Thursday, March 23, 2023

Lenten labyrinth practice week 5

It rained all day Wednesday and I didn't really want to walk/pray in the cold rain, so I waited until this morning on my way in to work to stop by the labyrinth at Burks UMC for my weekly lenten practice.

Upon arrival and walking to the entrance, I notice the back end of a bunny rabbit scurrying into the nearby woods. Drats. I had missed an opportunity to gaze upon a rabbit this morning. I didn't mean to scare the little creature away. 

Birds were chirping, singing, and I would even say chattering this morning. They were a lively bunch.

It was cool outside, about 52 degrees Fahrenheit, but I didn't need a jacket. It felt good to feel the air on my arms as I walked around in my short-sleeved shirt.

A tiny bit of fog remained in the distance.

The clouds were puffy white and moving in the sky, not too fast, yet not too slow either.

Among the greenery on the labyrinth path, I spotted a heart-shaped leaf.


The time went by quickly this morning. As I rounded the last bend to enter the straight path toward the center, I found myself questioning how quickly the time had gone. I thought back through the journey to see if I had somehow jumped the path along the way, stepping out of the path somewhere, somehow. I don't think I did. It just seemed too quick for some reason. Maybe it was due to holding space of encouragement for several people today. Or, that I was sipping coffee from my "tree church" mug along the way. I don't know. But, it was a peaceful prayer walk.

I sat on one of the concrete benches for a while. It was cold and wet/damp. I watched the clouds for a moment. I noticed some birds seeking food in the grass nearby. I sipped on my coffee.

I rose and headed out, giving thanks for the time.

Before I knew it, I was at the threshold/entrance. 

I wanted to check out what looked to be yucca in the distance on a path to the side of the greenhouse, into the woods. It turned out to not be yucca, but a clump of flowers without blooms. There was one white flower blooming on the other side of the path. And, there were iris leaves popping up in several places where one wouldn't expect them to be. I suppose beauty can be anywhere. Maybe it's the unexpected places that become more meaningful. 

How that might apply in some sort of life lesson, I don't know. Allow it to sink in if it has something for you. If not, allow it to simply be what it is.

As I was leaving, the carillon bells began to chime the hour. Oops. I would not be arriving to work "on time" today. But that's okay. After the bells chimed, a song played. I rolled down the windows in the car so I could listen as I drove out of the parking lot.

Ah. Though the time in the labyrinth might not have been long nor the overall time spent on location long, there was something peaceful, that refreshed my spirit and soul, that nourished me.

I am grateful for this lenten spiritual practice.

Rev. Deb


I don't know who might understand this one, but the labyrinth is a pokéstop in Pokémon GO. I don't think I knew that before today. It is called "prayer garden" here.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Additional labyrinth walk/prayer this week

I got to walk/pray the labyrinth an additional time this week!

I was invited to the Burks UMC youth group tonight a few weeks back to share and what I shared about was the labyrinth as a spiritual practice.

I shared about the history of the labyrinth at Burks UMC, thanks to one of the founding labyrinth people at Burks UMC, Suzanne LaFever. I also shared a brochure with them, thanks to Jim and Carolyn Rochelle. 

I shared the origin portion with the youth and about the size of the labyrinth. I saved the brochure for our debriefing time.

I gave a short overall introduction to the labyrinth as a spiritual practice before we headed over there.

Here is the information from what Suzanne sent me:

Utilizing the New Labyrinth at Burks

"A labyrinth is a continuous path laid out in a circular pattern which leads to a center section. There is one path in to the center section and you return along the same path. Labyrinths are similar to mazes in outward appearance, but that is where the similarity ends. Mazes have blind alleys and dead ends designed to get you confused and lost. 

Labyrinths are designed to get you organized and found. Labyrinths have been built all over the world for thousands of years. No one is certain of the purpose of the earliest ones, which were built well before the time of Christ. Since medieval times, labyrinths have been built and utilized in Christian
churches for spiritual retreat, meditation and prayer. A prime example is the elaborate 11 circuit Labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in France, which is still in use today.

In recent years, many labyrinths have been built at hospitals, public parks, and private homes, as well as churches and other places of worship throughout the world. Most are located outside and are made from a wide variety of materials.

Labyrinths provide a physical tool for spiritual growth to:
1. Deepen your compassion,
2. Lessen your judgment of others and yourself,
3. Increase your patience, and
4. Find your purpose and share it with the world.

