My son, Kevin a wonderfully creative poet wrote a special poem to me that I thought I would share. Read and be blessed…and maybe one day I may share a bit of the story behind this poem.
I've been saying it for years now It was only difficult to admit that first time And now Now when I say it Or even when the thought skates fleetingly through my head It is followed immediately by amusement That kind of amusement that comes from being in on the joke Having the first clue And just being a party to the wisdom of life The amusement doesn't often show Often sitting at the periphery And occasionally giving nothing more than a brief twitch A sudden tick A light tremble of the mouth And sometimes I can't help but smile And play the grinning fool in my amusement As I once again am forced to say it You were right Your were right, Mom You were right
How far is heaven? Let’s go tonight I want my daddy to hold me tight.
As Kitty Wells began singing these words I was sitting at my sewing machine working on a project when I was suddenly transported back over the years. I recalled vividly running into my mother’s arms after she told me that my daddy was dead. My eyes blurred with unshed tears as I recalled the pain of that moment.
How is a nine year only child supposed to process such information? I was daddy’s little girl and now daddy was gone…
God has given us a most precious and powerful gift. Music. A gift that teaches truth; a gift that brings joy and lifts the spirit; a gift that soothes our hurts; a gift that gives expression to our unspoken needs and wants. This precious gift allowed a nine year old girl process her father’s death.
A little girl was waiting for her daddy one day It was time to meet him, when she heard her mommy say Come to mommy darling, please do not cry Daddy’s gone to heaven, way up in the sky
How far is heaven? When can I go? To see my daddy, he’s there I know How far is heaven? Let’s go tonight I want my daddy to hold me tight
He was called so suddenly, and could not say goodbye I know that he’s in heaven, we’ll meet him by and by The little girl she trembled, her tears she could not hide Then she looked towards heaven and I heard her cry
How far is heaven? When can I go? To see my daddy, he’s there I know How far is heaven? Let’s go tonight I want my daddy to hold me tight
I sang that song almost constantly. I was too little at the time to understand the effect that my singing that song might have on my mother but never once did she ask me to stop. I would sit on the porch step and sing it; I would sing it as I rode in the car; I sang it sitting on a tree branch in the side yard. Every time I needed comfort I sang it.
In recent days I have been reminded of the power of music to evoke memories and to soothe the pains and disappointments of life. But I have also been reminded of how music can tap the into the joy that undergirds it all.
“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”
Last week while sitting at a country music concert I was able to experience the joy of my childhood. Thank you, Lord, for music and all that it gives us.
“But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” Hebrews 10:15-18
No More! Is it a sad lament or a shout of glory? If there is “no more” of a good thing—like that chocolate cake—then it is a sad lament. But if “no more” rids us of negatives (like no more bills to pay), then we shout “NO MORE” with a note of glory.
The promise of Scripture is NO MORE MEMORY. God promises to forget our sins and iniquities; to remember them “no more”. They are thrown into the sea of forgetfulness when God pronounces them forgiven. If our sins are forgiven, they are forgotten. God has NO MORE MEMORY of them. NO MORE OFFERING will ever be necessary for our sin. Jesus has satisfied the demand for a sin offering once and for all. The sacrifice of His sinless perfect life on the Cross of Calvary suffices for all sin for all men for all eternity. NO MORE OFFERING is necessary for our sin than the offering made by Jesus.
Because of Jesus’ atonement, we can approach God’s throne of grace with NO MORE FEAR! The veil of the temple was torn in two, giving us access into the holy of holies—“the holiest”—by Christ Jesus. We need not fear as we are invited to enter “with boldness”. We can come with NO MORE FEAR because our hearts are purified from evil conscience by the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood.
Thou art coming to a King
Large petitions with thee bring
For His grace and power are such
None can ever ask too much.
The Salvation Army Song Book, 1987 Song 563 vs.2
We come with NO MORE FEAR knowing that, because Jesus has paid the price, there need be NO MORE OFFERING for our sin—and when God forgives, He has NO MORE MEMORY of that sin.
For those who live in the New England area, autumn is just a beautiful breath-taking time of year when nature takes out her paintbrush and goes to work getting rid of the sameness of green. An interesting thing begins to take hold of us in this bright and beautiful season for along with its beauty it brings with it a sense of purpose that touches us all in different ways:
But for me autumn has also a time of reflection; a time for me to gain perspective and to think about and evaluate my life and situation. In years past it was a time of program preparations for ministry; in retirement it has become simply a time of reflection. Autumn is a good time of year to do a spiritual check-up. It is good to take the opportunity of the season to check our spiritual connectedness to my source of spiritual nourishment and power and my spiritual condition period. During these days of reflection what I want to know particularly is, “how are my roots?” Are they deep and well nourished? Am I producing fruit? And most painful of all, what needs pruning away?
I remember when our son was graduating from college, I decided to make him a scrapbook of his school pictures, activities, and report cards. In the process I discovered that a photo album is like a magic carpet ride into the realm of memory. Like leaves of October tinted with the red and gold colors of autumn, snapshots are colored with the rich colors and pastels of previous events and people. Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins writes this in his book, Human Options:
“A man (woman) comes to know himself through the pictures he takes … in … reviewing the hundreds of pictures I have taken … in many parts of the world … I learn … the camera is more than a box that records an external situation … it is also turned inwards.”
I discovered the truth of that statement as I recognized that I was not the same person that I was in many of the photos that I was gathering for David. We won’t talk about age or weight as that was irrelevant at the moment, but more importantly, I was not the same spiritually. Thank you, Lord, I began to realize that I had grown spiritually, not only grown but had blossomed, and having endured the hard times of pruning the Lord was making “something beautiful of my life.”
In the harvesting season we tend to be more impressed with the fruit of the harvest. Not so God. He cares about more than just the end result—He’s watching over the roots and the process of their development. We like the product but God emphasizes the process. It is the Spirit Who plants right seeds and nurtures them. In due course, in His time, “fruit” appears.
Remember: “God Who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in His grace until His work within you is finally finished.” (Phil. 1:6, TLB)
This promise is at the root of God’s purpose for us, it’s a guarantee that the One who started “the good work within you” won’t leave the task unfinished. We can continue to grow and flourish—and be pruned—in the sure knowledge that God will never fail us. For you see, while we may be in the autumn season we know that there are other seasons in which to live that help us to fulfill the promise that we can live life abundantly.
The rich variety of seasons is an example of how the Lord uses time to work out His purposes in our lives. Ruth Thomas expresses it best in her poem, “The Untried Way” when she writes:
“The same Yesterday – the God behind me, the God of the ages
The same Today, the God beside me, with His guiding hand
The same Forever – the God before me in the dim, unknown future.
Theologian Helmut Thielicke expresses his trust in the God of seasons when he writes, “It is true that I do not know what is coming, but I know who is coming. Therefore, I can drain the moment in which I live, laughing and weeping … with the face of God shining on me … we can catch a fleeting glimpse of the magnitude of the future by the down payment we have already received.”
As autumn continues to progress expect your roots to deepen and grow. Reflect on the Lord and as He makes you aware of His creation, through the vivid colors and the bare trees of this season, remember God is at work. He is working with you and in you to bring out the beauty of your life.
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:14)
God called me to do ‘my preaching’ through The Salvation Army as an officer. I was fearful of this call for so many reasons but the greatest worry for me was that I was terrified to speak in front of people. (I was so painfully shy that as a child I would skip school on the days when oral reports were to be given.) Nevertheless, with the intent to obey Christ’s command I answered God’s call to officership.
I will never forget the first sermon I ever preached. It was as a cadet during my field training assignment at the Times Square Corps. It was bad enough that I had to stand at a pulpit and preach to a group of people in the chapel, but I also had to contend with the fact that it was broadcast outside. While the message (and the meeting in general) was going on inside, there were cadets outside handing out tracts, talking to people (about the message, etc.), and inviting folks to come inside. This assignment to preach became a powerful turning point for me.
