Two sisters in their seventies gave me comfort when I was pregnant with my second child who would be born 13 months after my first. I overheard one of them saying that when they were growing up, people always asked their father if they were twins. They were not, but they were not quite a year apart. People would then ask, “So why did you name them Jean and Jane?” Their father would reply, “Didn’t have enough time to think of anything else.” I thought the world of these women and knowing how close they were in age helped me realize my children would be alright.
Another woman also gave me comfort unknowingly. She came to church with her family one Sunday for “Homecoming Sunday” from wherever they had moved. Right in the pew in front of me, they came in one by one – quintuplets! Suddenly, two seemed like no problem at all.
Two people, not related, came to church every Sunday, dragging their portable air canisters with them. In a culture when many let any excuse keep them from worship, these two let nothing stand in their way. Every week, they inspired me.
So much of the impact that community has had on me has been from these type of silent testimonies, through observation.
We are mostly in a different space now. There are some who are worshiping together with precautions and many who are back at work. Still there are many of us who are still limiting our exposure to others. For me, it has meant that I have lost some of the connections and gatherings of community. Yet through this loss, I have discovered that true community can be found online. Through Zoom, I have taken part in several types of gatherings. My favorite is a weekly time of prayer with people spread across Tennessee. Some I knew and others were new to me. With the willingness to be vulnerable before each other and in prayer, I have discovered such depths of wisdom and strength, that I know I am growing in faith and understanding. I thank God for this blessing. I am hopeful that people will continue to find ways to develop community in new and safe ways. Let’s trust that God is doing a new thing right here among us!
I recently read a quote by Barbara Holmes that said, “Goodness is a first principle of the universe. God declares it on the first page of creation.“ That sparks in me the thought that Creating itself is truly a primary characteristic of God. I have heard that our human ability to create is the imprint of God’s image within us. When I combine the two thoughts, I am struck by the realization that we have the ability to create goodness or its opposite. The choice is up to us.
The church I grew up and am ordained in is the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We have often called ourselves a “People of the Book” and “People of the Table”. In more recent years, we adopted an Identity Statement stating, “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one Body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” To make the statement more tangible that year, the leaders of the Tennessee Senior High Church Camp decided that we would construct a table during camp that would include work from all of us while developing the theme of welcoming all as God has welcomed us.
It was a powerful week. At one point, everyone was given two nails. With these two nails we could create something positive or we could take those nails and nail Christ to the cross. I have kept those two nails taped to a piece of paper with that reminder written on it. With whatever gifts we have available to us, we each have the ability to choose what we will create. Will we create situations of loving care or selfish destruction? Will we create paths to help others or leave a mess of obstacles behind us? Will we build tables of welcome or locked-up barriers to needed resources?
May we all choose to create in the Way of God, the Way of Goodness, the Way of Loving Life, the Way of Good News. Amen.
Barbara Holmes as quoted by Richard Rohr on his May 22, 2020 Meditation
One year at a church camp for families, the theme was based on the Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Garden Song.” I didn’t know the song, but parts of it stuck with me: “Inch by Inch, Row by Row, I’m gonna make this garden grow … Inch by Inch, Row by Row, someone bless the seeds I sow.” This is an important reminder for me that none of us automatically knows how to do much of anything. We have to learn how to roll over, sit up, stand, walk, talk. We have to learn manners, the difference between virtues and vice. Yet, so often, as we get older, many of us feel stupid if we don’t know everything. Some assume that those at the top of the class are naturally smart, rather than noticing how much they work to learn the material. We may think that graduating from a graduate school means you know everything you need to practice in your field. Some schools are better than others about offering internships and practicums, but in fields like Law, the rules can change with differing legislatures. You can have a good grasp on what you are doing one day, then find out the laws have changed or the procedures have changed, and it is time to rethink, to start over. A minister can thrive in one congregation and shrivel in another because of the personality of the different congregations. New ways of relating have to be learned. Learning doesn’t take place all at once; learning happens over time and continues to be sharpened as different experiences hone it. Just like a garden is planted, bit by bit, worked in, changed based on what works best, the same is true of our lives.
The same is also true of our spiritual lives. We must cultivate (#hopewriterlife word of the day) what we want to develop. Do you want to be more loving like Christ? Start by planting little seeds of love and tend to them. Do you want to be close to the Life-Giver? Open your heart and mind to let God in. There is a Spiritual Hymn that says, “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus.” The Science of Positivity has embraced beginning your day in gratitude for your blessings and meditating on the good you want to have in your life. Angela Montano, a Spiritual Practitioner, says she wakes each morning and prays in the awareness that she is being held and supported by God’s love that is greater than she can imagine. My grandmother used to tell me I was going to turn into a chocolate cupcake because every time she offered to buy me something from the bakery, that is what I ordered. Likewise, our garden grows by the what we plant in it, how we tend it, what we dream of it being.
Each of us has the possibility to cultivate a deep spiritual life as we offer the love, forgiveness, and welcoming of Christ, inch by inch, row by row. And wouldn’t that truly be a beautiful garden!
Source: LyricFind; Songwriters: David Mallett; Garden Song lyrics © Reservoir Media Management Inc
Connect. Connect the dots? Connect with new people through Meet Up groups? Connect through writing? Connecting in a COVID world? Teachers trying to connect with students virtually? Parents trying to connect with their teen-aged children? So many thoughts race through my head based on the word prompt, CONNECT. I can imagine that many other thoughts and images emerge in yours.
Connection has become a very important concern for churches whose very meaning is the assembly. How can you be the assembly of faith working together, sharing and encouraging each other, having a connection with each other when gathering together may spread an illness which can be fatal? Connection also has added meaning for me in this past year due to moving to a new place with different priorities on my time and great uncertainty of how I would be working in these new circumstances.
My impulse is to jump in and just start doing which is exactly what I did when I moved last year. But, in many ways, the connections I was used to weren’t accessible to me or weren’t practical. It was time to create new ways to connect. The surprising impact of the Corona Virus Quarantine has been that it has opened up some of the new ways I had been looking for. First of all, the Regional Church I’m affiliated with, began weekly prayer gatherings on Zoom. I had been visiting different churches since moving, but didn’t have a church close to where I am living. The zoom prayer gatherings allowed me to get to know people of faith who were supportive and open and uplifting. I was amazed at how connected I felt in this virtual setting. Then I began to worship through Facebook Live with churches from all over, which offered new experiences and connections with diverse groups of people. The Courts began holding hearings using Zoom. It has been a challenge at times, but it has opened the doors for more people to be present for their hearings. I also attended a birthday party on Zoom and have officiated at several weddings which were live-streamed for those unable to be present in person.
These new experiences of connection through the internet have led me to explore the dream of beginning an online ministry to bring people together in a supportive and prayerful community experiencing the living love of God. So far, I’m calling it “Fully United in Living Love – Wherever, Whenever, Whomever” “FULL – WWW.”
This summer has brought challenges with our phone service and internet service. This morning, we started with another internet service, which I am hoping will work out so that I can stay connected and launch this ministry. I continue to appreciate your prayers and support. Connection is so important! Thank you and blessings in your connection with God and others!
The third C word from HopeWritersLife to inspire writing is COURAGE. The first story that came to my mind was about a course I took in college called the Sociology of Deviance. The course taught me a lot that is relevant for current events, such as studying restorative justice as opposed to punitive justice. I especially remember the psychology experiment where students were randomly assigned roles of prisoners or guards. The longer they acted out the roles, the more they developed the mentalities associated with those roles. What brought the course to mind, however, was the assignment we were given to do something deviant ourselves and write a paper about our experience. I had the hardest time even thinking about what to do. I finally decided to open an umbrella in an elevator. My professor was not impressed, yet little did she realize how much courage it took for me, a “little Southern girl” to break the rules of umbrella etiquette.
But there have been times when I have mustered up the courage to move out of my comfort zones. One of those was heading off to college in New England which had been all-male up until a few years earlier, despite advise from my high school teachers not to go there. My next academic choice was to attend Divinity School where I was told almost weekly that women could not be ministers. Law School was my mother’s dream for me, but I met with the same kind of discouragement. One attorney I know told me to pursue being a legal secretary. Some male students expressed the opinion that all female attorneys and law students were ugly women with grudges. Still I pursued these goals. I dreamed of my Ordination the way some people dream of their wedding day.
After Ordination, I still faced the rejection of churches. “We like you, but we don’t think we are ready for a woman minister.” Then I received a call to be senior minister of a wonderful little church in my area. On my first Sunday to lead, I remember so well the near panic that came over me. This wasn’t guest preaching! This wasn’t student preaching or youth Sunday! These people were counting on me to lead them spiritually. How could I go up there?! Suddenly, the words that I had heard when I was struggling with the Call to Ministry came to me again: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
How often have I called upon that grace! I am only too aware of my faults and the messiness of my life. And how often have I seen that grace at work! Somehow, through my imperfect self, the love and acceptance of Christ has shown through. One Sunday, I realized that God works in ways through us that transcend us. A woman who had suffered through much abuse from others and from her own self joined the church. She would say over and over again how she never planned to go to a church, but she came and I said something that spoke to her. Only no one else, including me, remembers me saying it!
What gives me courage? The love and grace of God that can do so much more than we can ever imagine. Others may criticize or discourage or discount us, but God sees our potential and multiplies what we offer. Take Heart! Have Courage! Do not be afraid! How many times can you find these words in the Bible? When you discover how many, let it sink in, and step out in faith and courage. God bless you!
Does the word “craft” give you feelings of excitement or does it make you want to cringe?
I’m in the second category. I would go to summer camp and bring home my craft creations and my siblings could hardly stand up because of laughing so hard. Girl Scouts, school, art classes – oh my! I can visualize the end product but the hands don’t seem to be able to produce anything close to what I envision. Cooking, sewing, mechanics, gardening … it all seems to have that same downfall of having to use my hands.
However, I have a daughter who can do all these things. I am in awe of what she can create with her hands. Her latest project was taking the carpet off the stairs, sanding, painting, caulking, and sealing the stairs. The transformation is amazing.
Does her ability to create beauty while I struggle with it mean that I should compare myself to her? Or to any of my friends who love to cook, quilt, sew, garden, and when they do, have so much to show for it? It can be tempting, but it would just lead to me feeling worthless. I am so proud of my daughter’s abilities, but I could never do the same. Rather, I need to look for what I can do. How can I bring good into the world? How can I encourage others? Possibly, I am thinking of craft too narrowly. Hope Writers asks: “What moments are you crafting?” “Are you crafting relationships? “What is it like to make something with care?” These questions help me to remember that using whatever ability you or I have can create ways to share love, offer hope, give encouragement and care. We each have all we need to craft a difference for good.
Hey, it’s time for crafts! Won’t you join in?
I have internet again! It isn’t working anywhere close to the speed or with the consistency that I was assured it would when we switched to Earthlink, which is frustrating and which means I am spending too much time still talking to Tech people, but at least, I can actually get back to this page to write.
And, lo and behold as I made that decision, #Hope Writers sent out a weekly challenge of various C words to spur creativity and action. I am already a day behind, but I am beginning to catch up on some much needed work which will,hopefully, include this challenge.
The word for Day 1 was #Collaboration. My life has been and continues to be so enhanced by collaborating with others, that I am looking forward to seeing where this goes. For me, it is fun to see how an idea starts, then begins to grow and take shape as people catch the spark. I think this may be one of the reasons I enjoy planning for Vacation Bible Schools and church camps. The finished event brings forth community as accomplishment in meeting a purpose.
One story rose to the forefront as I was pondering collaboration. Many years ago, I was part of an ecumenical clergy group which had the oversight of an agency that provided emergency food, clothes, and aid when needed in our area. It was a wonderful benefit for us as clergy as it made sure someone was there for those in need who could focus on the person and the help needed. We simply had to contribute some of our outreach money and meet monthly as clergy.
During our monthly meetings, we would keep up with how each one was doing and we would pray together. I thoroughly enjoyed these meetings and I would leave feel re-energized. Yet, I noticed that there was an air of discouragement around our collaborative agency. The Presidents of our group seemed to want to cut back our services, our times that we were open, and so on, apparently moving toward complete closure.
Then they made the mistake of making me the new president of the clergy group. (Can you see the mischievous grin on my face?) I was determined that we would not shut this important ministry or let it wither away, but I certainly couldn’t do what was needed on my own. I prayed. I had the group pray and my congregation pray. I suggested a few new names to the nominating committee as did some of the others. This new team met, and the sparks became a fire for good. Ideas for fundraisers which would include the community, not just the churches, were generated along with people willing to take on responsibility. That little fire was stoked even greater as the team went out into the community and drew in help from local businesses. Next, they contacted the mayors of the two cities in our area, who threw their support in. The flames were blazing.
By the time I left that congregation, our little church agency, housed in an old trailer, barely holding it together, had been given a new building on new property. The doors were open every day and budget and job counseling were added to the services offered. An annual race and an annual golf tournament blessed by the community and mayors were firmly in place. It was a miracle that happened right before my very eyes. It just took some collaboration between interested people and a God who cares and loves to bless our working together for others. Let’s work together. Great things are possible!
Remember that you are not alone. Good is coming; God is here.