My Friend William Chaney and Me

william and me disney

I first heard him speak as a guest lecturer when I was in seminary. I loved his passion, energy, and message so much that I was compelled to run out of the class to catch up with him even before my regular professor was finished teaching.

I ran to introduce myself to The Rev. William Chaney. We chatted, I learned he lived in my same county, and at the end of our short conversation I asked, if it was ok to give him a hug. See, I knew then and there that William and I were soul mates—not the kind of soul mates for marriage, he already had a beautiful, intelligent, wife and they have a lovely daughter, but soul mates in that we both had an inner need to reach people for Jesus. We both have a deep desire to make disciples for Jesus, and we both know that the process requires new ways of thinking. That kind of soul mate—the kind that has a heart for Jesus and the people Jesus wants to reach. 

Over the next year William and I became fast friends. We shared time together with our respective families, we encouraged each other with new ideas for ministry, and we listened to each other’s stories. William had always loved the Exponential Conference held in Florida every year, and in the spring of 2010 I decided to accept his invitation to attend. We independently booked flights on the same Southwest flight. We were bound for Florida!

As it happened Ron, my brother-in-law who has since gone onto glory, had just retired and had managed to get a free condo that had three separate bedrooms, with separate bathrooms. Ron wanted to golf, and William and I could each have a separate room. Free is always good. It saved our respective churches some money, so we decided to stay there together.  William and I even arrived a half a day early. We had each procured tickets for Disney, and we spent that half day before the conference riding roller coasters. 

The conference was good, even if it was oriented to male pastors. (That is a story for another day, I personally know how to filter that prejudice out.)  William and I had dinner with several colleagues that we knew who were also attending. We arrived back at the condo late. We each said goodnight and went to our respective rooms, closing our doors behind us. 

The next morning I had not yet seen William and we were five minutes away from our appointed time of departure. I banged on his room door and asked if he was ready. He said he needed about ten more minutes.

When William came out of his room I said, “You don’t look good, are you ok?”

William: “I did not get much sleep last night.”

Me: “Why not, are you worried about something?”

William: “No, but I slept in the gym last night, until the security guard got me up, and then I moved to the pool.”

Me (very confused): “What, what happened?”

William: “I went out to take a short walk last night before bed. When I came back the door was locked with the chain, and I could not get back in.”

Me: “Why didn’t you call.”

William: “I did not take my phone, it was just going for a short walk.”

Me: “Why didn’t you knock on the door.”

William: “I did but no one heard me.”

Me: “Why didn’t you bang on the patio door until we heard you?”

William: “A black man banging on a patio door in the middle of the night?”

That is when it struck me full force. My friend William cannot do things that I can do. Some call it white privilege, others call it oppression. Whatever you want to name it, William cannot react in ways that I would react out of fear of being perceived as a threat to others. If he had banged on the door, surely someone would have called the police. So William, who did have his key card, slept in the little workout room on the mat.

Understand, my brother-in-law had retired from the CIA. He had locked the door with the chain assuming everyone was inside behind their closed doors. He ALWAYS locked doors well, and checked them a second time. There was no malice involved, just a series of unfortunate events. The next morning the chain came off when Ron went to get the free paper in front of the condo. With that, William came inside, and since we all had our own rooms, none of us knew William had been missing all night. 

William never said a word about the incident again. He handled it all with grace. But the incident has remained with me. As I continue to socialize and work with my African American friends, I realize they have to do things differently than I. They have to think twice about doing things that I would just do. They have to ensure that their actions are not perceived as a threat to others. They have to constantly be thinking, is this going to be taken the wrong way. 

William and I are still good friends and communicate regularly. It was about six months ago that his wife became outraged, over another unjust incident. She posted about the event, which William never mentioned. He and an African American District Superintendent had been working late in a church in an unnamed state in the south.  On the way home their car was stopped by the police. They had done nothing wrong. Not only did the police check their licenses, but he made them both get out of the car and searched them, for no reason! This is unacceptable behavior, and it has to stop. 

We cannot remain silent. We who do not have to suffer this kind of injustice need to speak up. It’s time we who do not have to think about our every action and how it will be perceived in the world need to take a stand for justice. Systemic racism has deep roots in our land. It is time we all repent. It is time to speak up, and it is time to ensure real change will happen. 

Each of us can do something. What can you do? Here are some ideas:

  • Ask forgiveness for times when you did not notice how you might have contributed to an injustice.
  • Ask forgiveness when you did not notice an unjust situation taking place. This is a place where I had to start after William asked me the question, “A black man banging on a door late at night?” That was ten years ago!
  • Pay attention to a neighbor who is different than you. Start a relationship with them. Listen to their stories.
  • Stand up for justice when you see injustice happening. 
  • Write a story, like this one.
  • Use your vote for change.
  • March for in peace for justice.
  • Write to your elected officials.
  • Write a nice note to someone who is different than you. Ask them how they are doing in these turbulent times. 
  • Read material that helps you understand the world from a different perspective.
  • Watch movies based on real life. “Just Mercy” is a good place to begin. 

Each of us can do something. The time is now, choose something today!

(This article was written at my initiative with permission from William Chaney and his wife, Michelle.)

How Can I Keep From Singing & COVID-19

5F5F3979-81BB-408E-B563-44CC52876DE6

(Miss Pam’s sits at the piano with her choir and orchestra, with Beckie conducting.)

What does singing praise in church look like as we come out of quarantine? For that matter, what will choirs and music academies do without the gift of song being united in vocal artistry? While none of us know that answer, we do know that Germany, in coming out of quarantine, has temporarily prohibited places of worship to sing due to the aerosol particles  that are projected when a person uses proper technique in singing. There is sufficient scientific evidence to show that six feet apart is not enough when projecting your voice, as one does in singing. Orchestras, places of worship, choral groups, praise groups, and bands are all scrambling to find new solutions to sharing and performing music.

Music is an integral part of the human design. The hymn writer Robert Lowry asks, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” (This rendition of the song by the young people of the A Cappella Academy is particularly wonderful.) In every part of the world music, both song and instrumental, plays a role in soothing the weary soul, in praising God, and in creating communities formed by the love of both creating song and those who appreciate listening to song. Some of us would argue that a world without music would be void of one the greatest gifts God has created within the human capacity of creativity.

As a theologian, I would also argue that music is also pleasing to God, the giver and creator of every living creature. From the beginning to the end of the biblical witness we see that music is used to praise God. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) Moses sang a song of praise when the Israelites were delivered from slavery, the Psalms themselves are meant to be sung, King David was notably one who regularly created music and sang songs of praise and lament to God. Isaiah the prophet, when he had his vision, was transported to the heavenly courts and witnessed the seraphim singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.Nehemiah had a music festival dedicated to God when the wall was rebuilt, and David danced before the Lord with no shame as to his lack of dress. The minor prophet Zephaniah also remind us that God rejoices over us with singing!

When we move into the New Testament, we see music continues to be used by God’s people to worship God. James says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” Paul and Silas were praising God even when they were in jail when a mighty miracle–an earthquake occurred to release them from captivity. Paul tells disciples, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Music is pleasing to God.

In my own experience I have heard God speak to me when I was caught up in praise songs to God. One time was during a men’s Emmaus time of closing. The church was packed with men singing songs from the heart to God, and I heard the voice of God speak to me in my personal situation. Another time when I was leading worship, the choir was singing God of Heaven, and God clearly spoke to me and told me to move my place of residence into the town where I was serving as lead pastor. The voice was clear to me, and I began to cry, all from hearing God during a time of praise through music. When we are focused on praising God through song, our hearts can be softened to hear the voice of God! It has happened to me, maybe it has happened to you!

What are we to do with the potential paradox of not being allowed to sing in worship and the fact that music and singing songs to God give pleasure to the Lord? How do we put these two contrasting ideas together? We remember that the Israelites, when they were captives in a foreign land were tormented and cajoled to sing, and yet they stated, “by the rivers of Babylon we hung up our lyres and wept. How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

We might feel that way too. Corona Virus has turned our known world upside-down. The obstacles are many; We cannot meet in person for school, concerts, movies or worship. Some are facing economic challenges and lost jobs, others are experiencing shortages of food, some are fighting for their lives, and others are on the front lines as essential workers doing the fighting. Some have lost loved ones, and experienced deep grief. How can we keep on singing?

And yet, (there is always an “and yet”). And yet, the prophet Isaiah, speaking to those who are weeping by the rivers of Babylon says, sing to the Lord a new song. Isaiah gives hope for the future, hope of something new, hope that God has not abandoned, and a promise that God is still with us. We can claim those promises too. And we, too, can look for hope even among the devastating times we are currently experiencing. How do we do that?

First, we remember that we can use songs to praise God while in our own homes and in our own personal lives. It is important to do so, even when we do not feel like praising God. We praise God in the midst of the storm. If you have not done so, try to sing or play a song of praise right now. Maybe this one will speak to you, as the song writer says, “Even when it hurts I will praise you!”

