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Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

God never leaves us without the thing we most need, which is God’s own self.”

—- Roberta Bondi

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God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city, it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter,
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
see what desolations he has brought on earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth,
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
—- Psalm 46

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fledglinghuntingWhen despair for the world grows for me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests,
in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things,
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief,
I come into the presence of still water,
and I feel above me the dayblind stars,
waiting with their light,
for a time, I rest in the grace of the world,
and am free.

(”The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry)

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Rev. Jitterbugger’s thought for the day

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Matthew 11:28-30

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Learn from me, he said.

When will we ever learn?

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Abraham_HeschelFrom his roots in Eastern Europe to his years as a brilliant young scholar in Berlin to his career as a teacher, writer, and activist in America, Heschel became a prophetic voice in passionate pursuit of social justice and interfaith understanding. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma (“I felt like my legs were praying,” he said famously.) and opposed the Vietnam War.

“The cure of the soul begins with a sense of embarrassment, embarrassment at our pettiness, prejudices, envy, and conceit; embarrassment at the profanation of life. A world that is full of grandeur has been converted into a carnival.”

“The spirit of the prophet, the message of the prophet, is very much alive. It’s a kind of men who combine very deep love and very powerful dissent, painful rebuke, with unwavering hope.”

“The opposite of good is not evil; it is indifference.”

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”

“We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.”

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined, not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.”

“How can I pray when I have on my conscience the awareness that I am co-responsible for the death of innocent people in Vietnam? In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.”

“God is not a hypothesis derived from logical assumptions, but an immediate insight, self-evident as light. He is not something to be sought in the darkness with the light of reason. He is the light.

“Friends, at the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. And Moses’ words were, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, let my people go.” While Pharaoh retorted, “Who’s the Lord that I should heed his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord. I will not let Israel go.” The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The Exodus began but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses.”

“First of all, let us not misunderstand the nature of prayer, particularly in Jewish tradition. The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose of prayer is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song and men cannot live without a song. Prayer may not save us, but prayer may make us worthy of being saved. Prayer is not requesting. There is a partnership of God and men. God needs our help.”

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News of Clergy, Church leaders (Not Good Dept.)

Disturbing, alarming, sobering news, but not entirely surprising either. I’ve sat through enough required clergy seminars on sexual misconduct in my United Methodist Church–and have heard enough horror stories from my female colleagues in ministry–not to be too surprised by this study from Baylor. The article is from the Washington Post:

One in 33 Female Worshipers Is Target of Sexual Advances by Clergy Member

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 1:13 PM

One in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The study, by researchers at Baylor University, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations and religious traditions and a wide range of spiritual leaders.

“It certainly is prevalent, and clearly the problem is more than simply a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” said Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor, who co-authored the study.

The study also found that more than two-thirds of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.

A growing number of denominations have become aware of the problem, particularly since the Catholic Church’s highly publicized sex scandal involving its clergy. At least 36 denominations now have official policies that identify sexual relations between adult congregants and clergy as misconduct, subject to discipline.

It is also illegal in Minnesota and Texas. The Texas law, for example, defines clergy sexual behavior as nonconsensual sexual assault if the religious leader “causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser.”

Baylor used the 2008 General Social Survey, a nationally representative sample of 3,559 respondents, to estimate the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct. Women over the age of 18 who attended worship services at least once a month were asked whether they had ever received “sexual advances or propositions” from a religious leader.

The study also found that close to one in 10 respondents reported having known about clergy sexual misconduct occurring in a congregation they have attended.

Researchers don’t know whether the incidence of clergy sexual misconduct had changed over the years or whether sexual wrongdoing by clergy is more, or less, frequent than that of other well-respected professionals in the community, such as doctors.

But, Garland said, “when you put [misconduct] with a spiritual leader or moral leader, you’ve really added a power that we typically don’t think about in secular society — which is that this person speaks for God and interprets God for people. And that really adds a power.”

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Quotable quotes from a couple of genuinely wise guys

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As long as we see the world as unredeemed, we will want to redeem it ourselves. The consequences of that impossible expectation are well known: Frustration, anger, impotence, guilt and despair . . .
For God is already at work here, suffering brokenness but always offering the gift of reconciliation.”

—- “In the Belly of a Paradox,” Parker Palmer, Quaker, author of “The Courage to Teacher, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal.
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The life of discipleship is not the hero worship we would pay to a good master; it is obedience to the son of God.”
—- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran priest and theologian and Nazi resister and martyr, from “The Cost of Discipleship”

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We all remember that special teacher who inspired us to learn or better ourselves.
This human interest story from the Chicago Tribune finds the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple connecting with his aging English teacher:

    chicagotribune.com
    Their friendship: Pure poetry
    Verse by verse, ex-student leads retired teacher out of darkness after stroke
    By Manya A. Brachear
    Tribune reporter
    Photo by Chris Walker, Tribune
    August 31, 2009

    In the well-appointed drawing room of an Evanston retirement home one recent afternoon, Rev. Philip Blackwell sat beside his former teacher George Ariffe, poring over volumes of poetry that were dog-eared, creased and yellowed by the passing of time.
    Ariffe tapped a page, prompting Blackwell to begin reading Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” with a cadence the teacher instilled in his pupil decades ago:

    Ah, love, let us be true

    To one another!

    for the world, which seems

    To lie before us like a land of dreams,

    So various, so beautiful, so new,

    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

    Ariffe, who has great difficulty speaking and cannot read or write because of a stroke, listened intently, nodding his affirmation when Blackwell read the closing stanza.

