Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Our Saints

St Cheryl, of Toms

From a special service wherein Cindy remembers our Saints of Jeff St, or at least some of them...

We don’t talk about saints a lot in Baptistland. But our lives have been full of them. We have been mentored by them, led by them, challenged by them, comforted by them, taught by them, held fast by them. There are so many of them right up here on this banner, aren’t there? And these are some of the saints that we want to remember today…
Saint Shawn Fridenstine, who was married to our beloved sister Sue. He’s the one who brought her to us, and because of that, he is the King of Saints! He had a very difficult upbringing, and a very difficult life, but he overcame, and overcame, and overcame. Sue once said that he loved “bad” kids. He worked at Brooklawn and reached out to the kids there in a way that no one else could. The way one of his co-workers put it was this: 

When there’s a kid that no one else wants to work with, Shawn will always want to work with them, and Shawn will always find the good in that kid. Shawn will always find a way to build a relationship with that kid. And the way that a young man who posted on Sue’s facebook after Shawn died put it is this: Didn't realize how much I love you or how much of a father you were to me until I lost you. You didn't have to say much, but you shaped me with your simple smile and laugh as you went out into the night to shape countless lost boys like me. Shawn your a superhero, and a huge warrior of God. You are victorious

We give thanks for Saint Shawn and his love for the lost ones.

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If Saint Cheryl Toms would have lived like our culture expected her to, many of us never would have known her. She would have stayed in her building like a good little invalid, doing puzzles and playing bingo and watching soap operas till her mind went blank. But instead she was Zaccheus, climbing up the tree. She was the woman with the issue, reaching through the crowd. She was Blind Bartimaeus, screaming out at the top of her lungs. She was the saucy Syrophenician woman, standing up to Jesus. She was the widow in the temple, throwing in her last few cents. She was all those people that our culture tells us not to be but that Jesus tells us to pay attention to. Why? Because they took risks. And it was their risk-taking, or their faith, as Jesus, called it, that saved them.

And it was her risk-taking, or her faith, that saved Cheryl. Saved her from the little tiny life she could have had. Not that there’s anything wrong with a life like that. Except that she wanted a life that was bigger, and she pushed hard enough so that she had it. For all the work that it took for one of us to get her to the farm on Thanksgiving or to Andy and Susan’s or my house on Christmas or to the Fall Retreat every year, lugging the wheelchair and the oxygen tanks and whatever else, just think of the work that it took her. It almost did her in, in her last year on earth, when she would go anywhere, to the point that she could barely breathe, to the point that I told her that I didn’t feel comfortable taking her anywhere anymore. 

 But you know, that was about my comfort. Because she wasn’t ready to stop. Because to Cheryl, what was more important than her comfort was her church family, was the quality of her life, which meant being able to really live. She didn't want to be boxed away in a room somewhere by herself. She wanted to be out and about and among and with. And that’s why every time we’d think that she was just about ready for a nursing home, we’d see this huge improvement, with her wheeling all over town. She was resisting. She was risking. Climbing that tree. Reaching out through that crowd. Screaming out at the top of her lungs. Throwing in her last few coins. And in paying attention to her, we learned a lot about what faith looks like, and what strength looks like. 

We give thanks for Saint Cheryl, our risk-taking sister.

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Saint Mabel Mitchell was one of “The Ladies,” as they were called. One of the five women who kept our church going back in the 80s when there was hardly anyone else in attendance. Mike Elliott, our former pastor, tells the story of how they cornered him and his pregnant wife a few Sundays after they’d begun to attend and gave them an envelope filled with money because they could tell that Mike and Janice needed it. Mike and Janice tried to refuse, but The Ladies wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was money from their meager welfare checks, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Mary Burgess and Mabel Mitchell were with us for years after that. I remember one Sunday night in December when we were all sitting in a circle, and we’d been asked to think about what we would have brought to give to the baby Jesus if we’d been there that on that long ago night in Bethlehem. It was a really meaningful service – one person brought his journal, symbolizing his innermost thoughts, another brought his keys, symbolizing access to every area of his life. We shared lots of deep, meaningful, symbolic, metaphorical thoughts that night. Mabel, though, instead of bringing something deep and symbolic, brought a little stuffed animal for the baby Jesus. Mabel brought something practical, something that a real baby would actually play with, something that wasn’t about her at all, something for the baby Jesus. She held it out for us to see, and then she said, “But really what I’d want to do would be to hold him and to love him.” And that characterizes Mabel. Thanks be to God for our Saint Mabel and her practical love.

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Saint Mary Burgess and Saint Mabel worked in our clothes closet for years, probably decades, folding, sorting, hanging, and giving away clothing to people who lived in the Clarksdale Housing Project. Mary had some severe physical disabilities, and yet she folded, sorted, folded, sorted. She didn’t let her disabilities stop her, and some of us might still remember the Halloween when the church had a costume party, and Mary dressed up as Charlie Chaplin. She had the hat, the little mustache, the cane, and even more importantly, the walk. As she waddled about that room that night, she looked just like Charlie Chaplin. It was priceless! Indeed, Mary was priceless. She had taken that one thing that had caused her the most physical pain throughout her life, her problems with her hips and legs and feet, her inability to walk well, and had turned it into something outrageously funny, had turned her tragedy into comedy. This week when Bart shared at his mother’s funeral that the word “tenacity” was the word that most characterized her, I thought of Mary Burgess, because that’s the word that I shared at her funeral. 

Thanks be to God for Saint Mary, one of our tenacious sisters.

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Saint Elbert Booker went to Broadway Baptist Church, and had just retired when someone from Broadway suggested that he come down to supervise the renovation of this machine shop into a sanctuary. The first time he came down here, he looked around, and right away he saw some things that drove him crazy. He didn’t understand why we would open our doors every morning to men and women who are homeless, and invite them in for coffee. He didn’t understand why these people were just sitting around doing nothing, and why we let them. He told me more than once that – “I’ve had to work for everything I have,” he would say, “and I don’t have any time for people who won’t work.”

But even though Elbert didn’t understand what we were about, something in this place caught hold of him in a mighty way, God caught hold of him in a mighty way, and he spent the next year and a half down here, hammering and sawing and supervising. He would come down early in the morning to meet the plumbers and the electricians and would stay here working all day. And sometimes he would even sit and drink a cup of coffee with the homeless guys. He became friends with a couple of guys, in fact, and there was one fellow in particular that Elbert grew very close to.

By the time that our building had been converted by Elbert into a wonderful little sanctuary, Elbert had been converted, too. When we surprised him with a banquet to thank him for all of his hard work, he told us he was a changed man. He said that what had changed his heart was watching the children in the housing project across the street from the church. He saw their limited opportunities, their daily exposure to drugs and alcohol and violence, and he realized that some of the guys sitting there used to be those children. He softened up, he tried to walk in their shoes for a while. 

Thanks be to God for Saint Elbert, who was transformed to his very depths while he transformed our building.

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Saint Sonny Broughton was one of our saltiest saints. He strutted like a rooster, bah-humbugged like Scrooge, smoked like a chimney, and loved his church family. He was living in a nursing home in Tennessee the last time I talked to him, and he asked about a number of our church members, and told me to insult Mabel Mitchell for him. (She took it well.) When we gathered for a service in his memory, we laughed about the time that he dressed up like Gladys Knight for our fall retreat (Diane Moten, Cindy Brown Kinloch and Donna McRae Toney were The Pips), and then got really, really angry at everyone for laughing at him. We reminisced about his bad cooking, about his love for the Kentucky Wildcats, about the party we held for him when he moved into Dosker Manor (after years of living on the streets and in the church), about the pride he felt in being the first Vice-President for the Louisville Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which we founded, about how I would have to call him into my office about every other week to set him straight about something, and about how he would tell every seminary student that he ever met that “I don’t like seminary students. But you’re alright.”

In one of the more poignant moments of our sharing time, Rob Toney said, “What Sonny wanted more than anything in the world…” his voice cracked, and he started up again, “What Sonny wanted more than anything in the world was to belong…And he got to.” Rob’s right. He did get to. We scooted over and made room for Sonny, and he made room for us. When I met his sisters at the end of his life and saw how impatient and judgmental and unloving they were to him, I saw how hard that was, for him to make room for others. 

Thanks be to God for Saint Sonny, who became our beloved brother.

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Come and Go With Me to That Land” was the song that Saint Anna Burns would sing on a regular basis. Anna would always bring sweet potato pies to our parties and potlucks, and would also give our pastor an extra one on every occasion (along with Little Debbie or Hostess Twinkies for her sons). Anna lived on next to nothing, and yet she was always giving something away. 

We give thanks for Saint Anna and her generosity.

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Years ago when we first began to sing our communion song, “Bread for the Journey,” we sang, “when our legs are getting heavy.” One of our community members, Saint Eric Bissmeyer, who was in a wheelchair, suggested that we change the words to, “when our limbs are getting heavy.” And we did. Thanks be to God for Saint Eric, who spoke up for himself and his needs, and for the needs of others, and who in so doing, gave us the insight to inclusify the words to the song that we sing most often.


We give thanks for Saint Eric and his inclusivity.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Like a Mountain

When the lights finally came on
he was there, like a mountain

like a mountain
that had gone somehow unseen

and once he'd been seen
there could be no more disappearing

for the shadow he cast
was immense

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

We Will Shine


A song from a few Sundays ago, featuring David Dillard on the vocals being accompanied by Kate, Jonathan M, Jonathan C, Jim, Roger, Sophia and Dan.


1. Hiding in the hills, and taking to the trees
Wayward wandering ones
Led by smoke and led by fire
Led by the noon day sun.

CH
We will shine... We will shine... 
And each tired and darkened soul will shine
Through the bitterness we will persist 
And we will one day shine

2. Into the swamp we waded and tromped
Baptized our bleeding scars
We flew from the noise to the peaceful fields
And there we gathered stars

CH

3. And our house will fill and our house will grow
We'll put out the welcome sign
And we'll set the table and we'll light the lamps
And we will one day shine 

CH




Thursday, July 04, 2019

Happy Independence Day! Work For Human Rights!


Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees,
you hypocrites!
You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.
You yourselves do not enter,
nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees,
you hypocrites!
You give a tenth of your goods.
But you have neglected the more
important matters of the law:
justice,
mercy and
faithfulness.
You should have practiced the latter,
without neglecting the former.
You blind guides!
You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Hypocrites!
You worry and fret
about words and phrases and
count the costs to your own fattened wallet
but ignore the cries of the children,
the perils of the poor and marginalized.
Although you were once immigrants yourselves
welcomed in grace
you now turn away immigrants
seeking safety and welcome
Blind guides!
Ungrateful ones!
For this was the sin of your sister Sodom
(don't listen to charlatans who tell you otherwise...):
She and her daughters were arrogant,
overfed and unconcerned;
they did not help the poor and needy.
Don't be like Sodom!
Woe to those who fail
to side with the poor and needy!
Woe to those who refuse
to welcome the refugee!
Judgment will draw nigh!
There will be a swift witness
against those who swear falsely,
against those who oppress the laborers in their wages,
against who cheat at charities meant to aid
the widow and the orphan,
against those who thrust aside the sojourner seeking refuge.
There will be hell to pay!
Now listen, you rich people,
weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.
Your gold and silver are corroded.
You have hoarded wealth in the last days.
Look! The wages
you failed to pay the workers
who mowed your fields are crying out against you.
The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.
You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
Snakes!
Do what is just and right;
rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor.
Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee,
the orphan,
or the widow.
Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place.
Do not place the innocent in prison.
Instead,
Tear down those walls!
Free the captive
provide healthcare to the sick
preach actual good news to the poor!
(And not any sort of cheap counterfeit
"stay quiet and accept the punishments coming to you
at the hands of rich oppressors and slave traders!"
sort of "good news")
Preach the real good news to the actual poor.
For what you do for the least of these
for the poor
the strangers
the outcasts
the refugees
those in the oppressed classes...
What you do for them,
you do for and with and alongside God
you do for and with and alongside
your own children and
you do for and with and alongside
your own self.
It's simple
do unto others,
what you'd have them do unto you
and here's a hint:
IF you were escaping hunger and rape and murder
YOU would want to be welcomed in as a refugee.
Do that, for others.
and love
and love
and love.

~The Bible, God, Jesus...
along with just reasonable, compassionate people everywhere
regardless of their faith tradition
or belief system

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Wandering Shepherd


Wandering shepherd, wander no more
Wandering shepherd, wander no more
Wandering shepherd, wander no more
Lay down your troubles, your worries and woes

Traveling pilgrim, rest for the night
Traveling pilgrim, rest for the night
Traveling pilgrim, rest for the night
Sup with the Savior and drink of his Light

Homeless believer, find here a home
Homeless believer, find here a home
Homeless believer, find here a home
You may be lonely but never alone

Monday, March 04, 2019

Working on the Building


On old traditional song, done here by the Jeff Street Left-Leaning Men's Chorale (Roger, David, Andy, Dan and Jonathan...)

Friday, March 01, 2019

Glory Bound


Laura, Kate and Sophia, performing a Wailing Jennies song.