polaroid ghosts

At any given moment, numerous highways of thought skitter across the landscape of my mind. These are the images of my life, the contents of my brain, the associations and the experiences that form and shape who I am. The ones that intrigue me most are the ones from my childhood. They are like gold, like finding a twenty in your jeans pocket, like getting to eat the last M&M, or scoring under 90 for the first time ever on a golf course. These images are the ones that capture my attention because they are few and incomplete. When they come into being I am reminded of a Polaroid picture that is not fully developed, complete with gray ghost-like images of scenes long gone and faces too young to be real.

Today, it was soccer. The ghosts came back from my eighth year on this earth, and I was clad in a shiny blue polyester uniform with white stripes down the side. I was playing defense, though I am not sure why, I remember people would back up when I kicked the ball. Soccer’s rules confused me and I can recall being embarrassed when I broke one of them. It was also a short ride to the field, situated between our house and Stone Mountain, Georgia

When these gray memories bound into my mind, I instantly begin to struggle. I want to complete the picture so I let my mind flail around so that the Polaroid will develop quickly and the picture will be completed. I want to know what happened, to remember the early experiences that shaped who I am today. Sometimes, this struggle bears fruit and different pictures appear; these are random free associations and there is danger in allowing my mind to wander freely.

Generally, the thoughts begin growing in a benign fashion. In the midst of these soccer memories, two other thoughts tagged along. First, I remember that it was during the course of this season that I drank my first Mountain Dew. Second, I remember finding out that rain was a localized phenomenon (those weren’t quite my words at the time). It was the first time I had ever experienced driving out of a rain storm. We were on the way home from a game or practice and the rain was heavy, the sky dark. I remembered that as we drove the rain suddenly stopped, as if someone had changed a channel in the sky. The sky above suddenly changed to a milky white and the ground was dry. We could look out the back window and see the storm rage as we continued our way home. It was a fascinating and exciting experience and to this day, I still point out storms in the distance. I look for gray streaks in the sky and happily exclaim that it is raining over there! That is not all though…

As I write this, the Collingwood Drive compartment of my mind creeps open to reveal other pictures. There was the time I rushed out to meet my dad as he returned home from work. It was back in the day when our family had one car and my dad rode the bus to work. I remember running and falling on my chin, my dad carried my bruised, bloodied, weeping body home.

There was the time I was selling things for a school fundraiser and as I walked around the neighborhood I realized that I had to go to the bathroom. Being the oldest in my family, I was too rigid a person to pee in a bush and thus ended up wetting my jeans. It must have been an interesting sight to see an eight year old walking down the street, bowlegged, wet pants, crying from embarrassment. There are also the memories of sleepovers and swimming lessons. I still have pictures of eighteen wheelers drawn during those dreamy days. When I was eight, truck driving was the noblest profession I had ever heard of, now I just settle for being a pastor…

These are the ghosts, my ghosts, that whisper in my ear when my childhood is thrust upon me. They reside in this opaque world of pictures and experiences, living in a semi-developed state in the far-recesses of my mind. To access them takes time and there is a twinge of sadness knowing that they are incomplete. Then again, I don’t think complete is the point. Accurate or not, what I remember makes me who I am today. Until I am told differently by someone else who shares the same memories, these experiences are the reality that shapes me.

I am who I am because I was who I was, good, bad, and ugly. The difference today is that I know them for what they are, they have power but on a good day they inform me not deform me. They tell me who I was so that I can attempt to be who I am. I know my recollections are incomplete, I know they are skewed and warped and bent. I also know they are real because they cause me pain and joy and sorrow and sadness and laughter.

There is much that I would just as soon forget, but that would begin to steal bits and pieces of who I am. I cannot help what happened then, I can only be who I am now. That is the key for me, the present. I will always carry with me these snapshots of ghosts. I will carry the joy and happiness, the regret and sorrow, the support and love of the friends and family that have walked with me, and because I will do so willingly I know that the road I travel is much safer…

grace and peace

confirmation again

This post has been sitting as a draft since January 22nd, I have finally written its conclusion. I am working on an Easter piece that, may or may not, be posted soon...

My therapist has a repertiore of meaningful quotes that she is able to trot out into our sessions when needed. One of these quotes has intrigued and followed me for the past few months. In on of our times together, she quoted Thomas Mann as saying:

"A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a truth."

Since the time I first heard that quote, I have been searching for what I would call great truths. Heck, I have been searching for anything I would consider a truth just to find out if it's opposite is true as well. As a result, I have been thinking about a quote from Paul Tillich. The problem I have had is creating an opposite of his idea. Here is the original:

"...serious doubt is confirmation of faith."

In my book there are two possibilities, and both hold some measure of truth as well. The first possibility is:

"...serious doubt is NOT confirmation of faith."

