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Archive for the ‘families’ Category

Before we turn to our morning’s Scripture lessons, I want to take a moment of pastoral privilege. I don’t often focus on current events during worship – not because I don’t care, but rather because I don’t want to be in the habit of chasing ambulances. Our response to the world around us ought to be one of compassion, concern, and engagement. For people of faith, this engagement runs much deeper than taking a particular side on a particular issue on a particular Sunday.

That said, I think we have passed a watershed moment in our society this week with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, and I want to take this moment to speak into this space from my own perspective. I know that we have different opinions in our pews on the issue of same sex marriage. I know that many of you are pleased or even elated because of Wednesday’s ruling. I know that some of you are disappointed, even angry. I also know that we are a stronger community because we encourage a healthy diversity of perspectives. And if you hear nothing else I say today, I want to be sure you hear this: no matter your opinion, I am your pastor. And our relationship in that regard is unrelated to whether or not we agree on a particular issue.

As I have read commentaries and responses to the ruling from various church leaders, the one thing that I have seen again and again is a near-universal consensus that we are moving toward a national consensus in favor of same sex marriage. Even the most ardent opponents acknowledge that this writing is on the wall. It is my own observation that the real game changer in public opinion happened not Wednesday, but three years ago when the military repealed “don’t ask don’t tell.” The biggest gulf in opinion on this issue is not even between conservative and liberal, but between generations. For example: 51% of white evangelicals under the age of 35 support same sex marriage. That number represents a majority of those raised in churches that have been the most outspoken opponents of same sex relationships. We have passed the tipping point. The question now is: what do we do?

And here, I want to say that I recognize the fact that our worship space and service does not lend itself to two-way conversation. So after worship today, after we greet one another, I move to the Parlor in case anyone wants to continue in conversation. This is our strength as a church, our ability to talk honestly with each other, because we know that grace abounds, bridging gaps that might be impassable otherwise.

Back to the question: what now?

It must be said that just because something is popular does not mean that we as a church must go along with it. I think we have a responsibility to speak into places where our society has gone off the rails. We advocate for the most vulnerable among us, witnessing to the compassion of Christ. We speak against cultural tendencies toward excess and greed and drive, giving voice to deeper, holier purposes for life. This is one of those moments when churches will see this as just such an opportunity, to oppose the prevailing winds of culture. Speaking personally, I think resistance is a mistake, one that history will judge as a poor choice.

I choose, instead, to see this moment as an opportunity to live out the love of Jesus Christ in an imperfect world. We are, all of us, imperfect; that’s why we begin our worship service in confession. Our sexual desires are imperfect; that’s no less true for heterosexuality than homosexuality. It is because of this that we Presbyterians call marriage a covenant, not a sacrament. Ben Affleck was right (and that’s probably the only time you’ll ever hear me make that statement): Marriage is work. And because it is work, because it is imperfect, the marriage covenant is a public promise. We ask those who witness to promise their support to the couple. We pray for God’s grace, mercy, and blessings on the covenant of marriage.

By virtue of being an ordained minister, I have the authority of both church and state to play an official role in this covenant. It will not be long before I have the opportunity to do the same with same-sex couples. And it’s an opportunity I will likely take, because it gives me the opportunity to share the gospel with its promises of hope, redemption, and perfect love in the midst of imperfect relationships.

I know that many of you are already there, favoring full inclusion. You can even point to our mission statement where we describe ourselves as “an inclusive community of faith.” And I know that for many of you this is not an abstract issue of pros and cons, but one that has a face and a name…one that has to do with family members whom you know and love and support, desiring nothing more than their happiness. And yet, I know that this does not describe all of us. So whatever we do today and beyond, I trust that we will do it with the utmost grace – grace toward one another, grace toward all.

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In his first week at school, my kindergartner got in an argument about Galloway’s origins.
One of his classmates said Mr. Galloway built the school. “No,” Ramsay responded, “my grandpa built the school.” I had to explain that, in a way, they were both right. Grandpa’s construction company built the Early Learning building (where the argument took place), but it was Mr. Galloway who created and shaped the school indelibly. It led to a wonderful conversation about origins and vision, about legacy and future, and about what it means to “build” a school. Is a school a place we carve out, or an idea we cultivate?

I have my own ideas about Galloway, many of them a product of my “lifer” status. We old-timers love to invoke our history – at least, our version of it. And if we’re honest, there are those times when we veer into hardship nostalgia. Call it the Chastain version of Bill Cosby’s going to school “uphill, both ways”. We had one building with chipped paint and noisy radiators; many of our classes were held in trailers that dotted the perimeter of the property; our athletic facilities had to be borrowed; and a mascot? We didn’t need one: we were the Galloway School!

The truth was that we knew deep down that being a Galloway student was to be part of a movement, not an institution. We were different. We were outsiders. Our friends were baffled that we didn’t know what grade we were in. College admissions offices needed translation guides to turn our transcripts into something approaching a G.P.A. And we liked it that way. We learned how not to fit in, and if we look back, we know that our outsider status has continued to serve us well.

I am a proud Galloway alumnus, proud of the school that shaped me, and proud of my enduring friendship with Mr. Galloway. When I started at age 4, I went by my middle name: Elliott – two l’s and two t’s – just like Mr. Galloway. When I married, he spoke in our wedding. When I entered Seminary, his influence was at work again. When we returned to Atlanta, we were fortunate to reconnect with him. And when he died in 2008, I was honored – and stunned – when his family asked me to officiate at his funeral. My roots run deep. How could we not continue the legacy with our children?

And so, as our eldest left pre-K, we began the school application process. Our first impression of Galloway as prospective parents was how different the school looked. There are a multitude of pristine buildings, decked out with the latest technology. The trailers are gone, replaced by fancy extras like a gym and a theater. Since my senior year, Galloway has had a maScot. And, most obvious of all, Mr. Galloway is no longer walking the halls, cup of hot water in hand. The school looks more established. So our question was simple: has the institution replaced the movement?

Our primary concern was to find a school that was a good fit for our eldest. After the tour, I commented to Elizabeth, my wife, that Galloway passed the test. It was, I said, the right school for him. Her response was right on the mark: “It’s the right school for any student.” And a year into the brave new world of Galloway parenting, I’m convinced she’s right. The movement is still moving. Galloway is still different. And that difference is what makes it stand out from the crowd.

Instead of seeing the student as a purely academic vessel, Galloway nurtures the whole child, because wellness, not success, is the goal. Mr. Galloway taught me that. Critical thinking skills take precedent over information, because there will always be new data to integrate and challenge. Mr. Mathis taught me that. And a life-long love of learning is cultivated, because curiosity must not end with graduation. Ms. Coffin taught me that. The times are different, and the methods might vary, but the values and the vision endure.

And that, I see, is the challenge before our community right now. We are only four years removed from the death of our visionary founder. The school can and must continue. But will we successfully navigate this transition so that “The Galloway Way” moves from being Mr. Galloway’s way to being the Galloway community’s way? Can the progressive vision of one man starting a simple school in the 1960s be articulated and expanded into the 21st century by a whole new generation on the cutting edge of education? The historic vision of this community has served us well. As times change and things look different all around us, the values that have guided this place from day one will continue to provide the clarity we need and the direction we desire.

This summer, we will welcome Suzanna Jemsby as the new head of school. I am excited about what lies ahead. Suzanna’s background, skills, openness, and intuition seem extraordinarily well-suited for this “movement” I joined way back in 1974. And now, as a parent, I know what I want for my child. As he grows up and develops his own version of Galloway nostalgia, I want him to remember the whole community that continues to build this movement for the road ahead.

Reprinted from the Alumni Magazine of the Galloway School (Spring, 2012)

See a pdf of the original article here.

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I originally wrote this in February when the events were fresh. For aome reason I decided not to post it at the time. Re-reading it the other day, I decided it was worth revisiting. Thankfully, some things have changed since then, including growing relationships within the community. And yet, so many of the divides remain. Please pray for our divided world.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution won’t name the teen who committed suicide yesterday out of respect for the family’s privacy. Meanwhile, among his peers (and his brother’s peers), privacy was a moot issue. Everybody knows, because information spreads. On Twitter and Facebook, his friends are posting their memorials, sharing his name, and keeping up with plans for remembrances. What a bizarrely divided world we live in.

There is surely a generation gap at work here. Some parents didn’t even know that any of this had happened. When they talk to their kids, they’re lucky to get a two syllable answer. Some of the teen’s friends have been carrying around the weight of conversations they had with him – wondering if they could’ve saved his life with a different word or phrase here or there. And their parents didn’t know about any of this until now. What a divided world we live in.

The schools are doing their best. Crisis teams have come in. Churches and pastors have reached out, and have largely been told, “Thank you for your concern.” The separation of church and state is so deeply ingrained that we can’t even partner on an issue of such crucial community concern that none of us, let’s be honest, is equipped to handle alone. What a divided world we live in.

And as the generation divide grows, we continue to isolate people by age: old folks in old folks homes, kids in schools and so many afterschool programs it makes your eyes bleed. Churches, instead of leading the way as a radical place of intergenerational inclusion, have followed suite, with “age appropriate” worship services. What a bizarrely divided world we live in.

We are still in the midst of this crisis. So many are grieving a life that cut itself short and a world of questions that hang in the air like the stench of raw sewage. The one thing I hope we can really lay to rest is this divided world. I hope we can find a way to bury it. Let’s move past the taboos that we, ourselves, have created. We have convinced ourselves that our children do best when they interact with “experts”, and so parents are terrified of speaking to their kids. We are certain that the only way that religion can interact with society is either through total isolation or theocracy, when there are so many of us who have never seen our faith as merely a means to convince people that our version of events is more right than theirs; how in the world can you work through suicide without touching on the divine and on questions of ultimate meaning? We are so fearful of boring our children in worship, or so concerned with it being “our time” that we end up further isolated, less able to create shared experiences, hopes, dreams; so much so that we no longer even know how to talk to our kids. And we certainly don’t understand this whole world of social media; anything that happens on a computer certainly can’t be real, so we wait for them to grow out of it, just like we grew out of touchtone phones and new-fangled answering machines.

Suicide is horrible. It is unfair to those who are left behind to clean up the mess. It is a brutal awakening to the despair that takes such deep root. My hope is in the possibility that it could awaken us from the stupor of our own creation, to begin to live as those who think both critically and inclusively, as people who take nothing for granted – not the air we breathe, the blessings we receive, nor the “wisdom” we are expected to assume as fact. Let this be a new day, a new life, a new birth.

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From the mind of a four year old:

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Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6

The whole idea from this series on Revelation began with the notion that we need to spend some time de-mythologizing and re-engaging the book of Revelation. And in order to do so, we need to strip away the bizarre political overlays that have come to surround this book and its imagery so that we might get down to its heart. And the fundamental purpose of it is this: to let a suffering people know that God wins. But that God’s victory doesn’t look like victory as we’ve come to know it. God’s victory is marked by its obsession with love, grace, and mercy.

Today we welcome our Preschool families, and with them, this thought occurs to me. I have one word of parenting advice as a fellow struggler: we don’t have to know all the answers to all the questions our children throw at us about God. Mystery is an absolute part of faith. What we do know is God’s character of love, grace, and mercy; we are best at answering these questions when we remember that.

Today’s lesson brings images of a new heaven and a new earth. Revelation is not alone in this, but it has a hand in shaping our image of heaven. So the question I ask today is this: how do you imagine heaven? What do you see and hear and feel?

My hunch is that our collective imagination, when pooled together, can do little more than give us a glimpse; and even then, imperfectly so, as it is limited by the stretches of our imagination. But the kinds of things I imagine hearing echo that Revelation text with suffering removed; joy beyond knowledge; radical equality in the presence of God. And why do we choose these things? Because these are the very things that Jesus’ life and ministry were about. He treated people equally, even those who were gravely marginalized in the 1st century: women, children, lepers. He healed and raised from the dead. He shared wisdom, his own version of imagination that parts the skies and opens up a fuller picture of heaven to us.

