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  • When the Praises Go Up . . .

    Posted on January 19th, 2013 rhonda No comments


    Can anything good come from there?

    John 1:46

    I wrote about an honored elder’s funeral in my last post.  Let’s call her “Mary”. “Derrick” delivered the eulogy; and his preaching made me thank God – for Derrick, Derrick’s gifts, and the community I grew up in.

    We all grew up in the same neighborhood, the same building, in public housing (aka “Nazareth”).  Derrick grew up down the hall from Mary and often made a detour to her apartment to eat dinner; to the chagrin of his grandmother, who would say, “Don’t feed him again, he already ate dinner, he’s just being greedy!”  (He would get the 2nd meal anyway.)  Mary has one son, “Eric”, but Derrick became another son.

    As a teenager, Derrick was the neighborhood terror.  He said, “If you got on the elevator with me, you never knew what you were going to get.  I would curse people out for no reason.”  For several years, it wasn’t clear if he would make something of himself in life.  He did, and Mary never gave up on him.

    That’s why it was so beautiful to see him lead the funeral procession, leading Eric & “Susan” (Mary’s daughter), while proclaiming the word of God.  The funeral was a tribute to Mary, and to all our parents, who jointly created a safe and supportive environment for us to grow up in.  Derrick was eloquent, funny, encouraging and unashamed; and words like “passionate” and “energetic” don’t do justice to the fire that was in him.  He kept exhorting us, saying “When the praises go up, the blessings come down!”  He also invited his blood brother, “George”, to sing for us.  I smiled, remembering when George & Eric were teens pursuing hip-hop careers.  They even shot a low-budget rap video that aired on public access cable.  Those careers didn’t pan out.  No matter.  They’re fine now.  We all are.

    Good things do come out of Nazareth.  Derrick asked everyone from the building to stand up.  Several have moved and others have died; yet, we were a sizeable contingent of people who are all working to make something of ourselves and our lives.  After the service, one guy said “he made you feel good to come from the projects”.  I agree.  Another neighbor told Derrick, “I’m proud of you and proud to know you”.  I am too.

     Train up a child in the way that he should go;

    And when he is old, he will not depart from it.

    Proverbs 22:6

  • Numbering Our Days

    Posted on January 16th, 2013 rhonda No comments

    Teach us to number our days aright,

    That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

    Psalm 90:12

    One of the elders in my life died.  She’s known me since I was a baby.  She was my neighbor. She was a friend to my mom.  She babysat me.  Her daughter and I grew up together in the same building & went to each other’s birthday parties.  I paid my final respects to the elder at her funeral.

    The funeral rite is a powerful reminder of how few days we have on this earth.  The rite also gives us an idea of how we should be living.  Even though I cried through the funeral, and afterwards, I also laughed and sang.  When a beloved person dies, their funerals are beautiful.  I got to see a lot of people from my youth.  The euologist spoke at length about how the deceased touched his life, believed in him, and helped him to become the man (and pastor) that he is today.

    The funeral program mentioned that, at her last, she was surrounded by loving family; and special mention was made of one friend who was there.  The two of them had been friends for over 50 years.  That was a lovely detail.  I’m not yet 50 years old, and I’m always awestruck by people who have been engaged in something for longer than I’ve been alive.

    I used to gather together before Sunday service with the First Lady of our church and other congregants for prayer.  The First Lady would consistently pray over our Sunday School, afterschool & summer programs that our children would grow up as well-watered plants in the house of the Lord.  I always prayed that the children who came to our church, or church-sponsored programs, would make lifelong Christian friends.  The thought of having a group of Christian friends to walk through this life with – through elementary school, through the first date, through weddings, deaths, work, accidents, jobs and job losses, and having their own children – is a powerful and sweet thought for me.  It’s a blessing.

    The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,

    They will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;

    Planted in the house of the Lord,

    They will flourish in the courts of our God.

    They will still bear fruit in old age,

    They will stay fresh and green, proclaiming

    “The Lord is upright;

    He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

    Psalm 92:12-15

  • Loss

    Posted on January 13th, 2013 rhonda No comments

    (I wrote the following during the summer of 2012, but got distracted and never posted it.  The subject of this post passed away recently and I attended her funeral yesterday.  I’ll probably post a few more entries as a way of processing what happened.)

    “The grass withers and the flowers fall,

    but the word of our God stands forever.”

    Isaiah 40:7

    Over a year ago, one of my pastors made a powerful statement.  He said, “You will never have peace until you learn how to take a loss.”

    I’ve experienced several losses over the past year.  The latest is that one of our neighbors is moving.  We’re both long-time residents of our building and she’s one of my mom’s peers.  I grew up with her daughter.  Her health has started to decline, so she decided to accept her daughter’s invitation to move in with her and allow her daughter to take care of her.  Her daughter moved out of the state years ago.  Her mom and I always greet one another when we see each other, but we don’t see one another very often.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been to her house.

    Yet, I began to grieve her loss before she even left!  She’s one of the proverbial “pillars” of the community that I rely on.  Maybe it’s a psychological dependence.  There are just some people and some things in my life that have been so stable that their loss is jarring.  Loss is my word of wisdom for today.  They say that the only thing in life that remains the same is change.  Everyone and everything that we have will eventually be lost.  Cherish and enjoy them while you have them.  Tell people you appreciate them while they’re there.

    Only God remains the same.


  • Doing Justice

    Posted on January 9th, 2013 rhonda No comments

    I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.  Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

    Habakkuk 2:1-2

    Dennis A. Jacobsen chose Habakkuk to open his book, Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing.  The vision that the Lord wants written down is His promise to bring justice to Israel and to punish the Babylonians, Israel’s oppressors.

    Jacobsen is the modern-day herald, emphatically stating that a congregation-organized community is a vehicle of justice.  Doing Justice is jarring.  It’s the shock you get when you leave a warm comfortable apartment and realize it’s colder than you think outside.  He doesn’t mince any words in criticizing the church.  He relates a conversation with a bishop about community organizing:

    “He said, ‘The role of the church in society is not to engage systemic injustice but to fill in the gaps.’  This view is, of course, the practical, working theology of most churches in the United States whose social ministry, if it exists at all, is devoted to food pantries, homeless shelters, or walk-a-thons to generate money for this or that cause. . . . Society is pleased to have the church exhaust itself in being merciful toward the casualties of unjust systems.” (pp. 18-19)

    Doing Justice made me wonder if my church and I were really serious about justice.  My church feeds people, gives out clothing, funds affordable housing, etc.  Jacobsen says that’s nice, but not enough.  To go further, we’d have to ask questions like, “Why can’t people buy enough groceries for themselves?”  In answering that question, we’d have to confront the systems that maintain economic injustice.

    Doing Justice includes a 12-week study guide, which is not “a jumping off point for random conversation.  It is written for those persons inside faith communities who continue to look for the practical handles that will make the presence of creativity, justice, and hope more evident in the culture” (p. 110)  It’s list of national organizations that help develop congregation-based community organizing institutions include:

    The Catholic Campaign for Human Development

    Direct Action & Research Training Center (DART)

    The Gamaliel Foundation

    Pacific Institute for Community Organization

    Doing Justice was a great find.  It’s a quick & clear read that I picked it up for $5.00, but it’s worth a lot more.

    “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high,

    to escape the clutches of ruin! 

    You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,

    shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.”

    Habakkuk 2:9-10

  • Joseph, One of the Worthy

    Posted on January 6th, 2013 rhonda No comments


    When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him

    and took Mary home as his wife.

    Matthew 1:24

    Before Christmas, my pastor used Matthew 1:18-25 to focus on Joseph.  She said that sometimes obedience to God would come at great cost to us; but we would be blessed in ways we could not imagine.  Our act(s) of obedience would have a far-reaching impact on the lives of other people.

    Pastor explained that back then, a betrothal was a marriage that hadn’t yet been consummated.  It was serious.  Becoming pregnant before the wedding ceremony was a major scandal that would ruin Mary’s reputation.   In his decision to divorce her “quietly”, Joseph was refusing to add insult to injury.  He wasn’t going to do anything to humiliate her publicly.  People would realize she was pregnant, and that would be enough destroy her.  Joseph was also willing to allow Mary to keep her dowry, which means she would have some money to sustain her.

    Having made those decisions, Joseph went to sleep, and heard from the angel of the Lord.  Pastor stressed the importance of Joseph waking up, and choosing to believe that this visit was real.  Considering the shame and sacrifice involved in marrying Mary, it would have been easier for him to believe he had a nightmare or ate something that disagreed with him.

    Essentially, in marrying Mary, Joseph also took on her shame.  When people realized she was pregnant, they would think Joseph had no control over himself.   He would be looked at as a hypocrite who said one thing in public, and did the opposite in private.  In fact, Joseph did not even consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born.

    My Pastor didn’t mention the end of Joseph’s life, so I’m just speculating.  I’ve always assumed that Joseph died before the crucifixion and resurrection of his son.  Otherwise, I assume he would have been mentioned as one of the witnesses.  If I’m right, then I think it’s sad that Joseph never lived to see Jesus “save his people from their sins” (v. 21).  I’m thinking that Joseph is one of the faithful, that the world is not worthy of, mentioned in Hebrews 11.

     These were all commended for their faith,

    yet none of them received what had been promised.

    v. 39


  • 2013 – Year of Continued Revolution

    Posted on January 2nd, 2013 rhonda No comments

    Once when we were going to the place of prayer,

    we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.

    Acts 16:16

     I forget that Jesus Christ is a revolutionary.

    I know the story of Paul and Silas’s miracle release from prison.   While praying and singing to God, an earthquake caused their chains to fall from them (v. 25-26).  After seeing the work of God, the jailer and his whole household accepted Jesus as Lord.

    I forgot why they were put in jail in the first place.  I forgot that other chains were broken.  After this slave girl followed them for a few days, Paul cast the evil spirit out of her (v. 18).  Paul healed the slave girl.  He also overturned the economic apple cart.  Without the evil spirit, her owners couldn’t make as much money off of her.  (She could still be used as a sex or labor slave.)  So they grabbed Paul and Silas and took them to the authorities.  The owners were too sly to admit their greed, so instead they accused the two of “throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (v. 20).

    What was the unlawful part?  Was it unlawful for people to be free?  Was it unlawful to set people free?  Was it unlawful to heal people?  Was it unlawful to interrupt business?  Shouldn’t it have been unlawful to have slaves?  I’m not sure.  The city, however, was thrown into an uproar, because a “crowd” (v. 22) joined in the attack against Paul and Silas.  Slavery was supported by the state.  Instead of intervening on the side of Paul and Silas, the magistrates had them stripped, beaten, thrown in jail and placed under armed guard (v. 22-23).

    As a result of setting someone else free, Paul and Silas ended up in jail, and it’s a price they were willing to pay.

    My pastor said that sometimes obedience to God would come at great cost to ourselves; but if we persevere, not only will we be blessed, but that act of obedience would have a far-reaching impact on the lives of other people.

    I pray that we all take that radical, chain-breaking obedience into 2013.  Happy New Year!

     He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

    to proclaim freedom for the captives

    and release from darkness for the prisoners . . . .

    Isaiah 61:1