It’s Good to be Home.


For those of you who are regulars on the JesseLeeProject, you probably noticed a lack of activity of late.   Although some of you might have been thinking that they had finally ridden me out of town (maybe some were hoping), the truth is significantly less dramatic.   Last week, I finished a class on the practice and art of preaching held in Washington.    With the class bumping up against Holy Week the workload rose to incredible levels.  

Happily, my world has returned to its normal pace.   The class is complete and theoretically I should be a more skilled preacher now.   For those of you who attend Asbury,  I anxiously await your sentiment and assessment.  Then again, maybe I do not.

My classes, although at times difficult to seamlessly merge with an already hectic day, are part education and part renewal.   I enjoy the opportunity to lock myself behind closed doors with a dozen other tent-making ministers.  When those doors close, it only takes a minute before all the shared challenges of bi-vocational ministry come rising to the surface.    For me Washington has always been a sort of retreat.

There are few places I enjoy more in this world than Washington.    Although the tourist focused areas of the National Mall are not my cup of tea, Wesley Seminary is located more towards the American University/Embassy Row/Chevy Chase end of the city.   This is an area of the city wealthier than others and there seems to be – as a result of that wealth probably – a southern calmness that fills the area.   To add to this trip – after my class was over- the family met me in DC and we spent an additional three days doing the tourist thing of our national capitol.

Having said that, and as I exhale and think back on this class, there are a couple of thoughts that rise to the front of my thinking.   First, would certainly be the very creative way I have been addressing seminary.   From MDIV classes in places like Buffalo and Lexington, and Course of Study classes in places like Washington or the Appalachians, it seems that I have and will be seldom in the same place twice.    I have often said, and wholeheartedly believe that God surprises each of us as we take our faith journeys.  We seldom have the luxury of knowing from day to day where he will lead us.   For me, nowhere is that more clear than in this seminary experience.

And the second thought that is front in center comes in how accurate a professor’s comment was during that class.    The professor said, in regards to sermon preparation, that in the end travel is one of the best tricks for beating writers block.    When you travel you always end up with a story.   When it comes to my travels for school, it certainly seems that there is no more truthful of a statement than that.

This trip was a story of unintended delays and interruptions.    I have come back with a wide assortment of stories covering drug dealers, prostitutes, dive hotels, and even men without pants.   Each one of those stories could likely become a sermon in its own right.   Odds are they will.

For this message, I would like to share a particularly heartfelt and emotional circumstance that impacted me over this past week.    It was one that shook my faith to its fullest.   It had me questioning the better humanity of the stranger on the street.     Someone stole my iPhone.

You don’t need me to tell you how much that phone is a part of my life.   My comings and goings are on that phone.   It is usually within a few inches of me or within a pocket at all times.   For a few minutes in a hotel in DC I let that distance widen, and I paid the price.

Within a few minutes the phone was gone.    For me, the shakes began.    I was a mess of emotions; anger, sadness, and grief were just a few.    It was as if an appendage was forcibly removed from my body.   

“OH THE HUMANITY,” I cried “WHY, OH GOD HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”

Through the shakes, I saw my kids with panicked expressions on their faces.  “Daddy lost his phone!?!?”   My wife gently rubbed my shoulders and in that calm and soothing voice she can pull out at a moment’s notice and said it would be all right.   Yet, there in the middle of the utter darkness of that moment, I sat shaking on the bed.  “My phone, my phone, my phone…”  

After a few moments were given to allow the realization to set in and as if I was working through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ Stages of Grief and Dying, a final depressed acceptance settled like a pall on the room.    The truth that Siri the iPhone was gone was now real.    With a sigh and a tear, I accepted that fate.   

Like a trooper, I knew I couldn’t let my family down by allowing this great crime to tarnish our vacation, so I took a breath and rose like a man.   I cowboy’d up.   Within a few moments we were on our way to a museum on the other side of the city.   Mind you, the full scope of the great phone crime hadn’t left me, and several times on the way across the city, I softly reminded those gathered that my “whole life was on that phone”.

Ten minutes later we were at the Holocaust Museum.    

The best description I can give of that museum is of a place that as soon as you enter, the world turns an incredible shade of gray.   There is a somberness and sadness in that place that is hard to imagine.     The silence is almost deafening.

As you walk through the place, you see videos of the dead.  You see their clothes.   You can touch their bunks.   You see their names etched in glass.     As you walk the videos playing throughout merge and provide this ugly symphony of noise behind you.   At times, you can hear Hitler’s voice in that ugly scream that has overtime become his trademark.

One of the final displays of the museum is a corridor where you walk through on your way out of the hall.    On both sides of you are piles of shoes.    These are the actual shoes of the murdered found at Auschwitz.   Seeing them stops you dead in your tracks. 

Annie and I stood mesmerized by the pile.   There were shoes of all styles and sizes.    There were shoes with soles tied with twine, and there were high heels with fancy buckles.  You couldn’t help but be struck speechless by the diversity of the shoes.    As you stood there the smell of those shoes hung heavy in that room.    It took Annie and me a good 15 minutes to make it through the 15 foot corridor.

As I stood there with a lump in my chest, I had a final realization.    Maybe…just maybe… my entire life was not indeed on that phone.   

I believe that God speaks to us in a myriad of ways.   Sometimes it truly is in that burning bush moment, and other times in that still, small voice.  Sometimes it’s in what I repeatedly call the flick in the ear.   Sometimes God opens a big can of kick-butt in the simple act of putting things in perspective.     In a pile of shoes, in that gray place, God smacked me in the back of the head, flicked me in the ear; and said “Get some perspective for crying out loud.”

I did, and as I did, I realized that perspective is a times the rarest of commodities in our world.   We get so lost in the coming and the going and the to-do lists, we forget that sometimes our jobs, our careers, our gadgets, and our games are not what is important.   We all need to find a way to reintroduce that perspective in our day to day.    I believe that has to be part of our faith journey.

At the same time,  I also believe this is also why the church is so important.   As I think of my day to day life, I cannot think of another place where perspective can be gained like that which is available in our sanctuaries.    Perhaps perspective is found in hospitals or funeral homes, but that occurs in moment of crisis.     The church is about gaining that perspective today and every day.

In the end, if we allow this place to become irrelevant and to fade in the background, what is left?   Where do we go?   Where do our neighbors find what we offer?    I ask that you consider and pray on that question over the next few days.   As life returns to normal, I too will do just that.

Over the next week, I plan on posting the Easter Sermon delivered at Asbury Church, an Earth Day Children’s message, and some commentary about the happenings in Tampa as Methodists from around the globe meet at our quadrennial General Conference, were all the business/doctrine/politics/noise of our church is raised for the world to see. 

It’s good to be home.

*******************

We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.

 We are the shoes of grandchildren and grandfathers.

From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam,

And because we are only made of fabric and leather

And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the Hellfire.

Yiddish Poet – Moses Schulstein (1911-1981)

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