“Celebrate Me Home!”

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This is who we are!  Party Animals and also at-Home-in-the-Body of Christ!

This week marks just about the one year anniversary of my being back here with the Saints.  The final rector candidates are wonderful people, and we can look forward to the call of the new rector of All Saints’ Church pretty soon!  When I look back over the circle of the days of this year, over and over I am remembering how much FUN it is to be church with you.  How good-natured you usually are, how hilarious you can be, how real you always are.  Churches sometimes are not able to be these things which is too bad.

Betty Derrick mentioned to me that great “Celebrate me Home” song from Kenny Loggins and wrote us a note that gets at the feel of All Saints’ on our best days. And even on our bad days.

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Betty Derrick gets it: the heart of the universe is celebration. Betty is a one of the wonderful Agnes Scott women that are all around All Saints’. She retired from AT&T after thirty years and then circled back to Agnes Scott for eleven years as special assistant to the President. She knows life-giving community.

 

Here are both of us thinking about you and the great dance of All Saints’.  Betty is in italics.

Some people joke that Episcopalians know how to party. (I have always taken it as a compliment.) It may be accurate but falls short of the essential truth, I think. What we really know how to do, at least at All Saints’, is celebrate.  We mark the small and great moments of our life together with song, streamers, flowers, beautiful liturgy, procession and even cymbals. The Psalmist would be proud.

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Every time we gather, we are remembering and hoping for a feast! Already but not yet! That’s the deal!  

One of my favorite celebrations is the rite of baptism. There are colorful banners with each child’s name. We reconfirm our own vows as a church family… and then we sing the welcoming message to Harry’s grand melody and march through the sanctuary to applause. How wonderful is that!

Betty and I are also both into the pet blessings!

I love the smiles.

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And I love the meetings.

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Thank you God.

And I love the public displays of affection.

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A lick on the nose is a true gift of love.

And the blessings!

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Here’s Betty: I learned an important lesson at the Blessing of the Animals several years ago. At the time I owned a young, frenetic, frighteningly intelligent border collie named Scout. By the time we took our place for the blessing, Scout had wrapped me around several lamp posts and provoked a number of other dogs by staring at them. When Walter Smith asked what I wanted him to pray for Scout, I answered “a calm and peaceful disposition.” Walter looked me squarely in the eye and replied, “I don’t think that is Scout’s nature.”

He proceeded to pray for a patient and understanding owner!

As I drove home with Scout, leaping from the front to the back seats, I thought: “that man just said I was the problem.” It was a lesson that not only changed my relationship with Scout but one I have remembered often with people. The Blessing of the Animals may seem a frivolous celebration to some, but it holds a lasting instruction for me.

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At our best we don’t just tolerate one another; we befriend one another, in spite of, no because of our differences. This is Flash with his old Mississippi friend Toby. Nothing first-hand to do with All Saints’  I just like the picture, and it reminds me how All Saints’ isn’t an end in itself.  Our community points to the power of love in far-flung corners of our lives apart. That is why we exist, dear ones.  That’s it.  Practice celebrating life at All Saints’  and carry it out the door.

My favorite and very complex celebration this year was Maundy Thursday.  It is a night of betrayal and a night of love because that’s the way human beings roll.  We had a supper that turned into eucharist in Ellis, which is exactly how the last supper turned into the first eucharist—in a secular room lit by the light of the love of Christ.  And we washed feet.

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Strange and deep.  This.

Betty brings up one of our other best celebrations.  Rarely do I sit at the back of the sanctuary, but I always try to for the no stress children’s Christmas pageant. From the back one has a good vantage point to see all the ears of the animals—or one year, the claws of a lobster.

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Yes, that is a tiger heading to the manger.

I love that there are not just three “wise people”. We can use all the wisdom we can find. A friend worked on the pageant a few years ago when there were traditional costumes. More children volunteered than there were outfits. She stayed up many nights making angel wings. As she said, “ the heavenly host is not a finite number.” Indeed.

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No Words.
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Here’s Betty and her new friend, Mr. Chips. She says He was a little bit of a surprise. He came as a puppy from the border collie rescue and was advertised to be 45 lbs. like his mother. Forgot my biology-he’s 84 lbs and more like his Staffordshire Bull Terrier dad but all sweetness.

From the beginning of life to the remembrance of lives well-lived, we rejoice and celebrate. Through tears and laughter, we celebrate. We are reminded that each day is to be celebrated. We have good reason to celebrate. All are welcome at God’s table and we are home.  

 

AMEN BETTY!  THANKS FOR CELEBRATING US HOME!

Do you get into ‘Good Trouble’? Hope So!

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Lori Guarisco has laughing eyes, and she is always getting people into “good trouble” as John Lewis calls it. A gazillion people at All Saints’ have gotten into good trouble at Threads, our  mission dedicated to clothing children in need with dignity.

Lori is a dancer and performance artist as well as the coordinator of Threads.  She is a delight on so many levels, and right now I am remembering an Easter story that Lori told recently on the night of the Keep Threads Hanging On Auction.  Here is what she said:

“People just want to be loved. as long as that is true there will continue to be children who need to be clothed.

So thank you for helping make that happen.  I really love how so many of the auction items don’t have a starting bid. Instead they are marked as ‘priceless’, which is what Threads is – ‘priceless’.”

 

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People donated priceless stuff to the Threads Auction, including hours and hours and hearts and minds and art and all manner of things to delight.

Lori continues, “Just this week we have served 42 children – ten were here this morning!   The Saturday morning the children were all refugees—and no surprise they are artists— and they are the ones who painted the windows of Threads!

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Windows of Light and Handprints and Heart-thrilling colors!  Painted by refugee children.

A couple of days ago, we served 32 children including Quinton.  Quinton is about nine years old, and he and his grandmother and brothers and sisters came in pulling empty suitcases with a voucher that they had received from our newest referral partner, Markus Autism Center.

The grandmother explained to me that they had their suitcases because they were on their way to Michigan.

MICHIGAN! I Cried,  I’M FROM MICHIGAN! I WAS BORN IN KALAMAZOO!

The grandmother says I WAS BORN IN KALAMAZOO, TOO!

So immediately we are friends!

 

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Lori is from Kalamazoo! Who Knew?

(Martha aside: If we just take a moment, we will almost always find common ground.  Lori and the grandmother found Kalamazoo! Some time today, look for common ground with a stranger.  Common ground helps. I promise.)

 

 

As Quinton begins to look around, i explain to the grandmother how Threads works. That everything is free. That everything is washed. That all four children will get new shoes, new socks, new underwear.  And she bursts into tears.

And right about that time Quinton has discovered the EASTER RACK!!

And on the Easter Rack, he has found a full suit in his size including a tie and a shirt! With a big smile on his face he lifts it off the rack and announces to everyone:

I can wear this to my father’s funeral!

You see, that is why they were traveling to Michigan.

And that is priceless.”

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Jesus keeps telling us these two things: Fear Not and Love.  Priceless.

Thank you, dearest Lori. Thank you for all the love and expertise and diplomacy and creativity you pour into Threads. 

And thank all the rest of you ‘Thread-ians’ who buy the clothes, bring the clothes, sort the clothes, display the clothes, handle the records, shop with the children, get a kick out of your Threads friends and days together, and all the other beautiful moments done with love that keep Threads hanging on.  You are all Good Trouble Makers.  And You are all priceless.

 

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Here I am between  Two Very Good Trouble-Makers—Lauri Begley and Melanie Hardin.  I just put this picture in because I like being surrounded by kind geniuses!

Finally here’s the courtyard as that Threads Auction evening was coming on. It was the Saturday of Easter Week.  There were mysterious and beautifully dressed children floating everywhere.

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Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.   (T. S. Eliot)

But T. S., I beg to differ!  Around this block, we do try time and again to bear reality. We try to love God’s world, really.  Sometimes we fail but sometimes we do love so powerfully. Some moments we do  hold the real world in our arms, just like our Savior Jesus held the little children, we love the Children of God with compassion, practicality, and yes some really cool threads.

Happy Eastertide.

Martha +


 

 

Is Easter over? Never, around this Block!

Here’s an Easter  that happened a few weeks before Easter Because yes, Saints,  Resurrection can leap out of any hour, any old ordinary or even very bad day!  

This particular March day started okay around this block. It was pretty.  The staff was sitting in our Tuesday morning meeting and, like you do, somebody looked out the window. This is what we usually see:

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Often the Bright Horizons little toddlers are out toddling around and there are lots and lots of songbirds and occasionally people on their ways somewhere stop to chat with one another.  It’s a happy oasis.

This day we looked out and and there were several policemen just standing around!  Here’s what was going down as told by Johnathan Davis, Executive Director, Covenant Community, Inc., and Julius, who was actually preparing with nine other residents for their six month Covenant Celebration in Ellis Hall in two days.

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Johnathan and Julius remind us that recovery takes a village.  In just the last month, two young men in families Carroll and I know socially have died in opioid overdoses and I have heard of two more through you,  The very hard, deep work of Covenant Community matters so much.

Johnathan:   A policeman came to the door who requested to come in to see if we had a person here. I told them that due to federal regulations,  I couldn’t confirm or deny the person was here. The policeman then snatched the door away from me. And I stood in the door and told him they could not come in.

 Martha:  In the meantime, the All Saints staff are still looking out our staff meeting window, aghast.  There are even more cops swarming everywhere and ATF people in flak jackets, too.  We love cops.  We count on cops. Our beat cops check on us when they drive by at night, and here are our two longtime Directors of Security, Ralph Sullivan (now fishing and golfing in Florida!) and his nephew, Randy Miller, our current director. Both are Atlanta cops and we love and appreciate them and their colleagues.

Martha: But this was weird! So many wearing so many different uniforms!

What is going on? I texted Johnathan:

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Martha: (The “Nelson” mentioned above is All Saints’ parishioner Nelson Tyrone, as scripture says, a very present help in trouble.)

Johnthan: They failed to show a warrant when we requested to see one. And they began to try to entice me to come outside the door. I refused. Other staff came and joined me at the door while the police for two hours repeatedly told us we would be locked up.

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This is a photo staged later of some of the staff who stood behind their director in support of the residents.  No warrant means no forced entry.  All of us need to know that. This trained staff  knows that the most vulnerable ones among us need the strongest constitutional rights.

Johnathan: We talked several times to  our lawyer  Nelson Tyrone and asked him what to do – for advice and consultation.

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All Saintser Nelson Tyrone has been a rock for many years for Covenant Community members who have legal issues.

Martha: (All Saints’ attorneys—please let Nelson or Johnathan know if you can help with a very occasional Covenant Community case, often civil.  Really sometimes what is needed is just  standing with a man before a judge and declaring that he is in treatment for his addiction.  You will also be helping our country continue to be a great country of equal treatment under the law.)

Now back to the day police were swarming all around this block as told to me by Johnathan and Julius, the young man all those cops thought they were looking for.

Johnathan:  I put Nelson on the speaker phone with the officers. He advised them that they couldn’t come in. I left the door to go tell the guys what was going on. I asked them to remain in the dorm and told them not to be distracted by what was happening and that things should be okay.  I chose not to tell Julius that they were looking for him because it would upset him for no use.

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Julius has completed  truck-driving school and is applying for short distance routes as he continues in his recovery.  Covenant Community senior residents are part of the tapestry of the block – working shifts on security and with the sextons.  Say hey to them. 

Julius:  That day I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew cops were looking for someone and I didn’t think it was me.

Johnathan: I came back to the front door with staff and continued to ask law enforcement to leave or show a proper warrant. I remained there with the staff for another hour with the door forced open by the officers.  They kept saying that their shifts had gotten extended and they were not happy. I spoke to eight different people – Fulton, Gwinnett, Atlanta, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms).

Martha: In the meantime, the All Saints’ staff is worrying about our friends at  Covenant Community. What to do?  I decide to go sit in the garden and say my prayers and watch the cops in a kind and friendly way.  Carl Palmer, the Program Manager for Covenant is also sitting there watching and worrying since he can’t get past the police to get in to his colleagues.  We sent Johnathan an encouraging selfie and also asked if he wanted some lunch!

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Martha: I don’t know why this says 8:16 am because it was lunch time!! My answer to all crises involves food,  I went to the Bank of America cafeteria for Johnathan’s salad and also got some cookies for the cops. A lot of cookies because there were a gazillion cops!

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I went to the Spring Street Covenant entrance. The cops were very courteous (little old lady in collar) and appreciative of the thought behind the cookies but they wouldn’t take the cookies.  Which actually worked out fine.  I went in the Covenant Community office entrance and handed Johnathan his salad and  gave the staff the cookies!  And then I joined the sit-in.

Now we are over three hours into this sit-in/stand-off.   Nelson Tyrone arrives!  Johnathan, the staff, and I gather around to listen.  Nelson really gave me a civics lesson— the staff already knew this— that  it is very important to strongly but calmly expect civil rights to be respected—the same ones you want for yourself, your children, your friends.  Here’s what I remember Nelson said:

You really do have the right to remain silent.  Nelson said, be pleasant about it but tell the officers that you are exercising your right not answer their questions.  I watched how this rolls when the officers started asking us for our personal information, and Nelson told them very calmly that we are not doing that.  And they stopped what was an unnecessary and kind of intimidating exercise.

People cannot search through your stuff without a warrant to search through your stuff.  Now maybe you assume that when somebody doesn’t want their car or house searched, they are guilty of something. No, it’s just that person exercising their rights as an American.

Remember that cops are trained to get their objective done and are just doing their jobs even when they tell you something that seems not exactly true. They can do that to accomplish their objective. I may not be saying that right. But what I got out of it was don’t get caught up trying to catch the law enforcement out on what they say being accurate.  That  sort of takes it out of the personal anger realm.  They were doing their jobs and our job was to be American citizens.

Nelson then told us that now the police had obtained a warrant to search for a Julius Johnson and that today would not be a good day for Julius, but that Nelson would be there at the jail this afternoon or tomorrow and see this through.  I kept thinking, but he is ‘sposed to have his six-month celebration day after tomorrow.  How sad that his life is going another way.

Johnathan:  I was experiencing  the love and support from staff; from Martha, and Nelson.  Ken Stewart  had also called (our senior warden and another All Saints’ lawyer who has been there for the legally underrepresented).  I knew I wasn’t alone.  Now Nelson was here and he and I together went to prepare the residents for the police entry and search.

Martha: The staff and I held vigil and sat in the door and ate cookies.

Julius:  Nelson came to my room and told me that they were looking for me!  I was so surprised. But there was nothing I could do about it. I knew I hadn’t done anything and so I shouldn’t have anything to worry.  I was curious. It is a good thing that they didn’t tell me anything til the last minute. Nelson had said if they arrest you; we will be down there and don’t worry about it. They went through my stuff. They looked at my medicine and my school id and they thought it was me.

They walked me out in handcuffs, but then in the Covenant Community courtyard, they showed me the picture on the warrant and commented that I had changed quite a bit and changed my hair. I knew it wasn’t me. And I trusted Nelson would be there.

I trusted his word that I wasn’t by myself. The community had my back and we had a lawyer in place. I didn’t worry. Sometimes you can get anxiety and do something stupid. Not good. I truly felt like I didn’t have anything to worry about. I had people behind me. I wasn’t in it by myself. I wasn’t going to get lost in the system.

(An aside from Martha—in 1985, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight did a version of “That’s What Friends are for” benefiting AIDS research.  Here they are with composers Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.  This song raised a gazillion dollars for AIDS and, as important, broke through the silence and shame curtain. This Covenant Community day was one of those “That’s what Friends are for” moments.  Listen here and be glad for friends.)

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Friends have been there for friends in ditches many, many times before around this block. May it always be so. 

Julius:  The policemen didn’t say anything to me the whole way to the jail.  But one of the guys looked at me and looked at the picture on the warrant and kind of figured it out.

We get to Gwinnett. The one who had looked at me and the picture asked me my birthday. Before he took me to intake, he went with his supervisor. He talked to his supervisor for thirty minutes.  They didn’t take me through intake.  He helped me out of the car and took off the handcuffs. He said it was mistaken identity. Same name, close middle name.

Martha: (I also think it was a case of somebody taking the care and time to get the right identity.   And I believe part of that was this law enforcement officer had seen the commitment and professionalism of the Covenant Community staff and the order and seriousness of the Covenant Community ethos.)

Julius:  (With a little smile) I guess they’re not supposed to say I’m sorry. He did take me to Gwinnett Place Mall, and another guy took me from there.   The second officer said “Where do you need to get dropped off at?? I said,”Where y’all picked me up from.” And that’s just where he took me.  And I walked in the door.

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Covenant Community is right next to Tate Hall, facing on Spring Street.  Hundreds of men have walked through the door and found new life here.  Hope Restored.

Johnathan: We had NO IDEA!  In fact we were debriefing with the residents about what happened and asking them not to let this be a trigger for something not good and reaffirming our love and care for them. And then we were starting a conversation with staff to connect and console each. Other. And somebody screamed Julius is back!! I ran to see him walking in the door and said forget policies and procedures! I’m going to give you a hug!

Looking back, it was kind of a fire drill. A pretty big drill. Everybody knew what to do.

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Carroll’s Aunt Bown used to say whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. And that’s what happened with the residents and staff of Covenant Community!!

Julius: I felt blessed. I was aware that you know I can’t let that situation stop me or keep me from moving forward. Which I could have probably easily. And been mad. And looking at it too much. It’s still baffling as far as how they got my name or where I was or got that all mixed up and got a warrant for the wrong person and go through all that.

But thinking too much about that would stop me from moving forward.

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Reinhold Niebuhr is not just whistling dixie. Memorize the Serenity Prayer. It’ll come in handy at least three times a day.

So I use it as a learning experience as far as reiterating that anything can happen at any moment.

It boils down to choices – I could have easily gotten upset with the cop – I could have had another charge – obstruction – me knowing it’s not me – and making wrong choices due to my feelings. I used it as a real learning experience.

I made decisions and handled it in the best way I could have. And the outcome was the best outcome. And that’s that.

Martha: Two days later it was a great Spring Celebration for Covenant Community Senior Residents.  The biggest ever.

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Every one of these men is a hero, overcoming great odds and personal demons.  And all of these men together with new residents and staff are our teachers.  Covenant Community is a true faith community.  Though the members call God by many different names, they share the one faith in the Power of the Higher Power.

Martha: Out of all the people in a room full of people God set me down right behind Julius’ mom.  I said, “You must be proud of your son especially after this week.” She gently said, “this week?” I thought, uh-oh. He didn’t want to worry her and he didn’t tell her.  And that was true. Later, Johnathan said to her, “Julius made good decisions in light of other people making bad decisions.”  And that was the truth.

Julius:  The Celebration is a time mark. The significance of being away for six months is life changing. Then the Celebration lets people who love the residents ‘come in’. Recovery is something you never graduate from. Anybody can always – whether they are on drugs or not – can always be in recovery, working on yourself, doing better. Being aware. Growing.

Johnathan:  That day with Julius was a life-changing experience for the community. The other residents felt a greater safety and comfort that there are people here ready to stand up for them. And  the staff understood even more deeply that we are here for one purpose. We are a family.   If we are for each other no one can be against us.

Martha: And what I say is Happy Easter.  Happy Resurrection.  May you have Easter new life every day. And may you help others find new life, too.  Because around this block,  dear ones, that is why we are here.

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Martha +

 

 

 

 

How will you “Live Lent” this year? Want some ideas?

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The Sheffield Building in front of Piedmont Hospital started early with an  extreme Lent. Are you in demolition mode to make way for a really new life? Or are you needing a stillness?  
Do you need to get outside of yourself?  Or turn more deeply into your interior world?  One leads to the other.  Pray? Fast? Serve?  They all circle around when done intentionally, attentively. Whatever way you Live Lent this year, know that the world so deeply needs intentional, attentive persons.  How will you be one?   It all adds up.

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The All Saints’ kitty goes by many names (I call her Kitty), and does not Live Lent.  She doesn’t need to.  She lives authentically every hour of every day.
But the rest of us need some  practice.  We forget who we are and Whose we are.   Here’s Kim Jackson on the subject:

In the Adult Formation series, “Preparing for Holy Days,” the participants learned from our Abrahamic cousins some new ways to prepare for Holy Week during Lent.  Some might borrow from the Jewish tradition and take the time to offer sincere apologies to those in our lives whom we have offended. Since Lent is a season of repentance, how much deeper might our experience of this season be if we actually picked up the phone and repented for that time when we hurt a friend or brother?

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You don’t need the latest equipment for Living Lent.  Need to talk to somebody? Do it.
In the Islamic tradition, Muslims dedicate a time for prayer FIVE times a day. What if we decided to pray five times a day during Lent? Would you run out of things to pray about? Or, would our hearts break open in new ways?

Several class participants shared different practices and disciplines that they’ve taken on over the years. We offer these as tried and tested ways of being present during Lent:

  • Pray the Daily Office. Helen Pinkston-Pope tried this one and said, “Doing the daily office helped me have the holiest Holy Week in my life.” (http://www.missionstclare.com/english/)
  • Subscribe (and READ) the All Saints’ Daily Lenten Meditations
  • Fast from one meal each day and use that time to pray instead of eating.
  • Pray family devotions each night using Compline. (Kim)
  • Unsubscribe from Social Media and replace it with meeting a friend once a week for face-to-face conversation.

What fits YOU??

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Lent does not need to be grim and steep and sterile.  Really.
Here are some other possibilities from the staff and vestry:

From Leighton Stradtman (vestry and search liason): “I’ll prepare for Lent by having a colonoscopy. (OKAY, LEIGHTON! That’s the spirit!) And each day during each day of Lent, I’ll fast (there’s that word, “Fast” again) from complaining and write a short note of gratitude to someone who has shaped my life.

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This is Flash and Carroll in our dog walk. When I get too busy and self-important, I fast from my life (not good) and  fence myself out from our intimate world.
(Also do you sometimes let the best be the enemy of the good? That fences you out.) Our treasurer Charlie Ogburn  has modified his Living Lent through the years for what really works for him. He writes

  1.  I say the Lord’s Prayer silently to myself once a day.  
  2.  I don’t finish any food placed in front of me.  I can eat anything, but only 1/2 to 3/4 of what is on the plate.  
  3.  Alcohol restriction:  I tried to eliminate it completely, but that was too hard and awkward (business dinner: “why aren’t you having a glass of wine?”).  So I allow a couple of days a week, which can be “borrowed” backward and forward.  

Charlie adds, for me, fasting is about a daily (or hourly) reminder of our connection to God, And I lose about 10 pounds, which means all of my clothes fit for another year.  And I REALLY celebrate Easter.

Here’s one more approach to fasting from Louisa Merchant through a Muslim community where she was working.

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Living lent means living as if you cannot live alone in peace.  Because you can’t. I can’t.
Louisa says, “I’ve never had a Lenten practice, but I did have a Ramadan one because I worked at a Muslim school and everyone fasted, even the little kids, and so, I of course, did too.  I remember Ramadans as some of the happiest times at the school.  Sure, it was hard to go all day without food, but that wasn’t nearly as noticeable as the palpable presence of a communal and abiding calm, a peace among the brethren that was so tangible it will almost barometric, not freezing but cold and so clear.  This is what I wish for us this Lenten Season.   A chance to feel the communal centering, to be encouraged by the presence of others who are going within and to not only find the still, silent voice in ourselves, but to find it most of all in our togetherness.”

One of my favorite beloved communities is the Cathedral Book Store.

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Sally Hansen volunteers at the Cathedral Book Store which has GREAT SPIRITUAL PRACTICE BOOKS. Sally says she “gives up” for Lent. Brilliant!! What would be a gift for you to give up??
Here’s Vestry member, John Frazer Giving Up Negative Thinking:  “I will try to be more positive in thoughts  in hopes that those will develop into my reality, Fake it, tell you make it. (John says he’s not sure faking it  is a Lenten practice. I told him It DEFINITELY IS. Act your way, fake your way into a more authentic way of being in the world.)    

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This sounds good. Here’s an example of what you can get at the Cathedal Book Store.
Here’s a heartening note from Clay Jackson, the chair of the Rector Search Committee!

Besides giving up only  soft drinks, which is hard for an Atlanta boy to do, I cannot honestly admit to an annual Lenten practice. I would tell you that after conversations with many amazing clergy over the past few months, I have experienced a bit of a spiritual awakening. I will try and nurture that feeling during this season.

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Whoever is our new Rector is a blessed person.  Coming to a parish with  a tree of life with roots and many branches. And many ways to Live Lent.  Thanks, Clay for helping her or him find the way.
More Lenten practices tomorrow!

Martha +

 

 

 

God in a box? There’s a back story.

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Every loving feast is a child and a foretaste of this feast, spiraling through time without beginning or end. (And no indigestion.)

The first time I took communion in the Episcopal church I was as filled as if I had eaten “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.”   (Those are the words of Isaiah describing the messianic feast at the end of time, and we often read the words at funerals.)  No wonder I was filled for we are acting out the feast every time we have holy communion. And yes, sometimes when I am part of the communion of us Saints, I experience that fullness again, so that tears still well up in my eyes. I sense the space around us and among us and in us is filled with grace and abundance.

So what is this box?  Sometimes when somebody can’t get to the feast, the feast goes to them.  And believe it or not, in that box is enough for a feast for the bringer and the receiver.

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Real Presence resides in the kind hands, in the home or hospital bedside meeting, and Yes, in the box containing the bread of life and cup of salvation.

Here’s how this sending out of the feast happens.  Right before the closing Eucharistic prayer, the celebrant stands behind the altar and hands a small box to someone. The celebrant  and the congregation say this back and forth:

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The Body of Christ in a little  box carried by the Body of Christ out from the Body of Christ all the way to the Body of Christ.  Get it? 
Wendell Berry says “Friends, every day do something that won’t compute … “  That’s what our Eucharistic Visitors do.  They carry a box to someone who is sick or homebound, and with the box and in their very being,  the “EVs” carry us, the people who gathered for communion that day.   And in the midst of us and the EVs and the receiver and  the little box is the Real Presence of the Living God in Christ Jesus.
Here are a few EV reminiscences:
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Bob Bunker carried a small box, a wise and kind heart, and the Body of Christ to the Hensons for years and years.  Can you sense how holy this is? For everybody?

As Marion and I approach twenty years at All Saints, I have been honored and blessed for most of that period to represent our congregation and church through service as a Eucharistic Visitor (EV) taking Communion to the homebound of our parish.  I usually serve as EV every six weeks or so, visiting someone recommended by the clergy or the next individual “up” on our list of regulars.  Occasionally we are asked to remain as regular EVs for an individual, particularly when that individual is in hospice and/or is easily confused.

I became very close to long term parishioners Bob and Coc Henson in 2007 when Coc’s health was failing, visiting every Wednesday afternoon.  When Coc died in 2010, Bob and I decided to continue the visits and did so until Bob’s death last year at the age of 101.  Coc and Bob were wonderful, Christ-filled people and I frequently and truthfully reassured Bob that I was getting more out ot the relationship than he was.  I also told him that he, having graduated from college the year I was born, kept me feeling young!!  PS – We EVs are Blessed to have Ann Higdon’s gentle and caring hand as our leader.”

Here’s a memory from Mary Jo Bryan, and Ann Higdon is in the middle of it!

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Jim Ayres lived in a nursing facility for a long, long time, but  our EVs plus a fabulous Jewish social worker plus a loving staff made an institution into  a home for Jim.  This is his wake!  You can spot Mary Jo Bryan and Ann Higdon in there.  We told Jim stories.

Mary Jo writes, “I had visited Jim before and was surprised when I arrived at the nursing home to find that he was in hospice care after a sudden change in condition.  He was awake, but not really responsive.  A longtime friend (the Jewish social worker Nancy)  was with him and encouraged me to offer communion.  I used the form for special circumstances, and it was clear that he was aware of my presence and the prayers.  He wasn’t able to receive the host, but received the wine on my fingertip.   His friend, who is Jewish, told me that Amazing Grace was one of Jim’s favorites, so she and I sang it for him. She had learned it through her long friendship with Jim.  Holy, holy, holy time!”

Below, Gretchen Chateau describes an experience that transcended denominations and also gave a way for people to connect deeply just when the threat of loss of connection between the living and the dead was emerging. Here’s Gretchen:

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Is this the best sister pic ever?? Gretchen and Judi

“A few years ago, my sister Judi’s best friend  in the whole world was really close to the finish line in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  Judi had flown from Spokane, Washington for what was to be her last visit with her friend Shawn.  I drove to Flowery Branch to support Judi in that visit.  I had been Eucharistic Visitor the previous week and still had the communion kit in my car.  Here we were, an Episcopal EV, my sister a Roman Catholic and Shawn, a Lutheran plus another Lutheran friend. We were in Shawn’s hospital room, talking and I said, ‘You know, I have a communion kit in my car.  What if we had a shared Eucharist?’

I was a little afraid of violating some rule or regulation.  But, everyone agreed, so I got the kit from the car, we shared an abbreviated Rite II service and reserved communion.  Judi went back to Spokane, I went back to Atlanta, and Shawn died a few days later.  To think, I almost didn’t suggest having communion.  There have been other amazing experiences, but that’s probably #1.”

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Gary Russell reminding us of the source, God’s table. 

Gary Russell and Jim Clay have had such deep and holy experiences as EVs. Here’s Gary:

“In November I had a lovely visit with Liz Jacobs’ parents, Mary and Joseph Gordon, who are somewhat homebound. Mary was an EV in Florida prior to their move to Atlanta and proudly showed me her communion kit. They were both so thankful and grateful for the visit and the communion service. I enjoyed telling people during the Advent season that I had just recently taken communion to Mary and Joseph!”

And Gary’s husband, Jim remembers, “Years ago Gary and I had taken communion to a federal official who had been the victim of a violent home invasion. It was Easter Sunday, so we also came bearing  an Easter lily. They were so moved by the sharing of this Holy Meal that tears flowed from all three of us. To this day, the individual continues to remind us how grateful they were for the EV Ministry in their time of need.”

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Every eucharist is a Feast of the Resurrection.  Every EV knows this.

Ann Higdon  leads the EV flock. Let her or one of the priests know if you  sense a call to join them or if you know of someone who needs -not God in a box- but the Body of Christ to come near and share the feast.

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Ann Higdom and Mary Jo Bryan like the other EVs are the feast and hold the feast.

Ann says, “Being a Eucharistic Visitor over the years has blessed me with opportunity to know many special people. Whether gathering around hospital beds or dining room tables or in living rooms or nursing homes, time spent visiting with people before sharing communion is also exceedingly special. One of my greatest joys is greeting people in church when their health allows them to attend worship services again. It is also a privilege to serve as Eucharistic Minister at the funerals of some of the people I have visited.

 

Forming connections with families of people I visit is also a blessing. I am taking communion monthly to the daughter of a parishioner I often visited with communion many years ago. The daughter  has invited her friends to join us, forming our own “4th Friday Communion” community.”

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This image is from the fifteenth century Ottheimrich Bible. I think Ann Higdon looks like the Jesus.  Come to Maundy Thursday!  There will be a feast like this.

