Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vacation Bible School - Night One

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." - Matthew 19:14
We are doing Group Magazine's "Crocodile Dock" as our VBS material this year - and it has been a hit! We had 65 children for our first evening together, and we are excited.

Just like our FaithWeaver Friends during the school year, VBS takes a host of volunteers to make it happen and work. Our sanctuary has been transformed into a dock in the bayou, and the art work and creativity present remind me how gifted we are as a church.

I've posted a few pics from yesterday (courtesy of Andrea Underwood - click on any to enlarge them). How blessed we are, and how blessed to be a blessing.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stuff that Ought to Matter

There has been some good and challenging stuff written lately regarding Methodism. Some topics include:
  1. The Methodist Church in Britain is going to bar members of racist political parties from becoming full members of the Church. It doesn't mean that they cannot attend church, but does emphasize that racism is denial of the Gospel.
  2. Ted Campbell of SMU/Perkins School of Theology has written a commentary, "Seven things I hate about UMC."
  3. Shane Raynor, one of the "gurus" of the Methoblogosphere, has written a blog entitled, "How to Get a New Pastor Without Going to the Bishop." He makes the bold observation that some pastors may not be among the converted (which I do not doubt).
1. The news from our Methodist siblings across the pond comes in light of our own denomination wrestling with a (poorly worded) amendment that would have mandated membership for anyone seeking it. There is always the danger that in the quest to be inclusive, we instead become generic - and generic is nothing. It stands for nothing, and stands against nothing. Most certainly, the Gospel bends toward justice, and what could be more injust that rubber stamping church membership in a Christian Church. That doesn't mean that we exclude folks from coming, but we do have standards for those who confess and profess Christ.

2. Ted Campbell always challenges us with boldness and bluntness. Perhaps his best "in our face" has to do with the way we do conference in most of our annual conferences. He says this:
If we’re not really going to confer about anything, there’s no point in holding a conference. We can approve committee reports by e-mail. And no, I do not intend to read them...

What’s the cost/benefit ratio for holding these conferences every year, especially where people must sleep in hotels, eat meals in restaurants and drive 150 miles each way? Is this helping us? Would the life of local congregations come to a grinding halt if we didn’t hold the annual conference every year? What are we accomplishing?
Amen and bravo. What if we actually conferenced at annual conference, in the manner of the means of grace Wesley saw conferencing? What if we instructed folks on how to do evangelism and how to make disciples (which is our Great Commission... and currently, we stink at it). I say we do business at conference by a consent calendar, submit reports in writing to whomever wants to read them, do whatever voting we have to have, and then do something that benefits the kingdom instead of ourselves! Annual conference is so clergy and "professional lay person" driven regarding salaries, pension, and insurance that it makes me ashamed how self-absorbed we clergy are and how clergy-focused and clergy-driven we are, and how pitiful we are at being Christ- and Kingdom-driven. We are currently servants all right... servants of ourselves.

3. And what can be said about clergy who aren't converted, much less spiritual leaders? There is no doubt we suffer from spiritual malnutrition, but our clergy may be contributing to the hunger instead of feeding us. If that's true, our bishops and superintendents need to address that, and address it quickly. Wesley certainly gives us the guide and model for that.

Good stuff - worth pondering, praying, cussing, and discussing about.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Play Like a Girl

That phrase doesn't mean what it used to. In fact, I've never ever said that in my life (I know better). I grew up in Martin, Tennessee, and playing like a girl meant that you were pretty good.

I was at a doctor's office early this morning in Paducah, and heard on local television that Nadine Gearin died - and I am in mourning.

Nadine was (I think) the first women's basketball coach at UT Martin, coaching from 1969-74. In 1971, her team went to the first national basketball tournament (at that time, it was called the Division of Girls and Women's Sports). On that team was a young woman and basketball standout from Cheatham County High School, Trish Head. You might know her now as Pat (Head) Summitt.

I don't know how widespread Nadine's death will be in the sports world; if it is not, it will be a crime against women's athletics. Nadine and Bettye Giles (who was the athletic director at UT Martin for many years) are the ones who helped Pat get her first - and only - coaching job at the University of Tennessee. Nadine was once quoted to say that she coached basically so that the women at the school would have an opportunity to play basketball. But I know better than that. (the above picture, from left to right: Bettye Giles, Pat Summitt, Nadine Gearin, as pictured in UT Martin's Campus Scene, Summer/Fall 2003 - an article well worth reading.)

