Saturday, June 16, 2018

Our 2018 Sailing Adventure Begins…

At 4:30 AM, my alarm sounded. It did not wake me to begin my family sailing trip. It went off so that I could begin my trip from Texas to Virginia. I attended the 2018 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Dallas. It was very good. But, my return travel date coincided with the first day of my family vacation. 

My traveling companion and fellow minister Will Brown and I rode took a flight to Charlottesville, connecting through Atlanta. Each flight was uneventful—as is ideal. When we reached Charlottesville, my vacation began! 

Melanie, Dean, and Eddy picked me up from the Charlottesville airport in the early afternoon, and our fraternity of four was off! We drove to Deltaville. Our boat is a 1985 Beneteau First 29. It is 29.67’ long and 9.75’ wide. It has two cabins, a v-berth forward where one of my sons sleeps. The other is an aft-cabin with a large berth for Melanie and me. My other son sleeps in the main saloon where there are two settees, a small galley, and a navigation table. There is also a small head. We named the boat Life on Mars and it is configured as a masthead sloop. There is a mainsail and genoa. In light wind, we fly an asymmetrical spinnaker. 

Boats like to sail. They do not like to be left alone at the dock or in dry storage. Using them means they are ready to be used. Over the last four years, we have undertaken project after project to repair or improve the boat. Throughout it all, we sailed the boat. That informed each project or improvement. For example, when we considered where to put a cup holder, we knew from experience where we wanted one. 

After moving to Charlottesville in 2017, we left Life on Mars in dry storage while we acclimated to our new life. In early 2018, we began getting the boat ready for the next sailing season. We attacked any deferred maintenance (fuel and oil filters, bottom paint, new zinc, and more). We repaired a de-zincified stern tube. Melanie installed a new headliner. She also recovered the cushions in the cabin. We put in a new chartplotter and two sets of rope clutches and deck organizers. 

In May, the boat seemed ready! One Friday, I tested its readiness by showing up, shoving off, and sailing to Tangier Island. Everything worked! The boat was amazing. So, when June 16 arrived and my family picked me up from the airport, we slipped our dock lines within an hour of reaching the boat. 

The sun set today at 8:30 PM, so we planned a conservative first day’s run. We left Deltaville and have the intention of circumnavigating the Delmarva Peninsula. Even though it would be great to complete the circumnavigation, we are prepared to enjoy wherever the winds take us this week. We could encounter weather or mechanical delays. If so, we are fine. We are here for the adventure. 

We left Deltaville and sailed out the mouth of the Rappahannock River. We turned northward in 18 knots of SSE wind. Under mainsail alone, we made over 6 knots as we rounded Windmill Point. We knew sunset was approaching, so we turned slightly westward and headed to Indian Creek. Eight years ago, we kept the Tortoise Revenge, a boat we lived on in Puerto Rico, at Dick O’Neil’s house on Bells Creek, off Indian Creek. When we first moved to Kilmarnock, we sailed often from Dick’s house. When Dean started sailing an opti, we taught him to sail on Bells Creek. He would sail out to the red number “6” marker on Indian Creek. Later, we had a Flying Scot and sailed it regularly in these waters. 


Tonight, Life on Mars rides gently at her anchor in Bells Creek. She is protected from the SSE breeze. Melanie made a wonderful salad for dinner. We have our supplies stowed. And, we are ready for what the week holds. Life is an adventure. Each day is a gift. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

CBF General Assembly 2018

I am attending my first Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) General Assembly. It is 2018 and CBF has had me on their mailing list since 1992. Over the years, I have attended state Baptist gatherings and recently went to my first Alliance of Baptist gathering. But, I have never been to the big, annual meeting of the CBF before. 

There are booths representing fair trade coffee, Baptist Women in Ministry, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, seminaries and divinity schools, church-related services, and more. There are sessions covering a wide variety of contemporary issues. Some sound useful; others do not. Some are well-planned and well-executed; others are not. Worship is a significant part of the event. And, the worship is fantastic. Before the official events started, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists held a worship Service. It was fantastic. 

Seeing old friends and making new ones plays a significant role in gatherings like this. These friendships are part of the richness of being in the family of Christ. Over the years, annual gatherings provide an opportunity to check-in on one another’s lives. Social media makes it easier to keep track of where friends live and what they are doing. But, being in one another’s physical presence deepens the relationships. 

When we gather as a diverse group of Baptists, we can learn about what Baptist-oriented Christians are doing in different places. What music are they using? Are there new hymns? If my church has one style of worship, a gathering like this allows me to experience other styles of worship. What liturgies do people use? Some are good and worth taking home. Others might have sounded good in someone’s mind but did not feel right in worship. Being together and worshiping allows for experimentation and sharing. 

One new experience for me was a story slam sponsored by Baptist News Global. The event highlighted empowering women. Six women told stories in the vein of The Moth Radio Hour—a storytelling show on NPR. The women’s stories were funny, heartbreaking, and powerful. They helped me better understand the experience of women in ministry. One woman told about the gut-wrenching time her boss told her to “smile more” after making an off-color, slightly misogynistic comment. She shared about what was going through her mind—lunch. She was trying to decide what to have for lunch. Instead of confronting the micro-aggression, she decided to have a hamburger for lunch. It was a strong choice to ignore the negative and focus on what was positive and good. 

What am I taking away from my first CBF General Assembly? This is a group of my friends, and they love Jesus. They do not have a more genuine affection for God than other Christian groups, but this is my group. We share ideas and that helps me see my own church with fresh eyes. We worship together. We encourage one another. We partner together to do God’s work. And, in a year, we will get together again. 


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Getting Ready for Summer

Each season brings new challenges and opportunities. As May winds to a close, we move closer to summer. What will the next season hold for you? What challenges lie ahead? What opportunities? Will there be vacations, or will a lack of time or money stand in the way of respite? Regardless of what the summer brings, each of us must get ready for it.
Getting ready for something is a shared experience. Everyone has to get ready for something. Many people get ready for work or school each day. Others get ready to go out, or to stay in. When preparing to take a summer vacation, we do various things to prepare. For example, it might involve a reservation and it requires packing a bag. 
In each case, getting ready means thinking ahead. To pack for a trip means thinking about what will happen. What is the weather where you are going? It might be warm at home, but if the destination is cooler, a light jacket would be nice. What is the dress code? What are the activities? The answers to these questions determine whether a suit, a bathing suit, or golf clubs are appropriate. 
We get ready for summer or for a trip by thinking ahead. What about the bigger picture? What about life at University Baptist? How do we prepare the church for 5, 10, or 20 years in the future? What are we doing today to get ready? Are we adjusting the way we function as a church to get ready for what is next? JARC is considering how the church’s constitution and bylaws reflect who we are. But, each of us can take part in this kind of thinking ahead. 
Philippians 3:20 reminds us that our “citizenship is in heaven,” but we do not stop life while we wait for eternity. Each day is a gift and an opportunity to get ready for what is next. Where will the church be in the future? If you do not imagine that you will still be around in 20-30 years, are you making provisions for the church in your will? 
The decisions we make today will have an enormous impact on the future. We can make decisions to prepare the way for what God has in store for Charlottesville. How will discipleship, faith formation, worship, music, and multigenerational ministry look in the future? Dreaming about what is to come and listening to God in prayer can open us to the work of the Holy Spirit. Then, we get to experience the joy of being part of God’s work. 



Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: A Plastic Ocean (2016)

The world faces peril and needs heroes. It does not need the Avengers or some other superhero. Plastic spreads like an insidious virus over the planet. In the ocean, the waves, sunlight, and wind break plastics into smaller and smaller pieces. Then, the tiny pieces act as magnets for harmful chemicals. Tiny fish eat the bits of plastic and it moves up the food chain. 
A Plastic Ocean (Dir. Craig Leeson, 2016) introduces Craig Leeson and Tanya Streeter. The two hosts of this documentary take viewers on a world tour of the impact of plastic. It’s everywhere. And, it feels overwhelming. They showed how plastic works its way into the digestive systems of fish, birds, mammals, and humans. The negative impact is incredible.
Why? This is a question a bit beyond the scope of the documentary. They focus on the science. They provide ample evidence to support their argument that plastics are ruining the planet. In one scene, Craig Leeson visits a variety of restaurants around Austin, TX. He asks for packaging that does not contain plastic. As expected, the wage-workers are mostly unable to comply. There are a few exceptions. The video is a bit unfair to the workers who are just trying to do their job. His point is well-made. The reason there is so much plastic in the ocean is the lack of available alternatives. Hence, when everything we buy is wrapped in plastic, the plastic has to go somewhere. 
In Germany, through a combination of government intervention and enterprise, turning waste to energy is economically viable. On U.S. aircraft carriers, a Canadian company called PyroGenesis uses a plasma torch to turn waste to its base elements. The byproduct is inert and the waste generates the energy needed to power the torch. 
Watching these examples gave me hope. I started imagining a ship sifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to collect resources for some future plastic-hungry technology. Jürgen Moltmann said, “Faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.” As I felt hopeful, my restlessness increased. Why can’t we get started?!? I do not know. 
Precious Plastic provides instructions for micro-plastic recycling plants. Think garage-sized. It is a network of plastic activists who fight to take plastic out of landfills (& oceans!!!) and recycle it for future use. A French company called Brikawooddesigned a Lego-style wood-brick house. Now, if we combine Precious Plastic and Brikawood, we get a plastic home. (Do you see where I am going?) Using 3D printing, making plastic bricks, waste plastic could solve homelessness. If this were successful, then there would be a new plastic-hungry business, and maybe there will be ships jockeying for space in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 
The documentary ends with the challenge to “Think reusable, not disposable” and “Refuse single-use plastics.” The first is easier than the second. We went to the grocery store this afternoon. We took our own bags with us. However, most of the products include plastic. In this review, I have not addressed the chemicals (e.g. BPA) that seep into food or beverages. The two final challenges are aspirational. When we begin demanding that stores provide plastic-free packaging options, they will exist. Stores respond to market demands.  
A Plastic Ocean was an inspirational and encouraging documentary. I recommend everyone watch it and think about all the plastic in our lives. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Significant Things

[This is from The Word--the weekly newseltter at University Baptist Church]
Last week, in this column, I asked, “What is the most important question in the world today?” The point of the question is to stimulate our thought. We can explore questions like these together. As we explore, we can invite other people to join the voyage of discovery with us.  
The church is a place of significant things. We come to church at important times of life. We come for weddings and funerals. We experience baptism and celebrations. And, if we open our hearts, we can find God at church.
So, what is the most important question? How can we transcend those significant events (i.e. baptism or funerals) and experience transformation? This is a quest for meaning and relevance. What means the most to the most people? What question challenges everyone? What question has universal implications?
Ecclesiastes 5:1 says, “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools.” Richard Foster talks about this “sacrifice of fools” in Celebrating Discipline. He writes, “The sacrifice of fools is humanly initiated religious talk” (p. 99). Instead of making a sacrifice of fools, we can seek true faith in God. Instead of human-focused religion, we can look for transformation. Asking about important questions and significant things is part of the journey toward transformation.
We are blessed and cursed with activities. In the last four weeks, we have hosted an academic lecture series and held multiple Holy Week worship services. There was a family work day. The first pre-OIAM event went wonderfully at Community Bikes (and provided a witness for Christ in an unlikely place). We joined together for a world trade simulation to experience social (in)justice. Jubilate performed a homecoming concert, and we are only days from the 45th Jubilate Reunion Weekend!
Are all of these activities life-giving? Or, do we succumb to the temptation of organized religion? Do we veer dangerously close to a sacrifice of fools? The youth are planning an upcoming worship service and told me that they want something meaningful. I do too! Every week, worship should be meaningful and life-giving. Each activity should celebrate our risen savior and reflect God’s light in the world.
Let us continue exploring significant things. Let us create a safe place to pursue these important questions, other people will join us in our pursuit. Let us make an honest assessment of our activities. If we find one that is not life-giving or transformative, let us seek to recreate it or let it go. These are exciting times to join God’s work in Charlottesville! I cannot wait to see where God leads us!


