General Malaise

Maybe it’s the clouds and drizzle that we’ve had for three days, but I’ve literally sensed a pall over things. I don’t know what it is, but IT is usually something. Charge conferences are going well although there have been a few rough patches. There have been the usual nay-saying phone calls that are the soup de jour for a district superintendent. I have been non-reactive and tried very faithfully to be calmer as things get more tense. So far so good, but I have a wierd sense of dread-like unease waiting for the other proverbial shoe to fall. I am not a worrier, but there’s that nagging question of “What’s going on?” running through my subconscious and breaking into my conscious thinking. Have you ever been like this?

I am sleeping well, eating well, been around good positive people. My devotional life is great. Heck, even the stock market has been pretty much up for the last week. The biggest downers that I can point to are Steve Spurrier, the USC Football Coach, acting juvenile with a newspaper reporter that gets his goat, and 5th year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia’s final dismissal from the team. As a long-suffering Gamecock fan I know not to get too worked up or stressed out about the fortunes of our football team. I know this feeling I’m having isn’t about the ALCS or NLCS baseball games or a delay in the NBA season. Sports is a wonderful distraction from life, but I’m not one of those who lives and breathes for the next game or the stat line. Sure, it’s important and I want my team to win but there are bigger fish to fry in the game of life.

So what is it? What is it for you? Is there a general malaise that’s befallen society, the church, me, you? Christmas is coming and I have pottery to make but the thought of doing it is daunting rather than its usual exhilaration. Has the worry-bug got me? You? Maybe. Most of us in church work know the truth of the misconstrued sign, “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the Church help!” Yep, for us churchy types, lay or clergy, the church is often our source of anxiety, not the cure. Worship and spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, serving others, being in a small group, and giving always improve my depleted emotional resources. Going to Mt. Mitchell is my oasis but that won’t happen again until sometime in November or next spring. Too cold and wet right now. Now into a three-day funk it wouldn’t much matter what I do or where I go. As someone said it, “If you want to get away from it all, don’t take it all with you.” Yeah! Duh, but what if there’s no escape?

Caleb has been to visit friends in Washington State for a few weeks. Maybe it’s him on my mind. Narcie will be soon due for another MRI in the midst of what I call our “prolonged anxiety” about the brain tumor, but I’ve been following Cindy’s sage advice: “Turn your worries into prayers.” Maybe the breakthrough is just around the corner. I pray so for her and everyone who is out of work, who is facing the unknown with a terrible or unknowable prognosis, or anyone who  is sensing a cloud of nebulous bewilderment. These are stressful times!

So I’m going to turn back to the One who is ever ready to come to our aid: God! Jesus! Helmut Thielicke, in his book Life Can Begin Again, offers a great word for me and all of you who are tired or just plain weary: “We should not artificially turn away from our worries by constantly listening to the radio, for example, or running to the movies, or some other kind of busywork, but rather direct our cares to him who wills to bear and share all our sin and all our suffering and therefore all our cares. No diversion, but directing our cares. This is what to do. Jesus did not say: Look at the ostrich, how it buries its head in the desert sand and so tries to escape the fear of danger. No, he said: Look at the birds of the air, keep your eyes open, stand up straight and look to the heights where God makes known his grace and care.” Matthew 11:28 works, too. Straight from Jesus: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 1 Peter 5:6 is also a help: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may lift you up in due time.” Isn’t it due-time yet? That’s not my task. My task is to humble myself and wait. God does the lifting. Check out 2 Chronicles 20:1-23 and start warming up the choir!

It Is What It Is?

I was listening to a sports radion station on the way to the office this morning and some unease about the phrase, “It is what it is,” finally jelled. I went to an on-line dictionary for the phrase and here’s what it said: “A phrase that seems to simply state the obvious but actually implies helplessness.” “It is what it is” is the new “Whatever” in our society, so no wonder our culture is in a funk .

Some of the funk is due to, I daresay, an embedded Calvinism that is fatalistic at heart: “It was meant to be,” “What goes around comes around,” “There’s a reason for everything,” and the scary one, “It’s God’s will.” Now, I admit I think God does have a will, but I know that there’s a big difference between God’s permissive will and direct will. I know that God knows everything that happens but I cannot believe that God causes everything that happens. That’s a huge difference. An “It is what it is” philosophy or theology is a set-up for expecting the worst. It doesn’t leave any room for redemption or corrective action. It doesn’t even leave much room for prayer because everything is “It is what it is.”

