Joy and Gratitude

25 07 2014

By David Bolton, Independence, Missouri, USA

Browne at organI came home from high school and Mum asked, “Would you like to take organ lessons?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Joy Browne offered to give you free lessons.”

I knew Joy Browne as the 80-year-old who played “Freely, Freely” every Communion Sunday. I appreciated the opportunity and took up Joy’s offer. She coached me through my first experiences with playing hymns. She taught me to look to the text for moments to break a phrase and allow time for the congregation to breathe. She emphasized the importance of playing expressively rather than hitting the keys like a typewriter. Most importantly, she taught me about gratitude and appreciating others.

When I played at church Joy expressed appreciation immediately after the worship. It didn’t matter how well I had played, she always encouraged me. As I started to play regularly I wondered whether Joy would stop, but she thanked me every Sunday I played at Oak Hill Congregation for the rest of her life.

As she reached her 90s Joy had difficulty playing. Her joints swelled with arthritis. Some fingers bent to the side, while others curled downward. Her accuracy suffered, and large chords were now beyond reach. Her family lamented that she spent more time practicing for Christmas than being with them. It became painful for her to play for extended periods.

Not long after, the pastors asked if I would play for a Communion service.

I will always remember her coming to me afterward, just as she always did. Except this time, tears ran down her checks as she said, “I wish I could play like I used to, but I’m so glad you were able to play today.”

Joy passed away January 24, 2010, at age 93.

These days, I frequently play for church. I try my best to express the text of the hymns musically and to encourage others as she encouraged me. And whenever I’m scheduled to play for Communion Sunday, listen for:

Freely, freely
you have received:
freely, freely give.
—“God Forgave My Sin in Jesus’ Name” CCS 627, Carol Owens

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An Invitation to the Church

20 06 2014

By the IYF Committee

International Youth Forum (IYF) will run July 15–18 in Independence, Missouri. IYF events also will happen in the Dominican Republic and Honduras this summer. We invite you, as members of Community of Christ, to hold these events in your prayers and spiritual practices that allow this type of intentional focus.

Why are we asking you to place IYF in your prayers and spiritual practices? Because it is through the Blessings of Community that events like this are possible. Two statements from the Enduring Principles, Blessings of Community, may help frame this (www.CofChrist.org/ourfaith/enduring-principles.asp):

  • We are called to create communities of Christ’s peace in our families and congregations and across villages, tribes, nations, and throughout creation.
  • We value our connections and share a strong sense of trust in and belonging with one another—even if we never have met.

IYF is about creating those communities of Christ’s peace. We all are connected to those communities, and by entering into prayer and spiritual practice for those communities we strengthen that connection. Though we may not have met, or may never meet, we all are part of the fabric that creates Community of Christ.

Three areas that might be highlighted during your reflection:

  • Those who are planning and preparing to serve at IYF
  • Leaders of delegations who will be shepherding the youth
  • Most importantly, the youth of our church

While it would be natural to focus more intentionally on those youth who will journey to IYF, we also ask you to hold up those who cannot attend. You also may feel led to focus on some other aspect of IYF in your reflection. That also is welcomed. May all know that God’s Spirit is with them as they prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for this IYF experience.

Thank you for the time you put into this invitation. May it bless you as you share in the IYF community.

Shalom.





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.





Move!

9 05 2014

(From the Young Adult Blog at http://youngadultministries.wordpress.com/)

By Dan Gregory, West Des Moines, Iowa, USA

I don’t know about you, but it seems like God puts the challenge right out there for me in this scripture. “What’re you waiting for?” comes the question. What am I waiting for? Why do I continue to hesitate, though I know the adventure awaits my response?

The time is now, but I’m still sitting on the porch, hoping for more time, more energy, more resolve, more direction. I have my rhythms, my circle of friends, my way of thinking. Come to think of it, I’m really quite comfortable where I am, thank you very much. But am I?

I went to see a movie, The Hobbit, recently. I was caught up in the intrigue of Bilbo, a simple Hobbit very attached to his cozy home, who was invited to go on a faraway adventure by the wizard, Gandalf. As Bilbo struggles with the immensity of the request, Gandalf prods and encourages him to consider what he has to gain by leaving his porch.

“The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there!”

Bilbo continues to weigh his heart, wondering if it’s worth the risk to leave all he has ever known. As Gandalf tells him he will have stories to tell when he comes back, Bilbo hopefully responds, “You can promise that I will come back?” After a pause, Gandalf tells him the solemn truth: “No. And if you do, you will not be the same.”

The adventure with God and community will change us—we will not be the same at the end of the journey. But it is the adventure of a lifetime. God is calling us, you and me, to move, to put behind whatever our hesitation may be, and to dive in, ready to see the world beyond the books and maps others are content with.

For we want to live. We feel the restlessness to seek beyond the horizon, to step off the porch and into the rush of the world sustained by our Guide. We want to move…but are we willing to?

Several hours after being asked on the adventure, Bilbo still finds himself sitting in his armchair, pondering. “I just need to sit quietly for a moment,” he tells Gandalf. He was not expecting the reply: “You’ve been sitting quietly far too long!”

Have I been sitting quietly far too long, letting the moment slip past me? What about now, when God calls me on an adventure? It’s time to move—move into a deeper level of commitment, move into a new and exciting phase of the journey with a congregation that will love and support you, move to invite others to come onto the path of discipleship with you.

Bilbo finally decides the time for hesitation is past. Neighbors call curiously to him as he races down the lane, and he responds, “I’m already late!”

“Late for what?”

“I’m going on an adventure!”

It is never too late to join Christ on the adventure of a lifetime!

 





Stumbling through Communion

7 05 2014

By Peggy Michael, Cantonment, Florida, USA

This is an excerpt from one of the entries appearing each day in the Daily Bread blog. Visit http://CofChristDailyBread.wordpress.com to subscribe for free.

How can I ask forgiveness, Lord, when I am certain I shall sin again? How can I take the blessed bread, the sanctified wine—grace to the souls of all those who partake, grace to those who keep God’s commandments, grace even to me? The line is fine, yet I stumble. Would I be taking the symbols of your sacrifice in vain? Should I refrain, though I need wholeness desperately?

I wonder if those on their knees beside me fight these silent battles as I do. I strive hard for lofty goals that seem unattainable. Yet I will eat and drink and believe that somehow your love will bridge my separation.

You have forgiven me. When will I forgive myself and restore my soul? O proud heart, dare you flaunt your silken garments in the face of beggars and hollow-cheeked children? Lower your eyes to see their tattered forms. Hear their hungry whimper and rush to their side.

Then, perhaps, they will forgive and take a piece of bread from my repentant hand. Then, perhaps, I can give as a disciple gives.

Peggy Michael passed away within a few months of submitting this story.

 





Sit a Bit in the Ball Pit

28 03 2014

By Carla Long,
Eurasia Mission Field

On Facebook, I recently saw a video entitled “Take a Seat & Make a Friend.” I usually don’t watch the videos on my friends’ walls (“This Kitten Is SOOOOOO CUTE!!”), but for some reason, this time I did.

The video opened by showing a ball pit, like the ones in children’s play areas (the kind any adult with a germ issue would never go in). It was on the sidewalk of a busy city street. A sign behind the ball pit said, “Take a Seat & Make a Friend.” The video showed five pairs of people who sat in the ball pit together at various times.

There also were bigger balls in the ball pit, ones with starter sentences on them like, “Find something the two of you have in common.” Or “Share three things on your bucket list.”

The answers for each pair ranged from ridiculous to touching. One pair realized someone they both love has multiple sclerosis. Another pair found deep similarities, though they seemed so different. (“Someone planted us here for this reason!” “Destiny!”)

There were tears in my eyes when the video ended. I found myself thinking, “It’s so beautiful when people really stop and listen to each other. We always find that we are more similar than we are different. We should do something like this at camp!” That’s when I mentally slapped myself! “No! This is nothing spectacular or amazing! This is merely people connecting on a level that God calls us to connect! This is what we are called to do!”

How many times do we not listen? How many times do we recognize someone desperately wants to connect, and we don’t think we have the time? How many times do we walk away from a meaningful conversation because it is scary or intimidating?

God calls us to connect with each other on a deeper level—a level more profound than, “How are you?” “I’m fine.” It’s a level that realizes similarities between people who are not similar. It’s a level that changes perceptions and redefines reality. It’s where God lives.

We don’t need to be in a ridiculous, forced situation to find these moments of connection. We can have them every day if we become aware. Perhaps a co-worker seems low on energy. Look her in the eye and ask how she is. Maybe your spouse can’t seem to find the words to say something hard to say. Offer encouragement. Maybe your parents feel anxiety about getting older and are unsure which way to turn. Sit with them, have some tea, and be open to what comes. Perhaps you’re on an elevator with a stranger who sighs and sinks into him or herself. This is your opportunity to make a difference in someone’s day. Do it.

So, go out and find your “ball pit” today. I promise you (and someone else) will be glad you did.

 





Go Buy a Piano

24 03 2014

By Jena Wight
Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

Jena Wight uses her gifts and passions to pursue Christ’s mission.

Jena Wight uses her gifts and passions to pursue Christ’s mission.

I recently read an article by a famous pianist. In it, he challenges the reader to “find what you love and let it kill you.” He says maybe you love the idea of being able to play the piano. So instead of watching TV after work, he says, why don’t you spend a hundred bucks on a used piano, get yourself a teacher, and spend 40 minutes a day practicing. After a few weeks you could play a Chopin nocturne.

Or maybe you love to write. So you’ve joined a book club. But wait—you love to write. So what are you doing in a book club? Go find a writers club. One where you bring a few pages of writing to each week’s meeting.

The point is, push yourself. Make your life about progress and growth rather than acceptance and complacency.

As followers of Jesus, we should be joining writers clubs and buying pianos—metaphorically speaking. What does it look like for you—you personally—to be working to build the kingdom of God on Earth? What does it look like—and I mean really, really look like—for you to embrace and live out one (or all five) Mission Initiatives?

Stop and think about it. When you have your answer, stop and think again. If you like writing and you join a book club, you haven’t put yourself in a position of true growth and opportunity. If you love God and want to help the world, allow yourself to really do that.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:1 says:

“Community of Christ,” your name, given as a divine blessing, is your identity and calling. If you will discern and embrace its full meaning, you will not only discover your future, you will become a blessing to the whole creation. Do not be afraid to go where it beckons you to go.

Replace “Community of Christ” with your name. Read that scripture as if it’s meant for you. If you will discern and embrace your full meaning, you will discover your future—and you will bless the whole of creation.

If you, as one person, can “bless the whole of creation,” what can a group of people accomplish? Apply this concept on a larger scale! What does this mean for your family, your congregation, and the church on a local, national, and international scale?

We’ve been called to Develop Disciples to Serve. Will you encourage your congregation to read a Bible verse every day? Will you challenge and equip each individual to devote time each day for study, prayer, and spiritual practice? Will you encourage yourself and others to learn skills that can help carry out the mission of Jesus Christ?

We’ve been called to Experience Congregations in Mission. If your congregation is being called to reach out to the neighborhood, will you put flyers in door handles? Or will you develop ongoing relationships by meeting, visiting with, and intentionally inviting people in a personal, real way?

We each should push ourselves. Go deeper! Ask questions, find answers, and then ask the questions again. Embrace your gifts and your passions, and then go buy a piano.