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November 2011

 

A DIFFERENT THANKSGIVING

It was a cold but sunny Thanksgiving morning.  The air was crisp with the bite of emerging winter and smelled still of the new wet leaves composting in the copse of woods north of our house.  Through the barren trees I could see men on the slope a hundred yards beyond gathered in a circle and counting pellet holes on a cardboard target.  All morning they had been shooting at the annual Turkey Shoot which Webster’s Store sponsored every Thanksgiving.  Each man would come with his favorite 12 gauge to compete for one dollar a shot for a prized turkey or ham. 

I had been at Webster’s Store earlier that morning with my Dad.  We watched the men for awhile.  Then, Dad shot.  He didn’t get a turkey even after spending three dollars.  He seemed happy enough.  After all, the year before he had won a ham. Mostly, we just hung around.

 For rest of the morning, we enjoyed the spectacle of the men rushing up for the count to see who had placed a pellet nearest the point where the lines crossed on a 6X6 cardboard square.  It was a ritual of curiosity carried out with careful measurements, the confirmation of two judges and a final, “Now let’s see who the winner is and whose name is on the other side of the card.”

Actually, there is some skill involved in turkey shoots with shot guns but the person who actually wins usually does so mostly by happenstance.  It is a matter of physics.  No one can predict where a single pellet in a tight covey of whistling pellets flying through the air and, scattering as they fly, will hit.   I learned very early that even if someone misses the target altogether with the bulk of his pellets he can still place a pellet in the X.  Turkey Shoots with shotguns are largely a country man’s way of gambling with a good dose of socializing and camaraderie adding to the fun. 

Dad and I stayed at the shoot that morning as long as the talk and dither continued.  Off to the side there was a barrel with a roaring fire which cast warmth 10-15 feet outward at full blaze and when the coals settled a little it drew men into a circle like a magnet attracting iron filings.  It was here that they began to tell tales and speak of their guns or plans for the rest of the day.

Before long, I heard someone mention Mr. Howell who was sick with cancer. I remember this because the Howells lived in a log cabin in the woods behind our house.  My mama had told me before I went to the Turkey Shoot I was to come home by 12 p.m. and take dinner to the Howells.

Mr. Cooper remarked, “Yeah, Mr. Howell wins a turkey or ham every year. Poor old soul can’t get here this year, he’s dying.” 

Another asked, “How does he do that?  He must be lucky to get one every year or else spend a lot of money.” 

Another entered the conversation,” He can’t be too lucky, he’s got cancer…”  Silence.

“Nah, he don’t spend no money and it ain’t luck.  He uses a goose gun.   That d___ed thing nearly blowed a hole in the target last year.  They oughtta outlaw goose guns…they shoot too tight a pattern…that’s the way he does it…”  Catching the eye of another in the circle, the speaker added, “ but he’d win anyway with anything…he is a good shot for an old man.”

***

 When Dad and I finally got home and stomped into the kitchen like two hungry lumberjacks Mom was just covering a basket of food she had prepared.  Behind her the table was spread with our lunch which was a large pot of pinto beans, hot biscuits, Chow-chow, onions, and a large bottle of ketchup.  However, there was a different meal in the basket.  She had prepared a roast chicken, gravy, biscuits, mashed potatoes and string beans for the Howells and I had the temerity to ask, “Aren’t we going to have chicken, too?”

 Mom looked at me with her don’t-ask-any-more-questions look and said, “I’ll explain later.”  Then she turned around and ordered everyone to wash up while I trotted the path to the Howell’s front door where I delivered the meal and enjoyed the effusive joy of this slight little woman dealing with death and sadness.  I think seeing Mrs. Howell’s joy  made a colossal impression on me and to this day I remember that time as the moment when I began to learn it is “more blessed to give than receive. “

That night mama explained.  “I fixed the special dish for the Howells because Mrs. Howell is having a hard time.  We are going to have our big meal at Christmas and tomorrow I want you to go down there to get the plates and basket and tell her I want to wash her bed sheets and any clothes she has to help her out a little bit.  And tell her I am not taking no for an answer.”

*** 

My mother washed those bloody soiled sheets and stained bed shirts for about six months until Mr. Howell finally succumbed.  And, she had to wrestle them all by hand to get them through the wringer on our washing machine. This is one of my most pleasant memories of my mother’s caring side.  To this day I give thanks for her example and the lessons she taught me. 

Specifically, on that Thanksgiving Day I learned that sharing means giving the best and even better at times than what you will have to enjoy.  We had beans and biscuits. The Howells had chicken and trimmings.  In the long run, I have a treasure of a memory and a reason to give thanks that my mother taught me a simple lesson of generosity and caring through real example. It set the course of my best values for life.

 

***

The memory of a thousand thanksgivings cannot supplant any single one.  Every time we genuinely feel and give thanks it is as if it is unique and the most wonderful.  That is the nature of giving thanks.  Experiencing the flush of gratefulness is a thing of the moment and not of just a memory.  However, the memory builds and deepens the individual experience.

This is true of the celebration of the holiday of Thanksgiving, also.  Every one is unique to the moment.  If one holiday is special it will contribute to the long train of celebrations and make each present one more special.  In other words, there is a cumulative effect in giving thanks or the celebration of “Thanksgivings.”   The giving of thanks always leaves us richer because that is the nature of giving.

 ***

 

Thanksgiving is one of the highest human sentiments which takes us out of self worship or self centeredness and allows us to know the great gifts we have been given.

Thanksgiving is one of the best human therapies against depression.

Thanksgiving helps us develop the keenest of insight into the good in human life. 

To be seized by a grateful heart and overwhelming sense of thanksgiving is to experience the holy.                                   

Thanksgiving is not a debt we owe but the response to a gift we have been given.

 

 

 

 

 

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October 2011

The WOW Factor

 

It happened again.  I had my weekly conversation with the television.  To be honest, it was not a conversation.  It was a ‘shout down!”  I was fed up again with the toxic box.  I was tired of the lies, the false illusions, the narcissism and all the other stuff that makes me aware of my own human frailties.  That brings me to some personal reflection.

“What do you fear most as you grow older?”  I have never been asked this question but I have thought of it many times.  Now that I have some right to the term “senior citizen” I can finally shape my perspective.  What I fear most is losing the WOW factor. 

Some people seem to grow gentler and sweeter as their age.  Many of them, I note are nice people who live largely from day to day on the surface of things.  They seldom question why and are generally content with whatever happens.  I am not one of those people.  I sometimes wish I were but I am not.   My discernment works.  I am compelled to evaluate and I rightly recognize that I may be becoming just another curmudgeon.  Yes, it is true. I often have to wrench myself from that downward spiral to re order my focus on what is true and established.

Sooner or later as we grow older, if we are honest, we begin to see beyond the façade of our existence.  We begin to see the masked social phoniness of our own illusions about ourselves and all of human life.  This can lead to one of two things: cynicism or a grounded optimism.  False optimism which is not grounded is just cynicism by another name. Essentially, empty headed optimists usually take the position that there is no reason to address the ugly.  In effect, that turns out to be the worst kind of cynicism because such “optimists” simply lack the faith both to see and to address things as they are.
This brings us to the WOW factor. The WOW factor is merely the power to get beyond all of this and to see the beauty in life.  It is the power to venerate, to see the transcendent, or to worship what is beyond this frayed and fractured world.

That is essentially what the writer of Hebrews does for the church enduring tribulation.  The writer lifts the eyes of the believer to the transcendent nature of Christ who was brutalized, crucified and rose from the grave to ascend into the presence of God.  We see him depicted in the beginning of the book as having “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”  (Hebrews 1:3)  Then continuing, the writer takes us through continuing images of Jesus’ mastery of temptation and trial to say, not once but seven times, “therefore.”  Each of these “therefores” encourages a WOW response and a continued confidence that in the end God is the great player in our lives.

Perhaps this is not enough for many people.  However, the only way I have ever been able to keep the WOW factor in my life is with the simple formula offered in the end of the book.  Note that after the writer has given us the effect of such faith in the lives of the many in Hebrews 11.  He says:

“Therefore, brothers, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

This is not pie in the sky because the writer of Hebrews encourages the believer to engage the issues and not to “grow weary or lose heart.”  The Christian believer does not believe in fuzzy utopias on earth.  Rather, the believer labors on because He knows that the Author of all will be the Finisher of all.  There is no need to let disappointment in ourselves or in others stop us from living at full tilt and doing those things that bring some light into a world that works always to extinguish the good, the true and the beautiful.  That is the way it is.  However, that is not the way it ends. WOW!

*** 

Anyone who has arrived at a stage in life who is able to see anything good in their lives needs to recognize that there was someone in their past that had a significant role in their present “good.” This should inspire a heart of gratitude and keeps us all from falling into the abyss of personal arrogance.

  

***

  

The Las Vegas Singer

Vegas is his world-

the only world he knows.

He has lived there so long

he sees the world through

the prism of Mirage.

 

A friend saw him once,

somewhere,

without his stage clothes;

his face cadaver-like,

skin drawn taut by surgeons

into a skin mask.

 

All of us who know aging

sorrow for him

and all de Leons

whose large presences

shrink beneath coats of armor

while the oven of the sun

fries our frames.

 

Let us take comfort

that ,though like him,

many still sing

with voices found long ago inside.

We can only hope this singer

 of the garish lights

still has the song inside

and like a caged bird

longs for winged flight.

 

 

September 2011

I do not write this edition in a vacuum.  I am convinced of what I write not just because it is clear that the Bible speaks of God revealing his will but because I can cite countless times when he has spoken in specificity which has proven out in circumstances and life. However, that is for conversations and not this publication.

 A relationship with God must presuppose “hearing” Him. For most who read these words this commentary is hopefully just a means of encouraging you to enquire more regarding His specific will. We should not be fearful of misunderstanding Him.  We misunderstand each other continually.  We should, instead, hone our listening habits that we may hear better. 

Provocative Reflections on Divine Guidance

The question whether or not God speaks and gives us guidance is problematic for various reasons.  The obvious thing to say is that to believe He does one must believe He exists.

It is quite possible, however, to believe he exists but that He does not give us direction.  This is the denial of the Deist.  We must hasten to add that this is not the presumption of the Theist who continually speaks of revelation (inspiration) and usually has a very refined doctrine of revelation tucked away somewhere in his mental iPod.  At the same time we must acknowledge that there are some Theists who believe that God has said all He is going to say to the privileged of another age who wrote His words down.  They are the Theists who are content to speak from this revelation as “cut and dry” as if it is obvious daily counsel to their now refined reasoning powers and sleep with their Bibles with the hope for a better day when all the hindrances for the common folk are finally and utterly removed.

The answer to how we learn to discern God’s leading, voice, or His will is one that keeps getting shifted to the back of the Christian consciousness.  Generally, Christians seem to believe that the believer receives an enlightened conscience when they are born again.  However, considering the terrible moral sins to which all people fall prey, to say nothing of the shoddy schemes which they attribute to God, we can safely say that the enlightened conscience theory does not hold up.  However, that that does not necessarily have anything to do with the ability to hear but only the willingness to obey what God would speak if we would hear. 

When there are moments of inspired insight man does not give credit to God for the gift.  Instead, he takes the moment and praise to himself and builds a false illusion of his own enlightenment.  This is the problem of disconnection from God.  It is what causes us to be God players instead of God worshippers.  It is what makes us to see ourselves as the source, copyright everything we say or demand a patent on our insight which had no origin in ourselves at all.

George Washington Carver comes as close to recognizing the origin of his gift as anyone of whom I know in recent times.  He produced many helpful things and gave the credit to God for revealing them to him.  However, he refused copyrights and patents.  Instead, he gave away those things to others who profited by his work.  When he died he even had a stack of unredeemed paychecks which were eventually used to grant scholarships to others. 

This is not to say we cannot enjoy the fruits which we have gathered or live by them.  It is to say that in all humility we must remember the source of all things is God himself and give him the honor due his name.

When we understand our place in the universe we cannot help but be worshippers and receivers and we know that as beneficiaries of God’s gifts, we must share them with others or else lose our fellowship upon which we first depended when we started.

 

Receiving From God

The simple answer to the matter of discerning God’s leading, hearing his voice or knowing His will involves the disciplines of the Christian faith. These are discussed at length, clearly and with very winsome rhetoric in Richard Foster’s, The Celebration of Discipline.   We cannot escape the hard reality that ours is not a conversational, relational culture.  That is why the word discipline sounds so harsh to our ears.  It requires a discipline to retrain ourselves in what could come naturally.  It requires discipline to simply listen to anyone.  Here is how we train ourselves to receive from God:

 1. We renew our minds with study, meditation upon and memorization of the words of the Maker until we come to an understanding of His character.

2. We spend regular time in prayer practicing the following in our prayers: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. 

3.  We practice obedience and abandonment to the teachings of Christ especially in those which challenge us to abandon ourselves to the generosity of love, forgiveness, mercy, serving and sharing our resources. 

4. We learn to inquire of Christ, give Him our loving attention and trust Him implicitly that He will give us guidance in any number of ways and certainly by enlightened powers of reason.

5. We learn that every word of God is confirmed by other means and witnesses.

6.  We remain humble in the knowledge that “we know in part and we speak for God in part.”  (I Corinthians 13:12)

Having said all of this it is important to note that this approach requires a re-culturalization of our minds, hearts, and life style.  That is after all, what the Christian Faith is all about. The topic needs to be addressed usually by a very intensive study of just how God led His people in the early church and before.  I encourage you that if you have trouble with the whole concept of “hearing God” that you make a commitment to study the topic again and in doing so meditate upon the supplemental material attached to this commentary.

 

 

 

 

SUPPLEMENTAL READING

 

 

 

John 3

 

1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

 3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

 1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

 

 

Matthew 18

 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  Matthew 18

1 Corinthians 2

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

   “Who has known the mind of the Lord
   so as to instruct him?”

   But we have the mind of Christ.

James 1

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

***

A QUOTE

“Man at his origin knows only one thing: God.  It is only in the unity of His knowledge of God that he knows of other men, of things, and of himself.  He knows all things only in God, and God in all things.  The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with his origin.

 

In the knowledge of good and evil man does not understand himself in the reality of the destiny appointed in his origin, but rather in his own possibilities, his possibility of being good or evil.  He knows himself now as something apart from God, outside God, and this means that he  now knows only himself and no longer knows God at all; for he can know God only if he knows only God. The knowledge of good and evil is therefore separation from God.  Only against God can man know good and evil.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, The Macmillan Company, New York, NY, 1955

 

 

August 2011

Clearing the Underbrush

In some measure many of us have “stood on the shoulders of giants” in order to see and realize more than those before us.  Such people who have boosted me are a continual inspiration and more than once I have given thanks for such people who were bearers of encouragement and benevolence.  I regularly give thanks to God and others for them by name.  

I could not say these people in my life contributed to my success.  Frankly, I know little of what “success” is unless it is to live with a sense of purpose and enthusiasm.  Those giants put a fire in my core to become an encourager myself.   The higher call upon our lives is that we do not live this life merely to see “more” and achieve “more” than those before us.  We are part of God’s redemptive plan for the earth and its people.  We have a divine call and privilege to advance the opportunities and personal dignity of those who follow after.  And, for the believer those opportunities involve making inroads in preparing “the way of the Lord.”

The sooner we get over the illusion of achieving and focus upon the work of the advancing the “King and His kingdom” the more we will discover what life is. John the Baptist had the message.  He characterized himself as “a voice crying in the wilderness,” in fact, and gave us this refrain: 

“’Prepare the way for the Lord,

      make straight paths for him. 

Every valley shall be filled in,

      every mountain and hill made low. 

The crooked roads shall become straight,

      the rough ways smooth.

All mankind will see God’s salvation.’”

                                       Luke 3:4-6

 

The believer is empowered not to build something but to clear the way for it.  The straight paths may be seen as prayers and preparations for the coming event of His appearing.  The low places may be seen as lifting the lowly and the mountains and hills as in the bending and bowing of our natures to the king.  The crooked roads are those values, attitudes and styles which are out of joint and which are bent.

It is not drum beating of personal achievement which the believer is attuned to.  It is the padding of the feet of the multitudes that have gone before them to behold the promises fulfilled and looming even larger in what the scriptures call “The Golden City.”  This is the vision that lifted and carried generations bound in slavery and degradation.  It is the vision for which all human nature yearns in the essence of their seeking even of false temporal goals.

                             ***

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David.

1 My heart is not proud, LORD,
   my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
   or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
   I am like a weaned child with its mother;
   like a weaned child I am content.

3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD
   both now and forevermore.

Christians may be entitled to peace but they do become miserable from time to time. The times I am most despondent are those times when I fall into that category of persons who feel it is their job to fix everything that I perceive is wrong.  I have images of myself running in circles like a dog chasing my tail and every once in a while actually catching it.  Then, I ‘yelp’ as if I am suffering from some outside force and all the while I am biting at myself.

It is an illusion to believe that when it comes to relating to others that we can fix them or circumstances to create a perfect world.  We fix nothing.  It is the nature of this world that when you push something or someone in one place they bulge out in another. “Cause and effect” influences most of what happens in life and try as we may we cannot see all the consequences of our actions.  We need to have enough insight to accept that as a fact. 

When we push, a reaction takes place that is invariably larger than what we expected.  We are arrogant to think otherwise.  That is precisely why the believer needs to develop a trust inProvidenceto take over and order the pieces on this giant chess board for ultimate, how be it temporary, “solutions” which usually turn out to be nothing more than cutting a course through a sea of dangerous alternatives. 

