Who Are Your Shepherds?

Beth with Dad
Beth with Dad

Excerpted from a sermon I preached on Psalm 23, April 20, 2010, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1, NRSV

I wonder — Who are your shepherds?

My dad — Charles Richardson — is one of my shepherds. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.

Now he’s walking through the shades of death … the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrinks just a little bit more. When I was with him two months ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”

I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”

Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”

“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)

“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”

I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”

He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.

We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I have become.

Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?”  And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”

I know there are so many like him — wandering through dark valleys of illness or depression or struggle.

My dad’s shepherd is his wife. He is tethered to life through her presence. But there will soon come a time when he doesn’t know her as his wife. And he will depend on shepherds who will care for him even though he may not know who they are. It’s heartbreaking to think of him in this way, and I trust that God, the great shepherd, will tether his heart in love. That “goodness and love will pursue him every day of his life.”

I need shepherds to guide me through these days of the loss of my Dad. I need to know and trust that he will have shepherds who will take good care of him. And I want to watch for opportunities to be a shepherd to others — to serve, to love, to witness to goodness, to give comfort, to nurture hope.

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode, and all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest (while others go and come),
no more a stranger nor a guest; but like a child at home.

– “Psalm 23 (My Shepherd, You Supply My Need)”
[Words: Isaac Watts; adapt. by Mary Ruth Coffman (© 1981 The Upper Room)]

I Get Paid for This? Cool!

inside_chapel_largeI had a remarkable experience today helping lead an informal chapel service for a group of communicators from Africa. They were 12 clergy and lay from Uganda, Mozambique, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Zimbabwe. They were in the U.S. for a three-week training organized by Nancy Neelley, Program Manager for Central Conference Communications, UMCom. Stephen Bryant invited me to help lead singing in a morning prayer service in the chapel of The Upper Room.

The group has been together for a couple of weeks already and enjoy singing together. As soon as they found their seats in the chapel, they were ready to sing in that place. I was unprepared for what happened when I invited their informal song leader, Emmanuel, to lead us in an opening hymn. He started a song and all 12 pour out of the pews, gathered in the space in front of the altar, and began to sing, clap, dance, harmonize, praise God. Tears came to my eyes, it was so beautiful. As soon as one song wound down, someone in the back started another song. The energy was incredible.

Steven Bryant talked to the group about the mission of The Upper Room. And then, my colleague, Kathryn Kimball, the person who cares for the Chapel and Museum, gave a live interpretation of the carving. (Visitors to the chapel usually sit in the pews and listen to a recording that explains in great detail what is going on in the carving of the Last Supper.  But Kathryn stood there and talked with no script.) She told about the story in the carving — the moment at The Last Supper right after Jesus has said, “One of you will betray me.” She described the different reaction of each disciple and invited us to ponder what we saw and where we might be in the story. Entering a time of reflection, I sang “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Finally, Stephen led the group in a short discussion of what was seen and where in the story persons might have seen themselves. We finished the service with more singing, led by our congregants.

I was moved by the experience, honored to have been present, incredibly blessed to have been given the gift of music by 12 young communicators from the continent of Africa. God speed, my new friends.

SOULfeast 4 — The Way into Jerusalem

“Each person sits next to their own pool of tears.”

Trevor Hudson

SOULfeast 3 — The Way Up the Mountain

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.

Mark 9:2-8

SOULfeast 2 — The Way to Galilee

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near.

Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:14-14 (NIV)