This bright February afternoon, that fills our little apartment home with sunlight, has brought America to heart in a fresh way for me. I am reading a Pulitzer Prize-winning history called “The British are Coming.” The author is Rick Atkinson.
It had been slow going at first. (A very thick book!) The book is deeply researched, with infinite details of life in Britain and life in America. Now that I’m half-way through, I can hardly put it down. The author does character study of British leaders – Army and Navy, and American leaders from George Washington on down.
Much of the fighting was done in New England, New York, and places familiar to Molly and me. Greenwich, Connecticut and nearby New York were home territory for us growing up.
One of America’s few victories in the early years of the Revolutionary War was a coastal battle involving ships of war as well as ground troops. But much of the rest of the story were tales of terrible deprivation and defeat for American forces fighting in Canada, and Washington’s own ignominious retreat from Manhattan Island, Hudson River towns, and into New Jersey.
“Providence” was very real for General Washington and his officers. They knew they were fighting now for the great ideas of America, for the establishment of a country that would be free, where the people constituted government and leadership. The Continental Army, when finally established, was hardly an army. Much of it was local militias. Much of the struggle was over barest necessities of clothing, food, and shelter, exposure to rain and winter snows, and the fact that soldiers were signed up for short times, so fighters were constantly leaving to go home. They hadn’t realized they were involved in an eight-year war that was to fulfill a dream of something that did not exist anywhere else in the world.
Conditions for both armies would seem to have become almost unbearable. To sleep on the cold ground, to march without shoes or socks, to have food that was hardly edible, and to be, for Washington’s army, daily desertions of troops, simply leaving for home when their short-term time was up, was discouraging for Washington and his officers.
And yet there was a strange, almost inexplicable commitment to this war that seemed often so hopeless.
“Yet for those who had come this far and endure this much,” the historian Rick Atkinson observes, “sardonic humor and stubborn defiance would get them through the night, and the next day, and the day following. The British, after all, had to win the war; the Americans had only to avoid losing it.” “Never was finer lads at a retreat than we,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Blachley Webb, a Washington aide who led and fought valiantly at Bunker Hill and been wounded at White Plains. “No fun for us that I can see; however I cannot but think that we shall drub the dogs.” (p. 493)
It was Washington himself who called his army to rise above their longing for home and family to see the profound.
Washington had made the point that they were not just fighting for their own land, and family, and property, but for the first time in the world’s history, the people themselves were fighting for a great vision, the cause of liberty, so denied across the globe, to all people in all countries. It was a call that stirred their hearts and made the visionary call to liberty and freedom a spiritual quest, worthy of their devotion and even their lives if it came to that.
He spoke it true when, in his “General Orders of August 23, 1776,” he declared, prophetically, “The hour is fast approaching on which the honor and success of this army and the safety of our bleeding country depend. Remember, offices and soldiers, that you are freemen fighting for the blessings of liberty.”
Which makes it all the more important for us who cherish this vision to understand that it was built upon the radical understanding of their own voyage to the New World from the oppression of England in its State church, on the Puritan movement of faith that had called this band – first of Separatists and soon after, the Puritans themselves – to leave home and country, to claim the Biblical call of being “a city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us,” as they in the early days of the 17th century acted on that call to build communities like Plimoth and Boston in a wilderness land, but to live out the spiritual vision of a free faith under God, that brought the idea of covenant communities of commitment to each other, in which churches committed their whole congregations to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit through their church meetings led not by dominant clergy or by a handful of lay leaders, but by all the people waiting upon Jesus Himself to come in His Spirit to show them how they could unite in following a common way forward, confident that “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”
So came the original Mayflower Compact which prepared the way for another generation to declare their independence and to articulate it through a sacred constitution.
So, we hear the same call to us, in our time, and see ourselves as people of “the Way,” led together in unity by Jesus.
One of my own books tries to articulate this through a series of sermons given on Thanksgiving Days and Independence Days. It is a thin volume called “A PASSION FOR AMERICA.” I would love to share some of these with friends who let my colleague Laury Baars know of your interest. Free to the first 25 who write to firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and address.
