God’s Kiss

I walked on hallowed ground yesterday. In fact, it happens pretty much every day if I open my eyes. This Sunday’s Gospel lectionary text from John 13 is about love. Jesus says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” How awesome and scary is that? Our love expressed either allows or prevents people from knowing Jesus. Yesterday I saw love.

There was a family gathering at the bedside of a loved one transitioning from earthly life to heaven. The husband of 60-something years was poignant as he stated the obvious. His beloved’s condition was deteriorating during this holy moment, but, as he put it, “She still gives good kisses.” We, the church, individually and corporately, are God’s kisses to the world.

That sounds like a mission statement of sorts for Christians, but our mission statements are usually so nice, catchy, alliterative, and wrong. Sometimes we have created them without much regard for God’s mission. I’ve done it myself. “MD4C” was one of my favorites: “Making Disciples for Jesus Christ.” It passed the tee shirt test because it was short enough to fit on one. It was long enough to be memorable, and short enough to be memorized. It met all of the secular benchmarks of an effective mission statement, but when I think about the love I witnessed yesterday and the ways that God gets our attention in the Bible, I’m a bit ashamed of “Seek, Save, Serve” even though that’s a pretty good one. The mission statement I saw in that family yesterday was “Love” and that’s what Jesus was talking about in John 13:34-35.

There’s even a website that can help you generate a mission statement. Go to the address www.netinsight.co.uk/portfolio/mission/missgen.asp, and press the “play” button and presto! As someone said to me, “Substitute ‘church’ for ‘business,’ and you’re in business. Ha! A better place to find mission statements for the church is in the Bible, but they aren’t so catchy or cute: “Die on a cross.” “Leave your home, and go somewhere I’m not going to tell you.” “Marry a Hooker.” “Go speak to people you hate.” These are all in the Bible and are tough! I daresay that they boil down to “Love,” which is tough, tender, and time-consuming. Oh, there I go with 3 “T’s.” Sorry.

In one of his sermons, Walter Burghart tells the story of a surgeon’s observations of a couple much like what I witnessed yesterday. He says, “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, somewhat clownish. A tiny twig of a facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, had been severed. She will be this way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.”

He continues, “Her young husband, at least that’s who he might be, is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, the moment is a private one. Who are they, I ask myself? He and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at each other so generously, so lovingly. The young woman speaks. ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it will. It is because the nerve was cut.’ She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.”

The story unfolds, “’I like it,’ he says, ‘it’s kind of cute.’ All at once I know exactly who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a God moment. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

I wonder how this world and our church might change if our mission statement was to reinforce the fact that God so loved the world that he has leaned in toward us, and has contorted himself to show love to us – even allowing himself to be twisted on a cross for us. What would it mean for us to truly live the Biblical mission statements rather than concoct our own, to be God’s kiss to the world?

Kiss Me Pic

 

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Two Simple and Central Questions for the UMC

There’s an old story of a rabbi in a Russian city at the turn of the twentieth century. One night he was wandering around aimlessly questioning his faith in God and his calling to ministry. In the midst of his despair and lack of direction on that bitterly cold night he wandered into a Russian military compound. It was off-limits to any civilian. The bark of a Russian soldier broke his brooding thoughts, “Who are you? And what are you doing here?” The rabbi replied, “Excuse me?” The soldier asked again, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” After a brief pause and the dawning of enlightenment that came from the soldier’s questions, the rabbi responded in a most gracious tone, “How much do you get paid every day?” The soldier shot back, “What does that have to do with you?” The rabbi then said, “I will pay you the same wages if you will ask me those same questions every day: ‘What are you doing?’ and ‘Why are you here?’” When faced with an identity crisis these two questions will help anyone get back on track!

We all need to answer these two questions, but this weekend they are especially important for the United Methodist Church. This coming Saturday Bishop Melvin Talbert is supposed to conduct a marriage ceremony in Alabama for a homosexual couple against the advice of Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Annual Conference and the Executive Committee of the whole denomination’s Council of Bishops. While I affirm the sacred worth of all people and the fact that we all stand in the need of Christ’s grace, another issue at hand is one of ecclesiology, and hence identity, for our denomination.  Are we headed to schism? Will we live and be in covenant with one another? What are we doing? Why are we here? Bishop Talbert is answering from one perspective while the General Conference and the Council of Bishops has answered from another. What say you?

Here are my thoughts: God holds us together, but so does the Book of Discipline of the UMC. Walk with me through a few pertinent paragraphs of our Discipline as we ponder Bishop Talbert’s actions or the actions of others who might be tempted to do likewise. Paragraph 340.2(a)(3)(a) says that pastors  can perform marriage ceremonies “in accordance with the laws of the state and the rules of the United Methodist Church.” Neither the state of Alabama nor the rules of the UMC allow homosexual unions. Furthermore, Par. 339 defines “Pastors” as elders, etc. which would have to include bishops of the church since they are elders consecrated for a particular task. Paragraph 403 states: “Bishops and superintendents are elders in full connection.”

Some say that Bishop Talbert’s actions will not violate church law, and that the situation is a moot point, because the couple was already legally married in Washington earlier this year and his intention is merely to perform a “ceremony.”  But things get complicated as one follows the Book of Discipline on the matter.

First, what about permission to do such a service in an area under another clergyperson’s charge? Paragraphs 341.4 and 341.6 are instructive in terms of our polity and procedures. Paragraph 341.4 states that no pastor (remember that Bishops are pastors) can hold a religious service within the bounds of a pastoral charge other than the one to which appointed without consent of the pastor of the charge. In this case the pastor of the charge is Bishop Wallace-Padgett and though Bishop Talbert appropriately contacted her about his plans, she told him that he did not have her permission.

Second, does it matter if what Bishop Talbert is doing is just a “Blessing Service?” Par. 341.6 clearly says that “Ceremonies that celebrate (italics mine) homosexual unions” are off-limits. Maybe the Judicial Council will rule that the General Conference will have to define what a “ceremony” is or what “celebrate” means, but for the time being it’s pretty clear: any service that even “celebrates” such a union is non-compliant. Plus the UM Constitution in Paragraph 16.6 gives the sole right to “provide and revise” the hymnal and ritual of the Church to the General Conference. Therefore, if anyone, including Bishop Talbert, tries to perform a “Blessing Ceremony” for a homosexual union then they are essentially creating a liturgy/ritual that the General Conference has not approved. Any such action by a bishop would be in direct violation of Par. 403.1 that states that bishops are “authorized to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church.” This, of course, would be an ipso facto violation of Par. 2702.1(d) which is “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church.” The same would be true for anyone, bishop or not, who would try to rewrite General Conference-approved liturgy.

This gives rise to the nature of any official denominational complaint or charge against Bishop Talbert. Is he violating Par. 341.6 and 2702.1(b), that prohibit a United Methodist clergyperson from conducting “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions,” or is he violating Par. 2702.1(f), which is defined as “relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor”? In this case, the undermined would be the Bishop of North Alabama and at least the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops if not the whole Council. These are key questions that speak to larger issues of covenant and our connectional polity.

The United Methodist Church is a covenantal body bound together by allegiance to Jesus Christ and our vows as lay members and clergy to be loyal to the United Methodist Church and uphold it by our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. This loyalty to the UMC is most clearly postulated in our Book of Discipline. As a denomination we are at a critical ecclesiological juncture. Will we be a covenantal body with an episcopal polity or shift to a “free church anything goes” polity? Will we be able to stay in covenant with one another? These are the ultimate questions that the Bishop Talbert situation beg – “Who are we?” and “What are we doing?”

Even the way that complaints against bishops are handled is troubling in answering these questions. Bishop Talbert is a member of the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops yet seeks to violate the discipline and order of the church in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Even if a complaint is made by persons in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, South Central Jurisdiction, North Central Jurisdiction, the Northeastern Jurisdiction, or any Central Conference, the case will be remanded to the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops per Par. 2704.1(a). This process is evidence of the disunity within the church and may even be a planned exercise to further fracture our denomination or expose regionalism. My plea is for us to stay the course and remain faithful to our covenant as United Methodists. Yes, we should love everyone and hold all persons of both sacred worth and in need of grace, but in doing so we must not trample underfoot our identity as a connectional church.

General Conference 2016 is lining up to be historic for our denominational future. There must be thoughtful discernment as we prepare. How can we preach the unity of the church universal if we ourselves don’t live it? Who are we and what are we doing here? How we answer those two questions will either lead us to “Gospel Disobedience” as coined by Bishop Talbert or Obedience to the Order and Discipline of the Church. Which is it? As an elder in the UMC, I know what I have already promised. It is not a question of one over the other. For me, it is both/and by the grace of God that is for all and in all.

A Cord of Three Strands

Cindy and I are about to take an adventure. Those of you who know me well have heard about my many Mt. Mitchell treks, camping for $11 bucks a night at multiple College Baseball World Series in Omaha, or canoeing the New River between North Carolina and Virginia. Cindy has been camping once with me to Mt. Mitchell, once in Omaha, and tomorrow we’re heading to Jefferson, NC and the New River! I pray that it’s enjoyable enough that it’s not a “one and done” experience. I so enjoy us being together, but for this to be a repeat thing we’ve got to have serenity and spontaneity mixed with a little bit of comfort and a lot of companionship. Most important to both of us is companionship with God.

This reminds me of when I was in seminary in Boston when I enrolled in a strange class called “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” I thought the class was going to be about the prayer disciplines of the early Desert Christians. I quickly discovered that it was a backpacking course designed to stretch our faith through rock-climbing, rappelling off a 700 foot high cliff, and spending two weeks hiking through the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. We were in five person teams. One person was the orienteer with map and compass. I was the cook carrying a little alcohol burning Svea stove that had to be warmed up by body heat in order to work. We hiked through snow up to our chests in places, and learned how to work as a team helping each other through the constant obstacles.

It was a marvelous course! I do remember, however, how desperate I became during the middle of the trip. Home and Cindy were far enough away from my memory that I was missing her terribly. We were not yet far enough along on the trip to see the light of civilization at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It was a perfect time for what the leaders planned for us. They gave each of us a piece of plastic to act as a ground moisture barrier or as a tarp, and took us along with our personal gear into the deeper darkness of the forest. Each person was alone, no one was within eyesight or earshot, and we had no food. Each of us had enough water to last for three days, and that was it. We weren’t allowed to keep our watches either.

The first day was terrible! I wanted to eat something, anything. I scoured my backpack to see if a single loose M&M might have strayed from the hands that stripped us of all our food. I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t tell the time, but by the looks of the sun, time had stood still. I wanted a Coke, a candy bar, Cindy, a pillow, and hot water. The second morning things began to shift. I had gotten used to the hunger. I dug out my Bible from the backpack and read to pass the time. I started noticing that the sun was moving rhythmically through the sky. The sounds of the forest were poetic in their random yet predictable patterns. It was so soothing! Over the next two days I pulled out another book that I had stashed in my backpack. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, Life Together. What a wonderful book about Christian fellowship!

Those days alone in the forest while fasting brought clarity of thought to me that I have seldom experienced since. Priorities were in focus, spiritual insight was effortlessly gained, and God seemed closer than my breath. It took the wilderness for me to see that the main thing is the main thing! God is the best meal imaginable – better than any M&M to a guy doing a solo in the dark woods. Snacking off the candy of life isn’t truly satisfying, and the time alone made the fellowship of fellow hikers all the sweeter when we got back together!

Partaking of Jesus, the Bread of Life, is ultimate satisfaction! So Cindy and I will have a tent, and our Therm-a-rest sleeping pads, freeze-dried meals of turkey tetrazzini, beef stroganoff, and granola, plus two backpacking camp chairs,  a Jetboil, the Bible and some books, along with enough fire starter to give us the essentials; but most important beyond each other there will be God. This has been a summer of “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity” for our entire family and the Lord has been with us. Narcie is doing so much better. We all are!

We have learned like Bonhoeffer did. We really need the community of life together, but mostly we need an awareness that God is right here with us, too. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says it well, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” So, here the three of us go – Cindy, me, and Jesus!

New River

Love & Marriage: Mutuality of Purpose!

In the little bit of television that I get to watch last night was one in which the shows featured their annual Valentine’s Day entrees. Whether through sitcom or sermon this is a perfect time to focus on relationships – with each other and Christ. Both remind me of Lucy and Schroeder from the “Peanuts” comic strip. Schroeder is the toy-piano Mozart playing intellectual type and Lucy can be a bit difficult, but she’s had a consistent crush on Schroeder. Anyway, in one of the comic strips she walks over while Schroeder is playing and tries to get him to think about her and love. She asks him, “What is love?” He gets up from the piano and looks out into space and says, “Love: a noun or a verb meaning having a deep affection for a person, place, or thing.” Then he sits back down and starts playing again. Lucy then looks off into space and says, “On paper he’s great.” Unfortunately, this is too often true about our interpersonal relationships, and our relationship with Christ. On paper we’re great. How about our actions?

