Stories and tales from a guitar-picking writer, theologian, speaker, blogger and entertainer. From small town quirks to the bizarre realities of family, whacky church life and slightly damaged kinfolk, insights from a reluctant son of the South takes you along. Never know where it’ll end up but it’s sure to be worth the trip.
Some people can look at the big picture and take it in. Others of us have to plant down on the earth and focus on digging the one hole that is ours to do. When you’re trying to get it together, simple is best. You can’t fix the entire universe, but you can fix a healthy breakfast. You can’t answer the question of suffering humanity, but you can lend a hand to one person hurting.
We live in time. It’s different for each of us. But what we do with the hand dealt us will finally determine how the story is written. I don’t even engage in the teacup tempests on social media anymore. I finally realized I can’t correct every misperception out there. And you can’t argue with a stump, unless that pleases you. Some of those online rants remind me of the Calvinist predestinarian fellow who fell down a flight of stairs and got up, dusted himself off and said, “Whew. Glad I got that over with!”
Nothing changes from the arguments. You have to get up and do something to get your life back. It can be a movement, or a cause, but a lot of folks are struggling on a more basic level. I had a wise spiritual director named Ron who told me that when he encourages people to try journaling he sets a goal of two sentences a day. He knew that they would overwhelm themselves with trying to write books (he was talking to me!) for the ages. “Just write couple of sentences.”
It is the little things not the big ones that really get you where you want to go. For stability and peace we look out for the things right by us to get us there. Set simple goals. First thing everyday, get up and do the same things. Make your bed. I read that that is one of the real indicators of depression, surprisingly, and just the simple act of doing that little thing is a discipline that begins to move us out of the funk and into control of living. Find something good to do as soon as you can. Once Basil Pennington was asked the secret of prayer. He said, “First you have to sit down.”
Maybe when you’re struggling you need to lower your own bar a little. One item on the list? Check it off. You’ll sleep better. Tomorrow we’ll try two.
Psalm 131 (New International Version. Copied from biblegateway.com)
A song of ascents. Of David.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
1 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
our latest collective effort. It springs from experience
in our spiritual lives of prayers
composed by others that have “spoken” to us.
The Trinity group is a self-named group of friends, all Ph.D. grads
in theology or closely related fields who have chosen to journey together theologically for 25 years. The group was initiated by our teacher-friend Fisher Humphreys. It includes missionaries, pastors, college and seminary professors and a chaplaincy supervisor.
Through the years, we have created a space, meeting once or twice a year for multiple days, to have intellectual, spiritual and theological freedom to read, study, comment, question and debate any subject together that interested or troubled us. The glory of such freedom has enhanced all of our lives.
One of our founders, Philip, died six years ago this March. He was the first close friend some of us had lost, and he was in so many ways a force and center of our group. His loss was enormous, but we carried on. That experience, of walking with a friend to his grave, literally in my own case, was profound. And it mirrors what happens in the theological journey—it is always, inevitably, personal at the same time that we seek the loftiest and most universal of vantage points from which to do theology. Continue reading Our new book: Encountering God in the Prayers of Others
2013 Holy Week ServicesSpecial Musical Guests for Holy Week: This year we have some wonderful musical guests who will come to offer their gifts in our journey to Easter. The great Eric Essix, Birmingham’s own jazz guitarist, will join us for Monday’s service to play in the service for us. Our own Bill Bugg will sing on Tuesday. On Wednesday we welcome Alabama bluegrass legends Three On a String. Then, on Maundy Thursday evening, we will be honored to have Angela Brown, one of the world’s great opera sopranos, as our guest to sing in our communion service. Angela came to a great crisis of faith in hier life when her brother died at age 20 and ended up at the great Oakwood college in Huntsville, originally majoring in biblical studies and minoring in music, but was persuaded that she had great gifts to offer God through her voice. She made the long climb in the world of opera and in the 2004-2005 season, made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of Verdi’s Aida to critical acclaim and made the front page of the New York Times with her performance. She has traveled the world since then, but will be in Alabama during Holy Week and is coming to sing for us and offer a Master Class for our Betty Sue Shepherd Scholars.
This promises to be a powerful and meaningful week of worship, devotion and inspiration as we all “turn our eyes upon Jesus, and look full in his wonderful face.” Put the dates on your calendar and plan to be here. Bring your heart and hopes with you.
Last Wednesday night I shared “thirty practices you can try in the next thirty days.” It was a reflection on Philippans 4:8-9: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” In this time of so much turmoil and uncertainty, I don’t find most people losing their minds, killing strangers or giving up. They are hunkered down, pulling together, depending on one another, and finding their own solutions to the times. So I thought a series of sermons on “Simple Gifts: Thirty Days to Thanksgiving.” The imspiration, grace and God-givenness of life cannot be conjured up, but we can surely put our attention on it, practice and implement them. I thought it might help to have a simple action each day that we can try that can express, encourage and deepen our sense of gratitude. I hope you find something here that might help.
1. Express appreciation to someone important in your life verbally or with a note. Call or write an old friend and tell them what their friendship has meant in your life. Write your favorite teacher and express what their teaching meant to you. They never got paid what they were worth. Appreciation is about all they get.
2. Volunteer to help in a ministry to those less fortunate. It’s as easy as calling your church office, local service organization or other place of caring and signing up.
3. Choose to forgive someone who made you angry in the past and act toward them as though it never happened.
4. Sing with some other people, not just your ipod. Sing with a baby if you can.
5. Give until it hurts and then give some more until it quits hurting and becomes second nature. Get where you can see somebody else getting help and enjoy it.
6. Change the way you talk about your life. Make a list of the negative things you say most often. Can you turn them into positives instead? Reframe them into deeper truth?
7. Get to know one person you walk past, see every day, sit near in church, work with or see at the store or interact with regularly without ever having bothered to ask their name.
8. Create a behavioral set for your devotional life. Clear out a space or have one place for prayer time. Light a candle, or do the same thing every day to create readiness.
9. Carry your Bible to church as a physical reminder to yourself to read it daily. Memorize some verses. Encourage our children to bring it.
10. Read Psalm 4:8. When you go to bed tonight, pray this prayer. “Lord, I turn the world over to you. I have carried too much of it on my back and it was never mine anyway. Be with me in my dreams, my weariness, and my endless lists of things to do tomorrow. Now go to sleep.
11. Laugh, hard, at least once today and remind yourself that you are not the center of the universe. If you need a little help, go to the funny birthday card section at the drugstore, watch children playing together, or look at your high school yearbook picture.
12. Sit in silence and breathe calmly for ten minutes. That’s all. How was it?
13. Do something for someone you love that tells them you do.
14. Fast from the internet and television for 24 hours and give some of that time to loving someone in your life instead.
15. Put a short appointment on your calendar today and leave it fallow. Sit, even for 15 minutes, and absorb a spiritual truth, look at something beautiful, or pray.
16. Share time and attention with someone who is suffering, in trouble or who needs you. It will pull you out of yourself quickly.
17. Make a list of people who have been mentors, encouragers and who have blessed you. The length may surprise you.
18. Give money and pray for a missionary you know or for a country in the world as you do
19. Practice acceptance. Accept God’s acceptance of you—remind yourself that because of grace, you are free to forgive, free to love and free to welcome
20. Get reacquainted with your inner child—play, do something you’re not good at, draw, or roll on the floor with a baby if you know one. Give it a rest with the serious adult for a while.
21. Accept that God has given you spiritual gifts and start using them for the sake of the church. They have nothing to do with how other people see you and everything to do with what God wants to do through you.
22. Pray without ceasing by spending a whole day praying a verse or thinking about God. Just be there.
23. Make a list of your close calls and then think, “It could have gone really badly for me. I was given a second chance.” Now consider giving someone else a second chance.
24. Put a dollar in the mission offering of your Church for every complaint you make today about your life, the government, Congress, the schools, society, “those people” (whoever they are), your parents, your loved ones, or anyone else. At least you can help missionaries.
25. Read Philippians 4:6. When you start worrying about something today, turn it into a verbal prayer.
26. Try praying all the way through the church prayer list. You don’t have to know what their issue is. Someone was distressed enough to put it there.
27. Spend some time in nature and pay attention to its joyful truth to you.
28. Think back to when you were at your most difficult time. Did you learn anything as you went through it that could help you now?
29. Give out ten affirmations today. Don’t go to bed with one or two still in your mouth unoffered.
30. Spend a little time jotting down everything that touches your life today that took other people to get it to you—at work, your food, every part of your life. In your time of prayer, consider the complexities of God’s giving through others to you.