Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Transition............."

“Autumnal evening chill, knife-edges of the avenues, wind kicking up newspaper off the street, those ghost peripheral moments where you catch yourself beside yourself, going down a stair or through a door and the spirit world surprising you: those birds, for instance, bursting from the trees and turning into shadow, and then nothing, like spirit birds called back to life from memory or a book, those shadows I held in my hands, surprised.” - Stanley Plumly, Old Heart

The above is another quote borrowed from “Whiskey River”, its words catching me yesterday, not so much as a Halloween “spooker”, but as a picture of where I find myself now and then with life catching me in some moment of realization that I’ve been drifting, paying no attention to the clock, and so much time having passed without me having noticed. Is October really almost gone again? Is McKenna actually in Ninth Grade, Noah on the verge of leaving childhood years behind? It sneaks on you. One day the news channel is showing a video clip of Kennedy riding through Dallas and you think to yourself “Wait! This isn’t history! I was there!” And yet here you are, a bit taken aback that it all happened so fast, but calm, peace in your heart, thankful for longevity and grace that came to you along the way. Boo! Ahhhh, you don’t scare me. Inside eternity flows from that reconnection made and maintained. Bring it on. In a couple of hours the car goes out to Henry’s for an oil change. Last night’s midweek Bible class was a surprise, caught with a substitute teacher announcing a lesson on Scriptural references to financial wisdom, me immediately thinking the next ninety minutes or so were going to be terribly boring and then discovering, as we went, how the Holy Ghost can minister to you if you’re willing to listen. High-school basketball season kicks off in fifteen days. Tuesday I need to go vote. Life…. happens. There’s a verse in 1st John, though, that declares “Perfect love casts out all fear”. Sounds like a good place to end this……..

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Resuscitation........................."

Tuesday evening, for the most part, was consumed with this old man seated at the computer helping his granddaughter piece together a three-page report on John Steinbeck. His name is familiar to me only because of having the Navy having stationed me in Monterey, California twice and that being the area where the author lived in his youth. His books were not something a young sailor was into at the time, but fifty years later I find it interesting to learn that much of what he wrote came forth out of a heart for the underdog, a belief that the “upper crust” owed the “lower class” more than just meager wages. For him, Socialism and Communism seemed better alternatives to Capitalism; and religion (Christianity in particular) had failed to live that which it preached. God wasn’t rejected, only determined to be beyond one’s ability to comprehend. The author, in spite of a compassion for others, was agnostic in his theology. In my “Parables of Peanuts” book there is a cartoon where Linus is kneeling on the ground talking to Charlie Brown’s dog. “Yknow what?” he asks Snoopy, “I don’t understand people! No matter how hard I try, I just don’t get them!” As he walks away, man’s best friend ponders what was said and thinks to himself: “I know just how he feels. I gave up trying to understand people long ago and now I just let them try to understand me.” Funny; and some truth there, I suppose, but, in Christ, walking away from the enigma isn’t the answer. There is, after all, One who understands all of us; and if we can approach the mind of Christ, if once “behind the veil” we are willing to examine ourselves through His eyes, however infrequently we get there and however temporary the encounter be, somehow it helps, in looking at the other person, to see ourselves stumbling down the same road. Politics, in any form, is just man kidding himself. Theology, in any manner we develop it void of His reality correcting us as we go, putrefies and stinks in its witness. If America survives, it will only be through revival, not in the sense of some thumped-out demand by the Church for the world to repent, but via a humble acknowledgement that we, the Body, have failed and come short……..

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Transferral....................."