I was a little kid when our women at UT Martin went to the national tournament. But I remember the hoopla, and I remember when Pat was selected to be on the USA Olympic team. All of that rubbed off on a lot of us. My high school girls' team always did well in post-season play, and Martin Westview has won several state tournaments. I once made the mistake of playing in a choose-up basketball game at the end of a girls basketball practice (I have the worst shot in the history of humankind). I was guarding Lyn Franklin, and she was posted up on the low post. I was determined that if she got the ball I was going to block her shot. She got the ball, and the next thing I knew I was sweeping dust across the lane. She threw a hip on me that sent me scattering. She learned that, I am sure, from Julia (White) Brundige, who was Lyn's middle school coach... who played basketball with Pat and squad at UT Martin. Coached by Nadine Gearin. Coincidence? I think not.

I really didn't know Nadine until I was an adult. When I was about to graduate from college, the records office called me and told me I was short 3 hours of physical education. So I signed up for a basketball class - and the professor's name next to the class schedule was "N. Gearin." I was going to get to have the coach for class.

She agreed that I had the worst basketball shot she'd ever seen. And she just didn't throw out basketballs and send us playing. We had written tests. We set up offenses and defenses. Went over the basics of screening, posting, running and breaking the press - all the fundamentals. Nadine knew I had started officiating basketball and she gave me some great advice: "McCracken, learn and study what the coaches are learning in coaching clinics. Know how the offenses are executed. You should know that coaches are always looking for a leg-up when it comes to the officials - don't get suckered by their charm." That's advice that has served me well.

I later got to know her when I moved back to Martin after seminary. I think the second time I saw her at a restaurant or at Walmart and called her "coach," she told me, "Sky, call me Nadine."

I am thinking about how much Coach Summitt has done for women's athletics in the United States. Girls/women's softball is big, big, big. Volleyball is slowly gaining respect as a high school and intercollegiate sport. And of course, women's college basketball is now televised regularly. Nadine Gearin, Bettye Giles, and UT Martin were a foundational and pivotal part of that.

I hope and pray that sports historians will take note of the passing of Coach Nadine Gearin. "Playing like a girl" has become a compliment because of her legacy.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

[From Today's Church Newsletter]

A few days ago, the oldest surviving manuscript of the Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, was fully digitized and put up on the Web (you can view it here). I must say that it was just about as exciting to me to view as I was excited when I went to the Holy Land in 1996. From its website:
The Codex Sinaiticus, a manuscript of the Christian Bible written in the middle of the fourth century, contains the earliest complete copy of the Christian New Testament. The hand-written text is in Greek. The New Testament appears in the original vernacular language (koine) and the Old Testament in the version, known as the Septuagint, that was adopted by early Greek-speaking Christians. In the Codex, the text of both the Septuagint and the New Testament has been heavily annotated by a series of early correctors.
The significance of Codex Sinaiticus for the reconstruction of the Christian Bible's original text, the history of the Bible and the history of Western bookmaking is immense.
The fragment to the right shows an erasure (from Quire 40, folio 2 recto).

You are probably like me, in that I so much take the Bible for granted that I often forget how old it is, and how many times it was translated, studied, and prayed over so that we might have it in its present form today.

Of course, the Bible’s greatest gift to us is that it is a living book, not just a historical book of antiquity. And in perhaps the greatest play on words of all time, we read in John’s Gospel that Jesus is the logos – that is, The Word. So within the written word, we have The Word – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

So the next time you pick up your Bible, be careful. It’s alive, you know!


Saturday, July 04, 2009

What If This Isn't Real? Or What If It Is?

I rarely watch television or go to movies (which is funny, because I have a really nice HD television and my daughter works for Cinemark Theatres). But today I watched the last hour or so of "The Truman Show" on TBS. The movie bothers me more than I can say. If you haven't seen the movie, the basic plot summary is this:

In this movie, Truman is a man whose life is a fake one... The place he lives is in fact a big studio with hidden cameras everywhere, and all his friends and people around him, are actors who play their roles in the most popular TV-series in the world: The Truman Show. Truman thinks that he is an ordinary man with an ordinary life and has no idea about how he is exploited. Until one day... he finds out everything. Will he react? Written by Chris Makrozahopoulos {makzax@hotmail.com}

At the end of the movie, Truman is in a boat and hits the "end" of the world. The producer of the show talks to him out of desperation to keep him from leaving, and Truman asks, "Was anything real?" After being begged/guilted by the producer to stay, Truman utters his famous words he says nearly every day, "Good morning. And in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, and good night." And he takes a grand bow, and walks through the exit door. And the world cheered as they watched on television.

There is no mistaking two things: one is that Psalm 139 figures prominently in the movie (the sailboat at the end of the movie has "139" on the sail). The other is that the ending of "The Truman Show" is eerily similar to the ending of the C.S. Lewis Narnia book Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

From Eugene Peterson's The Message:
1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
I'm an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I'm never out of your sight.
You know everything I'm going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you're there,
then up ahead and you're there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can't take it all in!

7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you're there!
If I go underground, you're there!
If I flew on morning's wings
to the far western horizon,
You'd find me in a minute—
you're already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I'm immersed in the light!"
It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.
I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I'd even lived one day.

17-22 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I'll never comprehend them!
I couldn't even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers—out of here!—
all the men and women who belittle you, God,
infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, God,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!

23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I'm about;
See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.
- Psalm 139, The Message
Do I really want God to know me that well? The fact that He does used to disturb me to no end. I now realize how freeing that is.

Is anything real? Is it all just a dream? Are we just actors - marionettes in a controlled environment manipulated as God wills? I pondered this question for a very large part of my life. Finally, I realized that I was using the word actor wrongly all along; God is the actor in our lives and in creation. We're not puppets or actors - we are children of the Father, fearfully and wonderfully made.

When Truman walked through the exit, he finally knew who he was - not an actor to perform for the world, but a child created to live according to his dreams and gifts. Those come from God - not a script. When we move from seeing ourselves as actors towards being prophets created to dream and vision, we are on our way to being disciples, and disciple-makers.

May we be strong enough to walk out the exit of this world into the Kingdom of God.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

More Roots

On Sunday, I decided to go to church at Pittsburg (KS) FUMC. Pittsburg is where both my mom and dad went to college (Pittsburg State... the only school I've ever heard of with a gorilla as their mascot!). I went to the 9 AM service, and as I pulled into the parking lot a van pulled next to my car... and my cousins John and Carol Schifferdecker walked out. So I had familiar faces to sit with at church.

The summer sermons at Pittsburg FUMC are dealing with their history - where they came from and where they are going. As the pastor talked about the origins of their church, I learned that they were originally an extension of the Mulberry parish 100 years ago. Now Mulberry doesn't show up on many maps, but my mother's side of the family came from Mulberry - many of them still living there. My ears pricked up because Mulberry UMC is where my parents got married on Christmas Eve in the very early 1960's. The picture shows the happy couple (Midwesterners don't smile in pictures, I have found), along with my Aunt Bev and Uncle Ed, who served as maid of honor and best man. I think my cousins Maricia (Houghton) Stafford and Mark Lehman are ring bearers (I thought wrong - that's KIM Houghton in the picture, NOT Maricia! Good catch, Maricia!! Maricia was the flower girl at John and Carol Schifferdecker's wedding though.). Not pictured in this photo but at the wedding was Carol Schifferdecker (mentioned above), my mom's cousin and good friend who played the organ at the wedding. John and Carol came all the way down to Tennessee nine years ago when my mother died. I am blessed with wonderful family and roots.

It gets better - a mission team from Pittsburg FUMC went to Appalachian Service Project a few weeks ago... and lodged here in Paducah at Trinity UMC on their way to East Tennessee. You just can't make this stuff up! How cool is that?

This is a picture of my father next to a communication tent while serving in the Army during the Korean War. Dad came back safe and sound. My Uncle Dewey served as a stateside mechanic during World War II, and also came home. However, my Uncle Howard, whom I never met, never came back from World War II, M.I.A. to this day and a horrible mystery to my family, worse than an itch that cannot be scratched. Uncle Ed was the last to see him alive, and I am sure that memory haunts him to this day. McCrackens were no stranger to death and could accept death; a baby daughter of my grandparents, Beth, lived only a few days. As my Dad once said, having a funeral and a casket or urn gives us closure; an M.I.A. loved one, though, remains an unfinished chapter at best.

Here are pictures of a very young Sky McCracken sitting at an organ in our house, and a picture of my father as a baby being held by my grandmother. Both remind me of beginnings and where I have come from - and how important legacy is.


Note: Any of the pics can be enlarged by clicking on them.