From War to Peace

I don’t know if you saw the news from this week, but it appears the Iraqi army—with the help of U.S. forces—captured the city of Mosul. Mosul had been the de-facto capital of the ISIS fighters. It has taken weeks and even months to capture the city. I served with a combat military police battalion as a chaplain and I know why it took so long. This kind of warfare is “house to house”. There are lots of places to hide and ambush. And it is very difficult to dislodge an opposing force that is in a dug in, defensive position.

Enough of the military lesson. What really struck me this week was looking at pictures of the city. There was quite literally nothing left of it. Every building had been destroyed. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What has been won?”

Our nation has been at war with either Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria for the last 15 years, making it the longest in our nation’s history. I remember at the height of the war in Iraq, I saw one report that stated, if we had spent 1 million dollars every day since the resurrection of Jesus on education or healthcare or any other well-intentioned effort, we would not have spent as much money as we spent on the Iraqi war in just one year. That’s pretty staggering.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the geopolitical ramifications of this ongoing war. (And do any of us see an outcome in North Korea that doesn’t involve some kind of military action?) But I think we, as a nation, are weary of war. Our recent wars have drained not only enormous fiscal resources but also mental and psychological resources. Suddenly we may be wondering if being at war will become a perpetual state of being for us and the world?

I personally feel great sympathy for the countless millions in the Middle East who serve only as victims of somebody else’s war. When will the cycle stop?

I confess that I don’t know. What I DO know is that we, as Christians, have pledged our allegiance to the Prince of Peace. That isn’t just a nice title. It is a witness—a statement declaring who and what Jesus calls us to be in this world.  

And if you and I aren’t “in the room” helping to make these large, geopolitical decisions on behalf of our country, we can still make peace our way of life right where we are—wherever we are. Didn’t Jesus once tell us that “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God?”

May it be so.

PEACE

Jim

Continuing the Legacy of Belle Meade UMC

Sam came into my office last week with a big smile and said, “Happy Anniversary”! I looked at her quizzically, knowing my anniversary with Tari is September 2. She said, “OUR one year anniversary”! It’s hard to believe we have been here a year already. It seems like we were just being introduced yesterday.  

This anniversary gives me the chance—and also on Sam’s behalf—to say “thank you”. You have all welcomed us with open arms and loving support. With the entire church staff—with a couple of notable exceptions—being only a couple of years or less on the job, we are still learning about Belle Meade UMC.

In the interest of full disclosure—and a little embarrassing to boot—we still don’t know all of your names. Please continue to be patient with us. We’ll get there. The more we can sit together in conversation over coffee or lunch, the quicker that will happen. So please don’t hesitate to set something up with us. Linda Schipani did that with me just a couple of weeks ago. She called to say, “I don’t know you, yet. Let’s have lunch." We did and had a lovely conversation. Thanks, Linda.

We have high hopes and expectations for our church. The visioning process we have completed and are now ready to roll out (next week!!) has been good for us to learn the history and dreams you have for our church and also a great chance to have your voices heard. We have taken them very seriously and can’t wait to unveil the results.

I am aware of the legacy of great pastors you have had here. Every morning I walk by the wall where their faces stare back at me as if to say, “This is a great church and we are counting on you and the staff to do great things. I had a conversation just a few weeks ago with Tom Cloyd. Tom and I worked together for a few years at the Conference Council on Ministries office and I loved him dearly. His passing last week is an occasion for sadness in me.  

But it also serves as a reminder that I owe him—and all the others on that wall to do all I can to help our church be everything God dreamed us to be. We are counting on being full partners with you.

PEACE

Jim
 

Welcoming Strangers with Open Arms

I’m lucky to be married to Tari on numerous fronts. Among them are invitations to unique events around town that she receives by virtue of her work. Last week we attended the very first “Amplify Nashville” awards program sponsored by Siloam Health. Amplify Nashville seeks to shine a light on the contributions our growing immigrant population is making in Nashville.

We heard from Kasar Abdulla, a community catalyst from Kurdistan in Iraq. Nashville is home to the largest population of Kurds outside of Iraq. Kasar and her family were forced to leave her home when she was only 6 years old and lived for four years in a Turkish refugee camp. Since coming to America and landing here in Nashville, Kasar has been a tireless advocate for immigrants—especially the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. She was the founder of Welcoming Tennessee Initiative. Currently, she serves as the Director of Community Outreach for the Valor Collegiate Academies.

Fabian Bedne was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is the first Latino Metro Council member—a position he has held for 6 years. Fabian is an architect by training and spent many years as an urban planner in his home country. He came to Ohio in 1990 as part of a vocational exchange program and then to Nashville in 1997. He is a founding member of Organicus Design LLC and currently serves as the Associate Director of the Hispanic Family Foundation. Fabian is a passionate proponent of affordable housing, neighborhood development, and increased access to education.

As we celebrate our nation’s independence this week, it is good for us to take a step back and look at who we are—from 30,000 feet. We are a mixed bag and always have been. Our diverse culture is our genius. Our diversity is what truly makes America Great.

I am proud to be an American citizen. I am even more proud to be a Christian believer living in America. The Jesus revealed in the pages of the New Testament was one who welcomed strangers with open arms. I believe we should do the same.


 
Peace
 
Jim
 

Christian "one-liners"

One of you recently sent me a list of Christian “one-liners”.  I thought I pass some of them along to the rest of you to enjoy:

  • Don’t let your worries get the best of you; Remember, Moses started out as a basket case.
  • Some people are kind, polite, and sweet-spirited—UNTIL you try and sit in their pew.
  • Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisers.
  • It’s easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live one (Boy, don’t I know it).
  • Quit griping about your church; if it was perfect, you couldn’t belong.
  • I don’t know why some people change churches.  What difference does it make which one you stay home from.
  • Stop, drop and roll may not work in Hell.
  • Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.
  • God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.
  • The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.
  • When you get to your wit’s end, you’ll find God lives there.
  • God loves everyone, but probably prefers fruits of the spirit over religious nuts.
  • The Will of God never takes you to where the grace of God will not surround you.

PEACE

Jim

Memories of my father

As I write this, it is Father’s Day. Memories of my father come to me. He died 15 years ago at the age of 86. My dad was an alcoholic and he smoked most of his life and so I was surprised that he lived as long as he did.  

He spent his entire career with Greyhound Bus Company. For most of those years, he was a driver. For the other years, he was the Terminal Manager for the Nashville hub. I spent a lot of time at that hub with him as a kid. All the drivers knew who ”Jimbo” was. It was almost like I was an honorary employee.

I would ride along with him frequently on his run to Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He would drive to Hopkinsville, where he would have a 5-hour layover, and then drive back. It was during those layovers that he taught me to play pool. There was a pool hall down the street from the bus station there and it was one of those that you had to pay by time rather than 25 cents a game. So my dad would challenge me into the game with the loser having to pay. He would make all his balls except the last one and just wait for me to get caught up. Then he would make his last ball. His version of torture. I had to pay. Lesson learned.

I also noticed how much the people on his run liked him. He very often carried the same people back and forth from Nashville and Hopkinsville. One of those was W. C. Link, who was attending Vanderbilt Divinity School. He would go on to be the founder of McKendree Manor—now known as McKendree Village. W. C. would never see me without saying something about those bus rides with my dad. 

He was also a hunter. That was something he shared with my brother more than me. I did some hunting, but I didn’t have a passion for it like they did. But he did teach me how to hunt and how to use firearms safely and respectfully. We did more fishing together than hunting and that was always a good time with just him and me.

Both my brother and I were athletes in school and he made time to come watch us play. One of my lasting memories of him was having him there at the Regional Jr. College tennis tournament. He knew nothing of tennis, but he spent the day there outside the courts in a lawn chair watching.

Looking back, the most precious thing was time. It has been rightly said that you spell love, “T-I-M-E”. My father wasn’t perfect. I’m guessing yours wasn’t either. But much of who we are we get from them. So today—and this week—be sure to offer a prayer for your father. If necessary in memory, but hopefully in the present. Try to give back some of that “time”. As a father, I am aware of how precious time with children is.

Peace
 
Jim
 

Living as Children of Light

As I drove into the church today, I heard word for the first time of yet another terrorist attack—this time in London, which has suffered three in the last two months. I’m no different than anyone else when it comes to the frustration of such news. These types of acts have now made their way onto our shores. People are living increasingly with a sense of fear. And make no mistake, living in fear is exactly what they want. When we live in fear, they win.

The Apostle Paul once wrote a letter to a struggling church in Ephesus. He wrote, “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

If you recall, the entire Biblical story begins in darkness and the last of the four gospels ends with it. Genesis says that darkness was upon the face of the deep. There had never been anything other than darkness.

And at the end of the Gospel of John, the disciples go out fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. It was night. They had no luck. Their nets were empty. They spot someone standing on the shore.  In the mist and darkness they can’t really see who it is, but then—as they got closer—they could see it was Jesus.

The darkness in Genesis is broken by God who speaks with great majesty and creates the first thing ever created—“Let There Be Light”. And it was so. In John, the darkness is broken by the presence of Jesus.

Of course, there is still darkness around us. There are always forces of evil with whom we must contend. I am convinced that we will not defeat such evil from a position of fear. And the good news is we don’t have to. We are children of Light. We are commanded to live that way—to seek those things that are good and right and true.

Darkness wins when we forget we are Light.

Peace

Jim
 

Casual Sundays

Our worship committee met the other night to discuss the calendar coming up and the various worship services (and very special ones) that are coming. In the midst of our conversation, someone asked if we were going to be OK with people dressing more “casually” during the summer months. This conversation comes up at every church I’ve ever served. It can get a little tricky—sort of similar to whether or not it’s ok to clap in church or not.

For some, coming to church/worship will always be a “dress-up” event. I think they do because they see it as a sign of respect. I appreciate them for that. Worship deserves our utmost respect.

On the other hand, if respect is measured by the clothing we wear, then my taste in clothing suddenly becomes the criteria for whether I respect worship or not. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that, either.

For me, it mostly comes down to whether or not a “dress code” for Sunday morning becomes the primary reason that one either attends worship that day or not. Here are the possible scenarios:  summertime is for being outdoors with hiking and picnics and such. If the family is planning a picnic and don’t really have enough time to dress up, go home, get re-dressed, and then make it to a destination, I’m guessing they will use that as a reason NOT to come to worship that day. Or if we have golfers who have a tee time and want to make it out to the course right after church, if they feel they must go back home to change out, they will also likely stay away from church that day. (I’ve been around long enough to KNOW this is true for golfers).

So I think I tend to lean in the direction of personal choice for the summer months. Come dressed well if you choose. Or if you have multiple destinations that day and only so much time to do it, come casually. I’m trusting all of us to know what is “appropriate” for casual. One warning—I’m guessing most of you don’t want to see me in my bathing suit so I’m asking you not to let me see you in yours ☺

Therefore, I hereby decree (sounds like Game of Thrones, doesn’t it? Except no one has “anointed me the king of ANYTHING!) that beginning Sunday, May 28, (Memorial Day weekend) through Sunday, September 3 (Labor Day weekend) that we will authorize “CASUAL SUNDAYS”.

In all seriousness, I have had any number of people in my past ask “permission” to dress casually for the warm, summer months. So consider this article as my giving permission. Please don’t look for reasons or excuses not to attend worship for the summer. You can have your picnic, boating, golf, etc, AND attend to your spiritual needs as well.

PEACE

Jim

New Life

We celebrated the risen Christ on Sunday and have now entered the season of Easter. After weeks of walking through the dark shadow of Lent that led us to follow in Jesus’ painful, difficult steps toward his suffering and death, we can now walk in the light and joy of Jesus resurrection. I have to admit, though, there are times when I’m tempted to stay stuck in the shadow of suffering and death, forgetting the joy and hope of the resurrection. Sometimes I’m tempted to stay in Lent. 

When I look around me and see the real suffering of others in our world, it’s sometimes difficult for me to find the hope of new life. I recently read an article about the effects of hunger and poverty on children’s brain development that stirred within me a gut-wrenching sorrow. Because they are not receiving proper nutrition, their brain development is stunted. This causes a chain-effect of making it difficult for them to learn, thus making it difficult for them to find good jobs...and the cycle of poverty continues. When I first read about this, I only saw the shadow of suffering and death. With a hopeless and somewhat cynical cry, the question arose within me, “Where is the hope of new life here?”  
 
When have you been tempted to stay in the shadow of Lent? When a loved one is sick and the prognosis doesn’t look good, we might find ourselves overwhelmed by the dark news and unable to see any sign of hope. When we’re battling secret struggles that cast a huge shadow of fear, we might find ourselves stuck in our secret suffering. When a relationship breaks and we’re left to wade through the pain and uncertainty on our own, we might find ourselves paralyzed in sorrow. In our despair, the question might arise within us, “Where is the hope of new life here?”

The good news is that we do not have to stay stuck in the shadow of suffering and death. Lent is a journey...it is not the destination. Suffering and death do not have the final word. The joy of Easter is that Jesus really did rise from the dead, offering us the hope of new life. The question that we have asked in our despair continues to be a good question to ask during this Easter season, “Where is the hope of new life here?” To answer this question, we need to open our eyes, not only to the suffering in our lives and the world but to the signs that God is at work to bring new life out of death. Where is God at work to break the cycle of poverty? Where is God at work to offer comfort and support during illnesses? Where is God at work to offer deliverance from secret struggles? Where is God at work to bring about wholeness and healing from a broken relationship? 

The signs of new life are all around us. As you notice the green trees, bright flowers, and singing birds, pray that God will open your eyes to the signs of God’s work of hope in your own life and in our world. How can you be part of that new life this Easter season? 

Rev. Kelli Hamilton

The Suffering of Holy Week

Sometimes when I teach confirmation classes, the confirmands will ask probing questions. Questions about the faith and about the church—sometimes questions about me as a minister.

One confirmand a couple of years ago happened to see the cross I wear around my neck. She noticed that it didn’t look like most of the crosses she had ever seen. She was very curious about why my cross had Jesus on it. I explained to her that she was very observant and that the cross I was wearing was known as a “crucifix”—used mostly by Roman Catholics—while the cross she was looking at in our sanctuary at the time—and in most every Protestant Church—was empty. This allowed me to have an important “teachable moment” with those confirmands. For the Protestant Church, an empty cross is a symbol of resurrection. For the Roman Catholic Church, the crucifix represents the central mystery of the faith—it is somehow through the suffering of Jesus that we are saved.

I love what our empty cross represents and I hope you do, too. On Sunday we get to celebrate Easter—the great festival of Christianity. Our Roman Catholic friends will celebrate that day no less than we will. But I might like to suggest that as we begin Holy Week, it is imperative that we allow our Catholic friends to inform us.  

The week of Passion is difficult to enter. Starting with a parade filled with Palms that everyone knows is more of a “perp walk” for Jesus. The end is near and he knows it. Then through the events of the week—a betrayal by friends, a kangaroo court complete with a mock trial and then the torture and beatings. Finally, the ultimate insult—crucifixion, Rome’s form of capital punishment, inflicted on the one we call “The Prince of Peace”.  

It is tempting for us to want to bypass all that agony. But we must not because our salvation truly is connected to this suffering of Jesus. And what’s more—and perhaps even more disturbing for us—Jesus commands us to enter into this suffering WITH HIM.

I can’t know what that means for you and I’m still trying to figure out what it means for me, but what is unmistakable is that our Lord has asked all of us who call ourselves “followers” to do exactly that—follow Jesus along this road that leads through Jerusalem and on to the place called “Golgotha”, The Place of the Skull.

There will be two opportunities during Holy Week for you to follow: Maundy Thursday as we commemorate the Last Supper and Good Friday as we hold a “Tenebrae” service—a service of light and shadow that points toward the darkness of the crucifixion. These are both powerful services and I hope you can attend both—each beginning at 6:15 p.m.

I always find for myself that I am much more prepared for the Easter celebration when I have attended to the suffering of Holy Week. So on Easter Sunday, we will have a 6:30 a.m. Sunrise Service on the lawn (weather permitting), then our 8:30 and 10:30 services will both be in the sanctuary (and there is a fellowship brunch served between those two services.

I know you’ll not want to miss a thing.


Peace


Jim

The full extent of love

foot washing.jpg

I vividly remember a steaming hot July day when one of my coworkers washed my feet on the side of a cliff. It was the end of our summer serving on Mountain T.O.P. staff together. We had spent three months creating worship services, leading messy games, and helping work teams paint houses and build porches. Needless to say, our camp feet were really dirty, and that day was no exception.

His name was Ryan. He carried water in his backpack as we had to hike to our cliff-side celebration spot. It was our custom to share gifts with one another. Washing our feet was Ryan’s gift. I can still see him touching my feet sincerely, wiping them off carefully, all without saying a word. 

He was the kind of guy who never tired of serving others, always the first one to help and the last one to go to sleep. And it was Jesus who taught him how to serve others.

In John 13, the author depicts a scene that no other Gospel writer includes. He writes that Jesus got up from the last meal he would share with his friends, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin to wash his disciples’ feet. When he was done Jesus said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (13:13-14). 

When I think of servant leadership, Jesus (and Ryan) come to mind, for the writer tells us, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (13:1). Here, the full extent of Jesus’ love for his friends is seen in the act of washing their feet. Jesus reveals that discipleship means being willing to serve others; to engage in the messy, dirty, on-the-ground realities of human life. As such, Christian discipleship must always be oriented towards the other and carried out with Christ-like humility. Christ says, if we love one another, we will serve one another, and by this all people will know we belong to God (13:34). 

During our Maundy Thursday service, you will be given the opportunity to serve and be served by participating in a foot washing. How sacred to do the very same act Jesus did the night before he was crucified? 

If this sounds intimidating or uncomfortable, I encourage you to lean into the discomfort. We will make sure you have proper instructions during the service. We hope to see you next Thursday at 5:00 PM for dinner and 6:15 PM for worship.

Grace and peace,


Rev. Sam McGlothlin 

Breaking the Cycle of Violence

There has been a recent spike in threats against Jewish synagogues and community centers and desecration of Jewish graveyards. There has also been a spike in threats against Muslim Mosques around the country.

These threats are not just somewhere else—they are nearby. Our neighbors at the Gordon Community Center has been the recipient of multiple bomb threats. So you will know, I have reached out on behalf of our entire church to my friends, Rabbi Mark Schiftan at The Temple and Rabbis Phillip and Laurie Rice at Congregation Micah to ask what we might do to stand in solidarity with them against these kinds of threats. They were most appreciative of the gesture and there may still be a way for us to be in partnership with our friends.

Threats of violence like this against religious institutions are so profoundly cowardly. Particularly at the Community Center where so many children are present.

In one of our Sunday School classes this past Sunday, we discussed the Parable of The Good Samaritan. In that conversation, we included time to discuss ways to end the cycle of violence that sometimes grips neighborhoods, cities, or entire nations.

The enmity between Jews and Arabs has been well-documented over the years. Their issues are deep and complex and do not yield to simplistic solutions. But sooner or later, someone will have to break the cycle of violence in order for peace to be attained.

Recently, I learned of a mosque that had been burned down in Florida. The leader of that mosque noticed something odd about donations. Many of the donations that came to the mosque were not in round numbers like $25 or $50 or $100 but were multiples of the number 18—like $18, $36, $72, etc. The leader of the mosque was perplexed until he clicked on the names of the donors to see Avi, Cohen, Goldstein, etc.

Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a practice known as “Chai”—Chai is a wish for long life.

In Missouri, when vandals damaged a Jewish cemetery, Muslim neighbors raised $125,000 to help pay for repairs.

In Texas, when a mosque was burned down by vandals, the local Jewish synagogue allowed the displaced Muslim faith community to worship in their synagogue.

Recently Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, received a standing ovation when he declared at a national conference that if U.S. Muslims were forced to register with the government, he would register as a Muslim, too.

These and many other similar stories are unfolding all around us as people and groups are trying to break the cycle of violence and hatred.  

And if you are asking “What would Jesus do?”,  it would be this.

Peace

Jim

Talking Heads

Ray Waddle was a classmate of mine at the Divinity School back in 1978-81. Many of you will recognize Ray’s name because he was the Religion Editor for the Tennessean for many years. Ray now writes an occasional column for the paper. He is always insightful and I enjoy reading his stuff. 

Recently he wrote an article that featured an idea that has really stuck with me. In talking about our country’s current internal struggles, Ray says that we have become addicted to drama. I think he’s right. The endless news cycle and the acrimonious tone of so many of our leaders serves only to keep the drama stirred up. 

If you didn’t know any better, you’d wonder if maybe we have decided that “civil war” is somehow good for us. And “war language” is very much what we hear from our leaders on both sides of the aisle. It was George Orwell in his famous book, “1984”, who said that in the dystopian society he wrote about, war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. 

And so the drama goes on and on and on. 

I have heard countless people express their frustration over this very problem. But they seem incapable of turning away from it—much like watching a train wreck. Maybe we really are addicted to this drama? 

Here is a possible Lenten discipline for all of us—turn it off. There is nothing that says we have to read about or listen to or watch the drama play in a seemingly endless loop. Tired of the talking heads? Turn them off.

Peace

Jim

Cuban Partnership

In my years of ministry, some of the most meaningful times have been the mission events—especially the international mission efforts. I’ve been fortunate to be able to build and repair houses and schools, preach and teach in places like Grenada, Carriacou, Jamaica, Eleuthera and others. Going to places like these with a team from a church is always an important time of building unity and understanding. And in all of my years I have yet to hear one person say they wish they hadn’t done it. Mostly, they say the experience was life-changing.

We have an opportunity here at Belle Meade UMC for some of you to experience this kind of mission. In February of 2018, we will take a team of seven into Cuba. I am personally very excited because we have a unique opportunity to create a lasting partnership with Methodists in Cuba at the ground level.

Most of us know that Cuba has been—and still is—a communist country. But things are now changing rapidly and most believe that the 50 year old embargo on Cuba will be lifted soon. It would be thrilling to have a partnership already established there when it happens.

cubasvibrant680.jpg

Our dates will be Saturday, February 17th, through Friday, February 23. Each team member would be responsible to pay their own way. Over the course of the next year our team may find ways to allow the congregation to support us, but it should be clear that we are each responsible for our own way. We don’t yet have actual costs, but I am guessing it will be around $1200 per team member. I will be looking more closely at actual costs soon and keep you posted.

Let me also say clearly that we only have room for 7 members. That is due to the Cuban government still tightly controlling all visas. In time, this will also open up. For now it will be first come, first served.

I would really like to have a couple of team members who speak Spanish. That would be very helpful. Are you interested in being a part of this team? Please be in touch with me.

February of 2018 seems like a long way off, but it will roll around quicker than you think. How does a chance to share the love of Christ in Cuba sound to you??

Peace

Jim