God Interruptions

I’m quite excited about this weekend.  56 women from Centenary are heading out of town for a Women’s Retreat together.  We are looking at Jen Hatmaker’s book Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianly.  It’s a great read about how God interrupted Jen’s life and sent her family down a completly different trajectory.  Has that ever happened to you? Your life ever get interrupted?

interrupted_page-28As I’ve been reflecting on this topic I have been thinking about my original call into ministry.  I think God was trying to interrupt my life for about 8 years but I didn’t know it. I couldn’t see it.  And it wasn’t because God wasn’t trying!  Now as I look back on my life, I can name several moments in time when God “interrupted” my plans and my hopes and sent me down a different path.  One tender moment for me was when I did not receive a Moorhead Scholarship after becoming a finalist. I was so disappointed.  Soon afterwards I found out about another summer opportunity I would not have been able to do if I had received the Morehead.  Instead I went on the Scandidanivan Caravan Tour and visited United Methodist Churches in Norway, Sweeden, Denmark. Finland and Estonia and began to recognize my call into ministry for the first time.  I realized I was exactly where I needed to be, on the path that God had intended for me.

So many of us Chistians are so comfortable in our faith.  In fact, our faith is not “needed” for much more than comfort.  It’s veiwed as something to make us feel good. And it does do that, for sure.  And there are times in our lives when we need nothing more than God’s comforting presence  (grieving the loss of a loved one, facing terminal illness or medical diagnosis.)  But comfort is not the only aspect of our faith.  Sometimes, Jen and Brandon Hatmaker discovered, it becomes more about service to others than it does serving self.

God disrupts our comfortable prayers and gratitude and opens our eyes to real needs and people who no one is paying attention to.  And to our sin.  God reminds us of our common humanity.  Jesus models for us over and over again to pay attention to the people on the margins.  The blind person people just walked by.  The older bent over woman no one realized was in the crowd.  The lepers no one was supposed to touch.  Children.  Women.  The foreigner.

“All of a sudden, I saw my exact reflection in Peter: devoted but selfish, committed but misguided.  And that is not going be enough.  It won’t suffice to claim good intentions.  Saying “I meant well” is not going to cut it.  Not with God screaming, begging, pleading, urging us to love mercy and justice, to feed the poor and the orphaned, to care for the last and least in nearly every book of the Bible.  It will not be enough one day to stand before Jesus and say, “Oh?  Were You serious about all that?”   – Jen Hatmaker  (Interrupted

Is God trying to get your attention?  Have you noticed some disruptions bubbling up within your spirit lately?  Are you seeing things with fresh eyes that you haven’t noticed before?  Over the next couple of weeks, I simply invite you to pay attention.  What do you see?  Who do you see?  And then what is it you might need to get serious about?

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Swimming in the Deep End of Black and White

This past week I had lunch with my friend and colleague, Rev. Donald Jenkins.  He’s black. I’m white.  We both serve United Methodist Churches – he the largest black Methodist Church and I the largest white Methodist Church in the area.  A few months ago we went to breakfast on my side of town – pretty much all white folks running and eating in the restaurant.  Monday, we went to lunch on his side of town, pretty much black folks running and eating in the restaurant.  We talked about our work – what brought us the greatest joy and what were the greatest challenges.  And it was wonderful to recognize what was so similar within us both.

We both admitted that we could not imagine waking up and doing anything else but pastoring our churches for a living.  We both admitted that it was extremely difficult work trying to help our people go deeper in their discipleship of Jesus.  How we longed for our people to have a more significant relationship with God and how easy it was for our church folks to remain on the surface, to stay in the shallow end.  We talked about some strategies we were trying to help our folks start swimming in the deep end.

Then we talked about a recent experience we both had in a program called Leadership Winston-Salem.  He had been part of the leadership team that planed what was called “Community Day” in which we were to address issues around race and poverty here in Winston Salem.  I had had such high expectations that we would get to go swimming in the deep end of real dialogue about race relations in this community since our group of 50+ is very diverse.  We were both disappointed how most of the day we safely stayed in the shallow end, not tackling the truth of our geographical and economic disparity.  We agreed it felt like for most of the day, we stayed on the surface and missed an opportunity to go deeper.

I think I felt that way because I have already been swimming around in the deep end.  Our churches have been trying to open up this dialogue and admit the stereotypes we have of one another and the amazingly similar hopes and dreams and outlooks on life that we share in common.  Our two churches have had two gatherings so far, one a combined worship experience, the other a combo dialogue/Communion service.  We have our third opportunity to come together coming up soon.  In honor of Black History Month, and because one of our favorite things about getting together is sharing music together our musicians have been working hard to present a combined performance.

On Sunday, February 19th at 6:00 at St. Paul United Methodist Church our choirs will come together and offer a musical and drama presentation written by William Lake, Jr., the musical director at St. Paul.  It’s called the Soundtrack of Freedom and it will be another opportunity to go swimming together in the deep end.  15977877_10154030817632035_1857363284995574245_n

I hope you will join us, whether you are from St. Paul or Centenary or Winston Salem.  Let us continue to model for the community around us that slowly but surely, hand in hand, black and white, skeptical and trusting, old and young, stranger and friend – we can jump into the deep end and swim together.  We can go below the surface of our differences, of this rhetoric of “different is bad” that seems to be permeating our ears.  We can model for the community that one of the most important steps in breaking down the walls is to go swimming together.  Or in our specific situation sing together.  About things that matter.  That tell our story, one St. Paul UMC and Centenary UMC are trying to write together.  Put on your swim suit and join us.  (By the way, Forsyth Seafood Market and Cafe on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is delicious!)

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Hospitality, Safety, Political Promises and Jesus

I’ve adopted a new stance this year:  Praying and reflecting before I respond.  So much is happening so fast of late that it has sent me on a professional and emotional roller coaster.  I have realized that this just might be the new norm for a while so I have got to find my typically calm center again or I will go bonkers.  One strategy that has worked so far is to sit with the matter at hand, whether a ministry hiccup or a current event to make sure I understand what is happening and what is the intent behind the action. This has been a tough week current events wise.

Along with (best I can tell) all of my clergy colleagues, I am disturbed and deeply disappointed by President Trump’s Executive Order to ban (even temporarily) all refugees and those immigrants from his designated list of Islamic countries.  In trying to rationalize the reasoning behind such a hasty and unvetted measure I see two reasons- one is the fulfillment of a political promise that elicited a strong response at Trump’s rallies, and an attempt to increase the safety and security of our country.  It’s just that I don’t see how this truly accomplishes that kind of security.  Persons can enter our country on a passport from Europe with intent to be harmful- in other words, the person could be from anywhere.  The diaspora of terrorist practice has scattered to the winds and to believe the risks are located from persons from certain high risk countries or even outside of the US is short sighted.

But it’s the theological and spiritual ramifications that lead me to question this action and seek its recension.  The spiritual harm this mindset can cause and the dangerous theological framework this xenophobic response encourages greatly concerns me.   The last few days I have been in Miami Beach, FL and watched with great interest the beautiful diversity of cultures, languages, skin and hair colors, foods, music, and dress.  As I ate delicious Cuban food and listened to live Cuban music, how grateful I was to experience the joy of this multi-cultural moment.  And at one time in our history, Cubans were an “enemy” thanks to Fidel Castro and Russia during the Cold War.

I saw young boys playing around the pool at our hotel with yamakas on their heads- even in their bathing suits in the pool.  Later that day I was walking on the beach and saw a woman of Middle Eastern dissent and Islamic faith wearing full dress with tights and a skirt as she went swimming in the ocean with her family, a huge smile on her face.  A few more yards down the beach was a woman sunbathing topless and I thought, what an amazing and diverse place that people from all kinds of cultures and practices can make this work.

And we as Christians, are called to especially remember the refugee.  We are called to treat the immigrant with grace and hospitality.  It is a biblical mandate found both in the Old Testament and more importantly from Jesus himself in his New Testament teaching.  The reality is that the refugees seeking safety in this country are some of the most vetted persons trying to enter our country.  And they are the most vulnerable since they are almost always coming from a war torn, violent and desolate former life.  God has always been on the side of the refugee.  There is no way as a Christian to get around this truth.

Bishop Bruce Ough, the President of the Council of Bishops for the United Methodist Church issued a statement on Monday, January 30th which you can read in full here.  Below is an excerpt in which he makes a compelling point.

 The biblical witness is clear and unambiguous. Walls are unbiblical. Hospitality is biblical. Denying one’s neighbor is unbiblical. Welcoming the stranger is biblical. It is not surprising that Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach the reign of God as a banquet to which all peoples are invited. We are to welcome the sojourner, love our neighbor and stand with the most vulnerable among us. …. When we welcome a stranger we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus we welcome our creator. Refugees, immigrants, those yearning to be free—these are the ones whom Jesus spoke about when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).                 -Bishop Ough (President of the Council of Bishops – UMC)

We are called to be the hands, feet and at times the voice for Jesus in a world that is shapeshifting around us.  I hope you will join me in praying for our country to continue to be a place that welcomes the immigrant who longs to make a better life for themselves in a place that offers hope, hospitality and freedom.  And I think we can continue to do this without disregarding our safety.  That is, we can if we figure out how to work together. Oh that we will figure out how to work together.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth