This year marks my second Christmas here in Nigeria and, as is the case for so many, it is already feeling very different from last year, which was already different from the year before in my case. And with each year, new traditions are a welcome, and important, part of celebrating Christmas.
One example of a new tradition came about by taking a plain curtain and creating an inverted Christmas tree in the main room of the house. By stringing up twinkle lights, pinning Christmas cards and hanging star decorations made out of aluminum cans, it is a way to share Christmas joy to all who enter this home. And in such a time as this, we can all use a little more of this Christmas joy in our homes and in our lives.
~ Sharon Flaten
How to make star decorations out of aluminum cans:
1. Rinse can well
2. Using a knife, cut the top of the aluminum can off
3. Using scissors, cut strips (½ – 1-inch) lengthwise down to the bottom
4. Take a pencil/pen and tightly wrap every other strip around it (can do other patterns too!)
5. Cut a hole in one of the long strips using a nail and hammer; thread string/ribbon through to hang!
During our virtual worship on August 2, 2020, Sue Overman shared a story, entitled, “A Picture of Peace” (author unknown.) After hearing that story, Melody Pinacoli created a piece of digital art to illustrate the story. That image is below, followed by the story Sue shared.
There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.
One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest in perfect peace.
Which picture do you think won the prize? The King chose the second picture. Do you know why?
‘Because’ explained the King, ‘peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.’
Highlights of just some of the people from our congregation who served in Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) over the decades. This piece was created and produced by Lisa Houff as part of BWCOB’s virtual worship service on Sunday, August 16, 2020.
A dozen Brethren voices collaborate together to bring us the beloved and classic hymn: Great is thy Faithfulness. Produced by the Arlington COB, July 25, 2020. You may notice some familiar faces (and spaces)!
A series of poems written and performed by Kay M Bowman.
Rachel Brown reflects on the work of her garden for BWCOB Virtual Worship on July 19, 2020.
Video produced by Lisa Houff.
This wilderness posting comes from Greg Davidson Laszakovits, one of the pastors of the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren in Pennsylvania, where the Nornhold family are now members. May his words speak into the void of our broken hearts on this day when we grieve the death of Seth Nornhold, age 16, who spent several of his childhood years with us in Bridgewater.
A Virtual Hymn originally performed for BWCOB Sunday Morning Virtual Worship 6/21/2020. Produced by Jon Wilson.
by Steve Longenecker
(This post was originally shared on the website for The Brethren Church [Ashland]. You can find it, and learn more about the Ashland Brethren, by visiting https://www.brethrenchurch.org/articles-stories/do-something?fbclid=IwAR29duG_3P08mh6BEBZN9ey1NvC0OyWPW-D8mCIb2dEPPOowCrJdKzydjmw)
Repeatedly, the gospel calls us to do something. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Forgive seven times seventy. Do something.
Jesus was a doer. He walked on water, fed the multitude, and forgave the woman at the well. He rose from the dead.
Doing something is critical to the salvation process. Come and take the water of life without cost.
Adam and Eve were the first to demonstrate human capacity. (Try not to mess up like they did!)
The unfortunate decisions in Eden notwithstanding, the Brethren tradition places high priority on human ability. Alexander Mack, Sr., stressed obedience to God’s law and separation from the “unclean,” a blunt call to do something. Mack’s son, Alexander “Sander” Mack, Jr., went further, affirming that “yet might e’en the greatest sinner, If he would for love make place, Enable love to be the winner/And give himself life’s highest grace,” [emphasis added], a stark endorsement of human ability.
John Kline, the great Brethren Civil War era preacher and martyr, agreed on the importance of human ability. Kline quoted Paul, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and Spirit” (II Corinthians 7:1), and he suggested that sinners are free to love whatever they choose just as young women are free to love whomever they choose (i.e., young women select their husbands). Humans, he concluded, “have work to do.”
Often, however, we overlook the ability to do something. Admittedly, much is beyond human control, especially in these times. We are advised to trust God, then all will be fine, or to accept that God controls everything. This perspective, however, neglects the human ability to make choices and to control, at least partially, fate. Just as believers choose to follow Jesus, they make other decisions that matter, too. As Kline suggested, humans have work to do; they can do something.
Humans do something when they act collectively. Governments, for example, have responded to the virus differently, and their decisions matter. Only individuals bound together in a social contract can provide adequate testing. Also, individual political leadership makes a difference; one classic example is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s contrast with Herbert Hoover.
Those of us who do not hold office also have an impact. Social responsibility versus social irresponsibility is a choice. Individuals can wash hands, wear masks, practice distancing, and stay home. This impacts us and God’s children around us.
Finally, and most importantly, believers can do some of the very specific acts that Jesus urged. With all due respect to prayer, which is powerful, Jesus did not counsel prayer for the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, the poorly clothed, the sick, and the imprisoned. Instead, he urged feeding them, giving them water, welcoming them, clothing them, caring for them, and visiting them. The needy only get fed, quenched, welcomed, etc., when we do something.
Surely some will misunderstand these words as a disparagement of prayer, which is not the intent at all, but check Matthew 25:34-46. The instruction is to do something.
Admittedly, some suffer from the crisis more than others. Some entered the virus-era already in difficult circumstances, and many more have lost health or employment in the last few weeks. Again, we can control some things but not everything. In the COVID-world some are just luckier than others. God’s will is clear: the lucky should do something for the unlucky.
Do something practical. Challenge yourself; read something that will make you better.
Call somebody who needs a good listener or just a contact. Send a note or text expressing support. Donate; check-writing or entering a credit card number may seem quick and sterile, but often it is the most effective way to express God’s love.
Not sure what to do? Pray about it, and God will reply promptly with a suggestion. God is a doer, too, and does not tarry in response.
Doing something won’t change the basic situation, for the virus is a true disaster, but it will bring you closer to God¸ which is a step forward. It helps.
|(The following “PrayerNote” comes from Oasis Ministries for Spiritual Development)|
Juneteenth—Black Independence Day
On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, enslaved African-Americans were told by the Union army they were free. It was two and a half years after President Lincoln gave his Emancipation Proclamation. Texas was the site of the last skirmish of the Civil War and the last state to receive the Emancipation Proclamation.
The image above is a diagram of the ‘Brookes’ slave ship, c. 1801. It was an image used widely in the abolitionist movement. I enter prayer with it before me this day and this poem from Lucille Clifton (1936-2010). “Jesus,” “Angel,” and “Grace of God” were the names of slave ships.
loaded like spoons
into the belly of Jesus
where we lay for weeks for months
in the sweat and stink of our own
why do you not protect us
chained to the heart of the Angel
where the prayers we never tell
are hot and red as our bloody ankles
can these be men
who vomit us out from ships
called Jesus Angel Grace of God
onto a heathen country
can this tongue speak
can this bone walk
Grace of God
can this sin live
In an interview for the Antioch Review Clifton said: “Writing is a way of continuing to hope…perhaps for me it is a way of remembering I am not alone.” When asked how she would like to be remembered Clifton said: “I would like to be seen as a woman whose roots go back to Africa, who tried to honor being human. My inclination is to try to help.” To read more on Lucille Clifton and her award-winning poetry go to: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/lucille-clifton
To learn more about Oasis, visit https://www.oasismin.org/
by Kathy Fuller Guisewite
June 7, 2020
I am a walker.
Short walks are fine,
but those long walks out in the countryside
Thirty minutes out
and my mind is still busy
with top layer thoughts.
An hour into the walk,
my breath and my feet are finding
and my brain is beginning to dig
deeper, leaving what is surface
and meandering down into
feelings and understandings.
Walking enables my body
to take the lead,
to silence what is unnecessary
and welcome mystery and wisdom
that are both beyond
the confines of my mind.
in these walking shoes,
under a sky so full of hope,
truths find me,
truths that remind me of
the steadfastness of all that
God created as good.
Air. Light. Fields of gold and green.
Mountains. Valleys. Wildflowers.
Deer. Cattle. Birds and Bunnies.
We are all right here,
looking each other in the eye,
and standing present to this day
as we are.
They are not me.
I am not them,
and yet we arrive to ourselves
and our interdependence daily.
At an hour and half in,
I arrive to the Healing Tree.
She’s just an ordinary tree by
the side of the road.
but when I see her,
when I lean on her and look out on
the mountains as she does all the time,
I feel stronger.
I feel like maybe we humans
will figure out how to be at peace
with one another just as the
fence is at peace with the field
and the breeze is at peace
with the summer maple leaves.
Maybe we can come to know
like the creek bed knows her whisperings
and the lone hawk knows his callings.
Maybe once we know ourselves
beyond our surface layers,
we can also grow to value
the goodness inside of us.
I feel this nudge while under
the Healing Tree…
that we shall always struggle with
peace among humanity
until we each make peace
in our own hearts…
that peace that believes
we are here by love and for love…
and that we are, truly, created in the image of Love.
After I place my hand on the
Healing Tree and bless her
and our God for the visit,
I journey on for the next thirty minutes.
I hear. I see. I smell. I breathe.
Soon I hear a runner coming up
It makes me smile to know
just passed the Healing Tree,
that someone else
is finding joy in this blue sky morning.
He comes even with me
on the opposite side of the road,
makes eye contact, smiles, waves
and keeps on his way.
His brown skin was glistening
in the sun.
His young body was full of energy
Soon after this exchange,
I turned down the road
that leads me back towards
The honeysuckle was in
full blossom, and I breathed
deeply to honor such a sweet gift.
Again, I became aware of a runner
coming from behind me.
The pace and gait were different from
the first runner.
I guessed it might be the gentleman
I often encounter on my
early morning walks.
He is much older than me,
and his beautiful eyes
remind me of my own daughter’s eyes…
dark and almond shaped.
it was him.
He delightfully came up beside me,
pointed to the heavens,
“Looks like we are in for a
“I do believe you are right,” I responded
as he went on his way.
As I rounded the woodland knoll
that takes me to the hill
that winds me around to my own street,
that concludes my morning walk,
I prayed blessings upon those two
blessings upon their stories, their lives,
and their own quests
towards love and healing.
And I prayed that God would keep
carving out in me
a path that enables me to
work and walk and live
and dream and love
in the ways that make for peace.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life. You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”
Check out more of Kathy’s work in her “Ponderings” blog:
A Hymn for our time in the Wilderness…
As we travel along this road in our modern Wilderness, many of us have found comfort and solace in music. Our “stay-at-home” has provided time for exploring music in ways which we may not have experienced during a busier period in our lives. The simple, quiet music of the mountain dulcimer can be soothing for some; here is a hymn from our guest bedr… uh, temporary recording studio: Jesus Loves Me
Read on for a little history of the mountain dulcimer, which is an American instrument, born in the hills and “hollers” of Appalachia….
As immigrants entered our country from Germany, Ireland, Scandinavia, and other home countries, many arriving at the port of Philadelphia, they often began a journey of resettling in communities where they found similar families and similar heritages. In the 1700’s, this often involved moving further west or south, and settling in areas where land could be purchased. The path traveled by these settlers, and their horses and wagons, passed through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, and it was here that the mountain or lap dulcimer was born, along with a style of playing that incorporated music of their home countries. Ballads, love songs, lullabies and hoe-downs all are part of this musical heritage.
Beloved instruments from their home countries were usually not brought along; exceptions may have been small ones such as the violin, the fretted zither, scheitholt or German Hummel. So new instruments were created, modeled from these instruments from “home,” often made from materials that could be easily found on a homestead or farm. By the mid-1700’s mountain dulcimers were being made in “Old Virginia” (what is now Virginia and West Virginia) and by the mid-1800’s, a variation of this instrument had evolved in Galax, Virginia, made by the Melton family of musicians.
Mountain dulcimers usually have three or four strings, and are often played in a “drone” style, with two strings acting as the drone, with melody played on the upper one or two strings. Musician Jean Ritchie brought the mountain dulcimer from her home in the hills of Viper, Kentucky, to New York City as a social worker in the 1950’s. This began a growth of interest in traditional music and, as a result, a resurgence of the dulcimer, which is still continuing to be played today.
Today’s “In the Wilderness” posting is a reprise from Sunday’s virtual worship service – Terry Houff singing his rendition of Thomas Dorsey’s “Peace in the Valley.”
by Claire Martindale, 2020
Gabe bounced out of Sunday School
wearing the craft of the day – a strip
of paper encircling his head. Instead
of feathers he’d stuck jagged red paper cutouts
along the front with a stubby glue stick.
Tongues of fire for Pentecost Sunday.
I envied the little boy.
I wanted a paper headdress to wear,
my own tongues of fire, like the disciples,
to signify the holy touch of God’s Spirit.
It was the birth of Christ’s church, they say.
Flickering flames blown in by a violent wind
then separating to rest above the followers’ heads.
Unschooled in any but their own Galilean
dialect, Jesus’ friends began to speak
the tongue of each person in the crowd.
Over a dozen languages, Luke counted.
Like a favorite cap identifying my team,
I want something to show whom I follow,
to proclaim my own encounter
with the Holy Spirit of God.
I sat during worship that morning studying
the stained glass above the choir.
There a dove lowers its head, plunging
toward us with fiery red shards on either side.
I’ve never glimpsed flames above the heads
of other followers. Never seen the dove sitting
atop their shoulders, murmuring.
Is it because the Spirit moves like wind,
invisible to our eyes?
What I have seen is where the spirit-wind
has been, seen the marks it left,
encountered people whose lives were blown
into order by that holy zephyr.
Can I dare hope that others see
the wind-blown parts of me?
Instead of wearing paper cutouts
I’ll watch the clouds sail
and kite tails dance and trees
rustle, seeing where the God
of fire and wind stirs,
working miracles today.
This week’s “In the Wilderness” features the music of the Manchester University A Capella Choir.
Be on the lookout for a familiar face in this virtual choir!
Our latest contribution comes from our Library, and is shared by Peggy Lineweaver. It is a 25 minute video titled “Come and See” that was recorded in 1998, just as our congregation was preparing to make the move up the hill to our current location. As Peggy noted, it features lots of familiar faces, past and present!
by Kathy Fuller Guisewite
Today we pray for mothers…
For Grandmothers who have blessed us with their wisdom and love.
Thank You, God, for the warm feelings that rise when we think of Grandmothers
and the gift of parents they bore for us.
We pray for our own Mother…
For the safe journey through her body out into this wondrous life,
and for all the love shown, given, and shared.
Thank You for this cherished soul…
for her life, her living, her love.
We pray this day for birthmothers and
for adoptive mothers who are connected by a child they both love.
We pray for wholeness in their mothering and love so wide
that spaces of sorrow will give way to peace.
We pray also, God, for foster mothers who take into their homes and hearts
children so in need of comfort and steadiness.
Bless these souls who touch lives deeply and who love so freely.
Bless mothers who weep today…
out of loss ~
loss of their own Mom,
loss of a baby or the hope of ever giving birth,
loss of a child through illness or an act of violence.
Wrap Your loving arms around these women and comfort them
as only You can.
And we pray Your blessings on the new Moms.
Bless those who carry precious life within their bodies still…
give them health and strength and wisdom.
And for those who celebrate their first Mother’s Day with a babe in arms…
Bless them with great joy, thankful hearts, renewed energy, and a mother’s love that
will carry them with grace through the years ahead.
Bless mothers who struggle in their relationships with their children.
Bless step-mothers who become mothers at the same time they become wives.
Wrap them in Your wisdom and give them strong, yet tender hearts.
Bless single mothers who carry the load.
Bless teenage mothers with loving entities who will guide them, comfort them, and
encourage them to be strong, loving moms.
We thank You, this day, for other women in our lives who have mothered us and
who have shown us Your love.
Thank You for coming to us in feminine ways …
for tender hands,
for nurturing souls,
for practical minds, and
for hearts that break only to then
grow larger and deeper in their loving.
Keep making us, Dear God, into children of Your Spirit and Your love.
Thank You for entrusting us with the abilities to be mothers and children.
Help us to go forth in this day to offer
Your mothering spirit to each person we meet.
So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. – 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NRSV)
Even in this moment of our apartness, we gather as a people of God, drawn together in faith. Perhaps our individuality is uncomfortably stark as we find ourselves alone. Maybe we are sharing a space with those who are closest to us and we behold them with greater depth. As diverse as we are, we rejoice in good hope together. Even when the crevices of life challenge our faith, the goodness of hope nurtures us. Our faith finds a way to pull God’s nourishment from even the most challenging cracks in the security of this world.
(If you are sharing space with someone, you might consider praying these words in a litany fashion.)
As we open our lives to your nourishing power, O God, may we recognize the joy and peace you offer.
May the goodness of hope guide our thoughts.
As we strive to find ways to serve the world you have made, O God, lead us to compassion that transcends distances.
May the goodness of hope guide our service.
Help us, O God, to remember the many who are in need, that they will not be forgotten.
May the goodness of hope drive our mercy and benevolence.
O God, may our discipleship be lifted from our aloneness to new heights, as we redefine the Christlike patterns of our lives.
May the goodness of hope reflect Jesus Christ in us.
As we pray as one people in spirit, O God, empower us to be a living church.
May the goodness of hope give us strength and comfort as a people of faith. Amen.
~Mike Fike, BWCOB Member
In the quiet of the morning may we know your presence, O God.
At the beginning of the day may our souls be alive to your nearness.
Amidst the tiredness that overcomes our bodies and the tensions that linger in our
Amidst the uncertainties and fears that await us today,
may we know your presence, O God.
Let our souls be alive to your nearness.
-adapted from Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter
Shared by Judy Henneberger
Today’s “in the Wilderness” was submitted by Dale Flaten. This reflection and music is shared by a friend of Dale’s, Rebecca Peterson Sullivan. Becky and Dale were in Cameroun at boarding school back in the mid-1960s, and also were together at Hillcrest School in Jos, Nigeria. Dale’s writes, “Children of the Heavenly Father is a piece of music which is also part of my growing up, as my father was deeply rooted in the Swedish Lutheran Church, and this hymn brings back warm memories of my visiting my grandmother’s church. May it be a blessing to all who listen.”
Thank you, Dale!
Today, April 22, is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day with the Creation Justice Ministries’ theme:
The Fierce Urgency of Now, based on the Martin Luther King quote:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
As we pray for our world and our climate on this day, I invite you to read and consider the following excerpts, written by Shantha Ready Alonso who serves as Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries … (creationjustice.org)
Each region of the country is feeling the climate crisis differently, but it has become hard to deny it is impacting us all. So often, people who did the least to contribute to our climate emergency are suffering the most. Yet, our public policymakers have been slow to respond, and most have not upheld their commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. In fact, the United States is currently poised to be the only country in the world to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. …
A mere two months ago, collective, urgent global action for climate justice at the required scale seemed almost unimaginable. However, in the midst of the profound tragedy and suffering of the COVID-19 pandemic, I see a glimmer of hope. In response to an existential threat to our collective health and safety, it really is possible for people to dramatically change their individual behaviors, for businesses to shift their practices, and for policy-makers to take bipartisan collective action to address an existential threat.
As our individual actions as well as public policies help “flatten the curve” of the virus’ spread, the challenge to transform society in the spirit of the Fierce Urgency of Now seems more possible than ever. Yes, in the midst of the collective action, greed, apathy and racism persist. The socioeconomic, gender, and racial inequities in the COVID-19 pandemic are heartbreaking. Yet, the inertia of the entrenched old systems are profoundly interrupted, and we are called to bring about something new.
If we look back over the course of the last 50 years, there have been many milestones, including the passage of bedrock environmental laws, the naming and awakening to environmental racism issues, and the commitment to honor God’s creation in our prayers as well as actions. In 2030, I firmly believe that we will look back at 2020 as the definitive turning point in humanity’s relationship with the rest of God’s creation.
In our 2020 Earth Day Sunday materials, we speak of this crucial decade-to-come as a kairos moment for God’s creation. In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus declares, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The Greek word for time in this context is kairos, a term that signifies the fulfillment of the right action at the right moment. In the New Testament, the coming of Jesus is what the apostle Paul describes as the fullness of time. In this kairos moment for God’s creation, we are developing new awareness of God’s saving grace at work among and through us, for the redemption of all of creation.
We are honoring the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in a very unique moment. Most of us are confined to our homes. Some of us are experiencing intense personal challenges. Let us make this a transformative time, and find strength in individual as well as collective (virtual) prayer.
Matthew 27:45-54 (NRSV)
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Matthew 26:36-47 (NRSV)
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.
Matthew 26:14-16 (NRSV)
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Matthew 26:6-13 (NRSV)
Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Matthew 21:23 (NRSV)
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Matthew 21:12-13 (NRSV)
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.
Matthew 21:1-11 (NRSV)
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”
The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
On March 17, at the beginning of this “season of wilderness,” new friend of Bridgewater Church of the Brethren, Melody Pinacoli, wrote to Pastors Chris and Christy. She has granted us permission to share some of her writing with you. I hope you find it as meaningful as I did!
– Pastor Christy Dowdy
After one of life’s unplanned “detours”, I chose to reassess and reset my life. An important part of that was seeking a positive, loving, and action oriented community from whom I hoped to learn how to improve myself and my approach to life. I was drawn to your community [Bridgewater Church of the Brethren] by its courageous embrace of all people, recognizing all people as equally valuable and worthy of love. I also was very impressed and intrigued by how your community translates love and positivity into tangible, practical actions both locally and afar. What a great group of mentors and role models for me to learn from as I work to improve how I can approach life in a more positive and constructive manner. I really appreciate many aspects of your community and am humbled by all of the good works your community has engaged in over its history.
As I was exploring and learning about your community, I observed your open and transparent references to the painful division it was experiencing over differences in opinion regarding how to embrace, or not, some groups of people and individuals, and whether or not that conflicts with one’s personal interpretation of what God desires of us. While this division and struggle is not unique to your community, what did seem unique, and what intrigued me in a positive and optimistic way, was the manner in which you seemed to be addressing the issue. I appreciated the transparent, deliberate, and respectful way your congregation seemed to be approaching the challenge. I was deeply moved by the worry and concern being expressed about the division and pain that this issue was causing and by the concern about its ultimate impact on your community. I felt the worry and uncertainty about the future direction of the congregation; who would lead it, in what direction, and, importantly, who would still remain a part of it? It was clear that there was hurt and grieving over losses of leaders and community members. There was something else that was also evident, though. It was evident that, as a community, you were approaching the issue with courage, openness, love, respect, deep reflection, and also with practical, positive actions.
I wasn’t sure how long I would be a part of your congregation’s journey. For me, I believe that all people are equally valuable, equally deserving of love, and that God would not ask us to exclude other fellow humans nor hold to a spiritual “hierarchy” of some people being intrinsically inferior to others in some way. I know that I wish to walk with others who believe similarly. I would like to learn how to better express these ideals in my own life. I am not sure how your community will ultimately resolve its questions around this topic, or what its ultimate impact will be on your congregation. I am, however, hopeful and optimistic that you will find a way to come out of this challenge together as a community, stronger in your communal bonds, and with an even deeper appreciation and understanding of your spirituality and faith. I am deeply humbled to witness your community’s journey through this stretch of spiritual “wilderness”. I am optimistic because you have taught me that you are a community of individuals who approach challenges with courage, love, creativity, and a positive practicality.
I had decided to continue to walk along this journey with your community and see where it would lead. Then, an additional unforeseen challenge appeared. As the new coronavirus surprised the world community and knocked everyone off balance, and as it continues to spread and attack vulnerable individuals and communities, we have all been suddenly confronted with our own mortality, that of our loved ones, and that of all members of our community in a way that we seem totally unprepared for. How lucky we have been in this country to not have faced such a grave problem in recent decades. The majority of us cannot remember facing a worldwide problem of this magnitude or severity. How cruelly ironic it is that just when individuals most need the benefit of close human contact, it is the very thing that may endanger themselves, their loved ones, or other community members. How unfair that people who really need to feel connected and supported (our elderly, people facing illnesses, people living in institutions) will now be even more physically and socially isolated. They need “social distancing” to protect their health and safety just when they need the opposite emotionally and socially. The additional fear, worry, and loneliness that so many people may be experiencing makes my heart ache. It also makes me think of Jesus in the garden, in his time of profound loneliness, asking those closest to him to “stay awake” and to accompany him in his time of great stress as he faced what was to come with profound humanness. I wonder how we can both protect the health and safety of our community members while still helping those that are most isolated to feel comforted and connected? The uncertainties of the course of this pandemic make it difficult to predict or fully appreciate its short-term and long-term impact on each of us as individuals and on our larger communities. The media reports the numbers of critically ill and deceased as statistics, but, in our heads, shouldn’t we understand them as individual grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, spouses, friends, and neighbors? I wonder what each of their individual journeys were like as they transformed from a loved one to a “statistic”? The numbers are important for understanding the magnitude of the crisis and to plan strategies to confront it. However, we can’t let them blind us to the unique individuals behind each of those numbers or the power we have to support each other in this journey.
As I am sure your community has also been doing, I have been wondering what we can do to support each other. How can we affirm our human connection as unique and valuable persons living in community, and not just as a series of statistics separated into the categories of the “safe”, “vulnerable”, “ill”, “recovered”, and “deceased” and further disaggregated by country, region, and city. If we can’t tackle the problem with our best tool, close human contact, what creative strategies can we adapt until we can again touch and embrace those that most need it? ….
With the assumption that appropriate steps to protect physical health are taken (i.e. appropriate physical distance, disinfection of objects, etc.), here are some “outside the box” ideas that may help people feel connected and lift spirits, especially those in some form of quarantine: [Melody had several great ideas; I’ve edited in order to shorten, and many of you have already done some of these creative ideas!]
- Take a cue from Italy and hold mini-serenades for those that can’t leave their residence. One person, or a small group of people who arrive in separate transportation and remain separated by appropriate distance, could serenade from outside to those inside. Instrumental performances could also be fun and uplifting.
- Pop up art galleries. Uplifting and/or fun art could be displayed at a safe distance, but visible to those “shut-in”.
- Temporary signs of support and encouragement posted in yards of those who can’t leave their residence. I always remember when I looked outside my classroom window on my birthday and saw my mother and her friend holding up a “Happy Birthday” sign. Quick and easy, but nice to be surprised with.
- Research a few safe interactive game Apps that community members could play online with each other (e.g. chess, word games)
I do know that any strategies that help people to actively and positively face this crisis will help result in a much healthier overall outcome for ourselves and our community. The worse response is feeling that all we can do is self-isolate helpless and alone in our own little worlds waiting for the unknown to happen.
Thank you to all of your members, past and present, for creating such a positive, courageous, and loving community. You do not have to be a perfect community to be an amazing community. I hope that you never give up on yourselves or each other. “The humanity that binds us is always greater than that which divides us.” I don’t remember who first said that, but I wholeheartedly agree.
Brett Eye offers his acoustic rendition of “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant” live from his living room.
by Kathy Guisewite, photographer and author
Before you put your weary
soul to bed each night,
open the window.
Let the hush of the day
blanket your rest.
Let the night light of stars
rest easy on your
Now is the time for rest,
for the cool balm of quiet
to mend you.
And come morning,
come the blue of dawn rising up
out of the dark of night,
let the bird songs anoint you,
moist and hopeful.
Let their innocent joy
seep into your waking
so that as you rise,
and in gratitude.
Open the window,
and welcome this anointing
from the arms of God.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matt. 5:14).
We learned from Pastor Christy last Sunday that God’s strength is always sufficient. Jesus gives sight to all in need who ask and seek.
This is true. God does not promise that life will always be easy, as we currently know all too well, but God’s always gives sight. In fact, sight or, put another way, God’s presence within us, comes readily. God does not play with humans by offering a promise and providing the ability to receive it, then placing obstacles in its way or yanking it away just as humans draw near, like a vaudeville trickster with a dollar bill on a string. Instead, to paraphrase Revelation 22:17, the water of life is available to anyone who thirsts. Right now, all of us are very thirsty, and the water is to be had.
We should act like we know it. In our daily lives, we should carry ourselves as if we realize that God is with us. A city on hill just cannot be hidden. True, currently this is more difficult because all of us are struggling. But deep down we know that the water of life courses through our veins, and this knowledge should be apparent to those who encounter us. Almost certainly, hard times lie ahead, but we should try not to let it get us down too much. Tell yourself that “this little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.” Once we decide to let it shine, it will mostly just happen naturally. When we know that God is with us, that God’s strength is sufficient, and that God gives sight to all who seek, the light blinks on naturally, and it cannot be hidden.
At least, this is how it happens normally. In these times, if we let a light shine that fits the context, we help. For now, do what you can. And, whatever else, don’t let your light go out.
For your listening pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk2CzmYjx2A
~Steve Longenecker, BWCOB Moderator