I am reading a new thick book called "The British Are Coming: The War for America." I've finished "Hamilton." Both are stories of a rising tide in America, of anger at Britain for her unfair taxes in America. America was part of the Empire. But the Empire was finding multiple ways to increase their profits from the Colonists.
It was a time of high ideals about who and what America really was. More and more the Colonists felt they were not Englishman, but Americans. And the clash of ideals led them to war.
And the spirit led to outbursts and insults, often very personal and demeaning. The English view of the rebels was degrading and often vicious. Today's outcries in relation to immigration have also been passionate and given with insults.
But this has not been the worst in American history. The revolutionary days were far worse. Which does not make them right.
But the setting today has been very different. Most of us who have been leaders have needed encouragement to do our jobs. A little appreciation goes a long way. Leaders, in their serving are trying to do their best for their people, whether it is a church, a company, or a country.
To call someone a racist, in the context of political debate or conversation, is meant to be an insult. It is a way of saying to another that he or she is not fair in judgment. To call one homophobic is to say that one is sick, is overcome by a phobia, an inability to see the other person as a lovable human being.
It would take a great deal of care to walk back either of those words to a place of just and fair conversation.
Many leaders politically in America's life believed enslaved black people should be sent back to Africa. Both Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln at some point in their struggle with the issue of slavery, embraced that action as a possible idea.
We see it as abhorrent today. We feel deeply that America is a place where as a nation we are committed to finding ways to live together, to see the best in other people, to understand them as people created by God who should be accepted for that reason alone.
When Barack Obama was elected President, Americans wanted him to succeed. From the day his successor was elected large groups of people wanted him to fail, and have dogged his steps to criticize him, to find reasons to diminish him.
Anyone who rises to become the leader of a nation as diverse as ours, is due a certain respect and help to succeed in that role. And that includes the expectation of prayer as support, of asking God's blessing on a leader, praying protection for that leader.
The Bible makes clear that God did good work in the world through both good people and bad people. Part of the miracle of God's love at work in human lives, is the amazing good that He has done through some who by human standards we would not support success.
We need to give each other a chance to be good and decent people in the world. That is our prayer for our children. It needs to be our prayer for "all of God's children."
We are all sinners. We have life by the very mercy of God. We want His mercy for ourselves. As God's own people we need to want God's mercy for other people.
St. Paul says essentially, "think on good things" in people. Hard work. But, nevertheless, our calling.
Be blessed, friend.
From our Ossipee deck, in late afternoon, I look down through the trees - tall graceful maples, stalwart pines, and the tamaracks for which our summer house is named - to the blue lake beyond.
A northerly breeze is blowing and out in mid-lake a few speed boats do what they do - go fast, leaving a wake of white behind. Beyond them, behind the eastern shore of Ossipee, stand the Freedom Hills, a long range running north to south, with the late light of Sunday afternoon upon them.
There are voices down on the beach, the growing children of a family that gathers every summer from across the country and around the world. For two weeks they run and splash, and renew the ties that bind them as a family. It's a gift their grandma gives them. "I don't do Christmas," she says. "I don't do birthdays. I give them Ossipee," she says. Three houses she rents, so her growing "grands" can know each other, love each other, eat Grandma's sandwiches at noon, and then all gather in another house for common dinner. It's an exercise in community. Making memories. Forging deep ties for a lifetime.
Church is about common life, too. Today at "First Congregational" we had a replay of Vacation Bible School, called "Roar." "Life is Wild" was the theme, so roar! Sing. Laugh. Dance.
The background was Africa. Lions. Elephants. Zebras appearing in the background. While on video screens children - in Africa - sang and danced to action hymns that declared "When life is sad, God is good. When you hurt, God is good. When everything's good, God is good."
One hundred fifty children had spent the week together, led in Bible stories by 50 volunteers. Kids brought neighbor friends who didn't know church or God, and they had a love-filled, singing, Jesus-crowned week together.
They came to know, for sure, that God sent Jesus to befriend them, love them, lead them, gave His life for them. It was electric. It was transforming. We were given time to pray a prayer of asking Jesus to come in and renew our lives, too.
And in the midst, a direct, persuasive sermon was given by our young Associate Minister, on temptation. On the Biblical story of the Tempter, a fallen angel, who studies us, knows our will, our way, and plots to defeat us in the game of life by luring us to fall away from our place in the Kingdom crowd, to being deserters, to going over to the dark side - by doing the dark things, whether sex, or selfishness, or pride, or cruelty. But giving up the Kingdom life that Jesus brought, where Kingdom people shine the light that comes from heaven.
The basis was a line from the Lord's Prayer, "protect us from the evil one." It was the truth of life, spelled out for us, clearly, unwaveringly, honestly.
My Molly offered "that was the best sermon on evil I have ever heard." So clear for 9-year-olds - and for 90-year-olds. There is a warfare in this world, and we are visited by the King of Love. And we have the choice - to follow Him, or not.
We were reminded that today was Summer Baptism Day, when people young and old would declare their faith and go through the washing of the water of Baptism as the sign of the New Life they have chosen.
I must say, "It was real church." People daring to declare themselves on heaven's side. And receiving encouragement from the family of faith to be true, and walk straight, clinging to Jesus who came to call us all into the Kingdom of Love - as the path to real life.
I must say, that sitting here this summer Sunday, in my forest home, feasting on the picture of green hills, and blue lake, and the trees about me mottled with the light of the setting sun, it reminds me how it all fits: God's world, so beautiful, His Kingdom here, of which we can all be a part - what privilege. What restoring encouragement. What truth to take into my heart as I set out on a new week of life, leading to another Sunday when Molly and I will be privileged to be bearers of that truth of life to the gathered handful of a little congregation in the mountain town of Wonalancet. Bless you all, this week, and every week.
And remember, church is very good, for all of us.
Sitting here in Barnes & Noble Bookstore over a small cup of espresso macchiato, I have a chance to read my chapter in John for today. A fascinating passage has me continuing to reflect:
At the end of Chapter 2, vs 29 says:
"When He was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in His Name, because, they saw the signs that He was doing. But Jesus on His part, would not trust Himself to them because He knew all people and needed no-one to testify about anyone; for He Himself knew what was in everyone."
"Jesus knew what was in everyone." He knew the human heart. He could see a person's inner heart and soul.
When the "Holy Spirit overtakes our lives, we too are able - as Jesus did - to see the inner hearts of others. To see the essence of their character. Abigail Adams, wife of the second President of the United States, once said of someone, "Oh, I knew already what was in his heart. I could see it in his eyes."
It seems to me that is a gift of the Spirit we should all awaken in our hearts - the ability to see other people's hearts. To instinctively know the heart of people. It is what we sometimes call "discernment." It is from that seeing that there comes wisdom in our lives. The ability to sense something deep inside of others.
In America, we're living in a time of judgment, of criticism, of anger, that rises often to shouting, and demanding, and assuming dark things about people who differ and disagree with us. Because we differ we assume selfish motives in others. We ignore what may be the pain in their lives, the sorrows with which they live, the injustices that have been done them. We often know very little about them.
There are calls from many corners for civility in our common life. For patience and understanding in our public conversation.
Listening helps us slow down, pay attention, not assume. It encourages us to take a longer look. To go deep with others. To perceive the truth that's there. To glimpse the true heart.
I am reading a very thick, many-paged book called, "Hamilton." It is the story of a very young man who grew up, an illegitimate child, in the West Indies. He was brilliant, head-strong, a deep thinker who became one of America's most intellectual and important "founding fathers."
Out of his mind came much of the conception of our Constitution, of the actual form of our government. He saw the role a monetary system plays in the life of a nation. He saw the importance of having a national bank. He played out in his head the whole structure of government institutions. He became the close and trusted advisor of our first president, George Washington.
He did all this in the midst of amazing and debilitating envies and jealousies among founding fathers themselves. Many of them had huge egos, were driven by desires for glory. It was a tumultuous time.
George Washington, both as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, and as our first president, was one who cultivated patience and observation. Very often it was he who saw the heart, and so, was able to make the young Hamilton's genius work for America's good.
In these strikingly similar days, as people of faith, who love our country, and love God more, it is very important that we take time to see the heart of those who lead us. Who see the goodness that is so often missed, in public people. Our president today, needs it. His family needs it. All those who offer themselves to lead us, need it.
God help us take time to see the heart of all those around us.
T "I will lift up my eyes to the hills
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord
Who made heaven and earth."
I have come so far, to sit and look. We arrived at our little dirt road - "Hodsdon Shore Road" - that winds a mile down hills, around turns, beside the River Pine, until it reaches the little community of Hodsdon Shore: old summer "camps" as we say in NH, a tumbling shed, a brand new miniature house, looking like a picture book, then Selectman Harry Mersow's new (20 years) house and door-yard, where the road turns sharp left into the swamp and continues, after you've spied the yellow board buildings of the Clark compound, three yellow, looking down at the lake, then two grays, for cars, storage, and loft. You pass the Stevens' tin garage, and refurbished white clapboard cottage, and then the Rouner's old boat house, and the newly-painted Rouner's camp where I grew up as a small boy and a third generation of our family carefully rents out and comes early and late to preside and care for and remembers her own childhood there.
Then my sister's house, passed on to a God-daughter from England, working "slowly-by-slowly" on expansion. And then, our "Tamarack Lodge," which Molly and I have built and rebuilt, a cozy collection of three wood-stained clapboard buildings with a "farmer's porch" and three gabled windows facing the woods and road, and a glassed-in study looking south from the second floor, where sliding-glass doors look out over wood-railed balcony toward the lake, while below a wide-railed deck joins this house to "The Gallery," and the first simple addition where four bedrooms accommodate family and other visitors. The aging seniors are there too, confined to the first floor, and enjoying the relief at night of the only air-conditioner.
Sunrise there, wakes us directly every morning. Up a gravel path is a hand-built garage, designed to accommodate three single racing shells on one wall, a canoe, and a sleek black Camero convertible that rests the winters there and drives slowly to town and nearby villages, and for years to mountain trail-heads where man and dog climbed high "The Whites" each summer.
It all is different now. We come with the same heart and eagerness but with the now slowed step of the years, managing the canoe to paddle the Pine a few days each week, and sometimes one of the two remaining shells. The cool waters still call for a short swim in shallow water.
But now, more and more, it's a study chair on the deck alone, looking long, through our own forest of trees to the lake, where others, young and strong, come to play on these blue waters. Power boats dash about, leaving foamy wakes behind. A few large party boats cruise the lake, drinking in all they see, and, at certain times a day a kayak goes by, or a canoe, and far in the distance, a sailboat, catching the breezes of this lovely lake.
Directly across are the Freedom Hills, a long range from north to south. At that end Green Mountain rises above beautiful "Long Sands" shore.
Clusters of boats hug the shore north of us, with cabins - many of them year-round homes, spreading out to Tadewan Point where "Weetamoe" the Cambridge Girl Scout camp used to be. Beyond, to the north, another camp and cottages, even camps for young people, and retreat centers like Calumet, owned and operated by the Lutherans.
Behind them are the ranges: the nearby Ossipees, and back of them, the Sandwich Range, with Whiteface, Passaconway, Wonalancet, Paugus, crowned by stark and beautiful Mt Chocorua. Finally, following the eastern slopes, are the high Presidentials, dominated by mighty Mt. Washington, highest peak east of the Mississippi and north of the Carolinas, where weather changes in an instant, and the highest wind velocity on earth was recorded at 230 miles per hour.
We love it. Look to it. Dare to climb it, to see the farthest view of all - to Portland, and the Atlantic, 100 miles away.
For me, now is the time in life to "lift up my eyes to the hills" and try to see and sense what God is saying to me. And, if He doesn't speak loud and clear, I can just stop, and listen. And, try to look hard at what's before me, and just wait for what God calls to mind - in my mind.
Here, at Ossipee, I can see how everlasting are the hills, and how, despite the wearing away of their trails and peaks, the wonderful forms stay the same. And though I, like the world around me, am ever-changing, there is a core, down deep, that is somehow what my true self has always been: naive, simple, loving Jesus.
I need to honor that, and be whom He wants me to be, and, has made me to be.
For I am surer now, and I can rest much easier in things that once seemed complicated and abstract, and maybe not needed.
Now, I know I need them - desperately, deeply. And, as I see them for once, at last, in their wholeness and depth, I rejoice, and thank my Lord that it is so.
We roll across the country, our family of three, the grown daughter at the wheel, the little grandmother in the shotgun seat up front, the old grandfather huddles in the back seat, writing his blog on a roll of paper towels.
It’s cramped back here. But, the day is beautiful, as we drive east across Ohio, into the morning sun, hoping to make Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania and “the Barn at Turkey Hill,” for dinner. Tonight, as we cross America – beautiful America – to reach “the hills of home,” our lakeside among the mountains for the summer.
Will it be the last for our long lifetime? Or will it be the first of an unknown number of sunset summers at this Ossipee that has been a “holy ground” for four generations of our family; that has walked these shores that have been like Galilee to us?
Through the long years, our Ossipee has been the place of life decisions, of working things out, of faith-deepening, of far-seeing.
The lakeside, for us, as in Whittier’s poem, is where we, like the poet’s imagined Indian, looking down from mountain trails, saw, in the lake, “the face of God.”
As a child, I climbed with my parents, the high peaks that surround our lake. A long conversation I remember, with my father, when I was 5 or 6 climbing our Mt. Chocorua, talking about war, and what that was, and about the pictures I recalled seeing in the Sunday papers of Italian troops in rubber rafts, beginning an invasion of Ethiopia. You could see a long way from the mountaintops of the Sandwich Range near us, and later, further north, the rugged peaks of the Presidential ridge. You could see far, and think long, about life in this world of ours.
Decades later, on the same high trails, I took my own children climbing. And we too, talked on the trail, about God, and life. And later, they did the same with theirs.
The hills, in their own way, are healing. And so, are the lakes. There is dawn over Green Mountain and sunset behind the Ossipee. And then, the awe of full-moon rise, and later, the pathway on the water. Stars come out. And, in late August, the northern lights.
There comes a time when the whole earth speaks. The night skies, the turning trees. Winter snow. Spring flowers. Birds.
I go this summer, to paddle Pine River. To watch the embankment summer change. To see turtles, and ducks, and the gathering geese, preparing to head south.
The earth calls you home. Its high peaks, speak of God, and the heaven He inhabits. And the welcome He prepares for us when our days on earth are done. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus said to His own. “And I will come and get you, that where I am, you may be also.” We want to go. We yearn to go. And yet, we cling to earth, and the clearly miraculous life He has given us here.
It is miraculous because it is God’s gift to us. All our days are marked with the plans God has for us. With the mysterious steps He has laid out before us.
All our days, really, are miracle days. God is all around us. Every day is a day of wonder. And, we need to see that, and be part of that – literally playing our part. It is God’s drama, being worked out within each of us – preparing us for the even greater drama to played out on the stage of heaven.
We’re not to be downtrodden by any of the bad days, and bad people of life. We’re to be people carrying about, a treasure, a divine knowledge, a gift – for the ages.
So exciting is life. So full of wonder, bound by promise, and hope. Find a place where you can rest awhile, and think about these things. And, more and more, be able to live for them.
Bless you, friends!
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES