One Person. A Hundred Monkeys.

One Person. A Hundred Monkeys.

I got the sad word today. My friend and mentor Sharon had died.

I met her many years ago when I arrived for her five day workshop for abuse survivors.  (She’d staffed and trained staff for Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Life, Death and Transition workshops.)

Sharon scared me that week. And yet also made me feel safe. She pushed me to go to places I wanted to avoid and pushed me to do work I didn’t want to do. And when I survived all of it I began to hope that healing was possible.

So I kept going  back to workshops.

I was convinced that telling parts of my story would be the end of me. She pushed, and I told and far from being the end of me, it was the beginning. When I needed to wail with the grief deep in my bones, it was Sharon’s hand on my shoulder keeping me grounded, reminded me that I wasn’t alone.

At the close of one workshop Sharon said, “Perhaps one day after you’ve finished your school (I was getting my graduate degree in counseling) you’ll get the training and work on staff.”

Of course, I didi just that. I did my training and then started working as an apprentice in workshops. What an honor it was to be working with that staff. And what an amazing learning experience. It is no exaggeration to say that at least 75% of what I do as therapist I learned from working with them: Sharon, Shannon, Connie, Nancy and David. They were all brilliant and they taught me things about working with wounded people that can’t be learned in a classroom.

Sharon had a masterful intuitive sense and an absolute commitment to what it took to hold a space safe enough for people to do such deep work. As staff, we could do what we did because we knew Sharon was there. She held the safe space for all of us.

She insisted that being on staff meant taking care of your own stuff first. And it meant taking care of any issue that arose between the staff. We had to be clear with each other before we could work clearly with participants. She also taught me about knowing when to say goodbye, retiring her Safe Harbor Workshops long before anyone wanted her to, but also before she grew tired of doing the work.

She was smart and wise and most of all, loving. She (along with the rest of the staff) changed my life. I’m in private practice today because when I finished grad school, I didn’t want some boss saying I couldn’t take a week of vacation to staff a workshop. She made me an infinitely better therapist and a healthier person.

Staffing was hard and demanding work, but such rich work. Being able to share in it along with that staff is one of the greatest blessings of my life. The gift of it still fills me with wonder.

I know Sharon touched hundreds of lives. Through the work that I do now, both as a therapist and as staff of a similar grief workshop, her influence and her work flows on to many more people.

At the close of each workshop Sharon told a story. It was about the hundredth monkey.

The government started studying animal life on a group of Pacific Islands. They noticed on one island monkeys started washing their food. It spread one to another – monkey see, monkey do. That wasn’t so remarkable, except when the number of monkeys reached a critical mass (for simplicity, we call it the hundredth money), monkeys on another island began washing their food.

“We never know,” Sharon said as we stood in our goodbye circle, “who will be the hundredth monkey, who will be the one to be the tipping point.”

On days when I feel discouraged by the amount of need I see and the seemingly impossible mountains before us, I think of that story. And I press on, for who knows who will be that person to be the hundredth monkey, the one voice that begins to tip the scales in favor of love.

I’ve seen it happen, you know.

I’ve seen a stranger step into my life and tip it in ways beyond my ability to dream or to imagine. For such a life, and that it touched my life,  I am grateful

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

Death of a Pit Bull

Death of a Pit Bull

I learned this morning that Hector the Pit Bull had died. I never met the dog nor his owners. I only knew of him from his Facebook page.

pit bull
Hector and his family

This was no ordinary pup with publicity. Hector was one of the pit bulls seized from Michael Vick’s dog fighting operation. Some of the dogs were too far gone psychologically and had to live in a rescue the rest of their days.

Then there were the dogs like Hector. His early years were spent in brutality, pain, violence, and terror but his rescuers saw past the beginnings and saw past the dreaded pit bull label. They gave Hector a chance.

Not only was he adopted by a family, but he became a certified Canine Good Citizen* and certified therapy dog. As the end approached his family took him to his favorite places, gave him a soft bed in which to rest, covered by a warm blanket. A canine companion stayed by his side. He ended his days on this earth surrounded by his adopted family, who were just some of the people who loved him.

