Saturday, September 30, 2006

I got the best little light!

Have you ever embarked on a journey to find the best of something? The best milk shake, the best pizza, the best burger, the best anything. In the fall, in Texas, you may find yourself involved in a discussion regarding the best football team, high school or college. Well, folks around here, in Austin, are convinced that they have the best ball club around. The other day I found myself involved in a discussion similar to this.

We sat around discussing theology as all seminarians do and the topic of translations of the Bible reared its ugly head. Everyone has a favorite translation. Some folks love the King James, a few enjoy the NRSV or the RSV, others think the NIV is grand, and we even peppered in a few folks that think the Message translation is king of the interpretation hill.

I found it interesting that not one person declared the Hebrew or Greek translations to be superior. This may be attributed to the on going battle to master the translations, as our professors continuously state the superiority of the original. This got me to thinking does it matter what translation we read and/or prefer.

If we proclaim the reformed understanding of “sola scriptura” and the “doctrine of grace alone” does it matter what translation we utilize in seeking a deeper more intimate relationship with Christ? My first response is, no. Then I chewed on my first response for a few days. I asked my self many questions and have been left with this…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-5

If Christ has always been and always shall be it does not matter what translation we utilize as a vehicle to worship. I may even call into question the limitations I personally set upon God in revelation, and witness in creation. without him was not anything made that was made”, Christ has the transforming power. We are but a vessel for this transformation. Do we create anything absent of our beloved Creator?

All translations are an interpretation, I hear this often as I endeavor to learn the biblical languages. There are as many opinions on interpretation, translation, and inerrancy as there are on the best food, music, books, and sport teams. It is our preferences that are influenced by our cultural, regional, and social experience. Christ fashioned all of us fearfully and wonderfully.

We can argue over the best or worst within our given context. It all boils down to individual understanding. I may like this or that, but it does not mean that anyone else may relate to the same things. Does my inability to relate to you infer right or wrong or does it signify the diversity in creation and our total dependency upon Christ Jesus? So I read my various translations seeking truth, witness, and direction just as anyone else that is lying at the feet of Christ. I am convinced I need to keep my truth filled proclamations at personal and meaningful levels. Darkness cannot overcome the light of Christ Jesus.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Friday Review. . . Traveling Light

Once again I am reviewing a book that I can't find mentioned by any member blog. I am sure, however, that plenty of ring members have extensive experience with Max Lucado's writings. This week's review is Lucado's Traveling Light.

The first question that any book review must address is what is the book about. Interesting question. It is easy to say that this book is a discussion of the 23rd Psalm. It is equally easy to say that this book is about finding peace and rest in faith. It is both, walking through the 23rd Psalm while focusing on how we overload ourselves with baggage.

The suitcase of guilt. A sack of discontent. You drape a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a hanging bag of grief on the other. Add on a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk of fear. Pretty soon you're pulling more stuff than a skycap. No wonder you're so tired at the end of the day. Lugging luggage is exhausting.
It should be obvious that this book is cute, clever and an easy read. My first response to this book was that it was a little too cute and easy. I dubbed it a Christian-lite, self-help book; easy on theology and weak on commitment. I was wrong.

Since then, I've been amazed, and humbled, by the number of people I have talked to who are eager to tell me how this book has changed their lives and their relationship with God. For many people under a certain age the 23rd Psalm is simply something they hear read at funerals. This book with its vivid imagery and insightful detail changes that, providing images and emotional connection to a long-cherished Psalm.

This book is a good reminder that peace comes from surrender. It has a study guide at the back that makes it easy to use in a small group or class scenario. It is comforting, smooth and frequently funny. It speaks well to people who take on too much. I'm not sure that I'm ready for a steady diet of this, but I am keeping my eyes open for Lucado's book on the Lord's Prayer.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hump Day Prayer . . . Autumn

Now that my computer is better my thoughts have begun to ponder autumn's arrival. Fall officially started the past Saturday and yesterday morning here in north Texas the temperature was in the fifties. The time of changing leaves and harvest, of pumpkins and gourds, of enjoying windy afternoons and frosty evenings has arrived. I find it difficult to not think of God as I watch the wondrous changes that we see during this beautiful season.

A Prayer for Autumn Days
God of the seasons,
there is a time for everything;
there is a time for dying and a time for rising.
We need courage to enter into the transformation process.

God of autumn,
the trees are saying good-bye to their green,
letting go of what has been.
We, too, have our moments of surrender,
with all their insecurity and risk.
Help us to let go when we need to do so.

God of fallen leaves
lying in coloured patterns on the ground,
our lives have their own patterns.
As we see the patterns of our own growth,
may we learn from them.

God of misty days and harvest moon nights,
there is always the dimension of mystery
and wonder in our lives.
We always need to recognize your power-filled presence.
May we gain strength from this.

God of harvest wagons and fields of ripened grain,
many gifts of growth lie within the season of our surrender.
We must wait for the harvest in faith and hope.
Grant us patience when we do not see the blessings.

God of geese going south for another season,
your wisdom enables us to know what needs to be left behind
and what needs to be carried into the future.
We yearn for insight and wisdom.

God of flower touched with frost
and windows wearing white designs,
may your love keep our hearts from growing cold in the empty seasons.

God of life,
you believe in us,
you enrich us,
you entrust us with the freedom to choose life.
For all of this we are grateful.

Glory be, as Autumn teaches,
to our Creator and source of life now and forever.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Monday Question of the Week . . .

Most of the time computers make our lives better but there are times when it feels like they were created for the sole purpose of frustrating us. Needless to say my computer crashed Saturday and has yet to recover so this Monday’s Questions of the Week is in your hands.

What is the question that you have been dying to ask and discuss with your fellow Presbyterian Bloggers?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

In the Wee Small Hours (7)

Who is the Greatest?

Mark 9:34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sometimes as pastors, we can become enamored with ourselves because of the amount of power that we hold over the people each time we get into our pulpits. Members and visitors politely listen to us, whether they agree or disagree with what we say. This can easily beguile us into thinking that we are better communicators and greater preachers than we actually are. It can lead to eccelsiastical egocentricity which begins to lead us down the road to being disconnected with the punters in the pew.

Whenever I feel like this, I’m reminded of two things. Firstly, I remember the street fight that the disciples had on the road to Jerusalem – they were so enchanted with themselves that they completely forgot they were in Christ’s presence.

Secondly, I’m reminded of my calling – I didn’t hustle God to make me a pastor; He called me. Any ministry, any preaching, and any pastoring comes from Him, not me. He brought me to this place, this church, and at this time. If there’s any greatness, it all belongs to God.

Sunsphere sunrise

I've been living in Knoxville, TN for the last eleven years. I love being here and this is the famous Sunsphere from the Knoxville’s 1982 World's Fair. It's also a constant reminder of how God called me here, to minister far away from the parishes I once served in Scotland.

When I was being tormented with the call to come to Knoxville, I just couldn't cope with it. I told God to leave me alone for a while and just let me relax. I sat down with a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich, intending to watch one of my favorite TV programs - the Simpsons. It was that creepy episode - the Cape Fear spoof.

As I watched the cartoon, I felt at ease because God had stopped afflicting my soul. I could get back to Him about the call after the show was over. And then God hit me with a 2x4. The Simpson family were sitting in the cinema and Homer was obnoxiously smoking a cigar. And what did the band read around the cigar?

World's Fair Park, Knoxville '82!

I think I’m the only pastor in existence who has been called to a church three thousand miles away by God through Homer Simpson. Plagued by greatness? Well, duh!

Stushie is the blogger of Heaven's Highway;the writer of Sky Pilots-resources for Busy Pastors; and also the host of the Radio Show "Seven Days"

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Diet Jesus, just one calorie!

I have had amembership for over 16 years now. I used it “religiously” for years. In the last 5 years my gym membership has existed and my attendance has been less than stellar. Two weeks ago I began a workout program at the gym. I have enlisted a personal trainer and nutritionist to aid me in this endeavor. I dream of shedding the collected weight that binds me to a less than fruitful life.

There is this ideal that we aspire to be physically, mentally, and spiritually. In recent decades, America physical image has taken the primary interest of our creative efforts to stay trim. To be described as sexy, beautiful, or handsome is a common denominator of the American psyche. This mindset, along with the struggle for power, prestige, and wealth has handicapped the American Church. This has impeded our ability to calmly and humbly sit at the feet of Christ. Over time the definition and practice of what and how to be Christians has morphed into a billion dollar business. With every new venture seeking to be better, bigger, brighter, more insightful than the “competitors” for the spirituality of this nation, all under the banner of Jesus Christ.

Every understanding and confession of Jesus Christ grows out of a particular situation and both reflects and speaks to particular needs and aspirations. Knowledge of Jesus Christ is not simply academic or historical knowledge. Faith in Christ is not just knowing about him but trusting in him and being ready to follow him as the way, the truth, and the life. The living Jesus Christ is greater than all of our confessions and creeds and he surpasses all of our theological reflections about him

What is the difference between the solace, peace, and direction one obtains from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Scientology, etc. as compared to the peace, solace, and direction revealed in Christianity? For Paul Tillich, the difference is the very renewal which takes place in the acceptance and proclamation of Jesus as “The Christ.” Jesus returns us to the intended creation to which God enacted in the “beginning”. It would not matter to convert anyone to Christianity without of this dramatic life altering renewal of the New Being (Jesus Christ). The power lies not in the brand of religion one practices, rather the power of bringing forth creation into the New Being in the midst of the Old Creation in Jesus The Christ.

Creation does not bring forth New Being in the midst of Old Being. New Being is eternally present, eternally available. It is recognizing its presence in creation that allows us to participate. There is no creation absent of Jesus the Christ. When we attempt to bottle this revelation we are left to bumper stickers, leaflets, t-shirts, and the latest round of Christian spiritual books to bring forth transformation. I ask, where do we arrive if we are so motivated to get in our vehicles and drive down to the local Barnes & Nobel or Lifeway Bookstore to peruse and purchase these Being enhancing purpose filled products? We attempt to master and understand the why’s and what’s before we experience New Being in Christ, which has been present all the while.

To embrace Christianity absent of New Being makes no difference as you hold just another life draining misguided attempt at offering transformation. The only place to obtain life transformation is at the feet of the cross in the presence of Jesus the Christ, New Being itself!

I see parallels between our desire to shed excess weight and or desire to be transformed in Christ. Just as we pursue weight loss we pursue Christ. I believe that we must submit to Christ and not work harder, train faster, or watch our diet as we would when train for a marathon or keeping physically fit. I am not saying that we are void of responsibility in our actions. I am not suggesting we haplessly wander on in life to dabble in this or dabble in that. I suggest that in order to fully appreciate, receive, and embrace the grace, forgiveness, and transformation in Christ we must continuously seek the tension between absolute depravity and utter righteousness.

It is in the tension between the Old Creation and New Creation that the courage to be manifests in our religion. The need for religion is a constant for creation. This does not matter if one practices Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, or even atheism--all are a response to the need and longing for something bigger than ourselves. This is a product of Old Creation. We offer only quick fixes and veneers today in American Christianity to display the process of participating in New Being.

We offer packaged vacations to High Holy Days with all the Disneyland trimmings of pomp and circumstance. Where is the New Creation in this? Is it any wonder that American Christianity is losing ground to atheism and apathetic religiosity? “…when the divine is rejected, it takes the rejection upon itself. It accepts our crucifixion, our pushing away, the defiance of ourselves against it. It accepts our refusal to accept, and thus conquers us”. If we are to continue practicing Christianity under the status quo we must prepare ourselves for further marginalization of the gospel message and the Biblical witness. We risk becoming another voice in the masses of consumerism and dilute the radical life altering, courage providing voice that is offered in New Being.

What is needed is a response that fulfills in us the courage to be, as Tillich understands, and live as New Creation absent of the dull aestheticism reflected in our desire to be sexy, beautiful, or handsome. For the only difference between Christianity and all other religions is the promise of New Creation in the midst of Old Creation. It is in the Power of Jesus THE Christ that we enter in to creative order and reunite with our creator. “It is the tension in which modern man lives, even though he may have lost the way to traditional religion. A human being can be ultimately judged by whether or not he has reached and can stand that tension. To endure it is more horrible and more difficult than anything else in the world. And yet, to endure it is the only way by which we can attain to the ultimate meaning, joy, and freedom in our lives. Each of us is called to endure” Tillich’s sermon, Escape from God). There is no room for a lukewarm response or ascetically pleasing visions. A diet of New Being (Jesus Christ) embarks us on a journey into this tension to which we are called. Anything less than this would be a waste of the New Being Christ is and the New Being to which we must have the courage to be.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Friday Review . . . Colors and Light on Vocations

When I told Miranda I would do a Friday Review, I intended to focus on books, movies, etc. that were already referenced in Ring member blogs. I wanted to see if that would generate some communication between blogs. Of course, the problem with that is I have to find books being talked about, then find the book, read it and think up something to say about it. That needs lead time, and it is amazing how quickly Friday turns up. Well, in my quest through blogs last week I ran across a lengthy and thoughtful discussion of a book on Christian vocations on the blog Colors and Light.

Starting Thursday September 7, 2006 and running through Friday September 15, 2006, Colors and Light discusses Vocation: Discerning our Callings in Life by Douglas Schuurman. Colors and Light introduces the topic by saying:
Since we affirm the priesthood of believers, it seems that the Protestant church has no more pressing call than to equip its members to find their priesthood in everyday life.
We talk about needing to find a deeper sense of commitment and awareness of needing to carry our faith outside of church and into the rest of our lives. The Friday September 8 installment begins with a quote:
. . . . many Christians fail to see most of their lives in terms of vocation. . . . Many also assume that 'hearing' God's call is an extraordinary, miraculous event, and so fail to discern God's callings in their lives.
Colors and Light has spent a lot of time addressing this book and its ideas. There are seven different blog entries, all consecutive. The first two: "What's Your Vocation?" and "Where's the Burning Bush?" are linked to above. The remaining five are: "Business is a Holy Calling", "Modern Challenges to Vocation", Two Kinds of Calling", "The Biblical Evidence of Two Kinds of Call" and "Reorientation".

Check them out.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Question of the Week . . . And the Poor shall inherit . . . ?

Today’s weekly questions comes from last weeks cover of Time magazine. You can read Does God Want You To Be Rich? here.

Here the question, does god want us to be rich? If yes, why? If no, why not? How might your answer affect you theology? What other issues might arrive from your yes or no answer? And any other thoughts we would like to share.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

In the Wee Small Hours (6)

A reflection on one verse from today's lectionary.

Mark 8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

This week, a US Navy chaplain was court-martialed for being in uniform when he attended a protest meeting outside of the Whitehouse. The protest was being made against an order from the Secretary of the Navy, Donald Winter, commanding all chaplains to use politically-correct, non-sectarian prayers in services. According to some reports, the Navy Chaplain in question, Lt. Gordon Klingenshcmitt, also received a written reprimand for preaching a message that was distinctly New Testament. (The Biblical verse in question was John 3:36)

It seems to be that the Name of Jesus offends some folk and that we, as Christians, are being told by society not to call upon the Lord when we make prayers or lead services in mixed faith company (or of no faith at all). In order to appease the feelings of others, we are failing our faith. People are trying to take Christ out of the word ‘Christian,’ making us become deists who serve an unnamed, unidentified, and unknown deity.

It’s time to stop this nonsense. When Peter preached on Pentecost, he talked about Christ being crucified and raised again. When he and John healed the man at the gate in Jerusalem, it was done in the Name of Jesus of Nazareth. On both occasions, the religious authorities tried to get them to stop talking about Jesus. Because they wouldn’t do this, they were flogged, imprisoned and persecuted. And when most of the apostles died, they were martyred not for an unknown, non-sectarian, politically correct deity; they were killed for being Christians – followers of Christ, who were not ashamed to speak His Name or invoke Him in their prayers.

