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Too Loud? Too Bad! – Shiny Side Up – Susan Sparks

The Shiny Side Up from Rev. Susan Sparks

Hi y’all, welcome to the Shiny Side Up! A journal of infectious inspiration that will lift you up, make you smile and leave you stronger.

Before I start, I want to offer an apology to all Honda motorcycle riders who may be offended by this message. God loves you. And I try.
Many years ago, before I bought my first bike, my husband Toby took me to a biker rally in Connecticut (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Like most rallies, the bikes were parked in rows with admirers walking up and down, comparing motorcycles and sharing stories.

Of all the gathered horsepower, for me, one bike stood out. It was hard to miss: red flames on a jet-black gas tank, fringed ape-hanger handlebars that you had to reach high above your head to hold, pipes that looked like two huge corn silos laid sideways, and a sticker on the back bumper that read: “Vietnam: We were winning when I left.”

Standing by the bike was the owner (again, who was hard to miss). Straight out of Road Warrior, he donned dirt encrusted black leather chaps, a leather vest (worn shirtless – and shouldn’t have been), and a giant tattoo on his left arm that was something akin to the naked woman silhouette on a tractor-trailer mud flap.

As we watched, he took the last inhale off his cigarette, ground it under his harness boot and swung his leg over the bike preparing to crank up and leave.

“This should be good,” I said to Toby, pointing at the pipes.

“Don’t count on it,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

The road warrior pulled the bike up off the kickstand, straightened the front wheel, pushed the kill switch to run, then turned to the gathered crowd with a Jacki Nicholson type grin, and pressed the start button.

The sound that came out made me gasp. It was like a grasshopper in puberty – breathy, high pitched, even a bit annoying.

“What is that?” I exclaimed. “How could something that big and bad sound so wimpy?”

Toby laughed. “It’s a Honda. That’s how they sound.”

“But what about all the badass leather stuff?”

“Hype,” he said, shaking his head.

I stood there in shock for a few more moments until another sound exploded out over the grasshopper noise. It was a sound that combined the threatening rumble of an approaching thunderstorm with the subtle “potato-potato-potato” rhythm chugged out by the exhaust stacks of my Uncle’s 1960 John Deere. I turned, and there behind us, gleaming in the sun, was a giant Harley Davidson.

“Oh, I love that sound!” I blurted out.

“Yup, I figured you would,” Toby nodded. Then he added the words that have stuck with me until this day: “Hey if it don’t roar, what’s the point?”  (I’ve been a Harley rider ever since.)

If it don’t roar, what’s the point?

Amen to that. It’s true for motorcycles and it’s true for us. We can live life with a whimper or we can live it with a roar. We’re going to be riding down life’s road either way. Why choose anything but living life loud and proud.

This is especially good advice now given our headlines. So many people are offering a voice that sounds more like a grasshopper, than a roar — veiled concerns, passive good wishes, the ubiquitous “thoughts and prayers.” But if you don’t back these passive words up with action – with a roar – it’s only hype.

And a roar is exactly what it’s going to take. We are facing gun violence, racism, mass murders, sexual attacks, natural disasters, and rampant terrorism. We have to dosomething. As the book of James says, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14).

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of prayer. But prayer alone is not enough. As God told the Apostle Paul, “Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Maybe this means calling your government officials, or speaking out against gun violence, or offering a kind word to guests at a food bank or manning the phones at a battered women’s shelter.

Whatever it is, we must take a stand. We must speak out. We must not live our lives with a whimper. Because in the end, if we don’t roar, what’s the point?

If you want more, tune into my sermon HERE this Sunday at 11 am EST entitled “If It Don’t Roar, What’s the Point?”

Below you will find more inspiration via photos, articles, and sermons. Until next time, keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down!   –Susan

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These Reformation Heroes Were Glossed Over by History – Pam Durso

These Reformation Heroes Were Glossed Over by History | Pam Durso, Reformation, Women in Ministry, Marie Dentière, Martin Luther

Marie Dentière was one of the many women, mostly privileged women born to families of wealth and nobility, who dared to proclaim publicly their commitment to reform teachings, Durso writes.

Churches around the globe paused earlier this week and remembered the courage of a man named Martin – and rightfully so.

Martin Luther’s challenge of the Catholic Church on Oct. 31, 1517, reshaped the 16th-century Christian landscape, and it continues to influence Christian life in the 21st century.

Soon, other voices joined Luther’s call for reform. We are familiar with many of those names: John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox.

Yet there are names we don’t know. Women’s names.

Women were active in this new movement. They spoke out, some even dared to preach. Others wrote letters, poetry and books; still others were financial underwriters of the movement.

Yet the names of these women did not make it into history books. Their stories have not been widely told. Their voices were often silenced during their lifetimes, and their voices have been silenced by history.

Among these women was Marie Dentière (c. 1495-1561).

Born to a French noble family, as a young teenager Marie entered an Augustinian convent. She eventually rose to the rank of abbess.

In the 1520s, Marie embraced Reformation teachings and was forced to leave her convent. She fled to Strasbourg, married a former Catholic priest, joined with him in working for reform and eventually moved to Geneva.

Among Marie’s strongest convictions was her belief that every person should have the opportunity to read God’s word. She believed that women and men were equally qualified and entitled to interpret Scripture and practice their faith.

In the 1530s, Marie began writing, first publishing an anonymous pamphlet about God’s intentions for reform in Geneva and later writing a book on the history of reform work in her city.

Marie also began speaking out, talking with people on the street corners and in public taverns and “preaching” to the crowds that gathered.

In 1539, Marie wrote a letter to fellow Reformation sympathizer, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, in which she pushed beyond the teachings of Luther and Calvin, calling for equality for women.

Several of Marie’s writings appeared in Jane Dempsey Douglass’ book, “Women, Freedom and Calvin,” published in 1985 by The Westminster Press.

Marie wrote, “If God then gives graces to some good women, revealing to them by his Holy Scriptures something holy and good, will they not dare to write, speak or declare it one to another? … Ah! It would be too audacious to wish to stop them from doing it. As for us, it would be too foolish to hide the talent which God has given us.”

Marie’s letter also included these words: “Although it is not permitted to us [women] to preach in public assemblies and churches, it is nonetheless not forbidden to write and admonish one another in all love. Not only for you, my Lady, have I wished to write this letter, but also to give courage to other women held in captivity, in order that they may not all fear being exiled from their country, relatives and friends, like myself, for the word of God … that they may from now on not be tormented and afflicted in themselves but rather rejoicing, consoled and excited to follow the truth, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. … This is the principle cause, my Lady, which moved me to write you, hoping in God that in the future women will not be so much despised as in the past.”

The letter was published in Geneva and caused quite a scandal. The printer of the letter was arrested, and Marie’s books and writings were confiscated.

She was accused of “meddling with preaching and perverting people of devotion,” and as a result, Marie’s voice was silenced. Her name is known today only by a few.

Marie was one of the many women, mostly privileged women born to families of wealth and nobility, who dared to proclaim publicly their commitment to reform teachings.

Many of these women were reprimanded by male reformers. Some were persecuted, some burned at the stake. Their names certainly deserve to be remembered. They should not be a footnote in history.

I can’t help but wonder if their voices made a difference. Did the influence of these women result in freedom, equality, opportunity? Did women gain any ground as a result of the Reformation?

Most scholars agree that the Reformation did not instigate any drastic changes in gender roles and expectations. Protestant women did not gain freedom in their homes, society and certainly not in the church.

Women continued to be excluded from the priesthood. They were not given official leadership positions in the church. And yet the Reformation brought freedom or at least the possibility of freedom to women.

Many women embraced Luther’s principles of “sola scriptura” and the priesthood of all believers and believed wholeheartedly that these teachings meant that they too were included in the mission of the church.

They believed that spiritual equality was possible, and they used the avenues available to them to share their convictions, to spread the liberating message of the gospel.

Their names are not remembered. Their voices have been silenced. But in this anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, let us not also be guilty of forgetting these women.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) in Atlanta, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on Durso’s BWIM blog. It is used with permission.

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The Eclipse of All Things Good – Rev. Susan Sparks

JUSTICE POSTED ON AUG 20, 2017 BY SUSAN SPARKS

 This blog was featured by Huffington Post  and given as a sermon on August 20, 2017 at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.

Unless you have been living under a gigantic boulder for the past month, you know that tomorrow there will be a total eclipse of the sun. And, it’s going to be quite a party . . .

The 7–Eleven is selling eclipse glasses. There are solar eclipse t-shirts and solar eclipse apps. My favorite are the numerous articles about how to throw an eclipse party, complete with eclipse arts and crafts and suggested food, like blackout cakecrescent cookies, or dishes with sun-dried ingredients. For us in 2017, the eclipse will be a huge party. For the ancients, however, it meant panic.

In the days before people understood the orbits of the sun and the moon, they had no idea what caused an eclipse. In fact, many cultures had myths about evil characters trying to devour the sun. The Vikings believed wolves ate it, the Chinese thought a dragon ate it, the Vietnamese a frog, and the Romans a demon. Whatever it was, the ancients believed an eclipse was a bad omen, a sign of destruction to come, an eclipse of all things good.

We also see it in the Bible. The prophet Joel, for example, warned that because the people were turning from God, a day of darkness and gloom would come, where “the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining” (Joel 2:10).

However, there’s a slight difference. In this passage, the prophet Joel is talking about an eclipse of the sun not by the moon, but by locusts; locusts that come in huge swarms blackening the skies, destroying and consuming everything in their path – all food sources, all nourishment, all things good (Joel 2:25).

Twenty-five hundred years later, we face yet another eclipse of all things good. Here in 2017 America, the light is being eclipsed by our own plague of locusts — the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and the white nationalists we saw in Charlottesville – locusts coming in swarms, blackening the skies, and destroying everything in their path, destroying all things good.

Charlottesville, Virginia is only one example. This plague has been going on for years and is now growing in strength. This weekend alone there were nine different alt-right rallies planned across the country in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, Mountain View, CA, New York, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

And here’s the scariest part — these hate-based groups are being led by young people. The pastor, author, and theologian Brian McLaren was in Charlottesville and reported that the white nationalists were young, the majority in their twenties and thirties, carrying torches and chanting phrases, such as: “White lives matter!” and “Jews will not replace us!”

He went on to note how young, white poeple are being radicalized in America today to the point of using the ISIS tactic of killing people with vehicles — like the one that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. He said, “Radicalization isn’t simply something that happens in the Middle East — it is happening today, in Ohio and Kentucky and Florida and Virigina.”

Have no doubt, we are facing an eclipse of epic proportions — one that will devour all the light and steal from us all things good, including our young people and our future.

So what do we do? We, again, take a lesson from our ancient ones. In the era when people thought a wolf was eating the sun, they also believed that the creature could be driven off by creating as much loud noise as possible: yelling, ringing bells, or banging pots and pans. The book of Joel starts out with similar language (2:1): “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!”

The only way to fight the evil that is blotting out our light is to blow the trumpet and sound the alarm. To speak out and often.

Let me give you two examples. First, what happens when we don’t speak out. This week, our President, when criticizing the riots in Charlottesville offered a vague, watered-down response, saying the violence “came from many sides.” After a national backlash, he then condemned the white nationalist. Within days, he defended them again, saying “there were some very fine people in their midst.”

 That failure to “sound the trumpet” prompted David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Klan, to tweet this: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

Let’s be clear: the KKK tweeted a thank you note to the President of the United States.

This is the ultimate eclipse of all things good.

And its’ not just the President. It’s white Christians who have been woefully silent. This week, a headline in the Washington Post read: “After Charlottesville, will white pastors finally take racism seriously?” It quoted Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham jail, “[they] have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” Whether pastor or parishioner, whether Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christan, Atheist, or just trying-to-figure-it-out, we cannot remain silent. Dr. King warned us, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Let me now give you an opposite example; an example of someone who is speaking out. Rev. Rob W. Lee, IV is a decedent of General Robert E. Lee who led the Confederacy during the Civil War. Rev. Lee is a minister in North Carolina, an outspoken anti-racist, and a fighter of the white nationalists. In fact, he is fighting for the statue of his relative, General Robert E. Lee, to be taken down.

As a Southerner myself – a Southerner with numerous relatives who fought for the Confederacy – I was deeply moved by his words and actions. And despite death threats and threats to his church, Rev. Lee continues to speak out.

“God has commanded us to speak up to small and big acts of oppression. So that may mean condemning the racist joke or standing up for the woman who needs a raise because they make 70 cents on the dollar compared to men . . . or that black lives matter to God. When you ignore the fact that white matters more than black you are being silent to a population of God’s children . . . Until we get off our thrones and into the streets to proclaim and re-claim what racism has taken away, we’ve missed the point of Christ’s death and resurrection.”

We have to blow the trumpet in Zion. We must sound the alarm on God’s holy mountain. We have to – – if for no other reason than for our children. How can we face them if we don’t? How can we hand them a world eclipsed by hatred and evil? We can’t. We must fight and then tell them of our fight.

Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation (Joel 1:3).

And when we do, God offers us a promise:

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,                                            your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions (Joel 2:17).

Brothers and sisters, we have to be the dreamers.

We have to be the ones to blow the trumpet and call out the evil.

We have to be the ones to sound the alarm against hatred, racism and judgment.

We have to be the ones to hold on to that dream where all God’s children are treated with respect and dignity and love.

This is a dream that was there before the eclipse of all things good.

And it will be there, shining out, when the shadow moves on.

For then, we will know

“I, the Lord, am your God and no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame” (Joel 2:27).

 

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We can find common ground, but only if we try – Rev. Susan Sparks

Recently, I was in the Atlanta airport waiting on a flight and I noticed two groups of people standing off to the side of the boarding gate. The first was a Muslim woman in full burka with three children between the ages of 3 and 5. The kids, also in traditional clothing, were nestled on the floor watching a video. Next to them was a white woman with a little boy, also about 5. She occasionally eyed the woman in the burka with suspicion.

After a few minutes, when his mother wasn’t watching, the little boy slowly sneaked over behind the other kids and began watching their video. Something funny happened in the piece and he and the other kids started giggling. Without hesitation, he sat down, curled up beside the little girl and kept watching. Without even looking up, the little girl turned the iPhone a bit so he could see it. The moms looked down, looked up at each other, then smiled and shrugged.

Those kids didn’t see the differences — clothes, race, nationality, religion; they saw common ground. And that, my friends, is what could happen in our world. Could happen. But we have to be the ones to make it happen.

Ah, if there was only a video the entire world could gather around, watch and laugh about together. Short of that, let me suggest three other ways we can find common ground, practical ways based on our recent tragic headlines.

Education

This week (and weeks past), we’ve watched as our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico struggle to meet basic needs after the devastating hurricane strikes. We’ve also watched as aid to Puerto Rico has lagged. And more importantly, we’ve seen public outrage over this lack of support lag. Why is this happening? Overt prejudice is certainly one reason. But another is ignorance.

While most everyone knows that our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are struggling after Hurricane Maria, what most everyone doesn’t seem to know is that these brother and sisters … are American citizens! A recent poll found that only 54 percent of Americans knew that people born in Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, are U.S. citizens.

Hel-lo.

Besides being really embarrassing, why does it matter? Two reasons: No. 1, It means one half of Americans think that what happened there is a foreign disaster and not a domestic one, which leads us to problem No. 2: Studies show that people attach an overwhelming priority to problems at home — and that includes prioritizing aid distribution.

There is absolutely no excuse for such ignorance, especially given the access to information these days through the Internet, the media, Amazon.com or the free library system.

Jesus commanded that we love our neighbor as ourselves, and sometimes that may seem a hard road. Our neighbor may seem separated from us by a mountain of differences. They may seem like a foreign nation. However, if we educate ourselves about each other (which might include learning about the states and territories of our own country, or learning about an unfamiliar religion, or someone’s sexual orientation, or a different political party), we will eventually find common ground.

Public conversation

This week, we witnessed a gunman perched on a high floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel take a cache of automatic weapons and systematically kill 59 people and wound more than 525.

Many are once again crying out for public debate on gun control. But rather than engage in debate, gun lobbyists are dismissing the effort at conversation, arguing that it is simply politicizing the tragedy.

Trevor Noah, the comedian and host of The Daily Show, had some thoughts on this. He said: “I wish I had used this logic as a kid when I’d done something wrong, when my mom wanted to ground me. I should have just said, ‘Is this the time, Mom, when we politicize what’s happening right now? This is not the time to talk about my lack of discipline. This is the time for us to unite as a family to focus on the fact that I’m stuck in the kitchen window trying to sneak back in.’”

I can’t help but think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1-5 : “… with the judgment you make you will be judged. … Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” I’m going to go out on a limb and say, if you applied Jesus’ parable to the gun debate, you might get something like this:

 “I can’t believe the speck in the eye of these gun control advocates. They are politicizing this tragedy by using it to force a debate. OK, yeah11,000 people in the U.S. are killed annually by firearms; and yeah, the U.S. leads every developed country in gun violence; and yeah, America has 4.5 percent of the world’s population, but 50 percent of the civilian-owned guns, and yeah, there are 50,000 more gun shops in this country than McDonald’s; and yeah, gun stocks do tend to rally after shootings. But pushing public debate on gun control during this tragedy is just reprehensible.”

Like in any human dynamic, without conversation, without public debate, we shut ourselves off from the possibility of information, insight and empathy. We shut out the possibility of reconciliation. We shut down the possibility of ever finding common ground.

Overcoming blame

So many of our tragic headlines, including those around racial violence, can be traced not only hate and judgment, but also blame. Case in point: Claireborne P. Ellis, a Klan leader turned civil rights activist. Our church’s Bible study class recently read about his life story as documented through his obit and an NPR interview.

Ellis grew up in poverty in Durham, N.C., in the 1920s and ’30s. The son of a mill worker who was himself a Klan leader, he married at 17, fathered three children young, including a special needs child. Despite working two jobs, he could rarely pay his bills.

He said: “They say abide by the law, go to church, do right and live for the Lord and everything will work out. Well, it didn’t work out. It kept gettin’ worse and worse. I began to get bitter. So I joined the Klan. … It made me feel like somebody.”

Ellis eventually became the leader of the local Klan and battled for years over race issues, including battles with a local desegregation activist, a black woman named Ann Atwater.

For years they fought vicious fights. But then, over time, something happened. Ellis said, “During those days it became clear to me that she [Ann Atwater] had some of the identical problems that I had, and that I’d suffered like she had and what … had I spent all my life fighting people like Ann for?”

It took years, but in the end, Ellis resigned the Klan; he began fighting for desegregation. When he died back in 2005, Ann Atwater spoke at his funeral and said, “God had a plan for both of us.”

I read that obit and immediately thought of Colossians 3:14: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Love is the glue that has the potential to unify the world. And if we can get past our blame, then that love will slowly seep in and bond us back together.

Brothers and sisters, these are glimpses of what could happen in our world. Could happen. But we have to be the ones to make it happen. We have to be the ones to educate ourselves, to engage in public conversation, to transcend blame, and to laugh together. It’s only then, that we will begin to truly heal. It is only then, that we will begin to see common ground.

 

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