Goodbye, Cotham’s!

IMG_5557

“it wasn’t just the food that made me love Cotham’s.”

The person posting on Facebook lamented the loss of a historical landmark in Scott, Arkansas. A roaring fire leveled the country store/restaurant last night, and in the fire were memories of days gone by. Cotham’s Mercantile was erected in 1917 and since 1984 served as the go-to eating place for local farmers and visitors to Arkansas. It was a place frequented by politicians, notable visitors, and families who wanted to get a taste of Cotham’s enormous Hubcap hamburgers, onion rings and a hefty serving of Mississippi Mud Cake.

There is a Cotham’s in the City, of course, but it is an understatement to say that it is definitely not Cotham’s in Scott. It’s simply a citified facsimile that barely bears any resemblance to the original. For sure it does not carry the years of memories that come from a place of such cultural richness.

Cotham’s was a frame building with leaning walls and unlevel floors. It was nestled on the side of a little-traveled country road under towering moss-covered trees. The back of Cotham’s was on the water, a bayou of murky, marshy water teeming with fish, other wildlife, and a stately stand of cypress trees, their gnarly knees growing above the surface.

So why write about a burned down restaurant in the Arkansas countryside? Because it’s the end of an era. Because it is a landmark that holds treasures of day’s past. Because it is a place whose walls heard many family tales. Because you could buy a hamburger or a bag of nails there.

Most of all, I should write about it because we will miss its quaint ambience, and because future diners will miss the experience of being there, right off the road, backed up to a boggy bayou. All kinds of history moves on and we move on with the years. We cling to the past and become melancholy over the changes we experience.

Goodbye, Cotham’s. And thanks for the memories. Thanks for the sad reminder that life moves forward at its own pace and that we must savor every moment, every experience . . . every hubcap hamburger.

Advertisements

Out of the Darkness

Design

The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds
that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light . . .

– Excerpt from “A Sonnet for Ascension Day” by poet Malcolm Guite

Out of the bombing in Manchester emerge brokenhearted families — mothers, fathers, grandparents, children. We live in a brokenhearted world. We wonder what we might do with our broken hearts. Do we respond with anger, sorrow, disinterest? Do we chalk it up as just another tragedy that is inevitable in a world of terrorism and unbridled violence? How must we respond in a way that honors our faith in the Prince of Peace?

I certainly do not have answers to all the questions we may be asking in the face of this tragedy, but these things I know. We must stand firmly, always, for peace. We must speak boldly when our words might ease violence. We must pray without ceasing for a world without violence, and hope constantly for a world that is gentle and hospitable for every person.

Finally, as poet Malcolm Guite writes, we must raise our voices in the strength that comes after weakness. We must sing on, people of God, for our songs might just help bring the world out of darkness into God’s wondrous light!

. . . You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Godโ€™s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

– 1 Peter 2:9, NIV

Pentecostal Power

IMG_5537

Art created by Jody Richards. The text is an adaptation by Satish Kumar of a mantra from the Hindu Upanishads and is commonly referred to as the “World Peace Prayer.”

 

With joy and exuberance, we used to sing an old Gospel hymn, our voices echoing through the rafters of the church house: “Lord, send the old time power, the Pentecostal power . . . that sinners be converted and Thy name glorified.”

That was our mission: that sinners be converted and that God’s name would be glorified. Over the years, we may well have lost some of our evangelical zeal. We may have developed differing views about what it means to glorify God. It’s a sign of the times, I suppose, times that are rife with the fear of terrorism, war, and the destruction of our way of life.

Some Christian leaders seem to believe that glorifying God in these days means advocating for a ruthless national counter-terrorism policy. In a 2004 interview, Rev. Jerry Falwell recommended that we โ€œblow them [terrorists] away in the name of the Lord.โ€ (CNN 10.24.04) I cannot fathom that such a view is inspired by the One we know as the Prince of Peace. I cannot imagine that Pentecostal power means power against persons and nations we have defined as our enemies.

One of the most genuine truth-tellers of my generation is my good friend Ken Sehested. He never tires of speaking prophetically about all things related to peace and justice. These are his words from an article entitled “The Things that Make for Peace” published at prayerandpolitiks.org.

People of the Way remain committed to a peculiar allegiance and a distinctive conviction: that all violence, of every sort, is a form of evangelism for the Devil . . . We make this profession of our faith even knowing that we ourselves are not immune from the lust for vengeance. As Cรฉsar Chรกvez, the great practitioner of nonviolent struggle for justice, said: โ€œI am a violent man learning to be nonviolent.โ€

The meek are getting ready. And they welcome the company of any with eyes to see and ears to hear Christโ€™s arising, arousing, and disruptive invitation to join Pentecostโ€™s Resurrection Movement. Now, as much as ever, we are in a โ€œfear notโ€ moment. Wait a weekโ€”Pentecostal power, with its assault on earthโ€™s beleaguered condition and seemingly endless walls of hostility, is coming. Babelโ€™s confused tongues, nationalist claims, conflicting cultures, and racial enmity are being reversed. Lord, send the old-time powโ€™r. [*]

Yes, God. Send the old-time power that inspired us to wage peace, to condemn injustice, to love our enemies. Meet us inside the breezes of Pentecost where Holy Spirit wind and Pentecostal fire will descend upon us once again.ย Grant us the courage to use our power to condemn hostile power, to live into our covenant, and to return to our first love and highest calling: “that sinners be converted and Thy name glorified.”

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

– I Corinthians 12:13, NASB
[*] From the hymnโ€™s refrain, โ€œPentecostal Power,โ€ by Charles H. Gabriel.

Justice Is a Verb!

Design

Surely someone has written about the challenge of being a Christian in these days of political upheaval and societal angst. I need to read such a book. I need to be emboldened to live out my faith, not as a passive bystander, but as a change-agent that insists on peace and justice.

My close friend and colleague in ministry, Wendell Griffen, insists that justice is a verb. His life beckons us to live into what he calls “the fierce urgency of prophetic hope.” In his book of the same name, he asks people of faith to consider this question: “How can we speak of hope in a time of deep divisionโ€”a time too often defined by racism, misogyny, materialism, militarism, religious nationalism, and xenophobia?” *

My faith compels me to find ways to speak hope in these unsettled days, to speak truth to power when people suffer oppression, to care deeply about injustice. As I sit in my home dealing with the inevitable aging that marks my days, I think about the past to a time when advocacy was my passion. I remember ministry in the hospital, at the jail, in child sexual abuse forensic interviews, in courtrooms. I remember the energy of speaking for those who were suffering. I recall a life on the edge that made a difference in people’s lives.

But what about today? How does my faith ennoble me at this time of my life? What is my new normal in service and ministry? In what ways will my voice be heard proclaiming hope, justice and equality?

The following words are written by Dr. Cornel West in his book Democracy Matters: ย Winning the Fight Against Imperialism:

To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely–to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet keep stepping because the something that sustains you, no empire can give you and no empire can take away. This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire. *

I believe there are still battles that I must fight. I believe that the vision and courage of youth remains. I believe that when God calls one to be a prophetic voice, that call is a permanent, lifelong call. My challenge is to keep stepping in the name of love, seeking to do justice, always knowing that God will sustain me.

And the Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your soul in parched places,
and will strengthen your bones;
and youโ€™ll be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Isaiah 58:11, ISV
* The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope, Wendell L. Griffen, 2017: Judson Press,
http://www.judsonpress.com/author.cfm?author_id=894

* Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, Cornel West, 2004: The Penguin Press

We Can Overcome

Design

Young girls run frantically from the sound of a bomb, screaming, crying, confused, and terribly afraid. An evening of sheer joy listening to the music of Ariana Grande had turned into an evening of terror.

In a British music venue, a suicide bomb killed 22 people, some of them children. Eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos lost her life, and 59 other people were wounded, some suffering life-threatening injuries. Many others are still missing.

The response? Muslim men pray for victims of the attack at a mosque in Manchester. Police officers look at flowers and messages left for the victims. A Union Jack flag is lowered at half-mast in honor of the victims. Religious leaders hold a prayer meeting in central Manchester.ย Ariana Grande spoke about the attack: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, I am so so sorry. I don’t have words.”

Is this a portrait of the world we live in? Must we fear for our children and lament the lives they must live? Do we place our faith in a God we sometimes question when tragedies happen?

One of my favorite Scripture passages is also one of the most poignant laments in the Bible. It is found in the fifth chapter of Lamentations. The words express deep mourning and profound loss, leaving the writer asking God, “Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?” The hurting people who had lost everything they cherished cried out . . .

Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.

– Lamentations 5:15, NIV

Sometimes our dancing really does turn to mourning. All of us are acquainted with loss. Our world is a dangerous place, and tragedies like Manchester remind us of our vulnerability. So how do we live? How do we go on? How do people of God live this kind of dangerous life?

The musical group Hillsong sings “This Is How We Overcome.” The song, which is written by Reuben Morgan, echoes the celebration of the Psalmist in the fifth chapter of Psalms.

You have turned my mourning into dancing
You have turned my sorrow into joy.

The song continues with these words.

Your hand lifted me up.ย I stand on higher ground.
Your praise rose through my heart andย made this valley sing.

They sing of the continual presence of God, even in times of deep mourning, profound loss, and grave danger. That kind of song speaks of our faith, a faith that still holds us and always picks us up when we have fallen. Our faith is our resilience.

We can overcome. Every time. Every time life circumstances assail us and steal our music, we persist. We sing. We dance. We praise a God who is eternally near. So let us persevere, always proclaiming the source of our strength.

The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian prays this prayer.

Let us resiliently resume our dancing.
Let us sing louder. Let us speak out voices with determination.

May it be so. Amen.

(Rev. Torigian’s prayer may be found at https://revgalblogpals.org/2017/05/23/tuesday-prayer-95/.)

Telling My Myth

Enlight106

The village of Aperi, Karparthos, Dodecanese, Greece

A myth is a story thatโ€™s told again and again and serves to explain why something is the way it is. (vocabulary.com)

Our stories, the stories that emerge from living our lives, are myths. I tell a number of stories that my grandmother told me, from stories her grandmother told her. My Yiayia shared stories of life joys and life tragedies. She told stories of her losses and her fears. In tears, she told me about weddings and funerals, birthdays and name days. She told stories of faith and worship. She told me about all the ways God ordered her life.

Her stories, from her tiny island of Aperi in Greece to her later years in Alabama, became her life myth. So as I retold her stories and they became mine, my myth. It’s interesting that both my grandmother’s stories and mine tell of loss and pain, of dark moments that indelibly mark life.

Those dark moments make us who we are. They become an eternal part of our myth, our story that is told again and again as the years pass. The myth we tell reveals why ย life is the way it is. The telling is the cleansing that makes life bearable and meaningful. The myth we tell is full of the kind of power that propels us and gives us wings.

The truth is that we are our tragedies, even more than we are our joys. Joseph Campbell writes about the power of myth.

One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

โ€• Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

(From The Edge, a beautifully written blog; https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/contemplative2017-myth-ix/)

I will always tell my myth, because in the telling, I find boldness and perseverance for my life. In the telling, I find inspiration. The myth I tell definitely speaks of “the bottom of the abyss.” It also tells of the transformation that I find in the abyss. My myth proclaims with strong certainty that, in my darkest moments, I always found the light.

The Lord is my light and my salvationโ€”
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my lifeโ€”
of whom shall I be afraid?

– Psalm 27:1, New International Version

Beautiful and Terrible Things

IMG_5469

We live in a world where beautiful things happen every day. The dawn lights the dew of the night. The sun rises and warms the earth. The rain satisfies the thirsty ground. The foliage wears its lush green and the flowers bloom again and again.

Just in my own family new babies will soon be born. We will celebrate two high school graduations. Our young ones, just babies yesterday it seems, will begin college. To be sure, in the world beautiful things happen.

But terrible things will happen, too. A news story tells of an infant being found with almost a hundred rodent bites. An eight year old boy takes his own life. Syrian children are orphaned by war. The United Nations reports more than 14 million Yemenis are going hungry, 370,000 of them children. Certainly, inย this world, terrible things will happen.

I am comforted by these words from Frederick Buechner.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

The challenge to our hearts is to live in the world without fear, to live courageously, to live fully with hope and joy.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

– Isaiah 41:10

Chains

IMG_5468

Chains.

Some folks see a golden necklace with sparkling links. But others see chains as cruel symbols of enslavement. History records thousands of inhumane acts of enslavement. A review of history is about real people whose lives were oppressive, whose chains were heavy, whose slavery was permanent. We remember their lives with a sense of shame and we honor them with genuine repentance.

But we must also bring the reality of chains closer to home as we recall the times of our lives that held us in chains. Serious illnesses. Violent relationships. Troubled children. Careers that became personal enslavement. No, the chains that bound us were not made of steel. Instead, they were chains that bound our very being, holding us fast, oppressing our spirits.

In all of this, there is hope. It is the hope of God’s grace that empowers us to break free. I am reminded of one of my favorite Scripture passages.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

– Galatians 5:1, New International Version

Of one thing I am certain. God does not desire for us a life of enslavement, but graces us with the courage to free ourselves from all that holds us hostage. Life in Christ is not a life of chains. It is a life of freedom to live, to love, and to thrive. Though we may have been hurt by circumstances that left us in chains, our souls can never be chained.

Laurie Halse Anderson writes this in her brilliant novel series, Chains: Seeds of America.

She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She’d already done so . . . I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her.

Please listen to a beautiful arrangement of “Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone” sung by Noteworthy. ย https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA

 

A Living Hope

Design

When an eight year old child takes his own life after being viciously bullied, a mother is left in deep bereavement ย holding a deep sadness that will forever mark her life. Every day, life stories like hers come through on our news feeds. We hear them; we feel a moment of strong empathy; we move on to the next like task.

The reality is that any of us, all of us, may face the worse of life’s pain at any time. None of us is immune to tragedies that turn life upside down. Each of us will at times endure gale force winds that rearrange everything we hold dear.

As always, we are left to figure out how to navigate hard times, how to summon the faith we need to persevere. We must find within ourselves a living hope that cannot be destroyed. Only then will we be able to endure the difficulty life can hand us.

Often, I find wisdom and comfort in the words of Bishop Steven Charleston. This is what he writes about faith during difficult times.

It is hard. Life is hard. The losses, the sudden arrival of illness, the struggles within families, the pressure of a world trying to find a reason to hope. Spirituality that is sugar is no help in such a reality. Feel good philosophy cannot withstand the weight of what many of us have had to face. If it is to endure the gale force winds of chance, faith must be deeply rooted, anchored in trust, strengthened by courage, able to bend but never break. So here is a prayer for all of you living in the real world: may you find your faith as tough as you are and as resilient as the love that keeps you going.

– Steven Charleston

The good news is that God graced us with a resilient faith that perseveres when we endure trials, a living hope that can never fail. Thanks be to God.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,ย who through faith are shielded by Godโ€™s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.ย In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.ย These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faithโ€”of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fireโ€”may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

– I Peter 1:3-7

On Resentment and Bitterness

IMG_5263

Resentment and bitterness . . . emotions we tend to hold on to for years. I have known long bouts of bitterness and resentment in my life. One because of a personal betrayal by someone I trusted. Another, after our home burned. Still another, the many years of resenting my father’s abuse. Each time, bitterness and resentment took over my life for a while.

Someone asked me recently why we tend to hold onto resentment and bitterness, and it made me spend a few minutes pondering that thought. I think we hold on to bitterness and resentment because a part of us believes:

– We are punishing the person/thing that hurt us.
– We deserve to be bitter.
– We don’t have the strength and ability to get past it.
– It feeds our anger. And anger feels better than hurt or sadness.

Paul Valery writes:

Latent in every person is a venom of amazing bitterness, a black resentment; something that curses and loathes life, a feeling of being trapped, of having trusted and been fooled, of being the helpless prey of impotent rage, blind surrender, the victim of a savage, ruthless power that gives and takes away . . . and crowning injury inflicts upon a person the humiliationย of feeling sorry for him/herself.

That is such an ominous thought about bitterness, “a black resentment.” And yet, I am convinced that those who are spiritually and emotionally healthy will hold the bitterness for a while, and then will realize that hanging on to it releases a toxic poison in the soul. When holding on to bitterness, most people really are working through it, and that’s healthy. It would be denial to never feel bitterness at all.

I look at times of bitterness as a season for learning and growing. And although I know from experience that bitterness can take hold of us and have its way, I also know that we can work through it and emerge with renewed peace and just a slight memory of the hurtful experience.

What’s the good in resentment? My answer is that it is a real and raw emotion that must be owned and worked through. The bitterness and resentment will eventually transform into just another life memory that, frankly, may always hurt a little.