Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Schematics......................."

“Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”…… Mark 12:30

My distant cousin lost one of her grandchildren this past weekend. Twenty-two years old, she died in bed, an unknown heart condition taking her without warning. Whether such loss is responsible for my present thoughts, I know not, but I wrote in some blank space at the end of the sixth chapter of Thomas Merton’s book: Soul – that part of “me” yet within an “embryo”, still being developed for whatever state of being is to be birthed after this existence as I have experienced it. Such image is nothing original. Others have suggested death to be nothing more, nothing less. It is that “life”, though, that holds my interest at the moment, the idea that each of us, in reality, is no more than a seed, the continued produce of that which was sown in the beginning by a divine Gardener. All of us are individual, genetics and circumstances, the journey, itself, shaping us as we go, changing us, not just on the outside, but inwardly as well. The above Bible verse is declared by Jesus as the first commandment and whether the positioning of His words, “soul” being set between “heart” and “mind” has any significance is, no doubt, debatable. This much, though, is at least worthy of consideration. The first is an emotional conscience held by that inner person, part of its person-ality, feelings born out of wounds encountered, love received. The second, as I see it, is a mentality we refer to as spirit, thinking centered on information gathered, but nonetheless nothing more than an extension of a working process, again, that inner person utilizing the brain. Deep stuff for sure. Too much to squeeze into a couple of sentences and surely more than this old man has conquered to any great degree. Interesting, however, that the fourth element is injected into the picture, placed there at the end as if necessary for any success to be known in our attempt to fulfill that which has been assigned unto us. It’s as if God is warning us the task is to be taken seriously, indeed our need of Him vital in facing what’s ahead; and yet what immediately follows is a prescription for us to find horizontal flow as a “pick-me-up” for vertical connection. The other guy is struggling, too. The mystery is no less where he sits. Together, we’ll get through this…….

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Linguistics................."

”To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim, you don’t grab hold of the water because, if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead you relax and float”…. Alan Watts

My wife thinks I’m weird. Well, mostly because I’m always lost in thought, pondering one thing or another that, to her, isn’t worth considering in the first place. Maybe she’s right; but, to me, when humanity at large, and especially believers, seldom stop to consider their existence, content to take life as it comes to them and asking questions only when they catch a brick, they’re missing out on an important part of what salvation is all about. Theology doesn’t solve the mystery. Conversion doesn’t end the interrogative. It opens an oasis to which we might run, its waters able to meet our thirst in more ways than one. Going “behind the veil with the Holy Ghost” has never been restricted to some appointed prayer closet. Good sermons get clarified in the next step; illumination is worked out in a dialogue on a daily basis; and truth, in any way our minds attempt to contain it, is always bigger than any definition we assign it. It’s like looking at the universe and trying to limit it to our solar system, like peering into a microscope and stopping with an amoeba. Who has God in a box? That’s not to say there’s some need on my part to continually encounter miracles, to discover something new because what’s already known has somehow lost its “glow”. The wonder remains, because He, alone, is the attraction, having given me permission to bring unto Him whatsoever occupies my mind, having always been patient with my tendency to drift in and out of the connection. After all, this isn’t some attempt to “conquer” Him, but a desire to better understand me and this relationship that has been restored unto me. Grace, I have found, doesn’t just say “You’re forgiven”, but “Take me with you as you go”……

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Illumination........................."

“Nothing could more surely convince me of God’s unending mercy than the continued existence on earth of the Church”……Annie Dillard, “Holy the Firm”

“Small as a peanut, big as a giant, we’re all the same when we turn off the light; red, black, or orange, yellow or white, we’re all the same when we turn off the light; So maybe the way to make everything right, is for God to just reach out and turn off the light”…..Shel Silverstein

My niece’s husband works for the county, mostly in charge of detention detainees who are put to task keeping our highways and byways free of people’s discarded trash. Yesterday he spoke to me of being so occupied on a nearby typical Kentucky one-lane road, the pavement following the small creek as it snaked through the country-side and a small church opposite but a few yards up the hill. Whether the pastor, or a deacon, or just another Pharisee, this fellow comes strolling down to check his mailbox and, informing the workers of two hundred dollars in an envelope he’s lost, asks if they’ll return it should they find it. Given a polite, affirmative reply, he then snorts at them, chuckling “Sure you will” before strolling back to his sanctuary. Mike wasn’t too happy, giving me promise of visiting the “reverend” in the near future, his mindset of the religious community, in general, already tarnished from previous encounters. I reminded him that everything marching around “in the name of Christ” wasn’t officially endorsed by the Holy Ghost; but healing wounds usually requires more than a word of truth. The second quote offered above appeals to me in that which it expresses concerning humanity. The author’s solution, however, gives me pause, indeed it seeming to me that he’s got it backwards. Having referenced our external differences, the poet then takes us inward, into that dark mysterious unpredictable intelligence inhabiting the vessel, a place illuminated only by our own thinking, our own reasoning, understanding, surely a mess in the making. Filling a pew doesn’t cure that. Baptism doesn’t wash anything away. Even a “born-again” experience doesn’t help if that which was supposedly acquired amounts to no more than a theology set in concrete. If all we possess is a Book and a membership card, the world around us isn’t getting much witness of a resurrection. He, alone, shines…….

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Meaning......................"

”I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light; but they do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes”…… C.S. Lewis

“I know nothing except what everyone knows: if there when Grace dances, I should dance”……W.H. Auden

“Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush aflame with God; but only those who see, take off their shoes….. Elizabeth Barrett Browning

”Life, in Christ, is a fountain reconnected; yet, unless there is flow, what purpose is served?”…… jim filer

The grandkids (other than the twenty-year old who is now into his third week of five given to an orphanage in Honduras) are all home now. Two of the boys had extended Youth Camp into a three day visit to Gatlinburg after Youth Camp; but, at the moment, life is once again pretty much held in a twenty-five mile radius, the outside world a matter of Fox News and a pinch of local TV. No job, not even in sight. I’ve signed up for substitute teaching at our church school. That, however, remains to be discovered as to exactly what that means when it all comes to pass. Summer Break is one thing. Where do we go from here now that regular employment, as experienced for over five decades, is behind me – that is the question. Leisure, in any form, quickly grows old. Always has for this old man. Fishing. Hunting. Good for a day here and there. Both left behind long ago, the real thrill not the activity, but the environment, the getting out into nature and breathing. Bowling. Beach. A day at Disney Land. All just “fillers”, something to do, like reading a book, or working a crossword puzzle. I need excitement, the unknown, the mystery not yet explored; and it is exactly that “manna” which Christ brings unto me as I go. He is not a theology conquered and owned, but a fresh supply of living water given daily, a “step behind the veil” to be sought, making sense of my stagger down the road. Spanish sailors once sailed into the mouth of the Amazon, its width so great that they thought the ocean yet surrounding them. Many died of thirst, right there sitting in the middle of the Earth’s largest supply of H2O, believing it contaminated with salt! Not me. Not as many as God would give me in this. And not through some demand that his mind has solved the universe through chapter and verse. If He be in me, then He, alone, is the witness, the invitation to catch the adventure, to taste and see……

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Invitation.............."

”For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.”… Isaiah 30:15

The last words of the Bible are an open invitation from “the Spirit and the bride” unto “whomsoever will”. Let him that heareth and him that is athirst “come”. A warning is then extended unto any who would add or take away from those things which are written therein; and then, after giving promise of His return, ends with the hope of God’s grace being accepted by all. Christianity, down through the years, has taken the Book and divided itself into multiple extrapolations, claiming unity only in its central focus on Christ. In the name of whatever harmony that might bring to us, might I suggest that where such agreement leaves us in our faith can be boiled down to this finality of the Word, our journey a matter of enrollment, distance covered in-between, and judgment on the other end. Grace is a pardon encompassing forgiveness and patience, confirmation of our possessing it always left in His hands, new birth establishing His throne within us, not just an appointment awaiting us at some future date. Jacob, in the Old Testament, is an illustration of humanity. We are all “supplanters” in one way or another in our stumble down the path. The only question is: who holds our reins? Indeed, if there is any difference at all between me and this trickster, it is merely in Calvary separating us as to the positioning of the Creator’s “anchor-line”. The “hook” now rests in my “belly”. In his case, it was an external “lure”, a reality known from connections found here and there, physical points where angels ascended and descended, worthy of constructing an altar and calling to him “Return! Return!” His declaration of “Surely God is in this place and I did not know”, though, takes me to where Jesus asks Philip “Have I been so long time with you and yet hast thou not known me?” and gives me pause. Too many, it seems, are content with a “checklist”, a doctrinal “pass” that one day will permit passage through the Pearly Gates, settling all accounts as they go, regular visits to His inner oasis not a popular subject in most pulpits…..

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Numbers......................"

On April 30th, 1991, on that one day, 138,000 people drowned in Bangladesh. At dinner I mentioned to our daughter, who was then seven years old, that it was hard to imagine 138,000 people drowning. “No, it’s easy”, she said; “Lots and lots of dots, in blue water.”

Every year sixty million people die; of these, half are children under five. Every 110 hours a million more humans arrive on the planet than die into the planet. Of every seventy-five babies born today in the United States, one will die in a car crash…

There are 1,198,500,000 people alive now in China. To get a feel for what this means, simply take yourself, in all your singularity, importance, complexity, and love, and multiply by 1,198,500,000. See? Nothing to it.…

Was it wisdom Mao Tse-Tung attained when, like Ted Bundy, the serial killer who defended himself by asking “What’s the big deal? I mean, there are so many people!”, he awakened to the long view? “China has many people”, he told Nehru in 1954. “The atom bomb is nothing to be afraid of. The death of ten or twenty million is nothing to be afraid of.” A witness said Nehru showed shock. Later, in speaking in Moscow, Mao displayed yet more generosity, boasting that he was “willing to lose 300 million people”, then, in1957, half of China’s population. Then, again, Stalin also had the opinion that “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are just a statistic.”…

. Los Angeles airport has 25,000 parking spaces. This is about one space for every person who died in 1985 in Columbia when a volcano erupted. This is one space for two years’ worth of accidental killings from land mines left over from recent wars. At five to a car, almost all the Inuit in the world could park at LAX. Similarly, if you propped up or stacked four bodies to a car, you could fit into the airport all the corpses from the firestorm bombing of Tokyo in March, 1945, or all the world’s dead from two atomic bombs, or the corpses of Londoners who died in the plague, the corpses of Burundians killed in civil war since 1993. You could not fit America’s homeless there, however, even at eighteen or nineteen to a car…

The question to ponder, however, is who has God put on your heart today?......... (The question mine, but the numbers from Annie Dillard in “For the Time Being”)

My youngest daughter and three of our grandchildren returned from youth camp last night. It’s been a week of continual reports concerning “tears and tongues”, deep prayer encounters taking place at that huge altar area the gymnasium sanctuary there in Barbourville. I am grateful; but, in truth, it is an annual pilgrimage for our church and the “dip in the pool”, the immersion into God’s presence must now come home to face the world. If the well isn’t maintained through frequent visitation, if the baptized aren’t taught “Christ in me” in so far as handling “me in me”, the experience tends to fade as tomorrow meets you day after day. Life isn’t easy. In the Bible, Jacob, while fleeing from his brother’s wrath, dreams of angels ascending and descending a heavenly ladder. When he awakes, a conditional vow is made born out of his statement that “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not!” Twenty-one years later, already blessed beyond measure, just before reuniting with Esau, he wrestles with God and demands audible, oral confirmation of the Creator’s hand upon him, their relationship evidently still not “written in cement”, at least as far as he’s concerned; and when I read of him eventually returning to Bethel, by divine command, stopping on the way to hide idols that he permitted his household to entertain, it gives me pause about any real commitment to that oath made there in the beginning. Surely it has always been a “stumble down the path”. His experience, there with but a stone for a pillow, his relationship realized through an external connection, differs from ours in the sense of the “hook-up”, through Calvary’s Cross, now positioned within those who believe. Humanity, however, remains humanity. Maybe that’s what we need to teach more, instead of all this theology suggesting we have the Almighty locked up in a box? How many do we have to lose in battle, having armed them with little more than ecclesiastical toothpicks?......

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Anchorage....................."

”Where do I go when there's nobody else to turn to? Who do I turn to when nobody wants to listen? Who do I lean on when there's no foundation stable? I go to the Rock, I know He's able, I go to the Rock”….. Dottie Rambo

My wife underwent surgery Thursday, five hours at the hospital and coming home minus one of four parathyroid glands, the guilty party blamed for somehow a number of issues, but misdirecting calcium away from her bones being the major offense. With both of us now in our seventies, it’s just part of aging. It seems to me that life, in every stage, has presented its own set of circumstances. The journey has not been about knowing some equality or “fairness”, success determined by what has been achieved, happiness rooted in what we possess. The question is not “Why?” but “Who?” Who do I run to when the winds of sorrow threaten, when my soul needs consolation, or, for that matter, depend upon in all that I am in my stumble down the path? Wednesday evening Vacation Bible School had necessitated dismissal of our midweek class and I sat in the main sanctuary with a scattered few listening to our teacher preach a Gospel stripped of all the perks that Pentecostals have adopted over the last few decades. As I sat there listening to a plea for the Church, at large, to awaken again to the truth of “Christ in me”, my own thoughts spilled over onto paper, exploring a question that my group could well benefit investigating. Somewhere along the way, it seems to this old man, we have misplaced the facts. “Who is this Holy Ghost?” I asked myself. “A closet spook unable to be defined in any manner? A visitor who sometimes shows up in the middle of our meetings? A faith connection tangible only at certain times, available as an anointing only to a few certain elite, and otherwise merely a theology held in one’s head? Holiness has evolved from legalism to liberalism, not just in the sense of easing up on our list of “thou-shalt-nots”, but on our reverence of His reality as well. Today almost anything and everything claims itself to be an extension of such personality! While our people recognize a manifestation of His presence when it occurs in our midst, it seems to this old man that many, if not most, know little of moving under the influence of such divinity, realizing His will and His wisdom here and there in who we are and what we do. The gifts of the Spirit have been usurped and misused. The fruits of the Spirit have been either neglected or tried to be replicated out of our own efforts. We’ve been so busy claiming the promise that we’ve failed to grow in a relationship with the Promise who abides within us, so eager to embrace authority as ours that we’re deaf to the Authority willing to go with us in our humanity. Fortunately, His grace and patience is a deep well………