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.
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 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.
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.
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!
“The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need to do is set our sails.” ~Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
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.”
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.
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.”
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]
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]
Chosen – self-rejection is the darkness of feeling unwelcome anywhere[iii]
“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]
“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.”
“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]
Blessed – “Count your blessings name them one by one”
“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]
Given and how do you give as a beloved?
[i] Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, pg. 20
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
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.
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.
“The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.”
~Br. David Steindl-Rast
Families throughout the states celebrate thanks today. Though I do not want to proliferate the story we were told as children, I would be remiss not to mention my
gratitude for you. You, my friends who have read my books, listened to my music, and most of all, supported my dreams.
There are many ways the support has come. Words of encouragement, prayers, editing stories, taking pictures, and through your financial contributions. There are so many of you who have believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. Though confident in music, I am less confident in writing. I never thought I would be a public speaker; though I hoped to be a teacher.
This morning, I think of a host of beautiful people I know. Most live on the East Coast of the U.S. from Maine to Florida and over to New Orleans. Then, there are other angels scattered around the world who have loved me through many difficulties and celebrated when I reached the other side.
I added photos below to just a few of the old and new friends who have changed my life. Working in churches means that I know a lot of people and many I am honored to call friends. Friends are a different kind of family. And family are also friends in their own way. Bless you. I can’t put photos of everyone because I don’t have enough time to thank all those who have made a difference in my life. Yet, I hope this post is the beginning of showing my gratitude for your presence in my life. Bless you.
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” ~Thomas Merton
“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”
~Robert Louis Stevenson