God in close-up
Betty was born in Jersey City, N.J. She was the town clerk in a small New York community for many years.
She volunteered at the ecumenical food pantry, was a charter member of the volunteer ambulance corps and was involved in the local historical society.
Betty and her husband operated a tavern. Her travels included trips to Ireland, Italy, Germany and riding a dogsled over snowy terrain in Alaska when she was in her 80s.
She loved dogs. She was well-read. She was a Democrat. Her grown grandchildren adored her, and she respected and loved them.
Betty was an amazing woman. There’s a lot more to know about Betty, and I only learned these things at her funeral.
Long-shot vs close-up
In a movie, a "long-shot” sets the scene -- the camera may focus on an aerial view of a city or town hit by a tornado, flood, earthquake or bomb.
In a long-shot, we may see a wide expanse of ocean with plumes of smoke and fire bursting into the heavens.
In movies, we also see close-ups: the tender kiss between lovers, a tear falling from the eye of a lonely child, the hand reaching for a knife, an eye peering from around a curtain.
Camera angles and sizes are among the many tools a filmmaker uses to tell a story.
God appears to us in close-up.
Two women from the neighborhood Lutheran church walked up many flights of stairs to talk to my mother about God, inviting her children to vacation Bible school.
These disciples knocked on the door, sat and drank tea with us and spoke our language. There was nothing long-shot about this visit. These women came close-up.
From that close-up encounter, I became a Christian.
Mark the Evangelist gives us a close-up account
Today, April 26, the church remembers Mark the Evangelist. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus comes into contact with men, women and children -- in close-up.
In one encounter, he enters a house where people are weeping over the death of a 12-year-old girl. Taking the grieving parents into the bedroom, Jesus takes the girl by the hand and brings her back to life -- and the parents are overcome with amazement! Jesus "strictly ordered them that no one should know this” (Mark 5:43).
Jesus does this a number of times in Mark’s Gospel, reminding people and even the demons not to tell anyone about what he has done. But most can’t help themselves -- they just have to share the good news.
Neighbors near and far away
In a previous blog Dying Congregations, I talked about five ELCA congregations in rural New York.
We started meeting together monthly to pray, share ideas and discuss how to overcome the grim statistics of faltering finances and declining membership.
Two years later, only three congregations remain officially opened, including mine -- St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Narrowsburg, N.Y.
Betty was a long-time member of Paul’s. Over the years, she was a council member, lector and worship assistant. She baked, cooked and served at numerous church functions.
Betty had a dry, witty manner and would "tell it like it is.” But I only knew Betty in long-shot -- and that is my loss.
I am still learning what it means to share God’s love -- in close-up -- with those I see each week in church and with my neighbors -- neighbors who, as the hymn, "Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love" (ELW 708) goes, "are nearby and far away.”
It prompts the question posed by the lawyer to Jesus -- "And who is my neighbor?” As the parable concludes, Jesus turned the tables on the question and asked "Which one … was a neighbor?”(Luke 10:36).
Too often we get preoccupied with the lawyer’s perspective. We want to rationalize that "they” have "their” churches. "It's hard to get the ethnic people into our church,” a faithful congregant said. "They have their churches, and we are different.”
We can get caught up with our differences and what "they” are like. But Jesus turns to us and asks us to BE the neighbor. He doesn't specify to whom. Just BE. To whomever we encounter.
Being the neighbor
Being a neighbor does not take grandiose gestures. It does not require spectacular acts. It is, however, intentional.
Begin by getting to know that person next to you, and listen (and respond) from the heart.
When we are confronted with world disasters, go beyond the television images of exploding bombs, giant tsunami waves and arguing pundits. Discover the people -- those suffering and those serving -- in close-up, behind the long-shot of devastation taking place at home and around the world.
That’s the beauty of being the church: It’s one place where we can discover neighbors who are near and far away.
Love and blessings
fell like rain on thirsty land.
Fields and gardens
came to life in dust and sand.
These lyrics from Paul Simon’s song "Love and Blessings." are simple and profound. There are neighbors who are longing for the rain to fall on them. They are waiting for your listening ear. They are waiting for your loving response. You can make it rain for them -- in close-up.
Fern Lee Hagedorn is a writer, filmmaker and advocate of the Bible for the post-literate, she spearheaded a project to translate the Scriptures into new media.