How much influence our visits to the Youth Detention Center the last fifteen years has had on the lives of those young adults may never be revealed unto us. We go. We share. We find “connection” with some, rejection with others, anything accomplished there attributed to the Holy Ghost who remains there long after we leave. The change in one girl, as she “evolved” during many months of waiting to be tried as an adult, was quite obvious. By chance, I once encountered a young man visiting the school where I worked, he recognizing me and extending gratitude. For the most part, though, the ministry is simply attempting to find “flow”, to become a vessel through which what He is speaking into my own life finds acceptance on their part. This past Sunday, for nearly sixty minutes, twelve young men and this old relic discussed the basic truths of Christianity through a comparison of Gollum in Lord of the Rings to the identity we, ourselves, possess on the inside. It was basic, but deep. We examined words like: spirit, mind, heart, soul, and sin. We looked at one’s need, not to just invite the presence of God into that inner chamber, but to also continually return there ourselves, the journey being too much for us to navigate under our own strength. How well did they “get it”? Will they survive what life and the world throws at them with no more than the small “care package” left behind, next week another group, another doctrine, another piece of the puzzle? What do I bring with me in two weeks when, thanks to a friend inviting me into his group, that same door opens unto me again? In truth, this isn’t an Algebra lesson. It’s not a matter of me teaching them a course in “the one true religion”. Mystery will always be included in the next step. More than forty-two years down the road, the veil is still in front of me, the “person” inside this weathered, aging body yet requires a Co-pilot, and the only difference in my stumble, between the first three decades and these last four, is an anchor-line, paternal umbilical cord. It not only feeds me, it tugs at my heart, secures me as I go, and takes me, on occasion, into merger, two becoming one, assurance mine to know even if all the answers to my questions aren’t. Freshness. Christ alive “in” me. This is what hopefully returns. This is what tears down walls and give witness. It works in a jail cell as well as it does anywhere else and, in my opinion, is what the Church, at large, needs to discover again…….

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Power...................."

About one in the afternoon yesterday, rather than drive to the church gym, I opted to walk a half mile or so down our road to the back entrance of the park, take that trail through the wooded area, past the fenced-in section where people turn their dogs loose, cross the bridge over the creek and, instead of the soccer field orbits, turn south another half mile or so to the clubhouse before simply reversing the whole route. It was cool out, a nice breeze blowing, and a hoody seemed a good idea. My cell phone went inside that front pouch and all was nice until the sun began to convince me of a need to remove the hoody. It took me about three hours to discover that somewhere in the journey the cell phone had evidently taken a tumble and further investigation would reveal that someone else was using it. Insurance will replace it; but, at the moment, it almost feels like a part of “me” is missing..…. Tomorrow morning we return to the Youth Detention Center and my thoughts are yet on Gollum, that pitiful worm of a former existence whose soul, in Lord of the Rings, had long left sanity behind, his entire being held in bondage to what he now labelled “precious”. While such image speaks to me of humanity at large, all of us as we pursue our own reasoning without help from His tug on the anchor-line, I ponder if, as well, it doesn’t also apply to Christianity as sit has evolved down through the centuries. History doesn’t reveal to me this “conquering force” as sung and preached to me in Pentecost the last four decades, this great “Ship of Zion”, in so much as an ecclesiastical institution, being steered more by men than by the Holy Ghost; and, although there can be no doubt that, within the mess, resurrection is still alive, the divine umbilical cord feeding, leading, ensuring the seed possibility to give birth, nonetheless much of the body, itself, doesn’t seem to be aware of the missing, vital piece of its identity……

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Rumplestiltskin......................"

Yesterday morning I was one of two males among about fifteen adults shepherding the church school Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Grade students to Taft Theater in downtown Cincinnati where we would watch a presentation of “Beauty and the Beast”. The entire performance was commendable, but especially the ingenuity with which they altered, not only the set, but the characters as well. It was a little over an hour adventure in live fiction, one’s thoughts taken into a fairytale, life as it is replaced with song, comedy, and “love conquers all”. Seated in Chick-Fil-A afterwards, at a small table by myself with the grandson enjoying his friends across the aisle, the old man was scribbling, as usual, on a piece of paper when one of the teachers nearby inquired if it was perhaps a sermon Little did she know. I wonders sometimes how much “fiction” we all live in. Not that our existence, itself, isn’t real, but our perception of it, our idea of who and what we are within it, just how much truth is there in that? The world’s mindset, I understand, since those who express no belief in Christ really have no anchor for their journey other than their own reasoning. Some may well handle that better than others; but humanity, as it survives in its Adamic state, is like a computer possessing no security to protect it from all the potential of catching a virus. It speaks and acts out of its own vanity. Those of us who occupy the pews and pulpits of Christianity, according to our profession of faith, have supposedly gained access to divine input. We speak of having “found the way”; but, in reducing it to only “our version of the Book”, aren’t we, in fact, very close to being right back at square one? Granted: the Holy Ghost is given and made accessible for guidance, correction, and occasional encounters “through the veil”; yet if we define Him instead of the other way around, is not faith still a stumble down the path? If we cannot admit that the only difference between “us” and “them” is a “temporary osmosis”, points along the way that bring assurance of the Gospel, is it heresy to suggest our witness is more “once upon a time” than “Ye, I say unto thee”?.......