Basically, if you doubt seriously then you have no faith. Therefore, faith is the absence of doubt and the unchained freedom from thinking about one's faith or even what one believes in. There is no need for doubt if one has faith; indeed, there is no room for doubt in the life of a faithful person. In my book, this statement is untrue and it teeters on heresy. It is precisely because we doubt that we can have faith in something greater and more mysterious than what our feeble minds can comprehend. Alas, this statement does not prove that the original is a great truth.

However, when I orginally began to think of this statement I also thought of another way of examining its opposite (I began these musings almost three months ago and they are still incomplete in my book). I will admit that I had trouble distinuishing between the opposite and a negation of the truth I was trying to examine. Therefore, I came up with this other possibility:

"...serious confirmation is doubt of faith."

This one intrigued me, especially in the current socio-religio-political environment. When I think of the public face of Christianity (my apologies to all of the hard working lay and pastoral leadership out there), the face that is shown in magazines and newspapers, I see people who doubt nothing. That is not Christianity, nor is it faithful living. Moreover, inherent in the serious confirmation of anything is an underlying layer of doubt.

My experience of people who are adament about a particular position (religious or not) is that they are afraid. Fear is one of the greatest motivators in this world, and one that is used often in religious contexts. Furthermore, when one is afraid, they seek stability and security, where ever and however they might find it. So, when I see people of great rigid confirmed faith, I wonder what fear lies beneath.

Is it that they do not feel accepted by God, therefore they must make themselves superior to others? Is it that they fear losing what they have and as a result must "stand their ground" against those who would take it away by allowing people the freedom to be found by God? Or is it simply that their God is not big enough, and therefore unworthy of depthful doubtful faith?

Regardless, I think that I have found a great truth. As a result, I will doubt. It is not about doubting God into non-existence, but more about doubting enough to be able to see the miracles of God happen before me daily. The brilliant orange hues of a sunrise, the still sweet breeze of a morning walk, the smile and laughter of friend and family, all are more real through the presence of doubt. If I have it all figured out-- to the point where confirmation becomes serious --then there is no need for God any longer. Therefore, I will choose to doubt, to question, and to hope that what I know of God is but a little bit, and I will be surprised at the rest...

grace and peace

read me seymour

In the two offices I occupy, approximately 400 books reside. They line the shelves in height order, grouped by subject. It is a very appealing way of displaying books, but sometimes I can’t find a damn thing that I am looking for. So, I often spend a great deal of time scanning my shelves.

When I am looking for a particular book, I begin with the group most likely to hold said book. From left to right, my eyes scan the shelf, taking in color and shape and size (I even read the titles as well). Sometimes, I will run my fingers along the spines as I glance down a particular shelf, hoping to find what I am looking for by touch rather than sight. Inevitably, I will run into one of two problems.

First, I will not find what I am looking for in the place where I thought it lived. Second, an epiphany will hit me, and a crystal clear image of the book will form. It will either be situated cozily on the shelf of my other office or lounging around a bookshelf at home. Either way, a struggle ensues. I am either forced to scan all of my shelves at work, or I have the opportunity to test my memory and see if I remember to get the book or understand why I wanted it in the first place…

So, I was scanning the shelf in my counseling office and I ran across a well-worn tome that I don’t think I have ever picked up before. Another thing about me, I buy books. I hear titles and subjects that interest me and I buy them. Yard sales, seminaries, Barnes and Noble, it doesn’t matter, if it has to do with religion, theology, psychology, or counseling it will come to find a place in my home.

So I pulled this book from its home and gaze at its cover. Black, tattered, torn, gold letters pronounce the author and title to me. Inside the cover, stamped in blue are the words “Withdrawn Union-PSCE” and “$1.00.” This gives me some clue as to when and where I bought the book, but it is not the perceived value or the books tiredness that draws me to it. Very simply it is the title, Man’s Search for Himself, by Rollo May.

Regardless of the dated title, I gingerly opened the book and began to read. The pages have the musty scent of an old library attached to them and my nose crinkles at the smell. I turn to the table of contents and the words click in my head. “The Hollow People,” “The Struggle to Be,” “The Experience of Becoming a Person” scream at me as their words sear my soul. How, I ask myself, could this book have come to share the same space with me without being read before now?

