Be On The Lookout

A few weeks ago a strange thing happened. A woman who lives in our neighborhood was walking her two dogs around in our parking lot. We see her here pretty regularly. On this day she was out at the pumpkin patch. There were some middle school-aged kids out there and one of them ran towards the dogs to play with them. This spooked one of the dogs who broke away from the lady and ran off with its leash dragging behind.

These dogs were clearly very important to this woman and she was frantic that one had run off. Since she drove them to our parking lot for their walk, she was afraid this dog would not be able to find its way home.

In addition, when the dog bolted, it pulled away from her so quickly that she fell and hit her head on one of the pumpkin pallets. She wasn’t hurt badly, but this just added to her anxiety.

What happened next was really something. A small army of church folks and neighbors began a search. We learned that a work crew had seen the dog headed for the railroad tracks so we fanned out and began the search.


We didn’t find the dog that day, but fortunately the search continued and our neighbor was reunited with her pet a couple of days later. As we feared, he had gotten that leash tangled up in some brush and could very well have choked to death had he not been found.

Our neighbor made a point to call the church to tell us how grateful she was for all the help we had given a “stranger”.

What struck me in all this was how many people joined in to help her. The fact is in that moment she was NOT a “stranger” to us--she was our neighbor and our friend and she needed help. That really is what the church is at its best. In our holy scriptures we are mandated over and over to care for the widow and the orphan and the poor and the “alien”, the foreigner, the stranger.

When we talk about “God Sightings”, this is what we are talking about. A commonplace event that, seen through the eyes of faith, becomes a portal where God enters our world. These portals happen everyday around us.

The police often issue what they call a “bolo”--”Be On The Lookout”. I suggest we believers do the same. God is near.



We need more healers

It was a heinous act of cowardice. A man walked into a Jewish synagogue and opened fire on innocent, unarmed men, women and children. He killed eleven and wounded six others. It appears he did this because he thought the Jews were being too welcoming to immigrants. I doubt seriously this man even knew that one of the foundations of the Jewish faith is to welcome the stranger--the alien--because they were also once strangers and aliens For that matter, so were all of us.

My first reaction to such an act is anger. I want this man to pay for what he did.

After the first wave of anger passes, my next reaction is just profound sadness--sadness at what appears to be happening to too many of us. A rage inside that wants a way out and expresses itself in violence.

Just when I begin to feel depressed about it all, I hear this: When the perpetrator of this crime was admitted to the Emergency Room at Allegheny General Hospital, he shouted, “I want to kill all the Jews!”

The doctor and attending nurse who treated him were both Jewish. The hospital’s president belongs to The Tree of Life synagogue where the attack took place. They tended to this man as they would tend to any patient. “We are here to take care of sick people” the doctor said. “You do what you think is right.”

During times like this, when we have a senseless mass murder and pipe bombs being sent to public officials, it is easy to forget that our country, our communities, are filled with good, decent people like that doctor and nurse--people who hate no one and who struggle every day to do what is right--even when it hurts.

There is a concept--a core value--for Jews called “tikkum olam”--it is the duty of all Jews to “repair the world.” Jesus commanded us to make the Kingdom of God a reality--now. Our world is badly in need of repair. Our wounds need tending. We need more healers and less hate.




Taking our Spiritual Growth Seriously

In an article written by Jonathan Merritt for The New York Times, he says if the Christian Church wishes to thrive in the post-Christian age, then we will need to learn all over again how to talk about God and Faith. Because while 70% of Americans still identify as “Christian”, you wouldn’t know it from listening to them.

Merritt quotes Thornton Wilder who, during the Great Depression, said, The revival in religion will be a rhetorical problem--new persuasive words for defaced or degraded ones.” Wilder knew that during times of rapid social change, God-talk is often difficult to muster.

So Merritt undertook a project. He enlisted the Barna Group to conduct a survey of 1000 adults. More than 75% of those adults said they do not have spiritual conversations very often. 20% of them admitted they had not had a spiritual conversation at all in the last year. Only 7% said they spoke of spiritual matters on a regular basis.

