Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: l’arche

I’ve Got Joy

It has been almost seven months since I have been to L’Arche in Lynchburg for Spiritual Life Night. I went tonight and it was like a homecoming of sorts. I was invited to stay and sing (not realizing that was why I was there). I was asked about baby J and Megan. There were bright smiles and huge hugs.

Then, without instruction or directions, chairs became to circle up and we all took our places. The red song books were handed out, and one by one we sang each person’s favorite hymn. It was gloriously out of tune. And it was awesome! Through “I’ve Got the Joy” and “Amazing Grace,” we made a joyful noise.

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VBS 2014 Ponderings

DSCN2128Last week was Vacation Bible School at Peakland United Methodist. It was my second VBS at Peakland, probably my 34th since birth – maybe 35th because I wouldn’t be surprised if I was at a VBS while in the womb. I’ve been pondering that this VBS was probably one of the best VBSs I’ve ever been to.

Perhaps it was the 100 children in the building.

Perhaps it was the close to 45 youth and adult volunteers who made it happen.

Perhaps it was the amazing curriculum from Group Publishing: Weird Animals.

Perhaps it was the excitement of putting loose change in a water-filled pool for Heifer International.

Perhaps it was the coordination across the generations in the various mission projects throughout the week.

Or perhaps it was the endless message of the gospel: Jesus loves you.

Every day during the week we were reminded just how much Jesus loves us. Even though we are left out, are different, don’t understand, do wrong, or are afraid, Jesus still loves us. We were often reminded of that love and that grace throughout the week. Even though we aren’t sure we want to be at VBS and scream and kick and hide under the table, Jesus loves us. Even though we hit our friend while on the playground or be difficult with our adult leaders, Jesus loves us. Even though we get really upset when we lose a game and stomp our feet, Jesus loves us.

Perhaps it was reading the blog posts that some of our adult and youth volunteers wrote about VBS. It was clear that there was a joy that moved way beyond the children to the volunteers as well. Perhaps it was leading the Bible story station with Pastor John. We took turns. I would go from telling the Bible story to 5-6 graders, to 2nd graders, to young 4-year-olds. The young 4s were the only group that did their Bible story in the “jungle” (also known as the Narthex). They listened – I mean – listened – to the stories and asked questions. They were engaged and willing to participate in the storytelling.

dscn2541-2Perhaps it was the willingness of so many of the children to let me wash their feet during one of the Bible stories (based on John 13). Even though they didn’t understand, they were okay with it. And even though I had to wash my hands a number of times that day to get rid of that “I just touched feet” smile, it was okay. Because something spiritual, something holy, had happened. We were being Christ-like.

And perhaps that’s what made this VBS so special. We were all being Christ-like. Yeah, we had fun with the puppets and the playground. We had fun making stuff – but most of that stuff was for other people, like our friends at the Williams Home or L’Arche. We saw some really weird animals, but at the same time we learned that its okay to be different, like our friend Ray who brought some of his weird animals for us to see. I saw children patiently and humbly help their classmates who were different adjust and remind them of what was going on. I saw adult and youth volunteers take special care for those children who needed a little bit of extra attention during parts of the day. And I saw parents, filled with hope, pick up their children and rejoice with them when they learned how much money they had raised for Heifer International.

It was a good week – it was an amazing week! And after a week or so of rest, we just might start planning next year’s VBS.

 

Gordon Preaches

Every Wednesday night I and others go to the local L’Arche  community for Spiritual Life Night. It is an evening of song, storytelling, and prayer. A night is not complete without Gordon, one of the core members, sharing a solo, like “Me and Jesus,” as he does in this picture. 

Gordon

What I Do on Wednesday Nights

For many people, Wednesday night is church night. I don’t spend my Wednesday nights in church, but I spend it where we have church.

Nestled in the a nearby neighborhood, behind a strip mall, are two houses where those with and without disabilities live together. Sheltered by the tall tress on the hillside, this little community seeks to eliminate the stereotype of people with disabilities.

What I Do on Wednesday Nights - L'Arche

http://www.larchebrm.org

Every Wednesday evening, I take some time to sing, ponder, and pray with the L’Arche community in Lynchburg. L’Arche – The Ark – is a community home for intellectually disabled individuals. There are 135 L’Arche communities in 36 countries around the world.

Drawing on the Biblical narrative of Noah and the Ark, L’Arche is the place where those with developmental disabilities go to be safe from the storms of life. In 1964 the Canadian humanitarian Jean Vanier founded L’Arche. He was deeply troubled by the institutionalization of people with developmental disabilities, that too often resulted in isolation and loneliness. He invited two men with disabilities to live in his house and he called it “L’Arche.”

The L’Arche community in Lynchburg has welcomed me to join them on Wednesday nights for their Spiritual Life Night.

We sing a lot. Each of the core members have a favorite song that we try to sing. But we also teach a few new songs every once and awhile. Most recently we had a Christmas Carol Sing-along.

What I Do on Wednesday Nights - L'Arche Worship

We take a few moments to recall a Biblical story and talk about it. Then we each share a joy or a concern. Sometimes I pray, and sometimes the core members take turns praying.

And the night is not complete unless Gordon sings a song.

What I Do on Wednesday Nights - L'Arche - Gordon sings

Some people can’t believe that I do this as often as I do. When I was first asked to consider leading Spiritual Life Night, I’ll admit I wasn’t too sure. But every Wednesday night, when I’m sitting with my friends and singing and praying together, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

I see it as fulfilling my call as an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. The deacon is called to Word, Service, Justice, and Compassion. The image most often used to describe the ministry of the deacon is that of a bridge. The deacon is a bridge between the church and the world. All this happens at L’Arche on Wednesday nights.

There are places in our society where the core members are not treated like adults. They are spoken down to. They are looked passed. L’Arche creates a community where these things do not happen. A community where they are valued and loved. And I have the honor of being a part of this community.

Jesus Loves Me

Every Wednesday I spend part of my evening at the L’Arche community in Lynchburg. There are L’Arche communities all over the world made up of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Wednesdays is the Lynchburg community’s Spiritual Life Night. Since October I have been leading this time which we spend in prayer, scripture reading, and singing.

Last night at the L’Arche Spiritual Life Night, we sang a bunch of songs, as we usually do. One of them was Jesus Loves Me, which we sing almost every week. It is a song we often think is just for children. As we sang it last night, one of the residents, Steve, was in a different part of the house. As we sang, he  stopped what he was doing and walked into our space. He stood next to me and uttered sounds that told us he was singing along. He looked in the direction of my songbook, and I handed it to him. He took it from me and started “singing” louder. As the song started to to come to an end, Steve moved on.

He knew the song and wanted to sing along.

It reminded me of a story I heard Connie Hopper tell once about visiting her older brother. She would take him recordings of her family group’s gospel music to listen to. The recording that got the most use, was that of their version of Jesus Loves Me.

No matter what our mental capability, state of our memory, or place in life, there are great hymns and songs of faith that help us remember that Jesus loves us. And there is none better than the song most of us learned growing up in the church as young children. And it reinforces the work of those Sunday school teachers and children’s ministers who teach the essence of the Christian faith, without all of the complexities: Jesus loves me.

The story goes that a student asked the theologian Karl Barth to summarize his theological in one sentence. Barth is reported to have said, “To quote a song I learned from my mother’s knee, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'”

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