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I’M THANKFUL

For my family and friends, both far away and nearby

For meaningful work that makes demands on my mind, heart and physical stamina

For questions that defy simple answers

I’m grateful for the sacred privilege of voting in America, even when my vote fails to win a majority. Expressing my choices is important to my mental health.

For shared laughs and engaging conversations

For worship hymns: those that comfort me; those that confront me

For my host of encouragers

For the indomitable energy of children and youth

For my adult friends who in the midst of great pain express joy

For Signal Mountain vistas that has my heart clapping for joy

For quiet moments I share with God.


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~ Philippians 4:6
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. ~Philippians 1:3

TIME OUT!

While I enjoy the craft of writing, I find that taking short breaks from such a demanding professional task to be most helpful. My breaks include physical and mental exercises, gardening, and people tending.

My favorite exercise is water aerobics. The group’s camaraderie as we splash through the water is invigorating. In our gym I get serious as I huff and puff on our stair master machine. Once a week I top off my exercise regime by bowling with a small group of friends.
 
I also combine taking long walks with rehashing segments of a manuscript, communing with nature, and meditating on God’s goodness.

For additional mental and spiritual breaks, I lean toward competing against my computer in a game of Scrabble and sipping my morning coffee from my patio as I contemplate Scripture. From this vantage point I drink in the beauty of my flower garden and the bounty of its surroundings.

the garden in summer

My mom was super great at growing flowers, as likewise was her mother before her. In my mid-adult years I never envisioned myself as a gardener. However, today, as a senior adult, I’ve found my flower garden, adjacent to my patio, to be an unexpected and welcome joy.

Now, every May I begin dressing my patio in pink and white Mandevilla and crimson carnations and begin soaking in the beauty provided by three knock-out rose bushes, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and a variety of plants designated to attract monarch butterflies. My two bird feeders and one hummingbird feeder are in constant use. Nearby is a birdhouse that is currently empty, but it provided a home for two bluebird families this past spring.

GOD’S CLOWN; MY ENABLER

Eloise, smiling as usual

Fans are to a writer what blood is to life.  From my first book, Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts, through my Trailblazer trilogy, my dear friend Eloise Litz was my enduring enabler.  Her notes to me were always an ode to joy, filled with affirmations.

Eloise spent her life pursuing excellence as a wife and mother, a music educator and encouraging all of us to take ourselves a little less seriously.  She must have had a jillion pithy sayings through laughter.

Eloise came into my life after I joined First Baptist of Chattanooga over 20 years ago, shortly after I’d shared with a few people “My Pillow’s Secret.”  I don’t know how she found out about my article, but what I do remember is that she was quick to affirm both my son and me.

Through the intervening years our friendship grew by leaps and bounds. One sweltering summer, we traversed Chickamauga National Park, visited the arts center in downtown Chattanooga and explored Chattanooga’s riverfront vista from the Delta Queen as members of The International Support group at First Baptist, along with our Kurdistan friend and her children.

My beloved Eloise passed away this week at age 98.  Music was her alter ego.  The snippet taken from a hymn is how I picture Eloise when she arrives at her new abode.

And when from death I‘m free I’ll sing on I’ll sing on
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing and joyful be
And through eternity I will sing on, sing on

Gabriel, get ready to sound your trumpet.  Eloise is on her way.  You’re going to love Eloise.

Me?  I’m lonesome.  I’m sad.  Eloise wouldn’t want me wallow in my loss, but to get on with living this abundant life!


The stanzas above are from the lovely hymn What Wondrous Love Is This.

Seeking Inclusion, Authenticity in My Faith Journey

When I graduated from Southwestern Seminary in 1956 I was proud of my alma mater’s academic leadership. In stark contrast 60 years later I am left speechless when I learn that some leaders of that same institution have used biblical jargon to argue that women, if abused, must endure silently. This blows my mind! Women should always speak out when they are harassed or sexually abused. Shame on male authority figures who have the audacity to tell women to suffer in silence. I suppose I should not be surprised given how the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) shifted from its roots in the 1980s. Let me give you my view on that change now, more than 40 years ago.

When I was a teen in the 1940s, I thought anything coming from the SBC was pure gold. This escalated during my college years at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor when I became part of a summer working team aligned with what Texas Baptists called “The Invincibles.” We were asked to find places in our home state of Texas that were not planning to offer a vacation bible school. After a week of intensive training we were ready to accept anything except no for an answer.While working on my master’s of religious education degree at Southwestern Seminary, I spent my summers directing bible schools and camp activities. During my summer work I delighted in creating biblical characters that keep children who attended spellbound. I was proud to be a Southern Baptist, a missionary, and an educator.ee14b-screen2bshot2b2018-06-282bat2b2-30-452bpm

In the 1970s, however, turmoil erupted within the Southern Baptist Convention. By then I was a pastor’s wife and public school teacher. I couldn’t believe how political and divided our convention was becoming under the leadership of some of the same people who have been in the news in 2018. The controversy had become full-blown by the time I attended a critical 1985 SBC in Dallas. The fundamentalist leadership of the SBC, with strong ties to the Moral Majority political movement, was successful in gaining control of the SBC. My Southern Baptist moderate pride lay shattered, and I sensed our convention would never include both moderates and fundamentalists again. The fundamentalists had taken control.

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At CBF convention in 2017

Even so, it was a difficult decision for me to leave the SBC in the early 1990s. I had many friends on both sides of the controversy, and my deceased husband’s church was still aligned with the SBC. Ultimately I began identifying with the newly formed progressive group called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The SBC’s increasing shift toward a conventional and narrow view of what it meant to be Christian challenged me to have the courage to follow my core religious beliefs about inclusive love toward a new faith community, leaving behind a group that had nurtured and formed me for decades.

12e54-fbc2bwelcomesMake a final fast forward move and you’ll find me as a member of First Baptist Church (FBC) of Chattanooga, proudly aligned with the CBF. Out of my CBF ties I acquired a special friend in Dr. John Pierce. While he served as interim pastor of our FBC of Chattanooga, I touched base with him about a manuscript I was working on about my relationship to the LGBTQ community and my own faith. John immediately took me under his wing and helped me organize my thoughts into a coherent format. When I completed Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts, John, who was the executive director of Baptists Today, an independent news publication, shared with me that Baptist Today was establishing its own publication company. WOW! My son, Alan, and his partner, Timothy, helped fund my initial publication, and the rest is history. This past spring Nurturing Faith published my fifth book, Trailblazer, Part Two. Trailblazer, Part Three is in the final editing stage this summer.

Despite the disappearance of the SBC of my childhood, I have found alternatives that allow me to be authentic in my spiritual journey in a climate of honesty and humility.

To find out more about:

 

Jesus Loves All of Us – This I Know!

 

https://books.nurturingfaith.net/product/this-i-know-dant/
Available at Nurturing Faith website

Jim Dant, Senior Minister of First Baptist Church of Greenville, South Carolina, in his book This I Know, A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians, (Nurturing Faith 2018) has given us an alternative interpretation of biblical texts often quoted to condemn members of the LGBTQ community.

Dant’s small volume is not intended to be a thorough theological discussion of sexuality in the biblical text.  Rather, it is a survival manual for those on the firing line who want to articulate why the Bible supports inclusion of the LGBTQ experience and community when so many Christian groups “turn the Bible into a weapon.”

In the first half of his book Dant exposes nine Biblical texts frequently quoted to castigate LGBTQ persons.  One by one he knocks down these strongly held opinions.

In the second half of his book Dant deals with five ridiculing statements aimed at churches that elect to become welcoming and affirming.  This is where the most vocal adversaries of the LGBTQ community reveal their shallow understanding of what it means to be a Baptist.

Dant concludes there is no valid, Christian, biblical argument against same-sex relationships between consenting adults and that each Baptist church congregation has the right to decide how it will practice faith under the leadership of God’s Spirit.

 

As the sister of a gay brother and mother of a gay son, I heartily endorse This I Know as a much-needed resource for all Christians, especially those who are all too certain their condemnatory stance on homosexuality is the only Christian response.  When I came to the Christian faith realization that I, rather than my gay son, needed to change, a boulder size burden I had been harboring was lifted.  This epiphany encouraged me to share my story in Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts (Nurturing Faith 2012).

By publishing this electrifying small volume as well as giving away free copies of it at the Co-operative Baptist Convention of June, 2018, Nurturing Faith has taken a bold step forward in giving voice to an alternative scriptural view of a “hot button” issue in our country. 

Nurturing FaithJournal and Bible Studies Editor John Pierce states, “We’re witnessing an ongoing debate over biblical understandings of homosexuality and gender identity.  To avoid divisions, we’ve tried to tamp it down to avoid division yet it keeps bubbling up like a well-pressured geyser that refuses to be calm.  This debate is about more than an issue: it affects people.  Putting people first may feel like a compromise of conviction to some.  But it sure seemed to be the priority of Jesus.”  Pierce concludes, “Each case involves people declared to be less worthy of the church’s full embrace and the opportunity to follow the call of God’s Spirit on their lives.  Real people.  God’s people.  Children of God.”

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For more information on This I Know, A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians, as well as a conversation with the author that gives insights into the book’s origin and purpose, and the author’s approach visit the Nurturing Faith website.

Additional resources on religion and faith as it pertains to the LGBTQ community (click on the logo or text):

https://www.allianceofbaptists.org/about
a faith community
the only organization solely devoted to building the Welcoming and Affirming movement within the Baptist traditions

 

The HRC Religion and Faith Program

 

 

~Lynelle Sweat Mason

MAMA MAKES AMBROSIA

The following fond memory of my Mama is in honor of Mother’s Day and is an excerpt from my memoir Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts, my personal story about giving and finding acceptance in people and places…something I wish we had more of in the world today. 
 

“A chubby five-foot lady with dancing green eyes … holds center stage in this bleak setting.”  

Scarlett had her “Tara” and Ashley his “Twin Oaks.” The Sweat family had “The Sycamores,” and it was there I find my favorite Mama memories.

Travel down a flat, sandy road 15 miles south of Waycross, Georgia, until you come to a cluster of sycamore trees. The structure visible there belongs to the early American or “let’s-get-a- roof-over-our-heads” era.


The unpainted six-room house has a porch across the front and down its left side. The outer wall of the living room is made of chinked-together logs. As you enter the house, its scant furnishings are evident.

There are two worn upright chairs, a small table, and on the wall, a 30-inch portrait of Daddy holding his Bible.

The door to the left of the living room leads to Mama’s bedroom. Her iron bedstead with it two high-rise feathered mattresses is covered by a handmade Dutch Girl quilt. A massive long dresser made of ornate wood and housing a mirror stands against the wall.

Go back into the living room and through the door opposite the front door entry and you’re now in a pantry-size room. Like all of the rooms, its floors are bare and unpainted.

From here, you enter the dining room, where two wooden benches offset its eight-foot plank table, covered in a red-checkered oilcloth. Against the wall stands a wooden safe for baked goods.

The dining room opens into the kitchen where pine lighter knots, dipped in resin, make the cast iron stove turn crimson.

A chubby, five-foot lady with dancing green eyes and a ready smile holds center stage in this bleak setting. She wears a flour-sack print dress and almost always has on an apron.

I love this picture taken at Haywood Baptist Church, a community about 5 miles from our farm site.  I particularly like Mama’s smile.  Mama loved to laugh and could tell whooper stories. Left to Right:  me with my siblings Herbert, Kathryn, Chandos, Harold, Darcile and, of course, Mama.


A widow with eight children, she is in perpetual motion. Whether baking doughnuts, wringing the neck of a chicken, standing guard over a cast-iron wash pot filled with dirty clothes, washing down the front porch with a corn-shuck mop, overseeing weekly baths in a zinc tub, chasing down and killing a huge rat snake, telling ghost stories that made you pee in your pants, or peddling away on her prized sewing machine, Mama knitted life into forever memories.

Mama, who as a child grew up being catered to, adjusted in her adult years to poverty and hard labor. No job was too demeaning if it would keep her family fed, clothed and housed.

