Thursday, September 29, 2005

Empty Houses and Bobbed Hair

Our long time minister, Jerry Tallman, is selling all his stuff and going on the road full time to do evangelistic seminars. He is a brilliant evangelist and we are all proud of what he and Connie are doing. This last week he sold off his books and paintings -- a bittersweet moment, to be sure. I went through his books, promising myself that I wouldn't buy until others had a chance to get the good stuff, when I came across a book that I bought merely because the title was too good to pass up. Ready for this? Are you seated comfortably? Have you taken all appropriate medication, with food? Okay.

"Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers" by John R. Rice, DD. I mean, c'mon, who could pass this up? I've been looking for new sermon material anyway (just kidding!) so I grabbed it and ran back to my office to peruse my new prize. Inside the front cover is a photo of Rice with his wife and six daughters. No sons, just daughters and lots of them. I am sure they all were sweet people (this was published in 1941) but the women in the photo had that strange look about them that screamed out "Lizzy Borden and the Bordenettes." I couldn't help but wonder how you could grow up in a house ruled by the iron fist of John R. Rice. I decided I needed to do some research.

It seems Rice left the Southern Baptists over their liberalism and wrote over 200 books while serving as Editor for "The Sword of the Lord." I went over to and found out his group is still going (with a 27 point statement of belief) and that this precious little volume is still in print! (only $4.95) According to the website all of his daughters grew up and married men with the same teachings as their dad and served in the same fields. Maybe they were happy after all. I mean, who am I to judge such things?

Other gems by Rice are (and I am not making this up) "Wild Oats in Dallas -- How Dallas people sow them and how they are reaped" and my personal favorite, "The Dance -- Child of the Brothel, Sister of Gambling and Drunkenness, Mother of Lust and Road to Hell!" (exclamation mark in the original) Say what you want: the man knew how to craft a catchy title.

While his group is still very active on the web and has quite a few churches that continue his teachings it is obvious that most of us have moved on. We love the Bible, read it, treasure it as the Word of God, but, search as we might, we cannot see God getting as heated up as Dr. Rice on most of these matters. It gives one pause to wonder: what arguments do we live for, promulgate, disfellowship over, and write viciously against? Will they seem this silly in fifty years? A hundred? Are we willing to kill (reputation, character, profession) over matters that will be laughed at by our grandchildren?

Sure, some things are permanent and we can, rightly, argue about what those are. The seven ones of Ephesians, the supremacy of love in Corinthians, the person and lordship of Christ -- there is enough in scripture to keep us busy without us having to get bogged down in cultural and political arguments that will not long outlive us.

Have you ever driven down the road in some rural area and seen, far off in a field, surrounded by brush and scrub trees, an old, broken house. At one time it was a beautiful home. Kids played on those floors and its walls witnessed births, deaths, laughter, and tears... but no longer. Once, people dreamed about this home, bought and cleared the land and then built their dream, but that dream no longer lives in any human heart. Did they die without heirs? Did their kids fight over the inheritance until no one could have it? Why did the dream die when it had enough strength, once upon a time, to come to life?

What are we doing with God's dream for us? Will He leave heirs on this earth? Yes, Jesus said so, so let's rephrase this: "Will we be among those heirs?" Only if our dreams are His dreams. Only if we put the energy into maintaining that dream and keeping it alive. And only if we don't destroy that dream by fighting over bits of it among ourselves until no one lives here anymore. The dream of Christ probably had little to do about bobbed hair, so perhaps we should be at work in discovering His dream, building more, and fighting less.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Nothing to brag about...

Scottish tartans come in a vast variety of colors and patterns, each unique to an individual family. The best known are bright red with stripes of gold and white, such as the Royal Stewart or the Dress MacDonald. The colors have meaning: the more red, the more royalty. Yellow and white are indications of other aspects of power such as clercial standing, land or castle holdings, etc. Those families who were sea powers have light blue woven into the sett, or pattern, of their tartan.

My family was too small to have its own badge, motto and tartan. Don't try to look up "Mead" in Scottish clan directories. We aren't there. Our name wasn't Mead until the first decade of the 1600's when we changed it from the original, hurriedly, due to... uh... pressing legal reasons. Our family was taken in by the Gunn clan and we wear their tartan: green, darker green, one tiny stripe of red. No lands, no castles, no sea power, no royalty. Nothing to see here. Nothing to brag about.

So I can't brag on my standing among the Scots. How about my more immediate family? No... not really. My parents are solid Christians, but that is about it. Most of my family are so non-Christian that they are more likely to show up on "Cops" or "Jerry Springer" than they are to show up in church. Nothing to see here. Nothing to brag about.

I could try and brag about my righteousness, but that would be about as silly a thing as I could imagine. I am the man in Romans 7. Regardless of my best efforts and intentions I am absolutely unable to come up to an acceptable standard if measured by law. I have lived as a legalist and failed. I have tried to find some comfort in the fact that, at least, I knew the Bible well and went all over the world to teach it. But the more I learned the more I realized that my knowledge was imperfect and so was my teaching. Nothing to see here. Nothing to brag about.

I can't brag on my heritage, my family, my righteousness, my knowledge... or anything else. I have no sports skills, no rippling muscles, and my fireplace mantel is disturbingly free of trophies or plaques. I am three months away from becoming 49 and this isn't exactly what I planned to be when I was a kid. I wanted to be a ninja-cowboy-police-superspy-rockstar-football player. Didn't make it. Nothing to see here. Nothing to brag about.

But there is one thing: I believe in Jesus. Because of my faith, He calls me righteous. Because of His grace, I am an heir of heaven. I have a new family, a new name, and a new heritage. And the coolest thing of all? I CAN brag about this! It has nothing to do with me, but now I am surrounded by wonderful things because of the righteousness of Christ. Come see Him, for He is something to see. He is someone to brag about.

(NOTE: last call for going to sea with Patrick and Kami and Duncan Mead. There is one balcony room, one oceanview room, and a couple of inside staterooms left. Get in touch with Susan Yanaros at and book quickly. Plus, we have a single gentleman who needs a roomie and a single woman who needs a roomie. Know anyone who needs a break from winter on January 7th of next year? Remember -- we are raising a lot of money for missions by buying these cabins so you get to be warm, fellowship with about 100 Christians, worship at sea, and support two great mission works at the same time. What a deal!)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Better Than Wide Ties

Fashions tend to go in cycles. If you hold onto the stuff in your closet long enough -- the story goes -- it will be back in style. At a youth gathering in Denver yesterday I saw kids wearing pin-striped dress shirts with huge white collars, open at the throat, and topped with a haircut that wouldn't have been out of place in Soho, London back in the late 60's. Fashionistas have been trying to bring the 70's back every year recently with only partial success. Sometimes we recycle these things as a symptom of our longing for earlier, simpler times. Other times they are brought in because they are new to the younger among us and passe to the older; guaranteeing that what the kids want to wear won't be worn by their parents -- and that is really the point isn't it? They want to be different from their parents; unique and new in their own way, even if they have to hunt through the old clothes store's bargain bins to get there.

In the late 60's and through the 70's, anytime you saw a gathering of more than four teens, you would find a guitar. Songs were meant to be sung with two voices or more, complete with simple harmonies and catchy tunes. This brought us everything from Simon and Garfunkel to The New Christy Minstrels. Everywhere you looked you saw manic-depressive minstrels playing their six string guitars, trying to look deep, and there beside them would be earnest looking girls singing along. Our songs in church were built on this tradition that sourced in even earlier music.

For the first 150 years of the Restoration Movement, our songs were relics and reflections of the old songs brought to us by our British forebears and kept sacred -- while transformed -- in the mountain fastness of the Appalachians, the Alleghenies, and the Smokies. Flavored, bettered, and respun with the songs of the Delta and songs of the southern, poor, isolated blacks our hymnals rang with four part harmonies that extolled the painful realities of life as seen through the eyes of faith.

The Melungeons, a people unto themselves, gave us shaped note singing, Harp singing, and other forms of mountain melodies. The power of that racial/genetic/historic legacy can still shine through as it did in the Coen brothers' "O Brother Where Art Thou" and the companion DVD/CD that showcased more old time music, "Down From The Mountain." The price of Gibson guitars skyrocketed and a whole new generation grabbed onto it. But why? Perhaps it is because their own music became unsingable (at least, without backup dancers and a producer) and something in them called for a drink from a deeper well.

We have seen this in our assemblies. For some time we were the lone outpost of shaped note singing; four part harmony reigning in our assemblies. We, rightly, had the reputation of being the best singers among the various name-brand churches. When more contemporary songs began creeping in -- against stiff resistance -- one of the complaints often aired was that we would lose the ability to sing in four part harmony and -- praise teams or not -- we have. But is that the fault of singing new songs or is singing new songs a reflection of where our culture has traveled? One generation's music did not speak to the next generation, nor did they know how to sing it meaningfully. They didn't carry their guitars (or other bluegrass instruments for which many of our hymns were written) anymore, had no idea who Peter, Paul and Mary were or what to take if you came down with a Garfunkel. Their music was (over)produced within an inch of its life and relied on stark images in videos for its life. And it was never sung in harmony, but in unison.

Now that the newer music is accepted in many of our assemblies and those in the 30-50 age group relish their victory over the Gaither/Stamps-Baxter/Fanny Crosby songs of the past... the kids are rediscovering old hymns. They are older than the ones their grandparents sang and their voices strain to sound as if they were wafting from a lost and hidden mountain, or they go back further and sing the majestic old hymns of the 1600's and 1700's. Dozens of new bluegrass bands have been started by teenagers and their CD's enjoy good sales in a new subculture.

Each generation must find its voice in the same way that they must work out their own salvation. As they come to Christ, they must bring the overflow of their heart and that might not sound like the overflow of your heart, or your parents' hearts. That's all right. Things change. Some things -- including some hymns -- come back. All in all, they're better than wide ties, shag haircuts, and daisies painted on VW vans. I smile when I think of what it must look like in heaven when some of us gather to sing an old hymn. Does God say "I haven't heard that song in a very long time" and smile? I know in heaven we are going to sing a new song, but to many of our kids, those old songs are new to them.

(and in case you're wondering -- this isn't a call to return to the blue book or Sacred Selections. Those books served us honorably and well, but that isn't what I am talking about. Recent sociological studies have shown that the youngest Christians are showing the most interest in very old songs -- mountain, traditional, bluegrass, or classical -- and that it is now their parents who resist moving away from the "new" songs they fought so long to establish as the church norm. This blog is not making a judgment here; only an observation)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Get Thee WAY Behind Me....

My dear wife of twenty six years is a wonderful woman. But she can be a very rigid, hardline person. You see, she insists that since I am married to her I am not to flirt with other people. Can you believe that! Of course you can. That is the way it is supposed to be. And yet.... we are the Bride of Christ and how often do we flirt with the world?

I think we mean to be better than we are. We just forget that sin is dangerous. I don't really need the book that came with my lawn mower. It warns me not to put my hand under the deck when the blades are turning. I think I already knew that, somehow. But I DO need reminding that sin is bad, ugly and dangerous. The Israelites had that crude altar built out of uncut stones, soaked with blood and burnt hair and fat; an altar they were never allowed to clean. It stood there as a fragrant reminder of the ugliness of sin. We, on the other hand, call adultery "an affair" or "a fling." We don't say we lied, we say we misspoke. You can think of a dozen or more instances where we have used our language to excuse our behavior by watering down the "bad" word that implied sin and judgment and replacing it with an "oops" word that implies "well, we're only human..."

Saint Patrick was a man like the rest of us. He was tempted with sin every day of his life. One of the few prayers we know he personally wrote is almost entirely unknown today, but I will put it here so that you can see how seriously he took sin and how much he wanted to stay away from it. What would our lives be like if took sin this seriously? How our our words, thoughts, and actions be different today? How would our entertainments change? We will never know until we declare that we are married to Christ and that no other has a call on our affections or time.

Prayer of the Sign of Saint Patrick

At Tara today in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power
And the Sun with its brightness
And the snow with its whiteness
And fire with all the strength it hath
And lightning with its rapid wrath
And the winds with their swiftness along the path
And the sea with its deepness
And the rocks with their steepness
And the earth with its starkness:
All these I place
By God's almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness!

In other words: get thee wwwwaaaaayyyyyy behind me, Satan!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

First Corinthians circa 2005

I am preaching on First Corinthians tomorrow. When we speak of restoring the New Testament church, the church at Corinth is NOT the one we are referring to! Yet, with all the problems there, Paul still refers to them as brothers, beloved, and fellows in Christ. Regardless of the serious issues that plagued the Corinthian church, they were regarded as Christians, sons and daughters of God and, therefore, Paul's spiritual siblings.

After our three AM services I will take a prospective youth minister and his family out to lunch and then return to the building for a 3PM special event. African American churches from Detroit and Pontiac are coming up to our building to join with us and other area congregations in Oakland County for an hour (or two) of prayer, praise and then a special contribution to the victims of Katrina. We are expecting around 2000 people for this event -- and for most it will be the first time they have worshipped with their brethren of a different race. That is shameful enough, but there is more to mourn.

My associate minister and son-in-law, Joshua Graves ( has been calling all area Caucasian churches and asking them to join us in this historic event, but most have turned him down. Here is a quote from one that was echoed by most of the others: "We aren't happy with the direction of Rochester College so I don't think we can support this. We will probably do something on our own for the hurricane victims."

It is hard to describe just how wrong that attitude is. First, we are not Rochester College nor has our congregation ever been called the official church of that college. We are next door to it and many of the professors and students attend here (yeah!) and the college president will be one of the MC's at this event. That's it. Second, if Paul can still treat the Corinthians as brothers and sisters and rejoice that they are fellow laborers in the Lord... why can't these brethren work with us? Third, when the chance comes to break down racial walls, just how little does it take to make us turn aside and refuse to participate in the reconciliation? Fourth, we will "probably" do something for the hurricane victims? What is the church? Is it a glorified Masonic lodge with oaths, ceremonies, and attendance rules and expected dues or is it a transformed community living out the story of Jesus, putting their own desires and lives on the cross for the Kingdom's sake?

Two last things: FIRST: this may not be smart to say, but I said it last week from the pulpit and our African American members came up and hugged me so I'm going to say it again) If it takes a hurricane to help us break down the barriers of culture, distance, and race then thank God for Katrina. While we will rebuild homes and cities, let us never rebuild the walls that kept us apart.

SECOND: Snowflakes are fragile things. Try to examine one or do anything with one and you find that it collapses and disappears. But put enough snowflakes together and you can stop a bulldozer. Too many brethren insist on staying snowflakes. They consider isolation and weakness to be their badge of honor. "I can't join with you to do good because you -- use multiple cups, sing the wrong songs, don't use enough Scripture, use the wrong version, read books by a guy I don't fellowship, etc. ad nauseum. I'll just stay a snowflake and try to impact the world that way." Good luck. God insisted on unity, even within the Corinthian church. What makes you think He wants something different today?

Be a part of God's blizzard. By yourself you're, well, just a flake.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Just a few disconnected thoughts (my favorite kind).

1. I love this country. I can live anywhere because of my heritage and background, but I choose to live in the USA. There is so much here that exists nowhere else on the planet (The Bill of Rights: don't leave home without it). During our current crisis you once again see that the power of the USA is not its government but its people. Where else can you find people in every corner, in every business, in every church, and in every home rallying to take care of each other and pouring out funds to people they don't know and will never meet? In our congregation alone people have given many thousands and that is ahead of an event we are hosting this Sunday when we plan to gather with our African American brethren from downriver for an afternoon of prayer, praise and giving.

2. If I was stranded on a desert island (I would rather be on a dessert island, but those are harder to find) and could have three books they would be:
a. the Bible
b. the Carmina Gaedelica (a huge collection of Gaelic prayers and meditations)
c. "The Practical Guide to Shipbuilding For Dummies"

What ones would you take?

3. Isn't it wonderful to see that while our politicians fight each other to see who to blame, the people just rally to make sure that our fellow citizens are comforted? Wouldn't the world be a better place if our politicians were more like our people? Wouldn't we be better off being ruled by the first 500 names in the phone book than by professional blame casters?

4. How do people handle the crises in life when they are not part of a faith family? I know for certain that were my house to burn down there would be a line of people waiting to help me before the flames died down. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Where would I be without them? Why would anyone chose to live without a church family?

In a couple of days I'll do something more coherent here. Maybe. God bless all of you.