Stitch by stitch

by Pam Tinsley

Nathalie Bajinya, owner of Undeniable Bajinya. Photo courtesy of King TV

Nathalie is a young business owner, entrepreneur, and mother of a toddler, expecting her second child. She was taught to sew by nuns in a Kenyan orphanage and now designs and makes beautiful clothes that combine African colors with French and American styles. During Nathalie’s early childhood, war raged in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and she and her siblings were forced to flee after their parents were murdered. The nuns recognized her gift and encouraged her to pursue her passion.

Faith and resilience led Nathalie to apply for refugee status in the US as a 14-year-old. She continued to sew; found community with both a local Refugee Choir and an Episcopal congregation; completed a business development program; started her own business at age 21; and then saved enough money to locate and bring her younger sister and brother to the US.

Yet, despite the trauma and hardship that she has experienced in her young life, Nathalie strives to encourage and support others in the name of Christ. She recognized that, although fellow refugees could speak English fluently, their inability to read and write limited their job prospects. So she began to hold reading and writing classes. And because of her own difficulties moving out of the foster care system at age 18, she began advocating for refugees – and others. When her shop was vandalized and a GoFundMe account was established on her behalf, she pledged to give any excess money to neighboring business owners whose shops were also vandalized.

Stitch by stitch, Nathalie sows and sews God’s love as she transforms the colorful fabric into clothing. Each choice of fabric and each stitch reflect the merciful and saving love that Nathalie has received from God and that she shares with others – through her encouragement of others, her Christlike actions, and her vibrant and unique fashion creations.

‘Marked as Christ’s own’

by Demi Prentiss

Flickr – Ivan Radic

Baptism is about belonging and identity. When we know whose we are, we know who we are. We are “Christ’s own forever”! That is our truest, fundamental identity, which has the power to set us free. We already belong to God. Our struggle now is to become what we already are.

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

When I worked as a community newspaper editor and publisher, I often stood with parents and families sending their high school athletes and band members off to an away game or tournament. In Central Texas, along with admonitions to “be safe,” “play hard,” and “be a good sport,” always part of the send-off was the shout from at least one adult: “Remember who you are and where you’re from!”  Part “do us proud” and part “don’t shame us,” those words also carried the message: “Be the amazing people we know you to be.” They were reminding teenagers that their behavior testified to their character, witnessed to their values, and proclaimed their true identity.

Teenagers aren’t the only folks who need reminding. As Br. Geoffrey offers in our lead-in, “our truest, fundamental identity … has the power to set us free.” Every time we renew our baptismal vows, or stand as witness to a baptism, we have an opportunity to remember the identity and behavior that makes us most truly who we are.  Br. Geoffrey affirms, “As we promise to serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace for all people, to respect the dignity of every human being, we are proclaiming before God, before ourselves, and before all the world, ‘This is who we are!’” Each of us lays claim to our true identity: Child of God, beloved and called.

Through scripture and our faith community, as well as the day-to-day world we encounter, God reminds us again and again both who we are and whose we are.  As we daily practice walking the Way of Love, our life-long task – our ministry in our daily lives – is to become what we already are.

Who’s your hidden hero?

by Pam Tinsley

WelcomeChange, CC BY-SA 4.0

“Be Kind” were the words written on our 2½ year-old granddaughter’s shirt on the same day that a new book arrived. The cover of the book, 10 Hidden Heroes, shows children and adults helping others as they go about their everyday lives. Because I believe strongly in making our world more loving by living out our baptismal promises in daily life, I was eager to share this book with our little granddaughter.

She and I sat down together and searched through the pictures on each two-page spread. One set of pictures features hidden heroes nursing others back to health. Although one setting was in a hospital with nurses and doctors caring for patients, there was also a child tending to another child’s scraped knee and a girl caring for her injured cat. Another set of pictures highlights hidden heroes striving to protect the environment by planting trees, recycling, composting, and riding bikes. A boy stocking shelves in a food bank shows young readers how to serve those less fortunate. There are even hidden heroes who invent and do research to develop medicines and “treasures for humankind.”   

Hidden Heroes author, Mark K. Shriver, is the president of Save the Children Action Network, and hopes that it can help children and their parents make the world a better place. When I read the book with our granddaughter, not only is she learning to count as she searches for the hidden heroes in the pictures, together we’re also making connections as we look to her family, friends, preschool, and community for examples of kindness and compassion. And this is a time for talking, too, about how she herself can be kinder and more compassionate.

Who are the hidden heroes in your life, and how might they inspire you – us – to make our world more loving and just?

‘The work of Christmas is begun…'[1]

by Demi Prentiss

image by freeimageslive.co.uk – christmashat

When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart
.

— Howard Thurman

A few days ago Christians celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, remembering the long-ago visit of kings from the East to a Jewish newborn. For Christians, the day marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas, and the beginning of an “ordinary time” season of the Christian year notable for its focus on Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry in first-century Palestine. In the here and now, Christians are busily packing away the candles and tinsel, the nativity scene and the Christmas decorations for another year.

It’s significant that only a few days after Epiphany, as we mark the Baptism of Our Lord, Jesus has zoomed forward in time from infancy to the beginning of his active ministry. On that day in many churches, congregations gather for baptisms of new members and the renewal of baptismal vows. Christians echo the Gospel reading for the day, proclaiming to one another God’s message of love heard from heaven at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

Standing with Jesus in the waters of baptism, we are equipped to begin what Howard Thurman called “the work of Christmas,” the work of all the baptized. For those of us who feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of that work, Br. Todd Blackham of the Society of St. John the Evangelist offers a reminder:

The Christ who was born in Mary is the Christ who was born in you at your baptism.  The treasures and the promises of Mary are yours to ponder in your heart.  Like Mary, they will carry us through the years when things just seem ordinary, when drudgery and monotony set in, when we are led, like Mary to the foot of the cross in our agony, our grief, and our longing.  Even in the dark days of the tomb, the promises of Christ are waiting to be revealed in his resurrection.

For those of us at the beginning of a new calendar year, perhaps it’s appropriate that this week reminds us of baptism and the need to continue the work of Christmas. Our Christmas candles lit to push back the darkness of long winter nights need to burn longer than a mere twelve days.  Our baptism calls us to light, in the word of Howard Thurman, “candles that will burn all year long.”

I will light candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.

— Howard Thurman


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n8n6IFHisw&t=23s –  Jim and Jean Strathdee performing his song “I Am the Light of the World,” an adaptation of Howard Thurman’s words.

Who is our neighbor?

by Pam Tinsley

In early October, our local Islamic Center was burned in an arsonist’s hate attack. Between the fire and water damage, our Muslim brothers and sisters now face a rebuild and remodel of their mosque. In the meantime, they have been forced to find a new place to gather for worship.

Without a second thought our Episcopal church opened our doors and invited them to worship and pray in our large parish hall, which was appropriate for many – though not all – of their needs. Our congregation wasn’t the only one to provide support, and after several weeks the Islamic Center was able to find a larger space that would support their longer-term needs.

 Our Muslim brothers and sisters were stunned by the hospitality. Many are immigrants from countries where Islam is the dominant religion, and they have felt marginalized in a nation and community where they are victims of indifference, if not outright hatred. The power of our congregation reaching out, then, was more than practical. It was highly symbolic. By stepping forward we were saying that this Christian community not only believes in a set of values, but also lives them out. We showed that Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loves us means something. We showed that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and we showed that our neighbor doesn’t need to look like us or worship like us. We showed that not only do we strive for justice and peace, we also seek the dignity of every human being.

The Christian ethic that we profess in our baptismal promises reminds us that our needs and the needs of our neighbor are bound together. We are all made in the image of God. And if we truly believe that, and if we put God first, we are called to seek our neighbor. Our neighbor just might be the marginalized shepherds in the fields. Our neighbor just might be the poor carpenter and his pregnant betrothed who could find no place for them in the inn. Our neighbor just might be the lowly babe whose crib was a manger.

Living everydayness

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

Thomas Mousin, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Maine, has created daily Keeping Advent reflections for many years. Using scriptural passages he finds Advent themes and elaborates on them with apt insight and relevance. As a subscriber I have found them consistently evocative and pertinent in my baptismal journey to Christmas.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 

Luke 10:25-28

Be strong.

We can spend a lot of time thinking about the life to come. Such was the question asked by the lawyer who was testing Jesus. In one sense, Jesus answered clearly, saying these are the things you need to do. He also knew that the lawyer, having asked the question, already knew the answer.

But the truth of that answer has not to do with what ensures our eternal fate, but what it means to live each moment of each day. What does it mean to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind? And what does it mean to love our neighbor as ourselves?  These are the questions we work out in the everydayness of our lives.

When Jesus commended the lawyer on his response, he did not say, “You have given the right answer; you will do this and you will have eternal life.” Instead, he said, “You have given the right answer; you will do this and you will live.” We are meant to live, today in this moment and every moment, as we love God and our neighbor as ourselves for the life we are given today.

‘Whisper words of wisdom…’

Advent, week 3

by Demi Prentiss

This week, the third week in Advent, began with Gaudete Sunday, the customary day for lighting the pink candle on the Advent wreath. Often thought of as honoring Mary the mother of Jesus, the pink candle signals a “breather” at the halfway point in Advent – an opportunity to “lighten up” the intensity of our Advent observances on our way to Christmas. A time to “let it be.” That same Sunday, Dec. 12, was the traditional day for celebrating the feast of the Virgen de Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas. La Virgen appeared to Juan Diego as a pregnant indigenous woman and spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native language.

This past Saturday, the Center for Action and Contemplation featured a meditation and practice outlined by Brian McLaren, centering around the dimension that Mary brings to Christianity.

In Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, God aligns with the creative feminine power of womanhood rather than the violent masculine power of statehood. The doctrine of the virgin birth, it turns out, isn’t about bypassing sex but about subverting violence. The violent power of top-down patriarchy is subverted not by counterviolence but by the creative power of pregnancy. It is through what proud men have considered “the weaker sex” that God’s true power enters and changes the world. That, it turns out, is exactly what Mary understood the messenger to be saying: [read her Magnificat, especially Luke 1:48, 51, 52, 53]. . . .

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:, Mt 9:13 and 12:17). Again and again, through scripture and witness, God calls us to practice generativity, not violence. In our daily lives, when our work springs from our gifts and our calling, we access God’s power as co-creators.  We are empowered to change the world through love.

Driving the ministry bus

By Pam Tinsley

Flickr – United Way of the Lower Mainland

For years I commuted to Seattle, often by bus. I found the bus drivers to be courteous and helpful – some friendly, and others, business-like. And, like anyone who faces the public daily, they encounter gracious passengers and rude, even unruly, passengers while trying to treat them respectfully.

Linda Wilson-Allen takes her role as a bus driver to a whole new level. A 2013 article in the San Francisco Chronicle describes Linda as someone who “loves the people on the bus, knows the regulars, learns their names. She will wait for them if they are late, and then make up the time on her route. She would get out of the driver’s seat of her bus to help seniors.” One day, Linda even reached out to a passenger who was lost and afraid and then invited her to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. Her kindness has touched people so powerfully that some passengers will let another bus pass by just so they can ride with Linda.

Linda’s story inspired the pastors of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC). Because her job can be thankless and filled with frustrations from cranky passengers to traffic jams and breakdowns, they invited her to share with the congregation how she keeps such a positive attitude.  Linda told them that her work is to minister to God’s people. She begins her day with prayer – at the crack of dawn. She asks God for guidance and how God might help her bless the people she encounters on her route. She asks God to help her shine light into dark places.

After she shared her story at MPPC, senior pastor John Ortberg reminded his congregation of the wider lesson we all can learn from Linda about ministry. He said, “My patients are my ministry. My clients are my ministry. My neighborhood is my ministry. My store is my ministry. I’m just going to go through every day and reach up to Jesus so that the power of the Holy Spirit is in me all the time, and then be a part of a little community here where I have people I can know and love and care about and serve for and who can help me grow, and then I’m going out. I will go out and bless.”

How will you go out and bless today?

First step: ‘Beloved’

by Demi Prentiss

Many Episcopal congregations observe the Feast of All Saints in early November by renewing their baptismal covenant, that shared set of beliefs and practices that are recited by all baptized Episcopalians. While for many All Saints Day is a remembrance of the saints who have gone before us, that renewal of vows is a reminder that baptism marks the first step for many Christians in their journey with Jesus.

A recent meditation from Fr. Richard Rohr explored the message of baptism:

We can’t start a spiritual journey on a negative foundation. If we just seek God out of fear or guilt or shame (which is often the legacy of original sin), we won’t go very far. If we start negative, we stay negative. We have to begin positive—by a wonderful experience, by something that’s larger than life, by something that dips us into the depths of our own being. That’s what the word baptism means, “to be dipped into.”

Jesus is thirty years old when his baptism happens. According to Mark’s Gospel, he hasn’t said a single thing up to now. Until we know we’re a beloved son or beloved daughter or even just beloved, we don’t have anything to say. We’re so filled with self-doubt that we have no good news for the world. In his baptism, Jesus was dipped in the unifying mystery of life and death and love. That’s where it all begins—even for him! The unique Son of God had to hear it with his own ears and then he couldn’t be stopped. Then he has plenty to say for the next three years, because he has finally found his own soul, his own identity, and his own life’s purpose….

This is the good news of God for our hurting world: we are all beloved by God. That fundamental understanding equips us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [ourselves],” and, further, “respect the dignity of every human being.” (from the Baptismal Covenant, Book of Common Prayer, p. 305) In the midst of our brokenness and blindness, the truth of that belovedness is the good news that the world hungers for. It sets us on the path that early Jesus-followers called “the Way,” the Way of Love.

Rohr continues:

…. The only purpose of the gospel, and even religion, is to communicate that one and eternal truth. Once we have that straight, nothing can stop us and no one can take it away from us, because it is given only, always, and everywhere by God—for those who will accept it freely. My only job and any preacher’s job is to try to replicate and resound that eternal message of God that initiates everything good on this earth—You are beloved children of God

Sensing God

by Demi Prentiss

In August, Luther Seminary’s “God Pause” featured devotions written by Josh Kestner ’17 M.Div. who now serves as campus pastor for University Lutheran Church and Lutheran Campus Ministry at Clemson University, Clemson, SC. Reflecting on the hymn “Built on a Rock” (ELW 652), Kestner wrote,

“…[A]n important part of having faith is living out our faith with our bodies. We navigate the world, using our five senses. And, like Jesus, we try to use our bodies to partake in the coming kingdom of God. Verse 3 reminds us of the holiness that resides in us: “Christ builds a house of living stones: we are his own habitation.” It’s a blessing. And it’s an incredible, overwhelming responsibility. Faith is more than an intellectual thing. It’s an incarnational thing. And more often than not, we forget that. Spend some time today—whether in worship, in your community, or in your own home—asking God how you are being called to live in the world. And find confidence in the fact that your body is holy, and that you can do holy work.”

How might you become more aware of God’s presence, using your senses? Through sight? Hearing? Touch? Smell? Taste? How might you savor those sensations of God with you, within you, around you? How might those first-hand experiences of God guide and ground your daily life? What holy work might God be channeling through you?

Remember Kestner’s reminder: “Your body is holy, and … you can do holy work.”