Stupid Stuff Jesus Says

When a young man in our church was killed in Iraq while serving as a Marine I had the honor of participating in his memorial service. The pastor called to give me my assignment.

“I’d like for you to lead in the prayer for our enemies,” he said.

“Can’t I do something easier?” I asked, “Like raise Andrew from the dead?”

It’s one of the most difficult prayers I’ve ever had to pray in public or private, not made easier by the rows of blue uniformed Marines at the service. In the prayer I confessed to praying though clenched teeth.

When a Marine angrily challenged the pastor for having such a prayer in the service for a fallen comrade, the pastor replied, “But we are Christian. This is what we are commanded to do.”

(Recently as a part of my own spiritual journey I started praying for my enemies. Very quickly I realized my prayers were not so much for their well being but for them to be more like me. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.)

That’s one of the stupid things Jesus said. Love Your enemies. Pray for them that persecute you. (And I don’t think he was talking about plain red coffee cups, but if you feel the need to pray for Starbucks have at it.)

Praying for people who hate us? Praying for the candidates that you feel would be absolute disasters for our country? Praying for people of other countries and other faiths who may even want to kill us? Who does that?

Evidently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to do just that.

There’s more stupid stuff Jesus said. There’s the one I can’t get out of my head this week: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” So as a Christian I am supposed to care about refugees not because it’s a nice thing to do but because that’s where I’ll find Jesus. Who can live like that?

Apparently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to live just that way.

Fear is our common currency these days. And yet we’re supposed to buck the trend and live not out of fear but out of faith and love?

“You don’t have to be so scared,” Jesus said in the Cotton Patch Version of the scripture, and he meant it for any language. But who does that?

Actually, I think he’s looking at us.

I am reminded this morning that being a Christian is hard stuff. Oh, I’m not persecuted in this country. I can worship where I will or not worship at all. It’s hard because Jesus said stupid stuff like this, and what’s more, expects me to follow him anyway.

I am continually called to go beyond what is easy or cheap or self serving. I am called to consider the world beyond the sound bite or campaign slogan. I am commanded to take into account the welfare of those who have no money, no resources and no standing, because Jesus stands among them.

Who does something so stupid?

God willing, we will.

 

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Losing my Religion

Seems like I see one of these articles or interviews about every day. Someone who professes their lack of spiritual belief shares with the world why life is so much better on their side of the fence. Frankly, I’m getting irritated.

Not because of what they believe or don’t believe. That’s their choice. But because they do such a bad job of representing what I believe. Today it was a blogger who described the free and happier life without his religion. It opened up a world of learning to him. It freed him up not to have an answer for every question. It enabled him to embrace people whose lifestyles were different; for example, people who loved and wished to marry people of the same gender. Friends who are more fun. On and on.

Guess what? All of those things (and many others) are already a part of my faith. Yep, I’m a Christian. And even a Baptist one that that. And I’m not narrow minded.

I don’t fear learning. I am curious about the world and believe that science opens us up to wonder. While I believe that there is a life beyond this one and hold that belief with great hope, the reason that I try to live a moral life is that God asks me to do justice and love mercy, not to earn brownie points for heaven. My faith pushes me towards embracing diversity because it reminds me that those people who are different from me are made in the image of God as well.

I have gay friends. I love them. I do not think they are going to hell. Sometimes I envy them because some of them are such great couples. I have friends both straight and gay who are pretty fun folks. We don’t just sit around quoting the Bible to each other. We laugh. We go places (even to the theaters!) We have been known to dance. Even in church. Sometimes with them I laugh so hard that my face hurts and I am physically exhausted.

Yep, I’m a Christian. Even a Baptist one at that. And one who is getting a little tired of people who are so proud of their open-mindedness being so quick to confine people of faith into one narrow little box. The varieties of religious experience are wider than one small experience or shallow stereotype.

Making a new trail

When I came to College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC as Associate Minister in 1986, they saw me as something of a groundbreaker. They’d never had an ordained woman on staff before. In fact, no Baptist church in Greensboro had done such a thing. One elderly member has since confessed to me that while she didn’t vote against me, she wondered why they were calling a woman “when there were so many fine male ministers out there.”

Since that time there has been a long line of outstanding women ministering through that position. (In case you’re wondering, they’ve had the same pastor for twenty years.) The pastor is always quite gracious to me in giving me credit for starting things off. “These are the fruits of your ministry,” he says.

Maybe. But maybe not so much.

I wasn’t there long before I started hearing stories about Lounelle Selle, a non-ordained but no less legendary “education director” who’d ministered some years before me. People remembered Tex, as she was called, fondly and with great respect. I always felt like she’d made my job just a little bit easier. I may have opened a door, but Tex was the one who unlocked it.

I was delighted to see the following story about her in our paper this morning. (click here)

We all stand on someone’s shoulders. Sometimes we know it. Often we don’t. Today, let us remember, give thanks for and celebrate the people who fought for a trail that the pioneers could follow.

Special note:
I am scheduling my program, “Apple juice, butter cookies and other ways to save a life” in churches for the fall schedule. Contact me (peggy@peggyhaymes.com) if you’re interested in finding out more.

The point we’ve been missing

A friend posted a link to a recent NY Times article on books addressing the growing Spiritual but not religious segment. Writing a recent memoir has made me think a lot about Christiian community, and specifically, the communities that raised me, formed me and continue to support me. I want to offer an excerpt from that memoir as my response.

from I Don’t Remember Signing Up For This Class: a life of darkness, light and surprising grace

I think we get confused sometimes about who church is really for. Of course, I need the challenge and the community and the comfort and the chance to sing. I need the friendships that I form. But it’s not just about me.

I spend hot summer days helping with the recreation for Vacation Bible School because someone did it for me. I invest in helping to lead a Sunday school class because I never know who might need that small group of fellow pilgrims. I never know what people bring with them into that room. I gather for worship because I need it. But I also gather because there are children and youth who will need to know that God loves them too. There are children and youth who need to be connected with adults who aren’t their parents.

It’s what the “I can worship anywhere” crowd forgets. It’s not just about us. It’s about the widow living alone who has no other source of hugs than what she gets on a Sunday morning. It’s a teenager who gets told in a thousand ways that she’s too fat or he’s too stupid, and who need to know that there are people who love them as is. It’s children who need to learn first hand that God’s house is a place where they can laugh and have fun, be silly, talk about what bothers them and know they are loved.

Sometimes you can pick them out. Even if you don’t know them, you see the haunted, desperate look in their eyes. You feel the hunger in their hug. And sometimes you’d never guess.

Just look at me.

We encourage each other to pay for the cup of coffee ordered by the person behind us in line, and when it happens to us we’re astounded by the grace of it. Yet week in and week out there are folks who are paying it forward, and I gladly count myself in their number.

The God I came to know through God’s people saved me. How can I not extend the same grace to someone else?

I participate in Christian community not just because my spirit needs it, but because I’m helping to create a container that the world needs.

It isn’t just about us.

I Don’t Remember Signing Up For This Class will be available on Kindle within a week, and will come out in paperback in September. Sign up for my newsletter (click on sign up) to get fair warning for both of these events (as well as others.)

A prayer for prayer

God,
I don’t pray enough.
But I suppose
you already know that.

I know I should
have a routine.
I know I should
clear out a space in the morning
or create a time in the evening.

I know I should
be more disciplined
more focused
more earnest in my seeking
more regular in my gratitude
more focused in my asking.

I know I should have a prayer list or maybe a prayer journal
or at the very least
a time and a day
for settling into prayer.

God,
I want to do all of those things.
I need to do all of those things.
I know that it’s important
to do all of those things.

And God,
I am trying.
Honest I am.
But for now
surrounded by shoulds,
this is all I can manage.
A quick word
here and there…

Remembering
to turn off the radio
so we can talk as I drive.
A chat as I walk my dog.
Sitting on the patio in a soft summer evening.

Mostly, God, I want that
what I know I should do
not to get in the way
of what I can do.

At least for today.

We can work on tomorrow together.

from heart prayers 2 by Peggy Haymes

A Week in Munchkinland

I’ve been working in Vacation Bible School this week. It’s made for a pretty full week – volunteering all morning, showering at lunchtime and then working at my real job all afternoon into early evening. I did it because I think it’s important to invest in the lives of the next generation.

But before you start the paperwork for my nomination for sainthood, let me confess. I mostly did it because it’s fun. Part of the fun is getting to know people I wouldn’t know otherwise. I’ve only been in this church a year. While I know a great many adults, I knew almost none of the children. I’ve also gotten to know more of the adults this week as well. In fact, my co-leader turned out to be a neighbor of mine.

We had the fun area: the games. For all of the cloudy but not raining days we’ve had this week, we do heartily give thanks.

Any week with kids is filled with priceless moments. Here are some of my favorites.

www.WestSummitBooks.comThere’s nothing sadder than the wail of a little boy: “Why do we not deserve dodgeball?” (He did get to play on the final day.)