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Pause and See Christ This Holy Week

Jesus stepped away from the crowds. He took time to reflect and pray. His time in solitude gave him the space to recharge and prepare for what is next. Each one of us goes through seasons in life. We have busy times. We have slow times. We have intense periods, and there are peace-filled days. The ebb and flow of life is unique to each person. So, there is no one-size-fits-all spirituality.
Jesus responded to his situation. From the Bible, we know about his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. But, we do not know how he prayed earlier in the week. Did he struggle? Did he experience stress about the swelling tide of public frustration with the Roman oppressors? How did he see his role in public discourse leading up to Passover?
According to Mark 13:32-33, Jesus says, “But about the day or hour no one knows… Beware. Keep alert. For you do not know when the time will come.” He admits a lack of clairvoyance. Yet, he remains attuned to God’s leading. The events of the week unfold. Judas betrays Jesus. The rest of his disciples desert him. He faces abuse and a mock trial alone. And, he dies on a cross alone.
Was he surprised? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps he knew that his path would lead to death. He foretold his death in Mark 10:33. Perhaps he knew he would die for what he taught, but he might not have known when. Maybe he knew exactly what was going to happen when. We cannot truly know the mind of Christ. Only God knows.
We can, however, pause and see Christ. We can follow his journey. We can feel the pang of betrayal when Judas misunderstands everything and accepts the silver. We can listen in on the joy of Jesus and his closest friends having Seder together. Was there a child present to ask the traditional question, “Why is this night different?” Later that evening, we can experience the loneliness of Jesus in Gethsemane.
Mark 14-15 takes us on this journey. Let us pause this week. Turn off the news. Forget the latest sporting victory or tragedy. Step away from social media. Take a break from work. Open the Bible. Read carefully the events of Holy Week. Do not jump ahead to Mark 16. Save it for Sunday. 
Holy Week can be difficult. Going through it with Jesus makes Easter a richer experience.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reflections from the Early Church: Athanasius



People called Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373) the “Father of Orthodoxy” in his lifetime. As contemporary Christians, we can learn much from these parents of the early church. They lived in the second and third centuries and faced different questions than we do today. But, the lessons they taught and the way they responded to heresies helped shape the faith we have today.
The First Council of Nicaea (325) required the Bishop of Alexandria to set the date of Easter each year. They did this through Festal Letters. As Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius wrote many such letters. These letters provided the opportunity to make a theological argument. Today, we can read them as devotions and find encouragement for our faith journeys.
In Athanasius’ nineteenth letter (347) he encourages his readers to hold frequent conversations with “our Master.” This invokes Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray always.” Athanasius adds a metaphor.
For the world is like the sea to us… “This is the great and wide sea, there go the ships; the Leviathan, which You have created to play therein” [Psalm 104:26]. We float on this sea, as with the wind, through our own free-will, for each directs their course according to their will, and either, under the pilotage of the Word, one enters into rest, or, laid hold on by pleasure, one suffers shipwreck, and is in peril by storm. For as in the ocean there are storms and waves, so in the world there are many afflictions and trials.
Before moving to another metaphor, he summarizes his point. Those who favor temporal things cannot stand up to difficulties. Other metaphors make a similar point (e.g. building a house on sand). Regardless of the metaphor, we can grow in faith when we hold frequent conversations with God and put our emphasis on eternal matters. Ancient voices can offer wonderful modern lessons.