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Archive for April, 2009

Wisdom fit for a tea party

“The Bible tells me that God can make a human being out of a pile of dirt, that God can make a barren old couple the proud parents of a chosen people, that God can heal the sick and feed the hungry and raise the dead.
“If I believe that, then I cannot also believe myself or anyone else to be a lost cause.
“Nor can I believe only what my culture tells me about myself.
“The Bible gives me another authority to consult.
“When the culture treats me as if all I am good for is to produce or consume, the Bible invites me to love.
“When the culture encourages me to think of myself as a rugged individualist, the Bible calls me to be a neighbor.
“When the culture invites me to become a spectator on life, the Bible bids me to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
“Over and over, the Bible offers me an alternative vision, not only of myself but also of other people and ultimately of the whole world.
“Sometimes it seems far-fetched, but other times it seems truer than what is supposed to be true.”
— Barbara Brown Taylor, great Episcopal Church leader and writer
The Bible.
Still radical, still counter-cultural, after all these years.

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Countdown to ordination (Part 1)

I’m counting down the days until that June day when I’ll be ordained a deacon in The United Methodist Church.
I look forward to it with the same sense of joy, awe, excitement, wonderment and weird apprehension with which I looked forward to my children being born.
Of course, I waited months for them to be born.
I’ve been waiting about 10 years to be ordained.
There was a year of “declared candidacy,” almost five years of seminary and-or (for me in a specialized ministry) chaplaincy residency at Methodist Hospital in Dallas, three years of being a commissioned (licensed) minister and chaplain and “probationary” member of my conference (thank you, church, for changing that to “provisional” member of a conference, so that ministers-to-be-ordained won’t appear to be serving a sentence for crimes and misdemeanors), and maybe a year in there somewhere that I’d rather forget.
It’s not unusual, by the way, for ministers nowadays to go through such a long and grueling process to ordination, especially second-career ministers who have to pay those seminary bills and serve in churches or specialized ministries for precious little income, in many if not all cases. (I speak here as a UMC minister, but other denominations require stringent candidacy processes as well.)
The road to ordination can be be long and grueling for those second-career spouses and children, too.
I thank God every day for the moral support my wife and family have given me all these years.
I thank God they support me still in my ministry and my call to it.
Believe me, the road to Protestant ordination, like the life of ministry itself, can be harder on the families than it is on the one that God has tapped on the shoulder.
I feel like my whole family, in a sense, is going to be ordained with me.

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Frankly, haven’t been able to get my head into prayer this morning.
I have learned that on days like this it is simply OK to be still and let God hear and see and feel the prayer in my heart.
I take occasional retreats to St. Scholastica, a monastery in Fort Smith, Ark. that has one of the most beautiful chapels I’ve ever prayed in, and the most warm-hearted and hospitable nuns.
In my last stay there, one of the aging sisters told me that she has whole days, whole weeks, like anybody else, when praying doesn’t come easy.
“On those days,” she said, “I just say, ‘Lord, please accept the poverty of my prayer.'”
Praying with words and thoughts–head prayer–is not always necessary, as the contemplatives and saints and mystics teach us.
Just getting still, getting quiet, being rather than doing–really being fully in the present moment–that’s where we can find the deepest communion with the Lord.
Finding silence in such a noisy, crazy, messy and chaotic world, and getting still, knowing that God is God, letting God be God–that too can be a powerful prayer.
Lord,
Today, may we find rest in your love,
peace in your grace.
Amen.
Comments anyone?

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Dr. Paul Farmer, today’s Albert Schweitzer

As one who wears out library cards in a hurry and spends a lot of time browsing in bookstores for more books to read, Jitterbugger can think of only one book of nonfiction in recent years that he’s read twice.
It’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The story of Dr. Paul Farmer, the Man who Would Save the World.”
Bestselling author Tracy Kidder won a Pulitzer Prize for his extremely well-written and meticulously researched bio of Farmer, who really has changed the medical care and treatment of the world’s poorest of the poor in places like Haiti–where he went as a young doctor to start a hospital in a remote area of the world’s poorest nation–and many other parts of the world.
Farmer singlehandedly and very diplomatically did what no one else has been able to do, or probably could have done–he shamed the huge pharmaceutical companies and all kinds of medical-related behemoths into providing medicines and care to people suffering from HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis at prices affordable enough to save untold numbers of lives.
Farmer has expanded his enterprising medical empire to places so remote that no one ever dreamed that top-quality medical care could be provided, at extremely low costs, if only because of the logistics and enormous obstacles.
Places that include inner-city Boston, which is in Farmer’s own medical back yard. (He teaches and practices medicine at Harvard, in his spare time.)
Farmer’s life story is something you couldn’t make up. He grew up extremely poor and was raised by a father who raised the doctor-to-be and his siblings in one of those odd-looking mobile TB labs and x-ray things that hospitals and clinics use.
But then the eccentric Daddy Farmer went upscale, buying a dilapidated houseboat in Florida so the poor Farmer kids could have a place to swim.
Paul Farmer is literally a genius and the recipient of a McArthur Genius Grant.
He’s often compared to the more famous genius and Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer, the great physician, musician, theologian/preacher and organ maker and idealistic humanitarian who left behind a comfortable lifestyle and the chance to make millions to move to Africa and be a doctor in a far-flung hospital to the poorest of his day.
Kidder explains why he chose to shadow Farmer and write the book about him:
“I was drawn to the man himself (Farmer). He worked extraordinary hours. In fact, I don’t think he sleeps more than an hour or two most nights. Here was a person who seemed to be practicing more than he preached, who seemed to be living, as nearly as any human being can, without hypocrisy. A challenging person, the kind of person whose example can irritate you by making you feel you’ve never done anything as important, and yet, in his presence, those kinds of feelings tended to vanish. In the past, when I’d imagined a person with credentials like his, I’d imagined someone dour and self-righteous, but he was very friendly and irreverent, and quite funny. He seemed like someone I’d like to know, and I thought that if I did my job well, a reader would feel that way, too.” (excerpted from http://www.thereaderscircle.com)
“Mountains Beyond Mountains” is a wonderful book about an extraordinary man who will surely win his own Nobel Prize someday.

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— “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” – Chapter 5, What’s Wrong With The World, 1910
— “Whatever the peace of Jesus, it was not a peace of amiable indifference.” — Dorothy Sayers, “Creed or Chaos?”

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Yes, jitterbuggers–Tiger Woods demonstrated that he is not so superhuman after all by buckling under the pressure of the $100 wager for charity that Jitterbugger the blogger had riding on him to win the Masters Golf Championship.
Which means that Jitterbugger owes $100 to the charity of the choice of his fellow Navasota Rattler (Class of 68, Navasota High School; go Rattlers!), Mr. Walters the architect, which doesn’t seem right since the Jitterbugger’s classmate of old is a fabulously wealthy architect.
Jitterbugger is sure that Mr. Walters, who wagered on anybody but Tiger to win, will be contacting him soon with the charity or church of his choice for that $100 skins.
Jitterbugger the media critic thinks it’s way time for all the golf pundits to give the Master’s winner, Angel Cabrera of Argentina, his much deserved credit for hanging tough and winning the coveted green jacket fair and square in a Sudden Death Playoff.
All the buzz is about the side tournament that was going on Sunday between Tiger and Phil Mickelson and how they both caved while the three guys who ended up in Sudden Death were slugging it out.
It’s getting a little old hearing how Kenny Perry, who was everybody’s sentimental favorite because of his age (49), because he’s Mr. Nice Guy, because he’s never won a Major tournament, and because he lives in his little hometown and has been married to his 8th grade sweetheart for about a hundred years.
Yeah, great story.
Great story in the “battle” between Tiger and Phil also.
But hello!!!!!!!!!?????
Who won the Green Jacket this year?
Oh, yeah. Angel Cabrera.
Who won so quietly, with such inner strength, with such journeyman-like determination, and so boringly, if that’s a word, that you still wouldn’t know, on this Monday morning, that he is the WINNER of the 2009 Masters.
The fact remains that everybody else is an also-ran, including Tiger, including Perry and Phil and the other guy who was in the running.
Angel’s a great story too, if only because he looks like Tony Soprano if Tony Soprano were born again and had the grace of God in him.
Angel too is Mr. Nice guy, and generous in helping children in his homeland.
Good show, Angel.

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Poetry (for Adam)

In keeping with Poetry Month, it wouldn’t be Poetry Month without Rudyard Kipling’s famous “If.”
It was inspired by Dr. Leander Starr, who led about 500 of his British countrymen in a failed raid against the Boers, in southern Africa, in 1895. What became known as the Jameson Raid was later cited as a major factor in bringing about the Boer War, the war that made a newspaper correspondent who was with the troops–Winston Churchhill–forever famous.
Irony of ironies–a British defeat (Jameson surrendered and was arrested) was interpreted in Britain as a victory, Jameson was made a hero, and “If” came to be a classic.
Here it is (for Adam, blood of my blood, Semper Fi, in “the sandbox”):
“IF”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

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