Broken People

Broken People

Marion D. Aldridge

The idea that God loves broken people (drunks, sexual misfits, and those who fail to respect authority) was not part of my religious heritage. Instead, there was a focus on God’s scorn and punishment for those who fail. We gave lip service to God’s unconditional love, but being consigned to an eternity in a painful hell eventually began to sound conditional to me.

 At different points in my life I’ve heard that church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. I’ve been blessed by many congregations that understand their role as an infirmary for those who have been injured and wounded by life.

I’ve also seen too much of the polar-opposite where people are taught that God prefers the righteous, the pure, and the holy.

Recently, I read a book (This I Believe) of brief daily devotional thoughts written by laity, edited by Edward R. Murrow. It’s not a Christian volume in any way. The contributors, none of whom were theologians and few of whom were writers, were asked in the 1950s to pen a brief essay on whatever was central in their lives. Their answers fascinated—everything from music to hard work to freedom to baseball. I appreciated their variety. Lou Crandall’s essay, however, made me giggle, not that it was intended to be humorous. An engineering, architecture, and construction genius, Crandall wrote he liked the characters in the Bible for being “the closest examples of human perfection.” He added, “They were unselfish, steadfast in their faith, and unstinting in their help to others.”

I don’t know which Bible he was reading, but little of that is in the Bible I use. The complicated, often selfish, seldom steadfast, always surprising, human personalities in the Old and New Testaments include trickster Jacob, Rahab the harlot, impatient Moses, adulterer and murderer David, frightened Jonah, and impulsive Peter—and these were the good guys.

Years ago, I picked up a biography of a renowned Baptist leader, George W. Truett, a pastor during the first half of the twentieth century. As I read the first few pages, I realized the author had engaged in hero worship. Truett, in the writer’s eyes, was one of the greatest men who’d ever lived, beyond comparison or criticism. I put the book down and never read another page. Anybody flying that high above the rest of us could teach me little. When I read the stories of George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Anne Lamott, their humanity and their flaws are magnificently obvious.

Personal growth, I notice, happens most often where life is challenging and raw, when something is broken and needs to be repaired.

I never fully trust men or women who seem to have gone from victory to victory. I’ve heard advice that comes from some superhero pastors, tycoons, and authors, and it’s clear some of them know nothing about the world in which I live. They are Gold Medal Champions in life, whereas most of us are just happy to finish the race without embarrassing ourselves.

Once, when I was a young seminarian and the pastor of a small congregation in Louisville, Kentucky, my wife and I had a terrible argument while driving to church. Our words to one another were hurtful. When we arrived, we got out of the car, steam practically rising out of our ears. We went our separate ways, she to a Sunday school class, and I to the pastor’s study.

“What a hypocrite I am!” I thought as I tried to prepare myself to lead worship and preach. “What do you have to say to these people? You’re as bad as anybody else. You’re a fraud. Who do you think you are to stand behind a pulpit and preach God’s word?”

For good or ill, I preached. I couldn’t look at my wife. It was a short sermon, and the congregation was probably glad.

As time passed, I re-evaluated that Sunday, especially since there were others like it! Eventually, I decided an argument with my wife didn’t disqualify me from preaching. Being human qualified me! Being wounded, scared, and scarred—those are the credentials needed to be a good pastor.

It took me another five or six years as a minister to understand this basic truth. I’d gone to seminary intending to memorize answers to biblical or theological questions, to be indoctrinated, I suppose. The truth was I’d already been indoctrinated by twenty-five years in Sunday school.

What I began to discover as I matured was my humanity. The seed was planted for a better and different education than I had anticipated.

(This blog was originally published by Bearings Online of the Collegeville Institute. MDA)

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

My Answer: Marion’s Billy Graham Story

My Answer: Marion’s Billy Graham Story

Warning: This narrative ends with a whimper instead of a bang, and maybe we can all be grateful for that.

After my week in Plains, Georgia, enjoying the company of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter for a week, someone commented that the experience must have been THE highlight of my life. Well, no… Much as I loved the entire series of events in South Georgia, I would remind readers that Sally and I had a really nice wedding in 1972 in Columbia, SC. Highlight!

I was present for the birth of my two marvelous daughters in 1974 and 1983. Highlights! Fuzzy and I were in the Orange Bowl when Clemson won the National Football Championship in 1982. Highlight! I’ve been stuck in the sand in the Sahara Desert. I’ve sailed in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia in Turkey. I’ve been to the Holy Land and walked where Jesus walked (more or less). Highlights!

My Billy Graham story is a highlight. In April 1987, The State Newspaper asked me to review, critique, and comment on Billy Graham’s sermons during his Columbia meetings at Williams-Brice Stadium. The idea of critiquing Billy Graham was a bit daunting. I wrote one preview editorial, one on-deadline article each night, summarizing the content of his sermon, and one follow-up commentary after Graham and his associates had departed. It was a plum assignment.

Like every other well-bred Baptist, I was a Billy Graham fan. I had attended his crusade/revival in upstate South Carolina when I was a student at Clemson in 1966. Our seminary had a Billy Graham room in the library. I liked that he insisted his meetings be integrated. He was an advocate of peacemaking in an era of nuclear proliferation. There was a lot to like about Billy Graham. All of us young preacher-boys wished we could preach as well as he did, and draw crowds as he did.

At the same time, I was aware that his ministry had the great benefit of introducing the Good News of the Christian faith, and welcoming converts into the faith. Then, he left town. Local pastors had to do the hard work of attempting to corral these new believers into churches and to make disciples of them. I could be impressed by Graham’s awesome ministry and, at the same time, aware that his calling was not the same as mine.

After the first few days of the event, one afternoon my presence was requested rather suddenly and mysteriously. Someone from the Graham team (that’s what his staff was called), walked me from the newspaper offices next door to Williams-Brice into the innards of the stadium and ushered me into a room with some snacks and…

Billy Graham. Just the two of us.

He introduced himself, complimented my reporting, and the two of us conversed for fifteen or twenty minutes. He said it was hard to find someone who was a good writer who understood the evangelical milieu, who wasn’t mystified by the language of Zion, whose heart was good, and who was not as cynical as the national secular reporters who ordinarily wrote about him. Of course, I was flattered, and thanked him. I wasn’t prepared to interview him. I was, after all, a Baptist preacher and pastor, not a journalist. So we chatted over cheese and crackers.

After a while, he said he’d like for me to consider ghostwriting his “My Answer” newspaper column. Wow. I had enough ethics and sense about me to say that for the next week or so, I was committed to fulfilling my obligation to The State Newspaper. After that, if he was still interested, we could have a conversation. Of course, I was dumbstruck, but I didn’t want a mid-event commitment to the Graham team and their public relations agenda to tempt me to write only complimentary comments about the sermons and the revival/crusade services. He understood. We enjoyed more conversation and eventually, our time together was over. He was as nice a man as you think he was, genuine, generous, thoughtful, kind. My twenty minutes alone with Billy Graham.

I’ve mentioned this time with Billy Graham to only a few people, including the editor of The State Newspaper. Sally knew about it, of course, as well as a few close friends.

Nothing ever came of the “My Answer” offer. After a month, I wrote him a letter at his Montreat address, asking if he still had an interest in working with me. I received a pleasant and positive personal reply from him, typically gracious, and the answer was, in short, yes. Someone on his staff would contact me. His public relations firm out of New York did get in touch with me, eventually, and I think it’s fair to say I got the runaround. Who knows what happened? Did they do a background check on me and discover that I drink wine and smoke cigars? Did they learn I was more moderate theologically than Graham?

Thus, this episode ends with a whimper.

For which, ultimately, I’m grateful. I suspect my answers to the questions he was asked through the years would have been very different than Mr. Graham’s.

That’s my Billy Graham story.

Marion D. Aldridge

February 22, 2018

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, South Carolina, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

My Offer to Home College My Grandson

My Offer to Home College My Grandson

(Warning: Satire, not to be taken literally)

Marion D. Aldridge

My grandson, a junior in high school, recently began the formidable task of looking at colleges. He’s smart and makes good grades, and he’s also an all-area football kicker. Academics and Athletics: the Big Two in South Carolina—so he has a fine resume.

The elephant in the room is a price tag that can be as high as $60,000 per year. Sticker shock! Yikes! A quarter of a million dollars for four years.

So I made the offer to Home College my grandson. Why not? He would enjoy the ultimate small school. I’d sit him at my kitchen table every day for two percent of the fee. What a deal! I think I’ll recruit him. Bargain tuition of $1199.98 per year.

Here are excerpts of the curriculum I envision.

Physical Fitness: For starters, my grandson can sweep, mop, and vacuum inside the house, and plant a garden outside, weeding it weekly. This will also provide lessons in nutrition, especially if he prepares the meals.

Responsibility: After his morning chores, he can wake me from my morning nap for lunch.

Literature. My one promise is he will never be asked to read James Joyce’s Ulysses. He would, of course, read Chaucer, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, and Maya Angelou. After those, I’m flexible.

Science. We’d take field trips to the Galapagos Islands, the Chattooga River, and NASA. He could hire out to intern at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and I could go along and chaperone. We could take in a Cubs or White Sox game and study velocity of pitches, the arc and distance of home runs.

History. The Revolutionary War happened in South Carolina. That’s simple enough. Trips to Camden, Cowpens, and Ninety Six. We could try to find and excavate one of Francis Marion’s camps among the Tupelo trees on Snow Island.

Ethics: I’d stick with the Golden Rule. (Bonus information: The Seven Deadly Sins do not specifically mention blueberry muffins.)

Math. He could tutor his grandmother since he is already way beyond her ability to tutor him. He went beyond my skills years ago, too. His aunt could teach him statistics. Baseball games at Fenway Park would be the place for geometric and statistical calculations.

Music: With a playlist of songs from the 1960s, the Beatles, Ray Charles, the Mamas and the Papas, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Buddy Holly, Etta James, and James Brown, his music education would be complete. Class dismissed.

Theology. I figure we could go to a cemetery and sit a spell. Walk around some. He could think about life and death. How many college kids take advantage of this opportunity?

Law. We could visit courtrooms for a few days. He would begin to wonder if these people were crazy or just mean. The criminals, not the lawyers.

Politics: I taught him everything I know about government before he was twelve. Government should benefit the governed, not the governors. That’s a hard lesson for politicians to learn.

Psychology: I will teach my grandson all the psychobabble I know, because I think most of it’s true. Life is a journey. One event or one decision will not make or break you. This too shall pass. One day at a time. Keep on keeping on. Hang in there. Every day is classwork, not the final exam. Mind your own business. The goal is progress, not perfection.

That’s my offer.

By the way, the kitchen table seats four. Do the math: four times $1199.98 equals $4,799.92. That’s enough to buy us all ice cream at the ball game. My treat.

Categories: Baseball, Diet, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Humor, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta–A Book Review

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

Reviewed by Marion D. Aldridge

Before, during, and after a recent trip to Mississippi for a writers’ retreat, I read lots of Mississippi authors, from William Faulkner to Eudora Welty to John Grisham. But the gem I discovered was Dispatches from Pluto, winner of the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, and a New York Times bestseller. Richard Grant, an Englishman, is the author.

Grant is a travel writer who took a deep dive into Mississippi, bought a house there, married there, and made a life there. You can’t get much more immersed in a culture.

Locals often can’t see the forest for the trees. What we think is noteworthy is not interesting at all to outsiders. The everyday scenery that bores us is remarkable to a stranger. The language we know deep in our bones is charming to a newcomer. Grant moves into the world of the Deep South and tells our stores better than we can. He notices the strange bonds between the races that dominate our world and, without judgment, helps us understand ourselves better.

He writes of the poverty in the Mississippi Delta (not so different from the South Carolina low country): “Poor children hear thirty million fewer words than rich children in the first four years of their life.”

