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?

 

Miz Agnes and the Miracles

In the good southern way, children and youth alike called her Miz Agnes. In real life she was Mrs. Agnes Joyner, a fixture as a Sunday School teacher, an intimidator in a Bible study anyone else led (you best be prepared because Agnes was going to ask questions) and the keeper of the wearing hats to church tradition.

She also became the designed sitter in our church. When both parents were in the choir or divided between choir and preaching, Agnes was the person with whom parents could leave their children. They knew she’d welcome their wiggly presence with her in worship but had the gravitas to keep them from getting too wiggly. For a while she also came early to meet with children in the library and read to them. The children loved Miz Agnes.

As they also loved Miz Jane who taught generations of children in the preschool Sunday School class. Parents begged her not to retire before their children came through her class. When she died her body was carried from the church to the strains of Jesus Loves Me and a congregation filled with her now grown-up preschool children cried a bit for the deep hearted gift of having known her and the sadness of having to say goodbye to her. She told me once that in all of her years of working  with children she’d never met a bad child, only ones who needed a little more attention and care.

I thought about Agnes and Jane this week as I read an article about the impact of older adults in the lives of youth and young adults. A survey of college students found that the ones who had adults over fifty in their lives – regardless of the health of those adults – reported lower levels of illegal drug use.

It’s one of the best gifts we as the church have to offer and it’s a light we keep trying to hide under a bushel. Children used to have the benefit of lots of contact with grandparents, aunts and uncles. For many children these days such contact is infrequent.

But in a church, well it’s a different story. That’s the miracle of it. Here children can sit with Miz Agnes and be loved by Miz Jane. Here they can be friends with the volunteer helping with the youth. Here, unless we fall into the trap of segregating ourselves too rigidly by age, children and youth can find the extended family that we all desperately need. In a wonderful win-win, adults of any age can also find purpose and meaning in those connections.

Who has been Jane and Agnes for you? How might your church nurture those connections?

How I Changed My Mind

I’ll admit it.

Once upon a time when it came to homosexuality I was in the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” camp. I mean, it was so clearly against God’s law. It said so right there in one or two verses in my Bible. Besides, I didn’t know any gay people.

Well, actually I did. One of my first escorts to a winter dance was a gay guy in our youth group. Except no one openly said he was gay. There were just some oblique remarks about the fact that he was different, maybe he was “that way.” I didn’t care. He was a great dancer and I had a great time.

As I got older I was scared of looking at the issue directly. It was so different from my experience and that foreignness felt like threat. Still, I eventually decided that I owed it to myself to consider the issue more in depth.

Two things happened.

The first is that I read a book. Entitled, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, it provided for me a context for the biblical verses regarding homosexuality. I realized that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality but a terrible abuse of the Middle Eastern hospitality mandate. For the first time I considered what sort of practices Paul was really railing against, and the fact that he had no model of a committed, monogamous gay relationship.

Ironically, I’d been on the wrong side of selective scripture myself. I came along as a woman called to ministry in the eighties in the Southern Baptist Convention, a time when that issue was part of the dividing line between folks on one side and different folks on the other. I’d had people tell me straight out and to my face that I must be wrong because after all, Paul said that women should keep silence.

Of all people, I understood the dangers of proof texting. In reading this book and others I finally understood that we’d been doing the same thing to gays and lesbians.

A second thing happened that was just as important and even more powerful. Openly gay people started coming to my church. When they found welcome they told of other experiences, like being met at the doors of churches and told not to come in because “we don’t want your kind here.”

(Parenthetically, let me just say I cannot imagine Jesus ever saying such a thing.) 

They told me of the anguish and sometimes near suicidal despair of trying to reconcile being who God made them to be and who God’s people demanded that they be. I saw a brilliant, kind, funny and deeply faithful man face his own death with fear that the fundamentalist preachers were right. This man who’d followed Jesus his whole life at the end of that life feared going to hell.

I’ve seen them care for partners whom they could not marry, in sickness and in health. I’ve seen them care for their friends and give sanctuary to abandoned and abused four legged friends. I’ve laughed with them and been inspired as they’ve shared their gifts in worship. I’ve seen them care for Christ’s body, the church, doing what needs to be done for the church as a whole and for individuals within it. I’ve seen some of them be deeply involved and others just show up on the occasional Sunday – kind of like the rest of us.

I’ve seen my friends love God and love people.

If this be the gay agenda, then by God, may they be successful in overtaking our culture.

When I was called on staff of that church I was the first ordained woman to serve. One of the older members later admitted that she couldn’t understand why we were calling a woman when “there were so many fine male ministers around.” After confessing this to me, she said, “but then I met you and saw that you were going to be my friend.”

I met these folks, and saw that they were going to be my friends, and in that I was blessed indeed.

Reading the book opened my mind. Embracing my friends opened my heart.

I have to disagree with something President Obama said after the Supreme Court handed down its decision. He lauded the “small acts of courage” that led to this day, like people coming out. With all due respect, Mr President, that’s no small act of courage. That’s a great big, knees knocking, heart pounding, doing it even though your life may change forever act of courage.

Through these roller coaster weeks it has become increasingly evident to me that we cannot afford not to know each other. Law enforcement and citizens, black and white, gay and straight, popular and outcast. We need to know each others’ stories and to catch a glimpse of each others’ worlds. Only then can we truly hear with our hearts what the other is trying to say.

The grace of old clothes

The grace of old clothes

Recently I was reading about a new company that rents clothes online. You order it, wear it as long as you like and then return it. Now  I can see the value if you’ve got a fancy ball to go to (or in the immortal words of Archie Campbell’s Rindercella, “a bancy fall”) and you’re not the kind who ordinarily does such things. Why spend hundreds of dollars on a dress to be worn once?

But the owner was positioning the company for ordinary clothes as well. She used the example of a winter coat. “Don’t we just rent that?” she said. After all, we wear it for six months and then put it back in the back of the closet. (For those of us in the south those numbers are adjusted accordingly.)

I thought about my camel colored pea coat, a bargain I found several years ago, on sale and inexplicably in my petite size (even the sleeves fit – a rarity for me.) When I slip it on the soft wool feels like a hug. It’s familiar. We’ve bonded through the miles we’ve traveled together on the barely-cool-enough-for-it days of fall to the bundled up days of winter.

I thought about other clothes in my closet… the clothes that  I can date because my mother gave them to me and it’s been more than a few years since she cruised a Talbot’s store. The clothes that felt just right form the very first day and that are a part of my weekly rotation. The clothes that are a cause for celebration when I can fit into them and wear them.

I think about the clothes now worn with frayed edges and bald spots. Some are passed along to the yard work/painting drawer. And some are put out of their misery – or at least put out in the trash, too far gone for Goodwill.

Perhaps such musings are nothing more than the first world nostalgia of someone entitled enough to have more than a few outfits in my closet, who has the luxury of switching from summer to winter closets. But it made me think of deeper things.

It’s tempting to be dazzled by what’s shiny and new. It’s what this clothing rental business is counting on. After all, aren’t you getting the new iPhone? But there’s something to be said for the connections that come through the years. I enjoy making new friends, but as the Girl Scout song says, not at the expense of the old.

Old clothes. Old pets. Old friends. They may be a bit worn but what a treasure it is to share the miles with them.

Elementary

I’ve been going down memory lane a lot lately.

Someone had the brilliant idea of having an elementary school reunion the day of our high school reunion.  Most of the kids came together in the third grade and I joined them in fourth. We went all the way through school together. For many of the years , there were only two classes so we got to know each other well.

Like kids straggling in after recess, we’ve been joining our Facebook group and sharing Peggy Haymes, Brunson Schoolmemories. Playing Greek dodgeball and the day a kid broke his arm. Lunch-boxes and Tang and space food sticks. All of the plays and musicals we put on, from Antigone to the Mrs. Frankenstein pageant, from the Wizard of Oz to a Rodgers and Hammerstein review. The Scholastic Book Club, one of the finest inventions known to humankind.

We laugh now about the year we studied tobacco, going to a farm and a tobacco warehouse and finally to the plant where cigarettes were being made. (Did I mention we were in Winston-Salem?)

Some of us can still spout off Mrs. Womble’s list of helping verbs. Some of us have never forgotten the lesson the day we learned about prejudice. (Blue eyed kids had to eat last.) For my part, I can still recite “Grandpa Dropped His Glasses,” along with the somewhat theatrical inflection we were taught to use.

Mostly we talk about how lucky we were, to have had the teachers we had and to have had each other. We were lucky to be in a place and a program in which creativity wasn’t just shoehorned into a few minutes a week after all the “important” subjects had been covered. And creativity wasn’t just for the students; it was allowed for teachers as well.

Sometimes people will ask me how long I’ve been a writer. If I’m truthful, I guess I have to go back to those days at Brunson School. (Incidentally, just before writing this I read the glowing  New York Times review of the latest book by one of my classmates. That writing thing really took for some of the kids.)

Here’s what I really learned in those days at Brunson:

I learned that being creative was fun and something that I could do, even if  I wasn’t as creative as Billy. (No one was. Or is.)

I learned that books were very wonderful things (a lifelong lesson reinforced in my book-filled home.)

I learned to use my mind to think and not just regurgitate facts.

I learned that it was okay to challenge myself and okay for some things to be hard and if I didn’t succeed, it was okay to keep trying. (Yes, Iris, I realize that’s a run-on sentence.)

I learned that the gift of being good friends with good people in childhood is a very great gift indeed.

I know that it’s a different world in schools these days. After all we came along after the nuclear war and before the mass shootings disaster drills so we only had to worry about fire or tornados. I know computers were not yet invented for us to learn and the Vietnam War was a current event.

But how I wish every child could learn those same lessons that I learned at Brunson.

All I can say is that they’ve certainly served me well.