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A Total Eclipse of the Heart

A Total Eclipse of the Heart

I was in middle school, say 1993, the first time I heard the song.  It had already been blasting over FM frequencies and in roller skate rinks for a decade, but somehow I had missed it.  I heard the song in the auditorium of Mt. Juliet Jr. High during the S.T.A.R.S. presentation. Acronyms were used A LOT back in those days with teenagers.  It made anything cool.  S.T.A.R.S was an acronym for Students Taking a Right Stand. They spoke out against the use of alcohol, drugs, crude language, and other bad stuff. Some of my peers walked out onto the darkened stage wearing black t-shirts with white lettering emblazoned on the front.  Each shirt had a different bad thing written on it.  Heroin. Cocaine. LSD. I don’t know how many of my classmates in small town Mt. Juliet were snorting coke, but the message was clear. These things were bad, and we should turn from them. That’s how I heard the song. “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  This moving rock ballad repeats the phrase, “Turn Around.” And when Bonnie Tyler would sing the words “Turn Around,” the student wearing the Heroin t-shirt would turn around to show another word on the back of their shirt, like Hope or Promise or Love.  I learned today that Bonnie Tyler will be singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on a cruise ship during the Total Solar Eclipse next Monday. To which I say, “Epic.” But, it got me thinking about the song in middle school, the darkness in our country right now, and Abraham.  First, I have been crushed this week. The...

Tears In The Airport

I’m leaving General Conference 2016 and there are tears in the corners of my eyes. It’s not because I am sad to leave. I know in part it is due to the fact that I’m spent after an exhausting 12 days in Portland. I also know something deeper happened in my spirit here that will take some time to move through. In my recent book, The New Adapters (shameless plug, available through Abingdon Press), I begin by saying that I believe in the church. I tell the story of my parents, two young adults who had been disconnected from the church, finding a home at a new United Methodist Church where they made their professions of faith in Jesus Christ and had their infant son (me) baptized. In that ritual my parents repented of their sin and confessed their belief in Jesus as Lord. They also said as a part of an old creed that they believed in God the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Actually, the whole church made that confession that day. And in the covenantal language of the baptismal vows they said they believed in the church. The holy, catholic (or universal) church. On a day that I see as the most significant in my life, the people who created a community of love and forgiveness around me said they believed in Jesus Christ’s connected church. At General Conference, my belief in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit never wavered. God was there and showed up gently at times and powerfully at others. My belief in the church, though, took some hits. I...

Trust, Hope, and Mercy at General Conference

Yesterday was my 15th wedding anniversary to Rachel Shepard Armstrong.  While I worked as a delegate to the 2016 General Conference, Rachel went on a hiking trip with some friends back in Tennessee.  We can debate later who had the better day.  It was strange, though, to not be with her on the anniversary of our wedding ceremony. Separated by thousands of miles, we texted back and forth a few times, left a couple voicemails, and read handwritten notes that we had left each other for the day. While we wouldn’t have chosen to spend our anniversary that way, our relationship will survive. It is strong. It is steeled by years of shared laughter and tears.  It has been deepened by intimacy and arguments. We made a covenant and covenants have a way of persisting across distance and time. Rachel and I live in covenant even when we don’t want to be, even when we forget it, and even when we don’t act like it. The covenant is bigger than us because God is in the covenant. While Rachel hiked one of our favorite trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, I sat in a windowless convention center hall with 800 other United Methodists with whom I live in covenant.  In one day we laughed and we cried. We had deep intimacy in worship and heated arguments in debate.  I live in covenant with my brothers and sisters in Christ even when we don’t want to be, even when we forget it, and even when we don’t act like it. The covenant is bigger than us because God is in...
I Leave Hopeful

I Leave Hopeful

On November 1, 1792, a year after the death of John Wesley, the Methodist leadership in America gathered in Baltimore for a conference. The Methodist church was on one hand young, vibrant, and growing and on the other hand delicate, full of strife, and on the verge of schism. It was under these conditions that Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke, and others gathered for what would be the first General Conference.  They determined then that it would be good to have such a gathering every four years. Today, I am in Portland for my second General Conference. I reflected back on some words that I wrote before leaving for my first GC four years ago. The words stirred my now four year older heart that I admit has a bit more crust on it from another quadrennium of working too much and not trusting God enough.  I realize the church is just like it was over 200 years ago: delicate, full of strife, and on the verge of schism. I realize that my heart is in need of what the church needs, renewal and healing.  I share my revised words as a way of centering my heart on the hope that we have as the church of Jesus Christ. I have packed, prayed, read the legislation (ok, some of it, there is over 1500 pages), and prepared as best I know how for some two weeks of holy conferencing with my sisters and brothers from all around the world. (This year around 40% of delegates are from outside the U.S.) Most of the sentiment I receive when I tell folks that...

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