Petrichor

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We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.  –Psalm 74:9

How long has it been since your last experience of Petrichor?

Petrichor is, essentially, the smell of rain.  It’s a combination of bacteria being released from dry ground, and the smell of ozone, and the oil from certain dry plants.(Wikipedia)

It’s a wonderful, fresh scent.  The scent of new beginnings.  Starting over.  Purity.

The scent of God-presence.

I love that scent, and I’m happy to say that we’ve had so much water this spring, here in South Central Kansas, that I’ve smelled Petrichor on a number of occasions.

But I’ve had my dry spells.  Long, spiritually barren spans when hope wasn’t to be found, and emptiness was punctuated by parched coughing spells. I’ve had moistureless nights when it seemed everyone around me was lost, too.   No signs.  No prophets.  No scents.

I’ve tried seeding clouds with my tears, to no avail.  I’ve tried dancing and chanting and praying, and still the dry spell continued.  And then…

Petrichor.  Named after combining the Greek words for “rock”, and the “fluid” that runs through the veins of the Gods. (Wikipedia)  It reminds me of God in the dessert, saying…

I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.”  –Exodus 17:6a

None of the Israelites mention any fragrance that accompanied that miracle.  Perhaps they were too thirsty to pay attention. I wonder, did the water God sent smell like Petrichor?  I like to think so.  I think God sends Petrichor in remarkable and commonplace settings, in great floods and bare sprinkles.

And sometimes, yes, God even sends the agonizing dry spell. Why? Is it to test us and torture us with dust and heat?  Or is this all part of the natural rhythms of God’s created systems?  Water follows dust, wet follows dry.  I tend to think of Petrichor as no more possible to predict than any of God’s other rhythms.

We’re moving into the dry months, I know.  I will try to find God in the wilderness, in the dust.  But somedays, as an act of hope, I plan to raise my head towards the sky, and sniff, and declare the thrill of my createdness:

Hallelujah, it smells like rain.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Love The Children Now

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Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  –Jesus Christ

I don’t have a solution,
But something is amiss,
The problem is appalling
And I can tell you this:

I wouldn’t want to spend my nights,
Upon a concrete floor,
Or caring for a toddler,
I’d never met before.

I wouldn’t want the same three meals
each day for many weeks
Without a way to brush my teeth
Or wash my dirty cheeks.

I wouldn’t want to be apart
from family so long.
To be an innocent, a child.
Who has done nothing wrong.

Forget the funding battles,
Forget building the wall,
We must not be a stumbling block
to children, young and small

Each side, entrenched, the battle waged
The fix? I don’t know how,
but surely Christ would call a truce,
And love the children now.

Mitch

 

Going Freestyle

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So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Exodus 15:24

Let me tell you. Olive Garden will refill your iced tea quicker than you can drink it.  Carlos O’Kelly’s has gigantic 32oz tumblers that they’re more than happy to fill with Diet Mountain Dew.  A Route 44 Arnold Palmer from Sonic never fails to hit the spot.

Good stuff, one and all, but these can’t compare to Freestyle.  It’s been around for about a decade, I’d guess, so there’s a good chance you’ve seen it.

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It is, as I like to call it, an amusement park for thirsty people.   And I am a thirsty person.

Freestyle boasts 100+ drink options, and I’ve likely tried them all. The possibilities are only limited by the room my internal organs can set aside for liquid.  Let’s see…

I’ll start with something fruity and exotic, maybe Dasani sparkling cherry&Minute Maid lemonade&Fuze unsweet tea.  Ahhh.  Then something a little more traditional:  Coke Zero&Barq’s crème soda.  Nice. And then, something in the flavored ginger ale oeuvre.  Freestyle is a marvel of the modern world.

I should mention, however, that there is no Living Water button on the Freestyle.  So if you’re looking to meet a spiritual thirst, you may be out of luck.

Where today can somebody get their hands on Living Water?  The Hebrews complained about it enough so Moses gushed some out of a rock.  Jesus offered some to the woman at the well.  And whoever wrote the 23rd Psalm sounds like they got good and quenched.

What about us?  It’s funny, but when I think about Living Water, a spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit, Freestyle seems just too….Freestyle to me.  Too much flexibility, and sugar and aspartame and caffeine and weird stuff I can’t pronounce.

When I think about whetting my whistle with Living Water, interesting places spring up in my mind:  1)  Drinking from a Garden Hose, as a kid.  2) That 1-in-a-thousand drinking fountain with the perfect combination of temperature, pressure, and arc.  3) Cool water from a mountain stream, drunk right from my cupped hands. None of those places were labeled “Living Water”…but I just knew.

What about you?  Where have you found Living Water?  I suppose it doesn’t have to be water, we’re really talking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but my thirstiness ties the two notions together for me much like the scriptures do.  So where you do you drink of the Spirit?

I realize that what my life needs is to be Structured, more than Freestyled.  That doesn’t mean I’ll give up the occasional Lemonade&Raspberry PowerAde&Mello Yellow concoction.  It just means that, deep down, I’ll pay attention to my thirst for the singular, elemental, spiritual guidance of God most of all.

It comes in just one flavor:

Holy.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Bible, Volume 3?

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So, I really liked parts 1 and 2 (The Old and New Testaments), but do you think it’s time to for another installment?  Should we reopen the canon?

The canon is the collection of writings that have come to be known as The Bible. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago we assembled it carefully and declared it sufficient. But then again, that was before cloning. Maybe we could use some instruction on that.

It was before technology of any sort, really. It was before talk of global warming, or gay marriage, or reality television. Should we commission a supplemental volume to clarify what Jesus wants us to do about these things?

Who would decide what goes in to a Bible Part III? Would scholars? Pastors? You or me?Would we have a 1-800 call in voting system? I wonder. Would we come to blows over what constitutes The Word of God? Probably.

Come to think of it, we already do that with the Bible we have. Okay then. No Bible Part 3.  No point in adding to the “canon fodder”. And it’s a tenet of Christianity that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation. That’s comforting, but here’s a thought: If God had intended the Bible to be the last word on everything — why have libraries?

Sure, the Bible may be the most important book on the shelf, but that doesn’t mean you ignore the whole library around you, right? No, I think God inspires people even today, in a variety of ways.  The written word, for example, has the power to enlighten and instruct us in supplemental ways even beyond the life-giving pages of The Bible.

Someone, right now, may be writing words on a page that will one day convey a life-changing insight, one that may cause you or I to revise even the most die-hard opinions we’ve had about how we read The Bible.  I’m going to stay open to that possibility, because although God may not change, our understanding of God continues to unfold and expand.

I firmly believe that The Good Book points me to a relationship with God, through Christ. It shows me what salvation means. It welcomes me into a life of Kingdom-living. It is the foundation by which I try to live my life.

But just the same…

When it comes to something like cloning, or global warming, or gay marriage…

I can’t help but think that God

is still speaking volumes.

Mitch

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originally posted in 2014

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barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd
by Rev. Mitch Todd (Author)

Please Turn In Your Hymnals

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If everything falls apart in the United Methodist Church, and one side claims one of the flames, and the other side claims the other, I was wondering:

What do we do with the hymnal?  The United Methodist Hymnal that has been our guide in worship, at least for English speakers, since, what, 1989?  That’s 30 years of worship — is it now up in the air, too?

A lot’s changed in those 30 years.  Lots of American Methodists don’t even pull their hymnals out any more, grudgingly accepting the ease of words on the screen.  Many others have traded in the old standards for almost-as-old “contemporary” hymns.  There are new songs for new generations, and strangely enough, new music based on old standards.

Time has passed, but the hymnal has endured for a good long while, along with two other United Methodist hymnals, Mil Voces Para Celebrar: Himnario Metodista (published in 1996) and Come, Let Us Worship: The Korean-English United Methodist Hymnal (published in 2000). (Wikipedia)

If the denomination splits, do we have to split up our hymnals, too?  How would that even work?

“You guys can have ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,’ but we get ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”

or

“You can take Word and Table II, but we get to keep Baptismal Covenant I.”

Or maybe the Holy Spirit appears, with a list of hymns neither side gets to sing anymore, including:

“Oh Church of God, United” (547)
“Let Us Break Bread Together” (618)
“Help Us Accept Each Other” (560)
“In Christ There Is No East or West” (548)

I vote for none of the above options, of course.  I pray instead that the Holy Spirit guides us out of these treacherous waters with truth and justice.

As we struggle along, maybe we can find some common ground in the common songs of our tradition. Music has the power to amplify voices of hope and peace.

Who knows? If we’re loud enough, and bold enough, maybe God will hear

The Faith We Sing.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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1001 Way Forward Jokes (for Methodists)

Q:  Why were the moderate delegates in danger when a fire broke out?
A:  They hadn’t considered the Exit Plans.

Q:  How many General Conference 2019 delegates does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  It depends on if a majority can turn the same direction.

Q:  Is such an important, crucial moment in the life of our church a joking matter?
A:  You bet your modified connectional one church simple backside it is!

Let me explain.

On September 11, 2002, one year after the terrible attacks in New York and the Pentagon, I sat in the sanctuary at Manhattan, KS FUMC.  We hosted a community worship service, and there was a full sanctuary of people of different backgrounds and religions.

Right at one of the most solemn moments, I heard something from across the room.  Laughter.  A woman was laughing.  It took me a few moments to realize it, but it was something I’d studied in seminary:  Holy Laughter.  Folks from some more Pentecostal churches believe that, much like speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit could lead people to laugh.

Well, the folks around me were not impressed, nor was I.  It seemed crass and out of place, especially on such a dark occasion.

But since then, the idea has stuck with me.  Holy Laughter.   Is such a Spirit-led thing possible?  I kind of hope so.

I may not believe in glossolalia (speaking in tongues) or spirit-fueled utterances, but I believe in the holy power of laughing.   I would consider it high up in my list of spiritual gifts.   Every sermon, every wedding, ever funeral — I aim to include some laughter, because I’ve seen what it can do.

Now, there’s good laughter and bad laughter.   I try not to be crude, or divisive.  I’ve made my share of jokes that cut another person down — I’m ashamed of those.  But I find that laughter can open up lines of communication that once were closed.  Laughter can heal anxiety like nobody’s business.  Laughter, if truly used according to the Spirit, can awaken hope, relief, and yes…a Way Forward.

Hard as I try, I’m not much of a prophet.  I have strong beliefs but I prefer to be a shepherd to my flock, guiding them as they grow in faith.   I struggle with anxiety and uncertainty as much as anyone, but I’ve learned that nobody is served by an excess of fear and panic.

And so, as our delegates head to Saint Louis for this momentous occasion, what I have to offer is a counter-intuitive suggestion:  Laugh a lot next week.   Find the humor in moments big and small.  Laugh with people from different places and different positions.  Not divisive or crass humor, and maybe not when it’s clearly uncalled for — but embrace the kind of Spirit led humor that can lighten a room and clear a way.

Even if you’re only laughing on the inside, if you feel the nudge, let er rip.

Grace, Peace, and Blessings!

Have a great week,

Mitch Todd

My style of humor is more spontaneous, so these riddles fall more into the Laffy Taffy realm of bad.  Enjoy.

Q:  What do you get when your denomination is reduced to a single location?
A:  The One Church Plant

Q: Why does the Connectional Plan have trouble meeting people?
A:  It’s Complicated.

Q: If Jesus showed up in St Louis, where would he sit?
A: Enterprise Center.  Bruins vs. Blues.

Q:  How many Bishops does it take to change a denomination?
A: That’s not their job.  (But if you get desperate you could ask)

Q: If there’s a schism, who gets the cross and flame?
A.  Jesus gets the cross.  The Spirit gets the flame.  And God gets a headache.

(That’s 8 down, and 993 to go.  You write the rest.)

 

 

SHUTDOWN?

 

picture4If a government can shutdown, I wonder:  Can a denomination?

In a month and a few days, delegates from around the world will gather in St Louis to try to chart the course for the United Methodist Church.  At issue is how United Methodists respond to certain aspects of homosexuality.

There are “Traditionalists” who view homosexuality as a sin and want to make sure the church doctrine strongly reflects this.  There are moderate “One Church Plan” folks who advocate letting conferences and churches choose whether or not to allow gay marriages and ordinations.  There are “Simple Plan” folks who want to remove all restrictive language and any barriers for LGBTQ people all together.   There are any number of variations on these themes, represented by the 78 petitions delegates will have to examine at this February meeting.

What if they can’t make a decision? What if our delegates remain just as log-jammed as the rest of our denomination appears to be? What if there’s no consensus, or even a majority, and we’re just stuck?

This is a possibility, by the way, and I honestly don’t know what the Way Forward would be in such a situation.  Maybe we’d just…

SHUTDOWN.

You know?  Like the government?  If we can’t agree and can’t move forward, maybe we’ll just have a shutdown.  A partial denominational shutdown.

Can you picture it?

  • Churches would get filthy.  With no one to empty the trash, our sanctuaries would start to look like neglected national parks.
  • Ministries would be crated while people on opposite sides tried to compromise on what our priorities are supposed to be.  Until the higher-ups get things figured out, all our local churches could offer is fellowship time.  But no donuts.
  • Pastors and staff would show up for a week or so, but then we’d start calling in sick.  You’d see us taking temp jobs at coffee shops, trying to strike up a conversation about religion.  You’d drive through Taco Bell and find your preacher handing you your order, winking and tossing in extra salsa packets.

Ya think?

Nope.  No way.  I don’t know what we face in the next few weeks, but a shutdown is not in the picture.  Unlike our government, the Church doesn’t close.  Discipleship does not get furloughed.  Good News is not subject to a budget.

You or I may stumble, or change course, or lose our way, but the Church of Jesus Christ continues its mission.  Remember what Jesus says to Peter?

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  –Matthew 16:18b

I take that to mean that we are, and will remain OPEN FOR BUSINESS.  The business of saving souls.  Transforming lives.  If we strain, we’re still open.  If we split, still open.  If things change…or don’t change, we’re still open.

Be sure to let people know that.  In your giving, and working.  In your loving and witnessing.  Christ’s work doesn’t stop, even when Christians argue, or worse.

See you on the job.

Maybe I’ll even bring donuts.

Mitch

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MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback