Thursday, July 26, 2012

Don't Ask Yourself What the World Needs

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do it, because the world needs more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

This week, I am living with this powerful quote in my heart and spirit from Christian spiritualist Howard Thurman, pictured to the left.

In today's culture of consumerism ("I am what I can have"), functionalism ("I am what I do") and rugged individualism ("I am whoever I want to be"), it is so counter-cultural to truly live with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in me. I have also spent so much of my life and energy doing, accomplishing, achieving, and building. Even in Christian work, which I have committed my life to, I can become lost in a swirl of getting it done.

During the second half of my life, I'm entering the journey of rediscovering what makes me come alive. I want to live from my center and be who God crafted me to be!

Lord Jesus, help me to let go of everything I want to do, and seek to let your life come alive in me. Let my doing flow freely from my being.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Update of My "Crowd of Witnesses"

I don't know why I've been so blessed with passionate and faithful preaching blood. Most of the 30 pastors on my family tree (yes, that's right, 30, and that doesn't count the ones that are still alive!) are Methodist though there are those of other faith traditions as well.

It's deep in my bones to love sharing the gospel. After a couple of years of continued research, I have updated my "Crowd of Witnesses" including those pastors that are on my family tree.

I keep this list handy in my Bible and look over it when I need encouragement or when my spirit is nourished by feeling grounded in their spirits.

Steve’s “Crowd” of Witnesses
Some of the communion of saints surrounding Stephen Pierce West.
They are pastors I am related to.

Rev. Isaac Taylor
Methodist Circuit Rider in Alabama, Mississippi, 3rd Great Grandfather on Hamby side, accused of murdering wife, name cleared when found she had left him and children for Texas

Rev. Harris Taylor
Methodist Circuit Rider, 3rd Great Grand Uncle on Hamby side, story of shaft of light appearing on grave at funeral

Rev. William Taylor
Methodist Circuit Rider, 3rd Great Grand Uncle on Hamby side, founder of Taylor Memorial UMC with prominent gravestone

Rev. Nathaniel Henderson Self
1st cousin 4x removed (descended from Isaac's sister Catherine), Methodist pastor

Rev. Gordon Ware
Cousin on Granny Hamby’s Taylor side, Methodist pastor, my Candidacy Mentor when I didn’t know we were related (had dinner several times)

Rev. William Blackburn
Husband of 1st cousin 4x removed, Methodist pastor, married Isaac Taylor’s niece after clearing his name

Rev. William Thomas HambyGreat Grand Uncle, brother of Grandpa Charles P. Hamby, Methodist pastor

Rev. Gene Malcolm “Mack” Hamby
1st cousin once removed on Mom’s side, Methodist pastor and evangelist who traveled world

Rev. Charlie P. Hamby, Sr.
Grandfather on mother’s side, Methodist pastor and “pistol packing” evangelist, husband of poet and painter Louie Ann Williams

Rev. Warren Hamby, Sr.
Uncle, Methodist pastor, brother of my mom, pastor of Trinity UMC in Huntsvilleand Gallaway Memorial in Jackson, after being a DS he raised local church capital funds with GBGM

Rev. J. Pierce West, Sr.
Grandfather on father’s side, Methodist pastor who died when I was 4, descended from Garrisons on his grandmother’s Hagood side

Rev. Thomas Maxwell
Early American Anglican-turned-Baptist pastor, ancestor of Dad’s mother, persecuted and jailed, defended by Patrick Henry, historical figure

Rev. Charles Higginbotham
7th great grandfather, first missionary to Barbados, ancestor of Jane Higginbotham Maxwell, Gene Maxwell's grandmother

Rev. Robert Hill Thompson
1st cousin 4x removed, grandson of ancestor Joseph Robert Thompson of the Thompsons and Wills buried at Midway UMC

Rev. Jedediah Garrison
5th Great Grandfather, helped found the Mt. Pleasant society in Georgia, revolutionary war soldier, ordained deacon with a number of pastor descendants

