Ocean waves are intimidating. Growing up close enough to the Pacific to hear the waves crashing at night, I find the beach is a safe and familiar place. I also developed a healthy fear of the ocean. Tsunamis, tidal waves, storms at sea filled my nightmares as a child. I will not see movies like ThePerfect Storm or Titanic. Sorry, George and Leo, your beauty is not enough to overcome my fears of giant waves and sinking ships.
But fears are worth confronting. And the sea has long been a symbol in the Judeo Christian faith for God’s mighty hand guiding a chaotic world. So a few years ago I had the word “aWake” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder of this. A “wake” is the joyous bump that comes after a wave. Picture swimming in the ocean or a lake and the lovely little lift you get when a boat passes nearby. That is a “wake,” but you have to get in the water to enjoy it; in fact you have to get close enough to the larger waves to even feel that lift.
The psalmist sings of this wake in Psalm 57:
“Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn. I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.”
When we draw ourselves near to God’s presence, even when it seems frightening or risky, we ride that wake. We receive a lift to our souls. To be awake as a Christian is to stay aware of the risks and dangers of the world but not be intimidated by them. Every week we are called into community worship carrying the burdens of the week and the hopefulness of our faith with us. I have heard people say that often times an hour on Sunday is not enough to sustain us and so FPC offers a second time of worship, every Wednesday at noon. It serves as another “bump”, another opportunity to lift our souls to God and be lifted up in spirit. We read scripture together, we sing songs and we pray for one another and the world.
Wednesday Worship kicks off September 7 and the new series is called Awake my soul. For seven weeks we’ll use a combination of scripture and top 40 songs to lift our spirits and open ourselves to God’s voice. Check out the playlist for the series, Awake my soul, on Spotify. And join us at noon on Wednesday to find out what we might learn from Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah.
Any mother-daughter or mother-son relationship can be complicated, said Dr. Julia Robinson, opening speaker for the United by Faith, Divided by Race discussion series between members at First Presbyterian Church and First United Presbyterian Church.
“And the Mother Church of the black protestant church is the white church,” she said to the 70-plus members of both congregations who gathered for the first session. “Some people like to say it’s the sister church but, no, First Presbyterian is the white mother church.”
Dr. Robinson, a teaching elder of the Charlotte Presbytery and an associate professor of African American Religions and Religious Diaspora at UNCC, pointed out the theological contradictions that allowed founders and early leaders of FPC to own slaves at the same time they taught those slaves about Christianity. Although they understood the fundamental principle found in Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”), they also believed there was strong Biblical justification for slavery in Leviticus 24:44-46, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 4:1 and 1 Peter 2:18-21.
Most notably, Genesis 9:25 (“he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”), known as the “curse of Ham,” was used to justify the belief that descendants of Ham—including all Africans—had been consigned to perpetual slavery.
“Africans were believed to be ‘called’ to slavery,” Dr. Robinson said.
Dr. Robinson outlined her research into the early years of FPC and its contradictory treatment of the black people in its midst. Although it was against the law to teach slaves to read, FPC taught the ABCs along with Bible study, typically offered on Mondays. While many in those days considered Africans to be less than human, slaves and their children were nevertheless baptized, indicating a belief that they also possessed an immortal soul.
After slaves were freed, those who had been affiliated with FPC wanted to remain Presbyterian because of polity and structure. They also wanted the freedom to worship on Sunday, leading to the founding 150 years ago of what became, through a series of name changes and a merger with Brooklyn Presbyterian Church (founded in 1911), what we now know as First United Presbyterian Church.
“Racism has operated as a smoke screen to take the focus off Jesus,” Dr. Robinson said. “If we are to heal the rifts of the past we cannot do it with made-up minds or with programs like this. We have to do it with the focus on Jesus Christ to knit us back together.”
Being knit back together, she said, does not mean we must all be part of the same church. But we must recognize how our history has divided the body of Christ and have the intentional discussions that will allow Jesus to overcome our past and heal the disease of conscious and unconscious racism from our respective congregations.
“There will always be a remnant that wants the status quo,” Dr. Robinson concluded. “There will always be pockets of racism that both churches will still operate in. But there’s a remnant that wants to heal. And God loves working with remnants.”
Next Week: Reaching Across the Table
On Sunday, May 22, all are invited to join in a conversation at First United Presbyterian Church, 201 E 7th Street, from 12:15-1:30 p.m. Lunch is available for $5.00. Dr. Julia Robinson will conclude with a brief history of what happened to and between our two churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
To prepare for the conversation that will follow her talk, Dr. Robinson suggests reading 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Luke 12:12, Philippians 2:13 and 2 Corinthians 13:9. She also suggests reflecting on how the following words from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. apply to our churches today: “The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body.”
Doubt … can easily be overcome through full attention to God’s voice. And it was on the peak of the mountain in Costa Rica that I realized that I have been blessed with an amazing family and godly friends and an almighty God who is willing to stand beside me and encourage me up the hardest part of my mountain. Ann Mariah Burton
Our youth lead worship on Sunday, April 17, at 9 and 11 am, and we will celebrate our 8th-grade confirmation class at the 11 am service. Join us for worship and stay afterward for food a food truck lunch and games on the lawn! All are invited to this special day as we give thanks to God with our youth and for our youth.
On that day, I saw God when I was being taught the beautiful but very challenging art of Nepalese dance. I saw God when a resident gardener plucked his first tomato off of the vine of the plant in his box garden. I saw God when a young girl joyfully leapt onto my back from a picnic table. Stuart Ayer.
Dancing to Israeli folk music while on a boat in the Sea of Galilee.
Reading Matthew 6 (“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow not reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.”) while sitting on the hill where Jesus shared the Beattitudes.
Spending 15 minutes in silence in the garden of Gethsemane.
Singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” on a hilly field outside of Bethlehem.
Remembering the pain of a people who withstood an attempt to exterminate them.
Experiencing the dissonance of Palestinians who live as separate (but not equal) in the land.
Feeling the tension in our shoulders while walking through the chaos of the Temple Mount.
Bombarded by the sounds of minarets calling Muslims to prayer, of Jews reading the Torah at the Western Wall, and the bells of the Church of Holy Sepulchre ringing in the hour.
Realizing that spirituality is impossible to separate from the reality of politics, that faith is impossible to disentangle from conflict, and that hope almost always grows from the ground of despair.
This has been our experience in a land we hold to be holy.
And not just us.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart…Bind them as a sign on your hand. Fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
It has been almost a week since we embarked on this experience and so the novelty of saying “today we go to Bethlehem” has slightly lessened but still I was looking forward to this day as much as any. We crossed the border into the area governed by the Palestinians and met our Palestinian Christian guide, Eilas, who would take us through the sites of Bethlehem.
Highlights of Bethlehem: Jill Olmstead reads Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus while shafts of light stream through the dome of the chapel at Shepherds’ Field, much like the shepherds may have seen the light of the star; our group offers “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” We slowly journey through the Church of the Nativity, ducking through the four-foot Door of Humility, waiting for our turn before descending into the grotto where we place our hands on the fourteen-point star marking the spot where tradition says Jesus was born.
Back in Jerusalem: we make our way to the Upper Room, curiously decorated by Arabic markings from the time the building was a mosque – so emblematic of the mixed up history of Jerusalem. The room is crowded with groups, one singing Amazing Grace, one reading scripture in Italian, while we read about the Last Supper and sing “Let Us Break Bread Together.” We view Jewish, Armenian, and Christian Jerusalem all within steps of each other as we make our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Sandie Barnhouse, our Catholic representative in the group, helps us to understand the Stations of the Cross and we view the “traditional” spot where Jesus was crucified and buried, along with pilgrims of many countries and beliefs. As we place our hands in the spot where the cross may have stood or rub the stone upon which Jesus’ body may have been placed after death, His presence in this place feels very real.
While we long to lose ourselves in the life and ministry of Jesus in beautiful Galilee, Jerusalem awaits to finish the story of terrible death but glorious resurrection. The city still holds this painful/beautiful contrast in balance and I am so thankful to experience it all.
The First Presbyterian Pilgrims are comfortably settled in Jerusalem ,which will be our headquarters for the next several days. On Wednesday morning, we took a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. It seems in Israel that the past is not really past. The thousands of years of Jewish history and traditions are reflected in a current consciousness. Certainly the not very distant Holocaust has had a major role in shaping the Israeli view of the world. The magnitude of the Holocaust horror is beyond words. An especially moving experience for us was the Children’s Memorial part of the museum dedicated to the 1.5 million children that perished at the hands of the Nazis.
After some time for reflection, we journeyed back further in time again. This time we had the opportunity to view archeological evidence of homes dating from the founding of Jerusalem some 3,000 years ago, or approximately the time of King David.
Jerusalem was built on high ground over hills – there is no major waterway that runs through it. There was only one source of water, a spring, in ancient times. We climbed down deeply underground to see an ingenious tunnel system built by the Israelites during the time of King Hezekiah to safeguard the water supply in times of conflict.
As we approached the Temple Mount at the southwest corner of the old city, images of modern Jerusalem caught our eye. Muslim ladies, heads covered but with faces shown, waiting for a bus – young Israeli soldiers with guns slung patrolling some areas, young Orthodox Jews garbed in traditional black clothing running to appointments, a Roman Catholic monk, a group of American tourists looking, well, American, a lone horse looking oddly out of place, narrow streets looking impossible for our bus to get through. Jerusalem is a rich mix of many different sights and sounds.
Our last stop of the day was at the stairs of the Temple Mount where Jesus entered the temple to cleanse it of money changers and merchants. To have the experience of walking once more where Jesus once walked is to make His life on earth come alive within us. The same experience can be appreciated in the ruins of the nearby marketplace area where you can easily imagine the shops ringing the walkway and the crowds cheering Jesus as He rode by.
My reflection is similar to yesterday. We all basically the same whether 3,000 years ago, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. You can see it in the faces of the people we have met and in the faces of the people we see on the streets. Yes, the forces at work for evil and for good exist now as in the past all the way back to the creation. But good news is that God loves us all. We can rejoice in the basic truth that in the end, love will prevail. I believe that more now than ever.
Upon arriving at the Gateway Center on Monday morning, I was assigned to give manicures to clients, which is what the homeless members that visited the Center were called. One older man who looked to be in his 50s wandered over to us and asked for us to file and buff his nails. As we started to file them, we asked him where he was from. He told us he was from Pennsylvania, then eagerly began to explain his early fascination with cars. As he got deeper and deeper into the details about his cars from the 80s, the best I could do was smile and nod, as I had no idea what cars he was talking about, and didn’t understand any of the car parts he was talking about either (maybe I’m just not good with cars, but now that I think about it, the cars he was taking about were from almost 20 years before I was born). But I guess that was all he really needed; someone to listen to him and just smile and make him feel like the important, beautiful, child of God that he is. Maybe that’s what we all just need sometimes: someone to talk to, and just smile and nod and make us feel loved. – Abigail