Why I Follow the Cross

30 05 2014

By Susan Naylor,
International Headquarters Operations

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back.

—“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,”
Community of Christ Sings 499,
S. Sundar Singh

I still can see the baptismal-font steps at the Walnut Park Congregation in Independence, Missouri, where I was baptized. I can see my dad patiently waiting in the font for me to walk down those steps, and in those last seconds I paused.

I’m sure he was thinking I had changed my mind. But the words of my prebaptismal teacher, Ralph Remington, rang loudly in my ears when he reminded those of us in his class that as we took that first step to say to ourselves, “I promise to always follow Jesus.”

On that day, my eighth birthday, Easter Sunday, my baptism, confirmation, and my first Communion…I promised to follow Jesus.

But that isn’t the question. The question is, “Why do I follow Jesus?” I follow Jesus because: (1) I know that he loves me, (2) Jesus is always with me in my life’s journey, and (3) my life is a reflection of Jesus for others to know.
And because I follow Jesus, I follow the cross.

From my earliest memories of Bible stories at my grandmother’s house, I wanted to be like the characters we read about who lived with Jesus. As I grew, the words of Doctrine and Covenants 155:7–8 have guided my walk with Jesus:

…Be not overly concerned with method as you go forth to witness in my name…the call is for workers in the cause of Zion; therefore, neither tarry, nor doubt that I am. I know your perplexities and I am aware of your uncertainties, but if you will call upon my name my Spirit will go before you into whatsoever place you are sent and I will continue to bless you as you have need.

So Jesus and I walk this exciting journey together, adventuring into places I may never have imagined.

Opportunities and challenges at times seem unmatched for my skills and experience. However, with Jesus going before me I find doors opened, others ready to be part of a team, and experiences that have no reasonable explanation other than Jesus and I were doing it together.

Being part of a young-adult witnessing team, I went to England to provide ministry, but instead received more than I felt I gave. Directing vacation church school, congregational retreats, mission center reunions, Spectacular, leadership events, and World Conference, I’ve often felt Jesus’ presence ahead of me in the planning and his Spirit working with others at these events and beside me, no matter the situation.

“…My Spirit will go before you into whatsoever place you are sent.” Our family’s walk with Jesus is always taking us on new adventures. Our daughter soon will graduate from high school and begin college; our family will move to Washington, DC; our son will begin a new school; and much more. In our discussions doubts have arisen, and questions of the unknown raise fears sometimes beyond our control. But I know Jesus goes before us and walks with us. Together we witness of the life of Jesus and follow the cross.

Music is a constant in my life, and in reflection, as the sun sets in my mind’s eye, I hear the campfire voices in the distance softly remind me again:

The Lord is my Shepherd I’ll follow him always, he leads me by still waters, I’ll follow him always. Always, always, I’ll follow him always.

—“The Lord Is My Shepherd,”
adapted from Psalm 23

No matter what, no matter where…I follow Jesus and the cross.





Holy Attention

28 05 2014

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries

I was tired before we even knocked on the door or sat down to dinner. I felt myself pulling inward, wanting to be a casual observer or sprawled on my couch at home. It felt difficult to gather the energy to be attentive in relationship.

As we sat around the table, pouring iced tea into paper cups, I knew I needed to be more present. I gathered strength of heart to seek the holy here. Adjusting perspective in the same surroundings can make all the difference. I looked deeply at my companions around the table and realized how profound it was to feel ordinary in the home of people I had met just over a year ago.

We shared naturally about the details of our lives that we had discovered from many previous conversations. I reflected on the moment I first met Charlie on the street and saw in him the Living Christ. The question is this: Do I still see the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?

My life has been transformed countless times through the practice of holy attention. All spiritual practices can cultivate within us a new way of seeing the world drenched in Spirit. We can practice holy attention in solitude or amid everyday activity. There is no formula. It is simply pausing and choosing to see God in the midst of what is, wherever and whenever.

My testimonies of God’s Spirit have almost all begun with noticing God in the details, seemingly insignificant encounters throughout the day that change everything about how I understand what it means to be a disciple.
Holy attention is often, if not always, local and specific. It is about the right-here-right-now details of life. This understanding of God’s pervasive presence, which can capture us in any moment we choose to awaken to its reality, continually disrupts my life and prompts my response.

