Dr. Howell's eSeries

eFindUsFaithful


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ePsalms – transitioning to…eFindUsFaithful

Here endeth our reading of the Psalms! We have covered a mere 43 of the 150 in our Bible (and none outside, of which there are many intriguing ones from Bible times!), so I will have to leave the 107 to you to read and ponder, in the morning when you wake up, on a break at work, before dinner, at bedtime.

Something I love about the Psalms is the sense of solidarity with Christians across space and time we get when reading them. We are not alone: in monasteries in Colorado, Brazil and Italy, monks are chanting Psalms – probably right now. In Indiana, Costa Rica, China and Liberia, somebody has a Bible open near the middle, reading, praying a Psalm.

We have favorite Psalms – and Thomas Merton suggested that this is a great gift God gives you, a special Word from the Word of God for a season of your life. Speaking of Merton: he is one of our great heroes of spirituality, and it is to heroes we now turn.

From now through Thanksgiving, I want to share with you some of my heroes of faith, women and men of exemplary courage, prayer, service, and hope, those who have followed Christ in extraordinary ways, who might shame us except they thrill and encourage us before we get to feeling too small. I want us to think about official saints of the Church (Francis of Assisi, Augustine, Teresa), but also the unofficial ones: Albert Schweitzer – with whom we begin on Monday, so read the link (with photos!) if you’d like! – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, and even some who are alive, whom you may have met personally.

But this won’t be a history lesson. In each case, we will look at the words or actions, or some aspect of the person’s life or demeanor, and ask what God would put on display and have us mimic. Reading Psalms is one we’ve just been doing ourselves! Bonhoeffer is known as a great thinker and a valiant foe of Hitler – but growing up, his family read a Psalm together each day, with his grownup friends he insisted a Psalm be read aloud before dinner, and in his final days in a Nazi concentration camp, fellow prisoners and even the guards were moved by his simple act of faithfully, happily, and quite courageously reading and even singing his way through the Psalms.

We call this series Find Us Faithful – which is the name of a popular Christian song (watch and listen!), and is also a key theme in Paul’s letter to the beleaguered, confused Christians in Corinth: “Think of us as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God; it is required that we be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). We will look at heroes who have been Found Faithful, and we will tag along behind them, or even climb up on their shoulders, and pray to God each day, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – reverence for life

Why bother with being Found Faithful? Isn’t life a feast spread before us, to be consumed for our pleasure? Sort of – but if we reverse the viewpoint and ask How did life come to be? and Is there a better reason for my being here than simply to exist, achieve, grab things and then die?, if the universe didn’t randomly come to be (and what are the odds against that?), if there is some purpose, if there is a God or even the possibility of a divine force behind it all, don’t we live quite differently? Is there some accountability? and if so, isn’t it to the One who put us here?

We believe God made the world; and yet sometimes God seems to be showing off – as God evidently was with Albert Schweitzer, brilliant scholar, organist, physician, who put a life of ease and glory behind to be a missionary in Africa. His primal philosophy? “I cannot but have reverence for all that is life. I cannot avoid compassion for everything that is called life. That is the beginning and foundation of morality.”

There is an old Jewish tradition that you should not step on or mindlessly throw away a scrap of paper you find, for it might have the name of God written on it. In fact, God’s name is written all over countless things and on every face: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1).

If this is so, we must be reverent before the world, green things, water and stones, and people – and not only the ones we like, or who are like us, but perhaps especially those who are different, who stretch or spellbind or challenge us. Maybe God is showing off all the time – but we avert our gaze and miss it. Maybe God is showing off with you and me, but we fritter it away, causing God to shrug and blush a little.

Maybe revering all of life really is the solution to questions of right and wrong. Maybe having compassion for all of life is the secret to my life. Schweitzer listened to the cry of God’s world, and instead of sighing, averting his gaze, or feeling a cringe of sympathy, he acted, he did something – in reverence and compassion.

Life is about paying attention, and noticing that God made him, and her, and that; nobody is dispensable (you and me included!) – and so we love, we work diligently. I want my life to echo the extravagant goodness and generosity of the God who reveres life; in short, I want to be found faithful.

Lord, help us to be able to say I have reverence for all that is life, and to have compassion for everything called life. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – I decided to make my life my argument

Why did Albert Schweitzer abandon his whirlwind wonder of a life as a world class organist and brilliant scholar to live out his days in the poorest place on earth? Quite simply, he was studying the Bible, trying to get what Jesus was about, and to share his ideas with others – when his best idea came to him: “I decided that I would make my life my argument. I would advocate the things I believed in terms of the life I lived and what I did.”

This seems so obvious – and yet how often do our beliefs duck quietly into some hidden corner of the mind, with little to do with how we actually spend our hours, money or energy?

We live in a world that is increasingly skeptical about the Church, Christianity, and even the very existence of God. We can wring our hands, mutter frustration – or harbor doubts ourselves. But what is the solution to questions about God? Clever arguments? or stern denunciations of doubt or other faiths? What if those who believe in God simply declared We have decided to make our lives our argument; we will advocate what we believe in terms of the life we live, and what we do?

Schweitzer wasn’t interested in mere goodness; he could have been a highly moral organist, or a fine physician who volunteered a bit of time now and then, or a celebrity known for his piety. Instead, he did what God was calling him to do, even though others thought him a lunatic, even though it was exceedingly difficult.

Of course, the irony here is that whether we are religious or intentional about it, we can always say quite truly, “I decided to make my life my witness.” My life bears 100% accurate witness to what I believe. If I shop and collect shiny things for my personal pleasure, I have decided to make my life a witness to the idol of my grabbing self. If I drift, or never make and keep commitments, or let my soul suffer the corrosive effects of cynicism or rancor, I am declaring quite boldly that I believe in nothing of substance but merely ricochet mindlessly from one clash to another.

If I go through the motions of religion, attend worship when it’s convenient, and donate a paltry percentage of my funds to charity, I have decided God is a little genie I tuck in my back pocket to retrieve if needed, instead of the Lord and Creator of everything, and the one to whom I owe my very existence. Jesus then becomes a nice guy we chat about occasionally, whose birthday we recall when ripping wrapping paper off neat gifts – instead of the ultimate manifestation of all that is God, the one about whom I say to the world “Jesus is the one I am following”; just look at my life and see.

Lord, our very lives are our witness – to something. We want to put You on display, however feebly; we really do want to advocate what we believe in how we live, every day, in every way, an embodied testimony to You. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – He will reveal Himself in their experience

Before he left his upper echelon life in Europe, Albert Schweitzer wrote what became one of the greatest books ever written about Jesus. His insinuation that we tend to fabricate an image of Jesus that mirrors ourselves, and thus miss the real Jesus, could not be more on target. I love these words about following Jesus, for they remind me of what I have discovered, and what I think impelled Schweitzer to leave Europe for Africa: “To those who obey Him, He will reveal Himself in the toils, conflicts, and sufferings they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

When we consider whether to take seriously God’s will, or to try out the teachings of Jesus, or to stick to the Bible’s commandments (or even suggestions!), we wait until we have everything figured out, all questions answered, or we’ve had a profound experience of God. Then – only then! – will we get moving to do something Christlike. But Schweitzer suggested what the Bible teaches, and what saints have known for centuries: Christ reveals himself to those who are in his fellowship, who are already following, putting faith into practice, laboring and suffering.

You cannot become a pianist by figuring out the keyboard at a distance or reading magazines; you put your fingers to the keys, with somebody who already knows how, and you bang away, making plenty of mistakes, cringing but then delighting in the right notes you manage, and tomorrow you do it again. You cannot get in shape by listening to the doctor talk about your heart, or watching P90X on TV; you bend, you lift a dumbbell, you sweat, you embarrass yourself, you keep going, you say “fruit, not fries,” and even though you are sore and think you’ll never be fit, you do it again the next day.

Why do we say to God, Show yourself! and then I might do something? The first disciples had no real idea who Jesus was or where he was leading them; but they stuck close, and only in the real life experience of doing what he did, trying it, failing miserably but mimicking him still, did they discover what it means to follow. God is a mystery to be lived in to: so pray, even though your mind wanders and you don’t sense a connection; read the Bible even though at first you aren’t sure what it means; volunteer at the shelter, even though you think I’m no good at this and don’t have time. Go ahead and start obeying. And do it again tomorrow.

Lord, we will begin now to obey, and trust You will reveal Yourself in the toils and conflicts we pass through being as near You as possible; we will learn through experience who You are. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – am I really a Christian?

A sign of spiritual health might be our willingness to get interested in the question, “Am I really a Christian?” Will we be Found Faithful? Something we learn from the great heroes of the faith is that most of them had moments when they plunged more deeply into the things of God than they had ever imagined previously, and caught a more profound glimpse of God, and sharpened their understanding of how serious life with Christ is, and can be – so much so that they wondered if they had ever been Christian at all.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ordained, armed with degrees in theology, and published as a great spiritual writer, could mark the day when “I finally became a Christian. For the first time I discovered the Bible… I had seen a great deal of the church – but I had not yet become a Christian. I had been turning the doctrine of Jesus Christ into something of personal advantage for myself… I pray that will never happen again. Also I had never prayed, or prayed only very little. For all my loneliness, I was quite pleased with myself. Then the Bible, and in particular the Sermon on the Mount, freed me from that. Since then everything has changed. I have felt this plainly, and so have other people about me.”

Have we really dug into the Bible and discovered its brilliance? or been discovered by it? Do we pray just a little? or diligently, in a disciplined way, with utter frankness, exposing the comprehensive range of life to God, who cares for us more than we care for ourselves? Do we think of Christianity as something for my advantage? or do I hear its word of judgment, its radical claim on me, calling me away from me and my agenda into God’s grand design?

Bonhoeffer once spoke of Christians who prefer their own goodness to God, who like to keep their hands clean more than they want to do God’s will. I keep pondering this, and feel his wisdom is hugely important. Is my “goodness” something I do for myself, and brandish as a badge of honor? Or am I willing to get my hands dirty, and even appear to be crazy, for the sake of doing what God really needs me to do – for God? Maybe this is what it means “finally” to “become a Christian”: to say “Not my will, and not even my sense of goodness, but Your will be done.”

Lord, am I really a Christian? For the times I have trivialized what the Bible, or prayer, or following You are about, I am sorry – and I ask for an awakening, for I want my life to be Your will, so that when all is said and done, You O Lord might Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – a “religionless” Christianity

While he was incarcerated in a concentration camp for his participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote remarkable letters to family and friends – and in several, he spoke of a “religionless” Christianity. Not surprisingly, secular critics of the Church have jumped on this, anointing Bonhoeffer as the champion of anti-institutional sentiment.

Bonhoeffer knew the foibles of the institutional Church as well as anyone: he pleaded with clergy who heiled Hitler to desist – to no avail. But what he was after was not a vapid spirituality sequestered from the life of the Church. He knew we needed each other; he understood that the routines of worship, study and fellowship were the only practical ways to grow toward God.

By “religionless,” Bonhoeffer meant that God is interested in far more than a little religious segment of life: “One cannot give Christ only a small compartment of life, but everything – or nothing. I can live with or without Jesus if he is just a religious genius, ethicist, or a gentleman.” Religion in many ways is the “enemy” of Christianity because it can unwittingly present the false notion that somehow a bit of moral goodness is sufficient, or that a few religious acts now and then somehow please God.

Bonhoeffer wasn’t against the Church at all; but he was zealous in his campaign against a thin, superficial piety that reduces “religion” to a mere garment thrown occasionally around an otherwise untouched life. He saw the whole world as God’s good creation; there is no sacred/secular distinction. Only a worldly, robust Christianity that can embrace all of life will do, given our need for God, and who God really is.
Our prayer, Find Us Faithful, isn’t about getting the merely religious part of life right, but everything. Lord, we want to realize You not merely in some small compartment of our existence, but everywhere; we recognize You not as a great moralist but as our Savior, and Lord – so as we dedicate ourselves to this comprehensive, “religionless” way, we ask O Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – teach us to pray

The disciples were, understandably, awed by the way Jesus prayed; his intimacy with God was striking, and compelling – so they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” This whole idea of learning to pray may seem odd: don’t we simply pray what is in our heart?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose prayers were noteworthy while imprisoned and facing death, just as much as they were when he was a free citizen, wrote, “We confuse wishes with prayer. Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one’s heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.” God knows better than we do what we wish for; and God welcomes all that happens to have taken up residence in our hearts – and so we pour it out.

But prayer is more, and better, than mere wishing in front of God. We speak with God, even if the heart feels empty, even if we do not know what to wish for. Perhaps we simply need to talk, or to listen, or simply to be with God for a while. And not just “perhaps”: we always need to talk, listen, and be with God.
Bonhoeffer wrote that we learn to pray the way children learn to talk: they do not simply start expressing themselves, but they mimic the words, inflections, and thoughts of their mothers or fathers. In prayer, we look intently at the words and thoughts of God, and we begin to pray not merely our minds but the mind of God; as Bob Pierce put it, we pray that our hearts will be broken by the things that break the heart of God.
We might even pray things that seem exceedingly difficult – for us! Listen to Bonhoeffer’s counsel: “If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”

We recall that when Bonhoeffer was in the worst kind of prison, he was happy, and wrote “We can have abundant life, even though many wishes remain unfulfilled.” Only as we learn to pray can such an abundant life, no matter the circumstance, become real.

Lord, teach us to pray – not merely how to pour out what is in us onto Your lap, but to learn to pray what You want us to pray, to think Your thoughts together with You, and to be prepared for outcomes that are challenging for us, and more in sync with Your Word. In our praying, Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – the cost of discipleship

My juvenile acquaintance with Christianity left me feeling it was either scary, or boring, or some sort of sweet amulet that induced a little warm boost to life, or a physician’s helper that alleviated illness. The idea that Christianity was a deadly serious demand, that God wanted something – check that, everything! – and that it would be exceedingly difficult, never occurred to me until someone handed me a second hand copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. I didn’t know Bonhoeffer’s personal story, and the cost of his own faith; but I was thunderstruck by his opening words, which I realized weren’t just one guy’s opinion, but cut to the heart of what Jesus truly was about: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.”

Grace was costly to Christ, and therefore is costly to us. But Bonhoeffer, not very gently, declared that “we prefer cheap grace, sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Cheap grace is forgiveness without repentance, baptism without discipline, absolution without confession. Cheap grace is grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Our trivialized culture bombards us with what is cheap, quick, convenient, comfy – but isn’t that why our lives seem so trivial, so banal, so pointless… and what could trump in over consuming and diversions? Somewhere deep inside, don’t we want to be part of something that is difficult, arduous, requiring intense effort, sacrifice, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with others who face the same daunting challenges?

We need and we crave a life project that matters, and Christianity is such an endeavor; but we miss it if we dig shortcuts and wallow in what is easy. Christianity is hard, always has been, always will be – and that is why it matters. Forgiveness is ours, but not without the grief and determination of repentance. Baptism is a beautiful thing, but it is the beginning of a disciplined life of service, learning and worship.

Jesus is the one we are following, and he didn’t show the disciples how to push the “easy” button, or how to lessen life’s demands. Jesus’ way isn’t the solution to all our problems: if we follow we have a whole new set of problems! But we are going somewhere – and then we realize that the cost of discipleship pales in comparison to the cost of non-discipleship.

Lord, we have treated Your stunning gift of Christ and a new life as something cheap or easy. We want to embrace the true cost of discipleship; we realize that what You want is nothing less than our very lives – for You yearn to give us our only true life. Then, and only then, might we be Found Faithful, which is our prayer.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – equally safe in woe and in well-being?

We are understandably obsessed with security, and we believe we can keep ourselves safe if we are careful. What is the relationship between God and our safety? Does God keep us safe? If we have a break-in, or accident, or suffer illness, has God let us down? or did we fail to pray earnestly enough?
Our sense of personal safety and expectations of physical security are terribly modern, and might confuse us about God. Back in the 14th century, there was a little girl named Julian who shuddered as 3/4ths of the population of her hometown, Norwich, succumbed to the plague over just a few weeks. Other catastrophes struck as she became a young woman, violence tore at British society, and her own health was fragile.

In such horrific, grievous, fearful times, Julian saw and heard Jesus – somehow – and wrote of the great joy and peace he gives, and she learned to feel entirely safe, although her friends and family were puzzled by her, and trembled over what might happen next. Her security? “I love, and thus I am safe; God wants us to know that he keeps us equally safe, in woe and in well-being.”

But woe is the antithesis of safety, isn’t it? And isn’t well-being the sign of being secure? Yet we know we cannot say personal well-being is proof of God’s powerful care for us, and that sickness or misfortune is evidence God has forsaken us: God must be the same, always attentive, to all people, all the time. Julian has to be right: “God keeps us equally safe, in woe and in well-being.”

There must be some dual plot unfolding in history and in our lives. There is the surface reality, where safety is having the doors bolted and nobody swipes our stuff, the car doesn’t bump anybody, terrorists stay home, and I pass my annual checkup; but then there is another, truer, deeper story that only faith, hope and love can detect, a narrative of love, that God is with us no matter what, that love endures both sunny and the darkest days, and that ultimate reality is discovered in that hidden plot, the secret wisdom, and so we can weather catastrophe, and suffering, for the love of God, and our love for God, is safety enough.

I am reminded of the 73rd Psalm, which Julian memorized and chanted often. The Psalmist has endured untold loss and trauma, and is tempted to give up on God, but then realizes that the good God gives is God’s own self, and that love is sufficient: “There is nothing on earth I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Or as Psalm 91 puts it, “God will deliver you; you will not fear the terror of the night… Because you have made the Lord your refuge, no evil shall befall you” – or Psalm 121, “My help comes from the Lord… The Lord will keep you from all evil.” If this is true, it must be true in times of woe and in times of well-being; if the Lord is our security, then it must be that we can prosper or suffer, and God’s love is still unfailing – although eyes of thin vision won’t be able to see the wonder.

Lord, help us understand you always keep us safe, and that our security is Your love. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – marvel, and take pleasure

One of Pat Conroy’s characters’ greatest fear “was that he would be buried alive in that American topsoil of despair and senselessness where one felt nothing, where being alive was simply a provable fact instead of a ticket to a magic show.”

God shows off, not only in the lives of the remarkable people we are studying in this series on saints, but out there, in the natural world, and even in the delights of life as we experience it in our culture. Faith isn’t closing my eyes and muttering, “There must be a higher power,” and faith isn’t a mechanism to induce God to do me a favor. Faith is wonder; to believe it to marvel, to let the jaw drop and simply sigh or giggle over how good it all really is.

Julian of Norwich, who lived in some of the darkest decades of civilization’s history, found plenty that stirred awe and praise in her spirit. She wrote, “The Soul must perform two duties. One is that we reverently marvel. The other is that we humbly endure, and take pleasure in God.” Faith is enduring, but faith begins in marvel, taking pleasure in God, and in what God has fashioned. Faith is our ticket to the magic show, and we only know God when we recover our ability to marvel, to be awed by the greatness of God, the sheer mercy of Christ’s grace, the simple pleasures of a breeze or a strawberry, a child’s glance or a thunderclap in the distance, the laughter of a game and the taste of chocolate.

A reporter followed Mister Rogers around for a few days, and what he noticed most was that Mister Rogers… noticed – and he noticed everything, including a huge clock in Penn Station: “Every time he looked at it, he leaned back from his waist and opened his mouth wide with astonishment, like someone trying to catch a peanut he had tossed into the air… It became clear that Mister Rogers could be astonished all day, or even forever, because Mister Rogers lived in a state of astonishment, and the astonishment he showed when he looked at the clock was the same astonishment he showed when people—absolute strangers—walked up to him and fed his hungry ear with their whispers, and he turned to me, with an open, abashed mouth, and said, "Oh, Tom, if you could only hear the stories I hear!" Didn’t Jesus something about “He who has ears to hear…”?

Lord, inspire us to fulfill our duties – to marvel, and to endure and take pleasure in You. Open our eyes so we might be awestruck, and thus know and celebrate You. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – the Will of God

From the great saints of the Church who have been Found Faithful, we can learn much about the Will of God. Since one credential that earns sainthood seems to be the endurance of suffering, we can learn hope, and simple forbearance from spiritual heroes through history. Julian of Norwich watched neighbors and family die gruesomely from the bubonic plague they did not understand, and her own body was struck with illnesses and chronic pain no one knew how to treat in the 14th century.

Her view of God and suffering? “All that is good our Lord does; all that is evil our Lord suffers.” We wonder why bad things happen, but we need not blame God; God only does good. But God isn’t distant from suffering; the whole story of Jesus is God taking our pain and mortality into God’s own self, bearing it, and redeeming it – and so even in suffering there can be a tranquility, and even joy.

Julian’s most famous words were, “All shall be well, and all shall be well; all manner of things shall be well.” She had no reason to be a sunny optimist; back in the 14th century, things were rarely better the next day. But she knew the constancy and solace of God’s presence, and that when all is said and done, the love of God will triumph over plagues, storms, illness, and even death itself.

But God’s will involves not merely understanding why bad things happen; God’s will is about us knowing what God wants us to do. Julian shared with us her fascinating prayer: “Lord, you know what I want. If it is your will for me to have it, let me have it. If not, do not be displeased, for I only want what you will.” I like that: God knows what we desire; and God may grant our desires, or God might blush and find what we desire to be trivial, or not in our or anybody else’s best interest. When what we will is out of sync with what God desires, we can relax and simply ask God not to be displeased, for we will not stubbornly cling to any craving we learn is not of God; we really only want what God wills – which is that we be Found Faithful.

Lord, we know all that is good is from You; and all that we suffer You suffer. You know what we want. If it is Your will, let us have it; but if not, do not be displeased. We only want what You will. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – three windows

Julian of Norwich lived much of her adult life in a single small stone room with three windows – which she said matched her threefold desire: for contrition (grief over her sin), compassion (for Christ and for the hurting), and longing for God. Julian longed to long for God! For her, “seeking is better than seeing.” We often get duped into thinking religion is about having the answers, or finding and grasping God. But for most great spiritual folk through history, questions are better than answers; if we get a glimpse of God we understand how much more we have yet to see; we never figure God out, but take immense delight in the never-ending quest to learn more, to draw closer. Society says our desire must be satisfied; but the desire for God must be intensified, and perhaps like young lovers separated by some distance, the pleasure is in the yearning.

We may need to learn how to long for her first two desires as well: contrition and compassion. In our culture of entitlement, where positive thinking and having a cheery assessment of oneself are key, we do not think much about guilt, or our nagging failure to be the people God made us to be, the countless large and tiny ways we bolt in rebellion against God. But to desire contrition is to desire being closer to God: until we unmask and acknowledge how we are out of sync with God, we have no way of dispelling the fog that blinds us to God, no way of being extricated from the barbed wire of the chaotic, indulgent self that looks for God in all the wrong places, or could care less about God.

And to desire compassion: we might sigh when we see somebody hurting, but the kind of deep compassion Jesus felt for suffering, lost people is simply not a natural emotion. We turn our heads, or stay busy. But I think of Bob Pierce, who prayed that his heart would be broken by whatever breaks the heart of God. We tune out society’s droning on about deserving and blaming, and we are filled with compassion when we see any person in a fix. We may not know the best way to help, or which policy is wisest, but our hearts are no longer stone cold or angry. We long for compassion, and realizing we need it stirs in us contrition, and our need for both reminds us how very hungry we are for God.

Lord, we long to long for you. We long to feel the compassion you feel. And painful as it might be to us, we long for a pained sense of contrition – for we love You, and want nothing else than to be Found Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – I like Christ but not Christians

If we think of sheer political impact on numbers of people, it would be hard to think of a more influential person in the 20th century than Gandhi – if we exclude the mass murderers Stalin and Hitler. Gandhi was peaceful, a deeply spiritual person who developed profound friendships with many Christians.

Because of this, his most famous remark about us stings: “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I suspect that, although Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 on the other side of the planet, he could easily speak for a huge throng of spiritual people in our own culture. They could easily be intrigued by and drawn to Jesus, but Jesus’ professed followers frankly, sadly, and embarrassingly, are not much like him; our bland, decaffeinated faith says more about our drowsy, flabby selves than the strength of Jesus. Gandhi believed the Christians have “inoculated the world with a mild form of Christianity, so that it is now proof against the real thing.”

Certainly we have a kind of plastic, phony Jesus we have refashioned that suits our tastes – and so Gandhi’s words may puzzle us. But the real Jesus we read about in the Gospels? The one who touched untouchables, hung around with outcasts, blessed the meek, told us to love our enemies and invite people to dinner who could never invite us back, the one who exposed the absurdity of stockpiling money and things, the Jesus who despised the mood that judges others, and had no patience with a half-baked, trivial, convenient religiosity: we do not resemble this Jesus very much.

I might want to say to Gandhi, “This is the beauty of God’s mercy; God still loves us even though our lives are silly and misguided, hypocritical and hollow.” I want to say to the Christians, “Can’t we do better?” Christianity’s only shred of hope will be for the Christians to get a little more serious about mimicking Jesus, looking at the aspects of his life that seem weirdest to our culture and decide “I will try this,” taking the red lettered words of Jesus and his actions as the script for what we will do with our days and energy.

Maybe, maybe then, onlookers here in America and around the world might say “I like the Christians… I think I will give their Christ a chance.”

Lord, we confess the truth of Gandhi’s assessment, not of others, but of us. Forgive us, and change us. We pledge to make far more diligent efforts to be Found Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – advice for missionaries

Gandhi befriended many Christian missionaries in Asia, most notably E. Stanley Jones, who wrote a lovely, affectionate book about his unlikely friend he did not convert but loved deeply. Jones asked Gandhi what advice he had for Christian missionaries – and Gandhi’s reply remains wise, and might help us:

“First, I would suggest that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good.”

If we pray, Lord, Find Us Faithful, we must begin to live more like Jesus – and stop watering down the all-encompassing, ultra-demanding, marvelously-vital faith Jesus gave us. When we think about anybody who is different – or anybody just like us! – we love; it is the failure to love that is the downfall of the Church in our day, and the saddest tragedy in our personal lives.

What about other religions? Gandhi didn’t say “Convince them they are wrong,” or “Give up,” or “Stay home,” but “Learn all you can – and sympathetically – for there is good in the other religions.” We might prefer to think we have a corner on truth and goodness, but God is too big to desert the majority of the world’s population and leave them bereft of wisdom.

Jones, a zealous evangelist, pondered these things, and weighed the atrocious track record of Christianity in many places and times, and saw everything with new eyes: “Too often our evangelism has been verbal instead of vital – an evangelism of the lips instead of evangelism of the life. In penance for this, we might very well impose silence upon our lips until our lives have caught up with their testimony.”

Could this be a time to be quiet and listen? and instead of whining about Christianity’s diminished role or raging against any other faith, to focus on catching our lives up to what we say we believe? Our very quietness, our posture of listening – and isn’t listening the first act of love? – might be our most profound witness.

Lord, show us the way to love; teach us to listen; catch our lives up to what we think we have been believing, so we might be Found Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – freedom and unity

My blog page on Gandhi says “We might grasp the subtle truth that in his life, Gandhi gave the loveliest conceivable expression of Hinduism, and perhaps as he did so, Christians noticed in him an illustration of what Christ was about. This coincidence can draw people together from differing religions and viewpoints and can help them make peace with each other. His dual life mission was 1. freedom, and 2. unity.”

We get distracted by questions like Which religion is the only true one? – which is a hugely important and endlessly intriguing question! – or Which religion spawns more violence? – one we can’t get out of our heads in today’s world. But could it be that each of the major religions has within itself rich resources for goodness, wisdom, and peace? and that the more truly Christian I am, and the more truly Jewish someone else is, and the more genuinely Muslim or Hindu another person is, the more we will understand and even love each other? and the higher the likelihood of peace might be? Gandhi, as a stellar Hindu, looked Christlike to the Christians. Could it be that if we were more stellar Christians we might look wiser and more lovable to non-Christians?

It is the perversion of religion, the extremist absolutizing of some tiny aspect of the faith while ignoring the rest, that leads to evil. Gandhi, a Hindu, was killed by a Hindu radical who in a fit of misguided zeal misread the heart of Hinduism and murdered a man of peace – because Gandhi wanted India to be a safe place not only for Hindus and Christians but also Muslims. I wonder, although I do not know, if people who feel hatred and rage against themselves over many years often become hateful and violent themselves… and that only a long, steady course of love can heal the rage in our world and bring peace.

Gandhi’s life mission was freedom and unity. Sometimes, freedom seems to work against unity – and unity certainly requires us to give up a kind of trivialized freedom that says “I’m free so I’ll do whatever I want.” We learn a new kind of freedom, one that loves and builds bridges, and says “It’s not about me, it’s about us, together.” Perhaps Gandhi and other kindred dreamers are unrealistic in their fantasies about peace and love – but perhaps as Christians we are obligated to pray this isn’t so, and to join the beautiful if daunting cause of unity and freedom.

Lord, we want to be Found Faithful, to be the best Christians we can be, and we hope and pray that by being Faithful, we bring a small increase to the peace, unity and freedom of others. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – the will of God

What is God’s will? …not in the sense of Why do bad things happen? – which is one of our most poignant questions we wrestle with continually, but What does God want me to do? How can we know? and if we found out, would we really have the courage, the will, to do it?

St. Francis of Assisi (whose feast day is today! - see the blog with pix!) did God’s will – but it took him a long time, and much diligent effort, to figure it out. Through his teenage years and early adulthood, Francis did pretty much as he wished, and was immensely popular, stylish, fawned over and admired. But he was injured in battle, and nearly died, causing him to rethink literally everything. He began to pray, seeking God’s will. He prayed, not once, or for twenty seconds, but over and over, for an hour or longer, day after day. Could it be that we do not know what God wants from us because God understands the value in waiting, in the hard labor of our continually seeking, and only then finding?

I love Francis’ prayer, which he uttered countless times while kneeling before a crucifix, looking up into the eyes of our Lord: O most high, glorious God, Enlighten the darkness of my heart, and give me a correct faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, wisdom and perception, that I may do, O Lord, Your most true and holy will.

I’m moved by Francis’s zeal, his patience, and the prayer itself, which asks nothing of comfort or gain for Francis himself, but only to be swept up into the heart, mind and activity of God. Notice he attends to the greatness of God, and acknowledges darkness in his own soul; from this foundation he asks God not for any thing, but for faith, hope, love, wisdom, understanding – and why? So that I may do your will. God’s will is something we do, not something we speculate about or debate in our minds. We go, we act – and we do God’s will with others! Francis went right out and asked his cool, hip friends to join him!

What would it mean not merely to know God’s will, but to do it, and to do it together, as friends, as a family, as a Church? I have a friend with a grown son with Down Syndrome; a college fraternity decided to do something besides party – so they adopted him, and this severely challenged man has lived with and been cared for by a state university’s fraternity for 20 years now.

Lord, enlighten our darkness, and give us faith, hope, love and wisdom so we might do Your will – even together, as thus be Found Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – taking the Bible literally

One of St. Francis’s friends and admirers (named Henri d’Avranches) wrote an elegant poem about the pattern of Francis’s life, and how it was about nothing more or less than simply taking the Bible literally. Francis “did not gloss over anything,” and did not soften the brute challenge of the Bible by taking things metaphorically. To him, the Bible’s words “mean what they say,” so he refused to be “a hearer and not a doer.” Francis always said, “What Christ commands, I must now do. This is my wish, my vow, what my whole soul desires.”

We let ourselves get caught up in questions about what may seem obscure in the Bible or that strikes us as historically uncertain. But for Francis, the Bible was awfully clear in virtually all its particulars; doing it just happens to be exceedingly difficult – but simultaneously wonderful, or so Francis would tell us. Mark Twain shrewdly said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that worry me; it’s the parts I do understand.” Instead of “explaining” or putting his clever “spin” on what he read in the Bible, Francis quite naively went out and tried to get it done.

Francis had an almost mystical reverence for the book itself, its binding and pages – for he believed it carried the very Word of Life, and was the very presence of God, and direction for his life. What would it be like to read the Bible so simply? and to make the words of Jesus or the actions of Jesus or the commandments and wise counsel of the Scriptures our to-do list for the day?

Lord, we want to become better Bible readers; give us the simple naivete Francis enjoyed, so we can delight in Your Word and become not just hearers but doers of Your Word. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org


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eFindUsFaithful – the imitation of Christ

St. Francis wanted to follow Jesus, and to be as close to Jesus as possible; he was consumed, above all else, with being as much like Jesus as possible. All day long, he very deliberately, and at times crazily and even humorously, tried to imitate Jesus.

Jesus touched lepers, so Francis found some and embraced them. Jesus prayed on a mountain, so Francis climbed one and spoke with God. Jesus was poor, so Francis became poor. Jesus travelled with friends to try to help people, so Francis got his buddies together to do the same. Thomas of Celano summed up Francis’s life: “He was always with Jesus: Jesus in his heart, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, he bore Jesus always in his whole body.”

Francis thought deeply about the suffering of Jesus, and asked to feel the very pains Jesus felt on the cross. What would our life be like if we looked closely at a crucifix, and weighed how Jesus got there and what it must have been like, and then prayed with Francis? “My Lord Jesus Christ, two graces I ask of you before I die: the first is that in my life I may feel, in my soul and body, as far as possible, that sorrow which you, tender Jesus, underwent in the hour of your most bitter passion; the second is that I may feel in my heart, as far as possible, the abundance of love with which you, son of God, were inflamed, so as willingly to undergo such a great passion for us sinners.”

The spiritual giants I have studied have spent a lot of time reflecting on the crucifixion, have grasped the immense love of God revealed in Jesus’ suffering, and sensed the gravity of what forgiveness, and God’s solidarity with us in our troubles are all about. When we “survey the wondrous cross,” our values are transposed into a new key, and we want nothing else than to imitate Jesus – which we may do only feebly, but then the Spirit may surprise us and empower us to be more like the One who loved us, and whom we love.

Lord, we want to be like Jesus. To be Found Faithful, we commit to learn more about what he did and said, and to do what he said, and imitate his life. We gaze upon his suffering for us, and want to feel that love. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – rebuild my church

St. Francis, after seeking God’s will for a long time, was commissioned by God, not merely to go out and be an amazing person, but to help the Church be the Church. Jesus spoke to Francis during prayer, saying “Rebuild my Church, for as you can see, it is falling into ruin.”

Francis thought Jesus meant the very church he was praying in (San Damiano), so he got busy making repairs to the stone, and beautifying the place. But Jesus also meant the Church: the pope even had a dream that this poor little man was holding up a crumbling Church universal, and so he blessed Francis’s radical ambition.

All of us are called by God to rebuild the Church. Interestingly, Francis never criticized the Church – which is always ridiculously easy to do. Instead, he loved the Church, and poured his energy and passion into buildings and mission endeavors – and people. He started with the place in which he found himself – which is where Jesus wants us to begin. Instead of being Church shoppers, or consumers of whatever fare a Church offers, instead of sitting back and finding what’s wrong with the Church, Jesus and his friend Francis ask us to love the Church, to dare to be the one, no matter how small we might feel, who props the Church up with our prayers, our serving, our gifts, our love.

Francis didn’t love just his Church, but all Churches, and carried a little broom with him wherever he went in case he could be of some practical help to whatever Church he happened to stumble into. How easy would it have been for Francis to blast the Church for its hypocrisy and failures! But his heart was one of love. He knew his debt to the Church, for it was there he had heard the Bible read; it was there he was baptized and received Holy Communion; it was there he found others trying to find God; it was only a rebuilt Church that stood the slightest chance of bringing the love and hope the world so desperately needed then – and even more desperately needs today.

Lord, we could criticize Your Church, but we will not: for it is Yours, and we hear Your request that we become rebuilders of the Church where we are, and the larger Church in which we all share. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – green

“Francis’s love for the beauty of nature was transformed into a love of the beauty of God. God was Beauty, and made everything beautiful. Francis began to see beauty even in ugliness” (Gerard Thomas Straub).

Everyone associates St. Francis with nature – and most Christians are belatedly realizing that to be Found Faithful involves taking care of God’s beautiful world. But Francis wasn’t trying to “save the planet,” or avoid breathing unclean air or improving his health. He saw birds, rocks, clouds, streams, flowers and bugs and noticed that each creature was God’s handiwork, a testimony to the stunning creativity of God – and so he wouldn’t step on a bug, and even when he was in chronic pain and nearly blind late in life, he wrote a duly famous song: “All praise be Yours, my Lord, for all that You have made… my brother the sun, who brings the day, and the light You give us through him, my sister the moon, so bright, precious and fair…”

For Francis, we are all born into a huge family, not just mom and dad, siblings and cousins, but trees, giraffes, constellations and chimpanzees. Because of this recognition, people always matter too. “Francis began to see beauty even in ugliness” – or perhaps nobody looks ugly to those with a heart for God. If we wish to be Found Faithful, we start today to cultivate a holy way of seeing other people. Our goal is nothing less than what G.K. Chesterton eloquently wrote about Francis: “He seems to have liked everybody, but especially those whom everybody disliked him for liking… Francis had all his life a great liking for people who had been put hopelessly in the wrong.”

Whom do you like? What do you see when you go outside? Do we notice all the huge and tiny wonders God has strewn around so we might love God – and the others, especially the others whom those with lousy vision find ugly? Do I like anybody others dislike me for liking?

Lord, we will start paying attention to the things You have made, and marvel at them – and thus at You. We like some people, but we realize that to be Found Faithful we need to like some other people – but it can’t be all that hard, since You made them, and us. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – the poor

We scoff over the very idea that St. Francis actually did what he heard in the Bible: “Sell all you have and give to the poor” (Luke 18:22). We can think up a dozen reasons this would be unsound fiscally or foolish practically. But Francis gave it all away quite happily – and because he did, we are talking about him now, 784 years after his death.

Francis, as we have seen, wanted to do whatever Jesus said. He also wanted to be like Jesus – “who was rich but became poor for our sake” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He never doled out carping criticism upon the rich, but he did believe that if we have much of anything, God gave it to us so we might help those in need. The great Franciscan saint, Bonaventure, wrote that “Francis, the most Christian of poor men, saw the image of Christ in every poor man…. He would spare nothing whatever, neither cloak nor tunic nor book...” Francis gave away the clothes off his back, and even his Bible he treasured more than any person who has ever lived has treasured a Bible.

Francis did all this when the European economy was changing, and money (and upward mobility) was becoming important for the first time in history. Murray Bodo called Francis’s embrace of poverty “a divine antidote to the disease which would infect society and each individual from then on. One’s personal value and self-esteem would by and large be measure in proportion to an ability to make money. Francis saw what money would do to the spirit. Christ alone is the fullness of life, and the compulsive pursuit of money, more than anything else, distracts from what really brings life.”

We might even discover that there is a frivolity, a giddy delight in having less, and giving more (and not just a little less and a little more, but a major overhaul in what we have and give). One of Francis’s closest friends was Juniper, who kept giving away the clothes he was wearing to random people in need. “After several embarrassing episodes, Juniper’s superior ordered him not to give his tunic, or any part of it, to a beggar. But soon Juniper was approached by a pauper asking for alms. He replied, ‘I have nothing to give, except this tunic, and I cannot give it to you due to my vow of obedience. However, if you steal it from me, I will not stop you.’ Left naked, Juniper returned to the other friars and told them he had been robbed. His compassion became so great that he gave away, not only his own things, but the books, altar linens, and capes belonging to other friars. When the poor came to brother Juniper, the other friars would hide their belongings so he could not find them.”

Lord, maybe You are calling us to become poorer, to get closer to the poor Christ, to realize only You are the fullness of life – and to discover the joy of radical generosity. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – extravagant gestures of peace

When we think of St. Francis, we think of peace. He was, as a single soul, perhaps history’s greatest peacemaker. Lovely stories abound, such as the time he came to Gubbio and made peace with a ravenous wolf – who as it turned out was not vicious so much as he was simply hungry, and once the citizens began to feed the hungry wolf, they were no longer in peril, no longer afraid, and even loved the wolf.

Not many people know Francis marched to the Middle East with a huge caravan of armed soldiers to fight in the Crusades. I just finished a new book about Francis’s incredible journey – by Paul Moses, The Saint and the Sultan: the Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace. I learned more than I had known before about Francis’s own military training and experience, and more about the Sultan Francis met when he went on Crusade: Malik al-Kamil, an orthodox Sunni, intelligent and learned, determined to acquaint himself with others, I had not realized how desperate and brutal the war was before Francis arrive on the scene.

Francis stunned both Christian and Muslim armies by strolling right across no man’s land, unarmed, to the Sultan’s soldiers, who drew sabers to slaughter him but, as he had no weapon or shield, they laughed and took him to al-Kamil as a novelty. The Sultan had never seen or spoken with a peaceful Westerner before. They conversed for three days, listened to each other, ate together – and according to one version of the story, the Sultan declared he would convert to Christianity were it not for the tumult that would ensue. The two parted as friends, and peace was bought in that region for some time.

When I think of tensions in our day between the West and the Arab world, I am unsure if Francis has something to teach us or not. You do have to wonder if an extravagant act of peaceful conversation might be the only real hope, if there is any at all, for understanding and friendship. What if there were many Francises in our day who were bold risk-takers, who could find the way to listen and love? and what if there were a few al-Kamils, determined also to learn and befriend others? and what if we will never find them until we take the first step?

Missions of peace always sound unrealistic and idealistic – but to be followers of Jesus, aren’t we called to embrace an idealistic, risky hope?

Lord, we live in a violent, fearful world. We wonder if Francis has something to show us. Help us to see small and large ways to embark upon extravagant acts of peacemaking, wherever we are. We pray for peace – and want to find ways to begin to make it happen. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – between disasters

I think now and then about the time between disasters. We want no more disasters, but something beautiful surfaces when we witness destruction and great loss, the utilities are down, and the routine world is destabilized. After Hurricane Hugo, the Charlotteans who lived near me banded together to grill, laugh, shower in the lone house with a gas hot water heater, and deliver coffee and doughnuts to the Duke Power workers. After Katrina, adults and teenagers took valuable vacation time to drive to Biloxi to help total strangers who aren’t strangers any more. After hurricane Gustav hit Haiti, we spared no effort in flying food in to Bayonnais in a helicopter. After the tsunami, we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild a whole village in Sri Lanka. When mom or dad is rushed to the emergency room, children express an outpouring of love often stifled in reserve.

When she was 8, Dorothy Day lived through the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. She never forgot that “while the crisis lasted, people loved each other. It was as though they were united in Christian solidarity. It makes one think of how people could, if they would, care for each other in times of stress, unjudgingly in pity and love.” We want the love, and know quite well how to give it – but what about the time between disasters?

It seems impossible to maintain the edge, the urgency, all the time – or is it? Could it be that the primary function of daily prayer is to be reminded in front of God almighty that we are all in great peril, that our existence is short, and far too precious to fritter away in busy-ness and vain pursuit? In prayer, don’t we look at others – family, friends, the poor, the somebodies in some disaster some place, and remember to love? for love isn’t needed some other day… and that right now matters and we ought to be united and full of unjudging pity?

Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “I only pray when I am in trouble. But I am in trouble all the time.” We are all of us in trouble all the time. We can numbly stumble through the days and years – or we can detect the seriousness (and the delight!) of now, which is about the only time that matters.

Lord, we are in trouble all the time. Teach us how to love not only in the crisis, but in the times between the crises, for it is there You long to Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – those who’ve left the Church

Dorothy Day grew up in a pretty good Church atmosphere. But as she became an adult, she drifted away from the Church: she was busy, she had cool friends in Greenwich Village, her intellectual pursuits and social life filled her Sundays and spare time. She also had grown disenchanted with the Church, as the hypocrisy, and failure of the Church to be much more than a spiritual “club,” left her cold.

But then a series of events – personal sorrow, the birth of her daughter, the inevitable loneliness experienced even at a party, her quest for purpose in life – drew her back to the Church. The Church wasn’t sure how badly she was needed – and the Church wasn’t sure they were glad to have her back. For she returned with the very questions that had distanced her from the Church: why don’t our actions match what we mutter about our beliefs? Why isn’t the Church an agent for change and good in God’s world? Why do we settle for an innocuous routine instead of living out a robust Christianity that really matters?

We also know people who have drifted from the Church. What if they came back? We need them – not to be bigger, but to tell us why they wandered away, even if their critique might be hard for us to hear. We need people who understand life without the Church to help us see why (or if!) Church matters. We need as many of us as possible deciding together to make a difference in this world.

Churches send out missionaries to reach people. What if we asked the people out there, not to join us and become like us, but to become missionaries to us – that they might undertake the courageous work of bearing hope to those of us inside who take too much for granted and have lost our edge?

Lord, teach us to listen to those who have left the Church; and bring us back together, seeking more of the real thing, so at the end You might Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – acceptable forms of prayer

Although she was busy, a veritable force of nature, getting many tangible things done, Dorothy Day was remembered by those who lived near her as a person of prayer; Jim Forest said that when he remembers her, he pictures her on her knees.

Yet she asked an intriguing question: “Does God have a set way of prayer, a way that He expects each of us to follow? I doubt it. I believe some people – lots of people – pray through the witness of their lives, through the work they do, the friendships they have, the love they offer people and receive from people. Since when are words the only acceptable form of prayer?”

I don’t think this absolves us of the need to be still and get quiet and converse with God. But if prayer is approaching God, offering ourselves to God, and listening to God, isn’t it the case that our lives are our most profound prayer? that our work can be for and even with God? and that maybe when we listen to people, and especially people who are suffering or in great need, we actually overhear the voice of God? Didn’t Jesus say that when we help the poor, hungry and homeless, we are loving Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46)? And what if we could be the kinds of friends Kierkegaard imagined when he said a friend helps another person to love God, and to be befriended is to be helped to love God?

Lord, we do not know how to pray – but in our struggle to pray we want to discover that our actions, our work, our relationships can themselves become a prayer offered to You, and simultaneously opportunities to listen to You. So in all these ways of praying, Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – try to be poorer

The greatest wisdom is often something a parent or grandparent said to you when you were quite young, and somehow – although you have forgotten a myriad of little comments and events – a thought sticks with you, and becomes the iron in your soul.

Dorothy Day remembered meals at her mother’s table, who showed up, and why. “My mother used to say, ‘Everyone take less, and there will be room for one more.’ There was always room for one more at our table.” The lesson she took away from her mother’s readiness to add any last minute guest to the dinner table? “Let’s all try to be poorer.”

She was not glamorizing poverty, but she did grasp the quite simple calculus that if each person takes a little bit less, there really will be room for one more. She knew that taking less, “trying to be poorer,” and including somebody, anybody else, mattered – because she knew sorrow and loneliness herself. This sharpened her sensitivity to those who were lonely and sorrowful.

The answer to her own plight, her own loneliness, was the answer to the plight of those to whom she reached out. As she wrote in her autobiography (aptly called The Long Loneliness), “The only answer in this life, to the loneliness we are all bound to feel, is community. The living together, working together, sharing together, loving God and loving our brother, and living close to him in community so we can show our love for him.” You can spend some time exploring the wisdom of those words, and a lifetime living in to them.

Jim Forest wrote that Dorothy’s ability to see good in every person “was surely due to the depth and intensity of her spiritual life.” She was not a liberal do-gooder, but simply a person in intimate relationship with Jesus, who would take less so there would be room for one more. It’s a deeply spiritual thing, isn’t it? As Dorothy said, “We feed the hungry, yes. We try to shelter the homeless and give them clothes, but there is strong faith at work; we pray. If an outsider who comes to visit us doesn’t pay attention to our praying and what that means, then he’ll miss the whole point.”

Lord, we dare to pray to You, and in a dozen small ways every day You give us the opportunity to take just a little less so there will be room for one more, or enough for someone who has too little. This is the life of prayer, and this is the cure to our own loneliness. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – avoiding it in the first place

We have been looking at great heroes of faith. Most of them did extraordinary things to help people in need. God calls not just a few but all of us to be heroic in delivering assistance to whomever is hurting.

But there is help, and then there is a larger kind of help. Dorothy Day was an avid reader of the lives of heroes. Her take on them? “Whatever I had read as a child about the saints had thrilled me. I could see the nobility of giving one’s life for the sick, the maimed, the leper. But why was so much done in remedying the evil instead of avoiding it in the first place? Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery?”

We see illness, and we quite easily grasp the cost effectiveness and humane spirit in striving for prevention. Instead of waiting for me to get polio, a nurse stuck me in the arm with a newfangled inoculation unveiled publicly that very year – and now it’s hard to find anyone younger than I who has polio. We do preventive maintenance on a house, and in business we try to avoid mistakes before a remedy is required.

But with the poor, we shut down, and instead of asking why the poor might be poor, we offer a bit of help – or we blame them for being poor. Blame is easy; but when we get to know real people who are hungry or out of work, we discover it’s complicated. Not always, but quite a lot of the time, large forces at play in our economy have forced people into unemployment and onto the streets. Generational poverty is insidious: the advantages I had growing up led me to believe I was somebody and could be somebody, but children who lack those basics have light years to travel to a place many of us simply take for granted. Martin Luther King, Jr., wisely responded to those who urged the poor to “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” by observing that this is being said to somebody who is barefooted.

Hasn’t Jesus been a zealous advocate for us before God? The Bible is full of verses like Proverbs 31:8: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of the destitute; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Karl Barth suggested that “to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” And St. Augustine wrote that “Hope has two beautiful daughters: Anger over the way things are, and Courage to see to it that things don't remain the way they are.”

Some Christians shrink back from advocacy and activism – but why, really? Aren’t we called to be the voice for those who have no voice? Aren’t we called to ask questions akin to Why is there polio? in the realm of Why do we have embarrassing gaps in our education system? or Why do we have much and others not much at all? We have every right to keep what is ours and pass judgment on others – but as Christians this right is rather rudely swiped from us by Jesus Christ, who seemed determined that we make friends across social boundaries, and that together we lift each other up, and become the kind of community or nation that cannot bear injustice and seeks diligently the inoculations that will prevent human suffering of any kind.

Lord, we are thrilled by heroes and want to help those in need. Teach us to give, but also to ask the hard questions, and perhaps be a force for change in society. Lord, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – Jesus on my mind

My favorite of all images of Dorothy Day – and it is the one that renders her heart and all that she was about with crystalline clarity – is her response to an interview question late in life. Robert Coles of Harvard met with Dorothy often not long before her death – and wrote a wise book about their encounters. Knowing she was herself a great writer, and was a veteran at autobiography, he asked her if she would jot down some reflections looking back over her life.

When they met next, she apologized for failing to do so with these remarkable words: “I try to remember this life that the Lord gave me; the other day I wrote down the words ‘a life remembered,’ and I was going to try to make a summary for myself, write what mattered most – but I couldn’t do it. I just sat there and thought of our Lord, and His visit to us all those centuries ago, and I said to myself that my great luck was to have had Him on my mind for so long in my life!”

If you are in search of a life mission statement, what could be better than “to have Jesus on my mind for so long in my life”? If you look back over your life, might your noblest moments have been those when you simply “thought of our Lord and His visit to us”?

Of course, there are bogus images of Jesus floating around out there, the Jesus of our own devising or preference. But the real Jesus, the one who appears quite simply and clearly in the pages of the New Testament, who blessed the poor, meek and grieving, who touched people nobody else would go near, who was unimpressed by wealth but loved the wealthy and showed them, and the poor, a better way, who feared no man, who loved his mother, brother and friends, whose stories could turn your world inside out and leave you breathless with hope, the one who loved so much it cost him his life – this Jesus we can and should have on our minds, throughout the day. Perhaps we however briefly think of Jesus when we get bored in a meeting, or we utter his name when we pass a beggar or an aggressive driver, or we quietly ask how Jesus might view a sticky situation, or we pause and recall a story, or imagine Jesus’ face when we look at a difficult or wonderful person in front of us…

Lord, we would have You on our minds, not for an hour on Sunday, or when we bow our heads before eating, but throughout life. We believe this is the way to life, and joy, and a feeling of immense “luck” – to have had You on our minds for so long. This alone will satisfy our quest to be Found Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – courageous dreamer

One of the most memorable, earthy, uninhibited heroes in Christian history is Clarence Jordan, famous for his homespun “Cotton Patch” translations of the Bible, and as the spiritual mentor of Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity. He was much more.

In 1942, Jordan started Koinonia Farm in rural Georgia. He wanted blacks and whites to live together – not because he was liberal politically or innovative socially, but because he simply read his Bible and thought Christians were supposed to live it out if at all possible. The New Testament portrays a countercultural kind of community life where fellowship (koinonia in Greek) meant communal sharing of all goods: “All who believed held all things in common; they would sell their possessions and distribute to any who had need… They spent time together with glad and generous hearts… No one claimed private ownership, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 2:42-45, 4:32-36).
For taking these words to heart, and making them come alive in the deep South of the 1940’s, Jordan was labeled a communist (odd for someone of such profound Christian faith and love for the people and places of America), and harassed incessantly by the KKK; but he was fearless and never gave up. The Bible insisted that outward distinctions mean nothing in God’s eyes, and that sharing of possessions is the Christian way – so Jordan was going to do it. The question Jordan’s courageous dream raises for us is this: why do we live the way we do? With whom do we live and share our days? Why do we think of our possessions as ours, instead of as God’s, and perhaps therefore as gifts to be shared with others? If we are serious about following Christ, what impact does that have on our social life? And on what we do with our stuff?

One of Jordan’s many saucy, wise sayings is this: “The good news of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with Him, but that He has risen and comes home with us, bringing all His hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with Him.”

Lord, we dare to ask if our social arrangements are pleasing to You, or if You want us to adjust our network of friends to reflect Your kingdom… and these are hard questions for us, with no easy answers. But we ask, because our only dream that matters is that You will Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – brothers

I like to think about James, the brother of Jesus, and how he travelled what must have been light years from being simply a kid who knew Jesus when he was little, to the primary leader of the most important Church in the world.

Clarence Jordan, because of the turmoil aroused by the creation of Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, needed legal protection against frivolous charges from members of the KKK and other angry neighbors. So Jordan asked his brother, Robert (who became a state senator and a justice on the state Supreme Court), to be Koinonia’s attorney. Scared, Robert answered, “I can’t do that. You know my aspirations. I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.” Clarence said, “We might lose everything, too.”

“It’s different for you,” Robert responded. “Why? You and I joined the church the same Sunday as boys. The preacher asked, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ What did you say?” Robert replied, “I follow Jesus – up to a point.” Clarence: “Could that point by any chance be the cross?” “I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.” “Then I don’t believe you are a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus. You ought to go back to that church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.” Robert: “Well now, if everyone like me did that, we wouldn’t have a church would we?” To which Clarence applied the coup de grace: “The question is, Do you have a church?” Later, Robert saw the light, became a disciple himself, and boasted that his brother was “the greatest Christian I have ever known.”

This understandable, intriguing conversation makes me want to ask if I realize where the point is beyond which I am reluctant to follow Christ. Maybe it’s so easy, so innocuous, to be a Church member nowadays that we never bump up against the challenge of having to cross difficult lines… or is it precisely because it’s so bland, being a Christian in this culture, that we never get very close to the cross, or to Christ himself? How do we discover the radical, costly, wonderful character of being a real Christian in a society that is not very holy at all and then test ourselves in faith and love?

Clarence’s other question is fascinating: Do you have a church? Yes, we have buildings, memberships, activities; but are we merely admirers of Jesus? Or real disciples? Isn’t the church dying a long slow death precisely because we play it safe and don’t take risks? Isn’t the church called to be the band of courageous, reckless disciples who would do anything for Jesus?

Lord, we admire You; we want to be Your disciples, to follow You all the way to the cross, for it is there and only there that You will ultimately Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – Andrew Carnegie the theologian?

Doug Meeks of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt once called Andrew Carnegie “the preeminent American theologian of money.” Chronicled by historians as either a steel tycoon or a noble philanthropist, Carnegie published an article in the North American Review in 1889 entitled “Wealth.” He praised capitalism, and argued that wealth is produced (or not produced!) due to inexorable natural laws, such as the survival of the fittest, supply and demand, and fair competition; the Church has no business sticking its nose into questions of how money is made.

Christianity only enters into the conversation after money has been made; faith might provide some guidance in how surplus money is to be disbursed. Such surplus money should be given only to the “deserving poor” (not those who deserve to be poor, but the poor who deserve a boost). I believe Meeks was right in suggesting that Carnegie’s angle on money and giving really is the predominant way of thinking for Christians in America.

The theological questions for those who wish to be Found Faithful are many. Doesn’t God care how we make money? Even secular movies, like Pretty Woman, Trading Places, or Wall Street, play on a thicket of problems around the making of money and what it’s for. How we make our money matters to God, and also to us – and even to the community of which we are a part, and to the Church where we belong.
How do we decide how much of our money is “surplus”? John Wesley urged the first Methodists to earn all the money they could, but then to live as frugally as possible, in order to maximize how much they would have available to help their brothers and sisters in need. Our lifestyle, our standard of living, our spending decisions: these matter to God, and perhaps the hardest question we might ever ask ourselves is Does my spending and way of life make sense given what God has done for me in Christ? How much is enough? And can my expenditures and lifestyle decisions become a zone of spiritual growth, and better reflect my belief in God and seriousness about following Jesus?

Whose money is it, anyhow? As Christians, we believe God made everything, and that God still owns everything. We are merely stewards, caretakers, of what is God’s. Thomas Merton once suggested that “if you have money, consider that perhaps the only reason God allowed it to fall into your hands was in order that you might find joy and perfection by giving it all away.”

And do we only reach out to those who deserve our help? We need to be prudent in our contributions – but don’t we sometimes hold back in giving for fear it might be misused? St. John Chrysostom preached that it is better to err on the side of generosity, a little bit of which is wasted, than stinginess, where none is wasted but none given. The far bigger question that haunts my soul, if I think about who deserves help, is Do I in the slightest deserve what Jesus did for me? Do I even deserve the love of those who love me? Love is all gift, always; God’s grace is not about deserving, but simply about God’s lavish generosity.

Lord, we live in an economy, and we refuse to segregate You from how we make money or what we do with all our money. Show us the way to Your heart in how we earn and how we spend – all of it, for our constant desire is that You will Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – are you happy in God?

One of John Wesley’s best sermons was entitled “The Almost Christian.” He asks if our faith is a bit tepid, if we go through a few religious motions while the bulk of our life is untouched by the reality of Christ, if our true passions are focused elsewhere than upon what is in the heart of God. He said “The great question remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, ‘My God, my All’? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you love every man, even your enemies, as your own soul? As Christ loved you?” I’ve blogged on a new book called Almost Christian, which has staggering implications for all of us.

Good questions – especially Are you happy in God? Our endeavor through this eFindUsFaithful series is not only that we want God to be pleased with us and applaud our faithfulness, but that we not miss out of the richness of life with God, that we will be happy, not because of the circumstances of life or our own masterminding of things, but in God.

We have some exciting plans for the New Year incubating - devoting January to questions like Have I ever really decided to follow Jesus? What would that look and feel like? Why follow Jesus? Am I ‘saved’? What does that mean? Am I happy? in God? Could I ever experience joy? How am I doing in my soul? In fact, I’d like for you, right now, to think on some of these things, and even click reply to tell me if these questions resonate with you – or is there some other nagging question in your mind about what ultimately matters?

One thing we know: to be Found Faithful, to be genuinely happy and even joyful, to follow Jesus, commitment is required, and also sacrifice. The word “sacrifice” has fallen on hard times, as it seems to imply a grimace, bearing some unpleasantness for some distant purpose, like taking medicine or pushing back from the chocolate cake. But “sacrifice” isn’t doing without, and need not be a negative at all: the word means “to make holy.” We look at what we have – some time, some stuff, a little talent and a fair amount of strong feeling, and we make it holy. We say to God, Take this moment, or my brain, whatever I have, and use it; use me, I’m yours.

And we don’t make the offer quickly and then it’s over. We offer again this afternoon and tonight, and tomorrow and next week. This being Found Faithful is a commitment. Lewis Smedes once said, “Somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God.”

Lord, help us to ask and stick with the really important questions, and to find answers in You; we want to be committed, we seek to sacrifice for You; we want nothing else than to be happy in You – for then, Lord, You will Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – it’s not your birthday

Six years ago, Mike Slaughter, pastor of the cutting edge Gingamsburg Church in Ohio, challenged his people by reminding them, “Hey, Christmas is not your birthday. It’s Jesus’ birthday” – and he pressed forward with that nagging question: “Why have Christians made Christmas such a hedonistic, self-focused, materialistic feast? What would Jesus really desire?” Then he suggested that each person commit to a Christmas discipline: “Whatever you spend on yourself, bring an equal amount or more for missions.” The Methodists in Gingamsburg have raised a few million dollars since then for Darfur.

It’s hard to believe Christmas is right around the corner – and it’s hard to believe Jesus is all that delighted with our usual round of parties and purchases. All through the Fall, we have dared to ask the Lord to Find Us Faithful. I wonder what a humble, diligent faithfulness might look like this year; I wonder how much joy and growth in faith might be possible if we realize it’s not my birthday, and it’s not my child’s or my friend’s birthday, but our paying close, delighted attention to the coming of God into this world.

I would invite you, today, to begin to think about a humble and profound observance of this Christmas season, and to consider this tantalizing possibility of swapping far less among ourselves, and giving more to God and those in need than we expend on gifts, the tree, party napkins, seasonal sweaters, travel, tinsel, and food. We have a menu of possible destinations for your giving for Christ’s birthday, all making a direct impact on the people Christ tenderly loves this season – or get creative and find real people to touch and love. Increase your pledge to your church, or to our 100% missions Jubilee Plus! fund – or… you can figure it out!

Plan now, get family and friends on board with you, devise a plan before the tide of advertising sweeps you away into the mall – and pray: Lord, we wonder what a simpler Christmas, one devoted to You and those in need might be like. It’s Your birthday, not ours – so this year, we hope to be Found Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – heroes we have known

In our quest to be Found Faithful, we have looked closely into the lives of some heroes of the faith: Albert Schweitzer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Julian of Norwich, Gandhi, Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and Clarence Jordan. If we had a few dozen years we could cover more fascinating saints and become wise, and holy.

Sometimes the most important saints are not the famous ones, but the ones we happen to know, who love us or work alongside us. Next week, in preparation for Thanksgiving, I am going to ask you to do some remembering, to reflect on what God has done in your life. I am also going to suggest you weigh the way your family has played a part in who you are either constructively or not so constructively, or in a complex thicket of ways – and I will offer you a little biographical reflection of my grandparents, which you may read if you are interested, or if my recollection of their life and love sparks some memory in you.

For today, I’d refer you to my Heroes Found Faithful blog, which has a very short story about the most important teacher, and the wisest mentor in my life, Fr. Roland Murphy. I hope you’ll read about this giant who meant the world to me, and still does long after his death.

But more importantly, ramble through the corridors of your own past, and think of a teacher, a coach, a mentor, some wise presence that sustained you, inspired you, shaped your soul – that person without whom you would not be the person you are today. And give thanks to God – and if it’s possible, thank that person, by phoning or sending a note, even a note to a surviving family member of your hero if she or he is dead… or perhaps to someone else with whom you’ve lost touch who also would remember that person who embodied God’s grace to both of you in times past.

Lord, for women and men like Roland Murphy, who taught, encouraged, and helped us to see You and the goodness of a life well-lived, and who have themselves been Found Faithful, we give You thanks, and ask that in some small measure we might imitate them, and love the One they loved, so we may with them be Found Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – Mama and Papa Howell

I will keep this email very short, but I hope because of it you will spend far more time than you usually would become you read an email from me, and it will prompt in you a mood of thanksgiving and even healing.

I have written a little appreciative essay about my grandparents, and what they meant, and mean, and always will mean to me, especially in terms of how I wind up connected more deeply with God because of little things they did, or simply who they were, and are.

Read (and see cool photos! – click here) if you are interested in their story, and mine; perhaps you share (as I do) Frederick Buechner’s lovely assumption that “the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all… I suppose, it is like looking through someone else’s photograph album. What holds you, if nothing else, is the possibility that somewhere among all those shots of people you never knew and places you never saw, you may come across something or someone you recognize.”

Most importantly, during this season of Thanksgiving, think about your family, and their decisive impact on you – positively or negatively or some bizarre alchemy of both – and offer their memory and lives up to God, and express gratitude to them and/or to God, ask God for healing, and explore the ways tender love and exasperating dysfunction both send us tumbling into holy embrace of our Lord, who wants to be Father, brother, mother, sister, and even child to us.

Lord, we come from some family, and ask that in our memory and continuing relationships with those we have not chosen but simply discovered, Find Us Faithful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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eFindUsFaithful – remember and be thankful

Theologically, we would be foolish to waste another Thanksgiving by simply eating and drinking and being glad for what we have, or at least relieved things aren’t any worse. Thanksgiving is a good season to remember: What has God done in my life? – and the answer may be simply that you were born, you sat with grandma in church, got excited about Jesus on a high school retreat, or maybe you got out of bed when you thought you flat out couldn’t.

Who are the men, women and children God has peopled the forest of my life with? – somebody who loved you, gave you a chance, put up with you, noticed something lovely in you, or even were prickly to stretch you and make you grow, and even love? Can we remember days of sunshine, a childhood friend, a special aunt or neighbor, that day words of love or forgiveness were exchanged, or even the precious moment you kissed your father goodbye?

I wish I could be as eloquent as Frederick Buechner: “In one sense the past is dead and gone, but in another sense, it is not done with at all, or at least not done with us. Every person we have ever known, every place we have ever seen, everything that has ever happened to us – it all lives and breathes deep in us somewhere. A scrap of some song, a book we read as a child, a stretch of road we used to travel, an old photograph. Suddenly there it all is. Old failures, old hurts. Times too beautiful to tell.”

“We are all such escape artists. We are apt to talk about almost anything under the sun except what really matters, except for what is going on inside our own skin. We chatter. We turn on television. We cling to the surface out of fear of what lies beneath the surface. We get tired.”

“But there is a deeper need, to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive to ourselves, to the long journeys of our lives. So much has happened. Remembering means a deeper, slow kind of remembering, a searching and finding. ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen’ goes the old spiritual – but we know it. We are to remember it. And the happiness we have seen, too – precious times, precious people, moments when we were better than we know how to be.”

“And then, we will find beyond any feelings of joy or regret, a profound and undergirding peace, a sense that in some unfathomable way, all is well. We have survived. There were times we never thought we would and nearly didn’t. Many times I have chosen the wrong road, or the right road for the wrong reason. Many times I have loved people too much for their good or mine, and others I might have loved I have missed loving and lost. I remember times I might have given up, but I didn’t. Weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far. A love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive. We are never really alone.”

Gratitude is a choice – probably our most important choice. To feel we have to master our own existence and make it all happen is exhausting, and lonely; to chalk up what we have to our own hard work is silliness. To choose gratitude, to remember, to see the uncountable ways we are the beneficiaries of God and others is to breathe the fresh air of our tender life with God and to be embraced by the love that fashioned the universe, and will never let us go.

Lord, for You to Find Us Faithful, we need simply to remember, to recognize Your faithfulness to us. We are awed, and grateful.

James
james@mpumc.org

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into Advent, January “revival,” and cyber-requests?

eFindUsFaithful, as a series, is over – although our quest in life to be found faithful is never over. Hopefully what’s next will deepen and confirm our love for God and commitment to Christ.

It’s Advent, and as I do every year, I will reflect in these emails on a few carols – some familiar from childhood, some quite new and lovely – to weigh the simple joys and profound hope of this season. Skim the archives from previous years (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009) if you’d like to reminisce about more of the music of Christmas. And click ‘reply’ and share with me a favorite carol or secular song or word or phrase from this season’s melodies.

Also – and of extremely personal importance to me! – I want to tell you that come January we will have something of a “revival” (using multi-media, online platforms, and small groups), although it won’t look like your grandparents’ revival. We will be asking all of us together to make a serious commitment, or a much deeper commitment, to Christ, to ask questions like How is it with your soul?, to ask Are you happy?, to press people to think Am I 'almost Christian' or 'altogether Christian’? (as Wesley put it), to get lingering questions and reservations out in the open and hopefully move past them into a relationship with God that really is about love and devotion, and gives us life and joy.

There will be events here in our building, but also lots of stuff online, via these emails, but also using those newfangled media. If you’re not into these, don’t worry! But if you are, or want to be, I am inviting you right now to sign up for Facebook, Twitter, and Text messaging. All the content will come from me, we won’t abuse or overuse these – but hope to sprinkle a few thoughts and provocations your way during December, to make the season meaningful, and to prepare us for January and the “revival.”

Facebook: search for the Myers Park United Methodist Church page and join!

Twitter: search for MyersParkUMC and follow! You can also follow me personally if you’d like at HowellPreaches.

Text messaging (devoted exclusively to the meaning of Christmas and the renewal focus of January): go to http://www.broadtexter.com/MPUMC and give us your cell # (and it works even if you don’t have an iPhone).

Thanks. If you weren’t here yesterday, you might find yesterday’s sermon to be helpful as we begin this holy, hectic season: click to listen  or watch.

Blessings on you and yours!

James
james@mpumc.org
www.mpumc.org



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