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On Sundays you will usually find me in a church somewhere talking about issues of Christian faith.
Some years ago I read about Charles Brown, a World War 2 pilot on his first mission, just before Christmas, 1943. His B-17 had been shot to pieces by German fighters and anti-aircraft guns. Half his crew was wounded, his tail gunner was dead, and he was flying alone over Germany, barely able to keep the plane aloft.
Hans Christian Andersen first told the now familiar story of an emperor who spent all of his kingdom’s disposable wealth on being well dressed. He had a change of clothes for every hour of the day, and he spent more time in his dressing room than managing the affairs of his empire.
Centuries ago, those who suffered mental illness were often committed to “madhouses.” These so-called treatment centers were about as brutal, barbaric and inhumane inventions as could be humanly conceived. Patients were subjected to various shock therapies, exorcisms, bloodlettings, ice baths, and gyration wheels. When not directly enduring these interventions, patients were generally kept in dark dungeons, chained to walls or the floor.
“Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” So said Red Redding to Andy Dufresne in that masterpiece, “The Shawshank Redemption.” If you have never seen the film, that is your immeasurable loss.
A few years ago I returned to speak at the church that was my first pastorate. The church was celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and it had been more than a decade since I had stood in their pulpit. They welcomed me back with incredible grace and affection, and I was truly glad for the reunion.
When my wife and I carried our newborn child through the sliding glass doors of the maternity unit, we were not given an instructional manual. No type of handbook accompanied the second or the third child either. Like all parents, we were directed to the exit sign clutching our new wrapped-in-blue bundle, with little more than a slap on the rear end, like a coach sending in his second-string substitutions. We were those kids with plenty of eagerness to play the game, but not a lot of knowledge about the playbook. We simply were not prepared for or coached up on every possible situation that would arise in our family-building career.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my friend, Charles, and missing him. He was a husband, father, English teacher, social worker, canoeist, bluegrass player, therapist, connoisseur of green-apple moonshine, and a good friend.
That faint noise you hear is the sound of pint-sized spooks, banshees, and vampires gathering on your lawn. They will soon be knocking at the door plastic pumpkins outstretched. Spare yourself the tricks and go ahead and give up the treats - the unhealthy, sweet, nougat-filled goodies in your cupboard.
Lately, one of Jesus’ more cryptic phrases has been making laps inside my head. I came back across his words while reading the Passion accounts in the Gospels, this year quickly speeding toward the Lenten season as it is. These words were spoken on the last night Jesus was with his disciples: “Abide in me, and I will abide in you.”
There is a story about two monks walking along the road when they come to a shallow, muddy river. A beautiful woman in a long white dress is standing there. She can’t figure out how to continue her journey without ruining her outfit.
While traveling in Central America, I had the opportunity to worship at an international, interdenominational, English-speaking church. The congregation contained Africans, Italians, Spaniards, Latinos, Americans, and Asians. We sang old Irish hymns and modern, Australian worship choruses. The service was a mixture of Lutheran, Reformed, and Pentecostal elements. The welcome was given by a Canadian, a German read the Scripture lesson, and an American did the preaching. It was a wonderful, diverse experience, and for a little while I thought the kingdom of God had come.
A husband and wife had been married for many years when the husband began to fear that his wife was going deaf. He implemented an informal exam. While his wife was in the kitchen cooking dinner, the husband in a normal, conversation tone asked from the den, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” She didn't answer. So he moved closer to the kitchen and repeated the question; no response.
Oct. 5 is World Communion Sunday. It is an annual event, the first Sunday of each October, in which Christians worldwide celebrate our oneness in Christ. There is a unity to the faith, scarcely as it might appear and in spite of our many differences and traditions. Special services will be held around the globe testifying to this fact.
Months ago a friend handed me a little book entitled “Have A Little Faith,” written by Mitch Albom. Honestly, it sat on my shelf for a long time gathering dust. It’s not that I was uninterested; I was plowing through some dense reading material and figured that Albom’s book was a little too light for what I had my teeth sunk in at the time.
John Steinbeck was one of America’s most prolific and insightful novelists. Renowned for his prize-winning works that most of us either enjoyed or endured at some point in our education (depending upon our perspective), one of Steinbeck’s lesser known novellas is my personal fa-vorite. It is a penetrating little book called “The Pearl.”
I am sometimes suspicious of how we employ our faith. Don’t get me wrong, faith is important to me, and I have given my life to it. But sometimes I treat my faith like it is a medicine cabinet or a pharmaceutical, going to it only when something is wrong, or if I am looking for a quick remedy.
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” goes the French proverb credited to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s not that a society or organization cannot be transformed. But such change is often cosmetic or superficial. Reality isn’t altered at the deeper, more profound levels.
Janet Hagberg was the first person who defined the experience for me. I had lived through it, but I didn’t know what to call it. In a book entitled, “The Critical Journey,” Janet called the experience, simply, “The Wall.” My summary goes like this. Many people begin their walk of faith, and everything goes as they expected. Out of genuine conviction, they attend church, learn from the Scriptures, volunteer, serve, give, and become “productive, committed, faithful, Christians” (whatever that exactly means, who knows?). But somewhere along the way things go wrong. Terribly wrong.
This is the first year of the official Sept. 11th Museum and Memorial. Located underground, on the foundation stones of the World Trade Center Towers, it contains more than 10,000 artifacts of the day, 23,000 pictures, and an archive of more than 500 hours of video.
I was in the hardware store when I first heard the news, though I did not know what I was hearing. As the cashier tallied my purchase, I overheard a reporter on the store’s radio make the peculiar announcement that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At the time, I thought of it as little more than a curiosity. How wrong I was.
The Buddha said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Well, ready or not kids, your teachers are showing up in classrooms everywhere. It’s time to crack open the books, slip the surly bonds of summer, and head back to school.
My youngest son started middle school this year. On the first day of classes, climbing on the bus with all his No. 2 pencils and three-ring binders, he also carried with them enough anxiety to fill a mama’s boy’s backpack. It wasn’t just the reality of a new school that put them on edge; it was middle school, and that is scary enough all on its own.
The Old Testament Law contains 613 individual commandments. The majority of these are negative: “Thou shalt not” do such or so. These commandments prohibit activities ranging from coveting your neighbor’s cow to wearing pants made from two different materials. The remaining commandments are positive: “Thou shalt.” These order adherents to perform in determined ways and means.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” These are the words of Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ first disciples, written to some of the first and earliest Christians. And like most words put down on paper, these instructions have not always honored the intent of the author.