Why pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” or “Lead us not into temptation,” unless we think God can actually change the course of human history. I would rather say “It could be better” or “Things aren’t what they ought to be” rather than “It is what it is.” Praying and adding action to our prayers puts us on the offensive when life’s junk comes our way. As United Methodists we are a theologically optimistic bunch. We believe God loves the whole creation enough through prevenient grace to allow us to cooperate with God in making a new creation through Christ. We’re not passive fence-sitters with our heads in our hands futilely accepting our plight. Process theology leads us to an understanding of God’s providence that does what it says: God provides!

I Corinthians 10:13 comes to mind: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” There are plenty of other passages that also affirm to me that what God does best is not heap junk on our lives but helps us get through it. I Peter 5:6-11 is one when it says “…Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you…and the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Another strong reminder of the real source of suffering and blessing is from James 1:16-17, “Don’t be deceived, my dear friends. Every GOOD and PERFECT gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

So when I think about Narcie’s tumor, my diabetes, and the tragedies I have seen or the economic disaster that has wrecked many a family – I am not going to say “It is what it is,” fold up my tent and give up. I’m going to pray to a God who gives good and perfect gifts, that delivers us from death and the grave through Jesus. God provides a way out of every grave situation. Instead of holding my face in my hands like “What will be, will be” and “It is what it is” implies, I’m going to open my eyes and see what God’s escape plan is. I’m going to participate in life’s solutions and not resign myself to a depressing done-deal fatalistic outcome. God is ever moving through us and history to work his good purpose. I can either get with it or give in. I refuse to give in. I’m going to do my best today not to say, “It is what it is.” There’s very little or no faith in that statement. Here goes, “It could be better!” That speaks to me and says “God and you can change this situation for the better!” Go for it! “Things aren’t what they ought to be!”

Community and World Communion

World Communion Sunday

I was reading a candidate’s ordination papers the other day and started pondering how we’re made in the image of God. There are those that say the imago dei is best reflected in a legal or  political way. That’s a sectarian triumphalist model that gives tacit, if not explicit, approval for humankind to exert dominion over creation. Drill, Baby, Drill – strip mine, do whatever you want to Mother Earth because it’s ours and God gave it to us.

I don’t think this is how we’re best reflective of God’s image. In my reading of Genesis 1:26 it is about a God who calls Godself “US” that makes humankind in God’s image. “Us,” of course, implies plural. Now I know we don’t worship a multiplicity of gods. The Ten Commandments make it very clear that God is one. However, we also experience God’s self-revelation as Trinity. What a conundrum? Three persons yet one God? But how marvelous! When we see one member of the Trinity at work, we see all three. They are distinct but indivisble.

Therefore, as I think about us being made in God’s image I see us clearly reflecting God’s social image. It’s simple. If God needs to dwell in the community that we call the Trinity how much more do we need to live and work together. We best reflect God’s image in community!

Tomorrow we have our Clergy Orders meeting. I’m looking forward to it. Our speaker is going to talk about our denomination’s future. That will be good, but best of all we will be together as a covenant community: sharing stories, catching up, laughing, worshipping, and communing. The best Orders meeting that we have ever had in my 34 years wasn’t even an Orders meeting. This past Annual Conference we were having elections for General and Jurisdictional Conferences. The laity finished before us so only the clergy were left to continue balloting. It was late at night and everybody was walking around between ballots with some watching a baseball game piped in on the 2 big screens that we use at conference. Others were tossing frisbees. All of us were having a good time. The buzz was so positive, so real! It was one of the most significant times I have ever had at Annual Conference!

Our whole society needs times like this when we just get together and move past the casual banter of chit-chat and actually fellowship with each other. Last week I went to our first home Gamecock football game at Williams-Brice Stadium. It was good to see longtime seatmates and catch up. We all got into the atmosphere. There were some new people around us. Maybe by season’s end we’ll share one another’s stories and get past the surface, “How are you?” Better yet, maybe what we need to do is take the band off the field at halftime and we’ll all go down there and meet each other, create a community that stretches from our private tailgating all the way to the hashmarks.

World Communion Sunday is coming up soon on October 2. What a great day to lay aside the drudgery of formality and actually commune with each other authentically. Our celebration of the Eucharist will perhaps become a hearty “Thanks be to God!” because just like the Trinity we all need each other. Community is what gets us through the tough times, the tumors, and the transitions. Community is a megaphone for our triumphs, too. I’m looking forward to community wherever I can find it and make it.

