Today I taught two sessions at the United Methodist Women’s assembly — on Prayer in Our Daily Lives. There are thousands of women here in St. Louis! I have seen the women from around the world. The beauty of God’s creation showing through these beautiful people.
Today I saw …
Women — young and old.
Women standing on the corner protesting the wall in Gaza and women walking across the street wearing hats that looked like Hershey’s Kisses.
Women in heels, flip flops, and sensible shoes.
Women in blue jeans, in the garb of Fiji and in African dress.
Women of every color and hue, age and size …
All of us, sisters in faith. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to be in this place at this time. A holy place full of powerful mothers, sisters, and daughters of the faith.
I’ve been “doing Advent” for several weeks — preaching, teaching, answering emails, posting comments on the website, leading workshops and Sunday school. Trying to unclutter my heart, despite having a bit too much to do.
The day I led an Advent retreat for colleagues at the General Board of Discipleship, I was sitting up front while my boss was introducing me. A photographer friend came up beside me and I moved back so she would have a better angle for her picture of my boss. In a few seconds, she moved. I moved back a bit farther. She moved again, and I moved back a few more inches. Finally, I looked at her and she mouthed to me, “I’m trying to get a picture of YOU.” We both laughed. I stopped moving.
When I shared the story with a good friend of mine, she said, “I hope you are still backing up ten years from now.” And I think that was the perfect metaphor for the writer, the servant, the person I want to be. In ten years — or twenty years — I hope I’m still backing up.
Advent is nearly here. I am preparing my heart, mind, spirit, and manuscript for preaching on Sunday at West End United Methodist Church here in Nashville. On Tuesday, December 1, I’ll lead an Advent workshop here at the United Methodist Center. I appreciate your prayers in the coming days.
Now — are you ready for Advent? Have you found your Advent wreath? Bought your Advent candles? Picked out a devotional booklet of some sort to use? Identified some community to travel with through this season?
Open My Heart – An Advent Prayer Song
I offer you this Advent prayer song I’ve written to help me open my heart to God. Feel free to learn it to sing out loud or in your heart. Or just say the words to yourself as a prayer. Blessings to you as we prepare to enter Advent 2009.
Open wide the doorway to my heart, O God. Fill me with hope.
Open wide the windows of my heart, O God. Fill me with peace.
Open up the corners of my heart, O God. Fill me with joy.
Soften up the edges of my heart, O God. Fill me with love.
Update (11/25/09): Here is a link to a .zip file of the music that you can download and use personally or corporately. There are five files — one for each week of Advent (hope, peace, joy, and love) — and one file that includes all the prayers together. Permission is granted for personal devotional use or for use in local church worship services or study settings. Please include copyright notice whenever the words are printed.
This month at church we’re focusing on children. Parents have been meeting to talk about the challenges they face in shaping faith formation. It’s tough, sometimes, to even get to church on Sunday morning, much less make it in time for Sunday school.
I occasionally teach children’s Sunday school. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but so far, no one has died under my care. Recently, I had to keep myself from laughing out loud at the scene in my class. I was reading the scripture story — Moses and the burning bush. One student was repeating all my words at about a 1-second lag while a second child was trying to get my attention to verify that I was reading the right verses. As I read louder, each of them talked louder. I guess I should have switched to the story of the Tower of Babel or Pentecost. Then we could have just acted it out. <grin>
It’s easy to think that we’re not doing much good for these children in our care … But then we see the ones who have grown up and are doing amazing things in the world. One of these young adults is Colleen. She grew up in our Sunday school and youth group and has become an incredible woman. She helps find homes for vulnerable animals and raises money for HIV and AIDS. This month she went to New York to donate one of her kidneys to a little girl who really needed one (see Nadia’s video below). The morning that the surgery was to happen, Nadia was sick with a fever and the surgery was postponed. Yesterday, Nadia received a kidney from 21-year-old who had died in an accident. Nadia received a kidney — and has a role model named Colleen, who was willing to give selflessly and joyously to give another person life. I’ve got a role model, too. Any role models you’d like to share about?
I would quit my job (if I had one) and join a missionary band.
Today in chapel, I got to meet Remember Seven — four young adults living out my dream. KT Wallis, Matthew Green, and Tobias Batemen are from Australia. Joy Stovall is from Canada. In February, 2009, these four served in Zambia and Zimbabwe and found their lives changed by the experience. They told this story: At the Mwandi Ovc Centre in Zambia, they worked with a project that feeds 250+ children six days a week. For many of these children, these 6 meals a week are the only food they receive. On the seventh day, there is no food. While serving there, they ate with the children for six days and didn’t eat on the seventh day. Their band is named after this experience.
After they got back home, they decided to quit their jobs and start a missionary band. Now they are traveling — singing, telling their stories, and witnessing to the presence of God in their lives. Remember Seven recorded a CD of songs inspired by their experiences. They live on a portion of the proceeds (and the kindness of their hosts) and send the rest of the money to projects in Africa. They are in the United States traveling until mid-November. Check out their travel schedule and see if they might be coming near you. And consider buying their music.
I saw a bunch of signs on my recent vacation in Colorado and it got me thinking about our ministry of hospitality. One particular sign pointing to Jesus caught my attention as I was driving from Raymond to Allenspark. About the third time I passed, I decided I needed to check it out. I turned the car around, pulled into the driveway toward “Jesus,” and found the next sign, “No Trespassing.” Hmmmm.
Another set of signs has intrigued me for several years. I see them when I walk up the canyon on my daily walk along the river. On my way, I pass two entrances to the same property. The first entrance sports a beautiful sign saying — in a very emphatic way — “Keep Out.” The other entrance feels very open and hospitable, declaring, “Welcome Friends.” But the combination of the two leaves me feeling just a little bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure whether I’m in the category of “friend” (welcome) or “stranger” (keep out).
This is somewhat like our churches, isn’t it? We get all excited about showing the way to Jesus, but when people turn in the driveway, we’ve got other signs that tell them — no trespassing, keep out. (Or one of my favorite signs from rural Oklahoma, “Trespassers will be violated!”)
Or we say we welcome all people. (Open hearts. Open doors. Open minds.) But sometimes our guests have the distinct feeling that the welcome is not 100%. If you are not our “friends,” then the message is “keep out.” That’s the challenge, isn’t it?
I love this quote from Peter Storey:
SOME TELL US that following Jesus is a simple matter of inviting him into our hearts. But when we do that, Jesus always asks, “May I bring my friends?” And when we look at them, we see that they are not the kind of company we like to keep. The friends of Jesus are the outcasts, the marginalized, the poor, the homeless, the rejected — the lepers of life.
We hesitate and ask, “Jesus, must we really have them too?”
Jesus replies, “Love me, love my friends!”
– Peter Storey Listening at Golgotha: Jesus’ Words from the Cross
On the 7th day of my vacation at a remote cabin in Colorado, the DSL line providing my internet connection went down, and I got to see how dependent I’ve become on my electronic relationships. It had probably been three years since I spent any significant time disconnected from my cell phone, my email (and all those other seemingly invaluable tools such as Facebook and Twitter).
The wireless router was still sending its signal — and I kept glancing at its strength – but there was no internet . And every so often, I launched a browser … just to check to see if the connection had been repaired.
There was a land line at the cabin (a cordless phone, even), but I felt anxiety starting to build. What if something really important from work needed my attention? What about all those emails that were going to pile up? How was I going to check in for my flight on Southwest?
Goodness, this is ridiculous, I said to myself. It’s pitiful … and it’s not healthy … to be this dependent on technology. This is what I write and preach about — disconnecting with email so that we can connect with God. How ironic it was to find myself in that void — separated from God, the only thing that could fill the empty place left by my sudden electronic interruption.
“You satisfy the hungry heart,” the song played in my head. Fill me, O God, with your presence. Forgive my obsession with being wired (or wireless). You are the Source of my true connection. Amen.