October 8, 2008

Dear Friends,

Just off the coast of Scotland lies the very small island of Iona. The size of Iona (3.5 square miles) belies its impact on the Christian faith, for Iona is the home of what is called Celtic Christianity. The Celts arrived in this part of the world around 400 B.C., bringing with them a pre-Christian spiritual philosophy that was inclusive, joyful, accepting, and mindful of the presence of the Creator.

The Celts believed that because God was the creator, human beings are deeply and essentially good. They insisted that there was a connection with all living things. You can see their beliefs in ancient Celtic art and in the complex, knotted patterns of their metal jewelry. There was a sense in which they believed everything was intertwined and interdependent. If one touches the web of a spider in one place the entire web moves. That is the way it is with life, according to the Celts.

Creation, for the Celts, did not happen out of nothing, but rather was a living energy born out of the womb of God. Don?t you love that imagery? The knot at the center of Celtic art represents a joyful holiness woven into the heart of all of Creation.

In many attempts to spread Good News, we Christians have insisted that the indigenous people shed their belief system entirely in order to adopt an ?acceptable? belief in Christ. Tragically, throughout history Christians have been prone to use the cross as a weapon rather than as a bridge. When Christians came to Iona about 563 A.D. something unique happened. Instead of acting like a dominating faith intent on giving the poor natives a dose of what real religion was like, Colum Cille, later known as St. Columba, recognized that God was already present in this place. The first Christians who landed on Iona came in contact with the Celts and were transformed by God?s grace at least as much as the Celts were transformed by those Christians sharing their faith. The Christians who came to Iona listened before they spoke. If we could only learn that lesson again!

Celtic Christianity weaves together pre-Christian beliefs about the goodness of God, life, and creation with the healing presence of Christ. This unique confluence of faith is now an influential presence in the world? Most of you have seen the ancient Celtic Cross. In the middle of the cross is a circle, signifying the holistic nature of the universe and life. In the cross there are weavings, for we are intertwined and entangled with each other and with God.

Here is an ancient prayer from the Celts: ?You are above me O God? you are beneath, you are in air, you are in earth, you are beside me, you are within. Kindle within me a love for you in all things.?

And that, my friends, is our longing. Even if we cannot say it, that is our longing.

This Sunday we are touching the web in one place as we worship? and the entire web trembles. We will be focused on what it means to be in community. How are we connected to each other? What does it mean to be together? What is the church called to be? I hope you will join us!

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Serve.




October 15,2008

Dear Friends,

It is a memory from childhood ? Traveling to Cherokee, North Carolina. There we bought the obligatory hatchets, moccasins, and cheap Indian headdress. We had our pictures made with a Cherokee ?chief? standing on a street corner. At the time none of us thought of the stereotypes we were perpetuating, nor did we consider the rather de-meaning position we put the ?chief? in by his standing on a street corner, receiving tips for pictures. It was a sham. It was cheap. It was wrong.

But later that night in Cherokee we heard the sad story of ?The Trail of Tears.? Presented in a large outdoor amphitheater, ?Unto These Hills? is a play that tells ?the rest of the story.? It is not that the production is exceedingly well done or nuanced? nor are the actors professionals. But as a child, I experienced several sleepless nights after watching that outdoor drama which plays to the masses. The firing of the muskets and cannon scared me. But I also was bothered by the haunting story of ?The Trail of Tears?.

The Creek and Cherokee Indians fought on the wrong side in the Revolutionary War. The British promised them protection from the settlers who were invading their tribal lands. The British lost, leaving the Creeks and the Cherokees to fend for themselves.

After the Revolutionary War, starvation and smallpox took their toll on the population of Native Americans, but the greatest event to negatively impact those natives was the discovery of gold outside of Dahlonega, Georgia. Around 1815, a Cherokee boy playing in the Chestatee River found a yellow pebble. The boy?s mother sold it to a white man. The Georgia Gold Rush ensued. Greed took over and the rest is history.

President Andrew Jackson, an Indian fighter before his political career, forged the New Echota treaty of 1835 which ceded all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi to the United States. The Cherokee Indians had to go!

By 1838, armed soldiers rounded up 17,000 Native Americans for the march west. It was a death march. 2,000 people died on the trip and another 2,000 were put in stockades in Oklahoma. A Georgia volunteer, later a colonel in the Confederate Army, said, ?I fought through the Civil War and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered by thousands, but the Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.?

Fast forward to 1967-1968. Eighth grade Georgia History. Mr. Culbreth was my teacher in Metter, Georgia. I learned about General Oglethorpe and the settling of Savannah. But Mr. Culbreth did not tell me about ?The Trail of Tears? atrocity. The omission was not intentional on his part. It was not in the history book. I find that odd. Sanitized Georgia history?

Where was God when this mini-Holocaust happened in Georgia? What are we to do with stories like this? What does God require of us? The prophet Micah answers those questions in part: ?He has told you, men and women, what is good! What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.?

I want to stand with those who are forgotten, mistreated, abused, stepped on, downtrodden, depressed, and overlooked. Every day of our lives there are mini-Holocausts going on all around us. Open your eyes and ears. Is the voiceless one an individual you know? Is it a group of people who don?t have a voice? ACT by DOING justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.

This Sunday in worship I will be preaching a sermon titled ?Living in the Red?. I hope you will be present!

Thank you to all who are helping with our Sunday morning breakfast ministry.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God. Love Others. Love yourself. Serve.



October 24, 2008

Dear Friends,

So tell me, what would Jesus do? Would he vote for McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden? Would he vote at all? Would he participate in the process?

I received an email last week that implied that the end of time would come if a certain candidate was elected. It was a fear-mongering, lie-filled, misuse and abuse of the Bible. The email showed amazing ignorance of biblical texts. I wrote the person who forwarded the email and asked to be removed from their distribution list because of the harm this type of communication does to the fabric of society.

That email got me to thinking about what Jesus would think of our system. I will be bold enough to surmise that:
Jesus would be sad. Our system is so very broken. The rhetoric, regardless of your political affiliation, is pointed toward polarization. Polarization was not the agenda of Jesus.
Jesus would remind us of the fact that the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom to which we owe primary allegiance.
If Jesus voted, he would always vote to support the poor and disenfranchised. It does not take a biblical scholar to know that this was absolutely key and nonnegotiable in Jesus' teaching. "In as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me..."
Jesus would try to build bridges.
Jesus would seek peace.
Jesus would love the losers.
Jesus would love the winners.
Jesus would question us about agendas and core values that lie behind our vote: war, materialism, consumerism, caring for the poor. Jesus had much to say about these issues.
Jesus had a global perspective far more than a provincial perspective. He would expect all Christians to ask this question: What is best for the world? "God so loved THE WORLD..." The question of what is good for the country is a secondary question to what is good for the world.
So, would Jesus have been a Libertarian, a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent if he had lived in America in 2008? I have a sense that he would have resisted those sorts of labels and affiliations. He would have been offended by those who promote one candidate, ticket, or party as "God's Chosen", insinuating that a vote for anyone else is against the will of God. Would Jesus even vote? I don't know.

I will tell you that I have already voted. For me, it was an act of faith... and hope. I prayed for discernment and wisdom before I voted. I read much and did research on the candidates. I certainly sought to vote out of my understanding of who Jesus calls me to be and what Jesus wishes for the world.

I am not under the illusion that the ticket elected (whoever that is) will be perfect or will be able to resolve all issues. Such a perspective is foolishly naive. The brokenness in the world and in our country is undeniable. Jesus stood against brokenness. So I voted for the candidates I think have the greatest chance of healing some of the brokenness.

You will do that too. Even if we vote for different candidates, I know you will be looking at your voting through the eyes of faith. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God." Let those words from the prophet Micah guide your vote. God will be pleased if you do that.

Miracles are glorious and can be disconcerting too. We would like for miracles to make sense. Much of the time they don't. Wouldn't it be great if we could control miracles? Tell me this - what is a miracle? How are we, within the mystery of faith, to think of and define miracles? On Sunday I will be exploring these issues in my sermon. I hope that you will make it a point to be a part of worship... and bring a friend with you.

Grace and peace,
Tim Bagwell

Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Serve.



October 29, 2008

Dear Centenary family,

Halloween causes memories to flood back about the years when John and Emily (my now-grown children) were young.   Sometimes they would pretend that I was the monster (no snickers, please) and I would growl as loudly as I could and search the house while they hid from me.  As soon as I found them they would jump on this horrible ?monster? and wrestle me to the ground.  John and Emily were very fine monster eradicators.

At other times the three of us would pretend that there were monsters behind doors and in the closets.  Whenever we found one of those ?monsters? we would pull out a can of monstercide and spray the pest vigorously.  You could call us Monsterbusters!

Behind the doors and in the closets of our lives we perceive that there are all sorts of ?monsters? out to get us.  These perceived ?monsters? keep us from being the person God calls us to be.  What kind of monsters control your life?  Guilt?  Jealousy?  Envy?  Anger?  Addiction?  Apathy?  Greed?  Prejudice?  You get the idea.  The list is endless.  What is lurking behind the doors and in the closets of your life?

The naming of the monster is the first act of healing.  It is not that the monster just disappears, but acknowledging the power it has in your life is the first step in asking God to give you the strength to face the monster.  Is there anything that God is unable to help you confront?  No!  Nothing lies beyond the concern of God.  Those monsters under your bed and in your closet ? God does not want you to be controlled by them.

This Sunday I will be preaching on ?Politics, the Election, and the Movement?.  I will focus on the politics of Amos and Jesus.  I hope you will be present? and that you will bring a friend!

AND? don?t forget that this Sunday is time change Sunday.  Daylight Savings time will end, so you will turn your clocks back one hour when you go to bed Saturday night. 

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.