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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Mental Health Break: “Beautiful Things”

We sang this song by the band, Gungor, in worship yesterday.  Here is this week’s musical feature, “Beautiful Things,” with the hope that your day will be beautiful, regardless of what you carry into it: YouTube Preview Image

 

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Grace at the Farmer’s Market

King of Pops Grace

The little girl has her popsicle.

Strawberry lemonade.

She won’t share.

Can’t I have a taste?, Mommy whines;

her wallet is now empty.

A young man is selling hot dogs.

They’ve never met, but he has noticed:

Hey, go and tell Brianna that this King of Pops is on me.

He puts out his hand.

My name is James.

She feels a bit surprised-

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then undeserving and suspicious.

Is anything in this world ever free?

But a frozen piece of pumpkin pie has her name on it,

and now it’s for the taking.

Mouth-watering goodness.

She comes back to show him.

Thanks so much, James!, 

is her exclamation of gratitude,

and next week she’ll be back.

She may even buy a hot dog.

Grace is irresistible like that.

 

 

 

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Georgia’s First Female Catholic Priest To Be Ordained Today

This bumper sticker has a whole chapter of its own in my forthcoming book, “Grace Sticks: The Bumper Sticker Gospel for Restless Souls.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way…but then again, nothing worth doing usually ever is.  Today longtime Catholic nun Diane Dougherty is being ordained just miles from my home in Atlanta’s First Metropolitan Community Church.  Doughterty’s ordination will not be recognized by the male authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, but for Doughterty, today’s commissioning for ministry is both a challenge to the existing hierarchy and a validation of her call to ministry as a shepherd of God’s people.

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Catholic priest-to-be Diane Doughterty has this Georgia resident’s great admiration.

Once ordained, Dougherty will continue her service to First Metropolitan Community Church, as well as developing ecumenical “Intentional Faith Communities” (for both Catholics and non-Catholics) in Newnan and throughout the Atlanta area, empowering women to lead within the church and advocating for women’s ordination.

It’s about time.

All I can say, with great aplomb and admiration, is “You go, girl!,” and, “God speed.”

 

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Safe Houses

The sure proof way to ensure that everyone in church is “okay.”

Yesterday Christians for Biblical Equality produced a list of various ways that churches can proactively address the problem of domestic violence both within congregations and the greater community.

Rev. Anne O. Weatherholt, who is rector of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Maryland, and in 2008 authored the book, Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence, a guide for clergy, congregations and church leaders, offered some helpful guidelines for making churches “Safe Houses.”

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Weatherholt’s first line of instruction caught my eye: Always assume that there are persons in your church who have experienced or are experiencing abuse. Be aware of subtle messages in your church that promote the assumption that “everyone here is okay and every marriage and relationship is healthy.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as Cleo LaRue reminds me, in I Believe I’ll Testify, has said the same thing a bit more poetically: all houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses.

For those of us whose lives have been touched by various forms of abuse, whether physical, sexual, emotional, or, maybe even spiritual- and the statistics would suggest there are many of us- I can think of nothing more liberating than a space in which to tell the truth about ourselves, that we’re often not “okay” and our relationships bear the strain.

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I venture to guess that all of us, regardless of whether or not our own story has been touched by abuse, need a “safe house” of sorts.

Most of us find our safe houses outside of church.

Maybe this is because many of us have been in churches that don’t tell the truth about themselves.  They pretend that everything is hunky dory, or that only certain people with a particular set of characteristics, be they, for example, gay, mentally ill, or, in some cases, simply women called to ministry, are not “okay.”

This sort of thing is nothing more than false advertising, because we’re all screw-ups in some way or another.

These days my son, like the rest of his class of kindergartners, is learning that when he is hurt and becomes angry, he can go to his safe place.

Where do we go in our churches?

 

 

 

 

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The Beauty of Irrelevance

Every so often I become afraid that what I am doing with my life is totally irrelevant.

It happened yesterday.  I had shown up on the doorstep of the home of a hospice patient for a previously scheduled appointment.  Only two days earlier we had agreed on that day and that time, and so there I was, ringing the doorbell to an empty house.

It was the second time in only two weeks that this chaplain had found herself stood up.

I called the patient’s caregiver who of course apologized profusely and asked if we could reschedule.  They were off having lunch somewhere and had just forgotten, nothing more.  And they did feel terrible and I, of course, was quick to reassure them that they had a lot on their minds and not to worry in the least.  (They did have a lot on their minds after all.)

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When I walked back to my car and turned the key in the ignition, I thought, “Does what I do make any difference in people’s lives?  Is it relevant?”

I didn’t answer the question for fear of what the answer might be.

But maybe the truth is that God doesn’t ask us to be “relevant.”  Maybe God only asks us to be faithful- true, that is, to who God calls us to be wherever we’re planted.

For every moment that I’ve been stood up as a chaplain, there have been those times when someone has reached out with great appreciation, or remembered a kind deed, or shared something deep within them that they’ve never shared before.  In those times, it wasn’t my own inherent “relevance” that made the difference- it was the synergy of God’s timing and my positioning that made all the difference.

Maybe the issue of relevance is really an irrelevant one.

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A Lesson on Human Nature at the Vet

Yesterday we took our new puppy, Roosevelt, to be neutered.  (Now, with both a Carter and a Roosevelt for pets, we have a truly bipartisan household.)

Our five-year-old son, after hearing our attempt at an explanation for why Roosevelt had to be neutered, said, “Mommy, why do only the dogs who don’t get their balls chopped off get to be married?”

Awkward.

When we arrived at the vet, we soon discovered that Roosevelt was showing some signs of premonition.  His instincts were probably telling him that this would be his last chance to sire a brood of pups. He began to bare his teeth and growl viciously whenever one of the veterinary staff came around to open his cage- (how can you blame him, really?)- so much so that I was asked to stay around a bit longer to help the tech administer a tranquilizing injection.

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As I coaxed an over-anxious dog out of his cage and negotiated a muzzle over his mouth, the tech and I struck up a conversation.

“I work with both animals and people,” he said.

“Really?,” I asked.  “Which category do you find harder to work with?”

“Animals are pretty par for the course.  Humans are…harder.”

“Why is that, do you think?”

“They lie a lot.”

“Like how?”

“When I have to get information about their medical history, they’ll often not fess up and tell the truth about the medicines or drugs they’re taking.”

 

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“What Do I Desire?”

British philosopher, writer, and speaker Alan Watts was best known for his popularization of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

The below video appeared on Andrew Sullivan’s “The Dish“- another of Alan Watts’ transformative lectures set to pictures.  It’s worth your two minutes watching it.

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Watts begins by posing this question to his students:  “What if money was no object?”

Sullivan, quoting Chris Higgins, writes: “A central realization, which Watts alludes to here, is that many of us are living our own worst-case scenarios. If you were to take a leap of faith and do the thing you love (in my case, writing), and you were to fail dramatically at it and not have any money, what is the worst that would happen then? You’d probably go back to having a day job, at least for a while. So why would you remain at that day job now, proactively living out your own worst-case scenario?”

Could it be that if what we desire is, at heart, a vocational question, most of us are living out our own worst-case scenarios?  Will most of us forever avoid doing the things we most want to do in this life, because we are afraid to take a leap of faith?  I suppose some of the same fear that keeps us from pursuing our deepest desires also keeps us from doing the things Jesus tells us to do, like forgiving others in bold, generous ways, or giving our possessions away to those in need.

YouTube Preview Image

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Cheeky Forgiveness

Paul LaRuffa, who was shot five times by John Allen Muhammad’s 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, testifies at Muhammad’s Virginia trial. (Credit: Pool/Getty Images, via NPR)

The night Paul LaRuffa was shot five times in cold blood would have been like any other.  He had closed up the restaurant and gotten into his car.  That’s when “before I could start the car or do anything, the window next to me just exploded and shattered glass all over me with the first shot…And the rest of the shots came in and they all hit me. It was mind boggling. Your world changes in a split second.”

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Last week NPR’s Melissa Block interviewed LaRuffa on the tenth anniversary of the deadly “D.C. sniper” attacks that in the fall of 2002 sent a wave of terror across the country, killing 10 people in the D.C. region.  LaRuffa was one of the victims who survived a deadly killing spree that by the fall of 2002 had made its way across the country, culminating in a string of murders in the Washington, D.C. area and a dramatic manhunt for the murderers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, LaRuffa “raised up in the seat after it was quiet and I realized I was bleeding, so I held my hand over my chest.  I opened the door and I got to my feet and got out and hoped that somebody was there. One of the people I left with was there — walking towards me — and he dialed 911 on his cellphone. They took me to the trauma center; I made it there in time and they saved my life.”

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In the month leading up to the arrests of Mohammed and Malvo, LaRuffa “mentally went through hell.” There were the flashbacks and the tormented questions as to his attackers’ motive and whether he was still in danger.  When the two killers were finally caught, LaRuffa was able to begin healing from a trauma that would forever scar him.

So why, when the families and loved ones of other victims were present, did LaRuffa not attend Mohammad’s execution by lethal injection in Virginia in 2009?, Block had asked.

LaRuffa’s answer: “From when [Mohammad] was sentenced, I was told that in Virginia it was about a seven-year wait, but I said then I wasn’t going to attend. I wrote a little memo to be read and handed out at the execution. I said I didn’t want him to steal another day of my life, so I didn’t attend…It wouldn’t have made me feel better to watch him die. And I told them in this letter, I said I will enjoy my grandchildren on that night, and I did. We went out to dinner. I wanted to do something happy and nice that night just to show that he wasn’t going to make me miserable for a day, seven years later.”

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When someone “strikes you on the right cheek,” Jesus says, “turn to him the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39).  The best explanation I’ve heard for Jesus’ words here is this: in Jesus’ time, to hit someone on the right cheek would be to treat them as less than an equal; turning the other cheek would be sending the message that you wanted to be treated like an equal.

But what if “turning the other cheek” is also a way of showing an aggressor that their wrongdoing will not destroy our own focus on what is good and true and brings joy and gives us life?  What if it is a way of giving expression to an internal resistance that refuses, like LaRuffa did, to let evil ultimately “steal another day of life”?  What if it embodies the apostle Paul’s challenge to think only on those things that ultimately bring life to our own sick souls, even when we have been ravaged or victimized by the careless cruelty of another human being?  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” Paul writes (Philippians 4:8).

LaRuffa had dinner with his grandchildren on the night an enemy who had done him grave evil got his just desserts.

LaRuffa “turned the other cheek.”

I confess I’m not there yet.  But I want to be.  Pray for me.

 

 

 

 

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Square Halos

In his book, The Road to Missional, Michael Frost describes the experience of wandering through the Vatican Museum in Rome to stumble upon an eighth-century mosaic fragment that depicted Pope John VII wearing not a shiny, gold halo but a simple black square.  Taken aback, Frost inquired of his tour guide: weren’t all halos those gold, “beaming discs of godliness” that hover rather magically in mid-air suspension over the heads of the holy?

Apparently not.  If gilded, circular halos were an indication of one’s other-worldly, spiritual perfection, square halos were a way of keeping one’s feet very much grounded on earth; they reminded us that their bearer is “still very much of the earth” (in this case, Pope John VII, while a respected churchman, had not, at the time of the mosaic’s making, died and qualified for canonization).

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Frost muses: “I like the idea of my portrait being painted with me wearing a square halo, admittedly somewhat askew.  It speaks of an earthy kind of spirituality, a down-to-earth holiness…The more I look to Jesus, the more I see him as the bearer of a square halo as well, albeit not askew like mine.  His holiness is revealed through his everyday mercy and his goodness toward the poor and marginalized, not by his being above or beyond contact with sinners.  If we want to emulate the righteousness of Jesus, we need to rediscover that his is a holiness revealed by contact with the broken things of this world, not by withdrawal from them.”

I’ve never looked good in hats…but a square halo? That would be something.

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The closest I’ve gotten to wearing a “halo” of any kind is in my latest work as a corporate chaplain.  Usually, in visiting numerous different companies, I wear a magnetic name tag that reads, “Kristina Robb-Dover, Chaplain;”  it’s a handy way to identify myself as I make my rounds to various office cubbyholes, and to fend off awkward moments like the inquiry, “Who are you?,” paired with a suspicious glance.

Sometimes I’ll find myself wandering off-duty into a store or restaurant having forgotten to take my name tag off.  When this happens, I’m a bit embarrassed by the reactions.  Suddenly I acquire either a more revered or more suspicious status.

Did I mention that I don’t like name tags to begin with?

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But I wonder what would happen if we chose to wear (invisible) square halos?  Would our feet feel more firmly planted on the ground?  Would we be more inclined to see ourselves as works in progress without all the answers but with a whole lot of heart to be more like Jesus?  Would we be more conscious of our place in the world rather than apart from it, and more mindful of our call to be engaged with brokenness?  Would others be more inclined to see us this way?

From now on, I’ll be wearing a square halo.

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Love and Marriage When You’re Saving the World

Have any of you been following the news around the recent discovery of a fourth-century papyrus fragment that mentions Jesus’  wife?  The veracity of the papyrus is apparently dubious at best; but this hasn’t stopped Harvard professor Karen King from seizing on the new-found Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as a fresh spring for research insights (or, the justification for another round of conspiracy theories).  (I’ll be curious to see which it is.)  In the meantime, political cartoonist Mike Luckovitch, whose work often appears in my local paper, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, has done some midrash of his own on the theme of Jesus and marriage:

 

 

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