Thursday, September 24, 2009

Exhaustion and Joy

I am becoming increasingly convinced that C.S. Lewis had insider information about the Devil when he wrote Screwtape Letters. He spends so much time exploring the concept of our separation from God NOT being by humongous, over the top, everyone can see you are evil sin, but in the daily wearing down of basically good men and women. People who get warn down by the tedium that is life. We become numb to the Joy that is God to the point of walking through life as Spiritual Zombies. We systematically shut down, emotionally, spiritually and eventually even physically as we succumb to hopelessness that separation for God gives. It doesn't happen all at once, we don't magically transport to a place so unrecognizable from where we were that we KNOW that the shift has happened. It happens slowly and gradually, like the color draining out of the world, occasionally we may stop and wonder if we have less joy in our lives, but we will swiftly convince ourselves that it is simply just a momentary event, that all is well and we are just having a down moment.

At this point you are probably saying to yourself something along the lines of "WOW Connie, you should really get some sleep, this is depressing as hell!" Well, it isn't meant to be depressing but a warning. BEWARE feelings of numbness! Beware joyless painless existence! Beware the colorless tasteless drudgery of everyday life and the Zombification of our Soles!!! Look each day for the presence of God! Some days it will be seen in huge, Godly ways. Flashed across the sky in a rainbow, witnessed in a worship service that speaks to your heart in a new and transforming way, but some days it may be in the breath of a tiny sleeping baby or the laughter of old friends but it is there!

I have never been a person for whom joy comes naturally.  I tend to be negative and see the dark side of most situations first. For me it is a spiritual practice to look for the good in the world.  Now, don't confuse joy with happiness! Our dear Dr. Lewis has written a thing or two about that topic as well! But for me it comes down to this, if it looks like God, tastes like God and feels like God, then it is joy! Changing a dirty diaper does NOT make me happy, but the cooing and babbling of the baby I am changing is a joy to behold. Slaving in a hot kitchen for hours to prepare a meal for many who would have gone hungry is not always much fun, but the joy that comes with the knowledge that God has used you as a means of grace for even one of the people you have served is joy. 

Without going into any details (because God knows we all have plenty of details in our lives that we can fill in at this point in the story) each and every one of us, myself included, have a laundry list of reasons to tell the world to shove off and cover ourselves in a shell of protection in an attempt to stop the pain of everyday life. It is easier to be angry and bitter then to find a new way to love each day. It is even easier still to numb ourselves out with the distractions of the world and waste our lives in endless cycles of pain and happiness (get up, go to the job we hate, come home, drink a beer, watch tv, chat on the web, go to bed, get up and repeat) We have done nothing WRONG, point is, we have done NOTHING... 

Each day we face a world that may or may not throw something at us we are not are never sure of the circumstances in which you might find yourself living. Through our own actions, the actions of others, or simply because they happen, life can change on a dime to something we never expect and that can be good as well as bad circumstances! You could win the lottery today!! Point being, in ALL circumstances we can find God, we can see God's grace to carry us through whatever the day will bring and to bring us safely to the other side of each and every situation. Christ said in so many situation "don't be afraid" on the boat in the chaos and even in the locked room in which the disciples gathered post resurrection. Even in life's good situations we have the ability to rob ourselves of that joy because of our fear of when the situation with change, when it will end. We can get through anything, it may be fun or it may not be fun, but we will have the joy of God, and as long as that is the lens through which we see the world, we will NOT be afraid!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When we ALL get to Heaven

Dedicated to Ken Silva, Chris Rosebrough and Reformata

First I would like to make clear the fact that I am not in any way shape or form some kind a mindless follower of Jay Bakker nor am I a member of any Emergence Christianity conversation.  I  have found in both an affirmation of the beliefs that my reading of Scriptures, my personal experience of God, the history of the Christian tradition and my own reason have led me too.  I have also found in so many that are “lumped together” under the umbrella of the “Emergent Church” a shared understanding of the Grace and Love of a God we serve with our lives.

I have discovered over the last few months a wonderful forum to share ideas, praise God’s presence in our lives and ....lose your cool in 140 characters. The first few weeks were enchanted, finding someone new each day who posted golden nugget after golden nugget of applicable wisdom and experience.  It was a virtual treasure trove of resources to enhance my ministry. I even had the opportunity to hook up with some like minded folk who’s ministries I had followed and learn of others that I would have never met! 

All was well in the Twitterverse...and then...A growing storm of conflict, criticism and flat out un-loving un-christian condemnation hit.  Any attempts to block or avoid conflict were met with more lightning strikes of personally painful jabs or quotation marked words used to show (sarcastically) the folly of there use (i.e. in my case “pastor” Connie Waters because the assumption is that anyone with Biblical Sense knows a woman can’t be a pastor). Any attempts to communicate directly were used as (internet source) quotes and twisted like a piece of aluminum siding in a tornado to infer half true or untrue assumptions by the author.

There are a few things that I have found interesting in reviewing these tirades...I mean blog posts. First is the assumption of being the only true “Bible Believing Christians” I have yet to see a time in which another theology was examined and found to be in any way correct.  It is only a slim sliver of the Christian community that is seen as experts or scholars. Any other credentialed expert is discounted as heretical, liberal, worldly or just plain WRONG.  

For another thing, there seems to be a tag team effort to encourage a debate. There is a continued request for debate when there is no hope of anything being learned or gained by an exchange because there is an agenda. The real intent of any exchange is to discredit the other person and show the TRUTH that is so carefully guarded and apprised. That seems to me to be like asking a bear to place it’s foot in the trap! It is also interesting how most engagements end in attempts to debate not the person they are speaking with but the “head outlawpreacher” (not that there is one) Jay Bakker. What motivation would Jay or any other person have in talking to or debating anyone who is affiliated with Reformata?  

Also, it appears that the players in this theological melodrama seem to WANT to cast themselves in a negative light. Ken Silva says in one of his wonderfully named entries that “I am well aware that they’d think I was some kind of an angry, narrow-minded fundamentalist bigot” Ok, I can only speak for myself but yes, that is how you come across dear brother in Christ, now that you recognize it I hope the Holy Spirit will help you to turn from that behavior. Even of his own “conservative evangelical leaders” Ken says “Well, I am not here to win a popularity contest;and if evangelical leaders -whose forums dwarf anything of mine - would stand up and be counted during this apostasy there wouldn’t be any need for AM, Christian Research Network, Slice of Laodicea, Etc” (Ken, there you go assuming again). Maybe they are silent not because they lack your vision and prophetic clarity on scripture but because they do not see this issue as an apostasy! appears to me that many evangelicals have embraced some of the practices and understandings of the EC! 

Another point that I find particularly irritating is Silva’s use of statements as overtly sarcastic put downs. A specific example that I can talk about was when he said, “The question is: why doesn’t Bakker, who some call a scholar, actually address the Biblical instead of marginalizing his critics as haters.” Sir, I am the one who called Pastor Bakker a scholar! And I would be honored to be quoted having said so! A Scholar is defined as “a specialist in a particular brand of study: a person who is highly educated or has an aptitude for study,” In every way Jay fits the definition, it has very little to do with alphabet soup at the end of his name and very much to do with the wisdom his ravenous reading, prayer, dialogue, life experience, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit have given him. And further more, he does not keep all of that knowledge of God in his head, he doesn’t simply read the word of God, but as all Christians are called to do, he embodies it. I have engaged him in conversation and have learned more about the Grace of God then from any PhD I know (and I know many, few of which you would recognize as scholars however)! I would not presume to speak for Jay but if it were me, it would not be the fact that I could not address the Biblical, but that as you said yourself, you do come across in a negative way and you are not going to win a popularity contest...would you want to talk to yourself the way YOU describe you? 

And as for debating Chris Rosebrough, I have real problems with that idea for anyone.  He does not even attempt to be civil, he comes across as judgmental, condescending,calculating, haughty, and a mean spirited attempt at satire in the style of Rush Limbaugh (of whom I am a fan...SEE! stop assuming!) So speaking only for myself, it is not that I (and many like me) don’t have our answers to the questions you (and those like you) have.  It is just that you have made your position clear, your hearts and minds are not open to any ideas but your own and we can choose not to engage you in something that will be harmful to both of us and to any poor unfortunate souls who happen across the conflict, it is called “taking the high road” not being scared.

Our Lord asks us to be kind, loving and deal in a spirit of Grace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I understand that each time I react to the diatribes of those who poke and prod and use Guerilla Theology ON people that I do damage to myself however, God’s grace is there for me as well, and I will ask for forgiveness for any unfair or hurtful thing that I have said.

I am not attempting to create a showdown at the OK corral, I am simply asking that all of us think what we are doing to the body of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Acknowledging that we all see only in part what we will someday see clearly! I pray for each of us,  that we can all be reconciled in the truth and someday have a good belly laugh in heaven at all the things we had wrong and marvel together in the Love and Grace of the Father who died to save us ALL!

Friday, July 17, 2009

ALL Who Believe

Galatians 3:23-29

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,* heirs according to the promise.

I have always loved this passage of scripture, it makes me feel loved and cared for by my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It reminds me that God had a plan all along to bring us into relationship with our Creator.  And it helps me know that God loves us no matter who we are or what our statue in life.

As a child I was educated in a private school of another denomination.  I was always conflicted about the teaches of a God who expected us all to be perfect and seemed to be looking for a way to send us to hell if we stepped one toe out of line.  I had a lot of fear as a child, fear of making God angry and making God not love me anymore.  But I also had a lot of questions as a child, a lot of unanswered questions as to why the same God who chose to die for us would at the same time be looking for ways to condemn us to a fiery pit? I watched over the years as many of my childhood friends made a commitment to the church, scared of their fate if they did not.  I watched as they tried to live up to the expectations their ministers preached at them.  I also watched as they began to give up, thinking that they could never live up to the standards that others seem to achieve. I could almost see their faith and hope slip away, replaced with resignation and acceptance of their condemnation. Many of them feel into self destructive patterns that affected their lives for years. It was heartbreaking to watch. Those who longed to be in God’s presence feeling unworthy and unwanted. 

It was this small passage from the book of Galatians that helped me to begin to understand the truth about Christ’s sacrificial love for us and our relationship with a God who cares for each and every one of us. When I read the words in verse 25: “But now faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian” That it hit me...Jesus came to bring us into relationship with God the Father not to add a new layer of judgement.  Verses like John 1:17 “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” and John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that ALL who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life” tell us of a God who has made provisions for reconciliation with the Divine, to reunite with us with a minimal request in return...that we believe! WOW! A God who will love me and wants to be with me even when I mess up? A God that wants to love me SO much that Jesus was willing to make a path leading straight to the Kingdom of God? Now this is a God I could understand.  The more I read this text from Galatians, the more distant my former understanding of a judgmental God became, the less bound to laws and rules, the more thankful for grace and mercy.  And the oddest thing is, I did not become someone who believes they can do anything they want... I did not fall away from my moral center just because I believe that grace is shown me everyday.  Instead of being scared that God is looking for a way to send me to hell, I am everyday seeking ways to be closer to the holy and divine image of Christ which loves God completely and loves neighbor as self. Love of God and neighbor always points us to God’s will not because of fear but because of relationship and gratitude.

The law was never meant to be used as a weapon by God to condemn us, it was a guide to help us stay in relationship with God and one another. And Grace did not come and wipe away the law but to complete it...because if we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves then we will be able to show grace and love to one another even when we aren’t perfect just as God has shown it to us. 

Lastly, We have to remember that NONE are outside the love of God, as Galatians 3:28 reminds us “ALL are one in Christ Jesus”.  It is a challenge sometimes for us to remember that God’s love is out their for everyone, the playing field is completely level for ALL who believe, even messy, sinful, lawbreakers like you and me!!



Friday, June 19, 2009

New Bridge

It is an interesting time for my family and I.  Our son has moved out on his own, we are repurposing the spaces in our home to accommodate our growing girls and businesses better, and we are living at a faster pace.  Gone are the days of afternoon naps and reading books as a family, replaced by days of racing to summer jobs and parties, spreading wings and flying off in all kinds of directions.  And for me, the Mom of this brood of adult wanna be's it is a time of bridging from one stage of life to the next. It is the same for all the other members of the family, my husband is learning how to have independant kids, my kids are learning how scary life without a net is going to be, and life changes dramatically each day for each of us.  We all have our own vantage points of this shared experience.  

