malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: December 2010

A Sunday to Remember

Variety in worship is good for the soul.

This past Sunday, I went to the church where I am a member, Grace Episcopal Church in Cullman, AL, in the morning.  I knelt in the pew, the Advent Candles were lit, and a beautiful processional hymn for the choir was sung.  I loved being the “Reader” for the day of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.  We sang the Psalm and our Priest read the Gospel and preached a challenging sermon.

Meaningful prayers of confession and praise were said in unison that connected us as one body, and we moved to the front of the church to receive communion, while the group of six guitar players led us in familiar choruses.

I was aware that the very liturgy that was frustrating to me when I first started attending the Episcopal Church is now centering and connecting me to God and others.  In the beginning it was hard to know when to stand, kneel, pray, listen, or sing in worship.  But not so much anymore.  This Baptist boy makes the sign of the cross without hesitating.

In the evening my wife, Mary Sullivan, preached at Beloved Community Church (United Church of Christ) in Birmingham and I went along to give her support.  Mary has preached there several times.  The church’s female pastor is a good friend and was away.  Multiple lay persons led in the informal worship service.

The talented jazz band was a stark and welcome contrast to my morning worship.  A women’s trio sang beautiful harmony with an African flair in the seasonal songs and the small congregation clapped joyfully along.  Black and white, gay and straight, professionals and the jobless sang together.  The music was the common language.  Another guest singer had people waving their hands in the air.

Specific prayer requests were called out in the service by individual church members who were then prayed for one by one.  It seemed to be the kind of place where everyone knew each others name.

The leader of the jazz band led us in congregational singing and you could tell he was trying to stand still while we sang “I’ll Fly Away,” but his feet and body had a mind of its own.  His joy was infectious.

Mary’s sermon style was conversational as she preached standing in the aisle between the pews in order to be closer to the people. The congregation responded to her questions verbally as she talked about making room for Christ in our hearts.  You did not have to wonder if they were with her or not.

Communion was led with a minimum of ritual by a retired minister.  He motioned spontaneously for me to give him a hand as he walked to the front and I got out of my pew and shared the bread while he held the cup.  As people came forward, most of them said to me, “Thank you” audibly when I gave them the bread of life from a common basket.

Several times in the worship service we were reminded that ALL persons were welcome, regardless of who they were.

And Sunday was a day to remember that all of us are welcome at the banquet table.

Forgiving Father

This is the sixth in a series on My Faith Journey, and #26 in the series Lessons from My Father.

One image of God I had growing up was to understand God as a loving and forgiving Father.

It was easier for me to imagine God this way because I had a father with those characteristics in my life.  My father paid attention to me, told me regularly that he loved me, and constantly showed up when I needed him most. It would only be later in my life that I would realize that many people did not have this kind of relationship with their father.

Lewis Marler made it easier for me to understand God by the way he loved me, forgave me, disciplined me, and guided me.

Here’s a story to illustrate.

I was about seven years old and I knew I was in trouble one day because my mother said, “Wait until your father gets home,” which was not a good thing.  It wasn’t long before I heard her giving him the scoop after he got home from work.  He came into my room and asked me if it was true what I had done.  I nodded yes as I sniffled.

And then he spanked me with his hand. In the 60’s, spanking a child was a normal thing.  He connected two or three times as I jumped around and cried like crazy.  He instructed me to stay in my room until I could come out and apologize for what I had done.

A few minutes later, I walked into the den and before I could get the words out of my mouth he asked me to come stand beside him.  He said, “Malcolm, what do you have to say?”  I squeaked, “I’m sorry.”

“Then I forgive you,” he responded warmly.

He drew me close to him with a hug and said, “I want you to know that I am sorry for spanking you today.”

I looked at him surprised and he added, “I had a hard day at work today and I think I was more frustrated with work than I was  angry with you.  I think I punished you more than you deserved.  I am sorry.  Sometimes I make mistakes too. Will you forgive me?”  I nodded yes and hugged him tighter.

And that was one of the days I learned about forgiveness in my faith journey.  If my parent could ask me for forgiveness, I could do the same.  He modeled forgiveness, offering and asking.  A loving relationship was the result.

So I ask you my reader and friend.  What kind of images did you have of God growing up?  I’d love to hear in the comments section below.

Peace.

My Peeps

Every December 1st is World AIDS Day.

Today was a day to highlight the need for HIV Testing, Education, Treatment, and Research to remind the world to fight the worst disease in human history.  It is also a reminder to love and show compassion for those who live with HIV.

Since I worked as a Chaplain at an HIV Clinic for half of my professional life, this day is near to my heart.  Actually, it’s not the day that is so dear, it is the people or “my peeps” that includes patients, families, and staff.

Even though I moved a few blocks to the hospital a little over a year ago for a new job, today I returned to the clinic.  I was asked to lead a spirituality group for patients and staff.   And together, we remembered and it was a deep spiritual experience for me.

We remembered persons who have lived (or died) with HIV and the impact each has had on our lives.  We told stories, we named names.  We laughed and we cried.  Two persons in the room have lived with HIV since 1988 and could have named fifty, seventy-five, or even a hundred friends each who were no longer with us because of a disease in their blood.

I had prepared a topic for our group discussion.  But I should have known better.

We ran out of time.

There were just too many people, too many stories, and too many changed lives.

One thing is for sure, my peeps have changed my life.  And I thank God for them all.

We must tell their stories.

Before we run out of time.

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