The Call to Action legislation says that we can fix our denominational problems through restructuring. I’m wondering if our real dilemma is a spiritual issue that all the tinkering in the world can’t fix. We need to bathe this whole process and the upcoming General Conference in prayer so that a spiritual renewal takes place. Perhaps if we do that first then all the structural pieces will fall more easily into their proper place. Paper answers cannot solve a spiritual problem. Love in action is a better place to start!

The speaker at a woman’s club was lecturing on marriage and asked the audience how many of them wanted to “mother” their husbands. One member in the back row raised her hand. “You mean you really want to mother your husband?” the speaker asked. “Mother?” the woman said. “I thought you said ‘smother.’” In a true marriage smothering doesn’t take place. There is a free mutuality of purpose and a partnership of respect.

Unfortunately there have been lots of people who seem to totally misunderstand what marriage really is. Such a man lived in Redlands, California. His name was Glynn “Scotty” Wolfe. Wolfe was married 29 times. Worse, this guy was a Bible-thumping Baptist minister! As far as I can tell he still holds the Guinness’ Book of World Records title as the most-married man. He died in a nursing home in 1997 at age 88, just 10 days before his first wedding anniversary with No. 29, Linda Essex-Wolfe, the world’s most-married woman with 23 husbands.

Even though they lived apart – she in Indiana, he in California – their 11-month marriage lasted longer than some of their others. Wolfe’s shortest was 19 days, while Essex-Wolfe once ended a marriage after 36 hours. Both of their longest marriages lasted 7 years. Wolfe left one wife because she ate sunflower seeds in bed, and divorced another because she used his toothbrush. When he died Wolfe’s body lay unclaimed at the San Bernardino County morgue. Big surprise! No one wanted to pay the cost of burial. Since no one stepped forward to claim him, Wolfe was cremated by the county and put in a collective grave.

Wolfe attracted worldwide attention the year before he died when he wed Essex-Wolfe. The National Enquirer introduced the pair in his hometown of Blythe, California. At the time, he was married to a 17-year old girl from the Philippines. “As soon as I saw him, I knew I cared for him,” Essex-Wolfe said. “He was a charmer. He married a lot of beautiful women, a lot of young women.” They spent only one week together before getting hitched in front of cameras for a British documentary about marriage. Unwilling to leave her hometown, the bride flew back to Indiana the next week. Unwilling to venture into the cold weather of the Midwest, the groom remained in California. They stayed in touch by writing letters.

Scotty Wolfe was married 29 times, but he died alone with no one to give him a proper burial. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. The man didn’t understand either commitment or very little, it seems to me, about true love. If we don’t do better than Scotty Wolfe in loving our spouses, other people, and especially Jesus then we can forget about solid relationships! The Call to Action for me this week through Valentine’s is a Call to Love in Action!

Special Effects Without a Story!

Cindy and I had date night on Friday and went out to eat and took in a movie. The movie, “How Does She Do It?” with Sarah Jessica Parker was good in every way. It has a message for all women and men who try to hold down a job and stay connected to their families. A key line at the end of the movie was when Greg Kinnear, playing the husband, was asked what his wife did for a living. His response: “She’s a juggler!” How true in this day and age! Females and males alike have to juggle to make ends meet and get everything done. It’s a tough life. As I think about Cindy and my daughter Narcie I know how true it is that they feel extra pressure as women to do it all. They feel the need to be mother, spouse, cruise director for the family, disciplinarian, list makers, and house cleaners, PLUS bring home a paycheck and have a stellar career. It’s almost an impossible task. It’s a job description that few men can fulfill, except maybe for my son-in-law Mike who along with Narcie are the most adept jugglers that I have ever seen. He is the best “Mr. Mom” imaginable. When I hear what they do in an average week it’s more than a mere mortal can do.

People all over the world are struggling every day to juggle life’s responsibilities. I worry about the toll this is taking on everyone and society in general. I wonder what the church can do to help. Is the Gospel relevant to the working Moms and Dads who are frantically trying to make it through another day? I worry about the answer to that question when I see churches that have Mother’s Morning Out programs that cater to people who want free time away from their kids to play a tennis match when there are countless parents who need the church to provide an all-day ministry in a Christian environment. The movie raised all sorts of questions for me.

Some of the pondering even started before the movie began. As we were sitting there waiting the usual snippets of “Who said it?” flashed across the screen, all before any previews were shown. One caught my attention and has been intersecting with the movie in my head for the past few days. The saying came from George Lucas of Star Wars fame: “A special effect without a story is boring!” That line got me to thinking. Due to a boring story has the church lost its relevancy to our society, a society that is working itself to death trying to find work and/or find meaning? I know the right answer, but is it our culture’s answer or its experience with Christianity? The right answer, of course, is “No!” We do have a special effect called Jesus’ resurrection that certainly isn’t boring. We have a Gospel that creates fireworks of redemptive transformative power. However, are we offering the Gospel in a way that people aren’t bored stiff with our stale answers and outdated worship?

This generation of young parents needs the church’s best efforts in special effects: Children’s programs, youth programs, parenting classes, financial peace seminars, Bible Studies, vibrant worship experiences, mission experiences, and the list is endless! We can prove George Lucas is wrong about us. Thanks to Jesus we have the most special of effects and a great story – the Gospel! What’s our narrative? Does it lift up Christ in a relevant way to the culture? We have to answer these questions, and fast!

Happy Mother’s Day!

I married my mother! Whoa! Before you start thinking Oedipus, let me explain. Cindy is the only person that I know that is like a mirror image of my mother. There’s plenty of evidence that men and women alike seek a spouse that resembles the parent of the opposite sex. So, I’m not weird. I’m just giving my mother an extra compliment by marrying someone like her.

Cindy is such a super mom. She has tirelessly given of herself to all four of her children: Narcie, Josh, Caleb, and me. Well, I do like a certain degree of mothering. What guy doesn’t? Cindy does it well for the whole family. The truth of the matter goes beyond us four when I think of our wonderful son-in-law and daughter-in-law: Mike and Karen. I also witnessed Cindy’s untiring care, like a mother, to her own mother during her last 8 months of life.

This Mother’s Day is a milestone. So much has happened over the last two and a half years since the fateful summer of 2008 when I was a nominee for bishop. The whole process and coming in second was a mixed bag of emotions. However, as I ponder what has happened in this short period of time, I’d say it’s been good to have stayed in South Carolina, and we’ve gotten so much cared for in anticipation of whatever happens next year. We’ve had two births, Evy and Kaela. We’ve had two graduations, Caleb and Karen. We’ve had two funerals, her beloved Mom and my brother. Cindy’s had 3 surgeries and is finally fine. Narcie’s brain tumor is a prolonged anxiety that calls us to constant prayer. I’ve had a trip to the Philippines and Mozambique… and well what haven’t I had? The answer is that I haven’t had many awful things because I’ve been so blessed, and one of the most significant blessings for not just 2 and one half years, but through 35 years of marriage has been Cindy. Our 35th anniversary in late December and our trip to New York was a great salve on much of our wounds of the last 2+ years. Cindy’s support has been a bulwark in a crazy world.

My mother did the same thing for my whirlwind family. My mother was steady and full of unconditional love. She was so tenderhearted. Mother taught me about helping the poor and showing grace to the weak. She was a real lady with appropriate modesty and humility. She had an eye for beauty and fine things. She could decorate a hat when hats were in, and always had a new Christmas theme for the stairway banister. She loved history and made sure that I went to art classes even when I resisted. She also had a green thumb that could grow anything!

She was fun, too. She went camping with the guys and took us to Augusta for a variety of treats. Mother was the most knowledgeable person in town about the perfect route for Halloween candy. She knew just which houses to visit. The car was always full of greedy little gremlins. Every year I had a waiting list of people who wanted to go with us. She humored our every request, even when it wasn’t on her schedule. As a matter of fact, I think we were her schedule.

Mother did have a bit of a temper although she never spanked me. She was too loving for one to deliberately disobey. One time I did get sassy and got a smack across my head. As soon as I landed on the ground beside the sliding board, she was cradling me and apologizing. Believe me, once was enough. I didn’t get sassy again.

