September 03, 2008

Dear Centenary Family,

Is there any chance that we take ourselves too seriously?  You can go to church, read self-help books, study the Bible, sit in sweat lodges, make religious pilgrimages.  You can fast, light a candle, pray a prayer, chant a mantra, give some blood, and attend a Sunday School class--- all while looking for the meaning of life. 

Some of us spend our days contemplating the meaning of life.  What path am I supposed to take?  What is God?s will for my life?  Why do I not do what I know I should do?  Why do I do what I know I should not do?  Where is God?  Everything is pretty serious for us.  Too serious?  We (and I certainly include myself in this ?we?) spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating, mulling, and dissecting life rather than being caught up in the joy of life.  (At certain points in my life, I am guilty of this transgression.)

So, with this innate drive to figure everything out, we create framework so that we can contemplate the nature of God.  We get so very serious about the framework that we invest the essence of who we are in dogma and doctrine.  Then the religious wars start.  (My meaning is BETTER than your meaning so I need to convince you to accept my understanding and framework of the meaning of life.)  Conflict is inevitable as people protect the frameworks that give them meaning.  Some of us are pretty sure we have the mind of God figured out. 

To my knowledge, human beings are the only species that contemplate meaning in such a manner.  Meaning is good ? don?t get me wrong? but sometimes we become obsessed by it.  The raccoon that frequents my back deck does not dwell on meaning.  That raccoon is simply looking for my birdfeeder so that he can fill his belly with my birdseed.  He and I have gotten to be friends.  He watches me through the window while I watch him.  His bandit eyes shine back at me as I point a flashlight at him.  I wonder if he feels sorry for me? 

My dog Ellie looks at me with eyes of adoration.  She is not thinking about the meaning of life.  She is simply glad that Susan and I rescued her from the pound.  She wants to be loved and is fine as long as I let her run and walk with me.  She never complains about me.  I am loved unconditionally by Ellie.  Even as I write this reflection Ellie is sleeping on the chair beside my desk.  We ran together early this morning.  We will take a walk later this evening.  And tonight she will curl up by Susan on the couch.  Are we good for Ellie or is Ellie good for us?  Perhaps both.

The hummingbirds are going crazy around our house right now.  Susan puts out sweetened water for them.  She is wanting to make sure the hummingbirds gain their required 25-40% of body weight prior to migrating across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula.  The hummingbirds dart back and forth and really are not very nice to each other.  But they are fascinating creatures.  His eye is on the hummingbirds?.

Well ? I do not want to give up my interest in philosophy, self-awareness, theology, values, and beliefs.  I am not sure we humans can ever give up this desire to know what it is all about.  BUT I want to balance my search for meaning by SIMPLY living and LIVING simply.  There is a chance that the raccoon on my back deck, my dog Ellie, and the hummingbirds have something to teach me. 

Here is what I want:  I want to be able to be contemplative? to think about myself, the world, and the nature of God.  But at the same time I don?t want to be obsessed by my introspection.  Is it possible to be both contemplative and to live in the present moment at the same time?  I want to enjoy a cold drink and a good hamburger with friends.  I want to be at peace with myself and the world.  I want to accept others for who they are without trying to make them into my image.   

This Sunday we begin a new series ? The Mystery of Faith -  Each Sunday we will look at the prism of different aspects of faith.  Come and join us as we share the journey!  It will be an unfolding picture.

Also? we welcome Lairalaine White to the Centenary family as our new Director of Community Ministry.  Lairalaine is a gifted and committed AME (African Methodist Episcopal Church) pastor.   We are very fortunate to have her on board.  Lairalaine?s email address is   If you get a chance, send her a note of welcome.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.  


September 11, 2008

Dear Centenary family,

The setting is on Grassdale Road north of Cartersville, Georgia.  My grandparents were sharecroppers on that land? poor people, good people, proud people.  At one time they lived in an old house on top of a little hill.  Surrounding the house were old dilapidated, ramshackle barns and buildings where the farming equipment and tractors were kept.  What did not fit in the barns was left outside on the lawn.  The house had no bathroom.   One visited the outhouse.  That was not easy, particularly when it was cold.  Beyond the farm implements, equipment barns and outhouse lay the fields which my grandparents worked, but never owned.

There was no running water in the house.  I remember being given the opportunity to turn the crank which raised and lowered the bucket into the well for water.  The crank was attached to a log and the rope was fastened to the log and on the end of the rope was a bucket.  When turned, the bucket was lowered into the mysterious darkness of the well.  Turning the handle to raise the bucket full of water back to the surface was more of a task than I could manage as a little boy.  Daddy Shinall was there to help turn that crank.  I remember this detail:  the smoothness of the log on which the rope was attached.  No telling how many years that log had been used for the purpose of drawing water.  The rope had worn down the wood so that it was as smooth as silk.

The human characters on the farm stand out?  There was the man who had been shot in the arm and was partially disabled.  Being with someone who had been shot was fascinating to me because such experiences were not a part of my normal, everyday life.  When he was around, I felt like I was living on the edge of the law.  And then there was Billy Bob, son of another sharecropper who lived on the land.  Billy Bob was younger than I was by a couple of years but he impressed me mightily by chewing tobacco and dipping snuff.  I considered him to be one of the luckiest guys in the world because his mama didn?t even care!  (I know better now.)  Billy Bob drove one of the farm trucks when he was 12 years old to help out when harvest time came.  I envied him greatly.  Being with Billy Bob was like being with a character from ?Lord of the Flies.? 

My grandmother made the best biscuits the world has ever known.  No kidding.  Really.  I mean it.  Soft and moist.  And made with a ton of Crisco.  Put some butter on that and you were in for a heavenly experience.  Forget fat.  Forget calories.  Forget carbohydrates.  Just enjoy.  She made her biscuits by ?feel.?  No measuring spoons or cups.  She knew when the dough felt right and she popped those biscuits into the wood-burning stove.  Heaven, for me, will be eating some of Mama Shinall?s biscuits.  And, to answer your question ? Yes, I will be glad to share with you.

My grandfather was an opinionated man who, I always felt, probably made himself be on his best behavior when we were around.  My guess is that he could be somewhat obstinate when we weren?t there, though I never particularly saw that.  Both of my grandparents loved to dip snuff after eating.  They had their cans by their rocking chairs and when the time came to spit, they spat.  It really is hard to be discreet when you are spitting, even when you try.  And then there was this little trail of snuff that trickled its way down the chin.  I wish you could have seen Susan?s face the first time I took her for a visit to meet Mama and Daddy Shinall before we married.  It was worth the trip, just to watch her shock and amazement when they spat in their tin cans.   She got accustomed to the snuff dipping and grew to love them, as I did.

My grandfather had some interesting and rather strange views.  For example, he believed that there was no cancer before the invention of aluminum foil.  I have no idea where this firmly-held belief originated.  My grandfather would drink his coffee ONLY from a saucer.  He never wanted a cup.  His theory was this:  When the hot coffee comes off the stove, if you pour it in a saucer, more of the coffee is exposed to the air, thus it cools down faster so that it can be consumed quicker. 

He also had strongly held political opinions.  I remember that he could not abide President Nixon? and did not mind telling you exactly why.  Since, even as a youth, I was not a Nixon fan, I really liked his opinion.  My grandfather?s right arm had been broken when he was young  man and it mended at an odd angle.  He broke it trying to crank a Model T car which had one of those cranks you turned on the front of the car.  Apparently there was a kickback and Daddy Shinall?s arm was broken.  Be assured that it never slowed him down.

Mama and Daddy Shinall were not overly or overtly religious.  They cared for people and they loved God, but I never thought of them as particularly religious.  The others who worked the land with them were considered family.  In fact, as I think about it, that community of sharecroppers (black and white) were more church than most churches.  They depended on each other.  While Mama and Daddy Shinall attended People?s Valley Church (which was a Methodist and Baptist church on alternate Sundays), religion was not what drove them.  They were driven more by grace, goodness, simplicity, the land and relationships.  To be honest, I think the values that formed them were far more important to Jesus than religion. 

Neither of my grandparents finished grammar school.  They were wise and quite well read.  Every morning my grandfather would read the newspaper, unless he had to go to the fields early.  When they were elderly, they loved watching ?The Dukes of Hazzard.?

The old house, the well, and the barns no longer exist.  Everything was torn down many years ago.  The fields my grandparents worked are covered with ranch houses, green lawns, and apartment buildings.  Suburbia.  On occasion I have walked up the hill where that house which is indelibly etched in my memory once stood.  I even found little scraps from the farm implements that stood as sentinels in the yard. I know my memory is selective, sanitized, and sterilized.  We all have a tendency to create personal mythologies based on selective memories.  But these memories have blessed my life for many years.  I share them with you for one reason:  to see if my memories trigger some special memories for you of a time long ago and far away.  Those memories which sustain us and call us to hope, even if they are mythological, are a gift from God.

?The Mystery of Faith? sermon series continues this Sunday.  We will be focusing on the mystery of grace.  The title of my sermon:  Toddling Toward Grace.   Mike Farris, an outstanding musician from Nashville, Tennessee, will be joining us and we will be weaving his original music into the fabric of the worship service.   I hope that you will make it a point to be present.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.  


September 18, 2008

Dear Centenary Friends,

What gifts have the greatest value? May I list a few to consider?

The Gift of Listening - David Augsberger The Gift of Affection ? Be generous with appropriate hugs, pats on the back, etc. One person present at worship last Sunday wrote a note to me and apologized for the ?man-hug? he gave me as he left worship. He was deeply moved by the experience of worship and was caught up in the moment. I say to him: ?No apology wanted! You blessed my life with the hug!? Another woman said to me: ?I love being crowded in church because I have so little human contact that it is special to sit close to someone.? Give the gift of affection freely.

The Gift of Laughter ? Clip cartoons. Share funny stories. But make sure that your humor does not come at someone else?s expense.

The Gift of a Compliment ? A simple and sincere ?You did a good job? makes a huge difference. Sometimes we fail to give compliments to the people who are closest to us.

The Gift of saying ?Thank you? ? In saying a word of gratitude you are acknowledging the value and worth of the person to whom you are speaking.

The book, How Full Is Your Bucket?, contends that each of us has an invisible bucket. It is emptied or filled by what others say and do to us. Likewise we empty or fill the invisible buckets of others. Here are the practical strategies:

Prevent bucket dipping ? ask yourself whether you are adding to or taking from another bucket.
Shine a light on what is right ? don?t focus on the negative. Spend time and energy on what is right.
Make friends ? great relationships lead to increased satisfaction and productivity.
Give unexpectedly ? the gifts can be material, trust, love, or respect.
God works through bucket fillers far more than he works through those who are constantly emptying the buckets of others. Do you have some gifts (listed above) which you are called to offer to someone? Is there a bucket for you to help fill? In so doing, you will find it ironic that your bucket level will increase.


Worship last Sunday was incredibly moving?. But then again, I find worship at Centenary to be profoundly moving most every Sunday. Our capacity to be caught up in something beyond ourselves opens a window for God to work with us as individuals and as a congregation. Last Sunday, 223 people crowded into the sanctuary at 11 a.m. The music of Mike Farris and The McCrary Sisters was powerful? but there was something beyond the music? a movement? a surprise? an ?Aha? moment? It is like the wind? you don?t know from where it comes or where it goes, but you sure know when you are experiencing the wind.

This Sunday we continue ?The Mystery of Faith? series. I will be focusing on how we use and abuse the Bible ? the Words of Wisdom. Notice the growing mural on the wall in the sanctuary. This changing painting is coming out of the series. Jerry Elder has planned some incredible music, as he always does. Interested in helping us as we continue to grow with music? Do you have some special gifts? Do you simply want to serve? Jerry would love to hear from you at

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Serve.


September 24, 2008

Dear Centenary Friends,

What can we count on?  What is solid and unshakeable?  In the midst of the uncertainties created by this political season? and add to that the pressures brought on by the meltdown of the financial market, what can we count on?  Much of the time we live our lives in some relative state of chaos.  Is the existence of chaos a sign of the absence of God?

Poet/writer Patrice Vecchione reflects:  ??To be alive is not primarily a linear experience.  It?s a mix of dreaming and running to the store for a quart of milk.  Our lives have depth, in part, because we can?t make sense of everything.  Life doesn?t make sense; it?s more complicated than our linear way of knowing.  Mystery and spirit run through our days like rivers and sustain us.  Life is a blend of possibility and impossibility? From chaos comes clarity.  It was there all along.  You just couldn?t see it.  To come to clarity, you have to enter the chaos.  Dive in or enter inch by inch.  Confusion is not a bad thing.?

Out of chaos, earth was created.  God was in the chaos.  Therefore, chaos is not a sign of the absence of God!  In our confusion and in our stumbling, God is present.  I find great comfort in that.  I seek order ? yet at the core of everything that finds order is an ?underlay of chaos from which the order emerged.?  And then, have you noticed that even when we believe that we have ?order?, even that order spins into chaos.  Just give it time.

As I look back at my life, there are points of chaos.  And beyond and in the larger picture of chaos, there are little whirlwinds of chaos or confusion which occur each day.  Sometimes I believe I was incapable of recognizing the chaos.  What I perceive is this:  It is unrealistic to expect all chaos to cease.  Chaos is a given part of rhythm.  God is in the chaos and God helps to bring order, but even the experience and perception of order spins back into chaos, thus allowing God to act again and again and again, for God is in the chaos. 

So, here is a toast to the chaos of life and the chaos of dreaming.  Here is a toast to a beauty which is beyond my ?order-seeking? brain.

This Sunday we continue The Mystery of Faith series ? To Whom Does God Speak?  Plan to be present at 11 a.m. worship!

Joel Kitchens blesses Centenary Church in countless ways.  He is the ?hub of the wheel? in terms of our breakfast ministry.  He purchases the breakfast food, helps organize the volunteers, works with our finances at the church, sings in the choir, helps serve on Wednesday night, etc.  Those of you who come to volunteer on Sunday mornings know that Joel is a workhorse for us.  Joel is going through some serious health issues right now ? bypass surgery, carotid artery surgery, etc.  Even as I write this note Joel is having surgery and will be facing more surgery.  We lift Joel up to God in prayer.

So, we need your help.  We don?t want you all to volunteer to help just on this Sunday, but we sure need some of you? this Sunday and the next Sunday and the next Sunday and the next Sunday.  But we need to coordinate this process.  If you are willing to help us some of these Sundays during this time of ?chaos? with Joel?s absence, please contact Lairalaine White at  or call her a 742-8926.  If she is not in when you call, leave her a message.   Thank you!

A special word of welcome to Amy Chastain, Andy Flowers, and Tim Robinson.  Last Sunday they took the step of sinking their roots in the movement at Centenary UMC. 

I am looking forward to a very special Sunday of service and worship! 

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.