Jeremiah 29:7

Seeking the Welfare of the City: A win for the Kingdom

Each month, I write a column for Baptist News Global. This month's piece grew out of my frustrations with the malicious political yammering that has filled my news feeds lately; and a Bible study my pastor, Dr. Jim McCoy, led at First Baptist Church Weaverville.

Check out my column using the link below. Then hang around at Baptist News Global and read other articles on conversations that matter.


“So Aunt Wilma? Who do you want for president?”

It was an election year; I was a sophomore in college and politics had been my primary extracurricular activity. I enjoyed debating the issues, discussing solutions and following political trends. Aunt Wilma, my grandfather’s octogenarian sister, was a retired high school Latin teacher married to a retired Emory University political science professor. Highly intelligent and . . . (Read more here.)

 

 

Tips on Social Media and Politics

5 Tips on Social Media and Politics

politics 2016 campaignI’ve just about had it with this campaign season, in large part because social media is ratcheting up the nastiness to ridiculous levels. Memes are everywhere, as if somehow it becomes okay to say something flippant or mean if it’s accompanied by a cute animal, a famous face, or a cleverly drawn cartoon. How in the world will we make it through to November if our collective behavior continues to plummet below what used to be considered common decency (or—ya know—good manners)?

It’s out of absolute self-preservation that I offer a few tips about social media and politics. (Don’t have time to read the whole post? Then here’s the short version: Be Nice.)

  1. “I just had to share this,” is at the very least, a lie. No you did not. Is your employer withholding your paycheck until you update your status? Has your beagle been snatched until you forward the email? Is someone holding a raw chicken over your freshly washed hands, saying they’ll drop it unless you hit “share?” Then no. (An aside: if someone is threatening you with a raw chicken, then do whatever they say to get away. Raw chickens are gross.) The thing is, you do not have to post it, email it, or tweet it. (Heck, you don’t even have to mention it.) Seriously, no one has to post anything. Ever. You could never share another email or update another status from now until forever and that’d be just fine. So if you post it, then own it: because really, it’s your choice.
  2. The direct opposite of saying you are in some way required to pass something along is this endearing sentiment: “If you don’t like this post, unfriend me.” Okay that’s just rude. And bossy. And also, everyone knows they can unfriend you. No one is going to read your status and think, “I don’t like that but whatever shall I do?” No. They either unfriend you, unfollow you, or they deal with it. Plus, chances are, you know pretty well who will like your political posts and who won’t. Just go through and unfollow or unfriend every one whose political beliefs are in conflict with yours. Or you could do this: don’t post incendiary comments or articles if you don’t want to offend people. Even better? Meet your political opposites face to face and talk it out like grown-ups.
  3. If you say, "This is funny, no matter which candidate you support," you’re just wrong. It almost always matters. Likewise, for the love of all that’s good in this world, please stop saying "This isn't politics, it's just fact.” If you have to say that in the first place, it is totally politics whether it is fact or not (and it’s probably not). Just sayin’.
  4. Stop with the overstatements. Things like, “Republicans are Mean,” or “Democrats are Stupid,” are just too general to offer any significant meaning whatsoever. It’s the political equivalent of “Na-na-na-na-boo-boo,” or “I know you are but what am I?” And plus, if you really think that such sweeping generalities are universally accurate, you just need to get out more. Meet some people who are different from you. Seriously.
  5. One more thing: no candidate is perfect—perfectly good or perfectly bad. If you agree with everything your candidate says, you aren’t listening very closely. And if you think everything the opposition says is wrong/bad/false, you haven’t done enough research.

Bottom line: let’s play nicely with one another. It makes for a better world.

What about you? What guidelines do you suggest?

The Wedding of Sarah & Joshua

What a delight and honor it was for me to officiate the wedding
of Sarah McCoy & Joshua Linhart on June 18, 2016.

May God bless this sweet couple in their new life together.

(Wedding photos by the amazing Sadie Culberson. http://www.sadieculberson.com)
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whymSarah and Josh are two of the four members of the indie band WHYM. They just released their debut EP and it is fantastic! Click the picture on the right to go to their Facebook page. Listen to the samples there then download the EP at Sing, Doubter - EP by Whym
https://itun.es/us/uiSndb.

the good samaritan

The Good Immigrant: A Parable Retold

Yesterday, I posted about a recent retreat where I preached on the Good Samaritan eight times in four days. Having studied the text deep and wide, I wrote a modern version of the parable to share with the students in worship. It was a good exercise for me--and I thought you might find it helpful as well--to remember that compassion really can transcend any boundary.

imageThen the president of the Woman’s Missionary Alliance stood up to test Jesus. "Jesus," she said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (And everyone around got all quiet and listened because frankly, they were surprised that she had to ask such a question. Everyone knew that! For heaven’s sake, those words were printed on the city light poles, on banners at the local schools, and on the brand new welcome sign down at the local lake. It was so important, that they’d made it the town mission statement. What was she up to?)

And Jesus said to the her (without any sarcasm in his voice at all), "Well, sister, what is our mission statement? How do you interpret it?"

She answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

Jesus responded, "Yep! That’s it! Just do that, and you will live a life that glorifies God not just now but for all eternity."

She had another question, though. "But Jesus. Exactly who would you say is my neighbor?"

Jesus said, “Let me put it to you like this:

"A business man was in the habit of exercising after work. At the office, he’d change from business attire to gym clothes, place his valuables in his backpack, and walk over to the downtown YMCA for a work-out before going home. One night, as he headed back to his car over near his office, he was jumped from behind and mugged. They stole all his credit cards, his iPhone, and his laptop. Then, they beat him and left him--broken, bloody, and unconscious--to die.

“Now by chance, the senior pastor of World’s Biggest Church was leaving a ministry meeting in the city and happened to walk right by the unconscious man. The thing was though, he still needed to update WBC’s website and Facebook page before he could go home; he hurried on to his office, asking Siri to remind him to look into the matter later.

“Likewise, the leader of the homeless ministry happened upon the injured man; of course, any other time, she would have stopped. (She would have!) But that night, she was on her way to B-SUB (Bible Study Under the Bridge), and she knew there would be a big crowd waiting on her. She kept walking.

“Then, an Afghan Muslim came along. When he saw the man, his eyes filled with tears, and he knelt beside the man. He noticed the guy’s t-shirt: torn and bloodied, it’s campaign slogan appeared even more hateful. No matter, the Muslim carefully removed his own head scarf, folded it, and used it as a pillow for the man’s head; then he took off his cloak and carefully draped it over him. The Muslim called 911, remained with the man while awaiting the EMT’s, then followed the ambulance to the hospital. Once they arrived and he saw that the man was getting the appropriate care, the Muslim stopped by the front desk. He gave them his credit card information to cover the man’s medical expenses and his cell phone number just in case there were any additional needs he might address.”

So, Jesus asked the woman, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who was mugged?”

And the woman said, “Um, well, in that story, I guess it would be the . . . uh . . . the one who showed him mercy."

Jesus said to him, "Mercy. That’s it. Mercy.”

 

the good samaritan

Good Samaritan Up Close

design (2)Imagine preaching on the same parable, to the same group of 75-100 people, eight times in a row, in just four days. Now imagine that group being made up mostly of adolescents ages 12-18.

Yep. That was me.

Be jealous. Be very jealous! (Seriously. It was fantastic! Shout out to Kaitlin Mundy for the connection.) I loved it! I had a wonderful time with the kids and I gained lots of new insight into Jesus’ parable, The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

For example, the road between Jericho and Jerusalem—it’s crazy steep; like over half a mile descent in just 15-20 miles. Also, it was widely known as a danger zone; robbers hung out there all the time. And did you know that it was not uncommon for priests and Levites to live in Jericho and work in Jerusalem, travelling that road to get from home to temple and back again? (I didn’t.) Oh, and the answer that the lawyer gives to Jesus? It’s a verse from the Shema (a passage from Deuteronomy that all good Jewish children learned from birth) paired with a passage from Leviticus (equally well known to the associates of Jesus).

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18

Then there’s this: 2 Chronicles 28:5-15 a text that Jesus most definitely knew when he told the story of The Good Samaritan. Read it when you can, but for the moment, let me just summarize it for you. Some soldiers from the North (the Kingdom of Israel—capital city, Samaria) captured a whole bunch of folks from the South (the Kingdom of Judah—capital city, Jerusalem). They weren’t nice to them. God didn’t like that. So God callied a guy named Oded to shake his prophetic finger at Israel and tell them to straighten up, dadgumit. The offending soldiers, Samaritans, responded like this:

“. . . those who were mentioned by name got up and took the captives, and . . .  they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.” (2 Chronicles 28:15)

Crazy, right? Could it be that Jesus, a lifelong student of scripture, took an ancient story and repurposed it for first century listeners? I mean, we can’t know for sure, but what a cool thing to consider, right?

Make you want to burst out in song? Go ahead!

“The B-I-B-L-E! Yes, that’s the book for me!” (Join me now!)
“I stand alone on the Word of God! The B-I-B-L-E!”*

I do so love Bible study. During those focused days, I learned lots of little details and interesting facts about The Good Samaritan. I also learned something far more important. You see, I’ve read this parable many times in my 51 years, but only now have I realized that I had misunderstood something about Jesus’ answer. See, in my mind, Jesus said that the people you serve (the people in need--those people) are your neighbors. But that’s not what the parable teaches. No. Jesus says, “Neighbors are those who act with compassion.” Neighbors, according to Jesus, are people who actually see need and respond. Neighbors are those who cross boundaries to show compassion. Neighbors are ones who behave as if your value is equal to their own.

Do you want eternal life? Jesus says to love God so much that your heart spills over with that love and splashes up on your neighbor; because loving others is how you get to experience the Kingdom of God—on earth, just as it is in heaven.

That, as they say, will preach!

*Want to sing the whole song? Here you go. You're welcome.

following christ bearing fruit

Following Christ: Bearing Fruit

My pastor and his wife have been in Ireland for the past couple of Sundays and so, while I'm not usually the one delivering the message, I have been the last two weeks and will be again this coming Sunday. I love to preach and am so grateful to be in a church that welcomes different voices in the pulpit. But this week . . . With the incidents in the US this week, I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of proclaiming the Gospel in the midst of this national crisis.
Yet, I am glad to be fully aware of my inadequacy, to be reminded that Christ's strength is made perfect in my weakness. Thus, leaning into that promise, I approached the task of proclamation, beginning with the morning prayer (below). I preached from Colossians 1:1-14. You can find the audio of the message here, or you may download it using the link below.

imageLoving God, Holy Lord: you are our strength and our shield. You are the God of Mercy, the God of Peace.

We ask Lord that in this place and at this moment, Oh God, let your Kingdom come; let your will be done. So that right now on earth, we will experience blessed peace, divine mercy, and Kingdom justice.

Lord we ask that you will remind us from whom our help comes. Remind us that you are the source of all provision.

And forgive us.

  • Forgive us when we fail to recognize our own sins, so attentive are we to the sins of others.
  • Forgive us for failing to hide ourselves in you, so intent are we to step out with false pride in our own humanness.
  • Forgive us for relying only on ourselves: idolizing our own strengths and cursing our weaknesses.
  • Forgive us when we slip into these godless behaviors and forget that only you are holy.

We ask, Lord God, that you would guide us through the temptations of our lives.

  • The temptation of our chosen addictions: substances, attitudes, or actions.
  • The temptation to over-simplify complex issues.
  • The temptation to offer quick fixes and consider ourselves blameless.

Deliver us Lord, from our selfishness, from our knee-jerk reactions, from our mindless pursuits.

Remind us once again that we are called, through your infinite love and unyielding grace:

  • We are called to be your people.
  • We are called to be one people—one unified Body of Christ
  • We are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you.
  • We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
  • We are called to love you with our whole hearts.

Bring us into this moment unfettered by our own egos.

  • Still the voices in our heads that cry out for attention.
  • Voices that say, “Make sure you do this, and don’t forget that.”
  • Voices that say, “What’s in this for me?” or “This is a waste of my time.”
  • Voices that say, “I’m not worthy,” or “I don’t belong.”

Instead,

Make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.*

Lord, in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Below, find the audio of Following Christ: Bearing Fruit, delivered at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, NC, July 10, 2016.

*Prayer of St. Francis
watched on netflix

6 Shows I've Binge-watched

netflix binge anyoneFor more than a decade, I watched very little TV. When my children were young, I stuck to things like Arthur (which had the BEST theme song ever) and Cyberchase. Oh and Dragon Tales. Loved that one!

Anyway, along came digital recording and online viewing, bringing an abrupt end to my smug boasts about not watching TV. Believe it or not, I've found a few programs I like every bit as much as those the kids watched years ago. So, for your viewing pleasure, a list of some of my favorites.

Hart of Dixie: Zoe Hart (played by Rachel Bilson who played the mother's roommate in HIMYM) is a New York trained doctor who takes a temporary job in small town Alabama and winds up moving to Dixie permanently. Dr. Hart can be gratingly annoying, but the characters are--for the most part--fun to watch. I especially liked the Lavon Hayes character played by Cress Williams.

No real deep topics here. Just some delightful brain candy. Not for young kids though; like most shows, it has an awful lot of unveiled adult banter and plenty of PG-13 scenes. Also, and this is huge to me (speaking of HIMYM), the series finale satisfactorily brings things to a natural end. I like a good ending, don't you?

Switched at Birth: Now this one is extra fun for me because I grew up around children who were deaf. We lived in a town with a school for deaf students and my mother--who basically taught herself ASL--substituted there from time to time.

Switched at Birth features two girls--one fair-skinned and red-headed who is deaf, the other a hearing girl of Italian/Latina descent--who were switched in the hospital at their births and were thereby sent home with the wrong families. Implausible? Yeah. I hear you. But just try to get over that so you can enjoy a great family drama that deals with some tough issues (consent, culture clashes, addiction) and brings awareness to issues pertaining to deafness (communication limitations, prejudice, accessibility to education). I really enjoy this one, but again, lots of adult scenes so view it when the young teens aren't around.

Incidentally, this will be much more pleasant to watch on Netflix than it has been the old-fashioned way--one season at a time. The seasons are brief and the time between them extended. The show was approved for a 5th season in October 2015, but we've yet to see it. Sometime in 2017 they say. We'll see.

Psych. This show makes me laugh so much. The two main characters--20-something men who have been best friends since childhood--open a psychic detective agency although neither is psychic. Similar to Monk in many ways, Psych is funnier, in my opinion (Monk's OCD can be hard for me to watch at times). Shaun (played by James Roday) and Gus (Dule' Hill) frustrate the Santa Barbara police by often solving crimes faster than the officers on the force.

The plots are interesting and the resolutions rarely predictable: a good detective show. But for me, the draw is the relationship between Shaun and Gus. If you've ever had a best friend, or wanted one, you'll enjoy the interactions between the laid-back, unhurried Shaun and intense, hard-working Gus.

This series also features one of the best finales ever. (Caveat: I saw the Psych series finale right after I saw the finale of HIMYM; so Psych's ending could have been mediocre, but since it didn't totally upend the ENTIRE PREVIOUS SEASON, I recall it as a masterpiece of television drama.)

Monk. Another police/detective show, Monk stars Tony Shalhoub as the title character, Adrian Monk. Monk, a distinguished and accomplished police officer, suffers a nervous breakdown after the tragic death of his wife. His OCD and phobic disorders, while apparently present before her death, worsen to the point that Monk becomes completely disabled. However, due to friendships, new and old, he is able to find his way back to reality, using his quirks as gifts in solving crime. The show chronicles his new life as a private investigator with an almost supernatural attention to detail.

Also, I've watched some shows more than once and found, unlike many detective shows, that they hold their interest for subsequent viewings. Shalhoub is brilliant and hilarious; the writers creative and innovative. I actually own the DVD's of this series, and Psych too for that matter, and thus haven't checked Netflix or Hulu for the series. Anyone know if it's online anywhere?

Parenthood. This is perhaps my favorite show of the decade. Parenthood tells the story of the Braverman family. The parents have been married for nearly 50 years and their four children have grown up to varying degrees of social acceptability. Lauren Graham (of Gilmore Girls fame), plays the oldest daughter who is the single parent of two children. Her older brother owns his own business, has a wife and two kids, and a home in the suburbs. Her younger brother (played by one of my faves, Dax Shepherd) is a laid-back musician who has no interest in being a responsible adult. The youngest, a girl, is a big shot lawyer happily married to a hunky contractor with whom she has one child.

Parenthood deals with many real-life issues: mid-life crises, cancer, unplanned pregnancy, aspergers syndrome, generational alcoholism, and more. Sometimes I agreed with the way writers handled the issues, sometimes I didn't; but the story line was always compelling and the acting excellent. (One criticism: I don't like the way the oldest son treats Shepherd's character and felt that shtick went on way too long.)

Like Hart of Dixie and Psych, the series wraps up succinctly--if poignantly--and gives closure to all the different plot lines. Sweet.

Doc Martin. The British television production, Doc Martin, is absolutely hilarious to me. Though some may not think the dry humor and sarcasm are funny, I find myself laughing aloud throughout each episode. Martin Clunes, the actor with the title role, plays a big city surgeon made small village general practitioner. The quirky characters Doc Martin encounters are so authentic that they might just as well be found in small town USA as in this quaint English village.

Doc Martin is mostly G-rated (by me) except for a few adult situations that push it into the PG zone. It's lovely to watch a quality show that is also pretty much devoid of debauchery. In the US, it comes on PBS; I've watched it exclusively on Netflix.

There are others--Bones, The Big Bang Theory, Royal Pains, and more--but this ought to keep you busy for awhile anyway. What about you? What have you binge watched?

Cameron Brown

Thank You #17 Cameron Brown

May 2016, Cameron with some of his best friends.

May 2016, Cameron with some of his best friends.

I've already written a number of posts about Cameron (some of the most popular on my site actually), but I'm not sure I've ever really let him know how much I appreciate who he is as an individual. Thank you #17*: to Cameron Brown.

Dear Cameron,

Happy Birthday! Can you believe you are 19? And how very cool that Finding Dory came out on your birthday! Pixar & Disney must know what a big movie fan you are. Well, they'd have to; so many of their movies seem to point straight to you!

  • Toy Story's theme song, "You've Got a Friend in Me," sounds to me like YOUR theme song! You are so very good at being a friend. You help us slow down when the road is rough ahead. And for your friends? There isn't anything that you wouldn't do. Yep. I know I've got a friend in you, Cameron Brown and I am so grateful!
  • In Monster's Inc., Mike Wazowski says, "You and I are friends. There's nothing more important than our friendship." Just curious, Cameron: did you write that line? Because you sure do make your friends a top priority! Thanks buddy!
  • And Brave? Oh my goodness. I can't believe how brave you are--especially going over that wall at Caswell! I'm scared of that thing, but not you: you just trust your friends and up you go. Merida could take lessons in bravery from you Cameron! (And maybe I could too!)
  • Remember Dug from Up? Now don't go running after any squirrels, but I think you have something in common with Dug. I can just hear you saying something like, "My name is Cameron. I have just met you and I love you." I love the way you love people Cameron!
  • One thing's for sure. If life gets you down, you know what you have to do. You "just keep swimming . . . "

You're basically Woody, Buzz, Mike, Sully, Merida, Dug, and Dory wrapped into one Cameron. Maybe we should start to call you Wuzikely Merdugry?

Wait! I thought of something better!

Happy Birthday Mr. Incredible! Thanks for being awesome!

Love, Aileen

In an extended celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes. (Originally I said in 50 weeks. Now I'll just say, over the course of time . . . .) This one is #17. Please click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" if you would like to read the others.

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