Monday, April 29, 2013

Do you take cream and sugar?

Photo by Benjamin Getz
Do you start your day with a fresh brew of coffee? 

As you may know, I am a self-proclaimed Starbucks addict. I am not sure when my fascination with the brand began, but I rarely miss a day, which is why some years back they sent me a “Gold” Starbucks card engraved with my name.

As a child, I watched an early television show called “I Remember Mama.” It was produced by Maxwell House Coffee, which they promised was good to the very last drop. Later, Joe Dimaggio came along and peddled Mr. Coffee machines. Today we have a Keurig in our kitchen. A fancy little thing that allows you to make just one cup at a time. I rarely ever use it, but Corrine loves it.

The other day, NPR had a little segment with author Mark Pendergast about his book, Uncommon Grounds: The history of coffee and how it changed the world. It was a fascinating interview! I never realized all of the social, political and economic complexities associated with a cup of coffee.  

The truth is that I haven't read the book and its five hundred pages, but my interest was piqued by some of the quick snippets from the interview. It’s reported that John Adams, following the Boston Tea Party, wrote to his wife proclaiming his love of tea and lamenting that he would have to learn to embrace coffee instead, because drinking tea had become unpatriotic.

Apparently coffee also started to sober up America by replacing taverns with coffee shops. In fact, some of our early ancestors would begin the day with beer soup and continue drinking all day. Coffee shops soon developed into socially acceptable places to gather with friends and colleagues, instead of “Ye Ole Tavern.”

There is also a dark side to the coffee industry, which historically involved slavery and other injustices. Pendergast noted that coffee laborers earn an average of only $3 a day. Seems there is still a bitter taste about the poor treatment of coffee growers in the world. That is why there are many proponents for what is called Fair Trade coffee, which attempts to balance the scales of justice for coffee growers.

But what is Fair Trade? In a Fair Trade system, producers receive a fair price that allows for a living wage. There’s also a serious prohibition against forced and exploitative child labor. It puts the value of people over the mad grab for a cup of Joe.

I checked to see what kind of coffee we brew at Sardis. It’s not Fair Trade. We actually did a study in 2008 about the merit of Fair Trade and made the switch. But then we stopped using it. Many church members had complained about the taste, and others found it inconvenient to prepare because it didn't come in pre-measured packages. And it was a little more expensive.

I wonder if we might not want to revisit Fair Trade certified coffee to see if there are some “taste” improvements and give it a try again.

Gosh, never knew there was so much that went into a cup of coffee, other than cream and sugar… 

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Hidden World

There are many blogging voices out there in the technological gristmill. In the past week, most of them have been sad and tragic, reflecting on the loss of lives and injuries in Boston or the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. I think JJ said it well, when on Monday we posted on Facebook, “Our hearts are in Boston, our hope is in Christ.” The same can be said for West, Texas, too.

Of course, in every city, small town and community all across America tears are shed daily as individuals and families experience the hurts and disappointment of life. Their stories don’t make the evening news.

I have the good fortune of being in touch with a number of young ministers who are just starting their journey of faith as pastors.  They call me and ask for advice.  I sort of feel like the veteran Paul who encouraged young Timothy as he was still wet behind his theological ears.   It’s nice to know your experience can help another, which is why there is a quiet joy that comes when you have the opportunity to mentor those who will pick up the mantle once you are long gone. 

I have had some great mentors in my life. I owe them all a round of applause. As you look back over your life and pause to ponder those who helped you along the way, can you still see their faces and hear their voices echoing with sound advice?

I will never forget hearing Morgan Roberts talk about the difference between the “Seen World and the Hidden World.” The seen world is easy to spot. In my case, as I peer out from the pulpit each Sunday I can see all of you. And you look so neat and nice and beautiful, which you are. That is the seen world.

But there is the hidden world in each of us. It is that world that lies beneath the surface of the seen world. The hidden world is the one we try to hide from each other. The argument you had with your teenagers in the driveway as you were leaving for worship. The anxiety that your marriage is coming apart at the seams. The fear in waiting for the lab report. The heartache of a loved one in emotional or physical pain. There are as many tears as there are people in the world. And so I tell those young preachers who seek my guidance, “look at the hidden world, and preach to the hidden world.” 