Attention to the Spirit can alter our view. A Disciple’s Generous Response during worship takes new meaning when a recently homeless man dumps all his quarters in the “change for change” bucket. Overhearing a conversation between two congregants about an injustice in our community and how we can respond causes me to pause in the rush of Sunday-morning preparations.

It is in the details of relationship, the details of daily life, the details of the natural world that we are able to encounter God’s presence in abundance. Simone Weil put it this way, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.” I have found myself longing to share this experience. I have found myself wanting to say, “Just look—really look—and you won’t be able to glance anywhere without seeing the Living Christ.” Holy attention is where mission begins.

As I sat at the dinner table with Charlie, this question shifted my paradigm in just seconds: Do I still see in him the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?

Yes!

This, too, is God’s movement among us: our growing comfort in relationship and the extraordinary fact that this whole thing now feels so ordinary. Total strangers turned into friends.

At the table, I notice others who I know only from following God’s promptings in my heart to be here, vulnerable to relationship. Suddenly pizza and paper plates are nothing less than sacrament. I see everything from a changed perspective and give thanks for the ways we come together through this constant and abundant Spirit of God.





When God Sets the Table

26 05 2014

By Kathy Sharp, Bothell, Washington, USA

My closest friends and family know I’m lousy at hosting dinners and table fellowship. The older I get, the less confident and proficient I become. Lack of practice, I guess.

Recently, the Spirit made clear how vital it is for followers of Jesus always to offer hospitality. Here’s the good news: I don’t have to be the host. God already is setting tables through other people. Like the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1–14) my (our) job is to recognize God’s invitation and show up at the table!

For five years I’ve represented Community of Christ on the board of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, an ecumenical group “grounded in faith and working for justice.” I also inherited a strong relationship with Seattle University, a Catholic school with an ecumenical seminary. As I struggle to keep up with my Community of Christ responsibilities, I often ask, “Is ecumenical work where God wants me to spend part of my time? Am I serving my own people best when I invest in the faith-filled efforts of others?”

The answer came in 2013. Through my friendships on the Church Council and Seattle University, I joined a long-term dialogue among Christian and Muslim clergy members. This group of about 10 worships together and respectfully shares the basics of our faith traditions.

We hope to form trusted friendships. If trouble comes someday between our faith communities, we’ll be ready to stand together to promote God’s peace and sanctuary.

Within a month, Sanaa Joy Carey, a Muslim, invited me to bring a Christian perspective to an interfaith panel at her mosque’s Iftar dinner. Iftar is the Ramadan evening meal eaten together to break fast as a community at sunset.

The dinner’s theme, “Being Human,” sought commonalities and differences among our faith traditions. I used the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) to illustrate Jesus’ challenge to expand our definition of neighbor to all people. More than 300 people attended.

Meanwhile, Church Council staff members asked if they could lease part of our Rainier Valley Community of Christ building. They wanted to move their offices into a diverse neighborhood. They said our church is in the most diverse zip code in the nation! They also appreciated the relaxed fellowship, hospitality, and consistent “showing up” by Community of Christ members.

Just months earlier, congregation members had discovered building decay that threatened to overwhelm them financially. They desperately needed a tenant. The Church Council’s presence brings hopeful energy. The council’s open house drew 100 people to celebrate and worship together, most for the first time.

God is setting tables everywhere. God invites us to join with interfaith partners. Opportunities abound to build stronger bonds as the body of Christ and to work together with people of faith to pursue peace, justice, fellowship, mission, and inter-religious friendships.

Sometimes, we are faithful simply by saying yes and showing up at God’s banquet, already prepared by other hosts.





“We Have Much to Sing”

26 05 2014
Excerpts reblogged from: Community of Christ Orange, CofChristorange.org and Young Adult blog, youngadultministries.wordpress.com

By Dustin Davis, Los Angeles, California, USA

New Community of Christ Sings hymnal

New Community of Christ Sings hymnal

Nothing stirs my spirit like the sound of organ song and many voices combined, spiraling upward through the swirling spire of the Temple in Independence, Missouri.

As I write, my ears and heart still ring with new and familiar texts and tunes that fill our recent hymnal, Community of Christ Sings. The annual Peace Colloquy in October made the connections between the songs we sing and the mission we claim, Christ’s mission.

“Peace Justice, and Song,” the Colloquy theme, boldly declared that what we sing matters, that words and music don’t just fill the gaps in worship but inspire us, challenge us, and compel us into mission.

As we will continue to discover in coming weeks, months, and years, the songs we sing will manifest themselves in our hearts, congregations, and communities as we seek to make real God’s kingdom and bring the peace and justice of Jesus Christ to all we encounter.

I eagerly began flipping through my personal copy of Community of Christ Sings as soon as I got it. My first instinct—and I’m sure I’m not alone—was to search for my favorite hymns, to see if they had been retained. But my curiosity couldn’t help itself as I also saw new hymns with titles like “Leftover People in Leftover Places,” “When Memory Fades,” “The Summons,” and “Friend of the Streetwalker.” There are even titles I wasn’t sure I could pronounce like “Kanisa Litajengwa” and “Nimwebo Ba Yahweh!”

The titles, however, only scratch the surface of new and provocative hymns. The texts are poetic, challenging, and in some cases heartbreaking. (Not just once did I see people moved to tears after reading through a new song.)

As one person on the Hymnal Steering Committee said, these aren’t just songs about the poor; these are songs of the poor. When we start to sing, “Till all the jails are empty and all the bellies filled…God has work for us to do” (CCS 303, Carl P. Daw Jr.), we will know and understand with little doubt the mission to which we are called.
But Community of Christ Sings is far more than a collection of songs that will confront us on Sunday morning. It holds songs that guide us into deep and quiet moments of stillness, where we find God dwelling. “Be Still,” “Calm to the Waves,” and “Spirit Fill Us” are just a few.

Songs of joy, praise, and thanksgiving also spill from its pages. Generosity and sorrow find expression, as well as commitment and interfaith respect. And what about all the songs that appear in multiple languages and will challenge us when we sing them as our brothers and sisters do around the world? These songs will change the sound and feel of our worship, infusing it with deep and profound joy!

Many songs are radically inclusive—“Draw the Circle Wide,” “All Are Welcome”—and will help us value the infinite worth of all persons. The new music—swelling, haunting, bright, soft, full, round—will bring these poems to life.

Melodies from places such as Zambia, India, and Korea soon will be familiar favorites in North America and other places. And the authors are just as diverse, coming from all centuries and cultures. There is even a hymn, “Is There One Who Feels Unworthy?” written by participants of the 2009 Community of Christ International Youth Forum.
It will seem overwhelming, I’m sure, as we start to incorporate these songs and melodies into our worship. But we can take comfort in knowing that many beloved hymns are still there.

Community of Christ Sings will challenge us musically, theologically, and missionally, but what a challenge! In the process we no doubt will discover much about ourselves, our God, and the sort of people we are called and created to be, a community of Christ.

Community of Christ Sings clearly is far more than just a songbook. “You hold in your hands a vital mission tool!” the foreword proclaims! Community of Christ Sings is versatile in ways no previous hymnal has been, just as encouraging and inspiring for personal devotion as for corporate worship.

We have much to sing about! And it’s a message our own hearts, congregations, communities, and the world need to hear!





Opposing Human Trafficking

21 05 2014

By Barb Oldale, Athabasca, Alberta, Canada

The Edmonton Congregation sought to raise awareness of human trafficking.

The Edmonton Congregation sought to raise awareness of human trafficking.

The Edmonton Congregation in Alberta, Canada, sought to follow the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering by hosting an information session on human trafficking in September. The Action Coalition on Human Trafficking (ACT) and Mission of Mercy led the program.

ACT provided education about the widespread issue and explained ways to counter it. Rachel Hansen from Mission of Mercy spoke passionately about efforts in India to rescue girls and women from sexual abuse and sex slavery. Many congregation members bought sewn handicrafts made by women in India who have been rescued from sex slavery.

Also, six congregation members joined ACT on a five-kilometer walk around Edmonton’s south side to raise money and awareness.

Engage the Issue
Study, worship, and action resources to engage congregations in the issue of human trafficking are linked from the Community of Christ Human Rights Team website. Visit www.CofChrist.org/humanrights and click on Stop Traffic.





“You Are with Me Always”

19 05 2014

By Josephine M. Dalton, Vassar, Michigan, USA

Poa Monday Night

Poa Monday Night

 

Growing up in the thumb of Michigan, I never imagined traveling outside the USA. The joy of belonging to a worldwide faith community and doing ministry in another nation never occurred to me. As a young adult my family struggled with working-class poverty. I assumed my life in the church would remain in Michigan.

Then at a spiritual-renewal retreat, Tony Saraiva, a seventy from the Rose Lake Congregation, asked if I would consider going to his native Brazil with him in a year. One year later he told me that if I would get my passport, the way was taken care of.

When I arrived in Poá, São Paulo, Brazil, in October 2012 my life changed. I met a beautiful, loving people who quickly became like family. Carlos Carvalho, pastor and seventy, adopted me as his “American daughter.” My Brazilian family soon expanded with many members.

Before I left, I told Carlos I would return to visit in July for three weeks, sensing my work there was not done. Knowing my finances at home, I could not believe what I was saying, but I prayed God would bring me back.

After returning to the USA, I stayed connected to the congregation through Skype during Monday-night worships. I was fully participating, offering the closing prayer each week or sharing a testimony with scriptures. I studied Portuguese for long hours to be able to do this.

I knew the building needed a new roof, and each week, I noticed it needed much more. Rain had ruined the back wall, and the church exterior needed to be painted.

Congregants worked to repair the church, but the painting would have to wait. After much prayer, I told my husband I didn’t want anything more for holidays or birthdays; I just wanted to go back to Poá to paint the church.
Many people provided angelic sharing to help me buy airfare and paint. I met Earl and Dana Watt, members of the Rose Lake Congregation. I did not know them well, but I asked them to come with me. I later discovered they had lived in Brazil for 10 years and have a fantastic ministry of compassion.

Many blessings happened. A store owner gave us the paint for half price. He was amazed someone would come to Brazil just to work and paint. A contractor fixed the cement walls for a highly reduced wage and paid his helper to paint and mix cement.

By day we painted, and at night we visited with families and shared in a weeklong congregational revival. Each day congregants delighted in the changes. Before we left, a sense of healing seemed to wash over the church members, and 11 new people were present for the last worship.

We literally were leaving for the airport when a young girl shouted at me, “Stay with me!” she gave me a handwritten note in English that said, “I love you.” I praised her work and in Portuguese said the only thing I could say without tears: “You are with me always.”

I have learned that everyone has a place in worldwide mission. There is a need for prayers, workers, and financial support. If you are simply willing, you can do mission. I had almost let my own fears keep me from doing what I had been called to do. I have since been drawn to Doctrine and Covenants 164:9e–f, which calls us to let go of our doubts, and experience the blessings of mission.

The challenges and opportunities are momentous. Will you remain hesitant in the shadows of your fears, insecurities, and competing loyalties? Or will you move forward in the light of your divinely instilled call and vision? The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead.

For me a blessing of continued ministry in Brazil awaits. But the call to serve in many nations is present for us all.





Welcomed and Wanted

16 05 2014

By Austin Zamora, Caraway, Arkansas, USA

I firmly believe God’s timing is perfect, and it’s never been more evident to me than in my journey to Community of Christ.

During the summer of 2012 I met a customer at work, and we soon began discussing faith. I was thirsting for a church where I felt welcomed and could be used. She invited me to visit her Community of Christ congregation. I told her I would consider it. But time passed, and I didn’t get there.

My thirst, however, continued. I prayed harder than ever that God would guide me according to God’s time and will. On February 15, 2013, Mrs. Janie messaged me on Facebook and invited me to her Wednesday class at the Caraway Congregation.

I asked God if this is where God wanted me, and I had never felt more led by the Holy Spirit.

The first moment I walked into the church I felt the Holy Spirit, and I felt welcomed. I had found where I belonged.

On June 2, 2013, I was confirmed as a member of Community of Christ. I have found where God wants me and where I can be used. God’s timing is perfect.