Where is Home?

A few years ago, I sat with a father of a 17 year old young woman who had been an in-patient for over a year fighting cancer.  When I walked into her room the first time, I was amazed at the transformation of the room and how it signaled a will to kick cancer’s butt and get on with life.  She had her eye on going home even as she knew it would be a while before that happened.

Though her immune system would not allow her to be in class with other kids, this tenacious woman was tending to her high school home work in between chemo treatments so she would not get behind.   Later I would learn of her plans to attend college after graduation.

Her institutional hospital room now had bold colored curtains from home (I think they were purple).  The family never used the harsh overhead florescent lights but, had brought table lamps to cast a homey, welcoming, soft glow in the room. She had put up typical teenage themed posters alongside the big ‘get well’ card posters signed by her friends back home in New Jersey.  Her friends could not visit her, but their spirit and enthusiastic love were felt in the room.

I learned that this young woman was a Christian and an active leader in her church, including serving as communion steward with the pastor in her small congregation.  I could imagine the hope rising in the hearts of older people in her congregation when they saw a young person joyfully leading in church.  Everyone would want this teenager to be back home.

She went home. I remember the excitement in her eyes when she told me the news! Indeed, it seemed as though she could have walked out that very day, but at that time, she only had the promise of leaving soon.

Within two weeks she was back in the hospital, her young body was not able to keep up with the immunological demands of the outside world.  She slipped further and further away from the picture of health.

I sat with her father; her mother wouldn’t speak to me because it indicated to her that she’d given up hope.  Her father and I had spoken several times in the preceding hospitalization as he grasped for something positive, something to feel good about, some good news.  This time he cried that he just wanted her to be home, that she said she just wanted to go home.  I asked him where he thought home was, and he looked aback with no answer.

I reminded him that his daughter professed faith in Christ and the promise of heaven after death.  I wondered if she might have a different idea of where home was.  His expression softened, “I hadn’t thought of it that way. I just thought she meant New Jersey”, he said. And, then after a moment, “huh”.

After her death, we talked once more and he told me how she kept looking up into the corner ceiling of her hospital bed.  Tied up with tubes and lines and an oxygen mask, she kept trying to move her head over to get a look at something past her dad’s shoulder, so much so that at one time, he too looked up to see what she was looking at.  We wondered if she’d seen an angel waiting for her to take her home. 

Homily on Family Violence – You are seen. You are heard.

This is my final project, a five minute homily, for the weeklong intensive class at Lancaster Theological Seminary: Family Violence and the Theological and Sociological Response, with Dr. Elizabeth Soto.  After hearing about family violence, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, psychological, financial, spiritual and emotional abuse as well as visiting a Domestic Violence shelter, I decided to speak to the anonymity that  church communities often give abusers and their victims.  

Anonymity or normalizing violence is not helpful and goes against our Christian mandate to take care of all in the family.  It goes against the sacred acts of setting the oppressed free, releasing captives,  helping the blinded to see, bringing words of hope to the poor and declaring a year of the Lord’s favor.  I taught my classmates the opening lines of a simple song by Karen Drucker, “I Am Loved”, from her CD, Songs of the Spirit III. I think the song can sing hope into the hearts of all of us who have doubts about our own value and role, but particularly to the woman or man (men too can be victims of abuse), child or elder who is in the dark and lonesome hole of abuse or neglect.

Here are my thoughts titled You Are Seen. You Are Heard.

I’d like to teach you a new song today, a few lines from a song that you can teach to others. You know the power of music, the power to inspire, the power to plumb the depths of human emotions. You know the power of music to help in memorizing Bible stories, like “Father Abraham had Seven Sons”.  We know the power of song to teach and reinforce theological statements, that takes theology from our head to our heart like, “Jesus Loves Me”.
The opening lines of the song by Karen Drucker goes like this:
You are seen. You are heard. You are loved for who you are.

You are enough. You are complete.  You are loved.

There was a pop song in the 70s called, “We are Family” (I got all my sisters with me.) by Sisters Sledge. It gives us a great image of a family unit.

Living life is fun and we’ve just begun
To get our share of the world’s delights
High hopes we have for the future
And our goal’s in sight

They convince us that families like to have fun together; they share in the world’s wonder as well as having shared family goals. But in some families the high hopes of the future are clouded with worry, frustration, abandonment, fear and violence. Someone who is crying can’t sing.

Often the church looks off to the side when they suspect there might be violence or abuse in a family.  They say, “Oh, Let the police take care of it.” or “I have my own family to look out for.” or “I don’t want to get involved with that”.

