Friday, May 13, 2016

Let All Mortal Flesh Yada Yada

Anybody who has ever raised a child and has taken that child to church could retire at the age of 40 if they got a quarter for every time they whispered to that child to be quiet because the preacher was praying/preaching or the choir was singing. Folks sitting with you in the pews shoot ugly looks at you if you don't at least attempt to hush a talkative tyke while worship is underway. 

Of course, at FUMC, worship is defined as that time on Sunday mornings when people stop talking after we sit down after the processional hymn. Before that? Well, we are a congregation of talkers, and we regard anything before the processional as background music for our conversations. 

Visiting with one another is evidence of the"radical hospitality" we have become famous for providing, right? I'm here to say, as a world-class chatterer, that talking through the prelude is akin to getting all the scoop from last night's party during the pastoral prayer, or rehashing last night's ball game during the sermon. 

Those of us who provide a prelude for the congregation as a time to gather their thoughts and center their hearts toward God appreciated very much our preacher's new strategy for making announcements before the prelude. We all hoped it would mean folks would take the gentle hint, and it actually worked for a few weeks. Unfortunately, I think he's had to crank up the volume on his microphone for the past several weeks because people are talking louder to talk over him.

Last Sunday morning a member of our youth group performed a beautiful duet with our assistant minister of music for our prelude. It broke my heart that, rather than show our support for this young man's gifts, the chattering continued as if there were nothing special happening because the choir hadn't processed yet. 

I recognize and appreciate that the leadership of our church has to walk a diplomatic line about this issue. I'm just rank and file, people, so that line's a little wider for me. I don't believe anybody in the congregation intends to be rude. I just think we've gotten into a bad congregational habit that has become increasingly worse. 

This Sunday, the two adult handbell choirs have a rare opportunity to be part of your (and our) worship experience for Pentecost. Each choir will be offering an extended musical prelude, and the Allegro Bells (my group) will also provide the Act of Praise at the 11:00 service. Both services begin earlier than usual to accommodate these extended preludes, and it is my hope that whatever service you choose to attend you will be there, seated and quiet, at the appointed time. We have all worked very, very hard so that we might be part of your Pentecostal experience. All we ask is that you allow us to offer our musical gift to God without having to feel like we're ringing in Babel. 

Next time, we'll talk about how wonderful it is to sit around and listen to the POSTLUDE! 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Our New Dog

I always said that when one of us retired we would seriously consider getting a dog. 

We have had a couple in the last nearly four decades, but realized we weren't in a position to be the sort of owner a good dog deserves. But maybe in retirement we could try again? 

I've had my heart set on a Bull Terrier because I once saw a TV show about them, and the narrator said they are known for their desire to make people laugh. 

Henry would love to have another Beagle, like the one he had when he was a little boy. 

But I think we both figured that, when the time was right, the right dog would just appear.

I believe our wait is over. Perhaps realizing that Henry is still working, and I'm just resting and not really retired, the dog gods decided to have fun with us because this is the critter that keeps showing up despite all my efforts to relocate him from the corner of our bedroom to the great outdoors. 

This has included my picking him up and walking all the way from one end of the house to the other to get him OUT. 

Today I decided to give up. 

His name is Lyle Lovett. And we're keeping him. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Getting back to that boat.....

I wrote this blog post over 13 years ago. I still find myself wondering why it is that so many people who claim Christ's name seem to be consumed by so much fear, even to the extent that it would cause them to willfully ignore another passage in Matthew, that one about "the least of these."  I am distressed by those who would stand on Old Testament laws as though bolted to the floor, but who brush off the very words of Christ when our own worldview is inconvenienced by them. 

The original text is in standard type. My current thoughts are in italics. 

On September 11, 2002, I joined with many of you in a Service of Remembrance commemorating the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was a deeply meaningful service, made even more so by the absolute quiet of those in attendance in the moments before it began, unusual for a normally chatty congregation, but there was a somber mood that night, fully appropriate for the occasion.

The order of worship indicated that the chiming of the hour would mark the beginning of the service. There's a button the organist pushes to begin the tolling of the carillon, but on this evening something went awry. Rather than a chime, the opening bars of a hymn I can no longer remember rang out, and abruptly stopped. Again a button was pushed, with the same result. After several seconds of silence, there came the sound of a lone, low note played manually to approximate the cadence of the tolling of the hour. As that note was repeated - over and over - it began to sound to me like the signal horn of a ship returning home to port.

The picture that plaintive sound evoked in my mind -- one of ships and seas -- reminded me of the story of stormy waters tossing a fishing boat about, nervous disciples, and a weary Jesus soundly sleeping.

Frightened by the prospect of sinking, they roused him from his cot, and in a reply tinged with sadness that they still did not fully comprehend Who he was, he spoke words to this effect: Why are you so worried? I am here with you -- why are you so afraid?

He could, I suppose, have driven his point home by returning to his resting place and letting them ride out the storm alone. He could have stood on the deck of that fragile vessel with them until it passed. But he chose to stretch out his arm and calm the sea.

During these days of war and uncertainties and insecurities that have become our own rough seas, it comforts me to know that even if Christ had not with a simple gesture stilled the raging waters, His presence would have seen them safely through.

Of course we cannot and should not go through this life blissfully whistling past the horrors perpetuated by the evil choices human beings, gifted with the same free will we all possess, make. We rightfully, understandably, wonder where God is in all of this, and our fears make us trust more in human governments to protect us from all harm than in His sovereignty. 

I have more questions than answers. I don't understand the ways of God. I don't know why it often seems He withdraws from us when we need Him most. There are so many platitudes that would attempt to explain that, and they all pale when measured against times like these. None of us like the helplessness that comes with saying, "I don't know," when asked the hard questions. I surely don't. 

Which comes back to one of the hardest, most heartbreaking questions Christ asked of his disciples, the very people with whom he walked and rested and broke bread: 

Why, knowing Me, are you so afraid?