Labyrinths also provide quiet places to calm your mind and focus your thoughts and prayers on the circumstances at hand, whether they be:
1. Grieving a personal loss,
2. Making a difficult decision, or
3. Needing to forgive - others or yourself.

There is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth but there are some general guidelines which should be followed:

1. Remember - Allow your mind to focus on the circumstance at hand.
2. Release - Let go of any pre-conceived expectations.
3. Receive - Pray about the circumstance and listen for direction from God.
4. Resolve - Determine to proceed according to the direction received.

Walking a labyrinth in this manner works because it allows us to be in touch with our mind, body, and spirit simultaneously. Multiple walks may be required to resolve complex issues. The publication “Sacred Path Companion” by Lauren Artress provides more detailed, specific information on walking a labyrinth. 

The New Labyrinth at Burks is a semi-classical 5 circuit labyrinth, 52 feet in diameter. The 3-foot-wide circular path is made of hardwood mulch with grass borders. The outside border is formed by 170 heavy edging bricks. The center section is 12 feet in diameter and contains 3 curved concrete benches for rest, meditation and prayer. You enter and exit across 4 large paving stones on the right side.

The idea for a labyrinth at Burks originated during a spiritual retreat at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, in July 2009. The design concept was developed by Leila Niemann, after she and Suzanne LaFever attended a seminar on modern labyrinths, in Louisville, later that year. Construction was completed by Burks members and friends in December 2011, using funds from donations for that specific purpose.

The New Labyrinth at Burks honors Pastor Rhonda Hobbs. It is for use by the entire community - not just Burks’ members. All are welcome. Both individual and group use is encouraged. Since the area is not lighted, use must be limited to daylight hours.

There is no cost to users. We only request that you report any damage found to the church office, so the Labyrinth at Burks can be properly maintained."

Here are JPGs of the brochure:

It was a cool experience to walk/pray the labyrinth with a group of people and then to debrief the experience with them afterwards.

I heard the crunch of my shoes on the mulch and birds singing. I saw the bright blue sky at times and my shadow as I turned on the path. I felt the warmth of the sun as it bore down upon me, helping take away some of the chill from the cold afternoon.

Being with others in silence is a comfortable experience for me. I learned about active silence in groups in the 2 Year Academy for Spiritual Formation. There is something deep and holy to being with others in silence.

Riley and I stayed for dinner after the debriefing and then joined the youth for some s'mores at the firepit. I just roasted some marshmallows, but it was fun!

Dan Boland made a great fire and he made the most perfect marshmallows too!

If you've not walked/prayed a labyrinth, I invite/encourage you to try it. It's not too late to add it as a Lenten practice.

Here's to the adventurous journey!

Rev. Deb

Ongoing learning--thanks, UMC Next Conversations!

We deplore acts of hate or violence
against groups or persons base on 
race, color, national origin, ethnicity
age, gender, disability, status,
economic condition, sexual
orientation, gender identity,
or religious affiliation.

I attended the UMC Next Conversations on Saturday, March 11th at Central United Methodist Church in Knoxville UMC. Even though I'm not currently serving a church, I still want to keep up with what is going on in the conference.

The three main topics and speakers were: 

  • Race and the UMC-- Rev. Sharon Bowers
  • Transition to a Reconciling Community-- Greg Smith from First United Methodist Oak Ridge
  • Reconciling Ministries Network-- Helen Ryde

There was also a panel of  five speakers that answered questions and shared about their faith, what drew them to the UMC, and why they have stayed. It was interesting to hear their stories.


When it comes down to it, it's about listening to one another's stories, creating spaces to share and listen.

Listen. This past week, Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote about this very topic on his "Unfolding Light" site. He wrote: 


Some people need a good talking to.
But almost everybody needs a good listening to.
Being reflected changes light. Being heard changes people.

Let their speaking be all there is.
Silence your own noise so you can really hear them.
Pocket your thoughts. Table your advice.

Listen like the earth listens to the rain.
Dry earth doesn't take in the rain very well.
Practice listening so you can hear.

Listen like the violin listens to the string.
Listen deeply: to their soul, their silences.
Listen like God listens to your prayers.

In the clear space of being heard
people may hear themselves for the first time,
hear echoes of the divine between the words.

Someone who hears you hearing them
can believe God has heard them as well.
Listen for God's listening in people.

Like midwives
we can listen each other into wholeness,
listen people to life.

Back to the Holston Conference UMC Next Conversations workshop.

I didn't take tons of notes or pictures, but I took a few of each. I was sitting in the back of the room, however, so the pictures didn't turn out so great.  The one good picture I have is the banner that the church has on the outside. It is on the top of this page.

My notes from Sharon Bowers:

Sharon reminded us that racism is still real, that it is a social construct, and that we need to break down systems. She offered us 4 words beginning with the letter "A":

  • agitator-- become an agitator-- stir it up, she said. That made me think of the agitator in a washing machine for some reason, though not all washing machines have those these days. The agitator's purpose is to move things around. 
  • agency-- be at the table, speak, do intervention
  • advocacy-- show public support
  • activists-- change policies and procedures

Through these, we are to create a convergence.

A wonderful resource that Sharon mentioned is GCORR-- General Commission on Religion and Race. They offer resources in the form of videos, books, downloads, etc. I invite and encourage you to check out their resources.

We must work to dismantle and deconstruct oppressive systems.

Holston Conference committed to dismantling racism. There is a link here with information and resources for dismantling racism in general. You can follow the links on the left hand side to go to the specific resources for the Holston Conference, or you can click here for those.

We watched an informative, yet difficult to watch video that proves that racism is still real. Comments were read by white colleagues that had been said and/or written by our colleagues of color. There were moments of tears, hurt, and anger as I/we listened to what my dear brothers, sisters, siblings have endured. And, these weren't from YEARS ago. These were recent. My heart breaks. These are the things that break the heart of God, too. How do I know that? Maybe it is just my opinion. But I base it on this--Jesus was brown. And because of that, I think he would be heart-broken to hear, to know, to see how lighter skinned people treat people of different skin color. I think Jesus would have much to say about that and how different people treat all kinds of different people. Jesus taught us better. Jesus reached out to the other. Jesus touched the other. Jesus loved the other. Jesus made the other feel safe.

I hope that I can be more like Jesus in loving others that way.

I digressed a bit from my notes.

The others who shared were Greg Smith and Helen Ryde.

Greg Smith shared how the congregation at Oak Ridge became a Reconciling Ministries Network Church. As I mentioned above, I am not currently serving a church, so the details (though interesting) weren't applicable to me. He did, however, mention that they used "Draw the Circle Wide" as a theme. That caught my attention. It's a song written by Mark Miller. It can be found in the Worship & Song book, #3154. Here is the history of that song from UMC Discipleship.

Here are the lyrics to "Draw the Circle Wide":

Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.
No one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side.
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide. 

Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. 
Let this be our song: no one stands alone 
Standing side by side, 
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide. 

Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. 
Let this be our song: no one stands alone
Standing side by side, 
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide. 

Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. 
Let this be our song: no one stands alone 
Standing side by side, 
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide. 

JPG I created from a PDF for a service in which we used this song

Greg Smith mentioned some of the resources they used. One was from Reconciling Ministries Network: the Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit. Another was from the Lutheran Reconciling group: it was a Faith Community Assessment Survey.

I am including links to both of those here, in case anyone would like to check those out:

Helen Ryde spoke about the anti-LGBTQ+ laws, the thinking, and how it is supported by toxic/deadly theology. Up to the point she spoke on that day there had been about 460 anti-trans bills across about 43 states. 

There are several sites to go to for the statistics. One is the ACLU--American Civil Liberties Union. They have an up-to-date map of the states, with information on the laws.

Helen shared that 2 Corinthians 5:18 is the origin for the word "reconciling" in Reconciling Ministries Network: "All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation."

The ongoing work of RMN is changing hearts and minds, changing practice, and changing policy.

Telling the story of change is part of the work, as is the work of building relationships with people, and  listening to peoples' stories. 

As I mentioned previously, I didn't do a super job of taking notes. Nor did I take a close and personal look at the book table that had all the books on racism. I did, however, ask for a bibliography and that is in the works!

Ongoing learning is important to me. I want to listen to stories, perspectives.

I also want to be part of keeping my brothers, my sisters, my siblings in good health, alive and well, and living their best lives, like all of us hope to live. I have family members who are persons of color. I don't ever want them to be hurt by a society that is ignorant or fearful of them. I have family members who are LGBTQ+. I don't ever want them hurt by a society that is ignorant or fearful of them. 

I share what I learn as I learn it in hopes that what I learn is helpful to someone else.

May the peace of Christ, who loves deeply, continue to show us the way on the adventurous journey, 

Rev. Deb

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Lenten practice--week 4

I was able to walk/pray the labyrinth at Burks UMC this evening for my Lenten practice. The weather was perfect with a clear blue sky and the sun still shining.  It was cool, but not as cool as yesterday. The sun caused my shadow to cross the labyrinth when it was lined up just so. 

The violet flowers were still alive, even with the old snap. Dandelions were blooming and bright yellow. 

What came to mind tonight as I walked/prayed was this breath prayer: 

Breathing in the love of Christ
Breathing out all else

As I breathed in and out, I thought about being filled with love. As love fills every space, every crevice, every cell in my body, then love will be what flows out. As I empty myself of all else, love can fill me up. When I don't know how to respond, I can respond in love. Love wins.

Tonight there was a gentleman sitting next to me who said that he may not know everyone in the room, but he loves them. I believe him. He has a huge heart. I walked a part of life with him years back and have experienced his heart and his love for God and others. His words were an example for us all. Love can be a foundation. 

May love be a foundation for us all, allowing our thoughts and actions to flow from it accordingly. 

Here are some pictures from my labyrinth walk:

Peace and love on the ongoing journey, 
Rev. Deb

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Lenten practice week 3

I have normally been walking/praying the labyrinth at Burks UMC on Wednesdays. This week it didn't happen. I was able to walk this morning before heading to work. Though cloudy, it was a beautiful morning.The flowers were more abundant today than in the past. There wasn't any heavy burdens this morning for me tocarry to the center. Not that there aren't many things on my heart and mind. It was just not part of today's journey. 

It was as if I was reminded that I don't always need to carry those things with me. Though they are part of my world, I can set them aside at times. I am reminded that I can walk in freedom and peace.

Today's walk/prayer was just that-- freedom, peace, full of color. 

As I reflected on the flowers, my thoughts were of gratitude and thankfulness.

A Haiku inspired by today's time in the labyrinth:

Thankful for this day
Colorful flower patches
Along the path's way
DD, 3/9/23

Here are photos from my time at the labyrinth:

Monday, March 6, 2023

Ongoing learning- thanks, Pilgrim, for the Gender Diversity Forum/Workshop!


Yesterday I attended a forum/workshop on gender diversity at Pilgrim Church in Chattanooga. I learned several things from the presenter (Charity Muse) and I learned some things from my experience of my chosen t-shirt.

I will share what I learned yesterday in this blog post, plus some links from the forum/workshop.

Where to begin?

As a linguist (by definition, a person skilled in foreign languages and a person who studies linguistics), it surprised me that I was surprised to learn that the language usage for LGBTQ+ and gender diversity is fluid, changing. What I mean is that I should not have been surprised. I should know better. Before I get on to myself for "shoulding myself" I will stop. But that caught my attention yesterday. 

Language matters. The language we use matters. Because language matters, we need to keep learning and be willing to ask questions, etc.

For example, there are terms that used to be used years ago, but they are no longer appropriate now.

One such term is gender re-assignment surgery. A more appropriate term is gender affirming surgery.

Another example that caught my attention is the term "folx". It is a term for "folks". It is meant to be inclusive and uses the "x" in solidarity with the Latinx community. What I learned is that much language change starts out on the west coast and makes its way east. Often, terms have been edited or dropped by the time we just started using them this far east and south. For the term "folx" for example, it turns out that "folks" was already fairly inclusive and not as "bad" as some initially thought.

There are vocabulary lists for reference and to learn from, available at different sites.  One is 

Here is a good chart for LGBTQ inclusive Do/Don't for terms/vocabulary.

One of the first words in a vocabulary list is "ally".  What is an ally? From the Safe Zone project definition, an ally is: 

ally /“al-lie”/ – noun : a (typically straight and/or cisgender) person who supports and respects members of the LGBTQ community.  We consider people to be active allies who take action on in support and respect.

What does it take to be an ally? Here is a link from The Trevor Project: Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Non-Binary Young People

Being an ally is not always easy. Yet, more difficult than being an ally is being dismissed or despised for who and how you were created to be. I live in the state of Tennessee. It has been fairly safe over the years for non-white, non-heterosexual, non-English speaking people. However, things are getting worse, going backwards quickly to the early 1900s.  Fear and ignorance have raised their ugly heads to bring hatred and cruelty to the surface once again, creating difficulty for those who are different and in the eyes of the law makers, seemingly, not worthy of living. The slate of hate that is being passed in the state of Tennessee that is geared toward the transgender community only sets things back. Where people had access to healthcare and treatment, they are now considered illegal activities. Do law makers really think that gender diversity is a new thing? It isn't. The existence of transgender people go back centuries in the world and go back hundreds of years in the United States. 

Here are some links that show the history of transgender people: 

National Geographic article on How Historians are Documenting the Lives of Transgender People

Transgender History in the United States (PDF by Genny Beemyn)

What about attempting to understand a transgender person or the transgender community?

One of the activities we did in the forum/workshop yesterday was extremely helpful, albeit difficult. It was a privilege activity, the cisgender edition. (If the word "cisgender" is unknown, check out one to the vocabulary links above.) There were 21 items on our list and we could only choose 4 out of the 21. Four. That's all we were allowed. 

I invite you to look at any one of the links below, as they are similar to the Privilege Activity I did.

A helpful article: Human Rights Campaign: Understanding the Transgender Community

Some of the graphics shared yesterday came from TSER-- Trans Student Resources

As I look at their page currently, here are a couple of graphics that I want to share:

Gender Grammar

5 Things You Should Know about Trans People

I wasn't sure I would be able to make it yesterday to the Gender Diversity forum/workshop. We spent the weekend away, celebrating our anniversary and I wasn't sure we would make it back in time. But we did, so I signed up last minute and attended in person.

I am familiar with Pilgrim Church, UCC. That's where PFLAG was held pre-pandemic. It hasn't resumed post-pandemic just yet. I have also attended there during Pride Weed for worship. I chose an affirming t-shirt, one of Naked Pastor's designs to wear, as it fit the theme:

Wearing it at the church was easy. There were like-minded people there who showed up for the educational opportunity. Even so, I prepared myself to explain the heart-shaped island with Jesus hugging the transgender sheep. 1 John 4:8- God is love.

I decided to go for a walk on the Tennessee Riverwalk on my way home, to one of my favorite walking spots... the bug park. I like it because I can "go down to the river to pray" and I enjoy the playground areas too.

Here is where I learned about myself a little more.

I realized that my t-shirt targeted me in public, if anyone knew what it represented and/or understood it. As I understood that, I was more cognizant of my surroundings as I walked. As I was more aware, I realized how much privilege I have as a white cisgender female. Even wearing my transgender t-shirt. Though I may have felt a tad concerned in my t-shirt, I only understood maybe 1% of what it feels like to be seen and be concerned how others might treat you differently for their perception of you. 

It made me think. It was a cause for a pause. 

I have a stack of LGBTQ+ ally t-shirts. I don't wear them as often as I used to since I'm not currently serving a Reconciling Ministry Network Church. However, I'm not afraid to wear them.

They can be a good conversation starter. I hope so.

I hope to continue my learning, my advocacy, my ally-ship.

And, I hope that others might be willing to learn from what I have learned.

I don't know when Pilgrim will offer their next "Journey with Pilgrim" conversation, but I do know that there is a conversation coming up this Saturday (March 11th at 10 am) in the Holston Conference: Next Conversations.  Check it out.

Thanks for sharing this adventurous journey with me, 

Rev. Deb

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Short get away-- peace and outdoor time

We took off with Cliff after the rain on Friday afternoon to Rising Fawn. I know that isn't a far "get away" from home, yet the porch and the fenced in dog pen had gotten our attention. 

It was a wonderful place for us and Cliff!

There was a peace pole outside the front door. Peace poles are meaningful to me and this one had several things that caught my attention. 

The screened in back porch was perfect for us and Cliff. It was a wonderful place for coffee, reading, writing, and dinner our first night.

We walked the Sitton Gulch Trail on Saturday morning.  It was our 2nd time there; Cliff's first. There was so much trillium! Some of it was already blooming. There were many other wild flowers-- tooth wort, anemone, yellow things that I forgot their name, etc. The creek, was flowing quite nicely. 


After a break back at our place, we took Cliff to Cloudland Canyon State Park. We went to the 2nd overlook, then walked a portion of the blue trail. Then we drove to the back side a went on the Pathkiller Loop Trail. It was a 1.1 trail, going through the woods and coming out onto a road to take back to the cars. We probably did about 4 miles total. 

We stopped at the Guild Trail on our way home today. We walked in to the 2nd Bridge and back. We saw the Incline go by twice (no photos).


Cliff was a trooper during our expeditions.

It was good to have some nature/outdoor time this weekend and some time away.

Peace, be still.