Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tests in English

After being thwarted by Mayor Bill Purcell in their efforts to make English the official language of Nashville, proponents of such ridiculousness have proposed a bill that would require all drivers license tests to be taken in English. I mean, seriously? Why is this such a big deal, people? Is it about terrorists? I'm sure that they're just lining up to get drivers licenses. Is it about making some statement about the importance of the English language? If so, maybe we should address all the misspelled and grammatically incorrect signs I see all over the place, or maybe outlaw text-ese. I just don't understand why we can't let people take exams in their native language. What does it hurt? What is it about people speaking Spanish, French, German, Swahili, Arabic, Russian, whatever that make people so uncomfortable? Can the metro city council spend some time on issues that actually matter, like, oh, homelessness, poverty, hunger, crappy public transporatation, etc.?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

This is a sermon I preached for the Ash Wednesday service at Harpeth this evening. I'll include the Scripture from Isaiah 58:6-11 as well. I wrote it in the form of a letter to my Grandpa, who passed away while I was in high school and who I still miss.

Isaiah 58:6-11

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

The Fast I Choose

Dear Grandpa,

It’s been 13 years since you left us. 13 years since you passed away so suddenly and so unexpectedly. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 13 years. I think about you almost every day for one reason or another. Every time I pick up my golf bag and hear the clink and clack of the clubs knocking against each other, I think of how we used to get up so early in the morning to go play a round of golf before it got too hot. Every time a little kid comes up and only half heartedly gives me five, I remember how you used to hold your hand out there until I gave you five like I meant it…until it sounded right…until it stung just a little bit…and then you’d shake your hand and say “that’s the way.”

I’m taking piano lessons again. Every time you would come to visit, you would want to hear my latest masterpiece, and, to be honest, I never really wanted to play. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play for you, but I was so much more eager to go outside and play catch. Nobody else ever wanted to play catch. And it wasn’t just the catch…it was the conversation…it was talking about baseball and basketball and other sports stuff.

For some reason, the night you were given an award by the Marshall municipal band has been on my mind lately. I’m sure you remember that night. It was a warm summer night and we were all sitting there in our lawn chairs as the Marshall band played one of its outdoor concerts. You were up front announcing all the pieces like you did each week, and then someone else took the microphone and said that they had something special for you. They handed you a plaque and thanked you for your 30-odd years of service to the band. When they gave you the opportunity to say something, you didn’t give a speech like you hear at the Oscars where you thank “all the little people.” You stood there and asked everyone to join you in prayer. You thanked God for all of the ways that God had blessed you over the years, including all your family and friends. You put everything in the context of God’s gifts. That was so amazing, Grandpa. I feel like that was the kind of moment when God smiles down and says, “That’s the way…that’s the way.”

I’m working on a sermon for Ash Wednesday, and the service is tonight, Grandpa. You know, usually on Ash Wednesday, we all make decisions about what we’re going to give up for lent. Some people give up chocolate or soda or caffeine or some other kind of food. Some people give up a bad habit like smoking or biting their nails. Some people give up something they like to do like watching TV or biking or running. Some people decide to add a spiritual discipline like journaling or daily prayer or fasting. I don’t remember if you ever gave anything up, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Well, as I was reading all the suggested scriptures for Ash Wednesday, I came across these words from Isaiah 58:

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

I feel like you would like these words, Grandpa. Here’s the thing, though: this kind of fast is so much harder to do than giving up soda. There’s so much injustice in the world that leads to oppression. How am I supposed to loose those bonds? I do my best to buy fair trade coffee and when I order t-shirts, I order sweat-free. I didn’t do so well on that Taco Bell boycott when the PCUSA was trying to help loose the bonds of injustice for tomato pickers in Florida. But, I do try.

And what about sharing my bread with the hungry? I wonder, is it good enough to just write a check to the second harvest food bank or to donate canned goods when the church has a food drive? Somehow that doesn’t feel like sharing my bread with the hungry.

