Share, Record Your Family Stories This Holiday -goodfaithmedia.org

A friend shared recently about how his grandfather and his pregnant wife escaped from Russia before the First World War.

I asked him if he had written the story. Writing or recording your story is so important because stories connect us. If your story is not preserved someplace, it will die with you.

Reading an autobiography by my undergraduate roommate at Furman University brought great joy and sorrow.

He had a distinguished career as a history professor, and it was a joy to learn more about his devotion to teaching. But there was also great sorrow because he has chronicled the end of an era. He is a gifted teacher who relishes the interaction with his students.

He guided them through many projects and arranged many field trips to historic sites. Students cannot get such experiences by looking at a computer screen.

The give and take between professor and student is so important to the development of young minds. Everyone who is present benefits from what they hear.

It is not just facts that are important but the process of developing critical thinking skills and learning to ask the right questions. He wrote his autobiography for his children and grandchildren, but I want him to publish it because it represents a time that will never come again.

The National Day of Listening is fast approaching. The Friday after Thanksgiving has been designated by StoryCorps as a time for recording stories. We are encouraged to get in touch with older family members and provide space for them to tell the family stories as we record them.

You can prepare a set of questions or just encourage her or him to talk. You can do the same thing with friends and within church and civic groups. The important idea is to capture the stories.

My wife, Liz, enjoyed shopping for Christmas presents throughout the year. She brought them home and tucked them away.

One Christmas morning, when the mayhem with our children, Suzanne and Michael, had run its course, she looked at my presents next to my chair and asked, “Are those all of your presents?”

When I said, “yes,” she walked away with a puzzled look on her face. Later that morning, she went into the laundry room. Hanging on the back of the door was the tweed smoking jacket she bought for me earlier in the year.

Liz is the only person I have known who actually said “balderdash” in ordinary conversations. Her most favorite line was, “It’s not out of your way if you are going there.”

Does anyone outside of our family care about these stories? No, but they are important to us. Even as adults with children of their own, Suzanne and Michael still quote their mother when we are out driving.

Stories bind us together.

We remember them better than anything else. Others can relate to our stories, and they keep our loved ones present after they have passed away. There is an old hymn, “Precious Memories,” that drives that point home.

Think about Lin-Manuel Miranda, who brought an almost-forgotten hero of the American Revolution back to life with the musical, “Hamilton.” It is a great story.

Jesus was a master storyteller. I learned his stories as a child. Decades later, I can recall those stories because they contain lasting values that have guided my life. Jesus taught by telling stories because he knew their power.

Write your story. It may not become a Broadway play, but it is important.

Tags: , , ,

I Love Smoking in the Shower – Rev. Susan Sparks – Madison Ave. Baptist Church

I love smoking in the shower.

Not literally, or at least not in the way you might be thinking. I love “smoking in the shower,” which is the name my favorite diner gives to smoked salmon on a bagel. I don’t eat it often—only as a treat, and usually while alone in my apartment so I don’t have to share. Basically, the same way one would sneak a cigarette while hiding in the bathroom.

We all have our “smoking in the shower” moments: the things we do when no one is looking; the things that may feel good at the time but in the long run don’t make us stronger.

Like chowing down on a giant container of Ben and Jerry’s in secret.

Or binge-watching angry talk shows into the wee hours of the morning.

Or managing up at work. We all know people who are super-attentive and polite to their bosses but difficult and disrespectful to their subordinates when the higher-ups aren’t looking.

How about posting vicious social media posts and hiding behind anonymity?

Or saying judgmental, ugly, or racist things when no one else of that color, ethnicity, or religion is around?

“Smoking in the shower” moments happens in all aspects of life. But here’s the thing we have to remember: Over time, what we do in private drives who we are in public.

It could be as basic as what we eat or drink in private. Ten years ago, I did a cross-country drive from New York to Alaska. Trying to do it on the cheap, I ate a lot of McDonald’s and bought low-quality gas. It caught up with me somewhere in the Yukon when my Jeep could barely climb a hill, and I couldn’t fit in my overalls. If we abuse our bodies in private, we’re eventually going to give out in public.

It could also be what we feed our minds. If we spend our time in private filling our minds with negative, destructive things, then in public, we are going to speak and act on those harmful forces. In short, what goes in comes out. Not unlike garlic. If you eat it for dinner, you will share it with everyone you encounter.

In the end, what we do in private forms our foundation. It drives how we think, what we think about, and how we engage others. If our foundation is strong, our words, our work, and our purpose are grounded in value and significance. If, however, we draw on those negative forces, like road salt on a car frame, our foundation will corrode.

Here’s the good news: No matter what choices we have made in the past, no matter how many times we have found ourselves smoking in the shower, we can change. And here’s the double good news: We don’t have to do it alone. There’s a little something called prayer that can clean our deepest corrosion. As Mother Teresa said, “prayer changes us, and we change things.”

Prayer is actually the opposite of smoking in the shower. It is something we can do when no one is looking that makes us feel good AND makes us stronger. (It also has fewer calories than a bagel slathered with cream cheese and smoked salmon.)

Don’t let your choices in private corrode who you are in public.

Dig your foundations deep. Build your life on worthy, noble virtues. Make your stand on the rock of prayer. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If you’ve built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. That’s where they should be. Now put foundations under them

Tags: , , ,

Wisdom seeks a third way – Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins*

Wisdom seeks a third way: The congregational dimension of Christian citizenship

Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins

October 5, 2020 – The Christian Citizen

Visit a Christian church in the United States today, and you might spot two flags on the chancel: an American flag and a Christian flag. Nothing could better symbolize the reality that as Christians and Americans, we are citizens of two realms.

What does this mean for the faithful women and men who comprise America’s churches?

There is an inherent tension with this dual citizenship. Much of the time, we do not think about it. But when the values of our faith contradict the laws or practices of our government, what then?

It might prove helpful to remember how Jesus navigated his dual citizenship as both an adherent of the Jewish faith and a subject of the Roman government. In the synoptic gospels, we read about the Pharisees (Jewish leaders) and the Herodians (Roman loyalists) joining forces to trick Jesus, asking him if a good Jew should pay taxes to Caesar. If Jesus says, “No,” he will be at odds with the Roman law. If he says, “Yes,” he upsets his Jewish followers. “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Jesus replies to the chagrin of his Jewish companions. It appears that Jesus has aligned with the Herodians. But then he continues, “and to God what is God’s.”[i] The tricksters offer Jesus a binary problem; Jesus responds with a non-binary solution. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ challengers are amazed by his answer; their false dichotomy exposed in the light of his wisdom.

Wisdom seeks a third way.

Whether the rub as Christian citizens is between church and state or between Republican and Democrat, or something else entirely, wise followers of what the earliest believers called “The Way” must continually seek a third way: a higher way that exposes the fallacies of either/or thinking. Trinitarian expressions of faith were born for this.

The United States has a two-party system with either/or thinking built into its DNA. Citizens are pushed, pulled, dragged and cajoled into ascribing loyalty to one party or the other. Party identity often becomes a primary way we see ourselves and one another. When we begin to think of ourselves as “Democrat” or “Republican,” we can be confident that we have fallen prey to either/or thinking.

What does third-way wisdom look like in a congregational setting, especially in 2020 when a global pandemic rages and racial tensions flare in the midst of an election year? What can church leaders do to lift disparate people above the cacophony of partisan dog whistles and political posturing?

Wisdom seeks a third way.

What does third-way wisdom look like in a congregational setting, especially in 2020 when a global pandemic rages and racial tensions flare in the midst of an election year? What can church leaders do to lift disparate people above the cacophony of partisan dog whistles and political posturing?

Name it. For starters, church leaders can name the tension. The election will be on the minds of worshippers in 2020. If church leaders ignore the election, or if we dance too delicately around the discord, we become irrelevant. Our message becomes anemic, sterile, impotent. Jesus was not afraid to name Caesar and God in the same lesson. We must not be afraid to name current reality. Church leaders, as responsible citizens, will ultimately cast votes borne out of a two-party system, but until and beyond that day, leaders must lift, prompt, urge and beckon believers up above the partisan fray. Wisdom seeks a third way.

Reframe it. Keeping the great commandment to love God and neighbor ever central, the job of the church is to constantly point people to a higher way. This calling is especially prescient during these polarizing days. “The left says this, the right says that, how might we look at this through the lens of faith?” As we explore that question together as church communities, we will be on the path to discovering a third way together. Wisdom seeks a third way.

Seeking a higher way, a third way, will be challenging. It will require a willingness of church members and leaders to sit with the tension on the way to third-way wisdom. It will summon us to seek to understand, holding loosely our need to be understood. It will necessitate deep listening; we must be prepared to be transformed by the conversation.

These are precarious days for leaders of “purple churches” (churches comprised of people who identify as both Democrat and Republican). Those who preach must “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”[ii] A good rule of thumb for this kind of preaching: pastoral always, prophetic sometimes, partisan never. But preaching can be more than meeting people in the middle. Relevant preaching aims to be not apolitical, but transpolitical—aspiring to lift the collective vision higher, above zero-sum politics. Wisdom seeks a third way.

At our best, our nation and our faith share a common third-way vision: that the United States would be a land of “liberty and justice for all.”[iii] The church gains relevance as it points its communities to this ideal. This is no time for the church to be silent while partisan voices jockey for attention. Now is the time for the church to rise above the binary bickering, showing the world that wisdom seeks a third way.

*Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins is the senior pastor of Chapel by the Sea in Clearwater Beach, Florida and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. Blevins holds a Doctor of Ministry from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology and previously served as the coordinator of CBF Kentucky. She and her husband, Terry, live with their two sons in Palm Harbor, Florida.

 

Tags: , , ,

My Friend, Joyce Harris Murray

“I give thanks for every remembrance of you.”

Joyce graced my life for more than 60 years. We were classmates at Furman University. We did not run in the same circles. Joyce was a beauty queen and I was not.

When I arrived in Charleston and First Baptist Church, Joyce and Bennett were already here. The four of us Bennett, Joyce, Liz and I became friends. Joyce and Liz shared the same birthday.

Joyce was a beautiful person inside and outside. Her hair was her crown and glory. She had the same beauty shop appointment for more than 50 years.

On my birthday after Bennett died I received a crazy birthday card from Bennett. The return address was Bennett Murray, Heaven. Joyce said she found it in Bennett’s things and knew it was meant for me.

My most cherished memories of Joyce are as Carol’s condition became worse, I started attending choir practice with Joyce, Gene Plyler, and Carol. We would go to Chick-fil-a afterwards for dinner. Joyce and Carol got the children’s meal which contained a small toy. The two women traded their toys for an ice cream cone. Something neither of them should have.

Joyce loved sausage biscuits and would stop at Hardee’s on the way to church to get one. One day when looking for something in that huge purse she had, there was a sausage biscuit hard as a rock. After my Aunt Alice, Joyce made the best ambrosia.

Other than her family, Joyce had three loves: First Baptist Church, the Furman singers and flowers. Joyce never had to tell anyone that she was a Christian. It oozed out of every pore.

Joyce and I differed on many topics and she never failed to chastise me. When I was writing a column for the Post and Courier, Joyce was an avid reader and an avid  critic.  but Joyce was the first to tell me that my efforts at Say Something Nice was my mission.

How do you say goodbye to an old and dear friend? You don’t.

Joyce Murray will be in my memory forever until I see her again. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

Tags: , , ,