Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I had an idea last week. I thought about it often - how I would write a blog entry each morning during Thanksgiving week. I would write each day about something for which I am thankful - a blessing in my life for which I am grateful.

The week came....and the week went. Even Thanksgiving day came and went without my writing a thing. I thought often about how thankful I am but I never typed anything.

Now that the week is over and I have caught up on several things, it is time to share my thanksgiving with you.

I am thankful for what is happening at Mount Vernon Place. I consider the opportunity to watch this historic church be restored from top to bottom to be a rare privilege - a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am excited about our getting back into our sanctuary next summer. It is truly amazing to see the structure being restored - to see the outline of the new chancel floor or the new walls being put in place. I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for this church.

While the building is exciting, it is even more exciting to see the congregation developing. We have an amazing group of new members at the church. There is a renewed emphasis upon serving the community in a variety of ways - we have raised over $2400 this year for a homeless day program. We delivered new blankets to another shelter today. Many people have volunteered to serve dinner at this shelter on a monthly basis. And, the mother of one of our new members knitted 25 scarves for the residents of the shelter - scarves that were delivered this past Sunday. I love the energy - the passion - the new ideas - that are surfacing each week at the church. God is clearly at work.

I am thankful for Craig. Over a decade ago the Indigo Girls recorded a song with a line, "The best thing you ever did for me was to help me take my life less seriously. It's only life after all." Craig helps me take life less seriously often - in the best of ways. He makes me laugh. He makes me smile. He has an uncanny ability to celebrate and seize the gift of life - helping me do the same. He shares life with me - all of life - whether it is listening to my stories, unloading my dishwasher, or reminding me that I am working too hard. Craig adds beauty, delight and joy to each day. I am thankful for him, for our upcoming marriage and for the lifetime that awaits us.

I am also thankful for the gift of living in Washington. My family was in town last week, and I played the role of tourist again. I journeyed along the National Mall, taking in the Vietnam War Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the Lincoln Monument, the White House, the Washington Monument, and Tidal Basin. I was reminded often of what a gift it is to live in this city. I was also reminded of how blessed this nation has been, and I gave thanks for the incredible men and women who have provided great leadership to our nation. I was struck, once again, by the things President Roosevelt stood for, and I gave thanks for his willingness to stand up for the poor. I gave thanks for President Lincoln's leadership - a leadership that brought equality to all people. And, I gave thanks for the men and women who have faithfully served this country as members of the Armed Services. May we continue to fight for the poor, for the equality of all people, and for the veterans returning from war.

And, I have given thanks for the gift of family. My father is one of the funniest people I know. He has a zest for life, a strong work ethic that has been passed down to his children, and an ability to make people laugh...hard. There were several years when I did not have a relationship with my father - when I kept him locked outside of my life, unwilling to hear his side of my parents' divorce or forgive him for what he had done. I am thankful for the gift of reconciliation and forgiveness. I am thankful to have him in my life. And, I am thankful for our visit last week. It was great to have him, his wife, and my little brother here - all four of us in my 537 square-feet home.

God is good. I am thankful. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Everything Communicates

On Friday and Saturday of last week, I traveled to Atlanta to spend time going over grant applications with an organization I greatly respect. Some of the deliberations were easy and others were quite difficult. In the midst of our conversations, one of the employees of the foundation shared with me how their director of communications reminds her often that "everything communicates." Who they fund communicates their mission. What they do communicates their motives. Every memo, decision, action, hire, grant effort, and activity communicates who they really are.

Everything communicates.

I am a pastor. Everything I do communicates. My actions on Sunday morning communicate - I am judged by whether or not I go out of my way to greet a first-time visitor and whether or not I remember their name when they return next week. My sermon communicates - hopefully it communicates the Good News of Jesus Christ but it also communicates whether I am liberal or conservative, open or closed, joyful or tired, and what kind of a church I visualize in my mind. Our church building communicates. Right now it is being restored. The restoration process communicates that we want to be an active presence in downtown Washington in the years to come. We want to serve our community, provide a space for authentic relationships to be lived and restored. We want to tell children the stories of Jesus. And, we want to celebrate God's presence in our lives in a sanctuary where the windows tell the stories, along with the beauty of the space. The way I spend my time communicates. If I go and visit the sick and the shut-ins, then I am considered a compassionate pastor. If I neglect to show hospitality to the stranger or our members, people will think there are problems. Everything communicates.

But as Christians, our entire lives communicate. I am amazed at how many of the books written today about how God is not great or why religion is wrong have been written out of disgust over the church. The authors of these books are disillusioned because the church has not been the church. Rather, the church has been too much like the world. Christians have preached one thing and done another thing. They have said they believe in a Savior who called for love of God and neighbor and then hated their neighbor. They have heard the call for justice and done everything but working for it. The church's communication - their actions and their words - has been a raw, empty communication. It has been a communication filled with more hatred than love.

I wonder what we communicate at Mount Vernon Place.

I am hopeful that we communicate a Gospel that is open to all people - young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, Caucasian and African American, believers and doubters. I am hopeful that when people enter our temporary space that they feel welcome to come on in - just as they are. I am hopeful that people experience joy when they worship with us and that they receive the presence and the power of the living God. I am hopeful that people are given a reason to want to come back - a reason to get out of bed early on Sunday morning and spend a couple of hours at church. I am hopeful that people see a group of remarkable individuals who are trying to figure out how to be more faithful. I am hopeful that people see sinners and saints, and people who are working towards the latter. And, I am hopeful that people see a congregation filled with individuals who are more concerned about God's needs and desires than they are the church's needs and desires - that we focus our time and our attention on what is happening outside the doors of the church instead of inside.

Everything communicates.

God, forgive me for not always communicating your love and grace. Forgive me for coming up with names for some of the people around me that are outside of what you call them - beloved children of yours who are made in your image. Forgive me for preaching the Gospel with my words more often than with my life. Help me to communicate better your message of hope and salvation. Help me to be a better ambassador of your Son who preached good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of site to the blind. Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Front Page News

Last week, I opened my newspaper. It was Wednesday - one of my favorite days to open the newspaper pack because of the store ads. But this Wednesday was a little different. When I opened the paper, I found something a little unusual on the front page of The Washington Post. The front page had pictures of the usual suspects - Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. John Edwards was photographed beneath them. And then, at the very bottom of the front page, there was a picture of me in front of the church's office trailer and construction project, along with an article on churches that are developing their property.

I have been in the newspaper several times since arriving at Mount Vernon Place. Never, however, have I been on the front page. Needless to say, it was an exciting day - a day on which I bought newspapers at 7-11, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and CVS before dropping lots of quarters and dimes into several newspaper machines around the city. I also heard from a lot of people last Wednesday - people I have not heard from in a long time. It was great. I loved it! I loved it until one night this week.

On Sunday evening I was leaving the church. It had been a long day, and the sun was starting to set. I was walking through a small park in front of the church when a man stopped me. The man is someone I see often. He often dwells in the neighborhood - sitting in this park or on the benches outside the place where we are currently worshipping. He always has something to say - though he has not and will not tell me his name. Instead, he comments on what I am wearing or what I am doing. This time he said, "Front page news, huh?" He then proceeded to ask how a church could ever spend so much money when there are so many people just like him - people who are homeless and living in the streets. "What are you going to do for me?"

His question haunts me.

I think often of the endowment that could have been created with the money we are spending on the restoration of the church and the building of another space. It is a huge amount of money.

Still, I get excited every time I go inside the church and see the work that is being done. I think often about all of the amazing ministries that will take place inside the building. I imagine lots of people coming together for a meal or a cup of coffee. I visualize people's lives being transformed through small groups and Bible studies. I think of the different kinds of worship we can have - in a small chapel, a huge sanctuary, a theatre, and a fellowship hall. It is going to be fantastic space - space that will enable people to celebrate God's presence, grow in faith, connect with one another, serve the community and share the good news. I cannot wait!

I also cannot stop asking the question, "What are we going to do for him?"

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Parent of a Rock Star

Last Wednesday night, on Halloween, Craig and I went to see The Bravery at the 9:30 Club in Washington. The Bravery is a band that formed within the last few years, and they have become very hot. Faces of the band members have appeared on the cover of magazines throughout the world. Their songs can be heard on several television and radio commercials. They have two albums for sale. And, they have performed on several of the late night television talk shows.

It was my first Bravery concert. While I have been invited to see the band several times, this night is the first night my schedule permitted me to go. I now wonder why I waited so long.
It was a great concert. The band members are fabulous entertainers and know how to work the audience. While the sound level was loud enough to cause my ears to ring, the music was good. It was very good. Yet, no matter how good the music was, the best part of the concert was watching two of the individuals standing next to me.

The mother of one of the band members is a member of the church where I am a pastor. Abbie sings in our choir, and Abbie is the one who taught her son, the lead singer, to sing. We have heard a lot about the band as part of the regular "joys and concerns" time that proceeds our prayer time on Sunday mornings. As a congregation, we have prayed for safety on their travels, for wisdom as they make big decisions, and we have praised God for their success. However, I never realized the impact this child is having on his parents until I stood next to them at the concert.

The parents took absolute delight in their son. They sang along the words of his songs. They danced when he danced. Abbie even waved at one point to her son during the concert, her son waved back, and Abbie remarked, "He waved at me" just as a 16-year-old fan would do. Abbie reacted to the crowd filled with many people who are clearly fans of the band. Abbie and her husband were mesmerized by watching their son perform - by watching their son do what he loves to do.
At some points during the concert, the words spoken from the mouth of the son were not the words a parent loves to hear. When this happened, Abbie covered her mouth as if to imply, "Oh my." But when the band started to play again, she would become overtaken with delight once more.
I keep thinking about Abbie and the concert. And, I wonder if this is how God responds to us.
God created us. God is both our mother and our father. God knows everything about us and loves us. God keeps an eye on us and longs to see us doing what we do best. God longs to see us using the gifts that God has given to us. And, I wonder if there are times when God is dancing right along with our dance in life - when God is smiling down upon all that we do. I also wonder if there are times when God responds, "Oh my" to our words or our actions. Yet, no matter what causes the "oh my," God keeps on loving us, keeps on supporting us, keeps on desiring to be with us - to wave back at us.
Thank you, God, for loving us.
The pictures posted here were downloaded from They are not my pictures but were rather taken at a concert in London.