The restaurant that shall not be named

I didn’t eat Chick-fil-a on Wednesday, but I’m also not going to boycott them forever.  So I don’t really fit into a “camp”.  I know I’m late in the game here, but I had trouble sorting out my emotional reaction to Wednesday.  I’m sad that I’m on sabbatical right now, because this is great material for a sermon, Sunday school class discussion, or youth group.  It’s a great “case” to start discussion about a lot of theological and practical issues – it’s all about needing a good dialogue with people of every viewpoint.

Why I do like Chick-fil-a and will go again

  • The food is good, and healthier than most other fast food options.  Except the milkshakes, they are way too good to be anything close to healthy.  I think maybe they put crack in their waffle fries, because…oh, so good.
  • It’s very kid friendly – my kids LOVE it.
  • They give out lots of coupons (which never actually expire, despite what the date on the coupon says), and you know how much I LOVE coupons.
  • They give out free bowls of cheerios for babies, and you know how much I LOVE free stuff.
  • You can dress like a fool and get free food once a year.  Some people even dress up and go to three different CFAs  to get three different free meals, can you believe it?!
  • The restaurants are clean, they even have sanitizer wipes on all the high chairs.  And you know how my OCD self LOVES clean stuff.
  • The employees are extremely polite and helpful, carrying my tray to my table when my hands are full of children and getting refills for my drinks without me having to get up, all without expecting a tip and while wearing a smile
  • In college, there were several times for a fundraiser or other student event that they would generously donate food (every time I asked, they gave)
  • Their WinShape Foundation does support a lot of worthy causes, ones I certainly agree with, but I do hope this recent controversy gets them to at least take a closer look at the anti-gay organizations they support and rethink where they send their money.  Because it does matter, especially to their GLBTQ employees and patrons.
  • I truly believe the owners and executives are guided by Christian values and doing their very best to be faithful in their personal and business lives, even though on this particular issue I think they are wrong.
  • They close on Sundays (even though I always crave it on Sundays)
  • They are a very successful business and employ a lot of people in a difficult economy, straight AND GLBTQ people.  So boycotting their restaurant would be hurting their employees who work hard and need to earn a living just like the rest of us, and if I boycotted every company that did things I didn’t like, I would have no where to eat or shop.  Thanks to this guy for reminding me of that.
  • I respect CFA for not promoting the Appreciation Day, and I think it would be really great if they donated a portion of their record breaking sales to a cause that the GLBTQ community would support, like The Trevor Project or any bullying or suicide prevention group.  I think that would do a lot to build some bridges without compromising their personal beliefs.  And wouldn’t it have been really awesome if all those people who bought CFA food on Wednesday would have taken it to homeless people instead of eating it?!
  • One CFA is doing something really cool by partnering with a Pride Fest.  Isn’t it amazing what can happen when we sit down at table together for a conversation instead of throwing around words and instagram photos?!

While I do like CFA, I also did not want to in any way be a part of  Wednesday’s Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.  It literally made me sick to my stomach – my stomach was in knots all day and the day after as people kept posting pictures of their “successful” days eating at CFA.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think I was so upset by the whole thing because it seemed that everyone forgot that there are real people, real children of God involved in this “issue”.  Every time one of my facebook friends posted a picture of their crowded CFA, my heart hurt for all of my friends and the people I don’t know who are truly hurting because of the current words being spoken and the policies in place and the potential bans being lobbied for in states all over the country.  People who work just as hard as the rest of yet are denied many civil rights because of who they are and who they love.  People who have loving families.  People who have great faith and love God.

The words that kept popping into my head on Wednesday as I scrolled through facebook updates were smug and pharisaic.  I know you were not intentionally either of these on Wednesday.   For those of you who are my friends who participated in Appreciation Day, I know you are loving and kind people.  And I understand the reasons you went to CFA on Wednesday, really I do.  But I just have to say, from the outside looking in, to people who think differently from you, it did not look kind and loving.  Jesus was always on the case of the Pharisees who strove to live by the letter of the law (First Amendment Rights!  “Biblical” Definition of Marriage!) but who failed to see or help people who were hurting.   People are more important than issues and causes and being right.

I didn’t find out until afterward, but actual churches were rallying behind CFA and telling their members to go on Wednesday.  Really?  Is that what we are called to do?  The whole Bible for me, and the whole mission of the church, can be summed up in these (condensed) words of Jesus:  Love God, Love Neighbors.  No “love CFA”  No “love the first amendment”.  How was the demonstration on Wednesday anywhere close to loving God or loving our neighbor?!

What I think Wednesday did was to confirm in the minds of many GLBTQ folks and non-Christians that all Christians are anti-gay and judgmental.  There was a study done a few years ago, and those were the top two perceptions non-Christians had of Christians, and I doubt the perception has changed.  I think Christians need to concentrate more on the Love God, Love Neighbor stuff if we are ever going to seen as relevant again.

I know that not all people who went to CFA went because they hate gays and that many of them had good intentions.   But even though you may say that you don’t hate gay people, you have to look how they are treated in society and see why perhaps they have their guard up and feel hated by what happened on Wednesday.  When CFA gives money to organizations that spread lies, fear, and hatred of the GLBTQ community, it feels like hate.  When CFA gives money to organizations who actively promote bans on gay marriage, it feels like hate.  When the COO of CFA says he wants to strengthen families, yet also wants to deny GLBTQ people the right to be a family unit with all of the benefits that come with that, it feels like hate.  When he goes on another interview and says, “”I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about,” it feels like hate.   When hundreds of thousands of people flock to Chick-fil-a in a counter protest and post celebratory pictures and status updates, it feels like hate.   It just does, so a little sensitivity is needed when dealing with these “issues”, yes?

I really hope we can all learn something from these last two weeks, me included, as we keep striving to be the people of God in a  complicated world.

In closing, I quote John Stewart about my hope for the future, “In 10 years, America will have a lot more gay marriage and a lot more Chick-fil-a restaurants because they are both quality products.”  You really should watch his whole bit! It’s crass at some parts, but hey, it is The Daily Show.

Other things that inform me

The Bible is not anti-gay by Neely Stansell-Simpson

Dan Cathy Interview

Some Words For Christians on Both Sides of the Chick-fil-a War by Rachel Held Evans

5 Reasons Why the Church Failed Yesterday by Mathew Paul Turner

Would Jesus Appreciate Chick-Fil-A?

Now onto things we can all get excited about!  Olympics!  Funny Kids!  College Football!   Back to School Shopping!  Sabbatical!

evening prayer

I realized that we have been remiss at teaching Taylor to pray and helping her faith develop.  I attended a conference once on how the family is (should be) the primary agent in faith formation, but that so many parents rely on the church to teach their children all they need to know.  We brainstormed ideas for churches to partner with families in faith formation.  It was a great conference, and I was all fired up at the time.  I was newly pregnant with Taylor and had beautiful visions of the ways we would teach her about and show her the love of God.

But life kind of got crazy, and we let her Sunday school teachers do the teaching.  We ask her about what she learns in Sunday school each week, and we might read her Bible story book from time to time, and we say blessings before meals, but….that’s about it.  So last night, I decided to try out a prayer with Taylor before she went to sleep and was pretty amazed by the faith that is already forming in her, in spite of our shortcomings.

Taylor’s prayer (with some guidance):

(what do you want to thank God for?) Dear God, thank you for Jesus.  Thank you for people (what people?).  The people who live in my house, Mommy and Daddy and Caleb.  (Do you want to tell God anything else?) Please give me a puppy for a pet and a kitty and a bunny.  Please keep my family safe tonight.  Amen.

blessings

I have moments when I’m feeling sorry for myself.  Like when I’m so tired because Taylor woke up twice in the middle of the night throwing up, requiring sheet changes and baths.  Or when Caleb has a fever of 103 for no apparent reason.  Or when the medical bills keep pouring in.  Or when I want to hang out with friends, but all my bests live far away.   Or when I have a  stomach bug (on top of sore post-surgery abs)  Or when I have a cold and/allergies (on top of sore post-surgery abs).  Or when Russ is gone all of the time “working”.  Or when only 10 youth show up for youth group (which is ridiculous because four years ago, I would have been thrilled to get as many as 10).  Or when I have to take Caleb to daycare for the first time and miss him (and pay double for daycare…on top of the medical bills).

