Archive for category Authors

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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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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Our Words Hold the Power to Bring Life or Death

My friend said to his mother, “Don’t worry about it. They are just words.”

In fact, she was right to worry. She was concerned about the wording changes in her church’s by-laws. Words that reeked of exclusion and fear.

She had prayed fervently that the ugliness that was sweeping through churches nationwide would not touch her church, but it did.

Words are never just words. Our words are sacred. When we were endowed with the power of speech, God gave us the power to bless or to wound others with our words.

The psalmist prayed that not only “the words of my mouth” but also “the meditations of my heart” would be pleasing to God (Psalm 19:14).

Similarly, the Greeks used the word logos to mean words spoken as well as words formed in the brain but not yet spoken.

Words spoken and/or heard become part of our nervous system. They may stimulate an immediate response, or they may lie dormant for years.

Words are never just words. They carry with them the power of life or death.

Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are the most powerful drugs used by man.”

The U.S. has been tragically reminded of how destructive words can be when they are weaponized by someone with evil intent.

Our democracy was threatened when a mob set out to overthrow our government. It seems that some were actively looking for certain officials whom they intended to harm.

Some in the mob shouted, “Hang Mike Prince.” Others cried out ominously, “Naaaaancy. Oh, Naaaaancy.” Thankfully, they did not succeed in finding either.

Many police officers were injured, and one was killed. There was much destruction to our Capitol and the business of the Congress was delayed.

The former president of the United States is a master politician and showman.

He understands the power of words especially when the same inflammatory words are repeated day after day, week after week and month after month. He is skilled at name-calling and character assignation.

With his words, he has been successful in undermining the press, the scientific community, the intelligence service, the FBI and the CDC. He has mastered the art of destructive speech.

Most heinous of all, he succeeded in turning citizen against citizen. This clearly demonstrates why words are never just words.

With his acquittal in the second impeachment hearing, former President Trump was not held accountable for the manner in which he (mis)used his freedom of speech leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

There is something to be learned from all of this: Our words are a sacred trust.

We have the power of creation with our words. We can create a better world one person at a time.

We can speak words of encouragement, hope and caring. We can build each other up and help create a more harmonious environment. We can create community.

We can search for leaders whose speech is more uplifting. So much of political programming on the radio and television is toxic, as are political campaigns.

No, we do not live in a Hallmark world and finding those who model healthy speech is not easy, but it is worth the effort.

As a follower of Christ, even more troubling is the reality that so many Christian leaders sacrificed their ideals in order to be associated with the former president.

They have done great harm to their reputations and to their calling. They have encouraged many of their followers to choose a darker path.

Their actions mocked the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV).

I believe that the attack on our Capitol is the worst calamity of my lifetime because it was not committed by a foreign power. It was committed by my fellow Americans at the urging of the former president.

Our words are important. Our words are powerful.

Let us use them wisely, so that they bring life not death.

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