Heaven: Here, There, and Everywhere

I was on the phone yesterday with an old friend who is battling cancer. Most of you also know the prolonged anxiety we feel with Narcie’s brain tumor, and a year ago last week my brother died on his birthday. Two years ago next week, Cindy’s Mom died suddenly. In the throes of thinking about mortality and eternal life I once again have been struck with the vestiges of my recent trip to Nicaragua.

In the midst of abject poverty and high mortality rates, they were some of the most hopeful people I’ve ever met. I know some people think about the afterlife too much, so much so that they are described as being so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. Our faith is for the here and now, and eternal life starts with our first breath. It gives us hope and the wherewithal to make a difference in the present while giving us an anchor in God’s future.           

Karl Marx thought that religion was the “opium for the masses,” a panacea to help the common human being escape reality. He thought that real help should come from an energized proletariat, not religious dreamers. Well, communism is dead and religion thrives. Marx’s assessment of faith didn’t do it justice. Faith provides more than a temporary fix. It is eternal!

However, many people, obsessed with the here and now, attempt to find fulfillment solely in earthly ways. Things of the Spirit and visions of eternity are foreign to them. To them it is this world that matters most so why be concerned with something for which we have no evidence? They say that eternal life is “pie-in-the-sky,” a human creation only accepted because it’s been endorsed by so many people.

On the other hand, there are those who do indeed believe that there’s a heaven, a better place, and that it’s better than we dare imagine. I’ve seen these people die and have watched their faces exhibit a special grace that makes it appear that they’re already seeing things that we can’t see on this side of eternity. To die at peace is a great solace. I sincerely think that the hope of heaven contributes to this sense of ease. This is the difference that Christ inaugurates; our faith is a foretaste of final victory.

It is as Kenneth L. Woodward wrote in a 1999 Newsweek article entitled, “2000 Years of Jesus,” “To a world ruled by fate and the whims of capricious gods, Christianity brought the promise of everlasting life. At the core of the Christian faith was the assertion that the crucified Jesus was resurrected by God and present in the church as ‘the body of Christ.’ The message was clear: By submitting to death, Jesus had destroyed its power, thereby making eternal life available to everyone. This Christian affirmation radically changed the relationship between the living and the dead as Greeks and Romans understood it. For them, only the gods were immortal – that’s what made them gods. Philosophers might achieve immortality of the soul, as Plato taught, but the view from the street was that human consciousness survived in the dim and affectless underworld of Hades. ‘The Resurrection is an enormous answer to the problem of death,’ says Notre Dame theologian John Dunne. ‘The idea is that the Christian goes with Christ through death to everlasting life. Death becomes an event, like birth, that is lived through.’”          

This eternal perspective certainly changes our here-and-now outlook, too. C.S. Lewis had it right when he said: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men and women of the church who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in.’ Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Amen!

When the Storms of Life Are Raging

We’ve all seen some storms. We know about the devastation across the south this past spring, and continued natural calamities happening everywhere. What do we think about God when stuff like this happens? You’ve seen the W.I.G.I.A.T. bumper stickers that ask the question, “Where Is God In All This?” I took this photo when Caleb and I were in Omaha for the College World Series. No rain was falling yet. A trash can lid went by going about 50 mph just before I flipped my IPhone up to take the shot. It was dangerous, scary and awesome, too.

I used to love sitting on the front porch during thunder storms when I was a kid. It was so powerful. I was struck by the majesty of nature’s fury. I have felt the same awe when I’m on top of Mt. Mitchell. My dilemma is my tendency to give God the credit for the beautiful things that occur in nature and to blame Nature for the things that are terrible. I get bent out of shape when people say such-and-such was “an act of God,” but I have fueled the dichotomy by my own lack of clarity in answering the question, “Where is God in all this?”

With Narcie’s tumor I want to blame nature gone wild. That’s what tumors and cancer are anyway. When tornadoes strike and people are killed, I want to say Nature did it. Same with hurricanes. Hey, what about the freak accident last night when a firefighter, Shannon Stone, age 39, fell 20 feet reaching for a foul ball in a Texas Rangers-Oakland baseball game. Man, his little boy saw it all. His dad died. Where is God in all this?

Now I know enough about theodicy and am Wesleyan enough to know God doesn’t cause junk like this. James 1 says “every good and perfect gift comes from God and that God doesn’t test anyone. (my paraphrase). This reminds me of the hymn “Stand By Me” which says to me that God in Christ through the Holy Spirit isn’t the source of the bad stuff whatever it may be. God does what the hymn says. He stands by us. That’s one of the strongest messages of Jesus’ incarnation. God has entered our fallen existence and says, “No matter what happens, I’m with you!”

So if God isn’t the cause of junk; i.e., the storms of life – where do they come from? My choices are the first cause. I drove too fast. I chose to disregard my doctor’s advice. I, I, I… but sometimes stuff occurs because of somebody else’s choice. They chose to travel through a stop sign after they decided to drink and drive. They chose…. but sometimes it’s not my choices or those of others that result in mayhem. Sometimes it’s the simple fact that life and natural laws reflect a higher law that was broken a long time ago by Adam & Eve in the Garden. The results of the Fall have reverberated across the centuries. Our doctrines of sin and salvation start with the Fall -wouldn’t need Jesus if everything was pre-Fall perfect, would we? But that doesn’t end the list of why bad things happen to both good and bad people. Lastly, I have to admit in a Scott Peck “People of the Lie” kind of way that there’s evil in this world, sometimes big “E” evil.

However, Here’s the Gospel for my daughter with her brain tumor, the family of Shannon Stone, flood and tornado victims, and the oppressed victims of institutional evil, etc. – Jesus is stronger than any storm. He is the author of everlasting life even when death breaks down our doors. Anybody who believes in an “It was meant to be” world as in the movie “Adjustment Bureau,” better watch out because we believe in a Jesus who doesn’t cause our pain, doesn’t have a perfect panacea safe ride of a life pre-engineered for you. We believe in a cowboy adventuresome Jesus who loves us and the cosmos enough to let freedom deal its cards for good or ill, BUT will be with us no matter what cards we’re dealt.

That’s how I can face tomorrow: Because Jesus lives, not because he holds the future in some controlling grasp, but because only he can beat all the sources of bad stuff. I can face tomorrow because I know that when the storms of life are raging, Jesus never fails to stand by me, us, humanity. So I pray for Jesus’ power to heal my little girl, to soothe the pain of the Stone family, to give rain to those who need it, and to keep it from those poor people ravaged by floods. Please, O Lord, hear our prayers for your presence and your delivering power; in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Time For Everything

Yogi Berra said once “It’s Déjà vu all over again.” I sort of hope not. A lot has happened in the last 3 years. In 2008 I was honored to be South Carolina’s nominee for bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. It was a great privilege, the delegation was whole-heartedly behind me, and I came in second to a great nominee. I wondered like most of us do as to why such and such happened, but now 3 years later things make more sense, and feel so very differently.

I’m not suggesting at all that things go a certain way in an “It was meant to be” kind of way. I am no predestinarian. However, I do believe in God’s providence. Providentially I can look back over the last 3 years and count merciful reasons why I wasn’t elected bishop. Our family has had 2 births, 2 deaths, 2 graduations, 3 hospitalizations, and 1 ordination. The two births were Narcie and Mike’s Evy and Josh and Karen’s Kaela. The 2 deaths were the sudden losses of Cindy’s Mom and my brother, Carlee. The 2 graduations were Caleb and Karen. The 3 hospitalizations were Cindy’s saga this year with a series of surgeries, and, of course, the June 11, 2010 brain tumor surgery for Narcie. Please keep praying for her. The 1 ordination was Josh as an Elder in the UMC yesterday.  It’s been a busy couple of years.

Now perhaps the real providential reason I wasn’t elected 3 years ago was because I needed to grow some more and I still do for that matter. But here we are again and the South Carolina Annual Conference has spoken again. I was first-elected clergy again, amazingly, and I am so grateful for all those who have prayed for me and given their support. Yesterday afternoon the delegation unanimously endorsed me as their Episcopal nominee for 2012. It will be another long year, but things already feel so much better.

The primary reason this feels so different now is the groundswell of the Spirit. It hasn’t just felt like the delegation is behind me, but the whole Annual Conference. It’s a “we” thing and everyone is on the team. Jesus’ Spirit of Pentecost is alive and well and I am grateful. Maybe 3 years ago it was more of a personal call still. Now I feel it in my bones as an ecclesiastical call. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus and the church.

This Annual Conference is our family home. Narcie, Josh, and I are full members of the conference and feel that community in such a rich way. I want to say “Thanks!” to every one of you. Thanks for being with us through all the peaks and valleys. This is our journey together. The Scriptural theme of what we’ve been through is clear:

Ecclesiastes 3: A Time for Everything

1 There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

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

9 What do workers gain from their toil?

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.

He has also set eternity in the human heart;

yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Amen!

I don’t know what the future holds, but I trust in the providence of God no matter what.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmYOc2iZozU – The Summons

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.

Great News and Responsibility

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I’m a happy Dad right now. Life isn’t perfect but Narcie just called me with her doctor’s report from the latest MRI. Those of you in the loop know that on June 11 of this year she had to have brain surgery on an oligodendroglioma tumor. They didn’t get it all, and we have been waiting with hope for the 3 month check-up on its growth.

In case I don’t pass this on correctly, please check her blog. The tumor HAS NOT grown since the surgery. Something is still there, a fuzzy line, scar tissue, maybe swelling, too, but shout Hallelujah! Now, of course, the best news would be that it wasn’t there at all, but, hey, I’m more than okay with this news. I am next to ecstatic! She will have MRI’s every three months to check the status. The doctor says radiation and chemo are out because of the tumor’s location and type. Suits me, sometimes the treatment can be worse than the illness. She has no negative issues from the initial surgery. Praise the Lord! She will never have a normal brain scan, but I know folks that fit that description and they haven’t had brain surgery. Ha!

So I’m happy, relieved due to this bit of hope, and will keep praying and waiting faithfully until the next test. Please keep praying for her and her precious family, and if you have any nickels to spare: The air conditioning/heat pump went out at The Winthrop Wesley Foundation yesterday, and she doesn’t have $12,000 to get a new one. HELP! The address is Winthrop Wesley Foundation, PO Box 5009, Rock Hill, SC 29733. Look at my last blog for some more incentive if you need to.

I want you all to know how grateful I am for your prayers and encouragement. It’s been tough to juggle the mental and emotional pins of this summer’s saga with Narcie and my brother’s sudden death, but God is so wonderfully present with us. Our Connection has been alive for us more than ever. I am so glad to be a United Methodist! But then I know that there are people hurting all around and didn’t get good news today. I just got an email from a fellow DS who was in Africa for our Worldwide UMC trip a few weeks back. One of the speakers at her Listening Post was Dr. Mirielle, the Director of Nursing at the Lupandilo School of Nursing in Kamina, Congo. In the midst of a C-section for her second child she cried out as the baby was delivered and died. How awful.

How do we handle good news and bad and reconcile them with a God who loves us all? Deuteronomy 29:29 comes to mind: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” So what to do? Give to God all that God we can’t handle or understand and do something about the things we can do something about.

I know this story will muck up the tenor of the mixture of gladness and sorrow that’s on my mind, but those who know me understand I’m a story-teller and especially like humor because it gets me through the tough times. So here goes: There was this golfer who had a miserable game one day. It was such a bad round that he skipped stopping at the clubhouse and went straight to his car. As he approached his car he noticed a police car with its lights flashing. An officer stepped out of the patrol car and hurried up to the melancholy golfer. “Excuse me,” the officer started, “but did you tee off from the 16th hole about 20 minutes ago?” “Why yes, I did,” the duffer replied. “Did you happen to hook your ball, so that it went over the trees and off the course?” the trooper asked. “Yes, it was a terrible shot, but how did you know?” the club member asked. “Well,” said the policeman very seriously, “your ball flew out onto the highway and crashed through a windshield. The car went out of control, running five other vehicles off the road and causing a fire truck to crash. That fire truck was on its way to a fire, and so that building is a complete and total loss. I want to know what you are going to do about this?” “Hmmm,” the golfer mused. “I think I need to close my stance, keep my head down and tighten my grip.”

What are we responsible for and what are we not, and what ties this to everything with Narcie and Wesley? Narcie’s brain tumor is something that I can’t handle, but God and good doctors can. The Wesley Foundation air conditioning is something I can do something about. I can also do something for motherless children, too. Hey, maybe this is a thought for tonight’s Charge Conference where I’ll probably hear several reasons why they can’t pay their apportionments that fund Wesley and help children all over the world.

Taking responsibility for that which is legitimately mine is one thing, and giving the rest to God makes for a centered life that is free from worry and filled with appropriate responses to crises. It moves me from turning my worries into prayers in some instances (Like Narcie), and turning them into action in others (Winthrop and Connectional Giving).

Campus Ministry is Where the UMC Began!

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As I begin Charge Conferences I have just come back from a Cabinet Meeting where we talked about the terrible situation we face in connectional giving in our annual conference. I know times are tough and money is tight, but I am very upset that all of our SC Campus Ministries were told 2 days before school started that they would not receive any program money for the rest of 2010 or 2011. My daughter, Narcie, is a Campus Minister and the UMC is the only denomination that was founded in a university. John Wesley was a campus minister. Right now, I know of at least 4 seminary students, future ministers, who have come out of SC’s campus ministries. Our future clergy are being sold short because of poor giving and that will show up in the kind of preacher some of you will get.

I’m upset on two levels. One is that Narcie has her first post-brain tumor op MRI this coming Tuesday and she already has enough stress on her than to have the ministry money plug pulled out. On the second level I am appalled at how this economy has made us more selfish than giving. Instead of pulling together in prayer, shared giving, common causes – I sense we’re in an “every man for himself” phase. That’s not good. We need each other now more than ever.

The late Paul Harvey reported that a woman called up the Butterball Turkey Company’s consumer hot line and asked about the advisability of cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for 23 years. The customer service representative told her that it might be okay to eat it if the freezer had maintained a below-zero temperature the entire time, but even so, the flavor would have deteriorated so much that it wouldn’t be very tasty. Said the caller, “Oh, that’s what we thought. We’ll just donate it to the church.” The church has received more than her share of “old turkeys.” Parsonages are too often filled with cast-off furniture from people who upgraded in their own homes. People aren’t tithing or even coming close. Churches have become self preserving silos and don’t give a rip about “the least of these.”

I recently saw the movie “Lost in Woonsocket” and would recommend it to anyone who is trying to figure out how to help those who are struggling, and the frustration that goes along with it. But, even if we fail sometimes, sometimes we succeed. Gone are the days of easy employment searches, and name-your-price job opportunities. Reaching the end of a job interview, the human resources person asked a young engineer fresh out of MIT, “And what starting salary were you looking for?” The engineer said, “In the neighborhood of $135,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.” The interviewer said, “Well, what would you say to a package of five-weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund to 50 percent of salary, and a company car leased every two years — say, a red Corvette?” The engineer sat straight up and said, “Wow! Are you kidding?” And the interviewer replied, “Yeah, but you started it.”

All kidding aside, what are we going to do about this economic melt-down – hunker down in selfishness or believe Jesus that we should give it all away? I say let’s get together and get real, helping everyone that we can. Here’s a thought, go to http://winthropwesley.com and make a donation to help campus ministry. Check out the sites for all the other campus ministries in SC and do your part. Find a way to donate time if you don’t have the money. I know that I’m trying to do my part and not just because two of my kids are ministers because of campus ministry. What are we going to do? Do it!

Yo-Yo & JoJo

> Okay, I’m a human yo-yo about JoJo. “JoJo” is what Cindy’s Daddy called Narcie and sometimes we do it, too. In the back and front of my mind is Narcie and praying without ceasing for her, Mike, Enoch, and Evy. Hey, she’s going to get back to preaching this Sunday. She’s a great preacher – personal, insightful, a regular Harper Lee as in To Kill a Mockingbird. She preaches the contemporary service at St. John’s UMC, Fort Mill, the same service where Mike is employed to do the music. Wow, is he great with music. I am amazed at his talent and feel for music. It shows! Narcie does the service as a part of the 10 hrs. that an Elder can spend outside her/his appointment. She gets some pay, but mostly St. John’s gives a pretty large donation to the Winthrop Wesley Foundation. It all pans out, and they’re okay when she’s off on a Wesley trip or Campus Ministry event.

Anyway, back to the yo-yo image. You just saw it in action. I’m writing as if nothing has changed about Narcie, but if you read her latest blog about the Tumor Board’s report – nothing will ever really be the same, except GOD. Those of you who have been juggling bad and worse news, plus trying to live a “normal” life have my utmost esteem. I know how you do it, though. I’ve seen you and heard you. Jesus is very real when you’re in the crucible. Ask Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So at points I’m able to concentrate on whatever task is at hand, and then just below the surface or on the surface is our family’s new reality. That’s the way it is. We’ll control what we can, and give all the rest to God. It is all beyond my reasoning and fix-it mentality. I will trust and will breathe. Hey, I just remembered the Latin motto of the state of South Carolina, Dum Spiro Spero, “While I Breathe I Hope!” Not bad for a state that surely needs hope. Look at that flag. Gamecock fans ought to know about hope in the midst of ambiguity.