Have you heard of the Church of the Exceptional? (A non-denominational, interracial ministry devoted to ministering to the physically and mentally handicapped in the area around Rutherford County, NC.)
In 1974, then Governor Jimmy Carter and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale were invited to present a Guideposts award to the Congregation, where thousands had assembled in a municipal center in Georgia. Before the speeches were delivered, the liturgy called for the lighting of the main altar candle.
A middle-aged woman with Down syndrome, walked slowly but proudly down the center aisle carrying a lighted taper. The pastor followed closely, to offer assistance. They reached the altar, but despite repeated efforts, the candle would not light. The crowd held their breath, and Carter recalls a sense of embarrassment that welled up inside.
The pastor moved forward to help, but she shook her head, and continued to try. Finally, the candle is lit, and the crowd erupts into applause. But the brightest thing in the huge auditorium was the woman’s face, which glowed with happiness.
Jimmy Carter writes that he doubts whether anyone that night remembers his words. But every life was affected and touched by this woman’s faith and determination.
In my mind, I am still in that municipal center, watching as she lights one candle—undaunted and steadfast—this heartwarming glow spilling person to person throughout the gathering. And it spills now, into my study here in Port Ludlow. And I hope into your heart too.
And yes, I need stories to remind me that grace and hope and courage are alive and well. The catch, of course, is that these fountains of grace are not necessarily where we expect to find them.
But here’s what I know: the woman is not just lighting a candle, she’s inviting all of us to a paradigm shift. A different way of seeing. A different way of being. A different way of loving.
This story is in my mind and heart this week for two reasons. One, at 98, Jimmy Carter, the longest-living former president in U.S. history, is choosing to give up medical treatment and is opting for home hospice care for his final days.
And remembering Nelson Mandela’s reminder, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same,” I say, Thank you Jimmy Carter, thank you. You have spilled light in our world. And we are better for it.
And reason number two (back to the Church of the Exceptional); what I am learning is this: Perhaps the very people I (too easily) exclude, are the ones who carry the light (the candle), and are the ones that will allow me to see. That will allow me to see the Grace of God. And the expansive reach of God’s acceptance. To every single one of us.
Whether I like it or not, it seems that the kingdom of God will be radically and scandalously inclusive. Think of that. God loves broken people and people who have been marginalized and downtrodden and who don’t fit into boxes. God loves infidels, idiots, those shunned and the heathen. Now that, that is one radical hospitality. That is truly a Church of the Exceptional.
The good news? This Grace cannot be confined or contained or constrained.
We don’t dole it out to the deserving.
We spill it… to anyone and everyone.
And one lit candle makes a difference.
And here’s the deal: It wouldn’t hurt to apply this medicine to ourselves. We can be our own worst enemies. I’m learning that spilling grace can begin with me.
“There’s a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call, and answer in extraordinary ways.” From the film “Mother Teresa
For starters, Lord knows the world could use a little more tenderness.
So, back again to the Church of the Exceptional; the woman is my teacher. Heroes are ordinary souls who carry the weight of ordinary life. And heroism is born in every act of kindness and compassion and inclusion, no matter how small. Because in a world cynical and afraid, it takes courage to be kind and generous of spirit, and to fight for mercy and justice. That in persistence we can choose, steady, daily acts of gentleness and kindness and inclusion and healing. One step in front of another.
Feeling marginalized happens for so many in our broken world. And we internally lug labels, feeling confined to a “box”, different or even dismissed. And perhaps there, we can hear the invitation to bravery, to ask for help and get the care we may need.
In other news this week John Fetterman sought help for depression, regardless of the public fallout. Sen. Fetterman may not look like someone with depression, but that’s the point worth noting here. And I can tell you, as someone who has wrestled with depression, we may never know what people are dealing with or going through, which is why it’s always good to err on the side of compassion, love, and understanding.
Lent begins this week. And later in the week, I’m off to the Religious Education Congress (Anaheim, CA). I’ll see some of you there. I’m thinking I’ll want to tell the story of the Church of the Exceptional.
Let’s give Jimmy Carter the final word, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. Now, my faith goes beyond theology and religion and requires considerable work and effort. My faith demands — this is not optional — my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”
Quote for our week…
The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. David Orr
Note: The Church of the Exceptional story adapted from Jimmy Carter, Our Endangered Values
Today’s Photo Credit: “Terry, This was taken recently at Merced National Wildlife Refuge in CA. Thousands of geese and cranes return to the ponds for a nighttime refuge at twilight. John O’Donohue speaks of the ‘Liturgy of Twilight’ and I can tell you that the Spirit was alive and well at this liturgical celebration. Blessings,” Madeleine Gallagher… Thank you Madeleine… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365
Letters that do my heart good…
–Thank you for printing my picture once again. My sincere compliment for you is the way you tie many thoughts together… biblical, historical, prophetic, and current events. It is a gift, and you use it to draw others to our Lord. Mary Ann
–Greetings. Thanks for writing about Ubuntu. Some years back 40,000 Lutheran youth gathered in St. Louis or Kansas City for a gathering with Desmond Tutu as our speaker. As he spoke you could have heard a pin drop, but when he finished, I think the roof levitated. Since Tutu was suffering from prostate cancer, the former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young was standing by to take his place if needed. Thank goodness Tutu was in great form. The theme of the 5 day event was Ubuntu. Thanks as always for your words of encouragement, hope and love. Greetings from that Minnesota guy who thankfully is spending 2 months in Fallbrook and Oceanside California, escaping the snow and cold. Flip
–Terry, As one who thought she would be a professional musician and realized there was more to life than a practice room, music is still a large part of my life. It is truly a universal language that brings folks together, and whether playing, singing or listening all are hearing the same language that touches us as nothing else can. Glad you are getting around and sharing your light! Have fun my friend and take care of you, Grace, Peace, and Love, Marian
–Hi Terry, his morning’s post was right on point, hence the picture of mine. I have this medicine pouch from one of many women’s retreats that I go to annually. I hang it by my kitchen window to remind me of the precious tokens or talismans I have collected to ground me and sustain me in my spiritual journey. All I have to do at any present moment when I am standing at my kitchen window is to look at my well-worn pouch or even take it down, open it’s contents and hold them in my hand to ground me, to bring me present to my peace. Thank you for your Sabbath Moment gems. They are my grounding, my muse and one of my talismans. See you at RE Congress! Liz
POEMS AND PRAYERS
“Why did you do all this for me?” Wilbur asked.
“I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” EB White, Charlotte’s Web
Whisper Like An Angel
Have you learned how to whisper like an Angel
Have you learned how to stand up to death
Have you learned that life is as strong as its weakest link
Have you learned that truth never rests
Have you learned how to whisper like an Angel
My Prayer For You
When you’re lonely I pray for you to feel love.
When you’re down I pray for you to feel joy.
When you’re troubled I pray for you to feel peace.
When things are complicated I pray for you to see simple beauty in all things.
When things are chaotic I pray for you to find inner silence.
When things look empty I pray for you to know hope.