Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 27 Day of Remembrance

I invite everyone to participate in the “Day of Remembrance” on Friday. Last year, on April 27, there were 63 devastating tornadoes that ripped through the heart and soul of Alabama. 252 lives were lost and many other lives were disrupted. Many great churches responded with fervor and grace in their relief efforts. Lots of people began the process of healing and rebuilding their lives.

For many, the experience is still raw and the one year anniversary will be highly emotionally and spiritually significant. So I invite you to pause and to pray.

Governor Bentley has proclaimed Friday as a “Day of Remembrance.” He has invited us to participate in a statewide moment of silence at 4:27 p.m. If you are not able to pause at that exact time, please take some time to pray for those affected by the mind-boggling experience of last year.

The last couple of weeks, I have shared just a few of my personal remembrances of last year. I lived in Madison County, where power and communications were completely shut down for almost a week. My wife and I talked about how the video we showed in traditional services remembering April 27 had footage we had never seen, since there was no way we could have seen it. Not sure what to do, I went on a ministry of knocking on doors to communicate with congregants over who was affected and who could help. No one in my congregation died, but two homes had been destroyed and two others damaged. I rolled up my sleeves and spent one day helping a church family move out of their demolished home to a friend’s house. I remember vividly driving up to our nearby sister church, Ford’s Chapel UMC, and the surreal experiences of supporting their pastor and seeing how hard their historic chapel and the neighborhoods around them were hit.

Yesterday, I recalled what it was like for the people of our own neighborhood in Madison to come together. By day, we all helped and worked and assisted wherever we could. Each night, since all of our freezer food was melting, we had a big cookout in the cul-de-sac in front of my house. People who were normally too busy to talk, or in some cases even meet, were suddenly all in this together, finding fun and a way to relax in the midst of the trauma. I was introduced to “spaghetti tacos” by the neighborhood kids and all sorts of games. I found, once again, the surprising truth that in tragedy, people connect in ways they never had before. And there was grace.

As I was sitting there one night in the neighborhood watching the kids play after we all ate together, I kept coming back to the phrase in Luke’s version of the walk to Emmaus story: “And he was known in the breaking of bread.” And he was.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Remembrance of April 27 Tornadoes

As we approach the first anniversary of April 27, when 63 tornadoes ripped through Alabama last year, I would like to share again a picture I took and posted last year, with my friend's permission.

This is my friend Dorothy Ann, who was pastor of Ford's Chapel United Methodist Church, gazing into what was their original, historic chapel and perhaps the oldest Methodist sanctuary building in the state. I remember seeing her standing there in a surreal moment, as if searching for something.

It was a potent moment to be there when she and the faithful people of Ford's Chapel were processing all this. It was as if time stopped, and in the stillness she was listening for the voice of God.

I thought about Mary, lingering around the garden of the tomb wondering where Jesus' body was. The people in Harvest, Alabama learned what Mary learned that day.

Jesus had risen. He was already there and quite alive in their midst, calling their name. God is a God who rises, and we too will rise.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Picture taken by Beth Richardson while I was leading music at SoulFeast in July. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of serving on the team of this Upper Room conference.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I'll Take That Criticism! It's About Love!

Year ago, I was officiating a funeral. Just beforehand, a woman came up to meet me. She was active in another denomination and asked what kind of preacher I was. When I told her my faith tradition, she rolled her eyes. "You know what I don't like about Methodists?" Her voice took on a singsong tone. "All they do is talk about LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!"

I told her that there are some criticisms I'm glad to take! I have been reflecting on this ever since. Why shouldn't we talk all the time about love? When pressed, Jesus boiled down all the law and prophets into love of God and love of neighbor. The only time he said he was giving a new commandment was when he said "love one another as I have loved you." The first part of that phrase, loving one another, is not so new. But the second part, "as I have loved you," was profoundly incarnational. This self-giving agape love is the very definition of who we are to be. Jesus said, "this is how they will know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another." For Jesus, that's the measure that is the only measure that counts.

It's all about love, nothing more and nothing less.

Tonight was Maundy Thursday, the night we celebrate Jesus' institution of holy communion when gathered with his friends for Passover. It's called "Maundy" to refer to the new commandment to love as Jesus loves, and it is the night he washed his disciples' feet. My funeral friend's criticism is exactly what we celebrate ... it's all about love.