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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent Devotional

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

Delicious Christmas Memories

The word Christmas conjures up many images that send me hurling back in time to when my husband Claude Mason was pastor of First Baptist Church, Rossville, Georgia.  Here are some of my favorite Christmas foods and the ladies behind the recipes.

As Christmas approached, the Mason family began salivating for the arrival of our tin of Christmas candies prepared by the Herods. There were five selections: fudge, fruitcake cookies, divinity, sugar cookies and peanut butter fudge.  The peanut butter fudge, hands down, was our favorite, and we were prone to make sure no one got more than his or her portion.

Audrey Herod and her sister Mary Lois, both unclaimed blessings, delivered our tin of goodies to us.  Audrey was the Personnel Secretary of our Walker County School system.  She ran a tight ship including never issuing us teachers our first paycheck of the new year until we’d submitted to her the results of our annual physical.  With the passage of time and the coming of personal health problems, it gave me joy to stay in touch with Audrey via phone calls, cards, and occasional visits.

An all-time favorite of our family was also the all-time favorite of our entire church family, namely the WMU (Women’s Missionary Union) rolls of May Ferguson and Lucy Stonecypher.  There are some perks to belonging to the pastor’s household.  Any leftover rolls after the monthly WMU meeting automatically came home with me.  Both Lucy and May were known to make up additional batches for us on every holiday.  My family never tired of these melt-in-your-mouth rolls, nor the love and attention Lucy and May showered upon us.  Stretched across the sofa where I’m working on this blog is a beautiful hand crocheted bedcovering May gave us when my husband retired from First Baptist.

From the WMU cookbook

Whether it was pecan pie or a holiday fruit salad you could count on Frances Jackson to deliver the goods.  Frances was a natural with young children both in Sunday school and choir.  She was also a vital part of our adult mission projects.  Having one of the most beautiful homes among our congregation, she made it available for meetings where those invited dined on mouthwatering delicacies.  To his day when I’m called upon for a casserole I always prepare Frances’s holiday fruit salad because it’s easy to prepare, pleasant to the eye, and readily consumed.

When you enter a new pastorate it’s wise to learn the family connections.  Sometimes the people involved may seem to be exact opposites.

THE original recipe
Coconut Cream Pie made by Janelle Harp, sister of Frances Jackson, was a favorite of my husband’s—not that any of my family ever saw a desert we didn’t like.  I never would have thought Frances and Janelle to be sisters. They didn’t look alike nor act alike.  The two things they had in common was being good cooks and participating in mission projects.

All my church friends, as well as my husband, are now deceased.  This memory slice of pie, like the books I write, sends me traveling down yesterday roads.

~Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanks Living 2017

2017 has been full of disturbing tweets and a host of catastrophic events.  We’ve run the gamut from natural disasters to senseless mass killings.  To keep my hope strong, I’d like to offer these five things that make me thankful even in difficult times.


The following lines from Wendell Berry’s poem Manifesto: The Mad FarmerLiberation Front resonate with me this year.  Berry says:

So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.  Love the Lord.  Love the world.  Work for nothing.  Take all that you have and be poor.  Love someone who does not deserve it.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand.  Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Laughter is immeasurable.  Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.



Thanksgiving week I’ll see my sister who is 97 and lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Much of our visit will be spent traveling down the roads of yesteryears, and the visit will leave me with fortified pride in my roots.



Thanksgiving is best translated as “thanks living.”  The community of residents at my retirement village offers me endless opportunities to share smiles, hugs, and to perform simple acts for some of my resident friends that they can no longer perform themselves.  I also make lots of new friends by writing biographical notes about new residents.



I’m grateful to be part of the First Family at First Baptist, Chattanooga, Tennessee where thanks living calls me to gather up my good used clothes, books for children and teens, food items and personal toiletries into large plastic bags to be delivered to my church as we prepare for our Christmas brunch for the homeless. 



I’m grateful for all those who are a part of my life as an author.  I’m particularly grateful to Janet Haney, Timothy Rodrigues, and Alan Mason who have taken on the herculean task of publicizing my Trailblazer trilogy; my editor Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider who hangs in with me until I get new stories and language right; and John Pierce, Jackie Riley and Julie Steel, my friends and publishers at Nurturing Faith.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Splash of fall

One of the many things I enjoy about living in Georgia is the changing of the seasons. Each season is distinct and has its own special flavor.

In summer I find a big splash in the swimming pool at my apartment complex invigorating.  At other times I enjoy summer gatherings that include slices of watermelon, fried chicken or homemade ice cream.  When the blistering heat becomes more than I can tolerate, I remind myself autumn is around the corner.

Fall in the mountains of North Georgia is my favorite time of the year. That’s when Mother Nature paints our landscape with a riot of colors.  We swap our shorts for jeans and our walking pace accelerates.  During the cool evenings we welcome the need for a light jacket and begin dreaming of falling snow.

The central character of Trailblazer, Noble Wimberly Jones, living in South Georgia, wasn’t privy to North Georgia’s autumn burst of colors.  Jones did, however, believe there was a close connection between weather and disease.  As a result, he kept a daily diary of the temperature, and sunrise and sunset patterns in sultry Savannah and linked this to patterns of disease he also tracked.

Read more about Jones’s interest in the relationship of climate to disease in Trailblazer!