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Zzzzzzzzzzz..........."

Isn’t it a bit strange how the changing of seasons can affect us internally, alter, however so slightly, our mood, our thinking, the way we begin our day. Summer, indeed, if we experienced any at all this year, has passed. Autumn, having already painted the countryside into a beautiful spectacle to behold, is slipping now into its own demise, giving hint of winter’s approach. No more do I arise with the sun just beginning to break over the hills to the east. Darkness yet holds the world around me and somehow, within that grip, life, itself, seems hushed, only the sound of a train whistle and my wife baking biscuits in the kitchen serving notice otherwise. My mind, as usual, is attempting to piece together two different trains of thought, a couple of quotes just digested over at Whiskey River and a discussion with a friend concerning God’s grace. The perusal suggested how easily we tend to just evolve, to allow everyday environment to lose its “freshness”, absorbing all of it into the fabric of who and what we are and thus losing purpose in our existence. Take another sip of coffee, make a mental note of it, and tell yourself there’s always tomorrow. Examining the other marble rolling around in my brain, then, involves whether or not divine love completely dismisses possibility of divine judgment. Personally, my own perspective takes in Christ’s warning for us to so walk as to avoid a final lake of fire where “the worm dieth not”, ponders a time when Revelation declares He will rule with a “rod of iron”, and concludes wisdom lies in not taking for granted this present state of redemption. Salvation is inclusive of a need for us to “stay awake” to the Spirit’s tug on the inner “anchor-line” and not just creating our own theological pass, expecting “belief”, alone, will get us through the Pearly Gates. Faith is an on-going commitment, a continual look in the mirror, and a shaking of “self” before it falls asleep in its own lethargy. Within that framework, His promise gives assurance and direction. Perfect love drives out all fear………

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Glow............."

Every other Tuesday the church school does a short one-hour chapel service with the students, first through twelfth grade, the first four levels only for an initial fifteen minutes or so, then communal worship with everybody before dismissing the “little diddles” and sermonizing the older ones via a different speaker for each occasion. The principal (our pastor’s wife) has added my name to the schedule (at my request) and I’ve attended the last few assemblies, youth ministry in any area having always been a part of my heart. This morning, listening to her illustrate the Gospel to little children whose perception thus far is still in the “Father Abraham, Jesus loves me” stage stirred my gratitude for all that God has accomplished in her these last four decades. She is great with these kids. Between that teaching and the latter preaching, though, her daughter, with but a guitar and some of the older ones helping her, brought forth a couple of songs with the witness of an inner connection made manifest in all that she is and does. I told my wife afterwards that looking into this young woman’s eyes is like seeing her soul stripped of all pretense, no self-declaration of holiness, no expression of being anything other than what He has forgiven, accepted, and presently working with in the “nakedness” of who and what she is. Ministry is not an ego trip. She has nothing of which to boast, nor from which to hide. Out of her well flows joy, peace, and freedom, the latter seemingly not a matter of having gained release from some physical bondage, but faulty spiritual “thinking”. All I really know, however, is seeing such shine in her countenance makes this old man smile. Dismiss all the legalism of old-time holiness and this is what I walked into 42 years ago, assurance not in one’s head, but in one’s “belly”……