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Food for thought

A Good Friday Confession

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Today, I am an evangelical Christian. I have wondered, in some recent days, whether I want to be called an evangelical.

The term has been so politicized, so pejorative. But today, on Good Friday, how can I be otherwise? It is not that I hold a privileged position, Or, am a political activist. Or, that I hold a certain set of beliefs.

It is that I am upheld, by the evangel, the good news, that by the grace of God I am what I am, a child of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me, who became obedient to death, and rose, that I might live in him, fully, now and forever. Today, and every day, I have the assurance of living in that grace, and of telling others:

Jesus Christ is alive ... and well!

 

Gratitude

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This short talk on gratitude by Curtis Almquist really spoke to me … for today  day and for this year and for this time of my life.  It is really good and really worth taking the time to listen to. You will be blessed I think as I have been. It helps me to be more a  grateful person today.

Listen Here

America’s New Religion

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I highly recommend a recent piece in New York Magazine by Andrew Sullivan.

Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.

By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying “Truth” or God (or gods).

A Winter Walk Behind Sharon Church

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Sunday afternoon late
dog Buddy and I took a walk
behind old Sharon church
past the cemetery down
to the open field where
kids cavort and grownups play
a black steel fence
marks the line between
the living and the dead
its vertical bars stiff and sentinel

I stood a long long time peering across
at the cold gray stones
shrouded in a robe of dusk
my feet rooted in the dark sod
around all else was moving
high clouds skidding across the sky
nine deer gracefully entering from the woods
staring and nicely slipping on
buddy running rollicking in the grass
until he settled at my feet

I stood I say
a long long time pondering
until a line from T.S Eliot found me
Old men should be still and still moving
Buddy said “I agree”and I nodded
he got up and we walked on

I have lived a long, long time
it’s time still to move along

Leighton Ford
December 2018

Annunciation

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Here is a lovely and powerful poem by Denise Levertov .. worth pondering for this Advent season

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’ From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage.
The engendering Spirit did not enter without consent.
God waited.

She was free to accept or to refuse, choice integral to humanness.

____________________________

Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies, enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending.
More often those moments when roads of light and storm open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief.

Ordinary lives continue. God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

______________________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept like any other child – but unlike others, wept only for pity, laughed in joy not triumph.

Compassion and intelligence fused in her, indivisible. Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time, she did not quail, only asked a simple, ‘How can this be?’ and gravely, courteously, took to heart the angel’s reply, perceiving instantly the astounding ministry she was offered: to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness; to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power – in narrow flesh, the sum of light.

Then bring to birth, push out into air, a Man-child needing, like any other, milk and love – but who was God.

The last word (or the first!) for Thanksgiving

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Several years ago we had Thanksgiving dinner at our house.

As our family sat around the table, enjoying the wonderful southern Thanksgiving meal of turkey and stuffing and biscuits I asked each one to mention one thing they were thankful for.

Someone said thanks for the delicious meal. Others for the weather and the beauty of the fall. and we all agreed, and added for family and so many other good things.

Then at the very end, granddaughter Leighton, who was 7 or 8 at the time, looked up from her plate and said, very matter of factly, “I am thankful for God”!

Thank you, Leighton. You got it. Absolutely right!

Learning How to Pay Attention

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An insightful article on paying attention.

What if we all learned to pay attention – and especially as preachers – Do I understand others and not just for ourselves or for a sermon.

from Patton Dodd: 

A couple months ago, some colleagues and I had dinner with four sets of parents we had never met before. One was an unmarried African American couple raising a boy and a girl. Another was a married mixed-race couple with an eleven-year-old boy. Then there were two single moms, both Latina. These were people we’d never meet through the normal course of our daily lives—each of them lives in or near a public housing complex in San Antonio called Cassiano Homes, which is in one of the poorest zip codes in town. Think aging government housing and dilapidated single-family homes; big, fading murals on the side of old buildings; a historic Catholic church here, a Pentecostal storefront church there. Plenty of tiny taquerias.

There is a lot of cultural beauty and certainly a lot of human dignity in neighbourhoods like this, but in the parlance of sociology, they are often called “distressed communities.” And indeed, there is distress here. Kids born in these communities are less likely to graduate from high school or attend college; they are more likely to become parents in their teenage years. I could list a host of other predicted outcomes, the most salient of which may be that they can expect to live twenty years fewer than kids born in more affluent parts of town, according to a recent study conducted by our county.

