Changing Something for Forty Days

Lent is fast approaching. A season that has often been defined by a sort of second chance at New Year’s Resolutions, Lent is often accompanied by painfully pointed questions from friends and family about what we’re giving up this year.

But the Church’s traditions during the Lenten season have a long and rich history. (Here’s a good place to start, if you’re interested.)

This year, we hope that you will allow yourself to think of Lent a little differently. First off, remember that it’s only a season. This isn’t the time to finally make that life-changing decision that you’ve been putting off indefinitely. It’s a time to intentionally focus on the temporary realities of those forty days so that you’re perspective on the rest of the year might be transformed.

Second, Lent isn’t all just about giving things up. It’s about doing things differently. It’s just as much about putting something in as it is about taking something out. Yes, Lent has often been defined as that time in which we all give up chocolate or carbonated beverages, but the idea is to fill that newly formed empty space in your life with something different.

Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing some thoughts from individuals in our community. Some of them love Lent; others are less enthused. They will tell you their Lenten plans, and, as we move through Lent, they’ll keep you updated on their experiences. Feel free to share your own Lenten reflections in the comments or on our Facebook page.

May this season of temporary change bring us gratitude for life, clear understandings of where we have come from, and wisdom for the future.

Alternative Gift Market December 1st and 2nd…

In a survey conducted by The American Red Cross, 79% of Americans said they would rather have a charitable donation made in their honor than receive a gift they wouldn’t use.

To help you shop for gifts that will make a difference, National Avenue Christian Church will again be hosting an Alternative Gift Market on Saturday December 1st from 9:00 am to 3:00pm and on Sunday December 2nd from 8:30am to 12:30pm.  Many of the non-profits in our community have been invited to participate by setting up a booth and making gift opportunities available.  Participating non-profits include:  Aids Project of the Ozarks, Bill’s Place, Bread for the World, Care to Learn, Church World Services, Council of Churches of the Ozarks, Drury University, Friends Against Hunger, Gay and Lesbian Community Center of the Ozarks, Habitat for Humanity, Harvest on Wheels, Heifer International, Isabel’s House, The Kitchen, Lost and Found, Missouri Hotel GED/ABE Center, Ozarks Food Harvest, Rainbow Network, and United Ministries of Higher Education. 

Lunch will also be available on Saturday for $5.00 and free lattes will be available all day.  Global Crafts will be at the Market offering Fair Trade items from countries across the world and you will also be able to purchase homemade baked goods from the Disciple’s Women’s Bake Sale.

If you have people on your gift list that are hard to buy for during the Holidays, this is the perfect opportunity to purchase a gift that will truly make a difference.  For each donation made to one of the charities, you will receive a small ornament and a certificate that can be wrapped and given to your friends and loved ones.

Stewards of Justice by Paul Green

When I was asked to write about the theme of Stewardship–and in particular with relation to Justice–my first reaction was that I was honored to take on this task. My second reaction was, “What the heck do Stewardship and Justice have to do with one another??!!” I thought it best to define what we mean when we say “Stewardship.” What exactly is a steward? The most applicable definitions provided by Mr. Webster would be the following:

“steward  – one appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution ; one who actively directs affairs”

That helps us understand a little bit more about what a steward might be (although not completely in terms of our community of faith). Now we can look at the word stewardship to look for more clarity, and I do believe there is a definition that can be viewed through our lens of faith:

“stewardship – the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care; the conducting, supervising, or managing of something”

Now this is a definition I can begin to understand and a good starting point. If we are going to practice stewardship, then we must practice with care and responsibility. We can also read from the definition that something has been entrusted to our care. But what is it that has been placed in our care to manage and who entrusted it to us? I believe that what has been give to our care for careful and responsible management is life itself. The time, talents, and wealth that we have been given are ours to manage and this “gift of life” has been granted to us by our Creator. The New International Reader’s Version of 1 Peter 4:10 I believe provides the best Biblical direction for stewardship:

1 Peter 4:10  –  God’s gifts of grace come in many forms. Each of you has received a gift in order to serve others. You should use it faithfully.

