John Adams, second president of the United States, was determined to live until the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence— 4 July 1826. At dawn on that day a servant awakened him. The gentleman asked Adams if he knew what day it was. Adams replied: “Oh yes, it is the glorious Fourth of July. God bless it. God bless you all.” He then slipped into a coma. In the afternoon Adams recovered consciousness briefly to murmur, “Thomas Jefferson lives.” These were his last words. Unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson died earlier that same day.
On the evening of July 3rd, there appeared a report that Thomas Jefferson was in bed and his life ebbing rapidly. Jefferson whispered to a young friend who was watching by his bedside: “Is this the fourth?” The man could not bring himself to say that it was not yet, so kept silent. Jefferson repeated the question and this time the friend nodded. A look of deep satisfaction came over Jefferson’s face, he sighed deeply, lay back, sank into a deep sleep. Jefferson died shortly after noon on the fourth.
It is remarkable that these two brilliant leaders, whose resolve had so much to do with laying the foundation of our republic, were able to keep death away until they could celebrate that date so precious to them both. If you are a student of the philosophy of “life after life,” and/or if you use your imagination to put some content into your Christian understanding of life after death, or if you have any wonder about what happens and who we see when we die, then you will enjoy thinking about John Adams’ comment, “Thomas Jefferson lives” as he left this world. Jefferson had preceded Adams in death by only a few hours. Did these two meet up as they left on the “long journey?” Just saying . . . .
As you commemorate Independence Day, think about these American leaders. We might all pray to God to reproduce their kind and do so quickly.
Sincerely, your friend,
In view of all the falderal (disturbance, uproar, tumult, ruckus, clamor, brouhaha, furor, hue and cry, palaver, fuss, stir, to-do, storm, maelstrom, melee, turmoil, or disorder—you pick the descriptive noun of your choice) going on in our country now, I want to share an article from The Monroe Journal, 11 August 2011, by my friend Tom Butts, pastor emeritus at FUMC, Monroeville, Al.
It is interesting, and sometimes frightening, to see how the past keeps casting shadows over our lives. There are patterns and responses that we learned as
an adaptation to circumstances that are no longer with us. The responses we
learned as a means of coping with and relating to life in the past may become
detrimental to us if not altered after the circumstances that gave rise to them
no longer exist. There are images from the past that we hold in common, but
some of them are highly personal, and we can only understand these images in the light of our personal history. Read more...
I have a former pastor friend who wrote something weighty in a sermon on 22 December 1996—many years ago. Yet it still holds value for me. I hope it comes across as articulate to you as it was to me.
I admire my father. He is now approaching his 80th birthday and he has
decided that he is going to learn to use the computer even though I have
always known that he is technologically challenged. The laptop computer is
a gift that my brother in California gave him.
Unfortunately, the computer has a modem in it and so, for the last five weeks or
so, my father has been trying to learn how to use e-mail. We have three sons in
our family and all of us are familiar with e-mail and so he will shift in getting
First, he will make long distance phone calls to California, then he will talk to my other brother in New Albany, and finally, if he is really desperate, he will call me for advice. “How can you help me make this e-mail work?” Occasionally, we will get messages through. More often, the phone rings and he says, “There is
something wrong here.” I say, “You have to turn on the machine, Dad.”
He said something recently that I found very provocative. He said, “You know,
this gift is a wonderful gift if I only had a son that came along with it.”
There is a lesson about Father’s Day here. The most important thing about our gifts to others is the self we include with it.
Sincerely, your friend,
As we move into June and have been more or less sequestered since March, many of us have learned more about our families than we ever dreamed. We, a month ago, celebrated Mother’s Day/Festival of the Christian Home and now we near Father’s Day. Because of the situation we occupy, I, of late, began to muse about families.
The first sentence in Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina reads, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Reading this sentence, we wonder: “What does Tolstoy consider a happy or an unhappy family?” Cleverly, Tolstoy grabs our attention, thereby arousing our interest. Tolstoy lures readers into the story by ingeniously suggesting we ask ourselves whether our own family is happy or unhappy and by what measure.
This writer’s technique is what good journalists do—they call it “the hook.” It is also an appropriate description for how the Bible arrests our attention. Unsurprisingly, some contemporary folks are not interested in the Bible because they think it is an old book that has little to say about human life today. Yet, if you feel lust or envy or if you slander the good name of other people through gossip—or ponder adultery, greediness, wickedness, deceit, decadence, pride, or even folly—then this Bible/book has something for you. Or if you tell white lies to put others in a bad light, then this book we call the Bible may be right up your alley.
So, because some of us have a little more time in our new domestic routines, perhaps spending more time at home during this season of Pentecost, I invite you to get re-acquainted with the book that knows you better than you know yourself.
Sincerely, your friend,
Trinity Sunday (7 June 2020) is a day that helps us try and understand Trinitarian theology. The doctrine of the Trinity is an attempt to come to grips with God’s mystery. As St. Augustine once wrote: “A God without mystery is not God.” A priest at Clonard Monastery in Belfast, in trying to help his congregation understand the Trinity wrote:
Jesus didn’t sit down with his disciples one day and say “Today I’m going to
explain something very complicated; I’m going to try to explain it in the
simplest language possible.” He didn’t say that nor did he do it. Instead
what Jesus does is that he points to a few different things. And the first thing
Jesus points to is the fact that “God speaks.’ God actually talks. And that’s
what makes our tradition, Christianity, totally different to other religions.
God speaks. Remember that great line from Christ—“He who has seen me
has seen God the Father.”
Romans 5:1-5 reveals that the Holy Spirit is the means by which God pours God’s love into our hearts: to comfort and strengthen us in times of hopelessness and trial. Read more
Have you noticed that frequently it is the snares of people’s own making which entraps them? Someone once told a student that s/he was not too bright. Yet, despite the judgment’s inaccuracy, even the smartest people move through life under such a misapprehension. Entombed by the misconceptions of others is plainly a tragedy.
Did you know that an African impala can jump to a height of over ten feet and cover a distance of greater than thirty feet? Yet zoo-keepers secure these magnificent creatures in zoo enclosure with only a three-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall.
Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see. Freed by faith from the flimsy enclosures of life we might remember that only fear allows entrapment. As we move into summer may we renew our spirits as we wait in prayer and patience for us to physically gather for worship and praise God.
As Paul writes in Romans: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24). As we wait, we know that in due course we will return to Sunday school and study together in the fellowship of the spirit! God makes us strong when we willingly participate in God’s great plan for us.
Sincerely, your friend,
Do you know what Aldersgate Day is? If not, don’t feel bad, many Methodists probably can't say exactly what it is. 24 May 1738 was the day John Wesley experienced a spiritual transformation that led to the earnest start of the Methodist movement. Wesley's faith had pretty much lived in his head, but not his heart. Wesley devoted himself to “Scripture, Tradition, and Reason,” but what was missing was personal experience of Christ in his life. The important thing I want to bring up is that at the time of Wesley’s Aldersgate experience—John Wesley was in no way famous.
Not long ago one of my colleagues from another part of the country telephoned with a question. Read more
When I was about eight years old, I saw an episode of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” The program began with a burglar running down a back ally fleeing from the police. As he attempted to vault a cyclone fence, not heeding the police directive “to halt in the name of the law,” they shot him—dead. The television program next “flashed forward” to a heaven-like scene. Everything was beautiful. The burglar had a guide who was the picture of sophistication and class. He even had a British accent like Sean Connery.
The next fifteen minutes of the episode of “The Twilight Zone” showed this criminal-type reveling in his new home. He ate all the food he wanted and never gained an ounce. In front of him was a constant banquet table filled with all his favorite foods. He went to the gambling table and never lost. Whether the game was cards, dice, roulette, or pulling the handle on a slot machine, the guy never lost once. The stocked bar had any and every beverage this man could have ever desired. Naturally, young and beautiful nubile women constantly surrounded him. His every wish was his host’s command—no one withheld anything from the burglar.
But after a while he became bored, what with winning every time and having every wish fulfilled only by speaking. So, he asked his host: “Say, my friend, when I lived on earth, I was nothing but a rascal and never thought of anyone but myself. Now I have come here and everyone treats me like a king. What gives? Why did I get to come to heaven?”
