Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Dum Vita Est Spes Est...While There's Life, There's Hope."

Ok, I will own up front that this is mostly rant, but at some point during this rant, it will evolve into something else.  I need to do this today.  If you've had the kind of day I've had, I invite you to read along.  Maybe we can figure some of this thing called life out as we go.  If not, there's probably a rerun of "Flipper" on somewhere. 

I'm going to start out by saying something that is going to cause a collective "gasp" throughout most of my circle of friends, and will leave folks saying to themselves, or under their breath, or hell, even to someone else, "I can't believe he said that...especially with his career and all..."  So here it is, right out of the gate: The next person who comes up to me, with some sort of self-denial laced smile on their face, and says this..."God is good...all the time...all the time...God is good." I will not be responsible for my actions.  You have been warned. 

I'm mad as hell.  I don't know who or what I'm mad at, but today I have found myself at a level of pissed off I've never been at before in my life.  Maybe I'm having some serious theodicy issues (justice of God stuff) and maybe I am mad at God.  Maybe I'm pissed at the medical community because we can map most of the human genome but we can't figure out why what happened this morning keeps happening.  Maybe I'm pissed at myself because I'm the dad, and protector, of my progeny.  I don't know. 

Some days, being a servant of a loving God is just a slap in the face.  If I were still building houses, no one would even flinch if I had a bad day and let a few explicatives fly.  In fact, it's almost expected.  But since I'm clergy, most folks think that I (we) have everything under control, take it all on the chin, and smile all the way matter what life deals us.  We're expected, (in most places, not all) to have this inner peace that never, ever gets shattered.  Well, today I learned that's just not always possible. 

I'm mad as hell.  Did I mention that?  I know deep inside that it's nobody's fault, and that there is no one to blame, but something within me wants to scream, cry, cuss, and tear the hell out of something.  Something within me needs to find some release.  So, you're welcome to stop reading here and see what's on TV, because it's about to get very real. 

I have two beautiful daughters, 17 and 13 years old.  I love them more than life itself.  I have chased off boyfriends because I knew what they wanted.  I have changed dirty diapers.  I have bandaged boo-boos.  I have climbed trees to help get them down.  For 17 years I've taken my role as dad pretty seriously.  Granted, seminary kind of kicked that in the teeth for a few years because I was never home, but for the most part, I've watched out for them pretty well. 

My oldest daughter, for those who don't know, has epilepsy.  She was diagnosed nearly five years ago.  She has all the different kinds of seizures: absence, petit mal, grand mal...we've been through one doctor after another, tried more medicines that I can keep up with, one trip after another to the hospital for evaluations and tests...and she's been a trooper.  One time in five years she asked, "Why me?'  Just once.  That's a hell of a witness from a teenager.  This morning, all hell broke loose in her daddy's world, though. 

I was cooking breakfast and she came into the kitchen to take her meds.  I noticed that she was trying to go into a seizure, but watched her fight it off like a member of the USMC.  Without giving it much thought at all, I told her to go on and get ready for school.  Ten minutes later, she came back into the kitchen, and here is what I saw: my gorgeous 17 year old was unrecognizable because of the blood covering her face and running down her neck.  There was a look of terror in her eyes that I've never seen before, and hope to God never to see again.  Her hair was matted down with blood, and she was holding bloody hands out to me, crying.  I freaked out, but she didn't see that.  I got her to a chair, sat her down, and started cleaning off the blood.  It took four dish towels. 

After I got her cleaned up, and her mom got into the kitchen, I said that I was going to go clean up the blood out of the bathroom because I figured that's where she was.  Instead, she was in her bedroom when she seized, and on the white carpet (who in the hell puts white carpet in a house anyhow?), all of her pillows, her desk, her bed, her clothes on the floor, her notebook...was blood.  So much blood.  She had hit her forehead after the seizure started and fell face down on the floor.  None of us knew she was seizing.   Then I started freaking out for real.  My daughter's blood...everywhere. 

For an hour and a half I cleaned her blood out of carpet, pillows, and towels.  And I cried.  A lot.  Go ahead, call me a sissy.  I dare you. 

