I am very pleased to print a recent article by Rev. Evelyn Vigil, member of Foothills Congregational Church and Staff Chaplain at the San Jose Maximum Security Jail. Evelyn shared these reflections about the events in Charleston, S.C., and from her unique perspective, gathered together the threads that wove such a terrible day: our national legacy of racism and our unwillingness to change the role that unrestricted guns play in our society. Unfortunately, she sees too often the results of this first hand.
Thank you, Rev. Vigil, for being another prompt in our necessary conversation, and for the work you do with the imprisoned, the victims, and the families of those most affected by violence. May our work for compassion and justice be furthered by your words.
Thanks be to God.
And Jesus said to him,
“Foxes have holes,
and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of Man
has nowhere to lay his head.”
(Matthew 8:20 NRSV)
A recent report said there are more refugees on the seas, on the highways, crossing the deserts than ever before, and they are finding no place to lay their heads. Turkey has taken in more than 1 million Syrian refugees; Australia is paying smugglers to return their human cargo to the place they picked them up; and we are spending millions of dollars locking up women and children who headed north to escape the drug violence created by our hunger for heroin and cocaine.
The world keeps turning as human beings seek safety, a better life, and sanctuary for themselves and the people they love. And they find no place of peace, it seems.
The shooting in Charleston, S.C., of nine black men and women in prayer meeting shocked me because it took place in the sanctuary, the place where we live our lives in common. We marry in church sanctuaries; we baptize babies in church sanctuaries; we remember our dead in church sanctuaries; and we pray, sing and worship God in church sanctuaries.
I remember a Jewish friend of mine who told me she learned early that no matter where she traveled, she could always find a home at the synagogue in that town. I would like to think that we are the same way. A church should provide us sanctuary, a place to rest from the business of the world, giving us time and quiet to remember what really counts in our lives. For too many people, though, churches have proven unsafe, because they were gay or divorced or poor or anything we discriminate against or look down on.
For black people in our nation, church sanctuaries are rarely as safe as we would hope. They have been bombed, burned and threatened as long as white men are afraid of losing whatever privilege they think they hold because of the color of their skin. News reports moved quickly to link the suspected shooter at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with white supremacist groups, where he probably found meaning for his life that seems so aimless until last week. His father bought him the gun for his birthday. My mother did the same with us. I understand that culture, but I cannot live it because it believes guns can level the playing field and keep us safe. The family of the shooter believed that myth, not realizing how powerful a gun can make a powerless person feel.
Because of the easy access to guns and the sense of power they provide, there is no safe place in this world, not really. Our safety is with the love we show each other and with God’s love and care for each of us. Emanuel A.M.E. Church reopened with a worship service because, in our words, “God is still speaking” and we must listen.
People are still moving, still looking for a place to call their own, still hoping for places of peace and respect and love, still seeking sanctuary. Some people think stronger doors, more security, bigger guns, and tougher treatment of other human beings will bring us peace. That path of fear has been trod again and again and found wanting, because even in all that confusion and pain and sorrow, we are called to remember the words of Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV): Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
May it ever be so.
Every morning for the past few weeks, I have ended my early morning walk at the local Starbucks here in Mountain View. I catch my breath, read through my email, and watch the world wake up.
Sometimes it is the same folks there at 7:00 am: bleary eyed but mostly cheerful, some with dogs, most with that kind of camaraderie that binds almost-strangers who share a common routine.
Two days in a row I saw a nearly identical situation occur: the local EMT’s had to be called in to aide a customer in distress. The two men who were in need of medical care were different, but nearly everyone else in the scenario, from the coffee shop workers to the Emergency Medical Technicians, to the Fire Fighters, to the customers, were the same. And I watched how we can do compassion as a community in the early hours of those two days.
The men in distress may or may not have been homeless. They may or may not have been fully paying customers. I really don’t know. What I do know is that each one was treated with dignity, respect, and the kind of care I would want for myself or my family. As large men in uniforms knelt beside small female baristas, each one was fully focused on the person in need. Both men were carefully assessed, and taken to the local emergency room.
I played a very little role in these two events. I offered a “God bless you and good luck!” to the men as they rolled by me on their gurneys, but other than that, I stood out of the way of the workers who were most needed. I was able to talk with the leader of the EMT team on the second day, and acknowledge my appreciation for the work I had seen. He didn’t exactly come right out and say, “Just in a days work, Ma’am, “ – but almost.
It was a gift to me last week that I could start some very hard days with images of compassion in my mind and heart. There is much to be said in the coming weeks about the events in Charleston and all that they represent. There is much that must be said, and as the images of last week whirled around me, I was grateful for the small and constant reminders from God of our common humanity, our potential as human beings, and the hope with which we must begin our days.
We are in the early hours of an awakening. Let us pray that the best of us lead us now. And may we never forget to look to God in every hour, for that, my beloved friends, is the way through all our days.
Thanks be to God.
I had forgotten the anniversary. As I lay in bed the night before, I heard my parents wish each other a “Happy Anniversary” from the other room, and my heart dropped. Even at 7 years old, weren’t you supposed to do something for the people who mostly just made sure your life worked? They expected nothing, of course, but my little ears picked up the words and my little brain kept me awake, and I decided that this year I would do something special and surprise them.
The next morning, Saturday, I gathered my coins (I believe it was $1.31) and put it in a little sack. I knew right where to go. I walked downtown to Pierotti’s Flower and Gift Shop, because, well, flowers and gifts. Mr. Pierotti was in the store already and recognized me right away.
“How can I help you, young lady?”
“I forgot my parents’ anniversary and I want to get them something really nice.”
“What a lovely idea! Let’s see what we have.”
Well, I had already scanned the shop (many times, even through the windows) and had a pretty fair idea what I wanted.
“How much is that?” I asked, pointing to a stainless steel cream and sugar set. The height of sophisticated elegance in my 7 year old mind.
“How much do you have in your bag?” he responded,
pointing to my crumpled sack.
“$1.31, “ I said.
“Amazing!” he said. “This particular cream and sugar set is $1.25, which leaves you with something left over. Should we put some candy in the bowl?”
I thought about it. Was candy pushing it over the top? No, I decided, I could spend the extra money and go for it.
“Good choice,” said Lou Pierotti. “Would you like that wrapped?”
Afterward, I trudged home, presented the gift to a very surprised set of parents, and felt pretty good about life.
I found out later my dad had gone back to the store to try and pay the correct amount for the set (around $12.00) but had been sent away as I had: with the gifts of abundance, and dignity, and great good will.
Lou Pierotti died recently. His legacy is large in our town, and larger still in my heart. May we all be blessed by people who enrich our world by simply loving.
After the worship service, Charlie asked me if I would go see Roger because he seemed to have some concerns on his mind. I assured him I would do so, but first we talked a bit about how things are going for him. When I found Roger, he was not too happy that his caregiver was late in getting him up. “I don’t like to miss your service.” I smiled. There was a time when he really felt uncomfortable in worship and would need some gentle coaxing to attend. He then said, in his beautiful, very formal way, “Could you go see Charles? I am worried about him. I know he finds your friendship helpful.” I told him that Charles and I had talked, and added, “By the way, Charles is a little concerned about you!” We laughed and talked some more, and then he asked, “If it is not too much trouble, may I have communion?” He has come a long way from the days when he would contend, “I am not worthy.”
I continued to serve communion as people were brought into the activity room even after the service. The community was short-staffed, and schedules were out of sync. I walked into the office of the activity director who was bent over the work on her desk. “I hate to ask this,” she said, “But may I have communion? I just could not get to the service. There is so much paperwork.” She looked so weary. She obviously had been in service all morning.
I was recently asked how I measure the success of the ministry. If success can be measured, and I am not sure it can, then it must surely be by these ongoing interactions. I measure it when I hear the Lord’s Prayer being recited in an Alzheimer’s home. I measure it when I see Lillian, who is in her 90s, throw her head back and sing at full volume in that crusty voice of hers that is not even close to being on key. I measure it when I see people taking care of one another. I measure it when staff members greet the worship team warmly, often with hugs. I measure it when Rodney returns to worship on his first day out of bed in weeks. I measure it when he says, “God loves you and we love you. Take care of yourself.” I measure it by the loyalty of our incredibly beautiful volunteers. Yet, most of the time I do not measure it. I simply live it as best I can.
The last time, and this was a few years ago, when Roger said he was not worthy to accept communion, I decided to come clean. “Roger, I go back and forth. Sometimes, I think all of us are worthy, and other times I think all of us are not. Regardless, I am convinced that we are all in this together, and because we are in this together, we are offered this gift of communion. I, for one, cannot refuse it.” He paused, and then said yes. And he has every time since then.
Come join us when you can,
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough
SpiritCare Ministry to Seniors
Kim is on vacation this week. In lieu of her Weekly Message, we Celebrate the lives of two women who had a deep, long-term, valued relationship with our community. Read more…
Love and Go On
You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she’s gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back
or you can do what she’d want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
~ David Harkins
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the end of the second parking lot)
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