Morning by Morning

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward." Isaiah 50:4-5

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Western Dessert Fathers

The Western Dessert Fathers

I noticed, with some amusement, a mistake in an earlier article.  Apparently I quoted the Western “Dessert” Fathers, Instead of the Western “Desert” Fathers, saying, “If you have a snake or a scorpion, put it in a box and put the lid on it, and sooner or later it will die.”    

I take it that the Western Dessert Fathers wore powder blue leisure suits and lived primarily on cheesecake and mimosas; while the Western Desert Fathers wore coarse garments, spent their time praying and fasting, and also recorded a few of their pithy sayings.

Everybody makes mistakes and even Spellcheck can’t catch them all.  Mothers and fathers make mistakes, old and young make mistakes, smart people and not-so-smart people make mistakes.  Lay people make mistakes.  Bishops, priests, and deacons make mistakes.  Pharisees and Sadducees make mistakes.  Making mistakes is a normal part of life.

Did I say, “Pharisees” make mistakes?  Here we have a problem.  Pharisees don’t accept a fact that is obvious to everybody around them, that is that even Pharisees make mistakes.  They also don’t accept that others are allowed to make mistakes.  The result is that they spend an inordinate amount of time correcting other people’s mistakes.  They live for the adrenalin rush that comes when they can point out the mistakes of everybody around them.

I once had a prominent and very devout church member who felt that it was his spiritual right, every Monday, to present the Office Staff with a list of their mistakes in the Sunday bulletin.  Those who knew him knew that he had a few glaring flaws of his own, notably a lack of love and common courtesy, and a serious problem with shaming and blaming.  His attitude was like painting a “correct” smile on the Mona Lisa; it spoiled his reflection of the image of Christ.

The problem we face is that while some are blatant Pharisees, there is a little streak of the Pharisee in the best of us.  It is so very easy to cloak our own anxieties and feelings of inadequacy by critiquing others. 

Two things will help.  The first is the simple acknowledgement that everybody makes mistakes.  Second, we need to lighten up and develop a sense of humour.  Who knows?  There may actually be some Western Dessert Fathers who wear blue leisure suits, and live entirely on cheesecake and mimosas.

Friday, February 17, 2012

In Praise of Honour

In Praise of Honour                                      Richard Lovelace, 1618–1658

To Lucasta, Going To The Wars

Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breasts, and quiet mind,
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such,
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.

Sir Richard Lovelace, the Cavalier Poet and his mistress, understood the place of honour as the guiding principle of their lives.  By the time C. S. Lewis writes he observes that honour is not the highest virtue, and indeed it is not; but in our age honour has almost completely disappeared from our contemporary list of values.  More’s the pity!  Honour in itself still remains a virtue even if it must be a vassal to love and truth.

Today when chivalry is an antique virtue only useful for advertising an expensive brand of Scotch Whiskey, honour and chivalry have vanished from modern consciousness only to emerge in a banal parody in recreated medieval Renaissance games where appallingly costumed youth and would be youth whale away at each other with wooden swords and shields.  One good stroke of the sharp steel of an ancient claymore would sweep away such ephemeral wisps of pseudo-honour and cleanse the landscape.

Honour must never pass away.  Honour at its heart means doing the right thing, doing it the right way, and doing it for the sake of love and truth. Honour is closely aligned with mishpat, Old Testament justice.  C. S. Lewis tells us that “justice . . . is the old name for ‘fairness’; it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life” (Mere Christianity, Chapter 12).  Honour and integrity go hand in hand.  “I will live with integrity” (Psalm 26:11 BCP), and I will live honourably are parallel concepts.  And it should be noted that neither honour nor integrity can exist where mutual respect is denied.

When we still valued honour our word was our bond and we sealed a business deal with a hand shake.  But the truth is that honour is held dishonourably when it is contaminated with worldly and self-serving pride.  The risk of living honourably in a dishonourable world has been faced before.  To live honourably in a world where honour is considered negotiable is to lay your hand to the wood as One did so very long ago; yet the Christian is called to recover honour and embrace that high and holy chivalry regardless of the risk.      

Friday, February 3, 2012

Stone By Stone

            The children of Israel had watched the plagues fall upon the Egyptians.  They had witnessed the parting and closing of the Red Sea.  They had seen the fire of the presence of God descend upon the holy mountain, eaten of the manna and drank water from the rock in the desert.  Following the guidance of God they sent a band of spies into Canaan in preparation for its conquest, but here they met a giant they were unable to conquer.  The spies came back saying, "There we saw the giants . . . and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."  True there were giants in the Land of Canaan, but the true giant they were unable to conquer was fear.

            Forty years later when they finally entered the land of Canaan the giant of fear no longer overwhelmed them but they still had to conquer the physical giants.  They took the giants on, the way we must always fight giants, one at a time.  David's encounter with Goliath illustrates both the simplicity and faith that is required for battling giants:

Then he took his staff in his hand,
and chose five smooth stones from the brook,
and put them in his shepherd's bag or wallet;
his sling was in his hand,
and he drew near to the Philistine.  - 1 Sam.17:40

            It took only one stone to fell the giant.  The negative power of giants is in part an illusion fed by fear.  Tackling giants one at a time, by faith, stone by stone, is all that God requires of us.  If the task of building a congregation seems like fighting an army of giants just follow the example of David.  Don't take on the whole burden by yourself.  Share the task with others.  Pick up five smooth stones, fit one in your sling, say a prayer, and fire it!  Renewing a church is accomplished by each person taking one stone, or at most five smooth stones, and marching out with faith to risk what we can.  In that mood most of the churches in the land have been build by people of faith, one stone at a time.