Friday, January 27, 2012

Obama Man

by Rev. Darryl Aaron

Throughout the preacher’s life he or she must reflect on the nature of their calling and vocation. Not too long ago on a pastoral retreat I was reminded of one of the purposes of this uncanny calling.

One night several pastors of various stripes--a combination of whites, blacks, females, males, Baptists, Lutherans, etc.--were walking briskly along the cobbled streets of Jerusalem. Our destination was the Wailing Wall. The streets were crowded and people were selling everything under the sun. Then something happened!

We were stopped by a Jewish merchant who yelled to one of the black pastors of the group, “Hey, Obama man! You must buy this.” The pastor to whom the merchant spoke resembles Obama in only one way: he is a member of the darker race. He and Obama share no other attributes in common. Specifically, the pastor to whom the Jewish merchant called out is much darker than Obama, the texture of his hair is different from the texture of Obama’s, and he is much shorter. Yet, this Jewish merchant saw this African American male as a replica of Obama.

This incident was unlike any other I have ever experienced in my life. However, I do recall an incident that was the antithesis of this one. That incident occurred while I was running down a sandy beach in Jamaica. A dread-locked Rasta greeted me with these words: “Hey Biggy Small’s brother….Michael Jackson’s brother!” Although the Rasta spoke in sweet Jamaican cadence, the cadence of his words was the only thing that was sweet to me.

I had crossed the seas to be reminded that I was still looked upon as a stereotype, a fabricated element of the culture. My Jamaican brother saw me as a rapper, an entertainer. He could not see me as Colin Powell’s brother, or as the brother of any of the many other African Americans who have shown the world an image of the best that the black race can offer. Now, here in the sacred streets of Jerusalem, people of my gender and race are being seen as the most powerful man in the free world.

There is so much to say about the vocation—the call and voice of a preacher. I will never stop grappling, redefining what my call is; however, being called the president of the US really gave me a place to hang my hat. Moreover, I now know that where I hang my hat will determine where others hang theirs.

There is an old tale about Abraham Lincoln when he was a young boy. According to the tale, he came home one day and put his hat on the floor. His dad sternly admonished him for an act which suggested a flawed character. Additionally, young Abe’s dad told him to never put his hat on the floor, but rather to always hang it high.

Darryl Aaron is the pastor of First Baptist Church Highland Avenue in Winston-Salem. This article was submitted as a reflection from 2007.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Running Lessons

by Dr. Guy Sayles

It has been odd but good: over the last month or so, when I have been jogging through town, people have spontaneously decided to join me. I’m still not sure why. Maybe it’s because I was moving so slowly, they liked the idea of winning an easy race. Or maybe I looked so winded and in pain, they thought I might need them to call 911. I don’t know why they joined me, but I am glad they did.

I was running on Hilliard, just past the Orange Peel, and a young man carrying a backpack jogged with me for about five minutes. I couldn’t understand very well what he was saying to me as we went up and down the Hilliard hills, but he said something about being in training for the army and something about not being in very good shape. When he decided to drop back to walking, he thanked me for the company.

I was running up Market Street, near the Thomas Wolfe House, and an older man I know from the streets called-out, “Hey, Rev, let me run with you.” I said, “Come on.” He had on heavy shoes, and he seemed to have had a liquid breakfast and lunch, but he ran with me for a couple of blocks. We talked briefly about how getting older, with all its aches and pains, is better only than the alternative. We mostly laughed at ourselves.

Then, this past Thursday evening, as I was coming down College Street, I passed a young man and a little boy, father and son, who were walking. The boy was 4 or 5 years old. He was wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, a leather-like jacket, and tennis shoes that lit-up with each step he took. As I passed them, the boy started running, too. It stunned his dad, who started jogging along behind us, and it surprised me. His dad said, “He’s just so excited to run; I hope you don’t mind.” I told him I thought it was one of the best things that had happened to me that day. I matched my pace to the little boy’s who would run like crazy for a while and then slow down almost to a walk. I told him how fast he was and how cool his shoes were. As with my older friend on Market Street, more than anything else, we just laughed. I’m not even exactly sure what we laughed about what, other than how weird but wonderful it was, that three people who didn’t know each other at all managed to play for a few minutes.

