I will be migrating off of TypePad soon. In the meantime, Facebook is the best place to see my art and what I'm up to. Find me at https://www.facebook.com/clericeric
I will be migrating off of TypePad soon. In the meantime, Facebook is the best place to see my art and what I'm up to. Find me at https://www.facebook.com/clericeric
There are lots of cases when fire is used symbolically in scripture, like when “the fire of the Lord burned against them.” But how often does the Bible refer to fire when it is not being used spiritually? We couldn't think of any.
I discovered that the word “fire” is found 659 times in the NRSV translation of the Bible. Fire is most often referred to as a spiritual symbol or as part of a ritual. Excluding the references to its use in war or occupation (to burn cities the ground, etc.) I found only eleven examples of fire where it is used in a practical, non-spiritual, sense.
Is that interesting? Maybe not, but it strikes me as unusual that something so common and mundane to everyday life should not be mentioned more often. Perhaps that speaks to the very dangerous nature of fire. Can you find some practical examples I missed?
Some typical examples of fire used symbolically:
Examples of FIRE where it is used in the practical, non-spiritual, sense:
The Institute for Clergy Excellence is an immeasurable blessing to me. Most recently our group of eight completed a module we called the "Alabama Journey of Pain and Hope." The previous module took us to India. Our next journey will be to Brazil in October. We are trying to put our finger on the interplay between faith and money. Why? Because “stuff” defines us if we aren’t paying careful attention to the source of our true identity as children of God.
I was working my first “real” post-college job in 1991. Money was tight and the things I could not afford weighed heavily on my sense of self-worth. After a number of months paying off debts I could finally afford the payments on a used car. The little Honda that replaced my 20-year-old truck lifted my spirits in a way that surprised me. A car isn’t supposed to be that important, is it? Even at the time I wondered, ‘does this feeling mean I am shallow?’ The Civic was shiny and didn’t smell of exhaust like the old F100, but I felt like a new man. It is my suspicion that we are all like that, at least a little.
Part of why I am so excited to participate in my ICE Faith and Money group, the Change Agents, is that we are diving into the interplay between faith and resources available to meet our needs (both real and imagined) and vice versa. Ad agencies are masters at stirring up our sense of need, and at telling us how to best meet that need. We all want to be safe, fed, loved and well thought of by our neighbors. The ads train us to buy things that will improve the score on any of those points. Money can make us feel we have power to meet all of our needs, and then becomes an idol. Money can make us feel like gods.
On a recent trip to Calcutta I got the opportunity to serve at the Sisters of Mercy mission. We were told to grab an apron and find a place to lend a hand. Some volunteers did laundry. Some took the clean clothes and bed linens up to the roof to hang. Marcus and I stepped over to the men’s ward and said, “how can we help?” An employee pointed out four men and said, “You can give them a bath” and walked away to do his own task. Oohhh-kaay.
Let me describe the scene: the ward is a long room with plenty of windows and dozens of ceiling fans spinning. Smooth greenish-black slate covers the floor and the walls are light grey granite up to shoulder height, and whitewashed concrete up to the 20 foot high ceiling. Thirty low beds side by side line the walls left and right and two rows of nine more run lengthwise up the middle of the room.
The four yet-to-be bathed men are at the end of the room on the left. I went to the first guy (let’s call him Rakesh) and reached down to help him up. Rakesh’s neighbor gestures to me, and in made-up sign language conveys that I have to scoop this guy up. ‘Ok. Yes I can do this. God *is* at work here, after all.’ I bent over and scooped up my new friend and carried him to the big bathroom. He’s 60 pounds, max.
The bathroom is kind of like a locker room shower, without any showerheads. There are barrels of water, buckets, scoops, scruffy sponges and bars of hotel-sized soap. A wide stone bench is for the guys who can sit up on their own, but my guy can’t sit up. I feel bad about it, but Rakesh goes on the floor. Ok. Yep, here we go. Peel his shirt off, then the pants. Grab a scruffy sponge, some soap, a scoop and I’m giving a bath.
