Sunday, March 31, 2019

While It Is Day: Pondering “The Works of Him”

Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent me, while it is day…” (John 9:4). This blog “While It Is Day” is my small attempt to do “the works of Him” who sent Jesus and who called out to me years ago, inviting me to live as best I could in His company.  What are these  “works?”  What are these works I am to do and these works I am to be, while it is day?  

Jesus suggested that we could not do the works of Him who sent Jesus without being connected to Him.  Jesus connected with His Father, the One who sent him, through prayer and urged us to pray also.  Jesus constantly reiterated the fact that what he was doing, what he was saying, and what he was being, was not his own doing, saying, or being, but that of Him who sent him.  “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself commanded me what to say and how to speak…What the Father said to me, therefore—that is what I speak. (John 12:49-50).  Again in John 8:28, Jesus says, “I do nothing on my own, but in all that I say, I have been taught by my Father.  He who sent me is present with me, and has not left me alone; for I always do what is acceptable to Him.”  Since I am not Jesus I do not make the claim that “I always do what is acceptable to the Father,” but I do, by being in His company seek to share what the Father gives to me as best I can.  One of my oft-repeated prayers is the “Prayer of Rest” found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:  “O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our (Your) work is done.  Then by thy holy mercy grant us safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.”

For now, while it is day, I must do and be all that the Father calls me to do and to be.  He calls me (all of us) to a party—the grace-party of life:  “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden.”  “I have come,” Jesus said, that  “you might have life and have it abundantly.”  Jesus’ Father and “Our" Father, calls me to be me—this is a big part of His work that I am to do and to be.  I am called to be me—me, as I am meant to be, not as I was, not as I am, not as I will be—but the me-in-the-making, right now,  the me that is “not yet” but moving right along.  

Jesus summed up the “works of Him who sent him” with two commandments that he rolled into one:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. It comes first.  The second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Everything”…Jesus said, “hangs on these two commandments.”  These are the works of Him who sent Jesus and who has called us, too,  to do  His works, While It Is Day.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Quoter--The Echoer

“For I was ever commonplace,
Of genius never had a trace;
My words the world has never fed—
Mere echoes of the book last read.

I have always been a “quoter,“ a communicator (speaker or writer) who uses or echoes the words of others.  Why?  Because I know I am a commonplace writer, not a literary genius.  I wish I were a creative writer who could use words the way Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, and Nikos Kazantzakis did, but alas, I am just me.  But as “me” I have always wanted to lift up what I think are great thoughts, inspired writings—the works of the geniuses whose words speak to that which I have inside me, but cannot articulate.  

I’m a amateur woodcarver.  How can I express what I see looking at a log or a piece of wood?  How in the world would I find the words to tell what happens to me spiritually as the chisel begins its work?  How to explain the emotion that wells up as some little feature emerges from the wood?  Let me, therefore, echo the words of Kazantzakis given to Odysseus in The Odyssey, A Modern Sequel:

“One night while sleeping in my workshop all alone I heard a marble block cry out in the still night; it was my own enslaved soul crying, choked in stone. At once I leapt from sleep, seized all my sharpest tools and in the lamp’s dim light began to hew the block and crash through the thick prison walls to free my soul, till finally at dawn the godly head emerged, cool and rejoiced, and deeply breathed the crystal air.

Slowly I freed its breast and shoulders, its lean loins, and as it rose from stone to light, my own jailed head, my shoulders, chest, and loins were also slowly freed; and when my soul had form my hands wholly emerged it raised its eyes to the sky and soared like a giddy bird!”

Never could I write or speak such expressive words.  So I echo them.  You may never have opportunity to read Kazantzakis, but I can share him with you as I echo his words which articulate what I feel but cannot express.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Sleepless in Rising Sun

There is nothing on my schedule today that would be deemed exciting or cause me to be anxious.  I do not feel any sense of dread or stress.  I don’t think I’m depressed.  I’m not taking any new medications.  I’m not a substance abuser.  Actually, things are going quite well in my life at the moment.  So, why is it that I can’t sleep?  I awoke this morning at 2:30 a.m.  I tried reading, which normally does the trick, but it didn’t work.  I counted sheep.  I counted my blessings, of which there are many.  I tried to plumb my inner depths to ascertain if there were any hidden frustrations, worries, concerns, etc. that might be holding me a captive to wakefulness. I found nothing!  I even listened to music for a little while, but that didn’t work either.

It is one of the costs of being human that on occasion we have bouts of sleeplessness.  It happens to most of us once or twice a year.  Last night was my first time for the new year 2019!  I expect another similar night will come sooner or later.  Being unable to sleep doesn’t always have to do with worry about tomorrow or our chewing over yesterdays.  It doesn’t always mean we are depressed or under stress. It just happens occasionally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 50 to 70 million Americans have a sleep or wakefulness disorder.  According to an article in Psychology Today, “if it takes 30 minutes or more to fall asleep, or if someone is awake for 30 minutes or more during the night at least three times a week—for a month or more—they’re officially suffering from insomnia.”  

I don’t think I suffer from chronic insomnia, but if I keep thinking about it in reference to last night, I’ll probably get it tonight!  

Ah! It just occurred to me why I might have had difficulty sleeping last night.  I think it was those two naps I took yesterday.  I normally just have a little nap after lunch, but yesterday I took a longer one than usual.  And then, I took yet another nap after dinner.  Maybe that’s the reason I was sleepless last night!  Could be?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Betraying Jesus

Judas betrayed Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter betrayed Jesus three times before the night was over (before the cock crowed).  We focus on these betrayals of the past and ignore the betrayals of the religion of Jesus in our own time.

Building walls to keep people in or out is an ethical and moral evil.  We know this from the practice of segregation, which, by the way, still exists and colors every facet of our society.  The walls of segregation divide the privileged from the underprivileged, the rich from the poor, the comfortable from the uncomfortable.  It has always been so, but it doesn’t have to be, and that is what Jesus came to tell us. But the walls remain and whatever side of the wall you happen to be, one thing is certain:  the wall poisons any opportunity to connect with the other—for walls prohibit us from discovering a sense of mutual worth and value in each other—which is why walls are built up in the first place.

“American Christianity,” wrote Howard Thurman, “has betrayed the religion of Jesus almost beyond redemption.”  No walls are more formidable than those established by the Church (churches).  Churches have been established for the poor, the weak, the privileged, and the underprivileged, on the assumption that “birds of a feather flock together.”  Churches actually separate rather than unify.  If this is true, then we will never find love for one another, because the first step toward love is a common sharing of a sense of mutual worth and value.  If you stay with your flock and I stay with mine, and we are satisfied with this, then learning how to love one another isn’t going to happen. 

Churches have been established for the Chinese, the Korean, the Mexican, the Filipino, the Italian, the Greek, the white Anglo-Saxon, the Russian, and the African-American. The one place, the Church, which is supposed to emulate Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor, is one of the greatest barriers (walls) to that ever happening.  What a betrayal!  

We must cease scapegoating Judas and Peter for their betrayal of Jesus during this season of Lent and take a closer look at our own betrayal of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Pondering the Elixir of Living

This “While It Is Day” living is not always easy, but I consider it a far better alternative than not having  any “While It Is Day” time at all!  Living is not easy when we are young, trying to find our way into an adult world.  Living is not easy as we attempt to choose our vocations.  Living is not easy being a parent.  Living just isn’t easy at any time or stage of life, and I don’t think it was ever meant to be easy.  Even Jesus indicated that living is not easy, and that this “difficult” living is standard fare for everybody: “Come to me,  all whose work is hard and whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief.”

Being alive doesn’t get any easier with retirement.  It is still a hard and often difficult road, but, again, better than the alternative. Being alive doesn’t get any better with old age either.  None of us need Scott Peck to tell us that “Life is difficult.” We already know  this in our own experience.  Life is not easy, 

Last July Cher and I enjoyed a wonderful journey to England to witness our granddaughter’s second wedding (to the same guy she married here in the States in October 2017).  My brother and his wife joined us.  What fun we had in Yorkshire and what joy we knew as we shared precious moments with Katie and Liam.  From England we journeyed on to St. Petersburg and  Copenhagen via a cruise on the Baltic Sea.  An unforgettable trip!  

In August, however, Cher suffered a T.I.A. or what is commonly known as a mini-stroke.  There had been no warning signs, no clues.  It came as total surprise.  Fortunately there were no ill-effects and she began taking the various preventative medicines that many “older people” know all about (including me!).  Unfortunately none of these “meds” helped much with the intense pain she was experiencing with her arthritic knee.  Surgery seemed the only option.  Surgery occurred in December (followed by complications, of course!).  For the past three months she has worked hard in physical therapy sessions (the last one is tomorrow) to get her “new” knee functioning properly.  It hasn’t been easy, but then, living isn’t easy.  Not for Cher, not for you, not for me, not for any of us.

A new tomorrow comes now as the medications do what they are meant to do and the new knee, after much hard work, is functioning as it should.  So we shall dance into tomorrow while it is day—and we’ll do it with enthusiasm, and with as much joy as we can muster, because while life isn’t easy, it is known to be of brief duration.  Live as much as you can, while you can, and as fully as you can—“While It Is Day.” 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Political Chicanery

Warren G. Harding was the 29th President of the United States.  He followed Woodrow Wilson in the aftermath of World War I.  His time in office was called the “reign of normalcy,” which strikes me as ironic, since the present Trump administration has been labeled “abnormal,” and pundits have talked about not allowing it to become “normalized.”

Prohibition was in effect during Harding’s tenure.  Alcohol was prohibited by law.  But that didn’t prevent the President from sneaking out of the White House to a house on H Street where the Ohio gang (his cronies) hung out to play poker, smoke their big cigars, and drink the never-ending flow of illegal booze.  The law didn’t seem to apply to those who wielded power.  Has it ever?

When Harding took office the business people began to infest Washington.  The word was that you could do business with the government now—if you slipped a little on the side to the right man.  Oil men licked their chops—they had lobbied for Harding’s nomination at the Republican Convention for a reason.  Harding’s Secretary of the Interior was more than willing, for a price, to let “businessmen” develop the nation’s natural resources.  The scandals of this “reign of normalcy” were many and came to public awareness only after Harding’s death.

In the summer of 1923, Harding suffered ptomaine poisoning and then developed pneumonia.  On August 2, 1923 he died suddenly from what his physicians said was “a stroke of apoplexy.”  Harding was well liked by the nation.  The people were plunged into grief over his passing. The President’s body was placed on a train, which traveled across country from San Francisco to Washington DC.  All along the way, throngs of mourners gathered to see the train go by and pay homage.  A reporter for the New York Times  wrote, “It is believed to be the most remarkable demonstration in American history of affection, respect, and reverence for the dead.”  Speeches were made on the day of public mourning.  Bishop Manning of New York, speaking at the memorial service at St. John the Divine, said:  “If I could write one sentence upon his monument it would be this, ‘He taught us the power of brotherliness.’”  The dead President was called “a majestic figure who stood out like a rock of consistency.”  His vision, said others, “was always on the spiritual.”  

As he was dying, Harding “kept asking…the trusted reporters who surrounded him what a President should do whose friends had betrayed him.”  He knew what was going on in his administration, but tried to make his friends the scapegoats. The nation knew nothing about it—YET!  They soon found out.  They found that their hero, their man, the President of the United States, wasn’t all that they had thought him to be.

Monday, March 25, 2019

I Hear Tomorrow Coming

Elton Trueblood enjoyed telling the story of his 95-year-old Quaker aunt—who purchased a new carpet for her apartment and insisted on a 25-year warranty.  Why not?  Someone said, I don’t know who, that tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.  

I hear tomorrow coming and I hope it will find me alive and kicking just as Elton’s 95-year old aunt hoped for another 25-years to enjoy her new carpet!  I have made plans for many tomorrows—for April, for May, June and July and right on through the year 2019.  I’m looking forward to a tomorrow 193 days from today!  On that tomorrow  I plan to travel to Europe with my wife and three of my siblings and their mates.  We’ve just worked out the details and we are all set to visit Paris and the Swiss Alps.  Naturally we’ve all purchased trip insurance!  At this stage of the game, my hearing could be failing me and when I think I am hearing tomorrow coming—I might be hearing something entirely different.

There are many who will want to remind me of what the Bible says about dealing with tomorrow.  Didn’t Jesus tell us not to worry or deal with tomorrow? I’m not worried about tomorrow—I’m excited about it!   I know, too, what James 4:13-15 has to say:  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there…”. Why you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say,  “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  What does this mean?    How am I to know what the Lord wills?  Does anyone know? Does it mean, don’t plan anything—don’t schedule anything—don’t dream of creating something—because, after all, you are just a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes?”  I want to make the most of my “little while” (all the tomorrows remaining for me) and not spend my time considering my “vanishing.”  

I’m familiar with that oft-parroted phrase from Robert Burns:  “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  I know that has happened in my own experiences, both in  the past and present, and I know plans will probably go awry in my tomorrows, too.  What matter?  Forge ahead.  Plan to do something tomorrow.  Listen for tomorrow’s coming and fill it with your dreams, your hopes and aspirations.  Abraham was 75-years-old when he went in search of a new land.  Moses was 80 years-old when he led his people into the wilderness.  If you hear tomorrow coming—live it to the hilt, live  it abundantly.
Just can't wait to get on the road again...tomorrow,
tomorrow..You're always just a day a way!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Hanging Out At The Party

For thirty years  or more I went on silent retreat with a small community of friends from around the country. We came year after year to be together and to be guided by Gordon Cosby, our retreat leader.   It was always meaningful (kairos) time. This morning I happened upon the notes from our 1999 retreat. Gordon Cosby’s theme:  There is  a “grace-party going on” for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Christians have stumbled on the good news, Gordon began.  They’ve discovered a hidden treasure.  They have heard they’re wanted at a party—a  “Pourer of New Wine” will there.  Those at this grace-party are inebriated—“sanely intoxicated” (as Keating wrote).  They’re drinking the wine of a new and heightened life.

Everybody who really wants to be there is invited.  Nobody has to crash the party.  The more you are disrespected by the society at large, the more fun you’re apt to be having at the party.

Abundance characterizes the whole shindig.  Scarcity is not a part of the deal.  Manna is falling everywhere.  Everybody is looked after and cared for and the scraps of abundance have to be picked up to keep from littering the landscape.  

You’re constantly offered one drink after another of this exhilarating wine.  Please, have another drink.  More, more, more!  Of course, you have to give it away, but don’t become uneasy, there’s plenty more.  It’s like an Artesian well.  You can’t stop the flow.  Love is flowing all over the place, too.  If you need someone to listen, take your pick.  If you’re bleeding from the wounds of the past, there are plenty of caring folk to sooth and bandage your wounds—to pour on wine and oil.  If you need to be held, no problem.  Looking for respect?  You’ll get such a dose, you’ll wonder who you are.  Want a little peace in your life at last?  Even joy?  There’s no blockage to the flow of peace and joy.

This is just the nature of what’s going on.  One can exclude oneself from the celebration, from the abundance, from the excitement, but aside from self-exclusion, you’ll be washed in goodness.  Because it is a grace-party, everybody there is undeserving.  Goodness has nothing to do with anything.  If you’re there, your going to be inundated with gifts.  You’ll have to deal with your embarrassment at having all this stuff shoved at you.  But that’s your problem.  The nature of the Host (and the Pourer of New Wine, too) and the nature of the party, is unexpected treasure. 

“Come to my party,” says the Host.  “I want you.  I need you.  I’ll consciously miss you if you don’t come and remain.  It won’t be as good a party for me if you don’t come.  How can I pour out my love in you if you’re not there to receive it?  Hang out with me at the party.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

It Is Not Okay!

Yesterday, while tinkering about in the garage, I listened to Peter, Paul, and Mary sing, “Don’t Laugh At Me.”  I was struck by the last two lines:
“My country, ’tis of thee, oh, sweet land of liberty 
It is of thee, that I sing”
This one song says it all.  The name-calling and the bullying have always been around—but it seems to me it has been given new license in recent days.  Why must we get our pleasure from another’s pain?  It is not okay!

I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call the geek
A little girl who never smiles
‘Cause I have got braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep
I’m that kid on eery playground who’s always chosen last
A single teenage mother tryin’ to overcome my past
You don’t have to be my friend but is it too much to ask?
Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain’
In God’s eyes we’re all the same…don’t laugh at me

I’m the beggar on the corner you’v passed me on the street
And I wouldn’t be out here beggin’ if I had enough to eat
And don’t think I don’t notice that our eyes never meet
Don’t laugh at m, don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain

I’m fat, I’m thin
I’m short, I’m tall
I’m deaf, I’m blind
Hey, aren’t we all?

I’m black, I’m white
And I am brown
I’m Jewish, I’m Christian
And I’m a Muslim
I’m gay, I’m lesbian
I’m American Indian
I’m very, very young
I’m quite aged
I’m quite well fed
I'm very, very poor
Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
Someday we’ll all have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me
My country, ’tis of thee, oh, sweet land of liberty
It is of thee, that I sing.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Wall That Creates All Others

The one wall, so evident in our time, which creates all other walls in our world is the separation of thought from opinion or belief (in religion, politics, and every other area of our social life).  No where is this more evident than in religion—though the same phenomena is happening today in the realm of our American politics.  That “wall” is our failure to think. We cannot “care” or “love” without thought.  We cannot separate thought from either the will or the emotions, for as human beings we are a unity.  We can never merely be beings who understand, or will, or feel, or opine—we are people with minds made for pondering as well. 

I’m reminded of St. Teresa of Avila, who wrote, “Let no one be taken into this religious house of ours, unless she is a woman of a sound understanding.  For if she is without mind, she will neither know herself nor will she understand her best teachers.  Ignorance and self-conceit is a disease that is simply incurable, and, besides, it usually carries a great malice and great malignity along with it.  Commend me to people with good heads.  From all silly devotees may God deliver us!” 

Vision becomes reality, love happens, care begins, and walls come crashing down, only when we have first “inquired and searched diligently” for truth.  "Our hearts,” writes E. Herman, have gone cold because we have lost the art of pondering.”   Without thinking things through, without inquiry, without searching diligently for truth, we fall for anything and everything—and must therefore build a wall to protect our ignorance, our stance, our opinion, or our belief.

The wall built by the failure to think and ponder is one we are very familiar with:  them/us, young/old, conservative/liberal, etc.  If “your truth” and “my truth” (subjectivism) are both true, there is no room for dialogue. The point is, however, that there are facts—objective facts.  There is evidence—objective evidence—and by careful thought and pondering we can discover truth together, but only if we are open to a truth outside our own.  

“Think, learn to think!” Even the scripture has God complaining:  “My people doth not consider!”  We are wondrously made and a part of the equipment given us to live is the gift of the mind.  Let us use it to its full capacity, in spite of our belief, our stance, our opinion, or our particular bent.  As Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed often:  “There is something in this universe that justifies Carlyle in saying, ‘No lie can live forever.’ There is something in this universe which justifies Willian Cullen Bryant in saying, ‘Truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ There is something in this universe that justifies James Russell Lowell in saying:
Truth forever on the scaffold
Wrong forever on the throne
Yet that scaffold sways the future
And behind the dim unknown stands God
Within the shadows keeping watch above his own.”

My Great Granddaughter--just a'pondering!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

I Am Visited

This morning I am visited.  Howard Thurman wrote, “We are surrounded by the witness of those others whose strivings have made possible so much upon which we draw. From the common reservoir of our heritage, those who have carried the light against the darkness, those who have persevered when to persevere seemed idiotic and suicidal, those who have forgotten themselves in the full and creative response to something that calls them beyond the furthest reaches of their dreams and their hopes.

We are surrounded also by the witness of the life of the spirit in peculiar ways that speak directly to our hearts and to our needs: those men and women with whom in our moments of depression and despair and in our moments of joy and delight, we identify.”

I am surrounded, here in this little cubicle I call my study, by such witnesses.  They come to me often through the written word and I welcome their presence.  I do not know how I could live without them and their visits with me.

I am visited this morning by E. Stanley Jones.  He was, and remains, one of my spiritual heroes.  I read many of his books in my early years of preparation for ministry.  In 1968 I finally had opportunity to meet him and to hear him speak. He was 85 years old then, and I was 25!  He was an old man; I was a young maverick.  Yet his person and his message penetrated the very depths of my being.  Three years later he suffered a stroke and wrote  “The Divine Yes,”  (his last and his thirtieth book).

During his visit with me this morning, E. Stanley Jones reminded me that it isn’t what happens to us that matters, but what we do with what happens to us that counts.  He reiterated what he wrote after his stroke:   “When I am no longer “alive” on the inside, then I do not see why I should be kept alive on the outside.” He reminded me, too, that the center of the Christian faith is a Person who is open to all people, everywhere, on equal terms, and repeated Von Hugel’s words that a Christian is one who cares!  Along with his 30 books, Dr. Jones also preached sixty thousand sermons during his long life. This morning he shared yet another sermon with me. I am grateful.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Clouds of Winter

Just one more day and spring will break forth.  The cold, snow, wind, sleet, and clouds of winter will pass away and we will again bask in nature’s grand renewal of things and life.  I look forward to spring.  In recent days I’ve walked about in the back lawn to assure myself that it is really coming by checking out the hyacinths and daffodils that are even now poking up through the still cold ground.  

Our eagerness and longing for spring, however, can cause us to miss the closing days of winter—for winter holds mysteries of its own if we are open to those mysteries and look carefully enough.

“Human life,” wrote E. Herman, “is as a cloudy day.  It has no sky so bright but that a little cloud like a man’s hand appears on the far horizon.  Ere we know it, the blue has turned to grey, and still the clouds roll on, driven by bleak, unfriendly winds.  Disappointment, perplexity, loss, bereavement, and, worse than all, spiritual despondency—times when life seems a cruel riddle, and the soul is darkened with doubt—are as common as clouds in a northern sky.”  

Such clouds are so common that we cease to struggle against them and say to ourselves, “Wait, there is nothing to do but wait.  Wait till the clouds go by, wait patiently, until winter is done and spring arrives.”  This attitude suggests that in the darkness of winter there is only the promise of spring—and it seems to say that the only thing we can do is wait despondently while the clouds of winter hover over us.  

Scripture tells us in that ancient story of the Exodus, that God “led them with a cloud.”  Do we consider that possibility as we live through these last days of winter?  Is it possible that in the midst of winter, through the boredom and cabin-fever, through the dullness, the grey days, in the cold and snow of the season, we are being led?

The Psalmist wrote, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress”—made me a better person—not after the winter (the distress) has passed, but in the midst of it. I think of Jacob’s dream experience as told in Genesis (28:10ff).  He awoke from his powerful dream and said, “Truly the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  He named that place “Beth-El” (God’s place).  Winter is God’s place, too.  It is not just a time where all we can do is wait for spring. It is, rather, a Beth-El, a place where God is and can lead us, guide us, and cause us to grow.  He leads us with clouds too.  As God led the Hebrew people with a cloud, so winter clouds can guide us.  “Truly God is in this place (too) and I did not know it.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

To Pray, To Serve, And To Think

Elton Trueblood wrote:  “The three necessary elements of any genuine Christianity are, first, the experience of inner vitality that comes by the life of prayer, second, the experience of outer action in which the Christian carries on a healing ministry, both to individuals and to social institutions, and third, the experience of careful thinking by which the credibility of the entire operation may be supported.  Religions tend to die when any one of the three is omitted for an extended period of time.” Life, too, withers when any of these three elements are missing.

I would suggest that all three elements are necessary for any person who seeks to be really alive and fully human.  It is the vocation of every person.  We are all called (whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or even as one without religious label) to pray, to serve, and to think.  We are called to do all three together.   This is one of the best things we can do for this troubled world just now—to pray, to serve, and to think.

Volumes have been written about what it means to pray. Is praying that difficult that we need thousands of books to explain it to us?  I would suggest that prayer is a natural response to life and something everybody does spontaneously in good times and in difficult times.  To sit quietly along the seashore and ponder the incoming waves without a word is a form of prayer.  To sit, silently, at the bedside of a dying mother, father, or child is prayer.  To celebrate, to give thanks, at birthdays, graduations, and other precious moments, is to pray.  To examine one’s own life as each new day is born is to be engaged in prayer.  To do all this consciously is to pray. There is more, of course, but I don’t have the space….

Likewise, we are all called to “carry on a healing ministry” to individuals and to social institutions.  This kind of service is as natural as living itself.  Every mother, father, sister and brother serves.  Every person serves—if that person cares—and every person who prays learns quickly to care.  A word of greeting, of encouragement, of interest in another person’s well-being is a form of service.  There’s more, of course, but I don’t have the space…

Every human being thinks!  The hope is that every person will think out of the experience of his or her praying and out of his or her experience of serving—thinking outside one’s own ego, thinking outside one’s own box, and thinking outside one’s geographical location.  To pray, to serve, and to think are not religious exercises.  They are the vocation of every human being.  What we are (a praying, caring, serving, thinking person) is more significant in the long run, than what we do, for it is impossible for a man or a woman to give what he or she does not have.  There’s more, of course, but I don’t have the space…

Monday, March 18, 2019

To See Clearly

Keith Miller’s book, A Second Touch, was based on the story found in the Gospel of Mark (8:22ff) of Jesus healing of a blind man in Bethsaida.  The people brought the man to Jesus and begged him to touch him.  Jesus led the man by the hand away from the village.  He spat on his eyes and laid his hands upon him and asked whether he could see anything.  The man’s sight began to come back and he said, “I see men; they look like trees, but they are walking about.”  Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again.  The man once blind was cured with a second touch.  Now “he saw everything clearly.”

There are many people who have been touched once by Jesus who say with boldness that they are able to see everything clearly ever since that first touch.  It has never been so in my own journey.  How many times have I looked hard, but could only “see men; they look like trees, but they are walking about.” The blind man’s healing experience reminds me of my own before I put on my first pair of glasses, when  I would look at the teacher’s writing on the chalkboard and the letters seemed to dance around.    I’m one of those characters of whom Jesus mentioned often:  “Do you still not understand?  Are your minds closed?  You have eyes: can you not see?  You have ears: can you not hear?”  The prophet Jeremiah said the same:  “You foolish and senseless people, who have eyes and see nothing, ears and hear nothing” (5:21).  Even the Psalmist mentioned characters like me, characters who need their blindness healed over and over again, “They have mouths that cannot speak and eyes that cannot see; they have ears that do not hear….”

John Ruskin wrote about this business of seeing clearly. “The greatest thing the human soul ever does in this world is see something and tell what it saw in a plain way.  Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.”  Douglas Steere wrote:  “To see clearly is poetry and prophecy and religion in one.”

Do we see clearly? How do we see Men?  Women?  Neighbors? Friends? Immigrants? Do they look like trees walking about?  How many “second touches” will it take before I can see clearly?  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Grateful for Meghan

Ecclesiastes (3:7) says there is "a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak,” and the time for Americans to speak was yesterday.  Yesterday, on June 16, 2015 for example, somebody should have spoken out when a candidate for the presidency of the United States of America said, “”They’re (immigrants) bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists…”. Yesterday, on July 18, 2015, somebody should have spoken out when Trump said of John McCain, “He’s not a war hero.”  Yesterday, on October 31, 2015, somebody should have spoken out when he tweeted, “The Wall Street Journal loves to write badly about me.  They better be careful or I will unleash big time on them….”.  Yesterday, on December 2015, for example, somebody should have spoken out when he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.  Few said anything at all.  It was just yesterday, November 8, 2016, that we failed to speak loud enough, and Donald Trump became “the fifth person in U.S. history to become president while losing the nationwide popular vote.”

It was just a recent yesterday, March 11, 2019, (every “thinking” American should have cringed and shouted from the top of every hill and mountain and skyscraper), when Mr. Trump issued “a bizarre, indirect warning that his supporters could get ‘tough’ on his political enemies at a ‘certain point,’ in a clip of a Breitbart interview.”  These are his words, “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump—I have tough people, but they don’t play it tough—until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”  And few said a mumbling word, not Republicans, Democrats, pundits, or citizens.  I’m stunned by this, even more stunned than I’ve been by the silence that attended all those other yesterdays!

No wonder I’m grateful to Meghan McCain who does speak out every time her father, the late Sen. John McCain, is attacked by Donald Trump.  He did it again just yesterday.  Meghan did not mince words in her response—“No one will ever love you the way they loved my father,” she tweeted. I wish I had been given more Saturday’s with him.  Maybe spend yours with your family instead of on twitter obsessing with mine?”  Thanks, Meghan, for speaking—for shouting back—for resisting—for “overthrowing the existing order,” which we all should be doing vigorously.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Another Tragic Happening

New Zealand has 1.2 million registered firearms among its 4.6 million people. A mass shooting in 1990 led the country to tighten its gun laws, including restrictions on “military-style semiautomatic weapons,” but there are still a lot of guns in New Zealand.  The strange thing is that murders are rare in the land.  There were, according to the NYT, 35 murders countrywide in 2017.  That record will now be over-shadowed by the attacks yesterday on two mosques in which one person killed 49 people and wounded a number of others.  The suspect in yesterday’s mass shooting reportedly used five guns, which included two semi-automatic weapons.

When these terrible things happen here or there, wherever, we look for cause, for reason, motive, etc.  Some focus on the availability and accessibility of guns and types of guns.  New Zealand will be focusing on its gun laws now. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday after the tragedy,  “Our gun laws will change…I am committed to that.”   

Many people will demand changes in social media platforms since the gunman was able to live-stream his assault on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram for more than an hour.    This enabled others to crop the video and re-post it, creating even more disaster and harm.  The new safeguards instituted by the social media giants were not sufficient to stop this from happening.  Some will be all over the social media issue—just as others will be all over the gun issue.

Still others will attempt to explain the awful event as the result of a “disturbed mind” and urge greater mental health awareness and aid.  And there will those who will now insist that every mosque should have armed security present for every gathering.  

All of the above are contributing factors and talking points, and each must be addressed.  Yet, there is another contributing factor—and we are all culpable in this regard.  This factor is our own attitudes, prejudices and nationalistic-leanings.  In the New Zealand tragedy the people killed were from Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, India, Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and other nations—many of which were included in the “Muslim Ban” inaugurated by our government in 2017.  The suspected perpetrator of the New Zealand tragedy listed the president of the United States in his manifesto as a source for his “inspiration.” This same adoration of the president was displayed by the shooter in Pittsburgh and Cesar Sayoc who sent out the pipe bombs.  Attitudes, bigotry, scape-goating, and language play a part in such tragedies. We need to pay attention to that “part” as well as all the others.