Where is the season of Advent going? This morning I woke up feeling the holiday pressure to get Christmas done, and then I remembered to breathe, slow down and be in the moment of this holy season. And so, I began to putz around my old 18th-century house and was struck by the memories that came flooding back when I looked at my dollhouse. There’s a Welsh word — hiraeth — which means a longing for home. I think this longing grows stronger in the month of December. Yet as we long, we take comfort in our memories. What memories of “home” do you hold in your heart? Enjoy this midweek time together at Old Stone Well Farm! Blessings!
On this our second Sunday in our Celtic Advent celebration, we get out the old bowls at the farm to whip up some holiday goodies. This day is known in Anglican circles as “Stir Up Sunday,” which gets its name from the collect in the Book of Common Prayer that asks God to “stir up” God’s faithful children. It was a day for families to “stir up” their Christmas puddings and fruitcake, allowing enough weeks for all the wonderful holiday flavors to mingle together.
I wonder, though, what does it take for our faith to be stirred up? What would it look like to live with such a faith? And, as we head toward the Thanksgiving holiday, who has been that special person in your life who has “stirred up” your faith? Think about that person and pause to give God thanks for them in your life.
Well, I am packing up and getting ready to return to Vermont. And so, a short greeting to welcome you to this week’s time together as we ponder those imaginary giants that we battle with in our lives. Are you tilting at windmills? It’s time to turn our eyes away from the things that drag us down, and look at all the God possibilities that are in our lives. See you next week back at the farm!
Blessings, Pastor Donna
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
An Eye on Tomorrow: A Special Southampton, NY Edition
Toto we are not in Kansas anymore…or Vermont. This Accidental Country Pastor in Southampton, New York, guest preaching for the Rev. Sarah Bigwood of First Presbyterian Church in the village of Southampton.
While some come here for the beach, the high-end shopping and great restaurants I, of course, find myself exploring the area’s rich 17th-century history — and houses. Yes, I am in my glory to be surrounded by many houses built in the 1600s.
But exploring these old houses got me thinking about past generations and generations to come. More importantly, what are we building for tomorrow? Are our eyes on eternal things as 2 Corinthians talks about? Or do the actions we take and the decisions me make, based on material gain and comfort?
Come. Join me for a special edition of worship in Southampton. And make sure to watch the end, as I share a funny behind the scenes story.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Let us now prepare for worship! Blessings, Pastor Donna
When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I’ve been obsessively counting the days this week till the debut of the “Hamilton” movie. I don’t live in Manhattan anymore, nor do I now live in an area with easy access to the arts of any kind. I am a resident of rural America, meaning any culture in my life takes a lot of planning and travel. Sure, there are museums and way, way, way off Broadway productions that do their best to light up small stages within driving distance, but the distance is a deterrent most of the time.
And so, when I heard “Hamilton” would be in front of my very eyes on my computer screen — no driving two hours or so — I jumped for joy. Broadway at its best and with a dose of 18th century history for this 18th century history lover.
What more could I ask for than a show about Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the country?
Funny that I asked that, because “Hamilton” gave me more than I was prepared for. As I counted down the days to the show, I discovered that “Hamilton” wasn’t just going to be a much-needed escape from my crazy world filled with deadlines and church duties. The production was going to open my eyes. It was going to get me thinking. It was going to make me want to jump up and cry out for a new revolution.
You see, as the media blitz leading to the July 3 movie release picked up speed, I took moments to stop my own writing and editing to listen to several Zoom interviews with cast members who, being men and women of color, were providing a startling and unique stage setting for white America’s history. George Washington, Aaron Burr, Eliza Hamilton, the list goes on — played by actors of color. I found it profound and I began feeling something stirring inside of me.
It was then I heard Daveed Diggs, who played Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette, speak about his experience performing in “Hamilton.” He talked about how telling the story of the birth of this country has been an awakening leading many to realize that we are in another moment of awakening.
“A lot of people are feeling very passionate about not allowing business as usual to continue, in terms of how we govern ourselves, how we police ourselves, all of these things,” said Diggs in an interview. He continued to say, “I’ve been Black my whole life, so this feeling is not a new one to me. ‘Hamilton’ has an opportunity to help the conversation continue further…”
Maybe some of you remember the “Hamilton” controversy in 2016, when during the curtain call, the cast welcomed in-coming vice president, Mike Pence, with a message that was not mean spirited or condescending but stating a heart-felt fact. The actor who played Aaron Burr that night, Brandon Victor Dixon, said, “We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”
If the opening shot at the Battle of Concord in 1775 was hailed as “the shot heard around the world” which started a revolution, perhaps that brutally honest welcome from Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre was to be another proverbial shot?
That’s when I began pondering. If the patriots of the American Revolution were heavily influenced by a time in history known as the Enlightenment — a time where policies, new ideas, fresh possibilities were entertained, debated and, yes, fought for — then could it be we are entering a second enlightenment? A time to entertain, debate, forge ahead and even fight for new ideas and fresh possibilities so that truly Americans live up to the constitutional stance that “all men are created equal.” Riddle me this. Where has that equality been these last 233 years since that document was penned in 1787?
The Fourth of July holiday is upon us and I have not been feeling patriotic in quite some time. This was just going to be another day for me. No flag flying. No barbeques. No fireworks. But thanks to this production of “Hamilton,” I am feeling a new patriotism rising up, a new revolution underway with changes being called for and demanded of our society.
Before you argue with me, stop and think about it. A people once stood up and fought for their chance at “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This holiday is not to sit contently with luxuries achieved because the harsh truth is there are still Americans who are fighting for those same luxurious many of us assume are our God-given rights. History is not some archaic lesson in which dates are simply memorized for the sake of memorization — and perhaps impressing friends with some trivia. History is a living lesson reminding us of the brave men and women who dared to think differently and stand up and challenge systems.
As I get ready to finally kick up my feet, pour myself a glass of Madeira — a sweet wine popular in 18th century America, which I thought would be appropriate for this occasion — and watch “Hamilton,” I find myself no longer praying for my rural internet to not buffer or freeze up while watching the show. I sip my wine and find myself praying that I myself don’t freeze up or beginning buffering as I play my part in the new America emerging.
Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, And I’m not throwing away my shot … – Alexander Hamilton from the “Hamilton” movie
I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. It wasn’t because I was just so comfortable that I wanted to remain put a bit longer. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to disturb my two cats who found their way upstairs and decided to purr contently in the mess of blankets that I burrowed into more deeply on this chilly spring morning. It wasn’t because I really needed the extra rest. It wasn’t any of this.
I couldn’t get out of bed this morning because I was scared of the news this day would bring. I was feeling helpless that I couldn’t do anything for others in this time of pandemic, except isolate myself from them. And, I was feeling a deep mourning that I never expected to feel. I was mourning the loss of my creativity.
Since the virus known as COVID-19 entered our lives, I have not been able to concentrate on reading, praying and worst of all, writing. And I feel lost. Words have always been my closet friends — there for me when I grieved, when I rejoiced, when I needed to vent, when I needed to speak up for justice, to get a point across or to comfort others. But now my “friends” have decided to social distance themselves from me.
This should be my moment to shine, shouldn’t it? To be a voice of hope and faith — of certainty in God’s goodness — in this time of uncertainty. It has been said that during times of crisis in history — even plagues— that great literary works have been written and songs composed. Artists were changed by the crisis — moved, touched and ultimately inspired.
Take for example, William Shakespeare.
At the end of the 16th century, a plague forced the closing of all theaters in London, similar to the lights currently going black on New York’s Broadway. Not being able to produce plays, Shakespeare turned to poetry. When theaters reopened, Shakespeare was back to writing his plays. But in the summer of 1606, at the very height of a successful theatrical season that included productions of King Lear and Macbeth, the flag was lowered at the Globe theater. The doors were locked. London was locking down as the plague had returned. It was a devastating time of uncertainty — and of death. Yet, Shakespeare biographers purport that this time shaped the future writings of this great literary genius in amazing ways. The death, the devastation, the darkness deepened his views of the world around him, added richness to his words.