Again I think to myself, ‘how am I not freaking?’ Then ‘yes, thank you God for being here to help me show your love to this guy.’ I’m worried about the scruffy sponge being uncomfortable so I go over his chest and arms gently. Back and legs and feet – ok, got it. I looked over to another volunteer who is bathing a patient to get a clue on how to handle the final bits, and notice some words painted high on the wall... “the Body of Christ.” Epiphany! Rakesh becomes Jesus right in front of me... “the least of these.”
“Just use his shirt,” the volunteer says a second time. I’m staring and he probably thinks I am freaking out. I am, but maybe not for the reason he’s thinking. Whoa.
Ok, shirt, fine. That works out ok, too (God, you are so awesome!) but it is a little strange to think of serving Jesus this way. “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 1:14 nrsv)
How has this experience changed me? I am “disturbed.” Honestly, it is still hard to formulate an answer for this. India gave me a better understanding of systemic cause and effect. The half dozen empires to colonize India have exported most of the resources and wealth, and left a corrupt and paternalistic government in their wake. I am still astounded when I think of the accumulated coat of grime over the whole of Calcutta. There is no time to clean, paint, or repair buildings when millions (literally) struggle for basic survival. I’m disturbed, and feel a little sick. Calcutta is not the only place like this, or even the worst; it’s just the place I’ve seen.
I would never have met such a variety of people or been to the diverse places without the opportunity offered by ICE. The eight of us in my learning group have seen and experienced the wealth of Dubai, learned from poor people in Calcutta, and encountered the-still-entrenched racism in Selma, Alabama. I have experienced God’s kingdom by talking with these people and sharing our faith lives together. Through this ICE experience I am learning how to more effectively keep my eye on the source of my true identity, and how better to lead congregations to do the same.
Good morning, Toney UMC friends and family!
We tend to forget things, don’t we? So it is good to occasionally remind ourselves of the things that are really important. I don’t know about you, but those “most important things” seem the most easy to take for granted. Today, let’s remember why we DO church. Our United Methodist Book of Discipline says this in paragraph 121:
The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor. … Jesus’ words in Matthew provide the Church with our mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (28:19-20), and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. … And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37, 39).
John Wesley… and our other spiritual forebears understood the mission in this way. Whenever United Methodism has had a clear sense of mission, God has used our Church to save persons, heal relationships, transform social structures, and spread scriptural holiness, thereby changing the world. In order to be truly alive, we embrace Jesus’ mandate to love God and to love our neighbor and to make disciples of all peoples.
At Toney UMC we say that God is calling us to fulfill this vision by learning how and helping others to “Connect, Grow, & Serve.” Some questions, then:
I will begin a new sermon series this week to help us remember how our vision relates to God’s call and our response. If you want the inside track on what’s coming you can check out the scripture passages below.
|9/1||Mt 28:18-20||Our Vision: Connect|
|9/8||Luke 13:6-9, 43-45||Our Vision: Grow|
|9/15||John 13:1-15||Our Vision: Serve|
May we be ever more capable and ready to fulfill our mission to connect, grow, and serve God and our neighbor!
Church Pianist (Toney, AL)
Toney UMC is seeking a part-time Pianist for the Sunday morning traditional and Contemporary worship services, and occasional special services. This musician will accompany all hymns, and will play other music during worship services as assigned by the Director of Music Ministries such as offertories, prelude, and postlude. The ideal candidate will be a person of faith who understands various styles of worship and church music, is able to sight read hymns, can play in ensemble with other instruments and accompany singing, is able communicate for worship planning via email. Desired qualities include music training and the ability to play from sheet music, hymns, southern gospel, holiday music and occasionally pop music. Please email resumes and/or contact the Vision Team at visionteam AT toneyumc.org. You may also fax resumes to 256-859-1073.