But this was the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attended church regularly didn’t fare much better--only 13% of them had a spiritual conversation once a week.

For those of us who practice our faith regularly and truly try to take our spiritual growth seriously, these kinds of trends are confounding. If you think back through the history of the church you can make a case that our growth as a religion was the result of spiritual speech and acts of mercy. Jesus was a “rabbi”--a teacher--who preached and taught constantly. The Apostle Paul spent his adult life traveling from one town to the next telling the story of the Risen Jesus. And every generation since has depended on the spoken Word as the primary vehicle for sharing the faith.

In more modern times, radio and television expanded our capacity to reach people, but it was still through the preached or taught Word that converts were made. And from the 1950s prolific preachers like Billy Graham who, like Paul, traveled from city to city to share the Word made a profound impact on the modern church.

As we consider the future of the church, we must confront the new reality that not everyone speaks “our language”. Words like salvation and redemption and faith now constitute a language barrier for many who have not been raised in the faith or who drifted away from it.

Book cover by Alvin Reid

Book cover by Alvin Reid

Try to imagine having a spiritual conversation with the stranger seated next to you for that three-hour flight. Imagine that person having no understanding of the tenets of Christianity. Could you engage that person in a genuine way? Do you have new words that might replace older ones?

And maybe part of our dilemma is the “misuse” or abuse of some of these great words--like the plastic-smiled evangelist who uses spiritual words as a way of getting more donations for a second jet, or the politician who uses spiritual words only when it benefits an election, or the street preacher who keeps using our language to peddle the fear of a fiery Hell. We risk defaulting our words to them because we’ve stopped talking about them in any other meaningful way.

So maybe for now I’ll offer one possible solution--learning how to tell your “story”. Paul was so effective because he had his own story of conversion to tell. Could you effectively share your own “faith story” with a stranger? Maybe not as dramatic a story as Paul’s, but one that is no less authentic.

We can’t lose our God-talk.



Seek Ye First


Each year around this time our church enters into a time of intentional conversation about our stewardship and our support of the church’s ministries. I want to thank you for your past generosity. I believe strongly that faithfulness in a person shows itself most dramatically in generosity. You have proven time and again that you are generous people.

As we make preparations for the 2019 budget year, it is important for you to know that our goal is $900,000. To achieve this, we would ask you to simply increase your estimate of giving by 10%. If you gave $2000 last year, we are asking you to give $2200. This goal is very reachable and it will allow us to continue the vital mission, worship, and education of our congregation.

How do we use these funds? The single largest expense in any church budget is the personnel, the staff. The staff budget hovers somewhere near 50% of the total. This is true in all churches. And don’t forget that staff represents ministry. As Nancy and Alana lead our music ministry, especially in worship, and when Gracie and Steve lead our children and youth, your money is being well spent. And it is being carefully spent.

The Trustees budget, responsible for buildings and grounds and general operations, is also significant - close to 25% of the total. Of course keeping the building in good condition is what allows us to do ministry. Have you noticed how open we are to our community? There are groups in our building almost every day. Casey and Eddie do a wonderful job attending to these needs. As the building ages we find new challenges to confront. We need your support.

The remaining 25% is for the various ministries of the church, including our apportionments and our local church missions. In the United Methodist Church, we believe that we are stronger when we serve the world together. The apportionments are our way of affecting the nation and the world in ministry as a unified church. The apportionments support, among other things, the 13 United Methodist Seminaries that train our future clergy; they support the 11 historically Black United Methodist colleges across the country; they support Martin Methodist College in Pulaski; they support our conference’s own adoption agency, Miriam’s Promise (founded by our own Horace Bass); they support campus ministry at 7 universities in Middle Tennessee; and they support missionaries all over the world who bring the gospel to faraway lands in the name of United Methodists.

Your gifts also support the local missions of our congregation, like Room in the Inn, Habitat For Humanity, Project Transformation, The West Nashville cluster of schools partnership (H.G. Hill, Hillwood H.S., Gower Elementary), Community Care Fellowship, and the Last Minute School Supply Store. Your support also is used for community outreach and evangelism.