And that’s the bottom line for me. Heaven isn’t just about an “over yonder” “pie in the sky” situation. Heaven is about the here and now. We sometimes refer to it as the “in-breaking of the kingdom of God”. We are the body of Christ. We are Christ’s hands and feet. We are the ones to show this world what heaven is supposed to look like. And whether its parenting or anything else we do, the most profound wisdom we can offer is not answers; but the deepest desire to live and reflect the character we know of God in God’s victory: love, grace, and mercy.

Amen.

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By special birthday boy request here. It’s becoming a biennial event.

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Isaiah 6:1-8
Luke 5:1-11

Think about the language we use to talk about jobs. We call it a “vocation” – literally, a calling. We call it a “profession” – almost like an affirmation of faith. Or we say, rather hyperbolically, it’s “what we do for a living” – what, you mean breathe? In other words, we use near-religious language to talk about something we don’t feel too sacred about.

I think about this language when I think about my own family’s vocational journey. It was 1933 when my grandfather started Marthame Sanders & Co. General Contractors. My dad started working there after high school. After college and the Army, he went to work there full-time. Eventually he became President of the company. He had no choice.

My sister and I would spend our summers working there as well, even into college. But in 1990, the world changed for us dramatically. The company went bankrupt, a casualty of Atlanta’s building bust that year. My grandfather died. My father had a stroke, probably from the stress, and went into a deep depression that he dealt with his whole life. In fact, even though his mother lived another ten years, he never told her that the company had closed. I was away at college at the time. I had already made the shift away from engineering (a 37 on a math mid-term may have had something to do with that). And even though my dad never for a moment assumed that I would follow in his footsteps. It was there that I began my long and circuitous journey toward the ministry.

Being the third generation of Marthame Sanderses, I sense some kinship with Simon Peter and James and John, these citizens of Bethsaida, these sons of sons of sons of fishermen. It’s an intriguing lesson, this story of Jesus approaching the fishermen and calling them to be disciples. There are two things that jump out at me: Jesus, though a child of Nazareth, knows their job better than they do. And Jesus also sees something in what they do that can serve God.

What is it that Jesus would say to you about your job?

We’re continuing our conversations about living our lives in the balance. Is our job in the balance? Do we put the proper amount of time into it? Do we keep our work in perspective? Because of the jolt the economy took this year, those of us who still are fortunate enough to have jobs might be looking over our shoulders, working harder and longer to justify ourselves and our jobs. But the question is: what do we really do for a living, for a breathing?

If Jesus saw you, what would he say? Would he invite you to sell for him? Teach or study for him? Build for him? How would he see your vocation, your profession, as something that you can do for him?

There are three possible approaches. The first is to leave your nets behind and do something completely different. It’s the most terrifying option, because it’s what you know. But what is it that you know on an even deeper level? What is your “vocation”? What is it that you “profess”? What do you do “for a living”? Is it hauling in nets day after day that speaks to the core of your being?

The second possibility is to use your talents for God’s sake. There are many within the community of OPC who do just that. They bring their gifts of hospitality, financial know-how, organizational skills to bear on our community’s life. Some bring those skills directly from their jobs. Others are unable to profess them for money and so it is the church that gets the benefit.

Then there’s the third way of looking at it. How is it that you can serve God at your job? I’m not necessarily talking about offering Bible studies at work, or inviting co-workers to morning prayer. But I’m suggesting that we might be careful about segmenting our work life off in a corner where the rules of the kingdom of God somehow don’t apply. Do you take your values with you to work? Your love of family, friendship, humor? Your desire for justice, mercy, forgiveness?

I invite you, this week, to do one thing. First thing in the morning, pray. Even before you hit the snooze button. And pray this simply prayer: “Help me be faithful to you in all that I do today.” Notice what changes – in you, in the world around you. Give it at least a week, on a daily basis. I’m willing to bet that you’ll hear Christ calling to you from the lakeshore. May we all have the courage to follow.

Amen.

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