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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Freedom (from FreshDay.org)

Freedom

I sat in the 2nd pew of the small church I grew up in - the church my grandfather built and my family were charter members of, the church where my grandmother and I baked the unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper, and picked flowers from our garden to grace the altar, where my dog got a certificate of perfect attendance every year for Vacation Bible School, where my mother played the piano for worship, where we threw baby showers in the Fellowship Hall for unmarried teen mothers, the church just down the street from our small shotgun house, where my grandmother fed the hobos riding the trains that ran behind our house - and looking up into the face of the angry preacher shouting that we were all going to burn in the eternal fires of hell if we didn’t do something, or believe something, or…the specifics don’t matter. I knew, even as an 8-year-old, that there was something intrinsically wrong with his fear-mongering, threatening, terrifying message.

A couple of years later, I listened to a Sunday School teacher talking about heaven and hell, and said to her, “That doesn’t sound right to me.” So she asked me to explain heaven and hell to her. I described them in terms of what I now recognize as quantum physics. “But, that’s not what the BIBLE says about heaven and hell!” she exclaimed, mortified at my theory of energy and collective consciousness. But it seemed so consistent, to me, with Jesus’ message, that even as a child the rest seemed like nothing more than an allegory.

Now, 40 years later, religion is still mostly a cult of fear, shame, and intimidation. The institution of the church has made the bible, a book of human words about that which transcends human words, an idol, a weapon to be wielded as needed and desired for control, political gain, and to justify oppression and hatred.

Rather than being, like Jesus, the champion of justice for the poor and oppressed, rather than leading the way to a better society, the mainline church is in some instances a partner in the violence toward anyone who dares to take the message of Jesus seriously, who dares to question the status quo, who has a disagreement with the Pharisaic approach to scripture and tradition.

Jesus understood that organized religion has many idols, even in the first century, and his was a radical reinterpretation of the tradition. He corrected the trajectory of religious interpretation. But the 21st century church has fallen into the same traps as the Pharisees, focusing on polity and doctrine rather than embodying Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness, and service to the marginalized.

We have lost our way. Again.

I considered renouncing my faith this year and leaving the church, but I still believe in the mission and teachings of Jesus. I still believe, as Jesus said, that the “Spirit of God dwells in” us. I still believe that the Kingdom of God has come near, every time we show love, and offer grace, and bring healing and comfort to those who suffer.

I am finished with arguing and debates and endless bickering. I am ashamed of my own denomination. I am adopting the religion of Christ.

Through the books and bibles of time I've made up my mind I don't condemn, 
I don't convert, [sic]
'Cause no one is gonna lose their soul
Love is my religion,
(Ziggy Marley)

‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’Matthew 22: 36-40

I’m declaring my freedom from the constraints and misguided control of the institution of the church. Now love is my religion, because that is what Jesus taught.

Note: I write a monthly column for FreshDay.org. It's a terrific publication. I encourage you to check it out!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Radical Hospitality


“Radical Hospitality”
The Reverend Dr. Teresa Angle-Young
Watkinsville First United Methodist Church
June 28, 2015

I Peter 4:8b-10a (from the Translation called The Message)

Love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God's words; if help, let it be God's hearty help. That way, God's bright presence will be evident in everything

I am so happy to be here with you. Phil and I have never been welcomed as warmly as we have here. Almost 30 of you showed up to unload our moving trucks on one of the hottest days of summer. You brought ice and water and made our bed and brought us a garbage can and sent over fresh produce from your gardens and did whatever you could to help us and make us feel welcomed. It was and continues to be a beautiful example of famous Southern hospitality, and for that we are so grateful. You have already showered us with blessing upon blessing!

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school at Emory, I took a class called “Systematic Theology” which is required of all divinity students.  In the final exam, we were surprised to be asked this question:  If you were to propose a new sacrament for the church, what would it be and why? A sacrament is a ritual that was instituted by Christ, so it has to be biblical, and communicates God’s grace to the participants.  In the United Methodist tradition, we have two sacraments, baptism and Holy Communion. So, we were charged with coming up with a ritual or practice that we could evidence in scripture as being practiced by Christ that is also a means of communicating God’s grace and love to the world.  I knew, in a second, what my answer would be. 

Hospitality.  If I were to add a sacrament to the church doctrine it would be the sacrament of hospitality. 

There is a long tradition of hospitality in the Bible, beginning in Genesis and weaving all throughout scripture.  In Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah are blessed with a child after showing generous hospitality to three divine strangers.  Lot, too entertains these divine travelers and in turn, he and his family are offered the chance to flee from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And there are many other examples in the Old Testament where strangers in the land are treated with the same hospitality with which one would treat a beloved friend or relative. 

In the New Testament, one of the most moving examples of hospitality is Joseph, the man who is engaged to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Joseph took a divine stranger – Jesus – into his home and raised him as his own son.  That was an act of radical hospitality. 

But I believe our best example for radical hospitality is Jesus.  Jesus taught about hospitality in his parables, and practiced hospitality through his actions.  He even turned water into wine as his first miracle, in order for a wedding host to show hospitality to his guests. We have the parable of the prodigal son.  A man had two sons.  One of them decided to ask for his inheritance early and left the family farm to blow his money on the indulgences of the world.  The other son stayed behind and was a dutiful son, helping the father on the farm and being the model child.  When the prodigal son returned to the farm, expecting to be treated poorly by his family, the father threw a huge party welcoming him home.  Jesus taught in the story that it didn’t matter whether or not the son deserved the father’s generosity and hospitality, rather that it was simply the right and loving thing to do to provide the hospitality anyway. In doing so, Jesus revealed a characteristic of God.

This thread of hospitality - irrespective of the status or standing of the guest or stranger - is woven throughout scripture in the Old Testament and the New Testaments.  So, exactly what is hospitality?

Is hospitality making sure there are chocolates on the pillow and extra toothpaste in the bathroom when you have a guest?  Well, yes and no.  All throughout scripture we see examples of hospitality that include taking care of the physical needs of the guest, such as food and shelter, so it seems we are not to ignore those aspects of care, but particularly with Jesus, hospitality becomes something more, something beyond simple care.  Hospitality becomes healing.  Hospitality becomes life giving.  Hospitality restores people to wholeness in a myriad of ways, sometimes physically, sometimes socially, sometimes emotionally, sometimes psychologically, and always spiritually.  Hospitality becomes a spiritual tool and once it becomes habit, once it is integrated into who we are, it transforms. 

In scripture, the Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia (fil-ah-zeen-ee-a), which derives from philo, a word you might recognize from the name Philadelphia, which we know as the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love, and xenia, which means stranger.  So, hospitality in the Bible means, “love of stranger.”  It does not just mean “niceness to stranger.”  It means genuine, selfless, extravagant, full out love of stranger.  When we look back at the Abraham and Sarah story, I think it’s important to note that when the three strangers showed up at Abraham’s tent, Abraham did not begrudgingly go out and find the skinniest calf to serve nor did he tell Sarah to pull out last year’s grain and fry up a cake.  He called for the finest of what he had and prepared a feast.  And so we are called, as the church, God’s representatives in the world, to offer hospitality with enthusiasm, offering up the best of what we have to those around us, not what we have leftover.
But hospitality is more than just sharing food and shelter with others.  In his book “Reaching Out: Three Movements of the Spiritual Life” mystic, monk, and distinguished professor at Notre Dame, Harvard, and Yale, Henri Nouwen, said that there are three critical movements in the Christian’s life.  The first involves moving from loneliness to solitude, and the focus is on us as we learn to dwell comfortably in solitude with Christ.  The second is the development of spiritual maturity to move from hostility to hospitality, and of course, the focus in on our relationships with others as we strive to become more like Christ.  That leads to the third spiritual movement, our movement toward God.  Without the first two movements, we cannot make the third move.  So Nouwen argues we must find peace within ourselves, make peace with others and move toward this idea of radical and selfless hospitality, before we can truly experience a move toward God. The practice of hospitality actually brings us closer to God.

And it’s important to exercise this hospitality with whomever comes into our lives.  In other words, just as Abraham and Sarah offered hospitality to the three strangers without quizzing them about their worth and position, and just as Jesus offered love and hospitality to those in the community others would deem as unworthy, we are called to offer our hospitality to those who are before us, whomever they may be. 

So how do we do that?  I think we must do what the author of our scripture passage today tells us to do: Love each other as if your life depended on it. Hospitality means really opening yourself up and becoming vulnerable, making space for someone that you might not ordinarily allow into your life.  Hospitality means looking past those things that separate us from each other, like dress, and speech, and possessions, and race, politics, and social standing, and seeing others the way Christ sees them, as beloved members of the family of God.  Adopting an attitude of hospitality means putting aside your own agenda and schedule to really listen to the other person, to pay attention to their needs, and to respond to them in a genuine way.

Hospitality is more than a beautiful table or a comfortable bed or a hot cup of soup or a contribution to the food panty.  Hospitality is making space in your life and in your heart for another person, whether a stranger, a spouse, a child, or a friend, and giving them your time and your attention without resentment – cheerfully, as 1st Peter reminds us.  Hospitality is making the table bigger to accommodate the stranger, and letting yourself be open to the idea that you might, like Abraham and Joseph, be entertaining a divine guest.  Hospitality is the realization in the very depths of your soul that everything we have is a gift from God, and that by sharing what we have, whether meager or abundant, is to be an instrument of God’s grace and mercy in the world. 

My hope and my prayer for this church and my time with you is that Watkinsville First United Methodist Church will be, for each of you and for the world, a place of safety, a place of love, and a place of extravagant hospitality.  You have shown two strangers, me and Phil, the beauty and hospitality of your hearts. Now may we take that beauty to the streets of Oconee County, and share with our community the Sacrament of Hospitality. Thanks be to God. 

Let us pray:  Gracious and loving God, you said, “when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”  God we are all, in some way, strangers, lonely and lost, seeking a family of love and acceptance.  We pray that Watkinsville First is such a place for those gathered here and will be so for those who have yet to come.  We ask, God, that you help us to move from hostility to hospitality, from fear to love, and from mistrust to comfort, then empower us to move out into the world and share your unending grace and peace with others.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Benediction:

May each day be a new beginning,
a new opportunity to open ourselves
to the mystery and miracle of life
and to give from our hearts in generous hospitality
to a world that needs us.

Go now in the grace and peace of Christ, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Southern Winter

For the past dozen years, I've been complaining about mild Southern winters. To call it "winter" is a misnomer. What we have here in the Southern US is more the "mud season." It's messy. It's depressing. It's frustrating. It's ugly.

For those of us with dogs, winter in the South means muddy paws and the constant mopping of floors and the inertia that comes from day after day of dreariness. It's putting on a coat because it's just chilly enough to need one, only to wrestle out of it as soon as you get in the car because it's not chilly enough to need one for long.

I miss outdoor ice skating. I miss roaring fires and snow days. I miss cute winter coats.

But lately I've come to appreciate something about Southern winters, thanks to two special men.

Every day as I drive to work, I pass two homeless men that live under a bridge in downtown Atlanta. They are always there, either sleeping (because I go to work at 5:30 am), or walking slowly, pushing shopping carts filled with plastic garbage bags that contain the full sum of their possessions. And I know that under that bridge are dozens more homeless. But these two men...they have become mine to follow, to watch, to worry about. Sometimes I leave zip loc bags of protein bars and small personal care items under the bridge, right by the grate that they've bent just enough to slip through. Every day I pray for them, and when I don't see them for a day or two, I feel a cold nausea in the pit of my stomach.

Most nights I know they'll be okay, because Southern winters are gentle. But on the nights when the wind howls and the temperatures drop, I can barely sleep. I lay awake in my warm bed, with my well-fed dogs snoring as they sleep on their padded matching beds, and I worry. I worry about my two men, and I worry about the homeless animals in the world. I think about the faces of the dogs I post almost daily on Facebook from the animal shelter, and I wonder how many animals are freezing to death on the unusual cold Southern winter night. I think about my daughter's rescued dog, my grand-dog, Radar, who before she found him spent most of his young life on the streets, fending for himself, eventually being hit by a car, and I say a prayer of thanks that many are willing to take in the broken, the scared, the dirty, the mentally ill, the rejected, the misunderstood, the lonely, the abandoned.

I remember that Jesus never turned his back on suffering. I want to turn my back. It's so hard to look into the face of real suffering. I want to ignore that kind of suffering. But then, I am a follower of Jesus...so I pray I have the heart and the stomach to keep looking.

I think it's no coincidence that Southern winters are the precursor of Lent. As I enter into the time of reflection and self-examination that will come soon, I remind myself that there is a blessing in the mildness of a Southern winter. Fewer people and animals will die. And I remember that there is a deep and glorious beauty in each and every living creature.

And I am thankful that this year, there is no snow. I am thankful that this year, there is rain enough to fill the used plastic water jugs that "my men" use to capture water, and to make puddles for the Radars of the world to drink from. I am thankful for relatively warm temperatures for people who struggle to heat their homes.

I am reminded that a mild Southern winter is a gift for many. I am reminded that some mud is a small price to pay for life.






Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Six Simple Questions to Turn Average Volunteers into Rockstars


Engaging and mobilizing volunteers can feel like a daunting challenge. However, I have found that a few simple questions can make a huge difference. 
The most common complaint I hear from volunteers is frustration because they feel like they have to read minds. They don’t know how they are doing and how they can do better. They are unsure who is in charge of what, they don’t get useful feedback, and so they burn out.
The solution can be simpler than you might think. Small, informal conversations about performance go a long way – especially when they include teachable moments about different situations and details.
It all boils down to asking these six questions of every volunteer: 
1.     What is your responsibility in this area? (In other words, let’s clarify what we’re doing here.)
2.     What are you doing well? (Let’s celebrate!)
3.     What, if anything, can you be doing better? (I’m listening, you’re important to me and I want you to succeed.)
4.     (If appropriate): What will happen if you improve (Let’s make this place the best it can be!)
5.     (If appropriate): What will happen if you don’t improve? (We share responsibility here!)
6.     How can I help? (I’m on your team!)
While all of these questions are important, the last question is especially important. It shows the volunteer that you care, and that you are not merely abdicating responsibility or shifting blame. It shows that you are interested in helping them grow and do what they do with excellence.
Take my free self-assessment about how well you are engaging and mobilizing volunteers  by clicking here. Schedule a free coaching session with me by clicking here.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

You are going to want to get this book


In 2008, everything changed, for almost everyone.  A Great Recession hit. Money got tight. People lost jobs. Now we are in what appears to be a slow recovery, but the belt is still pretty tight. No longer do most of us have PR teams and communications staff and dollars in the budget for slick advertising campaigns.

In Steve Mouzon’s new book, “New Media for Designers + Builders” this brilliant and media savvy architect gives practical advice for not only surviving, but thriving, in the somewhat sterile financial landscape in which we find ourselves. Like the agile designer he is, Mouzon assembles the parts and pieces of marketing and PR for those in the design, building sector, and landscape design fields, and tradespeople who work in those areas, and builds a cohesive and coherent plan for letting the world know who you are and what you do. Heck, anyone in business will benefit from the knowledge and wisdom in this book!

How? Through what Mouzon calls, “New Virtues.” Of course, these virtues are not new, but may have become somewhat lost in the competitive business atmosphere that preceded the fall. They are patience, generosity, and connectedness.

Mouzon covers everything from micro-blogging to developing an effective website, and he names names. This is a book filled with resources, links, and opportunities to practice what he preaches about generosity and connectedness. With a creative format and tons of value-added bonuses like embedded links and a website for connecting and sharing ideas, this book is a “how to” on getting seen and being heard. He even lays out a “do this first” approach.

Some books are filled with the philosophy and theory of marketing. New Media for Designers + Builders is NOT that book. While the author offers snippets of supporting thought, the real value in this book is that it takes you from bare ground, to foundation, to design, to the actual build of your brand and marketing. This is the real deal.

I give this excellent book my full endorsement. Check it out here: www.nm4db.com
It will also be available on Amazon and iBook soon. Even if you are NOT in the design/building world, the advice in this book will help you build your brand!

Steve is also an excellent speaker and presenter. I’ve hired him myself! Here is a bit about him:

Steve Mouzon is an architect, urbanist, author, blogger, and photographer from Miami. He founded the New Urban Guild, which helped foster the Katrina Cottages movement. The Guild hosts Project:SmartDwelling, which works to redefine the house to be much smaller and more sustainable. Steve founded and is a board member of the Guild Foundation; it hosts the Original Green initiative. Steve speaks regularly across the US and abroad on sustainability issues. He blogs on the Original Green Blog and Useful Stuff. He also posts to the Original Green Twitter stream.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Control Freak

I came to a terrifying realization today. 

I am not in control.

No matter how much I try, I cannot control life, the world, or much of anything.  I can't control whether or not my church is successful, even though I work very hard to make it so.  I can't control whether or not people get sick, or well, including me, although I try my best to eat right and stay healthy and encourage those around me to do the same too.  I can't control how others think, or the decisions they make, but I try to model responsible behavior and make reasonable and rational cases for what I believe is right.  I can't control if someone loves me, or hates me, or ignores me, or makes fun of me, or if they do and say unkind things to others.

You'd think a reasonable and rational person such as myself would know that already.  Well, apparently not.  (or the obvious is true...that I'm really not as reasonable and rational as I would like to believe!)

See, I grew up believing that if I did everything "right" that everything in life would turn out fine.  Didn't happen.  I look around at the world and I see it happening to others who are also trying very hard to do everything right, and then seeing bad things happen.

If I could, I would "fix" things and people.  Sometimes I make the huge mistake of thinking I'm smart enough to do that.  Well, apparently not.

I joke about this, but it's a serious thing, and at 54, a realization I am just coming to truly embrace.

As an adult child of an alcoholic, I really want to control my world.  But I cannot.

I'm reminded today of what many of you who have fought addictions already know is the foundation of recovery.  Admitting I am powerless.  Or in my case, that my power can only be over how I respond and react and how I conduct myself. 

Control is my addiction, and I am powerless over it. 

Every single place of fear in my life comes from that core realization.....I am not in control of life...of anything.

My hope is that by taking that first step...admitting that I have a problem, I'll begin to loosen the white-knuckled grip I have on the reins and just try to hold on for the ride.  Maybe then God, the power of the universe, the One that is in me and strengthens me, will take over. 

So, for 2013, I have one resolution:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.
 
What is your soft, vulnerable spot?  What makes you shudder when it goes thump in the night? 

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Coat Off Our Back


As a child, whenever my grandmother would talk about a generous person, she would usually end with the declaration, "He would give a stranger the coat off his back."  I've always associated this statement with true generosity, concern, and Christian love.  I mean, after all, we are all willing to do just about anything...for the people we know and love.  But to show that kind of love to a stranger is the mark of a truly caring person.

A few weeks ago the song "They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love" got stuck in my head.  As I hummed along, that song melded with the phrase so often used by my grandmother, and the mission project "Coat Off Your Back" was born.  

On Christmas Eve, members of our congregation will literally give the coats off their backs to be donated to MUST Ministries.  As we each make the walk from our warm and comfortable church to our warm and comfortable cars, in that cold and dark space between, we will stand in solidarity with the homeless and hungry, and we will let the world know we are Christians by our love for a stranger.  

MUST Ministries saw my Facebook post about this event and called to tell me that they are stealing the idea and asking other churches to do the same.  So on Christmas Eve, my prayer is that God and my grandmother are looking down on us and smiling, and that many others across the North Georgia Conference will join in this effort and give the coats off their backs.  The recipients of the coats may never see our faces, but they will feel our love.  And they'll know we are Christians by our love.
 
Standing in the gap,

Teresa