Archives for the month of: July, 2016

I have often said that if two people always agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary. That is not to suggest that any person is expendable but simply a way to express the fact that all people do not or should not think alike. No one has all the right answers.

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It is not a bad thing for people to hold different opinions. In fact, differing perspectives are healthy and helpful. Unfortunately that is not always understood and appreciated. Persons with different opinions are often ridiculed and disrespected. Expressions of disagreement are sometimes unkind and damaging.

In our current environment, civil and respectful discourse are often lacking when significant issues are the topics. Hurtful and disparaging words are frequently heard in public discourse. It seems that we are yelling at each other more than talking with one another.

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John Wesley suggested a better way than argument and debate to approach issues on which we differ. He believed if people would confer with one another they would make better choices and come to reasonable conclusions. Thus he admonished the early Methodists to engage in Christian Conferencing. Wesley expected Christian conference to shape people’s lives.

Christian conferencing is sometimes called “holy conferencing.” Steve Manskar says, “The phrase is typically employed ‘to encourage people to have polite conversation with each other, particularly around issues where people are going to disagree’.”

United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck said that “holy conferencing is not limited to a specific topic or a specific venue for decision-making. It is also not a strategy to shut down conversation or stifle impassioned speech. It is a means for staying connected to each other in spite of our differences.” In a study guide she wrote to assist churches and groups she offered eight principles for constructive dialogue. I share them with you as a better way of dealing with difficult issues as well as daily affairs.

  1. Every person is a child of God. Throughout the scriptures, we are reminded that to love God is to love our neighbor. “If anyone boasts ‘I love God’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both” (1 John 4:20-21, The Message).

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  1. Listen before speaking. This means that you suspend judgment about the other. Welcome with open arms others who don’t see things the way you do. Do not focus on convincing others that you are right. Instead, listen to others so that you can understand better why they hold their opinions.
  1. Strive to understand from another’s point of view. Bishop James S. Thomas said that the truth was clear to him when he was thinking his own thoughts by himself. It was when he was in the presence of others that it all got confused! In other words, he had to confer with others to see more sides or angles or perspectives on whatever the matter was at hand.
  1. Strive to reflect accurately the views of others. To strive to express accurately others’ views is a matter of honesty, not to mention integrity. If we skew, or cast the worst light on another’s viewpoint, and give it a spin that is not accurate, then we are being dishonest.
  1. Disagree without being disagreeable. “Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.”  (Eph. 4:29 CEB)

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  1. Speak about issues; do not defame people. Calling people names defames them and is inflammatory. The simple moral fact is that words kill. Words that defame kill both the spirit and the reputation of others.
  1. Pray, in silence or aloud, before decisions. “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Praying for those who disagree with us is hard to do because it challenges our prejudices, anger, and malice.
  1. Let prayer interrupt your busy-ness. Praying in the midst of our disagreement might actually bring out the best in us and for the common good! It’s always appropriate to call for prayer and also to be in an attitude of prayer in the midst of discussion about weighty, divisive, and important conversations.

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Bishop Dyck concludes her study guide by saying, “In order to confer with others who disagree with us, we need to practice our faith in ways that challenge us spiritually as well as relationally. To love God and our neighbor requires nothing less.“

Jamie Jenkins

Recent events in the United States and across the globe could easily plunge one into depression.Suicide bombings, killing of police, military unrest, continued threat of ISIS and other terrorist organizations, violence of all sorts seem to be everywhere. It is not hard to see how discouragement and despair could easily reign.

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In the face of current conditions we must be diligent to guard our minds and spirits. The dark days of inhumanity compete with the light of everyday. If we give into the darkness, then evil wins.

This is not a time for a Pollyanna attitude. An unreasonably or illogically optimistic attitude is not the solution. However, as we face what seems to be our new reality we maintain a positive and hopeful perspective. The glass may be half-empty but at the same time it is also half-full.

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Optimism does not require one to deny reality no matter how harsh it may be. Unless one recognizes things as they are, at least momentarily, one cannot contribute effectively to finding the solutions to problems. Realistic optimism sees things as they really are and hopes, believes, and works to make them better.

Trouble in Mind is a blues song written by jazz pianist Richard M. Jones. The first known recording of the song was in 1924 by singer Thelma La Vizzo with Jones providing the piano accompaniment. Since then it has become a blues standard and has been recorded by many artists including Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Hot Tuna, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Texas Playboys, Dinah Washington, and Hank Williams, Jr.

There have been numerous renditions by a variety of musicians. In many versions, new lyrics are added. However, most usually include the opening verse:

Trouble in mind, I’m blue
But I won’t be blue always
‘Cause I know the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday

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In spite of the positive expression of hope in the original first verse, Janis Joplin’s version in 1963 and Nina Simone’s 1965 rendition sounded a note of desperation and hopelessness. Recently I was listening to Atlanta resident Francine Reed singing and her version communicated hope in spite of the obvious troubles of life.

If you follow the news reports you can honestly conclude that the world is a dangerous place and fear can overcome you. There are too many stories to ignore the serious implications of the climate of culture in many places. However, all forms evil and violence cannot be allowed to triumph. There is something we can do about the harshness of hatred.

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In a world where unrest and turmoil are prevalent people of faith are called to be peacemakers. In an environment of hatred and prejudice we are called to love our neighbor and even our enemies. Even as darkness hangs over us much of the time we are called to be the light in the midst of darkness. When others look for and point out the worst in others we are called to see the best in everyone and to stand against the worst that is also present.

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I am not suggesting that we ignore or deny the difficulties that are all around but our attitude and action can and will make a difference. There is no doubt that trouble is all around but we can proclaim with certainty, “I’m blue but I won’t be blue always ‘cause the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.”

Jamie Jenkins

 

O Lord, we praise you because you are a great and mighty God. We praise you because you are a tender and compassionate God. We praise you because you are an all knowing and wise God. We praise you because you are a God of grace and mercy.

In recent days we have witnessed the unthinkable in Nice, Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, Dallas, Orlando, Minneapolis….

Every day seems to bring a new disaster. Every day people are killed because of their religion, race, gender, lifestyle, or money. Every day children lose their innocence and often their lives. Every day people die because someone chooses to drive under the influence. Life seems to have little value to so many.

With the psalmist (Ps. 13) we ask, “O Lord, how long?” How long will our enemies cause unthinkable pain and suffering? How long will injustice prevail? How long will greed and hatred wreak havoc in our world?

With the prophet Habakkuk (Hab. 1) we know, “There is strife, and conflict abounds… (It seems that your) instruction is ineffective. Justice does not endure because the wicked surround (us) … (and) Justice becomes warped.”

Lord, we confess this morning that it is easy to get discouraged and become despondent because of the evil that seems to be everywhere. But we “trust in your unfailing love; our hearts rejoice in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).

Our hearts are broken and our spirits are sad because we have experienced the “sin and despair, like the sea waves cold, (that) threaten the soul with infinite loss.” But with the hymn writer, we declare that your grace is greater than anything. In the face of so much pain and sorrow, so much grief and fear, we claim that “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace” to cover us and our world in these difficult days. Our hope is in You, O Lord.

We pray for the victims of violence and injustice everywhere. We pray for those who are responsible for such heinous crimes. We pray for our world and all people that you created.

We pray not as a ritual without meaning but we believe that authentic prayer prompts action. It affects behavior. So, Lord, help us not to conform to the pattern of this world, but transform us by the renewing of our minds. Help us to think right so we can act right. Bring out the best in us. Guard us from becoming so well-adjusted to our culture that we fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix our attention on you, O Lord. Change us from the inside out so that our lives will be pleasing to you. Deep within our hearts we really do want to be like Jesus and we want our lives to reflect Him.

Hear our prayer, O Lord, for we offer it and ourselves in the name of Jesus. Amen.

*This is the Pastoral Prayer that I offered today (July 17, 2016) at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, Atlanta, Georgia

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Clarence Carter is a singer who was blind from birth. He was born January 14, 1936 in Montgomery Alabama and early on exhibited an interest and talent for music. He taught himself to play the guitar by listening to the blues classics of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed. At the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega, Alabama he learned to transcribe charts and arrangements in Braille. In 1960 he graduated from Alabama State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in music.

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Jason  Ankeny said his musical style “exemplified the gritty, earthy sound of Muscle Shoals R&B, fusing the devastating poignancy of the blues with a wicked, lascivious wit to create deeply soulful music rooted in the American South of the past and the present.” Between 1968 and 2015 Carter recorded 37 albums. More than 20 of his singles were in the top 100 songs on Pop and R&B charts.

Carter’s 1999 album, Everybody Plays the Fool, contained a song with the following lyrics:

You talk too much. You worry me to death.

You talk too much. You even worry my pet.

You just talk, talk, too much.

Do you know such a person? Have you been that person? I do and I have. I don’t know why but sometimes I just don’t know when to stop talking. I have been told that I can talk a lot and say very little. Guilty! I know there are times when words are not helpful or appropriate but I just cannot help myself. When I am uncomfortable with silence, I often break the silence by talking.

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Lydia Dishman, in an article entitled “The Science of Why We Talk Too Much (And How To Shut Up),” says, “The ideal conversation should be a total give and take, with each person speaking about 50% of the time. That means staying quiet half the time.”

OK, but how do you achieve this 50-50 conversational ideal? Rob Lazebnik, a writer on The Simpsons, says it is easy: just ask questions. Then actually listen to what the other person is saying, and find openings.

Easy? Lazebnik said it was but then he said, “Talking is like drinking a great Cabernet. Listening is like doing squats. Listening is like reading a corporate report. Talking is like eating a cinnamon bun.” Easy? Baseball fans can understand his analogy: “Talking is a Miguel Cabrera home run. Listening is getting hit in the head by it.”aaeaaqaaaaaaaalvaaaajge5m2mzngrjltjhzgqtndnimi04njhhlwfjotjmmdc5zmy3ma

Studies have shown that most people who are talkaholics are aware of the amount of talking they do, are unable to stop, or do not see it as a problem. I am confessing- I know I talk too much and sometimes I cannot help myself but I understand that talking too much is a problem.

I know that in silence one can hear not only what is being said, but also what is not being said. But how does one withstand the pressure to speak?

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In a conversation a long time ago one person said that he had no real talent, nothing to offer for the benefit of others. When pressed, he finally said, “Well, I am a good listener.” He seemed to have no understanding of the value of listening.

There is a time to speak and a time to stop speaking. A time to talk and a time to listen (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Lord, help me to learn the difference.

Jamie Jenkins