Monthly Archives

January 2017

Whistling In The Dark (Frederick Buechner)

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To whistle in the dark is more than just to try to convince yourself that dark is not all there is. It is also to remind yourself that dark is not all there is, or the end of all that is, because even in the dark there is hope. Even in the dark you have the power to whistle. And something that seems more than just your own power because it’s powerful enough to hold back the dark just a little. The tunes you whistle in the dark are the images you make of that hope, that power. They are the books you write. And in the same way, faith could be called a kind of whistling in the dark.

Frederick Buechner

A Secular Jesus-Follower?

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Can one be a follower of Jesus and still be a secularist? How is Jesus perceived and understood by those who are outside the faith? What does such a person have to teach us about evangelism and the way we present the unique Christ in the modern world? Fascinating essay from a USA Today columnist, Tom Krattenmaker.

Krattenmaker is an avowed secularist, the author of Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower. He was raised a Catholic, but dropped out as he grew to maturity. He rejected the church and her teachings, but always found himself fascinated by Jesus. He just couldn’t shake him from his mind. He explains that he doubts God’s existence, and doesn’t believe in Jesus’ saving actions on the cross. For Tom, there is no forgiveness necessary, no eternal life in heaven, no resurrection, no need for church attendance. He rejects the religious claims in Christianity, but believes Jesus is the answer if people would only know him and engage him and seriously follow him.

“In the pantheon of philosophers, prophets, teachers, artists, and moral exemplars, and sages from the ages, one stands out for me as a particularly promising figure for our time. He is a figure of unusual wisdom and deeply moving strangeness who calls me to reconceive the orientation of my own life and the manner in which I engage my fellow humans. His story compels me to access my often-reluctant generosity and pull myself out of my self-centered worries and obsessions. His example has motivated me to befriend people in all manner of categories that are not my own – Muslims, evangelical Christians, LGBT people, and so on – and sympathetically tell their stories on the op-ed pages of the nation’s largest newspaper. This figure’s inspiration has changed the way I treat the supposed nobodies whom I could easily get away with mistreating. His message and manner, I find, address our culture’s maladies and malaises amazingly well, as they do my own. I do not claim there is only one figure or source from whom we can learn and draw inspiration, who we can emulate. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and others have much to offer, and this is not an either-or exploration we are going on in this book. But one figure stands out. That figure is Jesus.”

A Humble Leader? (Leighton Ford)

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Jeanie and I went to see her big brother Billy at his Montreat home last week. At ninety-eight years of age his hearing and speech are limited, but his vital signs are good.

I asked his oldest daughter Gigi over lunch whether she thought of her father as a great man, considering that he has for longer than I can remember been on the Most Admired list.

(And I was thinking of how often the word “great” has been used recently)

Gigi was pensive. Then she said that she didn’t think of him as great much in past years, just as her father.

“But,” she said, “I do think he is the humblest man I have ever known. When he got a compliment he would point up, shake his head, and say all credit goes to God.”

“I know,” she said, “that all leaders have some ego and some narcissism. But always I remember that my father wanted the glory to go only to God.”

Hmm. A great and humble leader. For him I am thankful.

Leighton Ford

Make America Great (Leighton Ford)

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Since we’ve been called to make America great again I’ve been pondering what that could mean. And I think I found some signs of greatness this week, right here in Charlotte.

On Monday I attended a meeting of the board and staff of our local YMCA. The focus was not on making the Y bigger, but on how the Y and the local medical community can work together for community health.

That’s great, I thought, as I left. That’s cooperation at work!

The next morning I opened the Observer to the lovely front page photo of Ruth Samuelson who died this week. Ruth, county commissioner, state representative, wife and mother, was known both for her strong Christian convictions, and her ability to forge agreements between political adversaries. “Reflect Christ and Pack Light” was her motto.

That, I thought, was a great life, living out her faith.

The same afternoon I walked out of Harris Teeter chatting with an old guy wearing a Y shirt. “What do you think will make America great again?” I asked.

Jack thought a moment, then held out a Snicker’s bar. “I love these,” he said. “I get one every day. I was sitting inside eating when I saw this 8-year old boy staring at me. So I gave him my chocolate. You should have seen his face just light up!”

And that, I thought, was a small but great gesture.

As Mother Teresa often said, “We cannot do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

The problem is that we use the word “great” so flippantly and casually. We talk about a great game. A great meal. A great movie. Even, occasionally, a “great sermon”! But when we use a word so indiscriminately it loses its punch.

So I looked it up in the Bible. My reference book shows “great” and “greatness” and related words appear at least 850 times. And the Bible makes it clear what greatness involves.

God, I read, is the Greatest – the only One. “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” wrote the Psalmist. The prophet saw God “high and lifted up.” That’s why we sing in church “How Great Thou Art” – not “how great I am.” The source of greatness is grand and lofty.

Yet God came near in Jesus to show the practice of greatness at ground level, in the sweat and tears and blood and ordinariness of daily living.

Do you want to be great? Jesus asked his disciples. “Then you should be the servant of all.” “There is no greater love,” he said, than to lay down your life for your friends. “The first and greatest commandment” he said is to love God and your neighbor as yourself.” Those are his marks of greatness. And that was the greatness of Jesus who put aside his glory, took the role of a servant, washed the dirty feet of his disciples, and died on a cross for the sins and suffering of the world.

I believe I saw signs of that kind of greatness at the Y, in Ruth Samuelson, in Jack’s small gesture to one little boy. That’s what I want our grandchildren to see about true greatness.

Will America be made great in the halls of power? In the wealth of Wall Street? In the strength of our military? Much of that may seem beyond our control. Meanwhile there are the many ways we can love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly with our God.

My prayer for our country, is a paraphrase of a well-known saying:

Lord of the lands, make our land good by Your grace.

Lord of the lands, make our land great in Your sight.

-Leighton Ford (written for The Charlotte Observer)

The Seduction of Crowds (Eugene Peterson)

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“Classically, there are three ways in which humans try to find transcendence–religious meaning…: through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, chemically induced transcendence and recreational sex, and through the ecstasy of crowds. Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and the sex, but at least, in America, almost never against the crowds. And there’s something about the moment we inhabit, I think even globally, that that feels very resonant and psychologically astute”.

-Eugene Peterson, from an interview on NPR’s On Being.