Monday, January 26, 2009

Epiphany 4

Responding to God's Authority
Mark 1:21-28
21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

“Epiphany: It’s one of the most “religious” words there is. The bible gives us Paul’s epiphany, the startling vision on the road to Damascus; and then there are those special things that super-spiritual people always seem to experience – epiphanies, words of knowledge, sudden bursts of God- clarity. During Epiphany, we are treated to readings that help us figure out who Jesus is and why he came.”
Lauren F. Winner, the author of “Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life”

In this gospel passage for February 1 Mark writes about Jesus’ entrance into public ministry. He begins his ministry by teaching with authority. He then continues to astound everyone by taking authority over a troubling unclean spirit. Jesus is made manifest through his authority. Authority comes from the same word as author. It is a word that indicates something that gives life and creates. Jesus speaks with the kind of authority that is innate; it is an inside type of authority. There are all sorts of “authorities” in our lives. People who are elected, chosen, and /or given authority are part of our lives each day. Our thoughts, desires; our anger and even other people can be forces of authority that take over our lives.

Responding to God’s authority in my life is a daily challenge. I move in and out of that place where I allow God’s presence in my life to be the authority by which I live. I slip in and out of the places where something (someone) else “takes authority” or I do my own thing.
The things which pull me back into God’s authority are important. The community of faith and worship remind me who I am. I am God’s beloved child. God wants what is best for me. Worship reminds me of this. Today my brother and I worked in his shop. He made a beautiful fountain pen for me out of a piece of wood which I chose. As I watched him plane down the surface of the wood on the lathe, chips of wood gathered under the lathe

This pile of wood shavings reminded me that God is in the process of “shaving” from me the stuff which keeps me getting hung up “doing my own thing”. It is a constant process. I believe it is a loving process. Just as my brother loves to bring out the beauty in wood, I believe that God loves to bring out the best in me.

Tomorrow I leave to go home to New Harmony and my church community at St. Stephen’. I am anxious to see everyone. Going home is the last part of my sabbatical journey, but not the last posting on my blog. I enjoy writing here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Folk School Fun

Anita Mayer instructing in surface design

My last week at the Campbell Folk School has been very busy. My niece, Bretta Ogburn, and I took this course together. It has been so much fun learning together. I love watching Bretta's great talent and creativity at work as she continues to grow as a fine artist. Our instructor for the week was Anita Luvera Mayer. Anita designs (and wears) beautiful garments that she finishes and embellishes by hand. Her work has been included in national and international shows and one-woman retrospectives. She gives lectures and workshops on individualized clothing, women's issues and creativity. Anita has travelled widely and collected sources and resources for the fabrics, materials and stitches she uses in her creative work.

Vest created and embellished by Anita Luvera Mayer

What I learned from Anita in this week which left my fingers sore and needle punctured is this: "It is not about the end product; rather it is about the journey you take as you get there." Along the way in creating and executing a design there are decisions to make, mistakes made which can become a disaster or a "design element" and new discoveries that offer opportunities to grow and learn. We created several things this week from a book / sampler of embroidery stitches to a "passport case." We dyed silk, learned to work with beads and studied the process of surface design. Anita shared her life, her experience and her guiding hand.

Our passport cases lined up on the counter for viewing

I won't make you guess at which one of the above is mine! I will include the picture of it below. I wanted to create a design that reflected the journey I have been on in this sabbatical time. I think I succeeded in doing that and in the process it included "changes and chances" that challenged me in all kinds of new ways. Once again I had the privilege of listening to the stories of those around me as we all reflected on the "journeys" of our lives.

My passport case designed and made this week

Today at the closing celebration where each class exhibits their work, the dulcimer class played two selections. The first was "Greensleeves" and the second was called "An American Hymn." The second piece was written at the end of the Civil War and attributed to an anonymous composer. I felt the sting of tears in my eyes as I sat listening to the music at the end of an incredibly historic week. The inauguration of Barak Obama as the 44th President of the United States has great potential for our country. I wonder if we will allow that potential to develop? I wonder if we will allow a spirit of unity to pervade? I hope, pray and find myself holding my breath to see if we can truly pull ourselves in a new direction.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ups and Downs


This is a picture of my completed doll! I chose to name her Jenin after the town on the West Bank where we went to pick olives and attend the olive festival. The doll class was an incredible experience for me. It brought together so many things for me. I could not help thinking about my mother who taught me to sew by helping me make doll clothes for my dolls. I would sit under her sewing machine (literally) and put scraps of fabric together. The women who sat around me in that class and our instructor, Leslie Molen, were so generous with their time and resources. It was a wonderful, comfortable environment for learning and creativity. Our assistant teacher, Dee Dee Triplett, is the resident doll artist at Campbell and she shared her thread, doll making "instruments", music, and vast knowledge with all of us. Everyone in the room shared what we had brought so that there was no want of things available for creating. It was a community of abundance shared.

Sewing Room in the Fiber Arts Building
We chatted with each other, commiserated over the difficult moments, and often fell into a comfortable quiet as we worked. I found myself praying with the stitches I made - prayers for friends and family, thanksgivings for the richness of life. In those comfortable silences I let an awareness of my human failings seep up to the surface of consciousness. This sabbatical time has made me so aware of how my own personal insecurities get in the way of knowing and accepting others. I could use a lot of words to try to express this but the simplest statement is that for a relatively unprejudiced person, I have prejudices! It comes in the form of judgements about other people. I am quick to judge and slow to change the judgement. It is hard to write about this part of me that I don't like. I also know that if I am going to write or speak about peace and reconciliation I have to face this part of me.

At breakfast one day last week I had a fascinating conversation with two other students. These women were part of other classes at Campbell. As I told them about my sabbatical, they asked questions about reconciliation. I talked about my latest theory - that reconciliation is an upside down process with forgiveness coming first. They were really open with me about their own struggle to find reconciliation in their lives. For both of them they had found that even before forgiveness they needed to "break the bond of hate / anger" that existed between them and the person who had hurt them. Doing that work was a process of "praying peace" for the other person. One of the women said it was a matter of "wishing them (the offender) well" each day. In a way it is "sending the person out of your life each day with peace and blessing." This breaks the bond, enables forgiveness (eventually) and allows reconciliation. I am spending more time with these thoughts.
More Family

Today my brother, Bill, is preaching at his church, House of Prayer, and I am going to hear him. Later today, my niece, Bretta (second from the right in front) and I will go to Campbell to take a course in Embroidery together. This all makes me happy.

Sugar Honaker (2000 - 2009)

My wonderful Golden Retriever, Sugar, died on Friday. She had been trying to live in spite of a huge lymphoma in her chest. Suggy was living with Monteen Elliott and I got to see her at Christmas when Monteen brought her to Sparta, NC. This picture was taken in Wilmington, NC a few days after Christmas when we visited Blair. Sugar was such a lovely girl. I got her when she was 4 and she had been surrendered to the human society in Evansville twice. She was pretty neurotic from her past of abuse but thanks to her vet at the time, Dr. Laurie Wright, we got her on some "drugs" that turned her into the Golden Retriever that she was supposed to be. She and Katie (my other Golden) were exact opposites. Katie is a raving extrovert and Suggy was my introvert. She loved her beddie and her treats. I like to think that she had a great 5 years with Katie and me, and she had her own friends. Of course my cat, Pumpkin, may miss her but since Sugar never really acknowledged her existence, who knows?! Monteen, Katie and I will miss her so much. Rest in peace with St. Francis and all the other loved animals of heaven my dear, sweet Sugar!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Express Yourself!!

"Body Parts" for our doll

I am back at work at Campbell Folk School after spending last weekend with my family. I have connected with some of my high school classmates and this week I’m having dinner with a group of women who were my closest friends in school. It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 45 years since we graduated!

I am doing a very fun class this week at Campbell. It is a class in making dolls. In particular we are learning to make a doll from fabric. Today we began putting the “body parts” together and sculpting the face. I am in the class with women who have been “building dolls” for years and I love working and learning with these women who are from a variety of backgrounds. Though made from the same pattern, our dolls will no doubt express the personality of each “creator.” (This is sound theology as well!)

Our teacher is Leslie Molin, who is from Denver, Colorado. You can see some of her beautiful work at She makes artistic dolls for people who collect dolls as well as teaching all over the U.S. and abroad. I love watching her hands as she works on the dolls, demonstrating for us the next step in our creative process. She is untiringly upbeat and positive. When someone makes a slip, or takes a snip in the wrong place she says, “Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to fix that!”

The meals at Campbell are stimulating events. We eat family style at tables with 6-8 persons. It is an opportunity to sit with people from different parts of the country who are taking courses in blacksmithing, or wood turning, glass bead making, basketry, cooking, and so many other interesting artistic disciplines. Many of them are professional artists who come here to teach or hone skills or develop new skills. We all come in from our hike in the cold to the dining hall where warmth, chatter and good food prevail. The conversations range over any number of topics and there is much stimulation of the mind as well as food for the body. The food is wonderful. Great Applachian Mountain fare like "sawmill gravy and biscuits!" I've decided this week to skip lunch and have an apple so I can eat with less guilt at dinner!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Books are fun!

Star Tunnel Book on Olives
I feel like I'm in college again. I have come "home" to Bill and Bobbie's house with all my dirty laundry from my week of classes at Campbell Folk School. The class on bookmaking was excellent. The Olive Book above needs some text to finish it out - I learned so much as I made it. Our teacher, Annie Cicale (, was wonderful at helping each person in the class find what we needed. She allowed us to try new things and she helped us turn our mistakes into design elements. I like thinking about mistakes as "design elements." My theologically trained mind moves in the direction of God's own design for our lives and how our mistakes become elements of strength and opportunity for us.

Our class was very fun as you can see from the picture below. This is Emily Ellingsworth who is also from Asheville. Emily teaches art at Asheville-Buncombe Tech, and she is also working on her MFA.

Emily showing her "Timeline" book called "The Journey of a Heart"

I don't know when I have had so much fun with paint, paste made from flour, water and paper! We made paste paper to "upholster" the boards which become the covers for our books. It brought out the child in each of us. I think one of the most important things about the week and Annie's instruction is that each of us felt valued. Each person's work was important to the whole group and we learned from each other.

So I go back to school again on Sunday evening; this time to make a doll and learn about doll making. I anticipate another wonderful week of rich conversations over meals shared with a variety of "folk" and artisans. I am learning a lot about myself as I work. Reflecting on these learnings is a wonderful process for me.

I continue to pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. One of my fellow students this past week asked me how reconciliation happens. I think I am beginning to see some of the elements of that process and seems somewhat upside down at this point. Richard Lischer at the end of his book, The End of Words, the necessary "stuff" of reconciliation. Reconciliation comes "...from a reservoir of forgiveness that, had we not received it and shared it among ourselves we could not speak of it. We now participate in something larger and better than our inherently violent disposition toward enemies." This is the upside down nature of reconciliation that forgiveness comes first - not at the end as we might expect. First, we acknowledge God's forgiveness in our own lives and the lives of those we separate ourselves from and then we begin to participate in the process of reconciliation. So, I think perhaps this is the first step in reconciliation. Then comes the hard work of listening with the compassionate heart of one who has been forgiven. It involves hearing the story of hurt and responding to that story in the best way we can at the moment. And lastly it involves moving forward with careful intentionality and prayer. I don't think any reconciliation is possible without prayer.

In her article in The Christian Century, (December 16, 2008) Lauren Winner, talks about praying the Nunc Dimittis:

Lord, you now have set your servant free

to go in peace as you have promised;

For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,

whom you have prepared for all the world to see:

A light to enlighten the nations,

and the glory of your people Israel.

These words from Luke 2:29-32 are words which many of us say quite without thinking each night. But Winner points to the rich ground of prayer which is laid before us in the first two chapters of Luke. "God's faithful people respond to God by praying." This prayer is "the channel through which we participate in God's breaking into the world." This kind of prayer is not hard work, but rather it is a response to what God is already doing. This kind of prayer weaves a rich and strong fiber of God entering into our lives as we enter into God's life in prayer. This interaction, this garment of grace, is found over and over in scripture as God's people cry out for help, give thanks, and struggle with life. This is the essential response and action in our lives as we face new possibilities and struggle together for peace and reconciliation.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Crosses in a Second Century Church in Palestine

I recently received an e-mail from a clergy person in the Diocese of Indianapolis conveying a statement concerning interfaith peace in the Middle East. I continue to grieve over the loss of all life in Gaza. This conflict is a constant weeping sore on the soul of our earthly community. Here are the words that accompanied the statement and the statement itself. I have signed this statement.

"The violence in Gaza and elsewhere continues. In our own communities, there is demonizing of each other and too many of our community leaders seem to communicate through news reports and opinion pages of the newspapers rather than engage in any meaningful dialogue in person.

We have continued to be involved in such dialogue and strongly encourage others to do the same.We realize, that often what is "not said" can be just as hurtful as what is actually said. Silence at key points in community life can contribute to misunderstanding, bigotry and more violence.

We are committed to speaking together for justice and peace when silence is hurtful.

We understand the statement that we have signed shows that the interfaith community: is still talking to each other; is praying for a long term solution to the problem in the Middle East; is asking for all to working locally for the collective good and for peace; and, denunciates violence on all sides, without finger-pointing at single side."

Interfaith Statement on the Middle East
The tragic loss of life and property in the Middle East, and the prolonged failure to negotiate a fair two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, are a matter of grave concern for all people of faith. A permanent solution to the escalating cycles of violence must be found in the Holy Land that affects all the people of the Middle East.We urge the Children of Abraham to stop killing each other. We cannot stand by and let our families of faith be torn apart.We pray for the end to killing.
We call for:

1) Prompt cessation of all hostilities by all sides -- Ending the use of force causing civilian casualties and destroying lives/communities.

2) The United States to bring the warring sides together and resolve their differences.

3) The Israelis and Arabs to reach agreement on final and secure borders, to live in peace with justice side by side recognizing each others right to exist with dignity and security.

The Signatories below invoke the spirit and guidance of God as we attempt to please God be calling for peace, justice and reconciliation.

How time flys by!

The past few days have been busy. Being with my family is always a busy time. There are meals to eat, and jigsaw puzzles to put together and meals to eat, and things to catch up on. I am so very proud of each member of my family. I remember eight years ago when my then 5 year old great – nephew, Reese, asked me, “Who are you?” I was somewhat stymied by the question and finally answered, “I’m your grandfather’s sister.” Suddenly I felt quite old! I worked on this feeling for some time until I finally realized that I wasn’t old at all; I am one of the matriarchs of the family! It is quite a different feeling because matriarchs and patriarchs get to say “wise things” and even occasionally issue a proclamation. My brother (the tallest person pictured above) is better at this than me. He is such a gentle, loving man that you want to listen to him. My sister-in-law (in the striped shirt) is equally capable. I have known Bobbie since I was 15 years old and she is my most-wise sister. As I have already said, they are my family and in good times and in bad I love them.

I arrived at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC on Sunday afternoon. Campbell School was established in 1925. John and Olive Campbell were interested in the culture of the Appalachian people. During the late 1800’s they travelled extensively in Southern Appalachia staying in people’s homes and learning about their wants and ways. They were sociologists who set out to write a factual account of the region. One of the desires of the people of Appalachia was for education. Because their lives were often hard and filled with work, they wanted education that brought them together for fun and collaboration. In the early 1900’s they encountered the Danish folk schools. They used the word “folk” to mean that the schools were for the folks. These schools utilized collaborative learning. People came together to learn and have fun. There was no grading system and people shared what they learned with each other.

The Campbell School continues to be a school that is about “the folks”. In an atmosphere of communal living on this 100 + acre campus, we are encouraged to bring our individual gifts together to learn new skills. This week I am taking a course in bookmaking. The instructor is a book artist from Asheville, NC. There are 4 other people in my class who bring a variety of experience and gifts to this new learning experience. It is Tuesday morning and we have already completed two books and have three others in progress. I love the class time and I am gathering as many skills and ideas as I can. One of the books we started yesterday is called a Star Book. When finished it will open into a star shape and its story will unfold in the star’s multi – faceted windows. Pictures will be better than words for this project!

One of the things I like about this class is that it is not just about the structure or sculpture of making a book; it is also about the content. We are encouraged to think about what will go into the book. I am planning at this point (very early in the process) to use the star book as a way to talk about (visualize) the olives I experienced in both Israel and Italy. Well, we will see how it turns out!