 We have each been given the gift of life from God the Creator and we must use it faithfully.  As I mentioned earlier, this gift of life includes the time we are given, the talents we have been given, and the wealth we have been given. These gifts will not be the same for every person, but each of us has been given some part of all life’s gifts. So how do we use them faithfully and specifically in terms of Justice?? Again, before we can understand that we need to know what justice is and will refer to Webster again for a strict definition:

“justice – the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action and conformity to this principle or ideal”

So if we are to practice the idea of Justice, then we should conform to the principle of “just dealing” and “right action.” That is a great concept, but I find myself still questioning, “What does it mean to practice justice in terms of our community of faith?” In combing the Bible for a useful definition or instruction, I came across Proverbs 31:8-9 and 1 John 3:17-18, which for me really brings to light what it means to seek justice.

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIRV) – Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. Speak up for the rights of all those who are poor. Speak up and judge fairly. Speak up for the rights of those who are poor and needy.

1 John 3:17-18 (NIRV) – Suppose someone sees a brother or sister in need and is able to help them. If he doesn’t take pity on them, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, don’t just talk about love. Put your love into action. Then it will truly be love.

 So, as faithful stewards of the gift of life granted to us by God, our Creator, in the terms of justice, our instructions are clear. We should not just talk about love, but put love into action. We should speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves and we should speak up for the rights of the poor and destitute. We as a community of faith should not just talk about justice, but we should act justly. I feel so fortunate to be a part of a community of faith here at National Avenue, where we have so many opportunities to practice Justice. From our efforts through the Rainbow Network to build homes in Hilapo Dos, to our volunteers that work each week at Bill’s Place to provide meals to those in need, to our Gallery Shows were the proceeds help orphanages in Haiti, to our weekly service where everyone is welcome, NACC is continuously looking for opportunities to put our love into action.  

Jeanne Gamble on Community

When I think of Community, I am reminded of the story of the pebble tossed into the water and how the ripples spread out in every direction–so it is with our influence at National Avenue.  From our youngest members to the older ones, we have so many opportunities to spread our influence in the “Community,” which  goes far beyond Springfield.

From the youth projects to gather money for building houses in Nicaragua, to various projects to help our less fortunate here at home, to remembering our members who are unable to attend services, to donations of various items from food to coats, blankets and shoes, and, of course, cash and time.

As a 50 plus year member of this congregation I have found our church to be welcoming, open, worshipful, and spiritually uplifting in all areas, especially our Sunday morning services. But above that I feel we have gone so far in the idea of “Community” to mean so much more than just our immediate church and the building.

“I Can See The Resemblance” by Steve Flower

Of all the topics in our recent series on Celtic Christianity, I really looked forward to Pastor Laura’s message on “The Image of God.” My own understanding of who I am, who others are in relation to me, and how I wish the church could be are all tied to this idea of how I image and understand God to be.

You and I could sit and chat over coffee for days on this topic, easy – so I won’t get it done in one blog post. It’s enough to say that over the years, I have seen how many different communities’ images and understandings of God can color and flavor how they believe – and how they behave.

A friend told me that in the Bible , humankind was made in God’s image – which meant that you,  me, and Aretha Franklin and Richard Nixon and Richard Simmons were all “created in God’s image.” So I am pretty much past the whole idea of the phrase “in God’s image” meaning just “God must look just like us.”

I see God as Spirit….and I see God as Love. So if we are “created in God’s image,” I believe we are created as spirits who love.

When we do that–when we live and act as loving, caring, committed people–my experience is that others can see the resemblance to the One in whose image we were created. I believe it’s what our community at National Avenue does best.

Chris and I saw this in action the first Sunday we walked through the door at National Avenue. Louise Jackson saw us come in, hand-in-hand and before we could slip quietly by the greeter-lady, she just reached right out to us. (Anyone who knows Louise can picture the scene…) In her typically-subtle way, Louise roped us both in, smiled and said, “Hi fellas! We’re just SO glad to have you here!”

And we saw that resemblance–the resemblance to a loving and welcoming God.  We both knew God’s love had spoken through Louise. We were “home” in that instant. (We never visited another church.)

Maybe a week later, we heard Pastor Laura telling how different churches have tried to limit and control access to Communion over the years–and we also heard how it grieved her. (Chris and I both have had experience with folks trying to keep us from sharing Communion–and it was not pleasant for either of us.)

As Laura walked down the center aisle in the sanctuary, and talked about how this was God’s table and how this table was open to all (especially to anyone who had been told it was only open to some)… we saw the resemblance. We saw and heard the spirit of a loving God in this tiny dynamo of a lady.

When I’ve seen Susan Wheeler and others preparing to serve food with loving care for people who have no home and no food, it’s not hard to see the resemblance to the God she serves. When I read Terry Heitman’s Facebook comments about how serving meals at Bill’s Place has touched him each time he’s been there, I see the resemblance, too. When I see the service results of National Avenue’s youth, selling blankets or washing cars or sleeping in a makeshift shack to raise funds and awareness for Nicaragua, I  see that resemblance … and I weep with joy.

When the choir, or the bell choir, or the talented soloists and musicians of our church begin to sing or play, I am again moved to tears of joy (and a wee bit of envy)–and I hear the message of a loving God within me. When people go out of their way to reach out to Chris and me … to include us, to welcome or encourage us… once again, we feel the arms of a loving God surrounding us.

It’s not hard to see God’s hands and feet–at the end of the arms and legs of so many members of National Avenue Christian Church. We are not without flaws (no church is)–but this church works real hard to be a community that points-with-its-actions to a loving, caring, welcoming and accepting God.

My prayer is that others who come will see that resemblance –as we have.

Community by Conor Wadle

An anonymous person once said, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is a progress, and working together is success.” This quote and this idea explain exactly what happens at National Avenue Christian Church. Not only have we kept together as a community, through easy and hard times, we’ve stuck together. Furthermore, as we can see, we’ve worked together to do amazing things recently.

Keeping together is one of the biggest parts of this. Not only have we kept together, we’ve been able to value every part of our community equally. Every Sunday for a little while now, we’ve begun service with a younger member of the community speaking in front of us. As a part of the youth, I’ve seen how much this church allows its younger members to contribute. Many of the youth as well as me have been the Worship Leader on Sundays. Many of the High Schoolers are deacons as well. And those are just ways that our youth are a part of the community. Our church stands out in more than just letting our youth be involved. Our church also welcomes gays and lesbians, something that most churches don’t. This community has grown into a huge collection of people, who, while we may not all believe the exact same thing, all come together to help others.

Just look at what we’re doing in Nicaragua. Our church has raised the money to build 25 homes in Nicaragua. We raised the money to do this. Something that is as big as this was only successful because we are a community. Without the entire church working together, we couldn’t have done it. The youth’s sleepouts and car washes were almost completely successful because of the backing of the rest of the community.

It’s amazing to see what we as a church can do, when we keep together, and when we work together. We’ve seen that this church has the ability to achieve amazing things. But we have to make sure that we don’t stop here, because we shouldn’t be asking what we’ve done. But instead, what we can do.  Because as we learned from Laura’s sermon on Sunday, that’s what can make the difference between a good community, and a great community.

“It Doesn’t Matter What You Look or Smell Like” by Emma

The people of National Avenue Christian church are very kind, loving and giving. They help underprivileged countries like Nicaragua by raising money and participating in mission trips to help build houses and schools. The church family also helps local causes such as shelters, food pantries and meals for underprivileged people. My church community supports our youth with fund raising and by encouraging us to take part in church activities like worship services. My favorite part of our church community is that everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter what you look or sound like, who you love or what your beliefs may be we will welcome you with open arms. I can’t imagine having a better church family than I do at National Avenue!

Walking the Labyrinth by Tina Moore

Although National Avenue has had labyrinth events in the past, this Sunday will mark the first event using our very own labyrinth (one that we have not had to borrow).  I have been drawn to the idea of using labyrinths as a spiritual tool for a couple of years and a few months ago I overheard Pastor Laura talking to someone about her interest in having a labyrinth here at NACC.  And now, IT IS SO FOR US!

Labyrinths are a subset of the mandala and are ancient spiritual tools.  They have been found in some form on every continent in the world and date back as far as 2000 BCE.  Although we do not have confirmation of how they were actually used, we do know that they were in considerable use by the Franco-Christian community in the late 12th century.  Some say they were used to simulate the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a Christian experience that became too dangerous during the Crusades.  When used as a symbolic “journey”, the walk into the center of these labyrinths found in cathedrals became a ritual ending of the journey to the Holy Land.

It is quite interesting to me that now, in the 21st century, we are seeing an incredible resurgence as labyrinths are springing up all over the world!  If you want to see for yourself, check out the World Wide Labyrinth Locator website, where you can type in a city and up will come information regarding all the labyrinths in that location.  I was in Santa Fe last weekend and decided to check out the website and found 34 labyrinths in the Santa Fe area alone!  The website lists 3 here in Springfield and there are at least 2 others I know of, including ours.

Labyrinths can be used in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes, all relating to “mindfulness” and meditation.  They are seen as tools to awaken our intuition regarding spiritual health, physical health and emotional well-being.  Those walking the path may feel an opening in the ability to listen for God as they find a calmness in the quieted mind.  In contemporary Western society, the quieted mind can be something we don’t experience often enough, and I believe it is something that our bodies inherently crave and even require for spiritual wholeness.

Please join us on Sunday between 5:00 and 6:30 pm for the All Saints/Remembrance service and walk the labyrinth with a mindful intention to honor someone special in your life that is no longer here.  As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we can take this time to create a newfound sense of gratitude for these souls who have enriched our lives.  The labyrinth journey can be a profound way to purposefully experience that gratitude.

And look for many more labyrinth events at National Avenue in the future!

Stillness by Kim Zimmerman

“And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, ‘Be still’ and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.”

– Maurice Sendak

If only we could tame the wild beasts of our minds so easily. We race through life leaving the present moment in our wake. Spinning in a whirlwind of thoughts and schedules, we neglect to take inventory of our selves, or enjoy what lies along our path.

In The River, Thich Nhat Hanh describes a river who spent her days chasing clouds. She wanted to possess the clouds, but could never capture one, as clouds are impermanent. One day, a strong wind blew all the clouds from the sky. The river didn’t know what to do with herself and deemed life not worth living, with no clouds to chase. That night, as she cried, and sat with herself, she realized that clouds are made of water. What she was looking for and wanting to possess was already in herself. The next day, she was able to notice the beauty of the blue sky behind the clouds and all of nature that surrounded her as she flowed along. She was finally at peace and happy. “There is nothing to chase after. We can go back to ourselves, enjoy our breathing, our smiling, ourselves, and our beautiful environment.”

Can you relate to the river?

I have been practicing Yoga for 11 years. Yes, Yoga has helped me to gain strength, balance and flexibility, but, most of all, it has taught me how cultivate stillness in my mind. I know now that I previously used physical exercise in times of need – graduate school, college, even high school – to still my mind. As I ran or cycled, I subconsciously focused on the rhythm of my breath integrated with my footsteps or pedal strokes. I would often find myself in a beautiful state of calm and effortlessness that is often referred to as the “zone,” and felt as if I could go on forever. I would return home with a great sense of mental clarity and calm.

In fact, Yoga was originally practiced as a way to open the body and calm the mind in preparation for a seated meditation practice. As I move through a series of poses designed to strengthen and stretch my body, integrating breath with movement, I find myself to be present in the sensations of my body and breath. I finish my practice with a renewed sense of clarity and stillness.

Stillness might be described as fully participating and engaged in your present activity. A still mind isn’t void of thought. Nurturing a still mind involves clearing the chatter, the clutter, the worries, so that we may experience our authentic self and, often, allow insight and creativity to bubble to the surface. A still mind allows us to reflect, to visit our intentions, to cultivate gratitude, and to enjoy the present moment.

When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, my ability to tame the wild beasts in my mind was put to the test. In stillness, I was able to accept and soften to my new reality. I couldn’t rush through this one. I walked alongside cancer and found so many gifts and blessings along the way.

We don’t all have to practice Yoga to find stillness. We can enjoy quiet moments without the distraction of the computer or the television. Or notice the path under our feet on our journey through life, the rhythm of the breath, or the clear blue sky. Or, perhaps, even rest after accomplishing something great.

“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us,
that they may see their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer,
perhaps even a fiercer life,
because of our quiet.”

W.B. Yeats