Until Then…

My Problem with Halloween 

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but I’m not a big fan of what Halloween has become in the US.

I love its history as a day to remember the joke God played on the powers of evil through the resurrection.  It’s fine for small children.  One of my favorite memories is walking around our neighborhood with a couple other Dads as our children went knocking on doors.  But since adults and Walmart got into it, the whole thing has gotten out of hand.  I don’t want to have my teeth cleaned by a witch or do my banking with a clown.

Of the $9 billion Americans will spend on Halloween this year, the money for candy alone would provide 1.5 million homeless and extremely poor people with three hot meals every day for a year.  And that doesn’t include the added trips to the dentist after they consume all that sugar! (You’ll find the disturbing statistics here.)

“A Day I Peculiarly Love” 

By contrast, I’m a big fan of All Saints’ Day which John Wesley called “a day I peculiarly love.”  It’s the day we remember those who have gone before us and are now present with us in the “communion of All-Saintsthe saints.”

Charles Wesley taught us to sing:
“Let saints on earth unite to sing
with those to glory gone,
for all the servants of our King
in earth and heaven are one.”

It’s also the day that points toward the promise of that day when God’s Kingdom will fully come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  It reminds us of the promise that though “now we see in a mirror, dimly, then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

“Until Then” 

When we call the names of those who have joined the saints around throne (Revelation 7:9-17) in the past year, I’ll be remembering my mother. She used to sing an old gospel song that says:

Until then my heart will go on singing,
Until then with joy I’ll carry on,
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me home.

As followers of the Risen Christ, we are called to live now in ways that are consistent with the way we believe things will be then. Jesus’ parables are clear that the question is not “When is Jesus coming again?” but “What will I be doing when he gets here?”  The question is not “When will Jesus vision of the Kingdom of God be fulfilled?” The question is “How am I participating in that Kingdom among us right now?”

  • We care for the environment Now because Then the renewed creation will be the place where God will be at home with God’s people. (Revelation 21:3)
  • We work for peace Now because we know that Then swords will be turned into plowshare and spears into pruning hooks and people will not learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)
  • We work to overcome racism and ethnic conflict Now because we know that Then Heaven will be filled with people from every race, tongue and nation. (Revelation 7:8-9)
  • We invite others to follow Jesus Now because we know that Then every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11)
  • We care for one another in Christian community Now because we know that Then God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. (Revelation 21:4)
  • We feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners and seek economic justice for the poor Now because Jesus said that’s the way every nation will be judged Then. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Writing from a Nazi prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared:

“There remains for us only the very narrow way of living every day as if it were our last, and yet living in faith and responsibility as though there were to be a great future…It may be that the day of judgement will dawn tomorrow, and in that case, though not before, we shall gladly stop working for a  better future.”

Go ahead and have fun on Halloween.  But remember that it is just the dark night before the dawn of the new day of resurrection.  Until then, keep on keeping on!

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

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Busy With What?

Wishing Jesus Hadn’t Said That   

Some folks call my wife Marsha, the nickname she acquired in college, but her parents named her Martha. And it fits!  She really wishes Jesus hadn’t said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41)

Martha_and_Mary_by_He_Qi_ChinaMartha was busy in the kitchen fixing supper for Jesus and his disciples while Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”  She had good reason to ask,  “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”  (My Martha has been known to say something like that to me!)

It helps to notice that Martha’s story comes immediately after Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan with it’s closing command, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) That may be the story Jesus was telling when Martha came in from the kitchen. The back-to-back stories paint the picture of the basic rhythm of the Christian life.  It’s the balance of being and doing; prayer and action; listening to Jesus’ words and doing what Jesus tells us to do.

Jesus’ word to Martha is a hard word for hyperactive, do-it-now, get-the-job-done Americans to hear.  Our tendency is often to “go and do likewise” rather than to “sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what he is saying.”

We Methodists are generally “go and do likewise” people.  Our version of a familiar nursery rhyme goes:

Mary had a little lamb,
She also had a sheep.
She joined the United Methodist Church
And died for lack of sleep.

Busy With Prayer 

Yesterday was the day when the Episcopal Church remembers Vida Dutton Scudder. Her life demonstrated the rhythm of  intense social activism and vibrant spirituality. She wrote, “If prayer is the deep secret creative force that Jesus tells us it is, we should be very busy with it.”  

It led me to think about what it means to be as busy with prayer as I am busy with so many other things in my life.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal.

O God, I want to believe that the best, deepest, strongest thing I can do in response to what I see in the world around me, my concerns for the United Methodist Church, and my deepest hopes for my children and grandchildren is to be busy in prayer….spending quiet time in your presence so that your Spirit can shape my thinking, transform my convictions, inspire my hopes, and be alive in my relationships.

Prayer doesn’t mean pounding on the door of heaven to present my list of demands to you, but living in humble openness to the often unnoticed way your Spirit enters into our world and our lives, often in ways we never would have asked or demanded.

Busy with prayer means being soaked in scripture so that the Spirit who inspires the written word can make it a living word in us.

The Cure for Our Anxiety

Don’t miss the way Jesus told Martha, “You are worried and distracted by many things.”  So much of the tension and anger of our times is rooted in anxiety and fear.  It’s when we are busy in prayer that we discover the peace Paul promised when he wrote:

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) 

The promise is that if we are busy in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and reflection on scripture, we will experience a peace that is beyond human understanding.  Then we will be ready to “go and do likewise” with a calm courage, gracious patience, and relentless hope.

What if the only effective way to be busy doing things is by being just as busy in prayer? At least it’s worth trying!

Grace and peace,

Jim

P.S.  When my wife read this blog to approve of my use of her as an example, she said, “I still wish he hadn’t said that!”

Something the Storms Blew Away

The Longest Night

The night Irma came to Eagle Lake was the longest night of the year!

When her 120 mph winds swept over our house it was as if we were sitting in a train station with high speed, non-stop trains roaring past. We wondered if the windows could withstand the pressure and if the old cedar tree and the newly planted magnolia would still be standing when the sun came up.

We were among the fortunate ones, unlike so many people in Houston, Key West, or Puerto Rico for whom so much was blown away.  The windows held, the trees are still standing, and insurance will help cover the cost of a new roof.

What can we do to help people who have lost so much?

Before the power came back on, we sent another donation to the United Methodist Committee of Relief (http://www.umcor.org) and started collecting items for “flood buckets.”  As it always is, UMCOR was ready to meet the real needs of real people and provide the rest of us with a way to serve.  Faith-based agencies like UMCOR are usually the first into the crisis and the last to leave.  Because it receives denominational support, every dollar designated for a specific need goes there.

The Longest Word

That’s when I remembered the longest word in the English language: Antidisestablishmentarianism.

It was planted in my brain when a young contestant correctly spelled it to win the prize on the 1950s TV show, The $64,000 Question. It’s actually the longest “non-coined” word (Mary Poppins takes that prize with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious) or the longest technical or medical term.

In the 19th Century it identified a movement that opposed displacing the Anglican Church as the established church in England, Ireland and Wales.

One of the things that gets blown away by natural disasters like Harvey, Irma, Maria or the earthquake in Mexico is the disestablishmentarianism of our time. Politicians who get elected by promising to tear down the Federal government are the first in line for FEMA funds when the storms hit their states. People who are determined to slash government spending expect the first responders to be on call in a crisis.  And folks who wonder if these weary, old, mainline, denominational churches make any difference in our world are grateful when agencies like UMCOR are ready to help.

It’s just one of the reasons that I can’t give up on finding a way to hold the United Methodist Church together.  UMCOR is just one example of the way the really important things that bind us together — our Wesleyan theology, our history, our tradition, and our mission — are stronger than the things that divide us.  If we Methodists can find a way to be in ministry together while honoring the diversity of our convictions, we may have a critically important witness for our deeply divided nation.

Join the Movement 

That’s why I feel called to be a part of the Uniting Methodists movement.  If you are a United Methodist and share this conviction, I hope you will join us!

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Your “One, Wild and Precious Life” Make a Difference?

The Shameless Commerce Division 

Saturday mornings will never be the same without NPR’s “Car Talk.” You didn’t need to know anything about cars to enjoy the Magliozzi brothers humorous chatter which ends this month.

If you were a fan, you’re familiar with their “Shameless Commerce Division.”  You could put this post in the same category, but I share it because I hope it will helpful to faithful people who are searching for the way their “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver’s beautiful phrase) can make a difference in this world.

“Make A Difference” includes the stories of real real people who have discovered the unique way they can make a Christ-like difference in this world.  9781501847585I’m grateful for each of them and for many others whose stories didn’t make it into the book, but who have shown me what it looks like for followers of Christ to participate in the ongoing work of God’s Kingdom, coming on earth as it is already fulfilled in heaven.

I’m particularly excited about the DVD  that accompanies the book.  The young leaders who gathered around the table with me are the kind of people who give me great hope for the next generation of leaders.

This resource completes the journey that began with “A Disciple’s Path” by exploring what it means to live into the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

harnishheader

It led through  ” Disciple’s Heart”  to  “Earn. Save. Give.”  Finally, “Make A Difference” leads us to discover how we can become participants in God’s transformation of the world.

I’m humbled by and grateful for the way the Spirit is using these resources and pray that they will continue to make a real difference in the real lives of real followers of Jesus Christ in this very real world.

Thanks for listen…now back to “Car Talk.”

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

Helpless!

(An email from the editor of MinistryMatters asked if I had any word to offer in response to the flooding along the Gulf Coast.  I found that word in last Sunday’s lectionary Psalm and next Sunday’s Old Testament reading.)   

Are We Helpless? 

Helpless! The word reverberates in our souls when we see people being rescued from the roofs of their flooded homes. It beats in our hearts as we watch water-soaked people make their way through chest high water to crowded shelters with a child in their arms, a few possession in a plastic bag, or carrying nothing at all. It stretches our imagination when we see aerial views of flooded cities and destroyed businesses and homes. It haunts our minds as we wonder what we can do that will make any real difference in this massive sea of suffering. kash-fld

Is there any word from the Lord that touches the deep flood of helplessness we feel?

A Word from the Lord 

Providentially, the lectionary for the Sunday after Harvey takes us to the burning bush, where Moses hears the Lord say, “I have clearly seen my people…I heard their cry.” (Exodus 3:7) The good news is that God is not absent or indifferent. God is not blind, insensitive or hard of hearing. The God of infinite compassion sees, hears, feels, and shares our suffering. We are not alone.

The disciples felt helpless when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. (Mark 4:35-41) But Jesus heard their cries. He spoke the words, “Be still!” and “the wind settled down and there was a great calm.” The calming of the water was equal to the calming of their fears. The calming word for our helplessness is that God is with us. We are not alone. It led Charles Wesley to sing:

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.

But what about our helpless feelings when we watch the flood but not in it? Is there a word from the Lord when we see other people’s suffering from a distance? We cannot stop the storm. We cannot erase the impact of global warming or the absence of city planning that led to paving over the earth that might have absorbed more of the rain. We cannot replace all that has been lost. Are we helpless, too?

As it was for Moses, the word of the Lord for us is, “Get going.” (Exodus 3:10) We are not helpless! The compassion of God that moved the Samaritan to do what he could for the helpless man on the side of the road calls us to get going; to do whatever we can to relieve some part of the suffering we see.

Bonaro Overstreet wrote her poem,  “Stubborn Ounces” for “One Who Doubts the Worth of Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything.” She confessed that we often think our little efforts make very little difference. She described them ounces dropped onto the “hovering scale where justice hangs in balance.” But she ends her poem with the bold confidence that she gets to choose “which side will feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.”

Sometimes everything we have to give seems like “stubborn ounces,” just tiny drops of compassion dropped into a massive flood of loss and suffering. But God has a miraculous way of using small gifts to bring great healing, hope, and the strength to go on. Every “flood bucket” or “hygiene kit” we send, every gift we give to UMCOR, every prayer we offer can become the expression of God’s love and the witness of God’s presence for the person who receives them.

The lectionary Psalm for last Sunday prepared us for this week.

If the Lord hadn’t been for us…
the waters would have drowned us;
the torrent would have come over our necks;
                  then the raging waters would have come over our necks!

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:1, 4-5, 8)

Because we know the Lord is for us, we are not helpless!

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

Statues and Splinters

Jesus said, How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:4-5)

I had a splinter under my finger nail not long ago.  It was a small thing.  I ignored it for awhile. But finally it became so painful that I had to dig it out.  The splinter had to go.

About Those Confederate Statues 

A statue of Robert E. Lee Unknownused to welcome worshippers to Duke University Chapel.  Lee’s likeness stood between Thomas Jefferson and the Southern poet, Sidney Lanier.  The sculptors inscribed “US” on his belt buckle, perhaps suggesting that we remember who Lee was when he fought for the United States instead of the Confederacy.   Years ago someone chiseled away at those letters, no doubt an attempt to protect Confederate “heritage.”  It was vandalized again last week after the events in Charlottesville.

Lee has been there since the chapel opened in 1932.  Many people never noticed.  Those who did accepted it as a small thing, a remnant of Southern history.  But this week the presence of Lee’s statue, like a splinter under a finger nail, became so painful that it had to be removed.

Splinters and Logs 

The problem is that just removing statues is too easy.  It can make us feel like we have done something when we haven’t begun to touch the subtle forms of racism that are imbedded in our culture and our lives. It’s a little like removing sprinters without paying attention to the logs.

The logs are much harder to remove. To get at them, we have to dig deeper into our hearts to confront the subtle influence of racism that is so deeply imbedded within us that we don’t even realize it is there.  That’s why Jesus asked the disturbing question: How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye?”

Only a Beginning 

The President of Duke University knew that removing the statue was just a beginning.  He wrote:

We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination; to civil protest, not violence; to authentic dialogue, not rhetoric; and to empathy, not hatred.

He formed a commission that includes faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees and members of the Durham community to “assist us in navigating the role of memory and history at Duke.” His commission will “recommend principles drawn from Duke’s core values to guide us when questions arise.”  That’s then kind of work it takes to remove the logs along with the splinters.

A Matter of the Heart

For followers of Christ, the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart.  At the center of the Methodist tradition is John Wesley’s emphasis on the process by which the Spirit of God fulfills the promise, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) Wesley called it “sanctification” or “being made perfect in love.”  It’s the process we described in “A Disciple’s Heart”.

It’s not enough to remove stone statues.  We also need to heal stoney hearts.

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

 

How Long, O Lord?

“I Thought We Had Come Farther Than This” 

My phone rang shortly after the President’s self-revelatory rant yesterday.  With tears in his voice, a wise friend, a native of South Carolina, said, “I thought we had come farther than this.”  He went on to say that he is fearful for the future of our country.  He wondered if there is any hope.

In a sadly ironic twist of history, Monday was the day the Episcopal Church remembers Jonathan Myrick Daniels. Daniels_girl_small-182x210He was a 29-year-old student at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when Martin Luther King, Jr., called for people of faith to come to Selma to support the voter registration drive.

Daniels was among a group of non-violent protestors who were arrested on August 14, 1965.  They were held in overcrowded cells with no air conditioning and toilets that spilled sewage onto the floor until they were unexpectedly released on August 20. They were entering a store to get a drink when Tom Coleman confronted them with a shotgun.  When Coleman fired, Daniels shielded 17-year-old African American Ruby Sales and died instantly.  Coleman was later acquitted by an all-white jury.

The Company of the Martyrs

Johnathan Daniels was just one of many martyrs whose lives were taken by white supremists during the civil rights movement.  Those were a fraction of the thousands of Black Americans who suffered and died at the hands of white lynch mobs throughout the South, particularly in Central Florida.  Those were a fraction of the victims who died in the Holocaust and the millions who died to defeat Nazism.  The martyrs of racism and bigotry are too many to count.

We thought we had come farther than this.  But now, a new generation of Neo-Nazis and white nationalists have come out of the dark shadows of the past to confront us again with their hatred, bigotry and violence.

Yesterday, while David Duke and his followers were laughing and cheering because they have a friend in the White House, all of the martyrs around the throne (Revelation 7:9-17) were weeping and crying, “How long, O Lord?”  (Psalm 13)

How Long? 

Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his answer to that question at the end of the march from Selma on the steps of the Capital in Montgomery.  The entire address is well worth hearing again today, but he concluded with words that became a energizing refrain to many of his sermons.

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?” (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because “no lie can live forever.” (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because “you shall reap what you sow.” (Yes, sir)

How long? (How long?) Not long. (Not long.) Because

Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)
Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)
Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir)
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Not long) because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)
His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)
Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir) Glory, hallelujah! (All right)
Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on!  (Applause)

 

Where Is Hope? 

While I shared the disappointment, fear and concern that my friend expressed on the phone, I reminded him that our hope is in the Kingdom of God which is stronger than the forces of evil around us.  However long it takes, God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will will be done on earth even as it is in heaven.

Glory, glory hallelujah!

Jim

 

Central Avenue Is Where We Belong

The Church on Central Avenue 

While speaking for the Georgia Pastors’ School a few weeks ago, I met a retired pastor and her husband who are natives of Fitzgerald, Georgia.  They confirmed the story I had heard from Bishop Lawson Bryan.

Fitzgerald was founded in 1895 as a community for Civil War veterans from both the Union and the Confederacy.  Streets on the east side of the city are named after Confederate ships and generals while streets on the west are named after Union ships and generals.  Central Avenue runs through the middle of all of them.

And that’s where you’ll find Central United Methodist Church.

525070_556621741028483_19008093_nIt was formed in 1939 when the Methodists in the North and South who had been divided since 1844 reunited to form The Methodist Church, which became The United Methodist Church in 1968.

The story reminded me of Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

“Christ is our peace…With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)  

According to Paul, Central Avenue is right where we will find Jesus and it’s right where his followers belong.

Central Avenue Isn’t Easy Street 

I’m sure that life in Fitzgerald was not always easy.  Simply naming the streets would not have been enough to heal the wounds that Civil War veterans still carried.  There was every possibility that a former Yankee and a former Rebel who had seen each other on the battlefield might bump into each other on Central Avenue.  But that was a risk the veterans who moved to Fitzgerald were willing to take.

It wasn’t easy for the Methodists, either.  Forty-four years would pass after the founding of Fitzgerald before First Methodist Episcopal Church and Central Methodist Episcopal Church South would come together to form a new church.  Another 29 years would pass before the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction which had maintained the separation of white and black congregations in our denomination.  We still have work to do on that one!

In the metaphor, Central Avenue is not the “mushy middle.” It is not the lowest common denominator between opposing convictions.  It takes more strength of character and depth of faith to reconcile divided people and “create one new person out of the two groups” than it does to stay in gated compounds where everyone thinks the way we think and from which we can lob verbal cannon balls at people on the opposite side of the street.

Reconciliation isn’t easy, but it is precisely the task to which we are called. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself…and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”  (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)  

Come to Central Avenue!

In 1844, Methodists in America were sadly a mirror image of the national polarization over slavery.  Instead of demonstrating the power of reconciliation, we succumbed to the power of division.

The forces of polarization are again tearing our nation apart today.  The same forces of division are at work within The United Methodist Church as some of our fellow Methodists make plans for separation if they don’t get their way.

  • Is it too bold to pray that this time around we will not repeat the painful history of 1844?
  • Could “the people called Methodist” become a tangible witness to the reconciling love of God revealed at the cross?
  • Might the Holy Spirit find a way to “create one new person out of the two groups, making peace”?
  • Are we willing to be the church on Central Avenue?

I’d say it’s a risk well worth taking!

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

 

 

 

 

Words from Washington: The Glory and the Dream

This is the second installment of reflections that grew out of our visit to Philadelphia and a week in Washington. IMG_0477.jpgWhile the first installment  was a hope-filled Psalm of praise, this one is more like a Psalm of lament.

Where Is The Glory and The Dream?

I’m often surprised by the way the lectionary-assigned texts speak to an immediate situation. This week Psalm 105 calls the covenant people to praise by reminding them of God’s “wondrous works” in their nation’s past.

Standing in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed and looking out across the Mall at the Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson Memorials were more than enough reasons to be inspired and grateful for the intellectual depth, visionary spirit and moral character of the leaders who gave birth to our nation.

Experiencing the new National Museum of African American History and Culture was a powerful witness to the unfinished task of fulfilling the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

Walking past the White House was a reminder of the long line of leaders who have inhabited it. Whether we agreed or disagreed with their policies, most of them maintained the dignity of the office.

By contrast, it is excruciatingly painful to watch the continuing degradation of the Presidency by the sheer vulgarity, incessant dishonesty, arrogant bullying, and childish meanness of the current occupant of the White House. The great danger is that we will become numb to the way this behavior is demeaning our life together and undermining our nation’s standing in the world.

The contrast between our past and our present reminded me of a line from Wordsworth that became the title of William Manchester’s narrative history of our nation: “Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”

A Prayer for Leaders 

The Old Testament reading this week is Solomon’s soul-stretching prayer when he became King of Israel.

“O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (I Kings 3:7-9)

Solomon’s prayer points to two elements of character that are absolutely necessary for effective leadership.

First is Solomon’s humility. He begins by acknowledging that the task to which he has been called is beyond his ability to fulfill. He knows that there are things he doesn’t know. He would never say, “I alone can fix it.”

Second, Solomon prays for wisdom to know the difference between good and evil. He prays for a strong internal rudder to guide his decisions for the welfare of his people; what our founders called “the common good.”  It’s what Charles Wesley was describing when he prayed:

I want a principle within
Of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wand’ring of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.

Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh,
And keep it still awake.

Sadly, the consistent behavior of our current President demonstrates a disturbing lack of “principle within” that would define the boundary between truth and falsehood and a self-absorbed inability to acknowledge any weakness, failure, or need for wisdom beyond his own.

When Silence Equal Assent  

David Brooks, who is just about the closest thing we have to a contemporary biblical prophet, wrote this week: .

“Do you ever get the feeling we’re all going to be judged for this moment? Historians, our grandkids and we ourselves will look and ask: What did you do as the Trump/Scaramucci/Bannon administration dropped a nuclear bomb on the basic standards of decency in public life? What did you do as the American Congress ceased to function? What positions did you take as America teetered toward national decline?… Silence equals assent.”

I offer this blog, not as a political statement, but as a moral witness because I can no longer understand how faithful, bible-believing followers of Christ can continue to make excuses for the moral and ethical deficiency in our President and of those who enable him.  I also offer it as the starting point of my consistent prayer for my nation and for all of its leaders.

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I pray that we will reclaim the “glory and the dream” of our founders and that with Solomon, we will discover the gifts of humility and wisdom that will lead us through this time to a better day.

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

Words from Washington: Waiting Resurrection

Through the generosity of some close friends, we’ve spent the past week in a Washington, DC, condo that looks out across the Tidal Basin and directly down the Mall with a perfect view of the Lincoln and Washington Memorials all the way to the Capital.  As a result, this will be the first of two blogs on different themes from our nation’s capital.

On the Way to the Grave

One of my favorite places in Washington is the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, deep beneath the nave of the National Cathedral.  It is formed by the massive piers that support the Gloria in Excelsis Tower that rises 300 feet above the highest point of land in the District of Columbia. Twelve descending steps create the feeling of descending into the tomb while sensing the full weight and glory of the tower above.91824857.yynO45Mq.ChapelofSt.JosephofArimathea

Behind the altar, a mural by Jan Henrik De Rosen depicts Joseph leading the procession to the tomb. All the heads are shrouded or bowed except for one young man who helps carry the body and looks directly toward the congregation. Looking into his eyes, I often listen for what he is saying to or asking of us.

We made that same pilgrimage last weekend when we carried my mother’s ashes to the hillside cemetery in Clarion, Pennsylvania, where she lived most of her life and where many of the people she loved are buried. In an old tradition that isn’t practiced much any more, each of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren added their shovel of dirt to her grave.

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We then gathered with our extended family in the church where my brothers and I were baptized, confirmed, and from which I was sent into ministry.

Sooner or later, we all make that same journey. Like Joseph and Nicodemus, we carry the remains of our loved ones to the grave. But knowing the rest of the story, we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope.”  (I Thessalonians 4:13)

That truth was affirmed when I received a sympathy card from two faithful friends who are the same age as my mother. They ended their message with the words, “We know there’s more.”

Before he went to prison for his resistance to Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his students to report the death of three friends. “Now they sleep with all the brothers who have gone before them, awaiting the great Easter Day of Resurrection. We see the cross, and we believe in the resurrection; we see death, and we believe in eternal life; we trace sorrow and separation, but we believe in an eternal joy and community.” (The Cost of Moral Leadership, p. 220)

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we face the stony silence of Joseph’s tomb in hope. We carry our loved ones the way we will one day be carried to the grave knowing that there’s more!

The Book of Common Prayer includes this prayer for Holy Saturday:

O God: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so may we await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 283)

Awaiting the resurrection with hope,

Jim

P.S.  Full disclosure, this blog is based on the Holy Saturday devotion in
Easter Earthquake, next year’s Lenten study for The Upper Room.  41HPb-i2sIL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_