Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Do what you can, in the time that you are given, in the place where you are.

So a few months ago I decided that I did not do very well with staying in touch with what was going on in the world.

Naturally, instead of watching the news more of reading the paper, I downloaded an app.

Man, I am so hip with technology…

So now whenever news happens in the world, I get an update from CNN and if news happens in Memphis, I get the Action News 5 update.

I don’t know how many of you out there have these apps or get these updates but it has been one of the most depressing things.

I remember the first update I got.  “42 die in boat crash in Italy.”

Even just today, “Husband indicted on first-degree murder charges in wife’s death”.

It seems that every single day, something bad happens.  Why does this continue to happen?! 

Many times people turn to God when bad things happen and ask “Why? Why do you allow this to happen?”

One time I was reading something articles on this topic and ran across a picture.  A meme if you will.

What great and wonderful message can you get from a meme you may ask.

There was a man sitting on a bench talking to Jesus.  He asks, “Why do you allow all of these horrible things to happen?”

Jesus’ response, “That’s funny.  I was going to ask you the same thing.”

I think it is perfectly natural and normal to question and to be angry when something bad happens.  Yes, it is natural to blame it others as well.  It seems that a lot of times when you don’t know who to blame, we blame God.

Why did you allow this happen?!

As Christians, we are called to do many things.  As Episcopalians, we are allowed to believe a great number of things. 

One thing that many people believe is that some people are just born bad.  That they were created with an innate sense of evil and are destined to do bad things.

This is a concept that I strongly disagree.  I remember in one of my elementary school science classes we learned the principles of Causality.  If one thing happens, that directly causes something else to happen.

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Micah Greenstein came to be a guest speaker at our church.  A few of his words really stuck out to me and that is what I want to leave with you today.

Do what you can, in the time that you are given, in the place where you are.

That one sentence has remained with me for weeks since hearing Rabbi Greenstein say it.

There are plenty of problems hear in the city of Memphis.

In cities with a population of 500,000 or more, Memphis is the 3rd most dangerous city in America.

Ranked 2nd when it comes to Violent Crimes.

80% of the bottom ranked schools in the state of Tennessee are located in Memphis.

Did you know that more than 50% of 3rd graders in Tennessee can read at grade level?

So when you look at these statistics and we see that we have a lack of education, we have a lot of crime…there is a lot of work that can be done here.

In a city that has over 2,000 churches in it, where many of these places go off to other cities or countries to do week long mission trips.  Which is great, but what about the other 51 weeks in the year where you are not there to help.

Do what you can, in the time that you are given, in the place where you are.

The place that we are needs helps. 

What can we do to help?

We don’t have to go very far to make a difference.

So when we ask ourselves, why does God allow these bad things to happen?

Instead, look around and ask, what can I do to help make a change?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Episcopal Church...according to a high school senior

My, my has it been a cold week!  Hope everyone has kept warm and kept their power during the weekend. 

In the past I have shared stories about growing up as a proud Episcopalian.  Claiming it proudly and wearing all my Episcopal “swag” whenever possible.  If you are wondering how much Episcopal apparel can someone really own; the answer is a lot.  Belts, keychains, multiple sweatshirts, hats, bumper stickers, license plates, and more t-shirts than I know what to do with.  I even currently have a 4’x 7’ Episcopal flag hanging in my office.

All that being said, when I went to college and I was asked to describe what it meant to be Episcopal…I was speechless.

I just stuttered and ummmm’d and said a few things but the more I thought about it the more I realized I didn’t know. 

Yesterday, one of the seniors in our youth group told me about how they were writing a paper for school about how much he loved the Episcopal Church and its beliefs.  Today they sent me a copy of that paper and was delighted to read it.

One great thing about the Episcopal Church is how open and loving we are.  Even ask Robin Williams!  If you did not know, Robin Williams is one of the many famous Episcopalians.  In one of his comedy bits, he names the top ten reasons to be an Episcopalian.  What was number 1? 

“No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.”

Such a true statement!  So to change things up, instead of me talking about my thoughts on the Episcopal church, I have decided to let the words of our youth say why they love this church so much.

If you were to know a brief history about me and my family, it would not be surprising to find that I have always been Christian and am surrounded by Christian family, since I am a white male living in the Southeastern United States. My ancestors lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi—all of which are included in the “bible belt”—since before the Civil War, so Christianity has always been present in my family. The aforementioned ancestors ranged from being mainly Methodists and Baptists but with an occasional Catholic.  When my grandfather married my grandmother, he was exposed to the Episcopal Church. Being a former Methodist with some Catholic background, he loved the mixture of the two denominations that he felt. He felt a homey sense that can be found in a Methodist church when the congregation converses with each other before the service. However, he thoroughly enjoyed the formality similar to that of a Catholic service in which ancient chants, psalms, and hymns are sung and the same liturgy is followed that was written thousands of years ago. And so, the Episcopal Church was introduced to my family tree. I am an Episcopalian, and this denomination of Christianity has shaped the man that I am becoming today.
            As an adolescent growing up, I didn’t understand the expansive diversity that Christianity contains within its countless denominations. My young mind could only wonder why we all weren’t just one Christian church. After all, we each claim that Jesus is the Son of God who was sent to rescue mankind from our sinful nature and that he is our Savior. To a young, naïve Christian mind, isn’t that all that matters? That we all love Jesus? This lack of understanding caused my Christian journey to be confusing as a child. I went to a conservative school from junior kindergarten to sixth grade. This school was heavily affiliated with a massive, conservative church. It was so stern in its beliefs that children of different religions hardly felt welcome at all. I knew only one Hindu and one Muslim who attending solely for the educational prestige of the school as an elementary school. I did not meet a Jewish person until my arrival at a college-preparatory school for middle and high school . Thus, any Bible class or seminar about manhood at my elementary school caused great confusion to a young Episcopalian like myself. This was because I would go to school five days a week, hear Bible classes taught from a very conservative point-of-view, and then go to church on Sunday and hear a more liberal understanding of the Bible and its message. At the time, conflicts were as small as the question of whether or not women should be welcomed in clergy. My church said yes; I was even baptized by a woman. My school and its church said no; women were not to be included. This confusion, although miniscule, caused me to become frustrated to the point that I would just “go with the flow” depending on which setting I was in.
            Once I got to 7th grade, I had become less concerned about what I truly believed with my faith due to frustration and more concerned about what would make me seem less like a religious radical in the minds of a bunch of 13 year olds. Thus, I rejected any notion of evolution; I said I believed homosexuality was an abomination and more. 7th and 8th grade were years spent of my family trying to explain that evolution was a fact that couldn’t be denied and that maybe homosexuals are not an abomination. It wasn’t until 9th grade that everything began to change. Some credit is due to my biology teacher, who showed me that evolution was a fact that I believed couldn’t be denied. At first, this scared me. But, with the help of family and a priest, I learned evolution theories and God’s creation can be pressed together in a way that they can coexist. However, this realization was not the most monumental in the strengthening and foundation of my own true Episcopal faith.
            In 10th grade, I attended a weekend retreat called Happening upon the demand of my mother. My older sister who had previously attended Happening, assured me that it would be amazing; she could not have been any more correct. Happening changed my life. Through prayer, reflection, and discussion with priests I began to find ideals that truly felt right for me to believe; I felt completely comfortable in believing them. The way in which this came about is surprising considering my middle school beliefs. At Happening, the leader for my retreat was a homosexual man. At first, this made me uncomfortable, as I was still unsure about how I felt about homosexuality in Christianity. But, after many conversations with this man, I thought to myself that there is no way God is going to damn this man—who loves God with all his heart, who does nothing but try to make people happy in a positive way, and who works exhaustingly to spread God’s message—to hell for being homosexual. I realized that it could be possible that maybe this man didn’t decide to be gay but that he was made that way, just as I felt that I never decided to be heterosexual but that I just am and always have been. My next thought was that, if it is true that we are made hetero or homosexual, then, wouldn’t it be unfair for God to create homosexuals and, thus, give them no hope of salvation. So, I decided that God does not damn these people to hell but loves them the same as he loves a straight man as long as they act with the same sexual morality that is expected between a man and a woman. It was this realization that opened the doors that allowed the fullest effect of the Episcopal Church to come flooding into my life.
            Now as a senior, I feel I can begin to have a full grasp on the Episcopal Church. Long conversations with my youth leader and others influential Episcopalians in my life have brought exposure to the ideas of pluralism to my understanding. For me, the Episcopalian Church boils down to one word. Acceptance. I believe that gender, race, sexual orientation, and demographics should not dictate whether you can participate or serve in church and certainly not dictate whether you are saved. I understand that not everyone agrees with this statement, but I will never say that my beliefs are the only correct beliefs. The Episcopal Church has shown me that man is not given the right to judge with path to salvation is the correct one. Only God judges that. That is the most comforting feeling that the Episcopal Church has given me.

            This branch of Christianity has affected me in such a way that it shapes the man that I hope to become. I aspire to be accepting, understanding, and open. However, I don’t want to reflect these qualities only when concerning religion, but also I want to display them in everything I do. 

Zoo Lights #Santa! #CHCEYC

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mark your calendars!

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Putting the Christ back in X-mas....?

Tuesday greetings!

Put the Christ back in Christmas!

How many times have you heard this?  How often do you see stickers or Facebook posts claiming to put the “Christ” back in Christmas?

Or have you ever seen someone write this… “Merry X-mas”

There have been many arguments against the abbreviation of Christ to “X” and about how Christ has been lost in the very season that we celebrate his birth.

Well, I am here to argue also.

But argue a very different, very important topic.

First I will start with the “X-mas”.

Many people believe that the abbreviation of Christ to an “X” is a fairly recent occurrence.  And in today’s society many people find the “X-mas” offensive.

Well, did you know that the letter x has been used as a symbol for Christ since around year 300?

It comes from one of the first christograms. 

Have you ever seen this image before?

This may be a symbol that we see all over the place yet never asked ourselves what it meant.  Well, this symbol is called the Chi Rho.  This image comes from superimposing the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ ("ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ").  The symbol was designed to invoke the crucifixion of Jesus and also to represent the status of Christ.

Hmmm…that is an interesting point.

Now, it is my personal opinion that it is up to you to decide what you believe.  If you believe that using X-mas is offensive.  I have no problems with that.  However, I will ask that you understand where these things come from and truly understand the meaning why things are done.  Knowing what we now know about the Chi Rho, does it make a little bit of sense way X-mas can make sense?

Now onto the other point…

Put the Christ back in Christmas…

I do believe that consumerism and materialism have become so over powering that many people do not fully understand the meaning of Christmas.  What the holiday means and why we celebrate it. 

But if we take a step back, is this a problem that we only encounter during the Christmas season?

As Christians we are called to live and show the love of Christ to everyone, at all times, no matter what!  Notice how I said “at all times” not “during Christmas”.

Yes, we can argue that Christ has been lost when it comes to the Christmas season.  But if we take a look back at the events of last week…one day we gather with family and friends and give thanks for all of the wonderful blessings in our lives.  We bless what we have and give thanks.

One comment I read really hit me this past week…

Black Friday- because only in America people trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.

This comment really stood out to me. 

So many times we say our blessings and say we are thankful…we say everything that we are suppose to…

Then we forget it and keep living our lives the way we want to, not the way we know we are suppose to.

Let’s all strive to DO better…not just say better.

Stop only doing the talk, but do the walk.

We may say we need to put the Christ back in Christmas…

I say let’s try putting the Christ but in Christianity…

They greatest way to spread the love of Christ, to show what it means to be a Christian, to evangelize, to spread the good word, the absolute best way to speak to someone isn’t to tell them about it.

It’s to live it.  

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!

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