About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, December 25, 2015

All Inn

   2015-12-24 "All Inn"

When God wanted to show where Jesus was, he put a bright star in the east.

When we want to show where Jesus is we put up a church.

With a sign.

With puns.

Always with the puns.

Pithy puns.

"The best vitamin for a Christian is B1."

"Brush up on your Bible: It prevents truth decay."

"Like Jesus on Faithbook."

And we wonder why people don't come to church.

Which is not to say I don't enjoy puns.

Sometimes Scott and I will break out in battles to out-pun-ish the other.

We think we're hilarious.

We tell Carla, "If you keep rolling your eyes they'll get stuck that way."

She gets up to her eyeballs in puns.

So I was surprised last week when I saw a punned-out church sign that was (a) new (to me) and (b) thought-provoking.

It said,

"Are you one of the inn crowd [i-n-n, get it?], or are you one of the stable few?"

Good one.

Hats off to the labs at SayingsForChurchSigns.com.


Except it seems to imply that people who go to church are always stable and well-adjusted.

And that's true.

"Those Lake Hills Presbyterians are so stable and well-adjusted.

"Especially that preacher."

How often I hear that.

Actually, I've never heard it.

But I choose to believe it.

If only we could fit more well-adjusted people in here.

But there's not enough room!

Or well-adjusted people in South Knoxville.

And we'd no longer be a few.

We'd be overcrowded by an unstable in-crowd of our own making.

We'd have to set up a remote in the picnic pavilion out back.

Hey, wait a minute.

That sounds vaguely biblical.

Manger danger.

When the inn's unstable, the stable gets labeled a refuge for the able.

But that's a fable.

A self-deception from the false perception we're a chosen section granted God's election to see the perfection of the...


Christmas isn't about congratulating ourselves for being part of the stable few.

We're in church.

We're nowhere near a stable.

And thank goodness; they're stinky and we've got on nice clothes.

The world is so weird.

The world is crazy.

Good thing it's out there and we're in here.

In here.

Innn here.

Uh oh.

Christmas is the divine and ultimate sign that God makes a home on earth.

God makes a home even on this crazy, violent, unstable earth.

Even when the self-appointed inn-crowd has neither the time or nor the space for Baby Jesus.

With Jesus, we're all in.

All inn.

And Jesus?

He never stays stable.

He's right inn here with us.


On family vacations we'd stay at the Holiday Inn.

Green sign, fancy light bulbs.

They'd start at the top and make their way around to make the arrow and then flash in unison.



Here is your place of rest.

Here is your inn of holiday.

Air conditioning.

Color TV.




2015 and the inn of humanity is no holiday.

Our time and space is packed to the rafters.

And at the same time, vacancy.



"We live in the time of no room....

The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, power and acceleration."

"[We are] haunted by the demons of emptiness.

And out of this unutterable void come the armies, the missiles, the weapons, the bombs, the… camps, the race riots, the racist murders, and all other crimes of mass society."

The writer asks:

"Is this pessimism?

[Or] Is this the unforgivable sin of admitting what everybody really feels?"

Thomas Merton.

From Raids on the Unspeakable.


2015: Sorry, Joseph. Mary.

No room for your baby in THIS inn.


he's a child of our own birthing, a savior of our own wishes, agreeing with our viewpoints, defending every un-meditated crime.

A Yes Man for Everyman.

Not a Savior to follow.

But a savior to keep in our back pocket.

A savior we holster.

A savior of the inn-side, whatever side we're in.

But the Year 1 Jesus?

The Bible's Jesus?

The Christ of loving your enemies and selling everything you own and giving it to the poor?

From his first night, there's never been room for that Jesus at the Unstable Inn.

Merton wrote:

"Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited.

…With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.

He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst."


It always kind of bothered me that we serve Communion on Christmas Eve.

I mean, he's not even born yet, and here we are, jumping ahead to crucifixion and death.

I want to say, "Slow down, people!

"Can we not be holly-jolly for ONE night?"

I guess I want a break.

I want a holiday from the news of the Inn-ternet and the CN-Inn.

(I never really thought about those puns before).

You say, "Watch Fox." You are sly.

I guess part of me just wants to make Jesus… Santa-fied.

Good news for people who've been good.

But that Jesus would be un-stable.


He would never make it to Easter.

He would not be good tidings of great joy to all people.

He would not be good news to the poor, healing of the brokenhearted, deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty to those who are bruised.

He'd only be good news to those who fit in.

And so he makes his birthplace outside us.

But near us.

Just far enough away to be holy.

But close enough to hear our cries through the windows.


A poem by Madeline L'Engle

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace.

He came when the Heavens were unsteady,

and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.

He came when the need was deep and great.

He dined with sinners in all their grime,

turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.

In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame he came,

and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,

   to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh

the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

He came with Love:

Rejoice! Rejoice!

However unstable your inn may be, rejoice.

The Lord is come.


Madeleine L'Engle, from The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L'Engle


Monday, December 21, 2015

The How and the Wow and the Stress Right Now

2015-12-20 Lk 01 39-55

The How and the Wow and the Stress Right Now

Is anybody else kinda stressed out about Christmas? If you need to pull out your lists and check them twice during the sermon, I get it. I get the stress.

Like, this Luke passage. Yet again, a scripture I feel completely unqualified to preach. It happens a lot. But it's so blatant when I - a man - am assigned the text about not one, but two pregnant women. Thanks, Luke.

The men in this story, dads Joseph and Zechariah, are either absent or silent. Did you notice that? Joseph's gone. Where did he go? No one knows. He just disappears. He does that a lot. And Elizabeth's husband, Zechariah? Zechariah literally says so many stupid things that an angel of the Lord strikes him mute for the duration of his wife's pregnancy. And all the women are like, Go, God.

When Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth meet in the hill country, it's the women who carry the story, just as they carry within them the Savior and his messenger. With Jesus, the women are the first to get there and the last to leave. Just like church. The men wander off in the mechanical "how." But the women get the miraculous "wow". As someone with daughters in a religion that tends to be over-explained by men, some of whom could stand to be stricken mute, I think that's important.

The "wow" trumps the "how." Sometimes the plot just gets in the way of a good story. There are parts of the Bible, in particular the reproductive parts, that you really don't need to think too hard about. The begettin' and begattin' are there for legal purposes. Like the agreements on iTunes. It's OK to click, "I agree," and go straight to the music.

Mary and Elizabeth go straight to the music, to the wow, to the here and now. They might not totally get what they've agreed to, but they believe it's special. It's holy. It's something they're called to do.

It's not just me. We're all completely unqualified to tell the Christmas story. We're all completely unqualified to be characters in the Christmas story. I mean, look at what we've done to it. The season that ought to make us leap for joy stresses us out. Our incompetence is showing.

But for some reason, God keeps making us part of it, and making it part of us. Some of us are like Joseph - absent, absent-minded, absent-hearted. Some are like Zechariah - full of stuff that doesn't need to be said, or ideas we can't speak so good. And some of us are like Mary and Elizabeth - united in hope, reunited by relatives and relative experience. Everybody keeps Christmas or loses it in their own way. But Mary and Elizabeth show us a better way.

Like these women, we're all called - women, men, kids - we're all called like Mary and Elizabeth, to make our way over the hills and down the valleys. We're called to endure the abdominal somersaults for the sake of messages and messengers yet to be born. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we don't know how it's going to turn out. We just know it will. Because it does. Because God.


The cousins young and old, Mary and Elizabeth, meet in the mountains. I picture it looking like Townsend. I know that's not nationally geographically right. As long as it's not downtown Gatlinburg.

And the child in Elizabeth's tummy - who will be John the Baptist - jumps for joy because of the presence of Mary's baby who will be Jesus. The Force is strong with this one.

Elizabeth says, "Why should the mother of my Lord come to me?" Essentially, "Mary! What are you doing here?!"

Mary says, "Well. It all started like this." Actually, no. Mary doesn't explain. She doesn't get into the biology. She doesn't preach a sermon. She doesn't even talk.

She sings.

Words are the language of the mind. Music, poetry, singing - is the language of the soul. Christmas isn't about the how or the stress. It's about the soul. The heart. The spirit. The hope, peace, joy and the love.

And it goes like this:

With all my heart [, Mary sings,]

   I praise the Lord,

47 and I am glad

   because of God my Savior.

48 He cares for me,

   his humble servant.

From now on,

all people will say

   God has blessed me.

49 God All-Powerful has done

great things for me,

   and his name is holy.

50 He always shows mercy

to everyone

   who worships him.

51 The Lord has used

   his powerful arm

to scatter those

   who are proud.

52 He drags strong rulers

   from their thrones

and puts humble people

   in places of power.

53 God gives the hungry

   good things to eat,

and sends the rich away

   with nothing.

54 He helps his servant Israel

and is always merciful

   to his people.

55 The Lord made this promise

   to our ancestors,

to Abraham and his family


It could be that you look at your lists, and your bank account, and you wonder, "How am I gonna do this?"

It could be that you look at your tree that should be taller, should be four inches to the left, should have the ornaments rearranged so the hole in the branches isn't so obvious and you ask, "How am I gonna do this?"

It could be that you look at a picture, a face, remember a touch, and you sigh, "How am I gonna do this?"

I'm pretty sure Mary and Elizabeth looked at each other's tummies and wondered the same thing.

How is God gonna do all the things in Mary's song?

I do not know how.

Neither did she.

But she sang, and she rejoiced. The "how" was overcome by the "wow." Her stress, whatever that might have been, was stricken silent by the "why."

"Why does God show mercy to me, his humble servant?" Mary does not know. You don't have to know everything. You don't need to explain it all. Sometimes the heart knows enough.

Of course, Christmas is stressful. Go to the mall or Walmart this afternoon and you'll be ready to lose your religion. Be responsible if you self-medicate. There is stress right now, for so many reasons.

But there's also "wow." The coming of Christ is so much more than even his mother could imagine or say. May the unspeakable love of Christ be with you this week. And always.