January 1, 2009

Dear Centenary Friends,
Happy New Year!
Susan and I just returned from Eleuthera, one of the 750 islands that make up the Bahamas.  Eleuthera is a very remote island with few tourists.  Our daughter, Emily, works for the Bahamian Methodist Church on this island. 
Eleuthera is astoundingly beautiful.  Located about 90 miles east of Nassau, Eleuthera is a barrier island for the Bahamas.  This means that  on the east side of the island is the Atlantic and on the west side is the Caribbean Sea.  The island is very narrow so much of the time you can see both the Atlantic and Caribbean at the same time.  The house we stayed in was on the Atlantic and I could walk to the Caribbean in less than 10 minutes.  Amazing!
Now here is the story I want to tell you:  It is the tradition on the island to have 11 a.m. worship on Christmas Day.  Susan and I went with Emily to Wesley Methodist Church, the small church Emily attends.  The people of Eleuthera are very poor in material possessions, but not in spirit. Worship is alive, vibrant, heart-felt, loud, and participatory.  See if you can envision this scene:  I am sitting in the church on Christmas Day looking out the open window at the Caribbean, which is a crystal clear aqua color.  It is approximately 80 degrees outside.  The hymn is announced... we stood and sang a wonderful Christmas carol I have loved through the years:  "In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind may moan.  Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.  Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.  In the bleak midwinter, long ago."  Frankly, it was surreal.  I wanted to laugh out loud at singing this carol in the Bahamas!  Snow, wind, frost, and ice did not seem to fit the setting!
The lay preacher stood to preach.  Now, mind you, there are not many twists on the Christmas Story I have not heard or read, but this one was new to me.  The theme was "which were better - the wise men or the shepherds?"  Even thinking about it now makes me chuckle.  The contention of this preacher is that the shepherds were better than the wise men because they TOLD the story.  Quote from the sermon:  "I don't see in the Bible that the Wise Men told anybody anything." 
Now, even though there were some theologically questionable parts to the sermon, who gives a rip?  Worship was alive, vibrant, heartfelt, loud, authentic, and meaningful.  I worshipped in this place with people whose traditions were different from my own.... but with whom I shared a kinship. 
And so it goes...  as we enter 2009 I hope that you will make worship a top priority in your life.  You may not like every song or every sermon... but that is not the point.  The point is to be together authentically as we intentionally turn our thoughts toward a loving God.  Our hearts and minds soar in worship!
This Sunday I begin a 3 sermon series on Listening Between the Words.  What does it mean to hear God's voice?  What does God sound like?  In the midst of preparing for the series several weeks ago, I stumbled across an old Billy Joel song which we will be using as a running theme for the series... "And So It Goes"...  One of the stanzas reads: 
"I spoke to You in cautious tones;
You answered me with no pretense;
And still I feel I said too much;
My silence is my self defense."
Chew on that for awhile...  Plan to be in worship on Sunday, January 4, and let's begin 2009 together.
Grace and Peace.
Tim Bagwell
Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.


January 8, 2009 

Dear Centenary Friends,

I want to be a Kingdom person.   According to Richard Rohr, Kingdom people are surrendered people.  You sense that life is OK at their core.  A Kingdom person lives for what matters, for life in its deepest sense.  Gentleness and calm freedom are marks of their spirit.  Kingdom people are grounded, but are very gracious.  Whatever they are after, they already seem to be enjoying it.  Kingdom people are anchored by their awareness of God?s love deep within. 

One of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, has this to say about living life as a Kingdom person:  ??The idea that you draw a line and say, The righteous people are on this side and the bad people are on the other side ? this is not gracious?. To think that only faultless people are worthwhile seems like an incredible exclusion of almost everything of deep value in the human saga.  Sometimes I can?t believe the narrowness that has been attributed to God in terms of what he would approve and disapprove.? 

Yes, I want to be a Kingdom person.  The day when faith is based on doctrinal or creedal litmus tests must end.  God?s engagement with humans is about far more then ?correct? belief.  Those who want to divide people by whether they believe ?correctly? fail to understand the broadness of God?s love.  Martin Marty puts it this way:  ?The plot of the 66 canonical books in the Bible, for all its zigs and zags, shows the generosity of God.?  Amen to that. 

New Year resolutions are normally short-lived.  Why not simply strive to be a Kingdom person?  No doubt that you and I will fail at points, but when we look at the larger picture, it is the desire to be a Kingdom person that gives us a sense of being grounded.  It is our identity.  And make a note of this:  Being a gracious and loving Kingdom person will drive some people crazy, particularly religious types who have yet to let go of their firmly held belief that we are ushered into God?s presence by  ?correct? belief.  Love those folks too, but don?t for a minute think that their way of seeing God?s nature is the only way to experience God. 

Listening Between the Lines ? We move to the second sermon in this series.  I will be preaching from the 1st chapter of Mark.  How did Jesus hear the call of God?  Does the call of God morph, for us and for Jesus?  We will be dealing with these sorts of questions ? and others this Sunday.  I hope you will be present!  You might even hear a bit of ?O Brother, Wherefore Art Thou??  Bring a friend.

May you see God beneath all of God?s surprising disguises!

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.



January 14, 2009

Dear Centenary friends,

The tradition of Inaugural prayers started much more recently than one might assume.  According to historians, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first President to have a prayer uttered at his Inauguration in 1937.  Since that time, every Inauguration has had prayers, invocations, and benedictions. 

Billy Graham was asked to pray at the 1969 (Nixon), 1989 (Bush), 1993 (Clinton), and 1997 (Clinton) Inaugurations.  United Methodist Bishop William R. Cannon prayed in 1977 for the Carter Inauguration.  It is fascinating to me that in 1985, Peter Gomes (the chaplain of Harvard University and one of the most widely respected liberal theologians in America) was invited to pray at the Reagan Inauguration.

Now here is an interesting bit of information:  At the first Inauguration for President Eisenhower (1953), Eisenhower himself prayed a prayer during the ceremony.  No President has done that before or since.

United Methodist pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell prayed at the 2001 and 2005 Inaugurations of George W. Bush.  Rev. Caldwell also was the pastor who performed the wedding for the Bush?s daughter when she married at Bush?s Texas ranch.  Interestingly enough, Rev. Caldwell, the pastor of a very large predominantly African American United Methodist Church in Houston, became a significant supporter of Obama?s candidacy.  I suspect there were some strains on the friendship between President Bush and Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell. 

President-elect Obama has sought to be inclusive and broad in his choice of persons to pray at next Tuesday?s Inauguration.  Rick Warren, certainly one of the most influential voices in evangelical Protestantism, was invited to pray.  The choice of Rev. Warren stirred more than a small amount of controversy in some quarters.  Others who will participate in the ceremony include Rev. Joseph Lowery, a retired United Methodist pastor and former President of the SCLC.  Lowery is a veteran of the Civil Rights movement.  I will be surprised if Rev. Lowery does not give a bit of advice to President Obama as he pronounces the Inaugural benediction.  Lowery is known for not staying on script.  His words will be the last ones uttered at the Inauguration and he will not take the moment lightly.  I suspect that even President Obama will be a bit nervous as Rev. Lowery stands up to pronounce the benediction.  And he may give a sigh of relief when it is over.

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson was invited to pray at a major gathering on Sunday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial that kicks off the Inaugural events.  The Rev. Sharon Watkins, leader of the Disciples of Christ Church, will preach at the worship service at the National Cathedral which will occur just after the Inauguration.

So, though I have not been invited to pray for the Inauguration, I still offer the following as the prayer I might pray IF I had been invited:  God, thank you for bringing us together in this moment? We know you are the author of change and this day we do not simply pray to you because we are supposed to, we pray because our hearts desire to connect with You and each other.  We are grateful for our nation with all of its diversity.  May we grow in our tolerance of each other.  Give all of us the capacity to respectfully listen to each other.  We pray that as we learn to listen, you will heal some of the divisions which have torn at the fabric of our national identity. 

We pray for our new leader, President Obama.  Clothe him with humility and wisdom.  Surround him with persons who are not self-seeking, but who long for the common good in this world you created.  May he not be paralyzed by the turbulence of these times.  Give him a hope that is birthed out of a reliance on You.  And even when he senses darkness, reveal to  him Your light which has always shone in the darkness.

Renew us as you remind us of what is of ultimate value, O God.  Help us to remember that all people on this globe are your beloved children, created in Your image.  Amen.

What is your prayer for our world, our nation, and President Obama? 


This Sunday I will conclude the series on hearing God?s call? Listening Between the Lines.  We will be particularly focused on how we hear God?s call together ? corporately.  It will be a good day and I hope you will be present.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.



 January 28, 2009

Dear Centenary friends,

 Thirty one years ago an old man invited me to eat ?brains ?n eggs? with him and I turned down his invitation because the idea of eating brains made my stomach feel queasy.  Here is the recipe:

2.5 tablespoons of bacon grease

4 eggs

1/3 cup of whole milk

 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

teaspoon of salt

1 can (5 ounces) of pork brains in gravy

Melt the bacon grease in an iron skillet on low heat.  Add pork brains to the heated grease.  Stir with a fork.  Add salt and pepper and stir.  Whisk eggs and milk together.  Increase the heat and add egg mixture to the brains.  Scramble to desired consistency.  Serve immediately over toast.


Does that make your mouth water?  Is there any chance that this dish will make its way to our Sunday morning breakfast at Centenary?  We will have to check with the kitchen crew, but I don?t think so!


In reading a bit about brains ?n eggs, I came across one guy who loves the dish so much that he takes his own can of brains with him when he goes into a restaurant.  When he orders scrambled eggs, he gives the can of brains to the chef with instructions to dump the can into the eggs.  This guy also contends that while pork brains are preferred, the truth is that the brain of any mammal will work just fine!


According to Luke 10:8, Jesus would be extremely disappointed with me for avoiding the invitation of the old man to eat brains ?n eggs.  Jesus sends out 70 of his disciples and gives them some specific instructions:  ??eat and drink whatever they provide? eat what is set before you? cure the sick ? say to them ?The kingdom of God has come near to you.?? 


Now I have got to tell you that this is strange.  Here Jesus is sending out 70 of his brightest and best to witness, heal, and cure.  Before they go, he gives them instructions about eating ?what is set before you.?  Odd, to say the least.  Until you get to thinking about it.  The accepting of hospitality is a way to connect with people in such a way that you can say some pretty intimate things like ?The Kingdom of God has come near you.?


When you accept the hospitality of another, you give up some control.  In giving up the control, it means that the person offering the hospitality can you hear you at an entirely different level because greater intimacy has been reached.  The relationship is now reciprocal.  It is shared.  No longer is the relationship a monologue ? it becomes a dialogue.   


At Centenary we seek to offer hospitality? radical hospitality.  It might just be that the next step for us is to be open to the fact that some who have received our hospitality might be trying to figure out ways to be hospitable to us.  Are you up to taking a risk?  What if it means eating brains ?n eggs?


Mike Farris is an amazing musician from Nashville, Tennessee.  Last fall, we had him at Centenary, along with the McCrary Sisters.  This Sunday Mike is back with his incomparable voice to be with us in worship.  I will be telling a story of a guy in Old Testament who got involved with a prostitute.  He falls in love with her.  It really is a great story.  Come join us for worship at 11 a.m. and bring some friends with you!

I have recently become more intrigued with the film-making of Clint Eastwood.  Over the past 15 years, Clint Eastwood has made three of the most religious movies ever produced.  However, his film-making is full of profanity and the roughest language one can imagine.  But Eastwood is steady with the story and has shared the Gospel with countless people.  Clint Eastwood makes me think.  I want to explore three of Eastwood?s films with some of you who have the stomach to watch them.  Jerry Elder and I have decided that we are going to lead three sessions which we are calling ?The Gospel According to Clint Eastwood?.  We will show the film, followed by discussion.  All of the sessions will happen on Friday nights at 7:30.  Five bucks will get you the movie and refreshments.  Here is the plan:

March 6 ? Unforgiven

March 20 ? Million Dollar Baby

April 10 ? Gran Torino (we hope it will be out on DVD by then.  If not, we will delay this last showing.)  Go ahead and mark these dates on your calendar if you are interested.  But Jerry and I also want to say clearly that these movies are not for everyone so don?t come unless you can handle the content.

Last Wednesday evening, Mark Strozier shared some of his art with us.  Mark is a brilliant photographer.  He is one of the authors of ?Pray the Trail?, which you can order by visiting www.praythetrail.com   Mark shared with us some of the amazing photography he did for ?Pray the Trail.?  He also has made 118 photos of Centenary Church.  His unique perspective cannot be described, only viewed.  If you want to see his photos, please visit www.centpics.com  These pictures are art.  Look at them and be blessed!  We are fortunate that Mark and Leslie are a part of our faith community.  Thanks Mark!


Grace and peace.


Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.