Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When Trauma Hits Home

On Saturday, October 24th, my immediate family drove with Sheryl’s parents to Stillwater to attend the Homecoming parade at OSU.  Sheryl’s cousin was up for homecoming queen and we wanted to see her live and in person.  This would be the first time I had been to a homecoming parade in Stillwater since my senior year when I was in it.

We were watching the floats go by from the corner of Main Street and Hall of Fame.  As we stood just behind the front row of people, we were lamenting that we weren’t closer so that we wouldn’t have any obstructions in our line of sight.

At the end of the parade, we heard a loud bang from our left and I first thought it was some kind of fireworks signaling the end of the festivities but then we saw the car smashing through the crowd right in front of us.  It happened so quickly, that there wasn’t time to think.

Then we saw the aftermath.

I began to search for our children to make sure they were okay.  I got them to Sheryl’s parents and then turned to see Sheryl trying to help the victims.  I remember imploring people not to move anyone but to wait for the medical personnel. 

Then I pulled her away from the scene and we all made our way back to our vehicle.  Our daughter then noticed that she was bleeding slightly on her hand and must have been struck by debris from when the police motorcycle was hit by the car. Before we left town, we circled up in the parking garage and prayed.

In the initial moments when I realized this was horribly wrong, I had this sense of fear that it was an attack similar to a school shooting and I wanted to get my family away from the scene as quickly as I could.  

Later as the shock wore off, I began to feel guilty that I didn’t do more for the victims of that crash.  It was especially bad after I realized that the immediate danger was the only danger and no additional attacks were forthcoming. 

Sheryl had the right idea of helping the victims but I also felt that I needed to keep our children from witnessing the deceased and the injured among the mayhem. 

It is hard to know the right thing to do in such a moment.

How do we bear witness to the love of God in a scene like this?

As we attempt to return to our regular lives, we are replaying the scene over and over.  It is distracting us and keeping us from all the regular things that are going on around us as if everything were normal.  It is crying out for our attention. 
When we hurt, we offer this pain
to God who suffers with us.

We are certainly praying for the victims and their families.  We are praying for Adacia Chambers as well even though she almost killed us.  Like the rest of us, I can only speculate at this point on the question of why it happened at all. 

I have ministered before in times of tragedy and loss.  I always state confidently that I do not believe that God is the ultimate author of this tragedy.  People do things to hurt others and have the free will to do so.  I also have the free will to respond.  No matter how many times people try to put others on the cross through pain and suffering, I believe that God responds with resurrection.

A part of our witness as followers of Jesus Christ is to point out where we see it.

As the images of that day replay in my mind and I worry about what kind of emotional trauma my children may be experiencing from it, I am praying not to be bitter or resentful.  I am free to feel or experience whatever I would like.  But I believe peace is the ultimate prize.

May the peace of God be yours today.

In Christ,


Photo by Immanuel Giel, Memorial Church in Speyer, Germany, used under Creative Commons.

Monday, October 19, 2015

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service?

This particular sign is a recent phenomenon in American culture, spreading its way across the country in the 1970’s.  It was likely a reaction to the lax dress codes of hippies more than for health or sanitation reasons.  It indicates a minimum responsibility on the part of the customer as per the requirements of the store to enter into business transactions together.

I wonder if the same logic applies to this business?
This indicates that we have certain expectations for you if you would like to be served.

It is not any different in the church than in a business.  We don’t have any signs up, but the same would likely apply for someone entering our sanctuary for worship.

A few years ago at another church, one of the worship leaders would take off her shoes when she led in singing.  While most seemed to be indifferent, there were a few comments made as to the impropriety of this action.  Some were uncomfortable, just as if someone wore a ball cap in the sanctuary.  The lack of footwear might make a difference if interpreted in light of God’s command to Moses to take off his shoes while he was on holy ground.

I don’t remember ever leading in worship where someone lacked a shirt.  It might be that I’ve given devotions at a youth pool party where this could have been the case, but none of those were in the sanctuary.  I do recall a youth minister who was asked to wear blouses to worship that were not quite so low cut!

We may have other expectations that are unspoken such as we expect those participating to be sober or to not disrupt the service.  While we might overlook a small child talking or a baby crying, the same behavior would not be indulged among the adults! It’s nice if everyone stays awake through the service but no one will be asked to leave if they fall asleep.

This allows us to think about God’s grace.  What are the limits, if any to God’s grace? What are our particular responsibilities in receiving it?  More importantly, what responsibilities do we bear in sharing it?  Do we place expectations on others before we are willing to tell the old, old story?

When we are called to serve the church as one of our membership vows, we do enter into partnership with the congregation in this service.  We are not expected to serve alone or on an island.

This Sunday, we’ll continue to explore the vows of membership as we look at what it means to serve.  Our scripture reading for consideration will be Genesis 18:16-33 which is a fascinating dialogue between Abraham and God on what is acceptable compassion versus judgment.  I would invite you to read it prior to Sunday's worship as we continue to look to Abraham as our example!

In Christ,


Photo by Joe Mabel (Photo by Joe Mabel) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 12, 2015

Present in the Moment

Sometimes it is difficult to be in the moment.

When Sheryl and I rented a convertible and drove up Highway 1 in northern California, we put the kids in the back and had the whole Pacific on our left.  They were more interested in the DVDs we rented at Redbox along the way than the scenery.

Are we less vulnerable interacting through cyberspace?
I'm not blaming them.  As a kid, I spent way too much time on an electronic football game that was basically a blinking red light moving around other red lights. These lights of course represented the players.  I hate to say that it was entertaining but there you go.

I can remember long car rides and thinking how cool it would be to have a television in the back seat. Now that we're there, it is pretty cool (and you can pick what you want to watch).  But as we get what we want for games and entertainment, are we missing out on human interaction?

I'm not going to say that we should ban our phones or our tablets or the cool gadgets that are so entertaining.  They do make life enjoyable.  I'm just wondering that if they are so entertaining, and we are choosing to spend more time with them, what were we doing before with that time?

Some of that time I'm sure was throw-away time.

But not all of it.

What does it mean to be in the moment when there is so much drawing us away from the physical reality?

As I continue the series on stewardship, this Sunday, we will explore what it means to commit your presence to Christ through a particular congregation.   I realize the irony of the theme falling on this weekend as it is in the middle of a five day fall break for Edmond public schools.  But if you are in town, I hope you'll join us for worship - we'll need you to shore up our congregation for those traveling!  If you are out of town, you can enter http://www.ustream.tv/channel/first-united-methodist-edmond-ok in your web browser at 11 am and you'll have us live!

In Christ,


Photo by Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"I'll Pray for You!"

“I’ll pray for you!”

There’s a lot of power in that sentence. 

Sometimes it is comforting to have people praying for your health or relationship or job or overall success.

When I was in the hospital as a junior high student, both my church youth group and my class mates at school were sending me cards they had made and signed.  They let me know that they were praying for my full recovery and that gave me a connection to others that helped sustain me through the difficult and frustrating times of recovery. 

At other times in life, people have said “I’ll pray for you” as if I am deficient.  This is still a statement of power but in a different manner.  The simple declaration can imply, “I am in a better place spiritually than you.  I am closer to God.  I am praying that God will change you to become more like me.”

This second approach is actually an abuse of prayer.  It wields prayer like a weapon.  It is designed to orient the world to the self rather than to God.

Studies have shown that more and more people are getting fed up with the followers of Jesus looking at the world in this manner.  While the first example can be moving even to people who don’t consider themselves religious, the latter turns people away from faith rather quickly.

Fortunately, United Methodists hold to prevenient grace.  We believe that God is already active in all people’s lives whether they acknowledge it or not.  This understanding leads us away from weaponized prayer.  It also helps us to see that when we pray for others, we open ourselves to transformation as much if not more so than the individual for whom we are praying.

If you’ve joined a United Methodist congregation, you likely committed to upholding that congregation with your prayers.  This (hopefully) doesn’t mean that you’re praying for the church to do a better job of meeting your needs!  Rather, it means that we recognize that we are an important piece of the puzzle and if there is a need in the church, we might be led to see our own part in the solution.

If you’re in the Edmond area and religiously unaffiliated, we would love to have you join us for worship as we explore this topic on Sunday.  If this doesn’t apply to you, you can worship with us online at your convenience!  We will pray for you because we need it as much if not more so than you do.

In Christ,