    Many of us have that teacher who left an indelible mark on our lives. For Blackwell, pastor of Chicago’s First United Methodist Church, that hero is Ariffe, his former high school English teacher.

    Rather than merely read John Milton and William Shakespeare, Ariffe made his students memorize lines, believing they could draw value from the verses later in life.

    In the days immediately after the stroke on April 13, the 85-year-old teacher struggled to find his words and the will to live. When Blackwell visited his former teacher for the first time four days after his stroke, Ariffe uttered only one sentence that Blackwell could comprehend: “I want to die.”

    “This was one of those teachers that changed your life because they opened worlds you hadn’t imagined,” Blackwell said.

    So he set out to do the same for his teacher, using the poetry they both treasured. “What I was looking for was a language he and I could share that was … significant,” Blackwell said.

    Blackwell bought a copy of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” at a secondhand bookstore and read the verses when he returned to his teacher’s bedside on May 6.

    There lives more faith in honest doubt,

    Believe me, than in half the creeds.

    “It’s not my job to tell people whether they want to die or not,” Blackwell said. “I wanted him to know he was not outside the faith if he wanted to die and still had grand questions about why things are the way they are.”

    It was the least Blackwell could do for a teacher who had encouraged him more than four decades earlier.

    In 1960, Ariffe’s classroom was a sanctuary for Blackwell, the new kid at Libertyville-Fremont Consolidated High School, trying to establish an identity of his own.

    “My junior year was really an awkward year,” Blackwell recalled. “There was an in-group, and I wasn’t in it.”

    In Ariffe’s classroom, Blackwell memorized passages from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” and Milton’s “On His Blindness.”

    “I would say that George’s class helped to place me,” Blackwell said. “Having read all that Shakespeare and learned those poems and gone to see ‘Antigone,’ his class opened up some options for me that I went back and claimed.”

    The following year, half the students at Libertyville-Fremont, including Blackwell, became the first senior class at Mundelein High School. Blackwell played trombone in the marching band, served on the student council and played football and basketball. He credits Ariffe for enabling him to memorize a script and star in the school play. He also graduated as valedictorian.

    Meanwhile, Ariffe had embarked on his own adventure, taking a sabbatical to co-edit four volumes of English literature from the 5th to 20th Centuries. After helping to select what he believed were the quintessential works of English literature, he wrote commentaries and biographies of the authors.

    Three days before Easter in 1967, Blackwell visited his favorite teacher to fill him in on his progress and his plans. A first-year student at Yale Divinity School, Blackwell was headed to England for an internship.

    Ariffe presented him with a goodbye gift — autographed copies of his opus. Volume I had the longest inscription: “Very best wishes to my good friend and favorite clergyman, Phil.”

    Though Blackwell was not yet ordained, the inscription assured him that his teacher approved of his career path. This year, the gift sparked a new chapter of their friendship.

    On May 11, Blackwell unearthed the collection from his library and carried it to the Presbyterian Home in Evanston where Ariffe lay recuperating. Ariffe could not articulate his thoughts, but Blackwell would remind him that he once did by reading those words back to him. He started with Milton’s lament “On His Blindness,”composed before Milton wrote his masterpiece, “Paradise Lost.”

    When I consider how my light is spent,

    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

    And that one talent which is death to hide

    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

    Ariffe seemed consumed by a darkness similar to Milton’s. Still insisting he wanted to die, he had refused food since entering the hospital.

    “I’d always been struck both by the pathos of an artist who lost his capacity to create and then also the affirmation that you can serve even when you’re mute or inactive or sidelined in some way,” Blackwell said.

    That following Sunday, May 17, Blackwell preached on the New Testament’s John 15, in which Jesus invites his disciples to be his friends. Blackwell told his congregation about his friend and beloved teacher.

    The Preacher & The Teacher

    The Preacher & The Teacher

    “True friendship,” he said, “is abiding, not fleeting; it is deep, not shallow. It includes giving of one’s self to another and receiving what another person has to give to us.”

    When Blackwell arrived by Ariffe’s bedside later that day, he learned the patient had started to eat. The pastor read Gerald Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” a poem about the persistent presence of God despite humanity’s failures to do right by him.

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

    And though the last lights off the black West went

    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs

    Blackwell continued to note a shift in Ariffe’s personality, a determination to recover that Blackwell had not sensed before. The new fighting spirit inspired him to read “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas on May 25.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,

    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    “I thought: ‘George does not have access to his vocabulary, but he and I share vocabulary in large part because he gave it to me — these poems,’ ” Blackwell said. “If I read back to him his vocabulary, not only might there be some meaning in it, it might be a technique for him to retrieve some capacity to speak.”

    As the world outside has transformed from spring to summer toward fall, the poems have evolved too. Robert Browning’s “Prospice” was the first poem Blackwell read to Ariffe in May with the future in mind.

    O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,

    And with God be the rest!

    Since then, words have slowly returned to Ariffe. Short simple sentiments occasionally roll off his tongue. But he frequently trips on the phrases “I wonder” and “I want,” never quite completing the thought after an hour of trying. A booklet of pictures and labels helps him communicate.

    Blackwell and Ariffe don’t need that picture book. Ariffe recently surprised Blackwell with a hardcover copy of his anthology returned from his parents’ estate and inscribed to “Mom and Pop.” Blackwell now reads from that edition when he goes to see Ariffe.

    One afternoon this month, Ariffe looked at the reporter in the room and clasped his hand to his chest. He had tried unsuccessfully for an hour to convey an important point. But now what Ariffe had to say rolled right off his tongue.

    “This one’s the best,” he said, gesturing toward Blackwell. “I’m so glad.”

    mbrachear@tribune.com

    Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

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