He began his life in a life no dog should have.

He ended his life in a way every dog deserves. Oh, what the heck – in the way most of us people would want as well… given loving attention, lots of treats, a faithful dog by our side and nothing but love at the end.

I have a friend who wants to know if a book or movie “ends well.” She doesn’t want to invest her time if her heart is only going to be broken at the end. Hector’s story ended well.

I don’t know about you, but I can go a long time on the light and the love of such a story. I know such stories sustain many animal rescuers as they wade through the horrors they must encounter in the course of their rescues.

Such light and love sustains me in my work as well. Sometimes someone will ask me, “How do you do it? How do you listen to such painful stories?” Some of the stories my clients tell me are indeed heart-breaking. Some of them make me angry for the injustice that has been done. We don’t get much choice about our beginnings, and some of their beginnings have also been tough.

The joy of my work, however, is that the beginning of their stories isn’t the end of their stories. As we work, I get to see the light come back to their eyes… or maybe shine for the first time. I get to see them move through the pain into the healing, to stop listening to the lies about who they are and what they deserve in this life.

Hector’s past wasn’t his present.

What about you?

*Canine Good Citizen requires that a dog pass a test safely handling things such as encountering strangers and strange dogs.

The table will be wide

The Table Will Be Wide

a sermon by Peggy Haymes
Isaiah 40:25-31
I John 4:7-12

It’s a strange sort of day.
All around us trees are beginning to look like collection of paintbrushes,
their tips dipped in yellow and burgundy.
The thermometer
has dropped to temperatures
more appropriate for Pumpkin Spice Latte season.

For the folks who dread winter
it feels like a harbinger of doom.
but I suspect that the most seasonally challenged of us
still cannot help to delight
in a day like we had yesterday.

Bright. Shiny. Crisp.

It’s a strange sort of time
because when you read a newspaper that you hold in your hands
or watch the news
or catch up online,
the world looks considerably less shiny.

Ebola once sounded exotic,
the stuff of an adventure novel.
Now it feels scary
and Africa feels a bit too close.
I saw a slide show online this week
of pictures from Liberia.
I tried to fathom what it was like for the people in those pictures
to be stretched out on the hard earth,
so terribly sick,
perhaps sick unto death,
with friends and family afraid to come near.
What is a like to try to work there,
knowing that even with best precautions,
you may be next.
What is it like to live there,
watching your family and your village and your town
decimated before your eyes?
What is it like
to watch your country being destroyed
not by war but by illness?

The world looks less shiny
and verily, seems filled
with bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.
In Hong Kong umbrellas are weapons of choice
as protestors try to protect themselves
while saving their futures.

In Syria,
captive are beheaded.
Does anyone really know what’s going on in
Israel and Gaza,
in Egypt,
in Afghanistan?

Lord, have mercy.

It’s not just out there, you know.
Parents search for children
who cannot be found,
and parents sit vigil by the besides of children
praying for cures to be found.
Terrible things are done to the vulnerable..
a child, a wife, a girlfriend,
even an animal.
Terrible things are done
to this creation that is our home
and our stewardship.

Lord, have mercy.

Today is World Communion Sunday.

World Communion Sunday was begun as a way
for the multicultural and multi-hued
body of Christ to remember that we are indeed one.
Whether our label is Baptist or Episcopal or Methodist or Presbyterian or Catholic
or some other brand,
whether we are in a first world country
or a third
or somewhere in-between,
we are one as the body of Christ.

But as I thought about this service
and as I thought about the news
and as I thought about the stories I hear every day,
it seemed to me that the whole world
felt a bit broken.
Maybe we gather at this table not as a sign of our unity
but as a sign of our brokenness.
Because, this table,
it knows something about broken things.

We have two texts for today.
The first comes from the book of Isaiah (40:25-31)

The audience of the prophet
knew something about broken worlds.
They lived in one.

Despite the reassurances of the TV preachers with good hair
that everything was going to be just fine,
their country was defeated by the Babylonians.
Overrun, really.
The Temple, God’s house, was destroyed
and many of them were taken away from their own homes
into exile.
Many of them would never get home again.
They feel like God has abandoned them.

To a dispirited and dejected people,
Isaiah thunders out words of challenges and hope.
God is not defeated
and God hasn’t given up.

Even when the most aerobically conditioned among us
fall by the wayside,
God’s people keep going.
Not just shuffling along.
But flying.

God gives power to the faint.
To the weak God gives strength.
To those who wait upon God,
to those who don’t give up,
to those who keep showing up,
God won’t abandon them.
God will renew them.
God will lift them up.

Now our second text may not seem like
it has much in common with the first.
The writer, whom we call John,
is writing to this new Christian community.
Jesus hasn’t yet returned
so they have to figure out
how to live with each other
in the meantime.

My beloved friends, this is how you know
You’re one of God’s people:
you love.

The apple cannot fall far from the tree.
God is love,
and so should we love.

God showed us how far love can go.
Out of the love the infinite,
all powerful God
became a helpless baby
who had to be fed
and carried from one place to the next
and I daresay, have his diapers changed.

Out of love,
this baby grew up to be a man
who taught and healed and loved.
A man who chose to share in the experiences that we share,
to love his friends,
to be hurt by them and even betrayed by them,
to be tired and to be hungry,
to be hurt and humiliated,
to be shamed and to be bruised,
to be beaten up.
Finally, to die.

God showed us
that love knows no boundaries
and God’s love knows no limits.

Do you know of Nadia Bolz-Weber?
She’s the minister
who is known for her use of what many feel is not not quite appropriate for the sanctuary languageand collection of tattoos,     including a large Mary Magdalene on her forearm.

But she is also known for reminding us that grace isn’t just for those of us
who clean up real good
or who never got that dirty to begin with.

She writes,
“God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making me new… It happens to all of us. God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. and God keeps loving us back to life over and over.” ( Nadi Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 174)

We gather at this table
because it’s a table that knows about brokenness.
Jesus says it right out loud:
this is my body, broken for you.

But the broken isn’t the end of the story.
This table is set with love.

We gather at this table
because our host Jesus meets us here,
reminding us that God loves this whole
shiny, hurting, confused, brilliant world.

We gather at this table
because this is food for the weary.
This is strength for the struggling.
This is balm for the sad.
This is celebration for the joyful.
This is blessing and commission for the strong…
and the weak,
for the successful
and the failures.
In other words,
we gather at this table
because there is room here for all of us.
there is love enough here
for you
and for me
and for this whole world.

We gather at this table
knowing that broken isn’t the last word.

It is strange sort of days but God knows,
God knows,
they are days held in the heart of God.
As are we.
As I was preparing for this service I came across this poem.
It is a blessing for World Communion Sunday,
and it is our blessing.

And the Table Will Be Wide

A Blessing for World Communion Sunday

And the table


will be wide.


And the welcome


will be wide.

And the arms

will open wide


to gather us in.

And our hearts


will open wide


to receive.

And we will come
 as children who trust


there is enough.

And we will come


unhindered and free


And our aching


will be met

with bread.

And our sorrow


will be met

with wine.

And we will open our hands


to the feast

without shame.

And we will turn


toward each other

without fear.


And we will give up

our appetite


for despair.

And we will taste


and know

of delight.

And we will become bread

for a hungering world.


And we will become drink


for those who thirst.


And the blessed

will become the blessing.


And everywhere

will be the feast.
– Jan Richardson

© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.

Amen.

Lindley Park Church, Greensboro, NC 210/5/2014

“Don’t just stand there despairing.”

It’s been a rough week on this corner of the planet. A boy is killed, apparently for the color of his skin, and the long simmering racial divides of a community erupt into what looks like a third world uprising: unarmed protesters against authorities in full military gear. And we wonder how it will be different.

A man who was obviously enormously talented in moving us both to laughter and to tears as well as making our hearts soar (and who was by all accounts a lovely human being) takes his own life. We try to imagine – or try not to remember – the depths of such black despair and we wonder how it will be different for others.

In other parts of our planet centuries of conflict are being played out with weapons old and new. Hatred stoked by the centuries erupts into killing and cruelty, and we wonder how it will ever be different.

Along the border of our own nation there is a struggle between too much and not enough. Children fleeing from too much danger, abuse and hopelessness find themselves rebuffed by communities feeling already over-stretched by not enough resources, not enough answers for the problems they themselves face. We wonder how it can ever be different.

There were events in my own life this week that didn’t make the news. A former client shared an email with me that she’d sent to her friends, “outing” herself as one who has struggled with the great black dog of depression and who now consciously chooses to live her life in ways that allow the light in. It was a brave and heartfelt email, and a reminder that for her, life is very different.

Last Saturday I also attended a meeting of the Steering Committee of Baptist Women in Ministry, NC. As we talked about next year’s meeting I thought back to the first meeting I attended so many years ago. Thirty, maybe forty people huddled together hoping for hope that locked doors might be opened. Our theme, taken from a song lyric, was “One by one, truth will grow.” As we met on Saturday I thought about how different things are now. We provide not insubstantial scholarship money for a woman student at each of the Baptist Divinity Schools in NC. And in recent months women have become pastors at both Watts St. Baptist in Durham and Riverside Church in New York City. One by one…

This week I’ve been reading John Philip Newell’s book, The Rebirthing of God. In it he quotes Nobel Peace Prize winner (and Mayanmar activist) Aung San Suu Kyi who has spent most of the last twenty-five years under house arrest. “Don’t just stand there despairing. Do something.”

It seems as good a word as any for this week. Don’t know how to resolve the Middle East or global warming or immigration or race relations or the scourge of depression? Do what you do know. Do one thing. You may think you’re only touching one life but you do not know how many other lives that one life will touch and how many lives those lives will touch. You may only write one letter but you do not know if yours will be the letter that’s the tipping point. You may only clean one stream or befriend one person who is of another race or political party or from the other side of the tracks. But you do not know where those steps will lead.

Don’t just stand there despairing. Do something.

Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart

I’ve been thinking about the power of music a lot lately, perhaps not surprising considering we’ve been in the rehearsal laden lead-up to today’s Christmas music at my church. But in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal a column by Anne Adkins gave voice to some of my half-formed thoughts, so I gladly share it with you.

http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/article_e29daebe-6414-11e3-8a0b-0019bb30f31a.html

Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart

The King Moravian Church Choir was giving its annual Christmas concert for my Salemtowne community two years ago when its music broke, and then healed my heart.

I was sitting beside my friend when choir director Drake Flynt invited the audience to join the choir in singing the great “Hallelujah!” chorus from Handel’s majestic oratorio, Messiah. Alzheimer’s had tightened its grip on my friend who had enriched my life as my companion for over a decade. He no longer knew me or where he was or that the English language which his once-keen mind had commanded, was no longer his friend. But that night he stood beside me and, with his soul set free by music, sang every note and word of the bass part in perfect rhythm, diction and pitch.

Drake Flynt, who has his own landscaping business, has directed the King Choir for at least 30 years. His belief in God as Creator is the heart and soul of both his music and his work as a landscaper. Recently Drake and I talked about the overwhelming desire within the human spirit that makes us want to sing.

Drake offered this explanation. “I believe God’s Spirit is a thread that runs through all of His creation, the trees and the rocks and the animals, and that we need to own this. I believe that through art we can find that place that is beyond ourselves, that is deeper than we are, that puts us in touch with that thread of life. It is very exciting when we find that thread that makes us want for more. We’re being fed in a way we don’t know what it is but we get in touch with God through the arts or through meditation or whatever way.”

Drake’s thoughts on group singing made me want to rush out and join a choir. “When you are making music, you can’t think about the beans burning or the argument you had with your neighbor. You have to look at that page, you have to think about your breathing, you’ve got text, and you just can’t hold two thoughts like that at the same time. Music gets you out of yourself and puts you in the immediate moment of what’s right there in front of you and your expression of it. When you get to the point you feel that something is great, something is joyous about this, and I believe that’s the moment when we feel connected to God.

singing“So we do that on the individual level, and then it is multiplied and shared as we make music together. It’s the same with art and dance or watching a child at play. I think God is alive through what’s living, God wanting to express Himself and to learn about us and to be with us is through us, and it’s only through each other that He can do that. The more we can allow to go out, more comes in.”

Drake described this connection as “the joyful feeling we have when we tap into something deeper than our personas and is at the root of our lives.” He acknowledges that this connection to what he calls “the Life Force” is not the same for everyone. “Each of us has to find our super highway to what is, and for a lot of us, arts do that.”

I asked him about those times when it becomes difficult to establish this kind of connection. He replied, “There are moments when everything falls apart and we don’t have the answers and the world does not have the answers, and we have to rely on something besides our own resources.

“If you have already built this connection, you know immediately to go to church and sing or to call your friends or to sit down by yourself and listen to a certain piece of music or to do whatever brings you to that feeling of being connected to everything. There are situations like 9/11 that are so catastrophic, there is nothing to do but to sing.”

I have been thinking about Drake’s words this holiday month of music and how often music has built my bridge from darkness into light. My friend who sang with such assurance will not be beside me this Christmas. He died earlier this year. This December I will join others singing Handel’s “Hallelujah!” and feel the music take hold of my heart and open it to God.

Anne Adkins is a former newspaper reporter and columnist for the Elkin Tribune. She is a resident of Salemtowne.

A Week in Munchkinland

I’ve been working in Vacation Bible School this week. It’s made for a pretty full week – volunteering all morning, showering at lunchtime and then working at my real job all afternoon into early evening. I did it because I think it’s important to invest in the lives of the next generation.

But before you start the paperwork for my nomination for sainthood, let me confess. I mostly did it because it’s fun. Part of the fun is getting to know people I wouldn’t know otherwise. I’ve only been in this church a year. While I know a great many adults, I knew almost none of the children. I’ve also gotten to know more of the adults this week as well. In fact, my co-leader turned out to be a neighbor of mine.

We had the fun area: the games. For all of the cloudy but not raining days we’ve had this week, we do heartily give thanks.

Any week with kids is filled with priceless moments. Here are some of my favorites.

www.WestSummitBooks.comThere’s nothing sadder than the wail of a little boy: “Why do we not deserve dodgeball?” (He did get to play on the final day.)

A little girl was standing at the end of the line for a relay race. “Jesus said,” she announced to the kids around her (and especially in front of her) “that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

Preparing to play a game of freeze tag, I announced that I’d be “it” to start. A little girl protested, “But grown-ups don’t play games.”

“Who told you that?”

“My mother.” I envisioned a worn out mom reaching for any excuse and didn’t completely correct her. “Some adults play games,” I said.

“Bu not old ladies.”

Later, when the kids were begging for  a rest, I pointed out that the old lady was still going.

Throughout the week  I was reminded of some life lessons. Planning is important but flexibility is key. If “Duck, duck, goose” is still the hot game, we’ll keep on playing. If they’re hot and tired I’ll come up with something to play sitting down under the shade of the tent. If, however, they are full of energy I can lead a fierce round of “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.” It’s been over twenty years since  I was a children’s minister but some things just come back to you.

And maybe the most important lesson of all: some kids learned about God’s love from the Bible stories and teaching and the songs we sang together. Some learned it straight from the mouth of the Apostle Paul who came by to visit.

But some of them learned about God’s love for them  because there were these grown-ups (even old ladies) who played with them, hit-fived them and even let them fall on top of the old lady in a huge, squirming, giggling pile of children.

I know that this is true because when I was a kid there were adults who risked hearing loss while we pounded designs into the leather on top of wooden picnic tables, leather to be used in the coin purses we were making that would wind up holding about two dimes. There were adults who were silly with me and adults who smiled when they saw me. Adults who gave us hugs and high fives and cheered us on while we played.

My church told me God loved me. But I knew it must be true because of the way that God’s family loved me.

This church now, they lied to me though. They said that no pay came with this position. But they were wrong. I have never been paid as richly. I come to the end of the week with pair of well hugged knees.

And it doesn’t get much richer than that.