Bumper Sticker Theology *

bumper sticker theology“Prayer Works!” and its bossier sibling, “Pray. It Works!” are sayings I’ve seen on everything from tote bags to t-shirts, bumper stickers to Bible studies. You can get a “Prayer Works” apron for the saintly cook in your life or a package of “Prayer Works” pencils for those in need of a little Number Two inspiration. And don’t even get me started on books. Seriously there are about a gazillion books with that phrase or a close variation in the title. In just a quick glance, I saw Prayer Works for Teens, Prayer Works for Business People, and even a Prayer Works for Dieters. (Just might buy that last one, cause really: I can use a little supernatural assistance in that department.)

And I get it; I do.  Who among us does not need a reminder that the practice of prayer is an important spiritual discipline? I sure do. But is that what we mean when we say that prayer works?

Too often, I’m afraid it means that we got what we wanted from the prayer. We say it after saying “I got a promotion!” or “My child got into her college of choice!” or even, “My beloved has been healed of cancer!” Then of course, like all good Christians, we turn to social media to Instagram, Tweet, or Facebook the good news, challenging followers to “Pray! It Works!” I think most of us mean well, bless our hearts. We are so grateful for the blessings we’ve received we want to share the good news. We mean “Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!” But that’s not what we say. Instead, we tap out pithy theology that just doesn’t hold up to the trials of life.

Think about it. No one ever says “Prayer Works,” when they get laid off, or a child’s dreams are crushed, or a loved one doesn’t make it. Yet prayer works then too. It works to bring peace in the storm. It works to bring hope to the hopeless. It works to draw us closer to God. Of course prayer works. It always works.

Over the years, I’ve seen prayer work whether I got the job I wanted or not. I’ve prayed for career outcomes I just knew were within God’s perfect will for my life, praying with all confidence that I had heard God’s voice correctly, only to be devastated when things turned out differently. Prayer helped me deal with disappointment, sort out solutions, and overcome the sense of loss that frequently accompanies career frustrations.

Prayer works as high school graduates accept admission to the last school on their lists, because despite their excellent high school records, their dream schools have refused them. Prayer helps them ask “Why?” Prayer leads them to sing new songs. Prayer reminds them that they are more, so much more, than admissions decisions and test scores.

Prayer worked in 2008 when a child I knew and loved died of cancer. People prayed without ceasing for that little boy to be cured—really cured, on earth, in the flesh. But he passed from this life to the next at just over three and a half years old. My prayers were not answered in the way I wanted. And when that precious boy died, I felt as if my spirit was shipwrecked. But prayer worked. Prayer washed me onto shore, warmed me, sheltered me.

I think the function of prayer is well stated by twentieth century theologian CS Lewis. He said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God–it changes me.” Wow. Prayer changes humanity? Now that’s some hard work right there. To God be the Glory!

*This piece was first published on June 1, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

Fresh Water From Old Wells

Please welcome guest blogger, author Cindy McMahon. She brings to the blog today an excerpt from the prologue of her newly released memoir, Fresh Water from Old Wells. If you are intrigued, as I was, go on over to her website at www.freshwaterfromoldwells.com to find out where you can pick up a copy of the book. Until then, here’s a virtual glimpse inside its pages. Enjoy!

Memoir southern historyIt began before daylight: a wide-awake feeling that led me to a quiet room, journal in my lap. My pen told me that I could leave my full-time job and be at home for a while. Find wholeness. Live in hope instead of fear.

I did resign. The rest proved somewhat more elusive.

After watching my dad die and quitting my job, both in the spring of 2004, I spent a year and a half careening from “I’m amazing! If I believe in myself, there’s nothing I can’t do!” to “What in the world was I thinking?” and back again. In between, I remembered how to play with my children, drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and spent a lot of time wondering about this thing, this important thing that I could feel waiting out there for me to do. I barely recognized myself: I’ve always known exactly where I was heading, what was coming next, and what I was going to get done once I got there. Living in indecision, in the unknown, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Somehow the idea finally bloomed in my head. I could write a book. About my liberal white southern family. About my crazy, idealistic, violent, tree-hugging father who started out as a Baptist preacher, tried to save the world, and ended up living in a tent and criss-crossing the country with his thumb out. About my distinguished maternal grandfather, also a Southern Baptist preacher, who quietly brought factions together without ever making a fuss. And about the women who somehow managed to hold it all together without anybody knowing what it cost them. And I could write about me—maybe I would finally begin to understand where I came from and how in God’s name I survived it all in one piece. Perhaps others would one day read my story and find inspiration to shine a light on the dark places from their own pasts.

