Love, a Tiara and a Cupcake – Rev. Susan Sparks -www.goodfaithmedia.org

Susan Sparks has created a profound book of faith wrapped in humor with her latest publication, Love, a Tiara and a Cupcake.

Melding her many talents as a lawyer, stand-up comedian and preacher (she is pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City), Sparks has produced a work that truly feeds the soul while stimulating our sense of humor.

She weaves in a lot of her North Carolina upbringing to make it real.

Sparks finds spiritual nourishment in the TSA agents confiscating her pimento cheese and in her trips to Kmart. She encourages us to be as enthusiastic about our faith in Jesus as Elvis fans are about keeping “the King” alive.

Elvis fans are happy to talk about him and to connect with other fans. They proclaim that he is alive, although he has been gone for 40 years.

Her premise is, “When we were born, God crowned us with a radiant tiara – a holy stamp of approval, a sign of our belonging.” We should wear it proudly.

She contends that the person who has the most influence over our lives is the person we refuse to forgive. She quotes a recent fortune cookie message, “Anger after 30 seconds is ego.”

Anger can steal our joy quickly and cause us to say things that divide us even further. The Bible warns about not guarding our words, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

On a teaching trip to Las Vegas, she saw a sign that conveys the message, “Civility is in you. Pass it on.”

According to Sparks, worry can tarnish our tiara. She devotes three chapters to this topic and employs Jesus, Dr. Seuss and John Milton in her argument.

Worry has become a national pastime but worrying will not solve our problems. We only make progress when we bring our worries into the open and deal with them.

She quotes Milton, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven.” Worry or believe – we can’t do both.

Sometimes, we need time to mature, which Sparks calls this the long way around, using Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt as an example.

There was a shorter way to the Promised Land, but the Israelites were not ready for the challenges they would encounter. So, God led them on a much longer journey to better prepare them.

To make it personal, suppose you found your dream job, but you didn’t have the skills you need to be successful in that job. So, you had to postpone that dream job until you acquire the skills you need.

It can be hard when we feel that we are not on the fast track. We worry about being passed over.

Yet, Sparks contends that it is not our timetable that matters. We can fight it, or we can trust the process, “Knowing that long way or not, God will eventually lead us home.”

In the chapter, “Do It Now,” she tackles one of our biggest problems: self-doubt.

We are always finding excuses for not fulfilling our dreams. It’s too late. I’m too old. People will laugh. I’ll do it later. I don’t have time.

For this last one, she adds, “You don’t. Do it now.”

We spend too much of our lives doing useless things like complaining. “We can spend our entire life complaining and then it’s gone,” she observes. “No one is saying that the path to your dreams will be a straight line. Look at my road: trial lawyer to standup comedian and Baptist minister.”

As I finished reading each chapter, it became my favorite.

This is no Pollyannaish book that pretends that faith is a magic bullet that will make all of our problems disappear. It does give us new ways of looking at our problems.

The author believes that God has given us everything we need to solve our own problems. Even in the miracles of Jesus, human participation is a necessary component.

The last two sentences in this marvelous book sum it up. “Each one of us has a divine potential. We just need to stretch our mind, body and soul toward its light and do what we were born to do: love.”

A member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.

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How “Lou Grant” Ignited My Spiritual Call to Journalism

by Mark Wingfield | May 4, 2021 | Feature-Opinion

As a 19-year-old, I experienced a spiritual calling to journalism. And it happened while watching TV.

No, I wasn’t called to ministry by a televangelist. My calling came through the voice of Ed Asner, who in December 1980 was playing the role of a newspaper editor on the hit show, “Lou Grant.”

This show was a sequel to the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” with Lou Grant having moved from managing a TV station to managing a city newspaper.

The details of what happened in the particular episode that spoke to me are lost to time, and that doesn’t really matter anyway. Because what I heard through the TV wasn’t actually the voice of Ed Asner, it was to me the voice of God.

In an instant, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that when I returned from Christmas break to my freshman year at Oklahoma Baptist University, I was to change my major from piano performance to journalism. Which is exactly what I did.