As I stood to read the scripture, I was so scared that I was shaking all over and could barely speak—I could even see out of the corner of my eye that the bow on my bonnet was shaking! I sat down in great fear and near panic. As the next item on the program was taking place, I began imploring God. I prayed this simple prayer: “God you have called me, and I want to be here, but I can’t do this without your help. Please, help me!” At that moment I felt the peace of God envelop me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. No more shaking, no more fear. The band finished playing and I stood and delivered that sermon with confidence. I even remember the opening line: “Have you ever stood in the midst of a crowd and felt completely alone?” Now I don’t know how effective that sermon was for anyone else (or the grade I received) but it was a game changer for me. God showed me very clearly that He had indeed called me and that He would equip me and help me to do the work and ministry involved in that calling.
“Don’t underestimate the power of God in you, nor yet what you, by working quietly and steadily with Him, may accomplish” (Samuel Logan Brengle) I well learned the truth of that statement that evening in Times Square. I think that sometimes we overestimate our abilities and/or inabilities and forget that God will see us through each and every situation. I recall one particular situation that was way out of my depth. I had been an officer for about nine years and generally felt fairly competent to handle most things regarding my calling. I was in the office on a Saturday trying to catch up on some things when the phone rang. As these were the days before cell phones and caller ID…at least on our Corps Office phone…I answered because I thought it might be my husband. It wasn’t. It was someone who had randomly called the Salvation Army as they sat contemplating suicide. The first thing that hit me was pure unadulterated terror. Then with an SOS prayer to the Lord. I began to converse with the person on the other end of the line and we talked and talked and talked. I don’t know how long I was on the phone I just know that when the call ended, I was exhausted and felt like a limp rag.
I slumped back in my chair and just let the Spirit’s comfort and assurance wash over me. As I thought about bits and pieces of that conversation, I began to realize that the Lord had indeed been using me in spite of my weakness and inabilities. He placed in my mouth the words to say, the tone to use, helped me focus on the individual and pushed my panic aside.
Christians are called to preach the gospel. To preach the reality of it, the possibility of it, the grace of it, the love of it and the Person of it. To tell others that God who does not simply supply us with information about how we are to live but gives us Himself so that in every circumstance we have all that is needed to see us through.
Let me leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Fredrick Buechner. “Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him make audible the silence of the news of the world with the sound turned off so that in the silence we can hear the tragic truth of the Gospel, which is that the world where God is absent is a dark and echoing emptiness; and the comic truth of the Gospel, which is that it is into the depths of his absence that God makes himself present in such unlikely ways and to such unlikely people that old Sarah and Abraham and maybe when the time comes even Pilate and Job and Lear and Henry Ward Beecher and you and I laugh till the tears run down our cheeks. And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have.” (Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale)
My computer is in desperate need for a “clean-up” so I’ve begun going through files and deleting or archiving them off the computer. In the course of doing this, I have come across some articles, blogs, and papers that I have written. Some of them still seem to be relevant so I thought I would begin sharing them here. (I’ve tried all sorts of ways to use this blog and am on the verge of giving it up but thought I would give this thing another shot!)
As a Leader I believe that it is especially important to study Scripture both in a theological context as well as a contemporary context. (Scripture doesn’t change but the individual and circumstances do, so graciously the Lord provides fresh insight for current circumstance using past experiences with Him as a touchstone or benchmark.)
January 2012 I was dealing with difficult personal circumstances and pressures at work when I was given the news that my oldest sister, Judy was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The lens and filter I was using to view the material I was reading changed in the blink of an eye. My sister who had just been diagnosed with cancer was required to undergo aggressive treatment. Having a sense of the battle and the ramifications caused me to view my reading and study through the lens of pain and fear. It is this filter that led me to Tozer and 1 Peter. (O, Lord, you know what my need will be for tomorrow even as I live in today’s moment!)
As my sister was in hospice I the Spirit gave me Nouwen for comfort and encouragement. But it is not about my sister that I write but the hard and difficult circumstances that come to us and the authors he sent my way to help me through them.
I am presently reading Tozer (Fiery Faith) and feel as if I am visiting an old friend but yet discovering new topics of discussion and learning. Amazing how that works.
One of my favorite quotes by Tozer: “Whatever comes into your heart and mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” I remember that the first time I read this it stopped my mind short. When my mind turns to God, what thoughts come? I confess that I was a bit ashamed of my thoughts. You see, I discovered that the first things that came to mind were my needs, my wants, etc. — that my thoughts about God were through a selfish lens if you will…. Not that anything I thought was a bad thing, but my perspective was skewed.
My struggle with this came while we were in a difficult appointment. It was one in which my motives, my officership and my actions as a mother were constantly questioned and ridiculed. So, naturally, I was constantly “crying” to God for relief. It was all about me not about concern for the spiritual state of individuals who could behave in such hurtful and destructive ways.
God in his tender mercy–while soothing my pain–taught me to not only work through that pain but, while doing so, practice the art of Christian love — Christian love that wants and works for the best good of others no matter what they do or think about you in return. No easy task but when you begin looking at others, especially those that use and abuse you, through the eyes of Christ…..your heart begins to soften by the knowledge of just how much they are hurting themselves and that they can only hurt you if you let them. Make no mistake, others can cause you pain and disappointment, but they cannot hurt you. All they can do is drive you closer to the Lord who brings comfort, peace, courage and strength. Annie Johnson Flint reminds us that we are covered and armored with the Love of God.
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength as our labors increase, To added afflictions He added His mercy, To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance, When our strength has failed ere the day is half done, When we reach the end of our hoarded resources Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limits, his grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men; For our of his infinite riches in Jesus He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
A verse of scripture that God gave to me while attending SFOT:
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)
In that difficult appointment (and many since) I have had to come back to this promise. No matter my circumstance, God will bring me through … and not only that, make me stronger — both personally and spiritually.
Let me finish this post with Tozer’s words:
“God is personally concerned about you. God is not too high or lofty to remember that His children are in the land where illness is prevalent. Where accidents happen every day. Where there are loss of jobs and financial worries. Where people are betrayed by their closest loved ones. Where there is separation, as for instance, when the boy who has been close to us for so many years, shakes our hand with a grin that is not quite real and walks down the sidewalk and waves at the corner on his way to report to the military service. Separations come, some never to return to us again. God knows it and says, ‘Now, I know that’s the kind of world you live in, but I have laid hold on you forever, and I know every detail of your trouble and all your problems, and I’ll anticipate every act of the enemy and every act of every enemy I will anticipate. I will go before you.’” (Tozer, Living as a Christian, pp. 206-207)
The following article is written by one of my favorite authors, Walter Wangerin. I read it as part of my devotional time. Well worth the read.
This urinal can’t swallow the cigarette someone flicked in it.
Saddest, wettest, shreddingest cigarette butt I ever hope to see, for the moisture that swells the tobacco’s not water alone. And the filter’s a sponge. And tendrils of brown bleed across the porcelain.
Sad cigarette. Sadder custodian. . . .
Yet saddest of all, I believe, is the man who first dropped his cigarette here in a public place. This one is benighted. This one cannot—or will not—comprehend the consequences. Can’t see that at the end of even his slightest act there always stands another, one whom he will scorn and trouble and cut, or else will love, by the act.
This fellow, this contemptuous flicker of cigarettes—however well he dresses, however solemnly he sits in his own church pew, however commanding, powerful, arrogant, smiling, self-satisfied, well-married, and prudent—can nevertheless not claim before God that he loves his neighbor as he loves himself, for he did not love my friend. He visited upon her a moment of moist, unnecessary misery.