She had an opinion and words were sometimes pointed for those who had violated the parameters of southern gentility. My father was the usual recipient of those remarks. Cindy and I sometimes act out these vignettes in their honor, calling each other “Ralph” and “Sadie” tongue in cheek. Mother was spiritual and spicy, a lady and a tom-boy, and a lover of arts and crafts while being just as handy with a hoe, lawnmower, or garden tiller. We loved her, and love her still.

She fought illness with such grace and without complaint. She endured pain and despair with quiet hope. Mother kept loving even when her idyllic world began to show its age. She never lost her enormous sense of humor. I can relish her insatiable laugh in my mind’s ear right now. She lived a motto that we could all bear to emulate: “Ever she sought the best, ever she found it.” That was my mother, and that’s my wife. I am grateful.

John Wesley, United Methodists, and Me on Love

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Valentine’s Day may be almost a week past but love’s importance is forever. I have been reading a lot in preparation for my weekly lectures at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. I’m in my 4th week of teaching “UMC History.” It has been a great refresher and good experience. This week I have been especially taken with all the dalliances that John Wesley had with women. This was a guy who said as a young man he probably wouldn’t marry because he wouldn’t be able to find someone like his mother. Ah, “Mother” issues. Well, we all know the story of Sophy Hopkey in Georgia and how that got Wesley in trouble with a grand jury and on a boat back to England.
Interesting, too, how all of the people in his society/class meeting in Georgia were female teenagers at least 10-15 years his junior – sounds like a “safe sanctuary” problem to me. Then shortly after Charles gets married in the early 1740’s, Wesley is nursed back to health after an illness by Grace Murray, a serving girl 15 years his younger. Brother Charles is so upset at the differences in stations in life that he hijacks the woman and marries off to one of Wesley’s preachers. By all accounts she would have been a great partner in both family and faith! Wesley was very close to lots of women in the Wesleyan Revival. Some of his contemporaries even suggested that this was because women had the spiritual disposition to grasp his “practical divinity” and “holiness of heart and life” better than men. This assessment must have been pretty true. Wesley wrote pseudo-love letters about God to lots of women, many, no doubt, who became enamored with God and/or Wesley.
But then, 15 months after the famous Grace Murray incident, Wesley fell on some ice on London Bridge and was nursed back to health in the home of a wealthy widow, Mary “Molly” Vazeille. In two week’s time, in 1751 at age 48, John Wesley is married and Charles is too late to stop it. Like Grace Murray, Charles thinks this marriage will derail the revival. It almost does. There seemed to be maybe 6 good years of marriage then the toll of Wesley’s travels and the issue of female soul-mates and the letters to prove it became the undoing of their marriage. They separate off-and-on for the rest of their marriage. They exchanged heated words, letters, and plenty of triangulation with other people about “She said-he said” evidence surrounding John’s relationships with women leaders in the revival. Molly Wesley, some would say, actually helped the revival and kept Wesley on the preaching circuit so he wouldn’t have to go home. When he was away she compulsively tore into his desk looking for evidence in his letters or journals of his moral failings. Nevertheless, he finally told her he would come home if she would, “Suspect me no more; asperse me no more; provoke me no more. Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise…” After 30 years of fitful marriage she dies October 8, 1781. Wesley was away from London, returning the day of her burial, but was not informed of it until 2 days later. Wow, and how sad.
Some of Mary Wesley’s actions remind me of a speaker at a woman’s club who was lecturing on marriage and asked the audience how many of them wanted to “mother” their husbands. One member in the back row raised her hand. “You mean you really want to mother your husband?” the speaker asked. “Mother?” the woman said. “I thought you said ‘smother.’”
In a true marriage smothering doesn’t take place, by either person. There is a free mutuality of purpose and a partnership of respect. Unfortunately John Wesley never experienced married bliss. I’m not saying it was Molly’s fault. Wesley had plenty of issues and would have been a therapist’s nightmare concerning intimacy and love. On loving God and others he was great! Unfortunately, like many of us in the church today, we can love everybody and not be intimate with anybody. We can more easily bless people from a distance by a donation or a check than by our close involvement, especially if they’re different from us. We’re good on paper like Wesley, and, like him, we’re good with friends and strangers. It’s the people we live with that know the truth about us. They have seen the pretense disintegrate and fall to the floor. A man asked his children one day why people thought he was a Christian. Their hasty response was, “Maybe because they don’t know you!” I pray that people will know us and our true personal love. I hope that we United Methodists will love people, really love people – not by giving a donation but by giving ourselves.

New York Anniversary Recap

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Our 35th anniversary in New York City was absolutely great. We couldn’t have made it without Narcie’s play-by-play itinerary. By the way, we need special prayers for her as she has her next MRI on the brain tumor tomorrow, and meets with the doctor on Wednesday. We pray it’s gone!
New York was wonderful – wouldn’t change a thing. The Roosevelt Hotel was superb and right across the street from Grand Central Terminal. On Sunday we stowed our luggage at the hotel and went to Grand Central to buy our week subway passes and ate, passed by the NY Public Library then up 5th Avenue we strolled, stopping along the way at Saks, Tiffany’s, Rockefeller Center, and hot chocolate in the Plaza Hotel after we gazed into Central Park. We went into St. Patrick’s Cathedral and were heartened by the packed-house worship attendance. We hit about every Starbucks the whole trip and we’re not coffee aficionados. Gotta stay warm somehow! Sunday night we went back near Rockefeller Center to Radio City Music Hall and had a super time watching the Christmas Spectacular. Simply astounding!
Monday we took the Green Express to Bowling Green and Fort Clinton for a close-up of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. We had a wonderful visit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian, went to the WTC site, Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Chapel, saw City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge, and then on to Chinatown and the edge of Little Italy.
Then we were about to board the subway back uptown to get to the Empire State Building and then to Macy’s. My nickname could have been “Pockets” the whole trip because I had so many and seemed like I was always searching for something. Anyway, We stood there for a long time with me trying to find my all-week pass. I didn’t want to buy another one, and then finally I gave in and purchased a daily pass. We got on the train with this guy with a cowboy hat. We struck up a conversation and found out he was from Georgia. He was by himself but not for long. We showed him how to get to the Empire State Building and I had an extra express pass. He upgraded us all to the King Kong Observatory, met other nice folks, then went down to the “Sleepless in Seattle” Observatory. He went with us to Macy’s, too – a great guy. We spent a long time in Macy’s then left our friend behind as we made it to Benjamin’s for our Anniversary Dinner. It was wonderful. Then we headed to Times Square for the musical, “In the Heights,” a testimony about community and the human family!
Tuesday found us going all over. We went to the Upper Eastside, saw beautiful Brownstones, the Guggenheim, the Met Museum where we spent hours, then we strolled through Central park, including a rickshaw to get us the last little way to the “Strawberry Fields” tribute to John Lennon. We stopped at the Tavern on the Green then headed to Columbus Circle and went uptown on Broadway to Columbia University, Barnard College, Union Theological Seminary, Riverside Church, and the God Box (Inter Church Center), plus Grant’s tomb. Then it was hustle back downtown to Times Square on the Red line to the black S shuttle over to Grand Central so we could get ready for the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. It was beyond words. I had seen the Nutcracker in Philadelphia years ago and this was better than I had remembered in every way!
On Wednesday, our day of departure, we decided against the UN and headed back to Rockefeller Center to see the ice rink up close, go into the NBC Store, and eat downstairs on the concourse. We had a great trip to the airport then wouldn’t you know it, there was our friend from Georgia with his cowboy hat. We had different flights, hours apart, and there we were together again at JFK. We shared a Starbucks, talked, and even shared a prayer. We called him on Christmas Day to wish him well. God works in  mysterious ways!
We saw God’s providence every step of the way, just like our marriage, and it was beautiful to behold. Emmanuel – “Best of all, God is with us!” P.S. More photos on my Facebook page.

Friday Night At The Movies

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It’s weekend on the first leg of my July-August journey; I’m at Emory now teaching UM Discipline and Polity, then it’s back in Columbia for District Set-up Meeting, Cabinet Retreat and through the end of August in Africa. Cindy’s coming down tonight and hopefully we’ll eat well and check out some movies. I eat okay when I’m by myself, but when she’s around my vegetable count goes way up. She’s great and keeps me straight.

