Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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New Years Resolves

I don’t do New Years resolutions. Now, I could give you a self-righteous answer and seem like I am above New Years resolutions (see below), and thereby make you wonder if I have so reached perfection where I don’t need to change anything. However, if I did that I would be self-righteous and those who know me best would die laughing at the ridiculousness of that assumption. The true reason is that I don’t like to fail. A study in 2005 found that 92% of Americans do not achieve their New Years resolutions (45% by the end of January)! Why would I set my self up for that kind of disappointment?

Now, at the risk of sounding self-righteous, I think that one of the inherent problems with the making of resolutions is that they are outside of the work God is doing in our lives. In Christian Theology class last semester, we went over what is called the via salutus (the way of salvation). This is the general way in which God is working in our lives reconciling us with Gods-self and showering us with God’s love. The process goes like this:

  • Conviction of Sin
  • Hearing the Gospel
  • Repentance
  • Forgiveness!
  • New Birth through Christ!
  • Sanctification!! (Being made perfect in God’s love. Another process)

This is the main way in which God seeks to make us into better people, not through pithy resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, spend more time with family. Not that these are bad, but that they are incomplete. New Year’s resolutions fail because they are Pelagian. Pelagius was accused by Augustine of teaching that humanity could work hard enough to earn their salvation. New Year’s resolution’s fail because we can’t do it on our own. Scripture is encouraging and enlightening:

But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
Matt 19:26 NRSV

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Phil 4:13 NRSV

But, do you see the emphasis (hint: I bolded it)? Anything we want to do or change needs to be done through God and with God’s Grace.

One of my favorite emphases of my Wesleyan theology is the fact that the Christian life is a journey. We are all trying to do this thing called Christianity together, and sometimes (a lot of the time), we fail in that, however, God is a God of Love who gives us second (third, forth, hundredth, millionth) chances because that is who God is (Praise be to God!). John Wesley adapted a Covenant Renewal Service, for use with the Methodist societies as a way for them, on a regular basis (usually on New Years) to renew their covenant with God.  It does not need to be New Years, for you to decide to make a change, it can be any time, but I guess, now is as good as any. Therefore, instead of New Year’s resolutions, I want to share with you some of my resolves, the areas, I am praying that God will work in and through:

Confession: God, in the midst of school, friends, work, and entertainment, I have relegated you to a second-class status. Neglecting the means of grace such as prayer, Scripture reading, worship, and study. 
Confession: God, I know that this year I have been self-righteous and self centered. I have thought of the needs of myself over the needs of others. 
Gospel: ““Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”” (Matthew 22:36–40 NRSV)
Prayer: God, give me the grace needed to live my life focused on You. Give me the discipline to study your scriptures both personally and academically with the goal of hearing Your Word and preparing to serve Your Church. Give me a community of fellow-believers, who will hold me accountable when I fall short, and encourage  me along the way. Help me to see in others the love you have for them, and to treat them accordingly. Help me to humble myself, without beating myself up, remembering that I am not the center of the universe, but that I am still created in and for Your image.

It is my hope that you who take the time to read this will also take the time to help hold me accountable to it. And, allow me to do the same for you.

Happy (and Grace-filled) New Year!

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My American Lives

I know that two posts in a row about death, is a bit morbid, but this is my blog, my life, and my grief, so deal with it.

Having lost two grandparents and my last great-grandparent this year, I have been doing a lot of thinking about death and grief. One of the surprising things I have discovered is that in grief there are certainly tears, but there are also a lot of laughs. Usually these come with remembering a funny story, or a particular quirk. The tears and the laughs so intermingled that they could be the same thing.

Today I saw a post by This American Life which featured a series of obituaries which only they could do. They focused on one story in the person’s life told either themselves, or by someone who was close to them. As with TAL, it is a celebration of the everyday person and the beauty we often overlook in our own lives. (My favorites are this, this, and this. Oh and for the math nerds, this.)

As I read each story, my mind went to the stories of my grandparents, and so I thought I would memorialize them here in a similar fashion. Having already told my favorite stories about Granny, I want to highlight the other two here.