The thing is, when you have the idea of writing a book, at least in my case, you have to spend many months exploring all the reasons why it’s a completely cock-eyed idea. Even if there’s a voice deep inside you, first thing in the morning and last thing at night that says, “This is why you’re here now. You have a story to tell. Tell it.” Even if the first tentative steps are ridiculously easy and you feel like you’re being pulled down a path by the hand, you still tell yourself, “Nope. Not me. Can’t do it. Don’t deserve it. Not good enough.” Until the Moment comes.

For me, the Moment was at a February church retreat, in a two-person chair by a roaring fire, snow pouring down outside, in a house on a hill full of burbling women filling their bowls with oatmeal. There were several of us in the conversation at first, talking about trusting the flow—getting into it, being open and prepared, letting it take us where we’re meant to go. As I sat quietly with the conversation swirling around me, I found myself getting angry. Flow, schmo. I had been holding my arms out to the flow for the past year and a half, to no avail. I was losing faith in the whole idea.

As others drifted off towards the oatmeal pot, I turned to my friend Jeanine, sitting in the chair with me. “You know—that whole getting in the river thing . . . I’ve been letting myself float out there for nearly two years . . . it’s always been clear to me before . . . I’m caught in some sort of eddy in the shallows. I’m going NOWHERE, and I’m getting frustrated.” Jeanine let loose a flow of perceptive questions. What was I resisting? Why was I resisting it? Every reason that I could give her that I shouldn’t write a book, all the barriers that I had so carefully constructed over the last many months, got knocked down like glued-together toothpicks. So you’re an extrovert? Find non-work ways to meet your social needs. You see yourself as a leader of people? What better way to lead than by telling your story? Worried about money? Trust the process.

She left me with nothing but belief in myself and a clear path ahead. By the time I filled my own bowl with oatmeal, I knew I was going to do it. The sensation was one I had felt before when jumping off a high rock into an icy-cold stream: that moment in mid-air, knowing the splash is coming, followed by the tingling of every pore. I was exhilarated and full of wonder.

And so I devoted myself, heart and soul, to this project. I went through my mother’s address book and got in touch with anybody and everybody who might be able to tell me more about my story. I drove up one Georgia road and down the other, knocking on doors of people I’d heard about my whole life but had no memory of, people who welcomed me with open arms, loved me simply because of who I’m related to, and generously shared their stories with my tiny tape recorder and me. I even ventured to the faraway land of Alabama. I dug through church archives and read their histories, visited cemeteries, and found old homes—mine, my grandparents’, and my great-grandparents’. And all along the way I shed springs, creeks, and rivers of tears as I watched my mama following her own path away from me into debilitating dementia.

This is my story—fresh water from many old wells. It is the story of an amazing time in my adult life, as well as my childhood and the family who got me here. And it is a goodbye to my beloved mother, who spent my whole childhood making sure our story would never be told. It is out of love that I finally tell my story.

Memoir southern historyUnplanned youngest daughter of activist hippies in the turbulent South, Cindy Henry McMahon survived family violence, fire, flood, poisonous mushrooms, and an ice-cold outhouse. She now lives a decidedly normal life in Asheville, North Carolina.

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A Baby Boomer, A Millennial, & The Kingdom*

imageI was making plans to meet a friend for coffee and conversation. She’s 23 years old and just finishing her first year of divinity school. After we settled on a time, she sent me one more text.

So. Question. As people with theological education and a view of a God of love, what do we do when things just don’t make sense? What do we do with earthquakes that take so many lives? How do we go about our days and not talk about riots in Baltimore? Why aren’t we communally angered about executions in Bali? What do we do when a 48 year old dies a painful slow death from brain cancer? Or when someone’s grandparents die 6 days before their wedding?

The questions my friend posed are not unlike ones that I have on my mind as well. I knew
we’d have plenty to talk about when we met.

“About your questions,” I began. “What do you believe thinking Christians should make of all these events?”

“I don’t know,” she responded. “But I don’t believe God causes all these things.”

I agreed and said so.

She continued. “I do believe God redeems everything, though.”

