Friday, April 29, 2011

This Is a Day of New Beginnings

since easter sunday, i have been thinking about the meanings of the resurrection.  we dwell on the victory of Jesus over death that portends our own immortality.  we assume that, because Jesus experienced a certain sort of resurrection, our own will be much the same as that of Jesus.  it seems to me that scripture is pretty ambiguous on this, and the actual experience of what happens after death or what our own resurrection experiences may be is not of great concern to me.  i have faith that Jesus did indeed rise from the tomb, that He did appear to a number of His followers after His resurrection, and that he left this earth just as the scripture says.  i have faith that each of us has an immortal soul and that we, too, will experience our own resurrections, though they may be quite different from that of Jesus.

my thoughts have turned to other implications of Jesus' resurrection.  first, because death was not the end of Jesus' life, He continues to perform His work of ministering to the world.  second, Jesus' resurrection teaches us that life is full of new beginnings, that we experience the joy of resurrection each time we turn from an oft-repeated sin and are raised to a new life free of that sin.  third, Jesus' resurrection and appearance in His resurrected body to His followers teaches us that His revelation continues, that it did not end with His ascension, nor with the completion of what is recognized as the scriptural canon.

my prayer for each of us is that we experience the miracle of the resurrected Jesus and all the mysteries that are a part of it.  may we not limit the resurrection to what it has to teach us about our own immortality, important as that is.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Into the Woods My Master Went, Clean Forspent

today is thursday of holy week, a day when christians observe the anniversary of Jesus' last meal with the disciples and His betrayal and arrest. as i sit writing this post, a much-needed rain is falling.  my thoughts turn to what Jesus may have felt on this occasion.  He knows that He will soon be betrayed by judas iscariot.  according to john's gospel, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, teaching them the meaning of servanthood and, during the course of the evening, teaches them several other lessons about His nature and what it is to be His follower.  Jesus knows that the religious leaders, who have perverted the jewish religion to collaborate with the romans, will arrest Him, try Him, and condemn Him to a horrible death at the hands of the romans.  Jesus' heart must have ached, knowing that He had so little time remaining to be with His most faithful followers and knowing how terribly He would suffer, first at the hands of the religious authorities and then through His humiliation and crucifixion by the romans.  one can only imagine then emotions that must have been tearing at Jesus.

as i listen to the rain, at times gentle, while at other times a right downpour, i pray that i will come to understand the ministry of Jesus and the true significance of His death and resurrection.  my prayer this day is that each of of us will rejoice in the gift of Jesus' life and will learn the lessons that these last hours leading up to easter have for us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Forty Days and Forty Nights

this is the third day of holy week, and lent is coming to an end as easter approaches. i am thinking back over my experience of lent this year. my spiritual discipline of using the words, "lovingkindness, compassion, generosity," to remind me to be less critical of others has made a huge difference in my day-to-day life, prompting me to look at the motivation of those that i would otherwise criticize. i can't say that i was completely successful in my intentions, but i can say that i was less prone to make negative comments about others and more likely to look for alternative explanations of actions that displeased me. now the challenge will be to enlarge on this attitude of lovingkindness, compassion, and generosity towards those of whom i would otherwise speak or think ill. my prayer is that each of us will become more loving and tolerant, respecting others and believing in their innate goodness even when they behave in ways that we fail to understand.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Believe

the word "faith" has been much on my mind over the past few days.  during his life on earth, Jesus spoke often of faith and belief.  there are those who teach that bad things happen to us because we don't have enough faith, that one's failure to prosper is the result of a lack of faith, that one is overcome by sickness or financial problems by insufficient faith.  i reject that teaching completely.  this morning as i prayed, i asked God to lead me to a deeper understanding of what faith is and how we experience a life of faith.  i was moved to begin making a list of the things that i believe, the things that are the basis of my faith, and i want to share some of those core beliefs in this post.

  • i believe that God is the prime cause of all that is, that God set the laws of nature in motion, causing all of creation to exist.
  • i believe that God loves what God caused to exist.
  • i believe that God desires only good for God's creation.
  • i believe that evil exists because of our failure to embrace that good that is God.
  • i believe that inside each person is the capacity for both good and evil, that what God has created cannot be evil, but one's choices can result in evil.
  • i believe that God is always present, ready to assist us when we call on God.
  • i believe that God allows us the freedom to ignore God's presence, but that God is constantly at work calling us to that which is good.
  • i believe that God is in and around us everywhere.
  • i believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the embodiment of all that is good in God's creation.
  • i believe that service and worship are so closely entwined that the two cannot be separated.
  • i believe that God has provided many paths for us to discover God's nature, that God is much larger than the narrow confines of any one path.
  • i believe that each of us is an immortal soul.
as i continue to explore what i believe and to think about what "having faith" means, i know that God will lead me towards the truth God wants me to experience.  my prayer for each of us today is that we experience the faith that God leads us to embrace and that as we follow the path before us, we experience the joy of serving God through serving others.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Help Me to Live for Others . . .

. . . that i might live for thee.  as i prayed this morning, i thought of the great kindness of the people we've encountered in our travels in the upper mid-west.  we have not had to deal with one person who has been rude to us.  having grown up with the myth of southern hospitality, the genuine kindness of every person with whom we've spoken has been a revelation.  we southerners could learn a great deal from these folk here who have a true concern for our well being that goes beyond simple courtesy.

in the back of my mind the refrains of two old hymns began playing.  one says, in a halting rhythm that lingers over the word "others,"
" 'others, Lord, yes, others'
let this my motto be.
help me to live for others
that i may live for Thee."

the other has a similar message:
"make me a blessing,
make me a blessing,
out of my life may Jesus shine.
make me a blessing,
o, Savior, i pray.
make me a blessing to someone today."

the words may not all be exactly right, because i'm relying entirely on my memory of hymns from my childhood that are hardly ever heard now.  it struck me that these were the central beliefs i was taught as a child.  they were what being a christian was all about then, and for me, these beliefs are still the core of being a follower of Jesus.  in today's church, it seems that the idea of "being Jesus" to others has taken a distant back seat to discussions of abstract theology and arguments over how to achieve church growth.

in our brief stopover in chicago, i had a conversation with a homeless man.  it was rainy and cold, but we were inside the restroom of a restaurant away from the elements.  we talked about how he manages during the bitterness of chicago's winters and how much he was looking forward to summer.  he was courteous and clean, and i would never have suspected that he lived on the streets from his manner and appearance, and, perhaps, he was only scamming me.  as we ended our conversation, i wished him well and told him i hoped that warm weather was just around the corner.  later, i wondered why i had not offered him a meal.  there we were in a "high-end" fast food restaurant, and my wife and i had just enjoyed a delicious warm meal.  why had i been so focused on our need to continue on our journey that i failed to address this man's need?

my prayer for myself and you this morning is that each of us will have a genuine concern for the needs of those that are placed in our paths this day, that we will look for ways to serve and bless them, that we will be concerned with being kind to others, even when those others are not focused on our needs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jesus Calls Us O'er the Tumult

my wife and i are traveling and where we are staying now has no internet access.  to my surprise, i'm not missing it much, but i know that there are many relatives and friends who communicate with me by email, and i am out of touch with them.  other than that and being unable to keep up with the blogs i follow or to post to my own, the internet has become another source of entertainment and a way to find information that i can do without.  when i return home, i will post whatever i have the opportunity to write as i travel, so my posts will be later than the time i've composed them.

yesterday we drove through the wisconsin countryside using secondary roads as we traveled to spring green.  there are gently rolling hills with a few fairly high elevations.  what struck me was the care the many dairy farmers seem to lavish on the land.  we saw few properties that were unkempt, a marked contrast to what we are accustomed to in our part of the country.  farm houses were well cared for with lovely trees.  barns were large and beautiful.  the land itself was the picture of what i imagine farmland should look like if we were the agrarian society that jefferson envisioned.

the purpose of our drive was to take us to the site of frank lloyd wright's home, taliesin, near spring green.  as we drove through the beautiful farms, i thought about how this landscape must have influenced wright.  i could see how these carefully plowed fields, the dark earth, the ambers and tans of the dried grass and remnants of crops, all found a place in his designs.  one understood his idea that a building should develop as a part of the land rather than an imposition on it.  in his structures one senses the farmer's love of the land and the concept that the land is something more than a way to earn a livelihood.

the first wright creation we saw was the building that now serves as the visitor center for the taliesin complex.  we saw it first from a park on the wisconsin river where we faced the back of the building looking out over the river.  as we crossed the river and turned into the visitor center parking lot, we saw the front of the building looking toward the hilly farmland.  from this side, the building clings to the side of the hill, and its tan stone is a part of the hill.  the red roof of what is now the office area of the visitor center makes reference to the red barns, while the shape of the roof reminds one of the tops of the many silos one sees.  the spire of the roof is wright's interpretation of the weather vanes or perhaps the windmills that are sometimes seen on farm structures.

we drove on along the banks of the river and through the wetlands that extend out beside the river until the road ended at a major highway where the former visitor center, now a motel, that was designed by one of wright's students occupies a plot of land at the intersection.  turning around, we drove back along the river and followed two other roads that took us by the structures that comprise taliesin itself.  since winter is in its last throes here, with damp and rather cool weather, the complex is not yet open to the public, so we had to content ourselves with looking at the outside from a distance.  the buildings were quite beautiful, disappearing into the land, barely visible through the leafless trees.  one imagines that wright intended this to be the effect of the structures and their relationship to the land from which they grow.

while i longed to see the buildings up close and to wander through their interiors, it was enough for me to see them as i saw them yesterday, as a private sanctuary for a great mind and for those who cared for him and came to learn their craft under his guidance.  after all, this was wright's intention.  perhaps i will return again when the buildings and grounds are open to the public and experience them in a different way.

as i sit and write about our experience yesterday, i am filled with a great calm and a sense of satisfaction.  i am excited about what the new day will bring, what new sights we will see, what sorts of people we will meet, what great gifts will be given us this day.  my prayer is that each of us will have a wonderful adventure today, rejoicing in what God gives us, and thinking of how we can each be a servant to those we encounter.