Last Wednesday was a strange, surreal day for me. The day started normally, though an afternoon appointment would, I knew, feel strange. A member of our church was dying of cancer, but had insisted I come and take some things from his house that he wanted to give to the church.
Then, around 11, I got a call from my mom that my dad wasn’t doing well – that he was, the words I remember, “failing fast.” I went into son mode and took off toward Arlington, making phone calls as I went. Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s related dementia, several years ago, and the decline has been, well, long and uncomfortable.
It turns out dad was not as close to death’s door as we thought, but he was having a difficult day. He had, perhaps, had a small stroke the previous weekend, and was less responsive and not interested in food or drink. While I was there they got him to take some food. The immediacy of the situation lessened, I went back to work.
I went back to work but probably wasn’t worth much. Apparently thinking one’s parent is about to die is rather more distracting than I would like it to be.
Later that afternoon, I made it to visit with my dying church member. After sharing communion and visiting with him and the friends who were gathered, I began carrying things to the truck I had borrowed for the occasion.
One the way out, I caught myself thinking, “this hasn’t been a very good day for me.”
I stopped those words and played with them in my head. On a day that I visit with two men who were both likely not to live out the year – perhaps the month – I was feeling like I wasn’t having a good day?
I have not shared this for you to feel sorry for me, to join the piling-on over feeling sorry for myself.
I decided to share this because sometimes in the midst of a challenging time, or despair or sadness, we lose perspective by comparing ourselves with others.
My realization that I was having a bad day was NOT AT ALL about, or to be compared with, the situations of the two men I visited that day.
I have my ups and downs, and you have yours. That yours are worse today than mine, or that mine were worse last summer than yours is only relevant if being human were a contest, but it isn’t.
In the presence of either my father, or the other man I visited that day, my own situation or challenges appropriately paled in comparison. But my life is not well lived in comparison to the lives of others. Neither is yours.
Here’s to knowing when to compare, and when not to.
I posted here that I would be sharing my story in four different versions over the next few days. Here we are, several days later, and I have not shared any of them.
So, here they are:
6 words: Lost, broken, found cultivating Jesus Community
140 characters: 9th grade moved to Houston with a Boston accent. Church welcomed me, introduced me to Jesus, and we haven’t looked back.
Elevator pitch: I grew up in Church. Let me correct that; I grew up in Church enough to think that I was a part of it, but not enough that it became a part of me.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that it started to become clear. Moving to a new place for 9th grade, I discovered I was an outsider. Two groups were eager to take me in: one, a group of other outsiders who were headed in the direction of drug use and dropping out; and two, the youth group at Faith United Methodist Church.
This group welcomed me enough to challenge me. I still remember a representative of the girls of the youth group telling me that, as a group, they would not talk to me until I stopped cutting people down. This got my attention.
In that context I began to learn what it meant to be a sinner, and, therefore, what it means to be saved, redeemed, forgiven.
I want everyone else, whether they feel like an outsider or not, to have this experience of knowing what it means, how it feels, to be saved, redeemed, healed, forgiven.
Long Form: We moved to suburban Houston to start my freshman year of high school. It was there, in 1977, that I learned that I had picked up a bit of a Boston accent from having lived there from age 2 to 4. 1977 wasn’t a really good time to move to Houston with a Boston accent – much less as a high school freshman.
Lonely, wanting new friends in a new place, I still first refused to go to Church with my parents. After a bad experience with my first try at a junior high youth group at the church I had been confirmed into in Maryland, I wanted nothing to do with church.
But loneliness can be quite a motivator. I had started to hang out with a few other outsiders. Then, the next Sunday, I went along with my family to Faith UMC. There I was discovered by a student from my Spanish class. She invited us (my brother and I) to go bowling with the youth group the following weekend, and we were in. We didn’t miss another youth group or church function unless we were out of town.
In the context of that caring, welcoming community, I responded to an altar call at a District Youth Rally and gave my life to Christ. Then, believe it or not, I did what they told me to: started praying and reading the Bible.
I soon felt like the only way for me to live faithfully as a Christian was to accept a call to ministry. This feeling carried me all the way to college, where after a year or so I started to wonder that was, indeed, my calling. Following Jesus doesn’t require one to pursue ordained ministry. As I looked elsewhere, though, I felt doors were closing rather than opening. Therefore, I concluded, my calling was to continue to pursue ordination in The United Methodist Church
Then I began to doubt my call was to pastoral ministry. Of all the tasks and responsibilities of a pastor, preaching most scared me. It proved an elusive ability until I was appointed to my first pastorate. Since then God graciously reminds me every time I preach that I am answering God’s own call on my life!
At first I thought following Jesus was just about me. I was so surrounded by the community of people in my church that I didn’t realize how valuable, even essential, they were to my being a disciple. Through college, seminary, and in every church I have served since I have become more and more aware of the importance of community. I cannot be a disciple on my own!
When my first marriage began to end in 1999, I began to learn new ways to rely upon Christ’s body, the church, for support. I remember days, even weeks of feeling like I was wandering through life, barely managing to parent my junior high daughter. In my responsibilities as pastor during this time I drew strength from members of my congregation. We really do need each other!
When I was young, I understood part of my call to be to renew the United Methodist Church. I still feel this call, but I found that God has also been continually renewing me.
I cannot wait to see what God has in store!
What is your story? I encourage you to think it through enough to tell it: write it, speak it, tweet it. Whatever you do, share it!
Do you have a favorite Commandment? I am thinking of the Ten Commandments, but you might choose from the two greatest that Jesus and “the legal expert” both cite as summing up all the rest. Or you may choose from among the 613 Commandments of the Torah.
You may, perhaps, even cite some other authoritative source for the purposes of this post.
This thought arises after having heard, again, adults suggest to children that the “most important one for you” is to obey your mother and father.
Huh. Now, I’m not going to disagree on this in front of a roomful of children. But sometimes I wonder if we have told children THIS commandment often enough that we begin to think it is for them.
I don’t think there is any credible biblical scholar who would support the idea that the other 9 are for everyone, but that one is for children.
Another possibility of your (or my) favorite commandment would be the one that we have the least likelihood of offending. Kill? No, that’s really not me, so I’ll jump on that one as the most important. I’ll engage in discussions (actually debates) about how this commandment is the most important and work tirelessly to get other people to stop breaking it.
Least favorite? Well, that’s easy. It would be the one over which we stumble most. That whole covet thing gets me daily. Did Moses have any idea how materialistic our culture would be? Don’t covet anything? How about nothing over $100?
What do I mean by favorite? Favorite one to toss at others? Favorite one to celebrate? Favorite to stand awestruck at God’s goodness?
Your choice. After all, it’s YOUR favorite.
The Mission of The United Methodist Church (yes, the “The” is supposed to be capitalized) is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Thinking about this, and how it relates to our congregation (and to yours, for that matter), I thought of this the other day:
To make DISCIPLES
we must BE disciples
to be disciples
we must FOLLOW Jesus
NO ONE of us gets to decide
what it means to follow Jesus:
we are all in this together.
At Euless First UMC we have been on a Long and Winding Road since late August. This has been my sermon series, but it has also been an effort to get people to share their stories with one another.
I contend that coming to terms with one’s own faith story is the best exercise for sharing one’s faith. Sure, being able to argue someone under the table may convince them you are right (or at least that you are a better arguer). Being able to recite theories, scriptures, or proofs of God’s existence may also win attention. But unless and until your life offers something deep, lasting, and real about the God you claim to worship and follow, I’m afraid those around you are left with words and ideas, but not life.
On the way to thinking through one’s faith story, I have suggested 4 different forms:
- Your Story in 6 words: modeled after that famous short story “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
- Tweet version: Your Story in 140 characters (or less)
- Elevator Pitch: something you can say in 30-45 seconds that leaves the listener wanting to know more, and
- Long Form – 300-500 words: (I know some don’t consider this long) Your Story in a page or two.
I have completed mine, and will be sharing them here over the next few days.
But before we get there, I had this thought as I sat down to begin to share these different versions of my story: until I thought about my life in an intentional way, it wasn’t really a story, but just rambling thoughts.
Which led me to the heading of this post: Do you know what you think? Whether it is your story or a football game you watched over the weekend; whether you tell your story in the context of God’s larger story or not, until you stop and consider what it is you think, you don’t really know.
It might seem obvious that one knows what one thinks – in general, or about any specific topic – until one can communicate it somehow to another person, I am not sure that he or she really does know what he or she thinks.
Do you know what you think? Could you tell me in a way that I understand?
New, from Barna: Barnaframes are designed to help you read important, worthwhile things without wasting all that time, well, reading. Watch this: BarnaFrames Or, as they put it, “Read less, Know more.”
Honestly, the idea is appealing to me. There is so much more out there that I want to read than I have time to read. Even my brother Richard, who reads faster and more broadly than anyone I know, cannot possibly read everything worth reading.
My suspicion is that a BarnaFrame by a certain author, well done, will entice me to want to read actual books by the same author.
Someone said once (I think it was Dennis Kinlaw, but I’m not sure) that we should not try to read all the good books or all the interesting books, but that we owe it to ourselves to read the great books.
I am open to the idea that BarnaFrames can connect me with some great books.
Feel free to start with anything from my Essential Readings page.
Here’s what I’ve come up with, and I ask for your help. For the month of October, during which I turn 50, I have set these goals:
- I will read through the Psalms – 5 a day, spreading the readings throughout the day
- I will run 65 miles (November 2011 was the last time I logged that many miles in a motnh)
- I will do at least 500 push-ups.
- In addition to the Psalms, I will spend some time each day reading.
- I will reduce snacking (I am 10-15 pounds above where I should be)
- I will schedule a colonoscopy
- I will fast at least once a week.
Here’s where your help comes in. Some of these will be a bigger challenge for me than others, so I invite you to hold me accountable. Anytime you want, feel free to ask me how I’m doing on any of these goals.
Thank you for your help. I’d like to return the favor; when you turn 50, or whenever some accountability will help you reach a goal.