February 6,2008

Dear Centenary Friends,

Talisa Hanson, our Administrative Assistant and quarterback, came across a chapter written for a book in the early 1900?s.  The book was about Macon churches and the chapter is titled ?Historical Sketch of Centenary Church? by P. E. Dennis.  Mr. Dennis was a member of Centenary at some point in history because in this sketch he refers to ?our church.?  I learned from Dot Sutton that one of the Dennis clan (not P.E.)  was the architect who created the design for Centenary.

Now, back to the historical sketch.  Read this first brief paragraph:  ?In the beginning God made Heaven and earth, and the earth was without form and void.?  Later on He made Centenary Church, very much in the same way, and while of much less magnitude, those of us who have been associated with the movement from the beginning see in it His guiding hand.

P. E. Dennis has a sense of humor.  Can?t you tell?  And he owns his bias by continuing:  ?A true history of Centenary Church would probably be better obtained by getting someone not associated with it in any way, to search the records and tell of its beginnings, its progress, and of its successes and failures.  The enthusiasm which has ever characterized those who have labored there is apt to bias the judgment, and give too rosy a hue or too gloomy a view to what has or has not been accomplished.?

You can?t help but like Mr. Dennis.  He has a sense of humor, he knows himself well, and he makes no attempt to indicate that he is writing an unbiased history of Centenary.  He can?t write an unbiased piece because he LOVES Centenary.  Those few things tell me much about Mr. P. E. Dennis.

But there is one phrase in these introductory sentences which leapt out at me.  Do you see it?  ??those of us who have been associated with the movement??  The key word here is ?movement?.  P.E. Dennis could have used a variety of words such as church, or organization, or gathering, or congregation instead of the word ?movement?.  In fact, I would argue that any of the words I just listed would be MORE likely to have been used than the word ?movement.?  But P.E. Dennis got it.  At its best, the church (or congregation) is a movement.  Jesus did NOT start an organization? he started a movement.  Paul did NOT birth congregations as much as he birthed branches of a movement.   The church gets into a whole bunch of trouble when it primarily identifies itself as an organization. 

A movement is dynamic? not static.  There is unpredictability in movements.  Improvisation is valued in movements.  Movements always point to something larger.  Movements ebb and flow, dance, sway, bounce, jog, walk.  Movements are imperfect because they are always forming.  Movements are about growth and health and questions and relationships.  One never arrives at a finished state with a movement.  Movements drive organizations crazy because they are hard to control and are unpredictable.  This case could be made of many denominations (and local churches):  that which started as a movement has now morphed into an organization and the organization is dying because the sense of movement has been buried.

P.E. Dennis  wrote in the early 1900?s about the ?movement? called Centenary.  The ?movement? is alive and well.  Thanks be to God!

Shelly and Matt Martin and their children are in Lithuania for 6 months where Matt is teaching as a Fulbright professor of American literature at a university in Vilnius.  The Martins are an important part of this movement with us.  They have a blog, so if you want to keep up with what they are doing visit http://martinsofmacon.blogspot.com       

We are moving into a new series during the season of Lent ? Traveling Light?.

Here are the upcoming sermon themes:

February 10 ? Temptation

February 17 ? Illumination

February 24 ? Participation

March 2 ? Restoration

March 9 ? Resurrection (Lazarus)

March 16 ? Anticipation

March 23 (Easter) ? Jubilation


This Sunday we will be looking at Temptation from a variety of perspectives ? the temptation of Jesus, the temptation of David, and our temptation.  What do we do with those feelings and realities?  As usual, music will punctuate the drama of worship.  This week we are using music from Leonard Cohen and Pierce Pettis, along with some of our traditional music.  Cohen is one of America?s greatest songwriters.  Phillip Elder will be sharing one of Cohen?s finest works, ?Hallelujah?, where he voices his own struggle with temptation and tells a bit of the story of King David.  It is a haunting work of art.  We end with Pettis? ?God Believes in You.? 


Sunday worship takes my breath away.  Spread the word.  There is a movement which is being birthed and re-birthed at Centenary.  Let nothing interfere with your presence on Sunday? and bring someone with you! 


Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell


February 13, 2008

Dear Centenary Friends,

Valentine?s Day is tomorrow (Feb. 14).  What birthed this day devoted to the expression of love?  Some scholars trace the day back to St. Valentine, a Roman who was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity.  He died on February 14, 269 A.D.  Legend has it that St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer?s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it ?From your Valentine.?  Other scholars state that Saint Valentine served as a priest at the temple during the reign of Emperor Claudius.  Claudius then had Valentine jailed for defying him.  In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine.

Still other scholars see the day as more evidence of the early church being quite savvy.  How so?  December 25 is not celebrated as Christmas because Jesus was born on that date.  The truth is that no one knows when Jesus was born.  The early church, as it moved into pagan lands, wanted to have times of jubilation and celebration focused on Christian traditions.  So? since there was already a winter solstice celebration, Christmas was set on December 25 so that Christians could celebrate a meaningful time for them and not draw too much attention to themselves.  Since everyone else was celebrating, this provided an opportunity for the Christian Church to begin acknowledging the birth of Christ by adopting the same timing as the existing celebrations.  This is why some of our present Christmas traditions have NOTHING to do with the faith? Through the years, these traditions were absorbed from the surrounding pagan culture.  The same is true of Easter.  Have you noticed that Easter moves around?  Early Christians wanted to celebrate the Resurrection so existing pagan celebrations which already existed were utilized as the framework for Easter.  This explains why there are Easter bunnies and eggs along with the more overtly religious meanings of Easter.

Which brings us to Valentine?s Day? In ancient Rome, February 14 was a holiday to honor Juno, the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses.  The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage.  There was a point in the ancient celebration where young men would draw the names of young women out of a box.  So, through time, the early church once again took essentially a pagan holiday and infused it with the essence of Christian celebration by honoring a saint of the church (St. Valentine). 

I rather like the fact that instead of condemning those celebrations which were already happening in various cultures at a much earlier time, there was this joining with them in celebration.  Those solstice celebrations of Easter and Christmas? and the celebration of Juno in Rome? were adopted and used by the church in sharing the Gospel.  The pagan celebrations morphed.  BUT the early church also morphed because some of the traditions from culture became a part of what we still celebrate today.  That is a good thing.  People outside of faith tradition have something to learn from us as people of faith.  BUT let us never become so arrogant as to think we have nothing to learn from those outside the faith tradition.  It has been occurring for many centuries.  It will continue to occur as time unfolds.  Yes? it is a good thing.

On  to American history and Valentine?s Day ? Esther Howland was born in 1828.  She is credited with sending the first Valentine?s Day card.  The Hallmark Company LOVES Esther Howland.  The practice of sending cards grew and now supports an industry. 

How about these quaint bits of tradition for Valentine?s Day:

* In Wales, wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts on February 14th.  Hearts, keys and keyholes were favorite decorations on the spoons.  The decoration meant, ?You unlock my heart!?


* In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their valentines would be.  They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week.  To wear your heart on your sleeve now means that it is easy for other people to see how you are feeling.


As you may have heard, we have just moved into a new series at Centenary:          Traveling Light.  Here are the themes for the Sundays of Lent:

Feb. 10 ? Temptation

Feb. 17 ? Illumination

Feb. 24 ? Participation

March 2 ? Restoration

March 9 ? Resurrection (Lazarus)

March 16 ? Anticipation

March 23 (Easter) ? Jubilation

These are good days at Centenary.  God is at work in amazing ways.  Come to worship and bring a friend or two. 


Grace and peace,

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love others.  Love yourself.  Serve.





February 21, 2008

Dear Centenary friends,

Many of us divide the world into sacred and secular.  Over the last several years I have become convinced that the divide between sacred and secular is not only obsolete ? it never existed in the first place and was a figment of imagination.  Look at Jesus ? for him, everything was sacred, thus there was the possibility of redemption.  Redemption implies that something had value in the beginning.  True?  Jesus confronted the profane in the world, reminding the world of its sacredness in the first place.  Jesus did not make things sacred ? he jarred the memory of those who were unaware that they were sacred.  Reminding people of their sacredness when they do not want to be reminded can get you into a lot of trouble because sacredness carries with it certain implications for living in the world.  Jesus died because he reminded people that they were sacred and belonged to God.  Some folks, particularly those of us in positions of power and comfort, just don?t want to hear the truth. 

Joe (not his real name) is sacred, but he does not know that.  He never knew his father, his mother was an alcoholic, he received little education, he slurs his words, he may be mentally ill and he is addicted? but for the first time in his life he is slowly claiming the way God looks at him.  It is not that he processes all of this theologically.  The truth slowly dawns on him because when he comes to us on Sunday morning, there is far more he receives than a plate of warm food.  Someone smiles and is gracious.  Joe is accustomed to people responding to him rudely.  He is usually considered ?in the way? and ?someone to avoid.?  No one has ever really valued Joe.  He is in the world and of the world.  But then, he encounters Jesus, because he encounters you.  All of a sudden, Joe thinks of himself in a new way.  ?Am I really worth something to someone?? he wonders.  Redemption questions start stirring in him mind.  He responds by trying to do better. 

This conversation about Joe and beyond Joe is not just a matter of semantics.  If you look at the world, humans, creation, and the cosmos as sacred, then the entire conversation changes.   If, however, one defines sacred as ?church, holiness, worship, church folks, hymns, righteousness, songs which mention God in an overt fashion,  11 a.m. on Sunday morning, church language, theological litmus tests, reading the Bible? then that understanding creates a false dichotomy between the secular and sacred.    Everything that we consider secular belongs to God and is, therefore, sacred.

The lines we have created between secular and sacred don?t exist in the heart of God and the mind of Jesus.  Let?s take music ? What makes a song  sacred?  Tradition?  Age of the song?  The overt mention of God?  In order to worship or to be Christian, do you have to listen to a certain type of music?   Several weeks ago Phillip Elder sang Leonard Cohen?s Hallelujah.  It is an earthy song which has been recorded by at least 17 ?secular? musical artists.  Is the song sacred or secular?  Who cares?  All I know is that the song speaks to the depths of human struggle and temptation.  It even uses King David?s story as its base.  BUT it was not written as a sacred song? yet it is a sacred song.  Curtis Mayfield? Bob Dylan? Susan Werner?  Bach?  Charles Wesley? Fannie Crosby?  Tell me where the line is?  What is sacred and what is secular?   Most of what is now considered ?sacred? was at one time considered profane or secular.  T-Bone Burnett (an award-winning producer and in-the-world artist) says it this way:  ?You can sing about the Light, or you can sing about what you see BECAUSE of the Light.?  There are many conversations, musical and otherwise, which Christians have dismissed because there was no direct reference to the Light, when in reality the perceived ?secular? conversation was prompted BECAUSE of the Light.  It comes out of sacred space.

So? look with me again at the conversation of sacred vs. secular.  The line of demarcation never existed.  It is a false dichotomy.  In the words of David Dark, ?There is not a secular molecule in the universe.?  Everything ultimately belongs to God.  No doubt that some sacred things can become profane? they get off track? people make bad decisions and are overwhelmed by circumstances? but that does not mean that they don?t belong to God!  They are still sacred --- they either have forgotten it or never discovered it.  So our role is to remind them of what they already intuitively know:  They are of sacred worth.  God made them who they are.  God calls them to an awareness of who they are.  They do not move from being secular to being sacred.  Culture, too, is not divided between secular and sacred.  That line of thought is the basis of the heresy known as Dualism.

Therefore, the role of the Christian is not to avoid what has traditionally been called ?secular?.  Jesus didn?t.   Our role is not even to ?engage secular culture?.  God has already done that because God created all things so there is no such thing as secular culture.  In the eyes of God, it is all sacred.  

One final thought in this stream-of-consciousness reflection ? Paul stood on Mars Hill talking to the educated Athenians.  He could have said, ?You are going to Hell because you are secular and pantheistic.?  He did not say that.  Instead he recognized their sacredness and he legitimized them by saying:  ?It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously.  When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across.  And then I found one inscribed, To the God Nobody Knows.  I?m here to introduce you to this God??  (Acts 17 from The Message)  Now how clever is that?  Paul acts as if the line between the secular and sacred does not exist.  (And it doesn?t.)  He claims their sacredness and calls them into a holy conversation based on who they are.  Brilliant! 

Centenary is involved in this conversation at a very deep level.  Thousands long for a place where they can be reminded of who they are.  The conversation continues and grows.  We are shaped by the conversation.

This Sunday I will be preaching on ?Participation: Rhythm, Movement, and Breathing??  You will hear me use this phrase as a chorus:  ?Life in the kingdom is a dance between solitude and community.?  We are going to discuss that together through spoken word and music. 

AND? we serve Holy Communion frequently in worship, but some are longing for it every week.  What a great longing!  Several weeks ago we created space after our service for the receiving of the bread and wine.  The response was very positive.  So? we will experiment a bit at the request of several laity.  An opportunity will be given at the end of worship for you to receive the elements in the new prayer room off of the ?round room? next to the sanctuary.  If you would like to share in Holy Communion, you are welcome.  We will offer this each Sunday until Easter.  If there are those who want to continue it beyond Easter, then we shall.  Come encounter the Mystery.

I am looking forward to worship!  Come from the sacred space you already occupy to another dimension of sacred space.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell



February 27, 2008

Dear Centenary Friends,

Could it be that every bush is burning?  Let me explain what I mean.  The story of Moses and the burning bush is well-known.  Moses fled Egypt because he, in a rage of indignation, killed someone.  He is tending sheep when he sees this sight of a burning bush and God introduces Himself/Herself as YHWH? in English, Yahweh - which means ?I am?.  ?Take off your shoes because you are standing on holy ground, Moses.? 

Thus, there is a divine encounter.  Prior to this event was God not hanging around?  Where, exactly, was God?  The stories and oral tradition of Abraham pre-date the Moses narratives.  God speaks to Abraham and says, ?You are my friend.?  Now that is a radical concept!  Prior to that moment, the concept of God in human minds was that a god was something to be feared and even avoided, if at all possible.  One did not want to incur the wrath of a god.  The radical change we see in the story of Abraham and God is that they are chummy and even visit and talk together.  There is reciprocity.   Abraham?s identity, then, is ?I am a friend of God.?  You and I are too.  We are friends of God.

So God was around before Moses and had even revealed himself in a variety of ways.  This brings us back to the burning bush.  Rarely do we see or experience burning bushes --- or do we?  Could it be that God is seeking to connect with us in all situations, at all times, in all places?  Is it a matter of our perception or lack thereof that either enables us to comprehend and experience the presence of God or to feel the absence of God?  Moses was not a particularly holy person--- not by a long shot.  Yet God visited him in the metaphor of the burning bush.  When was the last time you saw a burning bush?  May I submit to you that you saw one today!  And you will also see one tomorrow!  And I can guarantee that you will see one the day after tomorrow!   And the day after that!

Every bush is burning because God has claimed us as His/Her friends.  Wow!  If God is a friend, does God not want to connect with us?  Of course!  So, could it be that because of our hard-headedness, lack of sensitivity, callousness, hard hearts, unwillingness to see, addictions, blindness, and busyness, we simply fail to experience the burning bushes which are aflame around us?  Surely God did not choose just a few people to whom to give a burning bush experience!  I believe that your name is on God?s list for experiencing a burning bush on a regular basis! 

Jesus seemed to indicate that God is present all around.  The Spirit is ubiquitous.  Consider the lilies of the field.  I will be with you always.  The wind blows where it will.  Those who have done it unto the least of these have done it unto me.  There is an all-encompassing presence of God in the world for Jesus.  Holiness is all around.  And, there are many burning bushes.  Sometimes the bush may bring an ?Aha? moment.  Other times it may be more subtle ? like a twig or two are burning.  Nevertheless, a burning bush is a burning bush whether is has been doused with gasoline or is a small scrub bush that smolders.  Yes ? a burning bush is a burning bush.  The problem is not the lack of burning bushes.  The problem lies in our ability to comprehend what we are seeing and experiencing. 

I have a new friend who is looking for a burning bush.  The bush is already there because every bush is a burning bush.  Now, mind you, I am not sure what the voice of God will say to her.  Stay?  Go?  There are many variables.  And the truth is that God is so great that God lies in both directions as she moves through her time of discernment and listening.  There is no direction she can turn that is void of burning bushes.  There is no decision she can make where God will not be her friend.  There is no denying the existence of the burning bush in her life, for I have seen it.  She points to it all the time.  And she is trying to listen for God in the cacophony of the stuff of life.  She is asking the right questions.  Time will bring greater clarity for her because God is her friend.  Every bush is a burning bush. 

Whisper this truth:  Every bush is a burning bush because God is my friend.    Pause.  Shhhh.  Slow down.  Quiet.  Listen.  Looking for a burning bush?  It just might be right in front of you.


The Traveling Light series continues this Sunday.  Don?t you love this passage?  ?Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you?ll recover your life.  I?ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me ? watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won?t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you?ll learn to live freely and lightly.?  (Matthew 11:28-30 from The Message)  This Sunday Beth and I will be sharing the unfolding word focused around Restoration from John 9:1-12. 

Let nothing interfere with your presence in worship this Sunday!

And? if you can help with our breakfast, email Joel Kitchens at joel@centenarymacon.org or Jeremy Gray at Jeremy@centenarymacon.org  

See you Sunday!

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love others.  Love yourself.  Serve.