His host only replied: “What makes you think this is heaven?”
Sincerely, your friend,
Reflecting on Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday offers us a chance to ponder the commanding influence of mothers. While that influence is not always positive, it is always powerful. Let’s face it, the more distant we get from childhood, the more we idealize our mother. Perhaps that is natural—and positive—unless we push it too far. Nothing helps that process develop more than the death of our mother. My mother died back in July of 1995, and that is 25 years to absorb that loss.
The death of a parent is always a watershed event in life. In a sense, it leaves us emotional orphans when our second parent dies. It severs an extended emotional umbilical cord by which God has formed our identity. It takes what has always been an evolving image and freeze-frames it into place. Mother becomes a still-life in the museum of memory. Some of us know about that from experience, and if our lives run their natural courses, all of us will eventually undergo such an experience.
As I reflect upon my mother’s life this Mother’s Day, I grasp that she was not perfect. Of course, she had faults, (we all do), but for now I need not recollect any of them. I see her at this moment in my idealized memory.
Mother’s Day is a good time for all of us who lost mothers to revive that idealized image of “mother” and draw strength from it. It is also a good time for us whose mothers are yet alive to intentionally add positive experiences to important and treasured memories for our children.
Mark Twain once quipped, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.”
Who said that mothering couldn’t be fun?
Sincerely, your friend,
As I talk to people in our congregation and other various caucuses, I have noted how many people just look at our time now in sheltering in place (the “recent unpleasantness”) as marking time until real life begins again. Yet, real life happens when one is alive regardless of the outward circumstances.
Many inconveniences occur to us that are unexpected, some of which are the consequence of our own action or inaction; some of which are for reasons beyond our understanding, and some are completely beyond our control—such as the world-wide pandemic. We each spend time and effort dealing with the unexpected. Not all of it is bad, but all of it requires adjusting and rearranging our lives to accommodate what has happened. Our life’s quality depends, not so much upon what happens to us, as upon how we respond to life events. Read more...
Recently, in and around Salado, there has been a lot of talk about our village’s future and my guess is that for people of faith this is a staple. During the relaxing summer months that will soon be upon us, perhaps it is a good idea for us to mentally prepare for the future in and around our church as a people of faith.
We are already doing this with our SUMC Discernment/Long Range Planning Committee. Of course, much is up in the air with COVID-19, but that should not deter us from planning and mapping out about where we go next as a church. The idea of preparing, planning, and mapping the future reminded me about a vacation-type idea I once read about.
There is an ancient sea superstition that, inevitably, one wave comes along to a beach that is greater than any waves that have preceded it. Some people call it the “Ninth Wave”—and this is the wave that surfers wait for as they just seemingly sit on their surfboards. The Ninth Wave is the culmination of the sea and wind. There is not greater force. To catch the Ninth Wave at the crucial moment requires a special knack, the timing of movements to mount it at its peak. This is why I admire surfers—their timing has to be perfect. Anyone who has tried surfing knows it takes a special skill!
I pray that we as a church can continue our spiritual work as we try catching the Ninth Wave that is no doubt approaching Salado, Texas over the next few years. It is a wave which we will either ride or fall into. Either way it is now on the horizon.
Perhaps God can transform us inside SUMC so that we can help others see God’s kingdom.
Sincerely, your friend,
Most people are weary of social distancing and sheltering in place, but my question is: “If we are released too soon, what happens if the virus makes a comeback and we have to start all over again?” Just saying.
When in high school I had a prized possession, a Waterman fountain pen, from a generous relative. I have long lost track of that Waterman, but wish I still had it for it was a very good pen.
A few years ago, I heard a story (or maybe read one) that made me miss my Waterman pen even more. Read More
In the midst of self-isolation and the day to day problems it raises, there is something fundamental that we all might remember: Life is not always fair—even to us!In her book, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Amy Kelly quotes William of Tyre following a particularly crushing defeat. "Surely", he said, "no one may question the acts of God, for all God’s works are just and right. But it remains a mystery to the feeble judgment of mankind why our Lord should suffer the French, who of all the people in the world have the deepest faith and most honor him, to be destroyed by the enemies of religion." Read more
In a sense the whole of our Christian year points toward Easter. It seems like a long an arduous journey for only one day that emerges as a whole liturgical or worship season. However, as we might ask a mountain climber “Why do you climb mountains anyway?” they would no doubt respond when asked— “Because it is there!”
Several years ago, on television I watched a National Geographic program about the climbing of Mount Everest. [As an aside, Neil and I heard several lectures while on our ship from the first woman to scale the peak! She was British.] What struck me most about the television program was that the expeditions had a lot in common with the building of God’s realm through the ministries of the church. Leaders make mistakes and the followers get both tired and discouraged. Yet, the result is worth the price. We participate in the Kingdom or Realm of God because that is why God created us.
The Easter may we sing and praise God for the gift of Easter—and the resurrection!
Sincerely, your friend,
An older movie I like is Out of Africa. It is based on the writings of Baroness Karen von Bliksen-Finecke (under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen) and her life in Africa. In the film, Meryl Streep as Karen, says “when the gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers.” Funny thing is until the COVID-19 outbreak I had heard many people say things like: “I sure wish I did not have to go to . . . school, work, etc.” The inference was “I would just like to stay home today!” Read more
Sometimes as I go back and read random notes, I discover something that was especially delectable as a slice of human behavior. Recently I ran across one such note.
Lloyd Steffen wrote in The Christian Century how when King Frederick II, an eighteenth-century King of Prussia, visited a prison in Berlin, the inmates tried to prove to him how they had been unjustly imprisoned. All except one. That one inmate sat quietly in a corner, while all the rest of the prisoners protested their innocence.
Seeing him sitting there oblivious to the commotion, the king asked him what he was there for. “Armed robbery, Your Honor.”
The king asked, “Were you guilty?”
“Yes, Sir,” he answered. “I entirely deserve my punishment.”
The king then gave an order to the guard: “Release this guilty man. I don’t want him corrupting all these innocent people.”
Every now and then, one understands the truth and the truth will set that person free.
Doris Mortman once wrote, “Until you make peace with who you are, you’ll never be content with what you have.” I can’t say as I have ever heard of Doris, but I think I would enjoy visiting with her. When Paul was writing out of deep gratitude to the church at Philippi, this is one of the things he wrote:
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have
little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I
have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having
plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens
me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress” (Philippians 4:11-14).
It takes integrity to finally be able to say who we are. Of course, that does not mean we stop trying to grow or do what Wesley urged when he wrote and spoke of “going on to perfection”—that is “being made perfect in love in this life.” The integrity comes by finally and simply making a stake in life that says “I stand for these things.”
In this vein, and as we begin a new year striving to be what God created us to be, Socrates’ words have a ring of helpful truth about them: “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”
As a continuation of last week’s blog message share that I once asked a twenty-something year old what I could write about in my blog. The twenty-something said: “Anything but religion!”
This was an interesting way to frame the content or anti-content of a blog— “Anything but religion!” I was somewhat vexed by the response as the question was absolutely in earnest. Yet the more I thought about it and looked around, listened to people, and read things in the newspaper, I realized that many of the issues that hang up “religious people” have little or no interest for college age students. Read more...
On Monday, 20 January 2020 we as a nation will observe Martin Luther King’s birthday, although he was in fact born at noon on 15 January 1929. Many folks deeply appreciate this day and how it shapes our best inclinations as human beings. Of course, when we celebrate the civil rights struggle that Dr. King led America through in the 1960s, it also brings to mind Jesus’ words in the first century. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount we read: ….read more
As many of you know, I will leave with my son Neil on 9 January 2020 to travel by ship from Southampton, England. We are sailing basically to Australia and back—with many stops along the way. Some of you have asked where exactly we are going and what follows is a rundown. To be painfully detailed, and among other locales, we will go to Malaysia, Jordan, Vietnam, Egypt, Mauritius, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Indonesia, Spain, Namibia, South Africa, Hong Kong, and England—not in that order, of course.
It is a journey, no doubt, and we are using some of my vacation time unused from the 1980s and 90s, believe it or not. Thank you for your prayers.—dnm