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"Love Rises:" Pentecost Sermon, May 2016

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"We are this beautiful gift of God, given to this world to bear witness of what love looks like."--Becca

On May 15, 2016, Becca shared a sermon on Pentecost with the congregation of Marble Collegiate Church. As you watch the video below, we hope you feel inspired by love.

 

Thank you to Pastor Brown and your community for hosting Thistle Farms.

Original Recording Credit: Marble Congregational Church Original Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Views from the Farm: Speaking Trip to Montgomery, Alabama

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This is a guest post by one of the amazing assistants, Jordan, who is reflecting on his first time being out on the road with the Thistle Farms travel crew. He is way too kind---but his tender words are a gift to those still searching for their place in the circle. Peace, Becca,

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I must say that now having a trip under my belt I feel ever so slightly more official in my Thistle Farmer status...

During the first week of May 2016, I had the great opportunity to head down to Montgomery, Alabama--my first time in that city as well--with Susan, Jennifer and Rita. We met Becca, who was coming from another engagement, down there. Along the way, we made the obligatory fast food stop, listened to NPR, reflected on our journeys thus far, and enjoyed the blessing of extending love's great reach to even more hearts and minds. Without question, some of the most important work that a Thistle Farmer can do is speak her truth, and the fact that so many events and organizations make space for us to do that is testament to why we all fell in love with love from the first time we lit a Thistle Farms candle, heard Becca speak, or worked in service to the amazing women who are changing the course of their destiny with each success they have in recovery.

Of course, for me, one of the highlights of the whole experience was hearing Becca give a keynote. Speaking about the power of "Acting Globally, Helping Locally," the Boss did what she does well: combined humor, compassion, insight, conviction, and hope into a journey that her audience thoroughly enjoyed taking with her as they learned about why the movement to end human trafficking locally must be global. While there are many things that stood out for me in hearing these truths once more, I was personally convicted by hearing Becca talk about the fact that she's never taken a salary for her work with Thistle Farms:

"I offer this work up as a free gift, for this community and in gratitude for all the mercy that people have shown me in my life."

That wasn't my first time encountering such a sweet truth that undergirds the foundation of all that we do at Thistle Farms--this lavishness of love--but it was the first time that I was able to make such a personal connection to the message behind it. There has yet to be a day when I haven't been blessed in some way by being in service to this community. Even looking back on my internship back in 2011, something about Becca's work called to me then, and such a calling ultimately brought me back to that stretch of earth on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, TN where the ground is bursting forth with the unfolding promise of love as the most powerful force for social change.

As such, I feel the gift that Becca has extended to me in taking me under her mentorship, and I feel the path unfolding before all of us as we strive to create a national housing-first network in all 50 states over the next few years. Accordingly, I conclude this entry with sincere thanks, not only for the opportunity to have traveled, but for being welcomed back into this circle when I needed it more than I ever realized.

With love, Jordan

Original image credit: pixabay.com

Sermon for Advent

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Three times since the early death of my father, when I was five and before my memories could take root, I have dreamed of him: once in college, once at a church convention in 2003, and last week while I slept in the hills of Alabama. He was an Episcopal priest and I have loved carrying on his legacy of serving the church and loving the sacraments. In the most recent dream, we were together in the sacristy at St. Augustine’s Chapel where we keep all the vestments, candlesticks, and wine and where I have worked setting up altars for more than 20 years. When I picked up the two candlesticks my father’s old mission church had given to the chapel years ago, my father showed me that hidden inside the candlestick base were wads of lamb’s wool that he had stored long ago. Lamb’s wool is the traditional fiber that priests use to apply dabs of healing oil while administering the sacraments. When I took out the wool, another older man was in the sacristy with us. He had tears welling up in his eyes and my father gave me permission to take the wool and dry his tears. Two months ago I was asked by the University of Virginia to write a chapter for a book about forgotten saints in the American Church. I was assigned a man whom I had never heard of named William Stringfellow. He was a lay activist and lawyer who, after the death of his lifelong friend/collaborator and roommate of decades, wrote a book about grief—detailing how it spurs us into intense theological reflection about living in the now. He wrote how Jesus should be integral to the conversation about the state of injustices and theological issues that are before us. He wrote about the idolatry of racism, patriotism, our love of work and money, and our idolatry of the church and that “Nothing seems more bewildering to a person outside the Church about those inside the Church than the contrast between how Christians behave in society and what Christians do in the sanctuary.”

William was a tireless crusader who housed the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, and the Jesuit priest, Daniel Berrigan, when they visited New York in the 1960s. He fought for peace and human rights, and stood with those living in poverty. There is debate over whether Stringfellow and his friend had been lovers, but there is no debate that Stringfellow denounced homophobic practices in the church as a sin the institution needed to lay to rest. I have struggled with some of his line of thinking and overly simplistic views of how to solve economic, racial and political injustices, but I knew that the man in my dream whose eyes I was anointing with my father’s lamb’s wool, were William’s eyes.

