Friends around the Table

We celebrated the Lord’s Supper this morning, something we do once a month. Today we did it around the table. A number of small tables were set in front of the sanctuary, a minister present at each one. We gathered around the table in groups of six or so, serving each other the gift of bread and (in my church) juice, the stuff of life and peace and hope.

I was so greatly moved as I looked around the table this morning and watched us serve each other. Eyes sparkled with genuine affection. We weren’t just serving another person. We were serving a friend.

I’m in the choir,so gathered together around the tables. As we shared the supper we shared the connections of long rehearsals and laughter and missed notes and the triumph that comes when we finally get that difficult section right.

I couldn’t help but think about my first experience of communion in this church. It was a strange and dislocated feeling. I’d come from a church I’d been a part of for decades. Coming forward for the Lord’s Supper always meant smiles and a hand on a shoulder and the recognition that comes when you spend twenty odd years in a community (some of them odder than others.).

But here in this new place I knew very few people. I felt like the cousin’s neighbor hauled off the to the family reunion with a pity invite.

What a difference a few years makes. I was now sharing the Supper with friends. The transformation didn’t just happen with time. I joined up. I showed up. I worked very hard to learn names, which can be intimidating in its own right. I invested myself in this community.

One of the things that I see people struggling with is a lack of community and connection. But community and connection don’t happen while you’re home binge watching Netflix. It takes the willingness to be inconvenienced. It takes the willingness to walk through the door of something new. It takes the willingness to  make a commitment and invest of yourself. When you drop in and drop out as they winds of your whims blow, you’re not going to find the community that your soul needs.

Where do you find community? Where are you investing yourself?

 

What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.

 

Stupid Stuff Jesus Says

When a young man in our church was killed in Iraq while serving as a Marine I had the honor of participating in his memorial service. The pastor called to give me my assignment.

“I’d like for you to lead in the prayer for our enemies,” he said.

“Can’t I do something easier?” I asked, “Like raise Andrew from the dead?”

It’s one of the most difficult prayers I’ve ever had to pray in public or private, not made easier by the rows of blue uniformed Marines at the service. In the prayer I confessed to praying though clenched teeth.

When a Marine angrily challenged the pastor for having such a prayer in the service for a fallen comrade, the pastor replied, “But we are Christian. This is what we are commanded to do.”

(Recently as a part of my own spiritual journey I started praying for my enemies. Very quickly I realized my prayers were not so much for their well being but for them to be more like me. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.)

That’s one of the stupid things Jesus said. Love Your enemies. Pray for them that persecute you. (And I don’t think he was talking about plain red coffee cups, but if you feel the need to pray for Starbucks have at it.)

Praying for people who hate us? Praying for the candidates that you feel would be absolute disasters for our country? Praying for people of other countries and other faiths who may even want to kill us? Who does that?

Evidently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to do just that.

There’s more stupid stuff Jesus said. There’s the one I can’t get out of my head this week: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” So as a Christian I am supposed to care about refugees not because it’s a nice thing to do but because that’s where I’ll find Jesus. Who can live like that?

Apparently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to live just that way.

Fear is our common currency these days. And yet we’re supposed to buck the trend and live not out of fear but out of faith and love?

“You don’t have to be so scared,” Jesus said in the Cotton Patch Version of the scripture, and he meant it for any language. But who does that?

Actually, I think he’s looking at us.

I am reminded this morning that being a Christian is hard stuff. Oh, I’m not persecuted in this country. I can worship where I will or not worship at all. It’s hard because Jesus said stupid stuff like this, and what’s more, expects me to follow him anyway.

I am continually called to go beyond what is easy or cheap or self serving. I am called to consider the world beyond the sound bite or campaign slogan. I am commanded to take into account the welfare of those who have no money, no resources and no standing, because Jesus stands among them.

Who does something so stupid?

God willing, we will.

 

Why Do We Need Churches?

Why Do We Need Churches?

This morning I saw the story of a 91 year old man who came home from his cancer treatment at the hospital to an empty kitchen. He had no food and no way of getting food. Out of desperation he called 911. The operator and her supervisor agreed to let her take him some groceries, then help get him signed up with support services.

You see, this is why we need church. We need communities to support us when we are frail or sick or disabled. We need communities to step in and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Of course, there are other nonprofits. Out of necessity, however, their mission has to be focused and limited. Used to be you could count on your neighbors or extended family to step in. These days most families are smaller and many are spread out across the country and around the world. Some people have neighbors they can call on. Many others wouldn’t know a neighbor’s name to make a call.

There is no shortage of things the church gets wrong these days. There is no shortage of sins for which we need to make heartfelt confession. There is no shortage of challenges of which we’re still trying to figure out the answers.

But for once, can we talk about what church – what local churches – get right?

I’ve not been a member of a ton of churches. I tend to go and stay put in a place. But here’s what I’ve seen. Older folks get their lawns mowed, even when they’re crotchety about the mowing. Kids have adult friends who are not related to them but who care about them and care for them. Tired new parents have two dozen other arms to hold (and love on) their baby for an hour or two a week. Someone who never had a family before experiences what it feels like to be connected.

My present church is in a partnership with a local school, a partnership that continues to grow. Through it kids are tutored and have new buddies. Through a partnership with Bookmarks, every child was given a book of his or her own. Every child who needed a warm winter coat received one. Think about it. Not one child at that school went cold last winter for the want of a winter coat.

When I was in a wheelchair for two months my church, located thirty miles away, brought me meals every week. When my parents were dying, my church held me up with love and care and just checking in not just on them, but on me. When I was a kid and faced with circumstances that told me that I was worthless the people of my church told me that I was priceless and treated me as if it was true.

By its nature, a lot of the caring that goes on in a church has to be kept confidential. Some needs don’t need to be trumpeted. And by our nature a lot of us don’t like calling attention to such things because it runs counter to the whole spirit of why we do it and Who we’re serving by doing it.

Civic clubs adopt schools as well. And the tennis team can rally around a fallen member. But the church not only does these things but also reaches out to those who would otherwise fall through the cracks, like a 91 year old cancer patient coming home.

Maybe we don’t talk about it much because we really do it out of a kind of self interest. We do it because Jesus said that’s where we’d find him.

Miz Barker, the dancer

Miz Barker, the dancer

Perhaps you’ve seen it. How can you not love it?

Personally, I loved it the minute Miss Barker told of always having her name misspelled.

“They always left out the ‘r’,” she said. As a Haymes (‘m’ not ‘n’) I can relate. But i loved this video for another reason.

More than a frail old lady

Unless we have known them for a very long time, we tend to judge people by the selves they put before us. Young or old or in-between. Accomplished or struggling. Weighed down by jobs or scattered by families.

We see the one hundred-year-old-and-some-change old woman in the bed. We don’t realize that we are also looking at a Harlem dancer who could pull off quite a shimmy and shake. Only as we listen do we see the little girl who ran away from bath time to dance, naked as a jaybird by the music of a neighborhood band, concerned only when the music stopped playing. And in our listening, she is no long the woman in room 105 but is a real live, unique person.

Knowing me. And you.

Even if our dancing days are long behind us, we never lose the people whom we have been. Inside us is still the little boy who played baseball until the dark chased him inside or the little girl who climbed trees with fierce abandon. Sometimes that’s a painful thing, like when a boss calls us on the carpet and suddenly we’re five years old inside, quaking before a critical parent whose love and approval could be never quite earned. Sometimes it’s a wonderful thing, like when we start building sandcastles with the kids and realize we are kids as well.

For joy or for struggle, we are inside all of the ages we’ve ever been.

I am. So are you. So are they.

Hearing their stories transforms them from a flat, two dimensional portrait to a being with all the shades of life. I may disagree with you and you with me, but if we know something of the stories that have shaped us we may understand each other.

The problem is, we don’t spend an awful lot of time listening to each other. Mostly we talk at each other. Even in churches, which ought to know better, there’s precious little time for us to share our stories with each other.

She was an old woman on my mom’s Meals on Wheels route. When my mom learned that she was going to be alone on Christmas Day she insisted that the woman join us. She was an old woman, but over the course of our lunch I also learned that she was a little girl who awoke one Christmas morning to find a pony tied to her bedpost.

We are all of the ages we ever have been and we are all of the stories we ever have lived. There is a richness inside all of us.

Sometimes we just need to take the time to see the dance.


sexual abuseHave you ordered your copy yet?

Here’s what pastoral therapist James Stillwell (Frankfurt, KY) had to say:

This book could well be required reading for therapists, even for those not consciously dealing with a victim of childhood sexual abuse. This is because there is a very good chance that if you see a lot of clients, you probably are dealing with some who are not even conscious of the source of their pain. Walking through Peggy’s journey has given me the confidence of “being there” which enables me to sit with empathy and compassion to others…

What makes Peggy’s book so incredibly readable is her sense of humor. Such a tough subject requires it. Her humor carries the book, even as it carries us all as we travel through this world. The mindset that sees the ironies of life. In reading Peggy’s book, you’ll smile and laugh with her almost as often as you have those intense moments of compassion for pain.

read more

Order now from Amazon

A race over too soon

This week in one of my Facebook groups the posts have been filled with pictures and memories. A woman who’d been with us in many training sessions died after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer.

fleet feet running
Lynn Hutchins Edwards

Her friends reflected on her ever-present smile and the fun she brought to even the most mundane workouts. In fact, sometimes they missed the turns they were supposed to take because they were having so much fun. She trained with the training groups sponsored by our local running store and she served as a mentor for other training programs. She was always ready to encourage someone else, trying to seduce them into loving running as much as she did.

I spent some time looking at the pictures they posted and yes, she was smiling in every one. She was strong and she was fit, but she wasn’t petite. Still, she was a runner.

As I looked at her beaming face, I thought about how many women keep themselves from such joy simply because they don’t think they’re the right size. They’re afraid of what someone might think. Their fear of what doesn’t matter (what other people might think) keeps them from doing things that really do matter.

When I bought my first tri suit the saleswoman warned me, “it’s going to show every bulge and you just have to step out anyway.” She was right, it does. But she was also right in that I did. Now I’m training for my seventh triathlon. More than that, I have the joy (okay, and sometimes the agony) of all of those races. I didn’t let the fact that my body wasn’t perfect keep me from a perfectly good time.

Lynn was average size with a bigger-than-average heart. And she was a runner.

Thank God for that, for through her running she blessed us all.

You go, girl.

Ferguson, boarding passes and race

In these last few days as the racial tensions in Ferguson, MO have made public the simmering tensions of our culture, I’ve been thinking about an episode of the TV show, “Airline.”

In the show cameras follow Southwest Airline employees as they evaluate whether or not a passenger is too drunk to fly, deal with bags infested with ants, juggle late arrivals and thunderstorms. In this episode the conflict centers around an African American man and his fiancee. The employees are debating whether or not to deny him boarding.

What happened was this: A white woman stepped in front of him in the boarding line. She had a boarding pass for the B group and the man was at the front of the C group. He didn’t understand this distinction, and immediately demanded to know why this woman was allowed to jump in line.

I felt like I was watching hundred years of history in just a few moments. For the man, a lifetime of being treated as less than rose to the surface. “It’s not right,” he demanded. “My money is just as good as hers.” As he got angry he got loud, and as a large, loud black man he now became a threat to bystanders. The gate agents reacted and denied boarding to the couple on this flight because he was “scaring the other passengers.”

The episode made me feel very sad because everyone walked away with their fears and prejudices confirmed. For the man, it was just more evidence as to why there is no justice for a person of color. For the gate agents (and at least some of the passengers) it was a reinforcement that loud, angry black men are to be feared.

I felt sad because it was all so unnecessary. All it would have taken is to listen to one another. All the gate agent had to do was to listen to why the man was upset instead of immediately trying to shut him down. All the man had to do was to understand the system and that in fact, the woman was simply acting within the boundaries of that system.

But no one explained that. All he needed was to be heard, but everyone was too busy trying to get him to be quiet.

pic - boy with black lab puppyI don’t know what really happened in Ferguson. I know that police officers live with knowing that the next driver they stop may pull a gun on them and end their lives. I know that many African Americans live in a world I cannot imagine, a world in which boys have to be taught how not to be scary simply because of the color of their skin.

My sadness is that the conversations that didn’t happen in the airport terminal still aren’t happening. No matter what the issue, we’ve seemed to have lost any desire to listen to people whose experience is different from ours. We aren’t interested in what their lives are like, only as to how our lives will be affected. The question as to whether or not this is best for the greater good has been replaced by the question of what it will mean for me. When that’s the only question we ask, we’re in trouble.

I don’t have the answers. but I know they will not come until we can begin to listen to one another.