Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grief and the Holidays

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Right now, when it seems everyone is making plans to purchase a turkey or ham and making lists of Christmas presents to pick up for their friends and family, many in our offices are facing a holiday season without a particular loved one for the first time. Whether it’s a grandmother, brother, aunt, or beloved friend, death has not been a stranger to us lately.

As I talk to my coworkers about their losses and my family about the recent death of my Aunt Shirley, a few thoughts, realizations, and hopes have come to mind for which I will be in prayer the next several weeks. First, this holiday season will feel different, no matter how much we might want to stick to the same schedule or traditions. For instance, my Aunt Shirley was not only known for helping my grandmother generously prepare Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, but she moderated fun post-meal activities like trivia games and our rowdy and hilarious “Everything-Under-$10-White-Elephant-Gift-Swap.” Particularly endearing memories to me are that we always made sure my beloved but oft-teased cousin Stuart got the worst gift. Aunt Shirley would have to cut off the bargaining, maneuvering, and wrestling for weirdly shaped gifts that turned out to be bizarre tools or a strange kitchen utensil. I will treasure these fun memories in my heart as a time of happiness untouched with this sadness and loss. However, I know that even if this tradition continues, we need to give ourselves permission not to strive to do it the same way that my Aunt Shirley did. She is irreplaceable, as is her particular type of humor, and we need to give space for others to adapt, change, or cease traditions that we know in our hearts will be different without her presence.

Second, I hope that families facing grief during the holidays will acknowledge the elephant in the room. We all know it will be hard to eat Christmas dinner with one less seat at the table, and all that represents. It is natural and healthy to cry, to remember, to tell stories, and let others know how we are feeling. Telling stories is how we carry our loved ones with us after they have passed. Stories remind us that Aunt Shirley, Brother Bill, Grandmother Gogo, and Beloved Friend Gloria have joined the Cloud of Witnesses in a long line that have gone before and that we still have lessons to learn from their time with us. With the hope of Christ, we have faith that death is not the last word in their story.

Third, I pray that we make space for one another to grieve differently. Some might want to continue old traditions while others may find it unbearable. It could take multiple holiday seasons to find a normal rhythm again. Ultimately, we need to have a spirit of grace when we encounter one other, realizing that the healthiest way to grieve this loss is to be honest with one another about our feelings and make clear our love for our family and the deceased. This will probably feel like walking a tight rope for the first few holiday seasons, but with grace and love for one another in the spirit of our loving God, I know that we’ll make it together.

May God bless you this Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year while you remember your loved ones, present and departed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Power of Half and Teenagers

by Rev. Felicia Fox

One of the reasons I love my job is I get to see youth and children make a real difference in the world. They really do have a way of seeing past all of the surface level issues that seem to distract us adults. Here’s an example I found this week of a teenager who saw a need and came up with a pretty simple answer that transformed her family’s life.

One day a father was driving his fourteen year old daughter, Hannah through the streets of downtown Atlanta. Hannah noticed a homeless man with a sign asking for food. On the other side was a mercedes benz. The girl had a great idea. If the man in the mercedes had a less expensive car the homeless man could use some of that money to have a meal. It was a brilliant and simple idea. Over the next few weeks Hannah kept bringing the idea up with her family. One night her aggravated mother asked if she was suggesting they should sell their house and give away all their nice things. That’s exactly what Hannah wanted. That’s exactly what the family did. They sold their 1.5 million dollar home and brought one half the size. They donated all the things they no longer needed to charity. The money from their home when to fund projects in African villages. There are now villages in Africa that have medical clinics and schools thanks to Hannah and her family. This story was the inspiration for her book, The Power of Half.

Isn’t it just like a teenager to see a need and see a solution that no adult would ever think of? It seems pretty simple. If you have an extra car you don’t need, give it to somebody who needs it. If you have extra food, feed a hunger person. It is so simple but so hard for us adults to do. We have a way of finding reasons to keep all of our stuff. We often hide the motivation behind our real reasons by saying we are just being responsible. We might need those things one day. However, most of those reasons come back to our own selfishness and our lack of faith.

Jesus summed up the idea this way, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19 – 21)

This Sunday I’ll be sharing Hannah’s story with our youth during FLASH. We’ll be taking a hard look at our own lives and thinking about where our treasure really lies. I invite you to do the same. After all, none of us really own anything. It is all suppose to belong to God.

Felicia Fox is the Minister of Youth and Children at First Baptist Church of Mount Olive, NC. This article originally appeared on her blog.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dig Some Wells for Others Along the Way

By Dr. Mark T. White

A Winston-Salem columnist reminded his readers that self-focused living now surrounds us, and we cannot deny the escalation of “meism” in our society today. Delayed gratification is basically non-existent. Replenishing what we have taken is rarely a priority. Oblivious to the biblical principal that future generations suffer from the myopia of their ancestors, people continue to take, take, and take.

Roger Pearman illustrates from his own experience how we can reverse this and find hope. When he was five years old he was spending a long, hot summer at his great-grandparents farmhouse 50 miles past Spivey’s Corner in Sampson County, N.C. Play was hard due to the heat. Every few minutes he had to find a cool spot to rest.

On one particular day, he dipped the bucket into the well and pulled the water up. Once he had the bucket of cool water he poured it over his head and felt a wave of coolness sweep him.

As the cool water calmed his little body, his grandfather walked in and said in his typical terse, clipped way, “Remember boy, we all drink from wells we did not dig.” We share in the bounty of those before us, and it is our responsibility to dig wells for those who follow.

Roger says the importance of this moment did not come to him until years later when he was asked if he was a “self-made man,” to which he replied, “No, I have drunk from so many wells dug by so many people that the question makes no sense to me.”

We have all quenched our spiritual and emotional thirsts from the wells dug by those who have gone before us. I wonder…as you and I glance behind us at the next traveler coming down our same road, do we see them with bucket and dipper in hand drinking from a new well dug by us?

Mark T. White is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Clayton, NC. This article first appeared in their church newsletter, The Outlook.

Monday, November 7, 2011

This Odd and Wondrous Calling – A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers is written by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver, two United Church of Christ ministers. In the preface they note that there are a plethora of books and resources on doing various aspects of books, but little to no writing about the various aspects of lives of ministers. This book is for persons trying to discern a call to ministry, laypersons who want an inside perspective, and seasoned ministers who need hope and a sense of renewed calling. These ministers tell tag-team vignettes about various aspects of their lives—their marriages, ordinations, first pastorates, family deaths, delivering sermons, nurturing budding ministers, hospital visitations, and practicing justice work in the community. These stories are delightfully insightful, while being funny, down-to-earth, and relational in tone.

I found myself nodding and laughing as Daniel talks about delivering sermons and then finding what the congregation heard is not what you thought you’d said. Several stories emphasize that while this can be either amusing or troubling, it can also be miraculous when the Holy Spirit works to give a comforting word to a congregant in a time of need. Daniel’s honest tone as she talks about the blessings and difficulties involved with two married, dedicated people following their callings is refreshing and encouraging to many younger ministers who can’t seem to find enough time in the day for their family. Her struggle to be recognized a minister in spite of her age or gender is also one to which many can relate.

Beyond relating, there are also great examples of how to do ministry. Daniel is involved with community organizing and confronts injustices in her neighborhood along with other ministers. Copenhaver talks about how he found hope when tasked with the difficult job of delivering a benediction at his father’s funeral. Daniel addresses positive and negative models for the working relationship between senior and associate pastors. Copenhaver discusses important lessons he learned while shaking hands after the sermon. These lessons can be remarkably helpful for practicing ministry.

What struck me throughout the book was the playful, yet deeply thoughtful tone. These are two ministers, who, despite facing difficult times in their ministry, have fallen deeply in love with their calling. Daniel and Copenhaver present a hopeful and encouraging view of the church and ministry, while being realistic about the challenges of congregational ministry. Copenhaver reflects thoughtfully on the idea that people find God in nature. He states, “Given the demands of being in community with people, this should not be surprising. It is telling that the settings that we tend to describe as “peaceful” are invariably places with few, if any, people.” He goes on to challenge this notion by saying that the

“wonder is that God can be found inside the church, among quirky, flawed, and broken people who may have little in common and yet are bound to one another…But the Christian God seems to like to surprise us by showing up in the most unpromising of places, like a man from Nazareth and in a motley gathering of people known as the church” (232).

This is a beautiful statement that underscores the necessity of the hard work of reconciliation amongst church members. Only in reconciling in God can we learn to reconcile with our fellow church members and members of the community. Church is where we can learn to love our neighbor, welcome the stranger, and learn to forgive. It is clear that these ministers can clearly see and foster the ongoing work of God at hand in their congregations and community, while also having learned to set boundaries to give them time for rest and reflection. In that balance, ministry can be a truly wondrous thing, where liminal time is loosed and one has the refreshed eyes to see the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in their church and community.

Check out the book on Amazon!