So, I do what I do with all books that interest me, I sit down and begin reading. Fifteen minutes and twenty-five pages later, Dr. May has spoken to me in a deep and profound way. Let me share three quotes that provided a moment or two of clarity for me.
It may sound surprising when I say, on the basis of my own clinical practice as well as that of my psychological and psychiatric colleagues, that the chief problem of people… is emptiness… Perhaps some readers are conjecturing that this emptiness, this inability to know what one feels or wants, is due to the fact that we live in a time of uncertainty—a time of war, military draft, economic change, with a future of insecurity facing us no matter how we look at it. So no wonder one doesn’t know what to plan and feels futile! But this conclusion is too superficial. (p. 15-17)
He goes on two pages later to say this:
But the present typical American character, Riesman goes on to say, is “outer-directed.” He [or she] seeks not to be outstanding but to “fit in”; he [or she] lives as though he [or she] were directed by a radar set fastened to his [or her] head perpetually telling him [or her] what other people expect of him [or her]. This radar type gets his [or her] motives and directions from others; like the man described himself as a set of mirrors, he is able to respond but not to choose; he has no effective center of motivation of his own.
Finally, he states this about the emptiness or hollow feeling that he finds in many people:
The feeling of emptiness or vacuity which we have observed sociologically and individually should not be taken to mean that people are empty, or without emotional potentiality… The experience of emptiness, rather, generally comes from people’s feeling that they are powerless to do anything effective about their lives or the world they live in. Inner vacuousness is the long-term, accumulated result of a person’s particular conviction toward himself [or herself]… that he [or she] cannot act as an entity in directing his [or her] own life, or change other people’s attitudes toward him [or her], or effectively influence the world around him [or her]. (p.25)
So I read these things and then I stop, and I turn to the front of the book to look for a copyright date. I shake the cobwebs from my head as the year registers and I realize that this could have been written yesterday about the people who inhabit this shallow culture in which we live. By the way, sorry about all of the brackets, the book was written in a time where language that included women was not yet the standard. I know that many of you would have read it and assumed that, but I felt that it was important to add the “hers” to the text.

Anyway, I put the book down and just sit for a moment. I am in the middle of my counseling office, on the floor, staring at the bookshelf. I don’t have a client coming for a while and I wonder if I want to read more. I decide against it. I realize that I have found a long lost friend, a person who sees the world much as I do; a person who has asked the same questions about life and meaning and hope that I ask today. This is a relationship that is meant to be savored rather than hurried.

In the end, Rollo May joins the stack of books that I have begun to read but not yet finished. He is in good company, surrounded by Gilead, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Supervising Therapists and Counselors, and National Geographic Magazine. These are just a few of the companions on my journey right now. Their voices provide meaning to my relationship with the rest of the world.

The thoughts contained between the front and back covers paint the canvas of my life with wide swatches of purples, blues, reds, and greens. They liven the fields that I walk through and bring me closer to others. Most of all, they help me access the parts of me that I have often kept hidden. They are a rich tapestry that hangs on the wall of my soul, giving it a welcoming softness that makes me want to visit more often…

grace and peace

PS - what year do you think this was written?

The immorality of mortality

I could say a lot about what has happened over the past two or three days. My words would be reactionary and reckless though. I believe that, for the most part, my title suggests what it is that I feel at the moment. I want to let things simmer for a while before I try and approach the subject again.

Until then, let the title simmer in your own brains and write in the comments whatever it is that rises to the surface. I do want to include several questions and comments before I sign off on this post...

**Let me first say that seeing her in bed must wound them in the deepest places of their hearts. I cannot fathom the never-ending grief that must overwhelm them when they walk through the door. I cannot pretend to know how much it hurts to see a loved one laying in front you, unable to respond, unable to reach out and acknowledge your presence. I cannot begin to understand the anger, the fear, the resentment and sadness that must wash over the minds and hearts of her husband and sister and parents.

I also cannot understand why her life and her death are the business of people who neither know her and her family nor know of their suffering over the past fifteen years..

**Congress is not God, neither are doctors nor nurses nor ministers, only God is God, to believe in our own power and ingenuity to stave off death is arrogant and blasphemous.

**We simply do not know how to die well, which I believe is a direct result of our inability to live meaningful lives...

**As a society, I think we believe that death is sinful and thus justly deserving of our obsession with delaying the natural course of decay that our bodies inevitably undergo.

**Acceptance of our finitude is a necessary component to living faithfully.

**No parent should have to outlive their child; likewise, the life of any parent should not be so entwined with their children that they cannot let go should that painful event happen.

**Death is never the end, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, people live through the passing down of the narratives of their lives, what are the stories that will be told about you?

This may be all you get from me on this story, but it will not be the last time I speak of death. To die well, is to know that we have lived and tasted the good fruit of our lives. It is to know that we have loved; it is to know that we have cared; it is to know that we have done all that we could with the moments of our lives as they presented themselves to the best of our abilities.

Death may come slowly like a lazy river winding through an open field; it may come like the gentle waves that lap against the shorelines. Death may come like the eruption of a volcano; it may come like the jagged cut of a bolt of lightening. Regardless of how, it will come. We may divert it, we may run from it, we may even shield ourselves from it, but in those times there is no life, only fear.

I do not want to die knowing that I have not lived. I do not want to die knowing that I did not experience the rich colors of a life well lived. I desire authenticity; I yearn for peace in the deepest places of my soul; and I hope that those around me will not hang on too tightly, but that they will remember that above all else they were loved...

grace and peace

Pastoral Prayer - Palm Sunday

God of all times and places
We have awakened to a haze-filled day,
A Blanket had been thrown over the earth
Hiding the colors of creation that surround us
Making it difficult to see the very things placed before us.
Hear our prayers, O Lord, as we seek you in this light muffled world.

We pray for all the people of the world,
Knowing that you have created and endowed each of us with your image,
Where war has ravaged neighborhoods, we pray for quiet and peace;
Where leaders have lied, dictators stolen, and autocrats bullied, we pray for honesty;
Where sickness and grief have swallowed life, we pray that wounded hearts may heal;
Where isolation and bigotry have separated, we pray for reconciliation.
Creator God, this world is your world, endow us with the strength to live beyond our limitations and grant us the courage to speak and act in the best interests of the global community.

We pray for the people of this nation,
Knowing that we do not have a divine mandate to rule the world and each other,
In our time, O Lord, morality has become personal rather than corporate,
We worry about issues of marriage, when children die living on the streets and people with jobs can’t afford adequate housing and food for their families.
We tear up the environment and our neighborhoods sprawl like an oil slick caught in an ocean current.
We believe we have the right to consume resources at will, forgetting that you are the author of all things.
Lord of life, remind us that poverty, the environment, and hyper-consumerism are also moral issues, and that sometimes what is best for this nation and this world may not be what is best for me.

We pray for the people of this community,
Knowing that there is much to rejoice and grieve over,
In this day, O God, we are suspicious of one another,
We gauge motives and measure arbitrarily those who surround us, forgetting that you call us to love one another and turn the other cheek to those who would harm us.
We pray for those who make decisions in our community, guide them and enable them to put the needs of all above the needs of a few;
We pray for our church, that it would not be caught up in the fervor of what is popular, and instead live as a community of God called out to be prophets in this world.
God of patience, grant us the good sense to remember you in all of our actions and the hope to act with conviction.

We pray finally for ourselves,
Knowing that we will welcome you with palms today, and shout for your crucifixion tomorrow,
We are torn, O Lord, between our responsibility to you and our desire to be a success in this world.
We often choose to believe that you are the God of only one way, forgetting that you are the author of all possibilities,
We believe that you support one political party or one set of values, never remembering that you are above such pettiness and that you support all people,
We strive for wealth and power and influence, disregarding the witness of your son who came and lived simply, who chose the path of love over the path of control, and whose influence was in his ability to care for those that everyone else ignored.

O Lord, you are the great I Am, the lover of humanity, reach out and touch our distant hearts and renew a right Spirit within each of us. So that we might begin to live gently and walk softly upon this earth; that we might speak with conviction and live accordingly.

We ask all these things in the name of the one who taught us pray, saying…


I'm pretty ticked off at the moment. The reason, you might wonder? This article. A special thanks to the author at The Pub.

First and foremost, if you read the article, what I write will make a lot more sense.

The church is full of people who hurt, it is full of people who are mentally unhealthy, it is full of people who whose very soul, mind, life is spent dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death. Ministers who have had one or two semesters of pastoral care are not capable or ready to handle the problems that these children of God face. Certainly, ministers can listen, they can care, they can even be empathetic assuming that they are healthy enough to compartmentalize their own stuff in order to help others. But these ministers cannot and should not attempt to counsel people without extensive training in the art of counseling and psychotherapy.

As a minister and social worker with over a thousand hours of counseling and over two hundred hours of supervision under my belt, I find the approach that Southern Seminary is taking to be appalling and grossly negligent.

But it steps beyond that for me; as I read the article and this one that is referenced, I can feel my heart breaking. There is pit in my stomach that is widening and growing deeper with each paragraph. The implications of this program are enormous, at best it is misguided, at worst it is going to hurt people irreparably. I can feel the fear I have for the time when the first graduates of this program enter churches or worse hang a shingle on their door calling themselves counselor. This is not only an attack on counseling and psychology, it is an attack that strikes the very core of my identity and my calling as a minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church.

This world is populated with people-- women, men, and children --who are already demonized because they suffer from mental illness. People who suffer from depression have difficulty keeping their health insurance, because depression is "incurable." Mental hospitals are shut down for lack of funding, their clients returned to a world that does not accept or understand them. Children and women are abused at enormous rates and many suffer with a number of physical, mental and emotional issues for the remainder of their lives.

These are some of the people who inhabit the pews of churches, they are the ones seeking solace from the storms that tear at the fabric of their lives. For these hurting people Southern Seminary wants to populate pulpits with this type of pastor.
“Our churches need pastors and leaders who understand depravity and the Fall to the degree that they are able to see the ways in which fallen human self-interest often masquerades as objective ‘science’ -- especially when this ‘science’ seeks to explain and prescribe a cure for the fallen condition of humanity,” Moore said.
Tell me how a pastor of this sort of biblical nature would respond to an autistic child? An abused woman or molested child? Tell me what they would say to someone who is experiencing a psychotic break? How about a person suffering from a manic episode or someone with schizophrenia, mental retardation, bipolar disorder, narcissistic, borderline, oppositional defiant, or anything else mentioned in the DSM-IV? What are they going to do, talk about demon possession, tell them to get off their ass and quit being lazy, or better yet just say a prayer and send them on their way? I believe that pastoral care and counseling is one of the central messages of the biblical narrative, I am also not naive enough to believe that it is the only source of revelation for the healing that people need in their lives...
“This means that Southern Seminary must maintain a commitment to Sola Scriptura [‘Scripture alone’] in our counseling department no less than in our biblical studies, systematic theology and evangelism departments. After all, Scripture claims its own authority and sufficiency in ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness.’ It claims that through the power of the oracles of God the man of God is ‘competent, equipped for every good work.’”
Scripture alone does not mean that God stopped speaking to us 1700 years ago when the canon was completed. If that is the case, then God is truly dead, and humanity is lost. Scripture alone, in my own interpretation, means that the canon gives us the best example of how the relationship between humanity and God works or doesn't. Scripture is not God; and it does not account for the history that has happened since the 300s CE. In that time, God has revealed God's self through the tireless work of preachers, teachers, theologians, and yes, psychotherapists. To deny these voices is to deny God's active power and presence in the world.

Here's the thing, rules don't always work when it comes to healing. Scripture is not a one-size fits all panacea for mental illness. I am a pastoral counselor. That means that I understand and utilize psychotherapeutic theories, techniques, and interventions. It also means that I believe God always has a hand in the healing process.

Pastoral counseling, at its best, is about sturm und drang (stress and storms) of life and how we can ascribe meaning to their presence. It is about struggling with the self, the core of life where God resides, in the hopes that we might someday catch a glimpse of who God created us to be. Pastoral counseling is the place where you and I meet and share in the sacrament of knowing one another in the presence of God. It is prayer, meditation, hope, pain, transparency, grief, reality and fiction all rolled into an hour of life together. These are things found when we take our shoes off in the presence of the holy, not when we apply a verse of scripture to a problem we have.

The way I read this article, scripture is an excuse. It is an excuse not to wade down in the muck and mire that someone is living in to offer a helping hand. It is an excuse to behave like the friends of Job, standing on the sidelines pointing out the faults of the "unfortunate soul" that God is currently punishing. It is an excuse that allows the pastor to separate themselves from a "problem person."

Whenever counseling becomes about a book, a theory, or an intervention rather than the relationship between two of God's children, then it ceases to be counseling at all. The bible is no exception. People will be hurt by these ministers, and that pisses me off. People will be abused by these graduates, and that pisses me off. People will be misuderstood, they will not be given adequate care, they will be demonized, and many of them will lose what little glimpse or hope in God that they may have had, and that pisses me off.

Those who suffer with a mental illness don't need scriptural references, memory verses, or quoted proverbs. They need the helping hand that comes from one who knows how to care, how to set appropriate boundaries, and how to wade into the deep dark places of their lives and help them find a path from which to exit.

grace and peace

PS - Wayne Oates was a pioneer, he was a pastor, he was a counselor. His memory and his work does not deserve to be treated in this manner. If this is what "biblical counselors" do to a person who played a significant role in the present models of pastoral care, who was a Baptist, and who did excellent work with clients and counselors alike, what will they do to people off the street?

Text: John 11:1-45, Title: bound

Amy, you asked or wondered what I would do with the Lazarus passage. Well, here it is. By the way, congratulations to you and Bill, the left coast will be blessed to have both of you...

At the end of the sermon today, I will ask you two questions. I want you write them down and then answer them, either on paper or in a time of prayer and meditation. But before we get to them, I want to talk to you about two things. The first is the different people in our story, and the second is 6 words that I believe can make a difference your life.

In our story, Jesus is surrounded three different groups of people. They are the disciples, the faithful women, and the mourners.

First let’s look at the disciples. Jesus interacts with them during the first third of our passage. They are shown complaining about Jesus’ desire to return to Judea—after all, follower or not, who would want to go to a place where they want to kill you?

The disciples are also seen in all of their ignorant glory. This theme runs through a number of stories about the disciples. It seems as though, while they do get it right occasionally, they often just don’t get it at all. Now I know that we have had 2000 years to study these words, but you think they would have gotten it right more often than they did. It’s as though they lived with him, walked with him, breathed the same air as him, but just weren’t able to make that important connection between faith and life. At least not while Jesus was alive.

Let’s turn to our second group, the faithful women. It is interesting to me, that the women Jesus encounters throughout his life have tended to place more faith in him than the men he encounters. The women in this story are no exception; and they are the most faithful and astute people we encounter.

As you think about the role of these faithful women in bringing about the kingdom of God on earth, think about the fact that 50% of Presbyterian seminary graduates today are women. Think also about the problems that women encounter in the church: they are less likely to be in a head of staff role at a major congregation, churches and presbyteries usually don’t have maternity leave policies for women in the church, and women encounter a lot institutional bias in the congregations they serve, and are forced to prove themselves, whereas men are often just accepted.

Finally, let’s turn to our third group, the mourners. These are the people who are outside the ministry of Jesus. They know little of him, and have had a little contact with his words and teachings, but out of their relationship with Martha and Mary and Lazarus, they are present when Jesus arrives. Through their connection with these grieving women, they are given the opportunity to see what happens when one is faithfully and radically obedient to God. It is the mourners that have an experience of the holy that drastically alters their worldview, and as all encounters with God will do, it radically changes many of their lives.

Three groups of people, each group plays a significant role in the story, and each one sheds light on the modern church. I have a suspicion that these three groups mirror some of the same types of people who are involved in congregations everywhere. Each group has pluses and minuses and I am not sure that a healthy congregation could survive without them.

First, there is what I would call the begrudgingly faithful, similar to the male disciples. They follow, but they just don’t always get it. These folks prefer the safe side of Christianity, and they have often been unable to create a faith of their own. I think this has less to do with willful disobedience, and is more akin to a developmental delay.

They are present in church on Sunday, but you would rarely be able to tell it on Monday. Much like the disciples during Jesus’ arrest they are present when things are fine, but scatter to the four winds when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road. On the positive side, they are tenacious and their continued presence offers them a wonderful opportunity to begin a journey of faith.

Second, there are those who I would call the eager faithful. These are the people who have taken the opportunity to internalize their faith and make it their own. They are the people who just ooze faith; the ones who can sense the call of the holy on their lives and are ready to respond.

These are the ones whose lives have been transformed and reformed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. The people who hear God’s call and will sometimes trample their neighbor to answer it. This is the pitfall of the eager faithful; they often forget that Jesus called us to both action and reflection.

We are told that faith is more than works, but that faith without works is dead, therefore we must: sit at the feet of the Son of God and be taught and loved and refreshed, as well as, rising and sharing that same love with others.

Our final group consists of the ones outside this body of faith who look in to see what is different. Often times they are looking for an experience of God that will transform their lives, or looking for a place where they can be loved for who they are, but I am pretty sure that they are looking at each of you to see what your faith means for your life.

No matter where we are on the journey of our faith, if we proclaim that we are Christian, then we are held to a different standard of living. Think about it this way, what if someone was thinking about joining the church, and they decided they would follow you around for a week to see what being a Christian meant. What would they learn from you?

All of this leads us to the 6 words that can make a difference in your life.

“Unbind him and let him loose.”

If you remember nothing else today, remember those words. Whether you are part of the reluctantly faithful, the exuberantly faithful, or you are just looking, these 6 words describe what a church, a community of faith is meant to be.

Jesus calls us out of the shallow caves in which we dwell and we have a responsibility to respond to that call. If we never come out, then we choose not to live again. However, Jesus gives a command to each one of us to “unbind” one another and let each other loose.

We aren’t here to decide who is in and who is out, that is God’s work. We are here to lovingly unwind the bindings that wound us, so that as our rags of death are stripped away, and we might begin to glimpse the love of God for each of us.

The key to ministry, to service, to loving one another is the ability to help one another loosen the bonds that keep us in a constant state of death. We are meant to live, and living means freedom from the bonds of death and freedom to love one another without abandon.

This is what a true experience of God will do; it will tear away the fabric of death that binds us and keeps us from truly living as one called out by God; it will gather us together to experience life and the rebirth of one another in the community of faith; it will help us walk out of our shallow caves, and enable us to let those who love us strip away the things that bind us to death, so that we might live again.

I told you that I would have two questions for you, here they are: What binds you? What are you going to do about it?

The nekkid preacher

Lying in bed, my wife and I thought it would be neat if we could just set up a live news feed and I could preach my sermon from the comfort of my home. “We already have a Naked Chef,” she giggled, “Why not a Naked Preacher?”

Of course, being somewhat true to my Southern heritage, I thought that I would have to be “The Nekkid Preacher.” Lewis Grizzard, a long dead newspaper columnist explained the difference in this manner, “Naked,” he stated, “meant that you didn’t have any clothes on, nekkid on the other hand, meant that you didn’t have any clothes on and you were up to something.”

It is almost thirty-six hours— a worship service, a session meeting, and youth group— later and I still can’t help but smile and wonder about our conversation. I have created a picture in my head of a sanctuary with large television screens looming out over the congregation. The organ booms out the last verse of “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and the monitors switch on above the congregation’s head. An audible gasp escapes from their mouths as the screens come to life and the picture begins to focus. Looming above them, I am twenty feet tall, bare chested, I’ve got bed head, and I’m lying there Bible and sermon notes splayed around me. The Nekkid Preacher has just entered the building…

The more I think about it, the more I like it…

There is something to the image and the idea. For me, good nekkid ministry is not about what separates us, but what brings us together. The only thing that we all have in common is that we are taking the same journey through life, from birth to death. Whatever communities we belong to, we belong first to the human race and all of the conditions that it entails, ministers included. When ministry is done well it gives ample credence to this journey.

Transparency, openness, an oasis of real in a world of shallow and fake and quick, that is nekkid ministry. It is Crock-pot Christianity for a microwave generation. This is ministry where we are laid bare before God in the loving care of one another.

Nekkid ministry is not about quick answers, seven steps to spiritual security, or figuring out God’s plan for your life. Nekkid ministry is about mystery, it is about struggling, it is about loving and caring and finding hope when all seems lost. And nekkid ministers cannot do that when they feel like they know the answers to all of the questions. Nekkid ministry takes place where people feel safe to be, it takes place where life gets messy. And the favorite response of a nekkid minister is “I don’t know, but let’s find out together.”

Yep, nekkid ministry is the antidote shallow attempts to bend the will of God to a certain moral code. It has only one law, in three parts; the law is love and the parts are God, yourself, and your neighbor. It takes the bible seriously, but not literally. It says that God is about relationships, not about judgment or punishment. Nekkid ministry knows that people fail, that ministers fail, but that God does not fail.

So, let’s get nekkid and see what happens!

A tale that needs telling...

I found this through a post at Father Jake Stops the World. It is a series of experiences that needs to be heard, no matter what it is you believe theologically...

It was hard for me to read, and I wanted to stop a number of times, but I am glad that I finished it. There is a strong voice behind the pain found in the words, and I admire the writer for telling her tale...

The post is entitled The result

Read, reflect, and wonder what church should be, and what we are doing to the children of God who are different from "what is normal."

grace and peace

A prayer of worship

Prayer is the poetry of my soul. It is the substance of the person I long to be when I am laid naked before the living God. It is the lament of the things I have done and the things I have left undone. For me, prayer is a movement, a dance with a life that is held before me, but cannot be fully grasped. It is having a partner who moves effortlessly with me, but if I hold too tight she disappears...

O God you are my God,
And I will worship you all the days long,
I will sing your praises with my heart,
my soul,
my mind
I will sing your praises with my life.

O God I am thankful that,
you came after the still small breeze,
and not the crashing rumbling thunder;
Help me to walk in life gently
and soothe the weary souls that surround me.

O God worship so often becomes a production,
ministers entertain,
congregations sit listless and unmoving,
Never realizing that a holy audience is present,
that it is your pleasure we seek,
not our own.

O God my life is meant to be a service of worship.
I am called out at your pleasure to be
nothing short of who you created me to be…

O God you are my God,
may I find strength to worship you all the day long.



Bleached white buildings grew from the ground, the Moorish architecture haunting the landscape. We passed through the iron gates, noticing that the barbed wire atop the fence faced inward. Emerging on to the parade ground and my back stiffened and I caught myself holding my breath.

We parked in the first space available; I was hoping for, and found, something that would allow for a quick exit. Numbness swept over my body as I surveyed the land. We walked around the edge of the parade ground taking in our surroundings. Mothballed planes, tanks, and helicopters stood guard over little to nothing. As we walked, I felt nothing save for the cold wind blowing from the Ashley River. We had returned to my alma mater…

The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, was where I learned to be “a whole man.” Walking through the campus ten years after my graduation it still held a minute amount of power over me. Our trip through the gates was the first time in ten years that I wanted to return. I needed to see if it still had a hold on me. I wanted to know if my resentment of this school was justified.

We returned to see a Friday afternoon parade, only we had arrived an hour and fifteen minutes early. I watched as some cadets milled around in full dress salt and pepper, the uniform for the afternoon’s festivities. They were giving tours to prospective students and my wife asked if I wanted to run over and tell them to go somewhere else…

I don’t hate the school; I just don’t know it anymore. I am no longer who I was when I was a cadet. I thank God for that. This is a place the feasts on your insecurities. It takes a person and strips them of all of their uniqueness in the misguided attempt to pour them into a one-size fits all pattern. My younger brother said it best (he graduated from the Citadel in 1998) when he said it would steal your personality if you bought into the system. I think that is why I don’t talk about it much. I think, if I dig deep enough, that I let The Citadel take away pieces of who I am and that ticks me off.

