On our visit to Havana last week, Jay and I visited the Colon Cemetery, home of the grave of Senora Amelia Goyri. Poor Amelia died in childbirth at just 23 years old; her stillborn son was buried in the same grave at her feet. Her husband, consumed by grief, could not grasp the fact that he had lost his family. He convinced himself that Amelia was only sleeping and had door knockers installed on her tomb. He visited her daily, knocking three times to awaken her and then, when his time was up, backing away from her tomb so that he could keep it within eyesight as long as possible.
Years later, the tomb was exhumed; witnesses claimed that the bodies were in fact not decomposed, and that the baby was now in his mother’s arms. Word spread, and Amelia became known as “The Miracle Woman.” Her tomb was turned into a shrine visited by people from around the world who came—and continue to come today—to ask Amelia for miraculous favors (mainly for the healing of children). Guests often bring gifts to Amelia’s tomb; many of these are a sort of thank you note etched in stone—a permanent acknowledgement that Amelia’s miraculous touch has not gone unnoticed.
I found the site agonizingly poignant. Having loved children who have left this world for the next, I sympathize with these grieving adults who want so desperately to right the incomprehensible wrong of beloved children suffering. I want to knock three times and back away, trusting The Miracle Woman Amelia to take away the pain in the world. I really do wish it were just that simple.
The truth is, though, that we live between the “already” and the “not yet.” We already get glimpses of the new heaven and the new earth where “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” We see glimpses that prove that justice really can prevail, that show what God’s love feels like, or that illustrate how it feels to live in the center of God’s perfect will. In those times we are certain of who God is and whose we are. They don’t last long enough though . . . because we just aren’t there yet.
Brokenness remains. Death threatens. Hope falters. Grief lingers. And it can feel like “not yet” really means “no way.” But friends, hear the good news: in Christ there is always a way. In Christ, we are already there.
May 1, 2019
You know what I wish? I wish that this post had lost its relevance. It's been five years since I wrote it, and I wish I could archive it as I have other posts which were time sensitive.
Nope. Still. Only more so.
April 4, 2014
“I never used to think about retirement,” the teacher said. “I thought I would teach forever. Now though, thinking of retirement is the only thing that keeps me going.”
This teacher—I’ll call her Miss P, short for Miss Pedagogy—has been teaching since 1985. She has a master’s degree in her field and has completed independent study with experts of international acclaim. Long ago she lost track of how much money she has spent on her own continuing education. In addition to those costs, Miss P spends an average of $1000 a year on her classroom. Much of that money goes to student needs and resources that enhance learning.*
“I love teaching. I love my students; I even like most of them,” Miss P said, chuckling the way you do when something used to be funny, but isn’t anymore. Her attempt at levity flattened as she continued. “But I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t.”
Those who know the life of teachers could guess possible reasons.
Indeed, these things are frustrating for Miss P, but not frustrating enough to make her leave the career she loves. She talked about how expectations of parents and administrators have changed over the years. In fact, let’s just think for a minute about what we, the consumers of public education, expect from our teachers. We expect them to
Oh. We also expect them to take a bullet for our kids if some maniac comes onto the campus brandishing assault weapons. And do you know what? I am positive that nearly every teacher I know would do just that. Miss P certainly would.
But it’s not these expectations that have caused Miss P to spruce up her resume and scan websites for job openings. Nope. It’s something else.
“The thing is,” she told me, “no one ever gives me the benefit of the doubt anymore. Not the parents, not the administrators, and certainly not the school board. There’s this assumption that I’m going to harm the children in some way; that I am the enemy, not the advocate, of students. It’s exhausting.”
Here's what I think. I think teachers should receive higher pay and better benefits; and I think we ask way too much of our educators. We need to address these things and correct them. Period. And in the meantime, let's start with this: respect. Seriously, let’s just go ahead and treat our teachers like the professionals they are. The average teacher is an enthusiastic expert in her field, not a mediocre bureaucrat manipulating the system of tenure. Despite her dwindling wages, she works long hours and attends school events after work and on weekends and (get this) loves doing it. Extraordinary!
So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children.[bctt tweet="So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children."
*Some of Miss P's money goes to cleaning supplies. At her school, the maintenance staff does little more than trash collection in individual classrooms (budget cuts, you know). Plus, her school is infested with mice. She’s complained for years, for more than a decade actually, about the ubiquitous mouse poo that testifies daily to the pests’ presence. Until she gets an active response, Miss P will try to keep the room as clean as possible in an effort to deter those furry little delinquents. All in a day’s work.
Back in the 70's and 80's, religious tracts were printed by the truckload for eager evangelists--many of them Baptists--itching to bring the masses to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Back then, we followed a sort of scare-them-out-of-hell methodology that led to high numbers of front porch conversions, if not long-term transformation.
In time, many practitioners realized that this eternal damnation avoidance strategy wasn't exactly life-giving. This understanding led to an opposite mentality: best not to mention Jesus at all than to scare people into false faith. (All or nothing thinking. It's caused its share of problems.)
Here the good news: there is a middle ground. Think about it: we
aren't scared of sharing good news in general. For example, I think everyone
should try the restaurant Nine Mile. I don't try to find out if they like
Caribbean food before I recommend it either. It's a fantastic restaurant in my
opinion, and I want everyone to enjoy it as much as I have. I feel that way
about the Biltmore Estate too. And also Disney World. And the movie Finding
Nemo. I realize that some of these things are quite pricey and will
require some sacrifice for people to enjoy them, but that doesn't keep me from
encouraging people to try experiences that have given me joy.
Even so, I don't go through the neighborhood, ringing doorbells, and asking people if they've ever been to Nine Mile. I don't stop people in Aldi and suggest they make a plan now to get to Biltmore Estate during this lifetime. And I don't foist free copies of Finding Nemo on perfect strangers, promising them that this movie will make their lives better (it would of course, but still . . . ). However, if I'm in a relationship with you, I'm eventually going to mention my favorite restaurants, vacation spots, and movies. And if we are really close, I'll do my best to see that you get to enjoy those things at some point, preferably with me.
To me, evangelism is like that. Because I love church, I want everyone to experience it. Because I love Bible study, I want others to study with me. And because I have found meaning, truth, hope, and joy through my faith in the triune God--Creator, Son, Holy Spirit--I want people I know and love to join me on this faith journey: not because they are scared they will burn in hell, but because they are drawn into the sacred Love of God.
When I was a teenager, I saw the movie West Side Story for the first time. This Romeo and Juliet remake is the 1961 film adaptation of a Broadway play by the same title. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t know how it would end so it caught me off guard. (SPOILER ALERT: It was a Romeo and Juliet remake, for goodness sake!)
It is bitterly sad, but the music is so delightful—plus, it stars Rita Moreno and Natalie Wood—so I allowed myself to watch it a second time. I figured since I knew the ending, it would not be as hard to watch. But knowing in advance was so much worse! I kept bracing myself for the heartbreaking end; I couldn’t enjoy the music as much because I knew that the singing would come to a painful stop. I put myself through that madness more times than I want to admit; each time, the sense of foreboding deepened. And each time I wished that the ending somehow could be different.
Palm Sunday is kind of like that for me. I love seeing the kids waving the palms and celebrating the triumphal (ish) entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s just that I know what’s coming. I know that Jesus has a long week ahead that will not be marked by praise and thanksgiving, but by violence and rejection. I keep bracing myself for the coming trial and crucifixion.
I want to shout to Jesus, perched as he is on his juvenile mount, “Don’t believe it! It’s not real! They'll turn against you Jesus! Run while you still can!”
But then I hear Jesus reach through time, whispering, “Stop and listen! Listen to the joy. Listen to the hope. Yes, pain is coming. There will always be pain. But in this moment, lift your voice and sing! Sing because you can. Sing with all creation. Sing, because there will be plenty of time for weeping. Today, we celebrate!”
On March 28, I joined other leaders in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) as we listened to Dr. Tod Bolsinger share wisdom he presented in his book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (IVP Books, 2015).
Bolsinger’s book had been recommended to me by many when I began my ministry with Ecclesia Baptist in August 2018. I downloaded the audio version and listened to it right away, finding it both insightful and compelling. In Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger uses the metaphor of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (in search of a northwest water route in the 19th century) to explore church leadership in the 21st century.*
For today’s church, our “canoes” are practices that have brought us success in the past; our “mountains” are the conditions that were not present at all in earlier seasons of the church. The current frustration of attracting young people to church serves as a great example. Back in the 1970’s, for many of us, church was THE only activity; in 2019, the buffet of extracurriculars is endless. When I was a teen, a church could get a new ping-pong table and attract a crowd of students instantly; today, churches are giving freebies to kids and youth to entice them to go on a free trip to an indoor trampoline park—and even these tactics fail to impact weekly attendance.
So how do we change this? That’s exactly what Dr. Bolsinger discussed at last week’s meeting. First, he noted what does not bring about change.
Bolsinger then talked about what does bring about change.
Bolsinger reminded us that change typically does not come about quickly. That is, it is more akin to the slow-cooker simmer than to the microwave zip and zap. In that same vein, he said that effective church leadership grows from a mindset that causes us to “Stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.”
Bolsinger’s presentation—and his book—contained much more insight than the bits I’ve highlighted here. And, I think all leaders facing unfamiliar circumstances (whether in the church or elsewhere) will find helpful guidance here. Check it out and let me know what you think.
*Lewis and Clark sought a water route through the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and were therefore equipped with canoes and the necessary tools for a water journey; instead, they encountered the Rocky Mountains and had to form new plans in order to progress.
Each week, I write a short piece for Ecclesia Baptist newsletter. This week, Aileen did in fact go on (as I tend to do). So for my wider audience, a post on sin. (Spoiler alert: I'm against it.)
Pastor Whatzizname and Father Whatchamacallit abused.
Michael Jackson molested.
Aunt Becky cheated. (AKA Lori Loughlin)
WHAT?! Not Aunt Becky!
After a year (or a decade) of heroes falling from grace (Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Bill Cosby), you’d think we would have become numb to it. But Aunt Becky (Loughlin’s Full House character)? Who’s next? Big Bird? As followers of Christ, what do we do with this damning information? Is there no one worthy of trust?
One thing that is helpful when considering what we hear on the news is realizing that these stories make the news BECAUSE they are the EXCEPTION to the rule. If this were normal behavior, no one would care. Think about it. A headline like “Awesome teacher has another great day in the classroom,” does not sell papers. It doesn’t, because this is nothing new. It happens every day.
It is also not true that these horrific things are happening more frequently. It’s that we are better at detecting them than we were decades ago. Really. Just look at the 10 Commandments and you’ll see that these issues have always existed.
It’s still upsetting; of course, it is. But this latest disclosure is not reason enough to wash our hands of humanity and give up on people all together. Instead, let’s all try to remember this: the perfect human? That was a one and done deal. The rest of us will disappoint each other. So we should all be more careful about mounting folks (celebrities, pastors, or whoever) on pedestals. Human beings were just not made for that.
Another thing to remember? God loves the notorious sinner every bit as much as God loves run-of-the-mill sinners like you and me. Certainly, they—and we—must be held accountable for sin. But maybe we should be more focused on our own need for grace and forgiveness and less distracted by the sins of others. Paul tells us that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and John reiterates that message saying, “If you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you.” (1 John 1:8)
No doubt, God grieves when we sin. But God never stops loving us and always forgives us. Let’s spend our time pondering the overwhelming grace of that truth, and not get wrapped up in the sordid details of the sin of others. In that way, we honor the gift of God’s grace and love to all of us.
I have been blessed by many strong women in my life. There were school and church teachers, neighbors and mothers of friends, and many strong women in my own family. But if I had to pick just one woman to honor today, there's just no competition.
Gloria M. Mitchell: Born in 1938, the fifth child of Louise Cobb Martin and Jessie D. Martin, my mother grew up knowing without a doubt that she was a beloved daughter and sister. Throughout her childhood, her father talked of her attending college; it was no surprise, then, that she went to Mercer University following her graduation from Albany High School.
She was homesick but made friends quickly and was soon dating the “ugliest boy you ever saw” (according to my dad, her next boyfriend). Daddy had seen her on campus; heard she was teaching a sign language class; and registered for the class. It wasn’t long after their first few dates that they knew this was no temporary relationship; they married in 1960 after both had graduated college. From there, they moved to North Carolina where Daddy went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to further his education for the ministry. He graduated three years later. My sister came along that same year (1963). Then they had me in 1965, and my brother in 1969.
While my dad has the title Pastor, my parents minister as a team. Mother is extraordinarily gifted at ministry: she has written thousands of cards and notes over the years, made hundreds of meals to deliver to those in need, and visited countless people who needed encouragement.
Understand, though: her role as a pastor’s wife did not mean that she was a pushover. In the 70’s when such things just were not done, she wore a pantsuit to church—the first woman in the congregation to do so. She also refused to sing in the choir and never joined WMU. Those were not things Gloria Mitchell felt called to do. So she didn't do them. (No matter what the congregation had to say about it.)
Mother is also an amazing mother. She raised us to be adults, not children. When the time came, she was able to release us to our own lives and dreams. That doesn't mean she shoved us out of the house and washed her hands of us. Nope. Even now, when we get to her house for a visit, we are welcomed with great joy, boundless love, and a fridge full of our favorites.
So, I’m grateful for her in many ways and there’s a lot about her that I admire. Here lately though, I’ve been most impressed by her ability to age with grace. Mother has always been an attractive woman and she still is; but that’s not what I’m referencing. It’s other things.
Mother reads, exercises, tries new things, makes new friends, and plays any card or even board game you can name. (Unless you are related to her, Don't try to beat her at Rook. It won't go well.) She also never meets a stranger, laughs easily and often, and enjoys a funny you-tube video as much as the next person. My mother is 21st century level awesome. And when I grow up, I want to be just like her!
How about you? Comment below and tell me about a woman you admire.
I grew up Southern Baptist, so if it weren't for my Lutheran best friend 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 (radical for the time). 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.
There are lots of different reasons that observance of Lent is important to all who follow Christ. One reason I've heard is that Lent can be a sort of New Year's Resolutions re-boot, a time to get back on track with the life goals you set for yourself a couple of months ago. While I definitely agree that Lent is a time to reflect on our own brokeness, I don't actually think we should use this ancient practice as a self-improvement exercise. Not that Lent doesn't actually have that outcome, because naturally we do become more fully alive when we are more focused on God incarnate in Jesus Christ. But, in my opinion, self-improvement should not be the ultimate objective.
According to the liturgical (church) calendar, Lent marks the weeks leading up to the church's observance of Easter. Thus, it is a time of contemplation, a time to renew the commitment to follow Christ into the difficult spaces where darkness reigns and light is rare. Thus, for my Lenten discipline, I try to select something to add or eliminate that will remind me frequently of Christ's deep love for all of creation and my responsibility to reflect that love in my daily life. Want some examples? Here you go.
Whatever you choose for your Lenten discipline, my prayer is that you will remember daily that you are beloved beyond measure.
What about you? What Lenten commitments have you made?
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
And now she is 21. A good time to rerun this piece about our Joy Bringer.
Margaret, my youngest child (born earlier this week), turned 18 today (2/13/16) In honor of her birthday, I thought I’d share 18 reasons why we Lawrimores call her our Joy Bringer.
We named our third child Margaret because, though she was beloved, she was not exactly planned. “Margaret” means “pearl.” Some of her earliest conversations included, “My name is Mawgwet, cuz I a tweasure of gwaaaaate pwice!” She is indeed. She is our Joy Bringer.
When Jack was born, Booker T. Washington was still the principal at Tuskegee Institute. Bernice & Corrine came along later; by the time of their births, Lyndon B. Johnson had already been elected to the House of Representatives. Carrie is the youngster of the group: she was born just as Rosa Parks became active in the NAACP.
None of these senior adults grew up around people who looked much different than they did. And, even if Bernice & Corrine had lived closed together, it’s unlikely that they would have become lifelong friends. There were too many obstacles, too many barriers. Well. It just wasn’t done.
But today things are a little different. Every Thursday at the Senior Opportunity Center in Asheville these folk and others join my exercise class: Jack, a 97 year old white guy who walks with two canes; Bernice and Carrie, African American grandmothers; and Corrine, a cheerful white lady who lives with her kids.
Really, they should not get along. They should not be friends. Their not-so-shared histories should demand a certain distance.
And believe me: it wasn’t easy at first. A senior center in West Asheville closed. Participants who chose to continue in the program had to go to the downtown location, taking the bus further than they had travelled previously. These West Asheville members, almost to a person, are white. Downtown participants come from lots of different backgrounds; many are African American. In the beginning, when I would come to teach fitness, the West Asheville folk would sit on one side of the semi-circle and the downtown folk on the other: divided by a visible color line that would have made Jim Crow proud.
But then one day Carrie happened to be sitting beside a white woman named Mae, each on their own side of course, but right next to each other. Carrie said something funny and Mae laughed. Or was it the other way around? I forget. But they laughed. Together. So the next week, they made a point to sit beside each other again.
And the line began to fade.
They’ve been together three years now, those two groups. In a recent class, Jack sat beside Bernice who sat beside Carrie. Yao—a Chinese lady who speaks only scant English—sat on his other side, next to Corrine. No one seemed to realize that they weren’t supposed to be friends, these relics from a different time. No one seemed to remember that they had once been on opposite sides—and not just in my class either. In fact, no one seemed to notice race, creed, or heritage at all.
“Arms up reaching side to side,” I instructed the class. “Now reach over and give your neighbor a pat on the back.”
And they did. Without hesitation.
May God Almighty bless you . . .
until you become a community of peoples.
(One of my favorite posts of all time, this one was first published in 2011.)