Devotional Time?

Years ago, during the Q and A after I’d made a presentation to a group of Catholic priests, one of them asked what I meant by “my devotional time.” Catholics pray the Rosary and walk through the Stations of the Cross, none of which are an ordinary part of my life.

Three important confessions:

  • I feel as if I am one of the worst pray-ers in the world;
  • I have what my mom called “ants in my pants.” I’m sure my 21st century diagnosis would be Attention Deficit Disorder;
  • Listening (to people or to God) is not something I do well naturally.

Southern Baptists, during my childhood, encouraged families to participate in Daily Bible Readings. They published suggested texts. My family, off and on, read these. Not always, but sometimes. Later, when I was involved with Young Life as a teenager and young adult, I learned the evangelical terminology of Quiet Time.

Whatever it’s called, I began the habit/ritual/routine of a morning devotional time with my morning coffee. I suppose thousands of volumes with short daily readings have been published, but I was always a Bible guy. Why read what someone else says about the Bible when I had access to the Holy Scriptures? So, almost every day for over fifty years, I’ve read about three or four chapters of the Bible. I jump around from the Old to the New Testament, from long dull passages to shorter brighter texts. I marked each “book” with the date I finished it. It takes me about a year and a half to read through the entire Bible. Then, I usually read a different kind of devotional literature for about a month (The Journals of John Wesley, Pilgrim’s Progress, etc.). Then I pick up a different translation of the Bible and begin again. My first favorite was The New Testament in Modern English, translated by J. B. Phillips. I also read the Catholic Bible, called the Jerusalem Bible, which included the Apocrypha. Somewhere after midlife, I began to make sure I read more of the New Testament and especially the Gospels.

Typically, my devotional period was in the morning, but I could also do my reading during the lunch hour or catch up in the evening. It might last five minutes or fifty minutes, depending on my schedule.

For a few seasons of my life, maybe for six months or a year at a time, I kept a journal as part of my devotional meditation.

For me, as a pastor, it was important that my reading was not for the purpose of sermon preparation, but for my own spiritual health. My quiet time was about the health of my spirit, about my relationship with God. So, at least once a day, I was a listener/reader instead of a talker or a preacher. At least once a day, I was focused on Something/Someone bigger than I was, transcendent, spiritual, hopeful. I learned about faith, love, justice. I was quiet and still.

During my retirement, I’ve given myself permission to read other holy texts, works by Lao Tzu, Rumi, Confucius, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I’m pretty sure everyone can benefit from a regimen of quiet, disciplined listening to something other than Self. Sit down, turn of the radio and television, and read. Or pray. Or listen. A year from now, you’ll be glad you did.

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One Month in Connecticut, December 2016—Survived!

South Carolina friends asked me to keep them posted on my second winter sojourn into the great Frozen Northland, otherwise known as New England. It snowed again last night, about an inch where I live in the woods of Wilton, Connecticut. It’s not supposed to get above freezing for a week, with a low temperature predicted to be 9 degrees.

Wilton Baptist Church is the reason I’m here. There were 75 worshipers on Christmas Eve and 25 Christmas morning. Average attendance seems to be 35-45. The church is fully organized and functioning with different folks responsible for flowers, the Lord’s Supper, children’s choir, Sunday school classes, and other typical church activities. I’m impressed.

But, it’s a church, and there are always surprises. The congregation cannot support a full-time pastor without being creative. They own a manse (parsonage) where I am living, and they have made the difficult decision to sell it to help underwrite their salary expenses for the next three years. Property here is high, so that will provide a half-million dollars income ($500,000). Since I have been here, volunteers have been working day and night to paint and prepare the house to be sold for top market value.

Yesterday, our fine part-time secretary/administrative assistant told me she has a new fulltime job requiring her resignation here. Phooey. We will be sorry to lose her. She is a faithful and good worker, and we will need to replace her. Churches don’t just run themselves. People behind the scenes make organizations work.

Last week, the first Sunday of the New Year, a family of four joined the church. I’m having dinner with them tonight to talk about their faith journey. This is the fun part of being a pastor.

My friends want to know what kind of foolishness I’m up to with regard to sightseeing and traveling around the area. Facebook is the easiest way to participate in my over-sharing! I post too much there, I’m sure, but I enjoy the humor and the sometimes-lively discussion.

Sally flew up for our 44th anniversary and Christmas. The truth is we ate, slept and churched our way through the four or five days she was here. Oh, and we went to the movies to see LaLa Land, which we both liked. I was glad the Wilton folks got to meet Sally and she got to meet them.

I drove over to Boston to visit with Julie and Tom for two days and watched the Clemson-Ohio State game with them. Since I was a nervous wreck, I’m not sure that was exactly fun. But we won, so I’m going back over on Monday to watch the National Championship Game. Go Tigers!

Finally, I went into New York City. Because of poor planning, I went two days in a row. I had a ticket to see The Great Comet of 1812, a musical about a portion of War and Peace. The very next day, I had a ticket to Front Page starring Nathan Lane and John Goodman. Best part of either trip was a long subway ride to The Cloisters, a recreated Romanesque and Gothic showcase for Great Art. Not on most “must see” lists, but it has been my favorite thing in New York City so far.

 

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Suggested Reading for 2017

Falling Upward by Richard Rohr (The winner, hands down, for the volume that most affected me in recent years. Rohr says life is divided into two halves. The skills you need as a young adult are not the ones you need past age forty. If you only read one book in 2017, read this one.)

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Knowing way too little about the early history of our United States of America, I learned something on every page. It’s not a comic book, but it’s easy enough for adults to read. Hamilton gives perspective to this difficult political season.)

The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill (I find myself repeatedly quoting this book, so I must think it has something to say. I read everything Cahill writes.)

The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh (What I learned in Baptist life, including seminary, was a caricature of the actual beliefs and practices of other faiths. Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to listen to what Buddhists say about themselves, what Muslims say about themselves, etc. This book is a good start.)

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (An impressive account, academic and easy-to-read, of Americans of African descent, who left a perilous existence in the Deep South and moved North, hoping to create better lives for themselves and their children.)

Under the Banner of Heaven—John Krakauer (Continuing in the theme of trying to understand worlds I know little or nothing about, I’m fascinated by Krakauer’s stories of both faithful and radical Mormons.)

Overcoming Adolescence by Marion Aldridge (Well, of course, this book impacted my life. This is my story. I distill thirty years of life’s sometimes painful lessons on the subjects of fear, grace, wisdom, power and addiction.)

Marion D. Aldridge

Mariondaldridge@gmail.com

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Holiday, Lists/Top Ten | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Gift of Advent

Over the past few years, I have become exasperatedly aware how Big the Bible is. I’ve read it all my life—I don’t know how many times. I’ve even read the New Testament in Greek.

The Holy Book is HUGE—containing 66 smaller books, some of them not-so-short. Some texts are enigmatic. All are written in languages foreign to me. Some of the Bible is fiction—that’s what a parable is. Paul even resorts to sarcasm. There is no end to conversations and debates about the Bible.

Three years, at least, is how long a pastor needs to preach through the Bible, and that requires skipping a lot of texts. A sermon based on a passage from II Chronicles gets the same attention as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For me, that’s a problem. I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m not a Davidian and certainly not a Branch Davidian. Some are. I’m not. I read the entire Bible. I value the entire Bible. But I’m a Jesus guy.

Twelve Step groups  read each step at every meeting, focusing on a different step each week. When the group finishes the Twelve Steps, they start over and go through them again.

Not so in Sunday school or sermons. If we limited ourselves to a single Bible book each week, we’d need sixty-six weeks to skim through the Bible once. We’d spend only one Sunday, for example, on Matthew—to learn about …

The birth of Jesus

The visit of the Wise men

The preaching of John the Baptist

The Sermon on the Mount

The Beatitudes

The Lord’s Prayer

The healing of a leper, etc. etc. etc.

That’s an impossible task.

The Gift of Advent is that for four weeks, every year, we focus on …

Hope

Peace

Joy

Love.

Year in and year out, approaching Christmas, we are reminded that these attributes are important. No need to ignore salvation, grace, justice, or the Ten Commandments, but at least once each year we will focus on Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Year after year. Over and over.

Hope

Peace

Joy

Love.

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Holiday | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

I Don’t Need To Repeat My White Christmas Experience!

2016-12-17-08-21-12

Last week, the snow fell in Connecticut, lots of snow. This part of the world, the rural landscape, can be stunningly beautiful. It was 27 degrees. I fixed bacon, eggs and grits for breakfast. Nothing was planned for the day. I washed clothes and cleaned the house. The snow is still on the ground and it is 10 degrees today. (I took this picture from the house where I am living.)

Life is good. God is good.

Last winter, in New Hampshire, when it was – (minus) 17 degrees, one of my South Carolina friends said we needed to call church off in that kind of weather. If you close church, school or businesses in bad weather up here, you’ll never go to church, school or work.

Have I ever had a White Christmas? Yes, and it was half magical and half not-so-much.

At age 24, I visited my girlfriend and her parents in Westchester County, New York, an area very similar to where I’m staying this year in Connecticut—hilly, rocky, rural, woodsy, no leaves on the trees, magnificent homes, a beautiful Currier and Ives setting. On Christmas morning, we ice-skated on the pond near her house. A fairy tale. Perfection.

Then, Christmas afternoon, it was time to leave fantasyland. Her dad was to drive us to the airport in New York City where my girlfriend and I were to catch a plane back to the Carolinas. I was in charge of a Young Life Camp beginning the next day, December 26. As we drove into the city, the snow was furious. After driving for a while, her dad asked which airport we were using. Turns out, he was taking us in the wrong direction to the wrong airport, and he was not a happy father-of-the-girlfriend. He had to backtrack to get us to LaGuardia. After he dropped us off, we discovered all planes had been grounded. Fourteen hours later, we managed to secure seats on a jet leaving LaGuardia. We arrived in plenty of time for our camping experience.

Though guilt comes easily to me, I never felt the trip to the wrong airport was my responsibility. He was the New Yorker. I kinda think it would have been smart of him to ask “Which airport?” when we left his house. Enchanting morning. The afternoon was less charming.

I’m pleased to say that relationship never worked out. I’d already met Sally Craig, and the next year, she applied her own charms and we married on December 22, 1972.   On Thursday of this week, she’ll fly into Connecticut for our anniversary. She’ll stay through Christmas. Snow or no snow? Who cares? I’ll have my love to keep me warm.

Categories: Family, Holiday, Humor, Travel | 3 Comments

Not Your Typical Christmas Blog: Choosing our Ethical Battles

One of my friends, still a young man to me, asked a question on Facebook about why every Christian and every church wasn’t actively involved in finding a home for every child who needs to be adopted.

It’s a good thought, and I’ve asked similar questions since I was a teenager. Here’s a problem: What should we do? What should I do?

My doctorate is in Christian Ethics. I wanted (and still want) to cure every ill, fix every problem, right every wrong, join every cause, and march in every parade. All of it can’t be done by one person or even by a single church.

What I recommend is that every person and every church adopt three Big Issues. Mine have shifted over the years. Racism was the Big One of my childhood and adulthood. In my world, it still is. That’s a battle I suspect I will fight until the day I die. I marched to get the Confederate flag off the dome of the South Carolina State House. I go out of my way to befriend African-Americans, to listen to them, and, by extension, others who look different than I do. I write. I preach. I’ve stayed in trouble during my entire ministry for pushing the boundaries with regard to race relations.

When I was younger and the US was building bombs by the truckload and Nuclear Proliferation dominated the Cold War, I got involved in Peacemaking. Jesus said a few things about Peacemaking. I drove to Washington with two other ministers from Batesburg to visit our Senators and Congressman to state our concern. I invested energy to challenge America’s tendency to get into wars at the drop of a hat.

There are fifty issues I could spend ten hours a day trying to resolve:

Adoption,

Aging,

Alcoholism,

Animal rights,

Business ethics,

Campaign finance reform,

Clean water,

Consumer protection,

Criminal justice,

Death penalty,

Drug addiction,

Education,

Environmental issues/conservation,

Family issues—divorce, polygamy, affairs, forced marriage

Freedom of expression,

Gluttony,

Gun control,

Health care,

Homelessness,

Honor crimes/shaming,

Human cloning,

Human trafficking,

Hunger,

Immigration,

Integrity,

Literacy,

Materialism/Greed,

Organized crime,

Payday lending,

Physician-assisted suicide,

Political corruption/buying votes,

Racism,

Religious bigotry/intolerance

Separation of church and state,

Sports—concussions, winning at any cost, gambling,

Terrorism,

Torture,

War and peace,

Women’s issues.

