Tag Archives: community

A Sermon for Pentecost

Genesis 11 verses 1-9

Acts 2 verses 1-21

 

In days lost in the mists of time and myth, the people of the world got above themselves, overreached themselves, and attempted to scale the heights that, we’re told, were the domain of the Almighty.

Their God was angry with them; furious at their wicked ambitions, and raged against their Tower that attempted to pierce the very fabric of his heavenly dwelling.

So…. he brought them crashing to the ground and muddled and confused their language, so that they couldn’t communicate with each other.  Now, instead of unity, there was a Babel of confusing voices.

image

Pieter Bruegel – The Tower of Babel

We move on….. in the early years of the third decade (CE), many people from all over the known world, speaking in different tongues, were together in Jerusalem for a type of Harvest Festival.

Suddenly, something remarkable happened.  And they turned to each other, saying “…these Galileans. How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?……

…..They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”  (“The Message” paraphrase)

below: “Descent of the Holy Spirit” by El Greco

image

 

Come now to the middle of last Century…… and to the former East Berlin:

The Communist authorities – to “get one over” the West during the Cold War – built a giant television transmission tower, which rose magnificently above the skyline of that sector of the City.  Built to impress and to provoke envy.

Just below the summit of this tower was a revolving restaurant.

What a spectacular structure it was – intended to be a showcase to annoy the West.

However, a design fault turned it into a bit of an embarrassment; whenever the sun hit the structure at a certain angle, the tower had the appearance of a huge shimmering cross!

Frantic attempts were made to repaint the tower – to blot out the cross – but with little success.

In Jerusalem in 32/33 or thereabouts, those in authority thought that they could blot out the Christian movement which was being built up, following Christ’s crucifixion.

They didn’t, of course, succeed.

Instead it grew spectacularly…….

…..beginning on that day of wonder and amazement: Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised, “zapped” the Apostles gathered in the Holy City……and transformed them.

This rag-bag of rather disorganised human beings were touched by Heaven itself.  Changed from a disparate bunch into a single body of witnesses which we now know as the Church.

Today we celebrate a birthing – that of a new community – with one thing in common: a mutual love of Jesus Christ.

What a hodgepodge collection of odds and ends of folk they were.

Look at the roll call from the 1st chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:  amongst them a “Rock” who crumbled under pressure, a so-called “Son of Thunder” such was his fiery temperament, a man who had doubted, a former tax collector, a freedom fighter….. members of Christ’s family who probably were still puzzled as to what this was all about, a clutch of women who were essentially viewed as second class citizens….. oh, and poor Matthaias, drafted in to replace Judas Iscariot, and who was probably wondering what he’d let himself into.

But they were a group, a fellowship, a new community of believers – and that transcended any barriers that might have separated each from the other.  Congregated through their love of Jesus, bound together by the Spirit.

Look around you today – look at the person in front of you, and behind, and across the aisle.  You’re all different.. with different backgrounds…of different ages…and so on.  But part of the same Body.

We, whoever we are or wherever we come from, are united, drawn together through our common love of Christ.

 

image

 

Note this too (@ verse 4)  “They were ALL filled with the Holy Spirit”

ALL

There’s nothing exclusive or discrimatory about that precious gift.

{it annoys me when looking at some of the Pentecostal, fundamentalist, literalist and independent congregations whose “pastors” – usually a married couple – have been especially “anointed” –  claiming to have been especially “touched” by God. This anointing allows them to hold a God-ordained authority amidst a group of believers and to give a greater blessing to their opinions.  And many of them make a lot of $$$$$ out of their divinely appointed and approved status. “Touched by and infused with the Spirit” – you know the kind of thing?!!}

Those gathered that momentous day in Jerusalem, were, each and every one of them, brought together, understanding what God had in store for them.  Now, theirs was a common language, the language of faith, trust, and belief in the might of God who knows no boundaries, and who has no favourites – no, not even the specially “anointed” leaders of some contemporary gullible flocks.

So…it’s an old story, overlaid with symbolism and metaphor.

Today, with the General Assembly starting in six days time, where is the fire, the zeal, the enthusiasm that drove the Church for centuries?

You know, when I was ordained in 1974, the Kirk had about 1 million members.  Looking at the latest statistics (31 December 2015), I see that we’re down to something like 363,500+. That’s some drop in numbers.

I remember – sometime in the late 1980s, a guest speaker at my then Presbytery (Lothian) charting the probable decline in membership numbers.  He said – to great guffawing – that Edinburgh Presbytery (adjacent to that of Lothian) would have no members by 2029, and would effectively disappear; a pause…..”And you’re next in 2030!”

Why are we in retreat?  I wish and pray that I knew (and I’ve pored over many church-sociology books). Are we being sidetracked by matters that, though important, will eventually sort themselves out, such as SSM, Biblical interpretation (very much tied in with the first), too manyv buildings (the C of S has £millions in its property portfolio.) and so on.

Instead of “being Church”, should we not be “doing” Church?  Feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, reaching out to the marginalised?

Only the Spirit will guide and draw us together in a common cause – whatever God decrees that to be.

We began this morning with a TV tower in the former East Germany.  It’s usually the tradition on this Pentecost Sunday to refer to another tower – that of the Tower of Babel

Genesis tells us that prior to the construction of this tower, all people could communicate, insofar as they spoke the same language.  God, we are told, “muddled” all this up, because of the people’s “pride”

Would it not have been better if all people who on earth do dwell understood each other, with a common tongue? Aye, but this is the interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, to make sense – in their limited way – to describe why we all speak in different tongues.

Whatever, this interpretation of what happened on the day of Pentecost reverses the situation – quaint and metaphorical it may appear.

OK – what of us today?

We are people of the Spirit.  Big deal!  What do we do with it?

How do we put it into practice?

Here’s something that may sum it up…

Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War diary:

“of all the forms of charity and benevolence seen in the crowded wards of the hospitals, those of some Catholic Sisters were the most efficient

“I never knew whence they came or what was the name of their Order

“More  lovely than anything I have ever seen in art…are the pictures of those modest Sisters, going on their errands of mercy among the suffering and the dying

“Gently…yet with the courage of soldiers..they went from cot to cot….They were veritable angels of mercy”

Our kind of revived witness?  Pentecost calls us from separation into community; from selfish individualism into fellowship with everyone.

It’s this kind of witness that the Holy Spirit has called us……are we – together – hearing its call?

 

 

 

 

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At that hour: dealing with death

 from the Independent

Why our Irish compatriots ‘do death’ better than us

KATHERINE BUTLER 
  

TUESDAY 03 SEPTEMBER 2013

     
     
     
     
     
     
 
 
 
 
Early one morning, a year ago this month, the thing I’d always dreaded happening, happened. My mother had gone to bed the night before seeming fine, but suffered a massive stroke in her sleep. In a blur of tears and panic, I packed a few things and rushed to Heathrow, willing her to stay alive, at least until I got to the hospital in Ireland.

Three days later, my siblings and I were standing in the family home, next to an open coffin, shaking hands with people who queued down the street to offer sympathy. For nearly four hours, they came. By magic, the kitchen had filled with a small army of volunteers making sandwiches and tea, and passing around plates of apple tart.

By the time we buried my mother at the end of that August week, hundreds of people had arrived or been in contact and we’d experienced an outpouring of warmth, support, affection – and food. We could have filled the freezer several times with the home-made cakes, scones and casseroles that simply arrived. One person appeared at the front door and handed in a side of fresh salmon prepared on a baking tray dotted with lemon and dill. “Twenty-five minutes, hot oven,” is all she said, before rushing off.

Back in England, individual friends or colleagues who had themselves experienced bereavement wrote me letters or made phone calls so empathic they were heartbreaking. But for many others it was as if nothing had happened. I began to wonder if, for the English, death was either a private matter which would be indecent or even embarrassing to refer to, or that they had no idea what to say. Another possibility is they simply didn’t know.

In Ireland, passing on the news quickly is considered an important part of the response to death and this is not just in villages or small towns. My brother received a letter of condolence from the chief executive of the very large organisation he works for. It is standard practice for HR departments to send an email around when someone loses a family member. My boss in London had been very supportive, but I thought guiltily of work colleagues whose parents or spouses may have died and whose loss I had failed to acknowledge. Yet unless they had worn a black armband, how would anyone in a big workplace even know of their sorrow?

The Irish are not known for being any less emotionally repressed than their British neighbours but they do death very well. Funerals come with up to three opportunities for mourners to show up: there’s the waking of the body, which is often in the home, the “removal” to the church, and, on the final day, a funeral mass and burial followed by a reception or meal.

My friends in the UK asked me about the open coffin with a mix of fascination and horror. I didn’t tell them how my mother’s grandchildren had knelt up on chairs to get a proper look, and to place drawings beside her, or how we’d rearranged her fringe because the undertaker had made it too fussy.

To English friends, it all “sounded ghastly”. But perhaps they are used to a culture where death remains taboo even when it’s staring you in the face. One UK friend’s mother died in her fifties after a short illness. “You are invited to the funeral,” he’d said very formally. I knew that the family members were devastated but it struck me as rather sad that only a handful of people were there as they said goodbye to her. Perhaps they could not bear to feel pitied.

In Ireland, it is considered unsupportive not to show up if you know either the dead person or their family. This has much more to do with community, and perhaps psychology, than with faith. Many Irish people are now Catholics in name only but the rituals that have evolved endure and are, in my view, worth hanging on to.

Such rituals equip people with perhaps formulaic but extremely useful things to say and ways in which to act. They don’t need to ask, “Is there anything I can do?” – they know what the routine is so they just do it. One family I know awoke the day of the wake to find a neighbour hoovering their stairs. Embarrassment doesn’t come into it.

My mother died in the busy stroke unit at an overstretched hospital but nurses behaved in keeping with what is a profound, almost sacred moment for the family. They lit candles and placed a Celtic “triskele” (a pre-Christian symbol of life, death and rebirth) on the door of her room to alert other staff and patients. They covered her in an elegant purple drape and, when we eventually left, they hugged us, handing over a woven bag, her things neatly folded inside. When it seems unbearable that your mother has just died and the rest of the world is carrying on as normal, these gestures are comforting. From then to the burial four days later was intense. We were scarcely left alone for five minutes, but I think that intensity has an important healing effect.

This past year has taught me that grief is not linear. It can creep up again suddenly, just when you think you are emerging into the light. You see somebody who reminds you of the person who’s gone. Or, for a split second, you forget they’re not alive and then feel overwhelmed in odd places, as I did months later one day, queuing to buy a sandwich.

But if the culture in which you live regards death as individual or private, then you have little choice but to keep quiet about it. I suspect the cost to the NHS for treating depression or other illnesses related to it, and the cost to employers in days lost to stress leave for staff dealing with bereavement in isolation, is high.

Speaking about the death of her son, the broadcaster Libby Purves described how she felt it her duty to make other people think she was OK, otherwise they would have avoided her. “You have to make it all right for others. You want to create a feeling of casualness so that you don’t become the poor old creature nobody speaks to because they have been through tragic tragic-ness.”

To me, that seems like an extraordinary burden to place on the grieving person. I feel fortunate to come from a culture where death is part of life and people take it upon themselves to pick up the phone, send a message and, above all, keep talking you through it.

I returned this month to my home town for a small family event to mark my mother’s first anniversary and was again struck by the readiness with which local people referred to her passing, devoid of awkwardness or indeed pity. In the butcher’s, the supermarket and the hardware store as I paid for a tin of paint, I was greeted with variations on: “Your mother was a fine woman, the Lord have mercy on her” or “Hard to believe it’s been a year since your mum went”.

In Britain, death seems to be regarded as something so awful that it is best contained in the immediate family or with a counsellor if circumstances are traumatic. Perhaps there is a connection with it also being a society where even a natural, peaceful death is a medical event which few ever witness, and where the old and chronically ill are hidden away. Would attitudes to ageing be more compassionate and attitudes to life itself more fulfilling if funerals were not regarded as necessarily ghastly and mortality as something that happens only to other, less lucky people?

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reblogged – Clare T Walker (my niece)

Principle 7: Collaboration

 

Balance prudent self-reliance with healthy, interdependent relationships.

Some time ago, I came across a book called The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century[1](written by two psychiatrists). A quote from the book:

“Being neighborly used to mean visiting people. Now being nice to your neighbor means not bothering them.”

I think this anti-social attitude has infected much of the technologically advanced world, not just America. We leave people alone because we think that’s what they want, yet loneliness has become a hallmark complaint of modern men and women. We dare not show our faces on our neighbors’ front porches…

…yet we scrawl updates on the walls of their facebook pages, we tweet until our smart phones are hoarse, we forward emails to all our contacts. It’s paradoxical. We have an explosion of online social networks, endless opportunities to “connect,” but how many of us scroll through our computer screens, feverishly hitting the delete button, just looking for something—anything—from someone we actually know or that we actually want to spend time reading?[2]

It’s good lift up our eyes, away from our screens, and be really physically present to other human beings.

illustration from the front cover of O Come Ye Back to Ireland, painted by Christine Breen

Susan K. Rowland, in her book Make Room for God, discusses at length Sarah Lanier’s[3] comparison of “hot-climate” and “cold-climate” cultures:

“Hot-climate cultures are communal, group-oriented, inclusive and spontaneous. Cold-climate cultures are more individualistic, privacy-oriented and interested in structure and productivity.”