This is especially true when we have to relate to other people.  When people are pushed they eventually end up exercising their wills in obvious or secret ways to resist the cure we would prescribe for them.  Nothing will reach them but what has reached us and that is what has reached us at the seat of our wills, the heart.

The Psalmist David was very aware of this.  Even though he was familiar with the tendency of sheep to be herded when he became a leader of people he learned people are not sheep.  As they sheep they need care and direction but unlike sheep people follow only when they get what they want and what they think they need.  Too much pondering on why this is so always leads us to the conclusion that the ways of men are “great matters or things too wonderful (overwhelming)” for us. 

David discovered the eventual solution for this ague of the soul was simply learning how to quiet himself as a child weaned from its mother.  Such a child no longer has to cry to get the comfort of care.  A “weaned child” has only to ask and trust.  The formula is a simple powerful one: speak truth and life; act on truth and life; trust in the truth and life which we have embraced as the Way of God.  Sow your seed of good will, love and labors and trust God for the growth.

Israel put your hope in the LORD
   both now and forevermore. ‘

 

 

June 2011

Psalm 133:1

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
         for brethren to dwell together in unity!

 

Unity is usually defined as agreement and harmony in the pursuit of a common life and goals.  However, there are times when we can only have a measure of unity.  I call it unity of spirit.  Deeply held convictions may keep us apart but we can be united to go separate ways without rancor in most working relationships.

Christians are generally united on one irrefutable thing.  One day we will stand before God as our judge.  In that day we will all agree we need his forgiveness.  We will all share a common vision and we will all be granted sight that will expose our poverty of understanding.   Therefore, it is often better not to wrangle too much and to humble our selves a lot. Let us not add more injury than we can help to our sins of ignorance and ineptitude.

 

Déjà Vous

 

Jan and I have encountered the situation I am describing below three times in our lives.  Two of those times were intensely personal and painful.  Those times taught us more about God’s faithfulness and the love of fellow believers than anything we could have imagined.  We have learned that it is precisely when we abandon ourselves to follow our consciences that our faith is enlarged.  I remember the words of my dear friend, Costa Dier, “There is no risk in obeying God.”

 

Moving On

June 26, 2011

 

The service at church began as usual today until large numbers began to drift in and fill seats not otherwise occupied except for Easter.  As the prelude began the acolyte, a solemn lad, began to come down the isle holding the candle lighter in front like a medieval fighter probing a dragons den.   The anxiety on his face was probably indicative of his fear the light would go out.  I thought the image was apropos.

Then we began to sing. Later we heard a sermon from our pastor on being a “peculiar people.”  “That we are,” we nodded as some of us flipped to our Bibles to 1 Peter 2: 4-12.  This word “peculiar” is used in the King James Version.  In more modern translations it is translated as “a people belonging to God.”[1]   

When our worship service ended this morning it was followed by a congregational business meeting.  The question before us was singular.  We simply voted ourselves out of the Presbyterian Church USA.[2]  The service was long but peaceable and uneventful.  We were finally coming to the end of a few years of resource consuming and intense agonizing.  

The controversy our fellowship has with the denomination is over matters of scriptural interpretation.  The national church believes it is keeping the “spirit” of Christ and free to interpret the Bible freely even in points where the scriptures are very specific.  This has historically been a heretical doctrine.  It is one which our congregation cannot embrace.  We believe Jesus represents simultaneously both Spirit and Truth.[3] This essentially means we must take a position on those areas which are being forsaken by the national church where the scriptures are very specific.  Love dictates that we depart in peace. Love and respect also dictate that those who disagree recognize that our mutual matters of conscience are irreconcilable. 

 

Compromise

 

Compromise is a big principle in modern culture.  In general, I generally favor trying to find the middle road.  However, that can only be done when people agree on the essential principles. We have no potential of compromising when we stand on fundamentally different premises.  That is when love always compels us to take a stand on those things which we believe endangers others.  

I am grateful that our local church has found its way.  I am grateful for those of our former denomination who, though they feel we are being rigid, are honoring our desire to depart peaceably.  I am grateful to be among a congregation of people who took a position without rancor and are willing to pay the price for doing so.[4] 

Our failure to end our partnership with the National Presbyterian Church USAis not a failure of love.  Trustingly, all of us usually believe we are sincerely acting in love.  No – this break of fellowship is the failure of one party or the other to grasp the truth. Which of us stands on truth?  Respectfully, each party believes it stands on the truth.  However, that alone does not make either party innocent of spiritual failure. There is a higher judge involved here.