A little girl was standing at the end of the line for a relay race. “Jesus said,” she announced to the kids around her (and especially in front of her) “that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

Preparing to play a game of freeze tag, I announced that I’d be “it” to start. A little girl protested, “But grown-ups don’t play games.”

“Who told you that?”

“My mother.” I envisioned a worn out mom reaching for any excuse and didn’t completely correct her. “Some adults play games,” I said.

“Bu not old ladies.”

Later, when the kids were begging for  a rest, I pointed out that the old lady was still going.

Throughout the week  I was reminded of some life lessons. Planning is important but flexibility is key. If “Duck, duck, goose” is still the hot game, we’ll keep on playing. If they’re hot and tired I’ll come up with something to play sitting down under the shade of the tent. If, however, they are full of energy I can lead a fierce round of “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.” It’s been over twenty years since  I was a children’s minister but some things just come back to you.

And maybe the most important lesson of all: some kids learned about God’s love from the Bible stories and teaching and the songs we sang together. Some learned it straight from the mouth of the Apostle Paul who came by to visit.

But some of them learned about God’s love for them  because there were these grown-ups (even old ladies) who played with them, hit-fived them and even let them fall on top of the old lady in a huge, squirming, giggling pile of children.

I know that this is true because when I was a kid there were adults who risked hearing loss while we pounded designs into the leather on top of wooden picnic tables, leather to be used in the coin purses we were making that would wind up holding about two dimes. There were adults who were silly with me and adults who smiled when they saw me. Adults who gave us hugs and high fives and cheered us on while we played.

My church told me God loved me. But I knew it must be true because of the way that God’s family loved me.

This church now, they lied to me though. They said that no pay came with this position. But they were wrong. I have never been paid as richly. I come to the end of the week with pair of well hugged knees.

And it doesn’t get much richer than that.

Know thyself.. if you have time

Recently I was picking out a birthday present for my just-turned four year-old great-niece. It was a pretty easy task, and not just because she already has a deep attachment to bling, pretty dresses and Dora. (Thank God for Dora, the one non-princess in her life.)

No, it was easy because we just spent a week at the beach together. I saw her when she first got up and I saw her going off to bed and I saw her for most of the hours in-between. We played together and ate together and went to the movies together. Having watched her play, I knew she loved to color. So when I found the coloring books filled with pictures of Dora and various Disney princesses, I knew I had a winner.

I knew her because I spend time with her. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. It seems that I keep seeing people (including, at times, the one in the mirror) who feel like strangers to themselves (myself). It’s not hard to figure out why. They(we) haven’t spent much time with themselves (ourselves).

I can hear you sputtering in protest from here. You already have so much to do and now I’m going to make you feel guilty for not adding one more thing onto your plate. Well gosh, I hope not.

It’s not about adding one more thing onto our schedules, except those times when it is. Sometimes we have to say no to somethings in order to carve out a little time just to be with ourselves. More and more I find myself turning off the TV at night (or never turning it on) so that I can have some time. Just time to read a book that makes me think or to play with my dogs, which both reminds me of how much I’m loved and how much I need not to take myself too seriously.

But we can also clear out the time as we go about our day. Brother Lawrence found in the humble, repetitive act of washing dishes a time for prayer and devotion and growing in faith.  As I walk my dog I can spend the time rehashing (and beating myself up for) a mistake I made or I think I made. Or I can reflect on my life, where the itch of neglected dreams or unacknowledged pain is making me uncomfortable. I can look at what I didn’t handle so well and think about ways to do it better next time (which is completely different for beating myself over the head for being stupid, not that YOU’VE ever done that).

Even if our lives are challenging, when we are living in concert with our own best selves there is a flow that feels right and good. But first we have to take some time to be with those best selves. How are you intentional with your day? How do you find time to get to know yourself?

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Do you have your copy yet? Strugglers, Stragglers and Seekers: daily devotions for the rest of us is  in print. you can get your copy here and here. Local folks stay tuned for book signing announcements.

This is the cover.
This is the cover.

from amazon review…

“As an admitted straggler, my Bible has more than a layer of dust on it. Peggy’s book is more than enough of a reason to dust yours off (come on, I know I am not the only one, here, right?). In this work, she takes Bible passages and brings them to the present day complete with our modern struggles, humor, and hope. I only received this book 5 days ago and already I feel more connected to my faith. I am reminded that living with mindful intention is at the heart of moving from being a faithful person in word to becoming a faithful person in action.”