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You may have noticed recently that most people are taking sides in politics. Whether you are an American in the midst of a Presidential election year, with two distinctly different candidates, or whether you live in the U.K., where England has just voted to leave the E.U., people are taking sides. In most cases, extreme sides.

In anticipation of next week’s national Republican convention in Cleveland, the GOP’s platform has shaped up to follow the Right Path on immigration, family values, and LBGT issues. For example, CNN reported today that the 112-member GOP panel approved a platform “that opposes same-sex marriage rights, supports efforts to restrict bathrooms to individuals’ birth gender and protects businesses who refuse services to individuals based on religious objections to gay marriage.” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/13/politics/gop-platform-lgbt-social-conservatives-rift/index.html)

MiddlePath2

Despite LGBT advocates’ strong efforts to move the GOP’s position closer to the middle path, they were not able to do so. No thank you, we’ll just hug the Right Side of the Right Path here.

On the Left Path of politics, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, recently fierce primary opponents, have forged what seems to be a forced and uneasy alliance. In an unprecedented public way, Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has publicly spoken out against Donald Trump—calling him “a faker’ and “inconsistent,” that “he says whatever comes into his head at the moment.” http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/12/politics/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-donald-trump-faker/

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Tea Candles Holy Wed

How long, oh Lord, how long?
For the souls who have died,
for those who love them,
for those who must look at gaping wounds
and bodies with no earthly life, and 
for those who narrowly escaped death. . .
we give You thanks for their lives, oh God. And we pray. . .

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The angels have already met you in Paradise.
God’s Table is ready for you.
God’s Choir has sung you into Light.
And we, here, left behind,
continue to light our feeble but loving lights
in the face of darkness.

~Sheila N. McJilton

 

“. . .they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. . .and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’” (Acts 11:22b-23, 26c)

Today is the Feast of St. Barnabas. In our Episcopal tradition, we have a book entitled Holy Men, Holy Women (note: formerly Lesser Feasts and Fasts), in which all the different feasts are listed–including a special Collect. What is a Collect, you may ask.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collect.

Barnabas was one of the apostles. He was NOT one of the original twelve disciples, but may have been among “the 70” referred to in the Gospels. However, Barnabas was a critical person in the early Jesus Movement; one of the things I love most about him is that he encouraged people.

This past week, I attended e-Formation 2016, a conference about all kinds of digital technology, at Virginia Theological Seminary. While I was there, I gathered with a small group. One woman among us has her own website, is involved in Christian formation, and is obviously a good (and scholarly) writer.  Yet she was not as confident as she might have been in her own talents.

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pipesA couple of weeks ago, I realized that I needed the services of a plumber. I had the sneaking suspicion that SOMETHING that was not supposed to be leaking in my basement WAS leaking. So one morning, I called a local Laurel plumber–one I had used a number of times before.  We set up a time for the next morning, and at that time, Joe appeared on my front porch. After surveying the situation in the bathroom and in the basement, he announced that I had not made the problem up. The wax seal on the toilet had deteriorated, was leaking, and needed to be replaced. I left Joe to his work, and went into the next room to work on my computer.

A few minutes later, I heard the sound of Andrea Bocelli, singing Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s opera Turandot. Then I heard Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen.  I was puzzled. P was sitting in a nearby room, so I thought, “Well, maybe she’s listening to some shared post from someone on Facebook.” So I walked out of the office, then stopped abruptly in front of the bathroom door.  There, on the side of the bathtub, was Joe’s cell phone. He was working steadily on the misbehaving toilet, while opera and other classical music serenaded us all.

My mouth dropped open. A plumber named Joe (I swear, I am not making this up) was listening to opera? Opera?  Really? I said, “Wow, opera. How wonderful!’  He turned around and grinned.

“I love opera,” he said. “You know, opera touches you here [here, he touched his head], and here [he touched his heart.] “I love all kinds of music. Years ago, when I was a kid, my dad would take me to bars–you could do that back then–and we would hear Earl Flatt and Lester Scruggs play. I like bluegrass, too. I like all kinds of music.”  Then he turned back to work on his project. And as long as he worked, a variety of music played from his cell phone. Soon, he was finished, judged the work to be successful, collected a check, and bid me a good day as he left.

Once again, I was reminded that appearances are deceiving. I should never judge someone by the way they look, or present themselves initially. The old adage “don’t just a book by its cover” was apt here.

An annoying plumbing issue was resolved that morning, I enjoyed some of my favorite music, and I re-learned an important lesson. Win-win-win. Bless you, Joe the plumber.

 

Some Random Prayers

FullSizeRender-7Dear God,

There are some people who need Your help this evening:

The very young-looking woman who has been cleaning our hotel room this week told us that her mama “cut me off, so I had to get a job.” She has a three year old daughter, and although I didn’t ask, I suspect she is a single mom. Maybe she finished high school, but she sure looks young. But of her job, which she’s only been doing for about six weeks, she said enthusiastically, “I love my job and I love my co-workers.” Then she carefully made up the bed and left fresh towels. Dear God, bless this young woman. Help her not to be doing back-breaking work like cleaning hotel rooms all of her life until she is tired and bitter and broken.

The good friend who has been betrayed this week in a rather public way. That is all I will say, God. You know the story, and You certainly know how hateful so-called Christians can be. Soothe my friend’s soul and give him peace and courage.

The young woman who was in the hotel elevator with us this afternoon, jiggling her foot and leaning against the elevator wall. When my beloved touched her gently and said, “Are you all right?” (she looked very agitated), she replied, “Oh, I’m just so tired.” And when we got to the lobby, she said, “But thank you for asking.” Give this young woman some hope, oh God, and thank you that someone noticed that another was in distress.

Those who live on the margins–those brothers and sisters who have been judged or pushed aside because of who they are, or because they are substance abusers, or because they are “basement people.” Send those marginal folks someone who really see them this night, and who accept them, no matter what.

Bless the staff who set up coffee, or served lunches, or sold soft drinks, or cleaned up after the conference-goers this week, oh Lord. Most of them were invisible to us. Make them visible to some child of God today, and let them know that we are grateful for their efforts.

Bless all those who are willing to stand on the edges of power, who are willing to speak Truth to institutional power, no matter what the cost. Give them voices, oh Lord, and give others the ears to hear what needs to be heard. Bless the Truth-Tellers, God. Bless them.

I pray for the repose of the souls who died in the plane crash between France and Egypt, and for the families and friends who are drowning in deep grief this night. I pray that they now feast at Your Table, where all are welcome, and where no one is a stranger.

Thank you, God, for your unconditional love and acceptance. Thank you for taking our doubts and concerns into Your heart. Thank you for giving us space to rest and re-create ourselves. Make us again into Your image, so that we can be Your hands and feet and face in this tired, broken, violent world. And help us to have the courage to speak Your truth, regardless of the cost. Amen.

Easter After Easter

IMG_2012We sat, waiting expectantly, in a very large worship space. Every pew was full of people, and the 1500 seat church was packed—even people in the side balconies.

After a lovely organ and brass prelude, there was a hush. Then the trumpets and timpani began the introduction to the hymn. I looked back down the aisle to see a crucifer coming towards me. He bore a large brass cross decorated with Easter lilies and greens; he was flanked by two torchbearers with white gloves and tall candles.  The huge crowd began to sing that great Easter hymn: “Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia!”

I had never in my life experienced such a wall of sound.  I have been in gatherings (General Convention of the Episcopal Church, for example) where people sang.  But this was different. This was 1500 Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Church of Christ, etc. people—an ecumenical gathering of mostly clergy.  I suspect the greatest percentage were Lutheran, because Luther Seminary has sponsored this National Festival of Homiletics.  You may have heard a rumor (thank you, Garrison Keillor) that Lutherans can sing.  This Episcopal priest can testify to that truth. Wow. Can they ever. And when you get that many pastors together in a great space? It is an experience in which words fail.

That huge worship space filled completely with the sounds of voices, organ, brass and timpani. Suddenly, without warning, I found myself weeping as I watched the choir process, slowly and with great dignity. Bell ringers, their bells adorned with long blue and white streamers, processed. Readers, someone bearing the Gospel book. Among the ranks in procession, two more processional crosses were borne down the aisle. What did I think? I stood there thinking that I had truly been given a delicious taste of Heaven.

No, Monday evening was not Easter. In fact, it was the day after the Feast of Pentecost—51 days after Easter. It was no longer the Easter season. Why had we suddenly been transported back to the great Day of Resurrection?  The hymns were all Easter hymns. The Gospel was the resurrection story in John.  No Pentecost here in this place on Monday, May 16.

The preacher, the Rev. Anna Carter Florence, told us why we were celebrating Easter all over again. She said that we needed a celebration of Easter so that all these preachers could experience a special service “that you did not have to plan.” That drew laughter, and not a little appreciation, I must say.

FullSizeRender-6From Monday evening until this afternoon, I have been able to sit among colleagues of all denominations, men and women, of all shapes and sizes and colors. We have come from all over the US and Canada. We have heard amazing preaching. We have listened to rich lectures on various topics of faith. We have heard all sorts of musicians—from that mighty pipe organ to historic Ebenezer Baptist’s Celebration Choir to a bluegrass group called “The Fleshpots of Egypt” to an African American woman who sang a spiritual to us as she walked up and down the aisle this morning.

On Monday evening, I could not sing because I was weeping—my senses overwhelmed with joy and a strange sense of relief. I realized that sometimes you just do not know how thirsty you are.  Only when you are standing under a waterfall of sweet water that quenches the thirst of every part of you—body, mind, spirit—do you understand what it means to be fed. The gifts of God, poured over the people of God.  I cannot speak for the others, but I can tell you that this particular child of God had no idea how weary and thirsty she was, until she has gotten some rest for her body, and spiritual food and drink for her heart and mind and soul. Grateful. She is most grateful.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Photos taken by McJilton

 

The Path(s) Taken

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Today was the Feast of Pentecost.  Instead of celebrating with my St. Philip’s community of faith, I (on sabbatical) walked into West Market Street United Methodist Church in Greensboro, NC with a dear friend of mine for the 8:30 a.m. service. While the order of service was quite different from my usual one, and there was no celebration of Holy Communion, there WAS excellent music–at least 17 singers in the choir (yes, at 8:30 in the morning!) and the handbell choir (14 people) rang several anthems. Dan, the Senior Pastor, preached a very engaging, thoughtful and, to this careful listener, an exegetically sound, sermon. He is obviously a very good teacher, weaving in the context of the original Jewish community that experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit.

As I worshiped in a very different environment, I found myself thinking about my original Southern Baptist roots in NC, and how amazing it is that I took a different path from that childhood upbringing. I continue to be grateful for the heritage of learning scripture, of the discipline of prayer that I learned from my preacher-father, and of hymnody that I still know by heart. Sing one phrase of some hymn, and I will join you in singing it–almost without thinking!

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