No Ordinary Time

“This is no ordinary time. No time for weighing anything except what we can best do for the country as a whole, and that responsibility rests on each and every one of us as individuals. No man who is a candidate or who is President can carry this situation alone. This is only carried by a united people who love their country and who will live for it to the fullest of their ability.” So spoke Eleanor Roosevelt at the Democratic National Convention in 1940 as her husband Franklin was about to be nominated to a third term as President of the United States.

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2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2. Americans celebrated V-E Day on May 8, 1945 to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of Germany’s unconditional surrender. Three months later, on August 6, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and followed it with another bomb three days later, directed at Nagasaki. The formal surrender of Japan came on September 2. 2015 also marks the 70th anniversary of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 12. Roosevelt is the only U.S. president to be elected to four terms, although he died just months after his fourth inauguration.

My father, father-in-law and mother-in-law all served in World War 2, yet they rarely initiated conversation about their service until recent years. Wanting to learn more about this most transformative era in U.S. history, I decided to observe the 70th anniversary by reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s best-seller, No Ordinary Time; Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. My next three blogs will focus on leadership lessons from Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Eleanor Roosevelt and progress made in race relations between 1940 and 1945.

FDR was born in 1882 into a wealthy family and entered politics as a young man, having been elected to the New York State Senate in 1910 and appointed as assistant secretary of the Navy in 1913. A defining moment in FDR’s political rise was his diagnosis of polio in 1921 at the age of 39. For several years his main focus shifted from politics to physical recovery, but Roosevelt never regained full use of his legs and was wheelchair-bound the rest of this life.

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FDR was first elected president in 1931. As Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and announced his goal of exterminating Jews from Europe, Roosevelt’s focus turned outward of necessity. How did FDR boldly and courageously lead the United States during the Depression and the New Deal and then through isolationism to war with both Japan and Germany?

Communication
FDR was a master communicator. He had the unique ability to inspire, touch, encourage and challenge the American people to live up to their destiny to preserve freedom in our world. FDR would deliver stirring speeches, but his most effective way of reaching ordinary citizens was through Fireside Chats. Because of his disability, FDR was not able to travel easily, but he would periodically chat informally with the American people by radio. A huge percentage of the population tuned in late at night, sitting by their radio at the kitchen table.

Vision
FDR had the gift of being able to paint a picture of the future, with freedom and the flag as a rallying point. Roosevelt could see what others could not and invited his citizens to join him in the journey. FDR’s 1941 State of the Union speech is especially notable for his vision of a country with four freedoms: freedom of speech and expression; freedom to worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear.

Decision-making
FDR led from the front, knowing that his bold decisions would result in the deaths of many soldiers in order for the war to be won. Roosevelt relied on his advisors, but the ultimate decisions were his. It was a lonely place to be, but FDR was never afraid to run risks for the sake of his convictions. He also knew that he would never please everyone and would face intense criticism at times.

Optimism
FDR had a spiritual maturity that resulted in part because of intense suffering associated with his physical disability. Roosevelt could connect with people. He was cheerful and hopeful and could inspire others to be their best selves as well as have faith and trust in him. One of FDR’s greatest gifts was his confidence that with enough energy and spirit humans could do anything, even overcome the great evil of the Nazi regime.

Don’t mess with ministers!
In early 1942 pleasure driving came to an end because rubber (tires) and gas were needed for the war effort. However, physicians, war workers, public officials and others rendering essential services were allowed to have a new set of tires and were exempt from gas rationing. After an outcry that clergy were not included, Roosevelt immediate granted them an exemption.

Creativity
FDR was instrumental in leading the U.S. to rapidly and imaginatively retool for war production. Instead of taking eighteen months to build a new airplane, they retooled auto plants and rethought how to make planes more quickly. Between 1940 and 1945, the U.S. produced 300,000 warplanes, 107,351 tanks, 2 million trucks, 87,620 warships, 5,475 cargo ships, 20 million rifles, machine guns and pistols and 44 billion rounds of ammunition.

Embracing his Disability
FDR realized that by staying in his office he would lose track of the world and limit his accessibility to the American people. Eleanor, then, became his hands, feet, heart and presence around the country. FDR insisted on hiding his disability and never appeared in public in a wheelchair until near the end of his life. He was never to be photographed handicapped in public and was always pictured standing behind a podium, seated or leaning on the arm of a colleague. The veil of silence was accepted, and when people did catch glimpses of Roosevelt’s vulnerability, it only increased the power and charm of his personality.

Rest and Renewal
Roosevelt’s health and the intensity of his presidency dictated intentional rest and renewal of his spirit. Even in the worst of times, FDR made it a priority to travel regularly to the healing waters of Warm Springs, Georgia or to his home in Hyde Park, New York, where he slept, swam and enjoyed stamp collecting. During his time away, Roosevelt was able to regain perspective and realize how unimportant the little things were in the face of a war that threatened the entire world. Deep rest and the presence of trusted confidantes, including Winston Churchill, contributed to his good spirits and gave Roosevelt renewed energy for the momentous decisions facing him. Through it all FDR remained “calm and serene, never impatient or irritable,” according to presidential assistant, William Hassett.

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How did Roosevelt’s leadership help win the war?

  • FDR had an amazing sense of timing and brought an isolationist country along little by little.
  • FDR had an extraordinary ability to appraise public feeling, mobilize Americans, and unify the country by insisting that every American had an important role to play in the war.
  • FDR solicited different points of view and would even try out ideas on reporters.
  • FDR was able to form a coherent pattern from many pieces.
  • FDR always remained calm and unmoved.
  • Long before the war was over, FDR had a vision of and prepared for the future of America where veterans were cared for, full employment continued, the role of business was nurtured and a new United Nations would work for peace around the world.

Seventy years ago was no ordinary time. But today is no ordinary time, either, in the church and in our world. Boldness and vision, connecting with people, offering hope, a non-anxious presence, taking one step at a time: that’s how we move toward the kingdom of God. What can we learn from Franklin Delano Roosevelt about leadership as we answer God’s call today?

Blessings,
Laurie

Finding Grace

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.”

President Obama’s voice rang out last Friday in Charleston as he gave a thoughtful as well as challenging eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people gunned down the week before at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Obama spoke of racial injustice, the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State Capital, the lack of will in the United States for gun control and forgiveness shown by the victims’ families to Dylann Roof, who was charged with nine counts of murder. Obama ended his eulogy by singing Amazing Grace, saying each victim’s name and proclaiming that each one “found that grace.”

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How poignant it was that President Obama’s multi-faceted call for the people of the United States to move from blindness to seeing came on the same morning, June 26, that another large group of God’s beloved children found grace. The Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage. Speaking for the 5-4 majority, Anthony Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, wrote, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may even endure past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment for the Court of Appeals of the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.”

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed.

All over our country, people are elated, disappointed, confused, hopeful, fearful or angry at the Supreme Court decision. The joy of many is pain to others. Yet the gospel call, repeated again and again in the words and actions of Jesus, is to show grace to all, especially to those who are rejected, oppressed and marginalized and to those who disagree with us. The 5-4 margin of the Supreme Court decision is indicative of our diversity as a nation as well as the complexity of this issue.

  • A United Methodist friend wrote on Friday night, “I feel so blessed to have been born gay. The road has sometimes been hard, but it has taught me to have empathy for others and to be vigilant and outspoken with regard to injustice around me. If I had not traveled this path, I never would have become an attorney.”
  • Another wrote about his fear that the state would now have the power to tell the church what to believe and practice.
  • Jack Evans, 85, and George Harris, 82, who have been partners for 54 years, were the first couple to be married in Dallas, Texas after the SCOTUS decision. They were married by a judge, who was also a member of their church. They wanted to wait until they could be married in their home state.
  • A pastor wondered whether same-sex marriage will tear apart the fabric of society and weaken the institution of marriage.
  • A young woman is going to have a commitment ceremony with her partner in three weeks. Now, she says, it will be a wedding.
  • A friend wrote, “Jesus defined marriage in Mark 10:7-8, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ I love my gay brothers and sisters, but I cannot find any place in the Bible that justifies gay marriage.”

Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.

Questions keep running through my mind. As people of faith, how will we find grace in the midst of this momentous decision? How will the church address the most important issues of our day and become relevant to the hopes and dreams of young people for a just and compassionate world? How can we walk into God’s future with hope rather than fear or division? How will the way we treat each other in the church witness to others of the grace that not only holds us together but changes the world?

The Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage does not change or affect the position of The United Methodist Church, which does not permit clergy to officiate at gay marriages or allow them to be held in our churches. At their discretion, clergy are permitted, however, to offer premarital counseling to gay couples, attend gay weddings and offer a prayer or scripture. Announcements of gay weddings are also permitted in church publications.

In May of 2016 the quadrennial General Conference of The United Methodist Church will convene in Portland, Oregon to make decisions about the future of our denomination, including a variety of petitions related to homosexuality. My hope and prayer is that we will find grace by discerning a way to honor the various positions that clergy and laity around the world hold regarding this issue.

The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be, As long as life endures.

Every Sunday in our church, after the reading of the scripture we say, “This is God’s living word for God’s living people.” When we allow God’s living presence through the Holy Spirit to move in and through us and our congregations, we find grace, gain new insights, learn to love more deeply and move that much closer to bringing in God’s kingdom on this earth. Whether it’s women’s rights, gun control, racism, full inclusion of those who are LGBTQ, human trafficking or oppression, the rock upon which our faith rests is the unconditional grace of Jesus Christ for each person on this earth and God’s desire that each person reach his or her full potential.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace.

God not only works in and through the church, however. God also speaks through governments, secular institutions, people of other faiths and even through those who profess no faith at all. When our eyes, ears and hearts are open, we discover that God sometimes moves in ways we least expect.

Regardless of what we believe on this issue, we are still brothers and sisters, still United Methodists and still one because Jesus Christ has made us all part of the body of Christ. Every local church is called to make disciples and offer a life of joy and peace to their neighbors and communities in ways that are both compelling and transformative. By opening the doors of the church to all people without exception, we model the inclusive welcome of Jesus Christ as, together, we all seek to “find grace” and become perfect in love.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’d first begun.

Is the love of Jesus greater than any of our differences? Can that love unite us in singing God’s praise and shining bright as the sun in a world that desperately needs us to be light and love? With grace there is always a way. Let’s find that grace together.

Blessings,
Laurie

We’re Not Keeping This to Ourselves!

VBS rocks! “Daddy, daddy, we learned about Elijah today, how God spoke to Elijah and comforted him when he was feeling bad. Daddy, did you know that God has the power to comfort us, too? Daddy, can I come back tomorrow?” The chatter goes on and on as three hundred pre-school and elementary children have just sung “My God is powerful. God stands invincible. I will hold on to God. Through God I will overcome. God is the rock that will never move. My God is powerful.”

Vacation Bible School is in full swing as the children leave each day energized by the power of God’s love. Is Vacation Bible School a dinosaur, a relic of the past that has no meaning or capacity for outreach in today’s fast-paced world? Absolutely not! VBS lives because we are convinced of the witness of Psalm 78:4, “We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation – God’s fame and fortune, the marvelous things he has done.” (The Message)

IMG_4060Why do we still do VBS?

  • It is one of the most important ways in which we invest in the spiritual formation of children.
  • VBS forms relationships at all levels, from kitchen helpers to tech people, band members, child care workers, greeters and teachers.
  • It’s a way to involve older youth in service and leadership: 78 middle and high school crew leaders were in charge of from three to five children each.
  • VBS runs entirely on volunteers.  There is nothing more gratifying than 163 youth and adults offering a week of their time to teach children about Jesus.  These children are not only the future of the church, they are future of our world.

