Saturday, May 23, 2015

I want to be that person

Only once did I move into a brand new house and start my yard from scratch. Otherwise, I’ve always moved into a place with established vegetation. When I moved into my current home, the backyard was a jungle. I don’t know why I didn’t take photos so I could show you before and after, but believe me, it was bad. I had major trees and branches removed so the sun could shine through. The yard itself was such a mess that a crew with a backhoe came in and removed everything on the ground so I could start over. Before they did this, I went all around digging up bulbs, mostly daffodils and irises, which I replanted then in the front yard.

I replaced the cracked concrete on my patio with pavers, which are now framed by my flower garden. The first spring I discovered that I had to enlarge the garden in a few places because lilies were forcing their way up out of the ground beyond the border to the flower bed that I had established. How they had survived the demolition, I’ll never know.

Their vibrant orange flowers usually appear right around Memorial Day. I had no part in planting them and don’t have a clue who did. Someone did the hard work and left them behind for an unknown person in the future to enjoy. I have no idea how they came to be planted in my yard or why. I don’t even know if the one who put them there ever had the opportunity to enjoy them.

Although most years come and go and I admire this gift of life without any appreciation for the person who gave it to me, today I’m thinking that I wish I knew whom to thank. How can I thank someone who has gone before me, leaving a thing of beauty for me to enjoy, when I have no idea who they were? The only way that makes any sense to me is to leave beauty in my own wake for those who come after me--the ones who will never bother to thank me, and couldn't even if they wanted to because they won't ever know who I was. 

Yes, I want to be that person. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Act of Civil Disobedience

Yesterday, for the first time in my 62 years, I participated in an act of civil disobedience that resulted in my arrest.

I wasn’t alone. I was arrested that day with nine other clergy-types from North Carolina. That evening, another group of people was arrested, too. About 1000 people went before us as a part of the Moral Monday movement that began its third year this week. Before Moral Monday, there have been other movements that included acts of civil disobedience around the world, and in the United States. In fact, our country was started by acts of civil disobedience. I am honored to march with the millions of people who have gone before me, moved to step out for the sake of justice.

Ten years ago, North Carolina was considered a progressive state and I was proud to call myself a North Carolinian by choice. In recent years, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the decisions of our lawmakers in Raleigh and have watched us become a regressive state. There seems to be a complete disregard for justice. The poor are being trampled upon with no evidence of compassion as we enter a time in our country when the disparity between rich and poor is similar to colonial times.

For a while, I wondered if people were even aware of what was happening. The Racial Justice Act of 2009 was repealed, which had allowed inmates on death row to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial discrimination. (The problem in North Carolina is a proven fact.) Voting rights have been restricted. Women’s healthcare limited. Little regard has been shown for the environment. Education has suffered drastically, including cuts to teacher pay that has sent some of our best educators to other states. (This is a problem for our children that will cost us far more in the long-run.) People were cut off from unemployment benefits far earlier than they needed to be. The state opted out of Medicaid expansion, which was part of the Affordable Care Act and would have provided coverage to 500,000 North Carolinians who do not currently receive coverage. As a result, thousands of people have died without the healthcare that could have saved them. People are dying as a result of the decisions our General Assembly has been making. Was anybody seeing this? 

The fact is, since Dr. William Barber began the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, people in our state are paying attention to what is happening in our General Assembly. They are aware of the unjust, immoral and at times criminal acts being perpetrated against the people of our state. Public opinion has shifted. So, I have no doubt that the movement has made a difference. At the center of that movement are acts of civil disobedience. Without them, Moral Mondays are like a barking dog, alerting everyone to the problem, but more annoying to our opponents than anything. The actions are what give the movement its bite.

Last week, my dear colleague Robin Tanner told our Wednesday morning Bible Study group that she would be going to Raleigh for the anniversary of Moral Monday and she planned to participate in civil disobedience that day. Robin is such an inspiration to me. She is a UU minister, younger than my children, and wise far beyond her years. She has a passion that drives her to organize others and speak eloquently on behalf of justice that truly amazes me. What a gift she has been to our Charlotte community in the few short years she has been with us. I have been one of her many cheerleaders.

When I learned that Robin would be going to Raleigh alone, I offered to drive her. I’ve been to several Moral Monday events in the past couple of years and I was glad to take part. 

Then I started watching the unrest in Baltimore on TV. Although it troubles me, it doesn’t surprise me. How much can people take from a system that is stacked against them, never seems to change, and in many ways is only getting worse? They are frustrated and angry. I get that. But as I watched the events unfolding on my TV screen I kept asking myself, What am I doing to help change the circumstances of our world that lead to such despair? 

I thought and prayed about my witness to the God of justice and love. The day before Robin and I planned to go to Raleigh, I knew the time had come for me to join in the march of the saints before me. It was cowardice that kept me from doing so before, and I wanted to look at myself in the mirror for the remainder of my life. This time I couldn’t stand by and watch others do something I knew I was also called to do myself.

I had to do it. And I’m glad I did. Was it easy? No. Was it uncomfortable? Yes. Was it necessary? I believe it was. Will it make a difference? It already has. I’m another person in a very long movement that has sided with the poor, the marginalized, and those who are treated unjustly. As I understand it, that’s where Jesus sided, too. It’s made a difference in the life of the world and, as of May 29, 2015, it’s made a difference in the life of me. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Chirping Smoke Alarm

I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by the sound of chirping. No, it was not a bird. It was my #%^@ smoke alarm telling me that it was time to change the battery. Grrrrr! Is there any worse sound in all the world? I asked myself.

I turned on the light, climbed up on a step ladder and yanked the alarm from the ceiling. Then I crawled back into bed and tried to resume my interrupted dreams. 

But my question kept nagging at me. Is there any worse sound in all the world than a smoke alarm chirping in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping soundly?

Now, that’s a first-world question, if ever there was one. Yes, there are lots of worse sounds. Like the sound of a child crying because she’s hungry and you’ve nothing to give her to eat. Or even worse, the silence of a child who is so hungry she no longer has the energy to cry. Yes, that’s worse than the sound of a smoke alarm chirping. Or the sound of a gunshot in a neighborhood where innocent people are too often killed by guns. How about the sound of bombs expoding all around you while you hold your breath and pray that you will escape the next one?  

These were not the thoughts of a person who was about to drift off to sleep.

I couldn't stop thinking about all the horrible sounds that were happening right at that moment, all over the world, while I was resting on my pillow-top mattress, cozy-warm beneath my down comforter, snuggled between my dog and cat. 

Some would be thankful for being so "blessed." But I can't go there. To say that I am blessed is to say that God decided to plant me in the United States, in an affluent lifestyle, with more material stuff than I know what to do with. And if God decided to do that for me, then God chose not to do that for millions of other people. The whole blessed thing doesn't work for me. I’m not blessed. I'm just incredibly lucky.

And why me? Why have I been so lucky while other people in this world have been so unlucky? Why have I been lucky enough to wake up in the middle of the night cursing a chirping smoke alarm?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

You Thought You Could Ruin Our Easter?

Today Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte celebrated its 100th Easter. For 100 years this community of God’s faithful people has been ushering in Resurrection Sunday with the resounding hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” This year, we heard it twice. Once as a glorious procession made its way down the center aisle and a second time when I led the children in our annual “Easter Bunny Hop.” (The song fits the steps of the “Bunny Hop” perfectly.)

It was a Sunday full of surprises. Perhaps the biggest one was something that none of us had planned. When people arrived, they were greeted by protesters on the front sidewalk. Can you believe it? On Easter Sunday! These “Christians” thought it was more important to stand in front of our church and spew hate than it was to be worshiping in their own church on Easter Sunday.

When I saw them, I was not happy. There were things we had planned to do on the front lawn, and instead we had to remain sequestered in the building.

The protesters were loud and obnoxious, but they did nothing illegal. Nonetheless, three police cars arrived to make sure. I thanked the officers and shared a picture with them that I had just taken next door at the Van Landingham Estate, where the children were having an Easter egg hunt. It’s a photo of one of our families. The officers commented on how great the picture was. I pointed to it and said, “It’s hard to believe that THIS is what these people are protesting, isn’t it?”

For the most part, I tuned out the high decibel ranting that kept going non-stop. I did manage to hear that I was leading my people to hell, something I have been accused of many times by just these kind of people. I consider their accusations high praise for my ministry.

One of our members heard the “preacher” say that there was something wrong with the name of our church. We had nothing to do with being holy, or the Trinity, or a church...but we could keep the Lutheran part. Ha! I love it! The member reporting this to me remarked, “They obviously don’t know anything about what it means to be Lutheran.”

Ironically, if the protesters thought they were going to scare anyone away from worshiping with us, their presence had the opposite effect. One woman from the neighborhood was taking her morning walk past the church. She was so angry when she saw them that she walked right into the church to worship. A family across the street quickly constructed their own signs to counter the ones the protesters were displaying. They got into quite a “discussion” with the protesters in the middle of the street. That's when one of our ushers invited them to worship with us, and they did. After worship, the same usher went to their house and gave them one of our lilies.

Have I mentioned how truly amazing the children of Holy Trinity are? Today I asked them to tell me about signs of Easter they had seen that morning. They said: Easter eggs, bunnies, butterflies… If I were to answer that question I would point to them as the greatest sign of new life, hope and promise for me. It never ceases to amaze me how well they understand what living the Jesus Way in the world looks like. 

Before I walked into worship, I read an email from one of our members who had attended a sunrise service where she was vacationing in Florida this morning. The service was of another flavor of Lutheranism that shall go unnamed. Afterward, she had a conversation with her son, who is about 7 years old. She asked him if he could tell the difference. He said, “At our church we believe God lets everyone go to heaven. They think only some people do.” Yes, he gets it.

On Facebook, someone posted the conversation between a mom and her young daughter that took place as they were walking into church this morning:
Child: Why are they yelling mean things?
Mom: They have bad things they want to say. Do you remember what happened when Jesus was headed to the cross?
Child: People yelled mean things at him.
Mom: And what did he do?
Child: He forgave them.

I really am so proud of the people in my congregation. They didn’t let any of the disruption going on outside the building ruin their Easter. Our worship together was truly glorious. And it was not about the ruckus on the street. It was all about Jesus.

During communion we sang “All Are Welcome”, a song that was chosen long before anyone knew what would greet us when we arrived at church this morning. The words took on new meaning for us: “Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face; let us bring an end to fear and danger: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”

He is risen. I know it’s true because I saw him this morning at 1900 The Plaza in Charlotte. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Bad Case of OCE

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a case of OCE like the one I’m experiencing this year. I suspect it has been like this every year of my adult life although I always seem to forget from one year to the next. Every time Holy Week rolls around, my brain turns into a 1 G computer that is trying to process 4 G of data. 

Since I don’t have a cloud where I can store all this excess information, I leave notecards and post-its and lists all over my desk. There are extra prayers for the assisting minister. And copies of a diagram for the processional, as well as a flow chart for the distribution stations for Holy Communion. I have a list of things I need to go over with the acolytes and a set of instructions for the altar committee. I also have guidelines for the ushers to read: when to turn the lights on, how to seat the overflow crowd, how to bring people up for communion. And then there are the instructions I have left for myself. As I wade my way through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I have a pile of lists for each one. And now I’m suddenly realizing that I may forget some of my lists, so I need to compile a list of lists.

The bulletin for Sunday has been giving me fits. We forgot to order a fancy cover this year, so at the last minute, at the secretary's encouragement, I decided to design one. Then we didn’t have any colored paper and it looked terrible on the white. So I called all over town trying to find 8 ½ by 14 color copy paper. I finally ordered some online from Staples and it was delivered at the last minute. After proofing the content of the bulletin a bazillion times and having a few others do it as well, I looked at it one last time before we printed it, found at least 10 errors, and felt like I was about to have a nervous breakdown.

Yesterday I sent an email to all the worship ministers for Sunday in which I told them about the order of the procession, when to move and at what pace, how much space to leave between people, and what to wear. Specifically, I asked them to wear nice shoes and I let the men know that they need to wear long pants under their robes. Yes, I am obsessing over what people wear under their robes. So, I got a series of emails back from folks who told me what they would be wearing, all of it beyond inappropriate. They thought they were being funny. The thing is, when I’m suffering from an episode of OCE, I don’t have the space in my brain to accommodate humor. Any extra brain matter that remains free I need to save for my sermon.

My sermon!? All these people and details and lists to keep track of, and I’m supposed to have something to say, too?

I have to tell you that of all the stuff I needed to do today, blogging wasn’t on my list. So, I’d better sign off before I have a stroke. You’ll hear from me again after I have recovered from my OCE (Obsessive Compulsiveness about Easter). Just so you know, I have made plans to do that sometime on Sunday evening. It’s the last item on my list of things to do that day. 

Monday, March 23, 2015


Our newer folks at Holy Trinity don’t know Janice, but those who have been around a while remember her well from the time when she was a pillar of our congregation. These days, every so often her sister brings her to worship and we’re blessed to have her with us, but those occasions are too few and far between. 

For decades, Janice was a faithful alto in the choir. Although her presence was important to us, she didn't have the strongest voice, and you couldn’t really hear her. So, when she announced that she was going to sing a solo in worship, we were all surprised. “Lead Me, Guide Me” was the song. An appropriate one for Janice who had dealt with a number of physical challenges her whole life and truly trusted in God every step of the way.

She was supposed to arrive early to run through the song one last time with our music director. We expected her at 10:30. 10:30 passed, and no Janice. For weeks she had been talking about singing this solo, so her tardiness was odd. (Janice was never late for anything.) 

When we started worship at 11:00 and still hadn't seen her, we started to get concerned. At 11:15 Kathy went to her house, which was right around the corner from the church. 

Fortunately, Kathy is a nurse, because when she got to Janice’s she saw that Janice had had something that looked like a stroke and Kathy took care of her until the paramedics arrived on the scene.

It turned out Janice had a seizure that erased her short term memory. After several years, it has improved only slightly. She can remember people from her past and stories from before her seizure, but since then, she literally can’t tell you what she did 5 minutes ago. 

Over time, Janice has learned to cope with her new limitations. She lives in an assisted living facility where the walls in her room are plastered with signs her sister made for her, telling her what day it is, important phone numbers, what happened to her, and so on. She carries a schedule of daily activities in a pouch that hangs from her neck and she has a pad of paper by the chair in her room where she writes down everything that she does. 

Janice has no memory of the weeks leading up to that fateful Sunday and whenever she hears the story, to this day, when it comes to the part where she was going to sing a solo in church, she is hearing it again for the first time, and she laughs hysterically at the thought of it. 

"There is no way I was going to sing a solo in church!" she’ll say. 

"Yes, Janice, you were."  And she’ll shake her head in disbelief. 

In truth, if she hadn’t been singing a solo, we would have assumed she was visiting with family that day and no one would have checked on her when she didn’t appear at worship. Another 20 minutes without someone finding her and she would have been dead. So offering to sing that solo, something that was totally out of character for Janice, saved her life.

Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to suddenly lose your memory like that? When I think about it, I imagine that it might feel a lot like dying. I have always thought that being alive is synonymous with maintaining cognitive ability. But Janice has me rethinking that. Maybe there's more to life than registering our life experience in our brains. 

With Janice, losing her memory hasn't changed the essence of who she is as a person. Janice is still Janice. She is still able to cope with whatever life hands her. She exudes positive energy. She participates in every activity that comes her way with a smile on her face. After spending time with her, I always feel good about myself because she is so loving and supportive. 

Janice is fiercely loyal to Holy Trinity. She was always our strongest prayer warrior and she continues to be. She also always gave faithfully to the church financially, something that continues to this day. Whenever I visit her, she will invariably ask me, “How is Holy Trinity doing financially?” I will tell her we’re just fine. A couple more times in our conversation she will ask me the same question, “How is Holy Trinity doing financially?” because she can’t remember she had already asked me. This is the question she asks me more than any other. It reminds me of the Biblical truth about how connected our hearts are to our treasures. Janice clearly links her love for Holy Trinity with the support she gives through her offerings. 

In the midst of all the things she forgets, Janice remembers what's most important to her. She hasn't forgotten the love she has for our congregation and the love we have for her.  For Janice, the faith community she loves is a manifestation of the love of God in her life. 

Janice has been a gift to me personally. Spending time with her always brings me to recognize how living moment to moment, caught up in the minute details of my life, distracts me from living from the core of who I really am, a person created to be in relationship with the God of love.  

