August 6, 2009

Dear Centenary Friends,


We live in a world where there is the almost constant temptation to angle for more than we have.  In our culture, we are expected to better ourselves, to look for something different, to be ambitious, to peer into the future.  The Bible, on the other hand, encourages us to be like a ?tree planted by streams of water.?   (The tree, mind you, is not frenetically looking for water.  The tree is in one place, being fed by the stream.)  The rhythm of Jesus? life is a direct challenge to us ? He seemed to be at peace wherever he was at the moment.  Is it possible to be at peace when we are constantly looking at the next place?  Are our lives defined by a frantic compulsiveness?


Sinead O?Conner wrote a wonderful song (or hymn or anthem) some years ago?  She called it ?I Do Not Want What I Haven?t Got?


I'm walking through the desert
And I am not frightened although it's hot
I have all that I requested
And I do not want what I haven't got
I have learned this from my mother
See how happy she has made me
I will take this road much further
Though I know not where it takes me
I have water for my journey
I have bread and I have wine
No longer will I be hungry
For the bread of life is mine??
So I'm walking through the desert
And I am not frightened although it's hot
I have all that I requested
And I do not want what I haven't got


Kyle Childress reminded me of a scene in Dante?s Paradiso.  Dante encounters the soul of one who had been a nun on earth and now dwells in one of the lower reaches of heaven.  He asks her, ?Though you are happy here, do you desire a higher place in order to see more and to be still closer to Him??  The nun smiles and says, ?Brother, the power of love appeases our will so we only long for what we have.  In that is our peace.?


May God grant us healing from our busyness and straining.  May God grant us healing from wishing that we were somewhere else other than where we are.  May God give to us a ?peace that passes understanding.?   As Wendell Berry puts it,  ?What I wanted had become the same as what I had??  God let it be so!


Some questions for you to mull over:  How does this reflection strike you?  Is your life marked by a busyness that has no rhythm?  Do you find yourself wishing for a different set of circumstances?  Is it possible to have a sense of peace and calling to be where we are? Could this thought pattern be abused by rich people to tell poor people to be satisfied with what they have?  Is the grass always greener?  What are the implications of this for church and community life?  How do we model our service in light of ?I do not want what I haven?t got??  Can one balance healthy ambition and a sense of peace?




One last reminder - This Friday, August 7, 7:30 at Centenary UMC.  Friday night at the movies at Centenary.  We are showing Clint Eastwood?s most recent movie, Gran Torino.  The movie is filled with theological metaphors and spiritual implications.  After the movie we are going to talk about it.  BUT the movie is also not for children.  Be forewarned ? the language is VERY rough at points and there are some difficult scenes.  However, if you are willing to plow through and not be offended, the theological depth is profound.  If you enjoy this sort of movie interaction and discussion, you are invited.


I am looking forward to worshiping with you this Sunday! 


Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell


Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself. Serve.   



August 13, 2009

Dear Centenary,

So many ways to split things up; so little time.

Chop nuts.  Carve the turkey.  Hack vines.  Weed-eat weeds.  Cut grass.  Scythe wheat. 


You can also segregate races, mince words, shred papers, break off relationships, divide the sheep from the goats.


Isn?t it ironic that in an age with Facebook and Twitter we seem to be more polarized and split up than ever?  Could it be that technological innovations designed to promote connections accentuate our isolation and split-up-ness?  Political conversations spiral down into innuendo, name calling and slander.  We might as well be with a bunch of ill-behaved children on a school playground.  Division is in.  Community is the casualty. 


Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.  The ancient Hebrews had it right.  ?Listen up you who struggle with God, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.?  Echad .  One.  God is about unity rather than isolation and polarization.  When you hear people bad mouthing each other, they do not speak for God.  Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. 


Resist conversation and dialogue that divides.  It is fine to have opinions, but how we express those opinions is of critical importance.  How we speak, react, relate ? even the smallest thought, the most insignificant activity in the tiniest moment ? affects everything else.  Everything is related because God is One.  Echad.  One.  When we speak ill of others in a condemning or judgmental tone, we reveal our separation from God.  God is One.


Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.   ?Listen up you who struggle with God:  the Lord our God, the Lord is One.?  That perspective makes all the difference in the world.


Thank you to all who helped with Friday Night at the Movies at Centenary!  Great crowd and discussion!  Another movie and discussion is planned for Friday, September 25.  I will let you know what  movie  will be shown in the next couple of weeks.


Jackson Browne wrote the lyrics of ?Running on Empty?, a rock music classic.  And that is the title for my sermon this Sunday.  Check out Luke 15:11-32, if you want to read about a couple of guys running on empty.  We will talk about it more on Sunday.  It is a good time to make a phone call and invite someone to come to worship with you at 11 a.m. this Sunday.  All are welcome at Centenary.  And in this place all really does mean all.


Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell


Love God.  Love Others.  Love yourself.  Serve.   


 August 19, 2009

Dear Centenary Friends,

I stood by the graves of my grandparents this week in Cartersville, Georgia, about 45 minutes north of Atlanta.  The graves are simple.  On one is the name Horace A. Shinall and on the other Bertie B. Shinall.  Daddy Shinall died in 1993 and Mama Shinall died in 1995.  Horace and Bertie are my father?s step-father and mother. 

Daddy and Mama Shinall were sharecroppers.  Neither one finished the 4th grade.  When you hugged them, Horace and Bertie smelled like authenticity.  Do you know what authenticity smells like?  In my childhood memory, it smells a little like snuff.  They both loved dipping snuff.  When we visited them during my boyhood, I remember being mesmerized by the sound of their spit hitting the tin can they kept by their rocking chairs.  That was one of the coolest things in the world to me! Horace and Bertie felt comfortable in their own skin, which is a great and wonderful gift. 

On this recent trip, I rode by the old farm on Grassdale Road, north of Cartersville.  Everything has changed.  Apartment buildings and suburban sprawl have wiped away all traces of the former houses and barns where Horace and Bertie lived and farmed.  Cotton fields have been replaced by streets and cul-de-sacs.  My memories, however, are intact:

         I remember the outhouse.  Since there was no running water in the old farmhouse, we had to use the outhouse.  What a novelty!  (Is that the correct adjective?  I am not sure.)  Going to visit Mama and Daddy Shinall was a lot like camping. 

         I remember the old well where Daddy Shinall would allow me the privilege of lowering the bucket into the well with a crank handle embedded in a log.  The pail was attached with a rope and the rope was threaded through a pulley which hung directly over the well.  When the bucket was full of water, you simply cranked it back up and brought the water into the house.

         I remember the wood burning stove where Mama Shinall made the best biscuits ever, using lots (and I do mean LOTS) of Crisco.  And she did it all by feel.  She did not own a measuring cup and always mixed the dough in a wooden bowl. 

         I remember pinto beans and chow-chow . (If you don?t know what chow-chow is, look it up.)  The best tomatoes in the world.  Pork was served with almost every meal. 

         I remember picking cotton.  It really is true - I picked cotton when I visited them one time.  My Dad tells me that when he was a young adult, before going off to college, he picked 300 pounds of cotton in one day.  A really productive farm hand would pick around 200 pounds.  These were the days when you slung a long, burlap sack over your shoulder and walked down the rows of cotton.  Dad told me that though some accused him of adding some rocks, he was completely innocent.  He also told me that when the cotton was weighed in the evening, he had 298 pounds and because he was so close to 300, he went back out into the field and picked 2 more pounds so that he would have 300 pounds.  Everyone was amazed.  (A note of confession ? since I was 6 when I picked cotton, I was not very productive.  In fact, I think Daddy Shinall had to pull me on his bag.)

         I remember that Horace and Bertie loved ?The Dukes of Hazzard?.  If you remember the name of the car that was driven in that old television program, you get extra points this week.

The trip on Monday was made because my father wanted to visit the old sites and the cemetery, along with seeing a few family connections still in the area.  My daughter, Emily, was with us.  She was fascinated by the stories.

You have a story.  Even if your life is littered with some pain, I can guarantee you that somewhere along the way someone blessed you.  For me, two of the people who blessed me were Horace and Bertie ? Mama and Daddy Shinall.    Who blessed you?  It could be parents, grandparents, a teacher, a friend?. What memories do you have?  Those memories are gifts of God and are sacred.  Be for someone else what that special person was for you.


This Sunday, worship will have a twist.  The theme is ?Three Generations look at Faith and Transformation?.  Emily Bagwell (25 years old),  Hamp Watson (78 years old), and I (55ish years old) will be sharing a few minutes each about transformation in our lives at this point in our journey.  Frankly, I am looking forward to hearing what Emily and Hamp have to say.  I hear rumors that Hamp and Emily might even sing!  I hope that you will make it a point to be present! 

Grace and peace,

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself. Serve.