A Community of Love

On May 5th I was honored to speak at a community of love called High Country United Church of Christ (UCC) in Boone, NC. The pastor, The Rev. Tamara Franks, was out of town and gave me the opportunity to preach last year and again this year. The congregation is one filled with loving people who are talented as well as socially engaged. Needless to say, because they are an open congregation with other gays and lesbians, each time I visit, I feel like I’m visiting homefolk.

“We can find harmful tendencies in ourselves, begin to free ourselves from our conditioned responses, guilt, and grief. Individuals do this; communities do this; religions and nations can do this.”

~Sallie Tisdale, “Lost Stories

High Country UCC, Boone, NC

Home

The topic Rev. Franks, in fact, asked me to address was home. I told her I already had a sermon prepared for when I was to preach at Advent Lutheran in Charlotte but couldn’t due to illness. It excited me to be able to use my work from January and also to adapt it to the conversations they had been having at the church about home and family. Of course, as is often the case when working on such things, the task was much harder than I imagined.

Altar at High Country UCC – May 5, 2019

The church was set up beautifully. They had paintings on a table just inside the front door that reminded people of home. Once inside, someone had set up a table that was beautifully decorated. It made me think of Christmas at my Grandma Poplin’s house although the theme wasn’t that of Christmas. The altar had lovely fresh flowers that are blooming in our area as well as a gorgeous tree photo.

As soon as I walked in, the choir invited me to sing along. Since one of the members was playing guitar, I asked that I might also play with them. They were gracious and said yes. Anytime I’m invited to play or sing along with a group, I feel more at home. Later, as I and two other guitarists stood around the piano to go over the opening hymn, I was suddenly at home even more.

Growing up, especially at Grandma Poplin’s house, we always were singing around the piano. At home, mom was the youth choir director, so my sister and I were always singing with her to go over new pieces. Or, sometimes we were singing a trio around the piano with me playing the guitar. Music is my home in a way that place is not.

Though that being said, the drive to and from the church was so glorious, I also know that I belong here. I belong to the forest, fields, and the mountains of the Appalachians. Even as a child, when we visited the mountains, I always told my family I wanted to live here. Now that I do, I never want to leave. My home on Beech Mountain is especially peaceful and quiet.

This blog about yesterday’s experience changed even as I write. Anytime we talk about home or family, those topics are hard for most everyone because they are so layered. Not only are the topics layered with challenges, but they are also deeply layered with meaning.

A Community of Love

One of the things I had hoped to do in my sermon (or presentation really) was to talk to the people about what it means to live as a beloved person. Basing my talk on Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, made it seem like it was going to be easy to preach the sermon to such a loving community.

Instead, working on a sermon that talked about being a beloved person of G-d as well as how that related to home and family at first caused me to feel vulnerable and exposed. As a lesbian, family is hard because they believe so differently than me. Also, their idea of home is in the Piedmont and most of my family never moves far from that area.

I wish I could say here at the end of the blog that I have some answers for you or words of wisdom. Instead, I find my own sermon topic preaching to me. Reminding me of my chosenness where G-d shows great love to me through the communities of love I have found in this area. Both High Country UCC and Holy Cross Episcopal feel like home in ways unimaginable.

Blessings abound in my community here on Beech Mountain. In addition to discovering wonderful faith communities nearby, my yoga class is a loving community in a different way. I know the people at Fred’s and their faces are a comfort when I can’t get down the mountain. The trees, birds, deer, and many beautiful paths are loving community and friends in a different way.

When I moved here, I was going through the brokenness of divorce. That is something that many of us face in this broken world. Yet, great healing has been given to me through this loving community. I don’t see them as separate communities although they rarely overlap. Why? Because these wonderful people have become my family and home. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my biological family or homeplace, only that in my broken-hearted move, these people were there for me in ways they never knew. All they did was to be themselves.

By being themselves, these loving communities of people gave healing balm to me. When we learn to embrace our own natures and broken places, we can find ways to live toward wholeness. As we live towards a life that is in tune with who we were created to be, in addition to giving us healing, it also frees us to give to others who need to know that even though they are broken, they too are chosen and blessed.

“When we begin to believe that there is greater joy in working with and for others, rather than just for ourselves, then our society will truly become a place of celebration.” 

~Jean Vanier

Yesterday, I ended my sermon with a direct quote from Nouwen’s book. I want to share that with you now. Share your lives with others. It’s what is needed in this hurting broken world. Love is working for the well-being of another even if it means leaving those who don’t get you alone. We can’t change the other, we can only change ourselves. What does it mean to be YOU in this world? What is ‘home’ to you? Find your place in the world by BEING you.

“Speak from that place in your heart where you are most yourself. Speak directly, simply, lovingly, gently, and without any apologies. Tell us what you see and want us to see; tell us what you hear and want us to hear….Trust your own heart. The worlds will come. There is nothing to fear. Those who need you most will help you most. You can be sure that I will.”[i]

Be a community of love wherever you are.

 

______________________________________________

Notes from May 5th Sermon:

Living as Beloved – Sermon at High Country UCC
May 5, 2019 Based upon Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved.
Scripture John 21:1-19

Intro:  family and friendship “…is giving to each other the gift of belovedness.”[ii]

  1. Chosen – self-rejection is the darkness of feeling unwelcome anywhere[iii]
    1. “The eyes of love have seen you as precious, as of infinite beauty, as of eternal value. When love chooses, it chooses with a perfect sensitivity for the unique beauty of the chosen one, and it chooses without making anyone feel excluded….To be chosen does not mean others are rejected.”[iv]
      1. “Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the choses child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”
      2. “Secondly, keep looking for people and places where your truth is spoken and where you are reminded of your deepest identity as the chosen one.”[v]
    2. Blessed – “Count your blessings name them one by one”
      1. “It is not enough to be chosen. We also need an ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever-new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone, but will remind us always that we are guided by love on every step of our lives.”[vi]
  • Broken
  1. Given and how do you give as a beloved?

 

[i] Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, pg. 20

[ii] Life of the Beloved pg. 26

[iii] Ibid. pg.  28

[iv] Ibid, pg. 45

[v] Ibid, pg. 49-50

[vi] Ibid. pg. 59

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