Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just Call Me "Sparrow"

There's a wonderful old hymn, His Eye Is On The Sparrow, and the chorus is, "I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free, For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me."

Can I get an "AMEN!"? 

It can be easy to forget though, just how precious we all are to God.  I have permission to use this story, it's true and recently happened.  I won't give any names though to protect the innocent.  But I absolutely love, love this!

There's this friend that I think a lot of who's going through one of those roller coaster times of life.  Something good, really good, happens and right along with it comes something world-shattering, really world-shattering.  And these times are like the animals on Noah's Ark...they're coming two-by-two.

Well, with one of the really good events comes the decision by him and his wife to clean out a room and that involves getting rid of an old piano.  So they decide to donate it which means getting a moving truck and it also involves physical labor.  Which my friend, being a manly man who still loves showing off for his wife apparently, decides to do.  The way he tells this, he's moving this piano by himself.

Which may explain why he drops it going down a step!  Scrapes himself a little (manly men never get scraped a lot!) and the top comes off the piano.  While getting himself and piano straightened up and ready to resume moving, he sees inside the piano and there's a glint of something at the bottom that catches his eye.

Savor this.  At the bottom of the inside of an old piano that's in the process of being taken away from the house and donated and freakishly loses its top and he happens to catch the glint of something.

He reaches inside the piano and pulls out a dusty DIAMOND TENNIS BALL BRACELET that he had given his wife, was expensive, that she had lost and didn't tell him she had lost it, and he's pulling it out right before giving it away with the piano and NEVER knowing it!  I can't imagine!

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing it and we're more valuable than sparrows (Matthew 10: 29-31)  Luke phrases it in a way that reminds us God doesn't forget a single sparrow and we're more valuable than a whole flock (Luke 12: 6-7).

Apparently, God keeps his eyes on sentimental objects as well.  And his timing is perfect.  I don't know when his wife lost the bracelet or how it ended up in the bottom of a piano, and none of that really matters.

What matters is, at just the right time for my friend, God reminded him, in a powerful way, that He's got his eye on what he's going through and he's not lost to him.  See, this happened during one of those intense roller coaster moments and he, like the rest of us, need to remember that even when we don't have a clue as to what's going on, God does and God can handle it and us at the same time.  He can bring things together in ways we don't even know need bringing together.

My friend is more valuable than a sparrow and God is watching over him and his entire family.

I've experienced "sparrow" moments.  Remember, when you're on that roller coaster, His eye is on the sparrow and it's on you, too.

Be grateful!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Let The Sun Shine!

But don't be stupid about it!

It's that time of year again.  The birds are out of their nests early in the morning and chirping; the days are warmer, and people will be dressing accordingly.  I remember the year I was at Meredith College, 1977-78.  That February got up into the 50s and girls donned their bikinis and started laying out getting sun.  Those were the good old days and the days before tanning beds.  The days before "melanoma" really began climbing the cancer charts.

If you value your life, at all...if you love anyone and value them...please, PLEASE, keep reading!  The life you save may be your own, or theirs.

In case you don't know what "melanoma" is, it's skin cancer.  The deadliest of all skin cancers and projected to be the deadliest of ALL cancers by 2022.  The rate it is rising in younger people is alarming and that trend is directly related to the desire to be a youthful-looking, tanned person, and that person is probably female.  If detected, caught, and treated early enough, its survival rate is also among the highest.  Make no mistake though, melanoma really doesn't care if you're female, young, or sun-addicted.  It's an equal opportunity cancer and strikes all ages, races, and both genders.  You may not be a sun-worshiper, but if you've ever, ever, been sunburned, even once, you're at risk.  If you have an "odd" looking mole, you're at risk.  If you have a family history of any type of skin cancer, you're at risk.

Back to being smart, not stupid.  Do you really want to be totally hot looking in your casket?  Weigh: tanned...dead.  Bronzed and sexy...cold and dead.  Alive...dead.  I'm serious and so is melanoma.  I'm alarmed at the deaths of people in their 30s from this disease.  Their 30s!

I'm currently a melanoma patient and have blogged about it twice on this particular blog.  Read "The Big C Is Not Candy" and "Valentines Day 2011" for more of my story.  They don't tell my whole story.  I've had three sunburns, in my life, that I remember caused peeling.  An oncologist told me that was enough to do it.  I was in my teens at the time of the burns...the melanoma arose when I was an "odd" mole.  And I've got a family history.

I'm providing you with links to good, current information.  But in case you don't read them, let me please stress the importance of being smart.  Despite what the tanning bed industry tells you, if you use them or know someone who does, they are NOT safe.  Please don't go getting the owner's opinion or your best friend's opinion...get the facts.  If you MUST be in the sun, go out in the morning or late afternoon and ALWAYS wear strong sunblock...the highest you can get.  And, don't assume that if you aren't blond and fair-skin that you're safe.  I'm brunette and not fair-skin.  Avoid getting sun-burned at all costs!  Keep a check on your skin and moles and if you have an "odd" looking mole...get it removed.  NOW!!!!!  If it is raised or black, get it cut off and sent to a pathology lab to be on the safe side.  If it is bleeding, go straight to your local oncologist, preferably one specializing in melanoma.  Run and don't walk.

Here are three great places to get up-to-date information and connect with people who can answer questions or help you in other ways if needed: Aim at Melanoma Melanoma Research Foundation  National Cancer Institute

I've got a new friend from France who connected with me through the Melanoma Research Foundation.  This age of the Internet is wonderful for that and for dispensing information.  She's in her 30s and my prayers are with her.  Melanoma, like all cancers, doesn't care what country you live in either.  Like all cancers, it just doesn't care.  Period.

Don't buy the hype that tanned equals youthful.  Don't buy the hype that tanned equals sexy.  Don't buy the hype that you're going to live forever.  We're in a culture that's death-denying and forever-young-espousing.  Don't buy it and don't kill yourself in the process.  Be smart.

This has been my Public Service Announcement.  If you have read this far and learned something...

I am grateful.

Since posting this I've opened the Melanoma Prayer Center and Melanoma Grief Chapel on Facebook.  See upper right side of blog for links.  They are for spiritual and educational support. ALSO, the more I have learned since writing this, the more I am convinced we have got to stop calling this "skin cancer" and am leading my own little one-woman crusade against that term being applied to melanoma. I've blogged about that so please do a search here on the blog site. Thank you!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I Got The Music In Me!

Some people would add to that, "Unfortunately!"  See, it's in me and I've just got to let it OUT!!!  I enjoy singing and will burst into belt at the drop of a hat.  Songs I make up as I go along (my forte), songs from the radio, songs from my era...the 70s and disco, hymns, it doesn't matter to me.  Alas, there's no record contract in my future though.  My singing often produces more smirks than smiles, but that's OK.  When you see swine in the sky, you'll know I'm cooking on all cylinders!  Is the world ready for swine in the sky?

The worst part for my family is, I've gone public.  After melanoma entered my life in July 2008 right before I turned 49, still 48 thank you very much, I decided life is just too short not to go vocal.  I grew up being a famous singer (in my dreams), and one Sunday I burst into song and sang the Prayer for Illumination at my churches, the chorus from "All We Ever Needed" by Rush of Fools.  Hubby wasn't expecting it, but survived as did both congregations.  It was so well received that I did that several times. I did it when I preached the Homecoming sermon at my home church.  My favorite theologian reported that the whole pew he was sitting on shook.  From laughter.  Though the church survived, I probably won't be invited back unless I promise not to do that again.  Oh well!

Before going any further, I must stop and give credit where credit is due.  My Mama.  I took voice lessons in the 9th grade.  Those were the only lessons I ever took that I actually enjoyed and that actually produced some fruit.  She was absolutely DETERMINED that I be musical.  She had the gene.  Her Mama had the gene.  My younger brother got the gene for both of us.  It knew he was in the future and bypassed me altogether.  My Mama must have spent a small fortune through my childhood years paying people to unearth buried talent in me.  I took piano lessons.  From a total of 5, count 'em, five, different teachers in roughly 7-8 years before the last one finally told my Mama I had no talent and she was wasting her money.  I had been telling her that for years!  Wasn't she listening to me practicing at home between lessons?!  May God bless that saint of a piano teacher who set me free!

While I was taking all those piano lessons, I also had to take other lessons.  I took art, violin, ballet, clarinet, and finally, voice.  I didn't take them all at the same time as I took piano.  I couldn't quit piano and I had to take something at the same time.  Piano and art; piano and violin, etc.  She was determined there was SOME sort of creative ability in me and she was going to find it by golly!  I could quit the other stuff, but I had to have something ready to take its place, along with the piano.

So why all the sudden sentiment about music?  March 21st I will celebrate my three year anniversary of being part of a church musicians listserv.  I joined the group when I was desperate for special music for a special event coming up at my appointment at the time.  I'm not a musician, but these people are.  They know their stuff and they came through like gang-busters with great suggestions.

Not even a month later, I turned to them again seeking special songs that celebrated recovery that I could send my brother in rehab that he and his band there could play.  Some of them SENT me music through the mail, at their own expense.  Through these three years, I have learned much from these friends about what it is to be a church musician and about worship.  When I've needed creative ideas for special services, they've been there.  When I've needed song suggestions, they've been there.  When I've needed opinions, they've been there.

They've got true music in them and talent to back it up and I appreciate them sharing it with the likes of me.  Today is St. Patrick's Day, so this "thank you" is timed for the listerv's moderator, who, judging by his last name "McIntyre" I'd say is Irish.  Now that I've put that in writing, he'll probably tell me it's Scottish.  Thank you Dean.  Thank you Methodist Musicians.

You've got the music in you, to the glory of God, and you do, indeed, let it out and it is beautiful!

And I am grateful!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thomas Edison

Oh yeah!  I'm very grateful for Thomas Edison and particularly his light bubs.  If not for him, I wouldn't know what goes off in my head when I have an "aha moment."  I've actually been known to be in the pulpit and say, in real time, "My light bulb's going off!"  (Why is it "dark" when light bulbs "turn" off but it's "light" when they "go" off?  If something "goes" and goes "off" at that, shouldn't it be really dark?  English!)

Well, since Sunday, I've had back-to-back light bulb flashings and they're pretty exciting!  To me.

First, I have my favorite theologian whom I talk to a great deal about young adults and the church.  There are young teens at my church.  There's a lot of good work being done on the current state of 30-somethings and under and their relationship (or lack thereof) to Jesus, the Church, Christianity, and religion.  The young theologians I have personal access to back up everything I study.  There are a few prominent prongs that stand out, but each young person has his or her own story and experience, so everyone's fork looks a little different.  

The overriding main principle seems to be that there are many voices out there: science, all sorts of opinions and sites on the Internet, family & friends, school, and the list goes on.  Those voices are being heard and they're being heard clearly.  The Church isn't.  In many cases, we aren't even trying.  We've thrown in the towel.  Oddly, I'm not sure we realize we've thrown in the towel.  Kids show up to church and we think we've got them.  Better check the light bulb, because it's out.

So, my light bulb's going off and I'm thinking, "How did we get here?  I mean, Jesus had 12 men, MEN, walk away from everything and follow him and he KEPT them for 1 1/2 to 3 years!  How did he DO IT???  Where are the men today????  What happened to the faith that has sent men away for the most part?  And our young people who crave excitement, challenge, helping, did we lose them?  We've got God's voice telling us Jesus is his Son who pleases him and we're to listen to him.  But we'd rather listen to all those other voices."

And my light bulb just about explodes with brilliance.  We've slowly, but surely, stopped modeling the faith.  We've slowly, but surely, stopped telling our faith stories.  People are listening to the voices that are telling them something and often the church isn't on that list.  When we take our kids to church, but don't live what we say we believe, then just as soon as they can stay away, they will and do.  We've shown them we don't live it and it has no power in our lives.  We've shown them that all faith requires is to sit in a pew a few times a year and then you can live, act, and talk like everyone else the rest of the time.

Often, when we adults DO model faith, it's all about us and our young people can translate the "God speak" that comes out of our mouths.  When an adult tells a young person that "baptism didn't do anything for them," what message do they receive?  When a young person's idea of "keeping their eye on the prize" means just getting through the day, or getting through life, where did we mess up in conveying Who "The Prize" is?  When young people complain that all the church cares about is sending people (usually in their minds this particularly means homosexuals) to hell and they don't hear us talk about grace and forgiveness...where do they get these ideas?  And when they perceive God to be a God who strikes children with cancer and begins wars and tells people to kill other people who don't believe like they do...gee.  Where in the world do they get those ideas?

And when some churches do get loud with that stuff, where are the other churches who don't say a word but allow that to seem to be the only "Christianity" out there?

We talk about our youth being the "church of tomorrow, the future."  If we don't start living what we say we believe and if we don't start telling them our faith stories and if we don't let our voices be heard above the rest then we might as well go ahead and close our doors now.  Much of the church of the future doesn't care about the church of today.

And yet.  And yet there's this light bulb going off, not just in my head, but in others' too.  And there's This Light of The World that's the source of power for all these light bulbs (sorry Thomas, it wasn't really you after all).  And This Light Shines in the Darkness and has called His Followers to be Light also.  The Light is actually more powerful than the dark and it is The Light that tells us to shine.

Church, we have the command and ability to turn our collective light bulbs on.  We don't have to continue to be the church we are.  The church we are is all many of us, myself included, have ever known.  And we've got it wrong.  Things that should have been caught and corrected in 1960 have snowballed and that snowball is about to roll off a cliff.  There are churches who are correcting and becoming the Church we were originally called to be; most, though, haven't caught on to what the problem really is.  It is us and because it is us, we have to allow The Light to shine and reveal where we need to take corrective measures to become who we're called to be.  

It won't be easy to undo being the church we've learned to be.  It won't be easy moving beyond our doors when we've been turned inward for so long.  It won't be easy practicing and living what we preach.  Seriously, hold the Word, any Gospel, up to your life/Church and you'll see what I'm talking about.  No excuses or rationalizations.  No "that was then and this is now."  No more dark.  Let the Light Shine!

There are light bulbs.  There is The Light who beckons...we aren't left to our own devices.  It's either His Church or it's not.  He says it is.  His Light Shines...

And I am grateful.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mrs. Job

Warren Plains UMC's Disciple Bible Study meets every Wednesday night, so we met last night and did Session 15 which is about "Suffering."  The readings for the session covered the entire Book of Job (what else would we read?).  It would be just about impossible to study Job without mentioning Mrs. Job and the line she's famous for, "Curse God and die."

Being a "normal" group of students, she and her line were, indeed, mentioned.  I'm grateful because I love a chance to pull out my soapbox and orate.

There are a lot of people in the Bible that I think get a bum rap, have through the centuries, and I have taken it upon myself to vindicate their reputations.  So, let me get out my well-worn soapbox and I'll begin with Mrs. Job.

In back-to-back events, messengers come to Job and tell him that he's lost his wealth, his livelihood, and all ten of his children.  In apparently short order, Job, himself is struck with terrible boils all over his body.  We find him sitting in ashes scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery when his wife utters her famous line.  Readers tear her up and then rush to Job's side with tissues and chicken soup to comfort him.  Poor, pitiful Job.  Lost everything like that and all he's got left is a nagging wife who advises that he curse God and die!  Poor, pitiful Job!  And THEN! Then, he's got these three friends who come visit and rip into him telling him he's a rotten person, is paying for his sins, and he needs to REPENT!  Poor, pitiful Job!

News flash!  Mrs. Job lost all her wealth and livelihood too.  Mrs. Job's ten children were killed, too!  Mrs. Job is left with a husband who's spouting pious platitudes, sitting in ashes, covered with terrible boils, and guess who has to take care of him while she, too, is deep in grief?  Mrs. Job!  Where's the sympathy she's due?  On top of that, her husband's three friends (later we learn there's a fourth) come for at least an unplanned seven day visit and it will be her duty to provide for them and be hospitable.

Modern psychiatry tells us there are 5 stages of grief:  Denial & Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  We can be in any stage at any time and experience more than one stage at a time.  I think both Job and Mrs. Job were dealing with their grief in ways that were appropriate and that fit their personalities.  God seems to have been able to handle both of them and they both lived to have ten more children (NOT to suggest that ten more can replace the ten who died) and their wealth restored.

If we're going to rush to Job's side with tissue, chicken soup, and compassion, we should also do the same for Mrs. Job and stop being so rough on her.

We should also stop being so rough with the friends that show up.  We tend to remember that all the friends just can't seem to say the right things to console Job in his tremendous loss & agony.  We tend to forget that these friends also dropped everything, left their homes, and went to spend at least seven days by Job's side just sitting with him.  According to the story, they didn't say a word to him till the seven days were up.  We don't know how much longer they stayed.  And, they were offering their friend the best theological counsel they could at the time.  God blesses the good, curses the sinner...Job you've obviously sinned, admit it, repent, and all will be well because God will forgive you when you stop being so arrogant.

When was the last time your friend was experiencing great loss and pain and you dropped everything and just sat quietly with the friend for SEVEN DAYS???  And then did the best you could to help him?  They weren't trying to torment their friend, they were trying to help.  Even today, we rarely say the right things when a loved one is hurting.  Advice columns still address that.  Why do we look down at these men when we often don't even attempt what they did?

My all time pet peeve is how Eve, of Garden of Eden fame, is still cast as the world's greatest bad gal.  People really need to go back and read Genesis chapters 2 and 3.  Here's the order:  God creates Man (Adam), God tells Adam he "may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden--except the tree of knowledge of good and evil," God creates woman (Eve) from one of Adam's ribs, the serpent questions the woman about eating the fruit from any of the trees, woman lets serpent know what she's been told (even though she wasn't there to hear God instruct Adam because she wasn't created yet), she eats the fruit she's not supposed to and shares with Adam and he eats.  Adam was sitting right there with her!  Oh yeah, nowhere does the text say they ate an "apple."  It's "fruit".  Adam got the instructions from God first-hand, not Eve.  Adam NEVER speaks up and let's Eve take the bum rap.  She's taken that bum rap long enough!  She obviously knew what Adam had been told, she's not exonerated.  But she doesn't bear total blame for the downfall of humanity.

Can we say "Bathsheba" without thinking about how she ruined King David?  King David was a great guy, a man after God's own heart.  Author of the greatest Psalms ever written!  You can't say enough good things about David of striking down Goliath fame!  But, you also can't say anything good about him when it comes to the Bathsheba episode of his life.  His fifteen minutes of shame!  He was supposed to be at war like a good king.  He wasn't supposed to be anywhere near his palace rooftop where he could see Bathsheba minding her own business taking a bath.  He finds out who she is and learns she's Uriah the Hittite's wife.  David knew Uriah well...he was in his inner circle of 30 (read 2 Samuel 23: 18-39).  David sends for Bathsheba, who has no voice at all in the story, and the story "nicely" records that he slept with her.  What he did was rape her and then have her husband killed because she became pregnant, it was obviously his child and he just couldn't get Uriah to leave the battlefield (where David should have also been) and sleep with his wife so the baby could be passed off as Uriah's.  It reads like a modern soap opera, but it's not.  Can we please stop blaming Bathsheba for this and place the blame on King David where it belongs.  God and Nathan knew where it belonged too.  David later learned and repented.  David-bad guy here.  Bathsheba-exonerated.

The last one I want to lift up is Disciple Simon Peter of sinking fame.  Remember, he gets out of the boat during a storm to walk to Jesus, on the water, because Jesus tells him to do it.  He gets scared, starts sinking, and calls out to Jesus to save him.

Boy do we remember that "sinking" part!  Many a sermon has been preached about Peter taking his eyes off Jesus, starts to sink, and there's our the storms of life, keep your eyes on Jesus and you won't sink.

Can we give Peter credit for climbing out of that boat, in a storm, and walking on water?  The rest of the disciples were in the boat, scared.  I'd have sat right there in that boat with them!  I would have admired Peter's bravery and faith.  Why do we condemn him for it?  Do we feel like it's our place to say something negative because Jesus told Peter he had little faith and because Jesus asked him why he doubted?  Had we been Peter, there's a good chance he would have said the same thing to us...if we got out of the boat in the first place.

I can't condemn Peter, Bathsheba, Eve, Job's friends, or Mrs. Job.  I can't find where God or Jesus did either.  I find grace and forgiveness.  But I don't find condemnation.  And because I, too, am human and often stand in need of grace and forgiveness...

I am grateful.