For everything, a season…

house

By Joe LaGuardia

The following article is reprinted from The Rockdale Citizen.  Please note that although Joe LaGuardia will no longer publish in the Citizen after April 29th, he and a community of Baptists will continue to publish for Baptist Spirituality and other publications.  Please be sure to subscribe to our blog to keep up on our inspiring and thought-provoking publications. 

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Well, dear reader, it is about that time I say, “Goodbye!”  God has called me to new horizons.  As of May, I will head south to serve as pastor of First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, Florida.

Moving out of Rockdale County means having to move out of the religion section of The Rockdale Citizen.  I have done all the reporting and commentaries that I can do; you’re on your own now.

I started writing for the Citizen about 8 years ago.  Back then, we got the newspaper nearly every day.  Some dude in a hatchback tried to knock over my mailbox with the daily edition.  The religion section was indeed a section–in color, of course.  It came out on Saturday, when people actually had time to read the religion section.

Now we’re in the back of the Friday sports section–just a different type of religion section, if you think about it– which people rarely read because they are getting boats ready for Lake Jackson rather than reading the newspaper on Fridays.

Nevertheless, my time with you every week has been a blessing.  I enjoyed writing about the Bible, but I cherished reporting on stories from around the world and about religions not necessarily my own–weird stories, such as people coloring in adult coloring books as an act of worship, or the persecution of Muslims by Buddhist terrorists in Myanmar.

What I love most about writing is not just reporting on faith and culture, but engaging a community I have grown to love.

Rockdale County is a great place to worship and work.  Anyone who tells you otherwise may need to pray about how they view the world around them.  If you see the world as hostile and dangerous, that’s what you’re going to get.

Everywhere I go in the county, I meet the nicest people, many of whom are committed to raising their families right and living decent lives built on integrity, faith, and hard work.

I’ve never felt compelled to carry a gun; I’ve always believed that the Gospel was good enough.  The only time I got scared about living in Rockdale was when I received word (from the Citizen, of course) that “City Slickers” was closing.

Having great people means everything else is great too.  Conyers is one of the few communities I know where churches collaborate more than compete, pastors and directors of non-profits are close friends, and the local government is run by people who know you by name.

That is why Trinity Baptist has had an easy time working with so many people and agencies since its founding over 30 years ago.  It’s also why we believe strongly in participating in Family Promise and other non-profits that help the neediest families in our community.

Jesus seems all the more glorified when we work together.

When my family and I made the decision to follow God’s call elsewhere, we had a church family to consider at Trinity–but we had an entire community to consider too.  This is our home and, as much as its worth, this is our family.  We are excited about obeying God, but sad to leave.

With only a few more articles to go (my last article in the Citizen will run on April 29), I wanted to mention what I loved about this place this time around.  Next week, I hope to give a few challenges and words of wisdom for the road ahead.

When you sit and think about it–and consider that the Bible is correct when it says that for everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1)–I hope your memories and thoughts bring few regrets, warmed hearts, and a positive outlook for our community and the days ahead.

Wildflower teaches love for neighbor

VIRGIN’S BOWER Clematis Virginiana

VIRGIN’S BOWER
Clematis Virginiana

By Orrin Morris

The concept Jesus taught us when instructing us “to love our neighbor as ourselves” is of divine dimensions. We are to relate generously, putting the well-being of those who are the objects of our love above our personal desires and pleasure.

To love them includes making an effort to meet their needs and providing security, spiritual growth, self esteem, and emotional maturity.

On the other hand, much of what our culture means by love is self-gratification, lust and shallow manipulation.

May we put feet and hands to our words of love. May the examples of Christ in the Bible be the motivating force that breathes new life into our world.

Virgin’s bower is a climbing vine in the buttercup family. It is a native perennial that loves to climb on fences, or intertwine in shrubs up to about ten feet high. The vines do not have tendrils as grapes do, but the vine itself wraps around objects for support.

The 1-inch flowers pictured are males. The female flowers are less decorative until pollinated, when they look like the frayed ends of a ball of yarn. Each vine is either male or female.

Virgin’s bower needs to keep its “feet wet,” that is, if you want to find this midsummer wonder, check out moist ditches along our roadsides or around creek banks. This beautiful wild white clematis is a little hard to find compared to honeysuckle. Diligence is required to find virgin’s bowers during the blooming season: July, August and September.

The blooms are very fragrant and can cause problems for people who are allergic to airborne irritants. Further, people with sensitive skin often get dermatitis from handling the plant. Nevertheless, herbalists use a mixture of leaves and blooms to relieve severe headaches.