Modern conveniences during my childhood were what other people had, not us. Cleaning the globes and trimming the wicks of kerosene lamps, picking cotton in the blazing sun, canning, cooking on a wood stove — these were everyday “Mama” jobs.

Mama took what life dished out and turned it into ambrosia.

-Excerpt from Chapter 3 of my memoir Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts. Find more information at my website or purchase from my publisher’s website, Nurturing Faith.

Trailblazer Persists Against Religious Intolerance

From the dusty pages of history, I’d like to spotlight Martha Stearns Marshall.  Martha was the youngest of 10 children and was born on August 18, 1726, in Tolland, Connecticut.

Women’s History Month
In spite of scorn, persecution, and rejection by the colonial religious establishment, as well as other Baptist groups, Martha was a trailblazer for all women who feel God is gender blind when it comes to selecting servant leaders.  Interestingly, March is National Women’s History Month, and the theme this year is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”  Martha definitely persisted, and I’d like to tell you more about this remarkable woman. 
Martha and her husband, Daniel Marshall, lived among a tribe of Mohawk Indians in New York for 18 months and left only after the French and Indian War began in 1754.  The Marshalls migrated south to Virginia where it was customary for both Marshalls to pray and preach during worship services.  It is reported that Martha’s behavior in worship scandalized the Virginia Regular Baptists who opposed women speaking in public.  Shockingly, Martha, when she was three months pregnant, was arrested and jailed in Virginia for refusing to stop preaching the gospel.

Some time later, Martha and Daniel responded to the great need for preachers and worship in the frontier of North Carolina, so they traveled 200 miles through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys to Sandy Creek, North Carolina. There, they helped form Sandy Creek Church, the first Separate Baptist Church in the South.

Sandy Creek Baptist Church

Martha and Daniel were a study in contrasts.  It was said of Daniel that he was a weak man, a stammerer and not a scholar.  Neither did he possess great talents and his gifts were very limited.  According to her contemporaries, Martha’s exhortations often brought her audience to tears.  She preached in church buildings, barns, town squares, and open fields.  It was not unusual for thousands to gather to hear her proclaim the gospel message.

In 1771, the Marshalls migrated farther south to an area called Kiokee Creek near Appling, Georgia.  Daniel was arrested for breaking Georgia law by holding a public religious meeting in a state where the official religion was the Church of England.  Martha was sitting nearby and witnessed the whole scene.  With the solemnity of the prophets of old, she denounced such proceedings and such a law and, to sustain her position, she quoted many passages of Scripture with such force that the arresting constable was converted, became a member of their church and served as a Baptist minister for over 50 years.

When working on completing Trailblazer, Part Three, the final book in my trilogy about the life of Noble Wimberly Jones, my research found me examining church/state relations and more specifically First Amendment rights.  When my research spotlighted Martha and Daniel, I laughed aloud, I cried for joy.  I felt as if God had placed into my keeping — a pearl of great price!

Let me explain my pearl of great price.  In the 1970s, my affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention died.  A faction within our convention came out with an edited version of our 1925 Baptist Faith and Message publication rejecting women as ministers, decrying the infiltration of liberalism in our seminaries and insisting the Bible was inerrant-totally free of error and to be interpreted as it is written regardless of when it was written or its intended audience.  Style of writing was also ignored.

I could never espouse any of their revisions so I began trying to alert my local church of this schism.  However, I lacked the persuasive talents of Martha Stearns Marshall, thus my words fell on deaf ears! In the meantime I continued to explore the tenants of Baptist theology through the writings of those whose words rang true to me.

Today, I heartily subscribe to the following Four Fragile Baptist Freedoms: 

  • Bible Freedomis historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ and is subject to the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry.
  • Soul Freedomis the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government.
  • Church Freedomis the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they consider gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.
  • Religious Freedomis the historic Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion and freedom FROM religion insisting that Caesar is not Christ and Christ is not Caesar.

 Martha’s legacy lives on, not only for me, but also within the Baptist religion. Every year since 2007, the Baptist Women in Ministry invites Baptist churches to participate in Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preachingby having a woman preach in February.  Join me in celebrating Martha and all the courageous women in our nation’s history.

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