Rev. Levi Garrison
4th Great Grandfather, ancestor of Dad’s father, early American Methodist pastor in SC, son of the older Jedediah

Rev. David Garrison
4th Great Grand Uncle, brother of Levi and son of Jedediah, ordained by Frances Asbury, pastor in GA

Rev. Thomas Coke Prickett
Husband of 2nd cousin 4x removed, married Louisa E. Garrison, daughter of direct ancestors Levi and Nancy Garrison, twin of Rev. Asbury Pope Prickett

Rev. Asbury Pope Prickett
Brother of husband of 2nd cousin 5x removed, twin brother of Rev. Thomas Coke Prickett above

Rev. Jedediah Garrison
1st cousin 5x removed, grandson of Jedediah through Caleb Capias Garrison, buried Damascas Road near Mt. Pleasant

Rev. Michael Box Garrison
1st cousin 5x removed, grandson of Jedediah and son of Caleb Capias also,trustee Mt. Pleasant

Rev. Thomas Wesley Garrison
1st cousin 5x removed, also grandson of Jedediah but through James Caleb Garrison, founded Wesley Chapel in Cobb Co. and donated the 4.5 acres of land for it and the school, Civil War

Rev. Levi B. Garrison
1st Cousin 5x removed, son of David (nephew of my ancestor Levi), Methodist local pastor in GA

Rev. Levi Garrison
2nd Cousin 5x removed, cousin of my ancestor Levi Garrison and child of Jedediah’s brother or half-brother Ebenezer, Methodist pastor, opposed slavery, freed 12 slaves from wife’s dowry once they married

Rev. David Garrison
2nd Cousin 5x removed, cousin of my ancestor Levi Garrison, also son of Ebenezer, Methodist pastor, disagreed with brother Levi over slavery, started Corner Greek Church near Dothan, AL

Rev. Jedediah Asbury Meaders
1st Cousin 5x removed, nephew of my ancestor Levi, Methodist pastor in GA, farmer and wagon shop owner

Rev. Andrew Jackson “Bud” Latham
Married to 2nd Cousin 4x removed, private and ambulance driver in Civil War, Methodist pastor in GA

Rev. Jeremiah Winster
Father-in-law of 3rd great grand uncle Henry Garrison (painter, confederate private), London

Rev. Jim McKay
Uncle who was licensed as a local pastor and served for a short time, from Guin,AL

Rev. Howard Erwin
Uncle who was licensed as a local pastor and served the Philadelphia church inGuinAL

Living relatives that will join the crowd one day are Rev. C.P. Hamby (uncle), Rev. Ed Self (cousin on Taylor side), Rev. J.P. “Pete” West, Jr. (father), Jonathan Todd (husband of Williams cousin, Susan), and my beloved wife, Rev. Sandra O’Quinn West. My wife has ancestry in the clergy, too, including her 3rd great grandfather, John G. Jones, Mississippi church historian.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shaped by Andy Griffith

Last week, one of my heroes died. I know it’s unusual for me to comment on entertainment on my blog. But Andy Griffith has shaped a generation of people who, in the midst of social change, longed for a solid rock of values and a sense of being at home in our world. It’s not that I want to go backward into “the good old days” with nostalgic sentiment. I don’t believe in moving backward. But as we move forward, Andy has always reminded me to claim what’s truly good and important.

I was born in the middle of the years “The Andy Griffith Show” was airing, so most of my memories are of watching reruns after school. I can’t say I’ve been an Andy Griffith nut (I don’t own the episodes and definitely haven’t seen them all), but at the same time I am grateful that he is one of the influences that shaped me. I love the comedy, the warmth, and the wholesome themes of what it means to be family and to be a responsible part of your community. Who can forget Barney’s craziness, and all the other characters and their idiosyncrasies? I’ve seen the lakehouse on Logan Martin that once belonged to Jim “Gomer” Nabors. Rarely does a month go by without some fleeting reference to an episode in a conversation with a friend or parishioner.

I believe all of us are shaped in life. My spirituality has embraced the truth that I am shaped and formed not only by the Bible and worship, but by how and with whom I spend my time. Spirituality is not divorced, somehow, from regular life and relegated only to what happens on Sunday or during morning prayer time. So I’m glad that for at least part of my life, Andy Griffith was part of that shaping.

I believe that all people are spiritual beings, shaped by the influences they give themselves to. Even the most profound atheist is actually on a spiritual journey, whether he or she knows it. Sometimes anger with or disbelief in God is not the opposite of relationship with God, it’s just the chosen stance within that relationship. Thankfully, God’s side of the relationship is always one of grace. A life of spiritual maturity is one that integrates all the shaping influences into one whole, one sense of who we really are and what it means to follow God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. I’m glad I let myself be shaped by Andy Griffith.

Earlier this year, Andy’s companion George “Goober” Lindsey from right here in Jasper, Alabama, also died. In light of these deaths, I’m feeling led to have a bit of fun for my Pastor’s Study during Wonderful Wednesdays this Fall. I’ll do my rendition of the “Andy Griffith Bible Study” that has been a rave among churches and small groups for the past several years. We’ll watch a 27 minute episode and have a 45 minute Bible study. I’ll even tweak the study materials I have seen online for more depth.

Sunday, I got a Facebook message from a friend in church, who said I really nailed my sermon, and “That's one subject you just can't talk enough about: sin.” He and I have talked about good old Andy. I knew immediately the episode, “The Sermon for Today,” he was quoting (Barney really hadn’t heard the sermon but was making something up to say to the preacher after church). Thanks for the laugh. And thanks, Barney and Andy and the gang, for being part of my life.

Monday, July 2, 2012

My Fourth Great Grandfather's Fight for Freedom of Religion

As we approach Independence Day, I share a story from my family heritage that I told on Sunday. I hope it bears repeating. Six of my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. One of them also made a mark on our religious history. My fourth great grandfather was Rev. Thomas Maxwell. Though I have multiple Methodist circuit riders in my family background, it is the Baptist preacher who made it into the history books!

After Thomas Maxwell fought in the Revolutionary War, he began preaching the Baptist faith he believed. He was imprisoned for this, since his teaching did not reflect orthodox Anglican beliefs. The story goes that he continued to preach through the bars of the prison, so that his protruding nose was rubbed raw. Patrick Henry defended his religious liberty and sought his release. In time, Patrick Henry went on to support and help shape the writing of the first amendment, guaranteeing freedom of religion.

Just imagine for a moment the period of time, after the Revolutionary War was over, when the persecuted became persecutors. So my fourth great grandfather was part of the movement to truly claim freedom of religion. His persecution became a catalyst. It spoke of something that we’ve had to say many times, whether the issue was slavery, child labor, women’s rights to vote, or the civil rights movement. His persecution said “wait a minute, do we believe in freedom, or not?”

Sometimes I get frustrated with American religion, with all the completing groups and independent churches, the crazies on TV, watered down Christianity that resembles self-help, and theological challenges to Biblical faith such as fundamentalism, unbridled Pentecostalism, and prosperity teaching. We also live in a time when dialogue with other religions has been rendered difficult because of politics and world events. But whenever I get frustrated, I remember my fourth great grandfather. I remember that if we value freedom of religious expression, we have to trust that the truth will work itself out in God’s time.

This Wednesday, I encourage you to celebrate the two essential freedoms our nation was founded on: Freedom from tyranny of foreign rule and freedom for religious expression. Let’s not confuse these essential freedoms with other things we so easily call freedom, for the essential nature of what it means to be human is not that we are independent individuals, free agents who can do whatever we want with no rules or social responsibility. Rugged individualism goes against the grain of our core identity as part of the body of Christ, and our Christian identity must trump any manufactured concept of patriotic identity. Freedom has never meant everybody is on their own, with no regard for our neighbor. For Americans, it has always meant we are free to take responsibility for our own destiny as a nation and free to follow God however we feel led.

My father's mother was Doris Maxwell West, daughter of the Maxwells of Gainesville, Georgia, descendants of Rev. Thomas Maxwell.