Streams in the desert

I’m returning to a spiritual discipline from days past, using my camera to see the world in a more mindful way. My intent is to bring images of hope and faith to the forefront in my life.

When I saw this dry, dusty hillside… I knew what scripture spoke to me.

I am about to do something new. It is beginning to happen even now. Don’t you see it coming? I am going to make a way for you to go through the desert. I will make streams of water in the dry and empty land.
Isaiah 43:19 NRSV

The Lure of the Dragon Hoard

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea. p. 106
A collection of sea shells drying on a countertop.

When we went on family trips to the beach, one of our least favorite tasks (besides leaving!) was choosing only the very best shells to take home. It meant going over each one, one by one. Which edge was perfect? Which colors were the most striking? Which bivalve had a full hinge? Each of us had to weed down until we only had the perfect ones. Then we had to repeat the process until we filled our allotted containers.

I am sure by the time I was old enough to collect shells, my family had already accumulated buckets of them. Mom patiently waited while we sorted and agonized over the bits of shell and sharks’ teeth. Couldn’t we take them all??? No… Just this much. It was a lesson in appreciating the best we could find. On setting limits. On not making acquisition of stuff a goal in life.

It struck me recently, as I have weeded out books, materials, and other resources to consolidate my church office into my home office, that I was re-learning this lesson of sorting shells. I gave away books. I recycled boxes full of old print-outs, bulletins, and teaching materials. (Perhaps it is a sign of my generation, but keeping paper copies is like a security blanket. I don’t really need them. But I want them.)

a box of yarn

While sometimes I joke about my dragon hoard of craft materials, the truth is, I will probably spend the rest of my life using up the supplies that I have! (Of course, it does not help when someone offers me some yarn, or fabric, or other tempting items, and I respond, “Yes! Sure!” I’m still learning this lesson, apparently!)

What is enough? What is too much? What can I give away, give back, pay forward… the questions have been on my mind for several weeks. I realized where I am stuck. Because when I feel the “keep it!!” feeling come over me, much like that young girl sorting shells so many years ago, it is that anxiety that I don’t have enough. I might “need” more!

Perhaps the clue is going back to the teachings of Christ.

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:27-31, NRSV

What drives this desire to keep everything??? Anxiousness. Fear. Insecurity. What makes me want to keep everything the same, to be so resistant to change?? What makes me want to be controlling and not roll with life’s latest crises? Distrust. Uncertainty. Worry. And… if I’m honest… Greed. Lust. Pride.

In a time of great unrest, perhaps being willing to let go of one small thing makes it easier to cope with the bigger challenges we humans face. Perhaps not striving to hold on to power or wealth or STUFF would result in less conflict, less angst, less unrest… less war… less abuse… less violence… Isn’t that what Christ is asking us?

So as you chew on that, I offer this beautiful piece of music. It helps me focus and remember it’s what we do for Eternity that really matters.

Blessed be. sdg

————————–

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis!

The Benedictus from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Sir Karl Jenkins

Grace upon grace

In her commentary on the Gospel of John, Dr. Karoline Lewis uses a phrase that has become a mantra of hope and encouragement to me:

“Grace upon grace…”

What does grace upon grace sound like? It sounds like when you are deader than dead and you hear your name being called, by the shepherd who knows you and loves you, and you are then able to walk out of that tomb, unbound to rest at the bosom of Jesus. Dr. Karoline M. Lewis, John: (Fortress Preaching Biblical Commentaries.) © 2014 Fortress Press. Minneapolis. p. 160.

These last few weeks I have needed extra touches of God’s Grace. With our church, Twinbrook Baptist, making the decision to sell our building, and gift out the proceeds rather than spend down our resources, there’s been a mixed bag of feelings. At times, my joy has been “deader than dead” but then God’s grace appears and restores me.

I’ve watched my friend and pastor, Jill, and our church leadership respond with honest, heartfelt feelings – but also serve with open-hearted kindness and grace. We have embraced hope. We’ve laughed. We have worshiped with joy. We have reminded ourselves that we are Resurrection people. We have hugged and reassured. We’ve bitched (a little — just human!) And we’ve cried. When I took the last boxes home from my church office on Sunday after worship, the tears flowed down my cheeks.

But grace… Grace has never been far away. God has shown up in a number of grace-filled ways.

I found this photo this morning, snapped unintentionally by my smartphone as I headed home from working out last night. I totally missed it at the time. I was intent on getting a shower and doing some charting. This vista, this contrast of light and dark brought hope and encouragement. The beauty is there, ready to proclaim God’s glory. Do I notice?

“Grace upon grace…”

To provide a backdrop for a sermon on hospitality by Pastor Jill McCrory, I brought this quilt, a family heirloom, to use for the communion table. Its presence on the altar immediately provoked stories and sweet memories by congregants. Who knew this “grandmother’s flower garden” would provide joy and comfort for our last regular worship service? I just pulled it out as a whim. God knew.

“Grace upon grace…”

 I tried to have a healthy snack and boost to my lunch today, so I stopped to get a protein smoothie. Banana-strawberry. Mmmmm… Except the lid was not on tightly and it decorated my white pants! The employee who served my smoothie was embarrassed because she saw what had happened. I frantically tried to clean up the splotches with napkins. She ran to the back of the store and came out with a stain remover pen. “Here! Take this!” I went to my car, mopped up the stain, and brought it back, profusely thankful. She wouldn’t take a tip. So I told her manager how grateful I was and that she needed a bonus.

“Grace upon grace…”

I’m sure there will be more examples. Now I’m more aware of what the Grace of God can do in my boring, everyday, grumpy life. Maybe yours, too?

I’m being intentional. Mindful. Looking for grace every moment. Focusing on the things that show love and joy and faithfulness. Taking a short, private cussing break when the feelings overflow. (Like I said… just being real!) Looking up to see… God. There. Always.

Lauren Daigle wrote a song that is on my “repeat” playlist right now. It’s keeping me going… a love song from God reminding me to Look Up Child.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15

So may it be.

sdg

Cross-Posting: Journeying

This prayer was first posted on the RevGalBlogPals site, a collaborative and supportive network of women clergy and their friends. On the “even” months of the year, I write a prayer for Fridays. Sometimes they are more liturgical in nature, sometimes they reflect the world and its hurts. But most of the time, they echo my own spiritual journey.

A week from tomorrow, the progressive Baptist church where I have been serving these last three and a half years is closing and selling the property to another congregation. For the last eighteen months, the church was not able to pay me. I stayed, as I was there on a minimal, part-time basis anyway, and had full-time employment as a hospice chaplain. Besides, they were my community, my church family, my friends. You don’t walk away from your friends who will be experiencing a death – in this case, the death of a church. (Ok – you CAN walk away, but not for any reason other than selfish ones.)

Now as we round the final turn towards the church closing, I am wrestling with all sorts of questions: Where will I go to church? Where will I find a place to serve? What is ahead for me in ministry? Do I stay in my work as a hospice chaplain, or pursue a full-time placement in a congregation? 

These are all unknowns. And I don’t really need the answers today. Where I will be this week is in the liminal space of the now and the not yet. If I am honest, it is every week of my life, But this week, with the pending change before me, it is more glaring, more challenging.

So I wrote this prayer for my friends at RevGals who may be in a similar space. But I wrote primarily for me as I walk this road with Christ.

SDG

Deb


Looking down a country road, bordered by trees.

Holy One,

The way ahead seems lonely at times, and I fear the unknown…

But You sing,
I AM with you, I am with you always. I will not leave you abandoned.

The silence is awkward at times, and I worry I am missing something…

But you whisper,
I AM calling, I am calling to you in this wilderness. I will make your paths straight.

I am impatient at times as I peer ahead to see what is just over the hill, just out of sight, wanting the future NOW…

And you say,
I AM, I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

And I know that I know that you ARE, you are with me.

Thank you. Blessed be.
Amen.

A prayer beyond “thoughts and prayers”

prayercandle
Holy One,

Your children cry out to you,
in anger,
in fear,
in frustration,
in terror,
as we face, together, more gun violence in our country.

For everyone killed in the senseless violence yesterday,
May their families be comforted in the face of overwhelming grief,
Lord, hear our prayer.

For everyone wounded and in shock,
May Your Presence overwhelm their unbearable fear,
and comfort those in pain.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who are retraumatized and saturated with their anxiety
and real terror as they relive horrible events in their past,
may they be surrounded by friends and family who bring Your hope and peace.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For politicians who have cared more about contributions than human lives,
May your righteousness weigh heavily on their hearts,
and may they hear your Call to service, not only to re-election.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews,
who deserve a childhood without mass shootings
and face fear in their classrooms,
May you shelter them and reassurance them by your Presence,
and bring caring adults around them for support.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For Your Church, Lord,
for we have turned our eyes away,
or offered half-hearted thoughts and prayers,
May we stand up to those who preach freedom over faith.
May we declare that all persons are valuable and deserving of protection.
May we minister Christ’s justice, peace, and reconciliation.
May we vote our convictions and listen to Your Holy Spirit.
Lord, hear our prayer.

AMEN.


(c) 2019 Rev. Deborah Vaughn. You are welcome to use this prayer with attribution. SDG

Book Review: I Know What Heaven Looks Like

lawrencerichardsoncover

I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story
Lawrence Tanner Richardson.

“Why would God make you something that would make your family hate you? Why would God want me to hate my own blood? …God made you this way. God didn’t tell me to hate you, my church did. Please forgive me.” (p152)

These words by the author’s grandmother summarize the journey of self-examination and repentance that many allies wander, particularly those of us who are cisgender and hetero. But this is not a story about allies. This about Lawrence’s story. There are many moments of self-realization that change his living situation from ease to peril, his relationships from solid to disintegrating, and his faith from questioning to rejuvenating. And, sadly, his family members made his journey unnecessarily harder. (A theme that is all too familiar…)

One thing is certain: Lawrence Richardson is a strong man. Strong in his identity. Strong in his faith. Strong in his desire to share his story of empowerment and discovery.

I was in awe as I read, learning of his survival of many challenges: abuse, poverty, homelessness, rejection, and recovery. Lawrence was betrayed and abused by the adults who should have protected and nurtured him (his parents and their partners). There were heartbreaking moments in dating relationships. There was prejudice and constant battles as he pursued and completed his education. Lawrence kept searching, kept seeking, kept wondering. When he finally came to understand he was a transgender man, everything clicked into place.

In addition to transitioning, Lawrence struggled with the questions of Calling to the ministry. After the death of a close family member, Lawrence was beset with doubts, asking himself, “is any of this worth it?” In the quiet, and yes, the in his moments of doubt, God’s voice was clear and Lawrence continued to pursue and believe God’s direction.

This book is self-published, and cries out for a publisher and (at times) an editor. As a wannabe writer, I recognize the flaws in my own writing, and would wish for Lawrence’s book to be fine-tuned and republished. It needs a wider audience. Richardson’s message is that good.

The book is available from the author  and from Amazon.


I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story, by Lawrence Tanner Richardson. 2018. Self-published. Paperback, 294 pages. ISBN 9-781981-512881

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

In the middle of nowhere

“…Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen.
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men?
Make them hear you.
When they hear you
I’ll be near you again!”
-Ragtime
Music: Stephen Flahert
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

The roof of a for-profit ICE detention center

It was in the middle of nowhere. West of Richmond. South of Charlottesville. East of Lynchburg. I would never have found it if I hadn’t had a GPS (and a map when I lost cell service!) It was hot and sticky. The sun was merciless. The stole around my neck was damp with sweat and felt so heavy.

I met up with members of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church from Raleigh, NC in Farmville, Virginia. As a sister church in the Alliance of Baptists, they responded to a challenge from their pastor, Rev. Nancy Petty, to bear witness to the incredible human suffering in these camps. I joined them and other Christians that summer morning to demonstrate the extravagant love of God. A God who welcomes. A Savior who stands up for the marginalized, who cares about refugees.

signsI had other things I could have done that day. I chose to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. (Crazy, right?!) But with a strong cup of coffee, and the prayers and blessing of my church and my family, I hit the road.

After a short prayer vigil with the entire group, I drove with other clergy to pray at the prison’s training center. We held hands. We prayed. We asked For God’s Spirit of mercy and compassion to touch the hearts of those who decided to work there. We prayed for the Spirit’s conviction on churches who not only refused our group hospitality, but whose members are among those working at the prison.

Detention center sign

We were told that 700 people are detained in Farmville. 700 people removed from their families, their homes, their jobs. 700 people who are not criminals. They are not “illegals.” They are seeking asylum. They were forcibly detained when ICE raids scooped them up and brought them here. Many were in process with their petitions… for a safe place to live and raise their families.

No one chooses to go an ICE detention camp, except for perhaps some Christians who want to draw attention to the detainees’ plight. I made the 3.5 hour drive because I believe it is important to call out injustice. I believe my faith in Christ requires standing up “for the least of these.”

Crowd at prayer vigil
Prayer vigil

We did not gain access to the detention center to talk to any of the detainees. I’m pretty sure the detainees didn’t even know we were there! But God knew. God knows them by name. God hears their cries and holds their prayers. God sees the injustice. And God will hold us accountable for not seeking justice for them.

Prison guard videotaping us.

We prayed as we marched. We sang. We interceded for the detainees and the guards. As we were leaving, walking back to our vehicles in silence, a guard videotaped us. (No doubt he was recording us for identifying us via facial recognition software!) I raised my hand and blessed that guard, making the sign of the cross. May he bear the full conviction of his actions in his heart.

On the outskirts of Farmville was “The Church of All Nations.” Since the local churches refused our group hospitality, I had to wonder… ALL nations? Or just light-skinned ones? How do these churches justify their inaction? How do they stay numb to the suffering in their midst? I made the long, sobering drive home reflecting…

I realized that in my comfortable suburban home, it’s far too easy to look the other way.  I frequently forget those who live ever wary of ICE raids. I don’t have to worry because my German-Irish roots and Midwest accent are a free pass. My whiteness means I’m not identified as a potentially unauthorized immigrant. I don’t have to carry around my passport to prove I am a US citizen.

These detainees still are my neighbors. How will I care for them? How will I support them? How will I work for change to comfort and protect my neighbors?

Pectoral cross made of forged nails

One thing I do know. Justice work is tiring and inconvenient. It is not done for attention or publicity or to create a scene. Justice work is meant to bring a voice for the voiceless, to remind us of rights we have, that others are denied. It is a Calling. And it is following the way of Christ.

Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’