Archive for category Say Something Nice

Welcoming People in from the Storm – Rev. Susan Sparks

This piece was recently featured by The Christian Citizen.

A few weeks ago, my husband Toby and I were sitting on the dock at our cabin in Northern Wisconsin. It was around 4:30PM, and we were doing what we usually do about that time: fishing, eating cheese curds, and sipping a festive beverage or two. In short—nothing.

As we sat doing nothing on that lazy Wisconsin afternoon, we heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. Within minutes, the sound grew closer and stronger. Then, almost out of nowhere, a ferocious storm blew in. As we scurried into the cabin, the winds began howling across the lake, and the storm sirens in town started to wail.

Huddled in our living room, we listened to the tempest outside. Then, shockingly, amidst the claps of thunder, we heard a knock on the door. We peered out and it was our next-door neighbor. Utterly drenched, he came in and told us that his 2000-pound pontoon boat had just been picked up in the storm and flipped upside down on the lake.

In the middle of telling his story, another knock is heard and there was our neighbor who lived across the lake. She was in the area when the storm hit and got stuck because all the streets were blocked with downed trees. We lite some candles, pulled out food and drink, and sat together in the shelter of the cabin as the storm raged on.

What else could we do but welcome them in from the storm? It’s too bad we don’t follow that ethic in our nation and our world.

Every day, our neighbors come to our house, at our door, to find shelter from the storm.

And everyone is fighting some type of storm. We may not see the tempests immediately. People love to pretend that everything is perfect and lovely—God forbid we show vulnerability or admit we need help. But notwithstanding the faces people show, everyone has their storm.

Some storms are personal, like the storm of a difficult relationship or a family issue. A personal storm could also be a physical one, such as chronic pain, or a financial storm.

It could also be part of a national or global storm, like the storm of hatred and judgment toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Or the storm of racism and bigotry towards our brothers and sisters of color. There is the storm of ignorance waged against our Muslim brothers and sisters. And then there is the immigration storm that is raging in our country.

Every day, people from all over the world come to our house, and stand at our door, asking for shelter from the storms of poverty, tyranny, oppression and religious persecution.

And what do we do when our global neighbors come to our door?

We slam it in their face. And if that’s not bad enough, we take their children. While there are no hard and fast numbers, the estimate is over 3000 children separated from their parents at the border.

I imagine God in heaven, watching all this going on, preparing to yell down to earth:

“People! Have you read my book? It’s pretty well known. I bet you’ve heard of it . . . It’s called the BIBLE! If you had read it, you would see that I ‘execute justice for the orphan and the widow, and love the strangers, providing them food and clothing’ (Deuteronomy 10:17).

You might also remember that I said, ‘When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 19:33-34).

If you’ve read nothing else, surely you remember my son Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 25:42-45: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Something must change. And it can. Sharing hospitality and welcome is not that complicated. Just like on that stormy night in our cabin, it comes down to two basic things: food and shelter.

First, we must feed the people. Sure, that can mean literally offering food through a food bank, or soup kitchen, or cooking something to feed someone in need. But food can mean so much more. People are hungry in their hearts—hungry for affirmation/acceptance, hungry for respect and dignity, hungry for love. And we must be the ones to provide that food to all we meet, no matter storm brings them to our door.

We must also offer shelter. That can mean literally providing a place by supporting a homeless shelter or participating in the national sanctuary movement to help protect our immigrant brothers and sisters. It can also mean providing people with a spiritual or psychological safe space from the storm by welcoming them unconditionally and listening without judgment.

A few days after the storm on the lake, as I was flying back from Wisconsin to New York City, our plane banked right over the Statue of Liberty—the symbol of our nation—which reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” How tragic that those beautiful words have been eclipsed by our nation’s hate, ignorance, and greed. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

As Rachel Held Evans writes in her new book, Inspired, “The story isn’t over. There are still prophets in our midst. There are still dragons and beasts. It might not look like it, but the resistance is winning. The light is breaking through.”
JUSTICE POSTED ON SEP 12, 2018 BY SUSAN SPARKS

Welcoming People in from the Storm

This piece was recently featured by The Christian Citizen.

A few weeks ago, my husband Toby and I were sitting on the dock at our cabin in Northern Wisconsin. It was around 4:30PM, and we were doing what we usually do about that time: fishing, eating cheese curds, and sipping a festive beverage or two. In short—nothing.

As we sat doing nothing on that lazy Wisconsin afternoon, we heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. Within minutes, the sound grew closer and stronger. Then, almost out of nowhere, a ferocious storm blew in. As we scurried into the cabin, the winds began howling across the lake, and the storm sirens in town started to wail.

Huddled in our living room, we listened to the tempest outside. Then, shockingly, amidst the claps of thunder, we heard a knock on the door. We peered out and it was our next-door neighbor. Utterly drenched, he came in and told us that his 2000-pound pontoon boat had just been picked up in the storm and flipped upside down on the lake.

In the middle of telling his story, another knock is heard and there was our neighbor who lived across the lake. She was in the area when the storm hit and got stuck because all the streets were blocked with downed trees. We lite some candles, pulled out food and drink, and sat together in the shelter of the cabin as the storm raged on.