Heavens to Betsy, as Grandma used to say. I haven't posted since mid-December. "What have we been up to?" you ask. We are in sayinggoodbyeandpacking - whilelookingforwardandplanning mode; like Thalia & Melpomene, the happy and sad masks of Greek drama.
I'm moving from Fayette First UMC to Toney UMC. Even if we are only saying "so long for now" it is a sad thing to take leave from here. I love these folks. It does make me feel better to know that they will continue to grow in faith and number with their next pastor. He has the gifts and graces to lead them into the next chapter. Still, the sad face of Melpomene is appropriate.
The excitement that comes from seeing great potential brings out the Thalia in me. The church sits in the path of incredible population and building growth in Madison County. The people we've met seem organized, open and warm. We will be living 20 minutes from my mom & dad, sister & her family, and nearby are lots of friends from high school. The girl-child will have a terrific school to attend and will get to train with a top notch swim team.
So if I seem a little like I have multiple personalities you will understand. I'm bidding adieu, and looking forward...
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you!
We were way ahead of our usual curve with tree shopping this year. N, Em & I found the perfect Frasier Fir at Lawrence's Hardware on the Saturday before Advent. Of course, we waited for our curve to catch up; the tree stayed for a week in a bucket of water outside by the garage. We brought it in Saturday, set it up in the stand, and strung the lights. We finally got the ornaments on this evening. Our family enjoys the ritual of decorating for Christmas over the course of a week. It is always fun to pull out those special ornaments and remember who gave them, or where they are from. If you care enough about us to be reading this post, we probably thought fondly of you tonight as we trimmed the tree.
Life in Fayette continues along pleasantly. At the church we are preparing for a special Christmas Eve and making outreach plans for 2013. Our choir performed the annual cantata this week and blew us all away. Karon did a terrific job leading the choir. My favorite two girls are still burning up the road to Jasper and back for swim team practice - though not this week as they are both getting over a cold. I seem to be making a lot of trips to B'ham and T'oosa lately, too.
Today was the last day of the semester at Bevil State Community College where I served as an adjunct professor for the first time. My students all did well on their final exam. I enjoyed being with them, and figuring out what it meant to be a professor. Teaching a Bible study at church is different entirely from an academic class. I enjoyed the variety. Next semester there aren't enough students enrolled to have the class, but if they asked I'd probably teach another class.
An interesting thing happened I'd like to ask you about. Have you ever had this happen to you? A few weeks back an old friend came for a visit and told me "you were right" about an idea we had shaply disagreed over. But I wonder, should I feel guilty about how great a sense of relief it was to hear him say that? There is a lot mixed in that bowl of emotion. It was good to see my friend and learn he wasn't still mad. It felt like our relationship mended a little bit more. And it was good hear that our decision had turned out to be the right one and that things are going well. Maybe I'm overthinking things...
Blessings to you...
We ate Dutch babies for breakfast, and they were delicious! Wait, before you think we went all dahmer today, a Dutch baby is a puffy baked pancake. We were introduced to this pastry perfection about 18 years ago at The Original Pancake House in Atlanta. It is a special treat now whenever N makes them. Here are a few pictures so you can be jealous :). One is strawberry/blueberry and the other nectarine/blueberry.
Can I tell you about a simple pleasure that we recently enjoyed? I'm trying to eat healthy snacks lately. I love pistacios. I've been getting them already shelled so that I can keep reading or typing without having the extra mess & distraction. But shells-on nuts are always less expensive, and I do like to save a little money. We spent about 20 minutes shelling a big Wally-World back of 'stacios together. It was almost romantic. And don't you just love the color of these nuts? That's definitely a simple pleasure, but I warned you. What simple things have you enjoyed so far this week?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of my personal heros - but I am hardly unique. How could one not admire a person who gave such a dedicated effort against injustice and violence. In the face of white oppression or black rage he stood for peace and the dignity of all humanity.
