A New Week and a Tired Soul

It’s a new week and I have a tired soul. The body isn’t holding up too great either. “Now do it again, with feeling!” says the conductor or teacher. How often I wake up on a Monday morning in ministry and find myself wondering what happened to the weekend. I’m about to do “it” again with another week of ministry, but the “feeling” is just above empty on my physical and spiritual gas gauges. Clergy hardly have any Sabbath rest. Our offices are often called a “Study,” but with the tyranny of the urgent that we face every day, there is precious little time to actually study. I know what my schedule pretty much looks like for the rest of the week and I am already looking forward to the weekend. Sad, and I wonder how many other clergy and people in general feel the same way. What are we working for? Who are we working for? What is the meaning of life and where does it come from?

Some answers to those questions are found in the word “relationships.” My prayer focus this morning is a derivative: Companionship. “Com” is Latin for “with,” and “Panis” means “bread.” Breaking bread with one another has been and continues to be a sign of fellowship and hospitality. Jesus fed the 5,000, broke bread with his disciples on multiple occasions before and after his death, and with the fellows on the Road to Emmaus after the resurrection. Breaking bread with family, neighbors, and the poor is a sign of community, shared purpose, and common meaning. When Christians celebrate Holy Communion they give thanks to the one who redeems and makes us one: “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body.”

So I face another Monday morning to offer and receive companionship. It is not just another day in a long litany of days. This day is an opportunity to break bread with someone, many someones – to sit at table and enter their story. Isn’t that a calling to embrace and not dread: to hear and be heard, to commune with a fellow straggler on the journey and meet Jesus who always walks along and breaks bread with us?

As a United Methodist District Superintendent this is that time of year when I spend time at each church or charge and hold annual meetings. In my seventh year people’s names are known quite well by now and we share personal history. We have become companions, sometimes literally. I was at one church the other day and they gave me some bar-b-que and hash to take home. We ate it for two nights and it was delicious! We also just had our seventh District Clergy Retreat on top of Mt. Mitchell and shared bread and hearts as we ate together, discussed together, and shared prayer for one another. Gosh, when I go back and think of all the times of companionship in recent days I am inundated with companionship and its positive influence on my life. It has occurred in church, with seat mates at football games, and in my office as I have listened to the hearts of dear lay and clergy.

Therefore, I embrace the ways that Jesus will come and break bread with me this day through others, and pray that I will be spiritually prepared to welcome the opportunity. Someone once told me the story of a person who was invited to visit heaven and hell. In heaven he saw people holding 4 foot long chopsticks and before them was spread a banquet table loaded with delectable treats. In hell he saw the same thing: people holding 4 foot long chopsticks sitting at a sumptuous banquet table. The only difference was that the people in heaven looked well fed and happy, joyfully conversing with one another. The people in hell were bitterly quiet, emaciated and starving even though there was ample food laid before them. The person asked St. Peter what was the difference. St. Peter said the people in heaven used the 4 foot long chopsticks to feed each other, while the people in hell were impossibly trying to feed themselves.

Companionship is less obsessed with feeding one’s own appetite for attention or self-interest, and more engaged in communing with the Jesus in those with whom we break bread today. Feed yourself and starve. Feed another and be well-fed. God bless your week with encounters with Christ. This is how God made us to enjoy life and find both help and meaning. Feed yourself and go hungry. Feed another, and thrive!

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Advent Signs

One of the signs of hope for me personally this Advent is that the South Carolina Delegation has endorsed me to be their Episcopal Nominee. Today is the day that their website for me, www.timmcclendon.org, is being launched. I am grateful for all of their hard work in doing this. This is a great reminder of Christ’s never-ending work in our lives, and one of the best Christmas gifts ever for me. Thank you to all!

This reminds me of a very significant Thanksgiving that we observed 3 years ago. We were at Cindy’s mother’s house and we feasted and reminisced about former days. As I was walking around in the yard before we left I noticed the stump of the old oak tree that had stood for centuries beside the house. After Hugo ripped up another of the ancient giants and ice storms decimated the rest, it seemed a good idea to cut down this hazard that was located precariously close to the house. All that had been left for several years was a huge stump.

I’m sure the transformation took place gradually, but that Saturday it was undeniably apparent. The old stump that had once looked weather beaten and forlorn was alive. It was sprouting new shoots, live branches of hope into the gray sky. They were at least four feet tall and climbing. The serendipity of the find gave me pause to think about life and its changes. We go through lifeless seasons of scarring and barrenness, and then Jesus’ power causes us to sprout again. Even when it seems like life is over, Jesus can resurrect us. There is no damage that Jesus can’t undo!