I wonder, is this our time to be changed — to go deeper than we have ever gone before in how we understand the world, humanity, life, love and death? Is this time of social uprooting due to a virus named COVID-19 not just a temporary inconvenience, but a time to plant new roots in richer soil? To not be afraid to change direction and to go from plays to poetry; from traditional Sunday worship to video devotionals; to go from what we thought we should do to what we always dreamt of doing?
Could it be that our change in our daily routines — not being able to go to the office, or the gym or church as we once did — is pointing us to a new life that is less busy and less stressed?
Is this the much needed, and long overdue, moment to have our priorities called into question? Did we get fooled into a sense of security because our financial portfolios were doing well? Did we really understand the problems in our society what were kept in the shadows of our own contentment, our own needs, our own wants?
Perhaps this is our Shakespeare moment in which we have been invited to finally see the world for what it is — broken, hurting and unjust for many. Perhaps this is our Shakespeare moment not necessarily to have our creativity soar to new heights so that our words and ideas take centerstage for worldly accolades, but to step back and allow death, devastation and darkness the opportunity to deepen our worldview, our faith, our lives — no matter how painful or uncomfortable that will be.
Perhaps this is our Shakespeare moment in which when this crisis passes — and it will — a new richness will bless our lives. Richness beyond material things. Richness of resiliency. Richness of rest. Richness of rejoicing. Richness that comes when we lean fearlessly into the words spoken at the start of the Lenten season that from dust we come and to dust we return.
I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. I was feeling overwhelmed. My inner Shakespeare just didn’t want to pick up the quill to write. And that’s okay. This is not a time to shine. This is a time to ponder, a time to pray, a time to prepare for the great works that are to come from a crisis that is changing my heart — and yours.
Donna Frischknecht is editor of Presbyterians Today magazine. She is also a part-time rural pastor serving a congregation in upstate New York on the border of Vermont.
The little village was just beginning to come to life on what was a picture perfect Fourth of July. As I pulled into the parking lot of the little white church I noticed a few early birds had already claimed their spot on the parade route. At least they had nice weather in which to wait in, I thought.
I, myself, took a deep breath in as I got out of the car and allowed my eyes to linger up at the blue skies. I couldn’t remember a more beautiful holiday than this.
The clear skies and cool temps were ideal for the “big” parade—big meaning lots of firetrucks, a few pickup trucks and tractors transformed into floats thanks to the invention of crepe paper and balloons and one band and a group of bagpipers joining the teens which made up the high school band.
Still it was “big” in terms of the hearts who marched out of love for country, love for village, love for tradition, love for one another. My own heart filled with a love I thought I would never feel again.
A love for a home that I never expected to find, then lose, and then, by the grace of God, find again.
Many times, I had pulled into this parking lot when I was the little white church’s pastor and many times I would stop before heading inside to gaze at the weathered clapboards. And many times, I would look beyond the weathered wood and see what other eyes could not.
I would see a vision of hope.
I gazed again. And there it was. Hope shining back at me.
Just then my friend who was going to join me in watching the big parade pulled into the parking lot. I could hear the engine shutting down, the clicking of her seat belt, the slam of the car door and the beep of the car being locked. Soon she was standing by me, gazing too at the weathered wood.
“It needs a lot of work,” she said.
“Yep, it does,” I nodded.
“It’s a big structure,” she said.
“Yep, it is,” I nodded.
As we scanned the expanse of the slate roof, I described to her how the roof was being supported by the most incredible hand hewn beams that a building inspector once showed me many years ago while climbing high into the old rafters on a hot, humid summer day, making the old wood smell even more pronounced.
“Hmmm…” she said and that was all.
She sensed I didn’t want this sacred moment of gazing at weathered wood broken by the not so sacred discussion of painting and slate repair costs.
Instead she said, “You’re home, aren’t you?”
Weathered wood stands as a testimony not only to time, but to God’s grace and our faith in future.
I nodded a short “yep” not wanting the tears of gratitude to start falling.
“I’ve always had this vision….” and then I began sharing the hope I saw in the weathered wood.
Hope that withstood the storms of life and the harsh elements of setbacks and trials. Hope in which was asked to lay dormant many a winter waiting and waiting and waiting for spring’s rebirth to come again.
“I’ve always had this vision…” my parking lot sermonizing was over.
My friend kept staring at the church. I couldn’t tell if she now saw my weathered wood vision.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
As we walked up street (as my husband, the local boy, would say, always leaving out the “the” that I would put in when indicating I was going “up the street”), I silently prayed for more eyes to see the beauty—and the hope—in weathered wood.
For it’s there. Always. With faith, we can and will see God’s beauty.
The Accidental Country Pastor shares a Christmas Eve tradition out on the rail trail of her home in Vermont. May you listen attentively to the angels’ song in your life and may on this holy night you hear God’s whisper to you, “Christ is born. Emmanuel. God with you.”
Many blessings and a Merry Christmas!
(P.S. On the video I mention Frederick Buechner, who lives up the road from me in Vermont. Well, I guess I have Christmas “brain” for I shared a phrase with you that wasn’t quite right. Buechner once wrote about seeing with the eyes of the heart, not listening with the ears of the heart. I wanted to set the record straight. But whether you see or listen, the message is the same…be attentive and always ready to greet the newborn King into your lives…and I kind of like the ears with the heart, too. )
Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways and unexpected ways.
Advent Day 6:
The bells clanked away as I made my way into the grocery store. There standing around the Salvation Army’s red kettle were a bunch of kids with their moms. I wasn’t sure if they were with one of the many churches in the little rural village or with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or perhaps the 4-H or FFA, that is Future Farmers of America, which many of the kids who once ran down to the little white church I pastored were active in. It didn’t matter. They were there giving their time on a week night to collect money for those who might not have enough to make the holiday a happy one.
I smiled at them as I passed by with my cart, letting them know I would donate on my way.
“Promise?” one boy asked.
“Promise,” I answered.
With that promise made, I set out to get the groceries I needed—and only the groceries I needed. I vowed that I would not fill my cart up with impulse items like I tend to do. Just ask my husband. I am a sucker for anything labeled “limited time only.” Do I really need another box of pumpkin spice Cheerios? No. I don’t. But wait. What’s this? Egg nog flavored…step away from the shelf and keep on shopping.
Do I really need…
That question lingered in my head as I shopped. I thought about all I had. Yes, money was tight now that my husband and I had moved back home to Vermont. I gave up a steady paycheck and a church job with benefits, not easy to come by these days in any vocation, but especially in ministry. But the move back wasn’t about financial gain. It was about something even better. Spiritual gain. It was about living. Really living. Living simply. Living to enjoy the early morning sunrises. Living to be able to take a walk on the rail trail behind our little country home. Living to be able to raise chickens again. Living to be able to get back to ministering in an area where a helping hand to lift up those who are struggling with not having enough was needed. Spiritual gain that far outweighed any paycheck.
Somewhere along the way I had forgotten what real living was all about. Three years I was in exile of sorts. Living but not really. My faith was tested and I was often feeling more empty and hungry than fulfilled, even with all that I had. It was then I realized I had to fix my life. I had to once again remember what really mattered.
As I stood at the checkout line I could hear the bell ringers ringing those bells with much enthusiasm. I smiled and wondered how many cashiers on duty they were driving crazy?
I looked at the groceries riding down the conveyor belt to be rung up. I did a good job at sticking to my list. But how was I doing at the job in sticking to the other list?
The list of what I really needed? God and God alone.
The teens at the little white church were gathered in the chapel one weekday morning in Advent. We gathered to have breakfast together and to share God’s word with one another before going to school. Since it was Advent, the scripture I shared with them was of course about Jesus’ birth and what it meant to those who waited so long for hope to come into their lives. We talked and shared and then it happened. One girl, who was deep in thought, spoke up. And what she said I will always treasure.
Why is it that the focus on Christmas is about wanting so many things we don’t need? All that the people in Jesus’ time ever wanted was hope in their lives. And God delivered. We don’t seem to ask God for what we really need, do we?
I took my bags that were filled with just my daily bread and nothing more. And with the money spent on things I didn’t need, I fulfilled my promise to the little boy ringing the bell at the big red kettle.
“God bless you,” he said to me.
“God bless you,” I said back.
And as the clanging of the bells faded into the distant, I could hear something even more beautiful. I could hear God answering the prayers of those who were asking for what was needed the most. More faith, more trust, more God.