From where I sit, this is an exciting time, the work and energy that I put into these kids is really paying off.  I am so proud to see how they are taking to the world, ready to conquer anything they set their minds too.  They have always been good kids, but the proof of our parenting skills will not be fully tested until they are making a living and enjoying life as well ajusted adults...THEN we will be able to sit back and say "job well done." Another excitement that almost makes me feel a little bit guilty is the fact that they don't need me as much as they used to and now I am beginning to have time for the things I want to do!  I can finish some long neglected projects and work on writing and art! It is for me a season to be productive, to create a bridge between the knowledge and experiences I have had and how I am going to spend the rest of my life.  

This brings us to the real reason I titled this blog New Bridge.  It is because of the bridge in Memphis that most folks refer to as "New Bridge".  You see, the New Bridge and I are about the same age, neither one of us is very new anymore, a lot of water has passed under both of us, yet we are both still standing.  The thing I love about the image of the not so new New Bridge is that it reminds me that there is still a lot of life left in both of us! Each day I wake up New in God's service, ready to help anyone who wants to bridge from the life that they have to a life that includes a closer journey with God.  The image of the bridge helps me remember that while I may be there to help at a time when troubled waters may be swirling underneath, I am  only a tool that assists on the journey.  Also, the bridge is always new to those who have never crossed it before, just as the not-so-new-to-me story I tell is new to those who have never heard the message or well as my story of God's presence in my life.  

New Bridge is the image that I will be carrying with me for a long while.  One that I hope will be a big part of this season of file for me as it is also the name that is being used for the community of faith that many of us are creating.  A bridge of faith that takes us from an average life of faith and helps us to cross into a life where faith is lived out daily, it every place we go.  
ALL are welcome to be a part of this community which is beginning to meet in small groups.  Bellmont Grill Wednesday Nights 8:30pm.  Tasty Buffett Sunday Nights 6:30pm.  Art/Prayer groups are being formed and also Chistian Coversations will happen once a quarter (or month if we can make enough money) on Beale Street where we can talk as Brothers and Sisters in faith worshipping and having fun talking about those things we have in common and understanding and respecting those things we don't.  Come at build a bridge in your life with us.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Michael Wayne Cullens, Minister of God's Word

I Timothy 4:11 Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you are young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.

Sometimes we can learn more by listening to those who are younger than we are then we can teach them. I have lived this over and over again as I have worked with children and young adults.

In my time as pastor of Hyde Park UMC in Covington, I had the privilege of knowing a teenaged boy named Michael Wayne Cullens. Michael met me at the door with a wide grin and a shock of red hair, I immediately liked him because he just looked so darn much like Mickey Rooney from the Andy Hardy movies I watched as a child. He was always there to do any odd job we needed done at the church, and he ran the “digital demon” which was the malfunctioning digital hymnal the church used because the pianist had past away and no other was available. He had always lived with the grandparents, and he was known by everyone within walking distance.
The church was full of widowed women who had raised their families in that church and now they raised Michael and he loved them all. Michael always had a call to ministry, I would let him help with worship and the ladies would just beam with pride as he mispronounced Psalms (Pu-Salms) and struggled through his first few times to deliver the message. I have many fond memories of watching him grow. Miss Velma told me recently that when Michael started bringing Jessica, age 14, to church with him she thought they sat a little to close. But they where there, together, every Sunday from then on.

It pained me to leave that church, but we did stay in touch with many including Michael and Jessica who began teaching the younger children after I left. Michael talked to anyone who would listen, and helped anyone who needed it. In the poor part of town surrounded by housing projects and drugs, there was never a lack of folks who needed to talk. Michael stayed true to God’s call on his life and never became a victim of the temptations that so many of the young folks around him did.

In November of 2007 Michael’s leg broke. The x-ray showed that a tumor had all but replaced the bone, the leg had to be removed if there was any hope at all of saving his life. With a minister on each side of his bed, Michael told us, “ It is all going to be okay, I will be here as long as God needs me to be.” Michael, with Jessica by his side every day, counseled other kids with bone cancer, spoke at churches and gave his witness, and shared with us the wisdom that comes from trusting God so completely each day that you can praise God even in the midst of your own physical pain. His faith is the faith that we all aspire to have and many of us work twice as long to have half as much.
February 14, Michael and Jessica married in spite of the prognosis. There was laughing and smiles, and tears of joy. They lived every day together to the fullest. Michael passed away April 21st.
At Michael's funeral, Rev. Mike Jeffers said something on behalf of those of us who served as Michael’s pastors. “There was a point for all of us at which we stopped being Michael’s teacher, and he started being ours. He gave us comfort and reminded us of the healing God brings us in eternity.” Michael may have left us here, but he left with us a witness that will live on much longer then the 21 years he lived on this earth. I thank God for having been blessed to know him, and for being given the opportunity to share in his story.

