Friday, December 19, 2008

Go Tell it on the Mountain

Random thoughts for the week:
  • I'm sitting here with my window open and wearing short sleeves. It was in the 70's most of the day today. I'll take that for December 19th. If it's this nice tomorrow, I'm totally going to play golf.
  • I'm in the midst of reading Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis. That dude was staging sit-ins and riding buses into the segregated south when he was in college. He ended up in jail on numerous occasions. Sometimes I wonder what the heck am I doing with my life. I've never been to jail for something like that...or ever for that matter.
  • On Wednesday, our church had a program called Angel Vespers, which is basically an impromptu Christmas pageant. It's a bit like herding cats in that I, as the director, ask for volunteers from the children, youth, and adults who are present. One never knows who will volunteer and for what. I had a pre-schooler who was pretty determined to have a reading part. I was able to keep him happy by setting him up as an angel for awhile, but eventually, he got his hand on a script and a live microphone. The program was winding down, so I figured, "What the heck. What can happen?" Well, he proceeded to use that microphone to broadcast his voice throughout the hall on each chorus of Go Tell it on the Mountain, which he knew from the preschool Christmas program earlier in the day. As his older sister would get close and attempt to take the microphone away, little Jay gave her the old stiff arm and held strong. It was absolutely hilarious. When we were done singing, he said something like, "Our first lesson today will be from consription chapter 222 verse 17" and then launched into a sermon of sorts before the people running the sound board killed the mic. I kind of wonder what kind of inspired word he might have offered. :)
  • Last Saturday I went to a local brewery for a tour and samples of the fine product...with my church choir. I love my church.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

My Wednesday morning

So, usually on Wednesday mornings I sit in my chair (the one that sweet Mary Smith gave me when I first moved here) with my laptop in my lap catching up on e-mails and facebook. Sometimes I'll read or do some curriculum development or some other work stuff I can do from my chair. On winter days, I'm always thankful for the heat of the laptop on my legs as I sit there.

Well, today I exchanged the laptop for a baby. My friends asked me to watch their precious little boy while they checked out a potential school for their almost 3-year-old daughter. After a little but of eye-ing one another, little baby boy got ahold of his pacifier and drifted off to sleep. I still did some reading, but took plenty of moments to simply watch the little guy. So, on this Wednesday, here's what I had to look at instead of e-mails or facebook.
Yeah, that's way better than a laptop. :)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

On the road again...

Yesterday, I made the 7-hour trek from Columbia, MO back to Franklin, TN. About halfway home, after finishing up A Thousand Splended Suns on CD, memorizing my sermon text for Sunday, and talking through the sermon, I decided to fire up the ipod and listen to some albums straight through, without the shuffle feature. I mean, how often do we do that anymore with ipods? Here are some of the "albums" I listened to, the people they made me think of and the memories they reminded me of:

James Taylor Greatest Hits: Annual trips to Montreat in that First Presbyterian Church 15 passenger van, John Weicher-he loves James Taylor, driving around town in Columbia, MO as a high school student with this tape playing loudly in my car. While this CD brought back many happy memories of friends and travels and love being showered on me, it also caused a certain yearning in my heart...a yearning for that friend I can call and a yearning to escape to the peaceful mountains of North Carolina. This is one of those CDs I can truly listen to from start to finish and enjoy every moment.

Caedmon's Call/Caedmon's Call: This CD makes me think of seminary, as I listened to it a good bit my first couple of years at Columbia. Anna and I listened to it on our way back to Atlanta after Christmas break that first year. I particularly appreciate Cademon's Call ability to find beauty and meaning in everyday things, like cups of coffee and bus drivers.

Long Island Shores/Mindy Smith: The sweet girl who gave me this CD was on my mind the entire time I was listening to it last night. Those opening notes always take me back to that parking lot where that sweet girl handed me the CD, and our eyes met for a brief moment, and I knew we were headed into "more than two people who hang out sometimes" territory. I was struck by how poignant the first song that sweet girl eventually expressed those sentiments to me as she expressed her own need to change a few things. Such beautiful music, but tinged with sadness.

Red Light, Blue Light/Harry Connick Jr.: Ryan Brown, Molly Nahm, Renee Wenger, and Colleen Reid. These were the people I hung out with most of my freshman year of college when I listened to this CD almost daily. For some reason, it also made me think of a fun snowy day of sledding in St. Louis when I visited some of those college friends over Christmas break. Ryan was there with his brothers, as were Molly and Colleen. It's a cherished memory for me. I remember sitting in my parents' basement during Christmas break that year and listening to this CD while thinking about all of my new friends.

While I do love setting up playlists or simly allowing the shuffle feature to run rampant on my ipod, there's something great about simply allowing an album to play in its the order in which its creators meant for it to be listened. I enjoyed the trip through memory lane for that chunk of highway between CoMo and Franktown.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Marathon Accomplished

Well, folks, I can now officially put "Marathoner" in my list of adjectives to describe myself. That's right, on Sunday, November 16th, 2008, I ran 26.2 miles in an official marathon race. Here's a rundown of the day:

  • Awoke early to eat breakfast and drink water and gatorade.
  • Got in the car to make the trek to downtown San Antonio.
  • Found myself in heavy traffic on my way to the shuttle site.
  • 40 degrees outside when I got out of my car
  • Got on the shuttle bus at 7:40
  • Race time was 7:30.
  • Arrived at the start village around 8:00
  • Jumped in with corral 16 to begin race around 8:15
  • My corral was supposed to be 6
  • For the first 6 miles, I found myself in the midst of people running a much slower pace than I was hoping to run
  • Mile 8: the crowd thinned out a bit and I was able to find a stride I liked
  • Mile 11: The half marathoner's peeled off. I was feeling good
  • Mile 13.1: Crossed the marker at 2 hours 1 minute, only a couple of minutes off the pace I wanted to run and had been training for
  • Mile 16: Begin to feel tired in the legs...a half mile after passing up free goo packets.
  • Mile 18: OH MY GOSH!! Why won't my legs keep moving? Am I overheated or chilly? Beginning to lose more time as my pace lessens.
  • Mile 19: Use the goo packet I have in my pocket. Drink plenty of water with it. Feel good for about a mile.
  • Right before mile 20: Took a break to, um, powder my nose. :)
  • Right after mile 20: Is it getting dark out here? Does anybody else feel really chilly? I sat down and then laid down on the cool, shaded sidewalk to allow the "I'm gonna pass out" feeling to subside
  • Miles 21-25: A great mixture of running and walking. I couldn't ever quite get back to a comfortable pace.
  • Mile 25-26: I decided to kick it into gear and run the rest of the way, however slow that running might be. As I came into the final stretch, I cued up the music from the battle scene in The Gladiator.
  • Mile 26-26.2: No lie, the final .2 miles were a steep hill the finish line. I mean, seriously? :) At that point I was cruising along to the music from Gladiator, hearing the crowd cheer, and holding back the weeping that I was doing as I thought about accomplishing the marathon.
  • Finish Line: As I crossed the final checkpoint and finish line, I put my arms in the air and thanked God for seeing me through.
Final time (according to my Garmin Forerunner that auto paused during the time on my back): 4:54:05.

Official Time (according the chip strip on my foot): 5:04:41

Yes, for all you math whizzes out there, it took me almost 3 hours to finish the second half of the marathon as opposed to the 2 hours it took me to finish the first half. Kind of a bummer, but, as one person said, at least I didn't end up with a gash in my face because I kept running to the point of passing out.

Around mile 22, I was cursing myself for attempting such a feat, but as I came up on mile 24, I realized that I was going to finish, and that while it didn't go exactly as I had planned, I was still going to attain the status of marathoner.

Will I ever run another one? At mile 22, I would have said, "HELL NO! NOT IF YOU PAID ME!" Now, after a couple of days of recovery and reflection, I think I might. Not anytime soon, mind you, but maybe in a couple of years. My goal would be to do it with more success.

For now, I'm just recovering and drinking plenty of water.

Thank you to everyone who prayed for me, texted me, called me, e-mailed me, facebooked me, and generally sent well wishes my way.

Monday, November 10, 2008

ATT's plan change policy sucks

So, about a year ago, I added more monthly minutes to my cell phone plan. I was using somewhere in between the 450 minutes plan and the 900 minutes plan, but was tired of paying those "nasty overages." Well, in the course of the year, I've accumulated about 4,000 roll over minutes. I looked at some recent bills, did some basic math and decided that I could drop back to the 450 minutes plan and live off roll over minutes for at least year, maybe more. Ah, but when I went to push that Select Plan button for 450 minutes a month, this message appeared:

NOTE: By requesting a new rate plan with rollover, your accumulated Rollover Minutes in excess of the new plan's number of monthly anytime minutes will expire at the beginning of your next bill cycle.
Example: If you currently have 1,000 Rollover Minutes and you change to the Nation 900 with Rollover plan, you can only carry over 900 of your Rollover Minutes to your new rate plan.
Do you want to continue with your rate plan change?

What a crock!!! I mean, seriously? Doesn't that fly in the face of flexibility and all that noise? I certainly plan to call AT&T tomorrow and see if I can't get a managerial type to make an exception or at least explain the reasoning. Oh, I get it that they don't want people like me racking up a bunch of rollover minutes and then spending time whittling them down on a cheaper plan, but I think that's lame. I could always threaten to leave, but who am I kidding? I want an iphone. :)

For now, I'm using my readership of 10 people to complain about a business doing its best to make money...oh wait, that's what they're supposed to do.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

It's official...

Yes, folks, I have entered the world of being a slum lord. OK, so my place isn't really a slum, and I don't wear polyester pants, sport an unruly mustache, or anything like that. But, I do now have a roommate. After taking a look at the finances so far in 2008, I realized I was leaking money onto the credit card each month at a less than desirable rate. I placed an ad on Craigslist and found a cool guy who was looking for a room. He moved in yesterday, Wednesday. When I got home last night, I walked into the wonderful smell of bacon. "I eat a lot of bacon sandwiches," he said as I walked upstairs to greet him. When I opened the fridge this morning, I noticed that the only thing he added to the mix was beer. I think this is gonna work out quite nicely. :)

It's also official that BARACK OBAMA has been elected President of the United States of America. I'm really psyched. I came home on Tuesday evening and watched all of the coverage. I felt like both John McCain's concession speech and Barack Obama's acceptance speech were well written and well articulated. I particularly like the part where Obama called on people to join in conversation with him, particularly those with whom he disagrees. What a shift in Presidential demeanor. Awesome! I woke up Wednesday morning chanting O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA.

All of that being said, I hope that we followers of Jesus Christ remember that ultimately, our faith, hope, and trust are placed in God's redemption of the world, and not in the policies of any politician. I refuse to acknowledge as legitimate some of the messiah rhetoric surrounding Obama. I do think he will be a President who calls on us to come together and to care for some of the least of these, but, in the end, we people of faith are called to be lights to the world and should continue to show compassion and fight for justice, and never abdicate the call of discipleship to any government. Just to be clear: Barack Obama will not bring about a new heaven and a new earth or usher in the kingdom of God on earth. God will do that in God's time.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Wish I were a song writer

Among all of the stuff I've been doing lately, last week I stood in line for 40 minutes to cast my vote for Barack Obama. No matter how many times I go to vote, I still get a rush from stepping behind the screen and seeing the ballot. While my anxiety has gone down with the use of electronic ballots (no chance of punching the wrong hole and having to ask for a new ballot), I still have a moment of fear/anxiety/something when I hit the CAST YOUR VOTE button. What if I accidently voted for some random person? Anyway, I was glad to cast my vote and hope that everybody else gets out there to make their voice heard.

Yesterday, Sunday, I wished I were someone who wrote music that would inspire others.

10:30 worship service at Harpeth: On the first Sunday of each month, our congregation usually celebrates the Lord's Supper, and as a part of that ritual, we sing the classic vocal arrangement of The Lord's Prayer. This is always a meaningful experience for me, but yesterday I was transported to another place. You see, instead of communion, we had a candle lighting ritual to celebrate All Saint's Day. People were invited to come and light a candle in memory of someone who showed them what it means to be a person of faith. At that service I lit a candle in memory of Duke Walthall, an elderly man in my congregation back home who took an interest in me as a young boy. For some reason, I was drawn to this man, and he always took time to talk to me, listen to me, and encourage me in matters of faith and life in general. He was a retired pastor and was one of those people who, as the old children's sermon story goes, "the light shines through." As we were singing The Lord's Prayer, I watched the dance of the hundred or so lit candles on the table, and meditated on the generations of folks who had been saying those words through the centuries. As the voices of the congregation swelled to sing the final For thine is the kingdom, and the power and glory forever I could swear those little flames swelled as well, reaching as high as they could to offer praise to God. Maybe it was just the rush of oxygen as people sang louder in that direction, but I don't think so. I felt as if the Spirit was present, drawing praise even from those candles, just as the Spirit had drawn praise from the people those flames represented. It was a moment when I was acutely aware of the power of music to transform words into something more...that our souls were indeed praying not only the words, but also the melody to God. As I walked down the aisle toward the back door where I would greet people on their way out into "the real world," I wished I were someone who was able to compose music that inspired people to worship in grace and truth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Various and sundry thoughts

It seems messed up that I was totally psyched to see that Regular Unleaded only cost $3.35 at my local Mapco this morning. That is messed up, right?

I ran 18 miles on Saturday. The last four were arduous. I'm not sure that sub-four hour time is completely realistic anymore. I'm still out there pounding the pavement, though, and will definitely be in San Antonio running with 30,000 of my best friends on November 16th.

I seriously don't know how you 12-hour work day Monday-Friday folks do it. I had two 12-hour days in a row and I could barely get out of bed this morning. Let alone all of you parents who work for money all day and then come home to care for kids until bedtime. Much respect to folks who do that.

I went over to the Gentry residence last night (wasn't exactly sure how to make Gentry plural and include the apostrophe there) to watch some Monday Night Football, drink a beer, and munch on chips and wings. That is one cool family. Their kids are totally psyched about church. I taught our children a few energizers on Wednesday afternoon last week and these two were talking about how they'd been doing them at school. I'm very thankful for that family. Their enthusiasm for church and diving into matters of faith on a daily basis inspires me and affirms my sense of call to ministry.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Marathon Training: October 7th, 2008

Lest all you Renderings fans think I've fallen off the wagon, I have been training. Two Thursdays ago I actually put in a 16 mile run. The run itself felt great. The two hours following...not so much. As I watched McCain and Obama debate, I laid on the couch shivering and feeling the effects of over exertion. I think the mass amounts of Gatorade I chugged when I got home didn't help either. :)

Last week, I was supposed to put in a 12 mile run, but due to an outside temperature of 47 degrees when I woke up, I postponed a bit and only had time for 10.5.

This week, at some point (probably Friday), I'll be running 18 miles. Yes, I'll run for almost three hours. It's kind of crazy to think about, but when I'm in the midst of those long runs, it just becomes a game of one foot in front of the other.

While on my 10.5 mile run last week. I saw this sign in a yard:

Yeah, I've been thinking about taking a big poster of a United States flag, putting a big black X through it on one side and writing the same message on the other. That might have something to do with the fact that I heard Shane Claiborne speak last week, and thus was fired up about the idolatry of the US. Anyway, it's probably a big assumption to make that the people who posted this sign place a lot of faith in the USA and the military and the flag and all of those other idols, but I went ahead and made the assumption anyway. Yes, I might be making and ass out of u & me, but I don't really care. I do wonder what people who posted this sign have to say about the war, about the security state, about fear mongering, or any of the other tactics of Karl Rove and his cronies. Maybe I should stop in next time and ask.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wet sloppy kisses between heaven and earth

A couple of times over the past month, I've gone to a worship experience in Brentwood that's specifically geared toward young adults (and implicitly single young adults) called The Loop. It's one of those non-denominational communities of faith that's seeking to be "different," yet follows the typical pattern of 30 minutes of singing followed by 30-40 minutes of a "talk" and another 10 minutes of singing. Of the two talks I've heard, one was iffy and the other (the one i heard last night) was fairly decent, but still not as rooted in the actual, oh, Bible, as I would prefer.

Anyway, the title of this blog post refers to lyrics from the song we sang after the talk last night. There was actually a line that read: Heaven and earth exhange a wet and sloppy kiss.
That was the lyric.
Wet sloppy kisses between heaven and earth.
I'm not kidding.
I mean, I'm used to the requisite "Jesus is my boyfriend" lyrics, but wet sloppy kisses? Thankfully, as I conversed with some folks afterward, I found out that I wasn't the only one who kind of looked around and wondered if I'd actually just seen those lyrics on the screen.

Much peace on this beautiful day in Nashville.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Marathon Training: September 28th, 2008

If you had been driving along the rolling hills of Franklin, TN today between 9:30 and noon (as Lee King was doing), you would have seen me pounding the pavement. Yes, today I officially ran farther than I have ever run before. I logged 15 miles on the (mostly) backroads of Franklin. I only had one hiccup around mile 11, when I had that "I have the chills in the heat of the day" feeling. After a couple of minutes of walking and slurping water from my trusty camelbak, I was back on running pace and finished the last four miles with relative vigor. With the exception of a few crazy hills, my pacing was much better this week. I still miss my metronome training partner, but all in all I feel better about my ability to dictate pace.

It's amazing how exhausted I feel right after these long runs. I basically slump down on the floor in my living room, do my requisite stretching, and then zone out to whatever is on TV at the time. Today it was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. By the way, why don't they play those in order in syndication? I watched Louise get up to $50,000 and then when it came back on I was watching some music teacher pick up at $4,000. I was so not invested in her the way I was with Louise. :)

During lunch, I watched the episode of Arrested Development when Michael and George Michael burn down the Bluth family banana stand. Brilliant. I absolutely love that show. There are so many little, quirky, funny things to catch. If you've never watched it, I suggest you buy (don't'll want them) the first season on DVD and dive right in.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Marathon Training: September 11th, 2008

Today, I ran 10 miles. It's what you call a taper week. As far as I can tell, the marathon training schedule is kind of whack, but Hal Higdon has yet to steer me wrong, so I'm following directions. I did four miles on Belle Meade Blvd. and then tackled the 5.8 hilly, ridiculously difficult miles in Percy Warner Park. It was a tale of two paces. On the relative flatlands of Belle Meade Blvd I was under 9 minute pace. In the hills of Percy Warner I was over 10. Yeah, I need some consistency. In the past, I've run Percy Warner with someone who has a brilliant internal pace clock that keeps me on track. Not so much today. So, I didn't exactly bonk, but I could definitely stand to do more hills during the week.

On a totally unrelated note, I want to give a big shout out to my friends Laura and Joel Becker (and children) who hosted me for a beer on their front porch last night. They're good people. I love people like that who I don't see for a year, yet I'm able to then just jump right back into great conversation. I've actually known Laura since high school, when we both served on a national youth ministry committee. That kind of ongoing connectionalism is why I'm excited about the PC(USA) this week.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

All Creatures indeed

On Tuesday evenings, I attend the Presbyterian Student Fellowship worship at Vanderbilt. I currently serve on the campus ministry board, and figure I have more time and energy than money to donate to college students. As a pastor, Sunday mornings aren't always the most worshipful time, so I value the opportunity to simply go and be a member of the congregation.

Last night, for one of our opening songs, we sang a contemporary guitar-ey All Creatures of Our God and King. As best as I can recall, here are the lyrics we sang:

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing
O praise him, alleluia
Thou burning sun with golden beam
Thou silver moon with softer gleam
O praise Him, O praise Him
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in heaven along
O praiseHim, alleluia
Thou rising moon in praise rejoice
Ye lights of evening find a voice
O praise Him, O praise Him
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Let all things their Creator bless
And worship Him in humbleness
O praise Him, alleluia
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son
And praise the Spirit, Three in One
O praise Him, O praise Him
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

In recent years, this has become one of my favorite hymns. I love the imagery of the entirety of creation praising God by singing alleluia in a myriad of voices and sounds. As the service progressed, the alleluias kept bouncing around in my brain, and then, during the minutes of silent reflection following the sermon, I became aware of the chorus of insects, tree frogs, and other creepy crawlies just outside the windows of the room where we were worshiping. In that moment, I heard those voices as insect alleluias. As the sun with golden beam was receding for the evening and sun with softer gleam was preparing to take its position in the sky, those creatures in the trees outside were worshiping God in humbleness, offering up the only voice they have in sweet alleluia. That was a truly peaceful moment for me there in that wood paneled room on the campus of Vanderbilt University. I left hoping that my life might be more of an alleluia.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Marathon Training: September 4th, 2008

What a difference a week and eating a better dinner the night before makes. I ran out my front door at 7:30 this morning to a fairly cloudy and breezy morning. My plan was to run 13 miles, and that's exactly what I did. The sun stayed behind the clouds for me, and a cool breeze seemed to show up at crucial moments. My pace wasn't awesome, but I never felt like I needed to stop, and there was a good amount of water left in my camelback when I finished. All in all, it was a good day of pounding the pavement.

As I had just passed the 10 mile mark out in a very rural area of Franklin, I saw a car coming that I recognized. The matriarch and patriarch of our 8:30 service were headed my way. We exchanged smiling waves and I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I love those moments when you least expect to see someone you know, and then you see fun people like the Warrens. It gave me a boost of energy somehow. Thank God for the church, where we come together with folks and are shaped into a community by God. The body of Christ, indeed.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mixin' it up at The Estate

Yes, I have been blogging a lot lately. I suppose one will seek out connection with the outside world when left with a quazi-vacuum of time following the loss of a relationship. Anyway, today's post is about some of the changes I've made around the house. As you'll see in the pictures, I've added a house plant to the mix. I call him Frizzy. He just spoke to me at Whole Foods, so I brought him home. I've also replaced my ginormous dining room table that seated six (eight with the optional leaf) with a tall-top table that normally seats two, but can be folded out to seat four (that would require a couple more chairs I don't have, but whatever). I feel like I have a whole new dining room. Other changes will be forthcoming, but for now, here are some pictures of the progress here at The Estate.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Training for a marathon

As some of you know, I have run the Country Music Half Marathon the past two years here in Nashville. Both years, I followed the training schedule and arrived at race day feeling great. Neither race was "easy," but I felt good about my efforts. So, this summer, I decided to train for and run a full marathon in San Antonio. I'm five or six weeks into my training schedule, and this morning, I hit the proverbial wall. I walked out my door this morning at 8:30 with intention of running 12 miles. I've previously run 9, 10, and 7 miles on long run days, and figured the 12-miler would be tough, but not ridiculously so. I was wrong. By about mile 7, I was totally zapped. I ended up slowing down to walk about every 10 minutes and just couldn't get back on top. I seem to have run out of fuel, because my breathing was fine, but my legs just didn't want to function. Anyway, all of this is to say that, while I arrived home feeling very discouraged, I plan to continue with my training and fight through it.

If any of you Renderings readers out there want to join me in San Antonio to run or simply cheer on November 16th, I would welcome the company. Otherwise, just say a prayer for me and my legs.

On a totally unrelated note, I was pretty fired up by Joe Biden's speech last night. I've always liked him, and I'm totally psyched that he's Barack Obama's running mate. In addition, I continue to be impressed with how cool Obama seems. I mean, he walked out on that stage like a celebrity last night. I love that he's this intelligent, well-spoken guy who also has swagger and chutzpah. O-BA-MA!!!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why some republicans suck...

The following load of crap ended up in my inbox today from one of my more conservative church members, despite repeated attempts on my part to ask him not to send me such hateful propaganda. My "favorite" part is when they make fun of Ted Kennedy, because, you know, having a life-threatening brain tumor isn't enough. Anyway, this is the kind of crap that makes me never ever ever want to listen to a damned word a republican says:

2008 Democrat National Convention Schedule of Events



7:20 pm Ted Kennedy PROPOSES A TOAST

7:25 pm NONRELIGIOUS PRAYER AND WORSHIP - by Jesse Jackson & Al Sharpton

7:45 pm CEREMONIAL TREE HUGGING - by Darryl Hannah

7:55 pm Ted Kennedy PROPOSES A TOAST


8:15 pm GAY WEDDING PLANNING - by Rosie O'Donnell

8:35 pm Ted Kennedy PROPOSES A TOAST

8:40 pm OUR TROOPS ARE WAR CRIMINALS - by John Kerry

9.00 pm MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR SADDAM AND HIS SONS - by Cindy Sheehan and Susan Sarandon

10:00 pm ANSWERING MACHINE ETIQUETTE - by Alec Baldwin

11:00 pm Ted Kennedy PROPOSES A TOAST



11:30 pm OVAL OFFICE AFFAIRS - by William Jefferson Clinton

11:45 pm Ted Kennedy PROPOSES A TOAST


12:15 am TRUTH IN BROADCASTING AWARD - Presented to Dan Rather by Michael Moore

12:25 am Ted Kennedy PROPOSES A TOAST

12:30 am SATELLITE ADDRESS - by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad


1:00 am Ted Kennedy PROPOSES A TOAST



1:35 am Bill Clinton asks Ted Kennedy to drive Hillary home

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Love of a Child

This little girl is the 2.5 year old daughter of a couple of my good friends from church. This evening, when I went over to their house for dinner, she made my night. As I walked up to the door, she was jumping up and down and clapping about my arrival. As soon as I entered the house, I just had to go and see her new big girl bed. She was quite proud of it. I was introduced to Baby Lucy and some other dolls and then I was asked if I had a big boy bed. I told her that, yes, I do have a big boy bed.

After awhile, her Mom (who is a few weeks away from having another child) asked the little girl to show me the gift that she (the little girl) would be giving to Baby Brother. It was a little palm tree with small slots for pictures as the branches. She went from branch to branch telling me who people were: Mama, Dad, Nanna and Papa, Grandpa, and herself. Then, she got this perplexed look on her face and said, “There’s no picture of Mr. Alan on here.” Then, I laughed pretty uncontrollably when her solution was, “We should take out Mama’s picture and put one in of Mr. Alan.” I told her that I was flattered, but that Mama’s picture should probably stay in there.

It was so great to experience that little girl’s love this evening. As far as she was concerned, I was part of the family, even if just for that moment or for the evening. As her Mom and Dad prepared dinner, we hung out, talked, played silly games, and simply enjoyed one another’s company. Tonight, that sweet girl pictured above taught me to sit back and enjoy simple camaraderie and friendship, and that sometimes it’s good to jump up and down and clap when you see somebody you love to be around.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Shack, Jesus for President, and other et ceteras

First of all, thank you to everyone who touched base after my last blog post. I definitely felt the e-love. Just to prevent any wild speculations, I'm healthy, everyone in my family is healthy, I didn't lose my job, or anything like that. I'm simply suffering from an "I need a break" style broken heart. I'm definitely in a better place than when I last posted, but heartache is still heartache. So, anyway, don't fret too much on my behalf.