The most important lesson I learned that night was not about how not having recorders changed the dynamic in the room; I learned that it changed the dynamic inside of me.

San Antonio’s poverty is notorious. Nationally, 12.7 percent of Americans live in poverty, but in San Antonio the number is 18.5 percent. And of course, the geography of poverty is more local than citywide—it’s not pervasive so much as it is concentrated within certain parts of town. In my suburban neighbourhood, only around 3 percent of the residents live in poverty. As for the neighbourhood around Cassiano Homes? Over 40 percent. That’s how you get to a citywide 18.5 percent poverty level—by having a lot of entrenched, generational, zip-code-based poverty.

Last year, my colleagues and I created a non-profit newsroom whose sole editorial focus was inequity in San Antonio—the gaps in opportunity, health, education, and so on from one zip code to another. Every week, we published stories about the gaps in transportation, or schools, and even faith communities. We did a lot of fact-finding and pushed out a lot of statistics and shared a lot of accounts of the challenges people face and emergent solutions that attend to the crisis of inequity.

We ceased newsroom operations a few months ago, and we’re now mixing things up a bit for a different approach to this work. Our intent is to have a tighter focus, not just on the issues, but on people’s lives—the human stakes of the inequity drama as it plays out in people’s day-to-day existence.

I did this work mostly with career journalists. My main colleague is a woman with nearly two decades of experience in network television news. I have over a decade of experience writing and editing multi-faith religion news and commentary for a range of regional and national publications. I mention these backgrounds only in order to say: While we know how to make media, we are finding that very little in our professional experience actually prepared us for the task of really listening to and striving to understand people’s stories.

There is something inherently transactional about the act of journalism. In order to do your job, you have to get something from people—you have to get their story. They give you a story; you give them exposure, public attention. That’s kind of the deal, and it’s not necessarily something to be cynical about. Good journalists treat this transaction with care, honouring the source and the facts, and doing their best to present things authentically.

But when you’re listening to someone tell their story in order to turn that story into, well, a story for publication or production, it changes how you listen. You’re receiving what they give you as the raw material for something you’re creating for your audience. You’re thinking about how to make their story your story that you’ll sell. That changes the way you hear them. It changes the kind of attention you pay them, because your attention is partial: it’s on them, but it’s also on your story goals, your next steps. I confess with shame that I’ve been in interviews where I’ve jotted down a headline idea next to my notes. These days especially, you’re always, always asking yourself: “What will make people click? What will pierce the glut?”

When my colleagues and I planned that dinner with those four sets of parents from Cassiano Homes, we did something none of us had ever done before. We left our cameras and our audio recorders at the office. We didn’t capture anything, in fact, other than jotting a few notes down. We did this because we wanted to try to create a fairly intimate context—we wanted to put them at ease.

I hoped not having recorders would change the dynamic in the room. I hoped it would make these people more open, more willing to talk about their lives. And so it did. Just a few bites into our carnitas, the conversation was free-flowing. The parents talked about how local government helps them—mostly it doesn’t. They talked about how local churches pitch in—mostly they don’t either, not in any sustained way. They weren’t grumbling though—they gave negatives only in response to questions I asked, but mostly they were interested in talking about how their community functions and sticks together in spite of the challenges. Of course, some of those challenges seem insurmountable, and they talked about that too.

But it did more than improve the quality of conversation. It improved the quality of our hearing. The most important lesson I learned that night was not about how not having recorders changed the dynamic in the room; I learned that it changed the dynamic inside of me. Because I wasn’t thinking ahead to the story, those parents had my full attention. I was honed in. And I realized: This is different from how I usually pay attention in these conversations.

Afterward, one of the parents came up to me and reached out his hand. “Thank you,” he said. “For what?” I asked. He said, “No one ever asks for my story.”

My colleagues and I do have media to make. And that means we need to let some recorders run, and to have some cameras float around. But we’re rethinking how to do that. We’re rethinking our process. How do we make this other, more attentive approach a fixed part of our process from now on—just showing up to listen, to pay close attention, to sit with the stories for a while without immediately deciding how to present them to an audience? For now, we’re planning more recorder-free dinners. We’ll circle back to people whose stories need to be shared, but only after we’ve fully listened to their stories without a thought of how to make it our own.