Secondly, while we cannot gather in person, we can join in the many different ways offered to gather virtually on-line. Choose one or two or three worship services to attend, and when they offer up songs in worship, sing with all of your might right where you are seated–you can even stand in place and sing. I have personally enjoyed the smorgasbord of worship every weekend, and I sing right along with all those who are praising God in all the many formats that are offered. Sing to the Lord! The people gathered together, even virtually, give glory to God.

Thirdly, while we recognize that music is a great gift to use in worship to praise God, we also recognize there are other elements used in worship. Right now one of those elements might be silence. Can you hear God speak to you in the silence? It was the prophet Elijah who listened for God in the wind, rain, earthquake and fire on Mt. Horeb, but God spoke in a gentle whisper. God spoke in the silence of the mountain. Silence is one aspect of contemplative practice. Could it be that right now we are called to hear God in the silence?

Fourth, we can listen deeply to all of creation singing praise to God. In particular, Jesus says to those who try to stop his disciples from praising him, “If the people stop the very rocks will cry out.” Psalm 148 states that all the earth will praise God, to include the sea creatures of the ocean. Right now the birds are singing, listen to them, and join in praising God. Pastor Louie Giglio has a great teaching about the stars, the whales and the symphony of all creation singing praise to God.

Finally, in the deepest part of my heart, I know this to be temporary. Music is so integral in the life of God, that I cannot believe that the music in our hearts used to praise God in community, from song to instrumental, will be silenced to eternity. Use this time to pray to God to lift this pandemic from us. Personally, I believe in a God of miracles. We know that the God who created all of creation can also lift a pandemic. Lift your voice in song, and your heart in prayer as we repent for not trusting God, and join in the cacophony of all of creation in singing a new song to the Lord. Pray that all the heartache felt around the world from this virus will be lifted. And, when that lifting happens, remember to give God all the praise and glory. How can we keep from singing? We don’t have to, while we wait and pray, we can simply learn to sing praise to God in a new way.

Read Thru the Bible~1 Corinthians 1-2 (Unification of the Universal Church)

Read Thru the Bible~1 Corinthians 1-2 (Unification of the Universal Church)

corinth-542

(Pictured, the ruins of ancient Corinth.)

The ancient city of Corinth located in Greece, was where Paul shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ during his second missionary journey. (Check out Acts 18) After Paul spent some time with them, maybe up to 1 1/2 years there, Paul and some compatriots left Corinth to go start new churches. As Paul continued his travels he heard there was some conflict among the Corinthians, so he sent this letter and other letters to follow, to help the faith community work out their differences, and to remind them that it is by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and no other message that we are saved. Our read through the Bible video has an excellent description of what was going on in this faith community.

As we read chapters 1 and 2 today, perhaps there are two things Paul would continue to scold us for today in modern life application. First and foremost, there is this question of unity. If we are all unified by the Gospel of Jesus, why is there so much division in the Universal Church? Perhaps this will be the first question we are all asked on the day of judgment. While Paul used the example of different leaders coming through the city and their teaching, we have the different denominations that have been used to divide us. Paul says, “Let there be no divisions among you!

Friends, can we put aside our differences and work together for the Gospel message? In addition to denominational differences, we have differences within our own denominations, we have theological issues that continue to divide us. Can we agree to disagree and move forward?Many people believe that we are now in  a post-Christian world. If that is truly the case, we need each other. Paul appeals to us to work together for the common good, which is the Gospel message.

The second point Paul brings to us is that the Gospel message must be in the forefront of all we do. “ For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” All other things fall into the background against this simple and profound truth. Yet we in the Universal Church have found all kinds of things to argue about and we have forgotten to keep this truth in the forefront. By the way, this is not a one time thought that Paul gives us, but rather we see this theme running throughout his letters. Paul says the reason we are here, the reason that he has been willing to risk his life over and over again, is to bear the truth of the Gospel message. Christ died for our sins, was resurrected, and we can have his cloak of righteousness in exchange for our sinful nature, just for accepting his grace and mercy given to us at the cross. This is the simple truth. We in the Universal Church try to make it too complicated.

John Wesley said, “If your heart is as my heart, take my hand.” Can we as the Universal Church have unity and together point to the work of Jesus on the cross? We have a long way to go. What is one thing you can do, for a neighbor who is of a different denomination, for a friend who is of a differing theological opinion, to show unity among us. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Check out this song with the same title.