Second, I recently finished reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne. It's a great book that addresses some of the premises on which much of our nationalism, materialism, capitalism, patriotism, and even modern western Christianity are based. He lifts up "biblical values" like Jubilee, Justice, Non-Violence, Sharing, and Enemy Love, just to name a few. Claiborne has a way of convicting me of my own failures in living out that pesky Sermon on the Mount, without making me feel hopeless about my condition. I may get in to some specific stuff when I have the book in front of me, and more time and brain cells. I do struggle, though, with how to apply some of Claiborne's practices in my context. While I admire his choice to move to an urban area and practice intentional community in search for justice, I wonder how I, a pastor in suburban, affluent, homogeneous, Williamson County, America am called to proclaim justice, jubilee, enemy love, and a radical realignment of the social order. Simply standing in the pulpit and proclaiming these values doesn't seem very fair to those who don't have the chance to respond, except for the brief moments on the way out the door (that whole ritual is worth another blog post).

OK, this post is getting long, but I'm also reading The Shack by William P. Young. It's basically a story of how an encounter with God helps a man get free from many of the things that keep him from living a joyful, grateful life of relationship with God. The book has been getting some press, and I'm eager to hear what other folks are thinking about it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Today I'm thankful for good know, the ones who will respond to your bad news by saying, "Let's get together...tonight...we mean it."

The kind of friends who will listen if you want to talk about it, but can also tell when you don't really want to talk about it and just want to be in the company of people whose lives of joy can draw you, if only briefly, out of the gloomy cloud in which you sit.

Friends who know that you love Fat Tire and 1554 and offer to share the big bottle with you because they know that you're a slow drinker and the beer would probably get warm before you finish it.

Friends who offer to split as many appetizers as it takes for you to not be hungry because you went for a run and didn't have time to eat, and because there's a pit in your stomach the size of Cleveland.

Friends who will still give you a hard time and treat you like a real person, even though they know that you're feeling fragile and hurt and confused and overwhelmed.

Friends who invite you to come over and watch movies so you don't have to be alone with your thoughts.

Yeah, I'm thankful for friends like that today.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

I can be such a hypocrite

On numerous occasions, I've gone on tirades about the lack of quality public transportation and/or bike paths in the city of Nashville and surrounding areas. I go on and on about how I would use such facilities if they existed. Well, on Thursday, after work, I had to return something to Radio Shack, buy something at Best Buy, and then run by a music store to buy a book to help me learn how to play the mandolin that I bought the other day. Anyway, at each stop along the way, I was confronted with a Franklin Transit Authority Trolley Stop sign. Yes, I could have reached each destination along the way on the trolley, and with minimal walking from the stop to the store, I might add. In addition, that morning, when I went to breakfast at one of my favorite local haunts, I could totally have ridden my bike the 2 miles, but did I? No, I hopped in my car and was half way there before I even thought anything of it. For all of my talk about environmentalism, I can be a total hypocrite sometimes. I've decided that, from now on, unless time is a major factor, as in, I totally forgot to go get something and I need it in 10 minutes, I'm going to do my best to use the minimal public transportation in the Franklin/Brentwood/Cool Springs area. From what I hear, I may be the only one on the trolley, but at least that'll be one less car wasting a gallon of gas to go and feed the consumerist beast inside of me.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Absurd bumper sticker of the month

I actually took this picture over a month ago, but just rediscovered it in my picture gallery. I came across it in the Publix parking lot. As I was standing there with my camera taking a picture of this stupid bumper sticker, I kept hoping that the owner wouldn't come out and think that I was taking a picture because I liked it. That would have led to the awkward, "Actually I think it's utterly ridiculous, and so are you" conversation. OK, I probably wouldn't tell them they were ridiculous...only the bumper sticker.

Besides the incorrect grammar (you know, the random comma in the middle), this bumper sticker indicates a quite small minded individual. I'm sure this person voted to ban gay marriage, because, you know, gay people are responsible for destroying the American family. Therefore, every gay person who is in a loving, committed, faithful relationship can't possibly fulfill the first of only two possible ways to stop AIDS. But, I digress. I wonder if the proud displayer of this bumper sticker has any perspective on the AIDS epidemic in Africa? How about broadening the possible options for helping to prevent AIDS, like practicing safe sex, or funding research to destroy AIDS (because, not all of us ready to get married just to do our part to help stop AIDS).

I suppose my big frustration is with people who think a complex problem like the spread of AIDS could be solved if people would simply heed the advice of a two-fold plan promoted in a bumper sticker.

Anyway, there's my absurd bumper sticker for the month.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A visit from Jimmy and Anna

A few weeks ago, my sister, Anna, and her husband, Jimmy came to visit. I thought I'd post some pictures from our time together. It was really great having them visit. While they were here, Jimmy took a look at my the power line coming to my dishwasher. I hadn't been able to use it for over a year, because there was no power getting to it. Well, in an evening, Jimmy installed a new power outlet and installed a regular plug on the dishwasher so I could use it again. He's the man. Anyway, here are some pics:

Friday, May 23, 2008


Yesterday morning, I heard this piece on NPR's Morning Edition: Slugging to Work

For those of you who don't want to go read the whole article or listen to the segment, the basic gist is that in Washington, D.C. there is a system of car-pooling called "Slugging." The "slugs" wait in a line, and folks who want to be able to drive in the HOV lane pull up and call out where they're headed. The first slug in line who is going there hops in and they ride together. Here was the kicker for me: They don't share names, personal information, or really engage in any sort of meaningful conversation.

When I finished listening to the segment on the radio, I felt sad. As the report mentions, there are people spending hours of their lives in the confined space of a car with other people and they aren't connecting on any level deeper than a slug connects to a piece of driftwood as it floats down the river. While I understand the realities of a world where people have limited time for relationships, I think I'd have a hard time being a slug.

So, I wondered later, why is that any different than riding the bus or on a plane while listening to my ipod and reading The Atlantic? Somehow it feels different, especially if it's just the driver and the slug in the car together. What kind of meaningful relationship opportunities could be lost because of rules of disengagement?

Anyway, the story made me sad.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Recouping the cost of my seminary education

Last night I joined some friends for Team Trivia at a local pizza joint. This particular team of folks has a pretty good record at Team Trivia. Seldom do we finish out of the top three, and we often win. This week we were struggling a bit and were right in the thick of things leading into the final round and final question. Twice during the evening, information garnered from being a seminary trained member of the clergy came in handy. The first question came early in the evening, while the second was the final and decisive question that allowed us to bury everyone else by 20 points, thus allowing me to recoup $25 of the cost of my seminary education in the form of house cash.

So, Renderings fans, here are the questions. The answers will follow tomorrow:

  1. One word may be used to describe the following three things:
    1. A holy sacramental bread
    2. What a parasite feeds off of
    3. Alex Trebek
What is the word?

2. The last book of the New Testament is called Revelation (the guy running trivia said "Revelations" but I let that slide). What else is the book of Revelation called?

Please hold off on answering in the comments section so others may have the fun of trying to figure it out.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Last Sundy

Last Sunday, Mother's Day, was a day full of random thoughts for the publisher of Renderings. Here are my random thoughts/happenings in a quazi timeline:

  • 8:30 As I was making announcements at our early/breakfast service, I couldn't keep my mind on the announcements. I was mostly distracted by all of the people who were talking while I was trying to make announcements about stuff like, oh, Confirmation Sunday, Graduating Senior Recognition Sunday, when we go to one service for the summer. But then, as I was making announcements, I saw someone drinking from a tumbler mug that I could swear was my WPLN mug that I received for pledging. As I'm asking for other announcements, I keep a darting eye on the mug, all the while thinking, "Is that my mug? Did I use it last week and it made its way into the assorted mug collection? Surely she didn't take that from my office? Maybe she pledged to WPLN, too. I'm being ridiculous. Still, I'm checking that out after worship." Yeah, who knows what other announcements were made. In the end, as I was leaving to teach Confirmation class, I saw that it was a mug of the same color and type, but with some other logo on it. Yes, in all of my attempts to "figure it out" there was a possibility I never considered.
  • Lesson One: You can think something to death and still not find "the truth."
  • 9:45 I began Confirmation class 15 minutes late, hoping that the entire HALF of the class that was absent would show up. No luck. This was the last class before the actual day of confirmation, and half of them simply weren't there. Apparently one family had a crisis involving a cat that got away, one kid sheepishly comes in after his covenant partner went looking for him, and, well, the last one, who knows?
  • Lesson Two: Not everyone takes things as seriously as I do, and that bothers me more than it probably should.
  • 1:00 pm I was on my way to the car to leave for Missouri after eating lunch with my lovely girlfriend, and she asked if I wanted to run in the mall to buy some sort of fancy deodorant. "This is a search and destroy mission," she said. I decided that this was an invitation I should say yes to. We made our way to the fancy store, bought the deodorant, looked at some lamps at Restoration Hardware on the way out of the mall and then had the awkward kiss and hug in the parking lot. Upon telling this story to my Mom, she said that "Do you want to come with me to buy deodorant?" translates to "I want to spend 10 more minutes with you before you leave."
  • Lesson Three: Girls are funny.
  • 4:30 pm I stopped at Kentucky Exit 3 on I-24, because that's a cheap gas exit. I decided to hit the BP instead of the Pilot this time. The BP ended up being much smaller, but whatever. I decided to buy some coffee for the road. In my attempt to "Go Green" I brought in my travel mug. I tried to buy some cake in a cup, you know, french vanilla cappucino, but it was out. Figures. After loading up on some flavored coffee-mate and coffee, I got in line behind the 8 people who had come by to buy gas and other things in the 5 minutes it took me to pour my coffee. I stood there watching as person after person actually pays for the gas they've already pumped with cash. I didn't even know you could do that anymore. After standing there for 10 minutes, I was determined never to come back to the localsville BP. Then, when I put my coffee and my Little Debbie Star Crunch on the counter, it rings up as 50 cents or something like that. I ask the woman behind the counter if she got my coffee. "Yeah," she says "coffee refills are 27 cents." I'm gonna stop there every time from now on. Talk about rewarding folks for going green.
  • Lesson Four: Patience is a virtue I need to cultivate.
I eventually arrived back in Columbia, MO safely and had a wonderful time wishing my Mom a happy Mother's Day and Birthday (yes on the same day this year). It's amazing how many little lessons one can learn in a single day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I was on my way home from my favorite Nashville coffee shop (Fido) today, and I saw this sign at the gas station around the corner. That's right, folks, Regular gas now costs an arm, Middle level gas costs a leg, and Premium will actually cost you your first born child. I definitely chuckled as I drove by.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Seminary: Moses style

OK, so for all of you seminarians and previous seminarians out there who complained about all the hoops we had to jump through (and there were numerous ridiculous, sometimes seemingly fire-lit hoops), at least Moses wasn't still in charge. I don't think I've ever paid attention to this little passage from Exodus. There is seriously some crazy stuff in the Bible:

Exodus 32:21-29

21Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?" 22And Aaron said, "Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. 23They said to me, 'Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' 24So I said to them, 'Whoever has gold, take it off'; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!"

25When Moses saw that the people were running wild (for Aaron had let them run wild, to the derision of their enemies), 26then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27He said to them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.'" 28The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day. 29Moses said, "Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day."

I mean, the Levites basically wreaked some major havoc on the people of Israel for their idolatry. They slaughtered people! I don't care how many ords I had to take; that is some bad ass shit (and yes, I just cussed on my blog...I think this is one of those times when the emphasis is worth it).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

If I were independently wealthy

So, if I were independently wealthy, after I paid for clean water for the world, and set up endowments to fight hunger and poverty and AIDS and other awful things in the world, I would totally endow my local NPR station so that they never had to do fundraising drives. I hate fundraising week on NPR. Please, some totally wealthy person in Nashville, endow WPLN with a bajillion dollars so I never have to hear again how important my support is. Oy!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Can you believe this?

The 10:30 worship service at Harpeth is our more "traditional" service, complete with a ringing of the Harpeth bell and moment for silence after we make announcements and share prayer concerns.  Well, yesterday there was a new family visiting Harpeth during the 10:30 worship service.  As everyone else bowed their heads for the moment of silence, the mother of said family said to her little boy, "this is quiet time," to which he responded in a full voice, "I don't wanna be quiet."  Then, as we all stood to sing our first hymn, he said, "I don't wanna stand up."  At this point, half the congregation was chuckling and most of the choir at the front of the sanctuary was trying not to lose it.  When we finished singing that first hymn, the little boy proclaimed, "Can you believe this?"  as if to say, "Isn't this awesome!"  It was a wonderful moment in Harpeth history.  I'm still laughing about it, but not only laughing.  I've also been thinking about it.

I think that little boy was totally excited about a place where everybody sings and where a violin plays along and where there's standing up and sitting down and all kinds of other stuff to see and do.  I wonder when was the last time that any of us regular worship attendees just took a moment to say, "Can you believe this?"  Can you believe that all these people are here to worship God?  Can you believe the amazing lyrics of that hymn we just sang?  Can you believe that we get to share in a ritual of breaking bread and pouring juice that goes all the way back to Jesus?  Can you believe that we dare to put water on people's heads and proclaim to the world that they are children of God?  Can you believe all of this?  That little boy helped me to experience worship, not so much in a new way, but in a re-newed way...a way that marvels in the glorious nature of worship.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Stuff I've seen/heard lately

There are so many times during the day when I see/hear random stuff and do a little commentary on it in my brain.  Today's post is a collection of some of the recent stuff I've seen/heard.

Red mini-van with a spinner rim on the back right tire and no hubcap of any kind on the front right tire-I didn't see the left side of the car, but I'm gonna go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that those tires had spinners.  But, come one.  A mini-van with spinners?  I feel like that's a bit ridiculous.
Click on this link to hear a very moving story on Report: American Death Toll in Iraq War Hits 4,000:  It's about a Major in the Army who was recently laid to rest at Arlington Cemetary.  Something about this story nearly had me in tears.  4,000 of our soldiers dead...that number doesn't even include the Iraqis who have lost their lives in this senseless war.  It just makes me so sad...
Billboard with this slogan: Loans For the  Yes, a website solely devoted to helping the wealthy get more money.  We don't bother to loan money to poor people, because, you know, they'll never pay it back anyway, and wealthy people need more advantages in this world as it is.  Add to this my daily drive by Legends Ridge, a huge suburban neighborhood with mansions scattered on a verdant hillside, and I wonder if anybody's paying attention.
OK, that's all I can remember for now.  Here are some pictures from Guatemala for those who really look at blogs for pictures and not the ramblings.  :)

Friday, February 29, 2008


Yes, I'm a slacker. I haven't blogged in a month and a half, or something like that. I keep meaning to, and then, well, I don't. Here's a quick update before I head to Guatemala for a week:
  • My lenten discipline this year has been to write a letter to someone every day except Sunday. I haven't been as "disciplined" as I'd like, but it's been fun thinking of folks to write.
  • I drove to Davidson, NC on Wednesday and my care was covered with salt and other gross stuff. I was going to get it washed when I got home. God decided to do it for me. It rained most of the way home, so now my car looks beautiful. I thought that was cool.
  • I'm headed to Guatemala tomorrow with the Presbyterian Student Fellowship from Vanderbilt University. Look for pictures from that trip soon.
  • I went to London at the end of January with my Dad. I posted pictures on my Facebook, but not here. I guess I'll put those up when I do the Guatemala pictures. Going on a vacation with my Dad now that I'm kind of a grown up was really cool. If any of you get the chance to travel with one of your parents, take it. I can't imagine that you'd ever look back on it and say, "Wow, I really wish I would have stayed home and worked that week."
  • I'm reading The Golden Compass trilogy right now. So far, I have no earthly idea why the crazy conservatives have been on the rampage about it. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.
  • OK, now get off my case about not blogging. :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Adventures in Missing the Point: Worship

I'm close to wrapping up Adventures in Missing the Point by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. It's a great book that takes a look at a variety of theological/ecclesiological/practical topics and challenges the way we have typically thought about such things. I think this would be a great book to do for Sunday school or an adult book study. It includes great discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

Anyway, today, as I was reading the section on worship, I came across these words by Brian McLaren:
Worship leadership that fails to explore new territory (but rather dispenses products designed in an industry that has as its unspoken aim to deliver a good feeling 52 times a year) can inadvertently lead us not into worship but into temptation. And that's missing the point.
For some reason, I found these words to be particularly profound. He goes on to challenge those who claim that worship is all about attaining "The feeling" or "The High" that comes from encountering the presence of God. I often wonder if, in the course of 52 weeks in any given year, we worship leaders are intentional about exploring the depths of spiritual expression as found in Scripture. To be sure, the Bible isn't just a long list of people for whom life is fabulous and joyous. Do we avoid lament Psalms because people might leave worship feeling blue? Do we stay away from the Prophets because they sound too political, and we might offend someone? Do we go for the "feel good" moments instead of the "faithful to the text" moments? Definitely some questions to keep me thinking for awhile.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

In Today's World, the Well-Rested Lose Respect

This morning, when I got into my car at 8:30, after sleeping in on my day off, this newspiece began to play on NPR: In Today's World, the Well-Rested Lose Respect.

For those of you who don't want to follow the link and/or listen to the 8 minute story, the basic gist is that sleeping less has become a certain badge of honor in our contemporary culture. People brag that they only need five hours of sleep, when in reality, they probably need more. This story also addresses the prevailing myth, propagated by morning people, that success and productivity are directly tied to getting up early, even if it means losing sleep.

As someone who much prefers to get up between 8:30 and 9:00, I can tell you that I am often a victim of prejudice at the hands of the early risers. Somehow I'm seen as lazy or non-productive because I don't want to be up before the sun. I can tell you that on more than one occasion I've wanted to say mean things to those who chastise my desire to be well-rested. I mean, especially considering my occupation, what good would it really do for me to be up at 6:00 everyday. Are the youth at Harpeth clamoring for theological inquiry and pastoral care at 6:00 am? I doubt it. Is the Holy Spirit more likely to breath inspiration into Scripture at 6:30 am? Doubtful.

Anyway, it's good to hear that there's some scientific basis for my claim that being well rested has its advantages in overall productivity. Perhaps my next blog entry can be about my concerns with "productivity" as the gold standard by which our lives should be measured. For now, though, I think I'll enjoy my day off.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mr. Alan

When I was home for Christmas, I was telling a story about the amazing, brilliant, precocious Lucy King and I quoted her as calling me "Mr. Alan." My family all chuckled. You see, in the midwest, we don't call adults by Mr. (insert first name). If we use Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. we use their last name. Otherwise, we just use their first name. This causes me to wonder why, in southern culture, adults are called Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. First Name. Is it a hybrid of respect for authority and familiarity? Anybody have a good answer for that?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Last Sunday's sermon

I'm not usually one for posting my sermons online (mostly because I know there are a dozen people who are better preachers than I am out there reading this), but I've received some good feedback on this one and thought I'd throw it out there:

The Story Goes On
by Alan Bancroft
Preached at Harpeth Presbyterian Church 12/30/07

Isn’t Christmas a lovely time of year? There are presents to open, cookies to eat, friends and family to see, parties to attend, songs of cheer and joy to listen to, twinkling lights to see on houses and on trees. Christmas really can be a lovely time of year. We love watching the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and the Peanuts gang make a lovely Christmas out of a spindly tree. We think about Rudolph and Frosty and Santa and oh, of course, Jesus in the manger…God with us…joy to the world…peace on earth…all that good stuff. And then we come to church on the last Sunday of the year and we get slapped in the face with this story of Joseph and Mary fleeing in the middle of the night, with Jesus in their arms, for fear of infanticide at the hands of Herod’s men. Some of you might want your money back, and I wouldn’t blame you.

This is one of those stories we don’t like to tell very often. I didn’t check for sure, but I doubt it’s in the scope and sequence for our workshop rotation Sunday school. Most of the time, we read about the shepherds, then the wise men, then something about Jesus being smart in the temple as a kid, and then, wham! Jesus is in Galilee preaching and teaching the good news.

But, I have a feeling that the early hearers of this story, probably Jewish people…Jewish people who knew the stories of the Hebrew Bible, those early hearers would have found this story quite fascinating. In a short ten verses, Matthew manages to evoke some of the greatest stories of the Hebrew Bible. Before I read it, I asked you to put on your Hebrew Bible/Old Testament listening ears. Did you hear anything? Did you hear echoes of the great dreamers of the Old Testament like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Samuel who are told by God to go somewhere? Did you hear the echoes of the story of Moses and the liberation of the Hebrew people as Joseph fled to Egypt? Did you hear the cries of the Hebrew women of Moses’ time as Pharaoh murdered the innocent children so that the Hebrew people might not become too powerful? Did you hear the voice of the prophets who promised hope for people who were exiles in a strange land during the Babylonian occupation of Israel? If you didn’t, you must not be a very good Jew.

This story not only hearkens back to the history of Israel, but actually foreshadows what is to come in the life of this infant who is whisked away in the middle of the night. Just as Herod was threatened by the rumor of a new king being born, the people in positions of authority and power when Jesus is an adult will be threatened by the many ways in which Jesus threatens the status quo. Jesus will spend his life under threat of destruction, and, even though it may seem strange to talk about it the Sunday after Christmas, we know that the powers eventually succeed in taking Jesus out and shutting him up, even if only for a little while.

You see, that’s what people like Pharaoh and Herod and Pilate do. They go to any length to hold onto the earthly power that they’ve been given. They will dismiss those who ask too many questions about the least of these and the way they’re treated. They will actually destroy those who claim an authority and power that doesn’t bow down to their own. That’s what the powers do. In the case of today’s story, Herod hears that one Hebrew child will grow up to be a king and the son of God, and when the wise men refuse to come and give him the exact identity of the child, Herod decides it would be better to destroy every child two years and younger in and around Bethlehem. Take a moment and think about that. Every child under the age of two was torn from the hands of its mother and mercilessly slaughtered. For years and years to come, the absence of any children of those ages would be felt. Imagine if every year, for 12 years, two grades of children were missing. It’s gruesome. It’s awful. It’s unimaginable. How could people in that time be so evil and twisted and unconcerned for the welfare of innocent children? It seems unfathomable to us, and yet…and yet, folks, every generation of powers does it, and the powers are still doing it today.

Some of you lived through World War II and saw the abominations of the Holocaust, and after that horrible atrocity, the world said, “Never Again,” but it keeps happening. A couple of weeks ago, I asked Ooney Dreher, who is deeply involved with the Nations Ministry Center, to give me some insight into the story of the Burundi people who have been resettled in Nashville over the past year or so. Here’s what she had to say:

This past summer, over 100 people, men women and children from Burundi, were resettled in Nashville. They came from a refugee camp in Tanzania but that is not where their story begins.

Burundi is a small country in Africa, next to Rwanda and Uganda. In 1972, the government ordered politically motivated mass killings and chaos ensued. Families were torn apart as everyone literally ran for their lives. With crazed militants bursting into homes, the people of the villages scattered, ruining families and leaving many with no family at all. A group of wandering Burundis were accepted into a Rwandan refugee camp. Over the years, new families were formed from men, women and children who arrived with no one. These people adapted and made the best of the crowded, minimal camp. They rebuilt their lives and regained order and routine. The ugliness of their past became a memory but the loss of loved ones remained fresh.

Twenty years later, in 1992, the Rwandan genocide happened. Again, these refugees found themselves running for their lives. Unable to understand why this was happening, they scrambled and eluded the crazy men with guns again. This time a group of the Burundis’ found a refugee camp in Tanzania. Again, they settled in and made their new homes. The Tanzanian government offered them some primary schooling primarily to teach them Swahili so they could communicate with government officials. These refugees were not allowed to work, or leave the camp so they kept themselves busy with gardening and bartering goods for services. The UN brought in 3 meals a day, and the refugees learned to survive…again…in tents and overcrowded conditions.

This past summer, the United States offered refuge to over 300 Burundi refugees from the Tanzanian camp. The Tanzanian government wants to reclaim the refugee camp site for their own people. There are many refugees in this camp from all over, but the Burundi group are unique because they have no homes to return to. They are a generation or two removed from actually living in Burundi. Most of them have been born into or have only known refugee camp life. Some of them remember their Rwandan experience, and most of the adults speak of the loss of children, parents and extended family with an eerie detachment, as if they are quoting history, because senseless death is such a reality for them.

Friends, this oppression and slaughter of the Burundi and Rwandan people is what the powers do.

Many of you have probably seen Save Darfur signs around Nashville. The current crisis in Darfur began in 2003. After decades of neglect, drought, oppression and small-scale conflicts in Darfur, two rebel groups – the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – mounted an insurgency against the central government. These groups represent agrarian farmers. These were people who saw that the government of Sudan was selling all of the nation’s oil to foreign countries and failing to use that money on behalf of the Sudanese people. When they called for liberation and justice and equality, the central government of President al-Basihir responded with brutal force, by supporting local militias who rape and murder people suspected of supporting change in Sudan. Many people still live in fear of their homes being destroyed for no other reason than the powers asserting authority. World aid organizations estimate that 500,000 Sudanese have been murdered and nearly 2.5 million people now live in refugee camps in the bordering countries of Chad and the Central African Republic. This is what the powers do.

Just this past week, Bennizier Bhutto, who was a voice for democracy and justice in Pakistan, was murdered as she called for free elections. This is what the powers do.

Our story for today tells us that God, in Jesus, was forced to leave his home and live in a country where he didn’t look like anyone else, where he didn’t know the language, where some of the people still thought of his people as slaves, and where his future was uncertain. Even when Jesus’ family was able to return, they didn’t really get to go home for fear of being found out. Think about it: It would be pretty obvious if they moved back to town and Jesus was the only kid within a two year age range. Having experienced all of that, I wonder if God doesn’t have a special place in God’s heart for the refugees of Burundi and Rwanda, and Darfur. I feel quite certain that God looks at the state of affairs in Africa and cries long, heaving, sobbing cries.

And you know, I believe God invites us to mourn as well. I wish, in my preparation, deliberation, meditation, and prayer over this passage, God had sent me a revelation of what to do about Burundi and Rwanda and Darfur, but that didn’t happen. I did see three things in this passage, though, that, I think, offer some hope:

One: God refuses to let foreign occupation, genocide, or any other violence thwart God’s plans on earth. God is determined for the incarnation to reach its fulfillment in the teaching, preaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether it is through dreams, hasty trips in the middle of the night, or maybe even our own participation in seeking justice in the world, God fulfills God’s purposes.

Two: As I looked back in Jeremiah to find the original context of verse 18 where there is said to be weeping in Ramah, I found these wonderful words of God in response to the lamentation of the mothers of Israel in the midst of exile:

Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work,

says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future,

says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.

As I think about the millions of refugees living in camps and who have made their way to other countries, I cling, even if slightly, to these words of hope…these words that God promises to fulfill…these words that assure the mourning mothers of refugees and exiles that they will eventually get to go home and live peacefully.

Three: The story goes on. The story of Israel goes on. The story of the Christ child goes on. The story of the followers of the way that become Christians goes on. Just as Jesus finds himself fulfilling a dozen stories from the past, so do we find ourselves in the story of God’s designs and dreams for creation. We find ourselves as people called to respond to God’s dreams as we search for the image of God residing in everyone who is a refugee or an exile. Despite what the powers do, the story of God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy goes on and on and on. Amen.