Each week, I write a short piece for Ecclesia Baptist newsletter. This week, Aileen did in fact go on (as I tend to do). So for my wider audience, a post on sin. (Spoiler alert: I'm against it.)
Pastor Whatzizname and Father Whatchamacallit abused.
Michael Jackson molested.
Aunt Becky cheated. (AKA Lori Loughlin)
WHAT?! Not Aunt Becky!
After a year (or a decade) of heroes falling from grace (Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Bill Cosby), you’d think we would have become numb to it. But Aunt Becky (Loughlin’s Full House character)? Who’s next? Big Bird? As followers of Christ, what do we do with this damning information? Is there no one worthy of trust?
One thing that is helpful when considering what we hear on the news is realizing that these stories make the news BECAUSE they are the EXCEPTION to the rule. If this were normal behavior, no one would care. Think about it. A headline like “Awesome teacher has another great day in the classroom,” does not sell papers. It doesn’t, because this is nothing new. It happens every day.
It is also not true that these horrific things are happening more frequently. It’s that we are better at detecting them than we were decades ago. Really. Just look at the 10 Commandments and you’ll see that these issues have always existed.
It’s still upsetting; of course, it is. But this latest disclosure is not reason enough to wash our hands of humanity and give up on people all together. Instead, let’s all try to remember this: the perfect human? That was a one and done deal. The rest of us will disappoint each other. So we should all be more careful about mounting folks (celebrities, pastors, or whoever) on pedestals. Human beings were just not made for that.
Another thing to remember? God loves the notorious sinner every bit as much as God loves run-of-the-mill sinners like you and me. Certainly, they—and we—must be held accountable for sin. But maybe we should be more focused on our own need for grace and forgiveness and less distracted by the sins of others. Paul tells us that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and John reiterates that message saying, “If you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you.” (1 John 1:8)
No doubt, God grieves when we sin. But God never stops loving us and always forgives us. Let’s spend our time pondering the overwhelming grace of that truth, and not get wrapped up in the sordid details of the sin of others. In that way, we honor the gift of God’s grace and love to all of us.
I have been blessed by many strong women in my life. There were school and church teachers, neighbors and mothers of friends, and many strong women in my own family. But if I had to pick just one woman to honor today, there's just no competition.
Gloria M. Mitchell: Born in 1938, the fifth child of Louise Cobb Martin and Jessie D. Martin, my mother grew up knowing without a doubt that she was a beloved daughter and sister. Throughout her childhood, her father talked of her attending college; it was no surprise, then, that she went to Mercer University following her graduation from Albany High School.
She was homesick but made friends quickly and was soon dating the “ugliest boy you ever saw” (according to my dad, her next boyfriend). Daddy had seen her on campus; heard she was teaching a sign language class; and registered for the class. It wasn’t long after their first few dates that they knew this was no temporary relationship; they married in 1960 after both had graduated college. From there, they moved to North Carolina where Daddy went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to further his education for the ministry. He graduated three years later. My sister came along that same year (1963). Then they had me in 1965, and my brother in 1969.
While my dad has the title Pastor, my parents minister as a team. Mother is extraordinarily gifted at ministry: she has written thousands of cards and notes over the years, made hundreds of meals to deliver to those in need, and visited countless people who needed encouragement.
Understand, though: her role as a pastor’s wife did not mean that she was a pushover. In the 70’s when such things just were not done, she wore a pantsuit to church—the first woman in the congregation to do so. She also refused to sing in the choir and never joined WMU. Those were not things Gloria Mitchell felt called to do. So she didn't do them. (No matter what the congregation had to say about it.)
Mother is also an amazing mother. She raised us to be adults, not children. When the time came, she was able to release us to our own lives and dreams. That doesn't mean she shoved us out of the house and washed her hands of us. Nope. Even now, when we get to her house for a visit, we are welcomed with great joy, boundless love, and a fridge full of our favorites.
So, I’m grateful for her in many ways and there’s a lot about her that I admire. Here lately though, I’ve been most impressed by her ability to age with grace. Mother has always been an attractive woman and she still is; but that’s not what I’m referencing. It’s other things.
Mother reads, exercises, tries new things, makes new friends, and plays any card or even board game you can name. (Unless you are related to her, Don't try to beat her at Rook. It won't go well.) She also never meets a stranger, laughs easily and often, and enjoys a funny you-tube video as much as the next person. My mother is 21st century level awesome. And when I grow up, I want to be just like her!
How about you? Comment below and tell me about a woman you admire.
I grew up Southern Baptist, so if it weren't for my Lutheran best friend giving up sweets every year around this time, I'd probably not have thought too much about the Lenten Season. I mean, I'm sure my Dad mentioned something about it in his sermons along the way, and he even held Maundy Thursday services way back in the seventies (radical for the time). Still, I didn't really practice Lent until about a decade ago when we joined a Baptist church that had reached back to its early Christian roots and resurrected the practice of Lent.
There are lots of different reasons that observance of Lent is important to all who follow Christ. One reason I've heard is that Lent can be a sort of New Year's Resolutions re-boot, a time to get back on track with the life goals you set for yourself a couple of months ago. While I definitely agree that Lent is a time to reflect on our own brokeness, I don't actually think we should use this ancient practice as a self-improvement exercise. Not that Lent doesn't actually have that outcome, because naturally we do become more fully alive when we are more focused on God incarnate in Jesus Christ. But, in my opinion, self-improvement should not be the ultimate objective.
According to the liturgical (church) calendar, Lent marks the weeks leading up to the church's observance of Easter. Thus, it is a time of contemplation, a time to renew the commitment to follow Christ into the difficult spaces where darkness reigns and light is rare. Thus, for my Lenten discipline, I try to select something to add or eliminate that will remind me frequently of Christ's deep love for all of creation and my responsibility to reflect that love in my daily life. Want some examples? Here you go.
Whatever you choose for your Lenten discipline, my prayer is that you will remember daily that you are beloved beyond measure.
What about you? What Lenten commitments have you made?
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
And now she is 21. A good time to rerun this piece about our Joy Bringer.
Margaret, my youngest child (born earlier this week), turned 18 today (2/13/16) In honor of her birthday, I thought I’d share 18 reasons why we Lawrimores call her our Joy Bringer.
We named our third child Margaret because, though she was beloved, she was not exactly planned. “Margaret” means “pearl.” Some of her earliest conversations included, “My name is Mawgwet, cuz I a tweasure of gwaaaaate pwice!” She is indeed. She is our Joy Bringer.
When Jack was born, Booker T. Washington was still the principal at Tuskegee Institute. Bernice & Corrine came along later; by the time of their births, Lyndon B. Johnson had already been elected to the House of Representatives. Carrie is the youngster of the group: she was born just as Rosa Parks became active in the NAACP.
None of these senior adults grew up around people who looked much different than they did. And, even if Bernice & Corrine had lived closed together, it’s unlikely that they would have become lifelong friends. There were too many obstacles, too many barriers. Well. It just wasn’t done.
But today things are a little different. Every Thursday at the Senior Opportunity Center in Asheville these folk and others join my exercise class: Jack, a 97 year old white guy who walks with two canes; Bernice and Carrie, African American grandmothers; and Corrine, a cheerful white lady who lives with her kids.
Really, they should not get along. They should not be friends. Their not-so-shared histories should demand a certain distance.
And believe me: it wasn’t easy at first. A senior center in West Asheville closed. Participants who chose to continue in the program had to go to the downtown location, taking the bus further than they had travelled previously. These West Asheville members, almost to a person, are white. Downtown participants come from lots of different backgrounds; many are African American. In the beginning, when I would come to teach fitness, the West Asheville folk would sit on one side of the semi-circle and the downtown folk on the other: divided by a visible color line that would have made Jim Crow proud.
But then one day Carrie happened to be sitting beside a white woman named Mae, each on their own side of course, but right next to each other. Carrie said something funny and Mae laughed. Or was it the other way around? I forget. But they laughed. Together. So the next week, they made a point to sit beside each other again.
And the line began to fade.
They’ve been together three years now, those two groups. In a recent class, Jack sat beside Bernice who sat beside Carrie. Yao—a Chinese lady who speaks only scant English—sat on his other side, next to Corrine. No one seemed to realize that they weren’t supposed to be friends, these relics from a different time. No one seemed to remember that they had once been on opposite sides—and not just in my class either. In fact, no one seemed to notice race, creed, or heritage at all.
“Arms up reaching side to side,” I instructed the class. “Now reach over and give your neighbor a pat on the back.”
And they did. Without hesitation.
May God Almighty bless you . . .
until you become a community of peoples.
(One of my favorite posts of all time, this one was first published in 2011.)
"I invite everyone to choose forgiveness rather than division, teamwork over personal ambition."
