Monthly Archives: May 2010

Healing the Wounds of the Bible Belt

I grew up un-churched in the heart of the Bible belt.  I become a Christian in my late twenties after a series of miscarriages launched me on a spiritual journey.  Even though I have been a part of the local church for more than 15 years, I still approach the church with the eyes of an outsider and a heart for those who, for whatever reason, have not found a home within the walls of the church.  I am particularly drawn to those who feel unwelcome and judged by the church.

I think this sensitivity toward the outcast is the result of a traumatic event that occurred in 1977 when I was only ten years old.  Douglas Miiller was my favorite uncle, we called him “funny Doug”.  He always had a way of making me laugh.  I will never forget getting my first bicycle.  I could not figure out how to ride it so my uncle Doug decided to show me.  He looked so funny on that tiny bike with his knees up around his shoulders.  He went riding down our drive way, lost control and crashed my brand new bike into a tree…that was not so funny.  Thankfully Uncle Doug was fine but the impact bent the front tire of my bike.  My uncle, whom I know was not a wealthy man, immediately went out and purchased me an even better bike, this one had a basket on the front and ribbons on the handle bars.  I loved my uncle Doug.

Sadly, as a young man, Douglas Miiller was drafted into the army and has served a tour of duty in Vietnam.  He never talked about his days in the army but I overheard the adults saying that “it messed him up.”  I never really knew what they meant but in 1977, when he decided to end his life, this part of his past seemed to be the key to understanding why he had lived such a tortured life.  I also gleaned from my keen ability to ease drop on adult conversations, that my uncle had a drinking problem which only contributed to his pain.

He was the first person I can remember losing to death.  Dealing with death is never easy, especially for a ten year old, but adding suicide to that equation makes it even more difficult.  As I mentioned, my family did not attend church so the only images of God available to me were those shared by family and friends who claimed to be Christians.  I will never forget hearing the words, “Your uncle is going to go to hell for what he did.”, spoken by a child I thought was my friend.  This was the message the Church gave me during my time of grief.  These words wounded me so deeply that it was more than twenty years before I was willing to step foot in a church.

My call to create safe spaces for spiritual seekers grows out of this very early wounding by the messages of judgment that I heard as a child.  In my book, “From the Sanctuary to the Streets”, I have captured the stories of many people, who like my Uncle Doug, never found a home in the church walls but whose lives have enriched my own.  My prayer is that my book will bring honor to the lives of those who feel shut out, judged and cast off.  For those are the very people Jesus chose to identify with and spend time with.  It is in the presence of the “least of these” where I have seen the real “Church” come alive.

I know that my experience is unique.  Millions of people find hope, comfort and healing within the walls of the institutional church, so please do not think I am being critical of the local church.  My prayer is that through the stories of those who do not feel welcome in the church with walls, pulpits and steeples, we will begin to see that the Church Universal is far bigger than the structures built by human hands.  It exists in the very people who seek to be Christ in the world and in the faces of those Christ identified with in Matthew 25; those who hunger and thirst, the stranger, the sick and those who are imprisoned.

How has your early experiences with church shaped your faith?  What images of God do you think your children have been taught?  What images of God do we show the world through our words and actions?

I choose the image of the Vietnam memorial for this post to honor both those who have died in battle this memorial day weekend, but also those whom like my uncle had their lives shattered by war.  The lasting effects of the horrors of war continue on for generations.  In some ways, I myself am a victim both through the loss of my uncle and the effects that my uncle’s suicide had on my family, in particular my father who lost his youngest brother.

I pray for peace for all the families across the world who suffer due to war and I lift up a prayer for peace for all the nations.  May your memorial day be peaceful and blessed.

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A Beautiful Day in our Neighborhoods

I just spent the day in “church”, not the kind with walls and steeples and pews and pulpits, but the kind where the walls have been torn down and the Holy Spirit speaks not through the ordained but the delivered.  From Yolanda’s gift of dance and message of surrender, to Mildred’s worship through her gift of song.  I saw God move.  I saw God in the face of the little child who allowed me to carry her through the fellowship, trusting me a stranger.  I saw God move as people build new friendships across race, class and religious back ground.  I saw God full-filling the vision of Embrace that has consistently guided us for the past five years.  That vision “A city united to embrace all; bridging people of every race, class, and religious background together to care for one another.”

Stephanie Rice is our newest AmeriCorps member captured beautifully the spirit of both the Fairfeild community event in her post One Word: Hope – Fairfield Court Fellowship Event and the Hillside event in her post It Takes a Villiage – Hillside Court Fellowship event which are posted over on the Embrace Richmond website.

I shared over on the Embrace Richmond site that our Board of Directors just approved a change in our mission statement in a post titled Our Mission Revisited: Outcome of our Strategic Planning Process.  Our new missions statement “To strengthen impoverished communities by empowering community-based leaders and engaging people of faith in works of service.” more fully captures the heart beat of embrace which is relational ministry that grows out of a shared mission of empowering communities.

Today was a beautiful picture of what true community empowerment looks like.  I encourage you to check out these recent posts on the Embrace Richmond website and to pray for our community based leaders.  They hold the key to unlocking the full potential of their communities.

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Surprise: Setting out on an Adventure

I have never really liked surprises.  Don’t tell my mom but one year my sister and I unwrapped and re-wrapped all our gifts.  I have to admit, we ruined Christmas both for us and for my mom and dad who were robbed of seeing our surprise.

In response to my post “Releasing Creativity”, my friend Tom Mitchell shared the following quote from Walter Brueggeman, “Our penchant for control and predictability, our commitment to quantity, our pursuit of stability and security – all this gives us a sense of priority and an agenda that is concerned to reduce the element of surprise and newness in our lives. And when newness and surprise fail, there is not likely to be graciousness, healing or joy. Enough critics have made the point that when experiences of newness are silenced in our lives, there is no amazement, and where there is no amazement, there cannot be the full coming to health, wholeness and maturity.”(Walter Brueggeman, Living Toward a Vision, (New York: United Church Press, 1987)

As I move from Wendy McCaig, Executive Director, to Wendy McCaig, author, I feel like I have embarked on a whole new adventure.  Even in Embrace Richmond’s unpredictable nature, it has become “normal” for me.  As I contemplate book signings, speaking engagements, traveling, and promotion around my book, there is a real sense of fear of the unknown that lies ahead.

My book has been in print for exactly one week and in the past week, I have had many surprises.  I have gotten emails from friends I have not spoken with in decades congratulating me on my book.  My facebook friends have cheered me on and I have found such joy in getting early comments from those who have read the book already.  However not all the surprises are pleasant, like the fact that the book is listed on amazon for the wrong price, and the fact that it is taking 2 weeks to get my first shipment of books.

I think what I gleaned from the quote that Tom shared is that it is all part of the deal.  When we go on an adventure with God we get both the good and the bad “surprises”, but it is only when we are open to surprise that we open ourselves up to moments of joy that are always a surprise.  I think that moment for me came this week when I showed my daughter the cover of the book which is a picture of my friend Yolanda that my daughter took and her name credited on the back of the cover.  Her surprised face and ultimate smile were priceless.  I wonder if God gets a kick out of surprising His children as much as we human parents do?

Leaving the comfort of what we know and venturing into uncharted waters is never easy.  I find that every time I start to get comfortable, God calls me out on a whole new adventure.  I know many of you are in seasons of discernment.  I think the Brueggeman quote shared by my friend Tom is for all of us whose lives are being shaken and stirred right now.

What do you think of this quote?  Have you found it to be true in your life?  What would you say to those of us who are preparing to set out on a new adventure?  How have you been surprised by God lately?

May we all be open to surprises and experience the joy, healing and amazement that await us.

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Dr. Stephen Brachlow’s Endorsement

I always feel out of place with other writers who share how as kids they loved to read and write stories and always knew they would one day be a writer.  As a young person I was into math and I can count on one hand the books I read before the age of 25.  I wanted to grow up and be an auditor and spent most of my adult life in the business world.   No one is more surprised than I am, that I actually wrote a book.

I owe my new found love of writing to my seminary professor, Dr. Stephen Brachlow.  My first year of seminary, I took Dr. Brachlow’s class “Introduction to Christian Spirituality.” It was the class that most significantly shaped me as a minister.  One of the assignments in this class was something called “Otium Sanctum.” We were to sit silently with God and then write about the experience.  Every morning I would walk down to the dock at the lake and just sit and wait for God to speak to me.  It sounded crazy at first, but I actually found the practice to be enlightening and healing.

The muddy waters of the lake after a heavy rain spoke to my cloudy mind stirred up by all the teachings of my professors.  God sent this one white domestic duck whom I watched for an entire year as it found its way into the companionship of the mallards who dominate the shores of our lake.  God used that one unique duck to speak to me about my journey into the companionship of my new urban friends.  Somehow in writing down these insights, I found the confidence to actually follow God out into the deeper waters of faith as I continually heard Jesus voice encouraging me to step off that dock and join him on the water.

I was petrified when I turned in my first Otium Sanctum and shared how the ducks had ministered to me.  Certainly, Dr. B would think I was crazy!  Instead he wrote “Yes, Yes, wonderful work!.”  In the margins of my papers, he continued to encourage me both in the content of my work and also in my writing with notes like “Beautifully written” or “Wendy, you have a real gift for writing” or a simple “Brilliant!.”  No one had ever encouraged me the way Dr. Brachlow did and I felt like a little rose bud that finally had the water it needed to bloom.  I started sharing my writing with the women in my Quest groups and with family and friends and like Dr. Brachlow, they encouraged me to keep writing.

I was so honored that Dr. Stephen Brachlow, the Professor of Spirituality, at Baptist Theological Seminary, was willing to endorse my book.  I am not sure he even realizes his role in developing my love of writing, but I wanted the world to know how God used this man in my life.

Below is Dr. Brachlow’s endorsement of From the Sanctuary to the Streets:

“This is one of the best, most challenging, and hope-filled books I’ve read in a long time. What makes From the Sanctuary to the Streets so different from other books on the subject is it’s narrative quality—it reads like a novel, chalk-full of personal stories and wisdom born of experience. McCaig has captured qualities of holiness and hope that blossom in some of the most desolate corners of the inner city.”

I want to thank Dr. Brachlow for encouraging, not only me, but all the students who have been blessed to have been shaped by his teaching.

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The Lost Art of Dreaming

When I was a little girl, I remember hearing the song “Windy” by The Association.  Obviously, I assumed the song was about me, since my name was Wendy.  I think one of song’s lyrics somehow got implanted in my brain and shaped my personality.  It was the lyric “Windy has wings to fly, above the clouds, above the clouds.”  In my childhood, I was called a “dreamer,” my teen years an “air head” but I prefer the adult version of a “visionary”.  I believe the ability to dream is a gift from God that allows us to survive and thrive in this world but it is a gift that has been beaten out of many people.

In my book, From the Sanctuary to the Streets, I interview Martha Patrick, who was formerly a case manager with CARITAS.  Martha shares with us that “A dream is a luxury our clients think they can’t afford.  However, with a dream comes hope, hope in a future that is better than today’s reality.  A dream is a powerful motivator.”  Martha’s insights are shared by Ruby K. Payne who writes in her book Bridges Out of Poverty, “Individuals leave poverty for one of four reasons: a goal or vision of something they want to be or have; a situation that is so painful that anything would be better; someone who “sponsors” them (an educator, mentor, or role model who shows them a different way or convinces them that they can live differently); or a specific talent or ability that provides an opportunity for them.”

Over the past six years, I have asked the following question to both economically disadvantaged and wealthy individuals who are a part of our ministry: “If you could do anything for God and knew you would not fail, what would you do?”  As I share in my book, it was this question that launched what ultimately became Embrace Richmond and it is this question that has inspired many who had forgotten how to dream, to begin to envision a world different than the one they see.

I believe if we want to change our own lives or the world around us, we have to rediscover the art of dreaming.  In From the Sanctuary to the Streets, I have captured the dreams of both homeless individuals in our city and those with means.  My hope is that in their dreams, you will discover the lost art of dreaming and add your dreams to theirs.

So, if you could do anything for God and knew you would not fail, what would you do?  Please share your dreams with us because “with dreams comes hope” ̶ and we could all use a little more hope.

Still searching for your God-given dream? Consider ordering a copy of my book and allowing God to speak to you through the voices of the homeless in our city.  Embrace has always attracted dreamers and I had the privilege of interviewing 20 such dreamers from all walks of life.  I promise their stories will inspire you.  If you read the book and are still uninspired, then come hang out in the city with us.   I will give you a personal tour of the inner city and introduce you to some of my friends whom I guarantee will make you look at the world in a whole new way.

May all your God-given dreams come true!

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Elected for Mission?

Lately I have been hanging out over at Jesus Creed and gleaning scraps from the table of some of the most brilliant theologians of our time who are wrestling with some very deep issues related to how we understand the Christian story.  Scott McKnight got to what I think is the core area of contention within the present debate, the issue of election, in his post Soul Sort One More Time: David Opderbeck.

McKnight writes “Scripture seems to suggest quite strongly that God chooses a particular people in Christ.  On this question of particularity, a “missional” approach to election seems to be emerging.  In this view, “election” refers primarily to God’s choice of some people to engage in His mission of redeeming all of creation.  When we reflect on the doctrine of election, the point is not to divide “who’s in and who’s out” in terms of final judgment.  The final judgment is God’s prerogative alone.  What we can know is that, having received the grace of the Gospel, we are chosen to bring the Gospel, in all its fullness, into all of creation.  (For some hints at this approach, see Leslie Newbiggin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, and Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God.)  We, the Church, have been elected for mission.  But this emphatically does not mean that those outside the visible Church are forever outside the reach of God’s grace.”

What would it mean to your faith and the way you understand the Christian Story to see “election” as being chosen to go on mission with God?  What do you think of McKnight’s suggestion that our present focus on election as final judgment is in error?  How would this new way of understanding election change the way you tell the Christian story?

I encourage you all to take a trip over to Jesus Creed and read the whole post.  Also check out some of my other posts related to the topic including Social Justice vs Evangelism, Confessing my Ignorance – Revised, and A new twist on the conversation.

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It’s available, it’s finally available!!!

The book has been released!  You can order your copy at the publisher website

http://wipfandstock.com or

by clicking the book jacket image.

It will take 6-8 weeks for the title to go active on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s sites if you prefer to wait.

I am going to be posting reviews and endorsement info on the blog so please let me know what you think of the book, but be gentle.

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