Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"I LOVE it!"

I went to a Pampered Chef party on Saturday afternoon. The event was actually a bridal shower for my friend, Jenni, who is getting married next weekend. I have been to a Pampered Chef party before. I love their products and have received several of them as Christmas presents from my mom. The one thing about Pampered Chef is that the company has quite a following. The company has won the hearts and affection of several satisfied customers.

This fact was quite evident on Saturday afternoon when we played a little "game." While the Pampered Chef person was cooking, demonstrating different products to us, we were to shout, "I love it," if she used a product that we own. Not one product was used without someone at the party saying, "I love it!." One person had the pizza stone. Another had the handy measuring cup. Still another had the knife and the food chopper and the crinkle cutter and so on. And each time someone shouted, "I love it," there was another person in the room who was eager to buy the product so she, too, could have another item in the kitchen to love -- another gadget in the kitchen to make her life easier.

As Christians we profess that one of the things we love is Jesus. We profess that Jesus makes all the difference in our lives -- that he eases our burdens, that he makes life easier, that he brings joy, that he shows us a new way, that he offers grace, that we love him. Still, it is true that I rarely see the overwhelming endorsement of Jesus in the way I saw people endorse Pampered Chef on Saturday afternoon.

What would it look like if our churches were filled with signs that we LOVE being in worship? That we LOVE serving our neighbors. That we LOVE being in a community where all are welcome and accepted just as they are. That we LOVE knowing that we are forgiven. That we LOVE hearing how Jesus inaugurated a new kingdom. That we LOVE singing songs of praise. That we LOVE Jesus!

Pampered Chef's advertising slogan is "Discover the chef in you." At church, you can "discover the Christ in you."


Thursday, September 21, 2006

One Barrier Down...

A barrier has been removed this week. The gate blocking one of the entrances to the church has been taken down. Look at how different things look as a result of this change:

Dear God, help us to continue to remove whatever barriers exist between your church and your children -- all of your children. Help us to not pass you by when we see someone who is hungry, someone who is hurting, someone who is lost, someone who has no place to lay his head, someone who is in need of your love. Amen.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Prayer for this Day

I included as part of my devotional time this morning a prayer book by Ted Loder called, "Guerrillas of Grace." A particular prayer titled, "It Would Be Easier to Pray if I Were Clear," has certainly spoken to my heart on this day:

O Eternal One,
it would be easier for me to pray
if I were clear
and of a single mind and a pure heart;
if I could be done hiding from myself
and from you, even in my prayers.
But I am who I am,
mixture of motives and excuses,
blur of memories,
quiver of hopes,
knot of fear,
tangle of confusion,
and restless for love,
for love.
I wander somewhere between gratitude and grievance,
wonder and routine,
high resolve and undone dreams,
generous impulses and unpaid bills.
Come, find me, Lord.
Be with me exactly as I am.
Help me find me, Lord.
Help me accept what I am,
so I can begin to be yours.
Make of me something small enough to snuggle,
young enough to question,
simple enough to giggle,
old enough to forget,
foolish enough to act for peace;
skeptical enough to doubt
the sufficiency of anything but you,
and attentive enough to listen
as you call me out of the tomb of my timidity
into the chancy glory of my possibilities
and the power of your presence.

Small enough to snuggle, young enough to question, simple enough to giggle, old enough to forget, foolish enough to act for peace. I love these words!


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Breaking Down the Barriers

As we get closer to the scheduled demolition of two of our buildings at Mount Vernon Place, there are new signs and walls emerging all throughout the church. When I returned today after being gone a few days I was greeted with several new signs on the doors and a new wall that separates one part of the church from another part.

The wall is not very attractive right now -- but it gets the job done as it definitely keeps people out of the restricted areas that will soon be demolished.

The message on the signs is quite clear. They quickly tell people inside the building where they are and are not to be within the walls of the church. I got the point rather quickly when I walked into the church today. I felt very unwelcome. The signs and the wall stuck out at me like a sore thumb...and I belong here. I know what is happening and why the signs exist.

All of this made me think about other barriers at the church. One of them is a horrible, metal gate that blocks one of the entrances to the church. It is an eyesore -- one that sends the message that people are not welcome on our porch or that we are afraid that someone might get inside who is not welcome inside. The barrier is one that I used to be able to ignore a little easier since we never used these doors. However, these doors are now the main entrance to our offices, and I have to walk through the gates each day. I have learned how hard it is to welcome people inside when the gates do not open all the way. The gates will thankfully be coming down very soon as part of the renovation project, and they will not be replaced when the work is over. The barrier will be broken down.

But what are the other barriers that exist at the church? Someone recently asked me how new people could possibly feel welcome inside such a large, stately structure. I have thought a lot about her question.

I also wonder about the other barriers we have created between those inside the church and those outside the church. If everyone inside the church is dressed in their Sunday best then how will those who prefer shorts and jeans feel? If everyone inside knows the routine -- why we say certain things or recite a prayer called, "The Lord's Prayer," then will the person who is new to the liturgy feel comfortable? If everyone is old then will the young person feel a sense of community? If everyone seems to have it all together then how will the person feel who is filled with guilt from the events of the weekend?

We're talking a lot at Mount Vernon Place about what it means to be the church -- about what it means to be the kind of place where all people are welcome. I pray that the barriers we have grown accustomed to will start shining in a different light so that we can see them, address them and remove them. I pray that all people -- every single person who visits our church -- really will feel welcome at Mount Vernon Place -- that we will be a church for all of God's children.

In the meantime, we have some barriers to break down.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Purple Showers

I am in Florida this week, enjoying a few days of vacation in Sarasota. The friends with whom I am staying have this amazing plant by the pool -- a "purple showers" plant. Each morning the plant is covered in perfect purple blossoms. The problem is that the flowers only last one day. The plant is covered with flowers throughout the day but the flowers all fall off at night. You get to enjoy the beauty during the day, but the plant becomes pretty much like every other plant at night. And yet, beauty comes again in the morning. New flowers appear each morning.

God, help me not to miss the purple showers in my life. May the blossoms of beauty linger a little longer so all can catch a glimpse of your grace.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Election Day

It's election day, and I am eagerly waiting for the returns to find out who will be the new mayor of Washington. It is my first election day in D.C. since moving back to the city last summer, and I have been amazed at the amount of campaigning taking place all over the city.

There are signs and people everywhere! In fact, it has been hard to go anywhere today without seeing dozens of signs, especially outside of each polling place. It has been impossible to walk along the street without being handed a piece of campaign literature. Everyone wants my vote. Everyone wants to tell me why they should be elected mayor, or city council chair, or something else.

Many promises have been made to the city of Washington in recent weeks. Adrian Fenty has promised one thing. Linda Cropp has promised another thing. It does not matter what the promise is -- affordable housing, stronger schools, lower taxes, less crime -- many of these promises will be nearly impossible to keep once a person is in office. The promises are enough to get someone elected -- but the promises are not always enough to get someone re-elected.

Several of the polling places I have passed today are in churches, making the lawn of the church look rather full -- not with people -- but with a myriad of colorful signs. Each sign has a name on it. Some of the signs will be noticed when people walk in to vote, while many other signs will be ignored. Still, each sign represents a commitment -- a person who has promised to provide leadership in this city for the next few years.

Thankfully, there are other 'signs' at the church that point to promises that will never be broken. The sign of the cross proclaims more promises than any political candidate could ever make or deliver. The cross promises that someone will make sense out of the mess in which we find ourselves. The cross promises that the children will all be blessed -- regardless of where they go to school or on which street they live. The cross promises that the hungry will be satisfied. It promises that the poor will be called 'blessed.' The cross promises life -- life abundant and life eternal. And, well, Linda Cropp, Adrian Fenty, and everyone else is going to have a hard time keeping up with these promises.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Next Generation Resources

This weekend, I had the opportunity to see many of my friends from Duke Divinity School at a board meeting in Charlotte. The people I gathered with this weekend are incredible people who are doing amazing things as pastors, foundation leaders, and real estate developers. They are some of my favorite people -- people who always cause me to think a lot, ask several questions, and be more committed to my vocation as a pastor.

Many of us took a course together at Duke called "Religion and Philanthropy in the South." It was a wonderful, practical course that dealt with how the church can be an agent of change in the community. The course was team-taught by Jackson Carroll and Mark Constantine, and Mark was with us yesterday. In fact, Mark is largely responsible for why we were all together in the first place. Mark has a remarkable commitment to many different causes. But, he is especially committed to helping young people make their visions a reality. Through his course, Mark taught us how to create a foundation and a non-profit organization. Yesterday, however, was not a course. It was the real thing.

Our colleague and convener, Steve, has a complex question he is hoping to answer through a new organization: How do we equip future, emerging congregational leaders with the resources they need to lead strong congregations that will, in turn, build healthy communities?

Steve is passionate about the church and has a clear vision for an organization that can resource future congregational leaders. He knows that by 2030 more than 50% of the U.S. population will be non-white. He also knows that there are significant problems facing society in this post 9/11 and post Hurricane Katrina era. Rather than talking about these issues, Steve wants to do something about them. And, he believes the church can play a pivotal role in bringing about the changes that are needed in order for more of our communities to be healthy. The church must first, however, have leaders who are committed and well-resourced.

After our time together, I have no doubt that this next generation of pastors is going to be equipped quite well, especially if the people I met with yesterday have anything to do with it. Stay tuned...

Friday, September 08, 2006

No Experience Necessary

I tried something new this week and saved $30 in the process. I visited the Aveda Institute located a few blocks from the church, on the second floor of the Verizon Center development. I have read about the Aveda Institute, having picked up a pamphlet months ago. The Institute prepares men and women to cut hair, do manicures and pedicures, and offer a myriad of spa selections. The difference between the Aveda Institute and an Aveda salon boils down to two things -- price and experience. If you go to the Aveda Institute, you sign a waiver that states how you realize your service will be performed by a student -- by someone who is still in school and who might mess up. However, you get the service at a fraction of the normal cost. A hair cut, for example, is $18.

