Sunday, August 31, 2014

Following the Difficult Way of Jesus...


There was a man called Jesus of Nazareth…the one whom his followers
came to call Christ. His life was one of living out what he believed the
nature of God was…and it was in him    that his disciples, his followers,
came to understand what it meant to live in close relationship with God,
to BE God’s people in all their living, in all their actions, in  all their
speaking, in all their relationships with others. And what he showed to
them- and to us, all these centuries later- was that God is a God of love
and justice and inclusion and compassion and forgiveness…in spite of
what they and we might hear to the contrary.

Early in Jesus’ ministry, he boldly proclaimed his revolutionary vision of
the Kingdom of God in a synagogue in his hometown on the Sabbath, and
the religious authorities surrounding him stood amazed at his teaching.
He stood up to read, and someone handed him a scroll of the prophet
Isaiah, from which he read these defining words:

         The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
         because he has anointed me
         to proclaim good news to the poor.
         God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
         and recovery of sight for the blind,
         to set the oppressed free,
         to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In other words, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in
heaven.

This was a proclamation of justice for the poor, the blind, and the
prisoner, fulfilling a kingdom vision that not only included but was
focused on “the least of these”. A kingdom vision that even his closest
disciples did not fully understand at the time. A kingdom vision in
which we are each and all called to be a part of creating.
 
And as a result of his vision, of his understanding of what the reign of
God was to look like, Jesus was rejected. There was confusion. There was
anger. The religious leaders listening to Jesus got angry. After all, this
was not the way they heard or understood the Law, the voice of God
speaking to them. Their initial curiosity turned to apprehension, to fear.
This was NOT how it was supposed to be…so an angry mob chased him
out of town, threatening to run him off a cliff for his heresy.
 
But we wouldn’t do that, we think. We wouldn’t get so upset at the
message of Jesus. Yet I’m here to tell you that we DO…get upset, I
mean, when the gospel message runs counter to what we are
comfortable with. You see, the Good News Jesus was bringing, the
message of God he was sharing, called for justice for ALL PEOPLE…and
if we’re honest, biblical justice can often make us more than a little bit
ill-at-ease. After all, it doesn’t seem to really make sense, from our
human perspective: The last shall be first. The weak will become strong.
The poor will become rich. It is a vision of paradoxes.

But how can you read the scriptures, how can we examine the life and
ministry of Jesus the Christ, and NOT hear…see…sense that mercy,
justice, compassion, especially for the marginalized, are not dear to the
heart of God? Are not part of the Kingdom-Vision?

For Jesus’ God- the image of God he showed and lived- justice was not
peripheral…it was not just a nice idea…it was critical, central…and it is
to be a part of our identities as disciples of the one who came to show
the way to relationship with God and with one another.
 
Yesterday, when I was working on my sermon, my son dropped by. We
chatted for a bit, as I asked him about his week and he asked about mine.
And then I found myself telling him that I was a bit stuck on the sermon
because I feel like I am preaching the same thing over and over again.
“The congregation must feel like they’re listening to a broken record,”
I lamented. “I keep saying the same thing week after week- or at least,
that’s what it feels like.”
 
“But, Mom, that’s what you need to do,” my son responded. “People
NEED to hear the same message again and again. You know, that’s how
it is with AA. We go over the same things over and over again. That’s the
way they become part of us. And that’s what people go to church for, I
think- to hear what it means to live as a Christian, to hear what it means
to be the people of God. Just keep preaching it.” And this from a young
man who, until about 20 months ago had not darkened the door of a
church in more than 15 years, except for family funerals!

So, I’m preaching “IT”…the message of Jesus the Christ as I hear it…
calling us to LIVE fully as people of God…calling us to live inclusively as
people of God…calling us to care for the least of these because they, too,
are children of God…even when that living is difficult. Even when that
living costs us everything!

What we all-too-often forget is that many people of his day and time,
including some of his own family, thought Jesus was crazy. They didn’t
want to hear his message because it challenged some of their own
dearly-held beliefs…because it set the status quo on its ear… because it
meant re-thinking who and how they were in their own relationships to
God and neighbor…and enemy.

Being a disciple, a follower, of Jesus the Christ, is filled with choices and
decisions- and most of them are neither easy nor simple. There are
times when our beliefs- the ones to which we hear the voice of Jesus
calling us- bring us into conflict with those around us- the call to love our
enemies, for example, when our next-door neighbor’s son is serving in
Afghanistan; being willing to work toward solutions with people having
a different perspective on an issue, even as people on our “side” see us
as betraying them and what they stand for; being willing to let go of
being “right” in service of accomplishing good in our neighborhoods or in
our cities. There is a price to pay for defying the mandates of our culture,
and it can feel like a very steep price, indeed.

Look around you at the world right now. In the town of Rotherham,
England, people keeping quiet and doing nothing over a period of more
than sixteen years has resulted in the sexual abuse of more than 1400
young people, some as young as 10. Apparently, authorities didn’t
believe- or didn’t want to believe- that this was going on in their “nice”
little town, and so hundreds of children have been irrevocably damaged…

Or look at the town of Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting death of
Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, has resulted in battle lines
being drawn in the sand, instead of a united community looking
together for a solution to the institutionalized racism which is still so
abundantly present throughout these United States, at the attitudes
which make being a black man in our society so difficult.

Or look at the state of our own state as big business and the legislature
are uniting to push through legislation permitting Fracking- in spite of all
the environmental evidence which has shown and continues to show
that this practice will threaten the very water we drink. And all the while
there are those who continue to deny that climate change IS happening
and is being hastened by the very creatures who demand that this world
is ours and its resources should be at our unlimited disposal.

Yes, indeed, following God is difficult. Jesus never promised it would be
easy- indeed, he referred to a cross, to the giving up of one’s life. We’re
almost always overwhelmed by the demands of discipleship and so, are
tempted to turn away…to keep silent…to look in the other direction. We
convince ourselves that OUR voices, OUR actions, make little difference
in the overall scheme of things. But if we stop pursuing justice, peace,
inclusion, and wholeness, then we become supporters of the very things
we say we oppose. DO YOU HEAR THOSE WORDS? If we stop working
to bring in the kingdom of God- stop working for justice and peace and
inclusion, then we are actually working FOR those who work
against those things!

Jesus invites you and me to be disciples, to take him up on the offer of
selfless living. It’s a risky invitation to accept because it means
continually living in the tension of hearing ourselves make the confession,
“You are the Messiah!” one minute and cowering in the corner, saying
“I do not know him,” in the next. But, you see, there is also a price for
staying where we are…and that price is losing the opportunity for a real,
lasting, meaningful relationship with the One who Loves, with the One
who Forgives, with the One who accepts us just as we are. For it is only
in being willing to give up what has been and moving into what is now in
Christ that we will really, truly, fully live. And that’s the truth.

                                                  Thanks be to God. Amen
                                        
                       
 

Fifty Years...and Counting...

He would have been fifty today, my eldest, but instead...

It was August 31, 1964 and I was in labor at the base hospital
at Aberdeen Proving Grounds where my husband was stationed.
Those were the days when husbands were relegated to the waiting
room- or in our case- sent home to wait for a call to announce the
birth of their child. "This is a first baby and your wife has a long
time to go until delivery," the nurse told him- and me. "Might as
well go home. We'll call you," and I was left to labor alone,
totally alone. Such was maternity in an Army hospital in 1964.

About 8 hours later, I was holding our son in my arms, tears
streaming down my face. I thought he was the most beautiful
being I had ever seen and I hated to give him up to the nurse,
while I waited for my episiotomy to be sutures and for the
saddle block anesthesia to begin to wear off. When Carl showed
up an hour later, I was both drowsy and anxious, as this
hospital was not set up for rooming in and I desperately wanted
wanted to breastfeed our new son. But one look at his proud,
handsome face and I was saying, "We need to name him Carl
Allen, Junior." And this from someone who had always insisted
that I would never have a "Junior". But it just seemed right,
somehow.

He was, from the beginning, a people person, hating to be
anywhere alone. And he didn't sleep much, preferring to be
awake and alert, his always-curious eyes taking in all within
their scope of vision. Though speech was late in developing,
his physical abilities were not, with Carl Allen able to dribble a
ball and run and throw by the age of two. Of course, once he
did talk, there was no stopping him and questions flowed from
him like water from a mountain spring... or gusher, perhaps.
Mischievous? Oh, yes. Good at getting into trouble? Most
certainly. Intelligent? Without a doubt. A challenge and a
delight? Always.

The death of his dad was a life-altering blow for him, as it was
for his younger sister and brother, Hope and Mark. This was
just not supposed to happen to the strong, vital, athletic man
whom their father had been. But leukemia had the first and last
word, and all of our lives were forever changed on that October
day in 1975. And from that day, without ever saying it, Carl
took upon himself the role of "man of the house", always and
ever determined to protect us all, an impossible task for a boy
of eleven. But how he tried.

Fast-forward to Florida, where he began to scuba dive. He
graduated from high school, and received an appointment to the
Air Force Academy, where he discovered- much to his chagrin
and disappointment and disillusionment- that military life was
not at all what he had expected and the compromise of his own
personal principles to the school Honor Code was more than
he could bear. A couple of years at Clemson followed, with a
return to Florida, where he began diving in earnest, finding
within the ocean's depths the same wondrous challenge and
freedom he had hoped to find in space. And it was while
pursuing this great passion that he died in a diving accident in
a Cenote in the Yucatan in Mexico, less than three months
before his wedding to his fiancé and diving shop partner,
Shannon.

To say I miss him does not begin to express the hole, the
empty space, his absence has left in my life, in my heart.
And yet, each time I have embarked on something which,
for me, is daring or outside the box, like traveling to East
Africa or making the canopy walk in a park in Ghana or
writing and publishing my books, I can hear his voice,
encouraging me, urging me on. "Yes, Mom, you CAN do it!"

And so today, on this anniversary of the fiftieth year of his
birth, I say to my firstborn, "I loved you then; I love you still.
I am so glad you were a part of my life, of all our lives. And
wherever you are, I can see you soaring through the farthest
reaches of space, relishing every moment and laughing your
own inimitable 'Carl' laugh." And who knows? Perhaps your
dad and your grandpa are with you.




 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Real" Mail...Really


The mailman has come and gone and it was the usual-usual: two
catalogs, one request for a donation, two advertisements, and two
bills. I used to love to get mail- when there really was such a thing
as MAIL...when people used that handy-dandy but increasingly-
unfamiliar little item known as a pen to actually put words on
paper as a method of communicating with those they love.

To illustrate how foreign a concept this has become, especially
to the younger generations: a few weeks back I had gone to a
local coffee shop with my notebook (the old, familiar paper type)
and my "notebook" computer to do some sermon research. As
I sat at a table enjoying my coffee and reading the various sites,
I was also taking notes in my paper notebook with a pen, notes
which I would later use to assist with sermon preparation. A
young woman had asked if she could share my table, as the
place was quite crowded and she had opened her computer and
was typing busily, apparently doing some work for a class. In
the midst of my work, a young male friend of hers stopped by
the table to chat and suddenly he exclaimed, "Oh, my God!
You're writing!"  I nodded, unsure of what my response should
be, when he went on, speaking to my tablemate, "Did you see
her handwriting? It's amazing! Like calligraphy or something."
And these two college-age young people oohed and aahed
over what I considered to be my note-taking scribble.

It was funny at the time- and still is, truth be told- but it is
also sadly indicative of the times. I have only two friends who
have refused to become "computerized", which means any
correspondence with them necessitates using the phone or
writing a note and sending it snail-mail. And I have to
acknowledge that I, too- the card-sender-extraordinaire-
have slipped into the all-too-easy habit of communicating
via email or texting or messaging.

How sad. I used to love to open my mail- my "real" mail-
which would arrive with some regularity, as friends and
family from near and far helped to maintain the fragile
but beautiful bonds which link us, But now postage stamps
are more expensive and writing takes time and...oh, my,
the excuses we can find are myriad, aren't they? But
perhaps if I take the time to write, the recipient will respond
in kind... and some "real" mail will come through the slot
in my front door one of these days...perhaps. After all, it
has to start somewhere, so why not with me? 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Life is a Mixed Bag...


Life is truly a mixed bag. Today's weather couldn't be more perfect if
I had put in a special order: brilliant sunshine, moderate
temperatures, a lovely breeze, all topped off by Carolina blue skies.
Absolutely heavenly! Sublime! It was a day of running errands, and I
have been enjoying every minute of it, even reminding myself to be
gentle with the occasional tooth-gritting driver...(gentle to myself,
that is, and it's my teeth that are gritting) by just letting it all go and
accepting what I cannot change. It's called Serenity. Right now, I am
readying the little toaster oven to heat up one of the dishes I cooked
last week, preparing for a lovely meal on the screened porch where
the wind chimes will serenade me while I eat.

But in the midst of all this wonder and beauty and pleasure, I have
been carrying in my awareness, in my heart, the faces of three high
school classmates who are dealing with major health issues right
now. I had known a little about the three different situations, but a
phone conversation last evening with a dear friend in my home
town brought it fully into my headspace...my heart space...and I
have been holding all three close all day, recalling their dear
faces from those long-ago years at Central High School.

Oh, I know- we are no longer young...we cannot expect that we
will get through these "golden years" without some decline in the
level of our health. But it is especially hard to know that someone
who was an important part of those teen years is suffering, is
walking through a dark and long and lonely valley, and you can do
nothing about it. In fact, the reality of their situations serves to make
one thing abundantly clear...no, two things, actually: I have far
fewer days ahead of me than are behind me and so, it is vitally
important to live each one of the days ahead as fully and richly as
possible...to cherish the little things, like the sound of wind chimes
on the front porch or the feel of a late-summer breeze on my face
or the taste of a good, home-cooked meal on my tongue.

None of us knows just how many days we have ahead of us. None
of us knows what is in store for us in those days. So we can only
hold today in our hands, regarding it as a precious gift, and enjoying
it to the full. We can only hold the people we treasure close in
heart and tell them often how much they mean to us. We can only
squeeze every precious drop of life from every precious moment
and savor it like fine wine or a delicious dessert. That way, when
we reach the end of our days, we can look back without regret,
knowing that we have had a  life well-lived.

Judy, Joanne, Bessie, I love you and cherish you and send love
and light and hope and strength to you. Know that I am walking
with you, even from far away. And I hope you smile often, as I do,
remembering those long-ago, innocent days when we were young
and it seemed as if life would go on forever.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Out of the Ordinary...

Life has been very ordinary lately...nothing exciting, nothing to pull
me out of my everyday patterns...nothing to astound or astonish...
just the same-old, same-old.
And yet...when leaving for the medical center early the other morning
to be with a parishioner prior to her surgery, I saw the palest white
sliver of the new moon shining in the eastern sky.
And yet...I received photos from my dear friends in Rwanda, taken at
their graduation from their Master's program at the University in
Kigali, along with loving words of thanks for the small (my word,
not theirs) part I had played in this wonderful accomplishment.
And yet...I talked with two hard-working painters at our church,
both doing a lovely job of painting the sanctuary, obviously proud
of their work and taking special care with it, admiring our centuries-
old building.
And yet...I received two puzzles in the mail from my sister- jigsaw
puzzles to "feed" my newly-reacquired appetite for them.
And yet- I spent a full morning cooking, the kitchen and pots and
pans my artist's palette.
And yet...I received a big, warm, healing hug from my youngest
son when he stopped by last evening, to find me nursing a dreadful
headache which had lingered for most of the day.
And yet- I slept for twelve hours last night, due to the headache,
Only to awaken this morning feeling not only rested but fully alert
and incredibly grateful that the pain which had brought on such
nausea and discomfort was completely and totally gone.

How easy it is to take for granted all of the many beautiful elements
which make up everyday life. How easy it is to see life- ordinary life-
through lens clouded by the inability or unwillingness to see the
giftedness which surrounds us every minute of every day. How easy
it is to forget to breathe a frequent and heart-felt "thank you" to the
One Who Loves, who creates and enlivens and fills us with strength
and courage and energy for these lives we are leading. Ordinary life?
I think not. For every moment of living is an extraordinary gift and
opportunity. And only I can choose to use it wisely and well or to
let it slip through my fingers, forgetting that once it is past, it never
comes again. And so, this day- this beautiful, sunshiny, glorious
August day, I offer thanks for my very ordinary, extraordinary life.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I'm Only One...What Can I Do?

Sometimes, perhaps even often, we go along in life, oblivious to
what is going on in the world around us, the real world, inhabited
by people whose experience is totally unlike our own...people who
we meet on the street or encounter at the store, without ever
knowing- or usually, even wanting to know- anything about them,
about who they really are and what their life is really like. But, then,
at other times, life hits us between the eyes, opening them- and
our hearts- wide...wide enough to let in the awareness that our
own way of living and seeing and understanding is simply not
enough.

This is how I felt on Saturday evening last, when I attended the
Stand for Freedom gala sponsored by World Relief of High Point,
NC- the place where I live and have lived for the past twelve years.
The topic was human trafficking, something I have been hearing
about for some time but about which I felt woefully uninformed.
I had heard about this event from a friend and made the decision
to go, even if I had to go alone- which I intimately did. Of course,
"alone" is a relative concept, as there were more than 400 people
in attendance.

Lovely hors d'oeuvres were being served at stations all over the
huge loft space and education and information "spots" provided
both verbal and printed information about the issue. But the
highlight of the evening- after delightful music by Hayden and Lee,
bluegrass artists- was the speaker, Chong Kim. A tiny dynamo of
a woman, Ms. Kim was a survivor of human trafficking, having
been taken captive by a man she thought was her boyfriend when
she was 19 years old and was subsequently trafficked throughout
the U.S. until she finally found the courage to run away in her
mid-20s. Though her story was filled with many horrors, she
expressed herself with amazing courage and humor, making it
clear that she operates, not from the stance of victim, but from the
strong position of survivor and advocate for those who are still
victims. She is dedicated to raising awareness and empowering and
giving voice to the voiceless and powerless by sharing her own
story. And she has written a book which will soon be released,
entitled Broken Silence.


So, what did I learn that opened my eyes and mind and heart?

The official definition of human trafficking by the United Nations
Office on Drugs & Crime says, to be considered trafficking, it
requires:
    an act such as recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring,
or receipt of persons; a means such as force, fraud, coercion,
or abuse of power; and a purpose of exploitation.
  • North Carolina is ranked as a top ten state for human trafficking.
  • Charlotte ranks as the 6th city in the U.S. for human trafficking.
  • Over 1700 girls are trafficked in N.C. each year, as young as 12.
  • Trafficking is about exploitation and coercion.
  • There is both sexual and labor trafficking.
  • Trafficking is driven by consumerism...supply and demand.
  • Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry!
  • Human trafficking is not the same as human smuggling.
  • Many people know their traffickers.
  • Children are trafficked for both sexual and labor purposes.
  • There are an estimated 29.8 million slaves in the world.
  • 1 out of 5 work-related deaths on farms are children.
  • The traffickers work through fear, control, and coercion.
Victims of human trafficking may look like many of the people
you are around every day. But be aware of the following clues
that something may be very wrong:
  • Accompanied by a controlling person or boss
  • Lack of control over personal schedule, money, ID
  • Transported to and from work
  • Lives and works in the same place
  • Bruises, depression, fear, overly submissive
  • Not speaking on one's own behalf and/or non-English speaking
  • No passport of other form of identification
  • Debt owed to employer/crew leader; inability to leave job
So what can you/I do? If you think someone is a victim of human
trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource
Center, 1.888.3737.888. Educate yourself by going to the site,
www.act.hhs.gov.trafficking or, in the Triad, access the World
Relief site, www.worldrelief.org/highpoint

World Relief High Point is collaborating with other organizations to
meet the immediate needs of victims, including safe shelter, food,
clothing, and medical care. After these immediate needs are met,
World Relief partners with the client to empower them on their
way toward healing and restoration, which may often include
counseling, job training, housing employment, education, spiritual
support, and building healthy relationships. All of this takes both
money and volunteers- which is where all of us come in. If this
issue speaks to your heart, if you experience a deep concern for
these fellow human beings who have been, in a very real way,
enslaved in our country which so touts its image as "Land of the
Free", then why not contact World Relief High Point? The address
is 155 Northpoint Ave. Suite 102 and the phone is 336.887.9007.
I'm certain they will welcome your contribution, however small,
and whatever form it takes. It's the least we can do for "the least
of these, our sisters and brothers."




Monday, August 4, 2014

In A Sacred Kitchen...











I spent the morning on one of my favorite activities: cooking. Are 
those groans I hear from some of you? Sorry, but I find cooking to 
be a holy activity, especially when I am cooking to share. And for 
the past several weeks, I have been cooking to share with my son. 
Though he likes to cook- and is very good at it- his present job 
with a commercial roofer means he is working very long hours, 
leaving little time for food preparation. And so he asked that, if 
he gave me money for shopping, would I be willing to cook things 
he could easily reheat for lunch or dinner. And I said yes, happily.

The results have been gratifying, as I am cooking enough for both 
of us, as well as trying new recipes. Today, there was Cuban pork 
roast (still in the crock pot), Italian turkey steaks, chicken 
enchilada casserole, and hash brown and sausage bake, the last 
three nicely cooling on my kitchen table in anticipation of Paul 
coming to pick them up after work. I have, over the past weeks,
made chili, ratatouille, a carmelized onion tart, crock pot chicken
and mushrooms, and baked spagetti. 

Cooking has long been a joy, but several years ago, I came upon 
an article which talked about having a sacred kitchen. I was struck 
by the beauty of both the thoughts and the words, so I pass them 
along to you today. I wish I could give proper attribution, but I have 
no recollection of their source and so can only send them along with 
blessings to you, in the hope that they will imbue your own cooking 
with a sense of divine presence and power.

Ask God to fill the food you are preparing with a holy energy to heal everyone 
you are feeding. Cook only after you have released tension and negative 
feelings. Cooking is not just another "chore" but is food alchemy, a sacred 
creative act. Remember- as you cook, you are creating a miracle.

To infuse food with love and healing energy:
  • Ritually wash and bless your hands.
  • Calm your mind with three deep breaths.
  • Utter a simple personal prayer to sign yourself with the Holy.
  • Ask for peace of mind and heart.
  • Say aloud, "Lord, I affirm my holiness as I prepare this meal."
  • Play soothing music as you cook.
  • Visualize healing energy flowing through your hands.
  • Maintain a prayerful attitude throughout the cooking process.
Nothing magical...only an incarnated holiness brought into full
awareness by your participation in something beautiful and creative, 
nurturing and nourishing for those you love. Can there possibly be 
a better gift- for all of you? Peace and joy this day, and may all your
cooking be filled with an awareness of the presence of the Divine.