Prophets and Saints

IMG_2611

Yesterday in church (Edgehill United Methodist Church) I led A Litany for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But in my mind I was also hearing and seeing and remembering the saints and prophets of our little congregation.

The group of people who started the church in 1966, planted at the edge of an “urban renewal” failed experiment (the projects), black and white together in a time when that wasn’t done, intending to welcome everyone no matter their color, class, or status. Led by a small, diverse group, pastored by Bill Barnes.

This church taught and nurtured me when I came, fresh out of college, to Nashville, TN. Worshiping in the garage of a little house, I sang every other Sunday in Marjorie Campbell’s choir, learning the chords and cadences of the music of the black church. (On the alternate Sundays, I played my guitar in the folk band that led the singing on those weeks.)

I sat at the feet of Laura Buck McCray, raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, daughter to an assistant of Booker T. Washington. Laura, trained in non-violent resistance at the Highlander Center along with a quiet woman named Rosa Parks.

I learned to sing, with gusto, “Lift ev’ry voice and sing, ’till Earth and heaven ring/Ring with the harmony of liberty.”

I learned the stories of those brave prophets and saints who put their bodies on the line for justice in Nashville and other places around the country. Those brave prophets and saints whose stories continue to unfold today during a time when people hesitate to say that #blacklivesmatter.

I am still a part of this church, who, this year, celebrates 50 years of ministry. May it continue to be a participant in God’s justice; teaching, preaching, loving, welcoming, growing, nurturing all God’s people.

May it be so.

Happy Birthday, Mom

IMG_2578

Margaret Elizabeth Wilson Richardson
1939-1983

Mom, today is the day you were born.
I celebrate you.

Epiphany child, you were
Born in the middle of the depression,
In the middle of nowhere,
In the dusty, barren red dust
Of southwest Oklahoma.

You were loved and beloved
By family, then and now.

Thank you for giving me life,
For the gifts of music, laughter, love,
For creativity, nurture, compassion.

And though you left this earth too early,
Thank you for still walking with me through my days.
You were, are, and always will be my mom.
I love you.

Love Wins

IMG_1676

Last night I performed the marriage of Brian and Sarah. It was a beautiful ritual celebrating the love and commitment of a special couple. In the ceremony we called the name of Brian’s mother, Linda, whose memorial service I assisted in last December.

Many of the same people gathered again … this time to witness, to promise support, to toast a new family being woven together in love. There were times of great joy and times of tender sorrow.

As I prayed a blessing for Sarah and Brian, a single tear rolled down Brian’s cheek. Sarah reached up to wipe it away. How can I doubt the power of love when standing next to such amazing grace, incredible beauty, vibrant life which moves forward even in the midst of the brokenness and death of our world.

God, you are amazing.
You created us to love,
To live, to laugh, to heal.

Open our eyes, our hearts, our spirits
To your Love working
In our lives, in the world.

Brush away our tears
With your gentle spirit
And infuse us with the hope and assurance
That in the end, love is always there.

The Saints Are Singing

4815706466_b779d3ca89_b

The saints sing loudly on tune (and off)
Welcoming their newest colleague.

“Phyllis Natalie Alexander Tickle,
You are finally here.
We’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

“Sit down with us on the porch —
Here, you take the rocking chair —
And tell us one of those stories from the farm. …
And your laugh — it’s as great as they said it would be!”

“Oh. You have an appointment?
Well, what are you waiting for?!
You’ve got people to see.
Come back here at sit with us anytime.”

“You’ll be back? It reminds you of home?
Well, thank you kindly.
Bring your husband next time …
And anyone else you’d like to bring.
So glad to have you here after all this time.”

 

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”
The Book of Common Prayer
Quoted by Phyllis Tickle, 1934-2015
in The Divine Hours

Photo: Taken by Beth A. Richardson at The Upper Room’s SOULfeast 2010.

Joy and Sorrow

IMG_0775

Someone described yesterday as a day of “emotional whiplash.” From the declaration of love, justice, and equality by the U.S. Supreme Court to the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of those murdered in the hate crime committed at a bible study in Charleston, S.C. I believe, I hope, I trust that the presence of the holy was in these places both of ecstatic joy and of deep sorrow.

I sat in my office, weeping,
reading the live blog
from the Supreme Court.
5-4 in favor of same sex marriage.
Who could have known
this day would come?

Protection for families,
for children,
equal rights for couples.

Small things, so important …
A spouse’s name on a death certificate.
Two parents’ names on an adoption form.
The right to be by a loved one’s side in the emergency room.

The acknowledgment of covenant,
of commitment,
of love.

I sat in my living room, weeping,
watching the President,
family and friends and leaders,
mourn and celebrate the life of Reverend Pinckney.

Deaths too awful to comprehend,
meaningless, senseless,
lives torn asunder by racism,
an ugly, malignant tumor in our land.

I watch as this gathering, these witnesses,
transcend barriers.
I listen, and my spirit
rises out of despair and darkness
towards hope and light.

God, how can you contain
all of this?
All of this joy and sorrow,
all of this love and grief.
Be present with us in these days.
We need you now.

Presence of the Saints

2015-05-06 07.07.07

Among the many blessings I received at last week’s 5-day Academy for Spiritual Formation on the Psalms was the presence of a friend who knew my paternal grandparents, Ida Mae and Holt Richardson.

At the end of the first worship service, Sharlyn said to me, “When you began the opening service by singing, I thought of your grandmother.” Grandma taught high school music classes to Sharlyn in the little school in Lenapah, OK. Grandpa was the school superintendent. An invoking of Grandma Ida Mae’s presence — in our week, in my music.

It was such a powerful reminder of the presence of those who shaped me and who passed along their gifts to me. Grandma and Grandpa’s gift of music, Dad’s years of shaping and leading the worship services I attended every Sunday, my parent’s commitment to start me in piano lessons in first grade. These wonderful people, these wonderful gifts. Thanks be to the creator!

Wisdom from Bonhoeffer

FullSizeRender-low

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This Easter week is the 70th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of our saints. A Lutheran pastor, he was killed in a Nazi concentration camp two weeks before the camp was liberated by Allied forces.

When I was in seminary, I met one of Bonhoeffer’s friends from his days at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Paul Lehmann spoke about his friend’s struggles with the evil that was happening under the Nazi regime in Germany and his decision to return to Germany despite the personal danger he was in. After his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Nazis for plotting against Hitler.

This week, as we have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, as we have mourned the terrorist attack in Kenya that killed 148 university students, as we have heard about or watched the video of a man killed by a policeman in a traffic stop in South Carolina … I have wondered what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would make of our world today. What wisdom, what courage, what challenge would he bring to us?

I am tempted to turn away from all of this overwhelming evil, unbearable sorrow, senseless violence. I want to take pictures of spring flowers, celebrate National [fill in the blank] Day on Facebook, watch puppy videos. I don’t want to listen to the Spirit for how I might be called to take a stand on injustice, to speak out against racism or homophobia, to reach out to someone who is grieving. I call on the Great Spirit, the Saints, the Holy One, to guide me, to guide us, through the difficult days in which we are living.

Pray for us, Dietrich. Cry for us, Holy One. “Grant us courage, grant us wisdom, for the living of these days” (Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1930). We are yours, Prophetic, Loving God.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Read more quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God Comforts All Who Mourn

IMG_9086.JPG

I need this today as I assist in the memorial service for my friend, Linda Zralek. Comforting God, be present and wrap us in your healing blanket of love. Amen.

God of the brokenhearted, it is hard to be in mourning during this joyous time of year. But I know that you come to all of us, especially those filled with tears as captives to grief. Wrap them in your comforting spirit. Amen.
– From The Uncluttered Heart

Remembering Mom

386215_2872514688621_838130328_n

Mom died on this day in 1983. I was in Divinity School that fall and wasn’t with her when she passed away. In July, she had learned that that her brain tumor was back and inoperable. I had gone for a visit in August and then again in October. Sometime in the fall she had been moved from home care to Deaconess Hospital in Oklahoma City. (Pre-hospice days.) Dad had let me know her death was coming soon, so even though her death was a shock, it wasn’t too much a shock.

I think that Grandma had wanted me to come home and care for Mom. I don’t know what Mom wanted, but I was young and “on a mission” and really didn’t want to put my education on hold to go home. In consequence, her dying journey was not one I shared. I wish I had been closer, to learn from her how you do this part of life.

The last time I visited her was in October. She was in the hospital and still conscious, but unable to speak more than a word at a time — and those words just came out of no-where when you weren’t expecting them. I remember Grandma there — dressing her, putting makeup on her, fixing her hair. Grandma was wondering out loud what color a sweater was … and mom chimed up, “Fuchsia.” It surprised both of us.

I was getting ready to go to the airport to go back to Tennessee and wanted to say something. We were alone and I think I told her how much I loved her and thanked her. I don’t really remember. But I do remember that I was getting ready to leave and said, “I love you, Mom.” And she said to me, “I love you, darlin’.” The sweetest words I ever heard.

She still travels with me. I always wondered about how “old people” could talk and think so much about those who were dead and gone. And now, I find myself thinking and talking about Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma. I feel their presence. I forget they are gone and think about calling them. It’s not dementia. It’s love. It’s the presence of the Communion of Saints. They are not gone. They are here. Thanks be to God.