All of us live, one way or other, remembering our history. Remembering the good people in our lives, remembering “the things my mother taught me,” remembering friends of old. And, we relish the thoughts. We love to recall the people, and what they stood for, and how they helped.
There are those great influences in our lives – a teacher, a professor, a comrade. For me, it was James Stuart Stewart, my friend and professor at New College, Edinburgh, who preached a Good Friday sermon in the Union Seminary Chapel on “The Rending of the Veil,” which opened the way for heaven for me, and out of my grief over the death, under my care, of my 7th grade Sunday School student in New York, who drowned in the church swimming pool on a class outing, when I was myself a 20s-something theological student. James Stewart was a model for me in preaching, in praying, in living. I love to think of him and remember his ringing, lyrical Scottish voice and how, in his preaching he gave me Jesus in all the wonder of His personality.
As our own city went up in flames on Pentecost Sunday at the end of May this year, after the death of George Floyd on a street corner in south Minneapolis, rage rose, people marched, “systemic racism” became the cry, and we, as a city seemed to go “off the rails.” No one waited to take time to cool down, to know exactly what really had happened, and to respond in a way that could build on some very good things in our city, good people who had done good – in the police department, in city government, in our colleges and schools, in our churches and homes. We were overtaken – in some ways literally, by people whose intentions were destructive, who believed chaos was in their best interest, no matter who got hurt.
It’s important to remember our roots, especially our spiritual roots, both personally, and as a church. We came from heroes who dared a forbidding ocean to find in a wilderness land the freedom to live their radical faith and the vision it stirred for a life of freedom for all people. A vision they wrote into their Mayflower Compact, that echoed again 150 years later in their new country’s Declaration of Independence and the founding Constitution of their new nation’s life.
Their church and community life was founded in Jesus and His promise to be their leader whenever they “gathered as two or three together in His Name,” He would be there. He would lead their thinking and planning, through prayer until they came to conclusions that led them to say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Jesus led them together, by unanimous agreement toward decisions in which they were of “one mind and heart.”
It was not independent democracy, but an achievement of unity in the whole gathered group. Their being “together,” was a sign that the Spirit was leading them. They called it “the Church Meeting.” And the buildings they built in which to hold their weekly Sabbath gathering, they called “The Meeting House.” Making the careful distinction that they as a body gathered was “the Church.” But the “Meeting” became the means, the process, for their governance as a church. Indeed, the Congregational Church meeting gave them the exact form, later, of their “town” meeting.
The distinctions were subtle, but the results were profound. Yet today we call our meetings “town” meetings, and we look downtown to law offices and commercial businesses for the principles and models of “how to run a business.” But of course, that’s not what a church is. It’s a “church,” not a “business.” And, its interest is not in efficiency, but in God’s people undertaking and doing God’s work TOGETHER – in unity. It is a genius way of church life. More relevant today than ever before.
Especially in honest people’s sorting out any spirit or practice of “racism” that has crept into their life. Something Jesus our Lord is trying again to teach us, begging us to follow Him in ways that will unify and purify our hearts, and our intentions toward each other.
It is our way now, to look back, in order to go forward. Praise the Lord!
The Pandemic affects us all, as we are charged to keep our distance, and to wear masks – and then, be drawn into surreal grief that envelops our country as over 170,000 people die as a result of being personally infected by the Covid-19 virus. Many were older folks, but not all. Many of them, and others were taken down because they were already vulnerable with diseases and health conditions they already had. I am myself one of the latter, very vulnerable group.
So, we are wary, unsettled, but by God’s grace, not afraid. Always careful.
Yet, with all that, the division over race, is the more complicated. We have lived separately, in our own neighborhoods, our own regions, our own isolated worlds, not really choosing, but drifting into isolated conclaves. But suddenly now, with one killing too many, of a black man on a street corner in Minneapolis by a policeman who held him down on the pavement by a knee on his neck, as the man begged, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” making us all sick at heart that that kind of violence could be so casually used. Clearly, it should never have happened.
Thousands of citizens poured into the streets of cities across the country, and the world. Not all young. Not all black. Just people, enraged at the injustice of it all. Joined, as the description became deeper, and the mulling and shouting more confused, and the restraints more and more withdrawn, by the hooded, black-clothed dress of destruction, with their torches, and firebombs, their bricks and their axes, positioning their weapons strategically, and leading the leaderless through smashed store windows, to loot and steal valuable items from defenseless shops – many owned by refugees from Somalia trying to make their way in America. Over $82,000,000 worth of loss the newspapers are now reporting.
Cries went up, to “defund the police.” Meetings are held to dismantle some of the key structures holding our fragile society together. Leaders of the Chaos say looting is reparations. Destruction is justified. Destroying livelihoods is payback.
We are close to the “last days” whenever they may come. These are the days for people who care, to dare, to do something. There is more than enough time. The need is for will. For good hearts to find a way to do good, to do something good, to bring people together.
We have a friend who came as a black kid from Cleveland to go through Edina’s ABC (A Better Chance) program. He came back after college to direct first Edina’s ABC program and then Eden Prairie’s. He’s been a friend for many years. He’s helping Zion Baptist Church downtown, with its programs. He invited Molly and me to come down to Zion for a “Rap on Culture.” Our friend Gardner was there, waiting for us. We talked, and prayed. Pastor Bryan Herron came later after work of healing in the city.
My Molly said, “Why not gather some ‘Christian visitors,” - ten from Colonial and ten from Zion to meet, to go to each others’ churches for worship and to just “visit?” The Christians who talk to each other, who pray with each other, who worship God together – to hold up our city to Him?”
We’re going to do it. A half-dozen from Colonial and from our Hilltop Bible Study have said, “I want to come.” Soon after Colonial Church opens up in September for face-to-face worship, we’ll pick a Sunday, gather and go. And SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
Something friends will do together. In faith. With hope. And love. Somehow it will happen.
Pray that it will. In the Lord’s own way.
Mid-August has come and gone. Always in New Hampshire, by our lake, August meant clear air, down from the mountains, blue skies swept clean by August breezes, with days of whitecaps on the lake, and – in the old days – the unmistakable call to the high places, the mountaintops, the far view, the “closer walk with Thee,” then home, to the cool evening and a fire in the fireplace, for reading, and talking, and being together as a family.
In the dining room Molly would put out the Scrabble board, and two or three children would gather round to match their wits with hers. Sometimes I might sit to one side with my sketch book to see if I could catch the likeness of one or two of them.
In later years I’ve been content to read, after the thick book of American history, relieved by a Louis L’Amour record of the west. Some evenings were good for letters to just say to someone dear to me, but far from me, that I loved them, and why.
The handwritten letter in later years, has been more often the choice – for a way to stay in touch. My penmanship has deteriorated, but my joy in the remembering, and writing has increased as a wonderful exercise of the heart, to let people know I remember, and that they are dear to me, and near to my heart. “Blest be the tie that binds!”
August always held invigorating days – just by the air – with the hint of autumn coming, the time of deep reds and gold in the maple leaves, and oak. I could paddle up the Pine River and see beautiful forest trees having been touched by an invisible hand.
Fall coming, with brilliant colors, always made it easier to face the prospect of winter. Sad as it seemed, it always said, “This is my Father’s world,” and it will turn, round again, always bringing another spring, and another summer. Because it’s God’s world, and He cares.
And, if I fall into sadness, on a melancholy day in summer, it comes quickly back to me – often as my wise and faithful Molly’s own understanding – as she says, “We are so blessed to have this long, good life together. What a gift. What a gift.”
Love you, friends.
How they do come, out of the night, and in broad daylight – with the screech of brakes, and the crunch of metal, and the blood of sudden death hurled down upon someone so near and dear to you that words cannot describe the despairing pain of losing the life of someone you just can’t live without.
Of course, it is not always the horror of the highway. More often it is the unbidden pain of some invading alien presence in the delicate balance of your own body’s life. You don’t know how it entered, or made progress through your bloodstream, or into a critically important organ. And, ominously, it grows and takes over space that does not belong to it.
In a thousand ways the dark invader comes, and we pray and pray, and see wise doctors and rejoice when victory is won, and the invader is defeated. Until the next visitor appears. And we cry out: “Is this life? How can this be?”
When we’re “young and strong” it seems we could last forever. We eat and sleep. We exercise and “take care of ourselves.” And then – the visitor. The unwelcome visitor.
An email came this weekend that a beloved colleague’s sister died in an automobile accident. The children with her are in hospital. “How can it be?” we ask.
But, we know how. Because, this is the world. This IS life. The forces of darkness are there, all the time. “The Devil goes about, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour,” Jesus said, long ago. In our fallen world, which began as a garden of innocence and new life, as God’s wonderful creation began.
But the Tempter came, with his insinuating suggestions, and the idea of power was planted, and taking it away from God, and rising up in pride ourselves. And serving self was born – not others. Not God.
And there is that human battle we all face – the dark forces that work to blot out that wondrous Light of Life and Love that Jesus brought, and is.
Time teaches us. And God knocks on the door of our heart from almost the first day, telling us to look up, to look out, turn to Him, and be ready. So we will not despair, not go down in defeat, not give up, not give in.
Oh, the world is so beautiful. And people are so precious. And blessings are poured out upon us in such abundance. Then the sudden surprise comes, and we learn loss, and grief, and loneliness. But also Hope. And Help. And Love. God’s love. And wisely we learn to navigate this strange world of strife, of Good and Evil.
And the great challenge is to become PEOPLE OF THE WAY. The way that was sent to us by God, through Jesus His Son, Who Himself faced the cross, and betrayal, and death. Yet, through it all showed us that He is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE, and is Himself our Hope and the ANSWER.
And, as we learn it, we are privileged to be the bearers of that great answer, that great hope for human life, in the world – the hope and healing of Christ the Lord. Oh, yay! Good News!
Love to you, in these days.
We talked about the tension in America, and in families, around the wind and fire, anger and hate, rage in the streets of our city over the killing by a police officer of a black man who had tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a street corner food market.
My friend spoke of harsh words that get spoken within families when conflicting views are held. He spoke of the immediate sorrow that grew from the wound of such confrontation.
It has suddenly escalated, blown all out of proportion, as the angry words have done their work. The dear people had lost their heads. Anger and hurt, rupture and rending were happening – inevitably. Words too hard to call back.
What if all that tumult – the very wind and flames that engulfed that street corner, were a Pentecostal sign from God, a signal that the time had come “of a mighty wind storm” and of “tongues of fire”? That Sunday was not just May 25. It was, in fact, Pentecost Sunday. Could God be calling through the winds of fire, saying, “Minneapolis, see yourselves. Others have come in to twist the righteousness of people, black and white, who wanted to speak “the peace that passes understanding.”
Jesus said, “The Devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” The work of pure intent can easily become the dark work of the Evil One.
We need voices of peace. We need people who care, and dare. Who can help us meet in peace. To come together to pray. To go to our knees. To find a way to say “sorry.” To step back. Take time. Let the Spirit move.
This could become God’s great time. When ordinary people can speak truth – and most of all LOVE. And see if words can be found, and a way can be found, to let “a gentle answer be heard” in this city we love – among people who care so much.
Let peace be spoken. Let hurt be healed. Let brothers and sisters embrace, and follow as brother Martin so courageously did, THE PRINCE OF PEACE. With a heart of love.
There comes a time when all of us look back on our lives, and think about what they mean – to our nearest and dearest, in family, to the generations following our children and grandchildren, and to friends and colleagues.
Several summers ago, a young author from Northampton, Massachusetts drove north to Lake Ossipee, in New Hampshire, to talk with me about a prep school classmate of mine, about whom he was writing.
Jack Downey was my friend and 6th Form row-mate. He was President of our class and I was Chair of the Student Council. Jack was a superb athlete - captain of the wrestling team, fierce guard on the football team, winning hammer-thrower on the track team. I was a co-captain of crew.
We had much in common, loving American history, and trying, as boys, to be leaders of lads who would soon be men.
Jack went on to captain the wrestling team, and on graduation, entered what his biographer called “that...(immature, simplistic, and superficial) intelligence service, the CIA.” “Suddenly my life had purpose,” Jack wrote.
Jack and another young CIA agent were shot down in a low pass over China, in what was an ambush that brought about Jack's capture and imprisonment by the Chinese Communists for 21 years (making him America’s longest held prisoner of war in our history).
He was a famous case and he remains one of the CIA’s young heroes. His author’s book, on the way to publication, is called:
“A Different Case: Jack Downey’s Cold War”
The untold story of a captured American spy in China who for 20 years was
disavowed, locked up, and forsaken, and who came home unbowed, a
singular American hero.
“Downey is a different case, as you know. Downey involves a CIA agent.”
- Richard Nixon, White House Press Conference, 1973
Here was a friend whose life had an air of mystery from the moment he left Yale in 1951. He was known, admired, and loved by all of his classmates as he went off to serve in the CIA. Bits and snatches of his life behind bars in Beijing came out through our third roommate, and Jack’s mother. There was grief and glory in his story as we put pieces together over the years.
Jack was humble, unassuming, and in his own way, a man of faith. His mother, a Connecticut public school teacher took him a Bible on one of her few visits. He read several chapters daily from then on. He read American history. He exercised a disciplined routine of reading and exercising which gave an order and purpose to his life. His great fear was that he might somehow betray his country in the endless rounds of questioning he went through.
When finally released, he went through Harvard Law School, worked in Connecticut State government, finally becoming an outstanding Juvenile Judge in Wallingford, CT, where now the government offices bear his name.
He married, had a son, cheerily bore Parkinson’s Disease, and just a few years ago, died of cancer. His wife will publish a book about him, as will the Northampton author, who has sent me his manuscript, telling the most remarkable story of this alas unsung hero almost unknown to our generation.
As a country newspaper editor before he died, our third roommate, and a country minister and later Africa missionary, talked often of Jack’s “singular” life and profound example to his school and college classmates.
What deep meanings everyone’s life has. And in the living we really are not aware of that. We go on, a day at a time – that become years, trying to know who we are and what we are meant to give the world which was, after all, so generously given to us. Not so much by our parents, but by God our Maker, who, as St. Paul has said “designed us” for His purposes.
We all want to be faithful and true, being what we were “called” to be. Finally, we find ourselves entering our final decade, our weaknesses and pains of body and spirit tell us we’ve had our chances, and that now maybe, has come a time for reflection and prayer about life. A time to think about its wonderful value, and through prayer, and conversation, pass on our observations to those we love, and those we direct to listen.
Jesus would like to lead us in that thinking and giving. Perhaps if we listen, we will hear a word of understanding from Him that will help us live out the days He still has for us and give the very best of ourselves to the world He loves for which so long ago He gave His life.
Whether we like it or not we are living in an age of “identity politics.” It really is identity everything. Who are you? How do you want to be known? Are you a “Conservative” or a “Progressive” in politics. Or maybe just in life?
How do you want to be known? Charles Schultz, the cartoonist, coined the phrase: You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.” Many of us would settle for that.
With over 25 years of doing reconciliation work in Arica, following the Rwanda genocide, we were gratified to be thought of as “peace-makers.” That is both wonderfully Biblical and up to the minute modern. Two of us on the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation staff had policemen sons who felt privileged to call themselves “peace officers.”
Jesus honored the “peace-makers.” What a good name for modern Christians. I served a church whose name was proudly “Colonial.” It harked back to a period of the settlement of America and referred to our “colonizing” period. But now, to some who don’t know their history very well, that name has some negative connotations. Recollections of taking land from Indian people, sometimes by force. Despite the 50 years of the Pilgrims living peacefully with the Indian people, many today lift up later periods of warfare.
Now, in the age of George Floyd and violent street clashes and calls to “Defund the police” some insist that a church name, like “Colonial” is a dark and menacing name. They call for a changing of the name.
Well, to what? Names like “Mount Olivet” are Biblical, “Westminster” is historical. “Hennepin Avenue Methodist” is geographical and denominational.
If your identity has been with a historic period, it will be hard to find a name without a dark side.
But, our personal identities have frequently to do with what we do, what our purpose is in the world, what kind of intentions do we have, good or bad?
Some friends and I sat recently over lunch with a dear friend, a retired Episcopal minister, an Ojibwe elder. We could hardly say anything but “George is a good and gracious man.” He has a loving heart. Despite many wounds, he is always positive. He laughs and jokes. He goes straight to the heart, in all his relationships.
So what of the people called “Colonial,” who for 75 years have nurtured love and help to the world around them, and have bravely gone into the inner city to meet needs, and persistently to Africa to bring healing to the horrendous hurts of genocide?
The earliest Christians were thought of as people of “The Way.” Could Christian companies today be simply THE WAY or, “Church of the Way”? Or maybe, “The Gathering” as classically a “gathered church, by the Spirit.” Or, “Company of the Way.”
How about “The Journey People”? Or just “Jesus People Church.” They’d love your answers. You could help them see themselves as people with hearts open, intending to help, like Jesus.
Identity. Identity. Being what we mean to be, and how we want to be known.
A beautiful letter came from a grandchild recently. It was a rainy afternoon. She was looking at the lake, and remembering what the place she was in meant to her. Not just the pine walls and beams, she noted, but the games played at that lake, and conversations held by the fireplace – the whole summer world of long talks, of life decisions made, of issues wrestled through. But perhaps more, those who peopled that shore – the chair where her great-grandfather sat to write his sermons, the long looks toward lake and hills that meant much to all, especially her.
There was a quieting down of life that made long thoughts possible and invited deep conversations to happen.
It was a lot about the place, and what the place encouraged, and what a calling loon on river’s mouth meant. And the impact of family and neighbors had been, and how one’s point of view about many things was influenced by this place of remembrance where, just then, she sat.
It’s made me think about what we leave in life, and so much of it is TRADITION. Who people were, and the way they thought, and what they did, that made those who came after, and watched, and heard, and remember still, learned from what they saw.
Great scenes touch our hearts and make us think, as do great ideas, and dreams dreamed and visions seen. They touch us, and then they live within us. They receive. They stir up other thoughts. They make us lively, amid communication.
Families, so often, are fashioned by tradition, by memories, by truths that become a legacy to generations following. Of where we stand and what we cared about, and talked about. And decisions were made about things that were important to us. Careers chosen. Even books written and issues dealt with “TRADITION.”
Maybe our children catch the drift and say that’s what they want to be about, too. To be the same kinds of people. To care about the same realities. To do similar work. TO LIVE OUT THE SAME LEGACY WE LEFT BEHIND.
To not live life exactly the same way, but with the same heart, the same deep concern.
While sitting down to write this, the phone rang. My dear friend Bill, and his wife. But, also, via a conference call on the road, longtime mutual and deep friend, an Ojibwe pastor. Our friend of many years, with whom we have a long “Tradition” of home and church visits. Because God, long since, has made us brothers and dear friends. George and his Ojibwe singers have come down from the North Country to sing at celebratory seasons in my life. A birthday. An anniversary.
And George invited me to come north and preach at his wife’s funeral. What an honor! Tradition. A relationship of brotherhood in Christ, fast and true.
Tradition is not empty. It is deep, and bespeaks a relationship. A brotherhood. A “tie that binds.” A tie especially deep because it is born of faith, and love. Because we are friends in Christ.
It is because we care about each other through the years. It is a sacred heritage. A passing on of shared concerns. Because of love. Worth preserving. Precious. Enduring through the years.
Have you good traditions in your life? Cling to them. Live by them. Hold them dear. Be true to them. Faithful and true.
from your brother,
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
|Arthur Rouner Ministries||
ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES
All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. . ."