Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, June 6, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter


My Academy of Parish Clergy friend, Fred Skaggs, has served as a model for me for a long time, most recently as a model for graceful aging. Like most old preachers, he can’t get completely retired, and so serves as the pastor in a little Baptist church near where he lives.

Recently they were preparing for a business meeting after worship. Most of the folks had left, though. A lady asked him, “Do you think we’ll have enough for a quarrel?”

Fred said, “If there are two Baptists, there are enough for a quarrel.”

She, of course, meant “quorum,” but they are the same thing, really, aren’t they?

Recently I heard Mark Shields talk about Donald Trump. Shields said that as a young man, he raised funds for political candidates, which meant he spent a lot of time with rich people, for the same reason John Dillinger robbed banks, because that’s where the money is. He noticed the no one around them ever challenged a rich person, either on theory or fact. He said he didn’t, either, because they would be less likely to give him money. Rich people like Trump are never challenged, he said, and so they always think they are right. There are never enough for a quarrel when you are rich, except over which greedy child gets the bigger inheritance.

The late Bishop Leroy Hodapp was once asked in what situation he was most comfortable. “Conflict,” he answered. Everyone was aghast. Nobody likes conflict. Except Leroy. “That’s when there is the possibility of change,” he said.

I’m no Leroy Hodapp. I’m not comfortable with conflict, and I don’t like being contradicted, but some of my most important learnings have come when people challenged me, challenged my facts and my assumptions and my theories.

That’s the key, I think. Challenge, not quarreling. A quarrel is a squabble. It’s not real conflict, so there is no possibility of change. We quarrel to avoid change. A quarrelsome attitude is designed to shut conflict down, not to let it be a challenge.

When that woman broke the flask of expensive perfume and spread it on Jesus’ feet with her hair, some of the folks grumbled and said the money could have been better spent on the poor. They were quarrelling. When Jesus answered them, it was a challenge.

Where two or three are gathered, there is Christ in the midst, in the midst of the quarrel, of the quorum, of the discussion, of the talk, with that eternal challenge: What is the will of God in this situation, and are you willing to do it, willing to change, even if it makes you uncomfortable?


I tweet as yooper1721.

Daughter Katie Kennedy’s YA novel, Learning to Swear in America, will be released by Bloomsbury Publishing July 5, so you’d better pre-order your copies now. They’re going to go fast. It is listed by American Book Sellers as one of their Top Ten new releases, and already with a rare starred review by Publishers Weekly. Bloomsbury also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Ask your library to get several copies of Learning to Swear in America. Every young person, and every older person who knows how to read, will want to follow the adventures of teen genius Russian physicist Yuri as he tries to keep an asteroid from destroying Los Angeles. [OK, so maybe she could have chosen a city people would not mind getting asteroid-smacked, but…] Every sentence just sparkles; nobody writes like Katie.

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