Tutu: Authorized is an engaging and personal biography. It was written by Tutu's daughter, Reverend Mpho A. Tutu, and Alister Sparks who was the editor of The Rand Daily Mail in South Africa. Dozens of interviews are included from historical figures who worked alongside Tutu, such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Kofi Annan, Bono, and Sir Richard Branson, as well as intimate and poignant interviews with his wife, family, and closest friends. Lots of pictures, too.
Sparks has also written an excellent history detailing the time from the 1600's when Dutch traders established a settlement on the western cape of the continent called The Mind of South Africa. Histories are usually low on my reading list, but I highly recommend TMOSA. I understand what happened in Germany during the 20th century, but have never read anything that helped me get a handle on how the Third Reich happened. Apartheit was a different brand of evil but similarly unfathomable. Spark's book makes the unfolding of history clear in a way that one can understand how apartheit happened.
Both are great books, but Tutu would be a better summer read for the beach or poolside.
My friend Mashod recently brought a poem to our ICE group that has become a nurturing morsel to me. It is called Trust in the Slow Work of God by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. ---
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
-- that is to say, grace --
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.
(I found the text at http://www.worship.ca/docs/p_62_ptdc.html)
My last post here was some time ago - before we started reading Peterson's Leap Over a Wall. We have finished the Pastor's Book Club for this "school year." I really enjoyed our discussions around David, 1st & 2nd Samuel & the book of Psalms. Thanks to everyone who participated.
Do people still read posts on blogs, or are we all on facebook now? FB is perfect for my occasional "thought bubbles," but not-so-much for my musings. Do you have a blog? (I'll look if you put the address in the comments.) When was the last time you posted? My friend Scott recently asked his blog audience if they were still reading and if it was worth it to continue. So far I'm the only one who's commented. I hope he'll keep at it.
Enjoy your Tuesday evening. Oh yeah... who do you think is going to get sent home on Dancing w/the Stars (*guilty pleasure*)?
Several of my favorite movie quotes come from The Princess Bride. The character Inigo Montoya has the best lines. He's on a quest to avenge the man who killed his father. Inigo has planned out his introduction to the six-fingered man; "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
I tell you this because as I contemplate what to post another of Inigo's lines comes to mind; "Let me e'splain. No, there is to much. Let me sum up." There is too much! Some good, some not so... I suppose this is one reason facebook and G+ have taken off; you can just do snippets, and then control what the audience will be. Before we had that capability, one of my friends set up two FB accounts for herself - one for her co-workers, clients and random folk, and a second that was for her family and true friends. There are just some things you don't want everybody to hear. Right? Except that's too much for me to keep up with. I haven't kept up with my blog as it is.
I just found this post in my "drafts" folder. I started it on March 6 - and it is May now. Life will get away from you, no? I hope all of you are well. Enjoy the springtime!
Greetings Fayette friends. You may already know the Pastor's Book Club is beginning anew this week. We will introduce a new book at 6pm this Wednesday at Fayette First UMC in the Fellowship Classroom. Leap Over A Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians is a study on the life of David.
"David was a shepherd boy, king of Israel, and a man after God's own heart. David wasn't perfect; he was just a man who had a unique and intimate relationship with his Creator. In this refreshing Bible study by author and pastor Eugene H. Peterson, you'll learn about David from those who knew him. By seeing how God enabled him to do amazing things, you'll be able to recognize how God is working in your own life." [from the book flap] Get better acquainted with David, yourself, and the God who provides refuge, strength, and peace.
Am I the only one who really likes the subtitle? You don't have to read the book to join the conversation. But let me know (email, or 932-5544) if you want to order a copy of the book (no shipping if we get them at the same time). Everyone is welcome. Invite a friend! I look forward to seeing you.
what: Pastor's Book Club
when: Wednesdays at 6pm
where: Fayette First United Methodist Church, Fellowship Classroom
Today is Epiphany. In Hispanic and Latin culture it is known as Three Kings’ Day. The word epiphany means "to show", "to make known" or "to reveal." On this day we remember the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the child Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to the world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few. (see The Voice)
On this day of Epiphany I'd like to share a poem found in The Christian Century magazine from Dec 13, 2011:
From the cave of darkness
a baby comes to light.
