It is the week of the Super Bowl. And, we ARE the Super Bowl, right here in Minnesota - the great cold northland.
We thought our Vikings might take the field in their own home town. But, that wasn't to be. Instead, last year's Super Bowl Champion Patriots will defend their title against the Eagles of Philadelphia. Of course, in the summer I live among Red Sox and Patriots fans at our New Hampshire lakeside. So, this year I can pull for the Patriots, and behave like a Boston-born New England boy.
Here at Covenant Village, Molly and I have often sat at dinner with a dear old (96 years) Covenant minister. He grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota. But when he learned of our Connecticut and New Hampshire upbringing, he always says, "I love New England. I love the history!"
I too, love the history. For it is spiritual history, of young separatists who left their homes in England, to cross a forbidding ocean in order to defend their Pilgrim faith in a Lord Who comes to the two or three gathered together in His Name to lead them, as a congregation, on a journey of great adventures. They came to New England and to America with a vision of a land that would be "as a city set upon a hill" to be a servant nation to the world.
Of course, people have trouble living by this vision. They have trouble staying on course. They follow side tracks. The vision becomes diluted. Until every now and then a voice raises, and a season comes, when they are called back. And the vision is lifted up, and people are called out - once more - in their time, in a new day, to be that pilgrim people again. To be journeyers with Jesus, calling the world around them to dare to recapture the vison of old, and - like the prophets of the Old Testament - to issue a call for the old insights to be applied to the New Day, and the old adventure to be taken up again - and new foundations be added to the old, and new calls from God are answered, enabling the old passions and insights to be undertaken with new relevance, and new determination.
Our church, with a name recalling that time of new beginnings in faith and history, gave us a great opportunity to bring alive the old adventure again during three tumultuous decades of the late 20th century.
And the "Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation" was birthed as a further extension of that vision, sharpened and honed to the critical need of a world suffering genocide, and anger, and bitter division.
What a privilege to be alive still, to raise that call, to lift high the cross, and through that spirit of young pilgrims, and yes, the very heritage of that New England corner of our country, to dare to be renewed followers of Jesus - in a country and a world, that needs us.
Something with which "Patriots" from the first wilderness shore, can remind us, and challenge us, this Super Bowl weekend in Minnesota.
Some days Public Radio reporting on sexual assault expose' can give you a dark day, even when the sun is shining. That was January 15, for me.
That day's news was of a male Grammy Award winner who invited an unknown young woman to have a date with him. There were sexual acts requested and granted between them. But the young woman, called "Grace" anonymously "felt uneasy and uncomfortable" about the encounter and communicated that to the Grammy man next day, and then described her discomfiture to the press. The public heard all about it several times in newscasts next day.
Two women reporters of different networks were invited in to comment. One defended the man, feeling what he had done did not rise to "sexual assault." The other felt the issue was consent and whether the woman had given consent or not.
Both reporters felt the critical factor was consent. From there, Public Radio went on to declare how important it is, that children - even at a very young age - should be taught how important their personal will and consent was, in all issues of life, but particularly around the question of touching and being touched.
What made certain acts right or wrong was solely based on the parties' level of comfort or discomfort. No other standard was brought to bear. Not whether society cared, or God cared. The discussion was absent of any moral or ethical framework given to humankind within which to live.
One of the commenting reporters declared how important it was to at least have training in the understanding of consent by the Junior High years, since the coming High School years were when young people would be needing to give or withhold their consent.
Here, in 2018, we as a society have no apparent first and obvious place to which to turn to find guidance, and a moral code, and a history of care about Right and Wrong to help us see and understand how deep and critical it is to know right from wrong, and the turning to that standard and teaching it to our children, and helping them - and all people see and endeavor to know and live by such a standard.
Jesus quoted God's creation of us all when he articulated the heart of the relationship between men and women when it comes to their obligations to each other. "for...a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh." God's picture of men and women coming together in a sacred relation of life commitment to each other, to FORM a FAMILY, and fill it with love, and loyalty, forever. The very basis and purpose of our whole sexual relationship.
As a parish minister, counseling many young couples on the nature of the marriage relationship on which they were embarking, I have lifted up this Biblical understanding and framework for their new life.
That whole theology is articulated in one of my books, called "Struggling With Sex." It encompasses much of what I've learned out of this long experience. The book is on Amazon, or can be had through this website.
Let us know if we can help you with your understanding of this modern, and critically important issue. You may email us with your request at email@example.com.
A couple days ago, one hundred French people signed a letter questioning the assumptions, or conclusions of the Hashtag Me Too movement.
It became too easy for women to finger some man who has taken liberties with them, and in publicly accusing them, has brought them down, brought their career to an end. Has, to most intents and purposes ruined their lives.
The accusers have gone too far. They have not really gotten at the problems of men, or of our society. The accusers' anger has had its revenge. But, it has not solved what is a deep issue in our society - the imbalance, and often unfairness and misunderstanding that exists in our human relations with each other.
Why do we misunderstand each other? Why do we exert power over each other, or want to have power over the other? - In our schools, companies, marriages, or families?
We don't understand Who created us. We were easily tempted away from the compact that was made with us for life. We were tempted by the possibility of power. By the possibility of stealing God's power for ourselves. Of becoming - as The Temptor said, "like God." It is the choice for pride. For ego. For choosing self above all else.
It was there, in the Garden, that we lost our sense of humanity, of humility, of right relationship, of morality, if you will. And the struggle of the world ever since has been to live humanly without the framework of right relationship that God gave us in our creation.
In the decade of the 1960s, the rise of self, particularly in a sexual revolution encouraged by the advent of feminism, that played havoc with our sense of right relationships between human beings.
We hear ourselves saying that male misunderstandings came with an attitude that "boys will be boys." That boys will inevitably do bad things and that we should simply tolerate those excuses.
It may be that boys tried their own strength, and tested limits. But that was not the essence of boys. Boys loved games and competition. They wanted to be heroes. But thousands of them learned restraints, and honor, and sacrifice, and courage in movements like the Boy Scouts. They learned to "trail the eagle." They learned to be brave, thrifty, reverent. They learned to serve. The learned to help others. They learned courtesy and kindness.
The sources of that movement were in faith, in the patterns of life Jesus gave the world. They learned a spirit that was not weak, but strong. They strove to be honorable in their human lives.
They were told to respect women, and to serve them, and help them. They learned to respect strength in women, and honor that.
The selfish sex-centered acts of "powerful" men in recent days and years perpetrated, performed, and pushed on women are aberrations of weakness in men, not power, not real confidence. But exercised from self-centered pride - unworthy instincts that do not come from essential maleness, but from weakness in face of temptation.
We give little credibility to the reality of the demonic in our world. The greatest reality in human life is spirit, is unseen power that is given His children by God. But, that is in a rebellious world that also is habited by the counter force that ever seeks to destroy good, and right, God and love. The whole conflict of human life is set on that conflict of forces.
We live in it. We struggle with it. We are oft defeated, but surprisingly often victorious. Our hope is in the High Call of the One Who has promised to be with us in life. In the battles of life. In the joys and fulfillments of life. We are all "running the race" as St. Paul has described our life in the world.
We look to the prize that is in the One Who has come into the world to be our Lord, to show us how, and to help us live.
There is a Way. An answer. An honorable life to live. God sent His Son to give us courage to try, to dare, to live it.
I find that, even without a New Year's resolution, there is a nervousness I feel, about "being ready."
Back in prep school, our Glee Club sang a fast little song about the most important getting ready. It sang "Well - I want to be ready, ready, ready, when He comes! I want to be ready when He comes again!" It was out of the black spiritual tradition of being ready when Jesus returns, in His second coming.
But, there are all kinds of getting ready that are part of our spiritual tradition. Getting ready for whatever God may be preparing us for, in the new year, or just around the corner, or in a new stage of our lives - in a new job, in parenthood, in old age.
My nervousness is about being ready for things that are already in the works, already planned, and soon to come to pass.
In the next couple of weeks our Pilgrim Center President, with his wife Annette, says he'll be preaching in a couple of churches, but also leading a 1/2 day retreat for them. Then on the 18th, he heads out to Africa and then Nepal to lead five healing retreats, and a training retreat. Our Todd Bertelson will be with him.
What's for me, I think? What's ahead? And - can I do whatever it may be, especially what God wants me to do? To be ready, for sure, I need to be alert, look around, pray, watch, listen. Somethings coming, I know.
It is the 2nd of January. Radio airwaves are full of speculations about this dark hour for America. News about rioting in Iran, about our president's Tweet regarding the millions America has sent to help Pakistan, while she has received from our largesse and at the same time harbored the very terrorists who were attacking - as ISIS - Afghan and American forces in the region. News too from North Korea's president boasting that a nuclear button sits on his desk to be pressed at any time, with a capability to send nuclear warheads to any part of the continental USA. The former Chief of Staff of America says we are closer than ever to a nuclear war with N. Korea. These are "dark hours" indeed.
Speculation is everywhere. Uncertainty spreads. Fear is often expressed. We want to lay it at the feet of our new, untried, self-centered, self-confident, sometimes bombastic president.
Many shake their heads, and roll their eyes. Not a few are working diligently to bring about circumstances that will shame and unseat our president. It is not a popular or respected thing to speak well of our president, to commend him for good steps he has taken. Apparently gone is the sense of loyalty toward our leader on which democratic government depends.
Then, on New Year's Day, I keep the family tradition of an afternoon movie on New Year's Day. I learn that "The Darkest Hour," showing at the Edina Theater, is about Winston Churchill. Four of us go - two daughters, and our 16-year-old grandson.
It becomes clear that the film tells the desperate story of Hitler's armies on the march in Europe. His Panger divisions are unstoppable. His mighty Luftwaffe has control of the skies. Between Calais and Dunkirk on the French coast 300,000 British troops are pinned down, praying hopelessly for evacuation somehow, across the English Channel.
Neville Chamberlin, England's Prime Minister, has sought peace with the Third Reich. He is rebuffed, coming home in shame and failure. Parliament calls for his resignation.
He and his closest colleagues grasp at some way to win a negotiated peace, even while Hitler's forces overtake Europe, one country after another.
In a desperate move Parliament and an unwilling King George VI turn to the one person who has stood up to enemy forces, especially in South Africa's Boer War, the unpredictable, uncontrollable, now much older Winston Churchill.
Suddenly the older, bent, cigar-smoking, hard-drinking Churchill is given the vote, to the misgivings of many. The camera records his volatility, his irascibility, even his shouting unkindness to the young woman sent in to act as his secretary, and to type his acceptance speech. It shows too, the old man gently scolded by his wife for his unkindness. "You are the Prime Minister, you must learn to be kind," she says.
He goes to Parliament and declares the only way to defeat the advance of Hitler, is to prepare not for peace, but for all the risks of war.
The small cadre who want to sue for peace, plot against the "madness" of the new Prime Minister's insistence - seeking even the King's help in unseating Churchill.
We watch the battle rage within Winston's mind and heart. In the middle of dictation, his young secretary answers the question about where he was, with "You were mumbling." He seems almost unhinged.
He calls Roosevelt in Washington. No help. He calls the admiralty. There is little competence or will. Finally he calls for every small boat on the English coast to be commandeered to cross the channel to Dunkirk to carry Britain's surviving army of 300,000 back to safety in England. It is a mad, daring plan. The admiralty at first were timid. Then Winston phones back - "That is an order!" And the small boats sail - tiny sloops, fishing boats, outboard motors, small speed boats leaving the White Cliffs of Dover for Dunkirk.
The Luftwaffe, commanding the skies, could sink them all. But miraculously clouds roll in. The whole shore is obscured. And this unlikely, entirely amateur civilian fleet, is loaded up, and carries nearly the full 300,000 young soldiers home to their own shores. England lives to fight again.
The camera watches the blustery Prime Minister responding to the question of the young secretary with only one word "courage, my dear, courage."
In the meantime the Prime Minister is being driven to Parliament - ostensibly to lay out a plan for peace. But, he is caught, helpless, in a London traffic jam.
And the Prime Minister of England, who had never ridden the London underground, leaps from his car, goes down into the Underground, and boards the train for Westminster. His fellow passengers are astonished. They all make way for him. Soon he is talking with them. Finally he says, "I have a question for you. What would you do if faced with the forces of Hitler's Germany, would you sue for peace?" Suddenly, they all remonstrated, with one voice - "Never, we would never sue for peace. Nevah! Nevah!"
And with that answer, from the people themselves, we see England's Prime Minister striding out of the train at Westminster, into the parliament building and to his seat from which he stands and declares there is only one answer for England in the face of the Nazi threat. We must fight with all we have, he says. "We will fight them on the seas. We will fight them on the beaches. We will fight them in the fields. We will fight them in the streets. WE WILL NEVAH, NEVAH, NEVAH GIVE UP!"
It is the true word, spoken. That all recognize. And around which they all rally. Suddenly the fog is lifted. The way ahead for England is clear. The answer - from the heart of the country - is given, to their "Darkest Hour."
People in the theater audience clapped. Some cheered. We all were stirred. A lesson of history had been writ large before us.
As I look back I am struck by how "Trumpian" Winston Churchill appeared in those days of crisis so long ago. In so many ways he was a grump. He had to be lectured on how to be kind. He shouted in cabinet meetings. He was considered a know-nothing and a bully. Established, seasoned politicians wanted him gone. Finally, on the subway, a child's voice ringing out NEVER! from the crowd, struck him in the heart and made him see the wild, daring thing he must do.
I tried to say on Christmas morning, to the few scores of Christian friends I was given to address, we too, are called to do wild daring things for our Leader and Lord. We are called to be transformed - beyond all our abilities - into an "incendiary" force of courage, to speak true to our time about the moral, ethical, faithful way our King Forever is calling us to go. To call the Church to go to its knees in repentance, and to point out the way of forgiveness and healing, that alone can bring God's chosen and called people back to Jesus' courageous way of sacrifice to win the heart of our country and our culture to His dangerous but righteous road of love. It is the way that changes us all, and will change us and our land.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES