Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Wedding Story

Let’s leave for a moment our anxieties over coronavirus, civil unrest and what our church of the future will look like and read about one of the happiest occasions in the life of most people – their wedding day! This is a reprint of an AMEN Corner written many years ago about the first wedding that I ever officiated at. It was a pastor’s worst nightmare. I’ve neither added to nor exaggerated anything about this blessed event – I didn’t need to. This is exactly what happened...

Dear Friends,
June is the traditional month for weddings and I will always remember the time we were invited to Leslie’s (not her real name) wedding in Harmony, Ca. A very quaint, rustic town of only 18 people, Harmony is located just south of Cambria and the entire “town” consisted of a boutique winery and a wedding chapel. The tiny chapel was filled with flowers and twinkle lights and it was a fairytale wedding. The reception was at the winery and all was gourmet and elegant. But years after the fairytale wedding, Leslie’s Prince Charming had turned into the evil hunchback ogre and the divorced Leslie was ready to get married again. 

The ink had barely dried on my denomination’s ordination papers when Leslie asked me to officiate. I remembered her last expensive and elegant Harmony Chapel wedding and immediately told her that I’d be happy to. She told me that it would be held at their favorite restaurant in Palmdale and it had a garden area perfect for the wedding. In my “mind’s eye” I saw a gazebo, waterfall, flowers, twinkle lights and an elegant reception dinner under the stars. This would be my first wedding as a minister. I sent my best suit to the cleaners.

It turned out to not be an actual “restaurant.” The owner of the biker bar had done his best for Leslie and her biker husband-to-be and worked hard to make the weed covered back lot into an acceptable venue for a wedding. He’d tied up his two pit bulls over by the dumpster to avoid any dog bite lawsuits. He’d dragged some old fake Ficus trees and decaying artificial flowers out of the bar and arranged them around a patch of dirt in the corner of the yard. Guests were seated on folding metal chairs that had been out in the direct sun all day. Women with backless dresses or miniskirts screamed as they sat down. Empty beer kegs had been removed from a rusty steel storage shed so that the bride could use it as her changing room. The aluminum kegs stacked next to the ceremonial dirt patch added a festive ambiance. 

Leslie had changed into a white pantsuit and exited the shed, but as she walked through the weeds to where the procession was to start from, she stepped in a pile of pit bull poop that squished up around the sides of her cute, pink western boots. The lovely bride said a word not normally used in the wedding ceremony and we were ready to begin. As the bride walked down the dirt “aisle”, the “best man” played a Guns ‘N Roses heavy metal song on an electric guitar that, to my knowledge, was not a traditional wedding song. Women were frantically swatting at flies attracted to their hairspray and perfume. 

It was well above 100 degrees in Palmdale on that Saturday afternoon in June. There was no shade in the “garden.” The sun was beating down on us and sweat was pouring off my face. We were engulfed in the odor from the bride’s right boot and the maid of honor had her hand over her nose and mouth. Her stomach heaved and I took a couple of steps toward the groom’s side of the dirt patch in case the maid of honor did something dishonorable. Remember, the ministerial suit had just come back from the cleaners. I don’t want to say I rushed the ceremony, but I didn’t dawdle with any unnecessary niceties. The groom kissed the bride and left her standing alone as he rushed down the aisle to go relieve himself after too many pre-wedding beers. The bride and I adjourned to the blistering hot storage shed where I filled out the marriage certificate using an up-turned beer keg for a writing desk. The reception was burgers, chili dogs and all the beer you could drink. I expressed my most sincere regrets to the bride for being unable to stay. The groom was still in the restroom.

I’ve read other pastor’s wedding stories where after the pastor said, “Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband,” the bride thought for a moment and said, “No.” Where the bride and her father fought with light sabers coming down the aisle to music from Star Wars and neither the pastor nor the groom knew they were going to do that. Where the bride had requested that 1 John 4:18 be read: “There is no fear in love; instead perfect love drives out fear.” Unfortunately, a confused lay-reader read John 4:18 at the wedding: “For you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” Where the pastor did an outdoor wedding and the bride chain-smoked cigarettes during the entire service. When in a country club wedding the sound guy used the wrong CD, and as the bride walked down the aisle, everyone heard Tony Bennett singing “The Lady is a Tramp.” And where the bride and groom were both avid hunters and the pastor was asked to officiate at their wedding by talking through a speaker placed in an animatronic deer head.

By the time you read this AMEN Corner, there may not be enough time for you to get married in June but I have some available dates in July to officiate at your wedding. You do need to know that after that first wedding ceremony, I did institute some pretty strict rules you’ll need to follow. I will not marry bride and groom in a biker bar. Guests may chew tobacco if it’s an outdoor wedding but must not spit during the service and both bride and groom must remain sober throughout the entire ceremony.  Amen?

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Where's God When We Need Him Most?

Dear Friends,

Americans are saying that they are more stressed than ever before. Even with good, steady jobs we can feel overworked, undervalued, underpaid, unappreciated and go home at night stressed and exhausted. And there’s still the shopping, cleaning, paying bills, medical problems, pets, people, noisy neighbors, church responsibilities, phone calls, tv, internet, laundry, children and grandchildren. Even the enjoyable things in life can seem overwhelming at times. And now COVID-19 is attacking our health and race riots are attacking our communities. A recent survey showed that 61% of us are more stressed and 45% of us are more depressed than usual. 48% are worried that we will get the Coronavirus and 62% of us are anxious about a family member or loved one getting it. Over half of us are still worried that we’ll run out of food or medicine. A neighbor asked me last week, "Where's God when we need Him most?"

We search for relief from life – for comfort. We know there’s someOne who can help. But where is He in the middle of our suffering? When we need Him the most? But are we searching for God when we already have more of Him than we could ever ask for, hope for, or imagine?

We only search for what we have already experienced. We only search for that which is missing, and it’s impossible to miss something that never existed for us. That means that in our fervent search for God’s presence in our life, we are searching for something that we already abundantly have.

Augustine was a bishop, a Christian theologian and one of the early Church Fathers of our faith. He wrote about God, “You were within me but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for You. Created things kept me from You.”

God is already within us. 1 Cor 3:16 NLT Jesus Christ lives within every believer and the Holy Spirit gives us life. Romans 8:10-11 NLT The Apostle Peter said if you repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus, then you will receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 And Augustine reminds that, while God is within each one of us, there are things that we do which reveal His presence and things we do that distract us and quench His presence. Life happens and despite our best efforts to hang onto our faith, we can become distracted by the created things and we no longer see the Creator within. 

A few years ago, I worked a high-stress, nine hour per day job that kept me so busy I was either working or thinking about work. In my “spare time,” I spent another 20-30 hours per week devoted to ministry and church business. Whenever I got to the end of my mental health rope, I needed to go to my sanctuary – the monastery.

Saint Andrew’s Abbey is a monastery in Valyermo and I used to think of it as the place where I could always go to meet God. In this holy place, it was as if God was waiting for me and I could always find Him there. Then the Holy Spirit gave me a completely different understanding of His presence. 

When I step on to those old monastery grounds at the base of the San Gabriel mountains, I’m stepping off the hamster wheel of life. When I sit, still and quiet beside the lake, and breathe the sagebrush scented air, the clutter of created things falls away. When I open my Bible to read, I come into His presence. But I see now that God is not waiting for me to come and join Him in the sanctuary of the monastery. I brought Him with me in the sanctuary of my heart. He’s been there within me all along but I’d buried Him under the stressors of my life. And in that quiet and holy place at the monastery, all those “created things” that had been keeping me from Him were stripped away.

Many people say that they “Go to church to meet God” as if He “lives” there in that building and just as we go to a friend’s house to visit them, we go to God’s house to visit Him. But God’s not waiting for us in church. We bring Him along with us. God has never left us nor forsaken us and the worship service simply fosters an awareness of Him that brings us into His presence. Our church doors have been closed for many months and, for some with any preexisting medical condition, may be closed for much longer. That’s why we need to find our own sanctuary. 

Where is your holy place? Your garden? The front porch? The chair by the window? That sacred space where the clutter of your life falls away to reveal the Heavenly Father within. Where you come into His presence and just rest awhile. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Are you searching for the One who has already found you? Just stop what you’re doing for a moment. Take a deep breath and set everything aside. When all the created things have been stripped away, you’ll find Him. Waiting for you. In the sanctuary of your heart.  Amen?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

White Power and the Third Option

Dear Friends,
Miles G. McPherson is the pastor of our Nation’s 19th largest megachurch with 20,000 people. The Rock Church in San Diego is known throughout our Nation for demonstrating the love of God through service in their community. I want you to hear his voice today instead of mine.

As a human being I can express my horror and grief at the visual images of a Black man dying under the knee of a police officer. As a Pastor I can preach (and have) that we are all one race – the human race – and equal in all respects. But my life experiences will be different than those with a darker skin color. I read too many articles from White elites who are leading a “woke” revolution and using a voice of authority to explain to us what it’s like to be an African-American in our country. But when we Whites assume a dominant position in society and become the self-appointed ones to explain Black anguish, that’s simply another form of “white supremacy.” As a White man, I can’t write with any authenticity about the Black experience. I’m outraged over the street execution of George Floyd but my anger is different than an African-American’s. I don’t know what they’re thinking.. feeling.. sensing... I don’t know their fears and hurts. I can only listen and learn.. 

George Floyd's death: White power and the third option
by Miles G. McPherson

I grew up in a diverse family. One of my grandmothers was White, another was Black and Chinese, and both of my grandfathers were Black. Three of my four grandparents hailed from Jamaica, and eventually immigrated to America. I was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, where diversity was the norm in my home, but not in my neighborhood or at my school. My neighborhood was 95% black, and the neighborhood I attended school in was 100% white. Growing up in both environments forced me to learn how to operate in two racially-distinct worlds. Daily, I experienced racism. 

