Monday, September 28, 2009

Prayer of Mother Theresa

Yesterday was GraceFull Players Sunday at Grace UMC and I enjoyed it as always. One prayer was shared that I thought was simply beautiful, a prayer attributed to Mother Theresa. Here it is:

Deliver me, O Jesus,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the desire of being popular,

Deliver me, O Jesus,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being slandered,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being suspected.

- Mother Theresa

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When Taking a Stand Takes Courage

Tribute to Rev. Warren Hamby

This is my LifePoints Column which appeared in the "Faith and Values" section of the Huntsville Times on Friday, September 25, 2009 - Steve West

Sometimes death can put life in perspective. Losing a local leader can portray the passing of an era and help us remember where we’ve been.

Rev. Warren Hamby was my uncle. We lost him this summer, but his image, with pipe in hand and a twinkle in his eye, will always be etched in my memory. The brother of my mother and a towering family figure, he was no stranger to Huntsville. He soared above our city as pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church during the 1960’s, the fastest growing time of their history. Huntsville was changing, and our nation was changing more.

I wonder what it would have been like to stand in the pulpit during such a pivotal age, when pastors were under scrutiny and civil rights issues were rampant. Uncle Warren was a great orator, striking the balance between the prophetic and the pastoral.

After Trinity, he went to Galloway Memorial UMC in Jackson, Mississippi, in hopes of bringing integration to the church. He followed the legendary Rev. Bill Selah in that pulpit. Selah had resigned in protest over the church members’ refusal to allow black people to worship with them.

At the funeral in June, my cousin Ren (Warren, Jr.) shared a memory of his father’s formidable character. The home of a family in the church had been bombed, though thankfully no one had been hurt. The following Sunday, Uncle Warren read a statement from the pulpit, denouncing violence and proclaiming that those who remain silent in the face of brutality share some of the blame. It ran in the Jackson newspapers for all to see.

Soon after that, Ren found his father crouched in the carport after dark, his shotgun in his lap. He hastily told his son to go inside. He had been watching cars driving slowly past the house with their lights off. Someone in the cars was shining flashlights into the bushes. Were they to be the next victims of the Ku Klux Klan?

Ren remembered it wasn't long before Uncle Warren came inside, relaxed, and laid the gun in the corner. It turned out the cars belonged to police keeping watch over the house.

For years, Ren remembered this as a heroic example of how his dad was willing to lay his life on the line for his family. But as he grew older, he began to see it differently. Uncle Warren had actually put not only himself but also his family in danger. It would have been safer if he had simply preached about something nice and palatable.

"He didn't have to read the statement," Ren said. "But then, I might have never learned that there are principles that are more valuable than life itself.”

Some things are worth risking your life for. Some may even be worth risking the lives of those you love. They are eternal values that great women and men stand on, even if they seem to stand alone.

It is said that “good guys finish last.” As I remember Uncle Warren, I am more prone to say that good guys last, long after life is finished. They are beacons of light that pierce the storms of history.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Patient in Each Moment of Anger

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. -- Ancient Chinese Proverb

I have been thinking about this phrase ever since I saw it the other day on Facebook. It reflects a profound truth. If we let anger "get the best of us", it will do exactly that, taking away the best of us. But if we are well grounded and willing to walk with anger through the journey of where it might lead us, and if we look for the gift it brings, it may lead not to sorrow but growth.

I don't believe it's wrong to be angry. Anger can be healthy. It can lead us to take up an important cause for change, defend the poor and those who have been wronged, or to speak the truth in love. It can make a human institution or community a better place when it is dealt with openly and directly in appropriate ways. Anger is a gift. It is an emotion God gave us to be used for God's glory. When we are angry at someone, it is an opportunity to help us both to grow.

Yet anger is also spirituality's greatest enemy. It can lead to great brokenness in relationships. A recent children's sermon at our church reminded me that angry words are like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Once you squeeze it out, it's very hard to put it back. Alternatively, stuffing anger away is not good either. It can overtake the heart and poison the soul. It can lead to a spiraling self-created sense of reality, such as believing that the whole world is against me.

Anger can make the world a better place or it can lead to drive by shootings. The question is not whether we are angry but how we deal with our anger. Unfortunately, many of us grew up in situations where anger was not dealt with appropriately or openly and we have a huge learning curve to become more healthy emotionally. I believe this healing can indeed come from God but for most of us, it is a long journey.

How do we deal with anger in a healthy way? I think it boils down to a few things. First, it's important to be patient with it. Blowing off steam might bring me temporary relief but as the proverb reminds us, it probably will cause some long term consequences. It's important to become a friend of ambiguity and trust the journey. It's not bad to be angry and maybe we need to wrestle with it for a while rather than trying to find the nearest lightening rod.

Second, it's important to take our anger to God. God knows our pain, so why are we so afraid to lay it before God's healing light? This is an important step. There are wonderful scriptural examples of wrestling with God and taking our true emotions to the throne. Prayer needs to move deeper because of anger.

Third, it's important to see anger as a gift for our learning. God gave it to us. What can it teach me? It is tempting to think we are the ones that are going to teach someone else a lesson. But if we are unwilling to learn from anger, and if working through it doesn't change us, we are not trusting the gift it brings. God gave it to me for a reason.

Fourth, it's important to deal with anger directly and lovingly. Perhaps the "lovingly" part probably can't happen until we've been through the first three steps. I think there's a reason "honesty" is not one of the fruits of the Spirit Paul lists, because how we express anger is of utmost importance. The scripture reminds us to "speak the truth in love." In Matthew, Jesus reminds us in a conflict to go to the other person directly and if that doesn't work, to take someone with you and continue the journey.

It is much easier but much less healthy and productive to triangulate others. Instead of talking with the person we are angry with, we pull somebody else into the drama. We talk about people rather than talking to people. This usually leads to pain and rarely solves the problem.

How can we become more patient in each moment of anger?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Certain Joy About Us

I was invited to write a week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the Upper Room Disciplines. They are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is one.

Sunday, October 16, 2011 – Read 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10

It seems a bit vain that Paul affirms the way people “became imitators of us and of the Lord”. I am generally turned off by the idea of following along like a copycat and calling it faithful. And who am I to say to my congregation, “Imitate me”?

Maybe I am reading through eyes overly sensitive to our culture’s worship of what I call the “new Trinity” (me, myself, and I). Perhaps Paul’s point was not that they “looked at me” but that they “looked at God by looking beyond what they saw in me.”

We have noted Paul's remembrance of others before God in gratitude. Here we read more about why he was so appreciative of his friends, "Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit." The Thessalonians absorb the word in more than pure intellectual assent; they become imitators of those who lived and preached among them. And their genuine enthusiasm generates interest so that the imitators have imitators!

Paul evidences joy, and he affirms the joy in them. In spite of their suffering, they "received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit." Paul surely considered it a great compliment to know that friends who follow his lead do so with joy, despite the struggles of discipleship. Joy is of God.

Our culture's “prosperity spirituality” takes root in dissatisfaction and the idea that if I do more for God, God will do more for me. Yet God's greatest desire is to instill gratitude in us rather tha reinforce our chronic anxiety for more. Perhaps contentment is a form of liberation.

Take some time to list your blessings. Try to focus less on what you have, including relationships and opportunities, and more on what God has brought you through and the joy it brings. Give praise.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fill My Presence with Your Presence

I have been invited to write a week of devotionals for the 2011 Upper Room Disciplines. They are based on the lectionary for a week in October. Here is one.

Tuesday, October 11 – Read Exodus 33:12-17

I vividly remember anxieties welling up in me when I was sent as a denominational missionary to start a new church. “Where do I start? What if I fail?” Perhaps the most urgent question on my heart was, “Who can I find to help me?”

I suppose this gives me a partial glimpse of the anxiety Moses had when charged with the daunting task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. No wonder he starts a friendly argument with God. His fear of “going it alone” is valid. God has called them stiff-necked, told them to go on into the Promised Land, and does not plan to accompany them. “Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.” (33:5, NIV).

Yet Moses faithfully visits the tent of meeting, approaching God like a friend. He becomes the hero of intercessors everywhere. Moses gently persists, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me” (NIV). Like so many wo are called to step out on faith, Moses has no idea how to make it happen without some help.

Maybe Moses was asking for a few assistants, but I am guessing he hoped God had something else in store for him. God seemingly has a change of mind, promising that God’s very presence will go with him.

One secret to developing a heart of gratitude is that we don’t wait for something to be happy about. We stretch ourselves and claim the blessings of God’s presence in every situation, no matter how lonely we may feel. Eventually, we might hear the same voice speak to us as it did to Moses. "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." (NIV)

Join me in my breath prayer, breathing this prayer many times during the course of the day: “Lord, fill my presence with your presence.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

God's Chisel

What a wonderful skit which, in its own simple way, gives profound witness to the lifelong journey of Spiritual Formation that Christians are all called to. We long to be shaped and formed in the image of Christ, which is of course restoration to that which is already imprinted on our very being. Each of us both desperately desire it and at the same time fight against it. We long for the caring hands of one who loves us beyond all measure and yet we want to hold the tools of change in our own hands. Have a look and see what you think.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thoughts on the "Why I Hate Barack Obama" Sermon

Occasionally something comes out on the news that reminds me of how the gospel can be reshaped and misused to become something other than about the self-giving love of Christ.

Recently I read of a pastor in Arizona who preached a controversial sermon entitled "Why I Hate Barack Obama" in which he shared with the congregation how he prayed for our president to die. He is quoted as saying "If you want to know how I'd like to see Obama die, I'd like him to die of natural causes ... I don't want him to be a martyr, we don't need another holiday. I'd like to see him die, like Ted Kennedy, of brain cancer." Here is the full story with video footage at Pastor Reiterates Wish for President Obama to Die.

How can a gospel of love become so twisted? What is going on in the hearts of a church that has replaced Christ's call to love enemies and pray for those who challenge us with a call to hate and wish death upon others?

The truth is that in lesser and more subtle ways, we are prone to do the same. In a highly anxious culture during a highly anxious time in history, we do not let the gospel enter so deeply into our hearts that it brings wholeness and healing to our brokenness. We'd rather reinvent the truth than have God's truth reinvent us. So we have continue Christendom's repeated journey of creating the latest inventions in alternative spirituality, from humanism to fundamentalism, from "name it and claim it" to prosperity spirituality. We become dissasociated from the vast mystery of God's love. Yet God is calling us, beckoning us back to the waters of grace.