The above book is one of two devoured during my eight-day hermitage at Treasure Island beach, such time mostly spent in a fifth-floor air-conditioned unit, the balcony my idea of enjoying sand and surf. Frederick Buechner entertained me with a fictional account of ancient Irish monks, even as the above author fed me spiritual food for thought; and, while the rest of the family baked and burned below, I vacationed at a higher level. The more serious volume, though, is where present thoughts are occupied. It was subtitled “The Search for a Christian Spirituality”, the definition of that final word, according to the author, said to be “what we do with our desires; what shapes our actions; how we channel our eros (the fire that burns within us)”. He approaches such issues from the standpoint of reaching people who are struggling with their faith and their church, the result, he says, of “the pluralism of an age which is rich in everything except clarity”; and his attempt to provide some understanding of who we are as believers holds, in my opinion at least, much to consider. In the end, though, his solution leaves one’s salvation with little more than a theology, a lifestyle to be embraced, the above quote illustrating such evaluation. The Creator is compared to a young boy lying in hospice, physically and mentally incapacitated, unable to communicate with anyone in any manner, and the reader is asked to imagine, from personal experience, an inability to emotionally connect with others. His main topic is thereby voided of its divinity, the Holy Ghost laid to rest in a corner somewhere, and “Christ in me” reduced to a force we, ourselves, determine simply by committing ourselves to the Gospel. Within the last chapter, he delivers another quote, “A pattern that others have made may prevail in the world and, following the wrong god home, we may both miss our star”. Amen, brother. Amen…..
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
“Family” takes in a broad aspect for me. Beth and I are enjoying a week at the beach with all three daughters, their husbands, the six grandchildren, and two friends the younger bunch invited along for the occasion. Such term, though, embraces, as well, a host of others emotionally connected to the core of who I am, relatives and in-laws whose place in this puzzle entitled “My Life” sometimes is hard to explain. “The cousin of my maternal aunt’s second husband”, for example, illustrates just how much linguistics can fail to capture the whole clan. The actual details beyond what death and divorce can bring into the picture are often known to only a few. A common historical link in our genetics, therefore, doesn’t necessarily define the subject under discussion. Jesus once declared His mother and siblings to be “whosoever shall do the will of my Father” and thereby gives image to my point somewhat, the idea that our bond with each other is spiritual in nature and the glue holding us together is something greater than the womb that birthed us. In his book, “The Holy Longing”, Ron Rolheiser surprisingly breaks with his Catholic heritage, believing church doctrine equating the Eucharist to a literal fulfillment of the Biblical verse above to be wrong. He quote two Greek words, “sarx” and “soma”, that are translated as “body”, the latter one meaning the human condition in so far as its positive possibilities (health, attractiveness, good works, etc.), and the other one denoting the negative side of our existence (sickness, odor, sin, death, etc.). What the author suggests, then, is, rather than Jesus referring to a demand of us to consume His own carnality in any manner, it is our own corporal representation of His identity we are to ingest. Warts and all, in being the vessel that He inhabits, we are to be one in His name. I’m not sure I can accept such thinking in its entirety. That entire portion of Scripture is better explained, in my opinion, when we look at it as requiring a daily commitment on our part somehow merge into His reality. Nonetheless, there is certainly food for thought here. If He, indeed, indwells us, surely that should empower us enough to “co-inhabit” the vessel, the divine umbilical cord greater than that which makes us all individuals……
Monday, June 23, 2014
From the balcony of our fifth-floor condo unit, I watched as the eighteen year-old girl with us walked down to the beach Saturday morning. It was early and the sand, in every direction, was void of the mass that would occupy it soon enough. Nevertheless, she circled the entire area as if, given this vast stretch of waterfront acreage all to her herself, there was just one spot in particular, one minute, pristine, fashioned-to-her-liking portion that was designated her private property. It reminded me a bit of how some within the church community tend to claim some certain pew, getting disgruntled if a visitor should happen to access it before they do. I’m currently reading “The Holy Longing” by Ron Rolheiser, though; and his Catholic perspective has my Pentecostal experience pondering the schematics of this “point of connection” given us through Christ, for me an “appointed rendezvous” to which I must return again and again on a regular basis, a location where reassurance waits for me to recapture, a place where grace is made more than just a Biblical term. This author surprises me, his theology assigning to every believer an “incarnation”; but, while referring to a “divine power” abiding within us, the true source of any good that we do or say, never hands to such deity control of such works. Supernatural flow is made to seem a 24/7 part of one’s life, a force set in action by an individual’s own outreach. If my bunch, however, prefers the word “anointing”, recognizing the need to step into His presence, it yet remains that we are quick to label anything and everything as fulfilling the condition. Humanity never leaves us, of course, regardless whatever ecclesiastical tag we pin on our lapel. Like Kylie, though, I seek an appointed place. This “position of merger” isn’t exclusive. It’s there for all to encounter, for any who thirst; and it makes all the difference “in the world” (no pun intended) when He, not just me, is the manifestation of God’s love…..