It’s not that the feast always has to be liturgical.  A couple of days ago, I just whispered at the lunch table in the library how much I wished I had cake.  And since Noelle York Simmons often wished the same thing, somebody  called her and said we were thinking about her and cake.

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Noelle, possibly praying for cake. 

And the next day what shows up but A HUGE CARAMEL CAKE FROM NOELLE!!  FEAST, FEAST, FEAST.

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Thank you Noelle.  It was a feast.

We were not created for scarcity. We are created for abundance.  In this time with many loud voices saying there is not enough, remember your faith, your feast, your God of Abundance who invited all to be fed.

Here is Mary Oliver with just about the best communion poem I know.  I offer it in thanksgiving for our EVs and with prayers for those whom they serve.

Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into the many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it was all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.     

Mary Oliver

Come risen Lord and deign to be our guest. Nay let us be thy guest; the feast is thine.

Martha +

What do you most desire for your country and for yourself right this moment??

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True, true, true. Philo, Socrates, Jesus, Dalai Lama, everybody says it.
I went visiting over at Midtown Assistance Center last week and Executive Director  Dorothy Chandler, Olympic Gold Medal Winner of the Compassion Marathon (23 years at MAC!),  mentioned a volunteer who brings in  REALLY GOOD snack bags.  He  named the snack bags for his Aunt B! I don’t know the back story on that but may Aunt B be our muse. She passed along compassion somehow!  And as George Eliot wrote, “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for one another?”

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One of our Saints, Nadia Fountain does ministry at MAC on Wednesdays.
Nadia says “I volunteer with another member, Lisby Ritchie, when I can.  I worked in wealth management in the past so it seemed almost like penance to give my time to poverty alleviation.  It really is an incredible place and I truly enjoy the time I spend there,  I have met so many people from so many walks of life that were able to use a little boost to get them back on their feet.  I have been blessed in so many ways and and feel compelled to do something to give back and help make someone’s world a better place, this is my something:-)”

Nadia adds, “someone asked me just this week if I can give an example of what agape love looks like and I thought of Dorothy Chandler and the way she interacts and engages with some of the scruffiest looking clients you could imagine.   She does so in a way that they feel dignified enough to keep returning even if their visit is limited just to a snack pack and a  conversation with her at the door:”

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Here are Dorothy and the B Snacks.  ( 1500 so far).   Dorothy says an alarming trend is RETIRED HUNGRY PEOPLE. She questions: “People work hard all their lives for this?”

Dorothy says that when she gets up and is getting ready, “I think about the people who come to MAC and tears come to my eyes.  Not tears of sadness but tears of joy because we are doing something that matters. MAC helps.”

How do people become compassionate?  Is compassion in your DNA?

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Tommy is a long time MAC volunteer.  It’s in his DNA! His mom and aunt helped start the St. Luke’s  and Inman Park Soup Kitchens.

Here’s another Compassion in the DNA story from Wendy Silliman.

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Wendy and Margaret. Having compassion is sometimes pain-filled but having compassion also makes people have these kinds of life-filled faces. Holy, holy, holy.

Wendy writes,  “one of my favorite MAC stories is that Dorothy Chandler is the one who came up with the initial idea for Threads!   Back in 2003, an Ad Hoc Missions Committee led by Bob Miller was exploring new missions.  Our first step was to investigate existing needs around the area.  I called Dorothy to get her take on current community needs.  She said that although MAC had a men’s clothing closet, no one had the space to house children’s clothing.  As I then called other ministries, they agreed that a children’s clothing closet would be very helpful for the area.  At the same time, the results of a parish forum and survey showed that All Saints wanted to do a new mission focusing on children and at or close to our blockThus need met desire and of course, we had to put the All Saints twist on it and make it an upscale clothing boutique where we could clothe children in need with dignity.”

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Even our core outreach ministries have DNA! Threads is a compassionate child of MAC.  And look above to see what’s coming in April.

I think you can also catch compassion like a good cold.  I know I have caught compassion down through the years from All the Saints.

 

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All Saints’ Founders of MAC and young friends – Ann Mobley Hasset and Kim Jackson. I remember when MAC was on our block. We’ve always been a compassion incubator!

I believe that compassion is in our DNA as children of God. And yes, compassion can be taught and caught. And as Jesus laid it on us in the beatitudes, compassion is often the hard and holy  lesson of one’s own personal loss.

Here is blessed Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness, aka Compassion.

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

 

One day complete justice and total mercy will kiss us into eternity. In the meantime, let us be a little strong and also be a little kind.  That’s a good day’s work any day, every day. 

 

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Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.  T’is the secret of life everlasting.

Martha +