I heard a little piece on Public Radio this week-end about "speaking up." About a young man who decided to keep silent for a year. To not say what he believed to be true. To let others sound off about their various convictions while he said nothing.
He learned that his silence has consequences. That his voice before had been important. That his silence meant important things went unsaid. He learned his voice was needed.
We're in times when speaking up can be costly. It can go all the way to costing your life. Jesus said to His followers:
"When the Counsellor comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will testify about Me. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning." (John 15:26-27)
The call from Jesus to all of us who love Him, follow Him, is that we are to speak up, to tell the truth about Him to the world. Even if we are hated for doing so.
In a day of great animosity and incivility, it is very tempting for us to keep quiet. But, our voice is needed. Our heart needs to be made known. We are called to "speak the truth in love."
Our president feels that if he is criticized he must fight back, and hit his opponent even harder. Jesus teaches us a very different way. Speak truth, yes. But speak it directly, honestly, with love in our hearts, not rancor, not revenge.
We ae not to be destroyers on earth. We need to be healers. Jesus understood that His enemies, those who chose to crucify Him, "did not know what they were doing." He asked His Father to forgive them. He could see their heart. He could see that they did not understand what they were doing. They were acting in ignorance.
He means us to have grace to see that too. To speak up. To speak true. To be heard. But to speak with a loving heart, not a heart of hate.
And times are ready for that. They are in desperate need of people to speak with His Spirit. We can pray for grace and courage to speak that way.
Waking late on "Cyber Monday," I was captive in my bathroom to radio shows exploring first, our addiction to Social Media, and then, to the latest trends in shopping - especially "on-line" versus "brick and mortar stores at the mall. They have prompted me to add my own observations.
I need to confess that I am neither personally "on-line," nor a shopper. The latter wearies me. I try to find a comfortable spot to sit while Molly the Champion of shopping in our family, heads off to do the shopping by which we live, which means daily food and occasional clothes.
So, I am privileged because someone else does these things for me - Molly attending to my daily needs, and Laury, my friend and assistant makes my website possible and these occasional blogs, even some Facebook posts coming my way.
As for shopping, I realize I am old enough so that at Christmas, I am the store! I already have things in my possession that would have sentimental, if not practical, value for people in my family. Not that I figured that out, but Molly did.
"How about we give to your grandsons these Africa hats and Stetsons that you're not going to wear again?" Molly sweetly asks. Of course, at first, I was loathe to give them up. But soon enough I realize that of course, these should be passed on to the next generation. After all, four of our grandchildren have been with us to Africa, and still treasure those experiences with us. So, my supply of Journey Out caps became the source of another round of gifts.
And, there are books I've written, and pebbles I've brought back from the summit of mountains from my years of summer climbs, and kerchiefs, and who knows what else?
Most of us have much to give away. What a chance to share our lives with family and friends dear to us!
Then, of course, there's the gift of time we can give, by an hour over coffee, or a game of cribbage as Molly had with a visiting grandson. And, before and after that game, wonderful time talking about life, and faith, and how you live it.
So much to think about, in the realm of time with others and the giving of our thoughts, and mementos from our life. Advent, the season of expectation, is a beautiful time to think about such things and people, dear to our lives.
There are times for all of us when bad news comes. When the worst news we could imagine is told us, on a dark night on the phone. News we feel we could never bear ourselves. News about a crashing, crushing blow to someone we love. News that will break their heart, and breaks ours when we first hear it. News that defies all the helpful, hopeful, faithful words of eternal life that have been the foundation, the "solid Rock" of our own lives for all our years? What do we do?
We want to rail at the forces, the unthinking, calculating forces of the world's systems, and powers that have moved in like devastating bulldozers to crush the very life and spirit and hope and courage of people we hold dear, to pieces, to rubble.
We think of what, for them, could be broken forever. And we, who like to think we "trust and obey," who believe our own foundation is sure, feel the darkness rolling in. We feel the helplessness and hopelessness taking over in our own spirits, and in our own hearts the tears come. We weep for what we cannot change in this world, in our friends' lives, in our lives. We see all too readily the dark. We sense the abyss before us.
Perhaps mysteriously, mystically, we look - through our tears - to Jesus. Just that. We see Him before us, however we may imagine Him. We see HIm in the words He speaks: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." And the Jesus of those words touches us. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the very life of the world.
Jesus Whom God sent to us, is the answer - to all things. To our grief. To our dismay. To our helplessness. He is the One - with the answer. With the Light. With the direction. With the Help. "I will come to you," He says. "I am sending the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to hold you. To touch you. To tell you the Truth about the world. That God is Love, and I am love, and that love of ours can heal you, mend you, hold you up, show you the way back to Life. To living. To living with Me, victoriously, with "the Peace that passes all understanding." That steadies you, and the dear hurt ones who mean so much to you.
I am the One Whose arm around you can put you back together again, can steady your feet, and encourage your heart, and go with you in all the way ahead.
I am the One, He says. Look to Me, take hold of Me. I will show you the way. I will give you the words to say. I will help you be what you need to be.
He has already overcome all things. "In the world," He says, "you will have tribulations. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
Let Jesus show you the next step. And remember, your presence, your being there, is healing, and help, and hope. He will help you, every step of the way.
Pray as you go. Go with the One Who can help you more than any other.
We know the world is overwhelmed. We know it's full of folk who feel they're at the end of their rope. They've run out of psychic strength. They're weary. They feel up against immovable road blocks.
And that's not even counting the people who've had wildfires sweep up the valley or down the hills, burning everything in their path - including homes, cars, possessions - even life.
We're in a time of destructive forces in nature, as well as the destructive forces of people deranged, who are suddenly bent on killing people - almost any people, whether faithful Jewish people at their synagogue, or college young people at a bar. It is madness storming out of the night to wreak havoc where they can. Or the sea rising up to send tidal waves over towns and people, or earthquakes shaking mountains and hills, or the wanton fires burning up home and possessions, leaving nothing.
But, for many, many others it's just life rising up and taking away loved ones, or taking away jobs, or money, or those relationships that sustain us in life.
I've had dear ones in my life who go through that awful sense of abandonment, of forsakenness, of despair. And, it's made me think of what our help is, in those times - indeed, in all times.
Jesus says, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world." He promises, over and over again, to come to us, to be with us, to show us the way out of those cases that seem like the very end of life.
And, next to Him - and indeed, through Him - there is FAMILY. What a gift to have a family. To have parents, siblings, even our own children who can ride to the rescue, bringing food, the helping hand of funds to cover costs that have overwhelmed us. There's no system quite like it in all the world, to help us. And, there's church, the awesome help of the beloved community.
Someone to call. Someone who'll listen. Someone who cares - someone motivated by family - love, or faith concerns - which is the love of Jesus. What a difference those great lives can make in our lives, at all times, and especially the down times.
Molly and I were discussing my idea for my four-week Advent Bible Study Breakfast beginning at the end of November. "Well," I said, "it's about the Advent theme of the Second Coming of Jesus. About his promised return."
Usually in Advent I've tried to keep the Christmas spirit of expectation with the wonderful story of the STAR, of Wise Men from the East following it, of shepherds in fields hearing angel announcements from the heavens above them. Of the miraculous birth in a barn in Bethlehem.
But, in angry, divided, perilous times, I thought I should turn to the other Advent theme of Jesus' many announcements that He would return. "You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds of glory."
That has been picked up by some traditions in modern Christianity, as the "Rapture" theology. To other Christians the "Left Behind" theme seems implausible and has been rejected.
But Jesus has been clear that in His resurrected life, and His return to heaven, from whence He had originally come, and His taking His place outside The Father, His purpose, part of God's plan, was that there would be an end time when the Kingdom of God would fully come to earth, and that He, Jesus, would Himself return to earth to reign "over the united, eternal Kingdom." "You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of glory."
He said "in that time, don't go in from the fields, or down from your roof top." In fact, He spoke of one person being taken and another beside him would be left.
They are strange words. They do imply judgment. They hint at a great reckoning for all of us.
That has always raised the question the disciples asked, "if getting through the narrow door of salvation, is as hard as a camel getting through the eye of a needle, who then can be saved?"
And if some will be saved and others not, God must already know who will be saved. So the idea of "the elect" rose up. God must know who will be saved and who won't - an idea with which John Calvin wrestled.
Many issues arise. But Jesus clearly taught that He would return. He also said, "If I go to My Father's Home, I will come and get you so that you can be with me there."
And we wonder, "Will I get in?"
Luther was offended that our good works might get us in, and posited instead that we "would be saved by grace and not by anything of our own doing."
Yet, how we live our lives was clearly important to Jesus. "Inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these my brethren, you did it to me - so enter into eternal life. But you who did not do it to the least of these, didn't do it to me." So enter into eternal fire.
