Fry On Friday: “Two Children,” June 23, 2017

             Fry on Friday is supposed to be about how I experience God in my own life.  Didn’t happen this week.  Instead, I stood just off-stage and watched God in other’s lives.

            Third day of Vacation Bible School. Noonish.  Parents from the community arrive to pick up their children. (About half of our participants were non-church-members from the neighborhoods around us.  This means our VBS reflects the cultural and religious diversity of our neighbors—“Red and yellow, black and white…”  Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, “None”.)  Mom and Dad spot their pre-school son across the room and go to him.  “Come on, Big Guy,” smiles Dad.  “Let’s go home.”  The child’s face twists into abject sorrow.   “NO-O-O-O!” he wails. 

            It’s been a long morning and it’s time for lunch and he’s got to be tired.  I get that.  But something is happening that makes him want to stay. He’s had fun.  He’s made new friends.  He feels safe and cared for by adults who were strangers at the beginning of the week.   He didn’t get saved; VBS conversions last week—zero.  But if a young Buddhist/Muslim/None child grows up remembering that this Christian church is a safe place where he’s welcomed, God has had a good week.

            Sunday morning I’m sitting in the back row of an intergenerational Sunday School class.  We’re being told the story of the 30+ Burmese refugees whom we’ve sponsored as they’ve moved to the U.S.   We’re also celebrating the first of them becoming an American citizen.  One of the refugees, a six-year-old girl, colors intently, pouring 100% of her artistic talent into choosing crayons, applying the pigment, appraising her progress.  It’s a demanding task, and when it’s complete, she’s weary.  She puts the paper aside, looks up, and climbs into the lap of the woman sitting next to her.

            This woman with the available lap, along with her two daughters, spends each Saturday morning reading to the child and her siblings. She’s lost track of the number of hours she’s spent with this little girl over the past year.  This small act of climbing into a lap is the result—so natural and so absent of deliberation that neither adult nor child gave it any thought.  I, however, saw the heavens open up and angels ascending and descending as the seraphim sang, “Holy, holy, holy!” 

            Maybe God didn’t touch my life this past week.  But God put me in the right places at the right times so I could see it happen.  Good enough.    
 


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Fry On Friday: “Adam and Eve,” June 16, 2017

Here’s how the Bible starts out:
              Genesis 1:  “Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath.”
              Genesis 2 – “Another Account of the Creation.”
              Genesis 3 – “The First Sin and Its Punishment.”

            Maybe.  Maybe not.  The headlines are not part of the Bible; they’re insertions, added by the publisher.  (The above were from the New Revised Standard Version; your headlines may vary.)   I’d like to create my own headlines, at least “in the beginning.”

            Instead of considering the first story of the Bible as about creation and how sin entered the world, I’d like to think of it along a different theme.  I think the Bible starts with a story of the most important thing in life, something we cannot do without.  I’m assigning Genesis 1-2 a new headline:

            “The First Story of Love.”

            Multiple times the story uses “good” to describe our world.  Only once is the description “not good” used.  “It is not good that the man should be alone…”  (2:18)  A person without love:  not good.  We are made for relationships.

            Eve had been instructed by Adam not to eat from that tree in the middle of the garden.  Don’t even touch it.  (3:3)  Note God hadn’t prohibited touching the tree, just don’t eat from its fruit.  (2:16-17)  But Adam took it a bit further.  We’ve always had a tendency to be stricter than God.  This strictness eventually damages love.

            Eve desired wisdom, so she ate.  And she got what she desired.  Before that, her relationship with Adam had never been truly equal:  Adam was first; Adam had spoken directly with God; Adam named everything.  But now Eve was wise.  She looked at Adam; he was clueless.  He just didn’t get it.   Who’s the unequal partner now, pal?

            What did Eve do with her wisdom?  She could have used her new wisdom as an ace-up-her-sleeve for the rest of time.  (Oops—no sleeves yet.  Sorry.)  Instead, “And she also gave some to her husband…”  (3:6)  She opted for equality over superiority.  Love doesn’t take advantage.

            “…and he ate.” (3:6)  After all, like the serpent said, the fruit hadn’t killed her.  Yet something in her had died, Adam could see that.  It horrified him.  The side effects of that tree’s fruit—not pretty.   Maybe Eve told him what she’d done; maybe he put it together by himself.  He was faced with a tough choice:  to be right with God, or to be with Eve.  “…and he ate.” He chose Eve.  Love often asks us, “Do you want to be right or do you want to choose love?”  (Can I get back to you on that?  Because I so love to be right!)

            Of course the story is about sin and banishment from Eden.  But maybe we’ve overlooked that the story is even more about love.  And love eventually always gets messy.  Love always demands a hard choice.  At first you fall in love (“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”).  But to stay in love, you have to choose.

            There follows a long section about the consequences, and they are not pretty.  Love doesn’t solve everything.  So they made clothes, to hide what had never been a problem before.   Then God gives them a going-away gift.  “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.”  (3:21)  “If you’re going to wear stuff, you’ll find these much better,” God seems to say to them.

            Apparently God, too, set aside being right and chose to be in relationship with this beginning-to-love couple.  Perhaps they’d been made in God’s image after all. 

            That’s the story of love.


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Fry On Friday: “Mercy,” June 9, 2017

Splat. The freshly grilled, heavily marinated pork loin landed on the floor, missing my shoe by a couple inches. Not even “splat!” with an exclamation mark; just a plain, unremarkable plop. But the landing strip of the loin’s brief flight was the den carpet.

The five-second rule does not apply to cream-colored carpet. Although I scooped up the fallen loin instantly, the carpet just under the light switch now had the appearance of a tragic road kill. Not only the color of dark rust, but a marinade odor that caused me to instantly lose my appetite for the new grilling recipe that had such potential for success until a moment ago.

Did I mention the carpet is cream-colored? And 99% of it remains so.

I was clearly and totally to blame. The loin did not jump; I dropped it. I was not texting while walking, but I should have been more careful. Rounding the corner my attention wandered for a fraction. Splat.

A quick rinse under warm water restored the loin, now lightly marinated instead of generously coated. But the den carpet. I sat at the dinner table, the stain etched into my vision. The family conversation by-passed my sullen, silent presence. My wife had shrugged it off, “Stuff happens, Baby. Don’t worry about it.” My son, who’d been upstairs, didn’t notice. “Great loin, Dad! Could use a little more marinade, though.” The dog rejoiced at my spillage. I was the only family member who was not happy. With an exclamation mark.

Only one way to deal with this.   Mercy. I’d prefer every other way. I’d so much rather win approval and admiration through my solving things, because I’m pretty good at that. Or by making it someone else’s fault; I’m super-good at that. Mercy was the only way I was going to get over this mess, which the rest of the family had already accomplished. Me having mercy on me—that’s a challenge.

What I need to do is so obvious: forgive myself, apply grace to my own life, admit that I too am a sinner (and a spiller), and set it aside. See—I’ve managed to turn mercy into another project for me to accomplish. I can’t do mercy, only accept it. That’s the hardest part—you get mercy by receiving it, not by accomplishing it.

I’m still working on this. Or not working on it, just letting it happen. Meanwhile, if you want to have mercy on me about anything, drop by for lunch. We’ll have leftover pork loin sandwiches. If you don’t mind a little carpet fiber around the edges.

*Those of you who’ve read Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy will recognize the source of my thoughts. If I borrowed them too directly, I hope she’ll have mercy.


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. He will retire in mid November after 32 years of faith-shaping ministry at Pleasant Hill. Please send comments on the latest “Fry on Friday” post to Dave at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Fry On Friday: “Talking Politics,” June 2, 2017

           Six identified Republicans, six Democrats, and four undeclared. We’d gathered to talk politics, agreeing to check all weapons at the door. We declared that we intended not just to talk but to listen. We wanted to hear the other side’s viewpoint from people we already held in high regard. So we tried. We really did try.

            And it worked!

            We learned that since November’s election, we’d all changed in at least one way. None of us relies on a single source of news and information any longer, as we now feel every source is biased to some degree. Some of us supplement our preferred-biased news with news from the opposing bias. Others replaced former favorites with new suppliers. (Sirius XM’s POTUS channel, the BBC, and The Week magazine received high ratings, with a healthy dose of skepticism recommended.)

            We shared stories of awkward holiday visits with families, where we felt like the Lone Ranger surrounded by rustlers. When politics came up, we were called names, branded as fools, and seriously considered sleeping in the car. With the doors locked. Then, several days later, a cousin called wanting to hear more about our view on an issue we’d talked about.   Not every visit with every family, but enough to identify a trend.

            We knew we sounded like gullible children. But maybe, we whispered, just maybe the worst of the antagonism and rancor is beginning to pass. Maybe the divisiveness in our nation is not an irreversible trend that will only grow worse, but is about to peak, to be followed by a counter trend. Maybe we’ll begin to listen to each other again.

            We see no evidence of that in the media. We certainly don’t see evidence in our politicians. If we are to become one nation, it will have to come from the people. People not necessarily in agreement, but willing to engage and work side by side. It will have to start with the one we see in the mirror.

            We closed the way all meetings should close—with pie. And because it had been a tough meeting, pie a la mode. And prayer, of course, but it was over pie that we talked about kids, and holiday plans, and reaffirmed our friendships.

            Afterwards, sitting in my car, I had my own closing prayer: “Lord, I haven’t heard people engage civilly and respectfully about politics in a long time. Where did that come from?   Was that You in the room, Lord?”

        Who’d a thunk?


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

 

Fry On Friday: “Dreams,” May 26, 2017

               I don’t know why I ever get into a vehicle in my dreams. Because no vehicle in my dreams has ever, ever had brakes that function.  Every ride turns into a harrowing experience.  So why don’t I just say, “No thanks, I’ll walk.”  If I had to maintain insurance coverage for my “dream cars”, the premiums would be enormous by now. 

            The Bible is full of dreamers:  Jacob, Gideon, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph of the Old and New Testaments.  Old Testament Joseph built a career interpreting dreams; New Testament Joseph merely got married, then embarked on international travel.  Even characters with minor supporting parts had dreams:  Abimelech, Laban, Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer.  Straight up messages from God, these dreams.  The Bible says so:   “Hear my words: When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams.”  (Numbers 12:6) 

            If my dreams convey messages, I don’t think they’re from God.  If they are, then God must think I didn’t finish the third grade.    I’m not clueless:  when I dream of playing racquetball, the court is always filled with furniture.  I get it—my life is too cluttered.  Duh.  When I dream that I’m leading worship in my underwear,  I take it as a reminder to always get dressed before leaving for church on Sunday.  My dreams don’t appear to require God-level input.

             I don’t pray for God to guard me from the evils that lurk in the dark.  “If I should die before I wake” doesn’t seem to be a nightly threat to me.  I’m not saying God skips the night shift regarding me.  When I wake in the morning just before the alarm goes off, having had a good night’s sleep, that sleep feels like a gift from God.  I certainly didn’t earn it; it was not the result of any concerted effort to rest nor definitely not a clear conscience about the day before.  It was pure gift, total grace.  Besides, I’m a little grateful that God doesn’t take me on as a 24-hour round-the-clock project.  “Give it a rest, Fry,” is good enough for me.
            If I missed whatever messages God sent me via my dreams, I wouldn’t be the first to sleep through a good sermon. 


Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

Fry On Friday: “Labyrinth” May 19, 2017

          

  Mid-workday early this week I left the church office to walk the Prayer Labyrinth in a grove of trees behind our Education Building.  Saying that, I must begin this reflection with two confessions:

           Confession 1)   It had little to do with prayer.  I needed a break, an escape from my desk for a few minutes.  If I announced “I’m going for a walk,” I’d feel obligated to take my phone.  Moreover, the secretary would come find me if I anyone had a question about anything.  But saying, “I’m going to walk the Labyrinth,” results in fifteen minutes of uninterrupted quiet and solitude.

           Confession 2)  I took a broom.  I am compulsive about sweeping the little pea-gravel rocks off the stone path dividers.  I’ve never seen anyone but me walk the place.  How do they get there?   Do other secret prayer-walkers nudge them as they walk, immersed in contemplation?  Do squirrels move them?  Do Satan’s minions place each of them individually, knowing the stones drive me to distraction!   In any case, I managed to turn a prayer exercise into a janitorial project.

        So I proceed to the center of the Labyrinth, sweeping as I go.  I’m aware my sweeping is all about my unceasing need to tend to the church, obsessively addressing problems, fanatic about wanting everything taken care of.  No sloppy allowed!  Yet all my enlightened self-awareness has no power to make me stop sweeping.   

       Accept it, folks:  you have a pastor who’d rather sweep stones than pray.

         Reaching the center, I pause.  Every path marker is now clear of rocks.  If the U.S. Gov’t Labyrinth Quality Enforcement Officer shows up for a surprise inspection, this place is ready.  I toss the broom outside the boundary of the labyrinth.  I begin to retrace my steps from center to beginning, my hands now in my pockets (to prevent me from picking up single stray stones.)

           Quietly, I begin to realize:  when I am finished my work at this church, when my stone-sweeping is no longer needed, when I have tossed aside all my brooms, there will still be a path for me to walk.  And Christ will still walk beside me.  I know, dear reader, you figured this out long ago.  I’m still working on it.

      “Did you have a nice walk,” she asks as I return to my office.  “Oh, yes,” I reply.  Yes, indeed. 

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Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.

 

Fry On Friday “Cardboard Testimonies” May 5, 2017

It happened during an ordinary Sunday morning in a mainline, semi-progressive Presbyterian Church.  A church that doesn’t do altar calls, doesn’t seek to convert people, doesn’t win souls; some of our Christian neighbors wonder aloud if we do anything at all.  Sometimes even the church’s pastor (that’s me) wonders, though not aloud, the same thing.  Especially during budget meetings, stewardship planning sessions, and reading the invoice from the latest bus repair.   Is it really worth the effort?

We asked a few people to tell their story, and we promised it would require zero public speaking and little risk of getting emotional in front of a crowd.  In a “that was then, this is now” format, describe you and your faith, before and after this church.

This is what we got:

So, is it really worth it?  That Sunday I got a reminder answer that should last for a while.

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Dr. Dave Fry is the senior and founding pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia, which was started in 1985. Send comments to “Fry on Friday” at dave@pleasanthillpc.org.