Friday, March 31, 2006


As I was thinking more yesterday about unanswered prayer, this poem from Emily Dickinson came to mind:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers---
That perches in the soul---
And sings the tune without the words---
And never stops---at all---

So, keep knocking--

Thursday, March 30, 2006

What if the answer is no

Sometimes we quit praying because we feel we are not being answered. The fault may lie in our memories. I have found it very useful to keep a prayer journal listing people, situations, etc. for whom I have prayed. My Trilogy spiritual formation group kept joint journals for ten years. It is very enlightening and faith-building to look back at those entries and see where God intervened so many times. At other times, I will have to say that I am thankful God said no--in one of Max Lucado's books, he asks, "Who would you be married to now if God had answered a prayer of early life. Where would you be living? What would you be doing for a living? When I think of all the things I have prayed for selfishly, I hang my head and thank God for being omnipotent. Bill Hybels uses this little outline:

If the request is wrong, God says, No.
If the timing is wrong, God says, Slow.
If you are wrong, God says, Grow.
But if the request is right, the timing is right, and you are right, God says, Go.

It could be that I did not recognize the answer when it came. Adorniram Johnson wrote, "I never prayed sincerely for anything, but it some time, somehow, in some shape.

At any rate, I know that trusting in God's love and care is much better than depending on myself.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Lifetime in Prayer

I guess one could spend a lifetime studying prayer and still feel inadequate. My friend Tony Ash has spent his life studying prayer and even writing books (I think there is a new one) about it. In listening to his prayers at Minter Lane, one could tell that even he sometimes feels inadequate. (Although his prayers were mighty inspirations to me.)

A relative new way of approaching prayer is "praying through the Bible". That is, taking the prayers of the Bible in study or taking them and changing them somewhat and making them your own. It might be a good exercise for you to take one of David's prayers in the Psalms and paraphrase it to mirror your own experience. Perhaps you feel the need to be angry and cry out as he often did; or simply to just plead your own case for God's blessings in the midst of your shortcomings.

I like what Thomas Merton said about prayer: "If you want a life of prayer, the way to get it is by praying....You start where you are and you deepen what you already have."

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Praying to the God who made you is a scary thing sometimes--what a privilege! Richard Foster says that your relationship to God is often governed by your prayer life. Just as your relationship with others is often governed by the depth of your communication.

A prayer which has virtually changed my life is the prayer of examen. I have written about it before, but I could not help but mention it again in this series of thoughts about prayer. It is simply taking a moment to examine what your day has been like and to thank God for the good and pray for support to mend the bad. You ask, "What has been the best thing in my life today? and What has been the worst thing in my life today. Or When did I feel on top of the world today? or When did I feel lower than a snake today? You get the idea. It is in its best form when you share it with someone you love--like a family (a great idea for nighttime prayers)or a small group. But I do it at night before falling asleep and that paves the way for sweet dreams and a bright morning.

A good introduction to contemplation and meditation is the centering prayer. In this type of prayer, you select one word which sums for you the nature and being of God, and then single-mindedly focus on that word in silence. No you don't say Ommmm--you say, mercy, sacrifice, creator, father, etc.

Breath prayers are similar to the Jesus prayer and the centering prayer. In these prayers, you create for you a prayer which can be said in a single breath and use that as your "signature" prayer in your prayer time. Sample breath prayers might be Holy Spirit fill me. Father, show me your love. Be with me Lord; I cannot live without you (one of my favorites).

Sleep well in his love.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Perhaps you are the type of person who thinks one can't pray unless suitably stanced-reverently with hands clasped, etc. And for that and other reasons, you don't pray as much as you could.

Here are some suggestions for "prayers on the run" that have helped me loosen up and feel close to God every minute:

Arrow prayers--these are prayers you shoot to someone nearby, but don't necessarily speak to. For example, the frazzled mother in the grocery line, or the lonely old man waiting for a bus. Frank Laubach calls them "flash" or "swishing" prayers in which you throw a mantle of prayer to everyone around you. These are good when watching the news on TV, etc.

On-the-spot-prayer for the ordinary. One of my favorite things to do is to look for the sacred in very ordinary things and then say a prayer of thanks for them: Having enough money to buy gas, seeing Maddie and Ella come in the sanctuary door, walking up to someone standing alone at church and praying silently for them (that could be called a stealth prayer, I guess), seeing the yellow forsythia ringing a yard in the spring, etc.

