This has been a hard week. The news out of Ohio of a killing rampage targeting eight members of one family in four different locations is the kind of story you’d expect to see on Criminal Minds on T.V. The only saving grace was the fact that the killer(s) spared the three children in those homes. But that didn’t prevent the perpetrator from murdering those children’s parents—likely in front of those children.
What is one supposed to say to such a senseless, horrifying event? No attempt at understanding the “why?” of it will work. Surely there is mental illness present here, but there is also more. Our American culture is one that has become preoccupied with death and violence. Try watching T.V. for less than 2 hours without witnessing multiple shootings and murders. Try watching what video games your children are playing and see if most all of them don’t glorify violence in some way.
Last week our neighbors to the south in Mississippi passed a new gun law to allow guns in churches. I’m told the Governor signed that bill with a pistol resting on top of a Bible—what a nice photo-op. Christian Churches founded by The Prince of Peace now preferring to trust more in a gun. I don’t have the words.
I saw a story on the national news just yesterday about a group of high school girls who beat a fellow student to death in the high school bathroom. What has become of us?
I don’t think it’s terribly helpful to play one of our favorite games, “Ain’t It Awful?” Too many of us get some strange sense of satisfaction looking around and bemoaning what is occurring around us. For instance, “Did you see the presidential debate last night? Can you believe the way candidates talk about each other? Ain’t It Awful?” OR “That refugee crisis in Syria is horrifying. Can you imagine putting fifty men, women and children in a boat designed for 20 and having them try to make that crossing from Turkey into Greece? Ain’t It Awful?”
Rather than wallow in the game, I prefer that we Christians begin the hard work of finding solutions. We have a voice and it is a very powerful voice. But it is impotent unless we use it. So what are we willing to do—as the Church of Jesus Christ—to address this glorification of violence around us? Are we willing, for instance, to volunteer our time at the neighborhood school to be a “presence” there? Are we willing to start some conversation groups—support groups for parents or young people—where we can consider alternative ways of “being” in the world?
“Ain’t It Awful” changes nothing. I don’t recall Jesus EVER saying it. I DO remember him wading into all kinds of human distress and bringing healing to it. As far as I can tell, that’s still what we followers are called to do. Does it sound like a daunting challenge? Of course it does. But that is precisely what makes it worth the time and effort.
We can change the world together—we CAN! What we can’t risk doing is hearing Jesus say to us one day in the future, “you had a chance to change the world and you refused—and that WAS awful!”
I’m already beginning to feel “nostalgic” about our time together. Seven years went by awfully fast. I vividly remember being “encouraged” to take my place upon the dunking machine the first week I was here. Nobody thought it was important to let me know that Adam Johnson already had an 80 mile an hour fastball and he was only about 13. Thanks a lot for the heads up. I think he doused me about four times. And of course, every little person under the age of five was given the benefit of the doubt—even if their throw wasn’t within ten feet of the target, there was a VERY helpful adult standing by to be sure the new guy got dunked yet again. I may still be getting water out of my ears.
I remember the day Bob McLeary dressed up as a homeless person---he and I concocted this idea as a “dramatic, visual aid” in support of the sermon that day. His get up was amazing—so much so that I was the only person in the room who knew it was Bob. His appearance startled a few, I think. What I remember most vividly that day was when Bob made his way to the front of the sanctuary and knelt for prayer, Mary Garris came out of the choir loft to kneel with him. I think it took a few seconds before Bob told her who he was, but I was so taken with Mary’s act of hospitality that day.
We have had such fun as a church staff. One day we were celebrating Chris’ birthday. Chris has sort of been our resident “big kid”—I mean that in the best way. So we came up with an idea to blast him with silly string during the staff meeting. What made this moment truly hilarious was that Linda Williford—perhaps our most quiet staff member—gave the command with the loudest voice I had ever heard come out of her. She yelled, “DO IT NOW!!!!” and we all let him have it. Her “do it now” became something of a catchphrase for us for quite a while after.
I absolutely love it when the youth lead worship. I’ve had a chance to see this group grow up and it amazes me how talented and faithful they are. Some of them a few years ago would never utter a sound in public and now they are confident leaders. I dearly love them all.
I never intended to become so connected to what we call “the Pastor’s Class”. We always had it in mind to get this class started and let them fly, but I always enjoyed being with them—so the next thing you know four years goes by and . . . We have had so many great times together and so many fascinating conversations. I won’t forget those.
