? Or is he telling them to give it all way?

Where is the line between literally following what Christ said and interpretation? What are we supposed to make of it?

Of course what is ironic about the second part of Matthew that is presented above is that it seems that this is a statement by Christ that is so often demanded to be understood in a non-literal way by folks who insist that the Bible is literal. Gay people are immoral, but it’s OK for me to keep all the money I make preaching that message.

Oftentimes, when the topic turns to money, I tell my conservative friends that Jesus said to give it all away. They scoff, often feeling victimized, the explain that they are trying to live a good life. Then, they tell me to stop telling them what Jesus said.

And here’s the thing..I understand where they are coming from. I have certainly enjoyed driving my Jetta, receiving a college education, eating what I want when I want it. I am in the same boat. I like to think I could give it all away, but would I? Maybe, maybe not.

And should I have to give it all up? Is it OK to have savings or is that the ultimate sign of atheism--not trusting that God will provide when God explicitly says God will (remember the birds and the lilies)? Or am I simply saving what God already provided?

Should we stop reminding each of what Jesus said? I don’t mean in a judging way, just in a don’t forget sort of way...I mean, if we are going to Christians, we should claim it...right? So what does it mean to claim it?

These are strong words that make hard questions.

And the questions don’t end with these. I have so many more (not the least of which is how far should Christianity infiltrate your life?) But perhaps we’ll tackle those another day.

Just to keep you from thinking I’m too heavy, here is a fun story from just this morning. My dad has a penchant for Toostie Rolls. Coming home from lunch today (where he had purchased five rolls or so), he stuck one half-way in his mouth (keep in mind he has a beard) and asks my mom what he is...she didn’t know (neither did I), and he excitedly told us he was Lassie taking a crap.

no lie.

welcome to the family.

blessings.
jon.

Rainstorms and Windchimes

We had bad storms yesterday evening. I mean bad. Just as my family was heading out for dinner, a lightning storm descended upon us. And by descended, I really mean blew in from the west, over beyond the river.

We were all three sitting outside on our back porch listening to the rain, when the rain brought distant thunder and lightning to our front door. We all scurried inside, thinking it would soon pass.

But we were wrong. Soon we were directly under the storm. Directly under as in hearing three sounds: the rain, the thunder, and the lightning popping fifty feet away.

I’ll be honest. I even found myself getting antsy and telling my mom that I wasn’t too fond of this storm.

We were each doing our own things. Mom had the paper, dad was doing God knows what, and I was finishing up Anne Lamott’s latest book Grace (Eventually) which is pretty good, fyi. Basically, we were trying our best to avoid the tempest just outside our door.

Then, through the midst of the rain and wind and popping and crashing, I heard our wind chimes ringing. They were peaceful and calm, a ringing voice that reminded us that even in the presence of the most turbulent of storms there are moments in which, if we listen carefully and closely enough, we can hear God’s own voice of comfort.

A couple of weeks ago, I rediscovered a favorite writing of mine. I’d like to share it with you now.

It is not you who shape God:
it is God who shapes you.
If then you are the work of God,
await the hand of the Artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer the Potter your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form in which
the Artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard and lose
the imprint of the Potter’s fingers.

-Irenaeus, 2nd Century Theologian





Blessings.

jon.

The Problem with Open Arms

This past weekend, I was at the Fund for Theological Education’s annual conference on ministry. This conference, which as I mentioned earlier I attended last year, is amazing because it brings all of these fantastic young people together. Folks from every denomination you can think of (at least most of them) were there, and through it all, there was a common understanding that there were places we disagreed, but that when it came down to it, there was a foundational place where we all could agree. In the end, beyond the details and places we differed was the assurance of the story and the love.

During my time at this year’s conference, I found myself in the position to have to explain exactly what the United Church of Christ is. After some surface level history lessons, and an attempt at sharing what the UCC holds as important social justice issues (which for the record, is all of them), I realized that maybe the best way to describe the UCC is by explaining its arms.

Here’s what I mean. When approached by a question or an issue, the UCC debates and discusses and converses about how to respond. As many of our critics have duly noted, we are pretty open toward a whole myriad of possible responses, but the one great litmus test that is consistently applied to these topics is this single question: Is the action we are about to take going to open our arms wider or close them tighter?

If the answer isn’t that it will open our arms wider, then the answer/response simply isn’t good enough. Period. And that is what I love about the UCC, and about Christ (more importantly about Christ). Arms are extended wider, reaching out, pulling in, and saying “we’re gonna love you where you are, not where someone thinks you should be.”

Last year, at this same conference, a minister sitting on a panel for undergraduates recalled one of the most important things that she had learned in Seminary was this: “Two things,” she said. “Believe the story. Love the people.”
“How Simple!” I thought. Right. Not so much.

Why is it, then, that some people are so damn hard to love?

For many its believing the story that is the problem. And, to some extent, I have my doubts about literal interpretations, etc. But its the love part that’s the real kicker. Christ certainly said that loving each other is the greatest thing we can do second to loving God with our whole beings. And somewhere along the way, I’m sure he mentioned that it wouldn’t be easy. But damn.

So how do you love people who (1) are abusive in theology or self (2) refuse to love you or (3) seem to try every trick in the book to separate themselves from you and from God?

I have to believe that God can offer that love. If I don’t, then I’m not sure where the starting place for life is. But is it fair for us to claim to be able to do the same thing? I began to answer that question sometime ago:

We claim unconditional love, but to not recognize our incapability of attaining it would be folly. While humans can muster magnificent and tremendous amounts of love and compassion, we are unable to mimic such devotion. We love, but only to a point. We open our arms with compassion, but find our arms growing tired. God does not falter like humans. God keeps loving; God keeps his compassion flowing. Where humans insert a “but,” God insists on “regardless.” We have God’s love, regardless; we have God’s grace, regardless.



So the problem with open arms, is that as much as we want to hold them wide open--shouting for people to come in to our fold, we can’t. And the really scary part is that our arms are the first to go. Soon, our minds get tired, and then our hearts.

And then, grace like rain reminds us that we are cleansed, refreshed, and made well. And that maybe holding our arms open is worth the weariness and hurt. That people will come around. That is was by God’s love that we came to God, and in the same way, our love that others can come to us.

For some time, I’ve looked to 1st John for my favorite lifting words. So, I leave you with this and a thought.

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear...
1 John 4. 18


So what, then are we afraid of?

blessings.
jon.

The Problem with Open Arms

This past weekend, I was at the Fund for Theological Education’s annual conference on ministry. This conference, which as I mentioned earlier I attended last year, is amazing because it brings all of these fantastic young people together. Folks from every denomination you can think of (at least most of them) were there, and through it all, there was a common understanding that there were places we disagreed, but that when it came down to it, there was a foundational place where we all could agree. In the end, beyond the details and places we differed was the assurance of the story and the love.

During my time at this year’s conference, I found myself in the position to have to explain exactly what the United Church of Christ is. After some surface level history lessons, and an attempt at sharing what the UCC holds as important social justice issues (which for the record, is all of them), I realized that maybe the best way to describe the UCC is by explaining its arms.

Here’s what I mean. When approached by a question or an issue, the UCC debates and discusses and converses about how to respond. As many of our critics have duly noted, we are pretty open toward a whole myriad of possible responses, but the one great litmus test that is consistently applied to these topics is this single question: Is the action we are about to take going to open our arms wider or close them tighter?

If the answer isn’t that it will open our arms wider, then the answer/response simply isn’t good enough. Period. And that is what I love about the UCC, and about Christ (more importantly about Christ). Arms are extended wider, reaching out, pulling in, and saying “we’re gonna love you where you are, not where someone thinks you should be.”

Last year, at this same conference, a minister sitting on a panel for undergraduates recalled one of the most important things that she had learned in Seminary was this: “Two things,” she said. “Believe the story. Love the people.”
“How Simple!” I thought. Right. Not so much.

Why is it, then, that some people are so damn hard to love?

For many its believing the story that is the problem. And, to some extent, I have my doubts about literal interpretations, etc. But its the love part that’s the real kicker. Christ certainly said that loving each other is the greatest thing we can do second to loving God with our whole beings. And somewhere along the way, I’m sure he mentioned that it wouldn’t be easy. But damn.

So how do you love people who (1) are abusive in theology or self (2) refuse to love you or (3) seem to try every trick in the book to separate themselves from you and from God?

I have to believe that God can offer that love. If I don’t, then I’m not sure where the starting place for life is. But is it fair for us to claim to be able to do the same thing? I began to answer that question sometime ago:

We claim unconditional love, but to not recognize our incapability of attaining it would be folly. While humans can muster magnificent and tremendous amounts of love and compassion, we are unable to mimic such devotion. We love, but only to a point. We open our arms with compassion, but find our arms growing tired. God does not falter like humans. God keeps loving; God keeps his compassion flowing. Where humans insert a “but,” God insists on “regardless.” We have God’s love, regardless; we have God’s grace, regardless.



So the problem with open arms, is that as much as we want to hold them wide open--shouting for people to come in to our fold, we can’t. And the really scary part is that our arms are the first to go. Soon, our minds get tired, and then our hearts.

And then, grace like rain reminds us that we are cleansed, refreshed, and made well. And that maybe holding our arms open is worth the weariness and hurt. That people will come around. That is was by God’s love that we came to God, and in the same way, our love that others can come to us.

For some time, I’ve looked to 1st John for my favorite lifting words. So, I leave you with this and a thought.

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear...
1 John 4. 18


So what, then are we afraid of?

blessings.
jon.

The Mountains and the Road


Today, my mother and I drove up to my old summertime stomping grounds, the north Georgia Mountains. For three summers, I worked in the mountains at a Boy Scout Summer Camps. Those summers are some of my most cherished and missed memories. Even just visiting the area was a bit of a homecoming.

One of the really great things about the state of Georgia is that you get a little bit of everything. There are the lowlands and wetlands, thick with the muddy waters, alligators, and at the moment, smoke. This of course fades into the coastal plain which leads visitors to Georgia’s frozen-in-time islands and cities that ooze Southern Charm (Savannah, anyone?). Further north you’ll find the piedmont. These rolling hills are generally green (excepted the drought-parched terrain that seems to be all you can see at the moment). This area boasts Atlanta, and a myriad of charming towns that remind you of what life used to be like, and make you wonder if it could ever be that way again.

And then you come to my favorite place--the mountains. I’m not exactly sure what fascinates me the most about the mountains. I think my love comes first and foremost from my mother. From my earliest years, we would drive up to the North Carolina mountains on a crisp, fall Friday night. We always had to leave after daddy got off work, so we wouldn’t see the actual mountains. We would only catch glimpses of the mountain shadows against a harvest moon.

The next morning though, was fantastic--vibrant colors, warm sun that made you feel comfortable in your own skin. On the twisted road to the cabin we normally stay at is a private drive called “Hallelujah Acres.” I’d seen it in past years, always leading up to some old homestead. But this year, the meaning was different. The beauty surrounding it finally explained the simple label. The trees, bursting into color shouted “Hallelujah.” But greater still was the meaning that even through the deaths of the leaves will come the buds of spring. Hallelujah.

Isn’t that how we go through life? Driving down the interstate with everyone else, finally finding the exit ramp we had been looking for all along (after many bathroom stops, wrong stops, and u-turns) only to stumble upon moments of grace and illumination--those are the hallelujah acres of our lives.

So we are all on the road, driving toward the beach or the mountains or the lake or relief--God help us find where we are going.

blessings.
jon.

For Such a Time As This

Today saw me return from The Fund for Theological Education’s annual conference on Excellence in Ministry. I was lucky enough to receive a Congregational Fellowship (which matches dollar for dollar the funding that congregations give for first year seminarians). As part of that fellowship, we are able to attend a conference with nearly two hundred other young people who are either thinking about or are going into seminary and on into Ministry.

What was really amazing about this conference (which I attended last June as well) is that it brings together so many different people and beliefs and reminds us that as the base of who we are, at the core of what we do, it Christ and the church (little c, not big).

The theme is from the book of Esther. Esther has become
queen of Persia, and has the opportunity to save her
people (the Jewish race, in case we were confused), but is
hesitant to do so. Her Uncle, Mordecai, reminds her that
perhaps this was the moment that will define her, the
moment that has been weaving its way to her. The time for
which she was made queen.

The conference suggested to us the same thing--that
perhaps we are all called for such a time as this. In the
midst of a church which is falling apart, in a time in which
hatred about and peace is a all too distant reality. We are
each in Esther’s position. We have inherited wealth and
potential beyond what we need and far beyond what we
deserve. We have able hands. Now we must open our
hearts and make the changes that simply must happen.

The conference also offered multitudes of opportunities to connect with people in the same place--people who have felt a call, who see a need in the world and intend to fill it. Some are finishing college, some are in the midst of Seminary, but have an intense love God, justice and service.

The real blessings of the conference were not only the people, but also the worship. Worship was twice a day. The first act of our day was to center ourselves of God, and our last moments of the evening were spent focusing not on ourselves, but on the reason we were there.

A word about the image above is by a Chinese Christian artist named He Qi. The image is of Jesus calming the storm. Its good to remember that Jesus can calm our storms. See all of the galleries at www.heqigallery.com

So all this sounds pretty serious. I promise I’m not, so here’s a joke.

A really bad one.

Jesus and Satan were having an ongoing argument about who managed to get the most out of his computer. This had been going on for days and God, was tired of hearing all of the bickering.

God said, "Cool it. I am going to set up a test that will run two hours and I will judge who does the better job."

So down they sat at the keyboards and typed away. They moused away. They did spreadsheets, they wrote reports, they sent faxes, they sent out e-mail, they sent out e-mail with attachments, they downloaded, they did some genealogy reports, they made cards, they did every known job. But just a few minutes before the two hours were up, a lightening flashed across the sky. The thunder rolled and the rains came down hard. And of course the electricity went off.

Satan was upset. He fumed and fussed and he ranted and raved, all to no avail. The electricity stayed off. But after a bit, the rains stopped and the electricity came back on. Satan screamed, "I lost it all when the power went off. What am I going to do? What happened to Jesus' work?"

Jesus just sat and smiled.

Again Satan asked about the work that Jesus had done. As Jesus turned his computer back on the screen glowed and when he pushed "print it", it was all there. "How did he do it." Satan asked? God smiled and said, "Jesus Saves."

Until the next time, blessings.