It is a cold, cloudy day at the end of May, here in Minnesota. My heart is drawn, every year, to Lakewood Cemetery and its faithful celebration of Memorial Day.
Churches may let this day pass, with the great hymns of our country not sung, with the connection between God and this land of His, not lifted up, but the cemeteries do not, and preachers come to pray, and singers of soul sing the changes in the delicate and deep hymns of faith that America cherishes, and crowds of gray-haired folks gather in increasing numbers to hear the Police Band play, and an elder officer sing his heart out, and Robert Robinson and friends sing their souls and ours, and wise messages of history are delivered. We greet a few dear friends, and go away glad we came, and glad for those who care, and see that those celebrations happen and that we are welcome to weep at God's love for our land.
I am saddened by those who are embarrassed at our flag, and at any connections between our faith and our country. The secularism of their Enlightenment tendencies has made them cynical about some of the most precious gifts God has given them - of a free land in which to live, defended by lives freely given by the young, and served, often for lifetimes, by people who simply chose to work for the public good.
This land, and its call to its own, is a strange and wonderful phenomenon in this day of mounting cynicism and self-promotion.
Jesus' call to the cross and to the specific giving of our lives away, is the antidote to the great hope of any heart that wants to be humbled, and purified, and refreshed and renewed these springtime days.
A blog for a new day - May 22, 2017
Today a suicide bomber has blown himself up amid the crowd at a concert in Manchester, England. Twenty-two people were killed, more than 50 injured. An attack upon the innocent. It is not armies and arms that are attacked, but defenseless people packed into an arena with no notion that someone was setting out to kill them.
At the same time the new American President is on a nine-day, unprecedented journey across the world to speak peace - in Saudi Arabia, in Israel, in the West Bank.
He is our oldest president in office. He is going where no other sitting president has gone for his first journey abroad. He is going for a longer, surely daunting, exhausting trip. He went to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, standing silent, and in prayer.
The press at home tries to keep the accusations, and rumors, and speculations of his demise stirring.
And I, aged at 88, out of hospital after a ruptured appendix, receive communications of love from across the world and across generations from people who care that I live, and want me to be encouraged by their love:
- A quiet man I rarely see wrote to tell me that he still reaps the benefits of one of our reconciliation retreats he attended a few years ago.
- Our pastor friend from Goma, in Congo, sent me his fondest love.
- From Arizona, the leader of our first trip to Africa, reminisced about our times together and the memories we share.
- And, from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, comes a birthday greeting and a letter from a confirmation friend of the years. She speaks of the time spent in confirmation class and a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. How they shaped her life and groomed her faith back in the summer of 1968.
She reminds me of the many times our lives have crossed and thanks me for encouraging her through trying times along the way.
How differently the people of the beloved community speak to each other, telling their hearts, opening their lives - to encourage, and build up. Not to water down, to demean, to criticize, to destroy.
We can all find ways to do that, with a word, a hand, a look, that tells the heart.
Everyone needs those words, those encouragements. We are made, as people, to do that with each other. Jesus came to show us, with His life.
So may the world turn, and breakthroughs come, and the world of countries, and diplomacy, and personal relationships be transformed by words and touches that heal and expand and mend, and make new the very world we live in.
When we set out to judge another publicly, particularly with carefully articulated insult and disparagement, we set ourselves above the weakness, childishness, foolishness, or even meanness of those we criticize. We stand on the side of those Jesus excoriates the most: THE PHARISEES.
They were the elitists whose sin was self-righteousness, thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. Those who love me try to preserve me from such pride. Yet I know that is an arena of my own sin.
In a tumultuous political week, there are many yearning to analyze publicly the personality and mental health of our President. Something the American Psychological Society is trying desperately to keep its members from doing. On the grounds that it is unfair to publicly analyze someone whom you have not privately and personally analyzed - with permission.
David Brooks, honored as a New York Times commentator, and author of a book on character, has published on May 16, 2017, an article titled, "When a Child is Leading the World." He brings insult and analogy to bear in identifying the President of the United States as a dangerous child running loose as an empty, arrogant person already beyond any control.
It is as if David Brooks wants to be among the first to warn the nation--and the world--of this rising, reckless threat to us all. He is already psychologically analyzing the President.
I do not like boorishness, or boasting, or lying, or self-aggrandizement. I have chosen, praise God, a way of life and service that demands humility to be in any way successful.
But, I know from Biblical and world history that God chooses and works through sinful people. I know God "holds the whole world in His hands." I know God loves His world, and His children. I am one of them. David Brooks is one of them. Donald Trump is one of them.
Part of what is happening in our over-turned world, I sense, is that God is confronting an elitist self-righteousness which we have allowed to flourish in our land. We call it, "political correctness." It has wormed its way into our thinking, our speech, our view of ourselves and others. Many have felt intimidated and put down by it.
It has replaced the "one clear call" of Biblical faith to the "devout and holy life." It has blurred the call and claim to love - above all else. It has blunted compassion. It has celebrated self-centeredness. It has spawned the sense of a "me generation." It has made the idea of personal choice sacrosanct above all other ethics. It has obliterated the Christ call to "take up our cross" and follow Jesus in giving our lives away.
Our spirit, more than ever, needs to be bent toward forgiveness, that only can lead toward reconciliation within this land we love.
Insult and outrage over a decision made by America's people through a constitutional process we have lived by for two centuries is leading us toward dark negativities in our public life. Humble acceptance, and a hope built on faith, leads toward the light.
As someone who was sent by over-wrought parishioners to a psychiatrist because of my embrace of the Holy Spirit, I am sensitive to how easily a gang spirit of control can arise in well-meaning, even loving human communities.
It is a time for care. And prayer. And forgiveness. And for seeing the best in others.
Why should we not be leaders in that endeavor?
Many, many people say they want to change the world. They want to make a difference. They speak of "energy," of the spirit of the group. And, in these springtime days, they are drawn to marches. The million women's march. The march for the environment. And, on May Day, the march for jobs.
In almost all the radio and TV news reports, the theme identified is something negative. The marchers, young and old, all against something. And, it turns out, they are against someone. They are against the newly elected president of their country. The themes described before the marches sounded lofty. But once there, the march leaders have a different idea. It is negative. It is protest. They want to bring someone down. They cry words like "impeachment." And, worse.
I believe for many, it is well meant. They see it simply as free speech. But, it soon borders on hate speech. They feel invigorated to be experiencing rage. They are sure they are right.
I too, in my heart, want to change the world. I want to confront evil, and defeat it. I want to turn back the dark tide. I want to have a little longer to do that.
But today, on May Day, I reflect that as a Christian, I want to lift up Jesus. I want to bring in the Kingdom. I want to change hearts, and communities. I want to help "the beloved community" do the work of love - where they are, and across the world.
One practical strategy has emerged. And it's not gathering a great crowd. It's not shouting. It is the opposite. It is prayer. It is earnestly, honestly addressing God, through Jesus His Son, Who came to change us all, and win us to our Father.
"Come to Me," He says. "Pray," He says. "With all your heart and mind, soul and strength." Speak to God. Put before Him your heart, your deep desire. Speak for peace. Speak for love. Act out these words. Pray for people. Pray for nations. Pray for leaders.
Pray for the leaders we have - in the church, in the town, in the country.
If we follow those who've brought that message, we'll find it works. We'll find it is power, straight from God. Prayer does change the world.
Decades ago, Frank Laubach, great missionary to the Philippines, said, "If all those in nursing homes (people aged, infirm, and immobile) were to pray for peace, peace would come."
I want to do that. I want to make a new effort to be a man of prayer. To persist in my prayers. Daily. To not give up. To speak it, and live it. And see what happens.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES