Saturday, June 28, 2008

My First Hero

Whenever I think about those who have influenced my spiritual journey, I always remember my first spiritual hero. I met him at the library in Waycross, Georgia when I was eight or nine years old. My mother enrolled me in the summer reading club. I not only read my required twenty-five books which gave me my star filled certificate, but also discovered what would be a life long passion for reading. One of those books I read was about Albert Schweitzer. Even as a child I was fascinated and amazed with his life. Born in 1875, he lived until 1965. He was an accomplished organist, noted music scholar, theologian, and medical doctor. What fascinated me about him was the fact that such a gifted man went to Africa as a missionary doctor. At the age of 30, he resigned his post as a theology teacher and re-entered the university to complete a seven year Doctorate in Medicine degree. He did it because of of God's call on his life to go to Africa as a missionary doctor. In 1913 he and his wife established the Lambarene Hospital in western Africa. It was there that this man who could have been on the center of many stages in Europe spent his life serving God and humanity. A primitive hospital in a forgotten corner of Africa became his passion for the rest of his life!
As a young boy I was enthralled by his story. I fantasized about going one day to Lambarene Hospital to serve. I read everything I could find about Albert Schweitzer. In a very real way he became my first spiritual hero! His story was my earliest lesson about what it meant to serve God. To be honest is to admit that I did not understand at the time of the summer reading program the way his life was impacting my own. It would be much later in one of those middle adult years filled with reflection about the past that I would suddenly come to a moment of knowing that this man whom I never met, surely influenced my journey of faith even though our paths never crossed. So, when I think of how I got to this point in the journey, I know that this missionary doctor's life inspired a boy whose faith was still somewhat smaller than a mustard seed.
It is interesting to remember those who have influenced our journey of faith. When we start thinking back, we may be surprised at who they are. And what will be even more surprising is that one day someone in the future may remember us in such a way.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Surf Running

Having just returned from the annual summer beach trip, I find myself walking around with very sore calf muscles. One of the things I look forward to on beach trips is running along the shoreline where the surf runs up on the sand. I run barefoot. I play. It is great fun to run along in the edge of the water, sometimes inches deep, and sometimes deep enough to splash all over me as I move along. If it is raining, it is even better. There is something about these annual runs that let me know I am still alive and well enough to feel like I could run forever on that ribbon of water as it touches the beach. Trust me. It works on leg muscles which have spent too much time on the couch. The wet sand tries to grab and hold your foot and the surface is uneven putting quite a strain on ankles that are not used to being free of shoes. Running barefoot along the beach splashing water as you go is a far different experience than lacing up the shoes and hitting the ashphalt! Every year as I return from the beach I think it is going to be the first mile of a renewed commitment to a running program, but somehow it doesn't seem to happen. I get home, the muscles cease crying out when I move, and I get caught up in that "best of intentions" syndrome.
I have wondered why I am disciplined enough to run at the beach but not at home. Maybe it is the different setting. Maybe it is that I go with such expectations. Maybe I am not letting the structure of my life tell me what to do or not to do. Maybe it is the absence of structure. It makes me think, too, about the spiritual disciplines in my life. I wonder if part of the difficulty in staying with some program of spiritual disicpline has to do with the way that the structure of my life dictates what I shall or shall not do. And so, I ask myself in such moments of reflection if the structure of my life has become my god? Or, I wonder if I do not approach the moment which provides for exercising spiritual disicpline with an intentionality that speaks of priority. At the beach, surf running is a priority. Rain or I shine I do it. Regardless of what is going on around me, I make time. Often, not once, but twice a day! Ah, if I could just have the surf runner's mentality when it comes to those early morning hours God calls me to pray, or to those evenings when the Word sits beside my chair unopened. Maybe this time...

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Continent of Orphans

Every journey is filled with interruptions, unexpected twists, and surprises. Such happened this past Tuesday night at Annual Conference when the "Hope for Africa Children's Choir" sang for our evening worship service. These 23 Ugandan children provided lively singing and dancing. The congregation was responsive even to the point of clapping along with the drumbeats underneath the singing. Everybody seemed to be enjoying it, but I just never could get with it. As I sat there all I could see were 23 lovely children who were orphans. Not a single one of them had a living mother or father. And they were 23 of several hundred who were enrolled in the same Ugandan school.
My problem was two books recently read. One was entitled Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza and told the story of the mid'90's Rwandan genocide. The author survived by hiding for 91 days with seven other women in a small bathroom. Immaculee Ilibagiza's story was both inspiring and terrifying. Almost everyone in her family was killed during this tribal bloodbath which took the lives of over a million Rwandans. The second book was entitled There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene. This Atlanta woman woman went to Ethiopia as a journalist and returned as an adoptive parent. In her book she speaks of Africa as a "continent of orphans." When she wrote her book in 2006 there were an estimated twelve million HIV orphans in sub-Sahara Africa. A United Nations report she read predicted there would be twenty-five to fifty million orphans by 2010. She was overwhelmed by what she read. This mother of five children wrote about this moment of being overcome by the unthinkable number of orphans by writing, "Who was going to raise twelve million children? That's suddenly what I wanted to know. There were days that Donny and I thought we'd be driven insane by five children. Who was teaching twelve million children how to swim? Who was signing twelve million permission slips for school field trips? Who packed twelve million school lunches? Who cheered at twelve million soccer games?...Who will wake in the middle of the night in response to eighteen million nightmares?...Who will help them grow up, choose the right person to marry, find work, and learn to parent their own children?" She responded to her own inner struggle by going on to answer her own questions. "Well, as it turns out, no one. Or very few. There aren't enough adults to go around."
With all this in my head, I simply could not hear those children singing. All I could see was a vast host of children like them, some, victims of HIV and malaria, some, victims of tribal genocide, and all of them without a father or a mother to help them grow up. The books were given to me and I read them with some reluctance because they were not stuff I normally would choose to read. All I wanted from the children was an evening of music. Suddenly, it was about more than I expected. Suddenly I was forced to see with great clarity something I did not want to see and did not want to think about. For me it was one of those God moments that provides not answers about what I should do, but instead provides a call to struggle. So, I will continue the journey, but for awhile at least, carrying with me the unresolved issues of this moment of revelation.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Strange Place

Life is full of journeys taken. Some are full of anticipation and excitement. Some are full of dread and fear. A journey to Disneyworld is never like the journey which begins with someone saying, "I have some bad news." We have all had both kinds of journeys. We have been to the beach or to Disneyworld with the kids. We have also been the recipient of an unwanted late night phone call, or the one listening to a doctor speak words we did not want to hear. I remember the first journey I did not want to take. It was the journey which began with an Air Force chaplain and others arriving at our home telling my mother that her husband had been killed in a mid-air collision. At age seven it was not a journey I wanted to start, but starting was not an option.
The journey that started that December evening was also the first part of my journey toward God. It seems like a strange place to start the journey of faith, but hindsight tells me the faith I now have was in some way conceived in that moment. It was a moment I could not handle. I could not understand it. Why my Father would be killed was not something which made any sense at all. It became that moment which I not only remember as being filled with unspeakable tragedy, but also a moment in which I experienced my first real awareness that there had to be a God. Such an awareness, born out of that awful moment, set me forth on my journey of faith.
Oh, I know of what Wesley meant when he talked about prevenient grace. I know we are known by God before we know Him and that in that time of our not knowing Him, He is still offering grace and love to us. In a real sense our journey toward Him starts before we have any consciousness that it is happening. However, there is also the sense in which it started on that awful day of having to deal with what made no sense at all. There have been many moments of experiencing God's presence since those beginning struggling boyhood moments, but not for a long time have I doubted that God somehow used what I never would have chosen for good. Over the years I have learned that my experience is nothing unique. It is like yours. God truly does keep His Word to us. "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Some weeks ago I read a book entitled The Blogging Church. I knew very little about it then and know only slightly more now. However, the book answered some of my questions about blogging and told me more than I needed to know. It seems to me that blogging is about two things: communication and connection. Both have always been important to me. Over the years I have written countless numbers of bulletin covers, newsletter covers, and for any newspaper that would give me space. So, finding ways to communicate has been one of the mainstays of my ministry. It has also seemed important to be connected to people. What I have discovered is the that the larger the church the harder it is to stay connected to folks. There are so many things that get in the ordained minister's job description other than what might be a considered inside a definition of preacher and pastor. There are enough meetings to sink a large ship, always another fire to put out, and still too much paper work. All these necessary things seem to empty the room of people and dialogue. Sometimes, people make comments about sermons or, ocassionally there will be a response to an article written, but such are more rare than some would think. Blogging seems to be a new way to create a place for being connected, a place for some sharing, and a place for some dialogue. For me the success of the blog will be the measure it enables the dialogue. While writing is something I always have enjoyed doing, I have other places to meet this need. What I really hope this blogging venture will do is to provide a place for writing and reading, for speaking and listening, for conversation instead of monologue. Blogging will be a new journey for me. I invite you to join me.