The following is an Opinion column written by our own Deborah Ensmenger and published in the Herald-Times on November 9, 2015.
When I read about the attack on Naciye Akgun and her 9 year old daughter I just dissolved into tears.. horrified that this happened.. right here.. in downtown Bloomington. I am a woman of faith. I am a mother. I have a daughter. I am a daughter.
A few days later, I read about the "headscarf sit-in" inviting women of all faiths to come and take a stand against hate and support Naciye and her family. I knew that rather than sit at home and cry I needed to go, and be an example of what God's love means to me.
My husband and I met at the Sofra Café at 5 pm. Like all the non-Muslim women, I wore my head covered in a scarf. We sat and ate, encouraged to see more and more community members arrive.
We finished eating and headed outside to make room for the line of people needing a place to sit. Outside we noticed among the people eating at tables and sitting sipping tea there were two figures talking with supporters who were undoubtably Naciye and her daughter.
I felt a similar tug on my heart as I had when I read about the sit-in, now it said 'is it really enough to just show up?'
As I stood pondering this, Naciye headed back into the café. I still couldn't leave.. I am sure I looked a little lost. My husband is very patient.. A woman who had been standing with Naciye made eye contact and approached me. She introduced herself and told me that Naciye had needed to go back in due to pure physical and emotional exhaustion. I assured her that it was fine and I would much rather she rest. Suddenly she clasped my hand and said she was sure Naciye would want to meet me. Before I could protest she headed into Sofra, so I followed.
We walked right into Naciye and I was introduced, "This is Deborah.."
Naciye smiled at me. At first I had no words, just tears. She nodded and said "thank you, keep praying" I felt love and physical pain as I looked into her eyes.. and then we talked. I told her my heart went out to her daughter. She replied that the initial trauma her daughter felt was lightened somewhat when she saw on the news that the man who attacked them had expressed great remorse. I let her know that I was praying that this experience would strengthen her daughter as she witnessed the response of the community. I hoped she would see how beauty can come from horrible experiences. How this does not excuse them or make them ok, but it is something mysterious that God can do.
We shared our hope that some of this beauty would be the awareness that hatefulness toward Muslims, or any religious or ethnic minority is wrong and will not be tolerated. That maybe this will prevent future violence possibly even save lives.
I commended Naciye and her husband on the graciousness of their response during and since the attack. She answered that they believe in forgiveness. I agreed, sharing how earlier in the day, when expressing my disgust for the attacker, my heart was gently reminded that grace and forgiveness leave no one out.
We hugged and she ended with the same words she had greeted me with "keep praying.."
As a woman, a mother, and a Christian, I will always treasure this experience. I was reminded that it is a privilege to live out our beliefs by loving and caring for others as we hope others would love and care for us.
Sunday we had a cul-de-sac party in my mom's neighborhood. Growing up in Greene County, I had never been to a neighborhood party, so I was excited to attend. I made a pie before church to contribute. As I went through the day and the delightful party and considered my upcoming transitions, I realized that I used to have 4 pie plates and I now don't know where any of them are. For a moment I thought of how much I like to make pies and yet have no plates, and how so many pie plates out there may never even be used again. I wished we could meet and each be fulfilled, but decided I would just have to keep an eye out for one.
After I returned to my apartment later I took a long nap, and woke up right before sunset. I decided I would walk to the pedestrian bridge over 45/46 and watch the sunset. The sunset was not stunningly beautiful but the quiet was nice. As I walked home on Gourley Pike, I came across something that looked like a plastic tray on the ground on the side of the road. I nudged it with my foot and learned that it was glass. It was a pie plate, neglected but intact.
I felt loved.
First, I would like to thank Annette for inviting us to remember the “saints” in our lives, today. It seems like many people think of “saints” as superhumans, perhaps the historical martyrs of the Church. But Annette gave the Worship Committee a very helpful reading about who is a “saint.” It suggested that anyone can be a saint:
“When we honor the saints, we actually give the glory to God and not to the saints themselves. All the saints who now live in heaven were in their earthly lives exactly like us, . . . “ with flaws and limitations. It is God's grace that leads people to serve as saints.
Perhaps we could think of “saints” as those who show how to love others, like my friend Fred Sherrill, who can strike up a conversation with virtually anyone. He would get into heart-to-heart conversations with a homeless person on Kirkwood, and then do the same thing with an IU administrator who was generally “stand-off-ish.” He cared about them all and wanted to show them how meaningful their lives can be.
We could also think of “saints” as those who show us how to live a life that is faithful to God, like Donna Ritter, a former member of UBC. When I knew her, she seemed to take one minute at a time. Delays or changes of plans didn’t seem to phase her. She also had a wonderful joy for life, and she could really help people feel loved. And she seemed to live in the confidence that God cared about her and others, and that things would somehow work out.
“Saints” could also include those who inspire us. For me, one of those people is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have recordings of many of his sermons on CDs, and in one of those sermons, he spoke of a late-night epiphany he had, while waiting nervously for some anonymous person who had threatened violence against him and his family. That night, he clearly heard the words of God in his mind, “Martin Luther, I will never leave you alone. Never, no never, leave you alone!” That was what he needed to go on and speak of God’s love for all; of God’s desire for peace and dignity here on earth. I often hear that audio-clip in my mind when I feel overwhelmed by circumstances, or feel distant from God.
Finally, “saints” can surely include those who lead us to faith, or help us grow in faith. There are many here this morning who are these types of “saints” in my life. However, I don’t want to try to list them, because I am sure to leave out at least one of those “saints.” Instead, I would like to tell you about the person who first led me to follow Christ. When I was a freshman in high school, I started attending a small church similar to UBC. Our minister was named Tex Miller. He was not much taller than 5 feet, with deep red hair, and he would wear a western hat and boots to church. He was not one to stay behind the pulpit; instead, he would roam about the sanctuary during his sermons. If he was preaching on how our view of time keeps us from faithfully following Jesus, he would pull his watch off of his wrist and throw it to the ground. He kept our attention!
One spring, he gave a series of sermons about the life of Jesus, leading up to the crucifixion. I had heard isolated passages from the gospels, before, but this was the first time I heard the arc of the story of Jesus. I was deeply moved by Jesus’ mercy and care for others, his desire to heal and to free people from what imprisoned them. And when the story reached the crucifixion, I was surprised and cut to the heart; how could people be so cruel to Jesus, after all that he did? I wept that Sunday morning, as well as for the next week. After that, I felt like I needed to follow Jesus; this Jesus who was Goodness and Mercy, even in the face of the worst that people could do. Tex then led a confirmation class, where he insisted that anything could help us learn about God. He might look around the room , pick up a pencil, and tell us how God sharpens our lives to write another story of God’s mercy lived out among people like you and me, and that God’s mercy also was there to erase the burden of our missteps. Finally, Tex invited all two of us in the confirmation class to visit other churches, and even explore other faith traditions. He told us that if we chose to return and follow Christ, he would gladly baptise and confirm us. For Tex, following Jesus was our choice to make. Soon after, I chose to be baptised and confirmed, and I can’t imagine living my life without Jesus.
Does it matter that we remember the “saints?” For me it does. This “remembering” is like counting my blessings. It gives me another reason to say “Wow, God, how amazing that you’ve created these people, and that I get to see You through them! Thank you! Thank you!” For me, it is also an invitation to consider how to emulate these people whom I admire. As I heard in a recent on-line sermon, following Christ is not a specatator sport. Perhaps God can work through me, too, to live a life of faith, adding to the cloud of witnesses that inspire others to live faithful lives. So I invite you to join me in remembering those who serve as “saints” in each of our lives. Thanks be to God!
When I started visiting Alan in jail, he spent most of his time reading novels. I asked if I brought him a daily devotional if he could give at least 30 seconds a day to God by reading it and he said sure. At last Sunday's visit I asked how the devotional reading was going and he said it is the most popular book in I block..... really? Every afternoon 3 or 4 "religious" inmates go to his cell to see what the devotional of the day has to say. I was floored when I heard this, never did I think one little devotional book would touch many, my little seed sprouted!
While I was flipping channels that night I came across Charles Stanley talking about sowing seeds of kindness and how the fruits of the Spirit include kindness. This week I visited Alan on Saturday and told him of Charles Stanley's message and asked if he thought he might be sowing seeds of kindness by sharing his devotional with the other inmates and he said yah, I probably am. We went on talking about other things and he said that most of the other inmates seem to like him... oh? Yah, some of them can't read and when they get letters from home or the courts, they take the letters to Alan and he reads the letters to them. Alot of the inmates do not have good grammar and when they need to write a letter, they write out what they want to say and Alan writes the letter for them using proper English. He says his handwriting isn't the best but at least he uses correct grammar. Alan, do you think you are sowing seeds of kindness by doing this? (Pause and a smile) Yah, I guess I am.
You can sow seeds of kindness wherever you are and sometimes you don't even know you're doing it. Sowing a seed can be as simple as holding a door open or remembering to say a prayer for someone. What will you do this week to sow your seed of kindness?
This blog is written by various UBC members. They write about their ministry experiences, spiritual life or everyday encounters with the divine.