Our partnership with Congregation Micah will always be near and dear to me. Sharing worship, learning together from folks like A.J. Levine, building relationships—all of it is a foretaste of the Kingdom. I’m convinced of that. I remember one of Micah’s members after we had them here for worship on a Sunday morning and our guests for lunch—she said to me “I had no idea this is how you people worship—I thought it was beautiful and I think I’ll come back.” That was a good day.
There will be more memories for me—just need you to know that they are all good and I’m grateful to you for all of them.
Sunday in worship, the announcement was made that there will be a pastoral change this year. I am being appointed to serve Belle Meade UMC beginning July 1st and Forest Hills will welcome Rev. Kristin Clark-Banks.
This is one of those times when it can be difficult on congregations and pastors, alike. Change is never easy. And I believe it is important for us to name the grief that we will all feel. Over the course of our seven years together, we have built relationships and have come to love each other. Because of that, this change can feel something like a “death.” I truly hope we can address our grief creatively and honestly. You have all been so welcoming and loving to Tari and I. There aren’t words adequate to express our gratitude for that.
Over the course of the next couple of months, there will be ample time for us to bid one another “vaya con dios” and “fare thee well.” Even more important is our need to consider ways to welcome Kristin, her husband Brady, and their son Thaddeus. Maybe we can get their mailing address and ask everyone to write a note or card welcoming them to Forest Hills. It is critical that we make a great first impression on one another.
Kristin currently serves—ironically enough—at Belle Meade. She is absolutely one of our best and brightest and we are so fortunate to have her appointed here. She is going to do wonderful things among you—with your help.
And this is an historic appointment for Forest Hills. Kristin will be the first woman to serve as the Sr. Pastor. This is a great thing and it should be an easy thing given the number of exceptional women we have—and have had—in leadership at every level of our church. Kristin will bring a perspective to which, I believe, you will be drawn immediately.
Let me say one final word for now about the “United Methodist process.” All pastors are a part of a deep covenant with each other. Pastors are members of an Annual Conference, rather than any local church. The Annual Conference actually DOES serve as the church for pastors. When we are ordained, we promise to keep the spirit of John Wesley alive by agreeing to “itinerate.” That simply means we trust our Bishop and Superintendents—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer—to send us where we are needed for the season in which we are needed for as long as we are needed. Every year there are retirements and local church situations that require a certain number of pastors to be reassigned. I signed on to this covenant just as Kristin did.
Let me stress—this is not a bad thing. It is simply a change I hope we will all embrace. You have heard me quote Dr. Seuss before and this is as good a moment as any—“Don’t cry because it’s over—SMILE because it happened.”
There will be more for us to say to one another in time. For now, Tari and I love you all very much and have been honored to serve as your pastoral family.
In the year 1941, the dreaded armies of Adolph Hitler were marching with astonishing speed toward the city of Leningrad—known today by its historic name, St. Petersburg.
Knowing how little protection there was between them and the German army, the staff of the famous Heritage Museum worked around the clock to try and protect their priceless paintings and sculptures. Their plan was to try and transport all of it to a safe place.
On July 1st, the director of the museum stood weeping at the train station platform as three trains—loaded with these treasures—prepared to leave for the Russian heartland. Not even the conductors knew the final destination of those railcars.
Two of the trains make it out. The third one didn’t. The German army surrounded the city and trapped 2 ½ million people there. For the next several months the conditions in Leningrad were appalling. Hunger and deprivation was everywhere.
The museum kept its doors open, believing that the citizens still needed a diversion from the poverty and pain of their occupation. There were only a few, minor paintings that remained, but the building itself was a work of art. The people came in large numbers.
Finally the day came when the Heritage Museum, itself, was in danger. Bombs were falling on the city and the building was being damaged. The museum enlisted war-weary soldiers and citizens to help shovel the debris out of the museum.
When the siege ended, the museum wanted to find a way to thank those volunteers for what they had done. Enter Pavel Dubchevski. Dubchevski was the long-time tour guide of the museum. He lead those volunteers through a most unusual tour of the museum. Every empty frame on those walls, he would stop and describe the work of art that used to hang there. It was remarkable that he had committed those works to his memory in such a way that he could describe them in such richness that years later those volunteers would recall how vivid and powerful his descriptions were. So much so that they claimed that they could almost see the works there.
The church needs people with Pavel’s kind of imagination. People who can create a vision of hope for those who can’t see it. People who know the source of hope so completely that they can conjure the full image and display it to anyone who needs it.
There is a word for that kind of person—Evangelist.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.