Thursday, June 28, 2018

Seeking Inclusion, Authenticity in My Faith Journey

    When I graduated from Southwestern Seminary in 1956 I was proud of my alma mater’s academic leadership.  In stark contrast 60 years later I am left speechless when I learn that some leaders of that same institution have used biblical jargon to argue that women, if abused, must endure silently.  This blows my mind!  Women should always speak out when they are harassed or sexually abused.  Shame on male authority figures who have the audacity to tell women to suffer in silence.  I suppose I should not be surprised given how the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) shifted from its roots in the 1980s.  Let me give you my view on that change now, more than 40 years ago.

    When I was a teen in the 1940s, I thought anything coming from the SBC was pure gold.  This escalated during my college years at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor when I became part of a summer working team aligned with what Texas Baptists called “The Invincibles.”  We were asked to find places in our home state of Texas that were not planning to offer a vacation bible school.  After a week of intensive training we were ready to accept anything except no for an answer.



    While working on my master’s of religious education degree at Southwestern Seminary, I spent my summers directing bible schools and camp activities.  During my summer work I delighted in creating biblical characters that keep children who attended spellbound.  I was proud to be a Southern Baptist, a missionary, and an educator.

    In the 1970s, however, turmoil erupted within the Southern Baptist Convention.  By then I was a pastor’s wife and public school teacher.  I couldn’t believe how political and divided our convention was becoming under the leadership of some of the same people who have been in the news in 2018.  The controversy had become full-blown by the time I attended a critical 1985 SBC in Dallas.  The fundamentalist leadership of the SBC, with strong ties to the Moral Majority political movement, was successful in gaining control of the SBC.  My Southern Baptist moderate pride lay shattered, and I sensed our convention would never include both moderates and fundamentalists again.  The fundamentalists had taken control.

At the CBF convention in 2017

    Even so, it was a difficult decision for me to leave the SBC in the early 1990s.  I had many friends on both sides of the controversy, and my deceased husband’s church was still aligned with the SBC.  Ultimately I began identifying with the newly formed progressive group called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF).  The SBC’s increasing shift toward a conventional and narrow view of what it meant to be Christian challenged me to have the courage to follow my core religious beliefs about inclusive love toward a new faith community, leaving behind a group that had nurtured and formed me for decades.


    Make a final fast forward move and you’ll find me as a member of First Baptist Church (FBC) of Chattanooga, proudly aligned with the CBF.  Out of my CBF ties I acquired
First Baptist Church Chattanooga
a special friend in Dr. John Pierce.  While he served as interim pastor of our FBC of Chattanooga, I touched base with him about a manuscript I was working on about my relationship to the LGBTQ community and my own faith.  John immediately took me under his wing and helped me organize my thoughts into a coherent format.  When I completed Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts, John, who was the executive director of Baptist Today, an independent news publication, shared with me that Baptist Today was establishing its own publication company.  WOW!  My son, Alan, and his partner, Timothy, helped fund my initial publication, and the rest is history.  This past spring Nurturing Faith published my fifth book, Trailblazer, Part TwoTrailblazer, Part Three is in the final editing stage this summer.

    Despite the disappearance of the SBC of my childhood, I have found alternatives that allow me to be authentic in my spiritual journey in a climate of honesty and humility.


To find out more about:
CBF website

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Jesus Loves All of Us - This I Know!


https://books.nurturingfaith.net/product/this-i-know-dant/
Available at Nurturing Faith website

Jim Dant, Senior Minister of First Baptist Church of Greenville, South Carolina, in his book This I Know, A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians, (Nurturing Faith 2018) has given us an alternative interpretation of biblical texts often quoted to condemn members of the LGBTQ community.

Dant’s small volume is not intended to be a thorough theological discussion of sexuality in the biblical text.  Rather, it is a survival manual for those on the firing line who want to articulate why the Bible supports inclusion of the LGBTQ experience and community when so many Christian groups “turn the Bible into a weapon.”

In the first half of his book Dant exposes nine Biblical texts frequently quoted to castigate LGBTQ persons.  One by one he knocks down these strongly held opinions.

In the second half of his book Dant deals with five ridiculing statements aimed at churches that elect to become welcoming and affirming.  This is where the most vocal adversaries of the LGBTQ community reveal their shallow understanding of what it means to be a Baptist.

Dant concludes there is no valid, Christian, biblical argument against same-sex relationships between consenting adults and that each Baptist church congregation has the right to decide how it will practice faith under the leadership of God’s Spirit.



As the sister of a gay brother and mother of a gay son, I heartily endorse This I Know as a much-needed resource for all Christians, especially those who are all too certain their condemnatory stance on homosexuality is the only Christian response.  When I came to the Christian faith realization that I, rather than my gay son, needed to change, a boulder size burden I had been harboring was lifted.  This epiphany encouraged me to share my story in Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts (Nurturing Faith 2012).

By publishing this electrifying small volume as well as giving away free copies of it at the Co-operative Baptist Convention of June, 2018, Nurturing Faith has taken a bold step forward in giving voice to an alternative scriptural view of a “hot button” issue in our country. 

Nurturing FaithJournal and Bible Studies Editor John Pierce states, “We’re witnessing an ongoing debate over biblical understandings of homosexuality and gender identity.  To avoid divisions, we’ve tried to tamp it down to avoid division yet it keeps bubbling up like a well-pressured geyser that refuses to be calm.  This debate is about more than an issue: it affects people.  Putting people first may feel like a compromise of conviction to some.  But it sure seemed to be the priority of Jesus.”  Pierce concludes, “Each case involves people declared to be less worthy of the church’s full embrace and the opportunity to follow the call of God’s Spirit on their lives.  Real people.  God’s people.  Children of God.”

_________________________________________________________________________
For more information on This I Know, A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians, as well as a conversation with the author that gives insights into the book’s origin and purpose, and the author’s approach visit the Nurturing Faith website.

Additional resources on religion and faith as it pertains to the LGBTQ community (click on the logo or text):

https://www.allianceofbaptists.org/about
a faith community
the only organization solely devoted to building the Welcoming and Affirming movement within the Baptist traditions

The HRC Religion and Faith Program






Lynelle Sweat Mason



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Thursday, April 26, 2018

MAMA MAKES AMBROSIA

The following fond memory of my Mama is in honor of Mother’s Day and is an excerpt from my memoir Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts, my personal story about giving and finding acceptance in people and places…something I wish we had more of in the world today. 
 
“A chubby five-foot lady with dancing green eyes … holds center stage in this bleak setting.”  

Scarlett had her “Tara” and Ashley his “Twin Oaks.” The Sweat family had “The Sycamores,” and it was there I find my favorite Mama memories.

Travel down a flat, sandy road 15 miles south of Waycross, Georgia, until you come to a cluster of sycamore trees. The structure visible there belongs to the early American or “let’s-get-a- roof-over-our-heads” era.



The unpainted six-room house has a porch across the front and down its left side. The outer wall of the living room is made of chinked-together logs. As you enter the house, its scant furnishings are evident.

There are two worn upright chairs, a small table, and on the wall, a 30-inch portrait of Daddy holding his Bible.

The door to the left of the living room leads to Mama’s bedroom. Her iron bedstead with it two high-rise feathered mattresses is covered by a handmade Dutch Girl quilt. A massive long dresser made of ornate wood and housing a mirror stands against the wall.

Go back into the living room and through the door opposite the front door entry and you’re now in a pantry-size room. Like all of the rooms, its floors are bare and unpainted.

From here, you enter the dining room, where two wooden benches offset its eight-foot plank table, covered in a red-checkered oilcloth. Against the wall stands a wooden safe for baked goods.

The dining room opens into the kitchen where pine lighter knots, dipped in resin, make the cast iron stove turn crimson.

A chubby, five-foot lady with dancing green eyes and a ready smile holds center stage in this bleak setting. She wears a flour-sack print dress and almost always has on an apron.


I love this picture taken at Haywood Baptist Church, a community about 5 miles from our farm site.  I particularly like Mama’s smile.  Mama loved to laugh and could tell whooper stories. Left to Right:  me with my siblings Herbert, Kathryn, Chandos, Harold, Darcile and, of course, Mama.

A widow with eight children, she is in perpetual motion. Whether baking doughnuts, wringing the neck of a chicken, standing guard over a cast-iron wash pot filled with dirty clothes, washing down the front porch with a corn-shuck mop, overseeing weekly baths in a zinc tub, chasing down and killing a huge rat snake, telling ghost stories that made you pee in your pants, or peddling away on her prized sewing machine, Mama knitted life into forever memories.


Mama, who as a child grew up being catered to, adjusted in her adult years to poverty and hard labor. No job was too demeaning if it would keep her family fed, clothed and housed.

Modern conveniences during my childhood were what other people had, not us. Cleaning the globes and trimming the wicks of kerosene lamps, picking cotton in the blazing sun, canning, cooking on a wood stove — these were everyday “Mama” jobs.

Mama took what life dished out and turned it into ambrosia.



-Excerpt from Chapter 3 of my memoir Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts. Find more information at my website or purchase from my publisher’s website, Nurturing Faith.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Trailblazer Persists Against Religious Intolerance

From the dusty pages of history, I’d like to spotlight Martha Stearns Marshall.  Martha was the youngest of 10 children and was born on August 18, 1726, in Tolland, Connecticut.

Women's History Month
In spite of scorn, persecution, and rejection by the colonial religious establishment, as well as other Baptist groups, Martha was a trailblazer for all women who feel God is gender blind when it comes to selecting servant leaders.  Interestingly, March is National Women’s History Month, and the theme this year is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”  Martha definitely persisted, and I’d like to tell you more about this remarkable woman. 

Martha and her husband, Daniel Marshall, lived among a tribe of Mohawk Indians in New York for 18 months and left only after the French and Indian War began in 1754.  The Marshalls migrated south to Virginia where it was customary for both Marshalls to pray and preach during worship services.  It is reported that Martha’s behavior in worship scandalized the Virginia Regular Baptists who opposed women speaking in public.  Shockingly, Martha, when she was three months pregnant, was arrested and jailed in Virginia for refusing to stop preaching the gospel.

Some time later, Martha and Daniel responded to the great need for preachers and worship in the frontier of North Carolina, so they traveled 200 miles through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys to Sandy Creek, North Carolina. There, they helped form Sandy Creek Church, the first Separate Baptist Church in the South.

Sandy Creek Baptist Church
Martha and Daniel were a study in contrasts.  It was said of Daniel that he was a weak man, a stammerer and not a scholar.  Neither did he possess great talents and his gifts were very limited.  According to her contemporaries, Martha’s exhortations often brought her audience to tears.  She preached in church buildings, barns, town squares, and open fields.  It was not unusual for thousands to gather to hear her proclaim the gospel message.

In 1771, the Marshalls migrated farther south to an area called Kiokee Creek near Appling, Georgia.  Daniel was arrested for breaking Georgia law by holding a public religious meeting in a state where the official religion was the Church of England.  Martha was sitting nearby and witnessed the whole scene.  With the solemnity of the prophets of old, she denounced such proceedings and such a law and, to sustain her position, she quoted many passages of Scripture with such force that the arresting constable was converted, became a member of their church and served as a Baptist minister for over 50 years.

When working on completing Trailblazer, Part Three, the final book in my trilogy about the life of Noble Wimberly Jones, my research found me examining church/state relations and more specifically First Amendment rights.  When my research spotlighted Martha and Daniel, I laughed aloud, I cried for joy.  I felt as if God had placed into my keeping -- a pearl of great price!

Let me explain my pearl of great price.  In the 1970s, my affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention died.  A faction within our convention came out with an edited version of our 1925 Baptist Faith and Message publication rejecting women as ministers, decrying the infiltration of liberalism in our seminaries and insisting the Bible was inerrant-totally free of error and to be interpreted as it is written regardless of when it was written or its intended audience.  Style of writing was also ignored.

I could never espouse any of their revisions so I began trying to alert my local church of this schism.  However, I lacked the persuasive talents of Martha Stearns Marshall, thus my words fell on deaf ears! In the meantime I continued to explore the tenants of Baptist theology through the writings of those whose words rang true to me.

Today, I heartily subscribe to the following Four Fragile Baptist Freedoms: 
  • Bible Freedom is historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ and is subject to the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry.
  • Soul Freedom is the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government.
  • Church Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they consider gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.
  • Religious Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion and freedom FROM religion insisting that Caesar is not Christ and Christ is not Caesar.

 Martha’s legacy lives on, not only for me, but also within the Baptist religion. Every year since 2007, the Baptist Women in Ministry invites Baptist churches to participate in Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching by having a woman preach in February.  Join me in celebrating Martha and all the courageous women in our nation’s history.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Lenten Lessons Live Year-Round


The lessons of Lent tug at my heart throughout the year.
Living in a lovely retirement community on beautiful Signal Mountain, I’m privileged to count as my friends people from all over the United States. One of our many on-campus activities is our Interfaith Committee ably chaired by one of the residents.


Thanks to this group, my Lenten journey started one week before Ash Wednesday.  The format for the program was simple and direct and ecumenical.  The story of Jesus’s trial and crucifixion is traced through Scripture by the pastors of Signal Mountain made up of Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergy people.  The pastors read the biblical account, making no additional statements.  Interspersed between each Scripture reading was music that magnified the passage read and allowed those of us in the audience to express our feelings through music.

My book of Lenten reflections for worship.




Two personal thoughts grabbed me during this year’s Lenten Journey:
- We had gathered as people belonging to different faith groups.
- However, only one person held central stage at this gathering and his name was Jesus.

I left singing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know.  He fills my every longing and keeps me singing as I go!”

Let’s face it, my singing will never win accolades and my tempo, etc. just isn’t up to snuff.  That being said, I know the words of our hymns far better than most and render my music from my heart. 

When we sang Man of Sorrows I immediately thought of my late husband Reverend Claude Mason and how much that hymn meant to him. I reflected on the Maundy Thursday services we had participated through his 18 years pastoring at First Baptist Church of Rossville, Georgia.

My husband, Rev. Claude Mason
Claude passed away on a Saturday before Easter Sunday, and I remember my pastor saying to me after the church service, “I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.”

I sighed.  “It seemed the right thing to do.  Easter tells me that death isn’t the ending, but the beginning!”

Twenty years ago I became a member of the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I find all facets of my life to be challenging, enriching, sustaining, and enduring.

Wednesday night, after I received the mark of the cross on my forehead, I left the service with the intention of looking for specific ways I can get rid of the spiritual garbage that accumulates too easily in my life and especially to add the unlimited fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, NRSV)

When we conceal your justice through our failure to empower those who are powerless forgive us, Lord.  Love is best understood as a verb.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

2018: A New Year Flowing in Endless Praise

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As a true Southerner I enjoyed a very traditional New Year’s Day meal.  I ate collard greens swimming in pot licker (pork fat to my readers living outside the south) to bring me an abundance of money and a heaping bowl of black-eyed peas to bring me good luck.  This custom is so much a part of my life that I can’t remember when it first started.

At this stage of my life the food I consume on New Year’s Day has become a harmless ritual that freely identifies me with my southern roots.  Collard greens and black-eyed peas are also items that are high in fiber and low in carbs.  That makes them good for me, a diabetic, to consume.



I also still make New Year’s resolutions.  This year I made only two.  Both resolution remind me of a phrase from one of my favorite hymns, “Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.”


First, I’m thankful to be engaged in daily writing for children during my retirement years.  To show my joy in this calling, I plan to work toward having Trailblazer, Part Three ready for publication by March 1, 2018.  I’m currently reworking the edits Laura Backes, my critique editor, has sent me for the last five chapters.  I’ll tackle my work one chapter at a time.



Second, I’m grateful for good health.  In recognition of this gift, I’ll daily climb stairs instead of using the elevator and use the sixth floor in my building for walking.  I walk the stairs from my third floor to the basement and then climb up the stairs to the sixth floor.  After completing 10-12 long laps I descend via the stairs to the basement and back up to the third floor.



Long ago when I carried excess weight and never denied myself a generous helping of ice cream I said, “If I ever have a health reason to change my eating habits I’ll toe the line.”



Three years ago this spring my doctor informed me my blood sugar was extremely high, but if I was willing to eat right and exercise I could keep it within a healthy range.  I’ve followed her advice, and I’m lucky to be energetic and able to exercise and move freely.



In 2018, I hope I’m able to live up to the spirit of the hymn I love to sing:  “Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

[Or, a different version sung by a lovely choir.]
And here is some information on the inspiring author of the song, Frances R. Havergal: biography on Wholesome Words and Christianity.com.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent Devotional


My recent reflections on Advent for the service at First Baptist Church of Chattanooga.