Today, I am praying for you dear reader whoever you are.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Way of the Pilgrim

For this season of Lent, we have been praying The Jesus Prayer in our Vespers meeting on Wednesday nights at Otter. That prayer is Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This prayer has an interesting history: A 19th century traveler stopped in a Greek Orthodox church and heard Paul's phrase from I Thess. 5:17 "Pray without ceasing. Struggling with how he could do that and on the advice of a spiritual director, he began to pray The Jesus Prayer continuously as he walked. His director told him to pray it 12,000 times a day. As he prayed, he found that the prayer moved from his mind and lips to his heart (the prayer is now called 'a prayer of the heart')and finally to his whole body becoming so internalized that it was present with him whether he was awake or asleep. He wrote about his experience in a pamphlet called The Way of the Pilgrim. The book is now a treasured theological document of the Greek Orthodox Church.

In thinking about prayer and doing some research for my small group on Sunday night, I was struck with the idea that we really do not do much teaching on prayer except for intercessory prayer. Maybe our children think that is all that prayer is about.
So, for a while I will be mulling about the different kinds of prayer we can teach ourselves and our children.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Scores are up!

According to the latest report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), elementary school kids are reading more and at a higher level--than they ever have in the last 35 years. Yea!!! Even the lower performing students are making prograss.

Trouble is, they can't quite figure out why. Thanks goodness they did not point to Accelerated Reading Programs. There is some evidence that Harry has helped reader interest There more parents reading to their children too. Some experts believe that switching to guided reading in the school curriculum--that is grouping kids to read books at appropriate reading levels (and not having every one struggle through the same old text). Many credit media promotion with the renewed interest--look at Lemony Snicket, Willy Wonka, Narnia and LOR--all movies recently.

A third grade teacher is quoted as saying that the more time parents put into their chil's education, the better they will do in school. Families who think literacy is important, who read to their kids--their kids are probably going to read above grade level." Another said, "The biggest thing is to have the kids read aloud and have them formulate opinions on what they are reading." AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, said the retired school librarian.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ah, Spring!

The pansies are blooming their heads off; the tulips stand like tall soldiers in flower beds waiting to open; dogwoods and redbuds are gloriously popping out--Spring in Nashville is beautiful. It has to be my favorite time of year here, excepting fall and winter of course. No, I don't like summer--sweat and I don't get along.

Thank you God for the beauty you created. Stop us often so that we may look at the infinite beauties you have given us on this earth.

Monday, March 20, 2006

What is "saute"?

According to a news article yesterday, cookbooks are having to "dumb down" the instructions in the their new publications, and they are including lots of step-by- step illustrations. At a recent conference, an executive for General Mills disclosed some of the e-mails and calls for advice the company has recently gotten.
One person who didn't have any eggs, asked if a peach would do instead. Another was upset by the instruction to "grease the bottom of the pan." Seems he greased the outside bottom of the pan and caused a fire.

All the food shows on TV haven't seemed to help any. So Kraft Foods recipes never include words such as "dredge" and "saute". Betty Crocker avoids "braise" and "truss" and Land O"Lakes has banned "fold" and "cream" from their recipes. Pillsbury doesn't use "simmer" nor "sear".

The mothers and grandmothers who used to teach cooking skills are evidently notdoing it anymore and home-ec cooking classes have disappeared from the school curriculum.

My mother, who was an excellent cook, didn't teach me much--I was relegated to
"stir this" or "watch this, don't let it boil over". Actually my husband taught me most of my cooking skills and reading cookbooks has supplemented my knowledge.

It was the joke of our senior year in high school that I won the "Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year" award--I had never heard of a popover (our first cooking lesson) and my mother had to finish the dress I started in sewing class. How did I win? By writing a good essay on a test, as I remember.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The African Children's Choir

The African Children's Choir was at Otter Friday night. These 25 orphans from Uganda and Kenya serenaded and worshipped with us. The evening was a delight.

The choir travels all over the U. S. raising funds for their countrymen back home. The money is used to support orphanages, schools, scholarships, and to supply food and lodging for those in need. All the children we saw were happy, well-fed, and comfortable with their "job". Many of them come from homes where both parents have died. They were being raised by an older sibling. Some came from hand-to-mouth existences. These children are 8, 9, and 10 years old.

Their joy at singing about Jesus was infectious and so inspirational to watch. It was hard to look at them and not cry when one imagined what they came from and what they go back to each year when the tour is ended. But without exception, all declared they wanted to go home and "help". One of the leaders asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up; replies included lawyer, teacher, social worker, farmer.

They have a new supporter in me, and I hope others who were there will support them too. If you are interested, go to

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Women of Faith--Selena Moore Holman

In the later years of the 1800's, the question "Shall the sisters pray and speak in public?" raged throughout the pulpits and religious periodicals of the church. In March of 1888, a man wrote David Lipscomb, then editor of The Gospel Advocate and asked if I Cor. 14:34 prohibited women from teaching children in Sunday school.
Lipscomb replied that they could teach children and even their husbands, but only in a modest, deferential manner, not assuming authority.

Silena Moore Holman, an elder's wife from Fayetteville, Tennessee responded to Lipscomb with this, "A learned Christian woman may expound the scriptures and urge obedience to them, to one hundred men and women at one time,as well as to one hundred, one at a time...and no more violate a scriptural command in ne instance than the other."

In several lengthy articles she wrote about the public ministries of Deborah, Anna, Priscilla, the women assembled at Pentecost, and Phillip's four daughters. She agreed with Lipscomb that man is the head of the woman and should take the lead; however, she wrote that women who possessed God-given gifts should be allowed to "go out in the world and tell of the "unsearchable riches of the gospel and to combat the social evils that threatened the home.

According to Leonard Allen in his book, Distant Voices, Lipscomb's replies to her
were often sharp, sometimes patronizing, and occasionally marked with exasperation. In those exchanges, Lipscomb revealed his allegiance to what historians of the period called "the cult of true womanhood." (an interesting study in itself--it is from this vision of the ideal woman that many of the constraints put on women today have their origins.)

In 1895, the Advocate and Lipscomb printed an attack on "the new woman"--these proponents supported woman's suffrage, women's reform societies like the temperance unions, higher education for women, and a more public role for women in the churches.
Holman wrote, "the days of 'the clinging vine woman' are gone forever." In her place "a husband will find walking by his side the bright wide-awake companion...a helpmeet in the best possible sense of the term."

Besides raising 8 children, Holman worked faithflly in her church, wrote many articles for publication, and served for 15 years at president of the Tennesse Women's Christian Temperance Union. At her funeral T. B. Larimore praised her wonderful intelligence as a public leader. Her portrait was hung in the Tennesse State Capitol two years later. She was only the 2nd woman up to that day accorded that honor.

You can see why I admire her. Thanks to Leonard Allen and Doug Foster for publishing information about her.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Women of Faith

Here's another woman of faith I admire:

Teresa of Avila

Teresa was born in Avila Spain in 1515. She was the "wild child" of a Spanish nobleman with impeccable morals. She loved riding her black horse at full gallop through the town with her black hair streaming behind her.

When her father heard that she was engaging in mild flirtations with the town boys, he immediately put her in a convent. She remained cloistered until her death in 1582.

While in the order, she became a reformer of the Carmelites and established 14 houses of nuns. Teresa often suffered life-threatening illnesses during which she heard voices and saw angels. She became a fervant "pray-er" and felt such an overwhelming presence of Christ in her life that she had to write about her experiences.

Her books Teresa of Jesus and The Interior Castle are religious classics .

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Honor to whom honor--Strong women of Christ

Since March is Women's History Month, I thought I would spend a little time talking about some of the strong women of Christ I admire.

Susanna Wesley

When her husband was attending a convocation in 17ll, Susanna (the mother of John and Charles Wesley)began reading and discussing "the best and most awakening sermons" she could find to her family on Sunday nights. Others asked if they could attend and soon the little meeting grew to over 200 people--many more than attended the church services in the morning. The curate of the church wrote her husband and objected to "these irregular proceedings". It seems he was not the best preacher and was slowly killing the church. Mr. Wesley wrote her that she should get someone else to read the sermons. She replied that theere was not a man there who could read a sermon without spoiling it.

The meetings continued and the Rector protested by writing a letter to Susanna this time. She replied, "If after all this, you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your Positive Command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ." She never heard from him again.

These were probably the first Methodist meetings held by the Wesleys. Who knows what influence they had on John (the founder of Methodism) and Charles (author of over 1,000 poems, most of which were hymns) who were at every meeting conducted by their mother.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I have been trying to catch up on my magazine reading. I take too many magazines I know, but again they seem to mirror my interests and obsessions like my books.

I got to counting up the other day and was astonished to find just how many I did take. I have taken Time for many years and find I cannot do without it, although I am often a month behind in reading it. Then there is Country Living, Mary Englebrite's Home Companion, Tea Time, Cook's Country, AARP Magazine, Kraft's Food and Family (free and highly recommended for great recipes). I recently dropped Worship Leader Magazine for Discipleship Journal. I dropped Christianity Today this year too. A new one I had added is Grand (all about being grandparents). Another new one is Writer for which I dropped Southern Living ( I was not getting much from it but recipes which I never used). Then there are the book review magazines Bookmarks and Pages. I think that is 12.

