Some Words of Thomas Merton

Last night I was reading Thomas Merton’s small book entitled, “Contemplative Prayer.” In it Merton wrote about Christian meditation in the context of how monks within a monastery practice it.

At the end I came upon some interesting words. Interesting because they were written about 50 years ago just before Merton died in 1968.

“One thing is quite certain: the humility of faith, if it is followed by the proper consequences-by the acceptance of the work and sacrifice demanded by our providential task-will do far more to launch us into the full current of historical reality than the pompous rationalizations of politicians who think they are somehow the directors and manipulators of history. Politicians may indeed make history, but the meaning of what they are making turns our, inexorably, to have been something in a language they will never understand, which contradicts their own programs and turns all their achievements into an absurd parody of their promises and ideals.

Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the ‘opium of the people.’ And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system-when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for  a purely secular ideological program-then religion does tend to become and opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything. God is the status quo.” *

As I read these words, they seemed to foresee the future in which we now live. People who lay claim to the historic faith of the Church pervert the way of God and bend it to their own will. They worship their own image. And, we end up with abominations like the Nashville Statement. So-called religious people use their false-faith to tear down and destroy through political means every good thing that God truly builds.

If our religion does not lead us to God for God’s own sake and love, then it is false religion. We have a responsibility to call this out as ‘fake faith.’ Period. End of story.

*Merton, Thomas, “Contemplative Prayer,” Image Books, 1969, p. 91.

Human Trafficking/Human Tragedy…Our Tragedy

As I was going through some old material I happened upon this piece that I had submitted to the NY Times in January 2013. During the current election cycle Ohio Senator Rob Portman is using his work on Human Trafficking for his campaign. So, I thought that I would publish this now. I can’t express how important this issue is now…today…in 2016. Follow the links and do some digging to see if there’s a way for us all to help free the oppressed. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

endhumantrafficking January 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade. Few topics engaged human emotions like this one. Battle lines were drawn and the battles fought. The benefactors of the decision found that their rights as human beings in the U.S. were vindicated. Women across the country were released from the shackles of a male dominated culture. And, they are adamant that those rights will not be taken away.

On the other side, people decried the violence that was allowed to be perpetrated on the “unborn innocents.” Their right-to-life beliefs empowered a backlash against the Supreme Court and the government. To this day they maintain that an unborn human must have the same rights and protections as any other person.

The position of those who proclaim Right-to-Life has grown to include topics beyond abortion. They are against any kind of euthanasia or medical procedures that may bring about death. Removal of life support apparatus can be anathema for these folks. But, there is another area that has as much to do with a person’s right to live as any of these. It is something that very few, if any sermons will be preached about on Sunday. It is the problem of slavery and human trafficking. Women, children and men whose lives are owned by someone else; people who have no rights to live, only to obey their “master.”

I first learned of this problem through a fellow student in graduate school. She was from Argentina and became a staunch advocate of human rights for those caught in the web of human trafficking. I began to learn about the problem and realized that it is part and parcel about a person’s right to life. A good definition of human trafficking can be found in documents from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Quoting from their website, at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html, it reads, “Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” This definition is comprehensive in its scope. It reveals the lengths that some people will go to in order to profit from the lives of others.

In the U.S., trafficking shows up in exploitation of some migrant workers and their families. But, perhaps the most heinous result is the sexual abuse of girls and women. One article reported in 2011, “Each year, 100,000 to 300,000 American kids, some as young as 12 years old, are exploited in the sex trade.”[1] This particular article revealed that major cultural events are used by human traffickers to sell their victims.

To me, this underscores the culture of power and dominance that is so prevalent in the U.S. People’s rights, that are supposed to be guaranteed and protected under the Constitution, are trampled upon in the name of cultural acceptance. Rev. Jennifer D. Crumpton wrote, “But we also must go deeper to honestly examine our accepted social structures and our systemic commodification of the bodies of women and girls in our arts and entertainment, our media, our sports, and our general corporate and consumer marketing.”[2] Yet, we do not “go deeper.” We prefer to avert our gaze from the reality that in 2013 America, people are commodified and enslaved for personal gain. We choose not to get involved while the “Right-to-Life” of thousands of our fellow human beings is taken away from them.

There are many resources available that people can utilize that can help to educate and bring to light this horrible blight on our society. One is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Their website offers information that can educate as well as provide resources for involvement. (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/index.html?ref=menuside)

The Salvation Army offers support at their PROMISE website for people who are caught in human trafficking, as well as for those who want to help. (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf/vw-dynamic-index/F71E07755654D27A85257440006860F9?Opendocument)

A quick search on the internet for the various state’s Attorney’s General will provide a wealth of information that can enable people to learn what their own state government is doing in the fight against human trafficking.

It’s not enough to sit and point fingers at Pro Choice or Pro Life adherents. It’s also not enough to define Right-to-Life by one issue. Hundreds of thousands of living, breathing people do not have a Right-to-Life. We must stand up for them.

 

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-01-31-child-prostitution-super-bowl_N.htm?sms_ss=email&at_xt=4d4d83322a2ff345%2C0, accessed January 10, 2013.

[2] http://www.newevangelicalpartnership.org/?q=node/109, accessed January 9, 2013.

 

Celebrating the Life of My Mother-in-Law

woman of valorThis is what I had the honor to share at my mother-in-law’s Memorial Service on Saturday.


We’re here today to celebrate the life of Irene (Mickie) Taylor. And, what a life to celebrate! Ninety-nine years of love and caring. As I began to reflect on her life, I was drawn to portions of Prov. 31. I’d like to paraphrase these portions beginning at verse 10, “She wears strength and beauty and she laughs at the future.

“She opens her mouth with wisdom and the learning of kindness is on her tongue. Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.”

The ‘she’ that the writer was speaking of is Eshet Chayil. Those two Hebrew words are the first 2 words of verse 10. They have been translated many ways. Some translations say a “worthy woman.” Others, an “excellent wife.” Still others, a “wife of noble character.” While these may indeed characterize Mickie to an extent, there is another way to interpret Eshet Chayil. A “Woman of Valour.”

The word valour carries with it a kind of macho, male connotation. However, several synonyms show this to be an appropriate description of Mickie. Some of these synonyms are pluck, courage, bold, spirited. Anyone who knew her knows these words can surely describe her. I’d like to take a look at some other Women of Valour whose lives reveal some of these characteristics.

There was a woman who lived in what is now Iran. For whatever reason, her father-in-law thought it would be a good idea to pack up the family and move. So, they traveled to a place in the vicinity of Northern Syria. After a while her husband came to her and said, “God spoke to me and told me to pick up stakes and head south.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that by now this woman was beginning to wonder what was going on. But, she listened to her husband, they packed up all of their belongings and moved on. This woman’s name was Sarai. And, she was definitely in a trying relationship. After all, she had been perfectly comfortable in Ur of the Chaldean’s. Then just as she was settling in at Harran, her husband is hearing voices and the family was on the move…again.

After some time in this new land, Canaan, there was a famine. So, the family moved to Egypt where there was food. Her husband, Avram, made another not so grounded decision. He told Sarai that she had to tell everyone that she was his sister. He was afraid that, because of her beauty, someone might kill him in order have her. Well, that didn’t work out so great. Pharaoh found out about her and took her into his harem. God came along and bailed Avram out and Sarai was returned to him. The famine ended and Sarai and Avram went back to Canaan. Some time later God came to Avram and made a covenant with him to make him a Father of Nations, so God changed Avram’s name to Abraham. God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah moved around in Canaan because they had no land of their own. At one point they stayed in a certain place where there was a king named Abi-melek. Abraham apparently didn’t remember the trip to Egypt. He again told his wife to say she was his sister. Maybe Abraham thought that since things worked out so well before, they’d work well again. The story repeats that Sarah was taken into Abi-melek’s harem. Bad things happened and God came to the rescue. This was the second time that Abraham had placed Sarah, his wife, in harm’s way. And, the second time she followed his lead. That says a lot about Sarah’s character. Mmm, maybe not so much about Abraham’s.

Finally, Sarah became pregnant. She bore a son and he was named Isaac. Isaac was adored by his mother. After all, she was 90 years old! And, Isaac was her first born. What joy she experienced! When Isaac was older, however, Abraham said that he heard from God that he was to sacrifice this beautiful son that had been promised. How much he told Sarah about this, we don’t know for sure. But, the next thing we hear about Sarah was of her death.

Sarah surely had many trials being married to a difficult man. Yet, she persevered. She showed real ‘pluck’ throughout her life with Abraham.

For most of her married life, Mickie, too, had to show that same pluck. Every day she and Gene would get up and she would drive them to work. After a full day at Flexo Products, she would drive to Columbia Gas and pick Gene up. She would then drive across the street to a pub where she would wait in the car while he ‘unwound’ from his day. They would drive home where she then prepared a meal for the family. It was hard. She persevered through many trials. However, when asked what had attracted her to Gene, she said that he was kind. She was able to see the very best in people. That integrity and inner strength of character allowed her to not only be tolerant, but to be extremely gracious. And, that grace spilled over on to all of us who knew her. Truly, like Sarah, Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

Another woman lived at a time when her people had been deported far from their homeland. Her name was Esther. Through a number of events, this woman was noticed by Xerxes, the king of Persia. He took her into his harem. There, Esther became Xerxes’ favorite. As the story progressed we find that Esther’s uncle, a guy named Mordecai, uncovered a plot to assassinate Xerxes. He told Esther, who informed the king, giving credit to her uncle. We see here a glimpse of Esther’s commitment to her family and her people.

A little later a man named Haman rose up in the court of Xerxes. He enjoyed the honor and adulation of everyone who was subordinate to him. Mordecai, however, refused to honor him. It became known that Mordecai was a Jew. So, Haman petitioned the king have all of the Jews throughout the realm put to death. When Mordecai heard of this, he went to Esther and asked her to intervene. Now, it’s important to understand, that at that time anyone who entered the presence of the king without permission did so on pain of death. This held even more strictly for a woman. Yet, Esther prepared herself and, taking her life in her hands, she entered the inner court. Xerxes saw her, and “he was pleased.” Esther asked the king to come to a banquet that she was holding to honor Haman. (A wisdom that we aren’t privy to til this point.) On the second night of banqueting, Xerxes asked Esther what he could do for her, up to half his kingdom. She answered, saying that her petition was for the king to spare her people. She told him that she was a Jew and that Haman had orders to kill all of the Jews. The king reversed his decree and had Haman killed instead.

Esther was willing to forfeit her life for her family and her people. Regardless of any obstacles, she was truly courageous. Mickie absolutely would do anything for her family. She saw herself as the glue that held them together. No sacrifice was too costly. No discomfort too extreme. And, she could be very adamant about that. I remember once when Hope and I were dating, I brought up the possibility of Hope graduating from high school early so that we could get married. Mickie, in no uncertain, (and I might add colorful), terms let me know that was never going to happen. I’m sure many of you can relate a time when she drew a line and said, “No further!” Discussion over! Esther was definitely Eshet Chayil. Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

Finally, I want to tell you a story about a young woman. She was about 14 years old. She had been brought up and trained to be a good Jewish wife. All of her expectations and dreams revolved around this future. After all, in a very patriarchal culture, her options were limited. She lived in a time when a woman was little more than property. First to her father; then to her husband. These roles were strictly enforced by religion and culture. One day a man showed up saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” He explained to her that she was going to give birth to a son. Wait a minute! She wasn’t officially married. In fact, she had a fiancé who would be oh so ticked about his virgin wife becoming pregnant. Not only that, her family would be publicly shamed. They had promised Joseph a virgin. Not only would she not be that, she would bring an illegitimate child t, too. This young woman, brought up in a strict, religious home knew the repercussions of all of this…stoning to death. Yet, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”.

We don’t usually contemplate this. Mary’s response could have sealed her death. But, she trusted this messenger. No, she trusted God who sent this messenger. Mary’s response caused her to later praise God saying,

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is HIS name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary Lou mentioned to me that Mickie was as ‘born again’ as anyone she ever knew. I don’t think that Mickie would put it that way. She would simply say that “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”. Her faith in God never wavered. She loved the fellowship of saints. She loved the opportunity to worship God in spirit and truth. Mary was Eshet Chayil. Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

There are many more women who were Eshet Chayil that I can’t say a lot about. There was Deborah who helped lead her people in their struggle with the Canaanites. Tamar, who was cheated by Judah and who boldly confronted him for the birthrights of her sons. One of whom, Perez, was an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth, who was also called Eshet Chayil, whose boldness continued the lineage of Jesus. Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Junius the apostle. Lydia, the first convert to Christ in Europe. Lois and Eunice, the grandmother and mother of Paul’s true son in the faith Timothy.

I could go beyond the Bible and cite Joan of Arc, Marie Currie, Mother Theresa and many, many other Eshet Chayil who have formed us, protected us, nurtured us and passed on faith, courage, integrity and strength of character.

Eric S. Kingston shares:

A woman of valor makes the world change

Her strength is the content that guides through the days

Defined by her actions that bring light to all dreams

Valor is something that’s defined by her deeds.

Her valor is golden, sparkled and gray

She stands up to the challenge no matter the way

It can’t be held back or defined by her age

Yes, a woman of valor makes the world change.

For valor’s not held by the young or the old

But by the deeds of the heart that give and unfold

It’s merit and honor that hold no disguise

Like the creation of being in the blessed Holy One’s eyes.

For valor is the color of the song of her soul

As she changes, creates and turns light into gold

Divine is Her Presence, be it joyous or sad

— A Woman of Valor —

May offer little, but it will be all that she has.

For only her heart will know the depths of her soul

That nurtures and blossoms and forever unfolds

And holds in its essence new life and new gain

Yes, A woman of valor makes the world change

A woman of valor makes the world change

A woman of valor makes the world change.

There is no doubt that Irene has taken her place as Eshet Chayil.

Happy Thanksgiving…Not

thanksgiving_440Well, it’s Thanksgiving 2014. There’s a cosmetic coating of snow outside. And, holiday expectations in the air.

Ok…so what?

Beside the 2.5 ton plus weight of that elephant in the room…the Pilgrims…what does this holiday bring with it?

Well, there’s the frenetic activity to get home and hearth prepared for family that have not been seen since this time last year. Food? Don’t get me started on the typical Anglo Thanksgiving gorging. It seems as though the 3 ‘F’s’ of Fun, Family and Food, (Ok, maybe a 4th ‘F,’ Football), should more accurately be “Fear, Frustration  and Futility.’

Call me a killjoy. But, for me the holiday season would be better spent somewhere in Montana where there’s only about 1 person per square mile.

Yeah, Bah, humbug. So, shoot me.

On Dad’s Passing

I’ve been away for a few days. You see, my Dad passed away last week. So, I’ve been pretty distracted. I wanted to share a little bit about him. As I’ve relived so many stories that reveal the kind of person he was, I realize that putting them into words is virtually impossible. So, I’m going to share the eulogy that I gave at his memorial service. It sums up much of who Dad was to us, his family and close friends. It’s kind of long, nearly 2,500 words, but I think it’s a pretty easy read. I hope that it honors his memory.

g-pa the vetBill was born March 2, 1929 to Tom and Goldi Helbert in Ashland, OH. When Bill was 6, Goldi died from tuberculosis. Tom got remarried to a woman named Ola. Not too many years later, Ola divorced Tom. Tom moved out of state and left Bill to live with his step mother.

Now, this period of his life is kind of hazy because Bill never shared his feelings openly. I think in many ways he was embarrassed. The memories that we were able to pry out of him were not pleasant. He told me of the time he tried out for the school football team. In practice he sustained a hit that caused him to lose some teeth. When he got home, his step mother told him that she was not going to pay for the dental care he needed. Bill had to work in order to raise the money for this. As I was looking through his high school yearbook I noticed that many of the students had long lists of clubs and activities they were part of. In fact, my mom’s list was one of the longest out of all of them. Bill’s? Blank. He was too busy working to have had time for extracurriculars. From the time he was fourteen he worked. He spent time working on a farm where his duties were to care for chickens. In payment, he received food and a bed. He worked for a local grocery in the butcher shop. He got to clean up the mess. He was not afraid to take on any job. He was the product of his generation. Honesty, loyalty, patriotism and faithfulness were characteristics of these folks that were forged in the crucible of depression and war. Hard work was simply a way of life.

He did have time for some fun, though. He and friends would drive up to Ruggles Beach from Ashland. It was there that he began a relationship with a fiery red-head named Marilyn Shanefelter. The two were married in March of 1948. Shortly after he and Mom were married, Bill was at the Ashland Elks club having a beer with his father-in-law and some others. A man who worked for the local draft board told him that his name was going to be selected for the draft. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, he enlisted in the navy. He told me that the recruiter had promised that he would be stationed in San Diego. So, of course, he wound up in Norfolk, VA. As with everything else in his life, Bill energetically applied himself to his duties. He served on a troop transport sailing between Greenland and Cuba carrying troops for training and other duties during the Korean conflict. He was honorably discharged in 1953.

