What’s your 2016 Lenten Discipline?

Lenten DisciplineI grew up Southern Baptist, so if it weren’t for my best friend–a Lutheran–giving up sweets every year around this time, I’d probably not have thought too much about the Lenten Season. I mean, I’m sure my Dad mentioned something about it in his sermons along the way, and he even held Maundy Thursday services way back in the seventies. Still, I didn’t really practice Lent until about a decade ago when we joined a Baptist church that had reached back to its early Christian roots and resurrected the practice of Lent (“resurrected Lent,” get it? I kill me.)

Point is: Lenten discipline is relatively new to me. (Although I did write about it a few years ago in this piece: 10 Things That Show You Don’t Get Lent.)

So, anyway, every year I say I’m going to decide earlier which discipline to pursue and every year I get to this point without a definitive plan. Here are a few of the things I’m considering for this year.

  1. Daily exercise of 30 minutes or more. I am a member of the Y, I have home exercise equipment, and a beagle who loves to go on walks. I really have no excuse.
  2. Daily quality reading of 30 minutes or more. Ahh. Let’s just sit for a minute and think of that bliss. Sigh. (This one is definitely a strong contender.)
  3. Daily writing. I’m not what you’d call a disciplined writer. While I love it, I often don’t make it a priority. I’d like to write daily devotions and this might be a great time to get going on that one.
  4. Eliminate negativity. I try to remember that we are all broken in different ways, but too often I forget and become critical and nasty. When I do forget that all God’s children are beloved and precious, I can act ugly (or at least think ugly thoughts). I need to quit that.
  5. Eliminate certain aspects of social media. I use social media for some professional and ministerial connections, so I really don’t want or need to eliminate those outlets entirely. But I do need to limit my time there and avoid the unproductive temptations that suck me into a time vacuum.
  6. Eliminate purchases that do not support local, free-trade, or living wage businesses. I get sloppy with my shopping. That needs to stop.

I’m going to add one of these and remove another. Surely I’ll have decided by the time you read this.

What about you? What Lenten commitments have you made?

 

5 Tips for the 2016 Election Season

election 2016I wanted to remove any doubt, so I mentioned early in our Facebook chat that I’m not a Trump supporter. It had been some months since my Danish friend and I had been in touch you see, and even in Copenhagen, they’ve heard the incessant racket of the upcoming US presidential election.

“Oh, I am so glad to know that you [aren’t voting for] Donald Trump. I just would not understand if he becomes the next president. I dare not imagine what would happen in the entire world if Trump becomes the next president,” my Scandinavian friend responded.

I dare not either. But in truth, I have a lot of faith in the people of the US, and I do not believe we will let Trump rise to the highest office in the land. To understate it in the extreme, he’s just not a nice guy. From his “somebody’s doing the raping,” comment to his latest, “I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he oozes nastiness. Plus, he’s rude, and downright full of himself.

“Is there even a small chance he can win?” my friend asked me.

“It’s possible,” I told her. “Unlikely, in my opinion, but possible.”

“We will see who wins the election,” she said. (It was time to change the subject.) “Let’s cross our fingers for the right one.”

I am definitely crossing my fingers; but I’m doing a little more than that as well.

  1. I’m informed about candidates. One website I’ve found is votesmart.org. It’s easy to use and in just a few moments you can identify candidates who share your opinions. Ontheissues.com is another site that can help you figure out which candidates match your beliefs.
  2. I’m aware of state and county laws. North Carolina’s Board of Elections website is quite helpful, as is my county’s website. I encourage you to look at your local resources to find out things like registration requirements, polling place location, and voter laws.
  3. I’m informed about issues. I take major shortcuts in getting that information, though. I subscribe to The Skimm, a news brief that is quick and easy to read; also, the writing is clever and witty too. I also listen to political podcasts–10-15 minutes each max. I like The New Yorker, NPR, and some Huff Post podcasts. There are zillions out there, so take your pick.
  4. I’m skeptical. By this, I mean I don’t believe everything I read or hear or even think for that matter. I use tools like snopes.com, factcheck.org, and politifact.com. And listen, I check stuff whether I agree with it or not. Imagine a scenario like this: Aileen’s Perfect Candidate (APC for short) does something so completely awesome and so poignantly selfless that the whole Kingdom of Cyber lights up with the report of it. Do I share APC’s good report? Maybe. But only after checking to see if it might just be a fabrication of APC’s over-eager supporters. See, I know that APC, like every other human, is flawed. So I’m going to avoid statements about APC’s perfection; likewise, I’ll refrain from vilifying APC’s competition.
  5. And when the day comes, I’ll vote. You vote too, okay? If it turns out that we don’t vote for the same candidate, that’s alright.  We can still use our good manners and be respectful of each other.

We’ve got a lot of months until the 2016 election season ends. So let’s try to be kind. Not one of us has all the answers. Not even Donald Trump.

2015 Top 10 Posts

imageAs 2016 begins, I’m recalling my readers’ favorite posts. Visit them again–or for the first time –and spread the word!

  1. Shameful Accident: Confederate Flag Travesty This post responds to a country music song by LL Cool Jay and Brad Paisley and suggests that what we know as the Confederate Flag has a lot in common with another unacceptable banner.
  2. Thank You #2: Oakley Elementary School There are many reasons why this public school totally rocks. These are just a few. (You won’t believe how many different nationalities were in my son’s 1st grade classroom!)
  3. Non-Traditional Marriage: Defying Statistics My husband and I, and my three closest college friends and their spouses defy the statistics. Also included–a joke I’ve played a time or two . . .
  4. RIP Charlie Beagle My beloved beagle boy. A tribute to my canine soulmate.
  5. Six Things to Say to Your Kids About the Prom Especially #6. Really.
  6. A Thank You to a Faithful Sunday School Teacher This post reveals for the first time my naughty little grade school secret about Bible study.
  7. Teaching: Miss P’s Retirement Rationale A conversation with a public school teacher reveals her retirement rationale. Spoiler Alert: It’s not what you might think.
  8. Ten Commandments of Car Line Etiquette Learn the real definition of PTA-OCD and the meaning of the Zipper. And then spread the word for the benefit of us all.
  9. Difficult Pregnancy Begets Heavenly Gift A rare condition. A precious blessing. A happy ending.
  10. Ministry Matters: EMTs in the Sanctuary You’ve heard of preaching the congregation to sleep? This was a touch worse than that . . .

Happy 2016 friends! Grace and peace to you all!

Woman in the Pulpit

cropped-559874_10200120290503672_788560213_n.jpgI preach from time to time at First Baptist Church of Weaverville. Here are my most recent sermons.

December 6, 2015, “Let There Be Peace,” Luke 3:1-6, Psalm 126.

 

October 11, 2015, “From Affliction to Proclamation,” Hebrews 4:12-16, Psalm 22:1-15.

Advent Devotional: Where’s Your Head?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:15-20

Recently, I saw perhaps the weirdest video I’ve ever seen. It begins with a woman preparing fresh fish for supper. On the screen we see her hands: one holding a kitchen knife, the other holding a raw fish fillet on a cutting board over a sink. All she has left to do is cleaning off a few more scales and the fish will be ready to cook. But (here’s the weird thing), every time she touches her knife to the headless fillet, it spontaneously bends up towards her. She shrieks, “This fish is trying to bite me and it doesn’t even have a head!” Crazy, right?

You know what’s even crazier, though? The fact that fish aren’t the only ones guilty of acting as if they can operate without a rightful head in place. Too often we followers of Christ do the same thing. We flop around and can’t figure out why we feel distant from God. In our churches, we wonder why we can’t form community, why there’s so little harmony and so much discord. Could it be that we are trying to live godly lives and form meaningful connections without our Head?

Paul says that in Jesus “all things hold together.” Let’s keep Christ at the head of our lives not just at Advent, but always. We just aren’t made to function any other way.

Thank you God for Jesus! Help us always to make Christ first place in everything. Amen.

 

Christmas Ministry for Broken Spirits*

IMG_8752What if, for you, it’s actually NOT the most wonderful time of year?

What if it’s your first Christmas (or your 51st) without your beloved?

What if you’re fighting physical, mental, or emotional illness?

Or what if you are so financially strapped that every holiday message just seems to remind you of what you are not able to buy for your loved ones?

In the United States, we put high expectations on each other during the holidays. The truth is, if you don’t watch out, if you do in fact pout, you’ll be labeled Ebenezer Scrooge faster than you can say, “Falalalala.” Indeed, our culture demands that we be jolly, happy souls, listening for sleigh bells and roasting chesnuts. Exhausting!

It’s true. For some, Christmas cheer is taxing rather than encouraging, no matter how genuine the well-wisher may be. Each year, I know people for whom the season is difficult; but this year, the holiday blues seem a lot more common. Maybe the pervasive commercialism of the US is wearing on folks; maybe 24-hour news is not such a good idea after all, what with the incessant reports of violence and tragedy. Whatever the reason, as the Body of Christ, we are called to attend to this phenomenon with the love of God. So how do we do this? There are many ways, but here are a few I find helpful.

  1. If you know someone who has lost a loved one—especially in the last 12 months—know that pain is not increased when the dearly departed is mentioned. The reverse is actually true: people who are grieving often fear that you and everyone else have forgotten the person who meant so much to them. By remembering, you offer momentary comfort. So mention the deceased by name; maybe even share a personal memory or two. Your thoughtfulness will be a blessing to the bereaved.
  2. Remember that grief doesn’t expire. For the fatherless child or the childless mother; for the brother who no longer has a sister, the friend missing a trusted confidant, the wife who never wanted to be a widow . . . heartache never misses a holiday. The good news is that comfort can be new every morning. Send a note, make a visit, or turn a chance encounter into an opportunity to reminisce about the one who has died. To the person grappling with grief, your words will be a welcome reminder that they are not alone.
  3. Blessed with an overabundance of Christmas cheer? Consider taking up the slack for someone who can’t seem to muster up any of their own. It is difficult to deck the halls or bring figgy puddings when coping with illness or caring for someone who is. Help decorate, bake a meal, run an errand, do a chore. But, and this is key, don’t expect people to ask you for this help or even to accept it at first. Just be persistent and determined. Your efforts matter.
  4. Know people with financial difficulties? You don’t have to be insulting or judgmental in order to offer real help. Slip an anonymous gift card into their Bible or other belongings. Do they have children? Offer to babysit. Like to cook (or pick up take-out)? Deliver a meal and be sure to take enough so leftovers can stretch one meal into two. But be a friend, not a rescue worker. Nobody wants to be a project.
  5. Most importantly, watch your language. Avoid platitudes like, “Cheer up! It’s Christmas!” No one has ever responded to such advice by saying, “Well okay! Thanks so much for telling me that! I’ll cheer right up now!” Likewise, the statement, “There are plenty of people who have it worse than you.” I mean, so what? That reality doesn’t alter the pain being experienced in the moment. Validate the speaker with words of support and understanding, not nagging criticism and worthless advice.
  6. Don’t expect a complete and instant turnaround. Healing takes time; you may not see any evidence that your ministry has been a blessing. Trust God. Your gifts will draw interest over time.

This year, before we go rocking around the Christmas tree and flinging glad tidings like so much mud, let’s try to remember that not everyone is feeling joyful. Let’s be patient and encouraging, even to those who seem more like the Grinch hiding above Whoville than like beloved children of God. And listen. You might just hear the voices of angels praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace!”

*This piece was first published on December 14 by Baptist News Global. I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

Advent Devotional: A Plan for Hope

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Jeremiah 29:11-14

Granddaddy
Grandmama and Granddaddy 1980s

Granddaddy, my mother’s father, always wanted to be a doctor. He had the brains for it too (all his teachers said so). But Granddaddy never finished college: he went to work, earning money to pay tuition for his sisters so that they could complete their teaching degrees. “You girls got to get your education,” he must have said to them as he said later to my mother and even later to my sister and to me. “These days, men can always get work, but you girls will need a college degree to get a good paying job.”

I found it sad that Granddaddy missed going to college, but I absolutely loved how his face glowed when he spoke about his sisters’ degrees and my mother’s. At those times, I witnessed the joy that comes from giving freely, loving completely. I knew that I too was an heir to Granddaddy’s sacrificial promise, to his legacy of hope.

Jeremiah, in the text above, was speaking to the Jews of the exile. I wonder if they felt as I did when I heard the plans Granddaddy had made for the women in his family. Surely these misplaced believers felt their hearts quicken at the idea of God preparing a “future of hope.” Imagine their faces as they realized the depth of the message: “This promise is for me. Me! Almighty God—God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. GOD loves me!” 

Jesus, we anxiously anticipate your coming. Forgive us when we succumb to the worries of the world, acting as people who have no hope. Open our hearts that we would be ready to receive your promise of salvation. Amen.

 

 

2nd Sunday of Advent: Peace–the Real Thing

By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
Luke 1:78-79 NRSV

Back in the 1970’s, when $250,000 was an exorbitant amount to spend on an advertisement, Coca Cola Bottling Company assembled a cast and crew on a mountain in Italy to film what would become one of the most popular TV commercials of all time. In the ad, young people who appear to be from every tribe and nation, join in singing a song that even now, almost fifty years later, many people can recall.

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony.
I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company.
That’s the real thing.

Back in the day, if you watched that commercial and didn’t shed a tear, you were at best heartless. More likely, you weren’t even human. When you saw those youthful faces bright with hope, it was nearly undeniable: if everyone could just have a nice cold Coca-Cola, the world would most certainly be at peace.

In the above text, we read about what the world truly does need, and it’s not a soft drink. Old Zechariah, still glowing from the unexpected miracle of his newborn son, explains, “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 The Message)

 

What is Advent?

What is AdvewntTo hear retailers tell it, the Christmas season started just before Halloween. From CVS to Sears, stores have been festooned in red and green for weeks. The virtual world is no better. Before we even had a chance to design our holiday cards on shutterfly.com, social media got in the holiday spirit by making a cacophonous noise about the Red Cup of Starbucks. Indeed, the world seems to define the holiday season by what will sell best, whether it’s novelty socks or news articles.

But the church defines the season in a different way. The Christian church celebrates the season of Advent for the four weeks preceding Christmas Day. But what is Advent? Too many Christians don’t have any idea. So, in an effort to help remedy this, I thought I’d offer this somewhat academic post about the Advent season. Here you go: your very own Advent Primer.

History & Tradition
The name, “Advent,” comes from the Latin, adventus, meaning “coming.” During Advent, Christians focus on the incarnation of Jesus Christ and on Christ’s eventual return, thereby highlighting both the humanity and the divinity of Christ. Advent is a celebration of the mystery of the trinity, made manifest in Jesus Christ who was fully human and simultaneously fully God.
Interestingly, the church has not always recognized this season leading up to Christmas. By the fifth century, the church had begun toying with the idea of a time of preparation prior to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Modeled on the Lenten season (40 days of fasting prior to Easter), Advent was observed in the West long before the Eastern church adopted the idea. By the 11th century CE, most countries had set aside approximately four weeks before Christmas for focused liturgy, abstinence, and fasting. Today, both Catholic and protestant congregations observe Advent as a time of reflection and contemplation.

A part of Advent worship is the lighting of the Advent wreath. Traditionally, the wreath, circular in design and made of evergreen branches includes five candles: four around the wreath and a center Christ candle. The candles are lit in successive weeks, adding one each week until Christmas Eve when the Christ candle is lit along with the four candles encircling the wreath.

The Christ candle is white. The candles for weeks one, two, and four are either blue or purple, depending on the church’s preference or tradition. The candle for the third Sunday is pink or rose in color. Themes for Advent are hope, peace, joy, and love.

Hope, the First Sunday of Advent
The candle lit on this day is blue or purple and is called the Prophecy Candle. On the first Sunday of Advent, the church reflects on the coming Kingdom of Christ. Texts for this Sunday are eschatological in nature. According to www.webster.com, eschatology is “a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind.” But, the focus of this day is hope, not fear or anxiety. You see, we can get glimpses of God’s kingdom every day. Celtic Christians call these glimpses “thin places,” places where heaven seems to touch earth. On this Sunday of Hope, we can rest in the knowledge that in Christ, the Kingdom of God will certainly come in the future; let us also anticipate encounters with these thin places in which we experience the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

Peace, the Second Sunday of Advent
On the Second Sunday, we light the blue or purple Bethlehem Candle and the church remembers the Hebrew Prophets. It may seem confusing that today’s candle is called the Bethlehem Candle and we’re talking about Hebrew Prophets, when last week’s candle was named Prophecy. The confusion arises from our misunderstanding of the work of Hebrew prophets. Often, modern people think of the verb “prophesy” as a synonym for “predict.” But an Old Testament prophet was not a kind of ancient soothsayer who predicted future events with eerie accuracy. Instead, they were truth-tellers, delivering divine words of warning and of redemption to the people of God. Today, we look to Bethlehem, where Redemption was born.

Joy, the Third Sunday of Advent
On the third Sunday of Advent, the pink Shepherd’s Candle is lit, the. The candle is pink in commemoration of an ancient tradition in the church. In the early days of the church, the seven-week term of Lent was the only recognized liturgical season. On the third Sunday of Lent, the church took a brief break from fasting to celebrate the joy that was forthcoming in Easter. On this day, the Pope gave a pink rose to a congregant. Churches today use the pink candle in tribute to this custom from the church’s earliest days and as a reminder of the coming season of Lent.

On this Sunday, the church recalls the ministry of John the Baptist. John connects the prophets of old who spoke of righteousness, to Jesus Christ who embodied it. John the Baptist resembled an Old Testament prophet, yet as contemporary with Jesus, his message carried a unique sense of urgency. The biblical account the birth of Christ places the shepherds on the scene at the time of the nativity. Their rush to the manger resulted from their understanding of the magnitude of the moment. There is only one more Sunday of Advent. Time is drawing nigh! On the first Christmas, the Shepherds understood the immediacy of the moment; and during his ministry, John the Baptist did too.

Love, the Fourth Sunday of Advent
The last Sunday before Christmas the church lights the remaining blue or purple candle, the Angel Candle. Texts focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus. As we await the coming of Christ, we recall the joyous proclamation of the angels and Mary’s faithful obedience to God. When the angel Gabriel delivered his message to her—that she, a virgin betrothed to be married, was pregnant with the son of God—Mary gave herself fully and completely to God’s plan for her life. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we look to Mary’s example for guidance on how we might also fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.



Advent. It’s intentional and slow, not harried and fast. The world shouts, “Hurry up! You’re so far behind!” The church whispers, “Be still. Listen.” The world says, “You’re not doing enough! You’re running out of time.” The church says, “This is the moment. Be fully present in it.”

This Christmas, let’s stroll through Advent, enjoying the sights and sounds of the season and with hearts full of hope, peace, joy, and love, let us listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

(Advent begins this year on November 29, 2015.)

The truth about Thanksgiving break

 

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One of the best quotes of all time about this time of year.
By Anne Greene, on looking forward to the end of exams
and the coming end-of-semester break.

“Thanksgiving break is such a tease.”

 

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Truth. Amirite?