O God, We Grieve the Hatred

Christchurch Mosque, New Zealand

O God, We Grieve the Hatred

O God, we grieve the hatred, the ugly, racist fear

that hurts our common living and harms those you hold dear.

For Muslims who were gathered to worship and to pray

soon found their lives were shattered as violence filled their day.

 

We pray for those now grieving for loved ones who are lost;

we pray for people suffering because of hatred’s cost.

For all of us, now frightened by what extremists do,

we pray: O God of mercy! May we find strength in you!

 

We grieve our lack of courage; we tolerate the wrong

of people who are racist; we simply go along.

We let the fear continue; we’re slow to challenge hate.

We say, “It’s not our issue,” until it is too late.

 

O God of love and mercy, you teach us how to be

a loving, caring people, a kind community.

May we reach out to neighbors and welcome others here

for love is what is needed to cast out pride and fear.

Copyright 2019 Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

Email: carolynshymns@gmail.com

www.carolynshymns.com

The above hymn is sung to Aurelia (Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1864). Aurelia is the tune to which we sing, “The Church’s One Foundation”. “O God, We Grieve the Hatred” was completed on Saturday after the New Zealand Mosque attacks on Friday. Singing this hymn as the opening hymn  on this past Sunday at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Winston Salem, NC gave a clear context to our worship. Because it is Lent the service began with the Decalogue, a recitation of the 10 Commandments. As we came to “You shall not commit murder.” our rector, Ginny Wilder walked over to the bell which calls us to worship and rang it once for each of the 50 victims of the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. As she rang the bell she said their names and for many how old they were. In those stark moments as the bell rang over and over, the victims of one person’s hatred became my neighbors. The 8,000 miles between us dissolved.

“We grieve our lack of courage, we tolerate the wrong…” There was nowhere to hide as I felt the full weight of my own complicity in not challenging hate when I hear or see it.   My cheeks turn red when I think of the instances when I have listened to someone “rant” about Muslims, or gays, or immigrants and not spoken up. We all know how hard it is to confront hatred. Yet that is what Jesus did over and over again in the gospels. With love and truth; by example and using stories, Jesus showed us how the “other” is our brother and our sister.

It’s hard for me “in the moment,” to come up with the examples and stories that might counter such hate. I want to have my own “parables” ready to speak. I think about the young Hispanic woman I met recently when I had surgery to have my knee replaced. As a nursing assistant she was helping me one day when she mentioned that her grandmother lived in Guatemala.  There wasn’t time to talk more that day, but on another day when she was working in the kitchen and brought me my tray we had a longer conversation. In the late 80’s, the church where I was the rector, took several short term mission trips to Guatemala City to work at an orphanage called Agua Viva. Mentioning that, I saw her face light up.” Oh,” she said, “my grandmother lives in Guatemala City and she used to work for Agua Viva, doing laundry!” This connection led to her own  story. She had come to the US with her mother to live in California. Her life was full of ups and downs – graduating from high school, a husband, three children, and then a divorce and as a single mom moving across the country to live in the northeast near family. There she met a woman who invited her to church; they became good friends. Her children became involved in serving at the church. “I never had to ‘make’ them go to church. They laid out their clothes the night before and were always ready when their ride came.” She trained as a nursing assistant and worked as many jobs as necessary to provide for her children. In 2015 she applied for legal status and got it just before the 2016 election. Her two oldest children did well in school and qualified for academic scholarships to colleges from which they graduated. Her youngest, who is in high school, moved south with her to escape the long winters. She is now working two jobs and as many hours as she can to make sure she can send her third child to college.  Of the many things that impressed me about this woman, it was her joy. She was the bright spot of that part of my recovery.

I want her “parable”, her amazing story to be a part of the way that I “challenge hate” and so I pray: “O God of mercy, may I find strength in you!”

Gliding Through the Galaxy

Gliding through the galaxy is what my life has felt like over the past several months. Not having posted anything on this blog since last August, means that there is a lot of activity in my “galaxy” that feels like something of a blur. Actually, I like the word “blur” because it “softens” the edges of this part of this time. Not all of the edges of the past months have been softened. In October a wonderful friend, mentor, and surrogate mother died. I first met Margaret Peery Gose Peterson when I was a supply priest at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, NC. I was working full time as an Oncology nurse at Rex Hospital after 7 years of ministry had left me feeling empty. Another story for another blog is the way that Holy Trinity “loved” me back into my call as a priest. After doing part-time work for their rector, the Rev. Ron Abrams, I was hired to be the Associate Priest at Holy Trinity.

Margaret PetersonMargaret Peterson – June 8, 1921 – October 28, 2018

Margaret and I simply fell in love with each other. I experienced her love as grace: undeserved but unconditional. Margaret was born in Lynchburg, VA. Her father was George Benoni Gose. Her mother, who wrote beautiful poetry, was Henrietta Peery Gose. The Gose family home was in Tazewell, VA. Tazewell is a mere 33 miles from my paternal ancestor’s home, Honaker, VA.  Somehow we always believed that we were related!

Loving the mountains of NC and VA was a part of what bound us together. Margaret’s father was a part of the administration at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, VA. With a strong military cadet program, VT did not admit women until the 1920’s.  In 1942 Margaret graduated from VT with a bachelor’s degree in business. Margaret loved life on the VT campus, often waking to the sound of the bugle summoning the cadets to their morning exercise. Graduating from VT Margaret set off for New York City. It must have been hard for her parents to send their petite and beautiful daughter off to NYC. There were some relatives nearby in New Jersey and Margaret often visited at their home, but soon became busy with her own exciting life. Of the several jobs she held there, her favorite was working with the National Board of the YWCA where she was the Assistant to the Director of Religious Resources. One of Margaret’s favorite stories was of meeting Eleanor Roosevelt when she came to visit the headquarters of the YWCA. During that time in NYC, Margaret met and married Don Peterson. Don died in 1982. His beautiful voice was a rich part of the history at Holy Trinity. He sang often for weddings, funerals and other special occasions. Don and Margaret were a part of the early foundational history of Holy Trinity. It was a community of friends, who were raising children and working. Along with their two daughters, Sharon and Kristin, Don and Margaret fostered 19 babies until their adoption.

Margaret was a writer. She wrote letters and they were her “reflections” on life, love, theology and myriads of other topics that held Margaret’s interest. Margaret’s daughters received a letter from her each Sunday. Sharon who lives near St. Louis, has decades of those letters. Kris lived close to Margaret but remembers her mom’s letters from college. When I left Holy Trinity in 1999 to go to Albuquerque, NM, Margaret began writing me each Sunday, a commitment that continued over the next 12 years. Margaret grounded me in so many ways. Both of my parents died while I was at Holy Trinity. North Carolina had always been home in my heart and now because of deep friendships and Margaret’s love, Fayetteville became another “homeplace” for me in my native state.

Never one to keep her thoughts inside a box bounded by traditional convention, Margaret wasn’t afraid to ask questions. I loved pondering the “why’s” with Margaret. When Holy Trinity began offering a United Methodist program called, Disciple, Margaret signed up. A lifetime of studying scripture in Bible studies was never enough for Margaret’s inquisitive mind. That first class was such a wide range of ages and perspectives: young Army spouses joined young professionals in the Fayetteville community, retired persons from all walks of life, some like Margaret, who were widows and widowers. Meeting weekly, this rich mix of people broadened my view of scripture with a new depth of understanding. Sometimes a question from Margaret was met with feigned groans from others who knew that we were now in “uncharted waters”!  Her questions during that 2 years of Disciple challenged us to look behind and under the obvious and traditional meanings in front of us. I treasure that time with her.

I was grateful at Margaret’s death that her brilliant mind was released from the bonds of dementia that she had suffered over the last 5-6 years of her life. In my mind I see her now, with Don at her side, questioning the angels about theological nuances and reminiscing with the Gose and Peery families about lovely and lively family gatherings. Margaret’s life has been woven into my own journey. With light and texture and depth she has given me the richest gifts.

 

 

Swimming in Wilmington

Wilmington, NC has had 57 + inches of rain this year. For Wilmington that is the amount of rain they usually get in a year! Not only is the ground saturated but the air is heavy and wet. It’s a bit like swimming through the atmosphere! Visiting my friends Blair and Inza here in Wilmington is a definite change from life in the mountains. My yard in the mountains is shady and tree filled; landscaped by mother nature. Here the beautiful, shady backyard is filled with flowers. It has been carefully planned and planted by loving and skillful hands.The breezes from the nearby ocean find their way to the deck that overlooks this cool inviting space.

I’ve found one cool spot  here in Wilmington at the YMCA. They have a very nice pool where I can continue my exercise and therapy that is so important as I recover from the stroke. It’s been 2 months since the stroke and I am swimming laps now along with my exercise routine. The rerouting of messages between my brain and left side seems agonizingly slow, but I am kicking better and moving my left arm with a bit more accuracy.

The YMCA is full blown in the midst of their summer camp and the pool complex is teeming with children. It’s hard to hear anything over their excited voices and laughter. After swimming today I headed to the dressing room for a shower. Looking down the hall of showers it seemed to be wall to wall with giggling, chattering little girls. The camp counselor cleared a path for me to get to handicapped shower. Passing two of the girls, I saw one of them clearly and deliberately push the other from behind.  An immediate response came from the girl who got pushed. “She pushed me!” I disappeared into the shower but listened to the ensuing  conversation. “I didn’t mean to push you”, said the first little girl. (Right!) The counselor intervened, “Can you tell her how it made you feel being pushed.” “But, I didn’t mean to push her”, said the young hoodlum. “Okay”, said the counselor, “but she can tell you how it felt.” “It hurt me” the little victim related. “But I didn’t mean to!”, came the insistent denial. “Do you think”, said the counselor, “that you could just tell her that you are sorry she got pushed?” “Okay, well, I’m sorry that you got pushed and it hurt.” I’m thinking at this point that this is really an amazing exchange for two 7-8 year old girls. I’m beginning to reevaluate the hoodlum status of the “pushy” little girl when I hear her say, “But I didn’t mean to push you.” At this point the counselor rounded everyone up for the next activity and I continued with my shower, pondering how hard it is to take responsibility for our actions.

I don’t know if the counselor saw the deliberate push or not, but her efforts to help these little ones talk to each other was courageous. These little girls are on a journey towards becoming  responsible adults. May God bless them on this journey with the guidance of many more like this camp counselor. Swimming in Wilmington has been good for me physically and emotionally.  I can’t give up hope because, one child at a time, this world can become a better place.

Falling Down…Getting Up

Parker Palmer in his new book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, writes, “My life has been graced, but it certainly hasn’t been graceful – I’ve done more than my share of falling down, getting up, and falling down again. The falling down is due to missteps and gravity. The getting up is due to gravity.”(page ix)

Parker Palmer’s “graced” life that hasn’t been very “graceful” resonates within me. Playing basketball in high school was tricky for me. Tripping and sliding across a gym floor, wiping out the other team’s players may have been my greatest defensive move! Activities that involve coordinated movements are  not easy for me.  Walking in long vestments is an activity that, I think  must be protected  by God’s grace. Perhaps there are angels whose only job is to hold up the skirts of those in the processional!

Falls get more dangerous as we get older and so I really try to be careful, but one morning in early June as I was feeding Bella, my left foot caught on the floor (rubber shoes on hardwood floors) and before I could catch myself, I fell forward onto the floor. Lying there, waiting for the shock to subside, I was aware of a very scared Bella nestled up against me. I decided to sit up, but this was harder than I imagined. Bella didn’t want to move and my body also didn’t seem to cooperate. Managing to gently get Bella to move, I was able to pull myself into a sitting position leaning against the door. Nursing 101 kicked in and I checked myself for injuries,  and because I was having trouble moving, I did a stroke assessment on myself. FAST is the acronym for this assessment. Face (is the face drooping on one side); Arm ( is one arm weak or numb) S (is the speech slurred or slow) and Time (call 911). None of those things seemed positive and I could make a strong fist with both hands, but…I couldn’t get myself up from the floor. As I sat  there, scared and not  sure what to do, I tried to place myself in God’s heart where there is no fear, only perfect love. I leaned back against the door and rested. At this point the story gets too long for a blog post. The story gets complicated by our “broken medical system”.  Two and a half weeks after the fall I had an MRI and, it showed a stroke on the right side of my brain.

During this past month I have lived Parker Palmer’s words: “Getting up is due to grace.”  Held in that place of unconditional love has meant allowing others to be the “hands of the Holy One”, helping and healing me. Recovering the ability to walk (with a cane) is so sweet. Equally sweet is the ability to type again! Even when my little finger goes rogue and sits on the Caps Lock key or my thumb drags across the mouse pad doing strange things to what’s on the screen, I am grateful to be “thinking out loud again” in this way. So much grace!! So many “holy hands”! I can now say to others , “I ‘ve had a stroke”,  but this has been a hard process of coming to understand the reality that although some  parts of my life have not changed, there are parts of my being and my physical body that are now marked forever by this injury to my brain…this “stroke”. Even while continuing to work hard on regaining the losses, I now know that some deficits will remain.

Life over this time feels like a sacred journey. There are those moments when, listening to music, I am taken back in time…I can smell a perfume I wore when I was in my 30’s; feel the way the mask I wore daily in the Operating Room felt on my face; remember a moment sitting on the steps of the chapel at seminary talking with another student from Tanzania and I can hear his amazing laughter! I am wandering and wondering over the paths I have been on. Tears come freely these days; and then the little joys feel like Christmas! What a strange journey this is into a future that seems both changed and unchanged. I am able to walk Bella, slower and with mantras running through my head from therapy: heel, toe, keep your feet straight, heel, toe, weight over your hips, etc. It’s a steady pace forward from here with time for naps, of course! Unchanged in so many ways and yet I am changed because I have had an experience of Grace that has marked my life as surely as the stroke put its mark on my brain.

 

Saint Mary Magdalene

marymagdalene

Icon of Mary Magdalene

In 2016 Pope Francis elevated the day commemorating Mary Magdalene to a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church. Calling her the Apostle to the Apostles, Francis paid great tribute to the role of women in the mission and ministry of Jesus. On the day after Jesus was crucified Mary went to the tomb to take spices and oils for anointing Jesus’ body. When Mary got to the tomb she found that the stone had already been rolled away from the entrance. She ran back to tell the disciples that the tomb was open. Mary, Peter and another disciple went back to the tomb and found it empty. Peter and the other disciple went home but Mary stayed at the tomb to grieve. It was then that the risen Christ appeared to Mary. This time when Mary went to the disciples it was with the good news of the resurrection.

 

Mary of Magdala (a town in Galilee), Mary is often portrayed as a prostitute.

When Jesus said that prostitutes had a better chance of entering God’s Kingdom than his opponents did (Matthew 21:31), some people came to the conclusion that Mary Magdalene fit the category. Biblical witness does not support the picture of Mary as a prostitute. In a time when the cultural standard was for women to live under the protection of a man, Mary’s devotion to Jesus and her presence in the fellowship of the disciples was remarkable.

 

Among the many icons of Mary of Magdala, many picture her with an egg. One tradition is that after Jesus’ Ascension, Mary boldly presented herself to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. In her hand she bore an egg as a symbol of the resurrection. Holding the egg out to him, she exclaimed for the first time what is now the universal Easter proclamation among Christians, “Christ is risen!” The emperor, mocking her, said that Jesus had no more risen than the egg in her hand was red. Immediately, the egg turned red as a sign from God to illustrate the truth of her message. The Emperor then listened to her complaints about Pilate condemning an innocent man to death and had Pilate removed from Jerusalem under imperial displeasure. This story became the memorialized in the tradition of colored eggs at Easter time.

 

The sisters of the Order of St. Helena have written a hymn to honor Mary Magdalene. It is found in The Saint Helena’s Breviary, Church Publishing, 2008, Here are two of the verses:

“Out of the night where hope had died,

to tomb once sealed, now gaping wide,

the Magdalene made haste, to mourn

and bring her spices through the dawn.

…Soon trusting love cast out her fears;

She rose and brushed away her tears.

As first apostle, Mary ran

to tell God’s resurrection plan.”

Jacks and Pickup Sticks

Three days a week I do water fitness at the Alleghany Wellness Center in Sparta. Having a 25 meter pool plus a heated therapy pool available just 15 minutes away is a great treasure anywhere, but in a rural and somewhat isolated part of the North Carolina mountains it is a particular gift of goodness.

Collee Riddle, the Aquatics Director at the Wellness Center, is another treasure. Collee, a true renaissance woman, coaches swim teams and teaches swimming to all ages. Trained in many fields, Collee considers herself a “kinesiologist”. Studying the movement of the human body is a complex process of understanding how muscles and tendons work with the bony structure of the body to produce an action. Being able to spot movement that is not helpful and often hurtful to the body is one of Collee’s gifts.

On a recent morning as we worked through our fitness routine in the water, Collee challenged us to begin using our non dominant hand to do routine daily tasks. On average, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Strokes often affect one side of the body with partial or complete paralysis. Quite often it is the dominant side of the body that is affected. Hopefully, none of us will be affected by a stroke, but learning how to do basic tasks of everyday life with our nondominant hand now will give us an advantage in case we are.

A friend recently bought me a set of pick up sticks and a set of jacks so that I can work with the fine motor skills in my left hand. Games that we played as children take on a new challenge when we work from a different side of our body.

I remember playing pickup sticks with my father, who would always beat me. You might not think it strange that an adult would be able to make those strategic and complicated moves better than a child, but my father was playing  with his non dominant hand! When he was in his late teens, my father suffered a traumatic amputation of his right hand, which was his dominant side. He relearned basic skills including writing then finished school and college where he studied chemistry. He used an artificial hand occasionally; more often choosing to use a “hook” on his right hand stump. Opening and closing the hook by moving his left shoulder forward and back gave him a way to grasp what he needed. The word “handicapped” was never used in our house, because my father did not let the amputation handicap him. I have watched him do complex tasks, as he and my mother would renovate and in many cases “rebuild” the homes we lived in. A cottage our family enjoyed on a lake had built in beds and seating with storage under them – built by my father. Watching him manipulate pieces of plywood with his hook and his left hand as he moved his shoulder forward and back fascinated me. Of course, I couldn’t watch long without being pressed into service to help with the task at hand. There was always something new to learn as we helped. My dad was a fierce competitor whether it was fishing or badminton; cards, or pickup sticks! He taught me so much about the power of determination! I think about him now as I work to pick up the piled up sticks with my left hand. I pick up the jacks and arrange them in complicated patterns on the table just to see if I can line them up using my less skilled hand. Taking on Collee’s challenge, I write my grocery lists and “to do” lists with my left hand. I sign my name at the bottom of each list watching to see how much better it looks each time. I think my dad would be proud of me as I manage these little steps of preparedness. I may never need them but like my father, I’m always up for a good challenge!

Sloth

September 8, 2017 105

In her book, Thoughts Matter, Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, uses the word “acedia” to describe “laziness of the body or sloth of the mind.” Sloth is one of the “seven deadly sins” identified by early monastic tradition in the Church. Last month I attended a Study Day at the Anglican Episcopal House of Study (AEHS) at Duke Divinity School. The speaker was the Rev. Dr. Christopher Beeley, who currently teaches at Yale Divinity School, but is the incoming director at AEHS. The Study Day was entitled, “Pray Without Ceasing”. It was a stunningly different sort of talk about prayer in which Beeley looked at how the 7 deadly sins affect our prayer life. Using the writings of Evagrius, who lived in the fourth century, Beeley showed how the spiritual writings of the early church can have meaning for our lives today.

The mystical and ascetic theology of Evagrius, Origen, St. Basil and the desert monastic traditions of the early church are heavy reading  for anyone. To make those readings and the thought processes of early monasticism interesting to others is a gift! Beeley walked this line of scholar, fellow traveler, and teacher well. It was appropriately disturbing and challenging to ruminate over the chewier side of prayer – the side that looks at why we don’t pray without ceasing.

Writing about sloth in this first blog post in many moons is confessional. Being overtaken by spiritual laziness is not quite where I find myself; rather with the acedia that comes with indecision. Writing, for me is time consuming. Wanting to do it well means taking time to craft sentences and explore the nuances of words. This is one expression of creativity in my life. The other is visual art using collage and mixed media. Being an “artist” is more than doing beautiful visual pieces in all sorts of mediums. Words are the medium of many artists, and the beauty that is crafted by those who write is a stunning gift. Enabling eyes to see visual beauty, and hearts feel powerful emotions with words can open up worlds we might never otherwise enter.

Working on finding the time to express the creative gifts that God has given me while enduring in a complex and busy, busy world will be my struggle, I suspect, for the rest of my life. Time to “paste and paint” and the time to put words to work will likely always be the two loves that draw me along in the journey.

Wilmington and Whirlygigs

061 (2)Moss hanging from the trees in Wilmington

Wintering in warmer climates has always seemed like a luxury afforded to those who have homes in two places. Or, as in my case, have welcoming friends in another, warmer, city! Winter has always been a favorite time for me. As my bones have gotten older, however, I appreciate a bit of respite from the colder temperatures.

My friends, Blair and Inza, have graciously taken me in once again this year. Here to spend a few weeks in warmer weather doesn’t mean just sleeping and sunning for Bella and me. Bella gets to share her time and toys with sweet, dear Joy. Last year when I was here with Blair and Inza, Joy ran afoul of a car and her pelvis was badly broken. Nursing her when she came home from the Orthopedic Hospital in Durham was a big job for all of us. Joy has made a wonderful recovery and is every bit the wonderful hostess to Bella that her moms are to me.

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Joy and Bella resting with their toys!

This year we have taken on the challenge of making Roman Shades for their bedroom. Using the old ones for the pattern has meant that we did not have to reinvent the wheel…so to speak. Fabric with beautifully colored leaves and branches on a creamy background compliment the sunny room with high ceilings. We’ve all had a hand in making these shades which has added to the fun. Inza’s idea of using metal split rings on the back of the curtains instead of plastic ones is genius. Hot sun on the plastic rings cause them to weaken and break so this will prevent that. They are finished as of this afternoon and all but one of them is hung.

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New Shades!

Monday of this week we traveled to Inza’s hometown of Wilson. While Inza was at a meeting, Blair and I went to the Whirlygig Park in Wilson. Inza’s cousin’s Henry and Betty Lou Walston, have been crucial to the development of a place, a park, where the amazing whirlygigs of Vollis Simpson can be cared for and displayed. Simpson was born in 1919 to a farming family in Wilson County. Twelve children were born into this family, so the duties of farm life were shared by everyone. Vollis helped earn additional income for the family by learning to move houses. Maintenance and care of the farm equipment seemed to come naturally to Vollis, who must have saved each and every spare or broken part of these machines. Retiring from the house moving business in his sixties, he used all of those leftover nuts, bolts and spare parts along with the rigs and mechanics of moving houses to build enormous whimsical windmills in his yard. Wind power turns the windmill structures, which then activates a variety of other moving parts on the perfectly balanced rigs. Old road signs, reflectors, wheels and cables add color, height and whimsy to the whirlygigs. Simpson preferred to call his structures “windmills” but once an outsider began calling them “whirlygigs”, the name stuck. In 1996, Vollis Simpson was commissioned to build 3 structures for the Olympics in Atlanta. Exhibited widely, his Whirlygigs were designated as the official folk art of North Carolina in 2013 by the North Carolina House and Senate.

Whirlygigs

The restoration of Simpson’s “windmills” is done in a warehouse near the Whirlygig Park. Each piece, and every part is cleaned, then painted and restored to its colorful and intricate place on the particular whirlygig. The work is done by dedicated volunteers who, like many in Wilson, contribute time and money to making Vollis Simpson’s work accessible to everyone in this beautiful park. At night the whirlygigs are illuminated by lights that come on as you walk through the park. Landscaping, informative billboards with pictures of Vollis, walkways and covered areas make this park an accessible and beautiful place to visit.

With childlike delight I enjoyed every minute of walking among these giant moving works of art. Listening as the metal parts qently whirred and shuffled, I could feel the joy of Vollis Simpson’s soul. His art is just where it should be, among the people he loved, to be cherished and admired.

082 (3)   Two men sawing a log 

Life Comes at You Fast

Before “Mayhem” became the most humorous buzz word for an insurance company, another insurance company coined, “Life comes at you fast”. Both describe the way in which perfectly ordinary days can turn downright cantankerous. Forgetting to put your garage door up before backing out or, forgetting to stop in time when pulling into a garage can give your day a “patina of disaster” that will send you back to bed wondering what will come next.

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Bella the “golden”, guarding!

This past Sunday was one of those days for me; but before I tell you about that, I should go back to the beginning of last week. My week began with a wonderful visit from my niece Bretta Ogburn and her son, Tyler.  On vacation from his work in Atlanta, Tyler drove to Blairsville, Ga where he celebrated his birthday with family and then on Monday, he and his mom came to Sparta. They

raced a potential ice storm to get here but arrived safely. Tyler’s little Chihuahua mix, Astrid came along to visit Bella which worked. Both Tyler and his mom are artists, although their “art mediums” different, and it was wonderful to share inspiration with each other over the 4 days of their visit. I could go on and on bragging about how very gifted they both are – I am a proud aunt! Tyler is an amazing photographer and skilled theater costumer; Bretta does glass beads with lamp work, just one skill among so much else. She and her husband, Ward, have raised three wonderfully different, and talented children.

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New walking shoes. Think anyone will notice?

Leaving on Friday morning, they headed home as I prepared to welcome my friends from Fayetteville in the afternoon. Ruth Gillis and Mary Mac Shields came in the evening after stopping in Winston Salem on the way to visit our favorite shoe store, which was having a sale! I benefitted from the shoe sale with new pair of walking shoes! Enjoying our time together is easy for the three of us. Playing games like Bananagrams (a  Scrabble-ish sort of game) and Dominoes keeps us real…we can argue like sisters at times and nearly cry laughing at others. It turned cold while they were here so we had built warm fires in the fireplace each evening. We were sitting in front of the fire reading late Saturday afternoon when our rector at Christ Church called. Sounding nothing like herself on the phone, she was quite sick with the WGA (what’s going around). Between the Flu virus which is nasty and the WGA it has already been a hard winter for folks here. Knowing that there were things that Stephanie needed to do on Sunday, I agreed to do the worship service and preach to lighten her load.

That brings me to Sunday, well actually, Saturday evening. Finding that the gospel lesson for Sunday was the calling of the disciples – the one from John’s gospel where Philip tells his friend Nathanael that Jesus is from Nazareth and Nathanael says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth!”, I began to feel a foreboding. How does one preach on that in the midst of the “politics” of the past week? Avoidance seemed prudent! I finished typing out a sermon to preach and hit “print”. Nothing happened and so began an attempt to fix the issue which after a while just seemed like wasted time.

I got up early on Sunday and scribbled my sermon onto some paper by hand. Everything was going well as I got ready until I couldn’t find my makeup bag. In the great scheme of things cosmetics may not seem big but with 3 women in the house using one bathroom, it can create some anxiety. Getting in the car, Mary Mac and I left Ruth to figure out lunch and deal with the chaos we had left behind! Onward to church! But no, halfway there I remembered my vestments for the service, so we went back. Ruth met us at the door with both my vestments and my phone, and we were off again. Getting back onto HWY 21 N, my adrenaline found it’s outlet in pushing the gas pedal…until I saw the blue lights behind me. Pulling off the road, Mary Mac took charge of praying. My window wouldn’t roll down (frozen shut) so I had to open the door. Hoping the patrolman could see my clerical collar, I explained my dilemma. He took my license and in a few moments he came back with a warning and a smile. BE CAREFUL were his parting words. We got to the church in plenty of time and I headed to the room to put on my vestments. Most everyone was still downstairs at the education program but those of us moving around in the sanctuary noticed right away how cold it was. The thermometer said 47 – inside! Frozen lines accounted for the lack of heat so we began to move everything downstairs for church. Through all of this I had remained reasonably calm…or at least numb. But when I stood up to preach and realized that scribbled notes in pencil were virtually unreadable without my glasses (which were upstairs), I began to wonder if I was on candid camera? And was that word” peas”, or “peace”, or” place”?

I know that at some point I heard the angels laughing at all my false starts and machinations! But incredibly, as it always seems to be, Jesus was there to meet us at the table with his presence. It was, as I said in one of my moments of homiletic clarity,” that moment when heaven’s peace and unity, touches the earthly realm, in all of its imperfection, and we glimpse the reality that is God’s reality.” It is that moment that gives me hope in the midst of this earthly confusion. Thanks be to God!

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Are those blue lights behind US!

 

 

Fear Not

Puddingstone Singing Group

Last night was our last Mountain Soul concert for the 2017 -2018 season. The group for the concert was Puddingstone. They are a large group of 7 people and three times as many instruments. Many of their instruments are reproductions of instruments used from the 12th century to present. Coming from Hickory, NC they play in lots of easily accessible places across the piedmont of North Carolina. Look them up and get to one of their concerts soon because they are really wonderful!

Our Mountain Soul concerts are always set into the format of worship. So we have a 15 – 20 minute worship before and then close with a prayer and singing Amen. Here is the closing prayer:

We are waiting…

For Love without end

without conditions

without violence

without fear.

We are waiting…

For Justice without end

without vengeance

without hatred

without lies.

We are waiting…

For Peace without end

without displacement

without borders

without war.

We are waiting…

For Joy without end

without reservation

without rebuke

without want.

Lord we are waiting for YOU. Amen.

I don’t know the origin of this lovely prayer but suspect that it was written by our rector at Christ Church here in Sparta, The Rev. Stephanie Parker. Embodying creativity in liturgy is surely one of the gifts that God has given this wonderful priest.  Listening to God as she shapes her sermons, Stephanie has been steadfast in her preaching among us. Yesterday morning she said she felt as if she had only preached one message since she came: “God loves you”. Carrying this message in word and action, she has inspired us to look beyond our faults and failures (yes, sins) to see God as the one who marks us as God’s own – forever. God loves us, not because of how we act or what we think, but because we are God’s beloved sons and daughters. This fact alone should suck  any trace of fear out of our relationship with God. Well over 350 times in the bible, God says, “Fear not”. That message along with God’s love (for us and all creation) are two of the most consistent messages that unite the whole of scripture. God is Love and there is no fear in God’s love.

There is so much fear in the world right now. The Culture of Fear written by Barry Glassner, is a book I want to read at some point. In an excerpt of an interview I read, Glassner said that he feels like our fear is being manipulated by those who profit from it. I’m sure we all have opinions about whether that is true or not. Fear seems to come quickest over those things which we cannot control. Doing all the right things does not mean that we are immune to disease, or disaster or death. It helps to do those “right” things and to “prepare”, but life does not come with guarantees. While life does not come with a guarantee, God does give us the guarantee of God’s love and presence with us. There is no manipulation in God’s love for us; and, there are no conditions on God’s love. In spite of the fear that floats on the surface of much that I see and hear, I can choose to let the good news of God’s love without fear cut a swath of joy in my heart. For this I am grateful!

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Bella, the non anxious, non fearful presence!