Lists/Top Ten

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

mariondaldridge@gmail.com

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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Hostile Takeover in Churches?

When I work with congregations after a pastor’s retirement or resignation, my goal is to help them prepare for whatever’s next in their congregational life. I lead them through a SWOT Analysis—thinking about their…

S-Strengths,

W-Weaknesses,

O-Opportunities, and

T-Threats.

This winter, I’m the Interim Pastor of a church in Connecticut. When we got to the “Threats” section of the process, it occurred to me that most congregations, no matter their denomination, are vulnerable to similar external dangers.

Partisan politics have entered the church house. In fifty years, we might have just three denominations: Republican, Democratic and None. Previously, men and women who’ve cancelled each other’s votes have been able to worship God and study the Bible together, acknowledging the Lordship of Christ. Nowadays, we talk past one another, emphasizing different portions of the Bible or ignoring Scripture altogether. Result?

  • “That preacher’s got to go.”
  • “I’ll never come back to that Sunday school class as long as that teacher is there.”
  • “Did you hear what the denomination did?”

Encroachment by those from different faith traditions. Some conservative Christians are fearful of the Interfaith movement. Hindus, Muslims and ISIS have never been a threat to the congregations in which I’ve worshiped. The problem we have in Baptist churches is crossovers from Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Evangelical and Reformed traditions whose beliefs are similar to traditional Baptists, but different enough to create havoc. “Christian” radio and television, as well as parachurch movements, create the impression that all Christians ought to think alike. But we don’t. That’s why, for hundreds of years, we’ve had Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist congregations in the same community. I’m an ecumenical soul, but I do not believe a lot of things some folks who show up in a Baptist church assume I believe.

Hostile takeover. That’s not a concept most people think about with regard to churches, but it happens every week. A new pastor sometimes has an agenda. Baptist churches call someone as their new pastor they believe is a “traditional” Baptist minister, whatever that means to them, only to discover they now have a Reformed Baptist or a Fundamentalist in the pulpit. Then come chaos and a church split.

Church shopping, combined with impossible expectations of pastors and staff. About one of every hundred preachers is what I call “lightning in a bottle,” with Billy Graham charisma, with clarity of voice and message. People look for a preacher that is the most humorous, the most inspirational, and the most charming. Denominational or church loyalty is almost a thing of the past. Megachurches with an entertainment mindset are sucking the bodies and the blood out of traditional congregations. The questions of this generation are,

  • “What have you done for me lately?”
  • “Is it fun?”
  • “Will it cost me anything?”

Secularism. Low priority for spiritual and church matters. Youth soccer games scheduled for Sunday morning at 10 a.m. are the norm, not the exception. Busy-ness. Crowded schedules.

When a culture no longer gives props to the church, Christians have the opportunity to demonstrate their own faith by acting counter-culturally. It’s not the culture’s job to do the church’s work.

Read the Bible. Pay attention to Jesus. Be still. Pray. Be grateful for what we have. Fear not. Think. Listen. Don’t worry. Make peace. Evangelize. Be generous. Let your light shine. Don’t judge. Learn grace. Speak the truth in love. Forgive. Major on the majors. Love one another. Serve others. Trust God.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Psalm 23: 1

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We Were Wrong…

We Were Wrong…

Marion Aldridge

As I matured as a Christian, I reflected, long, often, and sometimes sadly, even painfully, about much of what I believed as a youngster, and into adulthood. Because my doctrines, my ethics, and my habits have sometimes undergone enormous changes, there may be those who are presumptive enough to wonder if I lost my faith.

Quite possibly, I lost your faith. I found my faith. The Bible calls these transformations “repentance.” Here are some of my confessions:

WE WERE WRONG to believe that science and God could be enemies. Truth is truth wherever we find it.

WE WERE WRONG to assume uniformity in thought or action was better than independence or creativity.

WE WERE WRONG to accept what our culture taught us about racial segregation and the supposed inferiority of black people.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that we could somehow obey the Great Commission by paying for and praying for missionaries to go to Africa while ignoring the Great Commandments, disrespecting the African-Americans who lived down the dirt roads from our churches. We were either unaware or didn’t care that they often drank polluted water, had leaky roofs, and had no indoor plumbing.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that a glass of wine on Thanksgiving would send someone to hell but that it was okay for the preacher to be 100 pounds overweight and continue to stuff his face with fried chicken.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that people in other denominations who paid attention to the Christian calendar (Pentecost, Maundy Thursday, and Ash Wednesday, for example) were somehow less spiritual than Baptists who built their church calendar around secular holidays (such as Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and July 4).

WE WERE WRONG to believe we could be comfortable and Christian at the same time.

WE WERE WRONG to believe the primary thing that Jesus or the Christian faith cared about was Heaven and Hell.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that somehow America was the Kingdom of God.

WE WERE WRONG to believe the assumptions of our secular society, that bigger is better, that might makes right, that getting is better than giving.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that highlighting a few isolated verses could sum up the Bible, as if God could be contained in a bumper sticker.

WE WERE WRONG to trivialize prayer, as if getting all the things we want is the point!

WE WERE WRONG to believe God intended to silence the female half of the human race.

WE WERE WRONG to assume other people could practice the Christian faith on our behalf: pastors, missionaries, youth ministers, and social workers. When was the last time you got to know a welfare mother or a drug addict?

WE WERE WRONG to say there is only one biblical way to focus on the family. The family of Abraham looks different than the family of Jesus, which looks different than the family of King David, which looks different than the family of Mary and Martha, which looks different than the family of Esther and Mordecai.

WE WERE WRONG to think that Roberts Rules of Order, rather than the Bible, is the primary guide for working out disagreements in our churches.

WE WERE WRONG to teach (or imply) that talking, telling, and preaching, was more important than listening. The great sin of the Old Testament, according to Roy Honeycutt, was “They would not listen.”

WE WERE WRONG to let bullies, blamers, gossips, and other spiritually unhealthy people dominate the conversations and the decisions in many of our congregations.

WE WERE WRONG to think that repentance was primarily for non-Christians outside of our churches instead of for those of us inside. The more I know about Jesus, the Bible, the Christian faith, and the Holy Spirit, the more I know I am called to change, to repent.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that any tradition, law, bible, preacher, program, building, doctrine, convention or any other part of creation—even if God made it and blessed it—could possibly be as important as the Creator.

This, by the way, is the short list. I could write a book!

I have always been a loyal kind of guy. For decades, I hung in there, as much as possible, with the ecclesiastical world I inherited. I knew racism was wrong, however, and one by one, I began confronting the errors and inadequacies of my childhood experiences. I am grateful for the church of my childhood, for my family, for the appropriate lessons from my South Carolina culture. But I am also grateful I had permission to continue to grow, to get un-stuck from the habits, behaviors and beliefs of my childhood and adolescence.

(Four years ago, I wrote this column for the newsletter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina.)

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75 Favorite phrases from hymns

For those interested in a more complete list of favorite phrases and lyrics from hymns, here is what I compiled from your Facebook posts.  If I missed your contribution, I apologize.  The responses were coming in bunches and I couldn’t keep up. Someone else may come up with a different list, but this looks pretty accurate for a Southern Protestant.

