gardengardenA couple of times a year I must dedicate several days to my garden.  I have a small yard.  Therefore, most of my back and side yards are devoted to my garden.  I’m not consistent enough with my yard work to be considered a true gardener; but I enjoy the fruits of my sporadic labors all year round.

Often in my pruning and pulling, I find a wilted perennial.  Usually, there seems to be no reason for the decay of the dying plant.  In sunny Florida near the ocean, we need water almost everyday for our growing ornamentals; but I’m pretty diligent about providing that.  Yet, the mystery is that these wilted plants often grow along side the healthy ones.

wiltedIn some plants that seems to be a deficiency in their ability to grow.  They are receiving the same fertilizer and water.  The share equally with the soil and sunlight; but they remain stunted until they are gone.

I remember a young man who was raised in a large family.  He told of an abusive childhood.  Finally, he left home, rejecting the opportunity to go to college as his siblings had done because he didn’t want to be obligated to his unforgiving and vengeful parents.  Yet, when you realized that this young man had been raised by godly parents and his six other siblings told a completely different story about their childhood, you knew something had gone badly wrong with this young man; and his parents probably were not to blame. There were obvious distortions in his life.

distortionsAs the man has matured, his attitude has improved but not totally changed.  The distortions in his life remain.  Wherever he goes, people are making his life miserable.  Employers fire him for no reason.  Women break his heart without regrets or scruples.  Hospital mix up his test results and give him the wrong medications which make him sicker.  Even though, the man rejected church in his youth, he has returned to his faith; but there is no joy in his relationship with the Father.

Several weeks ago, I revisited the parable of the talents as told by Jesus in Matthew 25.  We all remember the three employees who were given various amounts of money from their employer, a business owner.  They were expected to invest the money.  The first two did exactly what was expected of them, doubling the amount they received.

moneyThe third, however, buried his money with this explanation to his employer, “I know that you were a hard man and that you expect growth from investments, even where you don’t invest any money.  You want more for your labors than you are willing to make an effort to produce.  Therefore, I was afraid.  I buried your money and here it is.  I’m returning the amount you gave to me.”

His employer was outraged with his employee.  “If you knew that I was that kind of employer, why didn’t you take my money and put it in the bank so it would at least draw interest.”  The employer took away the money and gave it to the employee who had earned the greatest money from his investment.

The employer explained through is torrent of anger, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them”  (Matthew 25:29)  The employer fired the slothful employee and then had him arrested and sent to prison.

We know that the employer is God in this parable.  In reading the Biblical account, we find that the three men had the same employer but two expected goodness from him.  And that is precisely what they received.  The third employee, driven by indolence, sluggishness and laziness, expected exactly the opposite from the same man and that is what he received.

There are those who expect only the worst from God–and that is what they receive.  Like my wilted garden plant, they never learn to partake of the water, sunlight, warmth and food provided all around them.

Many of my friends within the mentally challenged community exhibit the exact opposite attitude.  Their IQ’s a deficient.  Their bodies may not function properly.  However, they grow and mature without distortions within their spirit.  The Lord in his mercy has graciously provided for all of us.  His blessings abound all during the day and night but often without reason we become overcome by doubts and fears.  Our spirits wilt in the presence of a gracious Lord.

My prayer is that I will command my doubting heart know the love of the Lord.  That I will demand for my whining spirit to look full into the sunlight of his love expecting and receiving the abundant blessings that surround me.

Robert Lewis StevensonRobert Lewis Stevenson expressed an important sentiment regarding friendship.  He said, “So long as we love, we serve.  No man is useless while he is a friend.”

Jesus, however, lifted friendship to a new and holy level when he spoke to his disciple before they moved quickly to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was during a time of great joy on the part of the disciples.  Jesus’s Messianic processional into Jerusalem had occurred only four days before.  Yet, Jesus knew that within 24 hours he would die one of the most cruel deaths known to mankind.

last supperDuring the passover supper, Jesus spoke.  He said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”  (John 15:13 and 15).  While the world values and understands the importance of friendship, Jesus put it into a different category.  He is our friends.  We are the friends of God.  We have access to the most confidential communications that develop within the Godhead.  At this point in time, friendship became a holy act of God’s love extending into the world.

In addition, because we are friends with God, his love through us can embrace every individual.  Therefore, we can be lavish with our friendships.

Studies and common sense tell us there are three levels of friendship.  They are casual, close and committed.  Casual friends are people with whom we have only occasional contact. Nevertheless, there are common interests.  We are probably concerned about each others’ personal problems.  Yet, a lack of contact determines that there is little that we can do for each other or about our daily missteps or misgivings.

The second level is close.  With these folks, there is regular contact.  We are willing to be vulnerable, though there may be little opportunity to test that vulnerability.  There is some shared knowledge of abilities and character qualities.  You share interest with a close friend.  In addition, there is sensitivity to the likes, dislikes and weaknesses of each other.

In a committed friendship, the two friends enlist each other to devoting quality time.  There is mutual value in this nonverbal contract.  While the qualities of a close friendship exists within a committed relationship, there is also freedom to correct flaws.  Each person experiences the joys and risks of transparency.  For a committed friendship, there is mutual enrollment at this level of friendship.

friendsWithin the mentally challenged community, there is often a lack of intellectual ability to distinguish between a casual friendship and a committed friendship.  Relationship boundaries are blurred.  I don’t allow my members to call me “Mama” or “Grandma.”  These titles denote a closeness that I can never achieve in their lives.  I’m not their parent and I never will be.

When a man or women within our cloistered community attends five or six days of retreat or camp, they almost always will be paired with a volunteer whose intellectual abilities falls within the “normal” range.  The volunteer’s main task during the week is to become friends with the person who is mentally challenged.

It becomes an important week within the life of both the volunteer and the person who is intellectually disabled–but it is not a time in which a close or committed friendship can be developed.  After a week of “hanging together,” sleeping in the same cabin and sharing mealtime, there is a bond that issues into a friendship but unless it is taken to the next level, it can never progress beyond the boundaries of a casual friendship.  This does not mean that the volunteer cannot feel a sense of value that will change his life forever.

It is much like a short-term missionary experience.  We vacation in another country, working hard while experiencing the joy and sorrow of a people for a week or two.  Then we go home, leaving the consequences, the commitment and hard day-to-day endeavors to the people who live in the country where we visited.

As we approach Camp and Retreat Agape that is held at the end of May, there is an anticipation of the work that lays ahead.  There is also knowledge that lives will be changed.  We see our members leaving camp who have renewed their vows to the Lord through the worship experiences.  We ask our volunteers to hang out with our members,though no one is assigned to any particular person.  Therefore, the friendships which develop and deepen are typically within the membership.  Our members “hang loose” with each other and talk for hours.  They fish and share the joys of catching the big one.  They do things that may be off-limits to them most of the year.  They drive go-carts and go on boat rides, play pool, work on crafts and traverse the water slides.

Friendship is a delicate ballet of hard work, commitment and time.  Within the confines of the Church body, friendship should not be taken lightly because of Jesus’ injunction to us.  “You are no longer servants.  You are my friends.”

Recently, I visited a neighboring Special Gathering program to practice our Christmas music.  It seemed like a good idea. However, it appears that I really messed up.  After the practice, I heard that I “put down” this great choir.  I was shocked because I was so completely impressed with them that I thought they were the best choir of the four with which I’ve worked.

In my attempts to compliment this choir, I assume I mixed up the names and somehow the result was that the choir felt insulted.  That was the last thing I wanted to do.  Fortunately, the choir members told someone; and I was able to straighten out the misunderstanding.

Communication is perhaps the most tricky thing that we do as Christians.  Often, when we are trying to show compassion, we are accused of being harsh or judgmental.  Our great intentions can be viewed as meddling or interference.

I wish I could give some great pointers that would direct you to a better way of communication; but, as my recent experience shows, I’m still a novice in this area.

I am encouraged, however, when I read the scriptures.  Two great Titans of the faith, Paul and Peter, became meshed in the lack of communication webbed tangle.  Paul rebuked Peter who sat with the Jews at a meal when Gentiles were also partaking at the meal.  This was seen as an insult to the Gentiles.  It was a pretty stupid move on the part of Peter and probably deserved rebuke.

Peter, on the other hand, wrote that Paul’s teachings were so complicated that, at times, even he could not understand what Paul was try to say.  This gives me encouragement, because I often find my eyes glazing over while reading Paul’s letters.  Even though, I’ve read them hundred’s of times, I’m still perplexed by what Paul actually meant by certain sentences and paragraphs.

There are a couple of things I have learned when communication turns sour and you are the offending party.

  1. Try to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.  Don’t let things linger.
  2. Don’t let our natural inclination to avoid confrontation interfer with the need to find common ground.
  3. Apologize.  Even if you are absolutely sure that the other person has misunderstood, you are partially at fault because your communication fell apart at some point.
  4. Be honest.
  5. Try to find common ground by assuring the person you did not intend to offend them.
  6. Find something that you admire about the other person; and let them know how much you respect them in this area.
  7. Be humble.  Allow yourself to take the blame.  In the scheme of eternity, this incident will probably not bleep on God’s Richter Scale.
  8. Don’t cower.  Even if you are the offending party, stand straight and expect respect by you actions.  It will not help your relationship to become a whipping boy for the offended party. While this may sound contratictory, humility does not mean that you become someone’s door mat.  In fact, it should have the opposite effect.
  9. Don’t expect men and women to react the same way.  Men will be brief and polite but their attitudes may seem dismissive.  Women will either want to rehearse the offense again; or they will want to rehearse your apology as a way of affirming you.
  10. I believe that face-to-face communication is often the best.  I learned many years ago that I am almost never offended when I am facing another person.  It is the rehearsal of the event or the process of routine thinking that magnifies the event into an insult.  Psychologists tell us that this is true with most people.

Will these steps erase all offenses?  No. But they may go a long way in helping you to mend important fences in your life.

There are things which disturb my peace.  Yesterday, I realized that circumstances were heading Special Gathering of Indian River into a potential obstacle course.  I’m not sure whether I was more upset by the situation or by the fact that I’d not foreseen the concerns.

Either way my peace was destroyed for several hours.  Seeing the problem, I immediately began making phone calls and the situation was handled within three hours.  But it was as though my peace had flown out the window.  My mind swam into some pretty swampy waters concerning the “what if” possibilities.

Jesus plainly said, “My peace I give to you.”  He didn’t say, “You have my peace, as long as you don’t see any deep ruts in the road ahead.”  He never proclaimed, “I give you my peace, unless someone you love does something really bad.”

Of course, when trouble raises its grotesque head in the middle of your life’s road, you must take care of the situation.  But should peace be burned away like the morning dew as the sun ushers onto the horizon?

The past weeks, I’ve listened to the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul during the day, in the morning and at night before I go to bed.  What has struck me is the ordinary life Paul was living as the Holy Spirit was shaking up an entire civilization.  He never seems to lose his peace in the middle of ghastly upheaval.  He was beaten, jailed, the subject of riots, despised and rejected.

Yet, in his letters, we see that his main concern wasn’t his own safety; but he wept over the well-being of the Church.  He wanted to protect the new believers who were struggling.  That is the kind of peace I want.

For too long I’ve been satisfied with a piece of peace.  I’ve been willing to sluff off the concerns of my brothers and sisters in the Lord while obsessing over the well-being of me and mine.  I know that each of us walks a fine line regarding God’s peace.

Yet, I’ve been impressed that a piece of God’s peace isn’t good enough.  I desire to know the Lord in such a way that I can claim his peace no matter what the situation or concern.

Shocking new information from Shannon Dingle, MAEd, from Raleigh, NC.  She is a special needs teacher in her church in Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh.

The journal article: After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? And this isn’t just any publication; it was found in the Journal of Medical Ethics. The juxtaposition of the idea of ethics with what’s put forth in this journal is ironic at best.

Here are some quotes from the article itself. First the abstract (emphasis mine):

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.  To read more…

Quaker Worship Service

Several years ago, my friend who is a wonderful Catholic and an elder at Special Gathering, gave me a book.  I’m not sure of the title or the author because as soon as I finished it, I lent the book to another friend and it hasn’t returned home.

The book was written by a Quaker pastor, living in a small, upper New York State community.  While my views of many things were radically different from his, I have no doubts that this pastor is a deeply, dedicated believer.  As a Conservative, Evangelical Christian, I was fascinated by the characterization of my scriptural and traditional viewpoints as seen through the eyes of this liberal pastor.

While everything was crouched in delightfully, loving humor, I was stung more than once to see how others view a presentation of truths with which I am quite comfortable.  It was as though a light had been beamed on my attitudes and beliefs that exposed dimensions which were unattractive and downright ugly.

As a result, I looked with fascination at the controversy still stirring and the snippets of the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s pastor.  As a conservative, I’ve hated when the media or either political party has torn apart things which have been said in the context of my belief system.  And I find that I’m equally uncomfortable with what happened with Pastor Wright.

I remember there was a fire storm about 20 or 30 years ago when Christian TV personality, Pat Robertson prayed to keep a hurricane from the shores of Virginia.  When the storm moved, it went up the coast, gathered strength and destroyed much of the New England coastline.  Horrible accusations were hurled at Robertson for selfishly thinking only of his region of the country and being totally uncaring about the areas which were hit by the storm.

Now, it appears as the liberal political spectrum has desired to be more closely identified with the Christian moral arena, it’s their turn to be criticized.  At The Special Gathering we function within the cloistered, sub-culture of the mentally challenged community.  Because of the successful civil rights battles fought by African-American pastors,  we have been affected by Afro-Centric Theology.

 Without pointing fingers at anyone else, I cannot help but wonder:

How much of what I’ve written and said in regard to the discrimination foisted upon mentally challenged persons could be viewed as hateful, anti-social rhetoric?

How loving am I in presenting my viewpoints regarding the hurts leveled against the population I serve?

Is biased uproar an indication of how important it is to guard with our very lives the truths of the scriptures?  Is making the truths of scripture real to our particular sub-culture ever an excuse for not being true to the text?

When we are enveloped into a cloistered sub-culture such as the mentally challenged community, how often does group-think cause us to go places that do not make sense to other people?

How different do things that are said within our own sub-culture sound when heard by people not familiar with that sub-culture?