This was the eulogy/homily I gave at the service of death and resurrection for my PaPa, Ernest Carter Stanley. Some of the stories you may have heard in a sermon or at a youth retreat, or read here on this blog. I read Revelation 21:1-7 from the small, pocket Bible that a chaplain gave him during World War II.
I had spent most of this warm, summer day helping my Momma clean, which is exactly what every middle school boy wants to do on his summer vacation, right? I managed to do what I think every middle school boy would do, escape under the phantom excuse of needing to take a walk. To my surprise, I actually did take a walk.
With the rural Virginia dirt under my bare feet, I set out on the longer of the paths that led through the woods behind the house, over the creek, and around the goat lot to the back field.
As I walked, I came upon the first creek to cross. I jumped over – well, really just stepped over – being careful of the barbed wire attached to the tree to my right. I stepped over the barbwire, with one foot on the ground and the other foot in the air when I heard it. It was a sound I had never heard in the woods before. I froze, listening intently to discern where the sound was coming from.
Pete’s Dragon is the newest family film from Disney. It is a brilliant film filled with adventure, laughs, and plenty of tear-jerkers. It is a great film to take a youth group, or other group, to. You can read my ponderings on the film here.
Below are some discussion questions you can use with your group. I’m sharing them here for those who are looking for such a resource. As a Christian educator, I should tell you, if you use these questions, don’t feel like you have to use them all. If anything, let the questions be a guide to having a conversation around the themes presented in the film.
“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” -Nathaniel Hawthrone
As I was preparing worship and a sermon for what would be my last Sunday at Peakland United Methodist as their Associate Minister, the communications coordinator, Kim, shared with me the bulletin cover she designed. It had a key verse from one of the scriptures I was using and a picture of a butterfly. It was perfect on all sorts of levels.
I hesitated to ask her to change anything. Finally, I asked if it would be possible to make the orange butterfly a yellow butterfly. She gave me one of those, “that’s an odd request” look, and then said, “Sure.”
Our favorite spot in the new house is quickly becoming the sunroom. This enclosed porch with sliding doors all around, gives us a postcard perfect glimpse of our backyard. It is more perfect when birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other friendly critters occupy the space.
It is a peace-filled space.
The other day while eating lunch on the sunroom, Toddler J and I watched as a squirrel hopped through the yard. As the squirrel started climbing the tree, Toddler J’s eyes lit up and a broad smile spread across her little face. She pointed up as the squirrel climbed the tree. When the squirrel was long out of sight, she was still pointing with excitement and mumbling what I believe was her attempt at saying,”squirrel.”
The following is the note I wrote for Peakland Pages, the monthly newsletter at Peakland United Methodist in Lynchburg.
In a seminary class we were asked to identify five theological rocks that grounded our ministry. These “rocks” were to be the things behind why we did what we did in ministry. I could only think of two: love God and love each other. For me, this is the bottom line of the gospel.
Here is the audio of my sermon from May 29, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10, and 1 Kings 18:20-39. You can also listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.
Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship, Charles E. Moore & Timothy Keiderling, editors, Plough Publishing House, 2016.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” -Jesus of Nazareth
This quote is an appropriate one to begin a collection of stories featuring those who were persecuted because of their faith. And not talking about the elected public official who cried persecution when they refused to do their job. Nor the company that cries persecution because the law requires them to provide services to a gay couple. Nor do I mean the white man who cries persecution when a woman chooses to get an abortion.
After the unexpected success of God’s Not Dead at the box-office, Christian movie-makers attempted to capitalize on this success with Do You Believe?
The film is set in Detroit and is one of those multiple-narratives film (think Crash or Babel). There is the minister who is inspired by the challenging words of a street preacher and his carrying of a large, wooden cross. The minister and his wife take in a runaway, pregnant teenage girl. The church janitor sleeps on a bench so that a homeless mother (Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino) and her child had a warm, safe place to sleep.
The gang members, one of whom absent mindedly ends up in the church during an evening service while running away from the police. Bobby, an EMT, saves a victim from a car accident which results in a lawsuit, him being abandoned by his union, and tense moments with his wife.The victim’s wife hires a lawyer who is anti-religion and is married to a cynical doctor (Sean Astin) who refuses to accept that prayer or miracles are a thing.
Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race – and Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us, Benjamin Watson with Ken Petersen, Tyndale Momentum, 2015.
“What is under our skin, and under the skin problem in America, is a spiritual problem. Every time we point at someone else or an entire race—reducing them to a single story, diminishing them by stereotypes and assumptions—we overlook our own failure.” (Benjamin Watson)
After the deaths of young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the issue of race in America has resurfaced. Arguably, it has never gone away. Yet with new voices like Bree Newcomb and the Black Lives Matter movement, we are being reminded that racism has not been buried.
Among the many books that have come out since the events in Ferguson, Benjamin Watson’s Under Our Skin seeks to address these contentious issues from a spiritual perspective. What started out as a Facebook status, wrestling with the events in the aftermath of Brown’s death, Watson’s first book uses that Facebook post as a springboard to further explore his thoughts, feelings, and wrestlings with race in America.
When I was in high school, our senior high youth group were gathered together up in the youth room on a Sunday night. The group was planning an upcoming Youth Sunday. We were making decisions regarding scripture passages, hymns, and prayers to use. Then, the question was asked, “Who will do the sermon?”
Everyone avoided making eye contact with anyone.
Honestly, I had spent the bulk of the time avoiding eye contact. I was one of the youngest in the room. What did I have to contribute?
Then, from the other end of the table, one of the seniors spoke up and said, “I think Jason should do it.”
It was one of those moments where I was thrilled to be thought of, yet scared to death that they thought of me! I would accept and began working on the “sermon.” When I finished it, I gave it my youth leader to look over. She made some suggestions, among them, “Be careful not to put God in a box.”