Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 4) Needful … May 22nd, 2016

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Reverend Meningsbee

The fourth Sunday at the Garsonville Church was marked by the return of Deacon Smitters, who entered the building with very little ceremony, but much pomp over renewing his efforts as Chief Usher.

He immediately became distressed because there was no bulletin to hand out–just a chalk board in the narthex with these words scrawled upon it:

Welcome to Church

1. Our thought will come from Luke the 18th Chapter, Verse 31 through Luke the 19th Chapter, Verse 1

2. Take a moment to think about what you need

In an environment which was experiencing tremendous upheaval, the absence of a reassuring piece of paper to guide the congregants through the minefield of spirituality seemed cruel and unusual.

But everyone made their way into the sanctuary and sat in the first five pews, with Deacon Smitters making sure he was as far back on row five as humanly possible.

Promptly at service time, Reverend Meningsbee walked in and addressed the congregation.

“If we do not know why we gather in this building, we will very soon ask ourselves, why are we gathering? Makes sense, don’t you think?

You don’t have to look very long into the ministry of Jesus to realize that he never preached. He taught his disciples, but when he was in front of the masses, he only offered two possibilities: he was always ready with a healing touch or a great story.

More often than not, it began with a healing.

Even though I look out today and we have a few less than we did last week, what we should be focusing on is what the few of us here really need in our lives.

I just don’t think you need a retelling of the story of Jonah and the whale.

So let’s look at what happened over in Luke the 18th Chapter, verse 35, through Luke 19:1.

Jesus was on his way to Jericho when he was interrupted. He was stalled by a blind man who refused to shut up and observe how the service was supposed to progress. The man kept screaming for mercy.

Jesus asked him what he wanted and he flat-out demanded healing.

So Jesus did.

Then, from the excitement of that encounter, Jesus took his entourage, including the blind man, through Jericho, where he caught the attention of a non-spiritual, cheating, lying tax collector named Zacchaeus.

Do you folks really think Zacchaeus would ever have listened to Jesus if he had not heard the excitement of the crowd, celebrating the healing of the blind man?

Of course not.

It is why the people of Garsonville would much rather stay in their homes, eat waffles and watch television than come here. They don’t feel any excitement coming out of the building when we dismiss.

So from now on, in this church, we will begin our services by listening, praying and believing for those who have a specific need. So it’s the blessing of people that will set the direction for our service.

You can see, there are two chairs up here. Does anybody want to come up and begin the service by sitting down for prayer, to have their needs met, like the blind man, instead of waiting for comfort?”

Reverend Meningsbee took a long moment, pausing to allow someone to make the brave step.

Nobody did.

At length he spoke.

“That’s fine. It’s new to all of us. But understand that every Sunday we will begin this way and flip the service by having our singing at the end, as praise, before our departure.”

Suddenly a hand was raised in the congregation, and a woman, Betty Landers, sheepishly stood to her feet and said, “I don’t really have a need, but I’d like to report on what happened when I left the church last Sunday and went out to be reconciled with my cousin, who I have not spoken to in eight years.”

The pastor nodded, smiling.

Betty continued. “She only lives two miles from me, but we had a fight, and we have succeeded in avoiding each other through all family gatherings and piano recitals for the children.”

The congregation chuckled.

“Well, I went to see her, just like you said, and she wouldn’t let me into the house. It was weird. I just stood at the door and spoke, hoping she was there. I apologized. I told her how crazy it was for the two of us to be angry at each other. I even told her why I had come, based on what my minister had challenged us to do.”

Suddenly, in the midst of Betty’s story, a woman appeared in the rear of the sanctuary, and interrupted.

“I apologize for disturbing your service. I feel real silly. But what Betty is saying is true. My name is Clarice. Betty really did come to my door and talk to it like a crazy woman.”

A big roar of laughter.

Clarice continued. “I’ve spent the week with my heart pricked by her actions. I woke up this morning feeling the need to come here, find her and tell her that I am equally sorry for our silly argument.”

Betty scooted past a couple of people, ran to the back of the auditorium and embraced her cousin, as they wept.

The congregation sat very still, afraid to move. After a few moments of tears, the two women turned awkwardly to the pastor and said, “Now what do we do?”

Reverend Meningsbee said, “Go out and have lunch together. We’re done here.”

The two women left, hugging each other, and Reverend Meningsbee led the congregation in an a cappella version of “We Are One in the Spirit.”

The service was over.

The attendance was dropping.

But the spirits were soaring.

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Good News and Better News … April 4th, 2016

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Good News and Better News Woodmont

It’s 9:53 A. M. and time for me to go into the sanctuary at Woodmont United Methodist Church in Reidsville, North Carolina, and share the little bit I know. (Fortunately, it’s only an hour, or I would quickly run out of smart stuff.)

There’s nothing terribly impressive about me, so as I get out of my wheelchair to hobble and creak my way over to the piano bench, the gathered host of God probably feel more pity than enthusiasm.

It doesn’t matter.

They have spent the whole week being overwhelmed by politicians, pundits and individuals of all shapes and forms who believe in establishing their prowess through dominance.

So as I look out at my soon-to-be friends, I feel compassion–because they’re man-handled.

They are continually manipulated, coerced and even criticized into believing that “might makes right,” and “the loudest always gets to be the proudest.”

They are peppered with the message that it is an “I” against an “I”–and teeth are made for biting.

Yet with all the promotion of this philosophy, the world still falters–with terrorists now telling us that God thinks we should be blown up, or at least shot multiple times with bullets.

So in that sacred moment, I realize that the House of Jesus needs to be a safe haven from the stupidity of prideful demolition.

Man-handling. What is it?

1. “You gotta fight. Stand up for yourself! Speak your mind. It’s a free country. If you don’t defend yourself, people will walk on you.”

But even in a room filled with just a hundred voices, if everybody speaks up for him or herself, nobody gets heard.

So my message?

Stop fighting and wait for an ingenious idea from the Holy Spirit, to handle the next situation.

Also, the man-handlers want you to know:

2. “Life is complicated.”

If they don’t convince you of that, how can they sell you the improved product, the new book, the fresh idea or the present political candidate?

So I decided to tell the folks at Woodmont to simplify.

After all, I never saw anybody get anything done in a better way because they complicated it. Even if I were an ant, my job would be to find the shortest distance to get the crumbs to my nest.

And finally, all the man-handlers want to make it clear that:

3. “We’re all different.”

Since nowadays it’s basically considered to be ignorant to be a bigot, we hide behind the disguise of “cultural choices” to promote our prejudice.

In other words, since “blacks like things done a certain way,” that’s why they hang out together, and “Chinese people prefer chopsticks instead of forks.” But rather than this teaching tolerance, we’re just promoting isolation.

My answer to the man-handlers is to find commonality among us all.

The forefathers said there is such a thing as the common good.

Here, here.

So as I got ready to strike my first note and begin the service, what crossed my mind was that these people really need to be “God-handled.”

Since I possess no divine qualities whatsoever, I chose to imitate the heavenly Father’s personality profile.

I brought mercy. Mercy-handling.

That’s the good news.

And the better news is that being merciful gets much easier when you realize that you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing.

Therefore you have a desire … to be generous to others.

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Good News and Better News … March 14th, 2016

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St. James Composite 2

Saint James Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Realizing that you may never include this sanctuary as a stop off in your pilgrimage of American churches, I will attempt to relate my experience of enjoying the fine folk I met there.

The pastor is John Locke, who has the noble name of a great English philosopher, the inspiration to such American forefathers as James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. (Thomas, by the way, used much of Locke’s language in penning the Declaration of Independence.)

That said, I will tell you that I enjoyed the present incarnation of John Locke of Fayetteville equally.

The congregation was inspiring, and therefore capable of being inspired. Although there were certainly individuals who were curious about my pedigree and what my theological background was, most of them just relaxed and allowed me the chance to share my talents and my heart.

They arrived having survived a week of bitter political struggles and angry candidates, generating a climate threatening mayhem. Let’s be honest–most of us feel rather insignificant when we are viewing the 24-hour news cycle and realize how meager our simple efforts may seem.

But that’s the purpose of the church. It is supposed to be a safe zone–a place where you come to escape social pressure, politics and even religion, and spend an hour or so finding reasons to still believe.

It is a sanctuary where we can proclaim:

1. We’re human.

And then we can ask God, “Is that what you expected?”

We’re not perfect, because in striving for such a position, we would look both prideful and foolish.

2. We’re more “child” than “angel.”

So heavenly Father, enchant us.

Any God we serve who expects us to become more than we are is a charlatan. We are God’s children, and therefore definitely require a certain amount of entertainment with our enlightenment.

3. We need a safe place to come.

The world is full of tribulation, and even though we understand that Jesus has overcome the world, we require a reason to be of good cheer.

It is up to the good folks at Saint James–from leadership all the way through nursery–to provide such an atmosphere.

If they do, they will become viable and powerful in the community, offering an option to the raging storms of those who follow the present wind-blowing.

If they insist on being religious and trap themselves in the drapings of their faith, they will not only be an anachronism to a former time, but will find themselves gnawing on each other out of frustration.

So there’s the good news.

We’re human, we are more like children and we need a safe zone.

But here is the better news: on top of all that, we have this quality–just a bit of sweet, creative divinity placed within us by the breath of God, hinting that we also can surprise you.

We are capable of being gentle and powerful.

So watch us.

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Good News and Better News … February 8th, 2016

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Good News Better News McCormick

Pictured above is a Kleenex, which I discarded yesterday when I was sitting at my book table, enjoying the blessings of being in the presence of delightful souls in McCormick, South Carolina.

I thought I was going to sneeze. I grabbed the Kleenex, and when I did not sneeze, I wadded it up and put it to the side, having never put it to use. But since it was rejected, it no longer had any purpose, even though it was not trash.

That’s the way I feel about the church.

Many people have wadded it up and cast it to the side, and it looks a little dilapidated even though it has not completed its purpose.

Yesterday, while relishing in the interaction with Paul and Kay, and the local congregation, I was inspired by the fact that they succeeded in getting people from the whole community to come out to church simply by being excited themselves over the prospect of a special event.

Here’s the question: can we get excited again about being together and celebrating the life of the church, instead of being like a used Kleenex which hasn’t even absorbed a sneeze?

Because once people get excited, they will do the work.

Once people believe that something different from the commonplace will happen, they will be prepared to rejoice, clap their hands and even hug one another.

But if you’re going to treat the Gospel message like it’s used Kleenex, don’t be surprised if people choose to ignore it.

The good news is that the citizens of McCormick, South Carolina, rallied together and had a sweet time in the spirit.

Now let me tell you some better news–you can have that same thing happen every week if you take three things into consideration. The Gospel needs:

1. Humanity

We spend too much time talking about God and not enough about how to be better people. Jesus was not interested in exploring new ways to worship God. He was concerned with how we treat the least of our brethren. This defines our belief.

2. Humor

I don’t know how the humor of Jesus escapes theologians. I suppose it’s because they read everything he said as if Jesus just finished sucking on a lemon.

But Jesus had a dry wit.

  • He told his disciples to “be of good cheer.”
  • He told them “the blind can’t lead the blind–otherwise, they’ll end up in a ditch.”
  • And tongue-in-cheek, he told them they were “worth many sparrows.”

A humorless Gospel is a discarded tissue.

3. Honesty

If we’re going to teach our congregations to approach life as if it’s a political campaign, attempting to dodge charges instead of facing realities, the church will become a sanctuary for losers.

Jesus was clear. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”

Stop trying to make explanations. He said anything that is not a yes or a no is usually born of evil.

So to all of my new friends in McCormick, thank you for being who you are. And I encourage you to keep the humanity, the humor and the honesty in your gathering.

It will make every Sunday a Super Sunday.

 

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Good News and Better News … September 21st, 2015

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Tomah

Many years ago, I sensed a voice within me, encouraging me to go out and share my heart and abilities with the world. Some people would say it was the voice of God, while others would probably insist that it was just me, declaring my own bidding.

I don’t care.

I heeded the call, and that decision has taken me on an exotic adventure.

I was so proud. I finally got it right.

I spent the week misspelling the name of the town we were headed for our next gig. It was Tomah, Wisconsin, but I kept trying to move the “h” up next to the “t”–forming “Thoma.”

Try as I might, I apparently had placed a crease in my brain to prefer the premature h. But when I arrived in town and was jotting down a note or two for the upcoming presentation, I actually spelled it correctly.

Let me get back to that.

The people sent to greet us and assist us in setting up for the performance were Mary and Paul. Lovely folks.

You see, the key to hospitality is realizing that the quality of our being is not assessed on how well we treat ourselves or our families, but rather, on the profile we select in caring for strangers. (Strangers scare us. That’s why we emphasize it with the word “strange.”)

But Mary and Paul relaxed, so did we, and in no time at all it seemed like this was our eighth barbecue together instead of first conversation.

When it came time for Sunday morning, I arrived at a church whose pastor had recently suffered two strokes. I was saddened by this for a pair of reasons:

Number one, it is the responsibility of every human being to temporarily take on the pain of others to bring the reality to bear of the need for prayer.

Secondly, the lady who books us said that the pastor was a delightful, loving, giving and warm-hearted man. The Kingdom cannot afford to lose such a valuable creature.

In his stead was another fellow, who was formerly the pastor of the church, who kindly, gently and ably was filling in during the absence of the ailing shepherd.

How do I describe my experience with the Tomah people?

First and foremost, delightful. I do like people.

I like them when they’re difficult because it presents me with a challenge.

I like them when they’re easy because then I don’t have to survive a challenge and we can get to the business of just enjoying one another.

The two services were filled with great emotional moments. Emotion is our fuel:

  • If it’s a football game, we cheer.
  • If it’s a sudden burst of finance…well, we also cheer.
  • But if we’re in church and we realize how good our life is, how blessed we are, or how we were spared a disgrace or indignity, we tend to sit, bewildered by what to do.

You see, that brings me back to my situation with the spelling of Tomah. There apparently was some stubborn part of me that wanted Tomah to be spelled the way I proposed. Even though I was incorrect, I felt right enough to continue to be wrong without apology.

Yes, there was much good news at the Tomah church, but I can offer them better news, and here it is:

Blessing arrives in tiny bites which need to be appreciated, or you will never experience the satisfaction of a full meal.

Church was never intended to be a place where we come and tiptoe around, attempting to find the will of God.

After all, church is not for God. It’s for us.

It is a sanctuary.

It is a place where we come to escape debates, anger, shootings, frustration, foolishness, politics and threats that surround us all week long, in a world that seems determined to self-destruct.

We need a place where we can lounge in the confidence of the love of those around us, while celebrating the bites of truth that are gradually coming into the vision of our understanding.

So don’t tell me your denomination doesn’t get emotional when your denomination is filled with people–and people are emotional.

I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care what kind of music you use as background to your decision to feel.

But when you leave a church, you should sense that you’ve been uplifted and touched in your heart.

That’s what I tried to bring to Tomah. Were they listening? Well, honestly, that’s not my business.

Just like it was not my job to change how they spelled their town.

 

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Last Night … July 25, 2013

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Not many locals showed up last night in Springville, Iowa, to see the traveling strangers come to town with their show.

It is an unusual season in our country, where sensationalism has replaced common sense, yet at the same time, we are weary of all the rag-tag attempts to dazzle.

“There are times in my life

Nothing comes repairs the breach…”

Those are the words I sang last night to begin the presentation.

“Let it blow…”

I don’t give the human race much of a chance if we don’t look for reasons for commonality.

When I got done sharing that little piece of tune, I talked to them about John Chapman, otherwise known as Johnny Appleseed. Even though I occasionally have someone tell me that Johnny Appleseed actually began his journey of sowing fruitful possibilities because he was trying to get away from his wife and kids, we can become so cynical that we don’t leave a doorway for blessing and truth to slip under the crack. Whatever his reason, Johnny Appleseed left the comfort of his home and security of his neighbors to do something with his life.

Not that different from Jesus, who told us to “be of good cheer.” Yes—I shared “good cheer” with the tiny handful who made their way out to last night’s sanctuary.

That’s our job—to be of good cheer.

So if your philosophy and theology do not deposit you in a position where you have enough air in your lungs to keep on believing and going forward, you probably have the wrong thinking stewing in your brain. Good cheer is just knowing that things work a certain way, and if you learn them, you can push with them instead of pulling against them.

Once we got done talking about that, I told them a story about a man named Russell. This gentleman made the mistake of thinking that life was a shipment he was waiting for instead of a blessing requiring a hunting trip. I think they were a bit surprised at the end of the story when I let them know that Russell was my dad.

Yes, it is possible to love those who birth you and still not wish to imitate their mistakes.

It was at this point that Jan stepped in, talking to them about the political upheaval in the country and how we faced it head on when we did a prayer breakfast with politicians in Washington, D.C., who tried to maintain their parties at the morning devotional—sitting in their respective areas of political persuasion. We demanded that they change seats and sit next to someone they normally would disagree with in Congress, but needed to commune with in the presence of God.

I wanted to make sure that the folks last night understood that Jesus didn’t come to earth to make us into religious people, but instead, came to be human with us. So I told them a story they already knew, but from a different perspective.

You see, Jesus didn’t expect his disciples to believe they could feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes. It’s why he broke the problem down into fifties and hundreds—so they could start small and build.

As each moment passed, all of us who came in not knowing much about each other were gradually swallowed up by a common sensation of well-being and brotherhood.

That’s what made it possible for me, at the end, to tell them the secret to the gospel:

NoOne is better than anyone else.

Don’t you just get tired of trying to prove that you’re superior to your neighbor? It’s exhausting. And the time could be more wisely spent finding ways to bless the world around you, receiving blowback your way.

That’s what happened last night.

I’m going back to the same place again tonight because that’s what we agreed to do. I have no idea if anybody will be there—but I learned a long time ago that everything which is truly important has to go through a season of alienation and rejection before it becomes popular.

Unfortunately, often when it does become popular, it loses some of the soul it had during the struggle.

So if you don’t mind, I’ll just enjoy where I am and giggle in my spirit, knowing that when I share my little piece of me, it doesn’t make people mad.

It seems to make ’em glad.

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A New Trinity… March 22, 2013

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Trinity First UMC

The three men I admire the most

The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost

Lyrics from American Pie, written by Don McLean. I doubt if too many people remember it, but every time I hear the tune I get tickled by that passage.

The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit have been really good to me–mainly because I have escaped the futility of looking at them as religious icons and instead, have taken them into my heart.

My Father created me, was there at my conception and promises to stay with me until the end.

Jesus, the Son, is my elder brother, who’s gone before me and knows where all the pitfalls may be, and graciously has taught me how to avoid them and live successfully.

And the Holy Spirit, as promised, is a comfort to my soul, and gently nudges me, reminding me of the beauty of the message which gives me hope.

But as I said, there are those who have taken this Holy Trinity and used it for their own agenda or made it just some sort of repetition of worship that is visited once a week at the great museum of spirituality. Too bad.

You see, I find myself headed this weekend to Trinity, Texas, population 2,712 delightful souls, whose main industry is attempting to stay industrious in this tepid economy. I’ll be sharing over there Sunday morning, at the First United Methodist Church, with Pastor Russ and all the good souls.

I’m sure they believe in the Trinity–but I will be gently informing them that the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost needs to be translated more simply to our generation, which is quite reliant on visual aids to understand great concepts.

Truthfully, placed gently somewhere between Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore is the conscience and spirit of the United States of America. Most folks are not hyper-liberal OR conservative. Honestly, most of us are not righteous Republicans or determined Democrats. We are people, trying to do our best. And if we’re not trying to do our best, we at least are trying to remember what the best looked like when people were actually doing it.

So along with teaching the doctrines of the Bible and the beauty of the original Trinity, we should be aware that the average person is in need of a new Trinity.

Yes, the Father they need to see is a church in the middle of town that is a welcoming center for the children of earth. All of us know there are different types of fathers. There are grumpy fathers, who scream if the children run too loudly through the house. There are cheap fathers, who turn off every light when they walk through the home, frowning at everybody for using too much electricity. And then there are those young fathers, who like to giggle, run and play–and make their children feel loved while they push them in the swing or play a game of tag in the yard. Dare I say, I believe we might err in presenting too grouchy of a God?

So I will tell those good folks in Trinity this weekend that the house they’ve built to welcome the spirit of God should be a friendly place, where the people of the community can come and see their Daddy instead of being on a weekend visitation with their estranged Father who has divorced Mother Earth and reluctantly pays child support. Yes, the church at 131 North Elm Street in Trinity, Texas, needs to be a beautiful home for Daddy, where all of His children are welcome.

And when they get there and they feel comfortable in the presence of the Father, in His house, they should be able to see the Son. Not just hear about him through the parables and tales of the Bible, but they should see Jesus in the eyes of the congregation. It is why Jesus said that “greater things would we do” because he goes to the Father. He said we are “the light of the world”–and we are supposed to grow to “the fullness of the measure of his stature.”

No matter how good you teach the New Testament, people will believe that the Jesus you share is the Jesus you live.

And then, the Holy Spirit, which should fill that house of the Father, should be a warm blanket of mercy. Mercy is easy for me–it’s when I remember how much I am in need of grace before I ever start doling out judgment. The Holy Spirit, to our generation, is mercy. It’s what our people need. They are being bombarded with ideas and emotions from all sides, when what they require is a moment of peace and sanity, so they can hear the still small voice within them talk some sense.

So as I head off to be with Pastor Russ and all the gang in Trinity, I will tell them that they have the opportunity to present a new Trinity:

  • a Father who lives in the house they’ve built on Elm Street, who is more of a Daddy than a detached bread-winner;
  • a Son who is well-represented by a gathering of believers, who still think it’s important to live out the Golden Rule instead of just storing the gold in a safe somewhere;
  • and a Holy Spirit that leads with mercy, because each and every one of us sitting in the pews know that we need mercy ourselves.

If you add onto that a simple message–for instance, I recommend “NoOne is better than anyone else”–you would be surprised at how many folks will be drawn to such a sanctuary of hope.

The Father is God’s house located, in this case, on Elm Street.

The Son is Pastor Russ and all the good members of the church.

The Holy Spirit is the mercy we feel for those around us.

And the message is NoOne is better than anyone else.

We’ll be there on Sunday. We’ll be honoring the original Trinity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, while also presenting our new “visual aid”–us.

I‘m looking forward to it.

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