Monday, March 26, 2012

Divine Love, Godly Grace and Déja Vu

This is being a most interesting and uplifting weekend!

At work at the Tennessee State Library and Archives Saturday we got treated to bagels (with spreads) in place of donuts. Yum, yum! And my co-worker Steve suffered a most embarrassing incident. 'Nuf said 'bout that!

The real lifting up came in the evening, when I attended Candlelight worship for Women's Walk to Emmaus #176, in Hermitage UMC. This worship service was conducted somewhat differently from Emmaus community worship I've experienced in the past. Oh, we still prayed for the Walk's Pilgrims and partook of the Lord's Supper. But, for one, we had even more and even more uplifting music and singing this evening, led by the same two musicians who provided the music for Men's Walk #175 two weeks ago. One song we sang was my favorite song I associate with Emmaus: "Here I Am Lord".

I ought to add that when folks from other Emmaus communities introduced themselves, one man stood up and declared that there was a notable number present from Clarksville (as tho' they had gotten together and planned joint attendance and/or were from the same church in C'ville). I kind of doubt that he was aware that Clarksvillians who'd participated in Walk #175 were also present! Not to mention that one of the Pilgrims on #176 is the wife of Clarksvillian and #175 Pilgrim, Bobby Ortt.

The clergyman who led the worship and consecrated the bread and cup for the Lord's Supper gave a meditation beforehand. More than once during this he had us all turn to the person next to us and say something positive and encouraging. Such as "You are forgiven!" or "God loves you; so do I".

As always, the actual candlelight segment of the worship moved and uplifted me. And on the way home to C'ville, even tho' I had the final hour of the late-night Grand Ole Opry show on my Saturn's radio, I was more into mulling over the Candlelight experience I was coming home from. As beautiful Country music provided background I considered God's love and grace as expressed in an Emmaus Candlelight. . . .

Then this morning I attended Sunday School and Worship at Clarksville's First Christian Church (Disciples). And déja vu! The topic of the adult class was love, as defined in I Corinthians 13. Unconditional, other-affirming love, or in Greek, agapé. Then furthermore:

The congregation is in an interim period, since Tom Youngblood just resigned as Pastor to return to his home State ('Bama). The fill-in preacher during his sermon commented about the morning class' topic and directed us all to turn to our neighbors and say, "I love you!" The hymn of commitment which followed the sermon just "happened" to be "Here I Am Lord"!

Wow! I tell you, dear reader, this was a major case of déja vu! But it was very welcome. I mean, you cannot beat Daddy God's love and grace!

Thank you, Jesus!

Monday, March 12, 2012

C'ville and Heaven, aka Men's Walk #175

If you've read my earlier two blogs (especially "Glen Alan's San Antonio") you know that a significant element in my life experience is a Christian renewal movement called the "Walk to Emmaus" or more generally Cursillo de Cristiandad (Short Course in Christianity).

A Walk to Emmaus, Men's #175 (or 175th local walk, and for men), was conducted at Hermitage United Methodist Church this past weekend. Even tho' Hermitage is on the east of Nashville, Clarksville was well represented. The Spiritual Director, myself as an Assistant SD, a couple other Team participants and three or four of the Pilgrims hail from the Queen City.

For C'ville and me, the Walk, or prep for it, began a few months ago. I was already participating in one of the so-called "Fourth-Day" aspects of Emmaus, a Reunion Group in my hometown. Six, seven, sometimes eight men get together at the Shoney's at Second and Kraft when it opens on Wednesday mornings, for breakfast, sharing of how our life-walk is going and for accountability and prayer.

Some Wednesdays we have an additional element. Little packets, each with 12 fishing swivel clips in it, will be put out on the table. From each packet we make two "fisher-of-men" bracelets. These bracelets make a consistent element of the agape for any Walk; in other words, each Pilgrim on a Walk returns home sporting a reminder of unconditional love (agape) on her or his wrist. It's also a reminder that they are now equipped for fishing for people, drawing them to Christ. The Team members can also take home a bracelet -- in fact in Texas I knew vet Emmaus people who had good-size collections of "fisher-of-men" bracelets, due to being on numerous Walk teams. My former bracelet was getting worn out, so now I'm happily wearing one of the bracelets our little Reunion Group recently made!

The other "heads-up" aspect is that Skip Armistead, the Spiritual Director selected for Walk #175, also belongs to this Reunion Group. Skip conducted our wedding and is related to my wife; I think he's also the one who goes to Wal-Mart to buy those little packets of swivel clips. When I found out he was SD for the Walk, I knew I just HAD to get on the Team!

The Walk to Emmaus experience is structured around fifteen Talks given to the Pilgrims over the three days, ten by laity and five by clergy. (There are plenty of other activities structured in, especially worship, silence, prayer, lots of singing and LOTS of food.) On Walk #1327 (Men) in October 2007 in Kerrville, Texas, I did Talk #12, "Sanctifying Grace", one of the clergy Talks. (I'm ordained clergy in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) not currently serving in a salaried clergy position.) And I gave this same Talk on this Walk, #175 (Men). Wow, did I have the sense while speaking, that I was merely God's instrument -- unworthy instrument -- by which He was communicating His grace to the listeners!

In the Southwest Texas Emmaus Community it's common to assert that a Walk that's about to start will be "the best Walk ever/yet!" I didn't hear such words as we did the Team formation for this Walk here in Tennessee, but dear reader, let me assure you that of the four Walks to Emmaus in which I've participated as Pilgrim or Team member THIS Walk was indeed "the best Walk yet!"

The working of the Spirit of God on these men, opening them up and changing them spiritually, was very evident and marvelous to witness! When you see tall, barrel-chested, tough-looking men -- one of whom was a policeman -- get honest and vulnerable with one another and crying at times as well as laughing. . . well, you HAVE to say it's a "God-thing".

Every one of the men -- and the one woman who did the first clergy Talk -- is cherished by yours truly and I'll always value my new spiritual link with them. But naturally some individuals stand out and are even more cherished. One is certainly the SD, Skip, especially since I'm distantly related to him thru marriage (and that he conducted the marriage). But the Lay Director (LD), Jay Campbell, is equally dear to me. Of the LD's I've been exposed to -- all of whom were wonderful servant-leaders -- Jay had the gentlest yet most directive spirit. (I don't know if you can understand this, but I cannot think of an adequate way to explain it.) Another connector between Jay and me is that he described his Reunion Group history, and it was identical to mine: reunion groups which met weekly (generally the most effective), groups which met bi-monthly and no group to join.

Jay's father Jerry served on this Walk as a table Team member (Pilgrims are divided into table families named after New Testament leaders and each table has two Team members). On Saturday I wore my fraternity tee-shirt I got while living in San Antonio. Turns out that Jerry too is a Lambda Chi Alpha. And it was easy to see whence Jay gets his gentle yet directing spirit. Indeed, when Jerry did his Talk he spoke of his own father and his grandfather and I preceived that this branch of the Campbell clan has a very worthy pedigree!

Then there was Ken Tucker, the Board Rep. A Board Rep is the link between the Walk and the local Emmaus community's board of directors; he observes, ensures that the Walk goes as a Walk is supposed to go, and assists with any potential problems. He and I happened to be next to each other when Jay introduced the "new best friend" activity on the opening evening (Thursday), so we two conversed, answering a set of basic questions (such as church where membership held, and including one interesting thing about the person) and using the info shared to introduce one another to the whole group. Thus I discovered that Ken and I have in common two adult children and two grandkids! Later, while sitting next to ken thru-out the retreat, I learned that we have the same favorite hymn: "Be Thou My Vision".

Then there were Mike Malzone and Steve Zuecher. Both served as very good assistant lay directors. Mike gave a very good Talk (Priority) and Steve is also a resident of Clarksville. My prayer partner is Ken Hampton, an Afro-American with a sweet spirit and a bright smile all the time. This Ken was one of the few guys I didn't see cry, but I probably just didn't happen to look at the right times. However, his table family, named after St. Mark, took to introducing themselves whenever the were giving a group presentation as "the emotional table of Mark". The policeman I mentioned earlier was a Mark table family member, and I did often see him grab a tissue to wipe his eyes.

Well, I could go on and on about Walk to Emmaus #175 (Men) and its impact especially on certain Clarksvillians. But I'll conclude now, by hoping I've given you a taste of the event. Sufficient taste to cause you to want to go on your own Walk to Emmaus!