Barn Raisers

My mother has a fascination for lighthouses and very old cemeteries. I, on the other hand, love the old barns of New England. There’s just something about faded red clapboards that draw me in. Perhaps its because these clapboards tell the story of not just how the harsh winters and scorching summers have worn away at their paint.

These barns, if one listens carefully, tell the important story of weathering life’s unruly elements. For inside the post and beams, often notched, pegged and dovetailed together with gripped by calloused hands, are many tales of when farm animals filled the stalls, hay reached high into the rafters and grain overflowed in bins; and when animals, hay and grain were scarce.

The cool, dank smell of earthen floors and the musty sting of aging wood, speak to me of a time when people really valued being part of a community and cared about the abundance and/or the scarcity within one’s barn—for by caring about one’s barn, you were caring about one’s livelihood, one’s happiness, one’s heart.

I think of the barn raisings still taking place in Amish communities today. Men come with their tools eager and willing to help a neighbor. Women spread out the tables with what seems to be a never-ending supply of home baked goods, relishes, jams, fried chicken, ham loaf and, of course, snickerdoodle cookies and shoo-fly pies. But those are the Amish. We are what they call the “English” and such gatherings don’t happen among us anymore which is a shame, for we are missing out on more than just ham loaf.

Yes, these barns are telling me story of how we ought to live in community with one another. They tell me that even though I am a horrible cook and many times my stab at shoo fly pie is a complete flop (I am not sure how I can still mess up such a simple concoction of molasses, brown sugar and a crumb topping), I should still find time to invite friend, family and foe to my table to sit and not just break bread together, but to sit and share our lives together.

For storms of all kinds do their best to weather the clapboards of our hearts. But if we stay connected to what’s really important—to one another—we will find ourselves standing tall like those barns, telling stories that will be our testimony to a God who leads us through all seasons.

Just this morning as I pondered storms, seasons, old barns, true friends and even foes (yet to become friends) in my life, I came across this quote in a magazine I was reading. The author wrote, “We don’t need barns full of stuff, we need people to hear our story in its rawest form and who still see us as a beautiful soul no matter how much ugly we’ve experienced or felt or even been. We need people to share our story and advocate for us, to vouch for us, to support us when standing alone isn’t possible.”

I have stood alone in life and wondered where and who my advocates were. I have known the grace of someone coming alongside of me to listen and understand me and, I have had the grace and compassion to be that support to someone standing alone as well.

I knew a woman who had on her property an old Scottish bank barn. The beams, the carpentry, the dug out basement for keeping potatoes and other garden goodies fresh even in the winters, all captivated me. But she was selling the place. She was moving. She needed a fresh start. She needed community. She had served her country and had suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, thus, making it hard for others to really understand her tough exterior and, often at times, argumentative nature. She longed for a chance, but few gave it to her.

I chose to stay by her side, trying to advocate for her when others wouldn’t. I stood with her even when it was hard to do so. I stood and took the hurtful words that would sometimes come my way. I stood and by doing so I was there to catch her pent up tears when she finally felt safe enough to let them fall. images-2

We have long since lost contact with one another, but at times I find myself driving by her home and her Scottish bank barn and wondering how she is doing. I pray that she has found people to continue sharing her story with and people who will not be so quick to write her off, but who stand with her long enough to see the beauty of the weathered clapboards that are barely holding her fragile heart together.

I love old the old barns of New England. I love them because they tell me a story of how we all have such clapboards barely holding our fragile hearts together. They remind me that there was a time when community was there, showing the love of Christ towards one another—a love that does amazing restoration work. (Maybe that is why I had my wedding reception in an old Vermont barn?)images-1.jpg

Barns give me hope that such love in community can still exist today.

We just have to relearn to be those barn raisers of yesteryear.

And Yet Another Friend…

I just heard that yet another friend, another woman with young children, has been told the news every woman fears.

You have breast cancer.

The shock, the grief, the numbness—the emotions are many and often they never come just one at a time. They often team up, mingling together, creating a hurricane force of dread capable of destroying any sense of hope. But before we scurry about trying to batten down the emotional hatches, we need to stand still before God. We need to feel the ground beneath our feet. We need to hug someone or simply hug ourselves. We need to take a deep breath.

Then with strength we didn’t know we had (but it is there, it’s always there with God) we stretch out our hands to grab hold of the truth that whatever storm is raging in our lives, be it the cancer storm, the depression storm, the storm of broken relationships or the storm of financial ruin, there is a peaceful calm. Meteorologists call that place the eye of the storm. I call it the peace of Christ.

When I was just out of college and trying to find my way in the world of magazine publishing, worrying if I would ever become an editor of a glossy magazine read by millions (it seems so silly now), I used to sing to myself some Christian song. I don’t even remember now who sang it or what. I haven’t heard it in many years, but the words went something like this, “Don’t give up, you’re on the brink of miracle. Don’t give in, God is all around.” And then there were words about the stormy seas being all around but God would lead us safely to the shores.

Not only would I sing the song to myself all throughout the day.  At night, as my worrying thoughts would keep me from falling asleep, I would  play the song on my bright yellow Walkman (I thought I was so hip with that Walkman). I would push the rewind and play button so often that eventually the ribbon on the tape cassette broke. I am really showing my age, aren’t I?

The rewind button in my mind has just just been pushed.  I can hear those encouraging words once again.

Don’t give up. You’re on the brink of a miracle. Don’t give in, God is all around. Don’t give into fear, think of things that are pure. And praise the Lord, your miracle is here. 

Yet another friend diagnosed with breast cancer…

Here’s to today that the Lord has given to us. We can breathe, we can pray, we can laugh. Let’s treasure the moments in this day.

For storms hit. All the time. But peace can always be ours.

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The sun’s light in the back fields of the Accidental Country Pastor’s home in Vermont is always a moment to pause and pray, thanking God for the promise of peace that passes all understanding. 

An Iced Coffee Break

In the midst of this hot and humid week as I try so hard to cross off a million and one tasks on my list that seem to be multiplying rather than growing shorter, I’ve decided to do something radical.

I’m taking a break from it all.

And so I sit here sipping my iced coffee, skimming through my journal from a recent clergy conference focused on self-renewal and have something short I want to share with you. Something perhaps you need to reflect on.

Here it goes.

Questioning why things happen will drive you nuts. It’s really all about celebrating how those things have led you to here—right now, this very moment you are in. Can you see God in this moment? For God is right here, right now, in this very moment.

I think I will have that cookie to go with my iced coffee. I’m sure my list of things to do will wait for me.

Blessings and peace.

 

 

 

 

Salon Theology 101

I love getting my hair cut. Not because it always feels great to have the split ends removed and to have an inch or so trimmed off, giving my hair my bounce and body. (Okay, I am beginning to sound like a commercial for hair products!)images.jpg

I love getting my hair cut because of the conversations I have with my hairdresser—conversations that go beyond what conditioner to use or how to tame frizz. The conversations we have are conversations we all should be having. They are the conversations about life, love and faith. They are conversations about what it is that makes us who we are. Yesterday I had one such conversation with my hairdresser.

As her scissors worked their magic we got to talking about respect, more like the lack of respect we see towards one another. We got to talking about how no one is addressed anymore as Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. Rather first name basis is now a thing for strangers and casual acquaintances alike. We then went on to share experiences in schools and churches where often titles as Dr., Prof., Rev. and Pastor aren’t used much either.

Perhaps that is why I have such a fondness for rural ministry as it seems in such a setting there are still remnants of a time gone by where folks are still addressed as Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr., and Prof. I recall many times an adult correcting a child that I was not “Donna” but “Pastor Donna.” At first I was surprised at the correction as I have never seen that happen till serving a little rural church in upstate New York. It was refreshing. But lately, we got to wondering what happened to the use of such identifiers.

Now this conversation wasn’t a gripe session. Far from it. This conversation was more in line of two people trying to make sense of the horrific violence in our world without having to speak of such violence, because how much more can our broken hearts take by once again trying to discern the shootings that have taken more black lives. Yes, I am making the point that these men were of color. Because if we just say “lives” and if we argue against the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, stating that “ALL” lives matter, then we are not being realistic as to how great the problem of race still is in our country. We are fooling ourselves in thinking we have nothing to do with it.

I don’t know. Maybe it was easier for us to speak in code and focus on the umbrella topic of “respect” then having to really dive deeply into the ugly, harsh realities of our world. But maybe we have to dive deep into the muck before we can even think about bopping our heads up to the safe, serene surface we so desperately seek.

It was then my hairdresser said, “How do we expect people to respect one another when we don’t even respect ourselves?”

I had to pause and ponder. She was on to something here. Could it be humanity’s brokenness has gotten to the point where we are lashing out at one another? Could it be the stressors of living are finally making us snap? Could it be we are so unhappy with ourselves that the only way to have some sort of pleasure is to look at another as lesser than and to treat another as lesser than?

I’m not sure. I’m just sharing the thoughts I’m encountering as I dive into the muck, hoping to learn something that will bring me back to the clear, serene surface.

My hairdresser’s words stayed with me much longer than the smooth, blowout I left the salon with. As my hair quickly reverted to its natural state of waves and frizz, I wondered what did God have to say about “respect”?

Remembering a question from my ordination exams long ago which asked about the role of authority, respect, treating one another, etc., I knew to begin my search by turning to 1 Peter. And there it was (the following are excerpts from 1 Peter 2, as presented in The Message):

Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God.

Respect for others.

Respect for self.

Respect in general.

It seems to me that it begins with us first respecting God. It seems to me we need to remember the earliest command in the Mosaic law in which Jesus highlighted beautifully how it is lived out when he told the parable of The Good Samaritan.

It goes something like this:

A lawyer knowing the Mosaic law intimately asks Jesus, “Teacher (notice, the respectful title given to Jesus), what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus reminded him of the law, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

Notice the “love yourself” thing that is linked to the love your neighbor thing.

But then the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

Could it be the lawyer knows he is guilty of not loving everyone? Could it be he is hoping Jesus will say specifically who you can and cannot love and still be good with God?

It’s a good question that I am going to let linger there without an answer. You ponder it. But before you do, first ask yourself the respect question.

For my hairdresser was on to something when she asked, “How can we respect others when we don’t even respect ourselves?”

Well, thanks for entertaining my thoughts for today. I have another hair appointment in six weeks. So stay tuned for more Salon Theology 101.

Postscript

This was written before the news of the shootings in Dallas that have left five police officers dead. Prayers for all who mourn this day. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.