A common question this time of year is “How was your summer?” It is a reasonable, friendly, and honest question – yet one for which I find I have no good answer.
We, as a congregation, are year-round ministry. Our Sunday morning classes continue through the summer with strong attendance. Mission service projects, including Urban Ministry dinners, Families Moving Forward meals, and Saturday morning projects, maintain their usual schedule. Fellowship opportunities actually increase in the summer, from monthly events, to weekly Lemonade on the Lawn. Behind the scenes, the Altar Guild, Stewardship and Finance Committee, and a host of other volunteers quietly do what they are called to do without interruption. Even on a holiday weekend, this coming Sunday, our patterns of ministry stay the same. Yes, some people will travel for the holiday, but many of us will be here. So, we come for worship, education, mission, and fellowship.
We are part of an academic community, so, of course, we notice the rhythms of the academic year. And, in part, it is because all students will be back on campus this Sunday, that I thought it was particularly important that we offer our Sunday morning classes and Ministry Fair this week, despite the fact that it is Labor Day Weekend.
I delight in stumbling over the question “How was your summer?” The question is usually posed in relation to the life of the Congregation, so I often respond with the description I have given above. The reason I like stumbling over this question is because it reminds me that in some small ways, we are striving to reflect the steadfast love of God.
The refrain of Psalm 136 is “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Hebrews reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Second Timothy tells us to share the gospel “in season and out of season”. (2 Timothy 4:2)
Drawing our strength from the Eternal One, may we strive to be steadfast and faithful, both as a congregation as an individual disciples.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
On Monday, I observed a little slice of heaven – both literally and figuratively.
I found myself in Finlay Park, Columbia, SC, on the afternoon of the solar eclipse. A large crowd had gathered and from what I could tell, consisted of all ages, races, and walks of life. Everyone had their eyes to the sky.
An air of excitement and openness that isn’t usually present in our everyday world was palpable. People smiled, children ran and laughed, friendliness abounded. Those who had concocted unusual viewing apparatuses were approached without concern and gladly shared their knowledge. We were all in this together.
A lady from Boston with terminal cancer drove to SC to watch. A three-year-boy kept asking his mom if the eclipse was here yet, then proclaiming, “I think I hear it coming!” And, when totality occurred, the boy DID hear it, because a joyful cheer erupted from the crowd. During the eerie, grayish darkness, which lasted only minutes, I looked around and soaked in the oneness. And, then there was that view in the sky. The light from the sun was as completely blocked as it ever could be, short of being extinguished, but still it was visible.
As light again overtook the unusual darkness, the people began to disperse. The literal slice of heaven was over, but the figurative remained. I had the feeling we were all at least refreshed, and maybe even changed, by spending that time of darkness together with our eyes to the sky.
Racism, white supremacy, and any other ideology which claims one group of human beings is inherently superior to another is sin. Whether racism appears in a bold, public display or a private, unintended act, it is sin either way. When the sin is ours, our response is to confess, repent, and seek God’s mercy. What do we do when we see sin in others? How do we respond to those whose words we find offensive, whose beliefs are incompatible with our own, or whose actions we find offensive?
Our faith repeatedly calls us to respond to hate with love, and evil will goodness. We are challenged to avoid self-righteousness. Instead, we are to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. For some of us, that may mean we are called to patient, quiet acts of love and kindness. For others of us, it may mean running for political office. The possibilities are as diverse as we are.
May God grant us wisdom and courage for the living of these days.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
“This was the most important class I took at Duke. And the most painful.”
Those words, or something like them, were what I wrote on the course evaluation for my last class at Duke Divinity School.
“Christian Identity and the Formation of the Racial World” was challenging not only because of the reading (heart-breaking accounts of racial violence) and the exams (case studies of real life situations involving racism and the church) but also because of what the course demanded of us spiritually.
For reasons that require more time and space than this article can give, every student in the course had to come face to face with the reality that our identity as Christians (particularly as white Christians) was bound up in the history of slavery and the structural racism that continues to oppress people of color.
Allowing God to use this truth to transform my mind was the real work of the course, and even when the semester was over and my final exam turned in, I felt I had just scratched the surface. There was so much more work to be done.
I am deeply grateful that both Dean Powery and Congregation leadership have committed to this hard and painful work by inviting Chapel and Congregation staff to attend racial equity training. In September, I’ll be attending a 2-day workshop on dismantling racism with others from the Chapel community. Some staff have already received this training, and others will attend in upcoming months.
I invite your prayers for the Chapel and Congregation staff as we enter a season of this important and difficult work; pray that God might use this time to transform us, to transform the Chapel community, and continue the work of dismantling racial oppression.
This important and painful work is not for staff and pastor-types alone; it takes all the people of God. Consider signing up for a workshop , or sharing your own experience of racism and resistance.
Together, God is using us to do this important and painful work.
On the journey with you,
I recently noticed this playground sign and I wonder if it is out of date. The picture is of a teeter-totter, also known as a seesaw. I have not seen a teeter-totter at a playground for years – at least not the kind of teeter-totter pictured in the sign.
The seesaws I remember enjoying as a child were a simple, narrow board with handles near the ends, secured to a central pivot point. With a friend on the other side, we would happily ride up and down, pushing ourselves up, and often bouncing a bit when we came down. Sometimes, the game was to see if we could balance the teeter-totter, holding it horizontally, without the help of our feet touching the ground. This, of course, meant that we would have to scoot forward or backwards on the board to find the right balance. In its own way, the teeter-totter provides a physics lesson as well as a playground play.
Much is written about balance, all type of balance -- work-life balance, a balanced diet, a balanced fitness program. There is practical wisdom in much of this. Interestingly enough, we don’t speak of spiritual balance, and I think we should not. Jesus’ call to us does not offer a balanced option. Our Lord asks for 100%. Colossians 3:17 puts it this way: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” That sounds like a 24 hour commitment, 7 days a week. Our faith asks us to lean all the way into Christ.
It is important to find balance that works for you in many areas of life, just don’t look for it in the Christian life. Instead, may your life be “hidden in Christ with God.” (Colossians 3:3)
May the peace of Christ be with you.
In June, my husband and Congregation Godly Play volunteer, Mel Snyder and I attended the North American Godly Play conference in Denver, CO. Former Congregation Godly Play volunteer Ebony Grissom, who currently lives in Rhode Island, was also there. We enjoyed catching up with each other, as well as meeting new Godly Players not only from the United States and Canada, but also from Uruguay, the United Kingdom, and Tanzania.
At the conference, I was excited to learn about a new publication that introduces an expansion of the Godly Play method. It has long been realized that Godly Play is for children of ALL ages, as confirmed by The Rev. Lois Howard’s work with Alzheimer’s patients . Graceful Nurture: Using Godly Play with Adults goes even further by addressing the why and how of using this method with adults. The author, Rebecca L. McClain, states: “As adults, we may know the words of the Christian tradition, but all too often, we lack the context and frame of the language of the scriptural narrative. Stories provide the context so that we are able to make meaning of the words in our own lives.” This reminded me of what The Rev. Joshua Lazard said in the July 2 Duke Chapel sermon regarding scripture: “Without ‘context’, the ‘text’ does not exist.” Can Godly Play take adults deeper into scripture through story? McClain provides the background, and the lesson plans, for how this might be achieved.
As I prepare for another year of Godly Play for the Congregation’s children, beginning in September, I am grateful for the ways this method has touched so many people. I look forward to putting into practice what I have learned, and continue to learn, about Godly Play.
If you were in worship last Sunday, you heard The Rev. Bruce Puckett acclaim the Godly Play method as “an opportunity for ALL God’s children, those who are young and old, to experience the stories of our faith in new and surprising ways.” This, of course, was music to my ears—especially since I recently attended the North American Godly Play conference in Denver, CO. (Watch for details about what I learned at the conference in next week’s eNews.)
In worship the previous Sunday, I heard The Rev. Dr. Lisa Thompson (guest preacher from Union Theological Seminary, NYC) proclaim, “I am convinced that if we are willing to journey into a passage that may leave us with more questions than we have answers, we may be willing to move about in the lines, letters and spaces of that text while listening a little deeper.” I immediately thought to myself…that is what Godly Play does. After hearing a story, the storyteller in a Godly Play class guides the participants in wondering. The wondering often goes very deep, as the participants wander through the words and movements of the story, making connections based on their own life experience. There definitely can be more questions than answers, but as Dr. Thompson suggested, that can ultimately lead to deeper listening… and deeper understanding.
The Rev. Puckett urged listeners, “If you’ve never had a chance to experience Godly Play, you MUST find a time and way to do so.” Intrigued? Just let me know! I’d be happy to arrange a Godly Play session for you.
I’ve been learning to pray with my eyes open.
Perhaps, like me, you grew up with a sense that prayer was something you did with your eyes closed, your head bowed, and your hands folded.
In this posture of prayer, the goal was to distance yourself from distractions and empty your mind of what was not the topic of prayer.
This kind of prayer, sometimes called apophatic, is a way of prayer by negation, stripping away all of those things that distract us from the God whose name is pure Being: I AM WHO I AM. This is the way of centering prayer, of focusing on God as close to me as breath. And it has powerfully shaped my life in God for many years. I imagine it has shaped your life as well.
In the past few months, however, I have felt out of balance spiritually. I have felt my eyes wander in prayer, and a growing sense that my run-away imagination may not always be an obstacle to prayer, but an invitation to another kind of prayer. Slowly, I have begun spending more time praying with my senses, with my eyes wide open.
This kind of prayer, sometimes called kataphatic, is prayer by the way of affirmation, embracing God’s presence within all that we can sense: the God who we can see in the face of Jesus Christ. This is a way of imaginative prayer, of icons, ritual, and finding God written in the “Book of Creation.” Praying with my eyes open has brought a renewed balance to my life with God, a wholeness that has been missing. I wonder if it might bring a wholeness to your life in God as well.
If your life, like mine, has been shaped primarily by praying with your eyes closed, open them up! Contemplate an icon, or listen for God’s whisper in music or the sound of the wind. Or if your life has been shaped primarily by praying with your eyes open, maybe God is calling you to a time of focused awareness, of emptying your mind in order to fill it only with God’s presence.
Eyes open or shut, let’s walk together this pilgrimage of prayer.
Grateful for your partnership in prayer,
Psalm 30 is filled with joy and thanksgiving. It ends with these verses:
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Psalm 30:11-12)
By God’s grace, the sackcloth, the garment that represents grief, despair, and repentance, is cast aside and the speaker is now dressed in joy. The one who had been weighed down is now up and dancing. The psalmist then declares his praise of God, and further claims this as his vocation. The psalmist will give thanks to God forever; it is his life’s work.
Some of us are in a season of life in which we can easily join the psalmist in joyful dancing, giving thanks to God for all God’s mercies. Some of us need these verses to give us hope that there will be a time when we too can rejoice. The psalmist has given testimony to the reversal in his life which God provided and uses that as an invitation to others to join in thanksgiving. Through this psalm we are called to give thanks to God for what God has already done, for what God will do in the future, and/or for what God has done in the lives of others. So no matter the season of our lives, we have reason to dance with joy.
Let us give thanks to God forever.
We have history; in fact, we have several different types of history. As Christians, our history goes back 4,000 years or so to the time of Abraham and Sarah. As citizens of the United States, our history goes back 241 years, to the Independence Day we celebrate this weekend. As a Congregation, our history goes back 32 years to our founding in 1985. Each of these histories are filled with stories, adventure, and hope.
The stories of our Congregational history are now more readily available to each of us. Lois Oliver, one of our members, answered an invitation in eNews to write our church history. To prepare herself for this project, Lois read the 25-year history written by Rev. Nancy Ferree-Clark, read all of our archived newsletters, and interviewed individuals associated with the founding of our congregation. The result of her work is now published on our website. Here we have an overview of our life together, highlighting some of the pivotal events in our history.
I invite you to read our history, and give thanks to God for all those who have worked to make this congregation possible. If you have suggestions for this webpage, I invite you to be in touch with me. In particular, we would be happy to add additional photographs (with names and dates), so if you have pictures that you think would enhance this page, please send them along.
Most of all, as you take time to look back to our beginnings, let us remember that our God is our help in ages past and our hope for years to come.
May the peace of Christ be with you.