Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Come Out

February 19, 2018

Here’s my sermon from February 18, 2018. If you want to listen to it, you can find the audio here.

John 11:1-45

Jesus was hanging out with his disciples in the place where John the Baptist first baptized people, somewhere across the River Jordan. There, people continued to believe in Christ. “’John didn’t do any miraculous signs,’ they said, ‘but everything John said about this man was true.’” This is where Christ and his disciples were when they received word of Lazarus’s illness. Jesus received word from Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s two sisters, whom Jesus also loved, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” An important word to receive, it would seem to us. And, to this word, Christ has a threefold reaction. At first, he says, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” And with this quote, Christ stays put, on the other side of Jordan, days away from Judea, days away from his beloved Martha and Mary, days away from his beloved Lazarus, who lay dying.

His second reaction comes days later, after he travels back to Judea. He goes back to meet Martha and Mary, fully aware of Lazarus’s passing. He goes with the disciples in tow, who are under the impression a mob will be waiting for him, ready to kill him. Why would they think otherwise? They had just been in Jerusalem, in the temple that had a covered porch named for Solomon. There, people had confronted Jesus about his divinity. They picked up stones, ready to throw them at his head until he was dead. He talked them out of it. Then, he talked more, in his usual riddles, which only made the mob angrier. So he left before they could arrest him. Jesus wants to go back. To see this beloved family. To see his friend Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus wants to go back to prove, “Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.” So Thomas says – and if this is the same doubting Thomas found later in the Gospel of John he probably says it with more of a sigh – “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.” So the crew treks off towards Judea to engage in Jesus’ second reaction and third reactions. Though, in order to get to these reactions, Christ has to face his humanity.

This past Wednesday (February 18th, 2018) we saw our 18th school shooting of the year. Well, 18th is the higher number presented in news reports across the country. Some say there have only been 12. Some say as few as 8. Some people go so far to say it does not count as a school shooting if there were not mass casualties involved. So the shooting where only one child was killed last year at Freeman High School in Washington would not be considered a school shooting. Nor would the one earlier this year where a child brought a gun to a school in Los Angeles – thinking it was fake – resulting in three people being shot, with no one killed. Neither of those incidents would be considered a school shooting, according to some peoples’ metrics. Never mind the fact they both included shootings at schools. The number 18, in reality, comes from the metric where a firearm was discharged either in a school or somewhere within the proximity of a school. There may not have been intention behind the discharge of the firearm. Still, there was a firearm discharged, within the vicinity of a school.

Back to the main point: 17 people were killed in Florida on Wednesday. Most of them were students, of course, because students are defenseless. One was an assistant football coach who threw himself in front of students. He sacrificed himself to save the people for whom he cared and worked. Aaron Feis should be celebrated, without a question. He should also not be dead. Neither should the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach, Chris Hixon. Geography teacher and cross-country coach Scott Beigel also should not be dead. He opened his classroom door to let students in for safety and was killed because of that action. Student Nick Dworet should not be dead. Nick had just accepted a scholarship to swim for the University of Indianapolis. Student Alyssa Alhadef, who played for the junior varsity soccer team, should still be playing soccer. Her parents should not be planning her funeral.

Martin Anguiano was a freshman. Fourteen years old. At a vigil Wednesday night, Fred Guttenberg spoke of Jamie Guttenberg, his 14-year-old daughter, in a moving tribute: “I sent her to school yesterday, and she was supposed to be safe,” he said choking back tears. “My job is to protect my children, and I sent my kid to school.” Luke Hoyer was 15 and loved the NBA. He was quiet. He was happy. Cara Loughran was also fourteen. The New York Times was told she loved the beach. Because she was 14. Gina Montalto – like many others – was fourteen. She was in the marching band. Joaquin Oliver was 17. He played basketball in a city rec league and loved to write poetry. Alaina Petty was 14 and in the JROTC. She helped her local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with cleanup after Hurricane Irma. Meadow Pollack was 18 and planned to attend Lynn University in Boca Raton. Helena Ramsay was 17. That is literally all NPR knows about her right now. She was 17. Alex Schachter was 14 and played the trombone in the marching band. Carmen Schentrup was named a National Merit Scholarship Finalist. She was 16 when she died. Peter Wang was 15. He was also in the JROTC. According to his brother, he died while holding a classroom door open so others could escape during study hall.

Some of these children we knew some information about. Many we know little to nothing. We do not know much about them because they were only teenagers. We are not supposed to know our full selves when we are in our freshman year of high school, how can anyone else give a proper obituary?

“What did she like?”

“I don’t know. She liked the beach.” She was fourteen! We should not have to ask that question in the past tense! Nick and Alyssa and Martin and Jamie and Luke and Cara and Gina and Joaquin and Alaina and Meadow and Helena and Alex and Carmen and Peter and all the others who have ever had their lives taken from them at far too young of an age should be able to answer those questions in a future tense! “What do you like Helena?”

“Well, I’m starting to develop an interest in biology. But I don’t really know yet. I’m only 17.”

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

There is a picture of a woman reacting to the shooting on Wednesday. She is in tears, clutching another woman to her chest, with her right arm draped around the other woman’s shoulder. Her other arm is lowered, off camera, and also seems to be supporting the woman leaning into her. She is dressed like any other day, in a white blouse with roses on it. She has a large, silver heart necklace hanging from her neck. Her blond hair is askew from the wind and powerful, physical reaction to emotion. On her forehead, she has an ashen cross. “From dust you were created and to dust you shall return.”

It is easy to imagine her falling to the feet of Christ. Her tears cry out, “Lord, if you had been there, these children would not have died.” It is easy to imagine Christ breaking down into tears, along side her, clutching both her and the other woman in his arms, falling into their humanity with them. This is the second act of Christ’s reaction to death.

“When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, ‘Where have you laid him?’

“They replied, ‘Lord, come and see.’

“Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’”

Jesus came to the tomb too late. He could have been there to keep Lazarus from dying. He knew this when Martha confronted him outside of town. He knew this when Mary fell at his feet. Christ came to Lazarus’s tomb and bore the brunt of the emotions thrown at him. He took their pain anger and crawled into the hole with them. Christ loved Lazarus. Christ loves the 17 people who were killed on Wednesday. Christ wept for Lazarus. Christ weeps for the lives lost in Florida.

Christ weeping for Lazarus is an incredibly important piece of scripture. In this moment, Jesus understands his humanity. He has lost one whom he loved. His friend is dead and buried, lying in a tomb. He bares the pain of Martha, Mary, and the ones in their community who weep for their dead friend and family member. In this moment, in this recognition of the pain humanity can entail, Christ empathizes with those around him. In this moment, Jesus exists fully in his human side. The pain of loss is unbearable. He does not comfort Martha and Mary in the beginning. He weeps with them. Jesus of Nazareth is a human who has lost one of his best friends.

This deeply human side of Jesus teaches us how to react when we read the names of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Jesus’ tears remind us of the all-too-real situation that is called humanity. We cry when we read these names, just as Jesus did when Lazarus died. We become deeply disturbed when we hear the moans of pain from the parents of dead students, just as Jesus did when Mary fell at his feet. We feel moved to do something, just as Jesus did when the Jews who accompanied Mary let loose their wails of pain.

We are not Jesus. We cannot bring back Aaron and Chris and Scott. We are not able to stand at the graves of Nick, Alyssa, and Martin and tell them to come out. Jamie and Luke and Cara will not be brought back to life by Christ or us for them to finish school. Gina, Joaquin, and Alaina will not be greeted by their friends and family after they are told to come back. Meadow and Helena and Alex will remain dead and buried. Carmen and Peter will not have another birthday on this earth. We cannot change that because we are not Christ.

Instead, Christ’s third reaction, the call to Lazarus to come out of the tomb is a call to us to continue in our ministry. Lazarus’s time was not done and neither is ours. We are called to come out and go forward, even if the world makes it hard to do so. Lazarus died. With every tragic shooting in this country, we die. And with every death, Christ calls for us to come out of the tomb.

“Come out!” Christ yells to us!

“Argenta, come out!”

“North Little Rock, come out!”

“Pulaski County, come out!”

“Arkansas, come out!”

“Christians! Come. Out!”

We must come out of this tomb. We must go forward in our ministry. We must do our best to make sure this never happens again!

We are called to it by our humanity!

We are called to it by our faith!

We are called to it by the One who created us all!

Come out! Come out! Come out!


Ollie’s Obituary

February 15, 2018

Ollie escaped this mortal cat-carrier on the evening Thursday, February 8th, 2018. He left this world as comfortably as possible, surrounded by his humans, Cameron and Heather.

Ollie led a good life in this world, albeit a short one. He was adopted by his (later to be #1) human’s sister, Sheena and forced to live in a dormitory for a short time. Ollie did not like dormitories.

Ollie went to live with his (human) grandparents, Sandra and John, after the discovery of his hatred of dormitories. It is here he met the human who would soon be his #1, Cameron.

Ollie and Sheena tried living together again in Maumelle. Everything went fine until Sheena met Tyler. Ollie did not like Tyler.

It was soon after this discovery of his dislike of Tyler that Ollie came to live with Cameron. Ollie loved Cameron.

Ollie Obit 2

From that moment on, no matter what, Cameron was Ollie’s #1 human. They lived happily for almost two years in downtown Little Rock. Cameron discovered Ollie’s penchant for playing with tinsel balls and snuggling on the couch. Ollie loved playing with tinsel balls.

Soon afterwards, Ollie and Cameron moved to California, where Cameron attended seminary. They lived for a year in an “apartment” that can best be described as a dormitory. Ollie hated dormitories.

Ollie was displeased, moving from an apartment with 10-foot ceilings and a wide-open floor plan, so he moved back to Arkansas to be with Cameron’s #1 and his soon-to-be #2, Heather.

Heather already had her #1 cat, Daphne. Ollie noticed this fact quickly and soon began chasing her throughout the house. Ollie hated Daphne. (Though, they would grow to tolerate each other. At times.)

Every time Cameron came home from California, Ollie would be mad at for a few minutes, then warm right back up to his #1. Ollie loved his #1.

In fact, after Cameron moved back to Little Rock, he and Heather were married, and the full family moved to Houston, it was as if the three years with Heather had never happened. Ollie was with his #1 again and that’s all that mattered.

Ollie Obit 1

In Houston, Ollie discovered his love of the outdoors. He loved to chase wildlife, like squirrels. Even after outside was no longer available, he loved to watch the birds. Ollie loved to chase things. Ollie was never very good at catching them.

Ollie left this world far too soon. 11 years is too short of a time for an indoor cat. But cancer takes the best of us when it will. Ollie’s #1 and #2, as well as his original #1 and his (human) grandparents loved him very much. And they will always hold a place for him in their hearts, no matter how much time passes. Ollie was a good cat. Ollie was a wonderful cat. Ollie was the best cat Cameron has ever known.

Wherever Ollie is at this time, he is chasing all of the tinsel balls, playing in the sheets of a freshly made bed, or unsuccessfully running after birds and squirrels. Most importantly, Ollie no longer feels the pain of this cat-carrier world.

Ollie 3


Ollie is Dying

November 17, 2017
For the past few months, Ollie’d been really sick. He’d been throwing up blood quite often. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes a little. One morning, he really started freaking out. Running around and acting erratic. So, we took him to the vet.
That day, the vet found a UTI and some blockage in his digestive track. Ollie underwent treatments for those things and appeared to be getting better. But, after a short while, he started throwing up blood again.
At this point, our veterinarian told us we should bring him in for an appointment with an internist/intensivist. This past Monday, Heather took him in for the appointment. The vet team ran an ultrasound and found a mass in his stomach. They told us it didn’t look good. In fact, they told us it looked bleak. Today, we got results back from a biopsy they took, confirming that Ollie has lymphoma in his stomach.
Ollie 1
There is a chemo regiment, but given Ollie’s cage aggression and his disdain for veterinarian appointments, it looks like we will not be pursuing this option. His quality of life would be horrific and the chance of full recovery is not good enough.
We’ve decided to let him spend his time left with us at home, where we’ll do our best to control his symptoms and pain. When the time comes, in the next 7-8 months, we hope to say goodbye to him here.
Ollie 2
If you’ve been friends with me for long on here, followed me on Twitter for some time, or seen me interact with my cat, you know this really sucks for me. He’s been with me for 9 years (OK! OK! 3 of those years were with Heather here in Little Rock while I was in seminary. But he stayed mine! Just ask her about it!). And he will turn 11years old in February. That’s way too young for a cat to die.
This is painful. And it sucks. I’m really, really going to miss this furry goofball.
Ollie 3

Cats on Couches

May 19, 2017

Another addition to the #CatsonCouches seriesDSC_0740DSC_0740

Cats on Couches

April 5, 2017

A continuation of the series, #CatsonCouches


Cats on Couches

April 2, 2017

I’ve been playing around with my camera. Decided I’d make a photo series – you know, for fun. I introduce to you: #CatsonCouches

Here’s the first picture:DSC_0605

Wait for It

March 1, 2017

Ordination services are a special time. They are something people wait for for a long time. Ordination services are a point to which people struggle to make it. Ordination services often hold years of strain, burden, joy, and anticipation. In the end, much like a wedding, they are a giant release for those involved. I have only been to a few ordination services. Some for people I do not know very well. Some for those whom I dearly love. But all of them have held these elements in one sense or another.

This past weekend, I attended – and took part in – the ordination service for one of my best friends I have ever had – Rachel. It was a complete joy to be there, from beginning to end. Throughout the whole weekend, we congregated, broke bread, and celebrated – in both the liturgical and communal sense. And boy did we cry, too.

There is something about these instances that bring such a release of emotion. First, we had a core group of friends coming together. Many of us had not seen each other in months – some for years. Secondly, we did not sleep much at all. From traveling into town to staying up late every night, we arrived and left Jacksonville exhausted. Finally, we were coming together with the specific purpose of ordaining Rachel into her first call – something which she’s been waiting for for 3 years.

I remember sitting at her parents’ house, talking with another dear friend of mine, trying to explain the emotions of the weekend. The best I could come up with was the example of the Grinch’s heart.


Now it is not like any of us former seminary students had a small heart to begin with, but our hearts exploded that day. We wait so long for these moments. From the beginning of our education together to this moment of our friend being ordained, we waited almost 7 years. Every step in the journey, every moment where something happened, combined to this moment of incredible anticipation. Our hearts collectively grew three sizes this past Sunday afternoon. In our entire group, there was not a dry eye when Rachel was declared a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We wait so long for these moments. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. Some of the people we knew from seminary have died. Some of them left after just a few months of school. Some of them have left the church. And all of these things build into this massive ball of emotion – whether we realize it or not – that sits in our chest, waiting for a release. And ordination services provide that release. Our emotions come pouring forward and we are provided with a (very often) long overdue flood of emotions.

We wait for it. We wait for it in desperation. We wait for it in anticipation. We wait for it as if the day will never come. We wait for it, hoping the day will never end when it comes. We wait for each other and with each other, praying the entire time. We wait for it to be our turn. We wait for our friends’ turns. We wait for God to call us. We wait for calls/jobs to say, “Yes. You.” We wait for it.