This is the acid test. Do you love Christ Jesus? (Which question embraces this next one): Do you love the real manifestations of the Christ in the world around you? (Which question is the same as asking): Do you love the Body of Christ, the people whom Jesus loves? (Which question is made sharpest and purest in the following): How do you love the ones you do not meet, who cannot punish or reward you, blame or praise you, or in any way make the action anything more than the unvarnished (spontaneous) revelation of your natural self?
True love arises from the self alone, yours and mine, unqualified and free. Is it love when some threat drives me to it, or some payoff persuades me? A goodness given for a goodness gotten is a business transaction. No blame in that. No love either.
At the end of our least act, still affected by that act (for the world is shaped much more by the millions little gestures than by the more glorious res gestae of human accomplishment) stands another. Always. And that human was made in the image of God.
It is a radical truth that the Christ identifies much more with “the least of these” than with those of weight and repute in the world. “Radical,” I say, because such a downward identification is a flat reversal of the way we choose to identify: upward, to those admirable, to those whose station flattens ours, whose power might empower us. We would be heroes. Jesus is the stranger. He is, in our common existence, the sick and the imprisoned.
How do we (as we will so often proclaim we do) love Jesus? With what attention and genuine love do we attend to the invisible people?
When I lean on the car horn loud and long, whose peace do I destroy? And how do I justify my anger now? Do I know the rules of the road better than the gentlewoman driving precisely the limit in front of me? And which of us is nearer the heart of Christ at this moment? And where is love?
When I neglect to signal a left-hand turn I neglect the driver behind me who might have gone forward in the right lane, had he known of my intentions. But he has snuggled up to the back of my bumper, as has the driver behind him, and so all must now wait with me the oncoming traffic, drivers and drivers and Christ as well. (Or did I suppose that holiness rode in my vehicle alone?)
When I break the myriad little promises I make in a day (many of them made just to get rid of some persistent person) I break faith. I break my word. And though my word meant nothing to me, to my lessers it was the food of hope. Yes, and if the littlest things I drop my bond and word thoughtlessly, like a butt in a urinal, in the greater, more “important” things that word will still be stinking of the urinal.
Laugh once at a racial joke, and I’ve laughed at the skin of the Son of God, whose chose to come enfleshed.
O man! When you speak of your wife as a fool, a ditz, a smiling second to your own great self, you shoot out the lip of your Savior. Do you not yet know that Christ both approaches you and tests you in your spouse? Woman, you cannot dimmish his native interests without reducing his Creator (and yours) to the bozo you think your husband is.
If, by loud sighs and significant looks and angry gestures, you declare the old man ahead of you in the grocery line—you have lost patience with Elisha, the bald-headed prophet of God.
Complain about the children in your neighborhood whose noise unnerves you—or about your own children, whose energy leaves you both angry and exhausted, febrile—and you have complained about those whom Jesus suffered into his presence, saying, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”
And what of your father and mother when they descend into their dotage? (Teenagers often suspect that their parents have already entered the Fuddy stage, prelude to Duddy, by far the worse of the two.) If you despise them because of your vaster knowledge, your greater experience, your more contemporary ethic, your cooler view of life, you despise the instruments by which the Creator created you. Can you risk chopping the tree on which you are the fruit?
And surely you wouldn’t assume that the only way to rate an employee is by her efficiency. Surely you would not cancel all the rest of this human by the stroke of your executive pen? But “cancel” means “kill” in affairs of the spirit.
Do you recognize that your mood at work is the very air your coworkers breathe? By which, in eight hours, in weeks and in the passage of years, they may thrive or else may suffocate?
Toss your fast-food wrappers on the highway.
Toss beers cans in the river.
Toss trash, the detritus of your burned-out desires; toss the very souls of those you use and lose; toss these wherever others do not see you, in the dark, in the night, in your unacknowledged solitude, away.
Toss a cigarette butt in a urinal, and you have made my dear friend miserable one more time, and she is the least of these, the sisters of Jesus.
And shall you rise in church tomorrow protesting your love for the Lord?
But we are more accurately revealed in the unconscious, habitual act than in acts we plan and for which we pay. In the former our truer nature dwells, and by it is made most manifest.
I am not writing of democracy. I’m not begging a political equality of all individuals. I am begging rather the coming of the kingdom of heaven, whose citizens we are when we elevate the least to that same citizenship.
I am writing of love.
For at the end of every deed stands the Master—cleaning urinals.
I don’t exactly know what started me down this path of sharing a bit of my background on this blog. I thought that I was just looking for something to write about and frankly I was thinking in terms of quilting. But in my casual skimming of files and photos I was brought up short by a draft document that I had failed to delete years ago. I know that it was the Spirit that kept me from passing over it and wants me to share some of it but for what purpose I have no idea nor which parts. So I move on trying to be carefully sensitive to His ‘nudgings.’
I believe I was given a partial answer my questions in this mornings quote from Frederich Buechner:
WHAT I PROPOSE TO do now is to try listening to my life as a whole, or at least to certain key moments of the first half of my life thus far, for whatever of meaning, of holiness, of God, there may be in it to hear. My assumption is that the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.
Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days
The first few years after the death of my father are difficult ones for me to recall. What I do remember is that I retreated into my place of comfort, in a place of my own making particularly through art. In my art I would create homes–horse farms mostly–families and scenarios of happy times. Books and my love of reading were truly a Godsend. Reading lifted me out of the world I was in and took me to some amazing places. In my books I met characters who became friends and would visit them over and over again. In fact I still have many of them in my library today. Music was also a large part of my world and was also an avenue into other places. I remember the song that I sang often during this time was, “How Far is Heaven.” It was a song about a little girl whose father had died and she wanted to know how far it was to Heaven so that she could go see him. It must have been a difficult song for my mother to hear me singing, but she never asked me not to sing.
In a very real way, these were days of isolation. I was left to my own devices and had few friends, none that were close. As I look back I can see that God was on the edges of my life. I always managed to find a Sunday School near my house and got myself there regularly. My parents were always in favor of my going but never made an effort to help me get there. They simply allowed it. I always felt drawn to this world but few of the people there seemed to feel drawn to me. No adults from any of these Sunday Schools stand out in my mind. I never had any relationship with any of my “teachers.” This fact came to play a role in my own ministry in later years.
Mom found a new job, bought a house and settled down with her two remaining daughters. Life became “normal” but I was unsettled. Mom began to date and I thought that she would find us a new father and we would become the normal family that I read about in books, and that I saw on TV. I needed a father. I missed Daddy terribly and yet somehow in my young mind thought he could be replaced, only “fixed.” No alcoholism this time. But it never happened. While Mom did remarry once, it did not work out. She remained single but regularly dated a railroad man that came through town a couple of times a week.
In August of 1963, I found my Father; my heavenly Father. I began going to church at The Salvation Army and found a whole new family. An intact congregational family that gave me the love and discipline I so desperately needed.
Like many Americans I have been concerned with much that is going on within our culture. What I especially find troubling is the lack of honest discourse because of the fear of being branded hateful, bigoted, or fear of being on the wrong side of an issue. The tragedy is that the only way to learn how you truly feel about any issue is the exchange of ideas and perspective with others. The result of this kind of fear is that everyone places themselves within “camps” of people who are like minded and then are seldom called upon to defend their ideas and assumptions. It is in thinking through–developing–your position that you gain real understanding of any given issue. What really hurts me is that our young people are being betrayed by the very individuals that should encourage and mediate this kind of debates–no matter the subject. Growing up in the sixties I still recall the heated debates that were going on around me and not only on campus. Without these discourses we miss out on the richness of diversity found in our country and remain locked in our ignorance and misunderstandings.
Anyway, I did not start down this avenue to simply vent and if you are still reading thank you for hanging in there. No, I began this because I recently found a paper that I wrote in college. The overall course was about leadership but the paper was part of a required personal case study. While skimming it I found myself experiencing a bit of the emotions that doing this case study had evoked. This led me to a sense of gratitude to God for the way in which He has worked in and through my life over the years.
I debated with myself but in the end I just felt led to share a part of it with you all. No worries, I am not sharing it in total just a few paragraphs.
In 1968 Sammy Davis Jr. sang the following song:
Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong Whether I find a place in this world or never belong I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me What else can I be but what I am
And to quote Shakespeare:
This above all: To thine own self be true, for it must follow as dost the night the day, that canst not then be false to any man.
(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3)
I could not help but think about this bit of prose from Shakespeare as I worked through this paper. The purpose of this paper is to do, in essence, just as Shakespeare exhorted: to be true to myself and by doing so, I can then in turn be true (genuine) to those I have been called to serve and lead. However, in order to achieve this knowledge it is essential that one delve into one’s past to discover the truth of one’s nature.
Reggie McNeal in Practicing Greatness (Jossey-Bass, 2006) breaks this down into three disciplines: the discipline of self-awareness, discipline of self-management, and discipline of self-development. God develops a person over a life time of experiences as well as their choices and decisions made by the individual. There are tests of character that God uses to hone and fine tune those he calls out.
Having set out the context I share with you a part of my story.
The night was so dark that you could not see your hand held inches from your face. There were no street lights there in the mountains of West Virginia; actually there was no street there at the head of the “holler” where my grandparents lived. The red glow of cigarettes looked like dancing stars to my four year old eyes. It was late and my sisters and cousins were sound asleep but I was drawn to the noise of revelry caused by men who had too much to drink. What drew me to peek out at this scene was Daddy. My father was out there with his brother and other men I did not know. I was ‘daddy’s little girl.’ I was the “spittin’ image” of my father. I was thrilled to hear things like, “you look so much like him he’ll never be able to disown you;” “aren’t you Arvil’s daughter? You look just like him.” I wanted to be in my father’s presence even if I had to sneak out into the dark corner of the porch to do so.
After four daughters, my mother was determined to name this last child, boy or girl, for her husband. I do not know if I was a disappointment to my parents, but I can honestly say that I never felt any kind of disappointment from them for being female. I became, in essence, daddy’s “son.” I was a ‘tomboy’ that loved to do all of those things usually attributed to boys: climb trees, fight, play ball. But in spite of this, I have few memories of actually doing any of these things with my father. He was so trapped in alcoholism that there was never any time left to be the father that his children needed.
As I look back over these days I see a little girl who is her father’s daughter, knew that she was loved but nonetheless often felt bereft of her father’s attention. My relationship with my father shaped my life in ways that laid a foundation for the person I have become.
“Baby, Daddy’s dead.” Those words hit me like a physical blow. I thought he was getting better. I should never have thought about what life would be like if Daddy died. Was I somehow responsible for his death? These kinds of thoughts flooded my nine year old brain as I ran into my mother’s arms.
I am going to leave the story here and will continue with it in installments as it is difficult to tell and time consuming to edit.
As Sammy sang in ’68:
I’ll go it alone, that’s how it must be I can’t be right for somebody else If I’m not right for me I gotta be free, I just gotta be free Daring to try, to do it or die I gotta be me
This weekend we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. We call it Epiphany or Theophany because now His divinity is revealed and expressed in no uncertain terms. The knowledge that Jesus is God tells us something about who He is, but it also reveals to us something about Who God is. In the hymns of the feast we sing that “the Worship of the Trinity is made manifest.” God is not only One, but Three. God is now not only Spirit, but flesh.
And what is John the Baptist’s response when he sees Jesus wade out and stand before Him, waiting to be baptized? He tells Jesus, “Wait, you’re doing it wrong!” Like when you see someone bite into a Kit Kat candy bar without first breaking off the pieces. NO! THAT’S NOT HOW YOU EAT IT! “Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.” St. John says. “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” “Tut, tut,” says Jesus,”Let’s just do it this way for now.”
This isn’t the first time someone has tried to tell God how to do His business. Moses was sure God had the wrong number when he answered the phone and the burning bush told him to go have a face-to-face with Pharaoh. Moses had a whole list of reasons why God was wrong about that: he couldn’t speak well, He had no authority, they wouldn’t believe him. Wait, God, you’re doing it wrong. But God insisted, and so he went.
Nor was this the last time someone would question Jesus’ judgment. St. Peter himself did so right before Jesus’ crucifixion. When Jesus wrapped himself with a towel and began washing the feet of His disciples, he came to Peter who said, “Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.” Jesus replies that “I know you don’t understand just now, but you’ll get it later.” Peter, however, persists. “You will never wash my feet.” Only when Jesus tells Peter he would have no part of Him otherwise, does he relent.
Both John the Baptist and Peter tried to correct Jesus because each time Jesus took the servant’s position. In the first case it is a passive position. Jesus consents to be baptized and allows someone else, John the Baptist, to be the master of the event. He does it, He says, to fulfill all righteousness.
In the second Jesus again takes the servant’s place but in an active position. He seeks to serve his disciples by washing their feet. In this case it’s implied, rather than stated, that this is how righteousness is fulfilled.
Jesus was washed in order to Himself wash others. This is a model for us. The Son of God became incarnate to renew humanity and to show us what a perfect man is and does. He doesn’t insist on the high places, he doesn’t shun the dirty work, he makes his fellow men his principle concern. First by showing solidarity with them and then by crouching down and washing their feet.
How often do we take the opposite approach and say to God, “Stop it, you’re doing it wrong?” We say it every time we commit an act of so-called piety simply for the sake of being seen or to gratify ourselves. Like John claiming to be unworthy of baptizing Jesus and Peter claiming to be unworthy to be washed by Him, we say things like “God willing” when we really mean “I hope things go my way.” For instance, occasionally someone’s reply when asked how he’s doing is simply “Thank God.” Thank God for what? It is altogether appropriate to thank God in every circumstance, but then why not answer the question? “I’m doing well, thank God.” Or “I’m having a tough time, but thank God I’m getting through it.” We must take some responsibility for the conditions with which we contend and how we do so. We can’t always blame God. It’s an attitude of piety that inadvertently acts pridefully by taking the passive role when it ought to be active, the way that St John the Baptist did.
The other way we try to tell God he’s doing it wrong is by being active when we ought to be passive. We cannot by our own efforts make ourselves worthy of God’s grace, worthy of Holy Communion or of any of the sacraments. No matter how many prostrations we make, no matter how many self-deprecating acts of piety, no matter how many times we come to church, if we are not plugged into and participating in the sacramental life of the Church then we are leaving that grace—the only means for becoming like Christ—on the shelf unused. We must be washed by Jesus as St Peter was whether we like it or not. It happens first in our baptism, and then is constantly renewed through Holy Confession and Holy Communion.
St John Chrysostom offers another way to renew our baptism in addition to confession and repentance:
But let us all humble our own souls by alms-giving and forgiving our neighbors their trespasses, by not remembering injuries, nor avenging ourselves. [Because] if we continually reflect on our sins, no external circumstances can make us elated: neither riches, nor power, nor authority, nor honor; nay, even should we sit in the imperial chariot itself, we shall sigh bitterly.
If we only ever focus on how unworthy we are, then we will never get up off of our pallet, pick it up, and get to work.
As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, we should remember our own baptisms, and how we participate with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection. We can do that best by evaluating the present cleanliness of our baptismal garments and then washing them in the tears of repentance in Holy Confession. Moreover, we should think how we, like Jesus, are baptized to serve. We begin by being receptive to the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments, we continue by serving and loving our neighbors, and we will end—if we persist (Not “God willing” because we know that it’s His desire)—by participating in that eternal communion in the Kingdom of Heaven.
We must stop saying, “Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.” So that when the time comes Christ will say to us, “Congratulations, you did it right.”