But last week, when I was having one of those moments, a former youth of mine posted this song on her facebook page, and it made me check myself.  And my mind started racing and my heart started overflowing.

And also I had to procrastinate a little as well because I’m preaching this Sunday.

Here’s to counting your blessings and procrastinating!

I definitely have a new video making obsession…I am inspired by my good friends who live too far away, Rachel and LeighAnn….I just wish I could make videos as good as them.

Gratitude

While I certainly wouldn’t wish a giant cyst and it’s necessary surgical removal on anyone, I do wish everyone had the opportunity to experience the blessings that come from an event like this (or at least to intensely recognize the  blessings surrounding them everyday).  I am truly overcome with gratitude and humility.  I have the best support system ever.

My mom has been here since the night before my surgery (two weeks exactly now) taking care of me and the kids….feeding us, cleaning, doing load after load of laundry, playing with the kids, driving us around…basically loving us in every possible way.

I have not cooked in two weeks and yet have eaten heartily (I take that back – I have only eaten heartily for nine days – since I was in the hospital before that – no hearty eating there).  The amount of food in our house is incredible.  Russ is getting spoiled…poor guy won’t know what to do when the food runs out and it’s back to me to determine and prepare what we eat.  Taylor has also grown accustomed to her “church friends” coming bearing food.  The one night we did not have a new meal (we needed a break to take care of some leftovers), she asked “Which of my church friends is bringing dinner tonight?”  For all of us it’s a double treat because we get to see some of our favorite people AND get delicious dinners.

I love the note in a recent card from a loved one:  “So, I’m southern and feel the need to feed you because that’s what we do when someone we care about is hurting.”  That note included a gift card…we have received a few of those as well, so we can still eat when the meals run out.  INCREDIBLE.

I received lots of beautiful flowers (and a balloon).  It seemed like there was a steady stream of flower delivery people coming in.  Flowers from friends, family, church people, and even the MUSC Dean’s Office (!).  INCREDIBLE.  I used to wonder why people sent flowers for things (other than an occasional love bouquet from your spouse), because really what do you need all those flowers for?  But, man, did each arrangement bring a huge smile to my face!  In the sterile white hospital room, I was surrounded by beautiful color, reminded of love and awesome people.

There were more cards than I could have dreamed

on top of the electronic love through comments here on the blog, on facebook, txt, and e-mail.  I got a stack of magazines to keep my loopy brain entertained and some games to play with Taylor.  I had visitors who braved the downtown craziness.

I am truly humbled by it all.  It’s not that I ever doubted that I had great people in my life or that I was loved deeply by many, but I have just come to a new understanding and appreciation.  I will never be the same (or at least I hope I won’t).

I will begin writing thank you notes tonight, now that I’m feeling better and hopefully won’t fall asleep as soon as the kids are in bed.  I made a list of everything people had done before Sunday because Russ wanted to make sure he knew what to thank people for when he saw them on Sunday…but I added all the non-church people as well for my future note writing (since the drugs do crazy things to my memory).  When I handed Russ the list, he stood there for a second with his mouth wide open – in shock by all of the acts of service we have received.

Shock.  Awe.  Overwhelming Gratitude.

I am grateful for all of you – for your love and support and prayers.  I couldn’t have made it through without them.

Thank you.

MedSchoolMonday: S3

A few questions:  How can the church make its worship relevant to the lives of its people?  How does the church incorporate mission in its worship?  How do we pass down the faith and the importance of mission to our children, not just by our words but by our actions?  How does the church offer ways to make stewardship a way of life and not just a once per year campaign?  How does the church make sure the Table of the Lord is more than just a place for our bread and wine to sit every once in a while and is a symbol of possibilities, faith, and service?

