Category Archives: Easter 2015

Starlette McNeill: My Flesh and Blood

“My flesh and blood.”

I looked at my son as he lay sleeping one morning and those words came to mind. More than my next of kin, John is the closest person to me because he is the closest to being me.

I am not merely talking about resemblance and certainly not gender, but he is my flesh and my blood. We have shared a body and he has walked in my shoes before he took his first step. He knows what it is to be me because he came from me. I am his entrance into the world, his mother-door.

McNeill 22

While I understood the phrase “my flesh and blood” before becoming a mother, it became more evident after having a child. I was clear on the fact that my womb would become his first room and my ribs his bed. I accepted that I would share my food and drink, that his vote would become the majority when determining my taste buds, moods and sleeping patterns.

But, when he was born and I looked into his eyes and saw mine, I realized that I had given much more.

And as much as I am attempting to capture this realization with words, the alphabet does not possess enough manpower to catch the enigma. These characters fall short of explaining the revelation. They are inadequate to express the mystery because it is a deep knowing, a certainty shared with one who was tied to me by navel string.

My son knows me in a way that no one else ever will.

Sure, he knows which buttons to push and how to get his way but there’s more to it than that. A veiled knowledge, I can’t even tell you all that he knows. We have shared an experience that cannot be taken away from us. You would have to be my flesh and blood to understand it.

And so it is with Christ.

We are spiritually carried and reborn through the womb of baptism. Born again, Jesus is our Door. How amazing that he would make room for us in his body–that no one has to scoot over, that we don’t have to share, but that God has a place for each of us.

How remarkable that Christ, who is the living water and the bread of heaven, would share the divine delicacy of his word with us. We do eat from the very mouth of God. Growing in the Body of Christ, we are his flesh and blood.

How incredible that we are an expression of his flesh that was crucified and his blood that was shed for humanity. When Jesus, the Savior of the world, looks at us, he sees his next of kin.

This relationship is not one of fans or even followers. We are not in the stands cheering him on or standing in line to shake his hand or walking behind him but seated at the table with him. We are family members and the fact that we resemble him at all is a miracle.

I looked at my son and said, “My flesh and blood.” How utterly confounding that Christ looks at his Church, that Christ looks at you and me, and says, “My flesh and blood.” What amazing grace. Amen.


Reverend Starlette McNeill serves as the Associate Pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland. She is a wife, a lover of reading, writing and Starbucks and the mother of one amazing son, John.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair: Family Album

Acts 4:29-35


Acts reads like a photo album of the first days of the church; the way I took monthly photos of my babies as they grew, the way I painstakingly notated their sleeps and eats and… such. Here, in the very earliest days of the church of Christian believers, we receive snapshot after snapshot of the life of the church; a scrapbook of moments that shimmer with the presence of the risen Lord, milestones of the Way we are still tracing today. The photographs become clear:

For the early church, as for us, the world’s powers threaten.
Prayers are raised.
The Spirit moves.
We give, and share, and care for one another.

The story of the church didn’t happen TO it—though it was initiated by Christ, gathered around the wondrous good news of his resurrection and shaped into flame at Pentecost—but when the early believers first lifted their voice to God, in one heart and mind, they didn’t just pray for God to work magic.

The pictures of the early church aren’t exposures of God’s mighty hand, reaching down from On High to solve problems and smooth paths in God’s best deus ex machina fashion. Instead it’s a scrapbook stuffed with the pictures of people who have prayed to be changed, so they may help change the world. They prayed to be bold in their words of witness and in the works of their hands.

Maybe they didn’t know what they were asking when they prayed for God to make them bold; who ever does? (My instinct says it’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” deals, like praying for patience… that’s just asking for trouble!!) But when they could have prayed for God to just take care of business–as I so often do–they prayed instead for God to work in them.

Then they went on to operate in a way that I can barely imagine, setting aside individual concerns and any “I got to do for me and mine” attitudes, and instead giving everything to their fellow believers. There was no need among them, because they saw each other as “me and mine.”

In the pictures of this church, everybody looks like family—and not because they share the same nose, or hazel eyes, or pattern baldness. In these snapshots, the family connection comes through in the way they link arms and lift each other up. It shines in the way they use their stuff: as if what matters isn’t the stuff itself, but the people. As if what matters isn’t only the people who are related to me by blood, but those who are related to me by faith. As if other people’s needs have become my needs, and as if caring for those needs is the very same as caring for Christ’s own self.

And–most shocking of all–as if when I am in need, I too will be embraced, lifted up, made whole in the family.

This is the story of the church. And this is the Gospel of our Lord.

The early church, and we, are still (are always) growing up, snapshot by snapshot. We’re stumbling and finding our feet, learning what life together means as we practice familyhood and faith everywhere we gather in twos and threes and more.

And whether we realize it or not, we too are filling albums with the pictures of this story, just as the earliest believers did. In the scrapbook of our testimony, the world can page through the stories of our growth, can watch us speak and act in boldness and with love, can examine our faces for family resemblances.

What will they see?

Blair pic

Nicole Finkelstein-Blair became a U.S. Navy spouse in 2000, graduated from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2001, and became “Mom!” in 2004. She finds ministry wherever the military and motherhood lead: in five states and two countries (so far), as a parishioner and a pulpit-supplier, as a sometime blogger and devotional writer, and at countless dinner tables and bedtimes.

Melanie Walk: Guilt and Resurrection

1 John 3:18-24 (The Message)

18-20 My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

21-24 And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.

I have a confession. We dyed Easter eggs on the Tuesday after Easter.

I tried to comfort myself by remembering that the Easter season is actually fifty days long on the church calendar, but that was little help. I did manage to gather a pinwheel, a bubble wand, and a coloring book late Saturday night to pass for an Easter basket. Easter Sunday lunch was pancakes and bacon—delicious, but not traditional.

As a Pastor of Music and Worship, my days leading up to Easter Sunday are very full, allowing little time for planning and carrying out holiday traditions. At least, it feels that way to me. I have to admit, scrolling through Facebook and seeing some of the things my amazing friends put together for their little ones left me feeling guilty. I was especially guilt-ridden to see many of my minister friends, just as involved in Holy Week services as I, do some really thoughtful and involved things to make the day memorable and fun for their children.

Many of my fondest memories of childhood are wrapped up in holiday family traditions. My grandmother was especially good at creating meaningful and fun holiday experiences. Unfortunately, I did not inherit any gifts related to coming up with, planning, or carrying out crafty or magical traditions! I’m just not wired that way.

It doesn’t take great spiritual maturity to know that those things are just good fun and not essential (or even related) to helping our children understand the resurrection. Still, I felt guilty on Easter for not being that kind of mother.

The truth is, I feel guilty most of the time about anything and everything. When I’m at work long hours, I worry I’m not being a good mother. When I take time to be with my family, I worry I’m not being a good minister. I constantly feel guilt about not being a good friend.

I waste a lot of time feeling guilty. Guilt is like a quiet unwelcome companion. Sometimes it is so much a part of my life that I don’t notice it or the damage it does.

So, when searching the lectionary texts for inspiration as I was beginning to write, verses 20 and 21 of the 1 John passage jumped out at me. It was as if Jesus was reminding me that a guilt ridden life is not what he wants for me. Guilt keeps me from being who he wants me to be. In fact, the very good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to save us from being guilty!

On Easter Sunday, our sweet little boy sat in worship with his daddy as I led our choir to sing I Know that My Redeemer Liveth and Hallelujah from Messiah. He heard the congregation sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today and Crown Him with Many Crowns. He heard us all say together, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”

My husband is in the process of becoming ordained as an Anglican priest. We were able to be together on Easter Sunday at the church I serve because while his church does have Easter Sunday morning worship, their biggest resurrection celebration happens during Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

During that time of worship, everyone gets a bell to ring when Christ’s resurrection is proclaimed. I was moved to tears as we sang “Alleluia!” over and over again as we all joyfully rang our bells together. Both times of worship were so meaningful for us as a family as we celebrated the good news and as we watched Elijah take it all in.

As I focus on what we did to celebrate the resurrection rather than what we did not do, I can’t find guilt anywhere. As I think about shouting and singing “Alleluia!” with my family, all I see is the joy and hope of the resurrection.

Guilt cowers and runs away when faced with the power of the resurrection. Thanks be to God!

I imagine I am not alone in having guilt as my quiet unwelcome companion. My prayer is that we who struggle with guilt can open our hands to let it go and open our hearts to receive the grace and love God offers us so lavish and free.

For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!

Melanie head shot

Melanie Walk has served as a music minister, chaplain, and divinity school admission associate. She currently serves as the Interim Pastor of Music and Worship at Lafayette Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC. Melanie’s husband is becoming an Anglican priest. They have a 2 year old son who spends his time spreading joy and being cute.

Katrina Brooks: Gypsy Girls

My maternal grandmother was born to Carpathian gypsies who came to America to fulfill their bishop’s edict to “settle the heathen Americas and bring the Kingdom of God into the broken world.” As a young woman she married my grandfather, part of the same gypsy clan, and they settled on a farm in St. Stephen, Minnesota and had seven children.

Not content with farming life, my mother dreamed of the places she discovered in books and in the classroom. Routine farm chores provided the perfect incubator for dreams of adventure and greatness.

Upon high school graduation, my mother packed her bags and set her sights on joining the Foreign Service. After two years of business school she joined the embassy corps and traveled the globe as an executive embassy secretary. Embassy life carried her around the world to a life vastly different from St. Stephen, a world in which she thrived as an independent young professional. After ten years of independence, parties and adventure, she married my father and at 33 had the first of her four children.

Raising four children as a military spouse was a different type of adventure. My mother balanced domestic chores, assumed the responsibilities of a proper military wife and–more often than not–functioned as a single parent. I remember being amazed at her grace as she operated under what I, as an independent, feisty adolescent, deemed oppressive decorum. She was so patient as I challenged everything, dreamed of the places I discovered in books and longed for adventure and greatness.

My mother encouraged my independence and fueled my thirst for knowledge, but also took it upon herself to teach me how to function within the boundaries of decorum. She called it the art of hiding your true self in order to function for the greater good. It was a skill she honed as a part of the embassy corps and those skills served her well as a military spouse.

Upon high school graduation I packed my bags and set my sites on a degree in medicine. I not only wanted to experience the world, I wanted to change it. I challenged decorum, boldly proclaimed my ideas and lived life fully. The greater the adventure, the more I wanted it. The anticipation of greatness and accolades propelled me into situations way beyond my experience and I thrived.

And then Jesus called my name and everything changed. I had been a Christ follower for years, but I was not prepared for this new adventure. It was nothing like I expected and everything I could possibly hope for. I married my spouse at 22 and became a mom at 27.

Raising two children as a minister’s spouse was a different type of adventure. I balanced domestic chores, assumed the responsibilities of a proper minister’s wife and sometimes functioned as a single parent. Our first-born was an intelligent, feisty daughter who dreamed of adventure and greatness. I encouraged independence and fueled her thirst for knowledge. I also taught her how to hide her true self in order to function for the greater good. We called it our “diplomatic selves.”


Upon high school graduation our daughter packed her bags and set her sights on international relations. She not only wanted to see the world, she wanted to change it. Passionate and convicted, she challenged decorum, proclaimed her ideas and lived life fully. She positioned herself in places to learn from the best, took risks way beyond her experience and thrived.

And then Jesus called her name. A Christ follower for years, she was invited into a different type of adventure. It was nothing like she expected and everything she could possibly hope for.

Our daughter lives her life as a minister to college students. She encourages her students to be independent, fuels their thirst for knowledge, demands they think critically and empowers them to be activists in the world. Our daughter invites her students to question decorum and wrestle with what it means for Christ followers to love their neighbors. She dares to invite her students to dream dreams, wonder aloud what it means to bring the Kingdom of God to the broken world, serve as beacons of hope and become conduits of love for all of humanity.


My mother and my daughter have greatly impacted who I am as a minister. These independent, intelligent, bold, confident, adventure-loving and passionate women challenge me to think critically, adapt when necessary, thwart the status quo when needed and insist that I be true to myself.

In this season of ministry I am less likely to put on my diplomatic face and more likely to boldly challenge with the question, “why?,” my daughter encourages me to engage culture and awaken to things many in my generation do not see. She invites me into deeper discipleship and challenges me to blaze a new path. It is an adventure I never I expected, but it is everything I could possibly hope for. My mother’s memory reminds me to live life fully, to celebrate the wonder of it all and to take a moment for the occasional dance party.

I think my maternal gypsy ancestors would marvel at the way their descendants have woven our heritage into our ministerial cores and continue the quest to bring the Kingdom of God to the broken world. My mother would be pleased with her girls. I often imagine her in heaven tapping her mother and grandmother on the shoulder, face beaming with pride and excitement, saying, “Those are our girls!”

And Jesus, who just happens to overhear her, says, “Yes, Eileen, they are. Well done, my good and faithful servants. Well done!”


Rev. Katrina Brooks has served as a pastor, campus minister and youth pastor. Part of a clergy couple, she is also a mother to a daughter in Divinity School and a son in college.

Melanie Storie: Apistos, Pistos (Unbelief, Belief)

John 20:24-29 (RSV)

 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Matthew 16:20-23 (RSV)

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance[a] to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”

What state should you live in? Which Jane Austen heroine are you? What 80’s song best describes you?

If pondering these questions keeps you up late at night, then might I recommend a Buzzfeed quiz? For me, there is something giddily ridiculous about taking a Buzzfeed quiz. The questions themselves often have nothing to do with the subject matter and the results are dubious at best.

My results on the above mentioned quizzes were Montana (beautiful, but no sweet tea or grits, so it’s out), Fanny Price (not Elizabeth Bennett?!), and “Don’t Stop Believing” (I do have it on my iPhone…). There’s even a quiz entitled “Which disciple of Jesus are you?” Somehow, an algorithm including favorite colors and vacation spots yields me a result of Matthew.

This time, I’m sure the Buzzfeed gremlins are wrong. I am a Thomas and I’m raising a Peter.

Thomas gets a bad rap for his undue reputation as a doubter. Not to get too scholarly, but the word often translated as “doubt” in regards to Thomas is more literally “unbelieving.” Jesus is more closely saying, “Change your unbelief to belief, Thomas.” Then Jesus offers Thomas his wounded hands.

Thomas is often used as a cautionary tale. Don’t be like Thomas. Don’t question. Don’t doubt. Just believe. Thomas reacts to the news that Jesus is alive by questioning. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

I would have reacted the same way.

I grew up in church and made my profession of faith in 6th grade. I was baptized soon after in a hideous yellow overall outfit that I loved. I had a special love for Jesus and a desire to be more like him.

As I grew into my teenage years, my belief in Jesus never really wavered, but I had questions for the people who taught me at church. Why are Christians the only ones to get to heaven? Is it those people’s faults if they haven’t heard about Jesus, a cross, and a tomb? Didn’t Confucius have his own version of the Golden Rule? What does that mean?

I once asked a church camp leader, “When did Jesus know he was the Messiah?” The leader responded by saying that Jesus always knew. At that point, I was older and knew better than to question further. A few years prior to that, I would have asked how a baby could have divine knowledge.

It would have saved me a lot of heartache from weird looks and lectures if one of those leaders had recognized that maybe all of my questions were the beginnings of a call to ministry. One mentor of mine told me that I was “analytical.” It took me a while to realize it was a compliment.

I was so used to the funny look I got when I started to ask the questions I asked. It was the look that said, “Please just listen to the lesson and accept it like everyone else.”

Now, I accept that analytical side of me. Honestly, it’s the part of me that keeps me Baptist when other denominations sometimes seem more attractive to me. I don’t really need or want anyone else to tell me what is “right” when it comes to my faith. I will work on my unbelief and belief between the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and my own mostly capable brain.

My oldest son, Aidan, was baptized a couple of years ago in the New River by his pastor father with our church family gathered around. My youngest son, Owen, might “walk the aisle” any day now.


As parents, communicating our faith at the point in our children’s lives when they are moving from concrete to abstract thinking is a daunting task. My conversations with Owen have been different than my conversations with Aidan were. Aidan is a Thomas like me. Owen is a Peter. And Peter is a different bird all together.

On Good Friday, my boys and I walked through the Stations of the Cross at our church. These stations are designed for people to walk alongside Jesus in his final hours. As we reflect on those hours in the life of Jesus and his followers, the events become more personal to us and our relationship with Jesus is renewed.

Aidan, Owen, and I walked through the stations separately and I could see Owen growing more concerned and emotional as he touched palms and nails and surveyed the wondrous cross. I exited the sanctuary behind him and he broke into tears. As I hugged him, he cried, “I hate the Romans!” As I comforted him and offered him explanations for what he experienced, he said, “I don’t think it’s right that Jesus died for people. I love Jesus. He didn’t deserve it. He did everything right. He shouldn’t have died.”

Peter. Peter. Peter. I could almost hear Jesus admonishing, “Get behind me, Satan!” but in the context of my situation, that would have been cruel, so I just held Owen and gave him comfort.

Who can explain where belief comes from? Is it born from questioning and searching? Does it arrive in a rowboat when the Messiah asks you to feed his sheep?

All of us have our own journey. I can’t take Owen’s journey for him. I can only guide him along the way. This conversation his Sunday School teacher, his Children’s Minister, Matt, and I are having with Owen is a delicate dance. We all want him to come to faith in Jesus, but more than anything, I want him to have a faith that is his own.

Even though I cannot see it, I know that Jesus holds him with wounded hands. Just as he held Thomas and Peter. Just as he holds you and me.


Rev. Melanie Kilby Storie lives in Shelby, NC with her pastor husband, Matt, and her two sons, Aidan and Owen. Currently a tutor at a local school, Melanie is finishing work on a novel, Wildwood Flower set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina about a girl who can talk the fire out of a burn.