Living Easter Locally

I got behind on my Easter blogging. A number of good things have been happening in my personal life. Also, this last week I have had some strong feelings about the death of one of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans. I will write more about that in a couple weeks. So I will be posting two blogs this week to make up for last week.

As we continue in our pursuit of living into the victory and resurrection of the Eastertide, I am continuing my series in how we make change around us. This change to be compassionate, empathetic, and justice-seeking is how we are called to live in God’s Kingdom as per Jesus’ example. Last week I shared a few small, easy ways to make change in our communities. This week I will talk about how we can volunteer our time and donate our money in local endeavors. Change starts here at home in our own communities. It expands out nationally and then through the whole world. I am going to share some organizations here in the south (where I am from) that I believe are incredible organizations. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, just a few organizations that I know of personally. I have worked with them or know others who have, and so I trust them to be valid and effective. For those who may be reading this post and aren’t in the south, then I encourage you to use this list to inspire you to seek organizations like these in your own communities.

Tennessee:

Coalition for Kids

This is a nonprofit I worked with for a semester in Johnson City, TN that offers a free after school program for kids to receive tutoring on their homework. For kids who have parents that work late, there is an extended program where we provide food, games, and other fun activities to supervise kids until their parents can come pick them up or they are taken home on the bus.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Raised as a Tennessean, it’s mandatory that I love Dolly Parton, even if I’m not a country music fan. Dolly is loved by both liberal and conservative alike, and she cares deeply about the people of the Smokies. The Imagination Library began as a literacy project for children in Sevier County (her home county) for children to receive free books from birth until they reach school age. This is now both a national and international program, and continues to promote literacy and imagination in young children regardless of  household income.

Memphis Youth Mission

This is a Presbyterian mission that works with local organizations to meet the needs of the local area. They offer mission trips for youth to immerse themselves in the local culture and to serve the immediate needs of the people they are building relationships with. What the mission groups do will depend upon the needs of the organizations. These missions go beyond just doing something nice for a community, and actually changing and growing according to the community’s needs in that moment.

North Carolina:

Asheville Youth Mission and Raleigh Youth Mission

See above to Memphis Youth Mission.

South Carolina:

Thornwell Children’s Home

Based in Clinton, SC Thornwell serves SC, GA, and FL through foster care and families in need. It is a Presbyterian organization, so a number of churches that I have worked for financially support this nonprofit that continues to grow and help children and families.

Georgia:

Code Out

A friend of mine from seminary, Hannah Hill, began this nonprofit just a couple years ago. They have recently begun classes for women who are incarcerated to teach them how to code; this is an extremely lucrative skill set that enables women to have a marketable ability to help them find work once they are released from prison. I am a monthly contributor, and this new nonprofit can use any and all support.

Central Outreach and Advocacy Center

I spent a semester interning here as my chaplaincy training for seminary, and it truly opened my eyes to homelessness and poverty. The OAC helps to provide ID cards, birth certificates, and other important documentation to people experiencing homelessness. Without these documents it is nearly impossible to secure housing, food, and employment. There is also a job readiness program called Main Frame, which helps people learn computer skills and build their resumes for free.

Love Beyond Walls

I do not personally know Terence Lester, but he attends the church of one of my professors from seminary. Rev. Dr. Ralph Watkins is the pastor at Wheat Street Baptist and he is also a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, and he shared about Terence Lester’s walking (yes, walking) journey from Atlanta to Memphis to raise awareness about poverty. I was stunned at his commitment, and found out about his nonprofit Love Beyond Walls. Terence has been moved to help to homeless population in Atlanta, so much so that he intentionally lived on the streets for a time to understand the demographic he wanted to serve. This nonprofit provides food, water, shelter, grooming, clothes, laundry services, and so much more.

Florida:

Halifax Urban Ministries

This is a great organization I served food with a few times the serves the local area through hot meals, food pantries, homelessness prevention programs, and programs to help shelter people who are transitioning out of homelessness.

Multiple States:

DOOR

DOOR serves much more than the south: Atlanta, Miami Chicago, Denver, LA. Similar to the youth missions above, this is a mission that works with the local organizations to fill needs within the city they serve. They offer youth mission trips as well as year long residencies for people who want to work with inner city organizations the meet various needs specific to the people in the community.

Passport-MissionBASE

I took a youth group to Birmingham through Passport a few years ago, and I was so impressed with how we served the community while also learning about the history of the city. Following the trend with the other missions above, Passport works with local organizations to meet immediate needs. Birmingham, Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, DC, and many other cities are served through this program.

Appalachian Service Project

ASP serves TN, VA, WV, KY, and NC through their mission to repair homes in rural Appalachia. I took a youth group and we worked with a contractor to build a room add-on for a family who had a baby. Some groups patch roofs, others build ramps. Depending on the need of the family, the groups work with a leader who helps them repair parts of their homes.

 

Any of the projects would greatly benefit from your time and money. Any help and aid truly impacts the local community and makes a difference for your neighbors. Again, if these services are not close to you, research what ministries, nonprofits, and charities are making a difference in your local community, and offer your services there, whenever you can. Even if it’s just helping prepare and serve meal once a month, that’s a person fed that day. Do what you can, where you can, with what you can. Next week we’ll talk about large-scale, national programs that would benefit from donations.

John 21:12-19

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Published Sermons!

I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:

Parson’s Porch

Living Easter

Easter is not over, it’s just entering its second week. It’s really easy to slip out of Lent, a time of discipline and fasting, celebrate the holiday of Easter and then move on. Especially after more shootings in California and Baltimore, Jesus’ victory over death seems to lose its savor. But as Atlanta Terence Lester based activist explains, when nothing seems to change around us, then we have to change our selves and our own communities. Our actions seem small, but they are a start. If more and more people were to be encouraged to be brave enough to keep trying, then change would be evident. This is how we live into the resurrection and keep the celebration going. This is how we live into the kingdom of God that Jesus spent all of his time telling us about. During the weeks of Easter leading to Pentecost, a time in the church when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit with tongues of fire, I will be sharing practices I have adopted and other practices that can be used for change around us. This week I am sharing small, easy, practical things we can do in our every day life.

flight landscape nature sky
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  1. I don’t always have cash on me, and when I do it’s for a specific reason, so I can’t really afford to give it away. So when I am approached by people who are looking for money I try to carry something else on me instead: I carry a small water bottle and a snack, like a pack of crackers and a granola bar, so I can offer them something. Often people could use some sustenance. If they don’t want it, they don’t have to take it and I can wish them a good day. A compassionate interaction, even if our help is limited, can really change how we as a society see and treat people who are in need of help.
  2. Keep your change! At the end of the year you can roll it up, put it in the bank, and cut a check to donate it as a gift to a charity of your choice. Or my denomination has an initiative known as “10 cents a meal” (can also be known as “Pennies for Hunger or “Cents-ability”) where every 10 cents buys a meal for a person in need. People in our churches save their change each month to bring it to church to donate.
  3. It you have a few extra bucks to spend at the store and you’re tempted to get some canned food, first do a few minutes of research. First, find out what charities, shelters, kitchens, and other nonprofits are local to you. Second, go to their website and find out what they are specifically looking for. Often places like these are looking for feminine products, underwear, baby wipes, and socks. Find out their specific needs and try to fill those instead of giving cans of green beans and corn. Only donate those food items if a food pantry specifically asks for them.

These suggestions are just a small start! I am trying out all of them, especially the first one. If you think of something helpful, share it with others! Just make sure that you’ve done your research and that these acts are going to be helpful and not just seem helpful to make us feel good. It’s about making change, not a pat on our back for doing something. Next week I will talk about volunteering time. Let’s keep the resurrection victory moving in our daily lives this Eastertide.

Revelation 1:4-8
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

 

Update: The previous blog post falsely stated that the same crowds who shouted, “Hosanna” are the same ones who cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion. This is a misconception, so I have rewritten a new blog post and apologize for the error.

My first attempt at this blog was a statement on the fickleness of humankind…which is true, but not the point of this scripture. In the update above I had made a false statement about the same crowds being there on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday. That’s not biblically founded. Then I thought I would write about a Palm Sunday anthem, “Ain’t No Rock Gonna Shout For Me.” It’s a spiritual-gospel style song based on this text. It’s got a great swing and is a lot of fun to hear and sing. But it’s an “original spiritual” written by a white guy. So, that’s problematic, and I am not comfortable with writing about a song that could possibly be a form of cultural appropriation.

So maybe that’s my message this Palm Sunday: look closely at scripture, especially well known texts reading and rereading, interpreting and reinterpreting these stories while freeing them from our appropriation to our preconceived theology. So I’ll point some things out and pose questions so you can consider them and interpret the scripture yourself:

Why is Bethany and the Mount of Olives an important location in this story?

How did Jesus know about this colt? And what does it mean that he commissioned two people to take it without permission (steal)? How does the need of the Lord justify this robbery? Do the owners get their colt back? Do they consent to this?

What are the significance of the cloaks?

Who are these people who are praising God? Why are they quoting Psalm 118?

Why are the Pharisees there? Why do they tell Jesus to stop them?

What does he mean by the stones shouting out?

 

Consider these and other questions that arise as you read this strange story. Strip away the familiarity and try not to appropriate it to validate your theological beliefs. Read it with new eyes, learn something new from this passage. Maybe you’ll find a new practice of biblical interpretation. I had to learn this lesson myself, to break away from a message I had heard before and was repeating without enough research. I will strive to continue learning so as not to make assumptions about scripture and the groups of people within.

Lent Week 2

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

 

 

In the second week of lent as I consider where I am in my faith and how my soul is on a healing journey, I read this scripture and something important struck me: there is no place for humiliation in God’s glory. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 

I don’t think we can be followers of Christ without a need and desire to uphold and honor human dignity. When we reduce people down to their housing and employment status, their immigration status, their skin color, how much weight they carry, their physical and mental abilities,  their gender or sexuality, and their religion, we have already failed to live up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God does not love me more than you. It would be sinful of me to think so. It would put me in opposition to everything that Jesus taught.

All people deserve to be treated as valuable and precious. Because there is no room for humiliation, devaluation, and discrimination in the Kingdom of God. That means I have to work on my heart and what I hold against others. That’s hard to admit, but I have to wake up and remind myself everyday that God loves all the people I don’t like every bit as much as God loves me.

When we forget human dignity, we are turning away from God’s glory. Then we get events like the Christchurch, New Zealand shooting. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. It does not glorify God to hurt or kill or discriminate against or dislike or be suspicious of or give side-eye to Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, or people of any other faith. God loves them and cherishes them; we should hold them and all people in sacred regard for life. We should celebrate our diversity and rejoice in who God has made us to be.

God’s glory leaves no room for humiliation. Human dignity is a completely necessary tenant of our faith.

I Published an Article!

I published an article for Fidelia Magazine, run by Young Clergy Women International. It’s about being young, female, ordained, and married. I’m asked about my husband…a LOT. Here’s my theological reflection. Give it a read and a share!

She is Someone

 

Christmas Eve Prayer

Oh God, it’s you who is the magic, the splendor, and the wonder of Christmas. You have set forth the brilliance of the stars, the magnificence of the angels, the perplexity of the Christ child. You created the whole, wide world and everything in it. You have shown us your covenantal love and faithfulness from everlasting to everlasting. May we never cease to be amazed by the work of your hand. As we celebrate the birth of your Son, help us to have the faith of children who marvel at your divine mystery that enchants us to celebrate you year after year. Help us to delight in you and your people, as you delight in us.

Oh Jesus, it is you who became God-with-us, the word made flesh. You came in the grit of childbirth and the filth of a stable to show us that your love does not shy away from the pain and grime of the world. You are the Messiah who is humble, who gets his hands dirty, who doesn’t avoid suffering; you are the visible evidence of the invisible, unfathomable love of God. Help us to always lean in and embrace people with the same courageous love that you modeled for us. Help us to fully commit to being your disciples, continuing the mission that you began by entering into a broken world.

Oh Holy Spirit, when our own souls are worn within us, when we lose our faith, our hope, our peace, and our joy, it’s your still small voice that reminds us of who we are and whose we are. It is you who sparks our hearts with light and life each year at Christmas, reminding us that the first coming of Christ was not a one-time event. You sustain our spirits as we wait for when Jesus comes again. When it seems like the celebration of the season is out of our reach, and when hope in a peaceful kingdom of reconciled people seems like a dream withered and deferred, it is your breath of life that comes blowing by reviving us in your fire.

Holy Trinity, three in one, we give praise to you on this glorious Christmas Eve. We have practiced hope, peace, joy, and love all of Advent doing our best to honor the kingdom that is already here. We hold dear to our hearts the birth of Christ as a promise of your kingdom come, when your goodness will prevail and all the virtues we have practiced will be the abiding law in all the world. When the celebration dies down, help us not to abandon this work and help us not to grow weary in our waiting. You have come, and you will come; and that is the fierce hope of Christmas. Alleluia, amen.

Advent 4: Love

Micah 5:2-5a
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

If you love, you get battered. It’s just true. You fray at the edges, then unravel. You get all used up.

Loving anyone or anything in any way empties you and dumps all your goodness out. Compassion fatigue and empathy erosion are real things that can take the kindest, tenderest heart and harden it up.

Love can break you down.

Love is always two-sided: you cannot love others if you do not love yourself; you cannot love yourself without loving others. Whether we like it or not, our hope, peace, joy, happiness, success, and prosperity depend upon each other. We need each other. You need everyone else. You are needed in this world. You need us. We need you, too.

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

― Frederick Buechner

Love can break you down. If you seek out the love and care you deserve, it can break away the hardness of your heart and make it soft and caring again. You will be emptied of your love at the end of your life, but that can be good news. It can be a sign of a life lived well, filled with the care and love poured into you. Your goodness may be emptied out, but you can be full of the goodness of others. Love gives, and love receives.

You may be battered, but you may also be healed. Hold the tension of the battle scars, sutures, and balms that entail a life well loved.

Luke 1:46b-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 

All Saints’ Prayer

God of all souls, past, present, and future you have gathered us in the palm of your hand. Thank you for enfolding us in behind and walking before us each step of the way. As the church year comes to a close and we prepare our hearts for a new beginning in Advent, we remember our loved ones who have passed away this year. We pray for all the grieving hearts that are missing their loved ones this year. We trust that our beloved have gone on to be with you, and that if you are always with us then that means they aren’t too far away. Even though this is a comfort, we still hurt and we grieve. For the many types of suffering and mourning we pray peace and understanding.

On this, All Saints’ Day, we remember the souls who’ve entered into the eternal light of Christ. We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away after living long lives of many years, full of love.

(Candle lighting and bell chime)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away too soon and too young.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away after a prolonged illness.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of those who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.

(Candle and bell)

We light a candle in remembrance of all souls who were victims of violence, crime, injustice, and tragic circumstances.

(Candle and bell)

God of every age, we entrust these souls to you. As we mourn their absence in the here and now, we look forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb when we will gather together at your table in reunion and communion. You are the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, who will wipe the tears from our eyes when the old passes away into the New Heaven and New Earth. Until we are reunited, be our peace and our hope. In the name of Christ, the Lamb of God, amen.

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