Fry On Friday: “Mouth or Feet,” August 18, 2017

           This Friday I need to set aside my keyboard.  No writing this week.  Appalled by the violence and hatred shown in Charlottesville, I have plenty to say.  I am far from speechless.  I want to assert that I am anti-hate and violence.  I am anti-white supremacy, or any supremacy that asserts one class of people over another.  Most especially, I deplore any justification of hatred and violence through scripture or twisted Christian doctrine.  Such justifications are blasphemous.

            But today I need to set aside my keyboard.  No writing this week.  Chances are, dear reader, that you, like I, have received a barrage of statements, postings, blogs, and proclamations decrying the events in Charlottesville.  You don’t need to hear another.

            I need to set aside my keyboard and put on my shoes.

            Fry On Friday is intended to offer descriptions of how my faith is lived out week by week.  Faith is not a set of opinions, even strong opinions. Responding to Charlottesville, I can begin to feel that stating my opinions and condemning sinful actions is sufficient as my Christian response.  It is not.

            We are called to walk with Christ, not type with Christ.  I need to explore how I can do my faith regarding racism, not how I feel or what I say. I’m looking for ways to act that are more than symbolic gestures, more than attending rallies or signing petitions.

            The ways I’ve come up with so far are so trivial they’re embarrassing.

  • I resolve to smile warmly to every person I meet wearing a hajib, a yarmulke, or who is covered in tatts.
  • I resolve to attempt to strike up a conversation or at least a friendly greeting in every encounter with a person of a different race.
  • I resolve that no person twenty years older than me or twenty years younger will ever be made to feel invisible to me.

           These are such small actions, I’m uncomfortable naming them.  None of them will make a huge difference in the world.  But on a molecular level, perhaps they will join with others in setting a new tone of respect, of civility, of community.

            My faith is not measured by what I write but what I do.  To paraphrase Barbara Brown Taylor, when I want to know the quality of my faith, I look in the mirror and ask which is moving, my mouth or my feet.
 


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: “Baptizing the Bus,” August 11, 2017

               We’re pleased with our newly-arrived church bus, purchased through gifts of our members supporting the “Gifted Past, Bold Future” affirmation of our capital campaign last spring.  Wanting to show off our new wheels, we parked it under the portico just outside the sanctuary front doors.

            At launching, ships are christened with a bottle of champagne broken on their bow.  Nobody in our crowd was willing to see champagne wasted in such a manner, so we sought an alternative ceremony.  Thus, after worship, we baptized our bus with water balloons.

            After the benediction, we hustled everyone outside to arm themselves double-barreled with loaded balloons.  A statement of thanks to those whose contributions made the purchase possible; a brief prayer of dedication, then the command, “Let ‘em fly!” 

            That was the plan, anyway.  Just as we started the prayer, the bus from a nearby Assisted Living Facility pulled up directly between our new vehicle and our gathered people.  The facility’s old bus and their residents both have commensurate high mileage.  The driver emerged to assist the residents who had finished worshiping with us that morning.  This was not a lightning-fast procedure.  But we waited patiently.  Forever.

            The driver guided each rider to a seat, loaded each walker, fastened each seat belt, then checked the tires and gave the vehicle a complete safety inspection.   We waited patiently, but not so patiently as before.

            Finally, the driver returned to the wheel, started the motor…and sat there.  “What are you waiting for?  Move it!”   Then I saw:  JoAnn, one of our elderly members, was standing directly in front of the loaded bus, gazing off in the other direction.  “Miss JoAnn,” I yelled.  “Get your oblivious _____ out of the way!”  Fortunately, the people around us heard me say gently, “JoAnn, let me help you to a place where you won’t get bombarded by flying balloons.” 

            Honoring our fathers and mothers as we are commanded, is more challenging in practice than in theory.  But because we were delayed, everybody arrived in time to participate.   Everybody shouted a cheerful good-bye to our departing elders, thanking them for coming.  Everybody witnessed those who attend worship faithfully, even when it is both inconvenient and exhausting.

            Only a few noticed Miss JoAnn, reloading and tossing balloons until the final orb had been launched.         


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: “Bill Could Use A Visit,” August 4, 2017

  “Bill could use a visit from you, if you have time,” urged the early morning text.  “If you have time,” she wrote, assuming that I am busy, even in the slow weeks of summer.  Pastors stay busy.  If we didn’t, people might notice the embarrassment, the exposure of how little of God we actually have to offer.  Pastors are saved by people who send messages like this early morning plea, people who know what we ministers are supposed to offer and who expect it. 

            Thus I found myself back at the farm, a quarter-mile gravel drive into the heart of a pastoral Eden besieged by carpools, Starbuck’s to-go and all the things that keep pastors busy.  Bill’s world had come to an end two weeks ago when Tim, the farm’s owner, left us.  Without having the courtesy of asking if this might be a convenient time, Tim just dropped dead, and the worlds of those who knew him came to an end.  “Bill could use a visit…”  Thus we sat cradling our coffee, watching the sun peek through the trees, mildly surprised to observe that it had risen once again.

            What does the future hold for a farm without an owner?  For a horse wrangler whose herd has dwindled to two elderly mares?  What’s ahead for a ranch encircled by golf-course developers, and for its lone ranch-hand?     “I don’t just work this place,” Bill sighed, “I love this place.  It’s home to me.”  Yep, Bill could use a visit. 

            Being a pastor consists mostly of sitting beside people as they face the reality of how fragile lives are.  The world is indeed coming to an end, every single day.  People who say they don’t mind facing that truth are lying.  The truth is hard.  And we can devise a dozen ways to avoid it.  When we do gain the courage,  it helps to have someone around, even it that someone is a pastor with very few answers.

            We didn’t search for answers.  We just sat in the morning dew and rocked.  Bill talked about his church and the faith he gains there.  “We’re hard-core Baptist,” he reminds me, aware that I am frozen-chosen Presbyterian.  We talked of rattlesnakes he’d encountered in the fields near his own home.  He didn’t mention any rattlesnakes in his church, for which I was grateful.  We even talked about Jesus.  Mostly we rocked and gazed at the hay which Bill would cut that afternoon.

            Then I knew it was time to leave.  A sense of  calm had imperceptibly  come over us.   It felt different from when I’d arrived.  Something had changed, not so much in Bill as in me.  I didn’t feel busy.  I suspected that my own unknown future was in God’s hands, and for a while that would be good enough.  Bill said he felt the same way. 

            “Bill could use a visit from you,” the text had said.   The true message was more like, “If you and Bill could find some time together, I’ll visit both of you at once.”  I don’t need to be a pastor to understand where that message came from.
          


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: “Questions and Answers,” July 28

    I asked for it.  Literally.  Each summer I invite our congregation to submit questions they’d like to examine.  Over the next Sunday or two, I offer my responses in place of the sermon that morning.  Here are a few of this year’s queries:

  • “How about an explanation of The Trinity?”
  • “What can we do to reduce the tension between the political extremes in our
       nation?”
  • “How about raising teenagers in a social media world? How can kids and
      parents verbally communicate?”
  • “How can God forgive me all the time? How can I feel worthy of His love? How
    can I feel it’s okay to pray for myself?
  • “How does God view war? The Bible says to turn the other cheek, but is that still valid on a large scale? How can it be possible to show love in a time of such violence and hate?”

            I have a question of my own—“What was I thinking?!!?”   I promised answers, but I don’t have answers.  When I started preaching, I used to think I had something to say that people needed to hear.  Now I realize I don’t have much to say, but people keep coming to hear it anyway. 

            By now, haven’t you heard everything I have to say?  I think you don’t want my answers, you want my struggles.  I think you keep coming to hear the struggles, to hear what faith sounds in the absence of answers, without cast-iron certainty, when I’m preaching not because I’m ready but because Sunday has arrived. You don’t want my visions, you want my glimpses.

           What truth I offer about scripture or about life is like a brief glimpse of a deer in the woods just off the trail.  “Look!  Did you see that?” I cry.  Sometimes by the time I point to the location, the deer has bounded into the thicket.  But occasionally someone exclaims, “Yes!  I saw only a brief glimpse, but it was beautiful!”  You don’t need my 3-D image of a deer, only an opportunity to experience your own glimpse.  And the assurance that a glimpse is enough.

             That doesn’t make getting ready for Sunday any less of a struggle.  Tony Campolo preached a now classic sermon on resurrection hope titled, “It’s Friday…But Sunday’s Coming!”  Well, today is Friday, but the knowledge that Sunday is coming looms as a huge threat, not a promise.  Forty-eight hours ‘til pulpit time!
         


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: “Pilgrimage to the Parks,” July 21

            I am on a pilgrimage.  Don’t be impressed with my level of spirituality; this is a baseball pilgrimage.  Each summer, we four guys travel to another two or three baseball cities with the goal of eventually seeing a game in every MLB site.  (After this trip, I’ll have seven remaining.)

            Wednesday—the Oakland Athletics; Thursday—the San Francisco Giants.  Both teams stand solidly in last place in their respective divisions.  This isn’t going to be pretty baseball.  The unsightly performance of the Oakland A’s, however was overshadowed  by the appearance Oakland Coliseum. The O.Co is butt-ugly. 

            It was constructed, of course, for the NFL Oakland Raiders because football rules, we all know that.  The stadium accommodates more than sixty-three thousand Raiders fans during football season, but when the A’s are playing the stadium staff unrolls large green tarps to cover massive swaths of the upper deck.  As a result, instead of playing home games before twenty thousand fans and forty thousand empty seats, the A’s play before twenty thousand fans, fifteen thousand empty seats, and a shiny plastic sheet.  If this is an improvement, it is only a slight one. 

            The fans, however, are beautiful.  They are aware that the glamor of Billy Beane’s Money Ball years has long faded, but they arrive decked out in the team’s green-and-gold, carrying home-made banners, and waiting for the fourth inning, when Bud Lite is sold for $4.00. (We foreigners from Georgia wondered why the seats suddenly emptied as the third out was made in the bottom of the third!)

            The right-field bleachers, section 149, contains the Oakland Drummers.  Fans in this section bring drums, cow bells, triangles, large plastic buckets—anything that can become a percussion instrument.  Befitting the Coliseum, it isn’t pretty, but it is loud.  During a game against Houston a couple years ago,  the section’s drumming and noise was so loud that it actually disrupted Houston’s broadcasts and prompted Astros fans watching on TV to file a complaint. The Astros responded with a tweet during the game:  The As fans in the bleachers have drums at the games. It is not a broadcast issue and there is nothing we can do about it.” 

            Take that, corporate sponsors.  There is nothing you can do about it.

            Late in yesterday’s game the Oakland Jumbo-Tron cameras spotted a lone fan in the last row of the highest section of the most remote part of the stadium.  He was shirtless, despite being in his 50’s and of ample girth.  Between innings, he danced, his generous belly moving in multiple directions at once.  He held aloft a sign, “Oakland Baseball Diet.”  The stadium responded with a standing ovation.  A few innings later, he reappeared on camera in the same seat, now surrounded by a couple dozen college-age fans, all topless, or as near it as public decency would permit.

            It was a great day at the ball park. Ugly facility matched by ugly baseball.  But we left smiling, privileged to have been among such passionate people.  

            Oakland can keep their stadium.  But I’d like to bring some of the passion of their bleacher crowd to worship on Sundays.         


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: “The Old Man and the Wedding,” July 14, 2017

The bride was lovely.  The bridesmaids, all nine of them, were lovely.  Even the groomsmen attempted to be lovely themselves.  All went smoothly until…  (You knew that was coming, didn’t you.  Why does every wedding include the word “until..?”)

An elderly gentleman stood up from his seat in the second row.  Just stood up, in the middle of everyone and everything.  After a moment, he turned to his left and began making his way into the center aisle.  The minister had stopped speaking by now.  The gentleman turned, not toward the back of  the sanctuary, but toward the bride and groom.  We checked our programs and understood:  it’s the grandfather of the groom; he’s going to say a few words.

Which he did, after climbing the two steps to the chancel and taking his place before the couple.  He spoke eloquently of marriage, with the wisdom of an 89-year-old who had been a groom himself sixty-some years before.  I know this man.  He is a giant among intellects—former college president, former head of the doctoral program of a prestigious seminary.  He is a men among men, teaching winter wilderness survival to National Park Rangers.  Now he is old.

He spoke, among other things, of what he termed “erotica.”  This made the bride briefly cringe, not because she was opposed to the matter but because she did not want to envision an 89-year-old aware of such things, much less considering them important.  Wisely, the old man lingered here for only a couple of sentences.  “It’s a wonderful source of pleasure and I recommend you try it sometime, if you’re so inclined.”

Having finished speaking, he began to retrace the route to his seat.  The steps now fell as a sheer precipice before him.  He hesitated.  Being a mountain man, he knew that far more lives are lost during a descent than while reaching the peak.  The congregation held its breath.  He cautiously, slowly, deliberately swung his right foot forward.  When it landed  tentatively on the middle riser, it was joined in matrimonial harmony by the sturdy cane in his left hand.  After successfully reaching this small precipice, there was no pause.  Instead, a chaotic, hell-bent-for-leather race to the bottom.

Once safely arrived, he looked up at the guests and smiled triumphantly, “I can still hold an audience breathless,” he observed for all to hear.

For a few moments, the old man had given the gift of the elders.  He had slowed us down, at least enough to become aware of the holiness of holy matrimony.   The groom, without uttering a sound, had proclaimed for all to know:  “I still want to hear what my grandfather has to say.  If it takes a while, you folks can wait.”  The old man, beyond his words, had made his own vow as well:  “I can, and will, climb mountains for you, my young man, if you but ask.”

Hurrah for erotica.  But there are other forms of love that shape us deeply.   This unspoken exchange between a young groom and his elderly grandfather was that day the most treasured wedding gift of all.


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: “Putting Things Into Words,” July 7, 2017

Preparing to be a minister, I learned Greek.  I can read the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the original language.  I wish that I had learned carpentry.   I wonder how often, after a day filled with words, weary of conversations and beatitudes and mountainside sermons, Jesus turned to his carpentry tools.  While the disciples circled up with their after-dinner wine, to discuss the day’s encounter with the rich young ruler, I see Jesus retreating to the workshop with  plane and adz.

I love words.  Putting things into words is what I do.  “What’s the sermon about this week, Preacher?”  “Pastor, would you lead us in prayer?”  “Dr. Fry, can I ask you a question?”  I give people words.  Sometimes I wish I could put things into my hands.  Like a carpenter with a chisel.

Early yesterday morning, the day after our friend died, Bill and I sat just outside the stables on The Farm, gazing across the field that glittered like diamonds in the morning dew.  Our friend had died suddenly.  The woman he loved had kissed him goodbye, then spent the day at work, not knowing until she returned home to find him that her world had ended.  We sat mostly in silence.  What could words add?  My knowledge of the original Greek was no help to either of us.

“Too wet to mow that hay,” Bill observed.  “I’m getting way behind, but we’ve had so much rain all I can do is wait for it to dry.”  I nodded in affirmation, aware that he was speaking both of hay and of tears.

After the hundredth deep sigh, I rose to leave.  “Can I show you something?” Bill asked as we reached his truck.  He pulled out a small box.  “Ever collect arrowheads?” he asked.  Hasn’t every boy who grew up in the southern mountains?  He opened the box.  “I’ve stopped collecting them.  Now I make them.”  Thirty sharp triangles of flint, quartz, and antler.  Some large enough to stop a bear; some the size of babies’ teeth, all Bill-made works of art.  “Hold that one up to the sun,” he ordered.  It sparkled like a kaleidoscope.

I put things into words; Bill puts things into his hands.  Creating arrowheads, chipping away at stone and flint to create shapes, Bill has a capacity for touching truth that is beyond my grasp.  Bracing myself against the assault of grief, I had felt my heart harden up like  a neglected lump of Play-Doh.  I needed to work through the loss, and knew I had to work it, not talk about it.

The memorial service will be held in a few days.  I will be asked to lead it, to speak a few words, and it will be an honor to do so.  I hope my words are of some help.  This morning, I think I’ll stop by The Farm and ask Bill if I can have an arrowhead to carry in my pocket as I speak.


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.