Monthly Archives

April 2016

Fellow Sinners…..(Leighton Ford)

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When Jimmy Carter was president I heard the late Bishop Fulton Sheen speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. It was Sheen’s last public message.

He began his address to the crowd of notables  – including senators and congressmen, five star generals, and supreme court judges – like this:

“Mr. President, Mrs. Carter, and fellow sinners.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, then a ripple of laughter, as the group realized he was right! He continued, “And inasmuch as the president in his Sunday School class quoted the apostle Paul as saying all have sinned, I will include him in that designation”!

That came back to me listening to a recent interview with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, on the appallingly high rate of minority incarceration.  Here’s part of what she said:

“I really believe that this notion of us-versus-them, drawing lines and labeling one another all turns on this notion that we can define who the bad guys are, and rest assured that they’re not us … We have to acknowledge that all of us have done wrong in our lives.

“All of us have broken the law at some point in our lives …  even if you haven’t experimented with drugs, even if you didn’t drink underage, if the worst thing you’ve done in your life is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, well, you’ve put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of their living room. But who do we shame and who do we blame? I’ve spoken in churches and I’ll say to a large congregation, “We’re all sinners.” And everyone will nod their head, oh, yes, we’re all sinners. And then I’ll say, “And we’re all criminals.” And everyone just stares at me kind of bug eyed, like, what? You’re calling me a criminal?

“A young man came up to me after I spoke in one church and he said, ‘Isn’t it interesting how eager we are all to admit that we violated God’s law, but how reluctant we are to admit that we’ve violated man’s law?’ And I think that there is a way in which we kind of give lip service to this idea that we’re all sinners, or we all make mistakes … Those people that have been shamed and blamed and stigmatized, actually, we are on so many levels not really better than them. We may be luckier than them.”

Well, I might prefer to think I have been a lawbreaker rather than a criminal. But she made me stop and think.

Do you agree or disagree with her? And Bishop Sheen? And with the apostle Paul? Or, for that matter, with your own conscience?

Leighton Ford

The Church Is Not A Reenactment (Leighton Ford)

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I just heard a really powerful sermon by our former pastor, Steve Eason .. his first Sunday as interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA.
It was on Jesus appearing to two “nobodies” on the road to Emmaus.
“My greatest fear for the church,” he says, “is that we will be a museum for relics of the past.  That we will ‘re-enact’ the gospel like people reenact battles of the Civil War, of something that happened a hundred years ago that we remember but it’s not real now.”
Worth listening, and heeding …click here for a link where you can watch a video of Steve’s message.
Leighton Ford

Mixed Prayers And Morning Rain (A Poem)

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I am sitting in my study, enjoying the sound of rain on the roof.

We need the rain. It’s been very dry.

But a contrary sound comes to mind, makes me smile.

The prayer of an old preacher at a tent revival who asked,

“Lord, if any spark of revival has been kindled here tonight

please water that spark”!

Do you think that God unmixes our mixed metaphors,

unwinds our mixed motives,

sees the true desires of our hearts,

and sends whatever we most need

for our souls, the rain,

or the sunshine?

 

Leighton Ford

An Early Morning At Mepkin Abbey (Part Two)

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mepkin church

…The community of prayer aids my weakness. When I was mind-weary yesterday, I was helped through trusting others who prayed with and alongside me, around me, for me. My solo prayers were not the whole show. Performance mattered little. Participation mattered most. I realize that we are proclaiming the Word of God across the room to each other – we are all preachers, all hearers, no “stars”.

We sing antiphonally this morning, Psalms 103, 104, 105. One side chants, the other responds, two or three lines at a time. Two or three notes are all we use, carried by the murmur of the organ played unobtrusively by Abbott Klein, who was an accomplished musician. The organ notes almost echo our breathing, like the quiet motion of tides.

So we chant on: a hymn for Lent about our joyful fast. We are reminded that long faces do not attract God’s grace – he wants us to lift the load, to help the broken on the road. And we are reminded who made us, gave us eyes to see the full moon and stars this night. This is a long psalm about Joseph and Egypt, so long that we break it up, chant and cease. An aged brother with a long white beard takes on the role of cantor. We sing again.

Lights dim. We listen to a long reading from Exodus about plagues of flies, about gnats all over Egypt – but not in Goshen! “This is the finger of God”, the panicked musicians tell Pharoah. Has anything changed in the Middle East?

In the Moses-Pharoah encounter I hear the lifelong struggle in my own soul between God’s voice and all others. The little compromises – “Go, but not too far”, says Pharoah -with which I deny reality, fudge the truth.

I think of plagues in our lands. Traffic in drugs. Large numbers who experience depression. AIDS in Africa. Lord, when will we heed Moses?

Long silences. Waiting. No rush to fill emptiness with words. Time to think, pray. I am astounded at how clear my mind is at this hour in church!

A sermon is read – well – from  Gregory of Nazianzus, about God’s generosity, given which how can we refuse kith and kin?

Silence again.

I thank God for the ministry of World Vision. Think it is time to give again. Wonder whether Jeanie and I are generous enough to the larger family of God in the wills we are making.

Our final prayers. We stand, say the Our Father, commend ourselves to God. We remember those who work (or suffer) in the night, we ask that Christ be their companion. We remember those who have died in the Lord.

We leave as quietly as we came. But the Great Silence is not over.

We walk silently together to our rooms, across the open spaces, under the night skies, past the bowing live oaks.

There is no word.

I touch a fellow retreatant in unspoken greeting as he goes to his room and I to mine.

The silent communion goes on.

Tomorrow what will I be doing at 3 a.m.?

 

From The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford, 2008: Inter-Varsity Press)

Photo cred: mepkinabbey.org

An Early Morning At Mepkin Abbey (Part One)

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MepkinAbbey1

My alarm goes off at 3:00 AM. I wake, close my eyes again a moment, then get up lest I sleep in and miss the last Vigils of my retreat here at Mepkin Abbey. I dress without showering, brush my teeth and dab my wild hair with a bit of water, put on cap and windbreaker and step into the cool outside.

The moon is round and full as I walk toward the main buildings. Stars shine clearly and I whisper “How excellent in all the earth is thy name, O Lord…”

A brief stop in the dining room for a half-cup of good hot coffee with honey, and then on to the white Cistercian chapel, which I left only six hours ago. Joining a handful of others, I sit in my stall, waiting. Waiting is a natural part of our rhythm of life here – waiting for prayers, for meals, for dismissal after meals. When I have found my feet hurrying to prayers, something inside of me reins me in, slows me down. So we wait. A few monks in white robes and cowls filter in.

Precisely at 3:20 a bell rings. We stand, turn, and face the altar. We bow (profoundly, as we’ve been instructed). One of the monks invokes God’s blessing.

A single note sounds on the organ. The prayer leader begins “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who minister by night in the house of the Lord.”

Someone has prepared our psalters, marked the night readings with ribbons to guide us. The first reading is Psalm 134, our psalm for each morning this week. We each have our own beautiful copy on the stand in front of us, written out in calligraphy and printed at Genesee Abbey.

After the reading, we bow deeply and sing the Gloria, as we do after each psalm and hymn. Thus each closes with “World without end.” I am comforted to participate in an ongoing chorus of worship, flowing through ages past and years to come. I am part of something bigger, wider, deeper, than my own individual experience.

 

 

From The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford, 2008: Inter-Varsity Press)

Photo cred: mepkinabbey.org

The Way It Is (A Poem)

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There’s a thread that you follow.  It goes

among

things that change.  But it doesn’t change. 

People wonder about what you are pursuing. 

You have to explain about the thread. 

But it is hard for others to see. 

While you hold it you can’t get lost. 

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old. 

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. 

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

 

         — William Stafford

Oneness in Christ – In Divided Times

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In this year of political divide and rancor, the most important witness followers of Christ can have is to show our oneness in Christ – beyond partisan issues and loyalties.

Jesus didn’t tell us to pray that our party would win.

He prayed that our oneness in him might be seen – so that the world may believe.

He holds onto us  – let’s hold on to one another.

john20

(John 20:21)

Leighton Ford

‘Between The World And Me’

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Ta-Nehisi Coates’ NYTimes bestseller was selected for our reading group recently.

It’s a book length letter to his adolescent son Samori, searingly honest, biting,  warning him how hard it will be for him to grow up as an African-American. “Racism,” he writes, “is a visceral experience” which rips at the black body.

 

coates

Hope that things will get better? Not much here. Hope is “specious.”  And he makes clear he has no hope in God or the church.

Yet toward the end he tells of a conversation with Dr. Mabel Jones, a teacher whose son Prince was shot by police on a Maryland road. As he listened to Dr. Jones talk of what the church meant to her he writes,

“I thought of my own distance from an institution that has, so often, been the only support of our people.  I often wonder  if in that distance I’ve missed something, some notions of cosmic hope, some wisdom beyond my mean physical perception of the world, something beyond the body, that I might have transmitted to you. I wondered that … because something beyond anything I have ever understood drove Mabel Jones to an exceptional life.”

Leaving her house he asks his son to hope for the “Dreamers.” (That’s his word for white folks). “Pray for them,” he asks.

I hope Samori will pray for my children and grandchildren.  I pray for him. I pray for myself.

Mercy, Lord, Mercy.

And thank you Lord for Mabel Jones.

Leighton Ford

Photo cred: citypaper.com

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