You will hear over the next few weeks more stories of our church’s ministries and you will hear from various voices. Our “campaign” will conclude on Sunday, November 4th. That will be our Commitment Sunday as we also celebrate All Saints Day. We are asking that you make a special effort to be with us on that Sunday and bring your Estimate of Giving Card forward as you receive communion. If you know you cannot be with us that day you can, of course, turn in your card anytime between now and then.

It is very important that each of us participates in the financial support of our church. Please be generous and give what you can. We promise to use those gifts wisely.



The Wonder of the Universe


My computer at the office has Google as it’s primary search engine. When I turn it on I get any number of news stories to click on if I’m interested.

Last week there was a story about the Hubble Deep Field Telescope. I’m not an astrologer, but I’m always fascinated to look at images taken from outer space.

The image I saw was remarkable. It was a photograph shown in the shape of a square. Inside the square was an indicator aimed at a single point of light.  This point of light made up a tiny fraction of the entire photograph. The point of light was an area of space containing some 10,000 galaxies. Let that sink in for a minute.

I’m no astrologer, but I do know that our planet Earth is part of a solar system orbiting a single star we call the Sun. This single star is but one of millions of stars in our galaxy that we call the Milky Way.

Now try getting your head around a single point of light in one photograph filled with such points of light and learning that there are 10,000 galaxies in that tiny dot. And don’t forget, that single, square-shaped photograph is but a fraction of the known universe.

I suppose what I’m getting at is the enormity of the universe we inhabit. And I am frequently perplexed at how any thinking person could see something like the images from the Hubble Deep Space telescope and walk away believing there is no “Mind” behind it all. That somehow our existence and the existence of this enormous universe is a happy accident.

I think the complexities and the mysteries of nature are the surest proof of a Creator. And even more amazing is the idea that--as far as we know so far--our tiny planet is the only one to have life.  

Maybe one day we will discover that there are other places that have life. That would be thrilling. And remembering a really nice line from the movie “Contact” starring Jodie Foster, when asked if she believed there was life elsewhere in the universe by an elementary-aged student she replied, “Well if there isn’t, it seems like an awful waste of space.”



In the Midst of a Crisis

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence on Monday in Conway, South Carolina. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence on Monday in Conway, South Carolina. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

As I write this, Hurricane Florence is sitting on the North Carolina coastline dumping enormous rainfall to go along with serious storm surge. Already as much as 30 inches of rain has fallen and there is more to come. And so far, there are 18 dead. We pray there will be no more.

We are not strangers to epic flooding. None of us will soon forget the flood that swamped Nashville in 2010. Many people were displaced and lost everything. It took months for us to recover. And we might never have recovered had it not been for the army of volunteers that came from all over the country to help.

We proved that we were a strong community that year. Neighbors helped neighbors. Strangers helped strangers. We persevered.

I noticed on the interstate on Friday a number of emergency vehicles and crews headed East toward the coast. They were from large cities and small, rural communities. They mustered all the resources they could to dive into the waters to help.

We need to offer prayers today for the families who have lost loved ones. We need to offer prayers for those who have lost a lifetime’s worth of things--memories. We need to offer special prayers for the ones who are there to help.

Your United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is already on the job. There are few organizations as qualified and prepared to step into these kinds of disasters. They were there days ahead of time, they are there now, and most importantly they will still be there long after most other agencies have left. They will be there to help recover and rebuild.

Sometimes I hear folks ask about our apportionment dollars--what the church does with them--here is one example--we help fund UMCOR. Our dollars help to maintain the infrastructure of UMCOR so that when such an emergency takes place anywhere, we are there on the ground AND we create the avenue for people to send funds to these areas with the assurance that 100% of their donation will be used to help those in need.

If you would like to make a donation to the victims of Hurricane Florence, simply send your check to the church and write Florence victims in the memo line. We will collect these donations and forward them to UMCOR on your behalf.