Lead me, guide me, along the way:
for if you lead me, I cannot stray.
Lord, let me walk each day with thee.
Lead me, O Lord, lead me. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trouble is on its way

One of my dearest friends in the entire world is coming to Charlotte tomorrow. I suspect we’ll get into some kind of trouble because we always do.

I met Donna when I was in my twenties, pregnant with my second child. She was living in Ohio at the time and I was living in North Dakota. We were both attending a meeting in Minneapolis. Our Lutheran publishing house was introducing new Sunday school material and they had recruited people from all over the American Lutheran Church to be trained so they could return to their respective geographic areas and introduce the material.

Although Donna and I had never met before this event, we clicked like lifelong friends. 

During our first lunch together at the Marriott, we were deep in conversation when a huge cockroach started strutting across the linen tablecloth. Donna spied it while she was speaking. Without missing a word, she calmly picked up a coffee cup and nonchalantly placed it over the roach, trapping it inside. We finished our lunch and left the surprise for the waitstaff. I was duly impressed by this woman.

Throughout the training we had great fun, even when things weren’t particularly designed with fun in mind. When it came time for us to part, I grieved the fact that we lived so far apart and I would never see this person again.

About five years later, I moved to Ohio and guess who was a short drive away! I gave Donna a call and we picked up right where we left off. At the time, I had no idea what a lifeline she would be for me over the course of the next decade as I walked through the darkest time of my life.  

Then I moved again. Leaving Donna was one of the worst things about moving away from Ohio for me. 

Since then, I’ve gone up her way, she’s come down my way, and we’ve met up in the middle for some adventures from time to time.

So she’s coming to North Carolina tomorrow. And that got me to thinking about the first time she came to visit me after I moved to Charlotte.

The two of us decided to make a trip to Asheville. We drove over in my new car.

Back when I lived in Ohio I was always complaining because it seemed like I was the only person in the world who still had to crank her car windows up and down and I had vowed that my next car would have power windows. So, now I had them. And I was going to make a big freakin' deal out it!

On the drive to Asheville we stopped at a McDonald’s and while we were going through the drive through I started showing off, making my window go up and down, down and up, over and over again. “Do you see how cool that is? Is that not the best thing ever!”

After about a dozen times, the window suddenly stopped half-way down and wouldn’t budge. Yep, I broke the damn window and had to drive like that for the remainder of the trip. Donna was amused by this, but I was not. Especially when it started raining.

Roughly six weeks before Donna arrived I had made arrangements for us to stay at a Bed & Breakfast in the Asheville area. A friend highly recommended the place. When I called and made the reservation, they told me they would mail my confirmation that day. (All of this stuff happened before people used the internet for such things.)

I waited and waited, but the confirmation never came. And here's the really bad part. I didn’t write the name of the place down because I figured I would have the name when I got their letter. 

I tried to call the friend who had recommended it and she was in Germany. (This was also before people used cell phones like they do now.) Oy.

I had made a reservation for two nights at some mystery place with my credit card. So, now what did I do?

I decided that if I saw the name of the place I would recognize it. And really, how many Bed & Breakfasts could there be in the Asheville area?

Donna and I arrived in Asheville in the pouring rain. We drove around for a while and found a visitor’s center. We went in and I described my dilemma to them. After making some sarcastic remarks that Donna appreciated more than I did, they handed me a listing of B & Bs in Asheville and said that if I needed to use their phone, I could.

Well, if you've ever been to Asheville, you probably realize that there are a lot of cities that have smaller phone directories than the book they handed me.

I sat down and started randomly calling places. “Hello, do you have a reservation for Nancy Kraft for tonight?”

They weren’t allowed to give out that information, they would tell me. So then I’d start whining, “No, you don't understand. I’m Nancy Kraft. I want to know if I made a reservation there. I made a reservation somewhere and I can’t remember where it was.”

I suspect most of them thought I was making a crank call because of all the laughter they could hear in the background. Donna was thoroughly enjoying this.

After about twenty calls, I finally called a place that assured me they were the B & B where I had made a reservation. So, who’s laughing now, Donna?

When I got home the long-awaited letter of confirmation was waiting for me in my mailbox. It was not from the place where we stayed. 

So, tomorrow afternoon another installment in "The Adventures of Donna & Nancy" begins at Charlotte-Douglas Airport and I’m expecting more trouble. Of course, I mean that in the best way possible.