Posts Tagged With: Baptist

A Half-Buried Body: Southern Baptists in the News

A Half-Buried Body: Southern Baptists in the News

Marion D. Aldridge

Southern Baptists are making headlines again in secular newspapers, as they did thirty years ago. It’s as if hunters in the woods stumbled upon a shallow grave and discovered a half-buried corpse most people had forgotten about.

Many of us who grew up as Southern Baptists are like children of a kidnapped mother who went missing long ago. We grieved then. Now, decades later, we get a phone call and are told, “They found her body.”

All the old emotional and spiritual wounds feel as fresh as when she was abducted. We thought those memories, injuries, and abrasions had healed, but apparently not. We grieve again.

During the 1970s and 80s, Southern Baptists pulled themselves out of the mainstream of Protestant Christian life. Southern Baptists were theologically conservative, but not inflexible. There was relative autonomy at the church and the individual level. The umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was not restrictive enough for the legalists who staged a successful coup. They wanted everyone who did not fit their narrow doctrinal whims removed from any leadership role. They got their wish.

The details of the abduction are available in old newspapers. The consequences were real and destructive, beginning a downward spiral. Church buildings in the Deep South that once seated a thousand on Sunday mornings now hold fifty—on a good weekend!

Men and women, laity and clergy, left the Southern Baptist Convention by the hundreds of thousands. They became Methodists and Presbyterians. Tragically, some left church altogether.

The harsh fundamentalist doctrines of the new SBC regarding the limited role of women in church and society have discouraged millions of young women from having any interest in the Christian faith and church life.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) was formed as a safety net for former Southern Baptist churches and individuals, providing a home where the traditional Baptist principle of religious liberty is still valued. CBF is now my spiritual home.

Suddenly, with the emergence of the “Me, too” movement, with women finding their voices and expressing their experiences, insights, and opinions, Southern Baptists are in the news again. Scandals, ranging from embarrassing to malicious, have put Baptists on the front page and the evening news. The corpse was exposed. The most prominent recent New York Times headline concerns the firing of a Southern Baptist seminary president. For decades, he was simply doing what powerful men do when their moral compass fails. He believes a battered woman’s role is no different than that of all women. She must be submissive and subordinate. His advice: “Go home, be quiet, and support your husband.”

It was predictable that an organization built by creed and conviction on male dominance and the silencing of women would run into problems. When powerful men are not accountable to anyone, women and children will be bullied. Consider the abuses within the Roman Catholic hierarchy, followed by cover up after cover up. Why would anyone be surprised if this pattern repeated itself in the Southern Baptist Convention?

The Southern Baptist Convention that I knew was kidnapped, killed, and lost forever. We grieved then and grieve now when extraordinary misbehavior surfaces again… and again… and again. I mourn for the women who have been demeaned, demoralized, disenfranchised, and demonized, even when they are the victims of assault.

These shameful acts slaughter the souls and spirits of girls and women. They are being brought to light. I’m grateful, nowadays, to be involved in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a faith community that emphasizes justice, grace, and love.

In the Christian faith a primary hope is that, after death, there comes a resurrection.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

A Jimmy Carter Kind of Baptist

After the positive Facebook and Blog responses to my experiences this past week in Plains, Georgia, with President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, I’d like to say something about their Baptist-ness!

When Southern Baptists decided to alter their theology from conservative-moderate to conservative-fundamentalist about three decades ago, the Carters and I were among hundreds of thousands who decided to reclaim our Baptist heritage of freedom. We formed a new organization called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

The “elevator speech” is that while the Southern Baptist denomination had previously allowed theological and ethical flexibility to individuals, churches, and seminaries in interpreting the Bible, the convention slammed that door shut and demanded a stricter adherence to a new party line. The new reality was a Bob Jones and Jerry Falwell fundamentalism: “This is the Truth and all other beliefs are False Doctrine.”

For example, seminary and theology professors were required to agree to the submissive role of females in families and society.

For example, science teachers at Baptist universities (Furman, Mercer, Baylor, etc.) were going to be required to teach graduate courses in geology and biology according to a seven-day creationist, anti-evolution, theory. The Grand Canyon was not formed over millions of years but as the result of a single giant flood. Dinosaurs and humans lived on the earth at the same time, regardless of the evidence of fossils. Don’t argue about this. The Authorities have spoken. The Authorities began to confuse themselves with God.

New documents were drawn up. Missionaries, professors, and denominational employees had to agree that they would adhere to these new mandates, no matter what either science or their consciences said. Men and women of integrity refused to sign on the dotted line. Some female professors were fired just because they were female. According to the new rules, women should never be in a position of authority over a man, and seminaries were full of male students.

It was a surreal few decades and the implosion of Southern Baptists is well documented.

The good news was the emergence of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. CBF became a home to many of us who had been disenfranchised. New seminaries and schools of divinity sprang up which retained the traditional freedoms that had been claimed by Baptists since their earliest days:

  • “Priesthood of the believer” is a biblical phrase Baptists use to declare that no one stands between an individual and God—no priest, no pope, no pastor, no denominational executive.
  • Autonomy of the local church. The term “Independent Baptist” church is redundant. No denomination can tell a Baptist congregation what to believe and enforce it. A Baptist congregation can call a woman pastor or sell its building. The permission of no denominational authority is needed.
  • Separation of church and state. The state cannot tell the church what to believe and the church cannot tell the state how to behave.

That’s it. My church or my denomination certainly has the right to fire me or kick me out, or create a witch-hunting climate that encourages good people to leave. That’s their freedom.

So, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, as well as a lot of friends I dearly love, and I stepped out in faith and began a new thing—the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. That was twenty-five years ago. We don’t always agree on doctrine or a particular interpretation of the Bible, or a favorite political candidate, but we rally around Jesus, as revealed in scripture, as best we understand him.

A different “elevator speech” many people understand is, “I’m a Jimmy Carter kind of Baptist.” People know and appreciate the kindhearted, caring, intelligent, honest, peacemaking, hardworking, idealistic, and humanitarian nature of our former President.

When people ask, I’m pleased to say, “I’m a Jimmy Carter kind of Baptist.”

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Quotations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Carolina Baptist in Two Yankee Winters

For two consecutive years, 2016 and 2017, I’ve confused my seasons and moved North in the dead of winter. Minus seventeen degrees was the lowest temperature—on a Sunday morning! Church was not cancelled. Here are a few observations:

Calling/Vocation—I didn’t initiate either of these experiences. I’m a retired pastor/preacher/church consultant who lives in South Carolina with my wife Sally and my cat Caesar. During the last fifteen years, I’ve worked with churches in crisis or transition. My skill set is to serve as a “bridge” from their past to their future. Trinity Baptist Church in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Connecticut, needed help. They called. I responded. It’s a good thing to feel useful. It’s even better to be useful. I’m grateful for all my friends who encouraged and/or prayed for me. Trinity called a fine young pastor and Wilton, I believe, is close to calling someone as their pastor. I’ll keep you posted.

Family—Anyone who knows me understands that family is important. Sally and I have been married 44 years. Our daughter Jenna, son-in-law Thorne, and Grandson Lake live three blocks from Sally and me. They eat supper with us every Sunday night. On the other hand, our daughter Julie and her husband Tom live outside Boston, a long way from South Carolina. I don’t like that distance at all. By being in New England for good chunks of 2016 and 2017, Julie, Tom and I could get together about once every three weeks. I loved, loved, loved those times. Francis Bacon said something like this: “If the mountain can’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed can go to the mountain.” So, off to New England, I traveled.

Adventure—What’s not to like about a Currier & Ives Winter Wonderland? For someone with an incurable case of wanderlust, New England is an attractive option. Ivy League schools, hockey games, moose, frozen ponds and rivers, all sounded intriguing. Merely sightseeing (no offense to my touristy friends) is not an adventure. Getting out of my comfort zone is. I dreaded the idea of shoveling snow, but that worked out just fine. Also, I was aware of the proximity of New Hampshire to Canada and Connecticut to New York City, so I took advantage of both. I spent a few days in Montreal and several days in Manhattan. I saw four Broadway plays. I toured West Point. I loved the picturesque town squares and greens, as well as the streams, waterfalls, hills and wildlife, the covered bridges, mansions, churches, shops, restaurants, museums, and monuments I discovered all over New England, from Newport, Rhode Island, to Walpole, New Hampshire, to Quechee, Vermont, to New Haven, Connecticut, to Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Lots of beauty, lots of history, and lots of fine food!

(Bonus points for Adventure: Dartmouth College was an intriguing part of my 2016 experience. As the Baptist Student Minister for the campus, I had access to libraries, lectures, and other aspects of campus life. I took continuing education courses.

Serendipity—Food! I’ve never taken a road trip for the sake of a culinary experience, but neither have I shied away from dietary excellence. King Arthur Flour was a highlight of my first winter away—pastries, breads, desserts. Incomparable. The farms of Vermont and New Hampshire produce some of the best cheeses you will ever taste. This year, I discovered the restaurants in the corner of Connecticut where I lived were exceptional, with a commitment to locally grown meat and vegetables. On my last trip into New York City (the train ride costs only $8.50), I determined to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant. I couldn’t afford most of them—over $300 for a fixed price meal. I discovered NoMad was within my price range, made a reservation, and had one of the great dinners of my life.

Being alone—Traveling by myself has, of course, pluses and minuses. I’ve blogged about that before. I’m comfortable with Quiet Time. I read a lot. I write. I walk. I think. I eat. I read. I eat. I walk. I read. I eat. I’m perfectly content to go to a baseball game, a high school musical, or a museum tour by myself. I prefer to be with someone, but that’s not always possible.

In case I sound a bit too blasé or pious about all this time unaccompanied, let me be clear: both years, I got very lonely. The adventure wore off. I’m sure I don’t want to spend a full winter in New England or apart from Sally again. Sally and I really missed each other. She came up once during each of these sojourns for about a week. Thank God for those occasions when friends or family called or visited or wrote. Sometimes, member of the Trinity and Wilton congregations reached out to me, and sometimes I reached out to them, so I also enjoyed local fellowship.

I’ve reflected about people who have no choice about living alone: widows and widowers. I’m sensitive to the fact that being by yourself is not always a choice. It can be painful. I’m fortunate. I came home to a wife who loves me.

Until the wanderlust strikes again, or, until I get a phone call, whichever comes first, I’m glad to be home.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Holiday, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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

One Month in Connecticut, December 2016—Survived!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Christmas in New England

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

Another year, another adventure.

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

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

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

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

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

My address and contact info will be

Marion D. Aldridge

222 Mountain Road

Wilton, CT 06897

(803) 413-2734

mariondaldridge@gmail.com

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

Frequently Misused Religious Words

Frequently Misused Religious Words

Marion D. Aldridge

  • Altar alter (Both are good words, but they don’t mean the same thing. An altar is a place of religious ritual. To alter something is to make a change.)
  • Baptist Babtist (Babtist is not a word. Ever.)
  • Baptists Baptist (Baptists is plural, meaning more than one Baptist. A Baptist church is not full of Baptist. It is full of Baptists. Our Baptist history professor had to teach this on the first day of class.)
  • Calvary cavalry (Jesus died on Calvary. Cavalry describes soldiers who fight on horseback.)
  • Counsel council (Pastors often counsel, similar to advise, people in their congregations. A council is a group of people.)
  • Cemetery seminary (Some people make this mistake and think it’s funny. Probably not funny to men and women scholars who have invested a lifetime in fighting ignorance.)
  • Episcopal Episcopalian (Episcopal is an adjective. You can attend an Episcopal church. Episcopalian is a noun. The bishop is an Episcopalian.)
  • Hospice versus hospick. (Pure linguistic laziness, possibly complicated by low IQ. Some people say Walmark instead of Wal-Mart. There are South Carolinians who still believe their Senator was Strong Thurmond.)
  • Pastoral pastorial (not a word)
  • Prodigal prodical (not a word) Bonus: Prodigal means wasteful.
  • Prostate prostrate (How many pastors have been asked to go visit a Dad who, the pastor is told, has prostrate cancer?)
  • Psalm Psalms (Both are good words. They don’t mean the same thing. There is a book of Psalms that contains Psalm 23.)
  • Revelation Revelations (There is no book in the Bible called Revelations. The final book of the Bible is The Revelation to John.)
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God Talk in New Hampshire

Throughout my life, religious people who have over-worded the world with pious and pompous phrases have surrounded me:

  • Praise the Lord.
  • Are you saved?
  • The Lord told me…
  • I’ll pray for you.
  • The Bible says…

Generally, I attempt to avoid the glib way many Christians bless each other’s hearts. I am a person of faith, but I’ve heard too many clichés for too many years to believe half of them. Make that a tenth of them. Even an alcoholic in the middle of a full-blown drunk can recite devout refrains. Meaningless, empty words.

So, I try to be careful when it comes to God-talk.

But it’s impossible for me to speak of my six months as an Interim Pastor in New Hampshire without resorting to spiritual language.

Of course, we could credit some of what transpired simply to good people doing good work:

  • A successful SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Discovering our niche: Trinity is a small, diverse, progressive church, in the Baptist tradition, where Black Lives Matter, where Women Matter, where all are welcome and can serve in any leadership capacity. As historic Baptists who are both evangelical and ecumenical, we believe in the individual’s freedom and the church’s freedom to explore and interpret scripture independent of any outside authority.
  • Effective networking set in motion by my predecessors, Ken and Sandy Hale
  • Selecting a pastor search committee, preparing a job description for a new pastor, and establishing a budget
  • Interviewing prospective pastors by Skype
  • Surviving a Minus Seventeen Degree (-17 F) Sunday morning
  • Surviving several setbacks in the course of six months. I don’t want anyone reading this blog to believe we experienced only successes during my tenure in New Hampshire. There were also failures. A quotation from my journal for Monday, April 10: “By human standards, the worst day in church since I’ve been here. No heat again. The kitchen and boiler room were flooded from a leak in the pipes (not the boiler). Three people in church.”
  • Discovering that a Korean Presbyterian Church needed a place to worship and Trinity needed a tenant to help us with our basic building upkeep expenses

Yet, stuff happened for which a spiritual explanation makes sense, at least to me—pure grace, nothing we deserved because of hard work or shrewd insights.

My last Sunday, June 19, is an example. A family of four strangers entered our small congregation, putting a dozen people in the pews. The young couple was looking for a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Church. The husband is beginning a Pediatric residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (meaning, they will be in Hanover for three years) and the wife attended McAfee Seminary, a CBF-affiliated school (meaning, she knows what she was looking for in a church).

Thank you, Jesus.

Another example: We raised $15,000 for a new furnace (Thanks to many of you reading this!) The God-part of that equation, and I’ve seen this happen dozens of times in my career, is how close that number is to our actual need. The new furnace costs $18,000. We might have raised $1000 or $5000, but people gave 83% of what we needed. As a Christian, I love those kinds of coincidences. You can call it Karma, or Dumb Luck, and that won’t bother me a bit. But, I hope you’ve forgive me if I say,

Thank you, Jesus!

Final example: Within six months of the Hale’s retirement, we called Andy Sutton to be our next pastor.

Praise the Lord!

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Limiting God

“I remember reading about an Irish missionary’s attempt to teach the Masai people about the Catholic Sacraments. The missionary said that a sacrament is a physical encounter or event in which you experience Grace or the Holy. The people were then confused and disappointed when they were told there were only seven such moments (and all of these just happened to revolve around a priest). One Masai elder raised his hand and said, “’We would have thought, Father, there would be at least seven thousand such moments, not just seven.’” Richard Rohr

I share that story because it’s such a perfect illustration of a huge problem Baptists have, as well as Muslims, Mormons, and Presbyterians. We all have a tendency to limit God to our experiences and our understanding.

Bad idea.

Christians claim to like Jesus (many of them, anyway), so we read the sacred texts that actually tell about him—his miracles, his parables, his teachings. To be exposed to Jesus is to discover what appear to be holy actions and holy words. We also read texts written by other people trying to explain Jesus. They wrote fifty or a hundred or a thousand or two thousand years later. Some of these writers are better than others. Some are actually un-holy. Jesus had warned about that. But persuasive people persuade and new groups get formed, believing that the Fourth Verse is more important than the tenth verse, or whatever. They become the Fourth Versers. They come to believe there is no way to follow God other than through the Fourth Verse.

The Masai elder is right. There are seven thousand moments, not just seven. A sunrise is a sacrament. A baby’s smile is a sacrament. There are tens of thousands of holy words, not just a few. God is not limited to the Fourth Verse. God told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” In recent years, that’s become the theme of my spiritual life. Those pivotal words include a lot of verses in a lot of books and a host of experiences. No one has the right to insist that his or her narrow understanding of God is more spot on than mine.

I self-identify as a Christian, but I suspect there are Buddhists that are more Christian than I am. I think I’ll let God work all that out.

 

 

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Quotations | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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