How many does it take?

A friend of mine won’t drive in one of the Mid-Cities because he got a ticket there once.89-Traffic-Tickets

Another friend had a bad experience with a city inspector once regarding a small repair job on his backyard fence. It required a permit. Why does a city require you to get a permit to repair your own fence?

I swore off pediatric dentists for years after taking my first child to one who, it seemed, built a rapport with children by strapping them into the dental chair.

Here’s the challenge of living life that way, though: how many people does it take to convince you to give up something completely?

Some of us have met one person of a particular faith and read that person’s behavior or intentions onto the entire faith.

Do you live your faith in a way that you’d want someone to do that with you?

Some of us have read something about a country, a city, a generation of people, a sport, a book, a band, you name it, and formed a bias based entirely on one experience.

And that experience doesn’t even have to be our own.

I don’t always give a good first impression, so I hope others will be more gracious with me than I sometimes am with them.


The only burger that ever changed my life

IHOP is changing their name to IHOB. “Burger” over “Pancake,” they think, will create some buzz and hopefully traffic and sales.

I’ve had a lot of burgers over the years. In fact, I had a really good one last night at Milo all day. I like burgers

But only 1 burger ever changed my life.

I read in USA Today this morning that IHOB’s move is referred to as a “spray and pray,” in the marketing world. Spray some new thing out there and pray it works.

If it includes prayer, it gets my attention. IHOB is praying you’ll try and like their burgers.

The “spray and pray” thing also describes an evangelism model used by many churches and Christians. Spray some message out there, and pray it’ll stick somewhere.

I’ve had a lot of burgers, but only one of them ever changed my life. And it didn’t change me by pray and spray.

It was McDonald’s. Specifically, McDonald’s 4757 in Spring. Also specifically, owner-operator Jeff Scott.

I showed up for orientation at the time I’d been told, only to find out everyone who would have led my orientation was in a managers meeting.

It so happened that Jeff Scott was there, so he started my orientation with a lot pick-up. So the owner-operator walked the lot with me and we picked up trash. Both of us picked up trash.

He explained how important the customer’s experience was, and that it started on the approach to the store.

McDonald’s went on to change my life. Much of what I learned there about Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value have deeply impacted my call and my ministry.

A name change didn’t do it. “Spray and pray” didn’t do it. But 1 burger has made a big difference in my life.

A reflection on my inability to help.

I’ll try to help just about anyone. Sometimes to my own detriment. I’m not bragging here; my motivation may be a desire to please God (sometimes based on residual ideas that unless I do good God won’t love me) or it may be to get noticed.

Can I confess here that sometimes when I bend down to pick up some litter, I imagine someone noticing me and running to me to reward me with a secret prize of thousands of dollars?

I’m a peacemaker, so I want everyone to be happy. Some say this is by virtue of being a middle child. I don’t know. But I do know this is part of who I am.

So, this week, when we got a call at the church from someone “just needing to talk to a pastor,” I was happy to take the call.

(When this kind of thing happens, I have on occasion, imagined myself putting on a cape, ready to fly into service.)

We spoke briefly on the phone, and then we scheduled a time in the afternoon when they would come by and talk. “I just need someone to talk to. I don’t want any money,” they insisted.

As they arrived about 30 minutes after the time we had set, I started the conversation a bit on the frustrated side. That faded quickly as I listened to their story.

They were angry with God. “Ok, I offered: it’s ok to be angry with God. God can handle that,” I said, with my best reassuring tone.

As the conversation continued I found myself asking for clarification more and more. Finally, it came down to me saying this:

You have insisted several times that you do not want money. But what I’m hearing is the one thing you really want is for me to go over to the hotel and pay for a couple of nights for you.

No, they insisted, they don’t ask for help. What’s more, I was reminded (the person had said this several times before), they are a straight talker and can’t stand when people talk around what they want.

We had reached an impasse.

This person was telling me, rather clearly, what they wanted. They were, at the same time, both refusing that they were telling me, and that these things were what they wanted.

I offered them free pickings from our food pantry, and they left shortly thereafter. I felt we had both missed an opportunity.

Sometimes I have convinced myself that I have given God, or friends, or loved ones, the skinny on exactly what I want or need. The look I get in return, though, tells me otherwise.

