Author Archives: Gary Furr
A friend asked me to reflect on what you learn by staying in one place for twenty five years. I’ve been thinking about that ever since. I haven’t stopped much to ponder that, and before I knew it the years went by. I still am surprised to think that I, who never lived anywhere more than seven years, have been here now for nearly twenty-six (at the end of this month). I moved a lot while growing up. Moving to greener pastures is overblown. There’s always a septic tank under there somewhere, as Erma Bombeck once said. So, here are my current observations about staying.
In a way, staying put means just doing the next thing that comes along. Still, there are amazing rewards for staying put so long. How many people can say to a college graduate, “I still remember holding you at the hospital your first day of life?” No CEO or world leader can.
The world changes even when you stay put. People change, circumstances change, and the church constantly changes. There really is no staying put, just changing in the same place. You change, too. You don’t avoid change, nor does a church, by staying put. You either pastor four different churches in twenty-five years or pastor four or five churches in the same location over twenty-five years.
You sure need friends, colleagues, books, and growth to stay fresh. You can grow tired of your own voice in your head and look out in wonder and think, just before the sermon, “I can’t believe they’re still here. It must not just be me.” Don’t want them to think the same thing. Read the rest of this entry
I live in the vulnerability of my need for grace. Grace I ought to give, grace I hope someone else will extend to me. Undeserved kindness, mercy, love. Most of all, the grace of God. Pure, unmerited, unsettling grace.
Grace, finally, is not dependent on anything more than the nature and reality of God. It is not what this or that preacher says it is, or what some friend tells us that comes out of their own need.
God is love. This is the highest statement of the revelation of God’s being in the New testament. Count on that more than any other statement about the Christian gospel. It does not free us to live as we please. Damage comes from our refusal of grace, consequences to our self-destructive alienation. But if the gospels are right, grace can restore a prodigal who had wasted everything, a woman with five marriages, a tax collector who was a traitor to his people, a murderer like the apostle Paul, and a woman caught in utter shame of adultery by a group of lascivious onlookers. It can reclaim even a thief nailed next to Jesus who barely knew his name. And if this is so, then there is hope. Read the rest of this entry
This “songwriters in the round” style event will feature three of us. We are all singer songwriters. My own style runs from folk and Americana, country and gospel to forays into blues and a couple of swing tunes. Here is a blogpost I wrote for the last time the three of us played at the old Moonlight On the Mountain. Music starts at 7pm. Outside food and drink are allowed. We anticipate a sellout so purchase your ticket before they are gone.
Janet Hall O’Neill has been writing and singing since college days and performs widely. Her songs are funny, uplifting, well-crafted and written unabashedly from a professional woman’s point of view, living in this suburban world. She is an excellent writer and always gives me something to think about, and uplifting along the way!
Pat Terry is a long-revered songwriter by other songwriters. He has written hits for Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, and a host of other Nashville artists, including B. J. Thomas, the Oak Ridge Boys and many others. His best songs, though, are done by him. He has an authentic voice that sees life with honesty and truth. His songs often leave me feeling something I had never had words for previously. I never miss him when he’s in town.
COME ON OUT SATURDAY NIGHT for a great time! Limited seating, so buy tickets ahead!
I lived my third-grade year in Clarksville, Tennessee, an army town dominated then by the presence of Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles, one of the most storied units in American military history. On Sunday afternoons, especially when company came into town like Uncle Vance and Aunt Hazel, we’d go out after church to the base where paratroopers would jump out of planes and land on a field where visitors could come and watch. It was cheap entertainment.
Then we’d go to the military museum, the Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum. General Don Forrester Pratt (July 12, 1892—June 6, 1944) was the assistant division commander (ADC) of the 101st and was in the lead glider that flew into France that landed behind the lines for the invasion. The plane crashed and General Pratt died of a broken neck. He was the highest-ranking officer killed on D-Day.
The museum had jeeps, planes, artifacts, but the most chilling were items confiscated from Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” retreat by soldiers. We were especially terrified by Hitler’s walking cane, and by items belonging to Herman Goering. World War II was still alive in Read the rest of this entry
Mothers Day is a happy day, and also a sad one for many. Mothers are both biological and spiritual. They find us as divine grace in life. If we lost one too soon, God seems to put strong, caring women in our lives somewhere to help us survive and grow up into life. I have been blessed with a loving Mom who loves her children and stood by the four of us as we meandered toward adulthood. I am grateful. But I have known extra mothers–my wonderful mother-in-law, teachers, mentors, and an unfair overabundance of wise older women because of my vocation as a pastor. My wife is the greatest mother on the planet. I still learn from her. I am grateful for them all.
As my mother has battled cancer (and is now in remission, thankfully) this last nearly two years, I have become more grateful for the journey with mom and moms everywhere. For all of us, thank you. And so, a poem I wrote not long ago while thinking of my mom as the “teller of stories,” and women in churches who keep the stories that Read the rest of this entry
The passing of Rachel Held Evans unleashed a surprising wave of grief to some. But to readers in the Christian world, and young women in particular, she was a voice of welcoming honesty. In an October 2012 article in Christianity Today called, “50 Women You Should Know,” Katelyn Beaty said of Rachel Held Evans that her blog, which began in 2007, spoke out on many traditional evangelical issues in a fresh and fearless way. Evans, she quoted, wrote that young Christians “aren’t looking for a faith that provides all the answers. We’re looking for one in which we are free to ask the questions.”
It was intense questioning that led her to start writing in the first place. In 2012 alone, 1.2 million visitors went to her site to hear what she had to say. She was speaking for many others, giving voice to many who were needing one. To a church (in the largest sense) that is always, at least institutionally, last to respond to change, she pushed to make it look at its truth and heart and reassess what it was Jesus meant us to do. Read the rest of this entry
My friend Pat Terry is one of my favorite singer-songwriters, ever. After a long and successful career in contemporary Christian music, he widened his vision and writing. A successful career in country music as a writer followed, with plenty of hits. He just came out with his latest CD, “How Hard It Is to Fly,” and it’s another great batch of songs. One of my newest favorites, “Clean Starched Sheets” is on this one.
Pat’s heart has always been as a storytelling songwriter. I have been in a couple of his workshops, and he is a master craftsman. I’ve performed with him a time or two here in Birmingham, and I’ve gone more than once to hear him sing. His songs are deeply human. One of my favorites and one of the first I ever heard him perform (while opening for Earl Scruggs!) was “Someplace Green.” It sends me to visions of Eden.
Back in my hometown, everything’s green,
green grass, green leaves, green peaches on the trees in spring. Read the rest of this entry
Even churches, it seems, have their fifteen minutes in the social media world of fame. Through the years, that usually comes from outstanding accomplishments by our members who do something that ends up on the bulletin board. In my present congregation, having been here nearly 26 years, you eventually get a little reflection of the wonderful things your members undertake, and they are many. We have graduated people who became ministers, doctors, attorneys, and we claim eminent Baptist historian and advocate for the poor Dr. Wayne Flynt as a former member who was here in his Samford days. We currently have the Alabama Crimson Tide stadium announcer, Tony Giles, as a member, and in Alabama that accords near divine status for half of the church. One of our oldest members, Bobbye Weaver, was a renowned jazz drummer who played with Lawrence Welk and a host of other eminent people. One of our late members once danced with Betty Grable and worked on the Apollo space program. I could go on. But every church has its luminaries.
What does this “reflected glory” mean for the pastor? Not much. For if we take too much credit for the rich and famous, we also must own the other side of our membership. Let’s not go there. Give credit where it is due—their families, but more importantly, God, who is the giver of all good gifts.
So, our church is currently agog over Walker Burroughs, who is in the final eight of American Idol. Walker has been a member of our church most of his young twenty Read the rest of this entry
Gary Allison Furr
In the years I lived among the peanut farmers,
I breathed October dust and prayed for their harvests.
The church and all of the town waited for the yield,
To tell us what sort of year it would be.
Only a few restaurants, drugstores and movie rental places
No movie theaters, theme parks or malls,
But we had a John Deere tractor dealership out on the bypass
Where the farmers’ trucks had to pass by.
On the most prominent corner, right by the road
the latest double wheel model
with the air-conditioned cab and stereo system.
Plowing without dust and sweat! Hard to imagine
we were so far from the farmers with their mules in the old days,
on a forty-acre farm, working like the Devil to survive
lest the mule be repossessed or die.
But always there was the harrow, evolved from ancient times,
At first, only a tree branch, sharpened to punch open the ground,
The Romans first made them of iron to mass produce
And now they are rows of teeth or knives neatly arranged
Or deadly discs, sharp enough to kill a man, but modern
in their symmetry of tearing open the earth,
They rip open the crust so the seed can go deep, down
Into the moist fertility, then burst open and seek the light above.
“Harrowing” is near-death, danger, all our protection
Torn away from us, some sharp and deadly threat
Gashes open the layers of careful habit and insulation
until death and I stare back at one another
waiting for one of us to make a move.
The medieval Christians said that on Saturday Jesus,
Punched down under the tomb, all the way to the underworld
and preached to the souls in hell.
He led out all those who had no chance to know Easter,
Satan, surely, filed an immediate lawsuit against God
for breaking the rules and letting a dead man breach the underworld
to claim souls Satan thought were a sure thing.
“The Harrowing of Hell” was kept in the Creed
We shake our heads
at the primitive believer thinking He “descended into hell”
Even as we still survive by eating the bounty of earth’s puncture wounds.
Farmers still dig down to the only place where life can emerge.
We are deluded by surface coverings of asphalt and wireless noise
“Virtual” cannot feed the hungry or raise the dead.
For that, earth must be broken, hearts pierced, nails driven.
Down went the Son of God, into Hell itself.
I’d like to think a little disc-plowing is called for,
Some holes punched in hell still on this earth,
Right through hard-hearted souls who deny
there is anything under here worth looking at or saving.
I’d like to think the Son of God, even in the grave,
Cannot help but vanquish every poison weed and pestilence
that threatens the Garden that God put here for us all.
This is a poem I wrote two years ago. During National Poetry Month, my youngest daughter, who teaches middle school in NYC, and I write poems to each other. Many of mine should never see light of day, but that year I wrote poems each day of Holy Week about the events of that day. I stumbled across the tradition of calling this “Spy Wednesday,” after the plotting that was going on that day. Treachery, using, selling out–they are the deepest pain that wells forth from human beings. The deepest pain of Holy Week is the revelation of betrayal of the innocent Jesus by his friend.
What a great name for the day
A friend’s fate was sealed,
Sold out by the man for whom
Dante created an ice rink on the lowest level of hell.
The word sends icy shivers down the spine
Because it requires loving trust as its precondition.
People betray love, not hate.
Enemies try to kill you. It’s what they do. No surprise.
Only friends, lovers, teammates
Sisters, brothers, colleagues betray you.
It has to rip a hole where you felt safe to do its work.
It’s a sordid business—
Traitors sell you out, stab your back
Let you down, break your trust, turn on you
Ruin your faith in people and undermine your capacity to trust again.
Only double minds and hearts, labyrinths of secret compartments
With cracks in the walls, broken floor joists and low light,
Can pull it off.
A loyal spy is still a patriot
But a double agent is up to the highest bidder
At the cost of a soul
Thirty pieces of silver for Jesus puts the condemnation at Simon’s house
In an even more painful contrast. Hers was of love found
His was of love disdained.
His only hope now is “all have sinned and fall short of the glory”
A tiny speck of hope that his wretchedness is but one more evidence
Of what stares back at us in the mirror sooner or later.
So the drama unfolds,
which character, bent, long before it would be set in motion.