I’m beaming with pride about our church.   On Sunday we began our Second Sunday Stewardship (S3), a monthly missional/educational/stewardly/worshipful/intergenerational act of faith.  Instead of the plates being passed around for the offering, people were asked to bring their financial gifts and items that we identified local charities were in need of to the communion table during the time for the offering.   Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures while folks were bring their gifts forward, but it was quite a sight, and the front of the sanctuary around the communion table was packed with the offering of God’s people, dedicated for God’s work in the world.   Here are some pictures from after worship as items were being sorted (so these are just a few of the offerings) and our design, created by one of our very own youth.

Scarcity and Abundance

I know reading a sermon is the very last thing most of you want to do, but my mom requested it, so here it is.   I preached this sermon on February 7.  It was a very full and exciting Sunday with the reception of new members, youth liturgists, communion, and the Souper Bowl of Caring offering.

The scripture (Luke 5:1-11) was read and acted out by the confirmation class.  I couldn’t see them because I was narrating from the pulpit, but the congregation kept laughing so apparently they made the story  of the call of Simon Peter into a comedy.

And now the original text of the sermon:

Step with me a moment into Simon Peter’s shoes.   You’ve been working tirelessly all day and you’re discouraged because somehow despite all of your hard work, you didn’t get anything accomplished.  For Simon, it was not catching any fish.   I bet he was tired and down just ready to get home, have dinner, go to bed so that the day would be over and he could start again tomorrow.  Have you ever had a day like that?

But then as you were finishing up and getting ready to go home, someone asks you to get back in the boat and get back out onto the water.  But Simon knew who this man Jesus was.   He waited patiently while Jesus taught the crowds from the boat.  But THEN Jesus tells him to put out his nets again – the nets that he had just cleaned after working all day and catching no fish.   So he protests at first – saying, but Master, we’ve been working all day and caught nothing.   I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action, expecting a different result, so you could even say that putting out the nets again would be insane.

BUT because it is Jesus who is asking, he puts out those nets again.   And then something miraculous happens.  Despite Simon’s initial doubts and the lack of fish earlier in the day, he catches so many fish that his nets begin to break and he needs to call in the other boat to help him haul in the catch.    And then both boats begin to sink from the weight of the huge catch of fish.

Before Jesus came into the picture, there were no fish.   But Jesus comes in and there are more fish than two boats can handle.  And what is Simon’s reaction?  I would expect him to be jumping up and down with excitement and preparing to tell all of his family and friends about his giant catch – I’ve heard how people who fish can be with their fish stories.  If it happened today, I could see Peter getting his picture taken with the massive amounts of fish to hang on his wall at home.  Or perhaps I would expect Simon to be silent in pure disbelief.   Or maybe I would even expect some sense of relief because he would be able to sell the fish and earn a living.

But instead of excitement or relief or disbelief or bragging, Simon’s first reaction is repentance.    He falls to his knees and says to Jesus, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”.  Now I am not sure what his sins are, but from the passage, I would guess that he is repenting from his doubt.  He did not want to let down his freshly cleaned nets because he had been working all day and hadn’t caught anything.  He thought, why would this time be any different?  He doubted God’s power and Jesus’ word.

This is interesting because as we follow Simon Peter throughout the gospels, he is one who really gets who Jesus is as Lord and Savior – he is the one whom Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and responds “the Messiah”.  He is the one that Jesus calls Peter because the name means rock and Jesus says that he will be the foundation on which he will build his church.  But Peter is also the one who sees Jesus walking on water and steps out of the boat to walk to him only to sink because he doubted.  He is also the one who even denies Jesus three times after Jesus’ arrest.

But this man, Simon Peter, despite his doubts, his sinfulness – is called by Jesus to be a disciple.  And I think that’s comforting.  Peter was far from perfect.  He was not the most religious.  He did not have the most faith.  He was not a known leader.  He was not even the best fisherman.  But Jesus saw something in him.  I say this is comforting because it means that we don’t have to be the best or most anything for God to use us or call us to be disciples.

But this story does tell us some of what it does take to be a disciple. What did Jesus see in Simon Peter?   Perhaps in his willingness to serve – he did not hesitate to give Jesus his boat to teach from.   Perhaps Jesus saw something in how Peter let his faith overrule his doubt in letting down the nets despite his better judgment.    And after Peter witnesses the miracle, he realizes the sinfulness of his doubt…really the absurdity of his doubt.   Because Simon Peter had recently witnessed Jesus healing his mother-in-law[1].   Before coming to this lakeside, Jesus had just healed a possessed man in Capernaum.

With all of this evidence that Jesus is worthy of complete faith and trust, Simon Peter is still hesitant.  But I understand that, especially when his livelihood is at stake.  It might make more sense to play it safe and not rock the boat…to save your net and your energy when tomorrow might be a different, better day.  But if he had listened only on his rational side and played it safe, Simon Peter would have missed out on witnessing another miracle and being called by Jesus to be a fisher of people.   He would have gone on with his life, expecting scarcity.  But he didn’t, he listened to Jesus’ word and trusted him despite that twinge of doubt.  And his life was forever changed.

I have seen this expectation of scarcity and miracle of abundance many times in the church.   Just this month, we all heard the stories of the horrible earthquake in Haiti and how poor the country was even before the quake.   There was nothing, but panic and tragedy and loss and heartache.  BUT THEN people have proved that abundance is there….just here in this church, we have raised over $3200 for Haiti….so far.  Just here in this presbytery we have raised about $21,000.  I heard that the Hope For Haiti Now concert and telethon raised $66 million.  And that’s not including the many other  fundraising efforts by past presidents and the Red Cross and countless other organizations.

And today we have the opportunity to give again to Haiti through the youth’s Souper Bowl of Caring.  You may think that you’ve already given for Haiti, that you don’t have any more to give, but we can’t stop now…because the need is still growing.  And today’s mission is meeting the needs of Haitians and rescuers right now.  I was talking with RH this morning who just returned from spending two weeks in Haiti in his role as pharmacist.  He said that whenever people ask him what we can do to help, he says that they need food and money and medical care, what they need most is water…they don’t even have clean water.  On the poster for the Souper Bowl of Caring in the narthex, you can see a picture of people lined up waiting for water at a Water Missions International station – they are on the ground trying their best to meet the needs, but they need our help.  We may think that we don’t have any more to give – that the resources are scarce.  But we have clean water and homes, and our brothers and sisters in Haiti do not.  We live in abundance.  Last week DK talked about how the difference between a hope and wish was that when you hope you have real expectations.  So I hope that there will be another miracle of abundance today after worship and that we will continue to give sacrificially to our neighbors in Haiti.

But I wonder why was Haiti suffering before with poverty (why are any of God’s children suffering in poverty) if this amount of abundance is available?  Why does it take a tragedy to pull out the wallets and make a big difference?   We know the money is there….the money is here.   We live in a culture of excess, even in the midst of our so-called recession, there are shows on TV called “Platinum weddings” or even “platinum babies”  Seriously, I got drawn into one of those episodes last week where a expectant mother spent $35,000 on the baby’s nursery.   Some of our members were recently at a car show and told me how there were people there buying multiple cars for over $100,000 each.

But yet, when you turn on the news, we hear about foreclosures and bankruptcies and bailouts and unemployment.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that those things don’t exist.  I’m not denying that many people are struggling who weren’t before.  But I do have to wonder how extreme excess and extreme poverty coexist.

At our own church, the session worries about money every year and has to put limits on their dreams based on the realities of the income and budget.  We fall victim of the myth of scarcity.   We can’t do this because we don’t have the money. But the scarcity is just that: a myth.  You may have heard the rather cheesy pastor joke about a minister who stands in the pulpit and talks with excitement about an upcoming project and how much money it will cost and she says, and the good news is that we already have all of the money we need…she pauses, then says…it’s just still in your pockets.   So yes, it is cheesy, but it spot on.  We are not a poor congregation.  We shouldn’t be limiting our dreams because we can’t afford it.

Scripture gives us so many passages about money.  How we are supposed to tithe (to give 10% of our income), how we are supposed to give God our first fruits before we buy anything else, how we are supposed to give cheerfully, how we are supposed to share all of what we have with the community so that everyone has what they need, how we are supposed to put our trust in God, not in our wealth.   I could go on and on.  Scripture commands us to give abundantly.   But we continue to say: we don’t have enough, we can’t afford it, we didn’t bring in any fish today – it’s time to give up and go home.

