Bless the Children

Edgehill United Methodist Church
Edgehill United Methodist Church

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?

Related Links:

Edgehill United Methodist Church, Nashville, TN

National Observance of Children’s Sabbath

If I Were Young Again …

Remember Seven CD Cover
Remember Seven CD Cover

If I were young again …

I would travel to Africa.

I would write songs and tell stories.

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.

If I were young again … I just might join them.

Only 48 More Days ‘Til Advent (No Shopping Required!)

Retail's Ready (Photo by S. Downey)
Retail's Ready (Photo by S. Downey)

The books (The Uncluttered Heart) are being ordered. My calendar is getting full. Must be the season of preparation — for Advent. (Funny that you have to prepare to Prepare.)

We’ve launched the web site for The Uncluttered Heart. Here’s a link to it. At the web site, readers can sign up to receive communications from me during the period that they are reading the book (from Advent — November 29 — through Epiphany — January 6). People can receive a text sometime each day — with a short reminder of the focus of that day. Or they can receive an email that has that same reminder and also a photograph. If readers are so inclined, they can have a conversation about the readings at The Uncluttered Heart web site. I hope you’ll check it out.

I’ll be preaching at West End United Methodist Church on November 29 (the first Sunday in Advent). If you are in Tennessee, come and worship. Services are at 8:45 and 11:00. I’ll be doing a book signing in between.

On Tuesday, December 1, I’m leading a 1/2 day retreat at The Upper Room on the book. If you’d like to join us, you are welcome. The retreat is being opened up to the community in Nashville. We’ll follow the morning retreat with lunch and then we’ll be going out into the community to do service. Contact me or Sherry Elliott if you’d like to participate.

On Wednesday, December 9, you’ll find me at Belmont UMC for their Wednesday night gathering. Or you can join us for Sunday school at Edgehill United Methodist Church during each Sunday in Advent. Judy Smith and I will be leading the classes.

(OK — I’m tired just writing this. Pray for me, ya’ll. I may need some extra help this year to make space in my heart for the coming of the Christ child.)

The (Great Horned) Owl Reality Show

The Owl -- or Big Foot
The Owl -- or Big Foot

During the week I was on vacation in Colorado I kept hearing a strange bird during the night. I thought it was a confused blue jay. (You know how sometimes birds get confused and do strange things?) It was loud — screechy and annoying — especially at 3:30 a.m. outside my window. After hearing the bird for several nights I marched outside after dark, armed with a flashlight, and determined to let the bird know that it was time to sleep. Turned out it wasn’t a jay. It was an owl — a really BIG owl. (Here’s a link to some information on — and much better pictures of —  the Great Horned Owl.)

So, in the place of TV and the internet (neither of which we had access to), we watched The Owl Reality Show for the next few nights. Just as the sun went down, we headed outside with flashlights, cameras, and the tripod. One the second night, we got lucky and watched the owl for 15 minutes or so as it ate its breakfast. It was perched on the top of a tree recently trimmed by the electrical crews.

After a couple of nights enduring noisy humans with flashlights and cameras, the owl moved to a quieter spot. But it was really fun while it lasted. Thanks be to God, creator of heaven and earth — and the Great Horned Owl.

Signs — and Theology

Jesus -> That Way!
Jesus -> That Way!

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.

At one entrance

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).

At the other entrance
At the other entrance

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

From pp. 29-30 of Listening at Golgotha: Jesus’ Words from the Cross by Peter Storey. Copyright © 2004 by the author. Published by Upper Room Books. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without permission. Learn more about or purchase this book.

Question: What have you learned from signs lately?

Fall Colorado Book Tour

View from the Ouzel Falls Trail

Ok — It was really a vacation with a book signing thrown in. But I did get to talk about The Uncluttered Heart, pass out some cards, and have a book signing (I even signed a few books). I went to Colorado for the first couple of weeks in September. While I was there, I attended a conference that was carrying my book in the bookstore. (I think that Advent/seasonal books are a bit hard to promote like other books. I mean, who really wants to buy an Advent book in July — or September?)

On the other hand, this is the time that church leaders are starting to think about programming for Advent and are wondering about what to offer for Wednesday nights or for Sunday school during Advent. Might I suggest an Advent book? Perhaps: The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God during Advent and Christmas, by Beth A. Richardson.

The website for the book has been launched. Take a look when you have some free time:

For any of you who have blogs, write for newspapers or newsletters, etc., if you’d like to review the book or interview me, please shoot me an email – I’ve got books to send to the first 20 who contact me.

Blessings to you all,