That was this morning.  I still can't get the image of her standing there, covered in blood, reaching out to me, out of my head.  But she's alive...and 95% of the time leads a perfectly normal life.  It's the 5% that pisses me off. 

So, this afternoon, I'm trying to regain some perspective.  Yeah, she has epilepsy.  Yeah, she may never drive a car.  Sure, college is going to be hard as hell for her.  A job?  I think she'll be fine if she has an understanding boss.  We're trying to teach her to take care of herself, making her order her own prescription refills, and set out her own meds (a lot of meds).  She's a tough kid.  A lot tougher than her old man. 

So, evolution begins...Dum Vita Est Spes Est...While there's life, there's hope.  You Latin geeks tell me if that is the right translation, I just found it online.         

Where there is life, there's hope.  By damn, I hope so.  Where there's life there's hope.  I looked at her after she got back from getting stitches and there was life.  Her color was perfect.  She was laughing (I think the little Yoda doll I found her helped).  She was poking at the stitches because it was still numb.  She had a hell of a lot more life in her at that moment than I did, so I've decided that it is from her life, and her hope, and her strength that I will draw mine. 

Now, you can say, "Jamie, you're a preacher, your hope is supposed to be in Christ."  I'd say you're probably right.  But the reality is, I felt pretty alone cleaning up all of that blood.  Oh, not completely alone, I had friends constantly encouraging me.  Today, I need something tangible.  Not an idol, really, but something I can look at...put my eyes on...and say, "There is life.  There really is hope."  Hell, maybe it is an idol, but if you think so, keep it to yourself.  Today I don't want to hear it.  Today, I needed to look into those eyes that had been so filled with fear this morning, and see life.  That gives me hope. 

Sure, I have hope in the resurrection and the new creation, but you know what, sometimes I don't want to be a theologian.  Sometimes I just want to be a dad.  Sometimes I don't want to think so deep about every little thing, (and wish to God others wouldn't all the time either...loosen up, people...holy hell) and instead, just be.  Just be a guy.  Just be a dad.  Just be pissed for a while. 

I'll get over it.  Tonight I'll strap on my guitar and the praise band will practice.  That will help a lot.  Always does.  I'll be able to be a theologian once again tomorrow, but for a little while today, I just needed to be mad.  But when the mad is gone, and some sense of normal returns, there is life...there is hope. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Shucking Corn...

Yeah, boring title.  I know...but...

Everyone in my circle has been telling me to slow church...even my counselor... But I love working.  I love my job.  I don't mind the hours or the stress.  It does get to me every now and then, just like everyone else who's trying to make it through the day, but all in all, it's a great gig. 

I realized over the last few months, though, that many of the things I used to enjoy just don't have much attraction for me now.  I don't know if I'm getting older...or I'm tired...or just have changing tastes, or what...but one thing I still enjoy tremendously is my garden.  Oh, sure, there's been no shortage of "old man" comments since I started gardening seriously last year, but I don't mind.  I even have a straw hat. 

Something hit me today, though.  (Oh great, here he goes again.  Cue fuzzy background) 

I realized today that I even rush through my gardening.  During planting, it was a dead run to get the ground tilled, manure worked in, rows laid out, strings pulled (The rows HAVE to be straight, duh!)  and the seeds or plants in the ground.  I don't know why I rushed through it.  I really enjoy it.  It's not even really work to me.  But it was "Get this done and get gone." all the way through the season. 

The cool weather garden is done now.  The first planting of sweet corn and pole beans are gone.  As soon as they were finished, I ran into the corn patch, clippers flying, cutting down corn stalks and bean vines, and straightening up squash vines so that I could till again and plant a late crop of horticulture beans. (Hurry up!) 

Today, I picked corn from my other patch.  Here's the deal...with all of the corn I've picked before today, I would carry my corn out to the compost pile and stand there while I shucked it (quickly) so I could get it in the house and start cutting it off of the cob.  As I walked out to the compost pile today, images of my childhood hit me like a brick to the face.

It's a gorgeous August day.  The sun is shining and a little breeze is blowing.  As I walked across the yard, the clock turned back thirty years or so and I was transported in my mind to the shade of the pine trees behind my grandparents' house, as Granddaddy backed the pickup truck in loaded down with corn.    

Then we'd all pull up a chair, or grab a seat on the picnic table, and it would begin.  Somebody would shuck the corn, someone else would silk it, someone else would trim it, then it would be cut off, prepared, and divided up.  I can picture it just as clearly as if I were there right now...and it just hit me...that was over thirty years ago...maybe even thirty five years ago. 

Thirty years...  That's a long time.  Where the hell has it gone?  Oh, I'm not moping or moaning, or anything like that.  I've had a good run so far.  I mean, I'm 42 and have no real complaints.  But really...that was a lifetime ago.  Thirty years...

You know, everyday we are given a chance to learn something about ourselves if we just pay attention.  I've learned today that at 42, I've gotten to a point where I rush through the few things I really enjoy doing because life has just gotten so busy...AND...I know I'm not alone.  That's not cool.

I know I can buy corn a whole lot cheaper than I can grow it and put it up myself.  It's simple economics.  But it's not about economics.  It's about connecting the boy I was with the man I am.  It's about relearning that not everything has to be done so damned fast.  It's about remembering that there was a time in my life when sitting under the shade, shucking corn with the family, was the highlight of the day.     

So, do you know what I did?  I grabbed a lawn chair, packed it over to the compost pile...and sat down to shuck corn.  It sounds stupid, I know, and you're probably thinking "It's time for the hugging jacket." That's ok. 

I'm trying not to tear up right now.  Why?  Well, it might not make sense to anyone else, but as I looked down at the hands shucking the corn, they weren't mine...they were my granddaddy's...and it's as if he were saying, "Son, what are you running so hard for?  Slow down.  Just shuck some corn for a while." 


It wasn't until after I published this to my facebook page that I remembered a question Granddaddy used to ask me all of the time.  Every time I got ready to leave their house, without fail, Granddaddy would say, "What's your rush, son?"  Every time.  He's been gone over 10 years now, but I think I finally have an answer: "Well, Granddaddy, I have no clue.  I think I can stay a little longer."



Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm Christian Unless...

I made the mistake of praying once... No, you read that right.  It's not a typo.  I made the mistake of praying once, and it was Pete's fault.  Pete was one of my professors in seminary and changed my life.  He, and a few others, showed me a different way.

See, I had a great gig going.  It was comfortable.  It was stable.  Very few problems, even fewer counseling sessions.  Plenty of money in the bank.  But I made the mistake of praying.

I don't remember the exact prayer, but that's not important.  I'm pretty sure it went something like this, though: "God, I know there has to be more.  Show me how I can make a difference.  Send me to change lives."  It seemed innocent enough, right?  So God began to answer that prayer by creating within me a haunting sense of restlessness. 

I loved my folks.  They loved me.  Most of the time we got along great, and I could have stayed for years...but God had answered my prayer by making me restless.  Did I mention that already?  So I used the system to make a change. 

Shattered delusion.  Yeah, that's what I'd call it.  I was living a delusion.  I had been raised in a community that was pretty stable and I cannot think of a better place to grow up, but...

...but I was never really exposed to anything other than white, middle class, straight, and for the most part, law abiding.  So I thought that was how everyone lived, until I met Pete.  Pete took me to the slums of Mexico (literally) and exposed me to a side of life I had never experienced.  He then introduced me to lives lived on the streets of Memphis.  Talk about an experience.  Actually I did here:

Every stone in the walls of my ivory palace was blown all to damned pieces...and I loved it.

Now, to the reason this surfaced this morning.  I read a Dan Pearce blog this morning.  I'm not sure when he wrote it, but I can bet he took some heat for it, and I figure I probably will too.  But hey, I wrote yesterday about breaking rules, so why not?

The title of his blog was "I'm Christian...unless you're gay."

Yeah, that. 
Oh no he didn't! 
Oh yes he did!
Oddly enough, his blog really isn't about homosexuality.  Well, ok, yes it is, but not only about that.  It's long, but it's a good read, and should actually be converted to pamphlet form and put on every information table in every building that keeps the church dry while they meet.  Whether you agree with him or not, you (we) should read this and let it soak in for a while. 

Read it here...

His blog is a call to love...period.  But before we can love...period...we have to be able to judge less.  It's tough.  Believe me. 

I'm at a new place now.  Actually in my third year of ministry in a new place.  God has answered that prayer from a few years ago...BIG.

Almost every day I get the opportunity to decide if I'm going to judge...or love.  Almost every day of the week I have someone come through my door whose life is a complete damned mess...they're gay and no one understands them...they're back on the bottle and need some help...they're popping pills again and damn near died this time...they're at the end of their rope and don't know where else to go... and I have to decide, "Am I going to be Christian...unless..."?  Or, am I going to love them? 

Like I mentioned yesterday, sometimes love brings with it some pretty tough words, but tough words can be said out of love.  I've had to do that, but I'm learning that the person in front of me is more than the problem that brought them to me.  Whether it's alcohol, drugs, soliciting prostitution, wild living, going back to jail, or just the desire to get the hell out of Dodge and run away...they are people, created in the image of the living God, and I was commanded to love them.

It has meant a completely different way of thinking for me.  I have discovered a lot of shades of grey.  I have learned that there are very few absolutes.  I have discovered that I don't have to support the lifestyle and that I really can separate the person from the problem.  Mostly I have learned that your "right or wrong" and your idea of truth may not be someone else's...even if "the bible says..."  Because...unless I've read it wrong, Jesus said two things really those God loves.  That's it. 

So...I made the mistake of praying once...and I am so glad I did. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Call Me Patch...

Ok, I don't know what's behind the blogging this week, but I've kind of missed it.  Who knows how long it will last.

I'm not a movie buff...not at all... Two hours is just entirely too much time to commit to something, and as a result, I very rarely sit down to watch a movie.  I have a 30 minute sitcom or 15 minute episode of SpongeBob kind of attention span...and that's about it.

Yesterday I watched "Patch Adams".  I haven't been able to get this one out of my head.  It came out nearly 15 years ago, but if you haven't seen it, don't worry, I won't spoil it. 

It was almost Jerry MaGuire'ish in that instead of "having me at hello," this movie had me from the very beginning, and I don't usually do that.  Why?  Because I can relate to Patch.  Having struggled myself with depression, then finally figuring out what I was made for, then realizing that I didn't fit the expected mold, and finally with the obstacles he faced as he came into his own.  Still not spoiling anything...who didn't see that coming?

Now...the reason it hit me so hard...

I love my job...can't even imagine doing anything else anymore (Except for the occasional bad day when I walk around saying to myself, "Where did I hang that tool belt?")  But what I have seen is almost a shift, from the focus being on loving the people and proclaiming the a focus on proclaiming the Word but "Don't do anything to get you slapped with a harassment suit."  Professional distance, we call it.  I get it.  I respect it.  I watch myself so closely because I know I'm being watched just as closely.  It's more than just a fishbowl kind of life, it's the reality of a changing world...but it's not going to change lives. 

I don't know that it's part of the decline of the church, but it could be.  When a patient becomes nothing more than their dis-ease, or a parishioner becomes just a number on the board after worship, we have a problem.  Folks are not stupid.  They know when they really matter to someone, or when they're just there to be counted.  Patch wanted to be the kind of doctor that made his patients know they mattered.  I want to be that kind of pastor. 

So...I have come up with three guidelines that, to a degree, have already shaped my ministry, but that I want to be more intentional about after having watched this movie.  They're not the same three I was given by a well meaning colleague when I entered the ministry: "Love the people...Don't piss off the UMW...Get the folks out at 11:55...and they will love you forever" (Direct quote, by the way)        

My three are this:
                 Love the People...
                        Be passionate about what you do...
                                 Break a few rules...

I've already been labeled a rebel in the Conference.  I'm really not...just different.  I've already broken some rules...but not just to break rules...they needed to be broken.  I don't want my ministry to just be my profession.  I want to change lives.  I believe Jesus once said, "It's not the well who need a doctor..."  Folks come to us, many times, and their lives are a mess...maybe even at their own hands...what they don't need are institutional rules and professional distance.  They need compassion.  Sometimes they need a kick in the pants, but we can do that and still let them know they are loved. 

I'll still leave my office door open when I'm counseling.  I'll still follow all of our safe sanctuaries protocol.  But if I'm going to be effective in my ministry, the folks coming through my door have to know that I love them and that they matter.  If a few rules get broken in the process, that might not be such a bad thing. 

BTW...the picture above is the real Patch Adams.   



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Maybe I'm the Crazy One...

He showed up in our parking lot early yesterday morning.  One of my church folk had gotten to know him the last time he was in the area and called me to ask if it was ok for him to stop by the church so she could feed him breakfast.  (I love this place!)  I told her it would be fine. 

He came in and sat down while I started a pot of coffee.  After the cups were poured, I sat down with him and we started talking. 

"Where are you headed?"
"That way." Then he pointed to the east. 
"Anyplace in particular?" I asked.
"Nope.  Just that way.  I've never been that way before."

He was very articulate in his speech, but wore the highway on his face and clothes.  Everything he owned was tied to his bicycle in plastic bags. 

"Do you believe seers still walk among us?" he said.
"What?  Seers?  You mean, prophets?"
"No.  Not prophets.  There's no need of prophets since the New Testament.  Seers.  People who can
     see the other side.
"Well, I've never really thought about it. (To myself: 'This')

The conversation continued while we drank coffee and he ate breakfast.  He had traveled nearly all the way across the country, riding or pushing this bicycle overladen with stuff.  Most people, at seeing him for the first time would probably think, "This guy is crazy."  I confess, that thought might have crossed my mind a time or two over a few cups of coffee.  No doubt, a life on the road will leave one with a fair amount of stories that most would consider way out there, yet as I listened, I couldn't help but think, 'Who knows, they may be true." 

The longer I talked to him, the more I thought, "You know, maybe I'm the crazy one and this guy actually knows how to live." 

Of the ones of us sitting at the table yesterday (there were 4 altogether) my guess is that he is the only one not on blood pressure meds, or some type of anxiety pill.  I'm going to say that he can probably adapt on the fly better than any of us there, and make do without most of what we call necessities.  I'll bet he also didn't work 60 hours last week and still not get done everything he needed to get done. And above that, I would wager that he really didn't care about what he didn't get done. Who's crazy now?

Now, of course, I couldn't do what he was doing.  I couldn't drop all of my responsibilities, grab a bike and a few Wal-mart sacks, and hit the road, but I wonder...  I wonder what it would look like if I worried less and played more.  I wonder what it would look like if I did more of what I wanted and less of what I felt I had to.  I wonder what it would look like if I was able to adapt on the fly, and change direction at a moment's notice.  I wonder what it would look like to finally see that the way most of us try to live our lives leaves others thinking, "Wow, they're just crazy."

Alas, I have forgotten how.  I think that's why that one hour conversation yesterday hit me as hard as it did.  I have forgotten how to play more, and worry less.  I have forgotten how to do what I want to do without thinking about all of the things I have to do.  What scares me the most is that I've become okay with it. 

So, my plastic bag toting, bicycle pushing, eastward bound new friend, God speed.  Thank you for stopping by our place yesterday.  I'm not sure what I'll do with the lessons you taught me, but I won't forget them very soon. 

The last time I saw him, he had stopped to talk to some horses on the side of the road...and I'm not sure they weren't talking back. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What I Learned From a Baker About Being a Pastor...

Associate's Degree...
Bachelor's of Science in Biology...
Minor in Chemistry...
Master's of Divinity...

I thought I had been fairly well trained.  Hours and hours I spent sitting in class, listening to one PhD after another as I was taught how to exegete a text, how to discover the world behind or in front of a text, how to not tick off this group or that group...then I donned the cap, gown, and master's hood...walked the aisle...shook hands with the President of the seminary...received my degree...and walked out into the world. 

Then I went before the Board of Ordained Ministry so they could be sure I knew how to use the vast amounts of knowledge that had been lodged somewhere in my brain during 87 hours of graduate level work.  After a little tweaking, and a couple more years, I knelt down before the bishop as he laid his hands on my head and spoke those words I had been waiting to hear for twelve years, "Jamie, take authority as an elder in the Church, to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments."  Then my friend and mentor placed that sacred red stole around my shoulders and it was done.  I was ready to go. 

In two months I will reach my 14th anniversary as a pastor.  I've had all of the education required.  I've jumped through all of the hoops.  I've kept up with my continuing education requirements...but...

...but last night I got a lesson I won't soon forget.

My girls had been watching Cake Boss while I was cooking supper.  After supper, I sat down on the couch, kicked my feet up, and watched with them.  The cake that Carlos' bakery had been commissioned to create was awesome...neon edible paint...monsters...glow in the dark goo was pretty sweet.  Then the scene changed to the front counter at Carlos' bakery, and a potential customer that had stepped up to the counter and asked Buddy if he could bake her a the next day. 

Now, if you've ever watched Cake Boss, you'll know there is a prescribed process to get Buddy to bake you a cake.  First stop is the front counter, then a consultation is set up, then a tasting, then the design process, then the actual baking and icing, and finally the delivery.  That's the way it goes.  That's the way it ALWAYS goes...except for last night. 

This woman asked Buddy to bake a the next day...Buddy explained that was not how it usually worked, and when the woman saw that Buddy was beginning to crawdad a little she asked this, "Well, if you don't think you can do it, is there another bakery in the neighborhood that could?"  All of the color left Buddy's face and he was speechless. 

Now, I am the last to support a consumer driven ministry portfolio, but what Buddy did next taught me something I don't think I got in seminary, or through continuing ed...the customer comes first.  Whether we want to admit it or not, the truth is there really isn't much difference between the way Carlos' bakery treats a potential customer, and the way the church should treat a potential member.  I say "should" because we don't always. 

A potential customer, or a potential member, wants to know that they matter.  Buddy could have stuck to his guns, following a well established protocol, and watched as she walked out the door to his competitor, but he didn't.  You could almost watch the gears turning in his head...he went to one of his staff bakers and asked if they had any sponge cake ready to go...then he told the customer that they could bake her cake, and that it wasn't going to be ready the next day because he was going to do it right now.  Then the customer and her kids, stepped over to another part of the counter and watched as Buddy made their cake to order right in front of their eyes. 

THEN...and this is what slapped me in the face...Buddy took that opportunity, one that I, or we, might have seen as inappropriate, demanding, and distractive, and used it to create what might become a completely new way of baking cakes.  He even said, "We need to start offering this more, be intentional about it."  He was able to adapt on the fly, and because of the way he treated this customer, I can almost guarantee she'll be back. 

I'm not saying the Church should bend to pressure from the world, but let's be honest, we're pretty good at sometimes making folks feel like they are an intrusion into our work instead of the reason for our work.  It's happened to me more times than I care to mention...since last week. 

So, I learned how to exegete and discover the world behind the text in seminary, but I learned how to treat a potential member from a baker in Hoboken.  Lesson learned.   

Monday, July 8, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow...

Ok, pay attention, because you won't hear this very often.  I am admitting, in front of God and everybody, that I don't know how to do everything.  There.  I said it.  Damn, that hurt.

I started planning my garden in January of this year.  Every trip to Wal-Mart meant a quick run through the garden center to see if the seed packs were in yet.  I started gathering starting mix in early February, got seeds for my birthday in mid-February, and by the last week of February I was turning dirt (...while it was snowing on me...I'm sure that if the neighbors could have seen me, they would have been laughing.) 

I built raised beds this year, filled them with organic matter and straw just like the magazines said to, and got ready to put out my brassicas (I also found out "brassica" is the fancy word for the cabbage family).  I took a steel rod and drove it into the ground a half inch deep, every 2-3" in a row, so I could put my sweet peas out February 20th, just like the planting guide said to.  I needed the steel rod because the stupid ground is still frozen on February 20th.

As soon as I could, I began to set out tomatoes and squash, beans and peas, cucumbers and peppers, onions, garlic, kohlrabi, and more squash and more peppers and...and...and...

Then I waited.

It kept snowing.  The rain kept coming.  The nights were still frosty.  April came...more snow...more rain...more cold nights.  May...yep, one more snow shower...more rain...more frost...  Finally, the weather started turning around, it began to warm up a little, and I started getting excited.  My garden was finally going to start growing.  But it didn't.  Frustrating it was (In my best Yoda voice). 

Then today, it hit me.  I really don't know what the hell I'm doing when it comes to gardening.  In fact, I really don't know what the hell I'm doing when it comes to a lot of stuff.  Then something else hit me...I think I'm finally ok with that. 

Last week, I walked out into my tomato patch and noticed my Roma tomatoes were looking a little sickly.  I thought they were dry, so I watered them.  This morning, I walked back out and noticed my Roma tomatoes were looking a lot sickly.  This time, I asked somebody.  Well, I asked the online experts, and found out that it wasn't because they were dry.  It was because of a fungus named Alternaria.  The online experts said I might be able to save my Romas organically by keeping them clean and misting the leaves with a diluted vinegar solution.  We'll see. 

It's not just tomatoes.  Or corn that's yellow instead of emerald green.  Or sweet potatoes that did absolutely jack and squat.  Or Yukon gold potatoes that gave me a gallon of potatoes instead of the hundred pounds I had planned to store this winter.  It's folks coming to me with problems that most folks only see in their nightmares, and not knowing if I can help them or not.  It's spending a month working on a truck that I still haven't fixed.  It's trying to find some way to balance work, home, self and knowing that none of them are getting what they really need.  But at the end of the day, it's plain and simply the inability to stop and say, "I don't know what I'm doing.  Could you help me?" If you
don't know me, then you don't know how bad I suck at doing that.

One of my professors in seminary told me once, "Find something you enjoy and become an expert at it.  Read everything you can get your hands on about it.  Study it. Learn about it.  Live it."  So I did.  I started collecting gardening magazines and read about how a floating row cover would keep the vine borer moth out of my squash but would still let bees in to pollinate the flowers (It didn't come right out and say vine borer moths were dumber than bees, but it hinted at it).  I learned that no matter how much I may read, or how much I think I may know, at the end of the day, the only people who can really help are the ones who have been there before, and the ones I'm willing to let myself ask for  help. 

It doesn't matter how much more someone else may know, if I can't let myself ask them for help, I'll just keep slamming my head into the wall.  Gardening is a lot of work.  So are relationships.  So are fixing things that are broken.  So is getting back up when everything in you says, "I just want to quit." 

So, how does my garden grow?  Right now it looks a little puny.  If you have any ideas, I'm open to suggestions. Why?  Because I have finally realized that I don't know how to do everything and I'm willing to ask for help. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Name is Jamie... (July Newsletter Article from Grace Church LaCenter)


"My name is Jamie; I'm a firm believer in Jesus Christ, and I struggle with being a control freak, OCD tendencies, and major trust issues."

The first time I stood up front and said that, I admit, I felt like an idiot.  When I thought about all of the people who had decided to come that night, and when I thought about the real problems they were dealing with, I felt almost silly for saying that I was at Celebrate Recovery because I don't know how to delegate, because I straighten up every throw rug I walk across, and because I basically refuse to let people get too close.

When I started thinking about what to reflect on in this article, five words kept coming to mind.  Maybe God was speaking, and this time I listened, but over and over again I heard, "hurts…habits…and hang ups."  So, this month, I would like to take a few minutes and talk about one arm of Grace's ministry and mission: Celebrate Recovery. 

When people hear those two words, Celebrate Recovery, most folks think only of alcohol or drug addiction.  While it's true that Celebrate Recovery helps those who struggle with addictions, it's not only for those with addictions. 

Each week Celebrate Recovery helps folks all across the nation who are dealing with addictions; divorce; job loss; eating disorders; co-dependency; neglect; abandonment; anger issues; loss of a parent, spouse, or child; terminal illnesses; feelings of being a victim; guilt; unforgiveness; depression, hopelessness; low self-esteem; suicidal thoughts; and the list goes on and on. 

The program itself is based on several things, one being the Alcoholics Anonymous format, which is a basic twelve step recovery program, but also on the Sermon on the Mount.  The 8 principals are taken from the beatitudes.  For the founders of Celebrate Recovery, claiming a higher power wasn’t enough, and as a result we don't hide the fact that our higher power is Christ.

