Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving Thanks

The table is set with the finest, and the feast is laid; there is turkey, and sometimes ham.  Generally, you can find a selection of potatoes mashed, scalloped and au gratin.  Green bean casserole is always a favorite, and we must have buttery rolls, rich gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.  Often there are sweet potatoes with gooey marshmallows browned and melting on top, and a variety of pies, pecan, pumpkin, and apple to name just a few.  We gather with family and/or friends, and sometimes even our pets.  There are parades and sporting events on the television to entertain us, and overall it is a time and a space to eat our fill and then take a late afternoon nap drifting away as some of the younger family members play games or just chat and catch up on life.  Thanksgiving is a time we stop and say thank you for the blessings in our lives.  And this is just one of many scenarios that are played out in America on the fourth Thursday of November. 

However, for many people, this is just another day.  For many there isn’t enough money or food to fully set a feast.  Maybe our family doesn’t get along, or we find ourselves alone.  Maybe there is a crisis going on and we find we are away from family, friends.   

One Thanksgiving Day when I was a child I remember watching two boxes of frozen turkey dinners, the kind in a little compartmentalized tray, slowly making their way down the conveyor belt at the grocery store checkout.  They were just right about eye level with me, and I watched as they slowly made their way to the clerk who punched the prices into the cash register, took my father’s money and placed the boxes in a paper sack.  I don’t remember much being said.  Did the woman think it strange that an older man and a young girl were buying frozen turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day rather than having a turkey dinner with all the trimmings with family? 

My mother was in the hospital, and while daddy took care of me well, he was by no means the primary caretaker of little girls.  Mom had many health issues when I was little, and from the somber tone, although I am sure I was not fully informed on everything going on, it seemed pretty serious.  I remember it was a cold, gray, drizzly day and dad was trying to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving.  The problem was it just didn’t seem like a festive day.  There were no traditions kept or relatives to see.  There were no dishes to do or ignore.  We had frozen turkey dinners and went to visit mom in the hospital.

Since then, I have given some thought as to the purpose of Thanksgiving.  Originally, it was a time to thank God for the harvest and for the settlers’ good friends, the Native Americans, who kept them alive in a strange new land.  It was a religious moment when we could give thanks as the scriptures instruct “in all circumstances.”  That day as a child, I remember my father bowing his head and giving thanks to God for all God’s mercies.  That day I began a journey that took years to travel of understanding how to give God thanks in all circumstances.

Any more Thanksgiving is more of a secular holiday than religious.  A day off work, a day to feast, watch football and parades, a day to visit relatives, some you may never see (or really want to) at any other time.  But in my heart it will always be a memory of my father bowing his head over a frozen turkey dinner thanking God for God’s mercies.  This Thanksgiving I would encourage you to give thanks in all circumstance and to lift a prayer of petition for those who may not be celebrating as you might – those who are hungry or thirsty – those who are sick or in prison – those who live impoverished lives – those who are isolated or alone – those who need love or reconciliation.  Pray for those who God loves and many times we forget, and give thanks.

This originally appeared in my column of the November 2010 issue of The Corridor.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Tribute to My Mother

As I did with my Daddy, below is what I said at the celebration of my Mother's life.

My mother was born November 3, 1928—she would have been 85 tomorrow.  She grew up in Rockwood, Texas, which is little more than a ghost town now.  Mother would take me there when we would visit my Aunt Ludy Jane in a nearby town every summer.  We would go to Rockwood to visit the graves of her parents, Ludy and Rutilla Crutcher, and my mother’s brother, Gail, who died of polio as a baby.  We would stop at a store that had Big Red soda and Moon Pies, and Mother would visit and catch up on the local news while I had a treat.  

When she was twenty she worked at a five and dime store in Coleman, Texas.  It is at this store that Vernon Norris, my daddy, stopped by on his way through from California to Eastland, Texas where his family lived.  He met my mother, and asked her out for a soda after she got off work.  He journeyed on to Eastland, and when he got there, he mailed her back an engagement ring.  On February 25, 1949 at the age of 20, mother married daddy, and the following year she had my sister, Dorinda, and three years later my brother, Darrell, was born.  Mom and dad moved as work took him from the Houston area to Oklahoma when he was transferred to Tinker Air Force Base.  I came along when they lived in Midwest City.

Mother was primarily a homemaker, but worked outside the home occasionally as well.  She worked at what was once called Continental Plastics now Carlisle Food Service Products on Lincoln Boulevard.  She made Bains Marie, the round plastic food storage tubs, but for the life of me I always thought she said Bangmarie, and you know when you google that you cannot find it. 

She also worked at Dairy Queen (one of my favorite places), at Nicoma Park Junior High and other Choctaw-Nicoma Park schools and at Country Estates Elementary in the kitchen.  Yes, my mother was a lunch lady.  And in later years she was a private duty nurse.

We were raised in church.  I think I was born on a Friday and in the nursery at church a week and two days later.  When I was growing up it seemed to be just what we did on Sunday morning.  In fact, it was odd that one Sunday morning we got up and Mother said we were not going to church because she had a bad dream about Darrell.  As it turned out, he had been in an accident in Texas, and we left that morning to go get him.  She had those premonitions on occasions. 
When I was eight, I received this Bible, a Children’s Living Bible.  On the presentation page it says, presented to me by after which it reads, “love and prayers and best wishes, Mother and Daddy.”  And should I be confused as to who that is she wrote, “Edith and Vernon Norris.” 

She would always write in the covers of books she gave me.  I think Dorinda and I discovered our great love of books from her.  In the case of this Bible, which has seen its fair share of wear and tear as you can see, she wrote where to find scripture passages in her beautiful flowing script.  She had impeccable penmanship.  She also wrote this inscription:
“Sonja, always let God have his way in your life.  Hide his word in your heart.  Let your life shine for Christ always, and you will receive many blessings from God.”
What do you know, she was right.  Of course, me being me had to discover that on my own. 

The mother I had as a child is the mother I remember today.  The one who tucked me in at night as we said prayers.  Who I thought was the most beautiful woman in the world.  She was the one who for better or worse—and we had plenty of both—loved me and I her.

Today I envision the picture of my mother and daddy on their wedding day.  A beautiful young woman about to embark on the grand adventure that is life.  Not knowing what lay ahead, but she smiled that beautiful smile anyway.  She always did have a beautiful smile right up to the very end. 

My Sister, Brother, and I along with our families would like to express our appreciation of your thoughts and prayers during these past couple of weeks.  It has meant a lot to us and we thank you for your presence here today to celebrate Mother’s life.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reflections of My Mother

Last year my daughter, a photography major, had an assignment and took this picture of my mother:
In the reflection on the kettle you see my mother and her hand holding the handle.  Of course, also in the reflection is my daughter snapping the picture. 

This picture has come up recently along with others that she took of mom in an assignment called the "Nena Narrative."  You see, my mother passed away this week.  If you have followed me for long you know that I tend to write when I need to sort through emotions or ideas.  When my father died in 2010, I wrote a lot of the lessons I was learning about death, dying and grief.  It was helpful to me, but I think also to others who read these writings.

Now that my mother has passed, here I am again. 

It has occurred to me reflections of images are not the only reflections of my mother there are in the world.  I have two siblings and there are grandchildren.  As we sat in hospital waiting rooms I saw in a multitude of ways reflections of my mother.

This is a picture, a reflection, of my mother and father on their wedding day.  Over the years I have often looked at this picture and others and have thought what an attractive couple they made.  Dad was dashing and handsome, my mother was young and beautiful--the picture of joy.  It is this picture that I have in my imagination of their reunion in heaven.  This couple have come together again in the joy of the moment.

The intellectual side of me might be distracted by the fact that our bodies are not the same in heaven, or even by the understanding of what heaven is supposed to be about.  Then the nostalgic, more romantic side, tells the intellectual side to shut up.

This young couple met again this week.  I envision my father meeting my mother at the gates.  I image them walking hand in hand into a paradise unimaginable to the human mind.  I imagine God there to bless the reuniting, and even in the midst of tears, I smile.  How can you not?

If you are interested in reading some of my writing from my father's passing the links are below.

Lessons I'm Learning in Death, Dying and Grief:
May 26, 2010 - Part One
May 27, 2010 - Part Two - Birth and Death
May 28, 2010 - Part Three - The Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Strong
June 3, 2010 - My Father's Passing
June 4, 2010 - A Tribute to My Father
June 16, 2010 - Even if No One is With You, You Don't Die Alone
August 20, 2010 - Tears and Crying

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Body of Christ

Web definitions 
Ecumenism mainly refers to initiatives aimed at greater Christian unity or cooperation. These initiatives are often referred to as interdenominational. It is used predominantly by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian Churches separated by doctrine, history, and practice.
Notice it says "initiatives aimed at great Christian unity or cooperation...used predominantly by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian Churches separated by doctrine, history, and practice."  That would sound like a good thing right?  Uniting the body of Christ.  I mean, I always thought we should play nice together, particularly in light of the whole commandment of Jesus to "love one another as I (Jesus) have loved you" found in John 15:12.  

Long before I heard the word "ecumenical," I had heard rumblings of teachings that the World Council of Churches (a worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service) was a bad thing because it would mark the "second coming of Christ."  Of course, that confused me because I always thought that would have been a good thing...

I looked up what they may have been talking about and it seems there some people who have made vague connections with the writings of Revelation and a unified ecclesiastical body, a one world religion.  I think it is a bit of a reach.  I wonder if they know that Revelation almost did not make it into the cannon of scripture...probably not.  

Later in my life--after I learned the word--I sat as the only female clergy in a room of clergy discussing the term "ecumenical."  One of the other clergy asked the question in a rhetorical manner with the assumption that the answers would be negative, which they were.  As others were talking about the horrors of ecumenism, I (who cannot play poker) sat there with a stunned and confused expression.  The questioner noticed and asked me what I thought ecumenical meant to which I replied "it is the body of Christ getting along."  I had always thought it was a positive goal to work toward.

I know there are differences.  I know that my belief that the communion table be open is contrary to those who think it should be closed to only their denomination, maybe even just their local congregation.  I know that my view of God (coming from Wesleyan theology) is true, maybe even as true as their view of God (coming from Calvinist theology).  Only our human minds cannot grasp multiple truths that seem contradictory. How can they, being so diverse, both be true?

One of the things that makes me chuckle is when people say, "we all believe the same thing."  No, not even close.  We do not have the same beliefs, but I would hazard a guess that people within the same denomination and even the same church do not have beliefs that are consistent with one another.  There are those whose own theology is inconsistent with other portions of their theology.  Yet they were never made to reflect and think on this to work it out. People want the "we all believe the same thing" to be true, because then their belief is never questioned or examined. 

The fact of the matter is no one owns God and no one has the market cornered on divine knowledge.  I am a bit of educational snob, and would never be a part of the church in which the pastor did not have theological training, but that doesn't mean that uneducated laity do not have divine inspiration.  The key is to recognize that just as we have very deep seated beliefs that we have developed over the course of our lives, others have just as deep seated beliefs.  The Bible speaks to those divisions.  

Peter had long held beliefs that Jews and Gentiles should not associate, yet God taught him something new.
You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.  Acts 10:28
If God showed Peter something new, does that mean that all of a sudden every Jewish Christian is going to say, "okay, sounds good to me."  That did not happen.  His fault was not that he now ate with Gentiles, but that he hid it from his Jewish friends for fear of condemnation and Paul called him out on it.  (Gal. 2:11-16).  A division of beliefs in the early church.   

When in doubt, I still go back to Jesus.  I think Jesus is a good place to go back to when the scriptures seem to be confusing, or tradition divides, or people want to bring in handpicked, out of context passages to back their point.  I go back to Jesus.

When Jesus was trying to explain spiritual things to the obtuse Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus said:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17
So, let me get this straight, we aren't to condemn others even if they believe differently than we do?
‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.' Luke 7:1-2
Jesus said encouraging his followers not to worry about insignificant things.  
But if they are right, then doesn't that make me wrong?  I'm not wrong.
‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’  Mark 9:35b-37

Jesus said in dealing with the disciples and pride.

Don't get me wrong; there are difficulties, no doubt, with ecumenism.  It is found in all that separation "by doctrine, history, and practice."  There are some who think I am "an abomination" as a female clergy.  Of course, I feel that if they have a problem with my calling to ministry, they should take it up with the One who called me.  However, I do not care if they do not want me to preach in their church; I do not feel called to their church.  I do care that they feel a need to belittle others who feel differently than they do.  There are many other issues we are divided by as well. 

How can we have Christian unity when we feel that the other is wrong on what we feel are some foundational truths?  Well...let's go back to Jesus.

His disciples were becoming exclusive like the Pharisees:
John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’ Luke 9:49-50
I think Jesus was a pretty okay guy.  I mean after all, he went around including all those who the Pharisees would otherwise exclude, the outcast, the marginalized, the women.  Well, we know what happened to him.  Working toward Christian unity will not be without conflict and derision.  Some people just don't want to get along. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Faith and Football

I recently read a post about why a pastor quit attending sporting events.  It was satire, and I suppose if you related to this you saw the humor in it.  It read:

12 Reasons Why a Pastor Quit Attending Sports Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked me for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.
I would add, the people next to me were talking and I couldn't hear the announcer.  It was distracting.

In case you didn't get the irony, these are all reasons people give for not going to church.  I read this right before the hometown football game last Friday and as I sat in the stands cheering wildly for the Hornets to Go-Fight-Win, I realized I wasn't there because of the coach, or the songs, or band (okay a little for the band), I was there for two reasons:  1.) I was there for the kids in my youth group and 2.) (probably the most significant) I LOVE football.  I cheer when they win, I cheer when they lose, I just love the game.  In spite of the people next to me talking or the child on the lap behind me that kept kicking me in the back, I worked to pay attention, because I love the game.

Then I thought about how this applies to people and church.  It really doesn't matter if the pews are uncomfortable, or if the church leadership does things you don't always agree with.  It doesn't matter if the people there are just as lost as you are, it doesn't matter about the music or the pastor.  The distractions do not matter nor any of these things matter if you love to worship God.  Ultimately, that is the driving force that gets people to care about coming to worship.   That, and the people you love.  Love God.  Love People.  Easy, right?

With the mainline denominations in decline, I would say we have taught them that God loves them, in essence the world revolves around them, but have not taught them to love God.  They may believe in God or wish to belong to a church, but without love for God and others it doesn't amount to a thing.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13