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Honor to whom Honor

2017 September 3
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Bishop David EppsLast Saturday, my wife was one of several recent retirees from the University of West Georgia who were honored for their many years of service. There was a very nice luncheon at the country club in Carrollton, GA, where the food was some of the best I have eaten at one of these affairs, and family members were invited to attend with the honoree.

The president of UWG gave a tremendous report on how well the university was doing—excellent, as it turns out, the best in the history of the institution—and, after some preliminaries and business, the men and women were honored, each with a medallion. As each person’s name was presented, he or she had the medallion draped on his or her neck, had a special photo taken, and was asked to say a few words.

There was also a special booklet listing the biographies and featuring the photos of each retiree. And here is what I liked the most about the event. The names were listed alphabetically and each honoree had their own page on which were listed their job titles, the number of years at the university, their responsibilities, educational history and so forth. The honorees were not listed according to the “importance” of their position. My wife has four degrees including a Ph.D. and was a retiring Professor and Associate Dean, but you had to read her bio to find that out.

Whether one was a professor, dean, provost, in administration, management, human resources, information technology, custodial services, athletics, campus law enforcement, secretary, maintenance, or whatever—the clear impression was given that each person was a vital part of the UWG family and that each and every position was not to be valued over the other. Frankly, I loved it.

Everyone was treated as an equal, each received the same medallion, each had an opportunity to speak, and no one’s title was on their name tag. Each and every tag had the person’s name accompanied by a ribbon that said, “Honoree.” And every retiree was proud of their service as an employee of the University of West Georgia. It’s just that not everyone had the same responsibilities—but that all were valued and respected.

I have thought for years that church should be like that too. Who is the most important person in the church? According to the New Testament, each individual is a vital part of the “Body of Christ” with Christ being the head of the Body. It’s not “Brother John’s Church,” or “Father James’ Church,” or “Bishop Harold’s church.” Everyone, and I mean everyone, is a vital and important part of the Church.

The musicians, the singers, the greeters, the custodians, the nursery workers, the sound and video techs, the teachers, those who are able to give a lot, those who are able to give very little, the mature, the immature, the elderly, the children, the Baby Boomers, the X Gens, the Millennials, the men, the women, the youth, those with a formal position, those without, a formal position—all are vital and valued, Even the clergy are a part of this thing we call “Church.”

Too often, we see distinctions being made among people, even in the church. I saw a website recently in which some ministers were being touted and lavishly praised as “apostles,” or “prophets,” or “bishops”, or “anointed teachers and global leaders” as though such people somehow were greater than, say, the lady who empties the wastebasket or the man who quietly takes communion to the hospital. It was Jesus, after all, who said that “the last shall be first” and that it was “the meek” who would “inherit the earth.”

On the one hand, it was wonderful to see what happened at the UWG luncheon and, on the other hand, it was humbling to see it happen, and done so well, at a “secular university” when it so seldom happens in a “divine institution,” the Church.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson in humility. But more importantly, perhaps we can learn a lesson in how to value others, to respect all, to understand that all are vital and important, even though their tasks may be dissimilar. Perhaps the Church can learn from this university to “give honor to whom honor is due.” Which includes all, whomever they may be and whatever they may do.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Nazis, Communists, and Charlottesville

2017 August 29
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Bishop David EppsIn the 1930s, two major groups clashed in Germany. The clashes were often violent and, at times, people were killed in these conflicts. The two groups were the Nazis and the Communists. Both sought to dominate the political conversation and, while both groups would eventually cause the deaths of tens of millions of people, their approach to totalitarian rule was different. They were both far more dangerous than anyone could imagine at the time.

Fast forward to the summer of 2017 and one finds a similar scene being played out in Charlottesville, VA. On one side is a far right group and, on the other, a far left group. One side has among its ranks member of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. The other has embedded in it anarchists and members of an anti-fascist group known as Antifa. In viewing news video of the violent clash in that beautiful Virginia city, it was difficult to tell who was who. Both groups were intent on inflicting harm on, and silencing, the other.

The problem is not just the violence and the peace of a city that was disrupted. The problem is that, in this nation, there is the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and the right to express one’s views, however abhorrent those views may be to the vast majority of the population.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What this means, of course, in the area of speech, is that all political speech, and most other kinds of speech, is protected. In the 1950s, a chill swept across the land as a powerful politician, Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Republican, sought to root out and expose alleged communists in the government, media, and the arts, and silence their left-leaning viewpoints. In today’s America, leftists groups have successfully silenced right-leaning speakers who have been invited to speak on college campuses.

Not only have the courts found that Congress does not have the authority to limit speech but, for the most part, all speech, even hate speech and reprehensible speech, is to be protected. The rationale is that, if one can prohibit one kind of speech, then all kinds of speech can be forbidden. The framers of the Constitution felt that freedom of speech was so important that prohibiting any form of speech had to be guaranteed in the Constitution.

So, if the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK members wish to peacefully assemble and speak their minds, that speech is protected. If those who oppose such ideas wish to counter-protest and espouse their ideas, that, too, is protected speech. But one group does not have the right to prohibit the speech of the other and violence takes the matter out of the realm of speech and into the area of criminal activity.

The scene played out in Charlottesville recently, if filmed in black and white, would have looked little different from the pre-World War II clashes in Germany between the Nazi and the Communists. When the mentality of the mob takes over, then reason and inhibition goes out the window. People who, under normal circumstances would never attack anyone, suddenly are caught up in something that changes their behavior and they become, no longer peaceful people, but part of the mob.

It was significant that a number of those on the left wore black masks to hide their identity as they attacked other people who, under different circumstances would have been wearing white masks to hide their own identity. Wherever the threat to free speech originates, there it must be condemned. In America, speech is protected. Once it is not, then no American will be able to speak without fear. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists in Germany wished to tolerate opposing viewpoints. Neither the far-right nor the far-left are proponents of free speech. That is why the one wishes to silence the other.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Cuddle for Pay

2017 August 17
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Bishop David EppsWatching television the other night, I was very surprised to learn that there is such a thing as a “certified cuddlist.” Apparently, one can hire someone who will cuddle with them for an hour or more. I fired up the computer and visited the web site of the business which claims to have 75 cuddle centers throughout the nation. One can book a cuddle session on line. The web site makes it clear that these sessions are “a therapeutic, non-sexual, cuddle session with a certified professional cuddlist.”

In fact, the group is advertising for people who want to become a professional certified cuddliest. There are three requirements: (1) Take the on-line cuddle course which costs $149.00. (2) Attend a cuddle party. (3) Have an evaluation session. There is also a $39.99 monthly fee to be listed on the organization’s web site. And all potential clients are screened presumably to weed out perverts and dangerous people. The cost to hire a cuddlist? A mere $80.00 per hour.

Dr. Daniel Yadegar, MD, FACC, who is listed at the Head of the organization’s Scientific Advisory Board, is quoted as saying, “There is something transcendent about cuddling, as it has the power to take energy from the outer world—human touch and intimacy—and influence our inner world, down to the molecular level. Cuddling can improve immunity, enhance mood, and server as an energetic elixir for all patients, especially for those with chronic medical conditions. I recommend everyone get their daily dose!” Of course a daily dose would add up to $2,400.00 per month or $28,800.00 a year. A little rich for my blood. Which make me wonder how much the doctor is paid for his advice to the organization.

What I conclude from this is that there must be a great number of lonely people out there—people who are willing to shell out eighty bucks for someone to hold and cuddle them. That doesn’t really surprise me. With the electronic gadgets and social media that abound, it’s a wonder that anyone has face-to-face contact and communication with anybody.

Some time ago, I was in a fast food restaurant where four teenagers were sitting at the same table, each glued to their cell phones. The entire time I was there, they never exchanged a word. A few weeks later I was in a more upscale restaurant and sat across the aisle from a family of four—a dad, mom, and a teenage son and daughter. They, too, were glued to their cell phones and, again, almost no exchange took place at the table.

Apparently, someone has found a need and is in the process of filling that need. This is all fine I suppose but it makes me wonder what the future of our society will look like. Already, there are Internet “churches” where people meet on line and never gather together in person. They may not even know the names of those in the group.

Little by little, piece by piece, community is disappearing from our world. We live in isolation, we often now work in isolation, we can study and become educated in isolation and, even in public, we can pull out our electronic device and take our meals in isolation. It’s no wonder that, in a world like this, people would pay $80.00 an hour for a human touch.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Lesson from a Hospital Bed

2017 August 15
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Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8 (NIV)

Recently I served my first week in a monthly rotation as Chaplain to Upson Regional Medical Center. Upon being asked to serve by the Upson County Ministerial Association and the Hospital to do so, I quickly answered, “Sure, no big deal right?” Just go in pray for a few folks, no biggie. Boy was I ever wrong. I did not realize I was embarking on a life changing experience.

I found myself twice in my first week performing a sort of “Last Rites” for two gentlemen. One was an elderly gentlemen of 98 years. He had lived his life full and was, according to the family, “Ready to go be with the Lord.” All his family were there with him in the final hours. I was basically asked to come in and pray for the gentlemen to have peace and to just offer grace to the family. If one could say it, it was actually a good time. It was a time of release and of sharing love with one another.

However, it was the second visit that changed my life forever and broke my heart. I was asked to see another gentleman with the same circumstance. He was only 55 years of age and being kept alive only by respirator. In fact, they were about to take him off and make the trip to hospice where it was certain he would not make it through the night. I asked about his family and that is where I got the shock of my life. When I asked about his family I was told, “He has none.” The gentleman was from out of state and had been estranged from his family from many years. He only had one friend in town. My heart dropped. Talk about the lost, the least and the lonely.

With that being said, I am not naïve enough to believe this type of situation does not occur. However, I will admit that I was not prepared. I am blessed enough to have a loving family. Also, I have been blessed enough, even with 27 years of ministry, to be with persons with family. I found myself leaving the hospital in tears of sadness. I learned two valuable lessons last week. First, never take family for granted. No one likes being alone. Secondly, I found a new respect and honor for Chaplains. You guys do this stuff daily and I admire your grace even more so now.

Father Mike Birdsong
Pastor, St. Michael and All Angels Charismatic Episcopal Church
Thomaston, GA

Internet “Ordinations”

2017 August 10
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Bishop David EppsFor quite a number of years I have been aware that people could be “ordained” to the ministry on-line or through the mails. It really doesn’t take much. One fills out the short application, encloses a check for $35.00 and up and, just like that, one can either download their “ordination” certificate or it will come courtesy of the U. S. Postal Service. It’s not a scam and it is legal. All because of the laws of the land.

While the “separation of church and state” is not found in the constitution of our land—the document guarantees freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion—it still has become an operating principle. Thus, the courts are loath to meddle in church affairs if they can avoid it. So, while other professions are likely to have state regulations and statutes governing them, and, while the states, or agencies recognized by the states, may test, register, license, and certify those in these professions, it does not do so with the church and, hence, the ministry. Each denomination pretty much sets its own standards and regulates itself.

For example, some denominations require a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university and a Master of Divinity, a three years program, from a seminary accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, or ATS. On the other hand, people may also come together, form a church, and, in the case of, say, an Independent Baptist Church, ordain a person without any formal training whatsoever. There, the safeguard is presumably that the person is well known to, and approved by, the congregants.

But in the case of so-called “ordinations” over the internet, there are really no requirements nor are there any safeguards. One can claim to be a minister without ever having set foot in a church or other religious house of worship. In fact, one not even need to be human as the guy who sent in papers and fees a few years ago and had his dog “ordained,” discovered. All of this makes a mockery of the ordained ministry which, I suspect, is why some people actually do it. So these “ordained” men and women perform marriages, do funerals, and possibly even do “pastoral” counseling.

Imagine this—a physician about to do surgery on you who became a “doctor” over the internet. Or an airline pilot printing out his own pilots’ license on his home printer. Or a lawyer representing you who was a dishwasher only last week in a greasy spoon restaurant. Why not let those wanting to join the military skip basic training and boot camp and just send in $35 to become a “soldier,”“sailor,” “airman,” or “Marine?” Why not just let people dress up and claim to be cops? Or firefighters? Or paramedics?

Because we wouldn’t accept that. We have too much respect for those professions and too much rides on those who practice them being legitimately prepared and approved. I said earlier that it’s not a scam. I think, after reflection, that it really is. It’s people presenting themselves as something they really are not. And the “ordination” mills? Oh they make loads of money. Is it legal? Yes, under the so-called “separation or church and state” practices. Is it legitimate? Not if we judge it by the same standards that we do other professions that touch human lives and families and have the ability to do great harm.

If one wants to be a minister, a rabbi, and Imam, or some other religious leader than do yourself and everyone else a favor and do it right. Do the hard work, put in the study, be mentored, do the internships, and put in the time instead of deceiving yourself and others who might not know the difference.

So, beware. There are a great many frauds and con artists out there. Some of them just might be “ministers.”

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

The Unfunny Kathy Griffin

2017 August 7
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Bishop David Epps

Written 10 June, 2017

Alleged comedian Kathy Griffin has gotten herself some attention and a public relations nightmare to go along with it. Recently, the 56-year old Griffin posed with a fake head of the President of the United States (just the head as if it had been decapitated) covered in blood. The pose was similar to an ISIS terrorist holding the head of a murdered victim. Why Griffin thought this was funny is anybody’s guess but liberal-leaning CNN was so outraged that they fired Griffin from a long-time New Year’s Eve gig.

Griffin owns a TV production company called Inappropriate Laughter, which seems ironically appropriate. Griffin has made a career out of inappropriate comments and actions. In one infamous Emmy appearance, she said, “Now, a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. He didn’t help me a bit… So all I can say is suck it, Jesus, this award is my God now!”” The Catholic League denounced the comments as “obscene and blasphemous.” Griffin was banned from the show, Hannah Montana, for the comments and she has to be one of the few celebrities banned from the Apollo Theater for her profanity.

And speaking of profanity, why is it that so many alleged comedians feel the necessity to use more profanity than a Marine Corps drill instructor? My wife and I once attended the appearance of a very famous comic but his language was so terrible that we got up and walked out in the middle. If I want to pay money to hear dirty jokes and foul language, I can go to a dive bar and get all I want. Is it that comics think it makes them funnier?

Bob Hope didn’t need obscenity and outrage to make people laugh. Neither did Red Skelton, Bill Cosby (although he has his own set of current troubles), Andy Griffith, or scores of other comedians far funnier than Griffin. Maybe the problem is that the audiences have become so low class that the only thing they can laugh at is low class humor.

I don’t mind political humor. I thought that Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin was hilarious. For the most part, Saturday Night Live does a pretty good job of political funniness even though it’s often one-sided. There’s lots of Donald Trump material without resorting to the disgusting and to the sick. Which is what Griffin did. Holding up the image of the severed head of the President was both disgusting and sick.

Imagine what would have happened is a conservative comic, say Jeff Foxworthy, held up an effigy of President Barack Obama with a hangman’s noose around his neck. Is it funny? No, it would have been outrageous, disgusting, and sick. But Foxworthy has too much class to do something like that and he is able to entertain millions without rooting around in a gutter of foul language, nasty jokes, and offensive displays.

And speaking of offensive, why is it that so many alleged comedians find it necessary to single out people, especially accomplished people, for attack. I believe that many (not all) comedians are angry, frustrated, insecure people and they get attention and a misguided sense of self-esteem by trashing others. And, by masquerading as comedians, they can say whatever they want and they explain away their outrageous words and behavior by saying, “But I’m a comedian.”

I believe in the First Amendment. But I also believe that actions have consequences. Kathy Griffin has been fired from several venues and a major sponsor has dropped her. Her response? Griffin said, the Trump family was “trying to ruin my life forever.” No, Ms. Griffin. If that happens, you did it all to yourself.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Former Director James Comey

2017 August 5
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Bishop David Epps

Written 17 June, 2017

I met former FBI Director James Comey a few years ago, although he would have no memory of me. My oldest son graduated from the FBI National Academy and Comey was the speaker. Afterwards, he met with the graduates and some of their families. He was a nice man, personable, and outgoing. It was a very brief encounter but one that left a positive impression.

So, when he was called to testify before a committee last week, I was interested. I was on my way to a meeting in Auburn, AL and the interview was carried on National Public Radio. Anyone who has followed this column is aware that Donald Trump was not my first through sixteenth choice for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Nevertheless, I pray for this President as I have for the others and hope that he will be good for the country.

I was predisposed toward Director Comey and felt that his firing was unfortunate and mishandled. I wanted to hear his side of the story. What I did not expect to hear was the very thing that distressed me the most. The Director of the FBI leaked information about a private meeting with his boss, the President, to a friend with the express purpose of getting it into the mainstream media. It was there that Comey lost my support.

Whatever one might say about how the President does business, there is no excuse for the Director of the world’s premier law enforcement agency to stoop to this kind of surreptitious behavior. If one of Comey’s agents or other employees had leaked information to press about Comey is there any doubt about what would have happened to that agent or employee? No, of course not. They would have been fired.

Years ago, I hired a staff member for the church I served as pastor. I told the new employee, “You can say anything to want to say to me face to face. If you barge into my office, jump up on my desk, point your finger in my face, and call me a son of a (gun), I will ask you to get off my desk, have a seat, and tell me why you think I am a son of a (gun).” “But,” I continued, “if you ambush me in front of my people, talk about me behind my back, or otherwise betray my trust, I will fire you on the spot. If you can’t work with me in that way, you need to find another job.” That was my position then and now.

I knew a police officer once that clandestinely slipped confidential information to a news reporter. I was very distressed about that and, though it was really none of my concern, I lost the immense respect that I had had for the officer. There’s just something about being a sneaky turncoat that bothers me.

So, from my point of view, Director Comey undid much of the good that he did do by his own words under oath. He admitted that the former attorney general gave him instructions with which he disagreed. Did he tell her this? No. When Donald Trump had a conversation with Comey that, he says, made him uncomfortable did he tell him this? No. Did he tell his immediate superior, the attorney general, that he was going to release information to the press? No.

Did he think it was easier “to get forgiveness than permission?” Did he think he would never be found out? Was that the only time he leaked to the press or were there other times? James Comey has had, until now, a long, distinguished, and respected career. Unfortunately, he now finds himself in the very place he should be—unemployed.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org