#changetheconversation

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

We got back from our most recent trip to Haiti about eight hours ago. I, and three very humble, gifted, generous, funny, faithful friends had a full day of travel and retrospection. As is true after pretty much every trip the conversations kept steering to what could we do to “fix Haiti.” We didn’t use those words but that is the bottom line.

There are many responses rolling in your mind right now.

“Heal thyself” might well be one of them.

I digress.

By “fix” we are pretty much skipping over some of the greater truth to chase an economic solution.

Economic change is greatly needed there.

That’s exactly the thing we cannot fix.

To dwell on that is to come to a level of frustration that leads to spiritual stagnation that leads to defeat.

There is a line in a Book I read fairly regularly that says “the One who began a good work in you will see it to completion…”

We aren’t called to finish the job. We don’t even have a good grasp of what the beautiful result should look like. We are simply called to be participants in the project.

If we lose sight of this we also lose sight of something very sweet.

The good work is exactly that.

We can’t fix Haiti (or Anderson for that matter) but there are over 600 children going to school through the work that was begun in us. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti (or Washington for that matter) but there is a young woman with new clothes going to college. New clothes and college weren’t even an option, not even a dream. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti (or even change one hair on my head) but there is a very bright young man who is back in classical (secondary) school who’d dropped out because he didn’t have the $250 for the annual tuition. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti but I also can’t get the image out of my head of several people leaving our outdoor woodworking area with chairs, tables, stools, and HUGE smiles. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti but there is a freshly painted building with new pews to sit on where people gather to praise and draw strength and find hope in a place where these things are as essential as air and food. That means something.

I can’t fix Haiti but I can believe in a Friend who is in the process of doing that very thing - and fixing me in the process.

I got to the church building here in Rogersville about 11 last night. I checked my messages and mail. There was a note from a sweet lady who had a serious injury and several surgeries last year. She had no money for food - or for Christmas gifts for her children. You gave generously to her. The note she sent included the words “you have no idea how much that meant to us.”

She’s right.

As our Friend and I were winding up a fairly brief stroll this morning I felt compelled to confess the part of my life that wants to see everything fixed. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“I prefer to look at the fixers.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

#changetheconversation

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

Value added.

The “extra” over and above the original value of something.

It has been said that Johnny Chapman (Appleseed) added value to a fruit we admire by insuring its abundance, usually leading to the loss of value. In this case apples were converted to cider which frequently fermented during transport. You can imagine where that led.

I digress.

This sits on the counter in my kitchen.

It is homemade jelly of the best sort.

Some dear, faithful, devoted people who are sweeter than this jelly will ever be gave it to us Sunday.

I guess they added value to the fruit as they worked the process.

But it got me to thinking about added value that is so common, so vast, so amazing that we can take it for granted.

My friends who made this jelly, and the friends who take meals as acts of love and kindness, and the friends who grow gardens and share the bounty, and the friends who call or message kindness and encouragement, and the friends who send you cards or laugh at your jokes or cry with your grief, well…

They are adding value.

Added value so great that no wealth can purchase it.

Added value so precious that life shrinks without it.

Added value so amazing and abundant that to see it makes you want to get rid of all the lesser stuff so you can reside in the fields it occupies.

Behind the jar of jelly there was a thought. There was a desire. There was a care.

To give someone something.

Goodness.

The givers had no idea what a valuable addition they are to my life.

And yours.

You know what I mean?

Now.

Excuse me while I butter a biscuit.

As our Friend amiably ambulated alongside me today we were talking about precious friends and the precious gifts that add much more than we can know. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Sometimes just a couple of timbers and a handful of nails turn into the mansion of mansions - if you look through the eyes of your heart.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 2 days ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

It was 68 degrees at the walking hour today.

Yesterday it was 72 degrees.

Just 4 degrees difference. (Aren’t my math skills impressive?)

The difference was dramatic.

We have a tendency to look for big, dramatic, obvious changes.

Sometimes they happen. But only, I suspect, often enough to remind us of the possibility.

Far more frequently, in my experience, are those big changes that come from small shifts.

Yesterday was a wonderful example.

I was driving home from worship time feeling some abandonment. It happens when folks you love let it be known your family isn’t good enough.

I was kicking myself pretty hard even though I had no control. No control at all.

My phone dinged. A dear friend told me “To me, that was one of your most meaningful sermons ever. Thank you.”

When I got home the Cutie greeted me with “(two saints) said don’t cook supper tomorrow. They are bringing it over for us.”

I got a photo in my inbox of the children’s time at worship yesterday. My heart almost exploded.

My vision began to shift.

To the elder who came where I was seated after worship yesterday to check on my well-being.

And the uplifting comment a friend made from Gadsden, Alabama.

Two messages popped up - from Iowa and Texas. Both expressing appreciation for the preacher’s words they heard over the YouTube Facebook thingamajiggy. Hard to believe, I know, but it really happened.

You get the idea.

I could look at that or I could look at that.

I could kick myself harder or I could surrender to the embraces.

I could be discouraged to the point of grief or I could be lifted to an awareness of victory.

Through him who loved us and shows it through them who love us.

Just 4 degrees shift is all it took.

And the persistent goodness of the Lord’s people.

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked into a day that felt dramatically different, yes dramatically different, we were talking about how very, very, very, big a small thing can be. He smiled at me the way he does and said in the “quiet voice”…

“I know.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 3 days ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I have so much for which I am so thankful.

Well, not so much really.

So many is more accurate.

On this Sunday morning as I lean into my truth I am wallowing in gratitude.

There is an elf, or angel, that sneaks into my office and leaves notes and donations and goodness.

Another friend exploded out of her cocoon yesterday and put her love for the Homeless Teacher on the line with her friends. They saw a butterfly and flew along with her.

A colleague on vacation at the beach didn’t leave her goodness behind. How could you do that? She also made me aware of the way unknown computer programmers make possible some exciting sprints!

Uncle Dowe sent me the loveliest story about the gentle deacon who owned the hardware store in Post, Texas. He long ago rang the victory bell but his ways are still touching us.

LaClaire, my friend who happens to be a nun somewhere in Texas, surprised me with a devotional booklet she had written. My devotions went deep before I turned the first page.

Julie, an Episcopal priest in California, got in touch to ask me to pray for her mom (rapidly succumbing to dementia) and her dad (caregiving to the point of collapse). I called her Dad immediately. They are a family faithful to a degree that will change you. I told her you will be praying too.

The Cutie didn’t do a thing besides being the comfort and encouragement I need to carry on. That is a full time job.

Kathy called to be sure we are on the same page about some worship changes. If I can stay on the page she is on worship will be wonderful.

Syliana sent a message last night. She told me she thanks God he brought our lives together. It changed despair into hope.

Two grandchildren barged into my house after I had gone to bed. They ate a peach, told me they love me, and barged out again. About as grand as it gets.

And all that before I even scratch the surface of the many.

There is you, for example.

Touching, healing, lifting, laboring, loving you.

I will be writing this blog all my days because of you.

Because I see you writing yours.

Onward!

As our Friend adjusted the pace I was just blathering on, speaking in tongues really, about the great cloud of folks who are the wellsprings of witness in my life. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Ran out of fingers and toes and super computers didn’t you?”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 4 days ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I met Jeff Barclay about 30 years back.

He owned the auto parts store.

It wasn’t one of these new parts houses with toys and commercials and computers.

Think Mayberry. If you don’t know how more’s the pity.

We are not super close friends or anything like that.

He doesn’t smile a lot.

Except when you ask about his kids and grandchildren.

The sign of a good man.

Jeff is just one of those honest people you can trust.

I never felt cheated and always felt confident dealing with him.

More times than I can recall he has patiently listened to me describe a mechanical issue, evaluated the options, and steered me where I needed to go.

Once he had a joint replaced. I don’t remember which. I told him I was praying for him. He said “thanks. I need it.”

He was down in his back a lot lately. I told him to “take care of yourself. We need you.” He said “thanks. I am trying.”

Profound stuff like that.

The STUFF OF LIFE like that dammit!

He has COVID-19.

It has moved to pneumonia and he is hospitalized.

His wife reports that “he says he has never felt this bad.”

Jeff and I are not super close friends or anything like that.

I can almost guarantee you he won’t ever see this blog.

But my heart is tender for him today.

I am praying for him.

I ask you to consider doing the same.

It is all I can think about, or write about, this morning.

And.

Take care of yourself.

We need you.

As our Friend walked with me we didn’t say a word. Not one. Except when I told him how much I need, we need, good honest people in our midst. He smiled ever so gently and said…

“Walks aren’t likely to be more important than this one.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 5 days ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

One of the passages in the Book I read a fair amount has this to say…

“Speak the truth in love.”

Just before that the writer hinted at some truth.

“No prolonged infancies among us.”

This is not about having a “childlike faith.”

It isn’t about children “being in their place.”

Heck, I am not sure and likely will never know all it is about.

One thing I suspect however is that if all you bring to the journey is a need “to be fed” you may need to hear a whisper of truth.

Pastors hear this b.s. all the time. There is a near constant flood of folks looking for the buffet line.

One day our Friend had cooked up a fish fry for his children.

Then he asked them if they loved him.

One of them said yes.

The respondent was then asked to give evidence of this love.

The evidence?

“Feed my sheep.”

There is reason to believe that guy grew up that day.

You may notice there is a fairly stark difference between “feed me” and “feed them.”

It almost implies that we will be willing to sacrifice our bloated appetite for shallow spirituality if that is what is necessary to “feed my sheep.”

So.

Grow up.

The sheep are thirsty and you have the joy of having Living Water to share.

The lambs are hungry and you walk in green pastures.

SURPRISE!

When you feed the sheep YOU get fed in the deepest and most satisfying way that any gastro experience can offer.

Truth baby.

Just the truth.

As our Friend called me out for a walk this morning I said “let me grab a snack first.” He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Duh.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 6 days ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

If I don’t mow the grass today I may have to pay someone to bale it.

Thing is, I mowed the grass three days ago.

We’ve had a lot of rain.

Grass likes heat.

It should be delirious right now.

More than anything though, it knows it’s season has come and it is putting every resource it has to the task.

It is here to grow.

Thing is, it doesn’t check out its neighbors to see, covet, encourage, or inhibit their growth.

It just does what it came here to do.

All this grass cutting got me to wondering if I might be missing an important lesson or two the grass is offering.

A lesson offered silently but oh so persistently.

My heart tells me I am here to grow.

(I am preaching about this Sunday but that is another labor.)

Sometimes I feel stunted.

You know what I mean?

And I got to wondering if I do too much looking around at someone else’s progress instead of looking at that bright star toward which every plant leans.

And I get to wishing I was a neat zoysia instead of this mess of crab grass.

And I began speculating the reason the grass doesn’t speak is because it is saying everything it was sent to say by simply doing what it was sent to do.

I have little control over my neighbor - be they verdant grain or invasive weed.

Seeking that control is a stressor that stunts me.

So I walk here in the dark looking east. There is a bright star over there. I see, and sense, it’s imminent appearance and it’s blessed call - inviting me to what I came here to do.

Now. If I will just photosynthesize the peace it offers I will be good.

All good.

Eh?

As our Friend and I hiked along our well worn way we inhaled the aroma of my neighbor’s fresh cut lawn. The distractions started to fade and the attraction became obvious. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Grass has good sense.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 1 week ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

Joab and I are going to do a video call Thursday.

I am, nominally, the pastor of a church in Alabama.

That’s a state in the USA.

Joab is pastor of a church in Nippes.

That’s a province in Haiti.

Our congregations include about the same number of souls - and bodies. Let’s round it to 100.

When we scheduled the call last night I immediately felt the need to stretch my faith.

You see, Joab, like me, lives among a beautiful people.

Like me, he lives in a beautiful place.

Our lives intersected a decade or so ago and our ministries began to merge shortly after.

Joab has the most infectious smile, the most profound faith, and the most humble confidence you ever saw.

Before I knew Joab I didn’t ask much of my congregation in terms of mission. But they were giving in an amazing way. Probably $50,000 a year in outreach to a world thirsty to know it is loved. About $1,000 a week.

This is in addition to what they pay the preacher - and the utility company.

Last year they gave over $200,000 to a world starving to know it is loved. About $4,000 a week.

This is in addition to what they pay the preacher - and the utility company - and hand sanitizers - and air purifiers…

I digress.

The good people of Dufour, Joab’s church give sacrificially.

Once every few months the saintly folks there have an offering that totals about $10. The norm is more like $5.

So.

I determined last night, when Joab and I scheduled our call, to ask myself if I need “it” more than Joab does.

One to one.

Brother to brother.

For the next 36 hours.

It is a shameful thing to confess but already I need your prayers.

Please.

As our Friend and I moved our bodies into a muggy morning I began a conversation about moving my mood to a place it needs to go - above the dark clouds that are forming and the desert that saps my faith. I need to quit leaning on my limitations and live into the promise. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Stretch. The view is good up here.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 1 week ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I have a lot of weaknesses.

You just read the ultimate understatement.

But in the curious ways of the Spirit I found out that at least one of my weaknesses is being uncovered, if not as a particular strength, at least a stretching of my faith in a healthy way.

I have never been interested in “taking roll”. If folks are sick or needy I want to know. Otherwise it is their decision.

If my friends need a hammock more than a sermon I am down with it.

If my friends want to be in a bigger, louder building with better dressed and more polished leadership and highly refined programs they have limitless options.

If my friends feel it is better to find “more to offer the kids” instead of teaching the kids they have something vital to offer this family then go for it.

Yesterday I was wandering around a cavernous building listening to the echo of my footsteps, and seeing the saints - past, present, and future - and praying.

I found a lot of peace.

The Church is not a program.

I can’t list all it is but it is not a program.

It isn’t a building or a business.

I can’t list all it is but it isn’t a building or a business.

All I can find that gives me peace is when we actively, aggressively, and assertively live into the love that has been revealed to us in a homeless, unpublished, unprogrammed, preacher who over and over told us to “go and do likewise.”

If you need more help with this please read the manual.

But don’t expect to find anything about programs.

As our Friend and I walked our way into a day that will bring blisters and blessings I was wondering aloud if I should buy a new suit and “get with the program.” He wasn’t smiling at all when he said…

“Don’t you dare.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 1 week ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

Yesterday I was telling the assembly about the sermon I wasn’t going to preach.

Then I sort of preached it anyway.

Bless them.

It is about how the tale of feeding the multitude gets told in the Gospel of John.

The teller reveals that Jesus sort of set a trap for Philip. (Look it up. 6th chapter.)

He did this to “test his faith.”

I weighed in with the notion that testing, in this case, is synonymous with “stretching.”

Maybe that’s wishful thinking but I am sticking to it - at least through this blog.

Whether or no about Jesus and Philip there are ample opportunities for faith stretching around.

This dad blame pandemic comes to mind.

Among all the dark things going on I saw an opportunity to jump on something I have been wanting to test my entire ministry.

You see, I am not a fan of “passing the offering plate.”

In my heart it has always been loaded with a viral implication.

And I ain’t talking about biology.

Anyway, the opening came because of the virus. We leave a beautiful basket on the table in the narthex. Folks leave their donations there. Some do it when they arrive, some when they depart, and some when they leave in the middle of the sermon to go to the bathroom. (It is a well known fact that saints have the tiniest bladders of all the species.)

In the “offering time” in worship I tell the folks a story that resulted from their sweet, amazing stewardship, we tell God thanks, sing a little ditty, and move on.

At our early service at MSLB we just mention the “tip bucket” located by the door.

We’ve never had this much money in the bank.

Infinitely more significant, we are giving in missions like we’ve never given, and we were already giving in missions on a level that was feeding multitudes.

All that to say that once Jesus said to Philip, “here’s an opportunity. What are you going to do about it?”

Jesus says the same thing to me.

And you.

Daily.

Eh?

As our Friend stepped off the stoop this morning I was already telling him about being a little stiff and how I didn’t know if I would walk the usual round. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Stretch.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 1 week ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

There are telephone calls you think might be a headache about to happen.

There are telephone calls that change your day, heck, your life, in the most amazingly joyful ways.

Sometimes they are the same telephone call.

Yesterday the most loving and faithful folks came together on our church campus.

They worked for several hours on the hottest day of the summer, to date, to smoke 150 chickens halves, bring and sell baked goods, but mostly to do construction work on the Peaceable Kingdom - in this case the arm of the Peaceable Kingdom in Haiti.

It was a resounding success as is every effort offered wholeheartedly and sacrificially to the One who says “be like me.”

As the clean up commenced my telephone rang. The caller id told me it was someone who had just come by for a couple of the last plates.

Before I hit the answer button two thoughts flashed…

1. They enjoyed the chicken.

2. There was a problem with the chicken.

Nope.

“Brother Pat, we were so touched by the love and work and devotion we saw today we want to bring you a check for the Haiti Mission.”

A sizable check.

A check wholeheartedly and sacrificially given.

It left me smiling, and tearful, and grateful.

Very grateful.

And so it goes.

In our jargon we call it witness.

Not something spoken, manipulative, or coercive.

It is something seen and felt and invitingly sweet.

Sweet like Jesus!

Oh, they also opined that the chicken was delicious.

Eh?

As our Friend led me into another Sunday stroll we were giving thanks, by name, with a vision of saints with sweat running off their faces, and saints laughing and loving, and saints that see and want to get a piece of that peace. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“That’s Holy Communion right there.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 1 week ago