In the nick of time,
In a world of error
a perfect child is birthed.
In the midst of terror,
peace arrives on earth.
In the chill of winter
dawns this blazing son.
To a world of sinners
comes this sinless one.
In a land of chaos
speaks this single Word
whose voice can raise the dead,
whose promise can be heard.
Even as he cries
sleepers stir beneath the sod
for nothing is impossible
Hey friends. We are now using MailChimp for mass emails from Fayette First UMC. Newsletters and announcements will come out through this service. (If you have been getting the Extravagant Generosity devotions this month you are already registered.) Check your spam filter if you sign up, and still don't occasionally get stuff from us.
So hit the link if you want to be "in the know" at FFUMC!
This Wednesday (September 21) evening we will begin "the Pastor's Book Club." I've never done a class exactly like this, and I'm kind of excited to see how it will go. Everyone is invited! I'm hoping some church folks will show up. But this will be a great series of books for folks who want to dig around in their satchel marked "my spirituality." It won't matter if you are religious, used-to-be-religious, spiritual-but-not-religious... whatever. I am most excited about creating a conversation space where we can talk about our journey toward God.
One of the best ways I’ve found to “nurture one another” is by reading the faith journey of other wise folks, and by sharing our own journeys with each other. You can jump in (or out) whenever you like. You can read the books, or just join the conversation. I want everyone to feel welcome to join us, but this is like anything; the more effort you put in it, the more reward you will get out. We might read other books, too, but our first book is called Blue Like Jazz.
Hope to see you Wednesday!
Journeying with you,
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, by Donald Miller
We'll spend about 5 weeks - one on an introduction, and cover 5 chapters each week. I thought we'd follow BLJ with these:
Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir, by Susan E. Isaacs
Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words,
by Brian McLaren
and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott
(The links will take you to amazon.com, but if you want to wait, we’ll order together to save on shipping.)
Hello everybody. I hope you all - three or four readers who still check for updates after so long - are doing well. Today is a quick shout-out.
Life is good. I'm loving work and our staff at FFUMC. It's a great congregation with lots of potential. We are getting settled in and adjusted to our new home.
I've been more regular lately about riding my bike. Last winter was brutally cold and it was tough to ride. The summer was full of the move here to Fayette and getting adjusted to a fantastic new church. But in the last month or so I've been able to get in 3-4 rides each week. It feels good! It is also rewarding to see my average mph creeping up as I get back into a little better shape. On a couple of outings in July it was down to 15.5 mph (not so great), but I managed to average 17.2 mph over 29 miles on today's ride.
Using my phone, I tried to capture a short video of what the world looks like on a beautiful morning ride. This is about 7:30 am somewhere on County Road 89. It doesn't quite capture how wonderful it feels. I'll have to try again (and maybe on some smoother pavement).
Perhaps you have seen the ride stats from my bike computer in facebook posts. This one is from today yesterday's ride. If you are geeky enough to appreciate graphs on cadence, terrain, heart rate and maps, you click on this Garmin graphic.
Grace and peace to you all, whoever you might be.
I read two fantastic quotes today on Susan Phillips' facebook page.
"To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving." ~ William Sloane Coffin, Credo
"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist." ~ Hélder Câmara, Brazilian Archbishop
I understand that there is a news network that no longer uses the word "rich" to describe the top 1% income bracket, but instead say "job creators." These two pastors would be good for them to read. But perhaps news organizations don't concern themselves with what is "loving."
later edit: Oh my goodness. I *love* Susan. She had this, too...
"Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, suffering and injustice when he could do something about it. But then I'm afraid God would ask me the same question." ~ Anonymous