Friday, March 27, 2009


It is a strange thing but there are points in your life in which you come to the realization that you have drifted too far from where you thought you were going.  You're not always sure exactly how it happened but if you think back far enough you can kinda remember how it started.  My son just learned this the hard way with his checking account.  It was a simple enough mistake, a tiny overdraft, but by the time he realized that the deposit he made had automatically been used to pay the overdraft fees, he had bounced more transactions,this time to the tune of $320 in fees alone.  It took time and energy to track down where the mistake began and then there was the fact that it would take him weeks of work to pay off the fees that accured! Thank God for an understanding bank who saw what had happened and forgave the fees and gave him a fresh start with a new understanding of the importance of the little daily things.  We don't always get those breaks in life, those moments that our mistakes magically reset themselves and we get a cosmic do-over.  Most times we have to find a way to walk back to the path through the underbrush and mud. How do you and I fight the depression that occurs when we realize what a tough walk we have ahead? 

I think sometimes we have to  just keep our goal ever before us. Don't spend as much time looking back at where we where, but look at the progress we are making towards where we want to be.  For me, it is like those last few miles of a road trip. The promise of MY shower and MY bed keeps me going, I keep focused on the tangible reward at the end of the journey.  It is amazing what we human being can do if we focus on the task ahead of us.  

As an artist and a minister it is always a challenge for me to balance my need for solitude and study with my call to be of service in a hurting world.  I haven't been doing well lately at all! And I believe it is beginning to show in my work.  The less time I spend feeding my spirit the less effective I become at feeding others and the effect is like my son's checking account, my body writes checks that my spritual reserves just can't cash! 

Sometimes the checks are to big to correct easily. In those cases, time apart may give you a place to plan how to get back on track, not give you time to forget the problem, but to pray for recommitment to the goal and refocusing on God's will for your life.  Just always remember that God can use you in any circumstances you find yourself, even when it is the mud and mire on the side of the path you never meant to travel.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Endings and Beginnings

Closing out the old year and beginning a new one is always lots of fun!  We run non-stop from Thanksgiving until New Years Day (which I usually spend in my Pajamas locked in my house, bone tired).  I usually spend some time that day looking back on all the things I have done in the year past and looking forward to the year to come which is a blank slate of possibilities. For an artist, this is similar to the excitement of a new sketch book, all white and empty ready to be filled with thoughts, dreams, plans, but also knowing that sometimes tears, anger or disappointment will fill some of the pages.  The thing I have found over the years is that when the sketchbook is full and you look back, you see the beauty of it as a whole, including the darker pages which creates what we call “contrast.”  See, you can’t really notice the “highlights” without the “lowlights.” I believe God set it up that way!  

Almost everyone has seen the work of Thomas Kinkade, “the painter of light”, I’ll tell you a secret, all in the world he does is balance his lights and darks to draw your attention to the light! He does it masterfully! You could also do the opposite and call attention to the darkness.  It is a balancing act to have both light and dark and not allow the darkness to take over.  Our reflections on our year and on our Spiritual journey are the same exact way.  We paint our lives in ways that draw attention to the Light of God or to the darkness of life’s journey.  For some of us, the ability to look on the light side of life comes naturally but for others of us, it takes much energy, discipline and practice not to fall head first into the darkness.  Which ever way you are wired, it takes practice and intentionality not to lean to far in the direction that is most natural for you.  You have to feel the bad stuff in life, you can not live life fully without pain, but you can't live a life of nothing but pain either. So learn to acknowledge the darkness in life, but also learn to glorifiy God in those times in which peace passes all understanding, not being thankful FOR all things you have to go through but thanking God IN all situations you find yourself.  As you learn to be aware of the balance of light and dark you will also find that you will glow with Light though the darkness.