|September 24, 2011||Balancing Act|
|September 11, 2011||The Fulton County Fair|
|August 30, 2011||Pilgrim's Progress|
|August 21, 2011||There are no Atheists in Hell|
|July 23, 2011||Happy Thanksgiving|
|July 13, 2011||Open the Doors and There's All the People|
|July 13, 2011||My Bible Study Blog|
|July 05, 2011||Dinner on the Grounds|
|June 30, 2011||Life Needs More Ice Cream Suppers|
|June 29, 2011||The Church Lady|
I was in New Orleans a few months back and saw a man literally standing on his soapbox preaching loudly into a microphone to a largely uninterested stream of pedestrians. Bourbon Street has no shortage of street performers vying for the attention of the crowds, and this guy was definitely losing the competition. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity or question his motives in what he was doing. Like telemarketing, it must achieve the desired effect sometimes or people wouldn't do it. About a block away a group of around fifteen young musicians was serenading a packed crowd with a fabulous blending all kinds of instruments. Their skill and dedication were admirable, and much appreciated by those of us who stopped and listened. I couldn't help but wonder which performance was more pleasing to God. The Bible tells us that life is made up of things that are clean, things that are unclean, and things that are holy. I think it is possible that offering up a gift of talent that has been honed into its highest expression might just fall into the holy category. Screaming judgment at strangers doesn’t strike me as quite so appealing.
C. S. Lewis describes humans as amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits we belong to the eternal world and as animals we inhabit time. It’s a creative structure that requires us to be in a constant state of rebalancing. Fortunately, God made it pleasant for us to tend to our physical needs. It feels good to eat when we’re hungry or sleep when we’re tired. Of course when these basic functions get out of balance, the result is misery – just ask anyone with eating issues or insomnia. Being out of balance spiritually can cause even more distress. In Romans 5, we read that our spiritual condition is a trait of our human condition and that God solved the problem of humanity with humanity --- through the Incarnation. Our free will affects our spiritual state and physical state in much the same way, but God offers rescue. We are not so much cowering before a harsh judge as receiving a father’s warm welcome into restoration and balance. Grace. It really is amazing.
No, not the Atlanta one. This Fulton County is "the top of Ohio" as the tee shirts proudly display and the trip was a birthday gift for my 50th last November from my friend Lin Veasey. Even I think it's a bit odd that someone would give this gift without ever hearing the recipient mention an interest in such an event, but in fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of attending the Alabama State Fair with my grandfather. I've been looking forward to the trip for months and it exceeded all my high hopes of reliving a time long gone. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Pa taking a pass from heaven to join me in the adventure.
Where to start? Of course there is the food. I set aside my generally healthy eating habits and seized the fried moment. For the record, fried cheese curd is surprisingly delicious. I spent hours happily browsing the judged exhibits of canned goods, quilts, artwork, flowers, and livestock. In case you didn't know, baby goats are just about the cutest thing going. From the grandstand I watched harness racing and farm boys driving tractors really fast. It seems that everyone in town had a volunteer role in making the fair a success.
The most memorable event, though, was something I had never seen before at a fair. Each year, every couple in the county that has been married for at least 50 years is honored at a reception. The longest married couple is seated in the place of honor up front, and they actually get crowns! This year the prize marriage had been in place since 1943. The tent was packed with golden anniversary couples including Lin's delightful parents, John and Eunice. This wasn't John's only recognition as he also took home the top division horseshoes championship trophy for the 4th consecutive year.
It was refreshing to be reminded of how much can be accomplished by a community that works together. While attending St. James Lutheran Church with Lin's family, I listened to the epistle reading which included a familiar passage from Romans 13, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law...You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love expressed through friendship is truly one of the great blessings of life.
I saw him in the Dallas airport while waiting to board my flight to Portland, OR. He looked like one of my college students with his somewhat rumpled, thoughtfully mismatched clothes and his baseball cap on backwards. I filed him under "too much energy" and returned to Caleb's Crossing, a book about a missionary working with Native Americans in Massachusetts. He was the last person to board the plane where he took his assigned seat right next to me. He cheerfully introduced himself as "Christian" and thus began a three hour church service in the air. He had just graduated from college with a degree in psychology and had taken a job with no salary working as a missionary to Native Americans in Oklahoma. I commented on the appropriateness of his name, and he said that when he was young he hated it and refused to answer to anything but "Opie." We shared our experiences of faith and the questions and ideas that we have about God. At one point he spontaneously broke into a prayer over me. Before we disembarked he gave me two CDs. One contained a sermon delivered by Heidi Baker, a pentecostal missionary to Africa and the other was a collection of rap music with Christian lyrics. I can honestly say that it's unlikely that I would have ever come across either of those things without a chance encounter with a Christian on a journey. I was captivated by Mrs. Baker's account of God's miracles among the orphans that she cares for in Mozambique. As for the rap, well, I'm still learning to appreciate that.
We all know that there are no atheists in foxholes. I was on vacation when I saw the church sign with the updated ruling. Maybe it's just that wars don't seem to involve foxholes anymore, or maybe this church felt the original version was too subtle so they decided to amp it up a bit. Oddly enough, the sign actually could be read as an advertisement for atheism. Think about it. It's like saying, "There are no boys in my club" or "There are no seeds in that watermelon." If one is a boy or a seed, then there's no need to worry about finding oneself in the aforementioned club or watermelon since the rule forbids them being there. So, if I want to say out of Hell, and who doesn't, then I should be an atheist since there are none of them in Hell. Right? Of course, this church meant no such thing, but I made a note of the sign to use in class the next time I teach existential and universal quantifiers. (Sorry, I fell out of church lady mode into math professor mode there for a minute. I was about to draw a Venn diagram!)
Actually, this church has an attitude that is very similar to that of an atheist. The church boldly assumes the role of God in pronouncing its verdict. The atheist boldly proclaims the certainty that God does not exist. The church should know better.
The Bible is very clear about where judgement and vengence belong. It also describes the temperament we should have in approaching God, and the mindset we should adopt in our relations with others. I would run from a church with such blatant disregard for these central teachings. Maybe I'm overreacting and the church just thought it was an attention getter. Maybe they didn't know if "foxholes" was one word or two. But I think the Christianity that we reflect is noticed, and we should humble ourselves before God as a preface to any announcement that we decide to proclaim to the world.
There are two things that all Christians have in common in some form or another – baptism and communion. Baptism gets you into the church, and communion reminds you of why you’re there. My faith tradition refers to communion as The Lord’s Supper. The original church word for it is eucharistia or Thanksgiving.
In the South, we know a thing or two about showing love with food, so it’s a bit of a surprise that someone hasn’t done something to improve on those dry wafers and grape juice that we serve the congregation. I’ve been to churches that use fresh baked bread and wine, but another part of my tradition is a strong professed aversion to alcohol in any form. (Insert your favorite Baptist drinking joke here.) In any case, it’s a lovely thought that communion and Thanksgiving are celebrated by the sharing of both physical and spiritual nourishment.
I’ve always thought that The Lord’s Supper should be observed often and Thanksgiving should be celebrated in July. Songs about amber waves of grain and bringing in the sheaves do not fit anything in my experience. However, anyone with a vegetable garden in Alabama is presently experiencing an explosive reaping of green beans, peas, okra, tomatoes, and whatever else was planted on Good Friday. We’re running out of recipes for zucchini and honestly, how much eggplant can one household consume?
While visiting my 93 year old aunt Eva Lois recently, her preparation of the dinner feast she was putting on the table for the family was interrupted by two of my cousins.
First it was Chip.
“I have three boxes of yellow squash. How much do you want?”
“Just a few. Sure did enjoy the butterbeans you brought by. Do you have any cucumbers?” she asked.
“Yes, but the mayor came by this morning and got most of them to make pickles for OctoberFest at the Methodist Church.”
Soon after it was Luke knocking.
“I have two five gallon buckets of sweet corn. How much do you want?”
“I’ll take one of them,” she said.
You might have had a similar experience recently. I certainly hope so. There is nothing in our daily lives that reflects the hospitality and love advocated in scripture better than the sharing of food and fellowship. And with summer’s bounty, it’s a supper the Lord would be proud of. Happy Thanksgiving.
I go to churches like some people go to bars. Churches are full of interesting people and spirits (just not the liquid kind) and I enjoy the experience. I'm a member of a Baptist church; I'm awed by the liturgy of the Orthodox church; I'm in a lively discussion group at the Presbyterian church; and I play bridge with the Methodists. I attend sacred harp music conventions, and I often sing along with my JSU Gospel Choir CD in the car while pretending to be Myrtice Collins. Whenever I'm asked if someone "goes to my church" I generally just answer "yes" because based on my habits and the size of this town there's a better than average chance that we've worshipped together at some point.