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
My niece’s son got married Saturday at our church and his twin brother’s boy was seated behind me talking with my daughter. When asked by her to spell his dad’s name, he responded “His name is D-A-D” and then answered likewise to her next inquiry “Her name is M-O-M”. I couldn’t resist throwing him a curve regarding the latter. “Do you know”, I queried, “that if you turn MOM upside down, she becomes WOW?” He pondered that for a few seconds, then finally determined “She’s too heavy to turn upside down!”… The gap between delivery and reception often garbles what we try to communicate, the problem existing far beyond gender, more than age on either end of that spectrum, and probably going as far back as the Tower of Babel. Before language ever became a part of such issue, however, our thinking process was formed by individual genetics and longevity, the latter depending upon how much wisdom and knowledge one acquired along the way. Bible makes it clear, though, and in more places than one, that any time any of us reason we, alone, have it all figured out and set in concrete, in truth we know nothing as we ought to know. A willingness to explore the other person’s perspective, to engage in discussion without going to war, and to be content with giving God each other’s reins to work out the details allows for harmony, humor, and a healthier blood pressure.....
Saturday, June 14, 2014
With the recent continual visitation of rain, albeit showers rather than downpour, the soccer field at the nearby park has been rendered too muddy for me to attempt any orbits. Exercise for the last few days, therefore, has been a matter of driving out to the church gymnasium where thirty-three laps around the running track equates to two and a half miles and usually there’s nobody else there. The weather, however, has also forced our Daycare people off the playground. They’ve been using the lower portion, turning the kids loose with two or three basketballs. Friday, though, I stepped through the door to discover the whole lot occupying the upper level, my predetermined route full of little diddles chasing each other all over the place while the three young women watching over them sat on a bench there in the corner. It was like “surfing” the hallways at the Elementary school when the final bell announced it time to load the busses at the end of the day, only this flow was more chaotic, tiny individuals inventing games of various nature: war, tag, balloon toss, one little girl herding four or five imaginary pigs. Nonetheless, neither rain, sleet, snow, nor such enormous volume of pre-kindergarten energy was going to stop this old man from his appointed rounds. In truth, it was forty-five minutes of dodging this one, avoiding collision with that one. If I growled, they giggled. A couple pointed their fingers and shot me. I shot back. I’m not sure who had more fun, but there’s little doubt as to who was full of unleashed life. Old-age doesn’t drain you of your spirit. It merely packages it in a body that can no longer keep up with everything that’s going on. Then, again, whether you shrivel up and die is a choice you make, yourself…..
Friday, June 13, 2014
The above author doesn’t hold my interest for the most part, his output not so much concerned with an examination of “the deep things” of one’s faith, his style seemingly more a Joel Osteen approach where the Gospel is set aside while encouragement serves as the main dish. Nonetheless, within my read, I keep encountering across little tidbits like the above that give me pause, the truth therein causing me to stop and savor the bite just taken. “Gregarious” is not a word anyone would use to describe me. “Social” is not me in any setting where “mingling” is involved. My idea of a good way to amuse myself is me, a book, and some quiet spot away from the rest of the world, the book being optional. A long walk in the woods or driving alone in my car to reach such a location is peace to my soul. At the beach, while everyone else is enjoying the sun and surf, give this old man the view from the fifth floor balcony and he’ll wait to walk the shoreline in the evening, the moon’s glow rippled across the incoming waves. Yet, in spite of all the indications of my being a religious recluse, a hermit who avoids all interaction with humanity, people hold my heart. Beyond family and friends, strangers with no attachment at all to my identity have meaning, significance, worth that, should circumstances so ask, my own needs would be set aside, their life connected somehow to mine in a way that I don’t understand. Wisdom, of course, is part of such statement, His voice hopefully directing my path; but it seems to me that, within our original blueprint, God included “spiritual programing” designed after His own passion. We war; we kill; we abuse and misuse each other. Who is it, though, that would want to find himself in a room where, one by one, the walls began to fall away, the ceiling gone and the floor finally dropping as well, infinity in all directions and just “you” the only “living” thing left? Eternal flames? Sometimes I wonder…..
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Wednesday evening's Bible class was once again traversed with only two or three empty seats available for growth. Steve took us down a different path, looking at the life of David and focusing on dealing with regret. All present agreed that it would be nigh unto impossible for anyone to not possess it at least to some degree, the real question, therefore, being how to address it, how to survive, overcome, eliminate it. At least several times I heard someone speak of it being a matter of learning how to forgive yourself. Such answer, for me, was beyond my ability to grasp, however, much like eradicating my own sin or developing Christ-like character out of my own strength. Too often, within this faith, I find the general consensus equating our journey in this to something akin to signing up for some self-help course, attempting to improve our humanity much like we might if the concern was some part of our anatomy: exercise burns off calories; work-out beefs up muscles. In my opinion, spiritual problems are better “cured” through the Holy Ghost, surrender, in the sense of laying it all down at His feet and leaning on His presence in the next step, His grace and patience with us in the mess that we are. If effort is involved, let it be in this manner, not in some determined “I-can-do-this” mindset wherein we are only operating much as we did before the Indwelling. In Hebrews we are told that, as believers, we “are not come unto the mount that might not be touched”, but rather “unto Mount Zion”, a connection given us whereby God is made tangible unto us in every need. Let it be known: “regret” is good! Without it, there would be no remorse, no acknowledgement of our failure, no cry to find His grace afresh for our stumble down the path. While change, to some extent, can indeed be instant at times, almost always transformation is a journey, God’s patience with us directed toward our heart. What counts is not my mistakes, but my willingness to give it all to Him…..
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I stumbled upon the above quote early this morning and borrowed it from a Chaplain Mike post over at Internet Monk. Interesting to me, in reading about that particular congregation, their registered membership comes to only about 180 people who regularly attend services. My own bunch here in northern Kentucky numbers close to 800 almost any Sunday evening, filling the sanctuary twice in the morning and claiming perhaps as many as 3000 or more who have signed the attendance sheet at one time or another. How we compare to these Hoosiers in accomplishing outreach is debatable; but, then, competition isn’t what it’s all about, at least not in my book. We are not called to imitate each other, but to be vessels used by Him, each of us individual in our divine assignment, all of us made one by His Spirit directing our efforts. It is that “umbilical cord anchor-line” that we need to know in where we go and what we do, our knowledge of Him more than just some totem pole we’ve put together out of chapter and verse. Admittedly, it’s always a stumble down the path, our humanity yet part of any progress. Ignorance may buy us grace (I am reminded of our pastor’s story concerning his grandparents flight to visit Israel, both already three or four hours into it, over the Atlantic, and grandma informing her spouse several times of her need to visit the restroom. The old man gets agitated by so many announcements, repeatedly telling her to just “go!” She finally asks where it is and, when he replies that it is in the rear of the plane, she inquires as to which end is the rear); but if it’s grounded in a lack of thirst to know His voice, a contentment with our own state of righteousness, we have no excuse. The two young fish borrowed from Whiskey River to introduce my last post were clueless to the very water that was vital to their existence. How many in our world likewise consume the oxygen around them as if eternity was guaranteed, life nothing more than whatever contentment they possess with the present moment? How many, weekly, occupy a pew?......
Monday, June 9, 2014
One of the points my pastor brought forth yesterday was an acknowledgment of there being three different baptisms addressed in Scripture. The first two should occur in an assigned sequence, our immersion into Christ preceding any form of water ritual, the latter merely a statement made that speaks of the other having already been achieved. While the initial event, however, is orchestrated by the Spirit, bringing us into union with the other two Trinity members, the third dunking is the other way around, the Godhead putting us under in the Holy Ghost. My own initial experience, not required to be duplicated in its entirety, took me into the depths of worship, my spirit leaving my body to hover over it as a river flowed up out of an inner well. Any “osmosis” since has likewise been temporary in its possession, but otherwise only ankle-deep, waist-deep, chin-deep, not over- my- head deep. Knowing Him, therefore, is a reality, but one wherein our relationship has been sustained by what I refer to as an “anchor-line” that teaches me as I go, a “parental umbilical cord” that feeds me in the journey. The other night, for example, a gentle voice in my head awakened me about three in the morning, not threatening, but giving direction concerning correction needed in my life. Then, a day or so later, while accomplishing my three-mile orbit of the soccer field, in conversation with Him and inattentive of all else around me, my plea became “Lovest Thou me?”; and immediately, whether just that portion of John’s gospel stuck in my head or the actual whisper of God unto me, came the reply “Feed my sheep”. What that might mean is a bit beyond me, the old man turning seventy-three this year and pretty sure that climbing into a church pulpit isn’t in his future somewhere down the road. Seems to me, if anything, it’s more like letting me know my vessel is serving its purpose just as it is, handing Him my reins in the next step, wherever that takes me……
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Less than two years after my father’s unexpected demise, Mom remarried, her husband quite younger than her and the union lasting only long enough for him to gain a college degree. Left with two children to raise while working third shift at the Post Office, she (in her own words) “survived”. The kids were a handful, my half-brother the apple of her eye but always into trouble, his sister evolving into drugs and giving birth to a boy, the father never revealed. My mother then “adopted” him, she being the only parent he knew, the girl’s life becoming a continual migration in an attempt to evade creditors. From the beginning, Josh never had a chance. Love from “Nana” was mixed with the truth of his having been abandoned and her feelings of having been trapped by circumstances forced upon her. Withdrawn and in his own little shell, he drifted into his teens hanging with others likewise rejecting the world around them, dropping out of school, occasional employment to pay for cigarettes, and always returning to his grandmother in need. When she died, the well here in Kentucky was dry. My last contact with him was a picture on Facebook, his physical body pierced and tattooed top to bottom, his comments indicating a journey into Buddhism… Dallas Willard, in “Knowing Christ Today”, addresses pluralism, the idea that, beyond our pension to demand a born-again experience, baptism, tongues, and a handful of other doctrinal dogmas we’ve gathered along the way, final judgment will be a matter of a man’s heart. He examines those verses by which believers eliminate everybody but “the herd”, his theology the same as mine in this particular arena, just not expressed in Pentecostal terminology. When Peter declares “salvation” existent only coming through the name of Jesus, when Christ, Himself, asserts that no man can come unto the Father other than through Him, if we can but accept these statements as pointing to our rescue, our reconnection to the Creator by means of the Holy Ghost now abiding “in” us and not to a Judgment Day rejection of all but my bunch, the Kingdom of God becomes inclusive rather than exclusive, a matter of not just teaching the Gospel, but living it as well. It is the hope I hold for my dad, my mother, Josh, and all I meet……
Friday, June 6, 2014
In conversation with a few people just before our Wednesday evening Bible study, I was told of astronomers recently discovering another universe. My immediate question was as to whether an end, a boundary of some sort separating ours from it had been determined; and the fellow telling the story admitted to speaking in error. This new glimpse into the depths of this abysmal expanse, in which we find ourselves to be no more than an infinitesimal speck positioned in the middle of nowhere, actually reveals something like 10,000 galaxies in a span that, viewed from Earth, fits inside an average drinking straw. The reality of such image, however, is lost to us for the most part, the world around us more than we can grasp, our brain with enough trouble just dealing with those events that come to us on a daily basis. Overload. Is it possible, though, that many of us within Christianity has likewise limited our perspective, peripheral vision eliminated, for the most part and our focus directed toward a chapter and verse image of Jesus we have created, ourselves, out of the Book? Sometimes it seems to me that, while we grant the Holy Ghost membership in what we refer to as Trinity, we abandon Him, nonetheless, to a position somewhere in the shadows, either claiming His authority as ours to control or else reducing Him to some intangible, unknowable “spook”, a force directing traffic in the background. God the Father gets pretty much the same reverence, omnipotence, omniscience, and an Old Testament report that suggests His judgment nothing we want to encounter tending to find us a bit like the Israelites when asked to approach the ominous mountain that was on fire. Christ, however, assures us that He and the Creator are “one”, that to come into His presence is to also, in that moment, know Yahweh as He is; and that leaves me, personally, not with a “singularity”, but a Spiritual union wherein three are made one, each, even so, distinct in their own identity.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
School ended this past Friday for me, the last two days where rooms are packaged into something a bit easier for the custodial staff to clean and final paperwork is handled through a cafeteria assembly removed from my schedule. Retirement, for the third time in my life and no doubt the last time in my life, finds me waking up each morning in a bit of a fog as to there being no reason to be getting out of bed. I do. I do arise, quite early, in fact. With a need to lose about ten pounds, my habit has been, once more, seven laps around the soccer field at the nearby park, a “pinch” over three miles, my orbits made just as the sun rises over the hills to the east. On this occasion, some rain last night left a thin layer of mud washed over the path in spots, the sky yet overcast, but with promise of it possibly clearing later. If I can get there before others, the event becomes more than my “prayer closet”, worship spilling out of me, in song, in tongues, one with nature, one with Him, and no better way to step into whatever lies down the road. Wisdom reduces all that, somewhat, as company appears. My mind, however, remains focused, thoughts drifting, but “returning to the ark” again and again, mental conversation a matter of speaking to God one minute only to catch myself “spiritually” pondering something else a second later. Today, of the back stretch of the fifth or sixth cycle, looking down I saw this tiny, bronze insect that resembled a scorpion in that its front end was broader than its rear end. About a hundred hairy legs and the way its hinder part zigzagged as it fled to escape denied such identification; but the encounter gave me question. With no brain, was it just instinct that drove this little fellow to panic? After all, it knew no ability to reason, no recognition of predators or the truth that my big shoe might well eliminate him if he didn’t move. Insignificant as he was, his schematics were “programmed”, connected to a Creator who knows when the sparrow falls, me from my mother’s womb. The above verses have long been a mystery to me, all attempts to position the two triangles, angle to angle, to “co-relate” top-and-bottom identities without success. If the sides, rather than the angles, are labeled, however, and the Holy Ghost is aligned with the spirit, what ones has is a “balance bar” between the two realms, assistance for this “tightrope” walk assigned us. One step; then the next. The future awaits……