But a church that reads the Gospels can’t do that without looking hypocritical.  We can find a narrative in Matthew where Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his mom and brothers showed up looking for him. In chapter 12:46-50 (NRSV), Jesus gives us a new and enlarged image of family by saying, as he pointed to those around him: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

You know that Jesus proclaimed that his ministry was to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blinded, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor. Anyone who desires to follow him in ministry, whether clergy or layperson, is responsible for the same.

So, when we see an adult, a child or an elder whom we think may be living in a violent situation, we are required to speak to that, to ask after them. But Rev. Marie Fortune, in Family Violence and Religion, cautions us to judge the violent behavior, not the person. In this regard, Matthew 12 verses 36-37 are helpful. “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Likewise, we will be judged by our words which can cause further harm victims of intimate violence, if we aren’t educated in how to respond to family violence.

Perhaps a simple song, sung in church at the closing of a prayer time can open a door for them and replace the lies they’ve heard about themselves. Lies such as “You’re invisible, no one cares about you. No one will listen to you or believe you. No one could love such a wretched, ugly, person like you.”  Or, the abuser might be saying “Only I can love truly love you. Everyone else is just pretending to like you”. “They don’t love you; I do.”

We can use the power of this simple song and teach it to others so that they know that they are seen and heard and loved. They are enough just as God made them. They are complete with all their faults and foibles. They are loved by God.

Let’s sing it until the victims of family violence are able to sing it and believe it for themselves.
You are seen. You are heard. You are loved for who you are.

You are enough. You are complete.  You are loved.   

 

Ashe, Amen.

Studying the Book of Daniel

In Old Testament class we were studying the book of Daniel.  What a confusing text to follow!

The book of Daniel needs some visual aids

I ended up ‘graphing’ it so I could keep things straight. I pulled out material from the closet, markers and the stapler and set to  work.

 

 

 

First, let’s put in the chapter numbers and show which ones are Babylonian stories as opposed to revelations.

Book of Daniel first graphic

 

The final product shows more detail of sources, court stories or visions, languages used and extraneous materials, like Bel and the Dragon.

Final Daniel

 

 

 

 

 

Meditations of the Heart (Thurman) Section 3 Day 18

Howard Thurman says “there’s magic all around us”.  It’s strange to hear a theologian give credence to magic. A lot of religious Christians keep magic at the end of a 10 foot pole.  But, Thurman doesn’t fear the word or concept.  He seems to liken it to a level of awareness that makes one see meaning in commonplace things.

Stone on the piano Commonplace things that take on uncommon meaning or poignancy for me are the small stones  with a handwritten word on each which I received in the opening circle of a perennial retreat.  The  stones lie around my place rather haphazard and I come upon them from time to time. They arrest  me for a moment as I recall the message they whispered to me from their silent earthy form.

Another commonplace thing that captures my attention are the small birds that visit the feeder I’ve
placed just outside my window.  It was meant to be some entertainment for my poor cat, cooped up  all day inside.  But, I find myself watching them flit and maneuver onto the feeder and the Tufted Titmousewindow  sill waiting in queue. I especially enjoy the tufted titmouse and the chickadee  who bring a me a smile, especially when the chickadee sings “chickadee-dee-dee” to the world. They way they all suddenly flock away with a noisy whirrrr,  together-on cue- and going in the same direction.  How does that happen?  It’s like the hocus pocus of magic, isn’t it? Inexplicable and fascinating at the same time.

Noticing the meaning of the commonplace at new levels of awareness.  That’s how Thurman seems to define magic.  It’s also the purpose of meditation – seeking new levels of awareness of common things.  hmmmmm?

birds in formation with sunset

Meditations of the Heart (Thurman) Day 16

Its-Not-My-Fault in quotes Thurman basically says we’re all deflecting responsibility for ‘negative deeds’.  We all have some excuses, some extenuating circumstance with a ready alibi. (37-38)

Rarely is one willing to face the fact that the negative deed was what was really intended. Ooopsy!

But, If I’m on the receiving end of a negative deed though, I tend to regard it as a deliberate move against me.

Therefore: Practice charity toward others. Other than that, remember that judgement is for God to do.  Every judgement that I pass upon my fellows is a self-judgment.

Ohhhh, caught me!

Theological Themes in Wesleyan Hymns

Four points in Wesley’s theology of the Lord’s Supper.

1) Believers were to approach the Lord’s table expecting to meet Christ in the elements.
2) The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal to the sacrifice Jesus gave on the cross.
3) Communion is a sign and a means of grace whereby God forgives sins and reconciles with us.
4) The Eucharist is a pledge given to the believer for future and eternal glory in heaven.

Daniel Stevick: The Altar’s Fire (p. 30-33)

The following hymns, cited in the 1745 songbook put together by John and Charles Wesley titled “Hymns on the Lord’s Supper or included in the 1989 United Methodist Hymnbook show examples of how Wesleyan hymnody supports Wesleyan theology of the Lord’s Supper, also known as Communion or the Eucharist. Wesley, from his own practice of the sacrament, had a sense that it is where one meets the crucified and living Christ. To this end, he recommended daily or as he described in a sermon by the same name “constant communion”. His hymns invite Christ to attend to the believer during communion

He asks in hymn 63 from Hymns on the Lord’s Supper (1745):
Visit us in pardn’ning Grace,
Christ the Crucified appear,
Come in thy appointed Ways,
Come, meet, and bless us here

We see in this hymn text that, for Wesley, communion is also a means of grace. “Visit us in pardn’ning grace” asks Christ to provide forgiveness as he meets us at the altar.

Devout Christians, longing for this sacramental appointment with God, would meditate during communion on such hymns as #77 in the songbook titled Hymns on the Lord’s Supper:

Come to thy house again,
Nor let us seek in vain;
This the place of meeting be,
To thy weeping flock repair,
Let us here thy beauty see,
Find Thee in the House of Prayer

And from hymn #78 in the same songbook:

In thine own appointments bless us,
Meet us here, now appear, Our Almighty Jesus.

As the Lord’s Supper is to be the place we meet Christ, Wesley asserted that Christ was present in the bread and the cup, present and active as a means to impart forgiveness.

Wesley Speak of Christ this way in hymn 81:

He give his flesh to be our meat,
And bids us drink his blood:
Whate’ver th’ Almighty can
To pardon’d sinners give,
The fullness of our God made man
We here with Christ receive.

Wesley never attempts to define how Christ is present in the elements of commuion; additionally, as seen in hymn 92, he doesn’t worry about it:

Receiving the bread
On Jesus we feed,
It doth not appear
His manner of working;
But Jesus is here!

Hymns from the 1989 edition of The United Methodist Hymnal also include texts of invitation for modern worshippers to meet the Christ during the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The section of the hymnal between pages 612-641 contains hymns for the Lord’s Supper from a variety of sources including the Wesleys. In an effort to keep the hymnal culturally relevant as well as both honoring its legacy and celebrating new expression of theology, there are hymns from several countries and historical periods included in this collection.

Particular hymns of invitation and of meeting Christ at the table include:
UMH 612 Deck Thyself, My Soul, with Gladness
“…through the gifts thou here dost give me, as thy guest in heaven receive me.”

UMH 613 O Thou Who This Mysterious Bread
“O Thou Who This Mysterious Bread dids’t in Emmaus break,
return, herewith our souls to feed, and to thy followers speak.”

UMH 616 Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast
“Come, sinners, to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest.”

A familiar hymn sung at dinner as table grace is the communion hymn that invites Christ to be present:
UMH 621 Be Present At Our Table Lord
“Be present at our table, Lord; be here and everywhere adored.”

UMH 623 Here, O My Lord, I See Thee
“Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face; here would I touch and handle things unseen;”
This hymn goes on to express Wesley’s practice of spending time in communion with God, not simply eating the bread and taking the cup; but communing with God. When one comes to meet God, one should not be in a hurry to leave, but rather, be attentive for as long as the Lord would have us stay. Even though the bread and the wine would be ingested and gone, the love of God would linger still.

Verse 2: This is the hour of banquet and of song;
This is the heavenly table spread for me:
here let me feast, and feasting, still prolong
the hallowed hour of fellowship with thee.

Verse 4: Too soon we rise; the symbols disappear;
the feast, though not the love, is past and gone.
The bread and wine remove; but thou art here,
Nearer than ever, still my shield and sun.

The Communion elements as Sign and Means of Grace
Stevick, p. 33

Contrary to the Puritan practice of Wesley’s time, regarding who could partake of the Eucharist, John Wesley wrote hymn 8:
“Come to the Supper, come, Sinner there still is Room.” (GBOD recording-#16 http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/Global-Praise-/Music-Resources-Catalog/Global-Praise-III) Music arranged by Patrick Matsikenyiri, Grandfather of African church hymnody and singers from Africa University in Zimbabwe, Africa.

While the Puritans had requirements for those who could attend to communion, based on Paul’s counsel to examine oneself in Corinthians 11:28, Wesley followed Jesus’ parable of the rich man who bade many people to come to the feast he had prepared.

The United Methodists today sing Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast (UMH, 616)
Verse 1: Come, sinners, to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest.
Ye need not one be left behind, for God had bid all humankind.

Verse 2: Do not begin to make excuse; ah! Do not you his grace refuse;
Your worldly cares and pleasures leave, and take what Jesus hath to give.

Wesley’s sermon, Constant Communion, addresses the excuses given for not partaking of communion. He accepts no excuses but directly addresses those who feel they are not worthy of the Holy Meal by chiding them “if you feel you are unworthy to take the bread and cup, is that not when you should accept the Lord’s offer of forgiveness; and then, obey Christ’s command to ‘eat, this is my body’ and ‘drink, this is my blood of the new covenant’?

Wesley remarked in a 1740 article that ‘no previous preparation is indispensably necessary; but a desire to receive whatsoever God pleases to give.’ He felt that the Holy Communion could be a ‘conversion ordinance’, that is an evangelistic opportunity for a sinner to be converted into a believer. Hymn 28 explains the forgiveness of sin provided in the Eucharistic re-enactment of the cross. The Eucharist means what the cross means – God dealing with sin finally at Calvary and presented eternally in heaven, now made available on earth.
“We see the blood that seals our peace, Thy pard’ning mercy we receive.”

We sing it today through the hymn “I Come with Joy” UMH 617: (recording -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZC8-rJ-eEHU)
Verse 1: I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven, loved and free,
in awesome and wonder to recall his life laid down for me,
His life laid down for me.

And the 1968/69 hymn “Now the Silence” (recording – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dycbfRiP4I )
Now the silence; Now the peace; Now the empty hand uplifted.
Now the kneeling; Now the plea; Now the Father’s arms in welcome.
Now the heart forgiven leaping; Now the Spirit’s visitation
Now the Son’s epiphany; Now the Father’s blessing.

Wesley valued a person’ life experience within the sacraments. He writes of believers who come to the table seeking or distraught yet for their partaking of the elements, they feel Christ is not present. Wesley doesn’t try to explain the event, but rather, reminds us of Christ’s promise to be present in the sacrament and for us to be faithful in attending the Supper expecting Christ.

UMH 623 Here, O My Lord, I See Thee states:

Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face:
here would I touch and handle things unseen:
here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.

UMH 625 Come, Let Us Eat

Verse 3: In his presence now we meet and rest,
In the presence of our Lord we gather.

UMH 627 O the Depth of Love Divine acknowledges the mystery of how Christ is present in the bread and wine. Charles Wesley gives no accounting of the alchemy yet, honors the holy mystery in all four verses. This is hymn #57 from the Hymns on the Lord’s Supper songbook that is in the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal.

Verse 1: O the depth of love divine, the unfathomable grace!
(Communion is a sign and means of God’s grace and redemption)
Who shall say how bread and wine God into us conveys!
How the bread his flesh imparts, how the wine transmits his blood,
fills the faithful people’s hearts with all the life of God!

Verse 2: Let the wisest mortals show how we the grace receive;
feeble elements bestow a power not theirs to give.
Who explains the wondrous way, how through these the virtue* came?
These the virtue did convey, yet still remain the same.
(* “virtue” in Wesley’s context means the reality, the actuality, the potency of the Christ although he maintained that the bread and wine did not change their make up. He did not subscribe to transubstantiation of the elements as in the Roman Catholic communion).

John Wesley held the belief that God works through the bread and wine but he wasn’t concerned with how that happens. However, for the transformation to occur requires an encounter between Christ and his people. The elements convey divine life, but they remain bread and wine as he writes in hymn 57 from Hymns on the Lord’s Supper:

“Who shall say how bread and wine God into man conveys?”

Likewise, UMH 629 You Satisfy the Hungry Heart, written in 1977 by Omer Westendorf attests to the mystery of the transformation of the cup and bread.

Verse 3: Is not the cup we bless and share the blood of Christ outpoured?
Do not one cup, one loaf, declare our oneness in the Lord?

Verse 4: The mystery of your presence, Lord, no mortal tongue can tell;
whom all the world can not contain comes in our hearts to dwell.
Verse 5: You give yourself to us, O Lord; then selfless let us be,
to serve each other in your name in truth and charity.

UMH 631 O Food to pilgrims Give comes from 1661 words from the Maintzich Songbook.

Verse 1: O food to pilgrims given,
O bread of life from heaven,
O manna from on high!

We hunger; Lord, supply us,
Nor thy delights deny us,
Whose hearts to thee draw night.

Verse 3: O Jesus, by thee bidden, (We are to partake expecting to meet Christ)
we here adore thee,
hidden in forms of bread and wine. (Christ’s virtue/presence is in the elements)
Grant when the veil is risen,
we may behold, in heaven, (pledge of eternal glory for the believer)
thy countenance divine.