Aside

A Litany

I am deeply connected with all of humanity,
and with every person in particular.

So long as anyone remains unloved,
I am lonely.
So long as anyone remains hungry,
I am not satisfied.
So long as anyone remains in need,
I am poor.
So long as anyone remains imprisoned,
I am not free.
So long as anyone remains in danger,
I am not safe.
So long as anyone suffers from illness,
I am not well.

But when my heart aches for the unloved,
Christ is with me.
And whoever spends themselves on behalf of the hungry,
Christ is with them.
And for those who dare to see the needs of others,
Christ is their light.
And for the prisoner,
Christ is the open door.
And for the fearless warrior for peace,
Christ is the shield.
And to those who attend to the wounds and sickness of this world,
Christ, the Great Physician,
lends his skill, his care and compassion.

Bob Buehler, December 8, 2006.

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Verse of the Month — March 2013


Peace

Therefore,  since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God
 through our Lord Jesus Christ.

– Romans 5:1

Verse of the Month — January 2013


Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him turn to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

– Isaiah 55:6-7 (esv)

As the year winds down…


As the year winds Down….

Personal musings:  my own search for integrity in action. Don’t expect too much here, dear reader, and feel free to move on to other things. It’s just one person’s internal monologue, posted here for reasons that are obscure even to the poster.

 Every day is a new day.

 This truism has carried me forward for much of this year, as every morning since May 24th, save one when I was too far out in the woods for online access, I have posted a brief saying on Twitter and Facebook to provide some encouragement for that day.  This has helped to carry me through the ups and the downs of the year, and the practice will likely continue at least until I have accumulated 365 or 366 such sayings.

The downside of this is that I have written almost nothing else all year.  Scarcely a blog post.  Almost no poetry. Few personal letters. Not even a hint of a book. Yes, there have been sermon notes, public announcements, necessary emails, church newsletter, that sort of thing. In fact most of my creative energy the last several months has gone into preaching, and those who give me feedback on that generally tell me good things about it.  It wouldn’t do to draw too much satisfaction out of such an echo chamber, however, so here I am, at a time when we traditionally reassess our strengths and weaknesses and make resolutions for the new year, wondering if I have it in me to resolve to be less busy and more creative in the months to come.

Maybe it’s that I have been spending more time with mobile devices. The iPad is awfully convenient for lots of things, but is possibly not the best writer’s tool.

Maybe that’s just another excuse.

Here is the truth:  for more than half of the year, I have been struggling against depression. I lost a good friend in June, two more friends and my last surviving uncle in August, and had responsibility for memorial services — comforting of friends and family — in all of those cases and more. Yes, that is part of my job description, but that doesn’t make it easy. Point is, experience has shown me that whenever I fall into such emotional doldrums, one of the best keys to a pathway back out is through creative expression of some kind. This year that has been, mostly, preaching, and to some extent a series of private conversations. But I will know I am back on my feet when I can be both creative and productive in other ways. A well-written page; a bit of music; a sculpture, or drawing; any way to bring what is hidden into the open, so that my lamp is no longer, as the saying is, hidden under a bushel.

You see, I am affected by mortality. I don’t like it.  Whether it’s a twenty-nine-year-old graduate student with a promising future, or a ninety-eight-year-old uncle, or the father of a friend, or someone I’ve gone fishing with, I feel more than a bit robbed when suddenly all of them fade into the past tense. It makes me look also at my own mortality.  Suppose I match my uncle and survive to within shouting distance of my hundredth year?  That is still a very limited time. Suppose a tree branch falls on me next time I get in the car? It could happen.  So, I look at the infinite value in each day as such, and write myself a little note of encouragement each morning.

The great project here is to learn (and to the extent possible, teach) how to live with joy, peace and confidence in a world where death and taxes, certain as they are, intrude on our lives daily, sometimes seeming to overwhelm us, without retreating into some kind of unreal fantasy.  In the preaching I do this by reminding all hearers (beginning with myself) that God is present as much in the one as in the other, that the cross of Christ shows us a God who shares in our sufferings, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities, while at the same time remaining the Lord of life, to the extent that the symbol of torment and cruelty becomes itself the emblem of victory, not for those who inflict such horror, but for those who endure it.

And, of course, this brings me to the ultimate paradox: the mystery of mortality is bound up with the promise of immortality. The one who promises eternal life to all who believe is himself killed, but in that death the promise is not annulled, but fully revealed. There is more to the story.  Death, somehow, cannot keep its hold on him.

So, I find my departed companions, who now include a roomful of six- and seven-year-olds from Connecticut, also partake of the promise as well as the horror.  Now the path to peace and joy becomes a warrior’s path, a path through the valley of the shadow of death, where the warrior courageously declares:  I will fear no evil!  Not because he shrinks from the horror, or denies it, but because he has determined that the promise of divine Presence is enough to transform even such a dark place.  

I would like to note that the Psalmist walks through that valley, but does not make it his home.

So I will emerge from these doldrums, and ride the swift current of the Spirit wherever the journey takes me.  There will be posts, and pages, photographs, drawings, songs, poems, music and laughter, for as many (or few) days, weeks, months and years as I can produce them.

On Continual Prayer


Sometimes people take the injunction to “pray without ceasing” to mean something like, “pray often.” This makes prayer into an activity, something we do, something that is separate from the rest of our lives. And yes, there are times when devoting ourselves to prayer, to the exclusion of all else, is appropriate. But even if you are a monk, there is a rhythm to life that includes eating, sleeping, caring for bodily needs, working, creating, interacting with others, learning, forming opinions, making decisions, resting, relaxing, entertaining or being entertained. What sense does it make to talk about praying without ceasing, if we have to cease praying to do one of these things? As long as prayer is seen as one activity in a list like this, it is impossible. So it has been suggested that prayer is more deeply a matter of being intentionally aware of the presence of God, whatever else may be going on. And this awareness has immense benefits, if we train ourselves in it. It is the secret to a peaceful existence. I said to a friend once, in a discussion about a difficult moment:

God provides a sort of a buffer between ourselves and the world, so we don’t need to calculate anything, but respond always to God, rather than react to what is around us. In this buffer zone is peace, humor, love, quietness, energy and thus we always can act from strength, whatever our weakness is. Even in the admission of weakness or failure, in that way there is still strength and ease of heart.

This requires, of course, the ability to perceive the presence of God in the immediacy of every situation. It is the intentional act of such perceiving that I would here call prayer, and to the capacity for such perception, I would assign the word: faith.

Comments are welcome.

Verse of the Month — October 2012


Invitation

“For the promise is for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

— Acts 2:39

Spirit, Air, Breath


The word for spirit in Hebrew and in Greek is the same as for breath, wind, air; and in both cases we are surrounded, immersed, in this on which we actually depend for our very existence. What makes us alive is not the spirit that surrounds us, but the spirit which enters into us and nourishes all of our inner being. It would be a completely artificial thing to somehow separate the two, as though the air in your lungs is of a different nature than the air in the room, but from within your lungs, there is a function being performed that can’t happen anywhere else.
It is in this way we can say that we are immersed in spiritual reality, but only benefit personally when the spiritual reality becomes our inmost source of being. Physically, we breathe…. inhale and exhale; and spiritually, we are continually filled with God and emptied of God.

Verse of the Month — September 2012


Don’t Worry!

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:34

Verse of the Month– August 2012


Faithfulness

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. —-
Galatians 6:9

Aside

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24
1:13 God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.
1:14 For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
1:15 For righteousness is immortal.

2:23 For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity,
2:24 but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.

The above passage showed up in the Revised Common Lectionary for this past Sunday.  It comes from one of the texts that are not generally viewed as canonical by Protestants, but it struck me as worthy of some notice and seems to me to be thoroughly compatible with New Testament teaching.

In the New Testament, death is more of a theological category than a physical state.  What we call physical death is there called, for the most part, sleep.  Jesus said to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, and I go to wake him up from his sleep.”  When they responded by saying sympathetically that if he was sleeping he might soon recover, he explained to them what he meant, that Lazarus was dead.   Similarly, the first martyr, Stephen, after praying that wonderfully compact prayer for his enemies, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” (thus making himself in one moment both their accuser and their advocate), and another for himself, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” is said by the narrator that “he fell asleep.”  Likewise Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica, in one of the earliest of the New Testament writings, “I would not have you ignorant, concerning those who have fallen asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.” So physical death is, as one gospel singer has put it, “no big deal.”  It is also, from the perspective of faith, a temporary arrangement, an interruption and an annoyance to be sure. 

So ultimately, as St Paul says, “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”   He sees this as part of the redemption of the entire physical universe, as the new creation supersedes the old.  But for the present, we also see that from a faith perspective death is conquered, as those who are redeemed are said to have passed from death to life.  Death here is not a final destination to be dreaded, but a current condition to be overcome.  It is the wages paid by sin, earned by those who remain subject to sin’s law.  The free gift of God is eternal life, and this life is not merely the hope of an extended timeline; it is a present reality.  We are, I have written elsewhere, something like spiritual amphibians. We live both in time and in eternity, and in the realm of the infinite we have access to all times and places; though we often return to the mud-hole which is our familiar home.  The abundant life promised us in Christ, the righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit which is the substance of the kingdom of God, partake of this higher nature, this higher life where death has no sway.  The eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans even suggests that participation in this higher life, the life in the Spirit, can transform even our physical existence. 

Christian doctrine makes the claim that death has been conquered and overcome; certainly it is the testimony of the apostles, and of generations of martyrs, that fear of death has been destroyed as a motivating factor for the believer. Hence early Christians tended the sick, not worried about becoming sick themselves; partly because they believed in a God who could heal, but partly because they had already forfeited their lives and lived only in the one who brought them life.  Death had no dominion over them, therefore they could face it with calm assurance.