CTS Director of Lifelong Theological Education
A few years ago I met an African American boy who had lived in a high-crime neighborhood all his life and whose home was hardly less chaotic than the streets. He was participating in a meeting at a large wealthy church where almost everyone present was white. A place far from his own “home.” Yet, though in an alien place surrounded by white strangers, he was completely unintimidated. He spoke without hesitation and asked some of the most insightful questions of anyone at the meeting.
This young man had been mentored at the Kheprw Institute where he had experienced a sense of “home” that was about being seen for the gifted human being he is. He had been encouraged to develop and share his gifts. He’d also been taught to view the earth as his home—a place to be embraced and cared for. As a consequence, he carried a sense of “home” inside him and could be “at home” wherever he went.
From a faith perspective, I would assert that this young man has been nurtured in a healthy spirituality—one that had helped him realize wherever he lives, it is infused with a divine presence and care that can be accessed.
When this experience of home is present, you discover divine care is present everywhere. Wherever life takes you, you can carry the sense of security of home inside you.
Most faith traditions affirm that the whole of creation is home because the world and everything in it, including each of us, is infused with the loving care of the Creator. As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it, “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.”
This is the reason people of every faith are trying to wake us up to the danger of environmental destruction, especially climate change. We believe that the Earth is our home, and that it is imperative for the sake of all life to care for it.
We are working to help shift ways of life that work against nature’s creativity and endanger all life to ways of life that learn from the divine wisdom embedded in nature and work with it for the benefit of all. My Christian faith affirms that the whole Earth is the sacred realm of divine creativity and love, and that we are all loved, gifted, and interrelated in this web of life.
Whenever and wherever any of us can experience this love and affirmation of our gifts, and affirm the same for others, we are doing the work of creating home for each other. This fThen we can be at home everywhere, and join in the work of healing and repairing “this fragile earth, our island home,” as an Episcopal prayer puts it.
I want to travel to Southeast Asia.
I want to know I’ve made a positive impact in my community.
I want to finally learn how to poach an egg properly.
Let’s be honest, if we’re going to think and talk about death, daydreaming about all the things we’d like to do be we die isn’t so rough and scary. Talking about wills, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, advance directives, hospice care, and other end-of-life topics can be rough and scary though.
Although difficult, these are important conversations and Spirit & Place is proud to partner with the IU School of Nursing for Indy’s first ever Before I Die Festival (April 15—17, 2016) as a way to spark dialogue around end-of-life care.
Modeled off of past events in Wales and England, Indy’s Before I Die Festival (the first one to occur in the United States), will feature book discussions, cemetery tours, genealogy workshops, art exhibits, death cafes, and more at locations across the city. A little bit like the Spirit & Place Festival itself, the Before I Die Festival taps into the creative and thoughtful power of several arts, humanities, and faith-based organizations to help us talk about our end-of-life wishes.
At Spirit & Place, we believe in the power of meaningful conversation and in the vital role the arts, humanities, and religion play in helping us make sense of the world and our place in it. This community is filled with talented, smart, and caring people who are eager to help us explore tough issues, including death and dying.
By Erin Kelley
By Andrea Feaster
Early in our marriage my husband and I had a terrible fight. He grabbed my hair; a glass top table got broken. Later, after things were calm and we apologized to one another, I told him I had called our church to ask for help. He was outraged, saying I had dishonored him. I hadn’t meant to harm him, so I called back and apologized, assuring a member of the pastoral staff that everything was fine. She comforted me, told me it was okay, that marriage is sometimes hard and I needn’t worry about having damaged my husband’s reputation. That was the end of the conversation.
During subsequent arguments over the next 11 years, my husband spat in my face, pushed me, told me I acted like a whore. I desperately wanted to provide an intact family for my children. I wanted to stay married, to keep my promise, to please my husband whom I loved. So each time I forgave him, admitted and apologized for my part in triggering his anger, and resolved to do better.
“I desperately wanted to provide an intact family for my children.”
Then one day my husband threw one of our sons across a room. When I told him not to hit the boy, he pushed me out into the hallway, slammed the door, and returned to “disciplining.” I panicked, kicking and shoving the door until it came off its hinges. He turned away from our son and came after me. Face against mine, he yelled at me to leave. He pulled back his arm, elbow at chin height, and made a fist to strike me. I looked at the floor.
He put his arm down, picked up his Bible, pressed it against my cheek and shoved. He told me I needed to read it more. Told me the man is the head of the family. That I had no family. As he yelled, he held his Bible with one hand and slapped his bare chest with the other until his skin blazed red. He put his face against mine and blew hard, spitting.
“Each time I forgave him, admitted and apologized for my part in triggering his anger, and resolved to do better.”
Taking off his wedding band as he stormed away, he spun and threw it at my face. He told me to get out of his house. I told him I would not leave my family. “Who is your family?!” he screamed. I finally choked out, “My children are my family.” My heart broke.
Throughout that day and night, I pretended everything was fine as I quietly contacted my parents to get us out. They never questioned me. The next day my sons and I boarded a tiny plane that took us away from him, away from our home, school, friends, pets, photographs. Family took us in. I was ashamed. I felt like a Judas.
When I met with an intake counselor at Families First a few weeks later, she handed me a checklist of behaviors and asked me to mark the ones I had done to my husband. Then she gave me a second copy of the list and asked me to mark the ones he had done to me. (It was not lost on me that a checklist existed of the many behaviors that happened in our household that I thought were private, that people didn’t know about, that I had never told anyone.) The counselor put the two lists side by side, looked me in the eyes, and said slowly as she tapped his list, “There is nothing you could have done that would justify someone treating you this way.”
I have a file of the communications and court documents pertaining to our departure labeled “April 2012 Journey.” That journey continues for me and for my children, even though we are in a good place now.
“It is not an easy journey – not easy to begin, not easy to continue.”
However, when I think about women who don’t have the support system I had – college education; work history; good credit; family who bought plane tickets on the spot; a former employer who re-hired me; friends who gave us dishes, clothes, toys, dignity – when I think about women who are lacking any of those things, I’m right back in that hallway, staring at that fist, trying to gather the courage to leave.
It is not an easy journey – not easy to begin, not easy to continue. This is the 19th year of the Spirit & Place Festival and the festival will explore JOURNEY with events from November 7-16, 2014. Perhaps the conversation could include how our community can be one that listens supportively, gives generously without hesitation or judgment, and actively builds a foundation of encouragement on which we each can journey safely.
About the author
Andrea Feaster is a market research analyst who lives and works just north of Indianapolis. She now attends Church for the Nations, blogs sporadically at https://medium.com/@a_feaster, and tweets at @a_feaster.
A baby sleeps upon my lap right now…a 12-hour-old, eight-pound little man, swaddled tightly in the hospital’s finest linens. His chest rises and falls in short, erratic repetitions. His arms rise and swat the air. His face tells the story of a magical dream unfolding in his tiny head.
He has no idea of the risk it took for me to be here…nor should he.
“Lots of tears, anger, yelling, counseling, growing, falling, kicking, screaming, and surrendering.”
Presently, he’s not my child. Not yet. Not until adoption paperwork gets signed in another five hours. My wife and I are simply caring for him as his birthmom sleeps on another floor of this same hospital. And so all we do is hold, hug, burp, kiss, snuggle, sing, and cry.
We’ve been here before.
Three years ago, we spent a night in a hospital with a birthmom and her newborn, only to discover the next morning there would be no adoption on that day. She’d decided, perfectly within her rights, to retain custody—making it an arduous drive home with an empty car seat staring at me from the back seat.
It took a long time to get back here again.
Lots of tears, anger, yelling, counseling, growing, falling, kicking, screaming, and surrendering. I didn’t always want to return to this place. Some days I wanted to run away from the pain of that moment altogether. And many nights I tossed—wondering if I’d ever be a dad, and, if not, asking myself who I’d even be then?
But for me, it eventually came down to faith and hope…my antidotes to fear and risk.
“It eventually came down to faith and hope…my antidotes to fear and risk.”
I rediscovered a faith in my God who I now fully believe wants a real, honest, unpolished relationship and lifelong conversation with me. And I realized I’m not defined by being a husband, a son, a brother, a friend, a photographer, a writer…or even a father. Rather, my purpose here gets perpetually defined in every moment my life crosses paths with another.
And so, four months ago, I found the courage to step back toward the risk of this moment, fully hoping the door to parenthood would swing open this time.
We’ll see in five hours.
Joe Dudeck owns two Indianapolis-based businesses: Joetography and Keyhole Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at either @Joetography or @KeyholeMktg.
By Dr. Kent Millard
In March, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. started a voting rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama to change U.S. laws so that African American citizens could register and vote.
Dr. King asked pastors, priests, rabbis, nuns, and lay people from all over the nation to come to Selma to march for voting rights.
Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister in Boston, responded to Dr. King’s invitation. Rev. Reeb went into a Selma café, and, when he came out, he was hit over the head with a club by segregationists and died from brain injuries.
“We would be doing what another minister from Boston had been killed for doing the previous week.”
Dr. King called Boston University School of Theology and asked seminary students to come to Selma and join him in this struggle for voting rights.
I was one such seminary student and joined my fellow students on a trip to Selma to participate in the marches.
I was well aware of the risk, since we would be doing what another minister from Boston had been killed for doing the previous week.
For me it was a question of faith. I thought “how can I ever ask lay people to take a risk for their faith, if I can’t do it myself?”
“My experience in Selma taught me to take risks for my faith, and that God can change hearts through the power of prayer”
I went to Selma, was trained in non-violent resistance, and marched from a Baptist Church to the Selma courthouse amid the hatred and shouts of segregationists.
At the courthouse, a Black pastor prayed for all the people who were shouting ugly words at us that God would change their hearts of hate to hearts of love.
Forty years later in 2005, I spoke to a United Methodist ministers’ retreat in Alabama. I shared my Selma experience with them, and afterwards a pastor came up and told me that he was also in Selma in March, 1965, but he was one of those shouting hateful words at the marchers.
I asked him, “What changed you?” He explained that he went to a church service where he knelt in prayer, confessed his sin of hatred, and God came into his life and changed his heart. Then he decided to become a United Methodist minister to try to build bridges of love rather than walls of hatred. I thought about how the prayer of the Black pastor 40 years earlier had been answered: a heart of hate had been changed to a heart of love.
My experience in Selma taught me to take risks for my faith, and that God can change hearts through the power of prayer.
Dr. Kent Millard served as Senior Pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis for 18 years and retired in 2011. Dr. Millard is President of the Indianapolis Interfaith Hunger Initiative, member of Downtown Rotary, serves on the Gleaners board and is a co-author of Lead Like Butler.