August 4, 2010

Dear Centenary family,

One of my favorite places in Washington, DC, is the National Portrait Gallery.   I have visited the gallery many times and never grow tired of this treasure trove of art.  I was able to arrange another visit to the gallery when we were in DC for my son?s wedding. 

There are some areas of the Gallery that rarely change.  For example, the part  set aside for the Presidents pretty much stays the same with an occasional addition of a new Presidential portrait.  Other parts of the gallery are constantly shifting with displays and art shows.  The centerpieces this time were a display of 48 original Norman Rockwell paintings which were on loan to the gallery from Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas.  The other highlight which occurs every summer is the National Portrait competition where amateur artists compete for Best in Show.

Norman Rockwell is an icon.  His art reflects an idyllic and humorous understanding of the American family.  While he occasionally will take on issues like poverty, even those paintings that reflect some pain show a sense of peace and well-being.  Rockwell endeared himself to the American public because he was an artist of hope.  He painted that which we all wish we could be.

The National Portrait competition was a different experience.  Most of these portraits were based on realism, sometimes disturbingly so.  In some of the portraits one could sense a deep level of dysfunction, but they also felt very honest.  In the same gallery one could view Rockwell?s idealism (and sometimes fantasy) of American family life, and one floor up, one could view the realism of some dysfunctional family reunions.  Rockwell makes us pine for the ?good old days? with his paintings because most of them are nostalgic in nature.  The newer artists are saying, ?This is the way it is.  There is beauty in the honesty.  Look for it.? 

So, at the National Portrait Gallery I found myself thinking about family as we celebrated John and Greta?s wedding.  It is clear to me that all families are dysfunctional in one way or another, though some are more clearly damaging than others. 

Take Jacob?s clan... He had 12 sons born of two wives and two concubines.  And if that wasn?t complicated enough, add his clear favoritism toward his best-loved wife Rachel, and her two sons (Joseph and Benjamin).  Mix in Joseph?s adolescent arrogance and you have a recipe for disaster.  Joseph generates so much anger that 10 of his brothers throw him into a pit and sell him into slavery.  (Wouldn?t it be interesting, if Rockwell were still alive, to ask him to paint a scene from this incredibly dysfunctional family?  Even Rockwell himself cannot clean up this mess enough to create nostalgia.) 

To cut to the end of the story, eventually there is an imperfect reconciliation and the tribes of Israel are named for the sons of Jacob?which gives you a sign that this story is a larger than life, intended to be seen for much more than the words on the page.  Literalism robs the story of its meaning.  

I take some comfort in the messiness of Joseph?s story.  Even when we are at our best, we will not be able to heal every broken relationship, tie up every loose end or reach perfection in the relationships we have in our families, friendships, community or church.  Forget it.  Some people like to over-spiritualize the process saying they will to be like Jesus, expressing perfect, limitless love in different relationships.  Be reminded that even Jesus struggled with family relationships, but I will save that story for another time.  The fact is that we are not perfect? and sometimes we expect too much of the situation.  We are seduced by a Norman Rockwell view of life which captures our imagination and causes us to feel guilty if we don?t measure up.  Loving is always constrained by human imperfections.  The best we can do is to do the best we can and then lean heavily on God?s grace.

Thank goodness that the Kingdom of God is filled with dysfunctional families and dysfunctional people which means that there is room for me? and you!   


If you live in Macon and receive this on Wednesday, remember that we are having an ice cream social at the church at 7 pm tonight.  Hope you will be able to join us!  No agenda other than fellowship. 


School is beginning for teachers and students.  We lift them all in our prayers!  In the midst of trials, tests, and even tribulation, may education be a grand adventure.


Loving sisters ? feuding sisters ? busy sister ? listening sister.  This Sunday I am preaching about Mary and Martha.  Hope you will be present at 11 a.m.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.    



August 19, 2010

Dear Centenary friends,

There are some stories not bound by time or space.  Finite consciousness cannot completely comprehend or process The Mystery in these stories, which is exactly why we are fascinated by them.  The stories are way beyond fact, reality and actuality because they are true.  Truth is far more essential to life than fact.

These stories of which I speak have shaped and reflected human civilization.  These stories have forged and molded, mirrored and traced the way we think and believe.  These stories shape how we relate in public and what we do in private. 

These are foundational stories.  Sometimes the stories have been abused and misunderstood.  Sometimes the stories have led to wars.  These stories have given hope to the despairing, distraction to the anxious, and have put many a baby to sleep. 

We in Western Civilization have, for several hundred years, struggled with the place of these stories in our lives.  We have a tendency to dismiss mystery.  Either something is fact or it is false.  Such perspective shows how little we know about how The Grand Mystery works.  ?God said it, I believe it, and  that settles it? does not begin to capture the glory of The Grand Mystery for there is no imagination in such a statement.  Albert Einstein acknowledged that ??Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world and all that ever will be.? 

In spite of our attempt to muffle and stifle the mystery and the grand, glorious myths, they will not go away.  Be assured that this sort of truth cannot be snuffed out by any movement or institution.  There is something more going on in this life than bills, biology, bladders, bombs, bugs, buns, bibles, business, blisters, bagpipes, buzzards, bozos, and all those other things we call ?reality.?  Nothing can ultimately separate us from The Mystery. 

Certain things transport us toward The Mystery? they get inside of us and lift us.  Wedding rings do it for some.  A Christian Cross, a Jewish Star of David, a Muslim crescent moon do it for others.  A catalyst might be a mountain stream, a cathedral, a beloved tree house, a song that floods us with emotion, a gaggle of geese as they fly in V formation honking loudly. 

Suddenly we are outside of our reality and aware of The Mystery which is larger than any attempt to explain The Mystery. 

Let me tell you what does it for me:  the stained glass of the Centenary sanctuary, reading sacred stories from the Bible that are beyond fact and that contain incomparable truth, the Celtic Mosaic cross in our sanctuary that many of you helped create, reading a great book, bird-watching and seeing a male Cardinal feeding its adolescent and very awkward progeny, and? please don?t tell anyone this, but I cried a bit when I saw Toy Story 3.

So, what is it for you?  Clearly, many have come to see worship at Centenary as a time of catching a glimpse of The Mystery and what might be.  Worship at Centenary moves beyond our time-locked, goose-stepping minds, transporting us to always and forever.  To the infinite.  To the fullness of life.  To the Divine.


This Sunday some of our college students from Mercer, Wesleyan, and Macon State will be returning.  I will be preaching about a moment when Jesus spat, and then he put his spit on a guy?s tongue.  Sound gross?  Are you intrigued?  I hope so?  My sermon title is ?As Real as Spit?.  In the service you will hear music from Harry Emerson Fosdick, DeShazo, Hine, Carolyn Gillette (a wonderful new hymn writer), and Jackson Browne (Doctor My Eyes).    ?Doctor, my eyes have seen the years and the slow parade of fears without crying; Now I want to understand.  I have done all that I could, to see the evil and the good without hiding.  You must help me if you can.  Doctor my eyes, tell me what is wrong; Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?....?   So, spread the word? Issue the invitations? and bring someone to worship with you on Sunday.  We will dance with The Mystery. 


LOTS of stuff unfolding as we move into the fall and there are many opportunities for you to plug in to study groups, service, sharing groups, etc.  Keep your eye on the bulletin the next few weeks.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.