For Whom Are You Thankful?

thanksgiving03(Being grammatically correct always ends up sounding stuffy and unfriendly. If you’re looking for a more emotionally-accessible blog, imagine the title actually reads, “Who Are You Thankful For?” Much more friends-in-a-coffee-shop.)

This week in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage us to include in our lists of counted blessings the names of those who have been agents of change, agents of hope, agents of inspiration and encouragement.

In my life, there are many people for whom I’m thankful. Family members, friends, people I’ve worshiped with, people I’ve worked with… Each has taught me something, each has inspired me in some way, each has helped me become who I am today and, hopefully, who I will continue to grow into in the future.

My thanksgiving list includes many women (some I know personally, others I’ve only read about) who are deeply engaged in issues such as economic empowerment of women, improving maternal health and infant nutrition, the abolition of slavery, addressing human trafficking, immigration reform, equal access to education…the list goes on, as does my thanks.

This blog seeks to educate and inspire around issues of importance to women and girls globally. We’ve lifted up many influential and inspirational people over the years. I’d like to, during this Thanksgiving season, invite you to reflect on those who have had an influence upon your own life in some way. Leave a comment below with names, reasons why you’re thankful for those persons, your own prayers of thanksgiving…whatever you’re moved to write.

Happy Thanksgiving! (And may our thanksgiving not be limited to a single day but pour forth year-round!)

 

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New podcast episode: “Depression and Women,” an interview with Rev. Dr. Judith Craik

revdrjudithcraiknov2013Depression is a very real problem in the lives of many women, and it can become particularly difficult during the holiday season. In this episode, we have conversation with Rev. Dr. Judith Craik, American Baptist pastor and pastoral counselor. Our conversation looks at depression from the perspective of faith: It includes definitions, symptoms, and healthy ways to address depression in our lives.

Click here for the episode, or find it in iTunes.

Sharing Our Space

2 LBC children Two years ago, the Lai Baptist Church—a young and emerging Chin congregation—came to us out of the blue and said, “We need a place to worship.  Can you help us?”

That request started me on a special journey of church leadership and faith that has been totally unexpected and refreshing.  And, of course, challenging!  Many of the members of this refugee congregation have arrived in the United States within the last couple of years, so their command of English and American culture is a challenge.  Still, it is clear that God has been blessing and growing me as I have waded into life with these brothers and sisters in Christ.

LBC childrenHere are three things that I have learned—and re-learned—from this congregation of young men, women, and children:

First, I have learned to listen closely.  Because of language barriers, I discovered that I cannot make assumptions about what church members are trying to tell me, and it is imperative that I keep asking questions to make sure that I understand them.  I work to make sure that my own language is clear, and simple.  I am grateful when we can speak face-to-face, (out of necessity, many of my conversations with the church leaders is by text messages) because I can read their faces and their body language to discern if there is clarity between us.

Second, I have learned to watch carefully.  When I have had the privilege of worshipping with the Lai Baptist Church, my own energy sky-rockets as I watch the members interact with each other, with their worship leaders, and with the Spirit of God flowing through the sanctuary.  Children are everywhere, often cradled at their mother’s chest or sleeping on her back, and the children move back and forth between mothers and fathers sitting on opposite sides of the sanctuary.  The children are clearly at ease in this space and the parents keep a watchful eye on them, while also allowing them room to move about naturally in this community of faith. There is a level of noise and movement that is out of the ordinary in my own experience and I am learning how infectious and exciting the movement can be.

Third, I have learned to worship continuously.  What a profound reminder the Lai Baptist Church has given me as they tell me about their Sunday morning education hours in people’s homes, followed by worship in the Brighton Community Church sanctuary, usually followed by dinner together and evening worship.  To all of these times of worship and learning they add a Friday night prayer service in the sanctuary.  It is clear that the Lai Baptist Church has an appreciation for worship, fellowship, education, and mission that is contagious.

It never occurred to me that the presence of the Lai Baptist Church could be such a gift.  I am grateful for what my congregation can offer them, and blessed by their presence in my life.

IMG_0353This post is contributed by Rev. Lisa Drysdale, pastor of Brighton Community Church in Tonawanda, New York. The Lai Baptist Church began worshiping in the sanctuary of the church in August, 2012. Lai is one of the language groups that are part of the Chin ethnic community of Burma.

Our prayers are with the people of the Philippines

We’ve been following the news and our hearts break over images of the devastation in the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon. Please be in prayer that the way may be quickly cleared for relief efforts to reach everywhere they are needed; that supplies will be received; and that lives may be restored.

$10,000 in One Great Hour of Sharing emergency relief funds has already been provided. For information on how you can contribute to emergency relief through OGHS, read this article.

‘Tis the Fair Trade Season

“Have you started your holiday shopping?” is an unfair question on a number of levels, so I won’t ask it here. But even in November, many of us have considered whether or not we’ll be buying gifts for family and friends in the next few months…and those of us who linger over that question may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the options spread before us.

Shopping venues seem to increase exponentially each year, as online stores become more pervasive. Many of us now purchase some gifts through the internet, as well as at local, brick-and-mortar shops. Many online stores are, of course, internet versions of our physical retail options. Whether you shop at Target.com or the Super Target 15 minutes from your house may be based on any number of factors, but the ultimate destination for your money spent on those products remains the same. Other online stores are entities unto themselves, with no physical storefront and little “track record” for consumers to access. Wherever you’re shopping, it can be hard to know exactly who you’re buying from, or how to make purchases with responsible consumption and economic empowerment in mind.

Are you considering stepping outside the “big box stores” while buying gifts for your loved ones this year? Maybe you’d like to support local artisans, small and family businesses, or sustainably produced goods. Perhaps you’re looking for ecologically responsible materials, fair trade business practices, or locally sourced gifts (remembering that what “local” means can be subjective). I wondered (as I wandered), and did some window-shopping around the internet, seeking options in this vein. I’d like to share just a few of my findings with you:

  • Global Girlfriend is one of my favorite websites with a multitude of these “alternative” gift options. There, you can purchase women-made, fair trade gifts of jewelry, bags, food, and more — or make targeted donations to fund a wide variety of amazing projects.
  • Novica, run in association with National Geographic, has an online marketplace for home decor, jewelry, and art. Get to know the people behind the production of the gifts you buy, and learn how they retain selling power over their own products. Novica reports it has given over 46 million dollars to global artisans. You can also empower artists through this organization by participating in their microcredit loan initiative (with loans issued at 0% interest).
  • Fair Trade USA is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that also has an online shop. Their mission statement eloquently describes their desire to create and promote “a day when Fair Trade products are readily available in stores across the country, when U.S. consumers can choose a ‘Fair Trade Lifestyle’ and shop responsibly in every product category.” To this end, they sell fair trade certified coffee, tea, bags, cups, body care products, t-shirts, and more through their website.
  • Community-minded businesses can be found locally, of course, but they can also be found online. Beekman 1802 is just one example. Inspired by life on a family farm in Sharon Springs, NY, 25% of the profits from their “Mortgage-Lifter” tomato sauces are donated to help struggling American farmers.
  • If you’re part of a faith community, check with your denomination. Many mission organizations sell products to support their ministry. American Baptist Women’s Ministries has compiled a short list of possibilities available here (American Baptist-related organizations, as well as others).

No Fair Trade marketplace in your area? Consider starting your own. For several years, there was a volunteer-run fair trade holiday gift fair held each year at my local church. At other times, congregant organizers have set up a small table selling fair trade chocolates and coffees after services once or twice a month. No matter your denomination, the Presbyterian Mission website has many good ideas and links to resources.

What are your favorite sustainable and fair trade gifts to give during the holiday season?

This post is the first in an ongoing series, through the year, on economic empowerment in your own backyard. Purchasing fair trade and through alternative markets can have both local and global impact.

This blog post has been contributed by Jennette Selig, blogger at snackreligious.blogspot.com. Jenny lives in New York City and attends Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park. Having been raised by two American Baptist ministers, she enjoys a good potluck as much as any fine dining experience. When not taking pictures of snack foods or her toddler, she works as an audiobook narrator and postpartum doula.

Walking and Talking the Love of Jesus…

"Christ in the House of Simon," (detail), by Dieric Bouts the Elder, c 1440.

“Christ in the House of Simon,” (detail), by Dieric Bouts the Elder, c 1440.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47, NIV)

This verse of Scripture is found within the story of a dialogue between Jesus and a religious leader named Simon. Luke 7:36-47 tells us about Simon, a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to come and have dinner at his home. It appears that the meal was happening somewhere out in the open because a woman of questionable character appeared and began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipe them off with her hair. Simon was appalled! Not only did her actions break the social and religious norms of the day, in Simon’s mind Jesus could not have been a true prophet because he allowed this woman to touch him.

Now, before we start to “jump all over Simon” because we know the end of the story, let’s put ourselves in Simon’s place. We may discover that we are more like Simon than we think! Although we preach, “whosoever will let them come,” frequently when they arrive we are conflicted. For a variety of reasons we are offended and afraid: offended because they tend to be rule breakers. Afraid because they have not yet been sanitized by our religiosity. Like the woman of questionable character they just love Jesus and are abundantly grateful for his grace and mercy. They haven’t yet learned “church etiquette.”

Our leeriness and fearfulness is particularly noticeable when formerly incarcerated persons come to our churches. We have concerns and, if we are honest, those concerns are understandable. Scripture, however, confronts us with the

example and unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Jesus never condoned sinful behavior. He chose rather to meet people where they were and offer to them a more excellent way.

So, then, the question arises,  “How can we authentically show the unconditional love of Jesus without being ‘duped’ by wolves in sheep’s clothing?” Isn’t that what’s at the heart of our fears? That if we open ourselves, our families, our communities, our churches to returning citizens, that they will take advantage of us and do us harm?

How do we overcome that major concern? Let’s consider some practical steps.

  1. Pray and ask the Lord for guidance and direction. This may sound simple and obvious, but you may be surprised to know the number of churches that jump into a ministry without discerning if that is God’s desire for them at that time.
  2. Make preparation for “the Lord’s guests.” As with anything, preparation is needed. Make preparation by having open and honest discussions about concerns, questions, and logistics. How is this going to work?
  3. Invite experienced volunteers and other professionals to speak with the congregation and selected ministry team leaders for special training sessions regarding tips, “do’s and don’ts,” etc.
  4. This is critical: develop a relationship with the local prison. Determine to go at least once monthly to the prison and hold Bible Study, prayer sessions, worship, and so forth. Take it a step further and find out who will be returning home soon. Be intentional about working with the prison to see how your church may be of support. Following guidelines, get to know the returning citizens coming back into your community. Once you develop a rapport, it will be easier to minister to them when they come home.
  5. Finally, keep your word. Don’t make promises that you cannot keep. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.

Remember Jesus’ observation: Those who have been forgiven for much, love much. Might we add, those who realize they have been forgiven for much, love much!

May we realize the love that Jesus extended to us “while we were yet sinners” and be willing and eager to extend that same grace and mercy to others.

Rev. Christine A. SmithThis blog post is contributed by the Rev. Christine A. Smith, Senior Pastor, Covenant Baptist Church, Wickliffe, Ohio. Covenant Baptist is deeply engaged in ministries with formerly incarcerated persons. www.covenantbaptistwickliffe.com.

 

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