What else could we do but welcome them in from the storm? It’s too bad we don’t follow that ethic in our nation and our world.

Every day, our neighbors come to our house, at our door, to find shelter from the storm.

And everyone is fighting some type of storm. We may not see the tempests immediately. People love to pretend that everything is perfect and lovely—God forbid we show vulnerability or admit we need help. But notwithstanding the faces people show, everyone has their storm.

Some storms are personal, like the storm of a difficult relationship or a family issue. A personal storm could also be a physical one, such as chronic pain, or a financial storm.

It could also be part of a national or global storm, like the storm of hatred and judgment toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Or the storm of racism and bigotry towards our brothers and sisters of color. There is the storm of ignorance waged against our Muslim brothers and sisters. And then there is the immigration storm that is raging in our country.

Every day, people from all over the world come to our house, and stand at our door, asking for shelter from the storms of poverty, tyranny, oppression and religious persecution.

And what do we do when our global neighbors come to our door?

We slam it in their face. And if that’s not bad enough, we take their children. While there are no hard and fast numbers, the estimate is over 3000 children separated from their parents at the border.

I imagine God in heaven, watching all this going on, preparing to yell down to earth:

“People! Have you read my book? It’s pretty well known. I bet you’ve heard of it . . . It’s called the BIBLE! If you had read it, you would see that I ‘execute justice for the orphan and the widow, and love the strangers, providing them food and clothing’ (Deuteronomy 10:17).

You might also remember that I said, ‘When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 19:33-34).

If you’ve read nothing else, surely you remember my son Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 25:42-45: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Something must change. And it can. Sharing hospitality and welcome is not that complicated. Just like on that stormy night in our cabin, it comes down to two basic things: food and shelter.

First, we must feed the people. Sure, that can mean literally offering food through a food bank, or soup kitchen, or cooking something to feed someone in need. But food can mean so much more. People are hungry in their hearts—hungry for affirmation/acceptance, hungry for respect and dignity, hungry for love. And we must be the ones to provide that food to all we meet, no matter storm brings them to our door.

We must also offer shelter. That can mean literally providing a place by supporting a homeless shelter or participating in the national sanctuary movement to help protect our immigrant brothers and sisters. It can also mean providing people with a spiritual or psychological safe space from the storm by welcoming them unconditionally and listening without judgment.

A few days after the storm on the lake, as I was flying back from Wisconsin to New York City, our plane banked right over the Statue of Liberty—the symbol of our nation—which reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” How tragic that those beautiful words have been eclipsed by our nation’s hate, ignorance, and greed. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

As Rachel Held Evans writes in her new book, Inspired, “The story isn’t over. There are still prophets in our midst. There are still dragons and beasts. It might not look like it, but the resistance is winning. The light is breaking through.”

Brothers and sisters, every single person we meet is going through some type of storm. And every day, people come to our house, to our door, looking for shelter.

Don’t shut them out.

Welcome them with hospitality. Offer them food and shelter. Let the light break through.

“For whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

This column was drawn from a sermon given at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in NYC on June 24, 2018.hers and sisters, every single person we meet is going through some type of storm. And every day, people come to our house, to our door, looking for shelter.

Don’t shut them out.

Welcome them with hospitality. Offer them food and shelter. Let the light break through.

“For whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

This column was drawn from a sermon given at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in NYC on June 24, 2018.

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Lord Give Me Patience and Make It Snappy – 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!

First — a word of concern for our brothers and sisters in the path of Hurricane Florence. Let us pray for their safety and wellbeing.

Now — let me share a message . . .

Our modern society can best be described in three words: fast, immediate, and instant! We speed walk, speed dial, and speed date. We disdain anything that takes extra time, including the US mail, which we affectionately call “snail mail” (an ironic nickname, given that 150 years ago, mail delivered by horseback was called “the pony express”).

We even speed pray. Recently, while waiting in an inordinately long line at the DMV, I mumbled through gritted teeth, “Lord, give me patience.” Almost without thinking, I then added, “And make it snappy!”

It’s hard to have patience in a sound bite world. That said, it is a virtue worth cultivating. We see this lesson over and over in scripture.

Consider Hebrews 12:1: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”In short, life’s a marathon, so pace yourself.

Patience may be one of the best things we can do for our stamina and our health. Exhibit A: my Dad, Herb. A twentieth-century Buddha with a North Carolina accent, Herb was never in a hurry. Nothing ruffled him, and nothing phased him. His heart rate stayed the same through thick and thin (roughly seven beats per minute). Even though he lived on a diet of fried chicken, cream gravy, Frito scoops, and pecan pie, Herb made it to the ripe old age of 89. Why? Because he was patient. It’like the old saying goes, “It’s better to be patient than to become one.”

Patience also brings perspective. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Similar advice came from a partner in my old law firm. He used to say, “always wait twenty-four hours before firing off an angry response.” That suggestion has saved me from much unnecessary angst.

How many times have you fired off an email or a text in a knee-jerk reaction that you regretted, or spewed out words that you wish you could take back? With the buffer of time, you might have been able to see the issue or the person differently. In the end, what’s the downside of waiting to respond? If it’s that big of an issue, it’ll be there tomorrow.

The opportunity for growth is perhaps the most important gift we receive from practicing patience. The Bible says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters . . . See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains” (James 5:7)Its too bad that we don’t treat others like farmers treat their crops, enabling their growth through patient tending.

Too often we get impatient with people—finishing their sentences, tuning out if they take too long to tell a story, or taking over their jobs if they don’t do the work quickly enough or in the way that we want.

The author Paulo Coelho tells the story of a man watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. The man decides to help the butterfly by cutting open the cocoon to free it. What he fails to realize is that the effort required to break free from the cocoon is nature’s way of strengthening the butterfly’s wings. By trying to accelerate the process, the man destroys the butterfly’s ability to fly.

Similarly, we can clip people’s wings through our own impatience. It takes time for things and people to strengthen and grow into their potential. We must have patienceto allow them that room.

This week, when you feel your patience waning, ask yourself: is this worth my health? In twenty-four hours, will my perspective change? Is this something or someone that needs extra time to develop fully?

Patience is a virtue worth cultivating. Try it. Just breathe. Take a beat before you respond. Be gentle with those you love. And if all else fails, then use this simple prayer to get you started: “Lord give me patience . . . and make it snappy!”

(This piece was featured as a nationally syndicated column for GateHouse Media. To read this and other columns,click here!)

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Churches, wake up and smell the coffee: communion with a cup of joe?

BRETT YOUNGER  |  AUGUST 28 Baptistnewsglobal.com

“Should we say something to her?”

“It’s not her fault. She didn’t grow up in church.”

The object of concern brought a cup of coffee into the sanctuary and set it down on the pew as if it was acceptable behavior. The troubled church members tried to let her know telepathically that coffee is not allowed in the sanctuary. How could she miss the invisible line beyond which a cup of joe is not permitted?

But how could the church not see that in a world that is asleep, coffee is no doze?

Coffee appears only two times in The Message Bible: “Never again will friends drop in for coffee” (Job 7:10) and “Wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee” (Luke 17:8).  Imagine how many times “coffee” would be in the concordance if Jesus had thought to change water into cappuccinos at the wedding in Cana.

“Imagine how many times ‘coffee’ would be in the concordance if Jesus had thought to change water into cappuccinos at the wedding in Cana.” 

Opening the church to coffee drinkers has been a long, difficult struggle. Coffee dates back to the 15th century and the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. One legend is that the mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili was traveling in Ethiopia. He saw birds acting unusually lively, and upon trying the berries that the birds had been eating, experienced the same vitality. Coffee was soon part of religious practice in the Islamic world. The Sufis used the beverage to keep themselves alert during nighttime devotions and as a kind of spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.

Because Muslims loved coffee, several Christian groups, including The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, made a big brouhaha and banned coffee. Mormons still avoid this potion made with magic beans.

Churches need to wake up and smell the coffee. When I ask Siri to “find coffee” she lists four places within 800 feet of my house. Our neighborhood has more coffee shops than churches.

Coffee is the most important meal of the day for many. In the midst of the daily grind, coffee is invigorating. A yawn is a silent scream for coffee. Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation. Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven and tastes like hopes and dreams.

When we are holding a cup of coffee, the warmth radiates through our hands. The aroma drifts through the air. The cream goes into black coffee and magically changes it into good-to-the-last-drop caramel. This sensual experience helps our sleepy selves greet the day with gratitude. We reflect on what we now have the energy to achieve.

“We should take our coffee seriously and joyfully. We should fill our churches with sugar and cream, sweetness and light.”

Worship would be less lively without a cup of joy. We can tell a lot about a church from how they caffeinate worshippers. My parents’ Baptist church is Folgers. Unitarians drink fair trade coffee. Mennonites have Keurig committees that wash and recycle those little cups. Presbyterians fill their fellowship halls for the sacrament of coffee hour. Catholics serve decaf at midnight mass. Sharing coffee is a way of saying, “We love you a latte.”

Church should be a place for common ground and a home to hang your mug. “Bible study” is less enticing than “Coffee and Bible study.” Nominating committees should choose a church barista.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” is an offer of friendship. Coffee turns a counseling session into a conversation between friends. Saying “yes” to coffee at the end of a meal is a promise to hang around.

Here is a question that needs to percolate: would coffee be a better symbol for communion? Grape juice is dull. Wine puts you to sleep. Coffee refreshes, revives and stimulates. The Lord’s Table could be a coffee table. If we drank coffee at communion, we could get rid of those tiny shot glasses. Picture the communion cup holders on the backs of pews becoming real cup holders. Coffee would be a fine symbol for the enlivening of the Spirit that happens at the table.

We should take our coffee seriously and joyfully. We should fill our churches with sugar and cream, sweetness and light.

 

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pastoral leaders are called to love fiercely and speak truthfully – and to rest

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