I’ve been surprised how much those runners have been on my mind. That young man with difficult speech, reporting to the army: What will happen to him? Will he make it through basic training? If he does, what kind of role will the army give him? I’m guessing, from the quick impressions I got, that there won’t be a lot of options for him. Will he, before long, be doing grunt work of some kind in harm’s way in Afghanistan? Did he enlist because he wanted to or because it was his last chance, a kind of forced choice? Do his parents know he’s enlisted? What are they feeling?

And, my friend from the streets is someone I have been seeing around town for some years now. I don’t know a lot about him, but I know he’s a Vietnam vet who saw bitter action in Cambodia, and that he was never the same after he came back home. I don’t think much is going to change for him; I am not even sure how much he believes things can or should change. I know that he sometimes drinks too much to forget for a while his days in the killing fields and to numb the shock he still feels over how those days changed him.

When the air turns cold and the wind howls through downtown, I will be worried about him and the other homeless men and women who will scramble to stay warm. I wonder what it feels like to spend most of everyday trying to figure out how to get enough of whatever it is they think they need.

And, what about that little boy and his young father? What will their futures be like? I don’t know, but I hope and pray that, whatever happens, whatever success they enjoy and failure they endure, they will always feel free to break into a run and to laugh for no reason at all with a complete stranger. The pioneering environmentalist Rachel Carson said that the one gift all children should have is “a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” I hope that little boy will keep his sense of wonder. I know he won’t always wear light-up shoes, but I hope he will always know that he shines and the world is radiant. Such wonder belongs, though we lose track of it, to all God’s children—all of us.

In my every-day life—hurrying in and out of stores and restaurants, hustling from one meeting to the next, rushing from one event to another, and scrambling to get tasks crossed-off my to-do list—I run past people. I miss their stories, their hurts and hopes, their disappointments and dreams. I miss chances to cry and to laugh, to listen and to talk, to know and be known, to help and be helped, to love and be loved. I’m busy and preoccupied, so I miss a lot. I especially miss opportunities to experience Jesus, to offer and receive him, in encounters with the people I run by.

How much of my hurrying—how much of yours?—is driven by confusion about the purpose of life and by a distorted understanding of what it means to be successful?

Guy Sayles is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville, NC. This article was originally posted on his blog, From the Intersection.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Christmas Lessons from a Toddler, Part 2

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last year, you may have remembered me writing about my wonderful little niece Téa, whose innocent questions were a perfect lesson in the meaning of Christmas. Yet again, I was baffled at how her mind worked this Christmas. One day while babysitting, she asked to watch the “Jesus video,” which, after a bit of hunting through a stack of DVDs, turned out to be animated stories of Jesus’ life.

She is currently engaged with trying to figure out who’s bad and who’s good in every story. A pleasant little boy started off by explaining that the Jews were poor and hungry and tired of being treated badly and oppressed by the Romans and led into a story where Simon Peter was depicted being angry at Matthew, also called Levi, the tax collector, who was a Jew working for the Romans (though he will eventually become a disciple).

“Peter’s bad?” she asked.

“No, he’s just angry because he wishes Matthew wouldn’t work for the Romans. The Romans are hurting the Jews. But Matthew leaves his job, and both he and Peter end up helping Jesus.” I replied.

“Oh, ok,” she said

Next up was the story of John the Baptist, looking every bit the part of the rough wilderness type. His stern demeanor convinced Téa he was bad.

“He’s bad,” she said, pointing to John in the water.

“No, he’s helping people.” I replied.

“What’s he doing to Jesus?” she asked.

“He’s baptizing him. That means he’s putting him in the water and Jesus is saying he will follow God.” I replied. How do you explain such a complicated thought to a 3 year old?

“He’s appetizing him?” she asked.

John is then pictured in jail at the hands of Herod.

“But he’s in jail, so he's bad,” she pointed out.

“The people in power were bad, and they put him there,” I replied.

“Oh, ok,” she said, clearly trying to process what it all meant.

More exchanges followed, but she had fewer questions during the stories of the miracles of Jesus, which were told a little more simply. She asked to watch it again. After it was over, she looked up at me and said, “God helps us.”

How, after all my fallible attempts to explain what was going on in terms a tot could understand, did she get that? Touched, I hugged her and said, “That’s right, and God loves you very much, just like we do.”

Later, she repeated this to her mother and father while explaining to them what we did all day. Her parents beamed, proud that she had learned such a message of hope. Somewhere in the mystery of a child’s growth and a family’s love for them, they absorb things we could never dream. May the children of the next generation see the love of God reflected in our actions with them and our neighbors. As we leave the Christmas season, may we carry the hope of Christ in our hearts as we exhibit God’s love in the world.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Rev. Aileen Lawrimore

“Where has the time gone?” I say to just about anyone who will listen. “Don’t get me wrong; I want my children to grow up (the alternative is unthinkable). I just want to know: Where has the time gone?”

It’s baffling. I can’t figure out how my brown-eyed girl (born just yesterday), is today a young lady looking at colleges. Or how, overnight, I went from buying my little boy light-up Batman sneakers to shopping for size 15 Nikes. And how–how in the world–did my baby girl get to her last year of middle school already, when just last night I was sneaking her ragged pink blankie into the laundry?

Where has the time gone?

I don’t know, but I think I’m looking for it in the wrong zone. In Greek, there are two words for time. There’s Chronos—time that is measured, ya know, chronologically. And then there is Kairos—time that is measured by experiences. Chronos dissolves into seconds, days, years. Kairos, though . . . Kairos remains.

Chronos counts birthdays by ordinal numbers: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, . . . . But Kairos thinks back to a ballerina party that blended over the course of chronos into a makeover session, a Firefighter party for preschoolers that ended as a pick-up basketball game for teenagers in the church gym, and a ladybug piñata in our backyard in Sanford, NC that exploded into one surrounded by teenagers in our Asheville garage.

Chronos sees the seasons come and go and checks off another year. But Kairos sees differently. Kairos sees the Queen of Hearts, Angelina Ballerina, and Thing 1, all with curly blond hair; a puppy, a robot, and a number of clowns, all making lots and lots of noise; a pediatrician, Hermione Granger, and Toy Story’s Jessie, all of whom were far more grown-up than they should have been. Kairos remembers . . . the ball dropping, its year changing in that chronos way all the way down; sandcastles washed away one year and built back up the next; trips to Houston, trips back home, & trips back out again. Kairos smiles remembering all the games of Barnyard Bingo, Blink, & Bananagrams; all the books we’ve read—from Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton to Brian Jacques and J.K. Rowling; all the hours of Veggietales, American Idol, and Psych. And Kairos weeps, weeps as faded faces and sharp memories come to mind: Wayne, Paxten, Matthew, Caleb, Cliff . . . . Chronos, distracted by the clock’s ticking, the days passing, just can’t keep up.

Chronos says things like, “How long’s it been . . . .”

Kairos says, “Remember when . . . ?”

Chronos, nervous and fretful, checks its watch and marks days off the calendar.
Kairos flips through photographs and artwork, videos and mementos.

Chronos grows anxious.

Kairos becomes nostalgic.

Where has the time gone?

Chronos doesn’t know.

But Kairos does.

Kairos says, “Look around you. It’s all right here.”

Aileen Lawrimore is a public speaker, freelance writer, and editor. This article originally appeared on her blog, Aileen goes on…and on.