Friday, July 30, 2010

CITY WITHOUT A CHURCH

Let Christian faith and life overflow from the church into our city's streets

HENRY DRUMMOND'S INSIGHT  Digest a few paragraphs from Henry Drummond's little book The City Without a Church. Drummond (1851-1897) uses The Revelation of John to point out that heaven is envisioned as a city--a city without a church. It takes little sanctified imagination to say a hearty "yes!" to Drummond's insights:


REAL-LIFE RELIGION  "The heaven of Christianity is different than all other heavens, because the religion of Christianity is different than all other religions. Christianity is the religion of the city. It moves among real things. Its sphere is the street, the marketplace, the working life of the real world."

CARE OF THE CITIES  "When Christianity shall take upon itself in full responsibility the burden and care of cities--the Kingdom of God will openly come on earth. People do not dispute that religion is in the church. What is now wanted is to let them see it in the city."

A CITY ON A HILL  "One Christian city, one city in any part of the earth, whose citizens from the greatest to the humblest lived in the spirit of Christ, where religion had overflowed the churches and passed into the streets, inundating every house and workshop, and permeating the whole social and commercial life--one such Christian city would seal the redemption of the world."

WEEP FOR THE CITY  "How are you to begin? As Christ did. First he looked at the city; then he wept over it; then he died for it."

MAKE HEAVEN WHERE YOU ARE  "Where are you to begin? Begin where you are. Make that one corner, room, house, office, as like heaven as you can. Begin? Begin with the paper on the walls, make that beautiful; with the air, keep it fresh; with the very drains, make them sweet. Abolish whatsoever makes a lie--in conversation, in social intercourse, in correspondence, in domestic life."

HEAVEN IN YOUR HEART  "This done, you will have arranged a heaven, but you have not got it. Heaven lies within: in kindness, in humbleness, in faith, in love, in service. To get these in, get Christ in. Teach all in the house about Christ--what he did, and what he said, and how he lived. Teach it not as a doctrine, but as a discovery, as your own discovery. Live your own discovery."

PASS IT ON  "Then pass out into the city. Do all to it that you have done at home."

THE GREATEST THING  Read The City Without a Church: http://henrydrummond.wwwhubs.com/city.htm.  Henry Drummond, a Scottish speaker, author and teacher who was associated with Dwight L. Moody, is most known for The Greatest Thing in the World, a profound reflection on 1 Corinthians 13.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I ADD MY PRAYER TO THEIRS

Recently, I spent time in a student prayer chapel on the campus of a university.  The small but worshipful space had prayer notes written and left by students who had visited the chapel throughout the course of the year.  Reading a few, I found their prayers to be sincere.  Some were painfully honest and earnestly seeking.

To their prayers, I added my own note of prayer...

Just because I am older doesn't make my prayers less desperate or seeking.  I am a 52-year-old child of God being reminded I am loved "in spite of..."  In some ways desperation gets deeper and dependency on God greater because life over time tends to get more complicated. People I love choose other than I would. I can't control--and wouldn't want to. Still, I desire.  I desire beyond what is within my ability to give or produce or orchestrate or ensure or know with wisdom.  And so I pray. In prayer, I yield.  I put it beyond me.  I lift up my soul.  I release.  I trust ("I believe, Lord, help my unbelief").  And I walk forward, committed to listen and be changed by God's Spirit agitating and guiding me in times when I am not specifically praying.  I count on God to readily break in any time, anywhere.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

SUNRISE

"Morning has broken like the first morning..."

We know the sun has been rising
every day without fail,
with no variation,
with predictable pattern
through every season
through every cycle
for billions of years.

If anything is predictable,
if anything is routine,
if anything is common
this is.

Surer than breath,
long before life
is earth's axial rotation
and its steady orbit
around the sun.

We don't even think
about it.

And yet.

Did you witness that sunrise
this morning?

Has there ever been one quite like it?
Orchestrated by God, it surely was,
for the display of God's splendor.

"Morning has broken
like the first morning..."

"Morning by morning
new mercies I see..."

"The heavens declare
the glory of God..."

A songster sings,
"In the heavens God has
pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom
coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing
to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat."

