Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting Back to Trust

When my father was in his last days, after 96 years of life, he said that he spent most of his time “thinking about when the kids were little and we were all at home.” Helen thought he meant when his own children were little, but I knew immediately that he meant when he was a child.

I started preaching when I was 19. I would call from home to home, as pastors did in those days, and was fascinated at how old people would tell me stories from their childhood. They weren’t just telling stories for the sake of the telling, though, as we usually accuse old people of doing. They were trying to understand their lives by going back to the beginning.

I once did a program on this for a group of winter-years folks. Afterwards, a woman with a distinguished and successful career behind her said to me: “When I was three, my baby brother died. He choked on a cough drop a nurse gave him for whooping cough. There was a lot of anger as well as grief, but no one talked about it when I was around. It was like he never existed. I’ve just realized that I never got to grieve my baby brother. I have to go back and let that little three-year-old girl feel what she needs to feel.”

Everything we do or don’t do as adults, everything we feel or don’t feel, comes from childhood. The years of winter give us our last, and probably best, chance to understand who we are in these bare-branch years because of how we were formed in those bud-branch years.

To be able to trust God for an unknowable future, we have to go back and know God as children. “If you would enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you must become as a little child.”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some Good Memory

When we are old, we have a great deal more past to remember than we have future to anticipate. [There is a future beyond death to anticipate, but no way to imagine it.]

I like remembering. Some days I just run through the list of all my good friends and relatives, many of whom are no longer in this world, just enjoying the memories of them.

Memory is a great gift of God.

So why, when we have so much to remember, does God also arrange to have our brains go numb in the winter of our years, just as they get numb with cold in the winter of the year? Just when there is the most to remember, our rememberers begin to stutter and backfire like old cars.

Jo Hershberger has written a lovely story of four young girls who become friends in junior high and continue to support one another in old age. [Jo’s mother was one of my all-time favorite church members and used to stay with our girls when Helen was away tending to her own mother as she died.] The story is set in the imaginary town of Rockwell, IL, but it certainly looks a lot like Hoopeston, IL, where Jo grew up. The title is “Some Good Memory.” [1]

It’s a quote from Dostoevsky in “The Brothers Karamazov.”

“You must know that there is nothing stronger, or higher, or sounder, or more useful afterwards in life, than some good memory, especially a memory from childhood, from the personal home…If a man stores up many such stories to take into life, then he is saved for his whole life. And even if only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve some day for our salvation.”

There are many methods by which old people are supposed to keep our memories working. I’ve most recently read that the best memory help is three brisk forty minute walks per week. I like that, since I already walk and have no intention of doing Sudoku or learning Chinese.

I suspect, though, that God gives us these failing brains to make us work harder at bringing back those good memories, so that we’ll appreciate them more. As you take that walk, run those good memories through the screen behind your eyes. Even if only one remains, that is enough.

Isaac Watts, in the third verse of “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath,” writes “the Lord supports the fainting mind”

[1] “Some Good Memory” is published by Outskirts Press. Its ISBN is 978-1-4327-2513-6

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Promises, Premises

When I was a young pastor, I liked to quote that a lot of Christians sang “standing on the promises” when they were just “sitting on the premises.”

Now that I’m older, I know that you can spend a lot of time sitting on the premises but also spend more time standing on the promises.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cancer Is the Answer

An old friend called me last night. We went through colon cancer together twenty years ago. I haven’t seen her much in recent years, though, because we live about 500 miles away.

She has cancer again. Breast this time. She’s having surgery this morning. The doctor said “five years.”

It reminds me of our friend, John Anduri, who had cancer twice. He said, “The first time, I thought ‘cancer’ was the worst word in the English language. Then I found out that ‘recurrence’ is the worst word.”

My friend called just to talk, and to say she had been reading my book, “Now That I Have Cancer I Am Whole: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them.”

We talked especially about the reflection called “Cancer is the answer.” She knows she was the springboard for that meditation.

She said: “I’m at that awkward stage: I’m old, but am I old enough to die? Should I fight or give up? Is it worth going through all I have to for five more years? Maybe this time cancer is the answer. I’ll just go ahead and die and it will solve all my problems.”

There is no simple or general answer for this awkward stage of folks in the winter of our years. But I’ll quote what I said to her twenty years ago: “Yes, cancer is the answer. You needed it so you could be broken into pieces so small so that you can be put back together in ways you’ve never even thought about. None of us needs death or cancer. They’re just ways of telling us that we need love.”

[My fiction blog, which aims at being mildly amusing, and sometimes succeeds, is at]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Incredible Lightness of Heaven

It’s not easy to lose weight in winter, either the winter of the calendar year or the winter that is our declining years.

Summer is the time for losing weight. Even if you aren’t, it feels like you are, because your clothes weigh so much less. But we’re more active in summer, and have fresh produce to eat instead of stew and hash, so we’re losing weight.

Helen says the good thing about losing weight is that you don’t have to pay attention to your body all the time, whether you can’t wear these pants because they’re too tight, whether you’d better take another antacid pill before bed, whether you have to go to Wal-Mart instead of Super 1 so you’ll blend in better. In winter, you’re so busy with your fat that you don’t have time for much else.

She says that must be what death is like, losing all that weight so you don’t have to pay attention to your body, so you’ll have time to pay attention to relationships.

The Apostle Paul said he was sure we’d have a body in heaven, but he wasn’t sure if it would be physical or spiritual. By “body” he meant an individual identity. On earth, that’s the only way we can tell one another apart, and thus have an individual identity, by body. Individual identity is the only way we can have relationships. On earth we have to have physical bodies in order to have relationships; not so in heaven.

Helen’s faith is that whatever body we have in heaven, it will let us spend all our time on relationships, without worrying about whether we can fit into our wings.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Going to Heaven in a School Bus

Bob Parsons is an old friend from IU days. He and Helen were in the same graduating class, so you know he’s old. He and I started to Perkins School of Theology at SMU together. He even lived with us for a month in our house at Rankin Community Center before he was able to find a room closer to campus. After a distinguished pastoral career in TX, he retired to the Austin area, where he drives a school bus, of all things.

Driving a school bus is not for the faint-hearted, and certainly not for an old man. [He certainly doesn’t need the money. After all, he’s a wealthy retired preacher.] He does it as a ministry. He knows that the primary reason old people exist is to “let the little children come unto me.”

Driving a whole bunch of them to Jesus in a bus is an efficient way of letting them come.

I don’t mean that he preaches to them, in words. He just makes sure that each one of his little charges has at least one person each day who is kind to them, who pays total attention to them, who listens to them, who protects them.

Here is his reflection on the first day of school this year:
“Kindergartners on their first day to ride a school bus. Some enter with a whimper, some openly cry, some sit silently and tremble. Some are brave, some are rowdy. A beautiful five year old Indian boy sits behind me and softly chants a Hindu mantra. I silently join in “Amen, Amen, Amen.”

I’m often ashamed of my fellow old people. It seems the only thing we’re interested in is senior discounts and “get the government out of our lives, but don’t cut Medicare or Social Security.” In other words, we’re just mean and selfish. But I’m very proud when I think about Bob Parsons on that school bus each day, and I join in: Amen, Amen, Amen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where Is the Lord?

I work on a meal preparation team at our church. Our congregation serves a meal each Wednesday night to anyone who needs it. The number has been going up, over 100 each week now. There would probably be more if we had a public transportation system.

In the Old Testament lectionary reading for the day, Jeremiah 2:4-13, the question is repeatedly asked, “Where is the Lord?” I think the Lord is in the details. Someone has said that the devil is in the details, [usually attributed to architect Ludwig Meis van der Rohe], and that is true, but wherever you find the devil, you will find God as well. I would say that if you want to find God, go to where the devil is most active.

The Lord is in my hands as I scrub chicken breasts, in the hands of Dawn as she puts butter on the tables, in the hands of Moira as she writes down the menus. All the little details of hospitality, the Lord is there.

Jesus always paid attention to the details. Remember the little girl he raised from the dead? Everybody was shouting and dancing and so glad she was alive. Jesus said, “Give her a piece of fish or something. She’s probably really hungry by now.” He was the only one who thought of that little detail.

The Epistle lection for the day, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, echoes this emphasis on how we treat others, with the famous statement about hospitality to “angels unaware.”

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the proper sacrifice to God is not some burnt offering, correctly chosen and slaughtered and prepared and burnt in the correct ritualistic manner, but “the sacrifice of praise.”

In the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, Jesus says that when we give a feast, we should invite “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” [Luke 14:7-14.]

The devil is active among the poor and maimed and lame and blind these days, and active among those who want to deny that the poor are among us or who want to blame them for their poverty. At least on Wednesday evenings, I know where to look for God.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rev. Alvin's Repetitive Sermon

A pastor was called, or appointed, according to your denomination, to a new church. He preached a sterling sermon the first Sunday and everyone was pleased. The second sermon he preached the same sermon. The third Sunday the same sermon.

The deacons, or PPRC, were alarmed. They went to see him.

"Do you realize you have preached the same sermon three weeks in a row?"

"Yes. And then you've done what I've told you in that one, I'll go on to another one."

Apparently the congreation of Pastor Alvin, the chipmunk preacher, has not done what he told them to last Sunday, because he's on his big rock pulpit this morning, preaching exactly the same sermon as last week.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What the Devil Said

Although she is much older than I [one semester], Pat Meyerholtz and I have been friends for about 60 years. We went to high school together, and she and Roy were my best supporters when I pastored Wesley UMC in Charleston, IL, where Roy was a math professor at Eastern IL U and Pat was a grade school teacher.

She still does several miles each day, alternating walking and running days. One of my favorite stories is of the day Pat was chased through downtown Charleston by a big dog. It was just about to get her when she came to the side door of the police station and opened the door to go in. The dog was fast and right behind her. It could not stop and skidded through the door into the cop shop. Pat just closed the door and ran on.

She forwarded to me a nice Sisters Day message. [Just how we are sisters, I'm not sure, but I like the idea.]

The first line says: Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says, "Oh, crap. She's up!"

Healing, Cure, & Sabbath

The Lectionary Gospel reading for tomorrow, August 21, 2010, is Luke 13:10-17, the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, and thus breaking the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, according to the synagogue official, who said: “There are six working days: come and be cured on one of them and not on the Sabbath.” {NEB}

The problem was that folks weren’t getting cured on those six working days, either. Certainly the synagogue official wasn’t doing it.

I had trouble preaching on this when I was younger, because I knew that not everybody got cured. Was it right to hold out hope of cure when I knew that some would not receive it?

Now that I am older, I am even more troubled about this scripture story. My friends have either already died from something from which they were not cured, or they have a disease now from which they will not be cured, or they will get some malady from which they will not be cured. Not every sick person gets cured.

We are really into curing these days, though. We spend 80% of the health care budget on people in their last 2 years of life. We can’t accept the idea that sometimes there is no cure. We’ve put great faith into the combination of money and medicine: put enough money into finding a medical cure, and it will be done.

One of my friends was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. Everyone else was upset. He wasn’t. He said, “What do I have to complain about? I’m old and I’ve lived a hard life. Of course I’m sick.”

When I first went to Orion, Illinois to pastor, there was an older man, early 80s, in my congregation, who was sick unto death. Members of another congregation proclaimed themselves “prayer warriors” and told him that if he just had faith enough, he would be cured. When he died, the “prayer warriors” blamed him and his wife for not having enough faith. His wife was very confused and came to ask my opinion. I said, “He was old and sick. Most of the time, old sick people die.”

Jesus did not heal everyone who was sick in his day. Sooner or later, there is no cure but death, for every living creature.

Death is the final cure. It comes to all of us. In the meantime, though, sometimes people get cured. When that happens, it is Sabbath. Even though not everyone is cured, everyone can be healed, can be made whole with God. God calls us to stand on the side of both cure and healing whenever we have the chance.


When I was on chemo, my good friend and Dist Supt, Jack Newsome, invited me to go to a conference with him. It promised to be a great time. I told my cancer center that I needed to adjust my chemo by 2 or 3 days so I could go. They were quite upset. “You’ll die if you change the schedule!” was basically their approach. Three months later my schedule called for treatment on New Year’s Day. “We’ll change your schedule,” they said, “so we don’t have to work on NY Day.” “Hey, what about ‘you’ll die’ if you change the schedule?” I said. I guess they just wanted to keep the secular Sabbath, New Year’s Day, holy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Good News Network

Sharon Neufer Emswiler posted the link below on her FB page today, noting that if the news depresses you, try the network that features only good news. Thought I would pass it aong....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Happy Childhood

A preacher who was known for the plodding and pedestrian [1] nature of his sermons was stunned one day after church when a man said to him, “That sermon changed my life.”

“How in the world…” the preacher sputtered.

“Well, it was when you said, ‘I have now finished the first part of my sermon, and I shall go on to the second part.’ I thought, that’s right. I have finished the first part of my life. It is now time to go on to the second part.”

Sometimes God uses even the most prosaic word to help us hear the Word.

At my 55 year high school reunion in June, I had to fill in for Jim Shaw when it came time for the prayer, because he was sick, and much to his chagrin, he could not come. [He’s okay now.]

That was a first! I don’t think anyone would have guessed, at any time over the past 65 years, that Jim would be asked to pray ahead of me.

Especially not after our 25 year reunion, when he was a bitter man. He had just suffered through a divorce in which he thought he had been treated unjustly. He was not on good terms with his children. He had nothing good to say about anyone or anybody.

Then he got involved in a church. For the usual reason—he was dating a woman who went to that church. That relationship did not last, but Jim had found a home in the church. The woman left, but he stayed. At first, he just made himself useful around the building, mowing the grass, fixing things up. But he gradually became more involved in the spiritual fellowship. Today, he is the FIRST guy people ask to pray!

I’ve always appreciated Jim. He is the direct reason I went to college. Now I appreciate him because he is a wonderful example of someone who re-invented himself. He decided that the first part of this life was over, and it was time to go on to the second part.

Regardless of how old you are, the first part of your life is over. It’s now time to go on to the second part. That’s the part in which you have a chance, like Jim, to re-invent yourself.

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

[1] As a child, I got “pedestrian” and “Presbyterian” mixed up, which created specific problems when I saw “Pedestrian Crossing” signs. Since I was not Presbyterian, I was not sure I could cross there.
I’m sure the preacher’s pedestrian sermon was not also Presbyterian.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reuel Howe and At-one-ment

In the last few years I have begun to reread books that were important to me when I was new in the ministry. Some have held up very well, like Paul Tillich’s books of sermons. Some have been very disappointing, like Wm. Stringfellow’s “Free in Obedience.” [The title is still good, though.]

One in particular has been very humbling, Reuel Howe’s “Man’s Need and God’s Action.” As I reread it, I find that every good idea I’ve had along the way, that I thought was mine, actually comes from that book. The language is a bit formal and stilted, typical of its time. [The copyright is 1953. I read it in seminary in the early 1960s.] The insights, however, are, if anything, even more accurate today.

I had the good fortune, some time in the late 1980s or early 1990s, to be in a continuing education seminar with Reuel at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary. He was retired then, but just as insightful, and quite delightful in person.

In that seminar, he told the story of how, when he was a teenager, his father decided to take the family into the forests of Washington state to homestead. They went deep into the forest with their tents and supplies. Before they had really gotten started, a fire wiped out everything they had. Reuel and his father walked back out to get more supplies, leaving his mother and younger siblings behind. When they returned, they saw that his mother had found a rusted old tin can, picked wild flowers, and placed the bouquet on an old stump. The little children were playing “ring” around it. “She took a tragic incident and recycled it to make something beautiful,” he said. “I learned what was perhaps the only lesson I would ever need on that day.”

All this is leading up to his reflection on atonement in his book. It is the perfect word for what Christ is all about, at-one-ment, to make us at one with God, with the world and our neighbors, and with our own true self.

I, and all the people who have heard me say almost daily for the past 50 years, “Christ came to make us whole, with God, with self, and with the world,” owe a great debt to Reuel Howe.

[There was no English word for this Biblical idea of making whole, so one of the early English Bible translators created “atonement,” to get across the idea of being restored to wholeness.] (I think I learned this from “In the Beginning: The Making of the King James Bible,” by Alister McGrath.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stealing Back the Words

It has taken me a long time to read Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief.” I can take the evil and stupidity of WWII Germany only a few pages at a time.

The orphaned Liesel Meminger is saved by the books she steals. But in the midst of great evil and the loss of everyone dear to her, Liesel despairs. “Why did they [words] have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing… What good were the words?” [Page 521]

But the book is really about how Liesel steals the words back from Evil, from Der Fuhrer, who stole them first.

Evil and stupidity use the words, yes, to try to justify themselves, but they are just words. They are not the Word, and so they cannot survive.

Older people have been around long enough to know the difference in the ways words are used. Like Liesel, our job is to serve the Word by stealing the words back from Evil.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Time and the Living Is

When you live in a place that is defined by winter, you do not take summer for granted.

People here in the UP of MI live the summer intensely.

Several of our neighbors turn their garages into summer houses. They have large, permanent, custom-made screens they fit over their garage doors as soon as the snow stops, which usually is mid-April. It’s not screen weather until mid-June, but they want to be ready. They don’t want to miss a single day outside.

Helen and I had breakfast on our back deck this morning. We wore hooded sweatshirts, since it was only 55 degrees, but it is summer, and we do not intend to miss a single moment when the deck is habitable.

The flower growing season is intense in the land of winter. We must have a higher per capita rate of flower-selling “garden stores” than any place else in the world. Most of them are tents. They are not “fly-by-night,” though. They appear in the same place each year. Their business starts off brisk in May and keeps getting stronger as the season progresses.

They sell more hanging baskets of flowers than any place else in the world, I’m sure, even though the baskets are quite expensive, because the deer can’t reach a hanging basket, especially if they are on your porch or deck. Even the most casual gardeners are experts on what deer will and won’t eat.

The kids keep a careful eye on the old-fashioned A&W, with actual carhops. As soon as it is open, there is not a single slot open from early morning until late at night. A drive-in diner is a summer thing, and we don’t want to miss a single hotdog or frosty mug.

There are parades and festivals and farmers markets and picnics and swimming parties and outdoor concerts and car shows and fireworks. Every day! You can take your pick of three or four such events any day you wish.

We are identified by winter, but we LIVE the summer!

In these later years of life, summer days and winter days get mixed together. Some days we have the energy of summer. On other days we move with the slowness of winter. When a summer day comes in the years of winter, get out your garage screens and your root-beer mug and live like summer!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'll Fly Away

Helen says that sometimes she can fly. In dreams. When the stuff that is happening on the ground becomes too much to deal with, she just lifts her arms and flies up above it all.

Loyal Smoke, the father of my long-time friend, Jay, died today, after 92 and ½ years of dealing with stuff on the ground. I suspect the stuff at his ground level just became too much to deal with, and he lifted the arms of his soul.

It’s a good thought. When the time comes, I’ll just lift my arms and…

“I’ll fly away, Oh Glory, I’ll fly away, in the morning. When I die, Hallelujah by and by, I'll fly away." [Alfred E. Brumley, 1929]

Monday, August 9, 2010

Helen on The Sin of Intolerance

Helen Karr McFarland on “The Sin of Intolerance”

It's so much easier to become more tolerant in old age because we're no
longer being squeezed by a thousand forces--job, family, community
responsibilities, etc. So much of my own intolerance in former years
was due, at least partially, to feeling so pressured for time and
energy. If someone proposed a different way of doing things or a change
in plans, it often threatened to take up even more of my time and
attention, and I often felt that I just didn't have any more to give. So
that person had to be "wrong" or "bad" or "thoughtless." I'm becoming
more tolerant, but I'm not sure it's so much a refinement of my
character as simply a lessening of responsibilities. If I were thrust
back into the life style of my 40's, I think I'd be just as judgmental
and intolerant as I was then. Not sure what is to be learned from this
great insight. Maybe just to be less judgmental of younger people who
seem judgmental--they have a reason.

Should we try to live a simpler life all along and not get so caught up
in the details of life even when we're young? It seems appropriate to
live with great energy and enthusiasm in the years when we have great
energy. But when we're 70+, we make virtue of necessity and start
preaching "Slow down!"

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Sin of Intolerance

George Matheson [1842-1906], the blind Scottish theologian, author of “Studies in the Portrait of Christ,” comments on the story of the Samaritans rejecting Jesus, recorded in John 4…

James and John, true to their appellation as “The Sons of Thunder,” wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans. Matheson says, “John did not err by want of love but by love’s intolerance. The Samaritans and John were both intolerant—one from pride, the other from love… The Samaritans…rejected all who had a larger sympathy [weren’t Samaritans]; John would destroy those who narrowed the sympathy of universal love.”

Sin is love gone wrong. In this case, the love of Jesus and of his universal love by James and John went into the wrong, the sin, of intolerance.

There are so many intolerant followers of Jesus these days. They want to call down fire on Muslims and even fellow Christians who don’t share their narrow beliefs.

One of the points of wisdom that should come in the years of winter is the ability to be faithful to one’s convictions without demonizing people who are different. That is not automatic, but it is worth working toward.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Life Span Explained

This was sent to me by my oldest friend, Mike Dickey. Actually, he’s not my “oldest” friend. I have friends who are older, but I have known him the longest, since we were ten. He lives in AZ and has to carry his passport at all times because he “looks suspicious.” Probably his shoes.

A note of old-person pride: I had to figure out BY MYSELF--because granddaughter Brigid is in Chicago with Aunt Mary Beth seeing “Million Dollar Quartet” and touring The U. of Chicago and other fun stuff, her 8th grade graduation gift—how to convert an email into a Microsoft Word document so I could convert it to Blogger, and I DID it! Now if I’m ever stuck in Bombay I can get a tech support job.

This forward from Mike is not strictly “religious,”… well, yes it is, because it explains how God does things, and it summarizes people in their winter years so well.

On the first day, God created the dog and said:

'Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or
walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.'

The dog said: 'That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years
and I'll give you back the other ten?'

So God agreed.

On the second day, God created the monkey and said: 'Entertain people, do
tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life

The monkey said: 'Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time
to perform. How about I give you back ten like the Dog did?'

And God agreed.

On the third day, God created the cow and said:
'You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under
the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this,
I will give you a life span of sixty years.'

The cow said: 'That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty
years.. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?'

And God agreed again.

On the fourth day, God created humans and said:
'Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty

But the human said: 'Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my
twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the
ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?'

'Okay,' said God, 'You asked for it.'

So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy
ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our
family. For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the
grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark
at everyone.

Life has now been explained to you.

There is no need to thank me for this valuable information. I'm doing it as
a public service.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Daily Bible Reading

I read some Bible each day. Most days. Unless something gets in the… oh, look! A chicken!

As I read, I am reminded of the little girl who saw her grandmother reading the Bible and asked her if she were cramming for final exams. I’m old enough that some attention to final exams is not out of place, but I’ve been doing the almost-daily Bible reading since college.

It started with dating a girl from Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. IVCF was very much into “daily devotions,” including Bible reading. I wanted to impress the girl, and since she gave me pop quizzes on my daily devotions, I had to be on my biblical toes.

I had little acquaintance with the Bible except for the major stories that we pick up in Sunday School. Since I started weekly preaching at age 19, my daily excursions into the Bible were more like cramming for Sunday morning. Every worship service was a major exam. I knew there were saints in my congregations who knew the Bible better than I ever would.

So, to impress a girl and to keep the saints from seeing my ignorance, I read the Bible every day.

Then I encountered Elton Trueblood and the “Yokefellow” movement. I liked the idea of being a card-carrying Yokefellow, having pledged to daily spiritual disciplines, including Bible reading, and wearing my discreet little yoke pin, which was a humble way of proclaiming that I was a better Christian than those without said pin.

All the wrong reasons, but I found that being a citizen of the Bible made me a better citizen of the world, and so I think I do that almost-daily Bible reading not just out of habit, although that’s surely part of it by now, but because it’s the newspaper of the world in which I live.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The University of Phoenix of Religion

I have been interested in Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, in part because she seems to be a centered young woman who has dealt well with the vagaries of her parents and the glass house environment in which she had to grow up. I admire that.

I was also interested because, as a minister, I officiated at a similar Jewish-Methodist wedding.

It was not just as a minister, either. It was as a father, when Mary Beth married Ben Friedman at Suburban Temple in Cleveland.

The rabbi said we would do the traditional Jewish wedding, and I could add “anything Methodist” I wanted, as long as I didn’t mention “you know who.” I said, “But you-know-who is at least the third most important person in Methodism.” He didn’t seem to get the joke. At least, I thought it was a joke at the time.

What I did was put in a lot of Hebrew scriptures that Jesus had quoted. That way the Jews in attendance thought I was using the Hebrew Bible, and the Christians thought I was using the New Testament. The rabbi assured me that I could use I Corinthians 13—“No one thinks of that as Christian anymore; it’s just part of the culture.”

Apparently, the rabbi at Chelsea’s wedding was not as open-minded. When asked what part of the service was Methodist, the answer was: “A Methodist minister was in attendance.”

This, of course, set off Jon Stewart, of “The Daily Show.” Stewart is Jewish, and by all polls, “the most trusted news anchor on TV.” [It says a great deal about the current state of TV news when the foul-mouthed anchor of a fake news show on a comedy channel is the most trusted. However, I agree with the polls.]

He said: “A Methodist minister was ‘in attendance?’ He didn’t have to DO anything? How easy is it to be a Methodist? They must be like the University of Phoenix of religion; just send in $50 and you’re saved.”

Non-Methodists, and some Methodists, may think this is pretty accurate.

As usual, though, Stewart got to the heart of the matter, in his own inimitable way: The point of religion is salvation. Just like education, a lot of people think it can be had cheap and easy.

The point of religion is salvation, salvation out of brokenness into wholeness, salvation from self-centered life into God-centered life, salvation out of tears into laughter. Stewart got that part right. What he got wrong is the part most Methodists get wrong, too. You don’t have to DO anything, except accept that joyful gift of salvation from God.

Accepting grace isn’t cheap and easy, though. It takes a love sacrifice by God, and it means giving up all the cheap stuff which we think gives meaning to our lives.

Saul of Tarsus would agree with Stewart. Paul of Tarsus could happily be a Methodist.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Getting Things Done

A lot of integrity v. despair in the winter years has to do with what we used to do and what we are able to do now.

When Isabella Beecher, one of Lyman Beecher's seven remarkable children, was in old age, she despaired because she could no longer be the advocate for social justice that she had always been. "But grandmother," her granddauther said, "you have the satisfaction of knowing you always did your best." "Yes, but I can't do anything now," Isabella replied.

When our girls were in late grade school, or maybe junior high, they said about their mother, with disgust, "It's going to say on your tombstone: She Got Things Done."

Don Survant says that despite health issues, he and Gloria are " to do most of what we want to and all of what we have to."

Kathy Roberts sent me the obit of a nun that said "She did what she could as well as she could for as long as she could."

It's good to be able to do what you have to. It's even better if you can do what you want to. We don't always have control of what we can do, though. Being at peace with God means, I think, doing what you can as well as you can for as long as you can, and accepting the grace and forgiveness for what you did not do, and what you cannot do now.

We are not saved by works but by God's grace-full love. Ironically, that's probably harder for people who have worked and do work in the church to accept.

As we become less able to do, we have to rely more on others to do for us. That reminds us that finally we can do nothing for ourselves, except trust God.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ragtime Church

I do three things on summer Sundays in the place of winter. None of them is go to church.

What is left of my colon following cancer surgery, my semi-colon, won’t let me leave the house until close to five hours after I get up. The latest worship service here, of any congregation, is 9:15. Yes, I could go to bed at 8:30 on Saturday night and get up at 4:30. I don’t.

So I do three things instead. I pray for all the churches of which I have been a part, I pray for all my preaching friends, and I listen to ragtime music.

Bob Butts and Kathy Roberts and Helen and I went to the beautifully restored Crystal Theatre in Crystal Falls, MI to hear Bob Milne, the renowned pianist. He explained to us that “ragtime” is a shortening of the insult that “real” musicians said about Scott Joplin and his kind of music: “The timing is ragged.”

That is why it speaks to me in place of worship in the years of winter. Like everything else about me in these years, my hearing and seeing and breathing and wearing, my soul is ragged. The timing of my life is ragged.

Ernest Gordon, the Chaplain at Princeton U after WWII, was a POW in that war, in the camp that built the bridge over The River Kwai. They were not allowed to have a church, but they had one anyway. They would gather in the middle of the compound, and sit around. Someone would recite a passage he could remember from Scripture. Someone would sing a song. Someone would say words, like a preacher. Some would come and stand on the edges and watch for a while. Someone would come up to get some fire to heat water to wash his socks. Gordon said: “You never knew exactly where the church ended and where the camp began.”

The best churches have ragged edges, they live in ragged time, where you don’t exactly know who is in and who is out. I’m in that church this morning. May the peace of Christ be with you.