  1. All I needed thy hand hath provided…
  2. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…
  3. Because he lives, I can face tomorrow…
  4. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine; oh what a foretaste of glory divine…
  5. Christ, the Lord, is risen today…
  6. Cure thy children’s warring madness.
  7. Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he… It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.
  8. Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.
  9. Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, Feelings lie buried that grace can restore, Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
  10. For all the saints, who from their labors rest…
  11. For Everyone Born, a place at the table/For everyone born, clean water and bread/A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing/For everyone Born, a star overhead/ And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace/And God will delight when we are creators of justice
  12. For the Lord God reigneth, forever and ever, Hallelujah!
  13. God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power…Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days,
  14. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days…
  15. Great is thy faithfulness!
  16. Have thine own way, Lord, Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
  17. He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
  18. He walks beside me every day, ever watching o’er me lest I stray, helping me to find the narrow way: He’s everything to me.
  19. He walks with me, and he talks with me and, he tells me I am his own.
  20. Help of the helpless, abide with me
  21. Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
  22. I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, leaning on the everlasting arms.
  23. I love to tell the story, for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting, to hear it like the rest….
  24. I need thee every hour.
  25. I once was lost, but now am found…
  26. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder; thy power throughout the university displayed.
  27. I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
  28. I will hold your people in my heart
  29. I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger Traveling through this world below… I’m just going over Jordan, I’m just going over home.
    1. I’ve got joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…
  30. In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
  31. It is well with my soul…
  32. Jesus loves me, this I know…
  33. Jesus paid it all; all to him I owe.
  34. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God…
  35. Jesus thou art pure compassion, pure unbounded Love thou art
  36. Jesus thou art pure compassion, pure unbounded Love thou art.
  37. Joy to the world, the Lord is come…
  38. Joyful, joyful we adore thee God of glory, lord of love. Hearts unfold like flowers before thee opening to the sun above…
  39. Just a closer walk with thee, Grant it, Jesus, is my plea…
  40. Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.
  41. Leaning on the everlasting arms…
  42. Lord, haste the day when faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll…
  43. Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, love lifted me.
  44. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all
  45. Morning by morning, new mercies I see…
  46. My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.
  47. My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more! Praise the LORD! It is well with my soul!
  48. O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee…
  49. O Love, that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee…
  50. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus going on before!
  51. Ponder Anew, what the Almighty can do!
  52. Praise God from whom all blessings flow…
  53. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love So here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above
  54. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world
  55. Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.
  56. Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise…
  57. Serve the Lord with gladness.
  58. Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright…
  59. Strength for today, hope for tomorrow…
  60. Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place…I can feel His mighty power and His grace
  61. The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.
  62. The Light of the world is Jesus.
  63. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
  64. There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place…
  65. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea; There’s a kindness in His justice, Which is more than liberty
  66. Thou and thou only first in my heart…
  67. Though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.
  68. Through many dangers, tools and snares, I have already come. ‘Tis Grace hath brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.
  69. To God be the Glory, great things He hath done…
  70. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face
  71. Was blind, but now I see…
  72. We make [God’s] love too narrow by false limits of our own, And we magnify His strictness With a zeal He will not own.
  73. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.
  74. What a friend we have in Jesus…
  75. When we’ve been there 10,000 years… We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.
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Favorite Phrases from Hymn Lyrics

Favorite Phrases from Hymn Lyrics

Years ago, I heard someone say more Christians get their theology from hymns than from the Bible. That may be true. Surprisingly, Google searches did not provide lists of favorite hymn phrases. Beloved hymns, yes. But I was looking for those nuggets that become the refrains we recall spontaneously throughout our lives exactly when needed.

I love short, memorable mantras whether from the Bible (Honor your father and mother; Love one another; Blessed are the peacemakers.) or from secular culture (If you’re in a hole, quit digging; Mind your own business.) Such fragments of language can trivialize important decisions, but they can also provide intuitive guidance during difficult times:

  • The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
  • Shut up and listen.

On Facebook, I asked friends for suggestions about lessons learned from hymns. I was overwhelmed by the response—hundreds! If I printed them all, you’d quit reading, so here are a few…

  • All I needed thy hand hath provided…
  • Amazing grace…
  • Because he lives, I can face tomorrow…
  • Christ, the Lord, is risen today…
  • For the Lord God reigneth, forever and ever, Hallelujah!
  • God of grace and God of glory… Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days.
  • Great is thy faithfulness!
  • Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
  • He lives! … He walks with me; He talks with me.
  • Help of the helpless, abide with me…
  • I love to tell the story, for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting, to hear it like the rest….
  • I once was lost, but now am found…
  • I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free… His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
  • It is well with my soul…
  • Jesus loves me, this I know…
  • Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God…
  • Jesus, thou art pure compassion, pure unbounded Love thou art.
  • Joy to the world, the Lord is come…
  • Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love.
  • Just a closer walk with thee, Grant it, Jesus, is my plea…
  • Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.
  • Morning by morning, new mercies I see…
  • O Love, that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee…
  • Praise God from whom all blessings flow…
  • Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.
  • Strength for today, hope for tomorrow…
  • The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.
  • The Light of the world is Jesus.
  • There’s wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea…
  • Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. ‘Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.
  • To God be the Glory, great things He hath done…
  • Was blind, but now I see…
  • What a Friend we have in Jesus…
  • When we’ve been there 10,000 years… We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.
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The Problems and Challenges of Preaching in a Politicized Environment

The Problems and Challenges of Preaching in a Politicized Environment

Marion D. Aldridge

mariondaldridge@gmail.com

 

The Bible, in spite of its age, speaks to issues on today’s front pages: life, health, pain, suffering and death, war and peace, walls (pro and con), creation and environment, money (always an important spiritual issue). Can a preacher speak to these matters without alienating half of his or her congregation?

Yes. With one important exception: If someone (either the preacher or the layperson) is looking for a fight, they will find one. Some people can’t get along with their spouse or their children. They simply don’t know how to live with complexity and differences of opinion.

A pastor can’t make an unhappy person happy.

Otherwise, here are ten suggestions for preaching about hard subjects in politically charged times.

  • Possibly the most patriotic thing any of us can do is to pray for our leaders in government. That’s biblical. This week in worship, I prayed for our President, our Senators, our Legislators, our Supreme Court Justices and others who are in positions of responsibility in our nation and state.
  • Remember: in America, Church and State are constitutionally separated. The government cannot tell churches (or mosques or synagogues) what to do and our churches have no authority over the government. People can say almost anything they want to, but this safeguard is writ large in our First Amendment. Every year, not just this year, there are challenges, but for two hundred years, the wall of separation has stood.
  • Separate your rights as a private citizen from your responsibilities as a priest and/or prophet. Teach your congregants to do the same. As taxpayers, pastors and laity are entitled to vote, to petition, to march, to write their legislators, to serve on juries, to be involved in local, state, and national political activities. Sometimes, like husbands and wives, they will cancel each other’s votes!
  • Try to pay attention to what others are saying. No individual has the whole truth, the entire word of God. The Bible is a big book. The world is a big world. Humility about the limits of our knowledge is a good thing.
  • Be stingy with the phrase, “Thus saith the Lord.” Nobody wants to be beat up in church. There should be safety in the sanctuary. It helps me, during sermon preparation, to consider what my best critics would say. Sometimes, nuance is needed. If you are truly biblical, you may need to acknowledge, “On the one hand… On the other hand.” Don’t use the pulpit, often called a “sacred desk,” for every issue. Protect it from glib or careless comments. Some themes need a Sunday night discussion, not a Sunday morning proclamation. Note: The prophet spoke hard words to King David, but he did so privately, not in a sermon.
  • Remind the congregation of the enduring principles of scripture and the eternal reign of God. Preach these boldly. Pepper your preaching with phrases such as, “Thirty years ago, our parents and Sunday school teachers taught us…” or “During the era of Martin Luther…” to make the point that you didn’t choose to preach on an issue because of someone just elected or merely because you read a rant on Facebook. The timeless themes of scripture have been around a long time and people need to know them.
  • Balance the painful with the hopeful. If a pastor preaches a challenging and confrontational sermon one week, and sometimes that is necessary, maybe the lessons the next few Sundays ought to be grace, hope, faith, peace, love and joy.
  • Preach (and act) with love. Pay attention to your own heart. Be careful with your own spirit.  Be self-aware. Don’t let fear drive you. Don’t be reactionary, sucked into another’s anger. We bring the deficiencies of our own personality to the pulpit. Are you passive-aggressive, not missing the chance to dig at people with whom you disagree? Are you easily seduced by hysteria on social media? Are you too often angry? Beware.
  • Sometimes, prophetic words and actions are required. Dietrich Bonheoffer, Christian ethicist during the reign of Hitler, understood the landscape had been altered. Hitler was not an inconvenience. He slaughtered millions of human beings—Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and Jews. Different circumstances require different strategies. Christians need to remember, also, the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, Jr. There is a time to break an unjust law. When we do, we don’t whine but we suffer the consequences with dignity.
  • Model a full, happy, and contented life. Take advantage of our magnificent American freedoms. Turn off the television news and the social media and take a walk in the woods. Go to a baseball game. Read a novel. Visit the Grand Canyon or New York City. Invite strangers into your home for a meal. Volunteer at the local food bank. It’s a big, beautiful country. Beyond our borders, the earth is a big, beautiful creation. Embrace and enjoy.
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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

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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.

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Humans interacting with nature in a pleasing way: That’s a good thing.

As a wannabe naturalist, I am cursed, instead, by being a dilettante, a jack-of-all-trades, a master of none. Drilling down deeply into any one tiny segment of flora or fauna is probably not in my future. Example: Mushrooms fascinate me. I’d be willing to spend a half-day with an expert in the woods being shown which fungi are edible and which are fatal. That would be fun. But I won’t be devoting all my Saturdays this spring and summer to searching for mushrooms. The world is too big and too wonderful for that self-imposed limitation. I understand the value of acquiring expertise in one field of focus, but my own inclination is to gape in wonder at every aspect of the observable universe. Ultimately, I find myself interested in the whole: the fishing industry of Cape Cod, the nomads of the Sahara Desert, the rice fields in Bali, and the saints who once lived on the Inner Hebrides island of Iona. For me, never either/or. Always both/and.

A few years ago, my cousin’s daughter introduced me to an Internet website, Stumbleupon. The user creates a list of interests—from American history to architecture to gardening to jazz to photography to travel. No limits. Then, through the miracle of algorithms, Stumbleupon places random websites on your computer screen—photographs, essays, videos, tutorials, portraits, cartoons. If you like what they show you, you give a thumb up. If not, a thumb down. Then, based on what you have valued thus far, the site magically begins to display what it believes you might like.

The process is addictive.

This silly time-wasting website—you can enjoy it while watching your favorite sporting event or a reality cooking show on television—taught me something about myself. Apparently, I like it best when the natural world and human activity come together in a way that values both. Pictures of eco-sensitive architecture and landscapes kept appearing in front of me—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Thumb up.

Stumbleupon also introduced me to the craft of building backyard bluebird boxes. Thumb up. I viewed oil paintings of old mill waterwheels and photographs of Japanese gardens. Two thumbs up.

Stumbleupon understood me! I appreciate the simplicity and practicality of Shaker furniture.   What’s not to like about a British hedge maze that draws us in? Every visitor who travels to Charleston, South Carolina, wants to take home a woven sweetgrass basket. Australian cowboy hats, whether wide-brimmed and made of kangaroo hide, or Irish tweed flat caps, make perfect sense for the culture in which they are worn.

Humans interacting with nature in a pleasing way: That’s a good thing.

Categories: addiction, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Lists/Top Ten, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I believe…

I believe…

…America will still be here when I die.

…Baseball is a great game.

…Books are important.

…Deserts and wildernesses exist.

…Easter will arrive this spring as usual.

…Education is better than ignorance.

…Friends are worth the effort.

…God is good. The Universe is good. Life is good.

…Humor is a gift.

…I will love my family and they will love me—forever.

…Life is a pilgrimage.

…Listening is almost always better than talking.

…Love and Justice are bottom line values.

…My cat is a bundle of fun.

…Progress is more realistic than perfection.

…Religious Doctrine is overrated.

…There is a time and season for all things.

…Waterfalls are beautiful.

Marion D. Aldridge

mariondaldridge@gmail.com

 

Categories: Baseball, Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Humor, Lists/Top Ten | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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