Don’t get me wrong; The Citadel got me through a tough time in my life. It forced me to discipline myself and do the work necessary to graduate from college. Ten years later, I still don’t know if it was worth it though. The Citadel taught me that compassion was weakness and people needed a kick in the ass not a helpful hand. The Citadel taught me that hope was worthless and what we needed was to scare people into submission. The Citadel took someone with a proclivity for caring, and told him it was worthless and that all this world cares about is results. The worst part was that I bought most of it. I hated who they told me to hate; when they screamed at me I learned to scream at others. I could feel myself slowly melting away, being recast into nothing more than a hollow shell of a person.

These are the personal memories that flood back every time I think about college. When I entered the campus that day, they came back in a deluge. This is the personal trauma that I will carry with me forever. As we sat waiting for the parade to begin, I remembered bits and pieces of my life on campus. I remembered push-ups, high stepping, polishing brass and shoes. I remembered classes and classmates, girlfriends and church groups, parades and sports. These are the things that mitigate my sadness, the things that help me when I remember what has been taken from me.

We could hear the band as it competed with the Carillon Tower. The sounds of bagpipes floated effortlessly on the breeze, only to be answered by the bells of the tower. I heard the trumpet sound in the battalions and the knobs (freshman, whose heads are shaved and thus look like doorknobs) head out to formation. The marching began shortly thereafter. Company after company of wool clad men and women filed out of the barracks and lined up in the appropriate spot. They saluted, completed the manual of arms, and fired the cannons. Just like they did ten years ago, just like they’ll do ten years from now.

My wife and I snapped pictures, and I whispered explanations as best as I could remember. It was surreal in many ways. When the cadets began to march off of the parade ground, I knew it was time to go. I am appreciative of my wife’s patience as I dealt with long dead demons that day. I knew when we were heading to Charleston that it was time to return, to attempt to make peace with that part of myself.

I don’t know that I will ever fully believe myself to be a “Citadel Man.” The only thing that ties me to that place is my college ring, which I rarely wear, and a diploma. Someday, I might return to a class reunion, to see who is fat, who is happy, how many times people have been divorced, who else has struggled with these same demons.

Even as I write this now, I can hear the band playing in my head and the thumping of two thousand cadets marching in unison. I can see myself in formation, executing gate turns, telling knobs to stay in step. When I remember college a hardness forms within me that I do not like. The person I remember is but a shadow of the person I am today. I am no longer completely bound by the memories of who I was then. I no longer want to run from that part of me. I know that the only way I will find peace is if I can embrace who I was and be who I am.

I am Lazarus, only not all of the decay is gone yet. I am Lazarus and I have seen the stone roll away from my tomb, yet I have not entered the daylight. I am Lazarus and the bindings of my death are loosening, and I am beginning to live again…

grace and peace

back again...


I left Charleston, SC, yesterday and it was sunny, 75 degrees with a light breeze coming off of the ocean. Today, it is in the 50's and snowing. Tell me why I came back again?

I am working on several things for the blog right now, but the experiences need to be processed a little more before the writing will ensue. Plus, I need to finish my sermon for this Sunday before any other writing can happen. This week's lectionary passage is the Lazarus story and I am having a little bit of difficulty with it...

The vacation was great, needed, and well-timed. There is nothing quite like sitting on the porch, reading a good book, and having a cool breeze wash over your face. I can't wait until the next one!

Finally, I sent in my letter of intent to my doctoral program last week, guess this thing is real going to happen. I am trying to adjust and begin thinking of myself as a doctoral student. The hardest part is this unrealistic vision I have of what I think doctoral students should be. I really just need to calm down, be myself and know that things will be fine. I just hope that I don't become some arrogant intellectual. Well, what's the phrase "knowing is half the battle?"

more soon...

grace and peace

late night last minute rambling

I found this quote at the No More Apples blog and thought it was wonderful, cynical, thoughtful and it makes me think, I hope it makes you think as well…

As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. --- H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

I just started reading George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops. It is what you would expect from George Carlin, a vulgar, agnostic, stream of consciousness piece, with random thoughts put in for good measure. I usually enjoy reading things that are atypical of the minister’s book list. However, this may be a little too atypical and I am not sure if I will give up reading and take to skimming. What I do know is books like this keep me grounded in a world that I sometimes don’t have enough contact with, and it also makes me laugh.

In my reading thus far, he has said several things that have made me stop and shake the cobwebs from my head. In the very first part of the book he pulled out this quote:

Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger. --- Hermann Goring, the Nuremberg Trials

One of his more original thoughts was this one that made me go, hhhmmm…

You know what would have been a smart thing to do in these developing countries that need electricity? To have tried large-scale experiments with alternative energy sources: solar, wind, geothermal, etc. We could have tested and tried to perfect these technologies on a large scale in places that need it. That would have been smart. That’s why we didn’t do it. --- George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, p.54

Anyway, I am heading offline until next Tuesday or so, it is long past time to get away from the work world. I look forward to sitting and reading whatever I choose, eating where I like, and doing what I want… as long as it is okay with my wife. Take care folks…

grace and peace


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