Continue to pray for the people on the Carolina coast.



The Wonder of Another Day

Tari and I were able to slip away last weekend for a quick anniversary getaway. We’ve been doing that pretty much every year since we got married. Since we don’t have many days, we tend to stay “domestic” in our destinations. I learned in talking with her that Tari and never been to the Florida Keys so we decided on that.

We spent two days in Key West and two days in Key Largo. We were able to see a lot of wildlife in the southern Everglades: alligators, lots of birds, manatees. I was particularly drawn to the manatee--basically the cow of the waters. As these mammals live in the canals, they live in brackish water composed of fresh and saltwater. Manatees are freshwater creatures and I was really intrigued to learn that their numbers are growing now because they have learned how to co-exist with humans. We witnessed a juvenile manatee in a populated area where people were literally pouring bottles of water for the manatee to drink. Maybe we are really all supposed to learn how to co-exist in this way--to assist each other with living.

We visited the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West. While he was a great writer, Hemingway was a complicated and curious man. Among the curiosities was his devotion to a strange gathering of cats. Strange because they all have more toes than they should--a product, I suppose of genetics and inbreeding. A typical cat actually has 18 toes. We saw one cat roaming around Hemingway’s house that had 25 toes. Sort of like a freakish carnival.

Then there are the roosters. I still don’t have the whole story on  them, but roosters are allowed to roam freely throughout Key West. They are protected. And they crow at all hours of the day. If you check into a bed and breakfast like I did many tears ago, you’ll be surprised when the manager gives you a pair of earplugs--until later that night when you attempt to sleep and the “blessed” roosters crow all night. You offer thanks for the earplugs.

Mallory Square Sunset Celebration photo by John W. Penney

Mallory Square Sunset Celebration photo by John W. Penney

The thing I liked best was the Sunset Celebration. If you’ve been to Key West then you know that every night in Mallory Square--the southernmost point in the continental United States--that a crowd gathers to celebrate the setting of the sun. There is music and street performers and all around good vibrations. It’s not a bad idea in my book to stop and take note of the end of another day. I’m pretty sure not everyone in Mallory Square is a person of faith, but it’s a good occasion to offer a word of thanks for the wonder of another day and a hope that the sun will return twelve hours later.

And so Good Lord, we thank you for all of our days. Help us never to take them for granted.



The Church Must Be Held Accountable

Photo: Jenna Watson/IndyStar

Photo: Jenna Watson/IndyStar

The news out of Philadelphia has been sobering. Not just a handful of priests, but dozens who committed assaults on children. Systematic abuse in which certain children were given special gold crosses that identified them as having been groomed for pedophilia so that they might be passed around from one priest to another. This sort of scandal has rocked the Roman Catholic Church to its core.

What makes these sex crimes even more troubling is that these victims very often--most often--don’t share their trauma until much later in life. In the case of these priests, the statute of limitations has expired and they cannot be charged under the law. And so the perpetrators escape accountability.

To make matters worse, the decision-makers of the church have conspired to cover up these crimes for decades. How? They simply moved priests from one parish to another, but never revealing the charges against them from previous parishes.

This is the place for me to remind us all that although these kinds of stories from the Roman Catholic Church have been too numerous over the last twenty years, the vast majority of priests in the church are faithful, humble servants of Christ. I often believe that they are also victims because they get lumped in with all those criminal priests.

And although this is a particular Roman Catholic issue, this news affects Christians of every stripe. For those who dwell outside the walls of Christ’s Church, they rarely differentiate between one particular denomination or another. It all gets thrown together as “CHURCH”. And there is, after enough of these kinds of stories, an erosion of trust and credibility that occurs until those folks simply consider us irrelevant.

And this erosion cuts across denominations, too. How many stories have you heard of inappropriate relationships within other churches? Theft and Fraud of church funds?

We, in the church, must be held to a higher standard of behavior because Jesus told us to. The world is watching. Sometimes they try to hold us to impossible standards and seem to get some sense of satisfaction when we fail. We are, after all, still human. We will make mistakes. But we simply must be more accountable in the way we live.

I have no sway over the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope does not have my number on speed dial. But if he did, I think I would tell him that although these guilty priests cannot be punished in a court of law, they can and should be defrocked by the church. I would also tell him that the vow of celibacy required by priests seems to be a contributor to this crisis. Celibacy was not always a part of the vows--it didn’t occur until the 11th century. I’m not certain why it occurred when it did. I would tell the Pope that allowing priests to marry would not diminish their vows to God. And finally I’d tell him it’s way past time to allow women to serve as priests. I seriously doubt we would be hearing of such a scandal if the priesthood were made up entirely of women.

I grieve for my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. I grieve for those faithful priests who are being painted with the same brush as the guilty ones. I suspect Christ grieves today, too.



The effects of the Last Minute School Supply Store

LMSS Store.png

We had a good day last weekend. The Last Minute School Supply Store (LMSSS) was held in the Fellowship Hall. You remember last year that Lily Wilson, one of our terrific youth, created the LMSSS as her “Gold Award” (think Eagle Scout for a girl) project and decided that it was worthy of becoming an ongoing mission. The Church Missions Council agreed.

And so for the past few weeks we have been encouraged to donate school supplies of all kinds to help support families that live in our neighborhoods. Last Saturday morning a group of volunteers assembled to serve as “hosts” for our visiting families. At 9:00 a.m. we opened the doors and welcomed some 150 children and their parents. They moved throughout the Fellowship Hall from one table to another collecting notebooks, markers, pens and pencils, glue sticks, even backpacks.

Here’s the best part--the part you will never see unless you are there. One lady came to my section and with tears in her eyes thanked our church and said, “I didn’t have one school supply for my child--you saved my life today and I am so thankful.”

When we think of “salvation” in the church we typically mean the saving of one’s “soul”. To be sure that is still our primary business, but salvation comes in other ways, too. On Saturday we were in a different kind of saving business by opening our doors to our community and providing what they NEEDED for their families. We don’t mark that down in any book (maybe we should).

Many of those 150 people may never think about that day again. But I promise you some of them will remember how they were treated and received when they came to Belle Meade UMC on a bright, August Saturday morning. As one wise preacher once said, “they may never remember a word you say, but they WILL remember how you treated them.”

We need to thank Lily for her vision and determination. And the youth who assisted as part of an overnight lock-in to put it all together. And to those volunteers who came to serve as ambassadors for the church. And all of you who made a donation of any kind to the LMSSS. This is what the church looks like at her best.

Ready to jump in? Many of our guests were students at H.G. Hill Middle School. We are just underway with a new partnership with them--a real one in which we send not only supplies, but also people who can serve as tutors. Do you have an hour a week during the day that you could offer? Talk to Melissa Vickroy or with me. We’ll get you hooked up.



Leaving a Legacy at BMUMC

randy dornan photography outside church.jpg

Quick show of hands: How many of you know that our church has a Permanent Endowment Fund? Not nearly enough hands went up. Your Endowment Committee is working on a strategy to educate our congregation as to the vital importance of growing our Endowment Fund.

Our fund currently has a little over $530,000. This fund has been at work for many years. Members and Friends of Belle Meade UMC have left bequests that have been invested through our Tennessee Conference Foundation. Only the proceeds of these monies are available to be spent by the church. Would it surprise you to learn that over the last ten years, alone, over $130,000 has been utilized by groups within the church like the Trustees, the youth group, the music ministry and others?

It is becoming more and more clear as the years roll on that any large institution (college, church, non-profit agencies) will not be able to live “hand to mouth”--relying only on the week to week gifts of its membership. This will also become true for Belle Meade UMC. We need to build our Endowment to ensure our financial future.

How do we intend to do this? We begin by doing what one fundraising consultant told a group of clergy recently--we need to get in line. What he meant by that is if you went to college, chances are that you receive multiple mailings and phone calls asking for you to give as an alumnus. The church--all churches--have been notoriously slow to do this. And so our first move will simply be to get in line--to give you as dedicated and faithful members of our church the opportunity to help grow our Endowment.

