Five Minute Friday: Try

(So, I’ve been participating in a “writers’ flash mob” of sorts called Five Minute Friday. In response to a one-word prompt, hundreds of writers sit down and write for five minutes flat. No extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font or punctuation; unscripted and unedited. Here’s today’s edition…setting the timer….)

Five Minute Friday: Try

Go.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

For a wee muppet movie dude, Yoda nails it.

He nails it for just about any goal a person could ever have.

Many a day I need to keep his advice in mind.

I’m a list maker and measure-twice-cut-once kind of gal.

And I don’t think Yoda would deny the value of thoughtfulness and careful planning.

When it comes to strategic thinking he’s certainly no slouch.

But at some point the lists and the measuring and the thinking and the planning have to lead to something.

That’s one reason I like to participate in Five Minute Friday.

No time for lists.

Just me in a chair at a keyboard for five minutes.

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

A Yoda Pez dispenser, on a computer keyboard.

Stop. 

Do What You Have To Do

2015 calendarWe do what we have to do.

Sometimes that involves finding a work-around or going out of our way.

This past Sunday morning I had a scheduling conflict and could not attend worship.

As the weekend approached, I considered options and looked for an alternative.

I was pleased to discover a Saturday evening service in our area.

I was able to continue my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here) by visiting Bridgeport United Methodist Church in Bridgeport, West Virginia.

As is usually the case, finding a work-around paid off.

Turns out, the sermon was all about another person who did what he had to do.

I had to drive to a nearby town on a Saturday.

He had to climb a tree.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was short and there was a big crowd.

So, he climbed a tree.

He did what he had to do and it changed his life.

Not only did he see Jesus, Jesus saw him and invited himself to his house.

Zacchaeus found new perspective and a new lease on life.

I’ve been thinking about Zacchaeus over the past couple of days.

Zacchaeus did what he had to do, but not too long after that, so did Jesus.

Jesus did what he had to do.

Like Zacchaeus, he also found himself high up in a tree, albeit a tree that had been cut down and shaped into a cross.

Jesus did what he had to do.

For that I am thankful.

Because of that I am called to do what I have to do.

To go out of my way.

To find a work-around when necessary.

To follow Jesus.

Bridgeport UMC in Bridgeport WV - entrance way with steeple, tree and tent for VBS

Lord of the Dance

Screenshot of Guinness World Record breaking Zumba class. 12,975 people dressed in yellow took part in a Zumba class in the streets of the Philippine city of Mandaluyong.

Screenshot of Guinness World Record breaking Zumba class in Mandaluyong, Philippines.

Honestly, when I woke up yesterday, the Philippines were not really top of mind.

I’ve never been there, I don’t have any direct connection to anyone there, and unless that nation makes it into the news, it is not a place I think much about.

As I started my day, a quick scan of Twitter yielded a BBC tweet about a town in the Philippines that had set the Guinness World Record for the most people taking a Zumba class at the same time (12, 975 to be exact.)

OK.

Beyond thinking a Zumba-teaching friend of mine would find that interesting, I didn’t really dwell on this tidbit of information.

I finished getting ready for church and headed out for the next stop on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here.)

This week I drove to Eldora United Methodist Church near Fairmont, West Virginia and ran smack dab into a missionary from – wait for it – the Philippines.

Cue “It’s a small world after all…”

(Cue it, but it doesn’t strike me as Zumba material.)

Eldora is the “middle sister” on a three-point charge. Each Sunday morning, the pastor makes the circuit to all three, with Eldora’s service being in the middle, time-wise. (Being a middle sister myself, I could relate.)

The congregation greeted me warmly and made me feel right at home.Welcome mug, brochure and pen from Eldora United Methodist Church near Fairmont, WV. Given to first-time visitor.

It turns out the pastor was away this week and the guest speaker was the aforementioned missionary who has been serving in the Philippines.

He focused his sermon on the idea of repentance and following Christ.

He pointed out that we often equate repentance with cleaning up our act.

We think it means we have to “shape up,” so to speak.

The missionary encouraged us to think differently about it – not so much about turning away from something – but instead to think about turning toward God.

