Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Splendid One

All of a sudden it seemed like I was with Henry David Thoreau at Walden's Pond.  Actually, I was sitting at the back of the house in the golf cart watching the sun make its end-of-the-day plunge.  What created the Walden's Pond moment was the appearance of  a mini white tornado appearing before me as hundreds of small white bugs came in a swirling vortex of energy.  And right behind them came what I have learned to call mosquito hawks, large slender flying bugs with a huge wing span.  Into that vortex of white bugs flew these mosquito hawks like jets attacking defenseless swarms of bombers.  In and out they went catching the smaller bugs as they flew.  As I watched the air battle, I was reminded of Thoreau as he watched  "The Battle of the Ants."  In chapter twelve he wrote about watching a life and death struggle between the black ants and the red ants.  I sat there amazed having never witnessed such a thing in the insect world. 

While some of the bugs did not fare too well, it caused me to experience a moment of wonder at the created order God has made.  One of Thomas Hardy's character likens the stars to the apples on the tree, some blighted and some splendid.  When questioned by her younger brother, Tess, tells him that ours is a blighted one.  Actually, Hardy and his character, Tess, had it wrong.  It is splendid one, this world in which we live.

"The Battle of the Bugs" witnessed the other evening convinced me again of what a splendid orderly creation is entrusted to us by the Creator.  When it seems that there is nothing new to see, splendor and wonder break out anew in the most unlikely ways.  It is simply unfortunate that is so hard for us to see the glory and the beauty of this splendid world in which we live.   

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pierce Chapel

The first Methodist Church I remember attending some 57 years ago still stands out there in the middle of nowhere.  The Pierce Chapel Methodist Church is located not too far from Laura Walker State Park which is near Waycross, Georgia.  Though the church building is just as small as it was when I was seven, you no longer have to drive through the creek to get there.  Most of the roads which take you to it are paved now.  The bathrooms are in the building instead of down a dirt path. We started attending after my Father was buried in the church cemetery where the  membership has grown far more than the one of the living pew sitters  kept by the preacher.

We usually went on Sunday night.  I started learning to sing sacred songs back then.  The Cokesbury Hymnal was the only song book used.  When I attended, the Methodist Hymnal had not yet found its way to that sanctuary.   Some of the songs I sang back then I still carry with me in the place where memory stores important stuff.   I also started learning to read the Bible.  Each Sunday evening there was a scripture memorization moment when the children would stand before the congregation and recite a verse learned during the week.

My memories of Pierce Chapel are probably better than reality.  The passing of years can work that kind of miracle in many different areas of our lives.  But, I have often wished that the children of our day could have that kind of experience.  I have often lamented in sermon that children no longer are learning and singing the great songs of the faith and are storing very little scripture in the memory bank of the heart.  Their faith can only be diminished by something which is not really their fault, but mine....and maybe, yours.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


This is the week Bishops are being elected.  At least such is happening in the United Methodist Church in the southeastern part of the country.  While it is hardly noticed by most of us, it is an event which happens every four years.  It has always been interesting that in our church we place great emphasis on people being called to ministry; yet, when it comes time to set people aside to give the kind of leadership required of a Bishop, an election of peers is necessary.  People may be called to preach, but they are elected to the office of Bishop.

Whenever I think of Bishops being elected by the church, I always remember the story of one I regard as a spiritual hero.  E. Stanley Jones is best known as a missionary to India.  As a young man at Asbury College, he was praying over the career choices which were before him.  People were telling him different things.  He tells the story of kneeling in prayer and hearing God say to him, "It is India!" and it was to India that he devoted his ministry years.  As a Methodist, he was once elected to serve the church as a Bishop.  Though he was honored by the election of his peers, he declined to accept because the call to be a missionary was the primary calling of his life. While there are probably others, he is the only person I know who said "No" to being a Bishop.

It is easy to think back over the four decades of my ministry and name the men who have been assigned as a Bishop to the South Georgia Conference.    A couple of their names are on my ordination papers.  Others assigned me to the different churches which I served.  Each one gave up everything familiar to come and be a Bishop and a servant among us.  It surely is no easy task.  Maybe you do not know the ones elected this time around, but pray for them anyway.  God knows who they are.

Monday, July 9, 2012


In recent months I have become aware that my reading list was shrinking.  When working it was easier to keep up with what was being read.  There were constant conversations with peers and a steady stream of catalogues sliding across the desk, but in retirement those streams of resources have dried up like Elijah's Wadi Cherith.  So, I started using some casual encounters and some emails to ask, "What are you reading these days that you might recommend?"  The response was disappointing.  It hardly put a drop or two in that dried up wadi.

Then from an unlikely source came a deluge of recommendations.  Usually, alumni magazines are full of reports of how money is needed and how it is being spent.  However, when the recent "Candler Connection," came from Candler School of Theology, I found enough reading suggestions to keep my head in a book for a long time.  It was subtitled, "The Reading Issue," and not only spoke of the value of reading, but included suggestions from all the contributors.  It is like a gold mine.  I wrote down my list and will be starting with it soon.

Knowing how to read is truly a blessing for which I have seldom expressed thanks.  But, how important it has been in the process of spiritual formation.  I would hate to live in a world empty of the written words.  They shape us,  expand our horizon, and enable us to catch glimpses of ourself and the God we worship.  What a blessing!  I list books read on the sidebar of the blog.  Those are mine.  If you have some you would like to share, it would be great hearing from you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


A piece of promotional material announced that the campmeeting season is once again upon us.  I grew up going and enduring.  Later as an adult I returned to the sawdust aisles, funeral home fans, and open air tabernacles by choice. The campmeeeting experience is a unique part of frontier American religious life.  Folks would travel and camp out at the meeting place and different preachers would take turns preaching throughout the day so that it seemed like a continuous service.  Shaped by a strong holiness and Wesleyan influence, the preaching would focus on the conversion of sinners and holy living.  Hisorically speaking, it was a time for serious spiritual business.

Perhaps, the brief history lesson explains the reason for my discomfort with the promotional material which encouraged people to attend what was described as a "fun filled week."   It seemed like an invitation to attend a picnic, or amusement park instead of a campmeeting.  When I was forced to go as a boy, I never thought of it as fun.  And while there are things about campmeeting which I enjoy as an adult, "fun" would not be on my list of reasons to go.  Spiritual renewal might be a reason.  Getting re-connected to God and strengthening my faith might be other reasons for attending.

However, the truth is that a "fun filled week" would likely have more appeal than a "week of spiritual renewal."  This speaks volumes about expectations and culture.  Campmeetings no longer call the sinner to repentance, but tend to have as a goal giving everyone a mild dose of religion enabling those who receive it to feel better.  Those sitting in air conditioned tabernacles are more likely to think of themselves as the saints of Sunday rather than the sinners who are in the hands of an angry God.  Bob Dylan nailed it when he got us singing, "The Times They Are A-Changin.'"