Grant observes what I’ve known for decades: “People vote against their own best interests, because they’re culturally so conservative.” Grant, to his credit, is unwilling to use the term “racist” too quickly. He quotes one woman, “Compartmentalize, compartmentalize, and then compartmentalize some more. If someone tells you that the Muslims are plotting to destroy America, or Obama is the Antichrist, you just seal that away in its own separate compartment, and carry on till you find their good side. There’s no sense in arguing with them.” Grant discovered that’s a necessary survival tactic in small communities of a few hundred or a few thousand people, where relationships with all members of the community are required. Nobody has the luxury of gated communities or ghettoes. All relationships are symbiotic and necessary.

He discusses not only the economics and politics of the Delta, but also the religion, the music, prisons, sports and education. He is as perplexed as everyone else that, during the Jim Crowe years, “Whites wouldn’t drink from the same water fountain as colored, but they were happy for their babies to have a black wet nurse.”

Grant has entered our world. He wrote he was “drowning in the deep end of the Deep South.” He did as fine a job of explaining us as anyone I’ve read.

Categories: Book Review, Race, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

January Depression

Thirty years ago, I began to notice the predictable pattern of my own depression every January. Over the years, I’ve kept a journal periodically. All I needed to do was look back at previous Januarys to see, sure enough, the same behavioral blueprint. It wasn’t hard to figure out.

  • The excitement of Christmas was over.
  • The days were shorter.
  • There was illness in the air.
  • We stayed indoors more.
  • The obituary list in the newspaper was longer.

January depression is no secret.

Situational sadness is not the same as clinical despondency or hopelessness, but, still, I learned to take the symptoms seriously.

My first clue was the television series Northern Exposure, which aired an episode on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

It’s not the same as cabin fever, but limited access to the outdoors also plays a part in the problem. When I spent the last two winters in New England, I was surprised at how much more of the season these hardy souls spend outdoors than Southerners do: ice skating, snow skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. I was amazed.

For me, a big chunk of the January blues was good ol’ fashioned post-Christmas (think “post-partum”) melancholy. All the excitement, the church in overdrive, holiday parties, gift giving and receiving, travel, Christmas tree decorating and dismantling, came to a screeching halt.

January is also a time of reality checking. Why else do we make resolutions? We’ve eaten too much, spent too much, and formed bad habits that need to be broken. Yuk. The fantasy of living as if there are no consequences comes to a demoralizing end. We’re going to have to make some changes. No wonder we are dispirited.

No magic list here of Ten Ways to Get Out of Your January Funk. There are probably a thousand websites to tell you that.

The great insight for me was simply to name the demon. I wasn’t just randomly depressed for no good reason. There were a dozen causes for the January doldrums, and I needed to pay attention.


Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Holiday | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Competitive Childbearing as a Church Growth Strategy

Competitive Childbearing as a Church Growth Strategy

Marion D. Aldridge

(Note: I thought this was funny when I wrote it five years ago, but I never had it published. So, here it is, finally, as true as ever…)

The mantra of most American churches is “Grow, Grow, Grow.” This refrain springs from the wells of Wal-Mart, capitalism, and the American Way, not from the Bible.   The Jews of the Old Testament did not have a “growth strategy.” The words and life of Jesus repelled as many people as they attracted.

But, since enlargement is at the heart of American evangelicalism, I make a modest suggestion to ensure success.


I recommend competitive childbearing as a means of helping numerically declining congregations and denominations return to the robust and vigorous expansion of their former days—before birth control.

We all know families in which the adult siblings race to have the first grandchild, or the first grandson, or the brightest or most athletic children, or more kids than their brothers and sisters. The contest may never be acknowledged overtly, but it happens in millions of families all over the world.

Competitive childbearing plays itself out in a thousand ways: Who gets Grandpa’s name first? Who looks like Grandma? Who will inherit Mama’s china? Who will receive Dad’s blessing? Who gets the family fortune?

Middle class and upper middle class families are simply not having a sufficient quantity of babies to keep our churches as populated and growing as they were through the 1960s.

I propose that churches not already using this natural sibling competitiveness as a strategy for swelling attendance and income are missing a grand opportunity. How can a congregation realistically expect to increase numerically if the following pattern is followed?

  • Four grandparents produce…
  • Two children who only manage to procreate…
  • One grandchild.

That is the definition of a downward demographic trend.

It is an ugly fact for increasingly wealthy denominations that the higher up the educational and social ladder parishioners go, the fewer newborns they produce. As Pentecostals become Baptists, as Baptists become Presbyterians, and as Presbyterians become Episcopalians, their capacity for and interest in breeding a new generation diminishes.

Any church paying attention to numbers (traditionally, budgets, butts and buildings are the important issues) should consider competitive childbearing as a growth strategy. Imagine these numbers:

  • Four grandparents (two sets) have…
  • Twelve children (six per couple), each of which in turn has their own half-dozen babies, totaling…
  • Seventy-two offspring.

That’s serious church growth.

Ask for advice from the Protestants and Roman Catholics of previous centuries when large families were the norm. More recently, since Roman Catholics outlawed birth control, their numbers continued to expand while Protestants, embracing all manner of contraception, watched their numbers shrink. The growth of the church in South America and Africa is less about dynamic preaching than about shunning birth control. Nor is the principle of competitive childbearing limited to the Christian religion. Muslims and Hindus have also practiced this strategy with success. Children having children is always a good thing for increasing religious population.

In the Baptist church of my childhood, we gave awards on Mother’s Day for the oldest mother, the youngest mother (sometimes age 15 or 16) and the mother with the most children. Forget Christmas and Easter! If your congregation will focus on Mother’s Day with the right rewards, competitive childbearing will happen naturally.

Ask for advice from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). They can’t build fast enough to house all their offspring/constituents. Their men are allowed to marry multiple wives. That helps the toddler totals even more. Maybe Plural Marriage is a Biblical idea that Protestants should consider. Let a 65-year old man marry 6 wives, ages 65, 55, 45, 35, 25 and 15, and I guarantee there will be a steady supply of fresh infants.

The answer to almost every church growth problem is “Just Have Babies.” By the way, you certainly don’t want non-productive, non-procreating homosexuals in a church committed to a strategy of competitive childbearing.

The wonderful thing about this approach to church growth is that it allows American Christians to continue to worship their three Great Gods:

  • Competition—We love to have winners and losers in our culture, especially if we are the winners. Forget this win-win stuff. We all want to be Winners. Losers are just losers.
  • Materialism—We love Stuff. We love the Money that buys Stuff.   I know that Jesus said some weird things about hoarding and greed, but Jesus was not an economist. So be careful about giving his opinions too much weight.
  • Size—Oh, how we worship Bigness. Big Houses. Big Box Stores. Big Churches. Big Cars. Big Stadiums. Big Guns. The Bigger the Better. There is no place in a True America for modesty in size. More than half of the pop-up ads on the computer are selling products to increase Size. Surely, if we understood him correctly, Jesus was more interested in growing the numbers of the local Synagogue than healing the sick, or feeding the hungry, or making peace, or any of that other humbug stuff. Right?

If competitive childbearing is the perfect solution for the problems of our church culture, then have lots of kids. By the way, I don’t know any pastor-search committee or any group of deacons that wants to grow their church with old people. Another mantra in our culture that will be resolved by a steady supply of children is “Youth, Youth, Youth.”

It will baffle me if congregations don’t leap to this policy of competitive childbearing to increase their size.

This would be an especially effective approach if we could retroactively get Jesus to be married.

If only Jesus had practiced what we preach…

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Humor | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Thanksgiving Guest Blog by Joe Darby


Based on Psalm 34


            I’m writing this Meditation after phone calls from my sons that made me smile.  My oldest son was preparing to do an early Thanksgiving dinner for his wife of two years and wanted me to send him my turkey dressing recipe.  My youngest son, who lives out of state, told me what he and his wife were preparing together for Thanksgiving dinner – a couple of days before their first wedding anniversary.


            Those simple phone calls led me to reflect on the joy of seeing my sons grow up.  I witnessed their births, changed their diapers, saw them learn to walk and talk and watched them go through all of the joys and challenges of evolving from children to teens to college students to successful men, both of whom are doing well in their careers and both of whom joyfully married the “women of their dreams.”


            I give thanks for the men they’ve become, especially since forty years of ministry – that included fourteen bi-vocational years as a juvenile probation counselor – allowed me to see how good young people can easily run into bad situations that derail their hopes, dreams, progress and well-being.  The success of my sons is a simple but significant reason for me to give thanks to God.


            I share that blessing with you on the eve of Thanksgiving Day 2017.  America’s national day of thanks – that was first formally proclaimed during the American Civil War – is a time for families to gather for food, fellowship, football games and parades.  It’s easy to get caught up in the obligatory traditions of the day, forget the real meaning of the day or simply see the day as a welcome and brief break from life’s routinely stressful and troubling daily situations.


            When we take the time, however, to “exhale” and remember the real meaning of the day, we can thank God for life’s routine and extraordinary blessings.  We can reflect on the things that God has already done for us – great and small – look forward to what God will do for us, take the time to praise the Lord and prepare to return thanks every day by what we do to serve the Lord and to reach out to and stand up for those around us.


            Take the time, in the midst of all that you do on Thanksgiving Day, to pause, count your blessings and praise the Lord for all that’s right in your life.  You’ll find new joy, new strength, new peace of mind and new hope as you face each day – not focusing on your obstacles but celebrating your opportunities and saying with one hymn writer – even in the “age of Donald Trump” – “Oh, come to the Father through Jesus the Son; and give Him the glory, great things He has done!”


This Meditation is also available:


As a Blog on the Beaufort District’s Website:


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Get Ready for Sunday, and have a great day in your house of worship!

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

M-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter-I-Humpback Humpback-I

My travels and adventures lately haven’t been as exciting as Dinner with the Carters or Winter in New England, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting still.

Most recently, I traveled to the Gray Episcopal Camp and Conference Center in Canton, Mississippi (Did you learn to spell Mississippi the same way I did?) for a weeklong retreat for writers, sponsored by the Collegeville Institute, Millsaps College, and The Center for Ministry. Ultimately, I think it was Lilly Foundation money.

Participation was competitive. We had to submit something we’d written, and twelve of us were selected. Like the disciples? That was pretty cool. The event was free, though we had to pay for our own transportation to get there and back. That’s a ten-hour car trip in each direction, so I decided to drive. I spent some time, going and coming, with my Uncle Butch and Aunt Kari in Atlanta.

When I travel, I literally get out an old-fashioned paper map (remember them?) and draw a circle around my destination(s) to discover what interesting sites I can fit into my itinerary. The most obvious was the Vicksburg National Military Park, location of a deadly Civil War siege and battle. I visited there with my parents, grandparents, my brother, and Uncle Butch when I was a young teenager, maybe age fourteen, so I remember it well.

Then, nudged by one of those occasional moments of moral reflection, I wondered why I would willfully choose to re-visit a Civil War site. After all, we have been in a heated national conversation about how much we should venerate these painful Civil War memorials. I have all of that I need in South Carolina without traveling to the Mississippi River.

A point of particular aggravation to me is that our tourism board ignores the fact that the Revolutionary War happened in South Carolina! My name is Marion, after all, in honor of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, the Patriot! You can be at his burial site on the Belle Isle Plantation in Pineville, SC, less than a two-hour trip from my front door. Yet, we largely snub those sites while still glorifying the few Civil War events that happened within our state.

So, I made the decision to go to Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi and William Faulkner. Good decision. My cousin Lola was kind enough to drive down from Memphis so we could have a meal and spend the evening together. Lola is a much younger cousin. When I was fifteen, she was five, so she was a little kid, easy to ignore back then. But we discovered one another as adults and bonded over family, faith, and politics. Great evening of catching up with her.

Faulkner’s home was, frankly, a disappointment, but I’m glad I was able to spend time in Oxford.

At the writers’ retreat, we visited Eudora Welty’s home in Jackson, and that was a much more interesting tour than the time at the Faulkner residence.

The Gray Conference Center is a lot like similar venues in South Carolina: ponds, woods, and hiking trails. Very fine writers had been selected to participate. There’s an advantage to having a competitive means of extending invitations. These were not wannabe authors. These were competent men and women of faith and literary skill. The facilitator was Robert Benson, a successful, insightful, and entertaining writer and retreat leader. His main message, at least what I came away with, was, “Write.” The conference provided plenty of time to do that. We listened to one another as each of us read what we had written.

It was a good week, and, now, here I am, writing.

Marion Aldridge

PS: If you would like to apply for next year’s retreat, Rebecca Youngblood is the brain behind the event:

The Center for Ministry

Box 150041, Millsaps College

1701 N State St

Jackson, MS 39210



Categories: Faith/Spirituality, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Falling Upward

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr is the best book I have read in a decade, and I read a lot of books!   Richard Rohr spoke to me on every page of this short volume. I had to read it slowly, only four or five pages a day. Any more would have been too much to digest. I write in my books. I underline what I like. I place a star beside what I really like. I talk back in the margins when I disagree. I am glad to get two or three outstanding insights out of any book I read. In Falling Upward, I suppose I have 50 or more stars, which mean “Yes!” and “Amen!” Examples:

“No Pope, Bible quote, psychological technique, religious formula, book or guru can do your journey for you.”

“Resistance to change is so common, in fact, that it is almost what we expect from religious people, who tend to love the past more than the future or the present.”

“When you are in the first half of life, you cannot see any kind of failing or dying as even possible, much less as necessary or good.”

Rohr, who is a Franciscan priest, has had a similar pilgrimage, it seems to me, within Roman Catholic circles, as I’ve had within Baptist circles. As a youngster, he bought the whole package, believing every word his religion taught him, as I did. But adult realities and the shibboleths of childhood did not always fit together easily. He introduced me to the image of the “loyal soldier.” According to Rohr, when the Japanese military returned home after World War II, they were given permission, in a ceremony, to leave their soldiering behind. They had been loyal soldiers, and that had been good for their country during that period in their lives. Now their country needed them to move forward to the next step, to be farmers and merchants and craftsmen. Rohr contends that adult Christians need to be given permission to move toward mature faith, to fall upward, to be able to think for themselves and not merely to follow someone else’s orders as if they were still teenagers.

Another phrase of Rohr’s which I found helpful is “double belonger.” As teens and young adults, we work out our identities, so we claim certain tribes (I am a white, heterosexual, male evangelical Baptist Christian from South Carolina who is a Clemson graduate and who was a Young Republican in college. Other people are in different tribes. They are Hispanic or Catholic or pull for Georgia Tech or whatever…) As young adults, those categories are very important. As mature Christians, Rohr and I find them less and less valuable. We can be double-belongers! I am not required to choose sides. I can value insights from Republicans and Democrats. I would like for some of our politicians to read Rohr’s book. Being stuck in the world of either/or is not the role of a Christian. Do you really think God is either/or? Do you think God is limited to loving Baptists or Catholics, Christians or Jews or Muslims, conservatives or liberals? Teens can be forgiven such foolishness. Such bad theology from sixty-something’s is less understandable.

More quotations:

“You learn how to recover from falling by falling!”

“The only real biblical promise is that unconditional love will have the last word!”

“Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God’s own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us.”

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Quotations | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

These Are a Few of My Favorite Prayers

God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

Where the Pavement Ends

Never having been a particularly good pray-er, I am grateful for any assistance to help my prayer life.

When my grandson prayed before a meal (as we all did at one time) one of those blessings children learn when parents aren’t in the room (Good food, Good meat, Good Lord, Let’s eat), my son-in-law, Thorne Barrett, a wise man, suggested maybe we could raise the bar a bit higher than that.

Here are some of my favorite prayers that raise the bar and say some of what I think needs to be said.

Marion Aldridge

The Serenity Prayer

  • God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
  • the courage to change the things I can, and
  • the wisdom to know the difference. (Composed by Reinhold Niebuhr, adapted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve Steps Groups)

The Lord’s Model Prayer

 Our Father, who…

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Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Lists/Top Ten, Quotations | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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