How One Person's Vision Can Benefit Many

Many years ago I participated in a Volunteers In Mission trip to Grenada. We had a construction team and a medical team. I was amazed at the medical team—especially the dentist. The medical doctors were somewhat limited in what they could do—for instance, they couldn’t do any surgeries. But the dentist was free to do anything that needed to be done.

I remember a team member approaching the local elementary school to announce that free dental care was available. Nearly the entire school appeared in the little church sanctuary where we had set up shop. The first pew was reserved for those children who had already received their anesthetic. Many pews were filled behind them waiting their turn.

All in all that dentist pulled over 300 teeth in one week. One week. I was amazed at that. But even more, I was struck by how many of those children may have been living in pain. If you or I have a toothache, we make an appointment with a dentist that same day, if possible. Some of these children may have been in pain for months.

I think we forget the extraordinary blessings we have that don’t exist in the much of the rest of the world. Most of us take dental care for granted. Try to imagine your life without it.

Even here in Nashville, there are many, many people who live without basic dental care. Did you know that there is a ministry in town called “The Interfaith Dental Clinic?” Last year alone, there were over 14,000 patients that visited this clinic, which serves a 10-county area. Tennessee ranks number 47 in the nation in the level of overall oral health. The IFDC helps people with prevention and oral health care that can make a lasting difference in a person’s life. For 20 years the IFDC has been helping people. It began, I am proud to say, in West End UMC and now is located on Patterson Street.

We are now talking about what it means to “live missionally”. The Interfaith Dental Clinic is a prime example of what can happen when one person with a vision and passion can do.

We as Christians believe that Jesus has called us to love God and neighbor and to find ways to show it. What’s on your heart today?



Missional Living

What does MISSIONAL LIVING mean? That’s one of our new “Core Values” and it is important that we all start to get a feel for what it’s about.

First and foremost, we understand Missional Living to be an individual matter that begins in the heart of the believer. You have heard me on many occasions ask you, “What is it that breaks your heart when you see it?” Is it hunger, homelessness, poverty, oppression? Is it random violence, sexual crimes, racism? We believe Missional Living begins at that moment when the life of Jesus works within our hearts, sees an injustice or a tragedy and says, “I cannot sit quietly by and do nothing—I vow to do what I can.”

It is possible that you, as an individual, can make an impact. But isn’t it also true that together, we can accomplish so much more? So maybe the next step is to seek others who share your passion. Our church will be a partner in another Habitat For Humanity House this Fall. We will need 22 volunteers to work on a Saturday. Is this a place where you feel your heart tugged? To use your hands to build a home for a family that could never have a home any other way? You’ll have the chance to sign up, soon.

I noticed a story in this week’s Tennessean that the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church (East Tennessee) has partnered with A.S.P. (The Appalachian Service Project—an agency with Methodist DNA) and with Habitat For Humanity in order to rebuild the homes of many who lost them in the Gatlinburg Fire. That sort of creativity almost certainly began in the heart of one person who then sought out others and eventually engaged entire agencies to accomplish a goal. That would be a terrific example of Missional Living.

Here’s another example: Lily Wilson needed a project for her Gold Award in the Girl Scouts (the equivalent of the Eagle award in Boy Scouts). It’s a big deal and the leaders require a serious project. Lily’s heart was touched by the needs of school-aged children in our neighborhoods who wouldn’t have the proper supplies needed to succeed in school and so she conceived of the “Last Minute School Supply Store”. Fast forward from an idea to now Lily has over 300 children identified who need supplies and she enlisted the help of our church and others around the area to collect the needed supplies. It is a perfect example of what Missional Living can look like.

So by yourself, with two or three others, or with hundreds or even thousands—“What breaks your heart today?” Our goal is to ask each and every person connected with our church to be engaged in a mission in the coming months. You may never have been asked to be a part of one—get ready because you will be. Better yet, come see us and tell us what’s on your heart. Let us help you find the place you can serve.

At one of our cottage group meetings, one of you said this—“we need to come to the place where missions are not “events” in our church, but our reason for being.” That is better said than I could possibly say. Over the course of the next months, we will be looking for ways to engage each other to Live Missionally—precisely because it is our reason for being.




Courage of Conviction

Here was the report I heard on the news from last week—86 people were shot in Chicago. In one weekend. That is a piece of news I find hard to hear. We all know that the city of Chicago has been the scene of the worst urban violence in the country. By comparison, Nashville—now among the 50 largest cities in the country—had 75 total deaths by guns in the past year. And while that statistic may make you glad you live in Nashville rather than Chicago, let me hasten to add that the 75 killed in Nashville last year was up for 41 the previous year. That is NOT a reason to celebrate.

I recently saw a documentary about Chicago and in that documentary there were retired soldiers living in Chicago who were physically accompanying students to their schools as a way to protect them. And it went on to say that children in some areas of town must walk down the center of the road in order to avoid being considered a part of one gang or another.

I don’t know what has happened to Chicago—what has caused it to become such an environment for crime and senseless death.  

But after hearing Junius Dotson’s sermon Sunday, I am ever more convinced that the church has the answer. And, like Paul and Silas, we also have the marching orders to become world-changers. We must also have the courage of our convictions to go and “turn the world upside down”.  

It is easier said than done, but that cannot become an excuse to do nothing. How could the church of Jesus Christ enter into the problem facing Chicago? Or Nashville, or West Meade?

Junius was right when he said it begins with “IDENTITY.” We are God’s people. Our task is to partner with what God is already doing in our community. And it isn’t about us and it never was. God’s act of salvation is still being carried out every day in all kinds of places.  

What’s happening in Chicago is tragic—but it isn’t beyond God’s capacity to transform. And we are God’s partners in it.



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.



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.



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.


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.



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.


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.



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.



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 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.



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