This from 2013 demanded another run. It's deja vu all over again!
10 Things I’ve learned (or been reminded of) during the government shutdown:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Recently, I saw perhaps the weirdest video I’ve ever seen. It begins with a woman preparing fresh fish for supper. On the screen we see her hands: one holding a kitchen knife, the other holding a raw fish fillet on a cutting board over a sink. All she has left to do is cleaning off a few more scales and the fish will be ready to cook. But (here’s the weird thing), every time she touches her knife to the headless fillet, it spontaneously bends up towards her. She shrieks, “This fish is trying to bite me and it doesn’t even have a head!” Crazy, right?
You know what’s even crazier, though? The fact that fish aren’t the only ones guilty of acting as if they can operate without a rightful head in place. Too often we followers of Christ do the same thing. We flop around and can’t figure out why we feel distant from God. In our churches, we wonder why we can’t form community, why there’s so little harmony and so much discord. Could it be that we are trying to live godly lives and form meaningful connections without our Head?
Paul says that in Jesus “all things hold together.” Let’s keep Christ at the head of our lives not just at Advent, but always. We just aren’t made to function any other way.
Thank you God for Jesus! Help us always to make Christ first place in everything. Amen.
“Hold on to the railing,” our guide said as we wound down the stairs of the Church of the Nativity to the Grotto. “These steps are centuries old and very tricky.”
The church, built under the direction of Saint Helena, has been used continuously since 333 AD. St. Helena, using her influence as the mother of Constantine, Emperor of Rome, had this sanctuary built over the site where she believed Jesus had been born.
So, beneath this ancient church, is a cave—a cave that, back in first century Jerusalem, looked like any other inner-city cave. As the city grew up around it, the cave found a job—you know, made itself useful. Situated next to an inn, it offered its services to the innkeeper as a stable for sheltering his animals. The cave would have been a quiet, peaceful place, a place where guests often stayed when the inn reached capacity.
Today, a silver star on the floor of that cave marks the spot where St. Helena believed Mary gave birth. Another niche is considered to be the place where Mary laid Jesus in the manger.
True? Hard to say.
To me, whether the Grotto of the Nativity is the real, exact place where Jesus was born is not the point. I don’t really care much about such particulars. This I know: for more than 19 centuries, believers have come to this place to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They have come from far, far away, and from right next door, on donkey-back, on camel-back and on Amtrak. They have come: speaking Aramaic, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Swahili, Russian, even English. They have come in a steady stream of expectation, watching their step and holding onto the railing, to worship in this place. It's like an Advent Devotion come to life!
So as I stepped carefully on those tricky centuries-old stairs, my spirit reached out to the great crowd of witnesses there in that grotto with me. I turned to face the silver star and, joining my voice with theirs, I prayed, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth, peace, good will to all people.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,(Originally published in my 2008 Christmas letter.)
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:13-15 (NRSV)
After learning my father's oldest sister had passed away, I received a call from my mother, asking if I would write the obituary.
That's not what happened. Mother said, "We need you to write Aunt Edna's obituary. And they need it ASAP. They want to have the service on Saturday. Here's your cousin's contact information. Call her. She'll tell you where to send it." (There wasn't any "asking" about it.)
My Mother knows me. She knew this direction would be a gift. I needed something to do with my brain. See, until yesterday, all my dad's siblings--he has six--were still living. I kind of thought they'd live forever. So, maybe you shouldn't be shocked by the passing of a 90 year old woman who was in poor health. But, as my daddy always says, "Should never could do anything."
After talking with one of my cousins, messaging another, and doing a little research for details, I sorted through some of my own memories of Aunt Edna. I remembered her making round pineapple and mayo sandwiches on white bread. I remembered her magical sewing room that frequently morphed into an assembly room full of cloth body parts. And I remembered her soft voice, her sweet smile, and the way she'd laugh with her mouth shaped in a small oval, her eyes crinkled, her head tilted back just slightly. What a dear woman. I loved her so.
Edna Ruth Mitchell Jackson, 90, born in Bainbridge, Georgia on June 6, 1928, passed away at home on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. She was the second child of James Powell, Sr. and Naomi (nee Carter) Mitchell who preceded her in death. She was also preceded in death by her husband Robert Carroll Jackson, Sr., daughter Patricia Jackson Banks, sister Annie Mitchell, niece Sherry Mitchell, brother-in-law George Storey, and sisters-in-law Dollie Mitchell and Fran Mitchell.
She is survived by countless loved ones including brothers James and wife Nell, Edward and wife Anne, Harold and wife Gloria, Joseph, and Earl and wife Jennie; and her sister Edith Storey. She is also survived by her children Robert Carroll Jackson, Jr, Linda Jackson Johnson, Anne Jackson Griffin and husband Clarence, Jane Jackson Stephens and husband Bertrom, Debbie Jackson, David Jackson, and her son-in-law Steve Banks; her grandchildren Emily, Maggie, William, Marilyn, Michael, Timothy, Jeff, Teelah, Kelly, Mark, Jason, Melody, Randy, Christopher, Jennifer, Mary Catrina, Robert, and Bradley; 19 great-grandchildren; and 15 nieces and nephews.
At six years old, Edna suddenly became her parent’s oldest child when Annie passed away from appendicitis. Since that time, Edna has been the consummate oldest sibling to her younger sister and her six younger brothers, setting an example for them of quiet faith, gentle strength, and everlasting love. Her love for them formed the prequel to her life role as the mother for her own seven children for whom she modeled the same godly qualities she exhibited in her childhood home.
In addition to being a devoted wife and mother, Edna was a sharp business woman who turned her fondness for sewing into an impressive cottage business. From hand-sewn garments and custom alterations to beautiful dolls and whimsical toys, Edna could transform fabric into magic. Her sewing room, full of teddy bears and ragdolls, spilled over with Christmas fabrics selected for her favorite projects: holiday arts and crafts. Eventually, she began selling her wares at craft shows across the state of Georgia at which she nearly always sold out of her inventory, no matter how much she had made for the event. Counting the ones she sold, the many she made as gifts for grandchildren and other loved ones, plus all the ones she gave away for the pure joy of it, Edna created thousands and thousands of dolls and toys that are loved to this day.
Edna was an ardent learner. When her children were still young, she was taking classes at the local junior college in pursuit of a liberal arts degree. When a technical school opened in Albany, Edna switched her focus to arts and craft classes, honing her innate artistic talent to the professional level. She truly was a lifelong student, never missing an opportunity to learn something new.
Edna was also a faithful teacher. Her love of God that sustained her throughout life, gave her the longing to share the gospel with others through Sunday school classes. She taught both children and adult classes over the years, sharing lessons she gleaned from Holy Scripture.
Her godly influence spread far beyond the church walls, beginning in her own home. She never missed a chance to tell her children that she loved them, that God loved them, and that she was praying for them. Her family knew they were loved. And she defined “her family” more broadly than most. It didn’t matter how distant—or questionable—the relationship, to Edna, you were family. The highlight of her year was planning the annual family reunion. She had a way of making every single person in attendance feel as if she had planned the whole event just so she could see them. Her sweet smile welcomed each newcomer as she called them by name, inviting everyone to the table.
Edna Jackson, a treasure of a woman, is best described by the words of Proverbs 31:25-30: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
Funeral arrangements to be determined. For more information, see Kimbrell-Stern Funeral Directors, Albany, Georgia. https://www.kimbrellstern.com/
An Advent message from the prophet Zephaniah "Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! . . .At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord." Zep 3:14, 20 NRSV
"Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!"
Twenty voices sang to the little guest of honor enthroned in her high chair. Anna Kate, celebrating her second birthday, celebrated her first in a very different place. Back then, she lay in a Russian orphanage awaiting her turn for nourishment and a little nurture as well.
"Happy Birthday Anna Kay-ate! Happy Birthday to you!"
Anna Kate beamed, looking around at all the people gathered just for her. A look of wonder filled her eyes as she said just one word, "Happy."
And in that moment, I beheld joy in the shape of a little girl. I got a snapshot, just a glimpse, of what it must have been like to see the face of Christ.
Christ had a second birthday too, you know. When Jesus was two years old and toddling about, do you think humanity realized the treasure in its midst? Of course Mary did, and Joseph. And surely other family members recognized that this baby was indeed extraordinary. But there must have been those who missed their chance to cradle joy incarnate in their arms. There must've been.
This advent season, we are called to embrace the coming of Christ. Don't miss your chance. Celebrate the joy of Christ today.
"Jesus, let us glimpse this day, joy incarnate. In the midst of our 21st century frenzy, slow us down that we might recognize your face, thereby experiencing the wonder of Advent."
Anna Kate & family 2018