I encourage them never to forget that on every pew there is at least one broken heart. I tell them to remember what Ian Maclaren said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

The tragedies of this week remind us of the importance of kindness. The importance of taking time to show you care. The importance of saying “I love you” each time a family member leaves for work or school or to run in the Boston Marathon.

We have experienced so much of the “Seen World” this week. But even more important is how we encounter the “Hidden World.”

Monday, April 15, 2013

Just a trim, please

This sketch appears courtesy of Emory Cash
I’m not a fan of preachers who love to parade their literary skills by alerting everyone to the latest book they’ve read. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think preachers ought to be reading constantly, but a book report should never replace a sermon. Not even sure it belongs in a blog, but I am still a neophyte with all this blogging stuff, so forgive me.

Having placed my cards on the table, I want to share a thought that has been marinating in my mind about a character in a book I have just read–Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. It was recommended to me by two of my closest and dearest friends, Belden Lane and William Davis.  

Belden, William and I were in seminary together. Met the first day when Corrine and I pulled up to our seminary apartment in a rented U-Haul. They helped us unload our belongings up to the second floor. We became instant friends.

We always knew that Belden’s dream was to teach. After he received his PhD, he landed a gig at St. Louis University as a full time professor of historical theology. He spent his entire time there teaching students and shaping their lives.

William, on the other hand, started out chasing his dream to be a preacher. Interestingly, by graduation he had reached the conclusion that he did not want to be in a church. No clergy robe for him. It was an easy decision for him, but the hard part was telling family and friends that he was opting out of ministry even before he started.

The same sort of thing happens to Jayber Crow. Primed to be a preacher, he instead becomes a barber in a little town. He trades his Bible for a pair of clippers and a comb. Funny thing in the story is how he ministers to all sorts of people from behind the barber chair. He listens to their stories, hears them when they brag about their success and nods as they sort out all the world’s problems.  

The best thing about Jayber is that he is a wonderful friend to all in the town–seeing them in their "human goodness and frailty." It’s no surprise that his barbershop becomes a sanctuary. Without even knowing it, he turns out to be the town’s pastor and does a world better than any of the preachers in town. Customers always get more than a trim when they enter his shop.

Like I said, my friend William never became ordained. But after watching him all these years, I’ve realized he’s like Jayber Crow. He’s ministered to more people than any preacher. He does it by being a friend, by listening, by understanding, by seeing the goodness in everyone.  

Jesus said, “You are my friends.” Pretty amazing theological premise if you think about it. The very Son of God calls you his friend...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fashion 101

There’s a lot of change happening these days in worship; not only in style and music but also in how people dress for worship. Have you noticed?

Lots of folks were raised to wear their “Sunday best” when they went to church. Still holds true for many churches and worshippers. I remember when the ushers at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian in New York City wore tuxedos with tails and white gloves. I recall once overhearing an older Sardis saint remind a young usher to button his suit jacket when he was taking up the offering. And women were told never to wear slacks to church. All that has changed hasn’t it?

We are making a change in attire for our ushers, greeters and preachers at our 9am worship service. Those working on designing a more contemporary worship service have recommended making the service less formal. So we will be encouraging our ushers and greeters not to wear suits and ties, and I will follow suit, or I should say, follow their lead, too. No tie for me at 9. Not really sure what I will don each week–probably a sport jacket, but no tie.

At the 11am service I'm making a change in the other direction. I will still wear my clergy robe but will wear a clerical collar, which is what I wore when I first came to the land of grits. The original thought behind wearing a simple clergy robe was to not call attention to yourself and have folks critique your fashion IQ each week. Still makes sense to me.

Do you think God has a dress code for worship? Does God have fashion police or in his case, fashion angels? Does it matter what you wear to worship? 

The answer is a resounding YES.

In Colossians 3, we find instructions to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience….and above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” That’s a pretty simple dress code.

So it does matter what you wear to worship, but it has nothing to do with designer labels, silk ties, flip flops or blue jeans. Love is your biggest fashion statement. 

It’s what we all need to wear to worship.