The Intersection of How We Speak and Wanting a Seat in the Pew…

The post that follows is one of my earliest — and something that bears repeating.  Especially now — in 2020!

This last Sunday my husband and I accepted an invitation from friends to attend church with them. It is a very different denomination than ours and we talked with them before we accepted the invitation saying that we were seeking a liturgical church in which to become members. They said that they respected that, but that they still hoped that we would come and worship with them in their home church. We gladly agreed.

We always try to visit other churches with open minds, but both my husband and I have had the uncomfortable experience of visiting churches and hearing our own faith communities criticized. Our own faith communities are not immune to this. We have also cringed when we heard people from our own church talk about other Christian faith groups in a less than charitable way. Sometimes it comes from the Pastor, sometimes from other people in the pew, sometimes it is written in those helpful little bits of literature that are available in their bookstore or as handouts in the narthex.

As I said in my first post, I don’t need ways to fill my time and I’m not lonesome. I have friends, projects and people to share meals with. I don’t need a hobby or suggestions for volunteering in my community. I don’t need to be told how to vote or what to think about gun control. I want a place to worship! I want a church to worship God and hear about Jesus.  I don’t go to church because I want a club to belong to, I don’t go to church because I want to be with perfect people, I don’t go to church because I want to check off some box to raise my stature in the business community. I go because I want to be fed, because I am both saint and sinner and need nourishment to go deal with the hard realities of life.

locked door 2 sinners welcomed

 

 

 

 

Here are some of the things that come to mind when I think of open doors and roadblocks:

  •  Years ago our pastor told us in his sermon something like this:
    Dear Hearts, we have had a man worshiping with us occasionally lately who is not here this morning. I have been so grateful that you have welcomed him and made him feel welcome. He is dying of aids. His own church told him he wasn’t welcomed there. He contracted aids because of his own actions and now is dying. Brothers and Sisters he is just like us. He is a sinner before God and just such a one as this the Lord came to die for. If we were well we would have no need of a physician.
    This was an open door and encouragement to us, the members of that church, to be a shining light to this man who so badly needed the love of the Lord.
  •  I recently had a friend on FB that I knew as a child reach out to me and ask if she could talk to me about religion. We grew up in the same church and haven’t seen each other for probably thirty years. I said, of course, she could. She said she was afraid to reach out to me because she has converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism….and some of her Lutheran friends won’t speak to her anymore. She dared to hope I might be different because I had said somewhere that I have family members who are Catholic. We corresponded and I think that I was able to help her. I’m so glad that I had said something that let her think she could come to me.
  • I have a dear friend who was a pastor and became an alcoholic. He turned to his superior for help and instead was defrocked. The list of church people who closed doors on my friend is painfully long. Those are roadblocks and they are sinful roadblocks. One day those people will be called to account.
  • In my own life, I have had friends of thirty years standing who have never spoken to me since I sought and gained a divorce. Thankfully, I have had others who were willing to continue talking to me, praying for me, and holding out friendship and help to me even if they themselves are saddened by the divorce and care for and love both my former husband and myself. It isn’t about choosing sides, it is about whether, in the face of human frailty, sickness, failure, and sin, we open doors or slam them shut.
  • My parents who were married for 52 years until my father died, who absolutely believed that marriage should be forever, took into their home two women who were fleeing abusive marriages and reached out for help. In one case the woman stayed with them for about a month and it proved a wake-up call to her husband and eventually, they were able to fix their marriage and it lasted, without abuse, for decades more until her husband’s death at a ripe old age. That was a case of an open door. Someone who turned for help and was welcomed with a safe haven.

As Christians, we are called upon to bear witness to the Gospel. We believe that something happened two thousand years ago which changes everything. We believe that God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, born to a Jewish woman, to save us. We are to live out, in the world, a transformed life, bearing witness to the love of God, the love that bore our sins, and was willing to die for us that we might live. That is why we go to church – to be fed and nourished on the news that even for us – sinners that we are – even for us who have stumbled and fallen time and again – we have a hope and home in Christ. When we go to church we need to be fed. We need to have doors opened to us. Which gets me back to my story of attending church with our friends.

This past Sunday was a nice surprise. Shortly after our visit, we received a very gracious, personal letter from the pastor thanking us for coming to church with our friends and expressing the hope that the visit was a blessing to us. We were so taken by the thoughtfulness of the pastor’s letter that we wrote one in return…. This is the middle portion of our letter:

My husband and I both grew up in liturgical churches. We love coming to the Lord’s table often, we love the biblical basis of the rich liturgy, we love confessing our faith using the ancient ecumenical creeds of the church, we get fed with the texts of the lectionary,  each Sunday four Bible readings: an Old Testament lesson, a New Testament lesson, one from the Psalms, and the Gospel reading. Long ago we committed our lives to our Lord and daily we refresh that commitment with our conversations, with our prayers, with our heads and hearts.

There are some things, however, that we would like you to share with your congregation if you think they are appropriate. We were both taken by the gracious welcome of your church members. We were greeted warmly by so many and had extended conversations with quite a few. The singing of your congregation was inspiring! The choirs were outstanding and certainly conveyed their delight in the Lord! We were pleased to find hymns from our own traditions that were old favorites. Beyond those things, we were enriched by your morning message. The teaching that you did was thoughtful and meaty. We learned from and appreciated that experience.

Ron and I have both experienced visits to other churches where our own churches were belittled and criticized. We have had uncomfortable times in our own churches occasionally when pejorative language has been used when speaking of other faith communities. Your witness in your morning message was inviting and helpful without castigating others. We will always hold that up to our own churches as a model for how Christians should behave.

Our churches, just like our homes, are unique. They have traditions, history, unique furniture, lighting, music, and ceremonies. How do we welcome people into our homes? How do we welcome visitors into our churches? Do we only welcome “nice people” – well-scrubbed, nicely attired, who have the appropriate pedigree and educational standards? Do we welcome anyone who shows up – or only the people that are without fault (there aren’t too many of those)?

My husband and I vacationed in Wyoming once. We saw a bumper sticker that said:

Wyoming is full, we hear that Montana is nice.

We laughed heartily at that….but sometimes that seems to be the message of many churches. Is that what we want to say to visitors? I’ve been to many churches where no one spoke to us at all. Would we invite company to our homes and then never speak to them? Maybe we have plenty of members already and really don’t need any more. Do we introduce ourselves to people we don’t know and tell them how nice it is to have them worship with us today? Do we have any guidance for people who may not know the way we conduct our services?

I guess it comes back to the way we speak. Do we speak welcome or do we close doors? Is our website such that only people who are insiders will know what all the abbreviations mean?

As my friend Austin said in his thoughts on the church life of Tucson…the mission field is here. I dare say that today it is in many cities and towns across America. Do we still answer the call of the Gospel imperative to tell the good news….welcoming the “least of these” or do we ignore our neighbors?

The congregation where our friends took us was welcoming as was their pastor.

They made a faithful witness. What about you? What about your church?

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Heaven

My husband and I have talked about everything under the sun. It should not surprise you that we had some fascinating conversations about Heaven. Both his parents and mine are deceased, and neither set of parents lived to know that we would find each other and marry.

Since many of my readers don’t know me, let me say that when I speak of my husband, I never say things that I wouldn’t have been comfortable talking about with him. Everyone has faults, and while he was a wonderful man, he sure could swear like a sailor!

Because of that, I kindly requested that should he get to heaven before me, I would consider it an immense favor if he would clean up his language when meeting my parents for the first time in the Kingdom.

Since I have reason to believe that happened some time ago, I have quit pondering that particular issue. But I do periodically wonder who else Ronnie will meet in the Kingdom. Do you ever think about stuff like this?

I never got to meet either of my grandfathers. Neither lived to know that I was forecast. I have an uncle I never met, who none of us got to meet, as he died when he was being born.  But beyond that, imagine finally getting to have conversations with people you’ve never met — people in history, people in scriptures, people you’ve heard stories about all your life.  But more than any of that,  imagine getting to stand before the throne of God!

Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) used to often talk about animals and also their place in heaven. He had a dog named Toelpel and was asked whether he expected to find dogs in heaven.

“Certainly, for there the earth will not be without form and void. Peter said that the last day would be the restitution of all things. God will create a new heaven and a new earth and new Toelpelsl with hide of gold and fur of silver. God will be all in all; and snakes, now poisonous because of original sin, will then be so harmless that we shall be able to play with them.”

Ron had to bury his dog in South Carolina, and I had to bury my daughter’s cat in Arizona. But a little thing like that wouldn’t stop the Lord of Life.  Think of the tales of Narnia. Talking animals. Why wouldn’t the Lord of Life resurrect the animals so that we could have those conversations we couldn’t quite manage on earth?

 

When the River Won’t Flow: Heaven and Animals

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Yesterday’s Mail

I received a package yesterday in a small padded envelope. There was a handwritten note on a flowered memo pad, and a tiny box wrapped up in tissue paper covered with pansies. I knew the sender — but this was an unusual event.

I tore into that gift as if I was a small child on Christmas morning. But in my wildest imagination, I could never have guessed what I found inside.

Did you read my blog post, Coffee? If you haven’t — you need to!

You can find it here:  When The River Won’t Flow: Coffee

I am blessed to have such a friend who could cheer me both with her words and gift. She said she saw it, and she thought it might help when I was away from home and couldn’t look at the coffee mug. She sent me a very tiny little silver bracelet that bears the same words from Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, that grace my coffee mug.

“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Thank you! Even when I am away from home and can’t see the reminder on my coffee mug, I can wear the words on my new bracelet, which I dare believe will get much use.

PS — if you want to see my bracelet, you are going to have to follow that link above!

 

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Nothing Prepared Me For This

I had a wonderful evening last night with my brother and sister-in-law. They had invited me to join them for dinner. The food was delicious, the view from their patio lovely, the evening weather beautiful, the company perfect. After loitering long enough to enjoy dessert and visit some more, I drove home.

Before that lovely dinner, I hadn’t written one word of today’s blog post. Worse yet, I had accepted a request to be the substitute organist at church in two days. As of yesterday, I could not even play through the liturgy and hymns without error on my piano, let alone get through prelude and postlude music. It’s been too long since I have played regularly, and music I once could play adequately, I can’t play, even badly, now. It seems totally overwhelming to me. I would love to duck that obligation, but about one Sunday a month, they need a substitute organist.

This morning, the alarm woke me. I discovered a message from a life long friend who is seriously ill and in the hospital. It was a copy of her morning’s devotional. The theme of that devotional was being overwhelmed, stopping all attempts to fix it on our own, and instead turn it over to God. I read that devotional and just dissolved into tears. That was a couple hours ago. Since then, I brought the kleenex box into my home office.

Tears seem a regular visitor this year. Just getting through each day sometimes seems a monumental task. It is not because I am unacquainted with grief. I believe I have been sufficiently schooled in it. I failed at my first marriage, which I have grieved for decades. I’ve lived through the deaths of both of my parents. But then, last March, my best friend, dearest love, and my last husband died. Since his death, things that never bothered me before, seem menacing now. I have become afraid to sleep. To get any sleep at all, I must stay up until I can barely keep my eyes open, usually after midnight. My dining room and kitchen tables are still covered in papers, bills, and letters pertaining to my husband’s death. Multiple times each week, I tackle the filing or shredding those papers. Inevitably, it seems, I get overwhelmed. I am still not finished.

Most everywhere I turn, I find that I am again overwhelmed at some point in each day. Nothing in my life prepared me for the death of Ron. Not even when he was so sick, and when I knew death was soon to come. Some days I feel as if I can barely move. I say a prayer and dissolve, once more, into tears.

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Tears in Church

All of my adult life, I have had trouble with crying.  When you cry in front of people who do not know you well, it is often alarming to them, and an embarrassment to you. I am writing this on Sunday afternoon, and in church this morning, I cried during a hymn. It was not well known to me, but something in the words just opened the flood gates. I had to step out for a bit to get ahold of myself.

Thinking about it in retrospect, I know that I am in excellent company.  My dear husband was a Vietnam Vet, U.S. Navy. A big guy, 6ft. 4in. tall, you might not guess this upon a first or third glance, but he sometimes had the same problem.  Like me, various hymns or songs would bring tears to his eyes.  Some years ago, when we lived in Arizona, we went to church one Sunday and were singing a hymn when suddenly, he quit singing. I looked over at him, and the tears were streaming down his face. It took me a minute, but then I connected the dots. The hymn was the Navy Hymn traditionally used when there was a burial at sea.

Eternal Father, strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word
Who walked on the foaming deep
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude
And bid its angry tumult cease
And give, for wild confusion, peace
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea

O Trinity of love and power
Our family shield in dangers hour
From rock and tempest, fire and foe
Protect us wheresoever we go
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea

(Words: Will­iam Whit­ing 1860; Music: Melita, John B. Dykes 1861)

If you are interested, I attach several links you may follow to hear it sung.

59th anniversary of the Korean War armistice –The U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters — Arlington National Cemetery

Memorial Day 2020 – U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club – U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

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Coffee

My husband and I both loved our morning brew but noticed that our mug collection was aging. In some ways, it seemed to be growing exponentially, but the hard truth was that while we got a very few new mugs over the years, we had a tough time even thinking about getting rid of our old friends. Some are very old friends. Truth be told, some are sexagenarians! But we carefully balanced them atop another in the back row. That way, we could at least be cheered by seeing them.

Ron lived most of his life in Arizona. He loved the outdoors, and he loved the whole state. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that he also enjoyed many Westerns filmed out in the rugged terrain. Probably his favorite western actor was the Duke, John Wayne. So, being a pushover for my husband, and a lover of Westerns myself, I searched for a coffee mug with the Duke. Success. I found one. I wrapped it up, and it instantly became my husband’s favorite mug.

After my husband’s death, I decided it was time I bought myself a new mug. I’m drinking from it as I write. It stands as a reminder. At rest, it stands atop the back row of cups to read every time I open the cupboard door. My husband did not live to see this mug, but he would have credited the quotation as applying to me.

Thank you, Ron, John, and William!

 

 

 

 

PS.  Be sure to read my blog post, coming out on 8/11/2020 around 1:00 p.m. Eastern time.  It is called Yesterday’s Mail.  It came with a gift — Here it is — only, mine is Silver!  bracelets-she-is-fierce-3

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Pray For A Eucatastrophe

Some time ago I wrote a blog post about the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. On my book page I wrote this:

To cut to the chase, let me suggest a book that seems perfectly tailored for reading in trying times. A Hobbit A Wardrobe and A Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918, by Joseph Loconte, (2015). The book is not for the faint of heart. It is not a children’s book. It speaks of history and friendship and the dreams of these men of epic myth making. I write about it in my blog post: In Time Of trial: On Hobbits and Narnians.  There is a link to that post on my book page.

Those men both served in the first world war. Tolkien’s son Christopher served in the second world war. In the United States today we are living in a time of great civil unrest, the murder of innocents, the destruction and looting in some of our cities, the tearing down of statues that remind us of our history and the sacrifices that were made so that we might live free. There are people creating unrest in America who want us to be at war with each other.  Those who want to remove the mention of God from all of our documents, buildings, and statues. People who want, in fact, to remove all mention of our history. But the onslaught goes beyond the public things. Some news sources refuse to tell of the children and innocent young people being murdered in our cities. The plague of COVID 19 and been imported into our midst and makes us afraid and separated one from another. Many churches have ceased to have normal worship together, but instead are holding virtual services that we can watch from our homes on the internet. Elderly people in nursing or senior living facilities are kept under lockdown, isolated from family members.

What we need is a Eucatastrophe:

The mythic dimension of their stories now reaches its zenith: like the best fairy tales, they provide the consolation of the happy ending, “the sudden joyous turn” toward rescue and redemption. It is the reversal of a catastrophe, that Tolkien calls the eucatastrophe, a decisive act of Grace that promises to overcome our guilt, restore what has been lost, and set things right. [p.189 and Tolkien, Tree and Leaf]

These United States were begun as one nation under God. Those of us who still believe in God need to pray that there is a eucatastrophe, a great act of grace, that restores what has been lost and set right what is now so wrong. Many among us are despairing of the chaos that presently reigns in so many of our cities. Many of us are saddened by the division of families and friends because of the political climate we are now living in.

Today, and every day, pray that we are delivered from the scourge that has befallen us and that God grants us a eucatastrophe that sets things right again.

 

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Personal Battles

Not very long ago, I posted a request on my personal Facebook page for a close friend battling a rare disease. I share it now and ask my readers who are praying sorts to please do so for my friend.

I would also ask my readers to say a prayer for me. Not long ago, I got a call from my Doctor’s office informing me that my last A1C test was too high, and they wanted to put me on Medicine to handle Type 2 Diabetes.  I told them no — I would learn to control this myself. The Doc’s office gave me three months before another A1C test and meds. I have all the information I need to do this and am already feeling a difference — just in a few days.

Thankfully, some years ago in Arizona, my husband and I bought beautiful new ten-speed bikes. Although Ohio doesn’t have the dry heat of Arizona, it does have beautiful places to ride. Our bikes had been unused for a few years, so I took them to an excellent store, Bud’s Bicycle Shop. Now both of our bikes are in perfect shape. It occurred to me to use Ron’s bike with an indoor exercise workout bike stand so that inclement weather won’t keep me from my riding. My bike will take me out and about on explorations in my new neck of the world.

As an old movie nut — I thought the bike stand would make for an exceptional front-row seat in our own Rialto Theatre.

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The Inability to Forgive

Throughout my life, I have known a handful of people who were seemingly incapable of forgiveness. I found it remarkable as they were also believers who knew well the teachings in Holy Scriptures regarding forgiveness.

Worship in a liturgical church, often incorporates scriptural passages such as the one below, into the liturgy.

I acknowledge my sin unto thee,
and mine iniquity have I not hid.
I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord;
and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah    

(Psalm 32:5 | KJV)

I do understand that an injury often leaves a scar. The extent of the wound might leave significant and lifelong scarring. Likewise, some events create memories that haunt us with old sorrows. But injuries and memories can exist at the same time as forgiveness.

Our inability to forgive primarily hurts us. Over time, the failure to forgive someone else may eat us alive, haunting our days and keeping our nights troubled with bad memories.

Forgive others, and ask forgiveness.

Be brave — step out of the boat, turn around, and look to the Lord of Life!

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The Problem Child

I have heard it said that the problem child never really leaves home. I know that I have occasionally been that child, turning up from time to time, asking for help. But this problem child would like it to be known, that I have listened to the wisdom already imparted to me:

You don’t have to tell everything you know.

Alas, listening to that wisdom and following said advice are two entirely different matters. Because I did not heed that advice, I suffered some consequences regarding my last blog post. I received a response that struck me as much too personal for this widow’s taste from someone entirely unknown to me.

I deleted the response from my personal Facebook page, where I regularly place a link to my Tuesday and Friday blog posts. I mark those blog posts only as being open to anyone to read. I will be rethinking the wisdom of that.

In the meantime, I want to conclude this post by saying that while I appreciate my readers very much, I would also ask my readers to respect me. If any of my readers doubt what I mean, you may read more about it here:

When The River Won’t Flow: This Widow’s View of Men

 

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