Stories that Shine on an Awesome God

Archive for the ‘Belonging’ Category

Old Fashioned Sanity

In Cades Cove, a white clapboard church stands protected by the Park Service of the United States of America and by the mountains of East Tennessee. Dedicated to worship for all ‘time and eternity,’ it has been sandwiched between a single lane road and a collection of gravestones for one hundred and seventy-seven years.

CadesCove Church

A few days ago, my family opened the doors of this church, sat on its wooden pews, and began to sing. Voices from the past seemed to join us in praise. I couldn’t tell from their ethereal voices how they eked out a meager living, but I could imagine. I could also wonder, with times so hard, how they kept their sanity.

The early cove folks were a tight bunch. Their survival depended on it. Community barn raising and corn husking were common. Midwives made frequent visits. Undoubtedly, their two Revolutionary War veterans showed the others how to live on nothing more than determination.

While we sang, other tourists stepped into the church and many of them joined us. A community of strangers soon requested Amazing Grace and Sweet By and By. Music, sometimes a snitch off key, flowed over walls bare enough to belie superior acoustics. For those few sacred moments, I entwined my heart with the past and  sang against isolationism that threatens our present.

I left that church knowing, like that long ago mountain fellowship, our impromptu community had helped to keep each other sane.

“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” I John 1:7


All It Takes Is One

Chaos in a Midwestern town. Desperation in the mountains of Iraq. Fear in an Amish community. A politician in Kenya who calls himself Christian wants a law that stones humans of differing sexuality. It may seem odd, but what comes to mind as I read the posts and watch the news is myself as a ten-year old girl on a bright, Tennessee day going to church with my friends.

black patent shoes

It doesn’t take much to make a crowd. All you need is two. We had three.

“Make sure to save seats.” Beverly reminded.

“Be sure to get behind Alicia.” Joyce added with a sly grin.

Spotting the back of Alicia’s curly blond head, I picked up the chorus book from the seat behind hers and plopped down. Stretching out my legs I made certain that my black patina shoes joggled her chair.

She turned to look back. For an instant, blue eyes smiled. To avoid those eyes and my twinge of guilt, I focused on pale, plump arms set off by silky sleeves puffed to perfection. In her lap, dimpled hands clutched a silken purse. She noticed my two cohorts taking their seats beside me and turned around in a hurry.

“How’s our proper little Southern belle?” Beverly whispered loud enough for Alicia’s ears.

“Let me hear that Alabama accent.” Joyce reached out a finger and poked the back of the new girl in town.

We giggled, smug in the strength of numbers. Then we opened our hymn books and sang about heaven.

Image of blonde girl left out

Alicia went back to Alabama, but all through fifth grade our crowd of three grew denser. So tight in fact, that cheating was a breeze. Conniving against school rules was challenging fun. After all, we had each other, a shared identity, The Three Musketeers. Together life was tight. Life was secure.

Immersed in our ten-year old mob behaviors we considered ourselves  holy, just, and good. We had no idea that “The mob takes on a spirit of its own and the satanic is generated,” Or that “The mob becomes capable of evil that would be unthinkable for most people as an individual” as Brian Zahnd writes. We had no idea that Alicia had been our scapegoat, a sacrifice made so that we could belong.

Fortunately for my crowd of three we had a summer break. We also had a Jesus who “never leads anything other than a gentle and peaceable minority.” I have lost track of  my two friends, but I’m quite certain that they have become honest and kind adult women. I don’t know what might have been their moment of truth when the Prince of Peace shone on their hearts, but I know mine. It came in the form of a story.

During that summer break I read through a bedtime story collection. When I finished reading about a girl my age who determined to break away from her crowd even if it meant being called Teacher’s Pet, I determined to do the same. Alone, with only a book and his Light shining inside, I decided to act as an individual.

Image of cross by JeriAnne

I soon learned that “To follow Christ is to differ from the crowd. To differ from the crowd is to be controversial. To be controversial by differing from the crowd is to run the risk of becoming [like Jesus] a scapegoat yourself.” I was misunderstood. I was even called Teacher’s Pet. It wasn’t easy, but I suspect it never is.

It doesn’t take much to make a crowd. All it takes are powerful people bent on crusade. All it takes is a different group fighting their own holy war. All it takes are a few straight folks with an agenda against gays. All it takes is one man and one woman to close down a quiet community’s roadside stands. All it takes is a nation full of self-righteous pride to kill, maim, and destroy. All it takes are three little girls singing Jesus songs to intimidate a chubby blond.

On the other hand, all it takes is One individual willing to surrender to that crowd. All it takes is that One being vindicated through His resurrection. All it takes is that One calling us to forsake the crowd’s evil practice of turning fellow humans into scapegoats. All it takes is that One establishing mercy instead of sacrifice.

All it takes is One.

Image of easter lilies near headstone by JeriAnne

The quotes above are taken from Brian Zahnd’s book A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace.  It’s radical. It’s truth and light. I highly recommend it. For your convenience here’s the link:   A Farewell to Mars

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