A Season of Fellowship

This is an important week in the life of our congregation. This Sunday, we will celebrate Commitment Sunday during worship. For those of us who have not yet turned in our Estimate of Giving cards, we will have baskets available during the worship service for you to do so. I can’t stress enough how important it is for every regular participant in our congregation offer this Estimate of Giving—regardless of the amount. That card is a “vow” of sorts that says “This is my church and it needs my support and I am going to do what I can.” These Estimates of Giving will be the determining factor for our 2018 budget.

I also would like to catch you up on our apportionment giving. As of October 1st, we are one half of one month behind on paying 100% of our conference apportionments. We haven’t been this close to fulfilling that mission in decades. Now we are really close. I want to ask you that if you are behind on your giving for 2017 would you please do all you can do catch up. I hear many people speak with great hope that we can fulfill that 100% this year. Together, we can.

This Sunday is also PUMPKINFEST. This is one of our best fellowship events. There will be a chili cook-off. Make your own special, secret recipe pot of chili and come early to build your “booth” (if you wish). There will be a “celebrity judge” to determine the winner. It’s all in great fun. In addition, there will be a Halloween costume contest. This is a great highlight of the afternoon, so don your best costume and join us from 4 till 6.

We are also entering a season of special, sacred days. The first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday. On this day, we remember the lives of those in our church family who have died since this time last year. It is a very special worship service.

On November 19th we will celebrate Thanksgiving together as a church family with a potluck dinner at 5:00 p.m. The church will provide the turkey and dressing and drinks and the rest of us will bring side dishes to share. Let me suggest that we all bring two sides or one large side so there will be plenty of food to go around. We will create a sign-up with Sunday School classes asking them to bring a vegetable or a dessert in order to be sure we have a good variety.

Then we enter the season of Advent on December 3rd for four Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve which we all know is pretty amazing here at Belle Meade.

I hope you will come and support all of these special services and occasions. Being together as a church family is one of the true benefits of the faith. Don’t miss it.



Tidbits of Wisdom

One of you recently sent me a list of tidbits of wisdom to help manage the stress we are all under. I thought I’d share a few of those today. Enjoy.

Accept the fact that some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue.

Always keep your words soft and sweet just in case you have to eat them later. 

Drive carefully—It’s not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker.

Nobody cares if you can’t dance—get up and dance, anyway.

The second mouse usually gets the cheese.

When everything is coming your way, you are probably in the wrong lane.

A truly happy person is the one who can enjoy the scenery even on a detour.

Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

Since it’s the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.

And this is my personal favorite:  We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull.  Some have weird names and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.




In Memory of Our Friend

Beloved church,

Death is hard.

Like many of you, I am still shocked at the loss of our dear Edgar Jones. I do not even want to talk about him in the past tense. It’s too jarring. Death has interrupted our lives too harshly.

Yesterday, I saw and spoke to people who loved and knew Edgar all day. Our emotions were varied: anxious, angry, confused, grieved, heartbroken. Today, I’ve spoken with a member of the church who said she feels numb. I want to remind you that whatever you are feeling is faithful. Like the psalmists, we lament. We ask God questions. We cry out. Not all of us are ready to ask, “Oh death where is your sting?” We feel it and it sucks.

Many of you have started sharing stories about Edgar. They speak of his friendliness. He acknowledged everyone by name, didn’t he? He always asked how you were doing. He genuinely cared for people. He reached absolutely everybody with his kindness. You could always depend on him to show up. He was faithful to working the front desk, answering the phones, counting money, making ice cream for the social, attending the Oxford class, ushering at funerals, and yes, putting ashes into the columbarium.

Edgar was also good for a laugh. He was joyful and made people smile. 

I’ve been teaching the Oxford class about once a month for awhile. A few mornings, we have shared our stories with one another. I bring in a fishbowl of questions and everyone takes one out. I’m almost certain the first time Edgar drew a question, it was to tell about the greatest gift he’s ever received. I know all of you can anticipate his answer: Mary Sue.

The second time he got a question about his favorite recipe. It was a dish his mother used to make as he was growing up. He told us about each ingredient. The "special" one was something toxic. I mean, like flammable. Something no one should have ever been allowed to eat! We all laughed out loud in disbelief. He said he was serious. And it was delicious.

In the days and weeks to come, we will remember our friend. It will be hard for us to have “firsts” without him there. Offer yourself grace; healing is a process. Grief ebbs and flows. It’s okay to feel whatever we feel when we feel it. Grief is hard on the body. It’s heavy. It is physically exhausting. Take care of yourself. As we said in the sermon a few weeks ago, it’s okay to put the grief down and pick it back up again. It’s okay to take a break from it. It’s too much to hold onto continually. 

As a church, we will also hold one another’s grief. We will be reassured of the presence of God because we will lean on each other through shared memories, pictures, hugs, prayers, cries, and laughs. Perhaps we can keep reminding one another: God is with you and so am I.

God, we are thankful for the life of Edgar Jones. In our mixed emotions, hold us. Help us know our feelings are faithful. Offer us strength for today or how about strength for this hour? When it’s too much to bear on our own, help us reach out to those who love us. Amen.

psalm 34-18.jpg

Grace & Peace,

Rev. Sam McGlothlin 

Unlikely Heroes

Just when I think we are coming apart at the seams and nothing can seemingly stop the foolishness going on around us, I am rescued from the folly by unlikely heroes.

Today it begins with Sloane Stephens. Don’t know that name? Unless you are a tennis geek like me you probably wouldn’t. As of last year at this time she was ranked in the 800s in the world. This morning she is the U.S. Open champion having won the tournament as the first unseeded winner in the open era (since 1968).

Sloane remarked that as a junior player, her mom took her to a tennis academy where the head instructor told her that the best she could hope for was maybe a scholarship to a Division 2 college. I’d love to see that guy today and ask how he feels about that assessment. This is also a tribute to the hard work Sloane put in to achieve greatness. Not to mention that she had surgery on her foot only a few months before the tournament.

That she won the tournament was remarkable. That isn’t what has rescued me today. It was the aftermath. She had been playing against her best friend on tour, another surprise finalist named Madison Keys. Two young African American female tennis players reaching the final of a Grand Slam was a good enough story. But Madison played poorly. She felt the weight of the occasion far more than Sloane. In tennis terms, Madison choked on the occasion and that is a very large audience for someone to choke in front of.

After match point, the two met at the net as is typical for the congratulatory handshake. But this was far more. Sloane embraced her friend for a long time, offering her encouragement and the love of a friend. It was a transcendent moment—more dramatic than the tennis, itself. Then Sloane did something that has never been done before in such a setting. While waiting for the trophy presentations players typically sit in their assigned seats on either side of the umpire’s chair. It is an awkward moment, especially for the runner-up. Sloane got up and went to sit next to her friend so they could wait together. They talked and eventually began to laugh together—the comfortable laughter that only good friends share.

Sloane Stephens is the classiest champion I can remember and she gives me hope today.

The other heroes are the countless thousands who made their way to East Texas to assist in rescue operations following Hurricane Harvey—and the many others who will undoubtedly make their way to the Florida west coast to assist with the aftermath of Irma. I saw a photo of hundreds of our brother and sister Tennesseans in a convoy of trucks and boats headed into the area to help find those who were stranded by flood waters—to help save lives. They didn’t have to go—but they did. They and thousands more like them from all over the country.

Sloane Stephens and these other heroes remind me that the majority of our neighbors in this country are good and decent people. We share similar values and we stand ready to help a neighbor in need. I think most of us really do know this about each other.

The problem comes when we listen too much to the shrieking of talking heads who have a vested interest—a financial interest—in causing disruption and chaos around us. They want us to become addicted to the drama so we can continue to “buy their brand”. There’s good news—we don’t have to keep falling for it. We are all being played as suckers and there is an easy fix—turn it off. Tune it out. Watch an episode of Andy Griffith.

We are better than this. These unlikely heroes prove that it’s true.




Moments of Awe

The hype started a full year ago. We learned that Nashville would be the largest city in the United States to witness a totality solar eclipse. And then a few months ago the hype went into overdrive and we heard that thousands upon thousands of people from all over would descend on our city to view this event.

The week leading up to the eclipse was amazing. Stories every day on every channel on the T.V. talked about the eclipse. Then came the day of. We planned a viewing party here at the church, not really knowing what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised to see some 400 congregation members and neighbors come out. Natasha McMann, our own resident Astrophysicist, offered a presentation on how eclipses work and what we should know about them. At about 12:30 the eclipse began. First as just a tiny sliver and then, as time went on, more and more of the sun began to darken.

At about 1:15 all that remained of the sun was a banana shape. Tari and I marveled at the little crescent shadows on the ground. And right around 1:27, we arrived at totality. The glasses came off and we witnessed a celestial event that hadn’t been seen in Nashville for 500 years and won’t be seen here again for another 500 years. There were audible sounds of excitement.

And then, in about 2 minutes, it was over.

I found myself wondering if the event was worth all the hype. A year of talking about it and a total of two minutes of the actual event. That seemed unbalanced to me.

Except—what we experienced together was AWE and awe is very hard to come by. How many moments of awe have you ever experienced? The first time I saw the ocean I was filled with awe. Being in the operating room for the birth of my children filled me with awe. At my ordination having hands laid on me to go and preach the gospel was such a moment.

It occurs to me that the best of our lives come in these kinds of small moments. The first kiss, the graduation, the job promotion, when we say “I Do”. The best of life happens in these moments. Did the event live up to the hype? Absolutely! None of us who witnessed it will ever forget it. I heard some folks say they were so excited about it that they were going to start right now making plans to go to Paducah, KY in 2024 to see the next one.

I would suggest something else we can all do is to have more discerning eyes to see the wonder that happens around us every day. A solar eclipse is an amazing thing. It reminds us that the big rock we inhabit is hurtling around the sun at a ridiculous speed and there is a moon hurtling around the sun AND the earth at the same speed. And we human beings, all of us, have a significant amount of “stardust” inside of us. And there is nothing “solid” in our universe—only atoms spinning so fast that they give us the illusion of solidity.

More than any of that, there is the wonder that happens between us when we hold each other, and when we say “I forgive you”, “I love you”, I need you”, “I want to be your friend”.

May this day be filled with awe for you.



Response to Charlottesville

I wanted to write immediately in the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy. But I decided against it because many of us—most of us—don’t think as clearly while we are in the midst of emotion. That’s true for me, too. Placing a little time and distance from the event allows us to get a view from 30,000 feet. Some perspective is a good thing.

Looking back on it now, it’s easier to see this moment in the context of a larger story that has been unfolding in our country for a few years, now. I may not personally appreciate the reactions of President Trump and his tweets to this event, but the overall story didn’t begin with him. Events like Charlottesville only serve to further expose some deep wounds in the fabric of our country.

Many of us thought racism was a thing of the past. A relic from a less-informed day and one that we had gleefully left behind. And I happen to believe that we truly have made progress in race relations in this nation. But the obvious truth is, we are far from having eradicated racism among us. There are more official “hate groups” registered today than in any other time in our history.

Now, we can take a step back and see the trajectory of a number of incidents in which black men were shot and killed by white officers. It seemed like such an event was occurring once a week somewhere, even though that wasn’t the case—we just heard about them over and over and over until they all appeared to bleed together (poor choice of words). Were all of those line-of-duty shootings unjustified? Who can know? This led to a movement called “Black Lives Matter”. One would have to be completely tone deaf to deny that the anger within the black community is understandable. The justice system in our country is skewed. This is not an attractive truth about our nation, but it is a matter of public record and we must begin to acknowledge it.

But this issue is multilayered, too. I did a “ride along” last week with an officer with the West Precinct of Metro Police. This officer was a veteran of some 20 years and an African American. He was completely professional and over-the-top friendly. He and I had several hours together and we talked about the Black Lives Matter movement. His perspective—as an active police officer patrolling the city of Nashville on a daily basis and seeing a lot of stuff you and I don’t want to see—was that until the black community fully addresses “black on black” crime, of which he says there is much, then he has little respect for the movement. His way of saying, “we need to put our own house in order before we go throwing rocks at someone else’s.”

I deeply appreciated his candor and honesty and found myself thinking that if we could all step back and share his honesty about ourselves, we could avoid moments like Charlottesville.

In the end, a crazy, white supremacist turned a car into a weapon and drove it into a crowd he disagreed with for the express purpose of doing harm. One young woman was killed and dozens were injured. What do you say to that? She deserved it?

The latest “event” took place in Boston this past week. A “free speech” rally was planned by a group that many felt was a cover for more hate. Thousands upon thousands of citizens in Boston came out to protest the gathering. So overwhelming were their numbers that the original free speech group decided not to proceed.

I’m sure the protesters felt this was a victory. Maybe it was. But I found myself wondering how easily that rally could also have turned ugly and deadly. Imagine just one person in a rage behind the wheel of a car. These kinds of gatherings seem to serve only as fuses, while we all pray no one lights a match. Because one is all it takes.

Finally, we followers of Jesus have a mandate to live our lives in love and peace with our neighbors. When we ask a question like “what would Jesus do?” it forces us to really consider how he might respond to these kinds of events.

So, what do you think?  What WOULD Jesus say and do among us today?

(We are anticipating creating a new Sunday School class this Fall that will focus on the important social issues of our day. This will be a safe place to discuss difficult topics.)  




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.