Autumn In Florida…Really?

Autumn in Florida…Really?

My relatives in northern Michigan laugh out loud when I say that we have a change of seasons in Florida, but I’ve definitely feel a cooler breeze coming off the lake during my early morning walks. There are even a few trees that make a feeble attempt to put some color in their leaves. Okay…that might be a stretch!

The only thing I miss about living in the North is autumn…the smell of the leaves on the ground, the cold breeze in the air, the burst of glory in the colors of maple and oak trees. The small Pennsylvania town in which I grew up celebrates it every year with an Autumn Leaf Festival.

Maybe that’s why I jumped at the opportunity to be the guest speaker for a “Fall Foliage Cruise” along the New England coast next fall. Consider this an invitation for you to join us. You’ll find the information at here.  I’m thinking about doing homework on religion in New England for my messages on the cruise, which brings me to Emily Dickinson. She wrote about the way summer fades into fall in her poem, “Indian Summer.”

Oh, sacrament of summer days,

Oh, last communion in the haze,

Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,

Thy consecrated bread to break,

Taste thine immortal wine!

She captured the feeling of melancholy that comes along with end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The trees exploding in color are a last burst of glorious life before the hard cold of winter. The coming of autumn means that winter is on the way.  I was on the phone with a pastor in the Midwest the other day. When I asked if they were enjoying autumn, she said, “Yes, but we know what’s coming!” If fall is here, can winter be far behind?

For Everything a Season

Maybe the point — since preachers have an irrepressible need to make a spiritual point out of ordinary observations, — is that even we who live in the Sunshine State need to learn to live with the changing of the seasons in our lives. The writer of Ecclesiastes said it, but Byrds set it to music: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

An essential part of spiritual maturity is learning to read the seasons in our lives.  There are growth seasons and there are fallow seasons.   There are seasons when we walk in the sunshine of God’s presence and there are seasons when we face “the dark night of the soul.”   Living by faith includes trusting in the goodness of God’s presence with us in every season, whatever the weather.

My word to my Michigan relatives is, “Enjoy autumn while it lasts! We’ll see you in February!”

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

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Calvary or Cavalry?

On the Road Again

We’ve been “on the road again” to facilitate the Institute of Preaching and lead workshops on “A Disciple’s Path.” Along the way we connected with long-time friends at Lake Junaluska and spent some quality time with our newest grandchild in South Carolina. Over the next few weeks I’ll be in Indiana, Virginia and Tennessee.  The Spirit continues to use “Disciple’s Path” in wonderfully amazing ways.  Last week was the Board of Visitors at Duke Divinity School where I got to thinking about this blog.

Calvary or Cavalry?

Dr. Valerie Cooper, professor of Black Church Studies at Duke, began Morning Prayer for the Board of Visitors with a recording of the gospel song, “Calvary.”   It combined a traditional Black spiritual, jazz improvisation, a blues soloist, a string ensemble and a traditional choir into a moving witness to Jesus’ death on the cross. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kTiJC1izuE]

With the musical repetition of the word “Calvary,” my brain took an unexpected leap to the way the rearrangement of three letters results in the word “cavalry.” The online definition is:  “In the past, soldiers who fought on horseback…modern soldiers who fight in armored vehicles.”

It struck me that with all due respect for the men and women whom politicians send to “fight in armored vehicles,” the two words are about as far removed from each other as you can get.

Calvary: Jesus’ way of discipleship.

Cavalry: The world’s way of conflict.

Calvary: Where Jesus’ death results in new life.

Cavalry: Where human life ends in death.

Calvary: The ultimate sign of self-giving love in the Kingdom of God.

Cavalry: The tool of warring conflict among the kingdoms of this world.

Calvary: The mystery of redemptive grace.

Cavalry: The myth of redemptive violence.

No wonder Paul said that the word of the cross is foolishness to the world in which we live. (I Corinthians 1:15-25) The cross stands at the center of human history as a fundamental contradiction of the basic assumptions of a sin-broken, violence-addicted world.

The way those two words rolled around in my brain reflected the wrestling in my soul. If Aeschylus (525-456 BC) was correct that truth is the first casualty of war, then the Sermon on the Mount is usually the first casualty of a Christian’s faith when his/her nation goes to war. Confronted with an evil force like ISIS, who really wants to hear Jesus say, “Love your enemies”? Our natural tendency is to put more trust in the cavalry than in Calvary.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

As the Obama administration begins gearing up for war (regardless of the euphemism they use to describe it), I returned to three questions I said we needed to ask during the Bush-Cheney administration’s relentless drive for war in Iraq in 2003:  Why us?  Why now?  What then?

There may still be some debate about the answers to the first two questions, but the answer to the third question is painfully clear. “What then?” is where we are now. Shakespeare got it right when he had Macbeth say:  “We still have judgment here, that we but teach/Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return/To plague th’ inventor.”

None of the words being used to describe ISIS are adequate to describe just how evil it is. That’s as obvious as the top of the weeds growing in your back yard. What’s not as obvious are the roots out of which those weeds grow; roots that will still be in the ground after you whack off what you can see.  If continuing war in the Middle East is our only answer, perhaps we need to be asking some different questions.

Back to Calvary

Although there are no simple answers to the complex and chaotic collision of historical, ethnic and religious forces that are at work in the Middle East, it is interesting to remember that we’ve tragically been here before. In the 14th Century, Raymond Lull (1235-1315) wrote these haunting words about the Crusades.

I see many knights going to the Holy Land in the expectation of conquering it by force or arms; but instead of accomplishing this object, they are in the end all swept away themselves.  Therefore it is my belief that the conquest of the Holy Land should be attempted in no other way than as Christ and his apostles undertook to accomplish it; by love, by prayer, by tears, and by the offering up of our own lives.  It…can be better secured by the force of preaching than by the force of arms.” (http://seedbed.com/feed/christian-response-islamaphobia/)

The challenges for our political and military leaders are frustratingly complex, but the choice for followers of Christ is disturbingly clear. Will we follow the way of the cross or the way of the world? Will it be Calvary or cavalry. Perhaps that’s what Paul was talking about when he wrote:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 2, 21)

Grace and peace,

Jim