Monthly Archives: July 2016

“Once Upon a Time”… or “It Shall Come to Pass”


IMG_2588This used to be a church.  
This time last year people gathered here on Sundays and Wednesdays to study the Bible, sing hymns, hear a sermon, be church.  But today it is being transformed into a parking lot.  In a couple of years it will be filled with student cars as they make their way into the new East Cooper High School. 

There is so much that could be said about this!  We could sing along with Joni Mitchell about paving paradise and putting up parking lots!  IMG_2592

It would be appropriate!  There was a time when paradise happened in this church—or should we say in these churches.  It has been the site of several.  One moved to a larger facility, but the others…  Well they just morphed from one to another until mismanagement, a congregation hanging on to the past, finances finally caught up.  Now paradise will become a parking lot!

Or we could see this as another sign of what Robert P. Jones talks about in his new book, The End of White Christian America.  We are living in a age of transition.  The old majorities, the old ways of relating, of doing things, of doing church are changing.  The result is a great deal of confusion, anger, grief.  One result is the demise of many once thriving religious communities.  It is estimated that 4,000 churches will close this year.  And where will these people go?  Well, some will migrate to one of the other churches within 2 miles of this site, but other will just become a part of the ever growing “unaffiliated.”  Faith will be seen as something we “used to do.”

Or we could see this as the Spirit of God moving in strange ways.  I am reminded of the old Fred Craddock story of serving as pastor of a church that refused to allow anyone who didn’t own property in that country from becoming a member.  There were many new families moving into apartments nearby, tons of children.  But the church refused to reach out.  Years later he wanted to show that church to his wife, and as he drove up was surprised to see the parking lot full, lots of people milling around.  Then he saw the sign.  It said, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” It was a restaurant! Fred and his wife went inside and the place was packed with all kinds of people—white and black and Hispanic. Rich and poor. Southerners and northerners. Craddock said to his wife, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a church anymore. If it were, these people would not be allowed in.”

It is hard to see it now, as you walk among the bricks and gravel, as you see the signs of what used to be.  But maybe, maybe God is making room for people that the church won’t let in.  Maybe God is going to do church in a different way. 

Even in us.  If we are willing.  IMG_2590

Or not.

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Confessions of a Busy Pastor

There are times when the life comes at you so fast that you just want to run away…but I can’t run that fast.  It overtakes me in ways that just….well there really aren’t any words.

As I was coming back to work on Thursday from lunch I noticed again the light flashing on my dashboard.  “Check Brake Light.”  Truth—it has been on for over a week.  I am going to get around to checking my break light, but it takes so much work!  I have to get someone else to see which light it is, go to the auto parts shop and get the light, unload all he ‘stuff’ in my trunk, figure out how to get the old one out and get the other one in.  I will get around to it.  Sometime.

PhilandoCastileI can do that, because to be honest, I am a middle aged, middle class, white haired, white man.  A break light out is not a life threatening situation.

But as I drove out of the neighborhood there were two young African American teenage boys walking down the street carrying their skateboards.  And my heart broke.

We live in the same neighborhood but not in the same world.

I wanted to stop.  I wanted to get out of my car and just say, “Excuse me, can we talk?  I need your help.  I really want to know how you are.  The news is full of stories about black men being shot for things that don’t even appear on my radar.  I mean, who buys CD’s anymore?  A taillight out?  How are you?  Would you just talk to me, tell me your story, help me understand what it is like to live in your world?”

I wanted to stop, but I had to pick something up so I drove on.  I vowed that if they were there when I came back I would stop…..but …..

And that is how we are.  I live in my world, and they live in theirs, and we never stop to talk, to listen.  I live with my prejudices and they live with their fears and we don’t understand.  So we stay in our cars, in our houses, in our cocoons, in our worlds—while the world falls apart around us.

Somehow I continue to miss that little recurring line in the gospels, “As he went….”  Jesus was always being interrupted by life, only he stopped to listen, to be, to heal.  Maybe my prayer needs to be to stop.

I will.  After I get this finished!

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A Response to Robert Parham

I shared this story in a sermon several weeks ago.

One of my former youth had the opportunity to spend a week after Christmas in Calcutta working with the Sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa’s convent.  All week they had worked with the poorest of the poor of that city, learning so much.  On the last night they had the privilege of having a conversation with Mother Teresa.

This was at the height of the Cold War when relations between the US and the former Soviet Union were at their height.  Fear was the mood of the world.  So as they were about to conclude, one student asked this great saint, “Mother Teresa, what are you doing to eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation?” 

Her response surprised them all.  “Nothing.  I have been called to care for the sick and dying of Calcutta.  You go and save the world from nuclear destruction.  Perhaps that is your calling.”

I remembered it as I read Robert Parham’s column in the aftermath of the recent General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  For a decade and a half CBF has operated under a discriminatory hiring policy that was created in an atmosphere of fear.  (Bob Setzer tells the story well. ) It was a policy that was created to protect rather than progress; created in fear rather than faith; created for exclusion rather than inclusion.  For 15 years it has hung around our neck, and it is strangling us. 

But this year steps were taken to at least talk about moving forward.  “The Illumination Project” was announced to give us an opportunity to at least recognize that the world has changed, and if we are going to move forward our policies have to as well.

Yet it seems that Robert Parham, the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, does not believe we are capable of having this conversation.  He asked, “Why prioritize the LBGTQ issue given the multitude of issues that need addressing and around which consensus exists?  Why is there the need for such a project now?”

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that he believes that this conversation will detract us from some of the other wonderful ministries that we witnessed at the General Assembly—the work of the Baptist Joint Committee, students training for ministry in a network of seminaries and divinity schools, missions in places that we would be hard pressed to find on a map with people and languages that we could not identify.  We heard about work that is being done to eliminate predatory lending that feeds on the weakest among us.  We heard about ministries in hospitals, and with our military.  We heard a call to reach past the color of our skin to do the work of the kingdom.  All of these are important!  All of these are needed!

But so is this conversation!

It may not be one that Robert feels calls to participate in.  But that doesn’t mean that there are not others who have heard that specific call, and to say that their calling is unnecessary, to insinuate that it is less important, that it can wait….

Such a stance is the height of arrogance that say he alone knows what is needed.  It demeans the ability of free and faithful Baptist to do more than one thing well.  It fails the “Mother Teresa Test.”

The Illumination Project may not be your calling, Robert.  But for God’s sake, for the future’s sake, for the sake of all those for whom this is their life’s calling, do not demean it!  This project asks for everyone’s compassion, wisdom, and voice.

Even yours!

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