Very different, paradoxical words. But Jesus' words - to be taken seriously by us all, and to be part of our hope.
We'll try to think together about that. Our path as followers of the Lord Who loves us. To take seriously His coming, and God's power, and the need to be faithful, and live true. And, most of all, watch for Him. Be alert. Be always ready. Important work for us, in turbulent days like these.
We have movies most Friday nights here at Covenant Village. I don't often go, but did last week when they showed a PBS film called "President Trump."
I found it a fascinating study of the powerful influences that sometimes direct our whole lives. Things our fathers say to us when we are only five. The motives of our parents. The experiences of early schooling.
Donald Trump was a brash boy who was hard to handle. His father finally sent him literally "up the river" to the New York Military Academy near West Point. He enjoyed the disciplined life and became a star athlete and a leader in the school. He later went to Fordham University and the Wharton School of Business.
But a significant influence on the young Donald growing up was the family's regular attendance at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan where The Rev. Norman Vincent Peale held forth with his faith message of "The Power of Positive Thinking." The young Trump said something like, "You never wanted to leave church, it was so gripping." There was born an utter belief in himself and what he could do by being always positive and never accepting defeat.
His father was a phenomenal builder of buildings - in Queens and Brooklyn. But never in Manhattan. The young Trump, running his father's business at age 25, was acutely aware that his father was afraid of the challenge of Manhattan, which young Donald took as a direct personal challenge for himself.
He learned from some shady characters like Roy Cohn that "you always hit back harder, anyone who hits you."
A series of public insults at the White House correspondents' dinner from President Barack Obama, with Trump sitting in the room before him so humiliated Donald Trump that he became secretly determined to become President himself to even the score with Obama.
All deep influences that account for the retaliatory spirit that was to drive Donald Trump's ambition and his will to fight back. "All of life," his father told him, "is a competition." That made his son a life-long fighter.
It all set me to thinking of those influences that effect us all, and how important each one is - including the influence of a church and faith. The church has a message for all people, young and old. "You are precious in the sight of God. He loves you and gave you life. You count for something."
The Church teaches TOLERANCE and HUMILITY. It reaches LAYING DOWN YOUR LIFE FOR JESUS. TAKING UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOWING HIM. NOT GIVING UP ON IN LIFE. ENDURING. PERSEVERING. TAKING THE GREATEST LIFE EVER LIVED and EMULATING and FOLLOWING IT.
The Church is a redemptive fellowship. It offers forgiveness, the possibility of being redeemed, restored, beginning again.
Jesus and His company are the most exciting "band of brothers" ever conceived. No other society, or organization, or gathering offers this. We have, in the church, something wonderful to give and to receive.
For several years revelations have come out in the press of sexual misconduct uncovered in so-called "elite" New England prep schools. St Paul's School in Concord, NH was one of the first to be exposed. Several others followed.
Then it came to my own school, now called Choate Rosemary Hall of Wallingford, CT. It stung to see it.
Then, a week or so ago, a letter came from the school, addressed to the Choate Rosemary Hall community.
It was clearly an attempt to be transparent. The letter included the findings of an investigative law firm. They named names and what they had done. It went all the way back to the 1940's when I was a student there. Several names were of teachers on the faculty at that time. I winced at every name.
I wrote the current Head of School to say I was a student leader in those days, and that I am grieved to read what their letter revealed.
So much one could say. These were things that should never have happened. But I chose to lift up one fact that would probably not be discussed or even thought to be relevant by those who will go about now, trying to make the school "safe" for any young teen-age boys or girls whose parents might consider sending their child to this school whose reputation had once been so fine.
I centered on THE CHAPEL. There was a line in a poem about the school and its spirit and its moral foundation. The line went, "And this is the chapel. Here, my son, your father thought the thoughts of youth."
The assumption was that the chapel was not only the most central and most beautiful building in the school, but that it was, in fact, the heart of the school, the place where young people were taught and presented with truths that would encourage them to think about the deepest things of life.
That church, and the things of faith, and of God, are not nothing. They are, in fact the very foundation of life. They point the way to a selfless life, a life of service, a life of hope and promise.
The faith way is often diminished. We are still captivated by all the Enlightenment ideas of man as the master of his fate, of human ability, skill, and intelligence being the foundation for a successful, happy life. Yet that, in the end, proves almost always illusory.
I don't expect an answer to my letter. But, I decided I wanted to be one who says it because it's true, and because the lives of young people are important. And because education is far more than what classrooms and playing fields, by themselves, offer.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES