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Bombing Boston

In 490 BC, Persia invaded the coastal city of Marathon, Greece. Greece valiantly battled against the bigger Persian fleet…and prevailed. A Greek soldier, Pheidippides, was sent to Athens to proclaim the good news–they were victorious, Persia had been defeated. Pheidippides ran the entire distance. Legend says he shouted the words “Niki” (victory), then collapsed and died.

To commemorate his courageous run, the Athens Marathon was born–24.85 miles. Year after year runners gathered, ran the distance and celebrated “Niki” at the finish line. In 1908, the marathon stretched to 26.2 miles so that the race could finish in front of the royal viewing box of the Queen of England.

in 1896 Greece hosted the first modern Olympic Games. The Greeks had yet to win a medal, and had one final chance to bring glory to their nation. Twenty-five runners assembled on Marathon Bridge. The starter mumbled a few words and fired the gun, and the race was on. Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker from the village of Marusi and veteran of several long military marches, crossed the finish line a full seven minutes ahead of the pack. His time was 2 hours, 58 minutes, 50 seconds for the 40 kilometer distance. The United States was one of 9 nations at the 1896 Athens Olympics, thanks to sponsorship of athletes by the Boston Athletic Association. Middle distance runner Arthur Blake was the only American to enter the first marathon but unfortunately dropped out after about 14.5 miles. Planning for North America’s first marathon began on the boat back to United States. The first annual Boston Athletic Association marathon was conducted on April 19, 1897, the date chosen to commemorate the famous ride of Paul Revere in 1775. (from

Yesterday, the shout of victory was deadened by falling shrapnel and cries of despair. Devastation replaced joy, horror displaced celebration.

We pray…and seek God.

While Athens commemorates a Greek soldier, and the Boston Marathon remembers an early American patriot, we are reminded that we can’t find ultimate hope there. In the midst of chaos and pain, we remember and cling to a man who faced unbearable pain. Somehow, with the images of bloodshed from the streets of Boston now permanently imprinted in our minds, we find ourselves clinging to a man who came to make “all things new,” who looked into the face of the bombers themselves from the cross (and us too) and cried his own shout of victory “It is finished.”

And while we pray through the pain of today, we look forward to the hope of tomorrow. John allows us to eavesdrop on a conversation between Jesus and his saddened disciples. Jesus is talking,

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”

Thomas doubted. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus didn’t scold Thomas. He answered him. Man to man.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Thomas, you gotta believe. And we do too. Especially now.

The Eagle and the Arrow

An eagle was soaring through the air when suddenly…it heard the whiz of an arrow.  Slowly it fell to the earth–with its lifeblood flowing out of it.  Looking up on the arrow with which it was pierced it found that the shaft of the arrow had been feathered with one of its own plumes.  “Alas!,” it cried as it died, “we often give our enemies the means of our own destruction.”    –Aesop

March 25th is coming soon.  Our local school board will vote on the proposed Amendment One policy.  While some good changes were made to the new proposed policy (coaches can bow their heads when players pray, school officials can attend baccalaureate and be referred to as school officials, outside benevolent groups can distribute materials to students), one haunting question remains:  what about the final section that addresses faculty and staff?

In the first meeting at Marion Elementary, Mr. Brown, the school board attorney, warned that teachers would feel restricted by this section.  Why are we proposing a policy that is incomplete?  What is going to be included in the final section?  Why not include it now?

If school board officials vote to approve the proposed policy, I fear a slow death of our own making.  I fear that we will pull the arrow out of our school system only to discover that we put it there.  It may not happen now.  We may even soar for a few weeks, or months, even years.  But the inevitable arrow of a restrictive, oppressive, unnecessary policy will fly.

We don’t have to be the means of our own destruction.

Weeping May Endure for the Night

When things are hard, nighttime makes them harder.  If you’ve ever been a parent, you know that your kid’s fever is higher at night than in the daytime.  People who are grieving often grieve deeply during the night when nobody hears them.  Nights are hard.

Monday night was hard.  When I got home from the 5-hour marathon meeting I told my wife that I felt like someone had died.  I honestly thought the feeling might diminish as the days wore on.  It has not.  Real grief doesn’t–it works into your heart like a baker kneading dough.  It hurts.

All the news isn’t bad news.  The board completely removed Section 9 from the policy regarding distribution of materials.  How could they not?  None of the organizations affected (YMCA, Relay for Life, Lunch Bunch and Project Christmas) engage in proselytizing in their communications.  That was easy.

Baccalaureate is still on the table.  We wait to hear about it.  Though it is a private service, held at a neutral location, funded completely by local churches, the question remains as to whether the high school principal can speak and be referred to as “the high school principal.”

Other things are borderline ridiculous.

A coach (or anyone else) who bows his/her head while someone else is praying is considered in violation of the new policy.  The possibility of a “respectful posture” is not even allowed.

Junior high and high school teachers should not be referred to as “sponsors” of clubs like FCA…only monitors.  The logic behind this falls significantly short of common sense.

“Outsiders” cannot regularly attend meetings on high school campuses.  This targets youth ministers who typically show up at FCA or other like-minded organizations.  No definition of “regularly attend” was given.

All of this has come about when there are no reports of any high school or junior high school teacher or student who has coerced any student toward his or her religious views.  Someone aptly stated, “We’re trying to kill a gnat with a missile.”

The missile doesn’t have to be. This policy has not yet been approved by the school board and will require multiple readings before it is finally voted on.  We don’t need it.  We already have a policy.  We need teachers and principals to exercise discretion and leadership, to love all their students equally, and be accountable to other people, not policies.  We need to assume that people who have prepared for years to be teachers and principals, who have varied religious perspectives, and who are trained in what they can and cannot do, will sometimes make mistakes.  We’ll correct the mistakes and move on.  That’s reality.

Weeping may endure for the night…but joy comes with the morning.  (Psalm 30:5)

I’m still holding out for joy.




5 Reasons I am Deeply Grieved

Recently, our local school board revealed a new policy regarding our schools and religion.  The policy is 14 pages long and includes many things that are laborious and difficult to understand.  However, buried within the policy are statements that could forever change the way churches and schools in McDowell County work with one another. The policy is being developed–it has not been finalized.

I will include pertinent excerpts from the policy to explain why I am deeply grieved:

  • Coaches will no longer be able to pray with their players.

8.2.d  Coaches and other school employees may not lead prayer at either practices or games or other extracurricular school activities.

8.2.e  Students may gather for prayers before, during, or after a practice or game, or before, during, or after a rehearsal or performance, so long as the prayers are student-initiated and student-led with no support, encouragement, or participation from school employees and as long as students do not pressure other students to participate. Coaches and other school employees may be present at the prayer.

  • Outside organizations, including the YMCA, Lunch Bunch, and Project Christmas will not be able to send information home with children who need their services.

9.4.d  Flyers providing informational material and announcements from the following non-school groups may be distributed by placement in student take-home-folders. School officials are prohibited from assessing the viewpoint expressed in the flyer and deciding to exclude distribution of the flyer based upon its viewpoint; distribution of flyers pursuant to this policy section shall not discriminate based on viewpoint. This policy requires school officials to exercise viewpoint neutrality.

9.4.d.1 Parent-Teacher Organization

9.4.d.2 Government departments and agencies

9.4.d.3 Licensed day care operations on school campuses

9.4.d.4 Nonprofit organized youth sports leagues

  • Youth ministers will not be able to regularly attend FCA meetings held at junior high and high school campuses.

 10.2.b  Outsiders (non-school officials) may not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend group meetings.

  • Junior High and High School Teachers may not participate in FCA or any other religious organization during non-instructional time.  This also includes See You at the Pole.

 10.2.c  School employees may attend meetings only in a non-participatory capacity, such as to maintain discipline.

10.2.d  The school shall not sponsor the club. School officials shall not promote, lead, or participate in a meeting.

  • High School faculty and staff may attend baccalaureate only in a non-official capacity.

11.2.b.5 School employees may attend the baccalaureate service as 
long as they are not attending in an official capacity.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  As a county, we have significant influence over the specific nature of these policies.  G. K. Chesterton, author and philosopher from the early 1900’s said, “Once abolish the God and the government becomes the God.”  I do not write this as some raging right-wing fanatic.  I write this as a pastor whose heart breaks for my staff whose desire is to be a positive influence in our school system.  I write this as a pastor whose heart breaks for teachers who have, for years, been a positive influence for good in the school system.  I write this as a pastor whose heart breaks for students who are desperately seeking to find their way in a world that is becoming increasingly sterilized and secularized.

This isn’t a political argument.  Nor am I making a legal argument.  I am neither a politician nor a lawyer.  This is a cultural and spiritual argument.  On Monday, I will again attend the meeting.  I plan to speak, and plead, on behalf of our county.