I visited St. Paul CME Church for the first time last Sunday. My friend Rev. Pearl Williams delivered an inspiring sermon from Psalm 121. She encouraged us to "life up our eyes to the hills" and seek the glory and power of God. It was a day of celebration for the congregation as they marked the first anniversary of their paston Rev. Gloria Haynes. Let me tell you, that woman can sing! Her rendition of He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need was simply breathtaking. (I gave my Myrtice impression a rest and impersonated Rev. Gloria on the way home that day.) The musical accompaniment on the keyboards and drums for the service was provided by two young gentlemen who can only be described as clairvoyant. There was no sheet music that I could see, yet they played in perfect sync with the choir, the sermon, the meditation time, and the solo. I was amazed by their talent and timing. I received the warmest of welcomes and many invitations to return to worship with my fellow believers at St. Paul's. I'm looking forward to my next opportunity to do just that.
I started a blog in February 2011 to write about participating in the Lent observance of St. Luke's Orthodox Church. Afterwards, I decided to continue it by writing a companion summary to my weekly Bible study at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. At the present, we're studying the book of Jeremiah. Here's the link....
Rick Bragg wrote that his very first visit to a church coincided with "dinner on the grounds" yet he had never felt drawn to any kind of religious organization. My daughter said that indeed, if dinner on the grounds couldn't do the trick, then this was probably a person who would never be involved in chuch. This same daughter wondered as a child how the church ladies could be talked into bringing potluck dishes for her wedding reception. She also wanted her grandmother to be a bridesmaid, so maybe she wasn't exactly a budding Martha Stewart.
When I was a child, I thought it was called "dinner on the ground" because the kids usually grabbed a plate, literally sat on the ground outside to gulp it down and then ran off to play. I enjoy dinner on the grounds in a more leisurely way now, and I thought I had the event pegged, but I saw two things last Sunday at First Baptist in Jacksonville that I've never seen before. First, there was a tray of sushi nestled among the deviled eggs, sweet potato casseroles, sliced home grown tomatoes, and fried chicken. I have nothing against sushi; I've just never seen it grace one of the long, heavy laden tables of Southern Baptist delicacies that make us forget that gluttony is a deadly sin. Then, as everyone who's been to at least one of these events knows to do, I deposited my plate on the table, picked up my sweet tea, and headed over to get some of the banana pudding before it was all gone. That's when I experienced the real shock of the day --- no banana pudding! How did 177 Baptists show up to eat and not a single one of us thought to whip up some banana pudding? Thank goodness for once-saved-always-saved or I would worry that this was a sign of falling from grace. We all ate too much and left happy, but at least one of us made a mental note to dig out MawMaw's recipe and make sure that such a thing didn't happen again in my lifetime.
One of the perks of being a "grown up" is being able to have ice cream for supper if you want to. That's what happened last night at Jacksonville First Baptist Church when Rev. Andy Bumpus invited the choir to come share ice cream and every imaginable topping before putting the finishing touches on our patriotic worship service for Sunday. I love the hymns of the armed forces even though it's a bit odd to be singing "at 'em boys, give her the gun!" in the sanctuary and it's downright humorous for a bunch of Baptists to be belting out "hail to the foam." Practicing the songs is unnecessary for me though, because when the veterans stand to be honored as the hymn of their branch of the military is played I'll be too choked up to sing. I'll especially miss Mr. James Brown, a veteran of the Army, Navy, and Air Force who passed away earlier this year at age 96. Everyone will be thinking of Ben Tomlinson who is recovering in Tampa, FL from injuries he sustained in Afghanistan. The service men and women, young and old, from World War II and other conflicts right up to the present will stand and remind us of the cost of freedom. America isn't perfect, but it's still the greatest country in the world. This weekend as we enjoy the privileges of prayer and worship, shooting off fireworks, singing, eating BBQ and ice cream, and tossing horseshoes, there are a lot of folks who deserve our thanks. We should definitely have more ice cream suppers with our friends to help us stop and remember just how blessed we are.
The Star's idea to add community bloggers to its online version is a great platform for sharing stories. In my 10 years as a Jacksonville resident, I've met an assemblage of interesting people who hail from everywhere and have lived all over the world. I've met most of them in church; some in my own First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, and others in various congregations around town. I was going to church before I was born, and was a member of the Wylam Baptist Church "Cradle Roll" before my eyes were even open. I've given myself the title, The Church Lady, because I grew up admiring and wanting to be like the women in my church. Since I notched my 50th year of continuous church membership last year, I hope that my credentials will give me at least a nominal membership in their illustrious ranks. Of course there's another image for those of us who remember Dana Carvey's Church Lady on Saturday Night Live in the 80s. Well, while I was growing up in church I knew her too. But that's just church. It brings out our best and worst, our righteousness and our selfishness, and our laughter and tears. It's a thriving element of our community and I'm so thankful for the framework it's provided for my life. I'm looking forward to an online discussion of how faith defines us and shapes our lives.