The condition which we of the church share is clear to us.  We must now cast ourselves upon God as we know Him.  He will judge between us.  This is not trivial thing.  Yet, frankly, it is one which every believer faces every day of their lives as they determine how they will live as followers of Christ.    

Christians are not justified by keeping rules and commandments.  They are not justified by how perfectly they live by and understand doctrines.   They do not even justify themselves by putting up the best argument.  They simply live by faith in the leadership and grace of Christ. Whether our faith is well placed or misplaced makes all the difference on how we live now.  It also determines the capacity we will build for life in the Life to come.   The verity of our faith, you see, determines the capacity we have for the enjoyment of God forever. 

 

***

“Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”   G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy, Chapter III: The Suicide of Thought, 1909

 

“My anger protected me only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in.”   C.S. Lewis, Until We have Faces

 “There ain’t no use to get angry all the time; everthin’ will come out right in the end. What end? That is the question.” Benedict Burdane, The Croc that Ate My Crocs, TIC Publishers[5]

 

The Church

 

The fox drove us in here

 where thorns tear our fur

and tender skin.

 There is safety here and

warm whorls of grass –

 nesting places.

We are rabbits,

eyes timorous, quieted

 among sharp edges

where safety emulates fangs

minus the gullet.

We are settled with others driven

to an imperfect haven,

but home.

 In here all naked creatures

wait out the winter,

defy the brush beatings of

those would draw our blood

for sport or food.

This is our peace –

proposing harmony.

 

Holy Fog

Ah! Holy Spirit,

luminous fog

shrouding my path

and enfolding me.

 

I hurl myself headlong

into the viscous circle of sight;

absorbed by your embrace

as I meet each milepost –

a standard drilled by your love

for us.

 

Come Bright Dove!

Ah, bright Star of Morning –

shining dove sheathed in feathers of light-

swing,

         swoop,

                     sweep down on our Valley.

Beat your wings over us.  Send silvered fall-out:

redemption,

                 renewal,

                              restoration.

Leave feather kisses.

 

Already, we hear the whomp,

                     the whoosh,

                     the sound of many waters

    and bathe in the shower of shimmering rains.

We reach for fuller’s soap,

                     exult in suds,

                                             and song,

                     and O, so, so, so much so(u)l shine.

 

We watch you hover there

(in ever luminescent Eastern sky)

doing your wing-wobble dance.

We see you surveying with hawkish eye

for outreached hand and

a single crumb of confidence.

 

 I note that a well known, vocal, but here unnamed, atheist is railing that the government is not fulfilling his expectations.  He had that same expectations of his Creator and rejected him.  Why should he not reject his present god?  Considering that he is in a rejecting mood, and a contrarian to boot, there is probably no new god which will meet his expectation.

When the knowledge of God fails, or people reject God entirely, they will go to other things to replace him.  They often appear to develop other dependencies without realizing it:  self-help regimens; systems and associations of power and control; or governmental structures.    In the end such systems and governments always become increasingly controlling.  As a result individual freedom of choice is eroded away.  

 The Christian faith is often seen as controlling.  It does call us to higher standards but those standards require consent of the heart and not lock step which cults often encourage. The truth is that Christ Jesus broke up Pharisaic control, one of the dominating of religious systems of his day, and became a threat to Caesar, one of the greatest tyrants of his day. Where he is not revered we will find external restriction and enforced motivation.  Whenever Christ’s Spirit is truly present there is liberty.  After all, he created us in the image of God to be like Him: creative; exercising free choice; and embracing His life and way for the pure joy and love of it. 

 

***

  

Resurrection

 

Rain rhythms

beat upon the tin roof –

that great cloud of witnesses

falling one by one to merge

and flow ocean-ward for

that great sleep.

 

Soon there will be resurrection –

invisible – sheets of mist

will rise to gather again in the clouds –

in the sky –

until the thundering trumpet

breaks the great languid Spring Day

and we all wake together

to careen, to shine in the light

and make rainbows

in the prisms of our tears.

 

                                                       


[1] The peculiarity is properly ascribed because Christian believers should be distinctive from general society in its values and goals.  Another term used to describe this distinctiveness Biblically is “holy.” It means, among other things, “wholly other” or just plain “radically different.”

[2] The vote was 94% percent of the members present.  A total of 72% of active membership were present after every effort had been made to assure the largest number possible.

[3]  “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  John 1:17

[4] We will learn whether or not we are released by the Presbytery of area churches on July 23.  That release will mean we will maintain our property which we hold in trust for the denomination. It will also determine when we will unite with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  We do not intend to be independent.  We merely want to practice our faith as we have for the last 500 years. 

[5] TIC publishers is a tongue in cheek reference and is entirely fabricated because the editor has a drenched sense of humor from too many baths in tepid water.  See!  You should read footnotes.

May 2011

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Many people on the losing sides of wars die for lost causes promoted at times by evil men.  However, many of them truly live and die for love of their fellowman, giving the “last measure of devotion” for those whom they believe they are protecting.  This counts for something with humankind and it is only in the economy of God that we will learn how their devotion is transcendent in eternity.  At most times there is no way for us to avoid the moral contradictions of such service.

On days of memorial we remember men and women of honor for their praiseworthy sacrifices and leave even the final judgments of history of their causes to be countermanded or affirmed at the throne of Almighty God.  To pay tribute to the concept of honor is not a bad thing.  To honor is good.  To call evil causes good or good causes evil is an abomination.  To call honorable deeds praiseworthy is a good thing.

 ***

Remembering

There are places in my memory I can never go back to again but which remain idyllic.  Strangely, many of them are sites of war and places where men shed blood in some of the bloodiest battles which are now nearly forgotten.  Other similar sites, remembered in history books, are all but forgotten in the normal course of living for the pain that was inflicted there. We remember them for the good that has come from them. Sometimes those places are the location of legends and gilded heroes.  Most often they fade into the annals of history or anonymity.

Today I am remembering several hills in the Republic of Korea.  I only know them now by their military numbers or names which I have assigned them: Hill 303, 131, Eagles Nest, Sky Land, Bloody Ridge and C’hun Cheon Knoll.  These were remote places I visited as a Chaplain.  At the time I was ministering to American Forces trying to maintain a fragile peace twelve years after the Korean War stalemate.  I lived for a while in the shadow of two of these hills.  As a result I became acquainted with some of their sad histories and their resurrections from the plains which they protected.

For one, Hill 303 looked down on the Naktong River in Waegwan, Korea where the line was drawn for part of the Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War.  This is where American troops stopped the North Korean advance southward and began to drive them back. One bright Sunday I climbed Hill 303 with two other soldiers to locate a spot where 41 American soldiers were murdered.  The pictures in stark black and white show them bound with wire and lying murdered in a trench.  I found that trench in its still primitive setting and stood over it in reverential awe.

Today, that same ground, I am told, burgeons with vineyards and orchards and is remembered by only a few for the horror which it once staged  when it was strewn with dead soldiers far from their homelands.  This is an interesting thing about war.  The Hell which battlefields represent is usually covered up in a short time.  This is also true of tornados, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes and other tragedies. 

There is something in nature’s laws, conceptualized by its Creator and in the human heart, which does not love a tragic ending. We are made by our Creator to understand that there is a redemption factor in all of life.  So history and nature heal.  However, at the same time, lessons that we might have learned may be easily forgotten.  That is why we must make a decision to remember the paths and the pains that have brought us to our present state of grace.

At the end of this month we traditionally celebrate Memorial Day.   This is a good thing.  It is a time to take time to remember that there have been many people who have gone before us who made our lives richer and more promising.  This is true of those who died for patriot cause and our parents, ancestors and benefactors who lived and served us.  Let us take time to give thanks for those blessed souls.  In remembering let us also draw a resolve to live to benefit those who will follow after us.  Remembering is a good thing.

 

***

 

Soldier at D-Day

 

I have seen that same warrior etched

in celluloid black and white

fall a hundred times,

stumble upon the beach,

drop like a sack of wet sand-

broken-

a winged bird crumpled

by the marksman shot.

 

He is faceless,

two-dimensional youth,

whose death is more important

than his unrealized life,

a macabre shadow,

dropping as  stone into primal sea.

 

He was senseless,

not aware that we die as him

to relive a thousand resurrections.

and scribe his bronzed name

under the footstones

of a thousand institutions.

 

He lives

in all the tears we shed

when shattered dreams

sing deaths’ song.

 

He lives  

when we rise from the grit

to take the ground upon which he fell

where swirling waters

suck corpses back to sea.

 

He lives as we.

Together we are Jonahs in the belly

of our rumbling Leviathians,

would be deliverers

probing Ninevah’s shores,

trembling as that great jaw opens

at water’s edge

and the monster belches

through gaping maws.

 

He lives as we.

We have known his fear

on our own beaches

where he filled his helmet

with soured breakfast

and white hot fingers

tore his chest

to fall in sands

where innocence recedes. 

 

He lives as we.

 We have paddled with him

up to armpits in crimson sea

lapping at the shores of the evil abyss

and topple sandcastles of summers past.

 

Falling with him,

I often wonder what some mother

asks if this was her son who fell.

I have imagined what father

 had his heart ripped out

as that familiar shape trashed their dreams

where beasts cowered in their lairs.

 

***

 

Heroes

Their shadows do not eclipse the sun.

Following the gray line beyond their earthly mien

we see the Light.

                                                               

April 2011

The Witnesses

 

In the end, our faith in the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, is grounded upon the testimony of witnesses and it is ultimately dependent upon the fire that the resurrection started in their souls and the societies of the ages.

 

Character of the Witnesses

 

The disciples who followed Jesus were not theorists.  They were neither theologians nor philosophers.  They were like Andrew, skilled laborers, and Matthew, people who knew how to add and subtract.  They were like John, young and impressionable and Thomas, who doubted until he could touch the wounds in Jesus’ body. They were not the kind of people who sat around and pondered how they would like to see the world work. 

 

For the most part the early witnesses of the resurrection were practical people who lived in the full sun of harsh realities and had a life where action was the difference between life and death.  Peter, who was uncomfortable with reflection and who had a tendency to act even before he thought, illustrates this.  We must also admit from reading the record that the variety and inclusiveness among the first followers of Jesus is typical of modern times. They were common and cultured, doers and dreamers, intelligent and practical and wealthy and poor.  They were the reporters of the final results of every effort to demolish the claims to deity of Jesus. It is difficult to conjecture how one could assemble a better jury or witness pool.

 

After the crucifixion the followers of Jesus were dispirited.  They were fearful. They fled the scene of his punishments.  They went into hiding.  The testimony is that they were devastated by the sudden shock of having their beloved leader taken from them, tried, beaten, gibbeted on a cross, hastily having his battered body laid in a borrowed tomb and sealed away from their eyes. 

 

Each of the twelve was in individual and in personal states of doubt and despair.  None of them seemed to believe the resurrection had even occurred until they reportedly had seen Jesus, in the flesh, before them.  When they saw Him they were transformed.  This is not the testimony of their mouths.  It is the testimony of their lives and the transformation was so powerful that every one of them became willing and benevolent martyrs overnight.

 

 

The Effects of their Witness

 

In spite of our too often spotted record, the followers of Christ have done more by their witness and sacrifice than any other faith to transform the world from barbarism to the positive aspects of our world culture which we enjoy today.  The high ideals of the Enlightenment, placing value on the individual, are a direct product of the gospel of Christ.   The triumphal and dubious notions that we “can be anything we want to be” have their root in the optimism and hope seeded by those early followers of Jesus.  Whenever people cry out for purpose, justice, charity and equality they are espousing notions that are post-Christian, at least, and Christian at best.  Any evolution of ideas that we suppose we have as moderns find their real apex in the teachings of Jesus and there are no higher thoughts  or practical ways of life than those He taught and inspires in His followers.

 

Even when Christians are rightly impugned for their improprieties, morality, barbarisms, ignorance and sins by the culture it is always by the standards of Christ which Christians teach and society has unwittingly adopted.  After all, if judgment is  first to begin in the house of God, when it is all said and done it will end with all of mankind standing before their Creator.  (I Peter 4:17) 

 

Passing Our Judgment

 

So- it all comes to this.   The resurrection of Christ and the testimony of those who witnessed it bring us all to the place of choice.   We must individually decide if they were witnessing to the truth.  We become the jury which really decides how we will live and what we will release to the public domains of mankind.   Our judgment of Christ and his witnesses cannot be dismissed without consequences.   A hung jury essentially chooses what it decides it must live with.

 

 

 

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (I Corinthians 15:1-11)

 

***

Were the wounds which you bear put upon you by Christ?  Were they imposed upon you as some distant God turned his back upon you?  Were you disappointed because He was not true to His word or because those entrusted with His legacy failed to bring you to Him?  Did he bring coldness upon your heart or did someone else steal your early innocence and trample upon your tender affections?  When did He ever demonstrate hypocrisy, this one who spoke plainly and bore the brunt of truth killing partisanship? 

If you were failed, it was not Him who failed you.  He has done all He can to show you the winsome face of God for whom you long with every good aspiration.  He has done all He can to refute the ugliness foisted upon you by power brokers and blind guides. He has not failed in His mission to reach for you as you felt every gentle affection, He has offered but comfort in your nights of tears; he has but lifted you up again with new hope when you were cast down.  Do you not know his name?  Do you not know you could not have found any new love, new hope and new purpose without Him?