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April 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Who’s the most important person at Christian Temple?  Hmmm…


After my epic failure to light the candles at the beginning of worship last Sunday, I’m tempted to say it’s the acolyte.


Or it could be the person who arrives at church early enough to park up on the top lot, but chooses the lower lot instead just for the exercise and to leave the space open.


Or, it could be the reader. Where would we be without the living word of God to anchor our worship?


A good case could be made that the most important person at Christian Temple is the first person we see when we enter the building. The warmth in his or her eyes sets the tone for the whole morning.


I’ve always thought that one of the most important persons at Christian Temple is the one who stretches loving arms out to a child who may or may not be happy, about being left in our nursery, but who just might grow up to love the church.


You know, now that I think of it, who could be more important than the one who senses that something is wrong with the woman sitting next to her in the pew and without any words lightly touches her on the shoulder as the prelude begins.


I know that some might say that the minister or the director of music and liturgy or the congregational resident are the most important. I’m not so sure, though. After all, we get paid to come.


No, as important as all these people are to Christian Temple, I don’t believe that any we’ve listed are the most important.


To me, the most important person at Christian Temple on any given Sunday is the person who wakes up not sure about coming to church, the person who has to will herself to turn into the parking lot, the person who climbs the steps and wishes he can turn around when he gets a glimpse of all those people standing around inside, the person who  is warmed by the handshake at the door, pleased at the smiles  in the Gathering, inspired by the music in the sanctuary, nervous about messing up communion, happy to make a quick exit without having to share too much information, and eager to text a friend after it’s all over,


“Went to church today. Can U believe it? It wasn’t bad. U should come with me next week.”


Yep. That’s the person we can’t do without.





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March 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Every now and then, when it’s time to write “My Two Cents” I get stuck. Can’t think of a thing worth writing about. Writer’s block? Sometimes it feels like writer’s tackle. It’s a discouraging thing that tempts one to let the column go until next time. But, then, there was Richard to think about.


We first met Richard Kieffer maybe fifteen years ago when his feisty neighbor and longtime Christian Temple member, Ethel Hall, invited him to worship. Ethel and Richard both lived at the Benet House, an old city school restored and repurposed to be an apartment building for seniors. They were both chauffeured to worship each week by various congregation members, mostly the Helmes. Then, after Ethel died, Richard kept coming.


Richard was many things. He was mostly an artist. His apartment was a crowded gallery that told the story of his life and faith in Jesus through oils, pastels, watercolors, and chalk. For a while, our official Christian Temple note cards featured a pen and ink drawing of the old church building. Richard did the artwork. Agnes Childers carefully bundled the cards and the envelopes in tens. We’d sell them and use the proceeds for Richard’s tithe to the church.


But Richard was more than just an artist. He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia as a young adult during the dark days of how such illnesses were treated. He told terrible stories of his isolation and the experimental therapies he endured. But he became the Big Man on Campus at Shepard-Pratt Hospital after they straightened out his medication. Eventually he was cleared to live independently. Next thing you know he had moved into the Benet House and next door to Ethel.


Richard was an artist who lived with a very difficult diagnosis. But he was more than that, too. He was a friend who LOVED Christian Temple. He loved to attend worship and his voice could always be heard above the crowd repeating the Lord’s Prayer. During the days of his long beard he treasured the Sunday before Christmas when he gave out candy canes as Santa Claus to reticent kids who weren’t quite sure what to make of him. And Richard LOVED getting mail from his church.


On one of our first home visits (“It’s Richard visiting Richard!)” after he gave me the grand tour of the Kieffer Gallery he showed me where he kept his church mail. Every note, card, plea for money, and program flyer he’d ever received was carefully stored. His favorites and most recent were out on display. And, in a special place Richard would show me every time, there they were- “My Two Cents” columns by the dozens, highlighted, underlined and carefully stored in zip-lock bags. From then on, whenever I got writer’s block I’d think of those bags.


Richard died on December 27th 2016. After a long, painful illness his death was mercifully peaceful. He was alone when he died, but since I believe that heaven is our life story, remembered, I wanted to be sure to share a small part of his with you.


I love you, too, Richard. Happy trails!




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February 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

As I rolled into Snellville, just east of Atlanta, to visit my Uncle Bob and Aunt Barb (who are, like so many others, regular Sower readers!) I was greeted by a new landmark- The Tu Lein     Buddhist Temple now sits on- get this- Lenora Church Road near their home. The Buddhists seem to be doing well in Snellville. Who knew?

I am blessed to be able to play tennis on most Saturday mornings during the winter. We have a fun group of guys that often includes Mitul, Kiran, and Sujay. All three were born in India, practice Hinduism, celebrate Christmas, have advanced educational degrees, and are very gracious when they smoke one past me at the net.  One time Kiran said, “Don’t hurt the priest!”

One of the many things I love to do at work is take brief walks down the back hallway while School is in session. The sound of kids being kids makes my heart smile. So do the faculty pictures of Maru, Yashu, Aasia, Xiomy, Anagha, and the other teachers whose families come from around the world and around the block, and who work very hard in our building every day.

Most times I go to our grocery store, I am clearly in the minority of my fellow shoppers at      Shoppers. And when we recently replaced our front porch, I enjoyed the sound of the Spanish spoken by the craftsmen, but I couldn’t understand a word.

One reality for all of us here in the old U.S. of A is that in 30 years white folks will be outnumbered by people of color. By the time this is the case, I have a hunch that the people living in that world won’t think a thing about it. A casual glance through the classroom window at our school confirms this prediction. It’s like the United Nations in there!

Thirty years. Ah, but in the meantime…

In the meantime it remains to be seen how those of us who have grown accustomed to our majority status will behave. Recent current events indicate that the road toward true multi-culturalism will be bumpy. But, whenever I get   discouraged I walk down the back hallway of our Christian Church and I imagine those children as grown-ups advising the president on foreign      policy.

Thirty years. The countdown is on, moving us    toward a time when Crayola will have to make a whole box of crayons marked, “flesh”. In the meantime, I hope and pray that the followers of that very special person of color, Jesus of Galilee, might lead the way by looking for the divine in all of God’s people just like he did.




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January 5, 2017, 8:31 AM

My Two Cents

Last week’s sermon concluded with a list of “signs of hope” compiled by various members, friends and family connected with Christian Temple. Here’s a copy of the list for those who might be interested. Enjoy!


I see hope in the young friend of mine who just told me she’s going to have a baby in July.


I see and hear hope in the cooing of my newborn daughter.


I see hope in Asher Ray, a cute-as-a-button, tough-as-nails seven-year-old, who has lived with Ewings Sarcoma, a form of cancer, for more than half of her young life. After having been told they were out of options for a cure and that her cancer had spread, This little warrior has recently been accepted into a cutting-edge clinical trial.  


I see hope in the fine adults our children have become.


I see hope in the new governor of North Carolina.


I see hope in a natural world that remains filled with beauty.  


I see hope in people who are inherently kind.  


I hear hope when I hear people laugh, especially people I know and love.


I see hope in a growing appreciation, especially in matters of racial justice, that we must confront our past.


I worry that it is a mark of privilege to speak more of hope than of responsibility. Our temptation may be to take shelter from the storm. Our faith requires us to walk into the storm and find those in need of shelter. 


Speaking of the storm, I see hope in the song “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain.


I see hope in the testimonies of women who were inspired to be leaders by 19 year old Carrie Fisher’s Princess Lea.


I see hope in the number of my former students who, used to be politically apathetic but who are now standing up and speaking out and advocating for justice. That was my primary professional objective so now I can retire in peace.


I saw hope three weeks ago here in this sanctuary in the excitement of a young child calling out to his mom in a church service, with joy and surprise,

“Mommy, this is my babysitter!” This happened right after all the young children in the sanctuary had spread through the room to collect socks for Paul's Place from a generous, caring, accepting congregation.  I see hope in that exuberance and generosity.


I find great hope in the capacity of ordinary people reach out to each other in love and to do so in spite of their differences.


I see hope in the musical Hamilton, making history come alive with such an appreciation of diversity.


I see hope in Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech at the Tony Awards. Whenever I get discouraged, I go back and listen to it again.


I see hope in the millennials in our family who, for Christmas, asked for donations to organizations that make a difference every day in this world. They were not thinking of themselves but of others who will be on the fringe and need their support. These young people CARE about the world and are asking the rest of us to help them make a difference.


I’ve seen hope in the gathering of amazing friends to celebrate life in spite of death, and in the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.


I see hope in the strength I’ve received through prayer to be more kind.


I think the best hope I see right now is the children. Or the young adults. Both, I suppose there's so much controversy about bathrooms and locker rooms and when are boys boys and when are they girls and who decides. And that looks pretty bleak.

But I'm not sure. I don't think we could have even started to have that conversation when I was in school. A transgender student wouldn't have lasted in high school as long as a fruit fly.  And despite all the outrage, despite the division over it, it's a conversation we can have. We live in a world where children are increasingly safe to look at their families and be honest about who they are. It's a world where hiding is becoming a thing of the past. And that gives me hope. I can see a day when there won't be a need to come out. A day when we walk into mom's kitchen with, not a boy or a girl, not gay or straight, but just *people*. And I think we get closer every day. They give me hope, these brave children- these brave young adults. They give me hope that someday no one will ever live the life I had to live.


I see hope in Christian Temple because I've always felt that it was one of the first places that I was just accepted. It wasn't a thing. There was no fight between my faith and how I live my life, with who I am.

December 25, 2016, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Two weeks ago, while I was on my morning commute to work- four blocks through the neighborhood- I spied a young man who looked to be in middle school. I’m guessing he was a sixth grader. He didn’t have that “I’m about to be in high school” swagger. But it was too early in the morning for him to be catching the bus to elementary school.

He wasn’t very big. And walking down the sidewalk he looked even smaller because he was lugging a bulky French horn case that was about half his height. That case is so awkward. It’s like brief cases with an aneurism on one end.  Step, bump. Step, bump.

Once this budding musician got to the bus, he would have to lug his case up its precarious steps and around the corner without crashing into the bus driver, or accidentally knocking the bus into gear. Then when he got to the aisle  between the seats, he would have to lift the awkward case above his head to be sure he didn’t knock the pretty Red Haired Girl’s I phone or lunch box to the floor or even worse, hit her in the knee. Finally, he would find an empty bench where he and his case could sit together and make idle conversation.

Then, when he got to school he’d do the same thing in reverse. He’d be the envy of everyone as he step-bumped down the hall, until he got to the band room where all the other cool kids hang out and where, after all that work, he would drop his horn off in the instrument room.

Believe me, I know this routine. What work!!!

But then, later that evening, he’s back at school with his hair slicked down, wearing his Sunday best. He takes his place in the middle of the band. The auditorium is filling to capacity with adoring fans. The lights dim. The conductor climbs to the podium. For just a moment her eyes rest on him and his horn.

Then the baton drops. That same young man finds himself sitting in the middle of the celebration playing his part, swept up in the music and the magic of the season and thinking to himself, “All that work was worth it.”

Let’s be honest. December feels a lot like work. Lugging and bumping and walking and “excuse me” and “I’m sorry”. December can also make us feel like we’re carrying an extra burden that no one else really appreciates.

But, hopefully for all of us this December, that   moment finally comes, when we can set aside all the work of the season, take a moment, sit, and get swept up in the presence of something greater than we can see. The music we add may not seem like much. But then neither did that baby dozing in his mother’s arms, after all that work.

Merry Christmas!


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