Posts Tagged connected

What Writing a Spiritual Autobiography Taught Me – www.ethicsdaily.com

When I started writing Our Father: Discovering Family, the working title was, Our Father: From Certainty to Faith. I had two questions in mind stemming from an amazing, eye-opening, soul-stretching experience I had at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. How did my spiritual development bring me to this point from where I started life in a small provincial town in South Carolina during the days of racial segregation? The second question was equally daunting. What am I to do with the remaining years of my life?

I discovered that God had a much bigger plan. God wanted to expand my vision as to who is in God’s family. God always has a bigger plan than we have. I am reluctant to put words in God’s mouth, but it is as if he were saying, Mitch, you can’t understand me until you know who is in my family.

In 1998 my new wife and I were in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. At 11:00 a.m. the priest for the day announced, “At this time every day we stop and say together the Our Father Prayer.” An amazing thing happened. People from all over the world: white, black, brown, male, female, tall, short, handicapped, able-bodied gay, straight were all praying the Our Father Prayer. For the first time in my life the true meaning of what “Our” means swept over me. I knew at that moment that my life had changed forever and that my faith had taken a quantum leap forward.

The process of prayer, reflection, research and writing lead me to two conclusions. First, I needed to drastically expand my understanding of who composes God’s family and second God had been preparing me all of my life to be a voice for fostering better understanding and communication between Christians and between Christians and the rest of the world. We need a more Christ-like dialogue. Striving to improve Christian communication became my mission for both writing and speaking.

The book is best described as a spiritual autobiography. I grew up in the segregated South where learning about the brotherhood of man wasn’t easy. As a child I could not understand how a church that preached God’s love could turn black people away from its doors. Much later, I struggled through the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and a church split. My late wife, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, challenged all of my provincial ideas in a loving but forceful way. Her death coming just days before Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston and my beloved church was an unimaginable tragedy. One from which I was not sure I could recover, but God provided abundant expressions of love and reassurance.

In 2006 my wife asked me to volunteer to teach creative writing to her students in an inner-city minority middle school. The atmosphere reeked with negativity from both faculty and students. That experience lead me to write a little booklet, Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter. Then I founded the Say Something Nice Day observance now listed in the Chase Calendar of Event. In 2007 because of the rising tide of animosity between Christian groups, I spearheaded the Say Something Nice Sunday Movement celebrated on the first Sunday in June… This movement has gained support from Baptists, Catholics, Disciples, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The book I edited and contributed a chapter to in 2009, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, which brought together leaders from various denominations grew out of these events.

God brought great Christian thinkers into my life through my visits at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York State and the many speakers at the John Hamrick Lectures at First Baptists Church of Charleston: Bill Leonard, Molly Marshall, Glenn Hinson, Martin Marty, Thomas McKibbens, Arthur Caliandro, Timothy George, John Claypool, Paul Raushenbush and Joan Brown Campbell to name a few. I owe a great debt to my childhood pastor, Rev. Roy R. Gowan. One day he said to me, “Mitchell, God made all of you and that includes your brain. He does not expect you to park it at the door when you come to church.” It took me years to fully grasp what this wonderful man had said to me.

As I researched and wrote, Our Father; Discovering Family, all these isolated events – a career in communication disorders, Sunday school teacher, life-long church and civic volunteer, deacon, writer and speaker, consultant – began to fit together. They revealed to me that God has been leading me step by step to discover meaning and mission in my life. There are no coincidences. God’s Word says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) It also lead me to understand that the God I had been worshiping all of my life far exceeded anything that I could imagine or comprehend. Insights keep coming. It is an amazing journey.

An Excerpt from Our Father: Discovering Family

London and St. Paul’s Cathedral are light years away from Woodruff, South Carolina and Northside Baptist Church but each is an essential mile marker on a journey – a journey to discover a fuller understanding of who God really is and how I can be more like him.  In the process God revealed a much broader plan for me. He wanted to open my eyes and mind to see who his children are.  It is as if he is saying,” Mitch, you can’t understand me without knowing and loving my children, your sisters and brothers. I am the Father of all.” He is constantly reminding me that I am one of his children and that I belong to a family that is much larger, much more diverse, much more inclusive than I imagined at the start of my journey.

There are no shutouts in God’s family or as Dr. John Hamrick says, “People are not throw-aways.”  We all belong.  Just as my aunt tried to do 50 years ago, someone or some group is always trying to exclude some other group from God’s family for reasons of their own.  It never works.  You and I are members of the family.  We are loved, but we are not the head of the family.  That is the basis of all sin – wanting to take the place of God.  God is the head of the family.  He alone decides who is in and who is out. His greatest desire is that everyone should be a member of his family.  My role as a member of the family is to invite others to join by living a life that is truly reflective of what being a child of God is all about. It is about inclusion, not exclusion.  It is about love not hate. It is about accepting the invitation, “Come and learn of Me.”

For more about Mitch’s books, including Our Father: Discovering Family, click here.

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The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering – ethicsdaily.com

The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering

Mitch Carnell

The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering | Mitch Carnell, Communication, Kindness 

When we are too busy or too distracted to listen, we demonstrate a lack of concern, Carnell writes. (Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The ability to communicate is a gift.

We can bless others with this gift by using it to heal, to build up and not to harm. Conversely, we can use it to tear down, to harm and to destroy relationships.

We all need and search for connectedness. We know how it feels to be in a crowd and yet feel utterly alone and isolated.

We need and want to belong. We need to touch and be touched. We can be warmed by another person’s smile or simple acknowledgement.

Good conversation, like good music or a good book, nourishes the soul. Good communication builds relationships.

Nothing says more about a person’s caring than his or her willingness to listen without judgment or interruption. Sometimes our greatest ministry is simply to be 100 percent present in the moment.

One of my most cherished books is “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen. Allen stresses that what we think about is what we will become.

We can control our lives by controlling our thoughts. If we fill our minds with goodwill toward others, that is what we will express and demonstrate.

Don Kirkland, retired editor of the South Carolina Baptist Courier, states in his book, “Something Ventured,” that what Jesus did in all of his time not accounted for in the Bible is clear: “He went about doing good.”

Goodness was in his heart and so it expressed itself. Kirkland goes on to say that, “Our Christianity must be visible to others or it is not Christianity at all.”

My mother and my late wife had the same favorite Scripture passage: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto thee, oh God, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

They both understood that what comes out of our mouths is a result of what is in our hearts. If our heart overflows with love, that is what we will speak.

Every Sunday morning, Clyde stands at the front door of our church and gives butterscotch candies to every person who enters and is willing to accept his offering.

He is greeted by broad smiles and a lot of hugs. When he is absent, everyone asks about him. Goodness overflows from him. His gesture of kindness helps create an atmosphere for worship.

Sister Sandra Makowski makes a case for kindness as a central ingredient for the ministry of good communication in her book, “The Side of Kindness”

“Could we say that saints were kind people? My guess is that kindness became their constant companion,” she writes. “It is what they carried with them when they prayed, when they worked for justice, and when they were martyred for the sake of the gospel. It became their companion in their life of prayer and the gifts that they developed in the service of others.”

The tremendous role that listening plays in the ministry of communication is expressed by Pope Francis in his book, “The Name of God Is Mercy.”

He asserts, “Mostly people are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time to listen to their dramas and difficulties. This is what I call the apostolate of the ear and it is important. Very important. I feel compelled to say to confessors: talk, listen with patience, and above all tell people that God loves them.”

I asked my friend, Monty Knight, both a minister and certified counselor, “How do you talk to God?”

“Mitch,” he said, “a much more important question is how do I listen to God?”

When Mother Teresa was asked how she talked to God, she answered. “I mostly listen.” When she was then asked, “What does God say?” she replied, “He mainly listens.”

There are times when there are no words capable of conveying what is in our hearts, but there are no times when being 100 percent present with another is not effective.

Raymond DeSchazo, former professor at Mars Hill University, was fond of saying, “The way you know when you really love another person is when you can be in a room together for hours and neither of you says a word. Just being present is enough.”

For communication to be effective and work its magic as ministry, what we do and what we say must be congruent. There must be no conflict between our words and our actions.

Active listening is an essential behavior for showing concern and compassion for the other. When we are too busy or too distracted to listen, we demonstrate a lack of concern. We can change this perception by being 100 percent present in the moment with our communication partner.

Never underestimate the influence of an encounter no matter how brief it might be. It leaves an impression for good or bad. A simple act of kindness has the power to transform lives. An act of grace never goes unnoticed.

Mitch Carnell is a consultant specializing in effective communication. He and his wife, Carol, are members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He blogs at MitchCarnell.com and ChristianCivility.com

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We Are not Alone – Amy Butler

MONDAY, JULY 28, 2014TALK WITH THE PREACHER

We are not alone

There’s significant power in having the courage to name the pain we carry.

By Amy Butler

You know, I’ve always thought that one of the principle practices of a good pastor is connecting people. But I’ve now come to believe that one of the principle practices of being a good human being is connecting people. Because the worst thing about walking through a hard time is feeling that you are all alone.

The truth is that we need to share our stories. In fact, without that sharing, it’s doubtful we can ever become the beloved community Jesus envisioned.

These days I’m enjoying some weeks of sabbatical before I get back in the pulpit. This means various things, including increased use of sunscreen and long-neglected closet organizing projects finally marked off the list.

This also means I get to go to church. I mean, I get to choose anywhere I want to worship, slip in the back of the sanctuary and sit in the pew.

The other day I was sitting in worship in a small New England congregation where public prayer is a custom. The pastor got up during the prayer time and invited folks in the congregation to name their prayer requests out loud. The call for requests was broken up into three categories: prayers for the world, prayers for others, prayers for ourselves.

This week there was plenty to say when the pastor asked for prayers for the world: another Malaysian airliner down, continued bombing in the Gaza Strip, escalating gun violence in major American cities. Prayers for others was similarly populated: brother Joe; home recovering from back surgery; Aunt Marjorie, mourning the death of her cat; the local library fundraiser coming up in a few days.

Curiously, when the pastor got to prayers for ourselves, the entire congregation sat in silence.

Not one person stood up to say they were grieving a loss, living through a painful time in their marriage, worried about money, wondering if God exists.

Thoughts tumbled one over one another in my own mind: I’m worried about coordinating an upcoming move; I’m grieving the death of my brother; I’m anxious about beginning a new job; I miss my kids; I feel so much sadness and hopelessness when I watch the news and I want to be able to talk to my friends and colleagues of other faiths about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine, but I don’t know how.

As I sat in the silence I wondered if I was the only one grieving or scared or sad.

But I know I wasn’t. I looked around at all the shiny faces in those pews and I knew I couldn’t be the only one. Still, presenting a perfect façade to the world around us, as so many of us do, seemed to be the accepted standard of the community that morning. I did not speak up.

I thought of this experience in church just the other day when I finally had the opportunity to introduce two friends of mine whom I am sure should have been friends with each other long before they’d ever met me. The reason? They shared a story — pain-filled life experiences that shaped them both into the incredible people I know them to be.

I’d tried for awhile to connect them, but I’d heard a lot of hesitation. “It’s too hard to tell my story,” one of them said. “I’m ashamed,” the other one told me.

But when my friends finally met each other and shared their stories, here’s what they told me: “She understood me.” “I finally realized I am not alone.” “Wow, it’s not just me who lived through this.” “I felt God was here.” “I made a new friend.”

I knew it!

There’s significant power in sharing our stories with each other. When we have the courage to name the pain we carry, we find out soon enough that we are not alone. And knowing we’re not alone often uncovers enough courage to take the next step in a painful situation.

If the church can be anything these days, don’t you think it should certainly be a place where those kinds of connections happen?

I do.

After all, we claim to follow the One who showed up, told his story and shared life with others who learned to tell theirs. And look how that kind of community changed the world.

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