Another serendipitous occasion over that Thanksgiving holiday was the arrival at my mother-in-law’s of a cute little beagle. Mrs. Godwin had enjoyed her two cats, but she had sorely missed the Boykin spaniel that she and Mr. Godwin mutually adored. Bud was the dog that they loved so much. Bud enjoyed riding in the pickup with Mr. Godwin and lying down at Mrs. Godwin’s feet. He was so old he started to edge closer and closer to death’s door, but, because he was so much a reminder of Mr. Godwin’s life, Mrs. Godwin spared no expense in vet bills to keep Bud going, especially after Mr. Godwin’s untimely death. However, one day he just disappeared, either stolen or instinctually or purposely wandering off to die in order to spare Mrs. Godwin another grief.

Other dogs had come and gone before Bud: Brio, and Britt, to name a few. You probably noticed that all their names started with the letter “B.” So one’s imagination wouldn’t have to work overtime to figure out what new name this foundling beagle was granted: Barney. Mrs. Godwin, living by herself, had said repeatedly that she wanted another dog but she didn’t have the desire or physical stamina to train one for the house. Well, God does work in mysterious ways. Barney was already house-broken, had quite a menacing bark for a dog with his diminutive size, and quickly learned to use the “dog door” that Mr. Godwin installed some time before his death. Once again, when we least expected it, just like the old tree stump’s new shoots, new life enters our pain and gives us hope.

Advent season can be a similar experience for us frail time-bound human creatures. Last year our family didn’t even put up a Christmas tree because we were too overwhelmed by personal concerns in the aftermath of Mrs. Godwin’s sudden death and Narcie’s brain tumor. This year, determined to open our hearts to Jesus’ power to bring new life, we have put up our decorations weeks earlier than usual. Instead of retreating into worry, which is more my problem and not Cindy’s, Advent dares us to advance toward God’s in-breaking kingdom, whether it comes in the form of new shoots out of a seemingly dead stump, a new puppy, or a new website. May this Advent bring you inspired hope. Join me in looking for the signs!

Paterno’s Blind Side

I don’t quite know what to think of the scandal at Penn State and the demise of Coach Paterno’s coaching career. He is 84 years of age and is the winningest coach in football history. One mistake or chain of mistakes did him in. A person can do all the good in the world but a false step, a poor decision, a blind eye and it all ends. In part I sympathize with “JoePa” but a greater concern is for the victims of a pedophile. Joe Paterno had to go. All the good memories in the world cannot erase the negligence that perpetuated the horrible things done under his nose.

Theologically I recall Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter after his denial of Christ. I can ponder Jesus’ words of assurance to the thief beside him on the cross who wanted to be remembered in Paradise. Both situations had grace offered, but not without consequences. Peter was told how he would die and the thief was crucified for his crimes. In Bonhoeffer’s words, “There is no cheap grace.”

It makes me all the more dedicated to live a holy life, and I have a long way to go! I have to be diligent in the means of grace; praying, serving, devotional life, Scripture study, and doing whatever it takes to be a friend of God. I have to be a friend to everyone else to be a friend of God.

As I think of Paterno’s situation I am reminded of investing in the lives of the least of these on a consistent basis. Jesus ever sought the best for the least, the lost, the lowest, and the last. On top of a self-helping goal of improving myself I cannot abrogate helping others. The message of the Penn State scandal is to make sure you look out for the vulnerable. Paterno’s personal faith is evident. His investment in his football program is fantastic. His failure came from disregard for those he thought weren’t somehow worth it. A disconnect? Mine, too, sometimes. If my life’s story is to read well then I better be remembered for doing the right things.

Thank God I had a mother and father who excelled in this. Thinking of my Dad, I used to thoroughly enjoy going to auctions with him. My middle brother was usually there, too. Both went to the same auction school in Indiana and were partners. Although livestock auctions were the family’s main emphasis, we also did land and estate auctions.

One of those auctions sticks out in my mind as I think about my life story. I can’t remember the exact estate or town, but I know that it was in Georgia somewhere below Augusta. One of the tasks delegated to me was to go through the dilapidated out-buildings and find anything of value. If anything seemingly worthwhile was found, I told my brother or father and the item went into the sale. The old house was definitely antebellum. The barns and sheds around it were ready to fall in upon themselves. There was old stuff everywhere.

I had frightful visions of snakes and giant rats ready to pounce as I went scavenging through the buildings. There were old chifforobes, combinations of wardrobes and chests of drawers. In this case they were like the family’s safety deposit boxes. I was pretty scared as I began to open them up and pore over their contents. They were like time capsules. There were plenty of pieces of antiquated clothing turning brown or to dust with age.

Then I found the mother lode, the treasure, the things that made me forget about the rats and snakes. There were old pocketbooks. Some were made out of what appeared to be chain-mail. Others looked like real carpet-bags. They might very well have been because one of them had Confederate money in it. There were also a few coins. I plundered the bags with the anticipation of an Indiana Jones. I hurriedly told my brother and Dad what I had discovered.

I spent the rest of the day exploring each building. By the end of the day I felt like I had been privy to the family’s history. I noticed the trunks with the travel decals pasted on the sides indicating where these folks had vacationed. I found hat boxes filled with letters from distant loved ones. One had a son’s letters from overseas during World War II. There were receipt books and ledgers from what must have been an old country store located on the premises. The prices of things were astoundingly low. There were ration books from war years when essential items were doled out. I can remember their green money-like feel.

The official business of life was intermingled with the unofficial business of life. It was as if I was had been allowed entry onto hallowed ground. Everything I saw and touched spoke volumes about life, but also about death. Estate sales usually occur when there’s been a death. They suggest a sense of finality, a realization that life on earth ends, and you can’t take anything with you. In many ways that day in those barns and buildings I came of age. The lesson learned: A seven-by-four feet chifforobe can speak volumes about what we valued, but it’s only a whisper compared to the legacy of our lives themselves.

In our he/she-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins world, perhaps we should dare to leave our most treasured possessions in other people. Everything else deteriorates or gets sold. Heaven is the ultimate chifforobe, the very best safety deposit box. Let’s prove our faith by making memories in people. Joe Paterno will not be remembered for his tenacity at Penn State but in letting down a bunch of young victims. I pray for better. Our values will be revealed, exposed, celebrated, or berated. In the words of Rev. R.G. Lee, “There’s going to be a payday someday.” God help us all.

United Methodist Appointment-Making Anxiety

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February 1 is the day that Advisory Response Forms are due to my office declaring that churches and/or clergy want a change in appointment. It’s been like a full moon around here! My phone has been ringing off the hook with people asking, “Can you get us a better pastor?” or clergy asking, “Is this a good year to move?” In other words, this is that time of year that United Methodist laity and preachers get antsy about changing clergy. It is unsettling to think that one might have to move on to a new ministry, or break in a new pastor.
I am glad to report that it appears that I will have very few moves this year in the Columbia District. I don’t say this because it’s a lighter load, but because ministry and partnerships are bearing fruit! Our younger clergy (under 35) aren’t doing ministry for extrinsic reasons, so there’s some built-in reluctance to move. This is according to Dr. Lovett Weems of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. My impression is that most clergy feel this way. Ministry isn’t an easy ride so the reason to be in it has to more intrinsic than extrinsic. What I’m trying to say is this, whether a clergyperson is young or old, or somewhere in between, moving is no picnic. I often have thought that maybe we should move all the people and leave the pastors so everyone would have a taste of itinerancy. Ha!
The prospect of starting over in a new parish is difficult to ponder, whether one is laiy or clergy, especially if age or infirmity is making box-lifting a problem. I wonder if Abram and Sarai felt some of this age-reluctance when, in their seventies, they were asked by God to leave their home in Ur and travel to an unknown destination? Sounds like United Methodism’s method of deployment, doesn’t it?
I know some clergy with more zip in later life than earlier, and I know others who have already retired and have forgotten to tell the Board of Pensions. But, look at Abram and Sarai and you see a clergy couple ready to do what God wants! Ah, but you might say that their ages weren’t computed the way that ours are today. After all, they both lived well into their 100’s.
Perhaps they enjoyed good health because of the Middle Eastern diet. For instance, Mussa Zoabi of Israel claims to be the oldest person alive. He says he’s 160 years old. His name won’t go down in the record books because he is older than most record-keeping systems and his age can’t be verified. The interesting thing, however, is that Mussa Zoabi can tell you exactly why he’s lived so long. He says it’s his diet. Every day he drinks either a cup of melted butter or olive oil. Yuck!
Diets are the rage, aren’t they? It seems that everyone has some special diet that will do this or that for you. Maybe Abram and Sarai had a special diet. Remember, when they got to the Promised Land, Abram had to pass his seventy-something wife off as his sister because she was so good looking that he was afraid someone would kill him to get her. Wow! Abram and Sarai must have had good genes and a super diet.
Sixty percent of the people in North America say that they’re on a diet. Imagine that! We all want to be modern day Sarai’s and Abraham’s, at least in vitality! A staff person at Weight Watchers once told this story. She said that a new client had begun their diet. The person came in to be weighed after the first stressful week. The person stepped on the scales and had only lost a couple of pounds! The dieter wasn’t too happy, and complained. This is what the dieter said: “My friend comes here to Weight Watchers, and told me they had lost ten pounds. They said I’d lose ten pounds in the first week, too!”
Well, the leader at Weight Watchers was a little disturbed. She knew that you don’t lose weight over night. So she asked the dieter, a little indignantly: “Who told you that? Is this person a doctor?” The dieter said, “No.” The leader asked, “Is this person a nurse?” “No,” again said the dieter. “Well,” continued the leader, “Is this person a nutritionist, or another Weight Watcher’s leader?” Negative again! “Well, who is this person?” asked the leader. “I think,” said the newcomer, “I think this person is a liar!”
Most of us know the truth and the lies about dieting. But what’s the truth about Abram and Sarai? How did they get the courage and gumption at their age to leave Ur of the Chaldees and strike out for Canaan? What made them any different from us and can we have a little bit of what they had? Whatever it was, like the person in the restaurant observing the obvious delight of a nearby couple, I’d like to say, “I want to have what they’re having.” Whether we’re laity or clergy at this anxious time of year and are concerned about moving and United Methodist itinerancy, we know what Abram and Sarai’s main diet was this: FAITH! Trust in God and yielding to His direction will be the best move we will ever make! Trusting and obeying are the only diet that works on a faith journey. May it be so with all of our United Methodist anxiety about appointment-making and moves!

Carlee’s Eulogy

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The word “Eulogy” means “Good Word.” A number of you have asked if I might share the eulogy I wrote for my brother, Carlee. As a person who often finds great comfort in the part of the Apostles’ Creed that declares that “I believe in the Communion of Saints,” then this eulogy is an ode to that belief. We are an Easter people and our resurrection hope is not in vain.

As we share the stories of people they remain alive in our hearts and actions. Holy Communion is called an “anamnesis,” or to “remember.” This morning I remember my brother and others, and I hope this spurs you to write down your thoughts and reflections about those who have gone before you. The remembrance of the past gives meaning and content for the present and future.

Take time today to think about the people you most admire and write their biography. It will be a “good word,” a eulogy. Everyone needs to be remembered.

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Seasons of Love

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This is a waiting time and anybody who knows me, knows that’s not easy for me. We had an interesting day yesterday with Narcie and Mike while Mike’s Mom took care of Enoch and Evy Grace. There were 2 MRI’s, four doctors, two nurses, one of whom Narcie said was reminiscent of Dr. Gregory House of “House” fame. They didn’t tell us anything and the old adage, “No news is good news” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. This waiting place, a la Dr. Suess’ “Oh, the Places You will Go,” is a rough place, but we’ll all sit there time and time again. It’s what we do with the waiting that makes the difference I guess.

I’ve been pondering God’s word about waiting and being still. Psalm 46:10, 11 rings true: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Stillness and not panic; trusting in God -the God who in Jesus enfleshed Himself into our existence, the good and the bad – this is what is keeping me sane right now.

Psalm 46 caused me to remember II Chronicles 20 where Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (Which means “praise,” by the way) was surrounded by invading armies. He called for a fast and prayed (vs. 12b) “… We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and he said, (vss. 15b, 17) “… This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. FOR THE BATTLE IS NOT YOURS, BUT GOD’S; You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; STAND FIRM AND SEE THE DELIVERANCE AND SEE THE DELIVERANCE THE LORD WILL GIVE YOU…” Then the neatest and most illogical thing was decided. Instead of putting his best troops at the front of his army, Jeshoshaphat put the choir up front (vs. 21b) “to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.'”

Then it says (vs. 21) “As they BEGAN to sing and praise…” the Lord defeated the enemies. So today in the waiting place I am going to praise the Lord, stand firm, and wait with hope, keeping my eyes on Jesus. Every bit of life is an opportunity to find that quiet place deep within ourselves where we exalt the Lord, not our fears. Life is fleeting and made up of minutes that are minute chances to love, not hate, to make peace and not hold grudges, to hear God’s voice above the cacophony of crows out to get us. Two of the songs that keep playing in my head are “Seasons of Love” from Rent and Five for Fighting’s “100 Years.” I’m praying for Narcie to have more and more seasons of love to add to the ones she’s already lived so well, a 100 years to proclaim Jesus’ love. With Jesus, eternity lasts even longer than that. It is a timeless truth especially in the midst of life’s frailties: Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.

I hope this inspires you as it does me to listen, listen and love, love, every minute.


This video/song underscores my desire that we appreciate every moment and never miss what we give away. In the words of Jim Elliott, great missionary who gave his life to take the Gospel to the Auca Indians: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”