Sunday, September 28, 2014

Deadly Amnesia

Retirement has given a different lens through which to see the world.  One of the things seen differently is the reality of hard physical work.  The world in which I worked for almost forty years was filled mostly with white collar people.  This is not to say that white collar people do not work hard, or do not have a strong work ethic.  It is simply a way of recognizing that while white collar people work, they do not usually get their hands dirty; nor do they have to change shirts during the day because the one from the morning has been saturated with sweat through and through at least twice.

When I retired, I lost my white collar.  The work I do gets me dirty and sweaty, but still it is voluntary.  It is not like the young woman who served us breakfast the other morning just before sunrise at a Waffle House in western Louisiana.  Her ten hour shift started at 9 pm the previous evening and when she poured our coffee, she still had an hour to go before punching the time clock.  After ten hours on her feet serving customers in all kinds of dispositions, she had good reason to look overworked and worn out.  Still, she managed to be both friendly and caring about our needs. 

Since Jesus grew up in a carpenter's shop and in a home of meager means, He likely had a better grasp of the value of hard physical work than most of us who just wear out the white collars.  He evidently was drawn toward those who got dirty and sweaty as He made fishermen disciples and leaders of the church.  When I view the loss of strength within the United Methodist Church where I have served over forty years, I wonder if it is not because we have done a very un-Wesleyan thing.  As we became content with attracting the white collar world, we seem to have forgotten our parish which is as John Wesley put it, the world. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Saturday Night Live

This past Saturday evening a chicken sandwich seemed like a good idea for supper and with Chick-fil-A close by, it was an easy choice.   While the order was being prepared, I became aware of a group of college age young people in the back corner.  Several tables had been pulled up close to one another so that it was like one big table for the eleven of them.  Now, they were not being rowdy and loud.  No, what got my attention were the number of Bibles out on the table.  I made a point to walk close enough to be sure of what I was seeing.  As I stood at an unnoticeable distance, I overheard them talking about what they were reading.  It was a Saturday night Bible study.  Saturday night was indeed alive.
Since college students often get accused of doing other kinds of stuff on Saturday night, I wanted to report the activity of these eleven.  Surely, their parents would be pleased with their choice of how to spend their time.  I remember from years of being in the pastorate the many committee meetings where the conversation centered on getting the message of Jesus outside the walls of the church and into the world.  If memory serves me correctly, we usually did more talking about it than actually doing it which is a problem with many churches.  As I watched these young people studying the Word, I thought that we probably make it more complicated than it needs to be.  Maybe we cannot see the practical down to earth way to do ministry for trying to find some grandiose noteworthy thing. If it does not cost a lot of money and require a lot of people to implement, the church seems to dismiss it as not a worthy effort.

Ah, but then there is Jesus who said something about two or three being gathered together in His name.  Now that I think about it, I think I counted wrong.  There were more than eleven at that pulled together table.  It was twelve.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Something Not Seen

Now after over forty years of being in the pulpit, it would seem to me that I have seen it all when it comes to whatever might happen when a choir comes in the sanctuary.  I have listened to large choirs and choirs so small it seemed more like a trio.  I have heard choirs that left me longing for more and some that caused me to pray for a quick end.  I remember one Minister of Music who stopped in the midst of a major Easter presentation to tell the violinist not to play anymore.  And another time the choir started off so badly there was nothing to do but for them to stop and start over.  But, they got it the second time!  I have seen choirs of all ages and even one musical group that played cowbells instead of the traditional bells so often used in churches.  I even saw a choir member go to sleep and throw a book in the air as he jerked himself awake.  It was quite a noise.  Woke everyone else up, too!
Yep, I have seen it all.  Until tonight.  At our 5th Sunday Community Worship Service which is attended mainly by the town Methodists and Baptists, an African American choir from a nearby church came to sing.  It was a great evening of music.  Most Music Directors I have known would have died for such an animated, involved, and excited group of musicians.  There was no trouble hearing them and understanding the words they were singing.  But, what I had never seen were the two women who held their toddlers while they sang.  These children were not babies, but heavy toddlers.  After a couple of songs, the children were passed to another singer.  Five different musicians held these two children before they finally made it to the men's section where two guys hung on to them to the end.  Never seen it happen before.  Those two children were held by singing, swaying, and rejoicing women.  What a way to indoctrinate children into church music!
As I listened to the singing, I was captivated by the way the community of the choir cared for those children.  It reminded me of stories I heard in my first appointment about the mothers of the previous generation who brought blankets so their children could play and sleep on the floor.  It was the accepted practice.  How different is our approach today.  In most places with nurseries and children's church, children never make it to worship until they are third graders.  Is there anything wrong with this picture?