We can’t clean up our own act anyway, he reminded us.

But we can choose to follow the one who can.

In his case, following Christ meant going to the Philippines.

The Philippines.

And because of that morning’s BBC tweet, the connection with the Philippines got me thinking about Zumba.

(I don’t think I am alone in having interesting streams of consciousness during sermons. Am I right? I prefer to regard them as Spirit-directed. Bear with me as I unpack my train of thought from the morning.)

Zumba has a leader(s) – and everyone is supposed to do the same thing at the same time.

The goal is to “shape up.”

As Christians, we have one leader – but following him does not mean we will all be doing the same thing at the same time.

Quite the contrary…we each have our own unique calling and gifts to contribute.

One body, many parts.

In addition, our goal is not to “shape up” but to reach out.

Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

Jesus has invited us to follow him…to join him in the dance.

The missionary reminded us that following Jesus will look different for each of us and may look different through the various seasons of our lives.

Always be open, he urged us, to what God is calling you to do.

Dance, then, wherever you may be.

Maybe for this season of your life following Jesus will resemble a waltz, or hip-hop, or clogging, or salsa, or the hokey-pokey.

Maybe it will be Zumba.

We dance, not to “shape up” but to reach out and invite others to the dance.

I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

Front of sanctuary at Eldora United Methodist Church near Fairmont, WV.

Lord of the Dance, Words Sydney Carter, Music 19th century Shaker tune: United Methodist Hymnal 261

Five Minute Friday: Free

Round, silver lock with key hole.(So, I’ve been participating in a “writers’ flash mob” of sorts called Five Minute Friday. In response to a one-word prompt, hundreds of writers sit down and write for five minutes flat. No extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font or punctuation; unscripted and unedited. Here’s today’s edition…setting the timer….)

Five Minute Friday: Free

Go.

If my freedom takes you prisoner, am I free?

If my rights come from a wrong inherently;

If I get my way by taking;

If I insist on my own way;

If my freedom takes you prisoner, am I free?

Stop.

Past Presence

Four banks of small red candles on a wooden stand. Some lit. Some unlit.

In worship I often feel the powerful presence of a “cloud of witnesses” – those who came before me or who walked with me on my spiritual journey but who are now gone.

Maybe it’s a particular line in a hymn…or maybe a dancing candle flame on the altar, or the sight of a grandmotherly type in the next pew sharing some Cheerios with a toddler.

Any number of things can summon this cloud of witnesses…

This past Sunday I felt its presence…and it included multiple manifestations of my own past self.

Suncrest United Methodist Church in Morgantown, West Virginia was my stop this week on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here.) As I took my place in the sanctuary, memories began to surface.

Over there – halfway back on the right hand side near the window, fifteen-year-old-me sat with my Jewish roommate from WVU’s Fine Arts Music Camp. We wrote notes back and forth on the bulletin as I sought to answer her questions about our United Methodist worship service and theology. We chose to attend this particular church because it was within walking distance of our camp dorm.

Then, high overhead, there was mid-thirties-me overcoming my fear of heights, precariously clinging to a tall ladder to drape advent greenery on the round, swinging light fixtures over the pews. My husband and I had joined this church when he was accepted into law school and we moved to Morgantown.

Up front by the altar, proud-of-my-Disciple-class-me stood with the others from a 36-week in-depth Disciple Bible study as we celebrated completion of our time together. I had served as the group’s facilitator/leader.

Most vivid of all, just-suffered-a-miscarriage-me sat towards the middle on the left hand side, held by my husband as I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress raw, heart-wrenching sobs during the baptism of a newborn baby.

As I took my place in the sanctuary on Sunday, these images from my past formed a powerful presence in my thoughts and worship.

On this day they were definitely part of the cloud of witnesses.

By chance there was a baptism on this day.

From within the cloud of witnesses, just-suffered-a-miscarriage-me noted this in the bulletin with a tad of apprehension, but I felt at peace and did not anticipate any raw, heart-wrenching sobs on this particular day.

It has been fifteen years and I have witnessed numerous infant baptisms since that day, including that of our now teenage son.

