Modern Love Reflection

I am a big fan of the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times.  I recently had occasion to re-read Brooke Rinehart’s moving story “Sharing the Shame After My Arrest,” which was originally published in April 2011, and I have posted the link below.  In her account, Ms. Rinehart, who had never broken a law in her life, is wakened early one morning, handcuffed, arrested, and hauled off to jail along with her husband of less than a year.  It turns out that her husband has been using her name and identity to embezzle funds in his workplace. To wrap up that part of the story, after 90 days she is exonerated and her husband goes to prison.

But it is her account of those 90 days that struck me.  Devastated – her whole world turned upside down – the 28-year-old Ms. Rinehart moves back home with her parents.  Unable to sleep in the bedroom of her idyllic childhood, she sleeps on the sofa – and her mother sleeps opposite her on the love seat.  Every night.  For 90 days.  Saying few words, but being a constant presence, sharing the heartbreaking load (and the late-night TV) with her daughter. Eventually, her care for her daughter causes her own health to break down.  Ms. Rinehart writes:

“But my mother’s making this about her was actually saving me. To know that someone loved me so much, was willing to feel my pain so intensely that it kept her on the laundry room floor for a day, made me feel encased in a bubble of protection.

“I began to wonder if sadness was this finite thing, a big black mass of which there was only so much in the world.  If so, my mother was sharing it with me so that I did not have to bear the full weight.”

I don’t know if Ms. Rinehart saw her moving tribute to her mom as a metaphorical story – a kind of parable – about God, but I certainly did.

At the end of the account, Ms. Reinhart pours out her story to her doctor:

“Something bad happened to me,” I said, unsure of how to begin.  But then it all came out: my arrest, my husband’s deceit, the charges, the end of my marriage, the loss of my house: the whole harrowing ordeal.  When I finished, her eyes were wet.

“How have you survived this?” she asked.

I thought for a second.  “While the charges were held against me, I slept on the couch in my parents’ house.  I spent 90 nights on that couch.” I paused. “And my mom? She slept for 90 days on the love seat.”

My doctor blinked, unable to hold back her tears. “What a mom,” she said softly.  “What a mom.”

What a God.  What a God.  Emmanuel – God with us.

“Sharing the Shame After My Arrest,”

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Antonio’s Biscuits and Spoons

We closed the shelter at the end of October.  It moved to Grace Church for November. I paused to chat with Antonio as we were putting things away. He told me he was born at Long Island Jewish Hospital and lived all his life in New York. Most of his life he worked as a school security guard.  He rattled off the names of schools spanning several boroughs and several decades where he worked. I watched in fascination as he pulled out his overstuffed wallet. It was shaped more like a rounded fist than a wallet. It was jammed with ID cards and business cards. He kept the ID cards from every place he worked, schools and other employers, making his wallet a portable scrapbook of his working years. He shuffled through the stack and pulled out one from the Andrew Jackson School, with a photo showing him in younger days. Antonio told me he never married and never had children, but he loved being around children. Security guard jobs were perfect for him. He is retired now, and spends most of his time helping his ageing father and looking for a place to live he can afford.

I don’t remember how we got on to the topic of music.  He told me about his uncle who had been the musical heart of his family. His uncle was a natural musician. He played and built guitars. There was music in the room and in the family when he was around. Among other things, this uncle had coached a local baseball team. One night at a celebratory party for the team, he intervened in a fight between two people and was shot and killed. Antonio said there was still music in the family, but it hadn’t been the same since.

I cooked chicken stew with biscuits on top for the shelter dinner the night before.  Slaw, zucchini bread and brownies made the dinner complete. It was a popular meal.  They liked the stew very much.  They REALLY liked the biscuits. Unfortunately, demand for the biscuits exceeded the supply. The slaw was less popular. The zucchini bread was regarded with some skepticism. The brownies vanished quickly. Next morning our guests packed the left over stew and slaw in takeout containers for their lunch. Antonio fixed himself some takeout.  He noticed there was food left in the pans after the other guests packed their lunches. He asked if it would be OK for him to pack a second lunch to take to other people who are hungry. He also asked if he could have a few of the plastic spoons we have at Plymouth. He said they were easier for his father to handle than the spoons he usually uses.  He meticulously wrapped four of them in a napkin for his dad.

We talked a bit longer, until he realized all the other guests left. He headed to the door toting his bag of food. There was a hand shake and a thank you.  Then he paused to look up with what I presumed to be a kind of hat tip to God.

I made a note to myself – the next time I cook for the shelter, whatever else I cook, make a ton of biscuits.

Jacque Jones

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There are a couple of ways to look at it….

From the outside, Plymouth Church appears to be a very wealthy church.  It has beautiful buildings occupying valuable land.  It has a robust endowment.  It has generous congregation.  In all of these areas and more, Plymouth is indeed a wealthy church.

But if you look at it another way, Plymouth possesses nothing.  That’s right, nothing.  Plymouth does not own anything – it does not own its building, its land, and its endowment.  Plymouth is the steward of these material goods, entrusted to Plymouth over the years by dedicated members and generous donors.  They do not belong to Plymouth.  They belong to God.  Plymouth is entrusted with the stewardship and wise use of these blessings.  Plymouth, as a Congregational Church, elects its representative leadership, and asks that leadership to set priorities for how to manage the gifts in Plymouth’s custody. That is why, every year, Plymouth makes and votes on a budget.  The budget is the clear indicator of how Plymouth is choosing to use the resources with which it has been entrusted.  The budget is created by the leadership and voted on by the congregation.  We are in this together.

Plymouth Church operates in good faith, attempting to employ these resources where they can do the most good in forwarding the Kingdom of God.  Some resources go directly to help those most vulnerable and in need – victims of human trafficking, casualties of natural disasters, children in need of education and food.  Other resources go to help those in spiritual need, and for this reason, Plymouth engages a top-notch staff, maintains a welcoming building, empowers a confident choir, all of which support the work of the community that gathers around Plymouth.

Every story is complicated, and this one is no exception.  Some donors have made very generous gifts to Plymouth that carried restrictions in how they may be used, and the income from those gifts can only be spent on specific things.  To act with integrity, the leadership must deploy those resources in accordance with the wishes of the donor.  Plymouth might wish to use those funds in other ways, but it must keep faith with the donors

The gifts that bless Plymouth the most are the one that have no restrictions. Given from the heart, they allow the leadership and the congregation to set the priories of the church and use its resources advancing those priorities.  And those priorities, in Brooklyn Heights and beyond, will advance the Kingdom of God.

The Stewardship Ministry invites you to prayerfully consider what you are able to give to support the work of Plymouth Church in the upcoming year.  Plymouth’s year begins in July, and we know that seems like a lifetime away, but it is important for you to go on record now. Please take a few minutes to make your commitment this week – before Anniversary Sunday.  Help us celebrate our 170th Anniversary but contemplating what we can accomplish before our 171st Anniversary.

Please be generous in your support of the work of Plymouth Church.  Click Here to Make Your Commitment.

In Christian Fellowship,

Jacque Jones

Stewardship Chair

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Free is Better Than Half Price

A couple of years ago, I purchased a membership to a local arts organization.  It was a modest membership but it bought me some small graces.  I get advance notice of events and I can purchase movie tickets for half-price.  I suppose I know that a few dollars of my membership goes to support the work of that organization, but that was not my motive in joining.  I joined for the benefits I receive.

The Kingdom of God runs on a different operating principal.  As Christians, we believe that the grace of God is freely given – it can never be bought and it can never be sold.  To loosely quote Philip Yancy – there is nothing we can do that will make God love us more, and there is nothing we can do that will make God love us less.  Isn’t that amazing?  Doesn’t that take your breath away?

But that extravagant grace comes with an invitation.  God has invited us to continue Christ’s work on earth and that is what Plymouth Church exists to do.  How can we not gratefully support the work of the church as an act of our God-given free will?  We can never match the extravagance of God, and we shouldn’t try, but we can give generously from our personal resources to support the faithful work of this community of Christians.

The Plymouth Stewardship Ministry is inviting you to go on record with your commitment for 2016-2017, and to do this prior to May 1. You can go online to make your commitment or use a commitment card available at the Stewardship table in Fellowship Hour. Alternatively, you can speak to a member of the Stewardship Ministry or staff who will be happy to assist you.

Please be generous in your support of the work of Plymouth Church.  Click Here to Make Your Commitment.

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Live Out Holy Week “In the Moment”

The problem with our observance of Holy Week is that we see it through the lens of Easter. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is risen – we know that good overcame evil and that the story has a “happy ending.”

Is there a way for us to disconnect from that knowledge? To put that sure and certain knowledge away for a few days, and try to live out Holy Week “in the moment” as the followers of Jesus did, with all its joy and horror?

Jesus had told his followers that he would suffer and die, and he would be raised. They didn’t hear him. They didn’t get it. And who can fault them? We probably wouldn’t either. So when they saw him flogged, when they saw him carrying his cross, when they saw him die, it was an ending – a horrific, crushing conclusion – and not a beginning. It was a time of personal loss, gut-wrenching despair, and hopelessness for what could have been.

In his book, The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill discusses at length the Biblical account of what we sometimes refer to as the sacrifice of Isaac. His analysis is riveting, built around a raw translation of the scripture. In his conclusion he says, “At the outset of this harrowing episode, the narrator, knowing that poor human readers could never bear the suspense, tells us that this will be a ‘test,’ so we know that Yitzhak will not actually be sacrificed, however difficult it is to keep that in mind during the ensuing action. It is a test for us as well. Can we open ourselves to the God who cannot be understood..? … Avraham passes the test. His faith – his belief in God – is stronger than his fear. But he now knows he is dealing with the Unthinkable, beyond all expectation.”

Can we close our minds to Easter for a few hours, even though we know the ending? Even though we know that the sacrifice of Yitzhak was a ‘test,’ Cahill continues, “… the narrator’s skill is great, leaving the reader speechless at the impending horror.” The gospel writers’ skill is no less evocative.

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In the Kingdom God Envisions

In the Kingdom God Envisions

In the kingdom God envisions everyone is free.
People formed in God’s own image live with dignity.
All are safe and all have voices,
all have hope and all have choices.
When we pray “your kingdom come” this is the world we see.

Darkened corners harbor victims hidden from our sight,
fragile people held as objects – lives devoid of light;
robbed of freedom, robbed of voices,
robbed of hope and robbed of choices,
trust betrayed and lives exploited, in this human blight.

Holy Spirit, guide your church to action and rebirth;
help us work for those forgotten – show their lives have worth.
We have freedom, we have voices,
we have hope and we have choices.
We are called to work for justice as your hands on earth.

Scripture: Luke 4:18
Topic: Human Trafficking

Copyright © 2013, 2014, GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Click here to view the Human Trafficking Awareness 2014 Panel and Concert program

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