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Mindful of Justice – Lent 2020

To be mindful means to remember to let go of compulsive reactivity and realize a nonreactive way of life.

~Stephen Batchelor, “The Art of Solitude

Today is Mardi Gras and I still haven’t decided what my Lenten practice will be. I live alone with my dog so there is plenty of solitude for me. What does it mean to be intentional and mindful when the Lenten season is upon us?

I’ve been working on getting my diet healthier so there’s nothing to give up there. Yet, as I think more about this quote, perhaps the journey in the days to come is to focus on what it means to trust G-d working within my own life.

The practice of meditation is one that requires us to be alone with ourselves. In committing to sit in solitude, regularly and without distractions, we are exploring a new way of being alone—a new way of being intimate with ourselves.

Lenten Intentions Page

Since last summer, discernment of where G-d is leading has put me on an unusual path. Of course, I’ve never been 58 and nearing 60. No, I won’t skip the 59th year, just saying that part of the journey is one of embracing the beauty of aging.

The best thing I’m learning from the aging path is that there is much beauty in going slower. Sometimes it drives me crazy that I am a tortoise now, but there’s always some glittering gem that shows itself when patience breathes into my soul.

Yet, as the season of Lent begins, questions arise for which I have no answer. In my weariness, can I find a way to make a difference? Can making a difference be as simple as being brave enough to ask the questions and put the questions into the stratosphere for other believers to ponder?

Then, that easily it becomes clear what my Lenten task is. This year for Lent, my focus will be on changing and transforming my own heart into a heart of justice. Justice for the oppressed begins with me. We are all in this mess together. Let’s pray and act in ways that turn the tide towards justice, hope, and love.

‘If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.’

~ Marvin J. Ashton

Questions I will pray and ponder over as part of my Lenten journey:

  1. Why hasn’t the Episcopal church taken a stand to be a safe haven for immigrants? What is my part in the action or inaction?

I wrote both bishops and no response at all. Yes, 5 bishops of the Episcopal church are making a difference, but what about the rest of us? Bishop Curry does address what can I do here. The bishops are from the border region, but there are others being deported across our country and some of them unfairly.

  1. We have migrants in NC, what does our bishop say?

Last summer, when I still had a car, I was driving home from church and two carloads of brown people (who were small in stature like many Mexican families) were pulled off to the side of the road. The stunned naked child on the hood of the car made it clear they had to pull over for the child. Yet, all I could think of was what if they were running and trying to find a safe place to simply BE?

They pulled over in one of the switchbacks between the church and Spirit Ride Therapeutic Riding Center. It wasn’t a safe place for anything. What do our people, in this community, know about Protecting Immigrant Families? I do understand that I am still learning the communities here. However, there was a huge migrant camp in Cullowhee before the deportations started. One of our church members got deported with her husband. She could have stayed behind I’m sure because her parents were white. However, she was pregnant and also had a toddler. The marriage was new and obviously, it must have been illegal too. I did not pry. Now I find, In Christ There Is No Border and somehow it eases my sense of justice that the institution is making progress in justice issues. What can we do to become a sanctuary congregation? I am willing to begin the talk if that’s what’s needed.

  1. Resolved, That The Episcopal Church recommend that its institutions and congregations become places of welcome, refuge, healing, and other forms of material and pastoral support for those targeted for deportation due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference and that we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people; and be it further…

I type in a google search for a count of how many Episcopal churches offer sanctuary and at this writing, I’m only finding one and it’s in North Carolina!

 

  1. I do see that there are LGBT issues that are being addressed a bit. Yet, this government administration seeks to take away what rights we do have. What can I do as a person of faith that will give hope to those who have no hope in rural areas?

Though the Advocate Magazine often talks about issues that are not political here, it also seeks to keep us aware of how the current administrations wishes to take way adoption rights, marriage rights, and also keep us abreast of the hatred spewed by xenophobic attacks. What am I going to do to spread hope?

 

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First Volume of Praying Together: An Ecumenical Prayer Journal

Now available!

Announcing the first prayer journal in a new series called Praying Together. The daily prayers are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church of American and the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Volume 1 uses Psalms and John as part of the daily devotional reading.

Each volume will also include prayers found from other traditions that may be inspiring as well as modern poets or writers.

Within each volume, there is space to write or draw as one may feel moved. One of the goals, however, is to keep the devotional easy to handle for those with arthritic hands. The BCP and LBW are often too heavy for those with hand injuries or arthritis. The slim format of the book also makes it a book that is easily packed for travel or slipped into the Bible for daily use.

This is the first publication for the new non-profit press, Napping Dog Press of Beech Mountain, NC. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support those in need in the Valle Crucis area of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. If you would like to use these journals as a way to pray and give back to your community, please contact robin @ jrobinwhitley.net for a quote.

These books will be available with each contributing author as well as at City Light Bookstore in Sylva, NC. Ordering with the Indie bookstore or one of the authors will assure you of a more reasonable price.

Biographies of Writers

Jane W. Blackburn is a librarian, would-be poet, rookie old-woman-with-cats, and a person grateful for the love and mercy of God. Born in Alabama, educated in Kentucky and North Carolina, she now calls the mountains of northwest North Carolina home.

Doris Boulton is a former teacher, Director of Religious Education (DRE), and writer. Publications include Religion Teacher Journal, Primary Treasure, Our Little Friend, Utne Reader, Humpty Dumpty, Highlights, Festivals,  numerous poetry journals. Now resides in Valle Crucis, N.C.

Tamara B. Franks is a lover of Creation, intrigued by humanity, and continually seeking the depth of our beings. A native Texan, she lives currently outside of Boone, NC where she passionately serves High Country UCC as its pastor.

Michele B. Jack is a freelance, writer, editor, and graphic artist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she lives and works in the UK. Her other job is as an IT consultant to primary schools, providing technical help and creating educational resources.

Alicia Randolph Rapking is an ordained Elder in the WV Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as pastor of the congregation at First United Methodist in Parkersburg, WV.  She is a global citizen, contemplative, writer, poet, artist, traveler, scholar, and seeker of justice and peace.

Jordan Venditelli is an ex-evangelical, queer and non-binary, Philosophy & Religion student in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Their work centralizes their experiences of being born and raised in rural NC, coming out as queer and non-binary in that environment, grappling with their queer and disabled identity, and finding an affirming faith community. They love sour beers, their cat – Java, and long chats about metaphysics and intersectionality.

JRobin Whitley is a freelance writer, musician, and preacher. Robin received a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. Whitley now lives in the High Country of North Carolina with their dog, Birdie.

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A Healing Summer

Fred’s General Store 2019 ©JRobin Whitley

As I enjoy the cool summer morning, I smile at the healing that occurred for me this summer. I am also reminded that it is late summer. Though the heat may be upon us again, the worst is over. We are now in late summer. Fall is sending us love leaves to remind us of the colors we love in fall.

This was my second summer living full-time on Beech Mountain. One of the things that surprises me is that summer is my busy time. This summer I’ve been blessed to sing at various churches and preach at two different churches. The Rev. Tamara Franks has given me wonderful opportunities to be a part of High-Country United Church of Christ (UCC). Mary Silver gave me the chance to preach for Resort Area Ministry (R.A.M) in Linville. Being a part of R.A.M’s ministries reminds me of the joy I had as a college student being a singer for the ministry teams.

Resort Area Ministry’s ROVER Team. Melanie Stone and Robin Whitley 1981.

 

Resort Area Ministry has moved from the music teams to be teams of people from churches willing to pick up a hammer or paintbrush and make a difference to the elderly, poor, or disabled who live year-round in the areas surrounding the resorts. I will tell you more about them in a later blog.

 

This is more of a summarizing of the wonders of my summer. In the past, summer was my least favorite season. I liked school and though I may have been ready for a summer break, summer was too long and too hot. The summers here on Beech Mountain have been blissful and for the first time in my life, I’m going to be sad to see summer go. It’s mostly because I and the dogster won’t be able to sit on the porch and enjoy the outdoors. Whenever it’s not raining and I’m not at a gig, teaching, or preaching, I and Birdie are on the porch. This dog loves a sunbeam. She also likes to steal my chair. Oh well.

My dog, Birdie.

This summer was extra special to me because there have been miracles galore happening in my life. Some of it is simply because grief is losing its grip on me. Also, I’m more familiar with the area so that it feels more like home. On the way home from church the other day, my heart was so full also then, somehow I knew that I belong here. My home church is Holy Cross Episcopal in Valle Crucis. We have two wonderful priests, a fantastic choir director, and beautiful people who are welcoming and caring. These people have been an integral part of the healing of the grief I’ve dealt with the past two years from the loss of my marriage and my home in Sylva, NC.

 

The Rev. Tamara Franks has been part of the healing of my minister’s heart. From day one, she has treated me as a colleague in ministry. The work I’ve talked about with her and then been able to participate in with her has further healed the wound from when I lost my ministry because I came out to my bishop. My priests at Holy Cross have listened and aided in that healing as well. By Mary’s invitation to participate in the ministry of R.A.M., that healing has reached even further back into my life. Through these wonderful human angels of G-d, there is a thread of healing coursing through my life; my heart, mind, and soul. Words don’t do it justice, but I’m trying.

 

The tee shirt my team gave me.

R.A.M. also has summer projects. I applied for one because of how my asthma disables me. This winter I was so sick I became convinced it had to be the carpet putting me in danger. It was old, musty carpet and most likely had mold. As a disabled person, I applied for one of the projects asking for the carpet to be removed OR for my walls to be painted. Some folks from Media Presbyterian Church from Philadelphia area come down to do this kind of work every summer. I am still in awe of these angels with hammers. The thing is, because of the work they did, I feel like I have a set of new lungs. My lungs haven’t felt this good in more years than I can count.

 

Because of this gift, I was also able to sing at a private party on Beech Mountain in AUGUST! August has always been the worst month for me as an asthmatic. Instead, I got to use my music to sing and be happy. This was part of the healing process mentioned above, but it also introduced me to more neighbors. It healed me because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to sing ever again like that – for two hours. My asthma had gotten so bad, it was all that I could do to sing at church on Sunday. G-d is so good. I feel blessed. This has been the best summer of my life. Hope yours was filled with blessings too!

Used with Permission.

“The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need to do is set our sails.”  ~Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

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Coming Soon! 2 new book releases.

Due out 10/19/2019 is the second edition of my poetry book.

New Cover for 2019 release.

Due out 11/5/2019 is my first prayer collection.

Due out soon.

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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.

 

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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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Spring and coming alive from winter.

2019©Photo by Alicia Randolph. Used with permission.

It’s that time of the year that brings joy to our hearts. Though we joke about the schizophrenic weather, we are really happy to see sprigs of green coming up through the muck and mire of winter. After the gray, wet, snowy blandness of winter colors, I especially want color. I want sunshine and flowers. Though patient with the process, I am also eager and excited.

 

Growing things has always been something that excites me. New friendships and old need growth. Gardens are a great place to be in touch with the growing and dying cycles of life inherent in nature. Since moving to Beech Mountain, I no longer have a garden. Though they are hard work, the work is rewarding and I miss it. Luckily for me, my friend Steven is writing about his garden and his greenhouse. This allows me to participate in the excitement of planning the garden as well. If we lived closer I would be over at his house asking to see its process.

The first garden I planted that was my very own (not mom or dad’s or my grandparents’), I was so excited I went out every morning to see if anything sprouted. That didn’t make things grow any faster of course.  I decided the same rule applies to gardens that applies with a watched pot waiting to boil. My excitement about seeing the first sprouts of beans or flowers or squash never lessened. It’s just that I found a way to pace my watching. Then one day I would walk up and it was as though the beans had sprouted up overnight.

 

Our lives are full of cycles. There are times we forget how cyclical everything is in life. Being able to get outside helps. Any growing activity helps. Maybe even mowing grass helps, but I’m not a fan of grass or mowing. Yes, it’s pretty but I won’t get on my soapbox about how our desire to create weed free green grass (that has little helpful purpose) has harmed our beneficial insect population. I am also biased because I’ve always been allergic to grass and with the allergies moving from just being itchy to causing asthma attacks, well, I am not fond of it. Though, as I look at articles, I am reminded of its benefits too when it comes to run-off areas. Maybe if we learn to step away from the chemicals and move towards a healthy permaculture.

 

Somewhere I said that I wouldn’t get on my soapbox about the environment. Believe it or not, I haven’t

Caterpillar from a long-ago garden.

yet. There’s still a part of me that turns to soil and thinking about our birds returning; our beneficial insects that will be returning. How can we prepare a place that’s welcoming so that we can share the bountiful treasure of food which their hard work produces? We cannot do it without them. Our lives depend upon a symbiotic relationship with plant, animal, soil, water, air.

In the Lutheran Church (ELCA), we talked about how this type of living is good stewardship of the land. In our Episcopal congregation the other day, I was pleased to hear of that similar way of looking at the land and our place as caretakers of a big garden rather than being a master of the house who can take anything wanted at any time. That is exploitation.

So maybe I am a little on my soapbox as well as just wishing I could plant something. Planting takes planning and my neighbors have already told me what to avoid unless my sole wish is to feed the deer. We have deer here that are almost tame. It is their land before it was ours, so it doesn’t bother me. There are no predators up here, so nature is off-balance in that way. I can’t say I wish for predators though. Each time I find a deer standing at me and looking through me with her soulful eyes (it’s usually a doe), it feels as those Psalm 42 has come alive into my presence or I have walked into a Psalm.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

Psalm 42:1 (NRSV

Until I know what to plant, I also cannot plant. The sun is shy on this north facing porch. Even with morning light, there’s not a lot. There’s foxglove that’s beautiful, but I’ve not found seeds yet in the area. Fred’s General Store has hanging boxes that have my attention. I keep asking, learning, planning, and in my own way growing into the spring out of winter in this year. Until I know for sure, I will keep waiting, watching, and learning.

2018 JRobin Whitley, Mother and fawn walking through the neighborhood.

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