By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
Luke 1:78-79 NRSV
Back in the 1970’s, when $250,000 was an exorbitant amount to spend on an advertisement, Coca Cola Bottling Company assembled a cast and crew on a mountain in Italy to film what would become one of the most popular TV commercials of all time. In the ad, young people who appear to be from every tribe and nation, join in singing a song that even now, almost fifty years later, many people can recall.
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony.
I'd like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company.
That's the real thing.
Back in the day, if you watched that commercial and did not shed a tear, you were in the minority. When you saw those youthful faces bright with hope, it was nearly undeniable: if everyone could just have a nice cold Coca-Cola, the world would most certainly be at peace.
In the above text, we read about what the world truly does need, and it’s not a soft drink. Old Zechariah, still glowing from the unexpected miracle of his newborn son, explains, “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 The Message)
Lately, I can hardly scroll through the headlines without feeling a sense of despair. It so often seems that we are moving away from the holy day described in Micah 4:6-13. We witness the lame and afflicted overwhelmed by the waters of hurricane-borne floods and the flames of rogue forest fires. We see them shut out by institutional systems that deny their worth. We listen as wealthy power-brokers amplify their own significance while diminishing those Micah promises will be redeemed.
It’s into this cacophony that John the Revelator calls God’s people to turn away from luxury and influence and look to the authority of heaven. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that John has been doing a bit too much stargazing. According to my newsfeed, the winning team is the one with money and power, not the one with poverty and disenfranchisement.
Reading these texts in the context of modern injustices, I listen as Micah speaks of labor pains and John speaks of destruction; I wonder: what will be born of this destruction? What redemption lies on the other side of all this misery and injustice?
Oft quoted American minister and reformer Theodore Parker (1810-1860) said “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, . . . [but] it bends towards justice.” That’s a lovely sentiment, indeed one of my favorite quotes. But first, does that arc have to be so ridiculously long and second, what of the arc of pain? Where is it headed?
On December 5, 2016, Judge Clifton Newman declared a mistrial in the case of Michael Slager, the former Charleston, SC police officer accused of murdering 50-year-old Walter Scott. Judy Scott, Walter’s mother, surely stood on the arc of pain when she received the news of the verdict. Yet she strode forward and declared,
Today I'm not sad. And I want you to know why I'm not sad. Because Jesus is on the inside and I know that justice will be served because the God that I serve, he is able. . .. God is my strength and I know without a doubt that he is a just God and injustice will not prevail. . .. I’m just waiting on the Lord. I'm just gonna rest in the Lord. I'm gonna rest in the Lord ‘cause you see, . . . there's something about Jesus, when he's on the inside I fear not. . ..
And as she spoke, the arc of pain bent towards hope, towards righteousness.
Here at the beginning of the Advent season, as we await the coming of King Jesus, hear the good news: labor has begun and Hope will be born. “’Cause you see, . . . there’s something about Jesus.”
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Romans 12:9-12
 According to his Wikipedia bio, Parker lent words to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and most certainly to Martin Luther King Jr’s “Where Do we Go from Here” speech when King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Sources for update:/justice/2016/12/05/walter-scott-family-reaction-slager-mistrial-sot.cnn
UPDATE: On May 2, 2017, Michael Slager plead guilty to federal civil rights charges, accepting responsibility for the shooting death of Walter Scott. On December 7, 2017, Slager was sentenced to 20 years for the second degree murder. According to abcnews.com, "At one point during the sentencing Scott's mother looked the former officer in the eye and told him she forgave him. Families on both sides of the court burst into tears." (See "Ex-cop Michael Slager sentenced to 20 years . . . " below.) Slager is serving his sentence in a low-security prison in Colorado.
Sources for update:
Original (sans update and other minor edits) written for and published in Gardner-Webb University's 2017 Advent Devotional.
To hear retailers tell it, the Christmas season started just before Halloween. From CVS to Sears, stores have been festooned in red and green for weeks. The virtual world is no better. Before we even had a chance to design our holiday cards on shutterfly.com, social media had started revisiting the controversies of Christmas Past: what will Starbucks put on their cups this year? how will we greet each other? is there really a festivus for the rest-of-us? Indeed, the world seems to define the holiday season by what will sell best, whether it’s novelty socks or news articles--fake or true.
But the church defines the season in a different way. The Christian church celebrates the season of Advent for the four weeks preceding Christmas Day. But what is Advent? Too many of us don't have any idea. So, in an effort to help remedy this, I thought I’d offer this somewhat academic post about the Advent season. Here you go: your very own Advent Primer.
The world shouts, “Hurry up! You’re so far behind!” The church whispers, “Be still. Listen.” The world says, “You’re not doing enough! You’re running out of time.” The church says, “This is the moment. Be fully present in it.” Click To Tweet
History & Tradition
The name, “Advent,” comes from the Latin, adventus, meaning “coming.” During Advent, Christians focus on the incarnation of Jesus Christ and on Christ’s eventual return, thereby highlighting both the humanity and the divinity of Christ. Advent is a celebration of the mystery of the trinity, made manifest in Jesus Christ who was fully human and simultaneously fully God.
Interestingly, the church has not always recognized this season leading up to Christmas. By the fifth century, the church had begun toying with the idea of a time of preparation prior to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Modeled on the Lenten season (40 days of fasting prior to Easter), Advent was observed in the West long before the Eastern church adopted the idea. By the 11th century CE, most countries had set aside approximately four weeks before Christmas for focused liturgy, abstinence, and fasting. Today, both Catholic and protestant congregations observe Advent as a time of reflection and contemplation.
A part of Advent worship is the lighting of the Advent wreath. Traditionally, the wreath, circular in design and made of evergreen branches includes five candles: four around the wreath and a center Christ candle. The candles are lit in successive weeks, adding one each week until Christmas Eve when the Christ candle is lit along with the four candles encircling the wreath. The Christ candle is white. Often, the candles for weeks one, two, and four are either blue or purple, depending on the church’s preference or tradition. The candle for the third Sunday is usually pink or rose in color. However, opinions differ widely on how best to represent the Advent season through the color of the candles. I'm sticking with the white center, purple, purple, pink, purple arrangement in this post because that is what the churches I've served have done. (Pick your battles, as they say.
Anyway, themes for Advent are hope, peace, joy, and love. As with the colors of the candles, there is some variance in the order of these themes. Almost always, though, "hope" comes first and "joy" is third. I've only recently learned that some church traditions flip the second and fourth themes. Again, I revert to the order I've followed in my ministry (and, full disclosure, what my daddy has always done in his). Plus, I think we can all agree that this is not the most urgent argument in the Kingdom of God, right? When it comes to candle colors and the order of Advent themes, I'm thinking we can make like Elsa and just "let it go," am I right?
Hope, the First Sunday of Advent
The candle lit on this day is blue or purple and is sometimes called the Prophecy Candle. On the first Sunday of Advent, the church reflects on the coming Kingdom of Christ. Texts for this Sunday are eschatological in nature. According to www.webster.com, eschatology is “a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind.” But, the focus of this day is hope, not fear or anxiety. You see, we can get glimpses of God’s kingdom every day. Celtic Christians call these glimpses “thin places,” places where heaven seems to touch earth. On this Sunday of Hope, we can rest in the knowledge that in Christ, the Kingdom of God will certainly come in the future; let us also anticipate encounters with these thin places in which we experience the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
Peace, the Second Sunday of Advent
On the Second Sunday, we light the blue or purple Bethlehem Candle and the church remembers the Hebrew Prophets. It may seem confusing that today’s candle is called the Bethlehem Candle and we’re talking about Hebrew Prophets, when last week’s candle was named Prophecy. The confusion arises from our misunderstanding of the work of Hebrew prophets. Often, modern people think of the verb “prophesy” as a synonym for “predict.” But an Old Testament prophet was not a kind of ancient soothsayer who predicted future events with eerie accuracy. Instead, they were truth-tellers, delivering divine words of warning and of redemption to the people of God. Today, we look to Bethlehem, where Redemption was born.
Joy, the Third Sunday of Advent
On the third Sunday of Advent, the pink Shepherd’s Candle is lit. The candle is pink in commemoration of an ancient tradition in the church. In the early days of the church, the seven-week term of Lent was the only recognized liturgical season. On the third Sunday of Lent, the church took a brief break from fasting to celebrate the joy that was forthcoming in Easter. On this day, the Pope gave a pink rose to a congregant. Churches today use the pink candle in tribute to this custom from the church’s earliest days and as a reminder of the coming season of Lent.
On this Sunday, the church recalls the ministry of John the Baptist. John connects the prophets of old who spoke of righteousness, to Jesus Christ who embodied it. John the Baptist resembled an Old Testament prophet, yet as contemporary with Jesus, his message carried a unique sense of urgency. The biblical account the birth of Christ places the shepherds on the scene at the time of the nativity. Their rush to the manger resulted from their understanding of the magnitude of the moment. There is only one more Sunday of Advent. Time is drawing nigh! On the first Christmas, the Shepherds understood the immediacy of the moment; and during his ministry, John the Baptist did too.
Love, the Fourth Sunday of Advent
The last Sunday before Christmas the church lights the remaining blue or purple candle, the Angel Candle. Texts focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus. As we await the coming of Christ, we recall the joyous proclamation of the angels and Mary’s faithful obedience to God. When the angel Gabriel delivered his message to her—that she, a virgin betrothed to be married, was pregnant with the son of God—Mary gave herself fully and completely to God’s plan for her life. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we look to Mary’s example for guidance on how we might also fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.
Advent. It’s intentional and slow, not harried and fast. The world shouts, “Hurry up! You’re so far behind!” The church whispers, “Be still. Listen.” The world says, “You’re not doing enough! You’re running out of time.” The church says, “This is the moment. Be fully present in it.”
This Christmas, let’s stroll through Advent, enjoying the sights and sounds of the season and with hearts full of hope, peace, joy, and love, let us listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit.
(Check Wikipedia for this year's Advent dates.)
First published in 2015, edited and republished annually. Most recent edits 2018
“Before I was ordained, I just thought every day was Reign of Christ Day,” the rector quipped. Comfortable laughter wafted through the sanctuary.
I was attending the early service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown with my husband and our daughter who was a senior at Georgetown University. She worshipped regularly with this congregation, so it was a delight to join her there in her chosen sacred space. The Sunday we were there was the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Sunday before the beginning of Advent: Reign of Christ Sunday.
Referencing Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann in her sermon, the rector discussed one difference between good and evil. “Good doesn’t like big imagination because it requires us to be too vulnerable, to work too hard. Evil, on the other hand, loves big imagination.”
I wasn’t sure I understood; she continued. “A wistful mention of the end to local homelessness tends to be met not by enthusiastic support, but by scoffing judgment and wringing of hands. But let Evil mention a big idea. ‘Let’s kill an entire race of people! Let’s fly planes into buildings! Let’s open fire inside an elementary school.’” She listed these real-life tragedies with machine-gun fire rapidity. “Evil has a preposterously huge idea and gets busy, plotting and planning, seemingly unconcerned with any possibility of failure. Good holds back. Good lists all the reasons this dream is improbable and unrealistic, then Good shrugs its shoulders and walks away.”
It was a valid point and frankly, hit me right in my self-righteous intentions.
“On this reign of Christ Sunday,” she challenged us, “the Body of Christ needs to remember where our center of government is. It’s not in Washington, but in the tender hands of merciful Jesus. Those hands can handle any dreams we can conceive, regardless of magnitude.”
Prayers followed the sermon and then it was time for Holy Eucharist. (What we Baptists call the Lord’s Supper and have monthly or quarterly, the Episcopalians have weekly and then some. If it were a competition, I’d say they are beating us on this count.)
We all filed to the front of the church and circled around the table—there were about 30 of us, maybe 40. The officiants blessed the bread and the cup, then handed one plate of bread to the left, one to the right. The organist began playing a familiar hymn as the elements of communion passed from person to person around the circle.
Let us break bread together on our knees.
Let us break bread together on our knees.
“The body of Christ, broken for you,” said a silver haired man as he leaned over to the caramel colored girl next to him.
“Thanks be to God,” a bespectacled brown man said as he received the bread from a young white man sporting a fresh military haircut.
When I fall down on my knees, with my face to the rising sun.
O Lord, have mercy on me.
The cup made its way around, passing from a teenage acolyte to a tall Asian woman with two children of disparate ethnicities.
“The blood of Christ, shed for you,” a college student said to a young dad who held his infant son, swaddled but squirmy.
A little girl—three years old or maybe four--rocked back and forth, toe to heel, in her shiny Mary Janes; a twenty-something year old woman, her raven black hair plaited in the back, smiled at the fidgety girl. A baby cried. A grown man, eyes glistening, shed a tear or two himself.
Let us praise God together on our knees.
Let us praise God together on our knees.
When I fall down on my knees, with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me!
What a holy and blessed time of worship. A challenging proclamation by a gifted and engaging pastor, sacred communion celebrated at the foot of the cross, and a rich foretaste of God’s kingdom: an eclectic, multi-generational, international collection of believers who came together for this one moment of connection. For me, it was like a glimpse of a dream come true.
Oh Lord, let me dream big and act with bold conviction that it is You who reign in my life.
What about you? What’s YOUR dream?
Published originally November 2015
I’ve not thought of him in at least 35 years. Probably longer. But when my Facebook feed included high school pictures of him, I remembered him instantly. John Wilkins. Perfectly gorgeous John Wilkins. He was way out of my league and I don’t remember having a crush on him, but I do remember his beautiful blue eyes, his brilliant smile, his infectious laugh.
You’ve seen his type; if not in real life, in afterschool specials or Disney Channel movies. He’s the athletic superstar who is more handsome than anyone should be allowed to be; he’s a super student in all honors classes; he’s every teacher’s favorite and every girl’s dream. He’s the kind of guy who is picked for so many class superlatives, that the yearbook staff limits his award to best-all-around so that other students have a fighting chance. All that . . . and he’s nice too.
THAT is John Wilkins. And that’s why I was so stunned to learn that he passed away this week.
When I heard, I sought out his obituary and found nothing to suggest the cause of his death. I kept checking the Facebook feed for more information and—okay—I did my share of social media research (some might call it stalking). He had a beautiful wife of 28 years and two—or maybe three—kids. He had a successful career and seemed to have a full life of friends and extended family. All of this only heightened my shock when I learned the cause of his death: suicide.*
Now, I can’t begin to know what led up to the moment of his final decision. I do not know any of his story except the cause of his death. I cannot speak to his reasoning, his pain, his relationships. I do not know him that well. I can only say that his passing affected me deeply, the grief of it waking me in the night and bringing prayers for his loved ones—his mama, his siblings, his children, his wife . . ..
I shared my story of depression publicly for the first time in February 2017. I came out on my blog with a post that was shared hundreds of times, many of those accompanied by the sentiment, “She always seems so happy! I never would have guessed.” People with depression can be very good at deception. Even before Instagram started filtering out all human flaws, we learned what to share, and what to keep to ourselves. Here’s the thing: we KNOW we don’t have any real reason to be sad (chemical imbalance aside) so we hide it pretty well. And besides, so many times when we have let our masks slip, the world has let us down.
• “You just take things too seriously!”
• “Don’t let it get to you!”
• “Count your blessings!”
• “Your problems are nothing compared to [Person You Know Who Has a Terrible Life].”
• “It’s not that bad.”
• “Have you prayed about this?” (My personal favorite.)
(For the record, we know. And we agree, which actually makes us feel worse, not better. So just, ya know, don't.)
Having struggled with depression as long as I can remember, I know how often I have thought, “It is just too hard to be me. I really do not want to do this anymore.” I’m better now, but I used to feel this way at least weekly (now it’s a rare and fleeting thought). I tried to explain how hard it can be for me to a therapist once, “The pain of the world is so very near all the time. It’s like I was born without an emotional epidermis.” She explained that some people do have more neuroreceptors than others; those individuals feel the emotions of others more readily and more intensely. When you have only a thin barrier between the pain of the world and your very core . . . well . . . life can get overwhelming fast.
I don’t know about John, I really do not. But I know this: when I was in middle school, I was bullied by a couple of guys who called me names and taunted me daily. On the social food chain, if John Wilkins was a soaring eagle, these two guys were . . . let’s see . . . worms. Those two worms tormented me for 2-3 years, through middle school and the first of high school. But John, beautiful eagle that he was, was kind. Simply and effortlessly, kind.
It is the habit of humanity to deify the dead, but It would be invasive and presumptuous of me to shoulder past those whose knowledge of him is much more personal and immediate. So don’t misunderstand me here: I don’t mean to imply that John single-handedly saved me from thuggish bullies. It was nothing at all like that. John just offered a momentary kindly distraction from the pain of being me.
And so, well, I just can’t help but wonder . . . was he born without an epidermis too? Did he somehow—perhaps even unconsciously—sense the pain I felt? Were his incidental kindnesses to me more intentional than either of us realized? I can’t possibly know. But I know what it is like for the pain of others to seep into my soul. I know how it is to feel far too much. Maybe John did too.
Oh Lord, we know that you heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3) In your infinite mercy, we pray that your love would reach into the hearts of the family and friends who grieve the tragic loss of your child John Wilkins. May they grieve, not as those who have no hope, but as those whose hope is in Christ Jesus.
*Are you having thoughts of suicide? Is someone you love struggling with suicidal thoughts? You are not alone, there are those who can help, and you have no need to be ashamed. Call for help. Do it for you. Do it for me. Do it for whatever reason you can. But just make the call.
Need a little good news? Feeling like the world’s just getting worse by the day? I was too, so I did a little research—academic and personal—and thought I’d share what I uncovered.
And there’s lots more! Really. There are many things going extraordinarily well in our nation and in our world. It’s just that bad news sells better. That’s one reason why news outlets tell stories that play on our fears: so we’ll stay focused on their channel or website and buy the stuff they are advertising.
Of course, there are other reasons why we think about the negative more than the positive. But the reality is that there are great things happening all around us. The problem is that too often we just fail to see them. I’m trying to do better at that. Here are a few things I noticed just today.
• The city picked up my trash. BUT they also picked up my recyclables. This was not a thing when I was a child. I did not even know what the word meant.
• My computer is in my lap. MY LAP! A machine that allows me (among other things) to shop, bank, connect, and write, is both portable and affordable. Listen, back in the 1980s I typed my college essays. On a TYPEWRITER. (It was electric, not the Royal Upright I used in high school, but still.)
• Today I learned that a member of my church is experiencing complications from surgery; but everything that is wrong can be fixed. Today’s medical care is tantamount to the magic of yesteryear. It’s amazing.
• And today, I met a woman whose baby was born 14 weeks before his due date. And he is fine. Completely fine.
Good news. It’s encouraging, don’t you think?
So what about you? Anything hope-filled in your day?
"For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. "
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
Back in January 2008, I had just started divinity school at Gardner-Webb University; one of my classes was Introduction to Preaching with Dr. Danny West. Among the assignments was writing an "Autobiographical Analysis of an Influential Pastor." We were tasked with describing the pastor's impact on our lives, including how their preaching style affected our spiritual formation. For me, this one was easy: it had been writing itself my whole life.
I stumbled across it recently and realized I'd not shared it with my aileengoeson readers. Thought you might enjoy it.
“Daddy, you must be so proud.” The two of us lingered over our toasted bagels and yogurt in the Hampton Inn breakfast area; Mother had gone to finish getting ready for church. Daddy looked up from his Bible and sermon notes; he hadn’t heard me.
“What was that baby girl?”
“Proud! You must be. I mean this church is having Harold Mitchell Day. Heavens, that reunion last night with twenty-five grown-up once-upon-a-time youth group members was enough to make your heart explode. How many of them did you baptize anyway? Daddy, this is huge.” I was surely proud. All the times I’d seen my daddy deal with dumb deacons and constipated committees. . . I was basking in this glow, even if I was in its shadow.
Few Baptists can say they have had the same pastor from cradle roll through baptism, to youth group all the way to their wedding day. That’s me: one preacher—for twenty-two years. And here’s the thing: when Daddy’s preaching, I get so caught up in the message, I often forget he’s my daddy.
I get caught up right away too. Daddy often hooks his audience with a story, an illustration that pulls us in from the start. He’ll build on that story or use similar stories throughout his sermon so that at each juncture of the message, I am connected to it by real-life examples.
In fact, when I was little, Daddy’s stories were my favorite part of his sermons. I waited for them, hating for one to end, knowing it would be a few minutes before the next one. As I’ve grown older, and as my love of scripture has deepened, I’ve come to value a different component of Daddy’s preaching. Daddy’s sermons bring God’s Word to life for me.
I remember (it’s been at least 25 years ago) one sermon Daddy preached from Psalm 8 called “A Little Less than Divine.” In that sermon, he expounded on this psalm of creation. He pointed out that above all creation, humans were so precious to God, that he placed us just a little lower than the heavenly beings. He went on to talk about the pros and the cons of this distinction. In other words, he underscored our self-worth by showing us that God made us nearly equal to the angels. Then, he reminded us that we were in fact less than divine and didn’t need to get, as it were, too big for our heavenly britches. The whole sermon wove in and out of the text, using illustrations and personal reflection to connect listeners to the message.
That’s the way Daddy always preaches. The scripture carries the message. Daddy just delivers it.
Daddy is not a quiet preacher. He reminds me, sometimes, of those old Southern preachers you see in old movies but no longer in real life: preachers like Sally Field’s in The Places in the Heart or like the Waltons had. Daddy is passionate when he preaches. His tone of voice rises and falls. He gestures. He cries. And because Daddy never shies away from feeling the intensity of God’s message, I am freed to plunge into the depth of its meaning as well.
But while Daddy never speaks in monotone, he never speaks in what we children called a “preacher voice” either. He just talks like Daddy. Or Harold. Or Papa, or friend, or brother, or uncle. He is sincere. He is real. He is himself. When Daddy preaches, I never feel as if he is talking down to me or casting judgment on me. I feel as if I am being led to a holy message by a sinner like me. Consequently, I willingly go with him to the throne of grace, unfettered by misplaced self-defense.
Daddy fiddled with what was left of his Hampton Inn breakfast. “Yeah, it’s all been mighty nice. But I got a sermon to preach here in a little bit and there might be somebody there this morning who hasn’t heard the Gospel. That’s what’s on my mind right now.” He turned back to his Bible and went back to work.
Chicken Salad Chick
When I saw their sign in an Asheville, NC shopping center, I was doubtful. I mean, I like chicken salad as much as the next Southerner; but I figured this place would be toast quicker than you could say, “I’ll have a sweet iced tea to go!” A restaurant called “Chicken Salad Chick?” Yet another niche business that found its way to our touristy town in hopes of getting a toe hold.
Then one day I was in the area and feeling a bit peckish, as it were. I gave it a try.
Y’all. Dadgum. This place is fantastic! Listen, the chicken salad is exceptional—positively scrumptious. But there’s more.
So seriously, do yourself a favor and visit your closest Chicken Salad Chick. They’re not just in Asheville! But if you must travel to get to one, you should totally choose this one. Then after your lunch, you could go over to Duncan and York, an amazingly awesome gift shop just down from Chicken Salad Chick.
Duncan and York
This little winner of a market drew me in, pulling my attention through its door and around the store. They have all kinds of local merchandise, from stickers and stationery to jams and jellies. (Fun fact, sending local treats to college students = great idea!) Unique gifts (the baby section—too cute!), clever greeting cards that are humorous without being tacky (hallelujah!), and more. I loved it. Then, I found out this: IT’S OWNED BY TWO LOCAL WOMEN. I was like, “Okay, so I know you are the cashier and not the one in authority here, but you should totally advertise that!” A locally owned market filled with products from local artisans and merchants? Sweet.
Now, if you want cheap, just go right on over to the Dollar Tree. Duncan and York is not a bargain shop. However, when you purchase from them, you are investing in Western North Carolina. So, it’s sort of a BOGO: BUY a fun, interesting, locally made gift from these Asheville-based entrepreneurs, and GET the satisfaction of a double investment in our community. (Duncan and York’s location is in downtown Asheville.)
10th Muse Coffee
Okay one more. Recently, I happened into a way cool coffee shop called 10th Muse Coffee. It’s just outside of Biltmore Village on the corner of London and Biltmore. Great coffee, tea, and chai, a gazillion (I counted) specialty drinks, and a variety of food choices. Still, the thing I love about 10th Muse is the feel of the place. It is housed with another retail shop and an artist’s studio in a repurposed packing plant. The décor is eclectic and sort of retro-chic. It reminds me of the seventies—only cooler. Board games are there, inviting patrons to stay and play awhile. The tables—painted with chalk paint—are accented by little tin pails holding jumbo sticks of pastel chalk. Also, and this is huge for me, the music is spot-on—great selection and not too loud.
When the youth group goes to Fort Caswell for the spring retreat, one of the many traditions involves a team building exercise known as The Wall. The Wall is about 10-12 feet high and 6-8 feet wide and kids who choose to participate scale the wall with others in their grade. It’s always a beautiful thing to watch.
This year, Cameron, a 16 year old who has been raised in the church, made his first trip to Caswell. He’d been on other youth trips, but not this one; so he’d never seen The Wall, never participated in this tradition. Of course, he didn’t have to do it. No one would have objected if he’d taken a pass.
You see, since birth, Cameron has developed at a different speed than other children. One orthopedist even told his parents not to expect much in the way of gross motor development, saying that Cameron would likely be in a wheelchair. (His parents got a different orthopedist.) It took him awhile, but with the help of a kid-sized walker, Cameron put one foot in front of the other, and by the time he was four and a half years old, he was walking on his own. These days, while his muscle tone is still relatively low, he gets around fine. He does, however, walk slower and more intentionally than most folk. And, well, he just has to work a little harder than other people to move through the world.
But back to Caswell’s wall.
“Are you going to climb The Wall, Cameron?” We asked him mostly out of courtesy, not wanting him to feel left out.
“Yep,” he said, looking over his glasses that had once again slipped too far down his nose; and he made his way over to lifelong friends who awaited him at the wall.
Physically, Cameron couldn’t offer much assistance at all. He couldn’t push or pull himself up. He couldn’t reach out or grab hold. If he panicked, he would fall. If he struggled against them, they would drop him.
Cameron put his hands on sure shoulders and lifted a foot onto the human stool; his friends did the rest. One adult and two girls standing on the back of the wall reached down, while several guys at the base helped lift him up. Other teens gathered around, arms extended, ready.
He progressed, inches at the time, eventually straddling the top of the wall. Once there though, he seemed to get stuck. A moment of uncertainty followed when no one was exactly sure how to proceed. Then another teen—a bulky weight lifter—popped up on the back of the wall, reached down, and gently lifted Cameron’s leg up and over.
Cameron got his balance, looked out over the crowd, and hesitantly lifted a hand to wave.
Now for most kids, getting down is easy; but Cameron couldn’t jump off the platform to the ground without injury. No worries! His friends had already figured it out. Four strong arms waited to cradle Cameron from the wall to the ground. He let go, they held on, and then he was down, smiling at the cheers and congratulations from his youth group.
Cameron punched his fist into the palm of his hand and said, “I did it!”
And he did. He really did.
First Baptist Church of Asheville Youth Group, Fort Caswell 2014
. . . like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood . . . from 1 Peter 2:5
It's that time of year: admissions decisions are being finalized, scholarship applications are due, and students are trying to decide where they’ll attend college in the fall. They get lots of advice: sound counsel that really does help and trivial platitudes that don’t do anyone any good.
Here are a few of the most common statements I've heard.
Unfortunately, students also hear things that are more myth than truth and are neither exceptionally helpful nor entirely true. Here are just a few of those.
1. HOPEFULLY FALSE: “This will be the best four years of your life.”
Really? It wasn’t the best four years of my life and I had a great collegiate experience. But best years of my life? Not even close. Frankly, there’s not much that compares to my childhood summers: homemade ice cream under the carport; watermelon seed spitting contests; roller skating, bike riding, playing in my playhouse. Those were some great years. But then, the last four years have been good too. And the four before that. Life is full of great years, so at the very least, you’re overstating.
But there’s a bigger problem with this statement. Expectation. Expectation can just flat slaughter reality. See, no matter how good college is for you, I promise you it won’t be perfect. You’ll have some life-changing experiences, but some of those you would just as soon have lived without. College can be wonderful. It can be difficult. It can be wonderfully difficult and difficultly wonderful. But don’t set students up to approach the next four years as the highlight of life. That’s just not true. And if it is, that’s sad.
2. SOMEWHAT FALSE: “You’ll meet the best friends of your life while you’re in college.”
For me, this is somewhat true, but I’ve also developed friends since graduating college who are more like family than friends to me. Before Facebook, I’d kept in touch with three or four of my closest friends from college. Now I’ve reconnected with many I’d lost contact with and I’m grateful for that. But I’m also in touch with childhood friends and friends I’ve made since the late 80’s. You can make friends whenever and wherever you are. My brother-in-law’s closest friends are high school buddies. My sister’s besties are co-teachers. So yes, hopefully college students will meet and keep new friends. But I for one am grateful that I didn’t stop making friends when I left college.
3. POSSIBLY FALSE: "You’ll be fine."
This may be one of the most dangerous things we say to students. Here’s the deal: way too many college students are anything but fine. Depression and anxiety spike during these stressful years. Suicide on the college campus is consistently on the rise. If students go into college thinking everyone else is fine and they are the only one struggling, they can feel isolated and resist mental health resources because of the fear of being different from the masses. A lot of college students find these years difficult and confusing and lonely. So adults, instead of “You’ll be fine,” how about we say, “I’ll always be here for you,” and mean it. And students: it’s okay if you aren’t okay. I promise you are not the only one. Reach out to people you trust and look into collegiate mental health services. Sometimes, we all need a little help to be "fine."
4. FALSE: “It doesn’t matter where you go.”
First of all, this is flippant and dismissive. If you are trying to make a decision that affects your future, it is not helpful for someone to say the equivalent of “Stop whining and get on with it! Your concerns are invalid.”
Secondly, it does matter, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. It’s not because of the college's reputation or status; the quality of the school and its majors are important, but the truth is you can find quality at just about in college or university. There are exceptions, but mostly academic experience is shaped by personal investment.
But it does matter where you go to college. It matters because of the connections you will make both personally and professionally. How many people do you know who are married to someone they met in college? A lot, right? And that best friend thing—most college graduates have made dear friends along the way, friends who have shaped their lives in profound ways.
That’s not all though. During the next four years and beyond, your professors and advisors will share more than academic knowledge with you. They will also pass along information about job openings and career opportunities; they will be your references for graduate school or employment. It matters that you choose a college where the faculty appeals to you.
Indeed, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you go in terms of national ranking; but it totally matters that you choose a college that feels right to you.
So good luck students! And no matter what other advice you get, remember this:
Choosing a college matters; YOU matter more.
This post was first published March 9, 2016.