Celebrate Recovery was born at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California.  It started with just 43 people nearly 20 years ago, and since then, 8500 people have found healing from their hurts, habits, and hang ups through the ministry of Celebrate Recovery.  It is now Saddleback Church's largest outreach ministry. 

I say that to say this: times are changing and in many places the church isn't.  It's time that churches all across our connection remember who we have been sent to serve.  What I love about Celebrate Recovery is that the folks we minister with on Thursday night are not polished and perfect.  They are literally diamonds in the rough, just waiting for someone to give them the chance to shine as the gems God intended them to be.

You may be thinking, "Jamie, that sounds nice, but that kind of stuff is for someone else.  Not for me."  To which I'd reply, "We're all a little messed up.  It's just a matter of realizing how messed up we are, and are we willing to admit it yet." 

So, if you'd like to see God at work, changing lives, slip out here Thursday nights at 7:00 and hear Christ say to you, "My grace is enough."


Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I know...I know...

It has been months since I threw anything through the city gate.  Let's just say that life has happened, things got a little crazy, I spent some time wandering in the wilderness, and just let this slide.  I enjoy writing, really.  In fact, that's what I'm doing all week.  I hooked to my camper...grabbed my laptop, printer, journals, and some commentaries...and pulled my mobile office to the lake for some intense researching and writing...mixed in with a little fishing and campfire sitting.  (Hey, if you're going to work hard, you have to play hard....Wayne Cordeiro said so.)

I'm working on a series for this summer using 80's pop music as a jumping off point.  At Grace Church LaCenter we'll be listening to "The Man in the Mirror," "Working for the Weekend," I Want to Know What Love is," "I'll stand by you," "Time after Time," "Don't Stop Believing," and who knows what else...then we'll tie those themes with some pretty powerful scriptures and use both of them to see how the Word of God can change our own lives.  Wesley would be proud.  Sure, they're not bar tunes, like many of our favorite old hymns are, but I think he would approve of using 80's pop music as a tool to preach the gospel. 

Now, you may be saying...or you may not..."Jamie, that's nice, but hardly seems reason enough to start boring me with these blog posts again."   True, and I would agree.  But something hit me while I was researching the first text in the series for this summer...

...There are a lot of really bad sermons being preached every week.

 Not that the ones stumbling out my mouth are earth changing, but my gosh, some of these are just really bad.  You may also be asking, or maybe not, "Why are you reading other sermons if you're supposed to be bringing a word from God every week?"  Well, I heard it said that most preachers may milk a lot of cows but we churn our own butter.  I start with scripture, then look at some commentaries, then at some theological journals, and finally, I'll read a few sermons on the text to see what other folks are saying about it...and in doing so this week, I think I have discovered yet another reason why the Church is in decline.  Some of these sermons just stink. 

It's one thing to ask folks to sit still for 20 or 25 minutes and listen to me talk about what we're doing, right, wrong, or not at all on a good day...with appropriate prep work...with good delivery...with meaningful illustrations...society is just not geared that way anymore.  But then to ask folks to sit still for 25-30 minutes while they are beaten up by some preacher with a chip on his/her shoulder, screaming, yelling, pounding the podium...I just don't see how that's helpful.  "Gee, pastor, great sermon.  I feel soooo much better now. (Insert sarcastic tone)"

So, my fellow homileticians, guard your words as you stand before your people.  We represent the God who called us.  Sure, sometimes correction is needed, and when it is, it should be done with love and grace.  Now this is just one man's observation...but by the time our people get to us, many of them have been kicked in the face for 6 days since we saw them last...and the last thing they need is to be yelled at by the one they look to as their spiritual guide.

Softening the gospel?  I guess it could be seen that way by those who prefer to scream and yell at their people...or it could be that I have chosen to follow a different love God by loving those God has given me to care for, to lead, to protect, and to mold.  When correction is needed, I am not afraid of it...either giving or receiving...but I choose to do that in the privacy of my office and not from the front of the worship space. While the goal of any of the messages I bring is not to just make my folks feel better about themselves, though I could fill up a stadium doing that, I do choose to preach grace, and then offer a challenge to live into that grace filled life by following the examples of the one who called us to follow him.

So, back to work now.  I think I'll look at some journal articles and lay off of reading other sermons for a while.