6 Movies That Say Something About God*

Movies and God“For this assignment,” Dr. Danny West said, “I want you to watch a movie and then write a reflection on what that movie says theologically.”

It was one of my first assignments for my Introduction to Preaching class at Gardner-Webb University Divinity School. Ever since then, I’ve been watching movies with that idea in mind. I’m amazed by how often I see theological themes in theater. You should try it! In fact, to get you started, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite examples.

So get some popcorn, sit back, and listen to the testimony of these six films. (Spoiler Alert: if you haven’t watched these awesome movies, first slap yourself, then get to it. You can finish this after you’ve caught up. If you choose to read on anyway, be forewarned: spoilers abound.)

God Restores. Places in the Heart (1984). This classic starring Sally Field tells the story of a young widow trying to make a way for herself and her children in 1930’s America. Field’s character and her community experience all kinds of loss and disconnection, but the movie ends with everyone together in church, celebrating The Lord’s Supper. The choir is singing “This is my story, this is my song; Praising my Savior, all the day long . . .” as the communion elements are passed from person to person and pew to pew. In this scene, we at first see the main characters interacting with each other, but as the Eucharist moves through the congregation, we notice unexpected participants. There’s the boy who died, and the man who killed him; there’s the widow’s husband (supernaturally alive and well), and her farm hand who has recently and permanently left the area. For a moment it’s confusing. But then you realize: it’s a glimpse of the Kingdom. As the congregation comes together at the Lord ’s Table, sinners join with saints, humanity joins with divine, and restoration—if only for a moment—is complete.

God Redeems. Steel Magnolias (1989). Aside from being chocked full of timely and hilarious one-liners, this movie delivers a message of redemption that brings to mind the Gospel promise of salvation. The story takes place mainly in a southern beauty shop. There, good friends face life’s travails—from graying hair to infidelity. In the midst of the mundane, we find Shelby (Julia Roberts), a diabetic whose life is endangered when she becomes pregnant. Her mother M’Lynn (Sally Field), is all but paralyzed by fear and dread. Shelby’s slow decline is heartbreaking and painful. We all hurt with M’Lynn; no parent should have to bury a child. But in the midst of the unimaginable, there is joy in the form of a little boy: Jack, Shelby’s son, M’Lynn’s grandson. When hope seems lost, mercy toddles in with fresh giggles and new life. (Can I get an “Amen?”)

God’s Family Crosses Boundaries. Remember the Titans (2000). Based on a true story, this film set in Northern Virginia in 1971, recalls racial tension in a newly integrated high school football team. Central to the story is the relationship between black defensive end Julius Campbell and white linebacker Gerry Bertier. The film portrays the early days of their relationship as cautious and hostile. As the story unfolds though, they become so close that when Gerry is in a near fatal car crash, he only wants to see one person: Julius. When Julius steps into Gerry’s hospital room, the nurse says to him, “Sorry, only kin’s allowed in here.” Gerry responds, “Are you blind? Don’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.” That’s family; that’s Love—the agapé kind.

God Transforms. Gran Torino (2008). If ever a character has been set in his ways, it is Walt Kowalski. A retired auto worker and decorated Korean War vet who recently has been widowed, Walt has his way of doing things. Routines—orderly routines—keep Walt focused and in control. He takes care of himself. He takes care of his dog. And he doesn’t bother people. He has a few friends; he doesn’t need any new ones. Walt is concretely set in his ways and has no intention of changing. Love has another plan; it sneaks into his life by way of a most unexpected source, and persists, unyielding and determined. That love—it’s like the Hound of Heaven—pursues Walt Kowalski past prejudice and obstinacy, beyond rejection and denial. And Love—as Love always does—wins.

God Calls Imperfect People. How to Train Your Dragon (2010). The movie opens with “This is Berk. It’s twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It’s located solidly on the Meridian of Misery.” In addition to its unfortunate location, the island of Berk is plagued by a terrible nuisance: Dragons! The dragons steal food from Berk and terrorize the villagers. Here in Berk, we meet a young Viking boy named, of all things, “Hiccup.” Hiccup comes from a long line of great and fierce Viking leaders, but he is still just a boy and not at all ready to be a full-fledged dragon-killing Viking. Nevertheless, Hiccup finds himself in charge of an effort to save his village. He’s the most unlikely candidate for the task, but he’s the one chosen. Because he’s willing to answer the call despite his own insecurities, Hiccup does the impossible. Like Moses did. And David. And Paul.

Godly Community Makes Life Easier. Toy Story 3 (2010). This third installment of the Toy Story Trilogy completes the story of Andy and his toys. Andy is now all grown up and headed to college with no need for childhood playthings. Facing uncertainty, the toys fight to stay together and to find a sense of purpose. Despite their efforts, friends Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and the rest wind up on a conveyer belt headed towards an incinerator. There’s no way out, no hope. As they move slowly and unavoidably towards the fiery furnace and certain death, they reach out to each other. One by one, they clasp hands. The fire rages on. But once they are all connected, something miraculous happens. In their connection, they find peace despite their circumstances. That’s church, my friends; that’s church as Christ intended.

Before that divinity school assignment, I’d never given any thought to God speaking to me through movies. Now that I’m listening, I hear God’s voice nearly every time I watch Netflix™ or go to the cinema. How about you? What movies have you watched lately that delivered not just entertainment, but the abiding truths of God?

 *This piece was first published on February 9, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.

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10 Things that Show You Don’t Get Lent

Lent cross10. You think Ash Wednesday is kind of like “Downtown after Five” in Asheville, only on Wednesday and only once a year.

9. You decide what to wear to Ash Wednesday service by asking yourself, “Now, what goes with ash gray?”

8. You ask the minister if the ashes on your forehead can be reinforced with permanent marker since yours always wash off before anyone really sees them.

7. You keep saying, “What’s the big deal about Lent? Just clean the dryer filter and shut up about it.”

6. You hire a house keeper for the season. (All this ashes to ashes and dust to dust stuff will bother your allergies.)

5. Someone speaks about giving up chocolate for Lent and you, eager to be of assistance, hold out your hand and say, “Well if you’re not going to eat it . . . .”

4. You, a teetotaler, announce that in honor of the Lenten season, you have given up all alcoholic beverages.

3. You give up boasting for Lent and make sure everyone knows about it.

2. You give up sweets for Lent. Except for Fridays when you always have celebratory cheesecake. And Wednesday’s because the desert at church supper is always so yummy. And Tuesdays—Book Club. And in the office (it would just be rude not to partake). And on birthdays. And naturally St. Patrick’s Day. But you’re giving up sweets for Lent. No question.

And the number one way to show you are not taking Lent seriously is . . .

  1. You have your friend film you every time you deny yourself due to Lenten sacrifice. You set the video to the song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve seen” and post it on YouTube.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whatever that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
and worship only thee…

William Cowper, “O For a Closer Walk with God”

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Parenting: I Want the Scar

IMG_5482 (1)Because she was a big-girl, she didn’t need Mommy to walk her into the classroom. She preferred, instead, to ride in Daddy’s car with her older brother and sister. Moments after they pulled away, I wrote this piece about the angst of parenting: letting go. I thought a re-run was appropriate on this her 17th birthday.

The last few weeks, everything has been about Margaret: the new clothes, the new shoes, the perfect lunchbox and backpack. I’ve smiled and encouraged. I’ve been positive and reassuring. Yep, kindergarten is a good thing and I am truly excited for Margaret.

So today is the day. She has climbed into the back seat with her two older siblings, thrilled to be riding to school with Daddy and the big kids.

“No more pictures Mommy! I’m ready to go!”

And she is ready.

“Have a great day!” I shout as I wave goodbye to the car that has already started down the road.

My voice breaks and I turn to go inside. I move in slow motion, distracted by a physical pain I can’t place. I stop, trying to find the source of the sting. Awareness dawns. It’s this moment. It’s this moment when white knuckles unclench and heart strings snap. Dull and pulsing, sharp and piercing: it’s surreal. I make my way inside to the familiar.

The moments before this one have been wonderful. I loved having babies. I loved the late night feedings. I loved the terrible twos. (I called them the terrific twos.) I loved preschool. I loved the cute things my children said in their innocence, like Margaret insisting she would “stay her shoes on.” I loved that. I loved the way my little ones laughed—at anything. I loved the spontaneous hugs. I loved the dependence.

In the infant days, people often said with a note of annoyance, “Margaret is such a Mommy’s girl. She won’t go to anyone else.” I’d smile and say, contentedly, “Yeah. . .I know. . .” I loved that. The preschool years have been delightful. I don’t want them to end.

Before today, I tried to think of a way to slow things down. I could delay her going to kindergarten a year. I could homeschool. But, in the end, I realized that no matter what I did, these years would still be over; she would still be five years old; she would still be growing up.

So here I am alone, in a quiet, empty house, trying to put words to this ache. But maybe I can’t. Perhaps when the heart takes over the brain, the feeling just won’t be expressed. “This,” the heart says, “this you must feel. You cannot write it or say it, touch it or mold it. You must be here, inside this broken place to understand it.”

Oh puh-lease. Already I challenge myself. Aren’t you over-sentimentalizing again? Maybe. I don’t know. I just know that my words, always so faithful to me, fail me now. And I know that my heart hurts so much that surely it must be broken in there.

I wonder how the healing will take place. Will the skin of one area of my life bridge the gap and connect with the skin of another? And will this healing leave some evidence of itself? I hope so. I want something from this rich, precious time of my life to remain visible. I want a scar.

So I gather photos and artwork, mementoes that once I had little ones. These who are now so independent, were once not so much so. I did the right thing! I remind myself. They are independent; they are confident. Still, I want my heart to show that it isn’t easy to do the right thing. I want the scar.

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Ministry Matters: EMTs in the Sanctuary

ministry altar bibleI’ve only been in the vocational ministry for five years, but if you count my nearly 50 years as a preacher’s kid, that’s a good bit of ministry–or at least church–experience. So I know of what I speak when I tell you that on Sunday, February 1, I came as close to speaking in tongues as I ever have.

I was in the middle of my sermon when an older member of the church who was sitting down to my right, slumped over in the pew. (I told him later that if he didn’t want to hear me preach he could just say so and not cause such a stir.) As it turns out, he had a spell related to heart troubles and once the EMT’s got things straightened out he was fine.

Anyway, there I was preaching on the weekly lectionary text like a good little girl when Dave keels over. It took me a minute to clue into what was happening but when I did, I turned back to the choir and asked a member who is a nurse to attend to Dave. She got up immediately as did another member in the congregation who is a medical professional. Our pastor, who by God’s providence was seated one pew over, went to comfort Dave and his sweet wife of about 60 years.

That left me, mid-sermon, standing at the pulpit in front of a congregation of confusion, fear, and anxiety. I had absolutely no idea what to do.

But the Spirit did. It’s a good thing that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) In truth, I remember very little of what I said or did. All of it was Spirit led.

Now, it’s true, I was raised in the church and have experienced tense situations before this. I’ve seen my Preacher Daddy deal with emergencies from the pulpit a time or two and have been in other situations where difficulties arose in unfortunate surroundings.

I’ve also had classes on crisis management and read books on the same topic. I’ve studied group dynamics and crowd behavior.

But I’ma tell you right now. The Holy Spirit scooped up all that life experience and book learning and molded it into something far greater than anything I could have accomplished. In the midst of that human crisis, the Spirit interceded and brought Peace to the turmoil.

Hallelujah and to God be the Glory!

(For those who have asked, here’s the manuscript of the sermon–essentially the polished up notes I put together in preparation to preach. Spoiler alert! God wins. By a landslide.)

The Prophet’s Call

Difficult Pregnancy begets Heavenly Gift

I met my soulmate the day I was born. Well, maybe not the exact day, but soon. The only thing I know for sure is that as soon as I was aware of my surroundings, I was aware of my sister.

She came into being 26 whole months before I did and thus had the necessary wisdom and knowledge to show me the ways of the world. She was my teacher, my mentor, my roommate, and my friend. It was always that way, though our roles shifted slightly as we got older. See I got married before she did and had two children before she got pregnant the first time. So sometimes it felt a little like I was the older sibling, the one with the advice. Long-distance advice–I lived in North Carolina and she in Maryland–but still.

Anyway, when she began to experience pregnancy itching, I knew just what she should do. “Lanolin,” I told her. “Or cocoa butter. Both are great for itchy skin.” But I was wrong; and it wasn’t itchy skin. (How we would later wish for something so easy to fix as pregnancy-related dermatitis!) Not even the doctors knew what the problem was, but they eventually settled on a diagnosis of an allergy to the amniotic fluid.*

Whatever it was, it was maddening. My sister itched from the inside out. And oh what a tease that itch was. My sister could never resolve it: not by lotions or medications and certainly not by scratching. She itched nearly everywhere. “Sometimes,” she told me, “I try to think about my teeth. I concentrate on that one part of my body that doesn’t itch.”

But the itch always won. It snuck in along her gum line and around her lips, up to her scalp and down in her ears. It was merciless, unrelenting, and just plain mean. She begged her doctors for some relief from the madness. They only had one thing to offer.

“Once the baby is here,” they told her, “the itching will be greatly reduced if not gone altogether.” Childbirth: my sister’s only hope for pain relief.

Finally, early one morning I got the call: she was in labor. It was wonderful, and terrifying, news. The doctors knew so little about what was going on with her. All we really knew was that things could easily go tragically wrong.

That day was February 3, 1997, one of the longest days of my life, and the day my niece, Emma Mitchell Weiss was born. A week later, I wrapped my arms around my sister, Emma snuggled in her mama’s arms between us.

That moment that I held them both . . . it is one of the High Holy Moments of my life. In the midst of that multigenerational embrace, God’s love overwhelmed me. I felt such divine mercy and grace, such unfathomable love . . . well, it felt like the Kingdom of God right here on earth. Thanks be to God.

“Happy 18th Birthday Beloved Emma. Your birth gave me a beautiful image of the love of God. Your life is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. So go be miraculous My Emma. Be you.”

*When my sister’s symptoms returned during her second pregnancy, she discovered (thanks to a brand new computer application called Google™ which led her to knowledgeable doctors across the world and right in her own town) what she really had was a disease called obstetric cholestasis. This rare disorder causes liver malfunction during pregnancy and a resulting incessant itchiness.

Interestingly enough, it turned out that even with the wrong diagnosis, the doctors gave my sister the right prognosis. Indeed, delivery brought the beginning of the end of her symptoms. Today, my sister and her two children Emma and Mitch are healthy and strong, showing no signs that liver disease threatened their well-being. To God be the glory.

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My Mother and Hers: Caregiving and Dementia

Grandmama and Granddaddy, 9-7-89

My grandmother was born January 24, 1905; it’s hard to say when the dementia began, but by the mid 80’s it was full blown. I always said that as the dementia advanced Grandmama got sweeter and sweeter to the point that she was just pure sugar by the time she passed away in 1994. For the last five years of her life, Grandmama lived with her youngest daughter, my mother. In this post from 2009, I recall some snippets from those last few years.

“I know someone who will take care of me,” my grandmother told us from the shelter of my mother’s arms. We’d been picking on her—trying to awaken the feisty grandmama we used to have before dementia kidnapped her. She had had about enough of our shenanigans when my mother walked through the room. Grandmama pushed herself up from her chair, walked straight to Mother, tucked her head into Mother’s shoulder, and looked back at us, triumphant.

She was right. My mother, her daughter, took care of her, loving her through the fog of memory loss. Mother loved Grandmama enough to keep her busy, despite the obvious limitations. She kept a jar of coins handy and would pour it out on the kitchen table for Grandmama. “Could you count these for me, Mother,” my mother would say to hers, “It would sure be a big help to me.” And Grandmama would set about sorting and stacking, making sure her towers of coinage were just so. Mother had Grandmama count those coins, water plants, or fold clothes because everyone needs to feel needed. Everyone needs something to do.

Mother loved Grandmama enough to bless her with beauty. On the screened-in porch where Grandmama loved to sit in her rocking chair, Mother kept flowering plants in Grandmama’s favorite colors. “Look Grandmama! Isn’t that beautiful?” we’d say, pointing to a plant she had already seen a dozen times. She would turn to look, her eyes brightening at the sight that was brand new to her. “Ewwweee! What a pretty flower! Look at those purple blooms. You know, I’ve always loved purple.” We knew.

Mother loved Grandmama enough to keep telling her story to her. “Mother, how many children did you and Daddy have?” Mother would prompt her. “Well, now, let me see. . .” Grandmama would begin, searching the faces in her memory. She loved thinking about her children, even though she didn’t really recognize their adult versions any more.

Watching Mother care for Grandmama back then, I wanted to put into words somehow my appreciation for the sacrifices she was making. (Grandmama and Granddaddy had moved in with my parents shortly before my Granddaddy died in 1989.) I wrote this poem in the early 90’s in honor of Mother, in memory of Grandmama.

TO MY GRANDMOTHER’S KEEPER

In the darkness of her mind,
children blend with siblings;
reality slips into the forgotten past.
Words,
Having
wandered
aimlessly
from
brain
to mouth, tumble out in jumbled speech.

Alone, but not,
She searches her audience
for a sign
of understanding.

Longing,
her foggy eyes
find your focus;
her life-worn frame
folds into your
familiar embrace;
the gray cloud of her mind releases showers of tears.

With firm assurance
you
call her in
from her private storm.

Knowing it is her greatest fear, you tell her,
(again):“You will never be alone. Never.”

And fleeting comfort shelters her.
And that is all you need.

Happy Birthday Grandmama!

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Aileen's Ordination & Graduation 168An Incalculable Return

 

Vulnerability in the Body of Christ*

vulnerabilityWhat’s the deadline for New Year’s resolutions? I mean, are we supposed to be all resolute before the ball drops or do we have until, say, Feb. 1?

The reason I’ve not written my resolutions yet is that I really don’t know where to start. There are so very many things about me that need fixing. I need to eat more healthfully and exercise more diligently. I need to do a better job with time management. I want to read and write more. My house, my office, my car — each needs a thorough cleaning and a sustainable organization system. I need to be more committed to daily quiet time. And of course I’ll also resolve — as I do every year — to read the Bible through (I practically have Genesis memorized).

Holy moly — it’s a lot. And here’s the thing: when I look at this list, I get so overwhelmed that I want to clear off a place on my couch, curl up with an entire turtle cheesecake, and binge-watch The Golden Girls.

Of course, if I did make and manage to keep all those resolutions, I’d be perfect. Only problem? There’s no such thing as absolute perfection. I learned this in a machine shop, of all places. I was working at a community college at the time and was with a group of students who were interested in our machining major. As we toured the shop, the department chair explained to our group that students would learn to use equipment to manufacture parts that were identical to within a fraction of a millimeter. He went on to say, “Of course, no two things are exactly the same; there’s no such thing as perfection. We just get as close to that as possible.”

I was astounded! What I heard him say was: “Do your best. Don’t be careless or unprofessional. But when you’ve done your very best, be content with the result.”

Recently, I heard echoes of this ideology while reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. A self-titled researcher storyteller with a Ph.D. in social work, Brown says: “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. … [It] is not self-improvement … [or] the key to success. … Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable goal.” (Maybe she is a machinist in addition to being a university professor and a world renown scholar. Just a thought.)

Brown takes issue with perfectionism because she considers it to be one of the barriers to true connection. She believes “connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” And connection, according to Brown, cannot happen if we hide behind a façade of perfection. She says that in order to form true community, to connect, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be imperfect.

That makes sense right? I mean, who wants to be around someone who (we think) is invulnerable and perfect? It’s irritating. Plus they make us nervous. Being around flawless folk causes our vulnerabilities to leak out all over the place.

So if Brown is right and we must embrace vulnerability to make real connection, what does that mean for the church? Surely we should be able to find authentic community, real connection, in the church, right?

Yes. Absolutely. I believe that God calls us into community from the Garden to the Revelation. We, the church, are the Body of Christ. How can we be the Body if we are not connected? We can’t.

The problem, though, is that too often we come to church wearing our costumes of perfection. We come with our beautiful families, our harmonious marriages, our successful careers. We know we’re wearing costumes; we sit in our cars picking the lint of shame off of them before we enter the sanctuary. What we don’t believe is that anyone else is wearing one. We believe they (whoever “they” are) have everything together. Their kids are always so well-behaved; their careers are upwardly mobile; they read through the Bible every single year. We look at them and our shame deepens and we become convinced that we have to work harder on our costumes, shine up our shields of perfection.

Let’s don’t, though, OK? Instead, let’s set aside our vain attempts at perfection. Let’s agree that each of us is broken in countless ways and let’s be OK with that. Let’s resolve to be vulnerable. Let’s be the Body of Christ.

*This piece was first published on January 11, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.

Common App Essay: Favorite Place

Please welcome guest blogger, my niece, Emma Weiss in her premier appearance here at Aileen Goes On. Emma wrote this in response to the following common app essay prompt. 

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

It took my breath away. Enjoy.

I think it’s the most refreshing in the winter. The door resists our pull, resulting in a whoosh of icy air as it finally gives and welcomes us into the warmth of the shop. We hear the familiar tinkle of the bell overhead and see familiar, easy faces smiling behind the counter. If we had to choose, I’d say my mother’s favorite barista is probably the bubbly Sophie, but I think my favorite is Max. He’s a little quieter, a little harder to read, but once you get to know him he’s an easy friend.

spro

If it’s early enough in the day, I’ll order a mocha, maybe iced. (Black coffee scares me.) Most of the time, especially in the colder seasons, it’s the hot chocolate that I look forward to. Generally my mother will ask to run a tab so she can order more than once – sometimes it’s just a two-iced-tea kind of day. We might order a pastry, but she always reminds me under her breath that their scones aren’t as good as that one time I made the lemon cream scones for her birthday. I still think that their Nutella scone soaked for approximately five seconds in my hot chocolate is pretty hard to beat, though.

This is Spro, my favorite local coffee shop. I can count on one hand the times I’ve come here in the past three years without my mother. I’ve taken friends here, and sometimes I’ve come by myself, but it’s never the same without her bent over working across from me. We come here after the worst days, after the best days; after weeklong absences, after we were here yesterday; amidst tears of desperation and fatigue, amidst sighs of relief.

Common App Essay Power!

Emma and her mother, my sister, conquering the world, one cup of coffee at the time.

She grades, chatters about her newest teaching technique, enlists my help in planning lessons. I study, write college essays, dream about my future. She laughs aloud at the sarcastic Latin comics her students came up with; I look up from my biology textbook to tell her excitedly that the cells in our brain can message the cells in our toes. She reads books I’ve recommended to her; I read the literary magazine I finally was able to purchase from a shop down the block. She works her way through Sunday school lessons; I work my way through the queue of portraits I need to edit.

We get coffee (and hot chocolate) before my piano lesson every other Tuesday, a tradition evolving from the early days of picking up after elementary school and going straight for snacks before my brother and I had our lessons. We discuss things of huge consequence, interspersed with things that don’t really matter. We sit at our table, across from each other, together even if we don’t say anything at all.

It’s our coffee shop. It’s not that nearest Starbucks, full of busy baristas whipping out frappuccinos and getting you out of there as fast as you came in. It’s Spro, where you can watch the coffee slowly dripping through the “cold brew drip towers” in the back as you sip your English breakfast tea and listen to the warm chatter of the people sharing your experience. Time slows down, allowing for moments to settle like a blanket around you instead of their usual crashing presence. And even though we have come in from the winter chill, the first sip of milky foam at the top of my hot chocolate is a breath of fresh air.

Some people find it odd that I asked for a trip to New York with just my mother for my birthday. Some people don’t understand that I would rather spend time at my coffee shop than go to that party. But for me, our time at Spro is sacred. It is the core of our bond, the strength of our tie, an anchor that I will not for one second take for granted.

emma beating me at bananagramsEmma Weiss is a senior at Towson High School planning to attend Tufts, Brown, Haverford, or the University of Maryland in the fall. Emma loves biology, photography, and her two cats Oscar and Minerva. She has a beloved aunt whom she regularly slaughters in Bananagrams.

Visit her website www.emmaweissphotos.com or her facebook page www.facebook.com/emmaweissphotos to see her extraordinary photography.

emma beating me at bananagrams again

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another excellent response to the same prompt:

 Grace at Disney

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Meditation: Oh Come All Ye Faithful

(Since my earliest memory of Christmas music, Oh Come All Ye Faithful has been my favorite carol. I wrote this meditation on the lyrics for our 2014 Christmas Eve service. Christmas blessings to you all today and throughout the year!)O-Come-All-Ye-Faithful

Oh Come All Ye Faithful

Come with your shattered dreams, heavy hearts, and dwindling bank accounts.

Come confused, lonely, and anxious; distracted, rushed, weary.

Come you who try as you might, still fall short of your own expectations.

Come imperfect, unfinished, overwhelmed.

Come, with your diagnoses. Addiction, Arthritis, Alzheimer’s, or Asperger’s. Migraines headaches, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. Come with ADD, OCD, PTSD.

Come! Come, Faithful, come and be . . .

Joyful and Triumphant

Joyful! Hear the good news: In Christ you are forgiven!

In Christ, you are free from the bonds of your imperfections, free to be broken, free to be beautiful.

Triumphant! Breathe; you don’t have to push yourself so hard anymore.

The race has been won! In Christ, the victory is secure.

Hallelujah!

Oh Come, ye, oh come ye

Ye who have relinquished control,

Ye who are open to the profound, transformative love of God.

Ye who accept the gift, the son of the Most High: Jesus Christ.

To Bethlehem

Bethlehem: tiny, dusty, impoverished, insignificant.

Bethlehem: where the star shines the brightest.

Bethlehem: where the story begins.

Your Bethlehem: where your story begins.

Come! And behold Him

Behold Jesus! And believe that which you behold.

Jesus! Emmanuel: God with us!

Born the king of Angels

Of all God could have given us, God gave us Jesus—the Holy Son of God—better in diapers than angels in their glory!

Oh! Come let us adore him

Together! Let’s all bring our brokenness, lay it here by the manger, at the foot of the cross.

And let’s lift our unbound hands and our open hearts. Come!

OH come let us adore him!

Images of the Kingdom of God *

“I’m going to move over here by Ruby so she can hear me,” Edna said as she stood, stepping WMU symbol from 70's Kingdom of Godover so her voice would project directly into her friend’s ear.

“How’s this?” she asked. “Can you hear me OK, Ruby?”

Ms. Ruby noticed us watching her and piped up, “Beg your pardon?”

I was attending the monthly meeting of a Woman’s Missionary Union roundtable at my church, and Ms. Edna was sharing the prayer calendar which included a brief devotion. These particular women have been meeting together for longer than anyone can remember. They share prayer concerns, pray for missionaries, take on mission projects, enjoy snacks provided by the hostess of the month, and just spend time together. I’d guess their average age is upwards of 80.

five-points-missionary-baptist-church kingdom of God

Just before boarding the church bus for GA camp, circa 1975.

As I basked in their traditions, I was taken back to my days in Girls in Action (the children’s version of WMU). The ladies spoke of Lottie Moon, and immediately I pictured the diminutive missionary who changed the face of Baptist international missions. I recalled also the women who taught me about Lottie Moon and other missionaries. I saw their smiling faces as they welcomed me into a community of belonging.

They were some of the same ones who greeted me at GAs on Wednesdays, taught my Sunday school class, led crafts at Vacation Bible School, or bandaged my scrapes at church camp. They, and others who came after them, taught me that church is a place where children are loved and friendships are made. They taught me other stuff too, of course. I learned about Adam, Noah and Abraham; Paul, John and Peter. I learned about the widow who offered Elisha a home and the one who offered Jesus her all.

Those lessons grew with me, as I read and re-read familiar stories, gaining deeper understanding over time. I’m grateful — so grateful — for the hours those volunteers put in with me and my peers. People like Elaine Hill, Marilyn Thompson, Eva Spear, and Vi Keeter gave me a picture of godliness that I readily recognize in others today.

It’s that kind of godliness I saw around that table of women last week. Like the saints in my own history, these women will be quick to tell you they’re just “sinners saved by grace.” Indeed, they — we — are human beings who trespass against others even as we fail to forgive those who trespass against us. So yes, they are imperfect; but these women take church seriously. In addition to being at church every time the doors are open, “Lord willing,” they show up around that table, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. For a couple of hours each month they share snacks and stories, recipes and remedies, hopes and hurts. They pray together — for each other and for people they’ve never met — and over time they’ve developed a community of faith that looks a little bit like the Kingdom of God.

What about you? What pictures of the Kingdom have you seen lately?

*This piece was first published on December 14, 2014, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.