I was regularly called the ‘N’ word and targeted by racial jokes and comments as I made my way to and from school each day. On more than one occasion, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it home alive. And, to make things even worse, I experienced racial rejection in my own neighborhood as well, for not being “black enough.” 

I grew up in the culture of the sixties and early seventies, which was a racially volatile time in America. One of the most poignant lessons I learned early on, was that “white was right,” and that “black and brown” should “stand down.” This lesson embodied the very essence of “White Power,” and disobeying it resulted in incarceration or death for people who looked like me. In essence, “White Power” meant that at any given time, a White person could tell me what to do, take what I had, and determine the outcome of my life. This is what I felt, no matter how true it really was. And people of color, like me, I knew, were powerless to stop it. As much as White Power impacted me, it was worse for those who were darker than me and even worse for those who were darker-skinned and poor.

Because my grandmother was white, I have light skin, causing white people to see more of themselves in me than in darker-skinned black people. That commonality, I was told, lessened their fear. But it didn’t change the fact that I was still just another ‘N’ word to some, causing me to experience a sense of powerlessness that plagued me into adulthood. Racism becomes even more dangerous when it is combined with this type of power. Though racism is something that anyone can experience regardless of their skin color, racism from White people is uniquely powerful, because it embodies the ability to express hatred in violent and demeaning ways, and get away with it. People of color are painfully aware of this fact, while most white people have no idea how great an impact their privilege has on the lives of their brothers and sisters of color. 

Being called the “N” word is not just a derogatory term. Yes, it says to its target, “you are less than me,” but it also conveys the message, “Don’t forget that you have no power over me or your situation. I control you. I can wrong you, even kill you and get away with it, and you will have no power to change that.” This message is what causes people of color to feel powerless in witnessing the murders of black men and women like Ahmaud Arbrey, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. And it is exacerbated a thousand-fold by the sense that they have no way of ever changing it. 

The cop kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, even after George was dead, was ultimately an expression of power. To make things worse, while the cop was killing George, he had his hand in his pocket. His casual but lethal exercise of power was embodied in his very posture, as a reminder to all of us “N’s” that he was in charge, and that the rest of us could do nothing about it. The bottom line is that Whites have more power than Black people in America. And racial discrimination will not be eliminated until White power is used to end it. Blacks can scream until their faces turn purple, but unless White power is leveraged for their benefit, things will stay the same.

It would help tremendously if White people spoke out against abuses of power more consistently, and loudly. But their collective silence on this issue is deafening, and constitutes a form of withholding help from their brothers and sister in need. The best analogy I can equate it to is watching someone else drown, and having a life preserver, but choosing not to throw it in. As Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

I have been sharing with my White friends that their silence tells communities of color, “We affirm our power, and we don’t want to  jeopardize it.” It also signals a message that Whites reserve their power for White priorities, and that the lives and welfare of Black people is not one of them. By staying silent, they add fuel to the fire of an “us vs. them” culture, which causes everyone to feel like a “sell out” for speaking up for the “other” side. 

It is culture, not God, who tells that being pro-black means being anti-white, or being pro-white is being anti-black. And it’s a lie. God commands us to be pro-people, pro-justice, and pro-love. That’s why I wrote a book called The Third Option, urging readers to reject the trap of “us vs. them” thinking, by choosing to honor our similarities as precious and beloved children of God, instead of focusing on the differences in the color of our skin.

Everyone who says they care about these issues, always asks me what they can do to help, and I’m moved by their desire to take action. But rather than reinvent the wheel on how to change policy and culture, I’d rather focus on offering ideas regarding who we should work to become. 

Become an honoring person: Convert every dishonoring label into an honoring one. Whatever label you give someone will be the filter through which your thoughts and expectations are shaped about them – for better or worse. Changing their labels in your heart leads to honoring and unifying beliefs about them, even when you may not understand their words or actions. 

Become honest with yourself: Admit that you see color and be honest with yourself about the burdens that come with being a person of color in America. Ask yourself how it would feel if your relatives or people who looked like you were being killed and justice was denied because of their skin tone. Ask yourself whether you value a Black life the same as a White life, and whether you truly believe that Black people are made in the same image of God as Whites.

Become a humble learner: As I wrote in my book, The Third Option, a blind spot is being unaware of something that you don’t even know you think or believe. EVERYONE has blind spots, especially when it comes to race. And the only way to overcome them is by learning the truth about ourselves and others. Engage in conversations, and do so from a position of humility. Don’t assume the position of a teacher who has all of the answers. Put yourself in the shoes of another, and ask if what you believe about them is fair or true. You’ll be amazed at how simple awareness and an honest conversation can help you resolve your racial blind spots. 

Become vocal! Use your words, your platform, and your power to say something. Express your remorse for what’s happening to the Black community. State your belief that all people are created equal and made in the image of God. Affirm your commitment to standing against injustice. Being vocal will result in three outcomes: first, you will encourage the discouraged (1 Thessalonians 5:11); second, you will challenge others to stand for justice (Isaiah 1:17, Micah 6:8); and third, you will be blessed for “defending the defenseless” (Psalm 82:3).


Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.

Reprinted with Permission from The Christian Post