My parents grew up in England—which has elements of both hot- and cold-climate cultures—but cultures definitely collided when she encountered the true hot-climate culture of southern California in the 1960s. She and my dad had just moved to America with their infant daughter (me). After several months of dealing with the apparently certifiably insane population of La Mesa on the odd side of town, they moved into a new place. My mom, expecting the worst, battened down the hatches, unwilling to interact with more of these crazy Americans.

To no avail: one morning there was a knock on the sliding door of the kitchen. In walked her new neighbors with freshly baked goods and coffee. Long story short—these two or three families spent the next five years raising their small children together, and even though they now live across the continent from one another, they are friends to this day.

What does any of this have to do with simplicity?

Living and working in close proximity to other people, and building intentional community with them, simplifies things because you can pool resources of time and energy, tools and materials, emotional strength and physical skills.

“Many hands make light work.” (John Heywood, 1546)

Cocooning with just our nuclear family on the back deck while the front porch remains unused isolates and limits us. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel—you can ask your neighbor if you can borrow his wheel. And, even though we are sturdy, self-reliant Americans, we don’t have to do everything alone in this increasingly cold-climate culture:

  • The Amish and other “plain living” subcultures excel at the principle of collaboration, with their barn-raisings and other community activities.[4] [5]
  • Busy yuppies Niall Williams and Christine Breen experience the beauty of community and collaboration when they move from Manhattan to rural Ireland and work side-by-side with their neighbors on their farm.[6]
  • In The Way (2010, Directed by Emilio Estevez), a man grieves the death of his son, and also honors his son’s memory, by walking the historic “el camino de Santiago” (“the way of St. James) in France and Spain. On the journey he discovers the beauty of community and collaboration.

I’ll finish with a little anecdote from my own neighborhood. A friend who lives nearby was over at my house putting the finishing touches on some electrical work he had very kindly done for me.

As he was leaving, he said, “I think I’ll take my ladder home with me today, because I’ll need it for a project I have to do at my house.”

“Okay,” I said.

Then, after a moment’s thought, I said, “I think that ladder might be mine.”

“Hm,” he said, furrowing his brow. “Are you sure?”

We went to look at the ladder. It had been back and forth between his house and my house so often in recent months that neither of us could remember whose ladder it actually was!

He took it and used it for whatever it was he was working on, and I think it’s in my garage at the moment.

“Any culture emphasizing productivity cannot allow us to spend much time socializing.” (Susan K. Rowland Make Room for God)


[1] The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz (2009).

[2] Social Clear Cutting: Can Our Social Media Behaviors Destroy Our Social Environment?” This is a very good post by author Kristen Lamb. She writes passionately about the need to forge real connections with other people. Her target audience is other authors attempting to construct social platforms to promote their creative work, but her articles and books (We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer) still speak to anyone disillusioned by online social media and searching for rewarding interactions online.

[3] Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures by Sarah Lanier (2000)

[4] Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender (1989)

[6] O Come Ye Back to Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen (1987)

 

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Bakers Anonymous

  • Somewhere in West Tennessee, not far from Graceland, nine women — or “The 9 Nanas,” as they prefer to be called — gather in the darkness of night. At 4am they begin their daily routine — a ritual that no one, not even their husbands, knew about for 30 years. They have one mission and one mission only: to create happiness. And it all begins with baked goods.
    “One of us starts sifting the flour and another washing the eggs,” explained Nana Mary Ellen, the appointed spokesperson for their secret society. “And someone else makes sure the pans are all ready. We switch off, depending on what we feel like doing that day.
    “But you make sure to say Nana Pearl is in charge, because she’s the oldest!” she added with a wink and a smile.
    Over the next three hours, The 9 Nanas (who all consider themselves sisters, despite what some of their birth certificates say) will whip up hundreds of pound cakes, as part of a grand scheme to help those in need. And then, before anyone gets as much as a glimpse of them, they’ll disappear back into their daily lives. The only hint that may remain is the heavenly scent of vanilla, lemon and lime, lingering in the air.
    Even the UPS driver, who picks up hundreds of packages at a time, has no clue what these women, who range in age from 54 to 72, are doing. He’s just happy to get a hug and a bag filled with special treats. What he doesn’t know is that he’s part of their master plan. A plan that began 35 years ago — when the “sisters” got together for their weekly card game — something their husbands referred to as “Broads and Bridge.”
    “Pearl says it was all her idea,” Mary Ellen teased, “but as I remember it, we were sitting around reminiscing about MaMaw and PaPaw and all the different ways they would lend a hand in the community.” MaMaw and PaPaw are the grandparents who raised four of the women, Mary Ellen included, when their mother passed away; and they took in Pearl as their own, when her parents needed some help.
    “MaMaw Ruth would read in the paper that someone had died,” Mary Ellen remembered, “and she’d send off one of her special pound cakes. She didn’t have to know the family. She just wanted to put a little smile on their faces. And we started thinking about what we could do to make a difference like that. What if we had a million dollars? How would we spend it?
    So the ladies began brainstorming.
    “One of the sisters suggested that we should all start doing our own laundry and put the money we saved to good use. I admit, I protested at first. There’s just something about laundering that I don’t like. But I was outnumbered! So among the nine of us, we’d put aside about $400 a month and our husbands never noticed a thing. Their shirts looked just fine.”
    And then the women started listening. They’d eavesdrop — all with good intentions, of course — at the local beauty shop or when they were picking up groceries. And when they heard about a widow or a single mom who needed a little help, they’d step in and anonymously pay a utility bill or buy some new clothes for the children.
    “We wanted to help as much as we could,” Mary Ellen said, “without taking away from our own families, so we became coupon clippers. And we’d use green stamps. Remember those? We’d use green stamps and we’d make sure to go to Goldsmith’s department store on Wednesdays. Every week they’d have a big sale and you could spend $100 and walk away with $700 worth of merchandise.”
    The Nanas would find out where the person lived and send a package with a note that simply said, “Somebody loves you” — and they’d be sure to include one of MaMaw Ruth’s special pound cakes.
    The more people they helped, the bolder they became.
    “We gave new meaning to the term drive-by,” Mary Ellen said with delight. “We’d drive through low-income neighbourhoods and look for homes that had fans in the window. That told us that the people who lived there didn’t have air-conditioning. Or we’d see that there were no lights on at night, which meant there was a good chance their utilities had been turned off. Then we’d return before the sun came up, like cat burglars, and drop off a little care package.”
    For three decades, the ladies’ good deeds went undetected — that is, until five years ago, when Mary Ellen’s husband, whom she lovingly calls “Southern Charmer,” started noticing extra mileage on the car and large amounts of cash being withdrawn from their savings account.
    “He brought out bank statements and they were highlighted!” Mary Ellen said, recalling the horror she felt. “I tried to explain that I had bought some things, but he had this look on his face that I’d never seen before — and I realized what he must have been thinking. I called the sisters and said, ‘You all need to get over here right away.’”
    So 30 years into their secret mission, the 9 Nanas and their husbands gathered in Mary Ellen’s living room and the sisters came clean. They told the husbands about the laundry and the eavesdropping — even the drive-bys. And that’s where their story gets even better — because the husbands offered to help.
    “They were amazed that we were doing this and even more amazed that they never knew. We can keep a good secret! All but three of them are retired now, so sometimes they come with us on our drive-bys. In our area, all you need is an address to pay someone’s utility bill, so we keep the men busy jotting down numbers.”
    It wasn’t long before the couples decided it was also time to tell their grown children. And that’s when happiness began to happen in an even bigger way. The children encouraged their mothers to start selling MaMaw Ruth’s pound cakes online, so they could raise money to help even more people. And it wasn’t long before they were receiving more than 100 orders in a day.
    “The first time we saw those orders roll in, we were jumping up and down,” Mary Ellen said with a laugh. “We were so excited that we did a ring-around-the-rosie! Then we called all the children and said, ‘What do we do next?'”
    That’s when the 9 Nanas moved their covert baking operation out of their homes and into the commercial kitchen of a restaurant owned by one of their sons, where they can sneak in before sunrise and sneak out before the staff comes in. They even hired a “happiness coordinator” (whose code name is “Sunny,” of course). Her identity needs to be a secret, too, so she can help out with the eavesdropping.
    “We swore her to secrecy — her parents think she works in marketing. And, really, if you think about it, she is doing public relations and spends a lot of time looking for people to help at the supermarket!”
    These days, The 9 Nanas are able to take on even bigger projects, given their online success. Recently they donated more than $5,000 of pillows and linens and personal care products to a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. And this August, they’ll celebrate their second consecutive “Happiness Happens Month” by sending tokens of their appreciation to one person in every state who has made a difference in their own community.
    And that million dollars they once wished for? They’re almost there. In the last 35 years, the 9 Nanas have contributed nearly $900,000 of happiness to their local community.
    But that doesn’t mean they’re too busy to continue doing the little things that make life a bit happier. Sometimes they just pull out the phone book and send off pound cakes to complete strangers. And if the Nanas spot someone at the grocery store who appears to need a little help, it’s not unusual for them to start filling a stranger’s cart.
    “Not everyone is as lucky as we were to have MaMaw and PaPaw to take care of them, to fix all those things that are wrong.
    “So this is our way of giving back,” Mary Ellen said. “We want people to know that someone out there cares enough to do something. We want to make sure that happiness happens.”
    “it’s about more than just the coffee” Suspended Coffees
    Thanks to Erin Masterson Korbylo and dailygood.org for the story
    Somewhere in West Tennessee, not far from Graceland, nine women -- or "The 9 Nanas," as they prefer to be called -- gather in the darkness of night. At 4am they begin their daily routine -- a ritual that no one, not even their husbands, knew about for 30 years. They have one mission and one mission only: to create happiness. And it all begins with baked goods. “One of us starts sifting the flour and another washing the eggs,” explained Nana Mary Ellen, the appointed spokesperson for their secret society. “And someone else makes sure the pans are all ready. We switch off, depending on what we feel like doing that day. “But you make sure to say Nana Pearl is in charge, because she’s the oldest!” she added with a wink and a smile. Over the next three hours, The 9 Nanas (who all consider themselves sisters, despite what some of their birth certificates say) will whip up hundreds of pound cakes, as part of a grand scheme to help those in need. And then, before anyone gets as much as a glimpse of them, they’ll disappear back into their daily lives. The only hint that may remain is the heavenly scent of vanilla, lemon and lime, lingering in the air. Even the UPS driver, who picks up hundreds of packages at a time, has no clue what these women, who range in age from 54 to 72, are doing. He’s just happy to get a hug and a bag filled with special treats. What he doesn’t know is that he’s part of their master plan. A plan that began 35 years ago -- when the “sisters” got together for their weekly card game -- something their husbands referred to as “Broads and Bridge.” “Pearl says it was all her idea,” Mary Ellen teased, “but as I remember it, we were sitting around reminiscing about MaMaw and PaPaw and all the different ways they would lend a hand in the community.” MaMaw and PaPaw are the grandparents who raised four of the women, Mary Ellen included, when their mother passed away; and they took in Pearl as their own, when her parents needed some help. “MaMaw Ruth would read in the paper that someone had died,” Mary Ellen remembered, “and she’d send off one of her special pound cakes. She didn’t have to know the family. She just wanted to put a little smile on their faces. And we started thinking about what we could do to make a difference like that. What if we had a million dollars? How would we spend it? So the ladies began brainstorming. “One of the sisters suggested that we should all start doing our own laundry and put the money we saved to good use. I admit, I protested at first. There’s just something about laundering that I don’t like. But I was outnumbered! So among the nine of us, we’d put aside about $400 a month and our husbands never noticed a thing. Their shirts looked just fine.” And then the women started listening. They’d eavesdrop -- all with good intentions, of course -- at the local beauty shop or when they were picking up groceries. And when they heard about a widow or a single mom who needed a little help, they’d step in and anonymously pay a utility bill or buy some new clothes for the children. “We wanted to help as much as we could,” Mary Ellen said, “without taking away from our own families, so we became coupon clippers. And we’d use green stamps. Remember those? We’d use green stamps and we’d make sure to go to Goldsmith’s department store on Wednesdays. Every week they’d have a big sale and you could spend $100 and walk away with $700 worth of merchandise.” The Nanas would find out where the person lived and send a package with a note that simply said, “Somebody loves you” -- and they’d be sure to include one of MaMaw Ruth’s special pound cakes. The more people they helped, the bolder they became. “We gave new meaning to the term drive-by,” Mary Ellen said with delight. “We’d drive through low-income neighborhoods and look for homes that had fans in the window. That told us that the people who lived there didn’t have air-conditioning. Or we’d see that there were no lights on at night, which meant there was a good chance their utilities had been turned off. Then we’d return before the sun came up, like cat burglars, and drop off a little care package.” For three decades, the ladies’ good deeds went undetected -- that is, until five years ago, when Mary Ellen’s husband, whom she lovingly calls “Southern Charmer,” started noticing extra mileage on the car and large amounts of cash being withdrawn from their savings account. “He brought out bank statements and they were highlighted!” Mary Ellen said, recalling the horror she felt. “I tried to explain that I had bought some things, but he had this look on his face that I’d never seen before -- and I realized what he must have been thinking. I called the sisters and said, 'You all need to get over here right away.'” So 30 years into their secret mission, the 9 Nanas and their husbands gathered in Mary Ellen’s living room and the sisters came clean. They told the husbands about the laundry and the eavesdropping -- even the drive-bys. And that’s where their story gets even better -- because the husbands offered to help. “They were amazed that we were doing this and even more amazed that they never knew. We can keep a good secret! All but three of them are retired now, so sometimes they come with us on our drive-bys. In our area, all you need is an address to pay someone’s utility bill, so we keep the men busy jotting down numbers.” It wasn’t long before the couples decided it was also time to tell their grown children. And that’s when happiness began to happen in an even bigger way. The children encouraged their mothers to start selling MaMaw Ruth’s pound cakes online, so they could raise money to help even more people. And it wasn’t long before they were receiving more than 100 orders in a day. “The first time we saw those orders roll in, we were jumping up and down,” Mary Ellen said with a laugh. “We were so excited that we did a ring-around-the-rosie! Then we called all the children and said, 'What do we do next?'" That’s when the 9 Nanas moved their covert baking operation out of their homes and into the commercial kitchen of a restaurant owned by one of their sons, where they can sneak in before sunrise and sneak out before the staff comes in. They even hired a “happiness coordinator” (whose code name is “Sunny,” of course). Her identity needs to be a secret, too, so she can help out with the eavesdropping. “We swore her to secrecy -- her parents think she works in marketing. And, really, if you think about it, she is doing public relations and spends a lot of time looking for people to help at the supermarket!” These days, The 9 Nanas are able to take on even bigger projects, given their online success. Recently they donated more than $5,000 of pillows and linens and personal care products to a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. And this August, they’ll celebrate their second consecutive “Happiness Happens Month” by sending tokens of their appreciation to one person in every state who has made a difference in their own community. And that million dollars they once wished for? They’re almost there. In the last 35 years, the 9 Nanas have contributed nearly $900,000 of happiness to their local community. But that doesn’t mean they’re too busy to continue doing the little things that make life a bit happier. Sometimes they just pull out the phone book and send off pound cakes to complete strangers. And if the Nanas spot someone at the grocery store who appears to need a little help, it’s not unusual for them to start filling a stranger’s cart. “Not everyone is as lucky as we were to have MaMaw and PaPaw to take care of them, to fix all those things that are wrong. “So this is our way of giving back,” Mary Ellen said. “We want people to know that someone out there cares enough to do something. We want to make sure that happiness happens.” "it's about more than just the coffee" @[431946943566996:274:Suspended Coffees] Thanks to Erin Masterson Korbylo and dailygood.org for the story
    DOUGH!
    homer-doh

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Filling the Listening Void (from “Life and Work”)

FILLING THE ‘LISTENING VOID’
Wednesday July 24

IT IS certainly true that a few years ago, hospital chaplains toured the wards, checking in on people and offering their services to those who would be in for a longer stay. But Hospital Chaplaincy is changing, along with so much of the rest of the healthcare system in the UK.

“Healthcare is changing. The demands on the NHS are changing – incredibly quickly – and we, as a service, need to change along with it.”

The Rev Dr Ewan Kelly is the Programme Director for Healthcare Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care with NHS Education for Scotland, and he is talking about the role in a modern health and social care environment for the healthcare chaplain.

“Healthcare chaplaincy is going through a period of considerable challenge amidst current financial austerity within public sector provision, but such cutbacks serve to sharpen the need for chaplains not only to show that their practice enhances the wellbeing of service users, carers, staff and organisations, but that their contribution is unique and value for the taxpayer’s money.”

It all seems to be a far cry from the traditional view most people have of the hospital chaplain as someone you can ask to see if you or a loved one is admitted to hospital in a crisis.

“Healthcare in general is moving away from focusing mainly on treatment in hospitals and towards care that’s focussed on keeping people well in the community.

“The Church has tremendous links and strengths within the communities we live and work in, and with healthcare provision increasingly moving towards trying to help people stay in their own homes for as long as possible, increased collaborative working between local faith communities and statutory health and social care services offers great potential to enhance the wellbeing of individuals and communities.

“A healthcare chaplain does not have to be an ordained minister.

“They may help people find meaning and purpose when faced with long-term or chronic conditions, as well as helping people come to terms with a sudden or unexpected loss.

“We care not only for patients and their relatives; we also care for the staff that look after them, and that can have real financial cost benefits by helping them cope with stress or stressful situations; helping keep them well at work and thus reduce sickness rates and retention levels.

“I see it as important that we, as a valuable, unique resource are able to help actually shape policy – that we are at the table to help transform health and social care culture to be more person-centred….

“Sometimes, instead of drugs or psychiatric treatment, people just need time and space to talk, to work things through in their own minds. This informs a second national programme of healthcare chaplaincy work – the setting up of Community Chaplaincy Listening Services in GP surgeries. Such services are now present in health boards all over the country – with over 20 surgeries currently involved. It’s not the same as counselling but focuses on patients’ ‘why?’ or spiritual questions, allows people to come to terms with perhaps a bereavement or a diagnosis, or develop the self-esteem to take more control in their own lives and help self-manage their own long term condition(s).”

There’s a big box of tissues on the table in the room by the Chapel in Queen Margaret Hospital, Dunfermline, where I’m speaking to Lynda Wright.

Lynda, a Deacon employed to offer spiritual care by the NHS, is one of the people working within the new vision for the chaplaincy service.

She’s the national co-ordinator and liaison for the Community Listening Service, set up nationally after a very successful pilot study in 2010 and 2011, and now being expanded to cover every health board in Scotland.

“The Community Listening Service is part of the national strategy that recognises that the focus for future health care is changing from hospital based to home or community based.

“Most people will experience their ill-health in their homes rather than hospital and all the health boards are looking at ways of responding to that challenge.

“GPs are aware that a ten minute appointment isn’t really suitable for a patient who could be helped by talking problems through rather than being given medication, or in addition to being given medication. That’s when they can refer the patient on to the Listening Service and know that the person will be given the time and space to sort things out in their heads.

Lynda says that most of her clients have been helped after just one session.

“It’s not counselling,” she says. “We can allow people space to sort out what things are most important and help them see the options available to allow them to move forward.

“We can also ‘social prescribe’. By having a good local knowledge of support groups etc in the area, we are able to help people find others they can share with.”

Lynda sees the role of spiritual care worker as very much in keeping with her work as a Deacon.

“Listening has always been part of my work. I’ve picked up training along the way that has come in useful, like bereavement work, counselling skills. I ran a retreat house in Falkland for 18 years so listening to people talking through their problems is something I have always done.

“The feedback from the initial project was completely positive. Over the year I was involved in helping with the research, I saw 60 patients out of around 250 across Scotland. The responses were excellent – the GPs were in favour; the patients, without exception, said it had been useful.”

Lynda points to the box of tissues.

“That’s one of the most important things in this room,” she says. “Many, if not most, of the people who come to me have a cry at some point; men and women. Sometimes, even when I feel I haven’t really done anything apart from just letting them talk, they are incredibly grateful. They thank me for just listening to them.

“Sometimes, that really is all they need.”

In spite of the changes happening within the healthcare system, there is still room for the work of the hospital chaplain in the more traditional role as well. In a time of crisis, the chaplain has the ability to cut across religious lines, to step up and become someone who can be leaned on and turned to by anyone who needs them.”

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Jesus Amongst Us

There was once a ship that was carrying a group of missionaries to a foreign country, when a storm blew up around them and one of the missionaries was swept overboard, and although they searched in the end the ship was forced to give him up for dead.

Except that the man wasn’t dead.  He had found a piece of wood floating in the water, and so for many days and nights he had clung to it, at first hoping to be rescued, but then just waiting to die.

But that wasn’t what God wanted, because after a few days he was washed up on the shore of an island where he was found by some tribesmen.

They took him to their village and cared for him until he became part of their community

And so the years passed, and through all this time the missionary never once talked about his faith.  He never mentioned Jesus or the Church.  He never spoke about the Bible or told any of its stories.

But if someone needed help he would give it.  If someone was hungry he would give them food; if they were sick he would take care of them.  If they needed a roof over their head he would take them in or clothes on their back he would give them his.  If someone was dying he would sit with them or grieving, he would comfort them.

Well after some fifteen years another ship carrying another group of missionaries arrived at the island, and the people ran to meet the boat and welcome the strangers.

The missionaries took the opportunity to begin to speak about Jesus, but after a while they noticed the puzzled looks on the faces of the islanders.

‘What’s wrong?’ they asked, ‘Don’t you want to hear about Jesus?’ And back came the reply, ‘Why would we want to hear about Jesus when we know about him already.  He’s been living in our village for years!’

We know that God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son: God hasn’t just told us about His love; God has shown us His love in Jesus, in His Son. 

And Jesus hasn’t just told us about God’s love either; He’s shown us that love at work in His life.

Jesus is ‘God with us’, and because of Him we have a Gospel to share; a message of hope, Good News for the world, which isn’t just written in the words of a story but in your life and my life and every life.

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