On this day there were no sobs, but there were some tears and a bit of difficulty in singing along to “Jesus Loves Me” as the parents walked their newly-baptized son down the aisle to greet the congregation.

My emotions about the miscarriage are no longer as raw as they were fifteen years ago, but they are still there – evidence that my past-selves remain part of my cloud of witnesses.

As worship ended, we sang “Forever” – and from deep within my cloud of witnesses – fifteen-year-old me…mid-thirties-me…proud-of-my-Disciple-class-me…and just-suffered-a-miscarriage-me bore witness to the truth expressed as we sang:

Forever God is faithful

Forever God is strong

Forever God is with us

Forever, forever.

From birth and baptism through life’s ups and downs and on to death and resurrection…

No matter what congregation we call “home” at any given time…

As we attempt to share our faith…overcome our fears…celebrate growth and connection…and as we seek comfort in our grief…

Forever God is faithful

Forever God is strong

Forever God is with us

Forever, forever.

Suncrest United Methodist Church sanctuary with praise band practicing before worship service.

Known and New

Front of sanctuary. United Methodist Cross and Flame symbol on front wall.

Last Sunday I visited First United Methodist Church in Shinnston, West Virginia. This was the latest stop on my Summer Itinerancy 2015, which you can read about here.

At First UMC Shinnston I found a congregation and a pastor who greeted one another by name, shared their praises and concerns and listened to one another in love.

I found a congregation where a first-time visitor was greeted warmly and included right from the start.

I found a community of believers who obviously were connected with each other and with God, but who did not turn that connection into any sort of cliquish closed group.

Worshiping with them made me appreciate their love for one another and also understand that I was invited to be part of that love.

For me the strongest image of the day was this:

As we all gathered and found our seats, an older gentleman with a walker made his way slowly up the aisle to sit near the front of the sanctuary. As he passed my pew he noticed me, a newcomer, and made a point to stop, shake my hand and make me feel welcome.

Later in the worship service, during our time of prayer, the pastor invited everyone to come and stand around this same gentleman where he was sitting. We laid hands on him as she anointed him and we all prayed for his health.

That was the essence of the day – and the mark of this congregation.

This gentleman was secure in the knowledge that he belonged and was loved. He was surrounded by people who knew him, cared about him and prayed for him. And out of this strength, security and love, he had reached out to a new person and welcomed her into the congregation and church family.

The closeness of the congregation allowed these Christians to experience God’s love in a way that made them want to share it with others and equipped them to do so.

They shared it with me, a newcomer.

And, from hearing about their outreach to their community, I sense they are very active in sharing God’s love beyond the walls of their sanctuary.

I’ve heard a lot of debate about whether the church exists for those who are already there or for those who aren’t there yet.

Does the church exist for the known or for the new?

This past Sunday I experienced what I believe is the answer: it exists for both. And when both the new and the known find belonging, welcome and purpose in the nurturing embrace of a healthy congregation, God’s kingdom shines brighter.

Whether new or known, God’s church is for all.

Church sign on side of brick building "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. Children & Adult Sunday School 9:45 a.m.; Worship 10:45 a.m.; Merry Monkies 5:00 p.m.; Pastor Cindy Murphy

Five Minute Friday: Favorite

(So, I’ve been participating in a “writers’ flash mob” of sorts called Five Minute Friday. In response to a one-word prompt, hundreds of writers sit down and write for five minutes flat. No extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font or punctuation; unscripted and unedited. Here’s today’s edition…setting the timer….)

Five Minute Friday: Favorite

Go.

The Bible talks about the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.

But there is one forgotten tribe that somehow got left out of the biblical lists:

The Favorites.

These people believed that their preferences should outweigh everything and everyone else.

They imagined that they were most important, most deserving, most interesting and most correct about everything.

The Favorites believed they were “favored” above all.

I’m not sure why they were left off the list.

Even though they were forgotten by history, they have survived and in an interesting twist, have resurfaced in 2015 America.

Yes, there is a healthy population of Favorites living in the United States today.

What’s even more astounding is that almost all of us can trace our roots to this tribe.

At the very least, it appears that we are all exhibiting Favorite tribal traits.

Stop.

 Black background with white text Me! Me! Me!