Saturday, February 23, 2008

glimpses of the kingdom

Today we held our annual "Day of Service". It is a morning that brings together folks of all ages, who have signed on to particular teams. I decided to be a part of the "Stop Hunger Now" team (see the link under "Repairing The World"). About 30 people in our team assembled packets that included at least four separate ingredients (rice, vitamin powder, freeze dried vegetable powder and chicken powder); these were weighed, sealed (thus keeping them fresh for three years), boxed and ultimately shipped to the warehouse in Raleigh. The food will be taken to Cochabamba, Bolivia later in the winter, where it will be enjoyed in a school lunch program there. Our team put together 10,000 meals in approximately two hours. It was a good time of fellowship, learning about what that organization does, and being a small part of God's desire to feed the hungry of this world.

I continue to be amazed by the people of the church that I serve. In the past week we have hosted a "Nothing But Nets" basketball benefit, listened to the President of the YMCA of Gambia (Africa), who spoke about malaria nets, and hosted an annual luncheon to benefit UMAR, a ministry with adults who have developmental disabilities (450 were in attendance). So in a week three important constituencies among and beyond us have come into focus: hungry children in South America; families in need of protection from Malaria in rural Africa; and young adults with disabilities and their families. There is surely much that is wrong with the Christian church in the United States, and the call to be a disciple is lifelong (we never arrive); but at the moment I am grateful for those who look beyond themselves, and their own comfort and gratification, toward others, and who do so in the name of Christ. At times the church really does approximate the kingdom of God. I thank God for glimpses of that in the past week.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

do not be anxious about your life

"Rats and roaches live by competition under the law of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy."

Wendell Berry

Sunday, February 17, 2008

darrell scott

Darrell Scott was in concert tonight at Spirit Square in Charlotte. He did not perform "Long Time Gone" or "Hank Williams' Ghost", but he did offer a two and a half hour set that included an inspired collection of his songs, including "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive", "The River Is Me", "Full Light", a cover of "Satisfied Mind" (the Porter Waggoner classic, penned by Rhodes and Hayes), "It's A Great Day To Be Alive", and "Love's Not Through With Me". Our older daughter and I had heard him (and talked with him) at Merlefest last spring, and in fact he has been on the main stage there the last two years. This evening it was simply the artist and his instruments: piano, acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro, electric guitar. He is a virtuouso, and he seems to do everything well. Up close, he is an astonishingly skilled guitarist. It was also good to hear his "I'm Sticking My Redneck Out", a populist manifesto that calls forth the best of the southern tradition (King, Rosa Parks, and others). The McGlohan Theater at Spirit Square is a former church sanctuary and it was nice when Scott got into a riff of "I Surrender All" at some point in the evening. A really nice evening of roots music, just the artist, the instrument, the voice and the song. If you are curious, check out Darrell Scott on "Youtube".

Saturday, February 16, 2008

do no harm/movies

So we just got around to watching The Last King of Scotland. It is a morality tale about colonialism, good intentions gone awry, the human capacity for self-deception and indeed how we can do harm under the guise of doing good. Forest Whitaker, who received the Academy Award for best actor, is superb in his portrayal of Idi Amin, the late dictator of Uganda, and the Nicholas Garrigan character is also well done. Interestingly, I did not realize that Sculley (from the X-Files) plays the wife of the other rural physician until after I had thought about it for awhile. The last lecture given by the brutal and horrific Amin to Gallagher, prior to the torture scene, is memorable: "We (the Africans) are not a game. This is real". I did reflect on that scene in light of the cross-cultural mission I have experienced. This is not a game. This is real life for them. At a minimum, we are called to "do no harm".

Speaking of which, I did read Reuben Job's Three Simple Rules, purchased a few copies for some of our staff, and then led a Wednesday evening reflection for about thirty people on the brief book--the first simple rule, which guided the early Methodists, was to "do no harm".

I have thought about this simple maxim as I have watched the unfolding presidential electoral process. Is it a given that the end justifies the means---that it is appropriate to say anything about the other candidate (or have your spouse say anything about the other candidate) to win? And if so, is irreparable harm done to the body politic, and the nation in the process? My appreciation for Obama's idealism is in part a hope that one can indeed succeed without doing harm to the other person, or other people along the way.


I love going to movies with my wife---it is fun to escape, nice to be in the dark, nice to relax and sit still for a couple of hours, but....attending movies is getting to be a bit much, for the following reasons:

1. In Charlotte, movies at 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. are not reduced to matinee prices.
2. Snacks are ridiculously expensive.
3. Perhaps I am becoming less tolerant, but talking by moviegoers is getting worse. I suppose baby boomers are losing their hearing, and have to speak out loud to each other.
4. Not to mention cell phones...
5. And the commercials prior to the movies are reaching marathon proportions.

I like to have seen the films nominated for Academy Awards, and this year I will have seen the best picture nominees, with the exception of There Will Be Blood. Maybe I will catch it when it comes to my local grocery store, and I can rent it for $1, watching it in the quiet and privacy of our own home.

My choice for best picture at next Sunday evening's Academy Awards: No Country For Old Men.

Friday, February 08, 2008

larry wilkinson

Yesterday I rose early, to prepare for my weekly Disciple II class. I love Genesis and Exodus, but am glad to be in the New Testament, Luke, to be precise. This may be that the Gospels are more familiar, or it could be due to the fact that I took Greek and not Hebrew in divinity school. Preparation seems easier. I met with the class for the first hour, and then Pam and jumped in the car and drove the three hours to Waynesville, North Carolina, to attend the memorial service of Larry Wilkinson.

Larry Wilkinson was one of the giants of the conference when I was coming into membership. He served twelve years as a district superintendent (the maximum allowed by the Discipline), under three different (and very distinct) Bishops. He loved the machinery of the conference (how boards worked, how appointments made), and he had some input into most important decisions. He had mastered the political dynamics of life in our denomination.

Having said this, Larry was not merely a political hack. He loved people, and took a genuine interest in them. He loved to laugh. He worked hard (as Wesley urged, he was rarely idle). He was always on the move. In him, it seemed that one could be human and still be a minister. This was not an assumption that most of us immediately shared as we were getting started in this work.

Our paths crossed many times. He guided the process of at least one person who was elected as a bishop. I participated in a small way in that, and came to know him. We would see each other at Duke's Pastor's School and Convocation in the fall, at our Conference's Mission to Ministers in the winter, at a dinner held the night before Annual Conference every June, and sometimes, by chance, in between.

Later, I came to serve as senior pastor at Providence UMC, and among my predecessors was Larry (1984-1990). He left a wonderful pastoral legacy there, getting to know people, adding a dimension of informality in a fairly formal church, strengthening the Haiti Mission. His informality could be disarming, but I must also add that he was broadly educated, having earned two master's degrees, Duke and Wake Forest, and a doctorate in education from UNC Greensboro. He was smart, sort of a pastoral equivalent of the country lawyer, conjured up in my mind by Senator Sam Erwin. You underestimated him at your own peril. I last visited him at the end of the year, in the rehabilitation hospital near the grounds of the Lake Junaluska Assembly. He was alert and engaged that afternoon, with one of his grandsons also in the room. We talked about many things, including high school volleyball, a passion shared by his granddaughter and my younger daughter.

Larry was seventy-one years old, and I suppose I had hoped for many more years (I had a very similar sadness in the death of Tom Langford, former Dean of Duke Divinity School and also a leader in our annual conference). The service in Larry's memory was wonderful, with four moving eulogies (two given by Bishops Kammerer and McCleskey), beautiful music, and good liturgy. Larry has left a big imprint in our lives, and he will be missed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

nicholas kristof on evangelical compassion

Read it all.