There is the occasional ACU Alumni Magazine and Christian Chronicle. This year I tried Reader's Digest again--dropped it very soon. Nice Bathroom reading, but not good for much else.

Like I say, I am trying to catch up on all that reading. Then there is the stack of new books beside my chair I have trying to get this an obsession or what???

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Second Chance

I had the opportunity to see Michael W.'s new movie Second Chance today. He acquitted himself pretty well as an actor--but the movie was weak.

It is not in wide release and probably never will be. I enjoyed seeing the Nashville scenes and Lindsley Ave. Church of Christ, and some from Otter who were more or less extras in the film.

No, it will never win an Oscar, but it will perhaps stimulate some discussion among Christians about where our work really is. Is it in the church or in the streets?
Is it among us or among "them?" Is it clean, smooth-handed work, or do we have to get down and dirty? The answer probably lies in the middle of each question. Our 21st century is so unlike the era in which Christ lived that comparison is not possible--except in terms of where sin lies. We have to wend our own way among our own idols, complexities, and interpretations and do the best we can. As Mother Teresa said, "If you can't feed many people, just feed" Our inability to focus on the one (while really feeling good about saving the world) has always been one of our besetting sins.

We sent missionaries to Europe after World War II while condemning our own neighbors to hell because they did not interpret the Bible the way we did. Our forefathers in the South collected funds in their churches during the Civil War to "help the people in Africa" while they were destroying their own slaves. We feel good when we give to the AIDs causes but we do not do what we can to help those down the street who are dying of AIDs. We would rather buy a goat or cow for those starving in other continents than work in a soup kitchen here or hand out sandwiches under the bridges downtown. I am condemning myself too. God, it is really hard to know what to do with our affluent culture.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Simpler times

I confess, when I grow weary of the trash on the major networks, I turn to the Hallmark Channel and watch Matlock (which feeds my interest in mystery) and Little House on the Prairie.

There are no weirdos on either of those programs, although they did not hesitate to talk about the history of those days. There are no curses that have to be bleeped out (aren't you tired of watching celebrities today whose every other word has to be bleeped?); there are no characters dressed in handkerchiefs or less; there are no scenes showing blood and gore to turn the stomach....

Yes, I guess those were simpler times; what is wrong with that?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

It started as a joke....

I'm so glad the authorities have finally caught the criminals who were burning churches in Alabama. I am just sorry that nine were destroyed by the college men who said that "it all started as a joke that got out of hand..."

What is so funny about burning a church down? I fail to see the humor in wealthy college students taking a place of worship away from poor country folks. In many of the scenes of the fires shown on TV, people were weeping as their church smoldered.

Forgive me, I think the devil is at work in the unlikliest of places and in the minds of those who should know better. Two of the young men attended a quasi-religious school, so one might surmise that they did know better. It will be interesting to see how their story plays out.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

At a distance

I have always been fascinated by the women who followed Jesus, both up close (the woman with perfume) and "at a distance" (Luke 23:49, Matt. 27:55-56,) etc. They encouraged him, and supported him "out of their own means (Luke 8:2). Some are named: several Marys, including his mother and Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and Salome (Mark 16:1) and "many" are not named (Mark 15:41, Matt. 27:55, Luke 8:2).

It is challenging to think of 13 men traveling along the dusty roads of Galilee without women to cook, wash, etc. That DiVinci rendering of The Last Supper is missing women who were probably there too.

Following the death of Jesus, however, some of these women jumped from the distance to the forefront as they first observed his resurrection and broadcast that news, (M. M.) as they went out as missionaries (Priscilla) and served in the young churches (Romans 16:16).

It has been a blessing for me in my lifetime to see women in the church of Christ move from the distance to the front of the stage. Sunday morning at Otter, the "Shepherd's Welcome" was given not only by Steve Adams, but also by his wife Jeanine.(YES, SHE SPOKE!) I could not help but think that visiting women and girls could see that women are indeed a part of the ministry at Otter( as are the women praise team members, the women Children's Ministers, and the woemn head ministry teams.

Although there are still many steps to be taken before true inclusiveness, I am thankful for these first steps in that direction.

Gal. 3:28

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


We all brought our rocks we picked up while "crossing the creek" several weeks ago. We wrote our names on the rocks with silver permanent markers. And Tim's question is, "What do we do with the rocks now?" What kind of monument can we make to mark the occasion of our move to Franklin Road and a new beginning for Otter Creek?

The Old Testament is full of monuments and markers made by the patriarchs in their journeys across what we now call "The Holy Land." Often used to mark a momentous occasion, the monuments were real reminders of sometimes abstract truths played out in the soap-opera lives of those peripatetic nomads.

Monuments matter in our 20th century lives too--note the reverence we have for the Statue of Liberty, the Vietnam Memorial, the great statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington. However, in our religous tradition, momuments are sometimes suspect--we have come to equate them with icons which we avoid like the plague. Question--what monument do you know of that is associated with the Church of Christ? I can't think of even one.

So what do we do with our rocks now?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Psalm 47

"Sing praises to God, sing praises! What can be more glorious (outside of heaven) than 1,400 people singing praises to God in a sanctuary built for wonderful sound?

Not much, we found out at Otter yesterday. It was a glorious day with almost every seat full (shades of a second service?). I do hope we can continue with only one service for a while until we get to know one another better. Brandon and those who worked with him, particularly Phil Wilson and Ben Mankin, pulled it off and led us all to the top of the mountain.

I am so thankful that God commanded us to sing--it is that heart-thing so missing in our rational tradition. Ruth Bell Graham once said, "We should sing when we feel like it, for it is a shame to miss such an opportunity; we should sing when we don't feel like it, for it is dangerous to remain in such a condition."

It is said that the Christians in North Korea, who have suffered so much for so long, still worship. When they get together in secrecy and sing, it must be done in silence. They open their mouths in unison, but they allow no sound from their voices for fear of being overheard." (Robert J. Morgan, Come Let Us Adore Him) What a tragedy!

For those of us who could not live without music, "silent" singing would be dangerous to our mental and spiritual health. Let's pray for those brethern in North Korea and thank God for our blessings of freedom.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ah, Spring

Nashville sits poised on the edge of spring: the yellow forsythias are blooming, every twig and shrub is greening, and the Bradford pears are just about to show their glory.

O happy, happy spring--a new season of beginning again, a new chance to witness the wonders of God's creation, and a new energetic start to a new year with the blessings of the risen Christ surrounding us.

Otter will have its first service in the sanctuary tomorrow--a fitting event modeled on the excitement of new beginnings. I am looking forward to it and to the new and untried practices of faith which will follow.

Friday, March 03, 2006

O, Pioneers

Sitting in the Abilene airport and gazing at the flat hills surrounding south Abilene over which the buffalo ran, I wondered at the courage and foolhardiness of the early pioneers who settled Abilene.

This is a very flat country with sparce rainfall and scrubby mesquites--not at all like the Tennessee lands from which many of the settlers came. I think those early residents must have been sold "a bill of goods" as indeed the Eagle Colony of Germans which settled near Lytle Lake was. The settlers came through the Callahan Divide and over the large hills east of Abilene pushing their wagons and leaving exhausted livestock in the ditches by the side of the road. They first settled in Buffalo Gap, but then moved to a dusty space they called Abilene, hoping it would pattern itself after the cattle-rich Abilene, Kansas. Typical of their nature, they opened a Presbyterian Church even before the town was incorporated, which this month celebrated its 125th anniversary.

Fortunately Abilene was selected as a railroad town. It was first used to ship buffalo skin and bones back to the East. Now their descendents live in a town where the barrenness is forgotten in gorgeous sunsets and newly planted crepe myrtles.

Those of us who have grown up in the West appreciate their sacrifice for our benefit.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Back Home in Tennessee

It is nice to be back home after spending 10 days in Abilene. It is even nicer to be back to my bed!

Good times there with friends, church and food. I ate Mexican food twice at El Fenix and Casa Herrera. That will have to do me until I return--no hope here of Tex-Mex. Church was wonderful, although I did miss the worship team at Otter.Hearing Mike speak at the Lectures was wonderful especially since he did not preach on Sunday.

The class I attended (my old class) is studying spiritual direction under David Wray ;it was top notch. Highland is so blessed to have good teachers.

My former small group met Sunday night and that was a blessing--such good people with the hearts of Christ.

And then there was the typical Abilene Weather. 20 degrees when we arrived and 86 when I departed with snow, rain, and wind in between.

My spiritual formation group met twice--also a blessing. Kaye, Jeanenne and Shirley Baber(who has taken my place at the table)are very special women of God.

Sunday morning at the communion, Charles Mattis, his wife Mary Lee and son Landon led. They had moved in their kitchen table which had belonged to his grandmother, and we were all invited to join them around it in fellowship (figuratively). There are so many creative ways to share the communion; I don't know why we still insist on sitting behind each other and passing trays. Even as I grouse, I think of those small groups still gathering around one cup.

All in all a wonderful week. My friends Ronnie and Darla were hard to leave--there will never be anyone like them in my life.

Thank you God for all the blessings of the past week. Bless the people who greeted me and those I didn't get to see. We are all your children and the work of your hands.