I walked into the doors of the Institute at the appointed time. I made my way through the simple store filled with shampoos, conditioners, makeup, candles and lotions. I sat down at the bench where all customers are directed to wait, and I waited for my name to be called.

As I sat there I looked around, examining each student to see if I thought they had enough experience to cut my hair. Numerous thoughts went through my mind as I waited. Would that person be able to handle my ultra thick hair? What about that woman -- isn't she too young to cut hair? Look at her -- she doesn't know how to style her own hair -- how could she possibly style my hair? I wonder if I can switch my service to a pedicure instead of a haircut.

My mind didn't get far, however, before Rachel walked over, extended her hand to greet me, and ushered me to her chair. She assessed my hair carefully, asking me what I wanted her to do. She then called her instructor over to double check her plans.

The treatment then began. I was refreshed by a scalp massage, a short shoulder massage, and an amazing shampoo. And, an hour and a half later, I had a great haircut, and Rachel had learned how to use a new tool that she had not yet learned to use in her education. Furthermore, I was out only $18 plus a $4 tip.

I have thought a lot this week about my impressions of the students in the Institute. It certainly was not right for me to try to size everyone's gifts up while waiting on the bench. I was certainly premature with my judgment. I wanted the person cutting my hair to look competent. I wanted her to look like she spent time on her own hair. I wanted her to give me a fabulous cut -- even though she was a beginner.

I wonder what first-time visitors at our church think of me when I introduce myself as the pastor. Do I look like a pastor? Do I appear competent enough to share the good news? Does my life embody a life of the sacred -- a life of prayer, of service, of ministry to the poor, of study of scripture -- a life of faith?

There are so many things I love about Jesus. One of them, however, is that when he called a group of disciples he said that no experience was necessary. He called people who were in entirely different fields. He called fishermen and tax collectors -- not religious scholars to be his disciples. He called people like Peter who wanted to trust but had a hard time -- not people who had their walks of faith all figured out and perfected. Jesus demonstrated that he could use anyone in his quest to heal the sick, share good news with the poor, and bring about a new kind of kingdom.

Thankfully, Jesus still calls people who do not have it all together -- people who are still learning -- people who are still making mistakes -- people like you and like me.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


The date has almost arrived when two of Mount Vernon Place UMC's buildings will be closed. In fact, all of the church's belongings must be moved out of our two educational buildings by this Friday in order for demolition permits to be in hand by December. And everything seems to be in a state of disruption.

We have started a 4:00 p.m. worship service two blocks down the street at Asbury UMC -- a space in which we will remain until our sanctuary renovation is finished in December of 2007. We have had two yard sales. We have put our remaining things in storage. And, we now have holes in our walls.

While the winds of Friday's storm blew out a window on the third floor, this hole is not the result of a storm. Rather, this hole represents an effort to give to others.

Deuteronomy 24:19 says, "When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back and get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings."

Now I have gleaned countless cantaloupes in North Carolina. I have bagged hundreds of sweet potatoes with youth from around the country. I am familiar with the hunger relief efforts of the Society of St. Andrew. However, I have never before thought about gleaning a building.

Our minister of music, Sally Long, has done an incredible job of contacting different organizations who may be able to use the doors, the lights, the air conditioners, the ceiling fans, and many other items in the two buildings about to be demolished. Today, one organization picked up more than a dozen air conditioning window units. They are all shapes and sizes, all models and makes. And soon they will be installed in the homes of individuals who have weathered the summer heat of 2006 with fans but who will be able to choose to enjoy air conditioning in their home when the summer heat returns next year.

It has been a blessing to see different needs being met by things that would have otherwise been left for demolition and dumpsters. Once again, I have realized how much we take for granted -- lights, ceiling fans, doors, hardware, windows. We toss so much aside when it is no longer needed instead of thinking how what we are placing in the trash may be someone else's treasure.

God, help us all to be better stewards of what you have given to us. Teach us once again that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive. Help us to share what we have with those around us. Amen.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lessons Learned from the Local Steak 'n Egg

There is a wonderful, front-page article in today's Washington Post titled "Grits and Determination: A Recipe for Success." The article reads, "To see and hear and smell how America works, go to the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Chesapeake Street NE and step into the Steak 'n Egg Kitchen. The Tenleytown diner is a round-the-clock crossroads for people from all over the world -- all colors and ages and religions and socioeconomic stripes. It's usually accepting, often accommodating, always unlocked."

The writer of the article continues, "At the Steak 'n Egg, you have front-row seats for the extravaganza that is existence. You can see up close the specialties and speciousness of the species. 'You see prostitutes sitting next to Secret Service agents next to a 12-year-old kid who has run away from home for a while,' Barrie says about his counter. 'You have the whole United Nations sitting there.'"

  • usually accepting
  • often accommodating
  • always unlocked
  • front row seats for the extravaganza that is existence
  • prostitutes and Secret Service agents
  • the whole United Nations
Perhaps the Steak 'n Egg has a thing or two to teach us about how to be the church.