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.)

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Lists/Top Ten, Race, South Carolina | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Cemeteries

2017-03-07 16.25.23.jpgAs much as I walk, I rarely go through cemeteries. No reason. They just aren’t convenient to my usual routines. Maybe I’ll change my habits.

In New Canaan, Connecticut, I’m only a few blocks from the town center, so that’s the direction I’ve been hiking, looking, of course, for the best pastries in town.

Today, I went the other direction, down the hill, and entered a cemetery. I was amused at the names on the monuments:

Cloud,

Grave, and my favorite,

Ready.

I was also amused at the giant brouhaha Americans are having over immigration with the names—

Malizia,

Cheung and

Van Dusen

—all side by side. Probably, they weren’t from Ireland. Or, Native Americans.

I found the mausoleums with stained glass windows kinda interesting. Why would the residents of a cemetery need … oh well.

I think I’m gonna start walking through cemeteries. Who knows what I’ll find next?

 

Categories: Health, Humor | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

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.
Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Lists/Top Ten, Quotations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Would a Baptist Observe Lent?

Why Would a Baptist Observe Lent?

Spiritual discipline doesn’t come easily. When was the last time you (1) fasted from food, skipping meals for an entire day? When were you last intentionally (2) silent, not talking, but spending extended time in (3) meditation, (4) contemplation and/or (5) prayer?

(The best book for a Protestant to read on the subject of spiritual discipline is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.)

Spiritual disciplines, other than (6) going to meetings (for example, for worship or Bible study), were not part of my childhood church. We didn’t talk about meditation or fasting, even though they are thoroughly biblical. (7) Simplicity sounded like something the Quakers would do and (8) confession something the Catholics did. Other faiths emphasize rituals, ranging from (9) chanting to (10) pilgrimage. What did any of that have to do with a Baptist?

Furthermore, we not only ignored, but we often disparaged other denominations or religions that practiced their faith in ways we didn’t understand. (11) Solitude. I never heard of God calling a Baptist to be a monk or a nun.

When I finally heard of Ash Wednesday (which falls on March 1 this year), I began to pay attention, not only to my Catholic friends who gave up meat on Fridays but also to an increasing number of young Protestant friends who forfeited Cokes for Lent. What was going on?

Discipline is a perfectly good Bible word. Proverbs 5: 23: “For lack of discipline, they will die, led astray by their own great folly.” My parents and teachers had been my disciplinarians when I was a kid. As an adult, I was on my own.

The Lenten season (a period of about forty days prior to Easter, when the days lengthen—that’s where the word “Lenten” comes from) seemed as good a time as any to restrict myself in some way, to see if I was tough enough to do something for Jesus’ sake. I doubt I’ll ever be called on to do anything really difficult, like being a martyr, but why not practice self-restraint in small ways to see what I’m made of? If I can’t give up something enjoyable for a few weeks, what kind of Christian am I? Can I give up television for Lent, even though it includes the beginning of baseball season? Can I give up sodas? Or alcohol? Can I give up Facebook? Eating red meat? Drinking coffee?

People ask me, “Can you drink tea?” or “What about Fridays?” You can do anything you choose to do. This is your discipline, your choice.

“There is grace in suffering. Suffering is part of the training program for wisdom.” Ram Dass

I have friends who try to lose weight during Lent. That’s fine, if it’s helpful. I have friends who try to give up something permanently, like cigarette smoking, by not smoking during Lent. Some add something, beginning to read their Bible daily, or journaling. Any way you can build or strengthen your character might be a worthy discipline.

Whenever I find myself thinking about and being tempted by whatever the restriction involves (coffee, TV or Twitter), I have the opportunity to consider spiritual realities: Why am I doing this?

Any soul-searching is better than spirituality as usual.

Categories: Diet, Faith/Spirituality, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution

The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution by John Oller

Book Reviewed by Marion D. Aldridge

In my high school graduating class (North Augusta High School—in South Carolina, across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia) of 222 teenagers, there were at least three male Marions, maybe more, and at least one female Marian. You don’t get those percentages in Minnesota or New Mexico.

Because of South Carolina’s most prominent Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion, “Marion” became a popular regional name for all children, especially boys.

My parents considered putting Francis Marion on my birth certificate, but to honor an uncle on each side of the family, I became Marion Douglas Aldridge.

My ears always perk up when I encounter the name of Francis Marion. During my Junior High years, Walt Disney produced eight episodes of The Swamp Fox, starring Leslie Nielsen. I watched them all. I read Francis Marion biographies. Later, in 2000, when Mel Gibson portrayed the Marion-based character in The Patriot, the elusive hero was nicknamed “the Ghost.”

One of the traditional difficulties of getting to know Marion better is the mythology that surrounds his life. The first biographies were pure hero-worship, as much fiction as truth.

So, when a new, better biography of Francis Marion was published in 2016, I bought and read it immediately. John Oller delivers the goods. Well-researched, footnoted thoroughly, yet very readable, Oller has given us a book we’ve needed and wanted for several decades.

South Carolina has been so enamored with the Civil War, we’ve pretty much ignored the Revolutionary War which happened, to a great extent, within South Carolina. Why haven’t our state and national park systems done a better job of paying attention to the sites of Francis Marion’s skirmishes? Why aren’t the students of West Point sent to South Carolina to study the military tactics of the Swamp Fox? Why hasn’t South Carolina’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism created billboards at every I-95 exit pointing to the small but significant locations of these South Carolina battle grounds that were vital to our nation’s independence? I would love to go to Snow’s Island, Marion’s Headquarters/Retreat, but I’ve never figured out a way to get there.

Readers with a knowledge of South Carolina geography will have an easier time with some of the obscure battle sites than those with no previous knowledge of South Carolina’s rivers, marshes, and towns. That many of the important locations are now under massive lakes doesn’t help. The volume contains a map of “The Principal Theater of the Campaigns of Francis Marion” which demonstrates the scope and shows the exact localities of Francis’s military activity. I suspect the fact that Marion didn’t venture into neighboring states has muted his national reputation somewhat. But the subtitle of the volume is true: “How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution.” I’d always heard, and Oller verifies, “More places have been named for Marion than any other Revolutionary War figure, excepting Washington. According to a current memorial project in the nation’s capital, Marion has lent his name to twenty-nine cities and towns and seventeen counties across America, not to mention a four-year university, a national forest, and a small part on Capitol Hill that cries out for a monument in his honor.”

You don’t have to be named Marion for this biography to be significant. Oller provides a grand overview of the history of South Carolina during the Revolutionary War years. An example that caught me by surprise was how fluid was the movement between the American Patriots and the British Loyalists: “Several Tories captured by Marion at Black Mingo took an oath of allegiance and joined his brigade.” Wow!

Unfortunately, I was taught very little American history in high school or college, a deficiency I regret.

The Swamp Fox, by John Oller, is helping me catch up.

 

 

Categories: Book Review, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

No Church Gets the Pastor They Thought They Called

No Church Gets the Pastor They Thought They Called

The reverse is also true. Pastors do not end up at the church to which they thought they had a call.

(The exception to both observations is when a church calls as pastor a well-known associate already on their staff. Each party knows in advance whether the match is a good fit.)

Church and candidate need to say as much as they can about their hopes, dreams, agendas and, even, to some extent, deficiencies. Potential pastors should not say they love hospital visitation or evangelism if they don’t. Churches should not say they are conflict free if they aren’t. This isn’t to say the church or potential pastors need to pursue every idiosyncratic thought during the search.

When a new pastor is installed, grace will be required on both sides. Selecting a pastor and accepting a call is like dating and marriage. There’s a lot about the courtship that is charming, exciting, hopeful and lovely. But, as in marriage, there will be surprises. The pastor search committee didn’t know about the pastor’s kickboxing hobby. The prospective pastor didn’t know he/she was expected to join the Rotary Club.

As a lifelong observer of and participant in churches, I’ve noticed that sometimes the members of a pastor search committee are the first to turn against their new employee—which they selected! I suspect that’s because of unrealistically high expectations: “We thought our youth program would double in size within six months. It didn’t happen and I’m disappointed. We made a mistake. We got the wrong person.“

Generally, our level of satisfaction is directly proportional to the level of our expectations. If we have super-high expectations, we are sure to be disappointed. This is a principle for life, by the way, not just for search committees and pastoral candidates.

Pastors are also surprised. In almost every church there’s a hot button issue that’s untouchable in sermons and possibly even in private conversation. I can give you a list of fifty. The unhealthiest congregations are without grace on a dozen or more fronts. It’s silly to think the entire congregation and the new pastor will agree on all subjects.

Prepare for surprises. Life is a roller coaster. The pastor and congregation are on a pilgrimage together, at least for this season.

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Take My Breath Away

“The most completely lost of all days is that in which one has not laughed.” Nicolas Chamfort

Birthdays with a Zero in them are fine times for reflection. February 11, 2017, I turned 70.

I’ve enjoyed hundreds, thousands of moments that have taken my breath away. I’ve fallen in love and married. We’ve celebrated 44 anniversaries. I’ve watched the birth of two daughters. I baptized both of them.

I’ve been blessed to participate in the spiritual growth of many folks. I’ve helped alcoholics get sober. I’ve seen people whose lives were pure chaos find order, salvation and peace. I’ve watched rigid, self-righteous people discover grace. More importantly, I discovered grace for myself and for others.

In Mauritania, I got stuck in the Sahara Desert in a four-wheel drive vehicle. That might have taken my breath away but I found a small tent village and took a nap. You must have priorities!

I’ve watched Clemson win two National Championships in football. Exhilarating!

It’s a rush to hold a book you wrote that’s been published. I’ve had that privilege four times.

I survived two serious car wrecks, one with a fully loaded logging truck.

Sally and I were on a transatlantic flight when one of the plane’s engines blew. We heard it. No doubt about what had happened. Potentially breathtaking experience. Literally. When we landed, two dozen emergency vehicles followed our plane down the runway.

My two best friends died. Soul-crushing experiences. Even at their memorial services, we found ways to laugh.

I’ve listened to Ella Fitzgerald in concert. Magnificent.

I’ve seen Greg Maddux pitch. Incredible.

In Kenya, I’ve seen elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, and ostriches in their natural habitat. Wow!

On Folly Beach, South Carolina, I watched loggerhead turtles bursting from their brittle eggshells and clawing their way across the sandy beach into the Atlantic Ocean. Awe-inspiring.

With my grandson, Lake, we peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon, then rafted on the Colorado River.

With my daughter, Julie, we watched whales and caught lobsters off the coast of Massachusetts. Incredible.

With my daughter, Jenna, my grandson Lake, and my wife Sally, we climbed to the top of Machu Picchu. Then, we hiked in the Amazon Rain Forest. Mindboggling experiences.

Two pieces of advice I got from Jerry and Jane Howington when I was a teenager: “Keep on keeping on” and “Hang in there.”

“I’m so excited. I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.” The Pointer Sisters

Categories: Baseball, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Football, Humor, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

A Blog from the First Century

Love

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

St. Paul: I Corinthians 13

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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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