September 2023 As we survey our community, we become mindful of people like Jennifer Kearney, who, as a faithful photographer, stepped behind the camera lens and captured moments of goodness, love, and joy in the world. Jen began Joy Photography in Waynesboro as a business and a mission project. With a camera in one hand and joy in the other, her presence widened the circle of compassion, and her photos brought joy.
Everyone Has Value
April 2023 Whenever I read the parable of the lost coin, I think back to my teenage years. Like most youths, my sister and I lost our toys, keys, and homework assignments. Since our father was a stay-at- home dad, we often asked him, “Hey, Dad, have you seen my keys?” After all these years, I can still hear his response echo throughout our small 900-square-foot home. He would say, “No, but I bet if you cleaned up, you would find them.” More often than not, he was right. After I had cleaned up my bedroom, the living room, and my car, I not only found my keys but noticed the time spent cleaning the physical spaces had also restored emotional and spiritual spaces too. Sometimes it takes losing something to notice the mess in the corners of our homes and hearts. We need time to recenter our lives and reclaim joy again.
Fasting and Feasting Draws Us Closer to God
March 2023 In the season of Lent–a forty-day journey for Christians from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday–it seems unusual to focus on feasting with Jesus rather than fasting. Fasting is a practice of self-denial that helps one identify with the suffering of Christ. And yet, both spiritual habits of fasting and feasting, when focused on Jesus, can draw us close to the heart of God. In most faiths, fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Jesus fasted for forty days and overcame the devil's temptation in the wilderness. After the forty days, Jesus spent much of his ministry around the table. He ate with the wealthy and the poor, the religious leaders, and the sinners. He was different from other religious leaders and called on his disciples to be different too.
Alright, God, I'll Trust You
February 2023 Good ol’ Charlie Brown. Whenever Charlie Brown appears at the beginning of a comic strip, we notice his good intentions and sincere expectations of others to do the right thing. As readers, we cheer him on in the background; however, repeatedly, we find a disappointed Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown is not alone. In the stories on the printed page and on the television screen, Peanuts’ characters never really get what they want. Lucy never gets noticed by Schroeder. Linus never sees the great pumpkin. Charlie Brown never kicks the football. Nevertheless, not getting what they want does not stop them. They keep going; their determination is admirable. In the fictional neighborhood, their daily perseverance is one of the reasons we are so fond of them. Each character has a unique personality and offers a sense of daily hope.
Here's the Church
January 2023 One of my favorite “Peanuts” strips is “Here’s the Church,” printed in 1989. Charlie Brown teaches his sister, Sally, a traditional nursery rhyme by tangling his fingers together and saying, "Here's the church. And here's the steeple. Open the door, and here’s all the people!" As Snoopy's ears stand up, Sally says, "That's very clever." She walks away, saying, "Open the door, and here's all the people. That's neat! I like that!" Looking over her shoulder, she continues, "I appreciate having a smart big brother who can teach me all these things." Charlie Brown turns to Snoopy and asks, "Do you think maybe you could help me get my fingers apart?" With a traditional nursery rhyme and a handful of characters, Schulz introduces the church without fear, shame, or guilt, but rather, with curiosity and connection. He offers readers the freedom to apply their own understanding of theology, faith, and the church.
The first songs of Christmas reveal God's goodness
December 2022 Whenever I hear the Christmas song “Silver Bells” by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, I listen to it until the very end. At first hearing, the song may seem lacking in spiritual luster; however, every time I hear it, my mind and heart step into a winter wonderland filled with God's goodness and grace. While walking down city sidewalks dressed in holiday style, I remember past conversations with sacred stories shared among family and friends. I then recall images of sidewalks lined with numerous luminaries for a Christmas Eve Service and others covered with snow on a Christmas morning. Lastly, I think of places of faith with cracked sidewalks and unfamiliar places of mission with no sidewalks at all. In listening to this holiday tune, I sense in the air the good news of Christ’s birth with angels singing peace on earth and goodwill toward men. The sounds of children laughing and people passing bring to my mind the smiles of faithful saints from long ago. These silver bells may not be worth as much as gold ones; however, they remind me of God’s simple and humble ways of love in the world.
Choose to live from the heart
November 2022 Thankfully, God calls people such as prophets and poets who choose to suffer alongside us, walk with us in hardship, and share God’s steadfast love with us, even if it takes 70 years to do so. Frances Taylor Gench, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Union Presbyterian Seminary, writes that Lamentations is not a book that explains away or eliminates suffering but is a biblical witness of how God keeps company with suffering and is a companion to our suffering. Whenever we read prophets’ words of lament, we experience life through a different lens and can become a companion to suffering as well. Whenever we choose to keep company with suffering, we discover the profound truth and rich meaning of God’s love by walking hand in hand with those experiencing years of war or exile, seasons of chemotherapy or grief or days of hurt or brokenness.
God promises to walk with us
October 2022 During my summer sabbatical, my husband, Reed, and I spent nine days on the Isle of Iona. We walked, hiked, and worshipped. We ate, rested, and talked with visitors and islanders. Around day four, we stopped keeping a schedule and stepped into a daily rhythm. Our days began and ended with worship at the Iona Abbey. Between services, we hiked over rocky hills and explored stony beaches. Since we spent many hours together and shared many of the same experiences, we often focused more on our surroundings than our conversations. In those moments of silence, as we walked without talking, I moved from being a tourist to being a pilgrim. As the rain fell and the winds blew, I wrestled with questions and discovered past burdens that weighed me down. With each step, my questions transformed into prayers, and my burdens were left behind in the meadows among the bleating sheep and grazing cattle.
Rest plays a key role in the renewal of our spirits
May 2022 ... During the sabbatical, I will lay down my pen from writing wedding homilies, funeral meditations, weekly sermons, and monthly faith columns for “The News Virginian” to direct time and energy toward serving God and neighbor both near and far from home ...
Discover Freedom in Christ this Easter
April 2022 On Easter morning, Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Men and women, youth, and children seek sacred places to retell Jesus’s victory over death and their freedom found in Christ. Yet, Christians may learn more about freedom in Christ from hidden places and faces than the places they seek and the people they choose to serve.
Have ears to hear and a heart to listen
April 1, 2022 Certain people, places, and books allow my ears to hear better and listen longer to God’s voice: the Gospel writer Luke is one of these people. While reading his gospel, my ears hear voices long hushed by society. Although scholars cannot confirm Luke’s profession, his roles of both doctor and writer seem to fit him well. His honest words transformed people rather than attempted to please them. After Matthew, Mark, and John turned in their manuscripts, Luke kept writing. Thanks to his work ethic and perhaps a physician’s perspective, some of our favorite parables appear only in his gospel.
Begin joyful living by making your bed
January 2022 We all desire a life filled with joy. The question is, how do we achieve that? The answer lies in small, specific, intentional choices that make the world a little better and allow the love of God to overflow into the lives of others.
Counselor of Wonder
December 24, 2021 Whenever we experience Jesus’s wondrous ways, we are changed. The old ways of seeking power and truth are no longer viable because we desire a daily script of wonder in our lives. We strive daily to live in the kingdom in which God intends, a kingdom where peace and wholeness is found through justice and righteousness. This Christmas, let us consider scheduling a fifty-minute session with the Counselor of Wonder. May we reveal problems which are hindering our celebrations of Christ’s coming into the world and our expectant hope for His coming again. May Christ guide us with wisdom and grace, transforming impossible human plans into possible divine plans.
Walk in Someone Else's Shoes this Holiday Season
November 27, 2021 Consider walking in someone else’s shoes this holiday season by ringing a bell outside on a cold winter’s night, listening to understand rather than listening to respond, and by holding someone’s hand through their pain. These simple yet profound practices will strengthen our empathetic muscles and help us love well in a hurting world.
On Halloween, behind each costume is a beautiful child of God.
October 29, 2021 Soon, children will dress up in costumes, and parents will take pictures of children standing beside siblings, friends, and cousins. Families will enjoy fall festivities in neighborhoods, homes, and churches. During these events, let us remember who is behind each costume: a beautiful child of God. From now on, when inserting pictures into photo albums, recall the groups where you recognize God’s presence, and write in the photo’s caption: “You are God’s beloved.”
One + One = One
September 24, 2021 Tonight, I have the honor of officiating a couple’s wedding at Ravens Roost Overlook. I will read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 on the mountaintop with emphasis placed on verse twelve, “And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (New Revised Standard Version) As believers, we view one cord within the threefold cord as God's unmerited and enduring love. The God cord provides amazing strength and divine purpose in human relationships: marriage, friendship, and family. My prayer for all couples is for God to strengthen their marriage covenant with an enduring love in the present and an everlasting hope in the future from this day forth and forevermore.
Sacred Places and Wise Individuals
August 27, 2021 The men and women who give the best advice and are known for their wise ways go toward conflict, problems, and sickness. They seek solutions alongside people by waiting in the silence and sitting with those in pain. Until they find a resolution, they keep calling, praying, and showing up. One does not gain wisdom overnight nor secure it through easy answers. A wise individual embraces this virtue because, often in their life, they have also experienced failure, challenge, or loss, and, along the way, a wise person called them on the phone, sat with them in their pain, and listened until they found a solution. Jethro combined years of experience as a father and a priest to impart wisdom to Moses. When asked, Jethro offered good advice. Over time, sound pieces of advice along with experience result in wisdom. Similar to being in sacred places, sitting in the presence of wise souls helps us dream, find clarity, and discover healing.
Unity emphasizes the goodness of God’s love
July 22, 2021 In June, Father Rolo sent invitations to the pastor group for the dedication service of the new church building. He asked us to wear our vestments and his congregation would provide handmade stoles. When I arrived for the dedication service, the parking lot was nearly full and attendants were directing cars to park on the grass. I parked the car, put on my black robe and followed a white-robed priest who walked toward the church’s side entrance. When I entered the building and turned toward the chapel’s entrance, the surprised greeter asked, “Are you supposed to go in there?” I responded, “Yes.”
Prayers for Orange Pants
June 24, 2021 I started praying for Liz this year on Feb. 28. My private prayer list included the request “orange pants for Liz,” between the requests for a woman battling cancer and a couple with Alzheimer’s. On social media, Liz posts pictures of herself in colorful outfits. I imagine her closet looks like a rainbow of garments stretching from one end of her wardrobe to the other. After a few messages to Liz, I included her search for orange pants on my prayer list and in my talks with God. A request for orange pants may seem foolish on a prayer list filled with requests for health concerns, job loss, homelessness, divorce, addiction and mental illness. However, each time I prayed for Liz’s orange pants, I smiled. I felt connected to God and a young adult miles away.
Following the beatitudes
May 28, 2021 Last month, I visited a 95-year-old woman. In reflecting on life, she spoke this wisdom, “I have had a good life; there were good times, and there were hard times.” On a mountaintop, Jesus taught the disciples similar wisdom in the beatitudes. Jesus taught them to anticipate future blessings mixed with goodness and hardship from a kingdom perspective."
Finding hope on Mother's Day
May 9, 2021 One Sunday evening, I arrived with dinner at Ruth’s WARM house. I signed the volunteer clipboard and placed the meal on the countertop in the communal kitchen. The house manager gathered the women and children into the dining room. As a toddler squirmed in his highchair, I briefly shared the story of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. I then posed the question, “If you could choose ten words to define your life from beginning to now, what is at least one word that would appear on your list?” After a moment of silence, a mother answered, “Hopeful.”
Mountaintop experiences often filled with struggle
April 22, 2021 In 2010, my husband and I traveled to Haiti for our first international mission trip. Grandparents cared for our two-year-old and four-year-old daughters… Leaving behind two small children was fearful; however, we trusted in God’s provisions. The Haitian mountaintop experience was a mixture of awe and struggle. The high temperatures and the steep incline of the hike could have prevented the mission group from experiencing gracious hospitality; fear could have kept us from traveling to Haiti, yet, in both situations, God provided. The days spent in Haiti enhanced our marriage more than any other day except our wedding day and the days of our daughters’ births.
Begin a new habit to grow your faith
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021 Intentional faith practices establish routines, explore questions and create sacred moments. Whenever we combine our daily, weekly and yearly spiritual practices, our habits form a lifestyle with God at the center of our story. The best time to start a holy habit is now. The habits we begin today transform how we experience God tomorrow.
Enhance your faith by focusing on love
March 26, 2021 For 15 years, the “Thorns of Jesus” has hung in my office. My desk and chair have always faced the painting. Whenever I am weary, I focus on a Savior who never gives up. Whenever I need mercy, I focus on the blood of Christ, which represents the new covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever I am searching for a thought to preach, teach, or pray, I focus on Jesus to guide me in the paths of righteousness and in the way of love.
There's a light at the end of the tunnel
February 25, 2021 On life’s trail and inside life’s dark tunnel, remember to trust God with each step, watch for joy, do not yield to fear, be patient in the darkness, and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Jesus is with you on the journey.
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