Posts Tagged gratitude

A Unique Approach to Passing the Peace – Madison Avenue Baptist Church

Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City where Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior minister has a unique method for Passing the Peace or extending the Right Hand of Christian Fellowship during this pandemic. Because worshipers are scattered around the world and attending by smartphones or computer screens exercising social distancing, they are unable to touch each other. Rev. Sparks suggests that each listener reach out to at least three other people during the forthcoming week.

You can call, text or write each of your recipients. Next to face to face conversations hand written notes are the most personal and are most deeply appreciated. It is a way of staying in touch. It is a way to assure others that we have not forgotten them, that even in a pandemic they are important. Several years ago, I suggested that we could stretch the 12 days of Christmas over the entire year by choosing a date in each month and surprising a person with an unexpected greeting or small gift. Actually I like Susan’s idea better because you will reach more people. We are social beings and we need human contact.

Thursday of each week is Thankful Thursday. I ask this question on Linkedin.com. ‘Who are you thankful for today?” I then suggest that you let that person know of your gratitude. Thankful Thursday offers another opportunity to reach out, but now you are reaching out at least once each week. The purpose of all of these ideas is to stay in touch with others, especially those who have no family members nearby. You do not need to be a member of any religious or secular group to join in. Just do it because it makes you feel good.

Because people have time on their hands during this pandemic, I have heard from friends that I have not been in contact with for years. It is fun to catch up on what has happened in their lives. We all have such good intentions, but now we have the opportunity and the time to follow through and actually do those things we intended to do. Now we have the time.

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Why gratitude may be the best gift under the tree this year* – Jeff Brumley

If you’re reading this story on the new laptop or tablet or phone you just got for Christmas, be thankful.

But don’t forget also to be grateful, which, many spiritual leaders say, is not necessarily the same thing.

“We are taught repeatedly to be grateful when we have material gain, so it should come as no surprise that we wake up one day thinking people with more material possessions are more grateful,” said Joshua Hearne, abbot and director of Grace and Main Fellowship, an intentional Christian community devoted to hospitality, prayer and grassroots community development in Danville, Va.

“Our culture has taught us that gratitude is a bland cheerfulness that is all too often connected with financial security,” he said.

Rather, gratitude is a spiritual practice that, like other disciplines, requires daily attention. And its focus is on a growing awareness and experience of grace that may or may not be inspired by material blessings.

“In our experience, gratitude multiplies,” said Hearne, who serves as field personnel for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Those who cultivate gratitude, he added, “will not only be grateful for the thing itself, but they’ll be grateful for their own gratitude.”

Scarlette Jasper has seen that phenomenon firsthand.

Jasper is director of Olive Branch Ministries, which serves the homeless population, working poor and those experiencing medical crises, financial devastation and domestic violence in a 10-county area around Somerset, Ky.

The holidays always add a level of financial and emotional stress for most of the clients her ministry serves. It’s especially tough when children are involved.

“I had one call me last week saying the kids are asking ‘are we getting a tree?’” said Jasper, who also serves as CBF field personnel.

Likewise, there are more calls for help providing gifts and food.

“You just see the need increase,” she said.

But the gratitude also increases — even among the poorest people Jasper encounters.

Scarlette Jasper

“The families I work for are grateful for … the littlest things I do to brighten their day.”

It’s especially true for those struggling through medical challenges. People sitting with very ill or dying loved ones seem to be able to pull from a deep well of thanks for even the tiniest of moments of togetherness.

“They don’t have huge expectations,” Jasper said. “They are just appreciative … for the time they have together.”

Hearne said it isn’t necessary to feel sorry for people facing such challenges at Christmas. Doing so reveals a disturbing theology.

“This time of year it’s common to talk about how blessed we are and how sorry we feel for those who are doing without, assuming that material wealth is a mark of God’s favor or the value of a person,” he said.

