Archive for November, 2011

168 Ways To Communicate Better Now Plus Two – 7 – 8 – 9

7.  Be accurate.

Check your facts.

Avoid rumors.

Don’t jump to conclusions.

Evaluate your sources.  

7. Be accountable.

Take responsibility for your actions.

Stand up and be counted.

Stay involved.

Don’t blame others. 

8. Be alert.

Stay tuned in.

Be fully present.

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Journey of Encouragement* – Thomas R. McKibbens

Mark 13: 32-37, November 27, 2011 

            The day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, considered the busiest shopping day of the year and traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  Its name, Black Friday, indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, as in being “in the black.”

Now there is a new significance to the day after Thanksgiving.  The National Day of Listening is a day when Americans are asked to set aside time to listen to the stories of families and friends.  It originated in 2008 by the national oral history project called StoryCorps.  Few things are more encouraging than to have someone really listen to you.

We all have our stories to tell, and many of us can remember times of sitting on the porch listening to family stories, or hearing stories told by family members after Thanksgiving dinner, or discovering stories about a family member at a funeral.  From the time we were children and begged our parents to “Tell me a story,” to adulthood when we love good storytellers like Garrison Keiller, we are filled with stories.

Mitch Carnell, a communications specialist and teacher of speech, reminds us that the Bible is basically a storybook and that Jesus was remembered as a storyteller.  We still tell the stories of Jesus after all these years, and we still argue about what they mean.  Mitch Carnell speaks of multiple interpretations of the Prodigal Son story to illustrate his point![2]

One way of thinking about the experience of being the church is that it is a merging of stories.  You have a story and I have a story.  They were once separate stories, but in being church together, our stories begin to merge.  Soon our private life stories begin to be OUR life story—not just MY story and YOUR story.  I can always tell when the merger takes place in church:  it is when someone stops using the term “your church” and begins to use the term “our church.” 

I can say to the newcomers to this church community that this congregation is an alliance of faithful friends and colleagues seriously trying to follow the way of Christ.  That does not mean that we are all in agreement over every issue.  It simply means that we have concluded that following the way of Christ is more important than any other issue. 

If you are looking for a church home, a place that will gather you in and accept you as you are, a place that will nurture you along your own spiritual journey and call out your best gifts, then you are in the right place!  There is no such thing as a perfect church, just as there is no perfect job or perfect person.  I think it was Charles Spurgeon who quipped that “the day we find a perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it!”

            Now what about this gospel text for this first Sunday of Advent?  Keep awake! it urges.  Has it ever seemed odd to you that on the first Sunday of Advent each year, when we begin looking toward the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the lectionary text used all over the Christian world is about the Second Coming of Jesus?  Just when we are beginning to focus on the first coming, we get a text focused on the Second Coming!

            Most of us aren’t even sure what we believe or want to believe about such things, especially since we have heard so many wild-eyed abuses of such texts.  But here it is nevertheless, and the church all over the world is reading this text urging us to stay alert.

            Just a few reminders in reading a text like this:  apocalyptic language is always picture-talk.  We don’t have to turn this text over to the literalists.  Sometimes Jesus used picture-talk, metaphorical language.  We have to use picture-talk when we speak of ultimate things.  We have no other language for it.  Here we are talking about the end of time as we know it.  We certainly can’t be confined to rational logic when we speak of such things.

            Another reminder about apocalyptic language:  it always arises during times of crisis.  No wonder we hear more of it these days!  The text we read today comes out of the first great crisis in the life of the early church.  When the gospel of Mark was compiled, the first great wave of persecution of Christians had begun, and the little congregations that had been meeting in relative safety suddenly had to flee to the hills to survive.  Out of that despair and crisis of faith came this gospel.

            The author of the gospel of Mark gathered together all the authentic sayings of Jesus he or she could find, and placed them in some coherent order to compile what we believe to be the first of the four gospels to be written.  (Please do not be thrown when I say “he or she.”  The gospel of Mark is anonymous.  We really don’t know who wrote it.)  In the midst of a crisis of faith, this gospel stood as a witness to a faithful God whose presence is made known even in the midst of crisis.

            So this unique, sometimes even strange apocalyptic language, is always a language of hope.  The gospel of Mark was reminding those Christians who had almost lost hope, that in spite of all, God was, God is, and God will be.  That is to say, apocalyptic language is a language of encouragement.


            An editorial in one paper this week described Americans as “glum and gloomy.”[3]  Apocalyptic language is written to those who are tempted to be glum and gloomy.  It is written as a work of encouragement, not fear.  It has reminded readers from the 1st century to the 21st century that our ultimate hope does not lie in the Dow index; it does not lie in the military; it does not rest on the results of political elections; it does not rely on housing prices or budgets or the economic crisis in Greece or Italy.  All of these measures reflect daily levels of hopefulness at times, but are not the ultimate source of hope.

            Our ultimate hope does not come from these things.  In the most difficult of times, Jesus said not only to watch for signs of hope, but to be especially watchful when it is the darkest of times.  Here is how he put it:  Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.  Surely his language was deliberately chosen.  The Roman military divided the night into four watches.  The evening watch was 6:00 – 9:00 PM; the midnight watch was 9:00 – midnight.  The cockcrow watch was from midnight to 3:00 AM.  And the morning or “dawn” watch was from 3:00 – 6:00 AM.  Those were the darkest times, times when there is no sign of a bright future.  That is when we are warned to keep alert.

            Jesus was saying that there is a future even in the darkest of times, and at the conclusion of that future, there is God—the same God who was with us in the past and is with us now.  Christian faith is realistic; it sees the world situation as clearly as anyone else.   But we do not and we will not participate in the “glum and gloomy” atmosphere described in the editorial.  We are a people of hope, even in the most challenging times, because our ultimate hope is not dependent on that list of issues that normally comprises the content of the evening news. 


            It is quite a journey we are taking together as a church.  We are at the dawn of a third century, and the future is encouraging.  Some of us will stumble and fall along the way.  Some of us may lag behind or bolt ahead, but we are taking this journey together because we need each other, and because we are a people of hope.  It is a journey toward hope and with hope.

            At the entrance to Dante’s Inferno was the sign, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!”  At the entrance to this church is a more encouraging word:  “All hope claim and celebrate, ye who enter here!”  We journey under the banner of faith, hope, and love.  Here we sing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past, our hope for years to come.”  Here we declare a word of encouragement for the present and a word of hope that will never die.

*Dr. Thomas R. McKibbens is pastor of First Baptist Church of Worcester, Massachusetts.

[1] ©Thomas R. McKibbens, November 27, 2011.

[2] Mitch Carnell, “Listening—a Gift We Don’t Use Often Enough,” at

[3] Roger Cohen, “Decline and Fall,” New York Times, November 21, 2011.

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Thankful Thursday – Thanksgiving 2011

 On this Thanksgiving Day my heart overflows with gratitude. I am thankful for my faith that sustains me whatever the circumstances of my life. I am thankful for my family immediate and extended. My late wife, Liz, was a blessing to everyone who knew her. Carol gave me my life back. Suzanne and Michael are constant sources of blessings and joy. No one has ever been blessed with a more wonderful sister than I have with my sister. Jean.

I am thankful for the church I attend that has guided people of faith for 328 years. I am thankful for the United States of America. I had no part in being born here and I have no disregard for any other country, but I am eternally grateful for my good fortune. I am thankful for my hometown of Woodruff, South Carolina and the values I learned growing up there. I am grateful for the people of Northside Baptist Church who encouraged me in all that I attempted to do. I am thankful for my teachers. All of them gave of themselves that I might have a better life. I am thankful for the influences of Mars Hill College, Furman University, the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University for their part in lifting my vision for what could be.

 I am thankful for my friends who are truly gifts from God to my life. I am thankful for those with whom I have disagreed over the years. They have helped to sharpen my thinking. I am thankful to the many that served on the Board of Directors of the Charleston Speech and Hearing Center. They allowed me to have a career that was fulfilling and meaningful. I am grateful to the many staff members over the years who helped me grow and forgave my failures. I am thankful for my colleagues and students at Webster University where I have taught for 32 years. I am grateful to the contributors to my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. They are a remarkable group of extremely dedicated and talented brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am thankful for all the committee members and speakers for the John A. Hamrick Lectureship for their devotion to a cause that honors the life and work of this great servant of God. I am grateful for all of those who have helped to make Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday successful movements that continue to gain support. I am thankful that at this point in my life that God has given me a new vision for helping people of different faiths, the same faith, and no faith talk with each other in a more productive way. I am thankful for my adopted city of Charleston, one of the most beautiful and hospitable cities in the world. I join with the psalmist in singing, “My cup runneth over.”

            On this Thanksgiving Day of 2011, I am more aware than ever and humbled by the realization that I cannot count my blessings. They are too numerous. As I recount one, ten more spring to mind. Join me as I strive to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Celebrate this Thanksgiving Day with joy, gratitude and peace.

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Listening – A Gift We Don’t Use Often Enough

Listening – A Gift We Don’t Use Often EnoughMitch Carnell
Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 6:33 am

Listening – A Gift We Don't Use Often Enough | Mitch Carnell, Listening

The National Day of Listening is a wonderful opportunity to listen to the stories of family and friends, Carnell says.

Editor’s note: The National Day of Listening was started by StoryCorps in 2008. Click here for more about the day, and here for a feature on StoryCorps.

The day after Thanksgiving is not only Black Friday, it is also NationalDayofListening. Here is one day when we are all encouraged to listen to each other. It is really a day to listen to family stories.

As a boy, I heard wonderful family stories that I let slip by. I didn’t realize what a gift I was being offered. Oh, how I wish I had listened more closely.

Family reunions, wakes and Sunday afternoon visits were rich with stories from past generations. Church socials provided even more opportunities to gain insights.

We spent Saturday nights at my grandparents’ house. They invited in some of the neighbors, listening to the radio while the children played nearby. The old stories were rich and punctuated with uproarious laughter.

My grandfather Gossett’s laugh was contagious. It was a Santa Claus laugh, and his personality matched his laugh. He was generous to the core.

I was raised on stories. I loved the illustrations in the Sunday morning sermons. I have enough preacher stories to last for at least one more lifetime.

Add to all of these the stories, illustrations and riddles from Royal Ambassador meetings, and I might last until Gabriel sends for me another century from now.

We Christians have inherited a wonderful oral tradition from our Jewish friends – and more than a few pagans. The Bible is the world’s greatest story book.

No, I am not downgrading the Bible; Jesus was the greatest storyteller of all time. How do I know that? Because we not only still tell his stories 2,000 years later, we are still arguing about what some of them mean.

We are still wondering about what he wrote when he knelt down and wrote in the sand. And one person told me there are 500 interpretations of the Prodigal Son parable.

When I was in elementary school, I went to a summer camp owned by radio and TV evangelist J. Harold Smith. I remember his stories about womanizing before I had a clue what he was talking about. But that didn’t stop me from asking my boyhood pastor, Roy Gowan, when he was going to tell us his story.

I remember his answer: “Mitchell, I thank God every day that he saved me from that kind of life.”

Never assume that people don’t hear or remember what you say. Don’t ever underestimate your influence. Preacher Gowan, as we called him then, is still a towering influence in my life.

“Listen!” Charles Stanley repeatedly pleads with his congregation to listen. Why? He knows most of them are doing something else.

This is no knock on Stanley. The disciples didn’t listen to Jesus, and as good as Stanley is at storytelling, Jesus has him beat hands down.

Robert Schuller can weave a great story. He can make you see, taste and feel the elements of his stories. He can make you believe you are on a journey with him.

Arthur Caliandro can take a simple story of people standing in line at an ATM and fill it with such meaning and depth that you are spellbound.

And Molly Marshall is a magician with words. She has the ability to take a complex idea and unwrap it right in front of you.

All of these great storytellers are nothing without listeners. If there is no one home when they are talking, the story is lost.

Jesus got right to the point when he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What Jesus really said is, “Listen up. Pay attention. What I am telling you is important.”

The NationalDayofListening is a wonderful opportunity to listen to the stories of family and friends.

A few years ago, my Aunt Lala was in an assisted living facility, and I took my voice recorder when I visited her.

I asked her some family questions, and I was thrilled when she exclaimed, “Oh, I can tell you that.”

She was the last family member who could have answered those questions. The next week she fell and never recovered. She left me with a treasure beyond monetary value.

Our lives are made up of stories, and at some point they intersect because we all belong to the same family. Stay tuned in. Listen

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