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On April 22, my loving mother celebrated her 98th birthday in Birmingham, Ala. Mother can still play much of the piano repertoire she memorized in her earlier years of life. She still plays Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique from memory. Her mistakes fail to overshadow her astute interior musical expression and she continues to inspire others. Mother's long term memory remains relatively intact. Her short term memory began to show signs of early deterioration 15 years ago. The continued deterioration poses intense challenges in her communications. She now lives very much in the moment. Her legacy shines as a woman of deep faith, integrity and inner strength.
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Mother grew up in the Methodist tradition in Alabama. She married a Methodist minister in her mid-20s. My parents had three children. From birth, we learned to love the church. We were taught that God is love and merciful and that racial prejudice robbed everyone. In Sunday school between the ages of 8 and 15, I learned the richness of the biblical heritage. I also learned much about religious division in a troubled world. This grounding accompanied me through seminary much later.
In my childhood and teen days, there was deep unrest in the south. The issues of racism raged on the streets, in burning churches, and on school premises. There were church people who preached a Gospel which presented a God who gave preference to a certain race of people. In our family household we were taught that this profoundly missed the mark of Jesus Christ's teachings and that of the early church foundations.
My older brother and sister married and left home before I reached Jr. High School. They were considerably older. Mother, a primary influence in my life during the teen years after my father died, spent 50 years of her life directing choirs, accompanying various choral and solo performances, playing in piano ensemble performances. She worked as a church administrative assistant for 35 years. My single parent mother worked quite diligently. She provided everything I needed for a college education.
Mother had a certain pride about the church youth programs in which I participated. One such program I remember during my tenth grade year of high school had to do with visiting other church denominations and listening for the strengths of what they offered in the way of spiritual and life skills instruction. We asked questions. We explored how our faith practices were similar and different. At that time, all the major religions were included except for Islam. No Mosque existed in our area. Our teachers would contact pastors, priests, and rabbis in town. They set up one hour segments for visits and lectures. A recurring theme in our classes focused on how we could participate in manifesting God's life and love in a divided and troubled world following Christ's example.
This profound influence of my family in the early years later led to my current family's involvement with Aldersgate United Methodist Church in the Mendenhall Valley. It's hard for me to see my church as the "best" or the one and only church that owns "Truth." I was taught that God's truth has higher aspirations than a narrow mind. In Matthew 5, Jesus puts forth what may seem like an impossible command, "Love your enemies." I saw my mother endure harsh criticism in my early years for loving people that no one else loved. I learned from her inner strength, faith, and hope filled humor. Thanks to Mother, I came to know Christ; a central Presence from whom Divine Love flows. I learned early that some religious views about people based on scripture were destructive, bigoted, and flawed. Meeting God's presence in silent stillness helps me listen more carefully to Christ's command in Matthew 5, "Love your enemies." Should I make my 98th birthday, I hope those words grow a faith wisely, unpretentiously lived.
Sharon K. Cooper is a retired diaconal minister from Aldersgate United Methodist Church.