Let us be about Americans, who rejoice in our heritage, and seek to understand it more clearly, and live it, in our time, more truly.
Written on February 14, 2020
It’s a sun-filled, desperately cold Sunday afternoon. In fact, it is St. Valentine’s Day, the day of the spirit of love. He got hold of the love idea, and practiced it. He made a practice of deeds of love and mercy.
It’s not much when we give one day in a year to thinking about living in the love way.
It so happened that the TV preacher from Texas whom we have watched on the Sundays of this long pandemic, when we have so needed churches, was talking about “emptying out the negative.” His descriptions were brilliant of how easily we fall into dark thoughts – about ourselves. Thoughts about our own inadequacies, our inabilities, our penchant for defeatist thinking about our health, about our work, about the world around us, and how easily the pandemic has exaggerated that darkness.
But Joel the preacher’s point is that God is thinking just the opposite of us. He, after all, has made us. He has plans for us. He sees strength in us, and success in us, and that our job is to lay hold of God’s view of us, of the goodness, even greatness He sees in us, and for the good things He plans for us and has waiting for us up ahead. He wants us to claim that picture of ourselves. To talk to ourselves about goodness and greatness.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been on our minds this month. He was a man of faith, of believing the best, for himself, his people, his country. “I have a dream,” he famously said. A dream of different people coming together. A dream of all people living, loving, and working together. He preached the dream, and gave it to America, and its divided people.
And his dream came from Jesus. Of a way of living that Jesus taught, and lived for all people.
Jesus was his model. He was Valentine’s model, too. He offers Himself as model for all of us. “Follow Me,” is what Jesus said to all those He met on the road of His life. That long journey of His so short three-year ministry in the world, was calling people to follow Him. To see the world His way. To not be self-centered like the rich, but to be humble, like the poor, the children, the sick, the broken, the hurting.
It was to take up the burden of the life of sacrifice, of doing good to others, the life of bearing the cross. He calls all of us to that. From the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”
What brother Martin knew America needed for the children of slaves and the children of slave-holders was to sit down together at the table of reconciliation on the green hills of Georgia, WAS FORGIVENESS. Love, lived out.
What a person we have to be to go to that table. To serve the others at that table. To have forgiveness in your heart. The spirit of God’s children – the humble-hearted, the good and the great. That can be all of us. It needs to be all of us. It is the big thing, the great thing that we become, in following Jesus. Never losing sight of that man or woman of love that we dare to be.
Let’s all help each other to be those people, with a selfless mind and heart. Living for others. Serving others. In the Jesus company! Who share “the dream,” and live it together.
Bless you, friends, in this season of the “saints” of love.
It really was a day like any other day. The 90-year-old was up, cleaning up our apartment, straightening out our life – and incidentally hers – and moving on in it until those precious celebratory evening hours at the home of our oldest daughter: telling life stories, remembering shared adventures, thinking of each child and grandchild in our wonderful family.
Our eldest, the retired Minneapolis Police Sergeant, now on Florida’s east coast with his wife, watching dolphins play through field glasses; of our second daughter, the front-line nurse, living through the pandemic with Covid-19 so close you could touch it. Of the youngest of our daughters, our artist, mothering her college-student son while meeting the world at the end of a check-out line.And our youngest son, now a Virginian, with a new house and a new job near the heart of America.
Even of our foster son from Viet Nam, who still counts us as family. And “the oldest daughter” herself, having prepared wonderful stew for four and presented an art-piece birthday cake.
It was all about love – of a person absolutely critical to us all, who birthed each one of these five children, and spent her life serving them, opening doors of possibility to them, sitting by the fireside at Ossipee and listening to nascent dreams spilling out and offering the encouragement only a wise mother can.
It was rehearsing the answers to “How do I love you? Let me count the ways...” And hearing again the deep reasons, the traits and “habits of the heart” that have built love into the lives of each child, now gray and grown, with their children to think about.
It is something to even get to grow old – with another dear to you, in a lifetime of children, and challenging adventures in places far and near. In the first little town among Berkshire hills. Among people of faith who both watched this important, wise young woman, and learned from her, but grew their love learned from their own years. All the years of adventure among the lives of people, even as she taught them and shared her life with them. Miracles of relationships!
And, as God would have it, adventures that called our little partnership out across the world – even into the dark lands of the African Genocide and the broken hearts it left behind. And she – this 90-year-old in only her vital 50s and 60s, and then 70s and 80s, that got her to 90- trusted God to show her what to do, how to heal hearts, how to mend broken lives, and hold out Jesus’ love which was the healing balm.
Upon arrival in Rwanda she asked God why He had brought her there and heard His answer: “I have brought you here to ask their forgiveness for what you and your people of the West did to divide them from each other.”
She taught all of us who were with her about ministry on your knees; washing feet, holding sobbing souls, standing by, being, Jesus’ light.
Our whole Manual for Retreat Leaders she wrote, designed the progression, remembered the scriptures needed, told the stories that would help fellow leaders and see how to do the delicate thing that became our life.
She never took credit for the genius of her creation. She turned away thanks and praise. She was utterly humble. She learned forgiveness early and became one of its greatest teachers. And in her own daily life, with its hurts and heartaches, she never held a grudge. She lived forgiveness, the Christian way.
I suppose that’s how she got to be 90, by forgiving many. Until some caught on and realized what an innate and God-sent teacher she was.
Just before 90, she posed a Christian Visitors ministry of house and home visits between white and black churches. It comes from Africa. But it’s working already to make friends in churches here.
She is a wise one, a “Lady of God” as a woman in our residence has described her. Quiet and humble, but following when Jesus calls.
She is ripe and blossoming in her old age, as scripture says. Her days are quiet, but exciting, as her Lord finds more and more use for her.
What a good way to live out your days. Doing the work of the Lord you love. It is an example that blesses me every step of the way.
Old ladies and old men can influence others still, to step out, trying new ways of Gospel-bearing; and new ways to be bold for Jesus. Look for the right one – new or old for you – And KEEP GOING.
It seems almost impossible after so many weeks and months of lockdowns, closing businesses and schools, restaurants and churches. Civic leaders have tried hard to do the right thing, trying to determine what would protect health and save lives, and as citizens we have tried to keep distance, wear masks, wash hands, and otherwise keep going as well as we could.
The youngest in our family, two engaging little great-granddaughters, have stayed at home from school, the six-year-old greatly missing teachers and classmates while their parents have done yeoman service to teach and lead at home as best they could.
One grandson has started college, while two young teen-agers of our St. Louis household, not only stayed home to study, but left school, house, and friends to move halfway across the country to Virginia, and start their new school without even seeing its inside. All in that family are happy, including their dad with his new job – done at home.
We miss church terribly but have followed a gifted young TV preacher who has encouraged us, gone to chapel here in our senior residence, and had occasional visits with our nearby children, worked at writing – like these blogs, hoping for better things.
And one has opened up to us for four Thursdays of March as Lent moves toward that final “week that was,” and gives us, in their restaurant (The Hilltop) the patio fireplace room where our little company of Christian friends can receive a light breakfast, talk together, pray together, read the Bible together, and BE TOGETHER – distanced and masked, but together.
If you want to come, 7:00 to 8:30 am, on any or all those Thursdays – the 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th, contact us at email@example.com, so we can alert The Hilltop. It’s been a long tradition, to which we are returning, mostly to be a COMPANY OF LOVE, in these still tense and divided times, for remembering the GREATEST TRUTHS (that Jesus came, and is among us), and finding healing in our fellowship of love.
The unwelcome pandemic has inadvertently reminded us how deep is our need for each other, and so much more our need for Jesus.
He promised to be with us always. And then at the end, to come and get us, and take us to the place He has been preparing for us in heaven. What a comfort and a strength for living out these interesting and unexpected days of life here, with so much we must go through, and oddly finding that, when each day is done, we were privileged and honored to be alive in it.
All the work of our dear Lord - Let us all celebrate that together.
Love you all, wherever you are!
