I came into my faith under the wings of a Baptist church in east central Indiana. Entering the sanctuary each Sunday as a child, I was consumed with intimidation as we passed family after family who seemed to have the extra things in life that our family lacked: money, nice house, clothes that fit, a present father.
The worship space was plain and elegant—the décor a hold-over from the 50’s and 60’s. The bright red carpet invaded the space resembling a giant child’s tongue after he’s consumed a cherry popsicle. There were three sections of oak pews, each stained seemingly to match the ashy skin tone of the elder members. The wooden seats were bolted to the floor for safety—and probably to ensure they remained in place should a raucous soul move too roughly in the spirit.
There was no assigned seating, however, most of the congregants sat in the same pew every Sunday. It was an unspoken rule that you don’t move from the previous week’s position—physically and for some, spiritually. We were no different, though on occasion my mom’s uninhibited spirit would have us move up a pew or back a pew from our home base, which was within the first five rows on the left side of the sanctuary.
Directly in front of our seating area sat the huge electronic organ, played nimbly and capably by a kind grandmother by the name of Harriett. Halfway through the service, after we had sung the opening songs, said a prayer and recited scripture, took up a collection, our pastor would make his way to the pulpit to provide a sermon. Harriett would click off the small reading light above her books and loose sheets of music. She would leisurely pivot on the large attached bench and slip on her flats and begin softly walking to an empty pew. I watched her the entire time, but once she was a few feet away I would look towards the pulpit only to happen a glance back at her to catch her eye. She would flash an easy, reassuring smile and a quick wink. Without fail she would sit down in front of us. A few seconds later as she appeared to be listening attentively to the sermon, her arm would reach behind toward us extending a handful of Velamints wrapped in tissue—one for each person in the pew.
I was young so I don’t recall much of the sermons on those Sundays, but I’ll always remember Christ’s unfailing love and recognition shown to me through Harriett’s simple gesture of choosing to sit near us and offer those small tokens of grace.
Harriett Hamilton passed away yesterday, January 25, 2016.
She led a long life of blessing others with an infectious smile, warm heart, and loving presence. She will be missed, though it makes my heart happy knowing she’s now sharing a mint and a smile with the loving God who instilled in her that same giving spirit.
As iron sharpens iron,
I have trouble taking criticism. I'm sure I'm not alone.
But the past few years have brought me to realize something (maybe because I'm growing older or I'm just making more mistakes resulting in criticism). Criticism, when given and received respectively and properly, can be a remarkable catalyst for personal growth and change. And the word 'change' doesn't imply that we need to become a different person or alter our personality. No, it means we fine tune...we evolve...we become stronger and more effective in our purpose.
Our society is extremely individualistic. We are consumed with ourselves. As a result ,often times we fail to take a good look at our actions and words through the lens of a respected friend or loved one. We think we have all the answers.
God didn't intend for us to do this life thing alone, because He knows we can't. We need accountability and an occasional kick in the tail to keep us on the right track.
Within the church walls, some may argue that to change would mean to degrade spiritual integrity or abandon sacred tradition, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. Healthy faith examines and evolves--repeatedly-- all the while staying true to core beliefs and essential liturgical practices. This can only be done when the brick walls of stubbornness and fear of change, are taken down.
My iron soul could sure use some sharpening. How about yours?
Three priests in a Prius
traveling the New England coast
fresh from taking confessions
and sharing the Holy Host
The driver, markedly older
conveyed a certain misery
while listening to his passenger
relay his personal history
The backseat holds the third
snoring in peaceful sleep
he dreams of falling in love
with the calmness of the sea
The road up ahead is long
Exhaling the angel’s song
We welcome in the flood
While breathing the breath of God
The trio follows the path
The road, its twists and turns
The soft sun in a felt-board sky
Lights the dusk as it gently burns
What is the destination?
What end will be revealed?
It matters not, the three agreed
For our souls took flight
in the love that guides our sails
I began adding a steady stream of Christian artists and musicians to my music collection about 15 years ago. I enjoy the message as well as the level of musicianship of many Christian artists currently performing and recording. Christian music runs the gamut of emotional topics, and usually connects with God in some way, and for the most part, I enjoy it.
Where it becomes frustrating to me, is when I hear a song like this from an artist by the name of Jamie Grace.
Here are the lyrics for the chorus in case you missed them…or wisely opted out of listening to the entire song.
“Oh, I love the way You hold me, by my side You’ll always be
You take each and every day, make it special in some way
I love the way you hold me, in Your arms I’ll always be
You take each and every day, make it special in some way
I love You more than the words in my brain can express
I can’t imagine even loving You less
Lord, I love the way You hold me”
Is it just me, or does it sound like Ms. Grace is longing to sit on a hillside somewhere watching the sunset while on a date with God, staring longingly into one another’s eyes? The song makes me nauseous. Don’t get me wrong, it’s catchy and fun, but it’s barking up a dangerous tree.
This song represents one of the things wrong with the modern Christian music: spiritual intimacy is being misinterpreted as earthly, physical intimacy. “Hold Me” is essentially a Colbie Caillat tune that’s geared towards Christian radio. Christian record companies and their artists (not all of them) are so preoccupied with selling poppy, trendy songs to K-Love listeners that they let the content become boring, unchallenging, and misleading.
I challenge Christian music listeners to pressure record companies and large radio networks such as K-Love to turn the dial when fluff songs like “Hold Me” are played. God has created us to be better; above a record company profit or catchy chorus.
Please do yourself a favor and click on the link to the video of an interview between Charlie Rose and Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers). Very few people in the media can sum up being a Christian in so few words like Fred Rogers. I was moved to tears while watching this interview.
Why is it so hard for us to find simplicity in our lives? Fred talks about the importance of silence. Everywhere we turn we're surrounded by distraction and noise. I'm so glad we have people in our lives that can re-center our souls and bring us back to our focus on Christ and humble service. Enjoy.
Charlie Rose interview with Fred Rogers