Stop the Insanity!

“Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ” (Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets).

I suspect that this little gem of a quote will hit home with many of you as it did with me.

I quite agree that being able to still the inner dialogue and the endless chatter of human thought to recognize God’s presence and find true peace. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.

 

Today’s Word is . . .

Grace.

“After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody’s much interested anymore. Not so withgrace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.

Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing YOU have to do. There’s nothing you HAVE to do. There’s nothing you have to DO.

The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”

There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too” (Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words” (Frederick Buechner).

We sure could use a lot more grace, especially in the social media arena. Most especially when it comes to Presidents and politics (for both sides).

I still prefer grace to the concept of karma. Deep down, I know that karma giving me what I deserve is not what I want, because I know what I truly deserve. That’s why I love grace so much.

 

Post-Thanksgiving Pre-Advent Thoughts

Apparently, this will be one of those odd years where Advent doesn’t immediately follow Thanksgiving. According to my understanding, Advent begins next Sunday. I’m not exactly an expert on these things, so it may very well be that I’m wrong about this. If so, be gentle.

Today seemed like a good day to look at old memories on Facebook and Timehop. I’m reminded that two years ago I was dog-sitting in McKay’s Mill for a very lovable and friendly dog named Millie who has since crossed the rainbow bridge.

I also see pictures of my late beloved Lucy, who was looking very contented and well-fed at the time. Part of me still wonders if I missed a clue that might have helped her live a little longer. Most of me knows that she was deeply loved and had a very good life. I was blessed to have her for those 17 years.

I also finally got around to one of the classics of modern cinema. I’m talking about Weekend at Bernie’s. No, it was not a great piece of filmmaking by any stretch, but it was a good representation of the good and bad of 80’s movies.

Today ends the extended version of the weekend known as Thanksgiving/Black Friday. I got caught up on my sleep, made it through a migraine on Saturday, and had a lovely day today.

I’m not sure what to read out of The Book of Common Prayer next. I guess I’ll get a head start on the Advent readings. It’s never too early to start getting my heart ready for the celebration of the promised Messiah.

Here’s a little taste:

“What is coming upon the world is the Light of the World. It is Christ. That is the comfort of it. The challenge of it is that it has not come yet. Only the hope for it has come, only the longing for it. In the meantime we are in the dark, and the dark, God knows, is also in us. We watch and wait for a holiness to heal us and hallow us, to liberate us from the dark. Advent is like the hush in a theater just before the curtain rises. It is like the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming of snow which will turn the night to silver. Soon. But for the time being, our time, darkness is where we are” (Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark).

Finding God in the Valley

“‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ The psalm does not pretend that evil and death do not exist. Terrible things happen, and they happen to good people as well as to bad people. Even the paths of righteousness lead through the valley of the shadow. Death lies ahead for all of us, saints and sinners alike, and for all the ones we love. The psalmist doesn’t try to explain evil. He doesn’t try to minimize evil. He simply says he will not fear evil. For all the power that evil has, it doesn’t have the power to make him afraid.

And why? Here at the very center of the psalm comes the very center of the psalmist’s faith. Suddenly he stops speaking about God as ‘he,’ because you don’t speak that way when the person is right there with you. Suddenly he speaks to God instead of about him, and he speaks to him as ‘thou.’ ‘I will fear no evil,’ he says, ‘for thou art with me.’ That is the center of faith. Thou. That is where faith comes from” (Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark).

The valley of the shadow of death is where you go from knowing about God to really knowing God, where faith goes from intellectual assent to confident trust and heart-yielded allegiance.

Some of you are in that valley right now. You are walking through the shadow of death. You can cling to the hope of the God who does not see you from afar, but who walks beside you through that valley.

God in Jesus knows all about walking through that valley, because Jesus’ goal led through a valley to a cross on a hill. He walks with you. Therefore, you can fear no evil, for He is with you.

 

 

The Gospel as Fairy Tale: An Excerpt from One of My Favorite Books Ever

This excerpt is from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner. It remains one of my top ten favorite books of all time.

“LIKE THE FAIRY-TALE world, the world of the Gospel is a world of darkness, and many of the great scenes take place at night. The child is born at night. He had his first meal in the dark at his mother’s breast, and he had his last meal in the dark too, the blinds drawn and everybody straining to catch the first sound of heavy footsteps on the stair, the first glint of steel in the shadowy doorway. In the garden he could hardly see the face that leaned forward to kiss him, and from the sixth hour to the ninth hour the sun went out like a match so he died in the same darkness that he was born in and rose in it, too, or almost dark, the sun just barely up as it was just barely up again when only a few feet offshore, as they were hauling their empty nets in over the gunnels, they saw him once more standing there barefoot in the sand near the flickering garnets of a charcoal fire.

In the world of the fairy tale, the wicked sisters are dressed as if for a Palm Beach wedding, and in the world of the Gospel it is the killjoys, the phonies, the nitpickers, the holier-than-thous, the loveless and cheerless and irrelevant who more often than not wear the fancy clothes and go riding around in sleek little European jobs marked Pharisee, Corps Diplomatique, Legislature, Clergy. It is the ravening wolves who wear sheep’s clothing. And the good ones, the potentially good anyway, the ones who stand a chance of being saved by God because they know they don’t stand a chance of being saved by anybody else? They go around looking like the town whore, the village drunk, the crook from the IRS, because that is who they are. When Jesus is asked who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, he reaches into the crowd and pulls out a child with a cheek full of bubble gum and eyes full of whatever a child’s eyes are full of and says unless you can become like that, don’t bother to ask” (Frederick Buechner).

Darkness

Occasionally, I like to invite guest bloggers to write my blog posts. What I mean by that is that there are some nights when I am just too lazy to do any original thinking, so I “borrow” from some of my favorite writers who have expressed my own thoughts better than I could.

This is another one of those nights. The writer is Frederick Buechner and the topic is darkness. Here goes:

“The Old Testament begins with darkness, and the last of the Gospels ends with it.

‘Darkness was upon the face of the deep,’ Genesis says. Darkness was where it all started. Before darkness, there had never been anything other than darkness, void and without form. At the end of John, the disciples go out fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. It is night. They have no luck. Their nets are empty. Then they spot somebody standing on the beach. At first they don’t see who it is in the darkness. It is Jesus.

The darkness of Genesis is broken by God in great majesty speaking the word of creation. ‘Let there be light!’ That’s all it took.

The darkness of John is broken by the flicker of a charcoal fire on the sand. Jesus has made it. He cooks some fish on it for his old friends’ breakfast. On the horizon there are the first pale traces of the sun getting ready to rise.

All the genius and glory of God are somehow represented by these two scenes, not to mention what Saint Paul calls God’s foolishness.

The original creation of light itself is almost too extraordinary to take in. The little cookout on the beach is almost too ordinary to take seriously. Yet if Scripture is to be believed, enormous stakes were involved in them both, and still are. Only a saint or a visionary can begin to understand God setting the very sun on fire in the heavens, and therefore God takes another tack. By sheltering a spark with a pair of cupped hands and blowing on it, the Light of the World gets enough of a fire going to make breakfast. It’s not apt to be your interest in cosmology or even in theology that draws you to it so much as it’s the empty feeling in your stomach. You don’t have to understand anything very complicated. All you’re asked is to take a step or two forward through the darkness and start digging in” (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark).

The Ultimate Fairy Tale

“It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name….That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.” (Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale).

Perhaps that’s why so many of us are still drawn to fairy tales after all these years.

 

What Are the Questions?

This is a post by a surprise guest blogger. Actually, it’s a quote from one of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, that I posted on social media a year ago today.

I may not always 100% agree with everything he says, but I like most of it. Plus, I appreciate good writing, and he is a very good writer.

Here is what he said that impacted me so much back on May 17, 2015:

“On her deathbed, Gertrude Stein is said to have asked, ‘What is the answer?’ Then, after a long silence, ‘What is the question?’ Don‘t start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks.

We are much involved, all of us, with questions about things that matter a good deal today but will be forgotten by this time tomorrow—the immediate wheres and whens and hows that face us daily at home and at work—but at the same time we tend to lose track of the questions about things that matter always, life-and-death questions about meaning, purpose, and value. To lose track of such deep questions as these is to risk losing track of who we really are in our own depths and where we are really going. There is perhaps no stronger reason for reading the Bible than that somewhere among all those India-paper pages there awaits each one of us, whoever we are, the one question that (though for years we may have been pretending not to hear it) is the central question of our individual lives. Here are a few of them:

• For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? (Matthew 16:26)

• Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9)

• If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

• What is truth? (John 18:38)

• How can anyone be born after having grown old? (John 3:4)

• What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3)

• Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? (Psalm 139:7)

• Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)

• What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)

When you hear the question that is your question, then you have already begun to hear much. Whether you can accept the Bible’s answer or not, you have reached the point where at least you can begin to hear it too.

~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

Remembrance

“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.
For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I’m feeling most ghost-like, it is your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I’m feeling sad, it’s my consolation. When I’m feeling happy, it’s part of why I feel that way.
If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget, part of who I am will be gone” (Frederick BuechnerWhistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary).

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about people I haven’t seen in a while. They were people God put in my life for a season and a purpose but who have since moved on to the next great adventure.

I wonder (as I’m sure many of you sometimes do about people in your past) if these people remember me and think of me as much as I think of them. I hope they remember me fondly. More importantly, I hope they are better for having known me– more encouraged and more encouraging, seeing themselves as God sees them though Jesus.

Ultimately, if we are truly Abba’s children, our legacy on people’s lives should be that we were signposts and memorials on the road that pointed to God’s goodness and faithfulness. If all they can remember of their time with us is that God showed up in their lives, that will be enough.