The days come back to living the life. And more and more as the years go on, I think about that. About how any of us does that. Of how we look to Jesus and try to pattern our lives after His – knowing full well that, earth-bound, and sin-laden, we will be only glinting reflectors, sending back rays of the Son that land on some pond of our being and send a flash of something from beyond, that others see.
In the midst of all our work at faithfulness we know we are marked by the smudges of dirty, muddy planet earth, and so, at best, are only partial.
My children are dear to me, each one so different, and they know my fathering failures, and yet are so forgiving.
The church I served the longest in my life, gave me opportunity for the greatest adventures in ministry, yet in the end a couple of dozen of my friends worked to get me gone. There would be no talk of second chances, nor even departure packages. I didn’t know how to ride out that last year or so. In five or six “listening sessions,” I heard the complaints, and the things I stood for that were failed leadership in their eyes. The biggest issues were spiritual ones – my leading the church into the things of the Holy Spirit, the Baptism. The gifts. The power for change. I preached on, as faithfully as I knew how, and went to the sick and stood by the dying, and married, and buried, and baptized (in the lake, yet!) and taught the dear 14-year-olds in Confirmation. And left, as I promised, with 32 years completed, and nowhere else to go.
And discovered that, out there, waiting for Molly and me, thanks to World Vision, was a mission to the world, of reconciliation, and a few friends gathered ‘round and raised funds enough to establish the whole new ministry call The Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation.
And in going to the dark places of betrayal and hurt in Rwanda in the Great Lakes of Africa, there was healing for hearts and lives and families, and countries of the Genocide. And the Africans, in their need, taught us. And we realized that to do it right over there, we had to face “the beloved” of the church I’d hurt so much, and say sorry, and ask forgiveness. And my successors, David from Boston, at great risk, labored to make possible an evening service of 400 - 500 folks, and repent, and receive from them the anointing oil of forgiveness. Which began our own healing, and helped change so much.
Twenty-five more years of ministry awaited us and blessed us – and our family, and, I believe, that wonderful Colonial company.
Life, of course, goes on, and people struggle and churches struggle. And God heals hearts and allows ministers to be forgiven and go on, and for churches to do the same.
Until, 25 years later the world turns upside down in pandemic, and murder, and a country looking at its own heart and trying to repent, and change.
And, who know what’s ahead for the country we love, and the church we love, and so many people we love. And, we struggle to again “live the life.” And pray to understand what life is to be, for all of us, in our time.
Molly and I live in an 800 sq. ft. apartment in a gracious senior living place. It is a new phase and stage for us. It is really the dying place, for that is what us old folks are about: How to live as we die. How we receive the help of young doctors and nurses, and of our own grown children. And live with grace and love.
We pray mightily for so much: for our children and grandchildren. For the life we left behind. For the places and people so dear to our hearts.
And looking always to Home. The life that awaits us on the other side. For the repenting and forgiving and caring and loving that needs to mark these years.
May we be privileged to walk with precious friends and dear children, in faith.
May we all, help each other to do that. The Way of Jesus that He gives us, for “the living of these days.”
Loving you all,
Getting along with others – especially the nearest and dearest – has always been hard work.
So hard to say, “Sorry, I was wrong.” Even harder to say, “please forgive me.”
It calls for a humility we really mean. It also calls for a sensitivity that enables us to realize when, and how, we have hurt someone.
Words do hurt. Especially the thoughtless ones, where we didn’t really consider what our words would mean to the other person.
That pitfall could push us to think much more about the other person. About his or her life. About his or her character. About what he or she stands for and is trying to “be” in this world, in his or her own life. Most of those close to us, whom we care about as friends, as family – so important to us.
Our work in life is partly trying to help others be what they want to be – the best that they can be. I live with someone who never holds a grudge. A hurt or wound, she just lets it pass over her. She “does not let the sun go down upon her anger,” as Jesus so wisely taught.
It can be learned. It is deeply worth trying. How much happier all our relations can be. Thinking about others. Having a care for them. Changing our own way in order to help the other live out her or his way.
Having gratitude helps. Saying thanks to each other, and to God.
Jesus’ way. It can be ours.
Bless you, friend.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES
All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. . ."