So ordinary.
So extraordinary.


And to think I might have
taken this day,
this sunrise,
for granted.

SUNSET

A poem as I watch sunset on the Pacific horizon


We say sunset
and our imagination
believes it is so--
the world is still
and the sun and heavens
move over and around us.
We know better,
and yet we embrace
the word image,
so ingrained it is.

If we reframe the scene
with more accurate words
how different we might
experience the event
we reverently observe.

Have we no word
for what we really see--
the earth upon which we
stand still and look westward
rolling ever so steadily,
speedily away from a
relatively fixed sun?
Can we not feel our movement,
can we not sense ourselves--
not that solar circle--
being whisked eastward,
sinking, falling away?
Is it not we who disappear,
not the sun?

And can we be comforted
that what goes around,
comes around?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

GIVE TONGUES OF FIRE

These days, I spend vast amounts of time doing many things other than preaching.

I attend to diversifying resource development for a faith-based organization.  I help a nonprofit think and plan strategically.  I speak and act on behalf of the poorest kids in the world in an attempt to influence people to partner for their future.  Toward this same end, I invest some effort in online social networking.  I craft newsletters.  I write copy for magazines and e-journals.  I manage and update databases.  I design promotional pieces.  I relate with folks at various levels in a global mission-focused organization.  I contribute in meeting upon meeting that indirectly relate to this primary work.  I prepare to teach graduate-level classroom and online courses.  I staff conferences.


I am not, however, preaching.  Not in any formal, usual, typical sense of that word.  For this chapter of my life--however short or long--my preaching takes other forms.  I do not know if I will ever again stand behind a pulpit or in the place of a pastor.  It may be that I am never again so privileged (I hope I AM so privileged!).

However, God forbid that "the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart" would flow out of anything other than my sense of a calling to bear, to proclaim, to reflect--to in some way be--Good News to the glory of God.

A prayer: may the same learning, insight and breakthrough that I experienced as I read and studied in preparation for preaching be at work in my daily thinking and writing and relating.  May the same urgency and passion I felt as I crafted sermons and shared in the pulpit coarse through me as I labor to connect children to local and global partners.  May my life and words and work somehow be a testimony to the redeeming, reconciling, overcoming grace of God to all.

This week, I recalled an old ordination hymn that was first quoted to me by Millard Reed.  I found the full text, though I still have not sourced its author.  I make this my prayer for today:

From ivied walls above the town
   the prophets' school is looking down,
And listening to the human din
   from marts and streets and homes of men:
As Jesus viewed with yearning deep,
   Jerusalem from Olive's steep,
O, crucified and risen Lord,
   Give tongues of fire to preach thy Word.

O Son of man, O Son of God!
   Whose love bought all men by His blood,
Give us thy mind, thy soul's desire,
   Thy heart of love, thy tongue of fire
That we thy gospel may proclaim
   to every man in thy great name!
O, crucified and risen Lord,
   Give tongues of fire to preach thy Word.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

EVERY DAY I MUST CHOOSE

Every day
I must choose

Every day
I must choose to forgive
and to seek forgiveness
in the most near and common relationships

Every day
I must choose to let go resentments,
releasing grievances, self-pities and jealousies
that would barnacle and weigh down
my soul

Every day
I must choose to release my will to control outcomes,
realizing I cannot control people or things,
only influence with love

Every day
I must choose grace over judgment,
mercy over a sense of self-justification and
entitlement to redress

Every day
I must choose to see beyond my needs and desires,
to perceive my complicity and responsibility
in the basic survival of millions far
and neighbors near

Every day
I must choose to express the Kingdom
instead of hiding my light or squandering
the gifts I've been given,
the opportunites before me

Every day
I must choose gratitude over complaint,
joy over solemnity,
peace over disharmony,
hope over despair,
life over death

Every day
I must choose to awaken to the life of God
given to me as a precious gift
to generously give away 


Photo: this stained glass window is in the Prescott Prayer Chapel on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

YES VIA NO


I clipped this out of Sojourners magazine (I think it was Sojourners) many years ago. Framed, it hangs on my office wall as a reminder to me.  "Every time you say no you also say yes."  Typical William Stringfellow wisdom.

Notice how Wetmore tucks in an "I love you" and an "alleluia" amid the many mini-"no's." Also, see if you can find an "absolutely not" and two "yes's."

This was brought to new light this morning as I was reading in a chapter on observing sabbath by Barbara Brown Taylor.  She quoted Karl Barth: "A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity."

It's not just what I CAN do, but what I am free NOT to do. I am free in that I can determine my own choices.  But that freedom becomes qualitative (or life becomes qualitative) when I use my freedom to limit what I choose.  "Yes" is made meaningful by "no."

When I choose to say "no" to small things, I open up the possibility for something beyond.  We can fill our lives with immediately gratifying things.  But if we do, we close possibilities for greater opportunities.

I can see this as a fractile sort of thing with many applications in many directions.

This is partly about delaying gratification.  Delaying gratification is, it seems to me, one of the more important and useful of self-disciplines for mental health, spiritual development and basic well being.  But saying "no" in order to say "yes" is not just about delaying gratification.

Jesus talked about wide and narrow ways.  I'm thinking about that in relationship to saying "no" in order to say "yes."

In his letter to the Galatian Christians, the Apostle Paul challenged Jesus' followers to live fully in freedom made possible by grace through faith. At the same time, he warned them to guard their freedom carefully.  It can be easily lost to addictive legalism, on the one hand, and morph into a slavish indulging the sinful nature (lawlessness or antinominanism), on the other.

Don't think of this as saying "no" to all things material and "yes" to all things spiritual.  That's a trap, a false dichotomy.  Material is not inherently bad and so-called spiritual things are not all necessarily good.  That is not the essential choice.

Think more in terms of saying "no" for the sake of a "yes" to conscience and sanity, intention and purpose, wholeness and completeness, right-making and restoration, relationship and community.

But when to say "no" and when to say "yes?"

An old gospel song sang "keep your eyes on the prize."

Friday, July 2, 2010

FREEDOM'S DAILY COST

A tribute to daily actions of ordinary citizens that promote American-style freedom

GRATEFUL NOT GULLIBLE.  I feel a deep gratitude for American-style freedom and for those who have thought, deliberated, lived and died to frame, preserve, and advance it.  The fact that I feel, simultaneously, that certain domestic and international policies and actions are not in American freedom’s best interest does not negate my gratitude or reduce my sense of patriotism.  Nor does it mean I write a blank check and cast a rubber-stamp vote for everything my government--in any of its three branches and myriad bureaus--does in the name and for the sake of America and freedom.  It is one thing to be grateful and patriotic, it is another to be gullible and na├»ve.

FREEDOM IS BIGGER.  I try to keep in mind that freedom is bigger than any Presidential administration.  America is greater than a duly elected Congress.  The Constitution stands above any appointed Court.  The soul of America is deeper than policies conceived and implemented through layers of bureaucracy.  Its spirit is broader than what can be expressed by any region, state, or local community.  For this reason, and for the fact that pride and prejudice is ever present and must be grappled with in each generation, it is necessary and prudent to be vigilant against directives and decisions that appropriate the term “freedom” but do not necessarily embody and advance it for all.

WHAT IS FREEDOM’S COST?  I saw this quote etched in stone at a monument in Washington, D.C.: “Freedom isn’t free.”  So it isn’t.  That doesn’t necessarily mean its only cost is blood and that the primary manner of preserving freedom is war, the threat of violence, preemptive attacks on rogue regimes which we suspect, or the deployment and ever-increasing funding of a bloated military at the expense of local community creativity and our most vulnerable citizens.  The fact that freedom has occasionally been preserved by unavoidable war does not mean that war is the primary and celebrated cost of freedom.

THESE LIVES TESTIFY.  I write this, having visited Arlington National Cemetery, where tombstones in the shape of Crosses and Stars of David line the hills as far as the eye can see—each representing a life given for American freedom.  I write this, having visited the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.  These lives testify to heroic efforts to preserve American freedom or to win it for those who asked for our help.  But war and the death of soldiers is not the primary way freedom is preserved and promoted.

FREEDOM IS WILLED BY ORDINARY CITIZENS.  Freedom is more proactive than an occasional defensive response of protection when it is truly under attack or an aggressive response of preemption when it is perceived to be threatened.  The cost of freedom is a daily vigilance and active exercise of freedom by ordinary citizens.  We mistakenly think that freedom is something won for us by the few who bear arms; in fact, freedom is something willed by the many who confirm its blessing and fuel its light through responsible use of its privileges and responsibilities.

VIGILANCE OF THE CITIZENRY.  The vigorous and watchful exercise of such freedoms as speech, religion, and one’s vote serve to intensify freedom’s promise and buttress it against would-be detractors.  It takes the vigilance of the citizenry to hold elected and appointed officials accountable to ensure there is freedom from want and freedom from fear.  That “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not repeatedly abused by the likes of either arrogant Wall Street executives or domestic abusers is far from a given.  Some will always construe freedom for license and frame liberty in ways to serve themselves at the expense of others.

WILLING THE BEST FREEDOM CAN MEAN.  Nothing short of an attentive, informed, and engaged citizenry willing the best that freedom can mean will prevent genuine freedom from dissipating without a shot being fired or a terrorist attack being launched.  It is possible to wave flags and sing of freedom all the while speech is curtailed, civil liberties conceded, corporate monopolies on goods and services permitted, equal opportunity redefined, religion regulated, poverty increased, and personal and community security decreased.  Disengagement and apathy are greater threats to American freedom than terrorism or rogue regimes.

A MONUMENT TO ORDINARY PEOPLE.  When in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, I wanted to see a monument to the average American citizen.  There were monuments to war heroes and esteemed Presidents and national figures.  These are likely all great people and deserving of honor.  But should there not be, in the city of democracy, an unmistakable message to the world that what preserves and promotes freedom and democracy is not so much “great persons” as a great people, not so much war but a vigilant peace, not only the notable actions of a few but the faithful and ordinary actions of the many who choose everyday to make freedom ring true in every community across America?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

TOUR de FRANCE ON THE HORIZON

"It's that most wonderful time of the year..."

Not Christmas, silly.

Yes, it's time for the Tour de France.  My annual mania is kicking in.

I've updated my special blog -- "The Tour de France for the Rest of Us" -- in time for the preview and start of this year's 3-week drama on wheels.  The Tour starts in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on Saturday.  I'll be following it closely and, as usual, offering insights and context all along the way on "The Tour de France for the Rest of Us."

I've followed Lance Armstrong's Twitter activity over the past year (me and, oh, 2.5 million souls!). The big but not surprising news is that this will be Lance's final Tour de France.

Armstrong is a living legacy, with a record seven consecutive victories and then a 3rd place finish at age 37 after a 3-year hiatus.  Now, at age 38 (almost 39)--two years beyond the oldest Tour winner--can Lance pull the upset over former teammate and defending champion Alberto Contador?

The experts say "no."  But I wouldn't write Armstrong off.  In fact, writing him off makes him all the more dangerous. Lance Armstrong has an existential chip on his shoulder a mile wide, a proven ability to endure unbelievable pain for long periods of time, more road race savvy than anyone, a strong team and the guts to go toe to toe with the best to the bitter end.  If Armstrong is the underdog, he's in a great position for an eighth win.

Lance vs Alberto -- that's the leading story line. But it's certainly not the only one.  The field of nearly 200 cyclists is packed with contenders for the overall win, along with the best sprinters and mountain climbers in the world.  Many excellent cyclists will shine on different stages.

Given certain conditions as the race develops, I can think of 10 different cyclists who could ascend to the top of the podium for the General Classification (GC = best overall time) in Paris.  I'll name these and tell why in later posts.

Watch for carnage on the miles of cobblestones (pave) in Stage 3. Watch for a long breakaway that could shake things up in Stage 6.  See who claims the treacherous Col du Tourlamet in Stage 17.  And observe who prevails in the Individual Time Trial in Stage 19.  I think these are the four most decisive stages of this year's Tour.

It's going to be a great Tour! Enjoy the ride with my "Tour de France for the Rest of Us."