“Me too,” I said. “The problem is, we don’t always get to see evidence of that redemption. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I believe the arc of redemption is also long, but it bends toward mercy. Still, sometimes redemption seems way too distant.”

We continued talking, seeking understanding. We agreed that while we don’t know what causes natural disasters, we do know that we take the gift of this good earth for granted. We waste resources and fail to appreciate the beauty around us. We can do better. We can all do better.

Injustice abounds: from Baltimore to Bali and beyond. It’s heartbreaking; it’s infuriating. Oppression is not the way of Christ, of this we are certain. But how — in this broken world that rarely resembles the Kingdom — can we as the body of Christ reflect less judgment and more grace, less criticism and more compassion? Our prayer is that God’s Spirit will inhabit our words and actions that we might be instruments of that unfathomable peace in a world churning with bigotry, racism and inequality.

So there’s redemption. There’s taking responsibility for what we ourselves have caused, and changing our behavior accordingly. But what about cancer? What about unexplained death and pain? For me, that’s where the theology gets a little murkier, a little harder to grasp.

I shared with my friend some of the times tragedy has entered my own little world. Like when my niece was born a single twin weighing less than two pounds or when a 3-and-a-half-year-old child I loved died from a rare form of leukemia. Like the time a child on my son’s baseball team died suddenly from meningitis or when my friend’s son died from brain cancer. None of these things make sense. None of them seem compatible with a God of love.

“I’ve learned,” I told her, “that it comes down to the truth found in 1 John 1:5: ‘This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.’”

When I’m surrounded by darkness, I know that to see God, I must look for light. Because in God there is no darkness at all. I look at my beautiful niece who is almost 20 now. I look back through my memories and see the bright smile and hear the sweet laughter of a little boy way too sick to exhibit earthly joy. And I listen to the light-filled testimonies of bereaved mothers, who though they grieve, they still have hope.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t offer my young friend any real answers that day. In fact, she may have left with even more questions than she had before our time together. But I do know that as we grappled with these tough questions of our faith, looking to God and to Holy Scripture for wisdom, we caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. And there was no darkness there at all; only light.

*This piece was first published on May 4, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

7 of my Favorite Teachers

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’ve recalled for you here seven of my favorite teachers, in chronological order. (Caveat: I can’t pick a favorite from Gardner-Webb Divinity School. For one thing, I still have my Doctorate of Ministry left to do and I ain’t crazy. But, I couldn’t pick anyway. I love you all!)

1. Ms. Brown, 5th grade. In the 70’s, as in every decade, North Carolina tried some stupid stuff in education. In my 3rd and 4th grade years, I was in open classrooms. I don’t remember why that was a thing, nor do I really care. I just remember it was loud, distracting, and overwhelming (for me, anyway). In the 5th grade, I got to be in one classroom for the whole day with this one marvelous teacher who loved students and teaching. On what must have been the first day of class, she announced to her class full of mostly white kids, that her name was Mrs. Brown and if we forgot we could just remember that “Mrs. Brown is Brown.” Brilliant! She got racism right on out of the way and beat a bunch of 10 year olds to the punchline. She was fabulous.

2. Ms. Highsmith, 6th grade. She’s the teacher who said of me, to the class and on my report card, “Aileen has real heart. She sees students in need and cares for them.” I didn’t know I did that, or at least I thought everyone else did too. She pointed out a giftedness in me that I’d not realized myself. That’s a good teacher right there.

3. Ms. Lewis, 7th grade. I was seriously bullied in 7th and 8th grade, but in Ms. Lewis’ class, I forgot all about that. Language Arts! Books, language, words. I loved it, loved it, loved it. Plus, she was funny. (I realize now what an amazing gift of comedic timing she must have had for seventh graders to find her humorous!)

4. Ms. Delaney, 9th grade (I think). Mary Delaney, did not play when it came to English grammar. I’ve always loved grammar, and so I appreciated her zeal. She was also quite quirky, a fact that made her even more loveable. My best friend and I were so crazy about her, that at the end of the year, we took her to our favorite lunch place, our treat. (We had open lunch back then and could leave campus for that blessed hour.) It’s to Ms. Delaney’s infinite credit that she accepted our invitation, and went out to eat with those two geeky white kids.