Luella (Lala) Killinger (Aug 31, 1912-May 4, 2011) was born in the farmlands of Iowa and moved to Gainesville with my grandfather. She worked at the Police station as the Chief’s secretary for many years, where according to one of  the officers “she ran the office.” She was an avid fan or bridge, BINGO, and of course the Gators.

Stewart (Stute) Munson (July 26, 1929-July 9, 2011) was raised in Titusville, and worked for IBM fixing typriters. He and my grandmother got married (both for the second time) at parents’ house, catching them both completely by surprise! He enjoyed playing around in the kitchen, sometimes with success.

The Story

When I was in Middle School, my family was trying to decide where to take Stute for his birthday. After a few boring suggestions, we decided on every man, and Middle Schooler’s dream location–Hooters. We decided to keep it a surprise (a risky idea for a man who had already had one heart attack). We get him into the car and drive up to the restaurant, and the minute he sees where we are his eyes got as big as…saucers…and his face turns bright red. As much as he protested we draged him through the doors and over to our table. The entire night he was the center of attention. Young attractive servers sat on his lap to take his order, sang happy birthday, and tried to get him to dance on the table. Through the whole ordeal, his face remained the same color and he hardly said a word. It was hilarious.  However, the funnier person was Lala. Having told her in advance where we were going she spent the whole week telling everyone  at her independent living facility who would listen where we are going. To say that she was excited would be an understatement. As we were picking her up, she walked down the halls wearing it as a badge of honor, stopping to remind her friends where we were going. Sitting in the restaurant opposite Stute’s frowns, she was all smiles, looking around, taking it all in, and ready to report her adventure to her dinner buddies the next day. I think they both had a night which will soon be relatively famous.


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The Best of It

On December 9, my Grandmother died. When I was born, I was so fortunate to have 11 Grandparents and Great-Grandparents, and before this year I had seven remaining. After I had written my remarks I was reminded that the pain I feel at her loss, is worth the 24 years I was able to have with her. In this season of Christmas, when so many of us miss our loved ones, I wanted to share these words which iI shared at her service.

 

It seems strange standing here behind this podium without Granny’s wheelchair there in the front row. Every time I would preach, she would make Papa get her ready and bring her down. Being a seminary student means that you need need to have a scripture verse for everything, and the one which came to mind is the phrase-“You are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). Now I could tell you that is because Granny was a simple girl from Tennessee who loved her family, both real and porcelain family, but I would be lying. I think of salt of the earth because granny loved salt. I loved to eat over at their house when granny would fix green beans where it was almost a one to one salt:water ratio. Her Chex mix a favorite because it was drenched in love, and Worcheshire sauce and almost every kind of salt imaginable. I remember Papa getting onto her for putting salt on her food before she had even tasted it. It is a silly memory, but I think in a way it indicates the kind of person she was. Someone who lived life in abundance and saturated the people around her with salty love. I remember how every evening we would be sitting down for dinner, no matter what time, and the phone would ring. It was her. She didn’t have an agenda, or really any reason. She just wanted to hear her daughter’s voice on the phone, get caught up on the day. I remember the first time I got one of those random calls in undergrad. I was feeling homesick and her call just made everything feel normal. I was in my new home, and she was there with me as best she could.

On the archway leading outside one of the doors at the Divinity school is my favorite quote from John Wesley, “The best of it is, God is with us.” Every time I leave, I look at that quote, and since I have been home and we have all been reminiscing on Granny’s life, it has been stuck in my mind. The best of it is, God is with us. God was with Granny when she was born in Edgemore, TN, God was with her when the Government moved her family to Knoxville where she would meet a dapper young country boy named John. God had to have been with her raising all four of her kids (how else would she have survived?). In Utah as Papa drove those switchbacks as she held her broken neck in place, God was with her. As she kept beating me in our weekly games of Checkers, God had to be with her. In her last moments, surrounded by pictures of everyone she loved, as she was lifted up in prayer, God was with her. And so now as we gather here today, remembering the 80 years God was with her, we celebrate that today, Granny is with God.


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Happy Birthday Jesus?

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When I went to my DCOM meeting this year, a nice elderly lady gave me a cupcake for dessert with a candle prominently displayed: “It is for Jesus’ birthday!” she told me, proud of her creativity. This Birthday theme has been rattling around in my head since then. It was on the Baptist Church’s sign on our way to Church last night, and then came up again in the children’s sermon.

Is it really appropriate to say “Happy Birthday Jesus?”

Now, I don’t want to sound like a Grinch, but I think that there is a difference between a birthday celebration and the celebration of Christmas. But isn’t Christmas the celebration of Jesus’ birth?

Yes. Christmas is a time when the Church commemorates the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus, however, this is different. As most scholars have determined, Jesus was not born in December (the exact date is unknown), therefore, why would we say Happy Birthday, months late? (how rude!).

When we celebrate a birthday (mine is Nov 17, FYI), it is celebrating the day a person was born. It is a time when we can show people that we care they survived another trip around the sun.

Christmas is more than that. Where as birthdays emphasize the day, Christmas emphasizes the birth. It is a celebration, not of the day Jesus was born, but that Jesus was born. Therefore, this morning as we open our presents and perhaps read the Christmas story, let us remember that the day is not important, but it is the birth behind the day.

Therefore, I leave you with my favorite birth narrative, from the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:1-5, 10-16 NRSV)


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Christmas (and) Time

On this Christmas Eve, I share with you my contribution from the Trinity UMC Annual Advent Devotional. Thank you to Jim Cook, who asked for my submission and for all of the work he did on it this year!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 1:8, 22:13)

Advent and Christmas are peculiar times of year because they are all about time. We count down the number of shopping days and we sing of the twelve days. In worship, we mark this time with candles as we wait expectantly for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. All of these things serve as a reminder of our place in this time. We are reminded of the finite nature of time, and how much more of it we wish we had.

However, there is another aspect of time which many people become acutely aware of. As we go through the familiar rituals that come during this time of Advent, we are unexpectantly brought back to our past. As we gather for family dinners we become acutely aware of those whose seats are now empty. We note the absence of that special laugh, or particular casserole. As we watch the glee of young children ripping open packages on Christmas morning, do we not harken back to our own excitement? In these moments we seem to live in two times at once, then and now. Found in both the first and last chapters, this passage from Revelation both proclaims this and lives it out the transcendent nature of God who is beyond time. This reality of God, however, takes on new meaning in the story of Christmas where we celebrate God breaking into time, taking on finite human nature as seen in the smiling baby lying in a manger. I think we fail to comprehend the amazing mystery which that baby represents. That God would “empty himself taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:7), and yet remain the eternal God. So, in the times of celebration and remembrance, joy and sorrow, newness and nostalgia, remember Immanuel—God is with us. And remember that as we live in the tension of yesterday and today, and the reality of our limited time, that God enters into that time bringing the peace and presence which can only come from the one who is the timeless creator of time.

God of grace and mercy, you have given us this time on earth to be Your people and to live into Your Kingdom. Help us to marvel in your infinity and wonder at your love, the love which enters into our today to prepare us for tomorrow. Give us Your peace, Your wisdom, and Your grace so that we may share that grace with those we come in contact with. In the name of Your Son, our Savior, Amen. 


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O Christmas Tree

Since I have been in school, we have always waited to get a Christmas Tree until I got home. What this usually means is that we get the dregs off the tree lot. This year, however, between the death of  my grandmother and me trying to finish my exams, it got until to day and we had no tree. Our usual lot had been sold out for a few days with even the dregs being snatched up.

My mom, insisted that we needed a tree for Christmas, but to me it seemed a waste of money to spend premium prices  for a tree for a holiday which would be over before we even knew it.  That was when I got my brilliant idea.

Over by the garage, sat a lonely Umbrella tree. Neglected unwatered, and half dead. It was perfect. I drug it into the house, and presented this tree to my mom as an alternative.

She was not impressed.

After much logical reasoning, interspersed by laughter, she agreed that it would work with a little bit of trimming. So I cropped off the dead limbs, puled out a few lights and bows, and in my most Charlie Brown/Linus moment created, what I think is a rather beautiful centerpiece for our family celebration.

And if I may wax theological for a moment, I cannot think of a more appropriate Christmas Tree. In a way it is a celebration of every person who is neglected, forgotten, dried up, and in need of a Love which can make even the most ridiculous stone, the Cornerstone. Merry Christmas!