Grandpa, I have never once brought the homeless poor into my house. Sure, I’ve spent the night at homeless shelters and helped out with Room in the Inn, but again, that isn’t my house. How does that compare to giving up caffeinated beverages for lent?

I’m pretty good at giving clothes to Goodwill, but really only the stuff I don’t want anymore, or stuff that has shrunk too much in the wash. How many times have I seen homeless men and women sleeping on the streets on a cold night and just kept walking or drove right by? It’s so hard to think about stopping and giving them the coat off my back or one of the blankets I have in my car. I remember being so astonished at how little clothing the men at the homeless shelters in Atlanta owned. What does God think about my closets full of clothing?

Oh, and the hiding, Grandpa. We’re all so good at that. Sometimes Mom and Dad ask me how I’m doing and when I say “fine,” I’m not. I don’t want them to worry. Sometimes I hide what I’m struggling with from my church family here at Harpeth, because I’m afraid to seem too vulnerable. I guess we all wear masks from time to time, Grandpa. Authenticity and integrity are virtues I strive to attain, but sometimes I hide myself from my own kin, and I imagine some of my kin hide themselves from me. I hope that lent can be a time for me to be more…transparent…that I will be more comfortable revealing who I really am to those who love me and care about my well-being.

After reading these words from Isaiah, Grandpa, it sounds like all the fasting and all the Lenten disciplines and all the devout worship and all the holiness in the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if injustice still exists and people are still oppressed and if people are still hungry and if people don’t have homes and if people are without clothing and if we all continue to wear masks and pretend to be something we’re not. These words leave me feeling a bit lost…like I’m wandering in the wilderness. And maybe that’s where I need to be for awhile. Maybe lent isn’t so much about taking control of some area of my life but letting go and wandering in the wilderness for a little while. It’s comforting to know that God promises to be with me in the wilderness…that:

The Lord will guide me continually,
and satisfy my needs in parched places,
and make my bones strong;
and I shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

It’s time to go now, Grandpa. The YITS are coming. Thanks for all the golf and the playing catch and the early morning donut shop trips and for being a man I can look up to. Grandpa, I hope that my Lenten fast of wandering and struggling with the role I’m called to play in loosing, freeing, housing, clothing, and revealing will be pleasing to God. I hope that you’ll watch over me. Maybe you could tell God about holding out your hand until I gave you five like I meant it…so that God might hold out his loving hand and keep holding it out until I do things just right. I could sure use that kind of guidance from the Spirit.

With love and adoration,

Your Grandson, Alan

Sunday, February 18, 2007

blog-able moments

The way I see it, each day is full of blog-able moments...moments that, upon further reflection, can be seen to have deeper meaning that we realize. Anyway, this week, there were two particular events that left me reflecting for hours and days afterward:
  1. The Old Spaghetti Factory: On Thursday afternoons, I tutor reading for boys and girls at the Martha O'Bryan center in east Nashville. These are kids who need extra help with reading skills and comprehension. We usually read a story and talk about various reading skills associated with the story. But, this Thursday, a group of nine of them had reached the goal of reading 400 pages, so we were scheduled to go to dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown Nashville. The nine munchkins and I were dropped at the door while the other adults parked the van, so we sat around in the lobby talking about how nice the building was. As we were all waiting for our table to be ready, one of the little boys looked at me and one of the other adults and asked, "Why is this place so full of white people? Where are all the black people?" It now dawns on me that I failed to mention that all of our students are black. One of the other adults stammered out an "I don't know," and he was off to look at a scale in the corner that other kids were standing on. As I stood there thinking about that little boy's question, I realized that the only black people I could see in the restaurant were the two hostesses. Not one black person was actually dining in the restaurant or having a drink at the bar. If I were to be honest and answer that little boy's question, I would probably say something like, "Well, most of the black people who live in downtown and East Nashville can't afford to eat here." We still live in that world. A world segregated by socio-economic class and race. Anyway, that little boy's questions continues to gnaw at me.
  2. Youth Lock-In: This past Friday night, the youth of Harpeth had a lock-in. We began the night with a Parents' Night Out fundraiser hosted by the sr. highs and then, at 10:00, the little kids went home, the middle school youth showed up, and the lock-in began. But, shortly before 10:00, three young ladies I'd never seen before walked in the door. As they were introducing themselves, I smelled alcohol on their breath. That's right. Someone had dropped off thre drunk eight grade girls at our lock-in. I asked them to call their parents and have them come right back. Oh, did the stories start flying at that point. "My Mom's out of town." "My Mom's not picking up." etc, etc. So, finally, two of them get picked up, and one of them is still trying to get ahold of a parent. Well, a few minutes later, other youth are running up to me to tell me that she had thrown up. To make a long story short, one of my adults had to take her home as she threw up in a trash can the whole way there. When that adult got back, there was a man in the parking lot asking for gas money. On a Friday night? Are you kidding me? Then, as the night progressed, there was the inevitable drama of girls flirting with boys and boys paying attention to the "wrong" girls and the "right" girls being upset, and crying, and he said and she said and wandering around like zombies in search of brains. Finally, at 5:00 am, everyone realized that it was snowing, so they put on their shoes and their North Face jackets and walked around in packs out in the parking lot. Yes, it was 20 degrees and they were all standing around in a pack under a street light in our church parking lot. Ah, the sociology of adolescents. I'd like to go back in time and find the guy or gal who invented lock-ins and take them out...kind of like the Terminator and John Connor, only I wouldn't have any pity like the Terminator did.
OK, enough rambling for now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I love it when Jesus gets snippy

Mark 11:27-33

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

I just love passages like this when Jesus gets snippy with people who ask him rude questions. As one who seemed to be pretty good at reading people, Jesus senses that the chief priests, chief priests, and elders are coming to him with an attitude of condescension and arrogance, and clearly, Jesus doesn't like it. He rarely has much patience with those who would lord their own positions of authority and importance over other people. Jesus was so postmodern. :)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Always "Other"

So, last night, I was registering for The Country Music Marathon, and it came time to select my occupation from a drop down list of options. Was "Clergy" listed? Of course not. When I took a moment to think about it, I don't think a clergy-esque option has ever been available. What's up with that? Do ministers/pastors/christian educators/missionaries not warrant our own option on drop down lists? Why do they oppress my people?

Any thoughts?

Monday, February 05, 2007

I'll heal them anyway!

These words from Isaiah 57:16-21 were part of the daily lectionary today:
Isaiah 57:16-21
For I will not fight against you forever; I will not always show my anger. If I did, all people would pass away – all the souls I have made.
I was angry and punished these greedy people. I withdrew myself from them, but they went right on sinning. I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them and comfort those who mourn. Then words of praise will be on their lips. May they have peace, both near and far, for I will heal them all," says the LORD. "But those who still reject me are like the restless sea. It is never still but continually churns up mire and dirt. There is no peace for the wicked," says my God.
I'm particularly struck by verse 18: I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them and comfort those who mourn. This comes in the midst of God basically calling out Israel for all the ways that they've strayed from God's plans for them. Then, even though God voices a preference for God's people to be humble and repentant, God proclaims that God will not fight against us forver, nor will God always show us anger. God sees what we do, and even when we fail to repent and turn from evil ways, God promises to heal us anyway and to continue to lead us and comfort us when we mourn. What an amazing God we worship!! A God who wishes for us to have peace...a shalom peace...a shalom peace that means we are made whole.
And how about those last two verses about "the wicked?" When we ignore the peace that God plans for us...when we continue to seek after vain glory and selfish ambition...our lives will be restless like the sea...churning up all the muck that we create in our brokenness. Somehow, even as God offers us peace/shalom/wholeness/healing, we still find ways to muck it up. We find ways to miss the stillness that God wants so badly for us. Somehow these words redefine wickedness for me. I haven't figured out how yet, but I know there's something here to spend some time with.

I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them and comfort those who mourn.

Amazing...Absolutely Amazing!