In today’s lectionary passage, we are given fair warning of Christ shunning us at the end of time, if we choose to be ashamed of Him. As ministers and members of the church, we should not be pandering to wishes of those who would politically and culturally hijack Jesus in order to diminish the radical ministry and challenges that Christ confronts them with. As Christian pastors and Christian people, we should know better, especially those of us who have read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Finally, I find it more than ironic that our troops, who are fighting to free the Iraqi people, are having their chaplains spiritually neutered and unable to pray in Christ’s Name. Has the Secretary of our Navy also informed his counterpart amongst the native security forces and police in Iraq that their Islamic imam and mullah chaplains cannot pray in the name of Allah? I think not.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, if we ever forget You, we have failed You. When we remember and worship You, we honor You. In Your Holy Name, Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, we humbly pray. Amen.

Stushie is the blogger of Heaven's Highway and also the writer of Sky Pilots-resources for Busy Pastors

Friday, September 15, 2006

What is my disability?

Lately I have not been able to sleep well. I lay awake most of the night thinking. I am consumed by thoughts of our current situation within the PC (USA) denomination. I keep thinking about how I may articulate what is going on in my head right now. I am baffled by our circumstances. I am miffed at the mystery of God. I am pissed at purpose. I am worried about our denomination. I am unsure about my future. I also kept thinking about a movie, Simon Birch (based on John Irving’s book, A Prayer for Owen Meany.) It is about a child that is born small.

Simon and his best friend Joe share almost every moment together. Joe’s mom treats Simon like one of her own children. She loves him when his own mother does not. She accepts him and encourages him to be when others doubt him. This is all the more tragic when Simon is sent to the batter’s box in a baseball game and the coach tells Simon to swing away. Simon does and in that instant Joe’s mom is killed by the foul ball that Simon has hit.

Simon is crushed and later cries out to God and/or Joe's mom that he is sorry. He is devastated. Yet his faith in the purpose that God has sent him here to perform is strong and he does not waiver. He seeks guidance from a minister (that is later named as Joe's birth father) that believes Simon to be a troublemaker and asks him to not come to church anymore. He and the minister get into an altercation where they exchange scripture. They fire verses like bullets in a struggle to validate the positions either has taken. Both of them depart exhausted and disgusted with each other.

I love that Simon is neither perfect nor superhuman. Simon has flaws and they are visible even in the light of his obvious humbling circumstances. Simon does not seek to utilize his circumstances to force others into a position of submission. He faithfully walks and lives in the promise of Gods calling upon his life. In the end Simon dies as the purposeful hero he has said he would be and teaches all naysayers a lesson in life (faith). The movie inspires me as I consider these days among us.

I have watched this film numerous times. It delivers me to places in thought too which I begin asking myself, “What is my disability? Where do I fall short in life? How do I overcome these items and serve God?” We can look at these questions in light of our denomination and the trials we are enduring. We may gain a different perspective as we turn inward and reflect upon our lives. Beyond any specific interpretation of scripture, in the light of any formal structure we all are God’s children.

We may need to amicably part ways with each other. We may be called to endure together in unity and diversity. I am not offering any solution. I just want to serve the Lord. It bothers me to see us fight in this manner. It reminds me of the bitter fights my parents waged as they jockeyed for position during their divorce.

Sisters and brothers we are called to love one another. We are called to serve each other. We are all offered the same grace, forgiveness, and transformation in the person of Jesus Christ. Let us do what we have to do. Let us trust in the Lord with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. Trust and certainty in God’s provision was a cornerstone in Simon’s understanding of his purpose here on this earth. Simon did not focus on the have-nots in life, the deficiencies he had by worldly standards. Simon never used his differences to challenge this world. Simon focused on his usefulness to God in his current state. Simon trusted in the Lord to use him as he was and to provide the opportunities to fulfill his purpose.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Friday Review. . . Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home

The first time I read Richard Foster's book on prayer I checked it out of the library. Big mistake. First of all, this isn't a book to keep for two weeks and be done with. This is a book that must be lived with. I now own two copies.

I don't find myself reaching for a book on prayer when I am excited and full of energy. No, books on prayer are for times when I feel too tired and over-committed to pray. That is what makes this book such a treasure. The opening chapter is called, "Coming Home: An Invitation to Prayer". This book has that comfortable and comforting feel of coming home. Early in that first chapter is this:

For too long we have been in a far country a country of noise and hurry and crowds, a country of climb and push and shove, a country of frustration and fear and intimidation. And he welcomes us home: home to serenity and peace and joy, home to friendship and fellowship and openness, home to intimacy and acceptacne and affirmation.
Then Foster proceeds to write about prayer. The prayer of the forsaken, of tears, of relinquishment, of adoration and contemplation and unceasing.

The book's weak point is probably the chapter on meditative prayer. This chapter tries to do too much and would have been better split into two chapters -- one on traditional lectio divina and the other on what I know as imaginative prayer. Other than that, this book is a beautifully written companion through the development of a lifetime of prayer experience.

I haven't run across this book mentioned in any member blogs, so if you have blogged about it; please let me know. If you've read it and haven't blogged about it, let me know that too. I'd love to hear about other experiences with a book I consider a genuine classic for the ages.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Two Exciting Announcements

Hump Day Prayer . . . Theological Education Sunday

Prayer Of The Day / Invocation / Collect

Eternal God,
You called Peter to feed your sheep,
And set disciples to be your servants.
We give thanks that you call women and men
to lead the church in ministry and mission;
that in your church
you equip people to be bearers of living bread
and pilgrims who lead the way.
Grace us with your Holy Spirit
that we may hear your voice
and follow your leading,
through Jesus Christ the Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God now and forever. Amen.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday Question of the Week . . . The Day We Will Never Forget

Where were you and what where you doing five year ago today? How have you , your life, and the lives of your family changed?

A Prayer for USA by David Cohen
I pray for the survivors of the attack on September 11, 2001.
I pray for the families who have lost loved ones. I pray for the rescue workers and police on the scene.
I pray for the doctors and nurses caring for the hurting.
I pray for the reporters who work through intense emotion to bring us the pictures and news of the day.
I pray for the President and other elected leaders who so desperately need wisdom from beyond themselves.
I pray for the pastors in Washington and New York who care first-hand for the spiritual needs of those who have experienced this great tragedy.
I pray for the military and intelligence agencies who seek to find out who would do this so they might be brought to justice.
I pray for our nation -- that this event will bring us together and turn our thoughts toward helping each other to fight and VANISH the terrorism out of the world.
I pray for all those who might be tempted to think that violence accomplishes anything of lasting value.
We've seen too much of it in the recent years.
Lastly, I pray for every peace lover in this world.
May God break the cycle of violence to make a difference for His Peace and Grace in this sinful world.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

In the Wee Small Hours (5)

Seeing Beyond Ourselves

Mark 7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

I’ve just watched the musical movie “Rent.” My college freshman daughter wanted me to see it, so, like any other doting father, I did what I was told. The music and performances were wonderful; the philosophy and ideas were something else. It was like a mixture of Godspel and the movie “Philadelphia.” It made me think beyond my comfort zone. It touched my heart in many strange ways.

One of the lines struck me. A character says: “You’ve got to look beyond the lifestyle to see the humanity.” It hit me like a two by four. During the week, I heard an Islamic student say something similar: “You’ve got to look beyond religion to find God.”

Is this what Jesus saw in the Syro-Phoenecian woman? Did He look beyond her Gentile lifestyle to find her humanity? Did she look beyond Christ’s Judaism to find God?

Tomorrow, or today, we’ll worship in our churches and be spiritually fed in our comfort zones. Here’s the rub. Will the unchurched majority in our communities be able to look beyond our religious lifestyle and see our humanity? Will we be able to look beyond our worship rituals and denominational disciplines to find God?

Stushie is the blogger of Heaven's Highway and also the writer of Sky Pilots-resources for Busy Pastors

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Friday Review . . . Monsignor Quixote

I discovered Graham Greene during my last year of high school, which also happened to be my first year in college. I had an English class at both schools, and each of them required a term paper. I compared the two sets of requirements and came up with one author who would do for both classes -- Graham Greene. I wrote my paper on The Heart of the Matter, but I have been a fan ever since; and Monsignor Quixote is my favorite.

Do not misunderstand me. The Monsignor will never be known as Greene's finest but it is only upon first reading that the book is as simple and trite as its characters appear to be.

Monsignor Quixote is an impossibly honest and simple parish priest in 20th Century Spain who believes himself to be a descendant of the legendary Don Quixote. He is made a Monsignor -- almost by accident, and over the objections of his own Bishop. The Monsignor and his good friend, the town's former Mayor and a devout Communist, set off together on vacation. Along the way they tilt at windmills, free a galley slave and spend the night in a brothel -- all quite by accident. Along the way they discuss faith, belief, politics and apply both moral theology and the writings of St. Francis de Sales to the fate of an aging car named, what else, Rocinante.

This is not a book to read if your fiction must make good, clear, rational sense. The book's condemnation of propriety over compassion and legalism versus love is too obvious for readers who must take their fiction at face value, but Greene is a master who understands the value inherent in the suspension of disbelief.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hump Day Prayer . . . Christian Education Week

With most children back in school, fall Sunday Schools gearing up, and Christian Education Week starting this coming Sunday, this weeks Hump Day Prayer is in honor of Teachers and once again comes to us the word of a hymn.
We Thank You, God, for Teachers
A Hymn for Christian Education
wie lieblich ist der maien d

We thank you, God, for teachers
Who help us learn your Way,
Who show by their example
How we can serve and pray,
Who find great joy in worship,
Who listen with concern;
For in their loving witness,
They help us want to learn.

We thank you, God, for children
And older people, too,
Who value times of learning
And want to grow in you,
Who seek your precious kingdom
And wisdom from above;
For wise ones of all ages
Still seek to learn your love.

We thank you, God, for families
Of every kind and size,
Who keep the vows they spoke when
Their children were baptized,
Who pray and read the Bible,
Who love and serve the poor;
They teach, by what they value,
The way of Christ our Lord.

We thank you, God, for churches
That welcome one and all,
That nurture every person
In answer to Christ’s call.
So fill us with your Spirit,
And give us life anew,
That we may help each other
Live faithfully in you.

Johann Steurlein, 1575 (“We Come as Guests Invited,” no. 517, The Presbyterian Hymnal)

Alternate Tune:
ellacombe (“I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” no. 288, The Presbyterian Hymnal)

Copyright 1999 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Monday Question of the Week

The Monday Question of the week is taking this Monday off in honor of the Labor Day Holiday.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

In the Wee Small Hours...(4)

Mark 7:8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

For six years, I studied at the University of Glasgow in Scotland in the Divinity Faculty. I was there full time and had been President of the Divinity Students Association. I passed all my exams and attended all of my classes, but in the final three months of my final year, I took a grave infection which almost killed me.

When I got better, I contacted my professors to see what I needed to do about my finals. I thought that with my track record, they would have found some way to grant me an exemption. I had been a diligent student, so I expected some leeway with regard to the exams. I was also suffering from jaundice after the infection, so I was yellow from head to toe.

I didn’t get any sympathy from the dean. He told me to bring in a doctor’s note and sit the exams. The University rules didn’t allow for anything else. I was also informed that I could sit the exams at a later date, but that would have excluded me from graduating with my peers.

Despite being weak, I took the exams. Because I was still jaundiced, they kept me away from the other students. I then had to go and present my doctor’s letter to the dean. It was the last time I ever visited his office.

When he saw me he was shocked because I had lost over thirty pounds in weight. He apologized for having put me through the exams, discomfort and stress, but he concluded, “The University rules are the rules, and they cannot be changed.”

That’s when I lost it. “For six years, “I said, “I have worked hard to finish this course and graduate with my peers. I have sat in many classes where professors have derided my beliefs, ripped scripture apart and twisted God’s rules to suit themselves. You abandon the ways of God and hold on to the traditions of the University, as if they were almighty and inviolable. You could not show leniency to me due to illness because it would violate the rules. In my six years at this Faculty, I have seen more violations of the Real Rules. I am glad to be finished here.”

More than twenty years later, I find myself feeling that the same, sad, and sorrowful ways are being applied by our denomination. The commandments of God are being abandoned for the sake of upholding the traditions of men. Will we ever learn?

Stushie is the blogger of Heaven's Highway and also the writer of Sky Pilots-resources for Busy Pastors