Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Different and Same

By Rev. Amanda Atkin

Upon returning from Cuba, I am struck by how much we have in common with a little church on a dirt road in a rural village. Sure, the language is different; air conditioning is nonexistent, and our friends are far more effusive than we could ever imagine being. But some things are the same regardless of the setting. Their little boys have to be separated when they fight over the same seat. Their teenagers fall in love and have crushes. Their children love to go to the pool once a year when the church holds a party for them. The adults share pictures of their kids and grandkids and talk about how quickly kids grow up. The farmers proudly show off their tomato plants and worry about when it might rain again. As a faith community they talk about how to strengthen communication by listening more and talking less. They have a food service committee. They pray about how to strengthen their outreach and mission, they pray for each other, and they pray for peace and security.

Even though we are separated by an ocean, a language and an embargo, we are united by the Holy Spirit. We both love and serve Jesus Christ and struggle daily to be faithful. This Sunday is Pentecost. A day where we remember the story of how the Holy Spirit came upon the believers in Jerusalem and every one heard in their own language “God’s deeds of power.” A day where we remember that even though the language may change and we may be confused and lost in conversation, we still know together the miraculous and amazing power of God. Thanks be to God for the gift of the Spirit and the gift of the church, wherever she may be found.

Amanda Atkin is the Associate Pastor of Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, NC, and this article originally appeared in their newsletter, The Enabler.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Will Jesus Buy Me a Double Wide?" - A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Recently, my pastor recommended the book Will Jesus Buy Me a Double Wide?: ('Cause I Need More Room for My Plasma TV) by Karen Spears Zacharias. I was initially confused by the eye-catching title, but my pastor insisted it was a great book for Sunday Schools and book clubs, as well as ministers and laity. So he let me borrow his copy and I proceeded to delve into the book, divided into small vignettes of people the author interviewed or had a relationship, many of whom are kept anonymous with titular pseudonyms like “The Evangelist” or “The Redhead.” In some way, every one of these stories had something to say about wealth and poverty and politely poked hundreds of holes in the prosperity gospel, which she likens to a “golden calf theology” (29).

Zacharias interviews Sister Schubert (yes, the maker of those delicious roles), who values the money her business has brought her, but she believes that as a Christian she has a responsibility to “do the right thing with whatever [God has] given us” (43). So, she established a foundation and built an orphanage in the Ukraine, because the government-run facilities are low on resources for children. She then adopted a son with a disability whose parents had been murdered. Sister Schubert lives on a small amount of what she has and uses much of the rest for causes in which she’s actively involved.

She interviews The Marine, a once-rich business man who had a conversion experience that led him to take a vow of poverty and live among the poor. The most touching part of his story comes when talking to friend of his named Lena, who was about to have her power cut off by the electric company. He says, “Tell you what I’ll do Lena. I can’t keep the power company from turning your lights off, but I will come sit with you in the dark after they turn them off.” He tells Zacharias, “I think that’s what Jesus does—he sits with us in the dark (133).”

Zacharias tells stories of The Mogul who lost everything because his greed destroyed everything he owned, The Beautician who longs for wealth, and The Redhead who died too young of cancer and left behind a husband and children, but no regrets. The reader finds in the genuineness of her stories an appropriate view of abundance before God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. In exploring the nature of oneself in relationship to money, we find spiritual truths older than Scripture. Jesus’ parable of the rich man comes to life in The Evangelist, who believes she’s entitled to her millions and that God wants us all to be rich. She wants to follow God as long as it’s a personally beneficial experience.

The image of God hinted at in the vignettes is not a God who controls our wealth or poverty, but one who promises to be present with us in the darkest and lightest hours of our life. If we follow this God, what does that mean in relationship to our portfolio? It’s not, as Bernie Madoff cohort Michael Bienes suggests, that his stealing money was so easy because “God wanted us to have this…God gave us this” (200). We must follow God and not money, but be responsible with what we’re given. As Zacharias points out in her introduction, God doesn’t reward us with money or take it from us when we’ve done something wrong. God, as The Marine points out, just wants to “sit with us in the dark.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why I love and don't love Mother's Day

by Rev. David Stratton

As a son, I love Mother's Day. I have a great mother and I love her and I will tell her these things on the second Sunday in May. As a pastor, however, I confess that I don't like Mother's Day because it is a day that is more hurtful than joyous for many.

I think it was 21 years ago when I was an associate pastor in Texas that I had to handle the recognition of mothers in worship on Mother's Day. The senior pastor was absent and I had been told specifically how to handle the task of honoring mothers in keeping with the tradition of that church. Each mother was to receive a flower and I was to read a sentimental poem about the greatness of mothers.

As instructed, I asked the mothers to stand and the flowers began to be distributed as I began to read the poem. But, only seconds into the flower distribution and the reading of the poem, the church organist on the front pew sat back down and began to sob uncontrollably. Her obvious grief could be heard all through the sanctuary. Her son had died a little less than a year before. Smiles evaporated and tears began forming in the eyes of many in that place of worship as we all connected with the sorrow of one mother.

In my faith tradition many churches, on Mother's Day, recognize the oldest mother, the youngest mother and the mother with the most children. I've never quite understood what was being honored in this practice. Why do these mothers deserve to be singled out above others? How does the age, youth or number of children of a mother merit special recognition? And what about the mothers like that church organist for whom Mother's Day, rather than being a day of celebration, is a day of intense sadness? Should these mothers be ignored?

As a senior pastor I have never followed the typical pattern of recognition on Mother's Day. For many years I asked worshippers who were either mothers or who were born of a mother to stand. Of course everyone stood. I then pointed out that all of us were touched in some way on Mother's Day and for many it was a very difficult day for a host of reasons. I always encourage the congregation to be sensitive to and supportive of those for whom Mother's Day is hard. Often I have made available copies of articles written by mothers and others who had a tough time on Mother's Day.

Over the years I have known numerous regular worshippers who make a point not to go to church on Mother's Day because it is just too hard for them. I am well aware that the second Sunday in May is a joyous celebration for many families. But I also know that Mother's Day really hurts for many. The family of God must attempt to effectively and equally "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15).

It is interesting that the mother who inspired the creation of Mother's Day, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, was a crusader for positive social change. As an expression of her love for Christ she organized Mother's Day Work Clubs that raised money to help needy people obtain medications they could not afford and promoted peace during the Civil War and healing between the North and South after the war. When her daughter succeeded in establishing Mother's Day as a national observance, the younger Jarvis was appalled that the day established in honor of a woman devoted to social change quickly became a day of profit for flower retailers and greeting card sellers.

I wonder if recovering some of the spirit of Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis in our Mother's Day observances might make them a little less painful for many.

Dave Stratton is the Pastor of Brunswick Islands Baptist Church in Supply, NC, and he serves as Chair of CBFNC’s Wealth and Poverty Task Force. This article originally appeared on Dave’s blog, David’s Deliberations.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Politics and In-Laws

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Whatever your political party, chances are high that you have Republicans, Democrats, and possibly Independents in your family, whether you are aware of their affiliation or not. This is certainly the case among my relatives. When I was home over Easter, my husband and I had dinner with my mother and father, as well as his father and step-mother. For the first time, our two families endeavored into a deep discussion on religion and politics. Let me stress that our religious and political views are many and varied. I shifted nervously in my seat, hoping we wouldn’t hit a verbal wall as topics related to immigration, health care, and racism were broached.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall, but I’m glad I didn’t hold my breath.

In the middle of all of the discussions and negotiations, we kept finding ways to affirm our respect for one another. Perhaps it was the shared underlying belief in our discussions that we were all made in the image of God. “I don’t understand where you’re coming from” became “How much can we agree on?” Eventually we experimented with how our Congress works with statements like, “If we were to introduce a bill on immigration, on what topics could we agree to start forming statements?” The conversation ended with laughter and a solid agreement on the need for term limits and honesty about mistakes, corruption and greed on both sides of the aisle.

Over the course of the last year, we have watched heated ideological differences lead to yelling, spitting, throwing bricks into government offices, growing militia movement numbers, and open-carry rallies that aren’t even about gun rights. We’ve watched some Republicans criticize a Democratic President for negotiating a new START nuclear treaty with Russia, though President Obama used the same terms for negotiating as Republican President Reagan in the 1980s. Conversely, President Bush was never heartily celebrated by many Democrats for his commitment to global AIDS relief or declaring certain environmentally endangered areas to be protected near the end of his presidency.

If we stop seeing the underlying image of God in our neighbor, regardless of political party or religious belief, then we fall into the trap of belittling them or inciting violence against them. Perhaps if both parties could find a way to humanize the other side and figure out what we can agree on, rather than boiling the sum of a person down to a list of issues, we could all sit around a table and laugh heartily like family.