Outrage outrages me! #irony

It is Annual Conference Season in United Methodism. Pretty sure #UMC has been lit UP for a few weeks now.

In case you missed the brouhaha last week, someone planning worship in one of our Annual Conference’s worship services substituted “Creator” for “Father” in the use of one of our historic creeds.Angry businessman shouting on smartphone

I don’t want to debate this decision here. There was more than enough of that last week.

Which is my concern. The cacophony of concern raised immediately and the volume of vehemence across the connection sadly supports the contention of some that we are not a united United Methodist Church.

This will be no surprise, but the American part of the United Methodist Church at least, seems eager and looking for something to display outrage about.

This time it’s a word change in a creed. Last time it was one pastor’s reflections on the doctrine of the Trinity. Or was the last time one Bishop’s statement in support of current Disciplinary language.

It’s so hard to keep all our outrages in order!

Actually, it might be easier for me to keep all these outrages in order if doing so was of value to me. But it’s not.

I don’t have the energy to commit to cataloging outrages – either mine or someone else’s; much less all of them.

Maybe I am missing the point. Maybe the ONE thing that unites The United Methodist Church is our willingness, our eagerness to be outraged about something, anything.

If that’s true, it is really hard for me to see Jesus in that; in us. In addition to our hunger for outrage, we all agree that Jesus meant it when he said

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” -John 13:34-35

So my compatibilist and non-compatibilist, my tradition and progressive sisters and brothers, can we do this in love?

If your first answer is any form of “I will if they will,” you’re missing the point.

Yes and No

“Are you still in the Dallas area?” I was asked at a wedding reception in Nacogdoches over the weekend.

My imYes No Signpost Showing Indecision Choosing And Dilemmamediate thought, my most natural answer was, “no.” I’m not in the Dallas area. I serve in Euless, which is in Tarrant County, and, more importantly, in the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Dallas is in the North Texas Conference.

But this man isn’t United Methodist. Had he said, “DFW,” I am fairly sure I wouldn’t have thought twice before saying, “yes.” But he didn’t, so it took me a second to gauge the context. I then answered, “yes.”

Both answers “yes” and “no” were truthful answers depending on the context. If I had been asked “Are you in the Dallas area?” by a United Methodist who was, with that question, asking what conference I was part of, answering “yes” would have been misleading.

Are there questions to which you could answer either “yes” or “no truthfully?

Is God like this? Part 2

A good friend and teacher in our church‘s preschool shared this story with me the other day. She overheard one child talking to another child:

You had better stop doing that, or Pastor Steve will find out and come and put you in Time Out!

Here’s the deal: we have about 190 kids in our preschool, and I have never put any of them in Time Out. Nor have I ever even been involved with discipline of any of them. Well, not since last year, when one of the preschool children also happened to be my son. But that’s a different story.

The presenting story today is that children, most of whom are not part of our church, see me, the pastor, as a (maybe) omniscient disciplinarian even though they have never experienced me in this way.

Children are impressionable!

I don’t think they’re the only ones who let their understanding of people in authority, people in power sway their understanding of God, and, thus, their ability to experience God.

Is God like this?

When I climb the stairs in our house to check on our kids, I usually don’t announce myself. It’s not that i want to catch them doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I would just as soon catch them doing something they should be doing.Man-Walking-Up-the-Stairs 2

In fact, I would prefer the latter.

But I still show up unannounced. And regularly, I surprise them.

And sometimes, they are (or one of them is) doing something they wouldn’t be doing if they knew I was watching.

I recalled one time, having just surprised them, that children learn much of their understanding and ideas of who God is and what God is like from their early relationship with their parents.

Which has made me reconsider my stealthy approaches.

I don’t want to give my children the idea either that God is sneaky or that God operates by surveillance. These seem to me to be training them to live by shame, or the avoidance of shame.

I don’t get the impression that this is God’s primary posture towards us. In fact, in Genesis 3, right after the incident with the serpent and the fruit, God is walking in the garden, we are told.

NOT sneaking up on the humans.

And the man and women hear God coming and hide.

God calls out to them, giving them the opportunity to approach God, to come to God, to enter a conversation with God. And God does NOT shame them.

I’m going to be more careful  abotu how I approach my children.