We also need to dispel a myth and that is many people tend to believe legacy giving is reserved for the rich. That isn’t true. In order for us to grow our Endowment, we will need the participation of everyone. Of course, people who have been blessed with wealth are in a good position to make this kind of gift, but what is really needed is the desire to give. Here is an example of one way to consider a legacy gift. I know of a couple in another church who gave $5000 a year to the operating budget. This amount represents 5% of their yearly income. In their will, they have designated that church to receive 5% of their estate. In that way what they are accomplishing is giving beyond their own lifetime and giving exactly what they have already been giving.

For some others, it may involve giving a gift of stock that has matured or even a piece of real estate that the church could sell and benefit from the sale. There are a number of ways to help grow the Endowment and your committee will be helping the church to understand those ways and providing opportunity. There will be no pressure with this education campaign. No one is going to try and “guilt” you into doing something. Our intent is simply to make you aware and give you the opportunity.

OK, another show of hands. How many of you would be willing to come to a meeting to help us think clearly how best to accomplish our goals? Please contact me if you are.

Thank you for your strong support and love for our church.



How God Speaks Through Art

Does the song of the sea end at the shore or in the hearts of those who listen to it?
–Kahlil Gibran

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and if this is true, then I would argue that a sculpture is worth a million. Unlike a picture, sculpture invades our three dimensional reality and offers an encounter. As I offer my first blog for Belle Meade, I feel compelled to share just such an encounter.

I have served the past 5 years as the part-time youth pastor at Bethlehem United Methodist Church in the Grassland area of Franklin. Prior to my time at Bethlehem, I served various youth ministry positions both part-time and full in the Memphis area over the past 20 years. I came to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt Divinity school and to further explore the intersection of art and theology via their Religion and the Arts and Contemporary Culture Program. For the past 5 years, I have been discerning, interrogating, deconstructing, re-forming, crafting, and creating my own theological identity.

Even beyond what I can remember, I have been an artist. My parents tell me of my childhood adventures peppered with  coloring books, creations, drawings, leaves, sticks, rocks, bottle caps, and other artifacts of wonder that filled my tiny hands, pockets, head, and heart as I tried to soak it all in. As an artist, I began with coloring, but throughout the years have progressed to drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture, and photography. Although I love them all, I have discovered my greatest artistic love in sculpture, especially, sculptural ceramics. In my work, I often explore the human form, embodiment and being, and the human experience of the natural world. During my tenure at Vanderbilt Divinity School, I have had the privilege of further honing and exploring my affinity for sculptural ceramics while simultaneously honing and exploring my affinity for theology.

What does art have to offer theology? The answer to this question has both plagued and comforted me during my studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. This question leads to other questions. Questions that push toward play, mystery, embodiment, and being. Questions that upset the paradigm of theological education, knowing, and being known. Questions that resist functionality and utilitarian ideals. Questions that break the binds of certitude and rationality. Art, like mystery, shall not be tamed. Like mystery, art resists function and pushes people toward being. After all, are we not human beings?

Shaped by the above questions and experiences, I often explore the human form, embodiment and being, the human experience of the natural world, and the mystery and beauty of life in my artwork. Likewise, in my theological formation I often explore the experiential coupled with the transcendent, the everyday and the ordinary coupled with the supernatural and the extraordinary.

I share all the above to give you a better idea of my own interior theological landscape and framework so that you will better understand the encounter I now describe. 

Nearing the end of my time at Vanderbilt Divinity school I began to try and discern what my next steps might be. Initially, I had thought that I might stay at Bethlehem and accept a full-time position there and also take some time to rest from the rigors of the academic world. However, God had other plans. Through some conversations with some of my mentors, I was lovingly nudged to put some other “fleeces” out there for discernment. I began to circulate my resume and apply for other positions at area churches and agencies. 

As part of that process, I became aware of the youth position at Belle Meade when I received a conference-wide email. Sam McGlothlin was listed as one of the contact people in the thread. I was immediately intrigued as Sam and I attended Vanderbilt Divinity School and were very close during our time there. I called Sam and then sent my resume in for consideration.

After an initial phone interview, I was invited to come to the church for an in-person interview. Before the interview, Sam took me on a tour of the church. As part of the tour, we came to the sanctuary. When Sam brought me into the foyer of the church, I was dumbfounded. There in front of me was a museum quality bronze sculpture. Not only was it a sculpture, but is was one of my favorite presentations from within the Christian narrative, a pietá.


A pietá is a sculpture or image depicting the moment just following Christ’s crucifixion before his body is placed in the tomb. It depicts Mary holding the body of her child one last time before his burial. This moment is not depicted in the words of scripture, but one cannot help but intuit that it could have occurred. According to the gospels, we know that Mary was present at the crucifixion. As a mother, would she not long to hold her child one last time? Would the Roman machine refuse a mother such rights? We cannot definitively discern. Either way, the beauty, mystery, and suffering of this moment disarms me.

As an artist, one of my favorite spiritual writers and artists is Kahlil Gibran. He is the author of The Prophet and many other amazing and poetic works that speak of mystery, beauty, and wonder. He is also known for his paintings and drawings. I wear a ring on my finger gifted to me by my mother that carries one of his sayings, it is the saying that opens this blog: Does the Song of the sea end at the shore or in the hearts of those who listen to it? 

Looking at the sculpture I was awestruck, flooded with fear and delight, and caught up in waves of emotion. I approached the sculpture, read the plaque and suddenly I was lost in an ocean of mystery and wonder. The plaque read: Kahlil Gibran, Pietá, 1959.

I have since learned that this Kahlil Gibran is not the same as the poet and writer I adore. He is instead Kahlil George Gibran, the second cousin to his namesake. This point is irrelevant to me though, because the sign still rings true. Though he is not the same, the sign is still crystal clear as it was crafted especially for me. God has called me to this place and this time through an encounter I shall not soon forget.

Steve Stone Jr.
Pastor of Youth and Families

A Renewed Hope in the Future

My daily march through the newspaper is rarely good. Yet another troubled person opened fire on the staff of a newsroom in Maryland. 5 people shot dead. I was deeply moved by the editorial page in their paper the next day. The idea that they were able to get back to work was inspiration enough. But their editorial page was completely blank except for these four words: “TODAY WE ARE SPEECHLESS”

There are more and more of those days for far too many of us. The cumulative effect is often a sort of erosion of the heart. We become numb to it all. Another day, another mass shooting?? Ho Hum. I fear the outcome of this for many is a loss of hope.

There is evidence for this. The birth rate is down in most nations around the world. Why is that? Experts say that when people don’t recognize a good future, they stop having children. The phrase I often heard from the hopeless ones was this: “Why would I want to bring a child into a world like this?”

Then came Lewis. Samantha and Mark welcomed a son into the world at the end of June. His name is Lewis Brannon McGlothlin. Lewis certainly doesn’t “belong” to us. But then again, we have all walked alongside Sam and Mark in their pregnancy and we have been also anxiously awaiting his arrival. No, he doesn’t belong to us, but maybe we can all serve as cousins and aunts and uncles. Lewis deserves all the love we can give him. Especially in a world like ours.

Lewis renews my hope in the future. I’m reminded that the shooter in Maryland wasn’t born to do that. No purveyor of violence and mayhem is born to it. They are taught--sometimes by a bad home life--sometimes by other factors. Imagine yourself looking into the crib of the young man who grew up to shoot those 5 people. Can you see him? He is small and helpless and beautiful. And we think to ourselves, how is it possible you could grow up to do such a heinous thing?

Lewis and all the other children like him offer our best chance at salvation. He will be taught well. He will be loved unconditionally. He will be held accountable and he will grow into a terrific human being. And we all need Lewis and all the other children to grow that way.

So congratulations Sam and Mark! We are thrilled for you. We look forward to having Lewis crawl around us. Thank you for bringing us all a measure of hope for a better future.