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Summer surprises…

plums-1605582_960_720My friend Jean once told me about the time that she had come home after a full day at the clinic, then an hour’s drive to a hospital in the city to visit her daughter and her ill, newly born grandchild. The preemie boy, her only daughter’s only child, born to Nancy and Greg who were in their forties, was a complete surprise, an unfathomable blessing… and now, would he live?

When Jean turned into her driveway late on that full-mooned, humid, summer night, she was tired and discouraged. She looked toward her long-time home and saw an oddly shaped form hanging from the doorknob of her old, brick, country house. “Oh, bother – what now? Kids pulling pranks?” She sighed and opened the car door. As she wearily walked down the shadowy stone path, a sweet fragrance filled the air. She recognized the scent: “Plums!” she thought with surprise. “Has someone brought me some plums, God bless them?” From the path, she looked carefully at her moonlit door. Yes! Someone had left a paper bag full of plums hanging on her door handle.

With this sudden understanding, Jean’s energy returned. She walked quickly to the door and eagerly reached into the bag of fruit. Her hand found the smooth skinned, soft, fragrant fruit, and she immediately popped a plum into her mouth, remembering only then that she had eaten nothing since lunch. Now she stood there on the mat in front of her locked door eating plums, the spurting juice staining her mouth, her hands, and dripping freely to her feet on the welcome mat.

With the sticky, fragrant, red plum juice clinging to her from chin to toe, Jean let herself into the house. Hope, viscous and sweetly scented, filled her heart.

Christianity, Family Life, Kids, teachers

The best age to be…

 

 

three year old

If you ever get the opportunity to speak to a three-year-old, ask them this question: “How old are you?” Chances are they will look you in the eye, hold up three fingers and say, “Free.” Ginny Junttila, my sister Claudia’s  mother-in-law, who was a kindergarten teacher for decades, told me she had asked this question of many three-year-old children over the years and all of them had responded the same way. And then Ginny added, “Isn’t that lovely? Everyone should have a year to be “free,” don’t you think?”

Yes, I do think everyone should have a year, or more, to be free. And a place to be free, also. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christian churches were thought of as places where one is free?;  places where one is free to ask questions about Jesus and other important subjects?;  places where one is free to discover what it means to be truly human?

Perhaps we need to change our adult thinking and regain the unselfconscious mind of a three-year-old in order to grasp what it means to be free, to live in freedom in Christ.

 “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ ” (Matthew 18:2-4) NIV

Christianity, Church life, Writers/writing

“What this story needs…”

 Modern LAst Supper

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day when Christians recall Jesus’ Last Supper before his death on the cross. The gathering that Jesus entered into with his disciples on this night was the Jewish celebration of the Passover meal. At Passover, the ancient Story of God’s Covenants with and faithfulness to Israel are recalled. On this particular Passover, the Last Supper, Jesus added a new chapter, a New Covenant, to the Story. This New Covenant, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34) helps us to grasp that the Story, the Bible, is not primarily a collection of rules, it is a love Story.

All of us have a story. I wonder, who holds the copyright to your story? Apple? Amazon? People Magazine? Jesus made sure he cited the source of his Story: “I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49). Maundy Thursday is a good day to remember stories, and to ask ourselves if the righteous one, Jesus,  holds the copyright to our story.

Speaking of stories,  here is a touching tale. Sadly, I have lost the name of the person who originally shared this anecdote, but it is so good I wanted to share it with you. If you know the author of this piece, please email me and I will gladly cite the source. Thanks!   

“A woman had held a Bible study in her home for a number of years. One day, a young neighbor and new member of the Bible study group stopped by to talk to the hostess. The new Bible student expressed her concern about the way the Old Testament stories were going. ‘So much violence and confusion, and such terrible things are happening,’ she said. ‘You know what this Story needs?’ the woman offered, ‘It needs a hero.’ At this, the hostess of the Bible study took the young woman’s hands in her own, looked into her eyes and said, ‘Keep reading. He’s coming.’ ”

Image is of “The Last Supper” by artist Janefargo.

Christianity, Church life, Family Life, Reviews

Mother Tongue by Leonard Sweet – a book review

Mother Tongue Book Cover

Author Leonard Sweet’s mother, Mabel Boggs Sweet, shines like the finest gold in Sweet’s most recent book and semi-memoir, “Mother Tongue: How Our Heritage Shapes Our Story” (NavPress, 2017).Written using the metaphor of a memory box, Sweet presents his family’s story by employing chapters titled with memory box “artefacts,” for example, “Ma’s Wedding Ring, Dad’s Hellevision,” “Polio Braces,” “Lye Soap,” and twenty-two others. Sweet composes the chapters as spectacular dioramas or stage settings so that the reader can step directly into the home and lives of the remarkable family of Leonard L. and the Reverend Mabel Boggs Sweet and their sons, Leonard I., Philip, and John.

Although Mother Tongue is the tale of the Leonard L. Sweet family, Mable Boggs Sweet was the powerful hub of that tribe and home – and what a home it was. Set on “Hungry Hill” in the town of Gloversville, N.Y., Mabel Boggs Sweet, “an early woman preacher, a church planter, and lay theologian,” (xxiii) took a low profile in public ministry after her marriage and the birth of her three sons. She shifted her outreach from the tent meetings of her time to her boys, whom she saw as her new mission field, and she made their home a “religious community.”(51) Had Rod Dreher been writing “The Benedict Option” (PenguinRandomHouse, 2017) then, he might have used the Sweet household as his model for Christian family life.

Mabel Boggs Sweet, a dynamic Pilgrim Holiness preacher, instituted a family pattern of prayer, Bible study, evangelism, and excellence in academics and musical skills for her sons. Sweet, in his evocative and image-rich way, makes clear that these activities were done to form Christ in the Sweet boys, and with a heart for reaching the lost. Not one to keep the good news of Jesus Christ to herself, the boys struggled with their Mother’s outgoing style of evangelism. Even so, writes Sweet, “In spite of all the embarrassment as kids growing up, we got the sense that to be a follower of Jesus is to be heir to an extraordinary heritage, host to the very Son of God, and harbinger of a promised future….”

In the chapter that features the artefact of an “Upright Piano and Soundtrack for the Soul,” Leonard Sweet describes the way in which Mabel Boggs Sweet put her boys to bed: “But mostly Mother would tuck us in musically. We would call down hymns we wanted her to play, and she would either play them by memory or look them up in one of the many hymnbooks scattered on the piano or stored inside the bench. If a radio pulls sound out of the air, prayer pulls sounds out of the heart. The assumption was that our musical requests would reflect the need of our hearts at that moment. There was hardly a problem that didn’t have disharmony as its cause, and there was hardly a problem that a song couldn’t cure.”

It is clear in Mother Tongue that Jesus was first and foremost in Mabel Boggs Sweet’s mind and heart, and she imparted the Jesus-way of life to her boys. This could lead one to believe that peace and perfection were everywhere in their home, but not so. The Sweet clan was a fully human family in our get-real modern world. Together they experienced rejection and shunning from church leaders and fellow church members, suffered the physical results of professional medical negligence, endured the brutal effects of polio, and lived through the destructive, rebellious years of teenage children. Despite these devastations, Mabel Boggs Sweet persevered as she followed her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and clung to the Truth in her role as a mother and a preacher.

“Mother Tongue: How Our Heritage Shapes Our Story” is a frankly intimate and revealing book. Pain is present in these pages, but humor, beauty, love and wisdom are paramount. There is no doubt about who the central character of the narrative is, or what heritage has been passed from Mother to sons in this story: it is Jesus Christ – King, Shepherd, Lord, and Lover of Mabel Boggs Sweet’s soul.

Mabel Boggs Sweet’s life was lived in the Refiners fire, a complex process that produces the finest gold. Her life of burnished gold is truly the most precious artefact in “Mother Tongue” and is what shines so luminously in Leonard Sweet’s outstanding book.

 

Christianity, Church life, Good times

First Class Mail

pigeonhole mailbox

As my husband and I  were walking into church on Sunday, I could hear laughter spilling out of the kitchen. Barely in the door, John, my husband, immediately engaged a friend in conversation; I turned toward the laughter. I walked across the spacious, light-filled foyer, past the comfortable couches and clusters of tables and chairs occupied by adults and kids, then glided by the large area where outerwear is hung up, highchairs are stored,  and the church pigeon-hole style mailboxes fill an entire wall. Fair warning! If you attend Bethel with any regularity, you will be assigned a mailbox and will regularly be encouraged to fetch out the information.

I swerved deftly into the church kitchen and asked why everyone was laughing. My friend Terri held up a note card.

“A funny ‘Thank You’ note?” I queried.

“Not exactly,” said my friend. “What’s funny is that no one knows who this note is for. It is not addressed to anyone but simply says, ‘I want to thank you for the delicious dinner you brought for our family last week. The kids and I enjoyed it all. Your wonderful meal was a real time saver.Thank you again. Anna’ ”

“I found the note in my mailbox last Sunday, “Terri explained,” but I was not the one who made the meal. I thought, ‘This thank you note must be for Norma; she’s always making meals for others.’  So I put the note in her mailbox.

“When Norma picked up her mail on Tuesday before Coffee Break Bible study she read the note and said, ‘I wonder why I got this? I didn’t make dinner for Anna’s family. It must be Ginny’s.’ And Norma put the note in Ginny’s mailbox.

“Ginny came in on Thursday for prayer group and collected her mail. When she read the thank you letter she said, ‘Oh no! This is in the wrong mailbox! I didn’t help with that meal. It is probably meant for Barb,’ and she slipped the envelope into Barb’s mail slot.

“Barb came in early this morning to attend to the communion trays, spied something in her mailbox, found the thank you note and read it. She considered the situation and decided, ‘This card is not supposed to be in my mail. I better check with the women in the kitchen this morning. They will know who should get this lovely thank you note. ‘ ”

“And whose is it?” I asked.

“No one knows!” burst out Terri. “Did you make a meal for Anna and her family?” she asked me. I shook my head no.

I never did learn who made the meal for Anna and her children, but I love this story. It says so much about the women of Bethel Church:

  1. They care for those in need.
  2. They don’t take credit for an act of kindness they didn’t do.
  3. They assume the charitable act was done by another and want them to receive the thanks for it.
  4. They see the humor in what might be judged an aggravating situation, and…
  5. They check their mailboxes!
Am I smarter now?, Christianity, Writers/writing

Post-it Notes and Wisdom

I lost the quote for the article I was writing, then I lost my patience and finally, I lost my cool. Why, oh why didn’t I use a post-it note to mark the quote in the book? Too busy? Too lazy? Too proud? All three?

This frustrating moment conjured up for me the ending of an old story. Remember the glorious conclusion of Noah’s Ark?  “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Gen 9:16) What a revelation! The first sticky-note reminder ever produced was the rainbow which God stuck in the sky as a prompt to himself that the earth would never again be destroyed by a flood. The rainbow, this gorgeous, vast, visual statement of count-to-ten restraint and love is not primarily a reminder directed toward us, it’s a reminder meant for God – imagine that!  If God uses post-it notes to help his memory, then what’s my problem?

“With humility comes wisdom,” says Proverbs. And it appears that a few post-it notes can’t hurt, either.

Rainbow memo pad

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Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

What comes to your mind when you read the word liturgy? The term unquestionably carries with it images of clerical vestments, brightly burning candles in sacred spaces, repeated prayers, and the fragrance of incense. The word liturgy also rings of church history. It has a backstory that includes the Protestant Reformation which saw the implementation of many changes in the church, including a massive revision of the liturgy. In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (2016, InterVarsity Press), Tish Harrison Warren, releases the ancient word from its traditional roots and refurbishes the idea of theliturgy-of-the-ordinary liturgy into a heartfelt pursuit of integrating Christ into daily activities. Warren, an Anglican priest, writes: “If I am to spend my whole life being transformed by the good news of Jesus, I must learn how grand, sweeping truths — doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, Christology — rub against the texture of an average day. How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life.”

In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Warren, whose childhood faith experience was in the Baptist tradition, freely declares her love of the Anglican church’s use of ancient liturgical practices. She also writes that she thoroughly enjoyed her time in seminary, which she describes as an interval of rigorous study and vibrant discussions. Moreover, it was in seminary that she realized the Christian life was not an odyssey to “get the right ideas in my head.” She eventually rejected the kind of Christianity which required that only her intellect be involved. She began to ask, “What would it mean to believe the gospel, not just in my brain, but also in my body?”

Drawing on James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom, Warren writes: “We are shaped every day, whether we know it or not, by practices — rituals and liturgies that make us who we are. We receive these practices — which are often rote — not only from the church or the Scriptures but from the culture… The question is, ‘What kind of Christian is our liturgy forming us to be?’ ” (29)

As she chronicles the events of a single day in her life, Warren shows in Liturgy of the Ordinary that several of her own quotidian routines and responses had become a liturgy adopted from the influences of the current culture rather than thoughtful actions originating from her life in Christ. The author candidly investigates her desire to check-in with social media before she gets out of bed, acknowledges her lack of patience in coping with the frustrations of having small children, and admits to her anger when events at home seem to conspire to disrupt her work schedule. Warren then invites the reader into this question: “Could these menial tasks and trials be the place where one exchanges a faulty liturgy for a better one?”

Throughout the book, the author unselfconsciously writes of her less than glamorous life as a parish priest and mother of two youngsters. As she describes her daily routines Warren employs various liturgical filters to view each activity: the rituals of standing, kneeling, bowing are used to observe the lowly act of brushing her teeth; the presence of scripture and communion are her frames for a meal of leftovers; the practices of blessing and sending come to her aid as she struggles to face the daily irritation of answering emails. By linking liturgical practices with common routines Warren offers a way to transfigure tedious occupations into meaningful actions

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Places in Everyday Life is not a How-To collection of guidelines, it is a What-If conversation starter for creative changes. What if we brought the liturgy of Sunday worship into our weekday world? What if the fragrance of brewing coffee were the incense that turned our attention to God? What if the ringing of our cell phone were a reminder to pray? What if Jesus took precedence in our regular rituals?

Warren tests the typical understanding of liturgy throughout her book. She asserts the power of liturgy to help reshape daily drudgery into the delight of a Jesus-glorifying life while also dispelling the stiff and formal aura that can surround the traditional notion of the liturgy. The reader’s opinion of what liturgy is and how it intersects with everyday routines is likely to be wonderfully challenged and beautifully changed after considering Tish Harrison Warren’s refreshing book, Liturgy of the Ordinary.