Those who simultaneously experience poverty and gratitude, likewise, are not doing so despite their circumstances, Hearne said.

“It has little to do with their poverty. They just choose to practice gratitude.

*I posted this two years ago, but it is so good I decided to post it again.

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Thanksgiving – Rev. Susan Sparks – SunySideUp.com

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!A couple of things. First, life has been a bit busy around here, and as a result, I’m afraid delivery of the Shiny Side Up has been a bit sporadic. Starting today, I commit to sharing the Shiny Side Up with you every other Wednesday!

Second, while the Thanksgiving holiday has officially past, I still want to share this column with you. It talks about the importantce of gratitude which never goes out of season! It was featured as a syndicated newspaper column on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, I’d like to shamelessly sharing a letter to the editor in the Daytona Beach News-Journal about this particular column. I’m super proud of it!

How to give thanks
Susan Sparks wrote a sparkling essay — not a sermon — on the meaning of Thanksgiving and, indeed, on the essence of all that the word “giving” connotes.

Susan Sparks embodies what is best in any minister, rabbi or priest: A sense of humor as she conveys a message of profound significance and a sense of gratitude for what we’ve been given.

As she quotes from The Bible, “God loves a cheerful giver.” It gives a new perspective to what we understand when we think of charity and giving to others less fortunate.

Thanks for publishing Sparks’ heartfelt column.

John P. Stark, Port Orange

——–
Now . . . for the column!

It’s hard for me to believe that New York City (where I now live) is part of the same country as North Carolina (where I was born). Everything is different: food, clothing, the pace at which people walk, and the accents. Oh, the accents.

I don’t mean any disrespect, but New York accents are just wrong—meaning they fall in the wrong place.

For example, in the south the object one holds over one’s head in a rainstorm is pronounced, “UM-brella.” New Yorkers talk about some foreign object called an “um-BREL-la.”

The southern word for the flat screen on your wall that allows you to binge on Netflix is “TEE-vee.” New Yorkers use some alien multi-syllable conglomeration of “television.”

Some may see this to be a meaningless linguistic tussle. However, when you consider the word describing this week’s national holiday, you realize that there is more at stake than you may think.

Unlike New Yorkers who say, “ThanksGIVING,” Southerners call this holiday “THANKS-giving.” Why? Because that’s what the holiday is about! THANKS. Not giving.

The thanks must come first because you can’t truly give FROM the heart, unless you have gratitude IN your heart. It’s as 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

This is an important lesson as we begin this holiday season. While loving, joyful giving should be the focus of the coming weeks, giving usually turns into an exhausting act of duty. Like the conviction that you have to make two potato dishes—sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes—for the holiday dinner. Or the belief that you must fight the Black Friday crowds to get a generic scarf and mitten set for a great aunt twice-removed because she sent you a Whitman’s Sampler.

This is not joyful giving. This is giving cause you gotta. And this type of giving rarely produces anything heartfelt. What it does produce is heartburn. It also generates stress, resentment, and the worse of all things: the martyr syndrome.

To break from this pattern, we must put the emphasis on the “THANKS”—in the word for the holiday and in our lives. And the best way to do that is to ask yourself the following question:

What is good in my life?

When you focus on what you have, even if it’s the tiniest of things, you begin to feel gratitude. And when you have gratitude, everything changes: your mood lightens, your heart opens, and your mind starts to alter its perspective. Eventually, you see past the angst and realize that you are surrounded by blessings—blessings that you want to share.

So, what is good in your life?

Maybe you woke up feel physically stronger than usual. If so, find someone who needs physical help crossing the street or carrying groceries.

Perhaps, you have a plant blooming in your house. Take a photo and send it to someone whose heart is not blooming.
Is your blessing putting on a warm coat this morning? Find a way to share something warm, like a cup of coffee, with someone who needs it.

Or maybe you are one of the lucky people with the biggest of blessings: a job. (And please understand, I didn’t say a job you love. I mean a J-O-B with a C-H-E-C-K.) If that’s your blessing, then remember those who don’t have a job this holiday. Volunteer to serve a meal or be like the anonymous donor who recently paid off holiday layaway accounts at a Walmart.

This week, as you make your multiple potato dishes, and shop in the Black Friday chaos, raise thanks for what is good in your life, then share that blessing with joy. Give with a grateful, not grudging heart. Put the emphasis where it belongs. And remember, as we do in the South, that the holiday is pronounced THANKSgiving!

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On the Pathway of Jesus, Can Life Be a Joy Ride? Dr. Molly Marshall

I remember summer evenings riding around my hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma, in my older brother’s very old car. A ’39 Oldsmobile, complete with running boards, was an inheritance from our grandmother Marshall. Thankfully, our parents did not know how many times I rode on the outside of the car, precariously perched on those running boards. We careened around neighborhoods and various haunts visiting friends and seeing who else was out on the town. At 25 cents a gallon, why not drive that lumbering vehicle all over? Not surprising, we did not have a specific destination; it was improvisation at its best. Looking back, I can truly say it was a joyride.

The Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University recently convened about 150 persons from all over the world to talk about joy as an expression of faith and work.  Willie James Jennings, professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale Divinity School, stressed that joy is a work, not a sentiment. It is a work of resistance against fear and death. He said he learned this from his ancestors who were sharecropping “people of the earth.” His family decided to “work hard at joy” as a way of renouncing despair, expressing their faith by “dancing just above the line of surviving.”

Other scholars shared their reflection on joy as virtue, as fruit of the spirit, as journey rather than destiny, as something one receives rather than achieves, although intent matters. We probed the question of whether joy can be isolated from suffering; it is far from giddy. Joy often has proximity to sorrow, and grace allows the two to co-exist. Hebrews describes the life of Jesus as having the telos of joy: “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame . . .” (12:2b). Joy was the fruit of faithfulness, not the focus of his pursuit.

“Gratitude – even in the exigencies of life – becomes the fuel for joy.”

Gratitude – even in the exigencies of life – becomes the fuel for joy. When we stop focusing on our own performance and relinquish control, joy may surprise us.  Gratitude, like other virtues, is a habit acquired across time through intentional practices. Set in a transcendent narrative, giving thanks is a constructive way to find coordinates to navigate life toward the joy God grants each of us.

The work of joy is communal, as Jesus taught us. What he had learned from his Abba, he shared. His own life became the demonstration plot for how we are to live. His chief desire was for his joy to be in us “and that [our] joy may be complete” (John 15:11).  This would only happen through the thick ties of relationship. It is the Spirit who makes it possible to feel the depths of our human experience. The Spirit makes us present to one another and to ourselves.

A peloton is a pack of bicycle riders who make the journey together, similar to birds that fly in formation. They draft off one another while the leader takes the brunt of the wind.  The riders must be exquisitely attuned to one another as they ride closely together to conserve energy; they exchange places as needed, and all benefit from this communal enterprise. Human thriving occurs as we accompany one another toward our eschatological future.

“A joyful life opens up the human imagination to what God desires for the world.”

Joy is available in the good gifts of God’s creation and, as Mary Oliver writes, “joy is not made to be a crumb.” Rather it is a lavish gift that draws us toward our true home in God. Joy makes us more human and more holy, a “response to what should be, offering an alternative vision,” in the words of Pam Ebstyne King of Fuller Seminary. Not surprising, joy and justice are closely related.

When we genuinely pursue the common good with all the energy and vision we can summon, not only is a community transformed, but so are those who give themselves to the joyful work of justice. It is not only good for humanity, but God as well! As the beloved hymn For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table intones

and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

A joyful life opens up the human imagination to what God desires for the world. No wonder it is a wellspring for human flourishing. Joy occurs as we seek to follow the pathway of Jesus, one who embraced the ultimate joy ride.

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