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 +

 

 

 

 

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 +

Sisters and Brothers, do you trust God’s got your back?

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Sisters

 

Above is a fabulous picture of Lynne Bryant (crowned) and her  beloved sister, Melanie in about 1963. Lynne says, “This is for a Baptist girls club which helps young ladies to grow in the Kingdom of God. Melanie received her “Maiden” award that year and I received the ‘Queen’ award.  See her shining eyes and mine closed!”
I’ve known Henry and Lynne Bryant through all the years I have been at All Saints’—not well but I knew that they quietly did good at the church and in this world and raised their kids to be strong and good people.  Lynne told me this summer that her sister had become very sick very fast.  Here is the story from Lynne with some gifts of courage and grace for you, I promise.

“My sister, Melanie, was diagnosed with glioblastoma—an aggressive,invasive form of brain cancer in July. In September we began daily trips to Georgia Radiation in Augusta, GA, so that she could receive 30 radiation treatments.

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It really helps to have a tough sister or brother go with you.

 

The first day there Melanie was able to hobble in using a walker. To our surprise the door popped open and a man welcomed us to the center. He seemed to be there every day. We thought that perhaps he worked there. About three weeks into the treatments, he came over as we sat in the clinic and introduced himself as “Allen.” We never found out whether he was Mr. Allen or Allen something else.

It seems that Allen had been an instructor for the US Army and had taught boxing to all the recruits. He said to Melanie, ‘Missus, I always tell the men to keep the gloves on and keep fighting ‘cause if you take the gloves off and stop fighting, it means the fight is over. So Missus, keep your gloves on!’

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When you are in a fight keep your gloves on.

 

Allen was there the day she finished radiation and posed for pictures at the ringing of the bell ceremony traditional for radiation patients.

 

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It so helps to have help ringing the bells that you can ring.

 

It turned out that he had fought cancer the year before and volunteered at the center as many days as he possibly could. Allen was unaware that he was actually one of God’s angels sent to give people hope.

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Always in disguise.

Another one of the regulars—Jim- introduced himself while Melanie was in the treatment room. He told me the story of how his cancer had come back twice and this was his last chance with a second round of radiation. I told him that I was so sorry. “Oh, no!” he said. ‘God’s got my back. If he doesn’t heal me here, he will heal me up there (pointing to Heaven)!’ He walked down the hall repeating ‘God’s got my back!’  Jim was another angel for me.”

 

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If somebody has been in the valley of the shadow of death, they can say encouraging words with great power and healing  that nobody else in the world can say.

(Did you know that ‘angelos’ means messenger? An angel in our tradition is a messenger from God telling us God is with us and those we love and that God answers prayers. Sometimes the answer is just what we want, when we want. And sometimes the answer is not what we want but something deep inside us shifts, so that the situation does not change in the way we want it to, but we change. We change. And we trust.  And that makes all the difference.)

“Melanie died in December, 2016. God’s got her back.”

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Lynne says God’s got her back.”

Even in the aftermath of great loss, Lynne said to me and writes to you that God has got her sister’s back. Sometimes it causes me to tremble—the troubles people go through, the kindness among strangers, the pain of loss, the power of hope, the trust that God has our backs.  This matters so.  Thank you Lynne and thank you saints.

Martha +

 

 

 

“Why Did You Cry in Church?”

One of our darling littlest cherubs came up to me after the Nine O’clock service on Sunday and whispered, “Why’d you cry in church?” She had on a fabulous purple dress, much more fabulous than this one but you get the idea:

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Everybody needs a purple dress!

I said something like, “Because (as happens at All Saints’  every year on this MLK Sunday) the ladies of the Singing Sisters of Ebenezer sang songs I love and it made me cry.”  And it is true, I love spirituals, and this past Sunday I loved the old songs and the power and  beauty and dignity in the faces of the singers. Here are the Sisters leading the congregation in” Blessed Assurance”

 

At my ordination almost 28 years ago, the very same Laura English Robinson who directs the Singing Sisters sang “This Little Light of Mine”.  , and here she was—same holy space, beloved people, same hopeful song—all these years later!

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Laura dwells in the deep soul of All Saints’ Church. Beautiful woman, voice, soul.

I was overwhelmed by the pain and joy of history—my own history, All Saints’ history, Ebenezer’s history,  Martin Luther King’s history, our country’s history—and tears started sliding down my face and never stopped. I re-membered  (put back together) a lot, which is what Jesus asks us to do  in every eucharist—”Do this in re-membrance of me.” Re-membering is huge. And sometimes grievous.

People who are grieving have sometimes told me “O I can’t come back to church yet because I am afraid I’ll cry like a baby.” May I gently question this reasoning? Is crying in church a bad thing? What are you supposed to do in church? Put on a happy face? I don’t think so.  Now I must admit, weeping in church when you are trying to offer communion is a little over the top!  And also very human and around this block we are very human—all sorts and conditions! This fully human-ness is the gift in Jesus Christ we have to give one another and to the world.

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For instance, “MLK In the Name of Love” Retreat this Weekend.  Fully human and fun!

Everybody has to find their way to have more abundant life. About two months ago, my husband talked me into trying TWITTER. Not to tweet! But to get a sense of how news and experiences and emotions of all kinds move around this world in 140 character waves which can gather and become combative or healing (sometimes both) forces of nature in and of themselves.  I tried if for a little while and realized, nope, this tweeting thing doesn’t work for me.  I jump to conclusions or I dismiss something someone says just because that person tweets it or I get mad or sad (more often than glad) in ways that are not lifegiving. Basically tweeting is too often a snarky medium.  Instead give me just plain old conversation.  Give me that little girl coming up to me and saying “Why’d you cry?”  Our questions, our very differences, when gently offered help us connect. It’s true! So no more twitter for me.

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Less tweeting, More talking! We have so much in common with everybody else on the planet including the very ones we think we don’t!

Back to crying in church …  yes I cry in church. Not all the time though, come to think of it, I cried solid in church for about six weeks after my father died in the fall of 1996.

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Here is my impossibly young father in New Orleans-probably his intern year at Tulane.  He trained at Charity Hospital which drowned in Katrina which made me cry, too.  I believe our being fully human  is tied to our capacities to relate to the pain and joy stories woven into the fabric of the world.   Scripture teaches this; so does All Saints’!

As I grieved for my father so many years ago, my fellow priests took on all the public roles in the liturgies and I hid in the choir loft amongst all those red-robed cherubim who just kept on singing  gorgeous music.  I cried for my beloved father who had in fact peacefully lived out the length of his days and surely I also cried for the accumulated trauma of all the deaths I had known and of course I cried (though I didn’t sense it) for my own death to come.  For every mourning is also a mourning  for oneself. I cried week after week. And then eventually, cried out, I healed and in time stood and took up my life and my work again.

Cry in church any old time you need to.  Or even better laugh!  Around this block just let us be ourselves before God and love ourselves and our neighbors in our full humanity and see what blessings come.

Martha +

 

 

 

Looking for the One Giant Star of Faith? In Our Day, Try the Milky Way!

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Sorry, great photographer of Wrightsville Beach! I forgot to write down your name for attribution when I found this  on Google.  And now I can’t find you, lost in the universe.

I saw the Milky Way last week while Carroll and I were resting on a dark island.  Sometimes dark places are the very best places to see the light, and what a miracle is the Milky Way, this great swirling river of stars in all stages of birth and life and death and rebirth.  Sort of like us.

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This is who we are every day—a starry swirl of ministries!

Did you know that we on “this fragile earth our island home”are part of the Milky Way? So even though the Epiphany symbol is a single giant dazzling star lighting the way for the wise seekers to the stable, I believe a whole Milky Way of stars await the seekers around this block. Just open your eyes and ears and heart and You Will See God.  That’s the Epiphany Challenge and Promise: God will be manifest for you, in you, through you.  Yes!

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Here is the just right-sized star for Epiphany supper!

I offer an Epiphany/ Milky Way story I watched  unfold from right before Christmas until, well right now!

One day I got a call from our old friend Doug Hales who was the Business Manager at All Saints’   WAY, WAY back in the day in the eighties and nineties.  He went on to get his PhD and teaches Supply Chain Management at the University of Rhode Island, and he travels ALL over the world to teach folks in other countries.  Here’s Doug in Taiwan, one of the places he’s texted me from in the last three weeks

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Even in the eighty countries where Doug teaches, he  has never forgotten the Saints.

Doug got in touch because he had heard that Marian Murphy, the Head Sexton of All Saints so many, many years ago, had had a massive heart attack.  He reached across the world and connected us to a person in trouble right down the street from the church at Emory Midtown.

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Sometimes epiphanies are not manifest in the stars but texted in our cellphones.
I saw Marian—not conscious.  Doug and I texted back and forth. We checked on her again, barely conscious.  I forgot Marian in the craziness of Christmas services.  But across the world Doug did not. He kept up with her and her family and was as  constant as the stars because he knew she needed a friend.

When I did remember Marian, I could not find her. I thought Uh-Oh, I really thought she had died as she was so long in the ICU.  I texted Doug, this time in Taiwan. He WAS RELENTLESS with the hospital tracking system and found her after three tries (!!!!) moved into a step-down cardiac room.  We had tried but given up; Doug never did.  Friendship matters so much! A friend in need is a friend in deed, and that is totally scriptural (See the Good Samaritan!)

The morning Doug found her, Rich Winters, one of our affiliated priests took the eight o’clock for me. Rich and the other priests who call All Saints’ home are the best. I cannot imagine making it through this interim time without them.

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Rich and Geoffrey are old friends, and now Rich and All Saints’ are new friends.  Epiphanies lead to more Epiphanies. Always. Thank you for your friendship and preaching, Rich!

So at the New Years’ morning 8:00, Rich took the flock of 99 (actually, I think 18 !)  and I walked over to the hospital in the cold and rain to find the lost sheep.  And here she is!
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Marian is waving to her friend Doug and to you!  She’s doing so much better!

Back in the day, Marian taught all of us at All Saints that every job matters, and that keeping All Saints’ spaces beautiful and clean is a holy ministry as much as teaching a class or playing the organ or preaching the sermon.   Marian reminds me of Brother Lawrence who taught that “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Marian taught us to do every little thing right, and O boy, she got after us when we were careless and messed up tidy spaces for no good reason!!  For such a little lady, Marian has a big roar!! 

Here is the newest sexton at All Saints’, Earle.  Earle has a legacy of friendship and good work to live into and he has the best smile in the world!

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Welcome Earle. You join a long procession of beloved sextons.

We live in a veritable Milky Way of blessings, of God’s presence manifested in us, among us, through us.  When you are feeling like your way is dark and unclear, remember Doug and Marian and all us Saints, and let the light of compassion guide your way to the next friendship encounter.  For after all, as Rilke wrote and Jesus taught,

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Be a friend. Be an epiphany of God’s love.
We can do this by the light of Christ.

Martha +

 

“When the song of the angels is stilled ..

img_3277Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.    W. H Auden

Yes, W. H. Auden, this Christmas Eve, “everything became a You and nothing was an It!”   I loved this Christmas Eve the best of all my years of priesthood.  Gorgeous music, flowers, mostly smooth liturgy, beloved people—friends and strangers.  Okay, one of the greeneries caught a little bit on fire at the One o’clock, and we had a tiny little throw up moment at the Three!   The good news of great joy still came to us!  (Though it did take this 69 year old two days to recuperate!)

Around this block, it goes very very quiet the next eleven days after the first Eve of the first day of Christmas . . .

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Kevin watches over the going-back-to-work-parents dropping off kids at Bright Horizons.

There is NO PROBLEM getting a parking place. There is just quiet, quiet, quiet.

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There is no line to get in and no friends to hug, no children to exclaim over.  Below a lady walks her chihuahua which is nice but not miraculous. Is Christmas over?

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 No  Indeed!  Christmas is not over!  We are just catching our breath.

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The Wise People are still seeking!
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The Shepherds are still in awe and still watching over their flocks.

For instance, on the Third Day of Christmas here is Johnathan Davis, Executive Director Shepherd of the Covenant Community.

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Shepherding goes on around this block every day. 

Below may be a little doorway on the North Avenue side of our block that you don’t recognize, but it’s a holy stable.  Around this block we host ten 12-step meetings a week. Up these steps, people help each other find their lives and their personhood.  Shepherding is always a community project. 

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One meeting started twenty-five years ago by Covenant Community folk is called Home Sweet Home. Isn’t that great?

And LOOK! Threads will open tomorrow just like always, because great kids deserve great clothes!

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Finding just what you need is surely just what God wants for all.

And of course even after the manger scene is put lovingly away, we still have our favorite donkey in the window! Remember around this block, jackasses are beloved, too!  This is the window near where Carroll and I will  be buried. We have lots of friends and relatives there already.   

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Jesus asked specially for a donkey in his big parade, and All Saints’ has a beaut!

The theologian and poet Howard Thurman gives us our marching orders in this beloved poem.  Please God may we live into this deep and abiding life.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

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Thank you God for Christmas Eve, 2016. We needed it.  Help us to live in this light.

Martha +

The Power of WE

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One of the most popular things to do at Diocesan Council this weekend was to go to a photo-booth and get our picture taken holding the letters ‘WE’.

Since I have the attention span of a flea unless there is a narrative being told,  Diocesan Councils can’t help but be kind of boring to me. They are after all business meetings, mostly, and yet this weekend in College Park, there was this “dearest freshness deep down things,” as GM Hopkins puts it, because sometimes ‘WE-NESS” WOULD JUST WELL UP AMONGST US!!  Do you know what I mean?

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A table full of Saints—Janet Todd, Gretchen Chateau, Tim Black, Me, Dottie Miller, Ken Stewart, Cameron Newton, Scott Porter, Bruce Garner! Bruce performed a miracle when he  WORD-crafted some almost unanimously approved wording for a hotly debated resolution calling our governmental leaders to use language respecting the dignity of all.  WE Saints were really, really proud of Bruce. He brought the whole meeting together and coincidentally got US out in time to go home for Saturday lunch and football for which everyone was grateful.  Yay Bruce!! 

Another reason why the gathering worked for me was that WE did tell some stories.  Here’s one I didn’t tell because I was too busy living it.

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Ann Cramer (in purple) has been in two gazillion meetings in Atlanta over the past forty years, usually as IBM’s very well respected community person.. Every time I have EVER seen her, she has been TOTALLY and ENCOURAGINGLY LISTENING to whomever is speaking, including me.  When I saw Ann at at the St. Luke’s table, after such a brutal political season of loud talking and no listening, out of nowhere, I burst into tears.  Still not sure why.

So here is my very short story:  I saw Ann.  I burst into tears and then pulled myself back together and introduced her to Gretchen Chateau.  WE went back to our table. A little while later, Ken Stewart said, “Do you see Ann Cramer over there? Every time I have ever spoken in front of any group, I always look for her smiling face because then my words come out better.”  Coincidence? I think not!  Message!  To me and you:  Friends, may WE go and do likewise. Like Anna, WE really can light up a room JUST BY LISTENING! And WE can make WORDS come out better!)

Gretchen (of the most fabulous bow ties in the universe) and I decided to look around and point out some other people who help words come out better, thus incarnating the WE at the heart of human community. Here’s Gretchen:

"I love words. l think words are holy." 
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Gretchen is pointing out Bishop Wright, a life-giving preacher of the Word and  a WE kind of  guy. He always asks US to Love like Jesus.  Gretchen and Bp. Wright talked about US desperately needing to Word like Jesus.” Bishop Wright loved it.

Gretchen again: “I think WE really need to work on how we use words. The reason for that is twofold:

1)WE humans are made in the image of God, so it’s reasonable to think WE are a word from God.”

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Gretchen is pointing out the wondrous Archdeacon Carole Maddox who is the Executive Director of Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Jasper.  Carole put the Word on US about what the Good Samaritan did NOT CHECK OUT—income, moral worthiness, insurance, ethnicity, etc.—when the Good Samaritan got in the ditch to provide health care to  a hurting traveler. Carole spoke about her grave concern over already very limited health care in rural areas

And Gretchen says, “2) Word with a capital “W,” i.e., Logos, is how God chose to reveal God’s self, Jesus Christ, the Word of God;”

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Chad Vaughn is the rector of St. Bede’s and Gretchen is pointing him out because he gave a great talk about  the power of the Word, the “Logos” and the structure and elegance that permeates language used in holy and life-giving ways.  

Gretchen continues, “If all those things are true, shouldn’t WE treat words with utmost reverence? Words are holy. Let’s use them with that in mind. I’m pretty sure we’ve fallen short of that ideal for the last 20 months or so leading up to Nov. 8 and beyond.

As Bishop Wright says, WE need to #lovelikeJesus, so WE also need to #wordlikeJesus. WE need to do that coming and going, so that WE receive others’ words without biased prescreening, and give OUR words to others remembering Who we’re representing, that is, The Word.”

Good plan, Gretchen. Good Word.  Around this block, may WE live into the power of WE wherever WE  find outselves.

And here are two last WE photos.  Recognize these three ladies?  Today they are doing something special.

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Lauri Begley, Kathy Roberts, and Trina Jackson are sitting in George Washington’s pew awaiting Noelle York-Simmon’s installation as the new rector of Christ Church, Alexandria!

Kim Jackson you may have noticed is not in the picture above (nor was she at Council) because she was getting ready to preach at Noelle’s installation. And here she is saying, ““I came up from Atlanta to tell you that God is calling you to sing a new song!”  The Rev. Kimberly Jackson bringing the word this morning!

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Aren’t WE blessed?  Yes WE are.  God is good.  All the time. Why don’t WE just live on into that WORD?

Martha +