The broad diversity of plants in the wildflower kingdom is evidence of God’s love. I have documented over 300 different species since I started this column in 1997. They range from the tiny blooms of the pool sprite at the horse park to the giant 10-inch cotton rose. Some wildflower plants stay earth bound like bluets, while others, like the invasive kudzu, reach skyward. Each species is a blessing and a curse.

The fascinating diversity of the wildflower kingdom is paled by the diversity of humankind where there are over a thousand languages and dialects. The wildflower kingdom’s diversity is paled by humankind’s cultural styles and family practices including the range of male and female roles, the values placed on male infants versus female infants.

Whereas there seems to be natural factors that guide the wildflower kingdom, in the world of humans where we are called to “love our neighbor” is chaotic. Wealth and corresponding personal power over neighbors — whether family, employees, community, state, country or other nations — is the dominant value, even if it requires armed intervention.

Into this milieu of human chaos, God sees beauty in the hearts of 7.3 billion people (John 3:16-17). The simple three-word phrase “love thy neighbor” calls for an immediate and serious commitment because this very day there will be 68,000 more deaths and 162,000 more births.

May we put feet and hands to our words of love. May the examples of Christ in the Bible be the motivating force that breathes new life into our world.

This article is reprinted with permission.

The Rise of the Nuns

Sister Cristina Scuccia performs during the Italian State RAI TV show final "The Voice of Italy" in Milan on June 5, 2014. The 25-year-old nun is already a talent show sensation thanks to her habit-clad performances but also has on her side the critics, who say her popularity stems from novelty value.  AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLO        (Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Sister Cristina Scuccia performs during the Italian State RAI TV show final “The Voice of Italy” in Milan on June 5, 2014. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLO (Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

By Joe LaGuardia

Everyone is making a stink out of the rise of the “nones,” people who do not subscribe to any organized faith or denomination.

What about the rise of the “nuns”?

A bad pun with a nun?  Not quite.  The Catholic Church in England and Whales is claiming a 25-year record for women recruitment in holy orders.   Seems that the Catholic Church is growing in a most unusual way.

Here in Rockdale County, I heard that Father Randy was leaving us and departing St. Pius X Catholic Church.  When the news broke, I wondered how long St. Pius might hobble along without a priest.  It is no mystery that the number of priests has waned in recent years, although the number of seminarians preparing for the priesthood has increased and posit a more hopeful future for tomorrow’s Catholic church.

Other thoughts ran through my head:  If the Vatican would only let priests get married, maybe more would become available.

And if the Vatican ever allowed women to be ordained to the priesthood, there might not be any shortage at all.   According to my friend in Decatur, a nun of some 60 years, I am not alone in this assessment.

Little did I know that women have been entering convents and other “contemplative communities” in record numbers across the Pond.  Reasons and theories vary:

Some say its because people realize that the meaning of life can only be found in the womb of the church.

Higher-ups in the Church pat themselves on the back and claim that charismatic priests and bishops are monopolizing and marketing the strengths of cloistered living, including the trendy notion that the priesthood can change the world in ways that can be quantified and qualified.

Others cite frustrations surrounding relationships, sex, and intimacy (or lack thereof).

An article with the BBC quotes novice Theodora Hawksley as saying,  “If our society is obsessed with money, sex and power and the games people play with them, then vows of poverty chastity and obedience represent a profound freedom. That’s what has drawn me to religious life.  It’s not a fleeing from the world – it’s a finding your place in it.”

Nor can we keep God out of the picture.  For all of the ways (and often times, the gimmicks) churches use to grow, gain members, and attract people to full-time ministry, its the Holy Spirit that does the transforming, convincing, and convicting.

We saw this years ago at Trinity Baptist Church when we were affirming our core values of being a place that emphasized inter-generational worship, social justice, and inclusivity.

Back then, we felt we were going against the grain of congregational development and growth, but now we find numerous articles describing how young people are attracted to churches that have similar core values in place, Catholic Churches not withstanding.

Perhaps I’m getting too spiritual here.  Maybe its just something in the water in England.  Perhaps there is just the right group of women who came along at the right time to convince so many other women (many under the age of 30) to enter an alternative life that values celibacy, obedience, and poverty.

We are not sure, but we are certain that trends are finicky things — (Have you heard about the African American lesbian physical fitness trainer in Philadelphia who is finishing her last year of seminary to become a rabbi?  You’ll have to Google that one yourself.)

And, at the end of the day, I’m just a Baptist.  When it comes to all things Catholic, what do I know?  It’s none (or, is it “nun”?) of my business anyway.  (Now that was a bad pun!)

On behalf of Trinity Baptist Church, we want to welcome Father Greg Goolsby to St. Pius X.  May we share ministry together, transform our community for the sake of Christ, and work for the common good of all, attracting people to the light of God rather than our own agendas.  Amen.