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 +

Stumped on Christmas Gifts? We Got You!!

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Ann Woodall has got it going on for real. I look phony. Flash is plotting something.

This fall beloved Saint Ann Woodall came into town and we started remembering Ann’s theology of  “the ministry of the smile.”  The picture above shows a right way and two wrong ways to smile for I am faking it and Flash looks like he wants to bite someone. Ann has a smile that is the gift that keeps on giving! I remember back in the old days I would go lie down on the sofa in Ann’s office and say Want to know who is on my last nerve today? (Sorry Harry!) And Ann would laugh and smile me out of my crankiness.  Smiles are miracles. 

Look Ann!  The staff still has LOTS of huge smiles.  We are SO happy and proud for Tremaine Davis, our webmaster!  Tremaine graduated this week from Georgia State and also just got a great job in his hometown of NYC teaching people how to build websites and make them more exciting!

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Around this block we rejoice with those who rejoice! And yes, weep with those who weep.

Here is an oldie but goodie nineties era Smile-Fest from Jim Pritchett who got DOCC up and running— Disciples of Christ in Community!!  Jim just retired as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Western North Carolina. I keep up with him on FB so you might connect with him there.  A good priest, good guy.

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DOCC was GREAT!  Look for you or someone you love!

Below is a present day picture of what you might call WARM SMILES!! GALAS collected a record breaking number of coats for kids at Threads!

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Tim photo-bombed but he is smiling, too!

Sometimes people smile with their whole body (Look at BBT!); sometimes people smile with their whole face (our friend, Catherine Meeks) and sometimes folks smile with their eyes (priest and psychologist and one of the saints of Canterbury Court, Walter Smith)

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And then there is whole ‘nother kind of smile from Flash Sterne – ears to tail! Creation is full of the glory of the Lord—sometimes in the smiles of creatures large and small.  What creaturely smile do you love?

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For a small dog living on the 28th floor, running free on a beach is kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes a smile is somewhat complex. Flash took a while to warm up to Tim but he did. Sort of.  This photo was taken in the pre-warmed-up-to-Tim moment.

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Flash is rarely cowed but I think Tim’s smile cowed him!

Who smiles the smiles you count on??  A smile I love is Mike’s who is the shepherd of the place where Carroll and  I live.  Mike smiles through it all and has since Park Place opened almost thirty years ago.  He even knew how to smilingly manage my mother-in-law and those of you who knew Helen Hopkins Sterne  know what an exciting job that would be!!

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Mike can multi-task smile!  

When you tell MIke something you are worried about, he smiles reassuringly and says, “I got you.” I’m not sure what that means but it helps.   Once when my own mother became confused and slipped out of the building, Mike, followed her and brought her home like the Good Shepherd.  She was smiling.  And that was a miracle.

No matter how dire the situation, look around for an encouraging smile or try to offer a smile.  Around this block, smiles are the gifts that keep on giving. Here is an old smiler Carroll spotted in Greece.

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Does he terrify you? He inspires me.

Here are smiles to break the heart open. Our newest refugee family. From Burma by way of a long time in camps in Malaysia. Once they had no people. Now we have each other.  You will notice their beautiful celebration/wedding clothes: I hear the garments were created by their mother, and they wanted to wear their wedding garments to meet us. (Jesus told a story about that!) Please pray for the almost 7,000,000 displaced persons in the world, and may we continue to be a welcoming home, family after family.

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How beautiful it is when strangers are welcomed.  For all of us have been strangers somewhere, too.  

Finally, a blessed Advent from some of the generation to generation smilers in my family.  These are also complex smiles that kind of make my eyes well up. Christine was just finishing the 2015 New York Marathon running on the Beat Pancreatic Cancer team in memory of her truly darling mom, Tisha, (an Irish/English immigrant). The picture of Carroll, Anna, Charles and me was taken last week   two hours after we said goodbye to our beloved brother-in-law/uncle Yves.  The kids – well that’s just an old pic of them that I threw in because our grandson is smiling such a great fake smile and our granddaughter is smiling such a long-suffering big sister smile. 

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Pass a smile on today. And then catch one from friend or family or pet or stranger.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Martha +

 

 

 

Around this block we gather from many other beloved places. That’s the secret.

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Maybe my sixth birthday?  Like my cowboy jacket? I LOVED it. Birthday 69 was good, too.

Last week marked the beginning of my seventieth circle around the sun most of which have been spent in Mississippi, Atlanta, and East Tennessee.  It was a week of terrifying wildfires in East Tennessee very close to where we lived for ten years. You’ve heard about the conflagration in and around Gatlinburg?   Blount County is the next county over and as you see below,  there was a thousand-acre fire set on purpose  – maybe kids fooling around, maybe an arsonist- right behind Walland Elementary School on a beautiful little winding, wild-flower meadowed road. In my years of living close to  these mountains  I never ever imagined this destruction, though wildfires and arson are certainly not unknown in that world.  God bless all the people and beasts and flora.

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Dear God. See the deer sheltering from the blazes in the Little River?

Our cabin, which we built and loved, is three miles past the Walland School down East Miller’s Cove. We sold it a few years ago but this screen porch especially is still  in my heart and comes to All Saints’ with me.

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See Carroll and the cat?  Flash was not part of our pack yet.

Our beloved  neighborhood “block” up in East Tennessee was Chilhowee Mountain, really a forty-mile long and narrow ridge in the foothills. Looking over toward the Great Smoky Mountains, this is what we would see from our cabin.

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The Great Smoky Mountains are the world’s largest temperate rain forest, but it didn’t rain this year. Water is rising in places it shouldn’t (beaches) and is MIA where it should be.

All Saints’ Earth Stewards are good at reminding us of the need to care for our creation. You would be very welcome to join them, and certainly we need to listen a lot more because, when a place you love is endangered, it hurts all of us around this block, and really all around the world.  Our blocks are so so so interconnected.

Back to last week being the beginning of my seventieth circle around the sun.  I had three birthday parties with so much territory to cover, so many years!  And so many beloved blocks to remember.

First  another all girl birthday party just like my six year old one.

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Cousins and Saints Ann Pearce, Sue Mobley, and Sister-in-love, Helen Anderson. (Helen IS a saint but she deserted us and went Presbyterian.)  I got rings, FO, and a neckid dog.

And see how beautifully interconnected our block is?

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Look beyond our friends to our block—Covenant Community is closest, then on and on.

And here’s my other (surprise)  party to which I was late because of the Varsity Party. And I am not even a Party Animal! I love these people—the gifts of them, the heart of them, the goofiness of them!  Note that the priests and a couple of other folks aren’t there.  That’s surely  because they are off doing good works!  We saved them so cake.  Your new rector is a lucky duck.  The people and staff around this block – gift, gift, gift, gift.

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Is this a rogues’ gallery or WHAT?

We had one more party for supper – kids, grandkids, dogs – at our daughter’s place but we didn’t take any pictures because Flash barked his head off (who knows why?) and we forgot.  The other two dogs were angelic, and it was a great gathering, too!  So instead of a picture of that party, here is a picture of Flash and Carroll with whom I almost always begin and end my days.  They are heading to the elevator to  go down 28 floors and take care of business somewhere around our block.  I guarantee Carroll has a plastic bag in his pocket because he always does unto others as he would have them do unto him.  Flash doesn’t care.

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Flash is not a great dog, but he is our dog.

Thank you for letting me spend my seventieth rotation around the sun with you on our beloved block of Saints of truly all sorts and conditions. You know the saying, we are only separated from anyone anywhere around the world by six people?  Six degrees of separation!  Please pray with me that we may connect with person after person,  block after block after block, all around this city and this state and this country and God’s world with our hopes and needs  (we are not the always gifted ones) and our compassion and  receptivity.

Here’s one last pic of another of my favorite blocks, Roseland, our family’s farm outside of Natchez … many, many block residents—cousins, critters, etc. and stories for another day.

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Caddie is quite the joker. Spoiled rotten just like Flash.  Is there a common element?

God bless your blocks. Bring them to church with you.

Martha +

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving

Around our family Thanksgiving table—and TA-Da! here is that table and the decorator—the BEST THAT LOVE CAN BUY! Place cards (both sides) in bubble letters and newly learned cursive; pipe-cleaner twisty garlands and hearts of gold and brown; gorgeous fall leaves from our morning walk;  sparkly ribbons and lots of poster paper and pretty markers!

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Our Thanksgiving Event Planner and Decorator spent Thanksgiving Eve with us!
Around our family table, we have a Thanksgiving tradition that I think a lot of y’all share one way or another. Our version is that we secretly write down  three things we are thankful for and everybody has to guess who wrote what.  This year our seven-year-old grandson gave thanks for Antarctica—he just LIKES it!  One of mine was “beer”— I have no idea where that came from.  I like beer but it’s not really one of my top three things on earth.  Another thanksgiving for me was “choirs”—I do know where that came from! Thanks to Ray Chenault and Karol Kimmell (and also our little decorator’s choir-mistress, Julie, over at Epiphany)  holy music swirls around in my head all week long—what a gift!

Sometimes the voices in our heads are just very little known folks to anybody else in our lives.  Maurice Reddick’s voice in his head for instance!  Here’s Maurice and his mentor and first boss, Ellsworth Staunton, III.  Mr. Staunton was the Clerk of the Session at an old red brick Presbyterian church in Brooklyn where Maurice began his journey.  Maurice says that over and over, Mr. Staunton would say “You can do this! You are doing a good job!And he showed up when Maurice graduated.

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Today tell somebody they are doing a good job. Or they can do it!  Huge gift.
Terry Kinton’s favorite voice in her head is her husband Richard!

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Terry Kinton  accompanies our children’s choirs. And Richard.
Terry: ” Even though he is wheel-chair bound, he dreams about walking with Jesus in a garden. He loves the song,  he walks with me and he talks with me.  My husband always has positive view—”let’s look at it this way.”  “Maybe God is trying to show us ….”  He loves to see other people’s needs get filled though he has many, many health challenges of his including constant pain.”

Sometimes the voices in our heads are people from early days—school or early training with us.  Remember this guy?

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David Fikes and I  lost touch. But I still hear his voice reading poetry. And give thanks!
You can invite the best voices in your life to walk through the days with you.  And GUESS WHAT?? YOU, I promise, YOU are a better angel voice for somebody else.   Lisa told me about a life-giving conversation she and I had probably twenty-five years ago. She told me that my words had made a difference in her life. And that she was thankful for me. Isn’t that WONDROUS?? Believe me, there are people on this earth who have been given life through YOUR WORDS!

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Lisa gave me a gift at Diocesan Convention.

What about practicing thanksgiving every day—not just on the fourth Thursday of November?  And I can’t think of a better place to start than giving thanks for the life-giving voices in our heads.  Here’s a paraphrase of a poem from George Herbert (whose voice I treasure).  Get it in your head and say it when you need some thanksgiving!

Lord, thou has give so much to me,

Give one thing more, a grateful heart,

Not thankful when it pleaseth me

As if thy blessings had spare days,

But such a heart whose pulse shall be thy praise.

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 +

Gramma Power -Just about NOW, I need it! Do you?

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Lisa Bell-Davis is so cool. Gramma would be proud!

I’ve been asking around this block for people to tell me about the strong and life-giving voices in their head.  Lisa Bell-Davis, our communications director, gives us Gramma! And friends, I’m taking Gramma with me every where I go these days! Here’s Lisa:

I learned much from my Gramma, especially not to be afraid of hard work, but probably even more important, to laugh.This is the list of the 10 biggest things my grandmother taught me. I read them at her funeral, and those that knew her nodded yes at every one!

 1. A good ham always makes the best Sunday dinner.

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(Gentle Question from Martha: What makes a feast for you?  I’m working on thankfulness for this Thanksgiving. Without gratitude, dearly beloved, it’s all ash. I know this from inside.)

2. Never let international borders stop you from bringing plants and flowers home.

3.  A lot of hard work never killed anyone.

4. If you don’t have a hairnet to wear to bed a pair of clean panties will do. (!?!)

5. The longer you keep moving, the longer you will stay young. (She never told anyone she was older than 39.)

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Gramma pretending to “hitch”, probably out in California, visiting my aunt Shirley.   She got around and  she loved a good laugh.

6. If you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, then laugh.  

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Gramma would have fit right in with Lucy and Ethel!

7. Caviar may look like raspberry jam, but does not taste like raspberry jam.

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Brilliant, Gramma! Friends around this block, what are you trying to cook up??  If it is fullness of life,  then use ingredients that will get you there.

8. Whenever possible, travel.

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O Gramma! God bless your spirit.  Help us be daring now.

9. There’s no shame in a woman doing a man’s work, except maybe for the man.

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Gramma and Grandpa.  Yep. She always kept shoveling.

10. And my grandmother taught me the Lord’s Prayer, as we were laying on our backs together in her bed, with our legs up in the air, bicycling for exercise.”

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Gramma was “way cool,” says Lisa.

Anybody who has taken a gander at our Parish Profile, designed by Gramma’s granddaughter, knows the apple did not fall far from the tree.  Strength is truly a pass-it-on, generation to generation commodity. And around this block, we TRULY know that DNA is only one of the ways that strength and zest for life get passed on to the rising generation.  May God bless the Grammas – male and female, old and young, around our block.  And may we each in our own way be a Gramma, too.

Martha +