After Dad got out of the navy, he found a job in Elyria at the Chronicle Telegram. Soon after, they moved to a house in Elyria, and then to the house we grew up in here in Avon Lake. Mom and Dad were unable to have children. So, in 1955 they adopted me, even though I was considered ‘handicapped’ because of a birthmark I had on my face. Then, in 1960, Dave was added to the family. We were welcomed into their home and loved much, probably more, than any natural child. We were not flesh and blood, but we became family because that is what Marilyn and Bill wanted. With one mind they poured themselves into the two of us. Together, we were the Helberts…period.

He would take me to work with him sometimes on Saturday. He would set me up with a pair of scissors and some samples of things they had printed, mostly pictures of cranes, and I would cut out the pictures and generally make a mess.

Our first home was near Lake Erie. One time I was down by the lake playing. I noticed a fairly large school of fish rippling the surface. I ran home to tell Dad to get his fishing pole and come down. Well, he said that he was busy at the moment. So, disappointed, I went back to the lake. A few minutes later I looked up and here came Bill with his fishing gear. (I suspect Mom had something to do with his change of heart.) He cast out and within minutes we had a bucket full of white bass. He then said that they were pretty small, so he released them. But, that was OK. Because as far as I was concerned, Dad had come through.

Dad did have a love of fishing. We would regularly take trips to look for the biggest and baddest fish that could be found. One time, Dave had gone with Dad and Mom to Canada to fish. Bill caught the biggest largemouth bass that he had ever seen. With great pride, Dad put it on a stringer and put it in the water. After a time, they decided to move on to another location. So, Dad fired up the motor and down the river they went. As they were cruising, Dave happened to notice the stringer skimming on top of the water. He told Dad, who stopped the boat and pulled in the empty stringer. Oh, the loss! The look on Dad’s face was priceless.

Over the years Bill tried various types of hobbies and activities. My earliest memories of these were of him building model airplanes. He spent hours attending to every detail. He made sure that the wheels and props were painted accurately. Every decal was meticulously applied. The wheels and props turned and the flaps flapped. We would have them on display here today if it wasn’t for the fact that I tried to make them fly. He tried out model railroading for a while. He played volleyball, tennis and golf. He and mom played cards and dominoes with friends. He filled his days with activities with others.

He was a regular guy. He was unpretentious. As a manager at the Lorain Printing Co., he never acted like a ‘boss.’ He treated everyone with equal respect. He continued to treasure the friendships that he had made there. It was not uncommon for his coworkers to refer to him as an Ashland Hillbilly. I think that part of the reason for that may have been because of some of the things that he would say. We have affectionately named these things “Billy Tisms.” Here are some examples:

When something worked easily: it was Slicker’n owl shit                                                        To the person who stole pennies from his desk: May you live to be 100 and never shit  When it was raining hard: The rain’s coming down like a cow pissing on a flat rock       After a few beers: I gotta pee like a racehorse                                                                     When something went wrong: Oh, bat shit!                                                                                  When someone offered something Bill didn’t think much of: I wouldn’t hit a big bull in the ass with a banjo for that                                                                                                                   About that piano player: he’s good at playing the cracks. (between the keys)                         About food: I’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat me first!                                                                About another person who is confused:  He doesn’t know if he’s a foot or horseback                                                                                                                                                   When someone poked his belly: Ow! That’s nothing but mainsprings and rubber bands!                                                                                                                                                 When the dog has jumped up on him: Nope, 4 on the floor!                                                       When things don’t work out just right: Balls!                                                                                And one that he told me many times when I was growing up: If you don’t have something good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.

Bill continued to work into his 70s…until his memory and Mom’s health began to fail. Dad was fiercely devoted to his family. At the white hot center of that devotion was Marilyn. She was his joy and his strength. She was the queen of his world. He trusted her to love him and was faithful to her like no one else I’ve ever known. Dave and I were talking and neither of us can remember a time when there were raised voices between them. Every day when he got home from work, Marilyn greeted him with a kiss. His loyalty to her was incredible. There are some in this room who have experienced Bill’s loyalty. If anyone spoke ill of Marilyn, or tried to get into ‘our business’ he would react…well…with gusto. Sometimes, that would even be directed at Dave or me. If we caused Mom trouble, Bill would not hesitate to adjust our attitude.

We watched as Mom’s health began to decline. The times that Mom was in hospital with serious illnesses found Bill at her side. These times were the only ones when I saw Bill cry. He cared for her every need. He provided everything to make sure she was comfortable and happy. One of the hardest things for him was to admit that he could no longer care for her by himself. Because of her stroke and the weakness that caused, she had to move into a skilled nursing facility. Bill then modified his life in order to be with her. He displayed his faithfulness by spending every waking hour with her. The only times he was not by her side were when she had to go for dialysis or other medical treatment. Many times we would go to visit Mom and find them both sleeping. Mom in her bed and Dad in the chair next to her. As long as she was able, he would take her for rides in the car. Just to get out and spend time together.

On a day in late Sept. 2010, Bill’s world ended. As we were all together at Mom’s bedside, she left us. Bill was holding her left hand when he suddenly cried out, “Oh, God! She’s gone!” He never got over that moment. We tried to comfort him. That was not going to happen. Over the next years he would keep telling us that she wasn’t supposed to go first…he was. I don’t think he really ever forgave himself for not leading the way into the next life. He never took Mom’s things out of their home. He left everything as it was. He allowed her ‘ghost’ to remain with him.

As the dementia began to overtake him, he seemed to forget that Marilyn had gone. Every now and then he would ask us where she was. One time Sarah told him to behave himself as she was leaving his home. He responded that he had to; Marilyn wouldn’t let him do otherwise. Then wondered where she was. At the nursing home, he believed that Marilyn was there somewhere…maybe in the next room. At first I was concerned with this. But, then I realized that Bill’s world was not the same as mine. In Bill’s world, his beloved Marilyn was still with him. She was just in the next room.

The writer of the book of Hebrews penned these words:                                                         Heb. 10:38 – “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”

This faith is not simply ‘believing’ something. This faith has nothing to do with creeds and doctrines. There is no church polity involved in this faith. This faith has everything to do with action.

The story of Noah was about a man and his family who heard God warn them about impending disaster. They trusted God’s words and faithfully took action. God found them trustworthy.

Abraham, whom the apostle Paul referred to as “our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not” (Rom. 4:17b), did not simply sit in his tent and ‘believe’ God. He left his homeland and wandered as an alien in the land that God had told him would one day belong to his children. Children that he did not even have! Yet, he trusted God. God found him trustworthy and gave Abraham and Sarah children in their old age. At that point Abraham could have easily said, “Yep, God is good. God came through and gave me an heir. Now, I can sit back and eat grapes and pomegranates and chillax in my retirement.” But, he did not. He continued to trust God. He continued to be ‘faithful.’ So, when God asked him to sacrifice the son of the promise, Abraham trusted God. He had ‘faith’ that God, who had promised Isaac, could raise Isaac from the dead. This is faithfulness.

Moses, the one person about whom the scripture states was God’s friend, became that friend because he, too, trusted God and was faithful to act on that trust. After 40 years of exile, he returned to Egypt where there was a death sentence on him, and defied the most powerful person in the known world. Because of Moses’ faithfulness, God displayed acts of power and wonder that revealed God’s supremacy over the gods of Egypt, which included Pharaoh. It was because of Moses’ trust and faithfulness that God was able to show God’s own faithfulness to Moses.

Example after example in this text, as well as many others, show us that to have faith has nothing to do with religious belief. It has to do with trust, honesty, faithfulness…action. It has to do with moving forward, while performing the duties of day-to-day life with no concrete reward or achievable goal in sight. The writer stated, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”

Bill was not religious. Yeah, he was a member of a local church. I think, though, that I can count on one hand the number of times he actually attended. He was busy being faithful. Faithful to his family and friends. He worked 7 days a week in order to provide for us. After working 10 hours, he would come home and always find time to play catch or go fishing. He coached both Dave and me in little league. He taught me how to play tennis and watched as I competed in swimming. He made it possible for me to learn to play music…and tolerated the noise of an aspiring rock-n-roller. He made sure that he and Mom made it to their grandchildren’s activities. Whether it was soccer in Avon Lake or Mount Vernon. Or, baseball and horseback riding. If he was able, he would make every effort to support us all. He knew that the world was going to continue well after him. He had faith that what he was doing in the present would bear fruit sometime. When? He didn’t know. I’m not sure that he even cared about ‘when.’ He saw the promise of the future. Yet, the final reward eluded him in this life. We, however, have already received a reward. That reward was to have been loved  and cherished by Bill.

 

 

Welcome Morning!

Quiet time between times

Slight breeze barely audible in the trees.

Mouse skitters to safety

At the approach of giant’s steps.

Sitting on blocks of hewn limestone

Unmoving fingers probing the shallow water.

Peace.

I look at the surface and spy hundreds of silver swimmers.

They break the barrier of the air in search of a hearty breakfast.

The appearance is like tiny raindrops in reverse.

BlueHeronA Great Blue Heron dives toward the surface

Dipping its toe into the water.

“Too cold!” she exclaims and returns to the sky.

Purple Martins dance!

Sparrows chirp and sing at the dawn of a new day.

Midges buzz in my ear.

I look up and see pop corn clouds

Buttered with yellow hue from the coming day.

The horizon to the East is veiled in clouds,

Like the curtain on a stage awaiting the grand entrance of the ‘star.’

Look!

Dimly, the first arc of the sun appears

Taking its first steps in its daily walk across the heavens!

Life!

Clouds streak the face of this great, orange disk

Making it look like the grimy face of a child playing in the sand.

Thank You, Creator for the gift of this moment.

What do we really believe about God?

One of the things I mentioned in my New Year’s Things that I’m tired of was how scholars continue to kick dead horses. It seems that some things cannot be released and allowed to die. I have realized that these folks have been trained to question. They ask and ask and ask. This is, actually, a good thing. Nothing in faith is above questioning. That’s how we appropriate and make the faith our own. None of us can accept the word of someone else. We MUST learn how to make it ours. But, in this process I’ve found that a lot of folks make faith about US. We try so hard to appropriate the text and the tradition that we miss the supernatural, the other, the Godly. Evelyn Underhill got it when she wrote, “The tendency of all worship to decline from adoration to demand, and from the supernatural to the ethical, show how strong a pull is needed to neutralize the anthropocentric trend of the human mind; its intense preoccupation with the world of succession, and its own here-and-now desires and needs…It is the mood of deep admiration, the meek acknowledgement of mystery, the humble and adoring gaze…”
So many scholars and theologians can argue about the text. What it says or doesn’t say. But, very few are talking about the work of the Spirit. Where is the mystery? Where is the stuff that cannot be easily explained by historical or literary criticism? I think that the mystics among us are being overshadowed by the scholars. Christ followers are empowered and guided by what is unseen and unfelt. We are experiencers of God, not simply those who can understand some 2,000 year old text. I agree with Underhill. We need to get over ourselves and immersed into the reality of God, who is Spirit.

Fruit Bearers

Recently, I heard a pastor deliver a message in which he expounded on the need for Christians to bear fruit. He then went on to look at Galatians 5, stating that was the only place in the NT that really discussed fruit, (sorry, wrong). He deduced that the lists in that text reveal that fruit in the NT deals with character issues, (again, not so correct). Now, I don’t want to be too hard on this person. This is the kind of stuff that is offered from pulpits in many, many evangelical churches. It’s about me and Jesus and how I treat my wife, kids, and members of my church group.
But, I think that there is a little more to bearing fruit than simply thinking the right things and behaving in a particular manner. There is the idea of service to those outside of our own groups. Caring for all who are poor, homeless, hungry, sick, blind, lame, unemployed, orphans…and the list goes on. John the baptizer told the crowds who came to him to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. He then explained what that was; “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” To the tax collectors he said, “”Don’t collect any more than you are required to.” Even to the soldiers he exhorted them, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”
Jesus stated in Mat. 7 that folks would recognize false prophets by their fruit. He then showed what he meant: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” To make it clear what he was not talking about, he added, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'” It seems that the religious stuff isn’t the kind of fruit that we need to be concerned with. There were proper things to do, maybe like the whole of the Sermon on the Mount that preceded this statement.
Even Paul got it right. Colossians 1:10 states, “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” In every good work? Yes! Fruit bearing is being “doers of the word.” not simply listening or giving lip service. Ok, it also involves good character. But, it’s not limited to that. In fact, I think that good works will necessarily come out of a people of good character. The converse is also true. The verses following Col. 1:10 explain that endurance and patience, (and good character?), will result from doing good works. If we wait for character to develop on its own, good works may never happen.