Saturday, August 31, 2013

Guest Post: On With Tradition!

Every year around the first of July, I begin to hear Michelle (you know who she is by now) talk about “the feast.” It took me ten years of knowing her but this year, I finally got to experience the brouhaha for myself. My first two clues about what an event this was each year should have been that 1) Michelle comes from a large Italian family that originated in Naples, Italy and came to Brooklyn around 1900 and 2) her friends all told her not to scare me before I got there. Her descriptions were a bit vague though and so I came basically expecting some good food and sunburn (it was during New York’s “heat wave”). What I got was an old world style traditional celebration complete with music, dancing (of sorts), food, of course, many double-cheeked kisses and, with words used like Capo, “the Turk” and “Giglio” (pronounced gee-lee-o, not Gig-lee-o; I was soon corrected), the feeling I had walked onto the movie set of a Godfather movie.

Celebrated for 126 years now and formally named Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) Feast, it spans two weeks on the streets outside her church and is run by a number of men who have grown up in the tradition and have last names ending in many vowels. The feast celebrates OLMC, the name given to the Virgin Mary in her role as patron to the Christians living on Mount Carmel in the Middle Ages, as well as Saint Paulinus, a Catholic Bishop in Nola, Italy during the 400’s. It was the Nolani immigrants who populated Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

So here I was, faced with over a century of tradition, all the sausage and peppers I could eat, no sunscreen, and a quest to find the “Giglio”. Once I figured out that the Giglio was a statue, it was hard to miss. You’d have to be blind not to see the 4-ton, 65-foot tall statue, around which, on a platform, sat a full band, a singer and an Emcee. It wasn’t enough that the statue was built and admired. No… these people DANCED with it. How, you ask? They lifted it. 112 men, ages 16 to God only knows got under the cross beams of the platform and upon commands issued in Italian by the Capos, lifted it on their shoulders in various ways, walked with it and even raised and lowered it in time to the music played by the lucky band members who had little else to do but play their instruments, keep their balance and catch the Zeppoli’s tossed to them by the food stands. They did this for three hours at a time, three times during the two weeks. The children even got involved on the last Friday, having their own smaller version of the Giglio that, with the help from a few adults, they lifted and danced with as well.

All denominations have their own traditions from those here at Sardis or particular to Presbyterians to having communion every week in other denominations. I was raised Episcopalian and at the Eucharist each week, hearing the words “Do this in remembrance of me”  lent itself to my belief in the importance of rituals and traditions as a means of keeping Christ in my life.

Yet many traditions get scoffed at with the suggestion that because they’re ritualistic, they no longer mean as much, or anything at all. Tradition itself in ALL realms is being discarded as old-fashioned or dated and hence, worthless. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the newer, younger, non-Italian residents are trying to get rid of the OLMC feast because it disrupts traffic (it’s New York – traffic is nothing BUT disruption) and doesn’t fit with their contemporary ideals.

But I say on with tradition! Tradition anchors us. It gives us constancy and a foothold in ever changing times. Tradition may be as simple as coming to church each Sunday, participating in Room In The Inn or Rama Tutoring, teaching VBS or attending LOGOS. Doing them each week or year doesn’t make them meaningless but these things enable us to be grounded in the certain love of Christ in a world becoming more and more inclined to brush Him aside.

Heather Eddy, Assistant Director of Christian Education, is a guest post crowd favorite, and we look forward to hearing more from her this summer. It's rumored that she will be leading a Connect @Sardis series on Religion and Culture in 2014. If you've enjoyed her writing, you should definitely make plans to attend.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Guest Post: Under Construction

“Under Construction” is probably one of the last signs we want to see on a road trip.  Generally that means there will be one lane of traffic and travel will slow to a crawl.  No matter how many miles ahead of the construction they tell us to merge right or left, there will be a long line of those who ignore the signs and want to be let in ahead of others, which slows down the traffic even more.

If you live in a city the size of Charlotte, there seems to always be construction going on somewhere.  For as long as I can remember, there have been talks, and plans about the building of the I-485 loop.  But construction of any project has to be done ‘decently and in order’ (a good Presbyterian phrase).

We are visiting my oldest grandson who is completely enamored with any vehicle that has a role in construction projects - ‘diggers’,  bulldozers, cranes, graders, backhoes, tractors, and cement trucks.  His new favorite toy is a cement mixer that his granddaddy got for him.  When he begins playing, the first toy truck to his ‘construction site’ is his cement truck.  His engineer granddaddy keeps trying to explain to him, that before you pour the concrete he needs to have his bulldozer and grader smooth over the area.

Construction does take time to be done correctly. For those of us in the slow traffic, we need to remember that there is the surveying stage, the clearing stage, grading, laying of asphalt and all the tasks in between.  If it is not done in the correct order and each step is completed before beginning another, it will fall apart even earlier than it is projected to need repairs.

Life is a construction project. We are building layer upon layer and if we rush the job, we miss those things we should have learned about along the way.  We all need to imagine each other wearing our own ‘under construction’ sign as a reminder to everyone, that we are not complete.  We are at one stage of the process or another, but we are not finished.

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a church in Thessalonica. Closing the letter he penned these simple words, “…we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all…” (1 Thess. 5:14) 

At the Billy Graham Library, you will find Ruth Graham’s gravesite.  Her epitaph was one she selected years before.  I think it is a perfect epitaph for her, and maybe all Christians.
Her grave stone is simple and rough, and none of her accomplishments are listed there, just the epitaph from a road sign she once saw. It simply reads “end of construction–thank you for your patience.”

When we are dealing with people, Christian or non-Christian, it will help us to remember that we are all ‘under construction’ and our patience will be appreciated. 

Renda Brinson is the Director of Christian Education. She lives in Matthews with her dog, Daisy. Renda has four grown sons, and is expecting her fourth grandchild any minute now! If you enjoy her writing, you should check out her blog at


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Guest Post: A Tangled Life

Do you ever feel like your life is a tangled knot and you are trying to find the right string to release the mess?  It seems schedules, obligations and family have a way of getting twisted and turned until we find that we have to put everything back methodically in its right place.
When unknotting strings, more often than not, we find that we just need to relax the tension to make the knot easier to unravel. Likewise, if we keep pulling ourselves in too many directions, we just pull our knotted lives tighter.

It is a constant task for me to find ways to give tension, worry and busyness less control so I do not create the knots that drain energy.   I find there are two ways that help keep my life calmer. One is for me to do some creative act, which explains my obsession with needlework and paper crafts. Another, which is more important, is to spend time in scripture and meditate on what God is saying to me.  This is harder because it requires a time of quiet.  My goals: Relax – Reflect – Renew – Replenish.

Time in scripture, both reading and journaling, is easy for me.  The difficulty that I have is finding the quiet time, the time to listen and allow God to speak to me. One side of my brain says “be still” and the other side of my brain begins making lists of what I should be doing.  Do you ever have this problem?  I have found that when I do crafts, my hands are busy, but I am not concentrating on completing the craft.  And when I meditate, I am concentrating but also looking for something to do with my hands.
To counter this brain argument, I have added Zentangling (the formal name for the art form) to my mediation time.  I think it was the name that first attracted me. Zen is a Buddhist idea that emphasizes enlightenment through meditation and insight. Zentangling is like doodling, but is more meditative.  Everyone can do it; there is no wrong way and it is entirely your own.  Even if you try to copy a Zentangle, it ends up different.  Like walking a labyrinth, it is quiet time; like a rosary, it is structured repetition; like a walk on the beach, it is refreshing.  If you doodle at all – you can Zentangle.  I think of it as a way to minimize the tangles of life.

It does not require training. You can find inspiration in the art of others, nature, or your own imagination.   You can also find helpful information on the internet.  Most people start with a small scrap of paper, a pen and pencil.  The pencil is used to draw a line called a string – the only purpose it serves is to break up the white space into smaller areas. The pen is used to draw repetitive lines and shapes in areas of the string.   I  Zentangle by free hand or use stencils for outlines.  You can also use coloring books, which provide large, open pictures.  I sometimes use geometric shapes -a favorite because they are like mandalas, plus I finally find a way to use the geometry I took in high school!

Zentangling helps me relax and reflect.  I note scripture verses or quotes, and then begin to draw. Because I will be leading a workshop on MeditativeTangling  in January and do not want to miss any of the benefits of my quiet time, I have drawn a few outlines in advance so I can simply pull them out when I need them.
It is easy to do the repetitive lines while listening to God and contemplating a quote or verse. Letting God in to ease the knot of life allows me to experience a sense of peace and energ y to go forward with the day, or to silence all those things still demanding attention at the end of a long day.  I have found that,  without much planning, the Meditative Tangling begins to take form and my time with God provides a lasting gift not only of renewal, but of art. After all, it is God who is the great Creator.

Renda Brinson is the Director of Christian Education. She lives in Matthews with her dog, Daisy. Renda has four grown sons, and is expecting her fourth grandchild any minute now! If you enjoy her writing, you should check out her blog at

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Guest Post: Stephen Ministers Devotional

“The Lord himself will lead you and be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid.”—Deuteronomy 31:8

Moses said this to Joshua when Moses was giving the leadership of the Israelites to Joshua. Moses would not get to go to the Promised Land, and he needed to know that Joshua would listen to God and make things right for the Israelites.

At this time Moses must have had many feelings of his own, but he was conscious of the fear and indecision that Joshua was feeling, because he had been there himself. So he gave Joshua the only advice that he needed.

I’ve heard this scripture verse many times over my advanced number of years. Until 2001 I believed it, but didn’t think it was earth-changing. Then Tom Kort used it as the text for his first sermon after 9/11/01. Suddenly, Moses’ words became very real for me.I clung to these words for many weeks. I typed this verse and taped it to the mirror in my bathroom, where I would see it every day. It was comforting.After many months, I didn’t look at it any more. Not because I’d memorized it, because I still have to read it either on paper or from the Bible. I can’t even remember where to find it in the Bible. I just know that this verse helped me see God in a different light: as a greater being who would always be there for me no matter what He sent my way.

I can imagine that with these words Moses could give up the disappointment he felt at not being able to go into the Promised Land, and Joshua could take on the leadership role with confidence that if God was with him, he could do anything. I watched on TV as volunteers searched for bodies and cleaned up the wreckage left behind 9/11 thinking how these words would give them strength at a time when most of them were falling apart.

But, as time went by I forgot those words still taped to my mirror.

Then in July 2007, I needed them for my own wreckage. My marriage of less than two years was not just falling apart, it had imploded. There was nothing left of the marriage or, for that matter, the man I’d married. I feared for my life. It was then that I not only started reading the scripture on my mirror, but I’d say a quick prayer afterwards and touch it. Between that, my Stephen Minister, my family and Alice I made it through the next year. I needed the reminder that God would always be there and that I could do everything that I needed to do to get through the turmoil so that I could lead others to this God of strength.

I knew then that I wanted to be a Stephen Minister. So I chose this scripture as my personal scripture and I share it and its power for me to all of my care-receivers. Whenever I go to meet a new Care Receiver, I wonder what I have that God has decided I should share with this particular person. I wonder, as Joshua must have wondered, if I can do the job God has called me to do. Yet, I read this scripture, and I know that He will give me whatever I need as long as I listen for that little voice. It’s not that I feel invincible. It’s not that I don’t ever think, “Why me?” It’s just that I know in every bone of my being that I can do whatever God sends my way as long as He is in every bone of my being.

This post was first written as a devotional for Stephen Ministers by Sardis member Andi Spear. A Stephen minister is a volunteer who goes through extensive training to serve as a counselor to help when members of our church family are going through times of struggle. If you would like to learn more about receiving care from a Stephen minister, or how you can become a Stephen minister, contact Rev. Alice Johnson.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Guest Post: Hooked on Haiti

I am completely hooked on Haiti–specifically the Bayonnais River Valley.  Sam Coleman and I returned June 27 from our third trip there. In 2011 I met doctors and nurses who were finishing their education and were committed to returning to Bayonnais to help bring basic healthcare to the 80,000 residents who have virtually no access to a doctor, a dentist or a nurse. I also saw the foundations for the clinic laid out and started. In 2012 I visited with 8 Sardis members to see the building finished and 1 nurse on the job seeing patients. This year, 1 doctor, 3 nurses, a dentist  and an administrator had 20 patients lined up at 8 o’clock on Monday.

While planning for this extraordinary project started a decade ago, in my view the sentinel event that set the clinic in motion was the terrible cholera epidemic of October–December 2010. Sardis had just begun providing the salary for newly graduated RN, Anne Junie St. Louis. She found herself with a flood of very sick people who came to the tents pitched on the clinic site.  Anne Junie was there, along with the nursing students and doctors in training. Together they treated 1,100 patients, starting by hanging IV bags from a mango tree. The long awaited “clinic” appeared almost overnight. It probably would not have if it were not for Sardis’ support of this resourceful young woman.

I have been privileged to witness what you have nourished as it has bloomed.  There is much to be done to flesh out the dreams of the clinic and community leaders. The Haitian Ministry of Health visited for the first time in June and listed the following as urgent needs to be completed by December:
  • Complete the electrical system (funds are in hand)
  • Outfit and stock a medical laboratory (need $17,000)
  • Plaster and tile for the clinic building (need $10,000)
  • Improve the medical records keeping (need $1,000)
  • Provide basic equipment for the dentist to do restorative work
  • Set aside an area for vaccinations
  • Improve the latrine and provide showers
  • Provide a computer system with internet service
  • Build an incineration pit

Sam Coleman and I are on the board at Friends of OFCB, the 501c3 that is an alliance of 12 churches interested in this project, including First Presbyterian Charlotte, Myers Park United Methodist, South Mecklenburg Presbyterian, Huntersville Baptist and Light of Christ United Methodist. The Ballantyne Rotary club is funding construction of a water purification system for the clinic. Friends of OFCB is starting a campaign to raise $ 2,500,000 to convert the clinic into a 27 bed hospital with emergency room, OR and delivery suite and operate it for 5 years, at which point they plan to be self-sufficient.

The hook for me on my first visit to Bayonnais was the honest, firm commitment of these bright young people to devote themselves to such a big task. Every trip just sets that hook deeper. I am convinced that they can do it with a little help. May God bless you for all you continue to do. There will be a trip to Bayonnais for our church in March 2014–please think about it, but WATCH OUT! You will never get over it. 

I promise.

Pressly Gilbert hails from Statesville and is now a semi-retired orthopedic surgeon. He and his wife, Jane, joined Sardis in 1992 and have loved so many facets of fellowship, especially Mustard Seed Groups. They  spend as much time as possible in their family's mountain house.