We will be married 35 years this December 20 and yesterday I booked our anniversary excursion. She wants to go to New York City at Christmas, see the sights and shows. So, anyway, we’re booked for a midtown hotel, and will see “In the Heights,” “The Rockettes’ Christmas Show,” and, hopefully, “The Nutcracker,” but those tickets don’t go on sale until September. It will be fun. I’m looking forward to window-shopping and the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree. It will all be gravy after that – 3 nights in the Big Apple with the Apple of My Eye.

We learned a long time ago that we had to go on dates at least once a week, nothing too fancy, just quality time without the kiddo’s, just the two of us. To all of you folks out there – keep the home fires burning by stoking the fire. It takes work and prioritizing, but there aren’t any shortcuts to lasting love. I’m no specialist in things of the heart, and I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes, but I’ve tried to learn from them. So, I’m not sure where we will go tonight. I’ve got some options, movie times and restaurant list nearby – Athens Pizza will suit us both, go see “Salt” or “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” or something between action, comedy, and love story. Well, that’s the plan. We’ll see. Hope you and yours have a great weekend.

Christmas and Family

Our first Christmas together was right after our wedding that occurred on December 20, 1975. After honeymooning in Gatlinburg and enjoying its perfect Christmas atmosphere including snowfall and St. Bernard puppies for sale, we went back to Cindy’s Nana’s house to celebrate the 25th with extended family of Godwin’s and Burch’s.

I was adopted by a wonderful family. Christmas with Cindy’s family has been made rich with memories of gift swapping, carols sung, games played, all-night barbeques, and tons of sweets. But, by far, the best thing about my in-law’s and extended family is their gift of relationship. They exhibit love on a grand scale but without pretense. The gifts aren’t elegant or measured one against the other. The main gift that is passed from one to another is family.

This is key for me! I also dearly love my own biological family and have marvelous memories of Christmases past when we all gathered at our house, which, by the way, was also home to my grandparents. We cousins and kin celebrated on a huge scale. After all, December 25 was my grandparents’ wedding anniversary, and my own parents were married on December 23. Nevertheless, with all of its hoopla, Christmas with my family of origin hasn’t compared with the reality of familial love that I’ve witnessed with Cindy’s relatives.

Maybe part of the problem is that my parents were older when I was born, fortyish, and might have been too tired for a newcomer. They even let my two brothers have the honor of naming me, I surmise to help extend my life. My first name “William” was my maternal grandfather’s name. My middle name, “Timothy,” came from the bear in the “Dick and Jane” books. My brothers and I are eight years apart in age. When I was two, my oldest brother went off to college. I really don’t remember living in the same house with him. He was a celebrated visitor. My middle brother was just becoming interesting when he got hooked on cars and girls. So I became another one of the independent agents of our household, fending for myself, except for the gracious tutelage of nursemaids and kind aunts. The yo-yo between closeness and distance has been a family trait. My family has always been a three-ring circus with everyone going off in his or her own direction. Therefore, maybe it was the whole family’s penchant for doing your own thing that led me to give much of my Christmas holidays to selling fireworks in partnership with one of my uncles.

Therefore, learning to do family has occurred mostly after marriage for me, and I haven’t been the greatest student of the art. It is an art to be in relationship with other people. The eagerness to be with family and the Christmases we have shared is what makes Cindy’s family so dear to me. They haven’t just adopted me. There’s a host of others who have been included, too. The inclusion of so many is what makes Christmas, or any other time with them, so special. Rather than a disjointed make-an-effort family system, theirs is as natural as breathing.

As much as I miss my deceased parents and desire to have closeness with my living McClendon kin, I made a choice a long time ago. I’ll always love my brothers and their families and my extended Jackson cousins from my mother’s side, but for all practical purposes I belong to another family now, my wife’s. I love them, and they have taught me how to love better. I just wanted to say, “Thanks.” With Cindy’s mother’s death a couple of months ago, Christmas will not be the same. Our parents are all gone now and that reality hits me in my gut sometimes. My folks have been enjoying Christmas together in heaven for years now, but this will be the first time in 9 years that Mr. and Mrs. Godwin will spend it together. They will be in our hearts all day, too, and we will forge new family traditions, but after it’s all said and done, it will be Ganny and Gandaddy’s life and love that will hold us together.