But where’s the faith in that?  Anytime we say we can’t, we’re not trusting that God can.  We doubt because our rational side wants to take over; we want to play it safe and not rock the boat.  But what we learn from Simon Peter is that when we do truly trust in God, our boats will sink from the outpouring of God’s mercies.  And I don’t mean that God’s mercies come in the form of money of fish.  Simon Peter, who had probably just brought in the biggest catch of his career which could have made him wealthy, left it all behind to follow Jesus and be a fisher of people.

Following Jesus is not easy.   Discipleship calls for obedience to and recognition of a divine power and source of authority beyond human strength, knowledge, and will.[2] In our text for today, these men who were called to be disciples faced a hard decision beyond human reason and made a sacrifice.  Because Simon Peter knew that life is not about being successful in business or storing up wealth, but about serving God and following Jesus….even when it’s hard…even when you doubt…even when you don’t feel worthy…even when it means sacrifice.   Because Simon Peter knew that when you follow Jesus, you are blessed abundantly in so many unexpected wonderful ways.   Discipleship is risky business with great rewards.[3]

Thanks be to God.


[1] Mark 1:29-32

[2] Byron, Gay L.  Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, page 335

[3] Byron, Gay L.  Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, page 335.

Prayer for the World on Fire

Perhaps I was too hard on the church in Monday’s  post.   I was letting a few criticisms cloud the overall success of Youth Sunday.  I am still bubbling over with pride for the youth for the job they did and the congregation for how open they were.  Last year, we had a time in the service in which people wrote down their dreams for the church.  The youth loved reading through the dreams of their church.  Ironically their favorites were what they called “nasty grams” which were notes criticizing the service. 

This year, they planned another opportunity for people to reflect in written form by writing prayer requests and putting them in the offering plate.  The youth gathered around after the service to read the prayers, and to their disappointed and my delight – they found no “nasty grams”.  I was truly inspired by these prayers.

I was reading through these prayers again this morning, and thought I would share some of them.  I am moved.  If you are a praying person, please join me in prayer.

  • I pray that God gives all of us the strength to take action and give back to the world for everything he has blessed us with.
  • I pray for those who have lost their jobs and face poverty and for the homeless people all around us.
  • I pray for peace in Iraq
  • I pray for the men and women in service that fight for our country everyday.
  • I pray for the child soldiers, those in poverty, people in Darfur.  I pray for the stregth to save the world.
  • Give me strength to go and help people without fear.  Help to make me a better person.
  • Pray for the children living right ere in our community that are homeless, hungry, or in need of a loving family.
  • Feed the children of the world.   Move the economy to create jobs – too much unemployment.  Help the suffering of the world.  Remove the threat of nuclear weapons.
  • Teachers and schools.  Mentally and physically challendged.  Churches
  • Help me and other teachers to reach and give hope to many of our students who have given up and are hopeless, who are bitter and hard, and who are in need of God’s great love.
  • Families in crisis.
  • I pray that our leaders will become inspired by God to do his will rather than doing whatever it takes to be re-elected.
  • (in a new writer’s script) Everyone needs to stop littering and everyday recycle cans, bottles, and paper. Stop cutting down trees.
  • Please heal our country.  Help us to see the difference in law and justice.  May justice prevail and laws change accordingly.
  • Pray for our church as we search for a new minister.
  • Pray for all abused children: educationally, physically, and emotionally.
  • Thornwell Children
  • Pray for the president of our country.
  • May your spirit surround all of us.  May you comfort all who are alone.  May you fan our fire!
  • Bless the youth, give them strength energy, and persistance to set the world on fire.  Bless our parents and grandparents that gave us our life skills that we might set the world on fire – though at a slower pace.  Bless each of us to do even the smallest thins that can make any difference for others.
  • For animals that aren’t loved and taken care of the right way.
  • Pray for a good representation of our congregation sign-up for our day to go into the community and help others.
  • Kindness and consideration for one another.
  • The growth of the church.  Less anxiety about trivial issues.
  • I pray that God shows our church how to focus our time and resources to make our world a better place.  Today’s service started us…
  • Pray for all those that are suffering – so that their suffering may end.

Amen.