Saturday, March 31, 2007

paul farmer and elie wiesel

Tuesday was an extraordinary day, a rare experience in the span of a lifetime. Due to the good graces of Ron, who is at Wofford College, and Kathy, who is a member of our congregation, I was invited to participate in small group experiences with two of today's leading voices for justice and compassion: Paul Farmer and Elie Wiesel. I will blog later about the particulars of their presentations, but I will say a word about the day here.

Jack Lamour, our student from Haiti and I hit the road early for the hour and fifteen minute drive to Spartanburg, SC, where Wofford is located. Wofford is a fine United Methodist school in a beautiful setting, and we gathered in the Verandah Room for the conversation with Paul Farmer. The gathering was convened by President Benjamin Dunlap, and was in conjunction with an honorary doctorate given to Farmer by Wofford and his reception of the Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service To Humankind.

Paul Farmer is the co-founder of Partners In Health, the subject of Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, the author of The Uses of Haiti, and the founder of a medical hospital in Haiti. He teaches in the area of infectious diseases at Harvard Medical School, and is something of a modern saint, although he would certainly deny such a designation. I found Farmer to be a humble, engaged and brilliant presenter, open to the questions of those around the table but also prepared to state his own convictions. I was able to meet him, shake his hand and thank him, and he signed my copy of The Uses of Haiti (he is aware that it is not a book that has been read by the masses). Jack, who was with me was able to speak with him in Creole, to the delight of both, and Jack had his picture taken with Paul. I will blog about the particulars of the conversation later, but it was amazing.

We left Spartanburg, and returned to Charlotte in time for a luncheon dialogue with Elie Wiesel, which was to take place at the Duke Mansion. Elie Wiesel is a survivor of the Holocaust, the author of over forty books, and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. More recently he has been an outspoken advocate for those who are experiencing the horrors of genocide in Darfur.

I arrived a few minutes late, but all was fine. We went over the groundrules of the conversation, and then took a break. Wiesel would join us at 1:00 p.m. At about five minutes until 1:00 Wiesel descended from an upstairs room and greeted each of us. He seemed warm and humble, and genuinely at peace among us. About twenty clergy of various traditions were present (Jewish, Muslim, Christian). A prayer was offered from each tradition, and then we ate a meal. Then Wiesel spoke for a time, and afterward we posed questions. Again, the questions were treated with respect and answered patiently. I sensed that I was in the presence of a holy man. All of us had read Night in preparation for this event, and that became a part of our discussion, but we also reflected on current events (torture, war, security). Wiesel was in Charlotte at the invitation of the Echo Foundation, and he would speak to several hundred people later that night at the Blumenthal Center. Again, I was able to shake his hand and thank him for his witness in our world. I perceived in him a total lack of arrogance, astonishing for someone of his stature. His comments were profound, and again I hope to share some of them later in this blog.

I certainly do not want to blur the lines that would distinguish an Elie Wiesel and a Paul Farmer. They are different people, and their messages stand alone. But they were a part of an extraordinary day in my life, and I am still processing the content of the experiences, and giving thanks to God for the opportunity to participate and to meet two of his most remarkable servants.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

please be in prayer

Please be in prayer for my wife, Pam, who is having knee replacement surgery today.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Our older daughter, Liz, turned twenty-one this week, and we celebrated with her at a great italian restaurant in Chapel Hill. The evening prior we had our church council meeting (it takes place six times a year), and I realize how amazing many of the laity are in administrative areas. Later in the week our church Wednesday evening dinner was followed by music with the Joy Class, our group of adults with developmental disabilities. We sang everything from "You Are My Sunshine" to "I Can See Clearly Now" to "My Girl" to "Blind Man" to "Kum Ba Yah" to "Go Now In Peace". It was a blast; it always is with this gang. Then I spent some time with those gathered reflecting on Henri Nouwen's In The Name of Jesus. A couple of hospital visits were sprinkled in there. We rejoiced in the upcoming arrival of a wonderful musician who will serve as our director of music, at the conclusion of a year-long search. On Friday evening a group shared dinner together, and in our conversation we covered the waterfront, from children to grandchildren to travel to political systems to the merits of wearing a helmet while skiing to weddings....And then, when I arrived home, UNC was behind by sixteen against Southern Cal...and then a few minutes later they had won by ten. Today I finished the third of three Lenten sermons on the temptations of Christ, from Luke 4. Now it is on to Palm/Passion Sunday, and then Easter.

Yesterday and today I watched a great deal of college basketball. My final four was Kansas, Ohio State, UNC and Florida, so I am batting 500...Still, because of Liz, I was rooting for UNC, and they ran into a hungry Georgetown team today, missing 16 of their last 17 shots and watching the Hoyas grab 90% of the rebounds over the last minutes of regulation, and then all of them in overtime. I think UNC is a year away, assuming that Brandon Wright and Tyler Hansborough stay around.

Speaking of hanging around, I can see Kevin Durant of Texas going pro, and also Greg Oden of Ohio State. It will take both about five seconds to make those announcements once the season is over. Randolph Morris of Kentucky has already become a NY Knick. Joachim Noah will go early this year, after the Gators pick up their second championship in a row. Josh McRoberts of Duke has already exited (a year too early, I think). It will be a strong draft class, filled with talented big guys. This is good for our Bobcats in this regard, but maybe not the best year for big guys to go early. I hope Wright and Hansborough stick around for one more year. You got the feeling, finally, that the Tar Heels were talented but young. But who isn't, these days, in college basketball?

And so, with no great emotional investment left in March Madness, my thoughts turn to more spiritual matters, to family questions (where is our younger daughter going to college and when will she decide?), to the beginning of baseball, oddly scheduled for Palm Sunday (April 1), but mostly to the issues related to the coming days---next Sunday I am working with the saying of Jesus, "Let this cup pass from me", but trying also to listen to my friend Ted Wardlaw's advice in the current Christian Century, that I should pay attention to the big picture---in other words, not just a phrase, but the entire drama itself. This is a time packed with meaning, and I am blessed to walk through these days with the people of Providence. There is more to write about--for example, I will meet both Paul Farmer and Elie Wiesel, and hear them speak, on Tuesday. That has the potential to be one of the most remarkable days of my life.

My prayers are with you in these days of Lent.

Friday, March 23, 2007

war: anniversaries, rehabilitation, votes, purposes

We passed, this week, the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. There is no need to rehearse the dramatically different expectations that have emerged over time; the people of Iraq did not welcome us as liberators, their democratic process seems to be leading them away from our own national purposes (that have to do ideally with human freedom), the financial cost is to be paid by our children and grandchildren, the human cost of service personnel now serving third and fourth deployments is straining our military in ways that will become apparent in the years to come. All of these outcomes seem to me to be rational facts that are detached from partisan politics.

The cost of war is of course paid by a minute sector of our society, disproportionately poor, historically overrepresented in southern states, which are often adjacent to military bases, and younger than the average age of individuals in our nation. Because of improved medical technology we have suffered fewer casualties on the ground, in Iraq, but a much larger number of traumatic injuries that often result in amputations. Prior to the most recent news cycle, a great deal of light was beginning to shine on our substandard treatment on these returning heroes, especially at Walter Reed in D.C. At times like these, when these human stories of pain and suffering are told, I thank God for that our country has freedom of the press.

Today, the House of Representatives voted for a timetable that would bring an end to the war. Surely, readers of the Old and New Testaments can see within them a blueprint for seeking peace and beating our swords into plowshares. How this happens, or course, is political strategy, but that it should happen is a moral and theological imperative. We pray for an end to the war. We pray for peace.

The loss of life, the destruction of the human body and spirit, the shared suffering on both sides of battle---and my wife and I last evening went to see Letters From Iwo Jima, which I recommend---should surely bring to the surface the core questions: Why are we at war? Is our original purpose relevant to the present reality? Can politicians put aside their egos, and the historical image they are seeking to establish, in order to see the human cost of their stewardship, the children, the young men and women and their destinies, the hatred among nations that is the result of these four years.

My older daughter is a student of Asian Studies, and these words, from the Tao Te Ching, seem timely:

"Where the army marched
grow thorns and thistles.
After the war
come the bad harvests".

And a word from my own scriptures:

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God". (Matthew 5. 9)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

the temptation to be powerful (luke 4)

Lead me not into temptation”, the bumper sticker reads, “I know the way already”. The hymn confesses, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”. Temptation is a part of life. It forms the stage upon which the drama of Lent begins.

But what is temptation? Is it the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue? or a big bowl of homemade ice cream, covered in chocolate syrup? or the desire to buy a car that is twice as big as the one my parents owned? or, a question I put to myself, “could I really give up March Madness for Lent, all of the basketball over the next few weeks, even if I wanted to”?

Well, this year it might not be so difficult, but that’s another story.

Is temptation always something external, something beyond us? Or is temptation internal, my own choice, my own issue, what I think about another person, how I dismiss or judge or stereotype them?

What does temptation mean to you?

Some of the early Christians talked about a world filled with demons; temptation was the battle with those demons. Others saw temptation as inner an inner struggle. But they all agreed on one basic fact: the demons had no more power over us than what we granted to them. Some believed that demons were a reality only for the most devout; most of us caved in too quickly to our own desires for the demons to bother us. “Lead me not into temptation, I know the way already.”

The Bible itself speaks about the devil and temptation in a variety of ways: as tendencies within ourselves, as a personal being outside ourselves with whom we struggle; as a powerful angel gone astray; as an organized force at odds with the will and purpose of God. The word “devil” means “the slanderer”. The word “Satan” means “the adversary”.

But what do the temptations of the devil have to do with us? Temptation is a non-issue when we cannot tell the difference between compromise and conviction, between truth and slander. There is no struggle. We know the way already.

But if we are trying to live in God’s plan, striving to stay close to God’s purpose, we will encounter temptation, there will be an adversary. And the closer we get to God the more real the temptation, the more intense the struggle,

The devil takes Jesus up to a high place and shows him in an instant all of the kingdoms of the world. And the devil says, to you I will give all of this if…there is a catch, if you will worship me, it will all be yours. In movies about Jesus, or about the struggle between Jesus and a person, this is the scene where the conversation is on the top floor of an urban skyscraper, and Satan points to the whole of Manhattan Island, and the skyline, and says, “this can all be yours”, and then a pause, and you know there is a catch, an “if” is coming, “If you will worship me”.

The temptation must have been a difficult one for Jesus. It was a temptation to do good, to gain power. And wouldn’t we want Jesus to have power? Don’t we sing, in Handel’s Messiah, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever”?

Take it”, we say to Jesus. You deserve it. Who better than you? You’re the messiah. You’re the king. Take it.”

In the first century Roman Empire, there was a great desire for a righteous leader. This is our chance, the One from whom we have been praying”. We are not so different. There will be utopia after this dictator is removed, we will have peace after this war, it will be better after the next election,

It doesn’t matter how you get the power, we want to say. Take it. We need you”. The end justifies the means.

And so the temptation to be powerful is a powerful temptation. Jesus resists. He says, quoting again from Deuteronomy, “worship the Lord your God and serve only Him”. For Israel the temptation was to be like the other nations, who had earthly kings. Israel cried out for a king. You don’t want a king”, the prophet insisted. kings will only tax you and send your young men into war”. God is your king. But they were tempted toward the kingdoms of the world, and God gave them the desires of the heart. And they suffered.

Jesus represents Israel, he stands in the wilderness for Israel, Jesus stands in the wilderness for us, resisting temptation, examining the desires of his own heart, discerning the Father’s purpose for his life. He resists the temptation for a simple reason: Jesus was offered status without sacrifice, power without love. If Jesus had given in to this temptation, if he had embraced compromise, he would have given us a very different vision of God: a God without love, a Christ without a cross. This is temptation as a bypass, a shortcut to spirituality.

It is like reading the last page of a book, and pretending to know what it is all about. It is like skipping spring training and taking the field on opening day. It is like showing up for a dance recital without bothering to practice. It is like Easter without Lent. It is, in the words of the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “cheap grace”: grace without discipleship, grace without a cross, grace without Jesus Christ. It is, Bonhoeffer insisted, the “grace we bestow on ourselves”. (The Cost of Discipleship, 47).

With Jesus there is no shortcut to spirituality, no Easter without Lent, no crown without a cross, no status without sacrifice, no power without love. And it is exactly the same for us. There are no shortcuts in the spiritual life.

Henri Nouwen has a wonderful reflection on this temptation:

“What makes this temptation of power so irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people,
easier to own life than to love life.

Jesus asks, “do you love me?” We ask, “can we sit at your right hand and your left hand?” [Our] painful history is that [we are] ever and ever again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, leading over being led” (In The Name of Jesus, 59-60).

There is nothing wrong with having authority. But here is the insight: true authority comes from the Lord, real power comes from God. The illusion, of course, was that the world was Satan’s to give to Jesus. Jesus knew that going Satan’s way was the way to lose power. Jesus opted to receive from the Father what was the Father’s to give. The early Christians sang about this in a hymn:

Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus

Who though he was in the form of God

Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped

But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant

And humbled himself and became obedient unto death,

Even death on a cross.

Therefore God highly exalted him and has given him

The name which is above every name,

So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow

In heaven and on earth and under the earth

And every tongue confess

That Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2. 5-11)

We have been asking the question, “How are the temptations of Jesus your own temptations?” We too are tempted by power.

Aren’t we led to places and asked to compromise our convictions? Who would know, or care?

Don’t we wonder, at times, if life wouldn’t be better if we crossed the line and went over to the other side? The lights are bright, and the people seem happy.

Don’t we hear words coming out of our mouths, words that express what is really in our hearts?

Don’t we realize how smooth is the slope that takes us downward? “Lead us not into temptation, we know the way already”.

All of us, in a number of ways, fight adversaries that are outside of us and within us, and if there seems to be no spiritual battle, then there is a problem.

Each of us is presented with the exact choice that Jesus faced:

Power without God, which is power without love, or

The power of God, which is love.

Next Sunday we will conclude this series of messages on the temptations of Jesus, and we will look specifically at the resources he used to overcome them. If his temptations are ours, his ways of resisting them can be ours as well.

Lead us not into temptation, we pray. Let us pray those words, let us choose love over power,

let us cling to the cross even as we give up control,

let us not worry so much about being the leader,

and focus instead on being led.

As we journey toward Easter, where a garden, a cross and an empty tomb await us, may we have a clarity about the desires of our hearts, an honesty about the ways we are tempted, and a desire to worship and serve God alone.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


So we are in March Madness, and I am spending way too much time in front of the television, to the extent that I have memorized most of the commercials, including the stupid bud lite ones, but also the cool Chevrolet commercial that ends with the road song (the chev-ro-let set). The ACC has only one survivor, the others having been voted off of the island by teams fillled with quicker guards, more aggressive forwards, and hungrier coaches. My final four is projected to be UNC, Kansas, Ohio State and Florida. I know, it's boring, they are all number one seeds, but I see them coming along, especially if UNC gets by USC, and if Ohio State can contain Memphis. I had Texas going deeper, but they fell by the wayside earlier today. It looks like the SEC was stronger than I had suspected---Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida are still alive, and I have difficulty seeing anyone ultimately defeating the Gators in the end. We shall see. At any rate, I will be following the bouncing ball, on the road to the final four, until March Madness gives way to the first pitch on opening day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

the temptation to be relevant (luke 4)

Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days. Moses had been on the mountain for 40 days. Elijah had a 40 day flight to the mountain of God. The Book of Deuteronomy tells us that Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus quotes from the Deuteronomy passage three times in the first 13 verses of Luke 4.

We have left the mountain of transfiguration---do you recall that place, that “transforming moment”, maybe the best day of your life? We have walked into the valley of temptation. It is clear in the New Testament that Jesus identifies with us, as one who encounters testing, we have a high priest who has been tested, in every respect as we have been, without sin, the writer of Hebrews insists (4.15). And the wonderful spiritual writer Esther de Waal puts the question into focus:

“Those three temptations Jesus faced are equally my own temptations: to be relevant, to be spectacular, to be powerful. Am I able, like Christ, to put them down?”

In the next three messages we will be looking at Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. These are the traditional scriptures for the beginning of Lent, which is a time of spiritual preparation for Easter. Today we look at the first temptation, and we keep before us a parallel question: how is this temptation of Jesus my own temptation as well?

The first temptation: if you are the son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread. This is the temptation to be relevant. What is the temptation to be relevant? It is the need, the drive, the desire, the compulsion, the obsession to do what is urgent, what is productive, to make a splash, to be known, to be helpful, to be useful.

Now, in a sense, there is nothing wrong with relevance. A loaf of bread is a wonderful thing to a person who is fasting, or to a starving world. But Jesus’ mission is not to turn stones into bread. He had a clear sense of where he was headed in life, or his Father’s purpose for him. And so he rejected the tempters voice that urged him to turn stones into bread. He said “no” to what someone has called “the tyranny of the urgent”.

Steven Covey, the best-selling author, has written about the urgent and the important. Some things are urgent and important: my car won’t start this morning, that’s urgent and important.

Some things are urgent, but not very important: This sale will last only three more days!” Somehow we know there will be another one.

Some things are neither urgent nor important; they are simply a waste of time. Some mail, some phone calls, some activities, some events.

But some things in life are not urgent, but they are important. What is not urgent, but important?

Reading the Bible is not urgent, but it is important.

Playing with our children is not urgent, but it is important.

Putting flowers on a grave is not urgent, but it is important.

Taking a trip, for fun, is not urgent, but it is important.

Exercising is not urgent, but it is important.

Having a date with your spouse is not urgent, but it is important.

Prayer is not urgent, but it is important.

None of these activities has any urgency about them. They are not relevant. They can be pushed aside when a voice says to us, “you can put this off, you can do something else, something more important, something that needs to be done now”.

Turn these stones into bread, the tempter says to Jesus. Now remember, Jesus is hungry. Temptation always comes to us at our point of weakness. Temptation does not come when we are ready for it. It comes when we are overwhelmed, and at the worst possible time. Turn these stones into bread.

Jesus responds, “You cannot live by bread alone”. There is more to life than bread, more to life than the next meal, more to life than the urgent and the relevant. The scripture from Deuteronomy reads, “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” 8.3).

We overcome the temptation to be relevant, to do the urgent, as we listen for the voice of God. Have you ever found yourself watching television, and all of a sudden a commercial comes on and boom, the decibel level goes way up? And sure enough it gets our attention.

How different it is with God, who speaks to us not in the shattering of the rocks, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the still, small voice (I Kings 19. 11).

We listen for the voice of God, for the word of God. As I look back over twenty years of doing much the same work every day and every week, being a pastor, a wonderful life, I can identify particular settings in which I have listened for the voice of God, for the word of God. A couple of settings come to mind.

One was an annual pilgrimage that a number of people made to Dayspring, a retreat center at the Church of the Savior, in Germantown, Maryland. We would drive up and take part in a weekend-long silent retreat. Some years I went because I was the leader. Some years I went because I was exhausted.

Whatever my motive, in the silence, in the rest, in that holy place, 200 acres of wooded forest, I heard the voice, not an audible voice, but a voice, and it told me to think not just about the immediate and the urgent but the important and the eternal. I realized that sometimes the voice of God could be drowned out by the noise of the culture and the marketplace. And I realized that my priorities could easily become misplaced.

Another that comes to mind is Haiti. I try to make that journey once a year, usually in January. Two fairly brief airplane flights and there you are, in a sea of beautiful black people, who speak a different language. There you are with people who have a totally different set of problems from the ones I usually encounter. And there, amazingly, you are among a people with a deep sense of joy and gratitude about life, and God speaks through them, and somehow my priorities are rearranged and my mission in life becomes a little clearer.

Now, it seems a little foolish to drive four hundred miles or fly five hours to hear the voice of God, and yet for some reason we need to get away from our routines and habits to get that kind of clarity. The wilderness is that kind of place. Everything is stripped away. It is just you and the Voice.

Amazingly, this is not only our need. This is God’s desire. Recently I was walked through the lobby of a retirement community where one of our members lives. And in this part of the facility there were several people talking, calling out with loud voices. At the same time there were others, with real needs for friendship and someone to listen, who were silent.

God wants our companionship. God wants us to listen, God has a word for us. And we hear God’s voice as we tune out all of the noise of relevance and urgency and listen instead for the gentle whisper. In these 40 days of Lent we tune in to God’s word. In Lent we confess that we have spent a lot of time and effort trying to turn stones into bread. For most of us, there is more stress in our lives than significance, more urgency than importance.

Much of the stress, much of the urgency has to do with the temptation to be relevant.

Maybe it is to want the next big thing, the next new thing, the next fascinating thing. A pet rock, a beanie baby, an X box, Nintendo, a Cabbage Patch doll…

I know, its absurd. And a disclaimer: if you collect any of these things, please forgive me!

Or you are a young person, and what you most want to do is fit in. Or you are in a corporate culture, and what you most want to do is fit in. Teenagers do grow up to become adults.

Or you are a church and you want to be successful. We need to copy what some other church is doing”, someone will tell me.

The grace to overcome this testing has everything to do with who we really are, and what our purpose is on this planet. It is grace because it reminds us that we are worthy even if we are irrelevant---our worth is not attached to a fad or a trend. It is grace because it reminds us that we are children of God. It is not accidental that prior to the temptation of Jesus, in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, we read about his baptism, in Matthew 3 and Luke 3, and there the voice of God had clearly spoken---you are my beloved son, I am pleased with you.

In Lent, we tune out the Voice of the tempter, the insistent voice of relevance, and we tune into the still, small voice of the One who calls us his beloved sons and daughters.

If you want to give up something for Lent, I invite you to give up the need to be relevant. God will equip you to overcome temptation, that God will sustain and strengthen you, to discern the important and put aside the urgent.

A couple of weeks ago, on Tranfiguration Sunday, I asked you to reflect on a question: what was the best day of your life? Here is where we are going: if you can give up the need to be relevant, you are in a position, this morning, this Lent, to reflect on another question: What is the most important thing in the world to you?

You see, relevance is a temptation because it keeps us from asking that question. In a few minutes you are going to be invited to eat the bread and drink the cup, and then, if you wish, to kneel and pray. As you are praying, I want you to think about this question:

What is the most important thing in the world to me?

This was the same question that Jesus asked, in the wilderness, when he was tempted to be relevant.

What is the most important thing in the world to me?

Sources: Esther de Waal, Living The Contradiction; Henri Nouwen, In The Name of Jesus. Steven Covey, First Things First.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Jesus began his ministry by being hungry, yet he is the Bread of Life.
Jesus ended his earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet he is the Living Water.
Jesus was weary, yet he is our rest.
Jesus paid tribute, yet he is the King.
Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet he cast out demons.
Jesus wept, yet he wipes away our tears.
Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet he redeemed the world.
Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet he is the Good Shepherd.
Jesus died, yet by his death he destroyed the power of death.

–Gregory of Nazianzus, A.D. 381

Sunday, March 04, 2007

twelve good things

Twelve good things that have happened recently:

1. Our older daughter Liz, who attends UNC, has received a Burch Fellowship and will spend the summer in Toyko.

2. We had a good group in our membership class this morning, composed of people who seem to be drawn to the worship and vision of our church, and have amazing gifts and experiences themselves.

3. I was able to have breakfast Friday morning with Kennon Callahan, who has been a teacher and mentor to me over the years. He was in Charlotte leading a district seminar.

4. I enjoyed sharing Saturday afternoon and evening with our Confirmation Class at Lake Junaluska. The time was spent teaching, answering questions, eating pizza and celebrating Holy Communion.

5. My review of Anne Lamott's new book, Grace (Eventually), will appear in the Charlotte Observer in a couple of weeks.

6. I enjoyed an evening of music at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville a couple of weeks ago, while participating in a meeting of the Ministry Study of the United Methodist Church.

7. I have been asked to serve on a Civic Engagement Committee in relation to Elie Wiesel's appearance in Charlotte later this month. We will have the opportunity to read and discuss his classic work, Night, and to hear him give a lecture.

8. On the way to Junaluska, where I would meet with the Confirmation Class, my wife Pam, Jack Lamour (from Haiti) and I stopped at Bridges BBQ in Shelby. This was perhaps Jack's first introduction to classic Carolina BBQ cuisine.

9. Our younger daughter, Abby, spoke at the annual youth worship service of our church last Sunday.

10. We attended a wonderful Academy Awards party, even if my picks did not all come through; I had Little Miss Sunshine as best picture. And while I thought An Inconvenient Truth was a boring movie about a fascinating subject, I am grateful for an increased awareness of an important issue.

11. Our church hosted the Annual Conference's Mission To Ministers, and in the opening worship service we received an offering for the theological library of Africa University. $3000 was contributed.

12. The days are gettiing longer. Spring is coming. Which means Braves baseball, and Merlefest, and mostly, it means the coming of Easter, and the hope of resurrection, and the promise of new life.