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The Point of Hospitality

I was in a Starbucks the other morning – I haunt this particular Starbucks when I have a car in the shop.  It’s a decent little walk, good coffee, and a place where I can get some work done while I wait.

Friday, I did something I almost never do.  I asked them to leave room for cream.

As I set my cup on the counter and reached for the half-and-half, I knocked over my coffee, spilling all but about half an ounce.  I got a good bit on myself, a little on the next customer over, and a lot on the floor.

I wanted to clean up my mess.

They wouldn’t let me.

The employee was incredibly polite and gracious about it.  They even refilled my coffee at no extra charge.

But I didn’t want them to serve me by cleaning up the mess I made.

Should I have felt well taken care of because they insisted on cleaning up my spill?

I wonder these things because we, the church, ought to be hospitable.  I want to learn from others about what hospitality looks like and incorporate such practices into our own.

But I wonder if what some who are acculturated in church intend as hospitality can feel smothering or even self-righteous to those who are not acculturated in church.

We seek to be hospitable in ways that are received as hospitable, not in ways that a list of duties tells us is hospitable.


Listening to the radio this morning on my way to work, I heard the story of Kenny G’s brief foray into political endorsement. He tweeted a picture of himself with some of the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

I knew the political leaders of China wouldn’t like this.  I had no idea Kenny G. was so popular in mainland China.  Realizing he’d put a lucrative lifestyle in jeopardy, Mr. G. soon deleted his tweet.

Yesterday I wrote about 2 of the 3 reasons I’ve been blogging less.  Kenny G’s relationship with China reminded me of the third reason.

In June of 2012, I was appointed Senior Pastor of Euless First United Methodist Church. I blogged fairly freely while at the Methodist Children’s Home.  Few, very few of the people, staff or students, there, read my blog.  I was, therefore, free to write about whatever struck me, without having to filter.

Euless would not be so.  Not only was I likely to have more readers among my congregation, I wanted to write such that they would want to read.  I understood my congregation as part of the audience for the blog, where before I perceived them as two separate, mostly distinct audiences.

I speak differently to my congregation than I do in other settings.

You might say that, like Kenny G., I am aware of the source of my support.

Let me be clear:  I don’t change my opinions or positions on matter based on my perception of my congregation’s opinions or positions.

I still believe I am right.  Most of the time. I still believe that especially in terms of things theological, I want to influence people to agree with me, to come to see things as I see them.

Since I believe I am right, of course I believe people would, as a whole, be better agreeing than disagreeing with me.

At the same time, I have become more aware of the huge variety of ways influence can be exercised, leveraged, used.  Sometimes it is wasted.  It is always less effective at the heart level when influence is forced.

Most of the influence I seek to have I would like to make a difference at the heart level.

So, I self-censor.  I speak differently with some people than with others.

A church member told me of a conversation he had had with another church member a couple of months before I arrived.  The other person (who is no longer a member here), had found an internet reference calling me “progressive.”  I was told that he said in response to that revelation that I would be “starting with 1 strike against me.”

So I blog more carefully – more thoughtfully – than I used to.  I do so because I still think you are better off agreeing with me than disagreeing, but I realize some of you will likely quit reading what I write, or listening to what I have to say, if I write and speak less thoughtfully.

I self-censor.  I bet you do, too.


2 of the 3 Reasons I haven’t been blogging much lately

As opposed to nostalgia as I am (here and here.  Better yet, check out The Way We Never Were.), can I admit to you that I kind of miss the days when I would post something more regularly?

Once upon a time, I posted here 3-5 times a week.  That’s been almost my monthly average for the last couple of years.

Why, you might ask, have I dropped the volume?   Here are the main reasons:

1. Two Kids. I’ve got two kids under five.  I want to spend as much quality time with them as possible.  Work wasn’t likely to yield time, so the blogging has.  In my mind, blogging is a comfortable mix of work and pleasure.  A lot of the things I’ve blogged about have proven good sermon fodder.  Many have otherwise informed, shaped, inspired my ministry.

When I first started blogging, it was at an invitation by my brother Richard to share a blog.  For several months, I posted only after he reminded me we were sharing a blog.  Eventually, I would post every week or two.  As I had been writing a weekly column for the local paper for a few years already, this seemed like a natural transition.

Finally, in 2006 or 07, I determined to blog as a spiritual discipline.  I  would comment on current events sometimes, but mostly I would share something, or some combination of things that were stirring within me.  The practice was good for me.

Getting married in 2007 didn’t harm that.  Having one child in 2010 didn’t phase that rhythm for long. Having a second child in 2012 really brought change – more in routine than in focus.

2. I changed jobs.  In 2012 I left the Methodist Children’s Home, where I had served as Chaplain for 5 1/2 years, and was appointed Senior Pastor at Euless First United Methodist Church.  While it would be wrong to say this is more work, for me, at least, it has been very different, and in many ways, more taxing.

I’ve felt it important to pour even more of myself into sermon preparation and worship planning.  Thus, much of the energy that once flowed into and through my blog was now channeled in a different direction.

The blogs serve me well for several years.  Thought I’m not quite ready to give up totally in the practice, the creativity and spark I once found here I now find in other places, through other media,

Tomorrow, the third and decidedly most powerful reason for my recent decline in blogging, and what I intend to do about it.

Good news and bad news

Book Review: The Mainliner’s Survival Guide

Hi.  My name is Steve, and I’m a Mainliner.

Through all my years as a Fundamentalist, then an Conservative Evangelical, then some variation of Emergent, I have been a member of The United Methodist Church, a mainline denomination.

I believe this is where God has called me.

Plenty have tried to convince me otherwise.  I’ve sat face to face with some of the leaders of the Emergent movement and heard them explain, with rather convincing rhetoric, why getting out (of the mainline) would be a good thing.

Yet here I stand.  I can do no other.Penwell book

Perhaps, then, you can imagine how appreciative I was to find Derek Penwell’s The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World.  Here was a book written from inside a mainline denomination, yet, ostensibly, with the recognition that the glory days of American Denominationalism are clearly gone and not returning.

Let me be clear:  I wasn’t hopefully expecting Penwell to make it sound ok.  The last thing I wanted was some platitudes encouraging me into hospice care as the denomination and its version of Christianity continue to linger.

Reading Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us brought me such great joy when I read it almost a decade ago that I bought a dozen or so copies and offered them free to any clergy friends who would agree to read the book.

I would consider doing the same with this book from Derek Penwell.

The book opens with what I find to be a stellar comparison of our times with post-Revolutionary War American.  I found this comparison helpful and Penwell’s historical work insightful to the point of making me wonder why I hadn’t read this elsewhere.

Penwell does an excellent job, I feel, of stirring up the conversations that must happen.  Mainline denominational folk know that something is wrong, but this book offers to help us identify and make corrections without simply trying to keep up with whatever the ecclesiology-of-the-month might be.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

A truth that bears repeating

Does Distance Matter?


How far is too far?

Walking back from a visit to the Elementary School we have adopted,  a discarded plastic drink bottle lay in the sidewalk.  I should have picked it up.

I didn’t.

I almost did.  I usually do, but here’s the deal:  after seeing that and thinking I would pick it up, I scanned for other litter.  There were several other things nearby, say, within 5 yards of the sidewalk.

I didn’t feel like walking that far out of my way to pick up that trash.  I figured that if I did, I would somehow be obligating myself to police the entire area.

To avoid the obligation of picking up ALL TRASH, I picked up no trash.

Litter-wise this is a fail, but not an epic fail.  I could very well have picked up any or all of the trash, or some amount in between and have done better than deciding to walk by it all.

Life-analogy-wise, this was, I think, an epic-fail.

Feeling paralyzed by the thought of all the good that could, that should, be done around the world is not, I believe, an acceptable excuse for doing nothing for anyone.

I cannot reach the needs of everyone, but I cannot allow that to keep me from helping meet the needs of some.

Does distance matter?  It seems to: mission trips are all the rage, and some of this is energized by the desire to help those who are far away.

Ideally, travelling great distances to serve others ought to motivate, energize, and catalyze us to be more attentive and responsive to needs nearby.

The cynic in me wants to observe here that all these mission trips we’ve gone on have not done a great job of energizing us at home.

My unwillingness to pick up a single piece of trash reminds me not to lay my cynicism on others.


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