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Vulnerability in the Body

Vulnerability in the Body of Christ*

What’s the deadline for New Year’s resolutions? I mean, are we supposed to be all resolute before the ball drops or do we have until, say, Feb. 1?

The reason I’ve not written my resolutions yet is that I really don’t know where to start. There are so very many things about me that need fixing. I need to eat more healthfully and exercise more diligently. I need to do a better job with time management. I want to read and write more. My house, my office, my car — each needs a thorough cleaning and a sustainable organization system. I need to be more committed to daily quiet time. And of course I’ll also resolve — as I do every year — to read the Bible through (I practically have Genesis memorized).

Holy moly — it’s a lot. And here’s the thing: when I look at this list, I get so overwhelmed that I want to clear off a place on my couch, curl up with an entire turtle cheesecake, and binge-watch The Golden Girls.

Of course, if I did make and manage to keep all those resolutions, I’d be perfect. Only problem? There’s no such thing as absolute perfection. I learned this in a machine shop, of all places. I was working at a community college at the time and was with a group of students who were interested in our machining major. As we toured the shop, the department chair explained to our group that students would learn to use equipment to manufacture parts that were identical to within a fraction of a millimeter. He went on to say, “Of course, no two things are exactly the same; there’s no such thing as perfection. We just get as close to that as possible.”

I was astounded! What I heard him say was: “Do your best. Don’t be careless or unprofessional. But when you’ve done your very best, be content with the result.”

Recently, I heard echoes of this ideology while reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. A self-titled researcher storyteller with a Ph.D. in social work, Brown says: “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. … [It] is not self-improvement … [or] the key to success. … Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable goal.” (Maybe she is a machinist in addition to being a university professor and a world renown scholar. Just a thought.)

Brown takes issue with perfectionism because she considers it to be one of the barriers to true connection. She believes “connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” And connection, according to Brown, cannot happen if we hide behind a façade of perfection. She says that in order to form true community, to connect, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be imperfect.

That makes sense right? I mean, who wants to be around someone who (we think) is invulnerable and perfect? It’s irritating. Plus they make us nervous. Being around flawless folk causes our vulnerabilities to leak out all over the place.

So if Brown is right and we must embrace vulnerability to make real connection, what does that mean for the church? Surely we should be able to find authentic community, real connection, in the church, right?

Yes. Absolutely. I believe that God calls us into community from the Garden to the Revelation. We, the church, are the Body of Christ. How can we be the Body if we are not connected? We can’t.

The problem, though, is that too often we come to church wearing our costumes of perfection. We come with our beautiful families, our harmonious marriages, our successful careers. We know we’re wearing costumes; we sit in our cars picking the lint of shame off of them before we enter the sanctuary. What we don’t believe is that anyone else is wearing one. We believe they (whoever “they” are) have everything together. Their kids are always so well-behaved; their careers are upwardly mobile; they read through the Bible every single year. We look at them and our shame deepens and we become convinced that we have to work harder on our costumes, shine up our shields of perfection.

Let’s don’t, though, OK? Instead, let’s set aside our vain attempts at perfection. Let’s agree that each of us is broken in countless ways and let’s be OK with that. Let’s resolve to be vulnerable. Let’s be the Body of Christ.

*This piece was first published on January 11, 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 on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.

choices opportunities

Societal norms no longer bow to church. So what? – Baptist News Global

Five Points Missionary Baptist Church

The church of my childhood met in this space back in the 70's. It's where all my friends were and I loved it.

“When I was a kid,” my octogenarian friend told me, “I went to church every time the doors were open. But I didn’t necessarily go to learn about Jesus; I went because that’s where my friends were.”

I could relate; truly, the church was the hub of my social life until I went to college. Vacation Bible School, church camp and ice cream socials were highlights of my summer. All year long, I attended Sunday school, Training Union and any special event scheduled at the church. That’s where all my friends were. Why wouldn’t I want to go?

Of course, to be fair, in those days, there wasn’t much else to do on Sunday.

I grew up in the 1970s and back then, blue laws kept most stores in my part of the country closed on Sunday. Movie theaters didn’t open either, except for a few drive-ins which opened for the late movie (which was at 8, not 10). No way could you find a bowling alley open on Sundays, though, if memory serves, I did play a game or two of mini-golf after Sunday night church on occasion. The skating rink might open for a church party on Sunday if you prearranged it, and most public swimming pools opened on Sundays (but only from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. so as not to conflict with services). Thus, when I was a kid, and certainly in the 1940s and ’50s when my senior friend grew up, church was just about the most fun you could have on Sundays without breaking a law.

The same applied to Wednesday nights when most Protestant churches (which back then were the only ones that counted anyway) had Bible study and family activities. I am certain I never had homework on a Wednesday night until late into high school — and that was likely because I had procrastinated and was playing catch-up. My brother’s little league sports never scheduled events — games or practices — on Wednesdays. The same was true for any civic or community activity. Whether it was Boy Scouts or dance lessons, Wednesday scheduling was out of the question. You might as well go to church. You didn’t have any valid excuse for missing.

Not true today.

In 2017, we can visit any number of fine restaurants and enjoy a leisurely Sunday brunch before catching a matinee at a nearby cinema. We can then follow that up with any activity we like: craft brewery anyone? Exception: if our kids play travel ball of any sort, they probably have games on Sundays, games that are out of town and require us to go on Saturday and spend the night.

On Wednesdays, kids have just as much homework as they do any other day (which is way too much, in my opinion, but that’s another column). Performances, practices and lessons happen just as frequently on Wednesdays as they do on other days. Wednesdays, once protected by societal norms from conflicting activities, are now fair game.

I hear lots of complaints about this perceived disregard for church culture. “Back in my day,” I’ve heard, “no business would dare open on Sunday. Little League ball games on Sunday? Not a chance.”

The thing is, though, businesses don’t open if they don’t make money. And they can only profit if they have customers. Same goes for kids’ ball games. You know why games are held on Sundays? Because children and their fee-paying parents participate on Sundays, that’s why. Plain and simple.

Parents tell me, “You would not believe how much homework little Johnny has on Wednesday nights. He couldn’t come to church tonight because he had too much work for school.” That sounds exactly like parents have no choice, doesn’t it? I mean, the kid has to do their homework, right? OK, but just to be clear, when we had essentially no other choice, we went to church; now, when we have a conflict, church is absentmindedly kicked to the curb.

Me, I think it is good that now we have to make a choice. It is harder, yes, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, usually the more difficult a task or decision, the more valuable it is or will become. Gone are the days when we can just follow the masses to church without ever actually following God’s Son, Jesus Christ. But isn’t that good? Isn’t it better that we must choose how to spend our time and energy now? Isn’t it better that we make conscious choices to turn towards Jesus and away from other distractions?

So how about this: how about we stop wringing our hands about the things of the past that we can’t bring forward to our present day? Why don’t we step up to the challenge and choose church, choose Christ? If we do, I’m pretty sure that’s one choice we’ll never regret.

Originally published at baptistnews.com. Baptist News Global is one of my favorite sources of news and information related to faith. Really. You should check it out. Societal norms no longer bow to church. So what? – Baptist News Global

amazing grace lyrics

Amazing grace: Settling a troubled soul – Baptist News Global

This piece appeared first as my July column for Baptist News Global. You'll find the full text at the link below.
Source: Amazing grace: Settling a troubled soul – Baptist News Global

When I stepped onto her hall, I could see her slippered feet just outside the door frame of her room. In her wheelchair, she rocked heel to toe, toe to heel, back and forth and back again.

“Hey, there,” I said, crouching to her height and attempting to push her chair back so I could get into the room. (Imagine a 5’4” duck wearing jeans and a tie-dye T-shirt pushing a wheelchair backwards; you get the picture.) I managed it, then pulled a stool right up next to her chair so I could speak directly in her ear. Nonagenarian ears aren’t especially known for their acuity, you know.

She does not know me; when I began my job at her church, she was already at the point of needing care. . . .

Read More

fbcw upside down

Ready or not, church, change is coming – Baptist News Global

“You know that trick where a person pulls the tablecloth off of a table set with fine china, leaving everything standing as if it hadn’t been touched?”

This was to be our final staff meeting as a team. Dr. Jim McCoy had been at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, N.C., since 1997; his retirement meant the coming Sunday would be his last as our pastor. Our administrative assistant was expressing her feelings regarding the inevitable . . . . (continue reading at Ready or not, church, change is coming – Baptist News Global)

ncbwim, bwimnc

Teenaged girl’s ministry becomes Baptist woman’s call – Baptist News Global

Nothing in the program guide suggested I might slip through a time portal during worship. I’m sure of it; I would have noticed.

Want to know how this time travel played out? Click for the full story.

Source: Teenaged girl’s ministry becomes Baptist woman’s call – Baptist News Global

bwimnc

Anna Daniels Anderson, 20th century version.
(2nd from the left, top row)

bwimnc

Anna's daughter, Rev. Leah Anderson Reed

Think Millennials are Self-Absorbed

Think Millennials are self-focused? Think again. – Baptist News Global

I don’t know about you, but I view the daily headlines with a sort of fascinated dread. I can’t bear to watch and I can’t turn away. Every day, there’s more bad news for public education, undocumented immigrants and the environment. Politicians seem less concerned than ever with constituent

Source: Think Millennials are self-focused? Think again. – Baptist News Global

light in darkness

Nurturing an eye for hidden mangers – Baptist News Global

“Give us, Thy people, so susceptible to size, so easily impressed by worldly rank and scope; give us, O God, an eye for mangers tucked away in stables.” — “Christmas Prayer,” Rev. Dr. Ernest Campbell (1923-2010) My pastor quoted Dr. Campbell in a recent sermon and the phrase stuck with

Source: Nurturing an eye for hidden mangers – Baptist News Global

hyperbole sign

Hyperbolic campaign or Kingdom hope? – Baptist News Global

Whether you listen to Fox News or NPR, read the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, check FiveThirtyEight or Investor’s Business Daily, you’ve probably gotten the same general story. “This is the most divisive election in our history!” “Corruption in Washington has never been this

Source: Hyperbolic campaign or Kingdom hope? – Baptist News Global

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 August 2016 piece grew out of my frustrations with the malicious political yammering that had been filling my news feeds and from a Bible study my pastor, Dr. Jim McCoy, led at First Baptist Church Weaverville.


“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 fiercely opinionated, Aunt Wilma had surely assessed the candidates and made an informed decision about who our next president should be. I wanted to hear her thoughts.

“Young lady!” Her retort was swift and fiery. “That is none of your business! We do not talk about such things.” Ouch! Clearly, my great-aunt did not consider politics an appropriate topic for polite conversation.

I often wonder, since my dear Aunt Wilma found my long-ago inquiry disrespectful, what in the world would she think of the bitter and abusive nature of today’s news and social media? In truth, we exceeded the boundaries of polite conversation long before this election year even began.

In fact, our political discourse these days is just plain nasty and it’s caused me to wonder: can Baptists be both committed to the message of Christ and active in political matters? It certainly hasn’t seemed like it to me. When I read election coverage, I don’t at all feel as if I’m becoming more like Christ. I feel self-righteous, indignant and superior. Then I feel guilty, frustrated and hopeless.

Thankfully, I got some answers just this past week in Wednesday night Bible study. My pastor, Dr. Jim McCoy, drawing on the research of Duke University Divinity School professor Luke Bretherton, pointed to the truth found in Jeremiah, chapter 29.

At this point in the text, Jeremiah is delivering a message to the people of the Babylonian Exile. He tells them that God is calling them to settle in the region. “Go ahead and get married,” Jeremiah says. “Buy a house. Join the PTA, the YMCA, a local church.” Essentially, Jeremiah says, “Be all in. Hold nothing back.”

And then in verse 7, God (through Jeremiah) says this to the people, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Did you get that? God says to those captured by Babylon, “Get to know your captors. Make them your very own family. Then, do what’s best for Babylon; pray for them; for what is best for Babylon, is best for you.” Babylon was the enemy! That’s crazy! Just imagine saying to a marriage equality group, “Join Westboro Baptist Church! Go to Sunday school and Wednesday night fellowship dinners. Seek the welfare of your new church home and do what’s best for them.” Or to a Trump supporter, “Move to the border and build a bridge of fellowship, not a wall of exclusion. Find out what needs undocumented workers have and seek solutions.” It’s counter-intuitive at the very least.

But what if we did follow that direction? What if we did truly seek the welfare of the city? We might just begin to see others with the eyes of Christ. We might seek to understand, to reconcile, to appreciate. We might work for clean water, safe streets, better schools, healthy local businesses. Truly, if we put Jeremiah’s direction into practice consistently, I believe politics could become hopeful and encouraging, instead of hateful and destructive.

And that kind of political discussion wouldn’t be offensive to anyone. Even to Aunt Wilma.

Retweeting Mercy in the Midst of Darkness

Retweeting Mercy in the Midst of Darkness

social-media-1430517_640Each month, I write a column for the Baptist News Global. This month, I wrote about a growing group of preachers who are unfamiliar to many Baptists. To read the column, click here. Then hang around over there at baptistnews.com for great articles on issues that really matter.

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