Saturday, May 21, 2016


I can’t tell you the exact moment in time when I was told by my mom and dad that they were getting a divorce.  Probably because that talk never actually happened.  That would’ve been too healthy and too undysfunctional a conversation for my folks to have with their 3rd grade son.

But while I don’t recall when I first found out that my parents were parting ways, I do recall how it felt - to learn that the very people whom I loved more than anyone else in all the world had decided that they just couldn’t bear to live together in the same house anymore... 


Tragically, that same stomach-sickening feeling revisited me this week at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  At an early morning delegation meeting on Tuesday, we were informed that, according to social media,  folks on the left and folks on the right of the theological spectrum in our denomination were getting a divorce.

Like my bio family one half-century earlier, no “official” separation announcement was made.  That would’ve been too healthy and too undysfunctional a conversation for my church family to have.  Nevertheless, the message of marital discord was loud and clear. 

The very people whom I loved most in the world had decided that they just couldn’t bear to live together in the same house of Wesley anymore. 

Ironically, what attracted me to the Methodists in the first place was that my church family offered me things that my immediate family did not – safety, peace, stability, grace, affirmation, and unconditional love.  Every Sunday, they threw a great big “Come As You Are” party, and I was their guest of honor!

Whenever I showed up at these Sabbath celebrations, the local servant leaders would go out of their way to bring me a robe – the best one -  a ring, a pair of sandals, and a fatted calf roasted to perfection.   

Was the party over?  

Was the Methodist marriage over?  Was dissolution now the solution?  Would I once again have to pick which one of my loved ones I would live with?  

Sadly, from the 4th grade on, I spent every single birthday of my childhood wishing that my parents would get back together.  Alas, any such hope was extinguished about as quickly as the candle on my birthday cake. 

Having learned my lesson, I decided that I would not simply WISH that my church family would remain intact.  This time, I would PRAY.  

So, fervently, ardently, and without ceasing I prayed.  I prayed for a peace which passeth all understanding.  I prayed for unity, not unanimity.  I prayed for 
  1. the folks on the right, 
  2. and the folks on the left,
  3. and the folks in the middle to stick together - for better AND for worse, in good times AND in bad, in sickness AND in health. 

After all, “A threefold cord is not easily broken.”  (Ecc 4:12)

Well, by some modern Methodist miracle, my (and a bunch of other folks’) prayers were answered the very next day.  A motion was made,  and seconded, and discussed.  And discussed.  And then discussed some more. 

In the end, we decided as a family to get some counseling over the next few years to see if we can’t find a way to peace this thing together.  In the meantime, my sisters and brothers, we remain The UNITED Methodist Church - called by Jesus and equipped by the Holy Spirit to make disciples for the transformation of the world. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016


“General Conference is full of surprises!” 

At least, that’s what I was told by some of the old salts sailing aboard the USS Delegation for their 3rd tour of sea duty.  But my first few days in Portland presented nothing that I wasn’t expecting at an international UMC gathering (except maybe the cannabis dispensary next the convention center!). 

There were the usual players:
  • The Professional Parliamentarians, who are usually found sitting right next to the microphone stand so as not to wear out their wingtips amending this or suspending that.   
  • The Rainbow People, who seem to have mastered the art of table-flipping. 
  • The Global Villagers, who speak so many different languages that the Mayor of Babel would be verde with envy. 

But then I bumped into a clergy friend who, it turns out, ran/walked 1800 miles to attend this quadrennial meeting in order to highlight the plight of orphans.  That, however, was not the surprising part.  The real surprise came a few seconds later, when he asked me if I’d like to meet Adam Hamilton.

I don’t think I actually verbalized, “Hell, yeah!”, but that was definitely the first phrase that popped into my head.  Adam Hamilton?  THE Adam Hamilton?  Senior Pastor of the UMC of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas - one of the fastest growing and most highly visible churches in the country, with upwards of 20,000 members?  The writer of more books than there are grains of sand in the Holy Land?  THAT Adam Hamilton?

As a pastor and a writer, I have long wanted to meet this guy.  After all, he does exactly what I do – only much, much better and much, much BIGGER. 

Minutes later, I’m standing in front of The Reverend Adam Hamilton, shaking his hand and struggling to say my name without throwing up on his dark blue suit.  

Fortunately, my friend is doing the rest of the talking, leaving me to do some reflecting.  I begin by joking to myself that between us, Adam and I have written close to 20 books (Adam – 19,  Me – 0).  But my humor, as usual, is masking some serious self-doubt and insecurity.    Enter melancholy orchestration.

Adam is close to my age, close to my size, and close to standing on my shoes – but we are on totally different planets.  My God, what have I done with my life?  

To be honest, I was already having a less-than-stellar day.  It began at breakfast, where instead of being served cinnamon with my oatmeal, the waiter brought me brown sugar.  Then, the morning plenary session at General Conference was especially exasperating.  And finally, the little plastic thing that prevents my reading glasses from gouging my nose suddenly went AWOL.  


To be really honest, what was really bothering me was that my one and only child was celebrating her 18th birthday that day, while her father is 3,000 miles away at yet another “important church meeting”.   My God, what have I done with my life?  

You see, she is such a great kid who deserves better.  She
  •       is on the Honor Roll
  •       plays a team sport
  •       practices an instrument
  •       eats her vegetables
  •       studies a foreign language
  •       is surrounded by good friends who are good people
  •       has been accepted to a great college
  •       loves Jesus
  •       is the only one in the house who doesn’t feed table       scraps to our morbidly obese pug 


Helping to raise a beautiful, wonderful, and faithful young woman – maybe that’s what I’ve done with my life.  Surprise!


I haven’t had a flat tire in more than 30 years.  Credit for this remarkable achievement goes to my stellar driving, my preference for interstates rather than nail-strewn alleyways, and the fact that I no longer buy recycled retreads for $12.50 each.

But there I was on Tuesday, in the parking lot of a local Lowe’s, cursing the big ole hole in my right front tire.  Actually, it was more of a gaping gash than a hole, but the end result was the same – much more air was coming out from my tire than was going in.  

Because I don’t carry a spare or a jack in the tiny trunk of my compact car, I called AAA to tell them the bad news.  The dispatcher took it in stride, even joking that I was fortunate that only the bottom half of the tire was flat.  Hee hee.

But then she got down to business and told me that since my tire was irreparable, a tow truck would be sent within the hour to take me and my car to a service station several towns away.   

Although I was being transported farther from my home, I was assured that the place would have tires and mechanics who'd know how to install tires - so I assented.  Any port in a storm, right?

As it turned out, the service station DID have tires but none the size that my car required.  I have to give the guy credit though – he looked everywhere.  But following a fruitless 45 minute search, the mechanic informed me that there was no way I was getting back on the road that day. 

And just like that, all of those important and immovable things that I had planned for the rest of the afternoon and evening were thrown to the side of the road like a bunch of unraveled radials.  Sigh.

Sensing my exasperation, the man thought for a moment and then offered me a lifeline.  He ushered me to the end of his parking lot, pointed to the big sign across the street and a couple doors down, and told me that that shop sold new and used tires.  Perhaps I should try them.

PERHAPS?  Are you kidding me?”

To make a log afternoon short, I walked quickly over to the tire store, found dozens of tires that were the same size as the one I needed, bought the best looking one, brought it back to the service station and then had my mechanic put it on my car about 9 minutes before they closed up shop for the day.   

Now, like most things in life, there are 2 ways you could look at this:
  • · You could bemoan the fact that you got a flat in the     first place.
  • · You could bemoan the fact that, as a result, you           ended up spending 4 hours and 50 bucks only to get     yourself right back to where you started. 

  • · You could thank God that you weren’t injured when     the tire went flat, and subsequently beaten and           robbed when you got into a stranger’s vehicle. 
  • · You could thank God that there just happened to be a   tire store next door to the service station to which       you were brought, with tons of tires the exact size       you needed. 
  • · You could thank God that the mechanic-on-duty was     ready, willing and able to get you back on the road       just moments before closing time.  

I guess it all depends on whether you see a flat tire being half empty or half full.