Wednesday, April 27, 2016

This Side of Paradise

More wisdom this morning from Frederick Buechner about the nature of faith and what it means to follow this illusive Jesus:

Christ is our employer as surely as the general contractor is the carpenter's employer, only the chances are that this side of Paradise we will never see his face except mirrored darkly in dreams and shadows, if we're lucky, and in each other's faces. He is our general, but the chances are that this side of Paradise we will never hear his voice except in the depth of our own inner silence and in each other's voices. He is our shepherd, but the chances are we will never feel his touch except as we are touched by the joy and pain and holiness of our own life and each other's lives. He is our pilot, our guide, our true, fast, final friend and judge, but often when we need him most, he seems farthest away because he will always have gone on ahead, leaving only the faint print of his feet on the path to follow. And the world blows leaves across the path. And branches fall. And darkness falls. 

We are, all of us, Mary Magdalene, who reached out to him at the end only to embrace the empty air. We are the ones who stopped for a bite to eat that evening at Emmaus and, as soon as they saw who it was that was sitting there at the table with them, found him vanished from their sight. 

Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Rahab, Sarah are our brothers and sisters because like them, we all must live by faith, as the great chapter puts it with a staggering honesty that should be a lesson to us all, "not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar," and only from afar. And yet that country we seek and do not truly find, at least not here, not now, the heavenly country and homeland, is there somewhere as surely as our yearning for it is there; and I think that our yearning for it is itself as much a part of the truth of it as our yearning for love or beauty or peace is a part of those truths. And Christ is there with us on our way as surely as the way itself is there that has brought us to this place. It has brought us. We are here. He is with us - that is our faith - but only in unseen ways, as subtle and pervasive as air.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"The Little Flowers of Dan Quisenberry", by Brett Foster

Most of my Missouri friends will remember the great Royals relief pitcher, Dan Quisenberry, who threw his famed side-armed sinkers during those glory days of 1970's and 80's. We also remember that a brain tumor took him while still a young man. Quiz is remembered as well for his quirky good humor, his plain-spoken faith, and his personal courage. I came across this poem by Brett Foster that includes italicized quotes from Quisenberry. He's still an inspiration, part of our Royals legacy, and a great example of authentic faith.

The Little Flowers of Dan Quisenberry (1953 - 1998)

I've had so many good things
happen to me.
So why not me?

And why not there, in that relic-worthy skull, where his good-willed
thrust and parry with the local press existed in its jocular fullness?

I think Christ
would do it that way. Or
Steve Garvey.

Hardly a laureled Hall of Famer, but saintly in the modern sense, still hero
enough, emblazoned on my place mat, his submarine curveball thrown.

No man is worth more
than another, and none is worth
more than $12.95.

He'd be clutch in the ninth, seal the game after afternoon bullpen slumber:
those summer double-headers in the grim bubble of the Metrodome:

I don't think there are any good uses 
for nuclear weapons, but this
might be one.

I-70 World Series that year, whole state euphoric, that autumn of '85,
Was a Royals victory "God's will"? Of course! Their winning meant I'd be assertive.

God is concerned with hungry
people and justice,
not my saves.

New boy in Cardinal country, I crowed and wagged my mouth and galloped
to class wearing a plastic batter's helmet. When last bell rang I got my ass whipped.

It's here! It's Merry Christmas!

There are toys
in my locker. Gloves and bats and balls.

Friend of Dad's swore Quiz was a neighbor, single men in suburban apartments.
He gave me a signed ball (real? maybe? doubtful now) for a birthday present.

I have seen
the future, and it's much like the present,
only longer.

No idea where that ball went. For ten years I've been reprobate, estranged
by boredom from the mediocre Royals. The game never changes, but people change.
I hope Quiz had a good seat in heaven to watch the Royals return to his winning ways. More importantly, may we all learn to win at life, to throw our best stuff, and to hit whatever is pitched.

Monday, April 18, 2016

No Going Back

One bright Sunday morning we were all standing and singing in our contemporary worship service. The music was great and the singing was uplifting and heartfelt, I'm sure. But, there was one line of one song that we sing sometimes that really bugged me. It always bugs me, and I've heard the same words in other songs and often in speeches or sermons or conversations or even in prayers. "Take this nation back."

What does it mean when a Christian says we need to take or win or bring this nation back? Back to what? Back to the good old days? Back to when we felt more comfortable and secure perhaps? Back when the world was not quite so frightening? Back when people were more civil and respectable?

Back to God? Just when did God really call the shots around here? The whole idea that our country used to be a bastion of godliness is based on a distorted, inaccurate reading of history. We can idealize the past however we choose. We can pretend that we grew up in some Norman Rockwell painting, but be careful what you wish for. The past had it's own set of hangups and issues.

Back then, in the good old days, churches were mostly segregated, and few Christians ever questioned why blacks and whites weren't allowed to worship together. Racism was the status quo. Back then, women knew their place and stayed at home to raise children and keep house, and not by choice either. The few women who ventured into the workplace were usually restricted to menial, clerical positions befitting their inferior status in a male-dominated society.

Back then, we didn't have to worry so much about civil rights or caring for the disabled. Back then, gay folks stayed in the closet where they belong, and abuse and exploitation happened behind closed doors, so we didn't have to deal with it. Abortions were performed down dark alleys in unsanitary conditions by unqualified persons with no counsel or support available to young women. Those were the good old days?

It might surprise you to know that a much higher percentage of our U.S. population attends church today than during our early history. And, since when is the Christian faith about moving backward? This was the mistake of the ancient Hebrews, always looking back through rose-colored glasses. The prophets were forever calling the people to look ahead, move on, to focus on the new thing that God was doing.

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)

Certainly, Jesus came proclaiming the new work of God in the world, and taught us to pray, not "Bring back the kingdom," but "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done." The Kingdom of God is coming, already initiated in Christ, a transforming power at large in the world, this world, today.

I know we are confronted today by terror and violence and uncertainty on a larger scale then we may have ever experienced. But the answer is not our futile attempt to turn back the clock to a time when evil seemed more manageable. The answer is to be the people of God today, to love this world and live out our calling in Christ here and now. Our commission is to claim the future, not reclaim the past. There's no going back. Full speed ahead.