I understood in that moment – with extreme clarity – that the calling to Christian ministry I had experienced as a seventh-grader on a youth group mission trip was a calling to tell the truth with the power of words.

I understood that journalism was a path to offer a prophetic voice, to expose society’s wrongs and extol society’s virtues. I knew I could make a difference.

Looking back 40 years later, was this seeming word from the Lord correct? I believe wholeheartedly that it was, even if it was simplistic enough to break through my 19-year-old brain.

To borrow a line from Barbra Streisand: “Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line? If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we?”

Time has indeed rewritten many lines, but I would make the same decision again in a heartbeat. The reason why is contained in the theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day: “Information as a Public Good.”

For me, journalism is a way to do good.

When we tell the stories of the voiceless, we’re doing a public good. When we tell the stories of the oppressed, we’re doing a public good.

When we tell the stories of those who give themselves for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the community, we’re doing a public good.

In this spiritual enterprise, I’ve led a charmed life. The worst I’ve had to deal with is angry letters or emails and only the occasional threat of a lawsuit.

The same cannot be said for many others who have answered the call to be truth-tellers in a world that loves lies.

Last year, 50 journalists worldwide were killed for their work, according to Reporters Without Borders. And two-thirds of those were killed in countries officially “at peace,” not at war.

Lou Grant also had it easy back in 1980 because most Americans then trusted the reliability of professional journalists, even if they didn’t like what was reported. That was before narcissistic public figures poisoned the well of American trust in order to prop up their self-serving lies.

Imagine a world, though, where journalists are not present to tell the truth, not allowed to explain what’s really going on. That’s a world of totalitarian dictatorship.

What we know now, though, that Lou Grant couldn’t have known, is the power of journalism to find a way out of the darkness even when kings and potentates try their best to stop it. Even when journalists are murdered or slandered or sidelined to keep the truth out.

Today, we the know the power of citizen journalists, ordinary people who use cell phone video and social media to document police abuse, racism and Capitol riots. We know the power of ordinary people who value truth and share it widely, even if taking on the role of journalist causes them to lose family and friends.

We know – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that truth will out. And we know that we who are Christians are called to that kind of truth-telling, whether we’ve been to journalism school or not.

So, this week, in honor of World Press Freedom Day, will you join me in answering the call to do what old-time Baptist newspaper editor E.S. James declared as his motto: “Tell the truth and trust the people”?

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for World Press Freedom Day (May 3). The previous article in the series is:

Free Press Steers Society in Right Direction | Marv Knox

Mark Wingfield headshot

Executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global and the author of Why Churches Need to Talk About Sexuality.

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Why You Should Consider ‘Harvesting Life’ – Goodfaithmedia.org

“Harvesting life” should be a focal point for us as we age, said retired pastor and bioethicist Bert Keller.

“Harvesting a life means remembering, cherishing and telling the stories of one’s lifetime,” Keller explained. “Harvesting means accepting the role of elder in your tribe: to gather your lifetime like a ripened crop and to offer the best of what you’ve learned to the future.”

After reading this explanation, I began to examine my life for those characteristics that might be of value to others, especially those who are younger.

My search revealed the following nine values that have undergirded my personal life, friendships and professional relationships.

  1. Optimism.

I have a deep belief that most people are good at heart and that most of us want to do the right thing. I believe that tomorrow will be better than today.

I am not talking about a Pollyannaish attitude, but a realistic, eyes open look at life.

Have I ever been taken advantage of or stabbed in the back? Of course, but I am not going to live my life worrying about that possibility with each person I meet. The price for that attitude is too high.

  1. Ingenuity.

I always look for a different or unique way of looking at a problem or situation.

I decided rather early in my career that there were plenty of other professionals writing articles for other professionals. I decided to focus my attention on the person who needed the information but who was not a professional in the field.

  1. Persistence.

I continue to pursue an idea, an interview, an adventure or a job in the face of obstacles that lie in my path.

When I was the executive of an agency for the disabled, it took me 15 years to acquire a mobile testing unit, but we finally accomplished the goal.

As chairman of a lecture series, it took eight years to line up a particular national speaker, but we finally signed him up. His presentations made our efforts more than we could have ever anticipated.

  1. Endurance.

I am always in it for the long haul. I prefer to call this tenacious, but my father had another name for it: bullheadedness.

As a writer, there is a publication that I have targeted as a place I would like to publish an article. I have not accomplished that goal, but I haven’t given up.

  1. Integrity.

My word is my bond. I credit my father for this one. He had an impeccable reputation for honesty. I want that kind of reputation for myself.

  1. A sense of humor.

I discovered early in my life that a sense of humor always made the journey easier and more fun. Often it would catch the other person off guard.

There are hardly any situations that a little humor doesn’t help, as long as it is not barbed at the other’s expense

In working for a not-for-profit agency, I was often labeled an idealist.

My answer is, “I certainly hope so.” That is not the anticipated response. It breaks the tension and lightens the atmosphere.

  1. Gratitude is the most important value.

I am grateful for all the kindnesses I have received over the years. For my family and friends. For all of the second chances and benefits of the doubt I have received. For my life and for my country.

  1. To love and be loved is perhaps the greatest miracle of all.

I have experienced the love of two wonderful women, both of whom have predeceased me. They provided a safe harbor, a warm place to grow and experience life. I provided the same safe place for them to be themselves.

This kind of love is inexplicable but contributes greatly to the fully developed life. It far exceeds physical attraction.

  1. Faith is the most difficult to explain and yet it undergirds my entire life.

I believe that there is a force of goodness, kindness and love in the world. My faith has allowed me to recover from unbearable pain and survive. It is a constant assurance that I am not alone.

I believe in a God who is a comforting compassionate presence. I believe in a God who welcomes me and tells me that I am enough.

This “harvesting” of my life was a profound and meaningful experience. I encourage others to undertake such reflections not only in your latter years but also regularly throughout your life.

Considering the values and characteristics that undergird enrich our lives is always a worthwhile exercise.

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Easter Sunday: New Life

For the second year I will not attend an in person Easter Sunday church service. In my youth I even attended Sunrise services especially when my dad was in charge. In my youth, Baptists celebrated only two religious calendar events – Christmas and Easter.
After moving to Charleston and First Baptist Church, fortunately we added a host of other events from the Christian calendar. Epiphany, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (Stations of the Cross) and All Saints Eve. At Christmas we also have a Chrisman tree. My friend, the late Dr. Tom Guerry, use to carve them and give one to each couple attending a Christmas Eve brunch at his and Vicki’s home. I treasure ours.
As I became more familiar with the Lectionary, I came to a fuller appreciation for the sequence of events and how such observances better prepare us as we move through the year. These help me immensely in my preparation to teach Sunday school and to write devotionals for publications of different denominations. I have even learned to appreciate the colors for each season of the church.
I am profoundly grateful for the foundation I received at Northside Baptist Church in Woodruff that prepared me to grow in my Christian journey. I had wonderful mentors along the way: the Rev. Roy R. Gowan, Dr. C. Earl Cooper, and Dr. John Hamrick and a host of others from the John Hamrick Lectureship, which I chaired for twenty years and those I encountered at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State. Rev, Dr. R. Marshall Blalock has exercised amazing grace on my behalf over the years of our fellowship and I am grateful to him. I add to my list of mentors: Rev. Dr. Tom Guerry, Dr. Monty Knight, Chaplain Carl Tolbert, Rev. Bob Boston and Rev. Phil Bryant.

I must mention Rev. Ansel McGill, my boyhood friend and mentor long before I knew the meaning of the word. He is an inspiration throughout my life. Dr. Marvin Cann was my roommate at Furman University. Marvin’s friendship, continues to be a strong influence in my life. He is a mentor who leads by example.

This is a journey that continues to unfold. Easter is a new beginning, new life, new visions, new adventures.

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