it was a sunday morning in a small mill town in the mountains of north carolina. i was standing in front of around 120 people, leading a worship service… part of my job as a minister at the methodist church where i worked full-time. it was a part of the job that i loved. leading ancient rituals connecting us with humans throughout history, taking a message of hope from an old text & making it relevant to today, praying for & on behalf of the entire congregation. such a humbling & inspiring task.
one of my responsibilities that particular sunday was to lead the prayers of the people – i shared names and situations and places that were in need of prayer, support, & love. and then, i asked the congregation if they had any concerns to share. as each person spoke, i wrote down their concerns, adding them to our list of prayer requests. and then, i prayed. out loud. it was something i took very seriously (and still do)… forming words, sending thoughts & prayers to the holy on behalf of everyone gathered. my words mattered.
many times i used the words of people and intertwined them with my own words. sometimes i wrote down my prayers, sometimes it was spontaneous. on this sunday, i had written down my prayer (and improvised some too). it included words from a prayer book that i used quite often. i wove the words from an ancient theologian’s prayer into the beginning of my prayer and then continued with my own thoughts. as i completed my prayer & began to lead the congregation into the next part of the service, a man stood up in the back of the church. he said that he had a prayer request to add. i distinctively remember recognizing that he was a visitor and feeling excited that someone felt the courage to express a need, even if it was after the “appropriate” time to do it. besides, what kind of church are we if we plan a service and don’t allow for moments of inspiration? church is not about rules, you know. but about spirit & relationships.
anyway. i invited him to share his concern, and he proceeded to hold up a bible and yell at me that he had no idea what i thought i was doing or what kind of church this was… that the only book he read was the bible and that i should not have used the words of other people in my prayers. i mean he was yelling, shaking his fist and his bible at me. i was in shock. my mouth was hanging wide open. i couldn’t believe this man was verbally attacking me in front of all these people. i pulled it together, thanked him for his opinion and kept standing there without moving. the other minister stood & began to speak to the man. i have no idea what he said. i kept standing there with my mouth wide open. still in shock, but aware that i needed to keep it together. then i saw the man take his bible and leave. i sat. i don’t remember the rest of the service, but i made it through, giving myself a chance to reflect on what had happened later on that day.
needless to say, i never stopped using other peoples’ words in my prayers or writings. too many amazing people have said too many amazing things that we need to share with each other. of course it is wonderful to find the inspiration to be able to add some of our own thoughts & words to the writing world, but to overlook all of the gifts that we have been given by talented writers throughout the years would be a shame.
so, i think i’ll keep reading. i think i’ll keep writing. and i think i’ll keep sharing.
quote of the day:
“employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for” ~ Socrates
taking it a step further:
FAST from television today (i have screwewd that up a little already today. but i watched documentaries, so it was educational. and now the tv is off. for the rest of the day)
PRAY — practice lectio divina (sacred reading) — during some of the time you would normally have been watching TV. (read whatever inspires you. it most certainly does not have to be the bible, in my opinion).
GIVE some or all of the remaining time you would have watched TV today to any reading you like.
happy beautiful saturday!
sending words of love and peace to you all.
Thank you for sharing this. I’ve had similar experiences with the people of the book as well. I no longer feel that I am able to be amongst their midsts. I suffer from PTCD. Post Traumatic Church Disorder.
hehe. i totally understand. it was hard to let myself get back into the groove of working in a church, especially when i was met with so many rules trying to keep me from doing what i feel i am meant to do simply because of who i love. grrrr. but, i am meant to do what i do, so a way was made & opportunities opened. as much as i wanted to, my soul wouldn’t let me leave on a permanent basis. funny how life works.
Very interesting story, thanks for sharing. I agree with you that inspiration can and does come from many and varied placed around us if only we open our eyes to see them. Apparently that man still had his eyes squinted shut. Good for you for not letting it sway you. (:
I really like your ‘fast, pray, give’ project. It sounds like a great way to set daily goals for yourself. Do you come up with them on the spot when you wake up in the morning or do you have some already set aside?
thanks for the support! the little project is something i am “stealing” from another website, though i admit that i change things here & there… trying to make it a little more open & not so strictly focused on christianity since i have readers of all (or no) faiths. 🙂 here’s the site: http://bustedhalo.com/features/fast-pray-give 🙂
DO NOT STOP SHARING OTHER PEOPLE’S WORDS! You do such an awesome job with your prayers. This event was discussed at Companions last week and were so glad that Carroll asked him to leave. He caused trouble a lot of different places.
thank you, sandy!! i will never stop. no worries!
Wow. Shocking story! I was totally with you as I was reading the story… and I almost jumped in my chair when I read what he said to you. I agree with the people above. You’re so GOOD at sharing other people’s words (and your own, of course). Definitely don’t stop! 🙂
it was totally crazy, carissa! working in ministry will give you so many weird, amazing stories. as will being a teacher. i am most definitely not at a loss for crazy stories! thank you for your words.
Despite the fact that I am not religious at all, I strongly believe in respecting the choices other people make with regard to faith and life in general. The attack of that man is a typical example of people who “know better” than everyone and only they can “save everyone”. It’s the same people who deny women the right to make choices about their bodies (anti-choice), declare gay people dirty and disgusting and do their best to keep the established patriarchal ways. It’s sad and I feel sorry for such people. Their hate and their issues are deeply rooted and they don’t even realise that.
I agree completely with you, Natlalie. These people are closed-minded and appear to be afraid to engage themselves in any really thinking, that might influence their opinions. The thing that scares me the most & makes me the most angry & sad, is the arrogance of some people to say that they have the right answer, they have it all figured out. I do not have all the answers, but I am spending my whole life searching, and I choose to support all people in their own journey. Thanks for your comment! 🙂
“Fred Phelps, is that you??”- lol…
Too bad about this sort. They are the duplicitous ones who prevent others from even considering entering a church again (me, included). A shame, but until others within those walls make it clear that this sort of behaviour & intolerance is unacceptable, it will continue.
Natalie: I believe that most of what these people spew is projected, self-hatred. That’s why there’s no answer (other than increased hostility) when you question their justifications…
Tracy, thanks for stopping by & leaving a comment. 🙂 I have talked with many, many people who feel as you do – and who refuse to darken the doors of a church or religious organization again. Totally understandable; and I even considered it myself – and still do, when I find myself feeling like there will never be any change and banging my head against the same wall over & over again. UGH. But, then I remember, that one of the things I feel passionately about is the ability for everyone to have their own opinions, and my “calling” to share a message of love & acceptance/respect to everyone (even those I strongly disagree with & believe that they have it all wrong). I can’t leave the church, though I have tried. I must work from within to bring about change. But that’s just me & my experiences – and many years of anger, rejection, support, and confusion have led me to that realization. I agree that closed-mindedness is unacceptable, and I am constantly fighting to find ways to open a dialogue with as many people as I can, perhaps we both can be changed in some way. I will keep fighting to create a world (even if it’s in my little corner of the world) that is based on respect, love, justice, & equality. The thing is, I believe that it is possible – and that each one of us can make a difference, if we choose to. Sadly, though, as you say, many people do not choose to. Still, I can’t give up. I won’t give up.
Thank you so much for your comment and for giving me a chance to reflect a little more on who I am & what I believe. What a great inspiration you have been for me! 🙂
“I will keep fighting to create a world (even if it’s in my little corner of the world) that is based on respect, love, justice, & equality…”
That’s awesome Liz- and I’d like to say that it’s nice to know there are people like you out there. Also want to add that “respect, love, justice, & equality” can equally be aspired to & taught without the need or confines of religion. I think that this is the issue: that religious right-wing-fringe types (such as the detractor in your church) have decided to hijack these wonderful traits as their own & then their behaviour to the contrary leaves the rest of the people shaking their heads & wanting no part of it (the church/venue which hosts it).
“Still, I can’t give up. I won’t give up.”
I’m glad you’re tenacious & possess the courage of your convictions- it’s a definite plus considering the current issues at hand in the fight for equality & respect for us all.
Thanks, Tracy! And I’m totally with you… Respect, hope, justice, etc. most certainly do not have to be taught using religious language. Just because I work in a church ( and I work in a secular youth organization with tons of youth who are non-believers as well, by the way), I never feel the need to shove religious language down anyone’s throat. 🙂 I try to respect everyone as they are!
I agree with both you Liz and Tracy. I think everyone can learn from others so many things regardless of the belief systems.
The main problem most religions have is that they assume they hold the absolute truth and they have to force it to everyone else in the world in order to save them. This assumption violates the free will human beings have and their right to choose what to believe.
Over the years some of the worst crimes in history have been committed in the name of one loving god. Convert the barbarians and slay the ones who won’t convert. Entire civilisations were lost this way.
I am probably naive but I think everyone would get along so nicely with everyone else if they didn’t take the beliefs in abstract ideas that cannot be proved so deadly seriously. And if as you say simply cared for their fellow human beings and this planet without secondary thoughts of salvation.