Testimony from Gabe: “I am a youth crew leader because I like church, I like people and I like God. It’s always important to have God in your life at a young age.”

How does VBS engage children and volunteers in their faith?

  • We used Group’s VBS program Everest: Conquering Challenges with God’s Mighty Power.
  • A live band with high energy, easy to sing, kid-centered Christian music draws children into the VBS experience.
  • Every day has an easy-to-remember daily Bible point, Bible story and key verse.
  • An enormous amount of time is spent making the church look like a base camp for Mount Everest.  The sets can be as simple or elaborate as circumstances dictate.  The VBS I fondly remember as a kid had no visuals at all, but today, being mindful of the various ways in which children learn is critical as well as highly effective.
  • After VBS is over at noon, student crew leaders get a free lunch for the first three days.
  • On Wednesday of VBS week, kids graduating from VBS by going into 6th grade build new relationships as they eat lunch and spend the afternoon on the church lawn playing various water games.
  • As a mission opportunity, VBS kids bring money to buy Bibles for children in Thailand.
  • Parents picking up their kids can “overhear” the gospel story during the last half hour by watching from the upper level.

Testimony from Fred, piano player in the band: “I am a classically trained musician, and this was not my style, but I came to love the music. It’s wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the kids and the comaraderie of the leaders. My four-year-old granddaughter was so excited, and it’s beautiful for an older person to be pulled into the joy of a child.”

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Why is Vacation Bible School such an effective outreach?

  • Because we are called share God’s love, not keep it to ourselves!
  • It’s natural for children to invite their friends, relatives and neighbors to Vacation Bible School, and it gives parents the gift of time to themselves every morning. 153 of our 300 VBS children were not from our church.
  • VBS is a front door to the Christian faith. Parents may bring their children to VBS, but if it is a good experience, the children will insist on bringing their parents back to church to stay.
  • Parents of VBS children connect with other parents, and when relationships form in a grace-filled environment, the Holy Spirit really goes to work!
  • Parents and children are invited to worship the Sunday following VBS, where they sing and videos of the week are shown. Our videographer pulls several all-nighters.


  • The time we devote to making Bible school relevant, fun and spiritual tugs at the hearts of parents, even if they do not currently attend church.

Testimony from a first-grader: “I love my crew leader. I want to be a crew leader when I grow up.”

How can your church do VBS?

  • Virtually any church can do VBS. All you need is to make an intentional decision that your congregation wants to invest in children.
  • Identify a few children either in your church, neighborhood or town.
  • Pray for caring adults and youth who are willing to give of themselves to love the children and teach them about Jesus for a week in the summer.
  • You don’t have to create VBS by yourself. A number of organizations provide outstanding materials.
  • If there are no budgeted funds for VBS, invite an angel to purchase materials or borrow them from another church. And share them with other churches when you are done.

Testimony from a parent: “We found this church by bringing our two daughters to VBS. After just one week of VBS they insisted that this was their church, and we’ve been here ever since. VBS grasps children and turns Bible stories into energy for kids.”

Nine African-Americans were killed inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston last week during our Vacation Bible School. They welcomed a white young man into their Bible study and prayer meeting for an hour before he started shooting. One commentator said, “If you can’t be black in a church, where can you be black in America today?” Last week our VBS children learned eternal truths:

  • God has the power to provide.
  • God has the power to comfort.
  • God has the power to heal.
  • God has the power to forgive.
  • God has the power to love us forever.

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Teaching our children to love, not hate, encouraging them to speak out against injustice wherever they see it, and offering them tools to cope with life’s most difficult times and find inner peace: these may be the greatest gifts we can offer. It’s the church’s responsibility to teach our children that every person on this earth is God’s precious child, not just those who look, talk, act, dress and worship like we do. What better place to start than Vacation Bible School? “We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation.”

Blessings,
Laurie