The gift of this dream and of learning about William Stringfellow as a dissenter within the church have made the path in the wilderness a bit straighter for me as we wind our way through another season of Advent. The path is made by a balm in the wilderness of Gilead in which we can find healing beneath the golden candles that mark our altars and institutions. The prophets and John call us today to follow a haling path that leads us hope. When I think of stringfellow loving the world and the church and yet never being able to be fully himself within the institution, my heart aches for him. We can’t count the number of saints who have lived quietly in closets or feared judgment by calling for full inclusion within the body of Christ. I have seen inspiring gay and lesbian candidates for ordination in many churches go into exile to find a space to discern their calls. I have witnessed faithful members of congregations in all denominations seek the help of outside pastors in order to marry. In my twenty years at this chapel, I have heard heartbreaking stories about the painful struggle of men and women trying to unite their sexuality and spirituality, yet remain within the body of the church. I can see their eyes tear and don’t possess the wool to wipe them away. In my dream the healing balm in the lamb’s wool, tucked beneath the light, is compassion bestowed with a fearless love for all people. It makes sense to me that the bearer of the healing wool was my father, whose only line of preaching I know is from a slip of paper that read, “In the shadow of his cross may your soul find rest.” We are called to love and heal in the midst of the shadows of our own suffering and the suffering in the world. Whether we are talking about the suffering from the violence of war, economics, or oppression, always we are called to look beneath the golden, shiny candles adorning altars to find healing in the wilderness. Without loyalty to love, an institution holds little light. The lambs wool reminds us that the ethics we are called to practice are not about applying some abstract notion of moral righteousness, but about obedience to a God who loves all creation.

The reading from Baruch is from the Apocrypha, the intertestamental writings. Baruch was the scribe of Jeremiah who spoke to a congregation in crisis and exile. He pronounced to the community that no one has power over you. If you didn’t polish the candlesticks, you would see how tarnished they are. You have nothing to fear, even in a world with terror, refugees, war, injustice, and trafficking. You are part of the vision of love, called to be unwavering in your commitment to seeing a kingdom where the hills are made low for all people to cross, where the valleys are raised up for all people to gather. John the Baptist picks up Baruch’s cry in his own wildernerness and says, “'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.” This is the first Advent I have read this passage and wondered about the timber of John’s cry. In this reading it doesn’t sound angry, although I am sure there was some anger there. In this passage his cry doesn’t sound like a lament, but I am sure there was loneliness out there reading Baruch and listening for God’s voice. John’s cry to me sounds like a song of hope, sung to the tune of “There is a Balm in Gilead" with a chorus of “What Wondrous Love.” It is a cry that calls out to all people that we can prepare a highway for love, for our children, and their children. We don’t have to get discouraged or feel our work is in vain.

Thistle Farms, the social enterprise started at this chapel is as a beacon of light to hundreds of women survivors, and has sold more than 10,000 candles this year. We say we light the candle for the woman trying to find her way home and for those still suffering on the streets. Lighting these candles of love and hope for 15 years daily has taught me that we are not alone in the wilderness. There are brother and sisters with us who share the light and who long for the healing balm beneath the light that fuels the candle. We have plans to double those candle sales in 2016, to light another 20,000 so we can continue to be a movement proclaiming that love heals and love is the most powerful force for change in the world. We can only continue to preach and live that theology if we are willing to reach beneath the light and offer a healing balm to the person next to us to is weeping.

We are going to keep the cry going in our wildernesses by trying to love the whole world a person at a time. Let our prayer this Advent be to do it as clearly and faithfully as we can and keep the healing oil flowing so the light is shining.

Prayer for Mayor Barry and Vice Mayor Briley on their Inauguration

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Above the rich soil in Tennessee where native visions lie in silent repose, we walk a path cleared by the salt of tears and sweat. With new visions for Nashville rising with this sunrise, we stand on hope older than the limestone beds made by wandering sands. Even though from time to time this path is covered by the withered vines of forgetfulness, we know the way. Deep roots of justice that were planted back in Eden keep us heading to higher ground. So as Megan Barry, David Briley, and all the council start on this new journey, let our prayer be to guide them on the ancient path where love leads. Fill them with the oldest vision. When they find themselves lost or covered in the thick tangles of fear, anger, or power, let them feel this solid ground where chert, limestone and roots give strength. May they feel ancient wisdom on this hallowed ground as they dream new dreams. Keep them safe as they pass through hills and green valleys. Let them long for justice as a deer longs for a brook. Watch their backs like the red tailed hawk on a steeple. Guide them with mercy so they never get lost. Let this prayer join the chorus of others and sink deep into our hearts and bind us again to this sacred ground for the sake of our children's children. Amen Photo courtesy

Building Community-Rooted Change: A Path Appears

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"The new documentary series A Path Appears featuring Thistle Farms premieres on PBS' Independent Lens program Monday, January 26 at 9:00 p.m. CST. It celebrates brave women who dared to speak their truth... We hope it broadens the conversation about human trafficking in the U.S. while increasing awareness of our work at Thistle Farms. We need all our friends to share the message of how people can join the movement. We need each other to do this work, which is not issue-oriented but rather community rooted, to create systemic change. Please share this blog post and offer these ideas for how to Take Action. " Rev. Becca Stevens

IDEAS OF HOW TO TAKE ACTION:

1. Host a Justice Tea party for your friends with Moringa Tea harvested by women farmers in Mexico. Contact events@thistlefarms.org or info@sharedtrade.org for information about Moringa Tea.

2. Purchase 2 Germanium Sprays - one for you, one for a friend. Keep the bugs away and help provide sustainable employment for women in Rwanda.

3. Become a Social Media Advocate for Thistle Farms. Share our story, share your story, join the movement for women's freedom. CLICK HERE or email mailinglist@thistlefarms.org. 4. Encourage Men's groups to buy Hope Candles (details forthcoming) and broaden our reach to keep changing a culture that still buys and sells women. Contact events@thistlefarms.org or info@sharedtrade.org.

5. Join the Shared Trade movement to learn how women are joining together all over the world.

"A Path Appears" premieres on PBS January 26 at 9:00 p.m. Central, and continues February 2 & February 9. Thistle Farms is featured prominently in the first episode.

Give Me That Old Time Religion

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Good news sometimes is the oldest news we know. We don’t have to overcomplicate it. We just have to take out the trash when the trashcan is full and keep doing the daily work.
- Becca

Give me that old time religion is the refrain from the gospel tune of the late 19th century. It’s a sweet mantra to hum while communities of faith explore how to respond to the universal issues of sexual violence, trafficking, and prostitution. The old wounds humanity carries from these issues demand that we respond with love, the oldest and deepest truth of religion.

Our culture is just beginning to see the scope of the problem, the connection of child sexual trauma and addiction and the pathway this traumatic history lays out to prison. The women who join the community of Thistle Farms and Magdalene, a national bath and body care company with residential homes for survivors, are, on average, first raped between the ages of 7 and 11, and hit the streets in their teenage years. The national conversations in churches, the media and in conferences are changing as people now speak out about how before women were criminalized, they had been victimized for years. Its inspiring to feel the current change and feel that we are being carried down river a bit towards more just shores.

Yet in my conversations in hundreds of churches over the past 15 years, it feels like many still turn a blind eye to the connection between child abuse, runaways, and trafficking. Faith communities are still reluctant to speak out boldly against people being bought and sold as commodities and downloaded in two dimensions, giving no thought as to the individual being used. There is still a sense that one can buy and sell images and use people without there being any harm to that person.

So we need some good old-fashioned religion to infuse our communities and use the most powerful force for social change in the world—LOVE. We need to become a living and breathing movement capable of embracing the backside of anger, the shadow side of our world, the underside of bridges, the short side of justice, and the inside of prisons. This movement about women’s freedom, grounded in the belief that love heals, is rooted in radical hospitality that is offered without judgment and that is cast wide enough to reach the hell of the streets and entrenched prisons.

There was a moment about a year ago when I felt the shift as Thistle Farms became more than a sanctuary and social enterprise. It became part of a movement as churches from around the country began to invite us to share the vision about how we can all get involved to help women navigate unworkable systems, shortsighted politics, and violence to find their way home to sanctuary. It is beginning, but it will take many more communities that want to offer free long-term housing, begin radical social enterprises, and support work going on in communities such as Thistle Farms in Nashville, Eden house in New Orleans, and Magdalene St. Louis. To realize a movement requires that we are all willing to be idealists. We have to dream of a world where children are safe and rape victims expect justice.

Idealism doesn’t mean being pollyannaish about the world. We know it’s harsh and we have heard the war stories from Kigali, Houston, Lawala, Guayaquil, Omaha, Kampala, and every other city where we have traveled, stories of people who bear the common pain of sexual trauma on their individual backs.  In each of these places named above we have been invited to partner with their local groups to create an emerging network of sister organizations. We have just been invited to Lexington, KY where a group from a local church has launched a new residential program called “The Well”.  We are committed to helping each other with best practices and expanding our market share to support our individual social enterprises. There are now 20 to 30 new emerging communities that share the work, a witness to the truth that women in loving and compassionate communities do recover and find restitution and freedom.

It takes a great deal of humility to face universal issues by loving individual women in small groups. By working humbly as a community, we can do more to prevent women from relapsing back to the streets and dying from the violence and drugs that thrive there. We can do more to meet the economic, physical, psychological, educational and spiritual needs of women who have survived by embracing this ideal of a movement.

I long for faith-communities to go beyond being “mission-minded” into being so idealistic, humble, and close that, like the old time religion, the spirit moves freely to release the captives, preach good news to the poor, and give sight to all of us who are still blind. Good news sometimes is the oldest news we know. We don’t have to overcomplicate it. We just have to take out the trash when the trashcan is full and keep doing the daily work.

Becca with Dorris - her first time at the beach.
Becca with Dorris - her first time at the beach.

Last summer a group of women in Pensacola, Florida invited us to help them to think about how to begin planting seeds for the movement there. One of the graduates of Thistle Farms who went with me was Dorris Walker. When Dorris was a child she witnessed the murder of her father and was abused as a very young teen. As a young woman she ended up walking a ten-block radius on the streets of Nashville for 26 years. In all that she had witnessed and endured, no one had ever shown her the beach. It was on the trip to Florida that her feet first touched the sugar sands and she saw the sunrise from the coast. When she stepped into the ocean and felt the tide for the first time in her life, she threw her arms up and asked, “Has this been doing this my whole life?” As long as the moon has been spinning around the earth, the tide has been coming in. Like love it is old and true. Sometimes it just takes a community to help us get to the shore to feel its power and remember the source.

As we grow this movement to address the issues of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution, let us confirm that this work is sustainable for the long haul. With more faith communities investing in long-term housing and social enterprise, there will be less recidivism, women reclaiming families, a decrease in court restitution costs, an increase in gainful employment with decreasing disability payments, and by the sale of innovative products and services by the new business of social enterprises, we will save our communities millions of dollars. We can help protect the next generation, and we can live more deeply into the truths we long to believe. It can infuse our lives with new spirit and be a means to revive the vitality of our common worship.

Love is both lavish and economical. It’s beyond seeing what our values are in the marketplace and looking at how we can change the marketplace through increased economic and political leverage for others. Last October Thistle Farms held its first national conference and launched a new shared-trade initiative. People from more than 30 states joined our commitment to use economic and political resources to help our collective work thrive. Love heals, inspires, and changes us for its own sake.

You can join this movement by becoming a Thistle Farmer, sharing your truth in love, and coming to the next national conference on October 12-14 in Nashville, TN.  You can bring Thistle Farms products to your community, and host a flash tea and justice party this summer (news coming soon1).  For more information about how to get involved, please contact us through facebook, twitter, or at info@thistlefarms.org.

Peace and love, Becca

@revbeccastevens 

Photo Credit: S Braswell

Love is Good Business

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The poetic justice of--Love Heals--as the tag line of a company run by survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution is deeper than all the scars women carry from childhood trauma and rape. For survivors, sex has been monetized and violent for years. On the street with pimps and johns, it is not about love. It is about survival, drugs, and turning tricks. Learning how it is that love heals is one of the goals of the community of Thistle Farms, an all-natural manufacturing company that sells body care products. At the social enterprise women find their way back into a world that has allowed them to fall through the deep cracks of hard, unjust systems.
For two years women live in rent free communal houses and find the mental, dental, physical and educational help they need. A key element in the process is to be economically independent in order to gain control of their destinies. The social enterprise began in 2001 as a means to provide that economic security, and as a vehicle to engage people in understanding why women turn to the streets and to get past education into action. None of us had ever run a company, but we didn’t shy away from launching a movement. Our mission was to live into the truth that love is the strongest force for social change in the world. It is remarkable that 13 years later we are on pace to grow 100% based on the first-quarter numbers and break the million-dollar mark in sales. Many of the leaders of the company are just coming into their own as business executives, sales people, and entrepreneurs. Shana Goodwin, one of the sales' executives says the biggest lie she was told when she was sold to a drug dealer as a teenager was she was stupid. Although she never finished 7th grade, she is one of the smartest, most enterprising women you will meet.  She can manage an excel spreadsheet with the 280 accounts across the country and explain to a group of business women that by purchasing products, they are helping women find freedom.
There is no secret to our success.  Our business is an open book that supports volunteers and more than 1,200 annual visitors to the company where people tour the facility and drink a healing cup of thistle tea at the Café. Love is worth so much. It is a endless commodity we can tap into when we put people first and swear we won’t leave any sisters behind. There is an old saying, “If you want to kill a village, rape the women. If you want to heal a village, heal the women.”  The women of Thistle Farms are bringing healing and practical ideas to create sanctuary to cities across the United States. We are speaking at hundreds of churches, conventions, and gatherings  to spread the truth of how love is lavish and economical.  Just by our presence in Nashville, Tennessee, we bring over half a million dollars in savings, taxes and revenues with no federal or state funding.  We are part of wider movement that is changing the tide of the conversation away from blame and shame towards practical healing with quantifiable value.
We will continue to rise to the occasion for the thousands of women still on the streets who deserve to be more than just survivors of child rape, trafficking, prostitution and addiction.  They are bankers, manufacturing directors, baristas, distributors, social media marketers, facilitators, case managers, outreach directors, receptionists, candle makers, and paper makers.  Love is a good business model that can teach traditional businesses about how to sustain a community as you grow a company.  The business of Thistle Farms teaches us how we can serve one another, love the earth, and hope for the future.
peace and love, becca
#revbeccastevens

The Homily for Sofia

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It struck how the last time I offered Sofia communion she kept eye contact and mouthed all the old familiar words of the liturgy. I leaned into her hospital bed and set the Bread and Wine aside so I could see her face and realized I was holding her and not the bread as I said “we give thanks for this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving…we offer you these gifts.” Sofia took the worst multiple sclerosis had and offered it back to all of us with humor, determination, intelligence, wit, charm, independence, hope, creativity, uniqueness, limericks, sweetness, tirelessness, truth and especially in the end grace. We all have Sofia stories. Alexia, her sister just  told me that Sofia’s last joke was “What do you call a deer with no eyes?” “No eye deer!” Sofia’s mom, Helga tells the story of an impish Sofia taking off in her wheelchair even though her eyesight was horrible and raced down Timberlane, onto Woodmont Blvd. darting and dodging traffic all the way to the golf store by West End until the owner called her to come get Sofia. For years I’ve heard the stories of the Scrabble games with Michael, Steve, Hannah, Chris, Stephanie and Allen. Michael said he loved to play, especially after Sofia couldn’t move her own tiles anymore because it made it easier for him to cheat and have a shot against her. Her last meal was chocolate ice cream that she told the nurse was the “nectar of the angels.”

The Beatitudes we read today is a lesson on how to live. It teaches us about living into the truth that we are to spend our lives doing two things: 1. Love God, ourselves and each other with our whole hearts. 2. Be prepared to die (sacrifice our lives for love). Sofia taught us how to do both.

Whether it was through her poetry or pottery she showed her love to the community. One of her last hopes was to make vases for the tables of the Thistle Stop Café. She never gave up trying to create and support others, even as she was getting pretty worn down. In  her darkest moments of struggling with loss of freedom or wrestling with her mortality she would turn her fear into a beautiful piece of poetry or roll her eyes in true humility and say, “Oh, well!”

She was still working toward her dream of a communal living space in Germantown up until her last weeks with us. It is unbelievable that she died so young, but she taught me so much about death. She knew what she faced, and she didn’t flinch. Her last words in the communion service to Helga, Andrea and me were just mouthed, “I love you, I love you, I love you” over and over and over so we wouldn’t forget. When we have walked or wheeled as far as we can make it and lived our lives in truth and steadfast faith, it makes perfect sense that our last words are love, love, love, love. Let Sofia remind us as the Saint she is, that it is love that is the last word of a life lived with faith and beauty that is so exquisite that it is heartbreaking to let it go.

Sofia Carla Maneschi June 22, 1975 - January 26, 2014

Peace and love,

Becca

@revbeccastevens 

I am not more faithful

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I am not more faithful than I was when I was twenty
I am filled with the same doubts and fears
Just now, I live into my faith more than my doubts
I want to run toward hearts wide open
I want to let the course of the river carry me,
Instead of trying to swim upstream.

 

Peace and love,

Becca

@revbeccastevens 

 

How Justice can Roll Like a River

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An Outpouring of Love at a St. Augustine's River BaptismHearts don’t break. They pour out like a flooded river forgetting her boundary and upturning old oaks and fallow fields. Hearts pouring out flood us with tenderness and tears as their unstoppable force draws us in. When hearts pour out, it is possible to imagine how justice can follow in its wake. The exilic prophet’s heart did not break amidst the pain of banishment and loss of his nation. Instead Isaiah pours out his heart in a servant's song offered to a God of love who never abandons the people. His words in the fortieth chapter are strong and speak of how God hid him like an arrow in a quiver, waiting for the time to shoot out and speak about the power of love poured out for this world. His life is like a rushing river whose course just carved a path deeper and wider as the rains came.

The story from the first chapter of John describes the calling of the first two disciples who take a journey of the heart to follow Jesus. The story in many ways is heartbreaking as they leave their homes and jobs and embark on a three-year mission in an occupied nation to heal the world, ending with their martyrdom after witnessing the crucifixion of their leader. But their hearts poured out with a clarity and guilelessness that changed the whole world. Their meandering path from the foothills to Jerusalam was as winding as a river, but was always heading toward Justice. Their witness to love itself is beyond measure and exposes the old, stone bedrock of our hearts that sank eons ago, and they open the flood gates of generosity, compassion, and tenderness so no one has to live isolated, cynical, or in fear.

The story of love being poured out like a river has continued down through the ages and is the powerful calling of our lives still.  Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced over and over how to live into the tremendous power of love. In his speech on the day before his assassination he said, “Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, "When God speaks who can but prophesy?" Again with Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." He called it Ahimsa, the term meaning non-violent soul force that he borrowed from Gandhi in the movement to free India. Ahimsa is as old and deep as the waters running through this earth. It is the basis for the message of Jesus, the Buddha, and all the prophets. Love is a force as old as the earth and when it is poured out for the world, nothing can stop it.

The harsh realities and hurt imposed by violence, poverty, racism, disease, and frailty cannot break hearts. I know love is stronger than that. Today I celebrate the one-year anniversary of the unexpected death of my sister, Katie Garrett. I am remembering with gratitude that even death cannot break us and love keeps flowing. When Thistle Farms started to make healing oils, we chose Ahimsa, the soul force of love as our oldest blend of clove, cinnamon and olive oil. We have tried to be a witness to love’s force, beginning in St. Augustine’s chapel almost 20 years ago. There have truly been seasons where the creek bed was dry, but we went on faith that water was running somewhere. Many times we have witnessed love pouring out and seeing the glory of a rushing river flow by. On Monday I sat in our meditation circle at Thistle Farms and marveled at the packed room with folks from England, Iceland, Bolivia, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia who had heard about our healing message of love and wanted to sit with us. One woman said she drove from Kentucky for a cup of coffee and a good word. People are thirsty for the waters pouring from the river of love where the promise of justice lives.

Let us pledge our whole lives to pouring our love out for the sake of the whole world. It is how we live into the truth of the prophecies of Isaiah, James, Peter, Martin, and the community of Thistle Farms. Let us pour out our love as we embark to spread this good news of Ahimsa. We are living proof that the war on poverty and freedom is still being waged in the name of love. We are a living testimony as long as we keep preaching every day of our lives in our words and deeds that love is the most powerful force for social change in the world. 

 

 

 

 

 

A Prayer for Advent

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Beloved, as we reflect on this season of Advent, let it be our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem, to see the Babe lying in a manger. Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days until the incarnation of love made flesh by this holy Child; and let us look forward to the yearly remembrance of his birth with songs of praise.

And let us remember brothers and sisters because this of all things would rejoice his heart; those who are poor, hungry, cold, helpless, or oppressed; the sick and those who mourn; the aged and the little children; and all who rejoice with us but on another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which none can number, whose hope was in the Word Made Flesh. Stir up our hearts that our feet may be strengthened for your service, and our path made straight for the work of justice and reconciliation.

Most merciful God, you took on human flesh not in the palace of a king but in the humility of poverty: Grant that your life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart; that, following in the steps of your blessed Son, we may give of ourselves in the service of others. Bless the work of Magdalene, Thistle Farms. Aban, Holy Cross Hospice, Lwala, Blood Water Mission, St. Luke’s, Faith Family, Ikerizi, Escuela Anne Stevens, Episcopal Relief and Development, and all the ministries served and led by the St. Augustine's community. 

O God, in whom there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free: Unite the wills of all people, that the walls which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; so that all may live together in justice, harmony, and peace. Bless the labors of all who minister to the sick, and unite the wills of nations and peoples in seeking an end to the pandemics of our age; that sickness may be turned to health and sorrow turned to joy. Inspire us to use the riches of creation with wisdom, and to ensure that their blessings are shared by all people. Inspire in our nation, its leaders and people a spirit of devotion. 

We praise you for the faithfulness and devotion of your Servant Mary, our Holy Mother. Protect the health and safety of all women in childbirth and the children whom they bear, and inspire your people to build strong and healthy families and communities. We commend to your mercy all your departed servants; and we pray that we, too, may share with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints in the joy of your heavenly reign.

Let us say the Lord’s prayer together: 

The Almighty God bless us with grace; Christ give us the joys of everlasting life; and to the fellowship of the citizens above may the Angels bring us all. Amen.

 Peace and love,

Becca

@revbeccastevens 

 

The Global Circle

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I was raised by the Harpeth River, but never learned how to skip a stone. The rocks I tossed plopped, and instead of seeing them skip across the top, I got to observe over and over how series of perfect concentric circles grow larger as they move through water. Being in The Ryman tonight is a huge ring in a circle that is bigger than any of us dreamed of when we tossed in our small, rounded stone of hope that consisted of a house and five women in 1997. We have watched the ripples make their way through troubled and beautiful waters and tonight bask in the beauty of 2,000 people in a sacred circle that helps us all believe love grows exponentially. It is right for us to be here on one of the oldest stages of storytelling in Nashville. The story we share tonight is older than the oldest country song. It’s a story that dispels the myth that prostitution and trafficking are the oldest forms of abuse, and proclaims that child sexual abuse and trauma are at least a generation older. It’s the story that calls us to remember that love is older and deeper than the oldest scars we carry. It’s a story of day to day struggle and glorious transformation. Dorris Walker, who leads the packing team at Thistle Farms and sings like an angel, traveled with me to Florida to share her story of healing and hope. Now, while Dorris, like most of the women of Magdalene, had experienced the underside of bridges, the short side of justice, the back side of anger and the inside of prison walls, she had never seen the far side of the horizon from the coast. I got to be with her as her feet hit the sugar sands for the first time and as she stepped into the ocean and felt the tide pull her. She threw her arms open wide and said in a lilting voice as beautiful as any singer who has ever graced The Ryman stage, “Has this been doing this my whole life?” For as long as the moon was tossed into the atmosphere of our planet, concentric tidal circles have come in waves. The power of the circle and the healing of love are the oldest and most powerful stories of humanity. But we need each other to get down to the shores to feel its pull and to remember that the circle of love can ripple across the whole globe.

For years we have been growing the circle of Thistle Farms. Last year sales were close to $700,000 and we are on track to surpass those numbers so that we can meet our 1.6 million dollar budget. This year, we have welcomed nine new employees and have nine women waiting in the wings to come on board to work. This year we opened the Thistle Stop Café and our Sewing Studio to keep expanding the work opportunities. We are launching new initiatives this year, including the first Magdalene Circle inside the prison walls, under the leadership of Dorinda Carter and Shelia McClain, and a women’s shared-trade initiative that includes overseas partnerships and sales’ teams across the country. We also have our eyes set on a new residence and want to continue our commitment to help launch similar residential programs in more cities.

This circle tonight is especially beautiful because it is the culmination of our first National Conference. The sold-out conference is welcoming 250 guests from 31 states who join us in the truth that together our communities can widen this circle enough to change a culture that continues to buy and sell women like commodities and forgets that we don’t ever have to leave anyone behind on our journey to the shores of hope. They will carry this story back and help us see the next big ripple tearing through the water like justice rolling out across a sea of pain. We know in this circle that if you want to kill a village, rape the women, and if you want to heal the village, heal the women. All of our individual efforts in healing a village may be a drop in the bucket of solutions, but you gather enough drops together and you can change the tide. Magdalene and Thistle Farms are about healing the whole community. Women go back and deal with dysfunctional families, make court restitution, get their kids back, and just by being on Charlotte Avenue, we help the city save and receive income of more than $600,000 annually.

The holiday ornament created by our paper studio this year is a globe. It is made up of 20 individual circles. This global image celebrates that we are a movement of concentric circles, and that we are allowed to dream big, especially on the stage of The Ryman, that we can love the whole world together, one person at a time. We are gaining momentum fast. We were featured this week in the New York Times, we will be featured in a PBS documentary this year with Nicolas Kristof as a best practice model in this country, and we are becoming a voice for change in this country. Yes, we have come far, but there is so much more work to do to make the next ripple; there are a hundred women on our waiting list, there are thousands of women in our prisons that long for community, there are thousands more in alleys tonight where the light of hope is all but extinguished as they can’t see their way home. So we will keep casting our stones wider and farther until we can help change the world so that child sex abuse is no longer a secret, and women who have been raped will see the healing light of justice, where there is no tolerance for the buying and selling of human beings, where women feel like they can seek help with addictions without fear, and where there are hundreds of recovery homes offering long-term, community-based healing with meaningful work.

It is going to take all of us to lift a rock of hope big enough to open the circle to welcome more and more survivors. It’s a lot to open new programs, to open new homes, and to create new businesses. To fund our current programs and the ones ahead, we need to raise $400,000 tonight. We can absolutely do it if we can imagine all the love rising tonight from everyone gathered---from new residents, old friends, and brand new faces, and see ourselves as a force that longs for love as big as the moon. Then we can carry that love through these doors into the wider world and make a circle big enough that it can reach the farthest shores of our hearts and the ends of the world.

Peace and love, Becca Stevens Thistle Farmer

We are grateful for everyone who joined us in the circle at The Ryman last night. If you weren't able to make it, but you still want to donate, go to givelovehere.com to make a secure donation via Paypal.

The Lost Sheep: Luke

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Years ago I got lost and drove onto an old country road that looked forlorn and abandoned. It was a cold day and the land was full grey from the exposed limestone that made it poor country for farming. There were three old buzzards sitting in a barren hackberry on my left, and a cabin by the road had a worn-out rebel flag hanging from the clothesline near a bunch of trash and old tires. Across the road was a fenced-in field with just one sheep standing there looking abandoned and alone. It was the clearest image I have ever seen of the parable of the lost sheep in which Jesus leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one forsaken. I read the front page of the Nashville paper that described the confession by one student about the brutal rape and sodomy with a foreign object in June of a coed in a Vanderbilt dorm room by four other students and their ensuing attempts at cover up. Six pages later the Tennessean’s "World News" section announced the death penalty just handed down to four young men in India convicted in the rape, sodomizing with a foreign metal object and death of a young woman there in December. That news on top of the debates and images of war in Syria conjured up that devastating image of a forsaken sheep. That image is about all of the victims of violence that not only carry the universal issues including post traumatic stress, loss of life, permanent physical and mental disabilities but the private and lonely scars unrevealed to a wider world. It is the image of the refuge from Syria listening to the political debates about war and carrying all their belongings on their backs to an unknown country. It is the image that I carry with me when I meet folks when they are broken, or just coming from the streets, or when someone is bearing the news of tragedy. It is the image of all of us lost and wandering in a field of uncertainty. And in that lost sheep I can see the faces of people I have known almost daring someone to offer them a sign of hope.

I fear that place and what it stirs up in me of anger and fear. I want to run from it and mourn the part of all of us that knows what it is to be the lost sheep. I want to fight the world that is harsh enough to make us feel like we are standing between buzzards and old useless flags. But the parable of the lost sheep is a parable about compassion, humility, idealism, and ultimately love. Jesus is telling the growing crowd that is following him to Jerusalem where they will find themselves as lost as a lone sheep in winter, that even in the hardest times, they are never abandoned. Into this place love goes with you. Jesus is reminding us this morning that as followers of the way, that those are the very places we are called to go, remembering our own fears, and like love itself, help each other find our way back. This gospel preaches that Love steps into the places we worry that live beyond even its bounds and finds us.

The lost sheep is the call to idealism. In idealism we can live in hope with courage that no one is outside of love’s embrace. When we encounter a woman on the streets that has been victimized before she could even identify where she lived on a map, we don’t give up but find a way to welcome her home. Idealism says there is no one on all of God’s green earth that is hopeless. The lost sheep is a call to humility. In humility we find the courage so face huge and unmovable systems whether justice, education, or penal, and work on behalf of those who have been marginalized. While we are aware of our means and strength, we just keep walking towards the gates with love, even to gates of the city that kills its prophets, not abandoning those who are oppressed. The lost sheep is a call to community. Community is the very thing a sheep longs for more than anything else. It is through the gift of traveling together we don’t get lost and make room for people to walk their individual path with friends heading in the same direction.

The song Levi and Marcus Hummon sing this morning echoes the call to idealism, humility, and community. “Take the tears and the careless words take the fears and all the hurt, and lets just make it love”. Michael Kelsh sang that on the path we can wait for each other and seek the lost and find our way to love.

This Gospel though is not a theory. It more than a way of being, it is calling us to action. Living faithfully has always been about the lost sheep, whether in standing up for gay and lesbian rights, or welcoming women with housing and jobs and family from our streets and prisons, or speaking up for a rape victim on this campus. Luke’s gospel should embolden us to look again at the abandoned fields of this world and make a path wide enough for the sheep to come home. I have learned so much from people who came to find me when I was lost standing with my back against the wind hoping someone was idealistic and humble enough to see me. I have been changed by the folks in this community who love heroically in their work and their lives and goes to the margins of this community and to the ends of the earth to help the lost sheep. Going to find the lost sheep for me means being a part of a movement in this country calling on every city to provide long term free housing for the survivors of trafficking, prostitution, addiction and violence. For many folks here it means growing the work in Ecuador, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Haiti and anywhere else where this community is pouring their hearts into the work of justice for others to find freedom. For others here it means working hard in this diocese for the equality in rites and rituals for every person. And I think for the Vanderbilt community it means we stand together and say that we put the physical and emotional safety of student’s way ahead of athletics, Greek life and donors in a way that demonstrates our compassion for the sheep and our outrage at the horrendous violence that took place.

Imagine for a moment the powerful message that would be preached if the whole university abandoned for a home game all the tailgates and frat parties and stood in solidarity with the one student who was abandoned on this campus one night back in June. It could happen. I am the lost sheep. You are the lost sheep. Together we find our way to love then go back and search the lonely ridges to bring a message of unfathomable love to others. When the sheep comes home there is rejoicing and it stands as testimony to the truth that in the end love is more powerful than anything that wants to wound us, abandon us, or make us feel alone.

The World is Old

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Weary from housing hopes and raising dreams thatHave borne the scars of war and tempest appetites. She has endured with wild rose-colored glasses still Calling out from the blue with birds’ songs. She waves natural signs like banners for prodigal sons, But we don profit-blinders and Invent new ways to frack, hack, blast and cast Her far away from our thoughts. We can't name her children that swim in our creeks. And have forgotten how she raised her bedrock. And what parts of her are gifts for our healing.

When she begins to show signs in super-storms and tornadoes in snow, We ignore them like a raspy cough in the night. She speaks on warm January mornings in a voice Above blaring tornado sirens, "Take Heart and Cover.” She can conjure flies and manna with a drop of dew Silence cynics with heavenly lights and call Grieving widowers to listen to the incantation of owls. God forbid, if she was dying, we would grieve. We would scramble to her bedside shores And climb her weeping willows to be held once more. She would be revered like the Queen of Sheba with a Crown of pearls of great price.

Forgive us, we know what we do. We take you for all your worth And do things we should not do. And leave the things you love undone. We are your children, not because we are worthy, But because we are earth Mixed together in the secret of your womb. We are each other. Let us sing your praises and amend our lives By loving your limestone underbelly and crawfish babies. Let us walk upon your hills and lay in wild grasses. Hold us gently as we make our song of death. Rock us in your arms as our ashes float in your river And make our way back home.

Becca Stevens, July 25, 2013

My faith found root...

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Death connected me to the eternal grief

that has thrown everyone

out into their yard at one time or another.

 It also connected me to the

eternal healing that was within my grasp.

In the yard, my faith found root.

Snake Oil: The Art of Healing & Truth Telling by Becca Stevens

Love

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Love always has the last word.  It gives me hope that in simplicity we find our way to heaven.

And, that in the end, truth

will teach us that we

are enough.

On the Path

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On the path I was walking,my faith was not going to be tested by suffering. My faith was going to ground me as I walked through suffering in the world. On the path, I could rest assured that even though I trembled in the valley of the shadow of death, I was still walking with God. For you see...on the path we walk, our faith does not need to be tested by suffering. Our faith grounds us as we walk through the suffering of the world. Even though we tremble in the valley of the shadow of death, we still walk with God.

Snake Oil: The Art of Healing & Truth-Telling, Becca Stevens

The Sun Rises

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Life continues after death. The sun rises.  The flowers bloom in spring.

Love never dies.

I accept resurrection, just as

I accept death.

Becca Stevens

Share the Harvest

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In fields of lavender, thistle, and lemongrass,

we find love's roots,

and we try to nurture them and

share their harvest with fellow travelers.

Snake Oil: The Art of Healing & Truth-Telling, by Becca Stevens

 

Time for God

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When I make time for God, God makes time

for everything

else.

 

Becca Stevens