Pick three and follow up with those. Be informed. Do something. You can’t do it all. What’s not acceptable, in my opinion, is shaking your head sadly and doing nothing. Volunteers are always needed. Money is always needed. Local board members are always needed.

As a pastor, I tried to give church members information at forums. I was always aware there are at least two very different opinions on most issues, e.g., gun control, homosexuality, abortion, immigration, and the death penalty.

I guess this is why political parties choose “platforms.” Even Miss America candidates have a “platform.” Pretend you’re a celebrity and adopt a cause. Three causes. You can’t do everything, but you can do something.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Lists/Top Ten, Race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Rhythm and Routine

My morning rituals in Columbia my not be set in stone, but they are largely predictable. After I get up and visit the restroom, where I brush my teeth, weigh, etc., I move toward the kitchen where I stroke and feed our fine feline, Caesar, and brew myself a cup of coffee. I fix breakfast—cereal, oatmeal or French toast—and settle in for some devotional time, reading something for the good of my soul. I don’t have to turn off my electric blanket. Her name is Sally and she just rolls over and goes back to sleep. Then, I take my walk, shower and shave. Then, I get on with my day.

If I’m meeting someone for breakfast, or have early errands to run, the routine changes, but life usually returns to normal the next morning.

Last week, in my blog, I whined about feeling disoriented and discombobulated in my first few days in Connecticut. What else would I feel? My wife’s not in the bed next to me. My cat’s not waiting to be petted and fed. The coffee pot here is different than what I have at home. I can’t find what I’m looking for in this kitchen. Half the house was being painted. The other half will be painted this week. The hills surrounding the house where I’m living are not conducive to an early morning walk.

Of course, I’m a bit bewildered by it all.

But, I’ll adjust. I will adjust. I shall adjust.

A Big Hunk of grief is losing the familiar. Things are not what they were. Somebody is not where you are accustomed to them being. They are not there when you expect them to be.

Change is aggravating, annoying, unnerving, inspiring, stimulating, challenging, vexing, frustrating, and surmountable. It is not deadly. I will survive.

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In Over My Head

Disoriented is the word that best describes my first few days in Connecticut as the Interim Pastor of Wilton Baptist Church. I feel strangely clueless. It’s been a weird few days. It’s already snowed. I purchased an electric blanket. My printer’s not working. I’ve already been to an Urgent Care “Doc in a Box” to follow up a complication from hand surgery. They’re painting the inside of the house where I’m living. The shower downstairs doesn’t produce hot water but the shower upstairs does. I live downstairs.

Welcome to Life! I love it.

Two days ago, on the second Sunday of Advent, the church gathered for worship and I preached my first sermon here. Oddly enough, the sermon was about Peace, but I wasn’t feeling very tranquil. Pastor friends and I have joked about praying that something should happen in a worship service that isn’t in the bulletin. But it’s not a joke. God’s Spirit is not, after all, predictable. We can organize the deck chairs on the Titanic, but it’s better if someone (or Someone) comes up with a strategy to keep the ship from sinking.

Wilton Baptist was to celebrate Communion, but the Lord’s Supper wasn’t mentioned in the bulletin. We had Communion anyway. Throughout the service, I think I was standing when I should have been sitting, and vice versa. I forgot to turn the microphone on; then, I forgot to turn it off. During the Lord’s Prayer, the congregation asked God to forgive us our trespasses and my prayer asked God to forgive us our debts. Oops.

It was that kind of Sunday.

As a pastor, I’ve discovered I’m only a small part of the process. I enjoy the shade of trees I didn’t plant. I put one foot in front of the other in the ordinary way, but, amazingly, extraordinary things happen. I like that. It takes some of the pressure off a single individual. None of us are doing anything, as our preschool children say, “All by myself.”

I’ll prepare sermons. I’ll meet with the Pastor Search Committee. Still, I’m absolutely certain that I’m part of Some Thing Bigger than I am. That’s good to remember.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, reviewed by Marion D. Aldridge

Hillbilly Elegy is a “New York Times #1 Bestseller,” and, according to all accounts, an Important Book, meaning, we should probably read it. Written before the 2016 election, it explains a lot about the perceived disestablishment of older white men throughout much of the country, the formerly powerful feeling powerless, and even the rise of Donald Trump. Hillbillies never had much clout, but Vance argues that, previously, they could at least make a living for their family.

Vance subtitled his volume, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. His roots are the mountains and hollers of Kentucky and sections of Ohio to which the economically depressed people of Appalachia transplanted themselves.

My dad’s family came from the Horse Creek Valley in the sand hills of South Carolina, in many ways similar to Vance’s Appalachia. My granddaddy and daddy were mill workers. My dad’s nickname was Rube, which means country bumpkin. The great difference in Vance and me appears to be that he blames his culture for the slights he’s endured in his thirty-one years of life, while I credit my family, as deprived economically as his, for providing a solid foundation of core values.

He writes, “Yes, my parents fought intensely, but so did everyone else’s.” I don’t believe that. It’s not even true of the other members of his extended family. Vance falls victim to universalizing his own experience. It makes a good story, but it ain’t necessarily so.

He bemoans his mother’s alcoholism and drug addiction, and I can feel his pain. He doesn’t burn with the anger of Pat Conroy who wrote creatively and passionately about his father’s abusiveness. But Vance writes well and interestingly about his family and culture. Yet, all the while, I kept thinking his issues were as much family as culture. After all, there are alcoholics and drug addicts in the wealthiest neighborhoods of every community. Maybe the numbers are disproportionately high in so-called hillbilly communities, but he didn’t convince me.

Obviously, culture affects us, whether we grow up with a military family that moves every few years, or in a Chinese neighborhood in San Francisco, or in an urban setting in Chicago, or on a small island in the Pacific.

Vance introduced me to a term with which I was not familiar, Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), apparently a kissing cousin to PTSD, to explain symptoms in adults who suffered various types of emotional or physical violence in their childhood homes, e.g., a parent who attempted suicide. Such experiences are in no way limited to the people of Appalachia. Adversity also happens in Hollywood and Hawaii.

Vance’s anecdotes from his childhood are entertaining, but a few more statistics would have been helpful to make his case.

Vance comes close to being the definition of a “self-made man.” He quotes his sister Lindsay, “You have to stop making excuses and take responsibility.” After a rocky childhood, Vance joined the Marines, graduated from Ohio State University, and then finished Yale Law School. He has impressive credentials and is now, something of a media darling, a member of the Ivy League Elite. Upward mobility appears to be his mantra. He credits individuals within his culture and family system with being helpful but is openly disdainful of government involvement. Yet, public schools, the Marines, and the Ohio State University are all government entities.

I think both/and/and/and/and/and is more honest than either/or.

Family, local hillbilly culture, American culture, teachers, the Marines, personal decisions, intelligence, white maleness, dumb luck, grace, providence, and hard work are each a part of Vance’s success story.

I like this book. It’s easy to read and provocative. It’s one of the narratives of some working class white people, but not the whole story.

Categories: addiction, Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Christmas in New England

A few months ago, the Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Connecticut asked me to serve as their Interim Pastor beginning the Second Sunday of Advent. I accepted and I leave to drive there next Thursday, December 1.

Another year, another adventure.

Yes, I have the seasons mixed up. I should be in the South during cold weather and go North in summer, but that’s not the way 2016-2017 worked out. Here’s the Quote for the Day on one of the websites (Daily Dharma) I read:

“When we reach out to what is unknown to us, we let go of the notion that we can control what we experience.” Ken McLeod, Where the Thinking Stops

Wilton Baptist, averaging 35-40 people in attendance every Sunday, is practically a megachurch compared with Trinity Baptist of Hanover, where I served last winter. Wilton Baptist has an active congregation, Sunday school and music program, and outreach ministry. They’ve had fine pastoral leadership over the years. My task is to help them transition to whatever and whoever is next for them.

They own a manse, so that’s where I’ll stay. I’m told New York City is just a short commuter train ride away, so I expect I’ll go into NYC occasionally.

Sally will fly up to see me over the Christmas holidays. I loved having guests in New Hampshire, so come visit if you can. There’s a spare bedroom. I’m taking enough grits so I can have company stay over.

My address and contact info will be

Marion D. Aldridge

222 Mountain Road

Wilton, CT 06897

(803) 413-2734

mariondaldridge@gmail.com

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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