Mrs. Hayes (left) and her daughter Carol

Mrs. Hayes (left) and her daughter Carol

5. Ms. Hayes, 10th grade. Ms. Hayes, sock footed, would not have been five feet tall. But at school, in her 3-4 inch heels, she was a giant. She taught history, but mainly she taught joy. I can still bring her laugh to mind, see her vibrant smile. She was an absolute delight. As a 15 feet year old dealing with all kinds of self-esteem issues, I found her energy invigorating. Because of her, school wasn’t so bad.

6. Dr. Walter Barge, undergrad. Around 1984, Campbell University hired a new dean of the college of arts and sciences, Dr. Walter Barge. Dr. Barge was one of those deans who loved teaching so much that he straddled the administrator/faculty divide and did both. I had him for my senior seminar. He said of my writing, “You have a gift. Develop it.” (Then he proceeded to mark up my papers so thoroughly that it was hard to see any evidence of said giftedness.) He was a man of integrity and honor. God rest his soul.

Product Details

Dr. Kremm’s book is available on Amazon.

7. Dr. Diane Neal Kremm, grad school, round one. Dr. Kremm was flat out crazy about Southern history. When she taught, history rushed forward into the present, alive and relevant. I sat in her class enthralled, amazed, and inspired. It was invigorating. In her office, she had a portrait of John Brown. What’s not to love?

Oh wait! There’s one more. And she’s my favorite teacher of all time. I was her first student, and she was my first teacher. She taught me to read in her makeshift classroom in the upstairs hallway. She stood at her blackboard easel wielding pastel colored chalk; I sat in a little red chair and propped an oversized book on my knees for a desk. So, yeah: my sister will always be my favorite teacher of all time. (She started her official career as an educator in 1985 and is teaching still.)

So thanks Dawn, for teaching me to read and, ya know, everything. And thanks to all educators who tirelessly bless the children of this world day after day. You absolutely–no question–make a difference.


Women in Ministry: Priorities

This was first published on the cover of my church’s newsletter, May 2015 edition. Want to know more about my church? Check out our website at www.fbcwvl.org.

When I was at Gardner-Webb Divinity School (a school–by the way–that has always been friendly to women in ministry), I took a number of assessments intended to gauge my proficiency for various aspects of ministry. I took so many that after a while, they became tedious and frustrating. One of them seemed particularly unnecessary for me personally. The instrument was intended to discern whether or not I would be one of those pastors who put her congregation before her own family. Of course this is certainly a legitimate question to consider, but I was confident I had this one in the bag. Just as I suspected, the results indicated that I was highly unlikely to sacrifice my husband and children for my ministry—no matter how much I loved my church family.

That was then.

It’s a lot harder now that my three children are spread from Asheville to DC to Greensboro and I have a ministry position I love. I often want very much to be in two places at once. I want to hear my son play organ at his church in Greensboro and I want to lead children’s activities at my own church. I want to attend a band concert that meets at the same time as a small group meeting at church. And it’s hard enough with just my own kids; add beloved nieces and nephews, and I start seriously researching self-cloning methods!

Mostly, I think I stay pretty balanced. I miss some meetings here and some concerts there; it works out. But planning for the month of May, it’s been particularly challenging for me to meet the needs of my family without feeling like I’m neglecting my ministry here. See, my younger daughter has a weekend retreat Memorial Day weekend. It’s a big deal for her. I’ve gone for the last three years and have planned to go this year. The only problem is that the very next weekend, my niece is graduating from high school in Baltimore. Attending both of these milestone moments will mean I have to miss two Sunday mornings in a row. I can’t stand that! So even though I know the right thing is to be present at each of these events, I’m sad that I can’t also be worshipping with my church family.

Priorities aren’t always clear-cut are they? And even when the answer is obvious, the solution isn’t always pain-free. My daddy always says, “With everything of value, comes some sacrifice.” When I strive to be the wife and mother I am called to be while also being the minister God called me to be, I feel that sacrifice most acutely. But then, these are the things of greatest value to me: honoring God in my home and in my ministry.

To God be the Glory!

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church picture

Race in America: What is Race?

Please welcome back guest blogger, Trellace Lawrimore. In this piece, she reflects on a little something her mom taught her (and a few folks at Georgetown) about Race in America.

On April 9, 2015, Georgetown’s “Ignite the Dream: Race and Socioeconomic Class in America” series presented a panel conversation on privilege and oppression, “What is Race? What is Class?” The panel, moderated by Georgetown professor Marcia Chatelain, featured Vox.com journalist Jenée Desmond-Harris (biracial), the once undocumented immigrant and former VP at Goldman Sachs Julissa Arce (Mexican American), Senior Counsel of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education Saba Bireda (black), and Georgetown Law student Ryan Wilson (black). Panelists reflected on the ways race and class have shaped their personal and professional lives, and how they have chosen to fight injustice. The ICC auditorium audience, about 1/3 white, challenged the speakers with questions on the media’s portrayal of black America and how to stay hopeful in the face of ever-present injustice.

When I was a child, my mom taught me the secret to spotting 21st century racists.

She had learned this herself working at a community college in an office in which she was the only white professional; her colleagues in the office were black. When white faculty or administrators had issues with black students in my mom’s department, they consulted her, rather than her black coworker across the desk.

“Aileen,” the speaker would start out in audible tones. “I’m having trouble with a student. She’s,” pausing to look around for listening ears and dropping her voice to a whisper, “blehck.” The single syllable adjective would be drawn out such that it sounded more like an expression of disgust than a descriptor.

At this point, mom would interrupt to say, “You can say the word aloud. It won’t come as a surprise to my student that she is a person of color.”

Blehck. Try sounding it out for yourself. Then start to notice how often people are uncomfortable using “black” or “white.” Sure, this habit may be easier to spot south of the Virginia border, but it’s not uncommon elsewhere. Of course, many college-educated liberals like to think that they understand the complexities of the race problem in America. But we’re often hesitant to talk about the daily realities of racial injustice with simple and accurate descriptors like “black” and “white.”

At the “What is Race? What is Class?” panel on April 9, 2015, journalist Jenée Desmond-Harris responded to the first question about race by reflecting on her experience with the anxieties surrounding race conversations. She said that although she grew up in a progressive community, she also “grew up thinking that mentioning race was a bad thing, that it was taboo. I found that one of my biggest challenges is that I still bump up against it with readers. Every time I write something I find myself anticipating the comments I’ll get, even if the piece isn’t polarizing.”* Her peers on the panel echoed this sentiment.

Without invoking the term, Desmond-Harris intimated the pervasiveness of “white fragility” in our country. Robin DiAngelo describes “white fragility” as the anxiety white people experience when approached with the reality of racial injustice. White fragility sustains itself through white privilege, as white people can opt when to engage with social ills and when to pretend like they don’t exist. In contrast, people of color don’t get to elect when to acknowledge injustice—they live it everyday. Oppressive institutions are perpetuated by this disconnect between the amount of race dialogue white people tolerate and the amount necessary to change the system.

Julissa Arce, former undocumented immigrant and VP at Goldman Sachs, affirmed the importance of white people overcoming this fragility and taking prominent roles in social justice efforts. She remarked that the audiences in these conversations are often people of color—the people who are already well acquainted with the struggles of non-white status in America. “We’re never going to get anywhere just complaining to ourselves,” she said. In response to a student’s question, “What gives you hope?”, Arce said that it was the number of white students in the audience.

Now, I’m not one to pet the egos of privileged white students (I being one of them, of course.) for their social justice efforts, but I agree with Arce. America’s minorities are not going to be able to overhaul oppressive institutions without help from the majority. So white leaders need to habituate themselves in the mechanisms of racial prejudice. That challenge begins with disregarding political correctness, manifested in our widespread sense that “mentioning race [is] a bad thing.” And the white population isn’t going to make any progress until it addresses how white fragility colors their language. White Americans must shake off their fear of the word “black” before the country can move in a more just direction. We need to get comfortable with the realities of the black—not “blehck” or African American—experience in America.

*This quote is not verbatim as I do not have a recording of the event. I did my best to maintain the integrity of her comments.

Me and my daughtersTrellace Lawrimore is a junior at Georgetown University in the School of Foreign Service, majoring in International Political Economy. She has an extraordinary mother. (Pictured here on the left with mom and younger sister.)





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have-mercy (1)

Tribute to Oklahoma (Sweet Okie Space!)

imagePublished Mar 18, 2010 and April 19, 2015

In 1995 when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed by Timothy McVeigh, news reporters talked as much about the tragedy as they did about the heart of the Oklahoma people. Remember? It seemed like for every sorrow-filled story, the networks supplied at least one testimony of how wonderful Oklahomans are.

And you know what? They spoke the truth.

Back then, I had just moved back to NC from OK. My husband and I thought we were coming back to good ole’ Dixieland where ever’body loved ever’body and good manners were mandated by state law. But when we arrived in Raleigh, NC we were met not with the hospitality we expected, but with angry drivers hunkered down behind their steering wheels. These Southern belles and their blueblood beaus were more than a little ticked off. Pretty soon, we knew why: there’s just not enough room for everybody, what with all the orange cones & “Lane Closed Ahead” signs. No kidding, when we moved back to North Carolina in 1992, it seemed like every single road in the state was under construction.

And good manners? Fahgetaboutit! If a motorist had the right of way, you could bet your sweet ice tea they weren’t giving up their spot just to let you over—particularly if you were sporting an Oklahoma license plate. Heck, there wadn’t enough room for the locals, much less a bunch of foreigners . . . .

Back in Oklahoma, there was plenty of room. I commuted to Chickasha from Oklahoma City. I travelled mostly on a turnpike and on many mornings it was me and the wide open road. After paying my toll, I rarely saw another human being until the city limits of Chickasha 40 miles away (yet so very many dead aardvarks along the way—go figure). By then, I was as happy to see another car as the other driver was. We’d wave at each other as if we were headed to the family reunion.

In Oklahoma, there’s elbow room a plenty. Okies can twirl their two-steppin’ skirts and kick up their cowboy boots without ever touching anybody. They can stand on the edge of Oklahoma City facing west and point to Yukon 20 miles away. In Oklahoma, folks got space. Lots and lots of space.

I think that’s one of the reasons Okies are so warm and friendly: ‘cause they can breathe. Sometimes, I feel like I’m being strangled by all my doing, thinking and being. I feel like my schedule is caving in on itself and that I’m at risk of being trapped in the rubble. No doubt about it, I need a little space: space to inhale and then exhale; space to relax; space to realize how much love there is in the world and how little everything else matters.

So I think I’ll take a moment right now. I’ll breathe in and breathe out. I’ll pay attention, but not too much. I’ll breathe again. Ahhh. Space. It can sure smell sweet.

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10 Things Millennials DON’T Say About Church*

millennialsI have a lot of millennials in my life: my own children and their friends, nieces and nephews, youth from churches where I’ve served, plus college students I’ve met through ministry. I Snapchat™ and text, Facebook™ and Instagram™. I also visit students on their campuses and I meet them for coffee, lunch, or walks in the park. I’ve had lots of conversations with these folks over the years and since I’m in the business, we talk a lot about church. Despite all the time I’ve spent with them though, there are a number of things I’ve never heard millennials say about church. Here are a few of them.

  1. I just got so tired of people taking me out to lunch. Every single time I went to that church, they wanted to feed me. Sometimes they even invited me to their houses for home-cooked meals. I can’t be giving up my meals in the cafeteria like that; and anyway, what would I do with all my extra money?
  2. The Bible studies were just too engaging. I wanted thin theology and all I got was deep study and thought provoking discussion.
  3. I got sick of everyone remembering my name. What I really wanted was to attend church and have the exact same people greet me week after week with, “Hi, what’s your name? College? Year? Major?” I love answering those questions every Sunday.
  4. The church I attended felt too much like a warm community. They cared about me and about each other. I prefer to be a part of a large group of cold individuals.
  5. They always sent me care packages. Seriously, how many homemade cookies can one millennial eat?
  6. I felt too connected there. That church included me as an active part of ministry. I’d much rather be a project than a partner.
  7. The church was too open to my doubts and questions. If I had stayed at that church, I felt like I might experience true spiritual formation.
  8. I hated that the sermons challenged me to deeper understanding of God and that the music moved me spiritually. It was as if the worship leaders prayed over the content of the service and followed God’s leading.
  9. The ministers of the church wanted to get to know me. They were interested in my concerns and helped me wrestle with challenging theological issues. Stop caring about me, already!
  10. The people at that church were way too genuine. They were just too committed to living the lives God called them to live.

Nope, I’ve never heard any of those things. But, what I have heard makes me believe that in many ways, millennials are not that different from Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, or even first century believers. They want to break bread with us (particularly if it’s good bread and includes an entrée along with it). They want to follow Jesus and they want to know how to do that. They want to be a part of Kingdom work—not just for the sake of the hereafter but on earth, today–just as it is in heaven.

Oh, and they’d prefer we lose the label. They’d rather us just call them by name.

*This piece was first published on April 6, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

You > College Admissions Results

You are more than college admissionsWhen it comes to college admissions, the question has never been “Will Tracie* be admitted to the college of her choice?” It was only, “Who will pay her the most to go to their school?”

After all, Tracie is less than 200 points shy of a perfect 2400 on her SAT; she’s made the highest possible score on all five AP Exams she’s taken; she has a solid GPA; she has studied abroad; and she’s even started her own small business. No one thought Tracie would be denied admission anywhere.

Yet, she’s heard from all four schools to which she applied. She was admitted to one: her last choice, her safety school. She’s wait-listed at one and denied—flat-out rejected—by the other two. Crazy.

Caveat: All along, I’ve thought Tracie should choose the state school closer to her home. It is an excellent university and I think she will thrive there.  And anyway, I never have cared for those exclusive schools with the skinny little admission rates.

Still, I cannot believe she did not get into the schools she dreamt of attending. It makes no sense. But then, the fact is the admissions process is not fair. It’s just not. You can do everything nearly perfectly, as Tracie did, and still not make the cut. (You can also do very little right and get admitted, but that’s another blog post.) At many schools, when it comes to the final decision, it is almost random selection.

So students (and parents) dealing with college admissions disappointments, listen up. I have something to say (I do go on). You may feel free to read these aloud. Preferably while looking in a mirror.

  1. You are more than the sum of your rejection letters.
  2. There was nothing else you could have done to increase your chances of admittance. Rejection happens for so many reasons unrelated to you. Stop obsessing about what you should have or could have or might have. You gave it your best. You have no reason to be ashamed or regretful.
  3. Maybe you could have done something to get into your dream school. Maybe if you had played a sport or practiced your music more or started a nonprofit to benefit poor orphans in a third world country . . . maybe then . . . . But you know what? Perfection is a lie. It doesn’t exist. So, seriously, make like Elsa and “Let it Go.”
  4. It isn’t fair. Lots of things aren’t though. It’s not fair that some kids have loving parents and some don’t. It’s not fair that health care is available to some and not to others. Lots of things aren’t fair and this is most definitely one of them. It is totally not fair. It stinks.
  5. It’s okay to be disappointed and even sad. You’ve lost something of value. Grief is the natural reaction, so allow yourself to feel the depth of it. Once you touch the bottom, though, push off of it and start swimming for the surface. Just look for the light and keep reaching up.
  6. Do not let this one experience limit who you believe yourself to be. You see, as good as your application was, it didn’t begin to say how awesome you are. Did your application show how easily you laugh? How deeply you appreciate quality music? How enthralled you are by really great writing? Do those admissions officers understand that the way you love your sibling defies all modern logic? That your heart has a greater capacity than most? That you never give up on your friends and that you intentionally form friendships that cross the boundaries of race, religion, and politics? No. They don’t know any of those things. You are beautiful and imperfect, whole and broken, complete and unfinished. You are a multifaceted marvel.
  7. Now allow yourself to hope again. Great things grow out of deep loss. Believe it. Expect it. Your future really is waiting. And you really are enough.

*Name changed for privacy.

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Childhood Cancer and Immeasurable Love

March 2008: Baker's Birthday Party, A fundraiser for Paxten's family

When I tell people that I lost a boy I loved to childhood cancer, questions inevitably follow.

“Your child died of cancer?”

“No, he wasn’t my child.”

“Oh. Your nephew?”

“No. Not a nephew.”

And finally, with a note of incredulity, “Just a friend?” As if that somehow discounts my loss. After all, it’s not like Paxten was related to me.

But you see, I learned something from loving Paxten: you just can’t measure love. It’s not like you have little cups in your heart, different sizes for different relations: venti for your own child, grande for nieces and nephews, and tall for everyone else’s children. It doesn’t work that way. You just love the child. That love gets all mixed in with all the other love in your heart. Loving this one helps you love that one. The love for that one blends with your love for another one.

And you don’t want to lose any of them, because by loving them, your heart has expanded. So naturally then, when one of your beloveds slips away, the space that one occupied becomes hollow—-bulky in its emptiness.

So yeah. Paxten was just a friend. He was a little 3 year-7 month old friend who settled into my heart and claimed his very own spot. It will be five years tomorrow since he died, and that spot is still his. It always will be.

Other Paxten Posts

Remembering Paxten, Part 1
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Defining moments (Remembering Paxten–Part 2)
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Forever. And Eternal
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