God Will See You Now


The e-mail showed up out of the blue. I sensed it was legitimate. 

A neighborhood magazine that I do some writing for was referenced.

The e-mail was simple:  Bill, wonder if you might be interested in interviewing me? If you are, meet me at the corner of West Franklin and North Pine in the city. You are an early riser, see you at 6:45 on Friday. I’ll be in uniform.  Thanks for your time and consideration, God


No way, this is a hoax of some type. I’m sure one of my pals is up to something. 

But a few minutes later, another e-mail appeared. It stated— Nice try this isn’t a hoax. Confirm you are going to show up or the interview offer is withdrawn.  Sincerely, God

I knew the location well. The corner of Franklin and Pine is where the former Pace United Methodist Church building is located. It sits across from Monroe Park.

 Now, the building is home to a campus ministry, the Wesley Foundation, a part of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

I had some decisions to make. 

The first one was do I tell anyone about this e-mail? 


If I tell anyone that I’m going into Richmond to interview God, whoever I share my secret with will immediately confirm what he or she has suspected for a long time—Bill Pike you are without a doubt— crazy. Don’t move, let me call Henrico County Mental Health for you.

Next consideration, how can I overcome my fear?

 I mean after all this is God. Knowing myself, I could ask the wrong question, and poof I could be like Uzzah in the Bible here one minute gone the next. Plus, I know my track record in criticizing God isn’t good. I would imagine those heavenly data collectors have a pretty thick file on me already.

Good points, but I must go. It is an opportunity. I don’t want to regret not showing up.

On Friday morning, with a legal pad and a couple of sharpened DIXON Ticonderoga #2 pencils. I left the house and drove to my destination.

My brain is swirling. I park in front of the Pace Center. I’m five minutes early. No one is standing at the corner of Franklin and Pine in a uniform.

Then, there is a light tap on my window. Now, I’m spooked. I turn and there is a guy who looks just like Clarence, the angel, from the movie It’s A Wonderful Life.

I open the door. He speaks, “Bill, good to see you. Thanks for driving in this morning.” 

He continues, “ A couple of quick reminders for you, leave your cell phone and your camera in the car. Your legal pad and pencils are fine.”

I open the top to the middle console and drop my cell phone and camera in and close the lid.

By now, I’m out of the car. I attempt to ask my first question. 

“Excuse me sir, but you look like Clarence from the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, any chance that’s who you are?” 

“Mr. Pike, we are on a very tight schedule today, no chit chat,” the Clarence look alike responded.

He continued, “ Now walk to the alley behind the Pace Center. You will see a trash truck. Get in on the passenger’s side, and wait there. Go ahead, get moving, God will see you now.”

I quickly walk, make the left turn into the alley, the truck is sitting there, I get in as instructed.

No one is in the driver’s seat, I glance down at my legal pad for a second. I heard no door open, and then I look back to my left, and a driver is in the seat.

“Good morning, Mr. Pike, as my assistant, Clarence told you, I’m on a tight schedule. I’m doing a series of interviews today. Please ask your questions as I drive this route,” the driver states.

The driver puts the truck in gear and I ask my first question.

Over the last several years, there has been speculation that you are dead. Any truth to those rumors? 

The driver slams on breaks, I figure I’m about to be ejected, but then I see a pedestrian in the blinding sunlight who somehow didn’t see this massive truck.

“Oh, that rumor has been around for years. I like  Mark Twain’s quote—“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” No, I’m not dead, in fact I’m busier than ever.”

Word on the street is that you and your staff have been enrolled in anger management classes. Seems that was caused by how we are handling ourselves down here on earth. Are you and your staff enrolled in classes like this?

“Well, we do have our moments where we become quite exasperated with some of the decision making on earth,” God answered.

God continued, “In those moments of exasperation, we regroup, rethink, dig deeply into our heart personality data, and look for innovations that might have an impact, but we are not enrolled in any anger management classes.”

A young pastor in Tennessee, Jacob Armstrong, asks this question to his congregation:  “What is breaking God’s heart?” 

So tell me, God, anything out there in your daily encounters that is breaking your heart?

“First, for the record, my heart is in good shape. Plus, as you might guess, there is quite a team of heart specialists available to me if I need one in heaven. But, in all honesty, my heart worries a lot about the under current of tension in the world. That tension is dangerous. It moves us away from loving and caring for each other. Plus, the tension serves to divide us. We need to fix this. Living like this isn’t healthy,” God stated without any hesitation.

I’m assuming that you know church attendance in America is in decline. Do you have any insights as to why church attendance is in a downward spiral?

God was quiet for a few seconds, and then he responded, “You know I’m not a person who likes to hurt people with criticism, but I think churches have been too resistant to change. Church leadership has been overly reliant on what has worked in the past. Relying on your past without any new innovations is a formula for disaster.”

So tell me God, do you have a sense of humor? Do you and your staff enjoy a good laugh?

“Ha, finally a good question from you,” God stated.

“Yes, I have a sense of humor, and my staff and I have some good chuckles everyday. Last year during Lent, we laughed at you. We laughed so hard that we were in tears as we watched you trying to find your special hole marker to slide the cross into on your church’s front lawn. We could clearly see from our perch up in heaven the zinc covered handle. But, you kept walking all around it. We actually cheered when you finally found it.”

God informed me, “Mr. Pike, your time is almost up. I’m going to circle back into that alley behind the Pace Center. You have time for one more question.”

“Well, how about this,  God, why don’t you ask me a question,” I made my request without any trembling at all.

God quickly responded, “Ok, I will. Did you recently attend an Elton John concert in Raleigh, North Carolina?”

I answered, “Yes, I did.”

God asked, “Did you learn anything during the performance about Mr. John?”

“Yes, I did learn something. Mr. John told the audience that in the early 1990s he realized that his life was spinning out of control. Because of health challenges and issues with alcohol Mr. John found some courage, and said these three words:  “I need help.”

The truck was back in the alley, and positioned in front of a dumpster. 

God looked over at me and said,  “I need help too.”

I asked, “ How can I help?”

God replied, “It is pretty simple, let people see me through your work and action.”

For a split second, I looked away from him.

Then, I turned to give him my answer, and the driver’s seat was empty.

Derailed: One, But Not Done, It’s March!


It is here—March. 

In the United States, unless you live under a rock, or have the mental fortitude to blockout all of the media coverage and hype, this means college basketball. March Madness is the pursuit of winning the national championship. This madness is not for the faint-hearted. Having ice water in your veins is helpful.

Having grown up in Burlington, North Carolina, basketball, and the original framework of the Atlantic Coast Conference are imprinted in my heart. In terms of team allegiance, lets just say that I lean toward the North Carolina based team whose uniforms are the darker shade of blue.

As a fan, I have mellowed. 

When I was a kid, if the darker shade of blue team lost to that sky blue team, I was a mess. I was beyond a poor sport. Anger, tears,  mean excuses abounded. 

As a mellowed adult, if the darker shade of blue team lost to that sky blue team, I was a mess. I was beyond a poor sport. Vicious, unflattering, non-Sunday school words were hurled at the TV set. 

It took me a while to figure out that the players, coaches, officials, and commentators could not hear my frustrations and recommendations. But my brilliant wife, the Commander Supreme, pointed out to me that our children could. 

So, at some point, I watched college basketball games with duct tape across my mouth. Now, that’s not true. However, I did for my sanity and the sanity of the family make an adjustment. 

I started following games from a distance by periodically checking game progress on my computer in the basement where I write. I’m sure the TV in our den appreciated my departure. At this point, my computer hasn’t filed any complaints with the Commander Supreme. As I mentioned earlier I have mellowed.

March Madness is also famous for those circumstances that cause a team to be derailed. Only the basketball gods can explain the unexpected slaying of a giant team by the Davids of college basketball. When a power house team falls, that only adds to the madness of March basketball.

However, college basketball has some other pennies on its tracks  that have the potential to really derail the game.

From my small mind, many of the challenges in college basketball are tied to money. 

 Recruiting of players-money, one and done players-money, admission scandals—money, contracts for coaches-money, lucrative TV contracts-money, shoe contracts-money, financial gain for the school—money, honesty, values, integrity, ethics, decency— thrown under the train—money.

Maybe, March Madness should take a year off so that the pennies on the tracks can be cleaned up. That will never happen—money.

Maybe, a different final four could be held. 

Take a year off from the traditional madness.

Let the four division one NCAA teams who have never made it into the 64 team tournament play for the national championship. Or even better, let the four teams with the highest graduation rates play, or the four teams who have the most seniors. Nice ideas, but will never happen—money.

While I’m sure this 2019 edition of March Madness will consume us, and for sure someone’s favorite team will be derailed, life continues, or does it?

A derailed person created a worse type of madness in New Zealand this week as he murdered 49 peaceful people who were worshiping in a Mosque.

Back on Sunday, March 3, the madness of a powerful tornado ripped through Lee County, Alabama killing 23 people and destructively derailing several communities.

Two days later,  Tuesday, March 5, a derailment was brewing at  the Sherbourne Food Pantry. Their shelves were bare. Food was needed for Wednesday’s distribution to their clients. Our church was sent an urgent SOS.

On Sunday, March 10, a dear friend notified me that one of their children who has been valiantly battling substance abuse challenges— derailed. He was charged with a DWI in the college town where he attends school.

March is mad. 

But in truth, March is no madder than any other month. Human madness along with its derailments persist year round, not just in March. 

A  basketball team can endure the last intense seconds of a game and hang on for a win.

At the exact same time a basketball team is hanging on for a win, somewhere in the world a human being is barely hanging on hopeful for a different type of victory.  

If you were in that New Zealand mosque, maybe you were better at playing “opossum” during the mad rampage than the person beside you.

In Alabama, maybe the solid construction of a house allowed a family a place to hold on as the fierce winds of the tornado battered everything in its path.

Maybe the clients at the Sherbourne food pantry were able to feed their families on Wednesday night because some good hearts from a sister church brought in food.

Maybe the young college student with the DWI will realize his parents do love him as they keep hanging on for him.

On Saturday morning, the Commander Supreme and I drove over to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. We walked the grounds looking for signs of spring’s encroachment. We were not disappointed.

As I attempt to improve my rapidly aging green thumb, I continue to be impressed with helleborus orientalis, you know Lenten roses.

Somehow these perennials survive everything Mother Nature tosses at them—heat, cold, drought, dampness, even an incompetent green thumb.

Lenten roses are survivors on a bleak winter landscape. They are the first to tell us with their pastel blooms—it’s ok, winter is fading, spring is approaching.

No one is immune from being derailed in life. 

When life derails us, there is a very real question asked in 2 Kings 6:33:  “Why should I hope in the Lord any longer?”

In all honesty, I’ve had those points in my life when I have asked the same question.

I’m not sure why, but no matter how frustrated the entanglement of my life with the world becomes,  I will hold on to hope.

Holding on to hope means while I am one, I’m not done.

If a Lenten rose can be a mark of strength, endurance, perseverance, survival and hope why can’t I?

That means making myself available to offer support for anyone whose derailment in life has left them clinging with their last pinkie for hope.

Enjoy your journey into March Madness. I wish your team the best.

But don’t forget in the madness of this world, someone is down to their last pinkie hold.

They need our hope.

Lunch With The Future

image2Late on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 5, I headed home to change into school board meeting attire. I had to be at Hermitage High School for the kick off of Student Government Day. 

Student Government Day is an opportunity for high school seniors across Henrico County to shadow county government and school board employees. This event has been around for 62 years in the county, but this one was to be my first. 

Even though I had read through all of the notes and e-mails outlining how everything is supposed to work, I will admit I was nervous. Nervous about botching something up for the young lady who would be shadowing me as the Tuckahoe District representative on the school board.

I arrived at Hermitage, conversed with people who I knew, and then searched for my student from Douglas Freeman High School. Somehow, I walked to the correct area where the students from Freeman were waiting. 

Name tags were a plus. I found my new school board member. We exchanged greetings, and slowly our nerves relaxed as we started to learn a bit about each other.

Soon, we found our way into the auditorium. That’s when my tired brain botched the first protocol. My shadow had to be seated on stage. So, I found her, walked her on to the stage, and introduced her to Judge Wallerstein, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court. Judge Wallerstein had sworn me in back on October 4. 

We moved to our reserved seats, my shadow with her soon to be sworn in board members, and me with my current board members.

At that point, the program began to move quick. 

A sheriff deputy called everyone to stand just like in a courtroom. The investiture was a combination of timid and confident voices with a few moments of humor. Greetings were brought from the County Manager and the Superintendent of Schools, and then we were dismissed for a reception.

My shadow and I talked a bit more. I made sure she had transportation and that she knew to report to the East End Government Center out on Nine Mile Road. This is where the school board office is located. She confirmed a ride and directions were in place, and with that I departed.

On Wednesday morning, I took the back way over to the school board office. I parked, checked in with the Clerk of the School Board, and headed to a breakfast gathering for everyone who was involved.

It was to be a busy morning and day. 

First, on the agenda was a board meeting where our shadows worked with the Chair of the School Board and the Superintendent on the agenda items for an upcoming work session. Once this was completed, we talked about our roles and responsibilities and responded to questions.

Keeping the schedule, we departed the Superintendent’s conference room, and took our place for a building tour. I think the highlight for the students was the TV production center. Here the staff gave each of them the opportunity to participate in a news cast complete with weather, sports, and school board news. 

From there, we walked into a session where students were working on a special assignment— how social media impacts students. Broken into small groups, these students were formulating ideas that would be presented  after lunch at the mock school board meeting.

This was a brief stay as we were scheduled to attend a mock disciplinary review hearing. 

Without question, this segment generated lots of interest, insights, and questions. After lunch, at the mock school board meeting, the fate of the student who had been recommended for expulsion during the hearing would be decided by the new school board.

At this point, we moved back to the Superintendent’s conference room for a thorough review of the agenda and script for the mock school board meeting. The goal is for these new board members to run the meeting with very little assistance. They were all in with their participation and questions, and this really served as a tool for the new board members to get to know each other better.

Our new board members represented the following high schools:

Virginia Randolph, Highland Springs, Hermitage, Deep Run, and Douglas Freeman.

A review of the agenda and script concluded, and by then lunch had arrived. It was during lunch that the real learning for me took place.

There was an equal exchange of questions and answers from the Superintendent, school board members, and our new board members.

These were sharp students. Their insights were from the heart about their schools, the adults who run them, their classmates, and themselves.

I found it interesting that as seniors they had a sense about why some teachers are exceptional in working with all kinds of students.

 Each student confirmed those exceptional teachers know how to build a constructive working relationship with students. The teachers because of their commitment secure a buy in from the students, and that buy in carries the student and teacher on a pretty successful path.

But, the students were quick to point out, that they also needed structure in their lives in the environment of their schools. To them this meant fair and consistent implementation of school expectations by the administrative teams in each of their schools.

Interestingly, students felt the commitment to build relationships as being a key ingredient for changing both challenging school and community environments.

Hearing the students affirm and confirm some education and life guidelines that are always swirling in my old brain did my heart good. 

As always, time was catching up with us. We needed to be heading over to New Bridge site of the school board meeting. 

They worked out their rides and directions to New Bridge, and soon we were there. The mock school board session was called to order with the pounding of the gavel.

There were a few hiccups, but there are a few hiccups in a real board meeting too.

Soon it was over. Certificates of participation were presented, photos taken, and new friendships positioned to grow.

I left feeling pretty good. 

This diverse group of students gave me a bit of hope. 

My mind kept returning to the lunch conversation. I hope I can pursue the points they articulated.

If we want to change how a school, a community, a county,  a city, a state, a nation, and our world work through any of the challenges in front of us, we must build relationships one person at a time. 

How do we make this happen?

First,  we need to talk to each other. No technology interference—we must talk. 

 Learning to listen without judging is also a key. 

This includes a complete understanding of what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. 

Never forget, there is learning in our stories. But, we can only learn if we are willing to share our stories.

I learned from the hearts of students today. Their stories are worth hearing.

The future of schools, communities, counties, cities, states, and this upside down world are in their stories.

I need to embrace and act upon their young wisdom—even when reluctance consumes me. 

Hesitating isn’t an option.

It is all about building relationships.

Fertile For Conflict by Bill Pike


Our youngest daughter is a graduate of East Carolina University located in Greenville, North Carolina. The school’s mascot is a pirate. As a parent, I can officially say the tuition for our out of state student made me feel like I had been robbed by a band of pirates. But, she did earn her degree, and she was happy.

On our initial drives to Greenville, I was captured by the flatness of the coastal plain in that part of North Carolina. That table top flatness led to clear views of acres  of farmland. 

These drives gave us the opportunity to watch the seasonal transitions for these fields, and I marveled at the dark richness of the soil. Clearly, this soil was very fertile as the planted seeds seemingly always sprouted into lush green fields.

Other travels through the Northern Neck of Virginia, the Delmarva peninsula, the flatlands of northern Indiana and central Illinois, and rolling sections of Pennsylvania along I-81 reveal farms with that same rich, dark fertile soil.

But the robust appearance of these farmlands aren’t immune from conflict. I suppose one of the biggest challenges farmers face is the whims of weather patterns. Additionally, certain pests can impact those plants, and woven into this would be fertilizers and assorted chemicals used to promote growth and reduce pests.

Just like these stunning fields are not immune from conflict, nor are human beings. In fact, at times,  we appear to be fittingly fertile for conflict too.

Families are a proven test ground for conflict. 

On that first scan of the family field everything might appear lush and green, void of any upsetting intrusion. But families, no matter how hard they attempt to project a healthy image are not immune from rattled nerves, stinging words, and bruised egos.

Could be as simple as the name chosen for a new grandchild. I just knew they were going to name that child after me, why didn’t they? I am going to give my niece an earful the first chance I have.

Who is on the wedding guest list? You’re not inviting our friends that we haven’t corresponded with for thirty years, how could you be so inconsiderate? Because of your thoughtless decision, we will not attend the wedding.

Even planning a funeral can be challenging. Who is going to sit by momma during the service? I was her favorite, I think it should be me. Now, wait, a second, I was momma’s favorite. Everyone knows that. You both are wrong, I was the favorite, you will both be sitting on the pew behind us.

And if you really, really want to spice up family gatherings  just bring up the “p” word, you know, I’ll whisper and shrink it— politics.

But, ranked up there in the fertileness of conflict with families is an unassuming, quietly reserved, tranquil place— the church.  Bill, are you kidding me, a church. God’s holy house ripe for conflict, no way, this is absurd. 

Churches are supposed to be about loving, caring, giving, supporting, nurturing, comforting, and the Golden Rule. 

Bill, I’m not buying that a church can be just as fertile for conflict as families. No sir, that is a flawed observation. You are way off target on that one.

Well, I am no great historian, but I’m pretty sure many examples exist that would validate my claim. But put history aside for a minute, and let’s move to present time.

Since my baptism, rightly or wrongly I’ve been a Methodist. Without question, this is not the same world that raised me into who I am today 65 years later. The world has changed.

This week, the United Methodist Church decided to “tighten its ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.”(NY Times)

Yes, churches are fertile for conflict.

I’m sure much will be written and discussed about this decision by experts and non-experts like me. 

The turmoil in this decision has the potential to hurt and impact many people from lots of different angles.

We live in a world loaded with hurts. Sadly, that might be one of our best attributes, intentionally and unintentionally hurting people.

The future of the Methodist church is tangled in that hurt. 

Whether the Methodist church can untangle itself from this hurtful policy remains to be seen. Perhaps, that depends on how fertile we are inside to wrestle with this position.

One question I keep coming back to is this—how am I supposed to love someone that I disagree with on any significant social issue? Maybe my inability to love that person is grounded in fear.

Fear drives lots of decisions. Fear drives emotions. Fear drives the unknown.

I wonder what can we learn from fear? I wonder what we are willing to learn from our fears? From my fears can I learn to love those with whom I disagree?

On Tuesday, February 26, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a column by David Brooks of the New York Times.

I found the column— Social Fabric:  A nation of weavers to be very interesting.

Mr. Brooks also gives speeches a couple of times a week in various parts of America. His topic is about social isolation and social fragmentation. The topic and travel has allowed interaction with all kinds of Americans, and his take away from these encounters is “They share a common thread:  our lack of healthy connection to each other, our inability to see the full dignity of each other, and resulting culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, and strife.”

That shared “common thread” is full of negatives— lack, inability fear, distrust, tribalism, and strife. Sadly, I think these words match pretty well with the United Methodist decision that was made this week. They are in sharp contrast to words that I often associate with a church— loving, caring, giving, supporting, nurturing, comforting, and the Golden Rule.

On my Saturday morning run, I noted at the corner of Beechwood and Westham Parkway the same house empty lot that I pass whenever I take this route. The lot is filled with weeds and an assortment of trees. I note the beech trees on this lot. Beech trees are the last to drop their leaves. 

Today is the second day of March, and the beech leaves colored like sun baked newsprint for whatever reason are stubbornly committed to their DNA—they are not leaving the tree.  

Seems like the United Methodist church has a similar stubborn grip on its past DNA, hanging on no matter how much it will potentially hurt the present and future of the church.

The brand promise of the United Methodist church open hearts, open minds, and open doors isn’t going to work with this week’s decision. But maybe, we have an opportunity to shore up that branding with one faithful word—hope.

I hope Methodist congregations are willing to search and find the fertileness inside our hearts and souls to think deeply about the impact of this decision. 

I hope we are willing to talk, share,  and explore how to convey that we do have open hearts, minds, and doors to those who now think we don’t.

 I hope we are willing to learn and to use our learning to bring about inclusive change. 

I hope we will be risk seekers by understanding silence is not an option. 

And, I hope our discernment will move us to hold these words from Esther 4:14 in our hearts:  Perhaps, this is the moment for which you were created.

Church, there is no perhaps, this is the moment.