In the kitchen

I had taken the afternoon off work, in part to manage hours and in part to help out with the cooking for the annual Murfreesboro District United Methodist clergy dinner. Andy Borders had told me to show up about 1; I actually got there at 12:40, but Andy and the few others there at that time had gone out to lunch, and so I didn’t start work until they got back at the appointed time.

At 6:30, with the meal and most of dessert having been served and with a lot of people on hand tripping over each other in the kitchen, I ended up slipping out and heading on home. I wasn’t sure how long we were going to have to stay for cleanup. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving, but part of the reason decided to leave was that there was a good crew there and I didn’t think my absence would be noticed.

Anyway, I’d e-mailed Rev. Nan Zoller, for whom I’ve filled in a few times at Concord UMC, and told her to stop by the kitchen and say hello, and she did that – after I’d slipped out. Clare Doyle passed this information on to me.

Yes, Clare Doyle was in the kitchen. As a pastor’s spouse, she should, by all rights, have been out in the fellowship hall enjoying herself with the other pastors and their wives and husbands. We tried several times during the afternoon to convince her that she needed to do that, but to no avail. Rev. Lloyd Doyle (who had also tried to convince her to stop and enjoy herself) was out playing the congenial host while Clare was back with us dishing up plates of food.

I got the chance to observe a pretty amazing pastor’s wife by the name of Carrie Carney through almost 40 years of my parents’ shared ministry. I know how demanding that position can be. If anyone in the building tonight deserved to be sitting down at a table relaxing and fellowshipping, it was Clare Doyle. And yet, Clare thought her place was back in the kitchen helping us cook.

She was wrong, of course, but we love her for it.

And now I feel even worse about slipping out early.

The next leg of my relay

In August 2010, we lost my mother, Carrie Carney, to pancreatic cancer. Prior to that, she had been a survivor of breast cancer.

This year, for the first time, the church of which I’m a member, First United Methodist in Shelbyville, fielded a team in the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, and I’m proud to say I was a part of it. I had a blast! If you’ve never been to a Relay, you need to go. You don’t have to be a team member to attend – in fact, since many of the teams are selling some sort of concession, they’d be more than pleased to see you and sell you something. First UMC, this year, sold steak sandwiches, as well as squares on the cow patty bingo board.

The casual visitors, of course, drift away as the night wears on, but team members continue walking the track all through the night. This is symbolic of the way cancer patients go through the dark night of treatment and pain before, hopefully, emerging into a new day of recovery. At least one member of each team must be on the track at all times.

The event is overwhelmingly fun, enjoyable, upbeat and hopeful. But it also includes moments of honor and remembrance. It opens with a “survivors’ lap,” featuring those who have survived cancer. And there is also a ceremonial remembrance of those who, like my mother, ultimately lost the fight.

I stayed for the entire event, which ran from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m.:

I shot most of this myself, but handed the camera to someone so you do see a shot of me walking at one point.

Now, it looks like I’ll be involved in next year’s Relay in a different way. Today, our county Relay For Life chairman, Samantha Chamblee, and the ACS staff person whose district includes Bedford County, Harriett Stewart, stopped by  to see me at the newspaper. By the time they left, I’d agreed to become a member of the local event committee, serving as publicity chairman. I attended my first committee meeting tonight – and it was a whopper, lasting more than three hours.

“I hope we didn’t overwhelm you,” said Samantha.

Well, a little. But I didn’t mind.

ACS does a ton of great work. Some of that involves research – trying to find cures for various types of cancer. Some of it involves assisting people who have the disease now. For the newspaper, I toured the Hope Lodge several weeks ago.

This is a great program. I hope that I honor my mother’s memory by participating in it.

Long day

It’s been a busy week, with the start of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, but today I was on a different track. As a certified United Methodist lay speaker, I have to take an advanced lay speaking course at least every three years. A few months ago, I thought I needed to take one this year – I had actually miscalculated and could have waited until next year. But, no matter – the courses are always worthwhile.

At the training being held this weekend at Fellowship UMC in Murfreesboro, there’s a basic lay speaking course and a choice of two advanced courses. I had already taken one of the advanced courses. You can repeat a course as often as you like, and it often turns out to be a different experience depending on the teacher and the periodically-updated curriculum, but in this case I decided to try the other course, on the topic of public prayer.

I left the apartment early this morning – which is a good thing, because I went to the wrong place. I thought I had a general idea where Fellowship UMC was, but when I plugged the address into Google Maps I decided I had been mistaken. I followed the directions to 2511 Highway 99 and … there was nothing there.

That’s because I was on Highway 99 east of Murfreesboro – Bradyville Pike – not Highway 99 west of Murfreesboro – New Salem Highway.

Because I had given myself plenty of time, I wasn’t actually late. But it felt late, and I barged in flustered and with a bit of a cloud over my head. It dissipated as the morning went on. Linda Powell, a former member of First UMC who now lives in Smyrna, is one of my classmates. the Rev. Miriam Seyler was our instructor today, and she’s excellent, although a funeral which she must officiate means someone else will have to teach the remainder of the class tomorrow.

It was a good day, but a long one. I decided not to go to the Celebration tonight, although I will stay up long enough to post the winners of the stallion classes on the newspaper web site.

To infinity … and beyond!

When I Facebooked that I was getting ready to watch “Toy Story 3” at our church’s family movie night (held each Wednesday in August), my sister-in-law in North Carolina responded that I should have a hankie handy. Well, I had a bandana, but I’d worn it as a sweatband on the walk from my apartment to church (more about that in a second) and it was so wet I had to rinse it out and it was draped over a chair on the opposite side of the fellowship hall when I needed it.

And, yes, I needed it. Call me an over-emotional sap, impugn my manhood if you like, but I needed it. The Pixar people have a grasp of storytelling that is almost unique in Hollywood. They know what a story is supposed to do, they care about their characters, and they write and rewrite until they get it right. I’ve heard that you have to have a thick skin to work there; it’s not mean-spirited, but their work process is brutally honest, and if your idea isn’t good enough it will be shot down.

Our annual “Movie and a Meal” event is fun, and it’s allowed me to see a lot of great family films that I didn’t see in the theater. I will, however, probably skip “It Takes Two” next week – I saw enough of Mary-Kate and Ashley back when one of my nieces was going through a Mary-Kate and Ashley phase.

The August 24 movie intrigues me – I’d never heard of it until this week. It’s a 1993 movie entitled “Rigoletto,” described on its Wikipedia page as having thematic elements similar to “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Man Without A Face,” and “Phantom of the Opera.” It’s not directly related to the Verdi opera by the same name (which would be a strange choice for family movie night).

Anyway, back to my walk. The first half of last week, I was recovering from a cold. The second half of last week, my brother and sister-in-law were in town, and between the two of those I didn’t make it to the rec center at all last week. I resolved to do better this week. I made it to the rec center on Monday, and today I thought it would be good exercise to walk to church for the movie – a good 25-30 minute walk each way. I left about 4:40.

It was good exercise, but man, was it hot. I and my bandana were sopping wet by the time I got to church. The walk back was still kind of warm, but not quite as miserable.

I’d love to live on a Mountain T.O.P.

I have been thinking a lot about Mountain T.O.P. in the past few days. I laid awake in bed last night thinking about it.

I’m not sure why.

I e-mailed the chair of my church’s outreach committee earlier today to tell her that I want to get serious about taking a group from First UMC to a Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry (AIM) week next summer. I’ve been back from AIM less than a month, and I’m already looking forward to next summer.

The cynic in me might think that it’s escapism; I’m frustrated with my current situation, facing some challenges, and waiting patiently to hear about an opportunity for me to improve things. The cynic in me might think that I’m just trying to escape from everyday life by thinking back to an environment where I’m happy, well-socialized, relaxed, with relatively little to worry about. I get neck rubs and affirmations from people who love me. I get to play UNO and tie-dye T-shirts. The cynic in me might accuse myself of not being interested in ministry so much as in self-esteem.

This was the second of two weeks I attended this summer, in late June lapping over into the first couple days of July.


There may be some extent to which that cynical interpretation is true. But I don’t think it’s all that is going on. I really think this idea of putting together a team for next summer is something serious, something I’m being called to do.

Mountain T.O.P. does have AIM weekends in the fall, and I might end up going to one of those. I enjoy them, and they’re a great opportunity to catch up with some of my Mountain T.O.P. friends. But they’re home repair-only; I don’t get to do Kaleidoscope or Summer Plus, the two programs I enjoy so much during the summer AIM weeks. And the community that forms during a long weekend isn’t quite the same as the one that forms during a week-long summer AIM event. I’m looking forward to going back and doing next June what I did this June.

Does that mean I’m not going on a foreign trip next year either? I don’t know yet. I don’t even know what LEAMIS’s schedule is going to be yet, or Mountain T.O.P.’s for that matter, and if I end up making a career change I don’t know what my own vacation situation will be. I don’t think I’m done with foreign mission trips, by any stretch of the imagination. But right now, Mountain T.O.P. is stuck in my imagination.

You scream, I scream

I had a fine hamburger, and later a cup of homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream, tonight at Mt. Olivet UMC, a church where my father was pastor on two separate occasions and to which the family is still close.

This year, they had live entertainment, from “Friends and Family,” a southern gospel group out of Manchester, and cowboy gospel vocalist Wess Adams.

A good time was had by all.

From Mt Olivet
From Mt Olivet
From Mt Olivet
From Mt Olivet

The rotten heart of a servant

Every now and then, you experience a moment that reminds you, even if you’re trying to do the right thing, you can do it for the wrong reasons.

A few months back, our church installed a video projection system. It was somewhat controversial, with some people in favor and some opposed. Although I think we can sometimes go overboard in trying to market our worship services, I understand the rational behind this project and I’ve been generally supportive.

I had the idea a few weeks ago to do a video of our church participation in the Relay For Life and show it the next day in morning worship. I checked with the pastor on this, and he was supportive. I had my Flip Video with me for most of the event, shot quite a bit of footage, and then spent several hours yesterday editing, converting the video into several different formats, and uploading it.

This morning, I found the pastor’s son, who runs the video system, and gave him a thumb drive. He called the video up on the screen and it looked fine. I told the pastor and our Relay chair that the video was ready to go.

But then, our Relay chair gave her report this morning, sat down and … we moved on to the next topic. Had they forgotten about the video? I gestured at the pastor, but he didn’t look my direction. I finally got the attention of the pastor’s wife, sitting in the choir, and she mouthed something to me like, “It’s OK.”

Finally, during the offering, they played the video – with no sound, and with our organist playing her normal offertory. I didn’t even look at it. Somehow, this seemed worse than if they’d left it out altogether. I’d edited the video for visuals and sound. I intentionally included a verse of “Amazing Grace” from the luminaria ceremony in order to tie things in to church. I included audio of Cort Huffman talking about the luminarias and how we use them to remember and honor those who have battled cancer. I even had a funny record-scratch sound when I included the little gag visual of John Wesley reacting to the cow patty video.

Without the audio, the video must have been draggy and confusing. I’d rather they have not used it at all, or saved it for next week (even though I won’t be in church for the rest of the month) than run it the way they ran it.

So I sat in church and sulked about it.

Of course, if I’d truly made the video as an act of servanthood, would it have mattered? If I’d truly made the video as an act of Christian service, it could have been ignored completely and I, in theory, shouldn’t have cared. Obviously, the service was running long as it is – there was a good and legitimate reason for them not to use my video at all.

No, the fact of the matter is that I’m a pretty piss-poor Christian servant. I wanted to show off my video, to hear everyone laugh at Vickie and Kaye dancing, to have everyone know what a fine job I’d done. I was offended because of my own vanity, because of several hours of work seemingly thrown away.

I’m no better at servanthood than I am at most other aspects of life.

Down to the bare bones?

For the summer, the Sunday School class I usually attend has decided to go in with another class, which was just about to begin discussing the same book we’d talked about using. We started yesterday, and (rather than wait and read the book week by week) I ended up going through it yesterday and today.

The book is What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most by Martin Thielen. Thielen has been pastor of First United Methodist in Lebanon and will move to what we jokingly call “The Metho-Dome” –Brentwood UMC – in July. He’s a former Southern Baptist preacher, and this book talks frankly about that and about issues that prompted him to move.

The stated purpose of the book is to talk about the essentials of Christianity – the core issues on which we can all agree. I’m not sure that’s what Thielen ends up doing; he ends up more often talking about his own specific beliefs and the faith journey that took him from being a Baptist to a United Methodist. But the book, if mislabeled, is still eminently readable, valuable and a great basis for discussion. (There are a couple of chapters that should lead to quite interesting discussion in our Sunday School class.)

The book is broken into two halves. In the first half, Thielen discusses things you definitely don’t have to believe to be a Christian: negative, divisive or destructive statements that some groups believe but which Thielen says are definitely not part of the core of Christianity. The second half of the book talks about what Thielen considers the various core beliefs of Christianity.

A couple of people in Sunday School had encountered Thielen before, or been to his church. But I noted in the book that he was a friend of the late Rev. Michael Welch, who was pastor of First Christian Church here in Shelbyville before becoming a United Methdodist, and who was killed with his wife and two of their children in an automobile accident. Apparently, he and Welch had lunch together on a regular basis when they were both pastoring churches in the same area.

As with the last popular theology book I wrote about here, “Love Wins,” you don’t necessarily have to agree with every single point to gain from the book – in fact, the book may be of more use if it prods you a bit to think about what you believe on some of the mentioned issues.